Cellphones are a part of the Korean national identity. Everyone has a cellphone, and they carry it in their hands, not in pockets or purses, ready to caress the smooth faces of these flat devices. Cellphones are used not only to play games or text or update Facebook status’, but also in order not to notice a mother with a child in her arms on a public transportation, or not to notice a line and cut in front, etc. In short, a cellphone number is an integral part of the Korean lifestyle and, therefore, appears on all official documents in Korea.
Since we were expected to get a cellphone by the university administration, I went to a cellphone store with a friend-interpreter in order to do so. The clerk at the store took the usual set of my documents: alien registration card, bankcard for checking account and bank passbook. Bank information has to be provided so that the phone account can be attached to some legitimately opened money account. The cellphone company thinks it is its business to know upfront how I am going to pay for the monthly service before signing me up for a two-year service. By comparison, in the US all you need is a driver’s license and a credit card (?) to get a cellphone contract. We were waiting about 30 minutes for the approval when finally the decision arrived – denied. Whaaaaaaat? The reason for that is the following: I opened my bank account BEFORE I received my alien registration card. We tried to explain through an interpreter that the bank’s policy allows people to open an account using a US passport. They would not have it. The solution was – go back to the bank and open another account so that it would be dated AFTER the issue of the alien registration card. And to the bank I went. At first, I wanted to ask them to give me an official print out of their rules where it says that they legitimately open accounts BEFORE the receipt of an alien registration card. But a second into our conversation the bank clerk said: “The easiest will be for you to open another account with the correct date.” The moral of the story: you are a foreigner and a guest, and do not go to another monastery with your own set of rules.
This summer S Korea hosted the World Expo with the theme “Living Ocean.” The organization of this worldwide event was absolutely superb. Even non-Korean speaking visitors were able to attend the event with no difficulties: information, accommodation, transportation accessibility was in abundance. After the closing fireworks (10:30 pm) visitors hardly had to wait for any shuttle busses to take them to hotels and parking lots, even though there were over 10,000 visitors at any given time. Lines for shuttle buses were as far as an eye could see.
However, since this Expo attracted 8 million visitors from May 12 till August 12, the crowds were enormous despite of 100 degree F temperatures. Walking in a crowd is always difficult; walking in a crowd in Korea is strenuous. During mid-day, Korean families spread some floor mats or, in some cases, newspapers and simply laid down for siesta after eating lunch. Benches were scarcely found for hours during that time. Yet, this did not shorten the lines to pavilions of individual countries, which were between 20 minutes and up to 2 hours in some cases. The Aquarium that boasted 38,000 kinds of fish set the records in lines: 5 hours or more.
This is a photo journal of some pavilions that we were able to access. Most of our visit remained undocumented since video exhibits were the prevailing kind of delivering information regarding ocean conservation and ocean exploration.
Enjoy what we have!
Western Union is a US invention. It has served the mailing needs of US citizens for over a century. Today, it is mainly limited to the money transfer service. And you can not beat the price. For a small money transfer, the transfer fee is very reasonable. The fee is about 10% of the amount you are intending to wire. In other words, if you are sending under 200$ the fee is about 15$. Compare with the bank wire transfer fees: 20$ flat fee regardless of the amount you wire. Price is not the only convenience of Western Union. Also, it is very easy to do. You can drop by a Western Union location and write down your name and address and the name and address of the receiver. They need to know the country and the town of the receiver in order to make the money available there. For many people Western Union is the preferred method to wire money to families overseas, because no one needs a bank account to do that.
Western Union in Korea is in a whole new style. In order to transfer money I was asked for my ID, US passport, work address, living address, two phone numbers, as well as the address of the recipient. The paperwork was taking quite a bit of time. I am not even sure how much of the information I provided was put into the computer. The bank clerk was very sorry that the process was taking so much time, and he said: “Next time if you choose to send money here, all this information will be here and it will be much faster.”
Again, my thought was – how much easier it is for immigrants in the US to transfer their savings back home.
Having visited aquariums in various places of the world, including Sofia (Bulgaria), Exeter (England), Milwaukee (US), Berlin (Germany), etc., I was reluctant to see another aquarium. Still hot days won over, and we went to the aquarium in Seoul (COEX Mall) in order to escape the heat in air-conditioned spaces. I was pleasantly surprised by this place because it tries to stay very original and entertaining. COEX Aquarium pushes the limits when it comes to fish tanks and fish displays. Generally, it is a fun place to watch marine life.
It strikes from the very beginning: Koreans are not joking when it comes to completing any official paperwork. I have observed this fact time and again, and so I would like to devote a 4-part series to describe our culture shock.
If you live in Korea as a foreigner, simple everyday tasks require more planning. For example, you cannot just call a bank and ask for a transfer, nor can you simply go online and verify your balance: everything is in Korean and you need a reliable person to help you with these issues. Yet, if you are like me and try to do everything by yourself, be aware that procedures in Korean banks are different and it may take you a couple of trips to finish your business there. But most importantly, remember – you are a foreigner and the procedures that are put in place do not let you forget this fact.
For instance, I went to the bank to request access to the online banking because foreigners have to do this in person. I was asked for an immigration registration card, which serves as an ID here. Also, I needed to provide my US passport. Why? Not sure. I gave them my US Passport number when we were opening the account. What can change there? They have it in the system. I did not even think that it would be necessary to carry the stack of all my documents in order to just obtain online access to an existing account. And I have worked at a bank myself. Anyway, I had to come back.
Banks also require you to fill out a multitude of papers for any request one might ask. For example, if you want to do a transfer from checking to savings you will write your name, address, telephone number, registration number, amount, and will sign in three places. The teller will put a rubber stamp in two different places.
I always compare this rigid system to the US banking system. It is much easier for a foreigner to open and use the banking system in the US. In the US, if a foreigner loses his/her legal status later he/she will not be asked for a valid Green Card at every corner of any business. Here it is quite the opposite. For instance, yesterday my husband wanted to tune into a free Wi-Fi at a coffee place. In order to get a password he had to give his name and either a US passport number or an alien registration number. How do the spies work in such stingy conditions?