Sunday, December 12, 2010


You might have missed this interesting article, which I found by accident in a report on the latest news from the Korean construction industry. The article didn't have any photos, but I found this amazing drawing from the referenced Tokyo project (click to enlarge):

Here is the article:

New Hyundai Apartment Complex Announced

Dec 7, Seoul, South Korea. In response to concerns here in Seoul over the recent shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the Hyundai Engineering and Construction group announced today an addition to their successful Hillstate brand of apartment complexes. The new brand, “HellState” will be an underground complex of apartment buildings, completely safe from any North Korean artillery. The plan is already being heralded here by Korean industry insiders a sure winner of the 2010 Worlds Best Deepest Deluxe Dungeon Class of modern living award. It was quickly noted that because they are underground, these buildings will not be subject to Seoul city building height requirements – many complexes will be over 100 stories deep.

The design was rapidly dusted off from the archival vaults here late last month after the surprise North Korean attack. The original founder of the Hyundai group, Chung Ju-Yung, had completed an almost identical design in 1931. An architectural genius at only 15 years of age, he was conscripted by the Japanese to design an underground living complex. The “DepthScraper” was being planned in response to the devastating Tokyo earthquake in 1923, in which over 100,000 people died. Sadly that project was never completed. Due to a pre-war shortage of rubber, there weren't enough erasers for the draftsmen to finish the detailed designs, and the project had to be scrubbed.

Due to the political situation in the North, Hyundai company management has put the project on a Fast Track schedule. Initial housing orders will be accepted from the first day after the Lunar New Year. Prospective buyers are invited to a newly constructed sales office and demo home currently under construction on Yeonpyeong Island, exactly 200 meters underneath the largest shell crater. The locations of the new complexes are still under consideration, but at least two are rumored to be planned for Gangnam, and several in Paju. Hyundai engineers boldly envision the cityscape of Seoul will be quickly buried by a vast underground terrascape, leaving the remaining above-ground structures to be converted into parking lots and barber shops.

The only downside is the cost, which will be about 2000% higher than the typical apartment in Seoul. “We are asking people to consider their family's safety first, and to just dig deeper in their wallets to pay these increased prices”, said a company spokesman. Residents who want to survive the next North Korean onslaught are encouraged to contact their nearest Hillstate sales office for further information.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kimchi Washer

Another Korea Sparkling invention, this time from the home appliance division of LG Electronics:

Yeouido, Seoul: Friday, October 15 - 2010:

Just in time for the annual kimchi-making season (gimjang), LG Electronics announced Friday the latest revolution in Korean home appliances: the Kimchi Washing Machine. An addition to the popular All-In-One Washer/Dryer series (WD family), the new Washer/Dryer/Kimchi series (WDK family) will be an instant hit among young Koreans who are too busy to make their own kimchi the traditional way. "We have clearly demonstrated by today's announcement that Korea is the Universal Worldwide International Hub of Convenient Cabbage Cooking Combined with Clothes Cleaning Technology," said company spokesman Mr. Chi-jjan Kim.

Instead of working for hours washing and soaking the cabbages, the new WDK machines automate the kimchi making process at the push of a button. Simply fill the washing machine with fresh cabbages, add salt instead of laundry soap, and add shrimp paste in the fabric softener resevoir. Then select "KIMCHI-MODE" on the dial and press START. After six hours, the machine alerts the operator to add red pepper paste, oysters, spring onion, garlic and ginger. Two hours later, the cycle is complete.

Customers will not be worried about cleanliness, either, with the innovative PKCC (Pre-Kimchi Cleaning Cycle). One bottle of soju and 1 kg of powdered red pepper are added to the washer's tub, where it is mixed with steam to kill all bacteria and germs, in addition to SARS, Mad Cow Disease, and AIDS. This results in A World's Best Sterile Environment for your kimchi. "I used to bend over the tub of cabbages for hours and hours", says Mrs. Park, mother of 3 children in Daechi-dong. "This is the best time-saving appliance I've seen in years, even better than the electric watermelon seed remover I bought this summer, and much better than my battery-powered chopsticks". Mrs Jang, housewife and mother of 2 in Seocho-dong, said "Not only is this kimchi easy to make and delicious, but there is extra bonus on laundry day, too! For two weeks afterward, my husband is surrounded by a wonderful aroma of garlic and red pepper everywhere he goes. He is the envy of every colleague - it just makes me so proud."

In an unexpected sober moment, spokesman Kim added these comments to the otherwise festive event: "This technology was very difficult to develop, and came at a steep price within the cephalopod community. In the beginning, our engineers worked unsuccessfully for 4 years on a combination washing / nakji-bokkum (spicy fried octopus) machine. During this time, countless octopusses sacrificed their lives, in order to better the condition of Korean housewives." Mr. Kim paused to dry the tears from his cheeks, and then continued: "Finally, one day last year, senior engineer Mr. Boo-la Bae was cleaning octopus pieces from the floor. Suddenly, just like so many errant octopus legs had hit his head before, he was struck with an idea: let's try automated kimchi instead! The result is the exciting new technology we present today."

The new Kimchi Washers have been released first in front-loading models, available in stores beginning next week. This feature will be added to top-loading models in early 2011. And to further ease household burden, the optional T4A (Ttong-To-Ttong Transfer Accessory) is available. Using LGE's patented Kimchi-Krane technology, it will automatically move the finished kimchi from the washing machine to your kimchi refrigerator. Look for these products at your local appliance mart today.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Friendship Force

I had a great chance to meet a group from the "Friendship Force" clubs of Alabama and Hawaii, travelling to Korea over the next couple of weeks. I escorted them from the airport to their overnight hotel, and then got them safely onboard the KTX train to Gwangju this morning. Things went almost as smoothly as I had planned, although we had to improvise on a few ocassions. They will have a wonderful trip, I am sure.

All gathered at the airport, waiting for some flights from Hawaii to arrive.

At the train platform, waiting for the train.

Finally, it arrived. Full speed ahead!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Blinking Aircon

My air conditioner is acting up. It is old, and despite being checked several times, it doesn't cool the house down very quickly - in fact, it takes hours. The solution offered to me by the maitenance men was simple - just leave it on all the time. Ignoring the energy waste, there turns out to be one problem with that solution. Not only is the unit not strong, it randomly turns itself off. So often I will come home to the apartment well over 30 degrees, and it will take 3 or 4 hours to cool it down.

So finally I had a huge pow-wow with the aircon A/S man and the building maintanance men. Lots of checking, phone calls to the repair center, not taking, voltage and current measurements, and the result? They don't know what is wrong.

But wait - the unit has a diagnostic function built in. When it turns itself off, it will blink one of two LED lamps (the right or the left one), some number of times - say once, twice, or maybe three times. If I note this error code, they will know what is wrong. Seems easy?

Well, it only blinks this code for 1/3 of a second!!!!! I have to catch it JUST as it is turning off. Since it only turns off maybe 1 or 2 times per day, it will be next to impossible. Oh well, I'm going home now to watch the aircon.

Translation: aircon = air conditioner
A/S = After Service = After Sales Service
30 deg C = 86 deg F

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Kompasu - Take 2

As I came back to the office Monday morning, I noticed small leaves and branches on my desk. I just assumed that for some reason, someone had put a plant on my desk temporarily while I was away. But later, we got a phone call from a neighbor, who said that my outdoor TV antenna was missing!

The window next to my desk has a plastic panel with insulating foam, held in place by strong duct tape. This panel holds the exhaust hose for our small office air conditioner. Well, on further inspection, the duct tape has come loose in the typhoon winds, and that was the source of the leaves and sticks. Gotta get some stronger tape, and a new TV antenna.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Typhoon Kompasu

With near-perfect timing, I departed for a short vacation to Jeju Island just as Typhoon Kompasu was nearest to the island. In fact, I was one of the last flights from Gimpo to Jeju that day - my friend JI was on a later flight which was cancelled. Imagine the excitement of landing in a 100MPH crosswind. The ground track on approach was nearly 45 degrees to the runway! Fortunately, Kompasu passed quickly, and I enjoyed mostly clear skies for the rest of the trip. And I missed all the excitement such as eletricity outages, wind damage, and subway closures here in Seoul. Don't ask me if it's a typhoon or a hurricane - I'm confused about the terminology. I would call it a hurricane, but they call it a typhoon. I'm not going to buck the wind... (As I heard it, KOMPASU is the romanization of how the Japanese pronounce the English word COMPASS).

Very briefly, I really enjoyed the trip. Jeju reminds me a lot of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, which I have visited often over the past 10 years. It is about the same size, has very similar vistas, and I got the same lazy island feeling. Surprisingly, it seems Jeju is much more populated, 300 people per square km, versus 40 for Kauai. I wouldn't have guessed it from the deserted streets, museums and other tourist places.

Despite the cool weather in September, I could not visit Jeju without getting into the ocean, if only shin-deep.

Unlike these fools to my left, who were completely swimming in the ocean, undoubtedly covered in goose bumps (notice all the debris on the beach, washed ashore by Kompasu):

I'm too busy to post more, but I have some good food photos (what else?) for later.

[EDIT: it has been politely pointed out that I look to have gained weight in this photo, a point which I will concede. But in truth, I have not gained any weight, and have actually began to lose the pounds again. I never have liked photos of myself. I must not be photogenic, just phatogenic]

Thursday, August 26, 2010


From one ugly fish:

To one delicious dish:

According to Wikipedia's article on the order Perciformes, family Trichiuridae, there are 40 some species of this fish all around the world. Also called Cutlassfish, Hairtails, Walla Walla, or Frostfishes. They are silver colored, and because they look like a steel blade they've earned two of those those names. Now if I caught one, I don't think I would be comparing it to a shiny steel, but something from a nightmare. I would run first and wouldn't worry about cooking it.

Fortunately, this came freshly frozen and filleted, so there was nothing frightening about it at all. (Believe me when I say that getting a fish that has been filleted is indeed a joyous event here in Korea for us westerners no used to choking on bones)

Now go fry some up some sword-like nightmares and enjoy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Part 1. Chicago. 1972. This certainly seems like a dated political protest song (which it was), but these lyrics are still meaningful today, 38 years later.

Diaogue Filmed Live Arie Crown Theater, Chicago, Nov 1972

Q. Are you optimistic 'bout the way things are going?

A. No, I never ever think of it at all

Q. Don't you ever worry, When you see what's going down?

A. Will, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all

Q. When it's time to function as a feeling human being, Will your bachelor of arts help you get by?

A. I hope to study further, a few more years or so, I also hope to keep a steady high

Q. Will you try to change things, Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?

A. What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change? I always thought that everything was fine

Q. Don't you feel repression just closing in around?

A. No, the campus here is very, very free

Q. Don't it make you angry the way war is dragging on?

A. Well, I hope the president knows what he's into, I don't know

Q. Don't you ever see the starvation in the city where you live? All the needless hunger, all the needless pain?

A. I haven't been there lately, the country is so fine. But my neighbors don't seem hungry 'cause they haven't got the time

Q. Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind. I was troubled by the shapes of things to come

A. Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb. You'd always think that everything was fine.

We can make it happen.

Mr. Q above was sung by Terry Kath (RIP), and Mr. A was sung by Peter Cetera.

Sorry, this deviates from my typical food postings, but I just couldn't get this song out of my head today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Android Forum

I went to the cell phone store two weeks ago, to buy a new screen protector for my phone. I left 2 hours later with an Android smart phone. I couldn't find any places among the websites here to discuss the Android from the expat's perspective, so I wasted a couple hours and threw up a forum website: The SeoulDroid, a discussion board for Android users in Korea.

There should be general Android discussions as well as Korea-related topics, so anyone can participate. Right now there aren't many topics, as I just opened it this weekend. Please join up and start some discussions!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


We've been working late at the office a lot recently, and I decided to do something special for dinner tonight. There is a Quiznos sub sandwich shop very close to my office. The last time I went (back in March, I think) I had asked them if they delivered. They said they did. So, I've had this take out menu here at my office waiting for just such a chance as tonight.

Wanting to be independent, I decided to order the sandwiches myself. Things went kind of downhill from there. First, they didn't answer the phone, even after several minutes of it ringing. As I was about to give up, I noticed a FAX number on the menu. Well, this is great. I don't have to worry about the language, I can just FAX in my order. Which I did. I waited 5 or 10 minutes, expecting to get a call back. Nothing. So I called back, and this time someone answered. He was very nice, said he received my FAX, but they don't make sandwiches there. Turns out I had sent the FAX to the headquarter office, not the store. But, he said he would transmit my order to the store. Now we're talking. Next I got a call from the store, and I was overwhelmed by her Korean. I finally gave up being independent and gave the phone to CH.

It turns out that in general, they don't really deliver. If you are in a very few limited office buildings, and order more than $50 of sandwiches, THEN they'll deliver. Quiznos is a little expensive here, but even with three sandwiches, I wasn't going to break the $50 mark. So the only choice was to cancel or go pick it up myself. Well, by this time, I was so worked up to have a hot, toasted Quiznos sandwich, I agreed to go pick them up in 15 minutes. Nothing else can go wrong, right? Wrong.

As I said, our office is very close to Quiznos. Normally it would just be a 5 minute taxi or less (it was raining). On the way, one must pass through about 2 blocks of pretty heavy traffic. Heavy did not begin to descibe the traffic tonight. It took over 20 minutes to go that two blocks. Total time took me about 30 minutes to get there, by which time any hope of eating a warm toasted sandwich was out the window.

Regardless, we had a good meal, a litle out of the ordinary, and I got one more blog post. And here's the back of the menu. Any fool with half a brain could see which number to dial...

Misc Photos

I still have been too busy at work these days. And changing over to my new laptop as well. Here are some miscellaneous photos I haven't had time to post from the past few weeks.

There's a "Mister Tofu" near my new home. This day my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Here you can see I made the mistake of ordering not only a bowl of tofu stew, but an extra side dish of an egg (it's basically a vegetable / cheese omlette). Boy, was this omlette huge - MUCH bigger than I expected. There was enough food here for two people, and I hated to leave half of my food (but I did).

Here is a small bucket/bowl a got over a month ago to go with the small air conditioner we installed in the office. This is a semi-portable unit, and requires you to empty a water resevoir periodically. We were told it would last for several days before needing to be drained, and when it needed draining, an indicator lamp would come on. To our surprise, the light has never come on. I even unplugged the pipe one day to check for water (maybe the lamp is broken), but no water. This new bowl is as dry as the day I bought it.

"From ???ing garden gather fragrance ??? of the vanished flower of a hundred years before"

"Little Flower -- but if I could understand What you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is".

Hmmm, okay. And here is the aircon, er, air conditioner that this bowl is meant to service:

Need to do some Kolon shopping?

Years ago, when my eyesight was better, I used to carry around my pocket computer, the HP200LX. I still have it, and from time to time I turn it on to see that it still works. Back in those days, there was a very active international "club" of active users, and we still maintain a very inactive mailing list. Recently one of the members in Germany located what he believes might be the perfect HP200LX replacement, and turns out it is made right here in Korea. That would be the MBOOK by the UMID company.

Another member in Portugal wanted to get one of these new computers, and arranged for me to buy and ship it for him. But before boxing it up to go overseas, I took a photo comparing the old and the new. It's a nice design, but I didn't power it up. While I make jokes about my failing eyesight, I seriously wonder if I could even be comfortable working on this small of a screen. Anyway, I'll look forward to Alberto's report from Portugal in the months ahead.

By the way, my ruler is NOT crooked - the camera distored the image.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"New" Address System

I was at the factory outside of Seoul for about 10 days straight since moving, and didn't get a chance to go report my new address to the Immigration Office. I almost forgot, until last night I suddenly remembered. First thing this morning, on the last day (you get 14 days to change without penalty), I went down to get it changed. It really wasn't any big deal, but when she handed me my card back, she showed me the new address, and it wasn't anything like the address I had given on the form! I didn't want to question it (don't rock the boat with Immigration, is my motto). On returning to the office, I asked CH about this, and he said that this was a new form of address that the government was adopting, although it wasn't widespread.

Well, for all these years in Seoul, I had finally gotten used to the address system. Now they're changing it? Did a little research online, and found this post from 2004 (!) describing the new address system, which is like we have in the USA. Street names, street numbers with odd and even numbers on opposite sides of the street. Wow, this has been around since 2004? Here is the official website, you can translate an "old" style into the "new" style, and also see a map showing street names and house/building numbers. But wow, at least 6 years going and it's still not popular?

How Many Real Estate Agents...

...does it take to sell apartments in one building?

There are FIVE real estate agencies all next door to each other in my building! And there's at least one more around the back - there could be more. Amazing...

Even More Signs

After reading my friend Tuttle's post on signs, inspired by his friend Jo-Anna's post on signs, I couldn't help but share these two bathroom signs I saw last week at lunch. Don't quite know what point they are trying to make - are you supposed to climb over the stalls? Or hang like a spider from the ceiling?


Click to enlarge:

Click to enlarge:

Found some free Microsoft software that makes panoramic images. I played around with the view from my new home. You give it a series of images (which of course have to have been taken ina panoramic sequence), and the program automatically "stitches" them together. Pretty cool.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


That's the name of my new apartment building. Here are some photos of the new place. Still organizing, but I'm basically comfortable and it's liveable and cozy.

Crazy Busy

Well, let me try to catch up on the past to weeks. The first excitement was my move. I've known for a couple months now that I would be moving, but there were some issues setting the exact move date. I had located two possible new places, and I coudn't decide which one. Suddenly I found an online advertisement for an apartment that turned out to be perfect. It is just a 10 minute walk from the office, and located right at Sindorim subway station. At this station, there is a huge "Technomart" building, which includes numerous shops, restaurants, a movie theater, and yes, technical shopping, too. I claimed the apartment, and began he process of moving.

The first order of business was to downsize. The new place is a large studio apartment. Not exactly a one-room, but almost. This downsizing required me to sell my treadmill and my refrigerator. That took up an interesting half day, helping the truck driver wrestle these down to the truck:

Moving day went smoothly, despite the constant rain. I think the two moving guys had under-estimated the job. They worked extra hard, and we still didn't finish until 7pm or so. I couldn't believe how many boxes I had.

Some things I'll miss from my old apartment, the doggie-decorated hooks:

the four-burner stove (the new place just has two):

And as a testament to my poor housekeeping skills, this hairpin was in the floor of my closet when I moved in back in Feb 2008. Two and one half years later, it is still exactly where it was, plus a little extra dust:

Goodbye Room 1404

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Choices - NOT

When I first came to Korea, there were four really big shopping "mart" stores (think super Walmart-like). Carrefour, Homeplus, Homever, and E-Mart. Carrefour was closest to our apartment, and coincidentally seemed to have the widest selection of products to choose from. Over the years, through a series or acquisitions, there are now just two big ones left, Homeplus and E-Mart. You might think that when two stores merged, you would get a super-set of each stores product lines - the best of both worlds. Instead, they went the opposite way. At eash acquisition, I observed the product choices seemed to be fewer and fewer.

Then we have this article in the morning newspaper "Retail chains cull range of products on shelves". Well, to me, this isn't news - they've been doing it for years already. But apparently they're getting serious about it now. One chain will take an "intelligent" approach, and eliminate products that don't sell well. Maybe logical, unless one of those products happens to be my favorite strawberry jam or my real, American-style mustard! Another chain will restrict manufacturers to just one size of their products - the example being given was laundry soap - you will now only find one size of each brand on the shelf. I guess from now on it will only be 50Kg bags of laundry soap, purchased once a year, or 1Kg bags purchased every week.

I'm not sure how this is going to play out. If I worked in this industry, seems like I would already be acutely aware of the large reductions in product choices over the past years. Cutting the choices even further seems like the last thing I'd want to introduce. At some point, the customers are going to revolt.

Well, let's see how it plays out. In the meantime, I'd better stock up on mustard and jam - and oh yeah - laundry soap!


As a public service, I will post some baby-sitting do's and don'ts on my blog today (click on any image to enlarge):