Visiting a foreign country involves exercises in daily life that are sometimes familiar, sometimes unusual, and sometimes downright quirky (for the Canadian visitor, at least). But getting to Korea meant first flying south to Vancouver, then back up north over the Yukon, Alaska, and Russia which afforded us a view of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.
Orienting yourself is not an easy task as all signs are in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Even when translated into English, the names are so foreign to the English speaker that it’s difficult to wrap your head around the words. These street signs are found on major roadways or highways that travel through the city.
Like in Canada, small areas of cities are further subdivided by smaller residential streets and roads, but in Korea, many of these roads (that are more like laneways to us Canadians) are so narrow that you cannot fit two cars side-by-side. If you can, then parking still reduces them to one-lane driving.
Residents who park their cars here at night generally display their phone number on the dash so that others who want to get in or out can contact them to move the vehicle. This doesn’t sound very efficient, but then again, I live in a country that has wide open spaces.
We noticed that most vehicles have some kind of small contraption hanging over the rear window. Apparently this is a mirror for backing up, and drivers also have a feature where, at the touch of a button, the side-view mirrors can be tucked in for the narrow street parking/driving.
Notice how narrow this street is and the tucked in mirrors.
Don’t be fooled by the house number on the right in the photo above. House numbers are very random which makes it a nightmare for taxis, delivery people, and mail. House numbers are assigned according to when a building or house is erected. So 542 Smith Ave. can be right next to 1087 Smith Ave. which is next to 49 Smith Ave. and so on.
Delivery people and mail have access to maps detailling addresses, and taxi drivers refer to landmarks rather than addresses. For instance, getting to my brother-in-law’s apartment meant telling the driver the name of the all-girls school or the library in the neighbourhood. The subway station (Bupyeong Station) was also a good bet since we knew where to go from there.
Slurping, Eating, and Drinking
Speaking of delivery people, we ordered out one night from a Chinese restaurant and were surprised to learn that restaurants deliver food in real dishes, not disposable ones. They tightly wrap it with cellophane, and voilà! How they get the food to your door without spillage is a mystery. As an added bonus, they return a couple hours later to pick up the dirty dishes.
Eating out is very inexpensive, so guess what we did most of the time? You could have a full meal for $5 – $6. The only expensive item on the menu was Canadian beef.
In most restaurants, patrons remove shoes at the door and sit on mats on the floor. Certainly not meant for very tall people; notice Dave’s knees.
A variety of side dishes are served with the meal, and you can order them to your heart’s content. Hot, hot, hot! Koreans love hot, so there is no shortage of hot spices on side dishes, cooled down with Soju.
And more Soju in the Soju Tents if you haven’t had enough. These will keep you busy, and staggering, until the wee hours of the morning. Call it city camping!
Slurping: eating and drinking simultaneously. No, slurping your noodles is not considered rude and is thought to bring out the flavour. Here Iain gives us a demonstration on our first day in Korea.
Outdoor vendors sell everything from sweet potato chips, to dried seafood, to roasted hazelnuts.
Shopping in traditional markets means navigating narrow mazes through throngs of people and merchandise. If you decide to go to underground shopping areas, it means navigating narrow mazes through throngs of people and merchandise.
But it’s all worth it for a good deal. Check out the logo for The Cools Pace next to a better known brand.
Or you can stop by Chinatown because there’s always one near you, and you can purchase traditional Chinese clothing. Don’t they make a cute couple?
Beware of Heights and Bites!