Things I know after living in Korea

Hell has been let loose, and I’ve fulfilled my dream to stay in Seoul. Do I like it? I couldn’t say no, but I can’t say yes confidently too.

It’s been 3 weeks since I lived in Seoul, and being around something new is what I need to adapt myself to. It’s true that I’ve dreamt of being around Koreans, surviving in between them, ride the bus, take the subway just like them. But me, as an introvert living in another country is like struggling hard to control myself not to freak out in all these new situations which I need to cope with. All the people around me are like bombs that I’m afraid they might explode right beside me anytime.

I still need to say thanks to all my friends cum co-workers for helping me and taught me so many things while I’m here. And these are the very few things that I have found out after living here.

  1. Anyone can sign on your behalf when paying with credit / debit card – Yep. ANYONE!
  2. Actual signature is not required for credit / debit card – I only draw a line.
  3. Wet tissues are for cleaning, except dishes and cloths.
  4. Housemates doesn’t sleeps until it is 1am or later – They will think I’m in depression mode if I sleep early.
  5. You pay for garbage. Wait, what? You need to buy garbage bags, with correct DISTRICT printed on it. You can’t just use those you got from markets.
  6. Bus is better than subways – At least I have a place to sit everyday.
  7. Daiso and/or E-mart is your life saviour, things are pretty cheap at these marts.
  8. Free wifi is hard to get – Everyone knows this… So use Wifi-Korea! Sounds like I’m promoting them too hard.. 😛 But they are reliable though.. 🙂
  9.  It’s way too hard to find oats in Korea, except in Cotsco.
  10. Rain in Korea is annoying. It just rains, erm, more like drizzles the whole freaking day! Most times!
  11. Creepy crawlies are just even uglier – They need plastic surgeries badly.
  12. Watching movies in Seoul is EXPENSIVE – It’s 10,000 won for a movie (exclude pop-corns & drinks), which I can watch at least twice back in Malaysia!)
  13. If you see Korean girls (or guys) scream when they see pigeons, like they came in contact with a T-rex, don’t freak out. They say pigeons are the dirtiest animal in the world. Seriously?
  14. Sam-so – It’s short for Sam gyup sal + Soju. Soju is a must when eating sam gyup sal.
  15. When you expect to cool your body heat in the subway station after a LONG HOT walk in the sun……… They got no central aircond system in there. Duh!
  16. Winds just came from nowhere, every directions, out of a sudden. I hate it when I’m with an umbrella.
  17. Koreans brush their teeths after EVERY meal. Even in the office. Hmm…..
  18. Even if you don’t pay electricity, you still can use it, with limited capacity. In Malaysia, it’d be dark until you paid the bill.
  19. Deposit for houses starts from 1 million won, and rental will depends on the deposit. For 1 million won, monthly rent will be around 500,000 won. Rent reduce if deposit is more.
  20. Electricity & water bills are bank transferred to an account specifically for that unit.

This is just my personal experiences and opinions.

 

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Thoughts about MERS in Seoul

I was excited when I came to Korea on the 27th May but after a couple of days arriving in Seoul, MERS epidemic has popped out of no where when some guy came back from the Middle East and fell sick, naturally those came in contact with him got the virus.

As the time I wrote this post, it has been confirmed that 4 deaths had been arisen and 50 people has been confirmed to have transmitted with the disease. However, those who passed away are quite elderly and had previously diagnosed with respiratory problems.

Update as at 01/07/2015 – Confirmed cases: 182, deaths : 33, discharged from hospital: 97. There has been NO new cases reported for the pass 4 days and virus obviously stabilized.

Update as at 20/6/2015 – 0 new cases & 0 new deaths (death toll 24) as of this date. Virus is subsiding.

Update as at 15/6/2015 – Confirmed cases increased to 150, while death toll rise to 16 (mostly elderly).

It is true that the virus spread at a relatively quick pace throughout Korea and there’s at least 1 death everyday due to MERS, as of now they are all 50 years and above. It can be seen that there are a few more Koreans who have their masks on recently compared to when the virus first spread. However, it is still not as scary as medias reported. Although the amount of Koreans having masks on increased slightly, it is still a very small number (5% maybe) compared to those who don’t have it on. MERS is actually not air-borne, as per experts.

As an evidence, the guy who first caught with MERS traveled back to South Korea in a plane, and if it was spread by air, he should have already transmitted the virus to all the passengers on board. But as of today, it can clearly be seen that the virus are spreading through the hospitals and not by air and public.

I first thought that the virus spread fast due to Korean’s common food sharing culture. But it is a fact that it did not spread through this method.

However, my advice is still not to share food with people and keep your hands cleans.

Of course if you felt threaten by the virus, you could always put on a mask. Note that mask are really expensive now in Korea, and most of the place are out of stock. Please bring your own so that you don’t need to struggle finding for masks.

Update 15/6/2015: MERS did not spread publicly as of today and only spread through hospital visitors and patients, and some of their family members had it too. Avoid HOSPITAL at all cost.

The number of people infected are increasing quite rapidly, however, the government is barely doing anything to actually try prevent the virus from spreading even more. Try avoiding hospitals too if possible as many of these confirmed cases are spread through hospital visits.

Update 15/6/2015: Government had been disinfecting the subways every now and then.

Due to this outburst, business in Seoul took a direct hit as well when people starts cancelling trips and bookings they have made prior to the outbreak. From a report from Korean Tourism Organisation, 7,000 people are said to have cancelled their trips to Korea, while visitors who are in Korea during this period too have decided to shorten their trip and return to their country earlier.

Visitors to Insadong and Myeongdong can be seen to have decreased by a huge number too.

If you’re wondering, it is actually STILL SAFE to visit Korea, though my advice is to anyhow keep a hand sanitizer with you at all times, and wash your hands before eating. You can also visit the MERS map website for MERS affected areas in Korea (Korean only though).

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What to pack for Korea trip – all 4 seasons

Coming from Malaysia, I can’t say I’m not excited to spend my days, or months, or even years in a 4 seasons country. And this is the very first time in my life to spend my time out of my own comfort zone, into the unknown foreign place of Seoul, Korea. For those who are unsure of what to wear, I have listed this out for you guys. Eastasy wrote a breakdown of what to wear from head to toe, you may want to read it as well!

So here’s basically what you might need during the summer (Late May ~ Sept).. Summer in Korea is unlike Malaysia. It’s not as hot as Malaysia, but the humidity here is the real pain in the neck. Sometimes, there’s no wind at all, and it gets extremely humid after rain.

  • T-shirts (take a few extras) – It’s summer and you’ll need it. You know why right?
  • Loose jeans
  • Shorts – more the better
  • Pajamas – best if you sleep naked!
  • Cap
  • Socks – bring extras if you wear everyday
  • Sports shoes, sandals (my size: 260, it’s like an extinction for me!) – Go to Shoopen for cheap & decent shoes varieties (and larger sizes too)!
  • Umbrella – Summer also means rain in Korea
  • Bikini (for beach lovers)
  • Sun lotion

Also, a heads up for big foots, size 260 and above is terribly tough to find. You could, but it cost a lot more and you’ll only be able to get it in certain places. So, bring an extra pair or 2 if you’re planning to stay long in Korea.

(*Update: You may find some in Shoopen)

For people who came from a tropical country like me, we tend to worry about what to wear on cold seasons as we have never experienced such temperatures back at home.

In addition, I’ve been getting quite some queries on what to wear during these season, thus, here’s a summary of what you will need to bring during Spring, Autumn and Winter. (I will be listing it according to the average temperature rather than the actual seasons themselves.)

Spring/Autumn – Apr~Early May/ Oct

Once it’s Spring season, the weather gets warm rather quickly, which is somehow slightly warmer than Autumn. Sometimes Autumn can be tricky, it gets warm in the afternoon and cold in the wee hours.

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Outfit for Spring / early Autumn
  • Short sleeve shirt (in case weather gets too hot)
  • Thin / Medium thickness jacket, Wind breaker (for mid ~ late Aprearly ~ mid Oct) / Knitted sweater (early Aprlate Oct)
  • Long sleeve cotton shirt (4 ~ 5 pcs, you’ll wear them most of the days)
  • Sneakers / Sports shoes (Winter boots is NOT necessary during this period, though you might need on Mar & Nov)
  • Normal jeans
  • Wool leggings (2 pcs, if you prefer not to wear jeans)
  • Normal but not too thin socks
  • Gloves (when the wind is cold, especially after rain)
  • Moisturizer
  • Lotion to keep your skin from drying up & cracks
  • Lip balm
  • A thick jacket / sweater or a thin down jacket for late October
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[2016] Early October. I feel cold due to rain in this outfit. Recommend a slightly thicker jacket & not so thin inner shirt will do the job for Early ~ Mid October.
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Outfit for early Spring (mid ~ late March / end Oct)

Winter – Nov ~ Mar

Winter can be harsh in Korea, as in it’s really dry and some days, really cold. And the wind is what making walking outside unbearable. You will be fine when the wind is absent, but you’ll be running indoors a lot if you don’t get dressed well when wind blows! Skip to (almost) end for the kind of coat you will need.

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  • Thick knitted sweater
  • Thick winter coat (you can get cheap & decent ones from Namdaemun market)
  • Wool / fleece lined long sleeve shirt (4 ~ 5 pcs, you’ll wear them every single day) – Find cheap & decent ones from Topten outlets
  • Wool scarf (You’ll need a thicker one, you might find cheap ones in Myeongdong btw, I got mine for only 5,000 won!)
  • Covered shoes or boots (slip & waterproof) – especially when it’s snowing
  • Winter leggings – with fur / fleece lined – Get a couple from E-mart if you’re in Korea. It’s thin, cheap & really keeps me warm compare to the so called heat tech from Uniqlo
  • Loose jeans with fleece lined leggings inside – DON’T wear tight jeans, because the cold outer surface will make the cold worse!
  • Wool socks (3 pcs) – You’ll need it, trust me
  • Scarf / mask – Need to cover your nose when temperature is below -10’c, the dry air will make your nose hurt
  • Ear muffs – If you don’t have a hoodie on your coat
  • Gloves – Preferably leather, blocks the icy wind
  • Face moisturizer
  • Body lotion – This is a MUST!!
  • Lip balm – This is also a MUST!! If you didn’t bring, you can get it at Daiso (cheaper) or convenient stores
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Dec 2014 – Inner layers (1 cotton long sleeve, 1 wool long sleeve, 1 knitted sweater)

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[Click for bigger image] Above is my humble winter coat.

 

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Side pockets are most important since they are your hands saviour. It should be comfortable when you rest your hands in and I’m sure you don’t want your arms to feel “uncomfy” the whole day right?

For me, it’s below waist length due to my long arms. And you also wanna make sure the inside cloth can keep your hands warm (not necessarily heat tech, but at least not something that can get cold).

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Osaka autumn. Brought the wrong coat so I was taking on and off. This coat is strictly for winter. And yes, I wore Dr. Martin (fake) shoes on winter. It’s waterproof + blocks the wind. Click for bigger picture.
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That’s a frozen Han River behind!
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What NOT to do in Korea

Hundreds, or not thousands of “what-to-do-in-Korea” posts one could find out there but less about “what not to do” or any negative stuffs about a place or products. Humans are born curious, while most of the times, curiosity arouses towards things they didn’t know about. That says, me included.

Though I’m not a Korean local, however, curiosity had successfully led me towards loads of researching, K-dramas as well as countless visits to Korea, with that, I exposed myself to their cultures to the extend that I could basically call myself a local? No… I’ll just be my humble self and reject that statement, yet, many Koreans would tell me that when I’m with them.

I tend to think of when travelling to one’s country is literally like taking a visit to someone’s home. Thus, utilizing my knowledge, I’d like to share some of my insights on what you should try to AVOID in Korea.

  • Do not flush toilet papers into the toilet bowl.

Korea has narrower piping systems compare to most countries, so it gets easily jammed up if you’d do that, and that’d be gross, if you get what I mean. Always throw in the bin that they provided instead.

  • Do not pour a drink for yourself if you’re drinking with others. I meant alcohol.

Koreans are heavy drinkers, colleagues get along together every week or month to drink, probably to release stress? However, pouring a drink for yourself is a big NO NO! Maybe it relays the meaning of “being lonely”?

Remember to ALWAYS accept a drink with both hands!

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  • Do not talk loudly or talk back, disrespecting an elderly.

I hate to say this but I think Korean cultures are still kind of conservative. Of course, respecting an elderly is something people should be doing, but in Korea, talking back or shouting (unless they have hearing impairment) at the old folks, it’s consider as disrespectful.

  • Do not tip.

Tipping in most countries are a norm, however it is NOT in Korea, some restaurants even banned customers for tipping their staffs. I remember once a Korean girl told a vendor to keep the change and walked away, the store owner was actually furious and swearing non-stop at her. Hmm..

  • Do not reject a drink if being offered, unless it’s a stranger.

I personally thinks that Koreans are a sociable group of people when you get along well with them. When being offered a drink, just take a couple of sips even if you can’t drink much instead of rejecting them directly. It makes you more sociable and friendly in my opinion.

  • Do not start eating before the eldest of the group starts first. (Remember, respecting an elder.)

As in point #3, respecting an older person is a culture that every Koreans bare on their minds. Therefore, it’s normal for an older person to start eating first before the younger one does. To them, this is a form of respect.

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  • Do not talk too loud even in public places (I meant other than in subways or buses).

I remember once that a friend of mine talking ever so loudly and got HUSH! by an ahjumma. It’s an open space and I’m very sure it’s not a closed space! So my advice is that you better keep your volume a little low as it might irritates the Koreans (especially the older people).

  • Do not ask the restaurant staff for utensils until you have searched under the table.

Usually, if you couldn’t find utensils on the tables, it’s most likely stored in a slide out drawer beneath the table, along with tissues, or serviettes if you call it that way. It’s a smart move in my opinion, clean and tidy.

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  • Do not talk loudly in cafes.

It’s true that there are hundreds of cafe all over Korea, but there are even more students in the whole Korea. Korean students are basically known as hardcore students as they tend to study day and night during exam periods, even in cafes. Make sure you keep it low when you are chatting with your companies or you might get caught in those killer glares. It’s gonna be awkward you know.

  • Don’t dress inappropriately.

Inappropriately as in too overly “exposed” of your body, especially girls wearing something that shows too much of your cleavage. If an older person saw you in that shirt, you’re gonna get nagging (not sure about scolding and yelling yet though) from them. Even if they didn’t know you personally. (Bikini is ok, just don’t walk around the city wearing it.)

  • Do not pay money back to your Korean friend if they treat you for a meal.

Instead, pay them back with a cup of coffee! I think this is a way that they stay in contact with each other, when a Korean treat you a meal, you treat them with a cup of coffee or something to drink in return. But I don’t think I’m able to adapt myself with this culture though.

  • Try to avoid eating on the go.

The reason: It’s hard to find garbage bin on the sidewalks! It’s really inconvenient to hold your trash and walking all around with it, especially if you’re a photography enthusiast like me! Though lack of bins, you hardly find trash anywhere on the roads though, and that makes Korea looks really clean.

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Experiencing human traffic abroad

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Most people in Korea takes public transport especially subway. I’m not so sure about prices of cars, but I can definitely say that to refill petrol in Korea is like pumping money into your car like water. It’s so expensive!

Anyhow, taking public transport during peak hours is indeed a pain in the neck, imagine almost 50% or more of the population in Seoul fighting their way through crazy pack stations, trains and buses. What more to say when Korean’s “people-pushing” etiquette is awfully irritating. What I experienced was being pushed from behind at subway stations, without a word, no excuse me, no sorry. Not once, but twice, young or old, it’s a habit of them. Deep down I’m thinking, looking at how the pack was, pushing wouldn’t bring you anywhere either don’t you think?

As a visitor, we want to avoid such hours but who knows we might bumped into such madness once a while, and here’s what it looks like being stuck in a human way of jam at a subway station. Good luck squeezing through!

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Save money while travelling in Seoul

You had finally booked your first flight to Seoul and searching for more information about places to visit while you are there. Probably you might be also thinking “if only there’s a way to cut some budget”.

I had traveled to Seoul twice and with some understanding of the Korean cultures and time spent researching about Korea, so I thought of making a list that could be of some help about ways to keep your money to your own pocket.
1. Free water, or some time rice tea

In my country, restaurants charge customers even though it’s just a cup of water. Instead, in Seoul, once you sit down at the table, you will be greeted with a bottle of cold water, free! What’s even more better, it’s refillable, just ask the staffs and they will bring you another bottle. What if there the ahjummas/agashi/ajuhssi aren’t serving you any water? No worries, check around the restaurant to see if there’s any water dispenser, basically it’s for you to fill up your cup.

2. T-money 20140729_171556 The very first thing to do when you step foot in Korea is to get a T-money from any convenience shops for only 2,500 won, you can either refill it straight from the shop or at any of the machines in subway stations. Subway, taxis, buses accept this card and it doesn’t only help you to save time without the need of queuing and buying your tickets, you can also save 100 won off your fares as compared to buying tickets by cash.

A side note, T-money have no expiration date, so you could keep and reuse it whenever you return to Korea.

3. Try to avoid taxis

Some people would prefer to go by taxi, but hey, Seoul has a great subway system which is connected throughout many districts and areas, grab the subway map at the stations, hop on the right train and track, and happy riding! Even nowadays buses are getting a lot of attention from the travelers and tourists too, not to forget that Seoul had launched it’s night owl buses recently.

4. Free samples

When I read online regarding free samples was given to anyone who enter the skin care shops, at first I didn’t really trust it, not until I was there myself. While walking around Myeongdong, the shop assistants were ushering customers to go in have a look at their products and handed you a basket which they already had sample(s) in it. We didn’t bought anything but we took the samples *I felt guilty taking it, but my mom isn’t*. But if you were to buy any products from them, they will give you more samples at the counter. So, maybe you can buy 1 item at a shop, at a time, you might find yourself with lots of samples which can be used while you’re moving around.

5. No tipping culture

Tipping in Korea is not necessary. Unlike the Western culture, Koreans doesn’t practice the tipping culture, and some shops even banned customers from giving tips to the staffs. You can definitely save some bucks in Korea.

6. Stay in guesthouses or hostels

Nowadays, guesthouse and hostel businesses are blooming in many country, thanks to those who are traveling on a budget that motivated a lot of owners to start their own little cozy place for travelers and tourists to stay. In Seoul, you can easily find a guesthouse in mostly every corner ranging from 18,000 ~ 25,000 depending on the place. Why pay more to stay in a luxury hotel when you only need a comfortable place to spend the night and do your business?

7. Free Walking Tours

If you search on the internet, you could sometime find Korean students giving free tours to foreigners, allowing them to know more about the culture and history of their country, as well as making some new friends for language exchange. You can check out a Facebook page which provide free walking tours to tourists.

Hopefully few of these tips may give you some insights about saving costs when traveling in Seoul.

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