Part of the thrill and draw of traveling is seeing the way of life in a new destination. Whether it be experiencing local trends, cultural customs, new cuisines, local transport or being enchanted by different landscapes. Each destination is different and holds its own distinctive characteristics, things which are unique to that locale. These are the things you take away with you and what makes the world so interesting!
During my nearly year long adventure in South Korea, I noticed a few idiosyncrasies. I thought I would put together a quick list of some parts of Korea that surprised me.
These were all the rage while I lived there. It was not unusual to see couples happily walking alongside each other while dawning identical shirts and hats. I never did find out what the reason was behind this trend…perhaps it was to show the world they were an item and no longer available? I could only guess! Since this photo is circa 2005/2006, I am not sure if this trend still exists, but it was definitely something that I had not witnessed before and got a little chuckle out of! Although I found South Korea to be very fashion forward, I don’t think this is one trend that will pick up in North America… 🙂
Ahhh, the visor! A staple in Korean women’s outdoor gear. These were everywhere! They ranged from small brimmed visors to full faced coverage. Although I don’t have an actual personal photo to show, check out some images from Google . I must admit I was a little taken aback when first noticing just how many people wore the full coverage style and thought they looked a little ridiculous…but now as I get a little older and am thinking more consciously about my health, I am starting to think they were on the right track when it comes to protecting your skin from sun damage! Even so, I don’t think I could muster up the courage to wear one without feeling self conscious. Along with protecting your skin, I was told by some Korean co-teachers that Korean women do not like getting tanned and prefer to have pale skin. I am not sure if this sentiment still exists today.
When I first set foot on South Korean soil, I had so many questions and thoughts swimming through my mind…what would I eat? Would I like the food? Will I adapt? How will I find my way around? – all the natural thoughts and worries that are associated with relocating to somewhere new. I had the same curiosity when I first turned the key to the door of my new single apartment. Now I had expected it to be small, but you can never be prepared for it until you’ve experienced living spaces in Asia before. My apartment was a little larger then a small dormitory consisting of a teeny kitchenette with a gas stove, single bed, bar fridge, tv, desk and one tall dressing cabinet. Probably the biggest surprise of all was when I took a peek inside the washroom to see the toilet, washing machine and shower head all in one small space. Having a shower resulted in getting everything in that room soaking wet. I later learned that it was not standard to have a bed frame, many people do not and sleep on a thin mattress on the floor. I was also astonished when I discover my apartment had heated floors! Score! This kept me nice and toasty during the winter.
(in retrospect I wish I had taken some good photos of my apartment, unfortunately I did not)
I came across some “interesting” food choices in Korea…some that perked up my eyebrows as I thought “What the hell, I’ll give it a try”, others made my eyes widen in surprise while I thought “No way!”. Such as….
Tomato and red bean ice cream – yes, these were real flavours! I once purchased the red bean flavour by accident thinking it was chocolate…I realized pretty quickly that I picked up the wrong kind!
Bun dae gi – Oh just thinking of this one makes my nostrils curl. Bon dae gee, aka silkworm pupae, is a popular Korean snack. Boiled Bon dae gee was sold on streets in large vats filled with water. The aroma of these boiled pupae was horrible and filled the neighbourhood air. This was perhaps the most unappealing dish I saw in Korea. I guess I shouldn’t knock it until I tried it, but I don’t think I could ever bring myself to eat these.
Dried squid – This was often available for purchase from street food stands and packaged dried squid was available for purchase at movie theatres and convenience stores. I did try this, it was quite salty and chewy, however I must say that I kinda liked it!
Kimchi – Ok, this one wasn’t unusual, but what surprised me was that Koreans eat this ALL the time!! What’s for breakfast? Kimchi. What’s for lunch? Kimchi. What’s for dinner? More Kimchi! It’s a staple to every dish. Often quite spicy, Kimchi is cabbage that has been fermented and seasoned. This dish is also quite popular with foreigners in Korea, however I never did acquire a taste for it.
I often ate take out during my lunch hour between classes. I was pleased to see that some of the take out that I ordered came in reusable bowls and containers. Once finished eating the meal, we would leave our empty bowls and dishes outside the door for the delivery person to pick up later. Delivery men and women were often seen zipping down the streets on bright red scooters on their way to feed hungry souls.
A favourite activity of mine in Korea was hiking through their vast mountain ranges. On one of my very first hikes through a small local mountain range, I stumbled upon an outdoor gym on a path at the top of the mountain. There were a couple of locals working out, making full use of the exercise equipment. Do you fancy a chin up, bench press or ab crunch? All were possible through their basic but functional equipment free for public use.
Is there anything that surprised you about a destination? If so, I’d love to hear about it!
Thanks for reading!