Thursday, February 05, 2015

Road Trip to Anmyeondo

Every once in a while, the Koryo Peninsula Farrands will venture out to rice paddies beyond the comfortably familiar, and embark on a road trip to imbibe new sights, sounds and smells.

Many months ago, one such journey took us to an innocuous little island that we shall call Anmyeondo.

I had been there many years ago, together with an entourage of adoptees on a government-sponsored program to wreak havoc on the motherland.

I have vague memories of fine sunsets, warm nights, and noraebang

And so it came to pass that I triumphantly returned, this time accompanied by wife and offspring.

We came by way of a then-new Farrand Mobile, which held up remarkably well along a series of meandering roads that to our muted dismay would become decreasingly less road-like.

Baengy took the opportunity out west to inspect a solar panel farm.

"A respectable conglomeration of photovoltaic systems," remarked she.

If tidal pools, stones and mud were alone responsible for making places famous, Anmyeondo would be far better known than it is today.

As it turned out though, we weren't the only pool-stone-mud admirers in the neighbourhood.

This photo of Baengy reminds me of the Spirit Rover, trekking across the windswept rocky plains of Mars.

Although Anmyeondo was a little less exotic than the Red Planet.

Photos are not the best devices to depict wind, but it was quite a windy day. Our daughter's gleeful reaction in the photo above was her response to the force of the gusts, which were enough to wave her hands around.

And those little cauliflower-like patterns in the sand were produced by sandworms. Quite possibly distant ancestors to the Sarlacc.

Baengy is the pale yellow dot in this photo, appearing like a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam.

We recalled her back to basecamp shortly thereafter and encapsulated her in a cosmic biosuit to protect her from the elements.

The next steps of the Spirit Rover came timidly at first, but then with higher frequency and rising confidence.

Like the pitter-patter of introductory raindrops before the monsoonal downpour.

Baengy and I soon realised that we had no time to waste in constructing a sand berm, if we were to stand a chance at protecting our matriarch and precious larva from the unforgiving winds.

Precious larva seemed suitably impressed with the fortifications.

But then again, precious larva is easily impressed in general.

If you tickle his toes, you've made a friend for life.

No praise is too high for the efforts of Super Mum, the stalwart mothership who even managed to recapture the rebellious Spirit Rover after it failed to obey commands to return to base. Those commands were transmitted over numerous audio channels and even received a visual acknowledgement of receipt.

Suffice to say, Spirit Rover can be quite mischievous at times.

It wasn't long before the sun set on our voyage west. Anmyeondo is recommendable if you like solitude, windy beaches, and unremarkable geological features. We had a good time overall, but mainly due to the family travel factor. The west of Korea is not unlike the east, but with more tidal action.

If you're in Korea and looking for a nice road trip, I'd say that the south-west of the country (Haenam) is probably a better bet. I'll make a post on that, sometime soon.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice. Hi, my name is Lee.

Time. Energy. Access to a computer.

When these three entities are in temporal alignment, a celestial event referred to as a Blog Posting can occur. Such events happened with greater frequency in times past, but two hyperspace anomalies recently supervening in our quadrant have been sucking all resources and material toward their gaping maws, wreaking general havoc on all that was once good and peaceful in the galaxy.

Their names are Ashley and Alex.

Since last posting, much has happened in the world of the Farrand family. No news is good news, as they say. We continue to do very well, despite having neglected my old friend The Blog, who at one time dearly comforted my ego as a friend in whom I could reliably confide.

I am aware that there may no longer remain any remote interest in the life and tribulations of a single expat in the cybersea of one million foreigners currently residing on the Koryo Peninsula

But I can say that I've recently bought an iPhone 6, and no longer have photo storage issues.

A veritable catacomb of myriad orifices may be a good way to describe the daunting labyrinth of unposted photos residing in my desktop image folders.

New folder. New Folder(1). New Folder(2). New Folder(3)... ad nauseum

So what I'll do is post about past events incongruently, and imagine the software-based forensic historians of the future can patch up any inconsistencies, should they care.

I'm of the persuasion that anything we publish online these days has no reason to find itself deleted, save for deliberate action. The reason being that although what we say is of only minute historical significance, the economy of modern memory technology effectively renders deletion a needless activity.

I was recruited by a Korean pharmaceutical company after graduating from SNU in August 2013. The job was lined up from February 2013 due to a lucky mix of contacts and a man called Anthony Nguyen, who serendipitously introduced me to my current boss on the sidelines of a symposium.

And I must say, it's one of the best things in life that has happened to me. Apart from growing up in Australia, moving to Korea, marrying my wife and having kids. 

My company, which will remain nameless for search purposes, is an excellent place to work. Sure, the working culture has it's own differences and peculiarities, but nothing is a match for the insanity of Korean graduate school. Having spent more than four years within the immalleable bureaucracy of the SNU machine, nothing is too much for my now experience-hardened and immutable patience.

The work is stimulating, but most importantly, the people I work with are people I like and respect. They make me want to work harder. Although I'm the only foreigner in our company (of 1,500 employees), and despite my sketchy Korean skills, I've never once been made to feel sidelined because of it.

I have a variety of duties including business development, communication with overseas parties and medical writing. I also spend some of my time doing cancer screening experiments in the labs. Each week brings something new and interesting.

An oddity I've observed at this company is that normal work statistics do not seem to apply. My previous formulation of Lee's Law states that, "For every 10 researchers that exist, at least one will be difficult to get along with."

This does not seem to hold true for my current company, as I've yet to identify a difficult person. There could, however, be a secret enclave of difficult people all working together in a unit of the company somewhere, whom I have yet to meet. This would fulfill the requirements of Lee's Law, statistically speaking.

These two gentlemen are both directors in my unit, called the R&D Strategic Planning and Operation Unit. We three went hiking soon after my induction, and ended up walking about 13 km, stopping to drink makkeoli at a cemetery and eating pajeon on the way home.

Nothing is better for bonding than talking about the intricacies of work politics while tipsy in a cemetery. 

I started an English conversation club that's held during Wednesday lunchtimes, which has continued for a year now. It's been a good way to make new friends, and the company has been kind enough to support us with a dinner budget to celebrate every six months.

I joined the company with a group of new employees, and we've bonded well as dongi (fellow inductees). We had a housewarming party at our new apartment, and one of my colleagues brought his two daughters over as well.

I like it when guests play with my kids.

And then there are the company 회식, or work dinners, which are an integral part of Korean corporate culture. At these mythical events, one is expected to get tipsy and become more frank with others, thereby serving an important social function - to maintain harmony amongst co-workers who would otherwise have no appropriate venue to vent or fraternise. 

Although dreaded by some, I tend to enjoy our work dinners immensely. It's free food and alcohol.

Heather continues to be an extremely impressive mother. She is stalwart, steady and comforting. Our relationship has always been remarkably good, and only seems to be getting better. That may also be because I'm losing some of my unseasoned tendencies with age. May time continue to mellow the immature tannins of my personality.

If I had to pass but one piece of advice onto the younger generation, it would be to work on making yourself good enough to deserve someone you admire.

And our two kids continue to bring us much delight, albeit with much energy displacement. The best way to describe them in common terms would be two heavy, spongy, variably-smelling, jumping jellybeans of mischief and entertainment.  

Ashley is speaking a fair bit of Korean and a little broken English these days, while Alex emits random vocalisations from which meanings can be discerned by pitch and duration.

As another new year dawns on us, I do wonder whether I'll be able to post more often, if not for the sake of tracking the rapid growth and development of my aggies. But then Lee's Korea Blog will inevitably become more of a Lee's Kids Blog. I am acutely aware of how uninteresting it can be reading about another person's kids. But what can you do. 

You are more than welcome to follow along if you are interested in seeing two little Korean kids grow longer bones and proportionally smaller heads.

Wishing you a safe and prosperous 2015.