How-To Korea: How to send mail from a Korea Post Office to the U.S.

I’d avoided it for weeks. For months. I’d been amassing a collection of Korean goodies for my friends and family since I arrived in August. But I just couldn’t make the final leap, the last and most crucial (and painful) step: tackling the Korean Post Office.

I hate post offices. They’re sterile. They beat the DMV for long, slow-moving lines. The employees are generally, to put it kindly, less than helpful. And I can never, ever, get a straight answer about what kind of shipping to use. These issues arise when I try to send mail in the country where I speak the language. I’ve been having nightmares about the Korean post office for weeks.

As Christmas rolled around, I knew I had to bite the bullet. It couldn’t be avoided any longer. Packed and labeled Christmas packages had been sitting in my apartment for weeks, taunting me.

But I had no reason to fear the Korean postal service. It rocks! It was the least painful post office run I’ve ever made (aside from the $150 I dropped on shipping). We just jumped in a cab and asked for the nearest post office.

Tip #1: For anyone looking for a post office in Korea, they’re relatively easy to find. Just ask for the woo che guk, the Korean word for post office. Or, look for their red sign with a bird on it.

Immediately after opening the post office doors, we were greeted by an English-speaking employee who not only showed us which shipping containers to use, but helped us to set up, pack and label them with lightning speed and efficiency. I’ve already written about the outta-this-world customer service in Korea, but it continues to leave me in shock and awe.

Tip #2: Wait to pack your box until you get to the post office. For one, they may not accept your box. There are limits to the types and size of boxes. The second reason is you may end up paying more for an oddly sized box. Third reason? They will help you pack and tape up the box at the post office.

Tip #3: You have to fill out a customs form before sending packages overseas. It doesn’t take that long, but allow for a few extra minutes, especially if you are sending multiple packages.

Tip #4: Post offices in Korea are generally open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, although during the winter months (November to February) they may only be open until 5 p.m. Also, most post offices are closed on the weekends, although some forum posts suggest there may be a few open on Saturday.

After double-checking that each of my five packages were correctly labeled, we lugged our haul to the counter, where they quickly weighed and tallied it. The downside of sending mail from Korea to the US: even the more expensive option, shipping by air, takes two weeks to a month to arrive. Shipping by boat (what the post office calls “surface”) is considerably cheaper, but takes two to three months to reach it’s destination. Still, the shipping experience itself was about as pleasant as could be.

So, a big apology to all of my friends and family, whose Christmas presents are still hurtling across the world to land on your doorsteps (in a week or two). I guess I should start sending birthday gifts now…

Waygookin’s first jesa

Before I jump into the whole complicated story, allow me to begin with some background: jesa is a Korean memorial service held on the anniversary of an ancestors’ death. As it’s been explained to me, this usually goes back for four generations — Abeoji and Eomeoni (father and mother); Harabeoji and Halmeoni (grandfather and grandmother); great-grandparents; and finally, great-great-grandparents.

If you’re keeping track, that translates to eight jesa a year. (No wonder Korean women avoid marrying eldest sons, as it’s the wife of the eldest son who’s in charge of preparing the extremely complicated and time-consuming jesa table.)

The ceremony is a very involved one, with many minute steps required to pull off the perfect jesa. (The Ask A Korean blog has an interesting and extremely detailed description of the process here.) The gist of it is this: once a year, on the anniversary of the departed’s death date, the surviving family members pay tribute to their forebears by preparing an enormous feast for the ancestor; by performing special rites (among them burning incense, pouring alcohol, and tapping chopsticks in a bowl three times).

Obviously, I’m a novice: jesa is still a mystery to me, but it’s an extraordinary insight into the importance of Korean traditions. After reading about it, I asked my friend and co-teacher a few details about the ceremony. She, in turn, invited me to her family’s next jesa. I was shocked. I didn’t think any non-family members were allowed, much less a clumsy white girl who can’t even do a proper jeol (an honorific bow).

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Korean kids are crazy for gonggi

You like that alliteration? I thought so. I want to weigh in on the school-wide — and, from what I can tell, Korea-wide obsession with gonggi (which also means “air”).

It’s like the Korean version of Jacks, and it goes something like this: Hold all five gonggitdol (colorful, round, plastic playing pieces) in your hand. Toss gonggi on the table/floor/friend’s back/any level playing surface in sight. Strategically choose one gonggi; pick it up. Toss chosen gonggi in the air while scooping up one gonggi; catch the tossed gonggi. On the next turn, scoop up two gonggi, then three, etc.

Of course, there are finer points of the game, as well as different “versions” (which I think just refer to the skill level or style of the player). These include babo (stupid) gonggi (“Boy, you really suck.” This is the category of gonggi player I fall into); genius gonggi (“Damn, you are really good, and spend too much time playing gonggi instead of studying”); and ddalki (strawberry) gonggi (I have no idea what that could possibly mean, but the student who demonstrated did a particular sweeping motion when scooping up the gonggi).

After seeing the rabid gonggi consumption between classes, I decided to integrate them into one of my lessons. After each “level” completed in gonggi, the students had to answer a question about the lesson. This was particularly effective since many of the kids who rarely participate are in the “genius gonggi” category (like I said, too much gonggi, too little study). In this case, their gonggi skills became their downfall, and my victory, muahahahaha! Yes, that’s my evil seonsaengnim (teacher) laugh.

Incidentally, my biffle Kalynn introduced me to gonggi a couple of years ago back in the States, but I had no clue that it was a Korean game until I moved here. The more you know … (cue Reading Rainbow theme song).

Here’s a brief how-to on gonggi:

Welcome to Korea: My first day as a middle school teacher

…..well, sorta. Today I experienced a common trend of teaching English in Korea, the infamous….dun dun dun….desk warming!

I was under the impression that I would come in for a little while in the morning, take a tour of my new digs at Gu-Am Middle School, meet the principal and peace out. But, they like to get their allotted time out of you, even if you’re just sitting around doing nothing, so I had a full day of just that.

I did use my time to plan my first few lessons, though. I was on a roll, until they changed the section of the book that they told me to teach and I had to re-do them all. Basically, it took me the whole day to write four lesson plans. I gotta get faster at that!

I was really early for school today, because I left the house super early. I was sure I’d get lost. Actually, I had no problems finding it — a minor miracle. It’s about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I was taking in the cool morning air, enjoying the new scenery (mountains, whoa!), and thinking about how much better this is than driving everywhere. Of course,  I nearly forgot that sometimes there will be rain, snow and other inconvenient acts of nature. It will be an adventure!

There’s not a whole lot to report for the “big” first day. The school is nice; I have my own desk in the teacher’s room, where most of the teacher’s just smile sweetly and nod when I say hello. I’ve been trying out my Korean greetings, to mixed reactions. Some people seem surprised and pleased that I can even form words in Korean; others seem to grimace at what I’m sure is my miserable pronunciation.

None of the teachers at my school speak much English (ironically, not even the English teachers) so I am still unclear as to how my classes will be run. First they told me that I wouldn’t have a co-teacher (which is actually illegal, a co-teacher is required to be in class with me at all times). I wouldn’t complain though; I think in a lot of ways running a class would be much easier alone. Then they told me I would have a co-teacher, but I’m not really sure who teaches which grades, which part of the lesson I’m responsible for, how much time I’m allotted in each lesson — you know, minor details. In short, I’ve got bupkis. I planned my first few lessons from start to finish so that I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me.

One of the English teachers is so sweet and cute (although she did make fun of me for my poor use of chopsticks). She offered to help me with my Korean, so I hope that I won’t be so useless at this language for long.

I am still getting the hang of wearing “inside shoes,” “outside shoes” and “shower shoes.” All the teachers look really funny because even though they’re dressed up for work, they’re all wearing these funny indoor slippers (like the Adidas slip-ons that were popular a decade or more ago) and crazy patterned socks with their trousers and dress shirts or dresses.

I ate lunch with the teachers today, which I was nervous about because … Continue reading

Welcome to Korea: Chickpea vs. Daegu

Anyeong haseo from Daegu!

I am officially in my new apartment.  So much is going on, but I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. First of all, you can thank someone in my building for this post, as I’m using their unsecured wireless network. I probably won’t be able to get Internet at my house for about a month, since I need my Alien Registration Card to set it up, and that won’t come for a month or so. I’ll just have to hope Mister or Mrs.  Unsecured Wireless doesn’t notice that I’m using his connection, or use a PC bang (Internet cafe) until then.

My big lesson plan presentation yesterday went well — my group took second place overall, which was nice. I wasn’t too nervous, and I feel a lot better about writing lesson plans now. Thanks, EPIK!

Last night was fun — we had the farewell dinner and a talent show by our fellow teachers. It sort of felt like the grown-up version of the last night at camp. Of course, lots of people went out afterwards, but Alex was feeling sick and we had a big day today so we just packed out stuff and hit the hay early. Yeah, yeah, we’re old.

Today was, of course, the big day. We had a four-hour bus ride from the orientation site to Daegu, where we finally met our co-teachers. Turns out I am the first native teacher my new school has ever had. I think this is a good thing, since they have no preconceptions about Native English Teachers — some previous NETs give us a bad reputation. Also, that means they’re as new at this as I am, so that helps.

So, it turns out I’m teaching middle school — hoorah! In Korea, middle school is  the equivalent of grades 7, 8 and 9 in the U.S. (13 to 15 year olds). I’ll only be teaching grades 1 and 3 (7th and 9th grades). This is great news because it means fewer co-teachers and fewer lesson plans.

I also found out that I’ll have my own … Continue reading

10 lessons I learned from unemployment

Department Of Labor Hosts Job Fair For Veterans At U.S.S. Intrepid

So my long lapse of unemployment has ended. No, I’m not writing news again — just product descriptions for a few well-known online retailers. Not the ideal job, but in this economy, I’d be lucky to have a job at Taco Bell.

So, how do I feel? One part relieved, two parts depressed and another half-part anxious. The latter comes from a feeling I’ll always have after my first lay-off: This could happen again. In fact, my current employer already seems a little shaky; they laid off 8 people just last week.

Anyway, I’ve been working for a few weeks now and I’ve had some time to reflect on my year of unemployment. What have I learned?

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How to get your FBI file

I’ve always been a little paranoid. But, like the popular shirt says, “You only have to be right once to make it all worthwhile.” And so, last year, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation asking for my FBI file.

I fantasized about what would come back. Did they know about the protests I attended during college? What about the prank calls in high school? I knew I shouldn’t have egged that old man’s house …

Here’s how I did it:

1. File a Freedom of Information Act request. There are several sites that give you the basic format, but use the FBI’s own form. Basically, you have to formally request your file and then give several pieces of identifying information like your Social Security number, birthdate and last few addresses.

2. Sign, date and put a stamp on it. E-mailed requests are ignored.

3. Wait. And wait. And wait some more. I waited close to five months. Use that time to read up on famous people’s FBI files. Did you know Dezi Arnaz, of “I Love Lucy” fame, had a file? So did Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court.

4. Don’t get your “hopes” up. Despite what your crazy college roommate might tell you, the FBI (officially) does not keep a file on every U.S. citizen. That being said, who knows what you’ve done that they know about.

After several weeks, a thin envelope will arrives.You’ll probably rip it open, half-expecting it to be a handwritten note asking you to meet an agent on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for “some questions.” But, alas, most likely, you’ll receive a single sheet of paper, simply stating: “No records responsive to your FOIPA request were located by a search of the automated indices.”

Bummer.

5. Try to avoid attracting any more attention. Now you know the FBI isn’t interested in you. Keep it that way.