It’s been nine months since I left home. I’ve been China, Vietnam, Laos, the US and now I’m exploring Europe, moving countries every week. Sometimes people asked me ‘Do you miss home?’ and ‘Do you miss Korean food?’. Well, I don’t really. I’ve been unhappy about the cultural and social situations in the country for a long time, so I don’t really miss ‘home’. I miss the food sometimes; having well-prepared breakfast, hot soup and rice; I miss them. I resolve the feeling by cooking Korean-style food time to time, when I have a kitchen.

However, there are certain things that made me think ‘you are such a Korean’. Even though I’m not happy with a lot of things happening in the country, I like how people are living and the life values they respect. As I’m around, I thought few things that I have to have when I settle in. Here, I’m sharing my super Korean identity. Maybe you’ll understand better of Koreans now.

I need my fan

We didn’t have the air-conditioning system, or air-con like how we call it, while I was growing up. My parents have it now, but it works only few times in a year when my nephews are visiting. I never lived with the air-con either.

How we survived the summer? You might ask.

The fan. That’s how.

Still, I like the fan better than the air-con. I can survive the hottest summer day with a working fan in the room. Actually, I prefer to use a fan than an air-con. It just doesn’t feel natural with the air-con. Well, anyway, I can’t stand the stillness of the air. Even in winter, I’d rather be freezing with an open window than warm and stuff air. I got to make the air moving. That’s why I like a big window so much. When the weather starts getting hot, my mom brings three or four fans out from the garage. Each of us gets one if we are in the house, and one for the kitchen. Open window, fast moving the fan, my dog’s floppy ears in front of the fan, and lying on the cold wooden floor, is very summery for me. I’ve noticed it’s not common to have a fan in the house. The closest thing I’ve seen is a ceiling fan. But I can’t help but think that thing might fall on me. The fan is so close to Koreans life, we even have the famous urban legend: fan death. True or not, although I believe it’s false but you can’t really change what people think for what they believed for 40 years, the fan is that important. I had few moments that I wanted to buy a fan myself and donate to the places where I was staying. I need my fan, I need my moving air. When I have a home, one of the first things to buy is a fan.

My dog loved the fan in the summer as well. He had the Korean soul.

My obsession to a spoon

I’m interchangeable. I don’t complain about the cultural differences or the situation that I can’t change. I’m not a super Asian freak that always has to use a set of chopsticks no matter what I eat. I cook wherever I go and I eat anything I can but I’m sorry, I can’t give up my spoon. Food is a sacred thing in Korea, even though economically people are doing quite all right now. Hence, the table etiquette is quite complicated and very important in the culture. There are many rules, but one of the basic is that spoon is for rice and soup, and chopsticks are for others. The act, eating rice with chopsticks, looks like you’re chasing your luck away. It’s a cultural impression. Also, the rice bowl has to be cleaned without not even single rice, so that’s where spoon comes handy. Even though I’m traveling non-stop moving one country to another, eating various cuisine, it didn’t change the fact that table manner was one of the first things I remember. I just need a spoon.

Ceiling light

We call it ‘hyunggwangdeung’, literally means fluorescent light. You’ll see the bright-long-white light bulb on the ceiling, no matter what part of the country you’re going. I remember when I realized not everyone is using the white light bulb, and the light is not even on the ceiling. It was shocking to me. I like big windows because I like to be in a bright house, and if I can light up my house without electricity, that’s the best. When the sun goes down, I need to light up the place and that’s where ceiling light comes in.

I’ve noticed a lot of places in western places use the yellow-colored light bulb, or a bright reading light, maybe night stand. It’s just a matter of what you’re used to, and my eyes are trained to act well under the ‘white’ light. It is just natural to me.

I’ll install hyunggwangdeung in every room in my house.

Korean BBQ - whatever I eat, I need the spoon!

Clean floor

We Koreans, along with many Asian countries, don’t wear shoes inside of the house. We leave shoes at the door and wear nothing but socks. The biggest part of the cleaning the house, and my least favorite part is mopping the floor – without a mop. We, usually my mom, kneel down on the floor and mop the entire house with a wet towel. Just like the western houses need to be vacuumed, the Korean houses need to be mopped with a wet towel. We sit, we eat, we read, and we sleep on the floor. It is changing to a western style with a bed and everything, but still, floor is an important part of Korean’s life. We have a basket of wet towels on the corner of the living room, ready to be used anytime anyone needs. I can’t stand walking on the dirty floor. It is really an unpleasant feeling to step on debris in the house. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not the cleanest person in the world. Though, keeping the floor clean is one of my priorities in the house. I keep my shoes off most of the times when I’m visiting someone else’s house unless they strongly suggested keeping it on.

Heated floor

Not to mention, the best thing about Korean culture is the heated floor, ondol. The houses were designed efficiently to heat the floor with the heat from the kitchen. When you are using the stove to cook, the energy goes to the floor to heat. It was a quite scientific and energy efficient design. The floor was scorching hot in the winter; literally, you can’t even put your hand on the room floor. It was that hot. And I miss that.

I liked winter because it felt cozy in winter, sitting on the heated floor, reading comic books and drinking hot tea… it was really nice. The worst winter weather I’ve ever experienced was in Yangshou, Guangxi Province, China. The temperature wasn’t that cold, not even 0 degC, but they didn’t have any heating measure in the room. Not even hot water to shower. It was terrible. The heated floor is the best thing about Korea.

How about you? Do you miss something from home when you are on the road?

Me with my spoon

21 thoughts on “My Super Korean Identity Revealed”

  1. What I miss when I’m traveling are my baby pillow, cats and family. Everytime I go to sleep I hug and smell the baby pillow, and it should be near to my nose until I fall asleep. Second my cats, every morning and when I come home I always give them a tight hug and massage. I like them so much because their sweetness makes me feel that I’m loved. Most of all my family. I can’t imagine myself living in another country for so long away from family.

  2. I didn’t realise that you were never supposed to eat rice with chopsticks – how did I not know that?!

    What do I miss…CHEDDAR CHEESE. So much. Seriously, I would carry a huge block with me in my bag at all times when travelling if it wasn’t, you know, kinda disgusting to do so. Also saying, “thank you” – British people say thanks for EVERYTHING, from getting change in a shop to when we exit the bus. I think people often think I’m a little weird when I constantly thank them!

    1. Yeah, I do that but you are not supposed to by the traditional table manner.

      I know what you mean by thank you. I do that a lot in Korea too but it was really odd in China. Whenever I said thank you (in Chinese of course), people looked kind of lost. It’s just not in the culture. 🙂

      I love cheddar cheese, I miss them too. Not from Korea, I miss Vermont extra sharp cheddar cheese. Maybe we have to invent a mini-fridge to travel with! 🙂

  3. I’m totally with you on fan rather than air-conditioning! I’ve spent the summer carrying sweaters with me because of the crazy air conditioning obsession here in New York. Also, heated floors… ahhh! My parents have one in their bathroom 🙂

    1. Heated floor in the bathroom? That’s awesome! I don’t like the crazy airconditioning either. Singapore and the train in Malaysia are the worst! Let’s use the fans, people! 🙂

  4. I can not live without AC mostly because I live in Phoenix, one of the hottest cities in the U.S. I also need the fan on too.

    The thing that I miss the most when traveling is a cold drink with ice. I don’t mean one or two cubes like you get in Europe but a glass full. I once got some dirty looks in Switzerland because I filled up my whole glass with ice.

    1. I didn’t realize it until few months ago. I just have to use spoon! I Can’t explain the feeling exactly but I feel much more comfortable with the spoon on the table. 🙂

  5. A floor that heats up? That sounds amazing! I hate cold floors — but I loathe socks even more. These are some very cool things about Korean culture that I wouldn’t want to give up either!

  6. Aww, I love this! I feel like Americans always get “you’re SO American!” on the road, so it’s nice to know that every culture experiences this, ha =)

    Can’t think of things I miss, other than the Internet when I’m in a place without it! I think that’s more a reflection on my generation than place of origin, though.

  7. It’s funny reading this as an American living in South Korea, because I can definitely see how these things are part of the culture here. In the past 18 months that I’ve lived here I’ve become kind of obsessive about taking my shoes off inside my apartment. When I see people wearing shoes inside their house on TV or in photos I am simultaneously shocked and horrified 🙂 Also, I’ve come to sitting on the floor to chop vegetables due to a lack of counter space, so a clean floor is necessary. I’ve also come to love ondol, and I appreciate that Koreans appreciate a spoon. I’m still not great with chopsticks, and the spoon has come to my rescue many times!

    I’ve noticed a lot of “American” things I do since living abroad, like saying “I’m sorry” for things that aren’t my fault. Or “bless you” after someone sneezes.

    I think once you leave your country for a long time you start to realize how much it has left it’s mark on you, even if you aren’t a huge fan of the place all the time 🙂

  8. I agree with you on the air conditioner. I grew up in Germany where they’re not generally used at all and when I first moved to the US at 15, I hated the slightly artificial smell the air conditioned air has. I still do.
    My apartment in Seoul actually did have an A/C unit, but I never once used it. I saved a lot of money and probably helped my lungs a lot too. The A/C was always running during the summer months at the academy I was teaching at though. The kids would revolt if I turned it off.

  9. I’m getting spoiled with the heated floors here in Iceland! What am I going to do without them. Granted, I know Austin doesn’t get too cold but still – it is nice!

  10. Heated floors? That’s awesome!! The longer I live in Thailand, the more I am learning about this culture. It seems some things are similar between Korea and Thailand. I had no idea about the rice though – going to have to pay attention to that!

  11. Air-con VS fan: it depends on the temperature of the air. In certain parts of Spain summer is really, really hot (over 41ºC, completely unbearable), and believe me: moving hot air you just get equally hot air in movement. You can’t open the windows given that the air in the street is much hotter than your house. When you open the window or go out, feeling that heat on your skin is like beeing stuck with something solid!! Like a slap in your face. In many cafés they put some tables out on the pavement and put also a fan WHIT A LITTLE OF WATER not to move just hot air.

    Concerning what a miss… when I spent several weeks out I miss my youngest dog. That sincere, sweet joy whenever I speak, touch or squeeze him. Whit just one look he expresses the rawest ad truest LOVE. He is the one who loves me the most ( far more than my boyfriend! hahahah)

  12. As Asian myself, most of the things you mentioned ring true. Except probably for the chopstick thing; I like to use my chopstick for rice. Oh, and we don’t have winter in Indonesia so no heated floor.

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