Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Facing the familiar

There were quite a few things I had to get readjusted to after my move back to Toronto. After having spent a year in Seoul, I had become quite used to living my life a certain way. I had even become used to the many quirks that made Korea so alien to me in my first few months there.

Having moved back, I faced a lot of challenges that stemmed from things I took for granted while I lived here. Simple things caught me off guard, or shocked me. Things that should have been refreshing or familiar, scared or frustrated me. That said, I also came to appreciate a few things.

So here's five of my biggest shockers since moving back to Toronto.

5. Understanding what people around me are saying -- After a few weeks in Korea I became used to drowning people out. Most of my co-workers would speak in Korean when in my company, along with my co-teachers and students as well. The chatter became like white noise, and pretty soon all I heard were my own thoughts... and I was OK with that.

When I moved back to Toronto, one one of the first places I visited was a shopping mall. I was passing through the food court with my mum, when I found myself frozen in time and space. There were words spinning all around me, and the fact that I understood what everyone was saying scared the bajeepers out of me. People were talking about their significant others, about dinner plans and movie listings... even about the weather. And I understood all of it!

It was shocking because I realized these were probably the same conversations happening around me in Seoul... but I just never understood what was going on. The moment in the shopping mall felt like absolute chaos for me, and I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Since then, it's become a lot better. But boy, that first experience was pretty terrifying! It's funny how we take simple things like this for granted.

4. Tipping at restaurants -- I know, I know! This isn't something new or shocking. But one of the first things I learned while in Korea was that no one tipped at restaurants, bars or pubs. No one looked at you the wrong way for leaving a smaller tip, and certainly no one yelled at you if you didn't tip. It just wasn't expected. If you did decide to tip, most servers would graciously accept and thank you for it, regardless of the amount.

I understand the importance of tipping because most servers make minimum wage or less, and rely heavily on their tips. But I can't tell you how much it hurts having to fish through my wallet for change at the end of a meal with friends. I do it, because I know it's expected and it's the right thing to do... but I sure do miss going to a restaurant and only having to worry about my drink and food tally. Sigh. Simple pleasures.

3. Transportation... or lack of it -- I miss the nine subway lines in Seoul. They sure made it really easy to get from one end of the city to the other. Toronto only has two (and a half) subway lines. I always knew Toronto was more spread out than Seoul, but I didn't realize how densely packed Seoul was, until I moved back here.

The T-Money cards in Seoul were awesome as well, because I never had to buy a bus pass or monthly Metro pass. I simply had to top my card up with a certain amount of money, and use it until it was empty. Then I'd go back and top it up with some more as needed. Plus it was great because the card hung off my cellphone, so I never had to worry about losing it. So convenient... such ease. I'll definitely never take transportation for granted again.

2. Not being wired in -- Korea has the best Internet in the world! The speed was amazing and they had wi-fi everywhere. You could take your laptop into any restaurant, coffee shop or store, and chances are you'd be able to access the Internet with ease.

Not to mention the PC rooms which were located pretty much everywhere. I'd say they even outnumbered the many coffee shops throughout the city.

The Internet in Toronto isn't bad by any means... but it isn't fast -- or at least not as fast as Korean standards. I was spoiled for a year, and now I have to adjust to regular speed. Humbug.

1. Dressing... normally -- It's refreshing to be able to walk out of my house in jeans and a sweatshirt, and not have people stare at me. I was always conscious of what I wore in Seoul, because that's pretty much how the community was.

I dress for practicality -- fancy for fancy, casual for every day. But most people in Korea would dress up for simple, day to day tasks. I mean, women would wear mini skirts and stilettos to go hiking!

I remember this one time when I was meeting up with friends for what I thought was a casual lunch, only to show up and be the most under-dressed person there (I was wearing jeans and a black sweater). Everyone else was wearing a dress, or a button-down shirt, with fancy accessories. For lunch. On a Thursday. At a self-serve restaurant.

I can't tell you how awesome it is to be able to dress up or down as I choose, and to have people around me choose comfort over superficiality. This has definitely been one of the best perks of being back.

So there you have it... five things I've had to get readjusted to since moving back to Toronto. Simple stuff really... but I'll never take these things for granted again.



  1. What about sales tax on top of prices? I came back to BC only to face the dreaded HST, and was shocked at how high the sales taxes are here in Canada.

  2. Haha, I have had to come to terms with all of these things. For my first month or so back in Australia I would have the most disgusting conversations on public transport and embarrass the hell out of my friends.

    Tipping sucks by the way. Does Canada also have a criminally low minimum wage?


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