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.