A Day in the Life . . .

A new series by 1stopKorea focusing on the daily lives and activities of people throughout the peninsula. This isn't the place to find celebrity interviews or talks with the rich and famous - instead our focus in this series will be the average people you encounter during a stay in the republic. Our goal is to make this a weekly column but, since I'm busy as hell, my guess is it'll be more like once a month if we're lucky.


For our first story we've chosen to write about someone many of you may have encountered at one time or another. His name is Song Suk Bom and he is an official with Kimpo Customs. After you pick up your bags and proceed to the last part of the immigration process you hand your customs declaration form to someone like Mr. Song. He's the person who either sends you on your way or pulls you aside to examine what's in your luggage.

1stopKorea: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview. Let's start off first with a little personal background. How long have you worked for Kimpo Customs?

Mr. Song: I've been working here for 21 years. To get the job I had to take a test. The tests are given periodically and recruits are chosen whenever needed.

1stopKorea: Could you describe your work schedule?

Mr. Song: We work two days on and one day off. Our schedule coincides with the airport's schedule. The morning shift starts at 6 am when Kimpo opens and the first flight arrives. It lasts until 2 pm. The afternoon shift begins at 2 and lasts until the last flight comes in at approximately 9:30. Unless there's a delay . . . then we have to stay.

We rotate between both [international] terminals, depending on our schedule. If we work one afternoon at one terminal then we follow the same schedule the next day. After our day off we may switch schedules and/or terminals.

1stopKorea: What type of training does it take, or did it take you, to become a customs official? Once you get the job what kind of ongoing training is there?

Mr. Song: For me it was two months. We sometimes have other training. For languages we have our own educational institute [located in Terminal II right next to the customs area and the location for our interview - ed. note] that provides ongoing training in English and Japanese.

1stopKorea: Sometimes when entering the country I just hand in my customs form and get waved through. Other times I get stopped and have my bags checked. How do you make the decision on who to stop and who to let pass?

Mr. Song: If we receive information about a certain person or flight we inspect more closely. Also if we see someone acting strangely we will pull them aside as well. Your average tourist though usually gets a 'free pass'. [guess I must act strangely sometimes!]

1stopKorea: How do you spend your time at work? What's the focus of Kimpo customs officials these days?

Mr. Song: At work I spend most of my time doing inspections and checking people's customs declaration forms. The most important thing we look for [and try to prevent from entering the country] are firearms. Then drugs. Then too many duty-free items.

Other than that we look for people trying to bring in dutiable items. Items that we need to charge a duty on that people are not declaring.

1stopKorea: How often do you find, or seize, something?

Mr. Song: It's rare to find someone trying to smuggle in firearms or drugs. Far more common are dutiable items. The people at the x-ray machine [when you first come in] will signal us to check someone's bag. Or the customs inspector will decide based on the person.

1stopKorea: Have you ever met anyone famous while working at customs?

Mr. Song: No. They are treated the same - they still have to go through customs but they are usually taken care of by diplomats or the Foreign Ministry.

1stopKorea: Going through customs it seems like some people, or nationalities, are subject to more stringent inspections. Is that true? Do you target certain nationalities?

Mr. Song: People that fit certain models that we're looking for at the time are subject to more inspections but people from most countries are not subject to extra inspections.

1stopKorea: What do you do with items you seize?

Mr. Song: First we seize it and detain it here [at customs]. Then later we pass it along to another government department.

1stopKorea: International marriage, a foreign man married to a Korean woman for example, is becoming increasingly common. I'm sure you see a lot of international couples at Kimpo - how do you feel when you see these couples?

Mr. Song: It is becoming more common. I think it's fine.

1stopKorea: Most of the people reading this site have, or will, experience Kimpo Customs. Is there anything you would like to say to them?

Mr. Song: You don't have to declare personal items, items that you plan on using or wearing yourself. If you declare them it can be confusing - we might think it's a dutiable item, an item you have to declare [because you're going to sell it, etc.]. For example, if you're wearing your watch through customs you don't need to declare it.

Also, we're working our hardest to treat you kindly and get you through customs as quickly as possible. We send most tourists through quickly without any inspection of their luggage in order to make the process as fast as possible. We're doing our best so please don't get angry if it takes time.




Copyright 1999-2003 1stopKorea