New Girl In The Neighbourhood

My excuse for not writing for ages this time: we were busy finishing preparations for the arrival of a new family member.  Aïda Yvonne Robson was born at 12:09 KST on 24 March and weighed in at a respectable 3.6kg (a smidge under 8lbs in old money).  Mother and baby are both doing well.

The hospital insists on keeping us in for six nights.  This is giving Leyla and me a chance to experience the Korean medical system from an in-patient point of view (while Medina is being looked after at home by her grandmother).

Overall impressions are good.  The place is clean and bright with decor that leans more towards tasteful than institutional.  Compared with the offerings I have seen in English hospitals the food is also prepared to a high standard.  If we had requested western food the situation might have been different but sticking to the local menu has been a safe choice so far.  This means a dish of seaweed soup with every meal as its high iron content is considered essential for women who have just given birth.  Luckily Leyla quite likes the stuff – or used to before being forced to consume it by the gallon.

We are unsurprisingly at a linguistic disadvantage here.  Apart from Leyla’s obstetrician and a special liaison officer nobody in the hospital speaks much English.  This has not proven to be a great obstacle but gives rise to the odd frustration.  We seem to be getting on well with some of the nurses which helps.

Fluctuations in bedside manner are more of a challenge.  The aforementioned obstetrician is by and large a charming chap and similarly the nurses are mostly smiles rather than frowns.  Delicacy can be found lacking sometimes though, mostly when schedule is involved.

Yesterday morning was a memorable example.  Leyla was asleep.  A nurse rushed in at 08:00 to check Leyla’s medication and condition then rushed out again; Leyla went back to sleep.  At 08:15 the obstetrician arrived, got straight to the business of tearing off Leyla’s dressing, inspecting the incision and applying a fresh dressing then disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.  Hot on his heels came the cleaners at 08:20 armed with a vacuum cleaner loud enough to put Boeing to shame.  Suffice to say we were very much awake by that point.

According to ‘the schedule’, mothers should be at the nursery to wash their babies every morning at 06:00, after which the mothers are served breakfast at 07:00.  On that basis I suppose one is expected to be awake, alert and ready for anything at eight in the morning.  Part of it is down to us being us; part may be down to our having had our first child in Oslo (where the hospital atmosphere was somewhat different) but we foreigners can not readily follow such an early bird regime at present.

So far Aïda is putting a brave face on it all and showing signs of being a very patient baby.  When we get home and introduce her to her sister who knows what will happen; let’s wait and see.  In the meantime, the obligatory photograph of the newborn sleeping:


Aïda a few hours old

Happy Holidays

Season’s Greetings.

We have been keeping things relatively quiet for Christmas this year. Medina is now old enough to appreciate more of the occasion so we bought a ‘tree’ that would be suitably tough to withstand the attentions of a two year-old (see photographic evidence below) and she has happily put it up and torn it down several times in the last few days.


Photograph courtesy of Leyla Robson

Peace and goodwill to all.

’tis almost the season

This blog has not quite stagnated.  I will bring it back to life somehow.

Hard to believe it is December already.  Perhaps the combination of having a European soap opera to feature in at work and a nearly hyperactive two year-old to get along with at home warps time.

Medina is a very bouncy wee lass and has energy in abundance.  Below is a recent photo of her ready to stride out for a lengthy walk through our local park.  She has started nursery this week.  So far it is only an hour and a half a day for acclimatisation but after the few minutes of tears on the first day or two she appears to be taking to the new surroundings like a duck to water.


Photograph courtesy of Leyla Robson

In recent times I have started a new band.  If a presentable photograph and/or video clip can be obtained from either of the two gigs we have played so far it/they might appear here.

Ulsan felt its first snowflakes of the season yesterday.  I would not bet on a white Christmas here but one never knows.

Two Going On…

It has been a while since I posted news of Medina and now is definitely the time to update as she has officially entered “The Terrible Twos”: last Sunday was Medina’s second birthday.

The children’s party will be held later as the majority of Medina’s similarly aged friends are away on summer travels at the moment. Instead we made Sunday a family day. Medina’s grandmother had come to visit from Azerbaijan; the three of us went to the Kids’ Café in the morning (excellent indoor play area where the parents get fed and watered) and to the beachfront in the afternoon with lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in between.

Trying to take a presentable photograph of an active toddler is a challenge but hopefully the three below will give a flavour of the day.



Going quarterly?

If there was a prize for the world’s worst blogger, I would win it hands down. Where did three months go?

During the intermission the Taehwa Spring Jazz Festival has been and gone. Staged over two days at a pleasant spot downtown next to the Taehwa river, the festival was jazz by name but not necessarily by nature.

Walking down to the festival area from the nearest access point we were greeted by a small tent with sign saying “DJs and B-Boys” written bold across the top. Just as it said on the can, the contents of the tent were two (digital) turntables and a microphone with just enough space left for the DJs spinning
the break-beats for the dancers to throw down to. As we arrived on the Friday night during the pause between the penultimate and final acts on the main stage this tent was commanding the best crowd by far.

The headline act on Friday night was a band from China called Long Shen Dao. We were looking forward to hearing some Chinese jazz for the first time but found we were introduced to Chinese reggae instead; and it was rather good.

If someone had asked me beforehand to imagine the sound of reggae with an overlay of zhen (the traditional Chinese string instrument) I would have been hard pushed to come up with something good. It works surprisingly well though. The fact that the zhen was used sparingly may have helped: it appeared that its player had to spend several minutes tuning the instrument for each song so she could only perform every other number.

The bass-playing lead singer seemed to be aiming very much for the Bob Marley look both in terms of wardrobe and waist-length dreadlocks; the longest I have yet seen on a Chinese person. He performed very well and it was a shame that there were no sub-woofers in the PA rig to really give his bass the sound it deserved.

After Friday night’s finale of breaks and reggae, I went down a little earlier on the Saturday in search of some jazz. Again the main stage was having a pause, the DJ and B-Boy tent had some B-Girls dancing in formation in leopard skin outfits (no further comment) and the ‘other’ stage had some rather heavy
fado going on.

When the main stage fired up again it was powered by a Korean band called Windy City. I was thinking that they might have been making a sideways reference to Chicago or perhaps Baku (both have jazz histories and are known as The Windy City in their respective countries) but guess what: they turned out to be a reggae band too. Where Long Shen Dao had been reggae with a bit of ska, Windy City was reggae with a dose of dub and I missed those sub-woofers even more. Just imagine how the didgeridoo would have sounded with that extra bass too…

It must be rare to go to a “Jazz Festival” and not hear any jazz music but one could argue that that is part of the charm of living here.

’twas The Season

A belated Happy New Year to all.  We paid a quick visit to England over the festive period and greeted 2013 in Greenwich Mean Time rather than Korean Standard.

During the trip we learned that Medina is now old enough to experience significant jet lag.  It took a week to settle her down after arriving in London and nearly as long again when we returned to Ulsan.  Travel plans are now made with extra care.

After experiencing some of the record-breaking precipitation in the British Isles it is a contrast to return to the crisp, dry Korean winter.  The temperatures may be lower here but when wrapped up warm one can still sit outside to enjoy the sunshine and a festive coffee.

On This Day

The Republic of Korea has gone to the polls today and at time of writing looks to be on the verge of electing the nation’s first female president.

Voting appears to be serious business in this country.  Election Day has been a national holiday to enable people to cast their votes – not something I can recollect happening in England during my lifetime.  A local news headline a couple of days ago proclaimed that 84.9% of Koreans asked said they would be voting today – a predicted turn-out that again I can find no recent parallel for back home.

Conversely trying to engage some of my Korean friends and colleagues in conversation on the subject has yielded little by way of results.  Reactions have ranged from statement of some basic facts as can be found in the international news reports through to indifference.  Perhaps one is not supposed to discuss such things with non-Korean people; it is hard to say.  Whatever the reasons, whatever the statistics and whatever the outcome of today, I wish Korea the best with her new leader.

In other news, work is crazy as ever, Christmas is almost upon us and Medina is becoming a sharper observer and mimic by the day.  As I have not posted a picture of her for a while, here is a quick one of her posing for the iPhone while trying to put a clip in my hair…

The Return; Riding

Forgive me; it has been several months since my last submission.  Summer into autumn has seen a lot of travelling and many unexpected things to do arriving with little or no notice.

Things seem to be settling a little now but with the pace stepping up at work and Medina stepping out with growing vigour at home the days are far from empty.  Indeed it is the completion of some recent nocturnal activity that provides the spur to write tonight.

Back in May I wrote about my unsuccessful attempt at the Korean motorcycle test.  Yesterday the taste of defeat was washed away when I collected my updated Korean driving licence that now includes full motorcycle entitlement.

Yes I must confess that I went to one of the expensive schools with the three-hour lecture/videos and the ten hours of going round the obstacles and yes it was annoying to find I had the course beaten in five minutes but it still seemed a better bet than taking three to four hours per attempt to travel the distance to try the test ‘cold’ as I did before.

As it was I did my first two hours of circuits on a Thursday night and passed the test on the following Wednesday lunchtime having not sacrificed too much family time in between.  There was even something vaguely therapeutic about trickling round the course at tick-over in the dark; it permitted some almost meditative moments.  Imagine the photo below at night with gentle floodlighting and a curious mix of Korean radio pop music and occasional classics playing over the Tannoy.

Next I need to get riding again.  Winter is not far away but the sun still shines most days and the temperatures remain high enough to enjoy a trip into the hills.  Time to get on.

One Is One

If you blinked you will have missed it – Leyla and I nearly did.  Young Medina is not quite so young any more having celebrated her first birthday last weekend.

When such an occasion rushes upon you in the midst of temperatures of thirty-plus and humidity of eighty-odd percent, you can find yourself wondering how best to mark the occasion.  With outdoor activities rapidly black-balled due to fears of heatstroke we chose to invite a few friends (most also with young daughters) to visit for drinks and cake in air-conditioned comfort.

The event ran smoothly, the ladies looked lovely in their party frocks (see picture below) and with seven assorted nations represented amongst our small group we managed to sing a very presentable rendition of Happy Birthday round the cake.

Medina started walking a couple of weeks ago and would happily be running if her legs could keep up with her ambitions.  Something tells me subsequent birthday parties will not be so easy to host…

One more month to go…

A bit later than planned with this update; apologies.  Auditors at work, a baby full of energy at home and rising temperatures in high humidity throughout keep one on the toes.

Compliments of the day to readers in the United States of America.

All is well here.  Not a minute of Euro 2012 football graced our television screen which is probably just as well judging by the news reports I read of England’s performances.  Tennis is a sport more accepted by the family and Day Nine of Wimbledon is getting back under way in our living room after a brief rain shower at time of writing.

Medina continues to grow, smile, laugh and tire us out in good order.  Walking can be but moments away and she has four teeth on the go in the meantime.  The photograph below was taken on the day of her reaching eleven months old (no prizes for spotting the missing shoe).  Soon there will be a birthday party to celebrate.  Don’t children grow up fast these days…!