Right now, there are some pretty glaring reasons why it’s obvious I’m in Korea. It’s Christmas Day in a matter of hours yet our office has no trashy decorations, no tins of Celebrations with only the Snickers ones left festering at the bottom, and the only Christmas tree that’s up is the one I drew on the English Centre whiteboard…in permanent marker (that’s how much I love Christmas).
But the little things matter too, and Korea has a fairly impressive array of microscopic, easy-to-miss-unless-you-open-your-eyes quirks which, on one level or other, I can’t help but appreciate. Here are 5.
1. Small Heads are a highly-regarded physical attribute.
And I have one.
The Holy Trinity of the Western World that is legs-tits-and-ass don’t get a look in in this neck of the woods. Nor does the quintessential Scottish insult of “sparraheid”. Instead, sought-after large eyes fill the plastic surgeon’s day and dreams of even-more-sought-after small heads rule Korean women’s nights. The desirability of a small head, I have learned, is the reason splayed-finger peace-signs are often held up to frame faces in photos.
I had never thought about the size of my head before because it’s completely unworthy of mention; now I enjoy being complimented on it, and my co-teacher and I both enjoy comparing its size to that of different Korean fruits.
2. Rock, Paper, Scissors is a widely-accepted Major Decision-making tool.
Yes, t’is true. 가위 바위 보 (kawi bawi bo) or Rock, Scissors, Paper is the way to solve everything. Kids arguing about who should go next? Kawi bawi bo. Couples arguing about where to go for dinner? Kawi bawi bo. In fact, Kawi bawi bo is used so successfully and for pretty much anything that I urge the rest of the world to put down their guns and pick up their rocks. Or their scissors. Or…you get the idea.
3. Everything is good for health…
There are all sorts of traditional Korean food products that are good for health. Yerba mate cha
(yerba tea) is my current favourite, but previous winners have been quince tea and dried persimmons. Husband has been inundated with suggestions about what is “good for man”, which seems to be anything even remotely phallic-shaped, no matter how tenuous, such as Udon noodles or eel. He has not eaten eel since we arrived, but he did fall ill for four weeks. A noteworthy medical link I’d say.
4. …but nothing is as good as a sturdy prescription.
Korean doctors hand out pills like it’s The Hacienda in the 80’s. When the punishing Korean hell-virus first took up residence in Husband’s weak Western body he headed to the hospital looking for salvation. He left with a 5-day prescription requiring he take 19 pills a day. When that didn’t work he was given a further batch plus some anti-virals (not available in the confines of the European Union) and a pint and a half of cough-syrup. Presumably to mix with quince-and-eel tea.
5. Merry what-now?
In the lead-up to the consumerist Leviathan that is the Western Christmas, concern abounded as to where, in The Land That Yuletide Forgot, we could source a tree. Happily, the bastion of consumerism that is E-mart was pleased to oblige and we are now the proud owners of a fake tree. Actually, it’s half a tree. (Who buys that? Us apparently, in a peak of ineptitude.) But it was found with a bunch of highly-flammable yuletide trash under a sign that said “Event”. Yep. Christmas was sign-posted. Can you imagine John Lewis shelling out 7 million big ones for a crappy “Event”? Me neither.
Yes, the lack of Wham! is a travesty. Yes, it’s weird that turkeys don’t exist here. And yes, I’m pretty much in denial that my Family Christmas will go ahead without me this year. But when the dark days of January descend on us all, I’ll be ready to drown my festive bad-living with pints of quince tea and more pills than I’d get in a lifetime from the NHS. So it will be a merry Christmas after all. Ha!