It was Letterman who did the top 10 lists, right?

Ever since Lisa and I went to Busan in April, we’ve been brainstorming our favorite and least favorite things about Korea. We both figured that once we returned home, we’d be bombarded with questions about the year. How do you sum up a year in just a few sentences? That’s why I bring you “The Official Top 10 Things Melissa Loves About Korea.” This, of course, will be followed by “The Official Top 10 Things Melissa Hates About Korea.” So without further ado, the list:

10. Cheap everything. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to handle living in the States, where things cost so damn much. The fact that one can get a good dinner (complete with half a dozen side dishes) for about $5 really astounds me. A forty-minute taxi ride costs about $12 (note that this is after the conversion to American dollars). Even clothes are incredibly cheap. Granted, the clothes are generally not of the greatest quality, but I live in a country where it’s possible for me to buy a dress and shoes, go out for a night on the town (dinner included), take a taxi home and only spend about $40. That’s incredible, no matter how you look at it.

9. Light blue silk sheets on my bed. Need I say more?

8. Kimbap (김밥). The Korean version of sushi, you can find kimbap in many different forms all over the country. While chain restaurants such as Kimbap Heaven serve the dish, you can also get it at convenience stores for about the same price. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the rolls of kimbap (I find them to be pretty dry), but I love kimbap triangles. Couldn’t find an unwrapped picture, which might be a good thing. A triangle of rice with sauce, meat and occasionally kimchi sounds and tastes fantastic; it just lacks that aesthetic quality Westerners so enjoy. At about 40 cents a triangle, they make the ideal drunk/snack food, and will fill you up for a couple hours. The varieties are endless–beef, spicy beef, chicken, kimchi, tuna, pork–you name it, they got it.

7. The Jews of Korea. I’ve met some of my best friends in Korea at Chabad. There are a ton of expats in Korea, and finding the good ones can be tough, but solid friendships have been made at the Shabbat dinner table. It’s been incredible to watch Chabad grow to what it is today–a warm, welcoming home for us. Speaking of warm and welcoming, I should probably mention my friend Tobi’s apartment in Hannam-dong. Tobi’s here doing work for GM and has got the sickest apartment I’ve ever seen. Her master bathroom is the size of my entire apartment. The door is always open to anyone who needs a bed. I’ve seen Tobi meet a stranger at Chabad and within minutes invite him to spend the night in her guest bedroom so that he doesn’t have to search all over Itaewon for an overpriced love motel or jjimjibang. Her apartment has become a haven for me whenever I desire MTV, a Western-style kitchen or a shower that isn’t directly above my toilet.

Our favorite ho dduk lady wearing her adorable cat apron.

Our favorite ho dduk lady wearing her adorable cat apron.

6. Street food. This one is a bit surprising, mostly because I don’t eat a lot of the things sold on the streets here. There are stalls set up absolutely everywhere in this city. Most sell fish cakes, dried squid, fried pork and rice cakes in a hot, spicy sauce. Sometimes you find fresh fruit on a stick, and few things are more delicious than juicy pineapple on a stick on a hot summer day. There are a few things that tickle my fancy on the streets of Seoul–namely ho dduk, something we’ve taken to calling the inside-out pancake. The dough is lightly cooked on a hot, oily surface. After a few minutes, a nutty, sugary mixture is put in the center and wrapped inside before being cooking some more. The result? Probably the best dessert available in Korea.

5. Couples shirts. The damn things are ubiquitous in this city. This blog absolutely nailed it. The only thing I can think of when looking at these photos (and the myriad couples I’ve seen this year): “Where the hell did his balls go?” While this is usually limited to Korean couples, a friend of mine and his Korean girlfriend came out with us a few months ago. She was wearing a Snoopy shirt, and he a Woodstock one. Vomit, vomit vomit. A couple weeks ago, I spotted six Koreans walking together, all wearing shirts with the same pattern. I could easily figure out who was dating who because there were two yellow shirts, two green shirts and two red shirts. What a weird place this is. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re hilarious.

I will never love another man like I love Kim Hyun-joong.

I will never love another man like I love Kim Hyun-joong.

 

 

4. K-pop culture. I’ve blogged about my love of K-pop music and Boys Before Flowers, but for a long time I kept my distance from them both. I resisted for so long, finally caving when I realized that nobody would judge me for liking either. Even though I don’t understand any of the words except for the token English lines, “Baby I love you, I’m waiting for you,” “Hey my girl” or “Lucky in my life.” Also, I’ve got that major-league crush on Kim Hyun-joong. I can’t figure out if K-pop was always a big deal here or if it’s a recent addition to the already absurd culture. The boy band thing hit America a decade ago. I feel like I’m reliving my pre-teen years here in Seoul. This will only get worse tonight, when I head out to Incheon for a free concert that features Korea’s biggest pop acts–Superjunior, Girl’s Generation, M, Rain, etc. I’ve returned to my teeny-bopper roots.

 

 

3. Being treated like a celebrity. In a place like Suyu, we’re constantly stared at by the locals. It’s as though they’ve never seen a white person before, which, in the 21st century, I find hard to believe. At the end of each week at SEV, the kids swarm us and ask for our autographs. Occasionally I’ll be walking down the street and someone will ask to take a picture with me. It’s taken awhile, but I’ve grown used to the gawks, gapes and stares that accompany a walk to the grocery store. Just the other night, a few of us went out to dinner down the road. The woman seated at a nearby table applauded us when they saw us correctly using chopsticks. It will be sad to go back to America and not be congratulated whenever I pick up a fork and knife.

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2. The mix of old and new. Dongdaemun is a favorite neighborhood of mine, mostly because that’s where I go for Indian food. Walking to the subway at dusk from Everest, my restaurant of choice, I’m treated to one of the most breath-taking views: am illuminated centuries-old gate set against a backdrop of new high-rises and skyscrapers. Aged national relics can be found everywhere in the city, set right next to some of Seoul’s most impressive buildings.

 

 

1. The people who live here. In my year here, I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve made a few good Korean friends this year, and there is something that links them all. Despite living most, if not all, of their lives in Korea, they think like Westerners. Though they live in Korea, which is practically backwards-thinking by nature, they understand the way we foreigners think. They understand, unlike many of the Koreans we come across in the workplace, that the Korean way is not always the best way. Just because something is done a certain way here does not mean it makes any logical sense, and they recognize that. That being said, there are certain things about America that make no sense but are done for the sake of doing it. I think that being able to recognize and acknowledge these things about our respective countries has made us closer friends.

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