Friday, January 26, 2007

What is 'quality' anyway?

If you have had or are ever considering having remodeling work done in your home or apartment, you should read this. It might leave you wondering if there is a word in Korean for "quality."
My in-laws live in an older apartment building and it is in dire need of a facelift. Particularly the bathroom is in need of a paint job. So, being a good son-in-law and also having a hankering for a little D.I.Y. time, I volunteered to take on the job. So, I went to a local paint store and picked out a color that I thought would look good I asked about spackle (called 'puddy' here) for fixing the imperfections and cracks in the wall and I started talking to the guy about paint remover. His response was a bit strange. Instead of telling me how much the remover was, he asked me why I need remover. To remove the old paint from the wall, of course, I replied. He told me that I didn't need to do that and that I could just fill in the places where the wall was cracked and the paint had chipped away with the spackle, smooth it out and paint over it!! I cringed a bit but tried to smile and rather than annoying the guy, I decided that I would buy remover elsewhere.
Having spent a few summers with a part time job painting houses, I have always been taught that a good paint job is 90% preperation of the surface and 10% painting; the paint job is only as good as the surface that it is painted on and not removing the old paint (particularly paint that is already chipping off in areas) means that the new paint will eventually peel and chip off as well. The best way is, without a doubt, to remove the old paint, spackle the cracks and pits, then paint. But this idea seemed to be lost on this gentleman. I guess he just thought a do-it-yourselfer would not need to do a 'quality' job.
This brings me to another story: Last year, I purchaced a used apartment. It was a 12 year old apartment that had never had any remodelling done. We decided that it needed a lot of work. After about 9 million won of work and about a week it was done and ready for inspection. Prior to the work being done, i mentioned to the contractor that the last time I had wallpaper done in my apartment, the 'paperer' did not completely remove the old paper and it therefore left indentations that could easily be seen in the right light and I didn't like that. I wanted all the paper removed this time. He assured me that the problem before was "cheap and thin wallpaper" this time I had chosen an expensive and hopefully longlasting silk wallpaper. He assured me that once the paper was done, it would be smooth as a baby's proverbial behind. WRONG!! The work was done and I inspected before the wallpaper was hung. The old wallpaper was not completely removed and the surface of the wall was not appropriately prepped (corners were also cracked or pitted and in need of some spackling.). The resulting job was less than the perfect job I expected (or at least that I would have expected if I had it done it myself). I was not happy but once it is done, showing them the imperfections recieved only mild amusement and a request for something to be done about it was an exercise in futility.
Along with the wallpaper, the pvc flooring (called "jangpan") was the most expensive brand but because the floor was not properly spackled and repaired before laying the flooring, the same problem with the wallpaper was evident in the flooring and the cracks in the floor were now bumps in my expensive imitation wood flooring (we opted not to do the wood type flooring because of the kids, spills, toilet accidents and other watery accidents wreak havoc on the particle board flooring and the real wood stuff is prohibitively expensive)
One of the comments the contractor made to me (and in Korean to several other people along the way) was that foreigners were much more difficult than Koreans. We are more demanding and expect the details to be perfect. He seemed politely annoyed by my constant questioning and inspecting and dissatisfaction. He also commented that "Koreans build home interiors and fixtures to last about 6 to 10 years, and Americans build them to last 100 years." His words not mine. Obviously trying to blow smoke somewhere down there.
WARNING TO THE WISE: If you are having any remodeling work done, be prepared to go to the TOP contractors (avoid the neighborhood guys in the small shops) and make sure they know up front the work you expect and are willing to pay for. Inspect everything at every step of the process and be FIRM about your demands letting them know that you are willing to pay for the extra work (I was not, this was my problem; financially overextended). I suggest having your whole home done by someone like the local "Hanssem" dealer or one of the other big kitchen fixture people. They did a wonderful job on MY kitchen (except the guy that did the tiles but seemed to have left his level at home, DUH!) and I think they would have done a much better (but much more expensive) job on the house. forewarned.

Also, a big welcome to anyone who is visiting from Marmot's aggregator or blog list. Thanks Marmot!!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Send in the Nannys

Anyone who has children knows what a stress and burden they can be sometimes. "No!!", you love your kids and want to spend every moment with the....c'mon...who are you kidding? For all the love and joy we get from our kids, the fact is that taking care of them means that you can't do some of the other things you want to do. These days though, with 2 income families and more hectic lifestyles, the need for alternative childcare is growing and it is a potentially burdgeoning market .

Today, the Chosun Ilbo features not 1 but 2 articles with mention of nannies. One talks about the headaches that working mothers are having with the current supply and quality of nannies in Korea. The other one discusses the "nanny" business as a booming niche market that is ripe for those ready to take entrepeneurial action.

I have been thinking this for years! I have wondered why it is almost impossible to find a good nanny or even a short time babysitter so my wife and I can enjoy a night out without the kids. Since we don't have family closeby, there are not many options available. And since we don't live in Seoul, there are few options.
Sure, there are services that charge reasonable fees for babysitting, but there is a problem of a different kind; Cultural taboos! Most Korean moms, my wife included, can't imagine allowing some stranger to come into your home and take care of your child while you go out and work or have a good time. If it's not family....NO WAY!! What qualifications do they have to take care of my baby? I hear excuses and questions like: "they might do something bad," "What if there is a problem, how will they know what to do?," "Someone who is not family cannot possibly really CARE for my child." "How do you know if they are REALLY qualified to watch and take care of children?" The list of reasons is seemingly endless so, alas, no nights out for a while; at least not until the mother-in-law can come and visit.
So, in my quandry, I have come across some ideas. Maybe someone with some money and a gumption (that's what I said...gumption) might read this and make a million. If you do, please give credit where credit is due (money is good too). At least give me free lifetime service. Here goes:

Most junior colleges have an "Early Childhood Education" major. Some of these colleges could have a few classes like "In-home childcare" and "Introduction to the Au pair" as elective (or required courses). These courses would be specifically designed to give these young women the basic knowledge of what they should and should not do in the business.
Colleges often have on-campus business that operate either as a school entity or separate within the campus. Either way, the colleges could have an "In-Home Childcare Center" that would be staffed initially by experienced child care providers (divorced or widowed mothers, grandmothers in good health, sheep stolen from other services, etc.) who are hired and screened by the college faculty in charge of the ECE programs. These child care "mentors" would take second year students (only those who have taken both of the courses mentioned and passed them with the highest grades) for some practicum work. Basically, they go out with the pros and learn the ropes. Paid (minimally) or not, the students get good and REAL experience in taking care of children. As the business grows, the students who do well in their classes and their practicum and demonstrate a genuine ability and desire to take care of children would be able to get a well-paying job right out of college.
This affords the college an opportunity to do what Colleges around Korea are supposed to students get a job, provide social benefit to the local community, as well as potentially make a profit.
Some students may even decide to go to their own home areas and start a nanny business of their own: another bonus; successful students.

I guess there are some naysayers out there who will shoot down or otherwise pick apart this idea and that is exactly what I would like to have happen. So, fire away!!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Well, Kiss My Grits!!

Those of you who remember the 1970's TV sitcom "Alice" these words will bring back polyester memories that you may or may not wish you had. Our friend Flo brought the word "Grits" into our vocabulary and made them a pop cultural icon; at least the word itself. Unfortunately, most people have probably not had the pleasure of tasting the food of which she speaks so distastefully.
Grits, also called "hominy" could best be classified as a traditional southern breakfast food. It is similar to several other grain-based porridges found around the world. It also holds the distinction of being the 'official state food' of the state of South Carolina. If you have ever traveled the highways and biways south of the Mason-Dixon line you may have stopped in a "Waffle House" or a "Cracker Barrel" and seen them on the menu. You may have even had them as a side dish and wondered what they are. If you were brave enough to try you may have even liked them. If you did not, perhaps it's time you did.
Of all of the foods that I miss from back home, grits is probably NOT one I would have expected to miss. It's simple and if not prepared right, almost tasteless. However, a fellow southerner who returned to the southland after 10 years in Korea bequeathed me a large cardboard container of Quaker Instant Grits. It sat in my cupboard for almost 6 months now. This morning, I was searching the cabinets for something healthy and of reasonably low calories for my breakfast. I found the grits and decided that they would be sufficiently quick and filling. But I really didn't want to eat them plain so I thought, 'what if I make the grits like I would make a typical Korean rice porridge (죽)?' Low and Behold! Fusion Grits!! YUM!!
I think I am going to start a section on Food for this blog and more specifically a "fusion grits" category. For those of you who like to cook or those just looking for some simple recipes for Korean food; check back often. I'll make it a point to try and add something each week.

This week: Grits a la Kim (Korean Laver Grits)
3/4 Cup of instant grits
3 cups of water
1 teaspoon of sesame oil (참기름)
1 teaspoon of soy sauce (간장)
1 teaspoon of black sesame salt (검으깨소금)
1/2 package of seasoned dried Korean laver/seaweed sheets (구이김)

First, Chop or crush the Laver into crumblike pieces as small as possible and set that aside for later.

Then, make the grits as per the instructions on the package.

During the thickening stage of cooking the grits, stir in 1 teaspoon
of sesame oil.

After the grits have cooked completely (you can adjust consistency to your preference by adding or subtracting the amount of water) garnish the grits with the laver crumbs, the black sesame salt and soysauce to taste.

Mix well and enjoy these Korean redneck grits. Go Reds!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Glimpse into the mind of a 4-year-old

My 4-year-old daughter is very happy that I have been losing weight. Usually when I go to school, her friends all call me fat (doong-doong hada) and giggle and try to play with my belly [Later I'll get into the social implication of why the teachers don't teach the children against these behaviors or scold them for it]. Now that I have lost a lot of weight (about 25 kilos so far), my belly is a lot smaller and she admonishes her friends and says that I am not fat and that my belly used to "be like this and now it is like this." Big daddy smile here.
Of course this communication is all in Korean. My daughter doesn't really speak much English because she uses it at school and with mommy and grandparents and everyone else. Though we speak mostly English at home between my wife and I, my daughter is aware that I can speak a pretty good amount of Korean. But there is another aspect to her understanding about daddy losing weight that is a bit perplexing and a little humerous. She seems to be under the impression that if "daddy becomes skinny, he won't speak English anymore." Anyone care to comment on the social or psychological implications of this bit of wierdness?

It's a small, wierd world after all

Jodi over at AsiaPages had a wierd story post and invited others to offer their own weird stories. I offered a story there about an encounter with a high ranking monk who showed some very un-monklike behavior. I also invited others to come here and check out some other stories of wierdness in my almost 11 years in Korea.
Here's yet another one not in the realm of Korean wierdness persay, well just call it "Small world story #20"
I was looking for a job in the Daegu area and noticed a job listing on the webpage of a local college. I wanted to know what the conditions were for the job so I decided to peruse the webpage and see if i could contact a foreigner on the faculty. I found one such gentleman and his office phone number. I called him and spoke to him at length about the conditions of the job and decided that it was a good place to work. All during the conversation I had a strange sense of familiarity in the man's voice and I finally figured out what it was. It was his accent. I was sure I knew this guy was from. So, I asked him, "You have an accent that sounds like its from the south, I'm guessing Kentucky or Tennessee."
"Wow! you hit it right on the head. I'm from the Tennessee/Kentucky border area." He said kind of shocked.
"What part?" I inquired.
"Well, I'm from Hopkinsville originally but I lived just across the border in Clarksville for a long time." He replied.
I was not yet suprised by this revelation since there are quite a few soldiers fromt he 101st Airborne which is based on the border between these two towns. "I lived in Hoptown from 2nd to 7th grade."
"really!" he sounded genuinely suprised and the conversation turned to details about wheres and whens and I realized that his family name also sounded familliar. I didn't think anything of it at first because it is fairly common in the South to have one area permeated with local names of people who are anywhere from sisters and cousins to distant relatives. So I had to comment, "(family name) sounds familliar, is it a common name in that area."
"Not really", he replied and we got to talking bit more "my father was a teacher at Hoptown middle school."
Then it hit me. This guy's father was my middle school industrial arts teacher!
We talked some more and realized that since he is much older than me he and I probably don't have any further connections but we had a lot to talk about and hit it off instantly. I got the job and we worked together for 3 years. Last summer, he went back home to care for his father who is in his 80's now. It really is a small world isn't it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Update on Weightloss and Light Blogging

Christmas was woefully uneventful and I managed to avoid any overfeeding and only gained about a kilo on that weekend but quickly lost it and more. Currently sitting at 129KG (that's 284 pounds!!)It seems to be coming off at about a half to 3/4 KG per day and all I am really doing is reducing the intake and not eating after dark. My wife insists that I eat two big spoons of 천국장 (Kind of soybean beads) in the morning and evening and she insists that that is why it is working. Who knows maybe she is right I just know I'm gonna go with what is working.
I am done with school and grading for now so I will be out of the office and therefore blogging will be difficult. I really don't know how the married major bloggers like Nomad and Marmot (though I'm not sure if Robert has kids) manage to keep posting regularly. I can't even get to the computer at home these days because either my 4-year-old daughter wants to watch "The Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast" for the umpteenth time or my wife needs to do some kind of financial housekeeping. So the only time I could practically blog from home is about 2 am. I like blogging and I love my readers (the few that are out there) but not that much thanks. Not to mention that my year old son wakes at about 7am every morning and I spend most of the day chasing him around. So, i'll sees ya when I sees ya.