We thought South Korea was going to be a challenge: threatening neighbors, no English speakers and logistic difficulties (e.g. google maps doesn’t work properly due to security reasons, all signs are written in Korean etc.).
However, thanks to our network and good intuition when selecting profiles on couchsurfing and workaway, we’ve met amazing local characters who made our stay easy and furthermore interesting. Here are five facts they shared about their people:
1. They All Say “Korea”
Whereas Westerners tend to highlight the distinction between North and South, South Koreans refer to their country as “Korea” and to themselves as “Koreans”. For them, Korea is one nation only divided by political divergences.
2. They Don’t Know Their Birthday
Older generations still use the lunar calendar. As it is directly tied to the moon’s cycles and thus dates shift from one year to the next, they need to check it each year in order to find out when their birthday is. If you ask them how old they are, they will give you two answers: the solar age and the Korean one, which may be two years ahead of the latter.
3. They Walk Around Naked
Not in the streets. Just in their famous public baths. They go from the sauna to the cold pools, then they exercise or head outside in freezing cold temperatures to immerse their bodies in hot springs. Rule: must be naked. Men and women are separated. They meet only if they wish to spend the night on the spa’s heated floors. Rule: blue pajamas for men, pink for women.
4. They Love Their Kimchi (and Their Soju)
Can you imagine eating the same food three times a day, every day? Even if it were sliced cabbage or radish fermented with chili sauce and anchovy paste? That is kimchi: the national side, which Koreans can’t do without. It is automatically served and refilled for free in Korean restaurant and well matches their favorite alcoholic beverage, soju.
5. They Believe There Is a Rabbit on the Moon
Yes they do. And he (or she) is pounding rice with a huge mortar and pestle. Just take a look at the markings of the moon and you should see his/her silhouette. If you don’t, drink more soju or believe without questioning.