Living In A Smaller City: The Charms And Flaws of Cheongju.
So, I have been struggling to come up with a topic for today’s post all weekend. And then I realised that not many people talk about living here in Korean cities. Even if they do, it is often Seoul-based. There is nothing wrong with this but Seoul is different from the rest of Korea (much more forward thinking, much more to do and easier access to ‘Western things’). I live in one of the smaller regional capital cities in Korea (Cheongju, the capital of the Chungbuk province) and I am going to write a short post on what that is like.
There are, like with any situation, pros and cons of living in a smaller city in Korea. However, how small you find it depends on where you come from. For me, Cheongju is a large place. My town back in the UK only had around 80,000 people in it, so Cheongju is over ten times the size of that. The closest city I lived near was still an hour and a half away by train. So living here in Cheongju has given me a great taste of city life. And I have to say I love it. So let us start with the pros.
Perhaps the best thing for me about living in Cheongju is that it is not really crowded. Now, don’t get me wrong. Areas like Shinae (downtown) and Chungdae (the main area for drinking and going out) have their fair share of crowds, especially on weekends. But in comparison to cities like Seoul or Busan, and out of these main areas, Cheongju is not really crowded at all. Apart from rush hour, the buses tend not to be too busy. The streets are generally quieter. For me, this is nice. I always find visiting Seoul a completely exhausting experience, largely due to dealing with the crowds. People are exhausting, and going to Hongdae or Myeongdong ensures you will bump into plenty of them.
Second, I would argue that Cheongju has a closer community of expats and GETs that Seoul. This is, simply, because Cheongju has less expats than Seoul. I think that it would be impossible to know a large chunk of the people in such a large city. However, here in Cheongju, a lot of the expat community is closely linked. It is almost as though there is three degrees of seperation – even if you don’t know someone, one of your friends probably does.
As with anything, there are two sides to every story. And Cheongju does have its cons. Some of these are not major, others bother me quite a lot.
First, it is much harder to get anything resembling international cuisine here in Cheongju. We have a few “Western style” buffets, a limited range of Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine. And that is about it. Seoul, and other larger cities, have much more choice. I have even managed to find Greek food in Seoul before. Cheongju, in comparison, is largely disappointing on the food front. Even when you get ‘international cuisine’, it is often made for the Korean pallet and therefore unusually sweet.
There is also a lot less to do here in Cheongju. Seoul has an amazing range of bars, clubs and places to go out in general. Here in Cheongju, most of the foreign community frequent one of three possible bars on a regular basis. Now, I love the bar that I go to (Buzz) but sometimes you just want a change of scenery. But the bars in Cheongju are pretty much all the same (at least for the Western crowd). (Edit – I have since been told there are six Western bars in Cheongju, not just three).
Finally, Cheongju and the Koreans who live here, tend to be more conservative with their views and in the way they act. Old people here are amongst the rudest people I have ever had the displeasure to come across. They will push and elbow their way to the front of a queue, even if they just arrived. They expect you to treat them with the utmost respect, even when they are being complete arseholes. They often harass my friends with the question “Russian-saram?”, which is slang for prostitute here in Korea. They spit everywhere, and tend to just not think of other people. I have (rarely) had the same level of trouble in Seoul. They generally act as though they are a law onto themselves.
Well, that is all I have for now. I might make this post a two part one (if I can find enough material).
Check back Thursday for my next post.