Korean Experience: Living in Seoul

23 Jun

Let’s talk renting

Living in Seoul is pretty akin to living in New York.  The streets are busy, sometimes narrow, there are neon signs everywhere and it is typically more expensive than the rest of the country.  Rent for one thing is quite up there.  A nice apartment in Seoul could set up back a couple of thousand dollars a month.  Most accommodations are arranged and paid for month-to-month with a deposit.  A comfortable hotel is between $80 to $120 per night.  When I made my living arrangement, I opted for a studio apartment for $500 for two weeks.  Very few places allow short stay visits, so this was the only option that I had if I did not want to spend that much money for a hotel.

Here was the problem – I am a tad claustrophobic.  Long elevator rides and other enclosed spaces bug the crap out of me.  No, I don’t claw at the door screaming and crying out to the Lord, but I will close my eyes and count to ten and/or start letting out slow breaths to calm my nerves.  So when I saw my “studio” apartment I was quietly freaked out.  It was literally the size of my walk-in closet.  It had my “bed” or what I called a torture pallet, a wardrobe, internet connection, shelf, mini-fridge, small tv, toilet and a shower head thingie.  All in a space the size of my goddamn walk-in closet!!!

I wanted to bolt and check into a hotel but I figured I was a naija babe.  Federal Government College-bred for that matter.  If five years of cruelty from school seniors did not break me then neither would my new abode – technically called a “Gojiwon.”

Gojiwons are small rooms usually rented out by college students and young professionals due to their affordability.  Some have all the amenities (like mine) and others have the basics.  A Gojiwon can go from $20 per day to $50 per day.  Some students pay by the month.  The worst Gojiwons have migrant workers, thievery, and issues with hygiene however, the building I lived in was really well kept, with security cameras and 24/7 caretakers.  There was a community kitchen with free rice, kimchi, eggs and noodles – the basic college student food.  So all in all, I would give the place a pass.

I will admit that the damn Gojiwon almost broke me.  That room just drove me crazy (and positively ensured I spent a lot of time outdoors which in the long run was a good idea).  Don’t get me started on the air-conditioning.  Apparently the government discourages turning on the AC until July.  So many landlords who do turn on the air for tenants pay big time.  I had to resort to begging the caretaker to turn on the air for at least an hour before bedtime.  No one understood why I was sweating so much.  In their opinion, the weather was pleasantly cool.  (Now I am back in hotlanta, I do agree but at least we have our ACs on 24/7 – at home, office and cars … only the quick dash in and out of my house and office exposes me to the 90-degree heat).

My first night in Seoul I high-tailed it next door to the Hyundai Department store and bought a small portable fan for $45! (Koreans are not big users of fans either) It made me miss Walmart and their cheap GE electronics.

Anyhue – enough about my prison cell.

Expenses – transportation

Living in Seoul is quite inexpensive.  You can comfortably make it on $30 a day.  They have an efficient public transportation system – cabs, buses, subway – all affordable.  The buses are the cheapest.  For foreigners, subways are best since they are really, really, really, really CLEAN and the signs are also in English.  I bought a T-Money Card and loaded $20 on it and that lasted me an entire week getting around the city in the subway.  You can also use your T-Money to make phone calls on a public pay phone.


Speaking of phones…if you think of visiting Seoul for an extended time, consider renting a phone at the airport.  You may need to reserve it online through one of the three companies operating at the airport but it is really cheaper and more convenient at $2 per day and about 60 cents per minute for international calls.  For my two week stay my overall bill was about $35 … compared to the $1.99 per minute Verizon was going to charge me during my stay (shio?).

Seoul has one of the fastest internet connections in the world – no lie.  Even if you don’t have a computer (rare in this day and age) there are cafes around town that charge $1 an hour for using their computers and a lot of coffee shops have free internet browsing.

Bad Habits

Seoul was awesome but Seoulites have a few bad habits.  The one I could not stand the most was all that hocking and spitting.  Oh, it irritated me so bad.  They spit everywhere!!!!!!!!!

Although crime is almost non-existent, the only negative thing to befall you at 2 a.m. is stepping onto a pile of vomit thanks to a really, really heavy drinking culture.  My advice – keep to the middle of the sidewalk.  Pukers tend to bend over at the side.

Another negative, the shoving and pushing.  Okay, Korea is a polite society but due the strict hierarchy in relationships, people do not look at you or acknowledge you until you have been introduced to them so they can place in you in the proper hierarchy and know how to address you.  So if you are walking down the street, and you are pushed and shoved and knocked around by the crowd, don’t expect any “sorry” or apologies.  This did not bother me much.  I stuck out me elbows and barreled my way through like a good Seoulite.  I like rough play 🙂

Being Black in Seoul

As for being black in Korea – no one gave a crap – at least not in Seoul.  Although if you travel a bit out of the city, you will get stared at… especially the senior citizens.  And toddlers.  I remember laughing out loud when a toddler pointed and stared at me in the subway.  Poor thing was startled to see a black person.  Mom was so embarrassed.  I thought he was cute though.

As for my hair, I always chuckle when I remember my second night in town.  Some students took me to a bar/nightclub.  Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by girls touching my braids.  I swore this would  be the only time it would happen.

The Men – Cute, Adorable, Aggressive

Korean men are aggressive when it comes to picking up women.  I got hit on quite a bit.  I was always polite, smiling and pointing to my engagement finger – no go fellas.  Quite a shame they were all cute – not that I was looking.

All in all, if I had to spend a few years in the city, I think I would be really okay with it.  Korea offers a lot of teaching opportunities for Westerners, so it was not unusual to bump into the occasional American.

Check early next week for my next post on the Korean Experience.



22 Responses to “Korean Experience: Living in Seoul”

  1. Realnaijabloke June 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Sounds interesting …What r u doing up there o madam?

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      I got a grant to go anywhere in the world, so i chose Seoul.

  2. BBB June 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    i really really should go to asia, i’m not exactly sure why you traveled there, i didnt read the earlier posts, but i’m going back now to check

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      BBB try to keep up na? lol….

  3. EDJ June 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    OMG that is TINY. Goodness. It IS like NYC afterall. Lol.

    Well at least you got to spend lots of time outside. I did wonder how it would be to be black over there. Glad to see it wasn’t too big a deal!

    Maybe I’m looking at the pics wrong, but is the bathroom/shower area right next to the desk with the tv? Talk about conserving space.

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:19 am #

      Ooooh yeah. My toilet and shower was all up in that tiny space. NO joke.

  4. Parakeet June 23, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    What are you doing in Seoul? I like your account of your experience there. I could have sworn that I saw a survey sometime ago stating Seoul as the second most expensive city to live in. So am quite surprised you said it’s inexpensive to live in. Maybe I got it wrong sha.

    Lol at Gojiwon. What a name. Will look forward to your next post. Keep safe dear.

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      The only expensive thing about living in Seoul is the rent. I think because the population is so high. Everything else, food, transportation is pretty manageable.

  5. sugabelly June 23, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    Kai, I’m jealous sha. I wish I could take off for another country right about now. I also think Korean men are sexy.

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      Yeah, they are pretty cute.

  6. Tee June 24, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    Sounds like quite an experience….and I totally concur that making it through a Federal Govt. sec. school you can go through anything.

    In case I ever go to Seoul I’ve made a mental note you were there. Looking forward to the next instalment

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:21 am #

      The boarding school experience is quite unique. I wonder how it is for kids nowadays.

  7. tobenna June 24, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    I’ve missed you oh…
    Interesting read…
    Almost sounds like I’m there meself.
    Sounds like a fun place to visit. Definitely not live.
    A lot has been happening to you…Turtle for one.
    And congratulations for July 12 – Rochester or Lagos..we go dey wait

    P.S. I wonder how many Naija people born in ’70s/’80’s who did not go to a FedGoCol.
    FGCWarri representing!

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      Tobenna, how bodi? Wife and bomboy nko?
      Fego representing!
      You Warri boys and girls were crazy back in the day.

  8. tobenna June 24, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    PPS. Will be trying your Coq Au Vin, Nigerian style this weekend

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Post pics, let’s compare.

  9. one3snapshot June 24, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    lol look at you so cute…pointing at your engagement finger….awwwwww!!!! lol
    feddie girl representing!

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      I swear those guys were so cute too! Maybe I shoulda gone before I got engaged *wink*

  10. Taynement June 24, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    what am i missing? I don’t see a pic with you pointing at your engagement finger. Sounds like fun. my friend was in Korea and he is tall, so they just asumed he was a bball player and kept stopping to take his pic. he made it in the newspaper lol

    • lucidlilith June 24, 2011 at 11:25 am #

      I wonder what the caption said?

  11. eccentricyoruba June 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Here via twitter link! Interesting (and awesome!) that you stayed in Seoul for some time. I must say that I’m not surprised at the size of the apartment at all.

  12. Ginger June 25, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Wow! that room is tiny! How di you squeeze in there?
    I have heard about the hawking and spitting urgghh. But gotta say that the subway floor looks positively sparkling clean. I would be tempted to pick my food off it if not that the feet coming in must have stepped on spit outside. ewwwwww

    Korean men clear off, she is taken. Glad you showed them right 🙂

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