Photo: Chelsea Marie Hicks
1. I now expect coffee shops to be thematic.
Regular coffee shops no longer excite me. Why even go if there isn’t some sort of entertainment like puppies I can adopt for a few hours or fancy dresses I can wear while I savor my latte? Even if the theme is lacking, the desserts stand alone: decadent waffles dripping with apple honey butter and fresh strawberries; melon ice cream balls towering atop a bowl made of a hollowed cantaloupe; and sulbing or frozen milk chips (like frozen ice) topped with soft rice cakes and layered with sweet red bean powder and a choice of condensed milk.
2. I can stock up on birth control without going to the doctor.
Before I left to go abroad, I was told my insurance wouldn’t cover a year’s worth of birth control at one time (shocker). In Korea, birth control is over the counter, and it’s cheap. I asked for the active ingredient in the medicine I took at home, and the pharmacist found a similar brand. So, for ₩8,000 ($7) I can buy as much as I want whenever I want because I’m a woman who knows what’s good for my body, and what it doesn’t need is another US male politician regulating my right to not reproduce.
3. I expect a house to have heated floors.
On a day when the crisp, freezing February wind bites me to the bone, the soothing warmth of my ondol (heated floor) saves me. In the morning, it’s easier to get out from under the covers I’ve burrito-ed myself into when I know I can set my chilled toes onto the hot, smooth surface. Even yoga is better; doing savasana is the equivalent to lying in a pile of clothes fresh from the dryer.
4. I assume anything I want can be delivered to wherever I am at the moment.
No matter where I am, I can send a Kakao message to Ask Ajumma, who will, in turn, call whatever restaurant I wish and order for me. They’ll deliver to my house, my spot on the beach, a park bench, or even underneath a storm drain. It’s just that convenient. Although I don’t recommend ordering fried chicken and hot soup at a humid beach in August.
5. I now have a quality and trendy skin-care regimen.
Thanks to Korea, my skin looks healthier than it did when I was a five-year old. I stalk the aisles of Too Cool for School and Missha in absolute awe. I had no idea I needed magic ingredients like 24 carat gold flecks, snail serum, volcanic lava scrub, black syn-nake venom (synthetic snake venom), and animal placenta to firm, brighten, clear, and hydrate my skin. Then there are the ₩2,000 ($1.75) animal themed sheet masks that, for 20-30 minutes, make me look like a serial killer. That is until I take it off to discover a smooth, youthful face that’s nothing like Aileen Wurornos.
6. I can now go anywhere in the country in a few hours or a weekend without boarding a plane.
Because the country is the size of Idaho, seeing it in a year is doable. When I hop onto a bus to relax on Busan’s beaches or experience Seoul’s nightlife, the rides are cheap, and I’m there in a few hours or less. Sure, it may take a trip or two to learn the intricacies of each locale, but I take my time exploring. I’ll see more, do more, next time around. The high-speed train is an even better option for weekend getaways; it shaves an hour or two off usual travel times. This excludes Jeju, but the Korean island can be made into a weekend trip by boat or by plane.
7. I haven’t had to use a key in almost a year.
As someone who was in constant search for those tiny metal contraptions that open doors, cars, and safety boxes, keypad doors have been a blessing. Why hasn’t this form of security taken off around the globe? Not becoming intimately familiar with the crevices beneath my couch cushions this year has been a liberating experience.
8. I can drink booze outside.
There are no open-container laws in Korea, making it quite appropriate to crack open a bottle of soju whenever, wherever. Bars don’t close until dawn, and outdoor vendors sell florescent libations in plastic bags to make each evening a sip and stroll. Some of the most iconic moments of my past months here were lounging on a blanket of sand sharing sunari (flavored soju) with a group of friends as we listened to the music of the ocean and the buskers while the sun rose behind the sparkling lights of the Gwangan Bridge.
9. I no longer care about perusing the fancy organic food aisles in US grocery stores.
The nonstop madness of the living, breathing aquatic beings at the markets put US cereal aisles to shame. I watch disgusted, yet intrigued by the throbbing sea penises. Ajummas flay squirming eels in front of my eyes. Fish flop out of their buckets and octopus are silent as they slide their sticky tentacles up and out of the aquariums and fall to freedom–only to be thrown right back where they began.
10. Late night post-bar pizza binges make me sad now.
After months of grabbing cheap, homemade eats like gimbap, deep fried octopus, and pajeon from the all-night tent bar street vendors on my way home from a night out, that oily slice of pie ceases to be appetizing.
11. I’ve become too trusting with my valuables.
Like everywhere, crime in Korea does happen. One can never be too cautious. That said, I’ve left my entire purse in public transportation by accident and had it returned to me by someone who gave it to the police — with everything intact. This is a story told on forums across the internet. People believe items of importance are lost or stolen only to receive them in the mail weeks later thanks to a listed address on an ID card. If this happened in the US, well, sayonara phone, wallet, ID, passport, credit cards, and that new pack of mint gum I just bought.
12. I can afford to go to the spa for a full-day session!
Jjimjilbangs or Korean spas are where I go when I’m feeling anxious, uncertain, or need to sweat out the soju from the previous evening. Korean spas give me life, especially on Sundays when Monday’s doom looms too close for comfort. At a max of ₩10,000, I can afford to pamper myself while skinny-dipping with strangers and dabbling in the decadent, stone baths from hot to cold to saunas and full-body scrubs. Plus, the locker rooms are chock full of face creams and beauty products alongside stools in front of plush vanities to ensure your skin stays fresh after the baths.