Tuesday, August 28, 2012

first day

Last snapshot of life before Korea


Flying Asiana Airlines was a really awesome experience, as far as being cramped in a metal box with a bunch of strangers goes. The flight attendants were abnormally pretty, the services were very accomadating, and the technology was entertaining. And, it's about what I imagined the Polar Express to be like, except with more kimchi, and few moral lessons. By the way, I can confirm that Japan is an actual place, as opposed to a fictitious land manifested by Gwen Stefani and animation studios. No news on if Godzilla is real or not.

After arriving at the Incheon airport, I had to go through customs, and then a sorceress turned my dollars into assorted values of Korean won. Alchemy, I know. I claimed my Tommy Hilfiger baggage(which, as I intended, screams "AMERICA!"), and purchased a bus ticket for the three and a half hour ride to Daejeon. Based on my very limited experience, South Korea has some killer public transportation, what with the big comfy chairs. They have comfy chairs!


I'm not sure what I expected South Korea to look like, but I know my previous notion of it doesn't align with how it actually is. The best way I can describe the South Korean landscape is by comparing it to a teenager who just experienced a massive growth spurt, so all of his clothes are too tight and too short, and he has stretch marks in the areas that experienced the most growth. The mountains of South Korea are stunning, but they're dotted with high-rise apartment complexes, standing alone with little nearby. It's as if skyscrapers massive infrastructue just sprouted upwards, leaving no time for suburban communities to form aroud them, as they do in the United States. Nearly every spot not occupied by building, road, or mountain, is claimed by construction. Needless to say, they don't show this aspect of Korea in K-Dramas.


The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is stunning. No pictures on the internet do it justice. There is a minimal amount of trash, a decent amount of recycling bins, and a plethora of ducks. All buildings are labeled according to geographic location, which makes things pretty intuitive. The cafeteria serves decently healthy food, and for a pretty cheap price--a bowl of (freaking amazing) ramen costs less than $2. Also, the cats are really cute.

A sample of the cafeteria food


One thing I've noticed about Korea is that the socioeconomic aspects tend to be extreme versions of those in the States. You can get a soda from the vending machine for 500 won (less than 50 cents), but a cup of coffee equivalent to a tall costs around $6. Koreans walk the line between tacky and classy very well. Yet-to-be-identified street food is sold in front of a cutting edge technology store. At the entrance of Galleria, a Macy's-like department store in Daejeon, we find very high-end boutique cosmetics, right next to a vendor selling knock-off sunglasses and visors. Immediately outside, yet-to-be-identified street food is sold in front of a cutting edge technology store. South Korean department stores place a much larger emphasis on the "department" aspect than those in America. I visited Homeplus (similar in merchandise to a Wal-mart) to pick up some things for my dorm room, and found a several-story building, selling freshly made waffles and candies on one floor, groceries and plants on the next, and houseware accompanied by a nail salon on the floor above it. Each floor was separated by an incredibly steep moving walkway, and the carts were built so that the wheels locked immediately upon entry of the walkway. At the check-out, they don't actually give out grocery bags, instead expecting the customer to bring their own. For a nominal fee, you can buy a few paper bags, but the whole plastic bag thing? Unheard of. Imagine me, a confused American trying to figure out how to get a crapload of bedding from a department store downtown to my dormitory, without bags. Luckily, I stumbled on my first American since leaving the airport, who was a tremendous help to me. She, as a 4-year resident of South Korea, was a little more familiar with the trends and customs. As she assisted me, she reminded me that life here is difficult at first--it will take some time to get acclimated.

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