Korea

KHU main gate at full moon
So, the time has come. After waiving off all the exchange students, one at the time, am I now waiving bye to Korea myself.

This has been a truly amazing year and I am filled with gratefulness to all of you who have shared those experiences with me. The biggest and most important gift of being here is obviously the wealth of perspectives, and the friendships themselves, by spending time with amazing people from allover the world.

A deep, humble and happy thank you to my new friends from
Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ghana, Guatemala, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Sweden, Tunisia, UK, USA, Vietnam…and of course everyone from Korea.

You will always have a place in my heart.

Goodbye

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Jonas and Mattias asleep
My two fellow Swedes, Mattias and Jonas, are sharing most moments. And when they are far from their shared dorm room, they still stay close to each other.

Jonas and Mattias asleep
Just to clarify; despite the tight bond between them is the relationship pure friendship.

Jonas and Mattias asleep
Pictures from Busan and Changwon.

Sleeping

Reactor main switch
My dorm room is situated 100 meters from a nuclear reactor. A bit creepy, isn’t it? Well, it is one of the few dedicated research reactors in the world, with much lower power than the ones supplying your gizmos with electricity.

The Reactor
A while ago was Mattias, Jonas and me invited to a visit in the reactor building, since we all have studied nuclear theory this semester. The control room had racks filled with electronics for measuring, controlling and monitoring the process, but most exciting was -of course- when they pushed the button that opens the thick lead door and let us in to the reactor core.

First picture showing the reactor main switch; second picture of the reactor core, taken just before Mattias’ radiation gauge came too close to the neutron cannon, which made it beep as if the world was going down.

Radioactivity

Roses on Campus
Do-it-yourself is a theme that is well spread back home, and people are not reflecting over it since the cost of labor is too high to have personnel everywhere for everything. Instead are companies and institutions putting effort on user-friendly services with self-explaining interfaces.

Korea, on the other hand, has not been a high cost country for a long time, and the general expectation demands far more hands-on service. Not even in BBQ-on-the-table-restaurants are you always allowed to turn the meat yourself; the waiter does it for you.

The drawback? When your expected to get help from experts all the time are the incitements for user-friendly interfaces wiped away, and there is no way to refill your phonecard without visiting a dedicated phone store during business hours, and showing them your passport.

I would without doubt say that Korea is the most service-oriented country I’ve been in, especially considering its development phase, however I miss the option of speed and preciseness in doing things myself, via intuitive web services. But man, will I miss the Korean restaurants with their polite staff serving you as a king!

What is Service?

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Erik in Tokyo
My last final exam here in Korea is written and handed in; so now is also my schedule filled with ‘Vacation’ :)

I am happy that I extended my studies with this extra semester, and the remaining week will serve as mental massage: stress-less laying on a lawn in the sun, thinking back on all good memories I’ve gotten during the ten months that have passed since I left Sweden.

Picture by Claudia, shot in Tokyo.

Final final finalized!

Brem's Swedish-Korean shoes
With just one exam left here and only seven more days in the country is time truly running out. A friend who also is running is Bremelin Romero; who currently prepares for the Jubilee Stockholm Marathon 2012, which she runs to raise funds for the Guatemalan organization La fundacion Nueva Esperanza. They are educating the indigenous youth in Guatemala’s countryside, and we have both taken the course ‘Understanding Korean Economy’ where education is promoted as one of the major success factors behind ‘The Miracle on Han River’. Let’s cheer her forward so that she and her custom Swedish-Korean shoes can support the ones in need!

Running

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Jinro Soju Advertisement
Yes; it is Korea’s pride -Soju- by Jinro. So even though you probably haven’t contributed to the sales, over 60 million bottles were sold last year – excluding all other Soju brands.

But with a APK (“famous” measurement in student-Sweden; ‘alcohol per Krona’, see apk.se) on 15.6ml/SEK in always-open convenience stores is it far exceeding Sweden’s ‘best deal’ in Systembolaget, offering 3.9ml/SEK. No doubt Soju would be a hit in more than Korea if the regulations, or the lack of them, were the same!

And within two days will 30% of the producer, HiteJinro, be acquired by Pernod Richard; the same company that bought Absolut Vodka from the Swedish state 2008. Seems like a smart move…

Data from the Millionaires’ Club and CNN. The picture features Park Min Young and comes from Jinro’s latest advertisement campaign; we see it daily – on campus.

Worlds best-selling liquor?

Korean Warrior
I have a wise uncle with good insight in several family businesses. He has always said that those are created by the first generation; kept alive, but not developed, by the second; and eventually ruined, by bad decisions or lack of decisions, by the third.

Korea’s economy is founded on a scarce number of family run conglomerates –Chaebols; Samsung, LG, Hyundai to mention a few. A vast majority of them are now lead by the second generation, by people who were treated as kings when they grew up, and who in many cases lacks the entrepreneurial and offensive mindset of their ancestors.

Despite the controversy of those enterprises’ political power here is it far from desirable to see them fall apart. But are they able to put their pride aside and hire professional CEOs?

Korea’s Foundation

Lonely rider close to the volcano Bromo on Java, Indonesia
Anders Åslund (who earlier have recommend Russian-style shock therapy for Sweden) wrote three days ago in Bloomberg that the Swedish model is no longer applied in Sweden.

During the last 24 hours have I experienced one perspective of that; visiting five Korean hospitals to provide Mattias the foot surgery he needed (slipped and cut off a toe tendon).
Though Sweden’s health care is probably amongst the top in quality, the service level is not comparable with the Korean! His non-urgent surgery took place only two hours after entering the hospital, on a Saturday. The kind of treatment ha has received would only be comparable to extremely expensive private institutions any elsewhere.

Now he is -relatively- fine, and will be let out of the hospital in a few days, with wheelchair as only transportation method. Giving us all time to reflect over the pros and cons of high taxes; as well as the risks of traveling alone in rural areas of undeveloped countries…

Health care

Cheonggyecheon, Seoul
Bittersweet is the first word that comes to mind when I realized that my year as exchange student is about to end. Not until the 27th, but still; is feels almost impossible to imagine myself in Lund during summer break when all university students are gone and all families are on the beach.

Myeongdong, Seoul
Even in the most crowded crossings of “big city” Stockholm will the Swedish quiet- and politeness make me long back to Seoul’s bustling streetlife; Myeongdong’s shopping alleys and Hongdae’s captivating pulse.

Lucky then, that I will have all good-old friends and family to hang out with!

Leaving Seoul?

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Street view of Shibuya
The Tokyo weekend meant not just having a really good (!) time; we visited museums, parks, expensive shopping districts, Tsukiji (the world’s biggest fish market), the crazy nerd quarters of Akiba, capsule-hotel, just-opened Tokyo Sky Tree, a dedicated Moomin-café and numerous Japanese restaurants – all the time with Lena in wheelchair or with crutches.

Claudia, Lena and Erik at Tokyo National Museum
Even so, one of the most interesting things was to compare Tokyo with Seoul, two giant and adjacent metropolises that in fact are very different.

Painting showing Japanese dog hunt
Koreans are runners; chasing top salaries no matter the costs in boring tasks, immense work hours or crowdedness – which have given them the infamous top position on cheating statistics.

Japanese woman
Japanese are much more down-to-earth and calmer; being loyal to the same employer and wife throughout their lifetime, rather living in a (metro-) remote villa and being less playacting.

Happy fishermen at Tsukiji Market
It is obvious that Tokyo has been Seoul’s role model for a long time – but the genuine confidence and European-indoor-clean streets are still far from reached.

Capsule Hotel in Asakusa
A surprising observation compared to Stockholm regards the subway systems; the stressful and patience less behavior back in Sweden is not found in either city here. I guess the friendlier behavior comes from their collectivism, which also shines through in the help you get when asking a question.

東京 vs 서울

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Lena in Tokyo's Moomin café
Can one be happier? Lena literally forgot her crutches and ran around in the Moomin-café, inspecting every detail with joy.

Moomin café in Tokyo
After all, Tokyo is probably the only place where such concept can work, and it’s been several months since she left Finland :)

Lena met Moomin


Three months have passed since I arrived in Seoul for the spring semester. Three super fast and fun months with lots of new and old faces. But with one more month to go, including numerous exams and hand-ins, is it perfect timing for testing another metropolis “in the neighborhood” and celebrate Buddha’s birthday with a few days in Tokyo!

Accompanied by Finish Lena and Austrian Claudia am I leaving Korea on Thursday, expecting lots to see and hard times to communicate; despite that we speak more than ten languages together :)

Picture from January, showing Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Buddha’s birthday

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Ordering a take-away coffee in a café in Korea is a story in itself; you should expect to wait 5-10 minutes after ordering, before your wireless pick-up bell vibrates, flashes and beeps. But there is a widespread method to make the waiting feel shorter; ordering a normal cappuccino gives you a double-side printed receipt (in Korean) that is more than 30 cm long – try to read it all and you’ll seem to have the coffee served immediately!

Better then to take a look at the picture and learn from lumberjack-Jonas, who is used to the rough environment back home in Rättvik. He practices a modification of Bring-Your-Own-Beer, “BYOC”.

Coffee


Being a native English speaker opens the door to rather good payment and an easygoing life as English teacher here in Korea. Thus, they are quite many; sharing our smiles and sighs while strolling along in the Korean society.
Stephanie shared this link, full of spot-on observations. Enjoy!

Original photo by Aira, shot at a Taekwondo showoff on campus.

Teachers’ perspective


Traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.
Okay; some lucky (or illegal) trades on the stock market might also create fast profit, but not until you sell the investments again.

Picture from my flight from Kota Kinabalu (KK) on Malaysian Borneo to Manila in the Philippines. I climbed the mount Kinabalu (the peak outside the window that is the highest in the Malay Archipelago) two days before the flight; something I do recommend because of the extraordinary panorama.

Buy richness?

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A concept that is not suitable in Sweden’s higher school system (due to the fact that student’s and teacher’s are not supposed to have a social relationship) is Teacher’s Day, when students express gratitude to their teachers and professors. The concept feels a bit strange in this hierarchical world; some classes apparently greeted their professor with a choir-“I love you!”…
For me was it not as exaggerated though, and my Biomedical Systems Modeling professor Tae-Seong Kim is truly worth a lot of gratitude for his pedagogics!

Teacher’s Day


The following day was spent in Yeosu, on the World Expo, since we were already on the south coast and wanted to go there. Timing was perfect: we came on the exhibit’s inauguration. Our expectations on loads of concept technologies were not met, but it was really nice to stroll around and get amazed of the huge structures, that often were lit up as giant screens.


…and to have a proper ‘Fika’ with strong brew coffee and cinnamon buns in the Swedish pavilion wasn’t that bad either! The Swedes invited us to the VIP-area in the evening; where we had interesting discussions and enjoyed canapés. Lovely!

World Expo 2012

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In some respects is Sweden acting like frozen compared to Korea. I find it both exciting and frustrating to see how the Nordic countries are about to almost be run past, despite Korea’s latent stress of being in war and having enemies along the whole borderline. Good that it works for them, but why do Swedes not do more to keep up?
But maybe is it just the short freeze of action, the pause and reflection, that is what makes the difference? That enables innovation and creativity beyond what I’ve seen in Korea?
At least is that my take on Sweden’s perspective, after discussing the matter with our own “Senior Adviser at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Department for the Promotion of Sweden and Swedish Trade” (Staffan Björck).
But I think this needs to be addressed further back home. As the daily newspaper SvD’s columnist Jonas Fröberg did this Sunday when he wrote about the Chinese transition; from the world’s workshop to the world’s brain. Because how many out there knows that Sweden’s competitive motto is “Sweden – Spirit of Innovation”?

Sweden’s response to Korea’s rush

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Because of the East Asian Crisis, and the resulting pressure from IMF, was today’s excavator factory sold to Volvo Construction Equipment by Samsung.
The factory’s high efficiency and -back then- low-cost labor made the Swedish factory Åkerman superfluous, thus giving room for one of the companies that I now consult for.
Anyhow; I, Mattias and Jonas got an invitation to see the plant in Changwon and to meet the Swedes that VCE employ in Korea. Their warm reception of us and the new perspectives they provided were highly appreciated!

Volvo in Korea

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Ever heard the saying “If you don’t come to the king, than the king has got to come to you.”? Me neither, but Korea Times writes that he is coming to Korea on May 29th, and our friend and embassy intern Jonathan is working on a meeting. A bit embarrassing though, that none of the Nordic countries were among the 59 countries that represented at Seoul Friendship Fair that took place last Sunday…

In order to protect the visitors from the sharp sun, single-usage 아줌마 hats ([Ajuma], which technically means married woman, but only is used for older women) were handed out. On the picture from left: Liisa, Emi and Kathy.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf

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A unique and well-worth experience Seoul has to offer is Nanta; a non-verbal theatre show based on traditional Korean percussions, ‘Samullori’. It all takes place in a kitchen and includes just a few performers, but those are skilled several ways! Especially their ability to express feelings through facial expressions is impressive. Prepare for lots of laughs :)

Nanta


Up until now have I always had a direction or plan for the future. Sure, those are being exchanged and modified all the time, but when I try to imagine what I am doing (and where) in a year from now is it different: the sheet is blank.

Not that I am worried, or neglecting the power of slippery banana peels (officially approved by MythBusters), but since I am born in the 80’s is my self-confidence too high (?), and I am hoping to at least be able to influence the direction.

Perhaps is the way to join the big ‘Hamster wheel’ as so many friends of mine; work Korean hours and spend the salaries on anything that is branded hard enough? Or should I adopt a more day-by-day lifestyle, listening to what trend analyzer Quattroporte published today about the opinions of the Swedes born in the 90’s; that knowledge isn’t worth anything anymore and the boundaries of your social network are your only limits?

Then again, where do I want to go? Reflecting has sorted out a few alternatives, but as the journey has been the most important thing for me this far; enjoying what I do and who I do it with, then I am still sitting here. Not knowing in what direction I wish to place my next step…

What’s next?


Outdoor is the weather like any awesome Swedish summer day; 27 degrees and clear blue sky. Having dad here was great, and in just a few days will some friends that I stayed with in Singapore come to Seoul. Sounds great doesn’t it? There is just one problem; their 4 month long summer vacation, has already started while I am still studying for a midterm exam.
Hence, these days are spent indoor – struggling to keep sharp in mind and the focus on how to best implement kernel density gradient estimations, the pros and cons with the generalized Hough transform and how to describe those hidden virtual layers in artificial neural networks.
Now, don’t get me wrong; it is interesting, just not exciting enough to make me feel “Yay!”…

Stay focused

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After yesterday’s two exams am I excited to meet up dad on the airport now! He has been on a business trip in Khabarovsk, east Russia, and scheduled the trip back to Sweden via Seoul. Looking forward to spend the weekend with him :)

Detour

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The medial wave of 2010 describing how companies pay specific celebrities to not use their products, which might otherwise harm their branding strategy, did apparently not reach the Philippines. Or will Victoria’s Secret’s next fashion show reveal a radical target market shift?

Product anti-placement


At first, the graph above might not look like a heart. But after 120+ ECTS math is it clear that systems of equations often gives a much deeper understanding of things and relationships. Thus, I really appreciate my engineering courses!

A fun quote from one of my (engineering) professors; just before he, bothered, double-checked that yes, Erik is taking a MSc and not a MA:

lim[GPA->0] engineering student = business student

Perspectives


Two of the exchange students here share an experience far exceeding the ordinary. The soon-to-be Russian diplomats Yulia Okonova and Mira Dzhamalidinova spent last summer studying in Pyongyang, North Korea. Their stories therefrom are indeed stunning!

Me and Mira enjoying studies in, and of, the sunset. Photo by Yulia.

Exotic exchange studies

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Suddenly the weather changed; the temperature rose ten degrees to 27 and it seems as if the sun does not want to set. Those last days have been totally amazing: long lunch breaks, eating on the lawn outside the library (picture), while laughing with the others and gazing at the beautiful trees all over campus.

Yes, the ongoing exam period demands a lot of studies, but those are conducted outdoors or at nighttime. Because days like these goes straight to the memories.

Cherry blossom


While last semester contained only business and management courses, this one is focusing more on technical ones. I have always appreciated to learn new things, and sticking to one field will not provide as many “Aha!” experiences as digging shallower but in numerous places. Hence, this semester’s courses are

• Introduction to Nuclear Engineering – After all, how many sleep 100m from a reactor? Got to check it out while being here :)
• Special Topics in International Business – A concluding course in business
• Computer Vision – We are learning the computer to find faces in pictures, focusing on the algorithms; photography and programming combined
• Understanding Korean Economy – Exciting to learn the ‘true’ story of the “Miracle at the Han River”
• Biomedical Systems Modeling & Simulation – Really interesting course! In the last project was I simulating the heart and atherosclerosis, next one concerns neurophysiology.

The approximately 40 students taking the UKE-course are representing around 25 countries from all over the world; thrilling to listen to all those amazing anecdotes we have together! Just be observant and reach out for shared the insights :)

Nuclear bodies visualized internationally


Going by taxi, or cab for those who prefer, is just the same in Korea as in any other country: They have heavy right foots and use GPS to assist navigation, are overrepresented in using automatic gearboxes and they may request extra payment if their exterior happen to be painted black. But nowhere else than in Korea, hopefully, can you sit and watch the driver get so bored while zigzagging on a five-lane highway that he turns on the fifth and only 9″-screen that is not already showing something, just to watch some TV while driving.

Because of the massive flow of stimulus in the modern society are people getting restless, bored and start clicking on their smartphones as soon as there is a minute long wait-time. I guess I am one of those myself. But the long-term effects of this might not only be positive, I realized one day in a Korean taxi.

Stimuli


I like photography, because of several reasons. Firstly, it is a field related directly to my studies in electrical engineering; secondly, it combines advanced software and state-of-the-art hardware from two areas of rapid improvements right now; the whole process of taking photos also serves as meditation for me to capture pictures that otherwise would not been seen in that way. Another positive outcome are the pictures themselves, reminding me and others of all those moments and memories that are not really forgotten – but forgotten about.

A good and simple presentation that dig quite deep into the camera’s advanced technology is provided by Dr. Joachim Linkemann here (pdf).

Photography


The spring has finally arrived to Seoul! I spent this Sunday studying with the others, outdoor without shirt, enjoying the birds sing from the blue sky while the Magnolia trees are blooming in bright white and the Cherry blossom prepares to recolor our Campus in pink.

Springtime

Casino Galaxy in Macau
Today is my birthday! Koreans consider me to be 26 already, and not changing age today, but in most parts of the world is this the day when I get closer to fifty than zero: Wow, how time flies!? But having 25 years to look back on with happiness and pride is not really a bad thing :)
Picture by Mattias, after winning a game of Baccarat in one of the world’s largest casinos; Galaxy, Macau.

25

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Five million inhabitants squeezed together on a piece of land smaller than half Öland (a Swedish island). Still – considered to be the tidiest and safest country in the world.
I thought I should share some slightly intricate thoughts about this ‘Asian Tiger’, instead of just compliment their economic growth. So for all of you who might have second thoughts about the safety in poor Asian countries; it was in Singapore I got my phone stolen, the only thing that has gotten lost since I left Europe in August.


Singapore is founded on blame rather than praise. Doing something (or rather anything) that isn’t considered to be good manners is strictly forbidden and will result in high fines; e.g. €3000 for accidentally pressing the escalator’s emergency stop button. But I found one exception where Swedes are more conservative and strict; sex. In S’pore is prostitution legal and handled far from murky alleys.


I relate it to the fact that this metropolis for business and finance is built up by (financially) and for the rich people; 20% of the population consists of dollar millionaires. But despite Singapore’s impressive 3rd place in GDP PPP per capita are the majority not earning record high salaries, or for that matter happy about the litter-free and perfect façade that strikes you on arrival. Behind it lives a concealed truth that the over-fifty-years-in-power-party has managed to keep quiet enough to earn them a press freedom index at Uganda’s level.


Singapore is fantastic in many ways and a great hub for backpackers in need for a few days off the beaten track, or for the driven white collars that are looking for a year with high salary and tropical weather. Have a drink and enjoy the magnificent views from the skyscrapers in Marina Bay, but don’t forget to scratch a bit on the surface; speaking with Singapore-born locals reveals so much more…

Photos from Coron, Singapore’s Chinatown (x2) and the awesome pool seen from Joel & Co’s crib. Thank you Joel, Stina, Julia, Lotta, Erik, Adam and Tor for housing me those lovely days of Lunar New Year!

Singapore

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Working Girl
Corporate Social Responsibility. A must-have headline in your company’s annual report, since corporate culture’s matching with potential employees’ own values and priorities becomes more and more important. In my opinion is CSR a great idea in several ways; as long as the definition goes something like ‘doing what we do, although in a good, mature and responsible way’.

Who protects me
But, as Shakespeare put it, then I sigh. Because it is not unusual that companies add some sort of private NGO as a separate mini-division instead; keeping their core business and -suppliers unaffected. The expression has namely been badly diluted as no one have coordinated its usage between nations and organizations, hence it might actually do with a quick fix; just send some mediocre giveaways to Africa and you’re safe. Just don’t forget to brag about it.

Photos from Sumatra and Bali, Indonesia.

CSR


Leaving those equatorial countries that hosted me from December to March, Seoul greeted me with a cloudless but windy and zero-degree afternoon. Despite the acclimatization-stop in Hong Kong and Macau was the temperature drop hard to handle.

So what to do, while waiting for Korea’s tropical summer? Skiing of course!
Eager to drive again (I hadn’t been sitting behind the wheel since August), Sun and I steered the rental car to the east coast and Pyeongchang’s Yong Pyong Ski Resort.


With all alpine skiing slopes that will be used during 2018 Winter Olympics tested, our conclusion was unanimous: they got our approval :)

Research colleagues from left: Malin, Sun, Mattias and Claudia. First photo by Al at Dive Gurus, Boracay, and second by a random Korean.

2018 Winter Olympics: Approved.


The Koreans have their own telecom system, which makes them a partly isolated market. Beside the fact that most people (down to <10 year olds) have already had at least one smartphone, there are some things to bring back home to the international system. Here are big and small cell phone shops everywhere you go, with more less 24/7 service. Or just take the standardized power-connector that has been present and market leading here for several years. Such standard is, as far as I know, still at the rumor-stage internationally. However that connector will be Mini-USB, which is much better.
But. They forgot one vital thing, namely the customer. In order to force us into long term contracts (minimum two years; that’s why I won’t get one) they limit the possibility of refilling prepaid-cards to business hours. Further, you have to find your operator’s shop, and bring your passport, to refill the phone card.

Genuine and efficient customer service is something that was down prioritized during Korea’s GDP-exploding years of export-focus, and has been forgotten ever since. Alongside the two education-related issues that I have mentioned earlier, is this probably the most tangible concern I observe here, compared to countries that were industrialized in the past.

Better …but not consistent


Being back in the dorm, without any tickets to soon-departing flights at hand, is it nice to conclude that the whole “Boy Band”* is reunited again.

Not that we have any instruments, possess absolute pitch or so; but we’ve become the core of one others surrogate families here. Since also others consider our relationships brother-like is it appropriate, but of course needless, to recall that the only ‘iare’ is big brother to the two mechanical students ;)

* Quote and original photo: Liisa Haapanen.

The Boy Band


Asia is full of them, period. However sometimes are the meetings with them more special than other times; I almost caught one as a road kill (that >30kg fellow would probably have killed us both) in northern Bali, and during a two-day jungle hike from the small village Bukit Lawang on Sumatra in Indonesia did we meet Orangutans a couple of times. As we slept outdoor that night, Gibbon monkeys infiltrated the camp and our plastic-sack-tents. No casualties though ;)


Living in the wilderness like that is truly an experience; falling asleep to the sounds from millions of creatures’ everyday lives and watching the mist dissolve as the sun shows up above the treetops.

Apes


Today, March 2nd, school starts again after the winter vacation. Luckily it’s a Friday. All new exchange students have arrived and we who have been here since August are trying to make things a bit smoother for them than it was for us, not having anyone but Koreans to ask.
But some issues are harder to handle: Hanging out in Korea includes alcohol, period. Neither exists awareness of vegetarians, and some kind of meat is almost always included. But the biggest problem is doubtlessly Koreans’ verbal skills in English. They might score full on each grammar test you hand them, but they’re still too shy and afraid of mispronouncing to speak at all.


In fact, I find the lack of verbal English training combined with their old fashioned learn-by-heart-pedagogics being the biggest issues in Korea’s future development. Luckily, those matters are quite easy to address – once decided to.

First picture from Now Bar, by Aira Bartuškaitė, while the second one is from our visit in 비원, Secret garden, inside UNESCO’s World Heritage-listed Changdeokgung.

New semester


I stayed in Yogyakarta (inconsequently spelled with J’s instead of Y’s) for 32 hours, drove to their two great temples; Prambanan and Borobudur. I recommend you to visit the prior in the morning, since all tourists tend to visit the latter then – which meant that I could walk around there more less alone. Perfect.


Got to the latter and drove just a little bit further, so that you get the bigger picture summarized: tourists’ camera flashes sparkle although the sun stands at zenith, some locals offer the same ‘local’ handcrafts as sold for multiple the price on Bali, while most Indonesians don’t really bother – spending their time on the rice fields that surround the area. Business as usual.

Business as usual

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As you frequent readers out there have noticed long ago: these posts have been all but frequent lately. But instead of properly documenting all stunningly amazing, fun and thrilling things I get to do while being out here (presently in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines), is the answer obvious for me: keep exploring while possible! This inflow of new experiences, meetings and perspectives is nothing but lovely.

The route has, eventually, become a closed circuit – on the planning-stage. Updated version is shown via the ‘Map’-button above or via this link.

Photo from northern Bali, Indonesia, taken by Anass.

Massive inflow

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One of the more odd countries I’ve got to encounter is Brunei Darussalam. Not just because it took seven stops for passport controls to get back to Malaysia, but rather from their employment politics.


Because despite the ego of their Sultan (living in a palace four times the size of Versaille), he actually let some oil-money filter down to the man on the street. As long as he is Malay and Muslim, of course. Though if you happen to find yourself having Chinese parents, the golden spoon and thumb twiddling, lifelong, governmental employment are not intended for you. Neither will you, as otherwise, raise your kids with three shiny 4×4-cars in front of your villa.


My conclusion compared to what I expected is that the average citizen of Bandar Seri Begawan seemed to be much more satisfied and overall happy with their Sultan and the revenue share he supports them with (in terms of free education and healthcare plus pension after 65). Which, sadly, makes their way to equal rights even longer.

Brunei

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It has been quite some hours on motorbikes in Indonesia, which I find great fun and a good way of exploring local culture and habits. A few glimpses are shared below.


Saw the spiritual ceremony when holy water was gathered from underneath a sacred tree while driving along Bali’s coastlines, which takes place only twice a year.


Passed a market in Denpasar where the bicycle-based shop offered you to choose any color on your chicken.


Joined the traffic style and tempo in Yogyakarta, which would make me lose my driving license a couple of times per hour in Sweden.


Passed remote villages on the southern tip of Samosir island in the Norwegian Fjord-like area of lake Toba, where the children waved and cheered as if we were walking on water.

Motor biking

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Not without doubt did we try Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, on Bali. But the Asian Palm Civet really seems to be a master in finding the best beans, resulting in a very smooth but still strong and tasteful brew. Probably the best coffee I’ve had, fully comparable with Vietnamese Phin filtered coffee from the Annamite plateau.


Stage one.


Magnus taking a sip.

Kopi Luwak

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Boy it has happened a lot since last post!

My beloved family, see picture above from Gili Trawangan, has returned to Sweden after two weeks of relaxing together with me: great days!

However to travel solo is quite convenient also; no limits! (except money, time, visas, etc etc..) Well well, one of the first things I did was to rent a scooter and drive along the Bali’s coastlines. Stopped in Tulamben for diving, snorkeling and a nice meet up with Hajer and Anass (co-students in Korea).

More pictures will be added, but it was time for a status update since I have finally made up my mind: Visited the volcano Bromo on Java today, and will move further to Yogyakarta for some cultural experiences in two hours.

30 hours there, and I’m off to Sumatra: will “chase” Orangoutangs in the north. That means passing the Equator, which is a bit sad: feels like I’m on my way back already!? But still several countries to visit and approximately fifty days of traveling left. Phew! :)

Solo in Indonesia

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New Years Eve. The day have been spent reading, playing cards, sunbathing – yes, I’ve got my red color back :) – and now is it time for me to join my family before the fireworks start at the beach. But before that, let me just wrap up what’s going on.

In two days have my traveling schedule reached it’s end, and I´m free to do just about anything :)
So what are the options? Presented as negative as possible in order to eliminate the least favorable;
• Go South: Fly to Australia. Closer than ever, but probably worth a whole trip on it´s own?
• Go West: Take the land-way through Java and Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia. Great way to get to know the more populated parts of Indonesia and be able to meet up Kai and Ramona, but maybe too tourist-dense?
• Go North: Straight north as short as possible means staying on Indonesian ground, in Sulawesi. Beautiful and rather low tourist density, maybe too slow moving and focused on relaxing?
• Go East: Jump towards the Maluku Islands via Lombok and Komodo Island. A true scenic adventure, but long hours on bumpy boats. Which is not really my cup of tea.

Seems like my way onwards is a bit unclear, but looking back at 2011; I like the turns it took!
And with that conclusion would I just want to wish you all a Happy New Year :)

2011 becomes 2012

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Today I went diving, fist time since 2009! Time truly flies… But the conditions here on Gili Trawangan Island could not have been better, having company by my brother Magnus (picture) while introducing our father to the wonders below surface.

A lovely dive swimming alongside with giant turtles and stingrays. Next dive in eight hours :)

Diving

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Arrived to Indonesia on the December 21st, for two relaxing weeks in great company: my parents and brother flew down here to celebrate Christmas and New Year with me. Really nice to see them again! :)

A couple of minutes ago the clock turned twelve making it Christmas Eve, so I just wish you all a Very Merry Christmas!

Met up with my family!

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Now I’ve been living the life of a backpacker for a week, in China! A really interesting country that I obviously have just gotten the chance to scratch on the surface.
Through the intense days in Shanghai and Beijing have I found a couple of significant differences compared to Korea:

• The prices are much lower! Divide by three and you have a clue
• China is accustomed to tourists –so phenomena such as beggars, nagging and people trying to fool you into shops do exist
• People are not at all as friendly here as in Korea, and lack skills in interpersonal behavior
• Koreans are more beautiful. That is both the widespread opinion here (according to Johan) but also consistent with my personal verdict
• One thing that I r-e-a-l-l-y miss from Korea is their total absence of robbery, pickpocketing, etc. In that sense is Korea totally fantastic
• Everything is so clean! The only cigarette butts I saw were still smoldering.

Hard to say which country I would like best if I had spent the same amount of time in them, but right now I prefer Korea. Luckily :)

China

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After this holy day that got celebrated with two exams, and due to the lack of updates here recently, is it time to share my present status:

3 of 5 final exams handed in
6 of 7 parallel courses completed
1 of 2 semesters of hard but fun studies passed (ok, soon!)
1 exam scheduled tomorrow
1 apartment to empty and leave tomorrow
…and for the observant mathematician (3+1<>5) can I add that my last exam will be less ordinary; I will take it on an altitude of 10 000 meters, on the flight to Bali. Hope the grade will be high too ;)

But most important of all: <30h until my arrival in Shanghai! Bye bye Korea, see you again around February 25th :)

Saint Lucia’s Day

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I’m done with the final exams for this semester on the 14th of December.

My plane to Shanghai has scheduled take-off four hours after the last exam. Not that I don’t like Korea, but it’s time to say goodbye for a while; the spring semester doesn’t start before March and I intend to experience as much as possible until then!

The planning is made on a web based map, and will take form along the way. Having it online enables me to zoom conveniently, at the same time as both my fellow travellers and you can follow my trip step by step.

Destination tips and Do’s and Don’ts are greatly appreciated!

Vacation Voyage

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As a part of my master thesis-preparations, I take the class Development and Governance in Africa. Really interesting and eye-opening course as the (two) professors have decades of hands-on experience, and often compares with South Korea that is just as amazing as Botswana or Mauritius.

Today I participated in a seminar at Korean Development Institution, together with Rajiv Shah, the panjandrum of US AID and therefore of lots of resources. An impressive man that seems to be just the right man for the job. Nice!
Co-participants were Mark Tokola, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US embassy in Korea; Oh-Seok Hyun, president of KDI; and fortysomething others.

While Shah’s speech is hard to share, I truly recommend the enlightening TED-speech Charter cities by Paul Romer. And for those of you who are Swedes; Cheetahs vs Hippos by George Ayittey. Watch them!

Africa

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The first course (and the only one from this semester that I can make use of in my MSc-exam); Corporate Strategy is as good as done and dealt with.

Those lectures have made it more and more obvious; corporate strategy and management is my answer to “What do you want to do for a living?”, so it felt really nice hear the professor declare that I was best in class.
…and I usually think I’m humble. Gosh.

Now is it just to prepare for the upcoming weeks of final exams; five exams in less than a week. But hey, the weather has been much friendlier since my last post; 14-20 degrees at daytime – and it’s all over in less than two weeks!

Picture of Kai and Sun on Jebu Island.

Countdown!

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The global climate change is a frequent visitor at Swedish “Fika”-tables. But in Korea is the presence of climate changes not limited to discussions.


I happily concluded that shorts, t-shirt and slippers were the proper clothing during the first days of November. Now, less than three weeks later, are people dressing like Eskimos and today I was greeted by a few dozens falling snow flakes!

So despite that Seoul and Madrid shares latitude, and Korea’s lovely fall with its beautiful colors and warm weather, are the facts doubtless: the temperature drops comes in 10 degree-steps, and it might be time to reconsider Korea as a four season-country…


On the other hand –not saying that the global warming is a good thing!– are there some positive spin-offs, such as the one Mr Putin commented in NY Times a month ago. Not least Korea will gain from this, placed next to the new passage and having the world’s 6th largest shipping industry in terms of merchant fleet tonnage (2007).
Data from Korea Maritime Institute, map of maritime transportation borrowed from MarTrans.

Seasons

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Today will Korea execute a major emergency-drill as a reaction to the rising threats from North Korea. Civilians shall find their way to nearest shelter; traffic will stop as both drivers and pedestrians will be asked to take cover in nearby office basements and subway stations; and twelve Navy KF-16 jets will fly low over larger cities.

“These drills are taking place at a time when the threat of war is becoming more visible,” Park Yeon Soo, chief of the National Emergency Management Agency, told reporters yesterday in Seoul.

Picture of North Korea and their 160m high flagpole, taken from the DMZ a month ago.

Provocations adressed


The third generation of the computer game Diablo (see picture above from Blizzard Entertainment) was supposed to be out on the market by now. But there has been a delay, which means that the release will be after instead before the College Scholastic Ability Test.

That made a lot of Korean girls rather pisses off, since the competition they face for the universities now includes Korean guys – because the guys were not busy during the test period.

I just wonder; Would the impact of such delay even be statistically measurable in Sweden? Don’t think so…

Korean girls about Diablo III


Today the entrance test for Korean universities, fully comparable with the Swedish Högskoleprovet, took place. But in Korea Herald are some minor differences made clear; the College Scholastic Ability Test (or Suneung; 수능) was taken by 690 000 students, to compare with the 65 000 + 47 000 that took Högskoleprovet in April/October. Hence, Koreans are 18% more likely to participate in such test. The reform of the Swedish test that increased the number of participants in April, and the fact that it is really common to prepare for the test on full-time basis here, indicated a higher willingness to study in Korea than in Sweden. Not considering the remarkably high tuition fees here and the absence of such back home…

Other differences are more remarkable;
• The professors that compose the test are locked in and totally sealed away from society until after the test.
• All flight landings and takeoffs were banned during the two listening tests, traffic was banned within 200 meters from test centers and office hours delayed.
• Further, police motorbikes served as special taxi for test participants.
All this just to ensure optimal conditions for the students. Impressive efforts!

However, as the exam means life-or-death for many students, the sad truth is that the evening news today spoke of all the suicides.

“Don’t fly, we’re having exam”

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Yesterday two buses drove north from our campus, to KHU Peace Campus, to imitate/model the proper process during a UN meeting. Picture showing the German delegation -consisting of Ramona, Hanna, Catharina and myself- in front of one of the amazingly beautiful buildings they had there.

Why did we participate? Well, we got email from the administration stating that we were obliged, which -after applications and preparations- turned out to be a wish. However, as the place was the last and most special campus, I gladly joined. What used to be a Buddhist Monastery separated from society is nowadays campus and home for all their 40 (!) students.

Among them was Nathalie, a nice Swede who explained that their schedule started around 6.30am: meditation, gymnastics, cleaning of dormitory and first after that was it breakfast. Every day. Oh, and that she hadn’t spoken Swedish for more than three months.

So even though it was interesting to follow such formal debate; more less opposite to everything we are taught, I concluded two things on the bus back:
#1 I will never engage myself in that kind of slow processes. Thank God that others are willing to handle politics and multinational superorganizations!
#2 I really appreciate our campus, with thousands of students and the dormitory with two floors filled with restaurants and shops
A really good day after all :)

Model United Nations

Three generations of 10 Korean Won-coins, worth approximately 6 Swedish ören each.


In a comparison between Sweden and South Korea in Nominal GDP per Capita, the Korean average income turns out to be merely 42% out of Sweden’s. However, due to the Penn effect, the purchasing power parity normalized GDP boosts the ratio to 80% for 2010.


The International Monetary Fund has a surprisingly user-friendly data resource: World Economic Outlook Database.
I summarized some information from their latest publication (April 2010) that I found interesting, in order to complement the daily discussions with Koreans and other friends. Hopefully it can shed some light also for you.


Another superb source of knowledge I truly recommend is to search with Wolfram|Alpha, they provide both scientific information and present nice solutions to your multifarious calculations.


Regarding interest rate can be mentioned that the -lately volatile- Swedish repo rate lays at 2% presently, while Korea’s key interest rate is forecasted to stay at 3,25% also for the following months. Inflation rates are 3,2% and 3,9% respectively.


It will be interesting to see how the future bends the shown curves, but before that will I share some insights concerning brands and the Korean middle-class.

Economical facts


I just realized that my link to Mattias blog has not been posted yet. Shame on me! Anyhow, now you can get also his perspectives on our life and adventures here in Korea – joyful reading in Swedish with west coast accent.

For those of you who don’t know; Mattias and Jonas are the two other Swedes from LiU that are here as exchange students. Both study for MSc in Mechanical Engineering and spend their third respective fourth year here, so I get the big brother-role…just as we “iare” are supposed to ;)

Photo of Mattias from the second day in Korea, before he realized the difficulties in eating cold noodle soup with chopsticks (“Because using spoon is cheating”).

Mattias Larsson’s blog

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After yesterday’s hard clubbing at Mass in Gangnam, the Saturday was spent Sightseeing in Seoul. Went there with Mattias, Kai, Koen and Hanna – and met up good-old classmate Alma! A nice reunion as we have not been able to get together earlier even though she’s been studying here since February.


The jump on/jump off-tour buses took us around to the different areas, and we ended the day walking along Korea’s answer to Barcelona’s La Rambla and New York’s High Line; the Cheonggyecheon.
What once was a creek got paved and turned into a major highway in the 50’s, and was opened as a recreation area 2005 after reconstruction of the stream.

Picture of King Sejong the Great (who created the Korean language Hangul or한글) respective Cheonggye Stream, the latter photo by Kyle Nishioka.

Sightseeing with Alma

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The Sunday-weather was much better, so we got great views from driving around in the mountain and along the coastline.


Delicious raw-fish lunch in a harbor, introducing raw squid to my diet; much better than expected!


After a couple of stops at nice beaches and stunning viewpoints – all including immense amounts of surveillance cameras, fences and barb wire due to the closeness to North Korea – we ended up visiting a former North Korean submarine (from the Gangneung Incident).


Its propeller had got crushed 1996 by rocks in bad weather while picking up infiltrators south of the border, and 40 000 men were mobilized in the manhunt of the 26 North Koreans.


But the worst thing was that the museum, in disparity to most war museums, still was under full-time military guarding as it was placed at the coast. Creepy..

North-East South Korea, 2nd day


During one of October’s two cloudy & rainy days (damn..) I, Kai, Mattias, Jonas and Yonghak climbed Seoraksan, Korea’s third highest mountain and its most beautiful National Park (according to Lonely Planet).


With only 50 meters of visibility one can think that the weather was a disappointment, but to be honest; we had full focus on the walking/climbing itself as it was rather hard because of the steepness – 34 degrees in average all the way from our (bed-less) motel which we started from.


Ten hours of hiking and half an hour bus ride later we reached Sokcho, a harbor city at the cost to Sea of Japan/East Sea (the Koreans are of course not that happy about the first, and most widespread, name..).

We ended the day with at couple of hours at the Osaek Hot Spring Spa, where the 39-degree pool of red rose water was my favourite :)

Hiking

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Five ordinary written exams, one research proposal, one proper home exam and a finance presentation – DONE and DOWN!
Feels so good :)

Now it’s time to take the weekend off, leaving in half an hour for hiking in the mountains of Seoraksan.

Done!

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As Koreans tend to be very focused on having a perfect facade to show off, they seem to prioritize in line with the “Turkish Swedes” when it comes to cars. In crowded Seoul, that results in loads of tarmac and fancy cars between the skyscrapers.
(Please note that this is barely my way of explaining the Koreans out of a Swedish perspective, using what I find is a wide spread opinion – not saying that I support it.)

For instance, on both sides of the Han River (think Thames in London) are highways, one five-lane and one two-lane, where the second is built as a bridge along the shore since there simply was no space for it on land. Further, one block from the water in each direction are four-lane avenues and so it continues… On the other hand, the traffic rules are opposite to Swedish -never stop a moving car- which makes life a bit more convenient for drivers here.

Picture shows a two-in-one-bridge with boat passage crossing Han River.

Traffic


As I have ten weeks of winter-holiday (wee!) to travel around in Asia, there are a lot of places to visit and people to meet. The only thing preventing me from traveling around in Korea now, as well as look up sweet-spots for the winter, are the exams which begin in two days. I want to perform good – but don’t have enough time to prepare for them (homeworks and lectures takes all time) or know what to prepare (miss the study help from ‘old exams’ back in Linköping) – so it just feels like a big, misplaced, obstacle in my otherwise so great life here.
But I guess that’s why I went here from the beginning; to encounter and conquer impediments!

Obstacle


We (a 20-person mixture of Koreans and Europeans) went on a relaxing vacation before the midterms, to tiny Jebu Island, just south of Seoul. A lovely trip with lots of new experiences;

Renting a room and finding it well equipped; e.g. both stove and separate rice-cooker – but since the lack of beds, chairs and tables, we slept ‘Korean-style’ on the plain (but cozily heated) floor.

Had a great morning-swim in the Yellow Sea before the Island woke up. Conclusion: the water is neither yellow, nor does it smell yellow. However, the taste did I leave for you to examine…

Played ‘Soju-Monopoly’, a nice evolution where all investments and fees are paid in shots. My tactics worked fine and we got to see the other two teams empty one bottle after the other :)

Yellow Sea

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As we are heading towards midterm exams, the university’s library becomes home to loads of students. I myself rather sit in my dorm room, as I’m usually alone there at daytime.

This is the room where most of my classes are held, a nice place with great view over campus behind the curtains. Regarding the courses, I figured it is time to mention what I am studying here.

In Korea are the semesters not divided into two periods as I am used to from Sweden, but since the courses aren’t bigger one has to take several at the time. That is just as it was back in Linköping where fulltime studies equals three parallel courses. Here are fulltime either three or four course, including loads of graded homework beside the exams.
Since the courses I chose to take from back home were not given, I have been emailing home to LiU a lot in order to solve the problems. And as we are obliged to participate at every lecture here, I had to take some extra classes before I knew which ones to stick to.
But time was passing without any clear answers. Now I’ve skipped the course ‘Comparative Trade Policy’ and have chosen to continue with the rest. At least until after midterm ;)

Hence am I taking the following courses now:

• Advertising and Marketing Strategy
• Corporate Finance
• Corporate Strategy
• Development and Governance in Africa
• Korean Language I
• Organization Development
• Supply Chain Management

Out of which the logistics-course stand out by being undergraduate and also given at the Engineering Department, as the rest are given at GSP / Graduate school of Pan-Pacific International Studies.

Luckily; the quality is high and the courses are interesting! ..although demanding :P

Studies


A handicap-urinal! Hope the concept spreads to Sweden :)

While in the restroom; Koreans are neighbors with tech-nerd Japan, thus some of the toilets here are really geeky. Or what to label a lavatory-seat with fourteen buttons and two displays – excluding the flush-button…

A peek into men’s room

Erik Winther sun on shoulder
The sunny Monday in Busan gave me the opportunity to practice one “hobby” of mine. That is to change color, and later on also skin.

Back in 2009, at the astonishing Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I got just a little bit too much; ended up with a four days long feverish delirium and a girlfriend who seriously thought that I was about to die in Malaria. Therefore had a pause last year, but since I’m back in Asia…

So now, two weeks after that Monday, most of the skin on my shoulders and torso is renewed. A bit funny; to compensate for the lack (total absence actually!) of “After Sun”-cream in Korea, I got loads of creams and products from Body Shop after the photo shoot :) I think next skin renewal will have to wait around three more months, until I am in either Vietnam or Philippines. Looking forward!

Healing

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Today I tried a new career; doing some modeling with the Korean Hip Hop stars Tiger JK and Yoon Mi Rae. It was a press event held Body Shop, as they have gathered over seven million (!) signatures to stop sex trafficking which will be handed over to UN later today.

So unlike most times, I was in front of the camera lens. Quite a feeling when both public and commercial television is filming you, while some fifteen photographers do their best to dazzle you with their flashes. But most of all; It feels nice to act for something good! :)

I and the Hip Hop stars

Korean Military in Busan at UN MemorialThe headline of today’s Korean Times regards German cars. LG tries to ban both Audi and BMW from the Korean market, as they use LEDs from Osram and not LG. I guess it will end up with a settlement, but still; Oops..

Picture shows a guard at the entrance of beautiful UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, protecting the honor of the ones that sacrificed their lives for South Korea.

No more German cars in Korea

Korean woman cooking food for Erik
At yesterday’s dinner, my beloved buddy Sun attended. We were served a number of different Chinese dishes – some mild and gentle; some a bit more pronounced.

When most of us were satisfied, Sun kept shoveling in the clam-soup. I asked him a question twice, but without any reaction. At last he’s awareness returned, and he excused himself with our new favorite expression; “Oh, sorry! It was so spicy that I could not hear you!”.
So I guess a snack will be the perfect justification for not answering any tough questions at my next seminar :)

The Korean way

Mattias is having some dessert in sunny SeoulThis picture is taken when Mattias was chewing pills in order to get rid of his cold and fever three weeks ago. Went to the Pharmacy and asked for ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ or similar, but got a bunch of colorful pills in different sizes to swallow twice a day. Without doubt he ate them all…

Now it’s time again; although this time he has some kind of virus in his left eye. Yes, I do pity him, but it is still fun to hear that his second visit at the doctor’s office resulted in even more tablets. “Who needs alcohol when a couple of tiny capsules do the job – for only € 2 a package?” Hmm…

Who needs alcohol

Click! Despite all the sparkling memories I’ve collected, this first month in Korea seems more like a weekend; time is really a relative measurement… We celebrated this with a stroll in downtown Seoul, including a spiritual visit at ancient Gyeonghuigung Park and the pulsing atmosphere in the shopping district Myeong-Dong. Love it!

So apart from the crows depicted above, we’ve been amazed of the architecture, like the exterior on this picture.

And through the bus window to our sunny holiday in Busan we saw the calm countryside, constantly framed by green mountains. Looking forward to get more of that on the hiking tour in October :)

First Month

The emergency number in Korea is 119Population density compared to Sweden: 24 times

The week starts with Sunday.

GDP/capita relative Sweden: 40% (but has raised with 1000% since early 80’s, tripled since 1997 and will probably not decrease this year either…)

English skills: Most Koreans teenagers without a University degree don’t even understand words as Yes/No/Price/Thank you, and still: the pronunciation is their main problem. => Surprisingly bad!

Emergency number in EU and on all GSM-phones: 112, in US and Canada: 911. South Korea? 119. Perhaps some more Soju, anyone?

Here at uni has it happened several times that people reveals that I am the first European they’ve ever met

The landscape is quite homogenously covered by green mountains, with rice fields in the valleys

My dormitory is strictly guarded to keep boys and girls divided at all times. But you cannot find a street in Suwon without neon signs, flashing that the Motels inside provide comfortable privacy. Seamless solution, isn’t it?

Lactose intolerance is sky-high 90% in Asia, compared to Northern Europe’s 5%. The result? Every pure diary-product here is branded “Danish Diary”.

BigMac-index July 2011: Korea $3,5 Sweden $7,6 US $4,1 Soft fact: The Swedish student-method (to eat a couple of Cheeseburgers instead of a proper meal) isn’t a bargain here, as the Cheeseburger costs 17 SEK in Korea.

Korea: Hard facts

Four men digging a hole in Seoul, Korea. Not revealing the fifth that stands behind... Photo by Erik WintherKoreans practice the “One-work-three-watch”-theory. Said to be really good, at least for quality insurance mattes… But on the other hand; I cannot say this is the only country I’ve encountered such phenomena in.

Dishes are small and the meat portions are tiny. Ok, I’ll order two. But the meat-quality is really poor: The parts that you barely find in cheap sausage in Sweden are served as steak here. A fun example is our “luxurious” dinner on Mattias birthday. We sat at one of these barbecue-at-the-table-yourself-restaurants, and chose some nice pork meat from the picture-menu. But the chili sauce acted as a perfect cover, and that’s the reason we ate thick pieces of rubbery colon. As Pumba would have put it “Slemmigt, men mättande”, or just “Tastes a bit brown…”.

Soft facts II

Advertisment in Seoul, Korea. Discrete marketing is king. As in the calm alley above.

“Get bald and lose your employment.”
Looks are everything. A fun (at least I think so..) reaction of this and the Korean tales telling about their sour rain: Most people actually believe that they will loose hair if it rains on them – so the umbrella-panic when it starts to shower is fascinating.

Employment at Samsung = Happiness
In Europe, Samsung is mostly known for their Galaxy-phones and the recent patent disputes with Apple. But the Suwon-based conglomerate corporation is so much more back in Korea, and globally. Manufacturing everything from ships and electronics to cars and chemicals has made them run 20% of Korea’s total export. Compared to Apple, the revenue of 2010 was 2,7 times as high. Massive! While paying twice as others and having rigorous social care, it might be true. Just don’t get bald…

Let’s go shopping, just don’t forget your ice-skates
While strolling around in Busan, we encountered the world’s largest department store. It was sized like any giant department store, but instead of one floor were there nine of them… Between the shops were an ice-skating rink, a golf driving-ranch, sport club, spa, swimming pools, a cinema and four basement floors.

Korea: Soft facts

At last I’ve capitulated. The Koreans telecom network has their own protocols in which i.e. European phones do not work.
Instead they fill the sidewalks with shops and shacks that all sell phones. Back home, I thought Sweden was having loads of such sellers, but it’s not even comparable. Good for me, one thinks, as I’m in need of one. Yes, except that the last six years as Smartphone-owner has made me addicted, and here the shortest contracts with telecom service providers are two years long and expensive – no exceptions.
So after ten days of internal fight I found myself capitulate for the ease in getting a stupid only-for-calls-phone. As it turned out, my buddy Sun had a Samsung 3G flip-up-phone laying around, and after brute-forcing a four-digit code was it as good as new :)
Implying that I’m less dependent on Facebook and Skype for communication, which is a big improvement as it makes life a bit more convenient and mobile now that also the other international students buy phones.
Not that I expect you guys to call me, but it seems stupid to not post the number now, so: +82 (0) 10 2892 4139

Cell

Erik Winther with friends in Busan KoreaBack from Busan! It has been a lovely trip in so many ways, days filled with experiences and social bonding :)
The first picture show all six of us Busan-travellers; Hanna, me, Mattias, Ramona, Jonas and Kai. Great people to hang around with!
Erik Winther in Busan Korea with Hello Kitty knifeIsn’t it a bit …sick to sell a 25cm knife in a ‘Hello Kitty’ store? On the other hand, I would have bought it myself if it wasn’t that expensive; just because. I’ll post more pictures (and perhaps some kind of summary) later, I just felt that it was time to let you know that I’m still alive.

Great days

As it is heading for Thanksgiving here, the one and only five days long weekend during the autumn, it seems appropriate to announce that I will be off for Busan the coming days. Spending the days with great friends; the Swedes and the three Germans.
Anyhow, a few days ago I visited the ATM for a withdraw, and to keep up the “i-programmet”-spirit (= the Linköping-mentality) I was grateful when the one-million-button appeared. So for the first time I got the opportunity to try the feeling of holding a million in my hands :)

1 000 000

When in town, we made our way to the university’s other campus (they have three, one tiny for Peace-studies and two equally sized for the philosophical respective technical departments). Seoul campus is even more beautiful than ours, and these pictures shows its Concert hall – which’s exterior looks more like a Cathedral to me…

KHU Seoul Campus

A must-see as an Engineer student in Seoul is the multiple-stories electronics warehouses next to the Yongsan subway station. Thousands of niched shops sell everything from tiny IC-components to batches of custom made computers.
As my new and neat laptop doesn’t have any connection for network cables and the dormitory doesn’t provide WiFi, I bought myself a N-router full of the latest features. It works perfectly but it’s security functions are a little complex to set up as Korean is the only interface language…but that wasn’t any surprise and I’m lucky to have both Jonathan and Sun who can help me translate.

전자 상가

Just had to upload this snapshot of Jonas, taken the second before he saw my camera.
And this seems as a relevant post to make use of his latest statement (taken out of context and presented in Swedish as said) that he shouted out in frustration “Jag saknar fan kaffe mer än min familj!”.

The model Jonas

Erik Winther hand wash in SeoulInstead of staying in the tourist-intense areas we made our way thru Seoul’s unique landscape-combination of skyscrape’s and small shack’s.
To Mattias, our Trollhättan-guy, great happiness we found a Saab, with a special Swedish-flag-emblem. We’ve seen like a dozen of Volvo’s but only this Saab so far, probably a representative relation.

Streetlife

We went downtown to visit the World Heritage-listed Secret Gardens Changdeokgung, the national museum and the President Residence. Unfortunately it was Monday, and how stupid were we not to believe that anything would be open on a Monday??
Luckily, the guard-shift took place just as we arrived, and it was kind of fun to get a glimpse of what Koreas 2-year long and compulsory military service might result in. Or what do you think of wearing a clown-costume and playing tunes in a seashell?

A more cultivated day in Seoul

The Economist (Aug 2011, no 8747) states that (South) Korea has the worlds toughest anti-piracy laws, allowing piracy-chasing by cutting internet connections, blocking websites, forcing people to education etcetera. But the consequences are what surprises me the most: the effect is said to be impressive – still I can’t find anyone here that ever would care…
Perhaps a change is approaching, but with ultrafast internet connections and sky high dvd-prices I think it will take some more years to find results in the dormitories around…

Pirates

The sun fell from the sky and the neon signs spread their fluorescent light even more intense. It was evening i Korea and the five of us (the Swedes, my buddy Sun hand his roommate Chan) sat on the express bus to downtown Seoul.
First stop was for a “Traditional Korean”-dinner consisting of random food, the rice based Soju -best described as 1 part vodka, 1 part water- and the other rice wine drink called Makgeolli -a white non-transparent and yeast-tasting but sweet 6%-alcohol-drink, served in bowls.
Than we hit the clubs in Hongdae, and choose the que in front of the Cocoon. A perfect choice as they even played some Robyn while we were dancing hard and smiling from ear to ear. Except from some quick beer-refills at the bar and two ice coffee’s from the shop next-door, the dance floor was ours for six hours straight :)

Seoul by night

The following day was a surprise as not only Mattias but also Jonas, the third Linköping-student here, participated. He was happy to tell us that he slept for 17 hours straight the “night” before. Oh dear…
We walked downtown Suwon (as mentioned before, the 1.5 million suburb of Seoul that surrounds our campus) and were all impressed by the campus entrance. As you might have heard before, Asians are very concerned about their personal appearance, which sometimes spills over on other things. The first thing we met was the enormous

Global Campus in Suwon

The picture shows a man sitting on the sidewalk, taking a nap. That really depict the Koreans; not even in a crowded subway station during rush hour are they rushing or seem stressed. Lovely!
Anyway, that was not the subject of this post. When I came back to the room I found Jonathan, my roommate, there. He is a great guy who has grown up in Sweden but has spent the last years here in Korea – so he is fluent in Korean and seems like the perfect help when it’s necessary to understand Swedish perspectives :)
For him, this semester consists of an internship at the Swedish Embassy in Seoul (congrats!), so we’ll mainly see each other in the weekends. Therefore I’ll get to have the room on my own a lot, strictly forbidden by the dormitory regulations – it takes a professor-title to get such permission…

Roommate

Local time was 11 pm when the practical things were handled and I hadn’t slept for several hours. But Sun invited me to his room where I met one of his two room mates, Chan, and a French guy, Gaëtan, and we had some beer. Also Mattias, one of the two other exchange students from Linköping, came and we all ended up playing baseball outdoor before rounding off the evening at an internet café playing Korea’s national sport: Star Craft. A “must-do” here, but nothing I’ve ever done before.
(There are actually two national sports, the other one is -of course- Taekwondo)

Bedtime now?

The first things to arrange when we arrived was to buy bed sheets and a pillow before signing in at the dormitory and recapturing some of the lost hours of sleep. But that turned out to be trickier than expected: Koreans don’t use sheets as we Europeans do, after a while I gave up and did as they – bought what I consider is a bed cover to sleep in instead.
Neither did the door-lock to my room work, so let’s hope noone here reads this and finds out that the room is open 24-7…

Bedtime?

My new buddy Sun picked me up at the airport, a really nice fellow!
Then we went to our campus in Suwon, the suburb of Seoul that is twice the size of Stockholm. The whole Seoul-area is housing more than 25 million (!). Above is the bridge between the airport-island and Seoul, below is the entrance to Seoul.

Sun in Seoul

The Airbus A380 was enormous, with generous of space even as there were ten seats per row. Picture was taken from the first flight though.

Back in the sky

Six hours later I found myself walking around in the world’s biggest Tax-Free shop – and where to put it if not next to the tallest building? No, Dubai seems like a place worth a visit! I’m going to check the possibilities for spending two days or so there on my way back (in June).
Also the airport itself was huge; the picture shows only the last tenth of the hallway… Nice until you realize that your gate has been changed just a couple of minutes before the boarding ends => I and the three other Swedes I met in Copenhagen (who also are exchange students in Seoul) had to more less run for ten minutes.

Dubai

Bye bye Sweden, let´s hope the upcoming summers will be as nice as this last one! Taken from the train window at Öresundsbron.

Last glimpse of Sweden

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As this is the first post of my few-worded travel blog, let´s get on with it directly!

As you probably already know, I´m leaving Sweden and my studies in Linköping for an exchange year abroad in Seoul, South Korea.  After difficulties regarding what to bring and what to not, I ended up with a small hand luggage and the new suitcase packed with 25 kg´s of my most precious belongings :)
The calendar said it was the 24th of August 2011 and it was time to say goodbye to my parents back in Lund and catch the train to Copenhagen and my flight.

Takeoff!

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