Monday, September 29, 2008

At the speed of palli palli

It's certainly been a full, eventful first month here in Seoul.
Every time I would think of something new to blog, something else would demand my -urgent-undivided- attention. Par for the course in being here, and settling in.

To give you an idea, here's a brief...
oh.. look another email saying I need to be somewhere in an hour...
Ok, but first I will give a brief run-down, play-by-play, week-by-week of the events of the last month.
Wait, there's someone at the door wanting me to sign something....

ok. back. Hi. :)

Remember my last entry post-Chuseok that said everything was calming down? I think Fate heard me and wanted to teach me a lesson...
Life until that point had been quite hectic as previously implied--between living in a hotel (loong story), getting used to life, drowning in paperwork between multiple agencies, and um, finding breakfast... things were kinda crazy busy. Palli palli--everyone wants things yesterday (or within the next hour, if you please)... and it's often not deferrable.

The move (South Seoul):
After pressing 'publish' on my last entry, I got a some good news about my paperwork being processed (again, a long story) and not an hour after that, I was to be ready to process more paperwork and move into my actual apartment here within the hour (as opposed to the 'Pretty Woman' setup I was currently in... ha. Am I the only one amused by that? Probably). So, I rush all over the university with the ever patient and always helpful department secretary... 2 hours later I was in my new home. With a bed. Sans bedsheets. Stayed in the hotel for another night packing, then the next morning schlepped all my stuff on my own 2 blocks back and forth. Up the hill, down the hill, up the hill, etc. Then checked out of the hotel with my month-long tab :P
Went to Lotte Mart after that to procure some bed sheets. If you like western style 'simple' bed sheets, bring them from home. I was familiar with the floor-style quilts, so I thought the ajummas were showing me those, but alas... bedding here for mattresses (which is what I had in the new place) is thick and quilted. So I bought a 'set.' Schlepped it back on the subway.... minutae... of daily life... right here. Just getting a grip on how to 'run my own household' married to what's available to buy is something that I needed to wrap my head around (the bedsheet thing being just but one example).

The AKS conference (East Seoul):
Right after that, I presented a paper at the Academy of Korean Studies World Congress at the Sheraton Walkerhill in Seoul (Sept 21-24).
Pictures are here on my flickr>>

Came back from the conference, and took the time to procure more household essentials spotted on Craigslist Seoul... as there's always someone leaving the country and needing to sell off their household stuff.

X-Media Lab (West Seoul):
Right after that, I attended the X-Media Lab Seoul at the Digital Media City (DMC) on the other side of town. It was a fruitful day of meeting industry people and getting some leads on people I would like to interview from the local and global community. Saw metaverse buddies again, which was cool.
Pictures here on flickr>>

NIIED orientation day celebration (North East Seoul):
THE NEXT DAY... was the celebration for grantees of the Korean Government Scholarships at Kyunghee University. It brought together all fellows of this award from all over the world for orientation and celebration. It was very United Nations-esque.
In the evening, I met with current and past award holders as well... and it was really interesting to hear their stories (and encouraging!).
Pictures on flickr>>

And that more or less brings me to today. After a long month of ups and downs, the details of which this blog is mostly immune due to its capacity (and mine;) (see twitter and FB etc)... I hope to be on the upswing of things big and little... and do the research I set out to do... though I could write a really long paper on the workings of bureaucracy... ah, but for another time. ^^

And now, onto another task...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Post-Chuseok n things

It almost feels like a 'new year' around here... with fresh shipments of (whatever) coming to my local store post-Chuseok, and just a generally more relaxed vibe--well, as relaxed as Seoul gets?:) It's back to business as usual, more or less.

Most places were closed, but what was essentially Seoul's 'skeleton' of operation was still way more happening than other cities in their everyday situations.

The Korean farmers this were a little panicked at the harvest for this year's Chuseok offerings, as the Lunar calendar doesn't always coincide with the yearly ripening of fruits, etc. There was so much good looking fruit packed into perfect gift-boxes. Here's a ripening persimmon on a tree beside my bus stop:

and the full Chuseok moon overlooking Gangnam:

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Friday, September 12, 2008

It's Chuseok weekend....

It's the beginning of Chuseok weekend here in Korea...
My plans to go to Pusan fell through (gotta love the unpredictability of fieldwork!), so I'm staying in Seoul after all. Because much of the population will be attempting to get out of the city to their home villages (I've experienced this before, and traffic is uuuugly...) it will be an interesting experience to see what the city is like in a rare and relatively 'quiet' time.
There are actually quite a few 'cultural events' taking place in Seoul. Check out this expat-oriented website for a list of activities for Chuseok>>

Like holidays anywhere, people get pretty stressed out about Chuseok because there's a lot of lead up in terms of preparation and organization. But I'm pretty sure from first-hand experience that the proportion of stress for this holiday is considerably more than 'enjoyment'... as the rituals associated with Chuseok are all about the ancestors and thanking them for the 'good harvest' generally coinciding with the 15th day of the 8th month in the Lunar calendar. After Chuseok, people seem to relax much more around here and meetings/interviews (just say) are much easier to schedule.

The next ancestor-oriented holiday in Korea that I'll be able to observe is Seollal (Lunar New Year). That time is very important as well, and a little more cheerful... I mean, you'd say Happy New Year... but saying Happy Chuseok is something I only hear expats say ;)

So, I'm off to brunch and then I'll probably take in some of these events to -learn myself- some culture.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Techno-nomadic life indeed

After participating in the LiftAsia 08 conference in Jeju, I had a couple of days worth of spotty access to the Internetz. It was surprisingly traumatic. Usually, I love getting away for a while but -under my terms-. I suppose that's the difference, and what with being in a different time zone, different country, trying to organize things any other way kind of bites. After all, for those of you who have seen what phone I'm using, it garners giggles from other Koreans (it's hard for foreigners to get snazzy phones here, or phones at all for a reasonable price). Missing a call here, or not responding to email for a while is just not an option especially given the administrative headaches of 'settling in' to a new country. It gave the talks on Techno-Nomadic life, connectivity, and battery life some more meaning for me.

This brings me to Bruce Sterling's talk at Lift -- he came out in full force for the first day... saying that cell phones were the way to go. And before you immediately dismiss what he says as utopian, quite the contrary. It was because he wanted to talk about the poverty, and the world's poor. He distinguished between those who 1) Can't make money (i.e. are incapable) and 2) People who have no money because they're shut out of the current financial system. (This session was to do with virtual money).
He distinguished between the typical 'digital divide' being about the literate and non-literate, and generally people are familiar with those debates. There was a division between the computer wealthy and the computer poor. There is no cell phone divide, he stated. People are surprised at how eager the poor are to have cell phones. ***Methinks to self, it's because our technologies are moving more towards oral as opposed to literate-biased technologies (see Walter Ong).
The people to whom innovations in virtual money, cell phones, etc matter are going to be the urban poor. They are the stakeholders in the post-cash economy. He then drew parallels to the relevant situation in North/South Korea to East/West Germany. He urged South Koreans to think of their next user as possibly a North Korean, and how South Korea's rapid technological rise (within 50 years) will have to be -even more compressed- to 10-15 for North Korea.
It was a thought provoking talk... and one of many.

Well, that ought to give you an idea of the variable flavours of talks at this conference. Speakers included Joonmo Kwon, Jan Chipchase, Christian Lindholm, Bruno Bonnell, Adam Greenfield, and a really cool demo by Jury Hahn on Megaphone. Rather than name everyone, pictures are better. :) See my flickr set>>

There are also more if you follow the buzz.... liftasia08.

The next one is in Geneva for the end of February... I'll be just finishing up my stay in Korea at that point, but I'm keeping my eye on future iterations.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Going to Jeju Island for Lift Asia 08

This week, I'll be going to Lift Asia 08, which is happening in Jeju, Korea September 4-6.

From the website:
Lift Asia will cover some of the most important changes ahead, like the emergence of urban and green technologies, robots, the future of the web, or the new ways of working and living. The program features eight sessions like "Beyond The Web We Know", "Towards a Networked City", "From Robots To Networked Objects", "Virtual Money" and "The Near Future Of Social Worlds".

The list of confirmed speakers is here.

And the full program shows why this conference promises to be stellar, enlightening, inspiring, and dare I say... fun? (karaoke!? yessss)

More on that, later...

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Seoul - one week in

Well, I've been here for a week now.
Amidst so many conflicting emotions, cultural and linguistic adjustment, and being wrapped with red tape (and tied with a cute little bow) I've managed to get some semblance of a groove going.

I'm still kinda 'getting over' being here, so at this point I'm not really sure what I should blog. That is, how personal, how informative, how detailed should I make my entries? As my first priority, I've been writing my own notes and reflections like mad since arriving, but most of that is best left to incubate. Between flickr, twitter, facebook... what is redundant? I'm giving myself time to figure it out. Anthropologists of old no doubt had the same emotional rollercoaster that is part and parcel with being in the field... but in no other time like the present has there been the opportunity to keep so very in touch. The good, bad, and ugly... real time. There are good points to that, but also takes away the glossy sheen of representation after reflection in more academic writing. Imagine if Malinowski had been blogging what he was really thinking the whole time?:) I'll try to keep things at a medium hum, how about that?

Speaking of flickr, here's a set from my first week here. Some pics taken ninja-style so as to not make people feel awkward (cuz I don't look like a tourist here!) others taken during points of levity...