Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

The last couple of weekends have been pretty busy and fun.

The weekend before last, I came up to Seoul, my small backpack heavy with my box of Magic cards and a few bits of clothing and toiletries – and my computer, which I probably didn’t really need. I’ve recently joined a bunch of groups on Meetup and my first order of business was to attend my first event with one of them. It was a beginners’ life drawing class at a studio in Itaewon. The instructor had us practise a few different drawing techniques – initially with one of the attendees with whom he was evidently familiar because the model was late, and then with a model once she arrived.

Three Life-drawing Sketches

It was interesting work, quite challenging – especially having not had much practice at sketching for a long time, other than the occasional map for a game or story. I think I did reasonably well, though. The model was a white, North American woman – she resembled a blond Natalie Portman. Most of the attendees were women too; I chatted to a few on the way out and back to the subway station, but the atmosphere in the class was quiet so I felt pretty self-conscious about talking to anyone in there. The one woman I did talk to in the class seemed quite uncomfortable.

Afterwards, I met those sterling gentlemen, Matthew and Zach. We had dinner together and I dropped my things at Zach’s place (which is conveniently nextdoor to Matt’s place; I knocked on their doors simultaneously) where I stayed the night. Later in the evening, Zach and I went to Hongdae where he had a gig to play with Damnear David, a David Bowie cover singer. Also on the bill was a Queen cover band, Queen Machine – which I really quite enjoyed.

The following day, the three of us went to Wangsimni to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which we all agreed was very good, although it did have some silly bits like the hero not leaving home for the first hour of the film and Galadriel teleporting to avoid scuffing or tripping up over her long skirts.

We also played lots of Magic: The Gathering. Zach and I did, at any rate – Matthew had other duties that called him away.

During the week, I made a bunch of paper snowflakes with my students to decorate my class a little. There has been quite a bit of real snow of late and the weather has been very cold occasionally – making my classroom unpleasantly chilly; the single heater is not really up to the task of heating the whole room.

Paper Snowflakes

I also got my Alien Registration Card and set up a bank account with KEB – Korea Exchange Bank. Actually, I set up two accounts (no, I didn’t – the bank clerk did it for me); one is a regular current account, into which I’ll be paid, and the other automatically transfers any money put into it to my UK bank account. Once I got paid, I transferred some money into the second account; I’ve just checked and it has arrived in my British account. Now I can pay off the credit card debt I’ve built up in my first month back in Korea. Unfortunately, the advances on my salary that I’ve been given mean that I probably won’t have enough cash to see out this next month, so I’m going to have to withdraw more money on my credit card.

I had to go back to the hospital where I got my health check done. I went initially to an internal medicine clinic I’d noticed in order to get a week’s worth of my colitis medication. The doctor – a rather uninspiringly nervous and boyish middle-aged man – told me he couldn’t prescribe it but gave me a note to take to the hospital. Having seen one of the specialists at the hospital, I made my way down one of the staircases and passed this very pretty nurse who’d tested my sight and given me my sealed envelope with the results a couple of weeks afterwards. She had been very nice, trying to speak English and (kind of) remembering my name. She stopped to say hello and prove that she remembered my name again (with only a little prompting from me). I asked her hers.

I had to return once more to the hospital to get another copy of the health check statement – the last one had been for the Immigration Office; this one was for the police, with whom I was supposed to be registered. I was able to ask for Ji-yeong by name and she prepared another envelope for me.

There was a weird episode towards the end of the week when Julie, my boss, put it to me that she didn’t want to sign me up for the (legally required) national health insurance and pension schemes and instead wanted to get something private. Or maybe that wasn’t exactly what she was saying, but because of something the recruiter had told her she didn’t seem keen.

I’m very aware that Americans and Canadians can get the pension contributions back when they leave the country, but Britons can’t. This is because of differing reciprocal arrangements between governments; Koreans working in the UK also can’t get a refund of National Insurance contributions. Apparently, the recruiter had told her that she wouldn’t need to pay into the national system for a British employee and that had been a factor in her choosing me over someone else. After asking various people and reading about it, I told her I wanted to pay into the national systems – so that’s apparently what I’m now doing.

I say apparently because after getting confirmation that I was signed up from Julie, I went back to internal medicine clinic, the hospital and the pharmacy and got partial refunds on my payments because I was now retroactively covered. I’ve since been back to the hospital and pharmacy and my consultation and medication were a lot more expensive than I was expecting.

This past weekend was one of Magic and Burning Wheel gaming. Zach, Matthew and I played MTG on Saturday. That other sterling gentleman, Peter, met me on Sunday and we played more Magic, then Zach joined us and we got started on a roleplaying game run by Peter. I played a fisherman exiled from his village and Zach played a cleric with the character trait Overbearing Loony; we were united by a desire to stop colonists interfering with local culture – or at least with an old temple. It was a very promising game and seemed to go off on a tangent quite quickly – or maybe it was all planned. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the story soon.

The first thing I did on Saturday was head up to Itaewon to see a man about a phone. I was expecting a North American, but it turned out to be an Indian or Pakistani guy. I started to feel a bit suspicious, but checked the instinct. The phone he offered me was white instead of the black one shown in the photo on Craigslist. I bought it anyway – I’m far too polite to have refused. I came to the conclusion later that the phone was almost certainly stolen. The man didn’t have any idea how to change a setting I e-mailed him about later; the phone is a little bit scuffed on the back, while this chap provided brand new recharging and data cables; he spoke near-perfect English, but he changed the phone from Korean to English right in front of me.

Anyway, it works and I’ve been to the SK Telecom centre to get a new USIM card for it – thus registering an account with SK as well as getting an actual phone number. The clerk opened it up and typed some numbers from inside the phone into her computer. I can only assume that if someone had reported it stolen, some alert would have come up at this point. Maybe it was second-hand after all.

The really disappointing thing about the phone was that it was white and not black. Nevertheless, I’ve got a pretty fancy 4G smart phone with a big screen and I’m starting to get used to how it works and alter things to my taste.

Monday was the last day of teaching for me this year. I had one class with a four-year-old boy, then the next class was an amalgam of many of the elementary school kids and we watched Brave on my laptop. A couple of hours later, the middle- and high- schoolers did the same, but I had to leave halfway through to take a class with one of the girls; then I had one more class with one of the older boys and I was done. The kids will be back on Wednesday, but I have my contractual five days of holiday.

Today, Tuesday, I spent doing not very much – washing clothes, walking around the city, blogging. I had pepperoni pizza for dinner with chocolates and beer and Misfits and the Simpsons.

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Exchange rate watch

1 GBP = 1725.841 KRW
1 GBP = 1.1182 EUR
1 GBP = 1.5291 USD

Bonus Exchange Rate

1 GBP = 137.9281 JPY (Japanese yen)

The pound is at the weakest I’ve ever known it against the won – which is good for me (at least it would be if I transferred money to my UK account). Hopefully this will last for a while and I can move some of my ill-gotten gains into my savings account. (I haven’t been able to do this recently because you need pay statements, and, not working strictly in accordance with the law, I don’t have any pay statements for my new job yet. Soon, though, with any luck.)

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A final word on Thailand

The week after coming back from Thailand was hard. It was one of those times when you need a holiday to recover from the holiday you’ve just had. It would’ve been great to’ve had more time there. If we travel again in the region I’d definitely like to see Angkor Wat.

Anyway. There was one little story from when we went to Chatuchak Market that I forgot to relate – and it was one of my favourite incidents from Thailand.

I like coins, and have a modest collection (in fact, because I simply enjoy collecting I have a few collections of coins; in addition to just collecting different foreign coins I also collect Korean 10 won coins (worth about half a penny) and old design 10, 50 and 100 won coins (the oldest of which is a 1966 10 won piece)). So, while I was in Thailand, I tried to get hold of a bunch different Thai coins. 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht pieces were very common (usually with one of two portraits of the king on one side) (£1 is about 55 baht). I knew that there were sub-baht denominations, but everything seemed to be priced in whole bahts.

While in Chatuchak Market Habiba and I needed to go to the bathroom. The various public toilets in the market – and remember, the place is huge – have an entry fee: I can’t recall the exact prices, but it was no more than 7 baht if you needed paper (less if not).

I went in, did my thing (I didn’t need paper) and came out. I could see Habiba just inside the doorway to the ladies’, still waiting for a cubicle. As she takes her time even if she doesn’t need to queue, I knew I had a bit of a wait ahead of me. I took advantage of the seating provided, presumably for just this eventuality.

But before I sat down I also noticed some small brazen coins on the attendants’ desk. After thinking it over for a minute, I decided I wouldn’t have a better chance to get some of these small demonination coins, so I asked (with hand gestures demonstrating the concepts of ‘half’and ‘small’) if I could change 1 baht for two half-baht coins (Wikipedia informs me that the baht is divided into 100 satang). They seemed very happy to oblige me.

Feeling good about the transaction, I sat down to examine the booty and resume my wait. A moment later one of the attendants came up to me with a clutch of tiny coins and gave them to me. I thanked them with enthusiasm (relatively speaking – you know me). The person (I can’t remember if they were male or female) had given me another two 50 satang and four 25 satang coins. I didn’t have any more change so I didn’t offer to give them 2 baht in return – and they didn’t seem to expect it.

That little episode made my day. (A day that was later unmade by China, but we won’t speak of that.)

Here is a selection of Thai coins, and a pound coin for comparison.

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Exchange rate watch

1 GBP = 1,879.6835 KRW
1 GBP = 1.1273 EUR
1 GBP = 1.615 USD

2,615,000 KRW = 1,391.1917 GBP

Bonus Exchange Rate

1 GBP = 53.7468 THB (Thai baht)
1 USD = 33.28 THB
1 THB = 34.973 KRW

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It seems like there are three main elements of my life at the moment – Habiba, work and illness.

After having taken a new course of steroids (starting at six pills per day and slowly coming down to four a day now) my bowels are slowly returning to normality (whatever that means). A few weeks ago I needed to use the bathroom almost on a half-hourly basis. Pretty exhausting. Now, I just need to go a few times in the morning and a few times in the evening. Once I’ve taken my medicine after breakfast my guts remain stable (although not always comfortable) for a good chunk of the day.

For the last two weeks I’ve been working 8:30 to 4:40 Monday to Friday and 8:30 to 12:10 on Saturdays. Despite this, the summer intensive classes haven’t been too bad – I don’t have any really terrible classes, although they’re not all great. I haven’t been feeling too tired at work, but I haven’t been 100% awake much of the time.

I should have been paid my bonus of ₩2,300,000 with my July packet, along with a raise of ₩100,000. Neither materialised. When I told our boss, Sharon, about it she seemed annoyed that I’d brought this to her attention. Then she explained that the person who did the accounts at E-Castle had left without telling the Ginius people about my pay arrangements. It seems like a pathetic excuse, but she said they’d sort it out next week. I’ll see if it’s happened by Wednesday. If not, first I need to talk to someone and see what they tell me. If I get fobbed off again I should think about getting some legal representation and taking my case to the Labor Office.

The atmosphere at work – especially around me, it seems – hasn’t been too good lately. A few weeks ago there was a meeting – apparently to introduce the different staff members to each other. No one explained what was going on to the foreign staff (or at least to me), and no translations were provided. I probably didn’t make a good impression when I introduced myself: ‘I’m Sean. I from the UK…. I’m finished.’ A couple of weeks ago there was a staff meal after work that I didn’t go to, preferring to spend time with Habiba. I slipped away without saying goodbye to anyone. Since about that time I’ve noticed a little less friendliness being directed at me.

I suppose I’m not really that bothered about it, but – along with the pay issue – it makes Habiba’s suggestion of coming to work with her much more appealing. So much so, that I’m seriously thinking about applying for a job at her place starting in March (the start of the Korean academic year). The main problem for me is the hours – Habiba works something like 9:20 to 5:40 daily. I know that doesn’t sound bad, but afternoon/evening working hours are a major part of the attraction of teaching English in Korea.

Habiba is away on holiday in Montréal this week. She’s been looking forward to this trip – for the whole of this year, it seems. I hope she has a good time over there – the way she’s been talking about it makes me a little jealous. My own vacation starts in two weeks’ time, though. Then it’ll be back to a normal schedule for the rest of the year.

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Exchange rate watch

1 GBP = 2056.9173 KRW
1 GBP = 1.1735 EUR
1 GBP = 1.645 USD

2,300,000 KRW = 1118.1782 GBP

Bonus Exchange Rate

1 GBP = 1.1377 pounds of copper (XCP)

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Exchange rate watch

1 GBP = 2010.8367 KRW
1 GBP = 1.141 EUR
1 GBP = 1.5936 USD

2,300,000 KRW = 1143.0745 GBP

Bonus Exchange Rate

1 GBP = 72.9084 Bhutanese ngultrum

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

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