From Fan Death to Matching Couples – Why I Fell in Love with Korea

Dear Korea,

You are a gem. I spent a year with you, and though I definitely despised you a little at first (ok, so it was a lot more than just a little), you were not to be faulted. You are amazing. Your people are gracious, your heritage is unique, and your country is beautiful. You are convenient, you are modern, you are a concrete jungle and a wonderful expanse of gorgeous beaches. Your history scares me, and your beer sucks, but your liquor is cheap, so I guess I can forgive you. You taught me to appreciate things that I wasn’t even aware existed until you came into my life. And while I certainly hated you a lot, and cursed your existence on several occasions (mostly when your winter was so bitter or when your humidity was so intense that I was literally sweating in the shower), there are more than a million reasons why I appreciate you. So, without further ado, here are some observations and reasons why I fell, head over heels for you, Korea.


Miss-uh Kuh-ris-uh-ti-nah

(the Waygook with the “face like apple”).


  1. The Man Purse. Don’t be afraid, they are very practical. Whether you call it a satchel, a European carryall, or the Murse. Korean men carry them, and so should you.
  2. The Korean boyfriend. If you’re lucky enough to have one, you will never have to carry your own purse. He will carry it for you. He will not object to it, nor will he try to hide it from his friends. Whether it be pink, or shiny, adorned in Hello Kitty, or all three. He will insist on holding it for you. And his friends would never give him a hard time, because on top of their murses, they’re probably holding shiny purses for their girlfriends, too.
  3. Fruit. It comes adorned in bows! For this simple reason I can overlook, at least momentarily, the fact that it costs a bloody arm and leg. Melons in particular. Watermelons especially. Think $50 (but at least it looks pretty?).
  4. Buses. Efficient and cheap! Great for getting around and sometimes even a little, erm, shopping?
  5. B-boys. Korea has the best dance crews in the world. “Of the top six or seven crews in the world, I’d say half of them are from Korea.” -Chris Wright: My friend Melissa actually practices with The Gamblers themselves!
  6. Tongues. Cut them. A Korean absurdity; the theory is that if you cut the frenulum (the tissue linking the tongue to the floor of the mouth), your tongue will be more flexible and able to pronounce those difficult English sounds.
  7. Nailpolish. Wear it on random fingernails. (As I write this, all my digits aside from my two index fingers and the pinky finger on my right hand are painted flourescent pink; the other three nails are painted with a clear polish. There’s something to be said for societal influence). Men wearing nailpolish is not uncommon (and the extra-long thumb nail is definitely a common thing. Can someone please explain this to me?).
  8. Vegetables. Similar to #3, except vegetables don’t usually get the pretty-bow treatment. A single naked avocado will cost you 5 bucks.
  9. Fan Death. A true Korean gem, this is perhaps my favourite belief of all time. You really need to look it up on Wikipedia. The idea is that if you leave your fan on while you’re sleeping, without any doors or windows open, you will not wake up again. “Fans sold in Korea are equipped with a timer switch that turns them off after a set number of minutes, which users are frequently urged to set when going to sleep with a fan on.” They call it a ‘life saving function’. It’s a testament to the theory that, after spending almost an entire year believing this was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard, I actually woke up in a cold panic one night when I realized I’d forgotten to crack the window before turning on the fan and going to sleep. You know those pins and needles you feel when sleeping on one side for too long? I literally thought the fan was actively paralyzing me, and I woke up gasping for air. Needless to say, I opened the window.
  10. Age. Koreans are a “year old” the day they are born. (My class of “six year olds” were born in 2005. None of them have actually even turned 5 yet, by Western calculations).
  11. Street Names. Random, if they even exist, and address numbers are even more random (and based according to the year the building was built, in no apparent order).
  12. Soccer Games. Most are played in three, 30 minute periods. Or with heads.
  13. Kenglish. It’s everywhere, and it always makes me smile. Or cry.
  14. Baseball Games. By some amazing wonderful cultural misunderstanding, Korea thinks that baseball is supposed to have cheerleaders. You can read about our experience here, if you’re interested :)
  15. Cell phones. There is reception on the subway! (and everyone watches TV on their phones… which come with antennae.. but no voicemail option? What?).
  16. Parking. Anywhere! Park your car on the sidewalk. Hell, double-park, if you like! (Of course, there will inevitably come a time when you’re the double-park-ee, instead of the double-park-er. No fear! Korea has solved this problem with a mandatory cell-phone-number-on-your-dashboard-thingamajig, so if you’ve been double parked, call the number and the double-park-er will come to the rescue! Brilliant, really.
  17. Shoe size. Good luck! Ha. They have small feet. I was on the large-end of the scale with size 7’s. Oh, and good luck getting your calves to fit into boots. I couldn’t even bring the zipper up half an inch, and I don’t believe I have particularly large calf muscles (though I could be wrong).
  18. Meat. Cut it with scissors.
  19. Apples. Only one kind exists. (but it’s the most delicious kind I’ve ever tasted!).
  20. Burberry. Learn to love it.
  21. Chopsticks. If you lay them on the table extending between yourself and your dining partner, you can probably keep eating. If you lay them the other way, extending from left to right across your body, you’re acting suspiciously Japanese and you’re unwelcome at the dinner table.
  22. Picture taking. Nobody says “1,2,3 Cheese!”. It’s “1,2,3, Kimchi”, and you better expect to raise your fingers in the peace sign, too.
  23. Heated floors. Please be careful what you keep on the floor of your apartment in the winter. Chocolates in your purse? Melted chocolate mess in your purse.
  24. Showers. The most spacious showers in the world! Yes, you have an entire bathroom to get wet! You even have a mirror, and a sink, and if you put the toilet seat down, you can even sit down while showering! There is also nothing quite like stepping out of your shower onto a bathmat in the kitchen. It makes cooking very convenient. Laundry too, for that matter, as your washing machine will probably be in your bathroom as well. (You can check it all out here, I did a CRIBS episode of my apartment in Seoul. I would, right? ;)
  25. Laundry. Count on at least 4 days for your laundry to dry in the winter months. If you’re lucky enough to have a shoebox-sized apartment like I did, this also means your fully assembled laundry rack will pretty much live in the middle of your life for 5 months of the year. Learn to love it. The only other option is smelling really bad (which is sometimes a very viable option, I mean, err… I would never…..).
  26. Sidewalks. Under them is sand. And it’s not flat. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a girl not wearing heels. You’ll also be hard pressed to see any girl who has difficulty walking on such intolerable terrain. Unless she’s foreign. ;) (I gave up heels after 2 weeks)
  27. Matching couples. They’re everywhere.
  28. Spaghetti. How do you eat it with chopsticks?
  29. Taxis. They’re cheap. And you can’t get out of the left-hand door, I tried.
  30. Snow. Bring on the brooms and dustbins. Bring on the excavators and other types of giant machinery. This is how to deal with snow. There shall be no salt for the roads, either.
  31. Low/reduced fat anything. Impossible to find. No skim milk, no fat-free yoghurt, no splenda or sweet-n-low. And no one is fat.
  32. Fried eggs. Served as appetizers “on the house” at 5am. Also at 5am, the restaurant has a waiting list. And still, no one is fat.
  33. Valentine’s day. It’s for boys. (White day, one month later on March 14th, is for girls.)
  34. Army service. 2 years is mandatory for every Korean male. 7 days a week, 30 days off in 2 years.
  35. Babies. They learn to walk with backpacks on.
  36. Coffee shops. They’re everywhere, but there is never any milk on the condiment stand.
  37. Cars. They are black, white, or silver. And that is all.
  38. Jobs. There is a job for everything here. They will put you to work doing anything, including sweeping pebbles from the sidewalk.
  39. Education. See #35.
  40. Patios and balconies. There aren’t any. And no housing with lawns and doors on the ground level, either, unless you’re on the American army base.
  41. Smoke detectors. They don’t believe in these either. It probably has something to do with fan death (see #9).
  42. Eating. Eating is sharing, and sharing is done on the floor.
  43. The Sun. It’s scary. You should avoid it always. Even if it means shading your face with your cell phone as you walk down the road. Because heaven forbid there should be a tree.
  44. Shopping Malls. See #43. They are better kept underground. Korea has the largest underground mall in Asia. And it is, without a doubt, busier on sunny days than rainy ones.
  45. Umbrellas. See #43. They come with UV protection and jewels. You should use them always.
  46. Sugar. Learn to like everything sweet. Literally. Everything. From ham & cheese sandwiches to potato chips. I actually saw a guy on the subway with a chocolate bar iPhone cover.
  47. Spas. Otherwise known as jimjilbangs, these are the greatest invention of mankind. Floor upon floor of baths, saunas, igloos, foodcourts, sleeping quarters, footbaths, massage rooms, arcade rooms, norebongs (karaoke rooms), outdoor patios, outdoor pools, and general relaxation. Dragon Hill spa in Yongsan is, quite literally, heaven on earth.
  48. Random subway strangers. They will fall asleep on your shoulder.
  49. Toothpaste. It tastes like pine trees.
  50. Nakedness. For a country so liberal with getting naked (think jimjilbang), they sure like to swim covered-up. And by covered-up, I obviously mean fully clothed. So don’t expect to go swimming unless you’re wearing your jeans and t-shirts. And don’t forget your swimming cap, or you won’t be allowed in the pool.
  51. Spam. Everyone loves Spam. Gift sets are popular holiday presents. Plus, you can buy it everywhere. Spam on Rice is a popular menu item.
  52. Soju. Inherently Korean, this distilled rice beverage is defined on Wikipedia as “having a taste comparable to vodka, but sweeter.” I beg to differ, Wikipedia. Soju tastes like old socks, end of story. Mix it with Powerade (Poju) if you don’t want to die. ;)
  53. Norebongs. Karaoke rooms. Private singing rooms. Maybe the best invention ever. Even better after a few interactions with #52.
  54. Millionaires. In Korea, I was a millionaire. It was most excellent. And then I had to change all my money into Canadian dollars. And now I would prefer to stop talking about it.
  55. Koreans. Obviously, the best part about Korea. Hanging out with the little ones every day changed my life in amazing ways I could never have anticipated. :) 감사합니다!

Oh, and if you’ve ever lived in Korea… and if offensive language doesn’t put you off… you might enjoy this. It may not be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen… but it is pretty accurate. ; )