Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Becoming a Father

It's taking a while to upload, but I'm managing to stay online through a single bar of free wireless reception from someone downstairs. Whoever you are 'bon3F,' I salute you for your radiowaves of generousity, allowing this young blogger to publish his updates.

Let's pick up where we left off...

A couple of Thursdays ago, it was Teacher's Day at our university. This year we provided mandatory gifts for our professors, which most of us would probably have bought anyway, given a choice. Nevertheless, the end result was that gifts were given to professors that truly deserved them.

As for the Teacher's Day ceremony, it was a rather nice affair, with the ever-present bottles of Minute Maid orange juice that tend to accompany such events (with paper cups).
Unfortunately we ran out of space around the perimeter of the desks, so some students had to sit in the middle during the announcements.


And then we held another student education session. We're popping these events out frequently to make the most of the international faculty's time here, which is due to end in June. The theme of the day was "How to create and defend a scientific poster," in time with the annual poster competition coming later this week.

During this particular session, there was acting involved for the edutainment of the students. Professor Fuller Bazer, on the left, is a rock of a man and holds legendary status in the field of livestock reproductive biology. He was roleplaying as an exemplary student with exemplary responses to questions from a professor.

And then we had Professor Tsang roleplaying a 'what not to do during a poster session' scenario. Note his definition of inappropriate attire for such an event, including his unmatching socks, which are sure to get a squint of criticism from an eagle-eyed professor.

Professor Tsang is an excellent professor, but he played the role of an aggressive, boisterous and generally obnoxious student very well.

Extraordinarily well, in fact.

Playing the role of the inquisitive professor on the right was Nisha Hazra, a Canadian exchange student who is joining our lab for the summer. She's bright, socially ept* and quite unbotherable by the complexities of Korean culture, a necessary requirement for survival at SNU.

*What I assume to be the antonym of the word 'inept.'

From time to time, there's also time for a drink at our timeless campus hof. A while ago, we launched the SNUGHATS (Seoul National University Global House Alcohol and Talking Society) drinking club, which we recently revived from winter hibernation.

Joining us that night was Glenn Danielson, a jazz musician and former Korean language school classmate of mine. He and his friend belted out a few extraordinary notes on the bar piano, and before long attracted the curiousity of two Korean kids who were too young to be in a bar at that time of night.

Or any time of night, for that matter.

And we also had our SRTM Spring Picnic on a dazzlingly fine day in May. Stealing the attention in the middle of this photo is Sungil's little kid, performing admirably, as kids do, by simply sitting down and staring at things in an unknowingly adorable way.

We plan on getting ourselves one of these soon too.

Thanks to our hard working Spring Picnic Taskforce, the event was a sunny success. We played some games and managed to get ourselves lightly sunburned, which I thought was a small price to pay for victory in the Word Game.

Here's Art Michalak, an intellectual marvel and physics pedagogist. While most people may justly assume that Art would be admiring the prettiness of the bubbles in this situation, I would alternatively surmise that he is staring as any physicist would stare at soap bubbles.


Kites were flown that day. I'm a big fan of kites, and whenever I see one I remind myself of the world's inevitable victory over people who don't like kites.

The Spring Picnic's second round grew spores and proliferated into a sixth round. The details of which are fairly guessable by anyone who has lived in Korea for more than two weekends.

Eat. Drink. Laugh. Repeat.

This bat-dog is Anthony's little pup, called Ocean. He's a Boston Terrier, a breed well admired for their irresistibly good looks.

And they say pets look just like their owners...

As soon as we hit the beachy sands of Busan, Anthony called us over to try some of his homemade pho. There are not many surfing Vietnamese Hawaiians living in Korea who can make good pho, but Anthony is one of them.

Anthony also bought himself a ukelele, as one does when one has such a busy schedule. What I think the world needs is a new word to describe the joy of eating pho while listening to a ukelele played by an intermediate beginner.

It should be either Phokelele or Ukephopho.

I don't know if dogs can be diagnosed with ADHD, but Ocean would be an interesting case study. When he's not biting my pant legs, he's either jumping on furniture or putting his sandy paws on my wife's pregnant belly.
This is one of Ocean's tricks. Very useful during an armed robbery.

And here's Ocean playing fetch with the Lady of the Hour.

Anthony is snipping his pho.

And so then I came down to Busan on Thursday to be with my wife. It has been an interesting time. We were originally expecting the birth to occur on Friday, and arranged our schedule as such. But nature has more important priorities than so-called human timetables, and although Big Baengy is stirring, she didn't seem to want to come out and see us just yet.
As a result, we sat around the living room with Heather's mother and niece for most of the day, and went for some walks. Light exercise is good for pregnancy, they say. Even more so when a cute little niece is running around and picking up leaves.

Little Ji-Woo is quieter than her older sister, but equally as playful. She doesn't say a whole lot, but makes a lot of gurgling sounds when she wants to eat something that she can see.

Why waste time with pesky word pronunciation, when you can just gurgle?

Here's one thing that Ji-Woo gurgles at, guksoo made by her halmoni.

I never realised that for some smaller members of the human race, eating is a task that requires considerable concentration.

Nor did I realise that a mere kitchen table could have so many sources of distraction.

But the considerable attention and ceaseless mouth wiping (with a spoon!) needed to feed a toddler all pays off with the brief flash of a miniature smile.

This was the last photo I took of us at home, with Heather packing up her mother's banchan. Note the size of her belly, representative of a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy.

And here I am now in the maternity ward. Time passes very, very... very slowly here. Sometimes it seems like the seconds on the clock are pausing to have a think before clicking onto the next second. We decided to induce labour via oxytocin drip last night, as the doctors said the baby may become too large. However, strong contractions are not arriving yet, so it's looking like the birth may not come until tomorrow.

In terms of starting a family and becoming a father, I'm managing to remain fairly calm, but am certainly not in my comfort zone. How does one prepare their mind for such an event? My thoughts are wandering fairly aimlessly, and I'm having a few odd ones. As an adoptee, our daughter will be the first biological relative of mine that I've ever met.  I'm a little worried and a little excited, with a bit of fatigue on the side.
One of the shortcomings of atheism is that there's little to turn to when things seem out of your own control. Instead I place a level of agreed trust in the laws of nature and an appreciative confidence in modern medical science. Stoic philosophy recommends contemplating possible negative outcomes in such situations, and I must admit I've thought a fair bit about what might happen if things go wrong. As our friend John Ngo would say, 'an optimist at heart but a realist by nature.' If something does go wrong, I guess it was bound to go wrong regardless. Best to hope not so.

What really shines through is the support bestowed upon us by family and friends. There are so many people wishing us well through various channels of communication, and no time to thank them all. I guess we'll just have to have their back when they need it in future. And Heather is doing extremely well. She isn't enjoying having her cervix painfully probed by the nurses every other hour (they're poking it to check how much it has dilated). But she is putting up with the discomfort and remaining cool.
If you are planning on getting married anytime, make sure you marry someone who you respect. It's worth the wait.

This is the final post until the birth, which is likely to occur sometime in the next 24 hours. I hope to follow up soon after, when mum and baby are resting well.

See you after the jump.

A Little Calm Before the Storm

For some reason my Firefox browser is not on communicative terms with our hospital wireless connection, so I've resorted to blogging with Internet Explorer. It's mildly disconcerting, although not quite as newsworthy as the fact that we're currently sitting in a birthing ward at a maternity clinic in Busan.
We came in at 10pm last night and in between a flurry of medical staff, broadcasted sounds of fetal heartrate and various kinds of saline drip, we've gotten a couple of winks of sleep despite an environment unbecoming of a bedroom.

Time passes slowly in this place, like we're trapped in some kind of wormhole vortex at the gateway to a new dimension of parenthood. Positive and negative thoughts come and go, generally lingering around before being contemplated with a grin or dismissed with a mental flyswat.
So I thought, what better way to pass the time than to catch up with the blog while my wife dozes in and out of sleep. I've neglected this old thing a little lately, and as the peppering rainstorm of unusual thoughts circulating my brain appear to be unhelpful, perhaps a little productive output will help put them at ease.

A week before Heather arrived in Busan, we went to the Han River to enjoy the breeze. There are many rivers nicer than the Han, although none quite so suited to the character of Seoul.

Hey look, it's my pregnant wife. Heather is lying in a hospital bed next to me right now, eyes closed and breathing slowly. But she's awake, occasionally opening her eyes to inspect the drip tubes running into her arm or to lightly complain of the labour-inducing harness around her belly.

Heather is a star. She's only 155cm in stature, and the doctors say that it's easier for tall people to give birth. But she ignores such notions with characteristically pleasant passiveness.

On the Han, you can hire boats with buffets on board for weddings or indulgent corporate gatherings.

That day we had a pleasant walk and had a paddle on the 'duckboats',  a misnomer since they're clearly representing some kind of goose. I'm constantly bewildered by how my wife responds to me pointing out such trivial matters with a smile.

The duckboats are on the north side of the Han, and will cost you W13,000 for an hour. They're surprisingly easy to paddle, and even have room for two in the back. We'll come back someday when we have two kids, I guess.

Last night we saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the title of which comes to mind when I see this photo.

In this case it would be Escalators Near The Han: On Tides of Strangers.

Our good man James Lim got married to his lovely partner Jinkang recently too. They went for an exotic honeymoon in Spain, of which they both deserved.

They make a great couple and have an abundance of people wishing them a happy marriage. James just bought a new apartment for his newlywed, making him much more of a man than myself.

The most I can come up with is a mossarium.

Once nice thing about starting a family is that people send gifts for the baby. In the photo above, I'm demonstrating how not to hang a mobile. 90% of the time, gifts are baby clothes. My personal theory is that people enjoy purchasing baby clothes because they're comically small.

Well, we've reached the end of this group of photos, but there's more to come. I'll see if I can squeeze them out before Heather wakes up and squeezes out our baby girl. She was actually due last Friday, but is biding her time in the cosy confines of Heather's womb. She'll enter the busy world of the 21st century soon enough.

As Pooh would say, what's the rush?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

TAF Cafe, Sincheon

This blog has become a funny thing. Originally constructed as a diary for friends and family, it has now evolved into a kind of public way to talk to myself. As thoughts get tapped via netbook into Blogspot's familiar little editing window, wallowing in the back of my mind is the knowledge that pretty much anyone in the world can see what's going on in my life. Then I remind myself not to be so vain.

And also that the stereotypical psychotic internet stalker is statistically unlikely to select me at random from the multitude of other blogs available to the common reader.

Another funny thing about this blog is that Heather has been granted veto power over any photos of herself that appear in it. I had originally put a different image of her as the opening photo, but she just came into the room right now and vetoed my choice. Rule Number One of living with a pregnant lady is "Avoid upsetting pregnant ladies."
As such, I have replaced it with this one which was taken sometime after the other events in this post. I like to adhere to chronological order as much as possible, but some things in life are more important, like Rule Number Two of living with a pregnant lady: "A happy pregnant lady is a good thing."

Here are some members of the SNU Tsang Lab, where I work. We've recently been busy engulfing new members and increasing in size, like some kind of metastatic amoeba. Our daily work consists primarily of mixing small amounts of liquids with various reagents and scrutinizing X-ray film for miniscule changes in the intensity of a single band.

Our faculty has unwavering enthusiasm for graduate student extracurricular activities. These are arranged by the students and usually involve one or more presentations. Last month's topic was the International Dispatch, that sent me to Ottawa and two other students to the US.

Free money to travel? Yes please.

I quite like talking, especially when someone is listening. When I was young, they say that I used to talk to myself a lot. Now I have the blog to take care of that instinct.

Pizza is ingested after such sessions. Pizza chains and graduate students share a mutualistic relationship in most parts of the world. 
Graphically speaking, pizzas are interesting because the exact fraction remaining in the box is represented as a pie graph.

Another thing our faculty like to do is hold bi-annual hiking events. These always begin with a somewhat awkward meetup of different lab members, blinking in the unfamiliarity of sunlight. We then shuffle to the beginning of a walking trail located within the Seoul metropolitan area and locomote upwards in bipedal fashion.

Group photos like this one are always taken. Their main purpose is to prove to everyone how much fun we had.

Professor Tsang is in Seoul for a few months of the year and one thing he goes nuts about is Korean noraebang. He's a much better singer than I am, although that really isn't saying a lot because I sing so badly that Heather's niece will block her ears.

Dori Lee is one of the co-founders of the TAF Cafe and Bar in Sincheon. She recently held a launch party there, with the theme of the venue directed at the indie art scene. Her venue caters for special events and she is especially keen on hearing proposals for art promotion. If you mention this blog when booking an event, you may even get a special deal. The venue is located here.

I myself have been known to be artistic at times. For example when I hang up washing on the line, I like to colour-coordinate my socks in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Blue, grey, blue, grey.

The Toastmasters were out in force that day. One thing I like about Toastmasters is that they're not afraid of sitting in the front row.

I try to refrain from Tequila as much as humanly possible, but sometimes it sneaks into my lexicon during the course of a night out. A wayward suggestion then becomes an impulse gathering momentum, and before long I find myself holding a tiny glass pot of foul-tasting spirits. A chronologically indeterminable period of time after that, I occasionally then find myself in confusing surroundings, dancing above a crowd of people.

Note to self: Going home early keeps pregnant ladies happy.

There will be more Heather and baby related news coming soon. Stay tuned!