5 Things that surprised me about visiting Korea
Over the last two weeks, DramaFever joined other media outlets from around the world on a whirlwind tour of South Korea on the Korea Joa project. This was the first-ever media tour organized by the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange (aka KOFICE), and it was a huge success. I'll be writing a lot more about the trip, which included a visit to the Busan Film Festival, the debut concert by K-pop's next big boy band iKON, a cooking lesson from Korea's first K-drama food director, and MUCH more (if you want a sneak peek, take a look at DramaFever's Instagram page and search #koreajoa2015). I thought I'd start out with six things that surprised me on my first trip to South Korea.
1. Where's the Beef?
Before I left for Korea, I was told that the food was amazing, "if you like beef." It turns out that there is much, much more to Korean cuisine. Don't get me wrong — if you love beef, Korea is *the* place for you! My favorite is the "beef on a leaf" kalbi-and-shiso combination at Maple Tree House. But after spending some time there, the word that most sums up Korean food is "variety." Menus vary by region, and in Busan we enjoyed a wide variety of fresh seafood (including still-moving octopus at Jagalchi Market) with barely any beef at all. There's also good news for people who follow halal or kosher diets: both were easily accommodated in our group. Vegetarians and everyone who loves vegetables will be in heaven traveling in Korea, which serves up a dizzying array of fresh, pickled and cooked veggies. While I'm not sure that vegans would have it quite as easy due to the ubiquity of seafood products, even a paleo diet would be fairly easy to keep here (is kimchi paleo?) The point is, Korea is a place where you will eat very well, whatever you like to eat!
2. Charge It Up!
In the United States at least, we're a little shy about asking to charge our phones. Sure, some people ask at bars or restaurants, but it's always a little apologetic, and it seems like you're asking for a big favor. Korea is totally different! It's absolutely no problem to charge your phone, pocket Wi-fi, or whatever at most restaurants and bars. Just ask! More than once, a server even offered without me asking, noticing that my iPhone battery had gone low. Isn't it time we put our low-battery shaming ways behind us and charged up with pride?
3. Dry Country
I guess I thought that because Korea is largely surrounded by water, it would be a relatively humid place. After a few days, however, I noticed that my skin was drying out by the middle of the day. Someone else happened to say the same thing happened to them, and that's when I realized: The same dry climate that made outdoor kimchi fermentation a delicious part of Korean culture can take its toll on your skin if you're not careful! Luckily, there are lots of fun ways (such as the moisturizing face masks above) to keep your skin nice and healthy.
Win a trip to Korea! Watch three movies and answer three trivia questions for a chance to win round-trip tickets to Seoul with DramaFever's Power of Three contest.
4. Google Maps Won't Help You (sometimes)
Living in New York City, I use Google Maps for walking directions probably more than I should (after all, our city is mostly on a grid). However, if you use it as much as I do to find the best path to your destination, you might end up a bit confused. Walking directions often had me walking right through buildings in Seoul, basically showing me the shortest diagonal line that maybe I could fly if I were Superman. I'm sure they're working on it, but for now Google Maps in Seoul is not for pedestrians.
5. Hey, I Can Understand That!
English is everywhere in Seoul, including signs on the street (I'm looking at you, Itaewon). Just about everyone speaks some English, so if that's your first language and your Korean is a little rusty, you're in luck (but seriously, learn at least a bit of Korean before you go!). What really surprised me is how clever a lot of the English is. I mean, Toss & Turn for a salad / rotisserie place is pretty great.