Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflection on a year in Korea

I am sitting in my empty apartment, my clothes and belongings packed for my departure, and struggling with what to say about my year in Korea.

While I had hoped that the conclusion of a year in a strange, new country should produce some profound inner knowledge to share, it has so far eluded me. Perhaps I have been too busy with the preparations for going home. Perhaps I have unconsciously assimilated some profound new understanding of the world which I will only be able to express upon distance and more reflection. And perhaps it is enough to say that Korea has become familiar, almost home, and I no longer really think twice about living here.

It may, in fact, take some adjustment to move back home. For example, since I can only express a few simple thoughts in Korean, when I am at a store or kiosk I generally present my goods and assume they will know what I want. When I returned to Canada for Christmas vacation, I had to transfer from international to domestic at YVR to fly to Victoria. I dutifully approached the desk, presented the gentleman with my passport, and silently expected him to present me with a boarding pass. He looked at me quizzically and asked, "What would you like?"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011


It was Jay's birthday on Saturday, and we went out for ribs... not Korean style ribs, but real Memphis ribs.

Jabob (picture now missing) munched through a whole platter in 7:46, then finished off two other people's leftovers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Country challenge

The challenge: print out a blank map of the world (you can do continent maps too for detail - especially Europe) and without using any resources label as many countries as you can. Report your score.

I got 55, which I'm not especially proud of but I figure is not bad. (For comparison, my coworker Hannah, who apparently enjoys doing quizzes like this often, got about 150.) I'd be interested to know: should I buff up on my world geography?

For added challenge: add the capital cities!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A riddle... from one of my Grade 3 students

Looking for something? Go to me.
I'm sure that your something inside of me lies.
Of course you can always find hope in me,
Though despair must come first, and later surprise.
What's sought, though, depends on the seeker--
One looks for bobber, another for beaker,
Others for nature, still others for nurture,
The quarry will vary from searcher to searcher.
And yet (I suspect this will strike you as strange)
My contents are set and will never change.
If you still cannot guess what I mean, here's a clue
The answer lies inside of me, too.

Who am I?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I don't usually write product reviews, but I actually got really excited about this last night and thought I'd share: XBox Kinect. The basics: it's a video game system that tracks your body movements instead of using any controllers. My coworker has one, and we gathered at his place to play some games. Before you read, you should really watch this video; we were playing these exact games last night.

My thoughts behind the jump.

Who Steve's Reading

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser! On what other subject than (of course)... cities!

How Skyscrapers Can Save the City. Atlantic, 2011. A defence of upward development with a fascinating history of the skyscraper. I read it on my Kindle!

Start-up City. City Journal, 2010. A history of entrepreneurship in New York.

A talk with economist Edward Glaeser: why America needs to love its cities more. Sarah Goodyear, Grist, 2011.

And if that's not enough Glaeser for you, he was on the Daily Show last night! Video won't work in Canada, but my Canadian readers can watch here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Jeju Island Photos
Last week was Lunar New Year, also known as my last holiday in Korea. I got Wednesday to Friday off, and headed to Jeju Island on Thursday. Located south of the peninsula and taking advantage of a warmer climate, Jeju is known as the "Hawaii of Korea", and is a popular destination for Korean honeymooners. Even though it was February, the island's tourist spots were quite busy with Koreans taking in the scenery.


As usual, I had to wake up inordinately early (actually this time, 4:00am!), and stupidly took a taxi to the airport half an hour earlier than the first bus, only to wait half an hour for the check-in counter to open. Apart from that and being squished into a middle seat for the hour-long ride, the trip over was uneventful and I arrived on the lovely island at 8am, hours before I normally start my day.

I had booked into a hostel on the other side of the island, but instead of going directly there, I took a slow bus around the eastern edge of the island to see the volcanic caves and sunrise peak. I wasn't quite sure how long the trip would take but set off gallantly and tiredly to explore.

First stop: 만장굴, or Manjangul volcanic caves. I should first note that Jeju is a volcanic island (this will be useful to keep in mind), and one of its attractions is a system of lava tubes several kilometres long. The cave was... well, cavernous! The lava structures are almost perfectly preserved, so one can see the flows of lava on the floor and ridges on the cave walls. The section open to the public is a kilometre long ending in a magnificent lava structure.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A teaser from Jeju island

It turns out there is internet at my hostel, so here's a picture. You will have to wait until Monday to hear the rest of the story, but so far it has been great.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Steve's Reading

I'll be heading to Jeju Island early tomorrow so you won't hear from me until Monday when I return. Expect lots of pictures and stories early next week!

Until then, here are some good readings on the recent events in Egypt and the Middle East / North Africa:

Parties of God: The Bush doctrine and the rise of Islamic democracy. Ken Silverstein, Harper's, 2007. A nuanced view of the populist Islamist movements (Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah) in the Middle East. Good background reading.

The Devil We Know. Ross Douthat, NYT, 2011. Opinion piece pointing out the complexity of foreign policy choices in the US.

The Arab world's 1989 revolution? Jacqueline Head, Al Jazeera, 2011. Al Jazeera has consistently had great coverage of the demonstrations: it seems that half the stories in mainstream Western outlets start with "Al Jazeera is reporting that...". As a plus, their news is not US-centric.

All the best to you while I'm on holiday on the island!