Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Land of the Morning Calm

While FM is off doing manly Army related things for the next week, I’ve taken this incommunicado opportunity to do what I do really, really well… research!  There are times when I truly miss the research aspect of grad school, so checking out all that a country like South Korea has to offer has helped scratch my academic minded itch. Honestly, so many people have been filling my head with all of the awesomeness of this place, that holding off to find a good block of time to immerse myself in it has been tough!

I fully believe that in order to travel to a foreign country you have to be able to appreciate the culture, landscape, and history, and try your hardest not to offend whoever you may cross paths with.  I hate to admit it, but it’s a concept Americans tend to ignore, leading to our being labeled as either rude, selfish, or otherwise intolerant as travelers.  To me, that’s just unacceptable!

Here’s some things I found most interesting about the Korean culture, so far

1. Most of Korea is covered by trees, or otherwise vegetation.  That’s a lot of green!  On the upside, that means a lot of breathing room and nature trails.  In fact, Korea’s nickname is the Land of the Morning Calm for its freshness, clear waters, and mountainsides.  

Now that's a calm morning!
2.  They love clean floors, and hate shoes.  Okay, that’s kind of a lie, but Koreans love them some clean houses and I am absolutely down with that!  It’s considered rude to wear your shoes inside the house, as well as in some eating establishments, especially since many Koreans eat and sleep on the floor, so shoes off is a must.  Good thing I’m a big fan of barefoot pedaling!

3. Public transportation has rules.  Spending my fair share of time riding mass transit in and around NYC, this is a BIG cultural shocker.  I’m used to trains being breeding grounds for nasty funk, extremely loud, and rather uncomfortable, of course, that's if you can find a seat.  Koreans believe in quiet mass travel, and reserving seats for the pregnant, elderly, or sick.  I’m all for this non-lazy way to ride the rails. I prefer hands-free subway surfing anyway!

how civilized!

4. There are a lot of rules when it comes to drinking.  YIKES! Apparently there are rather different ways to accept a drink, to hold a drink, to drink a drink.  It’s a little intimidating as I plan to do my fair share of imbibing while abroad.

5. Education is super important.  I’m SO on board with this. The Korean graduation rate is in the 90th percentiles, and spans over a multitude of disciplines outside of your standard math, science, language, etc., including ballet and taekwondo.  Plus, about 98% of Koreans go on to secondary education. Take note America!

 6. Tips are rude.  It’s very rare to tip a waiter, taxi driver, or barber in Korea, actually for most instances, it’s downright rude.   Tipping is viewed as looking down on the provider/server as poor or lowly, which I have to say, is rather impolite. Plus, it is viewed as a reason to be shamed, putting that person in a rather awkward position.

7. Kimchi.  This may be my biggest challenge as Kimchi is eaten with pretty much every Korean meal.  Basically, ferment some cabbage in red chili paste and anchovy sauce for a ridiculously long time and slap it on the side of your breakfast.  If you can hack it, major local respect is granted.  I’m not sure if I can manage that! We’ll see!
And while on the subject of food, never leave your chopsticks freestanding in your rice.  Apparently it alludes to acknowledging the dead, or wishing someone dead, and that’s clearly a bad omen to the living. Good to know!

Don't think I'm diggin' this...

There’s still a ton more for me to learn before I board the big jet plane in a few weeks, but this is a rather decent start. 

I’m really looking forward to spending some time somewhere I never considered going with a culture that is entirely different from my own, for which, I must give a slight nod to the Army for semi-providing us.

I just hope I don’t inadvertently offend someone with a wave or misplaced utensil.

Stick around for more Korean adventures to come!

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