Uncertainty can be happiness

"Security is a false god," or running around the world as an FSO

Archive for the ‘Seoul’ Category


Posted by quirksalight on April 3, 2011

The most common question I get, considering my educational background, is, “How did you go from biomedical engineering to the Foreign Service?”

Convoluted? Yes and no. There’s a bit of history, and the kernels behind all this were placed a long time ago. In high school, I was on the high school debate team and that ignited my interest in politics and international relations. However, I was rather obsessed with science and had dreams of developing a treatment/device that would revolutionize medicine. It wasn’t until grad school, after being burned out of medical research, when I had to start thinking of, “now what?”. My temporary answer was to take a leave of absence for a year and teach English in Korea. That’s one of the earlier points in this blog, back in 2007.

But in Korea, teaching was one thing, but straddling two cultures socially and linguistically was a whole ‘nother beast. Plus, I came to Korea at a political change; for the first time in 10 years, the progressive party was out of office and the conservatives came into power the month I arrived, March 2008. This combined with my background in Korean culture and language, sciences, and interest in politics led to some interesting discussions with the faculty in my middle school, handling getting punched on a subway, acting as a facilitator for my foreign friends in Korea, and occasionally having to explain what the U.S. government was doing to my students, colleagues, and friends.

I really enjoyed that interaction – facilitating the understanding between two cultures, though not so much the getting hit part. Which led me to starting thinking about the Foreign Service. I always planned to go into public service, someday, when I was on the academic track. But I hadn’t thought about it again until when I was in Korea, pondering my next step. So I did – FSOT exam date was November 5, 2008. I got the acceptance in to the QEP in December 2008, decided not to sign a teaching contract for another year, gambling that I would pass the QEP and get to the OA, which I did. So I left Korea, with a freelance editing gig, prepped for the OA and passed on June 15, 2009. A year later, I was prepping to leave DC for my first tour as a POL officer in Seoul. whew! What a whirlwind…


Posted in ancedotes, commentary, election 2008, Graduate school, Korea, New York, school, Science, Seoul, teaching english | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The Little things in life.

Posted by quirksalight on August 2, 2010

I’ve been at Embassy Seoul for little over a month now, and it’s been a rollercoaster. From running around, planning visits, to meeting contacts, managing (actually, more being managed BY) the LES, and mentoring interns, it’s been a trip. For the most part very good, some low points of frustration and wanting to hit my head against a wall as I scrabble up the “learning curve”. Though, at times, it definitely feels like a cliff. But I’m getting it. And the little things makes me smile.

Getting up at 3am, running around on adrenaline and realizing at the end of the day, EVERYTHING was OK.
Laughing with a new contact as an introductory interview becomes more of a conversation between new-found friends.
Realizing that I CAN conduct at least a part of a meeting in Korean – well, it was about food, eating, Iftar and Ramadan – but STILL… no translator needed for that, and it was official, with some technical words and stuff! 🙂
Amazon delivers in a week – no extra shipping charges. I ❤ APO.
Yongsan has an amazing library; with better hours than back home!!!

And realizing that my creative skills weren't rusty – I make damn good mango-banana bread, and assembled my own pillow-top bed.

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Books, Embassy Seoul, geek, Humor, Korea, Korean, language, meeting, Seoul, work | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Flag Day! aka, where I’ll be for the next 2 years…

Posted by quirksalight on April 25, 2010

As you can see, it was Flag Day yesterday, and the 152nd A-100 class all received their first posts. We’ll be scattered across 50+ countries, with a handful of DC posts. Some of us will be leaving within the next 2-3 months, while others will be around until 2011.


I’m heading to Seoul this summer, in approximately 8-10 weeks! Woot! Woot!

Posted in 152nd, adventure, commentary, Korea, Seoul | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »

November 2008 FSOT test results

Posted by quirksalight on December 9, 2008

I received an e-mail saying that I had my exam results this morning.

After logging in, this is what I got:

I PASSED!!! Whee!!!!

Posted in future, Incheon, Korea, Nerdity, Seoul | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Visit to the (former) family farm

Posted by quirksalight on May 12, 2008

I went this past weekend to visit my eldest uncle (maternal), aunt, my eldest (very pregnant) cousin and her husband. It turned out that they were living in a newer house on the lands that used to be the family farm, north of Seoul in Gyonggi province. Now, I was under the impression that the land had been sold off after my grandmother’s death as that was what I was told by an older male cousin of mine. (Grr….)
As it turns out, a good deal of the lands had been sold, and nothing was recognizable except for the old house. Everything else that I remembered, the pig pen, groves of persimmon and chestnut trees, and the huge german shepherd dog, were either gone or altered. The pig pen and the dog were long gone, and the groves were down to a handful of trees. The burial mounds were there, of ancestors I never knew about and of my grandparents. I need to go visit those, but that’s another time…
There were several houses close by, none of which were there before. Then again… it’s been over 20 years and Seoul has expanded massively.

And the house. It hasn’t been used for over half a decade and it showed. The house is in an obvious decline, with holes and cobwebs everywhere. It’s mainly used for storage for machinery and tools now. But I looked into the courtyard and saw the areas I remembered playing as a kid. That was very recognizable, with the dark wood floors, cement edging, and the sandy-colored dirt of the courtyard. I’m not sure if I’m happy that I saw the house, or would have rather it be gone then see it as it is now. On the upside, it’s there for me to go back to, you know?
The visit went well – my cousin showed me around, we all had a great lunch, and I saw the preparations for the soon to be arriving baby. The area is very pastoral for being so close to the city (it’s a 45-50 min bus ride from downtown Seoul) and my relatives have a very large garden, almost a mini-farm, with chickens, including a very annoying rooster that a wanted to strangle.
Now that I know how to get there, I’ll be back to visit, especially as the summer and fall rolls around, when I’ve got a bit more time. And next time, I’ll remember my camera.

Posted in ancedotes, cousins, family, history, Korea, memorial, memory, metaphors, Seoul, travel | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Reading, Writing, but not Arithmetic

Posted by quirksalight on March 31, 2008

Starting next week, I am starting Korean language classes to improve my reading and writing skills. The classes are given by the Korea Foundation Cultural Center for free! Which is awesome, but there’s a tradeoff (for me), as I have to commute into Seoul for the lessons.
I went there tonight to take a placement test. Turns out my reading and writing is at a high beginner level and my speaking is in the mid-intermediate. So I’m taking the high beginner class…as it’s my reading and writing that need the most TLC at the moment.
Though the girl who graded my test was a bit baffled at my test, as I got all the hard questions correct, but missed a couple of the easy ones. Go figure….

Posted in Incheon, Korea, Korean, language, Seoul, travel | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Part 4: The motorcycle

Posted by quirksalight on March 25, 2008

The original plan for Saturday night was to explore Itaewon, get some salsa dancing in, and maybe hit up this fundraiser for an English teacher (Bill Kapoun) who died due to injuries received in an apt fire in Seoul.
We (Wietske, Lindsay, and I) had split up after shopping and were planning to meet up at salsa dancing in Itaewon, when I get a phone call saying that there is nothing to drink at the dance club, and they are charging a cover. Ugh. So off we went to satisfy a more pressing need, food, as Jake and I had not eaten dinner at this point (10pm!). We were able to find a Thai place, but the food was only mediocre, so I will not bother to post the name of it.
After, we were hopping locations, and the first place we checked out was Gecko’s Tavern. They had better beers than most places I had been to, which isn’t too surprising, as it’s an ex-pat bar in an ex-pat area of Seoul. Played some darts, but just really wasn’t happening there. Off we went to search for a noraebang – aka, a place where you can sing karoke in a private room.
During the search, I spot the Wolfhound, an Irish bar that happened to be the location of the fundraiser. We all donated 10,000 won at the door (some of us more), and settled in for a drink when we hear the auction starting. It was a charity auction to raise money to cover the medical expenses of Bill Kapoun, and whatever left over to go into an emergency fund for English teachers in Korea.
Yup – you guess it. The motorcycle was on the list. Jake and I were bidding, but more to drive the price a little higher (come on, 250,000 won for a motorcycle that was just bought!?!?). But… we did too good of a job, and Jake’s bid of 460,000 won was the winning bid.
Now the question – how the heck are we going to get it back to Incheon, much less Hwaechon, which is in a different province all together???? It’s raining, cold, and about 2am in the morning!! A taxi ride is at least 45 mins to Incheon (my apt). So, I talked to the taxi driver to go slowly and to take a route that a motorcycle can go on back to my apt. IT took over an hour in the cold rain to get back. So now, it’s parked at my apt until the shippers come pick it up on wednesday morning to ship it to Hwaechon. Yes, even with the shipping, the bike was a total bargain. Just a rather unexpected one. 😀

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, friends, Humor, Incheon, Itaewon, Korea, motorcycle, Seoul, travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Part 3: People, charity, and a motorcycle

Posted by quirksalight on March 24, 2008

It’s interesting on how you meet people. For me, I usually just talk to people. Literally. For example, after Wietske, Lindsay and I were in a dire need of coffee, sugar, and a place to sit for a bit after our shopping expedition, we ended up at a 2nd floor coffee shop across from Dongdae-mun, which is the gate. There, while, relaxing, we overhead a foreigner jokingly hitting on a pair of Korean girls in English and of course, failing miserably. Not too sure if the girls were ignoring him or like a lot of Koreans, not understanding rapidly spoken American slang, but still, definitely tanking. Seeing and overhearing this, we laugh and I made a comment of the likes, “totally shot down, dude…” Which led the three of us chatting with Quentin and Ted (I think that was the 2nd guy’s name), exchanging info about social life in Seoul, things to do, and contact info. One guy was visiting, while the other was also teaching English in Korea.

So the weekend ended with this motorcycle: Jake’s new bike

And how so, you may be asking. Well… it involved roaming around Itaewon, nixing the dancing, and a charity auction.

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, Humor, Incheon, Itaewon, Korea, motorcycle, Seoul, teaching english | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Part 2: Dongdae-mun

Posted by quirksalight on March 24, 2008


I’m standing in front of Dongdae-mun gate, which was originally the east gate of Seoul (formerly a walled city). From city edge, this is now one of the biggest shopping districts in Seoul, if not THE biggest. I don’t know how many malls and markets there are in this area. All I know is that my friends and I have not touched the but the tip of this place.
One of the best things about shopping here is the bargaining. I love haggling over the price. And I can haggle in Korean and English, so it works pretty well for my friends and I.
Here’s my new purse:Purse
I used the fact that two people were buying and haggling to get about 40% off of the original price. 🙂 Lots o’ fun!
One of the things I was afraid of not finding was jeans. But at Dongdaemun market, I was able to find $10 (10,000 won) jeans that was a pretty good fit. Not too bad… I bought two. 😛

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Bizarre, Humor, Incheon, Korea, motorcycle, People, Seoul, teaching english, traveling | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bupyeong, Handbags, Itaewon, and a motorcycle: Part 1

Posted by quirksalight on March 24, 2008

… is a quick summary of the weekend.
Two EPIK-ers from other providences were going to be in town (and crashing in my apt) this past weekend. Lindsay was in on Friday night, crashing that night as the first person to sleep on my new sofa/bed. =)
Wietske and I had dinner earlier, as we waited for Lindsay to get to my apt… mmmm… Korean Fried Chicken!
But the evening’s festivities was hitting up Bupyeong station. Starting off at the Goose Goose, we met up with Linda and Mick for some drinks. Randomly, we ran into three Canadian English teachers I had met the weekend before at a kim bap shop in Bupyeong Market. Apparently they were also hitting up the ex-pat bars in Incheon that night. The Goose was a bit mellow and Linda, Mick, Lindsay and I went to check out some of the locales. One was closed (Motown), but the Woodstock had an interesting music selection and a mini-porch for people watching. The latter being the draw, Lindsay and I decided to linger there when Nick and Andrew (more Incheon EPIK teachers) wandered in. These guys were total jokers, and very amusing to hang out with for the evening.
Trio at Woodstock
Nick, Lindsay, and Andrew, hamming it up. Mind you, this was before the “ass-kicking” game proceeded to occur… yes, it was basically a bunch of fools running around, trying to kick each other in the rump while avoiding getting kicked in the rump. Ow.

Wandering about some, we ran into another EPIK-er and her friends in front of a mini-mart. While chatting, the boys found a coin-operated kicking machine and Nick proceeded to kick to his heart’s content with the group of guys already there.
The kicking machine…

Kickin’ it in Bupyeong
Kickin’ it in Bupyeong

After a fruitless search for a no-cover disco, Lindsay and I called it a night as we were to head into Seoul early on Saturday to check out one of the largest shopping districts in Seoul.

Posted in amusing, Bupyeong, EPIK, Humor, Incheon, Korea, motorcycle, Seoul, shopping, travel | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »