By Alex Gratzek
One thing which absolutely drives me bananas in South Korea is the manner in which bananas are sold. I love eating a good banana. Ideally, I'd eat three to four a week but in Korea this isn't possible.
When I was first in Korea years ago, I tried to pull off three or four bananas from a bunch of 10 bananas. The ajumma started yelling at me; I could buy zero or 10 bananas. Being single and living alone, 10 bananas were too much.
I visited that ajumma and bought my fruit and vegetables from her for years but I never bought bananas from her. Periodically, she would try to give me bunches of bananas which she couldn't sell because they were turning from yellow/brown to brown/black. I would refuse them.
Those bananas she couldn't sell were a total loss for her. I can't fathom why grocery stores and little ajumma stores won't sell bananas except in large quantities but at the other end of the extreme you can go and buy an overpriced single banana at Starbucks for 1,500 won or so. Where is that nice middle ground between buying one banana and 10 bananas? It's bananas.
Another thing which is a bit absurd in Korea is the recent renovations done in my neighborhood, Haebangchon. It was a fine plan, make the roads narrower and put in some sidewalks for the benefit of local residents.
However, the newly narrowed roads eliminated parking opportunities so now the sidewalks are constantly overrun with illegally parked cars. One evening, walking down Haebangchon I counted over 20 cars parked on the sidewalk.
Now, where is the enforcement? There is very little but there is an easy solution. Being a regular in Haebangchon I often see older people collecting bottles, cardboard and other recyclables in order to supplement their income.
How about equipping them with smartphones or a number to call in order to report the illegally parked cars? For their efforts, give them a percentage of the ticket as payment. In no time at all, the illegally parked cars will be gone and older folks will have some extra income in the meantime.
The last thing I find utterly mind boggling about South Korea is the taxi situation. Recently, taxi drivers protested by going on strike against a carpooling service that was to be offered by Kakao Mobility because it would be a threat to their livelihoods.
Taxi drivers are also against the extension of subway hours because it's a threat to their livelihoods. When Uber made its debut in Korea, it was quickly run out because it posed a threat to the livelihood of taxi drivers.
I would have some sympathy for taxi drivers and their seemingly incessant protests and strikes if they actually did their jobs. However, they don't. A taxi driver's job is to pick up people who are hailing them for their services. The amount of times I have been refused service is staggering.
In short, carpooling? No! Uber? No! Extended subway hours? No! Pick up customers waiting on the street? No!
In Itaewon, I knew a taxi driver who would come out every weekend night around 11:30p.m. He would proceed to then just sit in Itaewon drinking 300-won cups of coffee waiting for a specific customer who wanted to go to Incheon.
He would be sitting there for hours doing nothing except talking to other taxi drivers who were waiting on the same kind of fare. Knowing him a bit, I would often ask him for a quick five-minute ride home over to Haebangchon. He refused every time, for months.
In the Haebangchon and Itaewon area, taxi drivers will often see people waiting in the street for a taxi. They will slow down, lower their windows and see where you are going. If it's not far enough, they will drive away. If they are willing to do it, then they will unlock the doors and allow you in.
This is absurd. A taxi driver's job is to pick up customers and take them from point A to point B, regardless of the distance. If taxi drivers make so little money, then they should be willing to pick up anyone who is willing to pay for their service instead of constantly discriminating against potential customers.
However, more often than not, there is some excuse why they can't take you and when alternatives arise because of taxis' shoddy service, they protest.
After living in Korea for eight years, bananas have been driving me crazy and taxis have been driving me bananas. I just had to get all of this off my chest.
Alex Gratzek is an American who has lived, studied and worked in South Korea. Contact him at email@example.com.