Koreans love the great outdoors. Across the country there are 20 national parks (including Hallasan on Jeju Island), and in and around Seoul there are a number of mountains streaked with paths and well maintained walkways. In short, Korea is a outdoor lover’s haven.
During autumn especially, people head to the countryside in their millions to get fresh air and exercise. Autumn in Korea is particularly beautiful, the late-October-early November period brings a blaze of colour and beauty to the whole nation. Much of Korea is covered by forest, and the Korean peninsula is very mountainous.
One of the curiosities of Korea is that you are likely to see more retirees getting their exercise in the gym, and outside than you are to see younger generations. All Korean men are required to complete a 2-3 year stint in the military, which of course comes with the necessity to exercise. Koreans in general seem to be healthy, in both diet and recreation.
Korea’s urban areas are rather disappointing in terms of open spaces. Urban planning rarely takes into account the need for parks and open recreational spaces, so to escape the city, one really must leave it, unlike a city such as London which has plenty of parks. However there are a number of small outdoor exercise areas (again something that would probably be vandalised in the West). Normally a few rudimentary metal machines that promote flexibility and healthy joints, the exercise areas are often frequented by the elderly.
Old people in East Asia really strike me as a wonderfully optimistic demographic. I love seeing groups of excited retirees excitedly amble their way up a mountain with the energy of a group of teenagers. It adds to the joy of the outdoors for me. If you come to Korea, aim to travel to the country away from national holidays and the autumn/spring high seasons, as this is the time when many people head to the country. It is hard to get tickets on public transportation or find low priced accommodation at this time.
Claw cranes are popular worldwide, but it seems like prizes in the Korean version have the edge over anywhere else. If you play the game right, then a 10megapixel camera could be yours! Another curiosity of Korea is that these games can be found everywhere. On every major street there are probably a couple of these things, even in smaller towns.
Back in England, it’s almost impossible to find claw cranes, most likely because they would not last very long before somebody came along with a rock and tried to smash it open and take all the prizes.
My buddy tried to go for the camera, so he put in $5 (5000 Korean won), which gave him 30 attempts.
I’m not sure how ownership of these machines works; whether there is a company that comes around to collect the money and keep them stocked, or whether they are owned by small local businesses, but a benefit of Korea’s lack of petty crime is that these things are ubiquitous and nobody need worry about senseless vandalism by idiots.
Whoever is in control however probably also has the shameful job of attaching weights to the prizes, such as huge chunks of rubber. This makes it difficult to really hook the prize, and although my buddy is pretty adept at playing these machines, the weights were proving too much for the claw crane’s claws, and the camera kept dropping out.
So, down to just 5 attempts left, we gave up the camera and went for something more achievable: a key-chain.
Note the two pieces of rubber which had been inserted inside the box of the key-chain even. Now the BMW key-chain rip off holds my buddy’s keys together, but his ignominious defeat over the camera was down simply to some hefty chunks of rubber.
Korea also has many of the machines which poke prizes off a shelf through a small gap (for want of a better explanation). If you thought that sounded phallic, the name ‘Love Push’ (see photo above) doesn’t help alleviate that thought. These are slightly easier in theory, but just as impossible to win.
The winters in Korea are pretty darn cold. Temperatures delve as low as -20 degrees during the worst month of January. It is often a dry cold which is, I supposed a blessing of some sort. Although we don’t have hair like dogs, I suppose we are lucky in that we can fashion wonderfully warm clothes to deal with the excruciating cold. It seems in Korea however, people have taken things a step further and allowed their pets to wear aforementioned clothing also.
Now in Korea, this comes in two different forms. 1st is the full clothing ensemble for dogs (Note: hair is sometimes, inexplicably, dyed also). It looks a little something like this:
Second of all is the what’s mine is yours approach where the dog, size permitting, shares coat space:
One of my favourite things in Korea is the chicken van.
The chicken van man is exactly what it sounds like: a man who drives around with a van full of chickens. The key thing to point out is that the chickens are already dead, and located in the back of the van, slowly cooking rotisserie-style. The van is specially made to cook chickens. The chickens are often whole and stuffed with fried rice.
The chicken van man usually appears in the evenings, from around 6pm onward as everyone makes their way home from work. He will park in a choice location and sell out of the back of his van.
There is no one rule as to where they appear. I tend to wander around the neighbourhood and buy one if I find it. They are generally located close to but not in busy areas. Sometimes they are not far away from high streets or subway stations.
The prices don’t vary too much, but the deal you get depends on the location and the quality of the chicken. Usually the chickens are slightly anorexic, but there is always some good eatin’ on them. The lowest price will often be 4000-7000 won ($4-7) for one. The best deal I saw was 10000 won ($10) for 3 whole chickens, but you will normally get 2 whole chickens for that price, which is still a fantastic price.
Not only are you always within minutes of a restaurant anywhere in all Korean towns and cities, you don’t even have to move from where you are to get a meal. If you can describe the location you are at sufficiently enough in Korean, then you can probably get a local restaurant to deliver food to you. This is inclusive of all areas accessible my a small motorcycle.
People in recreational areas such as the riverside parks along the river will often find a restaurant menu pinned to a pillar or park bench, call it and get food delivered to them, at no extra cost. If a road heads up a mountain, and you’re hungry at the top, then, within reason, you can probably get some food delivered to you.
One of the unique perks of Korea is this fantastic level of service which operates on a whole other level.
Even Pizza Hut, McDonalds and all other global fast food chains have a fleet of small delivery bikes. Often there is a minimum order price of 7000 won (about $7) for delivery. It does not bode well for anybody like me with habitually lazy patterns who wants to lose weight but can’t resist picking up the phone to get something delivered to the door.
Wherever you wander in Korea, it doesn’t take long to realise that space here is used very efficiently. Any busy high street can be overwhelming at night time as the bright neon signs jostle for position, revealing how every level of a building will play host to a restaurant, store, bar(or hof as they are also known).
Occasionally, in the midst of all the glitz and neon 1980s sci-fi movie glare, you may see a huge bowling pin sticking out the side of the building. Unlike in the West, there are few out-and-out bowling alleys in Korea. However tucked on one or two floors in between a pharmacy on the floor above and a seafood restaurant on the one below perhaps, you can hit the bowling lanes for a few thousand won (usually around W5000) an hour including gear hire. Sometimes the bowling alleys are located in the basement.
If you have to wait, there are usually pool and billiard tables in a waiting room. The best time to go is during the day time when most people are at work.