Travel Commentary: Korea

I have never done any of these before (at least in English), so this will struggle a lot when it comes to structure. Also, it has been two months 😡 so my memory of the trip won’t be very comprehensive and accurate.

So yeah, the most recent foreign country I traveled to is Korea. South Korea to be precise. My travel experiences are not wide and quite limited to Asia only, so South Korea currently fares quite well on my ‘best countries to go to’ schema.

General

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It actually isn’t quite as impressive as I imagined, but my experiences there are generally positive.  Perhaps my peers and the other Korean culture appreciators hyped it too much for me, but regardless the trip was still rather comfortable. There are some aspects that make it a rather memorable visit and is definitely worth being modeled after by other nations, but the experience in generally dampened by the high living costs. The people there are generally very polite and helpful, although it can be misunderstood as being kept to themselves.  Malaysian Ringgit conversion rates to Korean Won was kinda sad during that time, so shopping was generally not as fun as many described.

WiFi Everywhere

This is the most impressive part of the traveling. You can basically fare quite well even without mobile data for Internet because almost every place has WiFi coverage that boasts some of the highest speeds I have seen. A good majority of them require a prepaid Korean phone number, but even so one can get on quite well without those. Almost every hotel and cafe boasts WiFi connection at (from experience) 30 mbps minimum. Even a random tea house in the middle of a mountain range will be prepared with WiFi connection. I found out on a later search that South Korea has the fastest average Internet speed in the world, so yeah this aspect stood out the most. It has the best Internet service I have ever seen.

Snow!

I have not seen snow in my life. Life is complete now, although I am a little, just a little disappointed about the fact that snow is basically just shaved ice. I waited 21 years to see natural shaved ice. 😦

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Food and Drinks

Korean food is really exciting at first glance, but over time they get boring quickly as their staple meals do not have much variation. There’s always kimchi and a pot of stew or a barbecue (with assorted vegetables and a lot of meat), along with rice or noodles, rounded up with some other small refillable dishes like seaweed, anchovies and tofu. This can get extremely repetitive over time that some other fellow tourists mentioned dreading meal times. For me this was less relevant as I was almost always hungry due to the long hours of walking. They have relatively little oil in the preparation of their food, not counting their fried chicken+beer (which I have yet to try).

All in all, I didn’t enjoy Korean staple food much. On one of the last days we attended a seafood buffet which was actually my best meal because I get to binge on free flow sashimi, smoked salmon, and wine. Yeah, I guess Japanese food is still tastier. 20161226_201337

They have some rather interesting variety of street food, which I unfortunately had not have enough time and appetite to try (tip: eat less during mealtimes).

Also, Korean convenience stores are amazing. I am pretty sure I could survive with decent nutrition just buying from convenience stores. The array of leisure drinks from coffee and tea to juices and alcohol is worth trying out one by one. Occasionally you can come across unique stuff like banana flavored milk, banana flavored soda, pine tree drinks and carbonated milk (Milkis). Maybe anything is good if you put enough sugar into it. 20161221_165054

Overall, I am not disappointed by the variety of things I can stuff into my mouth here.

Local Culture

I am not sure if I am heavily biased, but in my one week in Korea, I felt that they have nothing much that can differentiate themselves from China. Ignoring the fact that mainland Chinese are infiltrating and settling in basically every developed city in Korea, the city layouts and traditions are pretty similar to Chinese cities like Hangzhou and Shanghai.

 

Basically everything from architecture, fashion, and customs, both modern and traditional, have visible traces of Chinese and Confucianism in them.

I didn’t really like the part where the whole nation is basically running on the entertainment industry. Every tourist spot is a tourist spot basically because Korean dramas are shot there, which was not a plus for me as I have not been a follower for over a decade (I used to watch Winter Sonata and Full House). Admittedly, I did enjoy their esports TV channels very much as it was really refreshing to see gamers being featured like celebrities. Another major thing I noticed is the prevalence of Samsung’s industry, whose logo is pretty much all over the place.

Also: Jeju Island is a bit underwhelming, considering we had to board a plane to get there. I forgot why I didn’t like it: maybe the political hate towards the Japanese for the war massacres? or maybe the snobbish nature of the other tour guide there who was also too eager to sell whatever products they have?  Again, I don’t really remember, but Jeju was rather boring compared to Seoul.

Closing Remarks

I am pretty sure I didn’t do the trip justice with this sloppy writing as it has been more than two months, but in a nutshell, Korea is a great place to visit, but it is not enough to warrant a second trip unless one can enjoy the varying atmospheres of different seasons. I imagine Korea in its autumn or spring filter would be worth experiencing. Otherwise the travel content isn’t varied enough to justify more than a trip (about a week or so, even better if you take a slower pace), unless perhaps for major Korean drama buffs. Also, I had a really good tour guide who could converse in excellent Chinese (puts 95% of the Chinese I know to shame) and actually introduce us to aspects of Korean life beyond its tourism.

My enjoyment of the trip was quite limited by the rushed nature of a group tour and overly high expectations (my mother was comparing it to our second choice, Japan, non-stop; my father’s case China), but I was still quite glad I went there. At least I have one more place to talk about beyond China and Vietnam.

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