One of the things that drove me to the brink of madness in Japan was the difficulty of life. It seemed that every seemingly simple task had to be completed with as many unnecessary steps as humanly possible. The Japanese are a very bureaucratic people, and it bleeds through in their everyday lives. To once again reference Douglas Adams, his description of the Vogons seems to fit:
“Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters”
The only difference is that the Japanese are not bad-tempered or callous; they are polite to a fault, which may in fact make dealings with them that much more obnoxious. Does Korea have its share of unnecessary bureaucracy? Absolutely, but I am continually amazed by the ease in which certain tasks are managed.
Just today, I made a call to a moving company in Seoul. This would be a call that I would dread and put off for far too long in the States, and living abroad with a poor command of the language would surely make the negotiations more difficult. Or so I thought. A local couchsurfer had recommended this service, but I was skeptical all the same. As the phone rang I thought about how to best start the conversation. After a few rings, he picked up.
The best I could muster was, “Uh…hello, um…speak English?”
To my relief he did, and we immediately started talking about the logistics of the move. I told him where I was living and where I wanted to go. “Oh,” he started, “that is far.”
I agreed, as some concern began to wash over me.
“It’s OK,” he said, to my relief. “Please text me your address, and I will call you back with a price.”
I did as was instructed, and he called me back in less than 5 minutes. His quoted price was ₩100,000, or about $93. This was absolutely perfect. He then thanked me gratuitously for calling him (and presumably for the nice payday).
From all my past experiences, this should have been a hassle, but it was far from it. Granted, I was lucky to have a decent lead from couchsurfing, but I was still expecting more difficulty than I wound up having. And this is just a small example; there are countless other day-to-day conveniences that I just should not realistically expect whilst abroad. A few weeks back I boarded Sydney for the weekend with similar ease (although it cost more to board her than to board myself that weekend).
I guess this all gets back to my original point. Form is and always has been very important in Japan, whereas Koreans seem to be far more about function. My conversation today essentially boiled down to “You have a truck, I need a mover, are you free?” It worked out for both parties, and everyone is happy. While I never had to move apartments in Japan, I can only imagine needing to sign paperwork, a gift for the mover, and much more money. And that is why I’m here, and not there.