The Kimchi-ite: The Culture Shock Of South Korea

When I moved to South Korea, it was my first time in the country and I had no idea what to expect. Going from the airport to my new apartment, differences from my prior life slowly came into focus. Signs were now written in lines and circles I didn’t understand, brand new glass skyscrapers were poised next to traditional tile-roofed houses and all the cars were made by Hyundai. As I walked around my new neighborhood at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday recovering from jet lag, I was expecting to be alone on the streets. Instead, when I walked around there were plenty of people out in the city, eating and drinking at cafes, going to work, doing their shopping or just stumbling out of bars. This constant, 24-hour activity is something I haven’t seen anywhere else. As the sun came up, more and more people came to the streets. Crowds seemed to form everywhere and I would quickly learn that they are a big part of Korean life.

South Korea is a little larger than the state of Indiana but with eight times the people. About half of South Korea’s 50 million people live in the greater Seoul area, making it one of the biggest, most populated cities in the world. Subway cars overflow as people push their way in, which is when I learned that the Korean words for “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” are almost never spoken. Even when trying to get out of the city to do some hiking, crowds of thousands will be there too.

When moving to a foreign place, there are so many moments that you feel completely lost and worry that it will become overwhelming. Am I going to accidentally offend anyone due to our culture differences? Will I be able to make new friends? What if I get sick of eating kimchi everyday and just want some food from back home?

Soon, however, everything starts to feel normal and you realize that life isn’t really all that different. You still do laundry, McDonald’s is always around the corner and cash comes out of ATMs. There are still minor differences in daily life – you have to spend an hour online trying to find a translation of your washing machine, McDonald’s offers free delivery and you can transfer money directly to a friend’s bank account from an ATM – but it becomes difficult to imagine a life without these idiosyncrasies.

This constant flux of familiarity and strangeness is part of what makes life as an expatriate so exciting. Constantly experiencing new aspects of cultures, learning about different trains of thought, meeting interesting people, eating food that looks make believe and just constantly being surprised by the world.

[Photo credit: Jonathan Kramer]

Metropolis Illinois – the offical home of Superman

To most people, Metropolis is the fictional city where Clark Kent writes for fictional newspaper “The Daily Planet”. To diehard fans, and residents of Metropolis, Illinois, their town is the real, and only home to Superman.

In fact, the Illinois state Legislature passed a resolution back in 1972 declaring Metropolis the “Hometown of Superman”, so the law is on their side.

Metropolis is more than just a funny name – the town is home to a large Superman statue, a Superman musuem and an annual Superman celebration. Their newspaper is called the Metropolis Planet and once a year, residents are allowed to swap their regular license plates for special Superman plates.

Of course, with just under 6500 people, Metropolis, IL is not as large as the fictional one, but that doesn’t make the residents less proud of their superhero.

Could Shanghai Show Up Beijing?

Beijing was in the world spotlight earlier this year when it hosted the Olympics. In 2010, it will be Shanghai‘s turn when it houses the World Expo. Despite not enjoying the media attention of the Olympics or FIFA World Cup, World Expos, a.k.a. World’s Fairs, have been held for over 100 years and hold a certain degree of cultural clout. Contingents of many nations come to showcase their industry and culture to the world. Chicago and London were both famous hosts of early World’s Fairs. Zaragoza, Spain had the 2008 version, which wrapped up last month after a 60 day run.

Shanghai is set for a bit more spotlight than Zaragoza, though. The ’10 World Expo will run for six months (May-October) and is expected to draw the largest number of visitors of any such event in history. They’ll have to beat 50 million attendees, the number set by Montreal in 1967.

But it isn’t about the numbers, really. Beijing got its chance in the spotlight with the Olympics. But Shanghai is China’s largest, most modern and wealthiest city. It is well on its way to regaining some of the glory it had as East Asia’s cultural heart in the 1920s. Many people consider Shanghai the only truly modern metropolis in the PRC. Its buildings, culture and economic power back up that hypothesis; as do features like a glut of modern architecture and one of the world’s largest subways. While the cameras won’t be trained on Shanghai for the entire 6 months, the city will have a chance to show that it is, in many ways, the face of modern China.

Photo of the Day (6/11//08)

I love this sign for a few reasons. One reason is how it would look great on a T-shirt–a snippet of faded Americana if you will. Also, I am drawn to the glimpse of Superman history in each face. Which version did you grow up watching? Metropolis, Illinois does have The Super Museum. It’s not as faded as the shot of this mural by Zengrrl, although, I’m not sure exactly what’s on display. The Web site is a tad vague–but for a summer stop, it might be fun.

If you’ve taken a photo of some interesting snippet of where you have been, send it our way via Gadling’s Flickr photo pool. That’s where we find our Photo of the Day feature.