Monthly Archives: June 2012

Being Pregnant in Korea Part Deux

This post has been rather a long time coming.  Being pregnant in any country, especially if you’re a first-time mom like yours truly, is daunting, but it’s all the more intimidating when it’s happening in a foreign country.  I’m really lucky in that I have a good friend here who has already been through the process of delivering a daughter in Korea, and I have another friend who is pregnant right now, so I hardly feel alone in my situation.  Unfortunately, not every waeguk gal in Korea has been as lucky as me.  With that thought in mind, I’m writing a little guide in hopes that it will help out those who don’t have more experienced friends around to help out.

1. Find a good maternity hospital and doctor

I’m in Changwon, so I’m not going to be much help to anyone living in another city.  You’re probably going to have a tougher time if you’re living somewhere more rural, but if you’re in any of the larger cities, especially Seoul or Busan, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a place.  Seoul has lots of well respected hospitals, including Seoul National University Hospital and Yonsei Severance.  However, I’m not going to post all of your options here.  Frankly, the inhabitants of areas where you live will probably be of more help than I could be, and there are plenty of forums online  where you can access that information.

That said, if you’re in the Changwon area, I recommend Moran Women’s Hospital.  Most of the doctors are women, and the doctors speak good English.  The staff are admittedly less able in their English ability, but they are nice and accommodating, and they will do everything they can to help you out.  The hospital is very modern and clean, and they have emergency facilities, in case you have something go wrong in the middle of the night or after hours on the weekends.  Due to what the staff considered to be a first-time mother scare, I did actually make use of the after-hours facility.  Thankfully, nothing was wrong, but they were on top of things.

I would say that I would have your doctor recommend you a prenatal vitamin.  Prenatal vitamins are good and readily available here, but because of the language barrier, it’s better just to have your doctor tell you exactly what you need.

To get to Moran Hospital, you can simply ask a taxi driver to take you Moran Yeo-Ja Byeong-Won.  If they don’t know where it is, have them drop you off in Sangnam-Dong at the Dunkin’ Donuts near the fountain.  Cross the road at the light and walk down this road in the direction of Jungang-Dong.  When you get almost to the next traffic light, go left.  The hospital is on this small road, across from Madimi Park.  (A word to the wise: Don’t park your car next to that park.  You might get towed and ticketed.  Learn from my mistake.)  It’s tan and pink, and it’s on the right side of the road.  In the same building, there’s a Motherhood Maternity store.  It’s hard to miss.

2. Get your insurance figured out

For those of you who are employed in Korea by Korean employers, you should be on the national insurance.  If you are paying into the Korean national insurance scheme, you are eligible for the “beautiful woman” card.  Your doctor will give you the paperwork for this card on (probably) your second visit to the doctor.  The form is quite simple to fill out, and most of it will be done for you.  If you can read and speak some Korean, you should be able to finish filling it out yourself.  Otherwise, you might ask the hospital staff or a Korean friend to help you out.

You can take this paper to one of three places: Kookmin Bank, the local branch of the Korean post office, or Shinhan Bank.  They will set you up with a bank account.  You will receive a free bank account from the government, as well as a bank card that will be swiped whenever you go to visit the doctor. If you go through the post office, the card will also come from Kookmin.  You can get up to 60,000W per day in expenses covered.  That will cover the bulk of your doctor’s bills, provided that you have a normal pregnancy.

Now, with all of that said, if you are not working in Korea – that is, if you are with the military or your spouse is working here but you aren’t – you will need to make other arrangements.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that if you or your spouse is with the US military in Korea, you probably have pretty decent insurance via the US government.  If you or your spouse are with another company, then hopefully you will have insurance from this company and they will be taking care of things for you.  However, this might not always be the case for everyone.

Some folks here temporarily may find that they have retained their US insurance policies.  There are places in Seoul that will accept certain types of US medical insurance, though I am hardly knowledgable about where those places might be and what the terms for that acceptance are.  You will need to determine your hospital and speak with your insurance company to figure the situation out.  I will add that, even if you home insurance company won’t cover everything here, having a baby in Korea is still far cheaper than it would be in the United States.  Of course, if you’re coming from the UK, Canada, or any other country that has a socialized healthcare system, you’re more likely to feel cheated.

The bottom line is this: If you’re paying into the Korean system, you’ll be fine.  If you aren’t, you’ll need to get your ducks in a row.  If you have the luxury of doing this before you conceive, I’d highly recommend doing so, as it is one less thing you have to worry about once you’re on track to motherhood.

3. Finding cheap baby clothes

I don’t know what the prices are on US baby clothes these days, but I know what they used to be, and I can tell you that they’re a right sight cheaper at home than they are here.  I’m going to be straight and say that if you buy your baby clothes at the department stores, you have more money than sense (cents?).  There are plenty of cheap places to buy baby clothes in Korea, but if you aren’t Korean, they aren’t going to just leap out at you.  I have found that even Lotte Mart charges more for cute little outfits than I’m willing to spend.

Have you heard of G-Market?  If you haven’t, you’re missing out.  G-Market is one of Korea’s most popular Internet shopping sites.  It’s sort of like Amazon, but with a cheap-o web design that’s hard to navigate.  They have the site in partial English, but I’m not going to lie – if you can’t read Hangul, you’re going to have trouble with the product descriptions.  Again, having a Korean friend help you can be massively beneficial.  I’ve found that I can do just fine on my own, but I read and understand Korean pretty well, so that’s a big help.  You can find everything on G-Market from cute baby-grows (onesies, whatever) to breast pumps, car seats, pack ‘n plays, and floor mats.  They deliver within 24-48 hours, on average, and most of it is really cheap.  I’ve gotten a TON of clothes for practically no money.

There are other sites that specialize in baby clothes, but most of them don’t feature any English.  Again, if you can read and speak Korean, you’ll be in hog heaven.  Otherwise, you might want to get a friend who can speak Korean reasonably well to help you out.  I will list all of these sites at the end of this post.

Another place that you might not think to look is Facebook.  There is a great group on Facebook where foreign moms resell their old baby clothes and toys.  It’s freaking amazing, and most of it is super-cheap.  The only catch to joining is that you have to be willing to ship within Korea, so you don’t have to worry about having to pick things up from Seoul.  As a side note, you can also check Craigslist Seoul and see what secondhand baby things are going.  There are usual some deals to be had, although not every woman on there can be guaranteed of wanting to ship, since a bulk of them seem to be Army wives living around the base in Seoul.

Bottom line is that you don’t have to pay top dollar for baby clothes here, and you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get things shipped over from the US.  Yes, you can find things on eBay and Amazon, but you’re still going to have to pay shipping and handling to get it over here, and most of the US carriers, including USPS, charge a fairly hefty fee for their services.  And since most us don’t really want to take everything back with us that we buy here, it’s reasonable to be somewhat frugal on what you spend on baby things, especially given that baby things don’t last your child that long, anyway.

4. The elusive crib

Wonder why you haven’t seen any cribs in the baby sections here in Korea?  It’s because most Koreans co-sleep.  I know there are lots of people doing it back home now too, and I definitely don’t judge, because what’s right for me is not what’s right for every family and baby.  But I need a crib.  Mama needs her own bed, and I’m completely terrified of squishing my baby.  I sleep really hard, and so does my husband.  We’re getting a crib.

Okay, great.  We’re crib parents.  The problem is that cribs aren’t popular here.  In fact, I haven’t seen a single crib anywhere in Changwon.  Turns out there’s one baby store that has at least one, but seriously?  Only one?  Out of like, ten baby stores?  I knew there had to be a way to get us a crib.  And there is.

Now, if you’re thinking that you’re going to order one of those fancy Oeuf cribs from the US, well, you’re more than welcome to try.  However, most companies simply won’t ship cribs overseas because they’re made of wood.  The companies are liable for the beds arriving in one piece, and given the material and people’s propensity to bitch and moan about things like cosmetic flaws – something almost unavoidable after overseas travel – most companies simply refuse to eat the cost of shipping to Korea.  Besides, even if you find a company that does, it will likely cost you more than the delivery of your child.  How many of us can really afford to drop $1,000+ on a baby crib?  I’m not Gwyneth Paltrow over here!

You can find some used cribs for sale on Craigslist and on the Facebook group I’ve linked, but they are somewhat few and far between.  If you’re looking for an affordable crib in Korea, look no further than Petit Lapin Korean cribs.  They have a good variety of cribs, most of which are convertible into toddler beds, much like the new cribs back home.  That means if, like my family, you’re potentially here for a long haul, you can get your money’s worth out of your crib.  I have also heard of crib rental options, but when I checked on the company that was offering this service, it seemed like they had gone out of business.

Petit Lapin offers cribs, mattresses, and other nursery furniture.  Most of the furniture is priced similarly to US nursery furniture.  Some of the crib models are pretty reasonable, but they can get pretty darn expensive.  That’s probably because not a lot of people use them over here.  It seems like cribs are a sort of Western luxury item that most Koreans just don’t deem necessary, and that’s fine, but it does drive the price up a bit.

If you’re looking for an organic mattress, heh.  Sorry.  I was set on buying the Naturepedic mattress because I don’t want arsenic off-gassing onto my daughter and causing SIDS.  Nervous moms, fear not!  There is a solution: mattress wrapping!  For about $40, plus whatever it costs you to get a relative to mail it to Korea, you can get a mattress wrap that will protect your little one from the toxic crap that literally rolls off of (all) mattresses.  (Seriously, did you know that one of the most toxic things in your home is the bed that you sleep on?  Gross!)  My husband and I have decided to get a regular mattress and also a mattress wrapping kit so that we don’t have to spend a small fortune for our baby to be safe.

If you’re skeptical of the crib wrapping thing, definitely do your homework.  However, since crib wrapping became the thing in New Zealand in 1995, there have been ZERO – yes, zero – reported crib deaths in nurseries with wrapped mattresses.  That’s a pretty impressive figure.  The best part about the mattress wrap is that you don’t have to be earning an upper middle class income to be able to afford it; it’s pretty well within reach of everyone.  So forget that Naturepedic mattress – it won’t fit Korean cribs, anyway.

5. Strollers and car seats

We’re still looking for the perfect stroller and luckily, there are lots of options available out there.  Not all strollers are newborn-safe, so it seems like you have to shell out slightly more for a stroller that will be okay for your new baby.  As your baby gets older, however, there are plenty of cheaper options.  Just about every store, from E-Mart to Lotte and Shinsegae Department Stores, have sections that feature baby strollers.  There are usually salespeople there to try and sell you the most expensive one and help you figure out how to collapse the darn things.  They’re usually pretty helpful.  In my experience so far, if you’re going to buy one from one of the stores, it’s probably going to cost you at least 150,000W or so, and if you go to one of the big department stores, it’s probably going to be more like 300,000W.

We had a devilish time with car seats.  Much like strollers, not all car seats are okay for new babies.  You don’t have to have a car seat to take your baby home in Korea like you do back home, but my husband and I imposed the rule on ourselves.  We went out in search of one of those car seats that has a base and detaches into a carrier.  It seems like most people have those back home, and they’re much handier than a totally stationary car seat.  You might be able to find one in Seoul, but we never did succeed in finding one down here.  Korea does carry a wide variety of great car seats, but none of them detach into a carrier, not even the insanely-priced Britax car seats.

In the end, my husband’s parents sent us a Graco car seat from the UK.  It has a base from which it easily detaches, so we’ll be able to carry the baby to and from the car in it.  That’s much better than having to wrestle around with her while we lean across the Moose!  Unfortunately, this did cost a pretty penny, as car seats weigh more than what you’ll fit into the average package.  If you don’t have family who are willing to ship things over to you, there are some dealers on eBay that will ship internationally, but it will cost you.  Amazon ships internationally too, but I’ll be frank when I say that I’ve had a couple of bad turns shipping internationally with them, so I’d recommend eBay over Amazon any day.  I’ve never had a problem with eBay.

Also be aware of customs taxes when you’re importing a big ticket item from the US.  If the amount comes to more than $100 (I think), be prepared to be customs taxes.  These vary, and I haven’t always paid them (thank God), but it can get a bit pricey – about 70,000W+ for big items.  If your family sends you things, make sure they mark it all as “used” on the customs forms and undervalue it.  This goes a long way towards avoiding a hassle at customs, as they will usually demand that you pay the duties before the package leaves the warehouse.

6. Odds ‘n ends

In spite of the difficulty of some items, it seems like everything else is pretty easy to come by around here.  I’ve found Dr. Brown’s bottles, electric breast pumps, and plenty of recognizable toys from Toys ‘R Us at Lotte in Changwon.  Baby stores like Agabang have a large supply of day-to-day items that you’ll need for your baby, and most of it is priced similarly to what you’d pay back home in the US.

If you have a snazzy department store in your area, make sure to check out the organic section.  Lotte Department Store in Changwon has a section dedicated to organic soaps, laundry powders, dish soaps, etc.  They also have Doc Bronner’s and a nice selection of organic lotions and soaps for baby. Yes, they are hideously overpriced – about three times what you’d pay at home.  Doc Bronner’s is about $20 a bottle here.  Almost all of the organic products are imported from the US, France, Germany (finally, reading German is coming in handy again, since none of it is translated), and Canada.  I picked up some Nellie’s Laundry Soda, which is concentrated but scent-free and safe for baby’s skin.  It works really well, so we’re hoping that our baby is okay with it, too.

There is a large selection of formulas here too, in case you don’t want to breastfeed.  There are US formulas available, although they are a bit pricier than the Korean formulas.  You can also get soy-based formula as well, from what I hear.  I’m planning on breastfeeding, so I haven’t done gobs of research on the Korean formulas yet, but I probably should, just in case I’m a bad mama cow (i.e. don’t make enough milk).  You will also be able to find breastfeeding pads for bras and things from the baby stores.  There is a store in Seoul that sells larger sized bras, but I don’t know if they do nursing bras.  I almost always shop for bras from Her Room, as they have a large selection of sizes and ship internationally.  Even larger-busted girls should be able to get their nursing bras from them.

7. Safety precautions

My husband and I bought a car specifically because we’re having a baby.  Taxi cabs and buses in this country are insane.  Seriously, we drive almost everywhere now.  If you’re pregnant, I would strongly advise against using the buses here.  They jar you around a lot, and I’ve seen multiple bus accidents here in Changwon.  Play it safe!

Also, let’s be honest: the water in Korea is shit.  It’s dirty.  If it doesn’t have industrial waste in it, it seems to have strange bacteria that give you the runs for days and days on end.  I am also death on not drinking fluoride.  Even the ADA is now saying that topical application is the only time fluoride might be beneficial; there is NO evidence that drinking it promotes dental health.  What there is some evidence of is the fact that fluoride can cause problems with other parts of your body, like your brain.  It is now even recommended that baby formula be prepared with non-fluoridated water.  You HAVE TO buy bottled water, if you want it without insane chemicals in it.  Jeju Water and Blue Marine are the only two I’ve found that I do not have fluoride.  Jeju Water is cheap; Blue Marine is crazy-expensive.  I only drink Jeju Water.  If, like me, you are concerned about drinking the right fluids but can’t find either of these brands, check the water bottles and see if there is an “F” symbol on the chemical listings, or you can check for “불소,” which is the Korean for fluoride.  Don’t drink it, girls.  Fluoride makes you dumb and hurts your bones.

Also, remember to avoid shellfish and sushi while pregnant.  Koreans love them some raw fish, but they’ll understand if you politely decline on the grounds of your child’s health.  Family is very important here, and they won’t throw shade over doing something for your baby.  In fact, you’re far more likely to have Korean friends offering you fresh fruits and vegetables, along with seaweed soup after you give birth.  Supposedly, it helps your milk come in.  They also have a thing about dressing the baby and mother warmly, even in the summer.  I don’t remember exactly why – I think it has something to do with arthritis…

8. Culture differences 

You knew before you came here that Korea was going to be different.  The process of giving birth is the same.  Think of Korea as being like the US back in the 1960s or 70s.  Men have very little part in the birthing process here.  Traditionally, fathers are usually not present for their child’s birth.  Children are whisked away to central nurseries to prevent infection.  It is not uncommon for mothers and babies to spend time in a special recovery center for about three weeks.  It all seems a bit, well, foreign to Westerners who are used to the notion of Dad being in the room, the baby popping out, and then heading home a day or two later.

Update: I talked to the doctor about this, and she said that most dads now are choosing to be with their wife and baby when the child is born, so it’s no longer an issue.  Still, I’ve read other sites where Korean women didn’t want their husband in the room.  I’m not really sure which reports are the most accurate, but suffice to say that the times are changing somewhat rapidly in Korea, so you shouldn’t have to worry about having a fight about your husband being present in the room for your child’s birth.

Still, in spite of the doctor laughing and saying it’s not like that, we have experienced a hint of this old school attitude.  The sonogram technicians giggle uncomfortably at my husband’s presence.  They seemed surprised at first that he would come in to see the baby, but they won’t chase him out.  The hospital people also really don’t address him unless necessary; the focus is always on me.  The good news in all this is that Koreans are getting more and more accustomed to foreigners in their country, and they understand that we have different customs and habits.

I’ve heard that C-sections are more common in Korea than back home.  I know last year, there were a ton of births on November 11th, 2011 (11/11/11), as this was considered an auspicious day to give birth, and many women wanted their children to have this birthday.  Doctors tend to encourage it more because it brings more revenue into the hospital, as it obviously costs more to have a C-section.  If you have a C-section, out of necessity or choice, be aware that they will chuck a sandbag on your abdomen during recovery.  I’m not exactly sure why this is, but they will do it.  You’ve been warned.

Koreans also tend to stay home with their babies for the first 100 days of their life.  Since infant mortality was so high in the past, it was considered bad luck to go visiting with the baby before his/her first 100 days had passed.  Even today, this remains somewhat true, and many Koreans will have a 100 Day celebration (Baek-Il).

9. Play Time

If you have an older child – I’m thinking 18 months to two years and up – there is a great place in Changwon that you can take your kids on the weekend.  This place is especially great if it’s raining.  It’s called Dibo Kids’ Cafe, and it’s in City 7 near Wa Bar.  It’s a lot like a Jungle of Fun or a giant McDonald’s play area.  It has ball pits, slides, bouncy areas… Basically, it’s kid’s paradise.  Of course, it does cost to get in – I think it’s 5,000W for little ones and 7,000 per parent or some such, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you need to take your kid somewhere so that they can get worn out, Dibo is it.  My friend takes her daughter there all the time, and she loves it.  Incidentally, I think Dibo is also a cartoon – Dibo the Wish Dragon or something like that.  Little kids in Korea love Dibo, apparently.  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

There are also plenty of parks in Changwon where you can take your kid to let them off the leash, so to speak.  I do notice that there aren’t as many “big toys” in Korea as there are in the US.  You know – big jungle gyms with slides, bouncy bridges, and the like.  I haven’t seen too many of those.  A lot of apartment complexes here have playgrounds built in.  The playground in my apartment complex is right behind my building – so great for weekend mornings, when the place is jam-packed with screaming children.  😉  The bigger apartments usually also have big, sandy play areas for the children.

I’ll try and think of things to add to this as I go along, but I hope this is a good starting point for some of you.  I will definitely get more information up here about immigration, but I’m still working on that.  Our baby will have dual citizenship (US/UK), plus she’ll need a visa, so this could get interesting!  Hope this helps, ladies!

10. Vaccination

Anyone who knows us will know that my husband and I are non-vaxers.  There are a lot of issues associated with vaccination, and it is a very hotly debated topic.  I’m not looking to catch flack from any people who think I’m an abusive monster, so anyone who reads this can keep their thoughts to themselves.  Vaccination is a personal issue, and every parent has the right to make those decisions based on their own research into it.  I do heartily recommend reading both sides of the argument before making the decision.

In any case, the vaccination schedule in Korea is roughly similar to the one in the US.  Vitamin K and Hep B are delivered shortly after birth.  You can opt out of these, as we intend to do.  We have already made our wishes clear to the doctor.  I recommend doing this.  Our doctor was pliable about it and said that she knew some foreigners don’t vaccinate.  Still, because of the language barrier, you need to make your wishes very clear from the beginning. Make sure your delivery care providers know in advance.  This is probably great advice for anywhere else, too.

The total cost of the routine vaccinations, according to our friends, will be about two million won.  The Korean system delivers a bunch of them at the same time.  You’ll notice young Korean children walking around with these large, box-shaped scars that have nine pricks on them.  Those are vaccination scars.  I hear tell the needle gun used for injection is pretty rough-looking.  Again, whether or not you want your child vaccinated in this manner or would prefer the spread-out schedule that some parents are now choosing is up to you, but you do need to decide in advance, if possible, so that you know what options are available here.  I know some vaccinations, like the MMR, usually come together and are difficult to obtain separately, even in the US.

The UK is more lax about vaccine enforcement, it would seem, though commenters may feel free to correct me on this.  I’m still researching.  The US has philosophical exemption for 21 states and 48 states (excluding Mississippi and W. Virginia) have religious exemption.  If you are planning to vaccinate, none of this applies to you.  Just be aware of the high cost in Korea and plan accordingly!

11. Maternity Leave

By law, you are legally entitled to three months of paid maternity leave in Korea.  That’s a long-ass time, compared to what we get back home.  I originally thought that you weren’t entitled to paid leave, but as it turns out, you are.  By law, your employer is legally obligated to pay you your full salary as per your contract for the first two months that you’re on leave.  Generally, national employee insurance covers part of the third month, but most hagwon directors don’t have this insurance, so I’m honestly not sure how the third month works out.

As I have just discovered this, it’s going to become a bit of a sticky wicket with my boss, who was convinced that he was not legally obligated to pay me anything.  This used to be the case, but it was revised under the 2008 Labor Law.  I will post a paper in PDF format here so that you can take a look at it and download it.  Korea Mat Leave 2008 onward

*Update: My husband and I bought a crib from Petit Lapin cribs.  It put together fine, looked great, and we loved it.  BUT.  The varnish.  Holy cow.  We realized after moving it into the small nursery room we’re using that the varnish/chemical smell was overpowering.  We did NOT feel okay about putting our daughter into that crib.  Although a great deal of time had elapsed since purchase, the company agreed to exchange it for a natural wood crib of the same model (Eco Bear) and pick up the old one.  Note, we would never have been able to do that without my awesome boss.  

My advice to ALL parents, not just those living in Korea, is to avoid furniture products with significant varnish on them.  Most baby furniture is made in China now, as is most furniture in both Korea and the US.  I would stick with natural wood colors.  I love the dark finishes, but your baby’s health is not worth the risk.  We cleaned the crib several times, we aired it out, and nothing worked.  We’re crossing our fingers that the new one, which arrives in two days, will be wood-scented only, as the company has promised us.  I strongly recommend, especially here in Korea where you can’t really look at cribs before purchase, that you stick with natural woods.  Seriously, you’ll save yourself a major headache. 

*Update 2: I cannot recommend the crib we got from Petit Lapin.  Their service was great.  They replaced the varnish crib with one that is all-natural wood.  However, the mattress also has a distinctly toxic smell wafting off of it.  We have crib mattress wraps, but we do not feel comfortable putting our baby in it, even with the wrap.  We have purchased a bassinet and will likely use a pack ‘n play instead of a crib.  

I strongly recommend that you DO NOT buy any crib sight unseen in Korea or anywhere else.  Most furniture is now made in China, and China is not known for its overabundance of quality wood.  They use a lot of toxic chemicals in the furniture glue and varnish, including formaldehyde.  When inhaled, these can be deadly for baby.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any great solutions other than buying a used crib from someone or using bassinets and play yards.  If I find someone who managed to locate a non-toxic crib in Korea, I’ll post it here.  Until then though, I recommend just finding an alternative.  We’ve wasted a lot of time and money trying to get this sorted out, and it hasn’t turned out well for us, unfortunately.  

The Links

Petit Lapin Cribs (98% Korean only, and I don’t really recommend their products)

G-Market (English)

Korea Maternity/Baby Sale Extravaganza (Facebook group – English)

Little Baby Crib Rental Service (Korean only)

Agabang Baby Store (English, Korean, Chinese.  Mostly just showcases their brands.)

Dreammil (Formula and baby products – Korean only)

Her Room Bras, Panties, and Lingerie (English – international shipping available)

Toys ‘R Us Korea (Korean – just gives store locations and plays obnoxious music)

H&M Korea (Seoul only.  They do have a small selection of Western sized maternity clothes.)

Old Navy (English.  They ship internationally and carry larger sizes of maternity clothes.)

Costco Korea (English.  Locations in Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, and Ilsan.  They carry international goods.)

Playgroups (Mostly in Seoul area)

About Dibo Kids’ Cafe (English – courtesy of Little Seouls Blog)

Korea 4 Expats Info on Pregnancy (English)

US Report of Birth Procedure (US Embassy Seoul – Korean/English)

My Kingdom for a Kitchen

Back when I was in university, I used to be from the Carrie Bradshaw school of cooking: “Have you seen my kitchen?  I use my oven to store my sweaters!”  I almost never cooked back in those days.  Maybe it was because I was busy.  Maybe it’s because I frequently drank my dinner and dessert came around 1:30 in the morning after calling a pizza guy or waiting in line at El Rancho in downtown Columbia.  Those were good times, for sure.

Something in me, however, seems to be changing.  Maybe it’s because I’m pregnant and everything else is changing, so why not my desire to cook?  Maybe it’s because there isn’t a huge variety of decent Western food in Korea.  Maybe I’m finally becoming my parents’ daughter.  (They were both excellent cooks.)  Or maybe I’ve just reached that age and place in life where I’ve realized that, since I officially have a family, it’s time to stop eating like a college kid.  Whatever the case may be, I’ve developed a sudden and completely overpowering urge to cook all the time.

I made homemade chocolate chip cookies last week.  You know how often that happens?  Approximately a quarter past never.  Until now.  Suddenly, I had to have decent chocolate chip cookies, and they had to be homemade.  So I made them.  This week, it was homemade pizza.  I mean, really.  Pizza is the one food that is probably most synonymous with Friday night laziness.  Pick up the phone, place order, open wallet, wait for hours, finally enjoy. But no, this week things were different: I made my own pizza.  And I’m never going back.

I honestly thought the whole thing would be a disaster, but it wasn’t.  I had to use a recipe without yeast, since our neighborhood grocer doesn’t sell it.  The dough I used was great, and the pizza came out better than I ever expected it would.  After three minutes, my husband asked me, “Honey, when are you doing this again?”  Guess it might become a Friday night ritual.  And it can be done on a shoestring with a crappy, tiny oven.  Unfortunately, cheese is quite expensive over here, but back in the West, I’m guessing the total cost of this pizza would be $5-$6.  And it just tastes better.  I know ordering out is convenient, but in these troubled economic times, good Lord, why waste the money?  I will include the recipe for the dough at the end of the blog so you can try it out, if you want.

Besides actually cooking in my oh-so-craptacular Korean kitchen, I’ve been perusing different cooking sites, looking for inspiration.  With the limitation on some ingredients and utensils here, sometimes I’m limited to looking but not baking.  I’m thinking part of this newfound love of cooking sites has to do with the fact that, now that the first trimester and morning sickness has departed, I’m hungry pretty much all day, every day.  If you think I wouldn’t eat Willy Wonka’s flavored wallpaper right off the walls, you’re kidding yourself.  But knowing that I can’t go too overboard with my eating, instead I just meander through Paula Deen’s site, knowing that I can’t make 70% of the stuff she has on there.

I’ve discovered this new site called Brown-Eyed Baker.  This girl might be my cooking soulmate.  She has a thing for chocolate and peanut butter, and she shares my loathing and contempt for summer salads that are smothered in mayonnaise.  And she has a seriously large recipe inventory that is just ready and waiting for you to print it out and add it to your recipe file.  I really think I’ve copied about half of her recipes with the intent to try them whenever I have access to a real kitchen again.  Don’t believe me?  Her featured deliciousness this week is Chocolate Sprinkle Thumbprint Cookies.  They take 10 minutes to prepare, 18 minutes to bake, and they look like chocolate Jesus.  I would probably sit down and eat the whole two to three dozen that come out of the oven.  If you want to check out the pictures and recipe, follow the link here to mind-blowing baked goodness.

I’m sure there are loads of other baking sites out there, but this one just speaks to me.  I like Paula Deen, but sometimes I don’t like the southern style for certain dishes.  The Brown-Eyed Baker is just my style, for the most part: feel-good cooking that reminds of things that I used to eat when I was a kid.  She writes a fun, interesting blog to complement each week’s recipe, and they’re almost always season-appropriate.  Oh Lord, I just stumbled onto her easy-as-anything homemade hot fudge recipe.  This website is a low-carber’s nightmare… and wet dream.  Ugh, I’m already going to be eating green salads and fruit smoothies for the rest of the weekend, thanks to my Friday date with pizza.  Gotta keep it healthy for the baby!

Anyway, to all of you out there who have a decent kitchen, I’m jealous.  I have no real oven, no counter space, and very little storage space.  Making anything that requires more than two bowls is almost impossible.  Be that as it may, I highly recommend trying to make your own homemade pizza and checking out the Brown-Eyed Baker.  I’m addicted.  Damn carbs.  I blame this all on pregnancy.

No-Yeast Pizza Crust

2 1/2 c. flour
2 3/4 tsp. baking powder (Or use 1/2 the amount of baking soda and omit the salt)
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp oil
3/4 to 1 c. water

I needed hair more than 3/4 cup of water but no more.

Mix the dry stuff, then add the wet ingredients and mix until it forms a ball.  You only need a spoon or fork.  No mixer required.  The dough should be soft but not sticky.  Knead the dough on a floured surface for 3-4 minutes.  Roll it out onto your baking apparatus.  Cover with tasty toppings.  Bake at 400 F for 15-25 minutes.  This dough bakes up thick, so you might roll it out a bit thin and get two batches out of the dough.  The thick crust is mighty delicious too, though!

(Recipe from Cooks.com)

Update:

I retried the recipe – my husband is officially obsessed with homemade pizza – and I reduced the baking powder to 2 1/2 tsp. of baking powder, and it improved the taste a lot.  I thought there was a little too much baking powder taste in the first batch.

Me and the Devil Blues

As previously stated, I’m in something of a dark mood tonight, and this brilliant song suits it perfectly. “Me and the Devil Blues” was originally written and recorded by Robert Johnson, I believe. It was covered to great effect by the late Gil Scott-Heron, and the poetic addendum particularly feels appropriate tonight. Even if you don’t care about my political rants, this is a damn good song. Give a listen.

I’m a Sad Panda Tonight

This post probably rightly belongs on my political blog, but I truthfully don’t have the heart to post it so that my readers – the ones I don’t know personally – don’t read it.  I try to refrain from sounding down-in-the-mouth about anything on that website, since I don’t think being depressed is productive.  I’m happy to predict further problems with the recession and things like that, but telling the truth is different from being a Debbie Downer.  I’m sort of down tonight, though.  Ron Paul has conceded for good, and his son has endorsed *inappropriate string of expletive descriptions here* Mitt Romney.  There is no way to sugarcoat this, even though I’ve tried really hard: this fucking sucks.

I have been a hardcore Ron Paul supporter for years.  My libertarian blog background says, “I liked Ron Paul back when he was underground,” and it’s true.  I was one of the early supporters.  I’ve been preaching the gospel of liberty for yonks.  Ask anyone who knows me – they’ll tell you that I’ve been like I am for just about ever.  It’s not a put-on.  I could never be anything other than what I am, and that’s a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian.  I’ve given money to the Paul campaign.  I created my blog specifically so I could support him, Austrian economics, and libertarian philosophy.  I’ve done this because I genuinely believed that Ron Paul was the best chance our country had for real change. I still want to believe that, but it’s really tough right now.

I know that Rand Paul is not his father.  He is not a libertarian, and he has never pretended to be.  He is a Republican conservative.  He doesn’t share his father’s non-interventionist philosophies, and without the philosophy of non-intervention behind you, you simply can’t call yourself a libertarian.  That’s not to say that Rand hasn’t done and isn’t doing good things, because he is.  But the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil, and for me, it isn’t a case of not just being dubious of some of Paul the younger’s choices: I flat-out disagree with him.  To the point where I wouldn’t vote for him.  I really thought though, that he’d support his dad right up until the convention.  Boy, was I wrong about that!

There have been rumblings about a deal with Romney since early in the year.  At the time, both Pauls dismissed such a thing as an invention of the media, but people are wondering now if they weren’t lying.  There have been accusations from former staffers that Paul was never really in it to win it but instead running a philosophical campaign of ideas.  That’s fine and dandy, but be honest about it.  Don’t tell supporters that you’re running to win when you really aren’t.

Frankly, I blame this on the people with whom Ron Paul surrounds himself, specifically Jesse Benton.  Benton ran Rand’s campaign, and he brought in some seriously questionable people, and I think the campaign really suffered for it.  There have been a lot of reports of Ron Paul being totally cut off from reality because of Benton insulating him from others’ input, and that is really unfortunate, if it’s true.  What would worry me the most though is if Ron had actually run this whole thing to grow his individual wealth.  That would really make me sorry that I donated to him, believing that he was different.  I so dearly hope that this is not the case, but it’s sort of hard to keep the faith right now.

That said, I’m not sorry that I’m involved or that I started the other blog or anything like that.  I guess the unfortunate thing is that a lot of us have learned a lesson the hard way, and that’s that you can’t trust anyone in politics.  Like I said, I’m not convinced one way or the other about Ron Paul himself at this point, but I’ve definitely come away from the whole thing feeling like the only person you can really trust is yourself.  My husband says that I’m too eager to trust people, and I guess he’s right.  I really do want to believe the best about people, but dammit, they make it so hard.  Why does it always have to feel like a fight?

Whatever the case, I’m certainly not giving up my libertarian values or my commitment to writing about it and what-all.  Regardless of who wins the election, an opposition voice will be absolutely necessary, and that will never change.  I really do hope though, that the RNC turns into a total shitshow.  I’m so over the Republicrats and the Democant’s.  Make a mess of their damn convention.  Send a message.  Hopefully, if such a thing happens, the police won’t beat anyone, taser any pregnant women, or tear gas big crowds of people.  I won’t hold my breath on that, either.

Anyway.  I’m bummed.  I’m trying not to be, but it just burns me how things are turning out.  I really do believe that things desperately need to change in our world.  Between the insanity of Keynesian economics (i.e. endless bailouts and inflation), indefinite detention, police brutality, censorship, and the ridiculousness that is the mainstream media and politics, I’m starting to think that the best thing to do would be to just have another revolution and start over.  I wonder if they’re still building that libertarian island?  Not that I could afford rental space on it, anyway, but it’s a nice dream… Oh well, nothing’s going to get done wishing for someone else to do it for me.  I am John Galt.  Guess I’d better get to “gulching.”

Can you tell how sour my mood is tonight?  Blah.  Hopefully, everything will look better in the morning, but I suspect that things are going to look a bit worse before they look better.  Sorry I’ve unloaded on you, dear readers.  I know that political stuff isn’t the reason you all come here – you’d be at my political blog otherwise.  Thanks for listening to me bitch and moan, though.  It felt sort of good, even if it didn’t help or change a thing.

Summertime Blues

From my perspective, it’s pretty hard to deny that summer is the best time of the year to live in the USA.  I’ve long maintained that nobody in the world knows how to make summer fun quite like Americans do.  From Memorial all the way to Labor Day, summer at home is like a non-stop parade of highly-anticipated weekends that are full of BBQs, float trips, swimming pools, shorts, flippy-floppies, wicked tans, and heading somewhere that less closely resembles your own backyard.

Suffice it to say that summer in Korea isn’t quite as awesome as summer in the US.  Don’t get me wrong – summer here can be pretty awesome, especially given the proximity to several great beaches, which is something that definitely can’t be said about the Midwest.  Still, there’s something about summer in Korea that’s missing.  Maybe it’s just the essential Americana of home.  Whatever the case, I’ve been awfully homesick lately, to the point where I’m having strings of crazy pregnancy dreams about going home and either not being able to or having something terrible happen when I get there.  But I keep wishing I could go home this summer and being disappointed by the reality that I can’t.

There are lots of things that I miss about the season back home, but here are some of the big ones that are simply irreplaceable in Korea.

1. Float trips

I suspect this might be sort of a Midwest thing.  When I was in university, going floating was something you did at least once a summer.  There are lots of small rivers in Missouri near my alma mater, Mizzou, where you can go and rent canoes, tubes, and rafts and set off down a river for the day with copious amounts of beer, sunscreen, and friends.  I’ve had some truly spectacular float trips in my day.  There’s nothing like a handle of Evan Williams and a raft full of drunken idiots to make your weekend amazing.  I got so drunk on my first float trip that I couldn’t flop back into the raft.  My friends tied me to the thing using a piece of dirty rope, and I just floated next to it for the rest of the trip.  It was great.

This is all you need to know about how to go floating.

Whatever the case, this would never happen in Korea.  I suspect that Korean men would love the idea of float trips.  There’s nothing they love better than getting wasted in big groups.  Kids and mothers?  Probably not so much.  Koreans are weird about getting dirty, and it seems like floating down a river would count as “dirty” in their minds.  Maybe I’m just a redneck at heart, but frankly, once you get a certain amount of alcohol in you, cleanliness is no longer a primary concern.  Getting a great tan and having fun?  Much higher on the priority list.

2. Outdoor swimming pools and water parks

Korea has outdoor swimming pools and water parks, but here’s my major problem with them: every woman there is a size four or smaller, and none of the men have waists bigger than 32 inches.  Korean children are prone to pointing and yelling things like, “You, fat pig!”  Hardly something anyone wants, especially if, like me, they’re already self-conscious about wearing a bathing suit.  When I go to an American water park, I know for certain that there will be people fatter than me there.  America is a nation of overweight to morbidly obese people, and most of them aren’t afraid to wear swimsuits, and the real land whales make me feel substantially better about my wobbly bits.

Here’s the other things about Korean public pools and watermarks especially – they’re insane in the summer.  In July and August, everyone and their brother goes to Caribbean Bay or California Beach.  I’ve heard the lines for some of the slides can be up to two hours or more.  Who wants to stand in line for two hours in the sweltering heat with a bunch of screaming, obnoxious brats for a slide that lasts maybe a minute, max?  If I went to Caribbean Bay, you can pretty much bet that I’d spend the entire day in the lazy river.  That’s the problem with only having two decent water parks in the entire country.

3. Visiting family 

Although it’s disappointing for me to have to admit this, I know that my family is never going to come and visit me in Korea, in spite of the fact that I’m having a kid over here.  For one thing, most of my family is sort of old.  The ones that aren’t old have too many kids to be buying plane tickets all over the world.  Sad panda.

I get to see most of my family when I’m home in the US for the summer.  Most folks will make a stop in historic Morgan County, Illinois, at least once during the summer.  I love it when my oldest cousin brings her girls to visit for a couple of weeks.  I love hanging out with her and going to BBQs at her brother’s house.  She used to live in Jacksonville before her husband got a much, much better job in North Carolina, and I miss having her around.  Besides, her girls are quite cool chicks.  It makes me sad that I haven’t seen them in years.

4. Crappy, catchy summer anthems

It’s not that we don’t get summer anthems in Korea or even that I can’t hear American ones in South Korea, but they just aren’t as much fun/annoying over here.  “California Girls” loses none of its stupidity for being played in Korea, but it does sort of lose something when you aren’t jamming it out of your car stereo back home.  “School’s Out for Summer?”  It’s totally lost on the kids here.  They only get one month off for school now, so summer vacation is  hardly the children’s wet dream that it is back home.  My kids basically can’t believe that American children get three months to mess around, get summer jobs, and lie around by the pool, especially without the interference of cram schools.  It’s a concept that is well and truly foreign to them.

5. Road Trips

I don’t think road trips are quite as in as they used to be, given that gas prices are through the roof.  It probably costs about the same amount to fly somewhere now as it used to to drive there.  That said, road trips (with friends – not family so much) are part of what makes America great.  There are so many different landscapes and weird things to see along the way.  The highways of America are national treasures.  You know what isn’t fun in Korea?  Road trips.

This is a shockingly good way to get tan.

For one thing, the traffic in this country is terrible, even under the best of conditions.  For another thing, the landscapes in Korea are all pretty much the same: mountains.  I love mountains, so I hardly mean this as a diss towards mountains, but there’s not much variation here.  Besides that, there really aren’t that many open stretches of road that are conducive to putting on the cruise control, hanging your feet out the window, and chatting with your friends over the blare of the aforementioned summer anthem.  Driving here is really just a method of getting from point A to point B, preferably without getting plowed by a bus or some other idiot driver.

6. BBQs

Yes, you can definitely have BBQs in Korea.  And they can be almost as good as BBQs at home.  Almost.

One of the problems is that it’s hard to get the same cuts of meat here as at home.  I have never seen a filet mignon here.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen beef ribs, either.  I think maybe they have them at the commissary on the military base in Jinhae, but guess who can’t go there?  Oh yeah – everyone who isn’t somehow associated without the military.  Guacamole for chip dip?  Forget it.  I’ve seen maybe three avocados the whole time I’ve been here, and they were crazy-overpriced.  The only place I know of where you can get cilantro is the foreigner market in Boseong, which is hardly worth the trip to Jeollanam-do.  (I refuse to ever return to Jeollanam-do after my crazy poison water experience.)   You can get BBQ sauce here, but there isn’t much in the way of variety, though.

Here’s the other thing: lack of porches.  Koreans have balconies, and the houses have balconies that run all around them, but I’ve never seen an honest-to-God porch in Korea.  Why are porches and covered patios important?  Simple: you can grill outside even if it’s come up a rain.  We have a serious rainy season in Korea, and we’re on the cusp of it right now.  It can pour for days at a time, and it’s a serious bummer.  Of course, we get serious storms and rain back home, too, but you usually don’t have to cancel your big grilling plans because of it.  Just move under the porch, and you’re good to go.  Rain is usually a deal-breaker over here.

OMGWTFBBQ

The other great thing about the US is that sometimes you’ll have a grill-buddy who has an outdoor pool.  Nothing says “freaking awesome” like a barbecue plus a swimming pool.  There are also massive parks at home with grills already built in so that you don’t have to bring your own.  The downside is that drinking outside is pretty much illegal everywhere in the US, but you can drink anywhere you want in Korea, which I have to say is awesome.  And also makes for a lot of drunken asshattery.  Still, in my mind, swimming pools and porches trump public drinking, so America still wins.

7. Severe weather

This is definitely not meant as an affront to people who have lost a lot in the natural disasters that seem to accompany summer in the States, but I’m not kidding when I say that when you’re away from home, you will seriously miss the weather in America.  America has insane weather unlike anywhere else in the world.  In the Midwest, we have a saying: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.  It can go from bright, sunny, and blazing hot one minute to green skies, tornadoes, cool wind, and golfball-sized hail the next.  Some people seem to hate the severe weather, but most Americans I know miss it like hell when they’re away from home.

Don’t get me wrong – I know that big storms can be life-threatening and dangerous.  Look at Joplin, MO, last year.  I mean, the whole town was basically destroyed.  In spite of knowing this, there’s something about growing up with it that makes a person extremely contemptuous of anything less than outright dangerous storms.   I guess maybe it’s the element of danger and the potential for upheaval that makes us anticipate it so much.  You probably wouldn’t believe that a person could miss the white W on the screen, but I do.  I really do.

Apparently, this picture was taken in central Illinois. Which would be somewhat near my hometown. Yup, summer twisters!

I was telling my students about the weather in the US Midwest, and they couldn’t believe it.  The potential for the New Madrid fault line south of St. Louis to throw a tantrum, change the course of the Mississippi River, and essentially swallow St. Louis is always there.  And speaking of the rivers, what about those spring and summer floods?  I bet most Americans of a certain age still remember the great flood of ’93.  I remember going down to the river to watch the sandbagging of the levees.  I remember Meredoshia, IL, completely underwater when the water came up over the levees and being shown on CNN.  Of course, we also have hailstorms, killer tornadoes, windstorms, lightning strikes, and severe thunderstorms.  And then winter brings ice storms and blizzards, never mind sub-zero temperatures and crazy wind.  My students just stared at me like, “Why in the world do you live there?  And how have you not died?”  Well, I don’t live there currently, but I sure could go for a big, bad thunderstorm – the kind that would make the Koreans think they’d better repent, for the end is nigh.

8. Decent air conditioning

This doesn’t bother me nearly as much as my constantly overheated husband.  He’s English and used to cold, miserable, rainy weather year-round.  (Sorry, English folks, but from the average American perspective, northern Europe is indeed a miserable, cold, gray place best avoided if you don’t like the almost-constant threat of drizzle.)  He hates real summer.  He came home in a huge strop yesterday because of the temperature of his classroom at work.  I thought he was going to bite the head off of a puppy… Well, if one had been around, anyway.

Honestly though, Korean buildings generally don’t have A/C.  Individual shops and schools do, but the hallways and bathrooms are rarely heated or air conditioned.  The building owner would have to pay for it, and therefore it doesn’t get done.  As a result, unless you’re in one of the shops almost constantly, you’re going to end up a hot, sticky mess.  Even if you have a car, you’ll end up walking here far more than you ever would in the US.  We drive everywhere back home, to the point where it’s mildly ridiculous.  But even the buildings that have air don’t pump it out like US stores do.  For all we love the outdoor heat, Americans like to freeze when they get inside.

I honestly don’t think Koreans feel the heat the same way Westerners do.  I suspect this is probably weight-related, as they’re generally much thinner and generally somewhat smaller than us.  They never seem to sweat, though.  I’m not as bad as my husband, but when we step outside in July and August, we are almost instantly wet with sweat.  This is not the case for most Koreans.  I can’t decide if their body chemistry is somewhat different or if they’re all completely dehydrated because they only drink teeny, tiny cups of water.  Seriously, the cups here aren’t enough to satisfy a kindergartner.  Anyway, the big stores like Lotte Mart and E-Mart feel cool enough when you first step inside, but you quickly realize that the A/C is on just high enough that you won’t pass out from the heat.  It’s ridiculous.

9. The local ice cream haunt

When I was a kid, there was a spectacular ice cream shop called the Mound Cone.  It was small, but it was constantly buzzing with children.  It had a couple of different owners over the years.  The lady who owned it, whom I believe had to give it up because of illness, was the best.  She was the sweetest person, and she was great with the scads of children who hung around in the summer.  It was the thing to go up to the Mound when it was getting dark to get an ice cream treat and cool off.  We’d all ride our bikes up there… It was great.  The place was always freezing cold and served huge cones and blizzards (polar bears, they were called).

The Mound Cone was then taken over by some guy who ran it into the ground, and now it’s closed, which is really sad.  I wish he’d sell it and let someone revive it.  That place did a throbbing business and still could.  Now it’s all about the Dairy Queen on South Main.  It’s one of the top Dairy Queens in the country, and it’s right across the street from Community Park, which is home to the little league soccer teams.  Basically, whenever those games finish, hordes of hot, stinky children and parents come swarming into the DQ to get a frozen treat.  The guy who runs it is a great businessman and really nice besides, and the place does business hand-over-fist.  It’s the place to go for summer treats.  We definitely don’t have a local haunt here.  You just duck into the nearest convenience store and get a popsicle.  They’re good, but they’re not blizzards.

10. The Fourth of July

In the words of Apu from The Simpsons: “Celebrate the birth of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”  The Fourth of July is f**king rad, I don’t care what anybody says.  You can get fireworks any time of the year here in Korea, but there is nothing like having a friend who is licensed to set off mortars.  I know, I know – it’s a terrible idea to mix booze and fireworks.  But fireworks are nonetheless awesome, and the Fourth of July is pretty much the best holiday in America.

Loves the Fourth!

You get to combine all the best elements of summer in one big, stupid, explosive party.  You can’t really do that over here.  You can’t ever celebrate the Fourth anywhere else like you can in America, understandably.  I used to love the Fourth up at our old river cabin – which I still miss dearly – when we’d buy some cheap fireworks, play in the water all day, have a BBQ, and then watch the neighbors set off mortars.  They’d echo across the lake and onto the river and then back again.  Freaking rad.

And I know it’s not en vogue to be patriotic and love the US, but I do.  I don’t love the government, but I love the country itself.  I love the fact that some renegade Americans, admittedly aided by the French and the fact that the Brits’ attention was divided across their stupidly large empire, managed to defeat what was the world superpower at the time.  So when you all are home this summer, enjoying big fireworks, real margaritas, decent beer, and lying around in the kiddie pool, make sure that you wave an obnoxiously large American flag, give a hoot and holler, and fire some sort of gun into the air in celebration of the fact that we’re awesome.  Just try to forget about all those unconstitutional wars, PATRIOT Act, indefinite detention, Obama Care, the Federal Reserve, and… Crap, I’m ruining what should’ve been the best part of my post.

In conclusion, summer in America rocks.  Summer in Korea or anywhere else just can’t compare.  Thailand might be good.  It’s still not home.  So crack open a decent imported beer (Koreans don’t know what beers and wines to import), throw a slab of cow flesh on the grill, and light something on fire for me.  I swear, next summer, I’ll be back, introducing my half-English child to the awesomeness that is true summer.  Hopefully she won’t inherit her father’s resentment of all things hot weather-related.

Kickin’ It in Changwon

I thought, since I’ve been writing a fair few baby-related posts, that I’d change it up and write a beginner’s guide to Changwon.  Part of my original blog mission, at least while I’m in Korea, was to write helpful things about Korea.  One of the big suggestions for bloggers is to write what you know, and I do know my long-time Korean home of Changwon, capital of Gyeongsangnam-do, very well.  So my next post today is all about everyone’s favorite little big city, Changers.

Changwon is the first and only planned city in Korea, so unlike pretty much everywhere else here, the roads actually make sense, and the neighborhoods are laid out with some degree of sanity.  Changwon is the reserve capital, in case North Korea decides to blow Seoul off the map.  For that reason, the Changwon Daero (Great Road) is the longest stretch of straight road in all of Korea, and it is suitable for use as a runway to land military-grade planes.  It is completely surrounded by mountains on all sides, except for the little part on the Masan Man (Bay) where you can get the road from, you guessed it, Masan.

The surrounding cities of Masan and Jinhae were recently joined to Changwon city proper, which means that if you live in “the suburbs,” as I like to call them, you are living in Changwon now.  My students here in Masan think this makes them more posh, since Changwon seems to be considered the classiest place of the three (and it is).  I laugh and tell them that this will always be Masan.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and Masan by any other name still smells like fish and welding near the harbor.  In any case, Changwon now houses most of the city government, except for the regional gu-cheongs, and it is now officially home to 1.1 million Chang-Bangers.

My husband calls Changwon “the Seoul of the South,” not because it’s so big, like Busan, but because it’s a rich city.  Changwon has the highest per capita income, after Seoul.  This is not surprising, given the number of CEOs, plant owners, and high-up workers and engineers who work in one of the many factories here.  Changwon is home to some of Korea’s biggest industrial giants, like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, GM-Daewoo, KIA, WIA, Doosan Heavy Industries and Engines, STX, and others.  We have everything from car manufacturing to ship-building to engine production to technology.  Basically, Changwon is like Detroit, back when Detroit was still manufacturing things and not considered a rust-belt hellhole.

If you’ve just moved to Changwon and you’re wondering what there is to do, where you can find Western food, or where the best shopping is located, hopefully I can be of some service to you.  I don’t know Jinhae well, so there will not be much info here, but I do know Changwon proper and Masan pretty darn well, since I’ve now lived here for about four years.  Coming back to Changwon after hiatus was like coming home, and even if you aren’t that fond of Korea, I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of worse places to which you could be coming home.

Restaurants

Eating out is an important staple of waeguk life in Korea.  Most of us have a fairly large disposable income, and there’s no better way to celebrate financial freedom that chowing down and getting bombed with your friends.  Here are some of the more well-known eateries in Changwon and Masan and where to find them.

Outback – Of course, this is an American import, but if you’re looking for an American restaurant experience that pretends to be Aussie, look no further.  This is pretty standard American steakhouse fare, and if you have money to burn and a hankering for a big plate of steak, this place is it.  Honestly, I never eat at Outback in the US, but I don’t remember it being so expensive.  The average meal at Outback will probably cost about $20-$30 per plate, so I will say that you can eat at a nice Korean restaurant for half the price, easily.  Outback Changwon is located in Jungang-dong.  From the big circle where city hall, Lotte Department Store and Mart, and E-Mart are located, take the road that runs alongside Lotte Mart and Lotte Department store.  Walk down for about 1/4 mile, and it’s on the right ride of the road.  You can’t really miss it.  Outback Masan is located on the main drag in Hoewongu, near the Masan Shi-Wae Bus Terminal.  Have a taxi dump you at the bus terminal.  Turn to the left, and it’s on the second floor of the next building.  Again, you really can’t miss it.

Bennigan’s – Again, if you like American chain restaurants, this place is another safe bet.  Bennigan’s is, I think, a bit less pricy than Outback.  They also have quesadillas, which is usually my main motivation for eating there.  I go at lunch to save a few bucks.  Bennigan’s is near Outback in Jungangdong.  Follow the “foreigner road,” which includes the International Hotel, Changwon Hotel, O’Brien’s, IP, and FF bar (see my previous blog on Changwon bars for more info).  It’s next door to Newcastle Night Club on the second floor.  If you don’t know the road of which I speak, have a taxi driver deliver you to International Hotel (Guk-je Hotel, if that helps).  Walk down the road, and you’ll find it, no problem.

IP’s – IP is known for its burritos, which are spicy and pretty much awesome.  IP also has some other great dishes and sandwiches, although I will say that if you’re starving and need to eat like, ten minutes ago, you might want to try somewhere with faster service.  The kitchen staff is small, and they aren’t renowned for their record-breaking speed.  Still, a big IP Club Sandwich and a plate of fries fills me to the eyeballs.  If you like pub food, I would highly suggest hitting up IPs.  I find I really enjoy going early and getting a meal and some dinner drinks.  Does that make me akin to one of the old engineers who haunt the place?

O’Brien’s – OB’s also has standard pub fare, and I’m in love with their big old chicken sandwich.  They used to have wedge fries, too, and those were bad-ass, but I don’t know if they always carry them anymore, as I haven’t eaten at OB’s in ages, partly because I never go and partly because I’m now pregnant and can’t go anywhere that has lots of smoke.  Unfortunately, OB’s fits that category, even in the best of times.  IP, too, so if you’re pregnant… Anyway, OB’s usually has a daily food special.  Friday used to be burger and a beer night, which meant you got a great big burger, fries, and a draft beer for about $8.  Frankly, you can’t beat that with a stick.

Bombay – An Indian restaurant owned by the guy who owns OB’s plus partners.  I really like Bombay.  They have real Indian chefs, the atmosphere is pleasant, and the service has been good every time I’ve been there.  I will say that it’s pricy, so go prepared to spend some dough.  I think it’s quite popular among the waeguk crowd, and I’ve seen big groups of company types eating there.  Bombay is the original, but there are some other Indian joints that have sprung up in the same building.  I have not been to any of them and cannot attest to their goodness or badness, but Bombay is the original, and I always had a good meal there.  It’s next door to O’Brien’s, so again, you can’t miss it.  Take a taxi to International Hotel.  Walk across the street.  Boom.  You’re there.

Dino Meat Buffet – This is my husband’s favorite Changwon restaurant.  Meat buffets are like a gift from God.  Seriously, you would NEVER see something like this back home for the price.  There’s no comparing this place to Golden Corral or Ponderosa (Pondo/Grossa-Rossa, as my cousin’s kids used to say).  It’s a nice, sit-down restaurant where, for a mere 16,000W per person, you can scarf as much meat as your stomach can handle.  You are seated, provided with a Korean-style grill and side dishes, and then you are given a plate, which you can take to the meat buffet in the back and pile enough meat on to satisfy Napoleon’s starving army.  I am confident that they have never made money off of a waeguk.  The Koreans never seem to eat that much, but my husband and I have gone with friends and have made five trips to the buffet to heap on meat.  And they have steak pieces.  Oh yes, steak.  The service at this place is stellar, too – when you hit the button, those guys jump.  They earn their meager wages.  If you crave animal flesh but don’t crave the hole in your wallet that traditional steakhouses will leave, hit this place up.  Have a taxi deliver you to Yong-ji Lake. It’s right across the street from the fountain-side of the lake.

*Update: I haven’t been in ages because we’re poor now, but I just learned that Dino Meat Buffet has closed up shop.  Honestly, if they had too many customers like us, they were bound to be losing money.  Fortunately, I’ve also learned that a new meat buffet has opened in Sangnam called the Mammoth Meat Buffet and Salad Bar.  It is above Beer Zone, which is where my husband I met, interestingly enough.  They have a lunch special for 10,900W, and that’s pretty damn hard to beat!  I haven’t tried it yet so can’t vouch for how good it is, but I think we might have to check it out for our anniversary next week!  I’ll update again with a short review!  So long, old Dino pal!

Miyabi – I haven’t been to this lovely Japanese eatery in ages, but it’s one of my favorite places to start off a hard night of drunken f*ckery.  It’s overpriced, but it has a great atmosphere and decent Japanese food.  The atmosphere and the booze is half the reason to go.  You can get sake or traditional Korean alcohols served in bamboo containers.  The seating is traditional Japanese, which means that you have your own little alcove where you take off your shoes and sit down on the floor.  There’s space under the table for you to actually put your feet down and sit, and you’re surrounded by privacy screens and lovely plants and low lighting.  It creates a very urban, Zen-like atmosphere.  Again, this place is overpriced, but I would recommend the tuna steak or one of the set meals.  If you split it with a bunch of friends, it’s not so bad.  Miyabi is in Sangnam-dong.  Find the street where the stationary shop Alpha is located.  Miyabi is in the building next door to Alpha.  It’s up on the top floor of the building, so it’s easy to miss it from the street.  Keep your eyes up.  There’s a ramp that leads up to the building, and you’ll more often than not see yuppie types and students going up there, as it’s popular with the young crowd.

Mexico – Masan, believe it or not, has a Mexican restaurant, creatively named Mexico.  I’ve eaten there twice and, although other foreigners love it, I have to say that I’ve been less than impressed both times I’ve been there.  I honestly think that it depends entirely on what you order.  I’d have to recommend that you stay FAR AWAY from the margaritas, as the last time I had one nearly made me gag.  It is “Mexican” food, but it has a decidedly Korean twist to it.  The owner is a Korean chap married to a Mexican lady, so I would almost consider the style to be fusion food.  The prices were fairly reasonable, and the place is generally busy on weekends.  The downside to visiting Mexico is that it’s a bit hard to find.  It’s in Odong-dong in Masan, in the street market zone.  I wish I could give you great instructions on how to get there, but it’s been so long and the road so winding that I’m fuzzy on the deets.  You get off of the main drag and go down the back alleys.  It is quite near Joyce’s Bar, assuming that bar still exists.  The alley is really tiny, you will have to do some searching around for it.  I will say that there is a Lotteria near the area, so that can serve as a landmark for how to get there.  I’ll have to go there soon and update these instructions so that they actually make sense.  I have to be honest, though – for the hassle of getting there, I would generally recommend you just go to IPs and get a burrito, as it will be easier to find, cheaper, and just as good.

Jino’s – Jino’s is probably my favorite restaurant in Changwon.  They specialize in Italian fare and, although it’s not quite like home, it’s pretty good, especially if you like cheese!  They recently remodeled the interior so that it’s more urban chic and less kitschy.  My husband took me here on our first date, so it has sentimental value, too.  I recommend the Carbonara pizza, as it’s rather unique and quite tasty.  They have a decent wine list (for Korea), and they have lots of different pasta and meat dishes, too.  I also recommend, if you like sweet things, that you try that Honey Jumbo Bread.  It sounds ridiculous, but it’s amazing.  Also, they have Mountain Dew on tap here, so if you’ve been jonesin’ for Dew, look no further.  Free refills, too!  It’s really nice on a warm, breezy afternoon, as they can open the window-doors to the patio, and it’s just very pleasant.  Jino’s is on the road from E-Mart to Yong-Ji Lake, across from the Changwon Concert Hall.

Kraze Burger – Kraze Burger is a chain, but I don’t care.  I love it.  They have a rockin’ chicken Caesar salad, and their sandwiches are actually American-sized.  I highly recommend the chicken club.  I find most sandwiches in Korea disappointing, but this place does it for my fast food cravings.  It’s located in Sangnam on the same road as Dunkin’ Donuts.  It’s near the fountain, and there’s an Angel-in-Us coffee house next door.

VIPS –VIPS is a Korean steakhouse/buffet chain.  It’s pricey, but it’s nice for special occasions.  If you order a steak, you get the buffet along with it, although I usually just get the buffet when we go, which is maybe once a year, if that.  It’s located in the Kyobo Building, which is right behind Lotte Department Store.

Seven Springs – Seven Springs is located over at City 7, in the Changwon convention center.  I personally have never been there, but I’ve heard that it’s excellent.  I has just about everything, Korean and Western food.  I think it’s pretty pricey, too.  My husband has told me that it’s quite good, as he went there for a work-related outing once.  I know many Westerner’s quite enjoy it.  You can take a taxi to the City 7/Pullman Hotel/Convention Center area or, if you roll cheap, take the 212 bus from E-Mart.  Most of the 100 numbered buses (103, 107, etc.) and the red buses that head towards Masan go past City 7, too.

Breakfast at the Changwon Hotel – This is pricey but SO WORTH IT.  The Changwon Hotel has a frankly kick-ass breakfast that I feel like more people should know about.  I think it’s about $20-$25 per person, but they have eggs, pancakes, French toast, and other assorted deliciousness that, if you are desperate for a proper Western breakfast, pretty much can’t be beaten with a stick.  The hotel itself feels hoity-toity, but there are a lot of laid-back Westerners there.  I think most of them are engineers or visiting company workers, but whatever the case, I highly recommend trying the breakfast buffet at least once, whether it entails dragging your butt out of bed or staying out until dawn.  You won’t regret it.


Things to Do

Bored in Changwon, you say?  Well, you really shouldn’t be.  There are lots of things to do around town at any given point.  And if you get sick of Changwon – everyone eventually gets sick of staying home – there are lots of places that are easily accessible from Changwon.

Sports– Changwon has a really nice sports complex located on the Changi-Daero which includes a bike track, swimming pool, basketball arena, and soccer stadium.  Changwon has its own basketball team, the LG Sakers, and a soccer team, FC Gyeongsangnam-do, I think.  Sports games are lots of fun, and tickets can be had much cheaper than in the US or other Western countries.  Basically, you can get first-rate sports entertainment for a fraction of the cost of home.

Changwon LG Sakers.

There is another recreation center in Sangnam, in front of Han-Ma-Eum Hospital.  They have a big swimming pool, and this is the one my husband prefers, if we go to town for swimming.  Also as a side note, if you want a cheap place in Sangnam to park your car, assuming you have one, the lot behind the rec center is awesome, because it rarely fills up, and it’s cheaper than some of the slightly more convenient lots.  Also, it’s free on Sunday, when the rec center is closed.

If organized sports aren’t really your thing, consider taking a walk around Yongji Lake.  It has a nice, partially rubberized walking area that, while crowded on weekends, is less so on weekday mornings and a good place for walks and such.  Also, there are some tennis courts and nice grassy areas where a good game of Frisbee or touch football could be started.  There is another set of tennis courts behind Han-Ma-Eum Hospital in Sangnam, if you like tennis.

Changwon also has an ice rink, which is open daily and located in Dogye Dong, which is near Palyong.  I’ve heard rumors about a foreigners’ hockey club, but it could just a rumor and I’ve misunderstood something.  I love hockey and skating, but I’ve never been there.  I think there might be skating lessons available for children, for those who have kids.

I know there are soccer (football for you UK/Aussie/NZ/SA lot) lessons for kids that are available at the Changwon soccer club, which is located in Sapa.  One of my friends is a coach there.  I don’t know what age they start, but some of those kids are really little, so I think probably around 4-5 years old you can start your kids on soccer lessons.  I don’t know what the situation is for adults, but I would assume that they probably have clubs for the big folks, too.

Lastly, there is a baseball stadium in Masan that occasionally hosts the Lotte Giants from Busan.  I have a student who has been and loves baseball, but I can’t give much more information on it, since I hate baseball and don’t ever care to go.  Masan Stadium is located near Shinsaegae, and there is also a recreation center nearby that has a swimming pool, for those Masan folks who aren’t of a mind to trek into Changers all the time.  If you want to see the Lotte Giants play regularly, you’ll need to head to Busan.

There is also at least one cycling club in Changwon.  I think my friend was buddies with some of the hardcore bikers while he was here.  You’ll see them cruising around on weekends in their tight bicycle shorts, huge leg muscles on display for the world to admire.  I have no idea where one goes to meet these elusive, speedy creatures.  Perhaps Dave Munson will pop up and post a comment with more info on the human speed bullets.  I suppose the bike arena might be a logical starting point.

Music/Concerts – Changwon has a big concert hall that hosts plays and orchestral events on a regular basis.  I went once and tried to get tickets for a play that I wanted to see there, but I never did find the box office.  I think you have to call their box office number, which means that you’ll need to have a Korean friend help you, most likely.  Typically, whenever you see orchestra or play posters up around the city, it’s advertising an event at the concert hall.  There have also been some concerts at the convention center and arena, as well as at Gyeongnam University in Masan.

There are also periodic festivals in Changwon.  I think in late summer, there is an annual city festival, and there is always a concert or two in the circle during that time.  I’ve been once or twice, but I didn’t find it that exciting.  I suppose my interest would depend a lot on the musical guests.

Parks – Changwon has nothing if not scads of parks.  In fact, I think it has more parks per square kilometer than anywhere else in Korea.  Yongji Lake is the biggest park and features my favorite rock walk.  If you haven’t tried the rock walk, you really should.  You take off your shoes, and there are rocks of various sizes, textures, and degrees of pointedness.  You walk on them to stimulate different areas of your body – for healing, of course.  Most men I know hate them, and pretty much every girl I know loves the rock walks.  Go figure.  Whatever the case, Yongji has a nice music, light, and water show at night, and there are plenty of places to have a picnic, play with the kids, walk the dog, and people-watch.

There are parks along just about every section of the Daero, it seems like.  There’s a park with a large, fake rock fountain in it that always makes me want to go swimming.  There’s a tulip garden that is beautiful in the spring.  There’s another park near Masan Technik University that has cherry blossoms to rival Jinhae.  (I think it’s better, actually.)  There’s another flower park between Gaeumjeong and Namsan Bus Terminal.  There are also plenty of mountain hiking trails to be had all over all three major parts of the city.  Muhak Mountain seems to be the most popular out here in Masan.

Shopping

Koreans love shopping.  Seriously, I think it’s the national pastime.  Saturday and Sunday will see Changwon come to life with intrepid buyers.  Sunday at the big marts is downright obnoxious.  Nothing brings the feeling of old-meets-ultra-modern quite like the shopping in Korea, I think.  You’ll see everything in Changwon from traditional markets to huge department stores with high-end brands, jewelry, and makeup counters.

Lotte Department Store – This is my personal favorite high-end store, even though Shinsaegae is closer in Masan.  Lotte is conveniently located right on the traffic circle in Changwon, so it’s pretty tough to miss it.  Lotte has Chanel, MAC, Lancome, and Dior makeup counters, among others.  It sells MCM, Coach, and other mid-grade (I’m snooty about fashion, so let it be) bags and leather goods.  Unfortunately, they don’t have any truly oggle-worthy brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc. in anything but accessories.  I’m hoping that will change so that I can press my nose against the glass and drool.

The basement has a huge food court, Lotteria, GNC, furniture, and a grocery store which has a really good albeit pricy organic foods and products.  If you want hard-to-find organic soaps and things from the US, such as Doc Bronner’s, Jason, etc., you can find them here.  They also have a good selection of eco-friendly detergents and things from the US and Germany particularly.  They have expensive, imported European candy (yum!), and a good selection of imported canned foods, although if you want guacamole, you still need to hit Fatbag online.  Sigh.

The upper floors have clothes and nothing but clothes, although I’m sorry to say that if you aren’t a Korean size, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find anything to fit you.  If you are made of sticks like the Koreans, you’ll be in hog heaven.

There is also a cinema in Lotte that remains quite busy on weekends.  They have lots of showings, so you can show up pretty much anytime and reasonably expect to get tickets with the seats of your choice.

If you go up to the very top, there are also restaurants, a travel agency, and a “culture center” that employs foreigners to give weekend English lessons to kids.  How do I know that last bit?  I’ve known people who worked it, and I did a few turns there myself.  Don’t recommend, as a weekend gig!

City 7 – Overpriced, hard to navigate, but definitely the place where all the cool kids go, City 7 was finished about the time I got here five years ago (!).  City 7 has lots of semi-high-end stores like Anne Klein, Calvin Klein, and others.  This is where the wealthy of Changwon go to blow their money.  There are also lots of restaurants, coffee shops, and a Lotte Mart located in its walls.  It’s partly open, so on rainy days you do need to take an umbrella, as you can still get wet.  The different cones make it interesting, but overall, I feel like City 7 is overpriced and overrated.  Still, it’s a decent place to go window-shopping and people-watching.  If you need help finding it, just look up and locate the large towers in the sky.  That would be City 7.  If you want a taxi to take you there, tell them “Shitty 7,” since that’s how Koreans pronounce it.

Daedong Department Store – Does anyone shop here?  Nobody I know.  I’ve only been inside once, and Lotte had the pants beat off of it.  I suppose there are still folks who go there on weekends, though.  Daedong creates the far-end border of Sangnam, out towards Sapa and Gaeumjeong.  There’s a food court on the bottom floor, and there always seem to be ungodly numbers of children hanging around outside.  Maybe that’s why I hate walking around there.

Shinsaegae – I live in Masan, and I’m sort of ashamed to say that I have never been to Shinsaegae.  I’ve stood on the stairs to meet people, but I’ve never been in.  I get the impression that it’s quite similar to Lotte in Changwon – grocery store in the basement, clothes and makeup upstairs.  If you really want to see a spectacle, hit Shinsaegae in Busan.  It’s the biggest department store in the world, and it has the big name brands like Louis, Chanel, Burberry, Dior, etc.  Good times!

Sangnam Market (상남시장) – Sangnam has market day on the days of the month with numbers ending in 9, I think.  Anyway, Saturdays are usually the optimal time to hit the market.  It has a good selection of fruit, vegetables, and fresh seafood, if that’s your thing.  I’ve heard rumors that you can find waeguk-sized shoes at a store in the basement, but I’ve never confirmed this.  I don’t shop there much at all, really, but you should check it out at least once, just so you can see a Korean market.  To get there, just tell the taxi, “Sangnam shi-jang,” and you’ll get doorstop service.

Masan Fish Market (마산어시장) – It doesn’t get any realer than the Masan Fish Market.  You will see old women guarding bowls of live octopus, squirming eels, and a wide assortment of fish.  There are also places to buy Korean vegetables.  It smells like, well, a dirty fish market, and that’s exactly what it is.  There are lots of restaurants in the area that specialize in, you guessed it, seafood.  Masan is supposedly famous for its anglerfish soup.  Anglerfish, in case you’re unaware, is what Homestarrunner so aptly called “deep sea fangly fish,” the fish that guides other fish to it with its light and then snatches them in its giant jaws.  It’s awesome.  And apparently delicious.  If you want to visit the Masan Fish Market, tell the taxi driver, “Uh/Eo shi-jang.”  You can also take the 103 bus (my favorite and fastest Masan bus) to the fish market.  A word to the wise, though: If you tell a taxi driver, “Mul-go-gi shi-jang,” which is the literal translation of “fish market,” they will act like they have no idea what you’re talking about.

Masan Fish Market

E-Mart – I feel like E-Mart is the Mecca of foreigners in Changwon.  We have an E-mart in Masan which is right behind the fish market, but it’s not nearly as good as the one in Changwon.  The Changwon E-Mart has a shockingly great selection of organic and Western food now.  There is a whole section that is devoted to organic stuff, which is great.  I think there are better places to buy fruit, but overall, Changwon E-Mart is my favorite mart in the Changwon area.  I will say that the place is a madhouse on weekends, so you’re better served to do your shopping during the week.

Lotte Mart – We have a Lotte Mart in Shin-Masan, where I live, but I just don’t love it like I love Changwon’s E-Mart.  It doesn’t have quite the product selection, and I just find it less… I don’t know.  I just don’t like it as much.  Maybe I’m partial to E-Mart because it was my first mart in Korea.  Lotte Mart Changwon didn’t exist when I came here; there was only E-Mart or HomePlus.  One nice thing about the Lotte Mart on the circle in Changwon is that it’s connected via underground tunnel to Lotte Department Store, so if you have shopping to do at both, you can do it seemingly without leaving the building.  Pretty nice, especially in rain or hot summer weather.

HomePlus/Tesco – HomePlus is the Korean version of Tesco.  I’ve been there a few times, as they’re open really late at night.  There’s one on the Changwon Daero near the bus terminal.  We also have one in Masan near Shinsaegae, but it’s far out of my way, so I’ve never been there.  With Lotte Mart a two-minute drive or fifteen-minute walk, I just can’t be arsed.  Basically, if you’ve been to Tesco, you’ve been to HomePlus.  I hear their diapers are better than Korean Pampers.

New Core Outlet – It’s right next door to HomePlus, but I don’t think anyone shops here.  No foreigners, anyway.  I’ve only been there once, and I wasn’t that impressed.  You also have to bear in mind that I don’t wear Korean sizes, so I don’t shop that much anyway.  There’s a grocery store in the basement (always the basement), and there’s a cinema up top, I think.

Health Care 

Changwon has lots of hospitals, so you’ll never be wanting for quality healthcare.  The language barrier can sometimes be an issue, but taking a dictionary or a Korean friend can ease the pain.

Fatima – Fatima is the biggest and most popular hospital in Changwon.  It’s Catholic, and because it’s considered to be the best, be prepared to go early or wait.  Fatima gets busy early.  You’ll want to be there when they open the doors.  I tried to get in to see a dermatologist once, and they told me that there was a two-month waiting list.  Bugger that.  Frankly, a lot of it depends on your individual doctor, anyway.  Still, the Koreans all seem to think this is the place to be.  Fatima is right behind HomePlus.

Hanmaeum Hospital – This is the major hospital serving Sangnam.  I’ve had good experiences with Hanmaeum.  It’s another newish hospital and considered to be one of the better ones in Changwon.

Changwon General – This hospital is out on the Daero, and it looks sort of old and rundown, but I’ve had good experiences there.  It is a public hospital, so I think it’s a bit cheaper than the private hospitals.  My friend went there with a kidney stone and received good treatment.

Samsung Hospital Changwon/Masan – This hospital is actually in Changwon, but it almost seems like it’s in Masan Haewongu.  I went there to have my mammograms done, and I really liked them.  The facilities are clean and modern, and the wait times aren’t as terrible as at Fatima.

Yonsei Hospital Masan – Yonsei is the major hospital in Shin-Masan.  Everyone prefers it to its rival, Centum, although frankly my husband and I had excellent experiences with Centum, in terms of care and customer service.  Unfortunately, it seems that Yonsei has beat out Centum and Centum has closed.  I went to Yonsei for my yearly exam and got right in.  It’s your usual hospital.  One of my former student’s father is a neurosurgeon there.  In any case, I’ve heard good things.

Heo & Lee Hospital – If you have bad back pain, this place is where it’s at.  They have a special clinic on the second floor that specializes in back treatments.  My husband used to go there for his back pain, and they were able to give him relief.  I would definitely recommend it, if you’re having back trouble.

Random chiropractic clinic, Daebang-Dong – I blew my back out the second month I lived here, and there is an excellent chiropractor in the Daedong Family Company A-Building in Daebang Dong.  It’s an oriental clinic on the third floor of the building.  It’s always busy, and you’ll have to wait to get in.  The guy does not practice gentle, Western-style chiropractic.  When he cracks your back, you will feel it, and it will probably hurt like hell.  But you will feel better when it’s over.  When the Heo & Lee treatments weren’t enough to relieve my husband’s horrible back pain, I brought him to my chiropractor.  He cracked my husband’s back so hard we heard it in the waiting room.  He left the clinic in pain, thinking I’d filled him full of rot, but by the time we were down the street, he felt like a million bucks.  The man is a miracle worker.  For real.  He set me right, and I haven’t had any major problems with my problematic back since.  Ask the taxi to take you to Daebang Elementary School (Daebang Cho-Deung Hakyo).  It’s in the building directly next door to the elementary school.  Third floor.  It’s the only Han-Wee-Won.  Can’t miss it.  It smells like bags of dirty Chinese herbs and is full of old people.

Moran Women’s Hospital – This is where I’m going for my health care while I’m pregnant.  Moran is a women-only hospital.  Most of the doctors are women (!), they all speak good English, and the staff is friendly and helpful.  My doctor has been patient and knowledgable, the facilities are clean and modern, and they have after-hours service in case something goes wrong with your pregnancy.  I’ve gotten a sonogram every single time I’ve been there, from the first time I was pronounced pregnant.  They gave me a CD of our baby’s sonograms and heartbeat, too.  I would also like to applaud their blood work staff.  I have tiny veins that are a b**ch for even old time nurses at home to hit the first time, but these girls get it right the first time, every time.  Believe me, for someone who usually has to endure them “looking around” for my vein, it’s a relief to have it done right and done quickly.

When you give birth here, you will be able to stay two nights, assuming no C-section is needed or complications arise.  The cost is about $250 for two nights, and you have a private room.  I know, the private room sounds standard, but most hospital rooms in Korea involve sharing a space with eight to ten other people.  Although I haven’t delivered yet, I’ve heard you have to wrestle with the Koreans a bit about certain things, like the father being present for the delivery.  Just reiterate that you’re a foreigner and that sometimes we do things a bit differently.  They’ll understand.

Traveling around the Changwon/Gyeongsangnam-do area 

As nice as Changwon is, everyone gets bored sometimes.  Fortunately, there are plenty of places that are easily accessible from Changwon for weekend jaunts.

Busan – Busan is the obvious choice, since it’s only about 35-45 minutes (traffic serving) to Sasang Bus Terminal, which is in West Busan.  Busan is a whole other post by itself, which I may do at some point in the future.  In the meantime, I would look to Busan Haps magazine and/or Busan ex-pat blogs for advice about what to do in Busan.  For my part, I recommend making at least one trip to Haeundae Beach.  Gwangali and Seongjeong Beaches are nice too, and I definitely prefer Gwangali the most at night.  Shinsaegae is great, if you enjoy going to big department stores where you won’t be able to afford anything.  Nampo Market is a great place to go, because there are lots of normally-priced shops, as well as cheap market stalls.  You can get larger shoes and waeguk-sized clothing there, although I will say that you’ll have better luck as a man; Koreans don’t seem to believe large women (should) exist.  The Busan ferry terminal is also there, and you can hop the ferry to Japan from there, if you’re interested.

Getting to Busan is super-easy.  You can take a bus from the main Changwon Bus Terminal.  Buses to Sasang leave about every 20-30 minutes, I think.  Buses to Haeundae are less frequent – perhaps ever 45-60 minutes.  These buses all go past Namsan Bus Terminal on the Daero, so if you live Namsan, Gaeumjeong, Anmin, or Sapa, you’ll definitely be better served to just get on at Namsan.

From Masan, you have two main options: Nambu Terminal in Shin-Masan or the main terminal in Haewongu, which is near Masan Train Station.  I always use Nambu because I literally live 10 minutes away.  I can see the bus terminal from my apartment hill, so I never mess with the big terminal.  Buses to Sasang leave about every 40 minutes from Nambu, and they don’t go past Namsan, so they’re never full.  You can get the bus to Haeundae about every 90 minutes or so, but they do go past Namsan and have the tendency to fill up.  I would imagine the main terminal runs a similar schedule to the Changwon terminal.

If you’re taking the bus on a weekend, I would advise Saturday morning, unless you’re planning on spending Friday night there, too.  Friday night and Saturday afternoon/evening are CRAZY on the motorway to Busan.  On Friday and Saturday evenings, I have sat on the Haeundae bus for as long as 3.5 hours, where it normally takes 1.5 hours to get there.  Even getting to Sasang, a normally 35-minute ride, can take over an hour.  Be advised, especially if you’re on a schedule.

People sometimes take the train to Busan, but I really don’t know why.  The train to Busan has to pass through Daegu first, and it takes longer than the average bus ride.  That seems silly to me.  You can get the train from Changwon Station in Palyong or Masan Station in Haewongu.

Geoje Island

I highly recommend visiting Geoje, especially in the summer months.  You can get the bus there from Changwon or Masan.  If you have a car, you can also drive or, more conveniently, get the ferry from the Jinhae ferry terminal.  You can load your car on for 20,000W and then drive off at the main terminal.  If you have your own vehicle, I would take it, since the bus system in Geoje is kind of screwy, and there’s an ocean view road that goes all the way around the island that I hear tell is awesome.

There are ferries that go out to Oedo Island, which is a botanical paradise, and Haegeumgang, which is supposed to have some great sea caves.  There is also a POW camp, Windy Point, and several really good beaches with nearby pensions for holiday makers.  I’ve spent a bit of time on Geoje beaches and loved it there.  If you’re looking for a summer beach getaway that doesn’t include being swamped by the Haeundae crowds, I would seriously consider taking a trip to Geoje Island.

Namhae

Namhae is another island that isn’t too far from Tongyeong.  If I’m being honest, I didn’t like it as well.  The beaches were good, but there were jellyfish in the water (boo), and I just didn’t care for the atmosphere as much.  It’s not as easy to get to Namhae, but there are buses that go there.  I’m not as knowledgable about it, so I would recommend checking out the Korean tourist website in English, if you’re interested.  I would recommend Geoje over Namhae any day, though.

I’m sure there are lots of other things that I could add about Changwon, but I feel like this ought to be enough to give anyone a decent start at life in Changers.  Honestly, provided that you can find your way to E-Mart, O’Brien’s, and your house, you should be in good standing.  Changwon is a nice place to live.  The only real downsides are the air quality, which is spectacular crap in the spring, and the distance away from Seoul.  Sometimes Changwon can feel a little bit small, but it really isn’t, and if you feel cramped, you can always spend the weekend in Busan.

Mother, You’ve Got a Daughter

My husband and I went in for another pre-natal check-up yesterday.  Everything is going fine.  I haven’t really gained any weight yet (knock on wood), and my doctor said that because I’m big/fluffy/fat/ample-bottomed, I don’t need to gain oodles of weight.  That suits me just fine.  Weirdly, my appetite has curbed substantially since I’ve gotten pregnant.  I used to be like the bottomless pit, but anymore, if I even think of overeating, I live to regret it later.

I had two sonograms done.  The doctor was ready to pronounce the gender of our little one, but then she got in and the picture wasn’t very clear.  That’s because of my fat belly.  No reason to sugarcoat it, eh?  In spite of the less-than-stellar picture, we saw the baby’s spine, ribs, fingers, eyes, heart, and stomach.  Pretty awesome, considering the picture wasn’t “that good.”  The heartbeat, which we’ve heard every time we’ve been in except one, has been great.

We decided to get the 4D sonogram, since it’s much clearer and easier to distinguish gender with that one.  Also, the sonogram technician does nothing but look at grainy baby photos all day, so the doctor said that the tech would be better able to give us an answer about our baby’s gender.  We waited an additional hour to get the 4D sonogram, but it was worth it, because… We are having a baby girl!

In my family, at least, it’s been boys and nothing but boys ever since my cousin, Kari, had her three girls.  All of my other cousins have herds of boys.  My grandmother tells me that people used to believe that an upswing in boys being born meant a war coming.  Here’s hoping that’s one superstition that has no legs!  Anyway, for my grandparents, this will be great-grandchild #9.  As happy as they all are about the baby, I really think that both sides, his and mine, were hoping for a boy.  My family pretty much refuses to accept the possibility of a girl until it proves to be one.  Who says it’s the modern era?  Fortunately, my husband is tickled pink about his daughter.  He says he never cared what we have, as long as it’s a healthy, happy baby.  I think his sentiments are quite the right ones.  Still, it’s pretty cute when he quotes Harry the first Sex and the City movie and says, “I guess it’s my lot in life to be surrounded by beautiful women.”

I’ve been frankly surprised and incredibly grateful at the number of people who are willing to buy and send things to us from the US.  Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to get used baby things from Army moms in Seoul and elsewhere who have had expensive American clothes, toys, cribs, and such sent over from home but who, when their husbands get transferred, can’t take it with them.  God bless them and their need/willingness to turn loose of their cast-offs for bargain basement prices.  We figure that we aren’t going to spend TOO much on clothes and accessories, since babies outgrow everything at warp speed, and also, whenever we leave, we can’t take it with us.  Gonna have to keep passing the love on!

Bottom line is that I have several tasks to accomplish this weekend.  I need to get registered on Babies ‘R Us so that my family can pick out and send things to us – woot!  I also need to finalize some name choices for our little lady.  I have some names in mind, but I haven’t put them together to make a definite choice yet, and I feel like now that we know the gender, it’s time to start using the appropriate personal pronoun and her name.  No more “it,” because she isn’t an it – she’s a she!  Besides, I feel like calling her by her name, even in utero, sort of strengthens that bond and attachment we have to her.  It makes her more real, since I’m still not showing.  Not showing, by the way, is a double-edged sword.  I know it’s because I’m “fluffy,” but it’s sort of nice not to have to endure tummy-grabbing and all that.  I’m also not swelling or feeling more bloated than I ever do, which is nice, frankly.  I know it’s silly to worry about ruining your body when your figure already sucks, but vanity is vanity.  You don’t want to exacerbate an already bleak situation!  The doctor told us that she’s big for her age, though, so by the end, I’m thinking it’ll be fairly obvious that I have a big ol’ baby hanging out with me!

Back to the naming, though, we are going to keep that bit of information a secret until D-Day.  We had the name already chosen, if it turned out to be a boy.  Guess we’ll be saving that one for later, assuming that a second pregnancy yields a boy.  Anyway, we decided that, since Graeme had more say in choosing the boy’s name, I get to choose the girl’s name.  Of course, I don’t want my husband to just hate it, but he’s warming up to my first choice.  Of course, now I’m having doubts about my picks.  Picking a name is a serious, serious business!

The thing that bugs me the most is how many of the names I like are trendy right now.  Take Olivia, for example.  Nobody used Olivia when I was growing up.  Every other girl was Sarah, Katie, or Lindsay.  Think I’m joking?  There were five Sarahs in my senior English class.  Five.  There was a group of girls I chummed around with, and we called them “The Sarahs and the Katies,” because there were three Sarahs and two Katies that composed the group.  It was ridiculous.  Can you imagine a group of girls named Sophia, Olivia, and Madison?  I can’t believe that Sophia is the new Sarah.  Times do change!

The point that I’m making with this rant about naming kids is that I want something different.  My name was/is different, and so is my husband’s.  There aren’t 15 other children on the playground with the same name.  When someone says, “Hey, Margaret!” I pretty much know that they’re talking to me.  I still don’t think my name is the greatest thing ever, but I appreciate the fact that everyone and their brother doesn’t share it with me. My husband feels completely the opposite about outside-the-norm names, as he hated his somewhat unique name and still does, saying it makes kids feel different.  I say embrace your individuality, but that’s my libertarian contrariness coming out.  Or maybe just my contrariness period.  Whatever the case, I think unique names that not everyone has are a positive, and regardless of anything else, our kids will definitely have unique names!  Even the boy name we had chosen was/is quite different and not to be confused with other kids.

Whew!  There’s a lot to this parent thing, huh?  I’m overwhelmed by naming, and that’s one of the easiest bits.  I still have to figure out everything we need, our birthing plan, childcare… The list goes on and on.  I’m trying not to get completely beside myself about it, because when I do that, my instinct is just to turn my attention to something less demanding and relax.  When I make a list and go through things with military-precision though, I tend to do just fine.  Take things one at a time.  There will be plenty of time to go insane after the child arrives.

As a slightly off-topic addition to the post, I would like to give some information to potential waeguk mommies-to-be in Korea.  I finally got my “beautiful woman” card, and as much as I’m philosophically against socialism, it’s a serious money-saver.  In an attempt to raise the low Korean birthrate, the Korean government subsidizes childbirth for all taxpayers.  When you get pregnant, you are entitled to receive this benefit, the same as any Korean citizen.

Pregnancy and childbirth are not covered under the national insurance scheme, so for the first visit or two, you will pay full price for doctor’s services.  When you’re there, make sure to ask your doctor about getting the pregnancy insurance papers.  The hospital/doctor will prepare a form for you that includes your pertinent information as well as a seal from the doctor stating that you are, in fact, with child.  You take this paper to either your local post office, Shinhan Bank, or Kookmin Bank.  If you go to the post office, you will be dealing with Kookmin.  You give one of the tellers/postal workers (on the banking side) your paper.  You will have to sign several forms, but it’s mostly painless, and you don’t need a Korean friend to help you.  The process does take about 20 minutes or so, but at the end, you will receive a  free bank account and bank book.  You will later receive a debit card, which you will use at the doctor’s office.

What happens with this card?  Think of it as your refund card.  Under the subsidy scheme, you are allowed to claim $60 per day back in medical fees.  This is huge and new, and it didn’t exist even five years ago.  When you go to pay, the hospital will swipe the debit card and refund the money to your beautiful woman bank account.  I paid $1.40 for my two sonograms, blood test (part two of the quad test), and doctor’s visit yesterday.  This card will save you beaucoup bucks.  My husband and I are going to use the saved money to buy other things the baby will need.  In total, we don’t expect that this child will cost more than $500, in terms of medical bills, and that’s probably stretching it a bit.

Your doctor should tell you about this scenario, but as always with Korea, the language barrier can be a bit of an issue, so make sure that you insist on it.  All the OB-GYNs know about it, and your doctor will be willing to do it for you.  You do have to fill a few little things out on the form, but you can get a Korean friend or co-worker to help you with this, and it won’t take but two or three minutes, max.  Then you just drop it at one of the places I mentioned above.  Easy, right?  Do it quickly, because the sooner you do it, the more you save.

One thing you will not save on is prenatal vitamins.  Do be careful about vitamins.  My husband usually picks up my vitamins, and he has terrible luck with pharmacies here.  They do have prenatal vitamins, but some are better than others.  I’m now on an iron supplement (normal at this point), and the pharmacist gave him the wrong kind.  It’s actual iron pellets.  One hundred fifty milligrams of them per capsule.  Pregnant ladies are supposed to take 23-30mg daily.  The lady at the pharmacy assured him that they were okay.  Bottom line: check the box!  Make sure that the label contains everything your doctor advised.  This is where reading Hangul will be not only useful but downright necessary.  If you can’t read Korean, get on it.

I’d like to close by saying that, for those of you who don’t care to read about baby stuff, sorry that I’m temporarily turning into a baby blog.  Believe me, that is not my intention.  I don’t want to be one of those women who is all babies, all the time.  I haven’t had a lobotomy.  But the honest truth is that preparing for a baby is a huge part of my life right now, obviously, and living in a different country does present unique challenges to an already pitfall-laden road to parenthood.  If I can supply decent information to some of my fellow waeguk ladies in a similar condition, I’m glad to do so.  I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a close friend who has already given birth, and another friend who is pregnant at the same time, so I’ve had a better-than-average support network here.  I should probably add that any readers who are over here with the US military might find my info less than helpful, since it’s really intended for foreigners working in Korea who are not affiliated with the US government.  Being able to get everything you need on base and at those awesome commissaries and shops on-base in Seoul – which civilians are not permitted to use, grrrr – makes it a very different ballgame for those gals.  They really don’t need to interact much with “real” Korea.  If that sounds like a diss, it isn’t; I’m kind of jealous.

I woke up stupidly early this morning, so I think I’m going to try to get back to bed now.  I’m sure this is Mother Nature’s way of preparing me to make do with little sleep at early hours with the little one, but honestly, I’d like to enjoy my last few months of sleeping in before it’s stolen from me forevermore.  Ugh.  I love sleeping in.  But you know what?  I know that I’ll love our daughter more.  Still, in the words of the late, great Janis Joplin, “Get it while you can.”