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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If you have been living in China for a while you’ll eventually get used to all the behaviours that have freaked you out so much in the beginning. I prepared a little hit-list for you to check if you are still able to go back to your home country or if you have officially become Chinese.
I. Your new motto is: “Waiting in line is for suckers”
Especially for me as a German it was tough to see that there are no queues of people anywhere. At a bus stop I just see piles of people. And new piles building on the old piles. China is very unruly in this regard. But the longer you stay here, the more you adapt to it and after a few months you go on to become the king of the pile.
II. You expect bus drivers and other service people to abuse you.
In Germany there is a saying – customer is king. This is the way we are raised. You tell this to customer service in China and they will laugh in your face (and probably spit on the floor afterwards.) When back at the start you were shocked about the behaviour of service people you then kind of expect it to happen. And if somehow someone is friendly to you, you begin to ask yourself what the hell is wrong with this guy.
III. You feel entitled to make as much noise as you want, regardless of time or location.
It doesn’t take long in China to meet people singing on the street extremely loud or walking into a random group just dancing on a public square. People in general are louder, more hectic and more outgoing. If you are from a controlled environment like Germany it can freak you out at the start. But you adjust over time and then there comes this one day where you realize you have become the guy who is singing loud in the middle of the street.
IV. You no longer bother saying “excuse me” when you bump into someone.
It happens every once in a while that people push each other out of the way in China (usually old people). You were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Saying sorry is for losers. You learn to walk a straight line and if there is someone in the way, you still walk that damn straight line. This is how you know you have truly become Chinese.
Speaking of becoming Chinese, here are a few things which you will notice when you have been in China a long time and have become fully immersed –
The last time you visited your parents you gave them your business card.
Your body doesn’t need dairy anymore.
You hold a knife and fork and don’t know what to do with them.
You can’t wait for summer so you can do belly-busting in public.
You see another foreigner and think ‘what is that foreigner doing in my part of town?’
Everything you are wearing was bought in China.
You no longer know any of the new Western songs on the KTV computer.
You no longer know the conversion rate for your currency.
You get excited about mid-autumn festival but forget about Halloween.
You prefer hot liquids in summer and cold in winter.
You would rather wait on the street for another ten minutes for a small cab, than pay the extra fee for a big cab.
Someone doesn’t stare at you and you wonder why.
You get offended when people compliment your chopstick skills.
You start enjoying the taste of bai jiu (a strong Chinese alcohol) ….well maybe not this one but perhaps one day…
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