|A panoramic view of Pyeongtaek City from atop AK Plaza|
1. Bulgogi and Kalbi
|My daughter checking out a kalbi cooking pit.|
This actually belongs on my "10 Things I Dislike About Korea" list, too, but I won't be writing that post. Korea, due to its deep Confucianist roots, is collectivist, as opposed to individualistic like America and other western nations. For an American living in Korea, this is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing, because people tend to be more concerned with the whole community, rather than their own individual preferences. To the uninitiated it comes across as rude when people push and shove onto the train. But, to Koreans, it is matter of individuals collectively agreeing to sacrifice their own comfort so that everyone can get to where they need to go. The good news is that, though things sometimes seem chaotic, there is a mysterious way in which things always work out. For an American, it is very challenging to keep a good attitude about collectivism, but it must be remembered that they are not being rude to the individual. They are making sure the whole functions and are not willing to let individual comfort get in the way of that.
3. Public transportation
While buses can be a violent ride due to aggressive driving, public transportation is world-class throughout the country. Taxis are everywhere, buses are clean and on time, and trains are WiFi-equipped. There are also inexpensive comfortable commuter buses and high speed trains to carry travelers long distances. Getting groceries with children in tow can be difficult, but families can generally live in urban areas without a car. I use public transportation and my bicycle to get most places.
4. The Internet
Recent research by Akamai reveals that the average connection speed for South Korea was 17.5 Mbps, making it #1 on their list of the fastest internet connections in the world. Japan was #2 at just 9.8 Mbps. The average for Arkansas is 3.74 Mbps, and the average for the U.S.A. is somewhere around 7 Mbps. See the ranking by state here. Connecting to the Internet and having sufficient bandwidth for streaming or downloading is not an issue.
5. Personal quietness
Perhaps only a person who has lived in a loud place like Chicago would notice this, but Koreans are personally quiet--an attribute, which makes them good neighbors. I've very rarely heard a car driving down the road with extremely loud music. On the occasions that I have, it has usually been an American soldier from the nearby U.S. military bases. Koreans definitely stay up late, but they do not have loud, raucous parties that keep up the whole neighborhood. I suspect this relates back to its collectivist culture. Personal behavior that would be so disruptive to the whole would be unacceptable. This is not to say that living here is all quiet. There is a certain level of non-human noise that is common to any urban environment, and there is an U.S. Air Force base nearby to supply sufficient noise pollution to those who like it.
|The fish stand at the Songbook street market|
6. Market venders
Street markets are pretty great. My neighborhood (Jisandong) has a "4-9" market, which means that the street market is set up on any calendar day that ends with either a 4 or a 9. If it can be bought in Korea, you can find it in the market. The streets are packed, lively, and colorful. It is also an ideal place to go out and practice Korean. It can be pushy and crowded, but, if you can just go with the flow, it is all good. Do NOT take a stroller.
7. Personal safety
|"Hello" International Market in Songtan on an off day.|
8. No tipping
Tipping for meals and services is not generally part of the culture here. Employees are simply paid a full wage and the cost of labor is part of the price. Here is a helpful article about the evolving cultural attitudes toward tipping. But, not having to work out a tip does make things easier. I just have to remember when I travel back to the U.S.
Some have even said it can be offensive to tip someone. I've heard that it implies that the server is lowly or even that the extra money should be used to go and learn how to do the job better. There doesn't seem to be any consensus on the explanation however. I have seen a few places in westernized areas with tip jars, so it seems likely that western influence may be changing things slowly here.
9. Organic Communal Spirit
Western, individualistic societies, such as the United States, tend to be rules-oriented. Rules are necessary to ensure that the individuals don't infringe upon one another's individual rights. Therefore, there are clearly-defined building codes, parking spaces, pedestrian spaces, trash pick-up processes, and traffic laws. In Korea, things are much more fluid but they still seem to work out in the end. Traffic laws are loosely obeyed, people drive and park on sidewalks, scooters are everywhere, cars have the right-of-way over pedestrians, some intersections don't have any kind of signals, and the decision-making process of government agencies seems to be completely unrelated to any kind of logical process. This can be extremely frustrating at first, but, in the end, it all seems to work out. The best illustration of this fact is the use of narrow roads in many residential areas. They are two-way but they are only as wide as one car. There are times when cars meet, but no one seems to complain. The issue is not worked out by clearly-defined rules. Rather, there is this unspoken and immaterial spirit of communal cooperation. While two-lane roads are nice, I'm not sure it occurs to people that building them is necessary. Why build another lane when all we have to do is move over and let others pass? This was frustrating at first, but I've come to see the beauty of this (most of the time).
10. The movie theater experience
|The "sweetbox" at a CGV theater. image source.|
11. Rice field roads (for cycling)
|The rice field road between my house and my job|
Korea is not perfect, and there have been moments of exasperation in which I couldn't imagine staying here another week, but I've been called to love and serve here. That means trying to see Korea in the best possible light. This is why I will not be writing a piece entitled "10 Things I Hate About the Republic of Korea." I know its shortcomings, just as I know the shortcomings of my close friends and family members--except my wife, of course. She has none. Because I have chosen to love this country, I will keep those observations to myself. After all, I'm an invited guest who lives here by permission of a foreign culture and its government. I desire only to show respect and contribute to the goodness that his already here. I'm thankful that God has placed me and my family here.
Honorable mentions: Korean Chinese food, beautiful traditional buildings, the natural beauty of the countryside, the cultural respect for teachers, the elevated social status of the elderly, kid-friendly culture, lots of public parks, McDonald's delivery, kids' cafes, abundant public hiking trails, Korean air travel, technology, floor heating, and the phonetic alphabet of the Korean language (hangul).
|The pastoral ride fields under the high-speed train rails on my morning bike commute|
|The sheaves in the foggy field after the rice harvest in front of my school|
|panoramic shot of Hwy 1 in Songtan|
|A beautiful lake (and cycling destination) on the Jinwi River|
|The roof of my apartment building has a cross on it.|
|My Korean homework and notes at Jisandong Cafe|
|My son enjoying a nearby hiking trail in the fall|