Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Be The Light

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the fact most foreigners in this area come for a hot minute, feel overwhelmed with culture shock for 12 months, get angry about how everything isn't like home, and then are off too the thing.  Living here isn't life for most people, it's a marathon of experiences that leave them spinning right round, right round baby... and they don't realize that- despite their short stay- they leave a path of either destruction or grown in their wake.

Which brings me to this point where I want to share a few facts about living in the countryside in a foreign country:

1- It will NOT taste like home, Italy, Mexico, New York, etc.  It will not taste like these places because we are, in fact, in South Korea.  A country where the mass import of foreign goods is a new and developing thing, barely 3 years old.  I still remember when the only cheese you could by was knock off craft singles and the only bears were Cass or Hite.  I've only been here a little over 5 years.

2- We are in the countryside. Although many items are easy to access in Seoul, supply and demand still isn't in balance and distribution outside the city is unpredictable and costly.  It's been barely a year since authentic western restaurants have moved to the area and they are fighting to find the supplies they need to keep food consistent and quality high. They do an amazing job.

3- It's going to be expensive. If you want to save money, eat locally sourced Korean food. If you want foreign food you are going to have to pay out the nose (refer back to my comments on supply, demand, distribution.)  Things like guacamole are GOING to cost you. For me, I have no problem with this. I'm not military. I have no access to subsidized foreign food prices. Just the fact that it's possible to buy it here is like a miracle to me. They can take all my money.

4- Service is different here. It's not part of the culture to customize your order. It's not part of the culture to hover at your table trying to guess what you need next. Instead (in Korean restaurants), when you need something you call or wave the waitstaff over to your table. This means that all waitstaff new US Bases are having to learn an entirely new system of services while dealing with a language barrier. They are doing all of this for minimum wage.  So be kind, don't ask a ton of complicated questions, or rattle off long lists. Keep your order short, focused, and on message.

If you are not kind they will simply quite and find a less stressful job that doesn't include foreigners, who speak one language, being angry at them for not being perfect human beings who can read minds across cultures. Remember, if you are talking to someone and you speak no Korean and they speak some English - YOU are the person not putting in enough effort and not them.

5- Because people are not kind, finding staff for foreign restaurants is nearly impossible.  This means businesses are often short staffed or their hours will change based on this. Take a moment to understand that all the kitchen staff, waitstaff, owners, and customers are dealing with language barriers and cultural differences all day everyday. Instead of being angry at them for not providing the service YOU expect based on your cultural understanding of service, just sit back and think about all they have to deal with in a day and consider that they may be providing excellent service based on their cultural understanding, you just don't know how to interact within the new system.

6- Although you may live on a US military base, many of us do not. We have no access to base. We've never scene on base. We aren't even interested in being on base. We do not strive to be like base. Once you exit it's Korea. Sure, it's a unique place in Korea where a large percentage of the businesses are trying desperately to cater to a foreign clientele, but it's still South Korea. Understand that not everyone will speak perfect English, not everyone will have the time to deal with the fact you don't speak Korean. Be humble and know that you are a visitor in someone another's home.

7- The community needs your support and healthy participation in order to be the best that it can be, so don't just take - give. Since I'm not made of money, I can't afford to eat out all the time. This is why I blog and share information. It's so that I can make sure that when I'm not able to eat out, another person will be in that chair at that table instead of me so that next time I want to eat at a restaurant it's still there. I review them online, I blog about them, I tell my friends, I add them to websites so others can review them, share them, and blog about them. So PLEASE do the same for the ones you love, and leave the ones you hate out of it. Other people might love them and we want to give them that space.

This is not Seoul. This is not the US. This is the countryside where doing business is complicated, stressful, and an act of love. Owners are pushing themselves to their absolute limits to provide you with the very best the area has to give. Even I push myself to the limit making sure all the information is getting out there. I don't get paid.  This is a volunteer service for newbies and for businesses.  It's something I can do because my day job gives me some free time throughout the day, but I can't do it all alone.  So, please, for all of us that live here year in and year out. Be patient. Be kind. Be understanding. Be supportive. Review. Share. Be a light for all the other folks struggling to survive their year here and the businesses working their butts off to make it awesome here.