Saturday, September 20, 2014
At Dongguk University, I have three immediate bosses. I don't know whether they actually describe themselves as bosses, but they're billed as "head teachers," for what it's worth, and we're to pose our professional questions either to them or to the office assistants in our department's main office. I sat down at lunch with one boss two days ago, and we talked about the ins and outs of the program we're teaching. Remembering an issue I had brought up on the blog recently, I asked my boss about pay: was my first month's payment just a little too good to be true? He seemed to think so: instead of 2.7 million won, one's normal pay ought to be around 2.5 million won once insurance and pension deductions kick in. So I was right to think that 2.7 million was a bit much, and I'll have to adjust my budget accordingly. Frak.
As I had threatened earlier, I took my trip into Itaewon today. Here are a few things I can't stand about the district.
1. Fellow expats. I didn't come to Korea to hang out with expats. True, the small handful of close friends that I've made here includes two or three expats, and I freely acknowledge that it's often nice to share insights with someone whose worldview dovetails, more or less, with your own. That said, I really have little use for most expats. Part of this is GOMAS: I selfishly want to feel that my adventure in Korea is unique. Part of this is my resentment of people in America who refuse to make any effort to assimilate into the larger culture; seeing Americans acting the same way here as foreign expats do in America just rankles me and erodes whatever traces remain in my head of the cherished-but-obviously-mythical narrative of American exceptionalism. Americans follow the "birds of a feather" rule just like everyone else.
2. Skyrocketing prices. Barely a year ago, a döner kebab at Sultan Kebab in Itaewon cost only W3,000 per tiny wrap sandwich. Now, the price is W6,000. My wallet spent all evening complaining about how painful and bloody its asshole was after dinner. There's a sock store at the edge of Itaewon, near the Noksapyeong side, that used to sell plastic packages of socks for W10,000 a package (ten pairs of socks in each package). Now: W18,000 for the same fucking package. That's roughly the same inflation rate as Sultan Kebab's. It's because of bullshit like this that people are increasingly turning to iHerb (website here; Charles recently wrote about it here, but I'd heard about iHerb last year from my buddy Tom, who sang its praises for its cheap, fast overseas delivery of a variety of "healthy" products), which offers reasonably priced items that expats can't find elsewhere. (I'll be hitting iHerb up for psyllium fiber.)
3. Annoyingly pushy Korean salesmen. I'm a large guy, but I don't need to be reminded of how large I am by Korean guys standing in front of big-and-tall stores who boom out, "Big clothes? You need big clothes?" The quickest way to get me to avoid your establishment is to try the hard sell on me. I did end up inside a keunot-jeom (big-and-tall clothing store), where I bought a shirt... for W35,000. See (2) above. My wallet was positively weeping by this point. It curled into a fetal position and refused to leave my pocket ever again.
4. Ho fashion. Is it my imagination, or is Itaewon a magnet for sluts and slut wannabes? I'm all for the tasteful revelation of the female form, but a never-ending cavalcade of scrawny little East Asian asses packed into tight jeans and miniskirts can quickly result in sensory overload. Tonight, I heard the Jesus freaks singing pious songs in front of the Hamilton Hotel, and I almost sympathized with them: they had obviously figured Itaewon to be Korea's own Babylon, and judging by all the crotches on display—all the ambient crotchality—I'd say they weren't far wrong. Maybe I'm just turning into a bitter, sexless old prude.
5. Saturday crowds. Itaewon is packed on Saturdays. I had forgotten that fact, mainly because I've tended to visit Itaewon during its off-days and off-hours. Today, I was on the main drag right at dinnertime—probably the very worst time to be there. I hate to say this, but I'd almost rather be walking the crowded streets of Gangnam than weaving my bulky way through the seedy masses in Itaewon.
Itaewon's attraction, for me, boils down to two things: (1) items that I can't find anywhere else, and (2) Western or other styles of international food. I agree with my friends that Itaewon has improved in terms of its no longer being quite the wretched hive of scum and villainy that it used to be, but I still fail to see its appeal. I go there only if I have to, and then only grudgingly.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I was pissed off to discover that one international store was closed this evening. I'm pretty sure the place is run by local Muslims—Pakistanis or Bangladeshis—which ought to mean the store should have been open, since the Muslim holy day is Friday, not Saturday. I had wanted to hit this store because I knew it had powdered Metamucil; I recently ran out of the Metamucil that Tom had given me a month before. I knew, too, that the price for this Metamucil would be exorbitant, but I was willing to pay more for the convenience of immediate availability. Since the store was closed, I chose instead to order fiber tablets from iHerb, which has a deal on fiber tablets that rivals the cheap prices I had enjoyed when shopping at Target while living in Front Royal, Virginia.
Seoul doesn't have much of a graffiti culture. Truly impressive instances of artistic vandalism are few and far between. Switzerland, by contrast, has some creative artistic terrorists; I remember seeing gorgeous street art in places like Interlaken and Zürich. But tonight, in the very neighborhood in which I now live, barely 200 meters from my residence, I saw a graffito that I found both striking and enthralling. Behold (click image to enlarge):
Not bad, eh? I wish there were more art like this.
I walked a hell of a lot tonight: 24.3K steps, which is, according to my pedometer, approximately 11.3 miles (18.23 km). I double-summited Namsan; because I started late, 17,446 steps were walked before midnight, and the remaining 6,842 steps were walked after midnight. Namsan had delightfully few tourists at that time of night, which made for some peaceful walking. Leaves are starting to fall on the mountain roads as well: a harbinger of autumn. By the time I was leaving Namsan's summit for the second time, it was late enough for the crews to have turned off the massive lights that normally illuminate Seoul Tower. The imposing structure—Seoul's most prominent phallic symbol—loomed there in the semi-dark, limned by ambient light pollution from the city below, and ringed with vestigial illumination from the dimmed lights inside the revolving restaurant near the top of the tower. I stared at the darkened column a bit before making my way back down to street level.
Saturday morning, I'm doing laundry and then off to the dreaded Itaewon to do some shopping that can't be done anywhere else. I resent the fact that certain Western products aren't available in Korean stores for reasonable prices, thus making Itaewon trips a necessity. I think my dislike for Itaewon has little to do with its formerly pervasive seediness: for me, the major sticking point has always been that Itaewon is Expat Central, and I just don't want to be hanging around crowds of my own kind. I resent such clannish, balkanizing behavior when I see it in America; I have no love for it when I see it here in Korea, either. So I'll swoop into Itaewon, do my shopping, then get the fuck out as soon as possible.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Drudge is currently displaying a 54/46 split in favor of "No" for the Scottish referendum on the question, "Should Scotland be an independent country?" These are just the initial results, but I doubt the complete tally will be much different.
I'll admit to feeling disappointed. I think the Scots may realize that being hooked into the UK's life-support system, and thus remaining dependent, is an easier route than taking the bold, risky step of unplugging the country from Great Britain. A more charitable explanation could be that the wisdom of the masses has prevailed, and the Scots see no good reason to sunder a union that has been mutually beneficial for centuries.
End result: Scotland dependent. The spirit of William Wallace will just have to bide its time.
BBC real-time updates on the referendum can be found here. I'll be checking.
UPDATE: More specifically, check here for real-time updates as the polls close in each region. Orkney and Shetland were big-time "No"s, I see. Many of the regions that have already reported in are close in their votes, but from what I gather, every single voting district, close or not, has voted "No." At this point, I'd say the Scots have spoken. The prevailing opinion is either "No" or "Hell, no."
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Taking a break. I did over 20K steps yesterday, and today I felt inordinately tired, so I'm taking a break from Namsan. Tomorrow, Friday, I'll do double duty. Today, I'll content myself with the 6,000 steps I walked over the course of a normal business day at Dongguk. My per-day average for the month of September is still over 13K steps, so I'm well above my July and August averages. I think I can afford to slack off a tiny bit.
In other news: I really need to get new holes punched into my belts. I've gotten to a point where my pants are starting to fall down, even with my belts cinched as tightly as possible. It's crazy. I'm at 119 kilograms; another 6 kilos and I'll be at 113 kg, which is around 250 pounds—another milestone, and a return to my 2006 weight while at Sookmyung Women's University. Hard to believe I'm now this close to 250. I still look fat, of course; that won't change until I'm down to an even 200 pounds, I think—and 200 pounds (91 kg) would be my 1990 weight.
The basement of the building in Daechi-dong that houses the Golden Goose has an array of restaurants in it. Most of the restos are Korean-style, but there's at least one faux-Japanese eatery that had been recommended to me by a coworker. I went there this past Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised by the meal I received (click on image to magnify):
Alas, I had to rush through the meal because I had spent most of my lunch break at the local Shinhan Bank, arranging an international transfer. I'll be sure to eat at this place again soon, though. The food was pretty good, and the meat was fresh from the fryer.
Will Scotland vote "Aye" or "Nae"? I've become, like most of the rest of the civilized world, keenly interested in this question. I recently asked an Irish coworker for his thoughts on Scottish independence, given that the Republic of Ireland has enjoyed independence from Britain since at least the late 1940s, when the Republic of Ireland officially became the Republic of Ireland after having been the Irish Free State. My colleague said he had his doubts and thought that independence was a bad idea. "We [Irish] messed it up," he sighed. He also noted that, in terms of the practical reality in Ireland, not much actually changed with the advent of independence. The economy still was what it was; the citizens still did what they did. Life went on. The same would be true, analogously, for Scotland.
I admit there's a romantic part of me that hopes Scotland will vote "yes" at this referendum. The Scots have fought and yearned for independence for centuries; actor Sean Connery, a loud and longtime supporter of a free Scotland, doubtless hopes to see Scottish independence become a reality in his lifetime. What a thing of beauty it would be, to be Scottish and to know that one was standing on free Scottish ground, breathing free Scottish air—to be, at long last, a true Scotsman, beholden to no one! It's an exhilarating thought.
At the same time, I know that independence comes with drawbacks. I've read around and am aware of the issues: which currency to adopt? How much of the British national debt to shoulder? Wither the Scottish military? How about those oil fields in the North Sea? And what of regional politics—how will Scotland relate to the UK? To the EU? These are enormously important issues, and a headlong plunge into freedom would bring all of them to a head.
But before we worry ourselves to death, it's important to remember that today is merely a referendum—a massive polling of the people's sentiment, not an official vote to cast off the UK forever. The question being put to the Scots is this: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" It's a straightforward query, phrased in the conditional tense ("should," not "shall"), which means it's still just hypothetical. So don't fret: there won't be a breakup anytime soon.
There's an article that says it would be better for the Scots to leave the UK because the UK Parliament would finally be able to swing back to the center once all those damn leftist Scottish representatives have departed. It's true that Scotland, as a nation, swings way, way left—a fact that I find unfortunate. I'd like to think of the Scots as fierce individualists, not as weak-kneed, bitchy little nanny-staters, but apparently that's the face of modern Scotland. If given the chance, the country of William Wallace might swing far enough left to become an echo of France, its neighbor to the south. That's my greatest worry for an independent Scotland: extreme leftism could be the road to national suicide. My own feeling is that leftism has its place as one half of a balanced system—both left and right—that enjoys a certain dynamic tension. Scotland, unbalanced, could easily go over the cliff.
That danger aside, I do still hope the Scots vote "yes." It would be a wake-up call for the UK, even if nothing were to come of it. As some writers have argued, a breakup is inevitable, anyway, because most of Europe (not to mention other parts of the world) is experiencing a sort of "breakup fever" these days, as separatists in different countries agitate for their own independence. And that's why, right at this moment, all eyes are on Scotland. If the Scots vote "yes," they'll be setting an example that shows how a civilized country fights for its freedom in a bloodless, nonviolent way. I seriously doubt that things would be so civilized in the Middle East or in Asia, if such a struggle for independence were to occur. (And it's a marvel to ponder that the Scots themselves are now civilized enough to put down their claymores and battleaxes in order to have a referendum!)
If I were a betting man, I'd bet that the referendum ends with a "yes" vote—not by a huge margin, but just barely: maybe 52% "yes" to 48% "no." The vote could go two ways: either the Scots end up cowed by the enormity of the potential problems associated with independence, and they chicken out at the last moment... or they become so excited, so filled with enthusiasm about the the very notion of independence that, in a paroxysm of nationalistic pride, they loudly vote "yes."
So that's my bet: a "yes" vote for Scottish independence. The idea is just too compelling.
UPDATE: Mike leans "nae." Malcolm leans "aye."
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Three good things I learned today:
(1) The very nice, very cute Shinhan Bank teller in Daechi-dong told me that I can now go to any Shinhan Bank and expeditiously do an international transfer. I did have to start the application process from scratch, not only because it had been several years since the last time I had used Shinhan for international wire transfers, but also because I had changed my passport number in the interim: my old passport expired while I was in the States, so when I re-upped for a new passport, I was given a new passport number. It also didn't help that I didn't have my alien-registration card (ARC); normally, that's the piece of ID that Korean banks want to see. My ARC is still somewhere in the bowels of Immigration; I can't pick the card up until Friday, September 26. But the good news is that I just need to bring my passport to any Shinhan branch, and I can wire money to the States quickly and easily from now on.
(2) My Dongguk pay was W400,000 more than I'd expected to get. Based on my experience with salary deductions at my previous job, I had expected to receive only 80% of my gross salary—about 2.3 million won. Instead, I received 2.7 million won, which was a very welcome surprise. There's still a chance, though, that this first payment is an anomaly; as I recall, that was the case at my previous place of work (there was also a month in which extra deductions were taken out of my pay, thus evening my average monthly payments out). So until I see three months in a row at 2.7 million won, I'm not going to breathe easy.
(3) My Golden Goose pay, which still hasn't arrived, will be for a full million. That's W200,000 more per month than I was expecting, so I'm certainly not complaining. If things really are as peachy as they now seem, this means I'm getting W600,000 a month more than I had budgeted for. The Golden Goose has also asked me to show up for work this Saturday, as there's a publication deadline that needs to be met. More work = more pay.
So I did a bit of shopping today; there's more shopping yet to do, but for the moment I'm just glad to have a measure of purchasing power again. Oh, yes: I also immediately paid off two personal debts today, and I'll pay my yeogwan hosts tonight when I leave the campus office (yes: I went straight from Daechi-dong to Dongguk campus, where I'm now writing this entry). When the Golden Goose finally pays me—within the next few days, I hope—I'll discharge another two personal debts. In October, another two... and in November, I'll pay my last remaining personal debt, thank Cthulhu. After that, I can finally start saving up key money for a decent apartment. And after that, sometime next year, I'll be able to begin paying down my real debts in earnest. Assuming Dongguk doesn't fire my ass.
I get paid today. Cue Monty Python ass-trumpets, furiously humping angels, and an avalanche of blubbery male nipples. This is going to be a bit weird: normally, when I get paid by my university (still no payment from the Golden Goose, alas), I go right to the bank the same day and transfer 80% of my income to my American bank account. But because today is Wednesday, I'll be at the Golden Goose, which means I'll be doing the wire transfer at the Shinhan Bank in Daechi-dong, not the Shinhan Bank on my campus. That's a bit of a pain in the ass, because the first time I do a wire transfer at any given bank, there's always a ton of paperwork and the process takes forever. So I'm sacrificing my lunch hour tomorrow, just to make sure my US bank account is replenished on time. When I get paid on October 17, that'll be a Friday, which means I'll have to do the wire transfer from the campus branch of Shinhan, which in turn means I'll have to do all that damn paperwork over again from square one (unless it turns out that all the branches are connected, and paperwork for one branch applies to all branches... but that's a little too much to hope for, because that would actually make sense, and this is Korea, home of the non-linear).
I suppose I'll be sending my standard $1,200-$1,400 over to America. Since I now work for a place that pays a larger salary, I expect to keep a little bit extra... but W400,000 of that extra will be claimed by my yeogwan as living expenses (because you just can't fucking win). When the Golden Goose finally pays me its cool million won minus taxes and other deductions (I'm expecting about W800,000), some of that money will also go overseas, and some will be sent to creditors here in Korea. Within two months, I ought to have most of my creditors paid off. If I decide to protract the pain one extra month, I can pay off one final creditor, which means it'll take thirteen months for me to amass the money needed to make a down payment on a decent apartment. I'm not sure what my circumstances will be a year from now. I may have shifted fully over to the Golden Goose by then, earning a cool 4 million won a month for starters (with an eventual shift up to W5 million). Much depends on how well I like teaching at Dongguk. If my students give me suck-ass evaluations, I won't feel welcome and I'll happily leave for greener pastures. If, on the other hand, I rock and roll on my evals, I might just stay another year and keep the Golden Goose on the side as part-time work.
But back to the here and now. Payday comes as an enormous relief. I'll have a wee bit of breathing room and will finally be able to make some necessary purchases. That's certainly something to be thankful for. The curve has reached its inflection point and will now swing upward. Thank Christ for that, eh?
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Another "frankly speaking" post is up. I'm going to have to figure out a different way to alert people to the existence of these posts. Either that, or I should just advise my readers to check back every few days for updates.
I'm going to have to take it easy on the downhills. Tonight, for the first time, I felt the strain on my knees as I pounded my way back down from the top of Namsan to the bus parking lot just below the summit. The pain was a possible harbinger of agony to come if I don't watch myself. Running downhill is an impossible, laughable prospect: I'd end up like Bruce Wayne in "The Dark Knight Rises," utterly without knee cartilage and needing a robotic splint to hold my leg together so I could deliver powerful side kicks.
I started out late tonight, but ended up with over 15K steps before midnight rolled around. We new faculty members received our ID cards yesterday afternoon, and I had wanted to see whether mine would work to open locked doors on campus at night. Unfortunately, I discovered—even before my nighttime walk—that my card didn't work: it was after 7PM when I left the faculty office, and I had wanted to lock up. Locking up requires a working ID card to set the door alarm, but when I touched my card to the sensor plate, a computer voice told me flatly that my card was "disallowed" (heoyong dwaejiantseumnida). So I need to run my card by our intrepid office assistant Tuesday afternoon; here's hoping things are fixed by close of business the same day. (It might behoove our office staff to test the ID cards, to see whether they work, before they actually issue them to us. Having to go back to get the card checked amounts to wasted time and effort.)
Aging, as they say, is no fun. As I get older, I find there are more and more things I need to watch out for. Now I have to add my knees to that list.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Many moons ago, I purchased the Wachowski/Tykwer film "Cloud Atlas," and only last week got around to watching it. The movie is a hodgepodge of both the excellent and the execrable, but as is the Wachowskis' wont, it's primarily an idea film, and on that level, I have much to say about it. Trouble is, I have so much to say about it that I'm pretty sure the review is going to bloat into a piece the size of "The Tao of Chance." So I need to take some time to steel myself and psych myself up before I sit down to write this post. I'm very tempted to take the opposite tack, i.e., to condense my thoughts into a brief, two-paragraph review. But that would feel like cheating, and I wouldn't be able to explore the length and breadth of my thoughts on "Cloud Atlas."
So expect a massive review sometime in the near future. Not sure exactly when I'll get around to writing it, but I promise it will appear eventually, along with other promised pieces.
K-pop is taking Western music, combining it with Western concepts, Western production, Western sonic trends, and Western psychological fangirl-baiting to create a popular culture trend based 100% entirely on Western culture. There are no fucking differences. That’s not good or bad, but that’s what it is and don’t let others tell you different.
The only thing Korean about it is that it’s happening in Korea, which means that the competition is tougher — they’re all trying harder than everyone else to create the perfect pop product because they’re culturally perfectionist workaholics who run on two hours sleep.
I don't disagree with anything that author kpopalypse wrote, but my own analysis of the difference between the two pop styles would be this:
K-pop is basically Western pop with the pitch cranked up to cartoon-voice level and the rhythm sped up to a frenetic, cocaine-crazed pace.
Like much of Korean pop culture, K-pop feels like a lighter, cheaper, more effete, and very derivative version of its sturdier, more original Western counterpart. Think about kitchen utensils. If you're from the West and you move to Korea, one of the first things you notice, when you go shopping for utensils to stock your kitchen, is that all the utensils are made of lighter, weaker, cheaper metals and plastics. Everything is more breakable and less substantial. That's K-pop in a nutshell: a lighter, fluffier, substance-free version of Western pop: easy on the brain (or, in my case, harsh on the ears) and completely unmemorable.
This isn't to say that I hate all modern Korean music. I've heard some pop songs that had a hint of substance to them—some singers with rough-edged, powerful voices, who didn't sound like the latest "Bristina" clone. I've heard some modern songs with heavier beats, slower tempos, and a more thoughtful sound overall, and I've appreciated them. But such songs are few and far between in Korea.
This also isn't to say that I necessarily find Western pop superior to K-pop. In general, I despise Western pop almost as much as I do K-pop; it's just that I grew up listening to Western pop, so I'm more used to it. I've never gotten used to modern Korean music.
So, basically, I'd argue that K-pop is the Pikachu-infused bastard child of Western pop: all cheek-lightning and high-pitched voices, possessing even less substance than Western pop does. It's auditory cotton candy—eminently consumable, but there and gone. I wish it would go away, but that's not happening anytime soon.
*Not sure how much feminists will appreciate it, though, given its accusation that "fangirl idiocy" was and is one of the engines driving the entire pop movement. There's also the "erect dick to hop on" comment at the end. I found that comment funny, but that's because I don't have an anti-phallocratic stick up my ass.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
I do my laundry by hand.
There's a washing machine in this yeogwan, I've been told, but I haven't had the heart to ask to use it. So I do my laundry by hand, third-world-style. It takes me about as long to do a full load of laundry as it takes the machine to do the same load; the main difference is that I can't wring the clothes as dry as the machine can spin them, which means the drying time for my hand-washed loads is necessarily rather long. Socks, tees, underwear, and shirts made of thin material are no problem to do by hand; pants—especially sweatpants—are, by contrast, a real bitch to hand-wash. Wringing out pants takes a good bit of muscle power, and I have to make sure not to twist too hard because otherwise I start popping stitches. So it's both strength and finesse that are needed, which makes hand-washing an activity that demands mindfulness. I can't say I love doing my laundry, but I do find it, to some extent, a meditative activity.
Right now, my clothes are drying. They've been drying for several hours, but the sweatpants are still soaked. Gravity helps dictate the drying pattern; I hang the clothes in front of a fan, and they dry from the top to the bottom. The yeogwan has its own fan, bolted high onto the wall; I've got a second electric fan—my own—which I've placed inside my tiny bathroom to dry the clothes that are hanging on the drying rack. Of course, I've got the air conditioning going full-blast to remove the humidity from the air; without the A/C, I'd be merely blowing the moisture around, and the clothes would dry only slowly. All of this requires a large amount of electricity, but luckily, I'm not being billed for utilities. Not yet, anyway: the day may come when a pissed-off yeogwan owner will track me down and demand that I pay W450,000 per month instead of W400,000 to compensate for the amount of electricity I'm using.
So after pondering the situation a bit, I've decided not to hit Namsan this evening. I feel guilty about not going, but I really have nothing I can wear for the hike. There's also the fact that, after the hike, I'd have to launder another set of clothes again, and after today's orgy of laundering activity, I don't think I could stand to do yet another load, however small.
Meanwhile, the mountain will be there for me. Mountains are faithful like that.
September 14 is by brother David's birthday. He's seven years younger than I am, which means he's now 38. David's doing fine and loving life: he's happily married and has the money to travel. His job has him doing things he enjoys, like making videos (by which I mean not merely filming segments but also editing sound, adding graphics, and otherwise producing the entire thing from stem to stern). He just got back from a business trip to Orlando, Florida; he sent me some pics on Kakao. I hope he had the chance to chow down on some Cuban sandwiches. Those look mighty tasty.
David loves Kakaoing me. Sometimes I find this annoying, but when I think about it, it's rather touching that David's first and last thoughts for the day go toward his big brother.
Happy Birthday, David! Enjoy the start of your 39th year. 40 isn't so far away.
Joshua Stanton, blogging at One Free Korea, writes:
(My own belief is that U.S. Forces Korea is overdue to evolve into a command that provides air, naval, logistical, and intelligence support, as one part of a multilateral regional alliance. I’ve believed since I was a soldier in Korea that keeping U.S. ground forces there is a relic of 1960s doctrine. It puts tens of thousands of American soldiers and their families at excessive risk from a North Korean attack. American taxpayers carry too much of the burden of South Korea’s defense, and South Korea’s reliance on Uncle Sugar’s security blanket had created a false sense of security. South Korea will never be a self-confident and independent nation without greater self-sufficiency in its own defense. To achieve that, it should end its subsidies to North Korea, stop cutting its defense budget, improve its missile defenses, and build a big enough Army reserve component to stabilize North Korea if the regime collapses.
The US role in South Korea's defense should definitely be reduced. I've long advocated for the removal of our troops, who serve no practical purpose on the peninsula, and who are often objects of resentment, both justified and unjustified. South Korea has both the money and the might to stand on its own, but it may still be too steeped in a self-righteous victim mentality to take the mature step of accepting full responsibility for its own defense. As I've noted before, American force projection is such that we can be anywhere in the world within twenty-four hours; the need for bases in foreign countries is slowly but steadily disappearing, and this is particularly true in Korea. There's no doubt that, should a shooting war break out on the peninsula, America would be immediately by South Korea's side. But in the meantime, there's really no need for a "tripwire" force to guarantee American involvement.
Read the rest of Joshua's interesting post, which focuses on influence-peddling.
Tonight's walk, which did not include any "pre-walking" on campus (because I didn't have work today), was 18,294 steps. Drank a lot of water during the walk, so I probably gained weight instead of losing it. Climbing the hard slope tonight was more arduous than usual; there were a couple moments where I wanted simply to stop and rest, but instead I slowed my pace and kept on trudging upward.
A detached, analytical portion of my mind observes my huffing and puffing and sees the body for what it is: a machine. True, it's a living machine that articulates a human will, but this doesn't stop it from consuming oxygen at a certain rate, producing a certain amount of force per step, generating heat and sweat and moving to a certain rhythm as I forge my way upward. Sometimes, giving in to this analytical detachment is a good way to keep moving. Tonight, for example, when I was flagging, I had to unplug that lazy, emotional part of my mind and just let the machine take over, moving automatically and inexorably up the slope.
Same walk again tomorrow night. Or maybe I'll take the stairs this time.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Today, I dropped below 120 kilograms for the first time: 119.8 kg, or 264.2 pounds. As an American living in Korea, with two systems of weights and measures floating in my head, I'm never quite sure what to think of all the possible milestones at my disposal. I can set milestones in terms of pounds or kilograms; I can do so in five- or ten-kilo intervals, or five- or ten-pound intervals. Getting below 120 kilograms also puts me below the 265-pound mark, so maybe today represents the crossing of two boundaries, the establishment of two milestones. I'd say that I'm going to go out and celebrate by eating a pile of food, but I've committed myself to a Paleo-style day of starvation today, so I'll simply hike up Namsan tonight and eat something tomorrow.
I've read before that the human body needs about 12 calories of food per pound of body weight to maintain weight from day to day. At 264 pounds, that means I need to be eating about 3,168 calories per day. In fast-food terms, that's like two Whopper value meals. But I know for a fact that, were I to eat two such value meals a day, I would most certainly gain weight. My body seems designed to gain weight quickly and to lose weight only slowly, grudgingly.* Hence the relentless hiking. Not that I'm complaining: since I do enjoy walking, adding hiking back into my schedule is a welcome change of lifestyle.
I get paid by Dongguk in four days. The money doesn't come a moment too soon. I'm not sure when, exactly, the money from the Golden Goose will be arriving, but that payment, too, will be welcome, and I'll finally be on my way to reducing some debts.
*Part of the problem is my poop cycle. Eating a meal doesn't take long, but getting rid of the poop generated by the meal takes forever, and by the time I've gotten rid of part of a meal, I've already eaten again, thus creating a negative feedback loop that leads to weight gain in the form of undigested (or unshat) food. The food just lingers in my bowels, which release the ass-babies only after much delay and grumbling.
Weight fluctuations can be amusing and frustrating. On the evenings that I don't do Namsan, my weight shoots up instantaneously. On the evenings that I do do Namsan, I either lose a tiny bit of weight or remain at the same weight. I was around 120 kg a few days ago; when I didn't walk up Namsan for two days straight, my weight instantly went up to 122 kg—a 4-pound gain. After tonight's walk, I'm back down to 120 kg again.
Tonight's walk was a little over 22.5K steps, i.e., over ten miles (16 km). I double-summited Namsan once more, again taking the steep "descending" bus route. By the end of the night, my monthly steps-per-day average had been restored to nearly 14K/day. I hope to do this again both Saturday and Sunday night. Whatever it takes to keep the weight down.
Friday, September 12, 2014
A fellow 69-er, my buddy-since-eighth-grade Dr. Steve turns 45 today. Steve's got a doctorate in modern American lit, and he teaches English at a college in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (where the movie "Signs" is set, if that does anything for you). Steve would visit me on occasion while I was living in Front Royal, Virginia; he'd normally be around for Thanksgiving, and sometimes even for Christmas, which was nice, since I now rarely celebrate big American holidays en famille. Ideologically, Steve and I are pretty far apart; he's quite a liberal while I consider myself much more middle-of-the-road (look up "political compass" in my blog's search window and see the posts where I've displayed my compass results). Secretly, Steve is a good cartoonist and amateur chef; more openly, he's a talented songwriter and guitar player, thereby conforming with the stereotypically hipster ideal he's shooting for. He's also a kind, caring soul, as well as an all-around decent fellow. Now that I'm in Korea again, my correspondence with Steve has slowed to a mere trickle, which is unfortunate, but we're both busy, so that can't be helped. Despite the distance, I still wish my friend a very happy 45th. Halfway to 90, I say!
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
I've reached the point, in my Namsan routine, where I now feel guilty if I take a break from hiking. Alas, that's what I have to do tonight after racking up only 7,000 steps today (3.1 miles, 475 calories): I simply have too much left to do in terms of lesson and curriculum planning. I can't afford to spend a few hours on the path tonight. So, since the weekend is coming up, I plan to make up for lost time by doing nothing but double-summiting for the next few days. Once the planning is done and I've gotten my kids to run on autopilot, I'll have little to do except act as a guide and facilitator, which will free up loads of time for me to just go walking, and maybe to throw in some strength training.
Today, September 10, also happens to be my goddaughter's birthday. She's seventeen. Damn, how time flies. I still remember when she was a toddler, and here she is, agonizing over what college to attend. Her little sis just got her learner's permit, and the youngest sibling, my buddy Mike's son, is doubtless champing at the bit and impatient to get driving, too. Won't be long before the kids all leave the nest and my best friend's house in Fredericksburg, Virginia becomes eerily, sadly quiet.
But that's the future. For the moment, it's back to curriculum planning.
UPDATE: Check out this Tumblr photo by Robert Koehler of a path on the west side of Namsan—one I've never seen before. I'm going to have to find this path and walk it.
Tuesday, September 09, 2014
As is my wont, I spent my Chuseok avoiding relatives in favor of doing something with friends. My outing was all too brief, as I had to get back to my place and work on syllabi and other curricular materials, but I did get the chance to go out to Incheon's little Chinatown and eat some atypical Chinese food with my buddy Tom, his wife, and Tom's friend Angelo, whom I had met last year during my job search.
Here are some pics from yesterday's outing. Chinatown, which I'd never been to before, turned out to be about as large as the tiny Chinatown in Washington, DC, near Gallery Place. Click on the "landscape" pictures to make them full size; no need to click on the "portrait"-style images. Hover your cursor over the images to see the captions.
Lunch was at a very large Chinese restaurant whose menu was disappointingly Sino-Korean. I tried the most unfamiliar-looking thing on the menu: hayan-jjajang, i.e., white jjajang-myeon. Normally, jjajang-myeon is chewy pasta in black-bean sauce (see here), but the "white" sauce (it was actually more clear than white), while bland, was pretty good. Here's a pic of some hayan-jjajang that's similar to what I ate. I liked it despite all the onions.
All too soon, I had to get back to my place, so I left Tom and the gang to go visit Weolmido without me. I don't think I missed much: I'd been to Weolmido before. If there's one thing I do want to try the next time I come back to Chinatown, however, it's the hwadeok-mandu: thick-skinned potstickers cooked in what looks to be a tandoor (hwadeok is Korean for "oven" or "hearth"; see here). That looked way more fascinating (not to mention tastier) than the food we eventually ate, and I wouldn't have minded engaging in a street-food walking tour of Chinatown, sampling the cheap goodies the district had to offer.
One last thing: Angelo has an impish sense of humor. An avid photographer, he took the following candid shot of me and Tom sitting together during the long subway ride from Seoul to Incheon. Using his smartphone's editing software, he, uh, accented the picture to make the Kirk/Spock man-love subtext more obvious. I look incredibly huge—and neckless—next to my compact buddy, but candid shots provide a sobering reality check that my own chin-hiding selfies tend to obscure. It's obvious I've still got a long, long way to go in terms of weight loss. Anyway, the result of Angelo's artistic efforts:
Ha ha. Mock away, Angelo. I think you're just jealous.
What a lame supermoon. Seoul got gypped by Mother Nature: the night was way too cloudy, and the clouds dimmed almost all of the cosmic luster I had been hoping for. The moon just looked like a regular moon to me as I hiked up Namsan tonight.
I started my hike late, having done a wee bit of walking earlier in the day. As a result, I didn't get back to my hovel until after midnight. Before midnight, I had managed 16,999 steps; after midnight, it took another 2,540 steps to get me to my bed. That's a rough total of 19.5K steps for a single hiking session, but the way my pedometer divides things up (it always resets at midnight), my monthly average will be calculated based on my having done almost 17K steps on Monday.
Today, Tuesday, I'm off to the Golden Goose for five hours of make-up work (I came in late last Wednesday because I'd had to spend all day at Immigration), then I give the Goose my full eight hours on Wednesday. My free time will be spent finishing up syllabi and lesson plans, so as I may have said earlier, this isn't much of a break for yours truly.
In other news: just eight more days to go before I get paid. Can't wait.
My good friend Bill Keezer writes an excellent, excellent post on American railways. His encyclopedic blog entry accomplishes something that few posts, these days, can do for me: it takes a subject to which I've paid little attention and makes it fascinating. Granted, I've lived in Europe and ridden its rail system, so I'm at least cursorily familiar with what Bill is talking about when he refers to Europe's trains. But I don't have the same deep feeling that Bill does when it comes to railways, and it's that feeling that shines through in his marvelous piece. A good teacher is one who can convince you that the subject he's teaching is imbued with urgency and importance. Bill's "American Passenger Rail: A Great Debacle" is a must-read because it manages to do exactly that.
Monday, September 08, 2014
Today, Monday, September 8, is the official day of Chuseok in South Korea. Chuseok is often called a "Korean harvest festival" or even "Korean Thanksgiving." It's a time for families to gather together at the keun-jip—literally, the "big house," i.e., the house of the eldest sibling (usually the eldest brother). Lots of good food and familial conviviality, although I sense the tradition is dying away, bit by bit, as smartphones erode our sense of family, and other types of tech keep us from wanting to hang together for very long.
This Chuseok is supposed to be special, astronomically speaking, because there won't simply be a traditional harvest full moon: there's going to be a supermoon (September 9 for you readers in America: Korea is thirteen hours ahead of the US east coast). I'd like to find myself somewhere very dark and isolated to witness this amazing moon, but alas, I'm probably going to be hiking up the very light-polluted Namsan.
Today, my buddy Tom has invited me to go along with him and his wife and son to Weolmido, a humble little island on the west coast. I've been there once before, on a trip I took to the coast alone; the island is firmly attached to the mainland by bridges and a slew of other structures, to the point that it's hard to realize that you've left the mainland and are now on the island. There's a nice, windy boardwalk on Weolmido, as well as a long row of seafood restaurants, most of which specialize in hwae, or sashimi (raw fish). Tom is mainly interested in the nearby Chinatown, so we're likely to visit that area and chow down on some "real" Chinese food, since that's where so many ethnic Chinese folks live.
May your own Chuseok be a happy one, whether you find yourself with in-laws or relatives or friends, or even if you find yourself alone and quietly enjoying the scenery. Most of the country also has Tuesdays off, and some of us are lucky to have Wednesday off as well. Personally, I'll be busy on both of those days, but at least I'll enjoy a placid Monday among friends.
So—lessons learned! I faced my fear and did the double-summiting thing again tonight, braving the steep, steep bus route back up to the top of Namsan. It was about as bad as I thought it would be, but I must grudgingly admit that it was absolutely fantastic cardio. I walk the way I drive: competitively. (It's amazing I didn't get more speeding tickets than I did back when I lived in Front Royal and was tear-assing along Route 66.) This means that, when I see a person ascending the mountain ahead of me, I'm determined to pass him or her. Despite being tired, despite gasping as if I were having sex, I generally chug forward and pass the offending fellow hiker with a grim sense of triumph.
Another thing I learned was that the actual number of steps it takes to double-summit Namsan is only about 15.1K. The route from my neighborhood in Chungmuro 5-ga, through Dongguk campus, up to the summit of Namsan, then down the descending bus route to Namsan Library, then back up to the summit's bus parking lot, then back down through Dongguk to my Chungmuro neighborhood is only about 7.3 miles. I can get all this walking done between 9PM and midnight. It takes a little over two hours, given that I walk at a rate of about 3.2 miles per hour (approx 5.2 kph).
So how in the world did I manage nearly 26.1K steps the other day? Easy: it was a work day, so I had packed in several thousand steps just by going to and fro upon the campus, and up and down in it.* I normally get in nearly 7,000 to 8,000 steps on work days; this includes my tendency to prowl the classroom actively: I'm not a hide-behind-the-podium type of teacher, or a sit-on-my-ass type. My point is that I'm always racking up steps on the days that I work (although I think I slack off a bit on weekends). Sometimes, instead of hitting Namsan, I've taken to walking over to the Jongno district, which isn't far from where I live. It's not a bad way to pack in another 3,000 to 5,000 steps, and if I were to walk all the way to the Myeongdong Lotte Hotel, I'd probably rack up all 10,000 required daily steps.
Life has changed for me ever since I began to take my phone's pedometer seriously. Smartphones are extremely destructive when it comes to social relationships and basic human interaction, but on occasion they have their benefits, and I think my steadily improving physical condition is a direct result of my incorporation of the pedometer into my lifestyle.
*Ten points to you if you know, with some precision, the literary reference. No Googling!
Sunday, September 07, 2014
Tonight, I'm going to attempt the double-summiting of Namsan again, but this time, instead of taking the stairs (which offer a short-but-steep route to the top), I'm going to go back up the dreaded descending bus route—the one that terminates at Namsan Public library, on the Sookmyung University side of the mountain. Really not looking forward to this, but it's something I feel I have to try.
I've been waking up late—way late—these past couple of days. I think I'm laboring under a sleep deficit as I adjust to my new life at Dongguk University. Since the start of the semester, I've been averaging about 4.5 to 5 hours a night of sleep. Part of the reason for the deficit is not only that I'm learning the ropes at a new place of work: it's also that my Namsan hikes take over two hours to do. (The recent 26.096K-step walk took almost four hours, as I had hiked about twelve miles.) The hikes are draining, but because they're exercise, they also leave me unable to go to sleep right away. Exercise at night is often not recommended for this very reason: it can energize you before bedtime. But given the type of exercise I'm doing, I find it's much more pleasant to hike at night, without the summer heat and the annoying crowds, than during the day. Perhaps that'll change come winter, when the fair-weather pussies abandon the mountain paths and leave them to us chug-along introverts.
The problem with sleeping in is that you're left with fewer productive hours during the day. This is different from what I've written earlier about my sleep habits: as I've noted a few times before, my normal tendency, during vacation, is to go to sleep late and to wake up late, but to get about the same amount of sleep, per night, as a regular person—about 7 or 8 hours. Before the current Chuseok break, I was "undersleeping," and now that I've got a few days off, I'm radically oversleeping, which is not a good thing, given how much I have to accomplish before school starts back up this coming Thursday. It also doesn't help that I'll be gone all day tomorrow on a trip to the coast, and that I'll be working for large chunks of the day, at my other job, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
So today is it, as far as getting things done goes. And I've already woken up late. Most reliable prediction of what's going to happen, then: I'll get about 50% of my to-do list done today, and the remaining 50% will be done, in bits and pieces, over the next three days. Damn you to hell, sleep deficit!