Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What makes Korean Christmas unique?

Here's the question:
I'm putting together a funny email for my family and was wondering if you knew any unique Christmas traditions that Koreans celebrate. 
That's a pretty general question and I'm sure that whatever I list has been listed millions of times by others. So, I'm going to avoid most of the commercially-imported stuff along with the mandatory Christmas accessory (boyfriend/girlfriend) , Christmas cakes and the gigantic Coca-Cola advertisement that is Gangnam.

I think the most unique part of Korean Christmas is that instead of putting gifts under the tree, many Koreans put gifts next to the heads and/or on the pillows of their sleeping loved ones.  

Anyone care to add something unique to that list?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Buses with Bathrooms?

Here's the question:
Planning on teaching in Korea (of course English) and hoping to travel all over the country. What I am concerned about is the long trips (3 hours or over) that you have to take on bus rides. Do these buses have bathrooms? I heard that during these trips people like to eat and specifically drink? During a bus ride and let's say for lack of a better word have to pee or even worse go #2, what do people do during these types of situations?
I'm a big fan of bathroom-related questions. You can tell a lot about people, cultures and history based on their bathroom habits, jokes and facilities.

I personally stay away from a lot of bus travel for this very reason. First of all, no buses available to the general public have bathrooms on them. Instead, the driver will pull into a very busy rest-stop at the halfway point on most trips over 2.5 or 3 hours. Of course, not everyone has the exact same bladder functions and this presents a problem. 

In all honesty, you have one option: begging the driver to pull over

In most cases, they will. It's not totally uncommon to see a bus in the shoulder and a lone passenger ducking behind the bushes. It's embarrassing for sure, but much better than, say, pooping in your pants.

Koreans have largely gotten used to this arrangement and since they're also the world's greatest transit sleepers, they generally doze through the entire process. 

In other words, make sure that you're empty before the trip and don't booze too heavily the night before.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Buying Real Christmas Trees in Korea: It's not worth the effort

Here's the question:
Do you have any clue where I can buy a real Christmas tree? I've asked all my co-workers and they have no idea. I live in Suwon. Where can I go???
Man, this question never seems to go away.  Before I even begin, let me start with a quote from one of my old pals who lived in Korea for nearly six years. I was chatting with him about this online.
Me: I'm looking for real trees in the Gyeonggi area. It's a brutal search.
Him: Real Korea? Army base?
Me: That's about all I can think of, too.
Him: If you find a place and its owned by a Korean make sure to congratulate him for me on having the most useless business imaginable.
As cynical as it sounds, it's true. Koreans aren't into real Christmas trees at this point and opening a business for it just wouldn't be that lucrative. In other words, there aren't many tree lots opening in the parking lot of Kim's Club or Home Plus. And even if there were, the fire codes in most Korean apartments and villas would prohibit such decorations. Besides, why would Korea need real stuff when they're a leading manufacturer of the fake ones? 

Option one is finding a Korean tree farm. They do exist. A thread on Dave's mentioned a site called, but unless you've got some Korean language skills or a friend willing to do a lot of leg work then I'd suggest you try another route. Chances are that you won't want to invest the time.

Your next bet is to look online and find a company that delivers to Korea. I found this one, but you'll have to contact them for a quote.  There are plenty more out there. Snoop.

You could also try finding a connection within the US military. Yongsan, Humphreys and Osan all have trees for sale on site, but getting on the base and getting the tree out is a challenge in and of itself. Remember, military personal all have ration control cards that prevents them from doing an awful lot with the products they purchase. If you have a friend with a car on one of those bases, then that's your ticket. Don't count on it, though.

Your last bet is a little risky and pretty damn stupid, but if you're really desperate then I'd suggest heading to a sleepy piece of forest and pulling a Clark Griswold. 

Don't do that. 

Chances are that after an hour or two of searching and calling your Korean buddies or friend who has a friend on Yongsan, you'll get tired and start looking for a fake one. Gone Seoul Searching tried the same thing and ended up at Daiso instead, but since there are endless places to find fake trees, there's no need to discuss that.

I know it's frustrating, but luckily after you return home to your respective nation you can rest easy knowing that the Frasier fir you're admiring probably was a native species of Korea. If you think the widely criticized Korea Times article was obnoxious, just type in "아비에스 코리아나" into Naver or Daum for pages of endless nationalism on full display.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shipping on the Slow Boat to America

Here's the question:

Hey do you know how much the slow boat costs roughly. Lets say I wanted to ship a box from Korea to NYC, filled with clothes and what not.  Lets say it weighs 50 pounds. How does one go about doing this? 

This is a pretty simple one. Since you don't want to deal with FedEx, you can simply visit your local post office. Before going, I'd spend a few minutes looking over the English site of the Korean post office. United States (as well as Canada and the UK) are in Zone 2. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are in Zone 3. 

Shipping a box around 50lbs (22kg) looks like it'll cost around 40,000 KRW if you go the surface route. By air, it'll run you 120,000 KRW and SAL will cost about 150,000 KRW. If time is not an issue, sending it by boat is easily the cheapest method. There are a few other fees you might want to consider as well before shipping it, but it's pretty simple.