Friday, July 29, 2011


Time seems to pass by really quickly here, for whatever reason. I'm still more tired than what I would consider to be "normal," but I'm going to blame work and leave it at that.

Life is uneventful- the rain seems to have stopped (the sun! it's shining!), the temperature rose into the 80s, and I wore heels to work today without feeling any regret. As I'm leaving work in about half an hour, I would hope that I make it home with my shoes intact.

So I took a random picture while waiting for the very slow elevator in my building (there are two banks of elevators and four elevators in each bank, and they are ALL SO SLOW). This is from the 11th floor, looking down at the garden on the 3rd floor. That pink building is one of the Lotte Department Store buildings (the shorter one- there are two right next to each other, the taller building isn't visible from this angle). The garden's been drenched lately, so no serene cups of coffee in the garden for me.

This is very typical of Korea, by the way- there are little pockets of green spaces all over the place, even in the midst of all the very tall buildings that crowd the city. Ilsan doesn't have much space, as evidenced by how high they built up the city, but there are parks and little gardens all over the place.

That picture above was taken with my Korean phone (the Samsung Galaxy SII) and the following photos were all taken with my American phone (iPhone 4). The whole 'loud shutter click' thing on the Samsung means that I have been using my iPhone for silent picture-taking. (I carry around my iPhone as an iPod, since I'm not going to be buying music and putting it on my Korean phone, which I have to return before I leave the country.)
This so-called ecological park is on the roof of the Lotte Department Store. It's a garden more than a park, but very cute, very well maintained, and very quiet. The department store is so loud (and full of pushy Koreans) but the rooftop garden is serene. I love it.
I like this type of wooden walkway. The trees in Korea are SO green. The trees in the US (well, California and New Mexico) aren't this vibrantly green. I think part of it is the weather (it's humid and rainy here, whereas California and New Mexico are deserts) and part of it is that there are lots of types of trees in Korea that I'm not used to seeing in the States.
Lotte Department Store has (generally) very nice aesthetic value. These lamps were hanging next to an escalator that I was taking (hence the blurry photo). I would want this kind of lighting for my house- diffused, no glaring spotlights, peaceful.
This is the view looking down from the escalator. I like the wavy aqua walls. Koreans place a lot of importance (or at least they seem to spend a lot of time) on appearance, which lends for prettier spaces and generally very well put-together people. (Some other time, I will get into what some of my female co-workers wear to work. I need to take sneaky pictures as evidence, though- some of their outfits are madness!)

What else .... I got paid! Hooray ... I think. The way I get paid is a little bit odd: I have a set rate (by week). However, the way the company pays me is in won, not dollars. My weekly rate is in dollars. They calculate my pay by whatever the current value of the dollar is as compared to the won. So on the 25th of each month, I get paid varying amounts of money. Right now:

(my rate) x (current exchange value) = (not as much as it would have been three weeks ago)

Hopefully, the dollar picks itself up a little. If $1 falls below 1,000 won, I'm going to be upset. (I remember when the Korean economy was crashing because of the whole IMF thing and $1 was worth almost 2,000 won. Sigh.)

Anyways, I calculated the amount that I got paid and it's all kosher. The whole direct deposit thing is quite convenient, actually- if you have someone's name and their account number, you can just put money right into their account. (I owe my cousin money because he ordered my cell phone online and used his credit card.) It's a lot faster than giving someone a check or taking out an inordinately large sum of cash.

I haven't been sleeping well the past couple of days, so I'm a little loopy. Still, I'm seriously going to try to do something this weekend, after the past three (um, all the weekends I've been here) weekends of doing ... nothing. At least go into Seoul and see some family, maybe wander around the places that I have interest in seeing. (All of this is pending weather issues, of course- I'm told it will rain more this weekend.)

Current currency exchange: $1 = 1,054 won. Up one measly won from the last time I checked ... still, I suppose that's progress.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I took a (crappy) video of the lightning a couple nights ago. It's been raining an insane amount over the past three days, unrelenting and crazy. I've heard that people are stuck in Gangnam (강남), an affluent area of Seoul south of the Han River (Gang (강) means "river," Nam (남) means "south") and that a couple people have even died.

The jangma rains when I first got here were not bad- generally pretty light, no real wind to speak of- but the recent rain includes gusty winds, which means that even with an umbrella, people get soaked.

Walking home from work yesterday, my umbrella flipped inside out (the first time that it's ever happened to me!) and my jeans were pretty much sopping wet from the knees down. I was wearing leather wedges, which were not a good idea. (I'm wearing flip-flops today.)

The rain has prevented me from doing anything but going to work and going back home. I have no urge to even go grocery shopping.

It's just past 2:00 p.m. here, and the rain has stopped. Hopefully, it holds for a while so I can go to the bank (to check to see if I've been paid) and wander around the neighborhood before heading home tonight. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Most amazingly loud and bright lightning and thunderstorm outside right now. It was pouring when I left work this evening- I now know what a "torrential downpour" is- but the grumbling thunder and eyeball-searing lightning just started.

I realized today why I forget my umbrella so often. It's because I cannot hear the rain hitting the ground. The highest building I ever worked or lived in while I was in the US was only three stories. Here, I live and work so far off the ground that I cannot hear the pelting rain, no matter how much it pours.

Good thing I'm not afraid of lightning and thunder, or it would be quite a sleepless night!


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Random Things

I'm tired for no apparent reason, but I feel like I'm neglecting my blog, so I'm writing a list o' randomness. I really don't know why I'm tired- I've been sleeping a lot (and having crazy dreams, to boot), I've been eating normally, I haven't really been stressing (or at least I don't think I have). Something fishy is going on ... probably the fact that I moved to a foreign country.

Here's the random list:

- Gyms here are referred to as "health" in conversation. Keep in mind that there is no "th" sound in Korean, replaced by an "s" sound. It's odd, to say the least.

- It rains here, more often than I'm accustomed to. And I forget my umbrella almost always. I live on the 11th floor, and I don't realize it's raining until I'm on the first floor, then back up to my place I go to get my umbrella. (Ahem, this happened today.)

- Walking = hell on shoes and feet. I didn't realize how little I walked around in the US unless I was specifically somewhere to walk (hiking, the beach, whatever). I walk everywhere here, and my shoes are not happy. My feet are even less happy.

- Almost everyone (unless it's a part-time job) gets paid monthly. It seems that everyone in Korea gets paid on the 25th of each month. I have never been paid monthly before, and it seems terribly, terribly wrong. That's a lot of money, what if I spend it all at once?? (I won't, but it's the thought that's terrifying me.)

- Eyelash extensions are really cheap here, and look really good (a co-worker got hers done). The one time I contemplated getting them in the States, it was $200 for initial application. They are 30,000 won ($28.50) here, and look better. What the heck?

- The dollar is still falling. I am not pleased. At 1,053 won and counting...

- I haven't been taking many pictures lately (and I was totally called out on it by my sister yesterday) because I've been senselessly tired and also being cell phone cameras in Korea all have this issue. You cannot mute the sound! Apparently (well, according to my friend Google), it's a law in Korea that all cell phone cameras must click when taking a photo, to prevent people from taking photos of unaware people. And to prevent perverts from taking photos up a girl's skirt, I suppose, but Korean women wear SUCH SHORT SKIRTS that really, they're asking for it. This whole camera click thing is vastly irritating to me, and makes me not want to take pictures with my phone unless I'm at home.

- I caved and bought cheese and wine. Well, I bought "cheese" and wine. Don't judge a desperate American! My great-aunt (maternal grandmother's younger sister) says Costco has good cheese. She's lived in Europe, so she should know. I need to find someone with a Costco card and a car.

I bought this wine at Homeplus, where two girls helpfully wrapped up the bottles with these foamy sleeves so that they wouldn't break en route to my house. Since people generally walk here, portability is figured out really well. Handles on packages, protective packaging for breakable things, all very nicely thought out.
Yes. It is squeezable "Camembert" cheese. It tastes like those Handi-Snacks from ye olden days when I was a wee tot. It's not bad, it's just not Camembert. Sliced cheese here is awful. They have sliced Velveeta, which I don't need, since I won't be melting cheese into anything (and Velveeta is only good for melting). They also have sliced Gouda, which is ... awful. Pre-sliced cheese should just be American and yellow, like Kraft.

- Customer service is so different here. I don't know if I'll ever get over it. People are so ... helpful. And there's no tipping, so it's just ... normal. Bizarre. For instance, at the Lotte Department Store's grocery market, if I pick up a bunch of grapes and look like I'm getting them, a dude materializes and packages up said bunch of grapes in a plastic bag, asks me if I need anything else, and then disappears when I say no. Crazy. If I look around like I'm lost, someone will come ask if I'm looking for something in particular. Shops are generally alarmingly well-staffed.

- I've been going to Bethel Church. The sheer size of the place still overwhelms me. It has stadium seating in plush red chairs (like an opera house) and all the chairs are numbered. There's a complicated lighting rig, a large choir, an organ, all kinds of things. It's more like a theater than a church. There's seating outside the main sanctuary, too- groups of chairs for people that are late, separate rooms for people with babies, and just ... so many people.

That's it for now. I'm sure there's more, I'm just groggy and can't think up anything at the moment. Yawn. There's some sort of work thing on Thursday ... I have no idea what's going to happen or where we're going. I'm dreading it, I have to be nice and such. Ugh.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Currently Awful Currency

Holy cheese and crackers, the American dollar is awful right now.

1,000 won (원) is $0.95. Ugh.

Some other time, I'll explain how I'm getting paid and why this state of the dollar is annoying me. The dollar has been steadily falling since I started watching the exchange rate (two weeks ago, when I got to Korea).


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Bizarrely, I woke up with a start at 5:30 this morning. In my bleary state, I took some photos through the (dirty) window with my phone (the Samsung, not the iPhone).

There are fun settings on the camera on this phone, including different modes for sunrise and sunset and a panorama option. Here's a wee panorama (the window prevented me from taking a proper panorama).


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nekoba's, Ilsan (Korea)

** Edit June 29, 2012:

I've noticed that Nekoba's has closed! This place no longer exists. I'm not too bummed about it because I don't live in that building anymore. **

One of the most convenient things about Korea, so far, has been eating. One of the most inconvenient things has been grocery shopping, so those differences balance out pretty well.

I have never in my life considered how annoying grocery shopping could be, because I've had a car since I was in high school. Having to carry groceries and walk home really makes a person think hard about what the essentials are. I don't drink Coke or eat snacks here (Coke is too heavy and snacks take up too much room in my eco-bag).

I was feeling quite lazy this weekend (I literally didn't leave the house on Saturday) so I called and ordered food from downstairs. Like many buildings here, there are tons of shops and places to eat on the first few floors of the building that I live in- things ranging from shoe stores to a kimbap (김밥) place, with a Burger King (labeled 버거킹 for the very few non-English-reading Koreans?), two convenience stores (편의점), a nail salon, a hair salon, a place that will mend clothes, a place to buy signs (neon and printed!), and a coffee shop in between. This is all in a small little area- some of the stores are wee.

One of the restaurants is called Nekobas (Nekoba's?), right next door to a place with a cartoon corn cob that claims to sell "corn noodles," the very concept of which scares me a little. I called Nekoba one night and ordered tonkatsu (sometimes spelled donkatsu (돈까스)), which is basically fried pork in a sweet, salty sauce.

Because I live in the building, they delivered to me. I called and a girl showed up in about ten or fifteen minutes, food in hand and ready to give me change (she brought exact change). There's no tipping here (I LOVE that, so easy to calculate things!), so she knew that if I didn't have exact change, she would need to give me a specific amount of money. Smart.

Most places in Korea (mostly Chinese-Korean places) will deliver in real dishes, with a little plastic bag for you to use after you're done. Finish eating, put the dishes in the bag, place the bag outside your door, and someone will come pick it up. Nekoba's is adorable (I went in earlier in the week to check it out) and a bit fancier than most delivery places (very cute and decorated with Totoro stuffed animals), so they brought me dinner in disposable containers.

Cute containers. Dinner came with salad (barely visible in the back), which is basically the Korean take on coleslaw (served at most Japanese-Korean places here), miso soup, kimchi (pretty good, actually), takuan (단무지, sweet pickled radish), and the actual donkatsu (pork's on the right, shrimp tempura on the left, and rice underneath it all). That white stuff on top of the sauce on top of the pork is mayonnaise. Asians (Koreans and Japanese, at least) love mayonnaise. I am not as crazy about mayonnaise as they seem to be here, judging from how many dishes mayonnaise sneaks into.

Dinner was 7,000 원 ($6.61). No extra charge for delivery, no tip. Crazy.

Also, I called them and they didn't answer. I didn't leave a voicemail, I just hung up. They called me back a minute later, identified themselves as Nekobas, and apologized. Being in a phone-centric country has its advantages.

Woorim Rodeo Suites Building
Janghang-dong, Ilsan-gu, Goyang-si, Gyeonggi-do

Telephone: 031-904-7909

(No idea what their hours are, but business (restaurants, at least) in Korea seem to open late and stay open late.)

Random updates:

Work's been fine. A little slow and a little dodgy, as we get used to one another and as I get used to having to speak in Korean all the live-long day, but fine. There are more and more (very proficient) English speakers coming out of the woodwork, which I'm grateful for. My brain can only handle so much Korean in a day.

I have to move offices this week, and I'm not happy about it. I like this office. Harrumph. I like my officemates, I'm used to them. Now I'm going to be in a big bullpen with a ton of people. Ew. I'm trying to delay my move as much as possible.

I can't figure out my cable and TV. The first week, I had one cable service and an old-school TV. Sometime while I was at work, they changed my TV to an HD flatscreen. That's all well and fine. Then a few days later, they changed my receiver. And all the channels changed! It's annoying me and I don't understand this new system. I can't find channels that I used to get, which is probably the part that's annoying me. Why they didn't do this before I moved in is beyond me.

Korean TV broadcasts an amazing number of American TV shows and movies. Yesterday, there was a Harry Potter marathon (I think it was on OCN). They regular broadcast marathons of American TV shows (Hawaii Five-O, Without a Trace, CSI, Hellcats (?!), Project Runway (I'm still bitter about the Mondo-Gretchen thing), America's Got Talent, the list goes on and on). I find it odd, but I also like hearing people speak in English. When I'm home alone, I generally leave the TV on. I'm not watching it- I just like the noise.

I also can't figure out my air conditioner. There's a remote, with words that make sense, I'm sure, but don't seem to have anything to do with cooling the air. I turn the thing on and off, set the temperature, and hope for the best. It's not a good system, and I should really learn to use it correctly. I'm terrified for the first time I have to do laundry in my crazy Korean washing machine (it's a washer and dryer in one, which is odd to me).

The rain's let up. I think jangma (장마) season (monsoon season) is pretty much over. Time for typhoon season (though I hear the first typhoon passed through Japan and missed Korea entirely) and then unbearably hot sunshine and humidity, plus temperatures in the upper 80's and 90's. I'm really trying to get used to the whole Celsius thing, but I can't. 30 degrees is cold, people. It's below freezing. America and its refusal to switch to the metric system is ridiculous. Nobody else in the world cares about Fahrenheit, inches, feet, or miles. So dumb.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Some observations from my time so far in the ROK:

- Lots of push-button doors. Push the little bar on the wall next to the door and the door slides open (there are a few at work, but it seems to be common in most bakeries (Tous les Jours, Paris Baguette, etc.) and banks). Not automatic doors- you need to push the button to make them move. Weird.

- Tiny cups. TINY. I used to drink so much water back in the States, but I drink hardly any water here because the cups are SO LITTLE. Maybe four ounces. Even the glasses in my residence (provided) are wee. Very cute, yes, but stupid.

- Everyone assumes I know every English word ever created. Yes, I generally do, but still. I'm a walking, talking pronounciation guide.

- Talking elevators. Everwhere. "You are on the eleventh floor." "Going down."

- Slippers. People at work wear regular shoes to and from work, but wear slippers (mostly those Adidas-style slides that were super popular in the States a while back) while at work. To be comfortable, I guess? I work eight hours a day, but they work a lot more.

- Have you eaten? Everyone asks this of everyone. I think it's the first thing I get asked every day. Koreans really care about appearance, but also really want to make sure that you're eating. Another thing is that a lot of people that work here seem to eat all their meals here. I have no issue eating dinner at home by myself- I like it, in fact- but my co-workers seem worried that I do so. It's not like they eat here, either, they all eat out. So basically, some people eat out every single meal during the workweek. Granted, eating out in Korea is not like eating out in the States- almost every restaurant in the States is unhealthy, whereas a lot of Korean restaurants have really homemade food. I still don't think I would like to eat out that much, though. I don't like to eat around that many strangers, either.

- Titles. Americans that work in film (I can't really speak for other industries) don't use formalities at all. Even the director is just called by his name. In Korea, everyone has some sort of title, even if the title basically means "worker." I can't get over this, because it means that what I have to call someone is much longer than their whole (first and last) name. How is that reasonable at all?

- Accents. For such a small country, Korea has a lot of regional dialects. I've gotten used to dramas and movies, where mostly everyone has the Seoul accent (no accent), with the quirky/funny/weird character having a heavy country bumpkin accent. A lot of people at work have accents, to varying degrees. I find that I understand some of them a lot better than I understand others. Think of a thick Lousiana accent, or maybe a heavy Boston accent- similar thing.

- TV shows. What the heck, Korea?? Why do TV shows start at 11:00 p.m. or even midnight?? The Korean version of "primetime" is apparently quite a bit later than the American version. The good news is, I get about 500 channels and they re-run everything so often that I end up pretty much catching up on the shows that I watch every now and again. The bad news is, there's a lot of shows. I have to prioritize. And figure out when they actually air. It's all very confusing so far.

- Bread. Why is the bread in Korea better than the bread in America? This is dumbfounding to me. For a country that only consumes bread at breakfast (if that) and for snacking, Korea has some amazing bread. American bread makes me sad, and I don't like it, but Korean bread is addicting. Awful. I already love rice way too much, I can't also love another starch.

- Checks (of lack thereof). There are no checks in Korea. Literally no checks. People use automatic deposits (using each others' bank account numbers) for everything. Owe someone some money? Put it in their account. Getting money from your employer? They'll put it in your account. It's convenient, I suppose, but also weird to me. My bank book is pretty adorable- they gave me a choice when I opened my account, and I went for the girliest one. My bank card (debit card, I suppose, but I've never been asked for a PIN number unless I'm at an ATM) is just a standard card with magnetic strip. Nothing fancy there.

I've been in Korea for a week now (I got here last Wednesday) and it already feels like I know the place. I know where to walk if it's raining (there's cobblestones (maybe not cobblestones- they're like bricks, but in zigzag shapes) instead of sidewalks in a lot of places here, so the walkways can be slightly uneven, holding water in big puddles if it's raining enough), I know where to go if I need Q-tips, I know where to go get money, I know where to get groceries, I feel like I've gotten to know the area a little.

Granted, I still get a little turned around sometimes, but it's not that bad. And I've always found my way back home, even if I do get lost for a few minutes. I'm sure it will all be a different story once I get on the subway (or bus, horror of horrors), but that's why I have a phone, after all. I've already checked out the map on my phone and it's quite the good deal, with lots and lots of detail.

I had jjajangmyun (짜장면) for lunch today. It was delicious. I will never be able to find that restaurant again without someone's help.


Monday, July 11, 2011

A House Is Not A Home

A terrible video of my residence. I took this on my iPhone 4 when I was first shown in (hence all my suitcases)- I've unpacked and such since, so there are things strewn about.

This is what Koreans call an "officetel," a portmanteau of "office" and "hotel," mostly meant for people that are working and need someplace to stay during their work week (or however long they're working). It's also called a "residence," which is a little confusing- I don't think Koreans know that 'residence' just means someplace you live.

It's very conveniently located, thankfully, so much so that I haven't had to take any public transportation (well, excluding the airport bus). Since the day after I got to Korea, I've walked everywhere. No buses, no subways, no taxis.

Anyway, here's home. Storage galore, more than I will ever use.



I have a cell phone!

Many thanks to my cousin and to quick service, one of my favorite things about Korea.

I officially feel like I live here now.

(The screen grab shows what it looks like to blog from the new phone. This Android business hurts my brain.)


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Lake Park (호수공원)

I have always found it annoying to read Korean. Part of the problem is that there are always other languages mixed in, mostly English or Chinese. Part of the problem is also that the English is generally phonetically spelled out in Korean, rather than just written in English. Sounding out a word in Korean that I already know in English is just a big ol' waste of time.

Since I am currently living in Korea, I've had to adjust to the abundance of Korean all over the place. That hasn't been fun.

Yesterday (Saturday), my aunt (my mother's only sister) came with household supplies for me (pots, pans, dishes, chopsticks, etc.) and we ran around, catching up and talking. The weather was nice, thankfully, and though it was cloudy, it never started raining.

Before she got here, I went to Lake Park (호수공원), a huge man-made lake with very nicely landscaped and planned areas around it. Koreans know how to do nature, even when it's man-made. Since it was a Saturday, there were quite a few people- some jogging, some on bikes, some sitting on the abundant benches and eating or talking. Lots of old people with visors and wide-brimmed hats, chortling with one another. A father teaching a son how to ride a bike. Very bucolic stuff.

I took a couple pictures with my phone (there's free WiFi at a lot of places, so I carry it around even though I can't make or take calls), but the weather didn't really make for good photography.

That building, second from the left, blue-ish with red lettering on top, is where I live. This area was sort of the parade of flags. I've been here less than a week but I was already happy to see the American flag.

The silver sculpture at the center of the picture is the beginning of another park, a smaller one. I need to cross the little park (it's long and narrow) to go to work, which is nice. I'm glad that I can walk to work here.
Better look at the flags. And the perfectly manicured grass. I saw quite a few people with dogs, but didn't see any dog poop anywhere, which is good.

There aren't that many trash cans in public places in Korea (the land of really picky recycling), but there's not much litter. Isn't that odd? There are tons of trash cans in America, but there's still trash all over the streets.

I'm going to try going to Bethel Church (enormous, gigantic mega-church close to me) today, but I'm not very hopeful that I'll like it.

I start working tomorrow. Looking forward to it, on one hand, since people there will be bound to give me advice about the area, but also not looking forward to having to work. That month and a half of not working went by in a flash!


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Korea, Day 2

All tuckered out.

I got my first taste of jangma (monsoon) today. It's no laughing matter, this monsoon stuff- it rained for hours today, which I realized that I'm not used to. Everywhere I've lived or visited has had brief showers, not really constantly pouring rain.

Luckily, my residence has (giant) umbrellas, so I had one for the day.

This morning (before the rain), I went over to my new workplace to check it out and meet the people that I've been e-mailing for months on end. The differences in the way that Americans and Koreans do business, deal with visual effects, is astounding and dismaying.

After my morning at the company, I met my cousin, who came over from Seoul. We had lunch (Chinese-Korean, one of my favorites), came back to look stuff up online at my house, then set off in the pouring rain to try and get me a bank account and a cell phone.

The bank account (KB Bank) took a while (I think about an hour and a half?) because we ended up having to see two different people, fill out about five forms, and wait.

In the U.S., we're all about lines. We stand in lines all over the place, even at banks. In Korea, you take a ticket (printed out from an ATM-like machine) depending on what type of transaction you need, then wait in areas with lots of seating and reading material. A worker walked about with little Yakults and teensy straws for everyone that was waiting. I've loved Yakults since I was a wee child, and it was a nice gesture.

After exchanging the rest of my American dollars, depositing most of it into my brand new account, opened with the help of my passport and American driver's license, and getting a debit card, I was exhausted and the bank was long closed.

We traipsed a few blocks away to the big SK Telecom store (not one of the small outposts that are all over the place) to inquire about renting a smartphone. I had a realization over lunch and conversation with my pragmatic cousin that I would probably be really frustrated with a dumbphone.

SK Telecom was a bust, because the only rented phones I could acquire were dumbphones. My cousin said he knew of a way to rent a smartphone online, so he said he'd look into it.

We ran off to Lotte Department Store, where my cousin got on the subway (it's the most amazing thing ever- the subway stop is in the basement of the department store, where there's a food court and (super expensive) grocery store) and I spent a lot of money on very little food. (My mother's going to fall off her chair if she sees this, but I paid more than 18,000 won for grapes and tomatoes. The good news is, the grapes and tomatoes are beautiful.)

Just the fact that my only mode of transportation has been walking has been tiring and somewhat stressful, because I need to always be at least slightly aware of where I am and how I can get home. I'm still having the problem that I mentioned earlier about being turned around- west is east and east is west, and I have no idea why- so that's definitely contributing to my stress of walking everywhere.

What I've realized in my bank and cell phone adventures today is that I am totally not Korean. I speak Korean passably- people at the office were shocked (which I think is probably not a good thing, that they didn't think I could speak Korean at all)- but I couldn't have figured out the forms at the bank by myself. And my cousin was asking questions to a girl at the cell phone store, while I wondered what they were talking about.

All you non-Korean-speaking foreigners in Korea, I commend you. I am amazed by you all, because I'm confused and I speak the language.

Good news, the office is about a seven minute walk from home. Bad news, the walk takes me through a park for only about thirty seconds, then I have to walk through a giant shopping area with a billion stores. I have a feeling that I'll be spending my paychecks as soon as I get them. -__-

I only have a weekend left until I have to actually start working. Sadness. I would say that I'll try to make the best of it ... but I really doubt that I'll want to do anything at all if it keeps on raining (other than get some food at some point).

Tomorrow is the day that I'm going to try to walk down the block to Homeplus, which people say is like E-Mart, which is like a nicer, cleaner, bigger Target with groceries. Or maybe a smaller, cleaner Costco. The rain. It needs to stop for a few hours so I can go!

Watching crazy Korean TV and falling asleep. I'm going to try to take more pictures, but the weather, the fact that my cell phone doesn't work here, and the constant fog makes it impossible.

I'm still not feeling jetlagged, and hoping it stays that way.

More updates tomorrow. I'll try my super expensive grapes and tomatoes- they better be amazing.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Korea, Day 1

It's been a very long day. Whew.

Landed at Incheon International Airport (one of the best airports I've ever been to) at 5:20 a.m. local time.

Then came the ordeal of figuring out which limousine bus I had to take to get to Ilsan, which is where my workplace and residence are. I talked to a sleepy lady at the bus ticket counter and paid a mere 8,000 won for a ticket.

The bus came promptly on time at 6:25 and we were off to Ilsan through a hazy, cloudy sunrise.

I got off the bus a couple stops late, but it ended up not being that big of a deal- it was maybe a block and a half farther than necessary.

The problem with the whole transportation thing today was the fact that I have two large-ish suitcases and one small one. The large suitcases both weighed more than 50 pounds (but less than 32 kilograms- I don't know how many pounds that is), I had my carry-on suitcase, plus a purse. That's a lot of baggage when you're standing at a bus stop in the middle of the street in Korea.

There was a taxi stand about half a block up from me, so with purse and carry-on in stow, I ran over, crossing four lanes of traffic (that was just one way). I asked the two old dudes if they could take me to the building next to the Lotte Department Store, but when they heard that I had more luggage, they refused. So instead, I asked them to watch my carry-on while I went to go retrieve my other bags, which I had left stranded near the bus stop.

Back across the street I went, returning with my two heavy suitcases. One of the men took pity on me when I said I was from America and I had lots of stuff because I moved here for a job, so he took me (and my endless luggage) down a few blocks (I didn't realize how close it was!) and dropped me off in front of the office of my residence.

The weather that early in the morning was surprisingly warm (probably around 70 degrees (Fahrenheit)) and very humid. Not fun, but not as hot as I had expected. The guy that gave me my key (a card, not a real key) and showed me to my room told me to expect rain starting tomorrow, which I'm not looking forward to.

I unpacked, showered, called my parents, sent some e-mails, unpacked some more, and then set off to go explore the neighborhood.

Lotte Department Store wasn't that fun (they're having a big sale right now), but Western Dom and LaFesta were fun to explore a bit. I think I may have gotten a bit of a tan from walking around- I probably shouldn't have gone outside until the sun was a little lower in the sky, but I stupidly set off around 11:00 and got back home around 3:00.

I covered a pretty big distance today, but I'm having a weird problem orienting myself- I keep thinking that west is east and vice versa. I have no idea what's wrong with me, but hopefully, I get my bearings soon. I didn't get lost or anything, so not a big deal.

There is a LOT to do in this area, which is frightening- I may not cook the entire time that I'm in Korea, at this rate! (In my defense, I don't have any kitchen-y things at all, so I couldn't cook even if I wanted to.)

I'm a little achy from running around all day in flip-flops, on top of the scant five hours of sleep I got in the plane, but since I'm staying up late (late-ish ... if I make it to 10:00, I'll be proud of myself), I'm hoping the jetlag doesn't kick my butt tomorrow.

I have plans to go into the office tomorrow morning- there's a Canadian-Korean that lives near me and is going to stop by in the morning to take me to the office so I know the way- just to fill out paperwork and figure out some of the technical things that I need to deal with this week while I'm not working. Then my cousin comes tomorrow to help me figure out my cell phone situation and perhaps set up a bank account.

Busy, busy!

I'm having a little bit of something akin to culture shock. But it's not the people around me, it's just me being weird- it's difficult for me to speak solely in Korean and try to think in Korean all the time, because I'm used to being American. I know I'm tired, too, so maybe things will get better once I've gotten some sleep.

The best and worst thing about my place is that the first floor has lots of shops. I've already been to the two different convenience stores (to buy bottles of water, then to buy a Coke). Those shops will definitely become habit. I had dinner from a Japanese place on the first floor (pork cutlet and a shrimp tempura) and was pleasantly surprised at how good their kimchi was. I was not so pleased with the liberal Jackson Pollack-ing of mayonnaise all over the place.

Weirdly, most of the people that I've interacted with today haven't thought that I was Korean. They hesitate to speak to me in Korean, and try other languages. Bizarre.

The best part of the flight over was that I got upgraded to "Prestige," which I think is Korean Air's equivalent of business class. It was fantastic, and I commend all people that work for Korean Air. Especially the women- their uniforms, their make-up, their hair- those girls work for their money. Watched "Sucker Punch" (no reason it should have been that bad) at the beginning of the flight and then "No Strings Attached" at the end of the flight (Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman were an odd combination in a very predictable movie), listened to some music in between, and had a lot of tiny crystal glasses of water.

We'll see what tomorrow has in store. I'm all tuckered out from my activities today and am totally ready to pass out. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.......


Saturday, July 02, 2011

F-4 Visa

Southern California weather is a bit crazy lately- hot during the day and pretty dang cold at night. It's exhausting me a little bit, but I know that I'm going to miss this weather once I'm in the watery wonderland that is Korea during the summer monsoon season.

The whole Korea thing has been in the works for quite a long time. I've mentioned previously, even years ago, that I wanted to go to Korea. The opportunity arose through an ex-co-worker who rang me up out of the blue and asked if I was interested in a job opportunity in Korea.

Once I received the introduction, there were a lot of e-mails that went back and forth, a few phone calls at odd hours, and finally, a contract and a plane ticket. The job is for a visual effects company, where I will be for three months. I don't think that the actual job will be difficult, but I do know that I will be stressed out for a little while. For as much as I call myself Korean-American, I'm American in my lifestyle. I don't know how to live in a different country because I left Korea when I was barely three years old. I am aware that I will suffer some sort of culture shock once I'm in Korea; the only question that remains is how much shock I'll feel and how I'll get through it.

For the moment, I'm trying to figure out what to pack (as I will be there over summer and into autumn), if six pairs of shoes is overkill (probably, but I love shoes), and if I can learn to live 6,000 miles away from my family.

The worst part of this entire thing has been, by far, the process of getting a visa. At first, we had planned for me to apply for a C-4 visa, which is a 90-day visa granted to people that have been hired by a company based in Korea.

After some reflection and some research, we all decided that the F-4 visa would be best. The F-series of visas are so-called "family" visas, which are granted to Korean nationals and their relations (if you marry a Korean, you'd get an F-series visa).

Since I was born in Korea, I qualify for an F-4 visa. The visa is valid for two years, during which time I can come and go from Korea as I please. The F-4 visa also grants me permission to make money (legally) in Korea, which is necessary and convenient.

The problem was actually getting the dang visa.

I believe that the Korean Consulate in Los Angeles is the biggest Korean consulate in the United States (if not the biggest in the world), yet it's chaotic, disorganized, and frustrating.

All the paperwork and forms provided by the consulate are in Korean only, and while I speak Korean well, my ability to figure out technical jargon is very limited. As such, I asked my mother to figure out what I needed to take with me to get my visa. And here we arrive at the problem: what they tell you over the phone and on their website is vastly different from the reality of what you need in order to receive a visa.

After several trips to the consulate, frustration due to them closing at 4:00 (who closes at 4:00?!), and some cursing when their stupid copy machine broke, I finally obtained my visa.

First of all, what I needed to get my visa:

- American passport
- Last Korean passport (I was 15 at the time it was issued)
- American naturalization certificate
- Proof of lineage from the Korean government
- Passport photo

I'm hazy on the proof of lineage thing, but I do know how I obtained those two stinking pieces of paper:

First of all, I cannot get those print-outs, with the official seal, from anywhere outside of Korea. So I needed to fill out a form giving my aunt something akin to power of attorney. This form states what information I need, all of my aunt's information, and all of my information.

This form cannot be faxed to Korea, because the government will only accept the original form, with all the consulate's stamps and seals on it. I sent the form to Korea ($30) and asked my aunt to fax back the two forms that she goes to get, as well as sending the originals.

The faxes came through a few days later. Two separate forms- one stating my origins, one stating my family tree. (Koreans have a family register, where all babies are supposed to be listed within a short time of their birth.)

With those two forms (the consulate in America accepts faxes), I went back to the consulate. Armed with the forms, my old Korean passport, my current American passport, and my naturalization certifcate (and copies of each- I made five copies of each just in case, but I think three is sufficient), I first received some piece of paper that I need to apply for a visa. That's right, there's a pre-process before you can even APPLY for a visa. And it costs $2, which was annoying.

I took that form to the next window, where I actually applied for a visa. The consulate worker told me what parts I needed to fill out, I filled them out. She glued my picture to the application, stamped various things onto the piece of paper, took $45 from me, and then told me to come fetch my passport the next afternoon.

Finally, just before the consulate closed the next day, on my fifth trip, I had my passport with my visa inside.

Quite annoying. And the people that work at the consulate are not helpful. They answer direct questions, but there is no attitude of trying to help out and make the process go faster- I think they like when people just stand around and suffer while they're filling out their umpteenth form.

I do have an F-4 visa now, thank goodness. I really like that I don't have to do this again for two years.

However (and this also irritates me), I need to get an alien registration card once I'm in Korea. The government websites don't really have much information on what's needed to get the stupid card, and I can't start the application for the card here- I have to be in Korea.

I'm sure I'll whine about the alien registration card process once I go through it (or maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised? Please, please, please let me be pleasantly surprised!), but for now, my mother's been doing research to try and save me some grief once I get to Korea.

I fly out of LAX at 12:40 on Tuesday, which means that my sister is taking me to the airport on Monday night. I'll spend the Fourth of July with my family, run around trying to figure out if I packed everything I need, and then (hopefully) get on the plane, exhausted, and sleep.

I just hope it's not raining cats and dogs in Korea when I arrive. I lose a whole day en route, so I leave just past midnight on Tuesday and get there early in the morning on Wednesday. Then I have to figure out which limousine bus to take from the airport to get to my residence ... but that's another story that will have to be told post-experience.

It's a bit surreal to me that I'm actually moving to Korea for a few months. It's something I've thought about, but could never quite work out, so I think I'm still in a sort of daze about it. I also don't think that I've really quite grasped that I'm leaving the country in two days, because I still feel like I just got back to LA.

The bunnies are scampering about, the dryer (I will miss you, dryer, when I'm in the land of hanging out clothes to dry) is grumbling, the family is watching TV, and it seems like this is what my life should be. I'm going to try to enjoy and rest over the next couple days before my adventure begins. So far, so good!