When I think back to my time living in Korea, I miss many things, but often it’s the little things that are unique to Korea, that I remember most fondly. I find that the memory of a place can last forever in the small details – sounds and smells, and little comforts and conveniences we don’t find at home. Here is a list of “little” things that helped define the experience!
Someone holding your bag on the bus. Standing on a crowded bus is a much nicer experience in Korea, because it is common courtesy for a person who does have a seat near you, to hold your bag on their lap while you hang on to the rail. This, to me, is a perfect example of Korea’s heightened sense of community and incredibly efficient social organization. Many urban Canadians know full well how annoying it is to either have a backpack shoved in to your face on a crowded bus or to hold on to the day’s shopping while trying to hold on to the rail.
Group trust and safety. In public places such as coffee shops, Koreans will enter and place a handbag or cell phone on a table to reserve it, then leave it there while they order their coffee or go to the washroom. In Canada, this would be viewed as a clear invitation for a theft that no one else would likely react to, or even notice. In Korea, strangers are more aware of each other and it is generally believed that someone else would do something if there was an obvious theft. Not only is Korea a very safe country where you can do things like this, but there is also much less public apathy when it comes to crime and wrongdoing.
Customer service. I have never known such attentiveness to customers as in Korea. From table buzzers in restaurants to call over the waitress (sometimes running!), to being personally invited to chat and have tea with the bank manager or antique store owner, Korean service is over and above amazing.
Outdoor exercise parks. Many public parks and hiking areas have outdoor exercise parks installed, sometimes built into lovely forested areas. These parks seem to also be great meeting places for locals as well. Who needs a gym membership when you have this?
A clean bathroom in the subway. When shopping and going around town, it is simply nice to know that there are clean public washrooms nearby in the subway station. Many of them equipped with sound machines in the stalls so people hear the waves – and not you! The subways, in general, are shiny and clean – and of course, efficient.
Floor heating. It is February in Montreal and my toes are freezing as I write this. It’s times like these where I wish for Korean ondol floor heating. Warm radiant floors are just so much cozier than electric heaters that blast dry uneven heat.
Chanting salespeople. I used to hear the strawberry salesman coming towards our apartment complex from quite far away. Some sellers develop their own specific “song” to let people know they are around. This is because you hear the “song” before the words – so you hear the chant and know what’s coming your way. Once they come closer to your building, you can call down to them from your balcony to tell him which floor to come to. I will forever remember the sing-song of the hangover cure lady in the early hours of the morning.
Triangle gimbap (samgak gimbap) from the corner store. Whoever invented this perfect corner store food is genius. It’s a triangle of rice, often stuffed with things like tuna or kimchi, and wrapped in laver (gim). So easy, so good and fun to eat. Just be sure to open it right!
Fried chicken joints: These places are great mostly because they are so ubiquitous and have great names such as “Born to be Chicken”, “Donkey Chicken”, “Mother-in-Law Chicken” and “Chicken Syndrome”. Korean fried chicken is its own very special thing, especially when eaten with friends – and don’t forget the Cass beer.