I went over my preconceived notions about Korea half a year ago, and I think for the most part, they were right. But there were some things that surprised me when I got here.
I've eaten Korean bbq
9 11 days in a row and I intend to keep it going. I was one of the only people I knew that wasn't impressed by Korean food in America, but I love it here. I don't eat a lot of grains, so having a dinner that consists of 400 grams of grilled meat, an assload of vegetables, and kim chi for 7$ is pretty awesome. Also, Korean scallion pancakes are far superior to Chinese scallion pancakes. There is a lot of variety in Korean food, enough where I'm not tempted to waste money on mediocre Western restaurants.
The quality of the fruit here is an abomination. I've been burned so many times I don't even touch that shit anymore. The bananas go bad extremely fast and they taste awful. I thought US supermarket produce was bad, but Korea takes it to a whole new depth of ass quality.
Pervasiveness of the game Starcraft
Yes I know there's a TV channel dedicated to professional Starcraft, the top players are mini celebrities, and this game that came out in the '90s is still extremely popular. But in the end that's still all it is- an extremely popular video game. The only references to Starcraft I see are on the rare PC bang sign. In fact, I've seen more references to the UFC in Korea than Starcraft, which was quite a surprise, as the UFC is an American organization.
I think Korean gamers have expanded their tastes to other games like League of Legends, FIFA, Tekken, and plenty others, so the Starcraft: Brood War phenomenon of the last decade shares the gamer's consciousness with dozens of other popular multiplayer games.
Hotness of Korean Girls
A whole bunch of people talked up Korean girls to me in America. "Hottest girls in the world", etc. I never bought that shit but I'll talk about it anyway since they enjoy this reputation in America. After living here for 5 months I think Korean girls are like girls in any other country. Some are hot, some are ugly, most are in between. They're different in other ways, sure. They are slim compared to American girls, but so is an elephant's ass. I have noticed that the attractive Korean girls look like they came out of an assembly line, and that has to be because they get the same plastic surgeries. They all want a smaller face, smaller jaw, smaller nose, bigger eyes, and double eye lids, it's not like there's people going under the knife for jew noses and chink eyes. They also have creamy white skin, not only because they shy from the sun, but also because they use a product called BB cream on their face.
I can only generalize the hot Korean girls- "Ugly" Korean girls come in all different shapes and sizes. If I can write one poignant line in this entire blog it's this: In Korea, there are a million ways to be ugly, but only one way to be beautiful.
On a related note, while I was in Japan, I heard over and over again about how conformist Japanese society is. I never expected Korea would be even more conformist than Japan. But it sure looks that way, particularly noticable when it comes to music, fashion, and lifestyles. From early childhood you enter a 12+ hour schoolday (supplemented by additional schooling at a hagwon) and this lasts until college. That doesn't leave a lot of time for unique personalities to develop. In the adult world, massive corporations pervade every nook and cranny of commerce, politics, media, and thus, society. That's the traditional way to make money, and everyone has so much pressure to succeed academically to make money from a young age, so they're pushed towards that direction before they even think about it. Samsung owns this country, entrepeneurial spirit andnovel ways of thought have been all but stamped out. It's a shame that there are no psychedelics to be found in a country whose people need it the most (2nd highest suicide rate whatup?).
Development in Busan
They mentioned this during orientation, and I've studied South Korean eceonomic development in college, but damn, it's a different thing to actually live it. New businesses are built in the blink of an eye. Even out in the boondocks in the northwest, a strip of trees have been planted in the middle of the freeway. My Korean friend said that the west hub, Deokcheon has changed dramatically in the last year alone. Many more have commented on the explosion of foreigner presence in the last two years. It's exciting. Even the plot of waste next to my apartment has gone from a patch of rotting cabbages to a green vegetable garden. Whoever owns the rights to it don't seem to care. This is one of the coolest aspects of living in Korea.