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.
Back when I had just arrived in Korea, I was out having Korean BBQ with non-Korean friends. It was a pleasant evening and we were sat outside. The staff were helpful, we ate well, drank some soju and were feeling merry. The time came to pay. We made the faux pas of asking for the waitress to bring us the bill (see dining etiquette), but never-the-less they obliged despite our ignorance. Each of us paid our share and kicked in a couple of thousand won as a tip. We got up to leave and were a hundred metres down the road when a breathless waiter ran up to us. “Wait”, he shouted, “you forgot some money.”
“It’s a tip for your service”, we replied. He looked offended and thrust the money into my hands, turned and walked away.
It was only after this that I realised that leaving a tip is not customary in Korea. In fact, some may even take it as an insult because it insinuates that you believe they are more lowly than thou, and therefore more in need of your spare change. Occasionally a taxi driver may be glad not to make change of a 10000, for a 9000 fare, and of course, if you are staying in a top of the range hotel, then international staff tipping rules apply, but generally you don’t even need to feel awkward about how much to tip, because you shouldn’t leave one.
Check out The Condition podcast, which is recorded in Seoul and is a great guide to, not only Korean life, but also the human race in all it’s glory and acrimony.