Monday, February 18, 2013

Goodbye, Korea.

Oh, Korea.

I think that is one of the phrases I uttered most during my 5 years living there.

Wow. Five years. I can’t believe that I lived in Korea for five years.

I finished graduate school and zipped to the other side of the world to teach English while still looking for a job in my chosen profession (technical writing). I taught some brilliant and amazing kids at Avalon. I met and worked with some amazing people: Korean and foreigners. I miss every single one of them. I also loved Korea – I loved the people, I loved the culture, I loved the history. I embraced everything about it. I also spent a lot of time with Koreans, so that helped.

I loved the pride that the Korean people have in their culture and history. I loved seeing the old buildings mixed in with the new, modern architecture. I loved how they preserved their architecture and other cultural artifacts. I was just as sad as everyone else while watching Namdaemun burn down during Lunar New Year in 2008. Koreans are intensely proud of their country and their heritage. I believe this is because over the course of their history, other people kept trying to take it away from them.

However, it is that intense pride and homogeneousness of the culture that began to irritate me the last few years. Many Koreans very much have the mindset to follow whatever the masses are doing or whatever is "Korean" and refuse to think for themselves or outside of the box. I have a friend whose parents would complain to her that she needed to "act more Korean." Another friend would get upset with me if I ever said anything remotely negative or critical about Korea even if Korean media had said the exact same thing I expressed just because I was a foreigner. Another friend still believes that "fan-death" is a thing because it's been so ingrained in the culture even if it's wrong. Yet another friend had been told that the grandchildren of mixed couples (Korean and non-Korean) would be mentally handicapped.

I know foreigners that have been spat at, yelled at, cursed at, or just given the stink eye by older Koreans because they are out with a Korean of the opposite sex (friends or dating). I have friends that have refused to teach lessons in Korean schools because they blatantly promote racism or racial stereotypes. I have a friend that was told by a 5-year-old student that she (my friend) "lived on the street because foreigners couldn't have apartments, couldn't cook or anything because foreigners are stupid and can't do anything" (paraphrasing from a rusty memory). I have been shoved out of the way while standing in line for something, I have been cut in front of in line, and I've had rude little Korean children just shove past me simply because I'm a foreigner and, therefore, non-existent. Even though Korea may tout itself as a modern, hip, and progressive country, in many ways it is just like America in the 1950s and still has a long way to go before it actually has the face that it shows to the world.

When little things began to irritate the crap out of me (see earlier blog postings), I knew it was time to leave and go back to the US - plus I missed my family and friends. Despite all of the things that bugged me, I will still miss all of my friends (Korean and foreign), Korean BBQ, Suwon, and many other things about the country.

So I leave a little over five years later more jaded and cynical, but I do still love Korea: Suwon was my home for so long, how can I not love it?

And I still can’t believe I'm gone.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Treasure Island Hotel & Casino; Canter's Delicatessen - Las Vegas, Nevada

So, when I go to Las Vegas, I like to stay at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino. It's not very expensive and I like the location - towards one end of The Strip. You can get some great deals on Expedia including this hotel, or you can sign up on their website for some great specials.

Probably the biggest reason that I stay here is the beds. Oh my god. Best sleep ever. The beds are apparently so popular here that they even mention them on their web site. The casino itself has a nice variety of games and is a good place to pass time. I'm partial to PengWins since I won on that game quite a bit. I liked the cows.

The resident shows at Treasure Island are Mystere by Cirque du Soleil and Sirens of TI. Mystere is absolutely amazing and a definite must see if you're in Vegas. I've never seen the Sirens of TI show, but it seems to get good reviews.

There are also a nice variety of restaurants inside Treasure Island, too. I'm a big fan of The Coffee Shop. The name can be misleading - it's a full restaurant open 24 hours. I think I've eaten the majority of my meals in Vegas here. The servings are huge, so bring your appetite. The morning of the day that I was going to pick up Dougie at the airport, I decided to get a light breakfast of oatmeal and toast.

Ha! "Light". Foolish mortal.

Yeah. I don't think "small portions" is in their vocabulary. The bowl of oatmeal was huge. I chose bananas as my topping, so it came with a whole banana sliced up in a bowl along with some brown sugar and milk. The wheat toast was two slices of buttered toast. I don't know what it is, but buttered toast at a diner always taste better than at home...

There is also a deli called Canter's Delicatessen. I ate here twice and wasn't disappointed at all. The prices are a bit steep, but everything in Vegas is.

This is half of my pastrami sandwich

My takeout for dinner one night: patty melt

The Buffet is the buffet inside TI. The name isn't very creative, but eh. I ate here twice since I received some coupons for free buffets when I checked in. There's a decent variety of food for lunch and dinner - I don't feel I ate enough really to make it worth paying for a buffet, so I'm glad they were free. The food was good, though, but I recommend sitting at a table instead of a booth. The tables in the booths are really high and really close to the seats - I asked to move to a standalone table so my food wouldn't be at armpit level while I was trying to eat.

Also inside TI are The Seafood Shack, Senor Frog's and Gilley's. I haven't been to any of these, but they seemed to always be packed when I would wander by them.

This is one of my favorite places to stay and I definitely recommend checking it out at least for the food in the restaurants.

Goodbye, Samsung.

So, my last day working for Samsung was Friday, January 4th. To my credit, I did not cry when people left work on Friday and I saw them for the last time: it helped that I was busy working on something, too. I had lunch with my teammates on the Thursday before for the last time. After lunch, we went to a photo studio to have a group picture taken as a gift from my team to me. The posing that we had to do and rearranging of people had me laughing non-stop.

They aren’t all that white – they were photoshopped to match my pasty skin tone. I wanted to wear bunny ears, but the guy said that were for babies :( I have a small head…they would’ve fit.

I absolutely adore all of my teammates and the ones that we left behind when our team split the week before, especially Yoon. Yoon was my one teammate that had been with me my entire four years at Samsung. I think it’s good timing that I left Samsung when everything was rearranged.

There are good and bad things about every company. Most of the problems that I personally had with Samsung involved being a Westerner working for a very large, very Korean company at their HQ in Korea. Communication, culture, procedures…I never felt like I truly knew what was happening around me. While that allowed me to avoid nearly all of the politics that were going on around me, I only knew what people felt I needed to know, which wasn’t much.

My colleagues, foreign and Korean, were accepting, though, and made efforts to get to know me. But, I know that I was thought of as the “weird American” on my team…maybe in the whole division even – who knows.

Everything must come to an end, though, and it was just time for me to leave Samsung (and Korea). I think I had learned all that I could there and I felt stagnant in my job. I wasn’t growing anymore, I didn’t feel like I was contributing much anymore, and I was getting bored frankly. Now, most of that more than likely has to do with an uninvolved manager. I leave Samsung happy with my team, happy with myself, and happy with the contributions I was able to make. I would like to think that during my time with the Printing Division/IT Solutions that I helped improve the English quality and overall usability of the projects that I worked on. I wish nothing but the best for the future for my former teammates and other colleagues. I will always cherish the time that I spent with them.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Korean National Pension Info

So, as some of you know, I have left Korea permanently (blog post on that coming soon). One of the many things that you need to do is apply for your pension...if you've been paying in to it. Some nationalities don't pay into the pension because of agreements between countries - you'll have to check the NPS website to see if your country has an agreement with Korea (the US does). Also note that some hakwons will screw the teachers over and not sign them up for the National Pension. I won't give a lot of information about the pension itself and such because you can find that information on the NPS website, but I will say that most nationalities can apply for a lump-sum refund, which means that you will receive all of your pension funds in one big deposit.

The process to apply for your pension is actually pretty easy if you do it before you leave the country. The earliest that you can apply for your pension is one month before your leave date. You will just simply go to the pension office that is most convenient for you - they have a list of locations on their website. You'll need to take these items with you:
  • Passport
  • Alien card
  • Proof that you're leaving (like a one-way ticket or release letter from your employer)
  • Bank information
  • Application (or you can fill it out there - it doesn't take very long)

You can get more information and the form here (link to the form is at the very bottom). Looking at that form there, though, I don't see bank info provided. If you want the money transferred to your bank in the US, you'll need the same information that you need for a transfer: the ABA number, routing number, account number, and the bank's information (address, name, etc.). If you want it deposited to your Korean bank account, you'll need your Korean bank book and be able to assure them you'll be able to access it (I have internet banking, so I did this) or have someone in Korea that will access it for you. It will take about a month for all of the processing to occur and for you to receive your pension.

Now, the office in Suwon has moved. Any address you find online will probably be wrong. The NPS office used to be in Ingyedong across from the New Core Outlet, now it's in Ingyedong across the street from the Gyeonngi Arts Center. Here's a link to a map for the Arts Center. Where it says "kyeongin ilbo" on the map is right next to the NPS building: there's a big NPS logo at the top of the building.

Here's one of my lovely maps to give you an idea of where it is located:
Gimme mah money!!

I believe the 13-1 bus (from Yeongtong) stops at the Arts Center - I know it stops at the Yeongtong-Gu Office, which is a block or two closer to Samsung. I think the offices are on the 3rd or 5th floor - I can't remember, but the guy at the desk will tell you when you walk in.

So, if you decide to leave Korea, best of luck with the pension paperwork!