Ruminations on Korea

Seoul Travel Blog

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I'd like to go ahead and put the kibosh on all the comparisons between Japan and Korea.  Sure, they're alike if you're comparing them to say, Zimbabwe.  Otherwise, the two countries couldn't be more different.  I hadn't heard that they were similar and hadn't thought that way until the final week or so of my travels through Japan.  At that point, particularly in Kyushu, I was running into people left and right who had just come from Korea.  The general consensus was that they were both one and the same: safe, clean, efficient, friendly, great food, so on.  I blame every single one of those people for my jarring experience the first few days off the ferry from Japan; had I not been told a dozen times to expect Japan Junior I feel I would have had far fewer (prematurely-formed) mental images and expectations, and would have been a lot more "go with the flow" and open to whatever came my way.  Should you find yourself being one of the poorly informed dunces telling people Korea is similar to Japan, please do the entire universe a favor and SHUT YOUR TRAP.

Furthermore, no one I came across during the whole of my travels in Korea thought it was anything like Japan either.  NO ONE.  This was true of both the long-term and the short-term traveler, and travelers of all ages and nationalities.  This isn't me ganging up with my American buddies and forming these narrow-minded opinions everyone seems to think we have.  (And on THAT note, I've met fewer than ten Americans since leaving the states; it's predominantly Asians, Europeans, and Australians.)  It also seemed that across the board everyone heard how alike the two countries were, and those of us going the Japan-to-Korea route were sorely disappointed and in for a SERIOUS curveball our first few days.  Once you're over the "this isn't Japan and it isn't going to be, those bastards were lying their heads off," you settle in and are able to enjoy yourself.  But those first few days... oof.  They're rough.

For starters, Korea is dirty.  Don't listen to what anyone tells you, it's DIRTY.  Japan is spotless.  You could eat off the streets if you wanted, and even then the little old men who are employed to sweep the fallen leaves off the sidewalks will come and clean up the three grains of rice you absentmindedly dropped.  SPOTLESS.  I wouldn't go so far as to liken Korea to Mexico, but it's not far off.  There is actual dirt everywhere.  As in dirt dirt.  You know, that stuff that belongs tucked under grass.  Dirt.  EVERYWHERE.  And on top of all the dust and dirt and grime you're kicking up and coating your clothes and skin and inhaling and so on, there's litter everywhere you look.  Korea = DIRTY.

Now that we've got that covered.  Don't even get me started on the efficiency.  But that's not very fair, is it.  You can't come from the most efficient country on the planet -- where every molecule is precisely calibrated and in tip-top shape and on time, every time -- and say the next stop is inefficient.  Everywhere is inefficient in comparison to Japan.  So we'll give the Koreans a pass on that one.

As for the friendliness?  I've met two people (one from Holland, the other Australia, both middle-aged men and both a bit skeezy and have surpassed their allotment in the quirks department) who swear Koreans are more friendly than the Japanese.  Beyond those two characters, everyone else I've come across (including myself) tips their hats to the Japanese.  I'm sure the Koreans mean to be friendly, and I'm not saying they're not friendly, I'm just saying the Japanese are the friendliest, most helpful, and most eager to please people -- as a whole -- that I've met.  They're not happy unless you're happy, and they really want you to be happy.  The Koreans?  Eh, they're like everyone else.  Hit 'em on a good day, of course they're friendly.  Hit them on a Tuesday, fifty-fifty.  Hit them on a not so good day, they're just as grumpy as the rest of us.

As for culture, both countries get top marks.  I couldn't begin to go into the breadth and depth of their histories and religions and cultures and practices and do them anywhere near justice.  We'll just suffice it to say they're both rich and vibrant and meaty and all that good stuff.  However, that's not to say they are one and the same.  I think both cultures would have conniptions if they heard someone say they were the same.  And lastly, Japanese food and Korean food couldn't be more different.  I think that's by far the most jarring for many people who have never had Korean.  They figure they like Japanese and then they can't stand Korean.  All the pickling and strong flavors and spiciness that takes spicy to a whole new level.  Personally, I'm partial to Japan's food over Korea's, but Japanese is one of my favorites.  With such variety and freshness (and those noodles!), how could you go wrong?  But that's not to say I don't enjoy Korean food.  Definitely had some tasty dishes along the way, and I've always enjoyed a good sizzling pot of firey seafood and rice with all the assorted side dishes -- eating in K-Town is a favored New York outing.

The point to the rambles is: Japan and Korea, NOT THE SAME.  Not for a millisecond.  You twelve people walking around screwing up the perspectives and expectations for the rest of us, knock it off.  Couldn't be further from the truth.
geitgeist says:
In your standard France=dirty UK=Dirty.
I don't agree that Korea=dirty..
If you travel Europe You won't say that..
Posted on: Jan 03, 2012
jbird041 says:
As Korean myself, I traveled to Japan many times all over. Yes, Japan is cleaner in general, cities or countrysides. It's the people's characteristics. Sometimes, we Koreans can't stand our neighbors' mysophobic attitude, like the old men picking up the grains of rice or bawling up young smokers on the street. (Smoking is illegal in all public places in Japan like many other countries these days. But Japan is THE ONLY place that effectively enforces this in everyday life.) Yah, they are efficient all right!

But labeling Korea as a dirty place flat out is very far fetched. There must be many dirty places of course, and it seems you've been to and seen those places while you were here, but it's all relative.

I had lived in a mumber of cities in America including Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Philadelphia & Chicago, and have visited a lot more. Would you call Seattle a dirty place? or even Sidney? People in general do not think those cities being dirty. But if we go according to your standard, they should be. I've been to those places long enough to know.
Posted on: Jan 04, 2010
kokfoo83 says:
Korea is dirty?I dont recommend you come to my country...i mean whole south east asia countries except singapore...haha
Posted on: Nov 18, 2009
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