Hey people! I’m back from my three week trip in Korea where I spent it mostly in Seoul and a few days in Busan. It was my first time since I was born in ’85 when I was “sold and exported” aka adopted from my motherland (I kid, but not really). There’s a lot of places to see like museums, mountains, palaces, bookstores and markets. I’m so jealous at how efficient and clean the Seoul Metro system is. The DC metro has nothing on it. There’s so many good food options, mostly Korean food and it’s cheaper than back home and it’s a lot more better tasting and customer service is better.
It was a great experience to finally be closer to my roots and see how the culture is nowadays. I must say it’s a great feeling being part of the majority crowd for once. I don’t think most people know how that feels to be on both ends of the spectrum. But I got to meet a lot of interesting people throughout my time in Seoul but the most appealing to me was the opportunity to talk to fellow Korean adoptees from all over the world such as the Netherlands, France, New York, Colorado and Minnesota to name a few.
It was such a relief to be able to talk to other adopted people you can relate to and that understand where you are coming from. I believe this is a rarity back home in the DMV. Amongst some of the adoptees, we’ve had interesting discussions on the progress of their birth family searches, revealed how unique each of story is and talked about how challenging the process for birth family searches can be for most people. In addition, I got to see the perspective of many Korean adoptees living in Korea and how difficult it may be to adapt from not being fluent in the language and adjusting to the economy and the culture. It’s so intriguing to see how different each of us were raised but how some things are so similar to develop us as individuals to a certain point where we’re socially aware of who we are and of our surroundings.
Based on conversations with many people that live in Korea, the country still seems to be very prejudice, classist and sexist society. We had agreed that this is mostly due to the older generation’s way of thinking. Korean Americans (or gyopos, as I’ve learned while there) and adoptees are still slightly looked down upon but it has become more open than what it has been because of the millennial generation being more prevalent nowadays.
But anyways, here’s the Top 10 Things I Learned in Korea:
1) Seoul Metro. The subway is cleaner and more efficient than the Washington, DC metro. You can well informed displays of what the current stop is and what the next one is in, English, Korean and Chinese. Also, they give you a status of where the next train is, if it’s nearby, how long ’til the next one and pretty funny safety drawings on what you shouldn’t be doing. Inside of each subway station, there are convenient stores, shops and restrooms inside! You can buy that new Samsung phone case while also picking up a coffee while you transfer.
2) Meet Ups. People use metro stops and their exits as reference points for meeting up. But keep in mind the exits because there are multiple ones that can take take time to walk to each one as each exit takes you to different directions on the road.
3) Curfew. Although bars and clubs stay open anywhere between 3a-10a the metro always closes around 12a even on the weekends, therefore you’ll have to know how to ask a taxi driver to take you home because they run all night. But you can also wait til 5a for the metro to open or take a rest at a jimjilbang which is a Korean spa and sauna.
4) Plenty of 24/7 Convenience Stores. Korea has 7 Elevens, CVS and GS25. The CVS is called CU because the V is difficult to pronounce in Korean. Inside these stores, you’ll find a decent selection of beer and liquor but a wider selection of types of instant noodles. Also, you can find snacks to include: Pringles, shrimp chips, kimbap, spam-infused food.
5) Western Food with Korean Flair. Most Western-style restaurants that serve American food will often add a Korean-style taste which is either some type of sweet sauce or added sugar. For instance, bulgogi burgers and bulgogi pizza can taste pretty sweet. Even the chicken quesadilla I ordered had some sweet and savory sauce on it. Surprisingly, the guacamole tasted fresh and legit!
6) Safety. Koreans perception of safety and danger is different from the US. When walking around Seoul and Busan, I noticed it being real safe at night. You’ll see women walk by themselves quite often. I’ve rarely seen homeless people (maybe 2 or 3) and seen like two fights amongst locals and foreigners but this is typical anywhere you go out late at night in a party scene. I talked to a few local women and they say its really safe however rape has occurred from time to time based on what they read and see in the news. But more commonly is sexual harassment in the workplace. People seem to think metro cities in the US are more dangerous, which is probably true. I was asked if I had owned a gun which is a strange question.
7) Cider vs. Sprite. The Korean version of Sprite, Chilseng Cider (칠성사이다) tastes wayyy better than Sprite, because it uses natural sugar. You can’t find Sprite in as many places at restaurants and convenience stores but they do serve Sprite on Korean Air though.
8) Name Stamps. Koreans still use name stamps, called dojang (도장) when signing official documents. You can find shops all over Insadong that can customize engrave your stamp with wood or stone. Costs anywhere between W30,000-W150,000 won. You can get cool designs with dragons and flowers and get to pick your stamp made of wood and choose amongst ten or so different types of stones. I ended up getting a wooden one with a dragon design and had my Korean name done.
9) Yellow Dust Ain’t No Joke. If you have sensitive lungs or get sick easily, be prepared! The quality of air can change dramatically through out the day because of the Yellow dust and pollution from China and Korean. I would definitely consider on buying a mask that’s KR95 or N95 rated and above. These are the white looking ones. Don’t buy the black ones unless you wear it over the white masks. The black masks are simply used for fashion purposes and does nothing to protect you from the pollution. You might start noticing the air change when you’re out and about during the day when it’s warm. You might smell something like chemicals or have trouble breathing and have an itch in the back of your throat. I recommend downloading the AirVisual app and keeping a mask on your person when going out. Masks can cost about W1500-W3000.
10) Dating Scene. Last but not least, a few number of Koreans use the online dating apps, Coffee Meets Bagel and Tinder in Korea. This is mostly to meet other foreigners. There are some Korean dating apps strictly for locals as well but I never got to around using them because they’re probably only in Korean. But I had gotten way more matches on CMB within 3 weeks than I had ever received through my three years living in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area. However, most Koreans seem to still do blind dating, called sogaeting (소개팅) but a lot of Koreans don’t seem to like it. Some Koreans are cautious on online dating and therefore don’t use it because they don’t know the person and some are open because it’s common amongst foreigners and they’ve tried it before. When meeting Korean people in-person, it may or may not be difficult. It really depends upon the dynamic and if you and the other person are sociable (or speak enough Korean). Many of the foreigner-friendly clubs and bars are open so you can do the bump and grind and talk but still remember your manners and don’t act like an idiot!