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Travel Tips

Although Korea is not known for tourism this doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting place to travel and party. If you like being a non-tourist tourist, as I like to imagine myself, then this might be the right place for you. Everything, everywhere in Korea is accessible by bus, and buses are cheap, from under a dollar for local trips up to about five dollars for city-to-city. Wherever you go don’t be shy. Koreans want to show you a good time. They’ll take you out, spend money on you and tell you the history of their country while asking countless candid questions; why do foreigners smell funny? Why are you so hairy? Is it true your women’s large hips work like a camel’s hump in times of drought?

For Koreans, foreigners are something of a mystery. They’re internationally naïve and so very curious and incredibly blunt. Expect anyone to invite you to his or her home or to lunch, ask where you’re from and why you’re here and then tell you you’re in Korea only for the money and up to no good.

If you say you’re Canadian they’ll tell you that’s good because they hate Americans. If you say you’re American they’ll love you anyways. They’ll ask if you’re married, have children, how much money you make and of course how old you are. They want to know if you’ve had sex with a Korean girl, and regardless, the answer should always be no! Men might ask you if it’s true that American women have skinship (meaning sex) with guys who are just friends and then suggest they’d really like to make friends with an American girl as soon as possible.

You will never have to fear for your life or your wallet in Korea. You can pass out in the streets and the worst that might happen is a drunken Korean Mafioso staggers along, plops down next to you and asks for English lessons. Then he might drag you to a hostess club and spend huge amounts of money on you and the hostess on your lap, so he can repeat the same English phrase to you all night, “Okay buddy! I like kimchi!”

This macho Korean gangster might hold your hand or put his arm around you. All Koreans do that. It’s not a sign of homosexuality but platonic affection. Koreans will tell you there are no homosexuals in Korea. Korean homosexuals will tell you there are no homosexuals in Korea. Denial aside, the handholding truly is platonic albeit uncomfortable for those of us from less touchy-feely cultures. If you suggest it’s taboo for westerners then they’ll understand and apologize. But they’ll keep holding your hand anyways.

For a real party, for the funniest possible time you could ever expect in Korea, reserve a ticket on a tour bus packed with old retired Koreans. This bus is known as the gwan gwang bus, and can be seen from the sidewalks – it’s the bus that’s bouncing. Retired Koreans know how to party. In fact, that’s about all they do. Find a fun old couple with whiskey on their breaths and say the magic words, “Gwan Gwang Bus Pah-tee!” and prepare to get pickled.

The bus will likely have a karaoke machine, four crates of soju, and twenty sacks of fruit, a basket full of dried squid and maybe even complete roasted pig. Expect the entire bus to be up and dancing to Korean trot tunes, shoving shot after shot down your throat along with handfuls of every dried fish in the sea. Don’t be surprised when a wrinkled old lady with a liquor bottle in one hand pulls a cucumber out of her bra and shoves it at you. At the end of the night you’ll be dragging that same drunken old woman out of the creek.

Every city in Korea has its dog soup restaurants, and I highly recommend you try some. The restaurants are labeled either bo shin tahng, or yung yum tahng. The meat tastes similar to stewed venison and comes with a sprinkling of green onions, raw sliced ginger, fresh sesame leaves and roasted sesame powder for flavor. Add a little vinegar for added zest and it is one of the most delicious meals to be found. For those unable to stomach the hair-of-the-dog, these same restaurants serve chicken stuffed with ginseng and Korean dates; delish. For the curious adventurer, every city has a dog market, with both live and not-so-live poochies. If you’re interested in seeing this, then ask a Korean friend to take you or give you directions. For those who may morally disagree consider that far more dogs are caged and put to sleep in the animal shelters of non-dog eating countries, and that Hindus believe harming one hair on a cow’s back guarantees one some time in Hindu Hell.

Mike Best