Since arriving in Korea in March 2008, I've made it my point to learn about the people, the places, and the life in Korea. It goes without saying that living in a foreign country hasn't always been easy, nor has it been what I expected. Some things have been better; others worse. There are some things that Korea has taught me about the world, however - without further ado:
1. 300 km/hour KTX trains can exist next to squat toilets. One symbol of Korea's bright future has a hard time correlating with one symbol - a reminder that the world doesn't always have a lot of gray in-between those two extremes.
2. The 'Walk on the Right' campaign was a disaster - a reminder that Government, by itself, has a hard time changing people's behavior. It's also a reminder that social consensus is created by a society agreeing or a system of enforced draconian penalties (e.g. chewing gum in Singapore).
3. Enjoy an ice cream at the top of the mountain - one way to reward yourself for a task well-done. There will even be someone around at more popular mountains to sell it to you.
4. Subway sellers and cardboard collectors don't do it for their health - there are seemingly more ways to make money than there are people making money. It's just a matter of finding, making, or creating those opportunities.
5. Teach privates, but don't brag about it. Doing everything 'right' to stay legal, legitimate, and aboveboard isn't always or necessarily beneficial. With that said, remember that much of what you say or do can be reviewed years later when you least expect it.
6. Learn the honorifics along with the appropriate ways of saying please and thank you. A little respect goes a long way. A smile helps as well.
7. Packing tissues can save the day - or your ass. Little things make a big difference - but only if you have them when they're needed.
8. When in doubt, eat the kimchi. Show respect for local stuff in front of locals. What you do or say when they're not around is fair game.
9. Prostitution may be 'illegal', but business cards advertising sex and 'kissing rooms' haven't been stopped. 'Legal' and 'illegal' are pretty words that change at every border - also learn the difference 'what will get you arrested' and 'what the locals do themselves'.
10. While at home or by yourself, pour your own damn beer. Don't lose your own distinct mindset and culture while dealing with another mindset or culture.
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