Archive for the Korea Category

The Korean Bureaucracy Post

Posted in Korea, Senseless Griping on June 29, 2016 by yujinishuge


Before I start this post, I want to add a disclaimer. Bureaucracy can be bad in any country, and in the US, I too have had to deal with it at the DMV, or being passed between departments when I call for customer service only to be hung up on. So while some of this criticism that will be tossed Korea’s way is actually just criticism of  inefficient beurocracy, I think that Korea has a special penchant for this inefficiency. Of course, there may be factors that I as a noncitizen of Korea face, that I wouldn’t otherwise face (or be aware of). And my comparitive experiences in the US are as a citizen, so it’s kind of an unfair comparison. However, I’ve also lived in Japan, and the bureaucracy there was not quite as difficult to navigate. The disclaimer is meant to say this is not to suggest that it is a Korean trait to not have critical thinking skills or to be able to figure out rules and regulations, but I’ve had my fair share of bad run-ins with Korean clerks, both public and private.

The story of my relationship with the Korean bureaucracy starts in 2006, as I am applying for an F-4 Visa (a visa that grants almost permanent residency for overseas Koreans) at the Korean embassy in Washington, DC. The credentials for getting the visa list some specific documents. These include copies of the expired family register of my now American-citizen father. I am of course unable to produce this document, but I have a copy of the original family register, and there’s an expired F-4 Visa in my passport, meaning I qualified for it before. The clerk I am talking to at the embassy says I need the updated document from Korea that you can get at any Gu or Dong office. So I ask her if she wants me to fly all the way to Korea for that, then fly back and re-apply for a Visa that I’ve already previously qualified for. She asks me if I have any family in Korea that can do it for me. I do, but that might be a terrible inconvenience for them, so I say that I’ve been accepted to Grad School, and I need to get this visa taken care of before I leave in about 2 months time, and that I don’t have time or money to fly to Korea for that document. After a good back and forth, another clerk steps in and says what I assumed (I did not speak Korean well at the time) was that if I had the visa, I’d still need to produce these documents to immigration to land my domestic residence, and since I qualified for the visa before, I’m likely not lying. They went back and forth for a while and finally she decided to take my passport for the visa processing. On my way home, I get a call from this same lady, who asks if I had satisfied my military service. I explain to her that I’ve never been a citizen of the ROK, and therefore do not have to do any military service, and she says that if I’ve never been a citizen of Korea then I don’t qualify for the F-4. I explain to her that this is not true. As I am the son of a person who was once a Korean citizen, I qualify. Besides, I had an expired F-4 visa in the passport that she had in her hands, meaning I’ve already previously been approved for this visa. She then asks when my father became a U.S. citizen, because I would be a Korean citizen if this occurred after my birth. I replied it was one month before I was born, so yes, I’d be totally exempt. She retorts saying that Koreans at birth are already 1 year old, so my life technically begins one year before my birth… (Wait, what?)

“You mean before I was even conceived?”

…She says she will issue my visa and if Immigration wanted me to do my military service, I’d be at their mercy. Since I’d been in and out of Korea so many times in the previous 5 years, I was not at all worried.

That was my first run in with a clerk that abuses her power, that makes up rules on the fly without checking facts, and that generally WANTS to give you a hard time. A later check on the rules shows that the document she was requesting is actually available upon my request from any Korean consulate (meaning she should have printed it out for me rather than asking me to fly to Korea), half-Koreans at the time were not required to do military service and were not even allowed in the armed forces unless they “looked Korean,” and Korea only considers people citizens of Korea if they are listed on someone’s family register (including their own), meaning every single thing she was on about was false. One funny thing is that I provided her with a hospital birth certificate rather than a U.S. birth certificate, and she found no issue with that. Clearly she should have.

This one example clearly illustrates what one can expect when dealing with the system here. These types of interactions are not limited to government agencies. Companies you have to deal with to get things done, and practically the entire Korean internet display these infuriating tendencies as well. Without going into too much detail, here are the other major bureaucratic issues I’ve been through:

1. Needing an ID and a phone to get a bank account but needing an ID and a bank account to get a phone, while needing a phone to get an ID.

2. Upon attempting to renew my visa, having to re-submit every document again, coming back a week later with all the documents and a different clerk renewing without asking to see any of the documents.

3. Needing a Korean citizen ID to use a website designed specifically to offer service to non-Koreans.

4. At the hospital where my son was born it took them 4 tries to spell everyone’s name right on the birth certificate, another 3 tries to get the doctor to sign the certificate instead of his secretary, and 2 tries to get an official seal on the certificate followed by yet another send back for misspelling names again, after first being angrily snapped at by the clerk about how they handle so many international births that they know what they are doing.

5. Not being allowed to assign Chinese characters when registering my son’s birth because we gave him a middle name.

6. Illogically needing a US birth certificate when applying for my son’s Korean passport, with the explanation that all dual citizens are born in the US. Also, since we didn’t have a US birth certificate, (he was born in Korea) and was a citizen of Korea, it makes very little sense that they would require a foreign document for a Korean passport.

7. Anecdotally I’ve also heard that there are romanization problems, but these have never happened to me. For an example it would be like being told that we must use a government official romanization of my son’s name in Hangul, which is itself transliterated from his western-origin given names and being told that my legal name Whong must be spelled Hwang or Whang in his passport. (For those following here’s an example: Roger David Lim = 임 로저데이비드 = Rojeo Daebideu Im).

There are other examples but these stand out the most. So why is it that Korea suffers from these issues?
It would be very lazy just to say culture and lack of critical thinking skills. The problem is that anything that represents a rare case puts the clerk in peril. They are in a position where they are supposed to know everything and if they have to ask, a superior how to handle something they are unsure of they will get in trouble for making their superior’s life difficult and possibly seen as incompetent. They will be in even more trouble if they give you something you aren’t entitled to so this is why it is easier to make up rules to make you someone else’s problem or to make you go away than to risk their entire career on giving you what you need or asking someone higher up to solve their problem. Add to that fact that there is a culture of saving face here, that if you said something that was factually incorrect, but are in a position of authority, you need to be given the proper amount of respect even if you are wrong.

So for example, when the gu-office employee is asking for my son’s US birth certificate for a Korean passport, it is because in every other case she has seen of a dual citizen baby, she’s needed to register the child as a citizen of Korea when the mother gave birth in the US. Never mind that he was already registered as a Korean citizen and she didn’t need to do anything about registering him. It’s simply easier to go with the established norm even if my case does not fit the established norm.

So enough complaining and explaining, what should be done about it?

Well “they should just” kind of posts are also kind of patronizing, however I do have some solutions.

  1. Staff in companies should not be rotated frequently between departments. They should be left in one department long enough that they get enough experience to see as many unique situations as possible, that way they can draw upon this experience when the situation arises again. Instead, with people being shifted around every so often, only the most common case is learned, and there is higher potential to be presented with a new situation one has never faced before.
  2. People starting off in a new department should have to take a test to make sure they are up-to-date on the most current regulations. This test should have as many different cases as possible. The test should be repeated two years later, or any time there is a rule change (it’s possible this rule has been implemented in several places and I am not aware).
  3. A handbook on these regulations should be readily available to every clerk, and they should be encouraged to use it to show the applicant the exact regulation they are invoking when refusing service. (In immigration, this book should be made in multiple languages.. and this might also be the case and I am unaware of it).
  4. It would be easy to say that people should be encouraged to ask questions to their supervisors, but that’s not something that can happen overnight, so the first three points should be implemented.

It doesn’t seem like Korean bureaucracy will change any time soon. What should I do if I am caught up in it?

  1. The best thing you can do is to be prepared. Study up on all the rules and applicable laws. They are available in several languages. In the event that you are being denied something you are entitled to, then it would be extremely helpful to your case if you can present the clerk with a copy of these rules and laws. Print them out if necessary.
  2. Be persistent. The clerk does not want to make your life difficult. What he or she wants is for you to go away so they can move on to the next person or have a bit of a break. If they quote you a rule and you have your suspicions (i.e. it does not sound logical that a U.S. document is required for a Korean passport), ask for an explanation, or ask for a supervisor. Most clerks will even go out of their way to help you out (giving you things you’re not actually entitled to) because it will make you go away faster.

Wait, that doesn’t happen!

Actually it does. Remember that expired family register document that I needed once I got to Korea? Well to get it I had to go to a dong office to request the document and prove my relationship with my father. Well, I had his old register, a copy of his naturalization papers, a copy of my U.S. birth certificate, which I thought would be enough. The trouble is that regulations stated that I needed originals, not copies, and then I needed them to be translated. This would have taken weeks to assemble, so I said… look, why would I have his old document and all this stuff if I wasn’t his son? The clerk could clearly see that I was not lying and gave me what I needed.

Remember, they want you to go away. Be prepared, trust your instincts and be persistent.

Edit: Another run in with the bureaucracy! I think I will log all future encounters on this post.

7-4-2016: I went to the gu-office to get a specific document about a family member and was denied, despite showing evidence of relation, confirmation of identity, and a previous version of the document. My request was rejected because the system does not list me as a relation. It should not list me as a relation because I was never registered as a Korean citizen. The staff ask me to accompany the family member in question, find another direct relation that can request the document for me, or get a whole bunch of US documents notarized and verified. This matter was resolved by going to the dong-office (which is a lower authority, and under the gu-office’s administration) and asking for the document with no hassle.

8-2016: While renewing my visa, I was told that if I applied for a new ID card, the card would bear my name in 한글 as its format has been updated. This would then allow me to use my hangul name on every account that requires an ID, and not having to ever again go through the rigamaroll of spelling my name out letter by letter over the phone, including my middle name. The card comes in the mail and there’s no 한글 on it. I call to ask why and they explain it is because I was never a citizen of Korea so no 한글 was ever registered. Can I just have my old card and 30K won back please?



There’s more than one way to use chopsticks

Posted in About me, Korea, Senseless Griping on February 22, 2016 by yujinishuge

Recently, an old friend found me on facebook to tell me he had thought about me when he was teaching his son how to use chopsticks. I had long forgotten that I had been the one who taught him. I’ve since been able to pull this happening out of my long-term memory, and with it, other chopstick related anecdotes.

Being half-Korean, I had been around chopsticks all my life, but I didn’t learn to actually use them effectively until my first trip to Korea in 1985. There, I think my older brother was getting a bit self-conscious about having to ask for a fork everywhere, so he asked our father to finally teach us how to use them. Can’t say my first attempt was great… what do you expect for a 6-year-old making a first serious attempt with thick slippery noodles. Eventually though, I and the bros got the hang of it, and from then on, a whole new world of eating implements was opened.

Fast forward a few years, and there I was teaching my bud during a summer school lunch break the proper way to eat with chopsticks, using plastic straws and knockoff Oreos with mint filling. But it turns out, I wasn’t actually using them correctly.


I of course didn’t know that I was using them wrong. That revelation occurred a few years later at McDonald’s. In 1987 the Golden Arches decided to use a now cringeworthy marketing campaign for chicken mcnuggets. (See the video)

The nuggets of course came with chopsticks and the wrapper had instructions on how to use them.(See the photo)

This isn't the wrapper it came in at McDonald's, but it had a similar diagram. Click to enlarge.

This isn’t the wrapper they came in at McDonald’s, but it had a similar diagram. Click to enlarge.

According to the wrapper, you’re supposed to rest one chopstick on your ring finger and the other between your middle and index finger (like a pencil). You then manipulate them by doing a sort of Vulcan sign type thing.

I had been resting one chopstick on my middle finger and holding the other with my thumb and index finger, which I bet is more difficult for first time learners.

Anyway I tried to correct myself and hold them like in the diagram, but I was unable to pick up any food the correct way. So I gave up. I was already proficient enough the wrong way that it didn’t matter to me.

Over the years, and well into adulthood, there would be people very publicly pointing out to me that I was doing it wrong. These ranged from Asian people who wanted to show off how they were more in touch with their heritage, and non-Asians who wanted to show off that they were more cultured or something.

Then when I moved to Japan I remember one person who gave me the often heard compliment that I used chopsticks very well. I was about to say thanks so that the conversation I’d had more than a hundred times would run its course. (conversation below)

A: You use chopsticks so well!
B: Thank you.
A: Do you like [insert food representative of my culture here]?
B: Yes, I do!
A: How long have you been using chopsticks
B: Since I was about six years old.
A: Wow! That’s so rare for a foreigner.
B: Yes I suppose it is, isn’t it?
A: You really are so Japanese now [or other country].
B: Thanks.
A: *awkward silence*

Ah, sidetrack, back to the story, after giving me the compliment she went on to inform me that I was using the chopsticks incorrectly, but it was okay since I wasn’t Japanese and nobody would get on my case about it. I think I must have been having a bad day that day because I snapped.

I started asking her how she holds forks and whether she had ever put any thought behind how they should properly be held. I asked her if she had ever met ANYONE (even a foreigner) above the age of 12 who couldn’t use chopsticks, and other angsty passive aggressive questions to make sure she knew that I wasn’t taking this crap anymore!

She replied,”I was just trying to give you a compliment and help you out.”



Look people, there’s no ONE way to do things. The function of chopsticks is to put food into your mouth. In my book, if you can do this with one hand and without stabbing, then you’re good. If you can also can pick up frickin’ ice cubes and dissect small cooked fish, who cares how you hold them? Just do what works for you!

[/end rant]

One day, over lunch with my dad last summer, I examined for the first time how he had been holding them. I don’t think I had ever thought to do this. As I was staring at his hands, he noticed what I was doing and slightly embarrassed he said… “Son, after all your time in Korea, I guess you’ve figured out that I use chopsticks incorrectly.”

“No you don’t, Dad. No you don’t.”

(edit: My father is Korean you idiot trolls.)

Epic Rap Battle?

Posted in Jokes, Korea, Nerdy Stuff on July 22, 2015 by yujinishuge

Roboseyo wrote on his facebook wall:


“I want to lock the author of this article
(A Korea Times article written by a Korean who does nothing but generalize foreigners despite meeting so many on a regular basis)

In a room with the author of this article.
(A Korea Observer article written by a white woman who does nothing but generalize Koreans despite living in Korea for 10 years)

they deserve each other”

I then got the idea for an epic rap battle between them and wrote it in the comments.

Eeeeeeepic rap battles of History! Shi-yong the Difference Pointer Outer VS. Laura the Not Russian Prostitute! Begin!

Check it out yall cuz I’m Korean.
I spit about foreign stuff that I been seein’
Ya’ll foreigners drink and you smoke and you cuss
But you ain’t never gonna be as 18 dope like us.

You say we say “Mine mine” but your soldiers are here
Sell your beef, FTA, take our girls, slow-drink beer
Said we got No manners but too much manners in speech
That’s contradictory, and you’re a basic shawty beach-goer

The beauty of the minjok is all I know
I learned this slang from a waeg so GTFO
Yall people need to learn that Korea’s the shit,
Our 5000 year old culture is 2 legit to quit.

Spit a verse? Please, y’all only spit in the street.
And you don’t cover your mouth or your nose when you sneeze.

Let me tell you all about why I hate Korea.
I been here 10 years so I see what you don’t see-a.

Koreans are so rude and Koreans are so selfish.
And you don’t know how to drive, and you’re short like you’re elfish.
You don’t understand a thing about us ppl from the west
Be like, “Critical thiking, pssh why bother? My people are the best!”

Now comes the part where you misspoke.
The minjok is the people’s joke.
Let’s be clear I’m an expert, I’ve lived here 10 years.
Where you observe Hollywood and repeat sayings of your peers.

The Korea Times Will Print Anything

Posted in Korea, Senseless Griping, Shaking my head on June 16, 2015 by yujinishuge

Over the years, some of the opinion pieces that appear in the Korea times have baffled me.  The first one I think I really noticed was a piece explaining social media jargon, with tons of outdated or irrelevant slang. My friends and I had a good chuckle over that one.

But see, I don’t read the Korea Times regularly, and these days I only take notice of something published there if it goes semi-viral in facebook.

So that is why we have these:

A food blogger complaining that Koreans are ruining her experience in the foreign enclave by…. being Korean.

A Korean man who has finally solved the age old question of how Koreans and foreigners are different!

Now that is not to say that these are invalid opinions, but honestly I wish the Korea Times would screen what they publish. Most of this stuff would be appropriate on a personal blog… like this one.

I’m going to add more of these as often as I find them.

Old Korean Man Parrots Colonial Era Japanese Propaganda to Suggest Removal of Comfort Woman Statue

Roaring Currents is a big letdown, and here’s why.

Posted in Korea, Nerdy Stuff, Senseless Griping, Shaking my head on August 13, 2014 by yujinishuge

Okay, so it’s been a while, and I thank the people still subscribed to this blog for their continued attention. Today I am going to review a movie that is breaking box office records here in Korea. It’s called Myeongryang in Korean and Roaring Currents in English. The synopsis: During the Imjin War, (1592-1598), a Japanese fleet of more than 300 ships is invading Korea, and Admiral Yi Sun-shin has 12 ships with which to defend the country. It’s not a spoiler if I tell you that Yi was successful. That would be like saying the Titanic sunk in the film Titanic.  As such, Yi is a revered national hero in Korea, and very respected in Japan for his strategy that defeated the Japanese navy against overwhelming odds.

I love war movies, so I was really excited to see this, especially since it had been getting such rave reviews in the Korean media. Korean films that Korean moviegoers like are generally good films. Some of my favorite Korean war-genre films include Shilmido, Taegukki Brotherhood, and 71: Into The Fire. As far as other war films outside of Korea, I liked Platoon, All’s Quiet on the Western Front, Saving Private Ryan, Joyeux Noel, Full Metal Jacket, and Inglourious Basterds. I’ll get to what it is about these films that I really liked later. At the same time, there are war movies I don’t like.  I won’t name them here, but you can be sure they will appear later in my analysis.

So let’s get into my experience watching the film.
As my wife and I stepped into the theater I was in high anticipation of this film.  The theater was packed.  I had just watched Guardians of the Galaxy a few days earlier, and was fun as that was, I was in the mood for a real serious tension filled historical period film that would really deconstruct what happened centuries ago and let us know the motivations behind a historical hero I had been hearing about since childhood. Remember, this is a guy who has a prominent statue in downtown Seoul.

Remember, this is a guy who has a prominent statue in downtown Seoul.

Every time I walk by this statue, I think.. 'hey, possible Gramps!'

X: This is the Statue of Liberty of Korea.   Y: Stop saying that Korean things are the Korean version of foreign things.

So the movie starts, and Yi Sun-shin and his advisors are discussing the dire situation ahead of them. There’s one guy in there that looks sneaky and evil just from the way he looks and speaks. Everyone else is really handsome and noble looking, but this guy looks like he’d double cross his mother in a heartbeat. The movie just started, and I don’t know exactly who this person is, so it doesn’t register with me yet.

Then there’s a cut away to the Japanese side. They are discussing strategy. Immediately I burst out laughing.  Want to know why? I’ll explain after the jump.


Continue reading

The racist MBC video

Posted in Korea, Senseless Griping, Shaking my head on June 2, 2012 by yujinishuge

Okay for those who have not seen it here is a link.

The shocking secret about foreigners dating Korean women or something.

Now when the blackface thing occurred I came off as somewhat of an apologist, suggesting that we can’t view Korea with a moral lens acquired elsewhere, so some readers naturally thought I would defend this as well. While I probably won’t be condemning it as strongly as other people have, I am still appalled by it.

Some would say that makes me a hypocrite, as they perceive me defending Koreans who are racist to blacks (which I did not do.) and being appalled by racism when whites are included.

There is a difference between the blackface incident and this one, however.

The blackface incident (which I still don’t defend or condone in any way) was carried out by two comedians who likely didn’t know what they were doing was offensive. The video above is attempting to present itself as serious news. Moreso than the content or aim of the piece, I am more appalled by the severe lack of journalistic integrity. Here’s why:

1. All if the foreign people filmed are probably drunk and are being asked questions in such a way that they don’t understand the purpose of the piece… Which is obviously pre determined before they got their sound byte.

2. The taxi couple may well have already known each other. They didn’t bother interviewing them and their take on it (that seconds after their first meeting they are already engaging in skinship) can’t be verified.

3. The girl that they call on the phone said what they asked her about isn’t true. The narrator says she’s not telling the truth. How do we know she isn’t telling the truth?

4. The dude at the coffee shop is talking about a woman that might not even really exist.

It’s one thing to make a bunch of racist claims and back them up with evidence, but these people can’t even do that.

This isn’t entertainment. It’s supposed to be serious journalism that people trust. But it is terrible excuse for journalism and the editor ought to feel ashamed for letting it get through.

I also like the double standard of how Korea wants to portray itself to foreign people, but stuff like this slips through the cracks.

I want to see MBC respond to this in a responsible manner but I think it won’t be. Too bad.

Talkative people on the subway

Posted in About me, Korea on February 24, 2012 by yujinishuge

So this happened a few days ago and I am not really sure how I feel about it. I was riding the subway long distance, drifting in and out of sleep when I woke up, fearing I might have missed my stop, I looked out the window to see where I was, then I looked at the subway map to see if I had passed my stop. Luckily I hadn’t yet reached my stop, but the sight of a handsome young man in distress caught the attention of two old ladies sitting next to me. One asked if I knew where I was going. I said yes. Then she asked if I spoke Korean. Given that I look pretty foreign, I am used to this conversation by now. It usually begins with a question meant to ascertain one’s Korean ability followed by a huge compliment regardless of if that ability deserves the compliment. It is then followed by an inquiry about how one learned Korean, followed by inquiries into your personal life such as your job and marital status. Finally the conversation will drift towards some aspect of Korea that the person wants to advertise, such as the food, the four seasons, the blue sky, or anything else that might distinguish Korea from other countries so that you’ll take that bit of knowledge back to your nest and feed it to your hive’s queen so that she will command all her drones to operate with this new information. “Korea has four seasons! Holy shit, let’s give them money!!”

Anyway this conversation did not go this way. After the inquiry into my Korean ability the lady said that in the past it would be totally okay to talk about foreigners right in front of them but now we have to be careful because they are more likely to understand. I said that this was probably true. Then she said that back in the day whenever a black person came along people would casually talk about that person freely using the Korean equivalent of Nigger.

I asked the lady not to use that word and she laughed saying it was okay because she wasn’t calling anyone that, she was talking about calling people that. She has a point, but she was talking about herself calling people that. Besides, any escape clause this presented was dashed when she said that it’s okay because there weren’t any around.

She then switched to English to my surprise, and explained that she had lived in LA for a long time and used to work in an hair product shop that was frequented by black women and she got in serious trouble when one lady tried to buy a product ad she wanted to suggest another that would be better for her hair type. She said that this other product was designed for Nigger hair. Since then she has known to watch what she says in front of certain people.

I would have thought that this would lead people to eliminate certain words from their vocabulary regardless of which company was present. But she’s old so I give her the benefit of the doubt.

At least she didn’t talk about Korea’s four seasons.