collected thoughts: korea

Visiting Seoul is both familiar and foreign experience for me. Below are some things that made me feel like a foreigner and a local at the same time.

On restaurants

Most restaurants have a bell on the table so that you can holler at the waiter or waitress whenever you need. Along with the friendly bell, there’s also a water pitcher, a utensil box and tissue box on the table so that you can help yourself. There’s something very efficient and smart about the process, but also lacked the level of anticipatory service that I was used to.

Franchising is a huge business in Korea, with almost 4,000 food brand franchises that are in business. Because they are so big, I feel the extra need to avoid at all costs, but I end up going to them because food is reliable and they are convenient.

My husband and I went to Paris Baguette every single day because of their coffee and breakfast bread choices. Nothing was good and bad. A total middle of the road type of place.

On subways

Loved how informative Seoul’s subway system is. Signs and screens are everywhere to
– tell you where to wait on the platform
– gently remind you that certain seats are reserved for pregnant women or the elderly
– notify you that the cart has lower AC
– share where the next subway is
– instruct where stand if you want to make sure that you are filmed by CCTV, just in case something happens.

The subway maps even tell you which side the door opens, right or left! Whoever designed these signs should be rewarded.

There were visibly less homeless people on the subway but random sellers and solicitors are still around. On this trip, I saw belt-sellers, arm sleeves to protect against sunburn and umbrellas.

This one time, I heard the train conductor asking the solicitor to get off at the next stop. Scary and convenient. Wonder how he knew about it. Is there a way for riders to report potential solicitors and any other activities on the train?

There was also an old lady putting up promotional pamphlets about a killer real estate deal.

Random transit ads for Korean celebrities bought by their respective fans was still a thing. I saw ads for Fink.l’s debut anniversary, some idol’s birthday and comebacks. Korean fans are on a different level.

And transit ads for plastic surgery deserves an honorable mention, especially around Shinsa and Apgujeong area. No wonder Seoul is plastic surgery mecca.

Random subway stores still sell cute socks. In fact, socks are everywhere in Korea. Wonder if Koreans just wear more socks or if it’s considered an impulse purchase.

Stations with clean bathrooms and convenience stores make traveling much easier, despite the long flights of stairs and long transfer walks.


On bathrooms

Most public bathrooms have signs with explicit toilet paper instructions. Sometimes, you are asked to flush them down the toilet and at other times, you are asked to trash it in the bin.  I prefer the former but there are way more of the latter around Seoul.

And at homes, bathroom light switches are located outside, so I have to remember to turn on the light before entering.

Finally, my biggest pet peeve, you have to wear shoes to enter because Koreans keep their bathroom floors wet for various reasons.

Other random observations

There were noticeably more bad English signs, T-shirts, and tote bags. Random collection of them include Low last price, University de Washington, USA California beef noodle restaurant, unplanned farmers market Los Angeles, I Marymound you.

I get the general gist of what they are trying to say, but wish that they hired proof readers or translators before sending them to the printers.

Visual pollution or annoyance was real. There were neon sings everywhere because commercial stores are everywhere. The city lacked any sort of zoning laws, which enabled a lot of small business owners, who in turn have to suffer from high competition.

Home shopping hosts can make you buy anything. Korea transformed the old fashioned home shopping network into a distribution power house where brands and shopping show hosts make millions catering to deal loving shoppers. the huge downside is that that these shows promote hoarding

Note to self

Seoul is humid and hot — and the indoor AC is not strong. Always bring linen to Korea — linen shirts, pants and dresses to survive.

Department stores are the way to go. Don’t try to be a real local and seek for the latest stores. Just go to the tried and true department stores that have an amazing food court and shopping.

Photo by rawkkim & Timothy Ries on Unsplash

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