As of last Friday we've been here six months, so it seems like Korea and I should sit down and have a long boring talk about our relationship. Instead of doing this, I decided to write a top ten list of my favourite things about Korea so far. Here it is, in no particular order (other than a rank of how good each one is).
10. DVD bangs. The DVD bang (pronounced baahng) is a fairly simple concept: it's a room ("bang" in Korean) where you watch DVDs. You pay about ten bucks per movie for a private room with a projector screen, surround sound and - something which is almost impossible to find in Korea - a comfortable couch. Norae bangs (singing rooms) are also fun.
9. Kimbap Nara. Kimbap is Korea's answer to sushi; differentiated mainly by the conspicuous absence of both vinegar and subtlety. Kimbap almost always contains processed ham, egg, and daikon radish. Yes, I do mean ham. It's also available with kimchi or processed cheese. Despite eating a freaking tarantula in Beijing, I haven't been brave enough to try those last two yet. The tuna one is actually pretty good, and sometimes (apparently at random) it even comes without ham. Fortunately Kimbap Nara (Kimbap Land) sells a wide range of Korean food besides kimbap. From crispy fried mandu (dumplings) to spicy kimchi bogeumbap (fried rice with kimchi) to delicious dwaenjang jigae (a soy based stew with tofu), Kimbap Nara and it's various imitators serve up great Korean food, most of it for less than five bucks. You can check out an explanation of the menu here.
8. The Internet. I don't know how I'm going to cope with living in New Zealand again. Korea isn't the best in the world at very many things, but the internet is one of them. The superfast unlimited internet has really spoilt me for other countries.
7. Location, Location. We've been here six months and we've already been to the Philippines and Beijing. From Incheon airport it's only a short hop to Japan, Hong Kong, and the rest of China, and not too far to South East Asia.
6. Engrish. Using written English on signs, on clothing, and in advertising is very fashionable in Korea. Much more fashionable than knowing what it means.
5. Transport in Korea. The buses here are amazing. We live in Nowheresville, Jeollabukdo, and we can be in Seoul in three hours for under fifteen dollars. There are buses to most places and it's always cheap. We travel most weekends so we've seen a lot of the country in just six months.
4. Drinking on the street. We come from New Zealand, where you run the risk of spending the rest of your days in a cold damp jail cell if you so much as sip a beer in public in the city. Or, if it's not Hyperbole Day, you'll get a stern look and maybe a small fine. It's refreshing (sorry) to be able to walk around the bar districts here with an open vessel. Even better if you stop by Vinyl in Hongdae for an IV bag full of your favourite cocktail and go watch the breakdancers in the playground. Added bonus: passed out Koreans are hilarious.
3. Love Motels. The second entry on this list that would also make a list of the top ten places young Korean couples go to have sex (see if you can guess what the other one is). Love motels are cheap hotels that you can find in literally every town in Korea. They have all the basic features of a regular hotel, and some have bonuses like PCs with internet access, huge flatscreen TVs, and interesting vending machines in the hallway. The difference - apart from a certain inescapable air of sleaziness - is the price: a really nice one is about fifty bucks, and cheap ones go as low as twenty five. Included at no extra charge is a lingering feeling of awkwardness and a rather difficult conversation with the receptionist; sometimes frustrating, often hilarious, and almost always full of exaggerated gestures on my part and confused looks on theirs.
2. Cheapness. It's the thing that ties most of the other entries on this list together and one of the best things about living here. Most stuff is substantially cheaper than back home. There are several decent restaurants in Buan where you can get a really nice dinner for under ten bucks a person. You can get a new pair of glasses for $40. Taxis and doctors visits are basically free. We've had two overseas holidays in six months, we travel most weekends and make almost no effort to live frugally, and we're still saving money.
1. The kids. My students are basically awesome. I still feel like a movie star after six months. Just this morning I was walking across the playground to my classroom and two of them leaned out of an upstairs window to shout hello to me. Most of them are excited to talk to me and practice their English, even if our lessons are often dry grammar drills (not my choice).