Click the pic and visit a hilarious blog called Weasels in my Shorts.
Still happy about being hired by Smoo, I celebrated alone tonight, thereby pissing off my Korean buddy, who wasn't going to be in the office until 2AM (his usual routine these days) and had wanted to mark the occasion. Sorry 'bout that, man.
I walked to the top of Namsan, getting there around 7:15, then went down to the parking lot where there's a Chinese restaurant and had myself a large, W10,000 helping of t'ang-su-yook. Damn, I felt guilty afterward. T'ang-su-yook is breaded bits of meat (pork? I can never tell) in sweet sauce, a lot like the sweet-and-sour pork, chicken, and shrimp you can find in American-style Chinese menus. In other words, it's fattening. And I scarfed down a huge plateful. With a can of Pepsi.
The good news is this: you know you're making progress with your health when guilt appears. It's also a mark of progress to discover that Pepsi tastes too sweet for you after a daily diet of watery blue PowerAde.
When I got down to Beot'igogae Station, a small classical music concert was finishing up; I was sorry to have missed it. The audience was mostly older folks, but the concert itself put me in mind of any number of performances given by my little brother Sean, the cellist. I miss my brothers.
A lady there told me that this group would be giving more performances (I didn't hear how many), starting at 7:30PM. I plan to go tomorrow evening, listen to the music, then do my hike.
Meanwhile, I'm happy, my stomach's full, and I'm heading home to plan a curriculum or three.
It's a bright, beautiful day. I went to Namdaemun Market to look for cheap contact lens fluid and real armpit deodorant, not that nancy-boy Nivea shit. Found both.
Then my phone buzzed. It was Smoo.
Smoo said yes.
I am now a Smoo teacher. My job starts April 25. My first month (!!!!!) of vacation will be in June. What a way to begin the school year, eh? Teach five weeks, then go on paid vacation!
It's hard to sit still at the keyboard right now. I want to dance. A little voice of caution is saying, "Well, boy, this is yours to fuck up," but I'm not listening to it. Maybe I will in a day or so. Right now, this moment, I want to kiss someone. Long, languorous kisses, lots of tongue. Strong, clutching, hungry embrace. Hard to breathe, but loving the suffocation. Bending down, grabbing ass, lifting up, pressing her against a wall and staying in that liplock for minutes. Oooooh, yes. That's how I feel right now.
And so, after that Smoo-call, the day became brighter and more beautiful. It's the best news I've had after the obsidian shittiness of the past couple weeks.
Immediately following my interview at the Bundang medical campus yesterday, I knew I didn't want to teach there. They were offering less pay for more work, plus I'd have to do Saturdays. No fuckin' way. So they get the ol' heave-ho email today.
I'm going to have to celebrate by walking up Namsan again. Gotta do it while the sun's out; I'm not wearing much protection. Maybe I'll try the stairs today-- a real workout. I'm curious to see how many times I'll have to stop (right now, taking the easy path, I don't stop at all for 45 minutes). It's about time I graduated from the bunny slope to the real deal, yes? I've been at this for well over a week now, and weight loss has plateaued. Gotta kick it up a notch, as Emeril would suggest.
When we come back-- another notch!
So, dear reader, right now I'm ecstatic. I've landed a job that pays slightly less than EC, but allows for overtime work, gives you few enough hours to actually have a personal life, and I'll be at one of the most prestigious campuses in South Korea. Plus, as I noted, it's my mother's school. I have to call her.
It's gonna be great. I can help design a curriculum, including teaching drama. They said they wanted to see a curriculum proposal! Jesus-- what hagwon talks like that? It's something I've been wanting to do in Korea for years. Wow. And now I'll have the chance.
OK, gotta go. Got a mountain to climb and a curriculum to propose. It's great to feel so pumped up. A nice change.
Now if I can only figure out how to solve my April finances...
My last couple walks up Namsan have revealed a mountain waking up: I saw a large spider crawling across the road on a cold evening, and yesterday I saw squirrels (no relation to the weasel pictured below).
The other night I was walking downhill, and a gaggle of young, 20-something Japanese tourists began walking down with me. Four of them-- three girls and a guy. They were loud. Maybe it's an East Asian thing, or maybe it's a tourist thing, or maybe it's a city-person thing, but these folks had no appreciation for quiet. It's actually nice to be walking down Namsan at night, with the trees filing by and the city's glowing sprawl below you. So I slowed down and let the group pass. Jabber, jabber, jabber.
Lots of illegally parked cars last night. None of them was bouncing, though; no Korean signs saying, "If this Grandeur's rockin', don't come a-knockin'." I found those cars obnoxious, too-- first, they were illegally parked; second, their owners weren't doing jack shit. Just sitting there and smoking or listening to loud music.
Oh, yeah-- as I neared the top last night, I had the chance to see the end of an altercation: a taxi driver had thrown out a passenger (I think that's what happened), and it sounded like the passenger, some drunk asshole, had refused to pay the driver. The driver said his share of "i kae-saekgi-ya!"s, got back in his car, and screeched off.
Sweat, sweat, and more sweat-- the story of my new life. I sweat just taking the elevator; I'm a sweaty guy. Part of that is overweight, but part is just a natural follicular exuberance. Not much I can do about it. I've had to increase the rate at which I do my laundry: I run out of clean tees and sweatshirts too quickly now.
No word from Smoo yet. I assume they didn't accept me, since they'd said we'd be informed on Wednesday. I'll email their office later today to be sure. It'd suck not to make it in, but such is life.
Gotta go look for armpit deodorant now. It's for your own safety.
Get caller ID.
I finally got it yesterday afternoon, and since then...
...no one's called. Amazing.
Today, I'm off to that medical college for a 3PM interview. I'm also hoping to receive notification from Smoo about whether I've been accepted to teach there. A buddy of mine thinks I've clinched it, but I'm not sure: Smoo attracts a lot of good people. I'm sure there are plenty of sharp, on-the-ball types coming in the door.
OK-- here we go again.
I'm late in posting this, but here is part of Polymath's latest Koraqi post:
...things are looking up over here. The bad guys have quieted down considerably. Of course, you might not realize it from reading the news, but the fact is, mortar attacks and the like are much more infrequent and the bad guys are getting more and more desperate. There's alot of factors involved, but basically, the decent people of Iraq are getting sick of them and ratting them out more and more often.
Maven writes (in part) in reference to this recent post:
How appropriate, the Sermon on the Mount. I can honestly say that part of what keeps me from affiliating on a regular basis with one congregation is precisely what you detailed as "out holy-ing" your neighbor. People putting on their "Sunday Best," and trying to out-do the Joneses, rather than absorbing and processing and putting into ACTION the concepts within the liturgy. (i.e. praying and giving alms for that sake, rather than for false praise etc).
You might find the following anecdote amusing on a couple different levels...
My parents are neither dogmatic nor religiously observant. As such after our first communion, we floated along on a Sunday morning-donut-induced haze for about seven years (onuts were our ritual de rigeur on Sundays, believe it or not).
One year, my father was waiting in a hospital hallway, and looked up and saw the back of a rather tall, dignified man, and he called out, "Father Jim?" The man turned around, and oddly enough, it was the very reverend who was rector at dad's family's church from the 1960s [point of reference, this hospital was over 50 miles from that church, as we had relocated in the 70s].
Mom and dad befriended Rev. Jim, and started attending the parish to which Jim now belonged, a rather high-church Episcopal church [ironic given how low-brow my family tends to be]. Therein were rather well-to-do folks there wearing as you said, their "Sunday Best." The very best silks and the latest in the cliched country club frou-frou. As I stood to receive host, this woman who refused to put her infant in the nursery put her chilld over her shoulder, the child erupted like a volcano of vomit all down the back of her beautiful silk dress. I love to speculate that was G-d's way of humbling poseurs.
Another mini-dote to share: My former boss, Bill, the company CFO. A real bible thumper. Put himself out there as a "Born-Again." Would sit in his car during lunch to listen to a particular bible radio show, would pray right before giving an employee their annual evaluation; very active in his church, and a good evangelizer. All admirable traits.
Au Contraire! One year the company decided to pare down the marketing department in order to artificially elevate their profits. They did such a wonderful job of paring down, that the CFO and the CEO and a few other higher ups ended up benefitting from a *bonus* worth several tens of thousands of dollars, no doubt the value of the salaries of the axed individuals. It is hard NOT to judge Bill, he has a home and several cars and even a "lake house" to retreat to. Subtext: I thought avarice was a sin?
Now this is not to say that the act of going to church is merit-less; however, if one doesn't actualize any of the concepts (from church etc), or allow those concepts to permeate their thought process, going to church is nothing more than clanging a gong for attention.
It is folks like this that make apostasy or agnosticism a reality for a good lot of folks.
Today, we take a deep breath and move forward. I've vented plenty, both in private to friends and family, and on this blog. Although I've tried to respect X's privacy, I have no desire to respect it after she so thoroughly shat on me last week. Does that sound self-righteous? Yeah, it probably does, but so was X. She was self-righteous, vindictive, and cowardly, refusing to meet and talk face-to-face about things.
X doesn't seem capable of admitting mistakes. She made bizarre claims about how "perceptive" she was about people, but the truth is that X knows nothing about them, being even more introverted than I am, hiding all day, cloistered from reality.
People often misperceive each other. This should be easy to admit. At one point X expressed "shock" at my feelings... heh. If X had any real perceptivity, there would have been no surprise. X had gone through a nasty, years-long relationship with a truly bad guy, but her vaunted perceptivity didn't rescue her from that situation, either.
As of today, X knows exactly where I stand. I've performed the amputation X refused to perform. From X's twisted point of view, this merely confirms how "cold" and "cruel" I must be. X will tell her friends what a nasty guy I've been. I don't give a shit. X will conveniently forget to mention her own role in this situation, because she apparently sees herself-- once again-- as the innocent victim of sinister forces beyond her control. And that's how X lives her life: used by her ex, used by her boss, used by everyone. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is the last piece of bitterness I'll write. I'm sick of the situation and ready to put this behind me. I was tempted to reveal everything about me and X-- a name, a place of work, what exactly she said on Thursday... but I can't. I'm angry, but not that spiteful. (From her over-sensitive point of view, that's not true, of course: I'm plenty spiteful.) Right now, I think her conduct deserves to be exposed to the light. She's got a bizarre mania for secrecy; it's almost creepy. But I'll stop here with the negativity.
What did I see in X? Here's a constructive exercise-- listing her positive qualities.
First, she's beautiful, truly beautiful.
Nice ass. Best ass I've seen in a long while.
She's got a great appreciation for books.
She's a hard worker, no doubt about it.
Quirky fashion sense. Makes her different from the mainstream.
Multi-talented. The woman's a great cook. I watched her make noodles and rescue a bad salad dressing.
She's loyal to her real friends (and I'm not one of them; she made that clear).
She's sensitive to music. She likes light jazz, light rock, movie soundtracks. I suspect she likes some classical.
And somehow, despite my anger, I think she has a gentle, charitable side that many people can't see. She looks at my introversion and sees coldness; I look at hers and see warmth.
Well... there's nothing to be done about it now. My last gesture was pretty final. It was my choice; I own up to it.
As the last line of Sartre's Huis Clos goes:
Eh bien, continuons.
But unlike those characters in hell, I look forward to the future with optimism. I hope X does, too, because she obviously thinks I'm a real shit. She should be glad to be shut of me.
TACKY MEA CULPA: X had some legitimate complaints about my own actions. Yes, I was wrong. I acted selfishly, stupidly, and was also a coward in my own way. Of course... I'd already admitted these things to her, both in writing and verbally. Now I'm doing it publicly.
Tonight's Namsan walk didn't feel quite as fulfilling as previous ones, but on the way down, around 9:45PM, there was a blood-red moon hovering low in the sky.
Tourists were out. Bunch of loud Americans fooling around, some with cameras. As always, there were couples. One of the depressing things about being in a big city (any big city) is you realize that, no matter what you think of doing, someone's already done it before you. Then again, I suppose that's the human condition, eh? Nothing new under the sun?
Which is why I plan on scaling Seoul Tower naked and pissing into the wind once I'm atop the tallest antenna. I don't think anyone's tried that yet. After that, maybe I'll rock the antenna, and when it bends far enough toward the mountaintop plaza, just let myself fall back to earth, splattering the tourists with a huge, expanding wave of fat. What is there to live for after you've pissed off Seoul Tower?
Wait-- that didn't come out quite right.
Ah, fuck, you know what I mean.
Next topic: I am a bad guy.
I was told this, so it must be true.
Thing is, some people just don't understand that all people are full of self-contradictions. As the overused quote from Whitman goes:
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
The interview with Smoo (Sookmyung U.) was pleasant enough. Won't know results until Wednesday; they had a whole line of interviewees, and we were all doing exactly 30-minute interviews.
I sat at a table across from three very nice ladies-- two Korean, one Western-- and they grilled me gently about my resume, my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, etc. I think I charmed the older lady, but doubt I impressed the Western lady, who saw me right away for the cad I obviously am. The other Korean lady was smiling but unreadable. They had good poker faces.
Seriously, I do hope I get this job. It'd be great on the resume, and it'd be nice to work with high-caliber students. (I know what you're thinking; stop thinking it.)
I'll be interviewing on Wednesday with the medical college, but at this point, I'm liking what I see at Smoo, which has, in my opinion, a much nicer campus than Ehwa (if we're comparing women's universities). I'm not sure if they'll be paying for my plane ticket (for yet another goddamn visa run), but they sounded vaguely amenable. I was happy to discover that teacher's housing does include cooking facilities; don't know what I'd do without that.
They also seemed amenable to my drama curriculum proposal, so I've promised to write one up for them to turn in later this week. That would be pretty damn cool, directing a bunch of little skits or a one-act play for several characters.
OK, moving on...
For your entertainment and edification, check out the following:
Dr. Hodges and his kids say the damnedest things. And check out how he met his wife.
The only Tokdo post you need, courtesy of The Party Pooper.
Daehee looks like he's about to sever ties with some cosmic bullshit. I'd promised a blog about Korean Christianity, but Daehee's occasional rants on the subject are a better source than mine could ever be; I simply don't attend Korean churches enough to know all the dirty workings.
Suffice it to say that Korean Christianity is, like Christianity in so many other parts of the world, big money. It's also a keeper of the original Western missionary flame, still retaining the manic zeal of those first intrepid Christians who flopped or trekked onto Korean soil to spread the Good News. Lots of histrionics, as Daehee notes: the shouts of "Amen!", the weepy prayers, the in-your-face referral to money (despite Jesus' claim that we can't serve both God and money).
Korean Presbyterianism looks nothing like its mainline American counterpart. The ambience at a typical PCUSA service is the very antithesis of drama, and that's why my people are jokingly known as God's Frozen Chosen. Staid, plodding, and boring, our hymns are often sung at a soporific pace. This isn't to say that our style of worship is totally joyless; our church's pastor consistently delivers great sermons. Even if you disagree with him (and since he's a religious liberal, I don't often disagree), he'll make you think. It's not all gloom with PCUSA.
And I need to say something about the theatrics of worship. Because I had to do some superficial reading in ritual studies as part of my MA, I'm aware that theatrical elements are inevitable components of worship. You can't get around ceremony-- pomp and circumstance. But there are times when the drama feels truly integral to the larger context (I've had this feeling at black Baptist services), and times when it seems more like puffed-up buffoonery, people showing off their piety to each other (the creepy feeling I have at most Korean services, as well as at most white evangelical services in the Bible Belt).
From the Sermon on the Mount (Matt., Ch. 6):
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [NRSV]
Interviews, today and Wednesday.
I have friendly connections at Sookmyung, all thanks to my buddy Jang-woong's family. His mother is an English prof there, and one of his sisters is (was?) a grad student there. They Know People Who Know People.
I was told today that they're looking for someone humorous and dynamic to fill the position. Well, I think I'm normally that way, but it's going to be interesting to see whether I can pull off the trick of seeming humorous today, given recent events.
My Wednesday interview is in Bundang. A small medical college; 9-month contract. An American buddy warned me last night: "Nine months means no severance pay." Yeah, that's true. I'll proceed with caution.
Wish me viel Glück.
Dear Mr. Hominid,
You and I never having met (in person or otherwise), it may be somewhat presumptuous of me to write you, as I'm doing now, on no particular item of business.
In brief, I've followed your blog for about a year or so now, and would like to be counted a fan. You've provided me (along with many, many others, doubtless) with both entertainment and food for thought. You've done so in copious quantities, to boot. Count yourself a benefactor of the human race (or at least that small part of it which happens to read your blog: it amounts to the same thing).
I can sympathize with your recent job woes. (I'm from the States myself, by the way, and have spent most of the past 4 yours teaching English here in Korea.) Late last year, I had to make not just one but TWO visa runs to Japan--ouch! The first was strictly because the evil bitch at Mokdong Immigration very rudely refused to extend my tourist visa (her entire explanation amounting to "No!"), the second to secure a job which I've since quit, after having to reimburse the school for the Osaka flight. Yuck.
And then I've been sitting here in my little goshitel room in Itaewon for the past two weeks, between jobs, with a growing realization that I am crazily in love with a Korean woman whom I haven't even seen in the past year and a half: How is such a thing possible? Insanity, clearly. I should take a page out of your book and go climb Namsan on a Saturday afternoon, rather than sitting here moping and staring at my computer screen.
Having at one time in my life been a Benedictine monk (two and a half years in the monastery total: just long enough--for what, I'm not sure--but just long enough, all the same), I take a keen interest in your religious musings. At times your theological vocabulary may be a bit beyond me, but I struggle to keep up. Count me a student as well as a fan.
And as someone with a very perplexed relationship with Korea (it's beginning to seem like home, after all these years, though I've got a visa which is set to expire any day now), and with the newly revived goal of mastering the language, with a view toward someday possibly becoming a Korean-to-English translator, I look forward to following your own experience of this country as it continues to unfold in your blog.
Anyway, forgive the rambling, which may sound nutty. You'd probably be quite correct if you had me figured out by now as "another one of those crazy English teachers." Such is life. Oh well.
Good luck with the job situation, and with life, and so forth, if I may be so bold as to say so, in addition to all the above.
Yours from Itaewon-dong,
Being praised when you lack virtue is truly shameful...
How do you deal with people who refuse to see anything positive in their life or in other people?
As I know you are a regular reader of my blog, I know you know some of the difficulties I've had in my life, regarding my mother or pesky co-workers. After many years of unnecessary frustration in my life, the result of attempting to help those who refuse to help themselves, the best word to describe my overall reaction to it all: RESIGNED.
Regarding my mom, I pray for her health; and I find that living well or just being contented is the best response. And when all that fails, strategic avoidance comes in handy.
Regarding those other pesky-pessimists, I have taken on the Christian habit of praying for my enemies. (See my old post regarding my daily devotional). Initially, it felt forced, unnatural.
Eventually, as each day went by that I made this supplication, the hardness of my heart, or the harshness of this grudge, wasn't so sharp. Eventually the grudge itself wasn't first and foremost in my mind. Eventually with time, this grudge will be removed from my heart as well. I know that in still possessing this grudge, I am only hurting myself, not the person who is the source of this negativity.
I recognize it, the grudge, as a negative; however, being human I'm not perfect. I never will be perfect. But this is the process of sanctification. The many crests and valleys in our lives, but more importantly, how we react to those valleys.
I'm imperiously declaring the weekend over, so here's a blog post fo' yo' ass.
DO NOT CRITICIZE OTHERS.
No matter whether you hear good things or bad things, do not let yourself be affected by them. Being praised when you lack virtue is truly shameful, while having your faults shown to you is a wonderful thing. If you are happy to see your faults, then you will surely correct them, while if you are ashamed of your lack of virtue, then this will spur you on to practice more diligently.
Don't speak of other people's faults, because eventually it will return and harm you. If you hear harsh speech or rumors directed towards someone else, look upon them as if someone was slandering your parents. Your criticism of someone else today will become criticism of you tomorrow. All things are impermanent, so whether you are criticized or praised, there is nothing to be happy or upset about.
Can the Koreas look forward to something like this if the DMZ ever disappears?
Readers of this blog know of my exasperation about the confused attitude many South Koreans (especially of the younger generation) have about their "brothers" to the north. On the one hand, they'll yell the rhetoric about k'a-t'eun min-jok (same people/nation/race/etc.); on the other, they show no real willingness to act on that rhetoric, bring down the DMZ, and drive a massive campaign to feed NK. Instead, South Koreans moralize about other countries' roles in NK's woes, especially the US, without looking at their own role in their "brothers'" starvation (this while South Koreans continue to fatten up to look more and more like me).
As I've written before: there are historical reasons for the "one people" rhetoric. In a sense, such rhetoric is justified. But the damage done over the last half-century has caused enormous political, cultural, ideological, and even linguistic rifts between the two Koreas. As the older generation dies out, two sets of younger generations face each other across the DMZ with very little in common. We are no longer looking at one people. While both governments pay lip service to the idea of reunification, it's painfully obvious that both sides have completely different ideas about how that reunification should occur, and under whose banner.
As long as Kimism is allowed to continue in the North (and as long as the South Korean government continues to coddle it and soothe its tantrums), South Korea will indeed have a reason to wave its victim mentality around: it'll be the victim of its own inability to make strong, convicted political decisions.
[In case anyone thinks I'm letting the West off the hook, I'll refer you to my long posts on Andrew Natsios's book, The Great North Korean Famine. Check the links out on my sidebar, at the bottom.]
QUICK SATURDAY UPDATE: Sunrise is at 6:24AM on Sunday morning. I'll be at Namsan's wooden mountaintop pavilion (assuming it's not crowded with over-fervent Christians who're gonna make a lot of noise). Look for the fat, sweaty half-Korean guy in a black coat and no hat staring vainly eastward for a glimpse of the sun. Am hoping pollution is minimal at that time of the morning, but the weather forecast is also for a partly cloudy day, so we might get only a diffuse glow. All the same...
How do you deal with people who refuse to see anything positive in their life or in other people?
You don't. Just leave them alone.
You can't change someone's mind if they're unwilling to be changed. If they want to face the world by curling up into a little ball, like a hedgehog, that's their choice. If they complain about their own situation, but then do nothing to change it, then they're responsible for their own pain. If they take simple situations and make them more complicated in their minds (remember Shakespeare's wise words: "There is no good or bad but thinking makes it so"), that's their problem, not yours. And if they insist on blaming everyone but themselves for the problems in their life, if they persist in viewing themselves as perpetual victims, then such people are, spiritually, crippled. Perhaps they need help, solace, comfort, and compassion, but the very first thing they need is to learn how to stand on their own two feet. That's not always something you can teach.
So if you encounter such negative people, leave them be. There's no need to waste your time meddling in their affairs: their deliberate ignorance about their surroundings means they won't appreciate a single thing you do.
Sometimes the only compassionate alternative is forbearance.
Some friends are fair-weather friends, only with you when times are good, but never there when you're in trouble.
Tourists fall into this category. Ask the mountain.
My walk up Namsan last night was very uncomfortable-- it was blustery; the wind was rubbing my hands and face raw. Barely anyone else was there, walking either up- or downhill. A particularly strong blast of wind came my way about halfway up the road, making me whoop in delight. I love wind.
A runner passed me as I was schlepping up the final, steep stretch. Bastard farted as he went by (which reminds me: some dude farted in the limousine bus when I was on my way to Incheon Airport). Spandex does nothing to hide fart sounds, so I got an earful. Thank God for the wind: at least I didn't get a noseful.
At 7:12PM, I reached the top. The moon was large and bright, floating in a deep, dark blue sky. Amazing. I looked up past Seoul Tower and saw Jupiter shining there in the heavens-- what a sight, all these cosmic phenomena. Stars were just winking into existence, preparing for their nightly dance across the dome. It was magificent, even though my ears were beginning to ache from the wind and cold.
The runner had finished his loop and turned around; he left the mountaintop. For three glorious minutes, from about 7:13 to 7:16PM last night, I was the only person atop Namsan*.
It felt good.
Namsan is rapidly becoming a friend. I don't want to be a fair-weather friend to it, and yesterday was a testament to my newfound commitment to exercise, modest though this exercise be.
As is true with other friends, I find that I'm discovering something new about the mountain every time I come up there-- things I didn't see or know before, hidden beauty in the concrete cracks, natural treasures on the mountain's slopes. While alone, I stood under the large wooden pavilion and surveyed Seoul's nighttime panorama. The old, hackneyed image of city-as-circulatory-system struck me full force: Seoul was alive, its immense arteries aglow, car-corpuscles flowing steadily to a self-creating rhythm. About twelve million people live here; the mountain allowed me to see how insignificant we are in the larger scheme of things, and that was a humbling lesson. Our problems are petty and mortal. Who the hell do we think we are?
I got another email from Pochon CHA University down in the Bundang area. Their medical center is offering a 9-month contract for an English teacher. That interview's also scheduled for next week.
Sookmyung Women's University has expressed an interest in interviewing me for an April position (I'm imagining some blonde, leather-clad dominatrix screaming "Assume zee April position!" with a heavy German accent).
An interview! Now I don't have to spend my days feeling like a worthless shit!
Of course... they're interviewing other people, too, but we'll keep hope alive here at the Hairy Chasms for as long as we can.
Housing: smallish at 6-7 p'yeong, but still larger than EC's shoebox.
Pay: hovering around the 2-mil mark. Modest.
Hours: varying, but only 15-18 hours/week. I've offered to teach an "English through drama" class. Might have to write up a curriculum sometime this weekend-- something to offer the bigwigs during the interview. Staging a play at a university would be fantastic. I love theater. Of course, I don't know much about the technical aspects of lighting and so on; I'm fond of dramatic minimalism, in which the actor/s basically create/s the entire imaginary universe for the audience. Maybe I could learn about stage lighting on the fly.
Vacation: two months out of the year, plus holidays. Oooooh, yes. I'm plucking my nipple hairs in excitement. It'd be nice to get back home now & again, even if only for a month out of the year (would probably spend the other month teaching, to be honest). Too bad the vacation's in June, though: I'd prefer August, which is a miserable month to be teaching. All the same: TWO MONTHS!!
Wish me luck. I interview next week.
The Osaka run went fairly smoothly, despite two hitches: a delay in the Japanese passport control line (a bit disorganized that day), and the fact that I hadn't brought along any passport photos for my visa application.
The flight over went smoothly enough; it was a nice day in Incheon when I took off, but a cloudy, brooding, lightly raining day in Osaka when I landed. I suspect that the city wasn't happy to see me back so soon. "Only been eight months, asswipe!"
I didn't bring along directions to the Korean Consulate this time, simply trusting my feet to walk the same path without getting lost. It wasn't that hard: you have to take the Nankai Rapido (Alpha or Beta) train over to Namba Station, which is the terminus. From there, you walk out the exit beyond the front of the train, then follow signs to the subway, eventually looking for Exit #25 out of the subway station. Do a 180 once you hit the top of the exit, and walk downhill, past a McDonald's, across a bridge, and over to the Korean Consulate. From the Nankai Rapido train, it can't be more than a 10-minute walk.
I got to the consulate around 1:50PM, which was a bit frustrating. I'd hoped to get there about 30 minutes earlier, but as it turned out, the consulate staffers were OK with my lateness. I had to figure out how to use the passport photo machine, but it was a graphically oriented procedure, so even though I don't understand a lick of Japanese, I managed to figure my way through the bells and whistles. (I also got a bit of help from a college-age American girl who took pics before I did.)
The machine takes two shots of you, and you have to choose which one you prefer. Then you have to adjust the view to "crop" the photo tightly around your face. I did this, and the machine obligingly printed out my pics. They made me laugh. Here's what Kevin looks like after 5 days of hiking up Namsan:
Will blog about the Osaka trip later. Much to say, and I've even got a pic to show yo' white ass.
Got a note from HK regarding a possible way to celebrate the 100,000 mark. She writes:
i would love it if you would consider a short "virtual namsan hike"...
just a suggestion.
Off to Osaka on Wednesday morning. Waking up at 5AM and heading out on a limousine bus from the downtown Lotte Hotel. That's usually my favorite part of the visa run: those wonderful, W12,000 limousine buses. I always feel so pampered.
I'll be gone the whole day, so behave yourselves while I'm away. There's spaghetti sauce in the fridge, and vegetables you can cut up to make a decent salad. I've also got some Lipton tea, and your choice of sugar or Splenda. Dessert? Well, you'll have to find that on your own, asshole.
What's news, what's news...
Only the mundane. Picked up my pants from the dry cleaner's on Monday. There are two pairs of pants I cherish, and which needed major repairs of the cuffs and the crotch. Yes, crotch holes are serious business. Although crotch holes provide decent ventilation for the nether regions, you don't exactly want your ball sac hanging out in full view of the ladies, yes? I didn't think so. Now my pants are as good as new, so I have no fear of throwing high side kicks and getting laughed at by little kids.
Ah, yes: did Namsan again today, starting the walk at around 4PM. Sat down at the same bench as last time, pulled out my cell phone, and called EC to confirm arrival of my pay on the 25th. They said it'd be either the 24th or the 25th. I'm still curious to see whether I get W600,000 or, as I suspect, much less.
Also, while seated on that bench, I had a good talk with a Korean buddy of mine about life, the universe, and everything before I lost the damn signal. We'll be seeing "Hostage" on Saturday.
My friend reminded me that it's Holy Week this week, which means I need to crank out some religious posts for the blog. I'm thinking of writing a general one about the Church and money, another one about why I don't really like Korean Christianity, and a more interreligiously themed post for Easter Sunday, on which day I'll be at Hwagye-sa with a friend, doing ch'am-seon and then listening to a dharma talk. Nothing like celebrating the biggest day of the Christian liturgical calendar with a little Buddhist-style seated meditation, eh?
On my way back from Namsan, I became the center of unwanted attention when an old salesman, who'd been pitching sets of pens for W1,000 per four-pack, came right up to me and changed his pitch to English, pitching directly to me. I really didn't need that, but hey-- there are worse things than being in the spotlight.
Just to keep you entertained, here's my post from last Easter.
Hasta mas tarde, pendejos.
Sometime very soon, this blog will have had 100,000 visitors. Viewed cosmically, this isn't very significant. Other, younger blogs have done better, garnering visitors at an amazing rate through any combination of factors-- good writing, interesting topics, unique appeal, etc. But 100,000 is my milestone, and that's pretty cool.
If SiteMeter is to be trusted, I'm getting an average of about 270 unique visits per day. Of that number, most are random hits-- Google searches for "hairy nipples" or whatever, or occasional hits from people doing research on John Hick, S. Mark Heim, Buddhism, and religious pluralism. I'd guess that my regular daily visitors number only a couple dozen-- a small classroomful.
[NB: Go to the bottom of my blog's sidebar and click the SiteMeter link for my stats.]
Huge Koreabloggers such as the Marmot have already garnered several hundred thousand visitors and are looking toward that other milestone: a million. Here at the Hairy Chasms, though, we're crawling along placidly, obliviously, like an overloaded Winnebago in the left lane. So 100,000 is our goal, and it's just over the other side of this hill. Any suggestions on how to celebrate? Something you want me to photoblog? Name it (email me or hit the comments link), and I'll stick your suggestions up here for discussion.
Damn... if I had a dollar for every visitor...
About my only worthwhile achievement these days is that I've become something of a Namsan regular. Since I live just off Line 6, it's a straight shot from Dolgoji to Beot'igogae Station. My walk, after only five sessions, has already gotten faster: from 50 minutes to almost 40. I even ran a very small part of the way uphill this evening. That's a first: I haven't had the desire to run since I lived in Switzerland back in 1989. It was dark. No one was looking. So my fat ass ran.
Tonight, needing to clear my head, I started the walk from Beot'igogae around 9:40PM and hit the top of Namsan around 10:20PM. I'm still a wimp and taking the easy way up. No stairs yet; just the road. Eventually I'll graduate to the stairs.
Namsan is better on weeknights. Fewer people. Coming from Virginia, where we have damn nice hiking trails, I've never gotten used to the crowds of walkers and hikers in Korea-- the noise, the pollution, the bizarre urge to yell "yaaaaaa-hohhhhhhh!" I prefer peace and quiet when I hike, not jabber-jabber-jabber unless I'm with a good friend.
Forty minutes. I hit the top and got my PowerAde from the same shop dude. He knows me by sight now. Amazing, how quickly rituals can form. I didn't want to spend much time at the top because of all the damn tourists. People drive up in buses, on motorcycles (usually couples wearing leather jackets), or in cars. They do the very short walk up from the parking lot and act like they've made a hard climb. Heh. Good for them!
I went down below the parking lot and found a quiet spot. There was a bench there, facing outward, giving me a view of Seoul's immense sprawl through the trees. Seoul can be very pretty at night. It was quiet where I was, and the air was still. Clouds above; no stars. A few tentative raindrops, but nothing big. The air's stillness was a blessing; it helped to calm my mind after a particularly turbulent weekend. I simply sat there, thinking, not-thinking.
A fat brown cat kept me company, crouched on a large rock way over to my left. It stared at me and I stared back, then we lost interest in each other. I guess we had nothing to say at that moment. Sometimes the best companionship is silent. And with cats, companionability sometimes means ignoring each other. Cats are funny that way.
When I lived in the village of Bourguillon, Switzerland, I walked every day, sometimes twice a day, to the University of Fribourg. My walk was gorgeous and largely quiet, taking me way downhill, across two large bridges, then into town and uphill for a bit. I refused to take the bus. Walking home was always a bit more difficult than walking to school, but I chugged along at a healthy clip. I ended up losing a lot of weight over the course of that year. Gained it all back as a senior, of course.
Switzerland is a day hiker's dream: there are so many clearly marked trails, and there's so much to explore. Trails can take you into a city, then back out again into the countryside or even, if you're feeling brave, up into the mountains. I rarely hiked at high altitude while living there, preferring the thicker, warmer air of the valleys to the rarefied atmosphere of the taller peaks.
Hiking was my thing back then. Now, living in Seoul, I've never felt that inspired to hike. Too many people. Trails so overused that they've turned sandy-- an unthinkable reality on something like the Appalachian Trail or any of dozens of little splinter trails off Skyline Drive back home. While Korea contains plenty of natural beauty, there's little in Seoul that inspires my feet to move. The Olympic Park comes close: it's a wide-open space. But that's about it.
So Namsan is something of a rediscovery for me. I'm glad I'm doing this. I've been trying to pick quieter times to go, but sometimes I encounter a lot of people. It's a decent workout, especially the uphill portion. I think my body is starting to remember what it felt like to hike those roads and trails in Switzerland. While the air isn't totally fresh at Namsan, it's a hell of a lot better than down below. And there's something to be said for a mountain perspective as you ponder your own existence, wondering what the hell direction to take next with your life. Sometimes the great heights remind you to take it all one day at a time-- the good, the bad, and the fat brown cats.
Enough philosophy. Now I have to leave you and take a shit.
Off to Japan on Wednesday to get the visa changed over. What an expensive hassle. With funds dwindling, I'm hoping that EC doesn't cheat me out of my final pay (in theory, the remaining W600,000, but I'm guessing it'll be closer to W300,000, which is a damn shame). They were good about paying me on March 10th; I'm hoping they'll be trustworthy at least a little while longer.
I've collected a few old tutorees (no word yet from the Big Cheese; I assume he's ignoring me), so I've got an income stream, of sorts, for April. I also applied to Sookmyung Women's University for a position in their foreign language school, which I assume is run like a hagwon, but with fewer hours. Good: the extra free time could go to more tutorees (shhhh). SMU has positions opening in April and July. More on this as it happens.
Still in an introspective mood after... well.
I find myself returning to some old Meyer-Briggs Personality Test results. I've known for years that I'm an INTJ, and here's my profile (as found here). Relevant parts have been italicized:
To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of "definiteness", of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise -- and INTJs can have several -- they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.
INTJs are perfectionists, with a seemingly endless capacity for improving upon anything that takes their interest. What prevents them from becoming chronically bogged down in this pursuit of perfection is the pragmatism so characteristic of the type: INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion "Does it work?" to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake.
INTJs are known as the "Systems Builders" of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and reliability. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to an INFJ; both perfectionism and disregard for authority may come into play, as INTJs can be unsparing of both themselves and the others on the project. Anyone considered to be "slacking," including superiors, will lose their respect -- and will generally be made aware of this; INTJs have also been known to take it upon themselves to implement critical decisions without consulting their supervisors or co-workers. On the other hand, they do tend to be scrupulous and even-handed about recognizing the individual contributions that have gone into a project, and have a gift for seizing opportunities which others might not even notice.
In the broadest terms, what INTJs "do" tends to be what they "know". Typical INTJ career choices are in the sciences and engineering, but they can be found wherever a combination of intellect and incisiveness are required (e.g., law, some areas of academia). INTJs can rise to management positions when they are willing to invest time in marketing their abilities as well as enhancing them, and (whether for the sake of ambition or the desire for privacy) many also find it useful to learn to simulate some degree of surface conformism in order to mask their inherent unconventionality.
Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.
This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete, paralleling that of many Fs -- only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.
Probably the strongest INTJ assets in the interpersonal area are their intuitive abilities and their willingness to "work at" a relationship. Although as Ts they do not always have the kind of natural empathy that many Fs do, the Intuitive function can often act as a good substitute by synthesizing the probable meanings behind such things as tone of voice, turn of phrase, and facial expression. This ability can then be honed and directed by consistent, repeated efforts to understand and support those they care about, and those relationships which ultimately do become established with an INTJ tend to be characterized by their robustness, stability, and good communications.
Other people may have a difficult time understanding an INTJ. They may see them as aloof and reserved. Indeed, the INTJ is not overly demonstrative of their affections, and is likely to not give as much praise or positive support as others may need or desire. That doesn't mean that he or she doesn't truly have affection or regard for others, they simply do not typically feel the need to express it. Others may falsely perceive the INTJ as being rigid and set in their ways. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the INTJ is committed to always finding the objective best strategy to implement their ideas. The INTJ is usually quite open to hearing an alternative way of doing something.
An email I got from Mom today, just out of the blue-- the first time she's written me in months.
My dearest son Kevin,
We were cleaning downstairs today and I found some pictures and mementos like Lego sets, and your writings in elementary school which make [another childhood friend's] writing look shameful! And an orange dog with a button nose who looks happy and needs some hug!
I must be getting old. Lately I am very lonely for you guys, I miss my children. You are so far away and we have Sean so near and yet it seems a million miles away! David checks up on us often. I think he is doing fine and keeps himself busy.
Dad and David tell me how you are doing. I do hope and pray that you find what you are looking for in Korea. Are you still writing the children's book? You promised me a book that I will love and be proud of.
Kevin, how about writing very nice and meaningful and funny stories for children in English? You know Korean educators and parents love those kinds of books. If they love it so much they might even use it as an English textbook.
You have talent, humor, imagination, and intelligence and decency. You understand children's mind and how they work too. You are wonderful with the kids and they love you. Maybe write a book for mothers how they should interact with their children. I wish I had that kind of chance in my younger days. I would have been a better mother for you guys.
Dad is sleeping in Sean's room to make sure that I write to you, I think????
Kevin please take care of yourself. Don't catch cold and get sick. Study hard every minute you can spare. Old Korean saying: cheol meo seo gosaeng eun sa seo do han da. Work hard when you are young so you can enjoy life when you are old. To gain life experience you willingly ask for the hardship (go through) when you are young.
Let me know if you need shoe or etc......
I love you very much!
REUTERS-- Quoting biblical passages today, President George W. Bush decided to apply a "Solomon's solution" to the Tokdo/Takeshima dispute. Although neither Japan nor South Korea asked for the US's opinion, Bush sent several B-1 bombers out and ordered them to destroy half of Tokdo.
"We're splitting the baby, just like King Solomon did," Bush joked.
When reminded that Solomon never actually split any babies, but merely threatened to do so, Bush cracked, "I don't know what Bible you're reading from, but mine says something about baby stew. You Catholic?"
Bush recalled the bombers upon receiving notification that half the territory had been bombed to below sea level. Many sea creatures were reported killed.
Many thanks to the people who are still buying Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms off Amazon.com. I noticed that a reseller, AbeBooks, is trying to pass off a copy of my book for over $40. Yeah; good luck selling at that price, my friend.
Why not order several copies of my book for cheap through me?
And while you're at it, we've got goods for you at my CafePress store.
Just a reminder.
UPDATE: Daehee & his teammate get another chance. See here.
O ephemeral blogospheric validation!
For the first time ever, my Technorati listing shows me as having broken the "100 sources" mark.
Before I sign off for the day, I wanted to wish everyone a very Happy Saint Patrick's Day. Saint Patrick's the guy who, according to legend, drove the snakes out of Ireland. Pretty cool. I'm guessing all those snakes ended up in East Asia, where eager villagers caught them, bottled them in some foul alcohol, then marketed the resultant potable as a penis-enhancing elixir.
So-- on this day, everyone is Irish, which I suppose means all the men share the pain of the Irish Curse (look it up; there are many Irish curses, but only one Irish Curse). It also means all the women have to be firey-tempered, high-maintenance, and freckle-y.
I'm part Irish. On my father's side, of course. A couple generations up, we've got some relatives with the surname Travers. I didn't wear any green today. Instead, I wore some black pants, a white tee shirt, and a black coat, then I did the Namsan hike again. I might just have to make this a routine. The hike, I mean; not the clothes.
Jason W. writes:
Wow, Joong-hwa Won is a 2 minute walk from my house.
As I commented on the Marmot's site, the biggest thing that rubbed me wrong about the WaPo article was that there are all these older moneyed caucasians complaining about the connotation of the word "Koreatown", that the term implies a seedy sort of ethnic enclave where crackers aren't welcome. These people own the houses that border the downtown Annandale area, houses whose values have exploded with all the new middle-class commerce that has come to the area. I think this is a good example of classic white middle class angst, but I think it also points to a more interesting cultural barrier. (BTW, let me be on record as saying I have never heard Annandale described as "Koreatown" by anyone white or Asian.)
My wife (from Pusan) pointed out to me last night that while Korean businesspeople in Annandale (hell--everywhere!) tend to pay more attention to what's going on inside their particular stores than what's going on outside. A successful Annandale Korean business at first glance doesn't appear to be all that successful because the owners don't really care about the outside appearance of their store. As a result, A-Dale has become a strip-mall village, and I think this upsets the A-Dale Chamber of Commerce because they have the picture of a gentrified All-American village in their minds (replete with shrubbery, neat sidewalks, and a "theme" tying the district together). The Korean businessman's suggestion to put in an underground mall (KEEE-RIST!) is a prime example of this difference in thinking.
Also, business district planning in Korea--as far as I can tell-- has always been more of a local government issue made in tandem with large corporations with very little input from mom-and-pop businesses. Perhaps its this lack of civic cooperation that has led Korean business owners in the US (at least in Annandale) to go it alone without help from the Chamber of Commerce. It makes me wonder if there are economic incentives the CoC can dangle (sorry--couldn't resist typing that) in front of Korean business owners to get them to take part in planning.
Having lived in Seattle, where that city's International District has become a magnet for business while retaining its "Asian" flavor, I know there's a middle ground that can be found. A lot of Americans complain that Koreans are clannish and shun the outside community, and while that may be true to some degree, I think that in the end, business is business, and that if the Annandale Chamber of Commerce can work to find a plan that Korean business owners find attractive, the Koreans will play ball. The assimilation of the Koreans into the NoVA community won't happen overnight; its going to take flexible thinking on both sides to make it happen.
Balls to you,
I'm back from an old ritual in which I haven't participated for months: the long walk from Beot'igogae Station (Line 6) to the top of Namsan. It's a walk I've done on many occasions with my buddy Jang-woong (occasionally with his wife in tow), but today I decided to do it alone.
Namsan's major facilities, including Seoul Tower itself, are undergoing all sorts of renovation and construction. The tower itself wasn't well-lit this evening, but the revolving restaurant (blech-- not worth it) was in operation. Old and young Japanese tourists unloaded from buses at the mountaintop, took lots of pictures of each other, and pissed off a Korean shopkeeper: he shouted "Get down from there!" at a knot of 20-somethings who'd stolen behind a construction barrier for some laughs.
The quietest parts of the walk were along the road leading up to the summit, the silence occasionally punctuated by a random bus or car. As I walked uphill, I encountered almost no pedestrians, and the ones I did meet were on their way down.
I stayed on the summit only a few minutes-- long enough to buy a PowerAde and sip it into oblivion. On the way down, I encountered a bunch of bikers struggling upward. Some were Korean; others were white. All were Spandexed. I also crossed paths with some sort of Korean runner's club; the slope was steep enough to keep most of them pretty quiet, but the ones in the lead were having some sort of conversation. I had to admire them; my Dad's a runner, and I've always respected the sport. Running is often like meditation: a good way to learn that mind and body are not-two.
Tonight I took the easy way up Namsan-- the road. There's a much harder way: the stairs. If you're in good shape, maybe the prospect of stairs won't make you shudder, but Jang-woong and I have done the Namsan stairs several times before, and even Jang-woong, who's almost fit as a soldier fresh out of Basic, gets a bit winded by the time we reach the top. In all my time in Korea, I've done the stairs route only once without ever stopping to catch my breath. That was a proud day, not soon to be repeated.
And now, over at the Korea University PC-bahng, I open my email to some good news: one of my old private tutorees is eager to resume lessons, despite almost a year of separation. I've blogged about the little guy before; he's always a treat to teach.
So I got dat goin' for me. Which is nice.
Here's hoping some of my other tutorees come back soon. And perhaps I'll get some new ones as well.
The prime gig I'd like to get back: an W80,000/hour session with a corporate head. Twice weekly, 90 minutes a pop. Yes, I know some of you say that W80,000/hour is cheap for such folks... it's true. But beggars can't be choosers, and I'm not about to say no to hourly pay that's almost comparable to what some psychotherapists charge. One difference: I'll come to his office in a suit this time, not in my untucked shirt and unironed pants. I think that bothered him last time. Heh.
So-- we can't stay down in the dumps forever, can we? Welcome to the next phase of my life.
While living in Bongch'eon-dong during my EC stint, I was buying 50-liter trash bags for my large, 50-liter trash can. When I moved back up north at the end of February, I didn't want to waste the remaining trash bags, so I took them up with me.
The other day, I saw that the trash service had refused to pick up my trash.
The trash bags bought in Bongch'eon-dong are white with blue lettering. The text on the bag mentions what kind of trash goes into it, and lists what region the bag was purchased in. As it turns out, the bag can only be used in that region.
I suspected something like this from the beginning, but being an asshole, I wanted to test the limits. So last week, I put out my trash using an old trash bag, and it got picked up. The second time, I wasn't so lucky. The trash service passed me over. My response to this wasn't to buy the proper bags; no-- I simply turned the improper bag around, so that the blue-ink label was facing away, hoping the trash folks would simply grab it and toss it.
Two days ago, the trash folks made a statement. They'd left my bag on the spot, but had turned it around, improper label facing outward. Basically they were saying, "We know what shit you're pulling."
So I gave in, bought Jangui-dong bags (which have a green label, not blue), and the trash got picked up today.
Of all the fucking things for Koreans to get all law-abiding about, why goddamn trash disposal?
The Marmot points to a Washington Post article about Annandale, Virginia, which is only minutes away from my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. The subject: the burgeoning Koreatown in Annandale.
It's no big secret that there's a large and thriving Korean presence in the DC-Metro area; our family's been plugged into that community for years. My mother has served on a couple Korean-American Wives' Clubs' boards, including a stressful stint as president of one.
Our community is funny. The wives' clubs are dominated largely by women married to rich white Americans (for the record, my family's anything but rich, but yeah, mah dad be white). Some of these women look the part of the aristocrat with no substance or character to back it up, but others are genuinely nice people. My own association with these clubs has been largely with the wives; the husbands, most of whom are ex-military or ex-diplomat and don't speak much Korean, tend to stand in the background and smile a lot. I had the chance to emcee a Christmas party in late 2003 (see here); that was sort of fun.
Aside from the wives' clubs, there's the rest of the Korean community. Annandale is definitely the place to go if you're looking for Korean products and services. There's a Lotte store filled with items you'd find in a Korean grocery, as well as items you might find in Korean markets and department stores. There are specialty stores, hair salons, laundromats, norae-bang (song rooms, a bit like karaoke), restaurants of all different sorts (some Americanized, some not), Korean-style bakeries like Paris Baguette and Le Matin de Paris-- you name it, it's in Annandale. The big differences between Annandale and Seoul are that (1) you need a car to get around, and (2) the store staffers and restaurant drink servers are likely to be Hispanic, with the Koreans in the managerial positions. It's the old American immigrant story, playing itself out as it always does. Something like that story is playing out here in Korea, as more minorities pour in, looking for the opportunity to make money.
While in the States, I never took an interest in how the non-Korean community looked upon Koreatown. The impression I've gotten from non-Korean friends who visit there on rare occasion is that they enjoy the place. I don't know any more than that. The article says there's some soul-searching going on about the identity and significance of Koreatown; I prefer not to get too cosmic about it. Now is Korea's time; eventually, other ethnicities will move in and Koreatown will be quaint and old-school.
Koreana dots the Northern Virginia landscape. My people are in Alexandria, Annandale, McLean, Bethesda, and some parts of DC. Korean churches abound; it's often the case that Koreans are sharing churches with mostly-Western congregations, using the same property but having separate, Korean-language services. I have mixed feelings about this. I don't want to leave non-English-speakers out in the cold, but I'm also something of a typical American assimilationist and hope that people who come to America will learn some level of English and plug themselves into the larger community.
But the history of immigration shows that assimilation is a process crossing generations. The heart of an ethnic community, composed of those first-generation arrivals, usually keeps its old-world feel, while the next generation straddles the old and new worlds. The generation after that is the one that's most assimilated into mainstream American culture, however we choose to define that term.
I've enjoyed my own trips into Koreatown. My favorite restaurant is Joong Hwa Weon, a resto that serves all sorts of different Korean foods, but does Chinese food as well. In fact, it's the only Korean restaurant I've seen that categorizes its menu honestly, by using the labels "Korean-style Chinese food" and "Chinese food." Order from the first category, and you're likely to get jjajang-myeon or jjam-bbong; order from the second, and it'll be your typical fried-chunks-in-thick-sweet-sauce dish familiar to American college students everywhere*.
For my part, I wish all of Koreatown continued success, and am happy to see it imparting a certain ethnic flavor to that part of NoVA. If I have only one recommendation, it's that Korean food in America be cheaper. It doesn't have to go down to the level of Chinese fast food, but right now the prices hover uncomfortably close to the same range as Thai food, which makes going out for Korean something of a chore. One notable exception in Annandale is the Il Mee (Jung) buffet chain, which offers a $10 lunch special of all-you-can-eat meat. During the Atkins Diet craze of a couple years back, the chain has getting crazy business, and as far as I know, it's still pretty popular. But aside from that complaint, I hope Koreatown grows and flourishes and prospers for years to come. If you're in the area and curious, go give Koreatown a visit.
*To be fair, this should probably be called "American-style Chinese food." Then again, I have no idea whether the Chinese in China actually eat food like that.
A fascinating argument against religious exclusivism can be found here, along with very intelligent comments. (The link takes you to the comments; simply scroll upward to see the original post.) I might have to write a reaction to this sometime soon.
If you're more into theodicy, look at this post, then go visit the comments. My sympathies lie with the commenter named Strange Doctrines. SD's point is to hold Christian thinkers to what the Scriptures say and not get involved in speculative, quasi-Thomistic departures from it. If Christians believe X, then it's no use arguing theology by inventing clever properties of God which are unknown to most Christian believers. And yes, that's my bias: those properties are invented, not discovered.
The newest "Revenge of the Sith" trailer is now available to all folks with Quicktime over at StarWars.com, if you're interested.
Over at the Supershadow fan site, Lucas has repeatedly said that he's incorporated ideas from the fans. He's resisted certain suggestions but has given in on other points. A major fan victory was hiring James Earl Jones to voice what is being called "Mechanical Vader," i.e., the armored Vader we know from the original trilogy. For the longest time, Lucas insisted that hiring Jones was simply too expensive-- and besides, why would this much younger Vader have anything like Jones's voice? But the fans insisted, and Lucas has since said that, yes, James Earl Jones will indeed be the voice of the Mechanical Vader.
The fans lost on three major counts, though:
1. Jar-jar doesn't die, mainly because Lucas delusionally claims that Jar-jar is well-liked by most fans and is his most brilliant comic creation. I still can't tell whether Lucas is privately snickering after saying this, but I get the creepy feeling that he's perfectly serious.
2. "Revenge of the Sith" will not be three hours long. Legions of fans begged for a long finale, but Lucas has balked, claiming that a longer movie would cost his studio far too much, and that the three-hour flick simply wasn't his style. One concession, though, is that Lucas has kept in a lot of violence, and if I'm not mistaken the movie will have a PG-13 rating-- finally a nod to fans like me who have wanted the prequel trilogy to be big, bad, and "Blade Runner"-dark from the beginning.
3. Most disappointing of all to diehard fans is this: there will be no Mechanical Vader combat scenes. When Vader fights Obi-wan Kenobi, it's as Hayden Christensen unmasked, not dressed up in the classic armor. Mechanical Vader will be visible only for a few moments of screen time. Mixing it up with displeased Star Wars geeks, Lucas argues that Mechanical Vader is simply too weak to do any fighting in this film; he's still healing from the grievous wounds received during the fight with Kenobi. Lucas does hold out a carrot, though: if the planned Star Wars TV series focuses on the Jedi Purge (i.e., that period during which the Emperor kills off all the Jedi and consolidates his power), we might have a chance to see Vader in action.
Fans wanted fights in "Revenge of the Sith," and that's what Lucas is giving them. "Revenge of the Sith" is essentially one huge fight scene, with some dialogue-y moments sprinkled in to move the plot forward.
Two major battles occur, one on the Wookie home planet of Kashyyyk, another in space above the capital planet Coruscant.
The main attraction, of course, will be the lightsaber fights. Here they are, in order (and almost all are visible, for a fraction of a second, in the newest preview):
1. Anakin and Kenobi vs. Dooku, which turns into merely Anakin vs. Dooku
2. Kenobi vs. General Grievous, a lightsaber-wielding biomechanoid non-Jedi
3. Mace Windu and several Jedi vs. Palpatine/Sidious, very quickly turning into just Palpatine/Sidious vs. Windu
4. Yoda vs. Palpatine/Sidious
and finally, the one everyone's waiting for:
5. Skywalker/Vader vs. Obi-wan Kenobi
Seven battles in a little over two hours. The large battles and more intimate saber fights range anywhere from about a minute in length to around twelve minutes, with the twelve-minute Kenobi-Vader duel apparently being the longest fight scene ever put on film.
Special effects aside, I give a ton of credit to fight choreographer Nick Gillard for his work on these films. I didn't like "Phantom Menace," nor was I all that wowed by "Attack of the Clones," but I enjoyed Gillard's imaginative fight choreography in those films. It'd be interesting to see what he could do without all those special effects in the way. In any case, "Sith" promises to bear the mark of Gillard all over it, so I plan to sit back and enjoy, even if the movie's plot stinks.
See you in line.
In keeping with current solemnity here at the Hairy Chasms, I'm posting part of an email I received from my e-friend Julie. You may not know this, but Julie (check out her blog!) is a medical professional. She writes:
Now, to euthanasia: damn, i dunno.
Sometimes in my world there are people who get resuscitated who should never have had their sternums compressed, but once you start, it's not legal to stop. So we have a shell, alive, but not living. I think the person should have the choice. Stay or go, as you wish, darling, and here, let me just nudge that plug wire under your chin or into your teeth so you can decide to pull it or not, because I can't pull it for you, but i understand your right and need to do with your life as you see fit.
I guess. i've had a septic, brain injured five year old die in my arms because her foster mother pulled her tube without permission, and the reinsertion she did with her finger caused my Alice to die two days later. Alice had been in a persistent vegetative state since she was four months old and someone - daddy, grandma? - threw her against a wall. I loved that child like she was my own, and two deaths later I quit pediatric hospice for psych, where if someone dies they probably wanted to.