My Brilliant Korea

Weird shit that can only happen in Korea

South Korea | September 25, 2009

Korea can be quite an odd place at times.

People say odd things in Korea.

People do odd things in Korea.

So, for the last two weeks, I have carefully documented some of the weird things people have said and done in Korea, to bring you a special blog, titled: Weird shit that can only happen in Korea.

1. I recently attended the Korean Cultural Centre to sign-up for free Korean language classes. These classes are available to foreigners working in Seoul. Upon arrival at the Korean Cultural Centre, I told the girl behind the counter, in English, that I wanted to join the Beginners 1 class. This was the lowest level class. In English, she said that was not a problem and then left the desk to photocopy my passport and Alien Registration Card. When she returned to her desk, she began to speak to me in rapid-fire Korean.

“Oh, slow down, I don’t speak Korean,” I said.

“You don’t speak Korean?” she replied, clearly shocked.

“No,” I replied.

“That is why I am signing up for the Beginners 1 class.”

2. For a foreigner to live in Korea for any considerable length of time, the foreigner must register for an Alien Registration Card (ARC). My friend Steve recently called the immigration department to make an appointment to apply for his ARC. He made this phone call because he did not have an ARC (obviously). So, what was the first thing he was asked for during the telephone call? His ARC number, of course.

3. My friend Amy recently came home from work early. When she walked through the front door she was shocked to discover the pest man wearing one of her skirts. Perhaps more shocking was the reaction of the pest man, who began to yell at Amy. Clearly, the situation was her fault for coming home earlier than expected (and leaving her skirt out).

4. When I first arrived at my high school, I was in swine flu quarantine. Several people had recently died of swine flu in Seoul and the government was concerned foreigners who had just flown in to the country could pose a health risk. So for one week I was ordered to sit in a room at the school, by myself, and do nothing (except update my Facebook status 15 times a day). Despite the quarantine, students and teachers constantly visited me in my quarantine room. Perhaps, more interesting was the fact that students who had been diagnosed with swine flu were not sent home immediately. In fact, once I was out of quarantine, I taught a student with swine flu. The teacher told her to just put her head on the desk and rest. But I was the one who was considered a dangerous health risk.

5. Western features, particularly Western eyes (round eyes) are considered incredibly beautiful in Korea. As a result, many Korean women have plastic surgery to add a crease to their eyelids. At my high school, 50 percent of the students (teenage girls) have already had plastic surgery to add the crease. My head co-teacher, J, recently told me this shocking statistic over lunch.

“You must be joking,” I replied.

“No, not joking. I show you,” J said.

I thought she might subtly point to a student and show me their eyelids, but no, later that afternoon J brought several students into the English classroom. She instructed them to open and close their eyes for me. Sure enough, there were the plastic surgery scars.

6. Koreans sleep all the time. They sleep on the subway, they sleep at their desks, and they sleep in the classroom. Many teachers bring a pillow to school and during free lessons they can be found at their desks catching a little bit of shut eye. In fact, the only time Koreans do not sleep is at night. That time is strictly reserved for playing computer games.

7. In Korea, it is possible to bump into someone in the street and say “oh hello, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on”- and mean it. I was recently stopped in the street by a girl I had spoken to, while naked, at a Korean bath house. I uttered that exact sentence. Incidentally, when I met the girl at the bath house, she presumed I was a Russian prostitute.

8. And lastly, if a Korean does happen to bump into you (literally speaking), they will not say sorry. I was recently eating some “balls of deliciousness” (my favourite street food) while waiting on a subway platform. Just as one of the delectable balls was about to touch my lips, a Korean man shoulder barged me. The ball smeared across my face- from my mouth to my ear. The man just kept on walking. As my friend Cam says, “welcome to Korea- manners optional”.


1. bay on September 25, 2009

So awesome! Oh the hilarity. I can't believe the surgery thing, that is shocking. Love YOU long time xo.

2. lottiemae on September 27, 2009

I liked this article especially paragraph 7. she really thought you were a Russian prostitute?yea I agree with bay this is halriious. good write though. now I am really wonering about the swine flu.

3. tanidaba on October 4, 2009

he he he! balls of deliciousness!

love the blog, blythie!!


4. swb3033 on September 17, 2012

I'm Korean but I'm not that impolite... LOL and they're sleeping during classes because until 12a.m, they usually need to study...

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About Blythe Seinor

When Blythe was a journalism student at the Queensland University of Technology she interviewed the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid.
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