Damian Koh

Editor, producer, curator

Was technology reporter. Now hardwired to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, social CRM & big data.

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Was technology reporter. Now permanently wired to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, social CRM and big data. Singaporean living in Bundang, South Korea. Opinions expressed are my own and not my employer’s. Also contributor on The Korea Blog, an English-language blog run by Korea.net

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10 unique experiences in Korea

Living abroad is an extended adventure. Below are 10 experiences that struck me as most impressionable. What are yours?

1. Driving etiquette
Much can be said about driving habits in Korea. Aggressive and where size matters. But it’s not without redemption. Driving in Korea, you’d notice that drivers frequently use the hazard lights to thank the driver behind for letting them cut into a busy lane, or to warn drivers on a highway that traffic is slow ahead.

2. Taking a taxi home late hours
Out drinking late into the night? When female friends are traveling back, either as a group or alone, in a taxi, it’s customary for friends to take a picture of the taxi license plate. Why? It helps to track down the driver if you’ve left something behind in the taxi while in a drunken stupor, or heaven forbid, if something criminal happens.

3. N bang
At a dinner where there is someone noticeably more senior, either by age or hierarchy, he/she will often offer to foot the bill. But when dining with a group of friends, there are two ways to do it: paying individually or someone calls for N bang, where one would pay for all first, then split the cost later. It’s also not uncommon for people to draw up a spreadsheet detailing the breakdown.

4. Korean drinking games
Drinking games typically move very fast, and by that, I mean people switch between games as fast as they start it, hardly ever dwelling on one for too long. Anyone can start a game they want to play and everyone joins in. It can be anything from a silent “shooting” game to people counting off numbers and standing up. For the latter, if you have more than one person counting the same number, game stops and forfeit starts.

5. Age matters
Simply because that would determine how you should address someone, and the appropriate level of language to use.

6. Signing when paying for purchases
Or the lack of. People sign by drawing circles and hearts.

7. Brushing teeth
After-meal times are the worst times to visit the washroom where everyone congregates to brush their teeth. Mouth hygiene is so engrained in the Korean culture that sometimes you wonder why they don’t practice washing the hands after going about their “business” in the washroom.

8. Garbage disposal
In Korea, you pay for garbage bags designated for your district, and you dutifully separate the metals from plastics and perishables. To save space, people flatten plastic bottles before discarding.

9. Receiving a “service”
Nothing sleazy. Receiving a service in Korea simply means you’re getting something free, from offerings of food to small gifts. Accept it graciously.

10. Charging phones in Korea
From cafes to restaurants, power outlets can be found everywhere. In cafes, these are usually found under the bench seats. In restaurants, sometimes you simply hand it over to the staff and they will charge it for you, along with others, somewhere near the counter.

Ice fishing at Hwacheon Sancheoneo ice festival

Ice fishing. Yes, you heard that right. If fishing for trout in the middle of a river frozen over and braving sub-zero temperatures is up your alley, then you shouldn’t miss the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival (얼음나라 화천 산천어축제).

The festival takes place every January in Hwacheon, known for its fastest ice freezing due to the cold valley wind and clean water, in the Gangwon-do province. By car, it’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Seoul, so it makes for an easy day trip. Plan to be there early though since about 3 tons of fresh trout are emptied under the fishing site every day.

At the festival site, you need to purchase tickets (12,000 won if you’re 12 and above, and 8,000 won for foreigners) to the fishing sites. The price includes a plastic string bag to contain your catch and a 5,000 won coupon which you can use at the stores. A foldable stool would be a very wise investment as you could be at the fishing site for sometime.

Along the way, you’d be approached by enthusiastic ajummas egging you to buy fishing sticks/rods, which unless you already own one, you pretty much don’t have a choice. One will set you back 5,000 won. Rod, stool, bag. All set.

Picking a fishing spot can be a tough one, too. You have to decide if you want to be where the crowd is or a quieter area. And the first-timer in me obviously have no idea which is better. Once you pick a spot, or a hole, to be specific, you drop your line in and you wait.

And wait.

According to the organizers, one of the tricks is not to be fixated to one spot as swimming patterns of grouped trout changes as the day passes. The river is only about 2m deep and the water clear, so you can peer into the hole and see if the trouts are swimming past.

5 mins in: This is fun.

10 mins in: Hmm.. I’m not getting this.

15 mins in: Ok, this is getting boring.

20 mins in: I think I need to change spot.

25 mins in: Looks into the hole wondering where the fishes are.

40 mins in: Ok, I give up.

That pretty much sums it up. Patience is a virtue which I lack. Fortunately, for those who walked out with an empty bag, you can still buy trouts at the store, which can be barbecued or eaten sashimi style. Fresh catch are swiftly salted, wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in the brick oven tubes.

Steaming hot, piping fresh trout is absolutely heaven in sub-zero temperatures. The picture doesn’t do the taste justice.

Fishing on ice isn’t the only activity at the festival. There’s aplenty going on, from ice sledding to snow sculpture and zip-line to ice soccer, to keep everyone entertained.

The best part of the festival? Standing in the middle of the river imagining what it would be like if it wasn’t frozen over.

The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival happens from Jan 4 to Jan 26, from 8:30AM to 6:00PM daily.

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