Sunday, January 12, 2014

What Korea is Like

This whole time, I've just week-after-week written funny stories and experiences that I've had.  It wasn't until during the skype conversation at Christmas that I realized that my family really has no idea what Korea is like because, well, I haven't really described it that well.  My bad.  So this week, I will try to give you a glimpse of what Korea is really like and what I do and see on a day to day basis.

First off, Korean cities are exactly that - cities.  Each and every city, no matter how small it is, functions as if it is a large urban center.  There is a downtown area with big name stores (Nike, H&M, K2, etc), a large public transportation system (buses, taxis, trains) with hookups to high speed trains that can take you anywhere in Korea, hundreds of 15-20 story apartment buildings scattered all over the city, and a large city market with street vendors selling anything and everything you would ever need (clothes, food, etc).  Unless they work, go to school, or have friends or family outside of the city, there is no reason for Koreans to leave the town.  Anything and everything they need is here within a small 2-3 mile radius.  Of course there are cars, but they use cars much less than we do in America.  Simply walking or using public transportation is much more convenient and accessible for most Koreans.  Even the smallest of cities function this way.  Right now, I'm in a countryside town - and it's complete countryside once you step outside of the urban center, but within the city portion, it's a stronger urban core than Salt Lake City.  Density is Korea's best friend.  There is no such thing as the suburbs over here.

The coolest thing about it is that even though it's a modern city, it still feels ancient and old.  The streets are narrow and wind up and down the hills.  There are tanks of fish and cages of live animals along the sidewalks, waiting for people to buy them and take them home.  In the middle of the busy streets, there are old grandmas and grandpas with giant carts that they pull around, either selling items (food, clothes, etc) or collecting cardboard or other recyclable materials in order to sell them and make money.  Inside restaurants, they bring raw meat out to you and you cook it yourself on the stove in the middle of the table.  There are old Buddhist temples and other ancient style buildings that the Koreans have preserved and just built their city around.  All in all, it's an ancient society that they have not replaced, but instead integrated into the new westernized culture.

So that's what the city is like.  Large, big, loud, and full of shops, restaurants, stores, and excitement.  However, the very second you leave the city, everything changes.

The countryside is beautiful.  There are tree covered mountains everywhere.  Where there aren't mountains, there are farming fields.  Where there aren't farming fields, there are old farming houses.  I guess my point is, even though it's the countryside, there still isn't an inch wasted.  Everywhere you look, there is something to look at.  In the mountains, you can see clearings in the trees where there are shrines and ancient burial plots (think Mulan and her ancestor's tomb).  Where the land is flat, there are countless amounts of rice fields.  Every now and then, there's the occasional other crop, but it's mostly all just rice.  The farming houses are ancient and look as if they come right out of any Asian movie you can think of.  All of the homes and other buildings are connected by narrow, twisty roads that weave in and out of the farming fields.  Whenever we go out into the countryside, I love trying to catch the chickens or stray cats for fun, but then I get barked at by the massive dogs and fear my life when they break out of their chains and start chasing after me with their rabies infested mouths (don't worry, I'm good at killing dogs).  The best part about the country side is the people.  They are the hardest workers I have ever seen.  There are old 70-80 year old ladies walking up and down the farming roads balancing rice bags on their heads and old men working out in the fields for hours on end all day long.  In America, these people would be in rest homes.  But out here in Korea, they are still hard at work all day long.

The weather is actually really cool.  There are four very distinct seasons.  The summer is hot and humid, the fall is cool and beautiful, and the winter is freezing and dry.  One of my favorite experiences with the weather was when I was in my greenie area and a sunny day decided to become a torrential downpour.  We were in the middle of an old narrow alleyway and water was pouring off of the buildings down into the alley way like we were in a slot canyon during a flash flood.  Often times, the air quality will be really bad (from China's factories) and so the sun will appear red later in the day.  While it might because the air is dirty, it actually looks amazing and really adds to the mystic feel of the land.  The weather right now is freezing, but it's really not that different from a Utah winter - we just are outside all day as missionaries and therefore get the exposure to it.

Well, I'm out of time now - maybe another week I'll write about the food and other things I see on a daily basis.  But I think I at least helped to paint a better picture of what I see every day for now.  As far as missionary work this week goes, we're just helping our recently activated family prepare for their daughters baptism and son's ordination to the priesthood this Sunday.  We're super excited and so are they!

Until next week!
Elder Graf

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