It’s time for another installment of “What’s Better/What’s Worse.” And by ‘another’ installment I mean the first installment. Listen, the facts are: some things are awesome here, some things are not. In almost any case, at least, things are different. Here are a few things that I will miss when I have to leave Seoul, and a few things that are decidedly milquetoast.
WHAT’S BETTER: Yogurt
The yogurt here is creamy and smooth and delicious, and it’s better than many of the yogurts I’ve had back home. There’s always some teacher giving out small presents to the other teachers, and yogurt is a popular choice. It’s more like a fruity cream than anything. I would compare it to the taste of Go-gurt, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, because it doesn’t have that rotting-your-teeth feel that comes from replacing all nutrients with pure sugar. Look, it’s just good.
WHAT’S WORSE: Milk
You would think because they have such great yogurt, the milk would be ecstasy, but BOY would you be wrong. The milk tastes like they stopped the yogurt fermentation process halfway though and said, “Hey, we can still salvage this for milk.” Now, I consider myself a milk connoisseur, and I drank milk everyday before coming here, so this revelation has hit me pretty hard. I would even drink a glass of Deans right now. Seriously, when you take a gulp of milk here, there’s always a slight feeling in your mouth that something is rotting. What I wouldn’t give for a nice big glass of steriod-perfected American moo-juice.
WHAT’S BETTER: Pedestrians
Walking down the sidewalk in Seoul is an adventure in itself, and half the fun is interacting with the proletariat. Koreans are sometimes frighteningly polite. If you ask someone for directions (if they speak English), you can expect them not only to show you where to go but to walk with you a ways to make sure you make it alright, and maybe rub your back if it’s hurting. If I take out my Korean workbook on the subway, there are about 100 experts willing to offer an opinion. There are some exceptions to this rule. Old women are not to be messed with – they’ll push you down a flight of stairs if it means getting a subway seat before you. Also large crowds, as Koreans seem to have little regard for personal space.
WHAT’S WORSE: Drivers
Perhaps this is true of all big cities, and I never lived IN Chicago, but the driving here scares me. And I don’t mean just cars. To begin with, motor scooters are very popular here, but they seem to think they’re above the law. They’ll weave on and off the sidewalks to avoid red lights, crossing the street with the pedestrians on the crosswalk. They’ll squeeze between cars on the yellow lines. Hell, they’ll do just about anything. Cars and buses aren’t any better. My daily bus ride to work is more like a ride at Universal Studios. I half expect the bus driver to turn around and announce, “Uh oh folks, it look we’re coming up on the Tyrannosaur paddock,” with a devilish grin on his face. I’ve noticed that jaywalking is nonexistent here, and I think it’s because people know that cars will run you over without pause.
WHAT’S BETTER: Fashion
Korea is the world’s fashion runway according to an old proverb, and it’s the truth. Every man, woman, and child seems to dress like they’re being paid for it. Most of the time I feel like a bum in jeans and a t-shirt. The women are by far the most obsessed (but don’t sell the guys short). The number of shoe stores is staggering and is surpassed only by the number of clothing stores. There are also an inordinate number of underwear stores. Korean’s are obsessed with what they wear and it’s very observable.
WHAT’S WORSE: Vanity
Of course, the dark side of fashion is vanity. Okay, some of you are saying, “Now wait a minute, they’re are plenty of vain Americans.” But I’m telling you, it’s at a whole new level here. Most women spend their subway ride adjusting their hair or makeup in the mirror attached to their cell phone. If they don’t have a mirror on their cell phone, it’s okay, they can just wait and adjust themselves in the mirror that’s in every subway station. Guys do it to. Even other teachers at work, in between classes, can be found powdering their faces. Now, I don’t want to demonize a whole country, and everyone wants to look good, but it just seems multiplied here.
WHAT’S BETTER: The Price of Technology
I visited a very large electronics market recently and it blew me away. You could buy any piece of electronic equipment made after 1926 for dirt cheap. DVDs? 4 for 10,000 won (about $8). A modded wii with about 350 games? 120,000 won (about $100). Any computer game you can imagine. Seriously, I saw a copy of the first Civilizations game, which was released in 1991. Rows and rows of computers. Buying something new is actually comparable to the American price, but you can get some crazy deals on used or bootlegged items.
WHAT’S WORSE: The Price of American Brands
If it’s made in America or some other western country, it’s probably way too expensive. My favorite has been a can of Redi-Whip for 15,000 won. Of course, this only makes sense, but it doesn’t mean I can’t complain about it. There are also other random things that are just obscenely expensive, like certain fruits and vegetables. I know you CAN grow blueberries, Korea, so don’t lie to me. Finding a blueberry is like searching for the Ark of the Covenant, only with much less Nazi face melting.
We are…hehe…not thirsty.