It’s a date! 샤로수길에서는 데이트!

Over the weekend, we decided to go on a lavish date and live our lives as though we had all the time and money in the world. By that, I mean we ate three different meals within the space of about 3.5 hours with a heartfelt session of karaoke in between meals one and two to settle our appetites. The date location: Sharosugil (샤로수길) which is located near Seoul National University Entrance station on line 2. I just googled this neighbourhood to see how it was spelled in English and found out how trendy and new this it is. I am NEVER a cool and trendy person. I’m always miles behind the times but secretly think I am super trendy in my middle-age-woman-inside-a-twenty-two-year-old state of mind. This time, it’s no secret.

First order of date business: wandering the ‘hood to take mental notes for future date plans so we can come back here every single week for the foreseeable future. This is an important step when in Seoul because most eating establishments you visit are ones you only find out about from walking by and sneakily trying to see what people have on their plates through the window.

The name of this cafe we walked past translates to ‘Your small table’. How sweet is that? I love that they are so up front about the small table size. Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting a large table, I’d barely fit through the door.

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We were on the hunt for a burger restaurant named ‘9 Ounces’ only to find they had stopped selling burgers by the time we reached the restaurant. We weren’t about to sit in a burger restaurant and sip on cokes while our tummies grumbled, so we walked back to another ‘Burger Joint’ that we passed along the way. It was literally called ‘Burger Joint’ which was a weird name to read in a non-English speaking country. We ordered 2 cheese burgers and a side of tasty fries. The result… well, see for yourself below. I really enjoyed eating a burger that didn’t taste like it was made 4 weeks ago (*Lotteria*). Burger Joint Review: Good burgers, good vibes, good times. My feet were slightly cold but that was not the burger’s fault.

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Second order of business: Karoke. There’s no better way to clear space in your stomach for two post-lunch meals than singing a round of songs in a Korean coin karaoke room. My personal favourite noraebang tune for clearing space is Disney’s ‘Let it Go’. That wasn’t a pun, by the way, I just love Frozen. We then went to a dessert cafe which had a crucial typo in its name and ate strawberry cake and coffees. Be warned, instagram influencers and opportunistic photographers, cafes in Seoul are hella cute and serve up tasty spreads but they’re also hella expensive. Why I regularly pay 5,000 won for a latte is BEYOND me. Here is that cafe now.

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After gorging on a whole cake (which wasn’t really Ju’s style so he had extra room in his stomach) we stumbled upon possibly the best street food ‘pajeon’ ever. Pajeon or ‘Jeon’ are Korean pancakes and they’re often served with ‘Makkeoli’ which is Korean rice wine. We ordered the squid pancake and OH MA G it was hella tasty. We’re already planning to go back there this week for round 2. Lastly, to put into perspective just how expensive coffee is in Korea, this giant plate of squid pancake cost the same amount as my latte from the previous cafe. I’m still a young spring chicken so I should probably stop complaining about the cost of everyday, mundane things. I’ve got my golden years to do that.

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Korean squid pancake and pickled radish

What do you do for dates in Seoul? Let me know! Let’s Skype about it or get our nails done.

Lost in Fruit

Yesterday, as a gust of clean Seoul air swam its way through the dusty cocktail Saturday left behind, I meandered through the back streets of my neighbourhood to go to the local fruit and veg market. To set the scene, let me just say that the back streets near my house would be the perfect place to film an (on-foot) small scale burglary chase or, I don’t know, shoot a catalogue for an elderly women’s fashion movement. It just has that kind of edgy but practical kind of feel to it. Anyway. So, off I trot to the market feeling all empowered and not at all anxious about being the only western person within a 200km radius. I wander up to the bright fruit stall opposite the equally bright fruit stall I usually go to because I thought it would be nice to shake things up a bit. I point to what looks like a basket of juicy mandarins and say (in my best Korean) ‘please give me these mandarins’. The vendor did not correct my attempt to order what was in fact not a basket of mandarins. As she piled the unfamiliar looking mandarins into a black plastic bag, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Much to my not at all surprise, I did not protest the above average ($10) price tag for so few “mandarins” (for that matter, I would never protest anything in a second language unless encouraged by alcohol). Instead, I held my head high, faking the aura a person who just purchased exactly what they wanted might possess. I strolled on home, back through the narrow grandma/gangster back streets, past the old men smoking in their pyjama pants outside their homes and into the safety of my home that does not speak to me in Korean. The way I feel when attempting to do anything in a foreign language by myself is crippling and liberating, making any situation where speaking is required quite awkward. My brain wants to shout out random phrases I’ve memorised like ‘happy new year’ or ‘thank you for the food’, but my body just wants to pretend I’m travelling on business and therefore far too important to learn the local language. The result of these conflicting feelings is me just kind of making weird grunting noises with robot arms while I somehow simultaneously nod and shake my head when given any opportunity to speak another language. It’s very sexy.

After one month of living in Seoul, I’m hoping that from here it will get easier. I hope to come home with the right fruit next weekend feeling accomplished and slightly less like an alien. To be fair to myself, the fruits did all look the same, hence this illustration that I decided to draw and share with you all. I hope you enjoyed this anecdote. If you didn’t enjoy it, that’s okay too. It wasn’t meant to change your life or challenge your understanding of fruit and the earth. Have a great day and don’t forget to ‘eat your fruits and juice your vegetables’ according to that annoying guy in the movie ‘Her’. Does anybody know what I’m talking about? I guess I lost you long before that reference and needn’t worry. Annyeong!

Illustration and words by Johanna Quinn. All rights reserved. Image must not be distributed or used without artist’s consent. 2019.

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Highway Rest Stops, Korean Style

I wanted to use this powerful blogging platform to share with you one of my favourite tourist attractions in South Korea: the humble highway rest stop. Perhaps it’s because of the relief from getting out of a car during a long trip to stretch your legs. Or maybe it’s the delicious offerings that they have? In Korean, these little pockets of road trip heaven are called a ‘Hyugeso’ or 휴게소 in Korean!

You can only really access these stops if you’re heading out of town. Most bus trips that are long enough will take a 15 minute rest at one of these places. My face literally lit up when I heard the announcement that we were about to pull into a Hyugeso over the weekend. We travelled from Yeosu to Seoul which is about a four hour drive so a stop for hotdogs and walnut cakes was a necessity! However, the short allotted time period will make you feel like you’re on a reality game show where you have to see how much street food you can consume in 15 minutes with a toilet break thrown in somewhere. Continue reading to see the rest stops in all of their glory.

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Lots of buses at the highway rest stop, South Korea

It is widely known that when the sun starts to set in the mountains, it is time to stop at a ‘Hyugeso’ and eat until your heart’s content. It’s a very famous proverb first used during the Goreyo dynasty. That’s a ‘chicken or egg’, ‘car or rest stop’ question we don’t have time to answer here today and I am obviosly joking.

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a highway rest stop, South Korea
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People buying food at the highway rest stop in South Korea
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A corn dog at the rest stop in Korea
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My favourite! ‘Walnut cakes’ at the rest stop in South Korea
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Korean Walnut Cakes

So, let me introduce you to the main reason I love Hyugeso’s: walnut cakes. In Korean they’re called ‘hodu gwaja’ which translates to walnut snacks. (The word ‘cracker’ really undersells the soft pockets of heaven that you will find in your $3 bag that you will inevitably buy after reading such an influential blog post as this). The walnut cakes are filled with sweet and silky red bean paste and are best served hot, fresh from the Ajumma selling them to you. These are tricky to find beyond the confines of a Korean highway rest area but, in my not so humble opinion, it’s worth organising a quick bus/car getaway to try them out. Or even worth an impromptu South Korea trip you didn’t know you needed. Not really. But really.

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Have you tried anything at a Korean highway rest stop? Let me know what your favourite snacks are and I’ll be sure to give them a try! Leave a comment below!

What Christmas (kind of) looks like in Seoul

Merry Christmas one and all! This year, I spent Christmas day with my dreamboat boyfriend in my literal fairytale land; IKEA! But not just any IKEA, IKEA in Seoul! IKOREA! We traversed through the psychological minefield that is IKEA and avoided collecting unnecessary cheap items along the way. However, we did stop for a feast of traditional Christmas day Swedish meatballs and salad. It was very difficult to say no to my second family, cake, but I soldiered on sans cake and continued to lug home a giant blue IKEA bag full of sheets and pillows and complimentary Christmas decorations.

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We travelled home to assemble our new LACK table, a name which completely undersells this bad boy, I mean…it has a shelf. A whole shelf. How could it lack anything… apart from real timber, a lifetime guarantee and structural integrity? It’s fantastic. Then, we feasted on another traditional Christmas day meal: fried chicken and pizza. There is a chain restaurant here in Korea that sells amazing fried chicken and incredible pizza for about $20. The food chain is called ‘Come and claim your reduced life expectancy’. It’s a hoot. It’s important for this unimportant story that I tell you that we ate said chicken on pizza on aforementioned LACK table. This photo is not really “blogger” worthy but it just sets the mood. This is my real life, how could I think about aesthetics when I had all of this food in front of me?

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Finally, we ventured back out into the ice cold outside world and travelled to Cheonggyecheon Stream to see all of the pretty lights along the river and of course the gorgeous Christmas tree of lights. It was a human hot pot with almost every South Korean couple turning up for the occasion. You can see all of them in these images below.

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I had a beautiful Christmas season both in Melbourne and in Seoul. I am so lucky that I was able to spend time being festive in both places with all of the people I love. If you want to see how I celebrated an early Christmas with lunch in Melbourne, check out my previous blog post to compare and contrast and discuss the cultural differences with whoever is closest to you, perhaps your Starbucks Barista. I wish you an insightful and intellectually stimulating conversation. Be merry and be healthy in this new year and may all of your wishes and short-term goals come true! Let me know how you spend your December holiday time from your part of the planet!

An Australian Christmas

Hello Follower. That’s right, you are the sole follower of this blog. Welcome to what an Australian Christmas looks like! It was full of turkey, alcohol, Bailey’s cream and a Disney movie to help us digest the four years worth of food we ate in one sitting.

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A FEAST

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Plum pudding time

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Presents, Tangled and empty champagne glasses

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Saying Annyeong to Melbourne

Last week, I had to say farewell to the people in my Melbourne life and prepare to welcome a new life in Seoul. We celebrated on a gorgeous (yet intermittently-rainy) Melbourne afternoon with a picnic in front of the Royal Exhibition Building (Victoria’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site). I am now in my new home in Seoul writing about this picnic and I am so glad that I was able to celebrate with a truly Australian-style picnic. Dips and crackers, vegemite cheesy scrolls (handmade), yo-yo biscuits, choc-chip cookies, fruits and delicious Pimms cocktails. My posts on this blog shall now be Koreany ones and I shall be chronicling my life as an English teacher in Seoul! Enjoy!

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Drawing All Over Busan, South Korea

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The Seoul of Melbourne

Over the next few months, I am aiming to photograph the presence of Korean culture in my home city, Melbourne! Bursts of Korea are scattered around Melbourne’s CBD and I thought it would be interesting for people who haven’t visited to see! I snapped only two different places today after my morning class at University but I will try to get a better, broader collection and update this post in the next few months as well as more specific posts in future about where to buy soju, where to eat BBQ etc. Stay tuned for more to come!

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My go-to Korean grocery store near my university (Russel Street, Melbourne)

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I spotted this little restaurant on the way to the dentist yesterday! I will have to go there after class one day!

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Russel Street! My favourite street in Melbourne for Ramen and Asian culture!

Come back soon for more images!

Summer in Seoul: Royal Food

We ate Royal Food like a couple of Royal Korean Emperors and Empresses and boy did we EAT. We ate a LOT. I’m not exaggerating. So much so that, as the meal went on, my enthusiasm for photographing the food faded as my belly became fuller and fuller… and FULLER. Also the images look hella yella (=really yellow toned in Australian) so please excuse the weird colour of these images.

I could not tell you the names of all of these dishes. I mean, I could go and look the names up on Google and write them down beneath each picture… but we all know that we will NOT remember the names and it will be a huge misuse of my precious holiday time… just take my word for it, it was all delish.

At the end of the meal, the lovely Ajumma serving us kindly offered to roll us out of the building and onto Cheonggyecheon like a pair of royal bread rolls. We gracefully declined her offer out of politeness and concern that she would crack a hip. Fortunately, the restaurant overlooked Cheonggyecheon (a masterpiece in landscape architecture and urban planning), and we were able to walk off our enormous meal without any additional rolling assistance.

Round 1:

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Okay, this was the best Japchae of my entire life:

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Okay, I’ve lost track of the rounds…

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Final round aka “sorry, no crib for his bed, food consumption does not compute”

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Is it legal to leave yet? It should be like when you get a vaccination at the doctor and they make you wait for 5 minutes to make sure you don’t pass out. I feel like there should have been a lounge for a post-royal food siesta to make sure we didn’t plummet to our deaths on the elevator ride.

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Cheonggyecheon!

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There is a law in Korea that states ‘thou shalt not sit on the banks of any Korean river (or in any open space for that matter) without a lover by their side’. I wish I was joking. This is a real law and the punishment for all you single rulebreakers is a lifetime of loneliness.

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Misty clouds to cleanse the palate after what felt like a 300-course meal. I highly recommend a Royal Food experience if you travel to Seoul and you want to taste all of the flavours of Korea in one sitting. It was the tastiest night of my entire existence.

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What happens in Korea literally only happens in Korea

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Hello, followers of the most sporadically updated blog in the history of WordPress. I have been working on this post since August 2017 when I spent my first week in Seoul. I’m hyper-aware of everything in my surroundings, even the things that aren’t there. I’m definitely not crazy but we’re working on figuring it all out. I wanted to compile a list of observations I made about South Korea while I was living there last year. Some of them may be common knowledge, some of them may be random, once off encounters. These are the observations of a young and energetic Australian human lady so I hope you enjoy learning more about Korea as you read!!!

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1. Oh, you want to walk through a door? Well, don’t expect anyone to hold it open for you

When it comes to door time, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Also, don’t expect people to applaud you or give you a fist bump for holding the door open for them. I’ve found that holding doors open for people is actually MORE annoying than the alternative and you tend to get in the way. Just worry about your own entrances and exits, folks. Eyes on the handle, not the crowds.

This is a tricky situation for a western person to navigate because I’m one of those people who will see a complete stranger 10m away and stand and wait to hold the door while they awkwardly shuffle inside and mumble a thank you. It’s because I just don’t know what else to do. Maybe that person was having a bad day, I don’t want to ruin it by slamming the door in front of them and completely ignoring the world around me. But in Korea, it’s just kind of expected that nobody will hold the door for you so there are no door opening expectations to be met. I really need to CALM DOWN with all of the door opening manners.

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2. So, you want to take a 30kg suitcase on the Seoul Metro system?

That’s fine, just don’t expect any elevators to be hanging around. Your broken rib cage will NOT be thanking you later. PACK light, pack like those people you see eating baked beans out of their Vibram FiveFingers sock shoes on the side of the street while wearing their 5kg hiking backpacks and 1okg dreadlocks. It’s not that there aren’t any elevators and escalators, it’s just that they’re quite tricky to find.

Sometimes you tap your train card to get into a station and realise the elevator is 500m in the other direction and you can’t figure out how to get there. It’s also super busy on the Seoul metro so your suitcase is going to really be a point of contention between you and the other commuters. I did have one experience in Dongdaemun where a man hauled my 30kg suitcase up a broken escalator on the first day that I ever went to Korea. I hope that guy is doing well and eating all of the kimchi and drinking all of the soju.

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3. Found a person you love more than you love yourself?

Well, firstly, that’s really sad, self-love is super important. Secondly, go to town on those milestones. Wear matching outfits, buy matching underwear sets or even purchase a 2 pack T Money train cards designed for couples (which I made the devastating mistake of doing). Korean couples won’t really gross you out with public kissing ordeals and excessive touching, but they’ll dress identically to show you that they’re exponentially happier than you will ever be. (Edit: I wrote this before I fell in love with a Korean man and ironically did all of the couple things with, so take Number 5 with a grain of saltiness).

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4. Helmets? Safety? Who needs them?

I know this is not unique to Korea, but people really don’t want to get helmet hair. It’s understandable that you don’t really need to wear a helmet on a university campus while peddling around, but being on a motorcycle on a busy road in Seoul, sans helmet!!!?? That makes me feel uneasy n queazy quite frankly.

5. Sorry, SORRY, sorry, I’m so sorry, oh I’m sorry, hey there I’m sorry

Do you often find yourself using the word ‘sorry’ excessively? Well, perhaps you should take a trip to South Korea and learn how to get your ‘sorry’ usage down to an appropriate amount. It’s not that people in South Korea aren’t sorry that they’ve just walked directly into you or shoved past you on a train, it’s just that they aren’t sorry enough to say sorry. This is my personal favourite because it’s really teaching me how to control my sorry’s. Sorry if this offended you.

6. People in Korea brush their teeth anywhere at any time of the day

I have actually adopted this habit since starting this blog post. Maybe it’s because I experienced living at a university and people study really hard and rarely sleep, but people were just brushing their teeth all over the shop. Walk into a classroom, BAM, you’ll hear the “ch ch ch” of a set of pearly-Korean-whites being scrubbed. I love this. Koreans eat a lot of garlic and kimchi so #8 is admirable. It’s also a sign that people in this country actually take care of themselves and employ impeccable hygiene strategies just about anywhere they go.

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7. The Hiking get-ups are no joke

If you fall over in a Korean forest, and nobody can hear you, did you really fall? YES! You did. The combination of leopard print, fluoro yellow, pink and orange will be audible from SPACE. I LOVE Korean hiking fashion. Please refer to my personal fave snap from our Gyeongju trip last October!

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8. Korean people are nocturnal

Ew, did you wake up before 10am and leave the house? Okay, you need to work harder. Okay, so this one might just be applicable to university students. If I went for a run on a Saturday morning, the streets were as quiet as dead moose. Silent. No people. Meanwhile, standing at 2am at the ramen vending machine was like being on a crowded train carriage during peak hour. Damn, do they know how to STUDY. It’s just so safe in this country! The image above is Seoul at night: couples, beers, a river you’re not allowed to swim in which is a law people actually obey and smooth live music from various buskers. What a life! You just couldn’t have a place like Cheonggyecheon in Australia. People would completely disobey the no swimming rule, there would be public urination, people would throw shopping trolleys in there, there would be graffiti everywhere and silly drunk people would be a danger to themselves.

9. People are chilled out

Probably due to their Jimjilbang (sauna) culture and readily available Soju.

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10. Korean spicy does not feel like other spicy

We’re talking 1 minute of ‘Oh yeah, this isn’t too bad, omg this is not spicy at ALL ahahah are you joking omg you’re crazy, you completely underestima…..’ to an entire night of ‘WATER. MILK. CTRL + Z. Please knock me out cold so I don’t have to be conscious for this ‘. (I’m not a spice lass so please acknowledge the exaggeratedness of this).

Image Above: It may not look like it but this was the spiciest meal of my life. 감자탕 (gamja-tang) is a Korean pork bone soup and it is normally one of my fave meals but this bad boy you see here was like eating a small chilli farm.

11. Learning Korean is hard 

It’s a language. It’s hard. This is not a revelation. Fortunately there are many amazing resources that can help us in our struggle to learn Korean. I love Talk To Me In Korean, watching YouTubers who speak Korean and also, Netflix. I have a blog post coming up about my favourite Korean things on Netflix that you must watch!

12. Singing is a completely normal thing to do

So it should be? Korean Noraebangs (translates to ‘song rooms’) are ubiquitous on the streets of Korea and are also part of people’s lives. You will often see a group of friends or even a solo song lover wander into a Karaoke room like it ain’t no thang. This is not a thang in Australia but it SHOULD be.

13. Google maps and the whole Google family is redundant in Korea

Use Naver. Don’t bother with Google. You’ll get lost. However, Google works wonders in Japan.

14. Appearances are everything

You can’t stereotype a country and all of its citizens by generalising that every human in that country cares collectively about ONE thing, that’s just not a thing you can do. Not everyone cares about their appearance in Korea. However, from what I have observed and may be well known to the outside world is that skincare, beauty, fashion, cleanliness, politeness and respect are all important aspects of Korean life. The way Korean people value their appearance and allow their external and internal selves to look respectful and put together is a great thing. It’s something I am sure Koreans are very proud of.

Appearances aren’t always just about how beautiful you are or about trying to make yourself aspire to a certain beauty standard. There is more to appearance than just aesthetics and I think western culture could possibly learn a thing or two from this Korean philosophy. Be the best version of yourself. Be polite. Make an effort. Be proud of yourself. These are not bad things.

Yes, South Korea is known for its plastic surgery and its extreme beauty standards but, HELLO, have you seen an old person in Hollywood? Korea just decided that if they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it really well and be renowned worldwide for it. In Western culture, plastic surgery is seen as this secret little demon that must never be mentioned in the light of day. To keep this sort of physical body change a secret is to deny that you are trying to feel better about yourself. It instead teaches young women that they can be beautiful and skinny and sexy with minimal effort.

We may not be as vocal about it as Korea but we all have unattainable beauty standards embedded within our cultures. Even people who say they don’t care about the way they look are putting effort into making it known that they don’t in fact care about how they look. That seems like a lot more effort in my opinion. Either way, you’re giving a fork about some kind of appearance philosophy and I am so fascinated by Koreas openness about this. However, it can be disheartening to hear people say that the more attractive you are, the easier your job and life prospects will become. It is also rather disturbing to see perfect K-Drama stars attain the lives of their dreams effortlessly and without much of an inner struggle. I think in the future, Korea will figure out how to balance this incredible ideology with the way it is portrayed to the masses. In the meantime, I shall continue to take care of myself and my appearance and not give a shiz about who knows it.

 

15. Koreans don’t do drugs (This is a great thing). It’s incredibly illegal and frowned upon

Instead, they do K-DRAMAS. K-DRAMAS may as well be drugs, people! Those shows are more addictive than any street drug I’ve heard about on Vice. K-Dramas will make you want to stay at home, order-in, sit in your pyjamas and completely immerse yourself in a fictitious Korean political scandal or impossible unrequited love situation (that 9/10 times has a happy ending).

16. South Korea is gosh darn COLD in winter

I was not aware of this last fact. They get this bone-chilling wind known as the Siberian Anticyclone and it is particularly problematic in December and January. Be warned, intrepid travellers.

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Do you have any more observations you’ve made about Korea? Let’s discuss below!

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