Friday, July 8, 2011

Bucket List: South Korea

When I first came to Korea, there were an overwhelming amount of things I wanted to experience, but they were all pretty vague. Things like, "try the food" or are inevitable, but what kinds and where and how are all another story. So now I'm making it that much easier for you, should you ever find yourself in the good ol' ROK.

In the year I've lived here, I can safely say that I have done (or considered, or wanted to, or have heard great things about) all the items on this list. Some are tourism-based, and some are made for the average day out. Try them all if you dare, and you just might know what the real Korea is like.

Go to an outdoor market.
My one constant I try to do in every new country is visit an outdoor market. This is where the people are. This is where their food is coming from. This is what makes the smells, sounds and tastes of their community. This experience also shows just how different our cultures are because the way animal rights and food safety are viewed can be a whole different concept in another country. Look for a 시장 (shi-jang) and allow yourself to be impressed, surprised and even a little grossed out at what you see (remembering, of course, that it's not better or worse-- only different).

I've seen many an outdoor market in Korea, but my favorite was the Jicalgchi Fish Market in Busan. Both a great representation of culture and traditional commerce as well as an intense market-ing experience.

Use a squatter toilet.
Because all the Koreans (and the majority of the non-Western world) do it.

Noraebang the night away.
Also known as a "singing room", 노래방 (norae-bang) is a pretty unique experience, and a really fun one at that! You can buy snacks and drinks inside, so pile in with your friends and belt out a few tunes (English and Korean songs are available in every norae-bang so no worries about not knowing Korean, either!).

Go to a traditional Korean restaurant.
They're cheaper AND generally taste better. If you want to try something pretty basic, go with 비빔밥 (bi-bim-bap). If you're more daring, go for some 낙지 (nak-ji). Either way, a traditional meal will bring you a million little flavors in tiny bowls, so you can try a plethora of dishes without wasting a ton of food. Anything you don't like, wash down with 소주 (soju) and you'll forget all about it in no time.

Listen to k-pop.
Listen to it live if you can. If not, go a night club and see it implemented in the middle of a drunken crowd well past midnight.

Watch a live sports game.
If not for the actual sport, then to see and hear the Koreans chanting fight songs. It's amazing.

See some lanterns.
If you are in Korea during the spring, there are celebrations all over the country for Buddha's birthday. In Seoul, annual festivals are held where lanterns of all kinds line the streets, and temples are decorated in colored paper, looking realllly magical at night.

Get dirty.
Another festival Korea is famous for is the mud festival, occuring in early to mid-July. Because who doesn't love to get a little muddy? Want to see the foreigner scene during this event? Check out the beaches in 볼영 (Boryeong) the second weekend of July.

Fireworks festival.
In Busan every October, the International Fireworks Festival rules the beach for a weekend.

Visit Jeju.
USA: Honolulu :: Korea: Jeju Island.

In other words, Jeju is not only a honeymooner's perfect love nest, but also a tropical paradise. Catch it if you can.

Stand atop a tall tower.
There's almost one in every major city: Seoul, Busan, Daegu... the list goes on. You can see almost the whole city from up high. How's that for getting the lay of the land?

Ride the bus.
The organization and chaos go so hand-in-hand that it's just as easy to get where you're going as it is to be completely lost. Take an easy route and hold on tight.

Let yourself bump into an old person on the street.
... if they don't bump into you first.

Go to a Korean wedding.
If you really want to see some cultural differences, say "YES" when a Korean friend asks you to go to a wedding.

Visit an amusement park.
Not only are rollercoaster awesome, but there are a few rides you definitely won't find anywhere else in the world sitting inside South Korea. Don't expect Disneyland quality, but don't expect Disneyland prices, either (or Disneyland lines).

Watch the sunrise in 젼동진 (Jeondongjin).
It's the first place the sun hits Korea in the morning, and supposedly the most beautiful sunrises you will see in the ROK.

Watch the sunset in 볼영 (Boryeong).
Or any other west-coast city of Korea, really. Or from your 5-story roof. It's all the same; sunsets can be pretty beautiful here.

Ride the KTX.
Because bullet trains are one method of transportation the Westernized world has just not got its hands on yet, and it's miraculous.

Buy some outrageous Korean fashion item and wear it in public. See how nobody cares.
This could be a really short skirt, a top with a ruffled collar, a silly headband, a plush animal hat, or matching couples attire. You'll be surprised how you actually fit right in.

Snap some shots in a photo booth.
You'll be happy you did.

Visit the DMZ.
This is definitely a tour-group-type-thing, but if you go with the USO you will have an excellent and safe tour. History buffs will love it. Photographers will love it. Little kids will not love it, so if you're a family hire a sitter to take the tikes to Everland while you trod to the border.

Any additions to the South Korea Bucket List?
Please comment in the space below!
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