Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One more for 2008

With 2008 rapidly drawing to a close, I thought it appropriate to fire off one more post for good measure. I've been celebrating the end of the year on and off, and packing up my things.

Heather, Anthony and I recently went out to the El Oro restaurant at Seongjeong beach. Seongjeong is a more secluded beach in Busan and tends to be more pleasant during the busy summer months. The food at El Oro was fairly good, although overpriced for what was on offer. The Kitchen at Dalmaji is still the best restaurant in Busan in my humble opinion.

But the view was nice. On the 12th of December, the moon was at it closest point to Earth since March '93. It reminded me of my first year at university, because I took an astronomy course as one of the optionals. We had pretty nice telescopes back then with computerised GPS systems and built-in motors. All you had to do was enter in a constellation or planet, and the telescope would swivel and find it by itself.
If you have a big enough live image of the moon from Earth, you can see that the edges are constantly shimmering. This is caused by gaseous turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere and is pretty interesting to observe.

Heather's family took us out to a traditional Korean dinner to celebrate our engagement. Ji-Ye was there of course. Up until this point, I've been spelling her name as Ji-Ae, but found out that it should be Ji-Ye.

I think her full time job is sitting around and being cute.

We had a set dinner with some Korean alcohol. One thing I hadn't had before were some little rice paper wraps that are similar to Vietnamese cold rolls. Quite good.

And here's her four month old younger sister, Ji-Woo. Ji-Woo is a very quiet baby, in stark contrast to her older sister who is usually bouncing off the walls.

Ji-Ye is learning how to write at her daycare centre. I wrote some English down for her, but unfortunately she hasn't quite grasped the idea that the pencil strokes form the words that you want to say.

Here's the video to show you what I mean. She'll be happily reciting sentences as she writes, but is just making random strokes on the paper. Earlier I did the same, and told her that my writing says "Ji-Ye is a frog."

At the end of this video she pretends to write "Cousin Lee is a monkey!"

For my final two weeks of working for CDI, I was sent off to Changwon City to fill in for two instructors who went to Canada to get married. Changwon is a small city approximately 45 minutes from Busan.

The city itself is quite nice and has an interesting story. It was built as a planned city, with Australia's Canberra as the inspiration. There's a large circular roadway in the centre of the city, just like in Canberra.
It was built up to serve as South Korea's emergency capital city, if North Korea was ever to take over Seoul. Some of the main roads like this one have been made much larger than necessary and very long. I was told that this was so that they could be used as military airplane runways if needed. Trippy stuff.

The building that CDI is in has a lot of other hagwons (cram schools) with it. I call this hallway Hagwon Alley. Pretty much every business on it is a private school for music, math or English.

Jef and Amanda hosted a christmas dinner and invited around 20 English teachers. I always like to take photos of the carnage and feel lucky that it wasn't held at my place.

We also went out for dinner with headquarters, which is where I've been working for the past few months. This is from a tent in Millak, where they have lots of fresh scallops to barbecue. You chop them up in the shell and dip them in soy or chilli sauce. Delicious.

And I've also been packing up to move. Lots of my stuff I'm leaving or giving away, so I've been trying to sort through everything. Sorting through stuff generally takes me a lot of time, because I'll always find something from 'way back when', and that will often distract me from the task at hand.
For example, I found an old loyalty card from a hairdresser, with only two stamps left on it. So I went off to get a haircut in the afternoon. One more stamp and I've earned myself a free haircut. Woohoo!

See that roll in front of my laptop? That's what Anthony made, after spending the morning walking around to find ingredients. I was enjoying a sleep-in today, when Anthony suddenly yelled "DANCE PARTY!" from the lounge room and played techno music. Then he came in and opened my curtains. That's the kind of thing that Anthony likes to do.

The roll was made with crusty bread and tasted good. I needed to get up anyway.

In Korea, it is quite common to collect large amounts of change. I think the monetary system is different to back home, because I always seem to have more than enough change lying around and not enough opportunities to use it. I decided to start collecting it a while back and this is how much I accumulated.

I took it down to the local bank where they have this rather cool gadget. You pour coins into the hole and it will sort them all out for you, spitting out the coins that are mangled or those from another country. Ten minutes later I had KRW124,870 converted (about AU$125). The lady and gentlemen in line behind me thought it was rather amusing.

I think it would be a fun challenge to build a machine like this in the garage. I'll save that for when I retire.

Speaking of money, Heather and I have started investing our savings in shares. Nothing too serious. We've bought stock in our school, as well as CDI Seoul and POSCO (Korean steel). Everything has climbed fairly well. We don't pretend to know anything about the stock market but the basics, so I guess they were lucky choices. We bought this stock when it was at the second low point on the graph, where I'm pointing, at KRW14,100 per share. So we're fairly happy about that and have sold KRW500,000 worth of it already. We also have half of our savings sitting in a long term deposit plan with Shinhan bank. If you've got money sitting around, maybe you should think about doing something with it?

I'm off to Seoul in 2 days and will keep you updated a little while after I arrive. These are interesting times.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Cardiology Conference and a Hike in the Mountains

Things are starting to get a little busy as I wrap up for the big move. But the apartment has been noticeably quieter since John departed for Canada. I find myself filling the solitude by watching more Korean TV and blogging more often.

Once you get used to living with someone for a while, it's kinda weird when they're gone all of a sudden. But then you get used to living alone and then the reverse becomes true. Life is all about getting used to stuff.

Recently at headquarters, Ms Jeong asked me to put together a science project for the April English Intensives program. It had to be based around one of Newton's three laws of motion and be able to fit into a 45 minute class. My first idea was for the students to build and explain a Newton's Cradle, using cheap equipment. So we went to the nearby fishing store and bought fishing line and weights. I hooked it up to a cardboard box.
Unfortunately though, the fishing weights weren't heavy enough to induce an elastic collision. When the end one was dropped, it just hit the ones in the middle and sat there. Hmmm.

So we tried with some larger christmas decorations we had. Not quite as good either. The problem lies in the fact that the collisions are absorbed unevenly if the weights are of low quality.

I therefore concluded that to make a decent Newton's Cradle with household materials, one first needs to obtain weights of sufficient mass and density.

We're ordering some.

Anthony's uncle, Thach Nguyen, arrived in Busan last weekend for the annual conference on Cardial Vascularisation at the Lotte Hotel. Dr Nguyen is a leading cardiologist and an editor of two cardiology journals. He's also an honorary professor of medicine from the Capital University of Beijing and Director of Cardiology at St Mary's hospital in Indiana.

He invited us to the conference, although we knew almost nothing about cardiology. On the way to the venue, I was trying to remember the difference between an aorta and a ventricle.

But the main reason we went was for Anthony to see his uncle and also to enjoy a nice free dinner. The talks were on open-heart surgery and some of it was fairly interesting. These days they have infrared fibre optic cameras that they use to search for lesions in your arteries. What will they think of next?

I sat next to a surgeon from Daegu who was pretty interesting. He described heart surgery as being 'very stressful'.

One thing I couldn't help noticing was the affinity that the attendees had for butter. Don't they know that the stuff clogs your arteries?

I guess even cardiologists have to live it up, once in a while.

We were even invited back the following day. Here's Anthony on the cellphone talking to the new Busanjin teachers, Jenny and Brian, while enjoying the view from level 42 of the Lotte Hotel. We were waiting for Anthony's uncle to arrive, but later found out that we were in the wrong room.

For lunch we had a Bento box, which are actually called dosirak in Korea. It was quite nice. I feel like making a quip about the saying "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

But I shall refrain.

Dr Nguyen also gave me a copy of his book: the Practical Handbook of Advanced Interventional Cardiology. It has some interesting chapter titles like Exotic Complex Interventions for the Urban Weekend Warrior.
Luckily I still remember how to do CPR from my Boy Scout days, because there's no mention of it in here.

There's Anthony's uncle, sitting on the panel while listening to the various speeches. There were doctors from Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Japan and the US. The most interesting case study won a US$1000 cheque. From time to time, Anthony's uncle would ask the speakers a question that they couldn't answer, and then tell them the answer. When you're able to do that to leading medical surgeons, you know you're good.

Then we were invited to dinner. Fortunately, English being the language of international communication, we were able to understand all of the small talk.

We ate at Madang House and had Korean beef of particularly good quality. If you aren't paying, you can get an estimate of price in Korean restaurants by the amount of 'service' (the Konglish word for freebies) that the restaurant adds to your table, with no extra charge. Our service came as waves of premium Korean wine, roasted fish and soup.

Here we are at the table. That's Anthony's uncle sitting up, right behind him. The collective experience at the table of thousands of hours of surgical experience was rather humbling.

They were also pretty good at cutting up the barbecue meat.

These are two Busan based surgeons, making soju-bombs for everyone.
Everything in moderation, including moderation.

I've always been a fan of geek humour and in-jokes. Listening intently at the table, we heard a couple of interesting stories. Here's one:

During open heart surgery, the patient will often be awake and able to talk with the doctor. One particular Korean doctor was talking to a Chinese patient in Japanese, which was their only common language. They got along quite well and talked throughout the operation. At the end of the successful surgery, the doctor went out to celebrate while the patient recovered in hospital. However the doctor got so drunk that he was eventually picked up in an ambulance and admitted to the emergency room of the hospital where he worked at. In the morning when he woke up, the first thing he heard in fluent Japanese was "Hey doctor, what are you doing back here?"

The man standing up is Professor Kim, an experienced hospital director who gave us an interesting speech.

Now that I think about it, if I could choose a completely new career path, cardiology would be in the top 10.

The first is still a jet pilot.

The following day, Anthony's uncle went back to Indiana, and I went hiking with Heather and her father. It's been pretty chilly in Korea these days and while waiting at the bus stop I bought these $1 gloves from an ajumma. The writing on it says "Fighting, Korea."
A fairly ingrained Konglish mnemonic here is that the word 'fighting' in English means 'you can do it' or 'come on.' So at sports events and things, you'll hear the crowd yelling "Fighting!", which is supposed to be a supportive cheer, just like 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!' is in Australia. However, there is no letter 'F' in the Korean language, so instead of saying 'fighting' these gloves say 'hwighting', which is supposedly the next best thing.

How did I take this photo with both of my hands in it?

Good question.

We went to hike up Mandeok Mountain, which is behind Heather's house.

I think it has another name, but I'll just call it that.

It was a good 2 hour hike, but toward the top it was getting quite steep. Hikers have installed ropes to aid passage around the large rocks, but it's still pretty scary considering the amount of older people who use them.

Here's what some of the edges look like. I don't think anyone's ever fallen down, but Korean hikers do like to have alcoholic picnics at the tops of mountains here.

It was an interesting climb. I hadn't done this sort of activity since the commando course back at Woodhouse. Hopefully when I go to Seoul, I'll be able to get back into shape again.

6am morning runs around the Seoul campus? We'll see.

A favourite pastime of older Koreans is to hike up a mountain with a friend on the weekend, find a nice little spot and have lunch.

Seems pleasant enough.

Flying overhead every once in a while was this helicopter, warning people about mountain fires via a megaphone. It also played some music.

Here are some picnicking Koreans on various perches at the summit of Mandeok Mountain.

Is 'picnicking' even a word?

Heather's father wisely packed some fruit and hot water. He was also carrying an AM radio with a speaker, so we were able to listen to some classic Korean songs as we hiked.

I enjoyed a hot coffee while enjoying the view. I'm more of a night person, but it was nice to get out in the daytime for a change.

We spent some time enjoying the scenery and then headed home, which was conveniently located at the bottom of the other side of the mountain. Those vertical rocks were once horizontal layers of bedrock. It's funny what a few million years can do.

Have a good Christmas everyone!

See you next time.