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Showing posts from December, 2010

Snowpocalypse 2010: The Trip South

Live blogging the journey from New York to North Carolina.

12:47AM: Home! Train finally pulled in around 11:45PM. Lots of people got on the train, presumably to head down to Florida. They've got a long night ahead of them.

10:47: Somewhere in mid-North Carolina. Train's been blowing its whistle pretty much non-stop the last hour or so. My speculation is that it's to scare animals off the tracks, but since the only things moving slower than the train are the African tree sloth, I think we should be okay.

10:30: We got stuck behind a very slow-moving freight train for awhile, so it pushed us another hour and a half back. Looks like we're now scheduled to arrive about three hours after initially scheduled. What's crazy, though, is that they don't make any announcements about expected arrivals - I have to find everything out myself via internet. Good thing I have a data plan. The lack of customer service is somewhat mind-boggling.

7:52: Traveling is always fun for …

Blizzards and Trains

Due to the "Winter Blizzard of 2010", which the media is making seem like the friggin' apocalypse, my flights were canceled and I bought a train ticket from New York to North Carolina since flights are sold out till Friday. Ten hour ride tomorrow, for $185 (more expensive than my nice one hour JetBlue flight). Our rail service is embarrassing. I am ashamed of our public transportation.

In any case, I may attempt to live blog the wondrous journey down the northeast corridor, assuming I can tether my 3G. Although I feel like they won't allow any technology newer than 1900 onto the train. One can only hope.

Decision Analysis and Airport Transportation

I flew out of Seoul the other day, and had an interesting lesson in decision analysis and making tradeoffs with respect to airport transportation. The options for getting to the airport from Gangnam are the following:

1) Taxi. Never done it. Pros: Door-to-door. Cons: At the mercy of Seoul traffic (especially bad since I had to travel during rush hour to the airport), and rather expensive.
2) Taxi to Coex, then direct airport bus from City Air Terminal. Pros: Direct bus is a known quantity and cheap (15000). Cons: Taxi still has to fight rush hour traffic in a busy area.
3) Subway to Coex, then direct airport bus. Pros: Both are known quantities and cheap. Cons: Need to lug stuff down into subway and then all the way through Coex to the City Air Terminal.
4) Airport Limousine Bus from nearby stop. Pros: Cheapest option. Cons: Need to wait outside for the bus.
5) Subway the whole way. Never done this, but I think it takes forever and has a bunch of transfers.

Usually I do option 2 or 3,…

Faking It

I find it fascinating to observe how people fake speaking foreign languages. I've been guilty of it myself for sure.

The simplest form of faking it is the "nod and smile". When I used to live in Japan, I learned very quickly that Japanese people have a tendency to respond affirmatively to English even if they didn't understand it at all. They'd simply nod and smile, which makes for a polite conversation, but no actual understanding or resolution of the problem at hand. I picked up this annoying habit when I was there, and would do the same when I spoke Japanese, just nodding and smiling rather than questioning people and making them repeat themselves (this is one of the reasons my Japanese really sucks).

The next level of faking languages is to learn a few key phrases/words and string them together in different combinations. Good words are "like", "hate", "this", "that", "man", "woman", your nationality,…

The Sound of Languages

People tell me that my pronunciation is good in foreign languages (except for Spanish, since I'm incapable of rolling my r's - if anyone can teach me how to do it, I will consider naming my first-born after you). But I want to clear up a common misconception - this is not due to any natural "talent" with languages. I'm extremely conscious of every sound that comes out of my mouth, and I strive for accuracy in my pronunciation. It takes effort. Constant effort =P.

Which got me thinking - I wonder if studying music when you're little is correlated with improved foreign language pronunciation. I played guitar for a couple years when I was little, and I was fairly perfectionist with respect to the music. Sometimes for assignments I had to tape record (yes, cassette tapes) myself playing some piece, and it would take me forever to capture a good enough version that I was satisfied with. Of course, little did I know that professional musicians do hundreds of takes …

Fun with Physical Therapy

I'd like to say I have a healthy distrust of the medical industry. I try to read between the lines when doctors talk to me, and I like to research myself to understand what's going on. Anyway, a few months ago I tweaked my shoulder pretty bad in the gym. Then I played golf, which didn't help. I decided to give physical therapy a try, figuring that it couldn't hurt.

Well, it hurt. After the first session of physical therapy, my shoulder felt stiffer and worse for the next couple days. After the next session, it felt even worse. All we were doing in the early sessions was ultrasound, which some people believe doesn't do anything, while others believe it stimulates the tissue to heal itself. It certainly does something, because in my experience, I got a painful dull ache in my shoulder during the ultrasound, and I asked the physical therapist to stop. That dull ache carried on in my shoulder for days, and my range of mobility (without pain) got worse and worse.

I cont…

Initial Thoughts of Language School

Went through my first week of Korean classes. I placed into a much higher level than anticipated, which was a nice surprise. Frankly, I was terrified when I heard my placement, but when I got to the class, it turned out to not be as bad as anticipated. Here are some random thoughts from the first week.


My vocabulary sucks. There are many very simple words that anyone who has been in the country a year or so should probably know. I know none of them. The first embarrassing incident was minutes into the first class, when the teacher asked who was a first-time student at the school (first time: 처음). I understood the equivalent of "Who is a <blank> student at this school?" I was proud I understood that much, but didn't want to take a gamble that <blank> was "unpaid tuition" or something, so I kept my hand down. Other things that everyone knew but I was clueless about: simple everyday verbs, body parts, and the Korean name for Girls Generation.
My listenin…

Back to School

Today I return to school, just a few years after I was last a student ;). I figured since I'm living in Korea, I might as well learn some Korean, so I signed up for classes at a local university known for good language programs.

Last Saturday morning, I went to the university on two hours sleep and a mocha for a placement test. There's only one test for all the levels, and it gets progressively harder as you go through it. You know that recurring nightmare where you show up for the final exam, and it's for a completely different topic than you thought it was going to be, or you accidentally forgot to go to class the entire semester? I learned on Saturday that it wasn't a nightmare at all, but actually a training run for this test. Imagine taking an exam where you can't read any of the instructions. And you can only understand a smattering of words on the page. That was this test.

In actuality, it was kinda fun, and was a pretty good exercise in time management and …