Monday, February 29, 2016

"The Danish Girl": review

[WARNING: SPOILERS!]

This past Saturday, I watched "The Danish Girl" with Lig at Ewha University's scaled-down Arthouse Momo theater (Lig tells me that momo is Japanese for "peach"). The movie was better than I had expected it to be. "The Danish Girl" is based on a 2000 novel (also titled The Danish Girl) by David Ebershoff. The novel is at least loosely rooted in fact: the protagonist, Lili Elbe, did actually exist and was actually one of the first people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery, which is what makes this film so significant.

The movie stars Eddie Redmayne as Danish landscape artist Einar Wegener, with Alicia Vikander (fresh from her star turn in "Ex Machina," reviewed here) as Gerda Wegener, Einar's portrait-artist wife. At the beginning of the story, Einar and Gerda are a happily married couple; Einar's artwork is often showcased, and the two enjoy a more or less comfortable living in Copenhagen. We see hints, early on, that Einar may have a repressed feminine side: whenever he visits the wardrobe of a dance studio, he likes running his fingers over the women's various costumes. Gerda one day asks Einar to model as a woman for her because her regular model is unable to make it. Nervous, Einar does so, putting on stockings and feminine footwear, and draping a dress over himself so that Gerda can get the light and shadow of the wrinkles in the cloth correct. This proves to be something of a triggering moment for Einar, who begins to give in more fully to his long-hidden proclivities.

Gerda isn't stupid: she sees that some sort of change has come over her husband, but for the moment she finds this change more amusing than worrisome. Some time after Einar's modeling session, Gerda playfully suggests that Einar dress completely in drag to attend one of the art functions he normally despises. Einar consents, privately eager, and goes to the function with Gerda. Of course, Einar can't be Einar, so he adopts the moniker Lili Elbe, a name—and an identity—he has harbored since childhood, back when one of his male friends, Hans, kissed him on a whim. While at the function, Einar meets Henrik, who makes very forward advances. They kiss, and Gerda happens to witness the moment (I doubt this is biographically accurate; it has a strong whiff of soap opera about it).

Thus begins the marital strife, and a large part of this interesting movie deals with the radically, inevitably changing relationship between Einar and Gerda, a couple that had seemed so happy until Einar began to realize that, in his current incarnation, he was not his true self: he was and had been, in fact, Lili Elbe all along. Einar meets with Henrik again, only to discover that Henrik has known that Einar was a man. Henrik is fine with this because he's gay: he wants Einar, not Lili. Einar flees from Henrik, and in this way the movie quietly teaches us something about the complexity of human sexuality: Einar's innate tendencies don't make him gay. There is a significant difference between what Einar is and homosexuality.

Gerda has been painting portraits of Einar-as-Lili, and this is some of her most inspired work. She begins to become a successful artist in her own right and is eventually called to Paris, where she has received an offer to have her work shown by a major broker. Einar, internally torn and depressed, comes with her. His hope is to seek treatment for what he initially believes to be a mental condition; meanwhile, his wife has the chance to mingle with luminaries in the French art scene.

Gerda is attentive to her husband's pain, however, and she tracks down Hans, Einar's childhood friend, who now works as an art dealer in Paris. She feels that Hans might be able to help Einar through his network of connections. Hans's involvement becomes problematic, however: Gerda finds herself attracted to him, and the feeling is mutual. This attraction is happening right at the moment that Einar is blossoming more and more fully into his Lili incarnation, and as Lili, Einar feels he is a different person, and thus not Gerda's true husband. Imagine how all of this feels from Gerda's point of view: the man she loves is transforming, phase-shifting out from under his marital commitments by becoming a completely different person. Hans, for his part, immediately senses that the situation with Einar/Lili requires tact and delicacy, and he never once does anything to try to shatter his old friend's self-conception.

Einar goes from doctor to doctor. Some declare him insane and move to lock him up in their institutions, but Einar always manages to escape. Einar is mistaken for a lesbian by some Parisian toughs; a fight ensues, and he gets beaten up. Gerda eventually finds Dr. Warnekros, a pioneering surgeon visiting Paris but based in Germany. Warnekros proposes sex-reassignment surgery to Einar, who consents despite the enormous risk. The surgery will be in two phases: first comes the removal of the male genitalia; next comes the creation of a vagina. Warnekros recommends a decent period of convalescence between the two phases. Einar goes to Germany alone, but Lily and Hans both show up to be with him—now more fully her. While convalescing, Lili begins working at an upscale parfumerie in Copenhagen. She meets Henrik again, but Henrik is visibly disconcerted when he discovers that Lili has undergone surgery. "A woman? A real woman?" he stammers. This wasn't what Henrik had wanted at all, so he exits the story, never to be heard from again.

Impatient to complete her transition, Lili insists on returning to Germany to undergo the second phase of the reassignment. Gerda, no longer Einar's wife but now something more like Lili's companion, is worried that undergoing the second surgery so soon would be too dangerous, but Lili is adamant. The movie ends with Lili coming out of an infection-related fever, anemic and extremely weak. She asks to be rolled out to the waterside gardens, where she can enjoy the sunlight, the fresh air, and the surrounding natural beauty. As Gerda listens, Lili speaks of a dream she'd had: one in which she was born a girl, and her mother looked down at her and called her "Lili." And with that, Lili Elbe slips away. Gerda and Hans return to Denmark, to the stand of five skeletal trees that Einar had painted over and over, thus leading to his success. On a windy promontory, Gerda loses the scarf that she and Einar/Lili had passed back and forth between them; the camera lingers on the flying scarf, which clearly symbolizes the flight of a liberated soul. A title card informs us that Gerda Wegener continued to paint portraits of Lili for the rest of her life.

"The Danish Girl" isn't my normal cup of tea; "Deadpool" is more my speed. Tom Hooper's Eurodrama is a slow-paced, thoughtful film, compassionately written, with the obvious goal of trying to have the viewer understand something of what it must be like to be Lili—to be a soul tormented by the conviction that this is the wrong body. We don't actually hear the classic phrase "woman trapped in a man's body" until the film is two-thirds over, but the film spends an enormous amount of time building up to that utterance. At one point, Gerda blames herself for Einar's deteriorating mental state: she was, after all, the one who had asked Einar to dress up in women's clothing and to attend that art function in drag. But Einar reassures her, saying that she had merely awoken something that had always been there, and this is a crucial point. Einar isn't a homosexual; he's something else entirely. I tip my hat to the screenwriters for making this point in a very show-don't-tell manner. The writers could have bashed us over the head with what was going on, using didactic expository dialogue. Instead, the movie's themes and arguments simply arise, like morning mist, from the natural workings of the plot as the story unfolds.

The cinematography also deserves mention: the evocation of 1920s-era Denmark and Paris was well done. Much of what I saw dovetailed with my own memories of Europe, as well as my memories of visiting my great-aunt and great-uncle in New Jersey: both of them were artists, and they lived in an ancient home festooned with paintings.

The actors also deserve praise. I already know Eddie Redmayne as a talented actor in both the dramatic and the physical senses; you'll recall my review of "The Theory of Everything" here. Once again, Redmayne is tasked with portraying someone who, in undergoing an inexorable transition, begins to manifest radically different mannerisms. As with Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawking's deterioration, the actor's transformation here is accomplished with both mastery and subtlety. He inhabits the role.

The whole world now knows that Alicia Vikander received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the 2016 Academy Awards for her portrayal of Gerda Wegener. I have to say that, in the end, I may have had more sympathy for Gerda than I had for Einar/Lili. Lili, at least, saw who she was and where she needed to go with increasing clarity. Gerda, by contrast, began the film secure in a happy marriage, only to have the rug pulled out from under her life. She was plunged into chaos. Whether Lili lives or dies, Gerda loses a beloved spouse, and the movie stresses that Gerda tried to express that love even when it was hopeless to do so. The film shows us that revealing one's unconventional sexuality isn't merely a personal matter: it inevitably affects others, too. We don't go through life alone; everything we do creates ripples—everything we do has consequences for us and our inner circle. "The Danish Girl" isn't merely the story of Lili Elbe; it's the story of Lili and Gerda.

All in all, I was glad to have seen the movie. It made me think. I suppose the central message is that we need to be understanding about those who are different. Even though they're different, they're still fellow human beings, and we're all on this cosmic voyage together. Lili Elbe—the real Lili Elbe who kept a journal and scrupulously chronicled her trials (the movie mentions the journal)—was a brave soul who risked everything to become more fully who she was. I might not understand where she was coming from, but I have nothing but respect for such courage, and wish she could have led a longer, happier life.


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Sunday, February 28, 2016

running dawg

My brother David sent me a pic of his dog Penny running down the shoveled sidewalk toward him on a blizzardy day:


I saw that pic and immediately thought:



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Ave, John!

My friend John McCrarey offers some great pictures and an amusing narrative of a recent hike he took up Namsan. I admit it: I envy him.

Here's my own "virtual hike" from long ago.


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Saturday, February 27, 2016

restaurant review!

On Twitter, Joe McPherson linked to the first review of his restaurant, McPherson's BBQ Pub, which had its soft opening only a day or so ago. This is definitely recommended reading for anyone interested in trying Joe's place out.


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Friday, February 26, 2016

Ave, Bill!

My friend Bill Keezer writes an excellent meditation on the tangled question of theodicy, typically defined as the response to the question of how evil can exist in this reality despite the presence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God. Bill makes an interesting point while wrapping up his post:

All the theodicies have the problem of not knowing why God created the universe if He did.

That subordinate clause, "if He did," has some spooky implications (e.g., if God didn't create the universe, was it a Gnostic demiourgos? was it aliens playing a demiourgos sort of role?), but the main point of that sentence is certainly one to ponder: how can one construct a theodicy at all if one can't divine God's purpose in creating the universe?

(Assuming, of course, that there is a God.)


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Stephen Green's commentary on the CNN GOP debate

Here.

Forget Carson and Kasich. They're good men, whatever you might think of their policies, but neither belonged on that stage.

Cruz did well, but probably not well enough to reverse his downward trajectory in the polls. I've long been a supporter of his, albeit an increasingly reluctant one, but he needed to do more tonight than he did.

Rubio shocked the hell out of me. Two, three, four times on the drunkblog and on Twitter I found myself asking "Where was THIS Rubio before?" I asked myself that even more times privately in my thoughts. Whatever you might think of his policies (I'm not a fan), tonight's Rubio came out swinging -- and connected again and again. His performance comes at the perfect time, too, just as he's gaining some traction in a few polls here and there.

But was it enough?

We might not know until Super Tuesday just days from now, and we'll know for sure when the primary vote moves to Florida shortly after.

Which brings us to Trump.

Trump did his Trump thing, and we all know what that is by now. He took some big hits tonight, a couple from Cruz and the rest from Rubio. But -- and this is the vital thing -- he never really lost his stride. That invisible Trumpness wasn't punctured, at least not in a way that appeared on his face, where it could have shattered the hopes of the Devoted.

Trump has so changed the rules of the game that in order to beat Trump, you really have to make him look beaten, to recognize his own loss.

If such a thing is possible, I can't commit to saying we saw anything like that on CNN.

So it sounds as though Mr. Green is saying that Donald Trump has a lot in common with Baghdad Bob, the announcer who brayed that there were no US tanks in Baghdad even as the tanks were rolling in.

I believe that you haven't truly won the fight against your opponent until you've beaten his mind—taken away his will to fight. If I pound someone into the earth and that person stares defiantly up at me from the dust—bloody but unbowed, as the poem goes—then I haven't truly beaten him.

But it's easy to confuse Trump's narcissistic defiance with that sort of bravery. Trump is not the master of his fate, nor is he the captain of his soul. He's irascible, inconsistent, and easily manipulable. Mexico's former president, Vicente Fox, is now on record as saying "I'm not going to pay for that fucking wall! [Trump] should pay for it. He's got the money." Trump shot back with a tweet demanding that Fox apologize for saying "fucking," once again revealing how vulnerable and reactive he is to any sort of criticism. Trump's knee-jerk tweet is not the action of a man who is the captain of his own soul.

I maintain that voting should be an act of conscience, not an exercise in game theory. It's private and personal. For myself, I can't in good conscience vote for Trump. In all likelihood, assuming I do vote (and not voting is also an act of conscience, a right that we uphold in America, if not in other Western countries), I'll most likely be writing someone in.


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2 views on Trump

The positive spin.

The negative spin.

I report; you decide.


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Thursday, February 25, 2016

mixed weekend

This is shaping up to be an "enjoy life when opportunities present themselves" sort of weekend, mainly because my boss at the Golden Goose has asked me to come in on Saturday and/or Sunday to help finish up a textbook that we've been working on over the past month. Work will be punctuated by pleasant moments, though: I'll be re-watching "Deadpool"—this time with my buddy Tom in tow—Friday night. On Saturday, I'll work for the better part of a day, then will meet Lig for a short campus tour and an viewing of "The Danish Girl," which stars Eddie Redmayne (performance reviewed here) and chronicles the first-ever gender-reassignment operation. Lig had opted out of "Deadpool," which she dismissed as "a guy film" (it is); this was her preferred choice.

At some point over the weekend, I want to pop over to Yongsan's Jeonja Land to buy some DVDs and Blu-rays so as to begin creating a video library. I also need to shop for some sundries that can only be found at Hannam Market. Lig says she wants to try my lamb gyros, so I'll need to hit some shop (Hannam or High Street) for more lamb.

In financial news: I'm right on schedule with my unsinkable budget. I'm very likely to finish February with a happy surplus of at least W100,000. I've already been paid by KMA—two weeks earlier than projected—for the work I did this past February 13. God, how I love KMA. Even if I were to get really spendy over the next few days, there's no way I could go over-budget. And that's a terrific feeling.

Ah, well... terrific feeling or not, I've got to work this weekend, which sucks. But there'll be bright spots between now and Monday to help me preserve my sanity. I'll be enjoying life when opportunities present themselves.


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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

okonomiyaki


This awful, incoherent mess slathered in too much sauce is from a Japanese restaurant in the basement of my apartment building. I had eaten there only once before: teriyaki chicken, which ended up being rather so-so: I could have done a better job of cooking it. I decided to give the place another try tonight, mainly because I'd been irrationally jonesing for some okonomiyaki, and I'd seen that dish on this restaurant's menu.

My first okonomiyaki experience was in Osaka. I was between flights and had a long layover; I met my Jamerican friend Justin Yoshida, and he took me to a local restaurant where we sat down and ordered Osaka's version of soul food. It was great: fresh vegetables and meat thrown together in a loose sort of pancake that was nicely crunchy on the outside. I thought the squirted brown and white sauces were a bit tacky, but the overall visual and gustatory impressions I had were overwhelmingly positive.

Tonight's okonomiyaki was edible, but a far cry from what I'd eaten in Osaka. The pancake wasn't even a pancake: it was a pile of mush that barely held itself together. It tasted good enough for me to wade my way through the entire dish (it was meant for two, which is why it was so expensive), but the soggy texture was hugely disappointing. I can see why so many Japanese come to Korea and feel let down when they try to order Koreanized versions of Japanese food. It's often the same for me when it comes to Western food.

Verdict: I doubt I'll be going back to that restaurant.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

wuzzferlunch?

Chicken shawarmas!


I took seven rock-solid frozen chicken breasts (that's 3.5 chickens who sacrificed their tits so that we could enjoy our meal), thawed them for 90 minutes, then sliced them thinly to simulate the shaved-off effect of slicing chicken off the rotisserie. I fried the chicken in massive amounts of butter and olive oil, drained most of the oil away, threw in my spice/seasoning/herb mixture, and fried those chicken tits up until the bottom layer of meat got nice and crispy. I diced up some higher-than-normal-quality tomatoes, crumbled another brick of feta, sliced up some olives and Korean chili peppers (gochu), gathered up my naan, and took the whole hot mess to work, where I fed shawarmas to my boss and my coworker.

Success. Everybody ate two. "You can't stop at just one," my boss joked, evoking the old commercials. Next time around, I'll chop the chicken into chunkier bits, then serve the chicken (seasoned the same way) atop couscous with feta, tomatoes, and figs.


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Monday, February 22, 2016

an experiment with boerewors


Whenever I see the word "boerewors," I can't help but think of the Boer Wars. Boer is Afrikaans for "farmer," and wors is the Afrikaans equivalent of Wurst in German, so this is a "farmer's sausage" (no phallic reference intended, so the sheep can stop cowering and trembling now... we're not in New Zealand, for goodness' sake).

A couple weeks ago, I noticed that High Street Market was selling these four-packs of lamb boerewors. I was in my döner/gyro phase at that point, so I was curious as to whether eating some boerewors would be like eating a gyro in sausage form. A couple days ago, I bought a package of sausage and took it home. I microwaved a single link, stuck it in a hot-dog bun, and slathered on my homemade hot sauce and tzatziki. The result was excellent, but a boerewors is nothing like gyro/döner meat: the seasoning is all different. My sauces did go well with the link, though (lamb is lamb), so on Monday night, I pan-fried three links and prepped them the same Greco-Turkish way, as you see in the image above. Delicious.


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Steyn on GOP/Dem election prospects

Here.

Trump may, indeed, have a ceiling around 33-35 per cent of the primary vote. But where are his rivals' ceilings? Marco Rubio bounced back from his humiliation in New Hampshire to a distant second place. But, considering he had the much coveted Nikki Haley endorsement, that's not an impressive result - and even if every single one of Jeb's votes [goes] to Marco (which they won't - because John Kasich has all the more reason to stick around till Ohio)[,] that still doesn't get Rubio near Trump.

As for Ted Cruz, the Palmetto State has to be accounted a disappointment. We were told that New Hampshire was too "moderate" and "libertarian" for his particular brand of conservatism and that South Carolina was a much better fit. But he came in exactly the same place - third - and this time without any delegates.

~As for the Nevada Democrat primary, one is sympathetic to Bernie Sanders because he's operating within a much more corrupt party machine whose superdelegates have already been snaffled up by Mrs Clinton. But that's all the more reason why he needs to win these caucus states instead of just kinda sorta almost tying Hillary. The difference between Trump's hijacking of the GOP primary and Sanders' attempt to do likewise to the Democrats is the difference between a fellow who means it and a guy who lacks the killer instinct.


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hiss

Dr. Vallicella and Dr. Hodges both write blog posts in which an "s" is surrounded by parentheses. See here for Dr. V's post, and here for Dr. H's.

Wherefore the urge to lock the "s" inside concave walls? I suspect that the letter "s" can be rather unruly, so it's only natural to want to take it aside every now and then to give it a proper beating, followed by strict confinement until it comes to its (s)en(s)e(s).


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Sunday, February 21, 2016

counter reset

Joe McPherson has reset the opening date for his pub, McPherson's BBQ Pub, to February 29, thereby taking advantage of a leap-year date. Not a tragedy, as far as I'm concerned; it gives me more time to figure out whom I'll be taking with me when I do finally undertake the cross-town odyssey to the Mokdong/Omokgyo area.

I just texted Joe to find out whether walk-ins are OK, or if we need to make reservations. Joe's not sure yet, but he seems to be leaning toward the idea of walk-ins: it's a pub, after all. But he finished our conversation with a "we'll see," so I guess... we'll see. Meantime, I'm going to assume that whatever group I take with me will be walking in. Like the saints.


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"Deadpool": review


Saturday morning. I hit the not-quite-matinee of "Deadpool," Marvel's latest in a non-stop barrage of superhero flicks. Long story short: I laughed like a retard munching his way through a poppy field throughout the entire film, then walked around the shopping mall for a good half-hour afterward with a stupid, stupid grin pasted to my face. I loved "Deadpool."

The movie isn't the same as your typical Marvel actioner. First off, it's amazingly—almost ear-blisteringly—vulgar, and some of the female characters prove to be just as raunchy as the guys—sexy Morena Baccarin in particular (remember her? Inara from "Firefly"?) shows a side of herself that she's never revealed in any of her other roles. "Deadpool" is also a black comedy: we're expected to laugh at bloody amputations, people getting shot in the rectum or being stabbed through the skull, "teabagging" during an intense fight sequence, and the prospect of dying from cancer (see previous review for a more sober take).

Along with being a vulgar black comedy, "Deadpool" is cynical and self-aware. From the opening credits on through to the post-credits scene, the movie is a postmodernist's wet dream—a paean to intertextuality. Reynolds's Deadpool talks directly to us, the viewers, breaking the fourth wall every chance he gets, and often commenting on his awareness that he's in a superhero movie. He even names the actors who play in Marvel roles: Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy (both of whom have played Professor Charles Francis Xavier) are name-checked, and there's a series of not-very-nice Wolverine/Hugh Jackman jokes, including one about ball-fondling "down under" (said with an Aussie accent). Deadpool even references the actor Ryan Reynolds, and the character shows us that his favorite action figure is the mouthless Deadpool from "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." When Wade Wilson is about to undergo his transformation into Deadpool, he asks that his super-suit not be either green or animated—a reference to Reynolds's stillborn, much-panned superhero flick, "Green Lantern." The opening credits themselves are hilarious: instead of naming the stars we'll be watching, the credits cynically list the types we'll be seeing: "gratuitous cameo," "sullen teen," "asshats," and the like. The post-credits scene, instead of showing a preview of the next Marvel film, is a parody of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," with Deadpool in a bathrobe telling us that the movie's over and we should go on home. In the middle of the film, when Deadpool visits Xavier's X-Men academy, he cracks that he only ever sees two people there—Colossus (voice of Stefan Kapičić—Colossus is a pure-CGI character) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand)—almost as if the studio couldn't afford to show any other X-Men.

So what's "Deadpool" about? It's an origin story about Wade Wilson, a former Special Forces soldier who now spends his time as a hard-edged do-gooder—a mercenary. The movie cuts back and forth between flashbacks and the present day; at one point there's a fourth-wall-breaking flashback within a flashback, and Deadpool says something like, "A fourth-wall break within a fourth-wall break! That's like... sixteen walls!" Wilson finds his nasty soulmate Vanessa (Baccarin), a call girl with a miserable past, then discovers he has raging metastatic cancer. Desperate, Wilson accepts the offer from a shady recruiter to enter a special program that can cure him of his cancer and grant him superpowers. He undergoes a series of brutal tortures, all in an attempt to activate mutant genes. When the genes are finally activated—and Wilson's primary torturer, Francis, seems to enjoy trying to activate them—Wilson gains Wolverine-like powers of quick regeneration and amazing athletic abilities that enhance his already-impressive fighting skills. When he discovers that the program he's in is actually in place to create "super-slaves," he manages to escape, after which he spends his time tracking down the people who mutated him. Oh, about that: Wade Wilson acquires superpowers, true, but the cost is that his skin becomes ravaged and cancerous-looking. As his friend puts it, he looks as though "Freddy Krueger face-fucked a topographical map of Utah." Nodding in agreement, Wade says he now looks like "a testicle with teeth."

I've always enjoyed movies that have an un-self-conscious sense of fun about them.* "The Matrix" was like that. So was "Guardians of the Galaxy." I can now add "Deadpool" to that proud roster; it's getting marginally good reviews at sites like Metacritic, but for me, this is easily one of my top two favorite Marvel films—and it barely qualifies as a Marvel film. The cast all do amazing work: Reynolds gets to be his likable, hilarious self; Morena Baccarin is often equally funny while also playing it dark and cynical; Ed Skrein is appropriately cruel and arrogant as the evil Francis "Ajax" Freeman; chipmunky comedian TJ Miller ("the sidekick" in the opening credits) tosses off gut-busting one-liners as Wilson's buddy Weasel; Gina Carano (for whom I have the hots) is butched-up and dangerous-looking in her role as Angel Dust; and Brianna Hildebrand makes an impression as "sullen teen" mutant trainee Negasonic Teenage Warhead. All the cast members seemed to be enjoying themselves; I imagine it must have been a trip to be on the set during the making of this movie.

If this is really Tim Miller's first time ever directing a major film, I expect big things from him in the future. He got the pacing and cinematography right; he photographed the fight scenes in ways that were coherent and understandable; there was little to no shaky-cam footage. He injected plenty of blood and gore (including Brian De Palma levels of splattered brains) into the plot, and he put his own stamp on the Marvel franchise: his work is easily distinguishable from that of other Marvel directors like Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, and James Gunn. What I liked best about this film was that it went there: it didn't pull any punches, and even though it's not, tonally speaking, an integral part of the larger Marvel universe, it points the way to what future Marvel movies could become. They could all afford to become a bit more raunchy, a bit more adult in nature. "Deadpool" also inadvertently gives us a glimpse of some of the seedier aspects of superheroic existence, and in so doing, it brings its characters down from superhuman to more relatably human. Yeah, I wouldn't complain if movies like "Deadpool" became the norm. Despite its immaturity, it's a more mature film.

Of course, most people will say that the main attraction, here, is the humor. I'd agree. "Deadpool" is laugh-your-guts-out funny. There's a huge vein of physical comedy to be mined when your quick-healing powers allow you to be shot through the anus, amputated, impaled, and stabbed in the head, only for you to recover and get ready for more abuse. There's also the added comedic perk of being able to tell your lady love that your activated mutant genes have granted you a super dick. Part of the humor, too, comes from Wade Wilson's interactions with Blind Al, the old blind woman that he lives with after he goes through his uglifying mutant transformation and refuses to show his face to Vanessa. At first, I could have sworn that Blind Al was played by Nichelle Nichols (classic Uhura in the old Star Trek films), but it turns out the actress is Leslie Uggams who, if Google Images don't lie, was positively gorgeous back in the day. Wade and Al have a weird, prickly relationship; she loudly tells Wade that she can hear him through the walls every time he masturbates; he gathers up a pile of guns and tells her that he loves her very much, and that there's a huge cocaine stash on the premises.

As raunchy, nasty, self-aware, and darkly cynical as "Deadpool" is, it's got a good heart and a compassionate core. Wade Wilson hates it every time someone calls him a "hero" for some good act he's performed, and Colossus keeps trying to bring Wilson into the X-Men fold, but for all of Wade's resistance to aligning himself with the major-league good guys, he's a softie, and I'm pretty sure he'll end up as one of Professor Xavier's charges someday. The movie's plot isn't all that original (despite being yet another origin story); the fight choreography features the standard, Marvel-style gymno-combat that isn't specific to any martial art; there's plenty of silly Hollywood physics constantly threatening to suspend your suspension of disbelief; but despite those minor flaws, "Deadpool" is watchable. It's smartly scripted, briskly paced, well peopled with stand-out characters, dripping with wit, and altogether lovable. Hell, the movie is more than watchable—it's re-watchable, and I'll probably try to see it again soon.



*You may be wondering how I can describe the same movie as both "self-aware" and "un-self-conscious." I don't find this contradictory: the movie goes meta whenever it breaks the fourth wall—that's its self-awareness—but the script is freewheeling and fun-loving without being pretentious—that's its un-self-consciousness. And that's all I mean, really.


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Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Spectre": review

Thursday evening, I finally sat down and watched "Spectre," the most recent James Bond offering starring Daniel Craig and directed by Sam Mendes. How can I put this delicately...? Sam Mendes needs to stay the fuck away from the James Bond franchise. Can I be any clearer than that? Mendes has done plodding, thoughtful films like "Road to Perdition" (Tom Hanks as an assassin on the run with his son) and "American Beauty"—cerebral, multilayered stories that, more often than not, explore profound human themes. This makes Mendes, in my opinion, the worst possible director of an action-movie franchise, but some idiot of a studio executive saw fit to allow Mendes to direct not just one, but two James Bond films. You may recall my dislike of "Skyfall," Mendes's first Bond effort. "Spectre" is that movie's spiritual brother in tone and pacing. There's an action sequence in Mexico City at the very beginning that might lull you into thinking this is going to be a very different Mendes product, but no—it's more of the same.

And yet it's not. "Spectre" has a bit of a retro feel to it, almost as if Mendes thought it would be safe to evoke the very silly Roger Moore era of Bond movies—the ridiculous devices supplied by Q, the cartoonish action sequences, the girls who fall in love with Bond after hanging with him for only a short while. In "Spectre," we see Bond using an airplane to chase SUVs down a forest path; the plane's wings snap off as Bond maneuvers close to the ground vehicles. Later on, we see a secret base blow up for no apparent reason: I understood why one building went down in flames after Bond escaped it, but why the rest of the complex suddenly went up is beyond me. We also see Bond driving on a nearly vertical wall, and then there's Léa Seydoux's character, who starts off hating Bond, but who eventually gets to a point where she professes her love for him. I can't even count how many times "Spectre" made me roll my eyes.

I mentioned above that Mendes normally makes multilayered films. He tried that here, too. "Spectre" has a large subplot involving the new M (Ralph Fiennes, who is one of the better things about this film) and his struggle with "C" (Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh), a government official who wants to merge MI6 with other parts of government and phase out the double-oh program in favor of erecting a massive surveillance state with the cooperation of eight other nations to form "the Nine Eyes." M is very much against this move, citing the human factor that the double-oh program provides, and coming out against the notion of a police state presided over by unelected guardians. So "Spectre" wants to be an issues movie as well as a (sleepy) action movie. That in itself is not a bad thing, but I didn't feel that the subplot was all that well integrated into the main plot.

Dave Bautista, who played the massive Drax in "Guardians of the Galaxy" and proved he had acting chops, is wasted here in the role of Mr. Hinx, a Spectre assassin who gets only one line. Bautista is a martial-arts expert, and I expected some better fight scenes between him and Daniel Craig. The scenes we get are brutal, but they're little more than wildly swinging fists and WWE-style body throws. Lots of scenery gets smashed up, and in Bond's final fight with Mr. Hinx, a train car gets half-destroyed, but the train chugs on to its destination without ever stopping. By this point, I had mentally checked out of the story. Gone were the grittiness and tight pacing of "Casino Royale"; all that was left was this weird combination of Mendes's attempt at a meditative tone and his simultaneous urge to evoke the Roger Moore era.

Several critics complained that Christoph Waltz, who plays Spectre honcho Ernst Stavro Blofeld, was guilty of overacting. I disagree. I thought Waltz made the best of a silly role, and his acting was, if anything, rather restrained, in my opinion—a far cry from the gleefully evil Nazi he portrayed in "Inglourious Basterds." Unfortunately, the preview trailers spoiled the mystery of who Spectre's leader was long before the movie hit theaters, so Waltz's appearance was no surprise at all. By the end of the film, Waltz's face has acquired the classic scar seen on Donald Pleasance's face in the old Connery films: once again, Mendes has taken Bond back to a different era when he really ought to have been looking ahead and forging a new path.

So all in all, "Spectre" was a jumble of themes that could have been explored more deeply (love, childhood, the surveillance state); it was helmed by a director who is, in my not-so-humble opinion, completely unsuited to the Bond franchise. It had some interesting moments, mainly thanks to Ralph Fiennes, but nothing about the film really gelled for me. It was slow-pokey, like "Skyfall," and it made the unforgivable mistake of relying on that old cinematic cliché: the third-act villain who has been there the whole time, behind the scenes, manipulating events. "It was me all along, James." One more eye-roll.


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a list of food I've brought to the office

It occurred to me, yesterday afternoon, that I've already done quite a bit of cooking and food-prepping for my boss and my two coworkers (one an ex-coworker, the other a current coworker). On our office's white board, I listed most of those accomplishments, which I now relist here for your delectation.

Here are the dishes that I either brought to the office or made right in the office over the past two or three months:

• hummus
• deli-style sandwich
• fettuccine faux-Fredo
• meatball subs
• coquilles St. Jacques
choucroute alsacienne
• pulled-pork sliders
• French-style baguette sandwich
budae-jjigae (not shared with anyone in the office)
• chicken-and-shrimp curry (not shared)
• tacos/burritos with homemade chili

I need to share my budae and my curry with the gents. I also want to sic my gyro/shawarma/döner on them, along with Italian-American food like spaghetti and lasagna. My culinary palette [sic—not palate] is limited by the fact that our office has a sensitive smoke alarm in it, so there are certain things I can never do, like pan-fry garlic bread or bake anything with even a minuscule risk of producing smoke. Still, despite those limitations, I can produce a fairly wide variety of food that can be reheated in a microwave before serving, or cooked atop a portable gas range with no danger of setting off the alarm.

My new coworker is delighted by all the food. He took home a mess of pulled pork yesterday, which he vowed to share with his girlfriend. More to come!


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Friday, February 19, 2016

"Wit": a review and reflection

Years ago, perhaps before this blog ever came into existence, I went with my brother David to the Kennedy Center in DC to see Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-winning play W;t (pronounced "Wit"), which starred Judith Light (lead actress in the TV series "Who's the Boss?") as the play's protagonist, Dr. Vivian Bearing, a stern English professor who specializes in the poetry of John Donne (of "Death Be Not Proud" fame). I had read the play before I saw it, and I cried during my reading of it. Edson had a good ear—not only for words and their power, but also for the rhythm and resonances of the human spirit.

Dr. Vivian Bearing has led an ascetic existence as an essentially friendless university professor, frightening class after class of poetry students with her keen intellect and uncompromising manner. Now, though, as the play begins, she discovers she has stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. "There is no stage five," she wryly observes. The play covers her final months on this earth—a woman whose stock in trade has been Donne's meditations on death and salvation, now facing the very real prospect of her own mortality. Judith Light's portrayal of Bearing was wrenching, and I cried openly and shamelessly, giving her a standing ovation along with the rest of the crowd that was there that night.

Some years after the Kennedy Center production, HBO did its own TV-movie version of the play, titling it "Wit" without the witty semicolon. The film was directed by Mike Nichols ("The Graduate" and "Regarding Henry," to name one success and one misfire). It starred Emma Thompson, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Nichols himself. Not much was changed in the textual transference from stage to screen, but the nature of the acting certainly changed because of the intimacy that was possible with in-your-face camera work. I didn't see the HBO production until just tonight, and to be honest, I'm not sure why I wanted to put myself through that experience.

Tonight's viewing (the entire film is currently available on YouTube; watch it before it gets yanked by the copyright trolls) was the first time I had come back to Edson's play since my mother's death. If the play had broken my heart before we knew anything about Mom's illness, imagine what watching it was like after having been through that experience. According to the Wikipedia trivia, film critic Roger Ebert went through the same inner trial: he had seen the film before his own cancer, and when he tried to watch it again after he had been stricken with cancer, he found he was unable to do it. For myself, tonight, there were moments when I wanted to turn away—to delete this particular tab on my browser, cutting off the video before we arrived at the bitter end. But I watched the whole movie, and I cried, and I admired Emma Thompson's magnificent performance.

At the same time, I begrudged the character of Vivian Bearing her ability to narrate the steps of her own demise: that dignity was denied my mother at the very beginning, when a portion of her brain had to be cut away as part of the initial debulking procedure to get rid of most of her tumor's mass. With her frontal lobe mostly gone, Mom couldn't form logical chains of sentence-shaped thoughts, and I never had a good grasp of how deeply she could feel emotion, especially as the tumor regrew and spread from one lobe of her brain to the other. For a couple months, Mom could talk, but only in short, simple sentences. She mostly spoke reactively; whatever verbal initiative she'd possessed had been stripped away, along with her forebrain. So yeah, I resented Vivian Bearing's articulateness, her sharp wit. Mom had only bloody tatters of her mind left. How was that fair?

The play is mostly set in a hospital. Vivian Bearing spends much of her on-screen time in a bed. The relentless sameness of the movie's setting caused 2009 to come flooding back to me. It wasn't a pleasant feeling. There were times when I wanted to reach into the screen and stroke Emma Thompson's cheek, to share a bit of human warmth with the dying English professor. Vivian Bearing notes, with both ironic tenderness and resigned bitterness, that she had denied her own students any sign of human warmth and compassion, and now here she was, alone in a bleak hospital with a bevy of coldly analytical medical professionals, only one truly compassionate nurse, and no other visitors.

Earlier in this reflection, I noted that Emma Thompson and Mike Nichols had changed little from Edson's original work. They did, however, change the play's final moments. Edson's ending had Vivian Bearing walking "naked and eager" into a mysterious light. Thompson and Nichols's version is more mundane. No heavenly light greets Dr. Bearing in the TV production; instead, we get a voiceover and a final glimpse of the deceased Dr. Bearing's face. I'm not sure how I feel about this change. In one sense, it deprives us of the chance to experience something spiritually uplifting. On the other hand, the new ending, albeit prosaic, is more grounded in reality, and the viewer is left to ponder unassisted the meaning of Donne's "Death, thou shalt die."

At least my mother didn't die alone. She was with the small circle of her immediate family at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I might begrudge Vivian Bearing the retention of her mental faculties until almost the very end, but I pity the professor for dying alone, respected but unloved. May such a fate never await the readers of this humble blog. And may you never experience—or witness—this sort of suffering.


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weekend

This promises to be a Ligament-free weekend* (she's swamped with the translation work that she does on the side), so I'll be going stag and watching "Deadpool" by myself, then doing some much-needed shopping. I have to buy a sewing kit to make some minor clothing repairs; I need to buy a new wine corkscrew to replace the shitty plastic one that just broke; finally, I want to buy a TV console and some DVDs and Blu-rays so I can start building up a library of things to watch on the 42-inch TV that I bought from my ex-coworker.** Most, if not all, of these purchases can be done at the local Home Plus or Lotte Mart in Jamshil.

Once I bring all that booty back to my place, the next project is to rearrange my interior so that I can watch TV comfortably from my bed. I don't have a couch, nor do I have room for a couch, so my bed will have to double as one.

So perhaps by Sunday evening, I'll have made my apartment marginally more livable. Lig complains that my place is too silent; she prefers having some sort of background noise. I told her that I loved the silence, and that people who hate silence usually have too much stuff buzzing around inside their own heads, which is why they need background noise: to ignore the internal buzzing. And besides, if it's the silence she hates, I don't need a TV to provide background noise: I can just queue up some songs from YouTube on my laptop. But I've got the TV, and right now it's just sitting here, doing nothing. Time to put it to work.



*Lig says she wants to see "The Danish Girl" next week. Sigh...

**And let's not forget the DVD/Blu-ray player itself, courtesy of John McCrarey, who found a player on base and bought it for me.


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you've had moments like this

(found here)





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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ave, Joe!

Joe McPherson (I wrote up our legendary meeting here), master of the internationally famous Zen Kimchi blog, has decided to shift his focus from the keyboard to the smoker: he's starting up his own barbecue joint—McPherson's BBQ Pub. Joe has given plenty of talks (including at least one TEDx talk if not more); he's been writing about food for around twelve years, and while he's done more than his fair share of cooking—at home, in restaurants, and at various events all over the world—he has never undertaken a project as large and ambitious as this one. Here he is, from his newest blog, in his own words:

Opening a restaurant in Seoul is risky. It’s one of the most saturated and competitive restaurant markets in the world. Opening a foreign restaurant with a foreign owner… well, let’s see how this goes. The Korean palate has rapidly internationalized, but [it] still has a way to go in actually respecting other cultures’ cuisines. We all know that foreign foods get tweaked in all countries, especially when they’re new to locals. Korea takes that to an extreme. It’s going to be a challenge to make food that Koreans will eat while also maintaining the integrity of my own culture’s traditions. That doesn’t mean capitulation. I hope to challenge the Korean palate in some ways and broaden it. That sounds so arrogant now that I write it down.

The other challenge is ingredients and equipment. For all the free trade agreements (FTAs) Korea signs, it’s still very much a closed market. Foreign restaurateurs and ordinary expats trade tips all the time on where to find what would be the most common basic ingredients in other countries. This has been repeatedly cited as one of the barriers preventing Seoul from becoming an internationally recognized and respected restaurant city. And being an American BBQ establishment, getting things like smokers, decent charcoal, and wood is way harder and more expensive than one would think.

So to help others with this insane idea of opening a restaurant in Seoul and to give a window into what it’s like to open a restaurant in a foreign country, I’m starting this blog. It may just end up being an outlet for griping. I can hear old style PR people screaming how this is such a bad idea. But you know, I’ve always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes stories of restaurants. Even when they’re crazy, they’ve made me want to visit the places even more.

I'm excited for Joe, and I wish him the best. Go to his new blog's main page, and you'll see a countdown timer tracking the days, hours, and minutes to his resto's grand opening. I can't promise that I'll be first in line to try the new place, but I'm definitely going.

If you've seen Joe's site and clicked on the "location" link, you'll have noticed right away that his joint isn't anywhere near Itaewon, which to me is a smart move. Itaewon is a land of strangling creepers poised to drag down all newcomers; restos that start up there face a grueling uphill battle. What good are customers when there's no room to breathe?

Joe's place, by contrast, is in the less competition-charged Mokdong/Omokgyo area, which most expats know as the neighborhood harboring one of Seoul's most infamous immigration offices (Mokdong is, as I've written before, my least-favorite branch of Immigration). That means there will always be a steady supply of hungry foreigners on the lookout for some good eating—without the smarmy Itaewon ambiance. This part of town is decidedly more Coruscant, less Mos Eisley. Come to think of it, if the number of foreigners in that neighborhood is higher during the day because of Immigration's office hours, it's entirely possible that Joe's place will do better-than-usual lunchtime business.

The menu looks good; my fangs are sharpened, and my stomach is primed. I've tried Manimal; I've tried Linus. It's time for some goddamn McPherson.


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bread, interrupted

I'd never seen halfway-sliced bread still sitting in the bread-slicer before, so I had to take the following picture, much to the amusement of the bakery lady in my office's building:






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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

hee

God, how I love this ad. It never gets old.






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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

image

If you're curious about what Lig looks like, and frustrated because she won't let me upload any photos of her onto the blog, watch this chick, who is almost Lig's spitting image. I've linked to Luna before; the link I just gave you is to one of my favorite vids. She's got an album now, Luna does, and I'm thinking about buying it. She's talented and original, and because she looks like A Certain Lady, she's also quite sexy.


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Ave, Malcolm and Mike!

Nature abhors a vacuum, and with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a vacuum has been created, donc il est grand temps de combler le vide. Scalia's passing was met with mournful respect by some and raucous joy by others (mainly because of his unevolved positions on gay marriage, however much of an enlightened defender of the Constitution he might have been), but two postmortem (literally postmortem) analyses from my regular blog circuit caught my eye: one from my e-friend Malcolm Pollack and one from my buddy Mike of Naked Villainy. Together, these posts make the issues surrounding the current vacuum-filling turmoil much clearer for a layman like me.


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Monday, February 15, 2016

a day for shabu

Most people, when they think of shabu-shabu, a Japanese dish that's popular throughout East Asia, normally imagine paper-thin cuts of beef going into an aromatic broth with a pile of fresh, leafy vegetables and mushrooms. And most people would be right: that's a pretty standard shabu-shabu. But this dish doesn't have to be made with beef, as Lig told me: you can use seafood as well. Lig had proudly claimed that she knew how to make shabu-shabu, but I had my doubts. She's cooked before: years ago, as part of an English class I'd been teaching at Sookmyung Women's University, she made takoyaki, a.k.a. fried "octopus balls," a popular street food consisting of fried batter with chopped-up bits of octopus (the tako in question) in it. She did a good job, I recall, although she was a painstakingly slow and cautious cook. Remembering her hesitancy and lack of confidence, I wasn't sure whether to take her shabu-shabu claim at face value.

We met Sunday at Garak Market, a vast commercial area that, despite my nearly ten years in Seoul, I had never visited before. The nearest subway exit, Garak Market Station Exit #1, is located at the market's south entrance; Lig asked me to meet her at the north entrance, which meant I had to walk all the way across the entire market, through biting cold, to reach our meeting spot, Danong Mart.*

Garak Market was as huge as I imagined it to be. Its sprawl reminded me of nothing so much as the air-cargo section of an airport (I used to visit such places when my father was a Northwest Airlines employee) with massive storage areas, truck-offload zones, stacks of pallets, and forklifts cruising around. Today, at least two-thirds of the stores and stalls were closed, but enough were open so that Lig and I were able to find all the ingredients we needed: vegetables, dipping-sauce components, and seafood. Our goal was to try to buy everything we needed for under W25,000. This turned out to be impossible, for reasons that every Costco shopper is familiar with: when you go to Costco, you don't go expecting to buy a small bottle of ketchup: you're there to buy a 55-gallon drum of ketchup, and that's not going to be cheap because Costco doesn't do anything small. By the same token, when you're buying seafood at Garak Market, you're not going to get away with buying three tiger prawns: you buy a larger clutch for at least W10,000, or you buy nothing.

We bought a veggie pack at Danong Mart (which Lig called "the original Korean Costco"—a fitting description given the huge packs, bottles, and boxes of everything on sale, including the largest bag of panko crumbs I've ever seen—2 kilos' worth), then we went over to one of the many sectors of the market where people were selling seafood, and we ended up buying huge shrimp and a variety-pack of bivalves. Each bag—one of shrimp, one of shellfish—was W10,000. We had gone over our W25,000 budget, alas, but we had to forge ahead.

Here are some shots from Garak Market.

In the first image, below, Lig and I have finished shopping at Danong Mart and have gone into the fish market to look for shabu seafood. Station after station, we saw every kind of seafood under the sun. Everything was alive, of course—stealthily crawling, desperately writhing, angrily pulsating, or just quietly sitting in meditation, awaiting death.


Another shot of the market:


Lig had a crisis of confidence while we were shopping; her urge was to defer decisions to me. This is called gyeoljeong-jangae in Korean—what we would call a "decision-making disorder." I ended up negotiating the purchase of the shrimp, but Lig did manage to secure the bivalves, as you'll see below. In the next photo, our shellfish are being weighed before being bagged:


We took a cab back to my place. I had already set my apartment up to make it easy for Lig to start cooking right away. She asked me to make rice so we could have the juk (porridge) that is normally Round 2 after the main shabu meal. Lig had brought a package of katsuobushi, redolent Japanese fish flakes, which she used to make the shabu broth. We put the pot of broth on my portable gas range, which I had placed on the dinner table. We had also laid out the seafood, greens, and shrooms. Lig said we should start with the shellfish first. I asked her whether we should stick the vegetables in as well; she said no: dinner was to be eaten in steps, a bit like the way the French go course by course through a meal. I shrugged; we dumped most of the shellfish into the boiling broth, and I loudly apologized to the bivalves as they plunked into the searing liquid. I had seen—and so had Lig—one or two of the clams extruding parts of their bodies before we dumped them in; this made me feel a bit guilty.

It didn't take long to boil the little creatures to succulent perfection. Lig had made a basic dipping sauce out of wasabi and soy; I helped her shuck the shellfish. She removed the shells and left the meat inside the pot; we then grabbed the bits of mollusk with our chopsticks, dipped, and ate. Here's a pic of the shellfish at their shelliest:


Next was the veggie phase. We dumped all the vegetables in; Lig said they'd need to be eaten quickly because they could easily overcook and turn bad. Here's a picture of a pile of vegetables and shellfish in my bowl:


Here's a clearer shot of the vegetables boiling away:


I next took a shot of all the empty shells:


Next up was the shrimp phase. I had to replace the fuel can in my portable gas range, after which we got the broth to boil furiously. In went our large shrimp; they reddened almost instantly and were done soon after that. Lig had dumped the shrimp in with their heads still on, but when she took them out of the pot, she twisted off the heads, placed the bodies on a plate, and tossed the heads back into the pot to keep flavoring the broth. I grabbed a head or two and did something I'd only heard about but had never tried: I sucked the shrimps' brains out. Damn, that was unexpectedly tasty! Ingesting the contents of a shrimp's head is not unlike eating the more savory parts of a crab—the roe, in particular. There's a ton of umami hidden inside a shrimp's head; I joked with Lig that I now understood why zombies were always after people's brains.**

Shrimp in my bowl:


Lig insisted on overloading me with food. Whenever we go out to dinner and end up sharing anything, she always gives me the majority of her own food. This reminds me of what my mother used to do so unselfishly. Lig and I had a race, at one point, to see who could peel a shrimp faster. She won handily, which was a bit of a surprise: months earlier, I had been peeling raw shrimp to make Chinese food, and Lig had seemed not to know what to do. She had either improved by leaps and bounds since then, or she had already known how to peel shrimp but had had one of her crises of confidence since I had been the one calling the shots in the kitchen that day. Whatever the case, she kicked my ass this Sunday evening.

Another shot of some Lig-peeled shrimp plus shabu soup:


Round 2 was the juk, or porridge. The way it works with Korean shabu-shabu, in case you don't know, is that there's normally a lot of broth left over after the soup portion of the meal is done. Into the broth goes a pile of cooked rice, some eggs, and maybe some other components like mushrooms, minced carrots, green onions, etc., plus a dash of salt and a glug of sesame oil. This gets mixed until it turns into the porridge that everyone knows and loves, and it's ladled into all the diners' bowls. Lig's porridge was great—simple and unadorned, but hearty and rib-sticking all the same. She had reserved some shrimp, which she chopped up and mixed into the porridge. I enjoyed every spoonful.


Dinner was a rousing success, and I felt bad for thinking that Lig might not be able to pull it off. We washed and dried the titanic piles of dishes, pots, and utensils together; I gave Lig her Valentine's Day*** chocolates, and just like that, she was gone. Until next time.



*There's no subway-station exit close to the north gate, which means that you have no choice but to cross the entire market if you've come from Garak Market Station Exit #1 and are trying to reach a destination at a northern part of the market.

**Years and years back, I'd had cold, jellied pig brains while at my mother's Vietnamese friend's house for a lunar new-year's dinner. They were absolutely disgusting, both in terms of taste and in terms of texture. I want nothing to do with land-animal brains ever again.

***In Korea, Cupid's festival day is split into two, so the festivities happen on two separate dates: Valentine's Day, February 14, is the day when the ladies do something for their men. White Day, March 14, is the day the guys do something for their women. There's a third day: Black Day, which has nothing to do with race, but which is reserved for those sad sacks who find themselves with no significant other. On Black Day, you're supposed to eat jjajang-myeon, the chewy, Korean-style Chinese noodles that are normally covered in black-bean sauce (hence the association with Black Day). Of course, if you're just alone but not feeling lonely, then you have nothing to worry about. In theory, anyway.



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Sunday, February 14, 2016

encounter with a frog in a well

It was during my all-day session at KMA yesterday that I encountered a man who apparently sympathizes greatly with North Korea. At one point, during a break, he resentfully asked why America felt the need to force regime change on North Korea. I conceded that this was a difficult question, given the possibility of war, but I noted that no one really hates North Korean citizens: they hate the cause of those citizens' woes, i.e., the North Korean government.* Had I gone further, I would also have noted that North Korea has repeatedly threatened both Japan and the US with "sea of fire" rhetoric, which makes North Korea our problem as much as South Korea's. I asked my student whether doing nothing while North Korean people suffered could be considered moral. He had no answer.

To be fair to my NK sympathizer, he was probably focused on the issue of national sovereignty. From his point of view, America's actions—trying to pressure China to come down harder on NK, dialoguing with SK about installing a THAAD defense system, reinforcing UN sanctions that have already been put in place, enacting more sanctions, etc.—amount to foreign meddling. This is about as frog-in-a-well an attitude as is possible, given how it fails to consider North Korea in a more global context, but I can see where my interlocutor was coming from, blinkered though his perspective might be.

No one wants war. That's a given. But both North Korea, with its blustering rhetoric and escalating war-tech development, and China, with its recalcitrance at the UN and its enabling of North Korea, are forcing us further down that path. Something's eventually got to give. It might not happen for a few ears yet, but a sudden cascade failure up north seems very likely, and no one's going to be ready for it: not China, which is trying to clamp down on border activity, and which takes a hard line to NK defectors that it catches and repatriates; not the US, which doesn't have enough boots on the ground to do much in the event of a real refugee crisis; and especially not South Korea, which has chosen to hide in a corner, curled up in a fetal position, eyes squeezed shut and hands over the ears.

In that context, the closure of the Kaesong industrial complex is a welcome turn of events. I've seen a lot of weeping and wailing about this from softer hearts on Twitter (none of whom I'd want to have in charge of peninsular affairs), but as far as I'm concerned, it's the first hint of any spine from South Korea—a baby step toward dealing with North Korea in a firm and consistently principled manner. Some South Koreans want to blame Kaesong's closure on America and American pressure; ultimately, though, this was South Korea's decision to make. If America applied pressure, it was probably mostly rhetorical in nature: there was no brutal violation of South Korea's sovereignty, no Mafia-style strong-arming.

North Korea is being fed by all sorts of lifelines. China is the main supplier and supporter, but South Korea has been complicit, too, as it continues to bumble along the path described by the utterly naïve and misguided Sunshine Policy. The world at large is just as much a sucker: international NGOs do their best to supply food directly to the North Korean people, but the DPRK military is already there at the drop-off points, ready to redistribute those supplies to the military first, allowing barely a trickle to reach the people who really need sustenance. By closing Kaesong, South Korea removes one of many lifelines feeding the North Korean government—something that, by all rights, it should have done long ago.

My interlocutor was obviously blinded by his own weird admixture of nationalism and pro-North sentiment. He saw the matter too simply and superficially. He was also influenced by the natural Korean tendency to look askance at outsiders. Koreans often keenly feel the insider/outside divide even within the Korean social context: if two Koreans get into a brawl while inside a subway car, Korean witnesses will step back and give the brawlers room rather than try to intervene. "Not my problem; I don't know these people." Korean law also seems to reflect this value: would-be do-gooders who get involved in a brawl might end up facing legal action, a consequence that arguably causes witnesses to hesitate. Where's the motivation to get involved? With that sort of mentality being ambient in South Korea, it's not surprising that many South Koreans think the way my interlocutor does. Not surprising, and unfortunate.



*It might seem strange, at first, to dichotomize citizens and government: the government is, after all, composed of citizens, is it not? True, but in a place like North Korea, there is a divide so deep between government workers and regular citizens that it's practically ontological in nature, as if two completely different classes of beings lived in that part of the Korean peninsula. For that reason, I feel justified in positing this dichotomy.


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Saturday, February 13, 2016

powerful words

From Thomas Keller, chef, in Tim Ferriss's The Four-hour Chef:

One day, I asked my rabbit purveyor to show me how to kill, skin, and eviscerate a rabbit. I had never done this, and I figured if I was going to cook rabbit, I should know it from its live state through the slaughtering, skinning and butchering, and then the cooking. The guy showed up with 12 live rabbits. He hit one over the head with a club, knocked it out, slit its throat, pinned it to a board, skinned it - the whole bit. Then he left.

I don't know what else I expected, but there I was out in the grass behind the restaurant, just me and 11 cute bunnies, all of which were on the menu that week and had to find their way into a braising pan. I clutched at the first rabbit. I had a hard time killing it. It screamed. Rabbits scream, and this one screamed loudly. Then it broke its leg trying to get away. It was terrible. The next 10 rabbits didn't scream and I was quick with the kill, but that first screaming rabbit not only gave me a lesson in butchering, it also taught me about waste. Because killing those rabbits had been such an awful experience, I would not squander them. I would use all my powers as a chef to ensure that those rabbits were beautiful.

It's very easy to go to a grocery store and buy meat, then accidentally overcook it and throw it away. A cook sauteing a rabbit loin, working the line on a Saturday night, a million pans going, plates going out the door, who took that loin a little too far, doesn't hesitate, just dumps it in the garbage and fires another. Would that cook, I wonder, have let his attention stray from that loin had he killed the rabbit himself ? No. Should a cook squander anything ever?



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Friday, February 12, 2016

à propos du socialisme

A good read from Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a, the Instapundit) re: how Bernie Sanders himself, and probably not his socialism, is what's so appealing to the younger voting contingent.

Socialism usually starts with talk of “fairness,” but it generally ends in tyranny and poverty. As Alan Kors wrote back in 2003: “No cause, ever, in the history of all mankind, has produced more cold-blooded tyrants, more slaughtered innocents, and more orphans than socialism with power. It surpassed, exponentially, all other systems of production in turning out the dead. The bodies are all around us.

The piece also discusses socialism as it's instantiated in northern Europe and Venezuela. I agree with the article that it's not fair to call Scandinavia "socialist" as if that were the whole truth of the matter: the reason those countries are so prosperous is that they are, in large part, market economies. This makes them a bit like China, if anything: politically speaking, they may toe some sort of leftist line, but economically speaking, they know what actually works to maximize eudaimonia. Because they aren't stupid the way Hugo Chavez was.


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gyros!

As much as I loved my döner from the other night, I was also jonesing for some gyros, so tonight, Poison Girls, I made one. It was easy, given that I'd done all the prep over the past few days: it was simply a matter of pan-frying the naan a bit (I use naan in place of pita because most store-bought pita bread sucks and is no good for making proper gyros), reheating the succulent meat, and adding sauces and toppings. Here are two pictures of tonight's gyro—one of the gyro all splayed out like a fat man on a beach, the other with the gyro tucked nicely into a foil wrap, fast-food-style.

Splayed:


Wrapped up and ready to defend Thermopylae:



I had put some spiciness into the gyro: there was a bit of my smoky red-chili sauce on the naan, covered over by a healthy helping of tzatziki. There were also plenty of green-chili peppers stuffed in there as well, but strangely, when I ate the gyro, nothing tasted all that fiery. That's a good thing; my asshole could use a break.

The spices were done right, I know, because it's a couple hours later and I'm still belching them up. A good gyro, like a good döner, won't let you forget it that easily.

I've got enough for a few more gyros. How bad can life be?


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Thursday, February 11, 2016

two dinners

A movie and dinner with Lig this past Tuesday. You've seen my review of "Kung Fu Panda 3," so we can move on to talking about dinner at the Jamshil branch of California Pizza Kitchen. Dinner wasn't bad, all in all, although I never got a single drink refill, which was saddening. Our meals came with the standard sides of pickled carrot, turnip, and jalapeños, none of which you'd ever see at the US incarnations of this chain.

While Lig and I were waiting for dinner (there was a 30-minute backlog), we stepped outside for a moment to appreciate the monstrous grandeur of the Lotte World Tower, which punched toward the heavens right next to us. We talked about what it might be like to jump off; I remarked that a jumper at the very top would end up hitting the building on the way down, given its outward-flaring shape. Lig blinked prettily and asked me whether I'd had experience with this sort of thing before. "Why, yes," I replied sarcastically.


We'd been given no pager to signal when to go back to CPK; I had simply set my phone's countdown timer. At around T minus five minutes, we headed back and were given a menu by the hostess. We perused it and were encouraged to order right then and there; we'd be seated, and our order would be passed along to the stove-and-oven proles. Lig, who eats like a bird, got a modest-sized cheese-and-spinach flatbread. I ordered the pepperoni as well as an avocado egg-roll appetizer for us to share. We ordered drinks once we were at the table.


The Southwestern egg roll was tiny but good. It came with two similar-looking, similar-tasting sauces. I could have eaten about twenty more of them. The egg rolls, I mean—not the sauces.

Below, we have Lig's plate. She and I traded slices of flatbread and pizza, which is why you see pizza on her plate. I think she might have been almost full after eating just that.


Lastly, a blurry pic of my pizza:


After a movie and dinner, it was time to shop. Lig accompanied me on my postprandial hunt for a slow-cooker, which I needed so as to be able to make pulled pork the following day for Charles. We looked at Hi-Mart inside the gigantic Lotte mall, and while we encountered a whole slew of shiny, unaffordable gadgets, there were no slow-cookers in evidence. An employee showed us some rice cookers that all cost from $350 to $500. Ridiculous. You can get a standard cooker in the States for under $25. $350 for a rice cooker is insane. We marched over to Home Plus, about ten minutes away on foot. Again, no luck. I realized that I had bought my original slow-cooker at an E-Mart down in Hayang, so I gambled that I'd find what I wanted at the Yangjae E-Mart next to Costco. Lig said it was getting too late for her to continue the search, so she and I went our separate ways. She lives in the Jamshil neighborhood, so all she had to do was walk home. I hopped into a cab and headed for the Yangjae district. And sure enough, I found the same model of slow-cooker that I had owned and then given to my buddy Jang-woong for Christmas. Third time's a charm.

The next day was all about prepping for Charles's arrival. He had promised to bring a set of slider buns to surround my pulled pork (talk of "buns" and "pork" gets rapidly Freudian). I cleaned my place—more or less—and went to Itaewon to look for naan, cilantro, and some other needful items. Didn't find the cilantro, so I bought coriander powder as something to add to my otherwise-fresh salsa roja. We compromise because we must.

Per Murphy's Law, work expanded to fill the available time. Charles arrived slightly early, while I was still chopping olives for nachos. It didn't take long for him to show me his luscious, perfectly round little buns, and not long after that, we were making sliders and photographing them. Charles went with cheese for his first slider; I went with my homemade cole slaw:


Charles is an avid baker, and while he's never presented me with bad bread, I'd still say that he's improved over the years, and he's gotten very creative along the way. The slider buns, in this case, were a combination of whole wheat and an ancient grain called teff. The result was a firm, almost perfectly spherical bun made shiny thanks to an egg wash. While not the standard white-bread roll, the teffish bun had an interesting and earthy flavor that I felt complemented the pork quite nicely. It was a weird sort of unintentional harmony (how could either of us know for sure how this pairing was going to work?), and the bread would have been great for noshing without any accompaniment at all. It was firm, but not dry or crumbly like a bran muffin, nor was it overly soft and chewy. Hats off to Charles for a job well done.

As for the pork: I had separated the tenderloin and the shoulder. They had slow-cooked together, but I sauced them separately and presented the bowls to Charles. Charles could tell right away which was which (to be honest, this was more a question of biology than of culinary aesthetics: the difference in the muscle fibers is screamingly obvious), so there was little point in making him undergo a taste test.

Charles ate three sliders; I had two. Phase 2 of dinner was nachos. I had cooked up some homemade chili (and for that pretentious touch, I'd even added a bit of chocolate) and prepped store-bought cheese and guacamole, chopped tomatoes, chopped olives, fresh chilis, sour cream, and homemade salsa roja.

The results in my bowl (also bought specially for this occasion):


I had wanted to move beyond nachos to Phase 3: gyros/döner kebab. We never got there, alas. Sliders and nachos had done their evil work, establishing firm beachheads in our respective gullets. We talked and digested—enough for me to bring out dessert: my "mouce" au chocolat. Poor Charles knew he wouldn't be able to finish—especially not a dessert that was little more than heavy cream and two forms of chocolate. Charles did comment that the dessert wasn't as oppressively sweet as he'd thought it would be (or as I'd led him to believe), and he ate as much as he could without turning eating into a chore. Personally, I found the "mouce" rich and creamy and heavy, but it was delicious all the same. I think I like this style better than Nigella Lawson's mousse recipe, which calls for marshmallows to provide the airiness and creaminess (see my old blog entry here, for starters).

Mon dessert, fait maison:


Lig has been to my place quite a few times now, but this was Charles's first time at my humble abode. He never once stepped into my bathroom, so he couldn't appreciate the full Lovecraftian horror of that part of my dwelling. Maybe next time. There's always next time.

I promised Charles that we'd do gyros/döner if we ever did this again. In an email, he said he'd like to shoulder more of the culinary load next time. That's fine. Even if he doesn't, that's also fine. I thought that having his bread was great, but I'm okay with cooking it all myself: it's a pleasure—at least when things go more or less right, as I think they did yesterday evening.

ADDENDUM: Charles's take on yesterday's meet-up is here.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

what's cooking?

My buddy Charles is coming over this evening, so I'm engaged in final prep for his visit. Tonight is primarily going to be a pulled-pork kind of night, but I've got a few other things on the menu, including nachos, gyros (I'm going full-on Greek), apple crumble, and chocolate mouce. I made a kickin' blended salsa roja for the nachos, but I didn't have any cilantro, so I have to go out and buy some from High Street, assuming they have any left (their stock of "coriander" was pretty low the last time I was there). I'd bought Doritos because they're triangular (better for nachos than circular chips, which overlap like scale armor and don't let any chili or cheese dribble into the cracks).

The pork is currently in the slow-cooker, cooking slowly. By about 5PM, it ought to be ready for extraction, broiling (for charred tips), and saucing. I need to finish up this entry, clean my place up a bit, then go shopping, come back, make the crumble and mouce, and make guacamole with the avocados I bought yesterday.


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"Noah" and "Kung Fu Panda 3": two mini-reviews

"Noah"

2014's "Noah" is a strange effort by cerebral director Darren Aronofsky, who was also responsible for films like "Black Swan," "The Wrestler," "Pi," and "Requiem for a Dream." "Noah" stars Russell Crowe as the eponymous protag, a British-accented Jennifer Connelly as Noah's wife Naameh (never named in the Bible, but mentioned in a midrash, although it's unclear exactly who her father was: either Lamech or Enoch), Emily Watson as the non-canonical Ila, Ray Winstone as Tubal-cain, Douglas Booth as Noah's dutiful son Shem, Logan Lerman as Noah's son Ham, Leo McHugh Carroll as Noah's youngest son Japheth, Anthony Hopkins as Noah's grandfather Methuselah, and a slew of famous voices playing the Watchers—fallen angels cursed to walk the earth as living rocks for having helped primordial humans after their expulsion from Eden. Tubal-cain stands in for all of sinful, irredeemable humanity, and he works to seduce Ham to his cause. Noah himself comes off as a God-driven figure whose devotion to the Creator leads him to the brink of some truly inhumane acts. Unlike "Troy," which was a demythologized retelling of The Iliad, "Noah" takes a magical-realist tack, portraying any and all miracles as literally true. I found the film to be a bit of a throwback to the Cecil B. DeMille era—big spectacle, flashy effects, and world-shaking drama. I didn't find the effects nearly as powerful as some critics apparently did; the Watchers in particular reminded me too much of the lurching, clunky APUs from "The Matrix Revolutions." I suppose certain believers might have gotten a kick out of this film, but I really had to wonder what a director like Aronofsky must have seen in the biblical source material. This just didn't feel like something that should have fascinated him enough to make a movie.

"Kung Fu Panda 3"

This year's "Kung Fu Panda 3" stars Jack Black as Po the Panda, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Lucy Liu as Viper, Seth Rogen as Mantis, David Cross as Crane, Dustin Hoffman as Sifu, Randall Duk Kim as Oogway, JK Simmons as Kai, and Bryan Cranston as Po's biological father, Li Shan. Po reunites with his father and goes off to the secret panda village to learn what it means to be a panda. Meanwhile, the menacing ox (buffalo?) General Kai escapes the spirit world, where he had been banished by his former friend and ally Oogway, and begins absorbing the chi of every mortal kung fu master he meets. Chi is one of the film's major themes and tropes; another theme is Know Thyself, as Po is confronted, on several levels, with the question "Who am I?"—a question familiar to anyone who has studied Zen. There's less actual, physical kung fu in this film than in previous ones: the battles are more metaphysical than physical. The humor struck me as a bit thin and worn, and the movie actually dragged for long periods because it was so talky. On a philosophical level, I thought this film was fairly barren; the first movie takes the cake for containing many shorthand instances of Asian wisdom. Things didn't really gel for me until we were near the movie's end, and Po finally begins to realize just who he is. That said, I've had the feeling, ever since the second movie, that Po's mastery of the various concepts and skills mentioned in this series is largely unearned—a point that's emphasized every time Sifu grimaces when he discovers that Po has almost accidentally mastered something that Sifu had been studying for decades. Another implausibility is that Po asks Sifu, "What's chi?" near the beginning of the film. How could Po have undergone all that kung fu training and never once have heard of the concept of chi before? Highly unlikely. The issue of Po's having two fathers—the duck who adopted him and his real, biological father—isn't handled with much emotional depth, and the Furious Five are given precious little dialogue this time around. All in all, I found the visuals watchable, but I was left wanting more. Cute, but underwhelming.


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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Dr. V on our electoral future

Dr. Vallicella's post on the unworkability of Sanders's socialism ends with some predictions about the near future:

But the question of Sanders' socialism is moot. He won't get the Democrat nomination. Hillary will get the nod. And no, she will not be indicted, no matter what further evidence of her wrongdoing turns up. It is really very simple. Obama will not allow his 'gains' to be overturned or be in any way mitigated by a Republication administration. The rule of law counts for nothing for those who believe that their ends -- noble and worthy in their own eyes -- are to be achieved by any means.

So it will come down to a contest between Hillary and Rubio, and Hillary will win. Cruz is a brilliant man and would make a good president, but he is not electable because of his personality. Rubio is more personable, more of a regular guy. Trump will flame out. He is essentially an empty suit riding a short-term populist wave, to mix some metaphors. In any case, there is no way the Republicans would allow his nomination.

Those are my predictions. I hope I'm wrong about Hillary winning. She is Sanders writ small, a gradualist Sanders if you will, who cunningly hides her true convictions in the manner of the stealth ideologue that Sanders is too honest to be. I am assuming, perhaps falsely, that Hillary has convictions and is not merely out for personal gain. It might be better to say that she either has no convictions or leftist convictions.

I take the above with a grain of salt, of course: Rubio has shown himself to have feet of clay; Trump hasn't "flamed out" yet, despite many predictions that he'd do so; Sanders is apparently now neck-and-neck with Hillary at a national level—i.e., not only in New Hampshire. But who really knows what the future will bring? If nothing else, 2016 is already proving to be a more-interesting-than-usual election year.

I will agree with Dr. V, though, that Hillary won't be indicted. She's above the law, part of a dynasty, and the media are in the tank for her. That said, I hope the investigations and probes wear down her electoral viability at least a little bit. Her Servergate will certainly come up as an issue when she finds herself face-to-face with a Republican interlocutor.


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Monday, February 08, 2016

shredded

I've canceled my movie outing with Ligament today. Turns out she'd completely forgotten we were going out today, anyway, so canceling or not canceling wouldn't have mattered. (She's normally the one who buys movie tickets online.) But Ligament's forgetfulness wasn't the reason why I canceled: I've been traveling back and forth between my bed and my toilet all day. The euphemism for my current condition is "stomach problems."

Before you blame spoiled meat from yesterday's döner kebab, you need to know something about my recent patient history. The day I bought the ground lamb from High Street was not the day I cooked and ate it: I had also bought a bottle of honey-roasted peanuts from High Street, and I gobbled the whole bottle over the course of 24 hours. This was about as stupid a thing as I could have done.

Chewed peanuts shred your asshole on their way out. Peanuts don't normally digest all that well to begin with; chewing them gives them nice, jagged edges that rake the inner lining of your intestines. This effect is blunted if you've eaten other food during the day, but all I had had was peanuts and water. Peanuts also cluster together inside your trembling, frightened colon to form dense, large-caliber turds, thus forcing the asshole wide as they thunder out of you en masse like a crowd of big-bellied Hell's Angels escaping a burning bar. Having your saloon doors violently bashed open is no picnic, lemme tell you.

It was while I was in that state that I prepped my döner kebab. I knew full well that I would pay for eating such spicy fare, but at the time, I was too desperate to relive my past to care. So last night I downed two döner—two spicy döner—and thought nothing of it until this morning, when I awoke with an aching belly and a strong desire to drop some atom bombs.

That first session on the pot was bad. If felt as though Satan had dipped his dick in glue, rolled his member in broken glass, and then ass-raped me. Happy New Year! I thought sarcastically as I pushed out turd after painful turd.

But we weren't done. Oh, no, Precious—there was more. A lot more. Several sessions' worth, in fact. And as the shredding continued, amplified by the capsaicin from all the chili peppers, I felt increasingly like confessing something, anything, to stop the ass-torture.

It's 4PM as I write this, and I've only just now had a lull in the bathroom trips. I felt a bit hungry after all that self-emptying, so I helped myself to a bowl of lamb with only mild condiments and trimmings: tzatziki, olives, and feta. My digestive cycle, from face-sphincter to butt-sphincter, normally runs about six hours, so I can expect more fun later tonight. Ligament and I have rescheduled for tomorrow... I can only pray that I won't have to wear a diaper (or a tampon) when I meet her.


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