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Married: Immigration Stuff

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

This is more a cross-link than anything else, but we have put up a site (in English and Korean!) that deals with what we went through from her student visa through the immigration interview.
Anyone who is interested in the whole green card process can check it out on Foreign-Relations.com.

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Categories: Etcetera, Married

Relationships : Return

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

This Christmas I returned to Korea for a month with my girlfriend. As soon as Finals were finished, we rushed to the airport and hopped from Detroit (missing the terrorist scare that happened two days later) to Narita to Busan.
First, the practical: Busan is a much easier-going airport, and it’s so much closer to Pohang. If you need to fly into Pohang, Busan, etc, it’s worth paying a hundred or so more to go to Busan. The bus from Inchon to Pohang was about $70, last time I checked, and took about 5 hours if traffic is good. The car ride from Busan to South Pohang was about an hour and a half. So much nicer. I don’t think Busan had free wifi, though. I didn’t check carefully, though.
I stayed with her parents for the duration of the trip. I’d met them before, when I was a student at Sunlin University, so things were not too awkward. Their apartment was bigger than the one I’d stayed in with my roommate, but still smaller than what I would expect for a small city in America. That said, the use of space was interesting. The water heater was in the living room. There was a piano, but no couches or chairs; we sat on a rug on the floor. The TV was also the computer (which I prefer, anyway). The living room phased seamlessly to a kitchen/dining room.
There were three bedrooms. The one I stayed in was about 5 paces by 7 paces. Small paces. The bed mattress sat directly on the floor (no frame), and off the side there was a closed in porch. There were similar porches on the other side of the apartment and off the kitchen. These porches were storage and closet space, and worked ok, except that they could get bitterly cold in the winter (and presumably hot in the summer, but neither condition is uncommon).
We ate lots of different foods. I got to try Bundaegi: A boiled silk worm larva, which tastes bad. It would be much better fried, in my opinion. I ate more Boshintang (dog soup) and learned that different colored dogs have different qualities. I ate lots of rice, but not an overwhelming amount. We ate a variety of seafood. We also ate some very good Tofu, amongst the best I’ve had.
I met her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. They were very nice, accepting people. Her uncle tried acupuncture on me. It didn’t hurt, but it also didn’t seem to have an effect. I played games with her cousins, which I lost terribly. I watched her get something called “dum” which the Internet suggests might be called Moxibustion. Basically, the process involved normal acupuncture, followed by placing a small, cylindrical wick over the needle and letting it burn down. The wick worked a lot like a “punk” used on the forth of July, and burned very slowly. It was a charcoal black color and contained an undefined medicine. It was supposed to be a lot more effective, though it didn’t seem to actually work that much, and analytically, I don’t know what it added besides heat.
We went “skating” on a frozen river. Since they don’t get much rainfall in the winter, the river was quite low. And, because their temperatures were more stable, the ice was thick. Tons of people were out walking on the ice. The skating was actually renting little sleds. Even sled seems like a misnomer, as these were small squares of plywood with thin angle-iron screwed to the bottom. Still, it was a lot of fun, and not too cold.
I met some of her former work friends. They talked for five hours in rushed, difficult Korean, and I followed almost none of it. It was boring, after a while, but I survived. I also got to see a Korean health Clinic. A simple examination, with prescription, was only $4 (including the medicine) with insurance. Gas was much more expensive, however.
Christmas was fun, but less eventful. We ate a cake and went to church in the morning. Still, it was nice to do something, as Christmas isn’t really as big a deal to them as it is to us, even among Christians. It was at least as reverent, though. Speaking of reverence, I went to her family’s church. It was a big church downtown I’d been to a few times. The main service was ok, but not really to my liking. The real impression was made after the normal service, when the pastor spent about 45 minutes detailing his 10 year plan, complete with PowerPoint slides. It was very much a business meeting and seemed incredibly too money-and-growth focused. I was disgusted by it, and so was her family. However the next three Sundays the pastor did the same thing. I would have given up and found a new church, personally, but they still go there (eight months later).
Language was difficult. While my listening had improved, my speaking had devolved. I was a lot less confident and simply less practiced. My girlfriend is studying to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test, so we always spoke in English, and there was little occasion to use more advanced Korean. I did find that I could talk to her brother, easily, if the subject was technical or computer game based. Her dad was also very good at guessing what I meant. Her family was very nice.
Easily the most difficult part was space. There was no time alone. Even in the room, I could hear everything in the living room and the kitchen, and outside and the upstairs neighbors. There was probably not more than 5 hours of alone time in the whole month, and maybe another 5 that I could spend with just my girlfriend. And because she was at home for a month, after being gone a year, she felt obligated to spend every moment with her family.
Still, overall, it was a good trip. I will be posting more, later, about the progress of our relationship, but for now, here are some pictures from that trip:

There : Glasses and the Importance of Friends

October 12, 2007 Leave a comment

I got new glasses this week. If you wear glasses, and you go to Korea, you should get new glasses. Even if you don’t need new glasses. Because it’s just that easy.

My friend Grace went with me, which helped tremendously. She did pretty much all the talking for me. First they scanned my current glasses, one lens at a time on this laser machine. Then I sat down at a little scope machine and they cycled through settings (silently) and could magically tell when things were in focus (I don’t say anything). Then they said that the prescription was the same as my old glasses (fine). I picked out a frame (with the assistance of a designated Girl, AKA someone with fashion sense) and paid, and was told to come back in about an hour. My glasses were done, exam to fitting, in less than an hour. The man even went to lengths to make sure they fit well, using a plastic forming deal to bend the frames. This was better service than you get in a week in Kansas. Grand total? $50 for everything. EVERYTHING. Even the exam. They even gave me a carrying case and lens clothes, which aren’t amazing, but it shows they didn’t skimp on anything. I have no idea how much contacts cost here, but if you wear glasses, pick up more, even if it’s just to have a spare.

This incident is another good example of how important it is to have friends. Not that it’s unimportant in your home country, but it’s infinitely more important in the tangible sense abroad. Grace has been really good about not just helping me explore Korean culture, but doing the more necessary things that are difficult to do solo, without language experience. It’s a fine line between helping out and babying someone through everything, but I think it’s going well on my end, and I hope (and check regularly) that I’m not being a burden on her and my other friends.

Speaking of other friends, having a native friend like Jared is another jewel in the “if you can, do” crown. It is so relieving to be able to discuss things with someone from a similar background. It could easily seem that you’re going crazy with some issues, and talking about them with someone who was once (or still is) as mystified about it as you is wonderfully therapeutic. Additionally, Jared has the added experience that is useful in cautioning me towards or away from certain things. Never fail to consider advice, even advice you know isn’t completely correct, when you are faced with a new situation. It shouldn’t make your decisions for you, but it should at least give you insight. Another thing that is nice about having another foreign-native friend is the fact that you can talk normally, and even use references, if even for a short while. There are plenty of English meetings and English bars and such you can go to if you’re nowhere near another Weagook in your normal day.

There is also the friendship I get at church, which is invaluable. There is also the friendship of my roommates, which offer me, individually, a total native perspective and a different brand of outsider perspective. Things are different for a Cambodian student in Korea than an American, and it’s interesting to see what they see and experience different than I. The native experience is obvious in it’s worth, and is tempered with the fact that he’s studied abroad in England.

The people are easily the best part of being in Korea, for me. It’s the relationships that make it possible for me to exist here, and even more, to be happy. The best thing you can do is form good friendships with others when you’re abroad (of course, use caution, some people will try to use you, some people are polite but don’t care, it’s just like anywhere else). And for those at home, remember that the relationships you form with foreigners are just as important to them as theirs are to me, here.

Categories: Being There, Etcetera

Etcetera: Why is Everyone So Obsessed with Japan?

May 3, 2007 1 comment

This is more about the general perception of Asians by my peers (other youngish people from Kansas and Missouri) than it is about Japan, or Korea.

Americans seem obsessed with Japan. Well, Internet Americans, mostly younger people. Hypothetically, 14-27 year olds. The obsession isn’t a real fascination; the kind where you research all you can about everything concerning the topic. It’s more of an infatuation based on the face presented to us. Japan exports their pop culture, we consume it. It goes both ways, for sure. Anime is usually the starting point for many people like me. It’s violent, has bright colors and women with big eyes. What more could you want? It seems to be the modern popular Icon on Japan’s culture. Never mind that a lot of the actual animating is done in Korea.

Music is another import. I’ve been guilty of this one myself. However, most Jpop is, well…pop. It seems to mostly be loose copies of American pop music. I don’t really listen to American Pop, so Japanese Pop isn’t any better. There is definitely some good Japanese music, but it isn’t really part of the pop culture presentation.

Food is one of the exceptions to the Japanese obsession. Aside from Ramen (sic), Chinese food is the designated Asian food. (As an aside, I find the term Asian food to be worthless. If you’re going to use the entire continent to describe something, then you have to include Russia, India, Pakistan and a whole host of other non-oriental countries.) Japanese food seems to occupy the upper level of the Oriental Food market, with its expensive steak houses, while Chinese is the lower end with big buffets and take out. Thai is some where in the middle, as far as price goes. Vietnamese and Korean get pushed out and end up scattered sparsely at the top and bottom of the spectrum, but are hardly as popular as the big three. And I don’t think I’ve seen a restaurant that serves Filipino, Indonesian or Malaysian specifically.

Japanese games are popular in America. Especially on consoles. Especially on Japanese consoles, which are mostly composed of parts made in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Not that the parts matter. What does matter is the games. Many tend to be so cliche that big lists have been devoted to detailing over used premises in Japanese RPGs. A few of the imports tend to be truly unique, but for the most part, they are as much or more cookie cutter than Western games. And many of the games are dumbed down in content when they are brought to America, making the situation worse. To add to it, people don’t differentiate things “Oriental” and things “Japanese”. I play a Korean MMO (which can be just as guilty of cookie cutter design, don’t get me wrong). In it, the American community obsesses about Anime, Japan and things they think are Japanese. I don’t think I’ve heard more than a handful of comments concerning actual Korean Society.

Korean pop culture seems to have a harder time in America. Probably, this is due in part to lack of translations. Which is a catch 22 because people online do fan-subs based on popularity, and something can’t easily become popular without being translated. This is mostly true for China, too. Aside from Kung-fu movies.

Religion is another thing. People seem to know very little about Japanese Shinto, but they are quick to group it with Buddhism in ideological arguments. In fact, there is an unspecified “Eastern” Religion, which seems to encompass everything good and nothing bad, that can only be used to argue against “Western” Religion, which has everything bad. Religious debates aside, the Philippines are 85% Roman Catholic by some counts. South Korea has between 15 and 50% Christianity, depending on who is doing the counting. Islam is spreading rapidly through Asia. Never mind Russia or India. The idea that Asia has a unified religious outlook is simply bizarre. The only thing that could pass for a unified Eastern Religion would be Confucianism, which most don’t consider a religion. And the Caste system that comes with it is something that most Americans abhor. Yet many of the same people will stress the unquestioned superiority of Asia in all things spiritual.

And then there are ninjas and samurai. And Katanas. If anything defined certain parts of male centered online America, it would be these. Anime is probably to blame here, too. Things are thrown around about these groups with almost no context or background. Ninjas weren’t bad, Samurai were. The Katana is the best sword ever. Ninjitsu lets you do X. Y flashy martial arts style is the best. Entirely subjective or simply incorrect assertations of superiority are parroted by American fans with zeal.

And maybe the most annoying part is historical. The atomic bomb drops are a crime against humanity (see Grave of the Fireflies), but not Pearl Harbor. Or Manchuria, or the occupation of Korea, or Malaysia, or Indonesia, or Thailand. To be honest, most of the assorted Asians I know don’t think too highly of the Japanese. Not that their opinions should define ours. But Japan has been quite unjust and expansionist in history, just like the much maligned England and America.

The point may be that we aren’t really that much different from Japan, and that is why we love their culture, to a degree. They may be just similar enough to relate to, but still exotic. I can live with that. What I can’t live with is the blindness. American self hatred is in vogue right now on college campuses, but these people must realize that there is no golden culture. Buddhism can lead to a huge jump in prostitution. Caste systems mean that you’re stuck at the level you’re born at. Many cultures authorize and reinforce misogyny, force state service, decry interbreeding and declare themselves master races.

This post doesn’t mean I hate the Japanese. I don’t. I’d like to visit. I think it’s easier to pronounce Japanese words than Korean, which makes my Korean friends gaze at me like I’m stupid. I watched anime. I like Yuki Kajiura’s music. I have had Japanese friends. It isn’t about Japan as much as it is modern America’s blind adoration of the country, and the ignorance of so many other countries. I can be guilty of this, too. I don’t even know where Cambodia is, and right after my parents got a Foreign Exchange Student from Thailand, I made the mistake of saying I thought Thailand was near Siam.

I guess I was sort of right…in a way.

Categories: Etcetera