Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Just a quick update to let you all know that the wedding went very well. There were some minor hitches, but in the end it turned out much better than expected. Lots of people helped us out and it was a very special occasion for us.
We've since been to Hong Kong and Macau, which were fantastic. Yesterday we arrived in Australia and were picked up at the airport by our good friend Chi-Hong, who has kindly let us stay at his family's house. We're here until Sunday and then heading back to Korea.

The new wife is doing very well, and it's fun showing her around good ol' Adelaide.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Last Post before the Big Day

As you may remember, Heather and I are getting married this Saturday the 19th. The preparations are well advanced and there are just a few more things to organise. The final factor will be the weather, because if it rains, we'll have to move it all indoors. Right now the forecast is good and so I hope it holds up.

In the meantime though, I believe there is still a little room for some unmarried childishness before the deadline. Dad, Chris, Heather and I ate at a Fuku restaurant in Busan last week and found seemingly endless entertainment in the name 'Fuku' on the menu. Fuku can be pronounced in a few different ways, and a 'Fuku Salad' sounds like something that Van Damme would order in a villain's restaurant.

Fuku is, of course, the Japanese word for pufferfish. They're known for their deadly neurotoxin which can kill a person in a matter of minutes if not prepared correctly. You'll know if you're poisoned because it will leave a distinctive tingling sensation on your lips, apparently.

Here's Dad and Chris after a good night's sleep. They seem to be enjoying Busan more than Seoul, which is probably because the environment here is more relaxed and closer to nature. That was the original reason that I chose to live in Busan in the first place.

This is what fried fuku looks like. Koreans would normally call this dish agujjim, and it's normally a little too spicy for me. This one was good though.

And to end the post this week somewhat politically incorrectly, here is the 'Women's Parking Lot' at the hotel where Dad and Chris are staying in Busan. I'm not sure why it's apparently segregated here at all, and I also saw men parking in here. But it's a befitting example of the low level of bewilderment that permeates the lives of many foreigners living in, and enjoying Korea.

And to you, the reader, that's all from me for the time being. After we get married, we'll be heading to Hong Kong, Macau and Australia for a 2 week honeymoon. There will no doubt be a short interlude while we are enjoying ourselves, but I'll be back to share photos with you. In the meantime, you may want to browse the archives or have a look through some of the other K-blogs in the list on the right. Until next time, I wish you well and we'll hopefully be enjoying ourselves also.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dad and Chris arrive in Korea

Dad and Chris arrived from Australia last Monday for the wedding. It's nice having them here, although it seemed a bit surreal at first. Thoughts of Dad and Chris are usually a part of the 'distant memories of Australia' part of my brain, while life in Korea resides in my 'recent documents' folder.

Worlds are colliding!

Here's Dad on the left and Chris on the right, in the busy Seoul subway. It's funny to watch them deal with the oddities of Korea, such as jostling on the metro, with typical Farrand Nonchalance™.
Dad in particular is an unsurprisable type of person. If you showed him a pink llama juggling chainsaws, he would just say "Right, okay. That's interesting."

I took them down to Busan on Friday where they met Heather for the first time. They said that she is 'a very good choice'.

Heather's family took us out to eat at a traditional Korean restaurant which was nice. Although her parents don't speak English, we got by well enough. In Korea, the meeting of the in-laws is regarded as a monumental event. I explained this to Dad and Chris and they were very well behaved. For example, Dad refrained from licking the sauce off the plates.

We went for a walk around Nurimaru, which is the site of the APEC building. It's one of the most popular attractions in Busan and there are good views of the ocean.

This weekend we're getting married in Busan, and the location is right on top of that little hill on the distant right. I hope to squeeze in one more blog post before going on hiatus, but will no doubt be back with plenty of news to share with you all.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Daily Grind

Lab experiments are fickle creatures. They are similar to cooking recipes in the fact that you have ingredients and instructions. But the similarities stop there. In cooking, if you make a small error, things usually turn out okay. Add a bit more salt, mix in a bit of mince meat and a questionable Neapolitana becomes your average Bolognaise. Lab experiments are not so forgiving. They're demonically vengeful and benignly indifferent to the desires of the humble and ill-prepared scientist. If something small goes wrong, expect the scientific equivalent of Akuma's Instant Hell Murder.

These days I'm trying to perform extractions from rice leaves. This involves grinding each individual leaf with a sterile mortar and pestle. The process takes around 8 hours per day and must be repeated, with the results plotted on a graph. I wouldn't normally mind such hard work if the fruits of labour were justly rewarded. But scientific inquiry has other plans for me, it seems.
My graph looks more like a car crash than a nice bell-curve and it only seems to be getting worse. There are a lot of variables involved, and I have a good idea of why things are going wrong. But the problem is that I won't be able to repeat the experiment until summer next year when the rice flowers bloom again. So if you happen to be in the fields of Suwon next summer, expect to see my ecstatic face, repeating all of the work I've been doing for the past 3 months. This is the reality of academic science these days. Long gone are the times when one added a viscous green liquid to a frothy blue one, and behold! Out popped a white rabbit.

Mmm, maybe I'm getting confused with a magic show.

But there is a bar near my dorm. And in this bar, beer flows freely, snacks are sold cheaply and grad students discuss their woes. Oft times I will trek this way with my trusty sidekick and fellow unlucky scientist, Chen Jing, and we attempt to drown our sorrows in fatty pork ribs and cold $4 per litre draft.

Beer is not the solution, but it helps you to admire the problem.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Zen Hideaway

Much of Korea looks the same. If you blindfolded me, spun me around enough times, hit me over the head with an iron bar and dropped me off at a random location, it would take me a long time to work out where I was. And not just because of the head trauma. The main reason is that much of Korea consists of what I like to call 'repeating units of suburbia'. To produce one of these repeating units, one needs a good amount of identical apartment blocks, three hagwons, a dash of Family Marts, a sprinkling of noraebangs and a garnish of kimbap cheonguks.

However, contrary to my sweeping generalisations, there do exist a number of rule-breakers. One of these is Gangnam, which looks like what I imagine New York looks like. Another is the more affluent district of Apgujeong, in central Seoul. Apgujeong is full of upmarket shopping and al fresco dining. Last week we popped over there with Kish, who was here for a visit from Dubai.
We ate at the Zen Hideaway, which is a Thai restaurant about 2 kilometres from the subway station.

Why did we walk so far in order to dine on Thai food, when one can so easily buy cheap and unsatisfying Thai food from our local Pattaya? Well, because this Thai food was rumoured to be somewhat extraordinary. And it was.
The restaurant is built around a centrepiece of a large indoor garden exhibit, complete with running water and wandering koi.

My own feeble attempts at interior design in my dormitory have involved putting the wardrobe where my bed was and putting my bed where my wardrobe was. For anyone interested in a more refined approach to interior design, Zen Hideaway is a worthy example. There is a lot of exotic furniture, candles and running water, which adds to an already classy atmosphere.

On the left is Jang-Ho, unfortunately bewildered by our overusage of English as the preferred language and on the right is Yulim, our guide who took us on the more scenic route to Zen.

The Zen Hideaway sells a lot of traditional Thai food with Italian influenced main courses. Italian food in general shares a lot of common methods with Asian cooking, so it's never surprising when a good wok-fryer can also churn out a decent spaghetti. In the photo above was a noodle dish, which I chose because it looked like char kway teow, but was unfortunately not as good. But on the right was Tom Yum Goong, which went above and beyond redemption. Sour, but not too sour, spicey yet not too spicey. Very well balanced and one of the first places in Korea I've found that doesn't overcook the prawns. If you ever come here, don't miss this one.

And this was a crab-coconut curry. The sauce was thick and surprisingly subtle in flavour, with hints of peanut. Overwhelmingly good and something I'd order again, even at the expense of not being able to try something new on the menu.

Overall we had 5 dishes which ranged from fairly good to superb examples of true foodism. While a better food blog like Zen Kimchi would no doubt paint a more fitting portrayal of the food here, I nonetheless recommend anyone with enough money and a decent map to seek this place out and try it. The prices were reasonable for a once-in-a-while outing and cost us around W200,000 for 5 people with a good bottle of pinot noir.

But then again, W200,000 is around 66 cafeteria lunches, if I'm not mistaken.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Canteen Food

While I'm always thankful for the cheap and relatively well-balanced meals at the university canteen, these days a certain amount of tiresomeness is starting to wane my once stalwart positivity. With the first year nearly at an end, and only another (hopefully) three years to go, this gochujang-marinade-weary-blogger is starting to wonder whether packed lunches from home are a viable option. Probably not.

Laziness being the primary obstacle.

I'm pretty sure there are around 14 different dishes that the canteen cycles through in a predictable fashion. There are other options available, but most of them are too far away for a short lunch break. So I guess I'll just have to buckle up and enjoy nature's bounty.

Things could be worse. Soylent Green for example.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Poor Man's Liquid Nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen is useful for snap freezing cells ready for storage. Our lab doesn't order it in because we don't use enough, so whenever I need it, I have to go to the other labs and 'borrow' it. I cycle between 3 labs, the mycotoxin lab, the virus lab and the fungus lab. They're usually nice enough to give it to me but I always feel bad, because liquid nitrogen is an ever-diminishing commodity.

The other day though, I came across a recipe for Poor Man's Liquid Nitrogen. It's not as good, but works as a substitute. What you need is some dry ice (easier to get than liquid N2) and isopropanol, which is rubbing alcohol. Dry ice comes in chunks that look a little bit like white Cheetos and it tends to stick to things in an unpleasantly cold way. Kind of like a tongue on a frosty pole.

So what you do is punch some holes into a few paper cups and get a small styrofoam box.

Put the cups inside the box and pack the gaps between them with dry ice. Then pour the isopropanol over everything so that the cooled fluid will fill up in the cups. If you don't have isopropanol, you can use 95% ethanol. If you don't have 95% ethanol, you could probably make do with Bacardi 151. Soju would not work, as the lower alcohol content would cause the bath to soldify.

This is what it should look like if things are going well. The alcohol stays as a liquid at very low temperatures, which allows you to dip things in it and snap freeze them. Right now the alcohol is bubbling from the carbon dioxide gas, but is extremely cold. If you put a flower in it and then drop it on the ground, it will shatter. Be careful not to get it on your skin though, because unlike liquid N2, it will cling and give you frostbite.

You can do a regular liquid nitrogen science show with it if you are an elementary to middle school teacher. Use things like rubber bands, super balls and fruit. To make mist like I have in the photo above, just add hot water. Adding detergent will create an endless supply of bubbles, which at first is very entertaining, but later becomes worrisome.

You should refrain from doing these sorts of things in the presence of your lab professor. Unfortunately they're only interested in the kind of science that you can publish. If you do get busted though, just do what I do. Smile and say "Gee, Korean CO2 is really strong!"

Good luck!