Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tennis Shoes and Spicy Food

At the beginning of May in Japan there is a series of holidays within a few days of each other, April 29th- Showa Day, May 3rd- Constitutional Memorial Day, May 4th- Greenery Day and May 5th- Children's Day. As these are all public holidays, there is no work or school, so the first week of May usually only has one or two non-holiday days. This week has been coined "Golden Week" and is a popular time to travel in Japan. Taking advantage of the 9 day holiday (only taking 2 days of annual leave), and to avoid the crowds of traveling in Japan, I headed to Korea with the other ALT at my junior high school.


Instead of going into details of the sights and sounds, I thought I'd share some things I observed about Korea that liked.  First of all, the clothing styles. Granted styles change with time, there's a huge difference between Korean and Japanese styles, which might not just be clothes deep.  In Japan, most girls dress in frills, skirts and dresses, and they wear high-heels all the time (I've seen them while hiking and at snowboard rental shops). Boys too, tend to dress up; you'll rarely see a man wearing just a plain t-shirt and shorts, for example; button up shirts and pointy shoes seem to be the norm.  This is fine, I have no problem with the way they dress, these are just observations. In Korea however, everyone wears tennis shoes. That's just an easy way of saying that the fashion is much more relaxed; more my style. I was much more comfortable in my t-shirts and jeans. I'm not saying they don't dress up, there were plenty of girls in heels and dresses out on the town on Saturday night, but for the most part, it was relaxed.

Matching outfits, and still not as "matchy-matchy"
as others.
But back to the tennis shoes, because this could be a whole topic of it's own. There were shoes of every color imaginable.  You could see a grandma walking down the road wearing hot pink sneakers, next to her grandson wearing neon green and blue shoes of his own, and still, you'll see another gaudy pair of kicks on the next person that walks by. It was fun!  Another interesting aspect of Korean sneakers is that couples wear the same pair of sneakers, while often time in different colors. I thought this was a fluke at first, but the more time I spent there, the more it became apparent, couples wear matching shoes.  I asked some people about this and they said it's actually toned down a lot from a couple years ago when couples would wear the same outfit (I did see this a couple times, but it was usually just matching shirts).  Assuming this was a custom the girlfriends force upon the boyfriends, I asked a Korean guy what he thought about couple-matching. In short, he was shocked that I thought it was weird.

Same shoes.
I think the difference in fashion can be compared to comfort. Korean people seem more comfortable and more confident, not just in their choice of outfits. For example, speaking English.  If an obvious foreigner (i.e. me) goes up to a Japanese person and asks them if they speak English, they will usually say "no." Most people in Japan took English class for at least 3, if not 6+ years. They are surrounded by it, they can usually read it and if they try, even ones who haven't thought about it in years can spit out enough vocabulary to make a point. But they don't try. In Korea, given the same situation, the answer would usually be "yes." Sometimes, they might not really be able to say much, but it's enough to get by.  The key here is that, even if they aren't good at it, they are confident enough to try.  False confidence, perhaps, but not in a bad way. This is just one example.  (Note: The general level of English in Korea is far higher than in Japan, but still, they use it.)

Bulgogi and all the usual trimmings
Moving on, the next reason I love Korea: spicy food. YUM! The food was delicious. I don't think I had a meal I didn't like. I actually don't know the name of a lot of what I ate, but I must say my favorite was the barbequed chicken. I used to hate spicy food, but then I moved to Japan. I may have mentioned this in my post about Taiwan, but Japanese food isn't spicy at all. I loved the way my mouth burned when I ate some foods in Korea. It's a feeling I didn't appreciate until it was gone.

Next reason, the people are so nice (maybe not the shop owners...). I talked with some Americans who are currently living in Korea, but had visited Japan and they disagreed with me. However, Niki and I quite often found ourselves in situations where people went out of their way to help us, for no real reason.  People would come up and try to talk to us, not necessarily in English either. This doesn't really happen in Japan, at least not in Nagasaki.

Next reason, everything is cheap. Clothes and accessories are SO cheap.  I bought a pair of prescription glasses and sunglasses for about $70 total.  Food is dirt cheap. Transportation is practically free compared to Japan. We took the Korean high speed train for a fraction of the price of riding the Japanese Shinkansen.

Finally, 4D movies. I really don't know why more countries haven't adopted this, it seems like something America would eat up. For less than the price of a regular movie in America or Japan, you can watch movies in 4D in Korea (and a handful of other countries). What's 4D? It's a movie that is not only in 3D, but has added sensations. Your chair moves, there are massage like features that push you from behind, they'll blow air or water at you when it suits the plot of the movie. It's really something. Definitely worth a try if you go to Korea. I saw "The Avengers" there, which was, for some reason, released at least a week before it was released in the US. (On a sidenote, I didn't think it was as great as the rest of the world seems to think it was.)

Some other notable features of Korea:
At the DMZ, notice the water is from a mountain spring
withing the 4 mile wide DMZ. Yum!

-More western brand stores and restaurants- much more influenced by western culture than Japan
-DVD theaters, where you can rent a DVD and watch it in a small "home-theater" type room, with couches, surround sound and big screens. It's like a Japanese karaoke room, but with movies and more comfortable.
-Hangul- it's really easy to learn to read, I learned all the characters' sounds on a 2-hour bus ride.
-DMZ- probably just a tourist trap, but still pretty cool. I got to walk into a tunnel that North Korea was caught digging through the DMZ. Almost made it to the South. -Men must serve 21-26 months in the army, navy or air force. There were always men in uniform walking around. We noticed they often carried one shopping bag, which we found odd. It turns out, they aren't supplied with a small "day-pack," so if they go out on leave, they use shopping bags to carry their change of clothes, toiletries, etc. 

We caught the changing of the guards at one of the palaces. He was so tall!

One night we stayed in this traditional mud hut in a preserved village
where around 200 people still live. 

Also in the preserved village, this is a church. I think the neon cross might be a recent addition.

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