Going in Seoul: Public Toilets in South Korea

Going in Seoul: Public Toilets in South Korea
toilet restaurant Taiwan SMK
At Modern Toilet restaurant in Taipei.

As a child, I had (like many children) a fascination with toilets. My interest, however, seems to have been higher than average: My mom tells me she could hardly take me to a restaurant or other such place without me begging to see the restrooms. In fact, I have a vivid memory of one restroom at a Mexican restaurant we went to in Austin when I was probably three; the tilework was spectacularly colorful!

So maybe it’s this innate interest that’s led to this post about public washrooms in South Korea. But I mean, this is an important part of life, and since bathroom culture can differ quite a lot from country to country, a lot of people get quite anxious about using the bathroom in new places. I had one friend who, for her first six months in Korea, would hold it for hours because the place we drank had squatters and she was afraid to use one!

So here’s a little tour of South Korean public restrooms, made up mostly of photos I took with this post in mind during our recent visit to Seoul – because no, my fascination does not extend to recording every bathroom trip!

Continue reading “Going in Seoul: Public Toilets in South Korea”


Dealing with Family on Different Continents (South Korea – USA)

Dealing with Family on Different Continents (South Korea – USA)

It’s been a while since I wrote regularly here, mostly because once the excitement of the wedding was over, I didn’t feel I had much that was Mrs. Kim-ish to write about. My life was focused on getting a full-time job, applying for Mr. Kim’s green card, and worrying about politics (in the USA and Korea). So while I didn’t stop writing, the Annals of the Mc-Kim family have been pretty empty.

However I feel like writing here again now, for various reasons, and today I’m gonna start with balancing time with family when your family’s on two continents 14 hours apart. Continue reading “Dealing with Family on Different Continents (South Korea – USA)”

Getting a green card for my Korean husband

Getting a green card for my Korean husband

I joked before the recent election that well, we’d better hurry up and get Mr. Kim’s green card in case Donald Trump gets elected and changes the rules. Well… who knows what will happen rules-wise now that nightmare has come true, but fortunately, we received the green card in the mail the week before the election. Whew!

If you’re reading this post, you probably know that means Mr. Kim is now a permanent resident of the United States, free to seek employment anywhere he wishes and access many other privileges available only to citizens and green card holders.

(If you are here to read about evil immigrants taking up American tax payer dollars, sorry to disappoint you: One type of benefit he is not eligible for is welfare or other income-based assistance. If he goes on food stamps, even if he divorces me first, my parents and I have to pay the government back. So nahhh.)

Obtaining a green card is a fairly long and complicated process, so I thought I’d celebrate by leaving behind some knowledge gained from our experience. Some of these are general things that surprised me; others are things that are specific to (South) Koreans or Korean men. Let me go ahead and state that I’m not a lawyer, and these tips are not meant as legal advice, they are just a reflection of our own experience in 2016. That said, I hope these tips are useful!

Filling out the forms

1. You can probably do it yourself.

If your case is straightforward—no previous deportations, criminal history, loss of immigration status, etc.—and one of you is a detail-oriented person, you probably don’t need a lawyer to apply for a marriage-based permanent residence card. I have a freakish enjoyment of objectively dull tasks that involve noticing small details and taking care of them (see my current employment, in editing), so I quite enjoyed putting the packet together. I followed the relevant guides on VisaJourney.com and searched the Internet and VisaJourney forums when I had a question.

Maybe this sounds like a nightmare for you, and you’d rather pony up the money, but aside from a papercut or two, it was pretty painless for me. The whole process took about 4.5 months from when we sent off our packet to when Mr. Kim received his green card.

2. You don’t need a professional to translate your documents.

Mr. Kim was born in Korea, so his birth records were in Korean. These included the Certificate of Kinship (가족관계증명서) and the Certificate of Personal Records (기본증명서). The Korean government doesn’t issue birth certificates the way American state governments do, so these are the documents you submit with your green card application instead.

The green card instructions require a “certified translation” of these documents, and I’ve seen people online asking where to find a cheap certified translator. The thing is, if you or your spouse speak both languages, you can do it yourself, or if you have any friends who do, that would work too. The certified part is just a statement that you’re able to translate it and that you did it accurately.

Mr. Kim translated his birth records himself, then attached this statement and filled out the bottom with his signature, etc.:


Certification by Translator

I (name), certify that I am fluent (conversant) in the English and (soandso foreign) languages, and that the above/attached document is an accurate translation of the document attached entitled (title of document).

Date ______________ Name__________________


Actually, I just got that template off the VisaJourney.com forums, an extremely helpful resource in both preparing our documents and fretting about the outcome. But now I can vouch that it works!

Our file shortly before we sent it in

3. Explaining Korean military service on your green card application

Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, asks a lot of questions. For most, the answer is a clear “No.” (“Do you plan to practice polygamy in the United States?”) However, it also asks about service in a military unit (question 15a as of 2016) and military training (question 18).

Pretty much all Korean men must complete mandatory military service, so don’t worry: This won’t raise any red flags. However, a post-service Korean male filling out this form does need to answer “Yes” to the relevant questions and attach an explanation.

For the explanation, for 15a, Mr. Kim wrote something like, “As a male Korean citizen, I was required to serve in the Korean military. I served in the Army from DATE to DATE and reached the rank of RANK.” For 18, he wrote something like, “During my mandatory military service as a male Korean citizen, I spent six weeks in basic military training, where I received weapons training. I also participated in training periodically during the rest of my time in the military.”

4. Proving your relationship is real for your green card application

Our relationship is real, and we live fairly conventional married lives, so we had no trouble proving this. I provided the following evidence:

  • Copy of current lease with both our names
  • Copy of next year’s lease with both our names
  • Print-off of insurance document showing we’re covered by the same policy
  • Print-off of bank account statement showing both our names

I was worried this might not be enough, so I brought photos, itineraries, and other documentation to the interview to give our officer. She said she didn’t need any of it. Of course, this will vary from couple to couple and probably from case worker to case worker. However, I think a big strength was that we had official documents with a shared address, going back more than a year.

If your relationship is not real, you obviously should not be applying for a marriage-based green card, because that is fraud.

Heading into the post office to send off our packet

5. Don’t worry too much about the green card interview.

One thing people worry about a lot is the interview, but our experience was actually really pleasant, if occasionally awkward. Here’s what happened:


Mr. Kim is a graduate student in the States (F-1 visa before the green card), so we were applying from within the States for an Adjustment of Status. This means our interview was at the nearest USCIS office, in Detroit. Unfortunately, it was at 7:45 a.m., so we rented a car the night before and left our house at 6 a.m. Boo.

We had to go through metal detectors to get beyond the entryway of the building. There was a bit of a line, so it’s good that we arrived a little early. The rules say you can’t bring in your phone, but at this office, people were allowed to bring them in. Then we had to stand in line again to check in. At this point, we had to present ID (our passports).

The great thing about a 7:45 a.m. appointment was that we got called right away. The woman in charge of our case took us to her office and started by making us stand and swear an oath to tell the truth. This was kind of exciting, as neither of us had ever testified before.

Outside USCIS Detroit after the interview. Approved!

She then asked us basic biographical facts like our own and each other’s birthdays, our parents’ birthplaces, etc. As we answered, she checked off the information in her file for us. Mr. Kim couldn’t remember what he had written down for his parents’ birthdays, as they go by the lunar calendar, but he explained this and she was fine with it. I had also transposed two digits of his Social Security number in one place, which caused some confusion, but she let that go too.

She also re-asked all the questions from Part 3-C of Form I-485—the ones about military service and polygamy. I suppose they have to hear you affirm that no, you do not intend to commit espionage and have never participated in killing anyone. We giggled a bit at some, like the polygamy question.

Then she asked about how we met. We have a great meeting story, so this was easy. We also chatted about my time in Korea and Mr. Kim’s studies and talked about our wedding, but I don’t remember many more free-form questions. I guess we seemed pretty legit and had done a good job putting our file together.

And that was it! I thought she might need more evidence, but what we had provided was enough. After that, she told us she planned to approve our case after reviewing the file, explained some rules, and walked us out. Ta-da!

Of course, everyone’s interview varies, but this was our experience, and it was totally painless. (Aside from the 5:30 a.m. wake-up.) We received the green card in the mail less than two weeks later. Since we’ve only been married a short time, this green card lasts for two years, and we have to apply for a “permanent” (10-year) one before it expires. And… I’m kinda looking forward to it!


Work life in Korea vs the States

Work life in Korea vs the States

Recently, I’ve mostly been writing at HanmadiKorean.com (when I’m not impersonating Isabella Bird, doing editing work, or working on other projects). Here’s a cross-post from the Hanmadi project how working in Korea is different from working in the United States.

chwijik shareable.jpg

6 ways Korean and US workplaces are different

A few weeks ago I started my first full-time job in the United States. (I was working part time before.) This has gotten me thinking about a few ways Korean workplaces are different from American ones.

1. Work drinking
One of the most blatant differences is in the drinking culture. Here in the US, a few professions are famous for (and even proud of) their prolific drinking, but in most, a drink or two at the occasional happy hour or holiday party is the most you’ll encounter.In Korea, on the other hand, coworkers in almost every field drink (and get drunk) together regularly. In fact, applications for sales jobs often ask about applicants’ drinking ability (chuyang or juryang, 주량). And almost everyone has a drink at hoesik (회식, or work dinner), which occur, depending on the industry and employer, anywhere from once a month to several times a week.

Doing a “love shot” with one of our school’s senior teachers at a hoesik (회식) back in 2011~

Even as a second grade teacher at a private Christian elementary school, I encountered this phenomenon: end-of-year parties with on-stage chugging competitions and endless bottles of wine, parents passing us six packs at the 9 a.m. start of the on-campus parent-teacher volleyball tournament, and, most infamously, the Grade Six team’s victory celebration, in which we shared grilled pork belly while taking turns chugging 600 mL of Cass beer at once from the cup-shaped trophy, round after round after round.

If you’re thinking all this drinking might have led to a few hangovers, you’re not wrong. In the US, of course, I think being hung over at work is generally considered to be irresponsible. In Korea, though, being hung over at work because of hoesik is almost a point of pride, because it shows you’re truly invested in the group.

Read more about Korean drinking culture here.

2. Coffee

Image from life of lew who

Alcohol isn’t the only thing you drink at work in Korea, where instant coffee rules the break room. In the US, the coffee situation ranges from apparently bottomless urns of shared brew to bring-your-own-Keurig-cup, but there’s not a pack of instant to be seen.

3. Planning
When I moved to Seoul from Mississippi in 2007, I had, needless to say, many cultural adjustments to make. The biggest hurdle was my frustration at what I perceived as an inability to plan ahead appropriately. Plans would be made and changed at the last minute, or the principal would wait until the last minute to inform the teachers of plans she had known about for weeks, which was exceedingly disruptive to lesson planning.

This happened on a more or less weekly basis, but my most vivid memory was when I was told one Friday morning–when I had dressed particularly frumpily and planned rather less thoroughly than usual–that a film crew would be visiting my classroom that day for a reality-type show about the family life of one of my students, whose father was famous for a role in the television industry.

After nearly a decade as a part of the Korean sociocultural sphere, I rarely get frustrated at this way of doing things and just go with the flow most of the time, but I still don’t understand it.

4. Dress 
In Korean office settings, pretty much everyone is dressed to the nines. Women wear full make-up and high heels; men wear suits and ties–and even if the suits are cheap polyester and the heels were bought for 10,000 won ($10) in a subway station, a lot of time and discomfort has been put into living up to the image of “office worker” and in the case of the women, “fashionable office worker.”

In the US, on the other hand, there’s a lot more variety, and it sometimes feels as though anything goes as long as jeans and sneakers are restricted to Fridays and men’s shirts have a collar.

5. Meetings 
In my American workplaces, meetings have been almost democratic affairs. There was certainly someone leading them, but others were expected to voice opinions and generally free to interject. Discussions of personal lives were permitted or encouraged, and some level of banter was a given. Supervisors have sat along one side of long conference tables.


This is very different from Korea, where hierarchy and order rule the day. On the other hand, someone almost always brings cake or fruit to Korean meetings, so at least you have something to munch on while you sit quietly and wait to be called on from the conference table head.

6. Togetherness
In Korean workplaces, the norm is for people to do almost everything together. People rarely eat lunch at their desks (or alone anywhere), something that all my American coworkers seem to do at least sometimes. At larger companies, there are also clubs for various hobbies, which people seem expected to participate in, as well as sporting events (like the volleyball tournament), hiking trips and other events.

rooftop teambuilding
Teambuilding through rooftop putt putt, 2009~

Do workers like this? I have to admit that I at least did like it sometimes, especially when I worked for the Korean army. But in general, I think, no, as the rise in workers eating lunch alone demonstrates. Sometimes it’s a great feeling being so ensconced in a group, but other times, it’s a huge pain.

Actually, I think people (both in the West and in East Asia) way way overuse the collectivist vs. individualist thing as explanations for things that are different in Asian countries vs. Western ones. The Korean tendency toward collectivism might mean workers participate in these things, but it doesn’t mean they always like it.

Further reading: If you want to read more about Korean workplaces (especially from an outsider’s perspective), check out this series that was published in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago.


In this case, mostly personal experience and received wisdom.


Arbeit 아르바이트

Hanmadi, “one word,” is a series on Korean language and society, dedicated to exploring Korea one word at a time. 

I’ve really been focusing on my Hanmadi project lately–it’s something a little less personal, which makes me a lot more comfortable with it. This was originally posted there.


A part-time job of the menial and low-hourly-wage variety

From Daum Dictionary:

daum dic meaning 2.png

Continue reading “Arbeit 아르바이트”

A Hungry Historian’s Atlanta

A Hungry Historian’s Atlanta

I posted before about the great time Mr. Kim and I had in Atlanta the weekend before our wedding weekend. While some people might wrinkle their brows at the idea, it was the perfect chance for us to take a few deep and much-needed breaths before plunging into the chaos of a wedding week with guests from around the world.


Before heading to Atlanta, I naturally consulted my facebook network about what we should do there. My uncle suggested the World of Coke; my sister the zoo. Others recommended the aquarium and the botanical gardens. But I was with a historian, so, in the time we carved out between his conference-related activities and my wedding crafting, we did historical things–and, of course, ate a lot of amazing food.

IMG_1093We’d had to get up at 4 a.m. for our flight, so we were happy when the Hyatt Regency Atlanta (not the sort of hotel we usually stay in, but it was a conference) allowed us to check in early, around 10 or 11. After freshening up, we headed out for some brunch at Ria’s Bluebird Café. The food was amazing; unfortunately, my photographs of it are terrible.

Our next stop was right across the street: Oakland Cemetery, founded in 1850 and the final resting place of Margaret Mitchell and several other famous people.

As I’ve noted before, I like to photograph Confederate memorials when I come across them, not out of any misplaced sense of Southern pride because part of me (the part that wants to believe all people are good and reasonable) is always surprised that that’s still a thing. Still, a graveyard isn’t a particularly surprising place to find one. Here’s Oakland’s:


Unfortunately, the African-American section (because people were segregated even in death back when this cemetery saw most of its action) is less marked, apparently because people used “natural markers like trees, shrubs, or wooden crosses” rather than stone, which I’m going to guess was because stone was too expensive or otherwise out of reach for most. (The one grave visible in the section below is a relatively new one.)


After the cemetery, we headed back down town so Mr. Kim could get in on some conference action and I could take a nap and do some crafting, but we headed out again for dinner.


Oysters. Living in the Midwest, we don’t eat oysters, or any seafood really, very often, so we were determined to take advantage of Atlanta’s resources there, in this case, at the Steamhouse Lounge, where the waitress calls you sweetie in true Southern fashion.


Mr. Kim ordered a lobster roll with lobster bisque (good and great, respectively), while I had redfish, which was amazing. (Unfortunately, I’m writing this 2.5 months after the meal, so my descriptions can’t get much more detailed than that.)


We also had some delicious key lime pie for dessert. Basically this place was so delicious and chill that we considered going back our second night in town.


We spent our second day in Atlanta exploring the Sweet Auburn district, home of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr., served. Here’s the sanctuary where he preached:


It was surreal to think that these were the very pews where his family sat, that was podium at which he and his father stood to preach, that this was the room where his mother was shot and killed six years after his death. It was even more surreal to stand beside his tomb, just down the street, at the end of a long series of cascading pools, with the I Have a Dream speech filling the humid air.

IMG_1158 (1)

We also visited the site’s museum and his birthplace:


The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site was the highlight of the trip for me.

I have to say, though, the food was a close second. We had lunch at the Sweet Auburn Market, a historic market remade for the present, where Mr. Kim got some amazing Afro-Caribbean food–oxtail, greens, rice and black-eyed peas–from AfroDish.


He’s still raving about it.

In the end, we managed to eat oysters all three nights we were there as well as some Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, a chain I associate with my college days, and some amazing Vietnamese noodles. We didn’t manage to hit up all the historical sites Atlanta has to offer, but we didn’t leave hungry.

Hanmadi: Multiplayer 멀티플레이어

Hanmadi: Multiplayer 멀티플레이어

Hanmadi, “one word,” is a series on Korean language and society, dedicated to exploring Korea one word at a time.


You might think you know what multiplayer means in Korean because it looks like an English word. Don’t be fooled, though: Konglish can be tricky! This sense of multiplayer has nothing to do with games.

To quote Daum’s Korean dictionary:
multiplayer daum.jpg

Continue reading “Hanmadi: Multiplayer 멀티플레이어”