Saturday, June 29, 2013

Here in Germany...

My friend Jenny suggested that I revive this blog so I can post stuff about my time in Germany.  I doubt that I will be good about keeping it updated, but I have decided to try to post some stuff.  This is not likely to be an organized journal, but rather, a series of things I’ve noticed and such.  Still, it’s better than nothing.

Today I am going to start with some observations about Germans/Germany:

People do not respect the sanctity of the queue here.  Twice in the week I have been here, while in line at the grocery store, I have seen a person with a few items slide in front of another person (who stepped away for just a second to look at something/grab something).  It seems rather rude to me but no one seems to mind.

Germans seem to prefer bigger sturdy bikes. I don’t really see the thinner road bikes here so much.

Apparently people here do not put milk in their tea.  My advisor told me that only I and the other American he knows does this (although he admits that he thinks Indians do this as well).  They also seem to put some weird milk product in their coffee (which might be condensed milk?).  I finally got regular milk today and my tea tastes so much better.

All hair styles are ago here.  Actually, it’s quite nice that there is more of a variety in how people style their hair here.  I’ve seen more curly hair like mine just allowed to be than I ‘m used to.  Of course, many people just go with straight hair, but I feel like I stand out less.

Although most Germans are thin and fit, there are definitely some more generous frames here.  I could buy clothes here (unlike in Japan or Korea where everyone was tiny compared to me).

Although people here are very concerned about recycling and stuff, I don’t see that many students carrying around water bottles (so far, I’m the only one I’ve noticed bringing my water bottle to the cafeteria at lunch).  Related, I don’t think people drink tap water here all that much...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Korean Fashion

So like in Japan, I’ve been meaning to write a post about fashion here. I think Japan inured me to a certain level of craziness because the women seem less oddly dressed to me. And when I think about it objectively, I don’t think that some of the stuff they were is any less crazy. But I do notice that quite a few women just wear jeans/shorts/fairly normal skirt and a t-shirt. Some even where tennis shoes, although heels are far more likely. As in Japan, women here have got amazing ankles because they will wear heels everywhere. And I think it is more impressive here because I think Seoul at least is far more hilly and steep at points than either Tokyo or Kyoto.

Koreans are very into enjoying the natural environment (which is a very cool trait of the culture). So you often see people in hiking gear on the trains, heading out to the outskirts of Seoul to hike (or doing some urban hiking). Older, retired people in particular seem to embrace this as a pastime which is pretty awesome. So hiking/sporting gear is always an option for people to wear.

Women do wear some crazy stuff though. They are into very feminine clothes like in Japan; they just don’t layer as much. And I don’t see as much lace…but I do see a lot of floral prints and very, very cute things. Both with heels and flats, there is this style of shoe that is very popular in that it wraps around the ankle and zips up in the back. You can tell who has bought the good shoes and who hasn’t because the ones with cheap knock-offs will leave the back unzipped and have band-aids on the back of their feet. One other thing that I should mention about women’s clothing is that they are not afraid to wear short shorts or skirts here. I have seen a lot of shorts and skirts that I think most Americans would view as inappropriately short around the city. The women here are thin enough to carry it off (usually) but still…really short. However, they don’t really show cleavage at all here. In fact, most women keep their shoulders covered even. So legs are okay to show but not upper body.

As for men, there are some interesting styles with them too. Businessmen wear suits obviously, but they often wear these shiny suits that I find odd. Men also commonly carry bags around with them that are essentially purses. I hate purses in general so I think it looks exceptionally weird for a guy to have a nice bag. Casually, men here tend to wear very fitted clothes (sometimes to the point of being tight but usually not). This has the effect of making the men here seem very, very thin and (to me anyway) fragile. The people here are often very skinny anyway and wearing such fitted clothes just accentuates it. I think in the US guys generally don’t try to stress their skinniness if they are skinny so it seems very odd that they do it here. I feel like I could break these guys if I sat on one of them.

I’ve already mentioned polos so I guess I will leave it at that for now. It will be interesting to see what I think of Japanese fashion when I return there later this week. I wonder if it will seem less crazy to me the second time around.

Almost over??

So my program in S. Korea ends officially on Thursday (which I still can’t believe…where did the time go?). I have a lot left to say about Korea so I might be putting up a post a day…we’ll see. This is not the end of the Asian trip yet, though. I go back to Japan for a week and then return to Korea. What will happen at that point is still up in the air (though it should be resolved in the next day or two, huge mess that it is). In any case, to start off the week, here is a list I have been working on of things I will miss in Korea and things I will not.

Things I will not miss (i.e. lets get the bad stuff out of the way first)
Almost getting run over all the time by scooters and mopeds with drivers that act as if the sidewalk is for them only.

Having to hear otherwise very rational people talk seriously about fan death. The whole thing makes no sense.

The aforementioned concept that a woman simply must be ½ of a couple for her life to be worth living (and the general obsession with being all cutesy with your significant other).

Food that is too spicy for me to eat (and constantly being concerned that the food I ordered/got will be too spicy for me to eat)

People treating me as if just because I don’t speak the language, I am entirely incapable of taking care of myself (Eunae, bless her heart, is often guilty of this)

Related to the previous one, people figuring that it is okay to be pushy and knock into me with out any sort of apology because I am foreign. I mean all I need is a little head nod to acknowledge that you were in the wrong; words are not required (I got this in Japan too).

Struggling to find vegetables to eat especially when fresh produce is so expensive.

Only having a microwave, toaster oven and hot pot for use in cooking.

Sleeping on the floor because by bed in the loft is way too hot (though I do have a mattress and everything so it’s not too bad)

Not having wireless internet

Lack of wheat bread (like in Japan most of the bread is super white)

Living in such a restrictive dorm, it sucked that I was not allowed to ever bring visitors past the entryway of the dorm. And they have cctvs EVERYWHERE so you can’t escape them.

A door that talks to me (saying the same things in Korean over and over again)

Things I will miss
Awesome public transportation

Spicy food. I have sort of developed a love/hate relationship with spicy food as you can see by the fact that it shows up on both lists. I can’t eat much of it but there are a few things I grown to tolerate and kind of like even if I can only eat a small amount.

Euna’s down to earth sense of humor, Eunae’s caring concern (even if it does annoy me sometimes) and Sung-jin’s happy energy.

Having eggs and tofu prepared in so many delicious ways which makes me able to use them as my primary sources of protein (I like meat, but I prefer it as more of an occasional thing)

Having an amazing, clean, and safe city at my doorstep to explore.

Cheap laundry (less than a dollar for wash AND dry) where the detergent is provided for you.

Having lots of banchan (small side dishes) when eating. Plus we always share them so I get a little of everything.

The kindness of strangers. Several times Koreans have stopped to try to help even if they don’t speak English! Although people in Japan are also nice, they often felt so self conscious about their ability to speak English that they wouldn’t just stop to help someone who is struggling (though of course they will try to help if asked). Koreans (particularly older people) don’t seem very concerned with how exactly they are going to communicate and just try to help. And it always does help, at least a little. Plus you feel less guilty about bothering someone if they offer to help without you asking.

The awesome group of EAPSI people who I will miss tons. Particularly because none of them are organismal biologists so I won’t see them at meetings or anything. Hopefully the NRF is serious about having yearly alumni meetings so I can see them all again.

The fun Japanese people that live on my floor. Nozumi is hilarious, Megumi is adorable, Naoko has the funniest facial expressions, and Teppei (the lone Japanese guy) is kind of cute (and mentioning the last got me into trouble).

Norebang (i.e. Karaoke) with people my age. It’s a bit more fun then going with an older man who just wants to sing very sad, melodramatic songs. And who cares about the actual singing.

Having a code to open my door rather than keys to keep track of.

Having a gym and a track right downstairs (even if the machines kind of suck).

Awesome sports coverage on TV (and the lack of commercials in the middle of a show in general).

Hot springs/public baths. (first learned to love them in Japan, but they are basically the same here).

List of particular foods I will miss:
Bibibap -so very simple yet one of the best foods ever,

Kongbiji jjigae – a stew made out of the left over ground soybeans from tofu, I can’t describe how awesome it is,

Japchae- a pancit like noodle dish,

tteok- rice cakes that make their way into both sweet and savory dishes and are awesome chewiness,

Bulgogi – I’m sure you know what this is

Jeon – Korean style pancakes that have vegetables cooked in them, awesome in its countless varieties (the cafeteria normally would have a few different kinds every week). Kimchi jeon is actually one of the few ways I’ll eat cabbage kimchi (I usually prefer the radish kimchi)

Vinegar drinks – during orientation we had a vinegar fruit punch and a vinegar tea, both of which were awesome. I have yet to find this kind of drink again sadly

And, oddly enough, I will miss that spicy soybean/chili sauce that you put on rice and eat in lettuce leaves. It’s really good and you only need a little so it doesn’t get too spicy.

I am sure that there are other things I will/won't miss but those are the things that come to mind. Overall, I am not feeling an itching need to get back to the US. I am not frustrated and tired of living in another culture as I was at the end of my time in Japan (because I had to work a lot harder there?). I am mostly just sick of living in the dorm and not being able to cook for myself. And I am missing people at home. But other than that, I could stay another 2 months at least without any problems.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Relationships and other randomness

There are mirrors everywhere here. It’s kind of amazing actually where all they shove these. Goes along with the Korean woman’s obsession with their looks (not that the US is any better really but I feel that in the US there is a broader acceptance of what is attractive, here it seems very narrowly defined). Plastic surgery and weight loss are huge topics here. In fact two of the three women in my lab have talked about starting new diets (the Special K plan, which is exactly what you think it is-eating special K cereal, was attempted by two of by labmates on seperate occasions). But at least they were reasonable about it (they both abandoned it pretty quickly). Honestly I don’t think that either of them needs to lose weight, I think it is more of an issue of finding time to work out and get toned rather than eating less or more healthily. (Which Euna at least seems to be focusing on).

Polo shirts are very popular here and guys often pop the collar. They are also popular as couple shirts…that strange phenomenon where a boyfriend and girlfriend wear the exact same shirts on purpose.

Which brings us to couples in general. Let me just say that I would hate to be living here and be single. It’s bad enough to be visiting shortly while being single as I am currently doing, but to have to deal with it all the time…I would go crazy. There are sort of two reasons why it would be bad. First, couples here are very into PDA. It never goes so far as kissing, but you always see couples cuddling on the train (fine) or being very cutesy with each other (which I admit I find more annoying). Example of the latter: A guy had his arm around his girlfriend who was trying to read a book. He kept interrupting her by pressing two of his fingers against her lips which he would then press against his own. Indirect kiss! So overly cute and annoying, particularly because she was trying to do something else, and this couple was in their 20s certainly (I could tolerate it more if they were young teenagers I think). You see this sort of thing alot. Even older couples partake in the overly cutesy behavior.

Second, and this is really the bigger problem, there is a ton of pressure to be part of a couple (particularly on women). Everyone obsesses over it here to the point that it is extremely annoying. One of the guys in my program lives next to me and I have gone out to dinner and lunch with him and his german labmate (who also lives on my floor) a couple of times. I mentioned this to the women in my lab and they proceeded to ask multiple times if anything was going on between us. Which clearly there wasn’t. And when I did mention in passing that I had met this Japanese guy that I thought was kind of cute, well they just went crazy (I should have known better than to say that to this group of people but I wasn’t thinking). I kid you not that the conversation quickly turned to marriage. Of course they were joking, but only partly. It was clear that they were half serious. I am almost 30 of course, and once you cross that age, the pressure to get married really kicks up. Sung-jin in my lab is at that stage and I think it’s unbearable how often others bring up her single status. That is one aspect of the culture I will be glad to escape when I leave.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Two weekends ago, I along with several other people in my program (from here on out called EAPSI people) made a trip to the DMZ. This was a very unique and surreal experience which makes it kind of hard to describe to others. I had a vague understanding of the history of the Korean War, but really next to no knowledge as to what happened after the ceasefire. This trip included a very helpful overview of both of these so I know a lot more about them now.

The way the tour works is that the morning of the tour, you head to the USO in Seoul. From there they bus you to the DMZ and take you along to various areas around there. We had a tour that went to the Camp Bonifas for a slide show history lesson (which was really good-brief but very informative) then on to the JSA (joint security area), then we stopped at a few guard posts where we could take pictures of the huge N. Korean flag and flagpole (both of which are just gigantic) and see the so called Propaganda village which seems to have lights on but no one home. Then we went to the 3rd tunnel (one of 4 tunnels the North Koreans apparently dug to infiltrate S. Korea), some viewing area that was outside the DMZ, I believe, and then to the Dorasan train station.

Visiting the DMZ reminded me of visiting Hiroshima in that it was a bit jarring to be around all these people that are joking around when you are in such a historically significant and sad spot. Of course, I have no way of knowing how others feel and people express there emotions differently so I certainly don’t mean that as a judgment statement. I just mean that I felt very tense the whole time we were in the DMZ and particularly when we were in the JSA and I didn't know how to react when others were joking around. I am very outwardly serious when confronted with situations like that whereas others might be less so. Again, I’m not saying there is a right or wrong way because clearly there isn’t, but the difference can be startling. Actually I felt tense even before we entered the DMZ. I was talking to someone sitting next to me when I was very startled to see Korean soldiers in a little roadblock thing as we drove by. I don’t ever see soldiers in battle ready positions like that so it startled me. Also, the knowledge that a hiker nearby was killed a week earlier by a landmine (and this is not uncommon) is also sobering. Landmines are just terrible weapons of war and should never be used as far as I am concerned. Even once the two countries unify, they will have to invest heavily in de-mining the area because the whole area is heavily mined.

Going to the JSA after hearing the brief overview of events was interesting. I had never heard of the Axe murder incident, but that is a story that will stay with me for a long time, I am sure. The JSA in general is the weirdest place. With it’s blue buildings, soldiers in rock ready position (some variant of a taekwondo position) and mirrored sunglasses, a N. Korean guard straight across from you watching you with binoculars, white stakes in the ground to designate the line you must not cross…so much weirdness. Plus you are not supposed to point or gesture towards the N. Korean guards at all. Just so strange.

Our group had two American soldiers with us (one of which looked like he was 18! But actually was much older), they were very nice and I talked to one of them a bit about the life up there.

We did see a ton of cranes (the DMZ has basically become this huge nature preserve) and that was cool. On a lighter note, the acronym ROK is pretty sweet for a military force. We kept hearing the soldier say “the ROK soldiers” which sounds pretty cool.

The train station is really sad. S. Korea built this really nice new train station that is intended to link up with tracks to the north (as historically a train ran the length of the whole peninsula), but for now it just sits empty. You can take a train ride from a town just south to the Dorasan station, but there are only like 2 trains a day, so other than tourists the station sees no activity at all. Seeing how busy other train stations are, it seems very sad that this one is so empty. But it is also a sign of hope that things will get better.

These are just a few of my unorganized thoughts about the DMZ.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A day in the mud!

Yesterday was a fieldwork day and a lot happened so I thought I would right up my general impressions of the day before I forgot. I met up with Eunae and the two high school students (whose names I have no idea as to how to spell so I won’t try) outside my dorm at 8 or so and headed for the train station. From there we had to head out to the blue line and take it all the way out to Incheon (about an hour’s ride). After a taxi to the ferry we had to wait for everyone else to meet up before heading out to Jakyakdo, a small island about 15-20 minutes ride away. There we geared up and spent the low tide (which was maximal at 1pm) going around the island looking for things. The island started rocky and then became a huge mudflat before becoming rocky again. In about 3 hours we made it all the way around the island (though we could have made it in less than 1 hour I think if we hadn’t been looking and collecting along the way). Then we gathered everything, looked through what we had collected (fixing a few right there and packing the rest live to be fixed in the lab), grabbed the ferry and headed back. None of us had actually had a meal since breakfast (just snacking on bananas and some fancy bread) so Dr. Song had us stop for a meal. Then we headed back on the long train ride back, brought the specimens up and fixed them.

So there is a bare-bones description of what happened but there are few points worth going into more detail…

First and foremost, Dr. Song is a force of nature. One she gets started, she just goes and you have to really fight to keep up with her. It’s pretty funny actually.

Also, it’s funny how different labs do things. The way this group preps for field work is a bit different from how I do it, particularly their insistence that everyone get a giant set of forceps and a spoon (both on loops that go around your hands). Honestly, a butter knife would have been more helpful in my opinion.

I’m really sorry that I didn’t have my camera to take pictures during this…there are some pictures from the lab camera that I grabbed so I have something from this which I will post on facebook sometime.

I never fail to hurt myself in some way during fieldwork. Usually it is my legs but this time I was wearing waders so the most I could do was bruise my leg (which I did too). But the bad cuts were on my arms this time. Not that they were that bad…they really weren’t and didn’t hurt much (though they are a little sore today). However, cuts on both arms bled like no one’s business. Suddenly there were huge drops of blood on the rocks and on my gloves and it took me a minute to figure out that it was me. The lab kind of freaked out about it (and still seem very worried about it today) but they really are not bad at all.

When working through a mud flat and you are given the option of waders that are too big or too small, definitely pick the too small one. I had waders that were too big, which resulted in me literally getting stuck in the mud. Every time I would go to move my leg, my foot would pop out of the boot and I would have to fight to stay upright (which was not always successful). I had to work so hard to move around that I had to have burned a lot of calories. It was extremely frustrating…but what can you do but laugh. Particularly when a high school student runs over with a shovel to help dig you out…twice.

And, by the way, the waders did not even work that well. When I got out, I could tell I was a bit wet before I got out, but I figured that I had sweat a lot working through the mud. But once I saw how wet I was…I definitely did not sweat that much! Sung-Jin said that hers didn’t work to well either and her pants were clearly wet too. Good thing we both wore fast drying pants. Should have brought an extra shirt though…

When we got back to the Incheon station, Dr. Song decided that we should have dinner in the Chinatown across the street but she didn’t want to bother to bring all the stuff we were carrying so she just went into a police station and asked them to watch our stuff. Judging from the reactions of her students, I don’t think you can generally treat the police station as a storage facility but she is an older woman in a culture that demands respect for someone of age, so what are the police going to do? Obviously, they said yes. The whole exchange was really amusing.

We had a good dinner at a random Chinese resturant in Incheon’s Chinatown. This dinner included drinks and a toast and is officially the first time I have drunk with my lab.

We got back to the lab at about 8 or 8:30 but I didn’t leave until after 11. It took me that long to fix all of my material. And I still had to spend time today making a spreadsheet of samples and better labeling the things I have (I did a pretty quick an dirty labeling yesterday). So it was a very long day. I was going to leave early today to go to a baseball game, but it has rained out so no go. I don’t think I am going to go anywhere or do anything tonight. I’m just going to chill out and relax I think. Save some money for another day (which by the way, I only spent about $4 dollars yesterday and that was off my transit card so really I spent nothing yesterday).

Overall, I got 5 species, including 2 I really wanted. Honestly, there was only one other species at the site that I would have liked to have so it worked out well. Plus the trip was fun so overall it was a very good day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Quick update

Just a few thoughts...

1. The Seoul subway is awesome. Easy, clean, fast...why can't we have this at home?
2. I really starting to feel comfortable in my lab much in the way I am comfortable at home. This is mostly because Eunae is awesome and goes out of her way to help me. We never had a formal welcome party for me like we did in Japan, but I am much more at ease here than I ever was in that Japan. But some of that may also be that I am more comfortable with myself too. I'll probably never know.
3. Having people to hang out with in town is really nice and I appreciate it. But going to the shrine by myself this weekend reminded me that it is really great to travel by yourself sometimes.
4. This coming weekend I am taking Friday off and heading to Jeju Island which is supposed to be beautiful. Hiking, biking, beaches and super cool looking lava caves will be the order of the day. And since I get in 4 hours before everyone else (I get there at like 8 am, everyone else gets in from 12-1 or later), I think I am going to take the morning to do the lava caves on my own. (see here for where I am going).
5. If I don't break my dorm door before I leave it will be a miracle. I can't tell you how annoying it is to have a door that speaks to you EVERY time you open/close/or touch the door. Shut up stupid door!
6. They eat fresh (raw) priapulids here! And how I discovered that is kind of a funny story for another time.