Friday, July 4, 2008

Taiwan and Korea: Comparing the experience of living there(s)

This seems a bit like cheating but I am going to paste in here a big paragraph I wrote to somebody a month or two ago:

Being here in Taiwan has helped to shape my understanding and impression of Korea. In Korea there is a strong drinking culture but here you see people going out for tea or dinner instead. Last night was the first time that we saw an obviously drunk person and he was being helped from a car to his apartment in a very low-key way. I think that people here are a bit more genuine which feels nice. People in Korea are almost always nice to you but it doesn't feel as genuine as it does here. Koreans seem to be living their own kind of 'pop' lives, caught up in some kind of lifestyle drive, but here people are a little bit more down-to-earth. Taiwan yearns for recognition from the rest of the world and its relationship with greater China is ever a tangible point of ongoing un-resolution. It seems that everyday you can read in the Taipei Times some story or stories which betray a facet of the national identity that is about the quest for real and recognised independence and the failure of that quest. It is a little sad perhaps but I think this is part of the reason for Taiwanese people's good-humour and realism, not to mention their friendliness. I have occasionally heard someone here talk about the experience of being made to feel the foreigner: reverse discrimination or undue attention paid because of the obvious difference in appearance, but the people making these complaints have probably not been to Korea. We feel almost like normal people here compared with the pseudo-celebrity cum annoying invasion of privacy we experienced in Korea (although this may be in part a function of city size; we are living in a city three times the size of Jinju). The cost of living is a bit cheaper than in Korea however you can't expect electronics to be much cheaper than they would be back home. There are plenty of cars and scooters around. We have a scooter ourselves now. In terms of earning money, you earn less here than you would in Korea, but not a whole lot less. The big trade off you have to look at when coming from Korea to Taiwan is lifestyle and money. Taiwan is a nicer place to live where you cannot save as much money.


I still think the same now after a couple of months have passed. Of course, the longer we are away from Korea the better it gets. While there is a force of selective memory at work, I am convinced that 3000 Won for an authentic Korean bibimbap with side dishes is one of the best meals ever (apart from Tim Tams (which are available in Taiwan if you look hard but they never taste the same and are not made in Australia)).

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