New York Times

Recently, my company was in the New York Times. By “my”, I mean the company I work at, not the company I run, duh.

The joke going around the company now is that maybe one of us will contact the NYT to provide an insider comment. For the photo, it’ll be one of those anonymized silhouettes, except that the rest of the staff will look at that photo and think – oh wait, is that R’s bubble butt? that’s a chunky sweater, it must be P!

Still settling in

Good news is, as of yesterday, I no longer have an empty fridge. I had one of those sad fridges you see in movies, the kind with a single yogurt cup inside, or just one packet of mayonnaise from a fast-food store. I can’t seem to find a full supermarket anywhere near I live, and Hema doesn’t deliver to my address. Ugh. So I paid for what I assume are slightly overpriced expat groceries from Fields China. Oh well. I am making enough money; I suppose I can afford it.

After living outside of Seoul for four and a half years and commuting to the fun zones, it’s nice to be able to step outside of my apartment and find myself right in the middle of the action.

I still find myself questioning if it was wise to uproot myself from Korea and move to China. I was strolling around Xintiandi, the bougie side of my subway station, and came across a Korean restaurant. I didn’t go in, I only looked at the menu by the entrance. It was so nice being able to actually read something and understand it. I’m essentially illiterate when it comes to Chinese.


Three weeks in, and I’m still in the process of settling in to Shanghai. My fridge is still empty. I only recently bought a fork, spoon, and a plate. Daiso here in China sucks, and it’s not just because I went to some reject Daiso – it was the big one at South Shaanxi Road Station.

I live on the third floor of a lane house at the edge of the Former French Concession, and a bit too close to the freeway. It’s a bit noisy, and when really big trucks pass on the freeway, the apartment shakes a little. I’m used to it now.

Oh, and in the previous post, I mentioned being worried about getting fake currency in Myeongdong. No problems at all. I deposited the cash in my new ICBC account without any problems.

Myeongdong money exchange

Because I’m moving to China, I’ve had to exchange a lot of Korean won to Chinese yuan. Normally I wouldn’t exchange so much, but it seems so tricky to transfer money into China. Transferwise, Xoom, all of these services require that the recipient have a Chinese National ID card. And since I’m not a Chinese citizen, I’ll never have a Chinese National ID card. Cash it is. The maximum Chinese yuan cash import/export is 20,000 RMB, and that’s way more than I need.

Today’s mid-market rate is 1 CNY = 163 KRW. Everywhere in Myeongdong was posting 163, 164, 165, and 165.2 on the windows. This is, however, the buy rate, because most of the customers are tourists exchanging their money to KRW.

The exchanges near the Chinese consulate were posting buy rates of 165 and 165.2. Further away from the embassy were 163 and 164. So, for someone changing Chinese yuan to Korean won, the exchanges near the consulate are slightly better.

But for the reverse, to change Korean won into Chinese yuan? Despite the slightly different buy rates posted by the various exchanges I went to, all of them sold at 1 CNY = 166 KRW. The sell rate was never posted because most people who go to an exchange in Myeongdong are interested in exchanging foreign currency for KRW, not the other way around. 166 KRW is not bad, considering that the rate I was seeing inside the banks were 155 buy / 175 sell.

And I guess because I was exchanging Korean won to a foreign currency, nobody asked me for a passport. There’s signs everywhere that says passports are required — clearly, that’s only for foreign currency being exchanged into Korean won.

I went to about eight different exchange bureaus, to spread out the risk of getting fake money. I figured that instead of getting all fake money from one place, maybe just get fake money from one out of eight different places.

Was it real money? I’ll find out next week. I didn’t notice anyone doing any special checks on my Korean won for authenticity – that said, I’ve never come across any fake Korean currency. They ran the Korean money and foreign currency through the same bill counter. I don’t know if bill counters are sophisticated enough to detect fake bills in multiple currency? I assume the exchanges already did their checks on the foreign currency when they first got it, though. Would be silly for them to only check before selling it. All of my newly-acquired Chinese yuan feels and looks similar, so hopefully they’re all real, and not all fake.

Meeting up with ex-classmates from Korean class

Gyehwa, me, Pungran, and Myeongho.

Hanging out with my friends from Korean class, I always thought that my Korean listening skills were shitty. Now that I’m alright in Korean and studying Mandarin, I’m beginning to realize that it was due to language crossover.

I hung out with my Chinese friends from Korean class this weekend. 풍란 (Pungran) lives nearby, and I went to her officetel first.

“삼백우 (sam baek uu),” she said, telling me her officetel number. There is no “uu” number, so I assumed this was 삼백구 sam baek gu (309). Went up to the third floor, and there’s only 301, 302, 303, 304, 305.

I call her again. “SAM BAEK UU!” she repeats loudly, but this time holds her fingers up: 3-0-5.

5 in Mandarin is “uu”. 5 in Korean is “oh”.


After that was figured out, we headed to town to meet the other two friends: Gyehwa from Yanbian, and Myeongho from Inner Mongolia. Myeongho passed KIIP 5 on his first try. Pungran and I got through on our second try. Gyehwa had taken her third KIIP 5 exam earlier that day, before we met up. She said that the writing test was awful: write about your personality 성격, and the advantages/disadvantages 강점/단점. That’s from KIIP 3. I hated that chapter.

We had lamb skewers 양꼬치, which I’ve never had before. Technically it’s adult sheep, but I guess in English, it’s marketed with the term “lamb”.

“There’s lots of restaurants like this in China,” they told me. Really? They make it sound like it’s everywhere. I was amazed at the setup, which moved back and forth, made the skewers rotate over the coals. Technology! No need to flip them over – it’s all automated!! And I love that the skewers are stainless steel.


I loved it! I liked the spice mix for dipping the lamb in, with the cumin seeds and everything.

Pungran insisted we take the bus home, just as she’d insisted we take the bus there. She complained about having to walk long distances from the subway, and the subway station stairs. While on the bus, her Korean boyfriend called her and it turned out that he hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Pungran then told me, Ugh, I have to go home and cook.

“Tell him to cook,” I said. She rolled her eyes and complained that Korean men can’t cook, because the women have always done it for them.

“But now you’re doing it too!” I pointed out. I told her to hand him a packet of ramyeon and have him figure it out.

“You should marry a Chinese man,” she told me. “Chinese men know how to cook.”

Trying to escape, and then giving a speech

I did it. I gave a speech in full Korean! It was a speech that was sprung on me about 1 minute before it happened during 회식.  I lost steam towards the end because I ran out of ideas and also I ran out of Korean vocabulary/grammar. Ended with, “음………………………………. 잊어버렸어요.” Shit. Oh well. I did it? Kind of?

I wanted to say 많은 것을 말씀하고 싶지만 사전이 없어요 when I ran out of ideas, but got stuck at 말씀. Not only did I run out of ideas, I also ran out of language! Ack!

I tried to bounce out of the 회식 in the first place, but got caught. Everyone carpooled to go to the company trip, to Gimpo’s Jangneung tomb site. As usual, the foreigner gets forgotten in the mess, so I got overlooked during carpooling. I arrived at the blazing hot parking lot with everyone else, and everyone else seemed to know who they were carpooling with and split off. For a hot minute, I was a bit upset at being forgotten. And then I realized that it was a really hot and humid day, and I hadn’t wanted to go anyway. Aha, I thought, and sneaked back to my office and air conditioning. Lol, they’ll never notice.

An hour later, my supervisor phoned and asked, “Where are you?”

Uh … the office?

My supervisor said omg I’m so sorry, I didn’t drive here either and I thought you had a ride, etc etc, we’ll go pick you up now. I said don’t bother, I wasn’t interested in going anyway.

“[department head] already left to pick you up.”

Ohhh. I felt bad about it for a moment, then did the social math and figured out that I wasn’t at fault for any of this. If anything, very minimally.

Both the supervisor and department head were in the car when it arrived. I saw the vice head give them a very restrained, Korean-style telling-off at the site. Essentially just going over what happened in a neutral way, but driving it in nonetheless by having brought it up.

The drive to Gimpo was familiar. I’d taken that route by bus so many times in 2016, when I was taking Korean classes from the Social Integration Program. I’ll tell you what, the Gimpo commute for Korean classes was a nightmare for me. 1 hour each way, and longer (with additional carsickness!) in the evenings because of traffic. I quickly learned to transfer to Gyeyang Station’s subway as soon as possible. We stopped just short of passing by the Gimpo class site.

The Jangneung site was kind of like a park. Very manicured site. Looks really good. I wanted to walk up to the path and into the building, but we didn’t. We went for a walk around the surrounding area, which was a really nice park and surprisingly big. Though I think it could use more flowers.

And then, back to the office area, to a nearby restaurant for 백숙. Before dinner, that’s when the staff head came up to me and said, “This might be the last time you can properly meet the other staff members, so can you prepare a speech?”

We had duck 백숙. Duck in porridge is a bit too gamey for my liking. On the other hand, thick 누룽지 is quite nice!

Because I’m known for being into computers and games, I received an ergonomic computer mouse as a goodbye gift. It’s really sweet and I appreciate the thought that went into it. The bad thing is that I’m the problem. It’s a nice mouse, but right-handed. I’m left-handed and it’s actually kind of annoying to have to hunt down ambidextrous mice. It seems like 90% of premium mice these days are right-handed ergonomic. Honestly, I should just switch to right-handed mousing.

To sum up, today was interesting. My supervisor also started talking to me in Korean instead of English today.

I guess if I can get to this point in Korean, I can do it in Mandarin Chinese. 加油?

Seoul Station

I was in the Seoul Station area this weekend, to apply for my visa to China. Some interesting things:


The fertility center displaying their cryovats, right across from the entrance to the China Visa Center. There’s a joke in here somewhere …


And then I walked across the Seoullo 7017 skygarden, to get to Seoul Station from Seoul Square. I was surprised at the amount of homeless people outside Seoul Station. I’d been outside the old Seoul Station once or twice before, and it was deserted then. Now I’m wondering, did I go at an odd time before, because surely I must have noticed … ? No? I don’t know.

The reason I went to Seoul Station was to go to the 하이마트 electronics center inside Lotte Mart. Annoyingly, I’m in the market for a laptop. I hate laptops. FYI, their prices are so much higher than buying online, in addition to displaying a limited and slightly outdated selection. I had a bit of a tech-head chat with one of the sales guys hanging around the laptop section, and it turns out that the sales staff do not get any sort of commission! They are solely there to assist. I thought that was nice. And then he had to go and say, “Wow, it’s so interesting talking to you; most women are not interested in these kinds of things.”


And a piano at the skygarden. I tested it out and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was in tune! The outdoor weather can’t be great conditions for a piano, though.

Adventures in cooking Malaysian food

I’m not Muslim, but all the talk in Malaysia about param (apparently a new thing … pasar ramadan) has me hungry for all the food I used to eat there.

Here’s a snapshot of my adventures in making kuih lapis here in Korea. The only ingredients I had to special-order online was tapioca flour. I also bought a small bottle of pandan extract when I went to Malaysia earlier this year, and I used that. I don’t know if it’s possible to buy pandan extract or (frozen?) pandan leaves in Korea. Somewhere online, I’m sure.

I followed this kuih lapis recipe, including the reduction of sugar to 280 g. Tastes just right! 400 g of sugar must be a bit crazy. I think I added a 1.5 teaspoons of pandan extract.

First of all, rainbow kuih lapis! I have a food coloring set, but it only has red, blue, yellow, and green. And because my K-12 education never once mentioned color wheels, I had to pull up a photo of a color wheel online, to figure out what combination of colors to mix. Haha! Don’t worry, I’m not that helpless. I only needed it to figure out the red/blue balance of indigo and violet. It’s not easy for some of us, okay!?

And after that, I repeatedly had to recite ROY G BIV in reverse, because the first layer I poured in was V.

The rainbow kuih lapis looked great and tasted authentic, but the layers wouldn’t peel! My mother later told me that between steamings, the pot lid should be removed (while continuing to boil) for a minute or so until the layer has visibly set. Pour in next layer, cover with lid.


I had some leftovers because my pan was only a 6 inch round pan. So, I decided to use the typical Korean 떡 (tteok) rice cake colors of white, pink, and green. It actually looks quite Malaysian, too.

And I did remove the pot lid between steamings, and yes, it’s now possible to peel off the separate layers. I’m ready to open for business! (or not…)

And then I attempted chicken rendang, except that I used maybe too much turmeric (super yellow!), and I didn’t have any lengkuas or serai. I didn’t have any cili padi, so I dumped in some bottled sos cili padi – same thing, no? As for kerisik, hey, I have shredded coconut. Just pan-fry it in a dry pan until it browns, right?

After eating it, I realized I actually made a standard curry, not rendang. Haha! Don’t know why that didn’t occur to me earlier.

Mac and cheese burger

For this past week, I didn’t have any food ready for breakfast at home. So, before going to work, I ended up dropping by 7-11 to buy whatever 2,000 won burger struck my fancy.

This one’s the “Mac and Deep Cheese Burger”, which tasted vaguely jalapeno cheese-esque. There was way too much sauce and it got kind of gross towards the end. I skipped lunch because I still felt full and kind of grossed out.