Tough Times – Jumping Through Hoops For Christmas Presents

As I enjoy a luxuriously long vacation period, I have little to complain about my life in Korea.  It’s cold.  Sometimes I have to ride my bike through the snow.  That’s about it.

However, life is far from perfect.  Sometimes I make mistakes.  Sometimes my gaffes feel bad in the moment, elicit brief paranoia, and then subside.  I also realize that I don’t ask for help as often as I should.

One incident in December describes this well.  My parents mailed me a package from California with birthday and Christmas gifts.  I was beside myself with excitement.  However, an untimely email from FedEx foiled their surprise.


Please revise the package content list (item description, unit number, unit cost, total cost).  The information provided is insufficient for Korea’s customs office.

Sadly, I had to read the list of items my parents sent me, add them up, rewrite their list with the desired information, and email FedEx.  Oh well.  At least they were wrapped.  I could still enjoy the thrill of tearing paper.

Two days later another email graced my inbox.  FedEx returned with a new hoop to jump through.


The following items are subject to Korean agricultural quarantine:

Lemon pepper

Garlic powder

Dill weed.

You must call (xxx-xxxx-xxxx) if you want to proceed with the quarantine process.  If not, you may have it destroyed or mailed back home.  We will await your response.

“Fine,” I thought.  “Destroying feels wasteful and mailing it home would only incur more exorbitant shipping costs.”

So I sat in my office and called the phone number.  

“Yo-bo-say-yo?” (Hello?)

“An-young-ha-say-yo.  Uhh…young-oh sa-ram-ee-soy-yo?” (Hello. (In very poor grammar) Is there an English-speaking person there?)

“Ah-ni-yo.  Han-gook-oh blah-blah-blah?” (No.  (I think she asked me if I could speak Korean.)

“Han-gook-mal-jui-ko-li-man-koom-hae-yo” (My Korean is as short as a mouse’s tail).

She laughed at this.  Whether it was out of genuine humor or surprise at my linguistic flippancy I do not know.  Our “conversation” progressed for another couple minutes until she finally tapped out with an exasperated sigh.

“Someone will call you after five P.M.”

I hung up and tuned my ears to snickering co-workers.  The woman sitting to my left asked me what was happening.  We decided to play a game of Google Translate tag.

Who were you on the phone with?

Customs office.


My parents sent me a package from America.

Your package is at Incheon customs office?

Yes.  Quarantine.

Next time, [Korean English teacher name] will help you.”

“Joh-eun sang-kak ee-eh-yo” (That’s a good idea.)

Next, my co-teacher approached the desk.

“You know, Ian, jui-ko-li-man-koom is a very slangy phrase.  It’s fine with friends,  but probably not polite to say to a government official.”

“Oh.  My bad.”

Anxiety-Brain piped up.

“She’s so offended, bro.  She’s probably going to drop your package out of a 10th-story window.  Quarantine?  You’ll be lucky to receive anything.”

Fortunately, after even more hoops and texting with a delivery driver, I finally received my gifts.  Thank you, Mom and Dad.  You’d be happy to know I ate that giant chocolate bar in about four days.  I gave the candy canes to my students.  They loved them more than I ever would.

I have more stories to explore in future posts.  For example, about five students complained to me about their speaking test grades.  Upon further reflection, I realized I am a very harsh grader.

Life is not an endless pleasure walk down easy street.  While I feel like I have adjusted to Korean life relatively well, I am not immune to gaffes, mistakes, and challenges.  Regardless, the good has outweighed the bad thus far.  I can only hope for more of the same in 2018.

Photo Corner


Lotte seems to have a thing for ancient Western sculpture.  I saw a similar fountain at Lotte World in Seoul.


Puppy love is strong in this country.


This is the most socially conscious hot dog I have ever seen.


Damn, Lotte.  Back at it again with the Greco-Roman sculptures.


The terraced housing in Gamcheon is Busan is a great view from below, and even better from above.


In my mind, the cats in this neighborhood formed a gang called the Gamcheon Gatos (or GG’s for short).


I’m sure I will post more photos like this on Thursday.  You’ve been warned.

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