Thursday, December 31, 2015

ass-wiping challenge for chem students

I'm sitting on the toilet, wiping my ass, when it occurs to me: The Mini Bidet.

A bidet is France's dignified response to the problem of underwear streaks: use water, soap, and fingers to wipe your asshole perfectly clean. Got shitty fingers from that process? Just wash 'em in the sink! (Be sure to wash the hot/cold knobs, too, to avoid getting fecal bacteria all over everything.)

Fortunately or unfortunately, bidets never caught on in the US. We're a manly culture that has chosen a grin-and-bear-it approach to underwear streakage. I sometimes try to create a mini-bidet by wetting my toilet tissue before wiping, but in most cases the tissue, once saturated, simply isn't tough enough to withstand more than one wipe: it disintegrates in my fingers, which is a very unpleasant feeling.

Have you ever done the naughty thing and wiped with a paper towel, though? Paper towels are amazing—they're tough and absorbent, and they don't break down when you wet them. Wiping your ass with a wet paper towel is about as close to divine bliss as you can get. The major problem, though, is that paper towels can clog your toilet's pipe because, as I mentioned, they don't break down. A secondary problem is that, given how tough paper towels are, they can chafe your asshole if you wipe too often with them. (Yeah, yeah—I was once naughty several times. Sue me.)

So the challenge I offer to any chem-minded inventors out there is this: create toilet tissue that (1) is as tough and absorbent as a paper towel, (2) is as smooth as regular toilet tissue so that it doesn't tear up your tender asshole after a dozen sessions in the bathroom, and (3) disintegrates thirty seconds after being saturated—surely enough time to get a good bit of wiping done. Such a tissue can be soaked, used like a paper towel, then thrown into the toilet bowl with no fear of clogging, thanks to the delayed-disintegration property.

Can this become a thing?

UPDATE: my brother David texts that my search for the perfect wet wipe is over. Let us all bow down before... DUDE WIPES.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Tell them I'm dead."

Someone needs to develop an "Ex Mortis" app: an app that will immediately announce your death to everyone in your social ambit. Since you're dead, you obviously wouldn't be the one to announce your death, but some kind person needs to let Great Aunt Myrtle know via Facebook that her handsome grandnephew has quite suddenly carked it. The app would require you to assign one or more "keepers" whose job it would be to let everyone know of your demise. These keepers would normally not have access to your password-protected email and social-media accounts, so they'd be given a code that would allow them temporary access—one and done, SnapChat-style—just enough for the keepers to shoot off the announcement and plunge your social circles into mourning. The app would monitor how many times your various keepers attempted to make the announcement; only the first keeper would be permitted to do so, and any subsequent keepers would be shut out and sent a flag saying "This announcement has already been made," unless those keepers have been tasked with making the announcement in different languages.

The app isn't without its problems. I don't know the particulars in terms of privacy issues; Ex Mortis would essentially be an act of giving a small cluster of trusted people very temporary access to all your social-network contact lists, which could get awkward. And I can envision potential for abuse: false alarms, account hacking, obscenely worded death announcements because one of your keepers turns out to be someone who has secretly hated you, etc.

Perhaps the app could go further and do the deceased the courtesy of closing all social-media accounts. On my blog's sidebar, I have a short list of blog followers, and I know that at least one of those people is dead. Her name and image remain on the list, though, which is a mite eerie. Ex Mortis could, with the proper permissions, provide social closure.

The name "Ex Mortis" means "out from death." An announcement of your death, precipitated by you, would feel very much like a message from the dead, would it not? Especially if the death announcement is creepily worded in the first person: "Hey, guys. Yuppers—I'm dead. Just so you know, there'll be a reading of my will exactly ten days from the date that's time-stamped to this announcement, okay? See you there! Well, uh... I won't be there, but you'll at least... see... each other. Uh, yeah—rock on!"

Something to think about, anyway.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

one of my boss's gifts to me

My boss, in a fit of generosity, gave me two gifts. One was a very nice, very sleek slow-cooker. The other gift was this, a mighty Dalma-do:

Given the seriousness of the lines in the brush art, both my boss and I think the artist was likely a monk. The artwork has a very direct, don't-fuck-around feel to it, which is the sort of state of mind you'd expect from someone who leads a life of abnegation and discipline.

In case you don't recognize the imagery, this is one of Bodhidharma's famous poses/scenes: the moment when he crossed the Yangtze River on a reed in a Jesus-like act of being one with nature. Ol' Dalma had no quarrel with the water beneath his soles.

This is why I made my boss those sandwiches. I had given him nothing for Christmas, and this Dalma-do is, frankly, a fantastic gift. So yeah, I felt guilty, and I don't feel I deserve this sort of present, especially after having worked at the Golden Goose for only four months.


how we eat in the office

Lunch isn't a terrible prospect in our office. Behold (and click to enlarge):

The above beauty contains honeyed ham, turkey breast, chorizo, sopressa, mortadella, Emmentaler, and mild provolone, along with sliced tomato and lettuce—all on country-style oat bread with mayo. Quite delicious, if I do say so myself.

The boss had been craving good old American sandwiches, so I obliged him. We spent some time talking about how Koreans have no idea how to make a proper sandwich. Instead, they come up with horrifying combinations like ham and tuna on white with strawberry cream-cheese spread, sliced kiwi, and honey mustard. (That's only a slight exaggeration.)


Monday, December 28, 2015

my best posts of 2015

When I say "best posts of 2015," I'm not referring to which posts got the most traffic: I mean the posts that (1) I thoroughly enjoyed writing, and (2) I found the most meaningful. I can't say that many of my posts, this year, actually fit those criteria (most of what I write is crap, after all), but there were a few standouts.

JANUARY: my post on the hagweon charlatan.

FEBRUARY: a humorous email to my goddaughter.

MARCH: alternate histories. Also, a warmup post—never followed up—on linguistic prescriptivism versus descriptivism.

APRIL: the dubious merits of "chalk and talk." Plus, my thoughts on the Baltimore riots.

MAY: I really enjoyed reviewing "Mad Max: Fury Road." Also: on reparadigming the language curriculum.

JUNE: Burgerfest food porn. For sure. And more food porn here.

JULY: I liked my review of "Warrior." I also vented about Greece.

AUGUST: This post has no literary merit, but it describes one of the high points of 2015.

SEPTEMBER: My first (and thus far only) hike up nearby Daemosan. Also: a discussion of Kim Yeon-ah's insincere smile.

OCTOBER: my other high point this year was officiating at my brother Sean's wedding.

NOVEMBER: on "universal values."

DECEMBER: A disagreement with Pat Condell, and my review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

May the new year prove just as full of things to write about, and may my writing skill continue to improve. After all, what's life without a little focused striving?


a red day: Robert Koehler calls it quits

Long a fixture in the Koreablogosphere, The Marmot's Hole, a Koreablog started by my Georgetown hubae Robert Koehler, is striking camp after having barely entered its teen years. In an honest self-assessment, Robert professes that his heart is simply no longer in it: blogging about Korea-topical issues is just too damn demanding. Can't say I blame him, and if I'm honest, I was one of the people who would periodically voice disappointment at how the blog had evolved over the years. Originally, it was Robert's voice alone, but when the Hole became a team blog featuring writers of wildly varying quality, the blog lost its focus and became, arguably, much less interesting. I'm not a fan of team blogs, anyway; it's far more entertaining to visit a site and be privy to a single person's undiluted thoughts on the world at large. Of course, the other problem with the Hole was its Mos Eisley-like comments section, which featured a few educated voices and a whole sea of idiots. I'm sure that mucking the comment-thread sewers was as distasteful for Robert as treading through the muck was for me—which is why I eventually began to avoid the comments entirely so as to concentrate on the main blog posts. I admit that, even until recently, I would occasionally dive into the comments, but that was mostly out of morbid curiosity than for any other reason.

How much of the Hole's disintegration can be placed on Robert's shoulders is, at this point, a moot question. I suspect that Robert did what he could; unlike my scattered and desultory blog, which started around the same time in the early 2000s, Robert's relatively more focused blog immediately shot into prominence, with site traffic numbering in the daily thousands, and staying there (according to SiteMeter, I don't think I ever broke 400 unique visits per day except for that one Instalanche and that one Den Beste-lanche). Handling fame is a burden I've never experienced, so maybe I don't have the right to criticize what happened to the Hole. All I know is that my experience of the Hole was much more pleasant back when Robert was the sole captain, and back when the comment threads were a bit more civilized.

Like a lot of people, I got much of my expat-relevant information about Korea from The Marmot's Hole, especially in the early days. These days, my daily circuit of blogs includes a lot more than just the Hole, and it also includes the ever-updating Twitter, with its constant stream of news and topicality. Upshot: losing Robert's blog isn't going to be tragic, as so much has arisen, since 2003, to fill in any news/information vacuum. But I'll feel a sense of loss, all the same, because the Hole has been a standby for so long: it has the force of tradition behind it, and it's been on my RSS feed until now.

Robert's been investing a great deal of effort in his magnificent Tumblr photoblog, which he avers is a more constructive use of his time. Follow your passion, I say. If the man is happier for pursuing narrower interests, who's to blame him?

Koehler and I have still never met, despite having known of each other's existence since about 2003. One day, perhaps, we'll cross paths. He strikes me as ferociously intelligent, extremely talented, yet modest in demeanor. With an alma mater in common, we'd no doubt have plenty to talk about.

Happy trails, Robert, and adieu to The Marmot's Hole.

UPDATE, 12/31/15: Joshua at One Free Korea writes a heartfelt tribute.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Eve

I visited my buddy Jang-woong and his family this past Christmas Eve. The Kang family lives in a nice apartment in Samseong-dong, not far from where I live. I had prepped a few gifts for JW's kids, to wit:

When I got to JW's apartment, his wife Bo-hyun greeted me, along with their son Ji-an, who's pretty familiar with me at this point. Minji, their tiny daughter, is still shy around me, and she initially pretends I don't exist whenever I come visiting. Eventually, she slowly and grudgingly warms up to me, but it takes a while.

Bo-hyun had bought a Christmas cheesecake in the joshing spirit of "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" Tacky, yet funny, especially with those birthday candles.

The Missus had also prepped snacks, including a truly American-style canapé: crustless white bread, olive, cheese, sliced hot dog, and strawberry jam. I had to laugh. Nachos were also done American college-student-style: American cheese slices placed on Tostitos and microwaved. Of course, if you don't eat the nachos as soon as they're out of the oven, they go back to their original hardness, because American cheese is like that.

Below, a rare shot of Bo-hyun. I apparently caught her in mid-blink. Either that, or she had closed her eyes so as to retreat to her inner happy place, away from the noise of her two kids (who really aren't that noisy).

Lastly, a shot of Ji-an and Minji playing some sort of finger game. Ji-an tried to teach me a game that would be nearly impossible for me to explain here (mainly because I'm still not sure I understand it myself); he played a different finger game with his sis.

Jang-woong insisted that I sing a Christmas carol or two with him. He was in his cups a bit, so he was implacable, and no amount of "I can't sing"s or "Maybe another time"s could dissuade him. I sang in a muted manner, trying to hide my voice under his. (JW is blessed with a deep, resonant voice that would be great for the stage.) Bo-hyun, however, caught the sound of my pipes and declared her astonishment that I could actually hold a tune—apparently another of my deviously hidden talents.

The kids were impatient to open their presents, Ji-an in particular. I asked Ligament, the next day, whether Koreans have a tradition regarding when to open gifts. It varies in the States, but most American families open gifts on Christmas Day, while some allow the kids to open a single gift on Christmas Eve (not in my family). In France, my French family opened all their gifts on Christmas Eve; Christmas Day was reserved for a huge luncheon with salmon as the centerpiece. Ligament laughed and told me that Koreans have no fixed national tradition, which explained what I saw happening at JW's place. The kids were delighted with their gifts, so I was relieved. JW and Bo-hyun looked at me ruefully and told me I shouldn't have spent so much money on the littl'uns; I shrugged and thought, Meh... you only live once.

JW and I hatched a plan as we discussed our fantasies of the future: we want to travel to Europe together to visit several countries—France, Switzerland, other places. We'll stay at my French "brother" Dominique's bed-and-breakfast on the west coast of France; we'll visit my old stomping grounds in Switzerland, and who knows? We might add some trips to Germany, Italy, Spain, and England. I've never been to Spain before. Might be nice.

I had arrived at my friend's place around 10PM because he and his family had spent a large part of the day at their Catholic church. I told myself that I'd stay until just past midnight; I ended up staying, at JW's not-quite-sober insistence, until about 12:30AM. The time eventually came for me to leave, and there was much hugging. By the time I was putting my coat on, little Minji was asleep on the living-room floor while Ji-an was still busy working on his Legos. Ji-an grudgingly put on his coat, then he, JW, and I walked out to the street, in the cold night air. JW hailed a cab for me, and we all hugged again. I was touched in spite of myself. I don't have that many friends in Korea—not that I blame Korea for this, of course: I'm just an aging introvert who has never been that good at forging deep bonds. But JW is a friend from way back, from over twenty years ago. Now he's a manager at a large corporation (POSCO), having spent four years in India with his family. In some ways, he's changed; in other ways, he hasn't. But I'm glad to have him for a friend, and I think he's become a great husband and father. He's making it work, and I wish him and his family the best.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

"The Theory of Everything": one-paragraph review

Scientists now theorize that the center of our galaxy is a titanically stormy, time-warped hell containing either a single, supermassive black hole or a cluster of very massive black holes. 2014's "The Theory of Everything" (TTOE), which stars Eddie Redmayne as cosmologist Stephen Hawking, also contains two supermassive black holes at its heart. The first black hole is the script's deliberate avoidance of the meat of Hawking's revolutionary theories on space and time; the second black hole is the script's deliberate avoidance of any real exploration of Hawking's marriage and his relationship with women. The latter touchy subject is treated with supreme, kid-glove delicacy and compassion, as is perhaps fitting for a hagiography of a great scientist based on the memoir of his ex-wife. The former subject—the lack of any real, substantive discussion of a theory of everything—probably has much to do with the filmmakers' desire to make TTOE a romantic drama instead of a true-to-form biopic. But the movie does possess one asset: Redmayne himself, who gives the most impressive physical performance I've seen since Daniel Day Lewis's "My Left Foot." Redmayne obviously invested an immense effort in this portrayal of Hawking's deterioration, and he deserved every single accolade he got. His touching and vulnerable performance is the one saving grace that keeps this film from falling utterly into Hallmark TV-drama territory. Alas, aside from that, TTOE isn't all that memorable.


Friday, December 25, 2015

the kids battle it out

I spent a rather touching Christmas Eve with my buddy Jang-woong and his family. JW's wife Bo-hyun made a huge spread of snacks for us all to eat; I had also brought over a small pile of gifts for the kids, so they were impatient to unwrap their presents. Poor Ji-an, JW's son, was aching to know what I had gotten for him, but after shaking one of my boxes, he grinned and declared that he knew that that particular box contained Legos. Ji-an also said he was tickled by the lightsaber picture I had created for him; I told him to do a saber-fight pose with his sister so that I could make a proper lightsaber-combat Photoshop. Minji, who knows nothing about Star Wars, had no idea what she was being roped into, but as her mother pointed out, she already knows everything about how to pose for a camera.

Here's how the final, Photoshopped pic turned out:

Photoshopping lightsabers has never been easy for me. It's a process that requires several layers, lots of filters (Gaussian and motion and radial blurs, mostly), and a good bit of work with de-saturation of color to create gray-looking lightsaber handles. You'll note that Ji-an looks really into the fight, but Minji is basically just standing there and smiling. She doesn't give a crap about Star Wars; she's just tickled to be posing with her brother. I took the kids out of the original photo and placed them on a Star Wars-style background. I think Ji-an will get a kick out of this even if Minji has no opinion.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

getting into the Christmas spirit

My boss gave me two amazing gifts: a very nice slow cooker and a huge, framed Dalma-do. Both of these must have cost a pretty penny. I felt bad telling my boss that I already have a slow cooker, but I assured him that I would be using the new one, which is obviously far, far nicer than the one I'd bought for myself. I'll be regifting my old cooker, perhaps giving it to Ligament. I felt doubly bad for not having gotten anything for my boss, who is indeed a nice guy (well, most of the time... you know how bosses are), but I've promised to make him some real sandwiches this coming week.

Tonight, around 10PM, I'll be at my friend Jang-woong's place, celebrating Christmas Eve with his family after they come home from hours spent at their Catholic church. I don't plan to stay too long: I'll be there only until about midnight before I head back to my place.

On Christmas Day, I'll be making lunch for Ligament, who's going to be visiting. She's been obsessing over grilled cheese lately, so I plan to make her a simple, classic sandwich in the style you see in the movie "Chef" (reviewed here), and I'll also be offering her a bowl of my seafood chowder. To that end, I need to go shopping at Costco this evening for some of the chowder and grilled-cheese ingredients.

Earlier today, I was out in Insa-dong, looking for something to give Ligament for Christmas. I admit I'm clueless about what gifts to buy women (I never shopped that well for Mom—whether for her birthday or for any other occasion), so for all I know, this attempt at gift-giving will crash and burn. But Ligament is a forgiving soul, and I'm kind of relying on that fact to get through the day uninjured.

After that, I'm free to have a quiet Christmas all by my lonesome. I might write one more entry about "Breaking Bad," now that I've finished the entire series. I might also write a supplementary entry about "The Force Awakens," now that 95% of the planet has seen the film. I might go to High Street Market in Itaewon and buy deli meats for the sandwiches I promised my boss. Who knows?

Merry Christmas, folks.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

the "language obstacle course"

Even though we've hired someone to replace my coworker at the Golden Goose (the new guy starts the first week of January), we're still interviewing people, much to the annoyance of my boss, who feels we don't need to expand the current cast of characters. (We're getting pressure from HR to keep interviewing; this gives you a hint of our internal politics, I think.) Because the boss isn't keen on hiring anyone, he asked me to devise a language test, which I joshingly (then more seriously) dubbed a "language obstacle course." I made the test with proofreaders in mind. Unlike the old SAT Writing section, with its focus on grammar in context, my test also includes questions to see whether the testee actually knows grammatical terminology.

Take a look. And if you see ways that the test can be improved, feel free to leave a comment.

A few remarks about the document:

1. I hate multiple-choice testing, but I used the format, anyway. Yes, I am a whore.

2. The third page of the test was my boss's idea. It's a measure of how well the testee can perform a task that we actually do as part of our textbook content creation. Personally, I think the exercise is too easy, but the boss wanted it in there, and I am but to serve.

3. If you want to give the test a whirl, please submit your answers to me, and I'll score you, after which I'll provide you a link to the answer key itself. (My email address has always been on my right-hand sidebar. Just scroll down a bit.) I don't feel like linking to it here.

4. The answer key that I made is mainly for my boss's benefit, so that he doesn't have to reason his way through every problem on the "obstacle course" unless he wants to. It doesn't contain any explanations, but I can supply those via email if you want.

5. I designed the "obstacle course" to be rigorous, but not impossible. I've set "minimal pass" at 80%; if a testee scores 95% or above, I'll be impressed. Most English teachers in Korea have no idea about grammatical terminology or why the language works the way it does; they often tend to wing it, moving on intuitive feel and justifying their teaching "method" with some vague excuse related to "teaching language in context." The Korean impression that many native-speaker English teachers are incompetent when it comes to technical aspects of English is, alas, largely correct.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

grilled-cheese debate: redux

Remember that long-ago debate on this blog about what a true grilled-cheese sandwich (or just "a grilled cheese") is? No higher an authority than Serious Eats sides with my definition. Read the article and weep, you narrow-minded purists. For those too damn lazy to click the link, here's the essential part:

A Grilled Cheese Must...

- be a closed sandwich, griddled on both sides.
- have cheese as the primary ingredient. Other ingredients can complement the cheese, but none may overwhelm it.
- be made with sliced bread. Thus a sandwich made with whole, crust-on loaves like a panino or a Cubano do not qualify.
- be served hot all the way through, with the cheese thoroughly melted.
- be cooked on a flat, greased surface until golden brown. In extreme circumstances it may be cooked on an outdoor grill over an open fire. A grilled cheese may never be baked or deep-fried.

So let us have none of this misguided literalist nonsense about how a true grilled-cheese sandwich absolutely must be made on a grill—and none of this hysterical bullshit about how meat or vegetables within the grilled cheese make it cease to be a grilled cheese. Of course, you're perfectly welcome to persist in your delusion, but Serious Eats is yet another data point (of many already-quoted data points) in my favor. Deny reality at your peril.


English ambiguity

I saw the following tweet (edited for style):

As Muslim women, we ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity!*

What's interesting is that the sentence can be interpreted at least two ways:

1. In the name of interfaith solidarity, we ask you not to wear the hijab.

2. We ask you not to [wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity]. (i.e., You may wear the hijab for other reasons, but not for the cause of interfaith solidarity.)

Strange, eh?

*The head-scratcher is that this tweet appears to have been written by a man. Are we looking at a dangling modifier, here?


Monday, December 21, 2015

violent boy

While we were eating at a Gangnam Nolbu Budae-jjigae after having watched "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," I promised my buddy Jang-woong's son Ji-an that I'd make a pic of him holding a lightsaber. So I told Ji-an to look mean while holding a chopstick like a lightsaber.

 photo JianLightsaber.jpg

It's not my best Photoshopping job, by any means (the saber blade is slightly crooked and the saber's handle looks more cartoonish than real), but it might give Ji-an a giggle.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens": review


So I'm back from an evening out with Ligament. We met at the large IFC Mall in Yeouido to see "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in a CGV theater there. It wasn't the biggest of theaters, but that's OK: we sat fairly close to the screen, so it was an immersive experience. Ligament's take, when the film was over, was that the film was fun, but she didn't want to come along with me to see the film a second time the following day.

Her mixed reaction mirrors my own. I've seen several friends and acquaintances react very positively to the film (see Lee here, and Justin here), but as much as it pains me to say it, I'm not quite willing to give "The Force Awakens" a thumbs-up.

To be sure there's a lot, here, that director JJ Abrams, an avowed Star Wars lover, has gotten right—exquisitely so. The movie trots along at a healthy clip; the dialogue is far superior to anything that that old dodderer George Lucas wrote for the prequel trilogy; the effects are, if not exactly as awe-inspiring as I'd hoped, at least engaging. Every time an old favorite character appears on the screen, the moment is done in such a way as to provoke applause from American viewers (I sat with a Korean audience, so there was no applause at all, alas). Many of the new characters fit into the universe of this new, rebooted story so seamlessly that old-timers like me can't complain. I also appreciated Abrams's respect for the theology of the Force (no midichlorians this time around, thank the dark side).

But I'm sad to say that there were problems—major problems—with both the characters and the storytelling. There were moments when I was, frankly, confused by what was happening on the screen, and I'm glad I'll be going back tomorrow to see the film again. Perhaps a second viewing will clear some things up. At least one principal good guy is given a lot of screen time, but by the end of the movie, I still have no real feel for who he is and what he's about. One of the main villains is utterly fascinating because we get only hints of him, but the other main villain can only be described as a crushing disappointment: he's emotionally unstable, childishly temperamental, and not even able to defeat an unskilled (well, untrained) wielder of a borrowed lightsaber. Despite his having made a strong first impression (he uses the Force to stop a blaster bolt in midair, and he does something later in the film that'll make certain fans howl in anguish), he just didn't strike me as anyone of consequence.

The problems don't end there. The dark rumors are true: the movie is indeed a rehash of 1977's original "Star Wars," with a bloated surrogate for the Death Star, housing a massive weapon that defies physics in an even more implausible way than the old Death Star's superlaser did. The script is written so that the characters are aware they're repeating history, but that bit of self-consciousness doesn't make the story any more appealing. I expected way better from Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (although I'm happy that Kasdan was brought in at all: his writing is what kept the original trilogy going). I also felt that the major battle sequence had no real emotional depth to it: it felt like a big Here we go again. To top it off, the older veterans felt a bit under-used in order to let the new generation shine (Daisy Ridley makes an impression, and John Boyega does, too, but Adam Driver, who has a goofy face that's tailor-made for comedy, struck me as wildly miscast); I would have liked to see the old folks a little more in the thick of things.

The movie was humorous thanks to a witty script, but it was also inadvertently funny. As I snarked on Twitter, the final scene of "The Force Awakens" reminded me of the final scene in that old David Carradine B-movie, "Circle of Iron." If you've seen "Circle of Iron," and if you see the new Star Wars flick, you'll know what I mean, and I'm not sure that this particular mental association is a good thing. Amusingly, there's an island in the movie that looked, to me, like a combination of Ireland and Dokdo. In fact, when I saw Daisy Ridley climbing up the ancient stone steps on that island, Dokdo was the first thought to pop into my head. Again: not the ideal mental association.

I'll give the movie another chance tomorrow; perhaps more pieces will fall into place after a second viewing. But all told, I found myself underwhelmed. To be fair, I had high hopes for this film—perhaps overly high. How can any movie match such lofty expectations?


Friday, December 18, 2015

"Star Wars" twice in one weekend

On Saturday, I'll be going out to see "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with Ligament after I'm done with my Saturday class at KMA in Yeouido. The very next day, I'm going out to see the movie again, but this time with my buddy Tom and his friend Angelo. I had originally wanted Ligament to join me and Tom, but Tom had snagged only three gift certificates, and he'd immediately recruited Angelo. So it goes: the politics of friendship.

I've been avoiding the rumor sites, so I have almost no idea what I'm going to be seeing, but the movie has garnered wide praise on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. One snarky tweeter that I follow, Sam Kalidi, claims the new movie is merely a reboot of the original 1977 film. I hope that's not the case, but it won't surprise me if this film, too, ends with the explosion of some large and nefarious installation. That seems to be as much a trope of the Star Wars franchise as having a mole in CTU is for "24."

Ought to be a good weekend.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

the deed is DONE!

Today, I'm proud to say that I sent in the "pay-off" amount to complete payment on my Honda Fit, which is currently being held in trust by my buddy Mike in Fredericksburg, Virginia. During the online-payment process over at, a flag appeared, warning me that using the "pay-off" payment option was not the same as canceling recurrent payments, so I'd have to cancel those separately. Duly warned, I made that pay-off request, then gleefully canceled all recurring payments.

And with a few keystrokes, that was that.

I'm done. I now own—truly own—my car.

In a week or two, the car's title will be mailed to Mike, and at that point, the car will be mine to do with as I please: sell it, give it away as a gift, keep it, whatever. So that's one major debt down—a $250/month burden off my shoulders. Three more major debts to go.

All is going according to plan.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

a Saturday meal among friends

This past Saturday, December 12, I went to a get-together at my friend Charles's place near Seoul National University campus. Charles lives in very nice faculty housing, and while his kitchen, like those found in most Korean dwellings, lacks adequate counter space, his bathroom is a thousand times nicer than mine.

I was the first dinner guest to arrive; our mutual friends Tom and Patrick showed up over an hour later. I had plenty of time to prep my fondue and my choucroute alsacienne while Charles worked on his bread and stew, and Charles's wife Hyunjin worked on her very colorful vegetable offerings. Charles didn't have a proper caquelon for my fondue, but he did have the next best thing: an electric jeongol pot that was the perfect size, shape, and design for the melted cheese. I rubbed the pot's interior with a split clove of garlic, then poured in some wine that Charles and the Missus kindly contributed to the cause.

Here, below, is the fondue before the cooking started. The cheese is in a plastic zipper bag. A whole baguette from Paris Baguette has been cubed. As usual, Paris Baguette's baguettes weren't very high in quality; the two I had bought were tough, and their crusts weren't as shatter-y as a true baguette's crust is supposed to be. But with fondue, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I'd be loath to waste a high-quality baguette that way.

Charles is a scrupulous, detail-oriented baker. He dots every "i" and crosses every "t," which is a virtue when it comes to baking, because baking requires care and precision. You can't be sloppy and overly "intuitive" when you're making bread: measurements and proportions matter. Below, a picture of Charles's loaf. I joked with John McCrarey, who flipped through these images on my phone during Sunday's lunch, that this was actually a photo of Charles's covered dick.

Here's a shot of the fondue once the cooking had started:

The cheese proved to be seductive and addictive, at least for some of the dinner's participants. Patrick, who supposedly has some French heritage, certainly got into the fondue. Below, we see Tom (L) and Patrick (R) attacking the cheese:

And another, similar shot:

Here's Charles's loaf, now exposed to the world, right before it went into the oven:

From left to right: Patrick, Tom, Charles, and Hyunjin:

Since I had taken the picture, I had to include myself somehow:

Next, a shot of Hyunjin's wonderful salad. She always makes great salads.

A cabbage-and-onion dish. I didn't know it had onions in it until I took my first bite. Still, it tasted good enough for me to finish my serving.

Charles and his now-baked bread:

A closeup of Charles's Meisterwerk:

Here's a shot of my plate once we began eating. Charles's fish stew made an appearance soon after, but he encouraged us, meanwhile, to start eating what was already on the table. Now that I think about it, we had quite a few veggies, there, didn't we.

Charles next brought out his North African-inspired fish stew, made with fresh cod purchased that very morning. I thought this stew was excellent, rib-sticking and aromatic, so I had myself two bowls. (The green stuff is cilantro.)

A slice of Charles's bread sitting on the edge of my stew bowl:

Patrick hexes Charles while Charles pours out some beer. Much of the evening was devoted to beer tasting, an activity I didn't really engage in, given my teetotaler status.

The remains on the tray:

I cleaned my plate and my bowl:

Some, but not all, of the beers that were drunk that evening:

Tom, whose birthday it was, cringes as he's forced to sit next to a spam "cake" with a candle in it. Note, too, the Choco Pie also pretending to be a cake. Tom made retching noises as the odor of the spam wafted into his nostrils. Hard to tell the extent to which he was joking; he seemed pretty sincere when he talked about how much he hated the smell of spam.

By the time dessert came out, people were sufficiently tipsy that they immediately set about rearranging the letters on the damn ice-cream cake. I think the idea was to make words that were so fucked-up that you'd have to be drunk to be able to decode them.

Not satisfied with that arrangement of letters, our resident scholars set about creating prose that would be even more inspiring:

And that's the story of our Saturday gathering. I've left a lot out—like what we talked about (jokes, politics, beer, trivia), and the fact that poor Hyunjin, who was sick, left us for a while to go rest in the bedroom until she felt strong enough to come out and rejoin us. Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all, and we're looking forward to our next gathering.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Haven't done one of these in a while!


can't quite agree, Mr. Condell

Long ago, I mentioned the name of former standup comedian Pat Condell, a huge and still-growing presence on YouTube whose politically incorrect videos target what Condell sees as the ever-increasing danger of Muslim encroachment. Condell speaks his mind, even at the risk of sounding like yet another bitter old man. I haven't been through the entire library of all his videos (each lasting about five to ten minutes), but I've seen enough to know his general tone and message. In many cases, I find myself grudgingly, or even wholeheartedly, agreeing with him. People on the opposite side of the aisle are all too eager to brand Condell a racist bigot for his views, but this is partly because (1) they falsely conflate Islam with a race, which is how they justify accusing him of racism; and (2) they don't really take the time to listen carefully to what he says and to address the substance of his arguments. My recommendation would be to hammer Condell on his facts and/or his logic, and stop blindly applying labels to him after giving him only half a listen.

That said, I'm none too pleased by his latest video, which seems to offer plenty of praise to US presidential candidate Donald Trump. The central point of this particular rant is that "Trump came along with a great, big bucket of honesty" regarding the Muslim/immigration/culture-war situation, and many people can't stand to hear it.

I cringe whenever I hear Trump being described as honest. To me, the man is an egomaniacal blowhard with no consistency or coherence in his positions, and he's a liar to boot. If John Kerry is a flip-flopping flounder, Donald Trump, for all his bluster, is a moral jellyfish. "He says things that most of the American public is thinking," I hear some conservatives say. Maybe so, but how consistently conservative is Trump, really? This is a man who, not that long ago, was very cozy with the Clintons. He speaks his mind, true, but in a manner that indicates how impulsive he is, not to mention how easy he is to manipulate. All you have to do is accuse Trump of not knowing something, and he'll fire back with either "Oh, I know more about this topic than you do!" or "Well, I know plenty of good people who will get me up to speed on that." It really wouldn't take much for a smart debater to goad Trump into making inconsistent statements.

And I say he's a liar primarily because, as conservative writer Kevin Williamson pointed out some time ago, Trump has been bankrupted four times but refuses to admit this has happened. "I have never gone bankrupt," Trump is on record as saying. You can't get much more baldfaced than that baldfaced lie. Apparently, his worshippers are willing to overlook little things like that because "he's saying what they're thinking."

So while I might sometimes find myself in agreement with Mr. Condell's articulate tirades, I simply can't agree with him here. Clint Eastwood mocked President Obama by dialoguing with an empty chair; Donald Trump is, to my mind, just as empty a suit. He goes where his impulses take him; his reactive nature makes him easy to manipulate; he's all style and no substance—and really, he lacks style, too. Color me disappointed, Mr. Condell.

[An analysis of Trump's four bankruptcies, and an examination of his denials of them, can be found here.]


Monday, December 14, 2015

"Breaking Bad": almost caught up

I watched the final four episodes of Season 4 of "Breaking Bad" last night. Season 1 was seven episodes long; Seasons 2 and 3 were thirteen episodes each, and Season 5, the final season, weighs in at sixteen episodes, with the season being divided into two 8-episode halves.

The end of Season 4 tells us that the new big villain for Season 5 is none other than Walter White himself—a man who has proven to be capable of making frighteningly Machiavellian choices. Although I already know—thanks to a combination of (1) spoilers, (2) a general intuition about how modern American TV series engage in storytelling, and (3) common sense—where Walt's trajectory ends, my enjoyment of this remarkable series comes from following the path, not from arriving at the destination.

Am looking forward to this.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

out to lunch

I met friend and blogger John McCrarey in Itaewon for lunch today. It was a get-together of friends, but also a meeting with a purpose, as John had very kindly done the legwork to purchase a DVD/Blu-ray player for me on base, since that's where he works, and today was the day he'd be handing the player over to yours truly.

We met in front of the Hamilton Hotel, which is a pretty standard meeting place for us scurrying, scuzzy little foreigners. We then walked toward our lunch destination, which turned out to be the Manimal Smoke House, a barbecue joint that, according to John, exists in competition with Linus Barbecue—the BBQ joint started by a Korean-American with roots in the 'Bama BBQ tradition. As someone who lived through the 1980s, I recall the old, short-lived TV series "Manimal," starring the late Simon MacCorkindale—a show about a shape-shifter capable of assuming the form of any animal, who helped the police to solve crimes. Today's Manimal Smoke House had absolutely nothing in common with the TV series, but the 80s memory was always somewhere in the back of my mind.

As John and I walked along the street, John told me he had encountered a huge group of Muslims. We saw them again, massed in front of Suji's. See below:

I think John had mentioned that this might be a parade or gathering to celebrate Muhammad's birthday, but says that, in 2015, the Prophet's birthday falls on both January 3 and December 24 because Muslims use a lunar calendar. This gathering could still have plausibly been about Muhammad, but I'm not positive.

Manimal turned out not to be on the same gentrified back street as most of the Itaewon joints I now know. To get there, you have to walk toward Itaewon's edge and up a different back street. The place itself had an entrance that gave it a vaguely disreputable feel which, in marketing terms, might be a good thing or a bad thing. Look at the next two photos to see what I mean: in one photo, there's a small sign perched high above the street; in the other, you see the narrow, alley-like entry that leads to a set of battered-looking metal steps taking you up to the building's second floor, where Manimal's entrance is located. I'm trying to imagine how hellish it must have been when the restaurant was first being set up: the poor slobs who had to carry all that heavy cooking equipment (smokers and such) up those narrow stairs must have been pissed off by the end of that day.

The high sign:

The alley entrance:

John and I sat down and jawed for several minutes. We both ordered the pulled-pork platter; I also got a side of mac and cheese plus a Coke; not to be outdone, John ordered barbecue chicken, beans, and corn bread. I frowned at the fact that the platter came with something that didn't seem like Southern barbecue at all: roasted barley. As it turned out, the barley, with its rich and smoky flavor, was one of the best items in my order; I couldn't stop eating it.

The rest of the meal was quite good. The pulled pork was mild and subdued, but its consistency was absolutely perfect—the sort of thing that can only be accomplished with a real smoker as opposed to a crock pot. The grilled chicken was tender and juicy. The mac-and-cheese was creamy and recognizably American in style; the bread—both the butter roll and the cornbread that John shared with me—was excellent. At first, I had thought that maybe there wasn't enough pork on my board (no big plates at Manimal; it's boards, small plates, or little serving cups), but after having gobbled my sides and a good portion of the food that John had ordered (especially his chicken), I concluded that I'd been wrong: there was just enough pork for a big, hungry guy like me.

Click the pic below to see it larger. To see it full-size, right-click on the enlarged image, and open the image in a new tab. I'm sad that I forgot to photograph the chicken.

All in all, a marvelous lunch. My only reproaches to Manimal are (1) at W2,500, the price for a teeny, tiny can of Coke (no refills!) is way too expensive; and (2) the cost for the sides was ridiculous at W6,000-W8,000. The main meal itself, my platter, was reasonably priced at around W16,000. But such exorbitant prices for sides and drinks are common at Western-style restos in Itaewon and elsewhere in Korea; if you're an expat jonesing for Western food, you have to decide whether you're willing to bite the financial bullet. If you're not, then you'd best buy cheap ingredients and get cooking at home.

After Manimal, John and I walked down to the Haebangchon district so I could have a peek. I'd never really been in HBC before, and to be honest, we didn't go deeply into it today. That said, I had my peek and came away with the impression that HBC was a bit like Itaewon's main drag, but a decade behind in terms of its overall style and ambiance.

After our reconnoiter, we walked back uphill to Noksapyeong Station and parted ways, with me now the happy and proud owner of a DVD/Blu-ray player. I'd forgotten how much I like Noksapyeong Station's design: the vaulted, cylindrical interior with the thin escalators hanging in space like vulnerable cobwebs. It'd be a great action-movie set.

Stay tuned for a photo essay showing Saturday's shindig at Charles's place.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday follies

Today, I trundle out to the Seoul National University neighborhood to eat the flesh of the dead and to spend time in fine company, waxing rhapsodic about gods, monsters, and the tragic loss of innocence in the hearts of little children.

This shindig is taking place at my buddy Charles's residence. Charles is, as you know, an SNU professor—the only foreigner in Korea who specializes in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Also coming to this gathering are my buddy Tom and my ex-boss Patrick. Tom's bringing dessert; Patrick's bringing drinks, and it could be that Charles will also be offering up part of his own liquid stash to lubricate the evening. Talk will likely focus again on baseball and beer, thus leaving me off to the side to contemplate my scrotum. But that's fine: I'm often more of a listener than an actual participant in large-group conversations.

For the main meal, Charles is making a nice fish stew as well as his famous homemade bread. For my part, I'm bringing an old standby: my dumbed-down take on choucroute alsacienne. Charles's wife Hyunjin will likely contribute her most excellent and refreshing salad. A good time will be had by all.

Oh, yes: today is also Tom's birthday. He's a Sixty-niner like me—just a few months younger. So we may be doing a little something for Tom today, too. (Tom rarely reads my blog, so there's no danger of putting this up. Unless today happens to be the one rare day on which he chooses to catch up on his reading.)

There may or may not be photos later. Have a good weekend!


Friday, December 11, 2015

animals and their sense of boundaries

Or maybe the dog is just really, really polite.


a sausage party of one

The evil deed is done! Sausage—I use the word in its uncountable form—was made this evening, and it was... not bad! In my previous post, I linked to the recipe that I used tonight, and it worked fairly well, although I did alter some proportions along the way. For example, the recipe called for only an eighth of a teaspoon of chili flakes for two pounds of pork. No self-respecting Korean is going to go for homeopathic levels of chili, so I upped the dosage to a full, heaping teaspoon. I also added a wee bit more sugar, salt, and oregano—yes, oregano, because as I discovered through online research, it's actually a cousin of marjoram, which is what the recipe called for. Just so you know: oregano works fine.

I mixed all the reagents together and divided the ground pork into eight portions to make eight sausage patties weighing a bit under four ounces each:

After that, it was just a matter of cooking. I set the fan to blow over my fire alarm just in case things got a little smoky, but I don't think it ever got to that point. Below: my skillet with two patties a-sizzling. As I mentioned a while back, the downstairs grocery's ground pork is super-lean, so there was almost no fat leakage. In fact, I had to add bacon fat to the fry:

Here's a closeup taken after the patties had been flipped:

A gorgeous photo of my patties all piled high on a plate:

I was sorely tempted to taste my patties while they were still being made, but I held myself back because what I really wanted to do was make breakfast sandwiches to see how well the sausages worked in context. I had shopped at Costco for English muffins, but the store only had bagels (Einstein Brothers, imported), so I went with blueberry. For the sake of my sandwich experiment, I took a bagel, split it, buttered it, and pan-fried it.

Here are the halves:

Here are the halves with a sausage patty:

Next: the scrambled egg and American cheese. I had added a generous gloop of heavy cream to my eggs, which is why they came out so light-colored. But the cream also made those lovely little bird abortions quite velvety, so I'm not going to apologize for that.

Next up: a closeup of the assembled sandwich before I finished it in the microwave:

The sandwich spends a minute in microwave purgatory:

The cheese is now melted:

And here's a cross-sectional view:

I split the microwaved sandwich in half. One side, I slathered with maple syrup; the other side, I coated with strawberry jam. I wanted to see which sweet I liked better with the sandwich. Strawberry jam won. After I ate the sandwich, however, I ate a second patty with a second dollop of eggs—and I bathed the plate in syrup. This allowed me to taste the sausage patty more directly, without bread and cheese intervening.

Verdict: not bad at all! With my adjusted proportions, the taste of my breakfast sausage was nearly perfect—very close to a Bob Evans product. The texture, however, was another matter, given how dry the pork was. The bacon fat definitely helped, but next time, I think I'll mix the fat in while I'm kneading the herbs and spices into the meat. Fat is flavor; this is why most of the world charges extra for fatty meats, whereas we nutty Americans think lean meat equates to higher quality. But we're learning: "Fat is flavor" is a constant mantra on the Food Network, and while many Americans might not yet appreciate a "fat cap," they're increasingly charmed by the concept of marbling. We'll get it eventually.

Meantime, I've made a breakfast sandwich to take to work tomorrow.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

check back in a bit

I may have pictures of homemade sausage soon. So come back in a little while.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

and now for something completely different

Tomorrow, I'm going to try my hand at making American-style breakfast sausage. I've got the ground pork; I've got the herbs and spices; I've got everything I need to make some damn patties. Once the patties are made, I'll be sandwiching them between two buttered and pan-fried bagels along with some American cheese and scrambled eggs.

If the experiment goes well, I'll be able to start bringing my breakfast sandwiches to work. My boss, who likes to order delivery from McDonald's, keeps asking me whether I want anything for breakfast. Up to now, breakfast for me has been a bottle of Lipton tea and maybe an ice-cream bar. Something a bit more rib-sticking might be in order.

Wish me luck.


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Dalma lust

A wistful perusal of some long-ago phone-cam pictures led me to ponder my old Bodhidharma sculpture, which I had given away to my Buddhist friend Sperwer. It was an amazing piece of art. The artist had, for the most part, worked with and not against the wood, allowing the wood's natural contours to suggest the Buddhist saint's robes. Where the artist did show his hand, he had done an exquisite job of rendering, in three dimensions, a normally two-dimensional image of the putative First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and founder of Chinese kung fu—the stern set of jaw, the vast and bulging and eternally open eyes, the pendulous ears, the scary eyebrows, and that menacing Klingon beard.

See for yourself:

Although I'm glad I gave the sculpture away, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it intensely. Attachment to a mere hunk of wood is nothing to be proud of, but I've long been a fan of Dalma-daesa, a.k.a. Bodhidharma. So today, while searching the Net for other wooden Dalma sculptures, I stumbled upon this gorgeous one:

Many sculptures and brush paintings of Bodhidharma depict him with some sort of walking stick, but in the above image, it looks almost as though the burly holy man has ripped off a goodly part of a tree: take a bough, O Dalma! Ha ha! When I saw this photo, I once again became filled with Dalma-lust and wanted to buy the sculpture... but I'm pretty sure that the piece isn't for sale. Alas. And all I can do is stare and whimper.