Korea Dispatch: Back and there again; or, a consultant’s long non-holiday in Seoul

Here I go again.

I’m back in Seoul, South Korea for work.

I was slated to return for months. My repeated delays and cancellations were due to combinations of bureaucracy, incompetence, miscommunication (in English), inability to communicate (in Korean), apathy (mine), and a lack of urgency (not mine).

I shall spare you, Dear Friends, of the trials of the earlier travel attempts. At least, I shall spare you of them for now.

This final, ultimately successful journey came out of the last failed try. We shifted the Korean consulate handling my paperwork from Atlanta (I’m still not sure if anyone actually works there except for one woman who spoke no English) to San Francisco. This bit of rehoming required me to fly on 2 distinct itineraries: CHA – ATL – SFO on Wednesday morning, and SFO – ICN at 23:55 Wednesday.

Aside: the late night flight to Korea had me leave on Wednesday and arrive on Friday! Thank you, International Date Line!

For my itinerary to work I needed my COVID-19 quarantine exemption certificate from the San Francisco Consulate. The idea was that it would be ready for me when I landed in SFO. I would saunter to the lounge, print it off, and be ready when I could check into my flight some 8 hours later.

There was no COVID-19 quarantine exemption certificate from the San Francisco Consulate waiting for me in my inbox when I landed. Word was that it had not made its way yet from the Ministry in Seoul.

Two options presented themselves to me: return home and try again with a brand new submission; or lay up in SF and hope the paperwork arrives before the next day’s flight. I went with option 2.

Which brings us to my packing for this trip.

I wanted to bring only carry-on bags this time. The new 2 itinerary approach made it important to not check a bag. To do so would mean having to leave security, claim the bag, check it in again under the second itinerary, and again claim it at Incheon Airport.

I got very close to achieving this goal.

On my last trip I worked on a second customer. I was supposed to continue to support them from the US. That didn’t pan out, but the 2.2KG (about 5 lbs) laptop and charger I was given for the support still made it home with me. I have to return it on this trip, and that extra bulk was the tipping point.

Not that I didn’t try to carry on/gate check the suitcase I used. Sadly it is the biggest of my suitcases and Delta made me check it through to San Francisco. See below for the things I brought for my 5-ish week stay.

Another complicating factor was that I booked my flights through Delta but the SFO – ICN leg was on Korean Airlines, a Delta codeshare partner. Korean only flies the one flight out of SFO, so their ticketing desk does not open until about 3 hours before boarding with no on-line check-in option.


The suitcase contained:

  • 4 sets of socks, underwear, t-shirts, and handkerchiefs
  • 2 sweaters
  • 3 button down shirts
  • 2 trousers
  • workout shorts/swimsuit and shirt
  • lightweight trainers
  • puffer coat, gloves, hat, and cap
  • 2 Raspberry Pis
  • camera tripod
  • 2 camera lenses
  • 2 Roost laptop stands
  • Tom Bihn Freudian Slip for my Synik 30 backpack with carious pens, cables, and power adaptors
  • set of collapsable plates and bowls
  • 50 packs of instant Starbucks coffee in a plastic bag
  • toiletries
  • belt and neck tie
  • electric beard trimmer

The Synik 30 backpack had, among other things:

  • work MacBook Air
  • personal MacBook Pro 15
  • afore mentioned heavy laptop
  • camera with lens
  • Beats pro headphones
  • power cords, adaptors, and cables
  • emergency food stash
  • business cards and ID badges
  • water bottle
  • coffee travel container
  • 3-1-1 bag of liquids and meds
  • Logitech Anywhere MX mouse
  • copies of my COVID vaccination, quarantine exemption certificate, COVID test results
  • Apple Watch, series 2 (work) and 5 (personal)
  • travel towel
  • shemaug 

Tom Bihn Le Grande Derrière had:

  • wallet with cash, credit cards
  • flashlight
  • notebook
  • pen
  • Apple Magic Keyboard (JIS)
  • Apple Magic Trackpad
  • Apple iPad Mini 5
  • battery pack
  • Onyx Boox ereader
  • various cables and adaptor
  • emergency med kit (sanitizer, bandages, aspirin, &c.)
  • COVID-19 vaccination card (in a rugged clear plastic bag)

Tom Bihn Handy Little Thing had:

  • playing cards and dice
  • eye mask
  • Apple headphones
  • crystalized lime and lemon packets
  • wipes
  • beverage holders
  • pens
  • hot sauce

On me:

  • Clothes: shoes, socks, trousers, underwear, t-shirt, button-down, travel vest, travel blazer
  • travel wallet: passport with visa, receipts, cash, business cards
  • phones, iPhone SE 2020 (work) and XS Max (personal)
  • Garmin Instinct Tactical watch
  • sunglasses

What did I leave out that I should have had?

  • HDMI cable
  • Raspberry Pi power adaptor
  • powered USB hub power cord
  • Logitech K810 keyboard
  • beard trimmer power cord
  • nail clippers
  • drain stopper

Korea Dispatch: week 1

There is a mountain outside my front door.

It’s not strictly my front door. I’m staying on a hotel. And yet the mountain is there, all indifferent to the distinction.

The mountain is Mt. Namsan, South Mountain. Namsan Park encompasses the mountain.

Namsan modest in demeanor and elevation (262 meters or 860 feet). Historical signs sprout along the manicured paths and steps. It’s delightful, and yet the mountain is there.

I tried walking up it three different times. I’ve made it to the top exactly zero times. All three of my walks end-to-end might summit me. And yet the mountain is there.

Groups of puffer coated elderly women chatter up the mountain. Besuited business people traipse up it. School children play running in circle games summit. And yet the mountain is there.

That wheezing puddle of sweat on the side in the shade? That, Dear Friends, is me. I am there on the mountain. Namsan is there, too, under me being indifferent.

Opposite of Namsan is Seoul Station. I visited it several times on my last trip including a sojourn on the departure steps waiting for my train to rapid me away to Busan. There is a big COVID testing tent there.

There are homeless at Seoul Station. There are homeless along the walking way to Seoul Station. Much like in Japan, they are visible but not soliciting. Today I saw some of them at the station in worship in the lovely fall sun singing hymns.

Above them is the walkway I took from the hotel to the station. Large circular planters house plants of all kinds. There are at least 3 pianos along the path. Sentries patrol the walk. In the before times there were cute coffee shops and trinket purveyors.

My work week was typical pandemic – I worked from my hotel because I needed a 3rd negative test to go to the customer site. Many WebEx and Teams calls were executed.

Less than 4 weeks to my return home.

Korea Dispatch: week 0

I’m back in Korea. I do not want to be here.

I retuned to Seoul for work, to finish off a project I started in April on my last trip. It took 5.5 months to get me back, and the clock on the 5.5 months started before I left the last time. Had I been successful earlier, I would be on my way home by now, forced to return because of the magic 180 day threshold over which tax implications become expensive.

I don’t believe in this project even though it will succeed, but that’s not all of why I don’t want to be here.

The COVID numbers here are 4-10 times what they were when I left. The country says they’re about to reach 70% vaccination and about to enter their “living with COVID” phase. The 70% are of people with at least one dose, and that is adults. The government will change their reporting to focus on hospitalizations and deaths instead of positive tests. Restrictions will relax.

South Korea is a great example of hygiene theatre being hand waiving – the mandate on hand sanitization is all for show, for example – but that is not all of why I do not want to be here.

I’m working face-to-face with colleagues from all over. They are smart, capable people. In the before times I would enjoy hanging out with them, getting to know them, and establishing relationships.

I’m reluctant to do that kind of hanging out in these times, but that isn’t all of why I don’t want to be here.

For the first time in longer than I can remember, I am homesick. My illness began before I left. I’ve put down roots, you see, and I’m not happy to leave them. I definitely do not want to rip them up.

UPDATE: this was a post I meant to send a week ago.

Documentary reveals Coldplay frontman a COVID-19 putz

Documentary reveals joys, challenges of making BTS-Coldplay collab ‘My Universe’:

The Coldplay vocalist [Chris Martin] flew to Seoul in April despite the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been very difficult to get here to Korea,” Martin said. “We’ve been very lucky with people allowing us to come in for two days just to record. And it was quite a stressful journey, and I was a little bit nervous. I’ve never met BTS before.” (Yonhap)

Must be nice to drop in for two days to pal around without having my kind of stressful journey, you putz. I went to South Korea for work around the same time. I had 14 days in solitary isolation per the country’s strict, if somewhat ineffective, COVID-19 restrictions.

Go take a long walk off of a short pier, you poor little thing.

Vaccination Cocktail

My international travel for work has been on (March through May) and then off (July) and then back on (ETA mid-August) but might be off for a variety of reasons including COVID’s Delta flavor.

The numbers for the US as a whole is accidentally ok. They’re not great, but as compared to 6 months ago they are almost miraculous. Tennessee drags down the national average, but my county and city seem to be doing some things right.

Overseas, and especially in Asia where I was and will maybe be again, is not so good.

When I was in South Korea the country’s daily new infections was around 400. Now they are closer to 1,600 and mostly of the Delta variety. This causes me pause.

Seemingly unrelated, this past week I traveled to Boston for work. Most people in the airport and everyone on my flights wore masks. Taxis and Ubers were masked adventures. As soon as I stepped out of those mandated cocoons …

South Korea has very stringent protocols for mask wearing, distancing, limiting crowds, &c. And yet their numbers are almost 3 times what they were 2 months ago. Why? Maybe their low vaccination rate with the added complexity of Delta explains it.

My takeaway: Vaccination helps for those who can get vaccinated. Mask wearing helps for those who cannot be vaccinated. Delta doesn’t seem bound by either, but layer defense — masks, vaccines, distancing — gives the best odds.

Even with all that, someone who is regularly masked and vaccinated can still get sick. I hope you, Dear Reader, got one of the good vaccines with a 70% or better efficacy. I hope you have a solid N95 or equivalent mask. I hope you keep your social interactions limited.

Which brings me back to my pending return work trip to South Korea. Allegedly I have the one shot Janssen J&J shot in advance of the trip I was scheduled to take in July. That trip would not have allowed me time for a 2 shot protocol though it was my preference.

The data on J&J with the Delta variant isn’t encouraging. While still massively better than not having had a shot, so far the numbers indicate J&J might not offer as much protection as the 2 dose Moderna or Pfizer mDNA options.

Today I may or may not have accidentally received a Pfizer shot. The extra shot might do nothing for me. It might make me feel ill for a few days and still do nothing for me. Early indications are that a shot of mDNA vaccine boosts the usefulness of J&J.

My hope is that, whatever my vaccinations, I’ve effectively reduced the likelihood that I will die due to COVID to 0, that I’ve reduced the likelihood of contracting COVID to a low number, that I’ve reduced the likelihood that I will pass COVID on to someone else to a very low number, and that the Delta variant will have less impact on me overall.

Viva la Science!

KR dating, contract tracing & Clubhouse

Somewhere between distance, intimacy: Love in the time of coronavirus:

Nearly 80 percent of singles aged between 25 and 49 stopped looking for romance since February last year, according to a May survey by the Korea Development Institute’s School of Public Policy and Management. About a third of them cited the coronavirus as the prime reason.

The pandemic has raised the stakes for falling in love. For one thing, it means risking one’s health.

On top of the threat of catching the disease, for Park [Sara], what prevented her from “putting herself out there” was the horror of her pre-diagnosis itinerary being alerted to all her close contacts should she get infected.

“Imagine having to explain to contact tracers you might have caught the coronavirus from a blind date or something,” she said. “I would be mortified.”

(Via Korea Herald)

Imagine, indeed. There is a different cultural dynamic in Korea, but I’m sure this would cause anxiety for singles in other places, assuming contract tracing is a prevalent as it is here.

All is not lost. Many singles are doing what I did (very successfully, I might add) last summer: hopping on dating apps. One big, surprising change to my approach:

As mingling in the real world is stunted by social distancing, virtual dating is booming, with Millennials and Gen Zers flocking from platform to platform in the hopes of finding new love. The hot app at the moment is Clubhouse [emphasis mine], according to Yeo Hyun-min, a developer in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, in his mid-20s.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, the social audio app brims with blind date sessions where people “check each other out” and if things work out, eventually hang out offline. The chat’s moderator plays matchmaker and invites some of the listeners as speakers. They are given about 30 seconds to introduce themselves, including what they’re like as a romantic partner.

That is a great Clubhouse use case! I wrote about my indifference to the app and lamented the lack of a killer reason for it to remain. Maybe it transitions to dating?

Seoul Dispatch, week 11


It’s raining in Seoul. The forecast said the accumulation this weekend would be slight. It has not been slight yet.

I’ve been bouncing around between my two main customers, working a bunch of extra hours to keep both sides happy. They’re either both happy as they say and keep asking for more, or they are not happy and want me to do more to fix it. I’ll assume the positive. 

Last weekend was fun. I got out and adventurekateered!

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S. Korean telcos to share 5G networks in remote areas

Can you even imagine? US telco’s are too busy entrenching to do anything like this for the public good.

S. Korean telcos to share 5G networks in remote areas:

South Korea’s three major mobile carriers will share their 5G networks in remote coastal and farm towns in a move to accelerate the rollout of the latest generation networks, the ICT ministry said Thursday.

The carriers — SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. — signed an agreement so that 5G users can have access to the high-speed network regardless of the carrier they are subscribed to in 131 remote locations across the country, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT.

Under the plan, a 5G user would be able to use other carrier networks in such regions that are not serviced by his or her carrier.

The ministry said telecom operators will test the network sharing system before the end of this year and aim for complete commercialization in phases by 2024.

The ministry said the selected remote regions are sparsely populated, with a population density of 92 people per square kilometer, compared with those without network sharing at 3,490 people per square kilometer.

The move comes as the country races to establish nationwide 5G coverage, with network equipment currently installed in major cities.

The three telecom operators promised in July last year to invest up to 25.7 trillion won ($23.02 billion) to update their network infrastructure by 2022.

As of February, the country had 13.66 million 5G subscriptions, accounting for 19 percent of its total mobile users. South Korea was the world’s first country to commercialize 5G in April 2019. (Yonhap)