Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Gentlemen, to bed!"

I've got KMA happening Saturday morning to Saturday evening—a marathon seven-hour session with seven students. That's a larger class than normal, which bodes well. I'll probably grab dinner at that Viet-Thai place again (the one that serves the shrimp wrapped in spaghetti-string potato); the food isn't award-winning, but it's serviceably good.

Friday, July 22, 2016

since we're all about uselessly making predictions here...

I predict that the specter of rioting and violence, which somehow failed to land on the Republican National Convention (unless you count the gruesome beheading of Triumph the insult Comic Dog), will find expression at the Democratic National Convention. Will it be a repeat of 1968's DNC? I hope not, but I expect fights with cops (especially given the anti-cop mood among a certain sector of the US populace), riots, and things getting generally out of hand. I mostly avoided news about the RNC, but I couldn't escape it completely because I'm on Twitter, where news is a perpetual urine stream. I'll be morbidly curious to see what happens at the DNC. If things do turn 1968-ish, the country as a whole might find itself once again sympathizing with the cops and not the rioters, thus paving the way for a conservative (well, a nominal conservative) to occupy the Oval office.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

teaching, teaching, and more teaching

My extracurricular work isn't done. I've got a KMA session this coming Saturday (six students, apparently), then my August 1-2 sessions at Seoul National, then in theory another KMA session on Saturday, August 6. That last session might be cancelled if we don't get more than one student to register (last I heard, there's only one student on the list thus far). If it does get cancelled, I won't mind too much, as I do prize my weekends.

Looking ahead, I see that I've got KMA sessions on September 10, November 26, and December 10. I may or may not also receive more work from Seoul National (Young Chun is my pipeline: the offers of work go to him first, and when he can't do it, he passes the work along to me and my buddy Tom), but whether I accept that work is doubtful: this time around, SNU was stingier about pay than it had been in the past. A man's got to have standards.

Anyway, the near future looks to be fairly busy, which will be good for the budget. By the end of August, I'll have paid off my second major debt, and that will be cause for a big celebration. After that: two more gigantic debts to go, with the hoped-for goal of freedom from debt before I turn fifty in 2019.

Ave, Charles!

I had written up my visit to Baekchae Kimchi Jjigae; Charles has written up the same visit.

ADDENDUM: Charles has also written up our trip to 9 Ounce Burger.


a visit to 9 Ounce

Charles, Hyunjin, and I schlepped over to 9 Ounce, a burger joint that's a crowded shuttle-bus ride away from the center of Seoul National's campus. The place is popular, which means it's always crowded at mealtimes, so when Charles and I got there first (Hyunjin approached the resto separately), we were told we'd need to wait. We sat outside in the sweltering heat, trying to stay as immobile as possible as we talked, people-watched, and speculated on how many times the same SUV was circling around the block, possibly in search of a parking space.

Hyunjin showed up a few minutes after Charles and I sat down for our burger vigil; not long after that, a server called us inside.

Here's a pic of the restaurant's sign by the front door:

The singular "burger" seems a bit odd: "burgers and fries" would seem more natural, but that's a minor complaint given how good the food turned out to be.

Here's a peek at the menu:

I knew I'd be getting the Nine Ounce. Hyunjin ordered a California burger, which is apparently her usual here. Charles (help me out here, man) got either the Rucola or the Tongue Tied, both of which come with bacon.

Here are Hyunjin and Charles peering at the menu:

Next—a shot of our table setting. Sorry for the blurriness.

At last: the burger arrives! Below is a shot of my Nine Ounce. I'd failed to notice, on the menu, that the Nine Ounce came with caramelized onions on the patty; I scraped those off and gave them to Charles, who happily slapped them onto his burger.

The burger:

If you look at the above photo, you might not see the burger patty, but it's right there in front of you, covered in melted American cheese. The burger itself was fantastic, and it's obvious that that's the restaurant's focus, not fries or anything else. The fries were kind of a joke: I got maybe five or six on my plate, so I cracked to Charles that their presence was symbolic.

But the burger was large, juicy, and cooked to perfection. No one asked me how I wanted my patty, but that didn't matter: what came out was tender and prepped with care. Not having eaten anything all day, except for a light snack during my SNU class, I devoured my burger in just a couple minutes. Astonishingly, Hyunjin quickly slaughtered her own burger, completing the foul deed not long after I had finished. Charles, pokey as he is, took his time and finished his own burger off at a leisurely pace, talking and eating. He and Hyunjin ordered beers; I had myself a can of Coke followed by a can of Dr. Pepper. Charles noted that beer might be a tactical error on the restaurant's part: people tend to nurse their beers, which slows down turnover, and that's not a good thing on a busy night.

I was amazed at how busy the place was, and I couldn't help wishing that Joe's OK Burger might enjoy a similarly packed dinner crowd. I was also surprised to realize that, even though the Hongik University neighborhood is touted as a foodie destination, the SNU neighborhood seemed to have plenty of high-quality eateries scattered through it.

9 Ounce gets my seal of approval, although I wish they'd serve more fries with their burgers. Great atmosphere, great burgers, prompt service, a well-balanced menu, and plenty of reasons to go back. Like Arnold, I'll be back.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

SNU, Day 2

I did my afternoon gig at Seoul National University today, finishing a few minutes early, then meeting up with Charles and his wife Hyunjin for dinner at Nine Ounce, a burger joint in the SNU neighborhood that serves juicy, delectable burgers. I'll be talking more about Nine Ounce in a different post. For now, let's concentrate on how class went today.

Eleven students were slated to come to class; about half showed up very late for various reasons, ranging from a funeral to final exams to traffic jams. I had no choice but to start class without the stragglers, so I began by passing out a review sheet that was meant to reinforce what we had covered the previous week re: résumés. I then had the students watch an excellent pecha-kucha presentation by Indo-Canadian Shawn Kanungo, who talked animatedly and humorously about spelling bees and the secret of Indian kids' success in them. As a class, we discussed the things that Shawn did right during his spiel, after which I segued into my own presentation on how to present.

The students seemed fairly engaged by my talk, although it ended with cheerfully sarcastic "golf clapping." From there, I had the students place their names on two sign-up sheets—one for the ten-minute, one-on-one brainstorming sessions we would be having that day; the other for our fifty-minute, one-on-one presentation sessions to be done on August 1 and 2. After a ten-minute break, we plunged into one-on-one brainstorming for the presentations that the students would be doing in August.

I sat with each student, and we talked over what the student's topic was, whether he or she had a thesis, what sort of approach the student would take to the problem they had chosen to work with, and so on. As with many students, there was occasionally some trouble when it came to narrowing a topic down. In such cases, I would remind my charges that time constraints meant they would be able to cover only two or three major points at best, so they needed to be focused and memorable in their delivery. Most of the students elected to craft their presentations according to a "problem-solution" structure, introducing the problem (e.g., finding a better alternative than detention centers for refugees, migrants, and "the stateless") with facts, then proposing solutions that would also contain the students' opinions on the matter. I found myself giving pretty much the same advice over and over: focus on delivering just two or three memorable points. Narrow your topic because you don't have time to range widely. Stick with the problem-solution structure. Do more research so you have a clear idea of what the problem and solution are. Be ready to define your core concept simply and clearly. Think about your conclusion.

I ended up finishing several minutes early, which gave me time to lumber over to Charles's office, talk with Charles, and change into my scraggly walking clothes while Charles worked on a page of translation. Sometime after 6PM, Charles and I headed out for a much-anticipated dinner... but that is the topic of a different blog post.

provocateur: a very different worldview

Over on Twitter, James, whom I follow, and who leans way, way harder to the left than I can even imagine, has a very different take on the near future when it comes to Donald Trump's and Hillary Clinton's respective political fortunes. Quite the opposite of some pro-Trump optimists, he sees a world in which Trump is debased and Hillary reigns triumphant. I now reproduce his series of tweets, edited for form:

1) As amazing a clusterfuck as the RNC has been so far, I'm willing to bet the most amazing moment of the Trump campaign comes in October when...

2) down by at least 10 points in national polls, and with the electoral map a solid blue, Trump quits because "I have credible info. Hillary and the CIA..."

3) "are planning to assassinate Melania, Donald Jr., and / or Eric."

4) He will throw the nomination back to the Republican Party, and even desperate power-whores like Cruz and Rubio won't accept that hot potato.

5) So Trump remains on ballot, losing even bigger, but blaming HRC / the national media / non-existent death threats /...

6) ...and the Republican Party (this is critical!) for his loss.

7) The GOP doubles down on crazy, does nothing to reform its structural racism, and, frankly, HRC is a pretty good POTUS who rules for eight years.

8) The GOP probably splits into establishment / Tea Party Cuckoo camps around, oh, let's say late 2017.

9) The End

You might need some context before you react. I don't doubt that James, good lefty that he is, sincerely wants to see Trump crushed, or that he views the GOP as racist and a "clusterfuck," but you need to realize, too, that James is often funny as hell, and he's not seriously proposing the above scenario as if it were an actual prediction, so please don't confuse him with an earnest election-year prognosticator. That said, he's putting forth a worldview that's very different from the "Trump in a landslide" faction's. I'd almost say this is worthy of further discussion, but the above isn't an argument so much as it's merely a scenario. Twitter isn't the place for arguments: there's no room to marshal evidence and have substantive exchanges. That's what blogs, and their comment threads, are for.

walk update

It appears I'm doing my long walks at the beginning and at the end of the work week. I had to work on my SNU PowerPoint presentation on Monday evening, so I couldn't take advantage of that beautiful night to take my walk. Instead, I walked last night, when it was more humid (97% humidity, according to a local electronic marquee) and hotter.

Steps: 32.9K
Distance walked: approx. 17 miles
Calories burned: 2320

My weekly schedule, unless it rains, is now:

MON: long walk
TUE: rest
WED: building staircase, 2X
THU: building staircase, 2X
FRI: long walk
SAT: building staircase, 2X
SUN: rest

power hiccup

Power went out in my place last night. Circuit breaker. I had come back from my huge walk, flipped on the A/C, and done some laundry. A few minutes after finishing the laundry—poof. No power. I went to the circuit breaker and saw that the master switch (the breaker is a row of four switches, three of which were all still flipped up) had flipped down. I flipped it up, and power came back on... for only a few minutes, after which it popped off again. Given how late it was (after 1AM), I decided to sleep on it. The contents of my fridge would remain cool for several hours as long as I didn't open the appliance, and my cell phone's battery would survive the night without needing a charge.

So I woke up and went right over to the circuit breaker to try flipping the main power on again. No dice. I dressed, went downstairs, and told the friendly concierge what the problem was (the chadan-gi, i.e., the circuit breaker, whose full name is the hwaero chadan-gi; I'd had to look that word up back when I lived in Ilsan and had suffered the same problem); he called the electrician, who showed up ten minutes after I had gone back up to my place.

The problem stumped the electrician, so he called in reinforcements. A second guy appeared, and the two were able, after lots of arcane tinkering, to restore power. I'm back to enjoying my A/C; my room faces east, and the sky is already lightening around 4:30AM, so by 9AM, I'm getting the full greenhouse effect in my apartment, with everything heating up to barbarous, sweat-inducing levels.

The second guy gave a long spiel about what the problem was, but I understood less than half of what he was talking about. There was something about water leakage, and possibly something else about how my circuit breaker is hooked into the building's larger electrical network, and how part of the problem lay outside the confines of my apartment. At least... I think I caught that. I just nodded sagely as he talked, feigning full comprehension. To me, the practical issue was: did I have power again? For now, the answer seems to be yes.

I'm off to Seoul National again today—the second of my four SNU teaching days (August 1 and 2 are my final two dates). I'll be meeting up with the infamous Charles again, this time for burgers. Charles says that the place we're going to serves nine-ounce burgers, and I'm all about the huge. Expect photos tonight.

Happy Moon Landing Day!

rightie responses to Melania Trump's fart in a church

Rightie sites are finally acknowledging what Twitter has been digesting all day: Melania Trump cribbed a portion of her speech from a 2008 speech by Michelle Obama. Word for word, idea for idea, beat for beat—see the video embedded in my previous post—it's a shameless copy.

As I speculated in that previous post, Melania and The Donald probably won't suffer too much for this. I say that out of cynicism. Meanwhile, the reactions from the right have been interesting; a quick taxonomy would seem to show three types of response:

1. Minimization. This is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, we're talking about a few sentences in a much larger speech. Piffle!

2. "Others have done this." It's a bit of a fallacious deflection to state this (and I suppose I'm guilty of it in my previous post) because it doesn't make the wrong any less wrong. If a scientist plagiarizes work in a research paper, and people die as a result of his bogus research, he doesn't get to say that others have plagiarized before him. At best, he can truthfully claim to be no better than those others as he's led off to the guillotine.

3. "She did wrong, but yeah, she'll get away with it, anyway." This is probably the most honest reaction (although outright condemnation from elements on the right would, in my opinion, reveal a bit more spine and integrity), as it's blatantly true that her speech has cobbled material and that she'll likely escape serious consequences.

Disappointingly, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit opts for (2):

“PURLOINED PIFFLE:” I don’t have anything to say about the Melania Trump kerfuffle that I haven’t already said about Joe Biden’s plagiarism scandal that took place back when he was, you know, actually a candidate.

The Drudge Report also links to an article that notes that everyone is guilty of plagiarism—Joe Biden, Michelle Obama (the speech Melania cribbed from itself contained cribbed elements), and Barack Obama. All very amusing, but none of it absolves Melania, who I still think should have known better and should apologize.

The article also says the Trump campaign is doubling down and denying that Melania borrowed anything from Michelle Obama. Stupid, and obviously bullshit, but not surprising. If you're going to be shameless, go all the way, right?

Must be nice to live a consequence-free life. (Same goes for Hillary, of course.)

ADDENDUM: Steve Schale points out that Melania, whose mastery of English is shaky at best, probably didn't write her own speech, and there's a chance that whoever did put her speech together may not have had the most benign intentions.

Whoever wrote Melania Trump's speech knew what they were doing - they were sabotaging the moment. They wrote a speech that they knew cribbed not only from Michelle Obama, but also from Rick Astley -- the latter of which is the dead giveaway. And honestly, if they didn't do it as intentional sabotage, then the Trump campaign is a bigger goat show than we all thought.

I suspect the speech shibacle had one of two goals: Either, the campaign itself wanted to marginalize her following reports that she was unhappy with the way the VP selection went -- or, some disgruntled speechwriter/comms staffer is just over the campaign and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. To believe the third option, that this was just an accident, would be to believe that the Trump campaign is being run with the competence of a dysfunctional city council campaign -- and one completely unprepared to run a national government.

Very few things in campaigns are secrets, so I suspect we will learn what happened in the next 24 hours. And no, I don't think the moment will have a single impact on the actual campaign. However, it does provide just another insight into just how bad the Trump campaign is at this politics thing.

And that, friends, is what makes this relevant to The Donald himself. If his speech-vetting process is this sloppy (didn't notice the cribbing?) and has this many holes, what makes him better for national security than Madame Makeshift Server?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

why on Earth would Melania Trump plagiarize?

So the GOP convention is in full swing in Cleveland, and the big news is that Melania Trump, Donald Trump's wife, has given a speech parts of which were ripped directly off a speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008. The Twitterverse is all over this right now; rightie sites like Instapundit and Drudge haven't posted anything, but the comment threads at Instapundit are alive with cross-talk about the scandal.

Barack Obama infamously lifted large swaths of text from a speech by Deval Patrick. You may recall this as the "Just words?" speech. The words themselves were powerful, but Obama failed to attributed them to Patrick, whom he later called a "friend" while offering a lame justification for his plagiarism. What Melania Trump has done is the moral equivalent of Obama's naughty deed, so I'd say she deserves whatever opprobrium is heading her way.

What boggles my mind is how Mrs. Trump (and possibly by extension, The Donald) thought she could get away with lifting text almost word for word from Michelle Obama's speech. In this day and age, any lie you tell, any plagiarism you commit, will be caught and aired in public almost instantaneously.

Here, too, while you're at it:

Anyway, this is embarrassing for Melania Trump. I'll be curious as to whether Donald Trump manages to Teflon his way through this new mini-crisis, or whether it becomes a "Dean scream" moment for him. Somehow, I doubt it'll be a "Dean scream"er. Consequences don't seem to attach themselves to his, or to his wife's, conduct.

ADDENDUM: this site mulls over the 2008 incident involving Obama's use of Deval Patrick's rhetoric. While the site author's conclusions are somewhat sympathetic to Obama, the author also makes some strong statements about those who accuse others of plagiarism, noting that such attacks tend to be politically motivated while generally lacking in substance, especially when seen in a larger context. For all I know, Melania can bat her lashes innocently and claim she was "inspired" by Michelle Obama, and/or that she and Michelle are "friends," thus making it somehow fine for Melania to appropriate Michelle's words. Two weeks from now, we probably won't be talking about Melania's text-cribbing.

axe attack: no "double pits to chesty" this time

A 17-year-old Afghan on board a German train has apparently gone nuts and attacked passengers with an axe while yelling, "Allahu akbar!"

A teenage Afghan refugee shouted 'Allahu Akbar' before hacking at passengers during an axe rampage on a train in Germany - in scenes likened to a 'slaughterhouse'.

The 17-year-old was gunned down by armed police after fleeing from the scene near the city of Wurzburg, 70 miles north of Nuremberg in southern Germany.

As many as 19 passengers needed hospital treatment while three victims are fighting for their lives after being attacked with 'cutting and stabbing weapons'. Officials have said it was 'probably' an Islamist attack.


The train was reportedly "soaked in blood" after the attack. What boggles my mind is how the kid could have wounded so many people. Wouldn't the passengers have ganged up on him and tackled him immediately? Or could it be that docile Germans have no "9/11 reflex" that comes into play in such situations? Americans in a similar crisis, remembering what happened aboard United Flight 93 in 2001, would never tolerate such an outrage and would attack the attacker en masse. Or so I'd like to believe, anyway. Many of us Yanks have spent the intervening years trying to forget instead of trying to learn.

NB: For those of you who don't get the "double pits to chesty" reference, it's from a commercial for Axe deodorant spray. See here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

a charley horse in the weirdest place

I was lying on my bed last night when I was seized by the urge to yawn and stretch at the same time. It's a perfectly normal urge—one that strikes even cats and dogs and other mammals. So I yawned and I stretched—

—and the muscles right around my navel suddenly went crink! and sent me into a startled, agonized fetal position.

Abdominal charley horse!

It's a bit like when you get a splinter under your pinky fingernail: you don't realize just how crucial a body part is until it's afflicted with pain. With every cough, every sneeze, every motion of my torso, I've been forced to acknowledge just how important my core muscles are. It's almost enough to make me want to join a Pilates class. Almost.

It's evening, now, and the pain is fading. This is a dangerous time, though, because muscles in spasm can be easily induced to re-spasm with just one false move. I'll be cautious about stretching from now on. Yet another thing to be cautious about as I get older.

"It's not the years, honey... it's the mileage."
—Indiana Jones to Marion Ravenwood, "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

questioning each other's sanity

My buddy Steve doCarmo writes on his blog, regarding the slogan "Black Lives Matter":

The Black Lives Matter movement has given us all an excellent litmus test—in the form of its very name.

Some people hear that name, that phrase, “black lives matter,” and they’re sure they hear a particular word right after it:


These people say, “Black lives matter more?” And they get angry. And they put signs on their lawns—and bumper stickers on their cars—making a retort: “All lives matter.”

Others of us hear that name, that phrase, “black lives matter,” and we’re sure we hear a different particular word right after it:


And we say, “Has it really come to this? So many years after Brown vs. Board and Dr. King and Malcolm X and the Freedom Riders, black Americans are actually having to remind us, in the wake of so many ugly recent incidents, that their lives matter too?”

And we say, It’s clearly time to get back to work.

And we say, Police, schools, and tax codes gotta change.

And we say, How on earth does any sensible American hear that name, that phrase, and imagine there's a more after it?

Meanwhile, at the Observer, Austin Bay writes:

No sane person ever said black lives didn’t matter or that racial prejudice doesn’t exist in America—quite the opposite. But two or three short weeks ago try and whisper “all lives matter” much less “blue lives matter” (ie, the lives of law enforcement officers) and Black Lives Matter activists, their political allies and their friendly media pals would have scorned your words as gutter racism.

Black Lives Matter activists and their propagandists have waged a very effective War On Honesty. Black Lives Matter leaders employ vicious charges of racism to silence political opponents, or, failing that, deter media criticism of their radical tactics, which include violent language and occasional violent incidents. The goal is political provocation and divisiveness. Yes, Black Lives Matter benefits as an organization from divisiveness. It serves their political goals.

So who's saner? Could it be we're all just talking past each other?

Statistics seem to indicate that it's not blacks who are killed at the highest rate by police.

But when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.

“It is the most surprising result of my career,” said Roland G. Fryer Jr., the author of the study and a professor of economics at Harvard. The study examined more than 1,000 shootings in 10 major police departments, in Texas, Florida and California.

The result contradicts the image of police shootings that many Americans hold after the killings (some captured on video) of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Walter Scott in South Carolina; Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La.; and Philando Castile in Minnesota.

[Fuller disclosure of context: the article still concludes there is police bias against blacks in terms of the use of less-than-deadly force.]

And from Heather Mac Donald [sic—she really does write "Mac Donald" as two separate words, not as "MacDonald"]:

For starters, fatal police shootings make up a much larger proportion of white and Hispanic homicide deaths than black homicide deaths. According to the Post database, in 2015 officers killed 662 whites and Hispanics, and 258 blacks. (The overwhelming majority of all those police-shooting victims were attacking the officer, often with a gun.) Using the 2014 homicide numbers as an approximation of 2015’s, those 662 white and Hispanic victims of police shootings would make up 12% of all white and Hispanic homicide deaths. That is three times the proportion of black deaths that result from police shootings.

The lower proportion of black deaths due to police shootings can be attributed to the lamentable black-on-black homicide rate. There were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014—the most recent year for which such data are available—compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.

Police officers—of all races—are also disproportionately endangered by black assailants. Over the past decade, according to FBI data, 40% of cop killers have been black. Officers are killed by blacks at a rate 2.5 times higher than the rate at which blacks are killed by police.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, himself black (which matters not at all to me, but which matters to the identity-politics crowd), has this to say about the BLM movement:

The bloodbath continues for the American law enforcement officers in the name of "Black Lives Matter."

I listened to the president this afternoon...

Here's the thing [President Obama] will not do. And this will go a long way...

He will not condemn anti-police sentiment. He condemned the violence, he has to condemn the violence, but he will not condemn the anti-police sentiment.

When a terror attack happens, he goes out there and warns and condemns against Muslim-backlash. He will not do that for American police officers...

Black Lives Matter are purveyors of hate. It is a hateful violent ideology... That I said has to be wiped off the face of the earth. I said that a year ago and the liberal mainstream media went haywire. They bear some responsibility too.

So I would tentatively conclude that the BLM movement, by focusing on blacks, is itself adding an implicit more to the dialogue, and that this is what "All Lives Matter" is pushing against. Don't be so quick to cry "racism." All lives do matter... don't they?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Odd Thomas": review

I had rounded up two afterlife-related movies: "What Dreams May Come" (reviewed here) and "Odd Thomas." It didn't occur to me, at the time, that the afterlife was the connecting theme: I had originally wanted to see "What Dreams May Come" because I'd been curious about it for years, and I had chosen "Odd Thomas" because poor Anton Yelchin—better known as Mr. Chekov in the recent Star Trek reboot—had just died in a freak accident, and he was the eponymous Odd Thomas.

"Odd Thomas" is about a twenty-something guy, born of a psychic mother, who has the ability to see the dead and the world of the dead. Among the beings he sees are spirit-creatures called bodachs (pronounced "boh-dacks") which, while not destructive in and of themselves, are attracted to impending mass death. "Odd Thomas" plays out as something of a mystery: Odd lives in a small town, working as a short-order cook and hanging out with his gorgeous girlfriend Stormy. A stranger suddenly arrives, trailing a sense of danger and a horde of bodachs with him. Odd realizes that this means a mass killing is going to occur in his town, and much of the story is devoted to his attempts to stop this disaster from happening.

Odd (whose name might be a bastardization of "Todd" resulting from a clerical error at the hospital where he was born) has help in the form of friends who know he has a gift and who trust his abilities. Among them is Chief Porter (Willem Dafoe), who counts on Odd's psychic hunches to help solve murder cases. As the plot unfolds, we discover that the mysterious stranger is only one of several people who appear to be in on a large plot. Will Odd be able to stop the plot in time? What will Odd's abilities mean for his relationship with Stormy?

Ultimately, I found the movie to be little more than cute. There's one major twist at the end, but as twists go, it's fairly easy to predict, and that, really, is the problem with the whole film: it follows a formula; its jump-scare moments are a cinch to anticipate; there's very little actual suspense to be had. "Odd Thomas" almost feels as though it could have been a TV movie: it was certainly filled with enough lame dialogue and visual clichés.

The tone of the film is mostly comic, and in some ways, it borders on "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," although the writing isn't nearly as witty. At the end, the tone changes to something much more somber, and I got the feeling that this was supposed to be the first of a series of Odd Thomas movies (Odd Thomas is a character created by horror novelist Dean Koontz). What I found unsettling, though, were the ways in which the film seems to hint forward in time at Anton Yelchin's death. In one scene, Odd is the victim of a poltergeist* attack in an empty house; he gets crushed against a wall by a refrigerator, much the way Anton Yelchin himself was found crushed between his SUV and his property's front gate. And if you think about what it means to be Odd Thomas—being able to see the dead means that one already has one foot in the grave—this too can be disturbing in hindsight.

Sad to say, but "Odd Thomas" is interesting mainly because Anton Yelchin recently passed away. As an artistic achievement, the film isn't the one I'd pick to remember Yelchin by. The story has its heart in the right place, but the plotting is too predictable, the dialogue is too stilted and writerly, and the overall effect isn't all that memorable. I'm going to be watching another Yelchin film—"Green Room"—very soon. It's gotten great reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes (and it also stars Patrick Stewart in yet another unconventional role), so I have high hopes that "Green Room" will prove to be a better viewing experience.

*The word poltergeist is being used here in the same way it was used in 1982's "Poltergeist," i.e., as a descriptor for a powerful ghost that can cause major disturbances in the physical plane. Traditionally, a poltergeist is just a minor spirit that can, at best, create small disturbances in the physical realm—enough to hint at its existence, and nothing more.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

a quick OK Burger update

If you saw my two photos from yesterday, then you know I visited OK Burger again last night. What follows won't be much more than the addition of a few scattered remarks to the review I'd written earlier.

OK Burger's menu continues to evolve, much as Joe McPherson said it would. Joe has brought back his Brunswick stew, which I didn't order last night. Instead, I went for a different, but equally new, menu item: the chili fries. I also went for Joe's Spicy Smoked Jerk Chicken Burger (in his recent blog post, Joe noted that it's a Korean thing to refer to this as a "burger" and not as a "sandwich," despite the fact that the chicken isn't a ground-meat patty).

Manager John came by as I was eating (he also took my order), and after I had polished off the food, he asked me which I had liked better—the sandwich or the chili fries. I said it was a hard choice, but in the end, the sandwich was the winner. John winced and told me that, because of my decision, he and Joe now had equal scores in a friendly contest that the two are running. I suppose it's good to know that both guys are putting out equally good food, statistically speaking. That says something about quality and consistency.

John's chili definitely deserved praise for its smoky savoriness, as well as for its recognizable Americanness. It's billed as "Texas chili," but not in the classical sense: truly old-school Texas chili has no beans, no tomatoes,* and is little more than beef and spices—much more Mexican than Texan. I had ordered the chili without first asking whether there'd be onions on it. As you can see in the photo, there were plenty, but the chili was so good that I ate everything.

Joe's chicken burger (read more about it here) was a surprise: the first time I saw a picture of it on Instagram, I mocked it in a comment, saying it could be finished off in two bites and had better not cost more than W6,000, or someone was going to get shot. Frankly, it looked tiny. Joe calmly replied that most people's initial reactions to the burger are about how big it is, and I conceded that I might not have the best sense of scale.

The chicken burger is big. It's a large slab of meat that's been brined, rubbed, and smoked to perfection, the way jerk chicken should be. As advertised, it comes with lettuce, tomato, fresh cucumbers, spicy mayo, and pineapple salsa (more of a chutney than a salsa, I think, but that's semantics). The burger is somewhat steeply priced at W12,000; I think maybe W9,000 would be more reasonable (W12,000 strikes me as the price for a set including fries and a drink), but I imagine Joe has his reasons for the pricing. The burger's shape also takes some getting used to: normally, a burger bun is smaller on the bottom and bigger on the top. The vaguely conical shape of Joe's burger, though, does nothing to impede your eating thereof. If anything, a larger bottom bun does much to solve the drippage problem that many burgers have.**

The jerk chicken itself is what makes the burger work. I could eat a bucket of nothing but that. As with the smoked chicken that I had last time, this chicken was moist for every mouthful, and very flavorful. Joe writes that he's been making jerk chicken for years; as with John's chili, the expertise shows. After smoking for hours, there's a firm and even crispy outer layer, immediately backed up by that juicy, succulent interior. Sublime, and definitely not gone in only two bites. I'm happy to be wrong about that.

So yeah—a good meal. Next time around, I'll go back for the Brunswick stew, and to see what else might be new on OK Burger's constantly evolving menu.

*To be clear, I'm pretty sure that John's chili didn't have any tomatoes in it (I could be wrong), but it did have beans.

**A place called Spelunker's in Front Royal, Virginia, serves incredibly good burgers. The only problem is that no one there knows how to build a burger correctly, resulting in off-puttingly soggy bottom buns. If you look at the photos of Joe's burger, you'll see that he stacks smartly: lettuce on the bottom to intercept any gravity-assisted meat juices. Joe's bottom bun is also thick enough to serve as a Plan B: if the lettuce doesn't stop the dripping, the bun is able to absorb the juices and still remain firm without getting too soggy.


escargot redux

Leftover puff pastry. Garlic. Parsley. Butter. Snails (Korean golbaengi, or sea snails). Soften butter; mix all together.  Roll puff pastry into large discs; tuck into pre-buttered muffin tin. Stuff with snail mixture; run mayonnaise-covered fingertip over exposed pastry as a substitute for egg wash. Bake 15-20 minutes. Not bad, all in all.

Turkey, from my unnamed source

I know someone who works in the US State Department, so I asked her, half-jokingly, whether she had any insider information on what's going on in Turkey. Here's what she said (edited for privacy—sorry for all the redactions):

If only I knew what the hell was going on! I served my tour in Adana, Turkey as [redacted] from 20XX-20XX. Erdogan's AKP party was just getting rooted and the opposition pushed out—but democratically, the people have elected AKP for the past 15 years and the military has been summarily squeezed out. This absolutely bizarre turn of events has astonished me. Not sure about the timing, above all. Why now? Why not five years ago when all the upper ranks and echelons were being witch-hunted for ties to an alleged "deep-state conspiracy" called Ergenekon?

So there we have it. The best I could do on short notice.


France, Turkey, and the world

France and Turkey are perpetually in the news.

France, mainly because of terrorism, which is a specter that has haunted the country since even before my first-ever visit there, way back in 1986 when I was a high-school student. One of the most powerful images from my youth is that of French soldiers with machine guns patrolling the airport. I also recall Paris train stations whose garbage cans had been bolted closed to prevent jihadis from leaving bombs inside them, and regular French-language announcements at those same stations declaring that, if you leave your bag unattended, it will be confiscated and blown up ("on va le faire sauter").

Turkey, mainly because there's this perennially unresolved question about whether the country should become an EU member. I used to be pro; these days, I'm anti because I see Turkey as one of many bridges across which terrorism can enter Europe: why make that bridge even more easily crossable? Although Turkey has tried—somewhat—to be a secular state, it has always had jihadist factions banging at its door, and its government has always had an authoritarian streak whose psychology, while generally anti-al Qaeda in its stance, is the psychological cousin of the mentality of the jihadists.

On Bastille Day, which is basically "French Independence Day," France experienced yet another terrorist attack as 31-year-old Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel commandeered a massive truck and drove it murderously along Nice's famous Promenade des Anglais, the street that abuts the Mediterranean, mowing down crowds of pedestrians, including women and children, resulting in a death toll that, at present, is close to 90 and may rise. Bouhlel was taken down by French police during a gun battle; the marksman who killed him is reportedly a markswoman, although this has yet to be confirmed. The terrorist's truck was loaded with heavy weaponry and explosives; the French president, François Hollande, has declared that France's state of emergency, due to end about now, will be extended another three months. Areas around Nice are on high alert, especially since there is an ongoing hunt for Bouhlel's probable accomplice(s). The usual hashtag-scented furor has erupted online; the usual debates about whether the terrorist represents "true" Islam have erupted as well.

When I woke up this morning—it's Saturday the 16th as I write this—Turkey is in chaos. Its military has staged a coup against President Recep Erdogan, who is perceived as a not-so-crypto theocrat trying to impose an Islamist agenda onto the country.** The military, which has a history of coup attempts, has decided that Erdogan must go, which has put the army in conflict with loyalist elements in Erdogan's government as well as the police, who are all Erdogan's men. It's a "Game of Thrones" scenario come to life; reports from news agencies and Twitter currently form a conflicting picture as to how successful the coup attempt has been. By some accounts, Erdogan is applying for asylum in Germany and/or flying out to London; according to other sources, the military's coup attempt has failed, and angry citizens (again, Erdoganistas) are attacking soldiers on the street. From what I gather, the soldiers have thus far shown remarkable restraint in not mowing down the citizens who are attacking them, but to be honest, I expect to be eating my words within the next 24 hours: I expect to hear news of civilians being shot. (Update: at least 60 people are dead, and 300-400 have been arrested.***)

So we live in very interesting times. The possibility of widespread race riots, or even an all-out race war, continues to increase inside the United States, a country that is blundering headlong into a presidential election touting two extremely unlikable candidates. Vladimir Putin seems finally to have fully assumed his KGB mantle* and is pulling the strings behind many, many world events. China continues its imperialist drumbeat in the South China Sea, even while it clandestinely violates UN sanctions regarding support for North Korea. These are interesting times, indeed, and I'm selfishly glad to be hunkered down here in Korea, where the situation is always tense, thanks to the North, but also always stable.

*I say this because, when he first became president, Putin immediately failed a leadership test during the tragic Kursk incident in 2000, which involved the sinking of a Russian submarine. During that incident, Putin did precious little, prompting the anger of the Russian people. I'd had high hopes that Putin would use his KGB skills to ruthlessly clean out the Russian government, purging it of the mafia elements that had infiltrated it like a cancer during the Soviet era. Putin has, over the years, returned to his spymaster roots, which is why I'm not surprised whenever I hear stories of dissident journalists who mysteriously die or disappear in Russia these days. It's also why I no longer dismiss as conspiracy theories those stories about Putin's far-ranging influence in places like Africa, Eastern Europe, and even East Asia. Like the judoka he is, Putin has managed all this with relatively little bombast and flamboyancy (unless you count all those photos of him engaged in topless fishing, or flying a bomber, or forcing a submission on the judo mat); he has learned and grown as a leader since the early days, although not in the direction I would have liked.

**Erdogan is, nevertheless, a generally popular leader.

***A handy-dandy guide for the perplexed regarding Turkey can be found here. It's also important to note, as some news articles do, that Turkey's military is not monolithic: it's been generally the younger elements of the military who have organized and staged this coup, while the older officers have expressed anti-coup sentiments.


Sadly for the rest of us, Lee Farrand is jumping off the blogging train.

jerk-chicken sandwich at OK Burger

chili fries at OK Burger

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ave, Joe!

My friend Joe McPherson has just written a blog post over his ZenKimchi site. It's worth a read. While Joe is coy about getting into too much detail re: his recent travails, he talks about some of the difficulties of running a restaurant and expresses optimism about the future. Since it's going to be pissing down rain this weekend, that's going to nix my long walk, so I've decided to pay Joe a visit again tonight to try out some other items on his menu. I've already reviewed Joe's place, so if I write anything about tonight's visit, it'll likely be brief—more of an addendum than an article unto itself.

More later, perhaps.

PS: it turns out that my boss knows Joe's partner, Susumu Yonaguni.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

stairwell critters

I normally prize my time working out in my building's tall stairwell because, generally speaking, no one else comes in there. Not counting yours truly, there are only two types of people who enter the stairwell: (1) those walking downstairs—never upstairs—instead of using the elevator (such people never appear above, oh, the tenth floor: above 10, it's too long of a descent to the lobby), and (2) those ducking into the stairwell for a quick, illegal smoke (the stairwell is a no-smoking zone, but this is Korea, so "no smoking" signs are ignored).

Tonight, however, I had three encounters. Well, more precisely, two actual face-to-face encounters and one near-encounter.

I was on my way down the freight elevator after my first ascent; when I reached the B1 level, I heard a young couple outside the elevator doors, and my heart sank: I knew I was a stinking mess, and I didn't want to be around any fellow human beings. The couple got on the elevator as I exited; I inwardly cringed as we passed each other, then the elevator's doors shut, and I started up the stairwell a second sweaty, gasping time.

Around the sixteenth floor, I heard someone pop into the stairwell and fumble about for something—probably a cigarette and a lighter. I then heard silence, followed by the sound of someone exiting, followed by the sound of a heavy fire door closing. I'm guessing that I had scared away a potential smoker who didn't want to be caught smoking. Good.

I continued my upward trudge, eventually reaching the twenty-sixth floor and hitting the button for the freight elevator. It arrived after some delay; I got on and hit the "6" button for my floor. I watched impatiently as the floor numbers clicked down on the LED display, then the elevator suddenly stopped at the ninth floor. "Goddammit," I muttered.

The same couple that I had met in the basement got on the elevator, the female half of the couple now staring owlishly at me. I was tempted to laugh, to say something, but I held my tongue as we rode down another three floors. I quietly exited. God only knows what the lady said to her boyfriend after I'd left. Ideally, she said nothing, but from what I know of the female character, that's not likely. Ah, well. Nothing for it, as the Brits say.

And that, friends, was my encounter with some stairwell critters this evening.

fish or cut bait?

Summer heat and humidity are forcing me to make a decision as to how to proceed with my long walks. The way I see it, I can either bring a lot of water and continue to do the full-length walks about twice a week (which is my current frequency: doing them every day would be too much), or bring no water and cut the walks back to about half their current size (from 35K steps to about 18K steps). The cardio benefit would be about the same, as a truncated walk would still take me past the first fourteen large creekside staircases (you'll recall that, from #15 onward, the staircases are much shorter, making their aerobic/strength benefit somewhat dubious), but I'd be losing out in terms of caloric burn. Then again, truncated walks would give me more free time in the evenings—a couple hours more—and besides, there are other ways to reduce calories than caloric burn, such as eating less (dammit).

I'm leaning toward cutting back on the walking: carrying extra water in my satchel causes the satchel strap to bite uncomfortably into my shoulder. If I were simply commuting from work to home, that wouldn't be a problem, but my satchel is on my shoulder for almost five hours when I'm doing a long walk, so the pressure does become a problem after a while. It's conventional wisdom among walkers: take a tiny problem, like a slight tightness in your shoes, then repeat the occurrence of that problem several thousand times over the course of a long walk. Et voilà: your heretofore tiny problem has now become a big problem.

Then again, there's the bath-towel solution: fold a puffy bath towel over several times, stick it under the satchel's shoulder strap, and the strap-biting-shoulder problem disappears, even if I'm encumbered by a few liters of water. I've done this before on long hikes (when I'm carrying several towels and can afford to "waste" one or two this way); it works wonders. I think I may have to experiment a bit, over the next week or so, before I decide what my strategy will be for the rest of the summer. Stay thou tunèd.

Baekchae Kimchi Jjigae (resto's name)

Not to be confused with Baekje, the Korean dynasty. In the word "Baekchae," the baek is Chinese for "white" (白), and the chae is Chinese for "vegetable" (菜), in this case specifically signifying "cabbage," an essential component of kimchi.

(With thanks to Charles for his explanation of the etymology.)

the gelato place's name

my gelato vs. my friends'

tofu monoliths

Hyunjin cuts the pork

...and along comes the egg

the stew arrives!

animated Hyunjin also waiting for stew

Charles waiting for the stew

Charles's SNU office

SNU: first of four classes (then dinner & dessert)

My Seoul National University (SNU) class ran about thirty minutes overtime today, but it was enjoyable enough. The students, unlike the group I had in April, were prepared for the class this time around: everyone had brought a laptop and a résumé in electronic form. One girl's laptop broke down during class; I ragged her about it, telling her she should've had a Mac instead her crappy Samsung. She took my jibes with good humor and ended up visiting the program coordinator's office to borrow a laptop.

Like in April, some of the students impressed me with their breadth of experience despite being so young. One girl had traveled and done service work in several African and European countries; another had a language background in German and Russian; I spoke some phrases to her in both languages. One guy, who came over an hour late to class, turned out to have studied in Paris. I spoke full-speed French with him and was impressed with his speed, his listening comprehension, and his natural accent. (Most French-speaking Koreans that I talk with usually have disappointingly bad accents when speaking in French. Occasionally, though, I'll meet someone who has internalized French extremely well—in some cases better than I have. But such Koreans are rare birds indeed.)

Class began with my 40-minute PowerPoint presentation (on how not to write—and how to write—résumés), then we moved into a 30-minute workshop: pair work for fifteen minutes followed by "alone" work for another fifteen. After that, the students enjoyed a ten-minute break, then we moved into the one-to-one consulting phase of the class, during which I sat with each student individually for about ten or twelve minutes, working on their résumés with them. Some students got it: their CVs were nicely polished when I saw them, and I had almost no complaints. Other students, though, seemed to think they could buck the system and hand over idiosyncratic résumés that had hard-to-read formats and were rife with silly errors. Luckily, Korean students tend to take correction very well; they are, in fact, suspicious when a teacher seems to be praising them too much, so even the wayward students appreciated the constructive criticism that I applied to their résumés.

It was the one-to-one consulting period that caused me to run overtime: some students' résumés needed a lot more help than others' did. I managed to finished everything before 5:30PM, after which I trudged across campus to visit my buddy Charles, who is a prof at SNU. Charles and I hung around in his office for a bit after I had changed into my walking clothes, then we took a crowded shuttle bus to a neighborhood that had a kimchi-jjigae restaurant called Baekchae (white cabbage), which Charles likes. We met Charles's wife there; Hyunjin had kindly saved a table for us. Charles had talked about how the kimchi-jjigae here came with a ton of meat; when our order came out, I saw that he hadn't been joking: there were literal slabs of pork hunkering down inside the spicy cabbage stew. Hyunjin gamely cut the pork slabs into bite-sized chunks with meat scissors; we then waited for the stew to boil until the meat—initially raw—had been thoroughly cooked.

Along with the stew, there was a sizable side of scrambled egg slathered with sauces, and we all had metal bowls into which to ladle our stew when it was ready. Three metal bowls came out; only two had rice in them, so Charles and Hyunjin split one bowl of rice between them like the cute couple they are, leaving me with a full portion of rice. We also passed around a container of dried seaweed. When the pork was ready, we began ladling the stew into our bowls: spicy broth, huge leaves of kimchi, enormous monoliths of tofu (called dubu in Korean), and those lovely chunks of dead pig.

I ended up having two bowls of stew, then I began rooting around the bottom of the large stew bowl, looking for stray bits of cabbage and tofu and pork to eat. We all had our fill, then we adjourned to a gelato place across the street, also recommended by Charles. I ordered a 300-gram triple-scoop (about the size of a Baskin Robbins pint) that Hyunjin gasped at; she and Charles were more modest, ordering only tiny cups of gelato—pistachio for her; dark chocolate for him. My triple was dark chocolate, strawberry, and cookie. All three flavors were delicious, and I destroyed my 300-gram monstrosity before Charles finished his tiny cup. Hyunjin, apparently still hungry and claiming to have a special second stomach exclusively for desserts, slaughtered her pistachio gelato well before either of us guys had finished.

Conversation was mostly about food, as it almost inevitably is when I'm around. Charles noted that this is a Korean thing: Koreans will talk about other food even while they're chowing down on something delicious right at that moment. Who can blame them? Food is life.

Now replete, I waddled away from the gelato place and—at Charles and Hyunjin's behest—over to the main road to hail a cab. I had taken a cab to SNU earlier that day; the cabbie had missed a crucial turn, which had cost me twenty minutes. Being almost an hour early to class, I was relaxed about the whole thing, but the cabbie felt guilty and charged me for only part of the entire ride, even trying to force some cash onto me as a further refund. I told him to keep his cash, and I said I was fine with paying the truncated fare since it was close to what the actual fare would have been had we not missed the turn. Fast-forward to the evening, and a cab zoomed up as I said my goodbyes to Charles and Hyunjin. The ride home occurred without incident, and was a few dollars cheaper than the inadvertently meandering ride that I had taken earlier in the day.

Expect pics of the meal and dessert momentarily. Meanwhile, I've got a week to prep for next Wednesday's course on how to do presentations.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

off to SNU

I'll be teaching at Seoul National University today—South Korea's Harvard or Yale. Ought to be fun: it's a three-hour gig in which I'll teach the same mini-course I'd done back on April 15, about the dos and don'ts of résumé writing. Next Wednesday, I'll be back to teach presentation skills, then on August 1 and 2, I'll be back again to do one-on-one presentation-skills coaching and consultation. All of this will mean an extra couple thousand bucks in the bank, which can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

lunch update: ¡Coreanos!

Tragedy struck today when I, my boss, and my coworker got to Gino's in Itaewon at 2:45PM for a late lunch and discovered that the staff was on break for two hours, French-style. A sign on the restaurant's front door announced the break, but my boss barged in all the same to find out what was going on. It seems that Gino's bakes its last lunch-hour pizza at 2:30PM, and the break starts at 3PM and goes until 5PM—a good thing to keep in mind for future reference. Disgruntled, the boss lumbered out, and we followed him back onto the street. Coreanos, a Tex-Mex restaurant, was in basically the same building as Gino's; my coworker said it was his favorite Tex-Mex place, so we headed in for a meal.

The hostess told us we could sit at the ground-floor level and do our meal in a "self-service" way, which she said would be a bit cheaper; that, or we could go downstairs and get the "full-service"—i.e., the regular—treatment. We elected to go downstairs, and we were quickly seated. Menus were handed to us, and the boss jokingly asked where the enchiladas were. Our server didn't even know what enchiladas were, which told us everything we needed to know. My coworker recommended the "everything" burrito, but I decided on a super-quesadilla with carne asada. My boss got the same, and my coworker got his burrito al pastor (shawarma-style rotisserie pork—see here). For an appetizer, we elected to try the Coreanos version of the kimchi-cheese fries that are so popular at Vatos Urban Tacos.

The Coreanos "kimcheese" fries (that's their name in the menu) were arguably better than the Vatos appetizer: the fries weren't soggy; the kimchi was more understated, allowing the other flavors to come through, including that of the meaty, cumin-y chili, the pico de gallo, the cheese, and the sour cream. We destroyed the appetizer in just a few minutes.

When our main meals came out, I was initially disappointed by how small my "super" quesadilla looked, but it proved to be denser than it appeared. Topped with sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole, and accompanied by jalapeños, the quesadilla's interior was chock-full of carne asada, which made me a very happy camper. My coworker's al pastor burrito, however, looked a hell of a lot better (not to mention a bit bigger), and I vowed to order that the next time I came back to Coreanos.

In the end, my boss, who had practiced hapkido that morning, wasn't able to finish half of his quesadilla, so he split it, Solomon-style,* and shared it between me and my coworker. We gladly snarfed our quarter-quesadillas up along with our own respective meals.

All in all, I'd call Coreanos a win. True: the boss treated us ("We use the company card next time," he declared), but the prices, while a tiny bit steep, weren't totally unreasonable for Western food in Itaewon. The service was prompt; the ambiance was relaxed; you couldn't really ask for much more from a midrange establishment whose only purpose is to serve a narrow gamut of Tex-Mex meals. The essential question is: would I go back?—and the answer to that question is a definite yes. Coreanos knows its comfort food.

*Yeah, yeah—King Solomon never actually split a baby in two. His name is nevertheless associated with splitting things, as is evidenced by Nathan's Hot Dog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi and his "Solomon Method" for eating hot dogs rapidly.


going out for pizza

The boss had wanted to have a July Fourth celebration last week, but because I was out on KMA business, he chose to postpone the fest until this week so as to include me, which was very nice of him. As a result, we're off to Itaewon today—to Gino's (reviewed here), to scarf down some damn 'zza. My coworker, alas, has been told he needs to watch his sodium intake, so he said he wouldn't be able to eat a meat-lover's pizza. That sucks, but it won't stop me from ordering one for myself.

Looking forward to lunch.

Monday, July 11, 2016


I wussed out and took a cab home tonight after having done 26,000 steps. I was hot, miserable, and dehydrated, having stupidly decided not to bring along any fluids for my long hike. While I was riding back to my place in the cab, it started raining, so I didn't feel so bad about having wimped out: walking in the rain, in wet shoes, is never a good thing for the skin of your feet, especially when you're a heavy guy, and thus prone to blistering.

But that's not why I'm writing this entry. I just weighed myself: 120.4 kg. Just yesterday, I was probably around 123.5 kg. Let that sink in: I weighed myself yesterday, got 123.5; I slept, woke up, pooped out some of that weight, made up for the pooped-out weight by eating lunch and drinking fluids all day... then I went for my sweaty walk and lost about three kilograms.

That's fucking scary. All of that weight loss is, of course, water weight, so it's insignificant in terms of fat loss. What I was doing was inadvertently imitating what American wrestlers do when they need to quick-reduce to reach their weight-class goal.

For those of you living in comfortable spots of the United States, you should know that, when we expats say that Korean summer is jungle-hot and jungle-humid, we mean it. I somehow went from 123.5 kg to 120.4 kg—over 3 kg (7 lbs.) lost. In a matter of hours.

Lesson for Kevin: bring fucking water on these walks during the summer.

Kevin's Pie: empty today

I don't know quite what this might mean, but my coworker came back from an errand inside our building, and he reported that Kevin's Pie was dark and empty—even the display case was bereft of pies. I went down there myself, later on, and saw what he meant: the place was closed when it should have been open. I did see one lone pie-like creature cowering in a corner of the display case, but that was it.

Does this herald the end of Kevin's Pie? You'll recall my doomsaying prophecy: the place would be closed within six months. My coworker, who never sampled anything from the shop and simply relied on intuition, declared the place would close even before the six-month mark. It's going to go down to the wire: as of today, according to my doomsday countdown timer, Kevin's Pie still has one month and twenty-six days of life left to it. Will it die at the appointed hour, or will it linger like an unpleasant asshole who, despite being terminally ill, stubbornly clings to life just to be able to continue to torment the rest of us?


Sunday, July 10, 2016

"What Dreams May Come": review

"What Dreams May Come" is a 1998 film starring Robin Williams as pediatrician Chris Nielsen, Annabella Sciorra as artist—and Chris's soul mate—Annie Nielsen, Cuba Gooding Jr. as a quasi-psychopomp, and Max Von Sydow as The Tracker, another psychopomp. The movie sets up the Nielsen family as originally happy but beset by a series of tragedies: Chris and Annie meet in Europe, then fall in love; they have two kids, but both are killed in a car crash; Annie gets suicidally depressed and is institutionalized, but she fights her way free of the dark until her husband, Chris, is killed in another car crash. Now alone, Annie eventually succeeds in killing herself.

The movie's focus shifts to Chris's experience of the afterlife which, for Chris, means existing in one of Annie's paintings. A blurry guide (Gooding) appears, explaining bit by bit both what it means to be dead and how to move and function in this heaven, which is part of a whole cosmos of mind-created heavens. God is mentioned as being somewhere above, at a remove, shouting down that He loves us.

Much of the plot is a meandering exploration of heaven, where Chris meets his long-deceased Dalmatian, who had gotten old and sick and needed to be put to sleep. Chris learns that his guide is a young-looking manifestation of Dr. Albert Lewis, an old mentor of Chris's. Albert goes away at one point and is replaced by a bedimpled Asian woman named Leona (Rosalind Chao); Chris eventually discovers that Leona is actually the soul of his daughter Marie (originally played by Jessica Brooks Grant), who took the form of Leona because Chris had once mentioned how beautiful and gracious he thought Asian women were.

The plot doesn't kick into gear until, back in the world of the living, Annie gives in to depression and kills herself. Albert gives Chris the bad news, noting that suicides do indeed go to hell, but not because they're being punished by God: suicidal souls practice a sort of self-blinding, self-torturing rejection of life that causes them to create their own hells in the afterlife. Now grimly determined to rescue his wife from hell no matter the cost, Chris—with the help of Albert—retains The Tracker (Von Sydow), who will guide the pair into the stormy, smoking, tooth-gnashing regions of the otherworld to find Annie, using Chris's soul-mate connection with her as their guide.

As they approach hell's gates—a flaming, Mad-Max-style shipwreck called Cerberus—Chris suddenly has the realization that his guide, Albert, is actually his son Ian (played by John Paddock during the movie's earthly scenes). Ian had taken the form of Albert because he knew that Chris would listen to Albert's wisdom. The Tracker says that Ian can go no further on this hellward journey with Chris, so Chris and The Tracker proceed without him. They eventually find Annie—first buried in the ground among the other self-damned, with only her face visible, then later trapped in a horror-movie version of her house on Earth, which symbolizes the wreckage of her life and her current desolation. The Tracker tells Chris that he risks plunging into hell himself if he tries to rescue Annie: plunging into hell is what happens when a well-intended soul ends up losing his mind and adopting the worldview of a damned soul. The Tracker then reveals that he is the soul of Dr. Albert Lewis—now manifesting as an old white man instead of as the black man that Chris knew in life. Chris acknowledges but is heedless of the existential danger he faces, and he steps into Annie's horror-house to find her. He does, and unlike how he handled her depression in life, he chooses to stay in hell with her—to join her in her suffering, for all eternity if need be. Annie snaps out of her self-imposed inferno right as Chris begins sinking into his own hell, and in that way, they rescue each other and return to heaven—now with their kids.

What remains is a choice: the couple can abide in heaven forever, or they can return to Earth via reincarnation (mentioned as an option for souls much earlier in the film), re-experiencing the joy and pain of finding each other and living life together—hopefully making different choices this time around. They opt to leave heaven, and the movie's final scene shows a boy and a girl meeting for the first time by the edge of a lake—a scene that parallels Chris and Annie's meeting on a European lake at the beginning of the movie.

I had seen the preview trailer for "What Dreams May Come" (a phrase from Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy, and a reference to the afterlife, to consciousness after death) years ago; Robin Williams was riding high after having won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as Dr. Sean Maguire in "Good Will Hunting," a film that marked the beginning of the Robin Plays Only Saintly Characters era. The preview trailer for "Dreams" gave me mixed feelings of mild curiosity and creeping corniness. Although I have no specific beliefs about the afterlife, I'm often a sucker for afterlife-related stories, yet despite my curiosity, I apparently decided to wait nearly twenty years to see this movie.

And it was a disappointment. I heard that "Dreams" won an Oscar for visual effects, and that both Williams and Sciorra were praised for their heartfelt performances, but the film's vision of heaven was, well... prosaic, to say the least. While it wasn't exactly clouds and angels with harps, it also wasn't too far removed from what most people think heaven might be like. The idea that you create your own heaven and hell is a fairly conventional trope in Western art and culture; it's also one of the fundamental metaphysical and ethical pillars of Eastern religion: with a tormented mind, you can be in hell right here and right now.

It also didn't add to the drama to know that no physical harm can come to people who are already dead, so the entire Tracker segment of the film lacked any sense of real adventure. The company sets sail on a boat into a stormy sea; their boat is beset by hordes of the swimming dead, and it capsizes, plunging our heroes into the water... but none of this constitutes real danger, especially since we've already seen that, just by using one's mind, one can navigate the afterlife the way Superman navigates the world. Why even bother with boats? Why not fly above the stormy sea?

The answer to the above questions may be that this heaven isn't supposed to make logical sense: the claim is made that time doesn't exist in heaven, yet we see events happening in cause-effect sequence in rough accordance with earthly physical laws. Chris's heaven is being constantly manufactured by his mind, and given the wandering and inconsistent nature of consciousness, I suppose it stands to reason that heaven is only as logical as one's mind can make it. That said, the movie's heaven leaves me with a plethora of unanswered questions.

I also thought the film suffered from poor screenwriting: the emotional beats of the dialogue often didn't make sense. There were weird pauses followed by violently uttered sentences, but no clue as to where the emotional violence was coming from. The pacing and editing of the story felt off-kilter, and the story itself points out one of its own annoying self-contradictions: it's claimed that there are no rules in heaven, and yet rules do seem to abound, governing everything from physical behavior to metaphysical events.

Chris's rescue of Annie from her personal hell was also disappointing. In the end, the rescue didn't seem as impossible as The Tracker had made it out to be. The moral lesson of that scene also didn't sit well with me. In life, Chris's supposed sin was that he had remained strong after the deaths of his children, whereas Annie, more fragile, had sunk into despair. Chris's response to Annie's depression was "Don't give up." While in Annie's hell, Chris confesses that his "be strong" rhetoric was just a pose, just a way to retreat from reality. That may or may not be the case, but I personally see nothing wrong with remaining strong, composed, and rational in the face of tragedy. Having experienced my own tragedy thanks to Mom's brain cancer, I know what it's like to be the coolest head in the room while everyone else is flipping out, in denial, or inconsolable. No: I don't think Chris was doing anything bad by just being who he was—which, in this case, meant being the stronger half of the couple.

So let's face the issue of corniness head-on. "Dreams" was unbearably corny, and if you're an atheist, I think you'll find this movie to be less of a loving exploration of personal bonds that defy death and more of a slapstick comedy. While it's initially beautiful to see Chris Nielsen dashing excitedly about inside this heavenly version of one of his favorite paintings by his wife, the flying scenes began to remind me a little too uncomfortably of "The Matrix," with Cuba Gooding in the Laurence Fishburne role, mentoring Robin Williams's version of Neo on how to handle this new reality. It was also corny that the whole Nielsen family ends up dying, just so we can have the family reunite in heaven. I remember initially wondering about that in 1998, when I first saw the preview trailer: is it just Robin Williams who dies? No, as it turns out: it's Williams and his entire goddamn family. And by the way, there are better cinematic portrayals of the afterlife out there; I'm partial to the one we see in "Brainstorm" (1983), which is a strange and compelling combination of the abstract and the visceral.

Also corny: except for Annie herself, everyone Chris encounters is wearing a mask. The psychopomp who first appears as Albert turns out to be Chris's son Ian; the Asian Leona turns out to be Chris's daughter Marie; The Tracker turns out to be the real Albert Lewis. Three times with the same head-fake? Really? That was simply too much to take. It's a good thing the dog didn't suddenly declare that it was actually the family cat.

Tonally inconsistent, weirdly paced and edited, generally devoid of drama, and corny as hell, "What Dreams May Come" was, overall, a big disappointment. There was beauty in the visuals, but the effects were in the service of a rather unimaginative depiction of existence beyond bodily death. I fidgeted throughout the movie's run time, and I guffawed whenever some new corniness appeared on screen. Williams is given some funny lines to utter (you can't stop Robin Williams from being Robin Williams, after all), but unfortunately, most of the movie's humor is unintentional. I will say this, though: if there is a heaven, it wouldn't be so bad if the departed Mr. Williams should find himself in this movie's version of it.