There are a lot of good things about living in Seoul. A lot of great things, actually, and many of them having to do with technology. According to the International Telecommunication Union, South Korea is the world's most advanced information society, in terms of internet and telecom services. There's a reason for that. I never tire of the bountiful WiFi available on every street corner, coffee shop and subway car. I look forward to upgrading my home broadband connection to 1Gbit/s sometime next year. Its obvious that a society is advanced when their 2nd largest carrier is asking the government for permission to shut down their own 2G network. For all of these technological advancements, there is one thing that drives me absolutely insane about using the internet in South Korea.
I teach English in Seoul, and one of my many duties is filling out report cards for each of my students. I prefer to spend as little time in the building as possible, so I spend a good amount of time working from home. The problem is that when I want to fill out my students report cards or do anything else that entails even moderate interaction such as filling out a form, I usually end up gnashing my teeth, pulling out my hair and hurling the closest object out of my 2nd story window. Why? Because all Korean websites are optimized for Internet Explorer.
"Optimized" is a tricky term. To some, it may seem to imply that other browsers would not fare quite as well on a webpage, that perhaps some text or some pictures won't line up quite right, but nevertheless be able to browse the page without any major hangups. There is some truth to that. About 10% of the time I'm on a Korean site, I'll be able to get through it without too much trouble. The remaining 90% of time, however, is a complete and total broken mess. I run OS X, and my browser of choice is Google Chrome. It's minimalistic, quick, and usually works without a hitch. That is, unless I'm browsing a Korean website. Let me give you an example of an ordeal I went through this very night.
I'll set the scene for you: I arrive home. It's dark. I'm tired. I've been dealing with kids all day, and all I want to do is eat a pizza, lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling. I log onto the pizzahut.co.kr, intent on using a coupon to order a free pizza. I tense up when I see all the animated forms appear. This is usually when things turn from free and relaxed to frustrating in the blink of an eye. I progress through the forms with almost unnatural ease. I relax. All I have left to do is a submit my home address. I can almost taste the pepperoni, cheese, corn and sweet potato melting in my mouth. Then, out of nowhere, all virtual chaos breaks loose. I realize that what I'm typing isn't showing up on screen. I hit spacebar and the text magically appears, and quickly vanishes again after the next keystroke. After a few minutes of appearing, disappearing, and reappearing text, I think I have it. I press the submit button, and . . . nothing. Like so many times before, my ability to interact with anything more than simple text on the page has mysteriously disappeared. Out of the window flies my keyboard.
This is not a unique experience. This can be a daily frustration. Thankfully, the majority of the websites I visit are not strictly Korean. But when I do want to order truckloads of ramen from Gmarket or play around on Naver, I have to be careful.
I know there's a simple solution to this, but I'm not going to bootcamp or virtualize Windows just for IE. I won't pirate a copy of Windows, nor can I justify the cost of purchasing it. I suppose the point I should be making is that while in the grand scheme of things its rather unimportant, and not much more than an inconvenience, I struggle to see why a society so progressive in respect to telecom and internet infrastructure would be so focused on optimizing their web experience for IE and only IE. I can only hope that in the future this will change. But until then, I'll be laying here . . . hungry.