1. Google Maps doesn't work for shit. Sure, there's a language/alphabet issue here but even if you type things in in Hangul it sometimes just cannot figure out what you mean. For walking directions, it just assumes you can walk in a straight line from wherever you are to the location, so it is forever giving me directions to public transit that require me to fly over buildings, walk through walls or teleport. Guess what Google, IF I COULD DO ANY OF THOSE THINGS I WOULDN'T BE ASKING FOR DIRECTIONS. Koreans use Naver but I don't really speak enough Korean to do that so directions have to be cobbled together using Google, the Seoul Metro app and the Seoul Bus app because the Metro app and Bus app are two separate things and neither really does trip planning.
2. Large dogs are terrifying. Before I had moved here I'd read that pet ownership in Korea is a really recent thing and previously people mostly kept Jindos as farm dogs/guard dogs. What I did not realize is that most Koreans seem to find any dog larger than a toy poodle terrifying. Our husky is about 55 lbs (which I would think of as solidly "medium" in America) and people are forever freezing in place when we walk by or lifting their tiny dogs away in fear like Ada is going to eat them when it's their tiny dogs that actually act aggressive. The exception to this rule mostly seems to be older Korean men who give her thumbs up and younger Korean parents who want their kids to pet her so they won't be afraid of dogs. Luckily, she really likes kids.
3. Korea is very KOREAN. I realize this isn't a revelation but when we were packing to move, I decided to ship all our spices but not to ship any ingredients used in different Asian cuisines figuring they'd be readily available. Nope. Nope nope nope. There's plenty of rice vinegar but no mirin. There's jugs of sesame oil but it took me a week to find spicy sesame oil. There's no Szechuan pepper oil or pepper corns, no sambal oelek, no chili garlic paste and no dried Thai chilies (though I found sweet chili sauce at Costco). The ramen and sushi we've had has been pretty terrible (though the instant ramen is much better than in America) and we haven't even had any Chinese food since getting here since there seem to be only two VERY EXPENSIVE Szechuan places in the whole city. I'm sure we'll have some non-Szechuan Chinese food but I wish I could at least cook it at home.
4. There's plenty of America here if you want it (and are willing to pay). I live in Itaewon which is basically "Americatown". It's the neighborhood where the American military base is located and there's a good mix of Koreanized American food (mostly just awful) and legitimate American bistros and bars. Anything American style is going to cost you more money, regardless of the quality, but if you want a really good cocktail bar with a solid bourbon selection, I've got one for you. Want a dive bar lined with records? Got that too. Want just the bro-iest place ever? Droves of those for you. Want a Rogue IPA? Want some regular ass Cheetos covered in cheese instead of black bean paste ones? GOT THAT TOO. (It'll cost you $6/bag, but I know where to find them) AND, thank G-d, there is regular Heinz ketchup here. You'll never know how much you love Heinz until you try other country's versions of ketchup.
5. Koreans love matching workout clothes. So before we moved I was reading the Lonely Planet guide for Seoul and it told me I might be surprised by the number of people walking up Namsan (the park/mountain we live near/on) in brightly colored new work out clothes. I was like "Bitch, PLEASE, I live in Park Slope, nothing could surprise me less than large numbers of people in overpriced work out clothes". What I did not realize is that this is not a young, yoga mom phenomenon. Older Koreans dress for a walk through carefully landscaped and paved Namsan park like they're hiking the Appalachian Trail. I wear $15 leggings from Target and trail running shoes to walk Ada and feel like it's overkill. I don't really know what the deal is.
6. Soju is my nemesis. I'll start by admitting I don't really like soju. I also really don't like Cass, the Budweiser of Korea (but worse). However, when you mix these two things together, they become surprisingly palatable. I can also drink about a million without ever being more than buzzed. The downside? It took me about a week and a half to realize that no matter how little of this combo I drink, I wake up with a hangover that should at least be the result of a bottle of bourbon or two bottles of red wine consumed ALL BY MYSELF. It's like drinking cheap champagne, there is nothing you can do to prevent feeling horrible except not drink it.
7. It's only 35 miles to the border and 121 miles to Pyongyang. These are facts I knew before I moved but it didn't truly sink in until I realized every subway station is marked as a shelter and has cases of gas masks to break open in an emergency. Every hotel room has an escape ladder, emergency flashlight and evacuation map. Heck, before a movie a diagram of the emergency exits is shown on the screen. Maybe Koreans are just safety conscious but I think really it's that this country is still technically at war.
I'm only a month and a half in, so I'm sure there's plenty of surprises still to come but so far, the thing I expected least is that, so far, I like it here.