Korea in CliffsNotes

Friday, August 22: Meeting with our partner.  In the evening, I head to Apgujeong and meet up with Hyojin, who’s just returned to Korea from Basel.  We have a Korean dinner and chat for longer than any other guests – Swiss habits die hard. 

Saturday morning, 3:44 am: the clever light console thinks beeping and switching the lights on and off would be a good way to help me get over jet lag.  I turn the lights off, go back to sleep, and just after drifting off the console does it again.  I curse the electronics industry at large and hotels that rely on fancy gadgets instead of switches that flip, call the reception, and they send an engineer.  He can’t speak English, of course, so we have this conversation on the phone via the operator: he calls, talks, passes the phone to me, I listen, answer, pass the phone to him, ad infinitum.  Essentially, he takes out the circuit board, plonks it back in, fails to reproduce the problem, pushes buttons I never push, and suggests moving rooms.  Ha, ha, ha, I think: I wouldn’t move to the Penthouse suite for free at 3:44 am.  He leaves and I go back to bed.  It takes a while to fall asleep. 

Saturday, August 23: I meet up with Hyojin and her mother and we go to a wedding of one of their family friends.  It’s in a building called Korea Wedding, which has wedding “chapels” on two floors that cycle through weddings every hour.  The hall in front of the chapel room is larger than the room and has two reception desks, one for wedding n and one for wedding n+1.  Each desk is divided into the groom’s side and the bride’s side, so the attendees know where to hand over their pecuniary gifts and congratulatory mammoth flower arrangements and pick up the food coupons.  The bride of wedding n is getting married, the bride of wedding n+1 is waiting in a special room with a canopied couch for her to sit on and be photographed.  Wedding n lets out, and we file in for n+1.  The room is backlit with an undulating light vacillating between different shades of pastel, and when the principal actors appear, dry ice steams out of jets underneath the altar.  We sing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in Korean (or “da da da”) and listen to the sermon.  Vows, dry ice, and the couple exits, married.  I ask about official registration, and apparently that’s not even necessary unless you have kids.  The couple returns for pictures, and we exit, board the elevator, and get off at the food court.  It’s a buffet of Korean, Japanese, and some Western foods, and the tables have Chilsung cider (a lemon soda), Pepsi, and beer on them.  We eat, wait for the couple to appear and stop by for some remarks, then take off and head upstairs to the roof.  On the roof the building has a bucolic scene out of solid Korean nostalgia (and fiberglass), framed by fake boulders and waterfalls.  There are two indoor preparatory rooms in traditional Korean style, then an open-air area with a well and a bridge over a pond and a litter and ponies standing by.  Hyojin and her mother talk to an attendant, who lets us watch, even though this traditional ceremony takes place without the bride’s parents because it symbolizes the groom bringing the bride to live in his house.  After preparing the two and dressing them up right, the groom mounts a pony and the bride the litter; they follow a musician around the well and over the bridge.  Then they retreat again to the room, where they pour soju for the parents, then for each other; the parents throw beans or chestnuts on the cloth the two hold, and the groom carries the bride piggyback around the table.  We find out that the groom is 39 and the bride 35; people are taking photos all the time.  Finally it’s over, and they undress and head on downstairs for the regular wedding.  We head out and after some crazy Seoul traffic we end up at Apgujeong again.  Hyojin and I head for Chungmuro, where there’s a Korean village that consists of several traditional houses that have been transported here for preservation.  Performers put on traditional Korean shows and dances, the coolest by far being the acrobatic drum group with long white paper streamers affixed to an antenna on the top of their head and swirling around them as they dance. 

Sunday, August 24: Church at Sarang church, second English service (out of three; there are six Korean services).  Loud music played by competent musicians, pretty solid sermon, tea and donuts at the end.  We’re off; the next service is getting ready.  We head to a bookstore, where I buy three small books of Korean short stories, then over for a peek into the sanctuary for the Korean services and one of the extra rooms where those who came too late for a seat in the sanctuary can watch live feeds.  After lunch we amble about and end up at Hyojin’s old elementary school, where we watch little Korean boys in soccer practice.  They’re too cute, trying to master exercises way beyond their level of ball control. 

Monday, August 25: Another business meeting, and one with far too much drinking and eating ensuing.  Mixing soju and beer is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve come across.  I soon switch to Chilsung cider, which doesn’t entirely meet with approval, but it allows me to be in good enough shape for two episodes where I can’t avoid the soju.  First, I fill my shot glass with Chilsung and join a round of cheers, but one of the higher-ups across from me calls out “love shot” and then proceeds to pour his soju in my mouth while he gets my cider.  He pours so quickly it comes out my nose, and I can’t help but spit it out.  Amusement ensues – and I don’t mind, because most of the soju didn’t go down, and my nasal passages have now been cleansed with 20% alcohol.  (Kind of like wasabi, just messier.)  Second, one girl asks if I like sake, which I affirm.  She then says I should drink soju – “or do you discriminate against Korea?”  So I drink a shot, more or less intact thanks to the cider and water I’ve otherwise been sticking to.  A taxi takes me home, feeling a little woozy, but happy because of the apparent genuineness of the jovial atmosphere in their group.  All the alcohol ends up doing is wreck my digestion a bit. 

Tuesday, August 26: We set up the booth at the Nano Korea 2008.  Getting everything to run from a double Korean outlet is a challenge, but we prevail, thanks to the purchase of a Korean extension cord.  Hyojin also comes, and we run through the AFM basics and the basic booth procedures. 

Wednesday, August 27: I take a taxi to the KINTEX exhibition center because I’m afraid the bus won’t get me there in time to set things up.  The taxi driver is a speed freak who doesn’t shy from 90 km/h downtown and gets me there in 40 minutes instead of 50, and I have oodles of time to set up and prepare the exhibits.  The bar code reader never gets to working, so we stick with business cards and paper notes, and at the end of the day we have a good amount of contacts.  Hyojin and I attend the reception, where I make use of the possibility of placing promotional material on a table, but I think we were the only table to make a business contact that evening.  Most people were much more interested by the food and drink than by the exhibitor tables. 

Thursday, August 28: I have a presentation at the Germany-Korea Micro-Nano Business Workshop, where I present the possibilities of automatic quality control with AFM.  It’s the first time I’m simultaneously translated as I speak; the Koreans sit there with an earphone listening to how we’re on Mars.  They’re pretty impressed, and two even visit the booth later that day.  We end the day having used up two thirds of our contact sheets.  Our partner takes us out to dinner at a traditional Korean barbecue restaurant called Samwon Garden, owned by the father of LPGA golfer Grace Park, winner of the 2004 Kraft Nabisco Championship.  I pick up some free postcards of the garden and of the owner’s daughter. 

Friday, August 29: The final day is a bit slower.  I’m still glad we had three people on the booth, because there were sure times when we were all three busy.  Today there are times where we are all three not busy, but they’re not often.  We end up with 10% of the contact forms empty.  As soon as the show’s over, the frantic packing begins, and because we’re joined by the shipping company guys, I’m almost certain that a few things got packed in the wrong boxes by overeager helpers.  But everything that needs to ends up in the big crate, and I have what I need.  We head to the hotel and I invite everyone out to dinner, thinking food in Korea is cheap.  I forget that the prices shown are always without a 10% service charge and an additional 10% on top of that for GST, and don’t realize that the San Pellegrino costs 9 dollars a half-liter, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. 

Saturday, August 30: I spend most of the day resting, and go off to Jongno 3-ga, where if you leave the subway at exit #11 you pop up in front of a line-up of jewelry shops.  Here I may or may not have bought something for someone – that part is a surprise.  I got to see two old Koreans fighting, one repeatedly pushing the other down, with younger Koreans trying to separate them, and another Korean guy lying on the ground, holding a pear in one hand and the back of his head in another, whimpering, and then the police officer picking him up by the scruff of his neck and walking him off.  I gaped and stared, but I wasn’t about to intervene in a fight I didn’t understood in a language I didn’t speak.  So I took off again. 

Sunday, August 31: I go to the 10 o’clock Korean church service with Hyojin.  We are there early enough that there is not yet a line waiting to get in, and we are ushered into the sanctuary that is large enough that there’s a small sign notifying visitors that the sanctuary is flushed with purified oxygen to guarantee a refreshing worship service.  I suppose everyone would be getting drowsy otherwise.  I can’t understand a word, but I can understand the power of a few thousand people singing to God together, of an orchestra and choir performing what sounds like “A Mighty Fortress goes Boston Pops,” and I can at least do my own reading during the sermon (on spiritual warfare, 2 Corinthians 10:1-5) where the only words I understand are “Nietzsche,” “Hitler,” and “Rise Up Korea.”  Hyojin later explains that Nietzsche’s Superman was the pastor’s example of how the spiritual enemy of wrong, incorrect thoughts could lead to great physical evil such as perpetrated by Hitler, who was influenced by Nietzsche’s ideas.  We leave and eat a small lunch at a coffee shop, then head for the movie theater and watch Wall-E, which we both enjoy a lot.  Then we say good bye. 

Monday, September 1: My business partner and I drive to Jeonju to visit a customer.  Or more precisely, he drives through rain and traffic jams while I alternate between reading and dozing off.  Because a traffic accident delays us, we eat fast food at a rest area, and I pick a “pizza hotdog,” which is blatantly false advertising: it’s a deep-fried dough pocket with tomato sauce inside, and no hotdog anywhere.  We help the customer with his problems as much as possible, though I find out that troubleshooting gets almost impossible when neither customer nor maker speak each other’s language worth anything.  Then we drive back, eat more junk at a rest area, and get in late. 

Tuesday, September 2: Another business meeting, short and sweet, with some time earlier in the day to talk to Janet and get some catch-up work done.  And because I’m in the habit of going to bed late, I write this post instead of doing the sensible thing and turning in.  It looks like I’ll have stayed in this silly Hilton hotel with a pool and gym without every getting around to using it – and really, I’d have to purchase a bathing suit and cap or some sort of exercise clothing to do so, so at least I have a feeble excuse. 


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