Life update… I’ve been in Korea for 9 months already!

Holy cow its September 2015 already. I barely even remember the new year has passed and already the year is almost finished. Crazy. I’ve been in Korea for 9 months now and its just flew by. I guess when you stay at home most of the time, that tends to happen. Ugh…

Anyways what have been my thoughts about living in Korea so far? I love living here, I love how fast things get done here, like getting a pair of glasses took just 30 minutes (it would be 2 weeks in the US), getting a bank card is instant (in the US it takes 2 weeks+ to mail it to you), getting contact lenses took me just 5 minutes, I just bring the prescription and they immediately give it to you. It’s so fast, so efficient, I love that aspect of Korea. There’s just too much bureaucracy in Western countries to get things done fast.
The aspect I don’t like about Korea? How everyone is so busy all the time. I know, its Korean society and they have alot of pressure to work hard. Their whole life is set out for them, study hard, graduate from good university, find a good job, and then impress your boss. It’s not much of a life. There’s alot of things in Seoul to do, but its hard to find people to do them with. Everyone has a lot of pressure and has to study or work overtime. That’s the main reason why I don’t want to work in Korea.

Other things, well despite some embarrassing moments, my Korean has improved alot. When I first came to Korea in Aug 2013 I could barely hold a 20 minute conversation in Korean. Now, I can spend an entire day with someone speaking just Korean. Listening still needs alot of improvement though. As for getting a gf, well I found that much like a job, you can’t just go for the best right away. You have to get some experience first. I couldn’t have gotten my job at Walmart if I didn’t work at BitTorrent, and I couldn’t have gotten BitTorrent if I didn’t work at Switchfly, and I couldn’t get a job in the USA if I didn’t do an internship in Canada. And so on.
A relationship is similar. I’m kind of too picky, and I have to start somewhere first. I realize now that I can’t just go for the prettiest girl all the time, having very little relationship experience, and expect that girl to like me. Girls can detect whether or not a guy has a lot of experience, especially pretty ones. So, I have to lower my standards and start from somewhere first. If I keep waiting for the perfect girl, it would take forever, because its a catch 22, just like getting a job.

My parents want me to come back home to live with them in Canada. I think thats pretty much a death sentence for me. Going from the busy nightlife of Seoul to a place where there is basically nothing, no friends, no girls to meet, nothing to do.. I would probably die. My parents think that I would be more happy in Canada (I have no idea why they think that). I would still be working from home, except in a much more desolate place in that small country town in the middle of Ontario.

People here like to dress up, and that makes sense to me. Why not try to look good all the time? Why only look good on special occasions? The only real excuse is laziness. I know that appearance doesn’t matter as much in Canada/US, but the truth is, it does, just people don’t say anything about it. If an average girl always puts on makeup and dresses up in Canada/US she would get much more attention than if she didn’t. When you’re young in you’re 20s and 30s, you should make good use of your time, and I definitely don’t want to look back on that time in my life and say, wow I was much better looking back then, but I didn’t make good use of my looks. I like to dress up and look good everyday. There’s no downsides to it. Why only look good sometimes?

So yeah, I plan to stay in Korea as long as I can work remotely. As long as I can keep doing my work. My place in Seoul is kind of expensive right now ($900 a month), and I can definitely find a cheaper place, so as soon as my lease expires in Dec 2015, I’m moving to a different, smaller place. Maybe around $500-600 a month would be good.

I’m fine in Seoul. I might not be really happy, but I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else either. I’m trying to find happiness here, that’s my goal. I wish I could go back to 2012 and 2013 life back in San Francisco, I was really happy back then, but times change and I can’t go back. People change, people got older, my friends got married and had babies, and I got older. And now I’m here, and thats my future I think.

In other news, I met some Chinese people at different meetups and its interesting to hear their take on the differences between Korean culture or American culture with their culture. I agree that China is very different than Korea and America in a lot of ways. A lot of that is due to the size of the population in China, the socialist government there, and the amount of diversity there in China, compared to Korea. I have always got the feeling that Koreans are less open, more xenophobic and more racist than Chinese people are in general. That comes from living in a small country that is 99% Korean. For the comparison with USA, I found this book an interesting read. It compares China’s meritocracy to the USA’s democracy system. I think both have their advantages and disadvantages but one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that both systems are corrupt and no system is perfect. (Not trying to be overly patriotic here, but I think Canada has the ideal system with a mix of capitalism and socialism).
One thing Chinese people are right on is that they don’t attempt to force others to believe in their ideology the way Americans seem to force on other countries.

Speaking of great books to read, here’s another one I read recently and it was a pretty great read that shone alot of computing history to me: Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. If you’re a techie like me, its right up your alley. And written by the same guy that wrote the Steve Jobs biography, another great book.
Other books I’ve read: Becoming Steve Jobs was an interesting take on Steve Jobs. And American Born Chinese is a book that while short, hits pretty close to home for me. The Kennedy Half-Century was one of the better books about JFK that I’ve read. And The Book of Basketball, The Dream Team, The Showtime Lakers, and When the Game Was Ours are absolutely fantastic reads for any NBA basketball fan like me. Highly recommend these books.

Thoughts about introversion, leaving BT, Ladies Code, Tech

Work
Today is my last day at BitTorrent. I enjoyed working there, I had a cool manager, smart co-workers, I learned a lot of technologies like NodeJS, EpoxyJS, more Backbone and especially payments systems like Paypal and StripeJS, but in the end I guess I was still tired of the monotony. I needed something new and invigorating, I needed to move someplace new. It’s been 4 months already since I was in Korea, and I’m dying to go back already. 2 weeks a year of vacation simply wasn’t enough. It was like being in jail for 50 weeks and having freedom the other 2 weeks.

Tragedy
The tragedy that happened to Korean pop group Ladies Code deeply disturbed me. Two members died in a car accident, the other 3 have to undergo surgery. Still, the fact that they were so young, just beginning their careers and with so much hope to the future, and their sudden death made me realize how fragile life is, that anyone can die at anytime, and I hope we can learn to cherish our loved ones knowing this in the future. Yes, people die all the time, even young people, but the fact is these were celebrities and they were Korean, which hit me hard. Parents should never have to bury their children.

Smartwatches and Smartphones
The Apple Watch finally came out, and as always my opinion on smart watches are, if they have a long lasting battery (> 2 weeks) and is waterproof then I’ll buy it. If not, then they aren’t better than my current watch (a Seiko Kinetic), which charges automatically and is 100m waterproof. Also, I prefer round to square faces. My opinion is that smart watches should only do basic functionality, like show notifications and basic PIM-like functions. Anything more than PDA-like functionality is too much. We use smartphones to do complicated tasks, we’re not using to interacting with a watch other than just looking at it, so anything more than a glance is overdoing it. The only area where I think complicated functionality might be good on a watch is a voice assistant (Siri/Google Now/Cortana) but it shouldn’t respond with more than just the basic answer. The Apple Watch is an example of doing too much (viewing photos on a watch is just ridiculous), but the Meta watch gets it right. Looks good, with basic functionality at a glance. Anything more, just pull out your phone from your pocket.

As for smartphones, I wish more manufacturers would make two sizes, a smaller size and a bigger size. I think 4.7″ is a little bit big for me, coming from a 4″ iPhone 5S, but right now there’s no more options for smaller sizes. Every manufacturer now including Apple has moved to making phones at least 4.7″ in size, and that’s too bad. That’s like saying, lets only make laptops with 15″ screens and discontinue smaller screens because most people don’t like smaller screens. Some people do want smaller screens (either for portability or battery life) and we don’t need the bigger screen.

Introversion
I have always been an introverted person. It’s just built into my DNA. From a young age, I had a hard time making friends. In high school, sometimes I would hide in the school bathroom just to avoid talking to people. I am very awkward in social situations. I don’t like to start conversations. I purposely take longer routes sometimes to avoid meeting people. Sometimes I just like to stay at home and not talk to anyone. I am very much a loner, close friendships are hard to make, and long lasting romantic relationships have never existed for me.

That said, this sort of changed in 2010 when I joined AIESEC. Since then, I’ve been involved in meet ups, couchsurfing, and conversation clubs to meet people. But that’s more or less because I am forced to. In America/Canada, it’s very hard to meet someone unless you actively make an effort. You have to actively join clubs and meet ups and network with people. This is in contrast to Asia, where most people meet from introductions or services.
I am Asian to my core. I dislike having to make an active effort to meet people, and it feels very forced to do that. I’d rather have my friends introduce me to someone, but that culture doesn’t exist here. What’s more, I’m not a very good conversationalist, I don’t know how to keep conversations going. This is something most Americans are good at, and I’m not. I’m very good at following orders, and not very good at leading. I’m very good at listening, but not talking. All this just means, I’m probably a better fit for Asian society (where I was born) than Western society. I just feel like a fish out of water in a society where people constantly reference pop culture, makes jokes, come up with random topics, etc. This has always been the case for me. That’s why most of my friends are Asian or international students.

Pictures
I try to take more pictures these days, because I regret not taking more pictures before. Its sad that I can’t remember anything that happened 4-5 years ago because I have no pictures. Also I have no pictures with my good friends back in Toronto, which is kind of sad. It’s regretful, but better start logging these later rather than never.

BitTorrent and Korea

I have two major updates that happened to my life recently:

I changed companies
I’m currently working for BitTorrent Inc as a Front End Engineer. Yes, though my old company (Switchfly Inc) was a pretty good company to work for, I’ve decided to take up new opportunities… BitTorrent’s stack consists of Python, MongoDB, BackboneJS and NodeJS, which gives me enough of a change from Coldfusion, PrototypeJS, EmberJS, Freemarker and Java. Its a new experience, with a strong recognizable company who are headquartered in downtown SOMA, and I’ve been enjoying working there so far.

Edit: if you want to check out my submission for BitTorrent’s coding exercise, check out the TEDx Feedreader application I made using Backbone + Bootstrap, all done in 8 hours: http://www.blueisme.com/feedreader

I went to Korea
I just came back from 2 weeks in Seoul, Korea and I loved it. As expected, I enjoyed every moment of that trip, and I still miss Korea already. There are several things I like about Korea more than USA such as:

1) Food/Drinks are amazing
Forget Korean food in USA. Korea has much better food than USA, much healthier with more organic ingredients, cheaper to buy, and tastes better. Forget Pizza Hut, Mr.Pizza is amazing. Forget Bulgogi and Bibimbap, Dalkgalbi (chicken ribs) and Jimm Dalk (steamed chicken) and Chi maek (fried chicken and beer) is much more amazing. Forget Soju and Korean Beer, try the many flavors of Makgeolli (rice wine), Paekseju (flavorful, weaker version of Soju), Cheongha (tastes like a mix of soju and sprite), Bokbunja (raspberry wine), and Maehwasu (plum wine). All amazing.

Oh and by the way, all the stores close later than in America, usually around 2am. The bars/clubs usually close around 6am, and some of the cafes and restaurants are 24/7 as well. Just amazing. Oh and did I mention? There’s no tip or taxes in Korea, and there’s a button you can use to call the waiter in restaurants. And fast food has delivery, like McDonalds and Burger King have guys on scooters that deliver burgers to you. Double amazing.

2) Technology is widely adopted there
Wifi is ultra super fast in Korea. You can use Wifi in the Subway, even in the mountains, pretty much everywhere, as long as you have a Wifi card. EVERYONE in the subway is on their phone, and when you can watch TV on your phone and use super fast Wifi, why not. There’s Google Maps touch screens in the subway. Everything has a dispenser or a machine for convenience. Even the toilets have controls on them. Alot of the designs in Korea are just amazing. Its hard to believe the smartphone only came in 2009 in Korea, yet now everyone from schoolgirls to old men use them there.

3) Transportation is amazing
The transportation system is probably the best I’ve experienced, ahead of NYC and Shanghai. The Seoul subway takes you all around Seoul and the Metro area, and is cheap on top of that. There’s apps to calculate the exact time it takes from one station to another, since trains are always on time. In addition, the places where you can’t go using subway, you can take buses or taxi, both of them much cheaper than in America.

4) Clothes are better
Korean clothes are a much better fit for me, being more suited to Asian bodies. People there are skinnier in general, and I’m skinny so it really fits me. In addition, they have much better styles than boring American clothing and are cheaper as well, as long as you haggle. Ironically, Koreans mostly buy foreign brands, not knowing that foreign brands (which are made in Southeast Asia) are actually lower quality than their own Korean brands (which are made in Korea). Shopping Malls as high as skyscrapers and numerous cosmetics stores are everywhere in Korea.

5) Everyone dresses up and looks good
Ever wonder why Koreans get so much plastic surgery?? Because its societal pressure!! Korean girls feel pressured to get plastic surgery because everyone competes to get a job, and since you have to submit a photo with your resume, the prettier girl gets the better job!! In addition, everyone dresses up everyday, regardless of situation. Korean girls wear makeup, contacts, high heels, nail polish, dresses/skirts/short shorts whereever they go, and Korean men often wear blazers, khakis, tight jeans, nice fitted shirts too. Its the society norm. Clubbing clothes in America are everyday outfits in Korea. As a result, a large majority of the girls there can be considered very beautiful by any standard. Trust me, its so weird to see model-looking women eating at McDonalds, or reading books at the public library wearing stilletos, but its normal.

6) Everything is clean and organized
Everything is clean and organized in Korea. This isn’t China with smoggy skies or littered streets. All the streets are clean, all the clothes people wear are immaculate, and even the bathrooms will be as clean as you can find them. There is even a machine in the public library to sanitize books. Everyone gets an apron when they eat barbecue. Towels to wash your hands are offered at different places. There are rarely any homeless people, and buskers only play in one place: Hongdae. Next time I will carry a pocket stain remover wherever I go.

7) Korea has a strong sense of community
I learned that Koreans have a sense of 정/jeong, which is this unique korean sense of feeling kindred with others. As a result most Koreans are very polite and nice to others when they have a chance. Normally Koreans are very different than Americans in that they are mostly quiet, reserved people who go about their days almost too predictably. Koreans have a very rigid mindset, and are almost robotic in the way they conform to society. This means you are probably very safe in Korea, as no one has the cultural mindset to steal, mug, rob, rape, loot, plunder, kill, or anything like that. You can leave your phone on the table and be safe about it. Girls can walk home alone at night without worry.

8) Korea loves couples
On the other hand, Koreans really love couple culture. Americans often have to think about where to go when they date, most likely a restaurant or a theater. But in Korea, alot of places are meant for dating. You have many options to go when you are with your significant other. Seoul Tower is a popular spot, as is Cheonggyecheon (river flowing downtown), or Lotte World, or a Korean village, or a beach, or a theater with a love seat, or an arcade, or a shooting range, or a sticker/photo booth, or one of the many bangs (rooms) set up in Korea, like Noraebang (karaoke), DVD-bang (DVD-room), Jjimchilbang (spa/sauna for couples), Soju-bang, PS/PC-bang (for gaming). There are even shops that sell couple accessories like matching bracelets, t-shirts, charms, everything. Korea is a great place for couples, and can be lonely if you go by yourself.


All in all, I had an amazing time in Korea, especially visiting my friends and experiencing the unique culture… and I really think that out of all the places I’ve been to, I belong the most there. My quiet, unassuming, conformist personality fits right in. So I got a little sad when I realized I’ll never get to experience those memories; I never had a gf when I was in high school or college, never had those kinds of couple culture going on, and of course never experienced a long term relationship with a Korean girl. (FYI I have good reasons for the lack of relationships; I grew up in a small white town with no asians, and was busy with CS in university, a major with very few women). This worries me, as I don’t like long distance relationships, yet I feel Korean culture fits me best. Unfortunately, Korean work culture is very competitive; they have to work long hours, for little pay, and little time for recreation. I would live in Korea, if not for the work aspect. Working at BitTorrent is miles ahead of anything a Korean company could offer me, but maybe someday I’ll have a chance to experience a good work culture, and live in Korea as well. I just hope I can do that while I’m still young.

At a peaceful Korean village
At a peaceful Korean village
At the top of Bukhan Mountain
At the top of Bukhan Mountain
Me and my friend at Gyeongbuk Palace
Me and my friend at Gyeongbuk Palace
Lotte World
Lotte World
CheonggyeCheon in Gwanghwamun
CheonggyeCheon in Gwanghwamun
Lovers Locks at Seoul Tower
Lovers Locks at Seoul Tower

Edit: Something ironic and sad that I’ve noticed…
If Americans had to be obsessed with Korean the way Koreans are obsessed with English, this would happen:

Everyone is required to learn Korean in primary school.
Everyone has to go to private academies after school to learn additional Korean.
Everyone has to know Korean and pass a Korean test to get a job.
You will see Korean words mixed in with English wherever you go.
You will see Korean movies with English subtitles, Korean actors, Korean singers, and they will be popular amongst your friends.
All English songs will contain some Korean in it.
Your companies try to copy Korean brands and Korean technology.
Korean clothing is more popular than American clothing.
A lot of your advertisements contain Korean models.
Parents will make their kids have tongue surgery to speak Korean better.
You will have a lot of makeup and plastic surgery to make yourself look more Korean.
You have Korean armies on your land.
Many American girls will fall in love with Korean guys.
Many Americans want to marry Koreans so they can live in Korea.
There is a special district for Koreans that many Americans go to mingle with them.
A Korean education means a lot more than an American education.
Many Americans want to be Korean teachers and make a lot of money.
You often go to eat Korean fast food or drink Korean coffee.
Speaking Korean makes you look more cool and helps you advance in life.
You rely on Korea to protect you from Canada.

…sad but this is all true, but reversed for Korea.