Superhero for a day

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Is South Korea the world’s thirstiest drinkers?

I happen to come across this article that says South Korea has the most Starbucks coffee shops in the world, besting major cities such as NYC and London. In addition to that, Starbucks isn’t even the only coffee brand in South Korea; there are other coffee shops as well. Caffe Bene, Pascucci, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, to name a few. Among OECD countries, South Koreans work the most hours and young Koreans are always studying to pass college entrance exams, so I suppose they do need their caffeine fix. Reading this article also reminds me of another article I’d recently read, that South Korea is also the world’s highest per capita alcohol consumption, mostly with soju beverage, consuming more than 3 billion worth of bottles. So, as a country that has the most coffee shops and lead the world in alcohol consumption makes South Korea the thirstiest drinkers in the world?

Links
KOREAM: CAFFEINATED NATION: SEOUL HAS THE MOST STARBUCKS LOCATIONS IN THE WORLD

The Guardian: Soju the most popular booze in the world.

Your typical Communist town

Apparently, North Korea has a regular visitor named Aram Pan, a 37-year-old Singaporean, who took a spin around Pyongyang on his GoPro camera. The city looks like a typical Communist town that isn’t overflowing with cars.

Thirty-three

It’s time to write another birthday post, right? I know I haven’t been able to keep my blog updated at all. Need to work on that but here goes my birthday post. As I read my last post, I realize I accomplished almost all of them. Ran a marathon in SF. I ran 4:05, was hoping to run under that, but mile 15 hit me again (this was my 2nd marathon and in my first marathon, I withdrew because of bad cramps) and I started having cramps again. I had to walk a few miles and tried to get hydrated. Then I’d try to jog again. That went on for another 11 miles and crossed the finish line. 5 mins past 4 hour mark. That’s ok, I’ll try to run faster than that next time.

Another thing I did in 2013 was traveling to Japan and Korea, which I did mention in the last post. I did climb Mt. Fuji! See the pic below. I actually did some training prior to climbing, mostly running and lifting some weights. Then, I did some hiking with my brother in Seoul. I’ve hiked 5 peaks around Seoul. The next one will be the big mountains in Gangnam with my brother and do some real camping. That’s next. I learned something about myself that I really like hiking/climbing, so that’s something to look forward in 2014.

2013 also was the year I did a lot of thinking, reading, and walking. On my work breaks, I go out and walk around the campus a bit. Sometimes, to get fresh air, a drink, or try some new fruits. I need to eat more fruits tho. Then, I’d get back to my desk and resume working.

Towards the end of 2013, something happened. I met a girl. Last summer, I stayed mostly local in SF and explore new coffee places and restaurants. Hm, I need to work on my Yelp reviews, the goal is to become elite member this year. I also tried to meet friends, some are far away, and that’s how I met her. We met a few times during summer and had a BBQ. As I was working the grill, my eye started to glance at her, then follow her around. I notice she was attentive to things and would try to help out if she can. So I asked her if she could help with this and she did. When the meats got done cooking, she would stand by and hold a tray next to me and I flip into it. Once the whole table was set up and the foods ready, we started eating. I had a question to her. “How was the steak?” “Good!” she replied, still chewing. Remember we can sign while eating.

Looks like I’ve already got some plans ready this year, 2014. It should be fun and I’ll try to write more often!

More pics here.

Yongin Korea, Washington DC, & Chicago IL

Nice travel pictures of us. Bottom pic’s in Washington DC around 2006. Middle pic’s in Yongin (south of Seoul) Korea, 2011. Top one in Chicago, 2012.

Look at my mom’s scarf…

Yonggungsa Temple near Busan, South Korea

Great picture. Went to see this temple back in 2010 with my sis and her family.

Thirty-two

I’ve recently turned thirty-two years (32) old. As some of you may know, I’d write something on my birthday or relatively close to it. I’ve just gotten back from snowboarding in Lake Tahoe. Kirkwood resort, to be precise. It got some snow last week, which was why I went, and it was great! Kirkwood is known to have decent snow based on its location since it’s at the highest base, 7,800, and its summit is at 9,800 feet. So, I went up there and boarded all the way from top to the bottom. It was fun and I’d try to do little jumps off bumps, and switched on both stances—goofy and regular. It’s amazing to see how far I’ve learned in snowboarding and I am trying to do more jumps with bigger air. It just takes practice and commitment to improve upon yourself. This year, I am staying local as I am saving up money to go to Japan later this summer and climb/hike Mt. Fuji. It’s been a goal of mine and I want to do some extra traveling around in Japan. Also, my sister and her family just moved there, for her husband’s Christian services. I hope to be in a good shape by then and will be training for a marathon in SF before that. A good friend of mine, Jess Conboy, will join me in the race. It’ll be his 9th marathon and his life goal is to qualify for the Boston marathon someday, with a time of 3:05 or faster. This one will be only my second, ha. I plan to run in a few races before the marathon to help me get ready. :) So, I’m trying to stay active, do fitness things because I realize how much I spend sitting on my ass by the computers. Not kidding you.

I’ve been living in SF for over a year, well almost two years, and yes, I’m one of these Googlers who takes the shuttle bus down to Mountain View, as my commute. It’s pretty nice except traffic is godly horrible. So I try to read news or a book. Sometimes, I do some work in the bus but the constant bounce in the ride makes me dizzy, so I’d sit quiet and look outside, enjoy the daylight, and just think generally, and be ready to hit the keyboard once I get in the office. Speaking of working, I’d need to make some statistics of my work and use it for a summary report once annual performance hits. Google is still a great place to work, although I’ve been on the horizon for something different, something more personal, like giving service to the deaf people or help with their program funding. Last summer, I actually went to the NAD conference in Louisville, KY to give a workshop on the new Google products—Google Plus and Google Hangouts–and also showed third-party plugins that connects you to an interpreter from VRS and another in captioning. It was a cool experience and was nice to meet some familiar faces, as deaf community is small. Plus, I also contacted several people from Diversity team and asked for a grant. So, this is something I’d like to do more, getting more grants and help support deaf programs or organizations.

As I’m getting close to the halfway between 30 and 40, I’m starting to realize that I’m not as young as I used to be. I remember before, I’d be pretty careless about my age. Nonetheless, I’m becoming more conscious of my age, which does enable me to know more about myself and what I’d like to do. Getting into Google was great, moving to California was great, working abroad in Korea was awesome, now I’m back here in CA and in the heart of San Francisco. I’m trying to go out as much as I can because I know not too far ahead, I’d probably have met someone and likely will have a family. How that will be, I have no idea but I’m up to the challenges and experiences it may present.

-nathan

THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE HABIT 1 : BE PROACTIVE

“Your life doesn’t just “happen.” Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you. The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.”

link

Exploring

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

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Global Power City Index 2011 and my thoughts

I have a keen interest in learning about the economics and how cities can attract talent and capital. First, I started off by reading this Wikipedia article — Global city.

A global city (also called world city or sometimes alpha city or world center) is a city generally considered to be an important node in the global economic system. The concept comes from geography and urban studies and rests on the idea that globalization can be understood as largely created, facilitated, and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to a hierarchy of importance to the operation of the global system of finance and trade.

There are some different indexes but the latest I could find was this one — Global Power City Index 2011 (in pdf). The top 20 global cities are below:

1) New York 320.)[1 (322.6)]
2) London(320.6)[2 (313.6)]
3) Paris(308.7)[3 (303.1)]
4) Tokyo(304.3)[4 (300.3)]
5) Singapore(255.3)[5 (244.2)]
6) Berlin(234.8)[6 (232.9)]
7) Seoul(233.4)[8 (228.5)]
8) Hong Kong(231.1)[9 (223.8)]
10) Amsterdam(226.6)[7 (230.8)]
11) Frankfurt(225.1)[13 (212.3)]
12) Sydney(215.8)[10 (219)]
13) Vienna(215.3)[11 (217.4)]
14) Los Angeles(212.2)[14 (210.7)]
15) Zurich(211.4)[12 (215)]
16) Osaka(205.8)[18 (205.6)]
17) Boston(205.7)[20 (203.3)]
18) Geneva(205.2)[19 (205.4)]
19) Beijing(204.2)[24 (199.2)]
20) Copenhagen(203.2)[17 (206.3)]

I’ve gone to 13 of the 20 cities. Here are my short thoughts:

1) New York – I’ve gone there four times during my college days. One of my friends worked in the Financial district there and we did some sightseeing including the Empire State building and took on some ferry boats. I suppose it’s a financial powerhouse due to banks like American Express and JP Morgan. Central Park, museums, and the subway system pretty much define this city!

2) London – this is the reason why I was excited to type this post because I just visited London! It’s a close call between NYC and London but I’m afraid that London got the call in my own book. I can’t really summarize London in a single sentence since it’s got much history to it–the British museum, National Gallery, Westminister Palace, and so on. One thing that impressed me the most is the sense of regulation/security in this city. Your baggage get thoroughly inspected at the airports, rules are posted constantly everywhere, and there are people to help you along to get to your destinations. Trains, the Tube, taxis, London buses, etc. On the last day, I was able to return my Oyster card, which I got my deposit fee, and its remaining amount left, as I walked back into the airport. That’s efficient.

3) Paris – not visited

4) Tokyo – visited! I visited there two times. It’s got everything and more. Its subway system is the best in the world. Proof was when my ticket card got stuck into the machine. There was a Japanese lady right there, standing, and she walked forward, unlatched the machine and retracted the stuck card and handed it back to me. She said please try again and my card got all the way through out. It’s also got the best fish market in the world, and ofc, sushi is the best. Service is best too. I think you get what I mean.

5) Singapore – visited! I went there with my friend as part of the 17 days Southeast Asia trip which included five different countries. Both my friend and I had a great time there — weather really warm and tropical. Subway was tops. We stayed at a nice hotel and service was great. Could feel the city was thriving, diverse, however, its land is extremely small, so it depends on tourism a lot. Development is similar to Tokyo.

6) Berlin – not visited yet

7) Seoul – well, Seoul! I had the privilege of living in Seoul for one year where I worked for Google. And that’s in the Gangnam district! For sure, the city is competitive, carrying four million passengers everyday in subway. Koreans like to drive too, with cars in a traffic jam endlessly and not just that, there are motorcycle bikers who are eager to take your delivery to wherever you want it to be. It’s also the city where people consume most alcohol per capita, so as soon as you get there, expect to drink some soju! Many beautiful women too. It’s a city that is caught in the frenzy of modernization, competition, and transformation from the old city.

8) Hong Kong – visited! in my opinion, I think it has the best airport in the world. Express train is right there at the airport, walkable only by few hundred steps and in just 25 minutes, you’d be right there in the Hong Kong downtown. Lots of skyscrapers, since land is tight. It was colonized by the British, so no surprise there. My friend and I stayed at the Langham hotel, one of the best in the world.

10) Amsterdam- not visited yet

11) Frankfurt – visited! that was during my trip to Zurich as my co-worker has a sister in law who lives there. Seems like a nice quiet city but not as populous as in the Asian cities. Got a beautiful landscape around it and rivers. Despite that, I think it’s on the declining trend tho.

12) Sydney – not visited yet

13) Vienna – not visited yet

14) Los Angeles – visited! – that’s one big sprawling city, which can take 4 hours or longer to get from the west to the east. It’s home to Hollywood, the beaches, surfing, bodybuilders (Arnold Schwarzenegger), skateboarders, the porn industry, drugs, the Lakers basketball team. Don’t think I need to say more.

15) Zurich – visited! it’s got one word and that’s called Zurich. Really nice city, seems like everyone is smart and rich. Everything is just in place, like the Swiss clock and it’s got the best public transportation (trams, buses) in the world. Swiss Army knifes, Swiss watches, and the Alps mountains. That’s Swiss.

16) Osaka – yet

17) Boston – visited, although I’ve only gone there twice and for a really short time. I did cruise around the Fenway park, which was smaller than I’d expected. Saw some universities like Harvard and MIT. A college town, that’s for sure. Other than that, didn’t see much, need to visit again. :/

18) Geneva – yet, although I visited Zurich

19) Beijing – visited. I visited this city way back in 2001. I think it’s changed a lot since then, maybe less polluted this time. It recently hosted the 2008 Olympics and I’ve been hearing some good things about the city. I’m not too sure about the high population and public transportation system though.

20) Copenhagen – yet, high on my list to visit, along with Amsterdam and Paris.

So, there you have it, some short bursts of my thoughts on the Top 20 Global Cities. I intend to visit the remaining cities and will be sure to share my thoughts. :)

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형 축하드립니다!

ExamiNation: a look into test preparation in South Korea

ExamiNation: a short documentary from Judy Suh on Vimeo.

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Family post reunion

I realize I haven’t really shared my experience about the first meeting between my Korean family and my parents. Although it was already planned for some time, I didn’t realize it was that big of a moment for everyone involved and I can remember my family was getting real nervous about meeting my parents for the first time. I kept telling them that my parents were really cool nice people. There’s nothing they should be worried about but I can understand their apprehension. I would be nervous too. My parents were a little hesitant as well, like unsure what to do in this completely new scene, something they had never been in before. For some reason, I was real cool about the whole meeting and knew it’d go fine. Which it was.

I should mention that one of the things I learned about my family was they never thought I would be raised by parents who were Deaf. They thought I would be raised by hearing parents. That was for 20 years. So, since my parents were deaf, I had to get an interpreter, which I was fortunate enough to find one. She was able to interpret Korean, English, ASL, and KSL all at once. Amazing woman! I will tell more about her at another time. Since I had already met my birth family back in 2002, then visited again in 2008 to see my newly born niece, and I got a chance to work in Korea for a year, I’ve gotten used to the presence of my family, as opposed to what it was in 2002 where it was all but uncertainty. Obviously, that wasn’t the case for both parties this time.

I must say that it took me a while to finally understand my parents’ initial pessimism about me discovering my family in Korea. Since my parents were born and raised in America where economy was a free market capitalism, I realize my parents were used to the idea of buy-it-and-it-is-yours. They carried that kind of mentality over to adoption as they worked hard to save money to be able to afford adoption. When they finally adopted me as their only child, they thought I’m all theirs and nothing will ever take that away. Needless to say, they were very taken aback when I discovered my birth family in Korea in 2002 and they didn’t know what to do or what to say. My mom mostly said nothing but my dad would remind me that you were let go for adoption and we got you and provided you a good care and home. That’s the thing about my parents, as they were raised on capitalism ideals and also Christianity in that you be nice to kids and provide shelter. I didn’t want to have too big of a confrontation and I kind of let things settle by themselves. And I was busy with school stuffs anyway. After a while, we had gotten used to the realization that I had a family in Korea after all and what’s more, my sister was deaf and married to her husband who was deaf too. So, I was very curious about that part and my first question was exactly how deaf were they? do they use sign language to communicate? or were they more like hard of hearing in that they were able to communicate by talking and do not know any sign language? since both parents and I used ASL, so I wondered if they used KSL. Do they experience similar frustrations that most deaf people generally experience in life? I had questions like that and I basically waited till I met them for the first time and I would get all my answers.

My brother asked me, “So, your parent are going to visit here during Christmas time?” I said yes. He said “Okay, I wanted to make dinner plans for us.” So, we talked about that and what would be a good dinner for everyone. We finally came down to a traditional Korean food cuisine and we made a nice dinner reservation in the Gangnam district, which was pretty upscale. At that time, I kind of knew that we wouldn’t be thinking too much about dinner — it was just a setting for us to meet and since my parents were a first time visitor to Korea, at this dinner, they didn’t have to decide and order dishes, as waitress would keep bringing different dishes onto the table. I also thought my brother or my family could explain some dishes and recommend them, as a way to break the ice. When we arrived at the place, the restaurant looked very nice. It had a nice Korean architecture going on and we were seated inside a traditional Korean room with doors that shut. We were dressed nice and finally, it’s time to start introductions.

Deep inside, I must say it was a big moment for me because this was something I had imagined so many times in my mind, and sometimes, in my dreams. I really wanted for both my parents and my family to meet each other. It finally all came down to that and to my own fortune, I got an interpreter who knew all languages needed to facilitate communication over the dinner table. As it turned out, my niece was the perfect ice breaker as we all looked at her and said words to describe how cute she was. It didn’t take very long before we would talk about my adoption and that my family wanted to take a moment to say a big thanks and how grateful they were for me to be adopted by them, my parents. The foods would arrive and naturally, my parents had trouble identifying which kinds were they and since my dad liked food, he would try them all. My parents had to let the interpreter know that they didn’t know how to use chopsticks, so she informed the waitress and she got some western utensils for my parents. That got everyone to laugh. My parents told my family they had the best times raising me and that it was a blessing to them and wouldn’t have it any other way. My mom brought some pictures of me as a young kid and showed to them. My dad seemed to be having a nice time talking with my sister and she was trying to teach my dad some KSL signs and my sister’s husband already knew some ASL, so they were able to carry a conversation on their own. I knew my mom wasn’t as gregarious as my dad, she’s more on the sensitive side and can be emotional, so I kept checking on her and making sure she’s all right. I think I know my mom better than anyone else and I would often reassure her. My mom had some curious questions to ask the birth mother, especially when I first arrived in the U.S. The interpreter interpreted and the birth mother tried to answer them as best as she could but frankly, it was a very long time ago, and obviously emotional, so she couldn’t remember all of it. I realize it wasn’t that important to remember the past exactly. The point was that we’re all here, able to share dinner together, talking, and counted our blessings.

All in all, dinner went very well and my parents thought the Korean dinner cuisine was interesting and that the walled room and no chairs made up for a neat atmosphere, obviously Korean. My family told my parents that this kind of dinner was very similiar to what the kings from the Joseon dynasty would normally have in their dinner. My mom said “oh really, wow!”

The night was still young and we wanted to talk more, so we walked to a nice coffee place not far from the restaurant and we got our coffee there. My dad thought the coffee was very good, impressed by the barista who made it for him and told him to please enjoy the coffee. And that would be how our reunion went.

-nathan

What is Jeong?

Recently, I learned something new about this word definition – Jeong. I think it’s a cool concept.

The concept of jeong exists in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cultures, and the same Chinese character is used in these countries. However, it is very interesting for us to see that the meaning of the same character is subtly different for each of these countries. The Chinese emphasize the aspects of loyalty and reciprocity in relationships when using their jeong character. The Japanese equivalent, pronounced “jyo,” means sentimental feelings with the addition of another word, “nin jyo.” Jeong in Korean culture has much broader meanings and ambiguous nuances in the expression of emotions, and encompasses the Chinese and Japanese concepts.

The manifestation of jeong in a social structure and in social values is primarily through loyalty and commitment without validation, logic, or reason. This can be compared to the concept of amae in Japanese, which is an expectation of behaviors without validation. It is very interesting to see that interactions in Korean culture, whether formal or private, often carry the assumption of commitment. In Western culture, commitment is often contractual and defined, such as in a marriage, instead of being implicit. When commitments are made based upon contextual significance, for example, because of “jeong-related” affairs rather than logical interpretations of content, individuals easily become members of a cohesive group at home or work, bonded by jeong or perhaps even held in bondage by jeon.

Some of the things I appreciate most about Koreans, such as Korean hospitality, I discovered during my first visit to Seoul in 1987. Others, like “jeong” and “euiri,” I am still learning to fully appreciate and often find difficult to explain to non-Koreans.

One of the qualities that define the Korean people is also one of the most complex: jeong. Of the many definitions in my dictionary, “feeling,” “compassion,” “sentiment,” and “affection” seem to come the closest, but none of them convey the real meaning or importance of the term. I see jeong existing between family members and close friends as an invisible force that binds them together. It is difficult for foreigners to “see” this emotion because it is often not verbalized. Westerners regularly tell their loved ones, “I love you,” but for Koreans, these words are infrequently spoken.

Links: http://www.prcp.org/publications/sig.pdf

http://www.koreaherald.com/opinion/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20090915000050

Around the Sun 31 times…

Today, I’ve gotten around the Sun 31 times. It’s a fun way to look at this way, as we’re all revolving the Sun. And who knows for how many more. What to say on my birthday? Well, I think it’s going to sound a little disappointing ’cause my thoughts are pretty much the same, more or less, of what I’ve said in my last few birthday posts. Although I must share that in the last few years, I felt like there was a cloud over my head, as I thought deeply about myself, then an opportunity opened up for me to work abroad in Korea for a year. That seems to make a big difference in myself, as I immersed myself into the ways of Korean culture and also had been interacting with Koreans, which I’ve realized to be a little different than the people in America. Koreans do have a strong sense of identity to themselves and quite proud of what they’ve accomplished thus far and the language, Hangul, is a big part of that. In fact, they’re the only country that has a national day devoted to the Hangul language. They dabble in the thousands of Hangul keys on their smartphones everyday. Aside from learning about the culture, the biggest benefit of being able to live in Korea for a year was simply getting know the area and whereabouts. It’s this subject that pops up often in conversations as Koreans may ask you where you were born, where are you from, where do you live, and where are you going to. South Korea is roughly the same size as Indiana is, so it’s much smaller than most people expect it to be. You’d need to have a good knowledge of the geography and whereabouts in Korea to have some meaningful conversations with Koreans. By now, I’m familiar with the geography and what do cities look like. I even snowboarded at four different ski resorts and went on KTX train to Busan to visit my sister and her family. Also, I’ve been reading into the history of modern Korea as I think it’s important to know where you come into the picture. Really great read is here. Pretty much what you need to know about its modern history. I read one book that explains how Korea was literally down to one city, Busan, and had the city been captured, it’d be all over for South Korea to have any hopes of having democracy in the government, so it was a big deal that General MacArthur had a brilliant idea of attacking the Communists from the port of Incheon. You can read all about it here.

(more…)

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