Monday, October 17, 2016

What I Like About You, Korea!

Something that makes me smile: when we first landed in Busan and were all zonked from the long flight, we were trying to wake up Wyatt and Lilly.  We leaned over Wyatt, who was completely sound asleep, and said, "Hey, Wyatt... Guess where we are, buddy!"  Before his eyes even opened all the way, he got a big old grin on his face and said, "KOREA!"  It was so cute.

I wrote this on my two-monthiversary in South Korea.  Two months is not that long, I know -- definitely not long enough to be considered an expert.  But it's longer than most vacations to a foreign country, and long enough to have developed some first impressions as well as strong likes... And, to be honest, a few dislikes.

So without further ado, here is a brief summary of the best things about Korea (so far) (in my humble opinion), and the one thing I just don't enjoy at all.

-- Hands down, by far and away, I love the way Koreans love and value children.  It's so sweet and wonderful -- and a sharp contrast to America.  They like all the kids, but the younger ones are definitely the stars.  I spend a lot of time with just Annalee these days now that the older four are in school, and it's like being with a major celebrity.  People scream, ask to take their pictures with her, run up and rub their cheeks against her head.  I even saw a woman walk into a pole because she was waving at Annalee.  It was pretty funny, though I felt bad for her.  The downside to this is that the older people sometimes think I'm not mothering right.  For instance, on the super windy day I spoke of a couple posts ago (when my shirt blew almost over my head), I was chewed out by a group of elderly ladies because... Well, I'm not exactly sure, but I think it was because I had Annalee in a stroller that didn't cover her face?  I've even heard of older women smacking young mothers (with fans or similar) because they were "doing it wrong".  I know that will take some patience for me the longer I'm here.  But for now, I think it's mostly cute and funny and sweet.  I'll never forget the day, as Matt and I were walking home with Annalee, an older woman was so enraptured with her, she grabbed Annalee's other hand and started walking with us.  I wasn't sure how long it would last and even started to think she might be coming home with us.  Annalee didn't mind a bit, though.

-- Along those lines, I love all the playgrounds here.  I was so worried about moving from Hawaii because of how outdoor-oriented our lifestyle was there.  We went to the beach a lot, and there were several nice playgrounds in my neighborhood.  Our lifestyle has definitely changed significantly, but I'm so very grateful for the plethora of playgrounds to choose from whenever we can go outside.  I can't help but think that if America invested in playgrounds the way the Koreans do, perhaps childhood obesity wouldn't be on the rise like it is, and we'd have much happier kids.
-- The bathrooms here... Well, there's a lot to say here... Just the buttons on my toilet make me blush. (So graphic!!).  
Basically, though, the toilets are very similar to those in Japan.  They are  far more than just a bidet; they are spas.  Also, as someone who is really not fond of public restrooms in general, I've found that they aren't as bad here (in general) (aside from the fact that if it's public, the toilet you're sitting on has been sat on by hundreds of other people that day. Ew.).  If you're American, you know how the doors on bathroom stalls are about an inch too short on either side, so you have a gap where you can see the person sitting there?  
(Image via Imagur)
Not so here!  The doors actually fit the frame!  No embarrassing moments of awkward eye contact!  Can you even imagine?!  Memo to America: make better bathroom doors. You can do this.

(Also, this is funny.)

-- The elevators and escalators here are smartly done.  I could probably do an entire post on the elevators as they are truly a wonder.  I've seen so many people pack into them, it's like those car- and phone-booth-cramming contests in the 50's and 60's.  You'd be amazed.  When we first arrived, and it was so crowded in our hotel, we were riding the elevator one day, trying to get somewhere in a hurry of course, and it was stopping at literally every floor.  There was no air conditioning, and as more and more people squeezed in, I was starting to worry a little.  Finally, at one floor, three people tried to get on and a little kid squashed in the back corner (not one of mine this time!!), started crying, "No! NO! NOOOOO!!!"  The three were guilted off the elevator, which was probably good.  You really can't go anywhere without having to go on at least one, so on the one hand, you will spend a lot of your time in Korea waiting for and riding elevators.  But they have this one feature that is just so great.  If you press the button for the wrong floor, guess what?  You can just press it again and "turn it off"! So brilliant!!!  (especially if you have young children who love to press buttons) (or you're with Buddy the Elf, which is pretty much the same thing)  

 And most of the escalators have motion sensors on them so that they are not using electricity (expensive!) all the time.  

-- The subway is fantastic!!!  I love it.  I didn't ride it until I'd been here over a week, and when I did, I just thought, Why haven't I done this sooner?!  It's so easy to use and has (almost) everything written in English as well as Hangul.  It's clean and efficient, inexpensive, AND there is a glass wall that separates the platform from the rails.  That's right: a WALL!!  What a great idea, right?!  As a mom who rides the subway with kids, I think about all the stories I've seen and heard of people falling on the tracks, and it makes me feel so much better to have those doors there.  The only downside to the subway is that it doesn't go everywhere, and also lately, Annalee has taken to doing her bird-of-prey screech whenever we're on it.


-- The Koreans have a serious and wonderful commitment to coffee.  I'm trying to think of a place where you'd walk more than fifty yards without seeing a coffee shop.  It's fabulous.  It even inspires poetry.  Magical thing!
-- I also love the Korean farmers' markets and fruit-and-vegetable trucks.  There is a street that goes right behind the hotel we stayed in that has a farmers' market along it, and it's amazing just to walk down.  I don't love all of it; there's a large section dedicated to seafood which smells pretty awful.  And there are also various chunks of meat lying around.  But the produce is delicious, and the vendors are generally so friendly, and there's always something interesting to look at.  Annalee and I enjoy just walking along it. 

I could add a lot to this list -- and I probably will soon -- but I'm trying to keep this post a little shorter since my last few have been crazy long.  

-- Sorry, but if I'm going to keep this honest, there are a few things I'm not crazy about here. My hands-down least favorite part of Korea is the motor vehicles -- cars, taxis, buses, scooters, trucks, etc. My car is here, but Matt and I share it.  And honestly, even when I have it, I usually try to use public transportation or walk.  The only set rule I've seen is, "When driving, use the horn generously."  Granted: it could be worse. It is not the level of road anarchy you'd see in the Middle East or Bangladesh.  Or even LAX.  Still, every time I get in a taxi or drive somewhere, I hear Carrie Underwood singing, "Jesus, Take the Wheel".  It would be funny if not for the fact that lives are at stake.  We have found one particular taxi driver we use when we can who is wonderful.  He's just not always available.  

Walking isn't necessarily safer.  When I was in drivers' ed, the first thing we learned was, "Pedestrians always have the right-of-way."  Not so here.  I've been in crosswalks and had a walking sign (so the cars had a red light) and had cars stop just inches -- I not exaggerating -- from me or my kids.  My mamma bear instinct struggles with this!  I keep thinking about how if we were in the same room, these would be the people doting on my kids, but on the road, we are just something in the way.  It doesn't make sense.  Also, scooters drive on the sidewalks and may or may not use their horns to let you know they're coming.  But I still prefer walking to having to drive or take a taxi anywhere.  If you're looking for things to pray about, please pray for our safety.

Overall, though, I think this is an amazing country, full of beauty and many wonderful people.  It is definitely taking some adjusting to live here, but there is lots to love.  It's definitely a country more people should want to visit.

{Have you been to Korea?  If so, what were your favorite (or least favorite) things?  Any tips? }