Updated on May 2nd, 2014: This list mainly applies to life in Ulsan. Ever since moving to Seoul, we are LOVING life in Korea, with hardly any cons at all!
I think I’ve been living in Korea for a substantial enough amount of time now (about 10 weeks!) to be able to compile a Pros & Cons list of life here.
I’ll start with the poopy stuff first so I can end this on a high note 😛
- The smell. I can’t speak for the rest of Korea, but Ulsan really does stink, especially when it’s raining 😡 I think we’ve become acclimated to it now, but for the first few weeks everything around us just had a sewagey, fishy smell to it.
- There aren’t any trash cans! I’m pretty sure this only adds to the smelliness. Everyone just dumps their trash at the side of the road, usually in plastic bags, but there is also a buttload of litter constantly on the sidewalks and streets. Our students think littering is perfectly acceptable, because an old person will come and pick it up.
- Old people. I love old people, but, strangely, despite being a Confucian society, old people in Korea seem to be treated like poo. Old people are responsible for collecting all the trash and recycling, and hauling it around on rickshaws. I have no idea if they’re paid for this, or if they trade in the recyclables for money. Lots of old people live in poverty, in tin shacks, on little allotments by the sides of roads. No one seems to have any respect for them, either; we’ve never seen anyone give up their seat on a bus for an old person, sometimes young people even push past old people to get on buses!
- The lack of organic food. We’ve found some random organic food shoved in with non-organic food while shopping, but most of the organic food in grocery stores here is limited to a small selection of leafy greens.
- Bread & baked goods. Koreans LOVE bakeries and bread, but only really sugary, buttery, refined baked goods and bread. They have an overwhelming variety of white breads, but brown bread is literally non-existent. I bought a loaf of ‘whole wheat bread’ from a grocery store, but it turned out to be white bread with miniscule specks of brown in it. It was crazy expensive, too!
- Buses. Buses here are super convenient, but the way they drive is NUTS. You have to run out into the road to get onto a bus, which flies away before you can sit down (presuming there are available seats, which isn’t that often). As far as I can tell, buses don’t follow any traffic laws. They fly through red lights, they swerve across lanes, they honk psychotically at any cars or scooters in front of them. They’re just plain crazy. When you’ve decided you want to get off the bus, the driver hardly ever stops at the actual bus stop, but lets you off basically wherever he decides to stop…which is sometimes in the middle of the traffic lane.
- Newspapers & Magazines. This is obviously no fault of Korea, but I really, really miss UK newspapers and magazines. Especially The Guardian and its monthly food magazine. Sadface.
- Old people. I’d read so much about old people here hating foreigners and being really ignorant towards them, but we’ve had nothing but good experiences with old people here. We were sitting next to a really old little Korean lady on our flight to Seoul, and all she did through the flight was talk to us (in Korean) and try to feed us. Granted, most of the food she gave us was stuff she’d already consumed half of, so I’m not sure if she decided it tasted gross and gave it to us, or if she was trying to be nice and share, but either way it was a cute gesture.
- Shopping. It’s so easy to spend money here. I’m not sure if that’s because we’re actually earning disposable incomes for the first time in our lives, or because everything here is actually really cheap. I think it’s kind of a combination of both.
- Eating out + ‘service’. We haven’t eaten out that much since we’ve been here, but the handful of times we have eaten out have been pretty awesome. Meals are usually really cheap (usually 20,000 won / around $17) for us both, including drinks, starters, and mains, and along with the meals you get an amazing thing called ‘service,’ which is basically small plates of free food, which usually keep refilling as you eat them – for free!
- Hiking. Koreans LOVE hiking; most people just walk around in hiking attire on a totally casual basis. Even though Ulsan is a big, smelly city, it’s surrounded by forests and mountains which are easily accessible.
- Safety. I think the most dangerous thing in Korea is the traffic, since everyone drives wherever and however they want. But, in general, Korea is exceptionally safe; no one really seems to steal anything, and when Koreans get drunk they seem to just quietly pass out rather than get loud and violent.
- Novelty. Even 10 weeks into living here, Eoin and I are still finding things we’re amazed and excited by. And we still haven’t even travelled outside of Ulsan!