7 Observations from Korea

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1) The existence of kimchi-specific refrigerators

You’ve heard of kimchi, but did you know Koreans have special refrigerators in their kitchens with individualized temperature control for making different types of kimchi? I can’t even begin to describe the essential nature of kimchi in Korean cuisine. It has transcended from simply being a part of the cuisine to becoming an important cultural component. Kimchi is essential to Koreanness.

2) Live a healthy lifestyle—stay active

Koreans are pretty in to staying fit. People stay active. They walk a lot. And hike (see below). Sports are popular. There is public exercise equipment in nearly every park and people actually use it! It is especially good to see retired folks being so active.

3) Live a healthy lifestyle—eat well

The first thing I notice about Korean food it that, well, it’s actually real food. So much processed food and newfangled food-like products have entered the western diet in the past half-century, most things hardly even resemble edible items. The Korean diet is a diverse array of meat, vegetables, fish, shellfish, and grains. Even snack food is real—for munchies and beer snacks Koreans turn to fruit, chestnuts, and dried squid.

4) Dental Hygiene is appreciated

The first English summer camp I went to, children brought their toothbrushes each day. Every one of them brushed after lunch. Flying into Incheon airport this time, travelers returning home were lined up at restroom sinks even before passport control. Toothbrushes were out, brushing away.

5) Rugged Terrain

The Korean Peninsula is studded with mountains. Few are huge, but the land is rough, especially down the east coast. Flying over the northern part of South Korea, all I could see were snow-covered mountains. In the little valleys in between, there were settlements. A trip across the country always yields a view of mountains in some direction. You just can’t get away from them. North Korea, I believe, is even more mountainous.

6) Love of Hiking

This is one of my favorite aspects of life in Korea. At any given moment, you will see hikers decked out in the gear riding the metro or bus to a trailhead. The hiking goes hand-in-hand with the mountainous terrain. Hikers are mostly retired folks who dress the part and hit the trails, many of which are right in Seoul. A couple years ago I hiked Halla San on Jeju Island.

7) Modern but Traditional

Korea has been developing at a fierce pace the last 30 years. The transportation infrastructure is up-to-date. South Korea is referred to as the most-wired country on earth. Everyone seems to have a smart phone. Technology appears to be built into everything. Nearly all cars have GPS, some have black boxes. But traditions run deep. Korea is still very much a male-dominated society where birth order sets a code of behavior and gender roles are very much alive and well.


Are you Korean? Or have you lived in Korea for a long time? Have you noticed these things or am I making generalizations?

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Paul says:

    I’m diggin the emphasis on the healthy aspects of Korean culture. I think once you get outside of Seoul, Korea is a beautiful place to enjoy clean air and the outdoors. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  2. Juno says:

    Great observation! Glad you liked the life values I love about Korea (food, active life, and food). Let’s go hike some more in Korea next time!

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