Ask MsCaroline

It has been almost exactly one week since we left the hotel and moved into our apartment here in Seoul, and life is beginning to fall into a rhythm of sorts: a jerky, unpredictable rhythm, but a rhythm nonetheless.  We're not really 'doing' anything, except trying to get acclimated to our new surroundings and - in my case - figure out the appliances and fantasize about my furniture, which should be here sometime before the end of the month.  However, my mind is like a steel trap, and, with each new experience, I'm filing away new and useful information which I am delighted to share here with you.  Should any of my readers move to Seoul in the future, I would like to think that I've done my part for humankind by providing answers to some of your burning questions regarding parenting, homemaking, etiquette, and general daily life for the modern western woman adjusting to life in an Asian metropolis:

Question:  I'm just going around the corner and the sun is shining.  Do I need to take my umbrella? 
Answer:  Yes. Summer is 'Monsoon Season' in Korea. ( 'Monsoon' is Korean for, "These shoes were a huge mistake.")  This means that the weather is mostly rain, although there may be brief periods of non-rain that will lull you into thinking that the rain is over.  Do not be fooled by this.   You should always take your umbrella with you, under all circumstances, even if there is not a cloud in the sky.  This will be especially important to remember if you have moved from the American Southwest and have not seen bona fide rain since late 2010.  In fact, you should go out and buy several umbrellas for your family right away because you will constantly forget about them and leave them all over Seoul in cabs and restaurants.

Question:  I hear a lovely melody playing.  Is that the radio? 
Answer:  No.  That is your washing machine, or, possibly, your dishwasher.  Do not expect your appliances to let you know they're finished working with the typical lackluster 'Beep-Beep' or 'Buzzzzz' of an American appliance.  All your appliances, when finished with their tasks, will burst into an ebullient tune of at least 30 measures, including a melody and a refrain.  The exception to this rule is your oven, which will emit a quiet, anemic 'peep' when it's preheated, and then, for reasons that are not clear,  immediately turn itself off.  When you finally start wondering if the oven's preheated, you will discover that it is off and have to preheat all over again.  This will happen repeatedly until you finally pull up a milk crate and perch on it by the oven, watching it like a hawk and waiting for it to beep so you can cram your food in there before it capriciously turns itself off again.

Question:  I need to buy some live mussels.  Will I be able to find them in the mini-grocery store downstairs in my apartment building?  
Answer:  Why, yes, of course.  You will find live mussels in the tiny convenience store in your building, along with shrimp-flavored cheese puffs, diapers for your baby, milk, bean sprouts, wholemeal flour, crystallized ginger, and Rich Tea biscuits.  You will not, however, be able to find any Parmesan cheese.

Question:  I need to get to the Shilla Hotel.  If I hop into a cab and say, 'Shilla Hotel,' will the driver take me straight to the Shilla Hotel?
Answer:  Most certainly not.  The driver will smile broadly, say, "Namsan Tower" and begin driving.   You will say 'Shilla Hotel' again, and he will say, "Namsan Tower" again.  You will repeat this exchange several more times, with mounting frustration. Just as you resign yourself to seeing the Namsan Tower against your will, your driver will abruptly make a u-turn in the middle of 6 lanes of traffic, drive you up a hill, through the back of  a partially deserted industrial parking lot, and deposit you at the Shilla Hotel.  If you are prepared for this, and are aware in advance that you will, eventually, end up at the Shilla Hotel, the whole experience will be far less terrifying.

Question:  The seafood salad I have been served includes a mollusk (or possibly,crustacean) that is orange, membranous, and approximately the size of a Vienna sausage.  It also has a tail that is twice its length.  Should I eat it?
Answer:  It is your adventurous spirit that has brought you here to Asia, where you and your family will make treasured memories together, sharing a variety of new experiences and cuisines.  Not eating something just because you don't know what it is is close-minded and provincial.  However, many of us live by deeply held personal credos, and it so happens that one of mine is, "Do not eat anything you cannot identify that has a two-inch long membranous tail attached to it."  If, however, that is not one of your personal credos then, by all means, you should certainly eat it.

Question:  In Korea, how many tables must an establishment have in it in order to call itself a 'restaurant?'
Answer:  One, or maybe two.  But they do not have to be very big.

Question:  It is ten o'clock in the morning and my teenage sons are not up yet.  Should I wake them?
Answer:  Under no circumstances should you wake them.  If you do, they will eat all your food, dirty all your dishes, make a mess of your kitchen, play loud music, and then ask for money so they can go get pho for lunch, which you will gladly give them just to get them out of the apartment.  You will end up with a dirty kitchen and no money.  Let them sleep and go have another cup of coffee.


Hails said…
Laughed my head off at this. I think that reading about it all from someone else's perspective helps me feel like I have a slightly firmer grip on reality than it sometimes seems. :)

A taxi driver once deposited me in the middle of nowhere, far from the place I'd asked to go, and I just let him - mostly out of sheer relief that he'd stopped and I was still alive!
Wilma said…
I think the designer of your oven was Sean. I asked him one time if the light was off on the oven which was pre-heating for pizza for him. He said yes, the light went off so he turned it off. Luckily it had only been a minute or so and I was still able to put the pizza in. LOL

As far as the 10:00 lie-in, at what age does this start? Do they have to stay up until ungodly hours to perform this wondrous miracle? Does it happen daily or is it a rarity? I'm immensely intrigued by this. The latest mine ever stays sleeping is into the early part of the 9:00 hour and then only if he has been up extremely late. All of the things you mentioned happening if you wake them happen here except the requesting money to go out to get more food. :)
MsCaroline said…
Oh, good, so it's not just me....

The sad part is that I wasn't even really trying to get to the Shilla hotel! It was just the closest recognizable thing to the place I was trying to go. I should have told him 'Namsan Tower' and maybe I would have actually ended up at my intended destination...very frustrating that no one uses actual street addresses here...
Karen said…
I laughed, too, but not at the "no Parmesan Cheese" part. That is truly tragic. How does one survive? As for not waking the teenage boys...not so sure that is a Korean thing. I don't wake my teenagers for that self same reason. Only do it when my own guilt at enjoying a peaceful clean house at the expense of my kids' physical and mental well being gets too strong to be stood. Keep it up Miss Caroline! Love the advice and will be ready when my family moves to Seoul some day...or never!
MsCaroline said…
@Wilma: If Sean moves to Seoul, he will have no problem adjusting immediately to the logic behind the appliances. Must be my age. As far as the lie-in goes: I think this starts somewhere around 8th or 9th grade in general, but in this case, it seems to be intensified by the difference in time zones. Both boys stay up quite late skype-ing with their friends right now. No harm done because no school but obviously we'll have to crack down on this eventually. The requesting to go out for food is because it is all within walking distance and - in the case of local Asian food, - quite cheap. We aren't eating out nearly as much as we were when we were in the hotel, but since there are dozens of restaurants within easy walking distance, my suburban kiddos are enjoying the will wear off.
@Karen: I survive by having Mr.Logical stop on base on the way home, that's how! But I can assure you I'll never run out again..; )
What a truly fabulous blog. From the gentle heights of my Welsh hills where taxis, singing domestic appliances and orange molluscs (with or without membranous tails) are considerably rarer than hens' teeth (we do at least have hens so may spot teeth quite soon), I stand amazed and amused. And agree about leaving teenagers to sleep, anywhere, on any continent.
MsCaroline said…
Elizabeth: Thank you for the kind words! This is is all very foreign to me, too, although I suppose the distance from American suburbia to Asian Metropolis is not quite as far as it would be from the peaceful hills of Wales...either way, it has been an enormous learning curve and I'm sure it is just beginning!
Trish said…
This is just too funny, Ms Caroline.
Umbrellas, weird food, teenage boys and musical appliances. I would be very cross if my pre-heated beep signalled a turning-off action! How very dare it!
MsCaroline said…
@Trish: yes, a little bit of a surreal nightmare scenario, no? I bet your well-behaved and orderly appliances would never dream of getting out of line.

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