Thursday, March 31, 2005

Vacation Bum

I continue to be a complete bum on my vacation. And I am enjoying it, too. Mrs. Stumbler and I went Tuesday night to a nice dinner, where I ate some duck dish. Unlike duck I had in China, this was served without the head! We have also made a few trips to the YMCA, where I walked on the treadmill and compared the equipment to my Korean "sporens". Pretty much the same, except the YMCA equipment is all setup for English units (miles) and the Korean equipment is setup for metric (kilometers). In fact, I looked at all the buttons on the treadmill, thinking there would be a UNITS button where you could change, but apparently it must be fixed at the treadmill factory. Another cool feature of the YMCA treadmill is that you can see your pulse on the display if you hold onto the bar.

I also played some racquetball, and indeed I was right. The short time I played Squashie in Korea completely messed up my mind for Racquetball. It took me almost two games before I could judge the bounce of the ball. After that, I was so tired that Mrs. Stumbler was almost able to beat me! I was going to take my camera today to the YMCA and get some great action shots of the Stumbler gracefully playing racquetball, but alas my battery was dead and needed charging.

One evening I walked around in the local Costco store while Mrs. Stumbler stocked up on food. I came across this amazing display selling movie tickets! A little strange, I thought, but then I read the fine print - This Package Contains No Product. That is amazing - all that plastic, printing, shipping, display, of an EMPTY PACKAGE! Seems like quite a waste to me. (Sorry for less than perfect photos here, I didn't have my camera and took these with my hand phone).

Movie Tickets for Sale Posted by Hello

This Pakage Contains No Product !!!!! Posted by Hello

Tonight is opening night for the big spring musical at our local high school. Young Stumbler #1 has a part in the production, and has been working very hard for months. I look forward to a wonderful evening at the theatre. I don't think I can take photos during the play, but I can show the poster.

Opening Tonight - Big Musical with YS #1 Posted by Hello

All for now. I'll try to post one more time Friday before heading back to Korea. Tomorrow is Chain Say Day for the Stumbler, so I suspect I will have some good photos to share.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

One Year Older

I knew it, I knew it. Back during the Korean New Year, Sollal (설날) I was served a delicious traditional soup, dokguk (떡국), several times. I was told it was tradition that you must eat this soup, or else you wouldn't get older in the coming year. Now I can testify that indeed, I have aged by one year in 2005, I am sure entirely due to the large bowls of Dokguk that I ate back in February. What was I thinking, Old Man Stumbler, to eat this soup?

What! One More Year??? Posted by Hello

We had small celebration last night, where I blew out my one candle on the special cheesecake that Mrs. Stumbler made for me. Yummy.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Big Hunt Day

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and we began by attending special early morning church. Normally this is held outside, but yesterday the weatherman was calling for rain, hail, and 50 mph winds (which never came). So it was inside. Then we had a big breakfast, where The Stumbler ate two large servings of his favorite breakfast food, GRITS.

When we came home, all the Young Stumblers (#1 through #4) went to the back yard for the Easter egg hunt.

Before the Hunt Begins Posted by Hello

YS#3 Scouting for Prey Posted by Hello

I Found One - Under the Trampoline!!! Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Egg Hunt and New Wheels

Friday I suffered a setback in my jet lag - I lay down 11am for a short nap, and didn't wake up until 9pm at night! However, I seem to be better now, Saturday I stayed awake all day until going to sleep at 7pm. Saturday was the annual Easter Egg Hunt and party at church, and we had a good time. Since I have been in Korea since 2 January, I had not seen many friends for a long time. Photo below is Young Stumbler #4 decorating an egg.

Easter Egg on a Stick Posted by Hello

The next highlight of the day was purchasing a new (well, actually a used) car for Young Stumbler #1. YS#1 has done an outstanding job in High School, and has earned a full scholarship for college. Mrs. Stumbler and I promised her a car if she received a scholarship, so yesterday we got her one. She seems very happy. The only problem I have with this car is the color - it is black, which isn't good in the hot South USA weather. But YS#1 loves it, and is very happy with black. For the record, it is 2002 Mazda Protoge, which I am told is similar to the Stumbler's old Mazda 626 model.

Look Dad - I'm Taller Than The Car, and Barefoot!!! Posted by Hello

We wrapped up the day with a new recipe for the Stumbler, something called "White Chicken Chili". It was very good - sorry no photograph. I got to help by crushing up some garlic, and my fingers smelled like garlic for an hour. All for now - Happy Easter.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Stumbling Home

Had good trip home Thursday. No flight problems, and I got some good sleep, too. When I began making long business trips a few years ago, I could never sleep on an airplane. Somehow I have learned over the years to have a short sleep. I am still jealous of one colleague I know from California. He will lean his seat back as soon as the wheels lift off the runway, and go straight to sleep, and he won't wake up until the plane touches down.

Homecoming Decorations Posted by Hello

I was greeted at home with some fancy decorations and balloons! Can someone comment please - who is the fellow in the "Welcome Home" poster? I know he is some famous cartoon character, but my mind draws a blank. After unpacking lots of clothes, we settled in on the deck in the sunshine to read the paper and drink some green tea. Mrs. Stumbler has heard that being out in the sunshine helps adjusting for the big time zone changes - and I am happy to sit outside because I think our deck doesn't get enough use, and the early spring weather is very nice. Today the high temperature will be 73F (23C).

Maybe the sunshine did the trick. I was able to stay awake until 6pm, and slept until 5am. Much better than when I wake up at 2am on past trips. Hopefully I can keep a normal sleep schedule this coming week. I will post some photos Monday of weekend activities.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Vacation Time

On Tuesday I was up all night with a terrible stomach ache. I thought I was down for a couple days, but thankfully by Tuesday evening I was feeling better. Maybe the cure was the soup my Korean friends encouraged me to eat for lunch? (I think the sausage dinner I had Monday night might have been the cause). Anyway, I was well enough to make a final shopping trip to a nearby music and book store. SY agreed to meet me after work (I think she wanted to check up on me and make sure I was really better).

She had previously told me that this music store was a really big one, and I could find almost any CD I wanted. And she was right, it was a pretty big place, comparable to large music stores in USA and others I have seen in Japan. But I was completely unprepared for the bookstore. It was HUGE! I wasn't initially planning to buy any books, but SY pointed out that I could get some grammar books. She asked the clerk where to look, and we were sent to the foreigners' section. I should say separate book store - at this place, just the foreigners' section was as big or bigger than any bookstore I have seen in America, and it was just one small portion of the whole bookstore! Amazing - today, my friend CH told me that a couple of years ago, he heard that this book store was the largest in all of Asia!

We picked out a grammar and vocabulary work book for my Korean studies. SY bought a package of western movies (either DVD or VCD's, I couldn't be sure) sold especially for learning English. Apparently they have included the English subtitles for these movies, and linked them to Korean translations. As I understand it, you can pause the movie and look up the equivalent Korean phrase. There were many sets of movies, and she chose one that included some old classics (I think the 1970 movie "Love Story" was the reason she chose this set).

Just Like Elementary School Posted by Hello

Speaking of foreigners, I forgot to comment that Saturday night, SY's friend HS noticed a receipt that I had sitting out on the microwave, and started laughing. It was my monthly newspaper receipt, and under the CUSTOMER NAME blank on the form I was identified as FOREIGNER. We checked a laundry receipt next, and there my "name" is my apartment number. Funny.

Well, today I have been packing up and getting ready to leave for a short vacation home. Tonight I meet our graphic artist HJ to pick up our namecards, and review some brochure details. Then early tomorrow morning I'm off to Incheon Airport for the trip home. Checking the itinerary today, it only takes me 2-1/2 hours to go from Seoul to Huntsville. That is in contrast to the almost 48 hours it takes to get here!

As the Stumbling Engineer stumbles home, this is the last post from Seoul until April. Annyeong....

Road Trip Followup

Okay, some more detail about my road trip Sunday. It was a spur of the moment plan by SY and her friends YT and HS. I will spare you the details, but it almost didn't happen because of scheduling problems. But at the last possible moment it was confirmed and off we went.

They rented a car for the outing, and YT was the assigned driver. SY kept telling me that he was the best driver. It was only after I got in the car and we were underway that I realized that I had not understood her - she had been telling me that YT was a very FAST driver! (Remember from previous post that in Korean we have that one symbol for the B, P, F and V sounds).

We first visited the town of Cheonan, and ate lunch there. I learned that there are 14 universities in Cheonan! Several months previous, I had learned that in Korea, universities are located on hilltops. I have concluded that Cheonan must be quite hilly city. Leaving Cheonan behind, I was told we were headed to the "country". After some time driving, we came to a rest stop, where YT purchased a map and studied the map quite seriously for a while. He then announced that we should not proceed to the original destination in the country, because it was too far away. Instead he changed course for the "sea", and we sped off with a new destination.

One thing nice about the trip was the air... it was a pleasure to leave behind the polluted smells of Seoul City. I was able to breathe in the fresh country odors of cattle, and of course the crisp delightful smell of the open air seafood markets by the sea. I am joking a little bit, but seriously we drove through some patches of the most foul smelling air - probably worse than anything I have smelled in Seoul! Another interesting observation was that much of the country side we drove through was very similar to what I would see driving through the country back home in Alabama (that is, until we arrived at the sea).

Our seaside visit ended with the dinner (posted previously), and we bought some "muneo" (I am not sure of the spelling). Not able to name the animal exactly, SY told me that "he is cousin to squid". Actually it was some of the best squid-like snack I have eaten in Korea. I will assume because of we were close to the sea, it was especially fresh. We drove back to Seoul, munching from our bag of "squid cousin" snacks, through some huge traffic jams, and finally arrived near 11:00pm. Surprisingly, we were all starving (I guess those shellfish don't stay with you very long). We first tried to eat some Suntubu Jigae (not quite sure of the Romanization of that dish) at a 24 hour Tofu restaurant (try finding one of those in the US). The owner told us that the jigae serving hours were over! So, we decided instead on Kamjatang, and headed to a different place. It was interesting to me that of all the eateries in Seoul, both places YT chose, with no input from me, were places I had previously eaten. Thoroughly tired and stuffed, I came home near midnight and slept soundly.

I have posted some photos below. I will add a few more photos in the days ahead. Some were taken with SY and HS cameras, and they have not sent them to me yet. I will also try to post a map showing where we went - I tried photographing my map with my digital camera, and the results were poor. The online Korean mapping website I use didn't know the city I was looking for.

Repairing the Nets Posted by Hello

It Was Obviously Low Tide  Posted by Hello

SY Tries Her Hand at Trick Photography Posted by Hello

Tickets on This Cruise Ship Were Heavily Discounted Posted by Hello

Monday, March 21, 2005

Sunset and Shellfish Dinner

Just a brief post to share a couple photos. Today I was invited to go along on a "picnic" in the "country", and I had a great time. Although there was not a "picnic" as I know it, and we ended up at the sea, not the countryside. But that's a story for another day.

Sunset from Dongbaekjeong Posted by Hello

Here you will see the sunset from Korean natural monument No. 169, where we stopped for some photos and short hike.

Shellfish Dinner Posted by Hello

We ate dinner at this seaside "restaurant", actually a tent. There was a grill in the table, which is common in Korea. They just dumped a bunch of shell fish on the grill, we let them cook, and ate them straight from the shells using chopsticks and the provided gloves. I could identify clams and oysters - the rest of the shell fish were mysteries to me. Maybe someone who lives near the ocean can confirm whether this is common in US or not - since I live far from the ocean, it is certainly not a familiar sight to me. I ate all the varieties, and to my surprise they all were really good, except one of the huge clams, which was unpleasant to eat because of its chewiness (not the flavor). I must say that oysters have never tops on my list, but when they are grilled like this, they are not slimy and have good texture and flavor.

Maybe I will be out of touch the next couple days as I take a side trip to a town a couple hours drive away Monday and Tuesday, so posts may be scarce.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Home Cooked Verbs

SY arrived last night, bringing two large bags of groceries and her friend HS (no machine, although they got a big kick out of my misunderstanding her on the phone). My kitchen is now well stocked, and should easily last me until my departure next week for vacation. I only made one small mistake on my Korean grocery list, and fortunately they figured out what I meant.

Delicious Homecooked Dinner Posted by Hello

Also, before they arrived I was working on a larger verb conjugation chart for my Korean studies. While SY was cooking, I had HS check and correct my work on about 15 new verbs I added to my list. I will have more to say in the future about my language studies, but I am amazed when I ask for help on something like this list of verbs, how much disagreement I find amongst Koreans. No wonder learning Korean can be difficult for foreigners.

Verbs, Verbs, and More Verbs Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Fruity Communications

Even though I declared myself "done" with my sickness last post, I have continued to feel "poorly" the past few days. Knock on wood, I think I am really better now. Just been doing some work, treadmill, and had one evening meeting this week with our graphics designer HJ. She is handling our business cards, brochures and web site design. I never knew there were so many choices and issues with something as simple as a business card (in Asia they are usually called "name cards"). I hope to have them next week, in time to bring home on my US vacation and show off. I can't wait to make decisions on the brochures and website...

Special Jeju Oranges, Before... Posted by Hello

Just to show that I don't always eat unhealthy foods like "kimchi samgyopsal", here are some special oranges SY bought for me this week. I was told these are special fruits grown on Jeju Island, and are so expensive she would only buy two of them. I had some today for a snack, and they were pretty good. You will also note the green tea in the background, another healthy item in my Korean diet. I've been lounging around today, reading a book, and doing some catch-up work I missed when sick last week. I also drifted asleep today on our Water Buffalo sofa, probably our most distinctive piece of furniture. I will work on a future post featuring our Korean officetel decor, with photos of course.

...and After. Posted by Hello

Today SY will come to deliver some foods and cook dinner. I am pretty proud of myself today, because I sent her my shopping list by text message entirely in Korean. And I only had to look up about half of the words! There were a couple of items I wonder how well I translated. The truth will be what is actually delivered. SY later called me on the phone to schedule her visit. I continue to be amazed at the difficulty to communicate with my Korean friends other than in person. I think anyone would admit that face to face communications are always better than letters, e-mail, or telephone calls, and especially so between persons with language and cultural differences. I have experienced this when I first began doing business in Asia back in 2001, but it still amazes me to this day just HOW BIG that difference is. For example, today when SY called me, she asked several times if it was okay if she brought something (word not understood) with her today when she comes. I asked her to repeat several times, and could not understand. I could only figure out that she wanted to bring with her either (a) some new machine she has just bought, or (b) one of her friends. I finally decided to just say yes, since either would be fine with me. I will report later what/who actually arrives with her.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

K-Pop, The Series

The sickness is better, but that could just be the long sleeping and the ibuprofen. I cooked some food I found in the fridge for dinner, and I think that may have made me feel a little better, too. Some frozen meat, rice, and kimchi.

Well, I have been sitting on some good photos that can't be posted without the proper background, so let's get started. Topic - Korean Pop music, or K-Pop for short. I should start by saying that except for singers and groups from the 60's, 70's and some in the 80's, my knowledge of modern American Pop music is VERY limited. I only know well one modern singer, and that is Norah Jones. Early last year, to my surprise, I got hooked on K-Pop music. It started with me watching the various K-Pop music channels at the hotel room, and has progressed to me being as extra in a current hit K-Pop song! But let's not get ahead of the story.

The first half of 2004 I was content to watch music video (MV) channels when I could, and also began a collection of CD's and MV files. Then in the summer a remarkable thing happened. I was drinking one Sunday evening at our favorite bar, and it was very crowded that evening. I was talking with the bartender asking about a new singer I had seen that week on TV, and nobody I asked seemed to have ever heard of her (Hanna). Just then, a group of men came in, and all but one sat down together. The one odd man out had no choice but to sit next to me, the only chair available. We introduced ourselves, and I got out my notepad to write my name and his name down. On the paper, was the name "Hanna" I had earlier written. He saw it, and asked why I had that name written. I explained that I was a K-Pop fan, and was asking about this new singer Hanna. To my surprise, he (CT) says to me, "Yes, I know her. She was on my TV show this very afternoon!"

Needless to say, we had a long discussion, and I learned that he was the producer (they call it PD) for a weekly live K-Pop show. My ignorance of American Pop music was emphasized that night, when he explained that he often had Western singers on the show. For example, he told me, we just had Usher on the show a few weeks ago. I stared at him with a blank face - I had no idea who Usher was. He said, ask your daughter, she will explain. CT has a very interesting professional background, and is truly a very nice man. He invited me and my friends to come to the show the following weekend. We went, and had a fabulous time. Over the rest of 2004, I ended up attending 4 performances, one of which I will elaborate on in another episode.

I should point out that I REALLY stand out in the studio at this show, far more than I normally would in other settings around Seoul. The show seems to be targeted at young teenage girls, I would guess middle school aged. You see school kids on the street, and they seem a little reserved and timid. But they leave any shyness at the studio door, let me tell you. When some of these pop-stars came on stage, the roar and shaking of the seats was downright unsettling. One time I remember this singer named Se7en (the 7 is silent, and you insert the "v" sound) came on the stage. I thought the row of chairs was going to tip over, there was such a commotion. All the girls were standing on their chairs, jumping up and down, shouting "SE7EN, I LOVE YOU" over and over again. Such screaming was not reserved for the stars onstage, either. If the door to the waiting room cracked open enough to identify some star, the crowd would similarly go wild. Also, these kids carry "sign cards". I don't know exactly what they say, but think of a football fan in USA holding up a sign cheering for his team. The only difference is that these signs are incredibly well made. We walk through a nearby food court between the parking lot and the studio, and see all these kids diligently working on their signs for the show. Amazing. And before anyone asks, NO, I have not made or carried any signs to the show. I did not stand in my chair and yell. I enjoyed the programs like the mature, sensible adult that I am.

I will end this installment in the K-Pop story with a strange coincidence that happened the first time I went to see this show. The day before the show, one of my Korean friend's and his girlfriend took me to lunch. As we were eating, a large group arrived and sat down at the table behind me. I noticed that my friend kept looking and talking to his girlfriend about the people who just arrived - it turns out that the lady was a well known actress, Chae Shi Rah (채시라). The following day, these same two friends take me to the music show. One of the featured singers was Kim Tae Wook (김태욱), who is the husband of the actress from the day before! While I haven't seen any of Mrs. Chae's performances, Mr. Kim is one of favorite K-Pop singers. With credit to Mr. Kim's website (, here is a photo of the couple.

The First and Only Star Couple I Have "Met" Posted by Hello

Sick Day, Blog Name

Last night I felt a little sick, and kept waking up with headache and a little stomach ache. This morning, only headache, stuffy head, and sore throat, and a general feeling of sickness. I tried working, but could not concentrate nor think. So, besides eating breakfast and making a few phone calls to confirm my next travels, I have been sleeping, drinking hot green tea, and taking Vitamin C. I feel somewhat better, maybe I can be productive this afternoon.

I should explain the blog name, "technobar". A couple of months ago, we were in the process of establishing a company and needed a name. We were provided a list of candidate names that were "available" and related to our line of work. There was one name on the list that I liked, but our Korean colleage rejected it. The name was "TECHNOVA", which had been made from the two words "Technology" and "Innovation". What's wrong with this word, you might ask? Well, when you spell it in Korean, you get 택노바. The issue here is with the "va" syllable. You see, in Hangul the same letter can be used for the English sounds B, P, V, F! The problem is that this word, 택노바, is already "taken" in the Korean language. It is actually a Western "loan word", and would be translated as "Techno Bar", and is used to describe a certain type of bar (surprisingly, the Stumbler has not been to a Techno Bar to my recollection). Unless our company were operaring a high-tech drinking establishment, this name was inappropriate. Since I love puns, and cross-lingual puns are even better, I was enthralled with this name. I wanted to use it for something, and as I started my blog I realized it was the perfect name. Now you know.

A Pile of Rocks Near Gumi City Posted by Hello

I feel bad to post without a photo, so here is a completely unrelated picture of a rock pile we found on the side of a mountain near Gumi City one afternoon recently. We had finished our business early, and went to do what is a popular pastime in Korea, go hiking up a mountain. I confess that I did not hike as far as my colleagues, since at that time I was not the example of fine health that I am today. Also, my ankle was recovering from a bad sprain, and the terrain was really rocky - I was sure I was going to re-sprain my ankle if I kept going, and truly live up to my name as the Stumbling Engineer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Exercise and What's in a Name?

The only remarkable events the past couple days have been my first two trips to the Health Club. I arrived Monday morning, did 30 minutes on treadmill, then spent the next 30 minutes learning squashie. My instructor TS is a 25 year old atheletic man, who claims to be expert in Taekwondo, show skiing, football (soccer), and of course squashie. We practiced some, and played a couple of games. In 30 mintues, TS didn't break a sweat, but old man Stumbler was worn out! I don't think rules of squashie will be difficult to master, but that lump of clay squashie ball is going to kill me. My mind is just conditioned to expect the ball to bounce a certain way, give my long (though spotted) history of playing racquetball. I was always overestimating where the ball would be for my swing. Assuming that my brain can adopt to the squashie game and ball, Mrs. Stumbler will now have a decisive advantage back home on the YMCA racquetball court when we next play.

Facade of Yang Chun's Place Posted by Hello

Early this evening I forced my tired and weary bones to go back to the Club (I'm sorry, Sporens) for just treadmill. Today was supposed to be a bit warm for this time of year, 14C (that's 57F for us Americans). I decided to skip fooling with sweatpants and changing clothes, and just walked the two blocks in my shorts and T-shirt. I can safely report that I was probably the only fool in Seoul today walking around the streets in summer clothes. Man it was cold, and walking home was worse because I was wet with sweat.

My "Permanent" Card Posted by Hello

I received my permanent membership card today, registered under my Korean name, I noticed. My Korean friends and I made up a name for me last year, after I kept coming up with suggestions that were reportedly "bad". My favorite of these rejected names was one that was symmetric in such a way that you could turn it upside down, and it was the same name! Anyway, romanized, the Korean name my friends "approved" is "Han Keel Soo" (or maybe you can say "Geel Soo"). We chose the "Keel Soo" part because it sounds like "Chris", or rather, it sounds like the Korean pronounciation of "Chris". I chose "Han" because I just like the way it sounds. But last year I found out there is some problem with this choice. I had dinner with a real Mr. Han, who was about 10 years older than me. He said in the Han family, there is an alphabetical naming system, based on your generation. He said with the name "Keel Soo" I should be his Great Uncle! Despite this small error, I have chosen to keep my Korean name as-is, hoping that the Han Family Name Police doesn't catch me. But with my new and healthy regimen, I could probably outrun them, anyway.

In the meantime, I hear that one side effect of exercise, besides the obvious health benefits, is more energy. In Korea, The Stumbler patiently waits...