What I miss most about Seoul
This monthly column is a best-of from a blog Sean Smith started at the beginning of his plan to move back to Canada after living in Korea since 1997. You can read it in its entirety at http://repatriate.me. This month’s column is a combination of a post written Oct. 9, 2009 about what he suspected he would miss about living in Korea. The Second was written two years later, on Sept. 26, 2011 on five things he liked about living in Toronto. — Ed.
What I’ll miss most about Seoul
Oct. 9, 2009, Seoul
It’s really convenient that everything I need is within walking distance from my home. Local supermarkets are often cheaper than the big chains like HomePlus, though the selection is lacking. Within a 5 minute walk of every home I’ve had in Korea, I’ve always been able to find two or three local supermarkets, cheap restaurants, dry cleaners, a flower shop, watch shop (selling and repairs), hardware store and computer shop.
After being in Korea for so long and not having to listen to English everywhere I go, it’s easy for me to concentrate when I’m out and about. When people are talking around me, it’s just white noise and not distracting. However, anytime I’ve gone to Canada for a visit, I go crazy walking around the streets, mall or wherever, because I can’t help but listen in on what people are saying.
Cheap high-speed Internet
Broadband here is truly broadband, unlike what you get in Canada. I’m currently running some downloads on my computer, streaming music and syncing my hard drive with remote storage. My monthly Internet bill is only $35 and I have no upload/download limits.
Korean companies really know how to treat the customer right. If I need to have my Internet hooked up when moving in, I can call the company and usually they’ll be there that day. Generally speaking, customer service revolves around the convenience of the customer. Need something repaired or serviced? Usually it’s just a matter of calling up the company and they’ll send a service guy to your apartment at a time that’s convenient for you. Gotta love customer service that is customer oriented.
Public transportation in Seoul is cheap, clean and efficient. The subway system is extensive with nine main lines and three subsidiary lines. Taking the subway costs about $1 for a basic fare and will get you almost anywhere you want. The buses are frequent, though a little scary to ride due to the psychotic nature of driving in this country (a topic for a different column). The best thing is the electronic transportation card — good for the subway and the bus. If you transfer to the subway or another bus, you don’t get charged extra. Bonus points for having credit cards chipped with this so your bus/subway fare gets auto billed each month.
Five things I like about Toronto
Sept. 26, 2011, Toronto
I’ve been in Toronto just short of three months now and it’s time to write about the things I like about living here as compared to living in Korea. Here’s the first five.
I love going to the supermarket. I can buy anything I can imagine and it isn’t going to break the bank. The selection is staggering and is almost too much, but it’s really great to be able to buy avocados that don’t cost $5 apiece (if you can even find them). While living in Seoul I never made lasagne because I could never find all the ingredients I needed at the same time. Sure, I could find all the ingredients, but they were spread across four different supermarkets and up to two black markets — effectively making it impractical to actually cook.
Yes grass. The kind you smoke is available if that’s your thing (I’ve already been offered some a few times), but it’s not my thing. More importantly is grass on the ground. In Seoul, for the most part, parks have grass, but it’s fenced off and only available for looking at. In Korea, when you visit the park, you plant your mat/blanket on the dirt or cement and gaze longingly at the grass. There are a couple of exceptions (Seoul Forest being one of them), but for the most part one is not allowed to touch the grass. In Toronto I’ve got a backyard! Even if you have a yard in Korea it will be packed earth, if you’re lucky, or cement. Parks in Korea require you to drive to find them. I’ve got three parks within walking distance of where I live.
Yes common courtesy here is, well, common. People for the most part will say “excuse me” if they bump into you, stand to one side when one gets into or out of an elevator or subway train. I’ve actually had to re-learn some of this behaviour, including smiling and greeting strangers, which feels so odd after living in Seoul for so long.
I didn’t really notice how dirty the Seoul air was because in the 15 years I’d been there it had improved dramatically (blue sky days had at the time I left been close to 50 percent vs. essentially non-existent in 1997), and I felt that it was close to how clean the air was in Canada. I was wrong. Whilst living in Seoul we would clean our apartment floor every day — sometimes twice a day — but it would still be covered by a fine black dust that would inevitably stain ones feet/socks a dark gray. I also found it was necessary to clean my ears every second day with cotton swabs. Here in Toronto — arguably Canada’s most polluted major city — I’ve not noticed any amount of dirt on the floors or in my ears.
It’s so quiet here. I live in Toronto itself (not downtown, but not North York, Scarborough or one of the burbs that make up the GTA). It’s so quiet here. I mean completely silent — as in you can hear a pin drop. The density of the urban landscape in Seoul made it perpetually noisy. There was traffic, construction, neon buzzing or just plain people noise. The noise pollution is overwhelming. The thing is, over time I stopped noticing it. I guess one can get used to anything. I thought my neighborhood in Seoul was quiet (and it was, relatively speaking) but now that I’m living in Toronto, I know what silence is. In the same way I feel that there is little to no light pollution. In Seoul, I could get up in the middle of the night and walk around and see everything. Here in Toronto if I wake up I almost need a flash light to see the door out of the bedroom.