Saturday, April 04, 2009

BK International House

There I was, minding my own business in my 2 X 3 metre koshiwon, when all of a sudden I find out that there's a vacancy for me at the BK International House. My new residence is located just outside the back gate of the university and I can walk to and from the lab now. Joy.

Of all the dormitories available to students at Seoul National University, BK International House is the most sought after. It has larger living quarters than the regular dorms and the rooms are better equipped. There are also no rules or inspections here which makes me feel more like a grown-up and less like an irresponsible grad student.

I moved in on a Saturday with the help of Keonwoo and Hong-Sup. Helping someone move house is a debt repayable in blood.

Now that I have a respectable kitchen, I guess I can emerge from my ramyeon binge and start eating fresh foods at home again. I was happy to have a gas range instead of an electric stove top. Gas stoves give you better control over temperature change.

My new bathroom has enough room to swing a cat in. My previous bathroom had barely enough room to dangle a guinea pig in. Technically, if I really wanted to save time in the mornings, I could probably have a shower at the same time as I'm on the toilet. It'd be like a full-body bidet.

Interesting thought.

And I also have my own washing machine now, which is much larger than I need. Washing machines in Korea tend to spin clothes a little funny, so I'll usually get my long sleeve shirts out in a tangled mess.
Most machines here also play a little melody when they've finished. Mine plays a rather comprehensive, but nameless tune that goes for about a minute. If I had to name the tune, I'd call it "The Simple Joys of 8-bit Music". I'm sure the machine is dying to express itself in more meaningful ways, but the company didn't endow it with a large enough vocabulary.

Here's the view from my balcony. I'm looking forward to the summer, so that I can sit here and ponder the nuances of molecular biology while sipping on something alcoholic.

I went for a walk into the nearby dormitories to have a look around. There's a restaurant, a bar and a convenience store within the buildings. For those who don't have their own washing machines, there's this shared facility in the basement.
When I was back in the koshiwon's shared laundry, some hapless newcomer to the field of laundrology had added an entire 2 kilogram box of laundry detergent to his wash cycle.

I would have taken a photo for the blog, but I think that would have been insensitive to his tattered laundry ego.

The weather has taken a while to warm up, but finally we're getting into the low teens (Celsius). I like Korea in the spring because the blossoms here are always nice.

We recently heard a rumour that a Quiznos shop had opened up on campus somewhere. Chen Jing and I went out searching for it on the shuttle bus. Sure enough, one had opened at the top of the hill.

Quiznos is very similar to Subway in Australia and it's about the only place here that sell proper sandwiches. The common Korean sandwich will often have mashed potato, coleslaw or some other misguided ingredient within. After two and a half years of muted sandwich dismay, a real sandwich is something to get excited about.

I had the Italian Classic™ on parmesan bread and it was good. It was so good that I bought a Coca Cola™ to go with it, and I rarely drink Coke™. I hope you appreciate my real ™ sign, because I had to do a Google™ search for it just then and it took me a little while to find. That's the kind of quality effort you can expect here on Lee's Korea Blog™.

There's a couple of nasty colds going around Korea at the moment and so it was a bit of a worry when Hong-Sup started sniffling in the lab last week. Before long, he had managed to inoculate most of us with his rather virulent strain of rhinovirus. Contrary to popular belief, very little of the medicines you get from the pharmacy have any effect on ridding the body of the common cold. The reason is because cold viruses mutate rapidly and its difficult to formulate a strategy against something that's always reinventing itself. Most of the medicines you'll get are knowingly prescribed as a placebo, or are designed to relieve the symptoms. In Korea, you can get all your little meal doses in specially sealed plastic things, and they look a little bit like lollies.
Incidentally I read about a recent study saying that if you sleep 8 hours or more per night rather than 7, you are three times more resistant to a cold infection.

In some of the taxis here now, they've installed little televisions on the head rests. This is usually in addition to the dashboard mounted television that will often be playing Korean drama. I think we'll eventually reach the day when there are more screens on earth than people.

Some of the lab members were interested in learning how to cook, so we got together last weekend and I showed them how to make carbonara spaghetti.
We'll probably get together every second week from now on and hopefully share some recipes. I was a cook at the Casuarina restaurant for seven years in Australia before I arrived here, but I've realised that cooking is a lot like language. If you don't practice often, it slowly slips away from you. My carbonara was pretty good though. Even Chen Jing liked it, and she doesn't like cream or cheese.

Here's Eun-Hae, Se-Kyong and Chen-Jing after we had everything ready. It was an enjoyable meal and we drank Australian wine (a Lindemans shiraz) while discussing lab politics. Talking about lab politics means talking about all of the annoying things that 'certain-others-not-present' do. And that certain 'others' is actually a singular, and the guy's name is Hoon.

There's no better therapy.

And Keonwoo and I found a pretty good sam-gyeop-sal (barbecue bacon) restaurant near the subway station. It's probably very unhealthy but it makes up for it with pure sizzling bacon-fat goodness.

In the same restaurant there's a self serve banchan (side-dish) bar with the quintessential 'kim-chi and derivatives' available. The sign above says that it's all free, but if you take more than you can eat, you have to pay a fine of 5,000 won.

See that circular speck at the bottom of my tube? That's a colony of Xanthomonas oryzae, which is the name of the bacteria that I'm working on. What our little friend Xanthomonas does is inject rice plants with a cocktail of poisons that make the plant very unhealthy. The plants will often wither up and die, sometimes laying waste to entire fields. It has these tiny little needles that it produces, which are pretty interesting in themselves. But my specific project is focused on how the poisons work once they're inside the plant.

I have a theory at the moment, but I'll tell you about it when I'm sure.

Gimme four years.

These days I walk home from the lab usually between 11pm and midnight. It's difficult to see here, but in the windows of the public area of the dormitory, there are always students up studying. Even late on Saturdays and Sundays.
I've also settled into a routine of extended work. A conservative estimate of my working hours would be around 80 per week. No kidding. But the style of work in the lab is fairly slow paced, because you're always waiting for something to finish growing/incubating/amplifying etc.

And to finish us off this time is a box sent to us by a lab equipment company. I find the label on the top amusing, but it also leaves me with further questions. Perhaps there may be more than one product in the box, if we're lucky? Or is it stating something more complex regarding the nature of zero? Is it possible to mail less than one of something? Would it be the same if they added "... but more than zero products in this box" or "3 minus 2 products in this box"?

Such occurrences add a light touch of sorely needed drama to my laboratory lifestyle.

See you next time!


Gabe Fife said...

i REALLY enjoyed your post on getting your new place! I lived in korea for one year while studying korean language and have taken two research trips in the past few years. i am a master's student in sports medicine in the USA and have dreams to be a professor/researcher in korea or better yet continue graduate studies(phd) in korea. i am sure i will send you more messages when it comes to possibly applying to a doctoral program in korea. good luck with studies!

Head Instructor said...

sweet pad...will have to crash on your floor soon!

longlocks said...

Hi Lee!

I really enjoy reading your blog! I am especially enjoying your trips to various restaurants... The food looks beautiful! I like your new place, and I wish you all the best of luck with your research. I am actually hoping to teach in Busan this August. I mentioned your blog in my blog,

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Lee Farrand said...

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Della said...

Hi Lee!

Love reading your blog and enjoy your sense of humor! thanks for the photos and for sharing your world! Take care, Della

eelin said...

Hi there, my name is Ee Lin and i am a Malaysian Chinese. I am really looking forward to undergo an internship in a molecular biology lab in Korea but at this moment to be frank i am still clueless and totally no idea ..haha .I hope i can gain some experience before i pursue for my graduate study as i am going to graduate in this coming May. Lee , do u have any useful advice for me? Thanks :)

Lee Farrand said...

Hi Ee Lin. It all depends on whose lab you get into. Some labs are much better than others, so it's best to get a feel for who you will be working with. Korean universities are fairly good, but not as foreigner friendly as Australian ones. Send me an email if you need more info.

eelin said...

Hi lee ..Thanks for your reply, really appreciate it a lot! :) I have sent my resume to Narry kim Lab but i haven get any reply from them yet. I am wondering whether email is the best way to get in touch with them, will they not bother any email from unknown sender ..hmmm wondering ..
but know i am searching for a really a suitable place to undergo my internship, really have not much idea though. But i have much interest on molecular work as my final year thesis have something to do with Cloning, expression and purification of a recombinant protein ..hope i can explore more in Korea as its culture is really fruitful and intriguing. Would you give me some advice on how to apply and which lab is really suitable for an undergraduate like me ? Sorry, i do not know where to get your email and hope u wwouldn't mind if i leave another comment here ..Anyway, thanks a lot and cheers.:)

Lee Farrand said...

I applied straight through the university website. They have deadlines around twice a year for applications. My professor just contacted me around 2 months after I sent in the application. I guess you should just choose a couple of universities you're interested in and then send in your cv.

Unknown said...

Great story and very interesting, congratulatioon!

Unknown said...

Very interesting blog! I applied to start attending SNU next year as an exchange student in Computer Engineering. I have heard about that dorm, but sadly I don't think I'm eligible (I think it's grad only, though you may correct me). Anyways, if you have any good tips for me on preparing to go I'd love to hear it!

Connie said...

Hey! I love your blog. I thought it was very funny. I'm thinking about applying to SNU undergraduate as a foreigner and I was checking up the "international house" for dorms and your blog popped up so I had to check it out. Your house is really fun and not I really want to apply, but Im a junior.^^ I know Im not eligible for the BK house, but its okay. I loved how you portrayed this! Thanks! It was a great read.

Minzymaknae said...

Hi! Your blog is really amazing and I have been looking a blog post about SNU and their dorms. I'm planning to attend SNU for Medicine Graduate School. I heard that there is a different campus for Medicine Students and so I was wondering if I am still legible to live in that dorm. Also, how much is it? I'll thank you in advance for answering! :)