Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

Let the reverse culture shock begin! And, it's begun in earnest for me. It's just the little things for the most part. I'll just talk about a few because they're the ones that are resonating the strongest with me right now.

I notice that I'm much friendlier than I used to be before I moved. I think it's because no matter how much people yammer on about how rude Koreans can be, no one can deny that you would usually get a few people being really nice to you because you were a foreign face. So I got very used to smiling a lot and greeting strangers as they walked past. I was out shopping today with a cousin of mine at Ikea in Emeryville and I noticed how many sour faces and scowls people had. I'm not saying there isn't that in Seoul. There most certainly is, in addition to the little old Korean ladies who'll knock you over lest you get in front of them getting on that bus. However, most people aren't scowling in Seoul (well, unless you count the cross foreigners in Seoul). I'm also more confident. I'm not as quick to put on a sour face because I know I can defend myself, so I'm friendlier and a bit more confident. I notice that I smile as I pass and some people look at me like I've lost my ever loving friendly mind.

Eh, better them than me.

Also, there are other little things.
The pace of San Francisco is so much slower than the pace of Seoul. Seoul is this bustling metropolis with 20 million people in Seoul proper and the surrounding province of Kyeonggi-do. It's a madhouse and I have to say I miss it and its fast pace. But I'm probably going to move on to the ultimate of bustling metropolises, so this won't last long.

In Seoul, people keep quiet on the bus and subway, for the most part. Even in Seoul, sometimes people talk. But they're not having full on, full voiced conversations. I wish I could say the same for San Francisco. Everyone is so intent on making sure you hear all their business. I've got to say I'm happy I've got my iPod player because folks really need to keep it down. I know it's not going to happen, and I know I'll get used to the volume over time, but grrrrrrrrrrrrr.
It's funny because I realize I never really ever bought stamps in Korea. When I needed to mail something like a package, I'd go to the post office and just mail it. In fact, the one time I wanted a stamp instead of the electronic label they print out and put on the envelops you give them, it was a huge production. She had to get up, go to another window, get a couple of stamps and acted like it was the oddest thing in the world. In a way, I guess it is there.

However, being back home, I owed a friend some money. We're going on a cruise soon and last year I was the lead passenger. So everything was in my name. This year, she's the lead passenger. I paid up but she overpaid a few hundred, so I owe her. Now, in Korea your friend would just give you their bank name and account number. If you have Internet banking you could just transfer that money to them from your account no matter if you bank at a different bank. In terms of fees, you'd get maybe a thousand won and some change and that's a little over a dollar at the current exchange rate. If you didn't have Internet banking you could just go to an ATM and do an account transfer there. Here, um, no way. It's either PayPal, which charges someone to withdraw the funds put into their PayPal account, or you're writing a check or giving them cash.

Ohmygod. How antiquated. This friend lives on the other side of the country, the best option for her under these restraints from the dark ages was just for me to mail her a check. Um, minor problem. I've not bought a stamp in ages and I wasn't even sure where the nearest post office was AND it was something I'd remember at the end of the day. However, I wasn't up for doubling back once I realized where the closest post office to me is located. I asked someone and they told me I could get stamps at Walgreens drugstore. Then my memory lit up, yeah. I could buy stamps at the grocery store or drug stores. Cool. But then I needed an envelope...grrrr, I might as well go to the post office for that because I do recall that they sold prestamped envelopes at the US post office. Okay, back to square one. I finally got it all done yesterday. I was at Union Square and there is a Walgreens there and a Borders Bookstore that I could go into, sit in the cafe area, write this woman a check and address and stamp the envelope. Then I just had to find a mail box. I managed that, but, wow, what a lot of steps to take when what I'm used to is getting someone's account number and a few keystrokes later they're paid.

I told this story over dinner last night and my friend's girlfriend looked at me like I was nuts. I'd forgotten to add that I'm used to just transferring someone money online. She asks me if I'm THAT tapped in to the net and technology that I can't use a phone book. Well, of course I can, but I'd rather not if I've got my Blackberry handy. I'm still just irritated that I can't do a damn transfer through my online banking account!!!

But yeah, it's those little things that are tripping me up. Big things like transit passes, signing up for employment agencies, shopping, etc. no problem. Little things like buying stamps are minor drama and annoyances for me.

It's pretty much the most exciting thing going on with me now right now, so I'm glad there is something to talk about ;)

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  1. Hi there Regina!

    I am getting so many error messages trying to visit your it my computer or do you have that problem alot with guests? I hope it's not my system!

    I am thrilled that I found your blog and I wanted to drop a note and invite you to my think tank! You're always welcome!

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

  2. I gotta say I think it's your system or connection. South Korea has some of the highest and most advanced Internet tech in the world. I find that people reading from countries like the States just sometimes don't have the tech or bandwidth to handle the site without errors. However, I'm back in the States now and my little laptop can handle my site. Then again, this is a Korean bought HP laptop.

    I've been to the site. However, even though the sidebar says no lurking, I'm lurking for now ;)

  3. Hey Expat Jane I don't know if you would be interested but Western Union does money transfers out of your bank account or using your debit/credit card to wherever and whomever.

    Also I believe they have different prices depending on the amount and how fast you want it get there. Nevertheless did you get the Forever Stamp because I expect the Post Office to increase the rates real soon.

  4. Thanks but Western Union is ghetto-fabulously expensive because they prey on people without established bank accounts or those in desperate situations. I'm neither of those ;) I just owe a friend some money and mailed a check to her to pay her back. PayPal is even cheaper than Western Union.

    Out of curiosity I checked their rate. Are you kidding me? $24.79 to transfer money?

    That's regressing to money order and paycheck advance level of finances.

    I actually considered Western Union when a Japanese friend of mine covered me and got my John Mayer concert ticket for me back in 2006. Transferring through PayPal wasn't a way to go - I don't think they were there or she didn't have an account. I ended up waiting until I got to Japan and just had a nice teller help me put the money in the girl's account via the ATM.

    That's the level of technology they have in both South Korea and Japan. If you've got someone's account number, you can just go to their bank and deposit it (granted you can do that in the States but with so many darn banks it's only going to work if they're in the same geographical area or if they're with a big national bank.) The other option is you can transfer directly from your account to theirs (even if you're with different banks.)

    The USA is in the fucking technological dark ages, so I snicker a bit at all the geeks with the Blackberry earpieces walking around like their hot isht. Most just have NO clue what tards they look like. (I know, I have to have them when you drive, but still = tards.)

  5. And, yeah, the clerk at Walgreens smiled when I asked her how much postage was and explained why I was asking. She sold me a book of "forever" stamps ;)

    Thanks for the tip.

  6. I feel you on how hard it is adjusting back to how America is but at least you're back in San Francisco and not some farming town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. SF is definitely a lot more relaxed and that part can get annoying but try to focus on all the things you missed back home while you were in Korea and keep yourself busy. Go on a bike ride, stress-free without the worry of getting hit by cars every 30 seconds, and visit the beach. Eat at all the restaurants you'd kill to eat during the time you were away and eat at those places frequently. I'm living in Seoul right now and I would love to eat at Yummy Yummy Noodle, Yellow Submarine in the Inner Sunset, Little Star Pizza in the Lower Haight, Osha in the Tenderloin, Sunflower and Tartine in the Mission, and finally at my all-time favorite sushi restaurant in the world, Jimisan Sushi which is also in the Inner Sunset. Just do all the things you wanted to do while you were in Korea and spend lots of time with good friends because the food and people that kept you in Seoul have now caused a void inside of you that needs to be filled. :)

    PS: I loved what you had to say on the Being Black in Korea episode of Metropoliticking in Seoul. I was having a really hateful relationship with Korea at the time and you taught me how to adapt better and get back into a more positive state of mind. Thank you.

  7. You're welcome. Positive is where it's at or you'll just drink yourself into a horrible state of misery in Korea. Also, you'll end up being around a bunch of buzz kills who are negative and that becomes a nasty cycle. I avoided those people like the plague. It took me a bit of time to figure out the weird dance of negativity that goes down there, but, once I did, I stayed clear of bitching foreigners.

    Oh, I'm loving being back. I'm bored, bored, bored. But I do go out and enjoy the diversity and the food. I took a walk out to the beach my first weekend back. I met up with a friend from high school who lives in the Sunset and she's game for walking with me sometime. So you're right. I'm bored but I'm going to make the best of it while I'm here. I know that when (and if) I move on to NYC, I'll miss San Francisco.

    I love San Francisco and I think if I were otherwise distracted with a spouse and children, I'd see it differently. I'm single and not working until next month though, therefore I'm bored ;)

  8. I almost fell off my chair laughing with the stamp story. And electronic transfers (or walking into a bank and making a deposit) rule the day even in this backwater outpost. And online billpay, where I can link my bills (or anyone else's) to my bank account. It's amazing how backwards that stuff is in the United States! They may not have cargo tricycles and people collecting cardboard to make a living, but mailing a check?! ha!

    One day I will probably make the leap back, and I will look to you for guidance. So make it good! hope you are well, talk soon.

  9. You know what? A pox on me for forgetting that I could, at least, plug her into my online bill pay and could have sussed it out that way. I mean I did for someone else recently. It completely slipped my mind somewhere in the process.

  10. moving to the ultimate of metropolises? Paris is not giving me the results that I expected.I'm seriously considering moving to NYC. especially as I have a place to stay while looking for work in addition to working more as a photographer. I'm so tempted to moving back to Korea for the money.
    Welcome back to the States! I've always wanted to visit San Francisco, one day soon I hope!

    This Time in Seoul

  11. I think I ought to. I've always wanted to live in NYC, and it's best to do it now rather than settle back here and then have to uproot and move again.

    I hate moving, but I hate it so much that I know if I do settle back in the Bay Area, I won't want to uproot again. It's pretty much now or never.

    San Francisco is beautiful, so you definitely ought to visit.

    At this point, with the exchange rate, working in Korea isn't as good as it was even a year ago this time. So keep that in mind.

    However, whatever you decide, good luck!

  12. Thank you, Regina!
    NYC or Korea and/or NYC/Paris, it's going to be good either way.
    It really is looking like this: NYC to Korea to down payment on a loft space to create a home base for myselfto travel the world for work only. This is the life that I envision for myself. It's not time for me to settle down yet.

    Good luck to you as well, perhaps we'll bump into each other in the City.


  13. It sounds like a good plan. Right now, my plan consists of just getting there sometime in the spring ;)

  14. so funny ! I totally empathise with your frustrations. I've moved back to Ireland from a long stint away , mostly in Thailand. And it's the same here , everything seems like a production sometimes. Especially banking; it really seems like they are out to make life difficult for their customers sometimes...can I ask what a 'forever stamp' is??

  15. Hey Niamh!

    My return back has been a few weeks and a trip to Cabo and back with John Mayer and all of his insane fans, myself included. I'm now back in it and very happy to be home. There aren't anymore real shocks coming my way. I know they're going to be loud people on public transit sharing conversations that I'm not interested in. I know that people are going to look at me strange when I thank the bus driver as I get off the bus. I know the banking hours are better. In South Korea they're open Monday through Friday and close at 4:30pm, which is idiotic. At least, the US beats them on that. Banks are open to 6pm (in California, at least) and are open on Saturdays. But, it's still frustrating not to be able to transfer from account to account. But this is a country where people still don't have the connectivity that they have in South Korea and simply don't expect a money transfer to be so easy.

    A forever stamp is just a postage stamp that won't require you to add more postage if the rate goes up. If you get one that has a specific amount on it, if that rate goes up, you have to add more stamps. At the pace I'm going, since mail is something I just don't do much of, all of those stamps but the one I used are still in my wallet. So I'm glad I got a book of those ;)


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.