In my last blog post, I talked about some Korean things that weren’t my favorite. This time, I am going to talk about Korea in a much more positive light. You may have already heard about some of the things South Korea does well. They have the fastest internet in the world (although not in my dorm, that’s for sure). Korean fashion and makeup products are growing increasingly popular around the world. Their pop music, TV shows, and movies have countless fans around the world. In this blog post, I’m going to tell you about some of the other things Korea has figured out of which you may not already be aware.
I was scared to try a bidet at first, but now there’s no going back. It’s amazing. I don’t really want to get into details with this one, because that would really be TMI, but I suggest that we make bidets a common thing in the U.S. You just feel so much cleaner when you use them.
- Floor heating
Korean floor heating is called ondol (온돌) and it makes so much more sense than Western style heating systems. Korean floor heating takes advantage of the fact that heat rises, as the heated floor warms the whole room. This is especially effective if you sleep in the traditional Korean way, which is on a mat on the floor. Although I sleep in a bed in my dorm room, the ondol is still great since it heats the whole room from the bottom up.
- Street food and “fast food” options
Where I live, there is little to no street food culture and fast food options are almost all greasy and horrible for your health. Korean street food culture, however, is alive and well. Around 6 or 7 PM, the street food carts come out next to my school, selling spicy rice cakes (ddeokbokki or 떡볶이), fish cakes, meat skewers, fried dumplings, fried chicken, etc. This food is cheap and delicious, although I will admit I have begun to avoid it because it is extremely greasy and usually gives me a stomachache. However, you can also find other types of street food like waffles, red bean-filled pastries, Japanese takoyaki, and others. The other part of this point is Korean “fast food.” Just like the U.S., Korea also has greasy, unhealthy fast food like McDonalds and other burgers-and-fries or fried chicken places like Lotteria and Mom’s Touch. However, Korea has a certain type of restaurant that we don’t really have in the U.S., and I will call it “fast food” for a lack of a better word. These restaurants serve “fast food” because they are cheap, convenient, and usually open 24 hours, and some of their options aren’t that healthy. But these restaurants also serve many other things, some of which are quite healthy and all the dishes cost about $5 or less. You can get ramen, fried pork cutlet, kimbap, dumplings, different kinds of noodles, kimchi stew and doenjang stew, bibimbap, and many other items at these restaurants. I really hope some restaurants like these open in the U.S., because then I might make some healthier eating choices when I get hungry in the middle of the night or am too lazy to cook.
I like Western-style grape wine, but I think makgeolli (막걸리), or Korean rice wine, is much better. It is sweeter than a lot of wine, so it is easier to drink for those who don’t like the dry taste of wine. Plus, nowadays Korean pubs and bars are mixing makgeolli with other things to make it taste even better. Honey makgeolli is delicious, and cream milk makgeolli, although it might sound quite strange, is delicious. You can’t even taste the flavor of alcohol; it tastes like you are drinking a sweet, frothy smoothie. Of course, this means you need to be careful not to overdrink, because any Korean will tell you if don’t drink responsibly, makgeolli will give you a horrible hangover.
Where I live, the most convenient cafe to go to is always a Starbucks. There are a few good local cafes around my house and my school, but they are few and far between. Starbucks is essentially the only chain coffeeshop in the area. As a coffee lover and someone who loves to try new things, going to Starbucks gets pretty stale after a while. In Korea, it is quite the opposite. There are many chain coffee shops that you can find everywhere with ranging prices (Bom Bom, Angel-in-us, Twosome Place, Cafe Pascucci, Cafe Bene, Tom N Toms, the list goes on) as well as countless local cafes everywhere you go. If I went to a new cafe near my university everyday, it would probably take me a month or two to try them all. Since I love coffee, this is probably one of my favorite things about Korea.
- Rest stops
Korean rest stops are also a world better than the ones I’ve visited in the U.S. The rest stops I’ve seen in the U.S. are usually rather small, mostly filled with a bunch of pamphlets and some vending machines. Korean rest stops include cafes, a convenience store, snack stands, and restaurants all within the same building. You can get a drink, snacks, or eat a whole meal if you want. Unfortunately, I’ve only had 15 minute breaks at rest stops since I can’t drive here and use buses to travel between cities, but if you ever get the chance to take your time at a Korean rest stop, I can guarantee you will leave full and satisfied.
- Public transportation
In Oklahoma, public transportation is almost nonexistent. Our state is too spread out and you need to have a car if you want to get anywhere with any sort of efficiency at all. My friend from New York City that I met here in Korea tells me that NYC’s public transportation system is incredibly confusing and if she hadn’t grown up there, she would constantly be getting lost. In Korea, however, the subway system and other public transportation is clear and easy to use, even for a first-timer. Public transportation is ubiquitous, and although having a car may be convenient at times, it is certainly not necessary and you can depend on public transport to get you anywhere you need to go in Korea.
Just about the only things you can get delivered where I live in the U.S. is pizza and Chinese takeout. Perhaps there are some other restaurants that will deliver, but it probably won’t be cheap. In Korea, they have delivery figured out. Like we have American-style Chinese food in the U.S., Korea has it’s own Korean-style Chinese food that is commonly delivered. Fried chicken is also a common delivery food, and McDonald’s also delivers in Korea. I have a friend in the U.S. who would be in heaven if McDonald’s delivered in the U.S. (hi Lily!) and I think it’s a business strategy that American McDonald’s should consider.
Of course there are many other things that Korea does well, but I will stop here for today. Some other countries might already have some of the things that I listed here, but none of the items from my list are things that the United States really has figured out. I recommend that the U.S. learn a thing or to from Korea and start adopting some of these, and then maybe I won’t be quite as depressed when I have to go home at the end of my year here.