I've been told that after some 3 to 5 months, a stage of culture shock sets in. Around this time, the little things which the Koreans do differently will annoy the hell out of me. I think this is starting to hit, causing me to have some mood swings. I am sure this is affecting my coworkers around me, because I am not always as willing to take the time to explain things which seem obvious to me but not to them or to deal with language barriers and such. So, to help my therapy with this, I thought I'd vent a bit on my web site…
One frustration is that cars take priority in most areas over pedestrians. The roads in the older parts of town do not have sidewalks, so you walk right in the road. This makes for car - pedestrian conflict. If you are walking on the side of the road at a place where a car wants to park, they will often just about run you over and force you to quickly dodge them. Where there are sidewalks, motorbikes will often drive right up the sidewalk to get around traffic (also expecting people to get out of their way). And cars will all be parked right on the sidewalk with no thought for pedestrians, often forcing you to walk out on the road.
Koreans are often thought of as rude as compared to other Asians. One of the factors for this is that their culture doesn't queue up as much as most others. I see this every day on the subway as people who are trying to get on the subway push their way in as soon as the door opens, without waiting for those trying to get off. Same thing with elevators. And it is not uncommon to have someone cut in front of you when you are waiting at a counter for service or for a taxi (in areas where lines are not well formed).
Elevators are a weird thing. The hotel I stayed at before getting my apartment had two elevators side by side, each controlled by separate buttons. The office building I am at has 3 elevators, but only one stops at odd-numbered floors (such as where my office is). And to call that elevator when you are on the ground floor, you push what I would think of as the down button. And of course, the two elevators which go to even floors are controlled separately...
They haven't quite figured out temperatures here yet. On the whole, Koreans seem to like it a bit warmer than Americans - they definitely keep the thermostats set higher. And they pay for AC and heat based on the month, not the temperature. So if a warm or cold spell comes through outside of the planned month, you suffer. I've gotten used to sweating on the subways (and expect to freeze as the weather turns colder).
Korea, especially around Seoul, is putting more and more signs up in English. This is very useful for a foreigner like me. Only problem is that the Korean language is totally phonetic and they have a few sounds which don't match anything in English. In particular, they have a sound that is somewhere between the English 'ch' and 'j', one between 't' and 'd', another between 's' and 'sh', and one between 'r' and 'l'. This means that signs could be spelled in multiple different ways. An example is Cheju Island, which is also spelled Jeju. This makes it harder to get around using the English signs because you often have to consider alternate spellings to be sure you are going to the right place.
To add to this, the Koreans seem to like naming things with slight different variations in sounds. They seem to be able to understand these slight different intonations, but it sure confuses me. A quick look at a map of Korea and you would see the towns of Ch'onju, Chonju, Chungju, Yongju, Wonju, Kyongju, Chinju, and Chongju.
Well, I have some trips coming up in the next 2 weeks to Japan and China. Hopefully these will help me get over any culture shock I have in Korea. And if they don't work, a few weeks later I am taking a 5-day vacation to Hawaii! Yeah!
I didn't mention it last time, but I went to a show called Cookin Nanta last weekend. Awesome show. Much like Stomp, except based around a set of chefs in a kitchen trying to prepare a meal in time for dinner. A newspaper said that it was like mixing Jackie Chan and Benihana - which kind of fits as a description. Nanta is the Korean word for beating or banging, and there was lots of that. Very energetic show, and a lot of fun. Very little spoken word, so no worries about how I would understand the show. They also pull a couple of people from the audience and have some fun with them (guess who got lucky and got to go on stage…). Supposedly they will be touring, so if they hit a town near you, I would definitely recommend seeing it.Previous Post - Back to Menu - Next Post