Underappreciated things about an already underappreciated country.
- Korea is a textiles manufacturing powerhouse. In most places in Asia, markets will sell a lot of cheap clothing. But here, the off-price stuff sold for $3 or $5 in the subway stations comes from manufacturers who, on the other side, are making stuff for Patagonia, Zara, Nike, etc. The Dongdaemun night market (wholesale clothing market, open to everyone) is literally the definition of a fast fashion nerve center, stocking retailers around the country every night (literally, retailers from all over Korea come to shop here starting at midnight to stock inventory for the next day), with production runs and test clothing that run in the single digits. In common terms, this just means – bring an empty suitcase and load up on quality, off-brand, no brand outerwear – and innerwear. Every subway station usually has a ‘sock store’ selling nothing more than socks for less than a dollar.
- A lot of underappreciated and unknown ‘health’ food. Korean traditional cuisine stems from a philosophy that food is medicine and vice versa. While meat (Korean BBQ, fried chicken) gets all the attention, herbs, vegetables, and roots, usually served pickled, are staples of every meal. Things like bean sprouts, Korean thistle, burdock, sesame leaves, pepper leaves, thorny ash, mallow, bellflower roots, not to mention mountain herbs for which there is no proper common translation, like Korean pimpinella, ainsliaea, ragwort, bog rhubarb, Korean angelica, sedum, etc. etc. The list goes on and on; Koreans pickle anything that can be picked. Not to say that all food in Korea is healthy, that’s far from the case, but a typical traditional meal is fairly well-balanced. Some sort of fermented stew, served with a variety of pickled vegetables and herbs, carbs in the form of rice or noodles, and meat in the form of fish or pork.
- An unbelievable cafe culture. Koreans binge drink coffee the same way they binge drink alcohol, which if you think about it, might be a yin and yang phenomenon, with one not possible without the other. The multitude of, and staggering variety of cafes and coffeeshops on every corner is mind-blowing. Cafes and coffeeshops that serve alcohol alongside their coffee, dessert-specialty coffeeshops, coffeeshops that specialize only in giant portions, coffeeshops and cafes of every imaginable theme and configuration possible. They say to show, not tell, and to do that, I suggest you just Google “Korean cafes” or “coffeeshops” on Google or Youtube.
- This one is an element of Korea that I don’t think Koreans realize yet. If Koreans didn’t spend all their time just studying, and their early to mid 20s in an insane cycle of work & drinking all-nighters, there would be more world-class athletes in every field from here. I was part of two different gyms here, and having trained extensively in both the US and Asia, I will say that the number of physical specimens and giants in Korea is surprisingly high. But years of study and atrophying behind a desk means that they don’t know it yet. Also, the terrible diet and drinking doesn’t help. This might be the only country I’ve trained where guys regularly smoke before and after workouts, and come in smashed from the night before. And for the latter, I don’t mean young guys in youthful partying mode. I mean salarymen in their 30s and 40s.
- Lastly, Korea is a convenient country. Things are efficient, quick, available. Convenience, and a culture of service stems from its homogeneous society. I’ll just point back to an earlier article I wrote about this.