Sunday Night in Daejeon: The Final Week Begins

Well, it’s after midnight here in Daejeon (Slogan: It’s Daejeon) and I’m about to begin my final week here in Korea. I’m back in Daejeon for the third time in as many weeks to interview for at least a third (if not fourth) time, Kilnam Chon, the father of the Internet in Korea.

I don’t have the energy right now to write a whole narrative, so I’ll just give you some snippets of things that I’ve done in the last week:

– Did at least one interview every day
– Watched two baseball games (Lotte Giants [Busan] at Hanwha Eagles [Daejeon] ; Hanwha Eagles at LG Twins [Seoul])
– Ate tons of street food
– Stayed with Nathan and Rachel, who were awesome hosts
– Watched one soccer game (Ulsan at FC Seoul)
– Had dinner and drank way too much makoli with Gary Rector, a childhood friend of James Boyk (David‘s Dad)
– Watched a professional Starcraft match (“eSports“)
– Took the KTX, the Korean bullet train from Seoul to Busan
– Stayed with Aaron Tassano (Becky‘s cousin) and his wife Soo Jin in Busan
– Ate Pyongyang-style noodles
– Fought a giant bottle of makoli with a plastic sword that I found for sale at a Busan supermarket
– Ate more street food
– Watched the Lotte Giants destroy the Hyundai Unicorns [Suwon] in baseball, 9-2
– Ate freshly killed octopus tentacles while they were still squirming from their disembodied torso
– Bought a wooden, hand-carved stamp with my family name laser-etched in Korean on it for $10
– Took the KTX from Busan to Daejeon
– Rode the newly-opened Daejeon subway

I’ll be here in Daejeon until Tuesday, then I head back north to Seoul to finish up. On Friday, I’m doing a tour of the DMZ.

On Sunday, I head home.

Korean shooting tragedies: 2007 & 1982

I think it goes without saying that this whole incident where the crazed South Korean kid who shot up Virginia Tech is incredibly tragic. My heart goes out to the affected families.

The most fascinating factoid (in a weird way) about this whole incident was pointed out by Michael Hurt, an American living in Seoul:

Then there’s the interesting fact that the record holder for the worst shooting in world history, Woo Bom-gon (우범근), is also Korean, this time a Korean national who lived in Korea. That’s not in the least bit interesting?

. . .

Sound familiar? So the top two spots for shooting sprees in history are now held by two Korean men. Hey – I just find this interesting. Is this information not somewhat relevant to the issue at hand? Don’t know why the Korean media isn’t picking up on this. Or maybe it will? This is another interesting fact to throw in with the others. Even The New York Times had a piece on it back in 1982.

Here’s that piece, in its entirety:

AROUND THE WORLD; South Korean Shootings Lead Minister to Resign
SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: April 29, 1982

President Chun Doo Hwan appointed Ro Tae Woo, a close friend, Home Minister today after Suh Chung Hwa resigned.

Mr. Suh resigned after he took responsibility for the breakdown of security that permitted an eight-hour shooting rampage on Monday by a South Korean policeman, who killed 56 people and wounded 37.

Mr. Chun also named Lee Won Kyong to replace Mr. Roh as Minister of Sport. Park Shin Il, a Government information official, said the resignation of Mr. Suh was ”strictly for taking responsibility” for the killings at Uiryong, 170 miles from here. Woo Bom Kon, the policeman, killed himself after he went on his rampage.

The Government is offering up to $27,000 to each of the families of people killed.

Photos from Korea, Round 2

Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days. I was down in Daejeon for the weekend and am now back in Seoul for the rest of the week. I’ll be here until Friday, when I head down to Busan. I hope to sate you with some photos until I get some writing in. As usual, all photos are here.

Day 3: Seoul

Adjacent to my table for one, the only word that I can make out is “computer virus.”

Sitting a few meters away from me are six Korean men in their mid-50s, possibly older. They have rounds of various empty coffee cups scattered in front of them and seem to be engaged in some animated conversation. Some look attentive, others disengaged.

But me? I’m the only one in the place who is obviously not Korean. And yet, minutes before, the friendly girls behind the counter hand me a cup of steaming lemon tea that says “There is no king’s road to learning.” in large type across the circumference of the outside.

And then, in smaller type above: “Bandi & Luni’s Bookstore.”

This is one of the largest bookstores in the city, from what I can tell, deep inside the COEX mall, the largest underground shopping haven in the business district of Seoul.

Now, I wonder, who comes to a place like this at 2 pm on a Tuesday — that is, of course, beyond the older men discussing computer viruses. Other than the men (who soon pack up and leave), there’s a long row of chairs along one of the glass walls, facing the adjacent bookstore. It appears to be filled with a few students decked out in textbooks and espressos. Each one sits alone.

The chairs in the middle of the room, each a garish orange, stand alone under a blue light that flares out along the ceiling in a decorative manner.

I can’t really tell if this is the kind of place that ever gets bustling. Does it fill up on the weekend with literary shoppers? Are there raucous poetry readings on the first Friday of every month? Or does it just stay quiet all the time?

I took advantage of the free WiFi here and called Becky. Thanks to the magic of my built-in webcam on my MacBook, I gave her a little tour of the café.

Her first reaction: “What, did they not get out of the 1970s?”

* * *

Bandi & Luni’s sits in the COEX mall, a big underground shopping cavern just off the Samsung metro station, the heart of the commercial district in Seoul.

I find it rather amusing that one of the main streets in this neighborhood is “Tehran St,” and it’s the Silicon Valley of Seoul. Indeed, Jin Ho Hur’s office at FON Korea is adjacent.

Pretty much every shop at COEX has an English name, and often no visible Korean name. I’m not sure whether that means that it’s so hip to just have an English name, or if they’re just catering to foreigners. But then again, since being in COEX, the only person I’ve seen who was obviously not Korean was a random black guy who just walked by the window — the second one I’ve seen since being here.

From my vantage point, I can see Mulf II, The Day Underwear, & c. multishop, Pomodoro Spaghetti, and Teriyaki.

* * *

Before venturing into COEX mall, I had an interview with Jin Ho Hur, a former student of Chon Kilnam’s, who has since gone on to start various tech ventures, including one of the first Korean ISPs in the 1990s, iNet. Today he works for FON Korea, a project to share WiFi access throughout the world. He was impressed when I showed him that I am Fonero #4830.

After our interview, he and his wife, who also works for FON Korea, took me out to a local restaurant for lunch about three blocks away. His wife told me that this place’s speciality was ginseng chicken, a traditionally summer dish — and with summer approaching, it seemed appropriate. She also told me that according to Chinese medicine that it’s good for people with “hot” bodies, or personalities. But then she qualified it by saying that there are various schools of thought on this matter, although my wearing sandals (I’ve yet to see anyone else doing the same) seemed to help her case.

It was a small place, with 2/3 divided into a traditional-style section, with floor seating and low-to-the-ground tables. They asked me if we wanted to move to the other side, with more Western height tables and chairs — but no, as with the chopsticks, I would do as the Seoulites do.

The soup, which came out barely two minutes after we’d sat down, was delicious. The chicken meat easily came off the bone, and suprisingly, you could eat it with chopsticks. Surely this soup must have been simmering for hours. There was rice, ginger and ginseng dashed throughout, along with what might have been a jusjus fruit (looked similar to a date).

Jin explained that you were supposed to take the bones out and put them into a refuse bowl, and that if you wanted do you could dip the pieces of chicken into a small dish of salt and pepper that he poured for me. We washed it down with a cup of cold green tea — I sipped mine a few times during the meal, but I’m not sure if traditionally, beverages, as in Senegal, are usually consumed after the meal.

We talked about my book, food, and Korean culture. I learned that Koreans joke about their immediate neighbors, the Chinese, Japanese and yes, the Russians. The Chinese are “dirty,” the Japanese are “sly,” and the Russians “can’t be trusted.”

Also, as I expected, according to Jin, everyone’s mother makes the best kim chee — speaking of which, my Lonely Planet book tells me that there is a kim chee museum here in the COEX mall, certainly the only one in the world devoted to the ubiquitous form of pickled cabbage. There are possibly thousands of different varieties of the stuff.

* * *

One thing that’s surprised me here so far is that most bikes that are set up outside subway stations and in public spaces aren’t locked to the racks. None of the bikes that I saw in Daejeon were locked up, and so far in Seoul I’ve seen maybe two that had locks on them.

* * *

The Seoul subway is surprisingly foreigner-friendly. All the station announcements are given in Korean and English, and the maps usually are transliterated into English, and sometimes Chinese as well. I’ve ridden over a solid two hours on the subway so far and have spent about three dollars. Like the BART, it costs more depending on how far you’re going. Unlike the BART, the trains come every few minutes, and the most you can spend on a one-way trip is about two bucks.

Riding the subway gives you a sense of just how big this city is.

Nearly every subway rider has some sort of electronic gadget that they’re playing with. Some are texting their friends, others are getting their Tetris on, and still others are grooving to portable video or audio players. I spotted one iPod yesterday, but most of them appear to be small audio devices worn around the neck, no bigger than a stick of gum.

Speaking of which, it’s about time for me to head back on the subway and meet up with my host, Loren Everly. He’s an English teacher who has been here since November. Born and raised in Hawaii, he attended the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and also lived in Iceland for awhile. He’s just now applied to be a dishwasher in Antarctica.

We’re supposed to get some bibimbap tonight!

Greetings from Daejeon!

Well, I’m in Daejeon, or as the local tourism board says “It’s Daejeon!” I got in at a bit after 6 pm local time last night and was on the 7:50 pm bus from Incheon Airport to Daejeon. Two and change hours later, I was in Daejeon. My friendly seatmate helped me get a cab and directed me to Chungnam National University, where after my cab driver got rear-ended (slightly), and asked in a combination of Korean and pantomime if I got whiplash (I’m fine), I crashed with Karla. She’s generously offered me a bed (for a night) and a spare cell phone for the duration of my time here. Although I’m headed out to Seoul later tonight, I’ll be back in Daejeon in a couple of weeks.

All is well for the time being. I have a local phone with a charger and about $10 (10,000 won) worth of credit on it — so I should be set.

More on my first impressions later today.

Going to South Korea

Greetings from SFO.

In 20 minutes I’m going to board a plane bound for Seoul (it’s a 12 hour 40 minute direct flight). Then I’m off to Daejeon for one night, and then back to Seoul for the rest of the week.

Thanks to everyone for all their support and help! If you want a postcard from Korea, email me your postal address.

South Korea Travel Tips?

Alright, peoples, here’s where I’m tapping the collective wisdom of the interwebal series of tubes.

I’m off to Korea on Saturday and will be there until Sunday, April 29. I’ll be mainly in Seoul, but will also be traveling to Daejeon and Busan.

What are things that I can’t miss while I’m there? What should I make sure to do/eat/see?

Logistics:

Mobile phone: I’m thinking about renting a cell phone, when I get to the airport. But then again, I might borrow one from Karla. I’ve also heard you can buy one for cheap in the electronics market, although that’s hard to do if you don’t speak Korean.

WiFi: I found this page that suggests buying a Nespot prepaid card at the KT plaza at Incheon International Airport. 12,000 won gets you 24 hours of unlimited access.

Sites:

Noah suggested the Haeinsa Temple.

The USO DMZ Tour sounds weird and potentially a lot of fun, albeit touristy (for Americans).

Activities:

I also want to see some Korean baseball, and found a schedule here. I IMed with Dan, the guy who posted it and he suggested that I catch Doosan vs. SK at Jamshil Stadium from April 13-15 and Lotte vs. Hyundai in Busan and Hanwha vs. LG in Daejeon on the 24th. Dan also said I can buy hats at the stadiums, or from this site directly.

Also, ssireum (Korean wrestling) sounds interesting.

I got a book deal!

“When the things got for real, I got up in the fold /
and put into practice all that I was told.”

– “The Inkwell”, Blue Scholars

Things are getting pretty freakin’ real right about now, that’s for sure. I just got a book deal. Yeah. Really. A book. Like you know, one of those things that’s printed on dead trees and sits in libraries and stuff. Maybe you’ve heard of ’em? I’m going to have an entry in the Library of Congress! Holy guacamole, I’ve never been more overwhelmed and excited at the same time!

So yeah, a book. The tentative title (likely to change, I’m open to suggestions) is Planet Internet: The Liberating Effects of a Wired World. It will examine how the Internet has played itself out in different countries around the globe, particularly in Senegal, Iran, Estonia and South Korea. Each of these countries has an incredible story to tell as to how the Internet has affected their socities and has been influenced by a handful of individuals.

You might remember that I started this project back at Columbia and went to Estonia for a week in March 2005. This was the seed of what became a full-fledged book proposal and sample chapter, focusing on Veljo Haamer of WiFi.ee. That proposal stayed tucked away in my hard drive, and I sent it to a few random agents, hoping to get something. None bit, until Sam Freedman directed me to Rutgers University Press, whom I’m honored to say will be publishing my book. The book is due out sometime in 2009. Jeez, that’s like after the next president will be elected.

So as a result, I’m going to be stepping back my role at Engadget from Senior Associate Editor to Contributing Editor, which means that I’ll be working part-time, most likely when I’m not out and about in the world. I will continue to freelance for other publications as much as possible.

My tentative plan as of now is to go to Senegal for three weeks (followed by a shorter trip to Europe) in January (9th until February 14th), then spend the next two months at home in Oakland, followed by about 3-4 weeks in Korea, two months home, then 3-4 weeks in Estonia and Europe, two months home and then about a month in Iran in October 2007. The manuscript is due in July 2008, although I’m shooting to have it done sooner than that.

I can’t believe that I’m actually embarking on this. On the one hand I feel very excited and have had loads of encouragement from my colleague, family and friends. On the other hand, I feel overcharged with such a huge project. The maximum length of this book is 90,000 words (for you non-journos out there, that’s 360 double-spaced typed pages) — by contrast the longest piece of journalism that I’ve ever done was my Master’s thesis, which came in at just under 5,000 words.

This project is literally 15 times larger in every conceiveable way than what I’ve done before. I feel like I’ve taken step one and two in doing narrative journalism (I took Sam‘s class and wrote the proposal), but now I’m being asked to take on step 10. I don’t know that there’s any other way around it, other than to dive right in, but it’s freakin’ scary nonetheless. But I know that I’m up to the task.

So here’s what I’m asking from you, my friends. In the immediate term, I’d love to know anything that you know about getting research grants, as I’m in dire need of some. Also, if you’re feeling particularly generous about helping me with my research, I’m passing my digital hat around via my PayPal account. Honestly, any small amount would really really help me a bunch. Yes, international travel is expensive, but one night’s lodgings in Senegal will cost me under $10. Anything that you feel is appropriate will be rewarded with my cooking you dinner at my house in Oakland, if you’re in town. (Also, if you have any contacts in any of these countries [mainly South Korea, Iran, and Senegal] who might be useful for me to talk to and/or might let me stay with them, please do let me know.)

But by far, the easiest way to contribute to my research is to help me find links pertaining to the Internet in those four countries. So I’ve set up a del.icio.us account to help the cause. Any link that you want to send me, just tag as “for:planetinternet” — I’ve got a big list already going.

Thanks guys — I know that I can’t do this project without you.

2007 is going to be a hell of a year.