Handphone (mobile phone) vendor [May 2000].
(Please read this before you copy our photos or text.)

Koreans love their electronic gadgets at least as much as we do. The mobile phone revolution here was years ahead of America's. Their phones shrank before ours did, played ringtones before ours did, and outnumbered the landlines before ours did.

It was about convenience, of course -- but, surprisingly, it was also about cost. Korean mobile phone service wasn't any more expensive than landlines. Often it was cheaper. Korea never had flat rates for landlines -- the phone company billed them by the minute, just like mobile service. As in Europe, incoming mobile calls were, and are, free.

The Korean name for mobile phones is pieced together from English bits: haendeu-pon -- "handphone." Although Korea has caught the phablet bug in recent years, when Margaret was there, mobiles were tiny and colorful. There was even a category of jewelry, little baubles that were hung from handphones, presumably to make them easier to find in pocket or pocketbook. Today Koreans carry their gigantic phablets in in leather folders that ARE their pocketbooks.

Mobile stores like you see everywhere else are the norm in Korea now. But when Margaret was teaching, handphones were sold from bright little street kiosks like the one above. They (the kiosks, I mean) were usually staffed by one or two young women clad in tight, short skirts. I guess in those days the phone companies figured that most of their customers would be men. Now everyone is a customer.

You might be, too, though that's not as certain as it once was. After years when their mobile phone system was incompatible with every other system in the world, Korea has finally adopted some standards. So now some unlocked mobile phones from some other countries will work in Korea. Some.

Briefly, you need a phone that speaks HSDPA and/or WCDMA on 2100mHz. (More details here.) You also need a SIM that knows how to talk to Korean networks.

You could use a world SIM. With most of them, the per-minute rates will give you a nosebleed. I've spent way too much time researching them and still I may have missed the best deal, but as of this writing (mid-2015) the most reasonable combination of rates and terms I've found come from Go-Sim. Most Korean calls through them are 45 US cents per minute, which isn't much more than some Korean prepaid accounts cost. (With Korean mobile accounts, though, incoming calls are usually free.)

The main annoyance with Go-Sim is that it's a callback setup. You have to key in a code, then the number you want to talk to, and then wait for the phone to ring back.

The other way to SIM up is to decide resistance is futile, become an SK, KT (Olleh), or LG customer, and get a Korean SIM card or even a Korean phone. That's probably going to be cheaper and maybe even easier in the long run. However, it may involve frequent meetings between your face and palm while you're trying to get things set up.

Before you wander off this page, one thing more. See that loudspeaker at the photo's lower right? It was blasting Korean rock when I shot this photo. You'll see a lot of that. Stores and street vendors play music and even hire dancers to attract customers. Noise laws? What noise laws? If this kind of daily racket makes you crazy, a Korean city probably isn't the place for you.

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