What I’ve Learned So Far…….

Everyone owns at least one if not five umbrellas here.

No one buys trash bags. Buying trash bags here is like buying pornography. You have to ask for special, pink trash bags at a convenience store. They are concealed somewhere because it’s disgraceful to be seen purveying trash bags or buying trash bags.

Back to umbrellas. Don’t buy the cheap umbrellas sold at convenience stores. If you buy these, they will either A) Break in the first Monsoon rain, in June, or B) You will draw even more attention to yourself (as if you’re not already drawing enough attention as an expat, but we’ll touch on that later) because the cheap materials of your cheap umbrella will immediately cause an inversion of the entire structure of your umbrella during that first Monsoon rain. The death of an umbrella is a sad sight here. I’ve seen them lying abandoned on sidewalks, anonymously shaming whoever abandoned them following their death by Monsoon.

People will stare at you. It won’t be a quick, once over glance, but a full-on, body and mind scan, more intense than anything you could experience at the hands of a TSA, or say in a zoo cage. As another expat recently and very succinctly stated, “It’s not a matter of whether they stare, but when they will do it.” And, they do it EVERY DAY you are living in or visiting Korea.

There are no guns here, and if it’s not nonexistent, crime is a non-issue, but there is a real danger in the pointy metal tips of umbrellas hitting you right in your crotch and disabling you as you pass through subway card scanners. You may not get shot or stabbed, but you might get attacked by an umbrella tip.

Sort your trash. I don’t mean recycle your newspapers and plastic bottles by throwing them into a box to put out by the curb. I mean, get to know your trash, intimately. Discover the many categories of recyclables that exist within your trash. Your trash now has 20 different personalities, not just two or three. Personalities like ‘LIQUID’ and ‘FOOD WASTE’ don’t want to be confused with ‘PAPER’ or ‘PLASTIC’ or ‘METAL’. Trash is complex here in Korea.

Cars will drive on the sidewalks where pedestrians are walking in order to turn around.

People are never angry here. They might aggressively push or shove you or walk right into you because you did not get out of their way on the sidewalks or in the subway stations, but no one is angry. Everyone is just in a big hurry to get somewhere really important.

Here’s what I’ve also learned as an expat…… Enjoy yourself. This is an once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Whether this adventure makes you laugh, cry or throw your hands up in frustration at times, it’s your adventure, and it is what you make it, broken umbrellas and all.

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