Friday, October 31, 2014

last hurrah for October

This is it: make or break for 14K/day in October. I haven't actually done the math, but I'm pretty sure that all I need to do is single-summit Namsan tonight in order to keep my 14K average. If I succeed in my mission, I'll slap up a screen shot from my cell phone. I'm actually going to try double-summiting tonight in preparation for walking with JW tomorrow. Am almost at 9K right now; by the time I'm done with the double-summiting, I ought to be around 26K for the day, which will definitely put me over the goal line. While it's disappointing not to finish out October at 15K, I can aim for that in November.


_

the new thing in my eye

Whatever jellyfish-like entity had been in my eye before has long since gone, but this morning its shift was taken over by an even more imposing piece of flotsam that resembles either a squid or the nebulous chalaza that clings to the yolk of a raw egg. It's big, whatever it is, and it's actually a bit disturbing to see it moving around, casting its enormous shadow as my eye movements make it zag and zag wetly inside my vitreous humor. I'm gambling that this, too, shall dissolve eventually, but because this object is so much larger than the previous floater, I'm also gambling that it'll take a lot longer to disappear. I'll do my best not to go crazy in the meantime, but it's very tempting to find an eye patch.


_

back up to 14K

As of Thursday night/Friday early morning, I'm back up to 14K steps as my daily average for October. I walked 23.5K steps on Thursday before midnight, then another 4,472 steps after midnight to get home, for a total of 28,007 steps. If I can do 20K steps' worth of walking on Friday, I'll have reached my reduced goal of making 14K steps in October.

On Saturday, I'll be walking up Namsan with a good buddy of mine: my Korean friend JW, who's been living in India for nearly five years, working at a POSCO branch out in the city of Pune. It's been a few years since I last saw JW; at the time, he and his wife had one son. Since then, they've been blessed with a daughter, and the kids are growing up speaking Indian-accented English plus Korean. JW is here in Seoul for just a few days, having brought along some Indian colleagues. He's taking a break from his frenetic schedule to spend time with me and possibly also with our mutual friend Tom, my other good buddy, this weekend. JW says he wants a challenge, so I'm going to take him on a double-summit route up Namsan. That ought to be plenty for him.


_

Thursday, October 30, 2014

milestones: 29.6K, 117.5 kg

Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, I walked from 9:30PM to midnight and then kept right on walking for almost another 10,000 steps. Didn't get home until close to 1:30AM. My route took me up Namsan twice for a double-summiting; by the time I was back in my neighborhood I had registered about 20.5K. I then walked along Euljiro to the downtown Lotte Hotel, at which point I turned toward Jongno, walked along the main drag for a bit, then hopped over to the Cheonggyae Stream and went back to my neighborhood via the markets: Bangsan Market and Joongbu Market. (It turns out that the mother of one of my advanced students works at Joongbu Market, where she sells dried fish. I'll need to track her down and buy myself a huge bag of juipo. God, I love that stuff.)

My other awesome news is that I weighed myself Wednesday morning and was delighted to see that I had whittled myself down to 117.5 kilograms—I had finally broken through the 119-kilo barrier, crashed through 118 and landed, somehow, in the 117 zone. This is a milestone for me, because in terms of pounds, it means I'm finally below 260. Next goal: 250. If I can get past 255, I'll be under my Sookmyung weight. I still have man-tits, a spare tire, a gut, a double chin, a fat ass, and blubbery triceps, but there's definitely less of me to love, which is a good thing. I won't stay at 117 kg, I know: I'll likely bounce back up to 119 or so over the next few days because my weight is constantly fluctuating as I eat and poop. But 117 is my new low, and it'll be easier to reach 117 the next time I walk... and the next time, and the time after that... until I get down to 116. Every few weeks, a new low. That's the agenda.


_

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

barely 20K

I barely made 20K steps Tuesday night, and I managed to do so by only single-summiting Namsan: I had racked up about 7K steps earlier in the day, which made double-summiting unnecessary to achieve a 20K total. On Wednesday, I'll be in Daechi-dong, working at the Golden Goose. Wednesday night, I'll do another double-summit, and that ought to bring my average back up past the 13.6K mark (which is where I was last month). As long as I can keep hitting 20K through Friday, I'll have done better in October than I did in September. Here's hoping for a clean result of 14K.


_

2 kinds of "F" student

There's the "F" student who sees the error of his ways, who comes to the office seeking extra help from the teacher, and who promises to make a sincere effort to pull himself out of his rut. Then there's the "F" student who untruthfully insists that he's turned in assignments for which he's gotten a zero, who sleeps in class and shows little sign that he actually cares about his progress, and who is generally just an argumentative, unrepentant piece of shit.

Those with ears to hear, let them hear.


_

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

bro's best friend

My brother David sent me these pics of him and his faithful hound, Penny:











_

22.5K

All told, I walked 22,462 steps tonight. This was my first double-summiting of Namsan in about a week, and it felt good. Tiring, but good. I actually ran about 145 steps (by "step," in this case, I mean counting every time my left foot hit the ground, so by my pedometer's reckoning, I actually ran 290 steps), which had me quickly out of breath, especially since I was heaving my large self uphill when I did it. (Running downhill is possible for me, but it's murder on my knees.) Tuesday, I'll double-summit again, and on Wednesday night, I might try a triple-summit—sort of a compromise, since I doubt I'll be able to do a six-hour megawalk. Thursday and Friday nights will be my final opportunities to bring my October average back up to 14K. As of tonight, I'm in the low 13Ks thanks to spending several days in a row in the office, barely racking up 5K to 7K steps. It's gonna be close, and there's a chance my October average will be lower than September's. I've got my fingers crossed that this final burst of effort will carry me over the 14K hurdle.


_

Monday, October 27, 2014

done!

It's so nice to find myself on the other side of that massive pile of grading. This week, over the remaining five days of October (if we include today), I'll be making up for lost time by hiking my ass off every night: double-summits where possible, and maybe a megawalk if I can manage that. My walking average is way, way down thanks to my having cloistered myself in my office. It's time to get out and about again.


_

Sunday, October 26, 2014

an orgy of grading

In my previous job, I had classes in which there were no "A"s. Sad, but true. I'm currently slogging through a raft of student midterm exams, and I'm happy to report that, for two of my four classes, at least, I've got plenty of "A"s and "B"s. This is reassuring: it's a reminder that I'm back to teaching a much higher caliber of student.

Today, I'll be finishing up my final two batches. Grades will be entered, and tests will be ready to give back this coming week. Not one of my colleagues has been in the office this weekend; I suspect they're all taking the "I'll slowly grade small batches and get these back to the kids in two weeks" approach instead of the "get it all over with" approach. Lazy bastards. Heh.


_

just wow

If you're a teacher reading this blog, and if you both care about teaching and have some sympathy for the pedagogical drum I've been relentlessly beating—to wit, make your lessons task-oriented and student-centered—you owe it to yourself to watch this absolutely incredible TED presentation by John Hunter, a public-school teacher based in Virginia, who uses a device he calls "the World Peace Game" to teach third- and fourth-graders about a whole constellation of concepts, practices, and values.

I was almost moved to tears while watching this humble, intelligent man's talk, and I couldn't help but be amazed at the method he had devised to get his young charges engaged in the endeavor of solving the world's problems. Is the game realistic? Come on: even without watching the video, you already know the answer to that question, and that's not really the important question, anyway. For me, a more important question was, Does the game have pedagogical value? And it does. It surely does. Hunter's game is the quintessence of task-oriented and student-centered, and the videos he shows us are proof that his kids are excited, challenged, and engaged by the framework he's created.

Hunter's talk was a smashing vindication of the message I've been trying to put out there on my blog regarding good teaching: you show the students you have high expectations, you stand back and let them get their hands dirty, and then you watch them rise to the occasion. It's amazing what people can accomplish when you give them room to breathe.

SIDE NOTE: One popular TED speaker whom I've mentioned on this blog before, Sir Ken Robinson, gives engaging lectures on the state of education and the need to improve it through disruptive paradigms that emphasize creativity and individualized learning. I like Sir Ken's lectures, but I'm often frustrated that he always seems to stop short of actually providing any concrete solutions to the problems he isolates. His critiques of our current, stultifying system are spot-on, and I applaud his diagnosis. But just once, I'd like to see a TED talk in which Sir Ken goes into detail about practical measures that can be taken to improve our schools, without giving us more warnings about the need to avoid factory-style conformity, to escape a 1700s-era view of the mind, and so on. John Hunter strikes me as enacting the other side of what Sir Ken is preaching: Hunter has a specific, concrete solution, and in his talk, we can see his solution in action. Perhaps Hunter and Robinson should do a tandem TED presentation. I'd watch that.


_

Saturday, October 25, 2014

stoppers, close-callers, off-cutters, and U-turners:
the hazards of walking in Korea

Koreans don't move in straight lines—not mentally, not socially, and not culturally. If there's a circuitous, inefficient way to get from Point A to Point B, Koreans will find it. Although Koreans can be infamous for their bluntness (I find this especially true among Korean friends or with Koreans who feel sufficiently comfortable in their social superiority to talk "down" to me in a relaxed and brutally honest manner), they're also famously conflict-averse in situations that require a modicum of politeness. Hearing a direct "no" or "you're wrong" from a Korean can be a rare and precious thing.

But I'd like to concentrate on the physical manifestations of Korean indirectness, specifically in the context of just walking down a sidewalk, or a corridor, or along any other path or walkway. For me, even after nearly a decade in Korea, I still stubbornly assume that I can walk a straight line down a given path because my fellow walkers will abide by implicit and explicit rules of politeness, walking on the right side in a manner indicating focus, purpose, and a consciousness of one's fellows' need for personal space and smooth forward movement.

How silly, puerile, misguided, and utterly naive this assumption is.

The hazards of the Korean walkway can be taxonomized* into four major types:

1. The Stopper

This is the sort of person who, while walking right in front of you (especially in a crowded situation where such action is inadvisable), will suddenly stop in his tracks for no apparent reason. At that point, you must either plow into this person (which would be a form of cosmic justice, in my opinion) or do your best to swerve around and avoid collision. The latter option is an act of politeness that will go completely unappreciated, as the person now stopped in front of you has already demonstrated (1) his obliviousness to his situation, and (2) his total lack of care about how he might be making life difficult for people behind him.

Best recommendation: have a dildo at the ready to ram up the Stopper's ass in the ultimate ddong-chim gesture.

2. The Close-caller

Life in Seoul means crowds, and crowds mean weaving because, as I noted above, Korea is not a country in which people move around in an orderly, linear manner. Signs everywhere urge people: u-cheuk bohaeng (우측보행): walk on the right. Does anyone abide by these signs? I'd say perhaps half the people do. The other half can't be bothered, and it's that half that causes all the chaos. When I lived in Hayang, zigzaggy behavior wasn't nearly the problem that it's always been in Seoul, simply because there was more space in which to dodge oncoming foot traffic. I'd forgotten about that, but returning to Seoul has meant becoming reaccustomed to the nonlinear life.

What happens, though, on a nearly empty subway platform, when two people are walking toward each other, each with plenty of room to dodge the other? In my mind, the person walking the straighter path has the right of way. I have no trouble "holding my lane," so to speak, but many Koreans do. I'll be on that subway platform, walking from Zone 10-4 (the part of the platform at the back of the arriving train) to Zone 1-1 (the place where one boards the train at the very front), and inevitably, some lone person will be walking towards me. The platform is huge; I usually keep to the right to allow the other person to pass on my left with plenty of room. Instead, what happens is that the oncoming person will curve his path toward me and will brush by with inches to spare. I find this horribly obnoxious, but I normally say nothing. My theory is that Koreans, especially Seoulites, are so used to living in crowded conditions that they swoop close to other people, even when there's almost no one else around, simply to recapture that comforting, fetal feeling of being in a crowd, surrounded by warm flesh. Others are like magnets, and Koreans have an ovine impulse to hang together.

Close calls don't occur only in pedestrian-on-pedestrian situations, as any Korea veteran can attest: on an average day, you'll be almost-hit by any number of mopeds, motorcycles, taxis, buses, cars, and God-knows-what-else might lumber mechanically into your path. Once, I was riding in a car that my buddy JW was driving; we were tearing down a country road that intersected another country road in a large X; another car was speeding toward that same intersection, and instead of slowing down, JW continued barreling forward at the same speed, as did the other car. As Murphy's Law would have it, it became obvious that both cars would arrive at the center of the X at the same moment, which we did. We blew past each other, barely missing (George Carlin famously complained that "near misses" are misnomers for "near hits" whereas actual collisions should be labeled "near misses"). I blew out a breath of pent-up fear, and JW said absolutely nothing about how he'd almost gotten our asses killed. (Asian drivers and their tendency to look only straight ahead so as not to lose face, right?)

That's what living in Seoul is like: it's a constant series of near-collisions, day after day. You get cynical and learn to expect someone bumbling around every corner, or popping out of the alleyway you're about to step into, or standing just on the other side of the public-restroom door, or launching himself impatiently out of a just-opening elevator.

Best recommendation for pedestrians: be twirling a katana whenever someone draws near.

3. The Off-cutter

Quite possibly the most obnoxious of the four types of walkway hazard, the Off-cutter cuts you off. A more callous display of fuck-you-ism isn't possible than when someone decides he deserves to be closer to the head of the line. I've stood in line for elevators, only to have late-arriving college students insinuate themselves in front of me. Oh, no, Virginia: it's not just arrogant grandmothers who engage in this behavior! I've stood in lines in which people have interpreted the empty space between me and the person in front of me (a polite acknowledgment of personal space) as license to interpose themselves. And like every other expat in Korea, I've had old people rush forward to the counter, cutting me off so they can be served first. Every single time, I've wished for a cane with a curved handle so I could yank those fuckers back by their necks. That, or the telepathic power to mind-blast a message into their brains with the voice of God (or at least of James Earl Jones):

WAIT YOUR GODDAMN TURN.

Some Off-cutters do what they do in a manner that almost seems to evince calculation and not mere selfishness combined with a lack of impulse control. What I mean by "calculation" is this: you're walking along a school hallway; someone up ahead is leaning against the hallway wall and talking on his phone; then, right as you're about to pass this person, he breaks off from the wall, steps in front of you, and starts walking, thereby forcing you to stutter-step either to a halt or to a slower pace. Knowledge of a Sith power or two would be nice at this point: some way to Force-choke the offending party, or to vaporize him into bloody mist.

Off-cutters share certain behavioral traits with Close-callers, but unlike the latter, Off-cutters actually impede your progress; they don't merely violate your personal space.

Best recommendation: have a gun handy.

4. U-turners

U-turners are just as bad as Stoppers. As the name illustrates, U-turners will suddenly pull a U-turn right in front of you. This happens to me most often in crowded subway stations, although it also happens on street level, on busy sidewalks. An unbelievable number of people are, it seems, forever forgetting their keys or suddenly realizing that they're walking in the wrong direction to their appointments. It's enough to make one wonder just how spaced-out Koreans actually are when they're walking. They rarely seem to be doing the most commonsensical thing, i.e., looking ahead and being situationally aware. I wonder if this problem is widespread in East Asia. If it is, that might explain the prevalence of a religion like Buddhism. Religions flourish where there's a need for them: the ideals they preach tend to be ideals that the local people would do well to embrace. Since Buddhism preaches mindfulness, perhaps East Asians need to hear Buddhism's message because they're so unmindful when going about their daily affairs.**

Koreans are infamously indecisive at crucial moments; they change plans with little warning, moving meeting times, canceling and rescheduling, issuing memos that contradict earlier memos, U-turning in ways both physical and mental. Again, if I had telepathic powers, I'd want to blast the mental message Stay the course! to such people. To be fair, Koreans can be almost ruthlessly decisive in some ways—for example, when they dispense unsolicited advice on how to live your life, or when they order their favorite food at their favorite restaurant, or when they spot a hole in a line and decide to cut in.

Best recommendation: acquire the ability to use the Force.

Essentially, all four types of people evince a lack of civic-mindedness and a tendency toward selfishness. I'm not saying American society is a paragon of altruism: we Yanks can be selfish in our own ways. I'm merely commenting on an aspect of Korean culture that definitely rubs my American sensibilities the wrong way, and which I still haven't adapted to despite nearly ten years in country.

I do often fantasize, though, about having and abusing telepathic and telekinetic powers. This is one reason why I love walking up Namsan at night: it's not crowded. There are no U-turners or Off-cutters or Stoppers, and Close-callers (normally bikers) are at a gratifying minimum.

You know what? I almost forgot a fifth type:

5. The Phalanx (or The Moving Wall)

Three girls walk slowly, shoulder to shoulder, down a crowded campus hallway, happily chatting and perfectly oblivious to the fact that they're holding up traffic. A group of old men converse boisterously on a sidewalk in the Euljiro district near my neighborhood, equally unaware of the inconvenience they're causing to passersby. Koreans sometimes move in phalanxes, like the four good guys in that iconic scene from "The Untouchables"—the one where they're running down the street together, side by side.

Phalanxes can be hard to pass. I'm not so obnoxious that I'll muscle my way through a group of people talking to each other, although Koreans themselves might be so rude. Normally, when I find myself behind a Moving Wall, I bide my time, and if I can hop around the group by stepping onto the street or veering close to the edge of the path, then that's what I do. Occasionally, this means speeding up to seize the opportunity presented by a sudden hole, which puts me in the same class as the obnoxious people I resent, but at some point you have to stop being a doormat and start asserting yourself. In this country, if you don't fight for yourself, people will almost literally walk all over you. It's thrillingly Darwinian.

Best recommendation: keep a bazooka. Or drive a monster truck.

So there, at last, are the five types of hazards you're likely to meet while walking on this very non-linear peninsula. In Korea, there's no such thing as "minding your own business"; you're going to be fucked with at some point, and you have to learn how to deal with that. I didn't really talk much, in this post, about my own coping strategies, my own ways of keeping from going insane and lashing out, but perhaps in a later post I'll do just that.



*Yes, "taxonomize" is a word. It doesn't show up in Dictionary.com or Webster for some reason, but it can be found here. I'm sure I've seen it lurking around elsewhere.

**I won't argue with you if you think Christianity's presence in the violent West is a sign that Westerners need to become less violent.


_

Friday, October 24, 2014

the most awesome spam email in the world

These days, whenever I see spam in my Gmail trash bin, I normally just hit "delete forever." (Why the word "forever" is assumed to add any meaning to "delete," I have no idea.) But tonight, for some odd reason, I decided to open one piece of spam and was rewarded with content so spectacularly stupid that I had no choice but to share it with you, Dear Reader.

The following barely literate email comes from a Portuguese email address (no attempt to disguise its provenance), from someone with the very Portuguese-sounding name of "Michael Smith." What you see below is exactly what I was sent. Nothing has been edited:

from: Mr.Michael Smith [jaloureiro@vodafone.pt]
reply-to: msmith66@qq.com
to: bighominid@gmail.com
date: Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 9:16 PM
subject: Sending Package Information: Oct 24th,2014
mailed-by: vodafone.pt

Greetings !,

My name is Mr.Michael Smith,i am the Director Inspection Unit, United Nations Inspection Agent. We are currently in LaGuardia Airport New York, United States for official inspection while i discovered an abandoned shipment from UK via Diplomat with your name/email tagged on it, when i personally scanned it, it revealed an undisclosed sum of money in a Metallic Trunk Boxes weighing approximately 65kg each. On my assumption, each of the 3 boxes will contain more than $5M or above in each.

On further investigation, i discovered that the consignment was abandoned due to wrong declaration of the content, also the Diplomat inability to pay for Non Inspection Fees, because he did not know the content of the boxes.

I will arrange for the boxes to be moved out of this Airport to your address, once we are through I will deploy the services of a secured shipping Company geared to provide the security it needs to your doorstep.

Now i want to strike a deal with you, in your acceptance i will proceed on this. I have the capacity to secure the release of your consignment with my status as an United Nations\Inspection Agent. You will give me 40% of the amount in the consignment and you take the remaining 60%. Consequently.when i cleared it,

If you are not in agreement to this proposal, please disregard it. But if you can meet with my condition, then we have a deal. I can get everything concluded within 24 to 48 hours and proceed to your address for delivery upon your acceptance. Write me on this email: msmith66@qq.com ,if you accepts to work with me.

Signed,
Mr.Michael Smith
Director Inspection Unit
United Nations Inspection Agent.
LaGuardia Airport New York,
United States.

Absolutely priceless. An international inspector tells me that I've got an enormous shipment of money currently being held in New York, then he asks for a cut of it before he'll release it to me. I really should write back and say I'm with the FBI.


_

movies to see

Some movies I'd like to catch while they're in theaters:

1. "The Equalizer": it's getting very mixed reviews, but I'm all for watching Denzel reboot Edward Woodward's role and get waist-deep into some good old-fashioned ass-kicking.

2. "Fury": Brad Pitt's World War 2 film is being universally labeled as gory; critics are divided on how deep or substantive the film is, but everyone agrees on its viscerality.

3. "John Wick": this Keanu Reeves revenge drama looks like stupid fun along the lines of Mel Gibson's "Payback," but even grittier.

4. "Birdman": the buzz on this movie is that Michael Keaton is back. Keaton was dismissed as a lightweight for many years until he did 1988's "Clean and Sober," followed soon after by his turn as a pensive Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman." Many moviegoers still give Keaton the top prize, over Clooney, Bale, et al., for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne.

5. "Interstellar": Skeletal Matthew McConaughey and the freakishly ocular Anne Hathaway star in a movie that, one hopes, will rehabilitate the save-the-Earth narrative that had been attempted a few years earlier in the spectacularly stillborn turd that was "Sunshine." How alien will the alien worlds be? Will they be more alien that the world Hydros in Robert Silverberg's The Face of the Waters? How about the gas-torus world of Larry Niven's The Integral Trees (one of my favorite Niven novels)?

So, yeah. Movies.


_

how many jobs have I worked?

What exactly counts as "having a job"? When I draw up my résumé, there are certain things I don't include on it when I list my employment history. I don't include the library job I'd had in college, for example. I don't include the many tiny side jobs I've worked in Korea—teaching English privately, doing one-off proofreading work for a desperate professor, working as a copy editor for various English-textbook publishers, etc. When I think of "having a job," I suppose my own informal definition of that concept includes, as a major criterion, whether said job is listable on my curriculum vitae.

Going by just that, then, I've had the following jobs over the years:

1991-92 (I graduated from college in 1991): Fairfax County Public Schools, substitute teacher.
1992-94: Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School, French and English teacher.
1994-95: Korea Foreign Language Institute (hagweon), English instructor.
1995-96: Campus Foreign Language Center (hagweon), English instructor.
1996: SsangYong Paper Company, English instructor and proofreader.

1997: Adecco (temp service), admin assistant.
1998-2000: APIC (nonprofit), same.

[Assorted private jobs in Korea.]

2004-05: English Channel Foreign Language Institute (hagweon), English instructor.
2005-08: Sookmyung Women's University, English and French instructor.

[Unemployed during my walk and my mother's cancer, and for a bit after Mom's passing.]

2010: Business Korea Magazine, proofreader and copy editor.
2010: Educational Testing Services, TOEFL essay rater.
2011-13: YB (a pseudonym for my job in Centreville, Virginia), tutor.
2013-14: The Catholic University of Daegu, English professor.
2014-present: Dongguk University, English professor.
2013-present: Golden Goose (pseudonym for the publishing company where I now work Wednesdays), editor.
2013-present: Korea Management Association (KMA), English instructor.

That's sixteen jobs, not counting all the unlisted work. It's been a vagabond life, I guess, and one that's completely the opposite of my parents' lives: their generation believed in company loyalty—in staying the course and investing in the far-off promise of a retirement package that, once it arrived, wasn't nearly as rosy as it had been made out to be (Dad's retirement benefits from Northwest Airlines were particularly shitty). Generation X is a lot like me: we tend to be floaters, not settlers, and we've always got one eye on the exit in case The Next Big Thing comes along. We've had it drilled into our heads that we're suckers if we miss out on plum opportunities, so it's best not to be stupidly passive. We have none of the blind trust of the previous generation, which threw its lot in with corporations that promised to provide a soft landing for retirement.

The fact of the matter, though, is that my mother's retirement package and health-benefit plan weren't nearly enough to take care of her astronomical medical bills once she was diagnosed with brain cancer. By the time she died, her bills totaled about a million dollars, and it was Dad's military insurance (Tricare, pronounced "try-care") that ended up bearing the brunt of that load. Paltry Northwest Airlines couldn't be counted on to front the necessary cash, and even Mom's own health package from the National Association of Letter Carriers wasn't up to the challenge. So I guess the lesson is: when you retire, try not to come down with any life-threatening illnesses or conditions, because if you're not backed by an entity as big and scary as the United States military, you're pretty much fucked. I realize there may be better insurance deals out there—deals that aren't Tricare—but I'm guessing that they cost the policyholder a pretty penny long before the holder ever becomes ill or infirm.

Americans are often good about looking out for each other, though, and with sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, it's possible to crowdsource funds in a fairly short amount of time, assuming you market yourself and plead your case savvily enough.

Upshot: I take a stoic view of my own financial and medical future. The fact that I've worked so many jobs means I haven't built up a retirement package, but I also know that certain options are available to me that the older generation knows little to nothing about.


_

just a double, I guess

I got so caught up in grading the midterms for my advanced-level listening/discussion class that I failed to hit the trail tonight. That's going to yank my walking average back down to the 13K range, but after this weekend—or perhaps beginning this Sunday, if I can grade enough batches on Saturday—I'll start making the numbers up again. This late in the month, I don't think it's realistic to vie for a 15K average; the best I can hope for is a 14-point-something.

Alas, this means no three-in-a-row of double-summiting this week: I'll just have to settle for having done a double double-summit, Tuesday and Wednesday. Friday, I'm seeing my ladies, so I doubt I'll do much more than break 10K steps. Saturday, I'll be in the office all day, grading my heart out. Little hope for major walkage that day. Sunday is likely to be more of the same, assuming I don't finish grading on Saturday. If I do manage to finish early on Sunday, though, I'll try to do a megawalk. My buddy Tom, to whom I'd moaned and groaned about walking into Itaewon, suggested I try walking down to the river and following the riverbank trail on the river's north side. That actually sounded like a brilliant idea, so my next megawalk might involve a hike down to the old Han-gang, the Han River. Much better than having Itaewon as my halfway point.


_

Thursday, October 23, 2014

midterms

Today, I have two classes, and both classes have midterms to look forward to. We've spent a class period reviewing for the test—an activity that some of my colleagues don't even bother engaging in—so I hope my students are ready and their brains are loaded for bear. If all goes well, the kids will do fine on the exam. This semester, unlike the situation at my previous job, I don't have any students I could honestly label "stupid." Some of the kids at my previous place of work were so dumb that they wouldn't know where to scratch if their asses were covered in pox. So I'm hoping there won't be any "F"s this time around. We'll see.

This weekend will be a paroxysm of grading. Friday is out, as I'll be meeting two former students from my Sookmyung days. That leaves Saturday and Sunday, although there's a small chance that I'll try to grade a batch of papers between classes on Friday. Another former Sookmyung student recently tracked me down, and she also wants to be meet. I told her that this Sunday would be impossible, given the midterm situation, so we're planning to meet on Sunday, November 9. She'll be bringing along two other former students of mine. I'm not sure I can withstand this wave of giggly-wiggly estrogen, but somehow I'll manage.


_

20K

I double-summited and managed 20K steps Wednesday night, which brings my average back up to 14,000 steps per day. My brother David was curious as to how many miles I've walked up to now. This isn't too hard to calculate. First, how many steps in a mile?

Very roughly: 20,026 steps = 9.6 miles, so 1 mile = 2,086 steps.

November 2013 average = 3,142 steps = 1.5 miles a day x 30 days = 45 miles.
December 2013 = 4,157 steps = 1.99 miles/day x 31 days = 61.7 miles.
January 2014 = 1,661 steps = 0.8 miles/day x 31 days = 24.8 miles.
February 2014 = 2,668 steps = 1.28 miles/day x 28 days = 35.8 miles.
March 2014 = 5,092 steps = 2.44 miles/day x 31 days = 75.6 miles.
April 2014 = 5,940 steps = 2.85 miles/day x 30 days = 85.5 miles.
May 2014 = 6,049 steps = 2.9 miles/day x 31 days = 89.9 miles.
June 2014 = 6,197 steps = 2.97 miles/day x 30 days = 89.1 miles.

Mileage subtotal = approx. 507.4 miles walked since November 2013.

At this point, I got serious about walking.

July 2014 = 10,692 steps = 5.13 miles/day x 31 days = 159 miles.
August 2014 = 11,458 steps = 5.49 miles/day x 31 days = 170.2 miles.
September 2014 = 13,661 steps = 6.55 miles/day x 30 days = 196.5 miles.
October 2014 = 14,001 steps = 6.71 miles/day x 22 days = 147.6 miles.

Mileage subtotal: 673.3 miles.

Total miles from November 1, 2013 to October 22, 2014: 1,180.7 miles.

I've walked half the Appalachian Trail at this point. Granted, the AT is a much, much harder walk: I'd be lucky to average 1.5 miles per hour on that terrain, given the number of rest breaks I'd need. So let's say I've walked a fourth of the AT at this point. When I hit 4,400 miles on Namsan, then I'll say I've done the equivalent of walking the AT from end to end. If I can average about 200 miles per month, 4,400 miles will be doable in two years (22 months, to be exact). Since I haven't yet averaged a full 200 miles per month (October might be the first time I do so), it might take more than two years to reach that milestone.

If I do manage to average 200 miles per month, I'll be doing about the same amount of walking as I'd done in the Pacific Northwest in 2008 during Kevin's Walk: I hiked 600 miles in three calendar months.

NB: As I've mentioned a couple times before, I think my phone's pedometer shortchanges me when it comes to distance. According to my pedometer, I'm barely making three miles per hour, but based on my walks in northern Virginia, where I could time myself while walking along the George Washington Parkway's well-marked bike path, I used to average 3.2 miles per hour. What I need to do is test out whether my suspicion about my pedometer is correct. Dongguk has a soccer field with a track around it; if the track is a standard 400-meter length, I ought to be able to walk four laps and see, on my pedometer, that I've gone about a mile. (1,600 meters is just under 1760 yards, i.e., 1 mile. The difference is only about 30 yards.) I could get an even more accurate measurement by walking eight laps, I suppose...


_

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

the double (or maybe triple?) double-summit

I'm meeting and having dinner with some former students from my Sookmyung days this coming Friday evening (not the best day to meet, really, given that I'm supposed to be grading a pile of midterms, all of which will be administered tomorrow and Friday). As a result, I need to cram the miles in before then. Another reason for cramming is to make up for a piss-poor showing from, oh, about last Thursday until this past Monday. Because I spent so much time in the office crafting review materials and tests, I really didn't walk much over the past week, and my October average suffered mightily for it. Yesterday, I began to make up for that lapse by double-summiting. I wasn't sure I had it in me to do a double-summit: a few days off and I began to feel distinctly de-conditioned. But the cold night air helped me greatly, and I ended up doing just fine. Last night's step total was a cool 24K.

I'll be double-summiting tonight as well, and possibly Thursday night, too. Friday, I'll be with my former students, but since we're meeting in Jongno that evening, I know I can walk there from my office, which means I won't be completely slouching when it comes to my step count. Three walks in a row, each over 20K, ought to do much to rehabilitate my average. I'd like to end October at around 15K, but I'll settle for a modest 14K. An improvement's an improvement. Perhaps I'll do 15K in November.

As for ramping up my routine: I'm going to start pushups and planks. Planks (or "planking," but not to be confused with the photographic prank also called "planking," which is a close cousin of "owling") are now considered a core-toughening replacement for situps and crunches. The problem—so the plankistas say—is that situps and crunches (1) don't work the entire core and (2) can cause imbalances in the overall hardness of your abdominals, leading to posture and back problems. Planking relieves pressure on the spine; it can be done facing the ground, and it can also be done on one's side. I've never been a fan of situps, anyway, so I'm happy to give planks a try. Given my general weakness in the arms and chest, my early pushups will more likely be "puss-ups." I'm going to combine the manly down-angle pushup (feet higher than head) with the girly on-the-knees pushup by bracing my knees on my bed while placing my palms on the floor. Once I can blast out several dozen of those with a fair amount of ease, I'll graduate to harder, more legitimate types of pushups.

Then, come December (and vacation), I'll see about finding a local boxing gym and signing my fat ass up. Imagine me, Mister Floppy Tits, doing the Stallone routine from the early "Rocky" movies, jumprope and all. Okay, don't imagine the floppy tits.


_

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

me to a tee

My friend Sperwer leads me to this humorous look at prayers for different Myers-Briggs personality types. Those familiar with the Myer-Briggs test will know that there are sixteen different types—each type described by a cluster of four letters—that fall under four major temperaments: Apollonian (NF), Dionysian (SP), Epimethean (SJ), and Promethean (NT). I'm an INTJ off the scale; the NT temperament (Promethean) is professorial, pedantic, detail-oriented, and given to a fascination with abstractions, sometimes to the exclusion of any consideration of the human factor in working and loving relationships. On the other hand, INTJs make faithful, principled life-companions, so keep that in mind, ladies. Dr. House might be an asshole, but if you find your way into his heart, he'll defend you to the death.

As for the INTJ prayer listed at the above link, it goes:

Lord, keep me open to others' ideas, WRONG though they may be.

I added the vocative comma after "Lord" in the above quote because, anal-retentive as I am, I couldn't help myself.


_

the thing inside my eye

I've got a floater in my right eye. It's been there for a few days. While I don't think it's anything serious (read more on floaters here), it is slightly annoying. I'd like to fancy that it's some sort of godling that's gestating in my vitreous humor, and that one day it's going to erupt, and I'll give birth, Zeus-like, to a full-fledged deity.


_

nose-bridge crinkle

A pic of your humble narrator, freshly shorn as of Monday, October 20:


Like the Jewish comic's stereotype of a Yiddishe mother who can't stop herself from humiliating her boy, my own mother used to give me grief about my nose's lack of a Western-style, aquiline bridge. See the crinkle at the top of my nose? Yeah... that's thanks to my Korean genes. Plenty of Koreans have no nose bridge (although plenty also do), which may explain why some Korean chicks are fascinated by white guys: their facial geography is so much... craggier. The evidence? My mother used to have a thing for Kevin Costner, whose nose bridge pretty much occupies his entire face. (She would have said it was Costner's eyes that did it.)

"Why not go to a doctor and have him put some plastic inside there?" Mom would ask solicitously, staring at the top of my nose, as if my nose needed a neuticle.

"Mom... just stop," I'd reply sadly.

But remarks on my looks don't come exclusively from mothers. My buddy Tom recently used the term "salt-and-pepper" to describe my hair. I suppose I'm at that point, now, where the gray is impossible to hide or deny. One thing I won't do, however, is cover up the gray: coloring is for pussies, as I've noted before. I can't think of anything sadder or more ridiculous than a Korean octogenarian with perfectly black hair (and/or a combover). Whom do such people think they're fooling? Personally, I'd rather die than dye.

So here I am, un-Photoshopped, nose-bridge crinkle and all.


_

Monday, October 20, 2014

midterm woes

My advanced listening/discussion students recoiled in fear when I went over the type of exam I'm going to be giving them this coming Thursday (it'll be listening + vocabulary + discussion, each section subdivided into two subsections). A few of them said the exam sounded difficult; a few felt they wouldn't be able to speak at the advanced level required. Personally, I think they're all going to do fine, and they really don't have any reason to worry. While it was a little off-putting to hear whining of the "We want an easier test!" sort, I'm not planning on changing the exam's structure. And since everyone's got an "A" in the class as things stand, the exam will separate the men from the boys, so to speak. One thing I might change, however, is the number of questions: in reviewing the test today (we used a dummy test of my construction), I realized that the test might be overlong. Some of my kids can't afford to stay overtime, on exam day, because they've actually got evening classes (we normally end at 6:15PM). I can't keep those kids behind, or they'll be late to their next class, and since this is midterm week for the whole campus, I could potentially make them late for a midterm. Can't have that.

So otherwise, the test is a go. I'll be curious to see how my students do.

ADDENDUM: By contrast, my intermediate kids, today, had a ball reviewing midterm material with each other. I had them interact via my round-robin method, and it went great. Much talk and laughter, and no complaints or whining.


_

Sunday, October 19, 2014

little murders

One reason why I know that I'll never be a Buddhist, despite my profound interest in Buddhism, is that I just love killing insects that annoy me. Let me confess to this here and now: I am a mass murderer, and if insects had any sense, they'd stay the hell away from my domicile, my office's work station, and my personal space.

In my old place in Hayang-eup, I was assaulted by fruit flies, gnats, and the occasional mosquito. Here in Seoul, there have been no fruit flies at all, but there have been plenty of little flies that are, in size, somewhere between a bluebottle and a gnat. They fly silently; their wings are covered, moth-like, in a sort of scaly powder, and they're extremely slow-witted, which means I don't need much cleverness or agility to kill them. They land on the wall; I smack them or blast them with Windex; end of story. My yeogwan gets an occasional mosquito, but those bugs haven't been much of a problem. The gnat-flies, however, are numerous, and even though they're easy to kill, their sheer numbers are enough to vex me.

So I kill. And kill. And kill again. Without pity. Without remorse. My sleep is completely untroubled by what I do. And that's how I know I'll never be a true Buddhist.


_

got a lot done

My time in the office on Saturday was very productive, and I ended up knocking off every item on my to-do list but one. Admittedly, that one remaining item is a whopper, but I'm confident I can get it done by late afternoon Sunday, in time for a megawalk.


_

Saturday, October 18, 2014

muh cuz


On the left is my cousin Marie who, along with her friend Gary (also pictured), has started a little business that they hope to grow into something bigger. Their business is in the service of the "DTAD" campaign: Don't Text and Drive (for me). The parenthetical "for me" makes the slogan into something that a loved one would utter, e.g., a daughter reminding her dad not to text and drive—for her sake. I think DTAD is a good cause, so I told Cousin Marie that I'd help her out by retweeting her tweets when I could. In case you've been wondering, then, why I've been engaging in so many retweets from a single source, well... that's why. Now you know.

If you're interested in helping Marie and Gary out, you can follow them on Twitter at both @dtadfor me and @arousingear. Their product website, which is just starting out, is here. They're also selling their products on Etsy, the artists' website, here. Finally, check them out on Instagram here, and on Tumblr here.


_

revving

It's a busy weekend for me, and it's after 5PM on Saturday, and I haven't even gotten started on the ton of things I need to do. Procrastination will be the death of me. Next week is midterm week at Dongguk University, so I have a lot to create: review sheets, midterm exams, project templates... not to mention that I've got three batches of student writing to slog through, grades to input, lesson plans to write, and an ATM bank transfer to perform so I can stay on top of my cell-phone bill. Since I don't have class until Monday at 3:30PM, I might get away with letting some of this work spill over to Monday, but I'd rather have everything done and done by Sunday afternoon so I can leave the office and do a megawalk the same day.

My Namsan walks have evolved into something of a hard/easy pattern; the "easy" days make my daily-step average sag, so the megawalks are now necessary to bring the average back up to something respectable, i.e., something over 15K. Not that I'll lose all self-respect if I slump to 14K for October: that would still be an improvement over the previous month, and 15K could still function as a noble ideal.

In any event, it's time to get off this damn keyboard and get doing some real work.


_

"Chef": review

There's a particular movie meta-genre that could go by either "labor of love," if I'm not feeling cynical, or "vanity project," if I am. This is the kind of film whose driving force is a "hyphenate," e.g., a writer-director-star or something of that ilk. Think: Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves" or Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" or Robert Duvall's "The Apostle." Most of these movies are worth seeing because, even though movies are intensely collaborative projects, labors of love tend of be purer artistic visions emanating from a single discrete source. Each such vision normally has a distinct aim, too: Costner went for an evocation of grandeur, loss, and human dignity; Gibson went for the gritty struggle to be free; Duvall went for spiritual conflict.

Jon Favreau writes, directs, and stars in the recent "Chef," a light, feel-good comedy about a high-end restaurant chef named Carl Casper who feels stifled by his career. Cooking the same conventional menu for the past several years at posh L.A. resto Gauloise, Casper wants to return to his creative, Miami-fueled, bad-boy roots and shake things up by introducing his customers to edgier culinary fare. His boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman in a brief role) will have none of it: Casper's current menu is what brings in the customers, and previous attempts at creativity have left people, according to Riva, either turned off or nonplussed. All of this comes to a head when Casper's food is trashed by prominent blogger and critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). Casper, introduced to the wonders and dangers of Twitter by his plucky son Percy (Emjay Anthony, an excellent child actor with a bright future ahead of him), tweets a challenge to Michel: come back to the restaurant and have some real food this time—asshole. But on the night that Casper tries to cook the menu of his dreams, Riva intervenes and issues an ultimatum: cook your normal menu or seek employment elsewhere. Outraged, Casper takes the latter route, leaving his sous-chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale) in charge and his good friend Martin (John Leguizamo) flabbergasted at his abandoning ship.

So the major story arc of "Chef" is about a man in his early forties trying to find his creative voice again. The second story arc, which is arguably just as important, is about Carl Casper's relationship with his son and his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara, giving off a distinct "Charo" vibe for most of her screen time). Carl and Inez are divorced, but they're still on very good terms with each other (in fact, the movie gives us few clues as to why these two good souls ever got divorced in the first place). Inez sees how down and out the now-unemployed Carl is, and she proposes that he accompany her and Percy to Miami, the land of Carl's culinary roots. Inez's ulterior motive is to hook Carl up with her other ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey, Jr.), who can provide Carl with a food truck. Carl returns to Miami, talks to Marvin, gets the food truck... and something clicks. From here on, what happens during the rest of the film is utterly predictable. And it involves a lot of Cubano sandwiches.

As I mentioned above, this is a feel-good movie: it's not about self-pity or tragedy or anything mawkish; it's just a light-hearted comedy about a talented chef who simply wants to feel alive again. The plot is a voyage from darkness to light, and all the characters in the film, even the antagonists, are likable folks who aren't truly evil. Special mention should go to John Leguizamo as sidekick Martin, whose friendship with and loyalty to Carl is the glue that holds the plot together. Leguizamo is easily one of the most affable, hilarious screen presences out there, and my feeling is that "Chef" would make little sense without him. Carl is a driven, artistic man who needs the counterbalance of a solid, reliable friend like Martin.

When I step back to consider the artistic significance of "Chef," I'm torn. On one hand, the movie isn't exactly profound. Because it's meant to be a light-hearted comedy, it neatly avoids the many potential problems that could have occurred among the various characters. We never see Carl and Martin in a heated argument over how to manage the food truck; we never see Carl and Inez screaming vitriol at each other; we never see Carl beating the crap out of Robert Downey's Marvin for insinuating that he and Inez had had sex fairly recently. "Chef" abandons realism in some ways while preserving a sense of authenticity in others: the moments of bonding between Carl and his son Percy, for instance, feel very real to me, as does the warmth of the friendship between Carl and Martin. Favreau's depiction of life in a high-end kitchen—followed by life in a sweaty, cramped food truck—also feels honest. So "Chef," along with being a comedy, is a bit of a vérité/fantasy mashup. Scarlett Johansson also stars as Molly, Carl's maybe-squeeze (and fellow toker) at Gauloise. Her presence, too, added to the sense of fantasy: it was a bit hard to take Johansson seriously as the movie's wisdom figure (she's the one who flatly tells Carl that he's unhappy and should leave Gauloise to follow his heart while also tending to the care of his son), even though Johansson went on to make "Lucy," a film in which she essentially becomes the ultimate wisdom figure: a goddess.

On the other hand, "Chef" is a labor of love which, to my mind, automatically makes it more profound than it would otherwise have been. We're getting a glimpse into Jon Favreau himself, and it's evident the man is a burly, kind-hearted teddy bear. He might have the chops to direct a big-time action movie like "Iron Man," but he's also an appreciator of the simple things in life, like food and family. And that's reassuring: it's heartening to know that Hollywood, evil and infernal though it be, has a few good souls working in it.

I'll leave you with this thought: "Chef" has widely been called "food porn" for its luscious scenes of cooking (I actually wish the movie had shown more cooking; Favreau, who had Kogi meister Roy Choi on board as a co-producer and food guru, was sent by Choi to culinary school to prep for his role), and it contains some jokes that, perhaps, only foodies will appreciate. For my money, one of the funniest of these jokes comes about ten minutes into the film. Carl has just had an argument with Riva about the menu that Carl is to cook that evening. Riva, who owns the restaurant, naturally wins the argument, telling Carl, "I think you should play your hits." Carl relents, and what follows is the speech he gives to the restaurant staff regarding the game plan for that night:

All right, let's go—pre-shift, guys! Big night tonight. Here's what we're doin'. We're gonna go with the favorites: starting with the caviar egg, scallop, French onion soup, frisée salad, lobster risotto, filet... and we're gonna finish strong with a crowd-pleaser: chocolate lava cake. Talk to Molly about wine pairings; lemme know when he [the food critic] gets here. Let's have fun. Put your heart in it, people. Let's have some fun. Good. Good.

I was rolling. While I don't consider myself a full-on foodie, I've watched enough Food Network to know a bit about what's in, what's out, what's cliché, what's passé—and Carl's litany of that night's food was a roll call of moribund cuisine. Chocolate lava cake? Seriously? You don't need to eat that at an upscale Brentwood restaurant when you can order lava cake at your local Chili's! And French onion soup? You can't get more typical than that at a Gallic-themed restaurant. Lobster risotto sounds perfectly safe and timid, as does filet mignon. So yeah: as I heard Carl recite the night's menu, I busted a gut. Later on, when critic Ramsey Michel sits down to dinner and takes a look at the French onion soup in front of him, Oliver Platt's facial expression is absolutely priceless.

See "Chef." It's not the deepest film in the world, but if you love looking at good food and you don't mind watching a predictably familiar, heart-warming story about a man once again following his passion, you'll have fun. Trust me.


_

cross-eyed

Turning in early, folks. Night.


_