When I first arrived in Korea last year I wrote about the 12 Little Ways Life is Different in Korea. It’s funny how much can change in a year and the extent to which we accustom ourselves to our environment. These days, I don’t bat an eye at corn on pizza, face masks are the norm, and my boy students constantly groping each other no longer concerns me. I’ve even started telling people to “take a rest”. Uh-oh.
Couple outfits have almost started seeming like a good idea.
Oh hey, drunk guy passed out on the sidewalk. I see you had another good night. *shrug*
All dogs are white with colorful dyed ears and tails, right?
Watch out pushy ajummas in the subway, I’ve perfected my elbow moves to compete with the best of ‘em, and I WILL get that seat.
But there are still some things that, after 18 months in this country, catch me off guard. Something someone will say, or do, or wear, will make me laugh out loud or drop my jaw in utter disbelief. Some things I still don’t understand, and others will never cease to be annoying. In no particular order, here are a few of those things that I still find strange after living in Korea for a year and a half:
1) The Garbage System: To this day, I have no idea what the real rules are for taking out the trash. After hearing more than a few horror stories, I am so afraid of being fined –or worse, being yelled at by an ajumma– for using the incorrect bag or sorting it wrong that I only take my trash out at night. I walk out with a hoodie and a guilty expression like I just robbed a bank, try to discreetly drop my bag on the designated trash corner, and scurry away like I’m disposing of incriminating evidence. And why doesn’t Korea believe in public trash cans? It’s all a great mystery.
2) Fan Death: No, it’s not the fear that your body will be forced through the blades of a large, razor sharp fan– that might be a legitimate concern. Fan Death is an urban myth that nearly every Korean I’ve met actually believes. Fan Death is the belief that if you sleep in a room with the fan on overnight, you will die. While the details of how the fan actually causes your death are a little fuzzy, some Koreans will say the fan “sucks all the air out of the room” (into some kind of black hole, apparently) while others will say the “cooling air will cause your body to go into hypothermia and kill you”.
3) Fear of Dust: While the toxic gunk that rains down upon Korea each year from China during ‘yellow dust season’ is a very valid concern, Koreans are always hyper sensitive to dust. When cleaning, the windows must always be open, even if it is snowing and -20 degrees outside. Why? “The dust!” In spring time this year I tried to turn on my ceiling fans for the first time and several students and teachers ran at me in horror, screaming, “NOOOOoooooo!” The fans had not been dusted yet and if I turned them on we would all surely perish.
4) The Poop Obsession: Koreans are obsessed with poop. But not in the way of, “Oh, pooping feels really good, I quite enjoy it.” No, Koreans find poop cute. In any store, you can find stickers, notebooks, lunchboxes, and t-shirts with little dung piles decorated with smiley faces. You can eat poop shaped candy and ice cream and bread. My students love incorporating poop drawings into their projects and whenever they see the little happy poop face, they squeal like they’ve seen a kitten and gush, “awwww so cutey!” There is even a POOP CAFE in Seoul. I just… can’t even.
5) Engrish T-Shirts: In a way, I’m very used to the casual butchering of the English language that is evident on nearly every sign in this country. But for some reason, when I see a person walking down the street in a shirt that says “FUCK” and then some unrelated gibberish, and I know the person has no idea what it says, I can’t help but giggle. They seem to grab random phrases off the internet and print them on shirts, which leads to some pretty hilarious material.
I don’t know if these things will ever feel normal, and I don’t know if they should. What are some things in Korea (or another country) that seem strange to you?