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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quote of the day

The manager of a government sponsored hotline for foreign brides in Korea said:

"The South Korean public is illiterate in cultural diversity, so they have to catch up and learn as soon as they can," Kwon said.

I wonder if she actually said this in English as the Reuters article suggests by its use of quotations. If so, a bit of wisdom that needs to be heeded before it's too late. It emphasises something I have been saying since the very first day my daughter entered pre-school. Since the Korean Government is so hot to get Overseas Koreans to come over here and work for peanuts in the public school system perhaps they should get some to come over and spread the word in the form of diversity training for educators from pre-school. Cultural diversity education begins with teaching the children to recognize differences as normal rather than something to be pointed and stared at or avoided.

Costco to the rescue

All the threats, protests, boycotts, and general unrest aside, US Beef is coming to a Costco near you. An inside source Costco reports that they will begin selling begin selling choice US cuts as soon as they are made available. I couldn't get him to give me an idea of the cost savings as they "will be determined by market influences." That was to say if the leftist US Beef rebels and their ilk won't buy it, maybe the foreign communtiy can get a bargain on some of that meat that's been sitting in a Busan warehouse for the last seven months. Personally, I'm looking forward to a good old fashioned beef rib barbeque.

On a related note, a venerable professor emeritus with whom I chat from time to time would like to assure the foreign community that dispite all of the public protesting and hand wringing the "silent majority of Koreans" actually know that US Beef is fine and plan to purchace it when it is available. He would like us to know that it is the radical anti-American factions that are fueling the protests and the leftist 'hot' media are stoking the flames to make it appear more dire than it is. Assuming this is true, one of the questions that I have yet to see answered and one that could shine a light on the source of some of the madness is: Who is funding the production of all of those protest plackards and T-shirts for the protests? These things produced in large numbers are not an insignificant investment. Perhaps the answer to that question would help us to understand exactly who is the real driving force behind the protests. But, I digress.

See you at Costco!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Having 3 kids in Korea

Well, it has been official for some time now, but a third little bundle of joy is on the way in December. This one was not necessarily planned but is certainly welcome.
I understand that Korea is having a bit of a population crisis and is encouraging people to have more than two children through several incentives that vary from city to city for those who have a third (or more) child. Some of those I have heard of include cash stipends, free car seats and strollers, free garbage disposals, free highway toll fees in certain cities among a host of other things. Again, the bennies all depend on where you live and for those interested it is best to contact your local office (동사무서) as well as district and city offices (구,군,시) for specific information on what is available in your area.
For those living in Daegu, stay tuned here and I will try to keep you informed as I get the information. Since the baby is not due till December and planning for new incentives is still underway, I expect much to change between now and then.

Why US Beef is doomed in Korea

Because this is happening all over Korea right now:

It basically says, "We do not use any imported beef here."

So, being the obtusely inquisitive person that I am, I asked the director of the Pre-school, "Why did you put this sign up?"

"Because mother's are concerned about Mad Cow disease in imported beef."

"Duh," I thought rather than said and assured her that there is no logical reason to believe there is any problem with US Beef and I was unhappy with the choice to put up this sign.

This is in a pre-school that is part of a Early Childhood Education Department in an institution of higher learning! Basically, against all reason they are kowtowing to the wishes of a few mothers who are reacting to the media and lobbyist scaremongering telling them that US Beef is somehow dangerous. Instead of reducing the costs of providing meals for the children so that they can provide more educational value, they are paying (or in this case plan to continue paying) the exorbitant price of Korean beef (we can assume they are also not using Australian beef since the sign indicates 'imported' beef and not US beef by name) not to mention perpetuating the myth that US beef is somehow more dangerous than Korean beef. As Metropolitician points out a likely fact, more people have died of e-coli and such in Korean beef than of Mad Cow disease in the US. Someone with better Korean skills than I should call the KFDA and get those numbers and put them somewhere for all to see (anyone wanna race?).

Of course, it probably won't matter because, again as Metropolitician suggests (and something we all suspect), most Koreans view death or injury caused by foreigners as somehow more unacceptable than those caused by Koreans (for example, where traffic accidents are concerned) so the fact that Korean beef kills people wouldn't make the average Korean bat an eye but if (God forbid), a single person should ever die at the hands of US Beef whether from Mad Cow, E-coli, or just choking on one of those short ribs set to be imported, the media would go into a feeding frenzy and downtown Seoul would light up like World Cup 2002 all over again with protesters and candlelight vigils resulting in the banning of US Beef from Korean stores for the rest of time thus insuring the longevity of Hanwoo monopoly.

US Beef is doomed because the deck is stacked against it. The local Media, Lobbyists and Farmers, Politicians, Housewives and now even your local pre-school and restaurants are, against all possible logic, taking a stand against it. It has been made into a "national safety" and "Korean Pride" issue and those who would buy US Beef will be made to feel that they are somehow endangering those to whom they serve the beef.

I said it before and I will say it again that I would not be a bit surprised, after US Beef imports start, if some of the crackpots who oppose US Beef imports would actually somehow try to infect someone eating US Beef with Mad Cow disease or E-coli in order to perpetuate the myth and get rid of US Beef. After all, large amounts of money and national 'pride' are involved

What I really need is a 500 word essay in Korean about why it is illogical to hate Korean beef. This essay should supported by facts from reliable references from both Korea and abroad. I want to be able to just smile and hand it to any person (including my wife's family) who believes that US Beef is somehow inherently dangerous and should not be imported.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Attack of the killer snow crabs!!!

I took this last month on my way back from the Uljin Snow Crab Festival. This is the lighthouse at YeongDuk, the original home of the Snow Crab Festival. It's a really nice area to take a drive and there are also an interesting crop of these things overlooking the ocean in the same area.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hit and Run!! (or Why you should never buy a new car in Korea)

Recently, on three separate occasions and in two different locations, I have been the victim of hit and run drivers. Thankfully, I was not in the car at the time of my victimization but the scars remain. My few loyal readers will recognize that I have not had the best of luck with driving in Korea and I want to make it clear that I am not out there looking for trouble by parking strange or in such a way that invites disaster. I park just like everyone else and I try to drive as much within the law as reason will allow. I just seem to have had unusually bad luck with vehicle accidents (none of which have been my fault) and parking lot incidents.

The first incident happened a few weeks after I had my front bumper painted because a bus hit me on the way to work. I didn't notice it when it happened and it was therefore difficult to determine where it occurred. Though I suspected that it had happened in the parking lot of the local ward office. I really didn't think that I would be able to do anything about it so I just (albeit reluctantly) let it go. It's hard to see a nicely redone bumper reduced to this:

My suspicions were reinforced a couple weeks later when the second incident happened.
I was teaching my volunteer class at the local ward office and I received a phone call during my break time. I thought it was just to come and move my car since the parking lot is often overcrowded and people often have to move their cars. But when I got to my car, the person who called me told me that a woman hit my car and drove away. They managed to get the color of the car and the main four numbers off the license plate and gave me a description of the woman driving. I was pleasantly surprised that the gentleman (a 20-something fellow) who gave me the information also gave me his phone number and told me that if I go to the police with that number they can find the culprit. If I needed a witness, he said I should call him. So, with my wife and 2-year-old in tow, I went to the local police station nearest to the ward office. I explained to the fellow my problem and gave him the information that I had. He took the information and my personal info and phone number and sent me away. He told my wife someone would contact us that afternoon.
A little later, we did receive a phone call and were told to go to the local police precinct station and speak to a certain fellow in charge of traffic investigations. He took pictures of my car and told me that they were still searching for the offender. We went home and received a phone call from him telling us that he had located the woman who hit me and she told him that she had called her insurance company and was going to 'try and find me' (I'm curious if she even got my license number and if not how would she do that) and that she had to leave the scene because of some problem with her child. She felt like she couldn't stop and take care of the problem because of the child. So the policeman asked me if I want to press charges. I said under the circumstances (I'm a dad too and though I was angry, I tried to be sensitive to the situation upon advice of my wife) I just want the car to be repaired. It was and in the meantime I got to drive a Hyundai Grandeur Q270 which my kids didn't want to give back.

In the most recent incident, I had taken a subway across town and my wife called and asked me if I had backed into a pole or something. I replied that I had not and when I got home at 11pm to check my car I saw that the back door was dented badly in three places and my newly painted back bumper was scratched. I immediately began to take pictures and went to the apartment management office to search the CCTV recordings. Unfortunately, the fellow in charge of that sort of thing was gone for the day and I was asked to return in the morning. The next morning, I spent about 2 hours searching footage from the previous 3 days to find out when it happened. Even though you KNOW someone hit you and you suspect that it happened in your own parking lot, nothing quite prepares you to see the following:

As you can see, the truck backed into me not once but twice and then just took off. We managed to get the license number of the vehicle and I went to the police station. The police accompanied me to the apartment management office and viewed the incident on the CCTV. They looked up the number of the truck using their cell phone and got a name and address right away. Turned out to be an elderly fellow in the next apartment line who profusely denied TO THE POLICE that he had hit anything. Even after they told him they had seen the CCTV of the incident, he still tried to question his involvement. He was told to come to the police station and meet with me. I really wanted to press charges on this guy because I had wasted an entire morning trying to track him down. I even kept telling myself that I was just going to throw the book at him but the poor guy just seemed so clueless to what he had done and he was appropriately apologetic and fortunately insured so I let him go and went to the car repair center.
The guy at the car center should have seemed surprised to hear me say I had been hit again but since this was the FIFTH time I had taken my car to him to be painted, he seemed less than surprised and more amused. I told him that I would need a rental car and since it was Friday and I had plans to go down to Busan for a weekend with the in-laws, I would need more than the average rental. I needed a van to carry at least 9 people and I would need it till Monday morning. After some discussion with the rental car company, I drove off in a car almost identical to my own for the weekend. The insurance company, by the way, was not enthusiastic about paying for a 3 day rental for a 1.5 day repair but I basically said that it was this or I go back to the police station and file charges on the guy for hit and run and take it to court. That seemed to do the trick and I got my car back on Monday and didn't hear anything from anyone.

So, for the reader who is interested in knowing: HOW DO I REPORT A HIT AND RUN?
You should go to your local police office (경찰지구대) with a Korean friend (unless you speak Korean). You must report to the investigating unit in the area where the incident occurred and NOT to the precinct office. If you are hit in your own parking lot and there is CCTV. Just call the police and they will come and investigate right there in the management office.

I have decided that a few things are necessary to protect your investment.
1. Whenever possible, park your car in a lighted area with CCTV. Even if it is less convenient it will save you aggravation later.
2. Probably the most important thing you can do: Always do a walk around of your car and make sure there is no new damage. If there is then contact the management immediately. Take pictures whenever possible.
3. Get the protective coating on your car. There are several places that can do this and it is not too expensive. Many of the fender 'rubs' and 'dings' that happen in parking lots can be rubbed out if you have proper protection.
And finally my rant on the subject of hit and run:
These are not the first incidents I have had. I have been rubbed and scraped and dinged numerous times. It just seems like they are getting worse. It has gone from a little knick in my door or some rubbed off paint on my fender to severe dents and paint dragged off to the fiberglass. And I just don't get how people just walk away from that. I have slightly rubbed a car from time to time and I aways track down the driver right away and take care of it. More often than not with minor rubs and knicks people just say 'don't worry about it' and go about their business. But really, the way it works around here there is actually disincentive to report your infraction. It's like this: If you don't report it, you have about a 95% chance that the person you hit will not even notice that damage has been done until later, at which time it will be hard to figure out where the damage was done. The other 5% of the time you can usually bluff your way out of it like these two people did. In the name of magnanimity (that is so prized in Korean culture) the offended person will usually let it go. At the very least, your insurance company will take care of the whole thing for you and you actually never have to hear about it again which is what happens if you report it in the first place. The problem with doing that is that your premiums go up if you do it too much. So, unless the damage is so severe that the car cannot be driven, driving off is actually to your advantage. Play the odds and hope you don't get caught...when you do, lie and beg your way out of it. But before anyone not from Korea goes off on me about responsibility and before anyone from Korea goes off on me about how this is "part of Korean culture and I just don't understand" Well, culturally speaking, that is just the way it is done and I'm not endorsing it either way. Listen to your heart, your conscience or your wallet...either way, just don't expect anyone to let you know if they hit your car.
So, I guess my solution is just to keep doing the above suggested things and hope that I can catch someone hitting the sides of my car and maybe someone throwing something heavy on my car from an apartment window, then I can get the rest of the car painted the same color as the bumpers and the back tailgate (another annoyance being that you can't get the whole car painted like you might wind up back home and they can never actually match the color 100% on older cars)...maybe next time I'll ask to rent an Equus for a weekend.
Happy motoring.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

G-Spot 6 - Family Relationships

Whenever I go to my wife's house for Chusok, Lunar New Year's Day or any other event that involves large numbers of in-laws I always get a bit confused about my identity. You see, back home, I know my name and most everyone calls me by name. Other's have names to, sometimes we attach an Uncle or an Aunt to the front of the given names or even a Grandma or Grandpa to the front of a family name. But in Korea, I could be called by at least 10 different names depending on who is doing the calling (just a couple of examples, GoMoBoo, MaeHyung, SohnJa...and the occaisional 'Hey You!'). I just can't keep track of them all. I long to just be called "Uncle Don" by anyone under the age of 30 and "Don" by everyone else but alas, it just doesn't work that way.
Since the words for family relationships in Korean often do not translate easily, students at many levels ask me about the words used to describe family relationships and I have racked my brain to try and come up with an easy way to explain it so that students can visualize it clearly. I'm sure that I've missed it somewhere and I'm open to any suggestions but the basics are this:

American family relational words are based on generational groups alone whereas Korean family relationship words are based on generational as well as patriarchal and matriarchal concepts.

  • Think of yourself as the middle or "0." Anyone in your general age group would fall into one the following: brother, sister, or cousin (I won't get into the distant cousin stuff here. A cousin's a cousin.) and husband/wife.
  • On the next level up or "+1" we have: mother, father, uncle, aunt.
  • One more up, or "+2" and you use "+1" with "grand": grandmother, grandfather, granduncle, grandaunt (note that some dialects choose "great uncle" or "great aunt").
  • Going down, or "-1" we have children: son, daughter, niece, nephew.
  • Finally at "-2" we use "-1" with "grand" again: granddaughter, grandson, grandniece, grandnephew.
There are more than just these family relationships but these are the basics. Most others can simply add a prefix or suffix to change the relationship. For example:

  • "Step-" is added to mother, father, sister, brother to denote that the relationship is a result of 'remarriage.'
  • "-in-law" is added to mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter to denote that the relationship is a relationship created by "Law" or marriage.
  • "ex-" is added to husband or wife to denote a relationship that results from divorce.
  • "half-" is added to brother or sister to denote that the two persons share 1/2 of the same 'blood' that is, the same mother OR father but not both.
  • "adoptive-" is added to mother, father, son or daughter to denote that the person is not a biological parent or child but related by adoption.

Though they are not often used in spoken English, we are able to denote father's family and mother's family as is done in Korean by calling someone "maternal" (for mother's) or "paternal" (for father's) family. For example, in Korean, a "wae-sam-chon (외삼촌)" would be called a "maternal uncle." "Paternal uncle" would refer to the father's brother. Brother's and Sister's family can be referred to by "fraternal" and "sororal." My brother's daughter could be called my "fraternal niece" and my sister's son could be called my "sororal nephew." Again, it should be emphasised that these relationships are not often used in conversation.

Finally, a note on usage: most of these expressions (I'll get to the exceptions in a minute) are used primarily to refer to our family in the third person (She is my aunt, He is my cousin. Why don't you call your Cousin BillyBob or your Granduncle Jethro? ) but not in the second person. It is not common to say for example: "Hi, brother." Instead, we would use that person's first name ("Hi, Guido! Howyadoo'in?"). The notable exceptions are aunts and uncles (referred to as Uncle/Aunt + First Name, "Uncle Don and Aunt Phyllis") and grandparents (referred to as Grandma/Grandpa + Last name, "Grandma Smith and Grandpa Wesson) which can be used in the second person.

In a nutshell, family relational words in English are much less complicated than their Korean counterparts. The most uncomfortable thing (culturally speaking) for Korean speakers of English in this context, is the use of an 'elder' person's name. Even in my own family, my wife is uncomfortable with my son referring to his older sister by her name rather than "noona" regardless of what language they are speaking.

Hope this helps someone out there get it straight.

Jumping on the "fly in my ____" bandwagon

Occasionally, I like to keep up with the Jones', Kim's and Park's so I thought I'd share my experience with a particular baby food company. The following picture is from a package of a popular Korean brand of baby gruel. The quality is not the best but it is pretty obvious to any observer that at least one of the little brownish spots has legs. My wife really wanted to just let it go originally but then I thought, what if this is a regular thing. I certainly didn't want my 1 year old eating 6-legged creatures and I'm sure others didn't either.
In retrospect, I probably should have made a bigger deal of it but all I did was contact the company. They sent out a representative who came over and looked at the offending rice and it's packaging (even took the evidence with him in a plastic bag) and offered to give us a few freebies of the company's product (by if). There were the expected, 'this is not a usual thing' and 'sorry about this' yada yada yada and an unceremonious exit. A follow-up phone call a few days later and that was the end of it. No closed down factory lines, no headlines. I was content pretty much to let it go until the recent spat of headlines about rats in snacks then flies and wood chips in the beer. Just thought I'd share.
I just have to wonder out loud though...if I was content to let well enough many other people out there have similar experiences with various food companies that have just tossed the offending food and chalked it up to O. Well and his friends G. Whiz and G. Willikers?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Can this guy make a speech or what!

Normally, I am apolitical, but this year's U.S. Elections are actually interesting for the first time in my adult life; an African-American, a woman, and a war hero making up the practical set of choices....and they ARE real choices. For the first time, I don't feel like I HAVE to choose the lesser of two evils. There are several good choices. I believe that ultimately it will come down to Obama and McCain and that is just fine with me. As a card-carrying fencerider, I am still giving both candidates a fair shot at my vote. That said, I recently came across "The Yes We Can Song" and thought I would share it with my readers. It is a political message, of course, and it is full of some familliar faces from music and Hollywood. It is based on a truly inspiring speech by Senator Obama. Although, I'm not naive enough to just allow an inspiring speech to take my vote from me since I prefer to look at the issues and the person as well as the candidate but if I voted tomorrow, he would probably get my vote because, like so many Americans, I want change, too. McCain is a good man and would undoubtedly be as good a president as Obama could, but he still hasn't inspired me like this. I'm waiting.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Korean Food: Keeping up with the Neighbors

A recent editorial article in the Chosun Ilbo English Edition asks the not so rhetorical question of how Korean cuisine can compete in the world.

A country's cuisine boosts exports of its agricultural products and improves itsnational image. That's why different countries are competing to spread their cuisine around the world according to a strategic game plan. Japan hasestablished a committee that oversees research into new variations of its cuisine, seeking to raise the number of global fans of Japanese food from 600 million now to 1.2 billion by 2010 by pursuing various globalization projects. Italy opened a culinary institute for foreigners and adopted a system of certifying and endorsing Italian restaurants around the world. Since the 1990s, Thailand has been pursuing a "Global Thai Restaurant" project that promotes adherence to preparation standards for Thai cuisine, trains foreigners as chefs and supports Thai restaurants abroad.

I did a search for information in English about universities, colleges or even private institutes that teach Korean cooking and all I could come up with was a few classes or special offerings on how to make Kimchi. I know that there are some fine culinary science departments in some universities out there. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything out there on studying the rich food culture and cuisine of Korea and that is a crying shame because, on a personal level, I know that I have discovered a great deal during my 12 years in Korea. I almost feel that I could open a Korean restaurant of my own except that I don’t have any formal training. What I know, I have learned from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law and the flow of information from them seems never ending. What can be done to REALLY bring Korean cuisine to the rest of the world? More from the Chosun:

Only this year is the Korean government finally launching a program to investW78 billion (US$1=W943) by 2011 in an effort to develop Korean cuisine so it can rank among the top-rated cuisines around the world. It's time for the government, civilians and businesses to pool their efforts to spread Korean cuisine globally. If this does not happen, then Korean cuisine may disappear overseas without ever having the chance to take root.

Better late than never, I guess; Alrighty then, here’s my 2-cents on the subject and some of it is emphasized in the article. The government should use some of that money they plan to spend to do the following:
  1. Open up a National Culinary Institute and make the faculty come from some of the best known restaurants from all over Korea. Have the courses all taught in English (yes, I see the problem here but keep reading anyway)
  2. Bring over some willing participants from all over the world (and those with English ability from within Korea) to engage in some serious study on the subject. Scholarship potential chefs from all over the world to come and study so they can bring ‘real’ Korean cuisine to the rest of the world.
  3. Create an award system for some of the most common Korean seasonings and allow outstanding companies to have ‘excellence branding’ in much the same way that Thai Government has done by labeling certain products with awards for excellence.
  4. Create a government fund that will subsidize the creation of ‘real’ Korean restaurants and restaurant chains around the world. Offer this funding ONLY to those who have graduated with honors from the National Culinary Institute.

Korean food is delicious and healthful and deserves to surpass the popularity of other Asian cuisines. I would agree that more aggressive action by the Korean government and private enterprise is needed. A lot of trash gets talked about Korea on the Korean Blogosphere but the one thing about Korea that I have rarely heard bad-mouthing is the subject of Korean food. As for me, if I had to choose between exporting Korean cars or Korean food…keep the Ssangyong, pass the ssamjang.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Weekly G-Spot 5: Demystifying your age

Sorry to my 1 or 2 regular readers who missed the G-Spot for the last couple of weeks. Vacation time always makes it harder to come into the office.

This weeks G-spot is not so much a grammar moment, it is a moment to reflect on an aspect of culture that creates great confusion between Koreans and Non-Koreans; the answer to the question: "How old are you?"

I have often said that if I could teach one thing to every Korean who ever learned English it would be this:

When someone asks you your age in English; answer with the English standard. When someone asks you your age in Korean, answer with the Korean standard.

Since I have lived in Korea, the question of age has always plagued me. Rather than being able to ask a simple question, I have to ask at least two questions to find out how old someone really is. Koreans count their age at birth as '1 year' and move up to '2 years' at the next Lunar New Year. So, it is possible that in this year (2008) a child born on 6 February would be 2 years old on 7 February of the same year and would rise to 3 years on the following Lunar New Year's day. For most people the disparity is not this severe but the fact that you age is likely to be 1 to 2 years different can cause several problems.

The issue of age in Western culture is important at certain times of one's life and there are times when knowing a person's exact age is very important. For example, at the age of 18, we are considered adults and, among other things, are allowed to vote in most places. But NOT if election day falls before our 18th birthday. When we turn 21, we are allowed to drink alcohol legally. But not at 11pm on the night before our 21st birthday. Everyone's birthday is a very important day because it signifies the changing of your age. For Koreans, everyone changes their age on the same date; Lunar New Year's Day. So everyone in the same grade is the same age most of the time. A 'Chingu' or friend can only be someone who is the same age. Birthdays, while still celebrated, do not carry the same significance as they do in western culture (they even put the wrong number of candles on the cake!). But age is still very important to everyday life and most Koreans can tell you their age....or can they?

When I ask someone in English, "How old are you?" The normal response would be "I am XX years old." I would know someone's age in years. However, when I ask a Korean the same question, it must be followed by "Is that Korean age or 'western' age?" or "Is that in Korean years or 'real' years ?" (If I want to be a bit of a smart ass). Because you can never really know if a Korean speaker of English will respond with their 'correct' age or not.

So, how do we avoid this problem? We really can't. Probably, we will continue to wrestle with the question of 'age' when speaking with Koreans in Korea. However, what about Koreans living in America? How do they answer the question of age when they speak English?what about when they speak Korean?

What makes sense is to answer according to the culture of the language. If someone ask my daughter in Korean? "Myeot Sal e ay yo?" She would answer, "Yeoseot Sal imnida" but if someone asked her in English the same question. "How old are you?" then you would answer "I'm 5 years old." It works for my 5 year old (6살) daughter and myself, it can work for you to.

But it can be confusing for Koreans to tell their age in English. Many do not think about their age in English and will answer it quickly by translating the number rather than taking the time to think about the month they were born. There is a simple way to calculate your age in English that works for most people (those whose birthdays fall between New Years Day and Lunar New Year's Day may have some calculation troubles for a few days out of a year). You only need to know if your birthday has passed for the current calendar year and assume your 'Korean age' changed on January 1st (many Koreans do this anyway.) Just think:

Did have my birthday this year?
If YES, then subtract 1 year from your Korean age and say that number for your 'age.'
If No, then subtract 2 years from your Korean age and say that number for your 'age.'

As a disclaimer, I mention again. The calculation seems to be a bit more confusing if you are calculating the answer between Jan 1 and Lunar New Year's Day (late Jan-early Feb) for a person who was born around the same time of year. But this method seems to work for most of my students who can easily calculate their true 'age' using this method. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A WTF moment to share

I was at Costco purchacing the months supply of beef, chicken, scorched rice and a few sundry other items totalling about 120,000. I gleefully placed my items on the checkout counter and after the woman checked them out I gave her my credit card and said (in Korean),
"12 months, please."
"12 months!!!" she replied looking at me like I must have lost my mind.
"Is that strange to you?" again I repied in polite Korean.
"Yes. There will be a lot of interest." she said, still holding my card at the top of the swiper gadget and now having attracted the attention of most of the other 100 or so people in the adjacent checkout lines. As if, I didn't know this.
"That's what the customer wants, just do it." This response was NOT in the polite form. She swiped it, gave me the card and the slip with a smirk that thouroughly deserved to be smacked to the back of her head. I signed, took my card and grumbled off to take my 20 minute escalator ride to the roof parking lot.
Granted that it may not be the best decision to put groceries on 12 months payments; that was not exactly my decision either (wife's); but who was SHE to question it.

Woori Bank Credit Cards

I have had a considerable amount of experience with credit and banking in Korea (most of it inconvenient or downright unbearable) Now, A recent article in Korea Beat about the inconvenience that foreigners experience living in Korea reminded me of a recent experience I had with Woori Bank.

A man came into my office and explained to me about a credit card that was somehow associated with the Private Pension company and Woori bank. I listened attentively to the deal and decided that it was a pretty good deal. Having been assured by the gentleman that he was an official of the bank and he was sure that there would be no problem for a foreign professor to get a card, I decided to fill out the application.

I waited the standard 10 to 14 days to receive my card in time to make more Christmas debt but it never came. I called the man and he said that there were a "lot of applications" and could I please wait a little longer. Two more weeks passed and still nothing. I called the man again and he suggested me to call the banks customer service center. After getting my wife to help me wade through the phone messaging system (Anyone else notice that there is often NO way to push a number to speak to an actual person?) we spoke to a woman who said that my application had been denied because I have an E-2 Visa and only E-1, F (and a few other) visa holders could get them. We tried to explain that the copy of my ID that the gentleman who came to my office made was incomplete. I actually have an F-2 visa and have for 2 years, but that fact was written on the back of the card and now is almost illegible because it was written on the back of the plastic card with a 'permanent' marker. She basically said that it didn't matter because the application was received with THAT copy and I could not get the card. I was uncerimoniously denied and not only given NO notice of the fact, but denied for illegitmate reasons.

The man came to MY office and I applied for the card but got denied because immigration doesn't have the good sense to make permanent amendments to the alien card. The bank doesn't have the good sense to call me. They could't tell me that I was denied OR why I was denied or to even ask me why my registration card says that my E-2 visa expired 3 years ago but I still, obviously, hold a position at a local college.

On a good note for foreigners in Korea, both KEB and Lotte card have English speaking staff that are very helpful and they will accept applications from foreigners with good jobs (not an unreasonable request). I have also spoken to someone in English at Samsung card (which is very useful if you shop at Costco as it is the only card they accept) but it was a bit of a labor to get through. KEB will also extend private unsecured loans for foreigners with good bank relationships and the usual proof of solvency (you usually need to speak to the branch manager as you will undoubtedly be denied by the peons at the counter). The problem with credit for foreigners in Korea, also mentioned in the Korea beat article, is due to the lack of a proper ID number (that is a KOREAN ID number). Korean credit reporting company keeps no records of foreigners in Korea. So, even if you have a 10 year history of credit card usage and loans, there is no way for the bank to check your references. If they did, it would be a lot easier for foreigners to get loans at global minded institutions like KEB.

Hall of Shame: I have been outright DENIED even applying for a credit card from LG (TWICE) and BC card (multiple times). I had a Kookmin card but stopped using it because it was too much of a pain in the tush to get it renewed when it expired. When I applied again, I was denied. I also had to get my loan for my house in my wife's name because of the same kind of problems mentioned in the Korea Beat article. The rule of thumb when trying to get credit in Korea is to be persistent and have a willing translator by your side when you make the calls to the customer service numbers. I have made calls, written nasty letters, posted to bulletin boards and basically harrassed bank minions into going beyond their programmed "I'm sorry but that's impossible" and changing it to the more correct "I'm sorry, I really didn't know what the hell I was talking about" because they never had this experience before and it was easier to say 'no' and hope you go away and leave them to their uncomplicated existence.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Say it ain't so, Nomad!!

First Asia Pages and now this!!!...An icon of the Korean Blogosphere, Lost Nomad, has thrown in the blogging towel. He is abandoning us to get in some more fishing (and maybe spend some time with his family too:)....oh wait... or was that the other way around...:)
Well, you will be sorely missed. I do hope you will pop in and let us know how you are doing via a comment or two here and there. Happy Angling.

I leave you with one of my favorite fishin tunes:

Brad Paisley - I'm Gonna Miss Her
Video sent by Okdude81

Brad Paisley - I'm Gonna Miss Her