Friday, September 30, 2005

About me: 27 and going strong... I think

Just a short note on today. Nothing historic, its just my 27th birthday.

Happy birthday to me~

Birthday wish: to spend today with people whom I WANT TO spend it with. Unfortunately not this year (again). Yes, I do miss mum, the family and friends I have scattered all over the place... Thanks to those who remembered.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Business: Coffee packs

Coffee seems to be my best friend these days, since 12-hour workdays look indefinite for the next few weeks.

It is a fact that the Koreans have got it all figured out. Why do I know? That's because they really impressed me with two things:
1. Zylitol dispenser ~ An absolute classic.
2. Maxim instant coffee packaging ~ Smart.

3-in-1 Instant coffee that I drink here comes in sticks. Not sure about the other brands, but what I find ingenious about the Maxim brand packaging is this...

Note the yellow spot at the back of the packaging. If you hold on to it while pouring the contents out the other end, all the sugar (loaded into THAT end) will not pour out.

Voila ~ low sugar coffee! When done, you could also use the stick as a stirrer. Very handy indeed...

Smart way of doing business isn't it? It is effortless, as far as saving cost on repackaging the two products (low sugar and normal coffee) in two separate kinds of packaging.

Well, that's my take on that anyway...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

@ Work: Turbine? What the hell is a turbine?

People ask me what in the world I do for a living... Its obvious that I have a jet-set lifestyle, and it seems that my life for the past four years have been a great big holiday around the world.

Albeit the speculation, I do have a day-job... I'm a mechanical field engineer, i.e: I get sent on projects ANYWHERE (including the possibility of Iraq and the deepest darkest pockets of the Amazonian jungle) to work on power plants.

We fix (maintain) and install turbines. In this line of work, sitting and doing only paperwork in the office is for wussies. We get dirty climbing around and using tools, so we put on coveralls. For safety, we wear steel-toe boots on site, a hard hat, and safety glasses.

Yes, this is me...

and this is a power plant.

There are different kinds of power plants in the world. The principle of operation is the same. All machines are driven by some form of force, which in turn drives a generator to produce electricity. Some plants run on water from dams, some burn coal, or use nuclear fuel.

The ones I work on are gas combustion turbines, which burn natural gas for fuel. We're talking in the USD$20million range for this gas turbine in the picture... and thats ONLY for the turbine, minus all the other stuff.

This is what we do on some jobs... we take them apart (Gently!) to fix whats inside, or replace worn out parts with new ones. Think about it: The turbine runs as hot as 1000+ Celcius in certain areas. Hence, some parts need to be replaced as often as every year. But major work to take apart the entire turbine, happens only every 3 ~ 4 years (thereabouts), or if the turbine shits the bed (a.k.a. ~ Breaks).

On some jobs, we get to cut the old ones apart.

Throw the old one out as expensive scrap, and install a new one in its place. Well, obviously by this stage, the managers, bean-counters (accountants) and engineers would have already gone through the whole bitch fight over why this is necessary...

Essentially, there are only a few companies in this WORLD who produce, sell, install, and maintain power plant equipment. A few of the major names are General Electric (GE), Alstom/ABB, Siemens, and Mitsubishi. I work for GE. Hence, we get sent all over the world to work on our respective machines.

Work duration varies from job to job. On a small job, I could stay on a jobsite for 2 weeks. On a bigger job, like the one I am at now in Korea, will require me to stay for a year or two. We are installing 4 new machines from ground up.

The ONE of the four gas turbine units that we are installing in Korea now, produces around 172 Mega Watts, which translates to roughly power enough for 4,000 standard homes. The entire plant will eventually put out around 1000 Mega Watts, considering the other machinery on-site.

YES... I have a job.

NO... I am not 007, and I cannot promise to fly you to London for tea, and Paris for shopping.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Culture: Where have their childhood gone?

Was hanging out at Elvis with Ferby last night. On the way home, I spotted this crowd of students on the streets.

Managed to put 1 + 1 together? Basically, whats wrong with this scenario is that:

  1. It is midnight...
  2. These are students ~ they are in uniform with their back-packs.
  3. They are on their way home AT THIS MOMENT.
As I have gathered over the past year or so, it is a normal sight, even to see kids as young as 12 walking home at that hour from school and tutoring institutions ~ hagwons (학원). Pressure is on, especially when kids have to take the entrance exam to fight for spots at top universities in Seoul and Pusan cities.

At one end of the extreme, there is an actual real estate industry in the Gangnam district of Seoul, whereby some parents would temporarily relocate to that area during the school year/exam semester, so that their child can have access to some of the top hagwons in the city. Here's an article from today's JoongAng Daily.

I was reading a post at a Korean blog @ Joel's site, where he translated a local article into English. It explored the cultural and social aspects of why children might be forced to study so hard. Have a read 'here'.

Now tell me that isn't something to ponder about? It just made me think back, of how fortunate my childhood was. Call me a nerd, but I genuinely had the interest to learn stuff and do well! Apart from that, I had time to myself too, and really enjoyed myself. We always had time for mud-fights, bicycles, and the occasional sleep under a tree...

God bless these children.

Monday, September 26, 2005

About me: My sundays and the trash paparazzi

Sundays are typically days where I either:
1. Go on trips
2. Do absolutely NOTHING related to manual labor... with the exception of mopping the friggin floor in the apartment, and taking out the trash.

Yes... I do the mopping religiously every weekend, in case you were wondering, and I take off the shoes too when I walk into the apartment. Taking the trash out is also a weekend MUST.

Natural resources in Korea are scarce. Hence they HAVE to recycle. Just downstairs by the car-park, there are the various bins for plastics, metal, paper, general trash, and my gosh...... even food scraps in a separate bin!

Anyway, they are serious about it... fervent even. Check this out: I call it the Trash Paparazzi.

Word has it, that we get fined when the wrong trash is put in the wrong bin. We also need to put conventional trash in a special bag... another post on that later.

Argh~ How many more of these bloody urban legends do we need anyway??!!

Loophole assessment: Since surveillance cameras are operated by our apartment security guards, just do the rubbish at wee hours of the night when they're probably asleep. *Wink

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Culture: He who is greater than thou

I spent the better part of last night talking to a good friend ~ P, who's now working in Dubai, on Skype. I was surprised at how clear the conversation went though she was calling from a COMPUTER. I was talking on my hand-phone.

I always thought the conversations would be of inferior quality with lotsa noise. Boy was I wrong... Will probably get me a headset today. I'm converted ~ Halleluiah!

Anyway, conversations lead to issues like how's life been, where we want to be in a few years, to how she gets groped over there in the Dubai for wearing semi-long pants (3/4 pants as we call them in Malaysia). Sometimes, men there whistle simply because she's wearing a T-shirt revealing her neck (ONLY)... Bloody perverts!

Its not easy to work and live in the Middle East, and I feel for her. As a guy who's worked in the Middle East, I must say it could get pretty rough/chauvinistic over there for a foreign woman.

Fortunately enough, in some parts of the world, chauvinism can be taken the piss out off. Hence signboards like this... spotted this in Jeju city during our visit last weekend.

*Note: 男子 = MAN

Here's to you P, hope you understand what the sign means, and do cheer up. :)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Health: Tourmaline sports rings

I've always noticed Mr. An with this cool rubber/plastic necklace around his neck and wrists. I always wondered what in the world that could be, and so today, I asked......

Turns out that it isn't just any cheap ass plastic decoration - Its a TOURMALINE sports ring. You wear it, so that the precious Tourmaline can improve your "well-being".

Apparently the concept/application came from Japan a few years back.

Not cheap: we're talking like USD$30 for a piece for the neck sports-ring, and about USD$15~20 for a bracelet.

Checkout the local e-retailer site: Yaksawa.
*Note: 1,000 won (원) = USD$1.00

I mean...... does that really even DO ANYTHING??!! Call me a skeptic, but I really pissed myself laughing.

Friday, September 23, 2005

PMS: Bank loan rejected!

Was chatting to a friend who was clearly in distress yesterday, and it seems that I must do yet another exposé on the dumb people in this world... and another PMS moment. Here's to world peace!

~ The spotlight is on ~

Character 1: JT
Yet another classic example of a damsel in distress. She pays the bills, tries day in and out to feed her five kids as a single mum, support ailing parents, and trying to pay her way through college with two part-time jobs. There's also a dry-cleaning shop she runs at the back of her kitchen during the nights, just so she can rest her weary head for a while... she can't afford a bed for herself, so she uses the linen and dirty laundry that customers send to her for cleaning.
*Tears streaming down my eyes...

Character 2: CD898
We'll leave the description of him until after you've read the following conversation that ensued between JT and CD898... Do note that they have not kept in-touch for years, and CD898 suddenly pops up on Yahoo Messenger with this request.

~ The story ~

*OK, so you've struck it rich over the last few years, and you didn't even bother to call me?!

*Drum roll...

*What the crap.... aren't you stating the obvious? You're not just troubling me, you're giving me a friggin heart attack!

*Hey, don't you get the bloody hint?

*This girl is waaaaaaay too nice. At this point, I would've sweared at the bugger in all the languages I know.

*Waddya mean "Nah its alright?", I should be the one saying that, and you should be the one saying sorry... Whats wrong with this part of the converstion hey?!

*poof* ~ CD898 dissappears into offline-ness

Tell me people like that don't deserve to get a kick in the butt? Who the crap doesn't keep in-touch, and expects immediate AUD$25,000 (~USD$19,000) favors anyway?

~ The Conclusion ~

CD898 is a PMS ass, and I hate people like that. This post is for you JT... Hope you feel better.

~ The disclaimer ~

JT doesn't really have 5 kids and isn't a single mum, but the story is real though. Hey~ gotta spice up the story right?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Travel: My 3.7km hike at Halla-san

This will probably be my last post on my Jeju trip during the Chuseok holiday weekend... I guess it gets boring reading just about ONE place.

For the life of me, I had a really good laugh on our second day there, as me and Ferby (not his real name) made our way up to Halla mountain ~ the tallest peak in Korea @ 1950m (only??). We only made it to 1700m at Witseoreum (윗세오름), as the rest of the path was closed.

Being the unfit people that we are, and also being short of time, we chose the shortest hiking route of 3.7km. This route starts at the west-face of the mountain at Yeongsil (영실). The trail was very beautiful, with lush greenery all around every step of the way.

Unfortunately though, due to the time of the year, and also the altitude of the mountain, it was foggy and rainy the whole time we were there.

So we bought wee plastic 'ponchos' on-sale for $3 at the entrance.

That's Ferby on the left doing his "I love my poncho"-dance in the rain. At that point, I was afraid he would turn gay on me!

Fact: Ferby isn't gay ~ he loves his womEn.

Anyway, we make our way up the hill, and around 1/3 of the way, lactic acid kicks in to the ol' legs and we start running out of breath.

Ferby catches his breath, and gives me that "I know I can finish this but I don't think I want to" crap...

So I show him the car keys, and gave him the motivation talk. As you can tell, he wasn't very pleased.

We move on...

OK, I admit... I wasn't all that tough either. This was me after ten minutes... Bummer~ Need to work out more at the gym!

Anyway, we walk, and things get better. I guess after a while, the lactic acid in the muscles wear off, and doing the rest of the journey became less taxing. Funny, but true.

Along the way, we spot the method that they use to reclaim the rocky surface. They have little hemp sacks filled with top-soil that they dump onto the rock surface. Eventually, stuff starts to grow off it, and roots itself into the rocks... Smart!

*Hey~ I'm not a friggin geologist alright! Things like this amuse me...

Reaching the top was a good feeling, finally after 1 1/2 hours!

We hang around for a while at the Witseoreum rest house for a 1/2 hour, and head back down. While up there, we spotted this...

Its a stretcher (my guess) used for transporting injured people or goods, up and downhill. We wondered for two seconds there, if it'd be feasible to start it up and do the lazy route down-hill...

Nah~ We needed the exercise.

In the end, we timed ourselves a total of 3 hours exactly for the whole trip going up, lingering, and coming back down to Yeongsil. Not bad, I must say, since today while talking to Mr. Kim from a counterpart company at work, he reckons that it usually takes 3 hours one-way!

How's that for a boost of the ol' ego! ;)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Food: BLACK pigs and staring fish heads

Every province in Korea boasts about their cuisine, and Jeju is no different. One of the biggest tourist (traps) is the so-called "Black pork" ~ Heukdoaeji Bulgogi (흑돼지불고기).

Honestly? Nothing special. But its worth a try, since I have not seen it much outside of Jeju just yet... or rather, I haven't looked all that hard.

Basically what it is, is a sun tanned pig ~ Black skin on the outside, same pink meat with the same taste on the inside. Best analogy: Opposite of Michael Jackson... bleached outside, black inside.

Was disappointed, because I was hoping it'd be like the black chickens back home ~ even the meat is dark!

Another dish would be fish head soup ~ Maeuntang (매운탕). The soup base is similar, but somewhat different to the Malaysian fish head curry. Spicy, but uses less condiments.

I guess if you were desperate enough for fish head (I was!), it'd be a pretty decent substitute... Mine even had the eyeball and everything staring back at me. *Evil laugh...

Other kinds of seafood that are typical of Jeju such as:

  • Squid ~ Ojingeo (오징어),
  • Hairtail fish ~ Kalchi (갈치)
  • Mackerel ~ Godongeo (고등어)

Preparations differ, but typically, they can be:

  • Boiled in soy bean sauce ~ Jorim (조림)
  • Grilled on a hotplate ~ Gu-i (구이)
  • Soup-based ~ Guk (국) or Tang (탕)
  • Casseroled ~ Jeongol (전골)
  • Barbeque ~ Bulgogi (불고기)
  • Raw ~ Hoei (회).

Note: 1,000 won ~ USD$1.00

Did I try all of them while in Jeju? No...

Well, there are some dishes that I can find in Suncheon, where I live. Prices here are lower, compared to the tourist prices you'd pay in Jeju. So I guess I'll save my two cents for a rainy day.

Anyway, I only have one stomach and I was there for only 3 days!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Travel: Jeju island

Chuseok (추석) , being the time of the year, when the moon is brightest, and Koreans take to the grave to pay respect to their ancestors... its also when I sneak out to be a tourist.

Now, how'd we do? I'd say it was mighty perfect - no big crowds, no traffic jams, beautiful scenery, and quite a few things I learnt, travelling through Jeju:

  1. Its almost impossible to pee while staring into the ocean. Found that out, as the ferry we took (with my car on-board) to the island bobbled up and down.

  2. People are way chilled on Jeju Island. I have yet to see a single person run a light, and doing way over the speed limit. This was our "3-day Jeju drivearound" observation.

    Suncheon vs. Jeju = 0 - 1
  3. If you're looking for white sand and abundance of beautiful beaches on Jeju... not too many. Its an ex-volcanic island, and you'll find lotsa rocks and beaches with black + rough sand.

  4. HOWEVER, if you're looking for outdoor views of the likes of sunrises, lava caves, greenery and of course... the Jeju Harubang stone statues, you're in the right spot.

    3rd picture to the right: This harubang is one of the originals on the island. It can be seen at Samseonghyeol (삼성혈) ~ where legend has it, is the point where 3 demi-Gods emerged from the ground, hence establishing the first of humankind on Jeju.

  5. Jeju is not the fishing village that I thought... It has buildings and amenities like any other major city in Korea, with the exception of maybe an Outback Steakhouse or Bennigans. Jeju city is so clean, that you could even swim in the city center river!

    *The Americans I traveled with went through steak withdrawal syndrome the whole trip... but they survived.

  6. Its pretty amazing to think that there are towns that depend on the sunrise as its main tourist attraction...

    We stayed at Seongsan (성산) for a night just to catch the sunrise.

  7. A trip could always end with a beautiful sunset on the horizon... Ah~

There are more pictures from the trip. Check it out on the 'My travel pictures!' link... If you want originals, do e-mail me for them.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Announcement: Jeju here I come!

Starting tomorrow, will be Chuseok ~ Korean thanksgiving holidays.

Its a time, when farmers celebrate the harvest, and families travel back to their ancestral homes, and pay respects to the graves of their forefathers (Charye ritual).

Its also a time where traffic clogs up, and bored engineers go on holidays... SO JEJU ISLAND HERE I COME!

Will update you dear readers when I get back on Tuesday, Sept 20th ~ hopefully with loads of pictures and tonnes of stories.

I leave you with this interesting piece of news - 'click here'.

Stuff: Spot the wee turrets

Living in South Korea, which borderlines with one the last frontiers of communist dictatorship - North Korea, is certainly no easy task. Certainly, in a country like this, self-defense measures are necessary, if not crucial.

If anyone has ever opened their eyes, while traveling through S.Korea especially in the north, they will notice gun turrets at various locations, barbed wire fences with troop outposts every couple of hundred of meters, and of course, the world-known DMZ (Demilitarized Zone).

The DMZ is a strip of land about 4km wide, and spans 248kms from East to West, dividing the Korean peninsular into the north and south.

If you think its just a barren strip of land... Look again. Tour guides didn't have to point it out to me on my visit there last November. Fenced off areas are everywhere!

There are plenty of these land mines still scattered around the DMZ. Unfortunately the people who planted them lost the friggin map, so I guess its been rather a b***h of a job to remove some of these. Incidentally, for anyone who has an interest in history and what's the deal with the DMZ, do join a day-tour to visit it ~ obviously from the South Korean side! Tours leave from Incheon International Airport, as well as Seoul city center.

As much as I would like to say that I live far far far away from the border now (Look at the map above), I see this sight everyday going to work.

They are camouflaged gun turrets. It doesn't quite freak me out, since I had worked previously on a project about 30kms from the DMZ. I guess you just get used to the idea...

Note: Seoul isn't exactly THAT far from the DMZ either, and there are rumours of up to 20 secret under-ground tunnels leading from North Korea into the South. A few possibly infiltrating directly into Seoul city itself. So far, South Korean military have managed to find and cordon off only 4.

After all these years, there are obviously still issues to North Korea opening up, hence the recent 6-party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear 'problem'. I suppose we can only watch and wait till the day they do away with the DMZ. Appparently South and North Korea are starting to show small steps towards reconciliation already...

In the meantime, I'll be on the lookout for more turrets and landmines. :P

Thursday, September 15, 2005

PMS: My $400 wash

OK, so I wasn't exactly paying attention when I got back last night, and threw my shorts in to the washer... with 400,000 Korean Won (USD$400.00) in it. Dude, this is exactly a PMS moment!

Its not the first time too. Check out the history:

  • 1997 - 2000 @ Australian: Probably threw my wallet in the washer a few times. Lost a couple of important phone numbers on paper then.... (read ~ women). I felt sad for awhile.
  • 2003 @ Turkey: Threw my passport into the washer TWICE! Had a hard time explaining to the customs officer on the way out... Might as well have gotten me a Turkish chick, gotten married, and settled down there. Do note ~ Turkish women are HOT!
  • 2005 @ Korea: Threw my wallet into the washer once already, and now THIS!

I must have a memory of a fish or something... Bummer!

If you were wondering why I'm carrying so much cash in the pocket. I'm going away on a long weekend. Ha ha! We're going to Jeju island tomorrow! There will be a post on that...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Food: Origu-i and Boggeumbab

This one is for Joanne, who had notions of visiting Korea because of yesterday's post on the knee bone soup and health rice. It was apparently too tempting...

Went out last night with the two Mr. Kim's I frequently work with at the jobsite, and they decided on duck hot-plate. Oooh~

Seng Origu-i (생오리구이) - Fresh roast duck on a hotplate with kimchi and sauces on the side.

In case you do insist on fresh meat, make sure you spot the word "생" when ordering in Korea.

생 = Fresh/unfrozen

And here's how you eat it:

Wrapped in lettuce, mushroom with meat on top, throw in some kimchi, dip it in any of the sauces... Anyway you like.

God bless Korea!

And you think it's all done?

Again... NO!

The ol' lady throws in rice to soak up all the flavored oil from the barbeque we just had... then in goes some sesame oil, sprouts, kimchi, a tad of Korean chili sauce and topped off with some seaweed bits to create ~ Boggeumbab (볶음밥).

At this rate, I might as well forget about a diet~