Friday, December 17, 2010

Get a US phone number for unlimited sending and receiving texts - US Only

Disclaimer: This process is fraught with communication breakdown, getting multiple services on multiple services working together and is in no way fool proof or 100% reliable. 
I have somehow come up with a way to to combine directions I stumbled upon on and a mobile device such as iPod Touch, iPhone or Android to obtain a US phone number and send, receive and make calls for free. This is a bit of a complicated process, combining a proxy, SipGate, Google Voice, the Google Voice app on iPhone and Android and Fring. While I am an Android user and advocate, this post will focus on the iPod Touch and iPhone due to their prevalence among the expat community here in Korea and abroad.
Following the directions linked above to Lifehacker will enable you to obtain a US number from SipGate just for calls to send and receive calls from your computer for free. There is one issue with getting an account with SipGate: they require you to have a US number to for verification purposes only. They will send you a confirmation code essentially to make sure that bots are not signing up for the service. An easy walk around was having them send the confirmation code to my dad's phone and he simply IM'd me the code.
Note: The following no longer seems to be the case.Unfortunately, SipGate is not available outside of the US; in order to get to their site, first download, install and launch HotSpot Shield. Once this is launched and connected, all web traffic generated by your computer will appear as if it were coming from within the US and not South Korea (or any other country for that matter). Once connected, you can sign up for the service. In order to save time, I will not review the steps already posted in the Lifehacker article but please feel free to contact me through the comment board below with any questions as the steps have altered slightly since Lifehacker published the original post.
I will start this guide assuming you have already obtained your US phone number from SipGate and have set up a Google Voice account.

  1. Texting: once you have obtained the number assigned to you by Google Voice, you can now text anyone in the States and they can text you back. There is no charge sending texts to them and they are charged the cost of a domestic text. In other words, if they have an unlimited texting plan, they will be able to text you under that plan.
  2. Phone Calls: you will be able to make calls for free as long as you have the SipGate client open on your computer. Folks in the States will be able to call you at your Google Voice number and it will be forwarded to the SipGate client on your computer. 
So this is great, right? What could possibly make this better? How about this functionality on your mobile device? If you have a mobile device, simply download the Google Voice app for iPod/iPhone and you can take the texting functionality with you wherever you have an internet connection. But what about the voice?

So essentially, at this point, Google Voice will handle all outgoing calls, outgoing texts and incoming texts. What about incoming calls?

Enter Fring. Fring essentially replaces the need for the SipGate client on your computer and moves it over to your mobile device. Essentially Fring has nothing to do with the texting features of this project nor making calls. Fring simply lets you receive calls made to your Google Voice number for free on a mobile device. 
To set up Fring:
  1. Download Fring here
  2. Once the application is launched, choose a Fring user ID and password. These credentials are only for logging into Fring. 
  3. Once logged in, go to the settings menu and select Add-ons. After being presented with the accounts you can link to Fring, select "Sip". 
  4. To link Fring to SipGate, Go to your SipGate Account page and click on the SIP credentials link. There you will find the information you need to enter into Fring. Enter in the unique SIP-ID and SIP-Password and for the proxy into Fring. Click login. 

You should now be able to receive calls on your mobile device if someone in the States calls your Google Voice Number. 

This is scattered and is a very complicated project to replace Skype, which serves the same functions much more simply but at a price. I hope this will put you on the right track and will help you get in better touch with friends and loved ones back in the Sates.

*Note: this process may in fact work for Canadian users as Google Voice is available in Canada but I have no contacts in Canada and cannot verify that it works.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hanukkah in Korea

Hanukkah had never meant much to me when I was younger. I thought it was the pretext to Christmas and that the candles were meant as a decorative way to bring in the holiday season. Every year, dad would say the prayer in Hebrew, my brother and I would both be holding the shamas, lighting the candles. My mom would be standing with us at the table. Hanukkah to me was always identified as dad's holiday, and Christmas as mom's. Judaism is very matriarchal in nature, but there was something special about the three men of the family lighting the candles together, uttering ancient words of which I had no understanding.
As time progressed, I understood the story and meaning of Hanukkah a little more; or maybe I should say that I developed my own meaning. Hanukkah is not a major holiday (though it is practiced as such in the States). But the simple act of lighting candles in the dark is a silent testament to existence, to being. It is the speck in the universe declaring that it exists, however illuminating. While some with a pessimistic existential bent may celebrate the banality of such a statement, I celebrate the gravity of it. Nothing has changed in the last few thousand years. We may now have smart phones, email, hectic schedules and everything and everyone vying for our time, but this is no different than it ever was. More often than not, people forget to reflect. As an aside, one of the most meaningful moments of recognizing the Sabbath is to look at one's hands, think about what they have accomplished and what they will accomplish. I believe this is symbolic of the illumination, the declaration of survival, of community, of self-motivated purpose.
Hanukkah never meant that much to me. Until I began to celebrate it alone.
Hanukkah, or any holiday for that matter, never makes a whole lot of sense when celebrating it alone. In college, I had a couple Jewish friends and we would celebrate. But I think we celebrated the commonality of being Jewish (and the fact that we had beer in our possession) more than the spirit of Hanukkah. Or maybe that is the spirit of Hanukkah. I'm not too certain, but it felt right at the time.
After college, I spent my first Hanukkah truly away from home in the Philippines. My first Hanukkah there, I made a menorah out of tin foil and catholic prayer candles (procured by my host mom) and I celebrated with my two younger host sisters whom had never heard of the holiday nor Judaism. They seemed to enjoy the same aspects I did when I was younger, candles are pretty in a dark room after all. I was glad to share the holiday with people but there was still something missing. Later I realized it was intent. I hadn't intended a purpose for the ceremony, just going through the motions.
I decided I would ask my grandma for a real menorah, one of my own and the centerpiece around which I pictured myself building community.
My dad came to visit by the eighth night of Hanukkah during my service in the Philippines.

This was my second Hanukkah away from home but as fortune would have it, home came to me. And to think this is what "broke in" the menorah from my Grandma. This would be the foundation of the community, passing on the baton or, shamas, if you will. We led the prayer together, accompanied by my host mom standing in the background. It felt similar to those days of my childhood, mom joining in silent support of the ceremony of the men.
Emek, IDF Officer
After I got home form Peace Corps, I had the opportunity to go on birthright to Israel for two marvelous weeks. I had learned and experienced a lot there. I think the most important lesson came from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). An IDF officer told my group that the purpose of the IDF is not to defend Israel but the nation of Judaism, including us in the US. Indeed, the IDF is responsible for rescuing persecuted Jews in Africa, Yemen and Argentina. If an officer in the IDF can dedicate his life and career (as he was serving beyond the term of conscription) to the support and sustenance of a community he had never met, never will meet but is persistant in inspiring his decision, I could invite that same community around my menorah.
By the time I got back from Israel, I knew, more or less, that I was going to Korea.
After I arrived, my dad sent me a box and inside were the menorah from my grandma, proper candles and a dreidel. These were novelties and I keep my menorah proudly on display in my apartment. It looks nicer now that it has wax all the way down it's base.
Hanukkah this year was very personal, in that I was the only person celebrating in my small Korean town. With a menorah used by both my father and I and lessons learned from Emek, the officer in the IDF, I was not truly alone.
Holidays never make much sense when celebrated alone. But my Hanukkah is now about community, not people around the menorah. My Hanukkah is about the speck declaring its existence in the face of an ambivalent universe, surrounding myself with those I love, those I care about, those I have never met and those I never will meet, Jews and gentiles alike.
My Hanukkah required a little improvisation for food.
Seeing as there is no gefilte fish in Yecheon, or most likely in Korea, I substituted with Swedish Fish, sent by my dad. As for the latkes? A can of Pringles sufficed, though I do miss Bubby's latkes with applesauce.
My menorah from my Grandma, a dreidel from my dad and a kipa I bought in the old city of Korea

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's Getting Cold

It is currently 29 degrees as I type this...
I woke up this morning, jumped in the shower, made coffee, caught up on Twitter and left the house in a hurry, just like any other morning. But this morning was different. This is what I first saw as I walked through my door:

Snow-capped veggie mounds
I stood in disbelief, jogging my memory trying to remember what this white stuff was. It's been about three years since I have experienced a winter, bouncing around the world (and between hemispheres), working with the Peace Corps in the Philippines and moving to Phoenix after my Peace Corps service. But winter seems to be making up for lost time and is creeping here in Yecheon with a vengeance. I somehow must have spited the winter gods and, as the Spanish proverb goes, revenge is a dish best served cold.
I keep telling myself that I'll get used to the season, having lived in Minnesota for 8 years but my "snow legs" just aren't what they used to be. But the living situation here in Korea is a little different than the islands and pockets of warmth one finds throughout Minneapolis and Saint Cloud.
Let's start with my apartment, heated by hot water pipes running through the floor. Convection floor heating is common throughout the living quarters in Korea. It is awesome and I have noticed vast improvements with my hot-air-related sinus issues. There is a small digital control center with which I dial in the desired temperature and the apartment is gradually heated and my feet stay nice and toasty.
Leaving the apartment is a completely different ball game. Indoor spaces, most of all public spaces, are generally not heated save an electric space heater. People huddle over the heaters, vying for any available space around it at bus stations, train stations and some restaurants.
The teachers' office at my school is heated by two massive electric heaters and the office stays quite warm. Leaving the office is a completely different story, however. The hallways remain quite cold and, more often than not, the windows in the hallways remain open for some inexplicable reason. Students wear full winter garb around school and in the classroom, doing their best to stay warm throughout the school day. In the language lab, we have a large heater such as the one in the teachers' office pictured to the right, that students encircle as if in a rugby huddle before class begins. But there is no place where heat has been more necessary that in the bathroom. The school bathroom is in a separated building with a sliding door and windows which have for the most part remained open, which I suppose is a mixed blessing. With icicle fairies dancing in my head and my bladder filling with the morning coffee, I was waging costs/benefits of racing out to the bathroom. But to my surprise, there was a space heater next to my favorite urinal and the windows had been shut! I just hope this situation stays consistant until I once again can sport shorts and flip flops.
And for your smug pleasure (if you happen to be in warmer climes), a photo taken this morning of a bush and statue just outside of the teachers office in which I am currently sitting.