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Region Restrictions in Korea (And What to Do)

The world has changed a lot since 2007 when I first arrived in Korea. Many of the services we now use in our daily lives were just getting off the ground, or weren’t even invented yet. If you’re about to start your own grand Korean adventure, I’m putting together a little technical manual. If you’re Canadian, you’re probably already well aware of how different entertainment markets work online. Canadians often complain when they’re region-locked out of services their American cousins can access.

In this respect, Korea isn’t all that different. Certain sites will redirect you to a Korean version, or they may lock you out altogether. If you’re a digital fiend, then this may cause undue anxiety. I’ll do my best to alleviate that in this post.

Parts of this post can apply to countries other than Korea. Many of these tricks can be used when you’re abroad, or locked out of another country’s service. I’ll update this entry as time goes on. However, I don’t own accounts on every service out there, so it won’t be comprehensive. If you want to know how your Xbox accounts will work in Korea, search Google (or Bing).

ActiveX

Remember those annoying ActiveX pop-ups that drove you crazy a decade ago? Korea still hasn’t developed a security system that bypasses those antiquated security pop-ups and installations. There has been talk about the country developing legislation to drop mandatory ActiveX installations, but it’s now 2015 and we still use them here.

If you have a device that can’t handle ActiveX security, then it’s going to make navigating online a royal pain. The vast majority of Korean websites require a plug-in to operate properly. If you have a Windows PC, then you should be set to go (although it won’t be smooth sailing). If you’re fond of Macs, then get ready to pull your hair out.

As Microsoft has announced it’s pulling the plug on Internet Explorer, I’m not sure what Korea is going to do. Many of my friends panicked here when support was no longer given to Windows XP.

Amazon

If you use Amazon for its physical, or digital, goods you won’t find too much different. You can use your Amazon account access all the different countries’ versions of Amazon. This should work in your favour when trying to snap up a deal.

If you are shipping to Korea, you shouldn’t have to pay any sort of sales tax. That could help offset the shipping costs. When it comes to shipping, Korean customs is usually very generous about the amount you can import without tacking on extra fees. You should be good to go if you use shipping services like USPS. In some instances, Amazon might charge you ahead of time for importing fees, and then reimburse you if they weren’t necessary.

If you have stuff shipped with UPS or DHL, prepare for a lot of extra charges.

You might need your ARC ID code, or an I-PIN code. For the longest time, I-PINs were practically impossible for foreigners to get, but now the service has an English website. You will need Internet Explorer to use those wonderful ActiveX programs, though.

I don’t use Amazon’s streaming services. I do have a Prime account, but Canada doesn’t have those services. I’m not sure if they work in Korea problem-free, or if you need a VPN. I do purchase ebooks on the Kindle store, and have them sent to my iPad, though, and they work well.

Apple

I have an Apple TV, and an iPad 2. My iTunes account has never given me any problems in Korea. It has never redirected me to a Korean online store, and it has never region locked me from making purchases. Some of the apps on the Apple TV don’t work (like the Korean TV one), because they’re meant to be viewed outside Korea, but I’ve never wanted to use them in the first place.

My iPad has been used extensively since 2011. It connects automatically to the Canadian store regardless of where I am in the world. I tend not to browse Korean websites on it, because of the aforementioned ActiveX problems.

VPNs allow you to use services and sites that are blocked in Korea, and they are a breeze to set up when you get their apps. I personally use TunnelBear.

BBC iPlayer

BBC’s iPlayer program requires a VPN set up, or some DNS wizardry done to your router. You can download the program onto your PC and watch the content on there (or add an HDMI cable from the PC to the TV).

Quality isn’t the greatest, though, so you may find it better to wait for BBC shows to appear on Netflix, or other services.

Disc-Based Movies

If you still purchase DVDs and Blu-rays like myself, then this is for you. When it comes to DVDs, Korea is in Region 3. Thanks to DRM, Korean DVDs won’t play on your native DVD player, or laptop (and your DVDs won’t work on theirs). However, there are ways to get around this. If you have a DVD player, it’s almost certain it can be set to Region 0 through some remote control button-pushing. Region 0 will allow it to play DVDs from any region (North America is Region 1). There are computer programs you can buy that will do the same with your PC’s disc drive. However, some Blu-ray drives in your computer may not allow this.

When it comes to Blu-rays, you may be a bit luckier. Korean Blu-rays are in Region A (which makes it the same as Japan and North America). However, most Blu-rays are region-free, or are multi-regional. If you’re unsure if the Blu will play, just check the box for the region letter.

If you have a computer, you can also rip the discs and extract the video and audio to your computer. That’s what I do with all my DVDs. I haven’t done that with my Blu-rays, though.

ebay

Ebay doesn’t seem to care where you are located. You can make purchases wherever you may be. I use the Canadian store, the UK version, and US one. Sometimes you can find stuff for cheap, and even when the shipping to Korea is factored in, it’s cheaper than what’s on sale in the country.

Watch out for UPS and DHL, though.

Facebook

By and large Facebook should operate the same wherever you go. However some of the pages may detect your location, and their posts will be written in Korean, rather than English. Many companies these days have regional offices that tailor their online content for specific countries. You can change this to another country if you want:

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Click the ‘…’ button for a drop-down menu. Then click ‘Switch Region’.

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Choose the country you want.

 

HBO

I think HBO is available in Korea, because I often see its shows included in advertisements at the theatre. I don’t know if it’s straight HBO, or if the shows are licensed out to a different cable company.

I think the HBO Go app doesn’t require a VPN or DNS trickery to be used abroad. As long as you have a HBO subscription, you can just login and watch the shows.

If you’re Canadian, you can access your native land’s cable app. For example, Bell’s is TMN Go, which includes HBO. You can login with that app, and stream your shows. However, the video quality is terrible. Think 240p-320p on Youtube, with a few teasing seconds of HD.

HBO Now has launched, and it is only available in the US. Technically. If you want to access it in Korea, you will need a DNS service (or VPN, but a DNS is faster). You will also need an Apple device to sign up for it. That means you need an American iTunes account. Setting up an American iTunes account is fairly simple. When it asks you for your credit card (which is probably linked to your native country’s iTunes account), skip it, and add cash with a US iTunes giftcard (which you can purchase online, and have the code sent to you). Once you have an American iTunes account, with enough money to purchase a month’s worth of HBO Now, you can sign up for it in the app itself (which is only available on the American storefront, so make sure you login with your US account). Once it recognizes your US iTunes account, and your DNS router service, you should be good to go.

I’ve tested HBO Now on an Apple TV, and the quality streams at HD, unlike the TMN Go app.

Hulu

Hulu is naturally blocked in Korea. You can access it via a VPN, or simply through a browser extension like Hola Better Internet.

However, you do need a Hulu account to access the TV and movie service Hulu Plus. If you’re Canadian, this isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Initially it may seem like your credit card’s address keeps you from setting up a Hulu account. But if you take out all the letters of your Canadian postal code, you have three numbers. You can use that sequence to find an American zipcode that starts with the same three numbers. Search online for the name of the city, state, road, etc, and you’ll be on your way. This is the same process that allows your credit card to be used without problems when you travel abroad.

The Hulu apps on your devices won’t work unless you have a VPN, or use a DNS service. If a service like Sony’s PSN doesn’t have the Hulu app in your country’s store, set up an American account. You can download it for free from the American store, and it will show up on your Canadian profile.

Don’t forget, Hulu charges in American dollars. As your country’s currency fluctuates, you may no longer wish to continue paying for a TV service, although pretty speedy with its uploading of shows, still uses ads you can’t skip. However, the Criterion Collection of films, all of which are ad-free, could be worth the price of admission alone (along with all the classic Doctor Who episodes).

Netflix

Netflix isn’t in Korea just yet, but it’s coming soon. Right now you need a VPN to access it, or the DNS service listed above. If you have your own Netflix account, accessing it is a simple login process.

Picture quality is usually very, very, good (thanks to Korea’s internet speeds). Without a downloading cap, you can stream all your content in 1080p without worrying. If you use a VPN, you have access to all the different Netflix regions. You may think the US’s is the best, but some of the content in other countries is superior (Canada has much better movies, but the American one has better TV shows).

NHL

If you’re not a Canuck, this may not be of interest to you. But if you hail from Canuckistan, it is vital information. NHL Gamecenter is available in Korea without VPN jiggery of any kind. Once you pay the fee, you’re good to go for the entire season. The best part? The blackouts that occur in Canada are non-existent in Korea since you’re far outside the televised market. The streaming video quality can usually be set to “best”, and you’ll have lag free HD.

Some of the Gamecenter apps on the devices don’t work. I tend to watch it on my iPad, computer, or Apple TV. My PS3 app is useless, and I’m not sure why (my Vita seems to work just fine, though).

(if you’re back in North America and your game is blacked out, you can use a VPN or DNS service)

If you don’t want to pay to watch NHL hockey, you can stream the games from CBC’s website (after using a Canadian VPN connection). However, the games will just be the ones televised by CBC and may not be your team of choice. I’m not sure about the video quality, but when I did it in Canada years ago, it was HD.

I’m fairly certain you can watch NBA and MLB through their respective services just as well in Korea, but I have never attempted it.

Nintendo

Nintendo systems nowadays are fairly region-locked to the region they were bought in. Don’t bother trying to play Korean games you bought for cheap on your foreign consoles, unless they were modded (or you’re using the original DS, which wasn’t locked).

However, the online storefronts have never presented me with any problems (Wii, 3DS, and Wii U). Even though I am obviously not in Ontario, I have never received messages online telling me that a certain title wasn’t available in my region.

My 3DS used to have a lot of problems connecting for online play for some reason. It may have been my router. However, when I used Unblock-us and changed my router’s DNS settings, the problem completely went away. It may have been because the company is set in Toronto, but I have no idea. And the video channel is completely locked out, when I am in Korea (the one with all the short comedy videos).

One thing to note is that the Wii and Wii-U require Korean style electrical adapters when you plug them in. Usually I just buy caps to place over the North American plugs. However, the Wii and Wii-U use uneven plug ends, so they don’t fit in the regular caps I purchase. You can try looking on Gmarket for a Korean power brick for the Wii. The Wii-U isn’t out yet in Korea, so you may have to look for a long time for an adapter that will fit.

My Wii and Wii-U used the USB ethernet dongle for wired connections online. You may notice better speeds than just using wifi.

Download speeds are still pretty slow, for whatever reason.

Playstation

In Daegu I brought my PS2 slim to Korea, and never had any problems. In my final year there, I bought a PS3 slim from 88 Game Land (88게임랜드), who are some of the best people to get your video game fix if you’re in the area (seriously, shop at their location(s)). Most of the PS3 games are region-free, and even if they were bought in Korea, most will install in English if your PS3 is set to English. If you’re unsure, look on the box for the language settings (언어). If it says ‘영어’ then you’re good to go. The PS3’s DVD player is region-locked to Korea’s region and won’t play DVDs from other regions (and my PS2 is region-locked to Canada’s region and won’t play Korean DVDs). However, the PS3’s Blu-ray player is luckily set in the same region as North America, so it never gave me any problems. And as noted above, many Blu-rays are region-free or multi-regional.

I also bought a PSP when I was in Daegu, from Home Plus. I’m pretty sure it’s region-free as well. The UMD games were the same deal as the PS3 games when it came to being in English. However, you may find some games, like Loco Roco, where English is absent (but, I didn’t care. It allowed me to work on my Korean abilities).

I bought a Vita a few years back on Gmarket, and like the PS3, it’s a Korean version.

These days, I no longer purchase physical copies of games. Instead I just use the PSN Store for digital downloads. Despite being a Korean PS3 and  Vita, both devices connect to my Canadian account. I purchase all my content in Canadian dollars. You may have trouble with your credit card when trying to purchase something in Korea on the console itself. It may lock you out. Try going to the online store instead, on a computer, and using Hola, or a VPN, to set the location to your account’s setting. Your credit card will then work without a fuss, and you can make your purchases on your computer, and then later download the content onto the console. You can also use Paypal.

While all this works just fine, movies and music can’t seem to be purchased with my Korean console. I’m not sure why there is a difference between games (which can be purchased just fine) and other content.

If you want an app that’s in the US store, like Hulu, set up an American account with another email. Then use that profile on your PS3 to access the store. Apps that are free don’t need a credit card to purchase. When you download them, they will pop up on the PS3’s other profiles, even if they aren’t American.

Steam

Steam might try to detect your browser’s location and force you to use the Korean version of the site. You can use a VPN, Hola, or the country’s specific URL to access Steam in your own language. You don’t need to fool around with location settings when you are playing your games, just when you want to purchase stuff. Download speeds are very fast.

YouTube

You’d think YouTube would be problem-free, but for whatever reason, Korea likes to gimp Google’s services in some manner. Ages ago, it was illegal to be anonymous in Korea online, and YouTube”tried” to stop anonymous usernames on the site, but that was bypassed by setting your location to “worldwide”.

Recently there’s an identity verification page that pops up, if the video is flagged for mature content (swearing, sexiness, etc). As far as I am able to tell, it’s completely broken.

YouTube Content Warning

Typical message.

If you try to verify your age, you’ll be greeted with this:

It's a trap!

It’s a trap!

It doesn’t matter what I type in there, it will tell me the information is wrong. It can be completely identical to the account I have with KT, it will still say it’s in error. You can use VPN connections to get around it, or Hola, but that will require logging in again, and your streaming speeds might not be as fast. Setting YouTube to ‘worldwide’ does nothing.

It’s ridiculous, because my Canadian credit card is tied to my Google account, and that should prove by default that I am over 19 years old.

 

Jehovah's Witness material

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea

If you’ve been reading this blog since the Daegu days, you’ll probably remember me complaining about this particular Christian sect in Korea. As much as my blog may be associated with Shincheonji going-ons (who are coincidentally currently getting hammered in the media lately), Jehovah’s Witnesses have long been my bane in Korea.

If you’ve come to the ol’ Sanctuary post 2010, let me quickly bring you up to speed. Back in Daegu, JWs would roam the downtown core of Daegu, looking for foreigners. I was a twelve minute walk from the heart of Daegu’s Dongseongno (the main shopping street downtown), so I frequented it usually once a week. I ran into them all the time around the Kyobo Bookstore. They were always women, and they always had English-language material. They never tried stopping the many Koreans walking by them. Their purpose was to specifically target foreigners and bring them into the fold.

Because if there’s one thing North Americans love, it’s having our own religions explained to us by Koreans.

Back in 2007, I would politely listen to what they had to say. I was a Canadian abroad, and thought I had a reputation to maintain. Three years later, I was telling them I was an atheist in Korean, and blowing by them.

When I came to Gangneung, I didn’t exactly escape their notice. I couldn’t. My landlady was one.

She would use bill collection time as an excuse to read Bible passages to me. Cute? Not really, considering she told her congregation about me. When they were finished with their Bible reading at her home, they would sometimes come down, knock on my door and introduce themselves to me, ask for my cell number, and invite me to their church. Did they do this to the other tenants? Of course not. As aggravating as that was, the last straw was the church members coming to my door around 9 and 10 PM, asking me to watch a video and then ask me for feedback so they could do their ‘homework’.

Again, they only ever came to my door, and no one else.

One time, someone claiming to be from the City Hall called the school, asked for me, and when I answered, he went on to read Bible passages. I flipped out on the phone.

That incident did not keep them from somehow worming their way into the school and leaving English-language material on my desk. The latest was today’s. I was in class, so I didn’t get to see who had the pleasure of contributing to the school’s recycling programme.

You might think I was getting this special treatment, but that’s hardly the case. In fact, quite a few other foreign English teachers have had them drop by their schools as well in Gangneung. Some of them have had JWs follow them to class, wait outside, and then hang around to talk about their religion. Others have harassed the foreign teacher at their desks in the teachers’ office.

You’d think I would have my hands full dealing with Korean cults like Shincheonji and the International Youth Fellowship (Good News Mission). The former doesn’t require any further explanation, but the latter likes to advertise their highly-expensive Christmas concerts and their English speech contests in the school. There’s also the church of the heavenly mother (the church which has the Christian god as a Korean woman) who also used to come by my door.

You’ll notice that a lot of Christians sects in Korea use the same tactics. They target foreigners, so as to appear more international (and provide proof that their message has universal appeal). They like to use women to approach foreigners, preferably younger ones (and wearing something that catches your eyes). They also aggressively pursue their targets in ways the Catholics and Buddhists won’t (you’ll notice I left Protestants out. Korean Protestants can be just as… special as some of the cults here).

In public, I try to be as understanding as possible. I also try to exercise patience and tolerance. However, truth be told, I am sick and tired of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea. Korea has done so well in creating their own sects and cults, I don’t know why an American one is so prevalent here. For eight years they have accosted me in the street, at my home(s), and place of employment. No other religious order has been such a royal pain and annoyance. I’ve turned them down literally dozens of times, but they still keep pushing their schtick onto me. The only thing that has kept me from going full militant-atheist on them is that I haven’t met in them in person for several years now.

They’re just out there in the periphery. Sneaking their Doomsday garbage onto my desk when I’m not looking. Since they’re so good at English, I hope they stumble onto this entry. After nearly eight years, I no longer care if I come across as harsh, or too blunt. Believe your End-of-Time nonsense people have been spouting for millennia. That’s your business. If you want to waste your life worrying about an apocalypse that isn’t going to happen, do it on your own time. Don’t try to rope hard-working foreigners into your juvenile behaviour by hounding them at their jobs.

Women's Rights

A Celebration of Korean Women

This Sunday marks a global day that recognizes the struggle women have the world over to be treated equally. As a collective species, we are nowhere near this goal. Partly because of people like myself, who went through most of their lives thinking there wasn’t a problem that needed to be rectified. I was one of those people in university who glossed over feminism when it was discussed in my coursework, as I believed Canada had become an egalitarian state. It wasn’t until I spent some time in Korea, that I was able to look back at my country with a critical eye. What I discovered was a country dismissive over women’s rights issues, and condescending attitudes that mitigated further discussion. Vocabulary parsed with victim-blaming, and slut-shaming, helped prop up a culture that wasn’t conducive towards critical self examination.

That isn’t to imply women have it easier in Korea, because that simply isn’t the case. If anything, the patriarchy is more deeply entrenched. For those of us who hail from the West, and live in Korea, this is readily apparent. While men’s rights activists were an easy target to mock in Korea, it gradually became apparent they had peers within our home countries. As I became more aware of the mirroring of attitudes, it helped me cast a more critical eye on Canada.

However, much of the above has been reiterated multiple times within this blog. What perhaps hasn’t been as often written about is the impact women have had on me, while living in Korea. Women have had an absolutely massive impact on whatever measure of success I have had in the country. As has often been the case with my sex throughout history, I usually take the credit that a lot of hard-working women behind the scenes more justly deserve.

What makes this particularly egregious is that I am constantly surrounded by women. This has been true in Daegu as well as Gangneung. At all the places I worked at in Daegu, there were no male coworkers for 99% of the time. My peers were all women, who had to work very hard to sustain the business nature of the hagwon industry. Whereas I could focus on my lessons and teaching abilities, my female counterparts weren’t as lucky. They often had to maintain a certain standard of appearance, and beauty, to appease management and the customers (students’ parents). Whereas I was judged on my ability to engage the students, my coworkers didn’t have that luxury. They also had to exercise their domestic skills to clean and cook, when the men could just sit back and passively take it in. During functions or events, they had to assume submissive airs and tones, so as to fit into a rigid set of cultural rules.

Despite all this, they still did everything within their power to ensure I was as comfortable as possible. They befriended and hung out with me on our time off. If I ever needed help, they never ignored my text messages. If I had a problem with something I could not fix, I would often dump it onto their laps, and they would work their magic. They would take me to places within the city I would never have been exposed to, helping me to better acclimatize to the local culture. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t have lasted the 39 months I spent in Daegu.

In Gangneung, it has been much of the same. I do have more male coworkers at my school, but none of them are English teachers. I have made friends with some of the men teachers over the years, but they would often get transferred to other locations within a year. By and large, my social circle in Gangneung has been primarily female.

My immediate coworkers within the English department have been nothing short of gracious. I try to do the heavy lifting when it comes to teaching and lesson planning, because I am well-aware of the extra work they are saddled with, and I can’t help with. In class, we’re a well-oiled machine humming along. But without my co-teachers’ hard work and dedication, I wouldn’t be in the position of a teacher the students adore. Every complaint I ever had was looked into, so as to not become a constant source of irritation. Any trouble I was having, professional or personal, I could count on them to help pull me through, even when it wasn’t in their job description.

When it came to life outside the classroom, the friendliness of the women I worked with was without equal. This would extend to the non-English teachers as well. Most of my adventures post-2010 have been with coworkers who don’t teach English. I would often go on trips throughout the province (and sometimes outside) with them. At first it may have been the novelty of having a foreigner along for the ride, but four years later we’re still getting together for regular meet-ups. By now they’ve been transferred to other schools, or accepted early retirement plans, but we still catch movies or chow down at hidden away restaurants. Knowledge I’ve absorbed from my experiences with them has been used with other friends when they visit Gangneung, helping me maintain my mister Smartypants reputation.

The same positive things can be said about my girl students. They’ve often been many of my best and brightest students since 2007. Most (if not all) of my camps and after school classes have been lopsidedly composed of girls. They’ve approached my classes with an insatiable tenacity, and a real thirst for EFL education. They’ve helped buoy me over the course of the past four years. Some of them in particular have been instrumental in my success in certain classes. They’ve been vocal and active, crushing any dead silence, and creating an atmosphere that gave their peers the courage to speak up. The support they’ve given me allowed me to ground myself in the realities of teaching EFL in Korea. They taught me to soldier on, and bear the brunt of adversity that may come my way.

However, any adversity that comes my way will probably not be a factor of my gender, or sex. This can’t be said for my female friends, co-workers, and students, whom have all faced discrimination at some point in their lives. All my friends in Daegu faced harassment and assault on numerous occasions. Ten thousand years of civilization have yet to produce a society that is completely equal between the genders. All of us have a responsibility to work towards this goal. We live in an age when stories of misogyny and unfair treatment echo throughout the world. We can no longer claim ignorance towards the facts, when they continue to stack up. There will always be naysayers, and those who perpetuate violence and harassment on anonymous online platforms. It’s time we dragged them kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and demanded a better world for ourselves. It’s also time men like myself acknowledge the women who worked hard alongside us, so that we could later brag about our success.

We stand upon the shoulders of giants.