Vegetarian bibimbap at the vegetarian buffet of Dongguk University's faculty cafeteria:
I'm talkin' 'bout this:
The photo below shows a series of stone blocks that now line the side of the walking/biking path along the ascending bus route that snakes its way up Namsan. I have no idea why road crews are spending hundreds of man-hours laying this crap down, or why some stupid city official felt that adding a damn curb to the path was even necessary. All I know is that this is an enormous waste of time, effort, and taxpayer money. A two-mile-long curb that adds nothing to safety? Christ on a fucking crutch. I wonder how many tons of rock all these blocks represent. This is, as we say in the education business, make-work: effort that's purely for show, purely to occupy one's time, and not geared toward accomplishing any sort of constructive, meaningful purpose. Bullshit, basically.
And it's de-beautifying my mountain, dammit.
I totally know why Drudge put up this particular photo of Eric Holder:
Tonight's Namsan hike pushed my step total up to 23,486 steps. I made 20K by midnight and did the remaining 3,500 steps while walking back to my place. Weighed myself after all that sweating and was disappointed to see 119.1 kilograms. I still haven't broken through the 119 mark yet. Part of the problem, I think, is that I hadn't had a decent poop all day: my vegetarian lunch simply refused to leave the confines of my intestines, thus adding a fraction of a kilogram of weight to my results. Maybe I need more fiber. (Which is on the way: I ordered a mess of fiber capsules from iHerb.com, which had a good deal on them.)
One of my students texted me while I was on my way back to my yeogwan. It was after midnight, and the import of her text was that she hadn't bothered to do the homework because she wanted to know how to begin the writing assignment. Silly lass. But she's one of my best students, and she lived in northern Virginia, so I have to forgive her. She's a homegirl.
Perhaps because there was a light rain that fell for most of the daylight hours on Monday, the evening was cool and a bit misty—cool enough, in fact, for me to be able to see my breath for the first time since spring. The rain also brought down plenty of leaves from the trees lining the hiking path: a reminder that fall is here.
I doubled-summited Namsan, as promised, but instead of taking the descending bus road back up to the top, I took the stairs for the second time since mid-August. Once again, I succeeded at climbing the stairs without stopping, although the route seemed much more tiring this time.
I don't know whether I'll hit Namsan tonight (Tuesday). I might just walk to Jongno and back to get my 10K steps in. My September daily step average is guaranteed to be well over 13K steps, even if I do nothing. Perhaps I'll average out at 15K in October. You never know.
The faculty cafeteria at Dongguk University serves simple meals for W5,000, but you can also opt for the vegetarian buffet for W7,000. Below, you see a typical plateful of monk-approved goodies, but the Atkins freaks among you will doubtless notice the carby elements hidden among the leafier fare (e.g., the breaded-and-fried chili peppers at 2 o'clock on the plate).
The thing that looks like ground beef (at 12 o'clock) is actually well-cooked (fried?) tofu, I believe. It certainly doesn't feel like meat when I chew on it, but the visual impression of meatiness is powerful enough to wreak havoc in my brain even while I'm masticating. I truly want to believe I'm eating meat. The actual mouth-feel is tough and fibrous—perhaps an attempt at simulating meat's resistance to chewing. From 9 o'clock to almost 12 o'clock on the left side of my plate, you can see a lovely pile of sauced-up nuts and figs—very carby. But oh, so delicious. Korean veggies are in the middle, and a standard Western salad dominates the bottom half of this plate. (I did end up going back for seconds, but not of the porridge.)
Above my plate are (1) a bowl of hobak-juk (i.e., squash/pumpkin porridge) and a cup of raspberry juice (advertised as bokbunja, i.e., raspberries, but the fruits in the juice sure look more like blackberries to me).
It's September 29. I have tonight and tomorrow to do what I can to improve my September daily step average, so tonight I'll be double-summiting Namsan. Not sure whether I'll do that tomorrow as well, but at the very least I'll get in my allotted 10K steps. I've already racked up nearly 7K steps today, so by the time I get back home from my trek tonight, I should be close to 20K, if not over that mark. Fingers and tentacles crossed.
I'm turning in early. Not doing Namsan tonight. I went to work in Daechi-dong today, and now I'm pooped. Tomorrow, I have to head out—early—to the Seoul Immigration Office in Jongno to pick up the Alien Registration Card (ARC) that I'd forgotten to pick up this past Friday. After that, I have to visit the campus bank and wire about $900 back to my US account to cover expenses and pay off a major personal debt. After a not-so-rib-sticking vegetarian lunch, I'll likely hit Namsan in the late evening. My current September average is 13,531 steps per day, which is a 2K increase over August. To maintain that average over the next 50 or so hours, until September bleeds into October, I'll probably do a double-summit of Namsan tomorrow night. For now, though, my knees could use a rest.
I'm in the middle of doing a bunch of errands. Because Korean washing machines are inefficient and take nearly two hours to wash a load that ought to be done in under 35 minutes, I dumped a load of laundry into one of the yeogwan's two large machines, then set out on a Baggins-style adventure. My mission: the purchase of (1) an electric fan for my workplace, (2) a huge pack of toilet paper, (3) some garbage bags, and (4) extra belt holes.
My walking path took me toward Gwangjang Market, but to get there, I had to go through Joongbu Market and Bangsan Market first. Right before Joongbu Market is a knickknack store that I've gone to several times; the lady inside is friendly, but occasionally a little goofy. Today, though, there was no goofiness as she sold me my garbage bags. I then walked through Joongbu Market, which used to be covered in scaffolding but which is now, startlingly, half-unscaffolded: the construction crews are finishing up whatever alterations they've wanted to make and are taking down the metal latticework that had given the market its strange, gothic character. I crossed Euljiro Street and stopped at the local Shinhan Bank, where I pulled out W100,000 in anticipation of some heavy-duty purchasing. Once through Bangsan Market, I followed the Cheonggyae Stream over to Jongno 4-ga, where I tracked down the old gent who had sold me my belt about a month or so ago. Found him, too! He was friendly, and he remembered me from before. I explained that I'd been losing weight from all my hiking, and that I needed more belt holes—maybe three more per belt. He took both my belts and gamely punched holes in both of them, scrupulously testing each hole to make sure that the prong fit through the new holes he'd punched. When he was done, I asked him how much I'd have to pay, but he waved his hand and said everything was free. "Come back again when you lose more weight," he joked. I bowed and thanked him profusely, then went over to an empty corner of the sidewalk and put one of my belts back on.
Saints preserve us: I was able to tighten the belt right down to the third new hole! This is ridiculous. I still need to drop another eight or ten inches off my waist, but if the belt is a measure of progress, then this is encouraging news.
With my belt back in place, I walked over to Saeun Electronics Market, which I think of as the Yongsan Electronics Market's retarded little brother. Saeun Market sells much the same stuff, but the area is a bit rougher, grungier, and seedier-looking—more my style. I very quickly found what I was looking for: a place that sold electric fans. At first, I thought about buying a standard-sized fan for my office's desk, but I ultimately decided to purchase a smaller model. The guy at the store (I apologized for interrupting his lunch) showed me a pint-sized fan for W22,000; I bargained him down to W20,000 merely by saying, "Sure you couldn't sell this a little cheaper?"—then smiling cheesily. I had no idea whether such a gambit would work, but it did, so I enjoyed a modest discount of just under ten percent.
With that, I marched back toward my place, buying toilet paper and other household items at Joongbu Market, and right now, I'm still waiting for my laundry to be done. We're over the two-hour mark at this point. That is one slow-ass washing machine.
Once the laundry is hung out to dry, I'm going back out for Part Two of my errands, then I'm heading to campus to grade papers, and I'll end the evening with a walk up the mountain. Probably not a double-summit tonight, as I'll have been walking around town all day.
Terder, Er herve er lert ter der. Foer therngs, erctuerler.
1. Der lerndrer.
2. Ger sherpperng.
3. Fernersh grerderng sterdernt perpers.
4. Herk erp Nermsern.
Translation, for the "er"-impaired:
Today, I have a lot to do. Four things, actually.
1. Do laundry.
2. Go shopping.
3. Finish grading student papers.
4. Hike up Namsan.
Thert erght ter kerp mer berzer fer er wherl.
It's taken me a while to do the math on my pedometer, but I seem to have figured some things out regarding the relationship between and among steps, time, and distance.
I walk about a thousand steps every ten minutes, and two thousand steps are about a mile, so every time I make 10K steps, that's five miles. I wish my stride were longer so that I could cover more distance per step, but I seem to be stuck at slightly less than a full yard per step.
So a 20K night of walking is about ten miles, and since I walk at a rate of about 3.2 miles per hour, that's almost exactly a three-hour walk.
Hope that puts my walks in some perspective for you. I'm trudging anywhere from six to ten miles a day (9.7-16.1 km). It's a large investment of time, but until I start switching over to a more intensive, less time-consuming regime, I think it's worth the effort.
Yesterday's double-summiting netted me about 18K steps before midnight and another 3K steps after midnight, for a total of about 21K steps. The descending bus road remains a challenge for me: I breathe hard and sweat buckets as I stomp my way back to the top of the mountain, so I know I'm getting my cardio in. Weight remains at a bit more than 119 kilograms; I feel as if I may be plateauing there. Something's gotta give.
With thanks to Malcolm, whose tweet on this was the first I saw of it, I present a link to an article by a Jesuit* priest, the Reverend James V. Schall, SJ, that analyzes Islam, its relationship with terrorism, and the question of how seriously to take the Islamic State. Schall writes, provocatively:
Is terror intrinsic to Islam?
What I want to propose here is an opinion. An opinion is a position that sees the plausibility but not certainty of a given proposition. But I think this opinion is well-grounded and makes more sense both of historic and of present Islam than most of the other views that are prevalent. I do not conceive this reflection as definitive. Nor do I document it in any formal sense, though it can be. It is a view that, paradoxically, has, I think, more respect for Islam than most of its current critics or advocates.
This comment is an apologia, as it were, for the Islamic State at least in the sense that it accepts its sincerity and religious purpose. It understands how, in its own terms, the philosophic background that enhances its view does, in its own terms, justify its actions, including the violent ones.
The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam. Plenty of evidence is found, both in the long history of early Muslim military expansion and in its theoretical interpretation of the Qur’an itself, to conclude that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have it basically right. The purpose of Islam, with the often violent means it can and does use to accomplish it, is to extend its rule, in the name of Allah, to all the world. The world cannot be at “peace” until it is all Muslim. The “terror” we see does not primarily arise from modern totalitarian theories, nationalism, or from anywhere else but what is considered, on objective evidence, to be a faithful reading of a mission assigned by Allah to the Islamic world, which has been itself largely procrastinating about fulfilling its assigned mission.
To look elsewhere for an explanation is simply not to see what the Islamic State and its friends are telling us about why they act as they do. The tendency among pragmatic Western thinkers, locked into their own narrow views, is to exclude any such motivation as an excuse of raw power. This view shows the intellectual shortcomings of Western leaders and the narrowness of much Western thought.
My buddy Tom sent me the following poster for the event to surpass all events in sheer, unbridled testicularity:
I managed 23,608 steps before midnight, walking 10.9 miles and burning 1610 calories, according to my pedometer. Given the fact that my only meal, on Tuesday, was a vegetarian buffet, this may be the first time in Hominid history that I managed to burn more calories through exercise than I took in through eating. I seriously doubt that my plateful of vegetables amounted to 1600 calories, so it's entirely conceivable that I burned up my entire meal through hiking.
And that's a good feeling.
I've taken to following the example of one of my coworkers, who says she often lunches at the vegetarian buffet in the faculty cafeteria. Been there twice, now. Grazed. It's not exactly satisfying, given the lack of animal flesh, but the buffet-makers do try to put out meat analogues, especially in the form of tofu. And fortunately or unfortunately, there's no shortage of carbs: today, for example, one of the dishes at the buffet table was a vegetarian ddeokbokgi, of which I partook only a little. Also on the table was a breaded and deep-fried seaweed wrap whose filling was cellophane noodles. More carbs. But there was, to compensate for the badness, an abundance of leafy green goodness in the form of Western- and Korean-style salads. So all in all, the buffet offered a little bit of everything. I especially liked today's marinated-and-grilled lotus root, which tasted incredibly good. Here's hoping that that dish comes back again soon.
The last time I lunched at the vegetarian buffet, I broke down later on and got myself a junky dinner from the local convenience store—anything to fill me up, given that vegetables digest so quickly. Tonight, I'm forgoing dinner in favor of walking up the mountain twice: I've got a lot of anger to work out (expect a "frank" post later), so I imagine I'll be tromping along pretty energetically, making up for the steps I didn't get in yesterday. I'm aiming to reach 20K steps; I've already racked up 9,070 steps today, just from my usual to-and-fro on campus, so I expect to hit 20K by the time I'm starting downhill after having summited once.
My brother's suggestion to me, before he left Korea, was for me to avoid eating anything after 7PM and to cut out sodas completely. I admit that sodas are one of my several addictions, and weaning myself off them is going to be a bitch. But if I'm interested in not plateauing with the weight, then the sodas do need to go (and replacing them with sugary fruit juices is definitely not kosher). I think I've gotten to a point where I also need to start incorporating actual weight training into my routine; I may have to consult my friend Sperwer on that subject. Larger muscles mean a higher metabolic rate, which in turn translates to more fat-burning. I've still got my old physical goals in mind: the ability to do X number of pullups, pushups, and situps, for example. These goals are, at the moment, unattainable, but as I whittle away at my walrus-like form, they will eventually move into the realm of possibility.
Still, first things first: the mountain awaits.
People are saying there's a typhoon heading toward Korea and that it'll be hitting sometime tonight. My immediate thought was to wonder how this would affect my Namsan hike, but if the Weather.com site is any indication, I ought to encounter little to no precipitation during my walk. Tomorrow (Wednesday), though, is going to be shitty. Luckily, I'll be working in an office all day, but tomorrow's Namsan hike might not be very pleasant.
I'm an exacting grader when it comes to writing. The problem with being so picky, though, is that it takes a million years to wade through sixty or eighty student essays. Over the past few days, I spent about eight hours—almost two hours per class—grading student writing. Tonight was the final paroxysm: it took me four hours to get two batches of papers done. I worked until midnight and was cross-eyed by the end. On each student's paper, I circled, underlined, scratched out, annotated, and listed. I complained about formatting ("Please double-space from now on!"); I zinged students for poor capitalization, punctuation, verb-tense control, singular/plural errors, subject/verb-agreement errors, diction errors, incorrect use of italics, incorrect use of relative pronouns, dropped articles, faulty parallelism, and all the other sins for which Korean students are infamous.
That was a fuck of a lot of work. So: never again! If someone were conducting a time-and-motion study, that person would conclude that I was being woefully inefficient. To which I'd reply: inefficient, maybe, but definitely thorough, unlike those chumps who breeze obliviously through writing assignments while not really paying attention to the nitty-gritty details.
My alternative strategy? Now that the students have some idea of what sorts of errors I'll catch, I will instead merely circle or otherwise highlight errors as I find them, leaving it up to the students to figure out where they went wrong. If I can get my productivity to the point where I'm grading an essay every two minutes, that's about 36 minutes per class and less than 160 minutes of grading in total. That would put me at under three hours for four batches of papers, and I could use the extra twenty or so minutes to write up and upload an omnibus "error sheet" for all the classes to peruse (as I did with this most recent batch of student papers). Much faster that way.
What pisses me off most is that all this grading kept me from walking Namsan tonight. I stayed at the office long enough to encounter the nighttime security guard, who asked me to lock up when I left. I told him about my ID card's problem: I can use the card to get into our faculty office when it's locked, but I can't lock up when I leave. He sighed and told me to turn the lights and A/C off when I left. I imagine that he's the guy who's been closing up after I leave at night. I really need for my card to be fixed: this is posing a security hazard. I'm beginning to think the card is defective and needs to be exchanged for a new one. The office has tried three times now to fix the damn thing, to no avail. This is getting stupid.
As I was riding the subway back to my place from Itaewon, I noticed two twenty-something women standing on the other side of the subway car. One had her arms draped limply over the shoulders of her friend, and her head was bowed at a miserable angle. At first I thought she was crying about something, but it soon became obvious that, far from being sad, the drooping woman was incredibly drunk—so drunk that the only reason she was standing was that she had locked her knees. It was around 7PM. The night starts early for some people, it seems.
A stop or two after I had noticed this odd couple, the doors opened at my intended stop (Yaksu Station), and the sober friend attempted to coax her drunken companion out of the subway. But the inebriated woman's legs were locked: she couldn't move to save her life. The sober lady, still awkwardly hugging the drunk lady, tried to move toward the door, and I knew this would only end in disaster. Sure enough, the drunk lady leaned farther and farther, unwilling or unable to move her feet, until the angle was so steep that she began to collapse onto the ground, halfway in and halfway out of the subway. The situation was bizarre and funny and pathetic all at the same time. I and a couple other people went over to try to help the ladies out of the train; the drunk lady, far heavier than she looked, ended up collapsing under her own weight, but her right hand still stubbornly gripped one of the shiny metal bars inside the subway car. I pried her hand off the bar; she collapsed the rest of the way to the ground, and I did what I could to catch her. Someone called out, "Her shoe!" and I saw that the drunk woman's foot was caught between the subway car and the concrete platform. Someone else raced up and pulled her foot out of danger.
But we weren't done yet. The woman had been pulled partway out of the subway, but her legs were still inside the range of the platform's "suicide doors," those huge, sliding double doors meant to keep wannabe jumpers from leaping onto the tracks whenever a subway arrives. The drunk lady's friend scooped her companion's legs out of the way, then hooked her arms under her shoulders and dragged her a foot or two onto the platform, a safe distance away from the train. The train doors and the suicide doors closed; the train pulled away. A small knot of spectators just stood there, stupidly watching this tableau. I floated nearby, not quite sure whether to call for emergency services, until I saw the drunk woman somehow get her feet under her and stand. I shrugged and walked off, melting into the crowd.
This incident felt like Itaewon's way of saying, "And don't come back!" It was a fitting capper to an otherwise unpleasant evening out on the town. I love you, too, Itaewon.
Click on the following graph to enlarge the image. The graph charts my progress from June of 2013—before I moved back to Korea—to September 2014, i.e., this very month.
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):
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.