Postal Addresses in Korea
The most difficult question we can ever be asked by an applicant to the program is: 'What exactly is the address of my school or housing?'
If only it was as simple as in New Zealand! Most times our company staff ask an employer to be very specific about the location, as the teacher needs this information for visa purposes, so the employer faxes us a lovely little map (usually in Korean) and there will be a cross or mark on the map identifying the location. This would be great is we were a carrier pigeon making a delivery, but not all that helpful to a foreigner keen to have a specific answer.
In Korea addresses seems to exist in name only. Over most of Korea, there are almost no signs labeling of street names, in fact, most streets do not have names at all. Nor do houses have numbers on the outside, though every house does in fact have an official number. Unfortunately, even these 'secret numbers' mean little - numbers are assigned to houses when they are built, so house No 27 could be next to house No 324, and so on.
Even Koreans find it close to impossible to locate an address. Pity the poor postal workers who must actually track down these buildings! On the other hand, the system (or lack of a system) provides a form of job security for letter carriers - no-one dares to fire them since only they can interpret the otherwise meaningless addresses which appear on envelopes.
Many times local government offices have looked at he possibility of developing a 'user friendly' system, but generally this eventually gets put in the 'too hard' basket, and ignored for another year. In the mean time the city grows bigger and the problem escalates.
In the meantime, there is a skeletal addressing system of sorts and it helps if you learn it.
A province is a do (city/province links).
Thus we have Kangwon-do, Kyonggi-do, etc..
Buk means 'north' and nom means 'south'.
There are a few provinces where knowing this is useful - Chollabuk-do is ?Cholla North Province? and Chollanam-do is ?Cholla South Province?.
Provinces are subdivided into counties, or gun.
For example, Ch?unch?on-gun.
A ri is a small village.
Thus, we can have an address like this: 366 Kangch?on-ri, Namsan-myon, Ch'unch'on-gun, Kangwon-do.
It gets a lot more complicated in cities.
A gu is an urban district, only found in large cities.
Usually the population of a gu will be approximately half a million people. Seoul city has officially 22 local districts or gu?s (Seoul links).
A dong is a neighbourhood smaller than a gu.
Sometimes there will even be smaller dongs inside a bigger dong!!! Seoul presently has 22 gu and 494 dong.
Thus, an address like 104 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, means building No 104 in the Itaewon neighbourhood of the Yongsan district. However, you could wander around Itaewon for hours in search of this building with no hope of finding it, even with the help of a Korean friend. This is the time to make a phone call to the place you are looking for and get instructions; or find a local police box; tourist information booth; or - best of all - a fax machine. Organising to attend business meetings in Seoul, or trying to find the school as described by a director, can be a daunting feat.
The word for a large street or boulevard is no or ro.
So Chongno means Chong St.
Large boulevards are divided into sections called ga.
Thus, you'll see on the Seoul subway map that there is a station for Ulchiro 3-ga and Ulchiro 4-ga - these are just different sections of Ulchi St.
A gil is a smaller street than a no or ro.
Sambong-gil is one such example.
When trying to find a place it is a good idea to ask the following types of questions:
Also, many larger buildings have names and knowing the name will often prove more useful than knowing the address.
- Which subway is closest?
- Which exit do I come out? (There can be 15 exits in subway stations!)
- Which direction do I walk?
- What shape or color is the building?
- Is it near a prominent feature? (eg. local Mc Donald's)
It is only when you have all these simple instructions gained from asking these question that you can actually locate the place you are looking for. Koreans are excellent at giving verbal instructions, perhaps because they have to do it so often!
You might speculate, as to how or why Koreans ever came up with such a chaotic system for addressing houses. The simple answer is that the Koreans borrowed the system from Japan during the colonial era. Given the fact that the Koreans are not generally fond of the Japanese, one also has to wonder why they would want to borrow such a dysfunctional system from there former colonial masters.
Most schools and academies will just provide a simple address for us. Usually the Gu and the dong.
This usually is seen as sufficient for the address on the contract. Later when a person arrives into Korea they will learn the secret numbering of the buildings and be able to arrange for postal 'Red Cross' parcels from mum and dad!
It is a good idea to arrange for major deliveries to be made to your school address rather than your dwelling. We are aware of a number of incidents where the parcel to be delivered did not get past the janitor who supervises the apartment building. I recall vividly the day I saw books from the Otago university placed in the recycle boxes at the door to my huge apartment building. This did seem to coincide with us never receiving the books as requested from Otago University. The coincidence of someone else in our apartment building requesting information frm my hometown university was I would imagine, a million to one.
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Blind begger on subway