* This post is written by Chris Mitchell, one of the Korea Blog’s Worldwide Korea Bloggers.
Have I mentioned that I’m leaving Korea? Hm, yes, you’re right…I’ve mentioned it in just about every blog I’ve written for the past month. However, I haven’t necessary stipulated how I feel about it, other than incessantly writing about my excitement for Southeast Asia. The truth is, there are a lot of things I’ll miss about my life here in Korea. Although, Canada is my true home, so there are a number things that I’ve missed in Canada for an extended period of time now. I am officially leaving in one week for Hanoi, Vietnam, and thus the start of our fourteen week expedition across Southeast Asia. This trip will take us through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines. At least that’s the plan as it stands now. There’s always a possibility for alteration, which is the most beautiful part of travel. This fourteen week chunk of time will likely be a great transition period where I’ll consider what I’ll miss about Korea, but also what I’m looking forward to when I get back to Canada. So, I decided to write a blog completely dedicated to those two considerations. I’m talking about the little things that quietly define a country.
What I’ll Miss About the Pleasant Peninsula
1) There are no taxes on purchases. Well, at least they are included in the price, and substantially less imposing than in Canada. Will I miss that? You better believe it. The Canadian Government levys taxes at its citizens like it’s their job. Wait…it is their job. Anyway, your $9.99 lunch in Canada quietely turns into a 12 dollar affair, but in Korea your 9,900 won lunch will remain the same. It’s a glorious feeling to purchase something and not have to cringe at the cash register and wait for the taxes to be tagged on. So, that’s obviously something I’ll miss.
2) No tipping. These last two points may paint me as a frugal grinch of sorts, but that’s far from the case, and my bank account can attest to that. However, I’m not a wild spender by any means either, and the lack of tipping provides that extra padding to my wallet. I suppose this is a little ironic because I was a bartender at university who survived off of tips, but in Korea it’s a nice bonus not to have to tip. In Canada, someone takes all of thirty seconds to pour you a beer or mix you a drink and you’re expected to tip a dollar. In Korea, someone takes a few minutes to make your drink, and you’re not even sure if you’ll have to pay for it let alone tip for it.
3) All your friends are employed. It turns out that almost all of your friends will also be English teachers, thus will also be earning an income. This tends to have quite an impact on your general social life. Everyone is willing and ready to spend a little extra money at the theme park, or enjoy a quality meal at a nice restaurant. Even further, everyone is usually up for going on a last minute trip, and can generally be convinced to hop on any activity if it sounds inticing enough. What’s even funnier is that you basically make the same wages as well, so no one really can covet the excuse, “sorry, but I’m broke right now.” Life is generally more exciting I’d have to say, especially considering Bri and I are always up for anything.
4) No last call. There are few things that I’ll miss more about Korea than the lack of a last call. No one anxiously looks at their watch to see if they’re nearing the impending last call around 2am. I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, but it does have a profound effect on the way that you plan your night. In Canada, the last call bell rings and you are forced to make a decision on whether you’re going to sleep or possibly head to a friend’s house. In Korea, you don’t have to go home until you are ready to go home. Now, that being said, I’m not entirely sure I could handle this policy for more than few years, as eventually it would take quite a toll on me. However, I was just thinking about our coming home party and wondering, “What are we going to do after last call?” That problem doesn’t exist in Korea, and it made it quite a ride.
5) The Noraebang. Also known as Karaoke for you folks back home. Sometimes, when the night is fading away and thoughts of sleep begin to enter your brain someone (usually me) yells, “noraebang!” That would be the definition of revitalizing a night, and ultimately ensures that it goes down in the books as a phenomenal night. Before you know it, you’ve got your own personal room and you’re arm in arm singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or perhaps Journey’s classic song “Don’t Stop Believing.” I’m also a big fan of singing CCR’s “Susie Q” and getting my classic rock swagger on, but when the mood is right you can find me raising the pitch of my voice, adding a little twang, and getting emotional to Neil Young’s infamous “Heart of Gold.”It would, of course, be blasphemous for me not to mention the song that Bri and I cherish the most as a duo – The Cranberries’ classic song “Zombie.”
Honourable Mentions (What else will I miss?)
– Cute Korean babies being baffled by the sight of a foreigner. The result is often prolongued eye contact, but the baby seems no surer of you even after said eye contact.
– When it’s raining, you enter a store, and they have either an umbrella stand (from which no one will steal your umbrella) or those little “umbrella shaped plastic bags,” thus nullifying the water you’d inexorably spread all over the store.
– Being able to get food at pretty much any hour of the night. Moreover, the 24 hour convenience stores who never stop selling anything that’d you’d want, including beer. This is a far cry from ultra regulated Ontario and the LCBO (the Liquor Control Board of Ontario).
– The students who made each and every day worth it, and provided me with enough souvenirs and mementos to last a life time.
– The convenient access to public bathrooms all across Korea, which generally are in good condition, although often don’t have toilet paper and lack proper insulation and heating in the winter.
– Most importantly, I will miss the wonderful friends I’ve made here. This experience couldn’t possibly have been the same without them, and for that I’m forever grateful.
What Beckons Me Back to the Great White North?
1) Tim Hortons. I’m fulfilling a number of stereotypes by adding this to my list, but it’s the honest to god truth. Bri has described to me in detail about how she would like to indulge in a ham and cheese sandwich, substituting honey mustard for the ranch sauce. I, for one, think that’s crazy, because the ranch dressing or “Tim Sauce” at Tim Hortons is indubitably the best sauce on the planet. Personally, I’ve got my eye on the everything bagel smeared with delectable herb and garlic cream cheese, a large regular coffee, and perhaps a banana nut muffin if I’m feeling especially wild. (While editing this, Bri rejoiced in the recollection of fruit explosion muffins. I’d have to say that I’m not particularly looking forward to those, as I’m not a fan of mysterious jellies, creams, or custards hidden within baked goods. Seriously.)
2) Driving. I miss my beloved 1991 Honda Civic, and I’m talking special edition! Speaking of special edition, its been a special addition to my life. I’ve been driving that sexy beast since I was 16 years old. My brother, Dave, drove it to Dalhousie University in Halifax a number of times, and I’ve taken her around Canada and the US quite a bit as well. The largest trip would have been the road trip down to Tennessee to attend Bonnaroo in 2011, a music festival of epic proportions. I revel in blasting music on the poor and distorted sound system around the streets of Toronto and Kingston. Plain and simple, it’s my baby, and I can’t wait to rev that miniscule engine once again. She is legendarily known only as “The White Bandit.” (It sounds best when whispered.)
3) Friends and family. Anyone who has met me, or known me for more than thirty seconds, will likely understand that I’m a sociable individual. I’m blessed with an incredible array of friends back home that I absolutely can’t wait to get back to! It’s a little bit of a conundrum though, as I’ll ultimately have to leave the friends I’ve made in Korea to go and see my friends in Canada. Luckily, I’ve met a lot of great North Americans, so we can always reunite on that side of the planet. The moral of the story is that I’m one lucky fellow in terms of friends, and I never take that for granted. I remember when I came back from Norway and my close friends were hidden in my room when I stepped in the door with a beautiful 2-4 of Canadian beer. That’s what it’s all about. Most importantly, I can’t wait to eat my mom’s food, talk politics with my dad, and watch some sports with my brother. Friends and family are everything in life, and there’s no way around that.
4) Canadian Beer. Every country I travel to reaffirms the fact that I’ve been spoiled by Canadian beer. However, I’m just going to have to say quickly that, unfortunately, the Czech Republic, Germany, and likely Belgium have a little more going for them, particularly in their fondness for 1 litre serving glasses, or steins. That being said, Canada has a lot of fantastic beer, and I could certainly use a nice, cold Alexander Keith’s at this point. I’ve mentioned before that Korea has average beer, but thankfully, Canada does not. The price is a deterrent, but the taste and quality are by no means a deterrent. I’m excited to get my hands on a Sleeman’s, Moosehead, Labatt’s Blue, and a half dozen other Canadian classics. Let’s be clear, I’m not looking to go home and be a beer behemoth. I’m legitimately just thinking about a great Canadian brew with some barbequed meats in the backyard, and perhaps a few friends.
5) Fresh air and open spaces. I suppose this would be most accurately summed up by saying that I dearly miss my cottage in the woods of the Canadian north. However, I really miss stepping outdoors and feeling invigorated by the air, as opposed to bogged down by it. This isn’t particularly applicable to Toronto, also known as “the big smoke”, but in the Canadian rural areas the air is as crisp as a cooler, and lightly scented with flowers (I possibly constructed the light scent of flowers in my idealistic imagination). The bottom line is that I miss frolicking. In Korea, I feel like I’m constantly waddling through people and can’t quite get anywhere as fast as I’d like to. It will be a joyous occasion to once again wander through forests, hike in solitude, and take deep breaths without worrying about how polluted the air is. Canada, my great white north, I cannot wait until you once again become my natural playground. Those chilled fresh water lakes are calling my name.
Honourable Mentions (What else am I looking forward to?)
– Having my own personal backyard, which is something that doesn’t really exist in Korea except in rare circumstances. Honestly, I’ve found that “yard” and “lawn” are some of the hardest words to teach my Korean students because they simply can’t understand the concept, seeing as they all live in apartments.
– Access to garbage cans and recycling bins will be a nice change. They simply don’t have garbage bins anywhere! I’ve literally held on to empty bottles all day without finding a receptacle to put it in! Also, there’s no focus on recycling in Korea, so it will be refreshing to once again be in an environment that respects the planet.
– Diversity. Plain and simple, Korea has to be one of the most homogenous countries on the planet. I can’t wait to get back to one of the most multicultural cities on the planet! I especially can’t wait for the plethora of cuisines that come hand in hand with Toronto and diversity.
– My cats, Smokey and the Bandit.
Well, that about sums it up, folks. I’ve had one of the best years of my life here in Korea, but I’m also overjoyed by the thought of landing at Pearson International Airport. I’ll be home on December 12th, so mark it on your calenders if you’re a Canadian. Let’s see how long I can stay put this time.