Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Korea: a list

The time has come that I must bid adieu to the Land of the Morning Calm and head back to Vancouver to finish writing this dissertation. With all this yummy field data that I will digest in the months to come, it looks kind of like this Korean pancake, with the panchan (side dishes) kind of orbiting the savory chaotic mass. Researchers out there, I'm sure you feel my pain.

My term as a Visiting Researcher at Seoul National University has wrapped up, along with my research scholarship with the National Institute for International Education (NIIED). It's been a very productive term chock-full of new people, places, and experiences.

At this point in time, my departure is quite bittersweet. While I am happy to be going back home to move onto this next chapter of the process (and therefore life in general), I leave a whole other life that I have built and learned to fully function within. (cue the Littlest Hobo theme). To give y'all just a glimpse of quirky Korea, I've compiled a little list of things I will miss about living here.

Things I will miss about living in Seoul (in no particular order):
  • The view of the Han river from both sides of line 4 between Dongjak and Ichon, day or night. I look whenever I can and it never gets old.
  • Delivery of almost anything, and in reusable containers they come back to retrieve.
  • Low property crime.
  • Open attitudes towards technologically enhanced lifestyles (for better or worse mind you)
  • Korea Post. It's a wonderful thing. Seriously.
  • Food that is actually cheaper on campuses, instead of taking advantage of captive students like some other campuses back home...(ahem)
  • Preferred seating at movie theatres. Makes lining up and saving seats at theatres seem downright barbaric.
  • Convenience stores that are actually convenient and not overpriced
  • 24hr city
  • Street Vendors who make life a little easier all around.
  • Customary no tipping and 'service buttons'
  • Short waits (e.g. prescription glasses in less than 30 minutes)
  • Made in Korea. Clothes, electronics, a whole heck of a lot. Almost always a domestic equivalent to imported (luxury) things.
  • Nights out with friends that don't break the bank
  • Not needing a car: The fabulous public transit system and plentiful taxis
  • The dry cold weather
  • Radiant heating
  • Last but most of all, my friends here and abroad who have been supportive, wonderful, and fun. It really is a Hub of Asia, and meeting so many different types of people staying in, or going through Seoul was great.
I could really go on. A lot of what I mentioned is a function of having so many people available (and trained in particular skills) in a densely packed environment. There are some good things about living with lots of people however, and I try to remember that when I'm living the sardine-life on Line 2 ;)

I fly out tomorrow. I look forward to seeing everyone again, including my ever-so-patient-and-supportive-through-all-of-this husband! It'll be interesting to find out what he's been doing lately too...heh.

Repatriation anxiety. I feel somewhat like a creature from the abyss that one must not take to the surface too quickly lest it explode from the trauma of changing environments. Be kind. I might bow instead of shake your hand for the next little while.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Enjoying the new gadget from Yongsan

After my recorder crapped out, a trip to Yongsan (famous for its electronics) was in order. I was avoiding the place at first because even though I'm a pretty good bargainer (schooled by my parents in the mean streets of SE Asia lol), I don't like doing it. I went to a conventional sticker-price shop, and found that their cheapest recorder was expensive ANYWAY... sigh. So I thought ok, might as well see if I can get a bargain at the piles of electronics at Yongsan station.

The electronics plaza is attached to the station (which happens to be a big train station too... reminded me of the movie "Total Recall"). As I made my way through the brightly lit stalls of ajeossis (Misters) welcoming me to their particular stall (they're all the same, they even trade stock amongst themselves and pretty much have agreed upon price ranges) I settled on one friendly looking chap and I brought out my old broken one so he knew I was serious but only willing to pay around as much as I did for my old one. :) We wheeled, dealed, of course, he brought out a calculator... I brought out the "I'm a student"... and we arrived at a very nice domestically made Safa 2GB recorder. It has much more capacity than the old clunker, smaller, higher quality sound, and an FM radio among other additional features.

As his assistant was packing it up, we chatted and he asked which university I was at, and I said "Seoul Dae"... and he commented that I must be very good at studying! He left and came back with an ‘ear MIC’ which records mobile phone conversations with the recorder I just bought and said “suhbisu” (service) which means “complimentary.” Not bankrupting them with my ajumma bargaining skills had its benefits after all... and if the prices online are any indication, I actually got a really really good deal (about 30%-50% off).

Tested it today by doing an interview in a really noisy coffee shop... and the sound is beautiful. One might dare say "sparkling."

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Friday, February 06, 2009


My digital voice recorder died today. A hacking, wheezing, gurgling, rather ungraceful death. I am tempted to give it a Norse send-off once I return to Vancouver at the end of the month.

I'm going around Seoul continuing to talk to as many people as possible before leaving. Hard to believe my fieldwork here is almost up. Need to get another DVR asap. The last thing I want to do right now is shop for this device... good grief.

It's a dull roar kind of busy right now... but I'm in the zone and rather enjoying that. At this point it's more important to savour the moment because I absolutely know that come March it will be time to process it all.

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