Sunday, December 6, 2020

Our First Two Real Weeks in Seoul

We enjoyed our first two weeks in Seoul out of quarantine! Many have asked us how our daily life in South Korea is different from in the United States. We're both grateful to be working, but in our free time we've tried to experience our new home as much as possible. Right now, we're enjoying the sights as much as we can outside. Just the other day we walked past this art that reads in Korean, "People make books and books make people." Isn't that awesome? Of course, we're living in an unprecdented pandemic, so things are different than they would otherwise be. For example, Korea is famous for its saunas and karaoke rooms--two places I'd otherwise love to visit but are too dangerous right now. I hope to be able to go sometime before we move again!

Speaking of the pandemic, South Korea's response is serious. The government has mandated extensive contact tracing that includes downloading an app when you enter the country, reporting your symptoms and whereabouts, and signing over your personal information every time you go to a public place like a restaurant. That way, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can actually retrace that person's footsteps for the past few weeks and notify and test everyone who overlapped with them in time and location. I've never seen anything like it!

Koreans are also excellent mask-wearers. They have experience with other respiratory diseases (specifically both MERS and SARS) in the past, and they often wear masks when the air quality isn't great at certain times of year. Everyone from the elderly to very young children seems to have no problem wearing masks here. And there's a government requirement to wear masks outside in public places. (If you don't, you could end up paying a ~$90 fine.) So this was obviously a massive difference from what we saw in the United States. In a lot of ways, it's really beautiful and touching to see so many people come together here and around the world to do their part to fight this terrible disease. (Also, how cute is that little bird wearing a mask and washing its hands? Found in Itaewon.)

Seoul is a very cosmopolitan and global city, and that's especially apparent in the food. This means you can find unique twists on American chains, like the Burger King Guinness Whopper above, and top-notch international cuisine like the amazing kanafeh (a Palestinian dessert) we enjoyed at an Arabic restaurant pictured below.

It's getting significantly colder here (20s and 30s Fahrenheit), but people tell me it gets way colder than this later in the winter. I'm honestly terrified of the cold. Here's how much I hate the cold: my boss asked our team to let him know of our leave plans through February, so I Googled "warmest temperature Korea winter" and learned that the warmest part of South Korea at that time, Jeju Island, is still only about 40 degrees Fahrenheit! If the pandemic wasn't happening, you can bet I'd be on a plane to Thailand or Bali or somewhere tropical. But this year we're staying put, so I'll just try to stay as cozy and bundled up as possible instead.

We get around Seoul on public transportation (which is super fast, convenient, and inexpensive). Pictured above is M on the KTX, South Korea's famous high-speed train. We also explored a few neighborhoods: Itaewon (featured in the hit kdrama "Itaewon Class" on Netflix) and Mapo. We also saw (masked, distanced) some of my Korean family, most of whom I've never met! That was really special. Thankfully, my mediocre Korean was just enough for us to be able to communciate and have a great time. It's so nice to move somewhere and have family waiting for us for once.

We had a few really unusual experiences already. We ran into an impromptu outdoor battle of the bands in Mapo (pictured above). We also caught a crew filming a scene from a kdrama when we went out to dinner once. We were up on the second floor and I took a few surreptitious photos from the window (below). When we got back down to street level, staff yelled at us to put away our phones and not take any photos or video. I didn't recognize the actors whose faces I saw, but I hope to see them on Netflix later!

As a major Blackpink fan, I was hoping to see their fan paraphernalia sold everywhere (specifically the signature fan light hammer), but apparently it's pretty much sold out worldwide. I guess I'm not the only Blink around here. At least I get to see them in ads, like for this set of hair dye:

We're so happy to be in South Korea and we're thankful for this opportunity. Life in Seoul is relatively comfortable and safe. My body may be freezing half the time, but my heart is warm. :)

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