Monday, April 27, 2009

Headline of the day

From the Korea times web page:

Guess the government is getting its ass ready for the conglomerates. I wonder what the conglomerates will do with that?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Advice for Kia

News of falling auto sales for Kia in "emerging" markets reminds me of my recent experience with Kia here in the UAE:
Last October, before the crisis really heated up, I priced a brand new Kia Carnival, fully loaded long body version at 90,900 dirhams (at that time about 31,800,000 Korean Won. 1dhs=350krw) I didn't buy it for two reasons. First, the price was near the same for the fully loaded version in Korea BUT it really wasn't fully loaded. It had NO leather seats, NO ABS, No side curtain airbags, NO a/v system...basically...a entry level long-body Carnival in Korea for the same price as one fully loaded. Not only that, but they didn't have it in the color I wanted and I would have to wait 6 months for that. No thanks!!
So, a few months later, while Korea was in the thoes of a 1997IMF-style currency crisis (which we WILL see again this year) and all the Japanese makers were raising their prices due to the strengthening of the Yen against the dirham, I went to re-price the Carnival. I was thinking maybe since the currency was taking a nosedive, they would rethink their extortionistic prices (though i wouldn't buy one without the leather and a/v anyway). What did I find....everything status quo. And, since people here prefer to buy Japanese and German cars, Kia basically removes themselves as a player in the business here by offering an inferior car with inferior options and inferior safety for an inflated price.

My advice to the makers of KIA: If you want people to respect your product then you have to offer your best...especially when you are doing it overseas in competition with people who make better cars than you. Carnival is a fine car if it were offered with all of the options, otherwise, its just not worth it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How I got a 2 million won a month raise.

In July, as I have mentioned, I accepted a position teaching English in the UAE. At that time, the expected salary was almost twice my Korean uni salary at 3.95million. So, with all the benefits (international school tuition for my kids, 8 million won equivalent furniture/settling allowance, yearly roundtrip air for me and the family, housing, medical, more...) it was tough to pass up.
But now, thanks to the KRW nose-dive over the last 5 months, I am now making the equivalent of almost 6 million won a month (and rising). Its getting easier and easier to pay off those credit cards. I stayed through the 1997 IMF crisis in Korea and this is looking just like that only in slow motion. Anyone out there think we will reach the same 2000 won to the dollar rate we saw in 1997?
I hate to say it because I have relatives and friends in Korea who are in for a rough ride. But one does what is necessary to feed one's seed. Looks like I bailed out just in time.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Korean B-boys and Samulnori in the UAE

The night before last I attended a concert at the Abu Dhabi National theater. Performing were a troup of Korean Samulnori and B-boy dancers. I'm not sure who hosted the entire event (I think it was the Korea-Arab League and perhaps KNTO) but it was nice after a couple of months away to see and hear some familliar things. I have met several Korean families since I have been here but I had no idea that there was such a large presence.
The show was delightfullly entertaining. I really expected the usual B-boy hip-hop thing and figured my daughter would love it but they fused modern 'b-boy dance' with some classical music and even samulnori. I particularly enjoyed the b-boy rendetions of Pachelbel and Arirangs; a delightful fusion of modern dance and hip-hop set to classical music.
Of course there was the expected 'sparkling' aggrandizing of Korea as a tourist destination but as I watched, I felt myself unexpectedly proud of the presentation of Korea and its attractions. Perhaps it takes a new perspective to appreciate it after 12 years.

You 'Won' Some You Lose Some

As my first post from the UAE, I just couldn't resist the urge to gloat a bit over good fortune had. Though I really hate to revel in the misfortunes of others, the won has been taking a real beating lately. Meanwhile, I have watched my UAE salary converted to won (I still have debts 'back home' in Korea) increase by about 1.7million won since I took the job in July. It makes the 30 some odd million I lost selling my apartment just a little less painful.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stuff packed

Departure is the end of next week. Last Thursday we went to Seoul to take care of the attesting of documents and on Friday the shipping company came and moved the boxes of aforementioned stuff from our house. MinHang Shipping has so far done and outstanding job of packing our stuff and getting it out of the house. We are quoted a rate of 2.1million won for about 7CBM door to door. We wound up having a couple extra boxes to ship and we sent those to the company the following monday and they said they would include them with the rest of the shipment; all total 47 boxes of life in Korea. We'll see if arrives all in one piece.
This may be my last posting for a while. Life is getting pretty hectic and it's hard to get online to take care of the blogging to all my loyal readers (2 or 3 of you) i'll keep you posted from the other side (of asia).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How to pack 12 years of shit stuff

I came here 12 years ago with two suitcases and a carry-on backpack with the intention of working for a year and hightailing it to Japan to make some money. Somewhere in between plans got switched, I got bewitched and hitched, going to Japan got pitched, and my niche was enriched with a plethora of goods which now have to be ditched. What a bitch!
So, what to do with 12 years of accumulated household goods? We examined the cost of shipping from just about every angle. The best option seems like LCL (Less than container load) shipping. We learned a lot about the shipping business in the process. Here are a few tidbits:
1. Shipping by air is usually measured and charged by weight whereas by sea is measured/charged by volume.
2. Volume is counted in CBM's (Cubed Meters) which does not mean what it seems at first. (1CBM equals 1x1x1meter).
3. Minimum shipping for most companies seems to be 3CBM (1x1x1m x 3) which is roughly the size of 3 large washing machines.
4. There are ways to send things by packing yourself and taking the goods to the pier and there is a significant amount of money to be saved by doing this but the headache involved with paperwork and picking up in the next country is just not worth the aggravation unless you know what you are doing.
5. Door to Door shipping is the easiest since they come to your house, pack your stuff and deliver it to you in your destination.

The best price we found so far is 1.3 million won for 3CBM door to door. (500,000 if I bring it to the pier and pack it myself and take my chances with customs in Dubai or AbuDhabi). We opted for the former.

However, the big problem is choosing which of our belongings will make the trip. Furniture is out since we can't afford the 6 million won for a full container. So, we are having a series of 'garage'sales (more like apartment flea markets) to get rid of the stuff we don't want.
First come the clothes: and now I know there is nothing more painful (or potentially life threatening) than watching your pregnant wife have to sort through her old clothes and separate them into boxes of 1)must go 2)might go 3)sell and 4)give to goodwill. It took me 20 minutes to pare down my clothes to one large suitcase or so.
Then the books: How in the world I accumulated so many books I will never know but I could literally open my own English language book store with used, hardly used and never used English books. And for some reason, throwing them away is probably as painful to me as clothes are for my wife.
Kids toys: sent the 2 year old away for a few weeks to grandma's and the 6 year old is dealing pretty well with losing some of her toys but we haven't told her we have to ditch some of her barbie dolls yet. We told her we'd buy her some more when we get there
Kitchen wares: I love to cook and I have accumulated more kitchen thingies than men should be allowed to have outside a professional kitchen. I decided to keep my Tupperware and a few of the better tools and get rid of the rest. It was surprisingly painless except for the 20KG of cookbooks that I opted to toss since most everything I need can be had on the Internet these days.

So, sometime soon, the men will come, the boxes will be packed and we will be left with the rest in an apartment now practically devoid of furniture.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Korea

I recently applied and received an offer to teach in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. So, after a 12 year stay in Korea, I have decided to pack up my 12 years of belongings, prepare my wife and kids and move on to greener pastures. The reaction of my colleagues, friends and family has been a mixed bag of incredulity, congratulations, advice and warning. The university in the UAE has made an offer that I can scarce afford to pass up: A salary I can live well on, the stability of a 3 year contract, the comfort of a 3-4 bedroom apartment for me and my family, airline tickets to UAE for me and my family, yearly round-trip airline tickets back to the US for me and my family (soon to be 5 people) as well as tickets home at the end of contract, a generous furniture allowance (more than 8 million won), paid international school education for my children from age 5 (can you imagine 3 children in Korean international schools on a foreign English teacher's salary?), 1 month salary per year severence bonus, free medical insurance for me and my family, a brand new state-of-the-art laptop computer, a generous excess baggage allowance and end-of-contract moving allowance..there's lots more but I have to save something for later.
On the down side, there is not as much vacation as working at a Korean university and I have to work a few more hours (20 as opposed to 15). Most people seem to be concerned about the weather but I understand that AD is very livable most of the year (its just the summer that is unbearable). As with any job that involves another culture, I am sure there will be difficulties adjusting to the culture of the UAE but I understand that foreigners make up more than 80 percent of the country and English is the Lingua Franca so I don't need to learn Arabic (though I would like to).
The impending and existing presence of several top notch world university sattelite campuses (NYU and Harvard Med for example) also seems promising. The UAE is trying to bill itself as an Educational Hub (see Korea is not the ONLY hubmaker in the world) of the Middle East so this should make the academic environment interesting if nothing else.

It's not really that I want to leave Korea, its just that this is too good an opportunity to pass up for the sake of my family as well as my career. For those of my readers who are interested, I will be trying to continue this blog from there and hope to be doing some open comparison between the teaching situation here and there. Much of what I have read indicates that there are some striking similarities. I am sure that I am not the first English teacher to go from here to there but I certainly hope to be able to enlighten some of the Waygook crowd to the contrasts.

For now, the pandemonium of moving in about a month has gripped every corner of my life and if I don't go crazy in the process I am sure I will be better off for it. I certainly hope my regular readers stay tuned and perhaps a few others will become interested in my transition.
Stay tuned