My Favorite Things About Korea–Pt 1 of 3

I’m sure I’ve griped a bit about this and that enough while being here, but I wanted to make a post about the things I really enjoy about Korea.

1. Table Bells
At the traditional Korean restaurants, you’re seated like at a normal restaurant, but each table has a little red buzzer/bell that you push whenever you need anything.  Personally, I still really like having waiters/waitresses and especially when you have a good one, you never need to ask for anything.  However, this is still pretty cool.  They only come to your table when you push the button.
Push it if you need an extra set of chopsticks (although there is a box of chopsticks and spoons on the table), push it if you’re ready to order, push it if you need an extra water pitcher or if you’d like to order something else.

At other restaurants, you just flag the waiter/employee down by raising your hand or shouting out (ahhh! I still can’t do it.) “Cheogeo!”.  That basically means “Over here/Excuse Me”.  You have to do it or you won’t get served.  I hate shouting in public, so I’m still terrible at it even after 2+ years here.  haha.  Probably another reason why the buzzers rock.

Table Buzzers–Korea

2. KakaoTalk

KakaoTalk was/is one my favorite disoveries since arriving.  KakaoTalk is Korea’s version of the app called WhatsApp, which is a FREE texting service.  It works basically like the old AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), except you can get it in app form for your phone.
FREE TEXTING.  It’s an app and you don’t have to buy a texting plan with your local phone service provider.  Seriously.
People in Europe, South Africa and several other countries use a similar app called WhatsApp, but they’re essentially the same thing.
I got both my mom and grandma to get it and I can text them both for FREE on the other side of the planet.  Pretty nifty.  You can send pictures and video clips and do group chats too.  Oh, and you can download it on your PC too, so you can text people faster if you happen to be at your computer and prefer that method instead.
I feel like a salesperson, but I’m so shocked that (at least with people I know) that this sort of thing isn’t really used in the US.  It’s FREE, UNLIMITED TEXTING.

KakaoTalk Screenshot (not mine :D)                       cxvk

WhatsApp Screenshot

3. Banking–Specifically: Bill Paying and Money Transfering

Checkbook?  Checks?  What are those?
I posted a video awhile back on my Facebook about what it’s like at the ATM here and it’s pretty great.  I can pay bills (or they have a special machine inside the bank and I just insert each bill (and my card) and it pays each of them right then and there for me.  Instantly.)
One main difference is that all bills have an account number printed on the statement and that’s the number that you send the money to when you’re paying the bill.  It’s the same for online shopping.  They give you an account number (and it has a matching corresponding name and the name of the bank it’s going to so you know it’s going to the right place) and you type in the information at the ATM and send the money off. (Or you can pay with a credit card, but the online shopping places tend to give you about 7 days to pay).  You could buy the item, wait the two days til payday and then go to the ATM and send the money over at your convenience.

Anyway, this is also great because if you owe a friend money for something, you can just get their bank number and send it directly to them.  That way you don’t have to withdrawal a large amount of cash and travel around with it.  It’s really safe here, so nothing would likely happen, but I personally don’t enjoy walking around with a lot of cash in my pocket.  Also pretty nifty if they live in another city and you don’t know when you’ll see eachother next.  Or, if they sign you up for a race/festival/etc, it makes paying people back simple as well.

ATM

4. Travel
Traveling in Korea is extremely cheap and affordable.  Many Koreans think it’s expensive, but it’s really not when you have a few other places to compare it with.
Trains
There are 3 major train classes/companies (a few other smaller ones, but they don’t go to as many places) in Korea: the Saemaul, the Mugunghwa and the KTX.
The Mugunghwa is the slowest train (makes more stops at the smaller cities along the way), then comes the Saemaul and then the KTX.
The Mugunghwa (Moon-goong-hwa) is the “slow train” but it’s also the cheapest.  From Busan to Seoul (about a 5 hour journey–basically one end of Korea to the other.  Busan is in the Southeast and Seoul is up at the very top of the country, near North Korea), it’s about $28.  These trains are a bit smaller and you can also save even more money if you want to choose the “standing” ticket.
Standing is cheaper and good for shorter distances–if you get to the platform early enough, they usually have folding seats in between the cars that you can get. 😀

Inside a Mugunghwa train

Mugunghwa Train

The Saemaul is next.  Not much difference between the Mungunghwa and the Saemaul, but the Saemaul doesn’t have the standing passengers and the seats are a bit bigger with more legroom.  Same trip: Seoul to Busan on the Saemaul (less than 5 hours–beginning of the line to the end of the line)–about $42 (these trains aren’t as frequent)

Saemaul

KTX
The KTX is Korea’s bullet train reaching speeds of 305km/h or 190mph.  It makes stops less frequently than the other trains and can get you from one place to the next in usually half the time of the other two trains.  These trains have more legroom and are generally nicer.  All of the trains in Korea are nice though.  Nothing really to complain about–there are bathrooms on board, a snackcar, no traffic and you get to see the lush, Korean countryside as you zoom through.  Or you can take a nap.  😀
Seoul–>Busan (Roughly 46,000won for standard class and 86 for first-class).  First class has even more space and is more for the business travelers or for people with money to burn.
I love taking the KTX, mainly because it’s faster and I also don’t live nearly as far from one place to the next because I live in Daejeon, which is in the middle of the country.

KTX

There are also buses (luxury coach style buses) that you can take, which are also a bit cheaper, but I like the trains because I see more of the country and because of the bathrooms on board.  Oh, and no traffic.  😀

Daejeon train prices:
Daejeon–>Seoul (about 2 hours+ in a car)
Mungunghwa: 1hr 50 min: 10,000won (about $10)
Saemaul: 1hr 45min: 15,000won (about $15)
KTX: 50 minutes (23,000won (standard class), 33,000won (first class))

Daejeon–>Busan (about 3 hours with minimal traffic)
Mungunghwa: 3 hours 15 min. (17,000won//$17)
Saemaul: 3 hours (26,000won)
KTX: 1 hour 20-1.5 hours (25-33,000won-standard/47,000-first class)
(The length of the journey and the price depend on when you buy and what time you’re traveling.  It can be cheaper if you buy earlier too.)

Ok, I’m going to make this a two-part post because this is getting pretty lengthy.  I haven’t felt like writing in awhile and now it’s like spilling out.
Anyway, to wrap up the travel bits, I also love that nearly every major city has a subway system that connects to their bus and train stations, so after you get off the bus/train you’re able to explore the city without ever needing a car.
And if you DO need a car, you can hop in a taxi for super cheap.
Example:  A 20 minute ride in a taxi is about $8-9.
Tons of taxis everywhere and trains are also incredibly frequent.  I can get a train out of Daejeon nearly every 10-15 minutes.

Part 2:
-Subway systems
-cheap food
-delivery/food at home/returning dishes
–buses/wrap up public transportation
-colored trash bag system
–city bikes