Tuesday, December 10, 2013

South Korea: The Bottom 6

For every top there is a bottom. Here is my list of the things I didn't quite like about Korea. This isn't meant to say they are the worst things in the galaxy. Please keep in mind this is only from my experiences and times in Korea. Every person is bound to have a different opinion or experience based on the time and place they were/are located.

Number 6: The world is Your Parking lot.

We've all seen the joker who takes up two parking spaces for their luxury car, the person in a hurry at the grocery store who parks their car in the loading zone and the guy who parks with the tail end of their large vehicle poking out into the street. These are regular annoyances all drivers will come across at some point in time. To put it into a metaphor if bad parking in the USA is minor league baseball, Korea (and perhaps Asia) is the big leagues. Every day I was reminded that I was but a pilgrim in a strange land. Places meant for people to walk would be blocked by a car forcing pedestrians to casually walk into the street. This is normal life in Korea.


Now, I can understand if there is an emergency. You're having a baby or some other important medical emergency? Fuck it park where ever the hell you want! But if you just want coffee and can't be bothered to walk a block or park in the basement parking I have no sympathy for you. Also be wary of drunk drivers who after realizing they are entirely too drunk to drive a vehicle park their car in a somewhat inconspicuous places.

There is a man in this picture

One night after a few drinks a friend and I stumbled upon a man half in his car. He was pleading for help from Koreans passing by but to no avail. He eventually saw us gawking at him and decided to ask us to help (with what we have no idea). "Heeeeelp" he stammered. When we asked him what he needed help with he just continued to say help until he passed out (still half way in the car). We joked that it would be funny to tie one of us up, put us in the backseat or trunk and see how he reacted when he awoke. By the morning his car was gone but he left behind a rather funny story.

Number 5: The Zoo

One fat pussy cat

I don't know why I still go to these places. When you're a child the Zoo is a wonderful place to see creatures from far off lands. Things that you may only see on TV or in a book. Though when you become an adult they are basically animal prisons. Don't get me wrong some establishments are incredibly well run with the animals health (both mental and physical) being the utmost priority. Though I don't think Korea got this memo. 

Wolf in a cage

On a trip to Daegu I decided the zoo would be a good stop. I hadn't seen much wildlife in Korea and I was hankering to see something other than pigeons and stray cats. Soon after entering the zoo the old familiar feeling of "Why the F' did I come to one of these places again," crept over me. The picture above is of a wolf who was put into a tiny cage. It spent the entire time pacing back and forth, back and forth. On the floor laid a slab of meat that hadn't been touched. The wolf looked as though it had gotten cabin fever and written an entire novel using only the sentence, "All work and no play makes wolfie a dull boy." This was at the first exhibit I strolled through.

1.5 tusked elephant

After making the rounds I finally ended up at the elephant exhibit. It was a small enclosure with a barn like structure behind it surrounded by a ditch to keep the elephants in. I think one of the two elephants had literally lost it's mind. It kept doing the same action over and over and over again. It was a true shame to see such an amazing animal housed in such a despicable place. I hand't thought about this until recently when I visited Ueno zoo in Tokyo. The elephants there had much more room to roam and seemed happy and well cared for. 

Number 4: Foreigner Treatment

Korea was once aptly named the hermit kingdom. A lot has changed since that name was first given. People are becoming more aware of the world around them and often more accepting of the things it offers. Yet there is still a lingering wonder in the hearts and minds of many Korean folks about foreigners and foreign cultures. Now before I start this one let me drop a disclaimer. Nearly all of the folks I met in Korea were wonderful people. They'd help when they could, tried to practice their English and perhaps even buy you a dinner. But in every bunch there's always bound to be a few bad bananas. This section is about these folks and ideas.

blatant racism in my classes textbook? Or harmless cartoons depicting facts?

Someone once mentioned foreigner fever before I came to Korea. For along time it was rather rare to see western foreigners in Korea. Even to this day it can be rare to see someone away from the major cities or military bases that is western. This can lead to a lot of stares, as if you were some interesting being from outer space. It can be kind of cool sometimes but other times you just have to wonder what the hell they're staring at and thinking. Some of the more verbose characters out there will come up to you and practice English and tell you how handsome/beautiful you are and that you look like such and such celebrity. This can also be fun sometimes but if you hear the same thing enough times it looses its luster quick. One friend of mine was always stopped by large groups of young men and told how handsome he was. He said he loved the attention but was upset that it was all men who said it. Which leads me to my next point...

gay Alen in Wonderland comic

Apparently there are no homosexuals in Korea. It would be utterly unrealistic to think there are homosexuals there... unless they are part-time K-pop girl lesbians. That could be okay. Hopefully you've picked up on the sarcasm but if you haven't let it be known homosexuality isn't an accepted way of life in Korea. Rather than acknowledge that it is out there it's simply swept under a cultural taboo rug and forgotten about. Of course it does exist, and people prefer just not to acknowledge it. (once again this isn't everyone!)

Drunk and racist.
Xenophobia is the irrational or unreasonable fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange

This lovely lady above happened to be one of the most outwardly racist folk myself and others had the displeasure of happening upon. we were a group of about 30 foreigners meeting up to go on a boat ride together when this random lady shows up and starts saying, "Go home Yankees !" (which was incredibly humorous considering more than half of us were not from the USA  and none of us played baseball for New York) and throwing every curse word ,in Korean, she could think of at us. At first we tried not to acknowledge her but after awhile the temptation became too much. People began gently talking back to her, posing for pictures with her in the background and joking to lighten up the mood. Eventually, between sips of Makgoelli (막걸리), she finally cracked a smile and laughed with us too. 

For some children this is their first glimpse at other cultures.

The last thing I'm going to mention is be very careful of your employer (especially if you work in an English school). You can find horror stories written all over the internet depicting the hell some folks went through. As for myself I learned one very important thing. Contracts don't have the same status as they do in the west. In the end I lost a few thousand dollars to my former bosses who refused to pay me before and after I had left the country. After going through all the steps of filing a petition with the Korean Government and joining in on a lawsuit with my former Korean coworkers he filed for bankruptcy and no one got anything. In total he saved nearly 30 thousand dollars through unethical business practices. From listening to others in my same city this is still a widespread problem although the government has been taking steps to protect foreign workers. If you ever find yourself in a sub par situation don't make the same mistake I did. DO NOT HESITATE to utilize the services available to you. For more information you can check out http://www.moel.go.kr/english/main.jsp .

I included this section to give people wishing to travel to Korea a heads up on what they may expect. As I stated earlier the majority of people you meet will be amazing, kind-hearted people. As time continues its march into the future I think things will/are changing for the better. 

Number 3: The Streets Paved with Spit

 After seeing the streets and sidewalks in Korea you will no longer have to wonder why taking shoes off inside is so common. Walking, especially at night, is like stepping through a mine field. There's spit, leaflets thrown on the ground as advertising, occasional piles of fresh puke, random dung droppings of dogs whose owners are assholes, and if you're lucky a stream of urine crossing your path from an old man too lazy to find a bathroom nearby. The streets of Korea can be FILTHY!

On weekends in Busan the popular areas for night life will be littered with advertisements, spit, cigarette butts, puke and god knows what else. Though by mid morning it will all be cleaned up and ready for the next nights barrage.

 Trash from businesses is also left on the street for pickup by their sanitation services. Though some people are a bit antsy to get it out of their businesses and put it out a day or two early. Stray animals will also find a way to tear them open, eat what they can and spread out the rest until someone comes and stops them. 

Yellow dust, from China, also comes in once a year. This shit is disgusting. The air will be filled with it. It looks like a sandstorm/smog storm. It will linger for a bit then settle or move on. While I was there we had a rainstorm during the yellow dust season and the picture above shows what it left behind. This dust was everywhere. All the gutters were filled with it. Although it isn't something that can be avoided it is definitely something to be aware of. You shouldn't leave your windows open or a fine coat of this nasty stuff will coat everything. 

If all else fails just throw your junk in an alley!

Lastly it can be nearly impossible to find a trash can outside. So the random piles of trash waiting to be picked up can be a godsend if you've just finished your ice cream and don't want to carry the wrapper with you. Trash is often discarded on benches, sidewalks or anywhere else that is convenient at the time. Eventually someone will clean it, take it to be recycled or throw it away. Overall I didn't like the logic of the no public trashcan policy.

Note: At all large apartment buildings they have an area for trash and recycled goods. This system is fantastic. Although the security at my building could be recycling Nazi's (what do you mean I cant put this clear glass bottle with the brown glass bottle?!) they have it down to an art form. At my building recyclable goods could be put out once a week and trash could be taken out anytime.

Number 2: Bathrooms  (화장실 )

Washrooms, toilets, bathrooms and restrooms whatever you call them we all use them. Some are nicer than others but in Korea it's nearly always a game of Russian Roulette. Outside of the smells that seem to be constantly emitted by them (especially during the summer) bathrooms in Korea aren't usually a desirable experience. If you're in the vicinity of a nice shopping mall or newer buildings they can actually be quite lovely. The imported Japanese toilets will warm your buns, make sounds, clean your bum and even deodorize! The usual places you'll need to go though might not be up to par.

Obviously designed by the brightest of minds
Sometimes it seems that the person who designed the bath room was drunk. Urinals will be places incredibly close together, placed on either side of a sink, or will be inaccessible to handicapped folks. Also due to the drinking habits it isn't uncommon to see them filled with vomit (toilets, urinals and squatters alike) if their nearby restaurants. I can't speak for Seoul but in Busan and nearby areas bathrooms were used by all businesses on the floor they were located. If the building didn't have a hired cleaning staff the cleaning of the restrooms was left up to the business owners. This could lead to the toilets never being cleaned due to the fact no one wanted to take responsibility for them.

Still not sure how to fucking use these things
The squatter toilets (pictured above) was a locally hated by all guys who direly needed to drop a duece. It is incredibly inconvenient, many are installed in weird ways and you're never sure if it's safe to keep your pants on or take them off. Generally when these were found we'd have to hold it until something that could be sat on was found in the vicinity. These old style toilets can be found throughout Asia and are generally hated by all foreigners I've asked.

Some places are generally decent. If you've got to go subway/rail stations and shopping malls are a good bet.

A final note that was told to me on my first day was you should always carry toilet paper with you as well. There were many times friends of mine hadn't heard this advice and had nothing to wipe with after rocking the thunder dome. As stated before some bathrooms aren't "claimed" by anyone therefore no one will stock the bathrooms with TP (though some establishments have TP hanging near the exit closest to the bathroom). Always be prepared!

Number 1: Scooters

During my time in Korea there was always one thing I was terrified of. Scooters. I find it a bit ironic now due to the fact my current mode of transportation is indeed a scooter. Now, these folks are fucking crazy. I've seen scooters loaded down with three or four people hauling ass down the streets. I've seen delivery drivers on scooters go a smooth 45kph on the sidewalk. And I've seen a scooter plow into an old man crossing the crosswalk causing him to break his leg and lay in the intersection howling in pain.

Hey why don't we just flip a u-turn at this busy intersection? Fuck it! (true story)

Scooters are a very efficient mode of transportation but their drivers can be a bit dangerous. I was almost hit several times during my stay and learned to always keep an eye out for them.

We didn't start the fire
Also during my stay the law on scooters wasn't clearly established. A few of my friends had scooters and didn't need a license to use them. They were able to drive on either the sidewalk or the street though I heard that has been changed. Regardless if you find yourself walking the streets of Korea always keep an eye and an ear out for scooters!

Well this is the conclusion of my list! I hope you enjoyed your time here and feel free to disagree, argue  with or post your own experiences! Thanks for reading!

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