Other Stuff, Seoul
As an Interpreter for the Deaf, I was used to making gestures with my hands which I thought were safe. In fact, I still do American Sign Language at times and don't even realize it. So, the importance of gestures perhaps affects me more than others, but still there are some general things which you just don't do. And I hope this will help clear a few of them up.
The Finger: there are many worldly versions of this, and unfortunately I discovered that the American Sign Language shape for the letter "T" is one of those. It is made by making a fist, with your thumb between the middle finger and pointing finger. The tip of the thumb is then pointed at someone. DO NOT DO THIS. unless that is you want someone to jump you and hurt you. It is not good. The same can be said for the backwards V and the American favorite of the middle finger. Korea has a mixture of influences, and all three are known. For those who like to point at text in a book or something with their middle finger, I would break myself of the habit now, lest you expect some sort of consequence.
The beckoning finger: This is a little bit less common, but another Western thing. The repeated curling of the pointing finger with the palm up, meaning for a person to come to you. I have been told that Koreans only do that to their dogs, and to do it to a Korean is very insulting. The way to avoid this is simple, keep the plam facing down and wiggle the fingers.
The unique system of the Food Court here (and maybe other food court too) is:
(1) Order food and pay at the cashiers.
(2) You'll be given a receipt with a preforated portion which has a number
(3) Check the electronic dashboard which indicates the Food Section (eg Korean, Japanese) with a calling number ~ like taking a number at the bank !
(4) When the number lights up, pick the food tray and the cutlery (which is in a sterilised glass cabinet located at the pick up point)
(5) You can get water at the Water station which is also located in a glass cabinet (sterilised)
(6) After your meal, return the food tray and its contents to the same Food Section you pick up earlier.
I think this system is unique because (unfortunately) I have not encounter this in my country, Malaysia and neither US or Australia (the Western Countries). It keeps the area clean and neat. And its very orderly too.
Its expensive (relatively for me )
If you are ever tired of the Korean Spicy Food, the Fast Food is ever available at shopping areas
I had the opportunity to taste the Burger King at the COEX Mall in Seoul. Its about 5000 Won which translates to
Ringgit 18.50 for me ~ (expensive)
If you are an American ~ US$4.79 (cheap!)
The Burger King staff will determine whether Eating IN or Take Away.
If Eating In, the Cup for your Soda (American definition ~ Soda, Malaysian' English ~ Fizzy Drink, Coke Cup, etc) is a semi-hard plastic cup. That got me wondering ~ Why is this so?
The burger taste the same and the works. BUT the "cleaning up" process is a wonder
(for me ~ as Malaysians don't practice it)
Apparantly, after finishing the burger, drinks and fries
(1) I had to clean my tray ~ like most people do
(2) The trash bin had three sections ~ a trash bin, a plastic container and a "water" bin
(3) I had to empty the contents of my plastic cup (ice cubes and all) in the "water" bin
(4) Then place the plastic cup at a designated spot (after detaching the plastic cover and straw and placing it at another spot)
(5) Only then I empty the "other items" in the trash bin.
A simple way to keep the outlet clean, but something we have to observe
Koreans simply love to have a good drink...for nights out with friends/colleagues, to celebrate special occassions, to forget problems (^o^) and even just to fight the coldness of winter....drinking is an integral part of their life.
I found this very useful guide from (www.tour2korea). Helped a lot when I went out with Korean friends.
Traditional Drinking Etiquette
• Koreans offer glasses of liquor to each other as a gesture of comaraderie. When someone offers you an empty liquor glass, you are expected to hold it out and receive a fill-up, drink it empty, and in likewise fashion return it to the person who offered it to you. This drinking tradition helps promote close ties around the drinking table.
• It is a rule of courtesy for juniors to pour liquor for their seniors. The juniors have to keep paying attention not to leave a senior's glass empty. When a senior offers a junior a glass, the junior should receive it with two hands and drink with head turned aside, not facing the senior. It is also the custom to cup the right sleeve with the left hand when pouring drink for a senior.
I have been to professional baseball games in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Taiwan and Korea and the only place I have seen cheerleaders is in Korea. Okay, Japan has guys with whistles choreographing chants and songs, so I guess technically they are cheerleaders, but what I'm talking about is young women with pom-poms that dance and gyrate to the music. That's what they have in Korea.
When my mother visited Seoul in 1976, she returned with stories about kimchi jars being everywhere in Seoul -- in backyards, on roofs, in front of doorways. Since kimchi is fermented cabbage, the combination of leafy vegetable, garlic and spices had to be kept undisturbed to "ripen" for some long period of time and every Korean woman had her collection outside. I have heard that it used to be that a Korean woman had to know how to make 16 different types of kimchi before she would be considered a good bride. But, when I first visited Seoul in 1990, I didn't see all the kimchi jars my mother talked about, but I did see a lot.
Now, however, they are a vanishing sight. As modern life steals more and more time and space from Korean families, making one's own kimchi has become less common and kimchi jars are a rare sight in Seoul. I saw these jars outside a Buddhist temple, where a nun (whom I met) obviously maintained the old traditions.
Generally, the houses and flats located south of the Hanggang river are more expensive and is considered an area for richer people. This is because in the event of a North Korean invasion, the south is better protected by the river which will slow down the invaders. In Seoul and Korea, housing is in a form of a rental system and the owners will actually return you the portion of the left over money from rental, if any.
Being in the subway made me open my eyes. If you ever take the subway you will notice the following:
(1) There are mirror (mostly) adjacent to the platforms. I wondered why until I saw two Korean ladies facing it to check their teeth and hairdo. Guess its a vanity thingy! But the men also take time to take a look at their ties too!
(2) There are no trash cans on the platforms. Hence if you have finished with your newpaper, you are suppose to bring it along OR when still in the train ~ pop it over the overhead railings (which is actually for baggage storage).
Reason being, so that
(a) those looking for a read can take it from there
(b) minimise the wastage of papers
(c) everyone is happy in the subway?
(3) Everyone is orderly getiing on and off the train. No one is pushing or shoving. A marvelous sight.
(4) No Litter at all! (as you are suppose to carry your litter)
I really found great people in Seoul, always willing to help whether they spoke english or not. Just don't greet them with cheek kisses on the western way, they don't seem so confortable with that habit.
There are many countries and even cities where there is no tipping. South Korea is one of those places. So, you do not have to tip at restaurants, bars, taxis or hotels. They are not allowed to accept tips.
Taking off the shoes in peoples house and many Korean restaurants is a must. Be careful when you enter somewhere to see if there is a step up into the main room (or often a big pile of shoes is a good hint!) Don't worry- the floors are usually heated and it's really comfy!
Their are also little bathroom shoes that you wear in reataurant or home since the boathroom floor are sometimes wet.
When you are in Seoul or other parts of South Korea, you will notice that the colours of the vehicles (especially cars) are mostly either white, black or grey/silver. There are very few vehicles of more striking colours such as red, blue, yellow etc. I think this is probably due to the culture of the Korean people :) Also as expected, most of the vehicles here are Korean brands e.g. Hyundai, Kia
it costs 2500 won at convenience stores and 1800 won a pack at duty free stores and has 1 mg of tar (as claimed) hence it has lower tar than marlboro Ultra Lights (but tasteless too! that I still prefer the Marlboro Reds!)
Seoul is amazing cleaning. People pride themselves on the cleaniness of themselves and their environment. So take note.