I like to pretend that South Korea & I are dating seriously. A few weeks ago, I vented and aired her dirty laundry, or what I think are some of her flaws. But being in a healthy relationship entails accepting a person (or a country in my case) for who they are, fully. And sometimes it’s good to focus on their positive qualities rather than dwell on the negative. Although, I haven’t experienced a honeymoon stage with the ROK, there are plenty of aspects that I do enjoy. In the follow up to the love & hate series, I share some of what I deem to be S. Korea’s virtues…
As a woman, safety is something that is always top of mind. Regardless of where one resides, this is a concern we must deal with on a daily basis, especially at nighttime. Walking home alone can prove to be a stressful if not downright scary experience. We must vigilantly survey our surroundings to watch out for threatening shadows or semi-suspicious characters. While living in Chicago, a city with a very high crime rate, I made sure to always pre-dial 911 if I was walking alone past 11pm. Every time I made it home safe and sound, I let out a huge sigh of relief and got ready to do it all over again the next day. Being a woman is hard work. Aziz Ansari gets it.
Enter South Korea and everything brightens. It is one of the safest countries in the world and I have never felt safer. The uncomfortable sensations of a pounding heart and sweaty palms that were a staple of my nightly walks home do not exist here. Out of instinct, I still remain alert but I haven’t experienced any harassment incident and hope I don’t. It truly feels liberating not fearing for your safety on a daily basis.
One thing South Korea gets right is its public transport. From the buses to the subway, these modes of transportation are immaculate and efficient. Back in Chicago, it was weird if the bus or subway didn’t reek of urine or some other type of body odor. And, the delays were frequent. But not in S. Korea. There is no foul odors or sight of trash despite the lack of public trash cans and the fellow commuters act in the most civilized way I’ve ever experienced. Even though Seoul has a big subway system (there are 18 lines), it is extremely well maintained. Since I’ve been living in South Korea I look forward to using public transport rather than dreading it like I did in Chicago.
One quintessential Korean-ism that struck me upon arriving is the plethora of public parks. But not just your average public park. I am talking about outdoor exercise parks where the elderly go to maintain their flexibility and fitness. The outdoor fitness equipment is everywhere. Every time I go on a hike, there will be at least three little parks. When I go running along a stream or the lake near me, I am bound to pass the elderly using the equipment. There is a park right in front of my apartment and of course it features said machines. The funny thing about the equipment is that their functionality is a bit poor. My friends and I have tried “stretching” but we end up goofing around as the contraptions leave much to be desired. Nonetheless, the machines are always in use by older folks. I was told that the aging generation is adamant about their fitness because they want to avoid becoming a high cost to the government through pension payments. Take this with a grain of salt as I didn’t verify this reasoning.
Anyone that knows me knows I looooove to eat. I always say that someone should pay me to eat, a la Anthony Bourdain. Maybe one day. And I lucked out with my school lunches. I have two schools and both of them know what’s up when it comes to cooking. They serve me superb meals on a daily basis. S. Korean school lunches far exceed the poor excuse for lunches America serves their kids. S. Korean students actually get fresh, home-cooked meals. There is always a hot soup, white rice, meat, side dishes and fruit. Sometimes we are really spoiled and get ice cream, juice or cake. Life is reaaaaaal good in that aspect.
I hope to continue riding the love wave for S. Korea but let’s be real; fights are an inevitable part of relationships. On the next installment of this love & hate series, I will share some more of my annoyances.