Monthly Archives: February 2014

Banktastic

After ensuring I’m not a dirty foreigner and getting myself officially registered (part one and part two), the next big administrative thing to do was getting myself a Korean bank account.

It was important to get my account as quickly as I could, as my school won’t pay you until you have a Korean account and I’ve been broker than broke.

As soon as I had my Alien Registration Card (you cannot get an account without it) in hand, I took that, my passport, and a letter from the school to Woori Bank to open my account. Why Woori? Well, that’s what was recommended to me by my school. I don’t know much about the different banks in Korea anyway, so it seemed as good a choice as any.

I got in right for the bank open at 9am so I could get the account opened before school started. I was customer 001 so got started right away.

The woman who helped me didn’t speak much English, but she seemed to understand what I needed and got to work. She needed my ARC and my passport, and did have to call the school (thank goodness I had that letter, eh?) for some reason.

After typing a bunch of stuff into the computer, she printed out some forms and asked me for my “name and sign” in a few places. Again, nothing like signing a document where you don’t understand a single word on the page. You have to trust a lot when you are in Korea, to just trust that you are being steered in the right direction. And happily, you usually are in my experience.

The best part was that they have a card printer right in the bank. I think all banks should get on board with this. She popped my “foreigner debit card” (it literally says that on it) into the printer and it popped out with my name and stuff on it. She shoved it into another machine, I entered my “secret number” and it was active. How awesome is that?

So that was all there was to that. I took my passbook and my new debit card, and I was done. Took less than an hour to open my account and get a debit card. Well done, Korea!

A few interesting things about banking in Korea:

The Passbook

Remember when you had that paper book where you could update with all your transactions? Those are still really common here. You can pop it into the ATM to access your account and update your book. It’s actually pretty cool. I usually don’t look at my statements very often, but I find with the book I check out my transactions more regularly.

The Debit Card

The debit card I have cannot be used online, which is both good and bad for me. It means that if I want to buy anything off the Internetz (like games through Steam or apps for my iPhone or iPad… or shoes) I have to transfer money to the UK and then buy it. What a pain in the arse! Bad news bears if I want to buy something in terms of convenience, but probably for the best as that will really curb my impulse buying!

The Secret Number

One thing that is weird about the debit card system here in Korea is that you don’t always need your pin. In fact, you seem to only use it for the ATM to get out cash. In some shops, you have to “sign” (most people just seem to scribble… not very secure) for your debit card purchase. In some places you don’t have to do anything at all. They just take the cash for you. There doesn’t seem to be a rule for this, I paid for 44,000 won of postage yesterday and didn’t have to sign for it. Remind me to keep an eye on my card!

I am not an Immigration Lawyer

Nor do I play one on TV.

That’s not stopped so many people from getting in touch after I  shared my story  here on my blog about my run in with the UKBA. Considering I’m nobody online and my blog is pretty much an obscure collection of my ramblings, it’s pretty distressing how many people have found my ranting and either commented on my posts or have sent me messages asking for my help.

I tell them all the same thing. Talk to a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, look into getting legal aid. Keep going back to the UKBA. And mostly what I have to tell them: I can’t help you.

I can’t help you with your fight. I hope that posting my struggles and my letters will help someone else put together their thoughts. I hope that it will help people realise that they are trying to fight a huge, faceless, soulless government agency and that they need someone who knows their shiz (read: IMMIGRATION LAWYER) on their side.  But there’s nothing else I can really do.

It also makes me realise how many people’s lives are impacted by decisions made by the UKBA. There are so many stories and  you can hear their desperation in their comments and their messages.

I will most likely have one more update left in my UKBA saga (sometime after 14 February), but for the most part, I lost. I’ve left the UK and everything I had there behind. But I’m still hopeful that the system will be improved. There are changes happening to other systems in British government, you can see it in the good work that has already been done in other areas of government by GDS. I hope it improves for all the poor lost people that get in touch after reading my story. And, I have to admit, I hope it improves for me as well before I go through the process of reapplying to pick up the pieces in the UK again.

Get Yourself Alienated – Part 2

This is going to be a lot shorter than part one, because getting to the Suwon Immigration Offices was the hardest part of the entire ordeal (thanks, Super).

Had I been given all the information I needed about the application process before going to the office, this would have been a walk in the park. Despite not knowing really what to expect, it was still really easy.

I rock into the building, and say “alien registration card-uh” to the information lady sat in the lobby and she pointed me in the right direction.

::SIDE NOTE::

It seems like a lot of Korean words end in a vowel sound, and so if you add “uh” to the end of an English word, you instantly make it sound more Korean. As does breaking a word up into syllables that could be said in Korean. This trick doesn’t always work (I’m sure “card-uh” isn’t one) but sometimes (i.e. “English-ee handpone” for “English hand phone”) it does.

I hate to side note a side note… but when I was here last time mobile phones were called “hand phones”. They aren’t anymore. They are either smart phones or cell phones. And it was “pone” because the F sound doesn’t exist in Korean. That’s why “coffee” in Korean is “ko-pay”. Or was. They seem to be just saying it in English now. And mostly drinking cappucinnos, lattes and (strangely) caramel macchiatos.

::END SIDE NOTE::

The first thing I did was grab a number – I was about 20 or so behind the currently served number. There was another “information” table, so I went up and asked about a form for the ARC (Alien Registration Card). She pointed at another person. I went to her, she pointed back to the first table I had been at. Fortunately, she also spoke English, so when I told her that they said to come to her, she went back over with me and found the form.

I filled out the form, glued my picture to it, and sat down to wait. I was expecting to be there for hours, but I probably only waited about 25 minutes. Well done, Suwon.

The government guy who helped me had some English and was very helpful. He partially processed my form, but I had to go to an ATM to pay the fee (which was, to my dismay, 30,000 won, not 10,000 won as the internet had told me).

There was an ATM lady (so helpful!) that took my cash and helped me pay the right fee. I took that receipt and then went to another table to get delivery of my card arranged. That was another 4,000won, and it had to be paid in cash. I was really happy I had cash on me at this point! I was also happy that I had a business card for the school (where I wanted the card to be delivered to), as it had the address in Korean.

::SIDE NOTE::

If you are in Korea doing… stuff… whatever it is you are doing: Having a business card for the school (or your employer, whoever it may be) is a grand idea. It’s been helpful to me a few times now.

::END SIDE NOTE::

I got the receipt for that and rocked back up to the same window where my helpful government guy was sat. He had to do a couple more things and… finished.

A couple weeks later I had my ARC. Other than dealing with Super and actually trying to find the offices, the process was quick and relatively painless.

Now with my ARC in hand, the next stop on the Bureaucracy Train will be to get myself a bank account…

Get Yourself Alienated – Part 1

So a few weeks ago, after I got back the results of my medical testing, I was ready for step two in the process of getting my ARC (Alien Registration Card). Time to head to the Immigration Office in Suwon.

Going to the Suwon Immigration Office (수원출입국관리사무소) should not have been nearly as annoying of an adventure as it turned out to be. This part in the ARC adventure was made infinitely more difficult thanks to the vague incompetencies of my “supervisor”.

I thought the instructions for the medical testing were bad. This may have been worse. She handed me a hand-written note with the name and address of the office. In Korean. Then the telephone number (I don’t have a working phone). Then the “instructions” on how to get there:

Suwon Subway

DongBack station ——-> kihung station ———> youngtong

Basically, this translates to “Take the metro from Dongbaek Station to Giheung Station. Transfer from the green line to the yellow line. Then get off in Suwon at Yeongtong Station.”

Hey! I mean… it’s nearly there, right? Never mind that she managed to spell every bloody station incorrectly. But the awesomeness doesn’t end there.

She also (kindly?) had printed me a map of the area where the immigration office is. All in Korean, but hey! At least I know… nothing. I know NOTHING. Because she didn’t think to print me a map WITH THE DAMNED METRO STATION ON IT.

When I mentioned that, her response was “Oh, the station is near to there.” She didn’t seem to get that it doesn’t matter if it was literally two minutes away, if I walked in the wrong bloody direction, I wouldn’t find the damned office. I tried my best to get her to understand the issue, but I don’t think I got through to her as she said, “Maybe you look on the internet.”

Thanks for nothing, Supervisor. I did look it up on the internet, and it looked to be about a 10 minute walk. It took FOREVER to find online though, as Google hasn’t mapped the new metro stops out that way yet and Daum maps is all in Korean. But I thought I figured I knew what I was doing, so I relaxed a bit.

Then the next issue came up. Super (that’s my new nickname for her, deemed such right now) didn’t tell me how much the fees would be, or what documentation I should bring. So I figured I should check it out.

The most likely source for solid information seemed to be hikorea.go.kr (even though they ended up having the fee wrong), and it was then I realised that I didn’t have a key piece of information: A copy of the school’s business registration.

Yarg! So not only did Super manage to give me shite directions, she failed to tell me what I should bring with me, what the shiznet would cost, or the documentation.

So I was delayed a day as I was supposed to go to Suwon in the morning, and had to wait for Super to get me the docs I needed instead. Once that was sorted, I was able to go to Suwon the next day.

The metro in Seoul is delightfully simple. It can be a headache of transfers, but the signage is super good and it is relatively easy to use. The issue came when I stepped out of Yeoungtong Station and had no fucking clue where I was.

As in, no clue. Zero. I turned in a slow circle just outside of Exit 1 and wondered in which direction I should go. Rather than just head down a street (one looked no more promising than another), I thought I would try another look at my map – both the paper shitter that Super gave me as well as the one I had saved on my iPad.

It was then, with me trying to juggle all this stuff, that a tiny Korean lady came up to me and started speaking to me in Korean. I told her I didn’t understand Korean (in Korean) but showed her the shitty map with the Suwon Immigration Office on it in Korean. And… bingo! She seemed to know where it was. Bless you, Korean lady. She pointed me in a direction, we bowed at each other, and she walked away.

I walked to the intersection and stopped to take notes. Mostly because I don’t want what’s been happening to me to happen to the next teacher that comes. It’s just not a fun experience. So I was trying to write down the name of that intersection for my notes when behind me I hear the world’s hugest, weariest sigh.

The little Korean lady is back. I smile at her but realise I have no real way of communicating “I’m okay, I’m just writing this down so Super can’t take torture another foreigner”. She clearly thinks I’m mentally disadvantaged in some way.

So, what does she do? She takes me by the arm and walks me to the next intersection, points me in a direction, and says something (I’m assuming “Can I trust you to find your way from here, simpleton?” or similar) in Korean.

HOW CUTE IS THAT? I loved that little impatient Korean lady.

If only Super was this helpful.

It was easy breezy lemon squeezy from there. (Turns out there was even a more straightforward route, but I don’t blame sigh-at-me lady). I was there in less than 10 minutes and ready to get through the bureaucracy of the Suwon Immigration Office.

Flatastic

I’ve now been in Korea for four weeks, and I thought it was about time I got around to describing my flat for you.

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I live in a three story building on the ground floor. I was really nervous when the director brought me “home” for the first time, as you never really know what you are going to get in Korea when you are a teacher. Most of the flats aren’t very big, but they range in quality from super-ghetto to pretty decent and new.

I like that my building is close to everything, that there are digital locks (no keys to lose when you are out and about) and that the flat was on the ground floor. So far so good.

Then she opened the door.

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Even the previous teacher’s toothbrush was still up in here.

Can’t say I was too pleased with what I was seeing. It was filthy. Not just all the stuff left behind (the previous teacher left in a hurry, so a lot of her stuff was left behind), but it wasn’t clean. At all.

There were immediately obvious things, like the bedding hadn’t been washed, but there were surprises too. Like the food in the fridge that had begun growing food of its own. Or the mould under the toilet seat. Or the floors that were so marked up and dirty that it’s taken me around 12 hours to get them clean (and the flat is tiny).

So the first things I notice about my new home is that it is filthy and the windows suck balls. Worse, the director tries to tell me that they “didn’t have time to clean”. Even though the flat had been empty for a couple of weeks. Even though the school has never had a flat cleaned ever. Yarg.

But now that I have the place cleaned up and cleaned out, I’m really quite happy with my new digs. The only bad thing really is the windows, and that is a shame. But I am happy that:

a. I have cool digital locks
b. I have a brand-new washing machine
c. The washing machine isn’t in the bathroom
d. The furnishings are quite new and modern
e. There’s no mould on the walls (a major problem here)
f. Although there is the occasional weird funk from the drains, it could be a bajillion times worse
g. It’s super close to everything
h. It’s on the ground floor

So I’m happy with it overall. It’s not big, but it’ll be easier to keep clean that way, right? Here’s some shots of it after I have it all tidied up and clean. If you have any questions about living in a flat in Korea, just drop it in the comments.

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Yes. The entire bathroom is the shower. It’s actually kinda useful.

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