Thursday, March 24, 2011

Times Square, Seoul

ice·break·er  (sbrkr)
  1. Nautical. A sturdy ship built for breaking a passage through icebound waters. Also called iceboat.
    1. Something done or said to relax an unduly formal atmosphere or situation
    2. A beginning; a start.
Here's SRTM's newest Polish American inductee, Art Michalak, giving his iceboat.

In general, the best first speeches involve a mix of personal insight and self-deprecating humour. Art used both of these elements well and had the audience in fits of amazement and laughter, respectively.

A couple of weeks ago, it was time for Toastmasters officer's training. We held the event at Taewon Seo's new venue near Gyodae station. Cafe Monsieur has excellent tea and coffee, and also serves the most delicious bread south of the Han river.

And I'm not just saying that because Taewon is a nice guy.
His bread really is delicious.

Our volunteer organisation runs on water, sunlight and enthusiasm. While I have plenty of all three, one thing that I don't have a lot of, is time. These days I have all sorts of odd jobs and mischievous extra tasks popping up during the week, much of it traceable to an anonymous source that we'll just refer to as Professor Tsang. So, with such a busy schedule, why do I attend Toastmasters so often?

Well, because I have to.

Let me show you around our new place. It's big and warm and has all sorts of hidden secrets, like an inexplicable glass door on the balcony that leads to nowhere and doesn't open.

We've gradually been filling it up with stuff from G-Market. You can buy pretty much anything in the world on G-Market, except for self confidence and personal growth. Back when I was an impoverished undergrad student, a large majority of my furniture resembled discarded-yet-sturdy plastic milk crates. But, as I always claimed, it was actually from IKEA and designed to look that way.

This is Jang-Ho's room, to which I rarely venture. A man's home is his castle, and so I guess a boy's room is his mini-boy-castle.

This is our pseudo-balcony, called MiG Alley. There are no jets here, but that's not to say that there won't be in the future.

And this is a small room, that Jang-Ho has insightfully named the computer-ot-bang (computer and clothes room).

My nickname for Jang-Ho is 'Jang-Ho the Genius,' and it's not for nothing.

That's our new fridge on the left. Heather's Dad bought it for us as a housewarming gift. It's much larger and sophisticated than we need and has a small computer, a pressure-activated drinks tray and a black belt in Taekwondo.

Heather does a lot of stretching for a variety of reasons. As pregnant women's bellies enlargen to Leviathanic dimensions, the body releases a hormone called Relaxin that gives flexibility to joints. A number of exercises are beneficial in such situations, including yoga, swimming and ballet.

Heather has found that one unexpected outcome of being heavily pregnant is that it's very difficult for her to cut her own toenails.


Every self-respecting megacity in the world has a location called Times Square. Seoul's is located at Yeongdeungpo Station on subway line 1 and seems to have sprouted up overnight without so much as a pair of complimentary dancing girls to celebrate its opening.

If there's one thing that excites me slightly more than going shopping, it's Not Going Shopping. That's not to say that I don't like going shopping, it's actually more representative of the fact that I find not going shopping to be unusually exciting in and of itself.

Such considerable explanations are to no avail when trying to cover one's tracks when one has told one's wife that they are happy to go shopping on the weekends and thereafter appear less than excited to do so.

The frown of the Queen Ant induces all sorts of odd behavioural changes.

Times Square is a lot like Shinsegae at Centum City in Busan. The floors are shiny, the shops are many and the walls are an arbitrary shade of white.

Our newest favourite shop is called Franc Franc. Our old favourite shop was a Japanese store called Muji that sells a plethora of useful items, all in earthy shades of brown. Franc Franc sells nice stuff that you can put around your house, like towels and clocks.

So now, my favourite shops in the world are:
  1. Franc Franc
  2. Muji
  3. Australian Geographic
  4. Costco
I heard that this particular quote was from an 80 year old female Tibetan monk who broke forty years of silence to share these words of wisdom with us all.

Here's a self portrait taken in one of the high-fidelity mirrors of Franc Franc.

Heather doesn't seem to be too worried about her physical line.

And to cap off this post are some sleepy puppies seen through a pet shop window. They were small enough that you could put them both in a baseball cap and have room to spare. I guess you could put the baseball cap on and have a slightly wriggly head-warmer. In general, I like dogs a lot, though not so much in soup.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Change of Address

After an eventful and enlightening sojourn in the land of ice and maple, I hit the tarmac running upon return to Seoul. The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, punctuated by short bursts of sleep between part-time work, a full time PhD and a change of address with a pregnant wife.

Here's the Queen Ant, watching TV. To say the least, it was good to see her again after a month overseas.

My wonderful wife is having a fairly smooth pregnancy, with the baby due on May 20th. She gets a little itchy at times, but is generally walking around with her hands on her tummy and a big grin. The most common question that people ask is whether it's a boy or a girl (which we still don't know). And the second most common question is whether she has any cravings. As her master dietician, I haven't noticed her eating anything unusual, except for dried squid, dried fish and ice cream.

I'm dreaming up a recipe for a dried squid/fish pat-bing-soo.

Our unisex placeholder name for our baby is Big Baengy, a choice which often receives humourous appraise. Heather has taken up pregnant ballet classes, during which time she wears this tag. Can you imagine a large gathering of pregnant Korean women doing ballet? 

That's what occurs every Tuesday and Thursday in a mirrored gym near our place.

Upon returning to the lab, I noticed that not much had changed. Except for the fact that El Cid the Weed had become rather unkempt and was sporting dreadlocks.

I gave the fellow a little crop. Now all he needs is a suit and tie.

The lady weeds are sure to be impressed.

Those particularly observant with regards to the title of this post may have understood it to mean a change of abode. Indeed, our lease at BK International House expired after the maximum two years and we were forcibly relocated had to move out. How a PhD student can afford to live off campus on scholarship income after two years is beyond me. 

Luckily, the Queen Ant to whom I am married had been squirreling away monetary nuts in the time prior, and we had enough money for a reasonable apartment deposit.

Art Michalak, a stalwart friend of ours, showed up on the day of moving and contributed immensely to its success. He spent from morning until late afternoon lifting boxes, pushing carts and offering helpful opinions regarding placement de materiel.
Some people enjoy moving, while others harbour an immense disdain for it. I don't mind it too much myself. One golden rule that remains however, is that the act of helping someone else move house incurs a debt repayable in blood.

Or in Art's case, Mexican food.

One thing Heather goes nuts about, except for cockroaches, is mess around the house. Heather in general, is extremely mentally stable to the point where her cool and calculated response to every drama becomes somewhat soothing, although monotonously predictable.

Hypothetical situation
Lee: "Hey hun, the North has invaded and they're enslaving everyone."
Heather: "I see. What's for dinner then?"

But a dead cockroach on the other side of the road can cause her to jump out of her shoes, even while heavily pregnant. During times such as these, she'll transform miraculously into a bleating lamb, hiding behind me and ensuring the continual placement of my body between her and the dead cockroach. To a similar degree, mess around the house causes her to lose sleep at night.

By the careful stacking of boxes and the cunning placement of things unseeable to a pregnant lady, one can create the illusion of order in a messy house. Or so I found.

Stiff muscles and an aching back were rewarded with a pregnant wife sleeping soundly.

Damien Mugavin, an Australian professor at SNU, also lent us his car for the day, thereby saving us money and time. It was highly appreciated.

As a small recompense for car-borrowing, we took it through an automated car wash for Damien. Art had never seen such a thing before, although he grew up in the developed world. He is involved with the field of physics, enjoys the analysis of things and asks questions that often don't have convenient answers.

"How is the balance of soap and water achieved so that the car is optimally washed?"

As could reasonably be imagined, our new 3-bedroom dwellings have been a circus of activity in recent times. Heather's brother is now living with us, which is turning out excellently. And things are slowly finding their ordered places, in a case of unusual reverse entropy. 
Moving house in Korea is generally less painful than in the west, provided that two criteria are met: a) someone fluent in Korean is helping and b) you have the help of friends, repayable in Mexican food.

Once things are tidied up, I'll have to show you around the place.
It's nice and spacious.