The Simple Bare Necessities
Nowadays, thanks to the Korean Wave (or Hallyu) where before, many people may not have known where the small east Asian peninsula was located on a map, now you will find fans all across the globe who know the names and even the blood types of the idols and entertainers of Korea they adore. There’s no denying that K Pop songs are catchy and will leave you in want for more, but after having moved here to Seoul I thought I would share the 5 Things Korea is Doing Right I found out through first hand experience that still leaves me impressed to this day.
1). Wifi / Connectivity
One of the very first things that travelers to South Korea will notice is the abundance of wifi. It is good and it is EVERYWHERE. Of course you’ll find it in all the places you would expect such as the cafes, department stores, and restaurants. What I didn’t expect was to find routers on every street corner, inside the subway trains, and even in a lot of taxis! Some might say this is overkill, but I would argue it makes for a friendly and welcoming environment for a lot of tourists to stay connected with their friends and loved ones back home without worrying about subscribing to a service provider. Of course there are plenty of ways to stay connected to others here as well. If you’re going to make friends and survive in Korea I recommend the two apps that I can’t function without. The first is called Kakao Talk. You cannot walk down the street without hearing at least one chirp of a Kakao message, and for good reason. Firstly, due to its ability to send SMS, video chat, voice messages, location details and more it also reps efficient utility with shopping, advertisements, weather forecast, news, etc. The list goes on and on. You can subscribe to all your favorite K Pop bands, celebrities, and get your news directly to your phone in one convenient place. Not to mention the emoji game in Korea is second to none. Though, in my opinion the best feature of Kakao Talk is called Kakao Taxi where, with the push of a button, a taxi arrives at your location. Perfect for when you’ve had just a bit too much soju and are out past the operating hours of the subway. It’s a blessing that I count often. The second app you need is Naver. Think of Naver as the Korean Google. It brings all your information needs right to your fingertips. But a word of caution: though the information is good, if your Hangeul game is weak you’re going to have a few issues. Particularly since Google Maps is extremely hit or miss out here. Naver Maps can get you anywhere and everywhere you need to go, but you should know how to write your destination in Hangeul beforehand. If you’re still learning worry not! You can always Google what you’re searching for, copy and paste it to Naver until you get the hang of things, and you’re as good as gold.
Just as you would expect with any thriving metropolis Seoul has its own rhythmic sounds that will grow familiar in your daily routine. Whether it’s the honking of taxi drivers warning others of their traffic-weaving that defies all reason and yet, somehow, seems to flow with ease between buses and other cars alike. Or the calming yet predictable notifications within the subway that let you know when the next train is arriving, or what the next stop will be. Whatever method you use to get around the city you can rely on it being expedient and (if done right) cost effective. So now you know how to get yourself a taxi, but unless you’re trying to throw around some won you can’t take a taxi everywhere you want to go. I mean, why would you when there are just as convenient ways to get around and possibly find an amazing book store, restaurant, or other hidden gem along the way? The majority of citizens here transit via the subway and I can’t blame them what with the eccentric shops, smells of bakeries, and the travel friendly signs throughout the subway stations that ensure you arrive at your destination. If you have one of the apps recommended above on your phone you can find yourself a map of the subway. Now trust me, I understand how intimidating it can seem at first, but it really is intuitive once you start navigating. There are announcements in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English along the way. Not to mention the signs all have the romanization of destinations if you’re still learning Korean! However you decide to get around the one thing that makes it all a breeze is this thing known as a T-money card. It’s a touch and go charge card for all your transportation needs. And I mean ALL of them. It’s used for taxis, buses, the subway, accepted as a payment method at a decent number of businesses, and even the preferred method of transactions at large events and concerts. Just take your T-money card to a convenience store and put as much money on it as you think you’ll need and you’ll be set.
3). Convenience Stores
The theme thus far has been efficiency. Getting the most for your buck, and man does Korea deliver. I can comfortably say that I visit a convenience store daily. Whether it’s to pick up a few coffees to get me through my day at work, there’s great deal on beer to enjoy while ordering in some chicken, charging my T-money card, or to pay my utility bills…Yep, that’s probably my favorite part. I don’t even remember how I paid my utility bills back in the States, but I do know it wasn’t at any convenience store I felt like walking into. Bring them right up to the cashier, they scan the bar code, you hand over the cash. Easy as that! Plus, most convenience stores will have an ATM outside where, if you’d rather, you can directly deposit the cash into the account number associated with your bill. You don’t even need a Korean bank account to do so. Not to mention, if you walk as much as I do you may find yourself wanting to take a break and rest, and you can easily do so at the convenient tables and stools often found right outside. Some of the larger stores will even have a variety of people sitting outside escaping the heat with the shade, a few drinks, and friends. While you’re there be sure to check and see what kind of “plus” deals they have. This is a special deal they always have where random goods will be buy-two-get-one free. There’s also a great selection of food and drinks you can find. (Of which you can make a full meal when on a budget.) You can also find toiletries, cooking essentials, wine and spirits. Convenience stores in Korea really fall into the one stop shop motif.
4). The Extra Curricular
Coming from a small country town I know all too well the reality of having to entertain yourself with little activities available. Even more so the case after 10 PM when everything closes and you’re only left with the option of going for a night drive. While that can be fun, having only a few options can get to be a bit of a bore after a while. However; here, you are only limited by your imagination and there is always an open establishment where you can go. Whatever your hobbies include you can definitely find a group of people to hang out with who share in your interests. On the other hand, if you’re looking to improve your craft there’s a good chance that you can enroll in what’s essentially a private school (or Hagwon) where they specialize in just about anything from cooking classes to DJ-ing, from calligraphy to dance, and everywhere in between. There’s no better place than Seoul to pick up a new hobby during the day and then go out and have a great time at night. Now it’s true that the subway stops operating not long after midnight, but if you really want to get out there are tons of things that you can do. The bars, clubs, and nightlife of Itaewon, Hongdae, and Gangnam are always an option, but these are only just the beginning of possibilities when it comes to things to do after hours. There are the food and shopping night markets of Dongdaemun, the late night restaurants of Itaewon as well as sampling any of the delicious street foods. Then with full bellies you and your friends can go to Karaoke (or Noraebang) where you’ll get your own private room to drink and sing and even order more food! This is always a great last resort as it’s always a winner. I’ve yet to make Korean friends who weren’t down for trip to the noraebang. You’ll lose track of the time and before you know it the sun will be up! It can be a bit overwhelming honestly and for some the fast pace hustle of nightlife can be a bit much. If this sounds like you then I recommend a night of relaxation at any of the 24 hour saunas (or Jjimjilbangs) where you can get any variety of massage treatments, and after feasting at the restaurant found inside feel free to let the food coma and relaxation take over and nap or pass out right along side other sauna goers.
5). Korean Fashion
My entire life I’ve always held an appreciation for putting effort into looking your best at all times. Now, I’m not saying that I’m fashionista status with impeccable style. What I am saying is that you’ll never catch me in public wearing sweatpants with my hair disheveled. I’ll admit, in part, because I’m still waiting for that day I run into my soul mate and first impressions are everything! Even before moving to Seoul I could see the trends that Korea has spread worldwide. For example, Seoul Fashion Week is a hit that will draw crowds repping their own style all around the globe at known and respected fashion hubs such as New York, Paris, London, and Milan. Living in Seoul I am constantly impressed with the obvious attention that both males and females pay to their appearances on a daily basis. Whether they are going out to the movies as part of a nice date, or enjoying their own company at a cafe. There is a certain standard that Korea has set for itself that demands to be upheld. The wonderful part is that despite these expectations Korea’s own style encourages individuality so feel free to show what you’re all about. If you find yourself unsure on what’s trending all it takes is a trip to any of the department stores where you can do some light window shopping. Don’t forget! You can also follow your favorite idol or fashionista on Kakao Talk!
Best Foot Forward
After having spent a little over a year in Korea these are the five things that have stood out to me and allow me to live here comfortably. If you have any experiences with my top five or have any that you would like to share please let us know in the comments! Don’t forget to like and share!