10 Things I Learned in Korea (Part 1)

8:43:00 PM

For those that follow me on Instagram and Twitter, you would know all about my trip to Korea which I flooded your feeds with posted quite a hefty amount of photos on. It was my first time to visit the country and was my first trip abroad for 2015. I went with my Mom and older sister Trina, booked the trip way in advance and was unattractively and dorkily over excited for it.

Seeing as 2014 wasn't my best year (you may refer to my blog entry all about that here) I was really (and I mean realllyyyyy) looking forward to this trip with my family to just relax, refresh, reflect and start the year right.

We stayed in an apartment in Hongdae, specifically in one of the many small streets along Hongik University. We were able to book through AirBnb and let me just tell you- something I learned from that experience (which I won't be adding to the 10 things I've listed, this is just food for thought) NEVER TRUST PICTURES ON ANY WEBSITE.

Yes the apartment was clean, yes it was in a very good location, yes there were two beds, a heater for both the apartment and running water (24/7 which was a BIG PLUS in winter!) but it was also about 15 square meters in total. Yeahp. You heard me. Firstly, 15 sqm isn't unliveable. But the pictures did make it appear like the apartment was SO MUCH BIGGER. Maybe we should've taken it as a sign that he didn't really specify the exact size of the apartment- the reviews just said it was cozy and easy to move around. Well, they were right about that! Secondly... did I mention the bathroom?

Now, you can imagine being 3 grown women, entering the tiny apartment and seeing all 15 sqm of it, the bathroom would be the least of our concerns. Right? Wrong. You know when you fall in love with someone new, just seeing them makes your tummy do a turn and your heart drop? Yeah, that's how we felt when we saw the bathroom. Picture this:

It was about 3 or 3 and a half sqm (that's being generous) with a toilet, a small wall cabinet, a sink and a shower... oh did I say shower? I meant shower HEAD. Yes

You know how man has created so many amazing inventions that help us go about our daily chores and ways so much easier and faster? Well, whoever thought of creating a line that attaches a shower head to the sink of a bathroom to create a makeshift shower- I want to kill. Let me insert a picture (not the one of our actual situation- I honestly regret not taking a picture for proof) for you all to get a better picture of what exactly was making our hearts beat faster and slower at the same time.

Please just imagine walking into this, except the whole things was decked out in beautifully deep and rich maroon tiles. Woohoo! Hahahaha 

Now enough of the wonderful bathroom and apartment fiasco (which my family has now prohibited me from making any booking arrangements for any of our futures trips) let me tell you all about the things I learned whilst vacationing in Korea. Here are the first 5 things. Hope you enjoy. :)

1.) Winter is AWESOME!!! - I don't care what anyone says. I don't care if it's because I live in a tropical country and the closest I'm ever going to get to winter here is sticking my head in the freezer (been guilty of that a few times in the summer, not gonna lie) I love winter. It was so amazing to be able to layer on clothing, walk around for hours and not break a sweat and more importantly, talk/exhale and have smoke coming out of your mouth! Ahhh!!! I really am a sucker for the simple joys in life and trust me when I say being able to speak and see smoke come out of your mouth just like in the movies was a dream come true for me. And seeing/playing with snow. Best. Vacation. Ever.

Since we went to Korea in the last week of January, we were blessed with having pleasantly cold, I'm-not-going-to-die-or-lose-any-limbs-thanks-to-frostbite weather. It felt really good to be able to use all the sweaters, scarves and coats I'd been dying to rock back home and put my heat tech gloves to good use (btw, my hands were still so cold despite wearing them!) Plus, it gave us an excuse to load up on some hot coffee every chance we got (although I have to say, Korean coffee isn't that great- it's actually quite watered down and weak :( )

2.) Speaking English: Taken for Granted - Please don't think I'm being "elitista" or anything like that, I'm just being honest. I speak english when I'm around friends and family, and even mix english with Flipino a lot. I think most of us Filipinos tend to do this. So when they said to me that Korea is more of a "No English" country, I didn't think it was going to be that difficult to communicate with the locals. Yes you can still work your way around the country and communicate with the locals and sort of decipher their broken english but we met a couple of Koreans who just couldn't communicate with us at all. It was very frustrating especially when we were a little lost or confused with which way to go or how to get anywhere but overall we survived. It wasn't their fault- we were in their country and couldn't speak their language, so what made us think they could speak ours?

This is what really struck me. I had been taking this little, normal, everyday aspect for granted. Imagine if you woke up one day and couldn't understand what anyone was saying to you and they couldn't understand you? It was difficult in a sense that it made me realize how awesome it is to be able to talk to everyone back home easily and clearly.

3.) Public bathrooms can be clean! - I know, what a weird "lesson" to have learned in Korea huh? Well, I couldn't help but be amazed at how CLEAN every bathroom we used was. There was toilet paper in every cubicle, a hand drier, and there was NO, I repeat, NO "dribble" on the toilet seats. Ladies you feel me?! There was no need for any hover squats, no need to exercise them thighs to the point of extreme burning, just regular, get down to business, business making in the bathroom (did that even make sense?)

Speaking of public bathroom moments, I just have to share with you all something I learned whilst in Korea as well. No matter where you are in the world- habits from your own country always come away with you. Here's the story:

In our few days in Korea, something quite horrible had dawned on us about the people there- they don't cue. They don't line up and they don't wait their turn. I don't know if it's cause their lives are so fast paced or if it's something they just don't do. I've never been shoved so much in my life (and I've been to a Linkin Park concert, right in the center of the mosh pit, mind you) but they just don't line up.

So while waiting for a cubicle to free up in the bathroom on Nami Island, I waited in line, in front of the sinks, right before the line of cubicles. A Korean lady then entered and proceeded to push me to get through to one of the doors to wait- I told her that I was waiting for whichever cubicle to free up first (cue language barrier). She then proceeded to speak to me in fast Korean and continuously tried to shove me to get through. I stood my ground and said that I was LINING UP, and that she had to wait her turn behind me. My mom heard all of this happen as she was occupying one of the said cubicles. Realizing that I meant business and wouldn't budge, she looked at me, sighed, and waited behind me. O see? Kaya naman niya diba?

While I was in the toilet finishing up, my Mom told me to come out right away and see what was happening in the bathroom. When I opened the door, I was in shock and couldn't help but laugh- EVERYONE WAS LINING UP! As in, I had started a bathroom cue for the toilets! I was so proud of myself in the sense that I had in some way, made a difference in the way things worked in Korea (or in this particular bathroom at least). It made me remember just how good Filipinos are at lining up for things. Really. Think about it. Everyone lines up here and waits their turn kaya when someone cuts or tries to shortcut their way to the front of a line, we get mad don't we? It was something I had taken for granted and later on appreciated even more when I came home. :) Sarap pumila! (Nat. Haha)

Didn't even bring out my shades #badass
Always gotta have a travel jump shot!
4.) Commuting is HARD - Ermergerd you're only realizing this now, Karla? You only had to travel to another country to realize this?! Well, actually, yes. And no. Hear me out first.

I am proud to say that I try my best to keep up with all the news stories and issues in our country. With this being said, something that truly makes my blood boil is the MRT/LRT senate sessions and cases. I hate seeing people line up all the way down on EDSA, waiting hours upon hours just to hitch a ride on a beaten down, should be updated and cleaned well, sardine packed train to get home. It really makes my blood boil. Yes I don't commute. I am lucky enough to have my own car, to know how to drive, and when all else fails, I have Über to thank. But when we went to Korea, it was basically a train-based way of getting anywhere.

Our travel buddies getting cheeky for a little photo op

The trains in Korea were fantastic. That has to be said. Well taken care of, fast with multiple trips per hour (a train arrives every 5 mins max per destination) it's very easy to commute without even really experiencing anything "tough." But when we commuted one day from someplace back to our apartment in Hongik, we were traveling at rush hour. WOAHHHHH. Talk about walking with the herd! We didn't even need to walk up the stairs or anything, the sheer amount of people pushed us to where we needed to go and we were packed like sardines inside the train, inhaling all sorts of "winter smells" as I like to call it (rhum, cigarettes, rhum and more rhum) that people reeked of. It only made me sad to think about how tough it must be back here wherein every hour is rush hour and everyday is a day of packed trains and waiting waiting waiting. I really hope and pray they fix the issues regarding both the MRT and LRT because I can only imagine how tough it must be to all those who commute every single day to get to work or school. And to you- I SALUTE YOU. That's a tough and unpleasant daily experience that you encounter and I admire you for how you can do it. BRAVO. :)
Travel Tip #1: I HIGHLY encourage you to head on over to the Information Counter at the Korea Airport and pick up a Seoul Map if you can- when we arrived in Korea I had picked on up as a souvenir and that little map (which I still have now on my desk) basically saved our lives during the trip. It helped us navigate the trains, the streets and the different landmarks. It really did save us!
How beautiful are the exteriors of this temple though?! LOVE THE COLORS!!!
"Dis iz my temple pose" *said in Zoolander accent*
How gorgeous is my mother?!
Kitty's first sighting of snow!
5.) Traveling: Experiences vs Shopping - This trip to Korea was the trip wherein I shopped the least. I know, I can't believe it either! Aside from our days being packed with walking and tours and sight-seeing, I just didn't feel the need to really go out and shop. I got the pasalubongs for everyone and I was able to buy myself a couple of snacks and little trinkets but after all those weeks of research and YouTube videos of what makeup/skin care to buy, I came home with very little. I guess it's cause I realized during the trip that traveling, should be about the experiences and memories you make- not about the things you buy.

I'm not saying I've changed and am never going to shop again (my family, friends and boyfriend can attest to this) but I am going to start looking at traveling as a more "life filling, memory making, heart changing, mind opening opportunity" rather than just a "what can I buy here that I can't get back home?" type of thing. Being in Korea made me realize how beautiful it is that we can now go to as many countries as we can save up for, immerse ourselves in different cultures, taste delicious delicacies and see the world for what it is- a beautifully vast place of new adventures. :)

Travel Tip #2: Be sure to check out N Seoul Tower and visit the Love Lock Bridge while you're at it. You can buy a padlock right there and write down the name/names (malay ko ba, chickboy/crush ng bayan ka) and padlock it onto one of the poles/grills for forever (or at least I'd like to think it's forever- I certainly hope they don't remove them after a month or year!) It's a wonderful experience and it's nice to be able to walk around, looking at all the locks that are on, seeing the different pictures and messages on them. We bought our locks here in the Philippines so they would look different from the others. 
So those are the first 5 things I learned in Korea. I'll be posting part 2 some time this week. Hope this entry was a nice little easy read for you all. I know it was picture heavy, but Korea was just so beautiful. I'll leave you with a few more pictures now. :)

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  1. The Bathroom Scene was Hilarious. LOL

  2. Hi Karla, how do you display 1 photo in the blog feed instead of displaying all the photos in grid?


Thanks for reading my entry! I hope you enjoyed it. :)