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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Handling your daily business – Getting Aquainted III

At home, it was so easy. If you had a question, you just asked someone and they could either tell you, or tell you whom to ask. Here, it’s a little more difficult, mostly due to the language barrier.

My second year here, I promised my students that I would bring them in some nachos and salsa to try. That morning before class, I drove halfway across town to Homeplus, where I knew they had what I needed. Unfortunately, the store had just changed their layout, and nothing was in the aisle I thought it should be in. I was in a bit of a hurry, so finally I gave up looking and decided to ask a stock boy. Using my best Konglish-charades combination, I asked him where the salsa was. This involved me repeating the word salsa, over and over, as I mimed eating. I was holding the nachos at the time, so to me this was very clear. He looked at me like I was a freak, and he was a little disgusted. I gave up, and eventually found the salsa on my own. The kids loved it. Later, while telling the story to my brother, he burst out laughing. Salsa, it turns out, is almost the exact pronunciation of the Korean word for “diarrhea”. No wonder the stock boy thought I was crazy.

Everything can present a challenge here, from buying basic groceries to paying bills on time. Here are some lessons I’ve learned that might make things a bit easier.

1. Dealing with your Garbage – Here, the tax for garbage collection comes in the form of the garbage bag itself. This is why people can be so adamant that you use the right bag. If you’re just throwing stuff out in a shopping bag, you obviously aren’t paying your share for pick-up. To buy a garbage bag, you need to ask the clerk at the cash register in a local convenience store or mart. Ask for “su-leggy bong too”. They come in different sizes, from 10 litres to 50 litres. Although I’ve never had a problem with it, some people say you have to buy your bags in your own “gu” (see “Welcome Newbies” article, or check the Ulsan Online maps to figure out which gu you live in) or else the garbage collectors won’t pick up your bag. Some of the supermarkets have started offering soo leggy bang tu to bag your groceries in, rather than traditional paper or plastic.

Korea recycles, so keep newspapers, cardboard, glass, plastic and tins separate. There’s usually a place for them by where you put the garbage. Sometimes it’s a canvas bag or bin, sometimes it’s just a green string bag. You don’t need to sort it for the green string bags, but you probably do for bigger bags and bins.

There’s also a food-waste collection system in many places. Usually it’s a small green bin kept outside by the curb, though in larger buildings it’s likely a much larger bin. It’s similar to composting at home, but rumour has it it’s used as pig feed.

Taking advantage of the recycling and food-waste bins will help keep your garbage bag costs down (as will taping excess garbage to the top of the bag the way some of the ajummas do).

Throwing away larger items, like broken fans or furniture can be more difficult. You’re meant to call the city to come and collect it and you have to pay a fee. Ask a co-worker to help you out if you need to toss something larger than a garbage bag.

2. Paying your Bills – This actually used to be very easy. You could walk into any bank with bills and money in hand, give them to the teller and within a few moments all was taken care of. Recently, thanks to technological advancements, it’s gotten trickier. Some banks won’t process bills in person, and you must do it through their machines, which are generally all in Korean. Even friends of mine who speak Korean really well have said they’ve had problems with this.

I have also recently experienced a problem paying a bill through another bank. In this particular case the receiving account was at the Nonghyup bank, but I was at a Woori bank, and they wouldn’t process the payment for me. I had to find a Nonghyup bank to do it for me.

The most important thing to do is to stay patient. If the bank uses the bill machine, there is usually an employee who will press all the correct buttons for you. Just stand at the machine for a bit, bills in hand, looking confused and sad. Someone will eventually come over to help.

You can also pay your bills at the Post Office, where they do still have a person to help you. When you enter either a bank or the Post Office, look for the number-dispensing ticket machine, and take a number. This in itself can be confusing, as they often have machines with different names on them, and you don’t know which you need. There is usually an employee drifting around who will try to help you choose the correct one.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky aand work at a good school where they provide your home, they will take care of your bills for you. They’ll ask you for cash when the bills come due. That’s become quite rare these days, but it happens.

3. Grocery Shopping – There are small Marts and Convenience Stores in every neighbourhood that carry the basics, like milk, cereal, rice and eggs. Some will have bread, though not all. Some carry produce, too. If you want to do a big shop, and fill your cupboards with the comforts of home, you’re going to have to find one of the big supermarkets. The best for foreign food is Home Plus, as it’s a Tesco-owned franchise, which now carries a lot of Tesco products (like chocolate! Real chocolate!). I covered this in more detail here: .

4. Sending Money Home – This has become exponentially easier to do in the past few years in most of the banks around town. I highly recommend going to the Korea Exchange Bank, or KEB, and getting an Expat account. They speak English well, don’t seem to have the “fear of foreigners” that you can encounter in other places, and are actually equipped with the knowledge of international banking. They can set it up so that you can send money home through the bank machine and save yourself a lot in banking fees.

The most important thing is to keep an eye on exchange rates, as you can make or lose hundreds of dollars or Euros by transferring at a good or bad time. I am absolutely terrible at anything involving numbers, so Martin broke it down for me like this, “When the number of won it takes to make one dollar is high, it’s a bad time to move money. You want to do it when the number of won per dollar (or euro or whatever) is low. It takes less won to make that foreign currency.”

5. Don’t be afraid to ask what might seem like a stupid question – We’ve all been in the same place – newly arrived, slightly jet-lagged, unable to read anything, or even recognize the food in the supermarket (are those bugs in that can?!) (the answer is yes, they’re silk worm larva… try some!) and feeling confused and frustrated. We’ve all asked questions that end up having a pretty obvious answer. And I’m not saying you won’t get mocked or teased by people for asking, because people enjoy mocking and teasing each other. But ask. Ask friends and coworkers, ask strangers at the bar or on the street. Ask on Facebook groups. Ask where, ask who, ask what, just don’t bother asking why. (The standard answer to “Why?” here is, “Because that is how it is done.”)

6. Share your knowledge – If you discover something here, whether it be an interesting hiking trail, an amazing restaurant, or a place to do a particular activity, please, share your information with us – Ulsan Online is always looking for contributions to expand our knowledge for others. We gladly welcome submissions such as restaurant reviews, travel reviews or shorter posts on the section. If you’re not a writer, contact one of us, and we can do an interview, or take your information and write it up for you.