Sunday, March 01, 2015

Krauthünde

Some hot dogs with homemade faux sauerkraut:






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Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Mind if I give it a little dance?"


In which I rant about last-minute schedule changes.


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ululate!

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Death comes for us all, eventually, and that's just as true of childhood heroes as it is of everyone else. My brother David texted "Spock DEAD" last night, which jolted me. But as the news sank in, I realized that I hadn't been all that surprised—not really. The man was old. Leonard Nimoy leaves behind an impressive oeuvre as well as millions of loyal fans. His activities took him from acting to singing to photography to spoken-word performances to movie directing to political activism. Ragingly liberal, he was also unfailingly kind and humane—the more modest, less hubristic half of the Shatner-Nimoy Ashkenazi Jewish friendship. I admit that, as both Shatner and Nimoy got on in years, I morbidly wondered which of them would step first through the Great Door. The two men are only days apart in age (Shatner, also 83, was born March 22, 1931; Nimoy was born four days later on March 26, 1931, but always managed to seem the older of the pair), after all, so it was a tossup. Shatner had packed on the pounds over the years, but Nimoy had been an inveterate smoker until thirty years ago, when he quit. This wasn't enough to halt the appearance of the COPD that apparently killed him. There's comfort, though, in knowing that Nimoy died at home, surrounded by family and friends. 83 is a good, long life, even by today's medical standards, and Nimoy's mind was sharp until the end. Many people have commented on his final utterance on Twitter: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP." As so many on the Net have said, the man truly lived long and prospered.

There are too many online tributes and hagiographies to Nimoy to count, so I'll just talk for a bit about his impact on my life. Nimoy's Spock was a half-breed with one foot in two very different cultures. Was it any wonder that I, as a half-Korean, could relate to him? I admit I didn't get into Star Trek until I saw "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," which was the first good Trek film. I was originally a Star Wars fan (in one of his autobiographies, Nimoy thanks George Lucas for revolutionizing big-screen science fiction, which made possible the rejuvenation of the Trek franchise). But I was in the theater with my parents in 1979 when Mr. Spock stepped aboard the Enterprise, approached an intimidated Chekov (Walter Koenig) and sonorously intoned, "Permission to come aboard, sir" in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"... and the audience around me erupted in insane applause: Spock was back where he belonged. As with many fans, I too enjoyed Spock's logicality and quiet compassion, which seemed the antidote to the frequently uncivilized way in which people, both on the silver screen and in real life, acted toward each other. Spock was, in a real sense, the most human of the characters on Trek, and I enjoyed how the movies took the original TV character and made him even more human. By "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," Spock was telling his protégée Valeris that a person must have faith that the universe will unfold as it should. That's not a line that would have been uttered by the more logical-positivistic Spock of two decades previous, but it made perfect sense given the contemplative man Spock had become over time, and smart writers like Nicholas Meyer understood this.

So now Leonard Nimoy is gone, and the world is a slightly dimmer place. Life will go on, of course; the universe will continue to unfold as it should (as long as people stop messing with the space-time continuum, dammit!). Nimoy will be remembered for Spock, but some people will also smile as they recollect his other, quirkier performances, such as his singing of "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" (enshrined here on YouTube) and his hilarious Audi commercial with "new Spock" Zachary Quinto. I regret that I never saw "Fringe"; I understand he was a recurrent character in that series and had found more fans thanks to his role as Dr. William Bell. But the impression I have is that Nimoy's touch turned pretty much every project he was involved in to gold (except, perhaps, for projects that required him to sing).

The photo I've chosen to accompany this post reflects my favorite part of Nimoy's career: his turn as Spock in "Star Trek II." I still consider that movie the best of all the Trek movies—yes, including the sleek, new, chrome-plated ones produced so recently by JJ Abrams. The costume design for "Trek II" gave the crew of the Enterprise a more overtly military look, which altered the tenor of how we perceived Spock himself. There's even a drill-sergeant-like moment in "Trek II" in which Spock barks, "Company—dismissed!" to his trainees, and that's a side of Spock we see nowhere else. This, then, is how I'd like to imagine Spock: calm, competent, logical, humane, disciplined, in control, and ready for action.

I suppose we should be thankful that such a large repository of Nimoy's writing and performances exists. The man himself is gone, but his body of work remains, a legacy to be treasured. Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy. You will be remembered with fondness.


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Captain Picard versus... the dress

If you're not acquainted with the "dress" meme that's going around right now, you might want to familiarize yourself, otherwise the following image won't make much sense.


And in case you're wondering what the Internet thinks after having seen the initially uploaded image of the dress in question:


Source

For me, as for the majority of folks, when I saw the original shot of the dress, I thought it looked white and gold after I mentally compensated for strange lighting. To say otherwise struck me as insane. But if you click the first link, above, you get to see the same dress in much better lighting, and it's obviously blue and black.

The moral of the story is: never trust digital cameras, which have traditionally had a hard time handling less-than-optimal lighting conditions.


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Friday, February 27, 2015

perhaps there's nothing to worry about after all

My brother David alerts me to this article:

Google Allows Porn on Blogger After Backlash

So it might well be that my blog is safe. Stay tuned.


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au lit!

The bed finally arrived. The ajeossi who drove the bed to me also got out and put the bed together, insisting the entire time that he needed absolutely no help from me. Having nothing to do, I stood off to the side and snapped some surreptitious shots of the old guy at work, coughing loudly to cover the clicking noise my phone's camera made with each shot.

In the pic below, you see the driver putting together the bed's completely unnecessary frame. Bed design in Korea is a bit strange: the frame—at least for small, cheap beds—is mere ornamentation, not an integral part of the bed's structure. The bed can stand alone just fine without all that wood. This new bed has, in fact, some features in common with the very hard bed I'd slept on in my studio in Hayang, the unnecessary frame foremost among them.

One major difference, though, is that this new bed's mattress is only about two inches thick whereas the bed in Hayang had an actual mattress. I asked the delivery driver whether I was looking at a box spring; he laughed and said, "No, this is it! This is the mattress!" I told him that I'd seen a mattress in his truck. He smiled and replied that that mattress was for a different household. So there we are.


Next, here's a shot of the completed bed being popped into place. The mattress portion of the bed needed to have seven fat plastic legs screwed into the bottom: six along the edges and one leg in the very center to prevent sagging. With those in place, the last step in the bed's assembly was simply to pop the bed inside the ridiculously thin wooden frame. Not that I was expecting heavy-duty wood for a bed that cost only $100, US.


Below, a pic of my satisfaction. I've had a chance to lie on the bed, now, and it's a thousand times better than lying on the floor. I might take the step of buying a memory-foam pad to augment the bed's thickness later on, but for now, this is quite comfortable compared to what I've been doing for nearly a month. So, yeah—I'm very happy to rejoin the civilized world. Monasticism is not for me.


And here, below, is a shot of the bed with all its linens and pillows in place. I have a big, fat head (like in that Peter Gabriel song, "Big Time"), so I need a lot of pillows to support it, mainly because I tend to sleep on my side. The other nice thing is that, because I no longer have to use my blankets as a makeshift mattress, I can shut off my ondol floor heater at night and just cover myself up. That saves a ton of cash. My first month's heating bill is going to be outrageous, but from here on in, I'll be very stingy about using gas, which will just be for hot water from now on.


And there we are. I'm a much, much happier camper now that I have a bed to sleep on, and you, Dear Reader, can be spared more of my old man's bellyaching.


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Thursday, February 26, 2015

the bed is on its way

I had spoken with Wi Mae Peu's customer service yesterday about why it was taking so damn long for my bed to arrive. Overall, I'm not impressed with WMP's performance when it comes to deliveries, and I'm beginning to wonder how worthwhile it is to order items when there's so much inconvenience involved.

Anyway, WMP's service rep told me, with apologies, that the bed would arrive sometime next week. This morning, however, I got a call from a truck driver who told me he'd be delivering the bed today—this evening. So that's good, I suppose. Fucking finally.

Alas, the truck driver also noted that there'd be a W25,000 delivery fee. I had thought my bed was listed on the site as being "free delivery," so I called customer service again just a few minutes ago to see what was up. Turns out the fee was there the whole time; I had blithely misread the "mu ija" ("interest-free") tag as the "muryo baesong" ("free delivery") tag that normally sits in the upper-right corner of the entry for any given item. When I looked at the beds catalogue again, I saw the tags clearly this time around. Sure enough: mu ija.

In any event, yesterday's phone call must have lit a fire under someone's ass because my bed is coming today. So tonight, at long last, I'll be able to sleep in relative comfort after three weeks spent on the goddamn floor.


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"The Equalizer": review

[NB: Here be spoilers.]

"The Equalizer" was originally a short-lived TV series (1984-89) that starred crusty old Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, an angry man with a mysterious past (he was a government operative of some sort or another) who uses his skills to help the everyday Joe or Jane get out of a jam, advertising his special services in the classifieds. I don't know whether much was made of the fact that McCall was British but worked for an American agency; perhaps the viewers weren't supposed to think too hard about that.

After a long slumber, McCall was reincarnated in 2014's reboot "The Equalizer," which stars Denzel Washington as McCall and is directed by Antoine Fuqua (whom you might remember from "The Replacement Killers," among other movies). As in the TV version, Washington's McCall is an ex-operative with a murky past—a man of extreme self-discipline and strict habits, now living a life as a hardware-store clerk. Because of insomnia caused by the death of his wife, McCall often finds himself in a local diner late at night, reading his way down a list of books that he had promised his wife he would get through. Also frequenting the diner is Teri/Alina, a Russian-speaking call girl (Chlöe Grace Moretz) who turns tricks for the local Boston branch of the Russian mafia. McCall and Alina don't know each other's names at first, but Alina finds herself charmed by the retiring McCall even as McCall finds himself growing increasingly concerned about Alina's life choices and her safety. Alina confesses her plans to leave prostitution and become a singer, and she tells McCall that "Teri" is just her street name.

The plot leaps into high gear when Alina's Russian keepers beat her severely after she strikes an overly grope-y client one night. McCall visits the Russian gangsters, walking right into the restaurant serving as their headquarters and offering the head guy, Slavi (David Meunier), $9800 to buy Alina's freedom and allow her to lead her own life. You can predict how this scene is going to end, and sure enough, when Slavi refuses to grant the hospitalized Alina her freedom, McCall opens up the long-expected can of CIA-trained whoop-ass on everyone in the room. By the end of the fight, Slavi is on the floor, bleeding out through a gunshot wound in his neck; McCall then sinks down to the floor next to him and offers this cold, pitiless, testosterone-filled speech, which sounds as if it had been written by Frank Miller for The Dark Knight Returns:

Your heart's beating three times the normal rate. That's because you're losing so much blood. About thirty seconds, your body's gonna shut down, and you're gonna suffocate. Alina, the girl you beat half to death, her life's gonna go on. Yours is gonna end right here, on this funky floor, over ninety-eight hundred dollars. You should have taken the money.

Keanu Reeves, in "John Wick" (see my review here), could never have delivered those lines with the same gelid conviction. Even though "Wick" was also about a trained killer with a beef against the Russian mob (and what's with all these Russian-mob movies, anyway?), Denzel Washington can out-act Reeves anytime and anywhere, which automatically elevates "The Equalizer" to a stature far beyond that of "John Wick." And I have to admit, I'm a sucker for the kind of Batman-style dialogue that "The Equalizer" delivers. There's a lot that this movie gets right—or at least does better than what was done in Keanu Reeves's actioner.

But at the same time, "The Equalizer" is a frustrating combination of smart and stupid. The screenwriters do a good job with the good-guy/bad-guy verbal interactions, but the action itself stretches the bounds of credibility. It's not that Denzel, who is now 60, can't pull off the role of a believable action star: it's more that some of the action, especially the climactic fight inside McCall's Home Depot-style warehouse, doesn't always make sense. One question that ran through my mind throughout that entire scene was: Where are the police?

That complaint aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there was no huge, nonsensical final battle between the two main antagonists, McCall and ex-Spetsnaz badass Nicolai "Teddy" Itchenko (Marton Csokas, a.k.a. Celeborn in Lord of the Rings, in sinister Russian mode). When McCall finally does Teddy in, he gives Teddy absolutely no quarter, using a nail gun—an implausibly weaponized nail gun—to strike Teddy's major nerves and render him completely unable to move. It's cruel, it's ruthless, and it's entirely in keeping with the quietly vengeful nature of McCall's character. The nail gun itself was cartoonish, but McCall's bloody-mindedness made for good cinema, at least for those of us who dig righteous anger.

Taken as a whole, "The Equalizer" is light years better than "John Wick," but I thought that director Fuqua, who has a few action films under his belt, could have done a better job with editing his fight scenes and scripting the action sequences more logically, plausibly, and adroitly. Some of the pacing is clumsy—and I say this as an admirer of Fuqua's work (again with Denzel Washington) in "Training Day," which I thought was a fine film. (If anything, McCall seems like the moral mirror image of the corrupt cop that Washington portrayed in "Training Day").

Critics have complained that this version of "The Equalizer," far from being a reboot of the TV series, seems to be completely its own thing. I'm not so sure: Denzel Washington's McCall takes on more than the Russian mafia: several subplots show him going after run-of-the-mill robbers and dirty lawmen in the Boston Police Department, much as was true in the TV show. The movie ends with McCall putting out his classified ad, just like in the show, offering his services gratis to people who are down on their luck and who need to even the odds.

A word about fight choreography: we live in a post-Bourne age, so fight sequences have evolved to be meaner and more intimate. I can't say whether this trend in fight choreography represents a truer reflection of actual CIA-style hand-to-hand combat training, but I like the look of most modern movie fights. Denzel's character doesn't deliver balletic martial-arts kicks; it's mostly arms and hands, elbows and forearms, holds and locks and short, sharp weapons that make for more close-range killing. In "The Equalizer," the fighting style matches well with Denzel's aging physique, and Denzel's physique (there's at least one scene in which it's clear the man has a very slight paunch) makes him a more relatable action hero.

And some final observations: Chlöe Grace Moretz's character, Alina, is in the movie for a few minutes at the beginning and a few minutes at the end. That's one problem, especially since she's a major catalyst for the movie's main plot. Another is that I felt Moretz was completely miscast in the role of a teen hooker. It's not that Moretz can't act: I thought she was an awesome little spitfire in "Kick-Ass" (review here); it's more that I simply wasn't convinced the girl could ever be a whore. Moretz radiates a cuteness, sweetness, and innocence that completely drown out her sexuality. It's impossible to think of this girl as dirty.*

I'm not sure whether "The Equalizer" has some sort of moral. If there is one, it's probably something like If you know your opponent is a trained killer, do not face off against him inside a hardware store, no matter how many Russian cronies you bring with you. But I don't think you watch a movie like "The Equalizer" because you're interested in moral messages; you watch "The Equalizer" because you know, going in, that ass is going to be kicked, and the bad guys will get their comeuppance. All of them.



*Your mileage may vary. She's got boobs now.



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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

chili dawgz

Sticking with the sausage theme, I've moved on to chili dogs:


Sorry for not having done a process-and-product series of photos of the chili-making, but it was late and I was tired, and I didn't want to spend all night resizing photos and uploading a dozen images when what I'd really like to do is kick back and keep reading A Clash of Kings.


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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

WARNING!!

If you suddenly find yourself unable to see my blog on March 23, it may be because this blog will have suddenly been switched over to "private" mode by Google. We Bloggerites all just received a notification stating that Google, a nanny-stater par excellence, is instituting a new adult-content policy. Here's what it says, in part:

Adult Content Policy on Blogger

Starting March 23, 2015, you won't be able to publicly share images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity on Blogger.

Note: We’ll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.

Changes you’ll see to your existing blogs

If your existing blog doesn’t have any sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video on it, you won’t notice any changes.

If your existing blog does have sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video, your blog will be made private after March 23, 2015. No content will be deleted, but private content can only be seen by the owner or admins of the blog and the people who the owner has shared the blog with.

I have a picture of Muhammad as a dildo-faced donkey. I have a copy of a sexual cartoon from The Onion that's meant to offend almost all religions. I've got a naughty picture that I recycle whenever I do a birthday tribute for my buddy Mike. Will these be sexually explicit enough to get me "privatized"? If so, you might want to think about becoming a follower of this blog so that you'll be able to see my content. (See the right-hand margin for my followers list, which contains the link that lets you become a member. Heh. Member.)

So: you've been warned. I don't consider this blog to be a font of pornographic imagery, but it's undeniable that I've slapped some potentially raunchy content up here now and again. So prepare for the worst: assume I'm going to be turned into a private blog, and become a blog member NOW. I wouldn't normally be so demanding, but I don't see how else I'm going to keep my already-meager readership. And if not enough people show up as new members of this blog (e.g., if I end up with under 100 members by March 23), I might just have to shoot the Hairy Chasms right in its hairy chasms and live life bloglessly. That would be a shame.

But we'll see. There's a chance that I might be passed over, like a Hebrew firstborn ignored by the Destroyer in ancient Egypt.


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"St. Vincent": a short review

"St. Vincent" stars Bill Murray as Vincent MacKenna, a grouchy, down-on-his-luck misanthrope who owes a lot of money to a lot of people, but who still finds the time and the will to help others out. One day, MacKenna backs his car into his own fence, goes inside to fix himself yet another drink, hurts his hand while chipping ice with a hammer, slips on the ice, and knocks himself out cold against some cabinets. He wakes up the next morning to the sound of two Latino movers arguing about the fact that they've just trashed MacKenna's car by knocking a tree branch onto it with their truck, and to make matters worse, the movers are there for MacKenna's new neighbors: a divorced medical technician named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her runty son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie has to work long hours, and when Oliver meets some bullies at his new private school, losing his keys and wallet and uniform, he ends up having to hang with Vincent, his mean old next-door neighbor. Vincent eventually accepts Oliver as his babysitting charge—for a price, of course—as Maggie has to work long hours at the hospital. Thus begins what the viewer can predict will be a beautiful friendship as poor Oliver is led around to various bars and racetracks, and is taught one very useful nose-breaking move as a way to fight back against his tormentors at school.

For people who hate comic formula, this movie will offer nothing new. You can see the setup and punchline coming a mile away; the very title of the movie gives away the movie's ending, and the script is unabashedly manipulative. But despite all that predictable boilerplate, it's still good to see Murray clowning around like the Irish Catholic imp he is, and the chemistry between him and freshman thesp Lieberher is entertaining and authentic. Melissa McCarthy also proves she has acting chops that go far beyond SNL-style comedy; one scene requires her to tell her heartbreaking single-mother story through tears, even while delivering laugh lines. It takes talent to make people laugh when you're crying, but in that scene, she managed to make me both laugh and cry. In the end, "St. Vincent" isn't a cosmic drama or a divine comedy; it's a movie about the little things. Oliver is given a class project called "Saints Among Us," in which he has to choose a person he knows, some everyday Joe, as his personal saint. I think we all know whom he picks. But the point Oliver makes, in his presentation about sainthood, is the everyday nature of it. That appeals to my Zennish sensibilities, and it humanizes what could have been an otherwise run-of-the-mill, easy-to-anticipate dollop of nothing. It's the actors who rescue "St. Vincent" from mediocrity and make the story accessible to the rest of us.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

the frustration of deliveries

My buddy Tom persuaded me to download not just the WMP shopping app but also an app that tracks the status of your deliveries. The WMP app tells you how many of your orders are being handled and shipped; the second app tracks your orders' shipping status with a "clock" icon—a circular progress bar that fills in bit by bit as your packages go from one shipping point to another, ever closer to your domicile. Sometimes progress happens at a crawl; sometimes your package arrives in record time. I've experienced WMP deliveries twice, and I've had both extremes. Right now, though, something strange is happening: the shipping app tells me that I have a package on the way, but my WMP app says that no items are currently ready for shipping. Which app to believe?

Also frustrating is the idea that I have to remain home all day, waiting for these damn items to be delivered. I suppose I could text the delivery guys my building's entry code and my own door's entry code, but that would be highly inadvisable, even to people who aren't paranoid. I don't know what the procedure will be if the delivery guy happens to arrive at my studio when I'm away; does he come back the next day? Is the order simply canceled and a refund issued? Is the item crassly dropped off in front of the building? There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut way to deal with packages that get dropped off when you're not home. Back in the States, my apartment buildings both had rental offices, and any packages would be dropped off there during business hours, and I'd be notified of my package's arrival. In Hayang, I saw that a somewhat similar system was in place: if I happened to be away when a package came, the delivery guy would leave a sticky tag on my mailbox's metal cover, with a cell-phone number to text him so that he could come by the following day.

I've got to leave the house today and tomorrow, but I'm very worried about what that might entail. If the delivery guy calls me while I'm out, I suppose I could verbally give him the entry codes, but that would still be risky. Perhaps the best approach is simply the most honest one: just tell the driver that I'm out and can't receive the package, then let him tell me what the procedure is. No matter how you slice it, though, this is a frustrating situation.

UPDATE: I texted Tom, and he offered some commonsense solutions like, "Tell your landlady that the package is coming, and have her kid open the door for the delivery guy so he can place the package in front of your door. Or tell the delivery guy you're home only during such-and-such hours." That second suggestion is one I'll use during the semester, as I'll be away in class at certain times, and away all day on Fridays.


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"Next!"

Each batch of choucroute alsacienne has yielded three heaping platefuls of food. I've gone through two such batches and, as much as I love the choucroute, I think six plates in a row is enough, and it's time to move on to the next thing. Since I seem to be recapitulating my favorites, I suppose I'll shift my focus to chili—good ol' Texas-style chili, i.e., no damn beans, and no damn tomatoes: just beef and spice and some scattered aromatics (onion, garlic). Pair that up with some massive hot dogs and some cheese, and it's chili-dog time, baby!* After that... I'm not sure. My next favorites could be any or all of the following:

spaghetti bolognese
• Kevin-style bleu/Gorgonzola fettuccine with garlic bread + caprese
• pulled-pork quesadillas and sandwiches
• honey-mustard (or sweet soy) salmon sandwiches with wasabi mayo
• New England clam chowder
• bacon cheeseburgers
nachos grandes
tacos
burritos
• shrimp-and-chicken curry on rice
• cashew chicken (and/or shrimp) on rice
golbaengi dwaenjang-jjigae (see here)
budae-jjigae (see here, among other places)
• chicken and/or lamb shawarmas
modeum (everything) salad
• hummus and pita (or naan)
• egg-and-sausage frittata
• lobster macaroni and cheese
• beef Stroganoff with mushrooms
(NB: the above isn't an exhaustive list of things I know how to cook!)

Now that I've broken out Charles's oven, I'm impatient to do some baking. While I doubt I'll be baking much bread, I'll be attempting savory items like the above-mentioned frittata (see here) and baked chicken breast for the chicken shawarma (see here). Along with that, I'd like to make lasagna, different kinds of cake (I'll need to buy cake pans), macaroni and cheese (see above), and anything else I can think to bake. If I can get hold of some puff pastry, I might even try my hand at some Beef Wellington.

It's going to be a good six months.



*John Mac takes his chili with corn bread, which also sounds really good.


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Oscar: quick predix

[Now updated.]

Just for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress:

Picture: It comes down to either "American Sniper" or "Birdman," both of which I've seen. "Sniper" is, without a doubt, the populist favorite, but "Birdman" wins on artistic merits, which probably counts more for the Academy. Given the way the biased media have been pounding "Sniper," I suspect "Birdman" is going to win this. Both films are equally deserving, but comparing them really is like comparing apples and oranges.

Director: Eastwood or Iñárritu? This is a toughie. Eastwood has always been a simple, unpretentious director who mainly just points the camera at his actors and lets them act. "American Sniper" is vintage Eastwood to that extent, but "Sniper" also allows Eastwood to direct battles, something I've never seen him do before. (I never saw his pair of WW2 films) Eastwood does so with aplomb and competence, a fact that militates in his favor. But "Birdman," as I said in my review, essentially turns a moviegoing experience into a theatergoing experience, and that's a nearly impossible trick to pull off. I'm going to go with Iñárritu for this one.

Actor: As above, I think it comes down to Michael Keaton versus Bradley Cooper, but personally, I think Keaton deserves the win, here. Cooper's performance was fine, but it was simply a more understated version of the performances he normally gives. Keaton had the more difficult task of acting in a "meta" film, which often required him to engage in acting about acting. (One classic scene in "Birdman" has him weeping in front of Edward Norton's character while telling the sad and horrifying story of his fucked-up childhood, only for him to stop and snarl at Norton, "See? I can act, too!")

Actress: I don't think I've seen any of the films in which the nominated actresses have played, but the scuttlebutt gives this award to Julianne Moore for her turn in "Still Alice," the story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's. It's easy to see why: you've landed a plum role when you can play someone mentally deteriorating. Sad degeneration is always a pity to behold, especially when the character begins the story as lively, powerful, and mentally sharp. The Academy eats such roles and stories up—terminal cancer, Alzheimer's, whatever. So I think it'll be shocking if Moore doesn't get the Oscar for her performance here.

And those are my modest predictions for tonight's Academy Awards. We'll soon know whether they bear out. I'll be doing errands when the results finally come in, but as always, I'll update this post to give you the harsh reality and to see how accurate my predictions turned out to be. Given my history, I suspect I'll be wrong about three of the above four predictions.

UPDATE: Wow—I actually got three out of four right this time: everything except Best Actor which, according to commenter Charles, went to Eddie Redmayne for his work portraying Stephen Hawking in the misleadingly titled "The Theory of Everything." (Hawking hasn't actually developed a Grand Unified Theory.) I had heard that Redmayne's performance was good, but it seemed to me—from the previews, anyway—that it was less about Redmayne's acting and more about his physical resemblance to Hawking. But I have yet to see the movie myself, so I really have no idea how good Redmayne's acting was.


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Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Birdman": one-paragraph review

Just saw "Birdman," starring Michael Keaton (eminently watchable), Emma Stone (touchingly soulful), Zach Galifianakis (surprisingly restrained), Edward Norton (hilariously egomaniacal), Andrea Riseborough (remarkably arch), Naomi Watts (endearingly delicate), and Amy Ryan (depressingly world-weary). Wow. This movie is probably about as close as cinema can get to mimicking a live-theater experience. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu ("21 Grams," "Babel") and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, have done amazing work in bringing to life the story of a has-been action-movie star who, in a desperate bid for legitimacy and validation, decides to direct and star in a stage play based on Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson—neurotic, driven, helpless, commanding, and probably insane. Half of the movie seems to be an hallucination; sometimes the story plays like a family drama; sometimes it plays like a black comedy, albeit one without any true laugh-out-loud moments. Instead, as with a good Robert Altman film, there are sly references to stars and films and tropes that you've seen before; and as with a good Terry Gilliam film, there are trippy flights of fancy accompanied by a sweeping, "Brazil"-style orchestral score. I wouldn't recommend "Birdman" for anyone other than theater lovers because I think it's primarily theater lovers who are going to "get" the film, in all its New Yawkish glory. It's a drama, it's a comedy, it's a parody, and in its final moments, I guess it's safe to say it's something of an uplifting mystery. I can see why the movie has garnered so much critical praise, even as its Amazon.com ratings from the hoi polloi are in the 3.2-star doldrums. This isn't really a movie for the general public, but as I said, it's definitely for lovers of the stage. If you're that kind of animal, you'll be blown away. As I was.


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Saturday, February 21, 2015

on Peter Jackson's Gandalf


In Peter Jackson's version of The Lord of the Rings, Isengard is something of a flat valley with the tower Orthanc at its center. All around the tower, in a three-dimensional mandala of evil, are the charnel pits and Uruk-hai spawning chambers—the machinery with which the twisted Saruman the White is generating an army.

In "The Fellowship of the Ring," Jackson shows Gandalf riding into Isengard. Saruman meets Gandalf outside; the scene is cut, and we see both wizards inside Orthanc. As the tenor of their conversation grows more sinister, Gandalf realizes that Saruman has changed allegiance and is now a minion of the Dark Lord, Sauron.

So the question is this: how did Gandalf, as he was riding toward Orthanc, not realize Saruman had turned? Surely he would have seen several square miles of fumes and smelled the intense charnel stench, no? I don't recall clearly, but I think Tolkien's novel actually elides all of this, leaving it to the reader to imagine how Gandalf's encounter with Saruman went. Jackson's movie, by contrast, produces what may be an unforced error: Gandalf's inability to see what Saruman is doing on Isengard's property means either that Saruman is very good at hiding his operation (and we're given no hint that he's hiding anything), or that Galdalf, for all his years and wisdom, is unwontedly imperceptive.


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Friday, February 20, 2015

short and curly


I plucked this from my body with a feeling of bizarre pride—the pride of a mother who has just given birth to a beautiful baby son.

Now, Dear Reader, I leave it to you to guess from which part of my body I tweezed this lovely hair. One hint: it's not a pube.


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new studio: outside

I like how quiet my new neighborhood is. If Goyang/Ilsan is a satellite of Seoul, my neighborhood is a satellite of that satellite. I'm 15 minutes outside of downtown by bus (and am about to walk the bus route into downtown and back today); at night, my street has almost no cars, and there are almost no stray cats yowling in the alleys. We're still close enough to Seoul to get Seoul's nighttime light pollution, but some few stars are visible in the skies above Goyang/Ilsan.

Here are some exterior shots, taken on February 8, of my studio's building and its surroundings. I live in the shadow of two or three major apartment complexes; Goyang/Ilsan is still fairly empty at its edges, so a lot of this real estate has been seized by developers and is being developed at a rapid clip. As my friend Tom remarked, "Come back in ten years, and it'll be as crowded as Seoul." I think he's right. Construction projects are going on everywhere.

As always, hover your cursor over each image for its caption.











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new studio: inside

Some shots from inside my new studio. Hover your cursor over each image to see its caption. Otherwise, read the descriptive text that accompanies each image.

Below, this first shot shows the kitchenette, the studio's front door, and my bathroom door (left). You might not agree with the way I've set up the clothing rack, and I'd agree that it's unsightly as it is, but right now, that's the best place to put it. I might change its position once my bed arrives. I took this shot while sitting on my makeshift bed, which right now is nothing more than two blankets folded in half along the long axis to provide some padding. That leaves me with no blanket to put on top of me, so I just wear my winter coat to bed. This is basically how I started out in my Hayang studio back in 2013. My life proceeds in tight little circles.


Next: below is a shot of my metal table, which cost me only about $36. You'll note the nightstand, which I'd ordered from online via Wi Mae Peu ("We Make Price"). It's much smaller than I thought it would be, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Also visible in this shot is Charles's oven, given to me as a birthday gift in 2013 and about to be unboxed (see below). You also see my stubby fridge, some pots and pans, and the obligatory mess of wires.


A shot taken while standing—roughly from the same position as the first photo.


The following shot was taken while I stood next to the kitchenette. I've turned around; the front door is behind me, and you can see my desk (thanks again, Joe) and my, uh, "bed." The studio's one big window gives a lovely view of the parking lot and of the building across the way. No sweeping panoramas here, alas.


A better shot of the "bed" and its environs:


A closeup of the nightstand. I texted this picture to my brother David, who commented, "Nice!"


Charles will be happy to see that I've finally deployed my birthday gift. I also bought a microwave the other day; decided to go with a tiny one, after all, because it was on sale for very cheap, and because it looks and works just like the microwave from my Hayang studio—simple, and brutally efficient.


Commenter Texas Annie had asked for wide shots of the kitchenette. I don't normally take requests (or orders) regarding what content I put on my blog, but I decided, what the hell, and have consented to show my kitchenette off in some detail. Below, my kitchenette as seen from an angle:


Here's a closer shot of the sink/counter/cabinets area, which drives home the point that I have almost zero counter space, and that's why I don't feel the urge to put up wide shots (I'd rather focus on the food). As you see, my stove is electric, not gas, which means I won't spend quite as much money on gas, thank Cthulhu:


My next post will show you some exterior shots so that stalkers will have an easier time finding me.





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currying favor

My local grocery stocks a surprising number of non-Korean goods. I found bay leaves and cloves there, much to my delight, and the biggest jackpot of all: I found a huge plastic bottle of curry for only five bucks. That's the good news: I won't need to go all the way to Itaewon to fetch my much-coveted spice.

The bad news, alas, is that it's East Asian curry, which I think of as the Bill Murray of curry: sweet and not very serious. Indian curry doesn't fuck around: it's got an aroma and a flavor that both hit you. Hard. Indian curry isn't shy about its pungency. It's like the guy who deliberately refuses to shower for a week, then sits next to you on the subway, breathing heavily and staring at you with a Dafuckyougonna doowuhbahdit? look on his face as he wordlessly assaults you with his brain-raping fetor. East Asian curry, by contrast, is a dainty little geisha who titters in shame when she farts accidentally.

Be that as it may, I'm going to try to use this curry to make my old shrimp-and-chicken curry dish, assuming I can find fresh basil somewhere.* And proper peas—not the shitty little flavorless green jawbreakers that Koreans normally eat.



*Every now and again, I'll mention fresh basil on the blog, and Charles will ask me why I'm not growing my own. I'd love to try, but I'd need to know where to find basil seeds and the proper soil. I assume the local E-Mart or Home Plus will have planting/gardening supplies, but will they have the seeds? Or should I order the seeds from iHerb? Because if I could grow large quantities of basil, I'd make myself a ton of pesto. Pine nuts are expensive in Korea, but at least they're readily available.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

process and product:
a Lunar New Year's post

I kick off the lunar new year by making you drool.

Here, in seventeen images, I've tried to capture the process of making yesterday's delectable choucroute alsacienne. Hover your cursor over the images to see the captions. If you're viewing this post on a smart phone, then I'm sorry, but you won't be able to see the title text. All the images have a width of 300 pixels, so there will be no "click to enlarge" here. (The original images were 2300 pixels wide.)


















Damn—that sauerkraut recipe is a keeper. And it's so, so easy to make.

Happy Lunar New Year! You can't imagine how ecstatic I am that I'm once again able to cook.



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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

feed your craving

Sometimes, all a man needs is a plateful of steaming meat that's been boiled in beer.






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today's choucroute

[NB: This post has been updated.]

I can't find sauerkraut anywhere near me—not at Home Plus, not at E-Mart, and not at Costco—so I'm going to be making my own "quick" (and faux) sauerkraut for use in my choucroute alsacienne. Strangely enough, my sauerkraut takes its inspiration from former-Olympian-turned-chef-humorist Brian Boitano. Boitano's recipe incarnates my intuition as to how to make sauerkraut quickly: instead of softening the cabbage up through the slow pickling process, you cook the cabbage on the spot in its pickling solution. This is going to be mighty fragrant, and I feel apologetic toward all my new fellow residents in this building, but This Must Be Done Or The World Will End. Come hell, high water, or Cthulhu's tentacled minions, I WILL have my choucroute!

UPDATE, 7:59PM: My thanks to Brian Boitano for the kraut recipe. Holy shit, that's good. And the most wonderful thing is that you don't have to wait several days for the kraut to ferment—by heating the pickling solution, you force it to infuse quickly into the cabbage. The net effect is similar to fermentation: the cabbage leaves soften and take in the pickling flavor. I did have to make a few changes, though, partly out of necessity and partly out of a difference in taste. I added a touch of salt, whereas Boitano's recipe calls for none (without salt, the kraut just wasn't savory enough). I couldn't find mustard seed anywhere quickly, so I used Maille brand whole-grain mustard, which is 90% mustard seeds, anyway. I also added pickle juice from a jar of large sweet gherkins sitting in my fridge, and I used regular old white cabbage instead of the savoy cabbage that Boitano recommends. Oh, and one last thing: I couldn't find the German beer listed in Boitano's recipe, so I bought some OB pilsner—a Korean brand. I experimentally drank some of the OB myself, and surprisingly, it wasn't that horrible. Quite a contrast with the time I drank a bottle of Heineken. God, that beer is shitty-tasting. Works great in choucroute, but by itself it's an engine-degreaser.


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the lunar holiday begins

I'm still on vacation, so this makes little difference to me, but here in South Korea, we're at the beginning of a three-day national holiday known variously as Seol or Seollal, i.e., the Korean lunar new year. So—Happy New Year, all! That's a bit premature, of course: the actual day of Seol is tomorrow: Thursday, February 19, the beginning of the Year of the Sheep or Goat. (The Sino-Korean word yang normally translates as "sheep," but could possibly include goats.)

For me, the holiday means I get to take a short break from my projects, two of which are done, but two of which are yet to be done. I've finished proofing my friend's novel's manuscript, and I sent in my course proposal for KMA, but I have yet to write up my syllabi and calendars for the upcoming Dongguk semester, and I still need to write up the full-length course for the tutorial that I might be teaching at the end of this month.

But those are concerns for later this week and all of next week. For now, I leave you with this link, courtesy of George Takei on Twitter, to a list of "Why didn't I think of that?"-style inventions that solve some of life's more annoying problems. Below, my brief comments on each of the inventions.

1. Clever, but sleeping in your car is still uncomfortable if you lack the leg room.

2. Again, clever, but you still have to wipe your cup.

3. I have no clue how this one is supposed to work. Can't the sand just blow onto the surface? How is this preventing things from getting sandy? And how is it any different from laying out a tarp? Plus, there's the question of carrying the extra weights that you'd need in order to hold the corners down...

4. I love this one, but (1) moving parts will break down, and (2) vandalism.

5. I laughed when I saw this invention, which is mainly for the weak and/or lazy.

6. Laughed harder at this. It might actually work... as long as the sandwich doesn't slide around underneath the "mold" print.

7. Veddy nice, veddy nice... but who keeps their cords unplugged like that? Maybe this is for people who are constantly detaching and reattaching equipment.

8. Cool, but it's a one-trick pony. Is this really solving life's more annoying problems?

9. Finally! Something I can get behind. I love this. And I want one.

10. No, thanks. A classic example of putting all your eggs in one basket.

11. YES! I've often found that my broom's "brooming power" gets reduced over time. I normally "groom" my broom by hand. Which is gross. This is much better. Another unequivocal thumbs-up from me.

12. Weird, but this has potential. I'm interested and want to know more.

13. Hands down, the most awesome thing on this list. You'd have to use it outside, though, or in a bathtub, to minimize the effects of splashing. Otherwise, I think this is a blessedly creative solution to a long-standing dog problem.

14. The title above the picture is wrong: that's a dryer, not a washing machine (the door is too weak for that machine to be a front-loading washer). And a cloth like that doesn't necessarily have to go onto laundry equipment, per se: you could spread it anywhere.

15. What a waste of creative effort. I didn't think the inability to see your toast while it was toasting was a huge problem. Besides, you can just stand over your normal toaster and do what I do: look down into it. There—was that so hard?

16. My response to this is that you can spend a fraction of a cent to buy one of these.

17. I love this—at least for when it's cleanup time, but it's no guarantee that the Legos won't get scattered during playtime. And don't think I didn't catch the "Lay... Go/Lego" pun.

18. Heal while you cut. That's just weird, but I think it's got potential S&M applications if you can somehow make it relevant to human skin.

19. Oh, good Christ. Really? Really?

20. I'm not sure how this is supposed to work. The guy wearing the shirt has to have an exact knowledge of how every part of that grid maps onto every part of his back, right? And if the shirt is at all loose or billowy...

21. At first, I thought this was awesome because it eliminates the "toothpaste asymptote" problem by shooting the goo out both ends. Then I saw that the author of this article saw the double-ended tube as a solution for couples. Which left me confused. Are women grossed out at the thought of using a man's toothpaste tube? That'd be kind of rich, especially if she's just enjoyed a mouthful of penis.

22. Sorry, but this just doesn't wow me. Because I wind my own extension cords up in a fairly consistent manner, I don't normally worry about kinky cords tripping me up. The other key to not being tripped up is, of course, to look where you're walking.

23. This looks more like a conversation piece than actual, serious kitchen equipment. But, hey: I admit I might take to it if it really does what it purports to do. And if I ever encounter pizza that hasn't been pre-sliced.

24. This is all kinds of awesome. As an experienced hiker and camper, I can vouch for this without even having used it. Yes, yes, yes—I want one for my next hiking/camping trip. Does it come with a clothesline, or do I still have to bring my own nylon cord?

So out of 24 inventions, I'd give, oh, four of these my seal of approval: 9, 11, 13, and 24.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

23 minutes

The cab ride to the Goyang immigration office was quick; rush-hour traffic this far north of Seoul apparently isn't that bad. As I'd hoped, there were only three or four other customers in the room when I plucked my numbered ticket—Number 302—from the dispenser. I was served almost right away. Two hitches: first, it turned out that I had printed out and filled out the wrong form from online, so I had to start all over again; second, I wasn't permitted to pay the W30,000 fee for a new ID card via my bank card: I had to stroll over to the next building's bank, grab some cash, and pay that way. That was easy enough. I now have to wait three weeks for my new ID card to be issued, so the lady told me to come back on March 10.

All in all, that was pretty smooth sailing: the entire process took twenty-three minutes. Still, I'm a bit miffed about paying W30,000 just to announce my change of residence.* Last year, I had paid a W100,000 fine for not having declared a change of residence; W30,000 is a significant chunk of W100,000. I don't feel that I saved any money, and I came away thinking that the Korean government, like governments everywhere, does what it can to nickel-and-dime you to death.

And now for the rest of my day. If all goes according to plan, I'm going to head down to Dongguk, get my electronic certificate uploaded onto my thumb drive, visit the Dongguk branch of Shinhan Bank, wire cash to the States, and learn how to wire cash domestically via my phone app. After that, I'm heading over to Yongsan to get my old, dead Mac's hard drive turned into an external drive (I expect that's going to cost me some dough—and I'll probably have to come back to get the drive in a few days), then I'll go back to Goyang, where I'll buy myself a fookin' microwave oven from E-Mart or one of the other big stores. (As I may have mentioned before, E-Mart, Costco, and Home Plus all have branches within walking distance of each other here in Goyang.) That ought to be enough zigging and zagging for one day. Maybe later this week, I'll swoop down on Costco and do a meat raid. I'm actually thinking of fixing myself some choucroute alsacienne.



*It's possible that the fee also has to do with the fact that I need a new card: my current card no longer has any space on which to print out my new address. I move too much.


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Monday, February 16, 2015

disappointing

I had been hoping to celebrate my goddaughter's acceptance into her first-choice university by visiting the local Costco and triumphantly downing a BBQ brisket sandwich... but the sandwich turned out to be tiny and cold—not at all what I expected. My brother David, to whom I expressed my disappointment about the sandwich, noted that serving a normally warm sandwich cold is a food-safety risk. Although I haven't been shooting Exorcist-style fountains of diarrhea out of my ass, I think I'll pass on the beef sandwich from now on. That was a real let-down. Damn you, Costco.


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another damn week

I had thought that I would hit Immigration this morning, so I woke up around 5:45AM after a fitful night's sleep with the intention of training down to the Sejongno branch in Jongno, Seoul. Then it struck me: tomorrow, the 17th, is payday for Dongguk, which means I'll have more money to do things like pay any Immigration-related fees, buy a microwave,* and so on. So I decided it would be best to wait for the morrow, when I'm flush with cash, even though that puts me one day closer to the deadline.

It also occurred to me that a trip to the Sejongno branch might be a fruitless endeavor: I now live in Goyang, and it's likely the bureaucrats in downtown Seoul will tell me that I've come to the wrong office: I need to go to the branch of the region in which I now reside. After a bit of research, I found the page that tells you which Immigration branches serve which areas, and it turns out there's a Goyang-based branch of the Yangju office that I can reach via a short taxi ride. Thank goodness. So tomorrow, instead of having to rush into Seoul super-early in the morning, I can wake up at a more reasonable time—7:30AM, say—and cab my way over to the local immigration office. I'll still need to train into downtown Seoul to do other errands, but at least I won't be in a rush.**

So after realizing I didn't need to go into Seoul today, I slumped back onto my sleeping pad (essentially, two blankets folded in half... I've got a picture somewhere) and finally got some real sleep, not waking up until the afternoon. I checked my phone and saw a text message from Wi Mae Peu ("We Make Price" online shopping) saying that my bed would be delivered in five to seven days.

Grrrrrr. Those fuckers.

I have no idea why WMP drags its feet when it comes to delivering beds, but the service seems determined to make my life as difficult as possible. Given my luck, I'm expecting an apologetic customer-service rep to give me a call, a day or two from now, to say that this bed, like the previous one, can't be delivered for some bullshit reason.

Another damn week on the floor, then. I think God is trying to teach me some sort of lesson. Or He's just punishing me for not believing in a literally existent Him.



*I've had offers for used microwaves, but I'm a spoiled brat: I want a large, powerful one, not a tiny, weak one. So I'll likely buy one at the local E-Mart, Home Plus, or Costco—all three of which sit within walking distance of each other in downtown Goyang.

**I'm also hoping that the Goyang branch of the Yangju office gets a lot less business than any of the Seoul offices do, such that I'll be served quickly and efficiently.


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