Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

I'd like to think that my understanding of Korean culture is running pretty deep these days, having a Korean family will help with that, but there are still some things that even my wife cannot explain to me (at least that I can comprehend).  Here are some of the deep dark mysteries Korea has that still befuddle me:

1. Why is there always hair in the soap at the gym?

I remember my own shampoo but I often use the soap provided in the men's shower at my local gym.  What I can't get my head around is how probably 99 percent of the time (I swear I am not overstating this) there are hairs embedded in the soap.  I have experimented myself with rubbing my hairy areas (sorry for the picture) as hard and thoroughly as I possibly can with soap in hand and I cannot get one hair to come off and stick to the soap.  Usually, though, I have to search around to find a bar of soap with just one hair that I can scrape off easily and sometimes there are several hairs on the soap (long ones, so it is not down to shaving in the shower).  Is it that Korean's hair falls out more easily than Westerners?  Do they purposely pull it out and leave it on the soap?  I know this sounds disgusting but I genuinely have absolutely no idea on this one.

2. Why do they hit themselves when they exercise?

I am up early in the morning at least 3 times a week these days to go for my morning run.  Rather strangely, I admit, I run in special minimalist running sandals.  This is a whole other story, but needless to say I resemble an extra out of Gladiator or 300 and look rather bizarre.  I always wonder just who is the bigger weirdo, however, when I run through the park at 6.30am.  I always see a man doing rhythmical squats and hitting himself in the stomach, chest, and legs.  He looks at me, I look at him and I am sure we are thinking the same thing, 'What is that freak doing?'.  My reasons for being weird are that the sandals help me run in the correct way and avoid injury, but what are his reasons for hitting himself?  I don't know.

3. Why do Korean men clear their throats so noisily?

I noticed this lovely little habit from day one in Korea but have never really worked out a satisfactory explanation for it.  I never feel the urge to do it myself and not just out of the feeling that it might sound horrible and rude, it simply is not necessary in everyday life.  The only thing I can think of is that they have allergies.  In the summer time in England I usually have bad hayfever and sometimes my throat feels like it could benefit from a good clearing.  Never in Korea, though, and I thought the reason they took their shoes off was to avoid dirt and dust.  There is certainly less asthma here, possibly for this reason, so what's going on with the throat thing?  Maybe it is a combination of too much soju and too much smoking.  Perhaps they need to eat some more kimchi to counteract this evil, I am sure that will clear it up.

4. Why do they dye their pet dogs ears, feet, and tails?


I have also seen the poor little things (and they mostly are very little) dressed up in jackets and shoes.  I don't think I have ever met a dog that appreciates being dressed up and certainly not one who enjoys an extra hour or so at the doggy hairdressers for some highlights.  Small white dogs seem to be popular in Korea and the ears and tails are regularly dyed in vibrant pink, green, and purple colours.  I understand that many people think it makes them cuter, but dogs are the cutest of animals anyway, so I don't accept it as an explanation, sorry.

5. How do they eat so much?

If I spend a whole day with my Korean parents in-law it is astounding how much food they put away in a day.  It starts with the biggest and most difficult to digest breakfast imaginable and is followed by fruit and rice cake for a mid-morning snack.  Lunch is almost always loads of meat and/or seafood with lots of vegetables.  Very little in the way of carbs leaves me quite sleepy for the rest of the afternoon.  Just when I feel a little more awake and my stomach semi-recovered, it is dinner time.  Dinner usually consists of another few kilos of meat wrapped in some leaves and kimchi with a few raw cloves of garlic.  At the point of stomach bursting point I am always astounded by my very tiny mother in-law leading the charge for more food to finish off the meal, usually some cold noodles or extra rice and soup.  Perhaps I just eat more quickly than them so I actually eat more than I think while they are pacing themselves, who knows?

6. What do the police do?

There probably is less crime generally in Korea than back home, but that's not really what I mean.  There appear to be laws and rules in Korea that no one follows.  Companies don't follow the working hours laws, dog meat is actually illegal but still eaten (even advertised on shop menus), and there must be at least a few traffic rules (surely!) but people certainly are not following them.  Police are rarely called for issues of domestic violence and when they do they look like they have a quick chat and do nothing (I know because my wife and I made a call to the police once about her friend in an apartment opposite, but that's another story).  I am often in the car when taxi drivers flout all road traffic signs and cut up traffic and have on occasion seen a police car looking right at them, but nothing happens.  I live in a small city, Suncheon, but in almost three years I cannot recall ever seeing a police car rushing around with sirens flashing.  I have seen them as a presence at the scene of car accidents and although there are a lot of these accidents here, there can't be enough to take up a whole day.  I am genuinely curious about how they fill their day.  Solitaire?

7. What's going on with their cakes?

They look great but on closer inspection, when you make the first cut, they consist of 95% cream and 5% a weird sweet bread-like filling.  They can make muffins and doughnuts, which have a cake-like consistency to them so why don't they put this into action with their cakes.  As a passionate cricket-lover and Englishman, there is nothing I like better than a slice or two of homemade Victoria sponge cake at tea-time; now that's a proper cake.  I wonder if I could get one sent to me by FedEx just to show the Koreans what they are missing.  Their cheesecake too is disappointing as I have yet to have one with a crumbly biscuit bottom.  They all have soft weird bottoms, give me a firm and tasty bottom and I'm much happier.


Above: How a cake should be, uneven and imperfect with jam and cream untidily oozing out of the middle, and it tastes delicious.

Below:  An example of a Korean cake.  The maker of this cake probably had a degree in aesthetics and geometry, making the perfectly proportioned and decorated cake, but give me substance over looks any day.

The are probably a few more enigmas out there I haven't solved yet, but I am on the case, searching for the answers.  Stay tuned for the real answers to the pubic hair on soap problem, the cake fiasco, the who is a bigger freak dilemma, and more in the weeks to come.


Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

For me the hands down #1 mystery is the one fixed one working door in every set of double doors..if this is going to be the case why not just have single doors instead of building two and using one..I'm used to it now, but I found it maddening when I first moved here.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Why cant they eat food or chew gum without making more noise than a lion at a kill? I cant make the same amount of noise if I tried. Or why do 4 people who go into family mart all come out with the same item. Not really a mystery but bizarre none-the-less.

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Even as a foreigner, what I don't understand is why other foreigners criticize or try to "solve" things about the Korean culture.  It's supposed to be "different."  It's not better or worse; just different.  You're in a different country, what did you expect...  If you wanted the same, why make the trip out to a foreign country and complain that it's not like home.  Also, what makes your pre-conceived notions of what is accepted the norm?  The world would be less exciting if everything and everyone was the same.  Suck it up; stop complaining.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

It is supposed to be different. But saying there is no better or worse is wrong. Korea is definitely worse. So what if you are 3 times more likely to die in car here... that's just culture. Suck it up. So what if the #1 cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 40 is suicide. That's them just trying to be different. I could go on but I'm bored.

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To say "its just different" is ignorant and a cop out. For any country to proclaim it is modern and civilized, there are minimum standards that must be met. A cell phone store and family mart every block doesnt suffice. Why are the police here, they are down right useless. Why is driving here so bad? Many questions that even Koreans wonder (those that have started free thinking, not consumed by the system) especially those that have travelled. One culture is not :"better" persay, but when they are offing themselves in record numbers, and drinking at 3 times the world rate, there is something inherantly wrong that needs to be evaluated.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

I couldn't disagree more with the three-four previous persons who commented ignorant and negative remarks. I have been seriously pondering--for a few years now--why is that foreigners in Korea love to hate this country so much. Is it because most of the people who drive cars and happen to live in your neighborhood are richer than you are, and somehow in your western-educated superiority-complex-imbued subconscious you loathe this very fact (that is, Asians--or non-westerners--being more affluent than you are?)?

Or is it because for the first time in your life you have actually left your home country and your mama's home and you just hate the fact that Korea might actually be a nicer place than back home, where you weren't even able to find a job? Or might it be because you can't accept the fact that Korea went from one of the poorest country on earth to one of the richest in the span of a few decades? That's right, just about 20 years ago barely nobody in this country even drove a frickin' car. Are you expecting them to be professional drivers in the span of one single generation? Or else what can it be?

I really find comments such as "Korea is definitely worse than other countries--look at the death rate by car accidents" laughable, ignorant, pretentious, and offensive. I mean, seriously, do you even know what you are talking about? Because obviously, my friend, Korea is, objectively AND (in my case) subjectively, NOT the worse place to live among a whole bunch of countries, including the beloved OECD gang. This is a polite way, by the by, to tell you that you have no idea whatsoever of what you're talking about.

Let me educate your narrow-minded self, and hopefully you'll be objective enough to eventually look at your own country and see that it has plenty--if not way more--bad sides than Korea has. Not too long ago (in fact, just about 3 weeks ago), Paul Rosenberg wrote a very interesting article for Al Jazeera entitled "America in denial: We're number 29 (of 30)". In this article, Rosenberg talks about a recent book written by Edward Fullbrook, which examines how the U.S. fares on several categories in regards to others among OECD countries.

The seven categories in question are: health, family, education, income and leisure, freedom and democracy, public order and safety, and generosity. Indicators include things like life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, share of income received by richest 10 per cent, years of life lost in injury, etc. "Those with some awareness of these sorts of measures," says Rosenberg, "will probably not be surprised to learn that the United States ranks next to last overall (go Mexico!), while those who get their information from FOX or other corporate media may be stunned to the point of disbelief." Right, probably you guys have been watching TV for slightly too long and you still think only the West is educated and affluent, while anywhere else with a different background and culture is, to put it as you would, backwards, retarded, bad, uneducated, and not even worth the hassle of living there (which brings me to ask: what the hell are you doing in this country by the way?).

That's right, in between the Colorado shooting (or the Texas shooting that happened  today, OR the mosque shooting that happened last week), the U.S. is amazing at excluding and ostracizing minorities, and smart presidential candidates like Romney have enough nerve to say that "I don't care about the poor people". In fact, the U.S. is so bad in terms of violence, shootings, ghettos, rapes and murders, drugs, wars, terrorism, extremism, racism, and selfishness, that I cannot even begin to understand why losers from this country who come to Korea have enough indecency to start criticizing this country like if it were a bastion of uncivilized douchebags who supposedly "pretend" to be advanced and educated (well, they are certainly more than you my friend). And don't get me started on countries like the UK or even Canada. I have plenty to say about them too. And, by the way, I am Caucasian and born and raised in the West.

Well, my friends, that is enough writing for me today, but let me tell you one more time: please educate your narrow-minded self before making stupid comments and judging other countries and cultures based solely on a few statistics you pulled out from Wikipedia. If any of you, professional whiners, would spend some time to learn the local language and to try to blend in and get to know the culture instead of spending half of your salary with fellow losers at local foreigners bars every weekend, I'm sure you would have a bit more positive to say about this place. Sadly, this is apparently not the case.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Barbs, my message was intended at people like you, so that I wouldn't have to "get started" on this and that country, but that rather you could, hopefully with a bit of effort and education, look objectively at your own country and find a couple of things to complain about on that side of the world.

But since you asked for it, I would direct you to one group of people in Australia who suffer more than you could ever imagine; that is, the aborigines. The Australian government is very good at hiding aborigines. In fact, it "gave" them land (that is, after stealing it in the first place), but not just any land--the worst useless land in the country, in the middle of nowhere--and pretty much condemned their lives to idleness and alcoholism by stripping them out of their culture and roots.

Right, people like you like to talk about Korea's high suicide rate, no? Why not look in your own backyard. A recent news report, entitled “Australia's Lost Generation”, talks about the Australian aboriginal youth suicide rates, which are among the highest in the world. “In Western Australia’s Kimberley region,” the report goes, “suicide has reached epidemic proportions, with one suicide every week on average since the end of December 2011.”

That, being despite the fact that this region of Australia is the richest in terms of mining revenue. Not only do big Australian corporations like Rio Tinto and BHP reap billions upon billions in revenue from land that is essentially aborigine’s, the government also has its share of the cake. Yet, basic counseling and prevention programs and government services to aborigines are pretty much non-existent, or doors are being closed due to "lack of fund". Many reporters have visited aborigine’ reserves (you usually need a permit to visit these places, no wonder why) and have been so shocked by what they saw that they spoke of “third world” living conditions. Check it out on Youtube, it's there to be seen.

But you wouldn’t know or, I presume, care, because you are from Melbourne. And aborigines can scarcely be found in Melbourne. But generally, I would say that even though Australia is a very nice place to live, it has a total lack of culture—especially food—which makes it very dull. People worship idleness and stupidity, and every teenager’s dream is to eventually own a “ute” and get drunk on VB every single night. If you are a woman, especially Asian, racism is rampant and if you walk on the street, you are likely to get whistled at by dumb Caucasians who think they can treat women as objects.

Lastly, alcoholism and binge drinking in Australia, is, to say the least, rampant, along with incidents of crime and violence (including hate crimes). Another recent report, entitled “Unquenchable thirst,” (May 04 2012), estimates that the tangible cost for alcohol misuse in Australia is $25bn a year, including medical expenses, lost wages and productivity. That’s right, 25 billion dollars. The report continues by saying that “With an increasing number of young people binge-drinking, children as young as 10 are seeking treatment for alcohol addiction. Police and hospital authorities are urging Australians to sober up but face formidable challenges from a powerful alcohol industry and an entrenched drinking culture. Despite new laws to curb risky drinking behaviour, anti-alcohol campaigners are fighting for stronger restrictions on the industry; and for people to change drinking habits, starting at home.”

Oh, and speaking of racism, do you remember the incident,  a couple of years ago, of an Australian in Melbourne that burned a Sikh Indian to death just because of his skin color and religion? Now we are talking about serious racism. I have had also friends (Indians) who got their house broken into, and subsequently went to the police station only to be told that “they were welcome to go back home”.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Korean Canadian Sinparam to Korea's rescue again. You always are so rah rah. To say there are no major social issues here is as ignorant as one can get. Honestly, the posts before were pointing out simple things that could be changed but really, Korea is a third World Country painted well in some places. Just because the GDP or per capita income is above a certain point,  it hardly makes a place developed. It is like saying I own a car so I am rich. Hardly the case. Anyway, Korea has some good points but I hardly think the "negative and ignorant" angle here is because Korea is more affluent than where we come from. That is laughable. Sometimes a spade is just a spade. Why cant people just deal with that???

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

"A recent news report, entitled “Australia's Lost Generation”, talks about the Australian aboriginal youth suicide rates, which are among the highest in the world "

This is your argument for suicide here not being high or out of control Simparan. Korea's suicide rate is way above any other country in all OECD countries. You know, the "developed world". I hardly think the aboriginal peopel in Australia fall into this group. Laughable analogy!

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Actually sinparam does in some respect.  I think his main point is that EVERY country has their problems, so to say Korea is worse compared to wherever you’re from is unfair.  It’s typical foreign mentality to think that Korea isn’t up to par with “(insert country) standards.”  Why is your home country the accepted gold standard?  As a Caucasian born and raised in Canada, I think that Korea is doing many things right.  That isn’t to say that Korea is perfect.  However, it’s the bitching by the foreign community that irks me.  He/she can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s another point he’s/she’s trying to get across.  Be tolerant and open to new ways of thinking and seeing things.  Life here isn’t that bad.  Relax.  Grab a beer.  Enjoy life!      

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

How do you know he's Korean-Canadian?  Also, does it matter?  Does mentioning that somehow discredit his opinion?  I don't think he's saying there are NO social issues here in Korea.  Rather, that other counties have their issues as well, but foreigners tend to rip on Korea without objectively looking at problems in their own backyard.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

How do you know he's Korean-Canadian?  Also, does it matter?  Does mentioning that somehow discredit his opinion?  I don't think he's saying there are NO social issues here in Korea.  Rather, that other counties have their issues as well, but foreigners tend to rip on Korea without objectively looking at problems in their own backyard.


I think the post above pretty much sums up the point I've been trying to bring across. I have never said once--and I will never say it either--that Korea has no social issue. If this is what most of you got from my previous messages, you are unrescuable from your lack of intelligence, denial of facts, poor ability to understand an argument/thesis, and from your infatuated Western brainwashed mindset.

By the way, I said it and I will repeat it again, I have no Korean heritage whatsoever. And why would this matter anyway? The point I'm trying to make is that every country has its share of problems. Obviously EVERY country in the world has LOTS of issues, whether social, cultural, etc. And I'm more than tired of hearing losers coming here and complaning about every single thing. Comments such as "Korea is a third world country painted well in some places" is beyond my understanding. How stupid can people get? What are you doing in this country then? And what about the U.S.? Would we have to consider it a fourth world country, if you've even bothered to read my comment above?

And why is my analogy of aborigines' suicide rates laughable? I find this analogy perfectly fit in describing Australia's problems. What is exactly wrong with this analogy? Averages are always well and fine, but if a certain group that makes up your average happens to be suffering substantially more than the rest, this signifies a bigger problem than the whole picture would seem to paint.

Anyway, I'm done arguing here. Some of you guys are really hopeless. I hope you enjoy drinking with fellow losers at the same bars every day, talking about the same [email protected] and whining your whole life about how much you are better than everybody else. I'm sure your experience in Korea will truly be unforgettable.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

You are so incredibly self-righteous it makes me sick. And why do you think that people that disagree with Korean "Culture" are all drunks and morons? That is at very least ignorant of capable thought. And perhaps some are disenchanted because they were flat out lied to by recruiters who only place you to line their own pockets and dont care about people. Sorry if it hurts your "neverland" ideals when someone offers a dissenting opinion, but that response was plain disrespectful.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Re-read my previous posts. I never mentioned those who "disagree" with Korean "culture" are drunks and morons, whatever disagreeing with a culture means. Did you really read all I what I wrote? My comments were specifically aimed at those who spend their time whining about Korea, and even more specifically at those writing unbelievably stupid remarks such as "Koreans always come out of Family Mart with the same stuff" or "Korea is a third-world country painted well in some places".

Anyway it is hard to follow who is who since you are all posting messages anonymously; I don't even know if you've posted before. If you got screwed by your recruiter, it really sucks and I feel sorry for you. However, I don't see how this comes into play with being narrow-minded and having an imbued sense of superiority because you happen to be a Westerner, as well as complaining about Korea in general all the time.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

"I hope you enjoy drinking with fellow losers at the same bars every day, talking about the same [email protected] and whining your whole life about how much you are better than everybody else. I'm sure your experience in Korea will truly be unforgettable."


How is one to read that other than you berating them for disliking Korea?  And at least as a US citizen i can confess my countries sins and hope they improve. I do not adamantly defend the beating a slaughter of dogs, the driving laws that are non-existant, the drinking that is 3 times global average, the epic suicide rates.

Sure guns kill people in US, it happens. Sure people are fat, it happens, but at least i can have the stones to admit these things. Korea hids behind its nationalism and is blind to how bad it is. They really want to be respected by everyone, how about drinkable tap water, how about streets that dont smell like raw sewage, how about police that DO SOMETHING! These are why people say third world painted. Basic things that civilized societies posess Korea has glossed over in an attempt to look important to the world. Maybe that is why people hate Korea, it doesnt offer what people are tricked into believing.

And I would gladly "whine" less and form a committe that would honestly help the leaders look at the real issues that plague this nation, from a fresh perspective, but they are too arrogant and racist to listen to anyone but themselves...


Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

I'm a long-term resident here with many more years ahead of me, and while I can agree with some of what Sinparam has offered up as evidence of Westerners whining superiority, I have to say everything seems a bit unbalanced. In general, Korea affords most of us freedoms we wouldn't have in our respective countries--affordable healthcare, a reasonably low cost of living, excellent opportunities for employment, etc... However, like all countries, my present home does have some glaring flaws, and it's fair to point them out--that is, as long as its done with a critical mind and not a critical spirit. The latter is rather hard to fend off on occasion, though, as our 'foreignness' sometimes takes over. Yeah, the police don't do as much as they should, and, yes, the driving laws (they do exist!) are disobeyed constantly, and, definitely, the elder folk are rather primitive... But, there's a fair share of backward junk in my home country (USA), too. The only thing that changes that which the majority finds disagreeable is public discourse, which can't be had babbling on about sides and half-truths or disengaging from societal issues that matter. That's my two-cents. Cheers.

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"Anyway it is hard to follow who is who since you are all posting messages anonymously; I don't even know if you've posted before. If you got screwed by your recruiter, it really sucks and I feel sorry for you. However, I don't see how this comes into play with being narrow-minded and having an imbued sense of superiority because you happen to be a Westerner, as well as complaining about Korea in general all the time ."   ."  

A quote that says it all about Sinparam. You know, most people who come here are not losers who cannot find jobs at home. And most can see Korea for what it is. We come and go for a reason. The place is not all that. Short term it is okay but the way of life is almost most definately a step down from where we are all from. And the way Korea passes the buck on their own problems and focusses on others makes them open season for all the issues they wish to avoid. One foreigner or business does something "wrong" or bad it is front page news; Koreans continue to kill themselves or get into car accidents is just a culture difference? I dont think so! Good luck to you.

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RIght on. Also, if Japan payed more, or most other countries for that matter, i think korea would have a lot less teachers then they do now. When one thinks of asia, Korea is far from top of the list for most.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Last two posts-two big thumbs up. You dont even need stats to know that something is wrong with Korea-just look at how people act.  Korea would be a place that I probably not visit if I lived in another Asian country.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet


It is so annoying when you bring up valid faults and people label you a Korea hating foriegner. Why do so many foreigners complain about Korea? How about some truth?A large majority of Koreans are effing miserable and judge the hell out of one another, not to mention what they say and do to foreigners. I have been punched in the face, talked about like I wasn't even there(foreigners are dirty, foreigners should go home, look strange ect.) , spit on, and am  stared at everyday on the bus or subway.  I am married to a Korean and have recieved uncountable glares as well as comments when I walk down the street holding my wife's hand. I have been told by adult students why Korea and Koreans are superior to everyone else, how Koreans have pure bloodlines while the rest of the world has tainted blood ect.

As previous posters said instead of addressing its problems Korea makes excuses. Why aren't there a large number of  foreign English teachers in Japan "complaining" about the country?   If Korea is so perfect and spectacular why doesn't anyone want to come here? If you give a foreigner a choice to take a vacation in Japan, China, or Korea how many people would pick Korea? Why is my friend's half Korean half Canadian child called a tweegee at school? Why did that child have to change schools twice?  Why do Koreans have to take it personally when the short comings of there country are pointed out? ect ect ect . In order to solve a problem it has to be addressed not taken as an insult. Koreans need to get over themselves, effing relax for a minute, and reevalute themselves and their countries place in the world.

I for the most part like Korea. I've been here for five years and am married to a Korean, have Korean family, and a lot of very kind and loving Korean friends. Does that mean when some druken fifty year old man calls me over with a "Yah weekoogen" and then punches me in the face for no good reason, which resulted in five stiches to my face, and then gets away scott free I am not going claim injustice? When I am driving my bike and called a foriegn dog baby should I laugh it off and chalk it up nationalism and Korean pride? When some ajuma glares at my wife and I and makes a nasty comment under her breath or shakes her head in disapproval should I be silent? I could go on and on. I have basically written the same thing as everyone else but I need to vent. Thanks  


Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Very well said. Korea can not become great, or even mediocre until it realizes that it is NOT better than elsewhere and starts to evaluate the rampant level of xenophobia and racist ethnocentricism that is done everyday.

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Yes, more likely to die in a car, but several times less likely to die from violence or some insane American diet.  I'll make that trade any day.  Accidents and suicide are the top causes of death in young people in the US, so there isn't as much different.  Overall, Korea is better.

Re: Mysteries about Korea I Haven't Solved Yet

Then you stay here with your filth and squalor, i will go home to my less expensive and more comfortable country. I will also enjoy the cheaper electronics, food and utility bills. There is a sucker born every minute, i just find it peculuar they always choose to defend Korea...