I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Korea today. These moods go on and off throughout the months, but I feel like today it’s especially warranted. Yesterday Derik was T-boned by a driver completely not paying attention to where he was going. As you all know by now, road laws in Korea are more of a suggestion than actual laws. Because of this we have to be extra careful drivers to avoid stupid accidents.
Yesterday Derik was driving down a main road when someone pulled out quickly from a side road and rammed straight into the back quarter panel of Derik’s car (yes I know what a quarter panel is…thanks to my year of working for ERAC). Thankfully the man wasn’t going that fast, and they were both not injured.
If that wasn’t bad enough, as Derik stepped out of the car, the man immediately claimed, “It’s the foreigner’s fault.” Clearly it wasn’t. But because we are the ‘odd-men-out’ here in Korea, unfortunately things can get very twisted, and foreigners usually draw the short straw. We’re not represented here very good at all, and are often out of luck when it comes to things like this.
Thankfully, Derik has an AMAZING Korean friend who immediately left church (in the middle of the service) to come help him. After a hot minute and a half of negotiating and dealing with the police a resolution (not to our favor) was made. Each party involved has to pay for his own car damages. So basically Derik gets to pay for a ruined car because he took it out on a Sunday afternoon and someone hit him. Not fair.
Although we are frustrated over this, its our third year here and we know this stuff happens. A lot. You just have to learn to shrug it off your shoulders and take something good out of it: at least no one was hurt.
So that was the hate side, now the love side of this relationship comes from my sunset walk today. I often forget that I live so far from the US. The language becomes a blur, the people become familiar, and we learn to adapt and deal with the weird customs. But then I walk by this gorgeous temple (basically) located in my backyard and I can’t help but take a moment and appreciate the authentic beauty that can be found in Korea. We have this once in a lifetime opportunity to live here, and so often the ‘special-ness’ of living abroad is lost due to daily living. Being reminded of how awesome it is always lifts my spirit a little.
PRO: TONS OF NATIONAL HOLIDAYS
This is never a horrid thing is it? We lucked out this year, and foreigners are lovingly calling it the ‘Golden Year’ due to all the sweet holidays we get. Most of the holidays happen to fall on a Friday or Monday, so we get three day weekends galore! Korea is all about taking days off for important things, of which include: Lunar New Year (typically five days off), Independence Day, Buddha’s Birthday (3-4 days), Children’s Day, Memorial Day, Hangul Day, Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving 3-5 days), and Christmas. We also get summer and winter vacations if we’re lucky. Those are usually 5-14 days!
CON: ZERO SICK/VACATION DAYS – I don’t know how many weddings, births, family reunions, and other such important events I’ve missed/am going to miss because of the lack of vacation days. We absolutely cannot ask for a random week or two off. We might as well put in our resignation and quit before Korean bosses will allow us to go anywhere outside of a public holiday. The only exception to this rule is if an immediate family member dies. Then you have a week off to go home. A week. It’s a pretty tough job lifestyle.
If you’re sick, you better get your butt to work. Doesn’t matter if it’s anything from a 105 degree fever to pneumonia, your boss wants you to come to work (and apparently get everyone else sick). Then somehow you have to muster up the strength to teach 50 screaming children.
If teaching on a sick day is one thing, it’s character building.
PRO: LOTS OF FESTIVALS
This is one of my favorite parts about Korea. Since the country is so small, they make up for it by celebrating basically everything. Spring festivals (flower festivals mostly and a sweet sea-parting festival), summer festivals (bull fighting, arts, and mask festivals), fall festivals (heritage, lantern, firework, film, and ceramic festivals), and even winter festivals (ice sculpting and ice fishing festivals!!!)-you can find it all in Korea. I like visiting the festivals to immerse in the culture more, play around with my photography, and enjoy some good food.
CON: CROWDS OF PEOPLE
The crowdedness is the main reason Derik hates to go to festivals. Thankfully we compromise and only go to the main ones closer to where we live.
PRO: FINDING IMPORTED FOOD FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
I found crumbled (an American brand) feta cheese the other week at one of the two foreign marts on our island. I almost cried. This is the first time in 2.5 years I have seen feta, and the container held about 3 cups! It was a hefty 16,00o won ($16 dollars) for it, but I happily paid. We have since been eating feta on everything: salad, salmon, eggs, and quinoa.
In other news, we are lucky to live in Geoje because so many foreigners from everywhere live here. Food is imported from Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and obviously America. I can easily buy Tim Tams ( a delicious Australian cookie) at Home Plus, and then cook up Indian curry (with real indian spices) for dinner! I love developing new cravings for food I didn’t even know existed when we lived back in the US.
CON: IMPORTED FOOD IS TOO EXPENSIVE – Ok $16 for feta is kind of a bit much, but how about $20 for 10 german sausages, $22 dollars for a party bag of cheez-it chex mix, and $13 dollars for a container of quaker instant oats? So many times I just bow my head and hand over the money, but I cringe every time. There are certain things I deem necessary to buy (real butter for instance at $9 a block), and other things like chex mix I can only look longingly at and buy only on my birthday. Thankfully we have iherb.com, a godsend of a place from the US that ships almost anywhere internationally and sells its merchandise at US prices. Shipping to Korea is only 4.00, so I tend to buy all my spices, snack foods, breakfast foods (like oatmeal, chia seeds, granola bars), and vitamins online at their store.
PRO: RELAXED ROAD LAWS
I don’t remember the last time I consciously looked at my speedometer. Why? Because you don’t have to here. I drive however fast (or slow) I feel comfortable, and so does everyone else. If I’m at a red light and there’s literally no one in a 12 mile radius? I can run that light and not get a ticket, even if there is a police officer munching some kimchi on the side of the road. No one cares here about road laws. It’s horrible and wonderful at the same time.
CON: RELAXED ROAD LAWS- Obviously it’s also a con, just read the beginning of this post. If proper road laws were strictly enforced, people wouldn’t be pulling out of side roads onto the highway without looking (because as much as they don’t want to admit THEY DO NOT have the right of way), hitting pedestrians in crosswalks (horrifically this happens a lot, mostly bus and dump truck drivers), and children wouldn’t be dangling out of the driver’s seat window or sunroof.
PRO: COFFEE SHOPS
I will always, always, always, end this kind of a post with a pro. I’m an optimistic person, and I find more light in an area than dark, and the glass half full instead of half empty. One of the most important, most amazing pro’s in Korea, is it’s abundance of coffee shops. Although they serve pretty much the same thing, they all try to offer a different environment or feel (prime example: the infamous dog and cat cafes). I have four coffee shops within a 5 minute radius of my apartment – they. are. everywhere. I enjoy trying them all, and figuring out which ones are cheaper, have better coffee, or offer alternative selections like fresh juice and smoothies.
Did any Pro or Con surprise you?