The 24 Strangest Things I Saw When I Visited Korea

As a Korean-American, I grew up exposed to a lot of Korean culture in America. Korea’s exotic spicy foods and most mannerisms don’t surprise me.

So, on my recent visit to Busan and Seoul, South Korea, the things that stood out really stood out.

Here are a few:

1. Trump is tiny here.

Busan’s luxurious beach town of Haeundae is packed with residential skyscrapers like the I-Park, the Hyperion, and the Poseidon, which tower some 60-70 stories. At 80 stories, the We’ve the Zenith Tower A is the eighth tallest residential building in the world. At 42-stories, the Trump World towers in Busan are tall, but tiny relative to its neighbours. Here’s a photo of the Trump towers from the 72-floor of Zenith Tower A.

2. Even Korea’s elites love Domino’s.

This delivery man was seen on one of the top floors of the extremely pricey Zenith residential towers. Other popular chains include Burger King and Outback Steakhouse. McDonald’s and Subway are also visible, but not as much.

3. Hot American trends get here quickly.

This German-style bakery in Seoul’s Insadong district sells New York City’s cronuts. It even has a custom-made sign advertising them.

4. Everyone’s crazy about hot dogs.

Hot dogs are sold everywhere and in all forms. Here are some crinkle-cut fries-battered corn dogs at the Insadong street market.

5. You can even get hot dogs at Starbucks.

This is a food item we’ve yet to see on Starbucks’ U.S. menu.

6. Yogurt-flavored sodas are everywhere.

And they are delicious.

7. Home shopping networks sell live seafood.

Here’s a special for live abalone.

8. Everyone backs into their parking spots.

Because it just makes it easier when you leave.

9. Most cars are either black, white, or some shade of silver or grey.

One local told me these are considered the most luxurious colours.

10. Many cars have these little blue foam blocks stuck to their doors.

So people don’t accidentally scuff their neighbours’ cars.

11. Food waste is separated from garbage and other recyclable products.

The first word on painted on this waste bin is “uhm sheek,” which means food. This is processed into biofuel and other products. Even fast food restaurants won’t let you throw out your own trash for fear of being fined.

12. Koreans are crazy about their fried chicken.

It’s almost to the point of certifiable mental illness. This chicken joint is called Chicken Syndrome.

13. Kim Jong-il treats mental ailments.

This sign for the Kim Jong-il mental hospital was seen right in the middle of Seoul’s Gangnam district. It’s probably not the same Kim Jong-il as North Korea’s late leader. The good news for the owner is that he’s managed to stay in business despite his name.

14. Korea has a beer cocktail called somac.

Somac is short for soju (a Korean rice liquor) and maekju (which is just Korean for beer.) Here’s my uncle making a somac by pouring beer onto a shot of soju and then slamming the bottom of the glass with a spoon. You end with a beer cocktail with a creamy finish like an Irish car bomb.

15. There’s a 24-hour network dedicated to baduk.

Baduk is the Korean name for go.

16. Roasted silkworm pupae are sold like they’re roasted peanuts.

Also called “beondegi,” roasted silkworm pupae are not loved by everyone. It’s certainly not the most offensive thing this author has eaten. It has the consistency of soft-shell crab and tastes like how a shoe store smells.

17. Highway rest areas are no joke. They’re destinations.

Koreans are aware that their rest areas are much nicer than the fast food courts we see along the U.S. interstate. This restaurant has a full menu of Korean dishes made-to-order by cooks in chef’s hats.

This particular rest area between Busan and Seoul had three bakeries, two cafes, multiple snack food stands, and both indoor and outdoor seating.

It also had multiple luxury and souvenir shops, and rows and rows of free massage chairs.

18. Companies like LG are so big they even own apartment complexes.

Massive South Korean conglomerates called “chaebols” include Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. In the west, they’re known for their personal electronic devices and automobiles. But in Korea, they own everything from apartment buildings down to roadside gas stations and convenience stores.

19. Ads for plastic surgery are commonplace.

This ad for eye, nose, and lip work was in one of Seoul’s subways.

20. Taxis won’t let you out on the left side.

As a safety precaution, cab drivers enable child safety locks on the left side so you don’t accidentally walk out onto traffic.

There’s a tremendous sense of pride in infrastructure especially bridges. Because you’re often crossing a bridge to get somewhere, smalltalk often involves how quickly bridges go up.

21. People don’t fall onto the subway tracks.

Glass panels and sliding doors separate commuters from tracks. It’s a pretty good idea.

22. Most Korean restaurants only sell one dish.

When you go into these restaurants, they will ask you how many orders of the house specialty you want. This particular restaurant only sells traditional cod stew for around $US9 a bowl. For extra, you can get additional parts like intestines and pancreas.

23. Students Are Introduced To Monetary Policy At An Early Age.

Here’s a group of elementary school students on a field trip to the Bank of Korea.

24. Retailers And Restaurants Have Interesting Names.

This clothing store sells styles similar to what you’ll find at a Polo / Ralph Lauren store.

Frisbee is Korea’s Apple products reseller.

Skincare products.

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