When it comes to doing things in Korea, there is an economy of motion, an economy of effort. It’s as though each task is looked at through a filter of convenience.
What is the easiest way to accomplish a task? What is the most simple way to get the job done? Because these questions are asked so unintentionally and yet so often, Korea is one convenient country.
There is a Family Mart (or other convenience store) on nearly every corner. It’s as though neighboring businesses aren’t worried about market saturation. People will just simply go to the place that is closest to them and there are people everywhere so what’s the worry?
I’m not sure there’s much of a trick to opening a successful business in Korea other than being in the right neighbor on a busy intersection. Of course, there may be more to it than that. What do I know? I’m just rambling.
Then again, I’m shocked to find how easy it is to do so many things here. Want to watch TV? Sure, just turn on your cell phone. Driving? Then switch the GPS to TV. Even the subways are hooked up with WiFi so you are rarely without the internet. South Korea proudly claims to be the most connected country in the world. While this claim is specific to the inter-connected web tubes, it could certainly be applied to buses, trains and plains of the country as well.
Nonetheless it’s positively mind-boggling to find myself in need of nail polish remover at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday and after walking two blocks finding a sparkly bottle of acetone for just 2,000 won. Seriously? 4 a.m.? Tuesday? I can pick up a friggin’ bottle of acetone with almost no effort.
And it’s not just the convenience stores. It’s the lifestyle. I’m not sure I understand this cultural custom quite right and if there’s anyone out there who can help me feel free to chime in. But I suppose the idea is that everyone is everyone’s brother, sister, aunt or uncle. (Words like ajumma and ajossi roughly translate to aunt and uncle.)
Again and again I see my students go out of their way to help each other. I can’t count the number of times someone has gone out of their way to help me. It might be strange like an ajumma approaching me on a sunny corner to shade me with an umbrella as I walk to the market. Or it might be a life-saver like an ajjuma buying a bus ticket for a stranded girl in Seoul. I find this trait completely astonishing and absolutely breathtaking.
It’s impossible for me to imagine Americans being so kind to one another for know reason other than “you’re supposed to,” yet as far as I can tell most of the time the system works incredibly well and people are more than happy to help one another. It’s expected. It’s the norm.
This overwhelming helpfulness contributes to a culture that is so damn convenient, it’s difficult to imagine ever having to plan ahead and buy nail polish remover when I buy the nail polish.