Saturday, January 31, 2009

End of employment with SeQuential

Well, after four plus years, I am finally all done working for SeQuential. My formal employment ended last November, but I stayed on as a contractor until now. Ignoring all the sentiments, I wanted to share the following discovery:

I archived all my old emails and found that from 6/9/05 to 2/1/09, a period of 1,333 days, I sent 35,501 emails (not counting multiple recipients), which works out to 27 emails per day. Counting business days only, there were approximately 917, or 39 per day.


LSD Fixed Gear Blog

LSD Fixed Gear wrote a post about my visit - check it out. (The post is in Korean, but here is an automatically translated version... be warned the translation leaves much to be desired.)


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some random moments

Things have been moving quickly here lately, so I figured I'd dump a bunch of experiences onto one page instead of sorting them all out into separate stories.

  • I finally have a job (training starts tomorrow) teaching English to adults. I don't know yet whether it will be business English or just prepping people for Sara's classes. All in all, I had two interviews, one mock teaching and another surprise interview with the #2 in command at the company. After the interview we went to lunch and had the best food I've had here yet - some noodles and beef, cooked at the table. This really was the first beef I've intentionally eaten in over 10 years - I may have given up on being a vegetarian, but force of habit meant that I never really got around to eating much meat... I got this far without it, so why do I need it? Anyway, it probably would have been culturally inappropriate for me to no want to eat the food, so good thing I had no qualms! It was delicious!
  • The Lunar New Year was last weekend. It is the biggest holiday in Korea (so I've heard) and people go back to their homes for it, meaning Seoul empties out. Sara and I were going to go to Busan in the south for the holiday, but train tickets were sold out. Staying in Seoul was nice - the quietest we've seen it. The subways ran fewer services and there were not many people on. Even the outdoor market closed down - there were taxis driving down it (it is closed to cars normally) looking confused - they had probably never been on that street before.
  • Sara and I went out to dinner and a cultural show with a friend of her's from graduate school. We went to a Brazilian restaurant where meat was the name of the game - they bring it in a never ending stream to you your table on skewers. Steak was my favorite, the roast beef and garlic beef were pretty good, chicken hearts were surprisingly good and the chicken wings were poor. I turned down the pork dishes - though I heard they were the best out of all.
  • The cultural show was an hour and a half of traditional drumming, dancing, singing and music. The drums were ok, if a bit loud, but they had a metal cymbal-like percussion instrument that they just beat without mercy, which was piercing. The more serious dances were a bit too sophisticated for me (read slow). The singing was a great sort of wailing guttural haunting strange sound.

    The best part they saved towards the end - the drummers dance around with special hats on that have spinning ribbons on them... something like this:

  • As part of the show, two of the performers were trying to show the other up. They got out some plates and spun them on sticks and would do a trick, asking for the audience for applause. One was good natured and the other bad - he would always give the other guy a thumbs down. They then went out into the audience, looking for volunteers. Despite my best efforts at ignoring them, I got chosen to come up on stage and was given a spinning plate on a stick and told to throw it up in the air for the other guy to catch. Of course I was given the bad natured fellow as a receiver and he let my first toss fall to the ground, despite it being on target. I played along and he caught my second throw. As a thank-you, I got the following prize:

    What I need a 2.5 foot bamboo pipe for, I will never know.
  • I went back to LSD Fixed Gear and got invited to a group ride on Sunday. They are having a film shoot for an UNQLO project and need footage of riders. I'm borrowing a kind of wonky bike - loose bottom bracket and hubs - but I'll make due. A teaser:
  • Overcoming the language barrier, I deduced what the beautiful Del Rosa is destined for: being painted, given some stickers of a company I've never heard of and added to the collection. Not for sale - just repainted and relabeled nice frames. On the lighter side, there is a bike company called Gayass.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

LSD Fixed Gear Bicycle

EDIT: In the following months after writing the below post, my enchantment with LSD has turned to a cold reality. I have been trying to beat around the bush and not make any enemies, but I guess I should just come out and say that unless you are looking for a biking community, you should bypass LSD completely. They are expensive, slow, and as mechanics they are moderately to dangerously incompetent. We have had so many problems with them and it is heartbreaking since they had so much potential.



Before coming to Korea, I searched around to see if Seoul had a fixed gear scene. I came across a bike shop called LSD ( Through the magic of google translate, I gathered that they act as a hub for bike events and rides. I tried finding their shop a few times with no luck, but then finally figured out that they were in a basement shop with the staircase in sort of an alley.

Within five minutes of being there, I had a beer in my hand (a Hoegaarden) and knew that I had found a new home. It is a decent sized shop (for Seoul standards) and has lots of parts, frames, wheels, etc. The language barrier is definitely present, but they had heard of bike polo and definitely want to learn. I borrowed someone's bike and we rode around in the alley doing some tricks - it has been 21 long days away from my bike.

A shot of some of the swag in their shop - lots of Roundeneers, Michle, a few pieces of Phill Wood, some Aerospokes, and boxes and boxes of all colors of glittery cable housing. I didn't see a single break or deurrailer in the place, so I'm not sure what the cable housing was about.

A full line up of Park Tools. They seemed open to letting people use their tools.

I spent a few hours there and a steady stream of people came in and out to say hello or buy parts - not bad for being in the middle of winter, coming up on a large holiday (the Lunar New Year) and in the middle of the afternoon. One person came in who had pretty good English - we were making small talk and he asked if it was hard for me to get into the country, which it had not been. He then asked if I had ever been to the US... I was a bit confused and told him I was from the US. Apparently, when I had told people that I was from Portland, they had heard Poland!

After a while, I asked where a bathroom was and was lead to a storage area and pointed towards a door. I walked through and found myself in a very short stairwell that led nowhere, filled with some random pieces of wood and a few boxes.

Squat toilets are not unheard of here, so I began searching for one, but couldn't find anything. After a few minutes of thinking, I figured that when I asked for a bathroom, it might have been heard as backroom. Cognitively, it made no sense whatsoever, but I decided to go back and ask again. Turns out that one of the walls was actually a sliding door to a regular bathroom... go figure.

There is an absolutely beautiful De Rosa frame at the shop - usually I'm not a fan of bright colors - I prefer grays or browns or blacks - but this green De Rosa calls to me.

I was snapping photos of the place when someone asked for my camera and called everyone around for a group photo.

LSD does rides on Fridays or Saturdays, with monthly events, etc. I'm looking forward to getting back on the saddle (they offered to loan me a bike) and learning the streets of Seoul! I don't know how easy it will be to find ski poles, but all the other parts for mallets are readily available. I think I'll start working on that while talking people up for polo.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our visit to America Street

Due partly to not being able to find food that fully satisfies, and partly just out of curiosity, Sara and I took a trip to America Street. Named by its proximity to a US Military base, America Street is filled with GIs, expats and shops to serve them.

In the other parts of Seoul we've been to, like the part we live in, there is hardly any diversity at all - just Koreans, the occasional Chinese and the very rare Caucasian. America Street had a full range of ethnicity, which was nice to see. Shops were labeled in English and there was a wide variety of ethnic restaurants - Greek, Arabic, Indian, Mexican, Thai, Italian, etc. It seemed poignant at the time that what made me feel longing for home was restaurants serving food from foreign lands.

We of course went to a Mexican restaurant (we didn't have high hopes). I know it must be difficult to create a meal out of ingredients that aren't available... but I wonder if it is worth the trouble. The tortilla reminded me of a burrito I ate in college - it was a microwave burrito and I had forgotten to turn the microwave on. The beans were all wrong. The rice was Korean short grained white rice. The bell peppers were fresh and delicious. The sauce was canned chili with ground beef. The spices were based in Korean chili peppers.

Anyway, we wandered the street, making our way by cart after cart of fake Gucci purses. Listening to other Americans talk was painful at times - our reputation for being loud and obnoxious didn't come out of the blue. People were walking around shops drinking Budweiser. I saw a few prostitutes. I thought about getting a suit custom made.

I had expected to enjoy hearing people speaking English and being able to read words on signs and products. In reality, since Sara and I are trying to fit into Korean culture as best we can - but the people on America Street are just doing their thing, not trying to learn. You can't blame them really, as you get stationed wherever you get stationed, but I think for now we'll stick to the rest of the city.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Sasha's Big Day Out or Seoul is a Large City

The other day I decided to take the metro to the Han river (that bisects the city) and check out the paths and recreation areas. The river is only three metro stops away, so I decided that I'd walk back to the house from the station... without a map... turns out the city is a lot larger than I imagined.

The river Han itself is about a kilometer wide. There are a ton of bridges over it, but since they are so big they aren't as personal as those in Portland.

This shows the walking paths, the other side of the river and the little island halfway accross.

Here is a bit better view of the park - good sized, but kind of barren. Granted it is January, but there are only four people out, playing croquet of all things...

Way off in the distance you can see some more high-rises. I'm not sure if that is Seoul proper, but I assume so.

Crossing the bridge is not to eventful - wide sidewalks and what will probably be much better views in the summer. But then at the end of the path:

A bunch of highways and largely deserted areas. Not wanting to get too lost in what didn't look like the best part of town (although I've been assured there are no bad parts of town...) I decided to take the path on the south side of the river towards what I thought would be the continuation of a metro line I knew.

The path stretched on for a very long time with no exits - the freeway was on one side and the Han on the other. Again, I thought that this place would be full of people, but it is January and the banks of the Han had ice on them. Every once in a while a cyclist would go past me - I found an interesting sign for bikes as well.

I expected stairs or something, but it was only a hairpin turn - nothing I would put a sign up for.

The path went on and on - past people fishing, some swan paddle boats tied up for the winter, and a lot of construction. Really there wasn't anything too exciting to look at, but this building with a coke-esque line on it caught my eye:

Love your life.
Love your dream.
Write on your buildings in a language your population can't read.

I eventually had to cut through some construction zone to get off of the foot path and back into the city.

From here I managed to find a sign towards a station - sure it was a few klicks away, but I had already walked a ton, so why not keep going. I finally got there, after learning about underground crosswalks (can't disrupt the cars), and realized that it was a light rail station - not the metro. I had no idea how it met up with any of the metro stations, but I managed to get someone at the help desk to say which train I needed to take. I got on the train and managed just in time to figure out what line I was on and which transfer I needed in time to jump back off.

So, after four hours of walking and about 25k, I made it back home, the three metro stops away.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Searching but no finding

The past few days have been spent getting the apartment in order - dishes, cookware, towels, a floor bed mat, etc. and figuring out food. We're almost set with knowing what food we are going to get when we order and our rice-maker at home is working great.

Today I decided to try to get some of the harder things on our list: floor and table lamps, a wireless router (I blew mine up with this spicy Korean electricity) and since it was Sara's first day of work, some flowers for her.

A few days ago I found a wireless router, but it was 80,000 won, which is about $69. Figuring I could find a better deal, I started wandering the streets. I found an Office Depot, which only had wired routers (but an incredible selection of stickers), and a few other computer stores that were closed. Finally I found a computer store that was open, but I got the "you don't understand what I'm saying so I'll say it really loud and slowly" treatment from the owner in Korean.

While wandering around, I found one store that sold lamps, but none of them had price tags. I asked the shopkeeper how much they were and he got this stupid grin on his face, managed to get it back off his face and then quoted me a few prices. Needless to say, I didn't buy any lamps there!

As an intermission, I got myself a little bun from a bakery that had some sort of creamy something on the inside. I have no idea what it was and I can't say that I'll get one again.

My search for flowers also came up fruitless - in fact I don't think I've seen any live flowers or live grass since I've gotten here. Most trees are deciduous, so the only green things I've seen are some landscape bamboo at the Samsung tower and a few scraggly hedges.

Well, I think I'll do some research before I go out next time - wandering the streets isn't the worst, but I'd like to get some accomplishments under my belt. Now I'm back at home, warming my feet (damn it is cold outside) and thinking about dinner.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Forget the setbacks - we're in Korea!

So skipping all the details, the waiting and the final decision to go (with only three weeks notice), Sara and I are in Korea! Our plane left at noon on December 31st and we arrived January 1st at 10pm - and no, they didn't serve champagne in cattle class. The flight was about 12 hours from Portland to Tokyo and two hours from Tokyo to Seoul, but all in all, it didn't feel that bad.

Our apartment is pretty small, but has radiant floor heating, which is great. I never knew I liked having warm feet until now. We got a bunch of kitchen / bath supplies as well as groceries - I didn't think ahead of time how much you have to have to set up a home.

Sara and I have been walking around and exploring - back streets, alleyways, subways, etc. Her new employer showed us where she's going to teach - a pretty swanky place in a swanky part of town - and gave us some tips on riding the subway, etc.

At first, we didn't have a dictionary, so food was pretty hit or miss - just select a random thing off of a menu (unless there were pictures). I had some great udon noodles today and also some seafood fried rice. We took a paper menu home and have been working on translating it so that we are better in the know.

We went into a Dunken Donuts to get a coffee and what we got was a shot of drip coffee into a cup full of hot water - a bastard Americano if you will. Ordering Americanos is much more productive, although not up to Portland standards.

In general, people don't pay us too much attention, but on the subway, I notice a lot of people looking at my beard. An old man came up and talked to us in English (the first time we've been approached) and asked where we were from. He told me he liked my beard and gave it a little poke. Then he said he was 80 years old and got off the subway. Very cute. We've seen very few white people thus far - they stick out like a sore thumb though.

In all the shopping and eating out that we've done so far, we have encountered close to no English speakers. Fortunately, it is easy enough to say hello, yes, no and thank you in Korean. The exchange rate is killer and things are pretty cheap regardless.

So far I'm in great spirits - I keep on forgetting I'm in Korea to be honest - it seems more like a giant Korea Town. Being connected to people around the world and news sources in English helps, but I know that at some point it will hit me that I'm thousands of miles away from everything I know and understand. I've done some reading on living abroad and there are set stages you go through:
  • Everything is new and exciting
  • Everything is foreign and confusing
  • Everything sucks and you want to go home
  • You get over yourself and everything is just OK
It'll be interesting to see myself go through these stages - I'm definitely in the first stage - I wonder if knowing about them will help when I hate the world!