You Can’t Swing a Cat in South Korea…
I’ve been here in South Korea for a month now. Life is different but culture shock hasn’t been bad. It did, however, take me over a week to realize that there are no stop signs here at all. There are some other things I’ve noticed sooner, especially those that are so common you see them everywhere you go. Just like Canada has more Tim Horton’s than you can shake a stick at, South Korea has its own common sights.
You can’t swing a cat in South Korea without hitting…
…a mini mart
Should you need a snack, cigarettes or a bottle of soju, a mini mart is never far away. Whether it’s a Mini Stop, 7-11, GS25 or a CU you’ll find these havens of convenience dotted liberally throughout all except the most rural of towns. In the summer they even become cafes and bars of sorts with tables and chairs set outside where you can drink a few mini-mart bought wobbly pops with friends.
…a hiking/outdoor gear store
I’m not sure how much typical hiking the average Korean actually does but man, do they have the gear for it. Head out to any trail on the weekend and you’ll see them kitted out from head to toe in brightly coloured boots, pants, jackets and hats. To feed this obsession it seems like there’s an outdoor clothing store on every other street. On one major Gunsan street I counted 23 different stores in less than a 1/3 of a mile. For the hundreds of different styles of sneakers available, it’s unlikely that I’d be able to find a pair though with my size 9 feet.
…a coffee shop
Before I came to Korea I asked a friend if there were any coffee shops with wifi where I might be able to work. “Are there coffee shops?” he laughed. Turns out Koreans love coffee something fierce. There are shops on just about every corner. After visiting a few, I understand why coffee is considered a status symbol here since even a small from Dunkin Donuts is ￦3000 ($2.72) and my beloved sweet potato latte from Caffé Bene is ￦5500 ($4.99).
This one might surprise you, but Christianity is South Korea’s largest religion, accounting for half of all those who claim a religious affiliation. At night you can see red neon cross after cross dotting the sky. Here in Gunsan, people say that there are more churches here than any other place and I’m not hard-pressed to believe them. Drop me anywhere in town and I can probably spot at least three steeples.
…a phone store
It might be U+, Olleh or SK Telecom but there’s some sort of shop selling phones on every block. If you’re looking to buy an old school non-smart flip phone you’re going to have a hard time though. Smart phones, especially Samsungs, rule here. What can be annoying though is that not every shop can perform every service for you and there’s no way to know just by looking at the outside of a shop.
Honourable Mention goes to…
…academies. Education is incredibly important in Korea and the majority of students attend some form of after school academy (known as a hagwon 학원), whether it be for English, math, science, music or another subject. Many will even attend multiple academies. In 2008 it was reported that there were 70,000 hagwons in South Korea so it’s not that surprising to see them all over any town.
Have you ever visited South Korea? Was there something you saw a lot of that you don’t see as much at home?