Sunday, July 20, 2014

Things TK Noticed in Korea

As some of you may have noticed, TK has been in Korea for the last couple of weeks. One of the pleasures of visiting Korea is to observe the changes. Because Korea is such a fast-changing society, even one year in between the visits (as was the case with TK's) is enough to produce noticeable, interesting changes. Here are three things that TK noticed in his visit:

(1) Beer.   Good beer is mainstream. Good beer is mainstream! In Korea! In the land of horse piss beer! Yes, it is true, good beer is available in Korea to a degree that has never been seen before. As TK previously predicted, the microbrewery movement in Korea is finally taking off. Even the big boys--i.e. Hite and OB--improved their default beer and came out with more drinkable stuff. Microbreweries are now opening their own restaurants and pubs all over Seoul; it will be a matter of time before they spread to other large cities of Korea.

(2) Public Bathrooms.   Once upon a time--say, 10 years ago--using a public bathroom in Korea was a serious gamble. You had to avoid the dreaded "squat toilet" (and no, TK is not going to put up a picture here.) In about 90 percent of the times, there was no toilet paper. Cleanliness? Pfft, people tossed the dirty toilet paper into an open-faced trash can.

Not so any more. In no case was TK in any danger of not finding toilet paper in a public toilet. All of them were reasonably clean--even the ones in incredibly crowded subway stations. The bathrooms in the Gangnam station smelled less of urine than the elevator of the Penn Station subway stop in New York. This is true.

(3) Chinese people.   There are more Chinese folks in Korea than ever. Tourist districts of Seoul have huge banners in Chinese. Thanks to a new investment visa, Jeju Island has a massive increase in Chinese folks in the last few years, to the point that Koreans are joking about how they need to learn Chinese if they want to retire in the island.

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  1. Okay TK
    Beer, public restrooms and Chinese people start seeming good reference points for me too, when I travel to my hometown
    Beer is still good, I do not usually go to public WC and as to Chinese people, well, they seem to be everywhere lol
    Incidentally, the President of my country is in Seoul right now, for an official visit
    Knowing the gentleman, I truly hope he is not making a fool of himself and his folk
    He has more to ask for than to offer, actually, IMHO

  2. I have heard that the peninsular Koreans are starting to break away from buying weapons from other countries and are starting to create their own weapons, along with making their own distro of Linux to end dependency on Microsoft.

  3. When I went to Korea in 2012, Incheon Airport customs was like the gates of Rome, with what looked like unwashed masses of Visigoths and Ostrogoth clabbering to get in.

  4. I just came back from Taiwan, and there were Chinese mainlanders swarming over all the tourist sites there too. (Do they use huge tour buses in Korea too?) Everyone says this is a new trend, increasing exponentially over the past few years. I had thought it had to do with political stuff between Taiwan and Chinese, but if they're going to Korea too, maybe they're just traveling internationally more.

  5. I’ve been traveling to Korea more and more for work these past few years, and some of the noticeable differences I observed are –

    - Korean women have gotten much better looking. I remember back in the late 90s there were beautiful young ladies on the street but they were really soft, literally, and not very toned. I think exercise has become a bigger part of the youth culture, and now the young ladies in Korea have beautiful faces (often attributed to surgery nowadays) and they are also physically fit. Call me an ass, but I like it when young women try to look pretty, unlike Portland, OR. The natural look is cool in theory but… let’s just say Grace Jones never really did it for me.

    - Not only are there many more Chinese people in Seoul/Jejudo, there are more foreigners, period. You see a lot more non-Asian people beyond Itewon than in the past. The diversity isn’t quite like New York, but it’s not like the old Seoul either. Also, English words have seeped even more into every day Korean language, sort of like what French words are in everyday American English.

    - This might partly explain the rise of Chinese tourists, but not only in Korea but throughout Asia it seems like international travel is the hobby du jour. Throughout the past decade or so in Korea it went from golf to photography to camping/hiking to travel. As a wise man once said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” so to me this seems like a real winner.

    - TK mentioned the rise of good beers in Korea (I kinda liked Hite, Cass, and all those other yellow bubbly beers), but I also see the emerging popularity of wine. I feel like wine aficionados are creating their own elitist subculture. Perhaps this goes hand in hand with the rise in international travel.

    - Music. As a long-standing reggae fan I remember when dancehall took a turn for the worse in the early 90s and adopted the American rap “I’m the hottest shit” messaging that permeates rap and dancehall today. Korean pop music is slowly going that direction also. What used to be mostly about love and heartbreak is turning into “I rule, you drool” message… just like American rap.

    1. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”

      This is quite true. However what we are seeing here isn't travel. It is tourism.
      The traveler will immerse themselves in the country they landed in. They will interact with locals, see local sights, travel like the locals, eat the local food, and to the best of their ability learn some of the local language. The traveler doesn't take two or three weeks (or god forbid less) off from work to visit a country for the sole purpose of enjoying a package tour with others of the same national origin to reinforce things they already "know" about another country. Travel is a journey of discovery. Tourism is an indulgence in hedonism.

      Unrelated to your post, I also feel the need to comment on the beer situation.

      It first improved with Hite D. A marginal improvement admittedly. Then came the faux foreign beers: L Beer, Queens Ale, Aleston... They weren't foolin me. Complete with false advertisement claiming to be imported, this stuff was not bad at all. Sadly, its produced by the same companies to produce the piss water swill I've been downing for years. Craftworks seems to have loosened the stronghold they have had on the market, but it still is miserably difficult for any local craft beers to get any headway. This is worrisome for a homebrewer like myself. I wish beer out here was like makgeolli: many different flavors available, and produced locally all over the country. Long story short: beer has improved in Korea, but there is so much farther to go...

  6. I've been living in Seoul for about four years now and and I found Korean bathrooms to be quite clean from the start. However, I know a few locations where they still need improvement. Like the one on the first floor in the building with Lotteria and Caffe' Bene at 석계 (Seokkye), that's the worst I know so far. And the toilettes at the bus east end bus terminal aren't the cleanest, but they're usually very crowded, so I guess it's difficult to take care. Some bathrooms at my university (HUFS), the ones in those buildings that aren't renewed yet, differ a lot from those in the lately constructed buildings of the campus too, but basically they aren't so dirty, just old in comparison.

  7. The influx of tourism to Korea by the Chinese has to do with the mass amounts of wealth being generated across the board in China. There are suddenly tons of new millionaires.. That in turn has led to the mass amounts of tourism all over the world. I think I've read somewhere that also attributed the amount of Chinese tourists to Korean Dramas.

    I work on 5th Avenue next to the glass cube Apple Store.. And I would guess there are 40% Chinese tourists on any given day.

    The last time I was in Korea was 2012 and there was noticeably more tourists than when I was there in 2009. Heck, there is even a Chinatown now in Incheon.


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