Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Big Baengy Starting to Talk

Baengy started to speak a few months ago. Her abilities have since improved dramatically and she can understand quite a lot now.

We mainly talk to her in Korean at the moment. It's not a conscious decision, but it seems more natural seeing as it's the language used at her daycare centre. My Korean is still terrible. 

English will come soon!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boracay Sunset

Last year's winter was a bitterly cold affair in Seoul, with frozen roads lined with snowy slush. In the midst of its chilling depths, we decided it would be rather pleasant to go somewhere nice for a long weekend. Somewhere warm.

Somewhere tropical.

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A few mitigating factors hampered the immediate actualisation of our tropical escapade proposal. At the time, Baengy was not yet two years old and Heather was 6-months pregnant with Alex. I was in the final year of my PhD and our financial situation was not particularly sparkling. Call me paranoid, but I swear there was a muffled chortle whenever our bank book was handed back by our cashier.

But despite our rather 'cute' bank balance, in the end we decided we needed to do what we needed to do. We placed Baengy in the care of diplomatically-delighted halmoni and halaboji in Busan, and went away for a long weekend to Boracay in the Philippines.

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It's a pleasant problem to have to untether a layered mass of cumbersome winter clothes at a foreign airport due to warm tropical weather.

It seems that when the sun has all but forsaken the Korean peninsula, Boracay is where it comes to play.

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On the sandy beaches of South Australia, one can be forgiven for expecting the alluring waters to be hospitably warm. This can often be followed by a cold reality shock when dipping ones tootsies into the waters, on the other side of which are the Antarctic ice shelves.

Not so, in Boracay. The waters here receive visitors with generous servings of jovial thermodynamic gravy.

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After leaving our baggage at the hotel, we promptly hopped into the warm waters with a moderate amount of childlike glee.

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There exist various desktop backgrounds on office computers around the world that depict idyllic sandy locations with glimmering turquoise waters. These are the places where our daydreams take us.  

But actually going to one feels a bit like visiting Disneyland, or being sucked into a Nintendo game.

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The sunsets were invariably spectacular, although brief, while the sands retained a soft warmth at dusk.

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Traveling with Heather is always an enjoyable experience. In my opinion, there are two types of fun travelers: those who enjoy suggesting interesting things to eat and do, and those who agree that such suggestions sound good. 

I'm of the former variety, while Heather is of the latter.

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We stayed at the Boracay Garden Hotel, a fairly nice place with outdoor pools and decent cooking. Rooms were spacious and cost about $120 per night.

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Transport occurred from place to place in open hybrid vehicles of questionable safety, to which we held on tightly. 

Common sense is the most affordable type of traveler's insurance.

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In the very first restaurant we ate at, we sat with Rani and Minseon, two other Koreans in our tour group. They work at the same company in the southern city of Gyeonju, and save money to travel together every few years. They're both married, although their husbands are not fond of traveling.

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We had some good conversations about life, the universe and everything, over bottles of Filipino beer and cheap fruity cocktails.

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For a handful of Filipino pesos, you can rent a deck chair for a day. But the sun inconveniently moves in a wider arc across the sky the closer you are to the equator, necessitating an incessant shifting of chairs toward the elusive shade.

Oh, the humanity.

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Good buffet breakfasts accompanied with strong coffee started each day off in the right direction.

"More fresh mango juice, give you sir?"

"Why yes. Yes please."

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Our tour was run by a Korean company, and Boracay is very popular with Korean tourists. The benefit of joining the tour was in not having to figure out everything ourselves, from the reputations of local restaurants to the unsolicited offerings of jet ski rental from strangers. The down side of the tour was not being able to do things at our own pace, and having things explained to us as if we were from the dark side of Pluto.

"This is a snorkel. You breathe in this end. This other end is the one that sticks out of the water and brings air in. You cannot breathe if both ends are underwater."

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We went for a boat tour of the surrounding islands and feasted on crabs for lunch. I don't mind the odd crab now and again, but I find their hardened exoskeleton makes them a fuss to eat. 

I am more of the fish fillet persuasion.

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"Many men go fishing without realising it is not fish they seek."

A quotation that came to mind, although on this particular occasion it was in fact fish we sought (and caught).

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We enjoyed San Miguel and Red Horse beer on the boat, along with fresh mangoes and sliced sashimi from the fish we caught.

The ajosshi at the table was quite a character. He brought a nice stash of smuggled bottles of soju in his luggage from Korea to share with everyone at dinner times.

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We also took a ride on a fast catamaran. It still amazes me how they can sail back and forth on the same route using the same breeze.

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The locals we met along our well-worn travel route were cheerful and accommodating. On the final night we went to a beachside club and had a rather merry time.

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All in all, it was an excellent holiday. Although we were worried whether we could afford it, in the end it felt like money well spent. The great weather, warm waters and plentiful activities made it a destination worth visiting.

Everyone needs a holiday once in a while, and Boracay is a great place to have one.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Blogging Resumes

"Time and tide wait for no aggies*."

- Origin unknown

*Aggy is the Korean word for 'baby'

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With a distinct dull roar, the ongoings of the recent six months have whooshed past, and off into far distant horizons inhabited by a loose ecosystem of hazy memories unfortified by regular blogging.

The cause of such a predicament, post mortem reveals, can be traced to a series of momentous overlapping life events that converged simultaneously for the perfect storm, all of which could only be accommodated within an inadequately small teacup of a schedule. 

But we have emerged unscathed. And dusted ourselves off to resume blogging with aggies conspicuously older than last seen.

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The first major event we dealt with was moving house, as our lease of the SNU family accommodation expired with the completion of my studies. The family mini-apartment we had at SNU on campus was excellent, although quite small for two boisterous babies who enjoy making a mess. We had two bedrooms, our own kitchen, bathroom and two balconies, subsidized to W150,000 per month. It had everything we needed, and made a significant impact on our ability to live comfortably in recent times.

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But the time had come to move. All constituents of the Farrand household were thus summoned to attend a Thing, during which the future direction of the household was decided upon.

Finding accommodation for a family in Korea is no easy task. Families in the bigger cities here are like eager hermit crabs, dashing into recently vacated shells whenever an affordable apartment hits the market. Further complicating the matter is the arcane yet popular practice of jeonse, whereby large deposits (hundreds of thousands of dollars) are lent by the tenant to the landlord instead of regular rent being paid. The landlord is then free to invest the tenant's money during the period of the lease contract.

We were faced with the choice of borrowing money from the bank to pay a large jeonse, which we would have had to pay interest on, or borrow an even larger amount of money and buy a house instead. We, of the Farrand tribe, do not take such decisions on a whim. Arguments were heard, opinions were raised and countless cups of tea imbibed. Eventually, a motion was put forward to go the full monty and borrow enough money to purchase our own abode.

The end result of voting was 2 votes in favor, with one abstention and one unintelligible answer.

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To make a long story short, we ended up buying a house through auction in Suji-Gu, which is about 40 minutes south of Seoul. As fortune would have it, someone (an investor) with lesser fortune had previously purchased a house using borrowed money, defaulted on it, and had it seized by the bank. Heather, being the incalculable genius that she is, managed to win a silent auction on it for only slightly higher than the reserve price. We bought our 31 pyeong apartment for W247,000,000 (approx AU$240,000) and spent some further money to remodel the interior. 

Baengy was pleased.

So we moved in at the end of August, an action that required an enormous skycrane to ferret our belongings high up into our new perch. Although it all sounds rather smooth, there were a number of obstacles. Luckily, I have a resilient partner who is also very good at solving all manner of problems.

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Although our old place was fairly crowded with furniture and belongings, our new place swallowed it all up with room to spare. Previously, whenever Baengy became excited, she would do a sort of hopping jump on the spot to release energy while not bumping into nearby walls in our old place. Now she runs all around our new apartment with glee. I think that simple fact makes all the money and effort worthwhile.

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One of our new balconies.

Heather also seems content, although we don't yet have all the furniture we'd like. Such things shall come, with the passage of time and the arrival of paydays.

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In our new kitchen, it's strange having so many things that work properly. Our previous gas stove was quite fickle and had to be ignited using a secret ritual involving a perfectly-timed flick of the wrist and a recited compliment. And our old faucet would leak for a while after being turned off.

But everything in our new place has an eery efficiency to it.

Alex is quite a joy to watch growing up, even by baby standards. He smells like fairy floss and likes his big sister a lot. Big sister exhibits an amusing blend of tolerance and ambivalence toward his frequently outstretched and grasping hands.

They both like books, sent to them by Grandad Kym and Grandma Mary, and read to them by Mother Farrand. Baengy has already learned the English alphabet.

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My new job is going well, which I will talk about in more deserving detail in the near future. One of the most noticeable things that's happened since graduation is that I now have more spare time. I joined the Australian Chamber of Commerce recently, and we've attended some of their events. These photos are from a barbecue they held at a hotel in Seoul.

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Baengy knows what cameras are and what to do when faced with a lens. One of the funny things she does though, is talk to the person she's posing for, in babytalk.

"Photo? Cheese?"

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I've managed to keep taking photos in regular intervals over the past few months, although I haven't kept up with the blogging. I've decided that I'll put as many of the good photos up that I can, over time, even if the chronological order is a bit dodgy.

I think we, the Farrand family of Korea, are in a lucky situation now, with a future to be looked forward to. And Ashley and Alex are both growing up at breakneck speed.

I'll try to keep up my end of the bargain and continue taking photos, and hope the memories won't be forgotten.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Business as Usual in South Korea

Things are trundling along nicely ever since I earned my freedom from the university labbatoirs. I've landed a new job, which I shall talk about freely in due time. 

And Heather and I have taken out a bank loan for a new house.

Alex and Baengy also continue to do well, as babies do when administered with sufficient levels of nutrition and sunshine. Baengy is speaking more these days, mostly in Korean, and has yet to outgrow her fetal name. Mr Alex, on the other hand, spends most of his days in quiet contemplation of what I imagine to be the raucous ongoings of the Farrand house. I will post more, when time permits.

For the meantime, all I can offer for your interest is an article I wrote for Seoul Selection, a rather nice magazine in Seoul to which I think you should heavily subscribe if finances permit. The article was liberally cropped for publishing reasons, and maybe because of its slightly gloomy choix-de-nuance. I wrote it as a permitted distraction around the same time I was writing my thesis papers.

The article was asking bloggers in Seoul what they recommend in terms of places to go, things to eat and things to drink. My original entry in its humble glory is as follows:


- What is a place in Seoul that you think people should visit and why?

Sorae Maeul - French Village, Bangbae-dong.
Seoul may not be initially lovable to every traveling connoisseur of the developed world's megacities. Repetitive units of suburbia can induce a subdued state of directionlessness when traveling the city by taxi, while the same by city bus adds a hint of vertigo to the experience. Apartment blocks litter the urban landscape, like armies of colossal tombstones, from which the odd glass skyscraper can be seen rising up, frozen in its historical bid to escape the clamour of convention below. A gargantuan automated subway that is its own obsessed demon, places Seoulites wherever the algorithm of life destines them to be with an aroma of wicked efficiency, while sweeping up in the human river those who stumble or lose their way. Into the darkness of Seoul's underbelly it will take you, popping out into the grey sunshine every once in a while, to present its sardine-like passengers with views of the mighty Han river, itself appearing like a Kraken Gandalf on its own slow stampede toward the mudflats of Incheon. Should you find yourself heading south on such a blasphemous mode of transport, I highly recommend alighting at a station called Bangbae on the green line. Within the leafy confines in which only a chosen few can reside, lies not so much a diamond in the rough, but more of a welcome reprieve within a vast urban outdoor dungeon. Sorae Maeul is a small streety area, peppered with foreign restaurants and glinting in the healthy glow of a French community hidden to the naked eye. Here, one can find such rarities as recognisable bread, unsweetened pickles and Seoulites commuting by foot in an unhurried manner. Although I don't visit the Promised Land frequently, it does feature in my daydreams from time to time. It's a reflection not of what Seoul really is, but perhaps of what it may earn to someday be. 

- Can you recommend a place to eat at and why?

Seen here:

Wedged unassumingly between an unremarkable real estate agent and the misnomer of an Outback Steakhouse near Exit 1, SNU Station, is a medium-sized barbecue restaurant called Saeng Gogi 4,900. The name means 'fresh meat 4,900', which, as you may note, appears to reflect the owner's disregard for appetizing descriptions. Here they basically sell two items, fatty barbecue pork and duck meat, for barbecuing on heavily sloped pans that inevitably gnash and spit with displeasure at whatever visceral contents are plopped onto their searing surfaces. Assuming that you are not seated at the dreaded Toilet Table (so named for its intimate proximity to the site's ancient lavatory), one can have a pleasurable dining experience. The lack of a fixed door to the back of the restaurant adds an element of outside influence to the smokey atmosphere of the noisy room. This place is generally crowded, not least because of the reasonably priced and fairly tasty meat, but also, as I like to think, because of all the things it doesn't try to be. The sign above the self-serve banchan trolley warns of a 5,000 won penalty should you overstock your chopshi and not entirely devour the fruits of the weathered ajummas morning labours. And the meat is good. It tastes good and people come to buy it. Despite my insecure propensity for uninvited wordiness, I feel I wouldn't be doing the place justice if using more bourgeois terminologie. The flies and the heat coalesce with the cacophany of neighbourly diners shouting above the din of sizzling pans, for what I imagine would be an atmosphere akin to a Namdaemun market samgyeopsal festival. And the occasional solar flare caused by a random sizzling ball of oil leaping for freedom from the frying pan will ensure that more than the recommended weekly intake of anaesthetizing soju is consumed. 

- Can you recommend a place to drink at and why?

Littered amongst the urban sprawl and as synonymous with daily Korean life as kimchi and plastic surgery can be found the modern Korean convenience store. At carefully calculated intervals they sit, like a dispersed monument to the logistical revolution, ensuring that a steady stream of discount processed foods are always within reach of the modern weary traveler. With their inviting lights bringing the brilliance of a desert day to the gloom of a solitary post-hweshik walk home, to their virtually guaranteed stock of fresh(?) triangular kimbabs, these friendly metropolitan equivalents of the bygone speakeasy serve more than just Minute Maid juice(?) and Denmark Milk with an arbeiter's smile. Through some divine act of grace bestowed upon the Korean expat community ever since the first Germans brought beer to Korea, at no place in Seoul is cheap alcohol not within reasonable walking distance. While probably not al-fresco in the intended spirit of the term, one can often pull up injection-molded chairs and an umbrella-impaled table, sit, and enjoy the scenes of the passing local milieu. A number of foreign beverages are usually for sale, along with the local industrial fluid confusingly labeled as three distinct brands. For those practicing the forgotten arts of inebriated alchemy, I highly recommend a mix of soju and aloe vera juice in the bottle. It rivals Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon.


Hopefully, I will post some more updates on this blog before it becomes nothing more than a stagnant collection of unvisited memories dwelling in the moody backwaters of cyberspace.
Until then, I wish you good health.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Victory at Last

On June 24th, 2013, five signatures from the weathered hands of five stoic Gatekeepers of the Tunnel Exit signed a document confirming acceptance of my doctoral thesis for graduation.
The document concerned is the middle page in the photo below. Looking at it now, it makes me wonder about the intangible connection between the climbing of Mt Everest and the value of a certificate, however humble, saying that one had done so.

The moment itself was a favourable one. Immediately after my final defense session, I was courteously banished from the Room In Which The Decision Is Made for an indeterminable period of time. Sitting by myself outside, in the cumbersome unfamiliarity of a button-up shirt and tie I sat, involuntarily reliving the experience. The time was passed with minute self-critiques on how every rebuttal and explanation I provided could have been delicately improved. Feelings of quiet confidence began to seep into my conscious periphery with strangely unwelcome conspicuousness. When the stakes are so high, one does not dare to tempt the inestimable forces of irony with hubris.

When the door opened, I was welcomed in to the sight of all five professors on my assessment panel standing. I then received a handshake, and the words "Congratulations, Dr Farrand." 

And that was how, after years of toil, it came to pass. Euphoric, no; but satisfying, yes. Whether it was worthwhile will be judged in the years to come.

I intend to post a more detailed summary of the secrets, scandals, rewards and woes encountered during my PhD at Seoul National University, at a later date. In the unlikely event that I do not do so, I would like to preemptively convey my conviction to our valued readers (some of whom may be graduate students), that no single attribute or philosophy is the key to succeeding. But patience and hard work are strong contenders.

I do not wish to belittle in any form the efforts of any of my colleagues who have yet to complete, or who have previously chosen to give up on their PhDs, of which more of my closest friends at SNU have than haven't. The undertaking of such a decision is considerable in itself, and it's simply unfair to claim that success is entirely dependent on personal determination. A myriad of adverse outside forces are incessantly at work, and they are unbalanced in their selection of whom they wish to provide a greater number of stumbling blocks for.

For those seeking some form of inspiration or guiding advice for graduation, I would say the following. In order to graduate from any doctoral course of considerable difficulty, one must jump through a dizzyingly vast number of hoops, each of which, although small, collectively represent the difference between Making It and Not Making It. These hoops are tasks to be completed, deadlines to be met, people to be placated and any number of other tediously repetitive daily minutiae. Some people quit after jumping through only a few hoops, others quit after jumping through nearly all of them. If you are destined to quit, then it will most likely be a single hoop or a very small number of them that represent your final judgement.

The ability to succeed is helped not by an accurate assessment of the number of hoops or the amount of stamina required, but by a transformation of perspective. There are too many hoops to realistically comprehend without experiencing a potentially fatal dosage of inadequacy. One must therefore think of oneself as an amateur hoop-jumper from the beginning, practicing to become a professional. The focus lies not in jumping through all of the hoops, but to become so accustomed to jumping that no matter how many of them there are, the task will always be achievable given adequate time. Just keep jumping. There will be more hoops after you graduate.

While I'm relieved and happy to have completed this chapter, I'm acutely aware of the contributions made by my kids and especially my wife, who has endured my late nights in the lab, absent mindedness and workload complaints over the years with patience and dignity.

And I also hope to get back to more frequent blogging. Even the cobwebs here that used to provide some macabre decoration for my blog have long been abandoned by the Google spider. During some of my late nights in the lab, especially over the past few months, I would open my blog, scroll through the photos and read friendly comments left by readers from bygone eras. It certainly helped to lift spirits.

But anyway, for now, these hoops are done. They're dusted.
And there will be more to come.

"Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."
-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Friday, May 31, 2013

Royal Vavi

On the sidebar to the right of this post is a link to an online shop called Royal Vavi. It sells clothes and accessories for toddlers, and is run by a certain Korean brother-in-law of mine. I have three Korean brother-in-laws, but he's undoubtedly the biggest and scariest one. 

I shall tell you more about him someday.

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I've been in self-imposed blog torpor for the past couple of months largely due to my thesis defense sessions, the final of which is approaching on June 24th. It's a little busy these days, but the light at the end of the tunnel draws tantalisingly near. I hope to do some catch-up blogging in the near future, but am temporarily emerging from hibernation to plug these products.

Partly because I like to think of myself as a good brother-in-law.

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To bring our valued readers a better understanding of the quality children's goods available at Royal Vavi, we've chosen to display some of the merchandise with the help of these two toddler models.

We shall call them Toddels.

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Toddel #1 is getting bigger everyday. Note her height in comparison to Toddel #2, who is her cousin and two years her senior. Also note their purchase-worthy Royal Vavi clothing. The prices are very reasonable.

Although he doesn't speak an ounce of English, I'd like to thank scary Brother-in-law for the free clothes he gave us. And if you have a toddler of your own, I highly recommend perusing the fine clothes or accessories available at Royal Vavi.

See you soon!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Back in the Game

Alex is a very cool and chubby chap. But immediately after his birth, the ethereal master switch that governs the daily events of the Farrand household was reset again, as it was when Baengy was born.

And once again, we find ourselves under the command of another tiny tot.

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We have thus far surmised that he enjoys a snuggle, and a wrap.

And is becoming increasingly agreeable to the taste of milk.

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Mother Farrand breastfeeds him when possible, but at times the (wailing) demand exceeds available supply.

He's nearly a month old now, and on most days of the week appears to consume his own bodyweight in milk.

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Heather is a star.

As she has always been, in the role of Mother.

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Alex lost his fetal name of Ga-ga, pretty much as soon as he was born. He just seems more like an Alex than a Ga-ga.

Ashley, on the other hand, continues to be called Baengy by just about everyone. I'm sure it'll pass in due course.

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Alex opens his eyes for a few hours each day and has a look around. It sometimes seems as if he can see things, but at his age, he doesn't quite know what he's looking at.

If you zoom in and pay close attention to his pupils, you can see that they're just moving around in a somewhat random and leisurely manner. If I were obliged to narrate what I suppose he's thinking when he's looking all over the place, it would go a little something like this:

"I think I'm gonna have a little look towards the vicinity of my left now. Great. Ok, now I'm gonna have a look in the general direction of my right...A-huh. Now back to the left and up a bit. Cool."

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Sometimes it seems as if he can see us. But then if you move, he continues to stare at the place where you used to be.

And then if you say "Aaaaalex!", he'll wiggle his eyes over toward the general direction where he thinks you are.

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Australian Grandma and Grandpa kindly sent us some baby boy's clothes. But apart from those, we've just got a whole lot of Baengy's old garments. It seems a waste to go out and buy new ones.

I'm pretty sure Alex doesn't mind.

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Baengy's also being helpful and seems to be acutely aware of the new household arrival. When Alex starts crying, she'll turn to us and say "Agi-ya!" (baby!), as if to alert us to the wailing, in case we hadn't heard yet. 

She also touches Alex very carefully sometimes and says "Yeppeuda", which means "pretty".

With a bit of luck, they'll grow up to be good chums.