Getting to know Korea

Hello from Korea! I have been in Seoul the past two nights after I returned from Daejeon on Wednesday night. I accompanied M to Daejeon on Tuesday for one night and he remained there for his meetings at the development center. The driver will bring him back to Seoul today, and we will have our last night in Korea together before we fly back to Frankfurt tomorrow! It’s been a whirlwind trip but made very comfortable by his company. A driver brought him everywhere, and even I had a driver bring me back to Seoul on Wednesday night. And it’s been made quite clear how important M’s role is to the Koreans due to his expertise and relationships. So he is treated quite well and me by association. This leads me to the discussion of this post!

In order to highlight my experiences so far, I will touch upon six themes that have recurred continuously during my time in Seoul. I will preface by saying I believe these trends are ubiquitous, but I certainly don’t claim any expertise nor would the next person say he necessarily agrees.

Henceforth, Korea in a nutshell:

1. The hospitality is well above par. M is on a business trip in Korea because he works for one of the two major Korean electronic brands but in the division of electromobility, and I decided to take advantage of a luxurious home base from which to explore. As he has learned they don’t tend to cut corners or expenses during his biannual trips, and once he told his Korean management team that I would join him, they appeared eager to meet me as well.

Once off the plane, we were met by one of the new assistants and he brought us to the Conrad Hotel to freshen up.

Thirty minutes later, we were shuffled over to the headquarters so that the President of M’s division could say hello to me. M had a few meetings and a few hours later, our driver drove us to Gangnam to have dinner at what was described as a fancier and more modern take on a traditional Korean restaurant called Bibigo Dadam. The assistant was again assigned to accompany us to the restaurant. The company at this dinner included the EVP and two VPs. M said they insisted upon meeting the fiancĂ© of their German star. And so we enjoyed a never-ending stream of decadent courses in our private room inclusive of a button to signal the wait staff.

M has been shuffled around in his private car, and on a previous trip, was even helicoptered from Daejeon back to Seoul in order to avoid the traffic.

After M mentioned I would be travelling back to Seoul from Daejeon, they insisted that one of their drivers takes me back. How can I argue?

Furthermore, they assigned the American Korean (same one who picked us up from the airport) to attend to me yesterday while I was alone in Seoul. I believe he was directed to “take care of me”, meaning make sure she is happy and buy her meals and drinks. Whatever she wants.

The attention to detail is infrequently lost, and therefore I can ascertain that any traveler will enjoy a pleasurable experience in Korea. Mine just happens to be above and beyond.

2. Koreans expect a certain order. As far as I can tell, this pertains to every aspect of life. Regarding roles of men and women, these are strictly defined in a relationship and stepping outside of these boundaries would seem highly improbable.

But more generally speaking, all around the city, the signs direct you where to stand and where to go. For example, there are signs directing you where to be on the sidewalk. Similarly in the subway, every exit to the street is marked by a number. The interactive signs on the platform give you an image of where exactly the next train is in relation to the stop. Each train door has a number, each stop has a number. Everywhere there are arrows on the ground directing flow of traffic.

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During my first experience with the subway, as I awaited the approaching train, the line of subway riders grew, and my stance just outside of the intended line was chided. An older lady redirected me, with a warm tug but a stern voice, to stand directly in front of her rather than one pace to the left.

Even meals and drinking have a specific methodology. Age and hierarchy are the key factors dictating who pays and who drinks and who decides when to drink.

Perhaps it could be said that until the rules are learned, life is chaos. All the more reason to know the rules.

3. Cleanliness stands hand in hand with order. To maintain a standard of order, all must be in its place. The subways are again a good measure of this. I would be hard pressed to find a piece of trash lying outside of the appropriate receptacle. All around the city, this standard is applicable. Even in small restaurants are impeccable.

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Furthermore, tap water is to be drunk. Usually there will already be some sort of jug sitting on the table waiting.

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Even in the obscurity, order and cleanliness is apparent. One of the main attractions in Daejeon is the Yuseong Foot Bath. Said foot bath is on a median between two streets in a long park. Signs all around direct you to wash your feet first at the foot washing station, then enjoy 20-30 minutes in the hot spring water. I read in reviews that the Koreans not familiar with it will be sternly directed to follow the rules for this apparent hygiene consideration.

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4. And next, Koreans are crazy for coffee! Coffee shops have devoured the city, and I can’t speak to the culture of coffee, and if there is one in particular like in Sweden, but this one is merely based on the visuals. Along every block, the passersby can find all imaginable chains along with various other stand outs. And they are always occupied! I’m not sure how new the phenomenon is, but it is quite a site.

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5. Along the lines of trends, some how Koreans manage to take cell phone use to another level. Riding on the subway, when looking through the train, 95% of the people are glued to the screen. And more impressively is how loyal they are to their brands; LG but more so Samsung, is everywhere. And then there is a smattering of iPhones. And this in itself makes me happy, as I tend to be a dedicated Android user. And with these phones, the people take an extreme number of selfies. My guess is that with the expansion of Samsung and LG as worldwide brands came an impressive amount of money flowing into the country. And they just can’t get enough of the consumer goods. Obviously they had their old money which creates a division of wealth just like every country that goes through a boom phase.

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6. And finally, beauty seems to have an enormous presence in dictating success. Beauty stores are as abundant as coffee shops, and it is completely normal and acceptable for men to comment and for anyone to be given precedence based on the level of their attractiveness.

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Women are clear they will only date a well off, attractive man with good job prospects.

I was quite surprised at the roles of both men and women, and truly the society is still extremely male – dominated. But I was told perhaps this will be changing quickly. Even in America, it’s a slow process. And in a country which is historically based upon the patriarchal society, I can’t imagine the change will be that quick.

Obviously an entire country cannot be summarized in a blog post, but this is an intro based on my perceptions! Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

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