11 Reasons Why Living Abroad is Awesome

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I come from NYC, a place many people dream of moving to. But I don’t know what it was. Immediately after college, I moved out to Korea, then back to NYC, then to Japan for two years, back to NYC again and then back to Korea again. It’s been a crazy ride, and I’ve never looked back! I have a decent amount of experience moving abroad in the world’s greatest cities. And if you have the chance to live abroad, I really urge you to do it!

Let’s see if you agree with my reasons why 🙂

1. Falling in Love with a Culture

When you’re new to a culture, you’re like a baby. And just like a newborn, everything’s exciting when it’s new. With culture, you’ll have a good 3 years until you say things are old. Trust me. There’s tons of new things you’ll learn about just by living in another city (like dating, manners, conversations, etc!). It’s a lot of fun for a good while 🙂

2. People Visiting You

You see, the thing is… when you live in another country, people find excuses to visit you. You’ll get homies from junior high school you weren’t even that close with messaging you saying “Long time! Heard you’re living in Bangkok!” You’ll be surprised at the random people that will find a way to visit you (and possibly look for a place to crash!). And it’s all good, yo! It’s always a good excuse to go out and have a good time.

3. OMG the Food!

For me, Seoul has the highest hit rate of food that’s “good.” Nothing world-class, but everything is really solid. New York on the other hand has the extremes: you can eat world-class food, but sometimes you get unlucky with really crappy foods, too. And Tokyo? Hands down, I honestly believe food in Japan is the best food in the world (of course sushi, but also burgers, Korean BBQ, Thai noodles, etc.). I can still taste the first time I had that melt-in-your-mouth Tsukiji Fish Market sushi. Telling you. World class son!

4. Variety in Your Dating

Of course there are different kinds of people in your own country. That’s everywhere. But when you move to a different country, you find that there’s usually country-specific types of men and women found only in your home away from home. Korea has Kpop cuties with aegyo, Japan has Harajuku fashionistas, and New York has brunch-eating white girls that love UGGs! By dating outside your comfort zone, you’ll find that there are more types of people in the world than you ever imagined! (Which btw can make dating pretty complicated :P).

5. Internationalizing Yourself

I lived in New York until I graduated college. And it was the same Asian friends who all knew each other. You know. NYC’s Asian community. If I was stayed, I think I would be living in the same sub-culture that I grew up in. Now don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great to have that community. But I think it’s awesome to learn about a different culture you never knew about in depth. Best part is, you make it a part of you! Even to this day, I still love Japanese eye wash and fold my clothes like a Japanese housewife.

6. The Frank Sinatra Effect

Know that Frank Sinatra song, New York, New York? There’s a line that says “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere!” And when you live abroad, by yourself, without any help from your friends or family, you know you can make it anywhere. It’s very empowering to say that you made it in another country (especially if you came without really knowing the language!). So even if your stay is short-term, you’ll go to your next destination with a confidence other people just don’t have!

7. Bragging Rights

Fine. I’ll admit it. I become brag master whenever I have the chance to mention that I lived abroad. I always stick in a “when I lived in Korea/Japan/New York” mention whenever I can. Leave me alone. It makes me feel good, ok? 😉 Some people don’t ask further. And that’s fine. But when they do, you have no problem telling them about the time you saw a 100 year old turtle on sale in Busan!

8. You Appreciate Home More!

Whenever you’re abroad for an extended period of time, that usually equals missing home. Parents and grandparents get older, and every moment you spend with them becomes that much more precious. Your friends that pick you up at the airport anytime you ask cement themselves as your lifetime homeboys. And food? Don’t even get me started. I miss and love you NYC bagels, ghetto American style Chinese food, Tex Mex (also made by Chinese people), and good ol Halal. Trust me. Anytime you visit home, you’ll have a list of foods you’ll want to eat.

9. Feeling Like a Local

This kind of goes back to bragging rights, but when you feel like a local in a foreign country, you feel good. It definitely takes some time to get to that level. But once you achieve Diablo III level 99 status, you’ll start talking like a tour guide without even being asked. It’s a proud feeling to have a neighborhood best secret in your back pocket that you can bust out whenever anyone asks for suggestions 🙂

10. Meeting Super International People

I’ve met some really culturally diverse people during my time abroad. And I think it’s really awesome. My best friend in Japan studied medicine in the Caribbean, became engaged to his trilingual Japanese girlfriend, and became a doctor in the middle of bumblef*ck Kentucky. A really awesome girl I met in Thailand speaks fluent Mexican Spanish and English (which also happens to be super ghetto). Her best friends are all ladyboys, too! A Japanese friend of mine got married to some French-Vietnamese dude and is now living with a baby on some French farm. My Taiwanese ex is living in Shanghai and dating some half-Chinese Aussie dude. Diversity overload. And I love it!

11. Travel Opportunities

If I continued to live in NYC, I would have never had the chance to travel to Bali, Boracay, Thailand, Shanghai, Hokkaido, etc. Personally, I’ve always been interested in Asia. And had I lived in NYC, it would have been way too expensive to see all that I’ve seen.  So pick where you’re most interested in, and start traveling away. The travel opportunities you have living abroad will be amazing.

Ok, well that’s about it! I love that I’ve had the opportunity for this experience. And I really recommend those that are thinking about it to take the chance! If you’re ever debating moving abroad, just go for it, ok?? 🙂

Well?? What do you think about my list? Leave a comment!

I am a Korean Haircut Racist

I remember this one day back in middle school when I needed a haircut pretty bad. Me and my homie D were walking home when we saw a barbershop run by some old white dude. He had platinum white hair and thick frame glasses — your average old white guy running a regular old barbershop.

Now up until that point my mom used to take me to the Korean neighborhood to get haircuts by ajummas. But I was a big boy. All grown up. I could get haircut on my own, right? How bad could it be?

Worst hair decision of my life. He looked at my hair all confused and didn’t even know where to start cutting it. He just went straight for the buzzer and killed my hair along with teetering middle school confidence. One top of that he was yelling at his son on the phone the entire duration of the haircut (I am not joking, the entire haircut). Then he proceeded to yell at me for not knowing what I wanted with my hair. The entire time I was looking at my friend through the mirror with my WTF face. He was quite amused.

Now I’m all for cultural understanding. And I really enjoying trying new things in different cultures with different kinds of people. Really, I do. But when it comes to my hair? HELL NO. I will never let white people touch my hair ever again. I did get “ehh… ok” haircuts from these Russian dudes. But now that I’ve been getting haircuts by Korean people for Korean people? No way dude. I have become a straight haircut racist. I will not get my haircut by non-Asian people again. (I guess this is what non-asian people must feel like when they get their haircut in Korea ;)).

But seriously. It really matters. Korean people know Korean hair (or just Asian hair in general). But they probably wouldn’t know where to start with black dudes.

I was getting a bit sick of my hair, so I went today to change it up a bit. It was the least amount of hair that I’ve ever cut in my life. Here’s the video!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_KmApUIyk4&w=560&h=315]
Who do you think gives the best haircuts?

Why Koreans Get So Much Plastic Surgery

It’s aiin’t no secret that Korea is number 1 in the world for plastic surgery, but why? Now I’m not an anthropologist or some culture professor anything, but after having lived in Korea for a while and growing up with Korean family, made me come to this 4 part theory! It’s probably wrong, but I mean… dude can guess right?

1. Korea is crazy image centric. It’s crazy how many mirrors there are so that people can make sure they’re looking good (elevators, subway stations, etc.). Girls put on make up when they go to the supermarket, and even some Korean dudes put on make up. It’s crazy. And what better image can you get than through plastic surgery?

2. Korea is super competitive. That’s why there’s so many hagwons: for kids to be better than / keep up with the other kids. Everyone works really hard and tries to be on top of the game. I’m from NYC and the competition gets hot there, but it’s a pressure cooker over here. I’m an outsider and I still feel it!

3. The attitude in Korea towards plastic surgery isn’t so crazy. The America I grew up in kind of tends to make a big deal regarding plastic surgery. “Oh yo, did you hear she got a boob job?!” It’s kind of considered cheating back in America. But here it’s just kind of a thing. Even some parents promise their kids in high school plastic surgery as graduation presents.

4. Shamanism (aka Musim, Mugyo, 무교) – Ok, so I know this is really academic and stuff. But I think it’s one of the reasons! Korea’s old school religion is really deeply rooted in Korean culture and society. And since it was a very materialistic religion, I think it kind of explains why Korea is really focused on things of this world. And isn’t plastic surgery (just for beauty purposes) kind of a “worldly” value? (As opposed to spiritual or something else?) Iunno, just a guess.

See the video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bPhGAmfD-Q]

If you have your own theories, let me know in the comments!

Korean Girls Be Scared of Me (And Every Other Dude)

Long time world!

Ok, so funny story time. The first time I came to Korea to live was back in 2005. It was less than 24 hours I got off the plane, and I was jet lagged. So I found a cafe at 6:30AM and just stood outside sipping my coffee. One of the part-time workers was outside washing the windows. She was close by, so I casually said “It’s nice weather today, isn’t it?” Now the rules of conversational etiquette dictate that the worker should have:

(a) respond about how nice the weather was, which could progress into a conversation if she so desired.

or

(b) give a short but polite reply and return to work if she did not wish to hold unnecessary dialogue.

Instead of (a) or (b), I got an ultimate death stare of universe. She didn’t say one word and just stared at me like  some crazy dude that liked talking about the weather and raping girls. She was visibly scared and weirded out. So she inched away, keeping me in her sights, and returned to work without saying a word.

That was my very first culture shock in Korea. But I later realized that it’s 1) abnormal to talk to strangers for no reason at all. And that 2) a lot of Korean girls be straight petrified of random strangers of the male kind.

Now since a lot of the fear is directed towards guys, I’m guessing it’s a rape thing. And I understand. Rape is something girls have to be aware of. It’s a serious issue, and I don’t want to make light of it. But as someone who grew up outside of this society, I think the fear might be a bit excessive.

Here’s a few “scary stories” that I’ve heard:

“Scary Story” #1

– Friend was in the elevator of her apartment building and a delivery man (with full on uniform, holding a package) was riding with her. He turned to her to ask if he was in the right apartment building. And she timidly said yes.

That’s the end of the story. Really. But she told me it was a “scary situation.” Scary enough for her to actually remember a 20 second elevator ride with a delivery man.

“Scary Story” #2

– Taxi driver takes friend home. Taxi driver has a bunch of tangerines and offers her one. She says thank you. But instead of eating it, she worries that he might have injected it with something.

She ended up eating it when she got home. And sure enough, it was a delicious tangerine.

Of course not every Korean girl is afraid of everything. But just the fact that I can quote these as examples is proof that there is a fear that exists among Korean women. Who knows. Maybe it’s all warranted. There are definitely stories about these totally normal situations that turn into shocking front page news.

I am not a girl, so there are somethings that I will never understand. But as someone that’s on the other side, it makes me not want to be nice to strangers. Because even if I am nice, I will get death stare. Your boy is mad sensitive yo and death stares are crazy scarring!

Maybe I should just be like this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfjLfyXYlA]
If you’re a girl, do the same thoughts run through your head? Do you think this fear is  excessive?

Korean Hugs vs American Hugs

Check out the comparison below. And you’re a liar if you don’t see the difference!

Original Free Hugs video (in Australia, but essentially same form and technique as American hugs)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr3x_RRJdd4]

vs “Free Hugs Seoul” with Korean-style hugs described below
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKILQPBcVTI]

Note: I’m mostly talking about my experience with hugging between friends or family. Not bf/gf!

One of my most favorite people in the world is a friend that I’ve known since nursery school. She’s super sweet, smart, tons of fun, and when she speaks Chinese with her mom, it is the most beautiful thing in the world. But more than super awesome sounding Chinese, one of the biggest reasons I love her is because of her hugs. She gives the best… hugs… EVAR. Her hugs are actual embraces. They have just the right amount of pressure and strength. And on top of that, every hug she gives is straight genuine, yo. Full of love and affection. And she’ll randomly hug someone for no reason simply because she wants to at that moment. She is probably the best hugger that I know! (My mom is up there too, but her hugs are super uncontrolled, so it’s too much to handle sometimes!)

As someone who grew up in America, I’ve learned to really appreciate good quality embraces. But a quality hug in America is very different than a quality hug in Korea. And I sure do miss American style hugging.

  • For one, hugging between the opposite sex is not as common as it is in America. And let’s be real here. There’s not many reasons for me to hug dudes. So that all equals me getting way less hugs here in Korea. 🙁
  • Second, when I do get/give a hug, it’s usually an arm hug. Minimal body contact with the arms doing most of the work. I will typically reach for the head/neck area, but friends will usually give an underarm hug. This usually results in uneven leverage for decent hug pressure and strength.
  • Third, many of the hugs I give are one-sided. I’ll be super glad to see a friend I haven’t seen in a long time and be like: “I missed you!” and go in for a big embrace. My female friends, however, will usually just take it and wait. Usually I’ll get a few pats on the back and an awkward “I missed you too.” But most of the time it kinda feels like they’re just waiting for it to be over. ha!

Living here, I’ve learned to give Korean-style hugs. So if you’re a dude hugging a Korean female friend, try following my half-serious (mostly nonsense) step-by-step guide!

How to Give Korean Style Hugs

  1. Don’t go for the full-on embrace. Those are typically reserved for Korean drama mama type moments, like breaking up at a subway station.
  2. Keep bodily contact to a minimum. To do this, stick your butt out and hug with arms around the neck. Some shoulder contact is acceptable, but avoid boobage if possible.
  3. Pay attention to your timing. Naturally, hugs (even in Korea) can’t be too short. If you have a 1-pat hug and break, might as well be giving a pound to your homie. But you definitely want to make sure you don’t hug too long. Your female friend just might get the wrong idea!

Haha, alright, I’ve had my fun 🙂 But still very true! If you know what I’m talking about, holla at me in the comments!

Getting Ready for War with N. Korea: Whatevs!

As many of you know, I work at the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU). And every year KNCU takes a day to address what should be done if war with North Korea was to ever break out. They have set tasks for everyone (i.e. call the police, medical assistance, etc.), emergency drills and even a briefing for cyber attacks.

Generally, everyone here in South Korea is pretty chill about anything that North Korea does. You know, when they send missiles into the sea or make threats to rain fire on the world, the western news is all up on that and people far away get scared. But people here are mostly like “Again? Oh hey! btw, did you watch Super Star K last night?!” It’s old news to everyone, and not such a big deal.

It seems like everyone in the office is like “aww, this again?” Although prepping for war is necessary, it seems to be more of a nuisance than anything.

If you like reading, I recommend North Korea: Another Country. It pretty much explains how everyone outside of Korea thinks North Korea is like an dangerous insane guy that’s swinging a knife back and forth, but everyone in South Korea thinks of them as a crazy harmless homeless man in the corner mumbling to himself. If you’ve ever been scared of North Korea, try giving it read.

I wish prepping for war with North Korea was like the video below. That would be mad fun!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCxdku8sx-A]

Korea Then vs Korea Now: Korean Cultural Identity Crisis

Seoulistic.com is a site dedicated to introducing Korean culture among other super useful tips. But here’s the problem: Korea itself is having a cultural identity crisis. I had a post about how Korea was different 10 years ago. That just goes to show how much and how quickly Korea is changing. It also makes it really difficult for me to create videos/posts that are 100% correct about Korean culture. Here’s a few examples:

– Touching in Korea: I made a video about what touching the opposite sex is like in Korea. The older people usually don’t get all up on each other, but some of the younger generation is all like “whatever, yo! lets get busy!” in public.

– Korean Style Punishments: this video was about what punishments are like in Korea. I showed the original video to a couple of people including @kyeongeun and @yo_ona. Hitting is old school… now it’s all like “I love you, i love you!”

– Being awesome on subways used to mean never siting in the priority seating and getting up for the elderly/kids/etc. But these days there are lots of younger Korean kids that are not that awesome and just stay glued to their smartphones (sometimes ignoring the elderly in front of them). Scary ajummas and ajeoshi’s 10 years ago would have ripped one into them, but now they just give em stank eye.

So it’s hard to be totally on point cause Korea is changing so fast. It’s kind of stuck between the old way and new way of doing things. While all the older traditions and ways of doing things is still true, it definitely is changing. Nowadays it’s all about being chic and modern, but personally, I like most of the old stuff much better. If you haven’t noticed, I’m an ajeoshi at heart 😉

How Korea Was Different 10 Years Ago

I just thought about it. This year, 2012, marks the 10 year anniversary of when I first came to Korea. 10 years, yo! Back then I was really into kpop and Korean movies, didn’t speak much Korean and was really bad with girls. Now it’s 2012, and I’m not that into kpop or Korean movies anymore, and I speak much better Korean. I’m still pretty bad with girls though 😛

But Korea’s changed too. Like… ALOT. It’s crazy how much things have changed in Korea. Here are somethings that I’ve noticed are different from 2002 and 2012.

Speaking English was the bomb – I was mad popular back then just because I spoke English. It was awesome/sucked cause everyone used to stare at you if you spoke English cause it was so different. Now everyone speaks English, and I lost my edge 😛
Kpop Used to be Sappier – Check out the most popular Kpop songs back in 2002. They were all crazy sad. Now it makes me wanna shake my butt.
Celebrities Were Much Easier to See – They all just hung out in Apgujeong and they were super easy to see all the time. Now they’re all super rich and going to these super rich places that normal folk don’t go.
Korean people started getting tattoos
– Back in 2002, if you had a tattoo, that meant you were a gangster. Now it’s a fashion statement.
Girls smoking outside – It was funnycause 10 years ago, women smoking was a taboo, and I’d see grown women sneak behind a building to smoke. Now they just smoke anywhere. Do your thang girl!
COEX was brand new and had a hof and nightclub inside – The hof is kinda understandable, but a (booking) nightclub inside a shopping mall? Weird! Now they’re all at hotels for some reasons.
NB was the only club – I think clubbing was brand new to Korea. And NB was the only one there. Now there’s like a gajillion clubs.

Surprised at all? Korea’s changed fast man. Really fast.

Me too. Here’s a bonus picture from back in 2002, when I was 19 🙂

Why I Chose Not to Live in Gangnam, and in Gangbuk in Seoul

Gangnam in Seoul is pretty famous. But I don’t live there. It’s really t rendy and cool, but it’s also a bit expensive and, and a bit too new (if you know what I mean).

I enjoy living in the older part of Seoul, which is Gangbuk (North of the Han River). To me, it has a more Korean feel to it, rather than the new, fast and hip modern culture of Gangnam. And although I try to be hip and modern, deep inside I’m really an ajeoshi. So Gangbuk fits me nice and snug 🙂

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaGmh1Z-Fk4&w=640&h=360]

Where would you guys live? 🙂