Year in Review: 2017

I can’t believe it’s 2018 already. It felt like the year went by so fast but looking back, I actually got a lot of things done and a lot of things happened.

It’s a bit fitting that I mentioned in 2016’s Year in Review that it’s been one giant roller coaster ride. I was hoping that 2017 would be less turbulent but if anything it was even more nasty haha. Honestly, breaking down your life by the calendar year is a bit weird to begin with because your life doesn’t abide by that, so it makes sense that the first bit of 2017 felt incredibly like 2016.

2017 started in the lab. Which feels really weird to say since that already feels like a lifetime ago. At that point, I was just finishing up some more work related to an older project and looking forward to starting my thesis project. It was a pretty rough way to start the year since that definitely wasn’t fun.

The Refrigerator was by far one of the craziest lab stories I have.

But it soon became fun though. Me and my girlfriend decided to go to Taiwan for a short vacation which was really nice. I’ve always wanted to visit Taiwan and it seemed like the ideal place for a short trip to just kinda unwind and get away from Korea. That was a nice trip. We even had a chance to meet up with a friend of ours and another friend of mine from Hong Kong.

After getting back to Korea the lab took a trip out to Gangwon-do again for HCI Korea 2017, which, similar to our trip in 2016, meant that I got to go skiing again. Unfortunately though, I didn’t win any money at the casino this time.

The sky lantern we made in Shifen, Taiwan.

The trip to Taiwan and Gangwon-do was really awesome because it was right before starting my thesis project. So once I got back into the lab I was ready to work. Now, for the most part I enjoyed working on developing my actual thesis project, but I wasn’t a big fan of the whole thesis writing and presenting part of it.

I wouldn’t say it was difficult but the entire process was overly stressful. Looking back, it almost seems like so much of that was artificial pressure that really wasn’t needed. I tried to take breaks every once and a while though, and one of those breaks was to the first and only concert I went to in 2017, Crystal Lake. I liked the band before I saw them in concert and seeing them live only made me like them even more. I’m really glad I went because it was a great show.

Ryo of Crystal Lake

Once my thesis started to wrap up, a lot of my stress dealing with getting my thesis done started to get replaced by the stress of graduating. It was almost a perfect cross-fade between the two levels of stress so I felt like I was pretty much at the same level the entire time, just thinking about different things.

On one hand I was essentially cruising through the rest of the lab stuff. Our lab started a partnership with a lab from a school in Japan and not only did they have a chance to come visit us, but we also had a chance to go visit their school in Nara. This coincided with a small international conference as well which had me present my thesis work for the first time outside our school department, which was nice.

But obviously the point of the trip for me wasn’t really to do any of that but really to enjoy my time in Japan. Not only did I go to Nara but I also had the opportunity to go check out Osaka as well, which was really nice. There’s nothing like being fully funded to travel.

The Glico Man and other advertisements at night.

Once I got back to Korea from Japan, I just kept the travel ball going. I essentially just handed in my thesis and a week later went on another big trip as a gift to myself for finishing my master’s. That was a really awesome trip and got me to Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow), Berlin, Prague, and Vienna. I even had a chance to stop by Dubai for a couple hours which was a pretty nice bonus.

That trip was just outright amazing and unforgettable. Europe is awesome, especially after being in Asia for so long. I’m really glad I got to go to all of those places and see so much, especially Russia. In all my travels that was the first country that required me to get a visa to visit, and the application process was an experience of itself. And of course, the country was really unique and cool too.

A selfie by the Peterhof Fountain.

It was a pretty jam packed vacation and soon enough I was back in Korea. The month between the end of July and end of August was actually really tough. Even after going through all of the random crap dealing with school and my thesis earlier in the year, it turned out the hardest part of the year was actually the month where I wasn’t doing anything.

The Korean government gave me a one way flight back home so I knew I had a month left in Korea and would be leaving at the end of August. I had no job lined up so I figured I could look for jobs within Korea for that month and maybe get something. If I got a job in Korea, I’d go back to Korea after a brief visit to Canada. If I didn’t get a job, well, I’d just go and stay home.

It was a really bittersweet month.

Saying goodbye after a night of eating, drinking, and singing.

Before starting my studies at KAIST, every Korean I met was always like “Oh, you’re studying at KAIST? You must be a genius. You’ll have no problems finding a job”. Now I try not to let things get to my head like that, but there was a bit of hope you know? I didn’t really want to work and live in Korea, but I really wanted to try to keep my existing life intact.

But alas, it just wasn’t to be. Job applications went nowhere, interviews were tough, and visas weren’t being sponsored. The end result was that I just didn’t see a future for myself in Korea.

On one hand I was excited to go home, but on the other hand I didn’t want to leave my life in Korea. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no love for the country or it’s people. But that was my life for three years. I settled down pretty well, had a life of my own, friends to hang out with, and generally knew what I was doing.

Just giving that all up and going home hurt.

Getting the degree is actually not the hardest part when studying in Korea.

I don’t normally have anxiety or panic attacks, but I had a pretty major freak out the morning of my flight home. I stayed up all night packing and was quickly running of time and I just couldn’t seem to pack all the remaining stuff and it just felt like everything I did was causing myself both physical and psychological pain. It felt like my world actually was ending and I was making a decision I’d regret immensely.

It wasn’t very fun.

Wasn’t a very big room, but it was my room.

That was four months ago.

Since then I’ve settled back into a life here in Canada and everything has been a giant blur. I have a job now. I get to see my family and old friends whenever I want. I get to experience a proper winter again. And I even just got laser eye surgery so I don’t have to deal with glasses and contacts anymore. For the most part life is great.

First contrast shot with the Pixel 2 XL.

Or at least it feels like it should be.

I didn’t think reverse culture shock would affect me that much, but I have to say that it’s still an ongoing struggle. There’s some sort of balance between getting back to the life I once had and starting a new life, and I haven’t seem to have found it yet.

2017 is definitely defined by the fact that I came home. I can’t even properly put into words how tough a decision that was for me.

There’s not doubt in my mind that 2017 was by far the most emotionally and psychologically stressful year of my life. There isn’t a single day that passes where I don’t think about my life in Korea and miss everyone associated with that life. 2018 is gonna have a hell of a hard time trying to heal this hole in my heart.

But I’m hopeful.

2017 Achievements and Statistics

  • 9 countries (Taiwan, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Germany, Czechia, Austria, South Korea, Canada).
  • 2 academic publications (TEI 2018, AH 2018)
  • 7 platinum trophies (Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, Kingdom Hearts 3DS, Infamous Second Son, Infamous First Light, World of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XV, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst)
  • Master’s of Science in Industrial Design
  • Full-time employment secured

Vienna: The Imperial City

So the fifth and final place I went to for my trip to Europe over the summer was Vienna. Now normally when I do titles for my posts I like to make up a random subtitle for them. But I saw “The Imperial City” on a banner somewhere in Vienna and really thought it matched so I’m going to use that.

Austria is really one of those countries where I didn’t know too much about. To me, it’s always been “like Germany, but not really” because they speak German and are pretty close by. I heard from a lot of people that Vienna is really nice though, so I was curious to see just how nice it was and to figure out the differences and similarities with Germany.

Just from comparing capitals though, it’s impossible to compare. Berlin and Vienna are such completely different cities that it immediately dispelled any thought that the two were remotely similar.

St. Stephens Cathedral, right in the heart of Vienna.

Vienna is such a classy place. The entire downtown core just oozes class and fanciness.

Right at the core of the city is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is a giant church that has one of the coolest roof tiling I have ever seen. It has like, a zig-zaggy pattern with a pretty neat colour, and just looks super interesting. It’s also free to enter which is always appreciated.

Walking around the city center from there is just a pretty cool experience. The buildings are all pretty European looking and there’s a lot of nice looking cafes and patio restaurants, which makes the entire area feel really comfy. Coupled with the fact that there’s some sort of cool looking building or monument at every corner, and it makes it a little adventure in and of itself.

Some cool statues at Hofburg Palace.

The reason why I like why it’s called the “Imperial City” is because Vienna is filled with historical palaces. Right in the middle of the downtown area is the Hofburg Palace which has some pretty impressive courtyards and statues. But that pales in comparison to Schönbrunn Palace, which is just a short train ride away from the downtown core.

At this point in the trip, we’ve already seen a lot of cool churches and palaces. I was worried I was gonna be burned out of seeing this kinda stuff over and over again. Seeing Schönbrunn Palace for the first time, it didn’t seem that special. Just some big building. But man, it really was something special.

After turning the corner and seeing the palace grounds right behind it, my mind changed immediately. You had this incredibly large and open garden that was super well kept. In the distance there’s this giant fountain at the base of this hill, with another awesome looking structure on top of the hill.

Behind the fountain at Schönbrunn Palace.

That sight there was really nice. Just walking through the garden was a really awesome experience. You could walk behind the fountain to where the water drops down, climb up the hill, and even get to the top of Gloriette to get this amazing panoramic view of the garden and city in the distance.

That garden was probably the highlight of the trip to Vienna. I probably could have spent a lot more time in that garden, but we had tickets to visit the museum as well so we couldn’t stay that long. The museum itself was alright. There were a lot of ornate and beautiful rooms in there and you were provided with an audio guide to explain to you the history, which was really nice.

A weird Sphinx thing at Belvedere Palace.

A third palace that we went to was Belvedere Palace. We went there before going to the airport and so we didn’t check out the actual buildings but just looked around outside and in the garden. The garden there was also really nice, but really couldn’t be compared to what we saw in Schönbrunn.

Actually, now that I think about it, we went to a lot of gardens in Vienna. In addition to the palace ones, we went to the Stadtpark and the Volksgarten as well. Both of those are also really nice parks and would be a great place to just chill.

Aside from parks and palaces, Vienna has a lot more to offer too. Prater is a free-entry amusement park that is kind of interesting to walk around. They have the famous Ferris wheel there which we did ride, but it wasn’t that exciting. It was neat though because there’s apparently a dinner service where you get a car to yourselves and just enjoy a fancy meal. Must be cool.

The Ferris Wheel in Prater at night.

They also have a roller coaster restaurant in Prater which is pretty cool. Food sucks but the atmosphere is pretty unique. Food and drinks slide down these rails to your table and there’s a bunch of fancy lights and stuff. Totally worth checking out for a drink or something, but definitely not a meal.

Vienna also has a tower that’s a bit of a ways outside of the city, the Danube Tower. It’s a pretty standard looking tower but the view was pretty nice. When we went thought it was really windy so it was kinda painful to be outside on the observatory, but hey, now I can say I’ve been.

And lastly, before I wrap things up. We also stumbled across another Soviet memorial while walking through Vienna. Kinda neat because we started the trip in Russia and all throughout Germany, Czechia, and Austria we could see the mark it made on these places. Pretty interesting stuff from a historical point of view.

The Soviet Memorial in Vienna.

Overall, Vienna is really nice. It has a lot of cool stuff to check out and definitely more than I thought there was. It’s a bit on the expensive side though, as it was definitely the most pricey place we went to on the trip. Granted, we did mostly just stick to the touristy areas, but I think it was money well spent. Lots of stuff to see in Vienna and we covered a lot in the couple of days that we were there.

And that wraps up my write-ups for my trip to Europe! Took a while to finish, but I’m done. I don’t know when I’ll be doing my next trip, but I’ll probably get around to writing about some other stuff until then (sometime).

Prague: The City of Spikes

The fourth, and second-last, city that I went to on my Europe trip was to Prague. One of my Dutch friends claimed that Prague was the “most beautiful city in Europe” and so I really had to go check it out. I was skeptical of course, I mean, Europe has so many beautiful cities.

Getting off the train from Berlin, my very first impression of Prague, well, wasn’t so great. Our accommodation was a few stations north of the city center and honestly it wasn’t the greatest area. It looked kinda run down and honestly felt like your stereotypical Slavic residential area.

A monument by Hlávka’s Bridge.

After figuring out the transportation and currency (fun fact I’ve been to more European countries that don’t use the Euro than do) we took the subway down into the Old Town.

And before I start writing other stuff, the subway was actually pretty interesting. Now, I’m not really sure who actually built the Prague metro, but the style of it is almost a copy of the ones in Russia. The similarities are very clear, from the escalators going down to the type of trains and even to the timer that shows you when the last train left. Either way, what I guess I’m trying to say was that you could really feel the Soviet influence.

We meet again, long escalator.

Anyways, back to the actual city. Like I mentioned before, my initial impression wasn’t very great. But once I actually got into the city center and the Old Town, everything changed.

Prague honestly is a really beautiful city.

Like many other cities in Europe, they limited the building heights in the city center so that you don’t have a lot of towering buildings obscuring the view of older historical elements. One thing that stuck out to me is the amount of orange they have. So many of the buildings have orange roofs so when you look out over the city you just see a sea of uniform colour which is quite pleasing to the eyes.

Buildings by the river.

Towering above the buildings are a bunch of spikes. The churches in Prague are all built with spires that tower over the other buildings and they just look so pointy. Everywhere you go you can see some sort of point sticking out in some cluster of building. It’s definitely a different style of building than what I’ve seen before and it honestly looks pretty cool.

My favourite area in Prague by far is just walking along the Vltava river. Especially during sunset when the sun is just above the mountains and illuminates the entire city in a golden glow. That view is just wonderful. You have the river, the sea of orange buildings, the spiky churches, and to top it all off you have the Prague Castle in the background. Just an amazing view. On our last day we actually ate dinner at a restaurant by the river just for the view.

Some random octopus in the river.

Prague really does feel like a place where you can just walk around and enjoy the city atmosphere. There’s so many quaint little shops and restaurants and everything just feels so nice.

However, that said, there is something pretty terrible about Prague. The backpackers.

I’m honestly not a big fan of backpackers. I’m all for travelling on a budget and whatever, but it really ruins the atmosphere of the place when you’re walking down a really nice area and there’s just like a ton of backpackers with their giant backpacks clogging the street. I guess Prague is really popular with backpackers just due to it’s location and so there’s just so many of them.

And of course, you have all your regular tourists too. So the end result is that Prague is beautiful, but also kinda feels like a giant tourist trap where a lot of the sightseeing areas are just pandering to tourists and foreigners. It doesn’t really feel that culturally authentic. For example, I was really looking forward to seeing Charles Bridge, the famous bridge with all the statues. But you get there and all you see are people with selfie sticks and cameras. Makes it hard to appreciate the actual place.

So many people.

It does get a bit better once you leave the main tourist areas, but of course, as a tourist with limited time, I do want to check out the main sights.

Speaking of main sights, there’s actually quite a lot to see in Prague. One of the most famous ones is the Old Town Square. The square is quite nice, a bunch of cafes and shops with a pretty cool looking church overlooking the place. When we went there was a dude with some bubbles and a bunch of horses walking around which just added to the atmosphere.

Near the square there’s also the the Astronomical Clock, and there were a ton of people there. It turned out that everyone was waiting for the clock to ring so I expected it to be some really cool spectacle but.. it really wasn’t. Some stuff was moving around and the bell chimes, but honestly it didn’t seem that impressive.

Bubbles entertaining people in the Old Town Square.

Another famous landmark, and maybe the most famous, is Prague Castle. It’s a complex situated on top of a small mountain and so it’s quite visible from around the city. The most striking thing about the complex is the church, which is huge. The inside of the church is also incredibly beautiful and definitely worth checking out.

The rest of the castle complex wasn’t quite as exciting, but there are areas where you can get an awesome view of the city. Seeing Prague from above is honestly such an experience. Like I said, Prague is incredibly beautiful and so any panoramic view is just wonderful. We ended up getting a beer and just sitting somewhere just looking out over the city. That was really nice.

Cheers to you Prague.

It was especially made nicer due to beer too. Czech beer is wonderful. There was a pub called the Prague Beer Museum that we went to which just served a ton of craft beers. That was awesome. It wasn’t very expensive and tasted so good. That’s definitely one thing I miss about the place and I find myself on the lookout for Czech beers now when I go to the store.

And just to add a tiny bit more before wrapping up this post, there is a small town east of Prague called Kutna Hora which I also visited. They have the Sedlec Ossuary there which is very unique. It’s essentially a small church filled with the bones of like 40,000 people. Very cool place and totally worth visiting if you ever go to Prague.

A chandelier made out of human bones. Spooky.

In conclusion, I really liked Prague. I enjoyed the time I spent there and kinda wish I could go back even like right now. The city is absolutely beautiful and there’s a lot to see, eat, and drink. I don’t know if I can call it the most beautiful city in Europe considering I haven’t been to all the European cities yet (someday!) but it definitely is up there. The next time I go though, I want to explore the non-touristy areas a bit more. Just to get away from the backpackers and inflated prices.