It's been four months since we unpacked our bags here, and man, has it been a whirlwind. One thing we know for sure is that there's no other place in the world like Korea. While there are things we miss from home, there are others that we've come to realize Korea just does bigger than any other country.
1. Department Stores
These Costco-sized, multi-level giants are your one-stop-shop for everything from flatscreen televisions, to pantyhose and bananas. It comes as no surprise that Korea is home to the largest department store in the world.
2. Side Dishes
Korea has the only cuisine I know of where the side dishes are more important than the main course. Most meals are accompanied with an assortment of small bowls containing noodles, kimchee, fish, and vegetables. It exhausts me just thinking about the amount of effort that goes into preparing all that food.
3. Coffee Shops
Before arrive in Korea, I was under the impression that I wouldn't be able to get coffee here. Oh, how wrong I was. There are coffee shops everywhere... like five on each block. Quite unnecessary considering they are relatively the same. The most popular drinks here seem to be the sweet ones, piled high with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. And they don't come cheap.
More than 70 percent of this country is mountainous terrain, making hiking a favorite pastime among Koreans. Each weekend, the trails are packed with neon-clad hikers clutching bottles of soju and makgeolli (rice wine). After seeing countless middle-aged women dressed in fuchsia hiking jackets and poles to match, I realized that the loud nylon outfits are more fashion statement than necessity. If you wish to fit in with the crowds, dress to impress.
Have you ever walked down a sidewalk and almost been run over by a motorcycle? If you answered "no", you must not live in Korea - it's a common occurrence here. Where are they going in such a hurry? To deliver food, of course! Chinese, pizza, fried chicken... hey, even McDonald's delivers here! I see a delivery man pull up to my school at least once a week to drop off boxes for hungrily awaiting teachers. It seems to be just an afternoon snack. And most delivery places will bring you real bowls and cutlery - not the plastic kind. Once you're finished, set it outside your door to be collected by the deliveryman later.
6. Fan Sections
Entering sporting events in Korea doesn't involve getting your pockets patted and your handbag searched. In fact, bringing in fried chicken and beer by the bagful is encouraged. And the cheering? It never stops.
7. Smart Phones
With the Samsung and LG factories just a mile from our apartment, it is no surprise that cell phones are even more prevalent here than in the United States. Just observe the passengers next to you on the subway. They are all on their phones. Every. Single. One. And not just talking or texting, but streaming television shows and playing online games as well. Koreans have the fastest internet speed in the world to thank for being able to do just about anything on their phones from just about anywhere.
You don't have to spend much time in Korea to understand that being a couple is a big deal. Boyfriends and girlfriends don't just color coordinate their clothes, they wear completely matching outfits. And beneath their clothes, matching undergarments. No, this is not a joke. Also, there are certain days that are well, just for couples. Christmas, for example, is not a holiday to be celebrated with family, but is instead an excuse to have a date night with your hunny.
9. Twenty-Four-Hour Marts
Late-night cravings have met their match. Over the past decade, marts have been popping up on every corner, and like the name infers, they never close. I can almost guarantee that there are more 7-Elevens in a 50-mile radius here than in all of America.
Selfies, selfies everywhere! There's no shame in documenting even the most mundane parts of your day. Riding the bus selfie. Drinking coffee selfie. Crossing the street selfie. It is also acceptable to use "selfie mode" on your phone as a mirror in public. Oh and don't get me started on selfie sticks. Watch where you are walking - you may have to do the limbo to avoid being clotheslined by one of these bad boys.
11. Super Fast Shipping
When it comes to shipping, Amazon doesn't stand a chance against the major online companies in Korea. Standard shipping here is 48 hours, and often your merchandise will arrive even sooner. I ordered a hair dryer online one afternoon and it arrived the next day. THE NEXT DAY. And shipping on this $10 item was just two dollars. As you can imagine, inexpensive and fast shipping makes for a dangerous addiction.
12. Exercise Equipment
Do you ever get the urge to pump some iron as you're walking home from work? Really, you don't? Maybe it's just a Korean thing... I pass two "exercise parks" on my 8-minute walk to school, and when I'm lucky I'll spot a man in business clothes workin' up a sweat. Yes, it's exactly what you're imagining - random clusters of exercise equipment. And they really are everywhere. If you can ignore the stares from oncoming traffic, you'll get quite a good workout without ever stepping foot in a gym!