south korea

Renewing Your Passport at the US Embassy in Seoul

So after I returned home from the Philippines, I was graced with a Monday off from work that wasn’t a national holiday. Seizing upon this incredibly rare opportunity in which I was free while government buildings were open, I went to the post office, bank, and–after noticing my passport filling up with stamps–the US Embassy.

The embassy is NOT open on weekends and stops letting folks in at 3PM. You can always submit your passport an application via a courier service, but I happened to have a day off and decided to save myself the extra money.

Before you can even mosey on up there, you have to make an appointment online. If you are running late (like I was because I never learn my lesson when it comes to Seoul traffic), give the embassy a phone call and chances are you’ll still be let in if they’re not busy: 02-397-4114

Next, you’ll use the online passport wizard to fill out an application. Print this out and bring it with you, along with a US 5cm x 5cm passport photo. (This is NOT the same size as Korean passport photos!) If you don’t have one on you, fear not. There’s a machine in the embassy that takes both won and dollars. You need to bring bills in 5 and 1 denomination because it does NOT give change. The cashier behind the plexiglass can help you out if you’ve forgotten and only have a 10, but it’ll waste your time..!

Gwanghwamun on the purple line is the closest subway stop; just go out exit 2 and follow traffic. The embassy is by a fire station. Click for a map of the embassy. Alternatively, you can show this address to a taxi driver:


서울특별시 종로구
Head for the ugly green overhang and follow it to the US Embassy!

Head for the ugly green overhang and follow it to the US Embassy!

Once there, you do not need to stand in line! To the left of the queue there is a special lane you can take. Show your documents and passport (you didn’t forget it, did you!?) to the person behind the window. They’ll unlock the door and you go inside, at which point cell phones, MP3 players, laptops, cameras, etc are confiscated until you leave.
In the waiting area, grab a number from the little machine with a green button. While you wait, be sure to fill out a return postage slip for when your passport is mailed back. These are to the right of the passport photo machine.
Once your number is called, the agent will check your documents, hand you a receipt, and shoosh you to the cashier. You can pay in won, US dollars, or by credit card. I paid $110 for the big 52 extra page passport book. Now to play the waiting game…
If you have kids in tow, there is a nursing station, bathroom, and play area inside too, so don’t fret!
UPDATE August 13,2014
I received my passport via mail 8 business days after I left it at the embassy. I also had to pay 8,000 won to the postman upon receiving it, so make sure you’ll be around when it’s delivered. My old passport was returned as well, with a big ‘CANCELLED’ stamp in the front page and holes punched in the cover.

Birth Control: What’s in a name?

June has been a somewhat shitty month for me, and–bear with me here–the bullshit the US Supreme Court just pulled made me kind of think that I might know the reason why I’ve been in such a funk. I have really had no desire to do shit–not even the desire to waste time, even. That’s understandable for one or two days, but, like, three weeks in a row? At this point I’m so lethargic that I just cannot be fucked about anything.

So what gives? Why was my June so shit?

Sure, I got a terrible case of strep throat the first week in, resulting in a fever so bad that I got a sick day off work. (I work in South Korea and that is, patently, something One Does Not Do Unless Absolutely Necessary and Even Then You’re Still Going to Get an Evil Eye, Depending on Your Boss.) I also lost my phone and had to shell out a couple hundred for a new one, just as I thought I was going to have extra for savings. USA gave me a heart attack when we played Portugal and my neighbors did not appreciate my cries of anguish. Yeah, okay, some crappy stuff happens. But crappy stuff happened in May and April and March and…

But I think it’s the fact I’ve been off birth control for a month. I stopped taking them when I went on antibiotics for strep because I’ve found the combination just puts my stomach through hell. I figured I’d just take a break this month, seeing as how I’m not getting any action from the gentleman contingent at present.

Apparently that was a Dumb Idea.

Primarily I use the pills to help control my estrogen levels to keep my emotions (and ovarian cysts, but forget about that can of worms) at a well-balanced level. I wish someone would start calling these pills what they really are–they’re hormone therapy. Yeah, they help prevent pregnancy, but there’s so much more that they do. When you find the right pill for your body, they can help lessen cramps, clear up your skin, and–if you’re like me–keep you balanced enough to actually find the energy to get up and go to a museum with a friend or even just go deal with work for 8 hours without wanting to snap a neck.

When you tell people you’re on birth control, how many times has an eyebrow been raised? “Mmmmmhm, I’m sure you are.” Well, dear stranger, I’m happy to inform you that I’m not getting actively laid every night of the week. I’m just an estrogen-deficient gal who wants to get some pills without being judged, harassed, or denied my right to healthcare.

When I think about how expensive birth control is back home ($35+ compared to $9 OTC in Korea) and how difficult it can be to get for some women, I feel less crappy about my June but crappier about the state of the world in general, so that’s quite the trade off.

$35 for pills that do so much for so many women! If you work minimum wage in most American cities, that’s 5 hours of work at least. For one year (plus let’s say an extra pack because sometimes you lose one in airplane luggage or something) that’s… $455. And this is for the bare bones stuff, not even as much as some gals have to pay for the more cocktailed up formulas because their physiology is different. Paying $60 for a monthly pack is not unheard of in the States.

If you go to Korea or China, birth control pills are available over the counter for stupidly cheap compared the the USA. The brand Marvelon is used in Canada and other first world countries, and you can get as many boxes as you need in one trip. Shit, stock up before you head home to the States, ladies. It looks like it’s going to be a long time before we have affordable and easy access to hormone therapy, at this rate.

24 Hour Medical Care in Bundang, Seoul

Just in case anyone is awake in the middle of the night, frantically Googling for this answer… As of the time of this posting, the St. Marie clinic used to be a 24/7 clinic in Jeongja that expats frequented for emergency care. If you saw my previous post about getting ill in Korea, you know that it can be a bit difficult to find a doctor on a Sunday or after 6PM.

Unfortunately, it just got harder:


From the time of this posting, the clinic is only open from 7AM to 1AM. And if you arrive at 12:50 AM like I did, you’l likely find the front door locked.

However, it is still open 365 days a year, which means that you can get examined on Christmas or a Sunday. Still better than most places in Bundang, if not Seoul. You’d even be hard pressed to find a hospital open on a Sunday.

As far as money is concerned, I cannot comment directly as I wasn’t seen. On different forums I’ve heard of people saying it was expensive, others saying it was on par with normal offices. In the grand scheme of things, if you’re desperate enough to see a doctor at midnight, chances are you shouldn’t be worried about how much money it will cost. (Yes, this American still struggles with even thinking such a thing!)

Anyone else know of any other healthcare facilities open on Sundays and holidays?

St. Marie clinic is located between the entrances of exits 4 and 5 at Jeongja Station.

Seoul Wine & Spirits Show

Did you know there’s an annual wine expo in Seoul? Did you know that at w25,000 for a badge that’s good for five hours of wine tasting, it’s the cheapest glass of wine you’ll find in the whole friggin’ city? Now you do.

Asia is the new hot shit in terms of emerging wine markets. If you find yourself in Seoul during the annual Wine & Spirit show, be sure to buy a badge and treat yourself to a few hours of wine tasting! Wines from all over the world are showcased alongside sake, whiskey, and Korea’s own soju. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any New Zealand wineries represented. New Zealand–what gives!?



Suck it up, waygook!

One thing that happens, no matter who you are, no matter what new country you decide to live in or how many vitamins you take, is that you are going to get sick in your new home. And in the first months of settling in, as you’re exposed to a slew of germs your body has never experienced, you’re going to be ill for weeks. Anyone who says they moved to China or Korea or Germany and didn’t almost immediately get the cold to end all colds is either a liar or a robot or—worst of all—a lying robot.

I’m sick. Again.

I’ve been fairly lucky by this point, only getting sick maybe once every other month after surviving that initial three week cold when I moved to Seoul. But this time I have strep throat, and I can’t really mess around with that.

Typically what I would do in the USA is head to the doctors or—if it was a Sunday—the small clinic in a grocery store down the street. If it was an excruciating pain, I’d head to the hospital, but as an American I need to be either in need of an amputation or have suddenly grown gills to go to a bonafide hospital. (Yeah, I didn’t have health insurance back home. One of the perks of unemployment.)

Then, if I was unable to move my sweaty, feverish body, I’d skip class or call in sick to work. In terms of work I’ve only done that four times in my life, and once was when I had such a high fever that I started talking to a loaf of bread. (Again, from strep.)

Things are a little different in Korea.