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.

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8 Things Commonly said by Tourists visiting Korea

Happy New Year 2015! And may this year be another great year for people to come to Korea.

A very rare species in Korea:  The Garbage Can
A very rare species in Korea: The Garbage Can

Being a tour guide in Korea, it’s funny to hear some of the same comments and questions over and over again from tourists. In doing so I’ve compiled some the top 8 as well as responses to debunk a lot of what is said or misconceived about Korea. Whether you are visiting Korea or are an expat entertaining guests who visit here, it’s good to equip yourself with some knowledge on how to address some of these observations. 1. “Since Korea is home to Samsung, Galaxy phones must be cheaper. Where do I get one?”Wrong. Samsung phones, as well as a lot of other products of Korea are actually more expensive here than anywhere else in the world. Even with the taxes and tariffs, you are better off buying them where you are from. Samsung claims that they are being fair with the prices due to the difference in “distribution systems”. What does this mean? Probably something to do with the vast competition other markets have vs Korea’s limited competition (which in turn creates a cartel). Whatever the reason is, bottom line: Samsung products are NOTICEABLY more expensive in Korea when in fact they are originated from here. In fact, a great gift for your hosts in Korea would be to bring them a new Samsung phone.

The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD
The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD

* On a side note: Because of this oligopoly, it tempts other foreign companies to come in and take advantage of us as well. Take for instance H&M and more recently IKEA. These companies are globally known as cheaper brands, but when they first came to Korea, they tried to charge higher than their normal prices here. They soon lowered their prices after informed netizens called them out on this. Too bad Korean netizens don’t have power over our home grown companies. I really need a Hyundai right now. 2. “Ooh, they have cider at this Korean restaurant. Let’s order that!” – Wrong. Cider in Korea is not the alcoholic drink that you are thinking of. It’s actually a word to describe a non-alchoholic carbonated drink similar to that of Sprite or 7-Up. So if you order cider at a restaurant, often times you will get that or a Korean local take on the beverage with Kin or Chilsung Cider which tastes lighter. Cider one of those English loan words that have been beaten up pretty bad after being loaned over two times through the Japanese Occupation (1910 – 1945). If you can just imagine a Japanese person back then trying to show a Korean how sophisticated they were with English you would come up with words like nan-ning-gu (난닝구) and bban-seu (빤스). Sound familiar? Somewhat? Kinda? It’s a derivative of the words “running-shirt” and “pants”, but you have say it a couple times in your head before you can actually make the connection. You then have to take it to the second-derivative to fully understand that it actually means…hold it…wait for it… “tank top” and “underwear”, in the Korean language. You can’t call this Konglish because it’s not our fault. But older-generation Koreans will use the words back at foreigners fully expecting that they will understand it thinking it’s English.

it's not what you think it is
it’s not what you think it is

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The DMZ Tour is NOT the DMZ tour!

Or at least, it’s not the tour attraction in Korea that companies will lead you to believe. It’s called something else. The DMZ is the De-Militarized Zone  and it is the border that cuts Korea in half by North and South Korea. It gets a lot of attention in the media, so a lot of people request to go there through tour companies. Just about all tourists going to Korea for the first time will believe that the DMZ tour will take you to see North Korean and South Korean soldiers standing across from each other at the border staring down one another in a game to see who flinches first.

This is the JSA Tour that lots of tourists mistake as the DMZ Tour
This is the JSA Tour that lots of tourists mistake as the DMZ Tour
North Korean Soldier off in the distance
North Korean Soldier off in the distance

Yet tour companies will lead you astray and show you something else. What people are WANTING to see is actually the JSA Tour. That is where you see the soldiers and go inside the blue MAC building where you are technically in North Korea.  JSA stands for Joint Security Area and it is the tour that people are usually thinking in the minds of the depicted standoff between North and South. You should really make sure you clarify that you want the JSA Tour and not the DMZ Tour. 

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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:

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