Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Monkey Beach and Lose Control in Bundang

Here's the question:

Hi there, have been in Bundang a while but haven't been able to find Lose Control or MOnkey Bar (apparently it's now called Last Angel). Could you tell me where they are @ Seohyeon station?

Honestly, I haven't been to bars in Bundang since Carne Station closed down in 2007. I had to look this one up on Galbijim. I have a feeling that by Monkey Bar, you might mean Monkey Beach. If that's what you mean, Galbijim offers this:

Frequently a hangout for ESL teachers and G.I.s it's not uncommon to find locals as well frequently up for conversations with native English speakers. Previously as cheap as 2000 won for a draft beer the price increased between 2006 and 2008. Draft beer is now still reasonable at 3000 won.

Leave Samsung Plaza to the Krispy Kreme side. In the second building on the left on the third floor you will find an easily recognizable red Monkey Head logo on a black door.

As for Lose Control, I'm just not sure. I know it's close to Samsung Plaza, but that's all I got. There's no website or mention of directions on the web, so again, I must appeal to my readers.

Where is Lose Control in Bundang?

Adult Language Institutes and Hagwons in South Korea

Here's the question:

I hate recruiters. They're stupid and don't speak English worth a damn. I don't want to teach kids, but they don't care. So where are these direct links you keep promising???

Whoa! No need to get feisty, buddy. I do my best to keep up with questions.

Recruiters feed off the uninformed. It's the easiest way for them to make fast cash. If you're diligent enough to do the leg work, you can land a gig without their help. First of all, you gotta know what you want. A lot of prospective teachers know that they want to teach in Korea, but that's about all they know. Inform yourself and then your year in Korea will be so much better.

As I said before, the best way to cut out the middle-man is by applying directly. You'll be able to negotiate your salary and other terms as well as have control over where you'll end up. The problem is that not many schools have direct links. Luckily, you don't want to teach kids, so check out these links.

Adult Language Institutes

Direct English




Wall Street Institute

English Channel

I thought about adding a list for kids hagwons, but honestly it would take hours and hours and most of them won't have any English information or application options.

Did I forget any big adult hagwons?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tips on recruiters and where to look for teaching jobs in South Korea

Here's the question:

Do you have any suggestions on where to find a job? I've applied to dozens of positions through and the recruiters found through the site. I've had 6 interviews now with different recruiters and two offers. The one I accepted for Seoul, emailed me a few days after and said that the position was filled since another candidate managed to get their paperwork to the school before mine. I'm frantically applying so that I can move and start teaching mid to late August. I currently live in Seattle and have all of my documents ready for an E-2 visa.

I feel your frustrations. As any manager would know, I've had to deliver the grim news to many prospective teachers whom I had already told had a secure position. Since most foreign managers are not the be all and end all when it comes to hiring, this type of thing happens way to often. Recruiters want to connect as many teachers to schools as possible which makes the whole hiring process a first-come-first-serve type deal. Korean management wants their openings filled BEFORE previous teachers leave. In many cases, qualifications don't matter. All that matters is expediency on delivering required documents. The whole process is a headache for everyone involved, especially frustrated teachers who are doing everything they can from their end.

I would recommend a couple things for you. Rather than surfing around Dave's and sending out resumes to countless recruiters, try focusing on just a few recruiters in your target area. For instance, check out Work N Play. They typically have more specified positions and sometimes schools will even advertise individual openings. I say this because recruiters are simply trying to funnel teachers into positions that need filling, regardless of stated preference. It wouldn't hurt to check out Club4Teacher, You Love It or My ESL Job either.

When you contact these schools or perhaps recruiters, make sure you are very up front with them and even a bit aggressive. They will pursue anyone who appears to be easy to recruit, so if you make yourself appear available (not desperate) and flexible (especially about location), then you should have no problems finding a decent gig.

You should also remember that it takes an average of five to six weeks for the whole process (interview to flight) to be completed. If you have a little time to spare then you should be able to land a good job in your target area.

Update on Criminal Background Checks and DUI's for Teachers in South Korea

I still get endless questions about DUI's, so I thought I should keep everyone updated about the current state of immigration and how they are handling DUI's and other crimes that show up on criminal background checks. This is from Ask Now, the only recruiter on "The Expat's Trusted Recruiters" list.

I just wanted to update you with the latest on the DUI and minor incident situation with immigration. Things seem to have gotten even tougher. A week or two ago, we had an applicant for a job in Ansan who sent all his docs and was in the last stage of waiting for his visa number. He had one DUI from 12 years ago and immigration denied the visa. The submitting of a letter of explanation didn't help any. It seems as though even areas outside of Seoul now are getting tougher. I think it's because of the recent court cases involving immigration and I think they are saying "fine, we'll deny anything that we can." This is just my guess, but it seems to be the case.

For us, we have decided that we can no longer accept applicants with even something minor or something from a long time ago. In a situation like this, the visa was cancelled at the last minute and the teacher had spent time and money on preparing and also, the school was depending on this teacher to arrive for classes very soon, and then they were put in a very difficult situation suddenly being without a teacher and no time to find a new one quickly.

So, since it is too risky and immigration is being tougher, we have decided to go ahead only with 100% clean records. That's not to say that some random immigration officer won't issue a visa to someone, but there is no way of knowing.

It looks like the teachers market is getting stiffer. I think that a lot of recruiters are going to be stricter about who they accept, so I too will no longer advise people that they can get around background check. I don't want to cost anyone money.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Does this template hurt your eyes?

I was reading this blog the other day and my eyes started hurting. I was seeing lines after looking away from the monitor and my overall vision was essentially blurred for several minutes. I don't want that at all and since the average reader is on the site for over 4:00 minutes, I imagine that other people might be having the same problem.

So, does this template hurt your eyes?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why are Korean school bathrooms so filthy?

Here's the question:

I've been working in an afternoon program for about three weeks now and have been repeatedly disgusted by how dirty the bathrooms are. If there is toilet paper (which is rare), it's always in a little trash can. Is this just my school or are all school bathrooms in Korea this gross?

I think everyone has been shocked a time or two by the unsanitary conditions in which we have found bathrooms all across the world. I recall some pretty nasty ones at football games in the US -you know, urine-soaked floors mixed with a bit of vomit. I've been to outhouses in Cambodia that looked like pigs might have been living in the poop that fell on them and, in the Philippines, I remember walking into an island bathroom and literally being knocked back by the stench that surrounded me. Still, the things I have seen in Korean schools easily trump them all.

Don't believe me?

How about a bathroom with walls streaked with brown poop-stained fingerprints? Or the endless toilets that have a hearty mixture of urine and rice-filled dung splattered across the seat . I've seen what I only can assume was the excrement of several boys who thought it would be funny to poop in a stall trashcan. Yet, nothing tops the the mammoth log of shit that sported the imprint of a closed fist which was proudly resting in -of all places- the sink. That is seriously disgusting and far worse than I have seen anywhere outside of a festival port-a-jon. (I want to add that the above examples are not the norm in Korea and are certainly not unique to it either. I saw some pretty nasty shit in my private high school in the United States, but this is not a blog about America. It's a blog about Korea.)

First of all, I don't think that Koreans practice poor hygiene. Some might claim that they do, but there really is no way to qualify or quantify that assertion. Koreans are wild for tooth-brushing and it's rare to find a Korean who smells like BO. I think most of the nastiness witnessed in bathrooms are a result of the lack of toilet paper; the Korean habit of throwing soiled toilet paper directly in the trash can; and the lack of official school janitors. I wrote a piece about this in the Korea Times a few months ago which offers a little insight into this dated habit. The long and short of it is that Koreans are convinced that their plumbing and sewage system can not handle toilet paper, so they opt for the "Wipe and Toss Method". It's gross for sure, but most adults at least place the soiled paper in the trashcan. Kids, however, are kids and don't think much about why it's going in the trashcan or who has to clean it up.

The whole thing reminds me of the classic South Park episode, "The Mystery of the Urinal Deuce." In the episode, the school counselor Mr. Mackey is on a crusade to find the person responsible for pooping in a urinal. He was stumped as to why someone would do it. In the end, it was the character Craig who was responsible. Why did he do it? Craig's response: "I don't know." Kids do stupid things without thinking them through. That's the great part of being a kid. While playing with poop might be pretty weird (unless your into German adult films), I don't think there's a greater story behind the poop-play.

I mentioned the South Park episode to make a second point as well. In the episode, the janitor was brought up many times. His name was Mr. Venezuela. While lambasting the kids for being so unthoughtful about the urinal poop, Mr. Mackey says, "You might as well have just laid a big, stinking turd right on Mr. Venezuela's head." He was trying connect the disgusting behavior to the human face who would have to clean that up in hopes of making the kid feel guilty.

In many Korean public schools, there is not a team of janitors cruising the halls cleaning up after kids. In most cases, the kids and teachers are responsible for cleaning. If you were to look in a closet or corner of many Korean classrooms, you will see brooms and dust bins. At the end of the day, the kids will pick-up the brooms and clean their own mess up. I like the idea. It teaches them some responsibility and gives them a sense of propriety. With the kids being largely responsible for cleaning the rooms, that really limits the need for janitors, so usually the maintenance crew doubles as bathroom janitors. I feel like this arrangement leads to an increase of bathroom related messiness.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I was a rare case, but since I knew who the janitor was, I felt a little guilty about trashing the bathrooms. I'm sure I misfired many times and perhaps they were intentional, but in most cases, knowing the janitor's face was enough to deter me. (That, or my memory is so jaded that I create false realities to make myself feel better.)

As mentioned by the questioner, finding toilet paper in school bathrooms can be rare. I have seen plenty of bathrooms with toilet paper dispensers on the wall next to the sinks, but have yet to be in a public school restroom where each individual stall had toilet paper. I have also yet to find myself in a stall where I didn't see remnants of poop on the floor, partition or door handle. It's not a coincidence. This is pretty cut and dry. If there isn't toilet paper available, people improvise. I've had to do some pretty bad things when I have found myself in a similar situation. We all have. I remember being in Jongno two years ago for the New Years Eve countdown. I had to poop so bad and left minutes before the "ball dropped" only to find myself in a bathroom with no toilet paper. Let's just say it was a bit drafty for the rest of the night.

In general, a bathroom is not a particularly clean place, but I think Korea could be doing a better job. Getting rid of the stall trashcans is a start, but putting toilet paper in each school bathroom stall is a definite must. Once those are accomplished, I guarantee that we'll see some improvements. You know it's a bad sign when school bathrooms are dirtier than Han River park bathrooms.

Of course, this entire post was about the men's bathrooms. How about women's? Are they sparkling?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Help From Fellow Expats

There are some questions that I simply don't know how to answer. I try my best, but some are either so bizarre or out-of-reach, that I simply don't know where to turn. I have several questions that I have been sitting on for awhile and have decided to ask my readers to give them a shot.

I'll post a few here. If you know the answer then please leave it in comments. Thank you guys.

Anyone know the library system?
My husband and are avid readers but do not want to spend money on new or used books. We have had some trouble finding a library where we can actually check the books out. Apparently you have to stay on the library grounds to read books at the National Library of Korea. Do you know of a library (preferably near Gangnam) that has a wide selection, or any for that matter, of English books that we could actually check out?

Soon I will travel to Korea, and i was wondering if i can use my cell phones there in Seoul. I got one Samsung uses gsm and one nokia E63works on 3g.

Coffee drinkers...with a twist?
I roast my own coffee beans in a hot air popcorn popper and I was
wondering if I should bring green beans out with me to roast there.

If you have ideas, just float them in the comment section. If not, then I'll keep digging. Thanks...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Birth Control Pills in South Korea

Here's the question:

I'm wondering about getting birth control pills in Korea. I was just getting them sent from back home, but I just lost my insurance. So now I'm looking to getting some here.

I hear there is cheap and effective birth control here, and it can be found at the pharmacy. Does this mean it's just on the shelf, or do you have to ask for it? Also, how does one ask for it--like what is it called?

In the Korean pharmacy, very few items are on the shelves. You'll find energy drinks, band-aids and other simple herbal tablets within reach, but the birth control pills -along with the rest of the medicine- are all found behind the counter.

Birth control pills are cheap in Korea. Depending on where you are, you'll be paying between ten to twenty bucks for a box. You don't need your insurance information or anything else. All you need to do is ask for the pills (피임약) and they will give you a 1-month supply. Judging by the pharmacists I have dealt with in my time here, I'm sure you could get away with simply saying "birth control pills" and they'll know what you're talking about.

I have heard a few female expats say that they felt embarrassed buying them or thought that the pharmacist was looking down on them for being "sexually active". They might have felt that way and it might be true, but from the two pharmacists I've talked to about this subject, they didn't seem to have any qualms about providing contraception to an adult who is protecting herself from unwanted pregnancy. After all, abortion is essentially illegal in Korea. They went to school so they could dish out medicine to people in need and I'm sure most pharmacists have handed out much nastier medication than birth control pills. Don't let that get in your way.

It's here and it's cheap. So save yourself the money, time and headache of having it mailed to you and drop by your friendly pharmacy and pick some up.

Curious: Has anyone felt that they were being judged when buying birth control pills?

Buying a Jindo

Here's the question:

My husband and I would really like to buy a Jindo puppy, but I've heard that it is illegal to export a Jindo, and I don't want to purchase any dog that I can't take home with me when the time comes. Do you know if we would be allowed to take it with us? Also, I would like to get the dog from somewhere reputable (no puppy mills) and was wondering if you knew the best place to start looking?

Before we go any further on this one, please make sure that you have the space for a Jindo. They grow really fast and while they don't get that tall, they are thick, muscular dogs. They need space and, in most cases, are not great in apartments. You should also check out a non-Korean resource on their personality, needs and other traits. I say that because Korean sites on Jindo's typically gloat about how smart AND KOREAN the dogs are. That's fine, but flag waving shouldn't interfere with dog descriptions.

You should read my post on big dogs in Korea as well as listen to my Big Dogs podcast and considering that the Jindo is a Korean dog, the public reaction to them is a lot more fearful than one would expect.

Taking a Jindo out of the country can be a problem as they are a Korean National Treasure (no. 53) and International Treasure (no. 334). Koreans don't want their pups to leave the nation and recently, they are even barring them from leaving Jindo Island (the dogs' home island and namesake).

If you find a Jindo and want to buy it, make sure you get its papers. As with any purebred, they should come with papers, yet many Jindo breeders (especially mainland breeders) don't provide papers. This can be a blessing and a curse. If your Jindo is a purebred and comes with papers, all you will need to do is bribe a vet to change its "official breed" from purebred, to mix breed. Some will do it for free, but most of the time slipping fifty bucks to them should do the trick. If they don't come with papers, then you might be paying full price (on top of bribe money) for a mutt that looks like a Jindo as a puppy. Careful.

I have written a few posts on dogs in Korea (here and here), so if you follow those links you should be able to track down some pups or other links.

Any Jindo owners in Korea or abroad have anything to add?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How to Pull a Midnight-Run

Here's the question:

Will immigration stop you if you leave the country early from your school in South Korea? My brother wants to leave, but he's worried he would get stopped at the airport. Can they do that?

Easy one here. No they can not. Immigration has no right or authority to forbid anyone from leaving the country so long as they have not committed a crime worthy of detention. If he wants to leave because he is unhappy, then there is nothing (besides guilt from quitting) stopping him in the least. As I have said before, I don't like it when people bail early. It's disrespectful to your employer and to your fellow teachers.

Of course, the situation could be really horrible and I understand that he might might need to bail. If that's the case and he doesn't want to tell his employers, then a silent midnight-run is what he needs.

For a successful midnight-run:

Don't tell anyone!

This means that you shouldn't even tell your close friends or co-workers. Oftentimes, co-workers will be angry at you because it will increase their workload. If they know you're thinking about it, they might try to lay it on thick or tell the school about your plans.

Leave a note with enough money to pay for your utilities

Even though the school is out some cash because of you, they will still want to make sure you're not dead or hurt. If you leave a note explaining your decision, they will appreciate the effort (even if they are angry about your decision). You should also leave 50 bucks or so alongside the note. The school should not have to pay YOUR utility bills.

Clean your apartment

If you leave your place trashed or intentionally trash it before you go, then the school might get on the horn claiming that you are a criminal and damaged the apartment intentionally. Clean it up. Do the dishes. Wash the sheets. It's the least you can do.

Make sure you get what you earned

I know some people might not like this one, but things happen in life and situations change. Make sure you get your paycheck before pulling a run. You earned it, so why not collect? Don't, however, be a total dick and get your paycheck, plus a payment advance and THEN bail. That's low.

Leave as late at night or early in the morning as possible

This is crucial. You never know what's going to happen with weather, so do yourself a favor and be on the plane and en route to your home country BEFORE your employer discovers your gone. Buy your bus ticket to the airport early. If you live outside of Seoul, consider heading to Incheon the night before and, if you can't get a late night flight, then stay in a cheap motel and catch the first flight out.

If you follow those steps, then you should have no problem getting out of the country with relative ease. Now, what if your school is holding your diploma? Get it back. What about your pension? In most situations, it could be difficult to get it, but there's no reason not to try. Check out my post on pension collection for more on that.

Pulling a midnight-run is a low move, but sometimes it's what you gotta do. I hope that this particular case is more of the "I have a family emergency" kind, rather than the "I don't like teaching" excuse. Either way, be safe.

Jisan Vally Rock Festival: Camping, Facilities Help

Here's the question:

My friends and I are going to the Jisan Valley Rock Festival this weekend, and we're planning on camping. I was wondering if you knew anything about camping in Korea.

First, we don't have any camping gear yet and are planning to try to get some used. Do you have any ideas of websites like Craigslist where one can find used items in Korea? Also, do you have any guess what the campground might be like--do you think there will be showers, etc...?

Sounds like fun and I hope to read good reviews about the festival. As many people know, this upcoming weekend is the Jisan and Pentaport Rock festivals. I'm hoping that both of them are a huge success because Korea really needs to be a stop for some non-megastar acts.

Since this is Jisan's first festival and from being a music festival addict in my younger days in the US...

...I have a feeling that there will be some problems at Jisan. I hope they're not too big and, as the questioner is doing, making sure you know what to expect (including weather) is crucial.

Camping in Korea is not backcountry in the least. Sure, there are a few mountain trails on the peninsula that allow such camping, but for the most part, you're going to be setting up tents right next to someone else. I have not been to Jisan yet, so I have no personal knowledge of the area. You might have plenty of room.

I pulled this from the festival website:

The festival provides many fields for camping, you can pitch your tent that most interest you in campsite. But please only take up the area that you need. If you have to bring a gazebo, please be considerate to your fellow campers and bear in mind that camping space is limited. If you take up more than your share there will be no space left for late-comers.

Camping tickets are KRW10,000 per person and only 2 day and 3 day ticket holders are able to purchase them. You may need to decide whether you'll need a camping ticket before buying festival tickets. Please purchase this along with your festival tickets, as they are limited in number and non transferable. Camping tickets can only be booked by telephoning our ticket sales line on 02-3444-9969(+82 2 3444 9969)

Camping fields are patrolled by security teams. However, if you are worried about something being stolen, don't keep it in your tent. We recommend all participants not to bring any valuables. Please note that cooking is strictly prohibited and bottled or canned beverages are not allowed to bring in from outside of festival site.

I assume you read that already and have booked camping tickets. As far as showers go, I have found no information on that, but I would imagine that since Koreans typically aren't that fond of roughing it, there will be bathing facilities. They have them on every street corner, so why not there? If there isn't a shower, I'm certain there will be running water for to brush your teeth, so washing up there will be fine. They do have a nearby stream though just in case.

As you said, you do not have tents, so you gotta buy one. The festival provided rental tents, but they should have been reserved by the 15th of July. It'll be too late for you on that front, so you'll need to find them online.

You can check all the big forums like Daves, Facebook, Worknplay, Club4teacher, Youloveit, The Yeogiyo. And if they don't yield anything, I would hunt around Dongdaemun or give in, pay a little more and go to Costco.

So to all festival-goers this weekend, have a great time, drink plenty of water (and beer) and stay dry. And in case there are any K-Bloggers going, please make sure you post plenty of pics, write-up a little review and help make Korea a location for international acts to drop by regularly.

***Update 7/28/2009: I've been loooking for reviews of the show, but have had limited sucess. A commentor on this post also writes a blog and wrote a little description. She seemed to have liked it, but (and I'm not being an ass) she's relatively new to Korea, so that excitement might interfer with her objectivety. Regardless, I'm happy to have her input.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Drugs in Korea: Don't Do Them

I've been getting a lot of questions about drug use, laws and availability in Korea and rather than publishing those questions here, I answered them on the podcast.

The long and short of it? DON'T DO DRUGS IN KOREA!!!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gay Saunas in South Korea

Here's the question:

I was told about these saunas that are like bathhouses and apparently they are everywhere in Korea. [I was told] HOT guys shower together, and rub each other in the shower. Is this true? How far EXACTLY do they go?

What's the type of legality on this, and as a foreigner with a large carriage, can I participate?

I remember reading about these places before coming to Korea and in my handbook, it referred to them as "bathhouses". Of course, bathhouses in the West are known for their popularity among gay/bi/curious cruisers, so I was a bit confused. In fact, if you type "bathhouses" into Google, the first result is a Wikipedia article on Gay Bathhouses. For the most part, the bathhouses, saunas or Jjimjilbang in Korea are, for the most part NOT cruising sites and certainly wouldn't be friendly to someone who tried to make them that way. I recommend reading Galbijims write-up on these saunas. It'll help you get a good feel for what's actually going on in these widely popular establishments.

I am not the biggest fan of the saunas in Korea. First of all, I don't like being hot for any period of time and throw that in with the high level of interest that foreign men (I can't speak for women) get when they enter these facilities, it makes for more stress than relief. However, I have a lot of friends who really enjoy it. In my experience, an overwhelming majority of the men in the saunas are older. Maybe it was the location I chose, but I didn't see many "hot guys" in there. Even if there were, it wouldn't make a difference. Cleanliness and relaxation are the goals, not sex or rubbernecking.

In fact, these places are viewed in such a non-sexual light that there was a recent television commercial innocently showing toddlers washing each other in what was supposed to be a public shower. I was shocked when I first saw it, but my Korean wife didn't think there was anything odd about it. She thought it was cute. There's also a popular Korean comedy show which takes place in a sauna. They sing, dance and play games.

There are some things that happen in Korea (just like any country) that simply don't make sense to me, but makes perfect sense to Koreans. A couple years ago, a few Korean friends and I were at a park and we saw two teenage boys massaging and rubbing each other. I assumed that they were gay and made a comment about it. My friends rejected my interpretation and claimed that the boys were helping each other relieve stress because high-school life in Korea can be very demanding. It doesn't matter why they were doing it though. The point was that many Koreans, unlike myself -an American, don't automatically assume that something is sexual or related to sexuality.

Take this for instance: I know many Koreans who semi-regularly visit the saunas with their parents and/or children and all of them routinely wash each others backs. When I first heard of people doing this, I was a little grossed out. I mean, imagining myself in such a situation with my father is almost enough to cause nausea, but it is viewed as a perfectly normal and perhaps even a bonding experience among our Korean brethren.

So, by all means go and enjoy the many saunas of the nation, but understand that nearly all of them have zero tolerance for sexual activity. If you start rubbing another man for any reason other than cleaning, I imagine a fist might be coming your way. I do think it would be a funny dare though.

Still, there are some places where you can go if you're looking for a place to cruise or find a little action. The highest concentration of LGBT bars and clubs reside in Jongno, Hongdae and Itaewon, so the gay saunas tend to be in and around those districts. Utopia Asia has a lot of information on gay culture and hotspots in Korea and they have an interesting page on gay saunas as well. Make sure to take a look at what it has to offer, but I want to use a couple comments from the site.

"Went to Mun Hwa last Sat nite around 1:30am...Man, it was full. It's a good place for people who are into older men of 30+...I had a good time. Just lie down and guys will be on you in no time. They don't play safe, so carry lube and condoms...The sauna was filthy and so were the toilets."


"If you enter Bosuk, you will feel like you are in a regular straight sauna, and it probably is...until you go to the sleeping area. You will get to see some action, although quite discreet. Normally at the 1/F sleeping area or in the hidden corner on 2/F. Just lay down and pretty soon someone will lay next to you, although I don't see how things can go far here as there are many straight people sleeping as well! BTW, no foreigners here, so you can get very spotlighted."

Two totally different takes on the scene. I'm sure after visiting a few places, one would understand the system a little bit more, but what it sounds like is that very few of the places are advertised as "Gay Saunas". As the other posters on that site mentioned, you must be discreet since there is a mix of straight men sleeping and gay/bi men cruising. You might be able to find a place with private rooms, but I think most places are going to offer public sleeping rooms which are frequently checked by staff. Again, South Korea does not have any laws against homosexuality (aside from military service), so the staff is not looking for criminals. They're just trying to keep their sauna from becoming a hotspot for such activity.

I also found it interesting that so many people claimed that Korean men didn't carry or use protection. For a nation that spends a lot of time telling its people that foreigners have AIDS, I would think that having unprotected sex in bathhouses with foreigners would be unheard of. Then again, contraception in Korea is an interesting topic unto itself.

So, ultimately, you are not going to be walking into a shower or sauna full of young, "hot guys". From what most of the comments over at Utopia said, you'll most likely be walking into a dark, quiet sleeping room full of older men that may or may not be willing to give a big foreigner a chance. Now, I'm sure there are some hidden places in Itaewon that will work just fine for you, but I think it's better to paint the sauna scene is Korea as a very non-sexual one that is for cleaning and relaxing, rather than romance and cruising.

Like my last post on gay behavior in Korea, I hope that some readers might be able to add their thoughts. They were quite valuable last time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Advice on Tourist Visas in South Korea

Here's the question:

I will be finishing my current contract with a university at the end of August. I have an E1 visa until August 25. I am wondering if there will be any problem with me leaving Korea for a week or so and then come back on a tourist visa for the fall semester. I realize Americans have a 3 month tourist visa, so I would have to take a weekend trip to Japan or something to have it "reset." My plan is to take some online classes and maybe do some "part time work" and then go back on the job market for spring semester. My boyfriend and I have our own apartment, so housing is not a problem. I'm just curious if you know of any complications that can arise as a result of staying in Korea on a tourist visa for an extended period of time.

If I understand this correctly, you'll be finishing your E1 on the 25th and be leaving the country within the time allotted by Immigration only to return a week later on a tourist visa. So, if you were to return in early September on a tourist visa, you would be given 90 days in the country. That would give you until the end of November to depart once again. At that point, you could leave the country for a few days again and then come back on a fresh tourist visa until you find another gig and therefore visa sponsor.

I don't see any problem with this except for the fact that tourist visas are issued only with proof of through travel or a departing ticket. In most cases, you will not be issued a tourist visa without your departing ticket. That's easy to get around though. All you need to do is buy a refundable ticket to show to immigration. Once you're through customs and legally back in the country on a tourist visa, all you'll need to do is cancel the ticket and you're gold. There shouldn't be any problems if you follow those simple steps.

Cheapest Ways to Ship Bikes from Korea

Here's the question:

I've been in Ulsan for the last year and I'm trying to get everything together before I leave in September. I've managed to get everything shipped home. That is, everything except my brand new Trek mountain bike. And this is what lead me to you.

If the bike wasn't worth a good deal of money I wouldn't go to all the trouble shipping it home, but it is, so I am.

Here are the details I know. The Korean postal service won't ship it because it is too large and the local postal lady is not a fan of non Korean-speaking individuals. I've looked into UPS and Fedex, but they are seriously expensive. And I would just take it on the plane with me, but I'm flying into Italy and Ireland on separate tickets before I arrive in the US. Not to mention, I don't want to lug the damned thing around for a month.

So my question is, are there any alternatives to shipping it through the Korean postal service/airlines/UPS/Fedex?

Wow. Every time I thought I had a good answer, you had already been down that avenue. The best route would have been shipping the bike by plane with you, but you don't want to be burden by it in Europe. So, what options do you have? I hate to say it, but I don't know. I am totally stumped by this, so I am appealing to anyone who comes across this post for some advice. I have also posted it on my ESL Teacher group on Facebook. I know that someone out there has been in a similiar position, so we'll give it some time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Medical Clauses and Privacy for E2 Visa Holders in South Korea

Here's the question:

There is a Physical and Mental Health Clause in my teaching contract. Is it legal in Korea to refuse/terminate employment for medical reasons? Does medical privacy exist? If I go to a doctor will he/she report my results to my employer?

The health clause in your contract is totally normal. Everyone who applies for the E2 visa is subject to a health check upon arrival in the country. Within your first couple of weeks and before being issued your Alien Registration Card (which legally must be done within 90 days of arrival), you have to go to a government-approved hospital (your school should tell you where it is) and take the tests. That is all totally standard for E2 to holders go through. It's a pain, but you gotta do it.

In some cases, it is legal to refuse/terminate employment for medical reasons as well. First of all, let's take a look at what the Physical and Mental Health clause in a standard contract is saying. Of course, each contract is going to contain some different wording. The E2 Applicant’s Health Statement for Immigration asks five medical questions:

* Have you ever caught infectious diseases that threaten Public Health before?
* Have you ever taken any Narcotic (Drug) OR Have you ever been addicted to alcohol?
* Have you ever received treatment for Mental/ Neurotic/ Emotional Disorder?
* Are OR were you HIV (AIDS) positive?
* Have you had any serious Diseases OR Injuries for the last 5 years?

Essentially, you will be tested for narcotics and contagious diseases. If you fail the drug test or happen to carry a contagious disease, then it is the responsibility of the hospital to report that to Immigration which ultimately will effect your stay (visa cancellation or deportation). So, in regards to your preliminary tests, then no, there is no privacy. You're doing that in order to register as an alien.

Now, if you were to go to a hospital AFTER completing all the preliminary testing, then it's a slightly different ball game. In most cases, the doctor will not report private medical conditions, so long as they aren't contagious, dangerous, deadly, or a result of illegal activities. So in other words, if you're experiencing a burning sensation when urinating and head to the doctor out of fear that your blurry night on Hooker Hill might have caught up to you, only to discover that burning was a big bag of herpes, then the doctor won't be too thrilled if he knows you're teaching kids. It might not get you sent home, but the big players in the Korean media like to report about how ESL teachers are walking buckets of AIDS and sex-hungry pedophiles, so an STD could set off his paranoia siren and result in a telephone call to your school. Like many things in Korea, it depends on the individual in charge of your case. I will say that if you go in for a blood test and for one reason or another, drugs are detected in your system, you will be going home. Not only is it illegal to possess and sell drugs in Korea, but use (even including while you were out of the country) of any kind will most likely result in deportation. So, don't be dumb. Play it safe in the bedroom (or brothel couch) and don't use drugs during your stay in Korea.

However, if your disease, illness or infection does not pose any direct threat to anyone and it doesn't blatantly violate any of the five questions on your health statement (see above), then you should be fine. It really depends on your doctor and/or school. If you work in a small hagwon and get a really bad case of pneumonia, well then your school will know anyways and whether or not they tolerate an extended absence or not is up to them. If you are having problems with insomnia, maybe a little bout with depression, have an ulcer or something that has nothing to do with your job or stay in Korea, then of course, the doctor will not mention anything.

In the end, the medical clause is meant as a protection for Korean people and students. Even though some may argue that its drafting and implementation equates to a witch hunt, the goal is to have healthy teachers and there's nothing wrong with that. Your illnesses or conditions will not be reveled unless they are a direct threat to Korean citizens. The only problem with this logic is that who defines "direct threat". That is the gray area. If you were to get an illness or disease which you thought wasn't serious enough to return home, but might raise some red flags at your local clinic, then head to Itaewon (or any area accustomed to foreign patients) and visit an English-speaking doctor (or one who is used to foreigners) who has likely seen it all. They'll be more open-minded for sure.

Anyone have a story to share?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some Tips on Public Schools in and around Seoul

Here's the question:

After doing a reasonable amount of research, I would be much more comfortable working for a public school rather than a hagwon for my first experience teaching in Korea. This being said, I recall reading on your blog that public schools have big hiring bonanzas in September and in March. As September is rapidly approaching, I wonder, is it at the beginning of September or later in the month? Would I still have time to possibly find a position in Seoul? Also, I've been advised to contact schools directly in order to seek employment in Seoul, as recruiters have tried to steer me away. Will the school assist at all in the moving/ apartment process or will I be doing a great deal more work and have increased my responsibility/stress load considerably making this decision? Any guidance is greatly appreciated

Many people come to that very same conclusion. Even though the pay tends to be slightly lower, public schools offer more oversight, job security and vacation time. I have worked in both public schools and hagwons and usually recommend that first-year teachers consider the public route. There are many reasons and aside from the three that I mentioned above, working in a public school will pretty much protect you from the potential wrath of bad directors, overbearing mothers and long work hours. There are some good aspects of hagwon education, but that is not for today.

Semesters start in March and September here in South Korea, so public school system usually starting their hiring drive as early as December or May, respectively. Right now it's right in the middle of July (yesterday was actually Cho-bok or the official day to eat dog -it's not all that common these days though), so that means that any of you who have get busy and start applying. However, there is a new catch. If you want to teach in Seoul city schools, you've got to be more qualified than in the past. From the EPIK website:

Please note that Seoul positions require at least level 2 qualification (an ESL certification, a Master's in any discipline, a minimum of one year teaching or a Bachelor's degree in Education, English or Linguistics.

On top of the tougher guidelines, you also must submit your information via email ( You'll need to include the official "Seoul Application Form downloaded from the EPIK website, as well as a cover letter, resume, two open references and two-page sample lesson plan." That's a lot of information and if you really want to do it AND meet the minimum qualifications, then you've better get busy because in order to get the visa issuance and participate in the orientation, they recommend that you have everything submitted by mid-July. Get cracking.

That's for Seoul and since the ESL industry is no longer the teachers market it once was, the competition to land a good job in a Seoul public school has become quite stiff for first-year teachers. Additionally, just because you meet the requirements, that doesn't mean you'll be hired and it definitely doesn't mean you'll be placed in a part of the city you want. School placement is based on a lottery that happens much closer to the start of the semester.

I know that many potential teachers don't have all or any of the needed qualifications. I certainly didn't. So what do you do if you really want to teach in Seoul city public school, but can't? Well, if you're set on being in a public school setting and don't qualify for Seoul or missed the deadline, then I'd have to suggest you shoot for a public school in Gyeonggi-do. Gyeonggi province surrounds Seoul and offers many of the same big-city luxuries without the congestion. Gyeonggi English Program in Korea or GEPIK. All you need to teach for GEPIK is your BA and native citizenship. You also have a little more time to submit your info as they give you until the end of July to submit all of your stuff. (For information on applying with GEPIK, click here.)

If anyone is curious about teaching in a public school outside of Seoul/Gyeonggi area (which is equally great), then email me and I'll write something up for you.

Apartment procurement and moving expenses will be paid for by the school district and all you will have to do is show up at the airport with luggage and an open mind. Don't worry about that.

You mentioned applying to schools directly. I talked about this on a podcast in reference to second year teachers as well as on a post about non-Caucasians securing employment. Applying directly is a great way to do it as it cuts recruiters out of the loop. However, when applying directly you must accept that your job-pool is severely limited. Public schools do not hire directly and most non-adult hagwons don't have websites with the option of applying online. So you have to dig. I'm currently working on a list of schools that allow direct or online application submission and will have it posted in the next couple days.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bird Watching in South Korea

Here's the question:

I am finding no information on this topic, so I thought I would see if you can help me: Where are good bird watching sites in the Seoul area? I live in Bundang (Jeongja), so obviously closer is better, but anywhere reasonably close would be great. Also, are there any groups that go out bird watching together? I am less-than novice, but I would love to find some good places to enjoy the hobby.

This is a tough one, but I did manage to find some pretty solid information for you. I do know that Korea has quite a few species if birds and is a great spot for migratory bird watching in the winter, but outside of that, I have no first-hand wisdom to offer. So, rather than assuming I know where the birds are, I'll provide you with some decent links on bird watching all over Korea.

* Birds Korea

* Travel-Wise Birds

* Bird Watching Trip Report

* Another Bird Watching Trip Report

* And another Bird Watching Trip Report

* And yet, another Bird Watching Trip Report

* The DMZ

* Mokpo

* Cheonsuman International Birds Watching Fair

* Eulsukdo Migratory Bird Sanctuary

* Eco-Tourism in the Wetlands

* GORP Birdwatching in Korea

* A map of where the birds are

* A forum for bird watching in Korea

* A solid page full of useful websites related to birding

* Fat Birder

I know that's a ton of links and, honestly, there are a ton more, but these are the ones that I found particularly helpful.

If any readers happen to know more about this subject, please feel free to leave a comment with a link and I'll post it in the main text.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The "Seal Men" and Beggars in Seoul

Here's the question:

Who are the men laying prone on little rolling carts, with their non-functioning legs wrapped in what looks like inner tubes?

This is the second part to a Handicapped Beggars in Korea post. There is little or no reliable information about these people on the Internet. There have been no major news stories or articles written about these people. The information I have gotten is from two government officials, a former Songpa-gu police officer and a rumored, but unconfirmed KBS TV report several years ago.

I'm an early bird and live on Gangnam-daero. I get to see it all on my early morning strolls with my pup: late-night partiers still rockin' it, early-morning street sweepers, pools and pools of vomit and, on two recent occasions, a mysterious unmarked bus with tinted windows. The people who are on these buses, the "Seal Men", are the focus of this post.

Somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00am on weekends, a bus pulls up, opens it's side-doors, and two or three men spring out carrying a handicapped man "with their non-functioning legs wrapped in what looks like inner tubes". They roughly set him up on a rolling cart, place an empty money-collection box next to him, turn his music on and drive off. In one case, the man, who was clearly suffering from severe mental retardation, was forced to lay there without assistance. Most of the time, these guys lie face-down for long hours in the hot summer heat while the busy feet and exhaust smother their view and air. The occasional passerby will lend a hand or maybe even buy them a cool drink, but for the most part, these guys fend for themselves while on the sidewalks.

Before I go any further, I must add that there are two types of beggars who use the carts: One is the mentally handicapped and the other is the physically disabled. The physically disabled tend to be able to walk with crutches, use a wheelchair or maybe even get by with braces. The other, however, has no choice as their debilitating mental condition interferes with the basics of survival. I am focusing on these men, not the physically disabled.

I had a long talk about this with former Songpa-gu police officer who started his beat in Gangnam years ago. He told me that it was a scam. A scam, that I have since found out is ignored by the government. If you have seen Slumdog Millionare, then you kind of get the picture. It's about the same, but their "slaves" are adults who were already handicapped in some way.

It goes like this: A group of people somehow have gotten access to the mentally challenged and set up an operation where they drop these handicapped individuals off on different, but highly trafficked streets in the city, have them lie there all day collecting money and, once the evening has died down, they come and pick them up. Once picked up, the money is taken (usually less than 2o bucks) "to pay health care, food and housing costs" by the men in charge and the handicapped men are brought to a crowded apartment where they are given food and a place to sleep.

I want to be clear that I am only relaying information.

He said that in the 1990s, Korean gangsters were thought to be behind the operation, but I got the impression that he was not privied to such information. If you ask me though, I think it's a reasonable assumption. The Korean mafia is known for human trafficking, i.e. slavery and this would fit right into that theme.

The government officials were a little more vague with their knowledge except for the fact that they admitted knowing about the problem and hinted that by allowing the mafia or whoever is responsible for this to continue its operation, the government can stay out of it. On the surface, I guess it could be argued that these people are "working" during the day and, with the money collected, they pay for their living costs. Of course, only sick and twisted people would argue that. This is modern day slavery at least and there is no excuse for treating people like this. None.

Let's pretend that my three "informants" are all wrong and just lying to me. Fine, but it still doesn't change the fact that I have seen these people dropped off on the streets like animals only to sit all day without food, water, or a bathroom. This type of thing should not happen to the helpless. If they were just a little crazy, a tad mentally "off" or made the choice to beg, then that's their decision, but these specific men are clearly not in charge of making decisions for themselves. They are being pimped out by greedy hands and forced to endure endless days of deprivation without being given a chance to say "no". I'm sorry, but that's slavery.

I will continue to do more research on these "Seal Men" and hope that I can find some more definitive answers soon. Until then...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Getting Hired and Other Tips for Non-Caucasians Looking to Teaching in South Korea

Here’s the question:

I was born, raised and educated in England. I also graduated from a top university. I have been applying for teaching jobs in Korea for about three months, but have been rejected immediately. I have all of my paperwork in hand and there doesn’t appear to be any other problems aside from the fact that I am of Indian decent.

So, I ask, am I being rejected strictly because of my race? And if I do get a job, do I even want to put myself in such a position?

I actually have another friend who is having the exact same problem. He's been applying for about a month and never gets past the first phase which is the resume/photo submission. This is an issue that gets discussed a lot on K-blogs and Im certain that everybody knows someone who has dealt with this discriminatory practice. Not a great first impression of Korea, huh?

I'm not going to talk about race relations in depth really. The topic has been covered over and over again by countless bloggers and journalists from hundreds of angles and perspectives, so let me give you the shortend version: Korea developed at a pace that few nations have experienced. During that time, every aspect of traditional Korean life was challenged, bent or broken. Due to the rapid speed at which globalization tore through the Hermit Kingdom, people didn't have much time to be introduced to the rest of the world. So, we now have a Korean society where (in terms of ethnicity), that is slowly working towards open tolerance, but is still decades away. The bottom line is that Koreans have only “accepted” Caucasians at this point and there is a waiting line for the rest. It sucks, but that's where we are.

So, why can’t you, a native English speaker who meets the minimum requirements for teaching in Korea, get a job? Well, it's all about enrollment, money, stereotypes, fear and (and this one might be the biggest reason) mothers. The Korean mother has all educational power and, if many of them bond together, they can pretty much guarantee that a small English academy will be closed down.

Here's a fictional story based on what I have seen:

Without knowing, a school hires a teacher with tattoos on his forearms. He starts teaching. The students innocently tell their mother about the tattoos. Her instincts tell her that this new teacher has been involved with bad people because tattoos = bad. Maybe she thinks he was a criminal, involved with drugs or something equally "terrifying", but the stereotype has been identified and matched and now she is going to pin all sorts of negative traits on this teacher. The fact that teachers on E2 visas have to submit background checks and pass drug tests doesn't matter. After all, she believes real teachers don't have tattoos and since he does, that means he can't be a real teacher and her kids deserve the best.

So, in a panic, she tells her fellow hagwon mothers. They exchange information and relay second-hand horror stories about teachers with tattoos. Now, all the mothers in that class believe that the new teacher is dangerous. They talk to the director. They complain. The director can't fire the teacher (yet) because if they don't have a teacher, then that means less classes and less money. The parents are upset because the director is putting their children "in danger". They pull their kids out of the school. The next day, some of the remaining children who are in other classes notice that their friends aren't there anymore. They tell their mothers. Their mothers call other mothers. The cycle starts again and the hagwon's reputation gets destroyed and eventually it closes.

I have seen this type of thing several times. Perception is king in Korea and if a teacher gets an "X" put on him or her, then there are few ways to get out unscathed. Directors know that, so they avoid the situation. How do they avoid it? By only hiring typical "white" North Americans.

In the case of the questioner, I have a feeling that directors and recruiters don't believe that someone who looks Indian could be a native speaker. Remember, perception dictates treatment and just like the tall, white women with blond hair who get accused of being Russian prostitutes, the England-born Indian will be viewed as Indian and only Indian.

It's a bad deal and an even worse introduction to Korea, but there are ways to beat the system. As I mentioned, hagwons operate at the will of mothers. If there's one mother who riles the troops up into a frenzy, then the hagwon risks losing money. However, public schools, international schools, universities and adult language institutes have a different system and are not subject to the strong-armed Korean mothers. They do not discriminate as much as hagwons.

Applying Tips

If you don't want to wade through the discriminatory hiring waters, then there is a way to do it.

1) Don't apply with recruiters

Recruiters typically try to push teachers into positions they don't want. Trust me, I've been a recruiter. That's what we were encouraged to do. They want easy cash which means easy cases. An African-American or, in this case, a Brit of Indian decent requires a lot of work for the recruiter and, as we know, placement is not
guaranteed. Save yourself the trouble and cut them out of the loop.

2) Apply directly

As I said, avoiding hagwons is crucial. Not only will you save time, but you might be dodging some serious headaches later. And since hagwons typically get teachers from recruiting agencies, you'll need to handle your own case. It's possible as well. All you have to do is apply directly. Universities, public schools (government-run), and adult institutes all have websites where you can apply directly. Take care of it yourself.

3) Play the game

If you're really set on coming to Korea and want to teach in hagwons, want to use a recruiter and everything else, then you have to play the game. Hagwons and recruiters judge you on your picture more than your resume. They look at your skin color, your facial hair, your weight, your expression, your hair and even your surroundings. The reason schools don't want to hire non-whites is because Korea has a pretty good grasp on their idea of "white culture", but they don't know enough other races. So, play into the stereotypes. I really hate offering that advice, but if you are intent on working in such a medium then you've gotta play the game.

4) Don't get frustrated

Just because schools and recruiters (and maybe mothers) have unfounded concerns about hiring anyone that does not fit their narrow definition of what a native speakers should be, that does not mean you should give up. You will regret it.

5) Don't assume the worst

Douche-bag recruiters, directors and mothers are not at all representative of Korean people in general. No one is. Just because your first interaction might have been a bad one, that does not mean that that is the norm. Remember, it's not only about race. It's about being different. Men with long hair, big beards or visible tattoos get left out just as much as African-Americans. The reason white people are tolerated more here is because of exposure. Koreans have been exposed to Caucasians for decades and so the more non-white people who make their way to the peninsula, the more exposure Koreans will get.

I know the system is messed up, but time is the only thing that can fix some of these stereotypes. Until then, be smart, have a good game plan and avoid the avoidable.

If anyone needs direct links to schools, let me know and I will provide them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Motor-Scooter's in South Korea Podcast

Here's the question:

I keep thinking about getting a scooter, BUT I've never had lessons in how to drive one and don't have any experience (apart from riding motorbikes all the time as a kid, haha). I would only use it to go to and from work, quick trip to E-mart, trips to the park, etc....nothing crazy across town and I could avoid big busy streets.

What are your recommendations. I'm a little freaked out to be honest with you cause everyone says they are SO dangerous. It would be fun, I would be safe, and it would make my life much more convenient. Any advice on licensing and driving instructions, where to buy, etc would be a big help. THANKS!

I decided to answer this one of the podcast.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Handicapped Beggers in the Streets of South Korea

Here is the question:
Hello Expat!We see many people around Seoul who are asking for cash. I'm sure you've seen them:

1) Blind people on subways, slowly making their way through cars, either with pre-recorded music, or perhaps playing a harmonica

2) Older people in subway stations, parking themselves at the bottom of
a stairway, perhaps remaining in a bowed position on the ground

3) People who have had a leg removed, and walk around with their pant leg rolled up, to get sympathy

And perhaps the saddest cases of all...
4) Men laying prone on little rolling carts, with their non-functioning legs wrapped in what looks like inner tubes.

Our question is: Are these folks generally
"on their own," or are they the "front people" for others who take a large cut of the money they collect?

In the US, we would tend to support organizations who in turn provide services to the needy. Which Korean organization(s) provide those same services?

This is a HUGE question that touches on so many different issues. Who are these people? Why are they begging or how did they become homeless? How did they lose their limbs? Do they have family? Why are they on the streets in the fashion they are? What does the government do to help? The questions are endless and "Ask the Expat" generally doesn't go into that much detail, but this is one that I, too, have always been curious about (question #4 in particular).

I guess we should start by identifying who these people are. It's hard to say, but some of them are just your average jobless or homeless dudes and luckily, there has been a good study done on homelessness in South Korea. I'd suggest reading it so you can get a better idea of who might fit each of the categories mentioned by the questioner. I will refer to some of the data from time to time.

I'm going to answer this one in three posts. The longer the posts, the less people read and I think that if people knew more about this, then they would be more inclined to throw out a couple bills.

The first group can be paired with the third group because they are both handicapped in some way. I separated the fourth group because their situation is much different. True, they are also handicapped (mentally or physically), yet there are a few other things going on there.

South Korea does not take great care of their handicapped citizens. There are glaring problems that need to be addressed. For starters, most of Korea is not handicapped-accessible and discrimination is rampant in companies and higher education institutes around the country.

"I was the only applicant for the PhD degree but my application was rejected because I have a disability,” claimed Ms. Lee, a 27 year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy who says she was discriminated against due to her illness.

And it's not just the handicapped who have a difficult time finding jobs or being taken care of by the State. Fat people and people with poor vision also get left out. The situation never really got much attention until the late former Pres. Roh Moo-Hyun promised some increased welfare and benefits, but the effects of his promises have yet to be felt just as Oh Mi-sook realized when she made the choice to fight for refugee status rather than being sent back to Korea. Ms. Oh is not the first to try this either. All the way back in 1985, Park Soo-young was fighting the same battle. Why?

"...handicapped and mixed-race people are subject to extensive discrimination in Korea, so Park and his wife want to remain in the United States."

The fact that very similar cases have taken place over 20 years apart suggests the Korea still has a ways to go. I can even add two fellow expats stories to this. About two years ago, I was a little late for dinner with friends, so I joined them at the table and introduced myself to the new faces. One of the guys had been there for a week, but was stressed out because he was already out of a job. He had been fired because he had cerebral palsy. He was not able to find another job and had to leave Korea ON HIS DIME.

Another one comes from an American woman who had had her left leg amputated as a child. I worked with her for six months and not once did I notice her leg. I knew she was an amputee because she had mentioned it, but it was impossible to notice. Well, as I got to know her, it turned out that she had been fired from a kids hagwon. The school knew that she had a prosthetic limb, but once the parents spotted it on a hot summer "sports day", they complained, threatened to pull their kids out and just like that, she was kicked to the curb. Luckily, she was able to secure employment teaching adults presumably because the dress code called for more formal attire which covered her fake leg.

Still, all of that discrimination does not answer why they are on the streets or playing music in the subways. It comes down to care and the government has an interesting policy. The burden of care falls almost entirely on the family. And of course, some family members are tired of the burden or, in this horrible case, they take advantage of the burden.

The Cheongju District Court Thursday sentenced an 87-year-old grandfather and two uncles of a 16-year-old girl to four-year suspended prison terms for sexually assaulting and raping the girl for the last seven years. Another uncle received a three-year suspended jail term.

The court acknowledged that their crime was ``sinful'' as they used the young girl, who is their family member, to satisfy their sexual desires. But it gave the suspended terms, saying, ``The accused have fostered the girl in her parents' place. Considering her disability, she will also need their care and help in living in the future.

Change the wording around and it reads: "As long as anybody but the government has to pay and deal with this retard, then so be it." I apologize for being crass, but that's what it boils down to.

Even in modern day Korea, parents often give their life savings to their children at the time of their marriage. This setup usually leads to the parents falling back on their children when their age becomes an issue. One study suggests that daughter-in-laws are the ones who must shoulder the heavy burden of caring for a disabled relative. I'm speculating now, but I'm sure that imposed role comes with a large amount of resentment and anger which could lead to a parting of ways within the family.

And that brings us to where we are today. Thousands and thousands of people are alienated from society and their families because of their uncontrollable condition. They have little or no support, so they make do and head out to the subways and streets to beg for help. There's no telling where they live or how much they make, but I can guess it's not that much. -Not enough for them to be able to avoid begging on the streets.

I always make it a habit to put money in their cup or basket and, from where I'm sitting, it looks like -as an expat- that's about all I can do.

I will talk about the old people begging next and the "front groups" when I discuss category #4.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Private Tutoring in South Korea: Is it safe?

Here's the question:

I understand that teaching privates for E-2 holders is illegal and lucrative, yet many people do it anyway. I have quite a bit of debt and some financial obligations back home, and teaching privates or some other form of supplemental income would help me alot. How often do they do private tutoring crackdowns? What is the general safety of this practice?

I was wondering when I was going to get a question about privates.

Private tutoring is one of those things that nearly everyone seems to have done, speaks relatively openly about and is paid very well for. Sometimes people are approached on the streets, in subways or restaurants and other times, parents of students and adults in class ask for some extra help. Koreans are hungry for tutors in all subjects and many are willing to pay big bucks for it. Some might wonder if there is such a demand for it, then why has the government taken such a strong stance against it? Why not regulate it? They have. They're called hagwons.

I could opine if I wanted, but much has already been written about it. The gist is that the government has been working very hard recently and over the past decade to level the playing field so that all students and households have an equal shot at succeeding in school. There's also the growing concern that education costs are linked to the rapidly decreasing birthrate as well. Again, if you're interested in that, I'd suggest digging around Google and the K-blogosphere as nearly everyone has added their angle to the story.

As you know, it is illegal and there have been the occasional crackdowns and threats from the government, but in general it's pretty safe. I "officially" state that you should not do it since it is illegal and getting caught is always a possibility. If the police do catch up with you, then you can expect to be jailed, fined or deported. From time to time you'll also hear about small groups of citizens who band together in an effort to snuff out illegal teachers by propositioning them and then turning around and calling the police. (Think that's bad? Look at what the crazies over at Anti-English Spectrum do.) There's also the lame people who try to sell their privates (pun intended). I couldn't find any ads for them today, but just for the extreme levels of their douchiness for trying to squeeze cash out of other expats, we should all ignore these guys.

Bottom line is that many Koreans want tutors, they'll pay well (usually around 50,000/hr) and that's good for teachers (and them if you're effective), but if you are really set on tutoring privately, only accept gigs from people you know or from solid recommendations. Other than that, it's not worth searching. If they land in your lap, well, then there you go.

There are, however, legal routes to go if you want to make some solid extra cash. If you really love working all day, well, then get two jobs. It's possible. You can teach adults on the split shift and do an afternoon school gig in the middle. It's a lot of hours, but you'll be pulling over 5-6k a month, plus benefits and the potential for double housing cash. Or you can teach at a kindergarten place in the morning and early afternoon and then a hagwon till late into the night. There are plenty of ways to make solid LEGAL cash. Of course, if you're on the E2 then you'll need to get permission from the school who sponsors your visa. That can be tricky sometimes, but as long as the two mediums aren't vying for the same market, then you should have no problems.

You could also consider getting involved in some aspects of the entertainment industry, but that's for another question and another post.

In the end, teaching privately is a lucrative business and can make you some big bucks. However, it could also end in deportation. If you have the F2 visa, then you can teach privately, but you're supposed to register with the government and report all earnings so you can pay taxes on them.

Making and saving money is important and you will be tempted to privately tutor. If you do, then that's your business. Just know that it could lead to problems.

Has anybody been caught in the game?

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gambling in South Korea: Who can do it?

Here's the question:

Is it true that only foreigners with passports are allowed to gamble in the casinos?

That is true. Koreans are not allowed to gamble in any casinos except for Kangwon Land in Gangwon Province. So, if you hold a passport from any other nation you will be granted access to the casino. I've heard that in a couple places, they will allow you to enter with your ARC, but bringing the passport certainly wouldn't hurt. You don't want to get turned away, especially if you made a road trip out of it. And you'll have plenty of options since there are a lot of casinos in Korea. I, on the other hand, have not been to any outside of Seoul, so I can't vouch for their quality or atmosphere.

I have talked to many Koreans about this issue and have asked them why it is illegal for them to gamble in casinos in Seoul. After all, many of them also go to the Horse Racing tracks, play the lottery, gamble online, play the slots or maybe even a friendly low-stakes Go-Stop game. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me or them as I have yet to get a cohesive response. Most of the responses tread between tax liability and licensing, but all of them are vauge shots in the dark. But alas, I found some direction or at least some laws.

In principle, any gambling activities (or speculative activities) are prohibited in Korea. Article 246 of the Criminal Act punishes a person who gambles or bets for the purpose of gaining property by a fine of not more than five million won or a minor fine. Article 247 of Criminal Act prohibits opening of a gambling place for a profit and punishes a person who violates this provision by imprisonment of not more than three years or by a fine not exceeding twenty million won.

However, Korea has allowed certain gambling activities to be operated in the nation under restricted circumstances (e.g., promotion of public welfare, tourism) pursuant to special laws enacted.

The example provided in the second paragraph reveals why Kangwon Land is open. Gangwon-do is a poor province. By allowing a casino to operate there serves as a "promotion of public welfare" AND "tourism". Two birds.

Under the Special Act on the Assistance to the Development of Abandoned Mine Areas, Gangwon-land casino located in abandoned mining district in Gangwon province is presently the only casino that Korean citizens may enter. Obviously, this casino is located in a very remote countryside to restrict access by Korean individuals, and there is no casino located in an urban area.

The area near Kangwon Land used to be a heavy coal-mining area, however, most of the mining industry closed down in the 1990s leaving Gangwon with the task of creating new jobs for the miners.

So, they went from this:

To hosting the 17th Seoul Music Awards:

Pretty big change if you ask me. If you really love (or are interested in) Kangwon Land, make sure to drop by its Google Finance site for the dirt on how well it's doing. Hint: The current economic climate hasn't been kind.

If you want to know how Koreans can visit the other gambling establishments and venues (like Horse Racing), then click here for a detailed wrap-up. I found this quote interesting though.

Obviously, this casino is located in a very remote countryside to restrict access by Korean individuals, and there is no casino located in an urban area.

Why is that obvious? It's not to me. There doesn't appear to be very many moral qualms about gambling in Korea since there are so many legal alternatives. The government allows gambling in the nation to promote tourism and while I recognize that Seoul is a huge city and that maybe the tables would be filled with Koreans every night, it makes me think of Las Vegas. After looking at the Airline Passenger stats, it's pretty clear that domestic travelers account for more than ten times that of international travelers. Imagine a Las Vegas with a measly 200,000 international tourists rather than the nearly 4 million American it takes in monthly. Would Las Vegas be a tourist destination? Of course it wouldn't. No one would have heard about it.

I guess the rub is this: Does Korea want to be a hub of such activity? If yes, then I would suggest opening its casino doors to citizens and thereby creating a name for itself. It doesn't have to be in Seoul or Gyeonggi either. Throw a few in the Jeolla Provinces. Spread them out. If this whole thing is in the name of tourism, then they need to play the game.

If they don't want to increase gambling tourists, then so be it. Keep the doors closed, but this "No Koreans" policy begs the question: Is the government worried about the self-control of its citizens?

Let's hope not.

So, to answer your question simply: Yes. In every casino, but Kangwon Land, only foreigners with passports are allowed to enter.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.

Society and Law in South Korea: Some advice for new teachers

Here's the question:

Are there some basic laws you think foreigners should know? (i.e. In pretty much every other state in the U.S., jaywalking is illegal, but isn't enforced. In the state of California, jaywalking will lead to a ticket.)

On the same token, anything that IS legal in South Korea that foreigners will be happy to get away with that they usually can't at home.

Also, is it true that only foreigners with passports are allowed to gamble in the casinos?

Interesting. First of all, Korean law enforcement has a reputation for being highly corrupt(able). Things are improving, but they still have a ways to go. One should also consider that the application of the law is dependent the officer and/or judge involved in the case. There are cases in which you will get in serious trouble and then cases where the officer will let it go due to his apathy or the fact that a few bills were slipped his way. Gangnam, in particular, used to have a very bad reputation to the point that even housewives pushing 60 years of age could manage to bribe a traffic cop. Again, this trend seems to be slowing, but I'm sure the right price can get you out of anything.

The average expat isn't going to be that involved with the law like they would in their own nation, so I'll just focus on a few things that some people seem to get in trouble with or accused of more often: assault and fighting, driving laws and accidents, drugs, and improper conduct in the classroom.

While some of these don't seem like that big of deal, there are some things to consider.


Fighting is something that everyone wants to avoid. It's a waste of time, it hurts and ultimately settles nothing. Fighting with a Korean is even worse. In most cases, the law is going to back the Korean citizen rather than you. Even if you were sitting in a coffee shop, minding your own business and were accosted by a drunk Korean man, the first reaction of the Korean police is likely to assume YOUR (the non-Korean) guilt. The Metropolitician has a pretty good example of what it's like to be on the wrong side of the ethnic divide.

So the cops arrive. They listen to his harangue, filled with racial slurs and expletives, then when we're packing up because we've had our fill for the evening and thought our little friend was in good hands, the cop says *I* have to come down to the station. When I incredulously shot back, "Why?" the cop says that the guy is now saying I kicked him.

Make sure you read the whole thing and once you finish it, make sure you read his "Tips to avoid being assaulted in Korea" or even put in that situation. It's wordy, but worth it.

Of course, the police won't always side with the Korean citizen, but you should know what you could be up against.


Now, you might -as I did- feel inclined to increase your coolness and cruise around on a motor-scooter. Well, there are lots of drawbacks to that. Brendon Carr of the now sleepy K-Blog, Korea Law Blog, offers his thoughts on why he doesn't drive in Korea.

Korea handles automobile accidents according to an odd “blame-sharing” concept whereby both parties are always deemed to have some fault in the accident. The usual apportionment is 60-40. What this means is that the driver who caused the accident bears 60% of the responsibility (and therefore cost), and the driver who simply got crashed into gets stuck with 40% of the responsibility on some cockamamie theory that had he not been operating a motor vehicle he would not have gotten into the accident. So the 60% driver pays 60% of the damages incurred by the driver he struck, but receives from the driver he struck an offsetting payment of 40% of the 60% driver’s damages.

He also offers a horror story which is really close (if not the actual case) to one that my friend experienced a couple years ago.

We had a client and friend, an avid motorcyclist, who got himself struck by a bus—from behind, after the bus blew through a red light. Our friend was still deemed 20% responsible for the accident even though he spent weeks flat on his back laid up in the hospital, and had to pay the bus company some settlement for its damages (this was offset against what the bus company owed him, of course).

And accidents are common. As I Tweeted recently, I saw two semi-serious car accidents within ten minutes of each other on the same road (about a mile apart). Both of them were totally one-sided and every time I see those accidents, I think about how liability will be split. Honestly, there is no need to drive in Seoul. The transportation system is amazing.


Now on to drugs. Don't do them. Don't look for them and don't talk about them at work or with Koreans. Personally, I have no problems with people who use drugs. As long as they don't bother me or anyone else, then they're only harming themselves. I do, however, have a problem with it in Korea. The stereotype runs so deep among Koreans that even a Korean staff reporter from ABC News took a few shots at teachers here. All it takes is a few idiots who can't stop getting high for a few months and the media runs with it. It's impossible to truly quantify how many teachers actually use drugs here, but the arrest rates are very low. If you do get arrested, it will not be a simple fine. Prepare for some huge headaches. Matt from Gusts of Popular Feeling has a solid write-up on it.


Behave as you would at home. Don't go to class drunk. Don't teach your students stupid and inappropriate things. Don't teach your life. Don't talk about drugs. Don't talk about drinking. Don't talk about your love life (especially if you are dating a Korean). Don't vent your frustrations with Korea in the classroom. Don't let them give you stupid nicknames. Don't sleep. Don't do any excessive hugging or lap-sitting. I know it seems like a lot of warnings and that's because it is. Even though these all seem obvious as hell, some teachers continue to behave poorly in class. Due to the current state of the Korean media and their love for scapegoating, I'd say that for every shitty teacher who gets in trouble, thousands of other teachers must share the blame. It's not fair, sure, but that's the name of the game.

If you want to teach in Korea, then you must act like a teacher. Sure, it's fun to have a relaxed class and fun atmosphere, but there is a tendency to let that relaxation effect your teaching style and passion. Once that happens, trouble starts.

Teachers get accused of bad things from time to time. Don't let it be you.

Things that do not exist in Korea...

* Innocent until proven guilty
* Pretty much everything in the Bill of Rights.

Korea is not a strict place, but sometimes a seemingly small infraction can lead to big trouble. So, do yourself a favor: Be smart and stay clear of trouble.