Saturday, September 24, 2011

5 Ways Korea is Trying to Kill You

So, I’ve been in Korea for a bit now (about 4 years) but haven’t really written about what it’s like to live here. I think now is a great time to start mixing in blogs about living in Korea now that I’m all jaded and cranky :). Everybody has the happy wonderful blogs, but nobody tells you the negative things. If you’re easily offended by anything remotely negative about Korea, I suggest you grab a big bowl of kimchi and go look at kittens instead.

Note: Some of my blogs about Korea will actually be helpful.

So let’s begin our journey… Ahhh…Korea: The Land of the Morning Calm. Ha! More like Korea: The Land of the Holy-Shit!-Hang-on-for-Dear-Life!!! Seriously. This country is a death trap for the unsuspecting expat – it seems that everything here is out to kill or maim you. Here’s my list of the top 5 culprits to keep an eye out for.

 5. Bad Smells
Imagine you’re out for a nice early summer/late spring walk – the sun is shining, birds are chirping, the smell of fresh bread is wafting from a nearby bakery, when suddenly BAM!!! There it is from out of nowhere: the unmistakable smell of shit.

You look around confused and check your pants to make sure that the kimchi you had with your lunch didn’t sneak up on you unexpectedly.

Fear not – it’s not you – it’s just Korea. The random open sewer grates near sidewalks will wait until the opportune time to send out a puff of toxic shit-gas to assault the unsuspecting passerby’s olfactory senses.

"Yes, come closer, my pretty..."

And as if the toxic shit-gas isn't bad enough, your bathroom drain will constantly emit horrible smells, not to mention the weird things people cook in the neighborhood. It makes you see the wisdom of those face masks they wear when they're sick.


I’m beginning to think they aren’t sick at all…

4. Metal Grates/Sidewalks 
People often ask me why I look down when I walk. Is it low self-esteem? Is it shyness? Nope, none of the above. It’s simply to watch where the hell I’m walking. You may ask yourself why this is so important (and if you do, you’ve obviously never been to Korea). Well, there are a few different reasons for this: The metal grates used for sending out shit-gas and water drainage get slicker than snot on a brass door knob when it rains. One misstep in shoes with no traction and bam! down your ass goes (I know this from experience). Not only are they slick, but I’ve seen many a Korean women in their oh so fashionable high heels crumble to the ground in a squealing heap of Prada and Louis Vuitton as a heel gets stuck in the grate. I often imagine some engineer that hated women designed the grates to be the exact size to latch on to heels at random as he laughed maniacally.


1.5 centimeters...perfect...

On the other hand, sidewalks are uneven, jumbled, jigsaw puzzles of bricks just waiting to trip you. And if watching for the stray uneven brick isn’t enough, you have the joy of looking out for all kinds of body excrement/ice cream/beverages so you don’t step in them.


If I zig around the ice cream, zag around the loogie, and then jump over the drunk, passed out man, I can make it home...

3. Scooters 
Scooters are Korea’s delivery mechanism: pizza, chicken, mail, McDonald’s, organs, whatever. Traffic is horrible and gas is expensive so it makes sense…until you realize that traffic laws don’t apply to them and you get ran over by a guy with Big Macs to deliver. 

Yup, on the sidewalk. Not only that, but you’ll find them weaving in and out of traffic, going through crosswalks, running red lights with no regard for anybody’s safety. As if sidewalks aren’t dangerous enough, now you have to keep an eye out for scooters barreling down them. But hey, if one hits you, you’ll at least stand a pretty good chance of having someone’s mangled pizza to munch on while you wait for the ambulance.


Like this but with more blood.

2. Public Transportation (Buses/Taxis) 
You might think that public transportation would be a super-safe way to get around, but that would be logic talking, and that just has no place in S. Korea. I’m pretty sure that bus and taxi drivers have to fail a patience test and be certified by NASCAR/Formula 1 before they are given their licenses. Buses have no problem charging right through red lights if they deem the way to be clear. They also take corners at no less than 30 mph. Now, this wouldn’t be too bad except that at any given time there could be 1 – 20 people standing in the aisle hanging on to little straps dangling from the ceiling for dear life…well, foreigners at least: Koreans look like they’re standing in line at the supermarket or sleeping. Not sitting down yet? Doesn’t matter – the driver will take off like the checkered flag has been dropped at Indy 500 and launch you and that 80-year-old grandma across the bus like a 4-year-old having a temper tantrum.


Half the people on those buses will need to change pants when they get home.

Taxis have no problem running red lights while blaring their horn – honking your horn while running lights makes it ok because you’re giving fair warning I suppose. They will whip around other cars and wait in the crosswalk at a red light so they can be the first one to take off at breakneck speed. All of this might make it seem like they are in a hurry to get you where you’re going, but at the same time, they’re pumping the gas pedal making the car do this lurching thing to maintain a speed. So if you get car sick easily, avoid most taxis in Korea because you’ll end up hurling all over the nice driver’s leopard print car seat cover. 

And while we’re on the subject of driving in Korea, the brake pedal is abused horribly by both bus and taxi drivers: there is no slow, easing stop. Oh no. It is a whiplash inducing slamming on the brake stop. They’ve apparently never been taught how to use the pedal to slow down properly, so keep your hot coffee away from your crotch.

1. Angry Ajummas 
If you’ve seen this video, you know what I mean. 

 An ajumma is literally any woman that is old enough to be married or is married. However, we refer to a specific type of woman as an “ajumma.” For your convenience, see the following information on how to spot an ajumma.

Cute but deadly

Older people in Korea get away with all kinds of shit: shoving past people in line, yelling at people to give up a seat, spitting on sidewalks, and farting during a conversation (not even joking on that one). Ajummas may look like cute and cuddly like a koala bear, but piss one off and you’ll feel their awesome ajumma rage. They possess deceiving supernatural strength and chase down a speeding bus at a bus stop.

So beware the cute looking grandmas – they will rip you a new one and gleefully laugh as they dance a little hunched over jig on your dead body.


  1. I lived in Korea for 2 years and LOVED it! I took my whole family, and we all had a great time. Yes, they have some peculiar ways, but they're wonderful people. I never had a ajima try to kill me, but then again I wasn't fool enough to cross one.

  2. Very wise to not cross the ajummas ;)

  3. I have been visiting Korea from past 5years [Yearly once at the least] and agree with you on all the points. Especially the 1st and 4th :)

  4. Bravo. The "How to Spot an Ajumma" cartoon was very helpful. I am making a pocket card of it to use for reference.