Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thankfully Yours

Both of these bills are worth 10,000. One is 10,000 South Korean Won and the other is 10,000 Japanese Yen. I'd have liked to add an American bill in there, but I'm fresh out of $10,000 bills...

One of these is worth about $8.50 (the green Korean won on top) and the other is worth about $120. Funny how things that look so similar can be so different.

International finance is never really something I've looked into. I've seen the infomercials on TV...the little flashing ads next to the newspapers I read online. I never thought I'd be foolish enough to waste my money gambling it on the random fluctuation of currencies. Well, that was before I started getting paid in won.

A lifetime ago, say two years, the 1000 won was worth more that a US dollar. As the world economy tanked, so did the won. So my fellow English teachers that had to move all their money at the end of 2008...watched all their hard earned money money lose 30 cents on the dollar. (and probably get no sympathy from those that had money in the stock market...) However, those people that started out as English teachers here (such as your humble author) have seen any money they didn't send home...have seen their money increase in value by 20 cents on the dollar.

You might ask, what the difference is between those who saw a 30% drop in their savings and a (so far) 20% increase...the answer is time. They got out at a bad time...and I got in at a good time. No amount of luck or research meant anything. It was what year your happened to come over here.

Fate, it seems, is a fickle mistress.

And as the the Won can buy the most Dollars in something like 16 months, I've decided to start officially saving my money.

Now, I've been saving (or attempting to anyways) a portion of my paycheck each month. But even with all those millions of Won in my Korean bank just doesn't feel the same as having it back home in my American bank account. Like the great American said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Well, until I turn it into pennies, I don't feel as if I've earned it.

The transferring process itself is as easy as paying a bill in Korea. I just log onto my bank account and make a transfer to my remittance account (an international transfer account that is tied directly to my American bank accounts). Three days later, money appears in my account back home.

There are 2 frustrating things about sending money home are the Korean laws and the fees. (and for the record, if these are the BIGGEST problems I have with sending money home...I've got it GOOD)

First, the maximum amount of money I can send home is equal to my monthly paycheck. So, while I want to send home 9 months worth of savings all as once...I've got to send it home in installments.

Second, both banks want a slice. Due to the beauty of the internet, I know how much each transfer should be worth and I know how much goes into my account. There's a $50 dollar difference. I don't like using a random ATM in order to avoid a $2 fee. So the $50 fee comes with a bit of sticker shock.

But my Korean bank wants a little bit of the action and so does my American bank, so there's not much that I can do.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Banking in Korea

I grew up in a different country, that used a slightly different banking system. I have the same bank that I started a savings account with when I was in the 1st grade. Before I came to Korea, I paid every bill that I could with a check. I've since changed, as my bills don't exactly get sent to my current apartment anymore.

So I thought that when I came to Korea, it would be the same. After all, I have a bank account and an ATM card, the same as I had back home...

Well almost....

When I say ATM card, I mean just ATM card...There is no Visa or Mastercard logo on it. I can't use it to buy groceries or pay at a restaurant.

Oh, and they don't give you a check book neither...but that's probably a good thing as I don't write much Korean.

But then how do I pay my bills without checks? I use the ATM to transfer money directly into their account. This is rather strange to me, as back home your Routing and Banking numbers are closely guarded secrets! I mean back when I worked for an insurance company, that information was held more securely that people's Social Security numbers!

Well, they do things a bit differently over here.

In fact, you know what? is my banking information:

Philip Langaunet
Woori Bank

Now anyone can use my account to transfer money to me ANY time they want.

Your account number isn't really a secret. But, transferring money OUT of my account. Well, that's a little harder.

If someone wanted to log onto my bank's website to transfer all of my money to them...they would have to know:

my user name
have my USB drive that's on my key chain
have the bank's encryption card hidden in my wallet
and have my other banking password


Having my ATM card
and my PIN

Well, yes...then if they had all that information without me knowing it...I suppose they could take away my millions (of won that is)

So, I'm pretty sure that even on the internet, that information won't hurt me.

Where was I....paying bills...

On every bill I receive, there are the banking account numbers of 3-4 of the big national banks. If you have an account with one of those bank, you can transfer the funds free of charge...if not, a nominal fee (a little more than the price of a stamp back home) is charged on top of the bill.

I don't think that much of that fee (I really don't have a choice), but Koreans on the other hand DO. Most of them will have 4 different bank accounts in order to dodge those fees.

I just wish my bank would change it's name. While the Koreans have no problem depositing their hard earned money into a bank they call "oori" I have a problem keeping my money in a banking whose name is "Woori"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Korean Megacorporations

Ever wonder how Korea went from being the dirt poor nation of goat farmers that I saw on the nation where one of the top 20 TV stations is dedicated to a video game (aka Starcraft). From one of the most dirt poor countries in the world to a country that's has more wireless access than Microsoft.

The answer is Chaebol. The Korean world for me mega-corporation. For the last 50 years Korea has used, abused, threatened, and gamed them against each other to achieve an economic miracle. You've probably heard of some of the winners...Samsung...Hyundae...LG...the losers...well they don't exist anymore.

The one thing about this economic miracle is that it is export driven. As much as humanly possible, Koreans don't do imports. Over 95% of the cars on the road are made by Hyundae (or its daughter company Kia.)

Everywhere they can, they mentality is that they can make it here, so why should they pay someone else to make it themselves. This applies to just about everything. In fact, it's hard to find many products that are made somewhere else (besides the token, overpriced foreigner foods at the supermarket.) So instead of say a Nestle Crunch Bar or a Kit Kat bar produced by the Swiss mega-corporation Nestle...they have Crunky and KicKer made by the Korean mega-corporation Lotte.

Now what pray tell do candy, Chaebols and November the 11th have in common? Well, the Chaebols here have the ability to manufacture holidays here the same way...say Hallmark does in America. In this case, national Pepero Day. Everyone is expected to give each other chocolate covered pretzels. In fact, my students gave me half a dozon boxes of these. Or as I called them last night...


Friday, November 6, 2009

The Fortress

While I was in Japan, I really enjoyed seeing all the fortresses. Every major city seemed to have one one area moated off. Behind the moat was a large stone wall jutting above the ground level us of mere mortals wandering around on foot.

Upon returning to Korea...I really wanted to see what this country had to offer. I mean the rivalry of the Koreans towards the Japanese in INTENSE. (the Japanese on the other hand barely know where Korea is...)

So I did a little research and discovered the most famous fortress in all of Korea. It located either 2 hours by subway or a 20 minute bus ride...

Some of the friends that I knew from Everland lived in the area, so I met them at the bus stop. We hiked up the hill for a while, until we arrived at a parking lot. Then, we went into the woods for a quick hike...apparently the guy leading the charge didn't like paying $3 entrance fees...

On arriving to the fortress itself...there was to epic moat ensuring ninjas didn't sneak across into the fortress in the middle of the night. There were no mighty walls to fend of pirates or the Japanese. There was merely a modest 3 meter wall encircling the perimeter of grounds...and that's about it.

In the Japanese castles there are moats, and multiple rings of unclimbable walls lined with guard towers capable of raining down stones, arrows, and boiling oil to fend off the oncoming armies of samurai, ninjas, and whatever was thrown their way.

I guess I now see why the Koreans did do too well in the land battles with the Japanese. Now...don't get me wrong, there were some epic navel battles that the Koreans used to starve the Japanese army back into retreat...but the battle between who has better castles....I would say that this round goes to the Japanese.