Saturday, September 29, 2007

Differently Able?

Saw this sign at the handicapped bathroom in a nearby bookstore, and couldn't resist taking the photo.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Precarious Perch

I looked out my window this morning to this sight:

I don't know what was wrong with the old sign - it looked fine to me. Anyway, these guys are way braver than me!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Korean RPN

As I have been studying Korean the past few weeks, there was something nagging in the back of my head that I couldn't put my finger on. Finally it hit me the other night as I was going to sleep. One of the things foreigners will often complain about with Korean is the grammar. English sentences are constructed SUBJECT - VERB - OBJECT, while Korean sentences are SUBJECT - OBJECT - VERB. English is my first language, so of coure this structure is awkward to me. But I find it logically appealing, for reasons that have escaped me. Until now.

When I was in High School, Mama Stumbler got me my first electronic calculator, a Hewlett Packard HP-25C:

Mama Stumbler being a Mathematician by education and profession, insisted that I learn and use the Reverse Polish Notation method that was used in the HP family of calculators. It's a little harder to learn than normal, algebraic (also called INFIX) calculators, but in the long run it makes performing calculations quicker and simpler. Since that time back in 1977 I have only used RPN calculators. To this day, if you give me an algebraic calculator, it is a real struggle to use. To those not familiar with RPN, compare these two ways of adding 2 and 6:

[2] [+] [6] [=]

RPN Method:
[2] [ENTER] [6] [+]

If you're REALLY curious about this, here a nice link to RPN from Wikipedia.

What does this have to do with the Korean language? Well, what my mind was trying to tell me was that Korean grammar is exactly RPN! Consider this simple sentence

George ate breakfast.

George breakfast ate.

That's Korean RPN.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Choo Choo Train

I've stared at these subway signboards many times over the past few years, and only yesterday did I suddenly realize how it works. I guess I'm slow. Along the bottom row of the sign, usually it will be blank or have text belonging to the message. But, when the train gets close, suddenly an image of a train will appear. The train slowly crawls along the bottom of the sign. What I realized was that the sign frame is labeled with the names of the two previous stations. In this case, I am at the Omokgyo Station, and the train is about to arrive. The two previous stations in this case are the Mokdong and Shinjeong stations. So you can tell clearly how far away the train is as it approaches your station! Pretty cool. Sorry for the poor quality, it was taken with my cell phone camera.

No Specials

I've been meaning to post about this for some time now. I am a member of Delta Airline's frequent flyer program Skymiles. In fact as of last year I crossed the million mile point. Awhile back they offered to send me e-mails weekly showing special fares and deals, and I signed up. But every once in awhile, I get an email like this:

"Looks like we're not running any special fares for you this week...."

You'd think they wouldn't bother to even send an email in this case. Sure looks silly to me.

Toothpaste Roll

Got this cute little widget recently as "service" when I bought a package of batteries. As an electrical engineer, I feel it is my responsibility to have plenty of batteries on-hand. It took me awhile to figure out what exactly this device was. The package was all in Korean, and being attached to a pack of batteries, and having a battery-like shape, using it with toothpaste was not exactly the first thing that crossed my mind. Finally I recognized the Korean word for teeth and figured it out. This dandy device hangs in my shower now (it came with a suction cup hook):

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Korean Aircons

In the southeast United States, almost all homes and offices have central air conditioning. The typical Korean home or shop uses a stand-alone aircon (that's Konglish for Air Conditioner). These are usually free-standing or wall mounted, units with the heat exchanger located outside. Here are two examples of the wall mounted style from my apartment:

Here are a couple of free-standing units photos I stole from the web...

On the outside, usually the buildings have a small balcony or ledge where you can mount the box. Here is an extreme example:

In the building across the street, I have anways wondered about this unusual arrangement. This fellow has his whole aircon mounted in his home, both units, but with the hot exhaust somehow routed to the outside through this snorkel-looking device:

And just this week, someone installed an American-style window aircon - that brings back memories of my childhood (I guess central air conditioning has not ALWAYS been so prevalent in the southeast)...

CORN Bread

Yesterday I wanted some bread, but it was raining and I didn't have my umbrella. So I stopped at a closer bakery that I seldom use. The loaf of bread that I chose was identified as "corn bread". Well, in America our corn bread is made from corn flour. Here, this bread appears to be just regular bread with, you guessed it, CORN inside.

Not at all what I expected, but good nonetheless.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Tokyo #2

My second day in Tokyo was so-so. Woke up and enjoyed a western breakfast at the hotel buffet which was included in my room price. Then I packed up and checked out, leaving my bags with the Bell Captain. The various tour packages' times didn't work well for my schedule, but they suggested a good trip I could take would be to visit the Tokyo Tower, the world's highest self-supporting steel tower. I took a simple subway trip about 20 minutes to get there. Here's the view from the Station exit:

Took a 10 minute walk, most of it uphill, to arrive at the tower:

Along the way, I saw this patch of Kudzu growing up the wall under a bridge. Since Japanese Kudzu has invaded the Southeast USA, I thought I should document that it is taking over in Japan as well.

Here is The Stumbler in the lobby at the Tokyo Tower:

When I arrived at the tower, I realized that this was a bad idea. What the hotel staff failed to tell me was that on Sunday, everyone in Tokyo also goes to visit the tower! There was a HUGE line to get on the elevator to the observation deck. I waited about 10 - 15 minutes, and finally got to the front of the line at the elevator doors. There I saw that the man was collecting your ticket, but I didn't have a ticket! He told me where to go buy one, and said I could cut in line when I came back. I went outside to the ticket booth, where I waited another 10-15 minutes to buy my ticket. He did let me cut the elevator line, so finally I was on my way up. This elevator takes you to the Main Observatory at the 150m level. From there, you can take another elevator to the Special Observatory at the 250m level. After walking around some at the Main Observatory, I was ready to go up higher. Well, I look around to find where the next elevator is, and guess what? Another huge long line. It looks to be another 15 minute wait. At this point, I need the bathroom. So before I wait in line, I found the bathroom downstairs one level. Guess what - there was a long line for the bathroom, too! At this point, I just gave up, and decided to return to the ground. Where are the down elevators... hmmmm.... what is this other long line.... oh, I have to wait another 10 minutes in a line to go down! It was pretty frustrating day, but the view was indeed fantastic, and I was only at the 150m level.

Here is an interesting view - they called this the "Lookdown Window", and it certainly lives up to it's name. The kids weren't at all bothered by it. One boy seemed to be testing the strength by kicking at the glass with his toes, almost daring it to break. After my subway accident, The Stumbler was very careful NOT to step on the Lookdown Window at all.

When I finally did reach the bottom, and found the bathroom, I was amused to find this sign at the sink. I guess you would call it "Janglish", not "Konglish".

On the walk back to the station, I passed this VW dealer. It was pretty cool to see a right hand drive beetle, so I went inside and asked permission to take these photos:

When I got back to the hotel train station, I took a walk around trying to find a Japanese restaurant. Problem was, I couldn't find anything obvious to me. There were a lot of signs for places that could have been a restaurant, but I couldn't be sure. This area was not like the area I visited yesterday, where there were dozens and dozens of restaurants. It was easy to see from the menu photos, or just looking inside quickly, what food was served. This area was more of a downtown business district, where the restaurants were more hidden from casual view. While walking around, I stumbled on this nice park with a waterfall and open air flea market

Finally, I gave up and went back to the hotel to eat. Surely I could find Japanese lunch at the hotel? Well, yes and no. It was available, but they wanted about $50 for a meal!!! I couldn't believe it. So I found the cheapest restaurant at the hotel, and ordered something called Singapore Fried Noodles. Not Japanese, but better than McDonald's.

I finally got on the shuttle bus to the airport, and saw this interesting sign scroll by. Thought I would take a short movie and test the Blogger's new ability to post movie clips.

Well, that's all. Made it back to Korea with no problem, except that my legs were a little tired from all the walking around. Overall I had a good trip, but I really felt like a foreigner in a strange land. Not knowing any language, and especially not being able to read even simple signs, it's really makes you feel like a real stranger. I can appreciate how important even a simple understanding of the language can make a lot of difference. If I go back to Japan, I would really like to have someone with me who speaks Japanese act as a guide. I think that would make all the difference.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Tokyo #1

Saturday early I ventured to Tokyo all by myself for the weekend. I started the morning by waking up at 4am, and I ate my first ever McDonald's breakfast in Korea. There is a McDonald's restaurant next to the subway station entrance that is open 24 hours, so I stopped and ate the healthy (not) and delicious Sausage Egg McMuffin. For this trip I flew to the Haneda Airport in Tokyo from Gimpo Airport in Seoul. These were the International Airports until being replaced by Narita (in Tokyo) and Incheon (in Seoul). After being replaced by the new and larger airports, both these airports reverted to domesic flights, with the exception of this one international service between Seoul and Tokyo. Since I had never flown to/from either airport I decided to give it a try. It was a pleasant experience. Both airports are close to their cities, saving a lot of travel time. Also, they are both relatively small, so they are less crowded and easier to get around.

After checking into the hotel, I took a walk around to some shopping areas and to eat lunch. I first ran across this interesting intersection. That's an interesting way to mount the traffic lights, don't you think?

At this intersection is also this interesting 3D "love" sculpture. I wonder if Tokyo has a similar rule as Seoul, requiring pieces of art at each building?

And just down the street, there was this interesting new building being constructed. It looks like a robot to me.

In the past when I visited Japan alone, I usually was afraid to go alone to Japanese restaurants. It can be difficult for me to go alone to a Korean restaurant, I can understand and communicate in basic Korean. But in Japan, I am completely 100% clueless. I know how to say "hello", "thank you", and "one more beer please". That's all. But, I promised myself that this trip I would not go to places like these:

(Is that guy above trying to sniff his underarm??) Instead, for lunch I chose a Japanese style curry shop. I have been told that each country prepares curry dishes a bit differently, so I thought I would give this a try.

It had a long U-shaped counter, and I sat down to order. That was the first mistake. You are not supposed to order at the counter. Instead, you go to this vending machine:

You chose your meal, pay, and a ticket comes out. You take this ticket to the counter, and the man will bring your meal. There was one other choice - you had to decided between normal, medium or spicy sauce. It was pretty interesting, tasted a little less sweet than the curry in Korea.

I then went searching for the Yodobashi electronics store. This is a huge place, usually 6 or 7 floors, filled with the latest consumer electronics. Since Japan is so far ahead of us, I always enjoy walking around and seeing what the latest gadgets are.

So after visiting a few stores and just walking around, I tried to go back to the hotel for a short rest. Took me about an hour or more, because I got lost. I was too stubborn to stop and take a taxi, so I just kept on walking and studying my map. Finally I made it back, and rested for a couple hours before dinner.

For dinner, I was determined to eat Kushi. This is a food I have eaten in Osaka before. It looks like a bar, and specially trained chefs prepare your food in front of you as you eat. The food is a variety of meats, fishes, and vegetables prepared, skewered and usually fried. But, you are served them one stick at a time, usually each stick is just 2 bites. Each time, the chef will explain to me about the food, how he prepared it, etc. Of course, this place in Osaka the chef he spoke English. So, I asked at the hotel where I could find such a restaurant. They gave me the location and put me into a taxi. I arrived, and at first couldn't find the place. Finally, after getting some help from a kind Japanese man, he told me it was in the basement. I went down to the place, and it seemed to be a real bar, not a restaurant. When I explained that I wanted kushi, the manager told me that they also served that food. So I ordered an assortment, but I was pretty disappointed. This place was not very interesting, and the food was really heavy and oily. I ate 8 sticks. They all came at once, there was no chef explaining the food, nothing. Oh well, as bad as it was, it was still much better than McDonald's!

I finished up the evening my chosing a small bar at random and drinking a few beers. I was trying to talk to a Japanese man next to me, when he learned that I have been living in Seoul. Suddenly, everyone started talking at once - it turns out that a couple next to him was mixed - the husband was Japanese and the wife was Korean. The husband spoke Korean about the same as me, so for the rest of the night we communicated mostly in Korean (their Korean was better than their English I think). It was very weird and unexpected.

That wraps up day 1 of my Tokyo weekend adventure. Today I will check out from the hotel, and take a short tour to something called the "Tokyo Tower", before flying back to Seoul tonight. More in the next post.