Some observations (I’m here cause I’m covering a conference on transplanting livers):
*First, there’s nothing quite like the dream-like, adrenaline-pumped, almost drunken experience of being fresh off a plane and walking, exhausted and alone, along the streets of a city you’ve never been to before and that is separated from your home country by an ocean.
*I had read stuff leaving the impression that people in Seoul are almost all stylish, that everyone wears tight-fitting clothes, that a lot of men are starting to use those purse-type things rather than backpacks, that flip-flops are basically unheard of, and that the women almost always wear high heels. So to fit in, I read, it would be a good idea to consider wearing/not wearing those things. But looked at as a total average of how people dress here, they dress pretty much like most non-slobs you might see in any decent-sized, somewhat cosmopolitan American city. But yes, if you’re an American slob, and normally walk around in a ketchup-stained shirt that says, ‘What are You Lookin At???’ you might wanna alter what you wear. But if you wear such things, you don’t care anyway. And you probably don’t come to South Korea, either. And I have seen flip-flops here and there.
*I’ve also read (something written by somebody in the U.S. or Canada) that people in Korea never smile. That’s not true, either. Sidewalks, subways, restaurants, sporting events. Smiles, smiles, smiles, smiles. Especially at my hotel, where the doormen enjoy getting tips, and have picked up on the fact that smiling is way better than not smiling for receiving tips. But everywhere, really. They smile here. And, I mean, I’ve been away from America for a couple days, but from what I remember, its streets are not exactly wall-to-wall cheer.
*I was looking down from my hotel window and saw a motor scooter cutting across the corner of a sidewalk to avoid a busy intersection, and thought, ‘Hmm, that guy seems a little reckless.’ But then once I walked around the city, I realized he was not at all the exception. The scooters are allowed to act like pedestrians, on sidewalks weaving around the people, until they find it more convenient to use the road, when they are allowed to act like cars. If you’re walking up to a blind corner, a scooter might be approaching the same blind corner from the other side, except the scooter is going to be going faster and is a lot heavier than you. They don’t seem to want to hit you, but are also kind of like, ‘Well, it’s my sidewalk, too.’ In other words, watch out for the scooters. Come to think of it, scooters really get away with a lot in a lot of places outside the U.S. and Canada, I guess.
*Even if it’s in a city you’ve never been to before, it still kinda sucks to be outside when it’s windy, rainy and cold.
*I suspect the waiter at the Korean BBQ place I ate at a little while ago was hanging around extra close to my table not primarily in case I needed something, but to get a good look at how I was able to use chopsticks. I’d give myself a B+. He definitely considered me a lightweight/clueless, which, despite some chopsticks skill, is a mostly accurate assessment. As I went to take my first bite of kimchi — the spicy cabbage appetizer they serve automatically to everyone, mind you — he urgently called out to me: ‘Spice!’ But I don’t have a problem with kimchi. What he should have watched for and urgently called out was, ‘Octopus!’ which they also serve automatically to everyone, and which I do have a problem with.
*There are zillions of coffee shops. A Seattle-like amount. Maybe more than Seattle. (Serendipitous update: I literally met someone from Seattle who now lives here who confirmed that there are more coffee shops here than there.) Really. Not just Starbucks. And they all seem pretty busy. And they all seem to play pretty good music. “Purple Rain” is an example.
*The coffee shops here — at least the non-Starbucks ones I’ve been to — use a pager system for your orders. So rather than call out names or the size and type of your coffee, they give you a pager. Sort of oddly, even when it’s not needed. So sometimes you’re the only one standing there, about three feet from where they’re making the coffee, within easy conversation and observation distance. Then they put the coffee on the counter which you can clearly see them doing and which they know you can see them doing. And then you end up picking up your coffee literally at the same time your pager starts buzzing.
Have a good day.
Pic from my hotel. Not great but at least you can tell it’s Seoul cause of the tower: