Monday, July 31, 2006


The heat and humidity are back. While other people are cheering the end of the monsoon season, I'm dreading tonight's 11:30pm walk up the mountain. I expect to be huffing and puffing and heaving even before I hit my first major hill in Huam-dong. Not gonna be pretty.

Several students have said they'd love to join me on a Namsan walk, but they're all frightened about walking at that time of night. Considering how sweat-drenched I become on these walks, perhaps it's for the better. Whatever woman I finally settle down with will have to be comfortable with the fact that I'm a big, sweaty turd of a man, a steamed dumpling in human clothing.


the ricotta post

That bon vivant et gastronome, Charles of the unstoppable Liminality, emailed me this wisdom apropos of ricotta, one of the cheeses currently under private discussion as we consider the ins and outs of calzones:

As for the ricotta, the problem with freezing soft cheeses like that is that they tend to separate. It may not make that much of a difference when all is said and done, but I refuse to use frozen ricotta in my food. I'm just anal about things like that. ...Namdaemun, as far as I know, does not have fresh ricotta--the only cheese we could find there was frozen (I think we got some frozen cream cheese there, which was absolutely atrocious). We visit Costco once every month or so and I've never seen ricotta there, but I suppose I could ask the next time we stop by. That would leave Hannam Market, which is the most out of the way of the three. One of these days I will have to drop by and take a look. I actually do know of a place that sells fresh ricotta, but it's a real pain in the neck to get to. If all else fails, I could take a field trip there.

I went to Hannam Market and found the following 250g container of ricotta for a scrotum-shredding W8600, an absurd price for a cheese that doesn't exact rank up there with my beloved Gruyère. Charles, you'll have to tell me what you think of this cheese. It's got some liquid, but it tasted fine to me.

Before the unveiling:

And after:


Taiwan and missile testicles

Taiwan may be next up to test missiles-- ones capable of hitting points in the Chinese mainland.

As Asia grapples with the fallout from North Korea's projectile posturing, another military flashpoint in the region - the Taiwan Strait - is in the midst of missile tensions as well.

A private TV station reported earlier this month that Taiwan's military was preparing to test-fire a tactical missile in September capable of striking targets in China. While the details were sketchy and the claim was swiftly denied by the Ministry of National Defense, they struck a chord with analysts who have heeded the frustration among hawks in Taiwan over the island's vulnerability in the face of China's military might, including its expanding missile arsenal.

In the event of an imminent attack, Taiwan would be justified in launching a preemptive strike against military targets in China, runs the hawkish argument. This should go hand-in-hand with improved defenses on the island, including advanced interceptor missiles and attack aircraft. "Even if we are going to buy [US-made] Patriot missiles, we also need to develop our own offensive missiles," says Lee Wen-chung, a government legislator.

Such attitudes present a dilemma for the US, which is reportedly urging Taiwan to back off its missile program. US diplomacy in the region is a balancing act between deterring China from invading Taiwan and restraining President Chen Shui-bian on the issue of Taiwanese sovereignty. In this context, a homegrown missile primed to strike the mainland could be a red flag to China.

I've never been at ease with the Bush Doctrine of preemptive strikes. What's worried me from the beginning is precisely what we see happening among other countries: many are reserving the right, as sovereign entities, to launch preemptive strikes on nearby countries should they perceive an imminent threat.

My own country's attitude toward Taiwan and China has always perplexed me. Practically speaking, we act as though Taiwan is a separate state. Diplomatically, however, the US largely cleaves to the old, Nixonian "One China" rhetoric. American businesses invest in both Taiwan and China; in China, our businesses engage in such ethically questionable practices as abetting the reinforcement of The Great Firewall (witness the Google controversy of late). In Taiwan, we have a partnership that extends to computer technology and weapons. One wonders what might happen should China decide it's time to reclaim Taiwan militarily. Morally speaking, I think we should side with Taiwan, but should we do so, the potential conflict would be on a far greater scale than what's been going on in the Middle East.

What would Jason do?

UPDATE: Jason's got a hilarious Google Video link here. Don't click if you're blindly loyal to George W.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ave, Nathan!

A cool rant over at Seoul Hero, part of which complains about the prevalence of Koreablogs that use "Kimchi" in the title. Some attempts at justifying such silliness can be found in the comments appended to the post. One commenter rightly notes that far too many Koreablogs also feature the word "Seoul." I'd add that most of those "Seoul" titles are truly godawful puns.

I haven't checked the Koreablog lists, so I don't know whether the following, equally cringe-inducing "Seoul"-themed titles have been taken:

Fillet of Seoul
Black as My Seoul
Calloused Seoul
MC Seoulaar (a pun off the '90s French rapper, MC Solaar)
Buddhists Have No Seoul (and neither do you)
Bowlful of Seoul
I Seouled My Seoul
Good God, What's That on My Seoul?
Asseoul! (or maybe "Fucking Asseoul")
The Adventures of Han (韓) Seoulo
Universal Seoulvent
I'll Swallow Your Seoul (for Bruce Campbell "Evil Dead" fans)
Floundering in Seoul
Seoulettes Go!
Seoulong, So Firm
Seoulick Me
O Seoulo Mio
This Is Seoul Aim
All Seoul's Day
Your Immortal Seoul
Seoul Lap Stick
Libel and Seoul Lander
Tierra del Seoul
Honda del Seoul
Seoular Cell
Seoular Wind
Itchy As Seoul
The Marmot Seoul

Did you like that list of groaners? No? They gave your perineum hives, you say? GOOD! Looking at your "Seoul" title does much the same to me!

There are a couple "Seoul" titles I find cool. "Seoul Hero," for example, is a clever tie-in with Joseph Campbell. The name "Seouliva" makes me laugh every time I read it. There's hope.


in vino veritas?

You all know by now that Mel Gibson was arrested under the following circumstances:

According to the report, Gibson became agitated after he was stopped on Pacific Coast Highway and told he was to be detained for drunk driving Friday morning in Malibu. The actor began swearing uncontrollably. Gibson repeatedly said, "My life is f****d." Law enforcement sources say the deputy, worried that Gibson might become violent, told the actor that he was supposed to cuff him but would not, as long as Gibson cooperated. As the two stood next to the hood of the patrol car, the deputy asked Gibson to get inside. Deputy Mee then walked over to the passenger door and opened it. The report says Gibson then said, "I'm not going to get in your car," and bolted to his car. The deputy quickly subdued Gibson, cuffed him and put him inside the patrol car.

TMZ has learned that Deputy Mee audiotaped the entire exchange between himself and Gibson, from the time of the traffic stop to the time Gibson was put in the patrol car, and that the tape fully corroborates the written report.

Once inside the car, a source directly connected with the case says Gibson began banging himself against the seat. The report says Gibson told the deputy, "You mother f****r. I'm going to f*** you." The report also says "Gibson almost continually [sic] threatened me saying he 'owns Malibu' and will spend all of his money to 'get even' with me."

The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

The deputy became alarmed as Gibson's tirade escalated, and called ahead for a sergeant to meet them when they arrived at the station. When they arrived, a sergeant began videotaping Gibson, who noticed the camera and then said, "What the f*** do you think you're doing?"

A law enforcement source says Gibson then noticed another female sergeant and yelled, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"

We're told Gibson took two blood alcohol tests, which were videotaped, and continued saying how "f****d" he was and how he was going to "f***" Deputy Mee.

Gibson was put in a cell with handcuffs on. He said he needed to urinate, and after a few minutes tried manipulating his hands to unzip his pants. Sources say Deputy Mee thought Gibson was going to urinate on the floor of the booking cell and asked someone to take Gibson to the bathroom.

After leaving the bathroom, Gibson then demanded to make a phone call. He was taken to a pay phone and, when he didn't get a dial tone, we're told Gibson threw the receiver against the phone. Deputy Mee then warned Gibson that if he damaged the phone he could be charged with felony vandalism. We're told Gibson was then asked, and refused, to sign the necessary paperwork and was thrown in a detox cell.

Gibson, now reasonably sober, has issued a lengthy apology for his words and behavior, which reads in part:

"I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested," he said in a statement issued by his publicist. "I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry. I have battled with the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse."

He said he was taking "necessary steps to ensure my return to health."

Alcohol doesn't bring out the "real you." While it may be true that alcohol lowers one's inhibitions, those very inhibitions are a normal component of your personality. They're what keep you from killing the neighbor who whistles loudly in the hallway, or from slapping the rude cashier who looks down her nose at you, or from grabbing the ass of that fine-lookin' thang in the elevator. The absence of inhibitions doesn't make you more "real" to those around you; it more likely makes you a fucking asshole, not to mention a moron-- prone to doing stupid shit like, well, accusing the Jews of instigating all armed conflicts (which accounts for the situation in places like Nigeria, Ireland, and Sri Lanka, I'm sure).

I don't drink. I'm not against drinking, so please don't misunderstand me. If you're a happy drunk and want to get pissed, be my guest. Just don't drive, asshole. My dad was hit by a drunk driver, and I have little sympathy for people whose "disease" takes other people down with them. What I am saying is that whether the lowering of one's guard is a good thing or a bad thing depends greatly on the situation. A little lubrication might get you talking with that bored-looking cutie in the corner, for example. But drunkenly leaning over and booming to a Supreme Court justice, "Come on, Sandy baby; loosen up! You're too tight!" during a Washington Press Club dinner doesn't strike me as an obviously good thing.

I don't have stats to back up the following insight, but I do have experience from college: the number of people who regret things they've said and done while drunk is far greater than the number of people who regret nothing. Alcohol lowers inhibitions; it strips away the civilized cortex that-- ideally-- differentiates humans from other animals. Drunkenness is a lowering of the self, not an exaltation.

I suppose one could counter-argue that teetotalling control freaks have caused their share of problems. I don't doubt it. But teetotalling control freaks aren't usually the cause of unwanted pregnancies, car accidents, domestic violence, and a goodly proportion of accidental and deliberate gun violence.*

I'm willing to cut Mel some slack and take him at his word: he probably didn't mean most of what he said while drunk. I'm willing to bet that Monsieur Gibson is nuts enough already: alcohol plays little to no role in revealing the "real Mel" to the world. The man has worked with all types in Hollywood, and you can't do that without possessing some measure of openness and tolerance-- at least while sober.

By the way, what is "Mel" short for? Melvin? Good Lord.

*A link that might interest you: Alcohol Factsheet

Plenty of stats to keep you busy. Pay special attention to the section titled "Alcohol-Related Health Effects from Excessive Alcohol Consumption." This section goes into just how large a chunk of the pie graph is attributable to dumbasses who drink in excess. Of special significance is the rape statistic: "Approximately 72% of rapes reported on college campuses occur when victims are so intoxicated they are unable to consent or refuse."


Ave, Charles!

At Liminality, a must-read about comment threads and why so few of them seem to foster "community."


100 Below: Volume 23

"I am about to utter heresy," Jock said around a mouthful of steak.

"What heresy are you about to utter?" I asked, my knife now hovering over a chicken breast.

"This," Jock said: "South Korean cigars are far, far superior to Cuban cigars."

It was too much. I pulled out my Desert Eagle and shot Jock in the crotch.

"That was uncalled for," Jock groaned from the restaurant's carpet.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ave, Justin!

The funniest line I've seen in some time:

Saw a cute girl in short yellow shorts walking a huge dog with ENORMOUS balls that swayed in unison to the girl's hips as they walked down the street together.


Buddhism, physicalism, and substance dualism redux

From a very old undergrad text I own, The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, we get the following:

In Gautama's view the materialists, who say that there is no afterlife and that there is no fruition of past deeds, are as wrong as the dualists, who hold that there is a soul separate from the body. What determines one's rebirth, though, is not sacrifice or mere knowledge, but the quality of one's entire life.

This passage seems partially to confirm my suspicion that a Buddhist probably wouldn't consider the whole mind/body debate all that relevant. When your focus is on the here and now, the living of life is more important than abstruse philosophical speculations about what it is to live.

(But that's not going to stop me from blundering drunkenly into the thickets of philosophy and leaving some piss and vomit there, now and again.)



GMJ writes a hilarious post about his superhero complex. He might want to check out this post by Victor at Annika's Journal.


U B da judge

I leave this note on my office door (Room 302) every Friday so my students know where to meet for French class. My gloomy student remarked that my Hangeul is "sort of bad," but my Chinese characters are "really good." Yeah, I suppose my Korean looks somewhat wi-taaaaaaahhh-did.

The Chinese characters are "bul" and "eo" (the latter often pronounced somewhere between "uh" and "aw"; in this case, closer to "aw")-- literally, "Buddha" and "language." The Buddha character is used because one of the older ways to designate France is by calling it bul-lan-seo. Many Koreans also hangeulize "France" as "p'eu-rang-seu," which is a slightly more accurate transliteration. The Buddha character is therefore used only because of its phonetic value, and is an abbreviation of bul-lan-seo.


bazaar images

Five of the six ladies in my class who showed up for the bazaar (sorry I didn't get a pic of you, Brandy!):

And now: some of the brush art that didn't get sold.

First up, we've got a reprise of the Wonhyo painting:

Next, some bamboo. I learned this technique from a former student of mine. She made me a bit of brush art and it's hanging on the wall in front of me, in my office. When I look at paintings, I almost always try to figure out how and why the artist used certain brush strokes.

Next, we've got Batman.

The fourth painting is a cartoon Dalma Daesa:

Finally, my favorite: a crazy horse. I'm actually quite happy this one didn't get sold. I'd love to own a horse that has this one's goofy, good-natured, slightly manic personality.

You can see, in the first image, how rainy it was outside. I was surprised we had as many customers as we did.

Our next bazaar will be in the winter, probably in January. See you there!


Friday, July 28, 2006

a somewhat reduced Friday

My French class and my English circle were both missing a few members today. The French class took a while to gear up, as students took their sweet time arriving. About twenty minutes into the hour, we had our quorum, so I stopped the pronunciation drills I'd been doing with the two girls who'd come on time and started in on review. As it turned out, the review took the rest of the hour because the girls who had come late hadn't bothered to study. As a result, we covered no new material today.

In a sense, it's good that the class is only seven weeks long (well-- six weeks: I'm cancelling the class next week because many people can't show up). Every week, the students are given new material, but if they don't plan to internalize it, they're going to get behinder and behinder as time goes on. The sheer weight of the rattrapage (catching up) they'll have to do will push many of them to skip the class entirely. If the class lasted longer than six or seven weeks, we'd start to see the typical, hagwon-style attrition that afflicts so many of our other courses.

The English circle today focused on James Thurber's classic short "The Owl Who Was God," a story with perennial relevance. For those of you who don't know the story, it basically goes like this:

Some woodland creatures encounter an owl in the dead of night. The owl sees them and freaks them out with its ability to see so well. News spreads of the owl's supposed power and wisdom. Other animals test the owl; the owl hoots answers that confirm previous impressions of its power. One fox voices doubt about whether the owl can even see in the daytime; the True Believers drive the fox from their midst: they'll have none of this blasphemy about their resident sage. The animals send an invitation to the owl to be their leader; the owl accepts and appears before the creatures at high noon, dazzled by the sunlight. The animals misinterpret the owl's hesitancy as the dignity that accompanies omniscience, and one animal screams, "He's God!" The owl then blunders into things, and the animals gladly imitate the actions of their new god-leader. The owl then wanders onto a road despite warnings from a hawk that a truck is coming. The truck strikes and kills most of the creatures, including the owl. Thurber's moral: "You can fool too many of the people too much of the time."

[NB: the actual story is only about twice the length of the above summary.]

We talked about the story's meaning and how it might relate to things like cults of personality. We covered Dr. Hwang, Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, Stalin, the Aum Shinrikyo cult of Shoko Asahara, and Hitler. George Bush got a mention, too, of course, though I did point out that it would be hard to argue the man has truly built a cult of personality.

The discussion moved to religion (I couldn't keep away from one of my favorite topics) and we covered the Buddha's Four Noble Truths as well as some Christian precepts and the general issue of tolerance. I can't quite remember how we segued from personality cults to religion to tolerance, but the discussion of tolerance occupied the remaining 90 minutes of our time together.

It turns out that some of my students view tolerance as synonymous with agreement or acceptance. I told them that, yes, to some degree, tolerance implies acceptance, but it doesn't necessarily imply agreement. "I don't smoke," I said, "and I'd rather not sit next to a smoker in a restaurant or elsewhere. But if that person decides to smoke, I'm not going to demand that he put out his cigarette. Instead, I'll tolerate his smoking." In other words, there's a certain degree of acceptance that a fellow adult can make a free choice, but this doesn't imply wholehearted agreement with the choice to smoke.*

I got a surprising response when I shepherded the discussion of tolerance in the direction of two questions:

1. Can we be 100% tolerant?
2. Should we be 100% tolerant?

The students agreed that the answer to (1) is "no," because we're all human. We then turned to question (2)-- the question of whether absolute tolerance is, properly, an ideal-- and I gave my students the following exaggerated example:

Suppose you date some seemingly wonderful guy for a week. At the one-week mark, he suddenly confesses to you that, on the day he met you, he robbed a bank and killed five people-- among them an old woman and a child. Do you continue dating this guy?

And here was the surprise: one student actually hemmed and hawed over this example, and despite my best histrionic efforts at cajoling and browbeating and bullying her (you'll have to imagine the eye-bulging, body-torquing, hair-pulling show I put on), she couldn't bring herself to break up with the guy! She actually said she would feel some compassion for him and his situation, and would want to think about things before making any extreme moves.

I told the students that tolerance was often a subject in my church discussions about interreligious dialogue. Some of the Christians I've encountered rather heedlessly claim, in an unqualified manner, that "we should respect all other traditions." I usually counter this by asking, "So it's all right for your daughter to date a Satanist?" The bank robber example was supposed to be in the same vein: a seemingly obvious extreme case where it was clear that tolerance wouldn't be possible for most sane people. My student's response to the bank robber scenario floored me, and it floored her classmates, all of whom unhesitatingly declared they would dump the murdering bastard.

Would it surprise you to learn that today's left-field opinion came from the same girl I wrote about last week?

*I realize the issue is more complex than this. You have to understand that my students' English proficiency probably rates in the low-intermediate range, so this discussion wasn't about to get hyper-analytical concerning the possible overlap of the semantic fields of "agreement" and "acceptance."


Thursday, July 27, 2006

bazaar aftermath

First-- a shout-out to Hairy Chasms reader Chris, who stopped by today and had his picture taken with me. I look forward to receiving the pic by email, so I can Photoshop Chris out and replace him with the image of Emmanuelle Chriqui (shrieky? a commentary on how she is in the sack?). Chris has special-ordered a snake painting from me; I'm as curious as he is to see how it'll turn out. I'm not sure whether Chris is mulling over buying Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms (not a single copy of which I managed to sell today)... he didn't seem too enthused about the prospect of owning a volume of sexual and scatological cartoons, poems, and short stories. Chris lives in Japan, but spent a lot of time in Korea and speaks Korean.

My students redeemed themselves by showing up more or less on time and participating in the bazaar with something approaching seriousness. Well, check that-- the bazaar is supposed to be a fun event, and to that extent the students did have a ball, especially the ones who were the least financially productive: our nail-polish-and-love-advice contingent. Those girls also decided to offer free hand massages (kinky!), and I got a double massage (yes: two girls did me at the same time) just before the bazaar ended. Those were my first hand massages; without going too deeply into why, let me say that... I highly recommend the experience. Highly.

The nail-and-massage girls made barely W1000, I think. The girls who were selling drinks made around W2000. My Chinese student fared better, selling a very delicious Chinese-style pork jerky for W500 a pop; I think she must have made about W5000 in all. Next up was my student JK, who bravely made crêpes until she ran out of batter and filling. Her efforts raked in about W7000, and her crêpes became the talk of the bazaar.

We made a total of W34,000, which means my brush art must have covered the remaining W19,000. I tried selling the art at W3000 per piece like last time, but my shoppers this time were mostly Korean, which meant I had to put up with people who made faces and complained that W3000 was too expensive. Like the whore I am, I lowered my price for the Korean crowd to a truly buggered W1000 per piece. And then the art began to sell. One of my students spoke up in my defense, noting to one customer that W3000 was already cheap-- precisely what I'd been thinking. Her argument didn't impress the customer, however. In any case, I sold 19 pieces, many of which were requests made on the spot.

Some of the students had to leave right after the event, but I hit a local restaurant with five of the remaining girlies a bit before 4pm, and as it turned out, our "linner" cost us exactly W34,000. There was much rejoicing at this.

On the whole, a very good day, and a good time was had by all.


Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms on sale at the bazaar!

Yes, I'll be selling copies of Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms* for a reduced price of W10,000, which is roughly 33% off the cover price ($15.00, US). Buy two and I'll charge you only W8000 per book. Proceeds from the book do not go to me: I'm doing this to help out the students. I definitely won't be offering the book to Smoo faculty or my supervisors; copies of the book will be stored in my backpack and kept quietly under the table. You'll have to ask me directly.

So if you come to the bazaar to see what's up with the students and perhaps to buy yourself a copy of my "paeans to putrescence," please do me a favor and don't boom out that I HEARD ABOUT KEVIN'S FILTHY BOOK FROM HIS FILTHIER BLOG! While my coworkers are aware of my blog's existence, my students remain blissfully ignorant. They routinely ask me whether I have a CyWorld homepage, and I truthfully answer "No." I simply don't elaborate further, and my "no" has been sufficient for over a year. Let's keep it that way, shall we?

A warning: at least three out of four (or five?) groups of students will be doing something manicure-related. If you're a guy, prepare for a rather... estrogen-drenched ambience.

Another reason I'm offering my book for sale is that we've now lost the water balloon competition as an activity. Our iced tea might also have been replaced by something else. If this goes like the last bazaar, the bulk of the cash will be made by yours truly, selling brush art (I've got about 20 cool pieces, some of which I actually would rather not part with, including a simple-but-imposing brush art Batman silhouette). I sold my art last time for an average of W3000 per piece, and got rid of 11 out of 15 pieces, earning our group around W35,000. Our total earnings during the winter bazaar were around W55,000, so you see how that worked out. I'm not mentioning this out of pride; I have no illusions about how good an artist I am. But despite my general lack of business sense, I do know that the market will bear a lot, and people will often be more attracted to your wares if you're not too modest about prices. My students, to whom I gave some leeway in setting prices, were often a bit timid and set prices too low.

If you're planning to hit the bazaar, please bring some friends. The purpose of the bazaar is to give students a chance to speak in English in somewhat fluid and unpredictable circumstances; most of the dialogue will be transactional in nature, but I hope that some of you will hang around and just talk with the ladies. That goes double if they think you're good-looking: they'll be far more motivated to use their English if you look like Daniel Henney's twin.

I'm teaching the advanced-level students this time around; most of them are planning to go out after the bazaar to get smashed. Your money will fund their inebriation, so you can rest assured that it's all for a worthy cause. I don't drink, so I'm planning on doing an alcohol-free dinner with them, then leaving my charges in the hands of Charles Darwin and Thomas Hobbes. Here's hoping they survive the weekend; they've got a midterm in my class on Monday.

Hope to see you in the midst of the madness later today!

*Book excerpt and entry are linked on the sidebar.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ave, Nomad!

Many thanks to my son, the Lost Nomad, for pushing my traffic numbers temporarily out of their slump. A breast of fresh air, this was.


pissed off at my students

This is the first semester in which I find myself thoroughly displeased at my intensive students. They've shown very little ability to concentrate on any given task, they don't seem to take their studies seriously, and today they began revising what they were hoping to do for the bazaar. Grrrr. I walked into class about ten minutes early; at 1:30, when class was set to begin, the room was still empty. We finally ended up with our usual complement of six students, but it took almost a half-hour for that to happen.

It hasn't helped that students have absented themselves for days at a time for various reasons: a trip to Cheju-do, a trip to Mongolia, a hospital visit, an on- campus training program-- you name it. If no one were absent, we'd have about ten students. I'm getting sick of schedule conflicts that result from poor planning. Students should realize that, if they're going to miss one week of an eight-week course, they shouldn't even bother to register for that course. The fluctuation in attendance "disturbs my wa," as my buddy Mike would say.

Definitely not a happy camper today. And what makes all this worse is that it's shaken my faith in the idea that students in the intensive courses usually work harder than students in the regular programs. As things stand, my two low-level regular classes are working much harder.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the big fizzle

I had wanted to show my students the glory that is the Diet Coke and Mentos Fountain.* I bought a 1.5-liter bottle of Diet Coke (Cola Light here, as in much of Europe) and a 3-pack of Mentos, and brought them to Smoo yesterday.

My students followed me out to the front of our building. Once everyone had gathered around, I reviewed what was supposed to happen-- a five-meter geyser of elemental Diet Coke fury!-- then unveiled the delivery device: a tube of rolled-up copier paper with fourteen Mentos candies inside. Per all the experiments I'd seen, I was to open the Coke bottle, block the aperture with a slip of paper, place the tube of Mentos over the blocked aperture, slide the paper out of the way, let all the Mentos drop into the Coke bottle, then run like hell.

I set up the Coke bottle and readied the delivery device. It was go time. Fire at will!

The result?

A fountain of Diet Coke barely a foot high. About as impressive as a Strom Thurmond cumshot. And you'll recall that he's dead.


My students watched the fizzle expressionlessly as Diet Coke gurgled lamely over the concrete and dripped into a nearby drain. The bottle did end up ejecting about two-thirds of its contents, but the reaction had no force to speak of. I was left wondering whether the Diet Coke and Mentos chemical formulae were different in the Asian market. Might the American version pack more of a punch?

No matter: the failed ejaculation nevertheless had a positive outcome: we've canceled the Diet Coke show and are planning some other activities, including a water balloon toss. This will be a lot less wasteful and a lot easier to clean up. I'm glad I did that experiment: it would have been embarrassing to put on a show only to be tripped up by chemical lameness.

We're also canceling our ddeok-ggoch'i, because one of my students has proved to be unreliable with her attendance. The chocolate-covered fruit idea appears to be another casualty as well. This still leaves us with six cool things:

1. Nails/Love Advice
2. Crêpes
3. Kevin's Art
4. Chinese Beef Jerky
5. Iced Tea/other cold drinks (a new addition)
6. Water Balloon Toss

My colleague A will be offering the following:

1. Limbo Contest
2. Tetris Tournament
3. Kart Rider Tournament (a video game, in case you're wondering)
4. 5-Minute Beauty Salon (yes, among A's students is an actual pro)

I have no clue what the other three teachers will have on offer, but I imagine it'll rock and roll. So come on by. The necessary info once again:

WHAT: Smoo English Student Bazaar
WHERE: Social Education Building, First Floor Lobby
WHEN: Thursday, July 27th, 1:00pm to...?

COST: Will vary according to what you buy and what activities you participate in.
WHY: To give our students a chance to meet people and practice their English in a fun setting.

We hope to see you there.

*Plenty of vids available on YouTube and Google Video. Also check out the video.


what'd I tell you?

In my recent post on the POSCO problem, I wrote:

I'm once again reminded of union strangleholds in France, where les syndicats can shut down public transportation in major cities almost at will....

In the meantime, who suffers? Certainly not the unionists themselves. The citizens of Pohang have to live with the shame brought upon them by this criminal activity. The municipal authorities and business leaders have to wonder whether they can persuade anyone to invest in their city. POSCO itself has to worry about its international reputation, credit standing, and all the rest. The selfish actions of a union may have put all this in jeopardy.

As if to confirm how twisted these unions can be, my brother David sends me a link to the following article about a Hyundai union workers' strike, which says in part:

A partial strike by its labor union has forced Hyundai, South Korea's largest automaker, to suspend vehicle exports, the Associated Press reported.

"Exports have stopped," said a Hyundai spokesman, adding that the company has about three month's worth of vehicle inventory already shipped overseas, so there has been no supply disruption to dealers.

That article also notes that labor strikes traditionally happen in the summer and are part of the negotiation process.


the rumor

Given that I am known throughout the Googleverse as the Kevin with the largest penis (see previous post for my bona fides; it occurred to me that the search string might mean not so much that "Kevin has the biggest dick" as "Kevin is the biggest dick"), it seems oddly appropriate that I would learn today of a year-old rumor about me. The rumor has been circulating among my students for God knows what reason: "Kevin has an illegitimate teenage son in Korea, and he's been secretly teaching him English." This had me rolling. I told my students I'd like to encourage the rumor.

And little do my students know... I've got kids all over the damn globe. Most of the people on my blog's sidebar were sired by me. For a long time, people have wondered what rhyme or reason lay behind my decision to blogroll some people and not others. Well, now you know: if you're not on my sidebar, I'm probably not your father.


Monday, July 24, 2006

which is better? you decide!

Rory is quite proud to be the #1 Google search result for What Not to Do to Cats.

But yours truly is the #2 Google search for the string kevin largest penis.

See here.

UPDATE: I see that I've been demoted to #3. And what, pray tell, beats out a Kevin penis? Why, a bird penis, of course!


some royal fucked-upedness at POSCO?

I'm not seeing anything about this on any of the major blogs, so I guess I'll pick up the slack.

POSCO is the fifth-largest steel company in the world. POSCO union workers in Pohang had been on strike since late June (the strike appears to be over). My buddy Jang-woong-- he of the "get off your ass and exercise" injunction-- was down in Pohang in June for training... he just started with POSCO and won't be union, as far as I know. My friend had hoped to leave the stress and insanity of corporate giant LG, where he'd worked in marketing, but this seems like a case of "out of the frying pan, into the fire." With POSCO reeling from financial and property damage thanks to worker shenanigans in Pohang, I'm left to wonder just how happy the atmosphere in POSCO's Seoul offices must be.

You see, the union workers hadn't merely been demonstrating:

July 20 marked one week since the construction workers union of Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, seized the headquarters of POSCO.

It rained in downtown Pohang, creating a desolate atmosphere. A taxi driver in his 50s headed toward the headquarters of POSCO located in Nam-gu, Pohang and said, “If this isn’t a war zone, what is it? I am so afraid that my skin crawls. It is so sad to see my hometown where I have spent my entire life turn into chaos. It isn’t a problem that this affects my work, but I am concerned about this regretful situation.”

Unlike the Pohang steel mill, the headquarters building of POSCO inside the Pohang steel industry complex looks like a park surrounded by woods, but due to the siege of the union workers it has now become a complete ruin.

The windows between the fifth and the 12th floors, which are occupied by about 1,000 union workers, have placards like “Fight to the end” and the surroundings of the building are covered with waste and trash.

The union workers threw garbage, plastic bottles filled with water, and stones taken from the walls’ of the building outside and showed their determination to continue fighting.

When Cheong Wa Dae and both ruling and opposition parties announced yesterday that they would firmly deal with the illegal siege, the tensions around the building escalated to war zone level right before the start of a battle. The union workers who have been occupying the surroundings of the building for over a week, and the 7,000 policemen confronting them were just waiting orders to enter the building.

But wait! There's more:

The shop owners and demonstrators exchanged verbal lashes, the former demanding, “Stop the demonstration so we can go on about our business,” while the latter armed with steel pipes threatened, “If you want to continue your business, keep your mouth shut.”

The shop owners lamented, “The steel pipes seized by police amounted to a small hill. Is the Republic of Korea, a country that is lawless [in] the middle of the day, a law-governed country?”

According to the above Dong-A article, there's more at stake here than just the union dispute: the city's reputation as a place to do business is in the balance.

Pohang entrepreneurs are anxious lest Pohang [become branded] the worst place to conduct business. Business owners all point out that the violent images of POSCO, the symbol of [Pohang's] economy, being [besieged and] broadcasted all over the country is critical.

I had no clue that things had gotten this bad. How much money was POSCO losing?

According to POSCO on July 16, the construction labor union’s strike that started from June 29 suspended 24 facility construction projects, including the FINEX factory, resulting in [damages worth] over 10 billion won a day and over 100 billion won in total as of that day.

The damage amount related to office work paralysis is difficult to estimate.

POSCO announced, “Almost all works, including contract, facilities, procurement, and personnel affairs, except production and sales, have been suspended since July 13 afternoon. We are in a situation where, even on holiday, office workers who have to do urgent assignments get scattered to take temporary seats, including research centers, or keep in contact through cell phones to do their jobs.”

Upshot: my friend has just signed on to work at a company that is being strangled by a goddamn union. I'm once again reminded of union strangleholds in France, where les syndicats can shut down public transportation in major cities almost at will. (We've got unions in the US with comparable power, and they occasionally make the news, too. However, I can't say that I've heard many stories of US unions doing damage comparable to what we see regularly in the French and Korean news.)

Just to be clear: I don't think unions are inherently evil, but, much like large and powerful churches, they have their scary, Mafiaesque side, and that's apparently what we're seeing in Pohang. The sick part of this is that POSCO workers are among the more highly paid workers out there. Get a load of this:

Pohang [specialty] construction union workers, who have been launching a strike every year [and complaining of] their inferior working conditions, turned out to have much better working conditions than workers of other regions in the nation.

According to the research findings of the Korea Labor Institute conducted in 2004, the working conditions of temporary workers in Pohang were approximately 40 percent better compared to [those in] other regions.

The other conditions that the union demanded [of] the Speciality Contractors Association (SCA), an employers’ body, corresponded to a pay raise of 38.7 percent. As they also demanded a 15 percent pay raise, the actual pay increase rate was 53.7 percent.

The SCA increased the wage by 12.95 percent in 2003 and 14.65 percent in 2004. In 2005, the union gained 7.78 percent in wage increases without a strike.

“We have been raising their pay groundlessly because of the strikes. However, there has been a decrease in the labor productivity of temporary or daily workers as they are aging. The wage level of the construction workers in Pohang is almost as high as any other regular worker,” an official of the SCA said.

Although the wages of temporary workers vary according to their skills, in general, they earn between 3.0 million won and 10 million won per month, according to the SCA.

And when workers are involved in site developments, which make up some 20 percent of the occasions, they get paid an average of some 6.0 million to 10 million won per month.

I'm sure the life of a steelworker is a hell of a lot more difficult, physically speaking, than the life of a plump English teacher at a university. I'm sure the 3-10 million per month is deserved. But if I were in that position, I doubt I'd see why I needed to agitate for even more money. Maybe that's just me.

My buddy Tom is the one who alerted me to all this nonsense. My first thought is for my Korean buddy, who's got a kid on the way and who deserves better than to find himself, once again, in a pressure cooker. He's based in Seoul, luckily, so he won't immediately feel the effects of this strike, but I can't imagine that life is rosy. Staffers are probably worried about the future, and if I were among the execs, I'd be looking at ways to put that union back in its place. Unions are good when they fight for workers' rights. When they get fat and start demanding even more, it's time to get nasty. Tom mentioned that some of the workers who occupied the POSCO offices in Pohang used jury-rigged flamethrowers against police (this is hearsay from Tom; link is pending).

To end this on a sinister note:

The strike, police have discovered, was meticulously planned. This wasn't a sudden eruption of righteous anger from the proletariat.

In the meantime, who suffers? Certainly not the unionists themselves. The citizens of Pohang have to live with the shame brought upon them by this criminal activity. The municipal authorities and business leaders have to wonder whether they can persuade anyone to invest in their city. POSCO itself has to worry about its international reputation, credit standing, and all the rest. The selfish actions of a union may have put all this in jeopardy.

[NB: Email me with a dissenting opinion if you think you've got info about the union's side of the story.]


a quickie on religious exclusivism

Exclusivism! It's not just for Christians, baby!

Today, one of my advanced students very candidly told us about how, when she was a kid, she ventured over to a Christian church out of curiosity. Her Buddhist parents found out, and her grandfather beat her with a stick and warned her never to visit a church again.

My favorite prof, Dr. Jones of Catholic U., euphemistically refers to this sort of thing as an example of "boundary issues." Heh.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Smoo BAZAAR: U R invytid

This coming Thursday, July 27th, you are cordially invited to stop and shop at the Smoo English Student Bazaar, which is held every summer and winter term as part of the intensive English program. It's especially important for you furriners to show up and speak Englishie with our students; the bazaar's primary purpose is practicing English, not making money.

As always, different classes will be offering different goods and services. Our group will-- barring sudden changes in plan-- be offering the following:

1. Nails and Love Advice! Sit a spell, get your nails done by one of our undergrad professionals, and learn how to catch a man or improve your sex life!

2. Ddeok-ggoch'i! Chewy, finger-shaped rice cakes spitted on long toothpicks, painted over with a delicious sweet hot sauce, and grilled to tasty, street-foodish perfection!

3. Crêpes! Thin French pancakes cooked before your eyes, then stuffed with your choice of filling and topped with whipped cream!

4. Chocolate-covered fruit! Strawberries and bananas covered in a delightful chocolate glaze, chilled and sold fresh!

5. Kevin's art! You've seen my mutant brush art on the blog, but now's your chance to meet the artist (wannabe) and buy an original work! I'll be selling some pre-made pieces directly; other pieces will be reserved for a Silent Auction (winners notified at 2pm)! (By the way, I've occasionally had requests for portraits... lemme tell you, portraits and caricatures don't come easily to me. If you ask me for one, I'll see what I can do, but don't be surprised if your "portrait" ends up looking like someone else. The best portraits and caricatures I've done have taken a lot of time, and have been based on photos.

6. Chinese beef jerky! Our Chinese student has a stash and she'll be selling it in pieces. Get it while it's... dry!

7. The Diet Coke and Mentos Rocket show! It'll last all of thirty seconds, but promises to be spec-dingle-damn-tes-tacular. Mentos-powered diet soda shooting five to eight meters in the air! The custodians will all be in a tizzy trying to figure out how to clean the mess up. This event will happen a few minutes after the Silent Auction finishes-- say, 2:15 or so.

Other classes will be offering cool stuff ranging from food to fortune-telling. Much ass will be kicked.

The bazaar begins at 1pm on Thursday, the 27th, over at the Smoo Social Education Building, First Floor lobby. Smoo is centrally located in Seoul; you can walk to our campus in ten minutes, either from Line 6's Hyoch'ang Park Station or from Line 4's Sookmyung Women's University Station (exit 10... when you get to the top of the stairs, do a U-turn and follow dem signs).

I hope to see yo' foreign ass there.


all bow down!


coolness, freaks, and gay motorcyclists

What a difference the weather makes. Tonight's walk up Namsan, which started at 12:35am, got me up the mountain in 57 minutes, tying with my fastest time so far. A major reason for this is that the evening was relatively cool and windy, with very little humidity. I was tromping up the stairs with much less effort than usual. I also made it back home in record time, partly because I took the stairs back down instead of following the bus route downhill, which is what I normally do. I took the stairs down from the summit because I wanted to count them. The other night, I'd counted the steps up the Koreanische Philosophenweg and arrived at the tentative figure of 262. The climb up the final flight of stairs? 743 steps.


90 steps up the stairway from Huam-dong to Namsan Public Library.

262 large, oversized steps up the Koreanische Philosophenweg.

743 steps up from the park entrance to the summit.

A grand total of 1095 steps-- all part of a one-hour walk.

I doubt I could do 1095 steps all at once: as things are, I walk several minutes on more or less level (or downward-sloping) ground before encountering the next major set of stairs. The breaks are crucial: my rule is that I shouldn't stop, but that wouldn't be possible if I were faced with nearly 1100 steps, back to back.

Tonight's walk also featured my first freak. Some 20-something dude across the street from me, apparently reliving the 80s, was gamboling along with a boombox hanging loosely in one hand. He was ahead of me, walking in the same direction I was, but when I crossed the street to his side, he started pacing back and forth in an apparently indecisive manner, 5 meters toward me, 5 meters away, then back again. When I finally passed him, his zigzagging stopped and he began to follow me, though at a safe distance. Truth be told, I have no idea whether he was truly following me; for all I know, he was following the dictates of the voices in his head, and his decision to walk behind me might have had nothing to do with me. He stayed behind me for about five minutes; when I broke left to go up the Philosophenweg, he didn't follow. Maybe he knew those steps and thought they'd be too much of a chore, what with his heavy boombox and a skull full of demons.

My students know I walk up Namsan at night, and they always ask me whether I'm afraid to be out there. Thus far, I've answered that there's no one out at night to bother me; now, at least, I can creep them out with this story, which I'll tell in my usual bug-eyed, histrionic manner.

The last thing of note this evening (aside from the usual cats and earthworms) was the massive motorcycle gang that roared by me a bit before 2am as I was exiting Huam-dong and strolling back toward Ch'eongp'a-dong, where I live. As motorcycle gangs go, it had to be the gayest one I've ever seen: no one was wearing leather, none of the bikes were Harleys (or anything remotely resembling a hog), and most of the bikes had two male riders. The gang-- if "gang" is the proper term for what I was witnessing (maybe "flock" is better)-- had absolutely no aura of menace about it. The most audacious thing they did was honk their squeaky little horns when they passed by a parked police car. Just dudes in shorts and short-sleeve shirts. On thirty or forty tiny bikes.

Maybe this was the Korean version of the Shriners. Heh.

As I've said before-- every walk up Namsan and back is unique.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ave, Robert!

The Marmot links to this fantastic bout of Photoshopping, which had me in stitches.


why I like "South Park"

"South Park" pushes the envelope. It reminds us that the notion of free speech includes a wide range of language and ideas, which is itself a meta-reminder of the value of tolerance, i.e., the ability to refrain from violence when one's views and values are challenged.

PBS, meanwhile, seems to think a Talibanward move is called for, a sentiment shared by leaders in Afghanistan.


Friday, July 21, 2006

"The Incredibles": one dissenting voice

My English circle, which meets every other Friday, had the chance to watch the rest of "The Incredibles" this afternoon. The discussion centered on issues of heroism and specialness, but we also had the chance to talk about topics like goal-setting, nature versus nurture, and our own dreams and passions. Fairly standard conversational topics, in all.

One of my students, somewhat gloomy in nature and a bit reminiscent of the sulky teenaged character Violet, voiced some dissent about "The Incredibles," a movie I thought everyone loved. Her first critique was that the movie was very American in tone-- an accusation I can't really deny. But my student's beef wasn't so much with the tone as with the final death at the end, when Syndrome gets sucked into his own jet engine, thanks in part to his cape.

"Why did he have to die?" my student asked. I explained that the guy had already killed dozens of superheroes, so in dramatic terms, his death seemed appropriate. "Do you think you should kill someone who kills people?" she responded. I raised my eyebrows magisterially. "Anyway," she continued, "I didn't think the bad guy had to die, especially not in a movie for kids."

It may be something of a gross generalization to say this, but East Asian folks tend to view human situations as either inherently complex or inherently ambivalent. I'm not saying that this viewpoint is false: too often I've heard-- not just from Asians, but also from other Westerners-- that the American point of view is far too simplistic, that we Yanks tend to prefer our analyses in black and white. This isn't totally false, either: the constant search for clarity is indeed a major cultural undercurrent in America (check out some of the articles in this Google search).

However, in the case of Syndrome, I felt his death was quite justified. Not only did he slaughter dozens of superheroes, but he also threatened children and willingly jeopardized the lives of thousands of city dwellers, solely for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. In the logic of action films (and "The Incredibles" qualifies as one of the best action films of its year), the bad guy usually gets it in the end. Syndrome's demise struck me as poetic justice.

Koreans can be surprisingly forgiving of people who make huge mistakes. Witness the case of Dr. Hwang Woo Seok and his amen choir: a group of the faithful who think the good doctor can do no wrong, and who believe he deserves a second chance. Also, my own experience in hundreds of conversation classes tells me that Korean students are often more willing to forgive deep transgressions than Americans are, partly because the view of personal responsibility is somewhat different here. Korean action films will often portray a situation wherein the hero is forced to kill, but is consumed with regret in so doing (the movie "Shiri" is a classic example of this, as the hero is forced to kill the woman he loves-- symbolically killing part of himself in the process).

An interesting discussion of this issue can be found in Dr. Richard Nisbett's book, The Geography of Thought. (An article on the book can be found here.) One of Nisbett's major contentions is that East Asian thinking-- compared to Western thinking-- displays greater "field dependence," i.e., the tendency not to separate foreground objects neatly from the background. To the East Asian mind, connection, relation, and process are more important than discrete objects. This orientation has a direct impact on how an East Asian perceives human situations.

In the case of "The Incredibles," my student viewed Syndrome in terms of his traumatic childhood rejection by Mr. Incredible, who was his hero. Syndrome's badness was therefore put in perspective. While my student might agree that Syndrome is a bad guy, his troubled background mitigates the impact of his sins. An American looking at the same situation would be less likely to view Syndrome that way, preferring instead to operate according to a clear rule such as: "Threaten my kids, and I don't care if you're Jesus Christ Himself-- your ass is grass."

It was interesting to hear my student's objection. I don't agree with it, primarily because a voice in my head is whispering, "It's only a moooooovie!" At the same time, I did ask my circle to take some of the movie's themes seriously, and that's precisely what my student was doing. To that extent, she made me stop and think a bit. And that's one of the reasons I find this circle so worthwhile.


postal scrotum: moon landing secrets revealed

Chris writes:

Actually the Neil Armstrong quote you are referring to was a hoax. NASA scrubbed the audio before it was broadcast. An actual clip of the moon landing is here:




My life will never be the same, Chris.



Without further ado-- comments're gone, baby. Got sumfin to say? Spend a half-calorie of energy and send me an email!


Thursday, July 20, 2006

celestial outreach

Thirty-seven years ago, a bit more than a month before I was born, three intrepid mammals willingly piled themselves into a tiny tin can that sat on an enormous stack of explosives. With absolute-- and perhaps unjustifiable-- faith in the socially retarded "smart" mammals who insisted nothing would go wrong, these three little beings impatiently counted down the seconds until a controlled deflagration would fling their tin can out of the protective envelope of earth's atmosphere and send them scooting a distance of a bit more than one light-second to the moon.

Three days after that crucial explosion, the socially retarded mammals were proved right in their calculations; the tin can had worked beautifully, and a sapient primate wrapped in protective gear gleefully set foot on a barren world that is, some theorize, less a moon than the earth's midget twin. That primate, Neil Armstrong, then uttered a line whose content has been debated ever since:

"That's one small step for [a] man... one giant leap for mankind."

The line only makes sense if we include the indefinite article, but the audio recording doesn't make it obvious that the primate uttered it. In his excitement, he might or might not have omitted that crucial phoneme. Keep in mind that this was the grass-puffing late 60s; it's a miracle that anyone was clear-headed enough to invent a tin can that could hit the moon, let alone create audio technology that could pick up a crucial syllable.

In the end, it matters little what the primate actually screeched. The fact remains that humans did set foot on the moon-- an astral body with no aliens and no calendar of its own. And so, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to its midget twin, the denizens of the earth have said that this event, where we made first contact with a familiar-yet-alien world, happened 1969 years after the death of a celebrated ancient primate, on a date referred to as "July 20th."

And like all primates, we still find ourselves looking toward the unknown with curiosity in our minds and a sense of adventure in our hearts.


mulling self-amputation

I'm thinking of removing the comments feature for this blog. While I've enjoyed reader comments overall, I can't see that this experiment has led to anything community-building: people generally direct their comments toward me, but only rarely toward each other. I'm not blaming the commenters for this: not having been keen on hosting comments to begin with, I've done next to nothing to cultivate a commenter culture.

If you want, feel free to post your thoughts on whether comments should continue. Otherwise, I'm leaning toward going back to the old system: email. One advantage of emailed comments is that weasels like commenter "Brit Hume's Mom" are forced to approach me directly instead of hiding behind a tag. Enforced accountability.

Your thoughts?


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kevin the holy terror

Apparently, it must have looked to the two student staffers who "man" (woman?) the office in Room 206 as though I'd freaked out yesterday, because the Big Boss herself approached me today about the bulletin boards in our third-floor hallway. Those boards-- rarely updated by some of our colleagues-- got an unasked-for overhaul yesterday, during which most of the pictures I'd recently placed on my board were taken down and replaced with... empty space. I had put those pictures up there because I'd wanted the students to have a glimpse of what classes are like, and most of the returning students are curious enough to want to look at themselves on the boards. Many do so, pointing and laughing at the various tableaux. I was told that my photos had motivated some new students to register for our courses because our classes looked like fun. My board used to be happily chaotic, but now... it's the picture of Swiss-style orderliness.

What happened was that I made a face when I saw the newly redone boards, and my reaction apparently upset one of the student staffers (do-u-mi hak-saeng, or "helper student"). She must have spoken to somebody who eventually spoke to the Big Boss. When Dr. J came up to survey the boards today, she acted as if I were an irate customer needing immediate placation: "Don't worry about a thing... the boards are yours to do with as you please... we'll put your photos back..."

I was somewhat taken aback by all this, because I hadn't thought my minor annoyance was anything more than that: minor annoyance. I'm not married to those message boards, and while I was indeed a bit miffed at how they had been altered without first consulting the teachers, I have no desire to start a crusade or go rampaging through the hallowed halls of Smoo.

This highlights one of those intercultural issues that will pop up every now and again when Westerners and Koreans interact. In this case, no one had bad intentions. Koreans very often "do your thinking for you." If you walk into a company executive's office, for example, you're likely to be asked if you want anything to drink. Should you say yes, you will probably be served coffee with cream and sugar, or green tea. It's not guaranteed that anyone will actually ask you what you want; it will be assumed that what is provided will suffice.

Another, more serious example: one of my Korean relatives died of cancer in the 1980s. She was never told that she had cancer; this was a decision made by the doctor and my aunt's family. It was assumed that she would be better off not knowing that her cancer was terminal. The relatives, and the doctor, did my aunt's thinking for her. Here, too, no one had bad intentions. Someone recently emailed me about a similar case involving a Korean woman the emailer knows. That woman, too, is currently unaware she has terminal cancer. From the Western point of view, it's shocking that people would deprive someone of such basic information: surely the afficted person has the right to know what's wrong with her! But that reasoning is possible only in a society that values individualism.

Koreans like to give gifts, and they'll give something based on what little they know about you. It is assumed-- and I'm actually sympathetic with this assumption-- that the gesture itself is more important than the actual object given. This is, in a sense, a good way to approach gift-giving, an event that is otherwise too intertwined with ego, overly high expectations, and selfishness. Ideally, a gift should never cause the recipient to grumble. "It's the thought that counts" is a Western proverb, but it reflects a pancultural sentiment.

However, we Westerners also appreciate the practical effects of not asking before giving gifts or doing favors. We understand that it's often smart to find out what, exactly, is needed by the recipient. Why? To maximize the value of the gesture, not merely in terms of friendship but also in terms of practical utility.

Korean society is not individual-first, and Koreans often rely on their nunchi (very roughly, "perception" or "intuition," or even more deeply, "percipience"; there's no direct analogue in English for this word) to guide them to the best gesture or gift. I'm not convinced nunchi exists-- at least not to any greater degree than a similar phenomenon in the West or elsewhere. Koreans are good at reading other Koreans, but that's no different from claiming that Americans are good at reading other Americans. If nunchi exists, it's not uniquely Korean. "Piercing insight" is found all over.

In any case, nunchi (or whatever) was of no help yesterday, which was why I made a face about the new message boards: the overhaul was in response to a perceived need, but once the teachers had a chance to react (I wasn't the only one displeased, you see), the need was shown not to exist. Nunchi was of no help in reading my facial expression, either, because someone seems to have thought I was a lot angrier than I actually was. As I said, I was miffed, nothing more.

The Big Boss is a very nice lady. She's not the type to crack the whip, and that's part of why I've elected to stay here. Working at Smoo has been a very different experience from working at all my previous hagwons. I feel somewhat guilty that my boss felt she had to "placate" a purportedly disgruntled underling. But there we go: in the human realm, culture often determines perception, and too often, we think we know. That last observation, by the way, applies equally to West and East.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

brush with fame

Quite by accident, I met the son of AJ Cointreau, the guy who runs the Cordon Bleu International school. I have no idea whether M. Cointreau fils is normally to be found at the Seoul/Smoo branch of the world-famous academy (housed on the 6th and 7th floors of the building where I teach), or whether he was merely visiting, but in any case, he was in the elevator today. I would never have spoken with him, either, had it not been for Mme. Hong, a lady who does Korean/French interpretation for the Cordon Bleu folks (and whose French is, I must say, pretty good). I taught Madame's daughter a couple semesters ago, and she occasionally pops into Room 302 to speak with a colleague of mine. On those occasions, Mme. Hong affords me a rare opportunity to speak in French. Alas, her visits are infrequent enough for me to mark the deterioration of my own French.

Young M. Cointreau appears to be about my age, maybe a bit younger. He heard me bantering with Mme. Hong in French, then complimented me on my French. Hey-- you take your validation where you can. Then he stepped out at the first floor while I continued to the B1 level. And thus ended my brush with fame. I can now say I've met the scion of a culinary empire. This might not mean much when I'm being tied face-down to a mattress in prison, but by God, it means something.


un temps merdique

I take the expression "It's the pits" to mean "It's just like my armpits."

A: How's the weather today?
B: It's the pits.

That about sums up the humidity issue. However, there's an interesting wrinkle: it's worse inside our buildings than outside. Why? Because some administrative butthole made a command decision, over the weekend, to conserve power by not switching on the central A/C unless temps rose above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

This ties in to the question of energy waste and efficiency. How, exactly, does it help matters to make people suffer now in order to avoid the suffering of our children later?

Before you reply that I'm just being a selfish bastard, consider this: my testicles are constantly manufacturing spermatozoa that may or may not be fired in a vaguely womanward direction at some unknown point in the future. The testicles are housed in a scrotal sac whose purpose is to keep the sperm happy and mobile. Sperm motility is a crucial indicator of semen quality; if my spoo is malfunctioning, I'm likely to father a series of demented freaks. Does the world really need more untouchables? More drooling, seven-fingered idiots who gleefully shit on grandmothers and whack off, shrieking, in the echoing interiors of cathedrals?

Mark my words: today's warmth is tomorrow's lazy sperm, and tomorrow's lazy swimmers are 2026's Third Division of the Army of the Damned-- a vast horde of the malformed, a throng of brachiating morons rampaging through the streets, dry-humping trees, devouring house pets, and vomiting their names in the snow.

All in the name of saving some power. Is this really what you want on your hands, Smoo Admin? Fine. Then be prepared to sow what you reap, because my frog-eyed, web-footed progeny are coming, baby. And after they're done fucking you through the earholes, they're taking over the entire city.



Monday, July 17, 2006

most delish

My new addiction: Korea's Jeju Cactus Chocolate. I'm a chocolate snob, and therefore hard to please, but this brand gets my seal of approval. Somewhat expensive: six tiny, individually wrapped squares in a box for about W2500 at the Lotte Mart down the street from where I live. I'd send some to you, but they'd melt in transit.


Ave, Jawa!

The ultimate Darth Vader tribute can be found here.


a commenter screams at me about suicide

"Pete" writes in a comment to my old post on Shawn Matthews's suicide:



Thank you for your intelligent, rational, and civil comment.

Let me ask you something, though: if you had the chance to help someone about to commit suicide, would you tell them what you just told me? Would you "respect" their decision to kill themselves and heartily agree with them that there's no way out? If so, why? If not, why not?

[NB: I have written about terminal illness and mentioned that I reserve the right to kill myself in such instances. My position is a bit more subtle than you think. Would such a decision be selfish on my part? I won't deny it. Note, however, that terminal illness is an objective reality: who can seriously argue that I need to hang on in order to continue living a fulfilling life when, for example, cancer is in the last stages of eating me alive? In the case of someone who gets depressed over a girl (or over school or test grades), a much stronger argument against suicide can be made: one's troubles are all in one's head, and constructive responses to such troubles are possible. Do you deny this?]

I'm not sure what you're trying to say, "Pete." Am I rude because I'm honest about the selfish nature of suicide? I do contend that suicide is a selfish act-- perhaps the most selfish of acts. As I wrote to a friend recently:

I look at the selfishness issue this way: selfish people either lack awareness about the consequences of their actions vis-a-vis others, or they possess awareness but lack simple empathy for others. Suicidal folks, because they are in a state where their horizon has narrowed so that only one course of action seems most plausible, are selfish almost by definition.

However: one of the things I was at pains to do in writing about Shawn Matthews-- and this was missed by people like commenter [XXXX deleted XXXX]-- was to distinguish between a blanket condemnation of Shawn as a person and the idea that suicide is a selfish act. To say that Shawn's life ended in a less-than-ideal fashion is not to say that Shawn was, by nature, a chronically selfish person. No one is totally selfish their entire lives; it'd be more accurate to say that some folks live lives generally characterized by selfishness, while others of us have a series of selfish moments.

Shawn struck me as an unusually compassionate person. However, suicide's irrevocability makes the act EXTREMELY selfish, even in his case. Suicide cannot be undone. People who loved the dead person must now deal with this rending of the fabric of their lives forever. The person committing suicide is either unaware of this, or is aware of the matter but has dismissed it, having allowed him-/herself to become a prisoner of his/her own emotions.

For those reasons, I condemn suicide. Suicide is almost always preventable, because human freedom enters the equation even in extremis. A suicidal person might not be able to wrest themselves totally free of their own deadly momentum, but they can at least make the fundamental decision to step away from the ledge or put down the gun and consider the possibility that they need help. Those who seek such help have done the hardest, best work of all: they've nudged the steering wheel and kept themselves on the road a bit longer. That basic decision can't come from outside.

One thing I learned from my two little brothers, both of whom are talented musicians, is that it's important, when playing a piece of music, to FINISH it well. A poor finish casts a pall over all that went before. Life isn't so different from music in that regard, and this is obvious in how we organize someone's life into narratives. Untimely ends usually translate into tragic narratives, as was the case with JFK Jr., who died along with his wife and sister-in-law in a plane crash. That event got absorbed into the larger Kennedy Curse narrative. Same goes for Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and others.

"Pete," the condemnation of suicide is not the condemnation of a person's entire life. You and others routinely miss that fact. You and others also strike me as approaching the issue with far too much emotional delicacy and not nearly enough clarity of thinking.

Thanks again for stating your opinion with such grace.


strapping on my thong-tha-thong-thong-thong

It's Link Whore time!

Link 1:

Curtis S., in response to the previous post on energy efficiency, sends a link to a video of what appears to be a massive project involving solar energy, mirrors, and a tower that will dwarf the world's tallest building. On my poor Mac, I'm unable to watch the video to its conclusion, but I do have some questions:

1. The mirrors appear to be flat on the ground, with no surrounding protection. What will keep them from being covered in dust? Dust will cut down on their reflective efficiency.

2. What's the purpose of allowing a small group of tourists(?) on the top of the tower? Is tourism supposed to provide continual funding for this thing? If more of these are built, such that they become commonplace, just how much tourism can one expect?

3. Since I wasn't able to see the video to the end, I still have no idea what the tower actually does. It seems to be using the mirrors and the tower's huge interior to create temperature differentials that in turn create a sort of wind energy. There's got to be more going on than this, right? Or are the towers supposed to be, at bottom, sources of constant wind? If that's the case, they can save themselves a few billion dollars by hiring my (or GMJ's) ass.

Fascinating. I'll have to watch this vid from my office and see how it ends. Perhaps all questions will be answered then.

Ah, wait-- info is here. The Solar Tower is a German design, and part of Australia's green energy campaign.

Curtis S. wryly notes, in his email to me, the literal truth that this tower can't be stuck "where the sun don't shine."

Link 2:

The Nomad sends me a link to another catblogging site. This one is devoted to the kills made by a cat named Jeff (damn... another Jeffblog).

Go visit What Jeff Killed.

Links 3 and 4:

Two mostly right-leaning Canadians* with highly contrasting views of the current Middle Eastern war provide excellent and insightful commentary. Check out the Koreablogosphere's Nathan here; go visit the inimitable Skippy here.

*A comment from Nathan moves me to clarify that Nathan is, overall, a centrist in his political outlook. Sorry if I misrepresented you, Nathan.


just how energy-wasteful are America and Korea?

The question was prompted by a provocative phrase in GMJ's fart post: workplace, like most office spaces in the affluent, energy-hungry, oil-guzzling, pollution-spewing, Iraq-invading United States of America, has excessive air conditioning...

I wrote him a "Bitch, please" comment:

I'll agree with "Iraq-invading," since I was against the war, but don't get me started about who wastes more energy, punk! Everywhere I turn here in Seoul, I see air conditioners on full blast with windows wide open, and diesel-chugging vehicles farting their noxious fumes into the air, trying to catch up with China. Riddle me that.

As for your farticular insights... I humbly bow to your superior knowledge. When I get back to America, I'll have to perform some gastric experiments of my own. That's the essence of the scientific method: repeatability and verifiability, ja?
But GMJ's no dummy. Unimpressed at my attempt at conciliation through flattery, he donned his no-nonsense engineering hat and shot back:

Nice try, Kevin Kim. See here, here, and here, for instance. "Consumption" doesn't necessarily mean "waste," of course, but I'll leave that to the Big Ho to worry about.

As you know, GMJ and I are, respectively, Jedi and Sith, so I am duty-bound to see evil prevail. I wrote GMJ the following reply:

The second link was interesting:

Korea, Rep KOR 4,131.8
United States USA 7,920.9

I wonder what the consumption curve was from 1953 to the present. I'd give South Korea another decade or so to catch up with the US. Heh. As Agent Smith said to Neo: "It is innnnnevitable."

The first link is probably most damning for the US and the hardest to argue against. The third link is also interesting and more open to interpretation (lies, damned lies, and statistics, as Mark Twain says) given how it ranks America and what countries it places before it-- but you're right: consumption is not waste. So let's go looking at trends in waste, pollution, etc., and see what's happening in those areas, and what the trends have been over the past 50 years. I have no doubt America won't come out looking rosy, but I also doubt that America will look like the all-consuming monster it's caricatured as, mainly because the science to argue pro and con is so politically motivated.

However, I doubt I'd win an argument about energy waste as things stand now: Americans, especially under a Republican presidency, generally like to buy their big-ass gas guzzlers, and I've been arguing on my blog that we're too beholden to other countries for our energy. The gas guzzler argument alone is enough to keep me from screeching too loudly. While not a greenie myself, I do believe the environmentalists have a point: we aren't doing ourselves any favors with our huge cars.

The problem in Korea, though, is that, in its race to catch up with the other economic bigwigs, it's making a lot of the same mistakes, and doing so in a compressed time frame. If anything, I'd respectfully advise this country to follow a very different path from the American one. There's a lot of pioneering science going on here, and Dr. Hwang notwithstanding, I think Korea is entirely capable of discovering an alternative fuel source that could revolutionize how we think about fuel, waste, etc. It may play into a stereotype to say this, but this country is full of brilliant minds and hard workers. Discoveries are waiting to be made.

Having conceded all that, however, I'm still gonna berate your countrymen for not understanding that you have to SHUT THE DAMN WINDOW when your A/C is on. Christ!


PS: In fairness, I do have an American buddy in Pennsylvania who does the same thing with his car's A/C: he rolls down the window, turns the A/C on full-blast, and rides along that way in the summertime. Irrational. And if he's doing it, then it's likely that plenty of other Americans are, too.

...but this wasn't enough. I became honestly curious about the question of energy waste and how, exactly, one might measure it. We Americans claim, for example, that things have improved since, oh, the 1970s. On what basis do we make this claim?

It turns out that Google searches on energy waste lead to nothing meaningful. Try it yourself: click here. It's just as fruitless to search for "energy waste index"-- see?

Then I realized that I might be looking at the problem from the wrong end. How about looking up energy efficiency? This turned out to be better, but I'm now clued in to the sheer difficulty of trying to define and approach such a concept.

According to the above-linked Department of Energy site, the measurement of a country's energy efficiency depends on quite a few factors. Here are the first three paragraphs of the article:

The development of energy-efficiency indictors, for any country, is limited by the availability of data. Data are limited for several reasons. As the amount of data collected increases so do the costs of collecting, processing, and analyzing the data. The configuration of certain technologies and processes can also limit the possibility of obtaining microdata. As an example, in the manufacturing sector, some motors are encased in such a way that it is impossible to collect data on the motor unless records have been maintained for the motor. This leads to another reason data are limited--respondent burden. Care has to be taken so that surveys are not so long that participation is discouraged or inaccurate answers are given due to the difficulty and time it takes to obtain the data.

Additionally, when international comparisons are desired, structural, behavioral, and economic differences add to the difficulty of developing comparative indicators. Data availability is a particular problem when trying to undertake cross-country comparisons. Each country has its own unique survey forms, measures of energy, definitions, etc. that make the comparisons difficult. In many countries and especially in the emerging economies, very limited data are collected in the first place and there are no funds to increase the amount of data collected. Even a simple indicator such as energy per gross domestic product is difficult to use in cross-country comparisons--countries have different measures of energy, currencies, and income accounting.

Defining energy efficiency is a difficult task. As you can see, measuring changes in energy efficiency is even more difficult. Can we develop an indicator or set of indictors that will truly represent only the changes in energy efficiency? Probably not.

So at the moment, I have no concrete figures to offer you. I'll stop here and see what more I can find out about this topic, which I find fascinating (if for no other reason than that it seems filled with hocus-pocus).

I admit I was a bit unfair in how I passed judgement on Seoul's pollution: things have improved here since the 1990s, when I used to get black boogers in the summertime. All my boogers now are a healthy green/yellow/white. While Seoul is no one's idea of a Biosphere-like energy-efficient haven (hell, even the Biosphere isn't such a haven), I can't say it's as bad as Mexico City.

We'll be back, GMJ. Like a weird lump on the tip of your penis, the Sith always come back!


a clean Namsan is a happy Namsan

The near-constant rain we've had over the past day has done wonders for Namsan's image. Fallen leaves and sticks have been washed aside, and the earthworms, those cursèd spies, are unable to find purchase on the steps of the Koreanische Philosophenweg, which was more sluice than stairway this evening.

I started my walk later than usual-- a bit after midnight-- but was glad of the lateness and the rain: it was, relatively speaking, cool this evening. I sweated like a champ, but the sweat mingled nicely with the rain. All was well. The ascent up the three staircases was less painful than in recent days; humidity was barely an issue.

I talk to myself on these walks. I sound like a crazy fool, I know, but this is one of the few times I can be out in public and talk to myself with little chance of being overheard by a passerby. Unfortunately, people do hear me-- I happen upon them too late and never manage shut myself up in time. These are the people who must think the huge, lumbering foreigner is some crazy axe murderer in their midst: the Chopper of Ch'eongp'a-dong.

One unfortunate consequence of these walks is that my studio apartment is starting to smell like a freakin' locker room. I can't bring myself to hang my sweat-drenched clothes out to dry in the hallway-- not for fear that they'll be stolen, but because my sense of compassion prevents me from inflicting my singular fetor on the masses (for more on fetor, check out GMJ's excellent post on farts and how to get rid of their odor in cars).

As always, I finished my hike in disbelief that I once again made it up all those damn steps. I suppose that, after I lose some weight, that attitude will change, but for the moment it seems like a string of minor miracles.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

out on a limb

If you look at the comments appended to the post "why wasn't I notified!?", you'll see that I've ventured forth with a bit of Korean. I'm not proud of my Korean skills, but for people wondering how much or how little I know, this tiny sample will give you some small idea of where I stand, and why I don't feel ready to take the Korean Skills Test anytime soon. I know I have a long way to go compared to expats who speak and write the language fluently.

Feel free to point and laugh in the comments section of that post. I might venture into the murky world of Korean and French audioblogging soon, too. We'll see. Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment.



After some discussion, the toothless United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution imposing weapons-related sanctions on North Korea. North Korea replied to this move with the usual scorn and contempt, and laid the blame for the situation squarely at the US's feet:

The Security Council had acted with "irresponsibility" by voting unanimously for a resolution requiring nations to prevent North Korea from acquiring dangerous weapons, an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"Our Republic will bolster its war deterrent for self-defence in every way, by all means and methods, now that the situation has reached the worst phase due to the extremely hostile act of the U.S.," the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.

North Korea refers to its military buildup and its weapons of mass destruction programs as its war deterrent, saying the U.S. military presence and drills on the Korean peninsula are a prelude to war against it.

The article also says this:

North Korea could respond with another missile launch or possibly even conduct a nuclear test to show the world it is undaunted and undeterred, said Paik Hak-soon who heads North Korea studies at the Sejong Institute, a national security think tank near Seoul.

North Korea has enough nuclear material to make as many as 13 atomic bombs, according to one recent study.

So I'm curious, folks:

The Korean peninsula sits just outside the Ring of Fire. We're lucky not to experience anything near the trouble Japan has with regard to seismic activity due to earthquakes and/or volcanoes. What would happen to Japan if NK conducted an underground test? Would Japan feel it? Could an NK nuke test have tectonic repercussions for Japan, or this there no chance of this?

Feel free to write in with comments, but don't write in if you can't quote solid online sources. I've been reading up on so-called "weasel words" in Wikipedia, and I've come to the realization that my blog contains too many of them. I'm going to try to eliminate them from now on... and you should, too. Heh.


Ave, Sperwer!

Sperwer's Abs at 55 campaign continues apace. Check out his triumphant update regarding the disappearance of mantits and the iceberg-like reemergence of actual pecs.

Also of note to fight choreography junkies out there: Sperwer has a set of posts featuring samurai fight scenes. Check those posts out here and here. The post titled "More Swordslinging Videos" features a samurai film dubbed in French. In case you're wondering what the dialogue is, it goes like this:

Samurai hero(?): Reste là. (Stay here.)
Astonished Onlooker: Ça, alors! (Whoa!)
Old Samurai (last to be killed): Attends! Attends! (Wait! Wait!)
Samurai hero(?): C'est fini. (It's over.)

Pretty deep, eh?

In addition, Sperwer introduces us to the tragic world of the clay samurai here. Another post features some fascinating video footage of katana versus bullet. Guess which instrument of death gets split in two.