Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Korea is a culture that seems to be obsessed with coffee. Coffee shops here are not simple buildings; they often have two or three levels, all of which are packed full of customers. This holds true despite the overwhelming number of coffee establishments that exist in the city. Often, several multi-story shops will be on the same block as each other. Sitting around in a coffee shop is just something people do...a lot.

All around the world, people go to coffee shops for the same basic reasons: the coffee tastes better than when you make it at home and hey, we're all a little lazy sometimes. However, in Korea, going to a coffee shop is pretty much the only option, as I have found getting quality coffee in your home to be quite the difficult task. I made the mistake of buying my own coffee pot when I arrived, because it was cheap and I like drinking coffee. There's nothing wrong with the pot, it's finding something to brew in it that's the problem.

Most coffee for sale in stores here is instant coffee. It's contained in tiny sticks that are at least 50% sugar, and it is hugely popular. They're sold everywhere, usually in packs of 100 or 500. I myself have drank some of these at work in dire situations, but it's more like drinking hot chocolate than anything else. Finding actual ground coffee beans to brew at home is very challenging. They can be purchased from coffee shops like Starbucks, but run around $20 for a bag, which in my opinion is a bit steep (even for Starbucks). Therefore, I too have been forced to turn to coffee shops when I want my caffeine fix. Although the coffee I can buy is delicious, I do miss waking up to the smell of coffee in the morning.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

White Day

Today is a holiday of sorts here in South Korea: White Day. A month ago, we celebrated Valentine's Day. Like in America, Valentine's Day celebrates couples or prospective love interests. However, it is a male-centric holiday. If you are the female half of a couple, you buy chocolate or a present for your man, but do not receive a gift in return (although it is common for couples to go on a romantic date). The reason is that women are celebrated one month later on White Day. In the days leading up to March 14, it's deja vu all over again as the convenience stores and shops put out flowery baskets and heart-shaped candy boxes for men to buy for their women.

This holiday creates an interesting dynamic for gift exchange. On the positive side, men often confess that they are unsure what presents to buy for their girlfriends, especially at the beginning of the relationship. This holiday pair system gives the man the advantage of already knowing how "serious" of a present he received. On the other hand, the relationship is one month more serious on the relationship scale when his turn comes. And more importantly, as I pointed out to some coworkers, the man has the opportunity to receive a gift and then become single before he has to return the favor (not saying it happens often, just saying it's possible).

Luckily, if the man should choose to behave that way, the woman could still celebrate herself on Black Day, the April 14th holiday in honor of singles.