Signs You’ve Been Living in Seoul Too Long

Hours before many of my friends will be jetting off to Japan, Vietnam, The USA and Thailand (that’s me!) –I thought it appropriate to post about my strange love for Seoul! Here are some real life researched quips on how to know you’ve been living in Seoul a bit too long.

  1. You painstakingly plan to avoid any subway trip that involves more than 2 transfers or worse yet, any route involving the purple line 5, universally hated for the seemingly billions of stairs you will be subjected to climb or descend along with what feels like all of the other 10 million sweaty humans residing in Seoul. The song “Highway to Hell” should be repurposed and renamed, “Stairway to the Line 5”.
  2. You know your favorite kimbap ladies and you’re no longer willing to compromise on quality. Yes, I would rather take a 15 minute bus or alternatively, a subway journey one station over just for that sweet sweet Tomato Tuna Kimbap than suffer that fat, poorly rolled crap they’re serving across the street at Kimbap Heaven. No questions asked, this is entirely a no brainer at this point.
  3. You have your preferred convenience stores and you know the exact schedule of the employees and what times of day you should choose your B teams in order to avoid the unbearably creepy employees that insist on practicing their English. That number is read “three thousand” not “tree hudremethous” and no, my friend and I are not twins because we are both Caucasian, thank you very much. She is as blonde as a Barbie and I have curly brown hair, how is this not obvious?!
  4.  You can immediately spot someone who is going to approach you to practice their “Where are you from?” English. This should really be considered a legitimate milestone in early English education as it accurately describes the fluency of a large percentage of adults. In response, the only thing that you can expect to be understood is “The USA”. The United States of America, America, and The States do not exist here. There is only one USA and Korea knows it as such.
  5. You’ve been approached by a group of Korean males (we’ll just call them younger and older brother) asking “Do you know Korean Makkgeolli?” And even though the answer was always, “yes, duh! It’s delicious stuff!” , you proceeded to go out as a newly formed group of in the moment best friends forever and have a rowdy rip roaring night probably spending (or rather receiving) hundreds of thousands of Won’s worth of food, booze, and endless Norebang. Koreans like to share their culture and why not let them?!
  6. You’ve had an office norebang or two that have ended in PG-13 conversations and activities with co-workers. These drunken karaoke fests may or may not include witnessing your managers get utterly shit-faced and fall-over, pass out, or walk into glass walls. I mean, you know they work too hard and never take reasonable breaks so when they go out, they go hard. After all, not long ago, right after the war, Seoul as we know it did not exist. Somebody’s gotta keep building it…apparently.
  7. You’ve experienced the best and worst cab rides imaginable with drivers ranging from hellion rip-em-off jerks to saints from heaven sent specifically to deliver you to your apartment safely at the most unholy of hours of the night/morning. These range from getting flat out denied a ride, overcharged, sped through the city above all speed limitations of both the law and reasonable human survival instincts. And let’s face it, you’ve also thrown up in a cab and had the cab driver hand you a plastic bag instead of kick you out, you’ve had a cab driver pull over for you when you thought you were going to throw up. The drivers tend to be quite candid on their suspicions that you are a Russian prostitute as well. The answer is A-NI-YO fellas.
  8. You’ve reversed the way you judge street food. Contrary to intuition, the dirtier and scummier it appears, the higher quality the product. Instead of asking yourself, “when was the last time this shit was scrubbed off the side of this truck selling me watermelon for less than the cost of a black market kidney?” You instead have become overly suspicious of clean carts and will purposely pass by a spotless stand because you know that if their product was any good, there would be at least 5 drunk old Korean men permanently parked outside living and dying by the dumplings produced by the lady in the cheetah print polyester.
  9. You know the exact price of a water bottle and you actually buy bottled water because it is cheap in Korea. You can’t be bothered by any such bottle priced over 750 won (roughly 75 cents). Because water that’s 750 won is already 750 won more than water should be, it’s the liquid of life people, stop charging us for it!!!
  10. You’ve given up entirely on not perpetuating stereotypes and have stopped judging yourself for occasionally enjoying McDonalds just because you’re from North America. Obviously if 1 North American is seen eating McDonalds, the entire continent of Asians will think it’s the only substantive part of our diets and that Americans are all greasy fat salty McMassive turds. You now instead accept that everyone who is a human being with a tongue likes French fries and you only judge the obese Koreans you see eating there the same way you would the average customer at any rest stop McDonalds in Bufu, Virginia.
  11. You have acquired the ability to distinguish even the subtlest of plastic surgeries and can now effortlessly judge which ones are botch jobs and which are actually flattering. Although the topic of plastic surgery is generally a polemical pox on Korean beauty culture, it exists nonetheless and inevitably, the “who can spot the worst nose job on the subway game” was born.
  12. You legitimately leave the house to drink on the street and people watch as Friday night’s entertainment. The fact is that the worst serial style offenses such as clown-ish hair-dye jobs, men wearing ill-fitting white capris, and women with un-painted toe overhang in platform gladiator sandals abound in Seoul. For every -10 pound wafer thin, leggy, stylish Korean broad on the arm of a man wearing a suit that was cut by the gods, there are at least 700 badly dressed wannabe K-pop loving groupies that surround them at any moment. In a bustling city of around 10 million, what else can you expect? You might as well enjoy the scenery.
  13.  You no longer fear walking home through a poorly lit park by yourself in the dark with a pack of men swiftly closing in on you. Whatever personal safety boundaries or street smart skills were previously a part of your routine have effectively shriveled up into the equivalent of the kid who not only takes the ice cream from a stranger, but also gets in the unmarked van without question. The supposedly supreme safety of Seoul has lulled you into a coma of comfort and will probably result in immediate Darwinism when/if you return to any Western society where crime isn’t just in TV shows.
  14. You have become an expert ninja in the art of public trash disposal, or to put it more bluntly, littering. You may have had qualms about improper recycling habits before, but upon living more than a day in Korea, you quickly realized that the public trashcan situation is staggering at best. The time you walked 20 km with an empty iced coffee cup without seeing a single public trash bin was the first, worst, and the last time, collectively. Now, you have not only accepted that Korea basically forces you to litter, you are also accustomed to seeing giant trash mounds on sidewalks and treating them as if they were the equivalent of a bin. In other depressing environmental news, when you look at a sky polluted to death by China for months in a row, you tend to start to feel like that water bottle you dropped near the other trash pile doesn’t make that big a difference in the grand scheme of things.
  15. You stop dreading the previously social-awkwardness of the “CB” or Caucasian Bonding experience with random strangers on the street. Yes, we are both non-Koreans, no, we do not need to make awkward eye-contact like we may possibly know each other. If there is a legitimate reason to talk to someone, then perhaps a future friendship could be established but until then, you are just another human in this densely crowded country of rice, kimchi, and k-pop.
  16. You have experienced old women, or Ajummas, in all displays of their power. In the span of the same day, you have received their delicious and cheap authentic cuisine, been complimented on your beauty by them on the subway, and alternatively, been physically shoved by their hands, carts, or umbrellas out of their way. Never underestimate the power of the Ajumma and give special respect to those in uniform, their color of choice, purple.
  17. You’ve realized that no matter how many bottles of soju you drink or barbeques you attend, you will NEVER understand how you got so drunk SO fast and you will never be able to understand how you survived and thrived in all of the same moments– all culminating in a strange love of such a strange land. Korea, after all this time, you’re still weird, and I still love you.
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