4 Things in Korea I Will Never Get Used To

I’ve officially entered my third year teaching in South Korea.  I’m settled into my new apartment and have already started teaching at my new elementary school.  It’s a challenging and exciting time.  On the same token, it causes me to reflect on all my experiences since I started.  From body-altering judo injuries, to eating dog soup (yes I did it!), to meeting the wrath of ajummas getting on the subways.

As I reflect, I recount the things that I grew accustomed to, learned to accept, and also those things that just won’t get through to me.  The things I will NEVER get used to.

Cats on Leashes
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a cat tied up on a leash.  I was on my way to the large market near my first apartment and there in the shadows was a ruffled up cat confined to the length of its leash.  I had to stop and look at him.  And I even said to myself, “look at him!”  All tied up and hopeless.  Is it a good thing?  For the cat “haters” out there – yes.  No rummaging through trash.  No screaming from being in heat, except from that tiny little area.  Hey, we do it to dogs all the time, why not cats?!  For the lovers, it’s just wrong, right?  Still, it took me back for a moment.  And many times after that I saw the same thing.  Poor Garfield.

Women Spitting on the Street
This is one of my all time greats.  The first time I witnessed an older woman completely hawk a loogie I was truly in awe.  Snort in through nose, KKKHHT! through the mouth.  P’tui!  No holds barred.  I stood there with my mouth open in astonishment.  I thought maybe it was a one-off occurrence and that the lady had a legitimate reason to do so like a bug flew in her mouth or something.

It wasn’t the first, and I now know it won’t be the last.  Time and time again I’ve witnessed many a girl and women alike snort up and phlegm out right on the street.  Just like I used to do at the wood cutting pile or the scrap yard.  Ok, maybe it’s a double standard, but like I said, these are things I don’t think I’ll be able to get used to.  For better or worse.

Penis Slugs

Sea slugs 개불 (gaebul)

Yeah, that’s the unofficial name for these.  The Korean name is 개불 (gaebul) and they are not fun to look at.  I have no doubt in my mind that they are tasty to the Korean palate, but I still get the same squeamish feeling now when I see them as I did 2 years ago.  There’s no need to go into detail as to what they look like or how they got their name.  Just check out the picture.

Globs of Vomit
Where my old apartment was had a never-ending supply of little watering holes, nore bangs (karioke bars), and restaurants.  Not to mention the sexy nore bangs and double barber shop poles.

The area was not for the young, chic crowd either.  It was a rougher crew.  Many seamen came to the area to get their drink and groove on.  3-4 times per week the woman who owned a small bar outside my apartment would get into the most aggressive shouting matches with these drunk old men, often turning physical.  There were always cops out there.  Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining, just frequent.

Well, for those that have that one-too-many shots of soju, they simply find the nearest wall or telephone pole to lean on and empty their guts onto the street.  These are 1 lane streets with mostly people walking and delivery trucks.  So each morning I got to see the latest specials at the local restaurant on the sidewalk.  Or even better, on my way to 7-Eleven the same night where it was fresh.

It’s a vivid and shocking sight no matter where you’re from.

Some things I’ll never get used to.  Let’s not overlook the toilet paper trash cans either.  It made my second string as I describe in my vlog below.


  1. That's all? I kid, I kid….

  2. Due to the mostly pleasures of the Internet i ended up watching your videos. Then i thought "why not to follow this fella"; and here i am, being a part of your channel and your blog. Gotta be honest with you: i really enjoy those critic opinions, points of view of yours -not like most of the obnubilated vids where everything is just perfect owing the fact that it's Korea. It's rather tricky to find a usefull examination on a different society developed by a skilfull westernized mind. Hoping more videos and luckily to get along, i'll phonetically say "kaámsámida" despite the fact that that voice might only be used in some scenarios.

    Removed because i don't know how to edit. That's one of the unpleasent things on the internet 😉

  3. Thanks so much for the encouraging words. I try to keep it positive, but sometimes it's good to keep it real as well. I'll keep the videos coming for as long as I can.

  4. Thomas! Just wanted to let you know I really enjoy your blog! Like you, I'm half korean. But my other half is Swedish. The older I become (I'm on my 24th spring) the more interest I find in my Korean heritage. Lately I've been looking into language programs over there. Unfortunately I do not speak Korean and it would be my first visit. I've encountered native Koreans before, working as a volunteer for a couple of months in Israel. Friendly and sweet as they were they always called me sister. They barely spoke English but we managed to communicate with the good old fashioned body language. Anyway, It would be lovely to visit them as well..
    There are a lot of different ways to go ahead with these programs. You can stay as a guest with a native family and educate them in English, student dormitory, rental apt.. If you have any recommendations you'd like to share I'd be very grateful!

    Kind regards

    • My grandfather was an English teacher in Korea during the Second World War. He taught at Chosun University under the tutelage of Youngin Soo. I show my kids your videos.

  5. Thank you for sharing that info. There are many ways to get to Korea to teach. The main options are the public school system program called EPIK. The other is through a hagwon or private academy. These can be hit or miss as they are individually owned businesses. I would recommend reaching out to the following hagwons as they are the largest entities in the ROK:

    – YBM
    – Wall Street English

    For EPIK, you can contact most recruiters and they will help you, but I might recommend a larger outfit like Teach Away or Footprints Recruiting, though there are many good ones.

    To keep a pulse on many other opportunities you can look through the postings on Dave's ESL job boards or a site called Teacherport.

    Other great sites for ESL abroad are:


    Best of luck with your search. I think it will be a great thing for you as you mentioned!


  6. Hi Tom,
    Year 3… congrats! Do you think you will stay for many more years? Why did you switch schools? Is it easy to stay with EPIK once you are "in" with them?
    Thanks for answering… just curious.
    I have my first interview Monday, although I'm unsure of the location in Tongyoung, though it is on the sea! I am STILL awaiting documentation… my University misspelled my name on the diploma–how nice. Sets me back another week. I also did not realize I needed the diploma authenticated by TX, which first requires notarization by the University, prior to being apostilled. My diploma was sitting on my desk for 3 weeks! I'm just hoping the State Dept. accepts the *channeler* copy of my FBI CRC, which they "promised" would be accepted. You weren't kidding about the length of this process. 🙂 But, on the other side, I'm 40% finished with my TEFL class!
    Oh,two more questions: How are winters in Busan? And, should I exchange my $$ here in the US, or at a bank in Korea?
    Thanks, and one day I'll convey the story of the dog we HAD when I lived in Seoul in 87. ;-))
    Cheers and Gamsamheda, Gina

  7. Thank you. I won't stay for many more years most likely. At least not in EPIK. I think it's time for me to look for different teaching opportunities. I switched schools because I was previously in a middle school and all middle and high school jobs have been cut. Only elementary left through EPIK. I'm in elementary now.

    Sounds like you have your hands full with your docs. Hang in there.

    Winters in Busan are cold, but very little to no snow. Not like Seoul. Busan is on the water so it keeps the temp a little warmer. You can exchange money here no problem when you get to the airport. If you want to have some in your pocket for when you touch down, you can exchange in the US. It's just a personal preference.

  8. Question: I am married. We want to live in Korea. I will teach English, she will not. Money is not an issue for us. She is an author so she won't need a job. Do you know if it is hard(er) to get hired to teach in a program like EPIK when you are married? Will schools let me and my wife live in the provided apartment? Do you know anyone with a similar situation?

    • That’s a good question. Typically married couples that come to Korea both teach. The only thing that would be an issue is the apartment. If both of you teach you get a bigger apt, or if you’re far from each other you get your own places. If only one teaches though, they may only give you accommodations for 1 person which is a studio apt. You can always find a bigger place on your own, but you’ll have to pay the difference. Hope this helps.

  9. Wow, Tom, that was pretty difficult to watch & read. Hopefully, my face will not remain in a permanent state of disgust & disbelief, as it still is, as I’m writing to you. Unfortunately, I think that I created quite a few wrinkles, with my gestures. There is NO WAY that I could EVER possibly get used to all of the issues that you addressed. It is offensive to me when a man spits on the street, even though I recognize that it is indeed, sometimes needed; I cannot imagine seeing a woman do it. I’d hoped that the vomiting scenario was played out in K-Dramas simply to incite negative reactions. That’s pretty repulsive. Personally, I’ve never cared for cats, for they are indifferent to their “masters”, unlike dogs. Which brings me to my next point. I could never possibly allow myself to consume what could have had the prospect of becoming someone’s “best friend”. Perhaps my mindset stems from living in the states all of my life & viewing pets as part of a family (yes, cats, included); although I’ve never personally owned one. Yes, I too would stay away from trying gaebul. They look pretty nasty. I LOVE food & am not picky, at all. I will eat anything that anyone offers me, put eating the slugs goes hand in hand with consuming rats, roaches or something just as unappetizing. The TP in trash bins is pretty disgusting, as well. I’ve lived in the states since the age of 2, but have visited family a handful of times in Mexico (where I was born), & that is something that I never got used to. I always had to endure the requests of my relatives, to abide by their rules, for fear that their plumbing would get backed up. Of course, I never had the courage to inform them that their toilets flushed just fine. Well, as I prepare to go to sleep, since it’s 3 a.m. here in CA, I truly hope that I don’t think about your post; although I appreciate your insight, the subject matter was an unpleasant one, for sure. I think that if you’d not included the Cats on Leashes, you could have added quite a few adjectives after the #4 that would have prepared your fans for what was to come. 😉 ( I’m giving you a hard time…미안해요…) God bless you…always…:)

  10. Well that was gross but it didn’t stop me from eating my crackers and cocoa this morning. I love to watch your vids. You make it REAL. I like that about your posts and vids.

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