The Three “C’s” I Love About “Corea”

Shout out to Spanish-speakers everywhere!  For purposes of forceful alliteration…Quiero compartir mis tres “C’s” favoritas de Corea.

  1.  La Conveniencia

Me encantan las tiendas coreanas!

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Slowly but surely, convenience stores like 7-Eleven and CU evolved into cornerstones of my Korean lifestyle.  Have 30 minutes to kill before school? Grab a coffee and read at Emart 24.  Thirsty around midday?  Grab some one-dollar two-liter bottled water at GS25. Patiently waiting for friends to get hungry? Grab a Korean rice wrap or piece of fruit at 7-Eleven.  Waiting for your drinking buddies after dinner?  Sip a tall boy and relax in a plastic chair outside Ministop, planting your legs to slide backward as a car hurtles down the narrow street keen on leaving you wheelchair-bound.

The contents of these stores are comparable to 7-Elevens back in the States – quick food, alcohol, water, soft drinks, and necessities at markup prices.  However, Korean stores dedicate more shelf space to ramen and fresh food (read: healthier food) and typically offer more onsite seating.

But the sheer ubiquity of these stores proves pervasive in my life.  I live in a small-to-medium size city in the Korean Deep South, and can’t walk more than a city block without noticing the fluorescent lateral stripes of a mini market.  They make satisfying summer oases.

Another convenient Korean experience is the proliferation of public toilets.  My awkward ass always shudders when I think about walking into coffee shops or marts asking to use their toilet without making a purchase.  But in sleepy coastal Mokpo, one can find non-revolting public toilets within a 1-kilometer radius. I’ve peed a pee on many trees.  But Korea civilizes me through convenience.

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Convenience also abounds with countless delivery services.  Though I’ve never ordered meals for delivery, it’s terrifyingly easy and affordable for a man to defy traffic laws and death to bring you fried chicken, pizza, or other Korean cuisines in time to break the sound barrier.  However, this does make pedestrian life inconvenient as I summon vigilance for motorcycles breezing by me on sidewalks. The key, as Flatcap tells me, is to remain still. Let them dodge you. If you can dodge a wrench, you still can’t dodge a psychotic moped.

  1.  Los Cafés

Las cafés de Corea son hermosas y cómodas.

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I never cared for cafes before coming to Korea.  I thought cafes were the exclusive purview of the hoity-toity hoi-polloi – a fortress of pretentiousness.

Either I’ve grown more conceited in the past two years, or Korean cafes assassinated my stereotypes.   I’ve caught a strong case of Korean cafe fever. It might be my premier weekend pastime.

Sitting next to wide-open windows in the summer sun as I read a book, study Korean, or hack away at blog posts seems to restore my soul.  While drip coffee often proves hard to come by, cafe Americanos are an acquired taste – a suitable substitute.

With a 4000 won initial purchase and 1000 won refill, I can easily kill several hours.  In a society where living space is scarce and people pay a premium to spend time in public, cafes present a cheap and pleasant opportunity.

Moreover, cafes sport varied decor that gives each location a distinct flavor and personality.  One of my favorite cafes boasts six cats who wander around doing cute cat stuff all day. Other cafes model old-style English taverns or tout a museum-like figurine museums.  Another cafe in Seoul even offers raccoons as companions. (I often forget that raccoons are exotic animals here).

When I return to California I hope to meet new cafe comrades.  I cannot promise I will work on my novel or the next big screenplay, but I do have a blog.  That counts for something, right?

  1.  La Comida

La comida coreana es muy deliciosa.  Qué sabor!

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I rarely encounter a Korean food I don’t like.  Chili peppers garlic, soy sauce, and sesame seasonings predominate most traditional dishes.

And vegetables.

Oh lord, the vegetables.

Koreans do vegetables right.

Koreans love to ferment and pickle veggies to produce a strong variety of tastes that accommodate distinct palettes.

I sometimes shed a tear for my American comrades who suffer through bland, steamed broccoli and Brussel sprouts.

Many restaurants also serve savory sauteed vegetables as side dishes.  Restaurateurs serve these dishes, known as 반찬 (banchan), on request.  Foods like kimchi (fermented cabbage) sauteed bean sprouts, spinach, lotus root,s dried seasoned seaweed, and quail eggs represent a traditional banchan spread.

On top of these auxiliary delights, Korean soups knock me out. Dishes like doenjang guk (fermented soybean soup), soondooboo jjigae (soft tofu stew), and samgyetang (young chicken stuffed with rice in chicken-ginseng broth) among many others, provide various healthy dining options that appeal to dieters of all sorts.

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Soondooboo Jjigae

Korea has the right idea.  Why should we expend willpower to choke down healthy food and maintain a healthy weight?  Just make healthy food irresistible.

I am convinced that Koreans’ varied vegetable consumption is one cause behind the country’s low obesity rate.  Coupled with a per-capita meat consumption lower than the U.S. or U.K., and you have a healthy-eating population.  In fact, Korea’s obesity rate suffered a recent uptick – a suspicious coincidence with an explosion in western fast food consumption (fried chicken, hamburgers, and pizza).  One can attribute most of this growth to children and young adults – a tragic trend that imperils Korea’s impressive obesity rate and life expectancy.

Yet even traditional Korean “fast food” like gimbap (rice, pickled vegetables, and ham wrapped in seaweed) or bibimbap (rice and vegetables mixed in a bowl with chili sauce) sport nutritional profiles that put American food to shame. While these foods are far from optimal, they’re equidistant from sub-optimal.

The most delicious compromise of all time.

¡Muchas gracias!  Espero que tenga buena semana.  ¡Hasta luego!

 

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