Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 Best & Worst

As 2010 comes to an end, I thought it apropos to list the top 10 things I love and hate about living in Korea.
10 WORST THINGS (in no particular order)
It seems that 99% of all Koreans live in apartment buildings of some variety or other. By Korean standards we live in a relatively new and large apartment (1200sq-ft/34pyong built in 2006). But, despite its caliber the fact remains that I'm not accustomed to living in an apartment and think it's too small and noisy.  I miss having a staircase, hallways, and a yard. I want a real kitchen; not one that's attached to my livingroom. I desire to watch tv without the disruption of people getting on and off the elevator. And, I wish to be able to sleep without having to listen to my neighbours' late night piano rehearsals and screaming children.
I often see Drivers Ed vehicles on the road, so the ineptitude of Korean drivers remains a mystery. The only explanation I have is that the driving instructors neglect to teach people that the painted lines on the roads are not meant to be crossed willy-nilly; the big stick-like object protruding from the steering wheel is a turn-signal and is meant to be used; & a red light means stop. Every day is an exercise in defensive driving. And, while we've been successful in evading the imbeciles on the road, we have not been so fortunate in parking lots. Thrice this year our car has been smacked into while parked in public parking lots. In all three instances the drivers (upstanding citizens that they are) ran away, leaving us to (unsuccessfully) deal with our insurance company and the police.
In my opinion, a shockingly large number of Korean parents are dangerously ignorant when it comes to protecting their children. When I was pregnant and going for routine prenatal checkups, I saw new mother after new mother leaving the hospital with her swaddled newborn balanced on her lap. Stores sell car seats, but few Koreans buy them or recognize the importance of using them. Every day, I drive by infants and small children sitting on an adults’ lap in the front passenger seat, or jumping around freely in the backseat. Good friends of mine (who shall remain nameless) are guilty of this and brush it off every time I try to talk to them about it. Kids running freely through the streets & in parking lots is also commonplace ~ handholding doesn’t seem to be a priority here. There've been plenty of times when small kids have run out in front of our car with the parents just casually standing by.
Delicious, but astronomically priced! Right now at Homeplus, mangoes cost $4/ea, apples $1/ea, avocados $4/ea, and strawberries $8/pint. This past summer, cantaloupe was $8/ea and watermelon $15-$25/ea  depending on the size. Needless to say, we don’t eat much fruit.
Korea doesn't have near the variety that North America does. There are some stores specializing in foreign imports, but they're mostly in Seoul and charge double or even triple the price. Examples of things I wanted to buy this year, but couldn't (or had to have shipped via the Internet or my mother) include: tomato soup, Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Tom's of Maine toothpaste, Gerber rice cereal, Tylenol, plus size clothing & underwear, size 9 shoes, Fisher-price Ocean Wonders Aquarium, fitted bed sheets...  
No one to blame but myself for this one. Over the years, I've done some half-assed self-study and attended free government sponsored classes (only 5 months part-time), but still I speak like a pre-schooler. I can hold my own in restaurants, the supermarket, the post office, and very casual/superficial conversation, but rely on Clark as my translator for most everything else.
It’s a paradox, really. In most high-end department stores and restaurants, I'm treated to exotic aromas and a heated seat on a high-tech toilet that has so many buttons and gadgets I haven’t a clue what to do with them all. Then in other places, I’m squatting in filth and stench. WHY???
Perhaps if I were American I’d understand this better, but I’m not and I don’t. Why do I have to pay to use public roads? They're not even nice roads. In fact, they're some of the worst quality roads I've ever driven on. Isn’t it enough that to have to pay annual car tax (yes, car tax), car insurance, and gas (over $1.70/L)? Just to get to a friends house in a nearby city less than 60km away last weekend cost 12,200won (about $11) roundtrip.
I’m not afraid, so why are you? Everyone here is great; couldn’t be better.  Life goes on as usual.
The air here is kind of, well, gross. I can remember blowing black crud out of my nose when I first spent time here in 2001. We no longer open the windows in summer because the floors and countertops get a grimey black coating within a day or two and we're sick of constantly having to wash them. I've lived in Seoul, Busan & Suwon ~ and the pollution is everywhere.

10 BEST THINGS (also in random order)
Koreans will deliver anything from live animals to McDonalds. No joke, you can view pets on-line and the puppy/kitten/turtle/guinea pig of your choice will be delivered to your doorstep the very next day. While we've never had (nor ever would have) a pet delivered, we are regular on-line shoppers and delivery recipients. In December alone, we've had Quaker Oats, Jellymom, a 10kg box of apples, Similac infant formula, Pampers, baby bottles, & a winter coat delivered. The service is remarkably inexpensive (usually $2) and quick (within 1~2 days).
Inexpensive and abundant; puts the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) to shame. A 30min subway or bus  ride costs 1000won (about $0.90). The same ride in Toronto put me back $2.50 last time I was there.
You name it, and I bet I can walk to it. Even though we live in the ‘burbs (some Seoulites might even call it the “countryside”), Suwon is home to 1 million residents and has 5 of everything within a 1km radius.
It is virtually impossible for someone in the English education industry to be unemployed (unless by choice). Immediately after leaving his job, Clark had 15 interviews & 11 offers. It really is a job-seekers market. I ,too, am very picky when it comes to employment, and recently accepted a full-time position beginning in March at a local university teaching credit courses 14 hours/week + 4.5 months paid annual vacation. I would be hard-pressed to find that kind of position in Canada.
Compared to Canada Post, it’s a real bargain here. I can ship my mother 2 boxes for the price of every 1 she sends over here to me.
In January of this year Korea was hit with a record-breaking snowfall of 25cm; a far cry from the 103cm that pelted Canada (Southern Ontario) a few weeks ago. The temperatures aren't usually all that low either. The average winter temperature is about -5C/21F.
Worried about being able to find good seats? Worry not if you live in Korea. All seating is pre-designated and reserved upon ticket purchase; like going to a concert or live theater performance. The tickets are cheaper than in Canada, too. Only 9000won (about $8) each.
Only 3-8% depending on the job. And because I'm not a citizen, if I leave Korea and return to Canada, I'm entitled to a full tax refund.
While my mother recently had to wait over 2 months to get in to see her optometrist and a friend waited eons for minor surgery, I can just waltz in to any doctor's or dentist's office and receive immediate care. No appointment necessary and very little to no waiting required. It's reasonably priced, too. I recently had my teeth cleaned for just $50 (no insurance) and an impromptu visit to the doctor earlier in the year for an ear infection cost me under $5 (with insurance).


  1. What a great list! I am glad to see another expat who is generally happy with life here in Korea. I agree their are some major issues with life here compared to Canada, but overall we are satisfied with our life here.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. You forgot the very rude starers.