5 Random Things I Love About Living in South Korea
It’s that time of year where many of us have decided to renew our contracts and continue living in South Korea. In the spirit of contract renewal, I’ve decided to write this post about some things I really love about living in Korea. However, it’s easy to list the obvious stuff like the food or the nature or the travel opportunities (the list goes on…), so I thought I’d dig a little deeper. This is a list of things I consider to perhaps be a little “random” (read: weird?) Though some might seem strange I feel like they deserve to be mentioned!
Also, you’ll notice I compare things to Canada a lot. Canada is an awesome country and I in no way want to bash it. It is however the only other country I’ve lived in and thus gets the brunt of my Korean comparisons. <3 you Canada!
So without further ado, please enjoy my list of:
5 Random Things I love About Living in South Korea
1. Easy to find, easy to access public bathrooms
This isn’t something you think too much about until you’re in a situation where you really need a bathroom. Yet, you’re in a public area and have no idea where to go. A teacher that attends one of my Teacher’s Workshops once mentioned to me how hard it was to find a public restroom while visiting Vancouver. It made me laugh because I could totally relate. While living in Toronto unless I was near a large mall it was tough to find public bathrooms without having to go into a nearby coffee shop and order a drink I didn’t want (just to get some bathroom access!).
So if you’re like me and have a bladder that seems unable to hold much, you’ll love the fact that public restrooms are easy to find in Korea. I particularly love how they’re always in outdoor spaces like parks or many (not all) hiking areas. It’s cool to know you can go spend a Saturday afternoon picnicking at the park, knowing you have bathroom access readily available.
There’s also plenty of rest-stops along major highways. There’s the typical bigger ones that I was familiar with in Canada (sometimes called “Trucker Stops”) but there’s also plenty of small ones that literally just have bathrooms.
So yes. I am proud to say part of the reason Korea has won my heart is the bathroom access. Now you see why I titled the post the way I did.
2. General cleanliness of public/shared spaces
This is mostly in reference to buses and public bathrooms. Now, you won’t find me eating off the floor of a bus or public restroom in any country (obviously). I’m certainly not suggesting that in Korea these places are somehow spotless, but they are insanely cleaner than back in Canada that’s for sure.
I remember the first time I got on a bus in Korea. My first thought?
“Wow, I’m lucky. It looks like they just cleaned this bus!”
A few dozen bus rides later and I realized the reality. This is what buses (almost) always look like here. There’s no garbage on the floors, there’s no gross stains on the seats, generally buses are quite comfortable spaces. Sometimes while riding the buses in Toronto I didn’t even want to sit down they were so unclean.
The same goes for public restrooms. In my personal experience (and I assure you I visit them frequently) they are much cleaner than what I was accustomed to back in Canada.
Side note* In no way am I trying to say Canadians are gross and dirty, umm…I am one! However, I would confidently argue there are major differences in how public/shared spaces are treated in each country. Sharing is huge in Korean culture, and I wonder if this could affect how people treat public spaces. It does seem like there is a lot more respect for shared spaces like buses or public restrooms. Maybe this is part of the reason why people don’t completely trash them. I’m sure it goes deeper than that but for now my point is simple: Shared spaces tend to be cleaner than what I was used to, and it’s great!
3. Call buttons on restaurant tables
Once you’ve experienced the glory that is pressing a button to call a server over to your table you will seriously question why this isn’t a universal thing. In Canada you go to a restaurant, you’re seated, you look at the menu, then you wait for the server to come over and take your order. You get your food but now you’d like to order another drink. So you’ve got to either wait patiently until your sever stops by to ‘check on you’, or you’ve got to wave your hands in the air and flag them down.
In Korea this is a non-issue. If you want something you press the button on your table. You press the button when you’re ready to order. You press the button if you need some more water. You press the button if you’ve got a question. The button is magic and I think restaurants everywhere could benefit from it’s magical ways. It totally eliminates the awkward situation where your server drops by to ask you how your food is just as you’ve shoved way too much of it in your mouth. With the button you don’t really have to deal with the small talk you just press it when you need something.
4. No Tipping
I think part of the reason that the button system isn’t full-blown in Canada is because severs get tips. More positive customer interaction likely means better tips and thus the button would negatively impact that.
When you move to a country where tipping is no longer a thing you quickly realize how stupid it truly is. Let’s be clear – I believe people should be paid fair, livable wages. But the actual idea of tipping only some people and not others is pretty weird. So many people out there work terrible jobs where they are treated like garbage by customers (hello retail days!) yet they don’t get the extra benefit of tips. Anyways, the reality is most of the world does not tip like we do in Canada and the United States. It takes spending just a little bit of time in these places to make you feel like it’s a dumb concept in the first place.
5. Assigned seats at movie THEATERS
All the movie theaters I’ve been to in Korea have been great. Significantly lower prices than Canada, they’re clean (see rant above), and the seating is normally roomy and comfy. As well, when you purchase a ticket you get to choose an assigned seat. I know. Radical idea isn’t it? This is another one of those situations where I can’t seem to understand why more countries don’t implement this simple thing (ahem, Canada). It means that if you buy a ticket in advance for a popular movie, you don’t have to show up at the theater super early just to ensure you’re not stuck in the neck-straining front rows. Unless of course you like those rows, then you’ll still be happy since you can select your favored seat no matter where it is! So yes, assigned seating at movie theaters is revolutionary to me even though I know it’s basically always been this way in plenty of other countries. But still, it’s seriously great.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my quick little list of 5 random things I love about living in South Korea. I also hope you’ve picked up on the humour. All countries have good things and bad things and my Korea-Canada comparisons are always done light-heartedly.