Common Mistakes Tourists make in Korea (part 2 of 2)

So last week I wrote up a post about the top common mistakes tourists make when they come to Korea. It was getting to be long so I broke it up into two parts. That was 1 through 5 and now I’m presenting the last 5 this week. They come in no particular order. Again, nobody is going to put you down for committing any of these, but it’s just good to know before coming here.

  1. They try to give tips – There’s no tipping culture in Korea. Do not tip your taxi drivers nor your waitresses. With customer service in Korea, you get 5 star service regardless of a tip or not because it’s already embedded in the price. It’s part of the reasons why a Samsung phone costs more in Korea than anywhere else in the world. No need to tip. The last thing we need in our economy is more inflation or worse…people expecting or demanding tips. If you really want to do something for us, a gift from where you are from is always a nice gesture.

    20160203_210218.jpg
    15%, 25%? Pre-tax? Post-tax? No need to stress about that stuff here in Korea!
  2. Being afraid to ask for directions – When you first walk down the streets of Seoul, you may notice that people don’t really have expressions on their faces. They may seem cold or look unapproachable. But deep down inside what you will find is that the Korean people are extremely friendly. We are a society that is based on Confucian principles. One of those values is that it is considered rude to show in public, emotions that you are overly happy or even sad. People tend to mask this by maintaining the neutral face that you see. With that said, I wouldn’t just jump in front of people and ask for directions. They will run away. I suggest the slow, i-look-kind-of-lost-type-of-face approach while clenching onto a map. And don’t be afraid if you think that they might not speak English. The younger generation can speak enough to at least point you in the right direction. Don’t expect a full blown conversation, but they would be happy to help out and practice their English on you.

    SJC_Gangnam_-25
    I.Seoul.U
  3. They don’t visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea – I get a lot of customers who tell me they don’t want to visit the DMZ because they are afraid of North Korea. And then I look at them strangely, “Yet, you came to Seoul which is only 40KM away is perfectly fine?!?” So I’ll put it to you like this: If North Korea ever attacked South Korea, the DMZ is the last place they would start (JSA – The Joint Security Area for that matter). It is just as much a tourist spot for North Korea as it is for South Korea. If they were to attack, then they would probably start somewhere like the maritime borders like they did last time or just straight up bomb Seoul like they did at the start of the Korean War. Just go to the DMZ.

    DMZ at JSA
    The North Koreans putting on a show for us. Bravo. Well worth the price of the tour! It was better than Cats!
  4. They go with an travel agent that puts ginseng or raisin extract store on the itinerary – Or amethyst, seaweed or cosmetics store. Don’t get me wrong. Ginseng and raisin extract are great products of Korea and you should buy them as souvenirs. In fact, I live by ginseng and eat it all the time. But when you see it on the itinerary from the tour companies, you should beware. This may be a tourist trap – literally. They trap tourists in a room where a someone tries to sell you this stuff. There are no prices listed anywhere so it’s easy for them to jack up the price and they close the entry door on you. A lady will then start explaining the health benefits to it and give you a demonstration on how to use the product. Sure, there’s value in that and there’s no pressure to buy plus it might even lower the price of your tour, but you waste a lot of your limited time in Korea there. Your vacation ain’t that long!

    Cheong-Kwan-Jang
    If you really want ginseng, I would feel much better taking you to a Cheong-Kwan-Jang which can be found on any street corner in Korea with reasonable prices.
  5. They did not get a tour guide – As much as it seems like a plot to plug our services, it’s true. Even though Korean is a developed nation, it’s still very raw. We don’t have the tourism infrastructure that other countries have so it’s tough to go at it alone. Especially when you are trying to get outside of Seoul, you waste a lot of time with the language barrier and unfamiliar systems. A good Korean tour guide will tidy all that up for you. Sure you can read up on travel guides and blogs on how to get around, but the reality is that it’s pretty tough once you are here. And if you try to go about the palaces alone, they just become empty buildings with no character. You need a great guide to bring that all to life for you and tell you the stories that really makes these places so amazing.
    I say this because the last thing I want you to do is leave here with a bad experience or worse yet, leave here more confused than you did before coming here.

    USD Tour
    You are going to leave here so educated on Korea. You all are Korea experts now!

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5 Things you might have not known about Korea – Even after living here for so long..

I’ve lived in Seoul for a while now, but it’s only been recent that I have become aware about some of these nuances. Expats may know some, but tourists most definitely will not. As a tour guide, it’s my job to let them know.

1. They’re here!! It’s not some Poltergeist movie, but it could be.

samsungeverywhere

In Korean society today, Samsung is omnipresent. Obviously we know them as the tech giant that makes all of our smart phones and televisions. But did you know that the wonderful new couple you met last week might have been married by Samsung?

If you stand in the middle of Seoul right now and do a 360 degree turn, you will see that they are just about everywhere. You may even see that they might be looking right back at you. Albeit, branded differently.

Today, you can have a baby born in a Samsung Medical Center. You can have that baby grow up in a Samsung apartment (Samsung Remien). They can be clothed by Samsung (Beanpole, 8 Seconds and FUBU??). They can play at Samsung (Everland Theme Park). They can attend a Samsung school and graduate from a Samsung university (Sungkyungkwan University).

When they grow up they can work at any of the Samsung affiliated companies. They can be insured by Samsung Insurance and buy stocks through Samsung Securities. They can drive a Samsung car (SM) and stay at a Samsung hotel (Shilla). And all of this can be bought with a Samsung credit card!

Hell…you can even be buried by Samsung..

muahahaha..

2. Hazard Lights, a universal language or mental telepathy.

parking attendants in Korea

Why is everyone putting on their hazard lights? When driving in Korea, there is a subculture of communication and sub-context that people know but many other people might not get right away. The flashing of hazards have many meanings here.

a. I’m looking for a parking spot. Usually when entering into a large crowded garage parking lot, you’ll find parking attendants showing you where to go. In order to let them know you are looking for a spot, put your blinkers on. Otherwise they might show you the way out.

And if they do, don’t go crazy on them and do what these wannabe chaebol heiresses did.

b. I’m sorry.  When driving mistakes happen. Accidentally cut someone off? *Blinkers* Don’t want to wait in the long line to the next exit? Cut to the front, but remember to use those *Blinkers*

c. Thank you;; When that someone finally lets you cut through the line bypassing the other 200 cars behind it, show some gratitude by turning on the emergency lights. It also shows you have an ounce of remorse in your soul for committing such a heinous act.

d. I see somethings not right ahead. Let’s ALL slow down.. And as soon as you see the blinkers go off in the car in front of you, you should do the same thing to alert the cars behind you. This is probably because there is something in your lane and this is the warning before you might have to slam on the brakes!

3. Honey, I love you…but for the ten billionth time, LEAVE THE TOILET SEAT UP!! – And that’s what SHE said!

put-the-toilet-seat-up

Huh?? That’s right. You heard it here. In Korea, its good manners to leave the toilet seat up rather than down for the ladies. Ever seen a Korean bathroom? Most likely the toilet, sink and shower are all in the same place without separation. After taking a shower, who wants to sit on a wet toilet seat? Guys, be a gentleman and leave the toilet seat up for your woman.

Continue reading 5 Things you might have not known about Korea – Even after living here for so long..

5 Reasons why we pay $4 for a Cup of Coffee in Korea

There are more Starbucks within the city limits of Seoul than any other city in the entire world, according to Quartz. Now that’s a statement to start with. Yet this is only the beginning of how rampant the coffee culture has grown in Korea.

IMG_3211 Part of the reason is that it’s the only thing they recognize since most other signs naturally are in Korean. But for the most part, we love our coffee and take that love affair to an extreme.

Coffee shops like Caffe Bene, Tom ‘n Toms, Edyia Cafe are now bidding up all the real estate prices of every street corner in Seoul. Even non-traditional cafe companies like Nescafe are trying to get in on the action. What is it about the coffee culture here that even with all the competition we have, we still manage to pay at least $4 a cup? It could be a cartel, but we have our theories:

Continue reading 5 Reasons why we pay $4 for a Cup of Coffee in Korea

How Honest are Koreans? Let’s take a look..

Following up on the post I did on How Safe Korea Is, I found a video that studies how honest Korean people are. Take a look at how disturbing the video is at first.

http://www.allkpop.com/buzz/2014/10/south-koreans-are-tested-on-honesty-in-a-subway-experiment

Then see what remarkably happens.

Who knows how scientific this study is, but on a personal note, I can agree with it when I compare it to my life in America. You can leave a laptop on a cafe table, come back in 1 hour and it will still be there. Again, that doesn’t mean crime doesn’t exist here. It just manifests itself in different forms.

There is this shame culture here that prevents committing crimes in front of you. Things like burglaries taking place while you are away from your home.

What does this mean? It means that travelers to Korea don’t really need to worry about petty thefts while they are visiting here. It makes it a much more pleasant travel experience compared to other countries where you might have to watch your wallet/purse all the time.

Again, the word of caution is that this is for the most part. And it is clearly evident in the air when you come to see Korea.

The Dark Side of Korean Tourism

No matter how you slice it and dice it, 40% is still not a good number for tourism. Especially when you compare it to China and Japan. As a tour guide in the Korean tourism industry, after reading this article and seeing the news segment that relates to it, I can say that it doesn’t just stop there. There are old-boy tour companies here that partner up with their buddy-buddy shopping centers and other places where tourists are told to spend money. They herd tourists around from one commission-based shopping to another. Sometimes you get a place added onto your itinerary to a so-called “museum”, only to find that it is a one-room exhibit explaining what kimchi is with the other parts of the warehouse as showrooms dedicated to selling overpriced products to locked-in tourist. This is not just Korea, but as I’ve traveled all throughout Asia, this seems to be standard practice. As a developed nation Korea should look beyond this now.

Adding in these mandatory commission-based stops allows many of the tourism companies to lower their tour fees to what’s called a “minus tour”. Minus tours are local tour companies “buying” tourists from foreign tour companies on the expectations that their souvenir-buying commissions will pay for the “minus” deficit they incur from purchase.  This is not tourism. This is probably closer to being a bookie managing a sports gambling book of bettings.  Tour groups are often tagged with the odds of buying “souvenirs” given their specific demographics. Some tour companies hire statisticians to often place value and hedge against less profitable tour groups. Overall the tours are run poorly, not being sensitive to the tourists needs as well as taking away from the chance of seeing other parts of Korea. 

This needs to stop. Korean is not a 3rd world market here.

Continue reading The Dark Side of Korean Tourism