During my recent trip to Seoul, South Korea, I was introduced to the Korean part of Asian culture. Although I never expected it, South Korea feels like a totally different world compared to China.
The first thing I noticed when I jumped off my plane is that Korean citizens look a lot more like westerners than the Chinese do. They have a higher nose, lots of them have bigger eyes and unusually western looking chins. This might be due to the fact that South Korea has the world’s highest rate of cosmetic plastic surgery and this is no secret as it is advertised everywhere in metro and subway stations.
The second thing I realized was that Korean streets seem to be boringly civilized. After 3 months in China, I am no longer used to cars that stop because I want to cross the road and people watching me weirdly when I try to make eye contact with the drivers or when I start my zig-zag run through the cars to get to the other side of the street.
And believe it or not, Korean people actually stand in line to wait for the bus! If the bus driver feels that the bus will become over crowded, the bus driver will kindly request the other passengers to wait for the next one. In Korea no one would push you or push in to get onto the bus, it was never became full that no one was able to breathe.
The third thing is that Korean phrases seem to be endlessly long. Hello, in Chinese “Ni hao”, is “annyeong-hasimnikka” and thank you, in Chinese “Xie xie” is “kamsahamnida”. You will realize that there are other dialects that exist and make you feel even more confused when they start talking to you.
After this trip, I am really glad to be surrounded by Chinese all the time. In comparison to the length of the phrases, the Korean characters seem to be quite simple and look more like letters of a comic to me. Chinese signs are an art itself with the incredible amount of lines and dots in each character. Since these characters have surrounded me for more than three months now, I think the Korean lettering actually look a little blunt. But nonetheless I guess it is much easier to learn Korean as it uses an alphabet (Hangul) that only consists of 24 consonants and vowels.
Seoul is a great spot for vacation during your time in Qingdao. You can either travel by plane which takes about 1 hour or by ferry, both are amazingly cheap. Here is a cool site which gives you some tips on where to stay in Seoul: https://triphappy.com/seoul/where-to-stay/84746.
The Korean culture was quite easy for me to adapt to. The fact that the people actually love to follow our known rules of behaviour, actually made this trip feel like vacation at home. But after a little while, I realized that I am ready and looking forward to going back to Qingdao. I want a real adventure and I guess this is where China really excels.
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So last night an admittedly small group (everyone who skipped out on this one: we definitely had a better time than you did last night!) of Zhuhai interns did a taekwondo class. For those of you who are unfamiliar with TKD, it is a martial art from Korea and is the national sport (and obsession) in South Korea. While it does seem a bit strange to have taken a class here in Zhuhai, my host family informs me that TKD is extremely popular in China, especially here in Zhuhai, with multiple academies established here.
The class was intense; we were all sweating like pigs within the first 15 minutes of warm-ups in the SE China heat. We had one teacher who was originally from Guangzhou, about 1.5-2 hours north of Zhuhai, and his student – both of them were impressive in their physical capabilities as well as their patience with dealing with a group of 外国人 (foreigners) whose Chinese is far from fluency.
Hopefully we’ll get a chance to do it a few more times before summer’s end!