Korean Facts, Cultural Oddities (Pt. 3) and Gnarly Road Rash

So, first I’ll knock out a couple more differences in Korean culture and some facts about the country, which several people have asked me about.

  • Lots of people ask me how big Korea is, and I honestly answered I didn’t really know, so I looked it up. South Korea has an area of 38, 622 sq. mi.. Comparatively, the United States has an area of 3,794,101 sq. mi.. That’s enough to put about 98 Koreas into the U.S.. Ohio is 44,825 sq. mi., significantly larger than Korea. The state most comparable in size to Korea is Indiana at 36,418 sq. mi., just slightly smaller than Korea.
  • Korea’s population for 2010 has been estimated just about 50 million people. Comparatively, in 2010 the U.S. has an estimated population of 309.5 million. This means that Korea has essentially the population of the four largest Great Lake states (Illinois – 13 million, Pennsylvania – 12.6 million, Ohio – 11.5 million, and Michigan – 10 million) in the area of only the 16th largest state in the Union.
  • This obviously means that the population density in Korea is absolutely insane. Korea’s population density is just about 1300/ sq. mi.. America’s population density is 83/ sq. mi.. This makes Korea about 15.6 times more populated than America. New Jersey (1,100/ sq. mi.) and Rhode Island (1,000/sq. mi.) are the only states which even come close to comparing to Korea.
  • Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and largest city, has a population estimated at roughly 10.5 million (pop. density an astounding 44,775/ sq.mi.), making it the 8th largest city in the world. Population wise, Seoul is larger than 43 American states.

On to the cultural differences:

  • I’ve talked about the traffic and parking issues before, but here’s a couple new details. Obviously, with such a large population in a small place with so many cars, parking will definitely be an issue. This means people will park absolutely anywhere they can fit a car (also, interestingly enough, almost all Koreans back into spaces so they can pull out quicker). This often results in people double parking and blocking people into spots. What’s the solution to this problem? Leaving the car in neutral, naturally. Several times already, I’ve emerged from a store with a Korean friend and found the car blocked in, so we just pushed the car far enough to back out.
  • What if you can’t put the car in neutral? Maybe you parked on a hill or just don’ t want people moving your fucking car. There are tons of people who actually put their phone number somewhere along the bottom corners of the windshield. Everything from stickers to little embroidered pillows and even color-changing LED displays with their number on them. If you can’t get out of a spot and the car isn’t in neutral, just give the person a ring and ask them to move their car for you.
  • Another consequence of being in a country with so many people: people will run into you constantly. When you’re in a crowded area, there may literally not be enough room to walk without bumping people. Often, South Koreans don’t even slow down or dip their shoulders. They just push right on through, and no one gives them a dirty glance. I wouldn’t call it free license to lower your shoulder and check people, but it’s certainly a lot easier to push your way through a crowd then stop to ask people to move every ten seconds.
  • Also, sharing here is super popular. I guess they’re just used to sharing everything. Sometimes, though, they share things that just shouldn’t be shared. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen three people on one moped (a group of three literally just drove by the DnD [including a grandfather with two small children standing in between his legs as he drove, which particularly horrified me]). It’s quite obvious that many of my students require glasses, but either don’t have or refuse to use them, but from time to time, if they can’t read the board and are sitting next to someone who has glasses, the child with glasses will generally offer them to the other student, in case it may help. Most comically, it’s quite common to see two friends sharing a pair of inline skates. Not like one piggy backs on the other, but they each get one and just kind of push themselves along, like a really shitty skateboard.

Anyway, yesterday, I decided to ride my bike to Yawoori. I’d actually done it once before, but I stopped twice on the way, so I wasn’t sure just how long it would take. Turns out it’s about the toughest 35 minute bike ride I’ve ever had. Not many steep hills, but lots of extended, gradual climbs. Anyway, not far from Yawoori, I biffed it real bad. I was forced into the street because of cars parked on the sidewalk (technically illegal, but literally completely unenforced), and was looking for a place to get back onto the sidewalk. I was coming down a hill, and going pretty fast, when I saw an opening. Unfortunately, as I got closer, I observed that it wasn’t flush with the street and still raised two or three inches above. I had just enough time to think “Well, shit,” before I found myself suddenly on the ground.

This was the only real damage. It doesn’t look quite as bad as it does in person. This was taken about three hours after the fact, so I had time to clean it and get the bleeding to stop. It’s about the size of a golf ball, and the second photo shows just how much it swelled up. All things considered, it could’ve been much worse. I could’ve landed on my face, and then how’d I make my money? In the end, it was mostly my pride that got hurt. Now I’m just a little sore (hands, shoulders, knees, etc…), but a little wiser for the wear.

Today was pretty awful. I woke up from a dream about falling in love with a chick. She looked exactly like Alex from LOST, except she had a sizable gap between her two front teeth. I have no idea what that means. Anyway, I awoke from the dream thinking it was Saturday. As the fog of blissful slumber left me, I realized that the girl existed in no meaningful fashion, that it was Friday, as well as my nose was stuffy and my throat was sore. It put me in a pretty bad mood to say the least, and for some reason, my classes today all decided to be uncooperative.

As I was in the mood to take no guff from no one, I got to try out a new punishment on the kids that Mr. Lee suggested and I’ve seen in some movies. When kids started getting out of hand, I made them get into a push-up position and just hold it. It seemed to be pretty effective. After three or four minutes it took a lot of wind out of their sails, and after that all it took was me saying “You want to do push ups?” to keep kids in line. Still, I had two separate classes where I kept kids late after class to let them know their behavior wasn’t tolerated. To exacerbate things, we’ve got new materials to teach, but not all of the kids have been informed of which class they’re in. Diane re-named the classes from levels to colors so when kids were moved down they wouldn’t feel quite as bad. So I was stuck with classes of five kids because kids were told they were in new classes and just didn’t come, or completely full classes of 20+ kids, or classes that were mixed between kids staying and kids going either up or down, which makes teaching new material completely pointless.

Needless to say, this weekend is much appreciated. Tonight will most likely be just dinner and Banana Bar for pool. Tomorrow I travel to Bucheon to meet up with Justin and Dave, then it’s off you Hungdae for Russian cuisine and clubbing.

Also, on one last note, next Saturday I’m going to a one day English camp on an island just off the coast from Incheon. I’ll get paid 20,000 won per hour for somewhere from 5-8 hours of work. Details are a little bare at the moment, though. It’s called an English camp, but Diane said I wouldn’t really be doing any teaching, and that I’d just be a “camp manager” and be hanging out with kids and playing games. I have to be there at 8:30 AM Saturday, so I may go up Friday night and stay in a hotel.

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