Friday, August 29, 2008

How to Pay a Bill in Korea

Today, I paid my gas bill. I did not do it in person at an office of the gas company, nor did I pay it online or over the phone. Instead, I went to the bank to pay it. There is no checking system in Korea, so unless you pay with cash or credit card, you have to pay by bank transfer. The bill from the gas company came with a stub that had some numbers and bar code on it. The bank has a special machine for paying bills. You put your ATM card in the machine. Then, you put the stub in the machine. It will ask you to verify by putting in your code. The bill is paid. I knew that there was a machine for it. One of the tellers came over and helped me do it.

Later, I wanted to have the transactions printed in my passbook. They still use passbooks for accounts here instead of people writing the transactions in a check register. You put the book in a machine, but not the same one used to pay bills. The machine then prints all the transactions that have not been printed yet. I could not figure out how to use the machine because it was in only Korean. I was able to use this machine to get money out with my ATM card because it could be used in English. I went up to one of the tellers and pointed to the page in the passbook. It took her a second to figure out what I wanted. I felt retarded not saying anything and just pointing. In the end, I did get the transactions printed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What is This?

I've seen some gadgets here that I have never seen before. Some of them, I cannot figure out what they are. There was one appliance at E-Mart that I could not figure out. When I opened it, I realized that it was a countertop dishwasher. Tonight, I saw some contraption that I figured out from the picture that it is used to grind fish, chicken, etc. bones. I've seen one appliance that had I not been to a restaurant here, I would not have known what it is. I saw it at the store and it looked like an electric box. One day, I went to the food court at Home Plus Department Store with the other teachers. We had to get our spoons and chopsticks from a box that looked just like that other box. It turns out that it is an ultraviolet light sterilizer. You put the silverware in there and the ultraviolet lights sterilize them. Sunday, I decided to go to Hyundai Department Store and I saw a mechanism. Before I came here, I read an article about the best electronics that were not yet available in the United States. One of them, which was exclusive to South Korea, was a small laptop. I wondered if that device that I saw at Hyundai was a small laptop or if it was a translator. If it was a computer, it was very cheap, about $250. If it is just a translator, then it was a bit expensive, I think. Perhaps it was neither. I did not get a very good look at it because I did not want to seem too interested. All these apparatuses make me feel like the Clampetts living in Beverly Hills.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Home Stretch

This is the last week that I will have to teach summer intensive courses. The first month that I taught, I had six classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, two classes on Tuesdays, and four classes on Thursdays. When the summer intensive courses started at the beginning of the month, two classes were added to my Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. I also had to teach five more classes on Tuesdays and four more classes on Thursdays. This month, it was summer break for Korean school and so we offered additional classes for some students so that they could go to English school everyday.

Next week, I'll have a different schedule from what I have now. I'll be teaching six classes everyday and will have ten groups of students. Right now, I have eight groups of students. This term I taught the lower levels, which can be harder to teach because the students are younger and they don't understand as much English as the other kids. It's also easy to sound like a broken record. Next term, I'll have more upper-level classes.

The one lower-level class that I will teach next term, if all goes according to plan, is one that I'm teaching right now. It's our lowest level course, but there is more freedom with the methodology because the class is unique to Pusan. Sometimes, it can be hard to keep the kids' attention. Today, we played hangman at the end of class and the kids seemed to like it. The kids did not know how to play so at first it was a bit hard getting them to guess letters. After they got the hang (no pun intended) of it, they were all yelling out letters and wanted to play hangman with another word.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Answer to the Question of the Week

How old would people with birthdates of March 10, 2001, and October 31, 1978, be in Korea on August 31st?

  • 8, 32-0 (0%)
  • 7,30-1 (33%)
  • 8, 31-0 (0%)
  • 7, 31-0 (0%)
  • 7, 29-2 (66%)

The correct answer is 8, 31. In Korea, everybody gets a year older at the start of a new year, not on the birthday. The only way that a person's Korean age matches his/her Western age is when he/she was born on January 1. Here in Korea, I am 23, even though I am 22 in the United States. When I ask the students their ages, they tell me their Korean ages. So, if a student tells me he is 10, then I have to remember that he is nine if his birthday has passed and eight if his birthday has not passed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What Beautiful Eyelids You Have!

Yesterday during lunch with fellow teachers, I mentioned that I plan to get eye surgery while I am in Korea. I was talking about LASIK eye surgery, but one of the teachers thought I was talking about eyelid surgery. He wondered why I, a Westerner, would want to have eyelid surgery. He told me that some Korean women have plastic surgery on their eyelids to make them look more Western. Since learning that, I have looked at people's eyes here and have noticed that the eyelids are different. I've also heard that some women also have rhinoplasty to make the bridges more pronounced. Somebody once told me that the Japanese travel to Korea to have plastic surgery because it is cheaper to come here and have it done than it is to just have it done in Japan. There is a plastic surgery clinic at the mall!

Answer to the Question and Korean Names

What are the three most common family names in Korea?

The results are as follows:
  • Kim, Park, Chow 0 (0%)
  • Park, Honda, Lee 0 (0%)
  • Kim, Lee, Park 3 (60%)
  • Lee, Park, Chen 0 (0%)
  • Kim, Park, Cho 2 (40%)
  • Shin, Lee, Kim 0 (0%)

The correct answer is Kim, Lee, Park. Chow and Chen are Chinese and Honda is Japanese. This information comes from Tongku Lee in his book Yes, You Can Learn Korean Language Structure in 40 Minutes! Kim is the most common family name in Korea. In fact, in one of my classes, there are 12 students and six of them are Kim. In Korean, the family name comes first. A person's name can be two, three, or four syllables, but most are three. The first syllable is the family name and the last two are the given name. It is impolite to call a person by just his/her given name unless that person is younger than you or is a child. You call a person by his/her full name or by his/her title and family name. Women do not change their names when they get married. The children have their father's family name.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reminder to All Patients: OTC means OTC!

Yesterday, I went to E-Mart to the pharmacy to get some Epsom salt and peroxide. In this country, you have to ask for any kind of pharmaceutical product, not just the stuff of which they want to control the sale, or reduce the theft, such as Sudafed or Plan B. Once, I needed some aspirin. I had to go to the counter and ask for it. I did not know if the pharmacist would know what I was talking about when I said aspirin, but he understood just fine. I later learned that Koreans do say aspirin. Yesterday, when I went to the pharmacy, I took the cell phone that I rented because it has a dictionary on it. I showed the pharmacist the word for Epsom salt and he was looking at it for quite a while. I don't know if they had it there or not. He was saying something to me in Korean. I don't know if he was asking if I was going to ingest it or if he thought I wanted regular salt, but I did not get any Epsom salt. I was able to get the peroxide though. I showed him the word for peroxide on the phone and he got it for me. Having to ask for everything at the pharmacy has made me hope that I do not need medications much here. It's not because I get things that I'm embarrassed to be buying; it's the language barrier and the fear that they are going to tell me that I need a prescription for something that I could buy over-the-counter in the United States.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New Question

There is a new question of the week. This one is about family names and which ones are the most common in Korea. I'll provide more information on Korean names when the poll is closed.

Question of the Week and More on the DMZ

The question of the week was "What city, whose location is now the site of the Joint Security Area, was destroyed during the Korean War?"

The results are as follows:
  • Daeseong 1 (33%)
  • Panmunjom 2 (66%)
  • Gijeong 0 (0%)
  • Chuncheon 0 (0%)

The correct answer is Panmunjom. Daeseong and Gijeong are both villages within the DMZ. Chuncheon is just a city in South Korea. Thank you to everybody who voted.

Daeseong is located in South Korea. It is known as Freedom Village. The people who live there are from families who lived there before the Korean Conflict. Its residents do not have to pay taxes and men living there are except from the two-year military obligation. Farmers in Daeseong have about 17 acres of farmland, whereas farmers in the south have about 4 acres. Women can marry into the village but men cannot because it would exempt them from the military service. Farmers in Daeseong make about $82,000 tax-free. The residents have an 11:00 curfew.

Gijeong is in North Korea and is known as Propaganda Village. There are no residents there, only maintenance staff. It is Propaganda Village because for six to twelve hours a day, propaganda about Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il is played to anybody around, with the hopes that they will defect to North Korea.

There is a lot of competition between the two Koreas. South Korea built a flagpole near the Military Demarcation Line. That flagpole is 100 meters tall. North Korea decided to build a bigger one. That flagpole is 160 meters tall and is the biggest and tallest flagpole in the world. The South Korean flagpole looks puny by that North Korean flagpole. When Seoul hosted the 1988 Olympics, the Olympics Committee gave South Korea an Olympic flag. The Republic of Korea gave it to Daeseong to show off to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea since they decided not to participate in the Olympics that year.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I Stepped into North Korea on Wednesday!

I decided that for my first vacation in Korea that I would stay within the country. I decided that I would go to the DMZ. My copy of Lonely Planet said that the USO had tours to the DMZ that included the Joint Security Area and the Third Tunnel. I made a reservation but I was afraid that I might not be able to go because I had to submit my passport to immigration so that I could get an Alien Registration Card, which is a permit to live in South Korea. Without it, I would not be able to open a bank account and then I could not get paid because there is no checking system in Korea--all payments are made through bank transfer. I thought that I could not go, but then my branch manager told me that I could with a copy of my passport and my driver's license. I was so happy then.

Wednesday, I had to get up early and go to Camp Kim in Seoul because the bus was leaving at 7:30 a.m. I had to follow a dress code and anybody who did not follow the dress code was not allowed on the tour. On the way to Camp Bonifas, our tour guide told us about the fence that was along the river. This river started in North Korea and it had a fence along it in South Korea because North Koreans would use their marine skills to get into the South. There were also white stones in the fence. The stones would fall if anybody tampered with the fence. There were also watchtowers along the river with soldiers in them.

As we got closer, there was a bridge that we had to get military clearance to pass. There were blocks set up every few meters on alternating sides of the road. We had to weave around these blocks. We we got to Camp Bonifas, a US Army soldier had to check everybody's ID. We later had to switch buses and get onto an ROK Army secured bus. We went to Ballinger Hall where we were given a briefing about the Korean War, the history of the DMZ since the war, what we must not do, and the requirements to be a soldier stationed at the DMZ. Right now, there are about 600 soldiers there. About 40 are American soldiers and the rest are ROK. All South Korean men have to serve in the military for at least two years. Most South Korean men there are fulfilling their military obligation.

ROK and US soldiers at the DMZ have to have spotless civilian and military records. US soldiers have to have above average height, size, and aptitude. ROK soldiers have to be taller and bigger than the average ROK soldier. They must also have basic fluency in written and spoken English and they must have a black belt in Taekwondo or Judo.

We went to Reunion Hall, which is right on Conference Row. The building was built so that families separted by the DMZ could reunite; however, because the DPRK will not allow its people to go there, the hall has not been used for that purpose. There are six buildings on Conference Row, each side has three and the buildings are divided in half by the Military Demarcation Line. We went into one of these buildings and I stepped onto the side that is in North Korea. There is a door there and the door is guarded by an ROK soldier and anybody who tries to go past him will be stopped.

I'll tell more about the JSA and the two villages within the DMZ after I reveal the answer to this week's question. To do so beforehand would give away the answer.

Our last stop of the day was to the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This tunnel was discovered in 1973 after a North Korean defector who had worked on it had tipped off the ROK. The entrance into the tunnel is very steep. Before going in, the tour guide told us not to go if we had asthma, heart problems, claustrophobia, arthritis, etc. The tunnel was very short. We all had to wear hard hats. There were a few places where there was some metal-pipe canopies. I hit my head a couple of times. They said that the tunnel was two meters deep, but I do not think that it was that much. The tunnel is big enough that 30,000 North Korean soldiers could march into South Korea within an hour.

The tour guide on my bus said that the PAK soldiers were the short, skinny, brown-skinned soldiers. The other tour guide said that the tunnel is so small because it was made for North Koreans. His two kids are taller than he, just like all of us. The South Koreans have better nutrition than the North Koreans and this is why. I have seen several South Korean men who are over six feet tall. Their nutrition while they were growing helped them to get that tall. I have seen adults in other countries who did not grow to their full potential because of poor diet.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Question of the Week

There is a new question for the poll. Please take a moment to answer it. It is about the city that was located where the Joint Security Area is now. This question is in honor of my recent trip to the DMZ.