Some things in Korea are similar to American life. Other things are very different.
I definitely need to learn the language.
Clarissa is adorable anywhere you go. In America, everyone says she’s cute. Here they ooh and awe at her and then they touch her. They stroke her head or her hand. They ask how old she is. One college age guy asked Tim what gender baby he wanted next and was surprised when Tim told him he wanted to have three girls. We think he was practicing his English. It was a very random conversation.
There are police in Korea. But I haven’t seen many of them. I read that they don’t carry guns. It is illegal for anyone to carry a gun in Korea. They don’t have traffic cops. There are certain intersections where the computer just takes a picture of your license plate if you are speeding, run a red light, drive too long in the turn lane, or park illegally. Then, the owner of the car simply receives a ticket in the mail.
Mopeds and motorcycles seem to be immune to every traffic rule. They can ride on the sidewalk, drive in cross traffic, you name it, I’ve seen it. I have also seen cars park on the sidewalk. Everywhere.
We do a lot of walking. At first, I was annoyed by these bumps on the sidewalk. They make maneuvering the stroller difficult if I am stuck pushing it over them for a long time due to high pedestrian traffic. But I have since learned that the reason they exist is so that blind people can navigate the sidewalk and know where the bus stops and street crossing are. Oops. Now I appreciate them. Some are bright yellow, but others blend in better to the color of the sidewalk.
There is sometimes an interesting smell in Korea. Not a pleasant smell. But it isn’t everywhere. Randomly it hits you on one street, but when you get to the next one, you don’t smell it anymore. Trash in general is different here. You must separate your trash. For example, when you go to McDonalds, you must put your cups in one area, your straws and lids in another, and food in another spot. At most fast food restaurants, they actually use heavier plastic so they wash and reuse the cups. The apartments have places to separate your trash as well.
Also, apparently energy costs are really high. I don’t know why? But they try to conserve energy as much as possible. So our hotel room has a place for our room key. When we leave the room, all power to the room shuts off. The lights, fan, air conditioning, everything. So we have learned to leave our windows opened when we leave the room (we are on the thirteenth floor, so it isn’t a security issue). When we come back to the room and put the key in the holder, the lights come back on the way you had them before. We are also not able to control the temperature of our room.
Koreans are used to this. When an American rents out an apartment, they use more electricity than Koreans do. Part of this is probably from using transformers and American appliances. Koreans are used to leaving the windows open in the summer and wearing more clothes in the winter. Because of this, some landlords will not rent to Americans. This is part of the reason it usually takes so long to find an apartment here.
Time runs later here. Most shops don’t open until 10am or noon. They stay open later too, most until 10 or 11pm. Many busses and trains start at 6am and run until about midnight. They are open the same hours every day of the week. Many shops are closed on Mondays.
There is a general respect for your elders ingrained in the culture. If we have the stroller and are waiting for the elevator, sometimes we have to wait a few cycles to get on the elevator because the older generation just jumps ahead of you in line. There are also seats reserved for the elderly on trains and busses.
Korean culture also seems to really value children. If I walk in to a restaurant in the United States with Clarissa, I get eye rolls from employees and other patrons. Here, everyone is happy to see her. They bring her free juice in a plastic cup. They have plastic (or really cute metal) children’s plates and utensils just for her. As other patrons go by, they stop to play and talk to her.
Also, when you go out to eat, it is considered rude to tip. The prices at most restaurants are very reasonable. There are western restaurants like Outback here and they are more expensive. But we can go to a traditional Asian style restaurant and get dinner for both Tim and myself and a special meal for Clarissa for under $20.
Clarissa and I walked through a park today and there were old men playing what looked like either checkers or chess. It was different pieces than what I am used to. There was a crowd of people watching them. I didn’t want to be rude and take a picture. I need to learn how to ask, “Can I take your picture?” in Korean.
There is green space here, but it is different than the parks in the United States. The “parks” are usually a memorial to something. There are paths to walk around, but the grass is usually roped off. I have not seen a lot of playground space. Our hotel is in the city center, so that may be why. Every apartment that we looked at had it’s own playground on the property.
This is National Debt Repayment Park. I guess 100 years ago, the Korean government owed Japan 13 million won and the people worked really hard to pay it back so that they could be independent of Japan.