5 Reasons You Should Live in South Korea

I had read recently on another popular blog whose name I now forget that making click-baitey 5, 10, or 20 whatever lists of things is essentially the epitome of academic laziness, or journalistic unprofessionalism. Be that as it may, both thinking about and making this list is just plain fun for me, and hopefully useful for others (my girlfriend even got in on it to give me ideas; thanks Fee!).

It used to be that the only waygook in Korea were either US millitary, or a spattering of native English instructors scattered across the country. Nowadays though, the military presence has waned, and the population of English teachers has exploded. Better still, a large group of professional expats and business owners have come both to do business, and call Korea their home. So here is my first of a 2-parter; Why you should join all of us out here. Why you should live in Korea:

5. Public Bath Houses:

The Romans were on to something 2,000 years ago when they built the biggest public baths civilization had seen at the time. Since then the tradition of communal bathing has been mostly forgotten in the West (due perhaps to homophobia, norms of modesty, or individualism), but not so in the East. While there are also a number of fantastic public baths or Onsen(温泉)in Japan, those in Korea have a different charm and appeal.

Modern baths, Jjimjilbang(찜질방 or 사우나) often come complete with showers, saunas, jacuzzi of various temperatures, steam baths, and various massage services. Many of these places operate 24-hours, and serve as a great place to rest for the evening if you're traveling, or to recover from a drinking binge. If you're comfortable enough in a room full of naked people of your own sex these places can really be a treat. I'd never quite known the feeling of combined muscle relaxation and perfectly clean pores until I spent some time in one of these places. Bear in mind some of these places are single sex only (not a problem really considering how many there are; just walk around til you find another).

Not only are these places in almost any neighborhood in Korea, they are cheap with a price range of around 5~10,000 for admission (massages, or food which you can buy there are extra of course). Even if you decide to splurge on a decadent 찜질방 like the Dragon Hill spa in Yongsan, admission there runs about 15,000 and this includes a variety of relaxation and sleeping rooms, a swimming pool, full restaurant, video game arcade, and a plethora of other services over 7 floors. Do yourself a favor and check this place out.

4. Transportation:

Despite Korea having a high rate of drunk driving (not as high as the US however), and Korea having the highest number of traffic deaths amongst OECD countries (hell it also tops the list in pedestrian deaths), essentially every aspect of Korea's transport situation kicks ass in some way. Sure it's dangerous and the traffic is pretty bad, but if you're in a cab the fare starts at just 3,000 (actually this is after it going up in recent years; still, compare this to New York). And I'm just getting started; both Seoul's subway system and bus network are extensive (going out into Incheon, Bucheon, Bundang, and Suwon) and dirt cheap at just 1,050 for the base rate. Both networks are relatively uncomplicated compared to other cities, but to make it even easier

the Seoul Bus and Subway/Jihachul smartphone apps are available in Korean, English, and Japanese, and are free for iOS and Android. Oh and all of the aforementioned transport options utilize an RFID card system called T-Money, not unlike other cities but you can use these on taxis and vending machines too. But if you're not around a major city to take advantage of the subway, the intercity bus network has you taken care of, and still at reasonable rates barely ever reaching 20,000 no matter how far you go. Or if that's too slow KoRail's KTX long distance trains can get you across the country in less than 3 hours, and for far less than the equivalent Shinkansen(新幹線) will cost in Japan. Finally if none of this rustles your jimmies much, you can always try riding a motorcycle in Korea.


For all the big deal Koreans make out of it you'd think they invented the smartphone. Sure they boast the worlds highest internet speeds, but many of their sites are unusable due to being solely made for Internet Explorer. And don't get me started on the draconian internet censorship here (You'd begin to think it was North Korea)...

Hey, wait a minute... I thought this was "5 reasons to live in Korea"? what gives?

That box on the wall is a subway mounted wireless router
Yes, indeed Koreas tech sector is not without its pitfalls. That said, this country is truly wired, so when it comes down to all the little technology things that you'll want, Korea is amazing. While a lot of the latest tech is pricy it is widely available, as are repairs, which are often free from the manufacturer no matter how old the device is (some Korean will be needed to negotiate this). If you can't get your machine repaired from the factory, there are quite a few tech-monkeys hiding in Gwangjin's TechnoMart and Yongsan's Electronics Market (although I believe the latter began restructuring last month) A new home button and screen for your iPhone? That'll be 60,000. You couldn't get it cheaper if you were Steve Wozniak. Phone ran out of battery? Virtually every convenience store has charging services for every phone for like 1,000 What if you left it at home? Well then skip down to the local PC방 or internet cafe(yes, those still exist out here) and do any work you need or play graphics intensive games on their fast gaming rigs with widescreen displays. All for about 500 an hour before any ramen or cigarettes that you can also buy there. Oh, and if for whatever reason you decided not to purchase one of the unlimited data plans available in 3G or 4G from KT Olleh, SK Telecom, or U+. Olleh hotspots are everywhere, even on the subway cars. They are free for KT subscribers, and I believe others can use them if you can complete a registration. At the end of the day you're much better catered for in Korea if you like a lot of technology in your life. 

2. Food:

 This is a difficult one as everybody's tastes are vastly different. For example if you are a Vegan, or you only eat Halal, eating in Korea will be difficult for you. While this is definitely a place where specialized diets exist, none of them have really gone mainstream (perhaps with the exception of slow-food, and even then I question its bonafides). It also can be quite difficult to get things cooked-to-order. I can't count the times my swine-unfriendly friends have complained after asking for "no pork", only to be reassured that it was "ham", and not "pork" so it would be ok...

That's 3 roasted chickens for just 10,000!?
For me the charm in Korean food lies not in its taste as much as it does in its variety and its methods of preparation. A number of meals from massive shellfish(조개구이), to Korean barbecue(갈비/불고기) are cooked up right in front of you on a well ventilated indoor charcoal grill. And if you like soup of any variety, I can assure you that Korea has every variety; not to mention a sort of "moms-home-cooked" food places like Gimbapnara(김밥나라) or Gimbapchungook(김밥천국). Street food is another guilty pleasure. Despite backlash, walking down a reasonably popular road at night will often lead you to a number of food stalls where a variety of tasty snacks are just waiting to be consumed. A good trick in Korea is to not eat the overly priced bar food, and just go to these places after a night out.

Another interesting element of food culture in Korea is the seasonal holiday foods. These may be difficult to partake in as many holidays are celebrated with family (which you won't have), still some of these can be sampled in restaurants if you like. Sure enough you could (and many waygook have) spend all your time out here eating very healthy, well made, and reasonably priced popular Korean foods. Another thing you can do however is to seek out the rarer, more interesting dishes like Grilled Eel(장어구이), Live Octopus(산낙지), or the infamous Dog Soup(보신탕).

1. Culture:

This is perhaps the most difficult to write about, despite being #1 on my list. As I said before, Koreans typically spend their holidays with their families rather than their friends. Truthfully though, not just holidays, but many aspects of Korean life revolve either around ones family, or perhaps more so, around the company one works for. As a result much of Korean culture tends to be very difficult for the visiting expat to penetrate, let alone fathom. Which is a shame, because it is certainly a very unique and robust culture of festivals, traditions, religion, ancient buildings, and a wealth of fascinating history. 

From the more common tourist attractions like Gyeongbokkoong(경복궁) palace, or Insadong(인사동), to the more remote spots like the Bukchon Hanook village(북촌한옥마을), or Ganghwado(강화도) Many intriguing places can be found. If you care to step out of Seoul, more things of interest await like the famous temples Bulguksa(불국사) with its "national treasures", Golgusa(골구사) with it martial arts, and Buddha rock carving as old as Angkor Wat, and Yongmunsa (용문사) with a ginkgo tree said to be over 1,000 years old. Or if you like hiking mountains, Korea has plenty for you like Seoraksan(설악산), Chiaksan(치악산), and Jirisan(지리산).

The crater at the top of the inactive volcano Hallasan(한라산)
Oh, and then there is Hallasan(한라산). Located on Jejudo(제주도), Koreas biggest island located to the south of the peninsula, and worth an honorable mention in-of-itself due to its UNESCO world heritage status. The illustrious Hallasan is an inactive volcano at the center of Jeju. Running out from here are the Manjanggool(만장굴) lava tubes which stretch for kilometers underground and terminate just before the black sand beaches where lava rocks were pounded into a dark gray/ blackish sand.  With many geographical similarities to Hawaii Jeju has become an international hotspot, and can be reached from Korea by plane and ferry alike.



If one is of the mindset to do so, Korea can be a place of adventure and discovery. It can also be a place  to experience isolation and mistreatment. In many ways it's up to your attitude, and in others your individual situation. Nowhere is perfect, but Korea offers a land of modernity and intrigue, a place of exploration and unexpected beauty; it's a place unlike anywhere else...

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