Getting a Driver’s License in Korea

This is not converting a driver’s license from your home country to an international license.  This is rather actually obtaining a driver’s license in Korea – I do not have my license back at home in America.

Story is my main school offered to help me get my driver’s license since they have a car that I may utilize for transportation to all 4 of my schools within this area – thank goodness I may add; one school is 1.5 hours or more out by an express bus, with a transfer!

The process is similar to how it is in America, but slightly different – it’s essentially a 3-step procedure.

  1. Written Exam
  2. Functional Test
  3. Road Test

The school sent me to an academy to prepare for all sections to get my license.  I sat for close to 5 hours reading poorly written English practice Q&As, and then went to the local DMV to take the written exam; not that the American written exam is difficult but I recall one or two questions that weren’t 100% clear – it was much worse here, but that comes with the territory.

The next step is where things deviate quite a bit.  Here you are tested on things such as turning on your lights, high beam included, wipers, signals, emergency brake, and suddenly stopping for hazards.  It’s a pretty straight-forward section but this time it was not in English.  I was panicking on the inside because it was too much Korean to memorize in such a short amount of time.  This time I had only 2 hours of practice before taking the test, but I got used to the procedure and managed to pull it off without a hitch.  We don’t have this section, and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt but it sort of is unnecessary – I guess they assume our parents teach us those small details.

The road test is very similar but the school has 4 routes that you practice on and you are actually tested on 1/4 routes of which is chosen at random.  You follow a computer-operated program telling you when to turn and such, but after 6 hours of practice you should already have memorized all 4 routes anyways.  I’m in a small town in the countryside and I turned out to be the only one out of five taking the road test for a car and not a truck so I went last.  Man, I was tired of waiting and anxious to getting it over with.  Luckily I didn’t rush through the test and all.

A couple of days later, I have the license in my hand! 🙂 This definitely opens up new doors for future travels!  Looking forward to converting this to an international driving license someday soon!  Here’s to a city-kid growing up!


Fire Drill? No, North Korea Drill.

Hamchang N Korea Drill

The English teachers at one of my schools took me out to a nice lunch, and when we got back there was an alarm ringing outside; you could barely hear it inside but could tell that it was piercing outside.  One of the teachers said that we have to head out, in Korean of course, and I sort of get the gist and start following.

It was a fire drill, of course, so I asked, but NOPE!  It was a North Korea drill!  This goes to show how serious South Korea is about defending itself against its evil-half.

Still amazed by the news, I followed the teachers out to the tennis courts where all the students had already gathered amongst other teachers.  The Principal started to lecture all of the kids, in Korean obviously, and I clearly did not understand anything.  The funny thing though is that it was like a military lecture.  Always asking to see if the students heard/understood, and the kids would shout, “Yes,” back at the Principal each time.  I know that men have to serve at least 21 months in the military here in Korea, but starting in Middle School is a bit early don’t you think?

By the time I got back to my desk and checked Facebook, many other native EPIK teachers had already posted about the new revelation.  I mean, think about it – we have drills for fires, and natural disasters, but not for imminent attacks from hostile foreign countries; but then again, we are from the United States of America.

Korean Surprise #1

At EPIK’s orientation, there was one lecturer who referred to Korea’s unorganized scheduling and information flow simply as, “Korean Surprises.”  All lecturers were sure to mention how dynamic and shocking how schools vary in their management style.  They all made it clear that something completely different from what they’ve and what other former EPIK teachers experienced could occur.  But, setting that aside, here’s mine:

I hitch a ride with a school admin as he was gracious enough to offer yesterday after helping me move and settle into my new apartment at 8:10.  I arrive and was sent straight to the Principal’s office only to wait for a staff meeting.  Naturally I was introduced to all the humble Korean teachers and told to give a self-introduction!  I said with my best Korean, “안녕하세요. 마나서 반갑숩니다. 잘 부탁드립니다.”  They kindly applauded and of course, impressed by my limited Korean.  But that’s not the best part!  Three new teachers were introduced to all 300+ all-girl middle school students and staff and made to introduce ourselves at the opening ceremony for the new school year!  Was I informed that this would happen by the school?  By EPIK?  By anyone?  No!  But it was alright!  “Hello. [cheers and applause] I’m Paul Ly from NYC. [cheers and applause] Nice to meet you all.[cheers and applause] I look forward to teaching and having fun with you all.” [cheers and applause] 🙂 I have a good feeling about teaching at this school!

Although I am not looking forward to explaining what kind of asian I am, and how someone with an asian face could still be called an American… Especially to 11 year old girls with limited working knowledge of English… I mean we Americans can’t even define what an, “American,” really is.

I wonder what other surprises are in store… so not curious.

Cultural Work Ethics (Japan vs. America)

Have you guys heard of the news blog RocketNews24?  It mainly focuses on Asian news, and I particularly take interest in their Japanese posts.  Anyways a few hours ago they posted this on the differences of Japanese and American workers, and I just wanted to briefly express my thoughts.

If you didn’t read the post or watch the video in the post yet, head on over there before continuing!

Alright, welcome back!  First of all, what do you guys think?  Accurate?  Exaggerated?  No comment?  Well, I think there’s some truth in there, but the American act was quite exaggerated.

Japanese workers are known to be earnest, polite, and hard-workers.  While this is true, that isn’t to say that American workers are not.  America is very large as everyone knows, so we have the worst kinds and the best kinds of workers.  But what doesn’t sit right with me is that this only gives Americans a bad reputation.  During this internet age, many have trouble distinguishing what is true and what is satirical.  The video’s description at least mentions that it isn’t quite true, and it is comical.  But the news post does not mention so and it bothers me as it may leave an indirect lasting effect on their readers.

Per Steve’s profile (the YouTube video creator), he has experience working in both the American and the Japanese markets and knows how it goes.  But this portrayal of Americans not taking their clients or work seriously is quite exaggerated.  The American dream drives many in the land of the free, and followers know best that their clients and work is very significant to their success.  Now the only question remaining is, “Are Americans as polite as the Japanese?”  This is very simple, no, they are not.  We owe this to cultural differences.

The Japanese worship their clients and are obsessed with providing the best customer service possible.  

Thus, by default we lose in this category; not that anyone is keeping count.

What Steve’s viewers and RocketNews24’s readers should be informed of is not that American workers do not take take their clients or work seriously, but that American workers can be more casual than the Japanese.

We just do business differently. 

Americans may casually speak to their clients and seem more friendly, but they aren’t rude.  Let’s be real, who would keep a business relationship with rude business partners?  Plus if all American workers pushed off their work until after their lunch break, I don’t think our productivity would be where it is today; the rate is mentioned in RocketNews24’s news source as $60/hour vs. Japan’s $40/hour.  That also brings up another good point: the processes, methods, and systems set up in America is completely different from Japan’s.  Japan spends more time processing their work than America.  You may ponder why, and it’s simply because many Japanese companies and their leaders are reluctant to change.  I mean why fix something that isn’t broken right?  It’s a very common downside to working for a Japanese company.

In the end…
Let’s focus on the big picture!  It’s like how westerners believe the Japanese are obsessed with Anime and Manga.  But in reality, many think they’re just for children and stop watching as they grow up; although most still watch Studio Ghibli’s animations.

I say let’s keep the satire alive, but c’mon be decent enough to state that it isn’t true and stop the misconceptions and misunderstandings.  

It’s already bad enough that Americans are known for not knowing anything about foreign countries, and that the Japanese also have this ignorance due to their lack of cultural diffusion from their past that continues till this day…

So, what do you think?  Do you think we should all be more careful and cautious as to how we present cultural differences so as to avoid misconceptions and hopefully bring the world closer together?  Or maybe it’s a hopeless cause and just let it all be?  

Episode 2 – I’m here, now what?

Differences of Accommodation in America and Japan

  1. Abroad – you’re a foreigner so you may be required to provide several documents to verify your identity and ability to pay
  2. Guarantor – a credible Japanese national to co-sign the contract; if you’re working here than it would be the company or someone from there; if you’re studying like me, it was my school’s president
  3. Accommodation – there are different kinds of buildings in Japan that generally fall into 3 categories, traditional, apartment, and mansion.  Traditional are as you guessed it, traditional Japanese styled old buildings; the floor will generally consist of tatami mats, the walls will be very thin and the sliding doors are made from wood and paper thus the outside weather will greatly affect the interior.  An apartment here in Japan are older buildings but more western styled in that they’re taller buildings with thicker walls, proper doors and all.  Mansions as explained earlier are just newer and modern apartments which can also be considered condos.  Just goes to show the cultural progression as time passes on.
  4. Key money – a non-refundable payment to the owner worth around 1 months rent in addition to the deposit, and if you’re using an agent, the commission
  5. Cash – all payments are via cash as Japan is still mainly a cash society; I don’t know if checks are accepted but it isn’t a main form of payment for anything
  6. Size – it is normal to have a small place; for example, my apartment living space is just 100 ft. sq. and my bathroom is just barely larger than my bath tub back home in NYC so don’t expect to be living in luxury unless you can actually afford it.  To give you all a better image of how small the bathroom is, I have to sit sideways going #2 because there’s not enough room for my knees because the door is right there!  (lol George at Gilbert’s)  Also, if I were to take a bath I wouldn’t be able extend my legs all the way even with my back against the back of the tub.

100 ft sq living area
DSC02639Kitchen, see the one stove burner in the mid left side?
Bath tub, it’s that small…
DSC02641I’m not that tall either, just above 5′ 7

Living Essentials

  • My apartment came with a refrigerator, futon, closet, electronic AC/heater, desk, nightstand, one stove burner (just one, not an actual stove), washing machine, curtains, and an ethernet cable.
  • I had/have to purchase(d) a wireless router, specific garbage and recycle bags, cleaning supplies, cooking supplies, a bar soap holder, air freshener, laundry hanger dryer, laundry detergent and softener, and towels for the kitchen (there’s no dishwasher or space for a dish holder to dry dishes after washing them)
  • I brought a tiny rice cooker from home that was meant for my college days, a tea maker, thermos, mug, clothes, and some toiletries as mentioned in a previous post
  • As mentioned in my comment to the earlier post, you don’t need to bring a can opener as convenience stores and ¥100 stores sell them
  • You would definitely need to bring a rice cooker if possible because the prices are outrages
  • Definitely bring any shampoo/soap that you’re attached to as well as it’s hard or impossible to attain here at stores; maybe just Amazon and other online sites
  • If you’re in a smaller city/town or one that is extremely bike-friendly, it is highly recommended that you get a bike as you can save money in the long run and get some exercise while at it
  • You can easily attain a bicycle if you look around; if you want to save money, look into used bikes.  I used this site for Kyoto. You can also check out this, this and this for Kansai second-hand stuff.  You may also utilize this for deals.
  • Make sure your bike has a light for the night, reflectors, a bell and if you’re getting one new you may need to buy a lock separately; also a basket is very useful!  Everything can be included if you find a used bike.
  • If you do get a bike, you may want to invest in either an umbrella holder for your bike or a top and bottom poncho/rain-proof gear

My new used ride for the next year or so.  She has grown on me.  Got her for ¥8,000 which is about $80 and that’s used.  There was also a $5 registration fee, yeah bikes are all registered here and the police can search for it if stolen; some have been recovered too (in fact it is actually illegal to ride someone else’s bike, even if you are simply borrowing it with the owner’s approval and knowledge).  You could get a new one for as low as maybe ¥11,000 which is about $110 but perhaps have to buy the lock but since I’m on a budget, $30 goes a long way.


A kotatsu is a table with a heater along with a futon/blanket covering it.  If you’ve seen them before on dramas, anime, or whatever you’ll know that it looks very comfortable; which is why I got one!  I heard that they’re pretty pricey, I mean if you think about it, it only makes sense; so I was hoping I could get a second-hand one, and I did!  Found this guy who was selling one on the Kansai Flea Market, site linked above, for about $30, a fraction of the price of a new one.  I can’t wait to use it when it gets cold here but that won’t happen for a while since it’s still in the 80s.  If you’ve never seen one, go look up videos and images and you’ll get it.

Sorry, I had to share my excitement.  If you’ve got any questions or comments, feel free!

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