To market, to market, to buy a fat....?

Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
Trip End Oct 28, 2006

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Monday, October 23, 2006

Serve me right for being so self-satisfied! We both took melatonin last night and G's sleeping like a baby and I've been awake since midnight. It's now nearly 4am. Still, much better this way if one of us has to do the night shift - G has to be alert for his presentation this morning and I can sleep all day - although I'd like to go shopping for handbags for the girls, and maybe even fabric or clothes seeing that's what Daegu makes.

Every time I woke during the night, Mandi seemed to be reading her PDA. It was only after I got up after 5am that she went to sleep. I worked on my paper and then I started to write the presentation for ICARCV.

At 6.30am I showered and went downstairs for breakfast only to discover that the buffet is actually on the 9th floor. Another IEEE delegate and I went up for a quick breakfast before catching the shuttle bus out to EXC0.

The introduction was boring but the first keynote could have been good but I was too far away and the presenter, Sang-Rok Lee battled with the venue (no lapel mike) and some trouble with English.

I wonder whether Mandi is having a good sleep or whether she has gone out already?

While I was wandering around I bumped into Michael El-someone whom I had talked to at the Palmerston North conference. He told me that his wife Misty and the children were also here, so we may meet up with them at the banquet. His communication is even more convoluted than I remember, so I was quite pleased when he went down to a different session, and I could listen to a couple of presentations on thin-film piezoelectric arrays.

Spent a couple of minutes putting my presentation onto a nerd-stick before going down to my venue to test the movies. The HP laptop bombed on the one movie so l had to delete the application. Only 3 of the presentations were actually on THz systems, but even so my paper was really out of place talking about applications in a forum that dealt with research results so I don't think it was particularly well received. In addition it was too long so I could only go through half of my material.

Lunch was good, food wise anyway. I was at a table with a couple of guys from the Netherlands and they were not interested in talking to each other, and even less a stranger.

After lunch a guy from UNSW EE came to talk to me briefly. I was then cornered by Michael which is so tiring as he talks about his research all the time. I am now feeling very jetlagged even though I slept well last night, and I really need an afternoon nap. I reckon that I will manage this afternoon's keynote and then I will take a taxi back to the hotel for an afternoon nap.

Mandi, later:
Finally fell asleep when G got up to work at about 5am so that was a jolly night. I read almost all of James Mitchener's "Caravans." Thank goodness for this trusty little Palm. Woke after 9am so I didn't do badly for sleep - about five hours total - and probably couldn't have gone out any earlier than I did as the market was only getting going after 11am. Only just made breakfast in time though. Today it was in the 9th floor roof restaurant and was a bit more inspiring than yesterday - at least I could serve myself with what I wanted. And there was fresh fruit.

Then I bravely set out to tackle the Metro. But first, after our hot-house of a room (air-con, set on 15 deg C, managed to tip 30 last night - perhaps it works like Turkish speed limits?) I thought it was going to be cold so after a moment of dithering on the street I trotted all the way back to the hotel for my jacket (remembering yesterday) and of course only wore it when I could do so without sweating (rather than because I ever actually needed it) and mostly just lugged the bloody thing around. It's quite heavy and it's always unpleasant carrying an artificial fibre against bare skin. What's even sillier is that earlier I had packed it into my small back-pack, thinking that I could then pack shopping into that as well, taken a decision (in the hot room) that it wasn't cold enough to take the jacket so left it AND the backpack behind, and when I came back for the jacket, took it without the backpack. So I very quickly had large plastic bags in my hands as well.

The Metro is very efficient and easy to use, once you know how - it would have been utterly baffling had not a helpful man come and assisted me with my first foray, even explaining what to do with the little jeton at the far end. The City map claims that the Metro system is both Korean and English so "is easy for even a first visitor to use" but the English only extends to place names printed at the stations and announced by the automatic voice in the train - not that I'm complaining, because without those I would have had to count stations, and that would have been extremely difficult! Anyway, the trains are comfortable, very quick, and extremely clean so they can speak any language they please now that I know how to buy and use a token.

I got off at Seomun Market. The Metro stop is a few blocks from the market itself, but I spotted an English sign saying, "Sock Street" and could find that on my map, so all was well. Sock Street, surprise, surprise, sells socks. Only. The whole street is overflowing with socks of all sizes (except big enough for lumpy great Westerners like me) and all lengths and all degree of paddedness. It's amazing. The ones I craved most were beautiful little Korean slippers - I should think intended to be worn in the house when you take your shoes off. They were exquisite but so much too small that I felt like an Ugly Sister, tramping sadly from stall to stall trying to find size 23. (It does SOUND huge, doesn't it?) Didn't even have a penknife with which to cut off my big toes. I had hoped to get them big enough for Jen, at least, whose feet are a size smaller than Sarah's and mine, but no cigar. Instead I had to content myself with rather ordinary ones probably intended for the great elephant-footed servants or someone. The stall-holders kept looking sorrowfully at my feet and just shaking their heads sadly at the tragedy of what it must be like to go around on tea-trays like those.

Finally I found the market itself, all gay with flags flapping above the street. I seemed to have come in at the "dried ocean products" section - fish, of course, and seaweed, and all manner of other unidentifiable things. Strings of fish and parcels of seaweed, and fresh fish and seafood as well. There was a good-sized city block of similar stalls, two deep on each pavement and spilling into the road. This was the pattern all around the entire area, and I was amazed by the scale of the market (which is only one of several we have been directed to.) Until I realised that I had only been going around the edges of it all - the REAL market is actually IN the big city blocks, which go up three or four floors, and each floor is jam-packed with yet more stalls selling fabric or clothing or food or shoes or plastic ware or... or.... or....!! Then I was truly gob-smacked. Think of Paddy's Market, but with much nicer stuff and fewer crowds, tripled or quadrupled and stacked one on top of the other. Then multiply that by nine and pack all surrounding streets tightly with a zillion more stalls. And you'll have a glimmering of an idea of what it is like. And this in a provincial town, only catering to its own residents.

I found several good things: handbags I THINK the girls will approve of - Jen's black, with lots of pockets in the hope that she will find somewhere permanent to keep the wallet, phone and key-ring that she has to triple-check for every time she leaves anywhere, and Sarah's white and LARGE which seemed to be the main criterion. My favourites are two quite nice T-shirts with "English" phrases written on them. Jen's "headline" is "TROUBLE EVERY DAY" and then there's a long, reasonably grammatical but totally nonsensical couple of paragraphs that have clearly been lifted from some bad novel and mistyped here and there. Sarah's, however, says loudly, "MEELS STRUCKS TO FLOAT" and it goes downhill from there. They are gorgeous. (It also explains why we keep encountering so many people who claim to be able to speak English and yet we can't understand a thing they say to us. They're probably saying something they learned off a T-shirt, except in a Korean accent. Apart from that, some very nice wooden chopsticks, and some socks (of course) from Sock Street for the boys. I really CAN'T find them anything really nice, and it's not for want of trying. They'll have to be content with having their girls less grouchy because less stressed.

I wandered around, dragging my jacket and stupid bag of loot, for some considerable time trying to find some nice fabric which I would really have liked to buy for Jen as it is supposed to be this region's major product. This is not as easy as it sounds because despite the fact that I had a map saying that there were "cottons, linens and dress fabrics" on the third floor of District (ie Building) 4 and silk on the second floor of District 1, it took some considerable trouble to find even the correct Districts, given that everything was labelled conspicuously in Korean. I would have to try to guess what District I was in judging by what was around me on what floor, and matching as best I could with the map, then do the same in the District next door, and try that way to orient the map. I tried at one point to ask where I was on the map in a pharmacy, thinking that pharmacists are educated people and might even speak a bit of English (actually, judging by the level of it, I don't think it's taught in schools as it is in Turkey and China) but unfortunately tapped the map on the parking garage as I asked politely, "can you tell me where I am on this map, please?" and so they went to a huge amount of trouble (because it was just as hard for them to read the English words on the map as it was for me to read the Korean signs) to tell me how to get back to the big car-park I'd just passed. They probably said "Meels strucks to float," now that I think about it.

The only fabric I saw that I thought she might like was some rather off-beat black felty looking stuff that had had some cream and white wool felted onto the surface in squirly patterns; I thought she might do something amusing with it. But when I pointed it out to the shop-keeper, before she'd even lift it down for me to have a closer look she made sure I knew it was W65,000 a yard (about $100) which I certainly wasn't going to spend on the off-chance Jen would like it.

At one point I realised I was down to my last W12,000, which wouldn't have been enough to get a taxi home (although plenty for the Metro, assuming I could find it again, which is only W800 a pop) so off I went to draw some cash. Only to have three adjacent machines, from three different banks, refuse all three of my cards. Panic! And I cashed all my travellers' cheques on Sunday. With some difficulty I found a bank, thinking they'd let me draw cash on a credit card, and a helpful man wearing a sort of Miss World sash did something strange to an ATM right inside the building and it then behaved perfectly and coughed up the dosh - the only problem being that I was so panic-stricken at the thought of having no cash that I drew W300,000 (dividing by three and multiplying by two instead of the other way around) thinking it was about $200 instead of $450. So we'll have to spend, spend, spend over the next few days.

Made my way successfully home again (albeit with my little Metro map clutched in my shaking fingers the whole way) and bought a really delicious, huge apple from a lady on the pavement outside the hotel. Had a nice cup of citron tea in the coffee shop downstairs - a bit like extremely liquid marmalade, very refreshing believe it or not - and not long afterwards G arrived home early, bunking the afternoon sessions of the Conference after embarrassing himself by falling asleep with his head back and snoring loudly in the Keynote this afternoon.

We ate, cowardly, (cowardlily? cowardishly?) in one of the hotel restaurants, the Japanese / Korean one. I had chosen a couple of possibilities (very hard as the English parts of the menu were so unintelligible as to make us snort and have to stuff serviettes into our mouths when we read them aloud to one another) but when I asked the very geisha-looking waitress whether they were "spicy" she nodded and pointed out only the first four as being "not spicy." One was something about a raw pork selection which even I thought was pushing it a bit, and the rest vaguely fishy sounding, so I ordered one of the latter - it turned out to be sushi although you'd never had guessed in a million years from the description in the menu. Gray was more adventurous and chose eels, saying he didn't care about its spiciness. When the meal arrived it had to come on a trolley. I got my most beautiful plate of sushi, about six or seven different varieties but unfortunately all with a good slathering of wasabi which I also don't like, what a picky eater I am. I also got a bucket of most delicious savoury (beef?) broth containing those long white Japanese mushrooms, I've forgotten their name, something looking like chrysanthemum leaves, bits of crab stick and a mountain of those nice fat noodles. Gray got his eels, which were delicious (and not spicy) and TWO soups, one clear and one hot and spicy, and on the table we got seven plates of various little extras, as we did at lunch the day we ate in Seoul on the way to Istanbul - kimchi; seaweed and onions; some extremely hot peppers; very yummy marinated mussels; vongole in a sauce that I wouldn't venture near as it looked like it would power a Moon shot but G says was quite mild; a small version of the nice shallot-filled omelette we also had in Seoul; and some mysterious green veg. We didn't know whose meal these were part of, but saw the same set of dishes on a table with four people as we left, so we think that they're just part of the table decorations. Like salt and pepper. To finish with, we were brought little bowls of a mysterious cloudy liquid. Is this more soup or a finger bowl because we've made such a hash of eating anything with those perilous steel pointy Japanese chop-sticks? No, I think it's a sample of the washing up water so you can see the Chef's keeping a clean kitchen. But the bowls are cold. Well, maybe it's a sample of last night's washing up water so you can see your plates were properly washed last night. In the end G dipped his finger in (cautiously, after our drinking water experience up the mountain yesterday!) and discovered that it was sweetish. So we decided it was probably to be drunk like a cup. Found some extremely watery rice in the bottom. Not quite sure....?
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