Not that anyone cares but I’ve decided to jot down my first week back home because i’m jobless and have been binge-watching Suits for past four hours.
In Korean-age, I am 24 (yes, Koreans count the age differently from the most part of the world). And I spent the half of my life living abroad: West Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore.
I did come back to Seoul every summer during my school years. But I spent them inside of SAT academies, or hakwon, surrounded by drab walls and nagging teachers who won’t let me out of the room unless I showed them my copied homework. University years were no different. I interned every summer–mostly outside of Korea.
I thought I knew Korea well enough. I mean…. I read about my home-country every single day. I read blogs. I read the NYT. I read Joong-Ang daily, a Korean newspaper. I read books (sometimes). I talk to my friends. I talk to my parents. etc. I come home once in a while (although each trip doesn’t last more than a week).
Well, it turned out that I actually don’t know enough about my own home country. After a decade of my muted interaction, a lot has changed.
For example, even last year, I gave a paper stamp coupon to a cashier when I bought a cup of coffee from this particular franchise called Ediya. When I went back this week, they asked me whether I have an e-coupon on my phone. My paper stamp was basically useless. Seoul is a very fast-paced city but I did not expect such a rapid transition from paper to mobile.
Card is king in Korea.
In Singapore, to see my balance, all I needed to do was download a DBS app, and key in my account number and password. Mobile payment was smooth as I just needed to use Apple Pay to tap and pay (although most stores in Singapore prefer cash). In Korea, most stores accept credit cards even if you’re buying a bottle of water (500 won, 0.5 SGD, 0.4 USD). I fucking love it. I hate carrying wads of cash.
However, the real hurdle came when I tried to navigate the archaic financial security system in Korea. The troubles I had to go through just to simply see my bank balance was ridiculous.
Some banks required me to update the security system each time I attempted to access my bank account via Internet. I had to download something called ‘Active X Program,’ a pain-in-the-ass security program often required to be installed before allowing me to view Korean banks’ websites (Note: Ironically, South Korea has the world’s fastest internet speed and the highest mobile penetration).
(Pause, and read Forbes story “South Korea’s Online Banking System is Stuck in 1996″ )
Performing the most mundane daily tasks became daunting as I tried to navigate the city that’s slightly smaller than Singapore. To get into the subway, everyone seemed to be tapping their phone on the entrance instead of using a T-money card (Korea’s Octopus/EZ-link card). I still haven’t figured out whether people have a tiny T-money chip inside of their phone case or what not. I seemed to be the only one rummaging through my bag attempting to find a subway card. Various cashless payment apps also confuse me. I still haven’t decided between Payco and Syrup. Different options within the app offering coupons, gifts, QR code and delivery service confuse the hell out of me.
Yesterday, I got lost because I wasn’t used to the to/from signs of Kakao map and walked to the opposite direction. I guess my fingers were too used to the layout of Google Maps.
Although I cannot get a grip on technology (yet), what confuses me more is something intangible: culture.
Long story short, so far, I’ve been commented by my family members on the following topics–the way I pour a drink to an older relative, my weight, my leg-crossing sitting habit, my future job, the shapes of my eyebrows, and my prospect for marriage. When I told my relatives how marriage sounds so distant and I’m not thinking about it at all as of now, they clicked their tongues in disapproval. “But one must marry. If one fails to marry in Korea, people might think something’s wrong with you,” my mother said in worried voice. “You must marry before you get old. If you pass the certain age, you’re out of luck,” my uncle said with certainty.
And I am not in a position nor situation to correct them or tell them how toxic and nosy their comments are. As a young woman, I am at the bottom of family hierarchy. Also, in Korea, if one’s words or actions slip, people tend to blame the parents for not properly educating their kid. My honesty will just make my parents lose face.
Okay, I saved the best part for the last. Some good culture shocks.
Seoul is a perfect place for a coffee slut like me. Itaewon and Hannam area have gorgeous cafes with top-quality coffee. In Singapore, I had to venture out to Outram to get a decent cup of coffee but I no longer have to do that here! And it’s cheaper.
People are incredibly warm. My parents recently retired and moved to the countryside. It takes me 35 min by foot to reach the nearest subway station. But living in the country side has its perks (Apart from gorgeous mountain view and fresh air).
My neighbors somehow adore my parents because they are relatively younger than them (most neighbors are in their 70s and 80s). They keep bringing us sweet potatoes, cabbages, banchans (side-dishes) and Kimchi. They were so concerned that my mom didn’t make Kimchi yet although the winter is approaching.
At first, I found it slightly uncomfortable. As a millennial girl born and bred in Seoul, I am cautious when strangers approach me (My strange experiences in Beijing have contributed to this paranoia….) I guess I am not really used to living and interacting within the community because of my solo ventures abroad. However, this communal town is slowly teaching me some things about selfless affection (情, ‘Jung‘ in Korean).
Well, to conclude, I am planning to offer airbnb tours around Seoul. I haven’t finalized my trip itinerary but it’s going to be a half-day tour with themes such as
-Democracy in Seoul
-LGBT in Seoul
-Islam in Seoul
If you or your friends are visiting Seoul, do ask me about my tour!!!!!!
Happy to show you around my hometown.
Well, okay. Bye.