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While coming home from my Korean language class on Thursday I noticed that my T-money card - a public transportation card used for buses and the subway here - didn't have enough funds to pay for my commute the following day. With no money in my wallet I decided to stop by the bank after work to make a withdrawal large enough to recharge my card and give me some spending money for the next few days, but promptly fell asleep after walking through the door. I woke up just before ten o'clock and thought that might give me enough time to stop by Kookmin Bank (국민 은행, also known as KB Star) before they closed. KB Star is not only the place where I do my banking but also has the closest ATMs to my home, which tends to work out pretty well. Except for my recent discovery that the front doors - and thus the ATMs inside - are locked up promptly at ten o'clock.

[ T-money Plus card, a T-mobile card reader, and a teller from Kookmin Bank. Images from Naver News. ]

My next stop was the Nonghyup Bank (농협 은행; also known as the National Agricultural Cooperatives Federation / NACP) branch near Uijeongbu Station since I knew their lobby was kept open until at least eleven o'clock. As expected, the doors were open. What was unexpected though was having the ATM freeze on me after accepting my card and asking for my personal identification number. I tried asking the other patron in the lobby for advice (no success), I tried button-mashing (no success), and just as I was considering a call to my academy director for help the ATM notified me that it was canceling the transaction and spit out my card.

I proceeded to try my card in each of the remaining machines in this particular Nonghyup lobby but was rewarded with the same outcome -- a nerve-wracking wait of two or three minutes before the ATM rejected my card. Up until this point I had been conducting all of my transactions using the English menu options, both out of habit and from the reasoning that it would be a much easier way to keep track of what was happening with my money. The last thing I wanted was to push the wrong button on the Korean-language menu and have my funds stuck in some Kafkaesque alternate account.

[ As their name suggests the NACP does more than just banking. Images from Naver News]

My next stop was the ATM outside a nearby convenience store, where I made a successful withdrawal through the Korean only menus. Fortunately we had covered the words "deposit" (예금하다) and "withdraw" (출금하다) in Korean class two months ago, so from there it was simply a matter of typing in my PIN, selecting the amount to withdraw, and hoping the subsequent pair of menu options was either a reference to accepting a fee for using the machine or regarding whether or not I wanted a receipt of my transaction. In the end I got my 50,000 Won and left feeling happy that I was able to use what we've learned in class to participate in an everyday activity like the rest of the population here. A simple accomplishment, but one that made me smile all the same.

On my walk home I passed by the Uijeongbu market and came across a fire marshal's car (a Daewoo Matiz of all things), two ambulances, and four fire trucks concentrated around a Lotteria restaurant. There seemed to be a lot of steam coming from a sauna (찜질방) on the top floor but no clear signs of a fire. That didn't stop people from gathering to gawk at the scene. I later saw a fire truck with an extra-long ladder trying to fit into the narrow alleys that make up the market district; when I mentioned all this to my coworkers the next day - complete with hastily-taken cellphone pictures - they were all very surprised. I guess I should be thankful this didn't make the morning press, adding to examples of Uijeongbu making the news for all the wrong reasons. (This seems as good a place as any to link to this article from Korea Beat about the Uijeongbu teacher who stabbed someone at a club in Seoul late last month.)

Reaching an intersection amidst the alleyways that lead to my officetel I was stopped by a pair of men bundled up against the cold. They greeted me in Korean and asked if I was from Russia. Now, while I've heard that it's not uncommon for 'western' women to be asked if they're from Russia as an indirect way of inquiring as to whether or not they're prostitutes, I had never heard anything about the implications of being asked that question as a male. I will say that I find it interesting - and perhaps humorous - that nobody who has guessed at my nationality in Korea has done so correctly. There are a few posts about national and ethnic identity that I'd like to make, but who knows when I'll get around to those.

[ University Games Shirts by makkeboome ]

Concerning my two conversation partners, it turned out that they were migrant workers from Kazakhstan. They didn't stick around long after they heard I hailed from a different continent but my guess is that they had been looking for someone from a similar cultural background - i.e., a Russian speaker from the post-Soviet Union if nothing else - with which to share experiences and commiserate about life back home. It seems like the expat thing to do, anyway.

All that in a 45 minute span of time.

And because I enjoy including random asides, if you check out the English-language version of the Kookmin Bank website you'll see that one of the options in the left sidebar is "Overseas Remittance". What I find interesting about the associated map is that one should expect to see offices in those locations that see the most traffic or which are being courted for investment. For Kookmin these locations include the cities of Kyiv, Almaty, Harbin, Guangzhou, and Ho Chi Minh City in addition to the more well-known financial capitals of New York, London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Kookmin Bank also has a branch office in Auckland, which was an unexpected inclusion -- unless that's a reference to remittance payments sent from New Zealand back to Korea by "lonely geese fathers". (Lonely geese fathers are a phenomena discussed by James Turnbull of the Grand Narrative here, with a further mention of Korean identity issues in New Zealand here.)


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
Heh, the only other [foreigner] I know personally who is living in Korea is a Russian man. :P
Jan. 18th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
Do you know where in Korea he's living? Interestingly, after living in Uijeongbu for 17 months the only native English speakers I've talked to have been my coworker(s) and a group of American soldiers that I asked to stop acting like future rapists.

How disappointing that the Grenoblais lost. I'm really not a fan of Lyon and hope that someone else - well, anyone except Marseille - wins Le Championnat. Strasbourg need to get their act together in Ligue 2 or I'll be following a second division side for yet another year ...
Jan. 18th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
Jeju...somewhere. I went to look it up on facebook, but I think he moved back home. It's just as well, I'm not sure you'd really get along. He's the older brother of one of my good friends, and is sort of...strange. Nice enough, just odd. It's the Russian blood. XD
Jan. 18th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
P.S. Unsurprisingly Grenoble lost to Lyon last night in footie, 0-2. :( It was a home game for us, too!
Jan. 19th, 2009 03:08 am (UTC)
i have a newfound love for these transport cards... while yes,... i'll need to recharge them, but then, they're so convenient. In Macau, they even give you bus fare discounts (!!!)
But I think I'm keeping too many of these... MacauPass (Macau), Octopus (Hong Kong), Suica (Japan)...
Jan. 23rd, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC)
One of the things I like most about my card is the design - the pattern is artistic without being over the top. From what I've seen, if you use your card on the subway and then transfer to a bus immediately after the bus fare is either waived (if you only go a short distance) or discounted.

Have you used public transportation in Taiwan? I was surprised to see that instead of tickets they give out little tokens that are rubbed on the turnstiles. If you start collecting any more transport cards you can turn it into a collection ...
Jan. 26th, 2009 02:56 am (UTC)
I used to get asked if I was Russian quite often. One time I was speaking Korean in 동대문 with a Japanese friend and some Pakistani guys came up and asked me that. My Japanese friend spoke no English so I had been speaking Korean all day and so just turned and said, "아뇨, 미국인입니다." They stared blankly until I realized what I had done and responded in English. They wanted English lessons, (who doesn't?) but I was in my last few months and not in any mood to go from 분당 to 동대문 once a week. I always was confused by the question and took it to mean that though I was 백인 I was not the typical American, ergo, I must be Russian. But it is strange given HOW TOTALLY American I look.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )