Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday is the Korean Friday

As fate would have it, I've spent the 3 Tuesdays prior to yesterday in Seoul. Twice visiting a design institute to discuss an internship related collaboration and once to attend a Cannytrophic East board meeting. In accordance with proper Korean business practice all these trips have resulted in extended deliberations over drinks and me feeling like crap warmed over on Wednesday morning.

The first trip to the design institute involved most of my research group and the head of the lab or division or whatever is above the research group in the company hierarchy. Two hours of powerpoints and discussions in Korean and many wishes for a swift death to release me from the tremendous boredom of powerpoints an discussions in Korean later, we all (researcher + students + prof + myself) head to a nearby Korean restaurant.

By this point, I'm starving and anything that doesn't involve powerpoint sounds like a thrilling plan. I am quickly reminded, though, that Korean restaranteers are all sadists. Instead of being fed, I'm forced to ingest dead sea creatures coated with painful spices... and forced to sit on a hard floor. No matter what you might think, sitting on the floor is not quaint or pleasant in any cultural-experience kind of way. Now this would be unpleasant enough for anyone unaccustomed to sitting on the floor while a multi-course meal drags on, but given my apparent hip deformity that prevents me from sitting Indian style (PC be damned, it's Indian style) it's even worse for me. So I get to spend the 2 hour meal flopping around on the floor trying to find a position that allows me to be close enough to the stupid short table to put food in my mouth with out dropping the slimy crap from the chopsticks on myself and then spit the damned fish bones back out without kicking people and looking like a complete jackass. Let's just say it didn't work out too well. If it weren't for soju, I don't think I'd have made it.

After the meal, things begin to look up as a couple of my colleagues suggest we head to nearby Apgujeong and hit the bars. I am informed that Apgujeong is like heaven. Heaven apparently resembles a high-end shopping/restaurant district and is primarily populated by heavily made-up Korean women in short skirts. Such hopes are dashed, however when the division head suggests we head back to near his house and play billiards instead.

In and of itself, the billiards is actually fairly enjoyable. Instead of normal pool (pocketball), the Koreans mostly play a game w/ 2 red balls and 2 white balls on a table w/ no pockets. One white ball belongs to each player/team and you get a point for hitting both red balls with your white ball in one shot. If your ball hits the other white ball, though, you lose a point. The balls are heavy than regular pool and you have to rely on spins and such a lot more. Pretty interesting.

Or at least it's pretty interesting for a while. Unfortunately, the game I was playing became an epic battle of futility. It took nearly 2 hours to complete (my team ended up winning and I even had a run of points to help put it away). By this point, I was starving from not being able to eat, sober b/c Korean pool halls don't have drinks (really odd, IMO), tired b/c I always am and thoroughly disillusioned with the whole trip to Seoul. Add in a 30 minute bus ride back to Suwon and I'm in a pretty bad mood.

Before I catch a cab to dorm, one of my colleagues asks if I'm hungry and suggests we stop at a chicken and hof. Sure, he's married with two kids and it's 11:30pm on a Tuesday, that doesn't mean he's not up for beer and chicken (or even bother calling his wife, as far as I could tell. +1 Korea). Just like that, the whole night is redeemed.

Last week's trip into Seoul started out much like the first with an unintelligible presentation the design students' first draft of ideas. However, without the formalities or managers (the group leader was traveling and the division head didn't come along), we were able to skip directly to fried chicken and beer after the presentation. Without the group leader, the other guys in the group seem at little more at ease.

J is the youngest and newest group member, which puts him distinctly at the bottom of the pecking order. At restaurants, he's implicitly in charge of calling waiters, passing things out and any other menial tasks (as a foreigner and/or intern, I appear to be exempt from this). Anyway, at the Japanese restaurant, J notices a couple of cute girls at a table nearby and begins not so subtly scooting his chair closer to mine so he can stare at them. So we're sitting shoulder to shoulder and there's like a 3 foot gap between him and the next person and I can't help but laugh. Which earns me a "What you laughing at, man?" and some joke about him 'dancing with my lap' or whatever his mangled interpretation of a lapdance was. He's about 30 minutes from being passed out face-down on the table.

I manage to keep myself together longer than J, despite copious amounts of soju prompted by one of my colleague's friends who met us at the Japanese place. Since we were meeting for the first time, we had to drink a lot. Since the friend, J and I are single, we had to drink a lot. As you might guess, it really doesn't take much for them to justify another round of soju. By the end of round 2, J is done, the friend is in pretty rough shape and I'm holding my own (but not as well as I thought).

My colleague who saved me on the previous trip invites me for round 3 at another place he knows of that's good for catching live rock music. The others being either completely wasted or intent on not getting completely wasted decline to join us. We go to a pretty awesome little music bar. We've pretty much got the place to ourselves and the guitarist at the place basically place a private set. By the time we leave, the 3 rounds of drinking and constant lack of sleep catch up with me and I'm out for the entire cab ride back to Suwon.

That's it. This post is long enough and since it's a blog I don't have to wrap things up nicely.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


During the two weeks I was in Boston after returning from Japan, I realized that I might prefer not understanding people. I was sitting on the subway, minding my own business, when suddenly my thoughts are hijacked by the idiot ramblings of two khaki-wearing jackasses proselytizing their solutions to the economic crisis. "Oh, really? It's that simple? All we have to do is hand over control to some tool who took a semester of business school? Hell, why didn't we do that earlier."

I was painfully reminded of this fact the other weekend when I went exploring bars in Suwon. One thing I don't like about Korea is that it's completely unacceptable to go out by yourself. "Yes, chicken and hof proprietor, I did come by myself. Yes I am going to eat all the fried chicken and drink beer alone. And I'm going to enjoy it. Fine. Hide me away in the corner booth so the other customers don't have to witness the shame of my lonesome dining."

Many of the bars, even those that purport to be Western style, don't actually have a bar. But you can't tell from the outside. It provides the fun of walking in and deciding whether it's more awkward to just turn away from the hostess and walk out again or to drink alone in a booth. The upshot of this, is that it leads foreigners to aggragate at the few bars that cater to our sad and lonely existences. This in turn leads to a high chance of being forced to listen to a flat-brimmed hat wearing jackass from the midwest proselytizing about American politics. "Really? Obama repealed the Declaration of Independence*?"

*not an exageration. Mostly I just nodded through his rambling but I couldn't keep a straight face at this one and had to mention that I'd missed the news that we were back under the Queen's rule.

So, I thought I prefered not understanding people and if this meant that sometimes I order a plate of cold chopped cow head for dinner, so be it. This opinion was altered the other night after an experience on the subway back from Seoul, however.

It's like 9pm or so and I'm standing near one end of a subway car and this old, presumably drunk Korean guy just starts rambling. Loudly and to no one in particular. At first it seems like he's talking to the guy next to him, but that guy, after initially looking at the old dude, begins intensly sutdying the floor to avoid further interaction. The drunk is not deterred. An old woman sits across the way from him and he directs his ranting at her. She lasts almost two stops before getting up and walking to the other end of the car. All other passengers are trying there best to pretend the guy doesn't exist. He continues conversing with everyone.

I am utterly fascinated and totally wish I knew what he was saying. After another stop or so another old and presumably drunk guy shows up and sits where the old lady had been. They are instant best friends. Drunk 2 screams things back at #1, who applauds and gives him a thumbs up. It's totally bizarre.

After about 15 minutes, it is no longer amusing. I hate them. I don't know what they're saying, though it seems to be vaguely offending everyone else. Mostly they're just too damn loud. I consider yelling at them to shut up. I kind of regret doing it. Given the age-respect issues of the Koreans that undoubtably is why the only reason no one else has told them off, I can only imagine the shock and horror that would ensue if a dirty foreigner were to tell some old guys to shut the hell up.

Anyway, lesson is people are annoying everywhere and I really wish my mp3 player wasn't broken so I didn't have to listen to them anymore.

Oh, also I've actually been doing some stuff lately. This might translate to more posts (just in case your life has been unfulfilled lately). Hard to know.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I have been waking up at 7am for 4 weeks now. I'm not sure why it is that my body has accepted this, whereas in the past it would always just refuse to grant me consciousness regardless of how many noise-making devices I set for that explicit purpose. What I am sure of is that it is killing me. Physically, I am getting weaker. Mentally, I am losing the ability to think. Emotionally, I am dead. The only way I can regain any semblance of myself is through chemical stimulation. Coffee will grant me 20 to 60 minutes of lucidity (depending on whether I go buy decent black coffee or just drink the sugary 4 oz. of crap that is provided for free in my office). Beer will also grant my temporary asylum from my purgatory, but it also makes me really tired. I guess I'll just keep going like this. I'm kind of curious if there's some point at which my body will adapt or if I'll just lose all will to live. It could really go either way.

Dorm life has improved. Props to the HR people who fixed things. No more signing in or security looking for us after 11. They even threw in a fridge.

I've decided that I'm a fan of the Korean style bathroom. Rather than bothering w/ a separate shower, they just hook a shower head to the sink (perhaps this is actually the Russian train style bathroom) and put a drain in the floor. At first I wasn't entirely sold. Mostly b/c after you shower the bathroom floor and everything else remains wet for quite a while. If your a fan of the indoor slipper (which are provided in the room) this isn't much of an issue. I'm not a fan of the slipper. What convinced me of the brilliance of the setup was when I was taking a shower in my tired-zombie state and realized that by angling the shower head properly, I could avoid unnecessary effort by sitting on the toilet. Back when I was in Austin, I used to keep a cooler in my shower to sit on (and b/c I didn't have anywhere else to put it). Sitting in the shower is a good idea. I won't accept arguements. Korea bathroom: 1. Standing shower stalls: 0.

Other odds and ends:

Korea has a lot of churches. They all seem to have neon crosses on top. Not sure why this is. I don't recall seeing any churches in Japan. I'm curious as to why Christianity would sell in Korea but not Japan. Anybody? Also, why the neon? Oh, and there are Jehovah's witnesses too.

Sweet potatoes do not belong on pizza. Corn can be used to garnish anything (really, it works alright).

I need to sleep.