Dear Korea,

Thanks be to the Sunscreen Song

South Korea | April 14, 2010

Dear class of 2010,

Don't drink soju in the middle of the week.

If I could offer you one piece of advice for your time in Korea, that would be it.

Studies have shown that drinking mid-week may think you can use a subway train as a personal dance space or fit an entire kebab into your mouth at once.

In reality, you will just end up falling over and throwing up or dropping most of the kebab, picking it up and eating it anyway and then throwing it up in a tea cup.

This will seem normal to you at the time. It will however, not seem so normal the following morning when the alarm goes off for work.

Brave souls continue to conduct studies on this very issue each and every working week in the hopes that their research will find a solution for us all.

Their results are well documented on Facebook and COPS.

The rest of my advice, is not,. However here it is anyway.

Don't be late for work. Seriously, don't be.

It is OK to turn up to school hung over and spend your day sleeping in the nurses office.

It is even OK to leave early for an appointment. But arrive at work one minute past the designated time and you will face the icy chill of co-workers. In that moment you will look back at the night before and wish you had not succumbed to soju. You are not hiding it as well as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Well worry, but realise that spending a year in Korea to work out what you want to do with said future is this generation's absinthe induced trip to Paris. It worked for Hemmingway and Wilde and I'm sure their parents told them they were wasting their lives back in the day. Just make sure you have wild stories to tell your grandchildren when they announce they are running off to a random Asian country instead of going to graduate school.

Do one thing every day which scares you. Like facing down an adjumma on the train.

Sing. In a Norebang. Not the street. Koreans already have the market cornered on drunken antics.

Don't be reckless with other people's hearts - you'll be seeing an awful lot of them over the coming year. For a city of 11 million people, Seoul is an awfully small place.

Brush your teeth after lunch. .

Don't waste your time on Facebook. Reading what your friends are doing when you are not there can be depressing. And also kinda stalky. The days are long - find something else to fill them. Or your newsfeed will be two miles long.

Remember the compliments you receive are because Koreans think all foreigners are beautiful. Laugh at the insults. Most of the time they are compliments in Konglish. As a general rule Koreans are blunt. This is why they are so funny.

Keep at least one bank statement. It may be the only time in your life you see that many zeros in your account.

Avoid the bakeries.

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what to do with your life...but try and work it out before you wake up and you are 50 and standing in Itaewon feeling bitter about how things turned out. Drink plenty of water. But not from the tap.

Be kind to your new friends. You'll miss them when they are gone and you have re-contracted.

Maybe you'll find Nutella, maybe you won't, maybe you'll stumble across crumpets, maybe you'll develop a love for a food you never wanted at home before. What ever you do, don't whinge about it every too seconds or complain too much about kimchi and spicy foods. It was your choice to come here and it's Asia. They have different food. Deal.

Use your body. In every way you can. Communication is 90 per cent non verbal. Act like you have never acted before and you will find toilet paper or get a pharmacist to hand over contraceptive pills.

Visit a jinjibang. Revel in your nakedness. Ignore the stares. Men you're bigger, women, you're whiter and chances are you have less hair. There is a lot of full bush action happening in that place. Keep your eyes up.

Look at the pictures on the packet but don't expect them to reveal what is inside the packet.

Do NOT look in the subway mirrors at six in the morning, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your co-teachers, they own you and you never know when you'll need to call them because you are locked out of your apartment.. Be nice to your building manager - he is probably the one who will let you back in.

Understand that friends come and go, because this is Korea and that is the way things go. Make at least one friend you plan to keep in contact with. Because no one else will find your Korea stories quite as funny.

Visit Korean Cupid once but leave before it makes you say things like "I only date Korean women now". Visit Zen bar in Hongdae once but leave before you hear things like "We were only ever just friends".

Travel. You are living in the half way mark of the world and Asia has never seemed so cheap.

Accept certain inalienable truths: adjummas will barrel you over in the subway, old men will spit on the footpath in front of you and if you are tall and blonde people will assume you are a Russian prositute. You are not the only one this is happening to.

Respect your elders. They have canes and bad attitudes and will take you out if you don't give up that seat.

Dont expect anyone else to support you. We all earn about the same. Street food is cheap. Ramen is cheaper. Learn to love both.

Don't allow a Korean hairdresser to mess too much with your hair, or by the time you walk out you will wonder how you ended up with a blunt fringe and a-symetrical hair.
Be careful whose advice you take - people who have been here too long tend hate life. They know everything and anything about Korea except how it feels to look at it through fresh eyes and their advice is coloured by bitterness and sprinkled with bad facial hair.

But trust me on the soju.


1. bay on April 20, 2010

Hilarious Mrs Jones, I love it :)

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About Louisa Jones

Louisa Jones is the pen name for a recovering journalist who randomly decided to leave her very understanding and patient husband for a year to randomly live in Seoul.
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Categories of Published Work


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