“I’ll throw away the trash, but you only had one child?”… ‘Korea’ is suddenly approaching

Is there anything impossible in a country where such diligent people live at this speed of light? This is how I felt after returning to Korea last month after completing my three-year term as a New York correspondent. The reporter, who returned to his home country for the first time in 1,136 days since June 2020, is enjoying the opportunity to observe our society in a new way through the eyes of a foreigner.

For a reporter who has become accustomed to America’s slow and complicated administrative services, endless waiting times wherever she goes, including restaurants and hospitals, and high costs, inefficiencies, and unfriendliness, Korea is a moving experience at every moment. There was nothing that could not be done, including same-day reservations and on-site order changes.

When I came to Seoul and ordered a book online, I thought it would take about a week, but the next day, the delivery driver even took a picture of the completed delivery in front of my apartment entrance. There was a problem connecting to the company’s system, so I sent a message to the HR staff via work messenger on Saturday afternoon and said, ‘I’ll see you when I come to work on Monday,’ and they resolved all issues remotely within 20 minutes of my request. I contacted several interior design companies to repair the house I had rented for three years, and three companies visited the site in three days, and they all said, “Construction can start next week.” When my kitchen drain was clogged in New York, all the plumbers in the area said, “They are booked for over 6 weeks,” so I spent 10 days draining it on my own, and eventually the homeowner came and unclogged it for me.

Public officials at the local office, elementary school teachers, and university hospital nurses helped the reporter as if it were their own business, saying, “I’ll help you right away,” and “Do you know this?” I bowed my head in gratitude several times a day. I thought about this while looking at the happy faces of scout jamboree members from each country traveling across the country during the summer. You may have had a hard time in Saemangeum at first, but in a country where the central government, local governments, and companies are mobilized to accommodate tens of thousands of people in just a few days, and programs are expanded and changed, an adult you meet for the first time says “I’m sorry” and buys you a snack. Is there any other country on earth like this?

As I entered the apartment elevator carrying a trash bag, the cleaning lady smiled and said, “Give me the trash.” “Oh, it’s okay…” ” Before he could finish his sentence, he glanced at our family and asked, “Is there only one child? “If my parents die, I will feel lonely because I have no one on my side.” Korea is also a country where the two-stage combo of ‘ultra-special kindness + entering into privacy’ is possible within 10 seconds of meeting someone.

It was also impressive that non-face-to-face services increased significantly after the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, we still use a lot of personal checks and cash and do a lot of business over the phone or in person. Korea has become a country where you can live all day without saying a word or seeing other people’s faces. It was unfamiliar to me that everything from government office work to online mall membership registration required authentication using a mobile phone number, and that personal information such as consumption, tax payment, and medical history was intertwined with that number.

Another thing that surprised me was ‘Kiosk Heaven’. When I went to a franchise restaurant, they told me to order and pay everything from adding a glass of soju to the kiosk placed at each table. Right in front of you, the clerk is waiting with his hands folded. The clerk carefully grilled the pork belly in hot oil and placed it on the plate in front of us. In New York , I was left uneasy when the service that would have required a tip of 20,000 to 30,000 won was included for free with a meat set worth around 50,000 won. “(Whose son is this?) It’s hot and you’re having a hard time,” he said. When the soybean paste stew, ssam and side dishes were served to me even though


I only ordered meat, a child who had never even eaten pickled cucumbers at a New York pizzeria shouted. “Korea is fun!”

The downside was that all spaces in Korea felt smaller than in the United States. Whenever I entered a supermarket or a public restroom, I would gasp in frustration. Cars were crowded together in every narrow alley, making stunts, and every time I opened the door in the parking lot and got out, it felt like my body was going to explode. I boasted about three years of accident-free driving even in the Manhattan traffic hell, but on the first day of driving after returning home, I was so embarrassed that I ended up scraping my bumper on an apartment parking pillar.

It was difficult to see teenagers in apartment complexes or on the streets even in the evening, as they were all attending academies. All the children I encountered were looking at their smartphones and heading to the academy. It was different from New York elementary school students playing on the playground or library after school, and middle and high school students going to the gym with basketballs or tennis rackets. I thought, ‘American kids must have studied hard without me watching.’

The women’s skin and hair were so fair that I couldn’t take my eyes off them. There is a saying among Koreans in the U.S. that “When you go to Korea, you should first go to a dermatologist, plastic surgeon, and beauty salon, and then buy clothes from a department store. If you wear shabby clothes like in the U.S., you will be frowned upon.” When I walked my child to and from school, I was surprised to see Korean mothers wearing straw hats from an Australian brand, as if they had made an appointment.

She thought it was because she noticed a young man with bleached hair and a black cape walking around in her parents’ apartment, and she found out that she was on the radar among the residents as a ‘young man of note with a strange behavior.’ In New York, a reporter who was used to seeing a man wearing a miniskirt and a pearl necklace to work and parents coming to a school event wearing jogging shorts asked, “What did that person do wrong?” I asked and soon realized. Ah, now I’m in Korea.

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