digital culture shock

I’m a little late writing about this, but I just decided to go all Mac and it brought it all back again, so I thought I’d share.

Korea is a PC world. All the websites use windows system applications for streaming media, and all the banking uses windows system apps for their internet banking. Fortunately, I have Parallels on my Mac and can pretend to be a windows o.s. when I need to.

Despite this, I already own a Mac and can’t afford to buy a new windows-based computer. Plus, I’m a (former) designer, and graphically, the Mac just pleases my aesthetics more than a PC. And I’m not talking about the industrial design, but the fonts and the templates on all of their publishing applications. Utilizing them more than ever for my classroom presentations, I’m finding the need to go all Mac because the Mac programs integrate with each other seamlessly, whereas they aren’t as happy importing and converting from the PC world.

But I can’t.

I can’t order books, I can’t order many things, I can’t pay for tickets, I can’t…

I can’t because I don’t have a @#$%#!!! credit card.

I don’t have a credit card because I never had a credit card because I never needed one because my Visa debit card was all I ever needed.

I had the misfortune of moving to Korea right during the bank bail-outs. I also had the misfortune of having my debit card expire shortly after my move. Upon attempted renewal, I found out Chase wouldn’t issue a debit card or credit card to Korea. Because it isn’t on some list of trusted nations with stable economies. (which is really weird, because it’s more stable than the U.S. right now) I mean, I’m sending the money to the U.S. bank FIRST, so it’s U.S. money going onto a DEBIT card, so what’s the logic in that? Anyway, I’ve been relegated to using only paypal. It’s like only being able to shop in a basement clearance sale…

I can’t deposit money into paypal from my Korean bank account, because it isn’t a Korean paypal account. I can’t open a Korean paypal account, because I already have an American paypal account. I also can’t open a Korean paypal account, because I don’t have a Korean citizen ID number. And so, I must make a foreign remittance (with fees on both ends) if I want to order anything through paypal.

Of course, all the things I want to purchase, like Apple’s Mobile Me service, can only be paid for with a credit card.

I tried to order a third party debit card but they won’t issue one abroad. So I ordered one and had it sent to my permanent U.S. address, and my daughter mailed it to me, but there’s no way to load it from Korea, I can only activate it on-line for bank transfer from my Chase account, and the on-line site has me locked out. I’ve emailed and called the debit card company multiple times with no answer.

I tried to open other bank accounts and was also faced with the Korea-isn’t-a-trusted-nation line. When I explained my situation to Wells Fargo, the good folks there were willing to let me try and see how far up the chain of command it went, but my driver’s license expiration date was required and that – that is locked up in the Ansan driver’s licensing office where I had to forfeit it in exchange for my Korean driver’s license.

Here in CheongPyeong, there is only one bank, Nonghyup. I was told that if I wanted to make foreign remittances, I would have to go to another town and open a Nonghyup account there, as this branch wouldn’t allow it. There simply isn’t a large enough window for me to get to a neighboring city’s Nonghyup bank, as it must be between my classes and the banks close at 5pm here. My foreign remittance account is with Kookmin Bank (KB) and the only way I can get to it is if I am in Seoul. So, to send money to my U.S. Chase account, I have to send money to my KB account, and then travel to Seoul to a KB atm (thank God they have atm remittances) in order to send money to the U.S.

It is possible to obtain a Korean credit card through Samsung, which operates on a payment plan where you can’t carry debt, which makes sense for us foreigners since some bail and are never to be seen again. However, the credit limits are very low, and these Korean credit cards only work within Korea, and I can’t see that there’s anything I’d want to purchase with one anyway.

This is just one example of how living here is like being country-less/rejected by two countries. The YouTube is another. I can post videos because I have a U.S. account, but because the Korean internet reads my i.p. address as coming out of Korea, I can’t comment on anyone’s videos like I can in the U.S. I can’t comment on any major sites anywhere, as a matter of fact. Other websites I go to deny me access because of the “real names” law and want me to fill in my Korean citizen number, which I can’t, because I’m not a Korean citizen. Search engines and other popular sites read my i.p. address and often change from English to Korean…and it’s really hard to find “take me back to the English site” when it’s written in a foreign language.

In other strange foreign experiences, nobody here leaves messages on phones. Voice messages exist, but nobody uses them. And I’m not sure if there is an outgoing message you record or not. Instead, people call. And if you don’t answer, they don’t leave a text message. They just get mad and ask you, “why didn’t you answer my call?” So if you think talking on the cell phone while in mixed company is rude in America, it’s kind of considered more rude to ignore your phone call here. And if someone (anyone) calls, you’re supposed to call them right back. Which is really crazy-making because spam phone calls abound in Korea, whereas I never got spam phone calls in America.

It’s also common for people to cover their mouths while talking on the phone. I’ve polled many Koreans on why they do this, and gotten mixed results: some say they cover their mouths so their talking is not so loud as to disturb everyone around them, and others say they cover their mouths because the ambient noise is too loud and drowns out their talking. But in both cases, there is a HAND between the mouth and the hand-set, so this logic escapes me, and often the person ends up speaking louder through the hand…

Korean phones are amazing, btw. You can shop, play games, have video calls, do your banking, upload photos, etc. all on the most basic phones, and on some phones you can also watch t.v. Having the latest most fashionable phone is a really big status symbol here. But most of us foreigners, because we’re illiterate, just limp by on calling and texting. I think foreigners, too, don’t want to spend the money on all these whistles and bells. Korean phone bills must be a huge part of their monthly budget…

The only other thing I can think of right now is doors and lights. I’ve gotten so used to automated doors, that I walked INTO a door the other day, expecting it to open for me! I had to laugh on the train to Seoul as the trains are old and even the Koreans expect to have to slide the doors open by hand. I watched one after another take several tries before realizing there was a button to press for the door to open electronically. Even after a year here, I still panic when I leave my house and I do a mental check for the key and remember, oh yeah, there IS no key. Similarly, many buildings have automatic sensors on their lights and you get used to never flipping light switches.

But the money thing – it’s driving me crazy. As soon as I get back home, I’m opening a Wells Fargo account so I can have access to what American plastic can purchase again. And it’s not just me wanting to buy, buy, buy. It’s not being able to pay for tax services, or web hosting, or financial aid, or criminal background checks, or things I NEED just to stay here in Korea so I can make money to send to America.

So, be fore-warned: DON’T come to Korea without a viable credit card, or you’ll also be ripping your hair out at crucial times like I have this past year.

2 thoughts on “digital culture shock

  1. You can order English at without using a credit card. You can pay with a bank transfer or go to the store in person and pay. I didn’t know if you knew this or not. Sorry for the shameless plug of this bookstore.

  2. Ahh, I have too many books as it is! I’m beginning to think books are bad for teaching conversation, actually. I need to make a trip there and sell off my books…

    You need to stop being sorry so much! Plus, it’s not a shameless plug unless you have some stock in the store.

    Nice to hear from you, though!

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