Living and teaching in Korea has allowed me to adopt a pretty decadent life-style. I’ve been pampered in traditional Korean bathhouses and spas, I’ve wined and dined most weekend evenings in Seoul, I’ve adopted a Korean sense of style and I can find an item that ‘I just have to have!’ in any store, and I’ve adventured throughout Korea and flown to Taiwan and Thailand all in the last year. My teaching salary has allowed me to try, see, taste and shop my way through Southeast Asia all while sending money home to the US each month to pay off student loans and other debt.
I will leave Korea in June, so I have decided to be a bit frugal and save more money in my last few months. It is comforting to know that while I am saving I can still enjoy myself in true Korean style. Korea is famous for exemplary ‘service’ and freebies. Money is great, but free things are even better.
10 Fantastic Korean Freebies:
1) Restaurant Side Dishes
In any Korean restaurant the owners and workers believe that ‘The customer is king’. If you are an expat in Korea you are familiar with the word ‘service’ (서비스 – seobiseu). While restaurant workers do not expect tips for their service, they also do not expect diners to wait long for food or have an average culinary experience. I have not had a bad restaurant trip yet. Staff go out of their way to make sure you are happy. ‘Service’ most commonly refers to freebies gifted to customers. I have been gifted beers, bottles of soju and extra orders of barbecue meat. Of course free soju tastes delicious, but when I return home to the US I will most miss the endless supply of Korean restaurant side dishes. As a former waitress I can recall being scolded by management for giving extra honey mustard to customers without adding it to their bill. In Korea this is unheard of. Most meals come with at least 5 or 6 small bowls of delicious side dishes and they are continuously replenished during your meal for free.
2) Cosmetic Samples
I could probably open my own store with all the samples I have. Although I am always using the samples and bringing them on overnight trips, I still have a mountainous supply. Each time I visit a SkinFood or Etude House store I leave with a bag of free samples.
3) ‘Just Because’ Gifts
Last Sunday night a pleasant man selling fruit out of his truck threw an extra box of strawberries and four oranges in with my original purchase. When I bought a new perfume this past summer the saleslady tossed in a straw floppy hat. And many times my local convenience store cashier chases me out of the store because I leave before he can retrieve the free juice drink (or candy bar or soda or pack of gum) I deserve because I purchased a coffee drink (or special snack or energy drink or pack of ramen). Sometimes all the free ‘just because’ gifts can get confusing, but I love them.
4) WiFi and Phone Charging
Korea’s outstanding WiFi is something I will also miss when I am back in the US. Many of my friends choose to not pay for internet service on their smart phones or tablets because they know they can find free WiFi in most places in Korea. Here is a great resource for getting free WiFi anywhere in Korea.
Free phone charging still baffles me. Why wouldn’t stores and restaurants charge for charging stations? I was first introduced to free phone (and device) charging while at a music festival last summer. After a day of map and Google searching, hours of snapping pictures and taking videos, and endless texts to my friends who were scattered around the different music stages my phone was close to dead. I laughed at a sign next to a Vitamin Water booth (They were giving away free Vitamin Waters of course.) that advertised a ‘recharging service’. The festival was on an island and I imagined someone making ridiculous profits by providing mobile phone charger stations. When I heard another concert-goer utter ‘FREE!’ I quickly steered myself to the station.
Most bars and restaurants also provide phone charging services for free.
5) Food Delivery
Most restaurants in Korea deliver. And it is amazing. It is fast and free and along with the usual freebie appetizers the restaurant also includes dishes and utensils that you simply leave outside your door when you finish feasting.
6) Seoul Tours
SeoulMate offers free tours of Seoul. Their website states: We are ‘SeoulMate’, composed of university students that volunteer as special Seoul tour guides to non-Korean tourists for free. We offer the opportunities for you to make Korean friends and understand the culture of Seoul through our tour programs. Check out their website for the latest tour dates and information.
Most museums in Seoul are free or very affordable. I do know the Museum of Contemporary Art is free on every fourth Saturday of the month. The War Memorial of Korea and The National Folk Museum also offer free admission.
Sometimes it seems as if there is a festival going on every weekend in Korea. My favorite festival is definitely the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul. I spent the weekend in Seoul snapping pictures of the brilliantly colored lanterns, learning about Buddhism at various informational booths, and watching traditional dances, ceremonies and a parade. The entire weekend was free. Here are a few other festivals to enjoy.
9) Promotional Goodies
Promoters in Seoul are constantly trying to give you free things. And there are no obligations. You don’t need to sign up for a credit card or give away your email address. You simply say thank you and enjoy the free gift. Last weekend my friend and I were waiting in line for concert tickets at an almost sold-out Grimes show in Hongdae. With over two hours of standing ahead of us we complained of upcoming fatigue. Luckily we scored free Monster energy drinks from a nearby promoter. I love when life works out like that.
10) Gym Equipment
I should get a gym membership. But why pay for one when you can just use the free equipment scattered all along the river and in parks? I try to make it down to the river to walk or run at least 3 or 4 times a week and there are clusters of decent gym machines for public use on both sides of the water.