Monthly Archives: March 2013

Things That Annoy and/or Baffle Me: K-Rage

In two days, I will have lived in Korea for a total of four nonconsecutive years and three months.  That doesn’t sound like a long time, in the grand scheme of what will hopefully prove to be a long life, but right now, it might as well be the bulk of my lifetime.  I am K-Raging like crazy, and I don’t give a damn who knows it.  I’m ready to get out of this country for good and all.

When I think back on the best times of my life, the majority of them were in the US.  Some were abroad.  Two of the best times of my life were here in Korea: the day I married my husband, and the day that my daughter was born.  I owe Korea that, and I wouldn’t begrudge it.  However, I owe my 21st birthday to Amsterdam (!), the best summer of my life to camp, the best total year of my life to Mizzou, and the biggest abroad learning experience to Germany and, to a lesser extent, France.  I have had some good times here in Korea, but by and large, they could just as easily have happened anywhere else, and I have had some seriously bad days here.  In fact, I have moments when the frustration of living here seems insurmountable.

I know that I’ve ranted about a lot of this before, but you know what?  I don’t care.  I really don’t.  Maybe if Korea could get its act together and the people stop behaving like farmers in business suits, we’d get along better.  As it is, I have little hope for that change.  Any sort of social change is going to have to buck the trend of sheep-like conformity and a blindness to everything but materialism, and believe me, if you’d ever been here, you’d understand just how daunting a challenge that is.

The Spitting

Holy shit, the spitting.  There is a man who lives upstairs from me.  I don’t know what apartment and frankly, I couldn’t care less.  I wouldn’t want to set foot in it.  This guy hocks up a lung biscuit every time he comes down the stairs, and when he comes up the little stairs by my front door after work (always at 5:35pm), he hocks up another one and deposits it in front of my door.  You can’t walk down the sidewalk without stepping in someone’s foul, cigarette-stinking mouth droppings.  I know it was probably common practice to spit back in the fields or whatever, but seriously people.  You aren’t living in the fields anymore.  You’re living in an area populated by hordes of your fellow countrymen and a few jaded waygooks.  The best I can figure is that everyone hates everyone else so much that they have long since ceased to give a damn.

Complete and utter unwillingness to take responsibility

This is most often demonstrated by incompetent bosses and coworkers.  I have found that Korean coworkers are more than happy to throw someone else under the bus if it saves their skin.  Own up to a mistake?  Forget it.  Never happen.  I have been accused of doing stupid things at work by coworkers, and then when it comes out that I was telling the truth and the other stupid bitch was lying, it makes the work situation even less palatable.  Never mind that my old boss once asked me if I use tampons.  My husband and just about every other teacher I know here has had the same problems.  I can only assume it happens in the companies, too.  When saving face is involved, you’re never going to figure out who the problem individual is without some detective work, and honestly, it ain’t worth it.  If one did it today, another will do it tomorrow.  I’ve had a few exceptions with coworkers, but by that, I mean maybe two out of ten.

Pushing, Shoving, and Invading Personal Space

My husband held the door open today for a mother and daughter who walked right on past him, noses in the air, and didn’t say “Thank you.”  He confronted them in Korean and told them that they’re rude bitches with no manners.  (Okay, he didn’t say exactly that, but whatever.  They were offended.)  Nobody will ever say thanks for holding a door open.  People will shove you while getting onto buses or subways, and they’ll go so far as to shove into people attempting to escape the mode of transportation.  God, can they really not wait their turns and file into the train/bus in a somewhat orderly fashion?  People will touch you and shove you and expect you to move.  Believe me, if a foreigner gives a Korean a healthy shove back, they will be shocked.  I’ve ceased caring.  Elbows out.

Mutually Exclusive Goals

My husband worked very long and hard to learn Korean.   He lived in a small village for more than a year, where only two people spoke English, so it was to his benefit to learn Korean.  Initially, Koreans are always impressed by his ability.  They ooh and ahh and seem happy that someone has bothered to learn their language.  Bring that into school and use it to help students understand, and I guaran-damn-tee that they will no longer appreciate it.

“The mothers are angry.  You speak Korean in class.”
“Because the students are six years old and have no idea what I’m saying.  I need Korean to control them and teach them.  They can’t understand a word I say in English.”
“I know, but the mothers want.  Just speak English.”
-Chaos ensues in the class, the students learn nothing, and the teacher beats their head against the wall-

Seriously.  This is no joke.  I’m all for the communicative approach, as much as it’s possible.  My German instructors used it.  However, they also used English to explain more in-depth grammatical concepts.  Why?  Because most students don’t know what a gerund is in English, let alone in a foreign language.  Do Korean mothers understand this?  Hell no.  They seem to think that their children will become instant mother tongue speakers of English just by being around a native speaker for two to three hours a week.  I was once told not to greet parents in Korean because then they would figure out that I know Korean and be angry.  Right.  Sorry I tried to greet you in your native language, knowing full well that you speak zero English.  How thoughtless and rude of me.  Christ.

Think this just applies to language and teaching.  Think again.  Mutually exclusive goals abound in this country, it’s just that my particular zone of experience happens to be more with teaching than anything else.

The Korean Inferiority/Superiority Complex

Korea has the weirdest mindset of any country I’ve ever visited.  They alternately believe they’re gods among men and a shrimp between two whales or some such foolishness.  Ask them about the best car companies, the best electronics company (Samsung), the best figure skater (Kim Yuna), the best food (kimchi), or whatever.  They will constantly reiterate something from Korea.  Bring up Apple at your own risk.

The funny thing is, if you ask them what would happen if North Korea ever actually did something, and the answer will almost always be the same: “America will help us.”  “Why?” you ask.  “Because Korea is weak.  We can’t defend by ourselves.”  SRSLY?!  OMGWTF.  They can’t defend themselves against some starving peasants who have no gasoline for their tanks.  But by God, Samsung is having a good year!

I’m all for having pride in one’s country.  I’m proud of America, if not the government or some of the citizens.  But I’m proud of our country’s beauty and it’s achievements in its relatively short history.  I don’t go around saying that America is number one, always and forever.  I recognize that not everyone feels that way and that America has more than its fair share of problems.  I don’t get ticked off when people tell me they prefer England or Canada or Japan or whatever.  Different strokes and all that.  Want to shut down a conversation fast in Korea?  Tell them you aren’t that fond of Korea.  Trust me, it’ll stop them cold.

The Noise

Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise!  There are fruit trucks that come into our apartment complex at 8am and advertise their wares.  They have bullhorns, and they go around playing these pre-recorded messages ad nauseum.  “BUY MY FRUIT!  STRAWBERRIES GOOD PRICE!”  In the same vein, our complex security guard/manager/box inhabiting nap-taker rides around on a bicycle on recycling day, telling all of us to get off our asses and come sort the recycling down at the entrance to the complex.

I find that Koreans are just generally noisy.  It goes hand-in-hand with being cramped together on a small peninsula and not giving two shits about the guy next to you.  Our upstairs neighbors, as I have mentioned before, allow their kids to scream, stomp, hit the walls, and fight until the wee hours of the morning.  They rarely do anything about it, and they damn sure don’t care if it bothers us or anyone else in the building.  Ajummas sit outside my door when the baby is sleeping and bark and holler at each other about their stupid, boring lives.  People yell into their cell phones, students scream at you (and each other) from two inches away, and agashis scream at dogs bigger than rats.  The people manning the grocery store sections and offering samples scream, sometimes into sound systems, to try and get you to try their tofu or pork mix or whatever the hell is on sale.  It’s maddening.

Maybe I feel this way because I’m an American from the corn fields, but it’s not like I’ve never lived in the city before.  I lived in Paris, and the noise never particularly bothered me.  Europeans, however, tend to be very reserved in public, thank God.  When I was in college, aside from my year in the dorms (GAG), it was never noisy enough that I wanted to tear my ears off at eat them in protest.  That’s pretty much how I feel daily here.

The Filth

There are no garbage cans on the street in Korea.  My husband inquired about this phenomenon once, and the person told him that it was because if there are garbage cans on the street, the shop owners will throw their garbage into those cans at the end of the day or even throughout the day, leaving no space for pedestrians’ garbage.  As a result, everyone just throws everything on the ground.  Or in the pond, if you live up the hill from my complex.  There’s a pond in the park, and it serves as a depository for all the school kids’ ramen bags and juice cans.  Everyone I know here has had to untrain themselves from looking for trash cans.  It still bothers me to have to throw stuff on the ground.  Of course, the sidewalks are filthy as a result of this.  Not India filthy, but far grosser than anywhere else I’ve lived.

The spitting also contributes to the feeling of dirt, but worse than spit is ramen barf.  Drunk-ass ajeosshis staggering home at 3am to beat their wives frequently hurl whatever was in their stomachs before the walk home.  It is extremely common to see fresh puddles of barf in the early morning hours.  Actually, sometimes you’ll find the guy still passed out next to them.  My students also throw gum out in the hallways to the academy, which I unfortunately stepped in once, never figuring that someone would throw their gum down inside a building.  People also spit, barf, and smoke in the elevators.  Okay, the ajeosshis spit, barf, and smoke in the elevators.

The sewers reek in the summer, the ocean around Masan can take on a decidedly not-so-fresh smell, and the welding stations smell like hot death.  I can often smell my neighbor next door smoking in his bathroom, a testament to the poor quality of our building.  Also, who smokes while taking a shit?  I can often smell my neighbors cooking fish, something with kimchi, or other generally unflattering smells laced with garlic, fish, and other things that make everything smell like a pig’s hindquarters.  Oh, and the bathrooms alternate between “getting better” and “Hellmouth.”  Koreans put used toilet paper in bathroom trash cans, since you aren’t supposed to flush it due to the shoddy plumbing.  As a result, the bathrooms smell like kimchi shits.

I know that Korea is a small country, but hell, so is Switzerland, and it’s as clean as a whistle.  Japan doesn’t have this problem – it’s freaking spotless, except for that whole radioactive thing.  France is kind of dirty in the cities, but it’s nothing like Korea.  Germany is spotless.  Luxembourg is clean.  The Netherlands is clean.  The UK is clean and has trash bins everywhere.  This leads me to the conclusion that size is hardly the issue.  I know the population density is greater here, but Europe is damn crowded, too.  It has to be the mentality of the people, if it’s not the size of the country. I honestly think either nobody gives a crap or they simply have never been taught to be clean in public.  I think it’s a combination of the two, honestly.  Get with it, Korea.

The Driving

I have written whole blogs on this subject.  Driving in Korea sucks.  The traffic is bad, and nobody obeys the rules.  It’s dangerous.  It’s infuriating.  The only reason we have a car is that we figure we’re safer driving ourselves than letting the nut cases who drive taxis get us there.

Boredom

Korea is a boring place.  Unless you enjoy near-constant hangovers, whoring, hiking, or some combination of the two, you will eventually realize that there’s not much to do in Korea.  Sure, there are water parks in the summer, but they are tremendously overcrowded and full of the screaming kids you likely endure every day at the hagwon.  There are sports events, if you’re in a town big enough, so that’s fun, I guess, if you’re into sports.  (I like hockey, and hockey is as foreign here as using trash cans outside and flushing toilet paper down the toilet.)  You can go to the movies, but unless you’re from Saudi Arabia, that’s nothing new.  There are festivals which are invariably overcrowded and not worth it.  There are some nice places to see on Geoje or Jeju, and there are some nice temples and mountains, but Korea doesn’t have any scenery that can’t be found elsewhere.  The Alps and the Rockies are way nicer than the mountains here.

The kids have no concept of summer camp.  Okay, they do, but they think summer camp involves going to school in the morning for English and computer classes.  Everyone takes vacation during the same four weeks between July and August, and they all go to one of three places: Jeju Island, Caribbean Bay/Everland, or Haeundae.  It doesn’t matter that they’ve done all of these things before.  I had one kid last year who went to Cambodia (awesome!), and everyone thought that was totally weird because Cambodia is dirty and full of dirty Asians.  Sigh.  Cambodia rocks, as a vacation destination.

Overpriced Baby Everything

Okay, I know this is a parent-specific thing, but honestly, baby goods in Korea are insane, and many of the great products that you can get in the US (Mylicon, teething tablets, etc.) are completely unavailable here, to the best of my knowledge.  Baby clothes are crazy-expensive, even on Gmarket, cribs are overpriced and uncommon, and strollers and car seats are insane.  Seriously, if you want a Britax car seat here, you will likely have to lay out at least $300-$400, minimum.  Minimum.  My husband’s parents shipped our car seat from the UK, and it cost less than buying a decent one here.  Our stroller would have cost about half the price in the US it did here, and Dr. Brown’s stuff is about triple the price.  Baby toys?  Peh.  Forget it.  I belong to a group on Facebook where waygook moms exchange their used baby stuff, and that’s about the only way I’ll buy anything anymore, unless I happen to find something reasonably priced.  Yeah, the government paying for most of the maternity time is convenient, but the cost of everything afterwards offsets it.  Ugh.

 

I could go on and on and on about this, but I think I’ve exhausted myself with negativity.  The thing is, I don’t hate Korea, even though it probably seems that way.  It’s just that it gets so damn depressing after awhile.  Korea is a good place to make money and spend a short time, but it’s not the place to put down roots.  The longer I’m here, the more I realize that, and I’m now at the point of realizing that it’s about time to go.  I’ve always been jaded about Korea, but it’s reaching epic proportions, and there’s nothing funny about it anymore.  Feeling alienated all the time is no way to live.

People can argue that we haven’t tried hard enough or whatever.  Think what you like.  Korea has been good to us in a lot of ways, but it’s time to go.  There’s a lot to be said for knowing when to leave the party, and we’re approaching the time when things start to wind down.  Don’t want to be the last lady at the punch bowl.

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Traveling with the Baby

I’ve been talking about getting home for probably years now.  I’m sure it’s been years, actually.  I’m ready.  I’m planning a nice visit for this summer so that Brett can meet the folks, and while making travel plans is always exciting, international travel tends to be more stressful than domestic.  I tend to think that stress increases based on the amount of time you can expect to be traveling.  It’s not a rough equation: the longer you travel, the more it sucks.  Add a baby to that equation and, well, let’s just say the amount of suck goes way up.

I honestly don’t know anyone who relishes seeing a baby or small child clamber onto a flight.  I can’t count how many times I’ve sat in my seat, silently praying that the baby wasn’t next to me.  They almost always scream, and the toddlers kick seats, hoot, holler, and make a general ruckus that is, in many ways, far worse than babies.  Everyone has peeves on flights.  Some people hate fatties (like me), some people hate chit-chatters, but most people hate sitting near small children.  Now I’m going to be the one getting death glares from my fellow passengers.  I figure it’s karma for all the times I bitched and moaned about young’uns.

I actually sat next to an in-lap infant and her mother once on a short flight from Salt Lake City to KCMO.  The truth?  It wasn’t that bad.  The baby was adorable, and she did reach out and touch me a few times, but it was no big deal.  She was just being inquisitive.  And the mother was apologetic from the moment she sat down.  She was all, “I’m sorry in advance if she has a meltdown.”  Apologies go a long way with me.

Now that I have a tot of my own, I can appreciate all of the planning and crapola that goes into preparing a child for travel.  Believe me, it ain’t easy!  There are so many things to think about: feeding (especially if your baby is formula-fed), diapers and changing, toys, extra clothes in case of explosions, transporting the baby to and from the airport, carting the kid around said airport, and keeping them mostly in one place on the plane.  It’s far more difficult than just packing a bag, paying the extortionate airport parking, and hauling your cookies into the terminal for check-in!

The first thing you have to decide is whether or not you want to let your under-two-years-of-age baby sit in your lap or whether you want to purchase another seat and put them in their car seat for the flight.  It’s like asking if you want to get a tax refund for letting a badger maul you or paying your taxes, which will prevent you from buying that new car, swimming pool, or mountain of cocaine.  If you have a baby in your lap for domestic flights, it’s free; on international flights, it’s 10-25% of the adult ticket price.  Sometimes the airlines run discounts for child seats, or so I hear.  I feel like that could be an urban legend.  Basically, you’re left to choose between the lesser or two evils.

For me, the lesser evil is the car seat.  Yes, it’s heavy and awkward.  Yes, it’s an eyesore.  No, I don’t want to cart it through the terminal.  The issue with holding an infant in your lap is the possibility of something going wrong.  Even moderate turbulence can be a serious issue when holding a baby. Children have died due to severe turbulence.  Flying is safer than driving.  I would never put Brett in the car (especially in Korea!) without her car seat, and I feel pretty much the same way about all other moving vehicles, including planes.  Better safe than sorry, especially on long-haul flights.  Also, let’s be frank – Brett hates to be held for extended periods, and I don’t want to have to mess with her for 14 hours.

Now, for parents holding kids in the lap, most airlines have bassinets that are available in bulkhead seats.  The bassinets work for children up to 25 pounds, and they are available on request.  Be forewarned though, that some flights have only one bassinet.  It’s best to call ahead and make sure you have dibs on one, especially if it’s the only one.  I wouldn’t wait until the day and cross your fingers that someone else wasn’t more proactive.  I’m not sure if we’re going to order the bassinet in conjunction with the car seat or not.  It seems moderately greedy, but Brett can sleep fine in her car seat, soooooo… Decisions.

If you decide to bring a car seat along, you have to be sure that it will fit in the seats.  Seat sizes are fairly uniform – about 17.5 inches.  Some are 17.  You will have to measure your car seat to make sure that it will fit.  Our car seat just makes the cut.  Many larger models will not.  Also, bear in mind that airlines require a sticker bearing the FAA approval for flying.  FAA approval doesn’t mean that it will fit the seat, just that it’s safe.  If the sticker has been torn off, most instruction manuals will have something in them about FAA approval.  You can bring that or, if you don’t have the manual, find it online and print the necessary page off before flying.

If you are curious about models that will definitely comply with both airline/FAA regulations and size limitations, I recommend checking out the Cosco Scenera (retails for about $59 at Wal-Mart), the Combi Coccoro stroller/car seat combo (this is the smallest car seat on the market I do believe, but the price for the whole outfit is steep), or the Radian, which makes a car seat that actually folds down, although it’s heavy.  There are pros and cons to all of these seats, so I suggest doing some homework before committing to one.  I think we’re going to buy a Scenera, since our car seat is old, no longer has the FAA sticker on it, and won’t buckle into the seat well.

If you’re traveling alone and are bringing the car seat, consider a Cheeky Monkey Pac Back.  It is like a hiking backpack frame for your car seat and holds seats up to 45 lbs.  (What car seat weighs that much?!)  I’m thinking about investing in one, but Amazon seems to be about the only place that sells them online, and they’re currently out-of-stock.  Bummer.  Check on it and see if it’s something you’re interested in.

If your child is over 22 pounds and under 40, as well as being over one year of age, there is a far more portable alternative to the car seat, and that’s the CARES harness.  It’s the only FAA-approved harness on the market today.  It fits around the seat back, has shoulder straps for the child, and then the seatbelt buckle fits through two loops at the bottom of the shoulder straps.  It folds up and can easily fit into the average carry-on.  I’ve never tried this, obviously, but it seems like a fabulous idea, and if we have to fly with Brett when she’s a bit older, I’m getting one.

Most parents will also agree that a stroller is a necessity in an airport.  A seemingly lightweight baby will get heavy fast when you’re running around and carrying other stuff with you.  If you don’t like the idea of a stroller, I suggest trying a baby backpack or a Moby.  My friends used a Moby to cart their little one around the airport, and she did fine in that.  We have a baby backpack, but it doesn’t fit Brett well, and we wouldn’t feel comfortable lugging her around in it.  We’re going to bring our stroller and check it at the gate.

Another thing to bear in mind is feeding your rugrat.  If you’re breastfeeding exclusively, congrats.  This is the one time ever that breastfeeding will be more convenient.  For those taking formula on, you can either carry on a canister or get those little travel packets.  I will be using the travel packets as they’re less bulky than the canisters.  You will have to buy water once you get past security.  Larger flights should have water available, but I figure better safe than sorry.  I always buy extra water for long trips, anyway.  The flight attendants should be able to help you clean any necessary bottles on long hauls.

Baby food is a bit of an awkward one.  The TSA won’t let you on with anything more than they deem a “reasonable amount,” and that is totally discretionary.  If you get an ass who hates kids, don’t expect anything.  Generally, they won’t allow more than what would be necessary for the total travel time.  I think that fails to take into account long layovers and delays, but I’m not a TSA genius.  Also, be aware that if you’re bringing baby food into the US, anything with meat in it will be seized and discarded.  It has to do with foot and mouth disease, I think.  Stick with fruits and veggies.

Concerning changing your baby on an airplane, it can be hit-or-miss.  Most of the long haul aircraft (think Boeing 777 here) have changing tables in the toilets now, but don’t expect the same thing on the puddle jumpers.  Different parents have suggested different things: changing on the changing table, if it’s available, changing on the toilet seat, changing in the galley, changing in your seat…  Personally, I wouldn’t change my baby in the seat.  For one thing, it’s sort of gross.  For another, it’s going to offend everyone around you, especially if snookums dropped a deuce.  I think on the smaller flights, you’re allowed to change the baby in the galley, which is usually in back.  I would definitely recommend bringing a portable, fold-out changing pad.  We have one that we always carry.  We don’t use it much, but it was cheap, and I know we’ll use it in the airports.  Also, ask the flight attendants for some airsick bags.  That will make disposing of the diapers less horrifying to everyone else around.

Thinking along the same lines as toilet issues, you’ll want to bring an extra change or two of clothes, depending on your little one and how long the flight is.  Brett is a happy spitter.  She barfs all the time.  I know that she’ll never make it 24 hours without at least one change of clothes.  Sometimes she drops explosive poop bombs, too.  Just assume that they’re going to do this while you’re flying.  Be prepared.  Also take more diapers than you think you’ll need.  I’d recommend taking about twice as many as you estimate necessary, because I can pretty much guarantee that you child who has never had diarrhea before will have it for the first time at 35,000 feet.  Murphy’s Law.

Similarly, you’ll want to plan for unexpected illness aboard the plane.  Bring some OTC medicines that you’ve already tested on the baby, such as Tylenol or baby aspirin.  Why tested?  Some cold medicines, rather than making kids calm and drowsy, will actually make them insane and hyperactive.  Also, you don’t want a severe reaction on a plane. Why do all this?  Because, again, your child who has never had a cold will get one during his/her first flight.  Teething tablets are also a good idea, as they soothe babies and help them to fall asleep.  And hey, they’re also good for kids who are actually teething!  I’ve heard they help adults as well, but I haven’t tried them.

Some parents will give their kids cold medicine to quiet them down on an airplane.  I’m probably going to catch flak for this, but I’m not totally against it for toddlers.  I don’t think drugging your baby is wise, but giving a slightly older kid some cough syrup to make them drowsy?  Meh.  If you know your kid is a crap traveler, I don’t necessarily see the harm, providing they aren’t allergic to it or anything.  When I was a kid, I willingly took Dramamine so that I could sleep through at least half of my journey, if it was a long one.  Still, some parents squeal about this one.  I say that you know your kid better than me, so it’s your call.  I hardly consider it child abuse.

This part is true for babies, but this is more for older children, and that’s the simple fact that kids get bored on flights (who doesn’t?), and they’re going to need entertainment.  Don’t bring them a copy of Ulysses and expect them to be happy all the way from LA to Sydney.  Make sure you pack age-appropriate books, a portable DVD player, iPod, iPad, or portable gaming system.  I would stay away from little toys, like cars or stuff with small parts.  You know the kids are going to drop them, scream when they can’t find them… Crayons and markers would likely result in a similar situation.  Besides, you can get drawing programs for tablets.

Fortunately, there are a lot more options for travel-friendly entertainment than there were when I was growing up.  Back then, we had Game Boys that weighed about 10 lbs., the Discman which ate batteries like a fat kid at a cake buffet, or road kill bingo for car trips.  Most of the long-haul flights now also have personal entertainment systems, and those usually include kid-friendly programs, movies, music, and games.  Of course, one thing to bear in mind is that some of the entertainment is decidedly not kid-friendly, so parents should be aware of that, too.  I’ve been on a flight when True Blood was one of the TV programs on offer.  Probably not something you want your eight-year-old watching.

For older kids (i.e. not infants who are strictly milk-fed), I would definitely consider bringing some snacks on board.  The commuter flights barely have a snack anymore, and eating the food on long haul flights, to paraphrase The Oatmeal, is just something to do while you pray for it to be over.  Airplane food still sucks, in case you haven’t traveled for awhile, and I didn’t eat much of it when I was a kid.  I would highly recommend bringing some healthy snacks along, so that they don’t start whining about how much the food sucks and how hungry they are.  The good news is that drinks are usually bottomless on the long-haul flights.  I always bring my own water anyway, just to stay hydrated.

Have I missed anything?  Oh!  If you’re traveling out of the country, you’ll need to have certain documents in order.  If you’re traveling without your spouse, I would recommend having a signed paper giving consent to travel with the children.  International kidnapping and all.  Small children are no longer able to travel on their parents’ passports, so you’ll have to apply for those before going.  Also be aware of any visas needed for the countries you’ll be visiting.  Be aware too, that if your children are US citizens with dual citizenship, they MUST come to the US on a US passport.  For example, if a child has dual citizenship with Korea and the US, he/she cannot use their Korean passport for entry to the US.  You also need passports or passport cards to travel between Canada and Mexico now, I do believe.

I suppose I should offer one last word of advice, in case someone who hates those who travel with kids stumbles onto this site.  I understand where you’re coming from – believe me, I do.  I still don’t appreciate loud, screaming children, and I have a baby.  The obnoxious, screaming, stampeding brats upstairs make me insane on a nightly basis.  If you’re one of those who frequently travels for business or pleasure and hates children and the sounds that they produce, get a pair of noise-canceling headphones.  Seriously.  If you can afford to travel a lot, you can probably afford to shell out for those puppies.  My uncle has a pair, and he says they have changed his flying experiences for the better in a big, big way.  If you don’t fly that frequently and don’t care to make that sort of investment, invest in cheap earplugs or an MP3 player and pump up the volume.

I hope I’ve just about covered everything.  If I think I haven’t, I’ll come back and make some amendments, or you can give me a heads-up in the comments section.  Feel free to share what works for you, too!  I will also include some of my favorite links about traveling with babies.  I have found a few good ones that actually give good advice.  Try not to stress out too much about traveling with your kids (yeah, right!), and remember, by most accounts, it’s rarely as bad as folks think it’s going to be.  My friends were extremely nervous to travel with their baby, but she slept 90% of the flights, and her parents stayed up fretting.  So try and relax and enjoy the trip!  Happy traveling!

The Car Seat Lady Airplanes   This website has been invaluable.  If you have a question about car seats on airplanes – or anywhere else – this site should answer it!

TSA – Traveling with Children section  Know the rules and what they’re going to put you through before they put you through it.

FAA – How to Install a Car Seat on an Airplane  This is probably a “duh” for some of you, but I’m stupid with stuff like this.  For those of you who are like me, give this video a view or two before you travel.

Baby Centre Mom Advice about Air Travel 

Mommy CEO on Airplane Travel with Young Kids

Baby Jetsetter: Packing List for Baby on Board a Plane

Enjoy Yourself – It’s Later than You Think

My grandpa was born on Christmas Day, 1922, in a small house in Lynnville, Illinois.  When I was younger, I used to joke that the world began at Lynnville and would likely end there, too.  As Jessica Tandy so wistfully recited about the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, “It was never more’n a little knock-about place.”  Like Whistle Stop, Lynnville was the sort of knock-about place that produced characters, of which my grandpa was one of many, if the stories are to be believed – and I think most of them are.

I try to call home as often as possible, but sometimes at night, when the calling time is optimal, I’m pretty tuckered out from dealing with the baby all day.  I know it’s a poor excuse.  Besides that, I honestly don’t have much to report, since we don’t have a very exciting life here, and Grandpa tends to swing back and forth between being an extremely funny, interesting conversation and one that is as painful as a root canal.  You have to catch him in the right mood, and that has always been true.  Let it also be said that a healthy dose of whiskey will often serve to lubricate his jaw a bit.

I called Grandpa on Sunday night, and we had a dandy conversation, the first in quite a while.  Maybe spring rolling around is putting him in a better mood, or maybe it’s because my uncle has been going around at night, fixing him a drink and himself a glass of red wine, and shooting the shit with him about good times gone by.  You can say a lot of things about my grandpa, but one of his greatest assets is that he has a photographic memory.  He can remember what he paid for a machete at a hardware store on the old Jacksonville square in 1954.  In case you were curious, it was on sale at 20% off, and I think it lives in the back of his truck for when he used to go down to Nortonville and hunt.

Most kids don’t enjoy listening to old folks tell stories about the good old days, but I always have.  Maybe that’s because I’m an only child and never had much choice, since there often weren’t any other kids around to talk to.  I was raised on a healthy diet of war stories, tall tales, and recollections of family events, pranks, and learning experiences gone by.  I learned early on another truth uttered by Jessica Tandy in that same favorite movie of mine: “All these people will live, as long as you remember them.”  Sometimes I think that’s what keeps Grandpa telling his stories over and over again.  You can always tell the ones that are really true – he’s fond of tall tales – because you’ll hear them multiple times.

We always hear the WWII generation called “the greatest generation,” and it really is incredible, how much change they have lived through.  My great-grandfather was a grocer, as was his father.  He and my grandpa would head out on the huckster wagon four days a week – one day south, one day north, and so forth – selling and trading goods with the folks who lived outside of town.  If people didn’t have the money for goods, they would trade things deemed to be of equal value.  For example, a woman who wanted three pounds of sugar and some tea might trade some eggs and chickens for the things she needed.  My grandpa and his dad would take the chickens back with them, put them in a pen and feed them well for a few days, and then on Friday, they would take the chickens to Jacksonville, where they would sell the birds to the local chicken processing facility.  From there, the birds were shipped up to Chicago.

People made their way in the world quite differently from today.  In some respects, the rural poor would eat better than city folks.  Those chickens were the cast-offs that the farmers no longer wanted.  My grandpa frequently took to the woods and fields, hunting for dinner.  He had a special tree that was home to tons of squirrels, and he’d shoot the squirrels and bring them home.  He’d get deer, rabbits, quail – whatever was moving and edible.  He’d catch squabs (baby pigeons) from the barn rafters, dress them, and take them into town to a fancy restaurant, where he’d earn about 10 cents for a bird.  Squab meals were considered quite high-brow, and the meals would sell for 25 cents, a huge amount in the 1930s.  My grandpa was always happy to get the money, and he’d save it or use it to buy more ammo components or something else he needed.

He still tells stories about barn parties where the punch would inevitably get spiked, how the KKK was active in Lynnville at that time (our family was never part of it, in case you were curious), how some of the old guys that lived about a mile apart would shoot bullets onto each other’s tin barn roofs every morning to let each other know they were still alive, and how everyone had a terrible nickname, including a girl called “Turkey Buzzard” and a guy called “Sleeping Jesus.”  My mom and uncles would take bets on how long a chicken would run around whenever Great Grandma Howe would twist off one of their heads.  (They were goners if they didn’t lay for three days.)  Grandma once chased my uncle Chris home from the grocery store at night, howling like a werewolf and sending him screaming down the dirt lane.  Aunt Molly Gordon would always have a corn and pie feed after the corn came in.  Everyone at the table got a stick of butter, a pile of corn, and a quarter of a homemade berry pie all to himself.  Halloween was especially mischievous, with kids overturning outhouses, putting horses and buggies on the schoolhouse roof, and soaping windows.

Listening to these stories honestly makes me nostalgic for people I’ve never met and places that are no longer there.  The old grocery store building is still there, turned into apartments now, but it’s a shadow of its former self.  The houses are run-down, save one or two of the old homesteads outside of town.  Aunt Ina’s house still sits over by the Christian Church, which finally stopped having its annual burgoo a few years ago due to the old timers no longer being able to carry out the labor-intensive task.  The tiny house where Grandpa was born is still standing, well kept and proud to this day.   Sandy Creek doesn’t run like it used to, and I doubt there are any crawdads left.

There is something about how people used to live that makes me think that we’re all missing something today.  Back then, times were hard, it’s true, but I always get the feeling that there was a greater sense of community, that people were more invested in each other.  They also didn’t care as much about what everyone else thought.  Pranks were carried out with glorious fervor, and for the most part, it was taken as good fun.  Would people feel similarly today?  Do people even play large-scale pranks outside of TV anymore?  When was the last time there was a community barn dance?

Maybe growing up with old people has made me mentally a bit older than I ought to be, but so be it.  I still can’t shake the feeling that people today don’t enjoy themselves as much, and if there’s one Lynnville expression that has really stuck with me lately, it’s this one: Enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think.  You don’t have to be rich or have a nice car or a big house.  All you need is friends, family, an itch for adventure (or trouble, depending on your viewpoint), and perhaps a healthy dose of liquor.

This is something I have to remind myself of.  I living on tomorrow and forgetting about today.  I could live a lifetime of tomorrows, but I’m going to end up losing out.  So I think I’m going to take Grandpa’s advice this year and try and live for the moment a bit more.  Lynnville may be a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean we have to forget the people or the spirit of the times.  Perhaps it’s time that we added a bit more spirit to our own times.  I, for one, am ready for it.

The Not-So-Wonderful Weeks

When my daughter was first born, I had a hard time.  I’d never been around babies for longer than an afternoon before, and I didn’t know what to do around them at all.  Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less.  Babies have never been my thing.  Well, I guess they are now, but even so, I really only like my own kid.  She’s pretty awesome.  Still, being a new mother is hard to deal with, even under the best of circumstances, and let’s face it, kids don’t behave perfectly on most days.  In fact, there are days when kids go into straight-up meltdowns.

I was having a meltdown myself one day and complaining bitterly about it on Facebook, as everyone nowadays seems to do.  I was frustrated, exhausted, and wondering what I’d done to make my baby so freaking angry.  Nothing I did could make her happy.  It was almost as though she was happier just screaming at me.  It was lucky for me that I posted on Facebook, because it led to an old camp friend sending me a book recommendation that she thought would help me out.  That book is called The Wonder Weeks.

The book was written by two Dutch researchers named Hans Plooij and Hetty van de Rijt, a husband and wife team who spend years researching baby behavior.  They concluded that all babies go through 10 predictable “leaps” of development during the first 20 months of life.  Those leaps happen at approximately weeks 5, 8, 12, 19, 26, 37, 46, 55, 64, and 75.  Children go through more leaps as they grow up, and it is thought that even adults have wonder weeks.

I’m not getting paid to plug this book, but honestly, it’s been a lifesaver.  It is separated out by chapter, so you don’t have to read it all at once.  I keep track of when Brett is supposed to be having a wonder week, and I read the chapter right before, so I know what to expect from her.  Most of the time, it’s spot-on.  Wonder weeks are calculated according to the baby’s due date, not the actual birth date.  This will probably sound weird, but Brett was on time according to due date with her first two leaps (meaning they came late, since she was supposedly born a bit early), but the rest have been on time according to her birth date.  I wonder if babies can “catch up?”  The book mentions nothing about this, and I can’t find anything about it, so I guess I’ll never know for certain.

The thing about “wonder” weeks is that there’s nothing that wonderful about them.  During these leaps, the baby’s brain goes through some changes, in some cases subtle and others more dramatic.  The more dramatic changes result in a fussy baby.  Actually, all of them have the potential to result in a fussy baby.  Of course, all babies are different, and some will exhibit signs of wonder weeks in the worst possible ways, and others will never show that there is much going on at all.  Fortunately, Brett has been on the easier scale thus far.

We are currently in the midst of the dreaded WW19, and it has been worse than the others.  WW19 coincides with the equally dreaded four month sleep regression.  At four months, a lot of children go through a sleep regression.  Babies who once slept 10 or 12 hours a night will suddenly wake up screaming every 2-3 hours, as though they’re newborns again.  Some will start napping poorly.  Others will need a bit more help going to sleep.  Or you may be one of the lucky parents who deals with all of the above.  I think it’s a result of WW19, since the baby is changing so much.

The term “week” can be somewhat misleading as well, since the later weeks last several weeks rather than just one.  WW19 can last from 14.5 weeks up to about 19.5 weeks or even 20-21 weeks.  Brett started behaving a bit oddly around 14.5 weeks, and by week 15, she was resisting naps and having a harder time going down at night.  By week 16, she was having good days and crap days.  I shouldn’t brag, but Brett’s bad days are really not that bad.  She’s just harder to please – gets bored more easily, cries a lot, and doesn’t want me to leave the room.  If she can’t see me, she’s angry.  She might be angry just because I’m not holding her.  Today has been one of those days.

Most wonder weeks have similar problems: baby won’t sleep as well, cries more, clings to Mommy and/or Daddy (whomever is primary caregiver), may eat poorly, is shy around strangers, and generally acts like a fussy mess.  Yes, it sucks, but it’s easier to tolerate, knowing that it really is just a phase and it will pass.  The best thing to do is to be understanding and kind to the baby – even if you want to tear your hair out – and keep busy.  I find Brett is happier if I distract her from her fussiness.  She enjoys walks and car rides more, weirdly, and she wants to be closer than usual.

If you read about WW19 on the parenting forums, you’d think that some of the parents had survived WWIII.  Some of them probably feel and look like they have.  Some children really do revert to an almost newborn inability to sleep.  I pity those poor families, I really do.  Brett’s naps have gone out the window, but she sleeps a lot better at night than she ever did before.  She will sometimes have a waking after the first hour and need to be hugged and rocked for a few minutes, but she goes right back to sleep for 6-10 hours.  Of course, if I don’t sleep then, I’m pretty much screwed for the rest of the day.

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I started writing this post and am now coming back to finish it.  As previously stated, Brett started “wonder week-ing” around 14.5 weeks.  Yesterday, as if by magic, it stopped.  She was 18 weeks 4 days.

She woke up happy as she always used to, cooing and smiling and “asking” to be picked up.  We had breakfast, played, and then she started rubbing her eyes and yawning, so I put her back in her sleep sack and sent her back to bed.  Instead of whining and fussing, she started rolling from side to side until she had turned almost onto her belly.  As soon as she got there, she stopped making any noise and fell asleep.  The day before, she managed to roll onto her stomach, but it scared her so badly that Daddy had to rescue her and comfort her for about 30 minutes before she would calm down.  (Mommy had escaped to her friend’s house!)

Brett awoke again around 11:30 for lunch, and we played until about 2pm – a bit longer than usual.  I put her down for her nap, and she rolled around again, got comfy on her side, and then fell asleep… for THREE HOURS!!  Brett hadn’t had a three hour nap in a month.  I was in disbelief all day, especially when she did it again in the early evening!  No crying, no whining – just REALLY hungry and wanting to play.

Her appetite has increased dramatically.  Before, she was taking 160 milliliters (about 5.4 oz.), and now she’s up to 220 milliliters (about 7.4 oz) per feed.  However, she has dropped two feeds, so that stands to reason.  This would signal that she may be ready for some food in another month or two.

As for skills – wow.  Overnight she has developed the ability to roll from back to front.  She still has trouble with front to back, oddly, but that one came out of the blue.  She had been practicing a little, but nothing ever came of it.  She is also passing toys from hand to hand, reaching for things, getting annoyed when left by herself for more than three minutes, and she is responding to words and names a bit.  She is also trying to sit up by herself, which is hilarious to watch.  She can’t do it, so it looks like she’s doing a half sit-up, turning red, and then getting mad.  She loves for me to play “Upsy-Daisy” with her, which is where I grab her arms and help her sit up.  She just needs that extra oomph, and she looks so thrilled when she’s upright.  It’s adorable.  She’ll play that game until she’s exhausted.  She can also bear a lot more weight on her legs and balance better.  In a nutshell, she’s smarter and more physically able now.

So, how awful was WW19?  Well, it wasn’t my favorite part of her growing up, but it wasn’t the worst.  I maintain her newborn stage and WW5 were the worst for us.  I think exhaustion played a huge part in that.  Also, knowing that everything with babies is a phase does a lot to help you get through the bad times.   I never believed that in the beginning.  I thought parenthood was a horrible trap I’d allowed myself to fall into, but that isn’t the case.  Yes, you’ll lose sleep.  Yes, the baby will cry and get angry and have trouble sleeping sometimes.  But you know what?  It really does pass, and once it’s over, your baby will be shiny and new again, and you’ll have cool things to discover together.  That’s the best part about the end of the bad times – seeing the simple things in life through the wonder and marvel of a child’s eyes.  Every day is exciting.

In conclusion, if you’re having trouble with your baby at certain times, you are not alone.  It happens to most every baby.  Some lucky sods won’t have much fussiness, but for the rest of us, take comfort knowing that other families have the same problems.  I do highly recommend buying the wonder weeks book.  It does get repetitive, but the info is helpful.  If you can’t afford the book, there’s an app for iPhone and Android that does the same thing, mostly.  I think if you get the book in eBook format, you can purchase by chapter, so if you’ve already passed WW12, you don’t have to buy those first three chapters.  I could be wrong about that.

If you’re wonder week-ing, good luck!  If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them!   Good luck, moms!

Decisions, Decisions

Spring is in the air in Korea – finally!  Buds are appearing, the tulip trees are starting to bloom, and Jinhae has a banner or two up for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  The air is warming up, the bees were on the rose bushes under our bedroom window yesterday, and the birds have been singing. The days are finally getting longer, and we don’t need coats to go outside during the daytime.  Frankly, spring can never come too soon, as far as I’m concerned.

Spring is usually considered a time of rebirth: the flowers pop out, the trees get new leaves, baby animals are born, and women renew their vow to shave their legs on a regular basis.  It’s also the time for Easter, where we look for chocolate eggs, eggs being one of the ultimate symbols of fertility.  It really does feel like a time for renewal and reevaluation.  I couldn’t be more ready.

Graeme and I feel like we’ve been stuck here for a long time, and we have.  We’ve gone through a lot of changes in that time, but there are bigger and even scarier changes yet to come.  The big one that we’ve been wrestling with lately is the choice between permanently living in England or America.  Each country has distinct advantages, and we can never quite seem to agree on which one would be best for our family.

England is a great place.  For one thing, it’s like a museum, which is great if you’re into castles, kings, and history.  England also has the NHS (socialized health care system) which, let’s face it, is better at providing overall care than the system we have in the US right now.  I’m no fan of socialist policies, but the US system is the worst of all worlds, as it stands right now.  English houses are almost all brick and made better than US houses, requiring far less exterior maintenance.  The infrastructure is far superior, and there’s actually decent public transport, although train tickets are crazy-expensive.  The close proximity to Europe – and some primo vacation destinations in Spain and Greece – is also very appealing.  And besides all of that, Graeme’s folks are in England, and they would like to be close to their grandchildren.  They would also be able to help us buy a house and get set up.

The downsides to England are also many, unfortunately.  It would be very hard for either of us to go back to school, as you have to be resident in the country for three years before you’re eligible for student loans.  The houses, while built well, are far more expensive than US houses.  The driving test is expensive and difficult to pass.  The cost of living is generally higher, minus the cost of health insurance.  VAT (sales tax) is 20% in the UK.  Also, the violent crime rate is quite high all over the country, although some areas are worse than others, of course.  The school system is no better than the American system, and the opportunities for advancement are fewer.  Also, the weather sucks.  I’m sorry, but it does.  Northern Europe has craptacular weather.

There are also advantages to the US.  For one thing, I have more tangible property than my husband, and it would be hard to move it to England, and I’m not keen to liquidate most of it, as it consists of family heirlooms.  The houses are cheaper, getting a driver’s license is easy, and there are way more opportunities to get ahead.  We would both be eligible for student loans and grants right away.  Also, if you can believe this, there are more benefits available to our family in the US than England.  Yup, we could apply for more government aid in the US than the UK, a country renowned for its socialist policies.  Hard to believe, but it’s true.  Besides that, the weather is better, the people are friendlier (Americans are a little too friendly sometimes), there is a bigger variety of climates, food, and culture, and I also have more friends and acquaintances in the US.  Like it or not, connections are valuable.

The big thing now though is immigration.  Back when the Labour government was in power, immigrating to the UK was as easy as ordering a beer at the local pub.  Basically, you could just show up and, if you were married, you’d be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain after a few short years.  That is no longer the case under the Tories.  Green cards have to be renewed every 2.5 years, you have to earn over a certain threshold (potential problem in the North, not so much in London), and you can’t be using any social benefits of any kind.  Contrast this to the US where the financial requirements are more lax and allow for an additional sponsor for financial support, and also the green card is valid for longer periods.  Using Medicaid and other benefits does not count against the green card.  Hell, you can be receiving cash benefits from the state and still apply to sponsor your spouse for a green card.  Basically, it’s easier to get into the US and easier to maintain permanent resident status.  Green cards only need to be renewed every five years, and it’s very difficult to lose green card status.

It’s probably fairly obvious where my desires lie.  I want to go home to the US.  The problem is that Graeme would prefer the UK.  He has expressed a lot of concerns about the US, the big one being health care, which is unfortunately legit.  The other thing is the competitiveness of the US and what he perceives as pitfalls.  The separation of federal and state governments is intimidating to him – extra paperwork! – and I think that he still believes somewhat that America has no social net, which simply isn’t true.

My major beef with England is that, well, I don’t really like it there.  It’s a great place to visit, and I adore Graeme’s folks.  They’re really great, and I would like to have them nearby, no doubt about that.  I just don’t really like the atmosphere in England.  I don’t understand British social etiquette at all.  I find that Brits will give each other absolute hell joking around, but if I make a joke, they all turn on me.  This has long been an issue between Yanks and Brits – humor.  It doesn’t translate.  I also lived in Germany for a year, which has very comparable weather to England, and it depressed me something terrible.  I loved Germany, but I could never live there full-time because of the weather.  Too damn rainy and overcast.

Of course, Graeme doesn’t always understand Americans.  Like most folks from across the pond, he thinks we’re flighty and cowboyish.  Like it or not, there’s an element of truth to that stereotype.  The average American is far more willing to take risks than the average European, in my experience.  We’re also very ego-driven, and it’s a society that is oriented towards the individual, and that is something you won’t find anywhere else in the world, in my experience.  Where the English will say, “Give us a bell,” Americans will say, “Give me a call.”  They use “us” and “we” in place of “me” and “I” in order to make themselves seem pleasant and non-egotistical.  Would such a thing ever cross an American’s mind?

One of the positive points about Americans is that we are very generous.  That is one good stereotype that generally holds true.  We’re also very warm and inviting.  Being invited to someone’s house is a somewhat North American phenomenon that one won’t find often in Europe.  The French wait years before inviting friends home, and so do the Germans, based on experience.  The English are equally reserved, whereas Americans are more likely to invite someone they just met to their Fourth of July BBQ.  Personally, I think that’s part of America’s charm, but not everyone feels that way.

An interesting issue that I never realized either until we were married is that Americans are very frank about money.  Europeans don’t openly discuss money like we do.  In France, it’s downright offensive to ask what someone does for a living.  You’re expected to know based on appearances what income bracket they’d fall into.  Graeme says he’s often surprised by how blunt I am about monetary matters.  The British don’t discuss money like Americans do, and he finds it almost crass.  I reply that I don’t like people messing with my cash, and the only way to ensure that they don’t is to be frank about your expectations.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Money is the great equalizer in the US.  It buys respect.  If you’re rich, you look good, smell nice, and you’re a good guy, too.  Maybe I’m superficial for it, but I like that.  I like knowing where I stand in the world.

Getting back to the original point, the discussion about immigration, we still have a long way to go.  We haven’t totally resolved the issue yet, and there are other factors at play besides what we want.  Ultimately, we have to do what’s best for our family.  I vote for the US because immigration is easier and because the savings have more purchasing power.  Graeme favors England because it’s near his family, and he understands the expectations and environment there.  It’s a hard decision to make and one not easily reversed, if it could be at all.

I hope we reach a compromise soon on what’s to be done about the whole thing.  As you all know, I’m tired of Korea.  I can’t fathom another winter here.  If we have to, we have to, but that’s not really what either of us wants.  Fortunately, Graeme has a good job where they really like him and want him to stay on, so that’s a bonus.  We hold the lease on our apartment until July 2014, so we have a place to live.

I think we’re both ready to have a real home of our own, though.  We’re ready to close the door and not have to pay rent.  We’re ready to be in a country where at least one of us is native.  We’re both ready to get out of the ESL industry, and honestly, I think it’s on the way out somewhat in Korea.  There comes a time when you have to move on to your next adventure.  I’m ready for that adventure.  I don’t know how it will turn out, but I know it’s going to be exciting, and I’m ready to get it moving!

Maybe spring is what has me in the mood to move.  Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s warmer and my limbs have unfrozen.  Maybe it’s both, plus some of that anticipation of rebirth and renewal.  Starting over.  I think it’s time.  All that’s left is to figure out which way we’re going.

How to Register a Birth Abroad in Korea (US/UK)

If you have a baby abroad, one of the major inconveniences you have to deal with is registering the child’s birth abroad and obtaining a passport for the baby, along with any necessary visas.  The paperwork can be a wee bit daunting at first, but it’s not that big a deal, once you’ve got it all sorted out.  Every country has different things that it requires, and some are more stringent than others.   As far as I know, the US is the most difficult, of course.  Since my husband is British and I’m American, our child is entitled to both UK and US citizenship.   Most children born to a foreign parent in Korea, in my experience, seem to have a Korean parent, as well.  That makes things easier, since those families only have to worry about one reporting to one consul.  I’m hoping that I can be of some help in all cases!

Let’s start with what registering a birth abroad means.  When your baby is born in Korea, you will receive a birth certificate from the delivering hospital.  Unless you specifically ask for it, the birth certificate will only be issued in Korean.  You’ll also need English language birth certificates, or you’ll end up having to get the certificate officially translated, and who needs that pain in the rump?  I highly recommend getting multiple copies, in case you lose a copy or something unpredictable happens.  Prices will vary from hospital to hospital, but I think I paid about $15 per copy at Paik Hospital in Busan.  I’ll probably pick up a few more before we leave the country for good, since it’s not something I want to have to come back and get later if we run out of copies.

Registering a birth with the UK Embassy in Seoul is relatively simple.  The first thing you’ll need is the baby’s English language birth certificate.  Both parents will have to send their passports, as well as a certified copy of the marriage certificate, proof of termination of any previous marriages (if applicable), a long form UK birth certificate or naturalization papers (available from the UK GRO Office), the application, and the relevant fee paper.  You can pay by credit or debit card, but you need to include that authorization paper.  You can fill in the paperwork by hand, and then you’ll need to send it via registered delivery.  I recommend just using the Korean Post’s service, as it’s cheap and highly reliable.

It takes about two weeks (10 business days) to get the paperwork back.  The consular birth certificate is relatively simple, and you’re going to need it to apply for the child’s passport.  Unfortunately, the UK Embassy in Seoul no longer issues passports, unless you can prove it’s a true emergency, and even then, I think it’s just a temporary passport for one-time travel only.  You’ll have to send the passport paperwork to Hong Kong, which is the regional passport office now.  The website isn’t making this as easy as it was even a few months ago, and now you’ll have to visit a Gov.UK site.  It says that you may need an interview, but this shouldn’t be the case.

Anyway, in order to get the baby’s passport, you’ll need to send the consular birth certificate, English language foreign birth certificate, two photographs (5x5cm), and the C2 form.  You will need to find another UK citizen whom you have known for at least two years to countersign the form and photographs for you.

Have a photographer who is experienced in taking and approving passport photos check yours, if you do them at home.  I recommend doing your own photographs at home (it’s cheaper) and taking your memory card to a studio to have them checked and printed.  My daughter had torticollis, and I had a devil of a time getting a straight-on photo of Brett that shows both of her ears.  To take the picture, lie the baby on a flat surface with a white towel or sheet underneath him/her.  Take the picture from directly above the baby.  Trust me, it’s easier.  If you have a torti baby like me, use some towels underneath the sheet to help straighten the head.  There can’t be any shadow in the picture, the baby’s eyes have to be open (tough for newborns), and both ears have to be visible.  Nothing can obstruct the face.  If your photographs aren’t good enough, the passport won’t be processed.

The passport and supporting documents will be returned separately.  The process takes about six weeks, so apply early!  I have the passport but still don’t have the supporting documents.  I’m not best pleased about this, but it’s the government.  If I don’t have them by next week, I guess I’ll have to make an angry phone call.

The US passport and consular report of birth abroad are tougher to obtain, unfortunately.  Your family, including the baby, must make an appearance at the Embassy in Seoul or the American Presence Post in Busan.  Be forewarned that the APP doesn’t open that often anymore, probably due to budget cuts.  As of this writing, the APP is opening in March for the first time since November.  The best way to find out about the APP’s open times is to check the website.  There are additional services in Daegu and Camp Casey, but they are only available for US military personnel.

You will apply for the consular report of birth abroad, passport, and Social Security number at the same time.  You will need to visit the US Embassy website and fill out the passport application on the Passport Wizard.  You can save it to your computer and print it later.   You’ll also need to print out the SSN application paper and the consular report of birth paper.  You’ll need to prove that you have resided in the US for at least five years after the age of 14.  This can be done with school transcripts (no diplomas), passport, tax returns, etc.  You’ll also need to bring along hospital bills and records, discharge papers, ultrasound photos, and any additional information that would prove that the baby is yours.  Make sure you have photocopies of any and all documents, as you will submit the photocopies.  You will also need a 2X2 inch (5cmX5cm) photograph, taken within the last three months (I think).  You will have an interview with a consular officer, who will determine whether your child is eligible for citizenship or not.  The interview takes about 5-10 minutes.

The cost for the consular report of birth is $100.  The passport is $105, and you can choose to have the service expedited for $60.  Normally, processing time takes 4-6 weeks, but if you expedite, you’ll have it within about five days.  The SSN appears to be free, and the regional office is in the Philippines.  They will mail you the SS card.

Be aware that all citizen services in both Seoul and Busan require an appointment.  You’ll have to call for Busan services, but Seoul services can be reserved online.  At the Embassy in Seoul, you can only enter the building 15 minutes prior to appointment time.  Be prepared for a potential wait at security, especially if you’re packing lots of baby stuff.  Security is ridiculous at the Embassy.  It’s like Fort Knox.  Our appointment for Busan is at the Westin Chosun Hotel in Haeundae, which is far more palatable, frankly.

If you are Canadian, Aussie, New Zealander, Irish, or South African, I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help, although I would assume that procedures are similar to the UK.  The US is known for having stringent screening of paperwork and potential immigrants, citizens, etc.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t worry to much about your appointment.  Go prepared, and you should be fine.

If you have any further questions, check out the respective embassies’ websites, or feel free to ask me a question in the comments section.  I’m not sure how much help I’ll be.  You can also call the embassies and ask for help, but be aware that the US Embassy help line is only open from 9am to 11:30am now.

US Embassy Seoul

UK Embassy Seoul

Addendum: 

When I went to our interview, I had prepared a cashier’s check to include the expedited service.  Don’t bother doing this.  The US Embassy website doesn’t tell you this, but they don’t generally offer that service anymore.  No reason was given, but I ended up having to hoof it around the corner to the nearest KEB (thank goodness it was close!) to get the cashier’s check changed, which was the biggest pain of the day.  (The bank manager didn’t know how to void and re-issue a cashier’s check.  Oh, incompetence.)  Fortunately, the expedited service really isn’t necessary, unless you have a genuine emergency.  Our papers arrived back in 2.5 weeks by recorded delivery.  As a side note, if you’re outside of Seoul, it will cost you 10,000W upon delivery, so be prepared for that.

Also, as far as the interview goes, it was no sweat at all.  They asked my husband and me how we met and whether or not Brett was delivered by me or by surrogate.  I would assume that a delivery by surrogate could change citizenship.  They also checked over our hospital records and birth certificates.  Make sure you have copies of everything.  Once they have seen the originals, they will keep the photocopies.  You will not see these papers again, as they will be submitted with your applications.  Make darn sure that you have proof that you have resided in the US, because that was what they scrutinized the hardest.  I used my university transcripts, but if you’ve been out of the country a lot, you might want to consider getting high school transcripts, too.  I know, I know – gigantic pain.  Still, better safe than sorry!

As far as security went at the hotel, there was none.  We were greeted by people in classy suits and crystal chandeliers.  We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies, rolling up in our jeans and sweatshirts.  Honestly, aside from feeling dreadfully out of place, it was the best possible experience we could’ve had.  The embassy staff was extremely accommodating and nice, and they answered some questions for us that had nothing to do with our passport/CRBA application.  If I’m being totally honest, it felt great to deal with people who do things “the American way” – organized and ready for anything you can throw at them!

Oh, and our supporting documents for the UK passport did arrive without my having to make an angry phone call, but it did come almost two weeks after the passport itself.