Living vs travelling

Any expat will tell you that living in a country is very different to breezing through a country while on holiday. This has both its good and bad points.

Admin is still a headache, no matter what country you’re in. Dishes still need to be washed. Sooner or later, you’ll curse you bank. You HAVE to open a new bank account, come to that. Noisy neighbors are noisy neighbors, no matter what language they’re shouting at 3:00 am. Yet, it’s these exact things that can make living in a foreign country so enjoyable and rewarding.

Grocery shopping in South Korea is one such experience. Browsing the markets is loads of fun, especially when they’re packing with things like dried squid and silkworm larvae (but more on that later). But living here requires the occasional ‘normal’ shop for mundane things like soap, milk, rice, ordinary humdrum things.

So, off I toddle to my nearest supermarket, HomePlus. A three storey grocery/home supply store, it’s as if Korea tried to combine a modern supermarket with its ancient street market culture. I’m sorry, did I say tried, I meant succeeded. Every aisle has one, sometimes two middle aged Korean woman (ajummas) giving away free samples of food, or shouting in their microphone about the latest special or two for one. At least that’s what I think they’re saying. Walking past these ladies can be quite nerve wracking at times. The free food sample ladies are OK, because they’re giving away free snacks. Obviously. But the shouting ladies…they will come up to you, with a big smile on there faces, and gently (gently by Korean standards at least) steer you towards their special/two for one/whatever it is they’re shouting about and try cajole you into picking it up. After exhausting all you Korean vocab (in about 3 seconds) you’re left standing there while she continues to shout at the top of her voice in Korean. Communication fail. Again

An American I know living here in SK described it perfectly, “Sometimes it feels like you’ve escaped from a special need class, and every Korean knows it. They’re just trying really hard to help you until you get back.” That’s what grocery shopping feels like sometimes.

Some of the Konglish waiting to be discovered on the goods makes grocery shopping feel a little like treasure hunting. Absolute classics such as a loaf of bread labelled “Fresh peanut sand” and “Chicken draft beer” on the orange juice…Or the kids T-shirt that proudly proclaims “Ape Bathing Here Done.” It’s enough to reduce me to tears of laughter at times, which did not happen when grocery shopping at home. Sober shopping at least. (The Pick n Pay in Grahamstown saw its fair share of comedic situations, but that’s for another time.)

But it does not stop there. Once these ladies have been navigated, you’ve passed the greeters/bowers at the front of the stall, navigated the till (yes, or ‘ne’ for bags, no or ‘aniyo” for when they ask for a bonus card) made it to the bus stop, dragged her groceries home and up the three flights of stairs to your apartment does the real fun begin.

For whatever reason, things are WRAPPED in Korea. No, one layer of plastic wrapping in not enough. Make it two, and chuck a big cardboard box around it to make the shape indistinguishable from the outside. And lets just put writing on the outside, no picture; it’ll confuse the waeguks who can’t speak/read Korean. So, you open your cereal the next morning, unwrap the two plastic layers, only to finds you’ve bought biscuits. Individually wrapped biscuits….bother. Still, at least you didn’t confuse tuna with tins of silkworm larvae, because that would be a really nasty surprise.

So, it’s chocolate biscuits for breakfast this morning, and not cornflakes. On second thoughts, that’s a fair trade off….



Told you so!

Published in: on 14/05/2010 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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