Five MORE Things I Hate About Korea

I left Korea just a few weeks ago and don’t know if I will come back (probably more a matter of ‘when’). I love an awful lot about this country and another list with the positive things is coming up, but I thought I would start with this one first to get the venting out of the way. This is another list of stuff I hate about the RoK.

5) Relationships Are Shoved Down Your Throat

They will match hair styles soon enough.
They will match hair styles soon enough.

Are you single and happy? Don’t be silly. You are obviously miserable, lonely, and would do anything to have a significant other. Unfortunately, this happens to be the attitude Koreans have towards single people. My first year in Korea, I didn’t have a girlfriend and while I did date, I really had no huge desire to be hitched. Whenever I was asked if I had a girlfriend and responded no, an immediate facial expression of sympathy and pity was projected. Much like the obsession with material goods that I mentioned on the first list, an obsession with being in a relationship has lead to many people I personally know rush into relationships or worse, feel terrible about being single. It is OKAY to be a bachelor / bachelorette, but with restaurants and movie theaters offering “couple menus” and even the fashion industry selling matching shirts, caps, pants, and shoes to couples, it is a tad bit overwhelming.

4) Motorcycles Can’t go on Highways

Yeah, she wasn't so thrilled after 3.5 hours.
Yeah, she wasn’t so thrilled after 3.5 hours.

Okay, so this is something so specific that it is unlikely any reader will relate, but it still drives me insane. Motorcycles, regardless of size, are considered too reckless to be allowed on highways in Korea. While it is probably out of concern for the safety of the cyclists as much as everyone else, it still does not make sense to me. About a year ago, I decided to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ganghwa Dolmen Sites on my motorcycle given the lack of transportation in the area. Despite the island being adjacent to Seoul, the only straight forward drive is along the river highway and since I can’t ride it, after 3.5 hours, I had barely exited the megalopolis. I eventually gave up and turned around. I think if they limited the use to bigger motorcycles and strictly enforced large fines for reckless driving, it would fix the problem. Until then, I guess I better get a car.

3) There Is Very Little Nature

Find me an Antelope Canyon in Korea.
Antelope Canyon in the US.

But… but… what about Seoraksan National Park? I hesitated being critical of Korea’s lack of nature on the last list because, quite frankly, I was a bit of an apologist. After my recent 2,200 mile American road trip though, nothing in Korea compares to any of those places. Jeju Island probably comes the closest with its pristine beaches and a cool volcano, but being 1/7 the size of Texas and having twice its population doesn’t give Korea too many places that can be considered ‘remote’ or ‘untouched.’ I would honestly say Sa-do comes closest, but too bad no one has ever heard of it.

2) Obsession With Being Younger / Age in General

This surgery adds bags to your eyes (yes I said ADDS) to make it look like you still have that puffy look teenagers have. Read the whole article for a good WTF.
This surgery adds bags to your eyes (yes I said ADDS) to make it look like you still have that puffy look teenagers have. Photo Credit: Michelle Phan

Being 28, I don’t yet know what it is like to be ‘passed my prime’ and wanting to relive the ‘glory days.’ However, there is one thing I do know for sure, those glory days were definitely not my teens. Koreans seem to think that younger is better, regardless of how old you are. One example that comes to mind came while watching Kpop Star, an American Idol-esque show, where a contestant kept repeating that she was too old, despite being 23. TWENTY FREEKEN THREE! This obsession has lead many to get plastic surgery (men and women) attempting to look like they still need to be carded to buy a beer. There is nothing wrong with getting old and personally, every year seems to be better than the last (for me at least). I find this even more puzzling as Koreans, in general, look naturally younger than their western counterparts (to my western eyes) and have a longer life expectancy. Regardless, there is nowhere else on earth where you will find such a variety of beauty products aimed at making you look like you are still in high school than in Korea. In fact, tell any Korean woman the she looks 18 and more likely than not, she will take it as a compliment.

1) The Travel Industry

Just screenshot this from my Coupang app. Cebu...yet again.
Just screenshot this from my Coupang app. Cebu…yet again.

Travel in Korea, mostly involves flying on a Korean airline, to a 4-5 star hotel, which is all-inclusive, with Korean food of course, and rarely stepping out of their comfort zone. The more beaten the path the better because after all, ‘if others are doing it, it must be good.’ Basically, totally against anything you will find in this blog. Look, I enjoyed Kyoto, the Great Wall, and Angkor as much as the other tens of millions of tourists and am hardly one of those ‘I don’t do touristy stuff’ elitist pricks. However, Korean tourism goes FAR, FAR beyond all of this. For starters, most deals offer “Korean food” as an incentive. Why on earth would I want to eat Korean food in Thailand? Second, the dates offered are rigid. Two nights and three days is the norm, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything for longer than 6-7 days. I remember when we were on a boat ride to see Komodo National Park, the first officer, a young Indonesian from Java, was curious about Sidney’s ethnicity. When she said Korean, he almost laughed in disbelief. “I’ve never seen a Korean outside of Nusa Dua” was his response. He was very specific to not include the whole of ‘Bali’ and strictly limited it to the tiny area on the south-east side of the island where the high end resorts that Koreans frequent are located. Examples like this happen more often than you’d think. So, why do I care? Different strokes for different folks right? Well unfortunately, it is not so simple. On a personal note, this trend actually affected me and my favorite hobby while living in Korea. Trips to Palau or the Maldives (two very high on my list) were always impossible because the industry has made a system that doesn’t cater to people who don’t want to spend a grand for 3 days of travel. And as much as I like Korean food, I’d rather try the local cuisine while on vacation. This has also made a situation where I can’t take advantage of any of the amazing deals Koreans get because they are limited to a handful of destinations with incredibly rigid schedules. On the deal sites such as Coupang, the same 5-10 places are recycled over and over again to a point where I’ve stopped looking (picture above shows Cebu, which I see every single time). On a non-personal note though, almost every Korean I have met has a completely distorted view of many aspects of travel, including actual cost, and possible experiences. Most don’t seem to realize that travel does not have to be expensive and even flaunt which hotel they stayed at more than anything they actually did or experienced in a foreign country. I may be out of line for saying this, but Koreans are growing a reputation for being timid, big spenders, with little or no interest in getting to know even speaking to anyone of the local population or trying anything new or unusual. It is not just me saying this though. The few Koreans that are not like this have expressed concern about their own country too and this often is a topic of conversation. Right before last year’s trip to Indonesia I decided to strike up a conversation with someone else who was going at the same time. The only thing they were interested in knowing was what hotel I was staying in. As soon as I said that I didn’t know, I got that pity look I mentioned above for not saying “Club Med.” I guess I should have been ashamed?

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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8 thoughts on “Five MORE Things I Hate About Korea

  • July 15, 2014 at 6:42 am
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    A bit harsh, but certainly some truths here.

    I would argue once again about Korea’s nature (for the countries size) is quite unique. Ratio, ratio, ration!!! There are 21 National Parks in Korea. Texas has a grand total of 2. Indeed, considering many US States, the ROK beats it out in nature no question. With the strong exception of most of the Western US (California, Utah, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, etc).

    Suncheon Bay, Upo Wetland, Goseong Coast (including countless Dinosaur Footprints), Songnisan National Park, Udo Island, the caves in Danyang & Samcheok, Taebaeksan Provincial Park among others are gems very much worth exploring.

    Don’t get me wrong, Korea is NOT comparable to places like California. But then again, which place on this planet is? Only a select few in my opinion.

    Reply
    • July 24, 2014 at 10:51 am
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      True that not many are comparable, but I am okay with that. I guess I have definitely been spoiled by being from the western US. One thing I do find puzzling though is how hiking is such a big thing given the limited nature. While I haven’t been to Upo, I did like Goseong and Suncheon, but both were far more developed than expected. There are no multi-day hikes that I found and I would be quite surprised if they existed at all in Korea.
      Thanks for your input :). I didn’t realize anyone had replied to this.

      Reply
    • July 24, 2014 at 10:54 am
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      Baekdusan looks amazing, but I don’t think it counts as it is in North Korea. Do they even have tours of the mountain? Maybe via the Chinese border?

      Reply
      • July 31, 2014 at 8:10 am
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        Only half of the Baekdu daegan is in North Korea. Baekdusan is the northernmost starting point of the trail, Jirisan is the end point. The mountain continues from Seoraksan all the way to Jirisan (8 South Korean National Parks). This can be done in a multi-week hike (no city or development in between. You follow the ridgeline all the way. Besides this peninsula long trail, Seoraksan and Jirisan offer multi-day hikes with their park boundaries.

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        • August 14, 2014 at 12:42 am
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          I stand corrected, that’s great to know. No development…I am a bit skeptical but hopeful :). Thanks a bunch.

          Reply
  • July 31, 2015 at 11:44 am
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    I’ve been to so many national parks in Korea, all of the places kyle mentions above. There are some wonderful areas of natural beauty, but none are remote like the article states. Nothing in Korea is remote. The places that feel off the beaten track are swarming with ajummas on coach daytrips. They usually have tacky crumbling spa resorts lumped on to them too, which the Koreans seem to enjoy more than the place they are visiting. Sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s just my observation.

    Reply
    • August 1, 2015 at 9:57 pm
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      Totally a valid point. Given this is things I hate about Korea, it’s okay to be a little negative. For every thing I hate there are three I like so I think it would be just naive to not criticize at all. Thanks for your input. Kyle does mention that you can hike along the ridge of the mountain range which is a multi day hike I’ve never heard about. Might be work a look.

      Reply

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