We have now come to the end of our 4 month stint here in Korea and have learned so much about the country and also about myself. Korea has changed me in so many ways but here are a few key ones:
I have learned to share my food
For those that know me well, this is huge. A lot of friends know that on my second date with Steve, we were having dinner and he leaned across the table and took a big scoop of my hummus because he didn’t like his starter and wanted some of mine. I was beyond outraged. ‘If you wanted the hummus, you should have ordered the hummus’, I snapped at him before hitting his hand away; debating whether or not I wanted to see this food stealer ever again. However, in Korea, food is for sharing. You don’t order a dish each, you order lots of dishes, place them in the middle and share. Everyone picks at the dishes themselves with their chopsticks. So this was a massive learning curve for me but I’m actually now all about the food sharing because it means never having any food envy; yet another pet peeve of mine.
I no longer want a tan
I used to be a sun-worshipper. I used to brag about how I never needed suncream. But in Korea people hide from the sun. We carry sun-berellas. We slap on the highest SPF we can find on a daily basis, and then some. Having researched a lot about the best skincare products, routines and tips, I quickly discovered just how bad the sun is for your skin. I still don’t like the ‘whiter than white’ look that a lot of the girls sport here. But I definitely take better care of my skin in terms of sun protection and never leave the house without an SPF on, even if it’s winter.
I spend longer on my skincare routine
I used to always think that a skincare routine was cleanse, tone and moisturise. Sometimes I would be fancy and put on a serum. I never went to bed without washing my face, no matter how tired I was or how many proseccos I may have had. I thought I was pretty darn good with my skincare; until I moved to Korea. Most people have heard about the Korean 10 step skincare routine and whilst this does not necessarily mean you have to use 10 products every day twice a day, you will find that the average Korean woman does in fact use about 10-12 skincare products on their face daily. As formulations are very light, women like to layer lots of products like essences, lotions, serums and ampoules and pat them in so that they seep in more effectively. And it must work because everywhere I look here, people have great glowing skin. So I jumped on the bandwagon and devised my own skincare ritual using a multitude of products and I have never looked back since.
I am more conscious about what I wear
Koreans are extremely fashionable. I’ve never seen so many women that look so effortlessly put together. When I first arrived, I used to gawk at all the lovely ensembles and outfits that I would see. Korean women manage to balance girly, cute and sophisticated all at the same time and I am now a complete K-style convert. Back home, I would put on my sweats, scrape back my hair and walk down the street to pick up a coffee. Not here. You wouldn’t be caught dead doing that here. It is part of Korean culture to always strive to be your best, whether it be looks, skin, job etc, and being here has definitely brought that to the surface.
I love a fancy toilet
I was so amused with Korean toilets when I first moved here and loved playing with all the buttons until one day I pressed one that shot a jet stream of water up my bum and was scarred ever since. However, after having being told that actually a bidet is a lot more hygienic I decided to give the fancy toilets another whirl. And let me tell you, I am now a convert. Steve and I joke that we need to get one installed in our toilet when we get back to London. But trust me, once you get used to that heated toilet seat and warm spray you will never want to go back!
I’m a sucker for the cute and the wonderfully weird stuff
Everyone knows that Asians love the cute stuff. Everyone also knows that there are some things that are just darn right weird in Asia as well. I have now come to love both. I want to collect as many soft toys from claw machines as possible. I spend hours looking at cute stationery and stickers. I’m a sucker for the latest beauty product so long as it comes in some ridiculously kitsch packaging. Oh and don’t EVEN get me started on Korean Snapchat filters.
I’m a self-proclaimed K Pop Fan
Psy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kpop. There are sooooo many better tunes than the infamous Gangnam Style. The Kpop industry in Korea is like a giant X factor. Large companies will scout for the best talent, train them up and present them in a group as an ‘idol’. Groups have a lot of members in them; mainly because they can all be replaced should one fail – this is business after all. They come up with ridiculously catchy tunes with ridiculously random lyrics. Oh and don’t be surprised to hear 5 or 6 separate music genres in one track. It can go from Bieber to Aaliyah to Guns’n’Roses to Nicky Minaj and back to Bieber all in one track. It is all wildly addictive.
Han is a Korean concept that is apparently attributed to the fact that Korea has had more than their fair share of invasions and consequently was left feeling oppressed and resentful. Modern day though, a feeling of ‘han’ is described as a ‘feeling of unresolved resentment’. You will see it being shown subtly in every day life; this inability of letting things go and forget, the feeling that someone has wronged you – it’s a common theme in K Dramas. Often Steve will say to me ‘you’re so Korean’ and when we learned about this concept of ‘han’, Steve said ‘ah, that explains so much about you!’ Whether it be a guy that barged me out the way and then yelled at me for being in his way – you can guarantee I will still be raging about it the following week. One time, the restaurant downstairs in our building gave me one dumpling in my soup when usually there are three. When I asked her about it she just snapped something at me and turned away. I will now refuse to go there, even though it’s cheap, tasty and 1 minute away. Petty? Yes. Bothered? No.
And finally some things that I will just never get used to…
I already ranted about the lack of gym etiquette in my blog Life in Seoul Part II. And a month later it still grates me. The weights are all scattered on the floor and the ones that are on the stand are in the wrong order. I once waited 20 minutes to use a machine because the guy on there took 3 business calls. And for the life of me, I still do not understand why no one runs on the running machines. Yes I could just let it go, but you know, ‘han’ and all….
Double Eyelid Surgery
1 in 3 women in Seoul have had double eyelid surgery which is, for those that don’t know, adding a crease in to ones eyelid so it looks more like how a Western eye looks. I wrote a blog about my feelings on this previously. Another popular surgery is having your eyes widened so that they appear more round, instead of almond. I would rather focus on my skincare and make up and enhance what God gave me rather than change it completely.
The lack of understanding of road rules
When you cross the road in Korea and wait for the green man, PLEASE wait a few seconds longer. There will always be 3-4 cars or buses that speed through long after the green light has gone. Additionally, zebra crossings mean nothing here. Cars will speed up to them and beep you out the way; we’ve had to dodge out the way numerous times – ON A PEDESTRIAN CROSSING. Steve will politely wait or step back (like any smart person would do) whereas I will stand there and start yelling at them to look up the road rules (which of course is completely pointless because he hasn’t the faintest idea what I am saying to him). I read an article that said that this complete lack of appreciation of road rules may be due to the Korean mentality of ‘must do everything quicker’; the idea that following the war, no man wants to be left behind so everyone is in a hurry. It is an interesting idea, but a crap reason nonetheless.
Never get in the way of a Korean person trying to get somewhere. I guess this is related to the point above. Queueing barely exists and no one holds doors for each other (seriously, I think we British are the only people who still do this). At first, I was impressed on the tube when people queued outside the doors but as soon as those doors open it’s a free for all and people will just barge on to the tube. Koreans always seem to be in a hurry and they will not give a damn if they have to shove you out the way… (And then give you a disgusted look because you were in their way).
Image from Maangchi’s website – maangchi.com
I will always try anything once. And until recently, there was absolutely no food that I could say I categorically hated. Sure, there were foods that I wasn’t particularly keen on like offal, but I didn’t hate it to the point where I would refuse to eat it. Until I tried raw crab. MY GOD, it was the most disgusting thing ever. It was like stale, fishy sea water; E.coli in a mouthful (it is actually safe to eat but you get my drift). The waiter came to our table with a plate of fried rice in one hand and a live crab in the other. Unceremoniously, he chopped up the crab and dumped its contents on to the rice. I felt awful because someone had actually bought it for us and it is considered a delicacy here but I just couldn’t bring myself to have a second spoonful of it. (And I was drunk at the time so that’s saying something.)
The Almighty Soju Hangover
I have had my fair share of horrific hangovers. Skipping dinner, shots, mixing drinks; been there. But none have been quite so bad as the soju hangover. As it only costs a quid and gets you (and keeps you) at a steady level of the happiest level of tipsiness it always starts out well and lulls you in a false sense of security. Fast forward to the next morning and you will not be able to lift your head from your pillow. It’s a wine hangover times a hundred. It’s worse than a migraine. It is simply awful. I cannot eat anything, I cannot get up, I just have to sleep it off the entire next day. But has it stopped us from drinking it every weekend?