The Korean students often ask me what I think about Korea. In the first few days I found it a little hard to answer, but you've probably read some of my first impressions.
It is a small country with a lot packed into it. That is for sure. When they know I have been to China, most people often remark that I must have found China very dirty. Korea is cleaner, but in some ways not much. We get the air from China here (the pollution from the sands from Mongolia have filled the air and made visibility for long distances difficult and my eyes smart from the sting when I am outside. I am not the only person with a cough and chest problems!
In the cities there are tall buildings everywhere - of course they must make the best use of the limited land. Schools have little or no outside play area. The buildings are littered with signs - neon, banners etc. - I guess reflecting the very competitive nature of the people and businesses here.
There is a system for rubbish removal - again much based on workers who collect the various rubbish - recycling is important, and the other waste is collected from the street, so it is common to see piles of rubbish bags in the streets. In the area I live, we leave our rubbish at the street corner, and overnight someone quietly comes and removes it. But there is a tendency to leave rubbish in the street - either to prepare later or knowing that the rubbish removal workers will take it away. So it might mean dodging piles of opened cartons sitting on the pavement. It tends to look untidy and dirty in the streets.
In the restaurants I find most are cleaner than I would have seen in China - but there are still some strange things. Yesterday we had lunch at a dumpling restaurant - very clean and tidy. But the dumplings are cooked in cookers attached to the shop but on the front of the shop - that is on the footpath. We ordered, and the guy went out to the street with a bowl and a scoop and collected our dumplings.
I must say that the tables are clean - and there is a box with metal chopsticks (always metal chopsticks in Korea), and spoons, and a little box of tissues. I think the metal chopsticks are more hygienic, but they take a bit of getting used to. I still prefer the wooden or plastic chopsticks, but I guess in time I will be more adept at using the metal ones.
The roads are quieter - the cars are quieter - but the roads are somewhat chaotic. Though I have not seen an accident, but I am amazed that there are not more. The traffic on the main roads seems to be fairly ordered for the main part, but it is the streets behind the main streets that the amusement for me is obvious. I will take a movie one day at a busy corner, where the cars jostle for space, reverse, make way for oncoming passing traffic, and generally play some sort of a vehicular game. No one loses their temper - or at least I have not seen it - and they eventually sort it out. I have asked who has "right of way" but no one seems to know.
I mg ht add that often the drivers have their ears to their mobile phones! It is illegal - they think!
At the end of a harsh winter, just like I experienced in China, the country looks colourless and bleak, but as it is early spring, the blossoms have appeared, some magnolia and the trees are gaining new leaves.
If you look on the ground, through cracks in fences, you will see daffodils in flower. So colour is returning.
There is a lot of English words on shops - but I wonder if anyone knows or reads it. Fewer people seem to speak English here.
Maybe the Koreans are more shy. I know that if I went to a tourist place in China, I would be asked if I could pose for a photo with the Chinese family or person. It doesn't seem to happen here, and no one has come up to me to practice English with me.
And no one stares at this tall blonde female wandering the streets of Jeon Ju.