what the hell is this

Opening up a bank account in South Korea

Let me tell you why I’m drinking beer out of a measuring cup at 5:30 PM so you don’t judge me if you see misspelled status updates later.Firstly, I’m out of clean glasses.

Secondly, I have had the worst luck with opening a bank account in South Korea.

I assume that not everyone has had this type of experience because the entire peninsula would have been burned to the ground if even fifty percent of the population is as frustrated as I feel right now. For the first time in a long time, I have money to pay off credit card and student debt. Getting those moneys into my USA bank account is proving difficult.

Did you see Star Trek, when Kirk and Spock were seperated by a pane of glass? So close, so raw and open, but ultimately unable to bridge that final distance, reach out and touch?

Those are my bank accounts. I’m not sure which one is Kirk and which one is Spock. I’ll let you, the reader, decide.

Let’s break down the basics.

HOW TO BANK IN KOREA

(I’m with Citibank at the moment, so your mileage may vary. Also? I do not recommend it.)

1. If at all possible, get a Korean to go with you. If that’s not possible, get their phone number so the confused bank attendant can call and harass them for sending you by yourself. If you lack the phone number, for god’s sake, have them pin a hand-written note to your mittens saying that you want to open an account and any other possible thing you could need.

2. Banks are only open on weekdays 9am-4pm as a general rule. What if you work 8-6? Your boss will have to let you have an hour or two off. ‘But,’ you say, ‘that’s kind of crazy!’ Yeah? Well you’re preaching to the choir. And this is coming from an American who was used to bitching about banks closing at 6PM on the weekdays and only being open for four hours on Saturday. You know what I’m going to do as soon as I get back to America? Go to every damned bank I can on a Saturday and roll around on the floor like a cat on a new sweater.

3. Items you need to take with you to open a bank account; your address (use your school’s), your foreigner card, your passport, cash money as an initial deposit (I paid 10k won/$10, take 50k to be safe), a good luck charm, and a phone number. ‘But, Kris,’ you say to me with your big doe-eyes. ‘I don’t have a cell phone yet because I don’t have a bank account to use to sign up for a phone contract!’ Yeah? That right? Tough. Use your school’s phone number or a Korean friend’s. And don’t forget it, because you’re going to need to change it later once you get your own phone.*

4. So you go to the bank, fill out a stupid amount of paperwork, write down your passport and ARC numbers several times, enter your new pin number into a key pad and get your debit card. Sweet! All set! Unless if you want internet banking, you better sit your butt back down in that chair. If you want internet banking, you have to ask for it at the bank branch. ‘But,’ you wimper, a single tear rolling down your cheek, ‘in America I just sign up for it on the internet whenever I want and don’t have to–‘ ablahblahblah, can it. We’re in Korea now.

Back in the olden days (1990s) someone somewhere in Korea saw online commerce taking off and, with the best of intentions, decreed that shoppers should feel as safe buying fabrige eggs online as they do in the Fabrige Egg and Sad Sweaters Emporium down the street. That means that, these days, doing banking and commerce online in Korea–while totally safe–is, for us Americans who are used to throwing around credit card numbers willy nilly, an utter pain in the ass. Don’t get me wrong, my Korean checking account is locked down better than Fort Knox. Unfortunately it’s just locked down from me, too. And while I’m not the most savory of characters, I do deserve to get my grubby little hands on my own cash.

5. Once you ask for your internet banking, you are given a set number of days to actually create the account. After this window closes, you’ll have to go into the branch again. Easy, right? Are you out of your fucking mind? You need to have a computer running IE or install a special security program to use Chrome and maybe some other browsers that I’ve forgotten after my third measuring cup of beer. You’re also given, at the branch, a little card that looks like a decoder ring with sets of numbers. Don’t you ever. EVER. EV. ER. Lose this thing. You’ll need it as an extra security measure and will be asked to enter random numbers from it when making transactions, setting up your account, and probably using the bathroom at certain locations. Someone? Is going to break into your apartment at night, shake you awake, tie you to a chair, slap you, and ask for those numbers. Additionally, you have to install a security certificate onto your computer to use it as the one and only computer that can access your account after you go through the aforementioned blood ritual. Or, put it on a USB and tote it around with you to use on whatever computer you please. I think.

6. ‘How about mobile banking,’ you ask me, chin trembling like a newborn rabbit. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? After all that crap you just went through, you want to try and do it AGAIN on a smaller object that is deliciously aerodynamic and manages to find any diamond-hard surface within 100 yards? Fine man, fucking do it, I don’t even care. It’s not just downloading the app and putting in your web login ID. I don’t think. And they can’t do it at the branch. I was told. Honestly? I have no clue.

7. Once you get your shit together, you can use ATMs to transfer money directly to bank accounts. (And as soon as you get your debit card, you can transfer money to Korean accounts to pay bills. People don’t really write checks here.) It’s nice. They have an ‘English’ button. If you got through the mobile and internet banking steps, the ATM is going to be childsplay.

8. Just a note… Americans, the SWIFT number is NOT the same as the routing numbers we know and love and use. You’ll have to contact your US bank to find that shit if you want to transfer money internationally.

9. Lastly, Citibank has global transfers. You, in theory, can transfer your money for free between two international Citibank accounts. Unless your Korean branch insists that your American account doesn’t exist. Even after you log into your American account, and call the service rep in Dallas. This? This is why I’m… six cups of beer deep before 7PM. If you have an American Citibank account, the only thing I can suggest is to transfer a dollar to your Korean account and hope they can look up the info and help you out via reverse money osmosis because I am frankly out of ideas beyond drinking.

In any case, once you get it all set up, the Korean banking system is efficient and nice. English-speaking hotlines are available and will be given to you and enthusiastically highlighted by the banker who does not want to deal with your waygook ass again. And if you are someone who doesn’t have student and credit card loans to pay back home and can just keep your money in the Korean account… you’ll probably have a lot less stress in your life when you arrive here.

*The bank will send SMS confirmation numbers to you to send money overseas. This is why you need to change that phone number. And they hide parts of the old number from you, so you better recall all the digits. Also, your name on your bank account better match the one on your phone contract. ‘But, Kris,’ you sigh, rolling your eyes, ‘why would my name change? I’m not a scam artist or Cher.’ First off? Shut your mouth. Second? In America, some of us have middle names. In America, middle names are like second cousins. You know you have them, but you only remember them once in a while. My middle name is on my passport but not my credit card. My middle initial is on my diploma. Guess what–this is really fucking confusing to people in some other countries, namely South Korea. (And franky it should be because it’s my name like why would I possibly be so durrrrrrrrr about it unless I was from a country where middle initials and names were slapped onto presidential candidates to make them sound classy is where I’m guessing we got these from, etc.) So you decide the moment you get off the plane that you are going to ALWAYS follow whatever it says on your passport and I don’t even care if your middle name is ‘Sunbeam’ just go with it and save yourself the trouble.

Frankly, when it’s all said and done, Korea’s way of banking is probably safer and, in the long term, better. You know what else is? Exercise. And that sucks at first too. Also, watching curling. Then you get really into it.

I’m done.

 

UPDATE June 2014: After this trial by fire, I’m happy to say that I’ve been having a fine time with Citibank. If you can grit your teeth and get through the above, you’ll not only have a bank account that transfers your money home (to your other Citibank account) for free, you’ll also have passed a rigorous test that many ancient tribes believed initiated you into the warrior caste.

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live crab vending machine

There is a vending machine that sells live crabs.

Yes, you read that correctly.

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The man who installed the machine in the Xinjeiko subway station had a simple dream, a dream that every man, woman and child in China—or those that at least passed by the machine—would be able to get an affordable crab to cook and eat or maybe name and keep as a pet. Whatever strikes their fancies.

I am sort of only making up half of that.

Anyway. The crabs are kept at a certain temperature so they go into hibernation until they’re bought and woken up before they’re killed and eaten. Sort of like Walt Disney.

…that’s what they did to Walt Disney, right?

Maybe I’m thinking of someone else.

Also included in the machine are a few sauces and you receive the complementary stares of passersby if you actually purchase one. And if it’s weird to Chinese people, then you know it’s really odd.

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I think I saw one of the big ones on the top rack trying to escape. He blinked at me.

At least he doesn’t know where I live.

bear bile and tiger bone

Hopping on the internet to steal a picture from my good friend–the man, the legend–Casey. Here’s a collection of alcohol we found last month:

“These alcohols are genuinely infused with Deer Heart, Bear bile, & Tiger bone. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes deer heart helps against heart disease; bear bile cures tumors, arthritis, & improves eyesight; and ground Tiger bone can cure impotence.”

"surprise! you’re going to hong kong!"

This has been, so far, probably the most bizarre trip I’ve ever taken.Originally, I was supposed to fly from Philadelphia to Newark, Newark to Shanghai, then Shanghai to Nanjing and arrive at 10pm to meet my school and get taken to my new abode. However, my commuter jet in Philadelphia decided to break and got the fun started at about 9am. I completely missed my flight to Shanghai, but the woman at the Continental podium in Philly–after giving everyone a look that said, ‘If you so much as ask me what’s going on with the plane, I will book you a one-way ticket to Antarctica or worse–Detroit.’–told me to go back downstairs to get my checked luggage and a new ticket.I get handed a print out from a DotMatrix printer–which I could have sworn went extinct about 30 million years ago–that tells me Continental has paid for a SEPTA rail ticket, and an Amtrak ticket to get me to Newark airport at 12:18 in time for my 3:20 plane to Hong Kong, after which I’ll fly right over to Nanjing.

What I did yesterday to get to Asia is the traveler equivalent of a really intense yoga pose, one that strives to snap your kneecaps into several pieces.

I awkwardly hefted about 70lbs of luggage onto the SEPTA and handed over my ticket voucher, which the conductor looked at like I had handed him a candy wrapper and expected to pay with that. “Keep the change,” I said, and he informed me that I was not funny. But I digress. The woman at the Amtrak ticket counter looked at my train voucher the same way, but I think my dead, lifeless eyes convinced her to give it to me regardless. Why did I have dead, lifeless eyes at that point, you ask? Well, I finally deciphered the DotMatrix itinerary and, with a newfound appreciation for laser printers, discovered that while my first flight landed in Hong Kong around 7pm local time, my next flight didn’t leave for Nanjing until 10am the next day.

Ok, so no problem I told myself after a few deep breaths; I’ll just ask about accommodations when I get to Newark.

Except that the Amtrak train was late as usual, and the mini train to get from there to the airport was busted. (Luckily I finally figured out how to wield my luggage: put the 22 lb duffle bag on top of the 48 lb rolling bag, get a running start, and hope it makes the gap off the train to the platform. And not to forget my backpack on the train seat, naturally.)

So I got to my Newark check in at 2:20 pm; if you didn’t know, you’re typically supposed to be at the airport for an international flight, oh… three hours or so before it leaves. Give or take. The upstairs line was full, so I got ushered down to the ‘Elite Members’ baggage check–apparently they took pity on we ‘Plebian Members’ and let us use their gilded kiosks. The girl behind me was also going to Hong Kong and mentioned as such to a Continental employee whose job title I can only assume is King of the Line and Kiosks and Making You Feel Like An Idiot. He politely told her that she was entirely too late to make her Hong Kong flight, she should have been there hours ago, and even if she did get past security her bags would be lost and trampled by angry buffalo for good measure. (Well, not really; but you could tell by the tone of his voice he had a personal disdain for People who Run Late.)

This girl freaks, jumps ahead of me and everyone else to check bags and I at least guiltily ask the guys in front of me if I can cut before I follow suit. This girl manages to check in and sprint away just in front of me and I manage to do the same all while the kiosk lady is telling me to take a deep breath and get a beer on the flight. Must have been the vein in my forehead that tipped her off, I’m not sure.

I just made it through security in time and since I had gone–accidentally, albeit–through the Elite baggage check in, my ticket was printed out with their gold stamp so I was able to sneak into he Elite line and get on the plane super early and snuggle into seat B19. I literally, however, had no time to do anything but inform my Chinese hosts about my flight changes–let alone get on Google and look for a Hong Kong hotel or ask if Continental was going to flip the bill for this mess up. And then, as I was pointedly ignoring the women on either side of me, I hear the dreaded words:

“Hey, dude, I’ll call you when we land; someone’s in my seat.”

Well, I smirk to myself, how embarrassing. I’m glad I’ve never done that, being such an experienced traveler and all.

“Miss, what’s your ticket number? I have B19.”

I blink. This guy is actually talking to me. Like I took his seat or something. “Uh.” I fish out my ticket. “B19 too.”

“…crap. So should I sit on your lap or you on mine?”

“Whatever we do, I call the TV remote.”

Ugh.

Well, nothing much for me to do about this I suppose: “Uh, hey, listen; if there’s a problem, I honestly wouldn’t mind staying the night in Newark since–”

“No no no, we’ll get this sorted out.” The guy grabs my ticket and marches back up to the plane doors.

“If you get first class, I’ll hunt you down!” No lie, those were my exact words. I’m like Nostradamus, but with a slightly lower accuracy rating, I think.

A few minutes later, a woman in a suit comes back with my ticket and smiles at me, and I’m already reaching for my bag. It’s never good when someone in a suit has your ticket. “Miss Weldon?”

“Yes?”

She lowers her voice: “I’m very sorry; we sold this flight out and overbooked.”

“Ah, gotcha.” I’ve already got one strap of my backpack on. Newark’s not so bad, for being in New Jersey I guess.

“So since you’re the passenger with the higher miles and reward status, I’d like to invite you up to business class. Free of charge, of course.”

And that, dear readers, is why joining any perks club–be it your grocery store swipey card thingy or an airplanes frequent flyer program–is going to pay off one day. Being the last person to check in for a flight doesn’t hurt either. Or maybe the amount of crap I dealt with that day finally overfilled the brim and it was time for something good to happen for a change.

My jaw drops. “Really?” Stuff like this never happens to me. I think the most fortuitous freak occurrence the last four years of my life was that I got a free drink at Starbucks in college once.

She nods, and the woman beside me actually gives me a congratulatory pat on the back like I’m some kind of folk hero. I’m lead past the iron curtain separating Business from Economy; the nobles from the serfs, the Beatles from the Monkies. For 15 hours, I was treated like a human being on a plane, and it was completely worth every little hiccup in my trip beforehand. Whether being treated like a human being is worth the usual $1500 price tag is another matter entirely.

Yes, I know; Descartes is rolling in his grave. He never had to pay for checked baggage, though.

They let me take any seat I want, so I select a window in an empty row to myself in the back. I regale one stewardess–did you know they introduce themselves and shake your hand in Business class!?–with my story and later get extra coconut shrimp for my hardships. For no reason at all other than that I am there, I am given a little gray travel case of the essentials–lip balm, toothbrush, ear plugs and, of course, socks. Yes. I was given a pair of socks.

There is a six course meal and my jaw has still not closed from the shock. When it does, I am smiling and serine and I think I’ve somehow achieved inner peace. Or at least staved off a transit meltdown of epic proportions.

1) Cocktails and warmed nuts.

“What do you want to drink, miss?”

“Ummm.” I feel incredibly underdressed for business class. “What do you have?”

“Everything.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll get a water.”

I don’t order food well under pressure.

2) Fresh bread and appetizers such as my extra coconut shrimp

I select garlic bread, and my affection for the bourgeois grows with each bite.

3) Salad

“Would you like Champagne vinaigrette or bleu cheese?”

This is probably the test where they know if you’re really supposed to be in Business class. “Champagne vinaigrette,” I answer smugly, knowing that ‘bleu cheese’ will have the pilot eject me from my seat and down onto Greenland.

4) Main course; from the menu of selections with large words I can‘t pronounce, I choose the Chinese noodles with dumplings because I should probably get used to them sooner rather than later.

“Would you like wine?”

It must be a sign that I’m watching Sideways at this point. “Yes. Please.”

“What kind?”

Through my headphones, John Malkovich is telling his character’s love interest about pinot noir. “Pinot noir, please.”

“Excellent choice.”

If you say so.

5) Cheese and fruit

I’m starting to actually feel full. I also need a wine refill. How did I ever fly without wine? I need to start bringing a flagon of wine with me on long flights.

6) Dessert

A huge cart of vanilla ice cream with jars of fudge, cherries, peanuts and caramel wheels up to me. I take one look at the stewardess: “I’m going to die if I eat another bite.”

She laughs, and I make a mental note not to page her if I actually do start to croak. “More wine?”

Silly question. “Please.”

The lights go off a few minutes later, and I spend the majority of my time in Business class with my feet up on an ottoman, sipping pinot noir while watching a smathering of House, Family Guy and Blades of Glory. You can take the girl out of Economy, but you can’t take the Economy out of the girl. When I discover that my chair lies fully horizontal the perfect length of my body, I am ruined from sitting in Economy for the rest of my life. I hug my little gray travel case to my chest and, for the first time in ages, fall asleep on a plane, dead to the world.

Mine will be a mighty tumble back to reality when I get on the next flight in row 48G.

When we landed, the stewardess I’d made friends with pointed me out to the Hong Kong concierge and I told her about my canceled flight. Long story short, I kept all of my canceled flight receipts and proved that my Philly-Newark flight had ended abruptly, and I was put up in the airport hotel which makes the Taj Mahal look ‘somewhat dingy’.


Ignore my crappy luggage that the TSA rifled through a left a note in. I wondered my clothes weren’t in alphabetical order any more…!

 


A man plays piano in that UFO. That is a completely serious sentence.

I got a complimentary buffet ticket; ignore the raw fish and look at the soup. That is sweet red bean soup, and it tastes like you are drinking nectar. I had about six bowls of it. Probably explains the stomach ache I got later, but gluttony is a harsh mistress.

 

 

Hong Kong, to the delightful surprise of many, is not a city in China. It’s a separate country with it’s own currency and flag and everything. Happily, if you intend to visit Hong Kong for less than 90 days–or if your airline says ‘Surprise! You’re going to Hong Kong!’–you do not need a visitors visa to get in the country. Also, the taxis come in three colors–red, green and blue. The red ones go everywhere and the other two are confined to different zones of Hong Kong.

There are a lot of British influences here since England leased Hong Kong from China much in the same way your bum roommate leases a part of your apartment but never pays for the electricity.

For instance, there are a few signs for afternoon tea time and this is the first Asian hotel I’ve been in where they give sugar for tea. Also, the plugs aren’t compatible with the Chinese type–Hong Kong and Britain have the same type of plugs.

From my room I can’t see the actual city, but when we landed I got a beautiful glimpse of Macau, which was part of Portugal’s stomping grounds long ago. It looked neon and lit up like Las Vegas; I wouldn’t mind going there sometime.

Anyway. I’m just waiting for my flight to Nanjing, dreading my tumble back into Economy class. How spoiled I’ve been…

EDIT: Just got bumped up to bumped up to business class again on my flight to Nanjing. Very, very bizarre.