Part two: South Korea’s culture and character
by Jonathan Last @JonathanLast1
Author of Teaching English with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline
Because South Korea is a small country (around the same size as the British Isles), it is possible to see much of it during even only a year-long stay, and nowhere takes too long to reach (buses run, as do trains for longer journeys). The main cities are Busan in the south and Seoul in the north.
Seoul is the capital, and is located in the middle of the Korean peninsula, near the border with North Korea (separated by the DMZ, demilitarised zone). Well served by nearby Incheon airport, Seoul is positively teeming with opportunities for the TEFL teacher, but more than that it offers a rich, distinctive culture to explore. The countryside offers many mountains to hike (a popular Korean pastime), Buddhist temples to visit and, being a peninsular, there is a long coastline. You can also visit North Korea, but access is rather restricted and you will need a different VISA.
There are some subtleties of life in Korea that may take some getting used to for the westerner. Kitchens don’t tend to come equipped with ovens, as most things are cooked on hobs. Microwaves are available, however, and you can also buy a small toaster oven for your baking needs.
Eating out is a big part of Korean culture. Many restaurants will sit you cross-legged on the floor at a knee-high table (shoes must always be taken off at the door as a general rule). Meals together are a time for socialising (dining alone is frowned upon), and this is reflected by one of the most popular types of restaurant: galbi. In these establishments, the table has a barbeque in the middle, where different types of meat and fish can be dipped in sauces then fried, and enjoyed with a lettuce leaf wrapped around it. Like all Korean meals, there are many side dishes, such as national dish kimchi (cabbage with red pepper paste), a range of vegetables and the ever-present rice.
Korea is also known for its different types of ‘bangs’ (rooms). A DVD bang is like a combination of film rental store and cinema, where movies can be watched by couples or small groups in private mini-cinemas. A PC bang is like an internet cafe, but geared towards online gaming, and jimjil bangs are public saunas where the genders are separated into all-nude bathing sections. But the king of the bangs is the norae bang, translated as ‘singing room’. Karaoke is as big in Korea as it is in Japan, and there are almost as many places for groups to sing as there are for people to drink. At an hourly rate, rooms of various sizes can be hired out and come with a big screen, remote controls, song book of Korean and English-language songs, various props to liven things up (wigs, hats, sunglasses) and, of course, multiple cordless microphones. With drinks usually available from the front desk, the norae bang is the classic Korean way to keep a night out going into the early hours.
Jonathan Last’s humorous autobiographical novel “Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline” is available to download to PC, smart phone and various e-book readers, such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook.
You can watch a video interview with him about the book on his blog.
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