Student messages.

Tears Were Shed

On Friday, the 24th of April, 2015, something major happened.

I taught my final class in Korea.

The journey I embarked upon on July 21st, 2007 had come to an emotional conclusion. I had been preparing for the day for over a year now. Back in December I had officially sent in my application to three universities in Ontario. As I had stated, I wanted to pursue a baccalaureate of education (a two-year university programme, that takes place after a three, or four, year standard undergrad degree). The universities had different application processes, and for three months I awaited their response.

I was unconditionally accepted at two of the three, and for the third one, I was placed on a waiting list. The third one was the University of Ottawa, which is located in the region where much of my family and relations reside. Back in 2008, when I was just wrapping up my first year in Daegu, my family had moved from the Halifax region of Nova Scotia, to the outskirts of Ottawa. I was hoping to make it into the University of Ottawa, and only apply to the other two universities as provisional options. That strategy very nearly didn’t work out for me, and for several weeks I was fully intending on studying in the Kitchener Waterloo area of Ontario.

Eventually, though, a position opened up in Ottawa, and I quickly nabbed it. And with that, my destiny seemed all that much clearer.

This happened at the start of the second month of the new school year in Korea. I had settled into the familiar routine of teaching at my school. 2015 would have been my fifth year at the school in Gangneung, and my eighth in Korea. It had successfully gotten off to a great start, and the new students were pumped to have me. Many of them were the younger siblings of students whom had graduated, and had spent years waiting to take my classes.

In the back of my mind, I was all too aware that I was building up to a mighty crescendo. The students were really enjoying their classes with me, and they quickly adapted to the back-and-forth jokes and comments that pepper my lessons. I knew that when the first year students got wind of my intention to leave so fresh into the semester, they would be massively disappointed.

Many of the second, and third, year students were aware of my intention to go back to Canada. They begged and pleaded for me to remain, as did some of their parents. I tried to block it out, and make it clear I was sticking to a gameplan.

That was all well and good until Friday rolled around. Earlier in the week, it didn’t seem as if I was going anywhere; it was just another work week. I had my schedule, and taught the appropriate lessons. I checked over the forthcoming tests. The classes I taught threw little mini-celebrations in my honour. They had posters with personal letters and well-wishes. We took group photos. There was even a series of letters given to me from last year’s third year students, prior to their graduation (and it was kept secret from me, until I received it).

Even after all that, I didn’t actually feel as if I were closing a chapter of my life.

But then came Friday. This year, I generally taught 26-27 classes a week. Most days I would have 5-7 classes (and yes, I get overtime pay). On Fridays, I usually have two classes, or sometimes three. It allows me to create the next week’s lesson plans prior to the weekend. Last Friday, I had two back-to-back classes, one with second grade students, and one with third grade students. Throughout the week, my third year students had been egging me on to cry, but I hadn’t been particularly emotional. Friday morning was markedly different. My stomach was in knots, and my legs and arms were weak. It felt as if I was standing in front of an audience of strangers, and giving a presentation. I wanted to melt into the floor, and escape everyone’s notice.

The students themselves were distraught. I had been that one teacher who didn’t transfer to other schools, and taught them every year, in every grade. I was the teacher who had the camps during their vacation periods. I was the teacher holding after school classes that went off the beaten path, and allowed them to skip going to a hagwon. I was the teacher who had helped teach at weekend classes for the city. I was the teacher who followed them on school trips with the video camera, and always showed an interest during festivals. Sometimes we even went to the movies and skating together. Since 2011, I had become a somewhat reliable institution. I was always there, and always visible. They could come to my desk, or talk to me as I walked around the hallways during lunch.

As my first class on Friday came to a close, I lost my composure, just a little, but it was enough. Tears fell, and the students were trying to choke back theirs. Mine weren’t tears of sadness, but rather my reaction to the love and support they had given me. It had suddenly reached a point I could no longer block out and ignore.

The class I had next was going to be my last one ever, and the students in it knew that. They had planned an entire sequence of events once a certain minute was struck on the clock. One of the students pretended to act out, and run out of the room, forcing my co-teacher to run after him. Before re-entering the room, they turned off the lights, and came in with a cake the students had prepared for me. Other students threw back the curtains on the windows, revealing photographs of myself they had printed from Instagram and stuck onto the blinds. Then each student held up a flashcard that formed a coherent story, telling me how sad they were that I wouldn’t finish the year with them. When that was finished, they had me watch a video they had made. Each student had used their cellphone, or webcam, to record a personal message to me, and then it was edited together into a single video.

There was no way I was going to keep my eyes dry through all that. It would have been a losing battle. No one had ever done anything like that for me before. Some of the students were openly sobbing, and it took a great deal of control to stem my own floodgates. We ended the class with hugs, speeches, and pictures with my GoPro. I plodded back to the teachers’ office feeling emotionally drained.

Before the students were sent home, I was ushered into the broadcasting booth. There was one final ceremony for me. I was broadcast to all the TVs in the school, as the vice-principal told the students officially what was happening. She thanked me, and hugged me. I was given a few moments to address everyone, and I did that while the school sounded unnaturally quiet. When I was finished, I was given a gift by another teacher, while a student read aloud a letter of gratitude. Everyone shared a melancholy sense of bittersweet sadness to the entire affair.

After the final bell rang, I snapped more pictures with as many students as possible. Some of my former students had even showed up to send me off. Many of the students could have went home, but they refused to until they had taken selfies with me. Some wanted to tell me in person how much they respected me. Some even did a very formal, and traditional, bow of respect. I was given presents, and letters, many of them very emotionally prepared.

Throughout the ensuing hours, I literally received hundreds of messages from current and past students. They flooded me with their dismay that I was leaving, along with their well-wishes for my future. My social media channels were so active, that they actually glitched, and were sending me clone notifications an hour after the original had already been sent. My phone never seemed to stop vibrating.

After the emotional rollercoaster that was Friday, I crashed on Saturday. It had been many, many, years since I was as depressed as I was on Saturday morning (even though my beloved Ottawa Senators were owning the Montreal Canadiens). I had felt something similar when I left Daegu at the end of 2010, but at least then I knew I was going to return to Korea. There was a greater deal of finality to the events unfolding in Gangneung. Expats can have a difficult time adjusting to life back in their native lands, and I was hoping this wasn’t a herald of the coming months. I later went out to dinner with some of my Saturday classes co-workers from last year, and that helped improve my mood.

Now I am in the midst of packing up my belongings, and letting students take the stuff I can’t bring with me. I had another dinner with some former coworkers on Sunday, and will eat a meal on Monday, as a freshly unemployed Canadian-living-in-Korea with some teachers from my school. I will need to head into Seoul to have my Canadian driver’s licence returned to me. And after sending the last of my boxes to the post office, I will take the long flight(s) back to Canada.

 

Facebook grab

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:

Facebook grab

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

Screenshot 2

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.