Monday, August 31, 2009

The Meaning of 2080 Toothpaste

Here at grad school, the passing of time is often marked by whimsical events unwillingly overanalysed by a fun-starved mind. One such event is when I run out of toothpaste and need to buy another money saving 3-pack. The excitement is sometimes overwhelming. Three tubes of toothpaste last a moderately hygienic bachelor a fair amount of time, so one must be careful to peruse the flavours with caution. If you're not careful, you can be stuck with 3 tubes of Green Tea flavour, or even worse, Sea Salt.

Although they don't sell my kindergarten favourite Colgate Bubblicious, there is a brand called 2080 here, which isn't bad. It comes in spearmint and peppermint flavours. As an amateur toothpaste connoisseur, I give it a 7 out of 10. The main problem is that it foams up too quickly in the mouth, which is inconvenient for me because I like to leave the basin while brushing and walk around the house so I can stare at the walls/ceiling etc.

But as I'm sure you're all wondering, what on earth does 2080 mean?


The meaning of 2080 perplexed me for an eternity before I chanced upon the answer right there on the tube. It means that it will maintain 20 of your teeth until you are 80 years of age. Therefore, should I continue to use 2080, I am due to lose around 8 of mine sometime before then.

Preferably not my molars.

Friday, August 28, 2009

South River Toastmasters Summer Wine Party

SRTM holds social gatherings every year and our club in particular is known for some of the better ones. That's because we're lucky enough to have lots of people who are good at organising things. Last weekend we had a summer wine party at Casa Mio, which is behind Kyobo Tower in Gangnam.

Like any good summer wine party, it started off with plenty of chatter and catching up with friends. For KRW25,000 there was unlimited wine to drink and some light food. I probably had around 3 bottles in total, because I like wine and I wanted to get my money's worth. These days 25,000 won is a lot of money to me.

More than 8 cafeteria lunches to be exact.

Here are some of the SRTM people after a moderate amount of wine. I love Alice's face (second from the left). She looks like a little bunny rabbit with closed eyes.

On the left is Judy, one of my favourite nuna's (older sisters) here, and in the middle is Chris Lee, who I like a lot. Chris becomes twice as fun when he's tipsy.

Here's James Lim, the president of SRTM, who ironically had a stomach ache on the night of the party after giving a speech on the Wednesday beforehand that was all about a stomach ache he had in China. But, being the Aussie Battler that he is, he dragged himself into the venue that night and gave a short speech to the guests.

On the left is Luke Shim from Neowiz Toastmasters, and on the right is my new friend Anthony who studies in the fungus lab at Seoul National University. He's only here for a few months and is an international student from Uppsala University in Sweden.

The second round was at JJ's in the Hyatt hotel. I had been there before, but it was a long time ago. Quite a trendy outlet although a little crowded.

I ended up going home around 4am that night, only to wake up a couple of hours later and arrive at the lab at 7am. That's because once a year our building shuts down the electricity for maintenance, so we had to pack all the freezers with dry ice. These days I'm tutoring 3 days per week, going to Toastmasters, sampling down at Suwon for the PhD and trying to make sure the honeymoon is planned properly.

I think I'll be able to relax once I step on the plane with my new wife. For now though, I'll take each day at a time and try and make the most of it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nature in Clingwrap

Lotte department stores are trendy outlets that cater to social classes of higher monetary distinction. They're kind of similar to David Jones in Australia. I tend to avoid buying groceries from them, mainly because my bank statements would probably induce fits of laughter if seen by anyone living above the poverty line. Now though, I have a more noble reason to avoid them. Lotte have decided it prudent to cover their entire fresh food section with clingwrap.

Clingwrap is primarily made from natural gas or petroleum, which is reason enough to limit its use. I must admit though, it is pretty useful in the lab. However, plasticising everything in this way seems a little too obsessively hygienic.

Or maybe it's just so that bloggers like me can take shinier photos.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thomas, Dr Jane Goodall and a Newspaper Pencil

Every Tuesday night I head down to Seolleung to tutor Thomas. I have five separate students in total that I teach individually, all of whom are pleasant people. I'm busy enough as it is, but the extra money makes the difference between meagre and comfortable living. Unfortunately, with Ph.D coursework classes looming next week, I'll have to cut down on some things or risk insanity.

Thomas is an incredibly intelligent 5th grader who has a broad interest in the natural sciences and a surprising amount of general knowledge. For instance, he knows about the anatomy of hermit crabs and that zebras are stripey in order to confuse chasing predators. My job is to stimulate his scientific thinking and English skills, which is quite a responsibility.
This photo sits on Thomas's desk during our tutoring sessions. Sitting with him is none other than Dr Jane Goodall, of chimpanzee fame. He has met her on two occasions while she's toured Korea.

One of Dr Goodall's foci in her colourful life is to promote environmental conservation awareness in young students. Recently, Dory from Toastmasters gave me this pencil as a gift. It's a pencil with a graphite core, but made from hard-pressed recycled newspaper instead of wood. The writing on it says 'Stop Global Warming!'

Something you might like to think about doing right now is changing your computer settings so that sleep mode comes on in 5 or 10 minutes. Small things like this all add up over years of computer usage.

And eat less meat, more fruits and vegetables.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chinese Food in Seoul

Apart from good old Itaewon, finding real Chinese food in the suburbs of Seoul can be quite difficult. Just as the Americans have lemon chicken and chop suey (which many native Chinese are unfamiliar with), so too do the Koreans have their own interpretations of Chinese food, to which they adhere with admirable and puzzling tenacity.

Someone once asked Chen Jing "Well if you don't eat jjajjangmyeon in China, what else is there to eat?"

Every so often though, you can find a hole-in-the-wall type place that serves something refreshingly different. One small place we found near Nakseongdae station (come out of exit 4, turn left at the petrol station, then turn right and walk straight for a while), serves fairly authentic Chinese hot-pot, known as shabu-shabu in Korean. The word shabu-shabu is onomatopoeia, it's supposed to be the sound that the meat makes when you swish it around in the soup. I listened carefully while swishing, but could not detect the slightest hint of a 'shabu-shabu' type sound emanate from the broth.

While English speakers would say that dogs go 'woof woof', Koreans say that dogs go 'mung mung!'

The soup on the left was a seolleong-tang-esque type affair, while the soup on the right reminded me suspiciously of jjambong. Still, it was much better than most Korean Chinese restaurants here. The price was around US$30 for two people and quite good, although there was enough food for three people.

The only other place that I've found outside of Itaewon has been our old favourite in Suwon with the eccentric owners. Because we're down at the greenhouse a lot these days, Chen Jing and I have eaten here a few times. In the photo is Snow Beer, which is cheaper and not as popular as its cousin, Tsingtao Beer.

And for good reason.

Last week we tried wet noodles, which consisted of thickened chicken soup, cabbage, noodles and chicken. Quite simple and not too bad. What I liked most though, was the chilli oil on top, which I used to eat quite a lot back home.

When we head to Hong Kong next month, I think I'll be eating around six meals a day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Work and Friends

We're in the lab every Saturday from 9am. Usually we can leave in the afternoon sometime, but when things are busy like they were last weekend, I find myself walking home late at night. On Sundays we can choose whether we want to come or not, but I nearly always have work to do. Last Sunday I had to go and take care of our experimental plants at Suwon in the morning, teach an English lesson and then go back to the lab at night to prepare a moderately enormous experiment for this week. Then it was Monday morning all of a sudden.

I generally don't mind working hard, but that means I get less time to hang around my old friends on the north side of the river. This photo is from a couple of weekends ago with Tae-Yang, me and Eric having a drink up in Hongdae. Back when I was a non-student, occasions like these were pleasantly more common.

These days, after a good 12 hours in the lab, I just find myself staring wistfully at the 70% ethanol spray that we use to sterilize the lab benches.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tennis Racquet Bug Zapper

The mosquitoes come out in force here during the summer and are a little different from the ones back home. Mosquitoes in Australia tend to have stripey legs and a more rigid posture. Korean mosquitoes are better at evasion and bite multiple times. A single mosquito left undealt with in the room will leave a series of bites that last a few days. Often times I'll wake up to a buzzing sound and turn on the light in the middle of the night, only to find with dismay that the miniscule perpetuator is hiding somewhere. Sure enough, when the light cautiously goes off a short while later, the crafty femme will pop out once more (only female mosquitoes drink blood).

Call me old fashioned, but I think there's nothing more reliable than a good hand swat to pancake the critters. Korean bug spray, known as F-Killer, seems more deadly than your standard Raid or Mortein. While a volley of Mortein will often make insects go a little crazy for a while, before prolonging their doom in convulsive throes of death, F-Killer tends to knock them out of the sky instantly. Which probably means that it isn't too healthy for us either. In the picture above is a third option often sold here by ajummas in the subway stations, who will spark them constantly to attract customers. They're electrified tennis racquets and if you swipe at a flying insect with it, they get zapped like a taser.

Probably not safe for children.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Summer Weekend in Busan

In a month and 5 days we'll be having our wedding. Last weekend I went down to Busan to try on a suit and meet up with Heather. She'll be finishing her job soon at Geoje April English and has always been a valuable worker to the company. The CEO, Mr Kang, will be giving a speech at our wedding ceremony.

Our good man Ants prepared a home cooked dinner for us on Saturday night. He recently learned a curry recipe from his Pakistani friends and also baked rotisserie chicken. When someone puts so much time into a meal like this, the only correct culinary criticism to give is positive. But actually it was surprisingly good, anyway.
The chicken was lightly seasoned and fairly decent, but the curry was quite advanced. As a veteran curry consumer, Ants new that he was up against a fairly picky eater. This was a lamb curry, brewed over the course of a day and all the flavours were in the right places. He used fenugreek leaves, which are more common in central Asian recipes and impart the same sort of flavour you get in the Greek vine leaf rolls. The base was more Indian than the coconut styles that I make, and was better than what you get in most of the Indian restaurants here. A good curry is like a good wine, it should go down easily, but there should also be a few complex flavours upon deeper reflection. This curry was good enough for Manmohan Singh.

After we gorged ourselves on Ant-curry, we went for a stroll. On Gwangan beach, there was a large Starcraft tournament being broadcast live around the nation. We watched the finals, which were up on a big screen, between a Terran and a Protoss player. The Terran player won through a defensive siege tank strategy and more spider mines than you could poke a psi blade at. I've been so busy lately that I haven't played anything in months.

Here's our good man Ants enjoying a beer while watching the event. Ants is more into surfing than Starcraft, while I'm the reverse.

Busan is probably the best place in Korea to spend the summer. There is a big beach culture here at night and no alcohol zoning laws to keep you from drinking out in public.

Here's Heather, Sang-a (Daniel's girlfriend) and Dan on the beach. Daniel has a new motorcycle now which looks like it has two miniature jet engines on the back. I asked if they shoot out flames, but alas, it is not the case.

This is Song-Jun's new motorcycle which reminds me of those flying vehicles in Halo 3. Large motorcycles in Korea like this one come with powerful built-in stereo systems which automatically promote the rider to normally unreachable levels of uber-cool.

And here's the engagement ring that I bought Heather. I ordered the stone through Blue Nile, which is an American diamond company who gave excellent service. Diamonds for sale in Korea tend to be overpriced and not of a high quality. While I normally think of jewellery as being outdated tokens of the bourgeoisie, even this logic-hardened blogger needs to bend personal stigma every once in a while for a lady as special as Heather.

It's a 0.32 carat, G-colour, VVS2 clarity diamond with a white gold band.

And it's worth a lot of cafeteria lunches.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Little Ji-Woo

Heather's parents recently moved out of their old apartment and into a housing unit in Oncheonjang. The new house has small spaces for gardening and a lower floor they can rent out to other tenants after they redecorate. I like the new house a lot more because it's spacious and there's a lot more natural light coming in through the windows.

Here's Heather and Ji-Woo sitting in the lounge room of the new house. I need to be careful whenever they stare at me like this because they are very cheeky and probably up to some sort of mischief.

Babies are fun to be around when they're in a good mood. Luckily Ji-Woo has a very mild temperament and will normally sit around being quiet. Almost as entertaining as watching a baby is watching other people behave around the baby. It's perfectly acceptable for any self-respecting adult to speak in a toddler's voice and flap their hands around, so long as the goal is to try and make the baby smile. If you subtract the baby from the situation, it becomes rather peculiar.

Is it the cheeks? Maybe the eyes? Whatever it is about babies that makes them cute, it's probably not one single feature in particular. I always find myself wondering what they're thinking in their refreshingly simplified universe. Ji-Woo hasn't even learned the feeling of 'angry' yet. To her, everything is either incredibly happy or incredibly sad.

Ji-Ye is starting to get used to the idea of having a new baby sister around. For some reason I have a long memory about certain events in particular, and this reminded me that I still remember when my parents told me that I'd have a little sister soon. I would have been around 4 years old.

Something that I've always liked is the way that a lot of the babies are carried around here. I've always thought it's much more motherly than keeping them in a pram. Heather's mother likes to carry Ji-Woo around the house like this, even though there's no reason for it. I think she just enjoys the feeling of having her granddaughter closer while she does housework.

In this photo, I also like how Ji-Woo's arm is hanging out. It reminds me of that movie called Wolf and Cub, where the samurai father carries around his little son everywhere.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Joseph Jeong Leaves Korea

Right before I left to Busan last Friday, I dropped in on Joseph's farewell party. He's off to do his MBA at the University of Chicago and is one of the sorts of people that you always have on your backyard barbecue invitation list. To fit such a criteria, one needs to be mildly knowledgable about cooking, have a reputation for good behaviour when drunk and have interesting things to say and know when to say them.

He booked a room at the Oakwood Premier Hotel in Gangnam, which is near COEX. Quite a flashy place that I can only imagine cost more than a hundred cafeteria lunches, which is my new unit of value judgement (one cafeteria lunch = $3).

Joseph prepared some of his mother's bulgogi recipe and also brought along some Mongolian vodka from a recent trip to the land of the raging horde. Although once the birthplace of the mighty Genghis Khan, Mongolia is now a land of grassy peacefulness, so I am told.

Like any good party that you throw when you leave somewhere you've been for a while, there was a good mix of some new friends and some old ones. If there are too many of either group, you may have inconsistent friend-making skills.

This is me, heating up the tobacco for the shisha water pipe. There are a lot of different things that you can do with a can of butane.

Here's Joseph, enjoying a pipe while trying to open a window from a seated position. I had to leave early that night to catch the train, but I'm sure they continued to have fun late into the night.

Good luck in Chicago, Joseph!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Wedding Invitations

On Saturday September 19th, Heather and I will be getting married in the coastal city of Busan. Being such an important occasion, weddings are stressful to organise. Luckily for me, Heather is a true champion of organisational wonder. She's pretty much putting together the whole event, due to her being in the same city and speaking Korean better than a shmuck like me. At the same time, she's preparing to hand over her job as branch manager. I received the wedding invitations last week and had the dubious honour of sending them out to guests.

The venue is our favourite restaurant in Busan, called The Kitchen, which is on a hill overlooking Haeundae Beach. It's a little small, so the spaces are limited to one hundred guests. From what I can think of right now, Heather is having to deal with food, alcohol, decorating, guest list, seating, transport, ceremony, rings, dress, speeches and the after party. Luckily our good man Ants has found a venue for the after party down on Gwangan Beach.

What do you write on a wedding invitation? There are some websites with a lot of different suggestions. Depending on the specifics of your parent's relationship and which side is hosting the ceremony, the language changes slightly.

One of my few contributions to the wedding organisation is the location map, which we included in the cards. I made them while I was in the lab using an online street directory and MS Paint.

This weekend I'm heading down to Busan and hopefully doing some more wedding-related things.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Water Skaters

Water skaters belong to the insect family Gerridae. They sit on the surface tension of the water, skimming around and their legs have tiny little hairs which help keep them afloat. The ones in Korea are pretty big and I like to watch them. They wait for another insect to fall into the water, and when that happens, they scoot over and make a meal of the hapless victim.

I guess it's their bouyancy that keeps me interested. Down at Suwon, we always have a few in the rain water tanks. You know, if you happen to push one underneath the water for a while, all they do is bounce right back to the surface, huddled up into a little ball. Then when you leave them alone for a while, they slowly extend their legs and flip back to their normal positions. You can do this repeatedly and they bounce back every time.

Not that I would contemplate such mischief.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Three Cheers for Air-Conditioning

Our lab purchased a new air-conditioning unit last week. Up until this time, we only had fans in the lab and an ineffective, medieval, centrally controlled unit that seemed to come on for a couple of hours at a time. I imagine the ajossi at the switchboard downstairs chuckling to himself as he turns it off everyday at 10am.

One thing I didn't know was that the ceiling space in our lab has metal rails that you can walk on. I just did a walk around the lab and counted 5 freezers, 3 incubators and 9 computers. There are a whole lot of other electrical devices in here too, so to make things easier most of the wiring runs across the ceiling.

It took three ajossis to install the device. Two were drilling and carrying things while the third stood around scratching his head and looking thoughtful.

Now that we have air-conditioning, working in the lab is a little more pleasant. But from what I just heard in the news, Korea is having it's coldest summer in years. There were a couple of unpleasantly warm days last month, but definitely not as bad as last year. Hopefully this doesn't mean that our wedding will be too cold.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Thomas's Dog

Studies have shown that patting an animal lowers your blood pressure. If I had time and energy, I'd get a fish, because there's not much space in Korean apartments. Attempting to pat a fish though, would probably raise the stress levels of both parties involved.

When I tutor Thomas these days, his dogs are usually in the room, scrounging about and generally wanting attention. This one will sit like this for minutes at a time, just looking at me as if it wants me to do something spontaneously entertaining. It's funny when you do something silly and unexpected in front of most dogs. They'll just stare at you with that look on their face that says "You humans have too much time on your hands."