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.