Actually its already been longer than a month since I moved out here from England, but only a month since I have actually been working.
Rewind: I made the move out here to work for a Hagwon (teaching adults English) because I wanted to see the real Korea, and live in a foreign country. I chose Busan, because I had found it to be more laid-back than Seoul when I visited in December, and I also liked the fact that it is closer to Japan, where my girlfriend lives.
It feels like its been longer. London is already beginning to feel like a distant memory. Busan, for all it’s strangeness, is starting to feel like my home.
Still, I ran in to some teething problems during my first month here. What you need to know is that everything is going fine, now. But there were definitely times when it wasn’t.
After jumping through hoops to get my visa, i felt I had got everything sorted, but then I still had to apply for an Alien resident card. Without this number, you’re not able to open a bank account, or register for many essential services. Why they don’t allow you to get it before you arrive in Korea, I have no idea. So, now I have it, I’m at least able to feel like I’m an official resident here.
They won’t let you have a Korean phone number until you have your ARC. Crazy right? I felt like I was the victim of a sick joke, living in the land of Samsung and LG but unable to have a sim card. Even when I got the card, I had to make a special journey to the SK telecom building and register my details. Maybe it’s a security against people taking out too many phone numbers.
I now have a Korean bank account number (good). But as of yet, no debit card. They just give you a paying in book. For a country that has some of the most advanced technology, they certainly like to do things the old fashioned way.
Then I had some problems buying food. You know how most places have different supermarkets for different budgets? Well in Korea, there are no budget supermarkets. You simply pay a lot every where you go, and sometimes you pay a lot.
The prices are crazy. For example, a dollar for a tiny carton of milk. Or shampoo, which your lucky to get for less than 5,000 Won. Then there are some things they simply don’t have. Like real cheese. And frustratingly, its common for stores to bundle together a large bowl of fruit, forcing you to buy much more than you actually need.
A few things are on the whole cheap, for example, instant noodles and ice cream. But if you’re thinking of coming to live out here, be prepared to spend at least double what you would at home (i’m comparing to England prices, where stores are in direct competition and undercut rivals ruthlessly).
But the other thing is that when you live in a country as opposed to simply going on holiday, you become fairly non-plussed about what you used to get really worked up about. For example, I used to watch Korean movies in London all the time. But in Korea, all though there are more films to watch, it’s not the same (usually no subtitles). And funnily, I’m eating less kimchi here than in London. When you’re around Korean food all the time, it starts to become something really quotidian. Plus, you soon get tired of going in to restaurants where the staff can’t speak English and only come to your table to take your order, give you your food and then take your money. I hoping one day to get some interaction from the server but it hasn’t happened yet.
Its funny how people only talk about certain things, like the food, the dramas, or how hot the women are. All valid points, but practical advice on Korea would be more useful. Spend a week in Korea, and you might find Koreans to be polite. But try living here, and you might draw different conclusions. I’m not saying they are uncouth, but their behaviour is far from couth( a lovely word meaning lacking sophistication and refinement). I’ve seen spitting, shouting, and even physical fights (and that’s only the women). And god help you if you think that people shouldn’t talk with food in their mouth, or chew noisily… Enough, I know that this does not apply to all Koreans.
The writer Daniel Tudor (who has lived and worked here for ten years) wrote a book about life in Korea which he called The Impossible Country. I’m beginning to understand what he meant.
By the way, if you want a really good heads up on Korea, i can recommend this book. Much better than many of the blogs which simply churn out the same old jibber jabber about k-pop and dramas.