Saturday, October 24, 2009

South Korea - Day 10 - Movie Time!

Our flight out of South Korea left Monday morning at 10am, so we were up before 6am to catch the hour-long bus to the airport. I didn’t sleep at all on the thirteen hour flight home, though, so I had plenty of time to watch movies! Between the flight to Korea and from Korea, I watched nine movies…

Grey Gardens
On the plane they had the version of Grey Gardens that was a remake with Drew Barrymore. It is about a documentary that was made about two eccentric women - an elderly mother and her middle-aged daughter, who lived in a dilapidated mansion. I thought the movie was interesting, but primarily it made me wish I could see the original documentary to understand a bit more about what the women were actually like.

Whatever Works
This is the Woody Allen movie about an irritable old man who is self-proclaimed genius that falls in love with a homeless southern high-school girl who's not too bright. The central theme of the movie is that life is horrible, so if you can find anything that makes you happy, even for a short period of time, you should take advantage of it. The movie is pretty wacky, and while some parts were really funny, a number of the jokes were too corny or over-the-top for me, so my overall reaction is just so-so.

Brother's Bloom
The Brother's Bloom is about two brothers who become con men from an early age. The younger brother decides he doesn't want to be a conman anymore, so his brother convinces him that the next con will be their last. They decide to trick a lonely, bored, young millionaire into thinking they are antique smugglers and going on an adventure with them in which they'll trick her out of a million dollars. Like all con movies, you're constantly wondering which things are a part of the con and which aren't. I thought the movie was really well done, and I really enjoyed it.

Terminator Salvation
I don't think I've actually seen all of the Terminator movies, but I've seen Terminator 2 about a million times, so I feel like I've got the basic idea. I thought Terminator Salvation was pretty good - it's at least suspenseful - Jeff says I was literally at the edge of my seat on the plane. I like Christian Bale, and I thought the overall storyline was interesting and not too predictable.

State of Play
This movie stars Russel Crowe as a reporter in DC trying to unravel a big conspiracy. Ben Afflec plays the young senator who is both Russel Crowe's friend as well as involved in all the unraveling events. Again, the movie keeps you guessing as to what's actually happening, but it's not super engaging all along the way. I'd say this movie is ok, but not great (maybe a good one to watch if you're on a plane and have limited selection).

The Proposal
Why did I watch this movie? I knew it would be ridiculous and bad... and it was. It was corny and predictable, and silly, but for someone who hadn't slept in a quite a few hours, it worked out ok. If you want to watch a cute, happy movie where the jokes are stupid and you know what's going to happen, the movie is perfect.

My Sister’s Keeper
The premise of this movie is that a couple had a child with leukemia, and decided to have a second baby that would be genetically tailored to match the blood type and donation type of the first baby. This would allow them to keep their child alive by providing the blood transfusions and other medical donations she would need. The younger daughter, who at this point in the movie is around eight or so, and her parents are planning to have her donate a kidney to her sister, who will die soon without it. The younger daughter decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation (so she has control of her own medical decisions and won't have to give the kidney). So the movie is a slow, painful look at the life of the dying sister with cancer, the semi-ignored younger daughter who's constantly put through medical procedures, and the overall stress on the family. It's somewhat interesting, but a bit too long and a bit too predictable.

X-Men Origins – Wolverine
I love X-Men and love Wolverine, so it doesn't bother me that this movie wasn't particularly good; I liked it anyway. It had mutants with cool powers and interesting fights and government conspiracies - what more could you ask for. It made me want to re-watch the first X-Men movie.

The Soloist
This movie is about a reporter who meets a homeless person playing a broken violin and finds out that the homeless person once studied at Juliard. He writes an article about him and becomes his friend. He helps to get him a new cello (his real instrument) and to set him up with a shelter and eventually an apartment. The homeless guy clearly has some kind of mental illness - he hears voices and gets paranoia, but since he isn't violent and isn't requesting to be taken to a psychiatric hospital, they don't try to diagnose him or give him medicine. So the reporter basically focuses on how to be his friend while not actually being able to do anything about his mental illness. I found it to be an interesting movie.

South Korea - Day 9

Sunday was our last full day in Korea. We started the day by going to Shinsegae Department Store – officially the largest department store in the world. It has 14 floors, an ice skating rink, and a driving range. Jeff and I walked through fairly quickly and it still took us more than an hour.
Around lunchtime we headed back to Gwangali Beach. Busan is supposed to be the best place in South Korea for raw sea food, and Millak Fish Market, right on the beach, is the place recommended by both the guide book and Susie.

However, it’s not your average sushi experience. The first floor of the Millak Fish Market is filled with many stalls selling live fish, squid, octopus, and other sea creatures. You buy whatever you’re interested in eating from one of the stalls, and then you bring it to the floor the person tells you to go to. Once you get there, you give it to the cooks, and they slice it up for you – instant sashimi.

Not being completely confident in our ability to choose a fish from the giant market, nor in the idea that this would all go smoothly, Jeff and I had a cup of coffee to think it over. Then, with our confidence (and caffeine) built up, we headed back to the market.

We walked around a bit and finally picked a fish that a lady at one of the booth suggested – and by suggested, I mean that she fished it out of the tank with a net, pointed to it, and said, “Sashimi?” The book also says its common to have raw baby octopus with your meal. I wasn’t really interested. The lady pulled one of the octopi out of the tank, it’s tentacles squirming, and offered it to Jeff for 5000 Won ($5), but he said no. But when she dropped the price to 3000 Won ($3), he couldn’t resist the deal.

So then we were off to take the elevator to the fifth floor, the lady from the stall helping us carry the fish and octopus that we now owned. Just as the book said, we gave it to the people at the restaurant and took a seat. The other diners in the restaurant seemed a little surprised to see tourists. Within a few minutes, our table was filled with lots of little side dishes and a platter of sashimi.

A couple minutes later came a plate of chopped up baby octopus tentacles… and they were moving… a lot. Jeff waited for them to settle a little bit, but everytime he’d move the plate or grab a piece with his chopsticks, they’d start squirming or suctioning onto the plate. Despite the difficulty, Jeff managed to eat most of what was on the plate. I tried one small piece, and that was enough for me. (Though it actually was tasty, it’s still just a bit too odd.)

After lunch, we grabbed our stuff and headed to the train station for the trip back to Seoul. We got there fairly late (around 9pm), but still had time to go walking around Myeongdong – a trendy area with shopping, food, bars, and street stalls selling all sorts of stuff.

We grabbed dinner at a barbeque place – the food was really good, but also really expensive.

We bought some street food as a snack – these potato things were great! And that was the end of our evening in Seoul!

Friday, October 23, 2009

South Korea - Day 8

Saturday was our first day in Busan - we'd arrived fairly late the night before and didn't get a chance to do much but check in to our hotel. We were staying on Haeundae beach (per Susie's recommendation), and the view from the hotel was beautiful.
We started the day by grabbing coffee from Dunkin Donuts - they're really common in South Korea, and then going for a stroll on Haeundae beach. It was a beautiful morning and a beautiful walk.
Unfortunately, our hotel was full for Saturday night, so we moved to a hostel in Seomyeon - a busy shopping and food center in downtown Busan. We grabbed a quick cold, spice noodle soup for lunch. I wasn't sure if I'd be a fan of cold soup, but I actually really enjoyed it.
From there, we went to visit Beomosa temple. It's accessible by public transportation, even though it's way up in the mountains. The leaves are starting to change colors, so the view from the mountains was beautiful.

After visiting the temple, we headed to Gwangali beach. By chance, we happened to visit Busan during their 5th Annual Fireworks Festival. We arrived at the beach around 5pm, thinking we'd wander around before the 8pm show, but there were already people out on the beach. We decided to stake out a spot, so we were right in front. As time went on, it got more and more crowded.

Around 6:30pm, I decided I wanted to find a restroom, not knowing how impossible this would be. The public restroom had a line down the street and around the corner. I decided to try Starbucks, which was better, but it still took me almost an hour to get through the line. By the time I went back to meet Jeff (a few snacks in hand), it was dark, and the beach was so crowded that I was worried I wouldn't be able to get back to him - the pathways to get from the street to the beach were all blocked off now. And people were standing about four deep lining the edge of the beach. Luckily, I was able to push through (as politely as possible), and Jeff saw me and waved to me... definitely a brief moment of panic, though.

The fireworks show was the coolest I've ever seen - it was all accompanied by music, was was really long. Fireworks usually were shot from the three main barges, but sometimes came from the two closer barges that were playing giant video screens, and occasionally were shot off the bridge.
There were a million people headed for the metro after the fireworks were over, so Jeff and I hung out and grabbed a coffee before going back. Near our hotel we tried a South Korean beer before turning in for the night.

South Korea - Day 7

Friday was the last day of the conference and consisted of the last couple of panels and presentations. I finally tried a coffee from the tasty-sounding 'Greenish Coffee' shop at the convention center.
We grabbed a quick lunch of fish stew near our hotel. I wasn't a big fan of the big, bone-filled chunks of fish, but luckily there were those trusty side-dishes.

Later in the day, I went to the Yousung spa and public bath. There were only a few different baths - one that I think had tea in it, one that had waterfalls you could sit beneath, and one that was 42 degrees Celcius - so hot that I couldn't even dip my feet comfortably. It was also pretty crowded, and I'd already had the chance to explore and experience a public bath on my trip to Japan, so I didn't end up staying all that long.

Jeff had visited the men's side of the spa at the same time, and since we had no way to communicate, we agreed to just stay for one to two hours. I was out in about an hour, but Jeff, who'd never had the chance to visit an Asian public bath before, didn't come out until after almost two. Apparently the men's side was much cooler, with a whole outdoor section, which included an outdoor bath.

Rejuvinated, we headed to the train station to catch the train to Busan, South Korea's second largest city, located on the southern coast. There is a South Korean fastfood chain that sells hotdogs, so we gave those a try for a quick dinner. Not bad.

South Korea - Day 6

I started the fourth day of IAC by giving my second presentation. This one was on the topic of using remote sensing data to provide disease early warning, and included a case study of Nigeria. I think this is a really interesting application of space technology, but there are only a few operational systems that are already doing this (NASA and DoD collaborate on one predicting Rift Valley Fever in Africa, for example). Since Nigeria has a space program, including a remote sensing satellite and a remote sensing data center, I thought they would be an interesting case to examine. I think the whole Nigerian delegation to IAC attended the presentation. They said they enjoyed it and thought it was interesting, and also suggested that I visit the Nigierian Space Agency to get a more detailed idea of what their facilities, programs, and capabilities include. Sounds good to me. :)
The panel that I presented on was about satellite applications, and there were a few other presentations that were really interesting. There was one called 'flysafe' where ESA is using space assets to track bird movements to provide a warning system for commercial and military aviation. Not only do they track whole flocks of birds, but they've also used GPS to track individual birds, so they have a ton of data. Pretty cool stuff.

Later in the afternoon I found some time to head back to downtown Daejeon. There is a big shopping area near Daejeon station that we wanted to check out.
We stumbled upon a store filled with photo booths, and had a great time making a set of photos. It's incredible how many options there are to decorate them - pages of backgrounds to choose from, borders, and little icons and decorations to add.
The lady running the store helped us a bit, which is why we have Korean writing on the photos. (We didn't know what they said until we brought them back to IAC and asked for a translation at the help desk.)

We stopped and grabbed some street food for lunch. I'm not sure what was inside of the things we ate, but they were fried and tasted good.

We wandered through a market with lots of seafood, meat, and spices.

On our way back to IAC, our cab missed the turn, and dropped us off on the other side of the Expo Park from where we wanted to be. It turned out to be ok, though, since the walk back to the convention center took us through some cool space-themed attractions.

We went to the ISU reception first, and took a little reunion photo with all of the Summer 2008 (SSP08) people.

From there, it was off to the young professionals and students party. There was barbeque at the party - which included multiple whole, cooked pigs being pulled apart and put on your plate by the servers. (It was tasty, though.)

There were break-dancers and hip hop dancers that performed on stage.

And then there was the dance party. We were hanging out with a bunch of Korean students we had met on the way over to the party, and at one point, decided to take a photo. But every time we'd ask someone to take the picture, that person would want to be in it, so they'd pass the camera off to someone else. Finally, one of the Korean students said that whoever wanted to be in the picture should just get in now... and people came running. So that's how a picture of Jeff and I and one friend turned into a photo of half the people on the dance floor.

After that we visiting the Statistical Institute, where many of the students were staying, and then headed out to a bar in the area near our hotels. Apparently Thursdays are not a big night for going out in Korea, though, so things were fairly quiet. Still, it was a great last night in Daejeon!

South Korea - Day 5

Our fifth day in Korea was Wednesday - the third day of the IAC conference.

I started the day by going to a panel on utilization of the International Space Station (ISS). For those who don't already know, I'm a fan of the ISS, which, as we're speaking, is home to six people and is circling the Earth every 90 minutes. For more details on why it's so great (and worth the investment), take a look at the white paper I wrote that was just published by the Space Foundation a couple days ago. It's available on the research website: Anyway, the panel was about the types of research that are being done on station and how we can make the most of the facility. One of the cool things about the IAC is that it gives you the opportunity to interact with people you might not normally have a chance to talk to - while researching the ISS, I had some questions I couldn't find the answers to, and after the panel, I had the chance to chat with the project manager of the ISS to get the information.

Wednesday was also the first day that I presented. The presentation was about how space programs in developing nations affect capacity building and development. The idea is to try to measure how space programs interact with different national and international institutions - such as universities, industry, and other government agencies, to better understand if and how they are adding to this web of information and expertise. The more interaction that you see, the more likely it is that the contribution of the space program to capacity building and growth is significant. The presentation seemed to be well received, and I was able to make some contacts with people in space agencies in developing countries, so perhaps I'll be able to get more detailed data in the future.

At night, we were determined to go out, after having been thwarted by the rain the previous night. Jeff, Jaisha, our new friend from the Netherlands, Bart, and I all went downtown (to the city hall area) in search of karaoke. The cab driver dropped us off in a sea of neon lights.

In South Korea, there are a lot of tall buildings where each floor is a completely different establishment - restaurants, bars, stores, etc. all share one building, and the only way to know what's on each floor is to read the signs (which are generally in Korean). Luckily, karaoke is very common in South Korea. With a bit of help from people on the street - using the international sign language of miming and gesturing - we were able to get to one. Unlike the U.S., you don't just sing in a bar, you rent a room for just your group.

So the four of us ordered a few drinks and started singing. And singing. Until eventually we realized we had been there for about three hours and were going to fall asleep holding the microphones if we stayed any longer.

South Korea - Day 4

Tuesday was the second day of the IAC conference. I went to a number of panels, including one on small space programs. (Did you know Estonia had a space program?) The highlight of the day was when I got to sit in on a 20-person round table discussion with Administrator Charlie Bolden (he's the guy that runs NASA). It was a really cool chance to be able to ask questions and find out a little more about his priorities.

In the evening there was another young professionals event - a 'spacefarer social.' It featured a panel of astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts answering fun questions about space. There were representatives from the US, Canada, Russia, EU, Japan, and China. They were all entertaining - they told their favorite stories from being in space along with other tales. The Chinese astronaut, though speaking through an interpreter, was really funny and made a number of jokes, which I thought was impressive given the language barrier.
After the panel, we made our first attempt to go out in Daejeon and see what night life the city had to offer. Unfortunately, the main thing it had to offer that evening was heavy rain, preventing us from wandering around. After trying to wait it out, we finally decided to put our adventure off until tomorrow.