The realities of bringing 3 pets to Korea

In general, this blog is to keep up to date with friends and family and give you a glimpse into our new life.  With this particular post we want to share with friends what it was really like to move here with our pets, and help people planning to bring their animals to South Korea.  While planning, we heard so many things that simply were not true.  There are so many forums where people say just awful things about animal care on airlines and in Korea, and the truth is, we’ve had a wonderful time here with our pets.  People have been just lovely, the animals weren’t stressed out, and it didn’t cost a fortune.  There are pet travel companies that were bidding $5,000 to ship the pets door to door and we are so glad that we took the risk and went it alone.

Here’s what we did, how much it cost, and how they are adjusting to life in South Korea:

The Pets:
We have one 46 lb English Springer Spaniel named Remi (friendly), a 10 lb black short haired cat named Clark (aloof), and a 11 lb black long haired cat named Ching (alluring).

Required Paperwork:
Vet visit for vaccines: 3 pets, including wellness check $238.11

Vet visit for USDA paperwork: (Professional Exam + International Health Certificate) x 3 pets $241.31

USDA Authentification of paperwork: 3 pets x $36 $108 

Travel Expenses:
Dog Water Bottle for Kennel in flight: $10

Fare to board with pets to South Korea (total):  $494.26

10 days to board the animals during orientation: $10 a day per pet = $300 (this included food/ litter/ walks)

For a grand total of:  (drum roll please) $1,393.68

To get started, you must get your pet’s Rabies and Boretella vaccines updated 3 months before you plan to leave.   Our animals had two years on their vaccines, but we still had to renew them.   The vet will need to get some forms from the USDA for the final pre-flight visit, so make sure they know you’re taking your pet overseas.

Our recruiter scheduled our flights for us about a week and a half before we left.  Once you have your plane tickets, schedule a trip to the vet within 10 days of your flight.  This is because the USDA certificate is only good for ten days. Our vet insisted on 8 days to cover us in case the plane was rescheduled or our arrival was otherwise delayed, so we wouldn’t miss the window.

We also had to call each carrier that we were flying on and reserve “tickets” for our pets.  They needed each pet’s name, their weight in the carrier, and the height, width and depth of the carrier.  They said that the cats couldn’t weigh more than 10lbs in the carrier to ride under the seat in front of us, but the cat’s weight was not checked at the airport. We flew on American and Korean Air.  It took 20 minutes to book the pets passage on American.  It took a little longer to book the flight on KA, and Akasha had to call back a few times until she had permission from her supervisor.  This would have stressed her out before, but she had read enough about Korean etiquette to know that it was a formality.

At the airport and on the Plane:

The cat carriers had to be soft sided.  We brought along collapsible camping bowls for feeding in flight, and put absorbent puppy pads in their carrier.  They didn’t use it to go to the bathroom, as intended, but did make a little cave to chill in when we were between flights and people were looking at them.  The vet recommended we bring wet food to keep them hydrated.

They were in the carriers all through the airport, except for security. Luckily we knew this, so we bought kitty collars with id tags and harnesses clipped to a leash to get through security.  Okay, so first you put all of your stuff in the security scanner.  Then take the cat/ small dog out of the carrier and pass the carrier through the x-ray scanner and walk with the cat through the metal detector.  It was fast and easy in Minneapolis.  The TSA at Chicago looked at it for several minutes, and Ching was not enjoying any of the beeping sounds. Akasha was happy Ching had a harness on so she couldn’t get away. Clark clawed through Mike’s favorite University of Minnesota T-shirt in his excitement, but that was the worst of it.

The cats went in their carrier and were placed under the seats in front of us during take off, landing, and meals.  Otherwise they were on our laps, in their carriers, as we petted them.  The vet gave them short acting Valium. (2hrs a pill)  We don’t recommend it.  Clark didn’t like the pill and spit it out, frothing like a freak.  It did chill him out, but wasn’t worth how stressed he got taking it.  Ching liked it too much, if you know what I mean.  She was rolling and rubbing against EVERYTHING.  Gross.   When it wore off we didn’t give them more and they were fine the entire flight.  The flight attendants loved the cats, they didn’t make us store them below the seats although they could have.

The Korean Air flight attendants were super kind.  They actually helped choose a seat mate for our aisle who didn’t mind traveling with cats.  They also let us take the cats to the bathroom to stretch their legs a few times during the flight.

The dog traveled under the plane.  His carrier had to be hard-sided, with a door that was secure, but could be opened and have a water bottle mounted in it.  We sent him with his dog bed, a puppy pad, his favorite stuffed duck, and a t-shirt that smelled like me.  We were able to visit him between each flight.  Chicago even had a pet exercise area for us to relax together.   

In our carry-on we brought dry kibble for the dog, cat food, leashes for everyone, their travel documents, and  wipes in case we had we had to clean up after an “accident.”  They all chose to hold it for the entire trip.  We did have to show documents at each airport and fill out new paperwork for all three flights.  The cats were given boarding passes on their carriers.  Remi was given a luggage sticker.  It took 1 1/2 hours to check in to each flight, and we had to pay the pet-carriage fee for each leg of the flight separately.  So, get to the airport super early, hope for long layovers, and stay patient.

Everyone on the flights was wonderful to the animals.  Between flights, attendants ran to get Remi and bring him to us.  They helped us get through immigration quickly so he could go to the bathroom.  They asked if the cats were comfortable on the flight.  Really, people went out of their way to help us.

We got to our hotel in Gwangju late in the evening, 36 hours after leaving Minneapolis.  The hotel let us keep the animals in our room for one night, but our recruiter scheduled a boarder to care for the pets during the 10 day long orientation. The boarder ran a pet shop/ groomer in Gwangju on the Gwanju Kong.  She was wonderful.  She charged us $10 a day per animal, fed them good food (Nutra, same as home) and gave them lots of attention.  We visited every night after orientation and walked Remi.  He was happy to see us every day, but greeted her like an old friend when we returned to the shop.  He was always happy to see her. She gave the cats a two-tiered kitty condo for their stay.  We would sit and pet them until they returned to the condo on their own.  Our animals were always treated very well.

Daily Life Now.

Our daily life, with regards to the animals, is about the same as back home.  We wake up early to walk the dog before work.  He gets walked after work and another bathroom break before bed. Some days he has longer walks, other days he has shorter walks.  It’s slightly less convenient to take him down an elevator nine stories for his constitutional, but I like to think he’d do the same for me, if it came to that. It rains a lot in the summer so we bring a towel on rainy days to clean his paws before getting into the elevator.

Pet supplies are more expensive.  A litter box is $26, a bag of litter is about $15 depending on the quality, cat food is $24 and a bag of store brand dog food is $10, nutra/ science diet $17.  You can find a variety of familiar brands like tidy cat, science diet, purina, as well as Korean products.  Pet products are in all the markets, with a greater variety in the local pet stores. We can’t find any beds, kennels, or accessories for the dog as Remi is 4 times the size of most of the dogs here.  We haven’t found a groomer that has supplies for him.  We didn’t bring his razor, so we had to buy one here.  If your dog is medium to large sized, bring your own razor, bed, kennel, and toys for a year or have a friend ship them.

One cultural note:

Koreans don’t often keep cats in their homes.  Our Korean visitors haven’t been comfortable around the cats, especially since ours are black.  They think they will get scratched…

Most people are great about our dog.  They tell us that he is big (kan), cute (ipo), or kind (chakan.)  Young women (12-25) scream, shriek, and make other melo-dramatic expressions for negative attention.  As soon as we smile, say “hello” and “kind dog” they cut it out.  It was annoying at first. Once we realized that teenage girls everywhere are annoying it stopped being so annoying.

Old ladies (ajuma) take a special liking to Remi. They call us over and pet him eagerly, saying ipo-ipo (cute, cute). Remi loves the attention and is always sweet as pie whether it’s a little kid poking at him or an older lady giving him a good rub. We’re lucky to have him, as he’s a good match for Korea.

That’s about it.  Life is good, the pets are happy, we are happy. We would have been miserable without them.

Update: As of December 1st regulations are changing.  Here’s a summary from Kore4expats including the Korean Quarantine Office website.

Update #2: We brought the animals back to MN.  It was as easy as pie. Our vet gave us a form that said the animals are healthy and up to date on their vaccinations.  A friend  drove us to the airport (with 2 friends and their dog- 5 adults, 2 medium sized dogs, and 2 cats for 4 hours in 1 van.) At the airport we went to the Quarantine and Declaration Office,  just below the big pagoda, and showed the documents to the agent.  They stamped the documents and sent all of us (animals included) to check-in.  At check-in we showed the agent our stamped documents, they inspected the dogs kennels, zip-stripped the kennel doors shut, and took the dogs to the cargo area. We met Remi in Detroit at our layover, brought him out to the pet area to stretch his legs and have a snack, then brought him back to the gate agent for check-in.  When we arrived at MSP he was at baggage waiting for us happy to be home.  It was a painless and pretty simple process.

Update #3

We did it again.  The animals are happily living in Turkey.  You can see how similar the process was on our Turkey blog.

Our first weekend trip

Our weekends have been filled with errands, setting up the house, buying necessities, getting our bearings straight in our neighborhood.  But we have had two little “weekend” trips.

Our first trip was to the mountain top in Mokpo, Yuldul-San.   Thursday, may 5th  was Children’s Day, so Mike and I had the day off.  We walked down the parkway by our place, along the coast line, to the Dalseonggak entrance, about 30 minutes if I wasn’t dilly- dallying. The parkway was active with Children’s Day activities: kids games, snacks, face painting, and live music.  It looked like a lot of fun.     Then we passed the fish market.  There are about 20 restaurants with fish tanks out front.  You place your order, the cook retrieves and prepares your fish. Freshness counts!  We stopped for a snack at a food cart and grabbed some waffles.  Yes, delicous waffles are everywhere here.

We followed the signs to the mountain, in Korean and English, and passed a few exercise stations and vegetable fields.   Along the way we passed  an orphanage and an elementary school.  The elementary school had solar panels on the roof and wind turbines.  So cool. The entrance  to the hiking path had the distance in kilometers and the approximate hiking time, 20 minutes.  It is a  well groomed path, with stairs at the beginning, but very steep.  You are very aware that you are in a city, you can even hear traffic at the top.   There were challenging  parts towards the top where we had to boulder hop and climb the rocks, but no equipment was needed.  In fact, one dad climbed down while carrying his three year old!

As we climbed down some men began calling us over to them.  We stopped by their pagoda and they invited us to join them for Korean BBQ, Samgeyopsal and Soju.  We sat with them for about a half an hour, they were very kind and went out of their way to make conversation with us.  It was an excellent way to spend the day and get an idea of our new city.

That weekend, May 6th,  we went to Hampeyong for the butterfly festival.   Hampeyong is a 40 minute bus ride away. It is a small town with a big main street surrounded by a few housing developments and agricultural land.  It reminded me of New Prague.   We rode in a county bus line, it made two stops and was a very comfortable coach tour bus.  The butterfly festival runs for two weeks and reminded me of a county fair without the FFA or 4H. (boo)

There is a food court that sells regional food like Korean BBQ, red bean cakes, and berry drinking vinegar.  There is a regional

trades pavilion where we sampled local honeys, teas, rices, makkoli (like soju) and sweets, saw local textiles and arts, and geeked out.  Like all good fairs it had a midway, but this midway was at the base of a hill, so they planted flowers in the shape of a butterfly on the hill as a backdrop.  Very romantic.

There was a traditional arts and crafts area that was kinda cool.  They had local artiseans and vendors selling traditional products.  They also had a cool place where kids could make and play.

Kids were playing a hoop and stick racing game, a stick -toss, lawn darts style game, throwing pots on a wheel, and making cool paper boxes.

One of the most surprising things I saw was the celebration of insects.  There were insect sculptures every where, horned beetles, grasshoppers, mantis’ etc.  There was an area teaching kids about the 4 stages of Horned beetle development where you could play with the larve.  It was a beetle love fest!  Don’t get me wrong, not everyone was into it; there were plenty of 20 something women shrieking at the beetles.  But kids were walking around with cages carrrying their new horned beetles home (like goldfish, ‘cept beetlier.)

I can’t express how cool it was.  There were tons of flowers everywhere,  poppies, rape flower (canola), azelias, marigolds, flowering trees, while it was still brisk in MN.  There was so much new food and stuff that I’m still figuring out.  Oh, and there were super cool swan shaped paddle boats in a little lake.  We were there for 3 hours and I don’t think that we saw half of it.  I would totally consider going again next year.

It may not be as exciting and hip as the Formula 1 race track in town, but we geeked out on it.

P.S.  Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone!  Be safe and have some BBQ for us.  Korean BBQ is delicious, but we miss American BBQ.

Welcome to our home!

Hey folks,

We left Minnesota a month ago today so to celebrate a month in SK we are posting a tour of our home.  We are settling in, it is quite comfortable and the neighborhood is a good fit.  Like nord-east Minneapolis, but without the Polish touches. We’ll post a video about our neighborhood one day, until then I’ll give you the gist. We live in the northwestern corner of “old Mokpo.”  We are surrounded by a port and shipyard, mountains, and small family markets.  Most vacant lots and open spaces are filled with agriculture.  Women grow canola, sweet peas, bell peppers, red lettuce, and unknown greens.  They then sell them on the sidewalk.   The sidewalks are covered with merchants who sell meat, seafood, produce, clothes, kim chi, plants and accessories right on the sidewalk.  We love this, because the prices are much better than the big markets.  Some of our friends live across town in “new Mokpo,” where are very few sidewalk markets.  The stores there sell mainly western imports (expensive) or knock-offs (still expensive.)  The general atmosphere of “new Mokpo” is more like Uptown.  It is okay for a couple of hours, then I want to come home.

This is the first video that we have edited.  I know it looks choppy, but we spent 3-4 hours fussing with it.  It might be time for film school.  I think it will give you a good idea of our home.  This seems to be a typical “couples” apartment.  Singles get a small efficiency apartment with no living room, and often have only a one burner stove.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy the tour.  Please register with wordpress and subscribe to the blog so you can get notice of future posts sent to your inbox.  It is so nice to read your comments and see that you’ve been by.  It’s just another way to keep in touch.


waygook: foreigner

officetel: small, furnished apartments that are also used as business offices.  Many Koreans live in these small apartments.

Sports Day!

Last Friday was elementary school Sports Day all across Mokpo city. I’m not sure how often the schools have sports day, and I don’t remember anything exactly like it growing up in America. I remember physical fitness test days, which were afternoons on the playground and gym, feeling miserable about being able to do only three or four pullups before falling to the ground in a sobbing mess, but what happens here is nothing like that. The point of sports day isn’t really to find out who’s the fastest, or the strongest – to the best of my deductive ability, the point is to match two arbitrary groups of students against each other in the name of school unity. My (Mike’s) school did it this way:

Assembling on the field

In the morning, all the kindergartners, 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders went out to the field and lined up for a half day of physical activity and healthy competition. They were divided into two teams, the white and the blue, and marched out to the field for opening ceremonies. The national anthem was played over the loudspeakers, then the school song, then a song of memorial. After this, they were led in a pledge I can only assume was for sportsmanship and school spirit. Then, calishtenics. Semi-marshall music was played as the students marched in place, swung their arms, then went through stretches until they were ready for the competition.

Warming up!

I watched most of this from the stands. Seohae’s field has a great astroturf field and seating for a few hundred people, but we’re pretty lucky. Akasha’s school has a dirt field, and she tells me by the time lunch came, they’d eaten too much dirt to be very hungry for food. The stands were mostly empty at nine am, but as the morning went on, parents and other spectators began to fill the stands. A small cart selling ice cream stood not far from the entrance to the cafeteria. The school photographer, also the school’s “computer girl” as my co-teacher calls her, strolled around taking pictures.

First up was the forty meter dash. Easy enough. Then the strangeness and fun began. Students were lined up around the edge of the field, and as I watched, one student was lifted onto the back of each group, and as the other students bent over, she walked on their backs around the edge of the field. It’s something you wouldn’t see in the States due to safety reasons, and this is one of the things I love about Korea – the amount of things that happen that are just plain unsafe.

The "Let's crawl through a tube" Relay.

For the next game, teachers scattered bean bags around the field, then carried out a basket on a pole for each team. At the whistle, a crowd of second graders swarmed the field and started chucking the bean bags at the basket for about 30 seconds; then the whistle blew. The teachers counted back the number of bean bags in each basket, and one team was announced as the winner. Games went on like this all morning – students crawled through tubes, did jumps in hula hoops, and turned somersaults on mattresses. One favorite was the students coming in to a circle four at a time and kicking their shoes into big plastic baskets. Then it all ended with a tug of war. First, the fifth graders.

Tug of War

I was standing next to the school nurse, who speaks some English. I said, Oh, it’s a tug of war. She said Yes it is, then informed me that tug of war was a traditional Korean sport. I nodded politely. The tug of war ended with the parents who had come down to support their children having their own tug of war. This was another thing you wouldn’t see in America – I don’t want to spread malicious stereotypes, but most American parents are either too obese or too competitive for a tug of war to end without a lawsuit and/or death.

2nd, 4th and 6th graders came out for the afternoon session, which had a different set of wacky sports. Somewhere along the line, my students pressured me to join the tug of war. I resisted at first, but being human, I succumbed to peer pressure and ran out to the field and took my position at the end of the rope. I gave all I had, and my team was triumphant! Hurrah! I felt a rush of joy as I returned to my students and gave them all high fives.

A few minutes later, my co-teacher asked me to get my picture with the students, and I agreed. Everyone was happy as I moved down the classes till I got to the white team, where I was met with unhappy frowns. It was then I realized my mistake: I’d gone to pull for the blue team, and my victory for them was seen as a crushing betrayal of the other side. I sat down for pictures with some unhappy fifth graders, which I imagine are of me in a sea of stink-eyes, then went back to class. One other real lesson of Sports day: It’s all in fun, until it isn’t.

Korean gym equipment

I totally thought that our next entry would be about our home, but I am so amazed by Korean exercise that I have to post about it today.

Our first morning walking during orientation, Mike and I discovered a mountain path.  As we climbed we heard a man making loud grunting/screaming sounds.  We kept walking  anyways.

As we reached the plateau we saw the guy doing tai kwon do moves and making the grunting noises.  We also saw tons of exercise equipment.  We passed him, continued hiking and saw several more plateaus with exercise equipment and cool resting pagodas.  When I would try to use unfamiliar equipment, people would come up and demonstrate how to use it.  Each time that we left people would  say good-bye and wave.  So cool.

Now that we are living in Mokpo we see these outdoor gyms everywhere.  In apartment plazas, on parkways, on Yuldul Mountain.  They are so very cool.

There are fun areas to relax along the mountain paths.  Sure, they have benches.  They also have cafes that sell ice cream, snacks, beer, and soju.  They have gondola rides if you want to go up the mountain, stay clean, and not sweat.  They have pagodas where you can grill food, chill out, and relax.  These have shaded roofs with drop down walls to protect you from wind, sun, and rain, and little brooms to tidy up.  I’m loving it.

Some foreigners pay big bucks to join the gym.  I don’t get it.  I think I’ll check out the local yoga studio, but for working out I’ll take the city supported gym.