Daniel: Seoul Eats
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Seoul, etc.
Hi, my name is Daniel Gray and I am a food entrepreneur in Korea. It’s kind of hard to classify what I do now since I started as a blogger that started food tours and cooking classes in Korea. I opened restaurants (Brew 3.14 and Brew 3.15) and now I am a director at iFood Korea (delectabletravels.com), a food and hospitality start-up. Oh, and I blog at Seouleats.com. I was born in Korea but was adopted when I was 5 years old. I returned to Korea when I was 25 because I always wanted to travel and I wanted to reconnect with my birthmother.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging in 2005 after I discovered blogger.com. I wrote about nothing in particular at first but later it led to writing about my food experiences in Korea.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- I really like my Best of Seoul Lists like my noodles list.
- I also like my instagram posts for it makes me really focus on pictures and short form writing.
- I also like my story about my memories in Korea, like this one about bananas.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Seoul differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Seoul is much different from back in the States. I can’t say I had that much trouble adjusting to Korea since it is quite forgiving of foreigners. The language was an issue but I was lucky to make many Korean friends that could help me. As for culture shock, not really. It’s more like culture amusement. I love the differences in Korea and I feel many cultures could learn from them. The longer I stay here, the more detached I get from the USA. I don’t really think I could see myself living in the USA now since Korea is such a safe and convenient place to be. It’s also a great place to do business.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Seoul? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I can’t say I was fully prepared but I’m pretty easy going. When I first came, I had very little money so I didn’t bring a computer with me. I wish I had that for the first few months I spent a lot of time at PC rooms. I think I would have also brought more western grooming products since I wasn’t used to not being able to buy deodorant (now it’s more readily available). Oh, and clothing. I should have shopped for more stuff in the states since the styles are so different here.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I was really a wide-eyed foreigner when I came here and I thought everything Koreans did was magic. On weekends, I would walk two miles to the bus station to get an amazing udon-style soup. I loved the noodles because they were so silky and perfectly cooked. The broth was light as well. I was convinced that this hard-working chef at the bus station had gotten up every morning to hand make everything and I told everyone about this amazing soup. One day I took one of my Korean friends there early in the morning to this place raving about the amazing noodles and the broth. When we got there, my friend was not amused. She told me that it was instant noodles from a packet that you could buy at every convenience store. I felt pretty silly after that.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Seoul?
- Have an open mind. Koreans are quite extroverted so you’ll be asked questions about your age, education, family etc. It’s just their way of getting to know you.
- Bring utensils or wooden chopsticks for the metal ones are hard to get used to at first.
- Be respectful of elders and people of position. It’s a Confucianist society after all.
How is the expat community in Seoul? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It’s great. I would try to find people of similar interests. I started an anime club and I made lifelong friends through that. The club started with anime but later evolved to a bit of everything and just being friends. Also, get to know Koreans. They will make your life in Korea easier plus you’ll get accustomed to the culture.
How would you summarize your expat life in Seoul in a single, catchy sentence?
My life in the land of full metal chopsticks is always an adventure: food is cooked on hot coals at the center of the table, older Korean women elbow and jostle for positions, everyone is sharply dressed, and tasks are done quickly but maybe not so efficiently.