Saturday, December 31, 2016

10,000th post!

Ah, yes: the Chinese character man, meaning ten thousand:


This is the same man pronounced "ban" in Japanese, as in "Banzai!"—i.e., "ten thousand years," i.e., eternity, because man/ban signifies "myriad," in the same way that the biblical "forty days and forty nights" merely means "a very long time," not a literal 960 hours. (By the way, the Korean "Mansae!" is, in terms of Chinese characters, the equivalent of "Banzai!" If I say "X mansae!", I'm saying "X forever!" or "Long live X!" A Romance equivalent might be "Vive X!" in French or "¡Viva X!" in Spanish.)

With the linguistic pedantry out of the way, let's move on to an examination of this logorrheic achievement. I started this blog on July 4, 2003. It's taken thirteen years, five months, and twenty-six days to reach this point—almost exactly 13.5 years. Using that figure to make a rough calculation, that's about 741 posts per year, or (divided by 365.25) roughly 2 posts per day. The yearly/daily average may be slightly higher if we remember that I spent more than a year away from the blog during the 2008-2010 time frame while I was out walking the Pacific Northwest and then dealing with Mom's brain cancer. During that period, I was still blogging faithfully, but over at Kevin's Walk. That blog still exists, but I won't go back to it until I reattempt a walk across the US mainland—whenever that might be. I also have a tutoring blog that I haven't touched in a while: Time, Effort, Focus. An abundance of pedantry, mainly in the form of grammar Nazism, resides there.

Ten thousand posts at the Hairy Chasms. Whew. This is undoubtedly an accomplishment of some sort—an accumulation that is the sign of long dedication. But is it worthy? Is it meaningful? Or has all this just been an exercise in vanity—fruitless shouting into the void? A blog is an odd thing: at least the way I approach blogging, it's a public forum for certain (surely not all) private thoughts. Sometimes, blogging is a bit like that humorous hashtag on Twitter: #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion. I air certain thoughts, and people disagree vehemently. In other cases, I air certain thoughts without expecting replies, and I get unnecessarily "corrected" when I'm not, in fact, wrong in what I said. Very rarely, a post will invite a long comment-thread exchange that has the potential to turn into a flame war (anyone remember the interminable debate about grilled cheese?).

So the blog has been a conversation-starter. But has it been worthy or meaningful? I can't answer that question with any objectivity; all I can say is that (1) the blog has helped me improve my writing and thinking skills; (2) the blog has provided me, on occasion, with fodder for writing books; and (3) while the blog hasn't exactly built up a community (which was never really my intention), it has attracted a small handful of (maybe five) faithful readers.

About the improvement in my writing: if you go back to my 2003-era posts, you'll notice I've committed many of the grammatical sins that I now rail against. This is because I was and am still in the process of learning and mastering my own native tongue—as we all should be. This process will go on until I finally die a fat, Jabba-like death, strangled by a young and beautiful princess whom I have kept enslaved for a short while. So please don't accuse me of hypocrisy if you dig through my archives and find certain errors in language. I've learned and grown since then. Like a character in a story, my life has followed certain character arcs, some of which have been dutifully recorded in this nearly fourteen-year-old online journal. One such arc is the increase in my linguistic acumen.

I've noticed certain patterns over the years—tropes and themes to which I return again and again. My "ululate!" posts appear fairly regularly, mainly because people keep dying. My "Ave!" posts appear fairly haphazardly. I've written plenty of movie reviews as well. I used to write a lot about religion and religious studies, but the number and frequency of those posts went down after my mother died, possibly because religion became much less meaningful for me. (I'm still sorting that one out.) I've written a host of to-do lists, some of which I do manage to complete, and others of which I simply abandon as unkept promises. Sue me—I'm human. My writings on politics and current events tend to fluctuate with no discernible pattern: sometimes I have political opinions; sometimes I don't. Given my poor knowledge of history, politics, and law, I often feel under-equipped to write on such subjects... although that doesn't always stop me from expressing my thoughts.

I'm not sure how humorous I've been over the last few years; while I'd like to think that humor is a constant theme on this blog, my inner realist tells me that I too often gravitate toward the serious, and even the lugubrious. I'd love to be the sort of writer who could enchant millions, leaving them in stitches with my razor-sharp wit, but I just don't have that gift. Or, more precisely: if I do have that gift, I haven't explored it and honed it the way I should have.

What I do know is that blogging gives me an outlet for my inner writer. I don't yet know whether it will eventually lead to my writing the Great American Novel, but I do know that it's an activity I need and crave, Lord knows why.

This 10,000th post comes right at the end of 2016, so I may as well let it perform double duty as a year-in-review post. I haven't been consistent, over the years, in writing year-in-review posts. Just last year, for example, my final post for 2015 was titled "ass-wiping challenge for chem students." I'm trying to remember what sort of mood I'd been in to write such a post. But let's give this a shot for 2016, mainly because 2016 has proven to be one hell of a year. I'll confine my review to events that fell into my blog's ambit, i.e., to Hairy Chasms blog posts that I'm proud of, fond of, or appreciative of because I think they might be important. Dave Barry, that cobwebbed old fogey, can continue to scribble his dusty jokes about the world at large; for me, it's enough to look back at the year through the narrow lens of my own writing.



Here's a list of my "ululate!" posts. This includes all such posts ever written, so stop scrolling down when you're no longer in 2016. This year started off with the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman; it ended with the mother-daughter pair of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

Here's a list of my "Ave!" posts. Same deal.

Here's a list of my movie reviews. As above.



Below are some 2016 posts that I'm particularly proud of, listed by month. Don't feel obliged to click every single link; it's enough to know you might click only one or two.

JANUARY

Some Final Thoughts on "Breaking Bad"

Déçu

Coquilles St. Jacques aux pleurotes

Another Amazing Dinner

FEBRUARY

Döner Kebab!

Gyros!

A Day for Shabu

"Wit": a Review and Reflection

"Deadpool": Review

MARCH

Did Ted Cruz Just Have His "Dean Scream" Moment?

Welcome, President Clinton (significant because it marks a major moment in my utter misperception of the dynamics of the 2016 presidential election)

Trump versus Hil: A Love Poem (this received no comments, but I still enjoyed writing it)

A Look at Ewha

You "Own" Nothing, Electronically Speaking

The Four-hour Chef: Review (I enjoyed taking down this scammy book)

Pronouns and Representation (some philosophical musings)

APRIL

To Laugh or To Cry?

Western Feminism Asleep at the Switch When It Comes to Islam

The Iron Triangle in Pictures

"Your English Sucks," Says Hackers Talk (Korean culture)

Today's Linner: "Kobb" Salad (nice visual)

MAY

"Captain America: Civil War": Review

The Creekside Path in 48 Images

On the "Bathroom War"

Prose Overlap and Empty Heads

JUNE

"Zootopia": Review

"The Jungle Book": Review (this review and the above review make for a good contrast)

Big Brother is Watching Us

Wrathful Buddha

Upadana

A Too-little-too-late Meditation on Brexit (political/cultural insights)

JULY

Now Taking the Book World By Storm! (my "fuck Musey" post)

"He Called Me a Cunt" Redux

A Sunday Visit to the Original Pancake House

"What Dreams May Come": Review

France, Turkey, and the World

AUGUST

Big News from the World of Korean Buddhism

78 Floors, 36 Minutes (of Hell)

It's Nice to Be Wanted

How Did We End Up With...?

Ha Ha—Kakao Taxi! (cringe)

"Weiner": Review (the man is insane)

Inauspicious Holiday

"Sherlock Holmes": Review

47 (heh)

SEPTEMBER

A Reaction to a Nebraskan Ex-expat

From Body to Body (probably my best religion-related post for 2016)

Hillary's Knees Buckle (a little sympathy for the devil)

The Things I Do To Myself

OCTOBER

Arachnid Row

"Dr. Strange": Review (one of my best-written reviews)

NOVEMBER

Walking Behind an Angel

Chili

Let's Not Fight (my favorite political post of the year, this one was a real labor of love, taking 2-3 days to make)

"Sausage Party": Review

Election Postmortem (arguably my most important post of the year)

A Beast of a Feast

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Blow-by-blow

President Park's Speech

DECEMBER

Electric Bill: WOW! (mundane, but significant to me)

Tangsuyuk: The Final Product

Tweet No More?

Twitter Account Deactivated

A Walk to the Han in 26 Images

How I Spent My Christmas Eve

For us Yanks, 2016 was more topsy-turvy than most years because we had a presidential election. In terms of my own personal upheavals this year, I said goodbye to my "female companion" (my boss's term) Ligament in May, then in November, I parted ways with fellow blogger Malcolm Pollack. 2016 was very instructive in terms of how much I didn't know or understand about politics, history, and mass human behavior; I'm not sure I've internalized all the lessons I should have, but at the very least, I've been made aware of my unawareness. That, too, counts as a character arc.

After a year of celebrity deaths and sociopolitical upheaval (let's not forget South Korea's current political crisis, which affects me only obliquely as long as the eventual transfer of power remains nonviolent), we now stand at the precipice of 2017. We move into a new year, and I move beyond my 10,000th post to what I hope will be another 13.5 years of blogging. I'll probably be on this medium long, long after it has completely fallen out of fashion (according to many, it's already thoroughly démodé)... but that's quite far into my personal future. Let's just concentrate, for now, on living—and learning—one year at a time.

Happy New Year, then, to all my faithful readers. May 2017 bring you peace, happiness, progress, and prosperity. See you on the other side.



Friday, December 30, 2016

"Rogue One": review (no spoilers)


[NB: some of you might quibble with the "no spoilers" tag after reading this review, but in my defense, I'll observe that, beyond talking about the movie's setup, I've mentioned no specific character deaths, nor any major events crucial to the film's plot. I admit I've mentioned that a particular X appears twice in the film, which will set you up for certain expectations, but even there, I don't think that counts as spoiling anything.]

"Rogue One," also known as "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," begins with the Star Wars equivalent of a cold open—no opening crawl of yellow text to provide exposition. Being "a Star Wars story," i.e., a spinoff episode (there will be more: there's a "young Han Solo" movie in the works, and rumors abound that there may be a Ben Kenobi story and, possibly, a Yoda story), this movie ultimately tells a fairly limited tale: that of how the plans for the Death Star were acquired, along with an explanation for the Death Star's hilarious fatal flaw: that damn thermal-exhaust port that leads all the way down to the space station's reactor core.

"Rogue One" centers on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a young woman with every reason to hate the Empire. Bereft of her parents at an early age, Erso is initially cared for by the extremist rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), but Gerrera eventually abandons Erso, causing a rift between them. Erso's scientist father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), meanwhile, has been conscripted by the Empire to help develop a superweapon—what we know will eventually become the Death Star. Erso fille is broken free by Alliance forces after having been taken prisoner. Her significance to the Rebellion is that she's Galen Erso's daughter and an acquaintance of Saw Gerrera, who has received information from defector pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a man who worked with Galen Erso, and who has promised to deliver a message to the Rebel Alliance on Erso's behalf.

The rest of the movie involves figuring out that a set of Death Star schematics needs to be found and stolen, all of which leads up to the beginning of 1977's "Star Wars." There will be plenty of suspense, conflict, and adventure along the way. Trust will be hard to come by. A disconcerting number of main characters will bite the dust. And unlike the regular Star Wars movies, morality will be plenty murky in a film that focuses on the ugliness of war.

So was "Rogue One" worth the wait? I'll give a tentative yes. It was surprisingly tragic for a "Star Wars" film; by the end, the phrase "Pyrrhic victory" will definitely come to mind. There are no Ewok celebrations—no cute aliens of any kind, really. I actually think I'm going to have to see the movie a second time to drink in all the complexities of the plot. Some reviewers on YouTube have been cooing over all the movie's "Easter eggs," but I quickly saw most of the sly and not-so-sly references that these reviewers were pointing to. All the same, there was a lot to take in, and the movie was good enough to make me want to see it a second time.

I also need to re-watch the movie because there were, frankly, moments that made little sense to me during this first viewing. Most of these problems had to do with character motivations, as "Rogue One" has a definite cloak-and-dagger aspect to it that makes it hard to know what certain characters are thinking when they take certain actions. Other problems related to the sorts of flaws that geeks like that guy at Cinema Sins love to pick on, i.e., nonsensical problems in storytelling and script-writing that wouldn't have occurred had the story been thought through better (e.g., why did that Star Destroyer commander take so, so long to call for evasive action? and further, why were the destroyers hanging together so closely as a battle group?).

In the meantime, part of the movie's watchability came from its visuals, which were faithful to previous cinematic portrayals of the Star Wars universe. The hiss of the heavy doors, the roar-scream of the Imperial TIE fighters, the battered look and feel of clothing, equipment, and Rebel ships—these all aided in the consistency of the film's world-building.

The actors all hit their marks well, too. We're long past the era of corny acting (Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, in particular, gave some cringe-inducing performances in the original trilogy); Felicity Jones is tough and grim as Jyn Erso; Mads Mikkelsen, this era's Bela Lugosi, manages to be serious and poignant; Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera brings pain and war-weariness; Diego Luna as mission commander Cassian Andor is part shifty, part determined; Donnie Yen offers his martial-arts skills and a certain ethereal, Zen-like calm to his almost-a-Jedi warrior Chirrut Imwe; Alan Tudyk does a decent Anthony Daniels impression as the voice of K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial combat droid.

Then, of course, there's the elephant in the room: the CGI reconstitution of several 1977-era characters. By now, you've likely heard that Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin gets a significant amount of screen time. The rumors are true: he does indeed make more than a cursory appearance thanks to an updated version of the motion-capture technique that brought us Gollum over a decade ago. Actor Guy Henry, whom you might remember in the role of Pius Thicknesse in the final Harry Potter films, plays Tarkin, with Cushing's face mapped over his own. The effect is uncanny, but it's good enough that any "uncanny valley" feeling comes more from the knowledge that Peter Cushing died in 1994 than from flaws in the effect itself. Other similarly reconstituted 1977 characters include Leia Organa (who gets a single word of dialogue), Red Leader, and Gold Leader. A lively debate has sprung up regarding the ethics, and the artistic merit, of using CGI/mo-cap to bring back actors from the dead and/or to portray much-younger versions of those actors.

The other elephant in the room is Darth Vader, who gets two major scenes in the film—one creepy and sinister, the other downright frightening in a "full-on Sith" sort of way. Vader is seen inhabiting a mountain fastness on a lava-veined planet that evokes Mustafar from "Revenge of the Sith." (While most of the worlds we visit in "Rogue One" are named via quickly appearing title cards, Vader's planet remains unnamed.) Vader is once again voiced by the magnificently subterranean James Earl Jones, but the body actors replacing the now-superannuated David Prowse are Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous. Breathe a sigh of relief: Hayden Christensen is to be found nowhere near the character.* Since Vader featured in the preview trailers to such tantalizing effect, audiences were no doubt expecting a lot of him. Instead, "Rogue One" uses Vader sparingly: he has one prickly encounter with ambitious Death Star overseer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) on the laval planet/moon, then he gets a brutally dark and violent scene during the film's final minutes.

Another big issue for me was Michael Giacchino's soundtrack. This is the first major Star Wars movie not to feature the stylings of John Williams, arguably the greatest film composer of our era. I've said, in previous reviews, that I felt Giacchino started strong with his "The Incredibles" soundtrack, but that it's all been downhill from there. The leitmotif for "Star Trek," while catchy, got annoying because it was beaten to death through constant repetition. The work Giacchino has done since, excepting the score he prepared for "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," has varied from irritating to unmemorable. What Giacchino does in "Rogue One" is a subdued, watered-down take on Williams's iconic themes, but as with his aping of Danny Elfman in his soundtrack for "Dr. Strange," Giacchino offers us nothing special. I almost wish he had been told to throw Williams out and go nuts with his own take on musically punctuating the Star Wars mythology. I remain convinced of Giacchino's talent,** but he's obviously sold out to his corporate masters, producing music that does little more than reflect the dictates of other, lesser souls. A return of Giacchino the Bold would be nice.

And speaking of "the Bold," the "Game of Thrones" actor Ian McElhinney, who portrayed Ser Barristan the Bold, makes an all-too-brief appearance in "Rogue One" as, apparently, General Jan Dodonna from the 1977 film. In this case, no CGI was involved, which is why McElhinney simply looks like Ser Barristan wearing a Rebel Alliance outfit.

I can say for sure that "Rogue One" merits a second viewing, but the reasons for needing that second viewing aren't all positive. On the upside, the plot's intricacies need a bit more unraveling for me. On the downside, the movie shows some nonsensical moments that might become more sensible after a second screening. "Rogue One" is a visual treat, though; its stout heart is in the right place, and for a Star Wars movie, it's rather tragic in tone, despite abruptly ending on a one-word note of "Hope."



*Although I agree with the masses that Christensen's sappy, wooden portrayal of Vader/Anakin did much to deflate the villainous character's respectability, I'm not a Christensen-hater. If all you ever see of Hayden Christensen's work is what he did in the Star Wars films, then you'll come away—rightly—thinking he's a horrible actor and an immense casting mistake. But watch the movie "Shattered Glass," in which Christensen plays Stephen Glass in the true-life story of a young journalist working for The New Republic who is caught after having fabricated literally dozens of stories. Stephen Glass was apparently psychotic (or at least a hardcore fabulist), and Christensen's portrayal of a man hiding his lies while trying desperately to be liked is excellent and eye-opening. Seeing "Shattered Glass" made me respect Christensen as an actor, and I now think the problem with his Anakin/Vader portrayal had more to do with George Lucas's weird, tone-deaf direction than with Christensen himself. Liam Neeson also came away from his Star Wars experience complaining about how constrained he felt by Lucas's micromanaging directorial style. Neeson, too, appeared half-asleep during much of "The Phantom Menace," and he's a fine, talented actor.

**His score for "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is overall quite good in an action-filled, pulse-pounding way. It does, however, feature some awkward moments, such as his embarrassingly stereotypical evocation of India (when the movie transitions to India) via the standard and unimaginative use of sitars. This is like how so many Western films have evoked China and Chinese culture through the same damn pentatonic sequence of notes, with random erhu wailing nasally in the background. But since I'm trying to note some positives here, I'll say that, despite my complaints about Giacchino's "Star Trek" soundtrack, there's a genius moment during the ending credits of "Trek" in which Giacchino successfully weaves together his own theme music and Alexander Courage's original theme from the 60s-era TV series. That moment is brilliantly done—goosebump-level excellent—and it's one of the reasons why Giacchino frustrates me: such work is evidence that the man is a true talent, but he's wasting his superpowers by allowing himself to be steered to the mediocre.



Thursday, December 29, 2016

ululate!

Debbie Reynolds, the 84-year-old mother of the recently deceased Carrie Fisher, suffered a major stroke and has also passed away. Reynolds was reportedly "devastated" by the loss of her daughter, and when I first learned of her stroke late yesterday, I thought to myself that she, too, would not be long for this world. 2016 has been particularly busy when it comes to the grim harvest of celebrities.

That said, I must confess that, even though Reynolds has been described as "Hollywood royalty," her acting and singing career had little to no impact on my life. People cite Reynolds's work in classics like "Singin' in the Rain," but for me, such movies are but distant echoes of a long-bygone era. I'll give Reynolds this, though: she looked a very lively and healthy 84, so her stroke and subsequent passing are both, even now, a huge surprise to me.

There are, however, those who won't be surprised, and who will say (as I already see some headlines saying) that Reynolds wanted to "be with Carrie." This sentiment, while possibly well-intended, strikes me as tasteless, given that Reynolds had another child: Todd Fisher, Carrie's brother, who is still alive and kicking. It seems gauche to suggest that Reynolds would abandon her son to "be with" her daughter in the afterlife.*

A quick review of Wikipedia trivia reveals that, along with her better-known accomplishments on screen, Reynolds was also a staunch mental-health crusader, and she managed her own hotel in Las Vegas. She was also a stage performer.

RIP, Debbie Reynolds.



*The latest from Wikipedia: "Reynolds is survived by her son Todd Fisher and her granddaughter Billie Lourd. Her son said that his mother's stress from the death of her daughter was partly responsible for her stroke. 'Reynolds told him she missed her daughter and wanted to be with her,' according to news reports." Perhaps not so gauche after all if Reynolds had indeed said this.



yesterday's luncheon

My boss and coworker came over for lunch yesterday, the 28th. It went well, all in all, although the tops of the lasagnas were somewhat burnt.* We three sat around and shot the breeze for a couple hours, munching our way through a fried-shrimp appetizer, a lasagna main course with a garlic-bread side, a simple caprese salad, and a dessert that was a choice of either panna cotta or "mouce" au chocolat. My guests both chose the panna cotta; my coworker, who had stuffed himself, was unable to finish his dessert, so it died a sad and lonely death in my kitchenette's sink when I washed the dishes.

For your delectation, then, here are some pics from yesterday's luncheon. Hover your cursor over the images for extra commentary.

We start off with a slightly blurry shot of garlic bread:


I was pressed for time, having decided to leave bread-buying until the last minute to guarantee freshness. With only a couple hours to go before the lunch, I elected to hit the Paris Baguette in my building, thinking that a PB baguette, while not truly French, might pass for a thick sort of Italian bread. But when I went down to the bakery, I discovered to my delight that PB was selling a loaf that had almost the exact look and texture of American-style Italian bread.** I grabbed a loaf and had a humorous exchange with the girls at the counter who, upon seeing that I was a foreigner, struggled to ask me in English whether I wanted my bread sliced. "Cut...ting?" one girl managed to utter. "You can speak to me in Korean," I replied fluidly in Korean. Lots of embarrassed giggling after that.

I eventually sliced the bread to my desired thickness, then buttered it with soft garlic-and-herb butter. I debated over whether to pan-fry the bread or to use my oven's topside burners as a broiler; I eventually went with broiling, which produced the effect you see above. The buttered surface itself was relatively un-browned, but I've had plenty of baked Italian bread that was served in just that manner.

To keep the bread warm (as you'll see in a subsequent photo), I placed the foil-wrapped loaf atop the oven, which becomes very hot to the touch when you use the topside heating elements while baking or broiling. This kept the bread at a decent temperature while I waited for my guests to arrive (they were both fashionably late).

Below: the first of three lasagna-prep pics:


Second of three:


Third of three:


Having made the meat sauce and the cheese mixture the night before, I knew that actual assembly of the lasagna wouldn't take too long. I simply lined three baking dishes up, then glopped and layered away: sauce, pasta, cheese; sauce, pasta, cheese. The goal, for me, was to get at least three layers of pasta into the baking dish. I succeeded. Itaewon's High Street sold only one kind of lasagna noodle, as far as I could see, and it was the presto in forno kind: ready for the oven, i.e., needing no boiling. These are super-convenient noodles: you simply slap them into the lasagna, then they soften up during the baking phase as steam is released from the meat sauce and the cheese mixture.

Next up: a shot of the raw shrimp that would eventually become my beer-batter shrimp appetizer. These bad boys were the jumbo shrimp (20/pound) that you can find at Costco (and no, I don't consider "jumbo shrimp" to be an oxymoron—that's a rant in itself):


A wide shot of the table setting:


Shrimp—done! Remember when I did beer-batter salmon and joked about how that one piece of salmon looked an awful lot like a shrimp, "vein" and all?


A completed lasagna, the biggest of the bunch, avant de l'enfourner:


And here are the lasagnas, baking away, with the foil-wrapped, buttered loaf of Italian bread sitting atop the oven and benefitting from the oven's heat:


Last pic: the caprese. No images of the panna cotta or the chocolate "mouce," alas; I think you've already seen enough pics of that particular dessert, and to imagine the panna cotta, just picture a mousse, but white.


So that's a brief tour of yesterday's luncheon. My boss said he was able to find my apartment thanks to the smell of the lasagna; I had kept my door open for most of the lasagna's baking time. My coworker joked about the over-detailed nature of the directions I had written to get people to my place, but I try to idiot-proof anything I do, so I make no apologies for that.

The boss observed that I had put something other than just Italian sausage into my meat sauce; I congratulated him on his sharp palate and confirmed that I had added chorizo to the mix. It worked out well, I think; my coworker heaped praises on the lasagna, and the boss gave his usual terse "It was good" before my guests left.



*I ignored the sage advice to bake your lasagna covered for about 3/4 of the baking time, then to remove the protective aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time to allow the cheese on top to brown to a pleasant color. With my lasagna, the burning didn't affect the taste, and my guests ate their entire servings, crunchy tops and all, with nary a complaint.

**Americans use the generic term "Italian bread" to describe one very specific kind of bread that we Yanks associate with Italian-American cuisine, but in fairness to Italians, it should be noted that there are, in fact, many Italian breads. Thanks to the arrival of certain specialty breads like ciabatta, Americans are becoming dimly aware that Italy's varieties of bread rival the range found in countries like France and Germany. Yesterday's "Italian" bread was as generically "Italian" as it's possible to get: unlike a baguette, the loaf was wider, and its crust was soft to the touch. This is one reason why I'm almost always tempted to use baguettes instead of "Italian" bread: I'm a fan of textural contrast, and the loaves that Americans use with Italian-American food tend to be too squishy for my taste. But such loaves are a tradition among Americans so, when faced with the choice between a dubious PB baguette or this thing that so closely resembled American-style Italian bread, I went with the latter.



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

ululate! (I knew it)


As I sadly suspected would happen, Carrie Fisher has died at the age of 60. I often use the phrase "fixture from my childhood" in these "ululate!" posts, but for Carrie Fisher, no truer phrase can be found. If you were a heterosexual male growing up in the 1970s and 80s, you probably had a crush on the doe-eyed Fisher—or at least on the strong, plucky character who made her famous: Princess Leia Organa from the Star Wars movies. (You may recall that she played an insane-tough-girl parody of Leia in "The Blues Brothers.")

It wasn't until many years later—the 90s and beyond—that I realized Fisher also had brains to match her looks* and her dazzling smile: she turned out to be a fairly prolific writer (Postcards from the Edge, which got made into a movie, is one of her most famous works, and she wrote several other books as well) with a humorously acerbic, cynical, articulate wit. She also worked behind the scenes in Hollywood as an in-demand screenwriter and script doctor.

This one hurts. Fisher was a hilarious nut in the many interviews she gave over the past several years, and that's how I'd like to remember her. It's a shame that we won't see her finish out the new Star Wars trilogy; there's going to have to be some major rewriting and/or recasting: if Star Wars is primarily a chronicle of the Skywalker clan, then Leia Organa was one of the most important Skywalkers. Writing her off as "dead off camera" is just as unimaginable to me as replacing her with another actress. There's only one incarnation of Leia, and that's Carrie Fisher's Leia.**

So it's goodbye, alas, to one of my first-ever childhood crushes, a woman who had looks, brains, drive, and talent. She has quit us far too soon, and all I'm left holding are the empty, unfulfilled would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves.

RIP, Carrie Fisher. I'm very, very sad to see you go.

UPDATE: Fisher's mother, Debbie Reynolds, is still alive at 84.



*Comedian Steve Martin tweeted essentially the same thought as what I just wrote, and he caught hell for it from his fellow lefties who, in their PC fury, felt he was being disgustingly sexist. Not being obtuse, I can tell that Martin's intention was the same as mine: self-deprecation, for it was truly stupid to assume the woman had only beauty going for her, and humbling to discover otherwise (in my defense, I fell in love with Fisher when I was in the second grade; sophisticated feminist thinking was largely beyond me at that point in my life). That's the compassionate spirit in which Martin meant his tweet. The PC crowd needs to realize that you see a woman's outer beauty first before you know anything about her brains or character—i.e., her inner beauty. Seeing is always prior to the discovery of depth. (By the way, the female assessment of men works the same way.)

**Charlie at the YouTube channel Emergency Awesome says that Fisher did manage to finish all her takes for the upcoming Episode VIII, so her footage for that movie is already locked in and therefore not a problem. Leia will appear, in full, in Episode VIII without the need for any CGI trickery to add the actress into various scenes. Charlie also adds that Leia's role in the new film is actually expanded from what it had been in the previous movie. To my mind, this is going to make it awkward transitioning from the second to the third film in the new trilogy because we're going from Leia, to more Leia, to no Leia at all. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I suppose.



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

prep and final things

Last night, I did the major work for a massive lasagna (it'll actually be several lasagnas, but I like to think of it as a single massive one) that I'll be serving on Wednesday to my boss and coworker when they come over. Nothing fancy: a more or less classic meat-and-tomato sauce plus a cheese layer composed of egg, ricotta, parmesan, and a very soft buffalo mozzarella, plus herbs and seasonings. The one thing I did to jazz the meat sauce up was to include chorizo, which takes the lasagna somewhat out of its normal flavor profile.

I'll register one complaint, though: High Street Market didn't have their regular brand-name Italian sausage; instead, they had a house-made sausage that looked different (grayish, not reddish), smelled different (definitely not Italian), and came loaded with an obnoxious quantity of whole peppercorns. I've been around Italian sausage enough to have seen plenty of whole fennel seeds inside the links, but in my experience, whole peppercorns are a rare thing. So I removed the peppercorns whenever I saw them, but I'm sure I didn't get them all. Here's hoping my guests have an open mind about biting into peppercorns while eating lasagna.

Lunch will include an appetizer of beer-batter shrimp and hush puppies (just because I can) with dipping sauce. There will also be a side of toasted garlic ciabatta along with a caprese salad. To top things off: a choice of "mouce" au chocolat or panna cotta (I'm using real vanilla beans[!], which turned out to be incredible last time).

My boss and coworker normally like my cooking, and at this point, I've brought around ten or twelve dishes to the office, so they have some idea what I'm capable of. I have high hopes that this lunch will go over well. Fingers and tentacles crossed.

This evening, I'm meeting the illustrious and Haaahvuhd-bound Charles for one final dinner before he heads off to the States for about a year. (Read about why he's going and what he'll be doing here and here.) We've settled on Rye Post in Itaewon as our meet-up spot; I'll likely be chowing down on too many of their small-but-delicious sandwiches in the spirit of post-Christmas comfort-foodery.

So the schedule looks like this: prep for Wednesday's lunch, a final goodbye to a good friend, Wednesday's lunch... and on Thursday, I'll be meeting up with my buddy JW and his son for dinner and an evening screening of "Rogue One." Am kind of dreading doing dinner right before the movie: I have a tendency to want to poop not long after having dinner. But JW's wife insisted that we had to meet for dinner—and that JW would be treating me—so I couldn't exactly say no. (Well, I could have said no, but...) My solution, in such cases, is to starve myself well beforehand, and to do some exercise as a way to get the peristalsis going, pushing the freight train out of the tunnel to make room for any new, incoming trains.

Sorry to end on a poop note, but this is why you visit my blog.



Monday, December 26, 2016

like tears in rain

I quickly ducked back into Twitter for just one thing: I wanted to rescue my "favorited" tweets. Unlike almost everybody else, I only ever used the "like/favorite" button to highlight my own tweets—some one-liner I'd been especially proud of, some short poem that had made me giggle even after several rereadings. Those favorited tweets were the only thing I had on Twitter that could possibly be worth saving... but when I re-signed on just now, I quickly discovered that my "favorites" list had disappeared. Those bastards at Twitter took the one thing that had any meaning for me. And now all those moments will be lost in time...




good God: the mother lode!

Costco is stocking Bundaberg ginger beer! And at the significantly reduced price of under W1600 per bottle. Unreal.

ululate!

2016 has been one Grim Reaper of a year. Poor Carrie Fisher currently flirts with stepping off this plane of existence, and now we hear that George Michael, formerly of the 1980s group Wham!, is dead of undisclosed causes (heart attack? we're not sure) at the tender age of 53. Michael's distinctive vocal stylings were a major part of the backdrop of my teen years. As he faded into the postmodern multimedia babble from the 90s onward, going from lead singer to soloist, his personal life came to be of more interest than his music—in particular, his sexuality (in the 90s, he admitted to being gay after much tabloid speculation) and his various run-ins with authorities thanks to a combination of drugs and driving.

Here in Korea, some stores will obsessively put Michael's "Last Christmas" on repeat around this time of year, and even though he's probably most famous for "Careless Whisper," I'm rather partial to his "Freedom." I also recently found and watched his "Praying for Time," which was quite good in a contemplative, philosophical kind of way.

RIP, Mr. Michael.



Sunday, December 25, 2016

a feast for one

Here's a look at tonight's Christmas dinner, which didn't take nearly as long to prep as Thanksgiving's dinner because (1) I started prepping the day before, and (2) the turducken main course itself didn't take as long to prep as last time: I used a different (and better!) method involving mandu skins, which turned out to be much easier to handle.

Et voilà:


You've never had Christmas turkey like this before, have you? Having concluded, based on the travails I went through at Thanksgiving, that it's better not to overthink the main course, I switched from my complicated spring-roll-and-panko design to the much simpler Korean mandupi (dumpling skin), into which I inserted small, rolled-up discs of turducken and cheese. I over-fried everything, once again, but once again it was only to a deep brown, not to a burn. The end result tasted fine.

I had wanted to make homemade cranberry sauce again, but High Street was out of frozen cranberries. I bought some canned cranberry sauce from High Street, then bought a bag of frozen blueberries from my building's grocery to make a blueberry sauce that got used for everything: as a drizzle for tonight's dinner, as a topping for tonight's mousse, and as an accent for yesterday dessert with JW's family.

I'm actually a fan of the cafeteria/prison-tray aesthetic, so I piled dinner into a tray I'd bought at Daiso. You see whole green beans done up with butter, salt, and pepper; that weird-looking morsel in the "northeast" pocket of the tray is actually mashed potatoes that were oven-baked in a muffin tin with slices of cheese on the top and bottom, then drizzled with chicken gravy; the main pocket holds my mandu-style turduckens drizzled with blueberry sauce alongside stuffing with chicken gravy on top. In the "southeast" corner is my canned cranberry sauce with some blueberry sauce on top to accent it.

Next time I do the potatoes, I won't be so ambitious. I over-flavored the spuds with more than just butter and milk: I added Gorgonzola cheese, a bit of honey, some sour cream, and a few other seasonings. In all, there was way too much going on in those potatoes. Sometimes, as my boss likes to say then he's paring away the prose in the textbook manuscripts I've written, less is more.

I'll also be more careful when frying the mandu skins. They fry up super-quickly, moving beyond golden-brown in a flash. Luckily, unlike those rice-based Vietnamese spring-roll skins, they don't stick to anything once they're in the fryer, which is great. So: it'll be a lower temp for the oil next time, and I'll avoid letting the mandu skins go dark brown. With all the skins I have left, I may practice making some dessert crisps to get my fry-timing right.

Ah—the mousse! This was more a chocolate panna cotta than my usual "mouce" au chocolat. Aside from the stuffing, this might have been the best thing about dinner.

And that was tonight's Yuletide repast. All in all, quite good, but it could use some improvement. Third time's a charm, or so they say...



how I spent my Christmas Eve

Spent Christmas Eve with my buddy Jang-woong (JW) and his lovely family. This is what I did last year, so I wonder if this isn't evolving into a nice little tradition.

Alas, JW's wife Bo-hyun did her usual disappearing act, trying not to show up in these photos. To see photos of her, look here and just keep scrolling.

I've known JW since 1994. Hard to believe it's been over 22 years. He started off as an advanced student of mine at the first hagweon I ever taught at, but quickly became a good friend. In 1995, he put aside his college studies to help me out when I sued my nasty boss (from that same hagweon). JW did a better job than the retarded lawyer we'd retained, and I eventually won that court case, which went from the labor court to the superior court. Since that time, I've felt that I owe JW a Wookiee-style life-debt for the enormous (and unsolicited) amount of help he provided me during my legal crisis.

Over the years, I've watched JW go from a low-on-the-totem prole at the giant LG corporation* to a functionary at POSCO, where he now holds a managerial position. JW and his family have only recently come back from living for four years in India—first in Navi Mumbai, then in Pune. JW was much changed by his immersion in an utterly different worldview; it's been interesting for me to compare the pre-India and post-India JWs.

I got the Christmas Eve invitation from JW's wife in early December; I of course said yes. Bo-hyun had asked me to bring something to eat as part of a potluck-ish dinner spread, so I made panna cotta and my version of mousse au chocolat. The panna cotta ended up being much better than the mousse, whose consistency was too soft (although the taste was just fine). I've told Bo-hyun—since she has so many extra cups of my dessert—that she can freeze the confections and use them to make lava cakes later on.

Anyway, here are some photos from last night. The first and last pics were taken by Bo-hyun, who texted the images to me; the pics in between (mostly of food—no surprise there) were all taken by Your Humble Narrator. Enjoy.

Below: most of the family, plus the dinner spread, which Bo-hyun didn't have to make but made all the same. JW didn't get home until after 10PM; I got to their place around 9:30, so I whipped out my laptop, hooked into the home's Wi-Fi, and showed Jiahn, the son, some OK Go videos on YouTube to pass the time. (Jiahn is interested in science, and OK Go videos, while bland and milquetoast in terms of their music, are normally spectacular in terms of their use of technology: drone cameras, freefall stunts in a parabola jet, and forced-perspective trickery are part and parcel of the OK Go brand.)

JW finally came home, and we sat for this lovely pose, in which Jiahn is choking his sister:


And now... a tour through the food on the table. First up: a very nice, light shrimp-and-chicken salad dressed with what Bo-hyun wryly called "oriental" dressing:


Next up: don't be fooled—the things on the right might look like cheese to the Western eye, but they're actually meat, too. Paired up with a honey-mustard dipping sauce, these made for delectable dollops of flavor:


Healthy apples on one plate, contrasted with unhealthy Doritos nuked with cheese on top:


Bo-hyun seemed almost embarrassed in explaining the snacks you see below, but I gather they're a hit with the kids. These are Ritz crackers (or the Korean knockoff, called "Zec" which, coincidentally, is Russian for "prisoner"—a fact I learned from "Jack Reacher") topped off, canapé-style, with either Nutella or peanut butter, and crowned with either nuts or chocolate cereal pieces. They tasted great:


My final food shot shows the bowl of oranges. It's gyul season in Korea; the season coincides with the arrival of cold weather. A gyul is somewhere in the tangerine/mandarin-orange part of the citrus spectrum.


Next up—the little monster himself: JW's son Jiahn:


I asked Jiahn to make a nasty face, so...


And here's Jiahn's little sister Minji, watching video on her cute little pink device that enforces harmful gender stereotypes:


And finally, here's Bo-hyun's shot of yours truly attempting to suck her kids' brains out through my palms:


A good time was had by all. JW walked me out when I left, and he was quietly reflective, as he often is these days. Both parents are worried about the quality of their kids' education, but they're a good, happy, tight-knit family. Good people. I broached the idea of traveling with them to Europe someday, and JW said, "Just say when." So maybe that'll be happening sometime. We'll see what the future has in store.

Meanwhile, I'll once again wish you all a Merry Christmas. I'm prepping a large dinner, but unlike what I did at Thanksgiving, I won't be live-tweeting the event (mainly because I'm no longer on Twitter!).



*It was while JW was working at LG that I received the best proofreading gig I've ever had or will ever have: JW handed me a document that needed proofing; it was about six pages long, and if I recall correctly, it was a same-day sort of job (as is typical in Korea: you're asked to do things only at the last minute). I grimaced: if a six-page document is written in broken English, as it often is, then the proofing will take hours. I sat in a side room at JW's company... and the English in the document proved to be so beautifully and perfectly written that I was hard-pressed to find three very small, very minor stylistic errors that barely counted as errors at all. I finished the job in twenty minutes... and was paid a very handsome W600,000 (a little over $500 at the current exchange rate—probably closer to $600 back then) for my trouble. If you're netting W600K for twenty minutes' work, then you're being paid at a rate of W1.8 million per hour (almost $1600/hr). hard to beat. More work like that, please!

That's the best gig I've ever had, and I have JW to thank for it.



Santa Kev

The role I was born to play: gift-giver to my buddy JW's kids. They were ecstatic with what they received, which in turn made their parents happy. They're good kids, and they deserve every bit of happiness that comes their way.

a Christmas en famille

Ever notice how Korean moms tend to disappear in family photos? You can actually see Bo-hyun, kind of, reflected in the glass.

to you and yours






Saturday, December 24, 2016

close call, Carrie... we hope

Having only recently posted about Carrie Fisher, the actress who became known worldwide for her role as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983), I'm sad to report that Fisher, now 60, just suffered what the papers are describing as a "massive" heart attack while on a flight from London to Los Angeles. One fellow passenger tweeted that Fisher didn't breathe for around ten minutes; the flight crew, meanwhile, responded to the crisis immediately, performing first aid and casting about the plane for any medical professionals who might be on board. Fisher is now at UCLA Medical Center and on a ventilator; she's still struggling but is currently in more or less stable condition.*

Fisher has long contended with drug addiction (mostly cocaine and prescription meds). She is also the author of eight books and, in my opinion, a very funny writer with a wryly cynical take on the world. I should also confess that she was one of my first-ever childhood crushes.

A CGI-rejuvenated Fisher makes an appearance in "Rogue One." This fact wasn't aggressively advertised, so when early audiences saw a 1977-era Princess Leia appear on screen, there was apparently a great deal of collective gasping.



*Carrie Fisher's brother, Todd Fisher, is saying his sister is not in stable condition, and that we shouldn't believe the news. (NB: corrected from earlier, when I'd mistakenly written that it was Fisher's son who'd said this. Fisher has one daughter: Billie Lourd.)



Friday, December 23, 2016

lotsa shopping

I hope everyone appreciates the effort I'm making, here. Every time I elect to make Western food, I normally have to go all over town to round up the requisite ingredients. High Street Market in Itaewon has a lot of what I need; the local Costco has most of the rest. Today, I went to High Street to grab lasagna items; the mid-afternoon cab ride into Itaewon was awful.

The cab ride back to my place from Itaewon was, however, a unique trip: I got a ride from a guy billing himself as The Taxi Magician. He spends part of his day doing magic tricks, and when he's not wowing kids and adults, he drives around Seoul in a taxi whose interior has been decorated with hundreds or thousands of photos as well as Christmas-style lights (I don't know whether this was just seasonal). The Taxi Magician also had his animals with him: two rabbits in a box that I couldn't see because it was too dark, and a cute little budgie that sat perched close to the steering wheel, seemingly in command of the goings-on.

The cabbie is very proud of what he does; while we drove, he queued up a video of one of his TV performances (you can see it for yourself here). In this particular performance, the Taxi Magician first appears while pretending to be a Japanese man (he actually speaks Japanese, which makes the performance initially more convincing); the show's hosts then say a magician from China will next appear, but it's obviously the same guy. When it's time for the American magician to appear, the Taxi Magician comes out dressed as Uncle Sam and, knowing he can't pass for white, he simply dons a white Uncle Sam mask (actually, it looked rather red-faced to me). Although the magician's Japanese and Chinese skills aren't bad, his English is shaky, and the hosts tease him about his accent after he claims to be from America. (His Hitler-style Japanese mustache also keeps falling off, which becomes a source of humor.) In the end, The Taxi Magician reveals himself to be Korean to much "ooh"ing and "aah"ing.

The tricks the guy performed were nifty but familiar: I've seen quick-change feats and who's-really-inside-the-box numbers before. I did, however, like a trick he did early on while in the guise of the Japanese magician: he ripped paper into strips, magically turned the shreds into super-long strings of paper, stuffed the stringy paper into a soup bowl, poured hot broth into the bowl, and somehow transformed the paper into proper udon. One or two of the hosts took a bite to confirm authenticity.

It's not often you get to ride in a minor celebrity's cab, but there were are. I took some video of the cab's interior, which you can see here. Surreal.*

Mid-afternoon bled into evening, and after two super-long cab rides to and from Itaewon, I had to cab it to the local Costco for Shopping Trip Number Two. This ride also took twice as long (and cost twice as much) as usual; traffic on the Friday evening before Christmas was horrendous just about everywhere in the city. It was almost 8PM by the time I stepped into Costco, where I had to grab an assortment of cheeses (I'm making lasagna for a Wednesday luncheon at which my boss and coworker will be honored guests). I was unable to locate the huge bag of chocolate chips that I'd wanted for my "mouce" au chocolat, but I took care of that during my third shopping trip.

The third shopping trip took place inside my building, at the basement-level grocery. I bought a mess of ingredients for my big-ass Christmas meal, and also grabbed a bag of Hershey's Dark Chocolate Kisses to replace the semisweet chocolate chips I had wanted to buy at Costco. I don't think the kisses will affect the mouce very much: the recipe calls mostly for Nutella.

I had wanted to start my shopping much earlier in the day, but my intestines, once they realized I was on vacation, decided to act up, so I had to wait several hours before I knew it'd be safe to roam around outside. Yes, my guts rule my life. That's increasingly true for all of us as we get older. Ignore your tripes at your peril.

I'm tired, now, so I'll be hitting the hay soon and getting a very early start tomorrow. Much cooking and gift-wrapping to be done.



*If you're interested in hiring this guy for some event, he encouraged me to spread the word, so here's a picture of his card:






Thursday, December 22, 2016

on the menu

My Korean buddy JW has invited me over to his place this Christmas Eve, just like last year. This may be turning into a nice little tradition. I'll be bringing over a Santa's haul of gifts again, like last year, but since JW's wife asked me to bring some kind of dessert, I've elected to make my "mouce" au chocolat and some panna cotta. My mouce is already pretty close to a panna cotta, but the main difference is that I give the heavy cream a thorough beating—until it's whipped cream—before incorporating the gelatine.

I'm also planning on cooking myself a nice Christmas Day meal (at which I shall redeem myself after my Thanksgiving turducken failure), and on Wednesday next week, I've invited my boss and coworker over to my place for a multi-plate luncheon: appetizer, main, side, salad, and dessert. Ought to be fun.

So here's the menu over the next several days:

12/24: panna cotta + mouce au chocolat
12/25: mini-turduckens, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas & carrots, choux rouge aux marrons, and cranberry sauce (no corn pudding this time, alas)
12/28: shrimp + hush puppies appetizer; lasagna main course; garlic-bread side; caprese salad; mouce dessert

So there's plenty to keep me occupied over the next several days. My vacation just began, so I'll have plenty of free time to focus on fooding up. I'm especially looking forward to the stuffing, which was addictive last time.



great work, guys

Click to enlarge, then right-click and "open image in new tab" to enlarge further:






Wednesday, December 21, 2016

¡adiós, Tomás—y feliz cumpleaños!

Tonight, I belatedly celebrated my buddy Tom's birthday by treating him to dinner at his favorite galmaegi-sal (grilled pork) restaurant, the reconstituted Seorae—the same place he took me for my birthday. Tom has something of a Seorae fixation, I think; it's definitely his go-to restaurant. I can see why: the meat is damn good, and tonight's dinner was far less expensive than I'd thought it would be.

Tom is now off to the Philippines this coming Friday morning. His wife and son went ahead of him because he had to finish up his university-related chores, but now he'll be joining his family for a long, long vacation where it's eternally warm. Tom has asked me, several times, whether I'd ever be interested in visiting the Philippines, but my answer has always been to make a face and shake my head no: I'm not a fan of heat and humidity, which means most of this planet holds no interest for me. Not Southeast Asia, not South Asia, not South America, etc. No, thanks. Maybe I'd go if I had half my current number of sweat glands.

Safe travels, man. Say hi to Duterte for me.



19 more posts

Nineteen more posts from now, I'll have written and published my 10,000th post on this blog. Truly a life lived in words. I'll have more to say soon, I'm sure, along with some sort of goofy celebratory graphic to mark an occasion that will be significant only to me.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas warmth






poor Carrie

Carrie Fisher sure had to put up with a lot of shit back in the day, didn't she. The tongue picture with Mark Hamill is especially uncomfortable given that Fisher confessed, in her memoirs, to crushing on Harrison Ford during the making of the first or second movie.*

Imagine Hermione Granger really wanting to be with Harry, but it's Ron's naughty wand that's always poking into her wizarding robes.




*Fisher's latest memoir, The Princess Diarist, claims the relationship went well beyond a crush to a full-fledged affair.





a walk to the Han in 26 images

Of the 79 shots I took during my two-hour walk to and along the Han River, here are the best 26. I had wanted to select 25, but I somehow doubled up my count when I was emailing these pics to myself for download.*

There will be blogged commentary along with the pics, as per usual, and if you hover your cursor over the images, there will likely be some "title" text (i.e., a sort of caption) as well. All the vertical (portrait-style) pics are at full size (600 pixels for a 72 dpi display); all horizontal (landscape-style) pics can be clicked to enlarge them. Once you click to enlarge, you can enlarge them to their fullest size by right-clicking each enlarged image and selecting "open image in new tab." This will be true for only the 20th and 23rd images in this series.

I normally walk the creekside trail toward the nearby city of Gwacheon; I live close enough to the edge of Seoul that, if I walk a couple hours in one direction, I can leave Seoul entirely. Walking in that direction had become such a habit, over the past few months, that I had almost begun to forget that there was a completely different world available to me if only I turned 180 degrees and walked the other way. My normal walk takes me far along the Yangjae-cheon, a local creek. Going in the opposite direction means following the Yangjae-cheon to the larger Tan-cheon, which is a tributary of the Han River. Were I to walk long enough, I'd be at the Han, at which point almost all of the city's downtown points would be available to me, given enough time and leg-energy.

After having threatened or promised to do this walk-to-the-Han months ago, I finally did it this past Sunday. All in all, I have to say that the promenade isn't a pretty one. I much prefer my normal Yangjae-cheon creekside stroll toward Gwacheon City. Walking toward the Han means walking downtown, into the thick of Seoul, where all the buildings and bridges and vehicles are. But while this jaunt isn't pretty, it's very impressive because it gives me the chance to see all that mighty construction. Massive, looming structures—mostly bridges—flank the Hanward path along the Tan-cheon and the south side of the Han River, and it's hard not to feel small in the presence of all those tons of concrete and steel, each structure representing years of collective effort and toil. And that's much the same feeling I've had when walking into a cathedral in Europe, knowing that those stones had to be moved to that holy spot, then stacked in place, by hard labor. A cathedral is a massive act of forced and unforced devotion; the bridges and buildings in Seoul are much the same, but in the service of one's fellow men, not of a deity.

First image—the curving arrow tells me which way to go to reach the Han River:


Below: I took a picture of these tall plants, whose name I don't know, because I began to admire their defiance. Almost all the other foliage, except for the trees, seems to have been beaten down by the incipient cold... but not these guys. Stubborn and proud, these plants stand tall and bravely say "Fuck you!" to the falling temperatures. I wonder how long they can remain bloodied but unbowed.

Behold:


In the pic below, there's... well, I'll just let you stare into the image until you see it staring right back at you.


Sorry for the lack of focus in the next image, but I was using my digital zoom. I took several signpost pics like this—most of which I haven't included in this series—to show, jokingly, that I was still on the right track. (The joke is that it's nearly impossible to get lost when you're walking next to waterways.)

And this shall be a sign unto you:


Massive structures, dominating my path:


In quainter English, these bundles of sticks would be called "fagots" or "faggots":


I passed by a whole army of these yellow cars emblazoned with the name and logo for Ottogi (it should really be romanized as "Oddugi"), a popular food brand:


"Mrs. Kim, we found your kidnapped boy. He seems to be all right. More than all right, actually; his captors have fed him so well that he's grown to the size of a building."

Yikes:


A shot eastward, back toward Jamshil and the Lotte World Tower:


There were parts of the path where a clear distinction was made between where the walkers go and where the bikers go. This is Korea, however, so some obnoxious bikers (kids, mostly) biked along the walking path. Here's a placid scene:


And here is a milestone whose significance eludes me:


An ambulance makes its way along the path, probably to rescue one of the idiots who ignored the "walking path/biking path" signs...


This building, below, fascinated me because it had been built so perilously close to the bridge. I had to wonder how noisy it was inside:


I suspect a sewage pipe, but this could just have been for runoff... or maybe it's the pipe for the chemicals that produced the mutant monster in the movie "Gwaemul." I had to look backward to take this photo:


Even though this next pic is out of focus thanks to my digital zoom, I like it because it shows a congress of birds acting all sinister... hatching their plots, so to speak:


And what flat-headed, alien-faced beast is this, crouched at yon far riverbank?


Signs cautioning you, in a somewhat humorous way, about curbs and not speeding:


Me and my increasingly gray hair:


Something of a relief to be out from under all those bridges, but there are more bridges ahead.


Click to enlarge the boathouse below:


I was delighted when I saw the tunnel in the image below. Seoul has a distinct lack of good graffiti, unlike Europe and the US. Seeing this burst of aggressive creativity made my day:


And here's the sign for my bridge: the Dongho. I had decided to end my walk right around here and take the subway back to my place; Apgujeong Station was at the bridge's south end, where I was; Oksu Station was at the north end, which would mean crossing the bridge to cross the river and reach that station. I chose to do that.


Click on the image below to see some truly immense bridgework:


On the Dongho Bridge and moving across the river now:


Ahead and to the right: the covered platform of Oksu Station. Of course, there was no way to just march across traffic and get to the station. In the land where no goal is ever reached by going straight from Point A to Point B, I had to keep marching forward until I reached a set of stairs on my side (the left side from my perspective). I would then have to go down the stairs and turn right before I could reach Oksu Station. A set of escalators would take me right back up to the bridge's level, but now I'd be able to reach the train platform.

The covered platform:


The stairs down to street level:


...and that's my walk. I didn't actually go straight to Oksu Station: instead, I hit the Daiso (Japanese-style dollar store) beneath the station, shopped for a while, then finally took the subway back to my abode. I did consider continuing on to Namsan, which really wasn't that far away. But with daylight failing, I thought it best simply to return to my apartment. A six-mile walk is rather short by my standards, but it was enough for a cloudy Sunday.

All in all, an interesting adventure, but not one I'm keen to repeat, given how generally ugly the walk is. While the size and weight of all that massive construction was truly fascinating and intimidating, it just wasn't my cup of tea. Give me a small creek and lots of green, and I'm a much happier guy. Still, this Han River walk wasn't a waste of time; it was good to break routine and discover something new. New to me, anyway.



*I can't simply plug my phone into my computer and download pics directly. The app I'm supposed to use, Android File Transfer, has gotten so unstable as to be unusable. This is as much a hardware problem as it is a software problem (my computer simply fails to recognize that the phone is plugged into it, and/or it fails to recognize that the phone has a folder full of pics waiting to be downloaded), although I suspect software is the more fundamental issue. Upshot: I have no choice but to email pics to myself, open the emails in my laptop, then download them from the laptop so that I can use Photoshop to reduce them and get them prepped for display on the blog. It's a tedious process, but until AFP is improved, it's the only way for me to transfer pics.