Korean Shopping and out to Eat

We are Americans who live in Korea.  Living in Korea, is not hard for Americans.  In this blog, I plan to write and put pictures so that Americans or others who are interested in Korea can see how we live.  We have been here for 12 years, so we have learned a lot that will help people who are interested in coming here.  We will take the readers with us as we move about in Korea and teach them how to do it if they want to do it.  Today, we went grocery shopping and out to eat, so I will tell you about our trip out.

To begin with, we live on the 9th floor of a very tall apartment building.  When we lived in Romania, we lived on the 9th floor for a while, and we thought we were very high up, and the building was 10 floors high, but the 9th floor is nothing here in Korea.  The first year we came here, we lived on the 24th floor of an apartment building in a small town, and we were not at the top.  Koreans build the tallest buildings in the world.  When they need a tall building in a place like Dubai, they bring Korean builders in because they know how to build tall buildings safely.  They have such tall buildings because the peninsula is small.  Everything is crowded in Korea, and the land space is limited.  All the apartment buildings have elevators, and it is common as in our building to have two elevators. One elevator only goes to the even numbered floors, and the other elevator only goes to the odd numbered floors.  As we get on the elevator on our floor, we notice a suit case sitting by the elevator we don’t use.  Someone has stored it there because no one will come out that door, and it isn’t in the way.  In America, we would never just leave a suitcase in the hallway like that, but it is okay in Korea.  No one will take it. If someone took it, they would consider it stealing. Children in America have a saying about things just left around, “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” but that is not a saying here. You just don’t mess with or touch anything that isn’t yours even if the owner is not there.

After we go down our elevator, you can see the signs by the elevators telling you which elevator to take from the bottom floor. You can also see advertisements written in Korean on those signs. Those are advertisements put there by real estate people who handle the apartments. You can see it below the signs telling which elevator to ride as well as under the mirror, two different real estate agents. You also see a sign that says CCTV. That means that you are on closed circuit TV. You are being watched.  These TVs are everywhere in Korea.  About 80% of your life in Korea is on film.  As we walk out, there is an office with windows. The man inside is a guard.  He stays there watching everyone coming and going. He knows what is going on. If you have trouble, you ask him for help. If you park your car wrong, he will call you up and tell you he doesn’t like how you parked your car, and you must come and park it again.  He also helps you with another problem in the parking lot I will discuss in the next paragraph.


If the parking lot is full when you come, but you must park, you may park your car in front of other people’s cars.  If you do this, a couple of things are required.  First, all cars in Korea must have the driver’s telephone number displayed on the dashboard for people to see. If your car is causing trouble where it is, they will call you to move your car.  You just have to be patient.  If you are in bed, you jump up, throw your clothes on, and run out and move your car. Whatever you are doing, you must move because if you don’t, they become irate and mean with you if you don’t move right away.  You have the right to expect them to move right away if they are in front of your car too. You just have to learn to have patience and do it their way.  If you park it the way it is in my picture, then, you must leave your car in neutral and leave the parking brake off. In the picture, you can see a broken brick.  In this particular apartment building, the parking lot slopes, so they will put these broken bricks under their tires to keep the cars from rolling.  If you come out and someone has parked in front of you like that, all you do is move the brick and push the car out of the way.  If it is too hard to push, this is when you can go back and ask the guard to help you push the car.


Now that we are outside, I decided to take a picture for you to show you just how big our apartment building is.  I kept backing off and backing off in the parking lot to get a good shot of it from the bottom to the top, but I just didn’t have the space to back up and get the top and bottom at the same time. This tells you these buildings are huge.  They don’t have earthquakes like in Japan. Japan doesn’t have much land space, but they can’t build buildings like this because of their earth quakes. Here in Korea, the biggest natural problem they have is the typhoon, and it is good to be in one of these buildings during a typhoon.  The wind can’t touch these buildings because they are made of concrete, and they are huge.  If it floods, and you live up on the second or higher floor, you are in business. No water will get in your house.  However, we had to learn something about living on the first floor the hard way because in the last apartment we lived in, we wanted the bottom floor.  The bottom floor is cheaper, and not many people want to live there.  When it floods, the water comes in.  When the snow begins melting, the water comes in.  When it is hot and rainy outside, the apartment on the bottom floor may start getting black mold on the walls.  The drainage system is not good in these apartments, and if you are on the bottom floor, you may have water standing in your bathroom floor. It is normal to spray the bathroom floors in Korea to clean them because they are completely tiled with a drain in the middle of the floor. In fact, if there is no bathtub, often, there is just a shower nozzle coming out of the sink for your to shower with, and you flood your bathroom when you shower.  Water in Korean bathroom floors is normal.  However, when we lived in Romania, living on the bottom floor of the apartment building was good because it meant that you would never have water problems, but here in Korea, living on the bottom floor says you will have too much water that will give you problems.

If you look at the outside of the building, you will see that every apartment has an enclosed balcony.  The balcony is not heated like the rest of the house, but it will be enclosed, and Koreans use these either to grow plants, to hang clothes to dry, or for storage.  In many apartments, they put the washing machine on the balcony.  If you also look on the outside of the building, you will see metal units attached to the outside of the balconies.  Those are air conditioners.  They don’t have central air in Korea, but they do have wall air conditioners, and in some cases, free standing air conditioners that stand in the corner of a room. They call these “air con.”  If you use the whole word, they will have no idea what you are talking about.  Many Koreans have air conditioning, but not everyone uses it because the air conditioners are electric.  If your electric bill gets too high, the electric company doubles it to discourage you from using so much electricity, so many people who have air conditioners will hardly use them even though it can get very steamy here in summer.


As we get in our car to go, you will see that I have an SM3.  An SM3 is a Renault built by Samsung. In the beginning, I didn’t drive a car.  Many Koreans and foreigners use public transportation which is really good here. Public transportation is cheap and efficient in Korea.  In America, only the poorest people ride a bus to work, but it is not that way here. Often, even people who have cars opt out to use public transportation on a daily basis and save their cars just for family outings and things like that because the public transportation here is really good.  There are buses, subways, and taxis.  They are all cheap, and I will do another blog teaching you how to use them.  I used them in the beginning, and they are healthy.  Everyone usually loses weight when they first come to Korea because they are used to going everywhere in a car, but when you are walking to the bus stop or the subway station, you lose weight.  At one point, an American called me and sold me his second hand car. I was thinking like an American back then. The car was cheap, it ran, and it would make our lives more convenient, so I bought it.

It was better to have a car, but I ran into some problems. First, Korea is complicated to get around in with a car.  When we were going with the subways and buses, it was easy to know where to go, but I was always lost with my car. I was always calling my friends, telling them where I was and asking how to get home or to where I was going.  I had to learn that everyone who drives in Korea needs a GPS, a navigation system or they will get lost.  I bought a GPS from the same guy who sold me the car that was in English. That was a mistake.  The way the Koreans spell things in English makes no sense to Americans in the beginning until we get used to it, and I was always confused about where I was with that GPS.  Finally, the transmission went out on that old car, and a Korean friend of mine decided she was going to take over and teach me how it should be done in Korea.  Koreans don’t buy second hand cars. They buy new ones. They also buy the newest technology.  Everything must be up to date in Korea. I told her I wanted something cheap, and she told me she could get me a good new car that was cheap on gas with cheap car payments. I told her I also wanted a small car because there are many very crowded roads in Korea, and a smaller car would be easier to get around in. She wouldn’t even consider showing me a car as small as I wanted because she said they were dangerous.  She took me to a new car show room and insisted I had to buy one of those cars, and she wasn’t going to help me find anything else.  She actually guided me in a good way,  I now have a car that is cheap on gas, has cheap car payments, has a good GPS, and has a backup camera.  A backup camera is a must in Korea. The parking spots are smaller in Korea than in America, and having a backup camera helps you park.  Trying to go into a parking space frontwards at times is just impossible, but you can back up into it with a back up camera easily.  With the new car, I had a special service that I could call whenever I had car trouble. I will explain the car services in another blog, but she guided me right.  Now, we head out shopping in our SM3.


The place we are going is EMart, the Korean WalMart.  It is like a super WalMart with everything available in one store. There are other stores like it in Korea, but usually EMart is the cheapest.  At times, we go to Home Plus or Lotte Mart. They are comparable to EMart, but not quite as cheap, but you can find things there that are not at EMart.  Home Plus has a lot of imports from England because it is actually owned by a British company.  WalMart was in Korea the first year we came, but EMart bought them out.  Like our apartment building, EMart is several stories high.  Instead of a big parking lot, there is a parking garage.  These stores and parking garages are not just in Seoul, but in every small town too.  We end up on the fourth floor of the parking garage because everything before that is crowded. Today is actually Saturday, so the store is more crowded. If we come through the week, there are less cars and less people because everyone is as work through the week, but today, everyone is out.

Like in our apartment building, we must start at the elevators.  I took a picture of something for you to see that is on every elevator in Korea.  They are warning signs not to touch the door of the elevator or lean on the door because you could fall and get hurt.  As we get in the elevator, you will here either nerocabnida or olacabnida in a sweet Korean lady’s voice.  “nerocabnida” means “going down,” and “olacabnida” means “going up.”  We actually begin by going down to the third floor.  There is usually a food court on the third floor of this particular EMart, but they have blocked most of it off.  This is something normal in Korea. Usually, in this food court, you get the choice of Burger King, Baskin Robbins, and any number of traditional Korean restaurants, but they have blocked the Korean restaurants off. I took a picture of the sign explaining it will be open again in June.  We are often disappointed when they do this. They just randomly close off a place you have been going for a long time and enjoying.  The business isn’t bad, but they like to upgrade everything in Korea.  As with my car, they like everything new.  Over at the mall, there was a wonderful restaurant called “Burger Hunter” where they had big luscious burgers and homemade potato chips, and we often when there with our Korean friends, but one day, they blocked it off. We had no idea what would be there or why they would block off such a popular restaurant. When they were done, they replaced it with a corn dog restaurant and a Mexican restaurant.  We go to those restaurants occasionally, but we miss our hamburger restaurant.  As for this food court, they still have Baskin Robbins because Baskin Robbins is very, very popular everywhere, all over Korea. It is is every little town, and sometimes on every street corner.  Koreans love ice cream. We also find Burger King.  Burger King and McDonalds both are popular in Korea.

We decided to eat at Burger King.  When you order at Burger King or McDonalds, you have a choice of how to order now.  You can either talk to the person at the cash register who speaks just enough English to take your order if you can’t speak Korean (However, we have been here for 12 years, so we speak to them in Korean), or you can use one of the new machines. I took a picture of the ordering machines for you, but I haven’t messed with them and never use them to order although many people do.  After you have ordered, they give you a piece of paper with a number, and they have a board where you wait for your number to come up, and then your order is ready.


After you eat, you are expected to recycle.  There is a trash can, but there are also places to dump your ice, put your cups, and put your lids and straws.  Recycling in a really big thing in Korea. This culture thinks that if you are a good person, you will recycle.  My son in law recycles in front of our apartment building once a week. I did it in the beginning when we first came because they encouraged me to do it, bu my son in law has taken over, and I let him. In one of my blogs, I will show you the way they recycle at the apartment buildings.


As we leave the food court, we pass an Italian restaurant.  It has a display case with models of the food. This is normal both in Korea and Japan. When the food court was open, they had models of the food with prices.  You chose which one you wanted, then went to the lady and told her which one you wanted. You paid for it, then she gave you a number, and you sat down and waited, looking at all the Korean restaurants knowing your number would come up on the sign board on top of one of them, and then when your number came up, you would go to that restaurant to get your food. It works the same in all the food courts here, but if there is Burger King, McDonalds, Baskin Robbins, or something like that, they are separate even though they are part of the food court.

We keep walking and go past clothing and jewelry.  As I said, this place is like a super WalMart and has everything. To get to the food because we are grocery shopping, we must go to another floor, so we take a moving sidewalk down.  At the bottom, we see the pharmacy, the “yakgook.” Yakgooks are everywhere, and it is very convenient to get Tylenol, band aids, etc., and to fill prescriptions in Korea. Next to the Yakgook, you also see a place where you can buy glasses, like a super WalMart. However, there is something I took a picture of for you that you can find here that you can’t find in American WalMarts that is very convenient.  If you lose weight or someone gives you clothes that just don’t fit, or just whatever reason, your clothes don’t fit, you can bring them to a place like this. They are all over the place.  They fix your clothes for you, and it is cheaper than buying new clothes.

We go on toward the place where the food is with our shopping cart on the next moving sidewalk.  There are many, many things available.  I took a picture of the candy isle. There is also soda pop. There is a bakery where you can buy all kinds of nice bread, cakes, pizza, muffins, bagels, croissants, etc.  We continue. You can buy already cooked, dried rice in small plastic bowls. When you take these home, all you have to do is open them up, add a few drops of water, cover them again, and put them in the microwave for a little, and you will have a nice hot bowl of rice.  My son in law says he doesn’t even add water to his.  To go along with these, there are several other things that you could just heat and eat to make your busy life easier.  These are just many packages of different dishes. My son especially liked me to buy the curry rice packages for him when he was here. My son in law likes the meat ball packages, the steak packages, etc.  On the opposite side from all this, there is cereal, all kinds like in America. We also recently got toaster pop ups, and that makes my daughter happy.

We go on through the store. We go past the coffee and tea isle where they have all kinds.  We come to the isle where they sell peanut butter, jelly, and even marshmallow cream.  On this isle, we can usually find imported canned goods of all kinds like canned fruit or pinto beans.  We can also find lots and lots of cans of tuna.  We don’t continue to the next isles because we really don’t need what is there, but in case you are wondering, there is sugar, flour, mayonnaise, ketchup, pancake syrup, cooking oil, etc. There is no shortening, but if we want solid shortening, we use butter.  We are headed for the butter and cheese isle where there are all kinds of cheeses from all over the world as well as all kinds of butter.  Next, we pick up milk, and you can get low fat milk. You don’t have to drink it with the fat in it if you don’t want to.

We continue on and see all kinds of exotic things. They have meat prepared for you to buy and cook yourself, but I have no idea what it is. When we get to the regular meat isle, we always look for chicken, pork, and hamburger. These are always much cheaper at EMart than in a place like Home Plus. Chicken is always there. Pork is always there, but hamburger is not always there. Even if hamburger is there, it may be so expensive that we won’t touch it.  If it is Korean beef, they price it off the charts crazy.  If they import it from Australia, it is half the price of Korean beef.  We never buy the Korean beef, but always the Australian beef.  At times, the beef is so expensive, but we still want the kinds of dishes that take ground meat. I have used ground pork in those circumstances. When you make spaghetti and meatballs for example, you really can’t tell a big difference between beef or pork because you have put your condiments, bread crumbs, and eggs in the meatballs and then covered them with spaghetti sauce.  The taste isn’t so different that it isn’t doable.  By the way, you can buy already made spaghetti sauce in jars.  We have tried the Korean brands as well as the imported brands, and we like the imported brands best, but we can’t get them in EMart. We have to go to Home Plus to get them. You can also use the ground pork for taco meat.  You can buy tortillas here as well as long horn or cheddar cheese which means you can make tacos, but usually, they will have to be made with flour tortillas instead of corn because corn tortillas are only found in import shops here, but you can find flour tortillas in EMart and Home Plus. Sometimes at Home Plus, you can buy packages of spices already mixed together for tacos or fajitas. If you want refried beans in your fajitas, you will have to learn to make them from scratch before you come.

After we leave the meat isle, we go on and see all kids of exotic things the Koreans eat.  We took some pictures for you to see.  We don’t know how to fix any of this stuff.  We go on to the vegetable and fruits.  There are all kinds of things to see here.  There are things we would consider normal, and some you may have never seen.  My daughter begins snapping pictures.  In one of the pictures, you can see plantains, cooking bananas.  When we lived in Nigeria, we used to buy these.  You slice them up and fry them in butter and put salt on them, and they are a great snack.  She also takes a picture of chamwee, or as some Koreans say chamway.  These are just two pronunciations we have heard for the same thing. They are small yellow melons.  I have never seen them in any other country, but they are good.  There is also a picture here of the Korean pears. They are big and round unlike American pears. They also keep for weeks on end in the fridge like apples unlike American pears.  They don’t bruise or go bad and soft quickly like American pears, and they are delicious.  There is also a shot of what Americans would call tangerines, but the Koreans call them kyul.  They are extremely popular here. They come from Jeju Island, the Korean Hawaii, an island to the complete south of the peninsula.  Many Koreans go there on vacation, and they bring these back with them.  These little tangerines are everywhere. Everyone has them. Everyone eats them.  When I get on a bus with other professors or with students to go somewhere, someone is always passing out kyul, their small tangerines. After class, often, students bring me a kyul as a gift like they bring apples to American teachers.  Kyul are just extremely, extremely popular in Korea.


Across from the fruits and vegetables, there is a special section.  These are supposed to be fruits and vegetables grown in a healthier way than the regular fruits and vegetables, organic, and they are more expensive.

After we leave the fruits and vegetables, we go past some more Korean delicacies. There is a picture here of ginseng. Koreans love ginseng.  They even put it in candy.  You can get on a bus and smell ginseng products around you, especially if there are old people.  Korea is the ginseng capital of the world.  They believe it is extremely healthy.  They were pushing it on me so much when I first got here, that I looked it up on the internet, and it doesn’t have as many special things about it that the Koreans think it does according to what I read, but it doesn’t stop them from propagating it, believing in it, and using a lot of it.  There are also pictures here of dried fish.  From what I understand,  you are supposed fry these, but I haven’t ever seen it done or know how to do it myself.


We also go past the paper products and the soap isles. We stop and take a picture of the soft plastic bag like laundry soap containers.  You can buy the regular packages here like in the States, but they also make these packages for you to use as refills for your heavy plastic bottle of detergent to make it cheaper.

Next, we head back upstairs on the moving sidewalk.  We check out at the checkout stand.  The store is crowded, so many people are checking out.  At the checkout stand, the woman will say to you “punktul dirilkayo?”  She is asking if you want a shopping bag.  You can answer in English if you say, “yeah” because that means “yes” in Korean.  If you want more than one, you will have to tell her, but she won’t speak English at all, so this is the first place you will probably have no choice but learn the Korean numbers.  In many situations, you won’t need Korean, but to check out, it is much easier if you learn just a little.  As for us, on this day, we don’t need shopping bags because we bought some with us. We have to pay for shopping bags in Korea.  I took a picture of our shopping bags.  The strawberry has a shopping bag inside, and many people carry these with them.  If you look at the blue ones, there are pictures on them.  They show you can shop and use them for trash bags.  You can only buy trash bags at the cash registers in Korea.  They have separate trash bags also that can’t be used as shopping bags, but they can’t be bought at EMart. You can buy bigger trash bags if you go to a local “super” which is what they call a small shop close to your house, but you will have to know how to ask for them.  You say “tsuregi punctul juseyo” which means please give me a trash bag.  They come in all different sizes, and you can either buy one or a package, and in the beginning, you will think they are expensive.  However, you won’t have to pay for a trash service. We actually use our bags that double as shopping bags for our trash bags. You have to buy the bags in your neighborhood or they won’t like it.  Every apartment building has a place where you deposit your trash in these special bags, and it is picked up once a week like the recycling.

Now, we are back in our car and leaving the parking garage. There are so many cars, there is a traffic jam coming out of the parking garage, and we just have to be patient. We are all waiting perched on a slope. It is hard to perch your car on a slope during a traffic jam. One false move, and you have hit another car.  Finally, we get to the bottom, and there is a little booth.  Luckily, at EMart, they don’t charge you to park, although, when they first put these booths in, they did, but now, they just count how long you were there and how many cars have been in the parking lot. However, if you go to a big fancy department store like Hyundai Department Store in Mokdong, you will have to collect every receipt you receive.  You must prove to them you have been shopping and not just using their parking garage for something else because parking can become a really big deal in Korea. If you have bought enough, you will not have to pay to get out of the parking garage at Hyundai Department Store, but if you have not bought enough for the amount of time you have been inside, then you must pay to get out.  I have actually found a way around all this nonsense.  When we go over there, the first temptation is to park on the pink floor of the parking garage because it has flowers, statues, etc., and everything is painted in pink for women to park there, but I don’t.  I go all the way to the bottom of the parking garage, in the deepest basement.  Very few cars go down there, so when it is time to leave, they may not have posted anyone at the gate and won’t have anyone there to charge you anything as you go out if you are lucky.

Our shopping trip is finished, and we head back for our apartment building.  When I get home, I plan on blogging before I forget what we did. On the way home, we talk about all the other things we do or can do in Korea that foreigners will enjoy reading about, so this isn’t the end of my blogging, just one blog.









A Trip to a Korean Post Office to Mail Christmas Packages to America

I decided not to go to the post office first thing this morning because I had a phone message from the Korean government yesterday saying there would be a big snow storm.  I know from experience the best time to go out when it snows is not first thing in the morning, especially in Seoul. If you go out in the morning in Seoul anytime, you will hit a traffic jam and a 30 minute trip might take you two hours.  If you wait until a little later in the day when it snows, the roads are more likely to be clear.  I left about noon to go to the post office, in Korean, Uchegook.

My apartment is small, so I need to get these in the mail because this is where I want to put my Christmas tree.
Looking from the window from the 9th floor where my apartment is, I could see there was snow, but the streets were clear.


I wore my coat, hat, scarf, and gloves because I knew it would be cold.  As I walked out of my apartment, I looked down to the street, and I had chosen right waiting.  There was snow, but the street were clear.  As I got in the elevator, a terrible smell hit my nose!  Some Korean woman was cooking!  She had used too much chili spice as most of them do, and I could tell from the smell.  The smell was so bad it made me kind of queasy, but I got out of the elevator soon and felt better.

I found my car next to the Taekwando van, and it was covered with snow. (Taekwando is a Korean martial art like karate.  It is more concentrated on kicks.)  These vans or small buses are very common here in Korea. Every private school or taekwando place has a small bus like this.

When I made it to the parking lot, there was still lots of snow everywhere. My car was covered with snow, and I had to take time to uncover my car before I could go anywhere, Thankfully, nothing was frozen. It was just snow, so it was easy. I got in the car and turned on my Bing Cosby Christmas CD. As I went down the street, he was singing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. In my car, it was American Christmas, but out of my car, it was Korea.

Here is a picture of my apartment building from inside my car.
It was lunch time, but I didn’t want to stay at home and eat and nor did I want to go out to eat, so I took some cheese in my car to eat.

There is a post office closer to my house than the one I went to, but I am used to the one I went to because I have been going there ever since I came to Korea. It is over by the university where I taught several years.  It also has a parking lot which is unusual in Korea. Many places don’t have parking lots, and I appreciate this post office having a parking lot, so I really don’t want to change to one that might not have a parking lot. I actually took a picture of the post office, but I can’t find it now.

I just chose the size of box I wanted.
There is free tape for everyone to use.
I packed the Christmas presents into boxes.
Next, I had forms to fill out.

I didn’t bring any boxes with me, just the gifts and addresses.  I can buy my boxes cheap at the post office, and there is free tape to tape the box up. I got some boxes and began packing them with Christmas gifts. I was getting too hot, so I took my hat, my scarf, and my coat off. I had left my gloves in the car.  After everything got into boxes, I knew I had to fill out some forms, so I went to the place where forms are filled out and found the appropriate forms and filled them out.

These machines are every where in Korea. It is time to take a number and wait.
I sat next to that lady on the chair and waited my turn.
This is the lady in line before me.  The coat she is wearing is very much in style in Korea right now.  They all like long black quilted coats.  Long coats are a good idea in Korea because sometime the air is extremely cold in the winter.  This lady is dressed normal in other ways for Korea too.  She is wearing a baseball cap with a pony tail coming out the back of her hat.  If you look at her feet, there is snow on the ground outside, but she is wearing rubber slippers like you would wear at home or to the beach and socks, not snow boots, not even closed toe shoes.  That is normal in Korea. Most high school students go like this to school everyday regardless of the weather.
It was my turn, and this little lady chattered on to me in Korean. She couldn’t speak any English, but she could read English letters. She kept reading letters off to me to make sure she understood what I had written on the forms.  She went into detail asking questions about each package.

Next, I had to take a number and wait.  When my number came up, I went up to the counter, and the little lady behind the counter chattered on to me in Korean asking me all kinds of questions about what I was sending.  Finally, everything was finished, and I was ready to go home.

My car in the Post Office parking lot.
I saw these pictures on my way to the post office and thought they were interesting, so I stopped and took a picture of them on the way home to share with you. This is a restaurant.
I stopped to take a picture of this because the roof is cool. There were no signs, and it was empty, so I am not sure what is it, but it is open and has benches inside.
You can see the end of a red and white truck here. It is a Korean post office delivery truck.  You can also see a bus stop off to the left.  There are bus stops everywhere. Most people ride the bus or subway. The public transportation here is great!
At a stop light, these two guys pulled around in front of me to wait and talk as the guys on the motor cycles do here in Korea. They are boy delivery men from the post office.  Guys on motorcycles are downright dangerous in Korea!  They think they don’t need to follow the laws and dart back and forth in traffic.  I was at the front of the line waiting for the light to change when they guys came from in back of me and parked here.  Before the light changed, one of them left and took off on the side walk.
At one point, I saw a restaurant with boxes full of shells out front. There was snow in the sea shells.
These little yellow buses are so common in Korea. If you look on the window of this bus, in Korean it says “Children’s Zone.”  This is a bus from a private English school called a hogwan. Hogwans are everywhere, and so are these little yellow buses. Look at the beginning of this blog, and you can see another little yellow bus from a taekwando place.
The road leading up to my parking lot is lined with pine trees sprinkled with snow.
This is a shot from the first floor out the back door of my apartment building.  Next, I got in the elevator and went back to my apartment.

On the was home, I took some pictures for you of some interesting things I saw on the way thinking this is the kind of thing people from the west would like to see because these thing make Korea unique. My packages are in the mail, and my kids who live outside of Korea will be having a good Christmas from me.  If I can’t be with them at Christmas, at least I can send gifts.


The Japanese Boys and the Fish Heads

When I was in college, I went to Japan to go to school.  There was a total of seven American students at our university.  They put all the American girls in Japanese homes, and they put the American boys in a boarding house with Japanese boys.  In my Japanese home, I had a Japanese sister named Keiko who was great at giving me hints about living in Japan, and if I ever wasn’t sure, I asked Keiko.  The American boys thought they could trust the Japanese boys in their boarding house like I could trust Keiko, but they needed to think again because Japanese boys like jokes just like American boys.

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One evening in the boarding house, the lady in charge served all the boys fish.  In Japan and Korea both, when they cook fish, often, they leave the fish whole, and then put it in the oven. When it makes it to your plate, it is still whole, and you are supposed to use your chop sticks and open it up to pull the cooked fish meat out and eat it.  On this particular evening, all the boys in the boarding house sat down to eat fish together.  The American boys were getting used to everything thing being strange and everything done differently, and the Japanese boys thought they were funny, so they played a joke on them.

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When the American boys saw the whole fish on their plates, they said, “What? Do we eat the whole thing?”  The Japanese boys confirmed that, yes, they must eat the whole thing.  The American boys were having a really hard time.  They could see the fish’s eyes.  They could see the gills, they were grossed out, but they were determined to do things the Japanese way. If the Japanese could eat a whole fish, then they could too!  They watched the Japanese boys, and the Japanese boys ate the whole fish, so the American boys ate the whole fish too, including the head and the tail.

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Later, the American boys were telling me about their experience.  They had been completely shocked to be asked to eat the whole thing, but they were proud of themselves because they had had enough guts to eat the whole thing!  I listened to their story and hoped no one would ask me to eat a whole fish.

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One evening, I sat down to dinner at my Japanese home stay.  There was a whole fish on my plate, and I had a feeling of dread.  I knew what the American boys said, and I wasn’t wanting to offend anyone.  Keiko sat down next to me, and I asked, “Do we eat the whole thing?”  She laughed and said, “Of course we don’t!  Nobody eats the head or the tail.  We just use our chop sticks, open the fish up, and eat the meat of the fish. ”  I could trust Keiko, and I was breathing better because I didn’t have to eat the fish head and tail.  However, I told her what had happened in the boy’s boarding house.  She laughed again.  She said, “They actually ate the fish heads?”  I confirmed it.  “Did the Japanese boys eat the fish heads too?’  I confirmed it again.  she laughed again.  She told me those Japanese boys were trying hard to mess with the American boys if they went so far as to eat fish heads!

A Crocheted Scarf

All the work has finally come to an end. I have worked hard and made sure all my kids have something homemade for Christmas, four kids, one grandchild, and two son in laws, and one daughter in law.  They tried to talk me out of giving them Christmas presents because they don’t want me to spend any money, but they accepted the idea of all homemade gifts.  This afternoon, I finished crocheting a beautiful scarf.20181210_005035-1691612050.jpg

I used red yarn and blue yarn.  I began with blue yarn. I did one row red, and the next row blue, the next red, and the next blue.  I began by chaining 50.  In the first row, I chained 4 at the end, double crocheted in the 6th chain from the hook, then chained one, then chained in the second chain from the hook, then chained one, then double crocheted in the second chain from the hook to the end. In the last double crochet, just before I finished the double crochet, I put red around the hook and pulled it through both stitches on the hook to change colors.  I cut the blue yarn and wove the end back into the blue stitches I had already done.

For the next row, I chained 6, then I double crocheted in the first chain one space, then I chained one, then double crocheted in the next chain one space, etc., to the end of the row, all red, then I chained to blue again. I always wove the ends back into the color they matched.

That plastic box on the right of the picture is full of Christmas decorations.  Now that I am getting the gifts finished, it will be time to put them up.

I just kept working row after row with each row being red, blue, red, blue.

The finished scarf.

I worked until I was satisfied that it was long enough to be a scarf and my yarn was gone, so it was finished, and I love the way it turned out!  It will be another gift.  I have made so many gifts in my life like this. So many people got nice things that I made, and I always thought I would make something for myself, but I won’t be doing it this Christmas.  I wanted to make a sweater or an afghan for someone for Christmas, but there were just too many people, so I made smaller things.  I have thought about getting some yarn after Christmas and making a sweater or an afghan, and knowing me, there will be someone who wants it, and I will end up giving it away again.  I can thank my mother for teaching me to crochet, and the English school system for teaching me to knit.

The Japanese Student and the Pink Barbie Blanket

I was helping a group of international students who were new in the country.  Many of them needed to go shopping and buy things they needed.  I got the school van, and they all loaded in, and I took them to Wal-Mart. Many of them got things they needed, but not all of them, and some of them complained about the prices.  Okay, so I tried the Dollar Store. It wasn’t as big, but it was cheaper.  One of the Japanese boys told me he was looking for a blanket, but all the blankets he had seen were just too expensive, and he didn’t want to pay that much for a blanket.  He needed a blanket. I didn’t want to see him get cold at night.  I decided I needed to come up with another plan for him to get a blanket.

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I decided to take the students to yard sales.  I figured that they could find the things they needed cheaply, and surely that Japanese boy could find a second hand blanket.  No one was selling second hand blankets that day.  I took them to a free give away put on by a church thinking maybe there was a blanket there, but there was no blanket.  That kid was going to get cold at night!

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I was at home one day helping my daughters in their room. We were cleaning up.  My youngest daughter was up on the top bunk bed, and she grabbed her pink Barbie blanket and threw it into the floor saying, “I hate this blanket! I hate pink! I hate Barbies! Why does everyone give me pink and Barbies?”  My older daughter picked the blanket up and said, “I think we should we give it to Koh.”  Koh was the Japanese boy.  I told her that surely he wouldn’t want it  because it was a pink Barbie blanket, but she insisted to ask him if he would take it, and I knew he needed a blanket. I thought perhaps we could dye it or cover it or something because he really did need a blanket.

The next time I saw the Japanese student, I mentioned it to him.  He liked the idea. I explained that the blanket was a pink Barbie blanket, and perhaps he wanted us to try to dye it another color or cover it with something. He insisted it didn’t matter.  He wanted the pink Barbie blanket just like it was.  I went along with it, and we gave him the pink Barbie blanket.

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It was summer, and the only students at the school then were the oriental students in the Welcome Program.  The Americans were still on vacation.  Koh, the Japanese student, loved the Barbie blanket! He thought it was a great joke!  He was 19 years old and a guy. He thought no one would ever take him having a pink Barbie blanket seriously.  He grabbed that Barbie blanket, wrapped it around his shoulders and went running down the hallways of the school.  The other oriental students were completely amused by him. Everyone was laughing. They all got his joke. It seemed that the blanket being pink and made for a little girl wasn’t going to be a problem, but we were all wrong.

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The American students showed up for school.  Koh had the Barbie blanket on his bed.  I really don’t know what happened, but Koh walked into my classroom one day with a bag, and he quietly slipped it under my desk.  He said, “Maybe you should cover it or dye it.  The American boys don’t understand.”  I could tell that something crazy had happened from his demeanor, but I never asked him what those boys said or did.  I just took the blanket and took a extra piece of cloth I had and sewed it over the blanket.  His pink Barbie blanket was not so funny anymore.  He got a blanket along with a dose of American culture.

Oriental Attitudes About Clothing Versus American Attitudes About Clothing

Did you ever look at a Japanese girl and think, “Wow! She is wearing every color of the rainbow! Doesn’t she have anything that matches?”  Or maybe you looked at a Korean girl and thought, “Why is she wearing that sweater? It is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside!”  Perhaps you have seen a Korean guy wearing a pink shirt and thought, “Doesn’t he understand? Pink is for girls!”  The truth is, their cultures are very different from what you are used to, and the reasons you think the Japanese girl should match or the Korean girl needs to take off her sweater just don’t exist where they are from.  Every culture has their own ways of thinking about everything, and clothing can be put at the top of the list for uniqueness of thinking.  After you think about culture, then you think about each individual’s family’s way of doing things, and then that individual’s personality.  Americans and Orientals really do think differently about clothing.

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If you are a Japanese girl, you are not thinking like an American girl.  An American girl thinks when they buy a new pair of pants that they must also find a blouse to match or they just can’t buy it.  As an American southerner, my mother taught me that my shoes and my purse should match, even though they don’t always. She even taught me what color my purse and shoes should be for certain seasons.  Clothes are very important to American southerners!  It is part of the culture.  Everyone remembers the southern belles on the big plantations, and their grandchildren and great grandchildren have many of the same attitudes as their ancestors.  When I was in middle school in America, there was a girl in my middle school that had a great system.  She had shoe polish that made her shoes pink, blue, purple, yellow, etc.  With every dress she wore, she matched her shoes to her dress. I thought it was really pretty!  However, my parents would never have let me go to far as to trying to wear a different color of shoes every time I wore a different dress, but my mother taught me to match.  If I was wearing a polka dotted blouse, I could never wear a plaid skirt. It just didn’t work that way.  If my polka dotted blouse was blue and white, I would probably be wearing a blue skirt. That is how it works in America.  In Japan, that is not how it works.

three geisha walking between buildings
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In Japan, the color of one piece of clothing does not influence the color of another piece of clothing.  Each individual piece of clothing has its own unique personality and stands out from the other pieces of clothing.  Where in America, we think our overall picture is the shirt and pants together or the dress and stocking together, in Japan it just isn’t that way.  That pretty blue and white polka dotted blouse has its own personality and should be appreciated for itself, and the skirt or pair of pants you wear is irrelevant.  You might choose a pink and purple flowered skirt with no blue or white in it, and it is expected in Japan because each piece is an entity to itself.  If you look at the girls in their kimonos, the obi (the belt part) never matches the kimono itself, and they do this on purpose because the obi is a separate part with a separate personality and should be appreciated as such.

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As for the Korean girl in the sweater in hot weather, she may have chosen it, or her mother or some other other family member may have put that sweater on her.  She probably began with a sun dress because it is hot outside, but she has a problem.  In Korea, it is considered immodest to show the top part of your arms.  Yes, we have the concept in America, but it is with the top part of our legs, not our arms.  In America, we think there is nothing wrong with showing arms, but conservative thinking Koreans will disagree.  My daughter’s mother in law makes sure that my daughter understands that nice young women don’t show the top part of their arms.  If you go to church here in Korea in the summer, it doesn’t matter, the girls will have their arms covered no matter how hot it is outside.  I have bought some lace jackets to wear over my summer gear when I go to church to stop from offending anyone, but even they feel uncomfortable in the hot weather.  That girl wearing the sweater may not like the sweater, but she feels compelled to wear it if she wants to be a good girl. Suits are also very popular even in summer in Korea, and they will wear those suit jackets to cover their arms.

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Now, you wonder about a guy wearing pink.  In America, babies wear baby pink and baby blue.  The baby girls wear pink; the baby boys wear blue.  As we grow, we understand that pink is for girls. Girls are much more likely to wear blue than boys to wear pink.  Americans make jokes about guys wearing pink. Sometimes, a guy will have his picture taken in pink and say, “It takes a real man to wear pink!”  This means, “I am not scared! I challenge anyone to stop me from wearing pink! If you bother me, I am tough enough to take it!”  Other guys just avoid pink all together because they don’t want people to think they are gay.  However, that cultural norm is not in Korea or Japan.  Guys wear pink in Korea and Japan.  They don’t have the color code for the babies like America has.  They don’t have guys trying to prove how macho they are like America has.  They don’t have a gay problem like America has.  They are not scared of pink because they have no idea there is a problem.  When I first got to Korea, I was guilty of seeing guys wearing pink and thinking, “Oh, my! If he only knew what an American guy would do to him or say to him for wearing pink!”  It is just part of the American culture.

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Japan and Korea grew up thousands and thousands of miles from America. America is a combination of European and American Indian attitudes all mixed together, and there are several European countries represented.  Europe didn’t even interact with China until Marco Polo, and he brought back fire crackers, spices, and fantastic tales of China to Europe.  Korea was a hermit nation. They didn’t want anyone to even know they existed for many, many years. If someone happened into Korea in those days, they weren’t allowed to leave because Korea didn’t want news of their existence going out into the world.  The Japanese also didn’t interact with the west until modern times.  The cultures of China, Japan, and Korea shared back and forth with one another, but they grew independently of Europe, and the way of thinking can be so vastly different that people from the west just don’t understand how different sometimes.  Between one European country and another or between America and a European country, the way of thinking is much closer than between any of these countries and America.  In recent years, Japan and Korea have had lots of foreign influence, and we have learned a lot about them, but their basic core is still very different from ours, and it influences how they think about all kinds of things, and clothing is just one of those things.

A Tasty and Healthy Dish for Kids

I invented this dish for my kids.  All kids love macaroni and cheese.  I have seen parents complain on Facebook that they want their kids to eat broccoli, but they won’t.  However, my kids ate broccoli growing up and eat it even now. This dish was part of getting them to appreciate broccoli.  This evening, I didn’t have any broccoli to add to mine, but if you cut the broccoli up in bite sized pieces, and steam them until they are soft, and add them, the kids will eat the broccoli gladly. After that, you can make just broccoli and cheese sauce, and after that, you might even get them to eat raw broccoli with Ranch Style dressing,. Just take it a step at a time to get them to the point of eating broccoli if that is what you want. This dish is a place to begin, and even alone, it gives kids all kinds of things that are good for them.  20181210_185358-1691612050.jpg

Kids need the carbs in the macaroni to grow. First, I prepared the macaroni by boiling water. I put a couple of drops of cooking oil in the water so the macaroni wouldn’t stick together.  After the water boiled, I added the macaroni and let it boil until it was soft.

While I was cooking the macaroni, I also browned the hamburger meat.

While the macaroni was cooking, I browned a package of hamburger.  When it was done, I turned it off. I grated about a cup of cheese. Usually, for macaroni and cheese, they use cheddar or jack cheese.

First, I made white sauce.
I melted about a cup of grated cheese in the white sauce.
Now, I have cheese sauce.

Next, I got a sauce pan. I melted about 4 or 5 tablespoons of cooking butter in the sauce pan.  I added enough flour to it to make a paste and let it cook until it was bubbly.  After that, I added about 2 cups of milk. I mixed it with a wire whip to keep it from getting lumps.  I just kept cooking and stirring until it turned into a white sauce, then I added the grated cheese and stirred it in letting it melt.  I salted it to taste, and I turned it off.

I poured the cheese sauce and the browned hamburger into the macaroni noodles.

When the macaroni noodles were finished, I poured them into a colander in the sink to get the water out of the noodles.  I then poured the macaroni noodles back into the pan.  Next, I poured the cheese sauce and the browned hamburger into the noodles. If I had steamed broccoli, this is when I would add the steamed broccoli. However, this evening, I didn’t have any broccoli, so I had to think of another vegetable to eat on the side.  I mixed everything together

When I mixed it all together, a tasty and healthy dish emerged.
Homemade macaroni and cheese with hamburger.

The dish was done.  This may not look like the most tasty thing an adult has ever eaten. After all, it isn’t quiche or Spanish rice or anything else that nice, but kids really like it.  It is filling and full of vitamins that kids need.  It does taste good. It just isn’t some sophisticated dish from another country, but something made to keep kids happy and healthy, and it isn’t very complicated to make which is something every young mother needs. We enjoyed ours this evening even though my kids are big now.

The Japanese Wa

There is a very unusual concept in Japan that those who are not Japanese will have a little bit of trouble grasping, but I am going to try to describe it for you.  The name of this concept is the “Wa.”  If you are Japanese, you are accepted by the Japanese Wa, but if you are not Japanese, only special people get accepted by the Wa, and they will never be part of the Wa, only accepted.  Many people feel like it is strange that if you were not born in Japan of Japanese parents, then you can never get Japanese citizenship, but understanding the Wa may help you understand why the Japanese have a law like that.  The Wa is the oneness of the Japanese people.

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If you are Japanese, you have been born into a very long line of tradition.  You have black hair. You have dark almond shaped eyes that some people call slanted.  You have white, almost yellow skin.  You look like everyone else in Japan, and that gives the Japanese a kind of secure feeling.  They are very comfortable being part of the Japanese people because they understand who the others are and know where they fit, very unlike the American society where everyone wants to be different. In Japan, they like being the same.

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Just because you are oriental doesn’t mean that you are accepted into the Wa. The Koreans, the Chinese, the Cambodians, the Vietnamese, etc. all have a different history and traditions than the Japanese people and all think differently than the Japanese, so are not part of the Wa.  Only Japanese can be part of the Japanese Wa.

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The Wa keeps the Japanese in check.  It causes a lower crime rate because no one would go against the way things are supposed to be done in the Wa because it is a shame if they do.  However, a usually very normal, peaceful guy in Japan may leave Japan and become someone completely different outside of Japan because the other Japanese are not there to keep in in check.  Many Japanese businessmen have a reputation outside of Japan for raising cane, getting drunk, and causing trouble because they are away from Japan. In Japan, they would be embarrassed to ever to do the things they do outside of Japan, but there is no one there to shame them into doing the right thing when they are outside of Japan.  Within this Wa in Japan, the Japanese keep one another in check with shame.

If you go to Japan, in order to make friends, you must be accepted by the Wa.  You must be accepted by Japanese people. If your looks or your conduct is such that the Japanese would never approve of you, then you are an outsider no matter how hard you try.  However, if you have the right personality and the right looks that they are comfortable with, and someone accepts you, then the others will also accept you.  When you are in Japan, you need to do everything you can to learn the Japanese customs and try to follow them if you want Japanese friends.  However, the Japanese are forgiving of foreigners because they know that their rules are new to the foreigners, but they expect you to try to fit in.  If you mess up too badly, though, a Japanese will never talk to you again. It is a normal Japanese way to give people a cold shoulder the rest of their lives who mess up. The Japanese can be very strict, so listen to their rules and try to follow them if you want to be friends with them.

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Within the larger Wa in Japan, there are several smaller Wa groups.  Within these groups, the people have even more in common.  They feel comfortable in this group because they know these people think the way they do.  Most Japanese have a real longing to be the same as the others just as the Americans have a real longing to stand out from the crowd.  This Wa concept is not something that Americans easily understand because Americans are all so different, but the sameness in Japan gives the Japanese people a feeling of comfort.

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The unusual thing in the past several years is the amount of Japanese who have opted to marry foreigners.  In Korea, the Korean government has encouraged the relationship with the English speaking countries of the west, and some Koreans are marrying non Koreans, but some of the other Koreans just absolutely can’t accept all the foreigners in Korea.  When my daughter and her Korean husband were dating, there were people who gave them a lot of trouble because they didn’t think a Korean should date a foreigner.  I actually would have expected that attitude more from Japanese because of their Wa attitude, but it hasn’t worked that way. Many Japanese are marrying foreigners.  My Japanese son in law basically said he felt free to marry my daughter even though she wasn’t Japanese because the Japanese people accepted me.  I have thought a lot about that, and what it is about me that the Japanese accepted because I know not everyone is as accepted as I was in Japan.

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I have studied in Japan. I have worked in Japan. I  have Japanese in my family. I love Japan, but I know I am not Japanese, and I am not part of the Wa, but the Wa accepted me, not as part of the Wa, but as a friend of the Wa.  I think back to a Cross Cultural Communications class I took in college when I was in a discussion group with a group of Japanese students.  They were telling me how glad they were that I was in their group and not one of the other Americans in the class.  I was surprised. They told me that the students with blue eyes, red hair, blond hair, etc., the ones who didn’t have dark hair and dark eyes gave them the feeling that they were from outer space, like they were aliens from another planet. Their pink skin bothered the Japanese.  However, I was there with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and white almost yellowish looking skin, and they felt comfortable looking at me.  I know what I look like has a lot to do with the Japanese attitude toward me, and I was also very shy back then just like many of the young Japanese girls.  It made the Japanese comfortable because they were used to personalities like mine.

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This doesn’t mean that the Japanese won’t love you if you don’t have the same coloring, but it does mean that even though around the world, people with blond hair and blue eyes always seem to be the ultimate, they aren’t in Japan.  The Japanese could accept them if they behave themselves and follow the Japanese rules.  However, get ready for it, if you weren’t born a Japanese, you will never be a Japanese even if you look like one. If you aren’t Japanese, you will never be part of the Japanese Wa even if the Wa accepts you as a friend.  If you are not Japanese, you will never have Japanese citizenship no matter how much Japanese you study, no matter how long you live in Japan, no matter what you look like or act like. It just doesn’t happen. There is a border between the Japanese people and the rest of the world that none of us will cross, and we will never truly understand the security the Japanese people feel of being part of the Japanese Wa.