Monday, November 9, 2009

Week 16 The other side of the World Part 2 Oct 17th

The scanning marathon continues.

But as excited as enumerating our scanning procedures may be, i think ill pass on the technical details.

I had mentioned that South Korea was way more industrialized, clean, and generally more first world-ish than i expected. However that does not mean its a a carbon copy of our western world (ok there was a 7-11 out our front door and a McDonalds around the corner) Perhaps the biggest difference was the food.

First the bad... as it was what we noticed first. Octopus jerky, deep fried silkworm pupae, cheese-sticks with fish parts embedded, soup with ligaments knees, and of course Korean blood sausage. I say this with a caveat of course... I eat scrapple (once a year) and that is made from scraps of scraps of scraps.

And the good stuff. Bi bim bab, basically rice and veggies then you put on your own chili paste to suit you tastes... delicious. Dumplings,bbq,and strange but tasty pastries spun from sugar... i think they translated to 10000 strands.

We picked up a few words... not enough to get around, but the language seems more manageable than other asian languages. aneseyo:hello consumeneda:thanks yogi:here chogi:there
Also the written language is syllable based. there are only 25 characters rather than the 100s in chinese. For each syllable they stack up a set of 3 or 4 characters to make what looks complicated at first... but is really just a collection of more simple characters. These syllables then get used as the building blocks .
for larger construction.

We think of the North Korea / South Korea conflict as relatively benign. Sure there have been some greater rumblings from the North lately, and certainly there is a dangerous regime in place. But we almost view those as future threats from our American viewpoint. But for South Koreans, the war with the North didnt end in the 50s (in fact it never did end and the two sides are technically still at war) and there is a strong sense that war is here and now. Air raid sirens (the benign almost anachronistic relics here in the US) mean that everyone stops what they are doing and wait for instruction to proceed to shelters etc. There is a certain military feel on the streets.

I think this has given the South Koreans a sense of urgency and importance to their daily lives i find somewhat envious. I sometimes feel an American complacency in many spheres of life. Our place in the global mindset, our arrogance with our language, even how we work our business. It seems that the threat of the North has given the South Koreans a catalyst for their impressive growth these last few decades.

After two weeks, we finally finished all our intended work, but we has been run ragged. Due to the type of scanning equipment being used, we would have to concentrate for a few minutes and then sit around at wait for 10, and again and again. This yielded little true down time to unwind and at the same time killed our motivation. We watched a lot of green bars passing slowly across the screen, and copying many many gigabytes of data to all our backup drives. Next time i think we will ship a real server.

Harry tries to keep the troops in line. Pete is suitably dispassionate about the prospect of another day on the hamster wheel.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Week 15 The Other Side of the World Part1

As if traveling to Southern California one week was not enough, work decided that maybe South Korea would be more appropriate. Have been missing my time with Eliza. Actually, despite the time away from home, I lobbied pretty hard to get put on this one. I mean if one of my goals is to see new things... it cant get much more new than South Korea.

My other overseas work experience was going to rural India. If you recall I was pretty amazed at the difference between the Indian culture and ours. Sure there were nice areas... but the poverty and squalor were particularly overwhelming. Naively I expected South Korea to be similar... I couldnt have been more wrong.

The 14 hour direct flight from JFK pushes the limits of the 747 only 800km short of its maximum range. Apparently every once in a while they have to land the flight in Anchorage Alaska to refuel. Luckily I had driven the whole way up to NYC so I was pretty tired and managed to sleep until over the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia (and i thought it only existed as a territory in RISK)

I hadnt realized it but time had been doing funny things. It already gotten dark when we took off... (7pm) and just never got light again. We landed at 4am in Seoul and it had never gotten light... longest night of my life! Our bodies think it is sometime mid afternoon but the skies tell a different story. In my mind I all of a sudden visualize the globe, and my place on it is nowhere near usual.

The airport is actually in Incheon a new city created on an island 30 minutes outside of Seoul. We drive into the city with the first pre-dawn light filtering down. And we drive, and drive and drive. At first on gleaming highways, and then forever through town. My ignorance is starting to show, and later will realize that the 10 million population (23 in the metro area) is much much larger than NYC.

My first sunrise over Seoul.

In the center of a town there is a pretty large hill with a TV tower / public attraction on top. Taking pictures at 6 am it catches my attention.

We have one day to adjust before we start work. Speaking of which... why am I even here along with some of the most talented people at work? A little history may be in order. Many people think of East Asia as a continuous homogeneous mass. Can I tell the difference between a person from China? Korea? Japan? This is certainly not a great mix and the cultures are quite different. WWII did not start with our entry in Pearl Harbor, or even the Bltizkreig in Europe. Japan, with imperial intentions, had been relentlessly attacking mainland China and Korea throughout the 20s and 30s. This was a particularly brutal war, with such atrocities as Nanking in China where 250,000 were killed in a systematic massacre. There were similar events in South Korea. In Seoul itself the royal palace was almost completely burned to the ground. Though the palace has been 70% rebuilt there only remains one original royal building. It was this building that we were going to be scanning.

Harry and I cant sleep, so we partake of the all you can eat breakfast and go to check out the site. We are scanning an original palace and it is quite beautiful, traditional with the rice paper rooms and intricate woodwork. We sure will have our work cut out for us.

On the same campus lies the national history museum where Harry shows his cultural literacy by matching shapes to shapes.

We catch up with our co workers for an afternoon hike. We ride the amazing metro system out to Bukhansan national park which literally encircles the northern half of the city. The whole city is in fact surrounded with beautiful mountains with gleaming 500-1000 foot granite slabs. I could learn to like it here.

Not a great picture, but that is 1000 feet of rock just lying within site of 10 million people. And this is just one of hundreds of such formations.

After some initial wrong turns we make manage to get a nice hike up past some temples.

A neat map at the trailhead.

The fun is over however and we settle into a 12 days straight of scanning 10-12 hours a day and processing 6 hours a night. Not much time for anything but work and a little sleeping.

However first impressions of Korea are of a gleaming modern city. Bustly and with a certain pressing imperative to get what needs to be down quickly and efficiently. This is not an idle city.... I like it already.