Sunday, December 31, 2006

happy and glum

I had a wonderful, hour-long conversation with my best buddy Mike and his family, including a ticklish exchange with my goddaughter, who loves her booger mug.

I then called up my aunt in Texas to see how she was dealing with the death of Uncle Ed, and barely four sentences into the conversation, was told, "Thanks for calling. Take care." She sounds out of it, distracted, which is perfectly understandable. She mentioned that her friends were there with her. Things are a mess; I regret not being there. My parents flew down to Texas on Saturday. They were at the house and already asleep at 9pm, according to my aunt. The funeral's Tuesday. Goodbye, Uncle Ed.

Yeah... I think I'm going to have a quiet New Year's this evening.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

fifteen minutes and $60 later...

Earlier this evening, I finally did something I'd been meaning to do for months: I got new contact lenses. The process was startlingly quick: I took a one-minute eye test (read the numbers on the chart aloud, covering one eye at a time) without having to remove my old contacts; I was then asked whether I remembered the prescription strength for my lenses, to which I answered "no." I was then asked to remove my contacts, which were examined under a microscope-like device, and I was quickly offered a new pair of lenses that plopped perfectly onto my eyes on the very first try.


The same treatment in the States would have cost me over $100 (I've enjoyed so-called $99 "deals" in Virginia before) and taken the better part of an hour. To be in and out that fast, and for only $60, test and all, was nothing short of amazing. All praise to the caretakers of Korean eyeballs!

I've been lucky, I suppose, when it comes to health care here. My dentist is great (many thanks to Sperwer for having recommended her to me) and I've stumbled on a local optometrist/eyewear seller who knows his stuff. "I've been in this neighborhood for thirty years!" he told me proudly. He then gave me a five-dollar bottle of saline solution for free.


the relevance of "Dead Man Walking"

Most American conservatives revile the actor Tim Robbins and his life partner, Susan Sarandon, for their liberal political views. Robbins and Sarandon have been vehemently anti-war and anti-Bush. They, along with actor Sean Penn, who has called for Bush's impeachment, probably represent everything the conservative establishment hates about "limousine liberals."

But these three people came together to make the remarkable 1995 film "Dead Man Walking," which was based on the diary of Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who was the spiritual advisor for a death row prisoner, Elmo Patrick Sonnier. In the movie, the prisoner is played by Sean Penn and is renamed Matthew Poncelet. Sarandon plays Sister Helen, and the film is directed by Tim Robbins. The real-life Sister Helen advocates the abolition of the death penalty, and the movie "Dead Man Walking" seems, for most of its length, to agree with her convictions.

But as the execution of the prisoner occurs (lethal injection in the movie; electric chair in real life), director Robbins does something interesting: he intercuts the scenes of Poncelet's dying moments with glimpses of the rape and murder Poncelet had committed, forcefully reminding the viewer of what the man had done. I have no idea what Robbins's purpose was in doing such a thing; it seems to undercut Sister Helen's message. Can this be right?

Perhaps Robbins wants us to see how far Poncelet has come, spiritually speaking: Penn's character's final utterance on the execution table is one of love, which is a stark contrast to the hatefulness we witness at the beginning of the story. It could also be that Robbins wishes to remind us of the emotional complexity that accompanies all such cases of violence and loss: while Poncelet never becomes a sympathetic character, he nevertheless seems a step closer to redemption, thanks in part to the ministrations of Sister Helen. Forgiveness of this man seems at least conceivable.

But Robbins's intercutting of past and present can also be read as a cold reminder that a monster is, thankfully, being taken out of circulation. We should harbor no warm feelings for such filth, is what Robbins seems to be saying. Remember what he did.

As we look on the death of Saddam Hussein, whose body is already several hours' cold as I write this, I find the message of "Dead Man Walking"-- remember-- rather apt. Weep not for Saddam. And if his death will lead to further violence and to his elevation as a martyr, keep in mind that most violence is a choice, not a disease or compulsion. The acts of the violent will be traceable to free agency, not to Saddam's death.

My best wishes now go to the little creatures that will feast on Saddam's body over the coming years. Saddam was well-fed until the end; his corpse is an impressive offering to the cthonian divinities. Long may the little creatures dine.


the deed is done

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2006: a year in review


I kinda like how I rang in the new year.

Breed, damn you! Breed! A long response to Mark Steyn's essay on the decline of the West.

Nigella mousse and fondue (more mousse here).

Charles and I eat a baby.

Muhammad cartoons: can one depict Muhammad?


Awesome winter semester (blow-by-blow here).

Dad's visit.


Restaurant review: Puccini and Carne Station.

Joel's peanut brittle.

Cold hike up Bukhansan, followed by 90 minutes' meditation.

One of my favorite 100 Belows.

My buddy Tom appears on Leno.


Britney in carbonite!

What is theology?

What is environmentalism?

VERY BAD NEWS: my father's heart attack.

Out with students.

Koreans and public suicide.

My take on Kushibo's arrogance at the Marmot's Hole, especially re: Shelton-bashing.

Venting about the Yangpa.

My take on the Bee Man.

My tribute to Dolly Parton.

Shit story.

The renegade Cordon Bleu chef.

Philosophy as science's handmaiden?

Shawn Matthews's suicide-- the post that pissed off some of my readers.


Burgers and shortcake at Charles's place.

Book review: The View from Mars Hill.

Seeing my buddy John for the first time in ten years!

My Superman tribute.


Three hours well spent.

The Jungle Womb.

Taking more crap about Shawn Matthews's suicide.

My goofy brush art.

Some folks seemed to like my take on Mel Gibson.


A translation of a Denis Jeambar video editorial. I admire the guy. Too bad he's no longer with L'Express.

War llama.

"Rocky Balboa" pictorial tribute.

Ethics and my students.

Separated at birth? Brendon Carr and Data.

The multiculturalist façade begins to crack.

The Fish Head's Progress and Other Tales.

Photos from a French resto.

Foodblog: Konglish ravioli.

One of my favorite 100 Belows.

As we remember Saddam Hussein, it's good to look back on his treatment in prison.

Birthday blog post.


My Jeonuchi tribute. GMJ responded by not meeting me.

The yin and yang of my ass.

Konglish newswire.

Prank call.

Tee shirt design.

Mug design.

Birthday message to my goddaughter (audio).

A startling image of fan death.

The death of a family friend.

Muslim rage... reworked.

Art and the turd.


A school-related rant.

My buddy becomes a dad.

Me on North Korea.

Buseok-sa photos.

More photos from that trip.

Poem: A Day in the Life of Kim Jong Il.

Saddam Hussein's final thought.

My long spiel about the series "Battlestar Galactica." I'd change some of it now, knowing what I know about the Cylons and so on. More here.


I like the Photoshop job I did on Jabba here.

November 5: me on Saddam's verdict.

The cheese lecture.

An afterlife musing.

Korean drama envy?

The uncomfortable implications of belief.

My review of "Jesus Camp."

Insulting Jelly's cat one... more... time.


Photos from an end-of-term party.

Destination: Le Cordon Bleu!


Another shit story.

Kick-ass tacos and eggnog.

I should also note that this has been quite the year for deaths-- accidents, suicides, deaths by natural causes, you name it. Not just the deaths of famous people, but of people I know and people I know of through degrees of separation in the Koreablogosphere-- Skippy's father, Gord's father, Iceberg's student and his friend, Shawn Matthews, an old high school classmate of mine, a Korean friend of our family (Mr. Kim), my Uncle Ed, and others still. A moment of silence for the departed, then, as we move into 2007.


Friday, December 29, 2006

the fallen

James Brown...

Gerald Ford...

...and pretty soon, Saddam Hussein. Of those three, there's only one death that lightens my heart.


Ave, Nathan!

Nathan has two great posts up:

Unregistered Volunteering Prohibited? discusses the implications of the ruling against the Busan 9, and shows Nathan at his activist best, writing about the unethical and illogical nature of the policy as it currently reads and is interpreted.

Priceless, or Maddening? deals with Nathan's students, some of whom have the nerve to email him after receiving lower-than-expected grades in order to, uh, renegotiate. I never have this problem on my side of campus because our courses aren't usually for credit, but I understand that this sort of thing happens frequently in required or for-credit classes. You teachers have my sympathies.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

a death in the family

My uncle just passed away. He's the patriarch of the Texas branch of my Komerican family.

Brief history: my maternal grandmother weighed perhaps 70 pounds (32kg) because of a genetic condition: she had been born with an inverted stomach that made digestion a painful process. My mother's older sister had been seeing a young US Air Force captain at the time, Captain Morris. In the 1960s, Capt. Morris made the decision to take my mother's entire family to America with him, partly so that my grandmother would have better treatment available to her. So off everyone flew to the Air Force base at Waco, Texas.

Waco's been stigmatized, of course, thanks to David Koresh and his crazy cult, but in my mind it's always the place where Mom and Dad met. Captain Morris-- my future Uncle Ed (and don't we all have an Uncle Ed somewhere?)-- knew that a young Suk Ja was looking to practice her English with someone. Capt. Morris searched around on base and happened on a young airman nicknamed Ned, and asked him to help Suk Ja out with her English. The rest is history: after over a year of dating, Ned and Suk Ja decided to tie the knot. That was April 6, 1967. I was born on August 31, 1969.

My childhood is inextricably bound up with Texas, and especially with Uncle Ed, who was a true Texan. I remember one time in Texas, when I was a short, stocky little kid and we were out looking at horses somewhere, that I walked behind a horse and Uncle Ed yanked me away, leaned close, and said, "You ever walk close behind a horse like that again and I'll give you a whoopin'! Horses kick, boy!" That kinda stuck with me, as you might imagine. Uncle Ed spent his middle-age years working as a safety inspector for OSHA, and as far as I know, he kept right on working at this and that well into his seventies.

He was also, especially in his later years, a religiously inquisitive man. I remember once talking to him about the Axial Age, and he was hooked-- it fascinated him. The Axial Age is a brief period first described by Karl Jaspers as the time when the human intellect bloomed all over the planet, and people began to contemplate deeper existential issues than merely, "Will this year's crop be OK?" Questions like-- Who am I? Why are we here? What is the self? What is the nature of reality? What does it mean to be good, loving, mindful, compassionate, etc.? It's the period during which most of the major religious traditions appeared. Uncle Ed sat back after listening to my pedantic little mini-lecture, and in an almost Korean manner, just nodded and pondered.

I hadn't seen much of Uncle Ed in recent years, especially since I came to Korea. When Dad called me a few minutes ago to tell me of Uncle Ed's passing, I asked whether I should fly to Texas for the funeral. Dad thinks not; he and Mom will fly down, representing the East Coast branch of our family.

Uncle Ed was a gentle, jovial, occasionally stern figure throughout my childhood. He had his share of problems, like the rest of us, but he's the one who brought my mother and father together, and I'll always be thankful for that.

Rest in peace, Uncle Ed. I love you.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

will it be the monkey Klaus?

Who will pull Saddam Hussein's lever?

You know-- the one that drops the floor out from under you when you're being hanged. Hundreds of Iraqis want the job.

Now that Saddam has been told he will be dead within thirty days, I have to wonder what the old boy must be thinking. Do you suppose his thoughts are anything along these lines?

I'm pretty sure the Iraqis eager to throw the lever for Saddam are thinking even happier thoughts.


a very nice letter from France

I don't want to make a habit of slapping up correspondence from my French "family," but every now and again I feel proud to stick something from them up on the blog. They're truly incredible people. The following is an email (un courriel,* as they say these days) I received from my French Papa on Monday:

Mon Cher KEVIN,

Nous te souhaitons un joyeux NOEL et une très bonne et sainte année 2007. Nous avons été très heureux de recevoir la carte de ton papa, qui ne nous a pas posé probleme pour la lecture; un peu plus difficile pour répondre mais avec l'aide du traducteur anglais pour la correction nous arrivons à nous débrouiller et l'aide de Dominique.

Depuis ma retraite Xavier dirige seul l'entreprise, mais je suis souvent confronté à des messages en anglais surtout techniques auxquels il faut répondre, surtout émanant de chinois en anglais. C'est parfois du vrai chinois... alors je me familiarise peu à peu à la langue anglaise. Si un jour nous avions l'opportunité de nous rendre à Montréal chez une nièce, nous ferions sans doute un petit crochet par Washington mais ce n'est pour l'instant qu'un rêve.

A part cela, toute la famille se porte bien: les familles, les 18 petits-enfants aussi, la grand-mère qui vient de passer ses 100 ans allègrement... Je pense que tu t'en souviens à la ferme; elle a, malgré l'âge et les petits ennuis de santé, toujours une vivacité de caractère, bien que la mémoire n'enregistre plus toujours les faits présents. Elle nous parle surtout de son passé, de sa jeunesse, mais elle est encore toujours présente.

Nous espérons quant à toi que tu es toujours en pleine forme et toujours accompagné de jolies étudiantes (voir photos). Peut-être auras-tu un projet de voyage en France en cette année 2007? Maman Jeannette va mieux; nous envisageons l'année qui vient avec beaucoup plus de sérénité. Le nouveau traitement américain Herceptin semble lui avoir bien réussi. Nous aurons un premier bilan en mars prochain

Voila, mon Cher Kevin, nous t'adressons tous nos voeux celui aussi de te revoir un de ces jours. Merci encore de ton message. Il nous fait toujours chaud au coeur.

Nous t'embrassons,

Pierre D


My dear Kevin,

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy and holy 2007. We were very happy to receive your father's card, which was no problem to read; a bit hard to answer it, but with the help of an English translator to correct us we managed to figure things out, and we had help from Dominique.

Since my retirement, Xavier has been managing the company himself, but I often find that I'm faced with messages in English, especially those converted from Chinese to English. Sometimes it's really Chinese... so I'm familiarizing myself, bit by bit, with the English language. If, one day, we have the chance to visit a niece of ours in Montreal, we will without a doubt dip into Washington. For the moment, though, it's just a dream.

Aside from that, the whole family's well: the families, the 18 grandchildren too, the grandmother who just turned an energetic 100... I think you remember her from the farm; she still retains, despite her age and small health issues, her vivacity, even though her memory no longer records present facts. She speaks to us, for the most part, about her youth, but she is still present.

As for you, we hope you are still in good health and still surrounded by pretty students (seeing those photos). Do you perhaps have plans to travel to France in 2007? Mama Jeannette is doing better; we look forward to the new year with a lot more serenity. The new American treatment, Herceptin, seems to have worked for her; we'll have the first checkup this coming March.

So there we are, my dear Kevin, we send you all our best wishes, including that of seeing you again one of these days. Thanks again for your message. It always warms our heart.


Pierre D

Sigh... I have to hit Europe soon.

*The word "courriel" comes from "courrier électronique," or electronic mail. Most French folks simply say "e-mail" with an English-y pronunciation to distinguish it from the French "émail" (pronounced "ay-migh," rhyming with "Hey-- thighs!"), which means "enamel."

**"Nous t'embrassons," translated literally, is "we kiss you," which seems a strange way to render that in English. Interesting to note the "nous," which often indicates someone of the older generation writing: as has been happening for a couple decades now (at least since the 1980s), "nous" is often dropped in favor of "on." It's very common to see letters and emails ending with "On t'embrasse," which means the same thing as "nous t'embrassons."


postal scrotum: Max on crime

This is, I think, more properly a Marmot's Hole type of question, but Max did me the honor of asking me to stick this on my blog, so...

Hi Kevin,

Something has been nagging at me for a while since I came to Japan.

Maybe you can publish this email on your blog with an appeal to Koreabloggers (and yourself) to answer my question.

My beef has to do with reporting of violent crime in English-language newspapers printed in Korea. Although I have read The Korea Times and The Korea Herald on many an occasion, I can't remember having read about the various rapes and murders and other violent crime that must have occurred in Korea, as they invariably occur in any country. When in Korea, I remember my friends told me about murders they saw on the Korean-language TV news. But I can't for the life of me remember violent crime being reported in the English print media.

Not that I especially want to read about murders. But why the absence of headlines?

When I read The Japan Times, however, I see plenty of news about murders and rapes. It's often on the front pages.

To back up my point, check out this search of The Korea Herald website. The search terms were Murder Korea.


No national results on the first page!

Now check out this search of The Japan Times website. The search terms were Murder Japan. (Sorry for excruciatingly long link ahead.)*


Look at all the bloody results you get for national crimes!

What is going on here? Does the Korean media censor the English newspapers in order to present a favorable image of Korea to foreigners (my theory)? Can you shed some light on this? I thought your knowledgeable group of readers might know the answer.



For those who don't know, Max took courses at Yonsei University and speaks Korean quite well. I, on the other hand, consider myself at best a middling Korean speaker, and Max's question highlights this deficiency: to answer it properly, I would need to keep a closer eye on Korean-language news sources before I could offer an intelligent reply.

I do know that, if you hit major blogs like The Marmot's Hole or The Lost Nomad, you'll encounter plenty of expat grumbling about how crime gets reported in Korea: it's usually biased against the dirty furriner. Alleged Korean criminals enjoy a degree of anonymity in most cases, whereas foreigners accused of a crime can expect to have their full name reported right off the bat. Expats are also bothered by what appears to be an unfair association of foreigners with certain types of crime committed routinely by Koreans-- these would include theft, rape, and murder. The usual expat gripe is, "When a foreigner does it, it's news."

The content of papers like the Korea Times and Korea Herald doesn't necessarily represent what Koreans actually see on Korean-language TV and in the Korean-language papers, however. There may be a great deal of truth to the expat's complaint, but it's also possible that there's more to the situation than meets the eye, especially if the expat (1) isn't fluent in Korean and (2) isn't following the Korean-language news.**

*No problem. I shrank the link with good ol' Tiny URL.

**An expat suffering from (1) isn't perforce clueless. A non-fluent expat can still try to follow the Korean-language news through friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. It's possible to be aware of what's going on. Much depends on one's desire to be aware. I'm trying as hard as I can to be fair to both sides here. I think some Koreans feel we expats are unjustly maligning Korean public consciousness largely because the language barrier makes us ignorant of the actual reality. At the same time, the expat complaint about bias is so long-standing-- and arrives independently from expats of all races, political persuasions, and nationalities-- that I wouldn't want to dismiss the complaint as a simple misunderstanding.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

quirky Asianness and JDATE

Among the races cohabiting so harmoniously in my home country, East Asians (i.e., the JCKrew) are probably known to Westerners as, per the stereotype, inscrutable and exotic, not to mention hard-working and a bit compulsive about "face" issues. A somewhat gentler form of this same stereotype places Asian folks in the category of "quirky"-- that is to say geeky and capable of creating email addresses whose meanings totally befuddle native speakers of English (evergotcha, godintoi).

It's all about the quirk. Think I'm kidding? Check those TV and movie roles: the Asian guy is little different from Harry Potter (bad eyesight, obsession with avenging the murder of his family), except that he doesn't get to bag-- or is it teabag?-- Ginny Weasley in the end. Hollywood, which loves braying about how liberal it is while simultaneously being one of the foulest bastions of racism in the US, has a little corner all staked out for my oddball brethren. You know it and I know it, so stop shifting around uncomfortably.

Certain Asians in the West aren't helping matters by actually being quirky (you fuckers know who you are), but sometimes the quirkiness pays off.

The awesome internet novel John Dies at the End is a perfect case in point. Written by David Wong, who has done stories for the likes of National Lampoon, John Dies is a comical take on the whole ghostbusting business. The novel, affectionately known by its abbreviation "JDATE," is the type of work all NaNoWriMo'ers can and should aspire to. Listen up, fellow yellow fellows: if we're resigned to being quirky, we should all borrow a bit of the David Wong mojo.

JDATE is now available in dead-tree form as a CafePress novel: see here. The online version is still available, too; word of the novel continues to spread like warm diarrhea from under a seated ass. Your homework tonight is to read the JDATE prologue, parts 1 and 2. If you don't find that shit hilarious, there's something very wrong with you.


postal scrotum: Ben Jonson redux... redux

JH Lim writes in re: Ben Jonson's "Oak and Lily":

Hi there,

I'd like to give a go at reading Ben Jonson's poem, "Oak and Lily." I assume that there's a prize attached to the best reading?

Before moving on to what you specifically want--the first two lines--I'd like to first point out that this 10 line poem can be broken down into a 4 + 4 + 2 schema. The first four lines form a unit of meaning, the second four lines another unit of meaning, and the last two lines is the the moral (or the punchline, whichever you prefer) of the poem.

Given the structure, I'd read the poem as follows:

First unit (4 lines): What makes man a good man? Growing big (bulky) like a tree? Standing long for three hundred years like an oak? Nah, can't be. I mean, the oak tree falls, all dead and dried up, in the end.

Second unit (4 lines): A lily in May may only last for a day, but it reflects the essence of light.

Moral (2 lines): Hear you readers, don't try to find beauty in big and grand things. Beauty actually resides in little things! And likewise, we can live a perfect life by taking it in small measures.

It seems to be a poem that plays with the idea of a good life, which looks back, I think, to ancient Epicureanism.

And in such context, I'd read the first two lines as saying that "It is not growing like a tree in size that makes man a better man." Rewriting the first four lines according to a modern, prose syntax would be: "It is not growing like a tree in size that makes man a better man; nor is it standing long like an oak for three hundread years only to fall at last as a dry, bald, and sere log (that makes man a better man).

I enjoy reading your blog. I link through Grand Master Jeonuchi. You seem to be teaching at Smoo? My mom teaches there (not in English), and I used to live in the neighborhood when I was young.

Blog on!


Thanks for writing, and I appreciate the kind words.

We noted the 4/4/2 structure in this post, and in further discussion with Nathan and Charles, I've discovered that "Oak and Lily" is actually part of a much larger work-- see here. I admit I haven't taken the time to stare at the full poem in depth. Having forgotten most of my poetry-analyzing skills, I'm heartened to see so many interested people take a stab at this, especially at those first two lines of "Oak and Lily." I'm further encouraged to see that JH's opinion veers close to my own, though I'd like to hear more about the Epicurean angle.

Unfortunately, I'm increasingly convinced that Charles, Nathan, and Annika are on to something when they suggest or imply that the poem needs to be read in context for us to get a proper sense of it: context insofar as "Oak and Lily" is part of a larger work, and also in that Jonson wrote his poem for a reason.

And now... time for a late dinner (more tacos!). It's been a busy, busy day, and the fun continues tomorrow.

Oh, I forgot: no prizes, JH-- not unless a sense of academic fulfillment counts as a prize.

Congratulations! You've found the secret message and have won the prize! No, wait... there's still no prize. Sorry.

(Does it?)


let there be NOG

Having never made eggnog of any variety before, and having been raised largely on the store-bought variety, I wasn't sure what to expect when attempting to make the sacred libation myself. I typed "non-alcoholic eggnog" into Google a few days ago, and was surprised to be confronted with a billion different noggish recipes. The question then became: which one to follow?

I eventually chose this one:

Basic Non-alcoholic Eggnog

12 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 quart cream
to taste vanilla
dash of nutmeg

Separate eggs at room temp. Beat yolks till creamed with about half of sugar, whites till peaked then add other half of sugar. Beat cream till stiff. Then fold all together. Add vanilla to taste - but remember that a little bit of vanilla goes a long way.

Place into containers keep in refrigerator for at least one day. Shake before serving.

I took a risk and ignored the whole yolk/white separation thing. I also skipped the sugar because the Korean cream I had bought was already sweetened. And since the only vanilla I had was artificial, that's what I used. All three risks paid off-- I ended up with a perfectly drinkable nog. Come to think of it, the only part of the recipe to which I was faithful was the nutmeg. And even there, I simply eyeballed: substantially more than "a dash" went into the brew.

Some pics:

Many thanks to Max for his amazing and durable little mixer. That thing has come in handy any number of times, and this was one of them.

It was basically a matter of combining ingredients and blasting them with the mixer. I started off with pulsing, then moved to full-on mixing. The result was perfect. (I used whipping cream, by the way.)

Above, you see me pouring portions of the nog into a larger container. The hand mixer is too small to mix everything at once. Below, I use a wire whisk to mix everything and ensure a proper distribution of the egg.

This final pic, below, shows the completed nog along with one of the cookies I ended up slaughtering. Nog and cookie sit on an old draft of the introduction I had written for Water from a Skull (no news yet!). I changed the font and page dimensions, so what you see there does not reflect the book's final look.

I hope Christmas was good for you. I was happy to host a coworker for a little while; we talked about life in general for around an hour or so. I also had work to do-- given to me by a friend who is now in the Philippines, soakin' up the rays. I also had the chance to speak for about an hour with my parents-- Dad, mostly. My brothers were still asleep: David is dead tired from working seven days a week, and Sean had a few Christmas gigs (you'll recall he's a professional cellist). Both brothers deserve some rest.

As for me, I can't tell if my quiet, solitary lifestyle is transforming me more into Bob Cratchit or into Ebenezer Scrooge.

This week promises to be busy: I've got a ton of lesson plans to complete before the semester starts on Tuesday of next week (2 Jan).


Monday, December 25, 2006

HO HO HO! a Christmas story

UPDATE: Epilogue added! Check the bottom of this post.

I am calling this a "Christmas story," but only because it is being told on Christmas day. The actual story-- one of taco-making and danger-- contains bad words, not to mention references to mass murder, semen, and reincarnation. How Christmas-y is that? And while the name "Jesus" gets screamed at one point, it's unclear whether this qualifies as Christmas-y, either.


The taco meal (yesterday's bowl of taco filling, cheese, sour cream, and salsa was merely a sampler) went excellently.


First, the reheating of the meat sauce:

One thing I learned from this experience: with 600 grams of meat, you get about half as much taco sauce as spaghetti sauce. When I make spaghetti sauce (I do 300g each of beef and pork), I add a ton of extra ingredients-- mushrooms, green peppers, onion, garlic, carrots (thanks, Sperwer, for the reminder), chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and so on. A lot of material goes into a decent bolognese, but for taco sauce, at least as I made it yesterday, the main ingredient is meat. The reason is obvious: vegetables are added later, piled fresh into the tortilla along with the meat sauce.

My taco sauce included the following: beef, pork, garlic, onion, and green pepper. After sauteeing the garlic, onion, and green pepper first (mainly because the garlic and onion were old and needed some extra time), I added the meat. The meat and green peppers contributed fat and moisture to the sauce, but to be safe I added almost a half-cup of water for the next step: the powder.

My taco seasoning powder was pretty crude, but it worked. The rough proportions:

2 parts chili powder
2 parts cumin
1 part paprika
1 part cornstarch
salt to taste
sugar-- very little

Some recipes call for oregano. Dry, prepackaged taco sauce packets usually include dried onion. I had fresh onion on hand, so I didn't bother wasting money buying the dried stuff, and I didn't feel like sticking oregano in the taco sauce, which in my opinion would have unjustifiably yanked the sauce out of Mexico and dragged it kicking and screaming toward Italy.

I dumped three heaping spoonfuls of my mix into the already-cooking mixture, and the effect was immediate: within a minute, I had a recognizable taco sauce. Cornstarch is essential for texture.

Next up: the place setting!

Setting for one, alas, but such is life. As you see... I'm not a "real" Tex-Mex'er. I have Korean relatives in Texas, and they love their Tex-Mex, but our family has always been unabashedly East Coast about tacos, so we include relish at the table as a taco condiment. Some people use sweet gherkins instead, but it amounts to the same thing. My apologies to the purists. My other sin is that I didn't include any cilantro in my sauce... and, come to think of it, I neglected to buy or make guacamole. Dammit.

Below, you see that I dispensed with the small plate idea and went for the biggie:

I had bought pre-made tortillas, so it was simply a matter of heating them up in the skillet before laying them on the plate. That plate, by the way, is the type used in Korean-style Chinese restaurants to serve large orders of t'ang-su-yuk.

Below, you see two tacos ready for slaughter. I ate two more after those.

This final picture is (drumroll) the Taco Pizza. Perhaps more popularly known as a "Mexipizza," thanks to the cultural impact of that bastion of haute cuisine, Taco Bell, my Taco Pizza is quite simple and, in a sense, makes itself.

I sense your curiosity (makes itself?), so I'll continue. The Taco Pizza answers a certain need: the need to have something on your plate that shields the plate from a dying taco's excrescences.

Anyone who bites into a struggling taco knows that tacos, like all living mammals, tend to defecate when they die. When you bite the taco's head off, you're essentially cutting through its spinal cord, killing it instantly. Its major sphincters immediately let go and you end up with an all-too-familiar mess on your plate. From that point on, each successive bite only makes things worse as hydraulic pressure pushes excrement and entrails out of the taco's anus. This is a problem when you're ready to kill the next taco: you would, after all, prefer to place the next tortilla shell on a clean plate, yes?

By placing an extra tortilla shell on your plate (or on a plate next to your plate), you allow the dying taco to void without making an unsightly mess. At the same time, as the excrement of several tacos builds up on that ancillary tortilla, you soon realize that you have, in fact, made another taco without even trying.

This ancillary taco isn't nearly as neat-looking as all your previous tacos, of course. When you make a normal taco, you sprinkle the cheese in a neat line, then slop hot meat sauce on top of it, then add the vegetables and condiments that make taco slaughter such a gratifying experience. But the ancillary taco is an unsightly pile of entrails, barely worthy of the name "taco." What to do?

Make a Taco Pizza, of course! To do this: spread the cast-off entrails out on the ancillary tortilla, leaving a border. Sprinkle extra cheese on top of the entrails, and heat up your skillet. Next, carefully place your taco pizza onto the skillet (no oil needed) and let that puppy cook until you just begin to smell something burning. If you're using a flour tortilla, this won't be a big problem: the burn marks will look like large moles or freckles. Do not allow the entire taco shell to blacken!

The end result is a stiff, crunchy, arguably tastier taco shell, plus slightly melted cheese-- in other words, a pizza. A Taco Pizza, to be exact. Do not attempt to fold, as it might crack. Simply enjoy eating the Taco Pizza as is.

I hope you've been having a good Christmas. Stay tuned for a post on eggnog either later tonight or tomorrow morning.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

evening mass for the massive

I've rethought plans to visit relatives and will instead be attending a mass at a local Catholic church this evening at 10:00pm. My buddy JW will be singing in the choir (I don't remember whether his wife is in the choir as well).

This afternoon, I'll be prepping my taco ingredients and, possibly, hunting for eggnog ingredients. I've bought myself another Stollen from the local bakery; having tried one several days ago, I can vouch that it's quite, quite good. I had a photo of the first Stollen on file, but I seem to have accidentally deleted it along with photos of the chaos surrounding my bed during the first week of December.

What chaos? you ask. I was, at the time, piling religion books on my bed for instant reference during my book-finalization bonanza. One positive outcome of that behavior was the long-awaited reorganization of my bookshelves, which for the past twenty months have been completely disorganized. Now, all my religion books sit together on the shelves above my computer, a testament to how few of them I brought with me from the States.

To all the people to whom I haven't yet personally wished a Merry Christmas-- Merry Christmas. I doubt I'll be blogging tomorrow... though you never know.


soldiering on

Skippy, as always, provides excellent political commentary. His take on Barack Obama, who is flavor of the month, is especially interesting.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

some photos

A gift from Outback Steakhouse to thank me for my faithful patronage:

My God! It's a knife!

It obviously traveled a long way to get here:

This is the care package that, thanks to FedEx and Korean Customs, caused my hemorrhoids to flare in anger:

Within that care package was this-- rum cake!

All gone now.

Finally, a glimpse of part of the dinner I ate this evening:


un bref parcours

Andy Jackson has become, in my opinion, one of the greatest assets of The Marmot's Hole. His clear, astute political commentary helps decipher the weird and complex goings-on of Korea's wildly multi-party political process. Andy's presence at the Hole will become all the more crucial as Korea, like France, faces presidential elections next year. Go visit the Hole and pore through Andy's posts.

Al Qaeda congratulates itself on orchestrating a US Democrat victory.

The Nomad, who has consistently demonstrated concern for child welfare on his blog, has two disturbing posts about abuse and violence in Korean schools, here and here. Check out his "Noh has finally lost it" post as well.

Mike writes an interesting article on trying times in the Episcopal Church. (Merry Christmas back at you, man.)

UPDATE: The above link was not working because Naked Villainy is experiencing archive issues, so I've changed the link to the blog's main page. That link appears to work. Scroll down to the post titled, "Not filled with Christmas cheer."

You have no idea how much I laughed when I went to this foodblog and saw... the turkey with the world's sexiest breasts. Great eggnog recipe, too.

GM Jeonuchi talks about his new life in Chicago.

Jelly has... a special Christmas wish.

Justin Yoshida asks the psycho expat question. Psycho expat... qu'est-ce que c'est... fuh fuh-fuh FUH fuh-fuh fuh-fuh FUH fuh...


an oldie

From this blog's relative youth, in 2004:


Friday, December 22, 2006

Ave, Grinch!

Well... Malcolm, at least, is calling himself a Grinch for writing the following splendid advocacy of scientific skepticism and inquiry.



I wonder whether Hannam Market is stocking eggnog these days. If they aren't... I've never tried making my own, but it may come to that.

I think I might want to do eggnog, cookies, and Mexican food-- tacos-- for Christmas Day.

(The rum cake is gone, by the way. Gone!)

UPDATE: I went over to Joel's blog and saw that he's already gone Mexican for the holidays. What is this-- Single Man's Delight?


your Christmas message-- a few days early

Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is one of my dad's favorite stories. Here, for your edificaton and mine, is a relevant excerpt:

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

"Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed," cried the phantom, "not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!"

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"


can you have fun in a bank?

I met three of my students today over at my Smoo office; two arrived on time and one was late, so we chatted for a bit while waiting for the third student. I offered around my bottle of Kirkland (i.e., Costco) "Chocolates of the World," one of the items from my folks's care package. I also shared a large tin of peanut brittle, which was quite delicious.*

The last student arrived, we talked a bit more, and then we all headed toward the main gate (Smoo is strange in that it actually has two main gates facing each other across one street). One of our students sadly parted ways with us; she said she had to keep studying for a battery of civil service exams that take place over the course of a year. Down to just three people again-- me and two students-- we strolled over to Da Woo 2, the downstairs wing of one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. Da Woo (something like "sundry friends," if translated from the Chinese), known in English as the California Roll House, has done quite well for itself despite its tucked-away location. They serve their food quickly, the menu offers a decent range of items popular with Smoo girls, and the quality is usually good. Expansion was inevitable.

Mealtime talk ranged all over; at the end of our feast, I bought several bottles of apple juice for the girls, and we headed over to the Shinhan bank across the street to take care of various issues. In my case, I needed to get a new bankbook in order to check whether I had been paid for the MATE test rating I had done in late November. The MATE office is usually pretty good about paying punctually-- they synchronize their payment with my salary's pay day-- but for some reason they've been lax this month, being two weeks late. I had been told last week that pay would arrive this week; I wanted to update my bank book at the ATM to see whether the pay had arrived.

I went to an ATM before meeting my students and hit the t'ongjang jeongni (essentially, "update bankbook") command, only to have the printing stop because my bankbook had run out of pages. That's what necessitated my trip to the bank: the acquisition of a new bankbook so I could complete the update and see whether the pay had arrived.

The bank is divided into two main areas; the front area, where most people take a number and wait, usually moves at a glacial pace. Because I usually visit the bank to do overseas wire transfers from Shinhan to my US bank account, I normally go straight to the smaller, quieter, and faster back room. Customers have to take a number there, too, but service generally moves along at a healthy clip. The Shinhan Bank staff, who have now totally replaced the old Choheung Bank staff, are fairly crisp and efficient, but here as elsewhere, it's good to be able to speak some Korean.

And that's what led to today's amusement as a string of coincidences unfolded. One of my colleagues from across campus showed up to pay some bills; I ended up serving as his interpreter, which I think made that process go a lot more smoothly than it might have, despite the fact that the female staffer across the desk from him spoke some English.

While I was waiting for my two students to get their affairs straightened out, one of my Japanese students, Ayumi, suddenly showed up with a gaggle of her classmates from their Korean language course. A couple of the students were apparently having some sort of account-related trouble, but as they all spoke Korean pretty well, there seemed little point in my trying to help them out. They had taken numbers and were waiting their turn; I chatted with my student and one of her friends, a skinny dude who looked to be half-and-half like yours truly; he's been VJing in the Hongdae area and is currently jockeying for a Fulbright scholarship.

One of the girls in my group could speak Japanese, so she and Ayumi struck up a funny conversation in which the Korean girl, Seungmin, spoke Japanese while Ayumi responded in Korean. My eyes ping-ponged back and forth as I watched and listened, delighted at what this simple waiting area had become.

You have no idea how much I love a polyglot atmosphere, even when I can't understand most of what I'm hearing. The prime cinematic example of this is, of course, the cantina scene from "Star Wars," a scene that thrilled me even as a kid. Han Solo's banter with Chewbacca-- all without subtitles and with the understanding that these two knew each other's languages perfectly-- was inspirational to me as a kid.

It's one of my dearest wishes to bring together people I know from different corners of the world and just... let them mingle. Part of the fun would be stepping in to interpret where I could, but part of the fun would also be just listening as these folks found ways to interact with each other. I suppose that dream won't happen until I find the right woman and get hitched: at that point, I'll be able to send invitations all over the world.

So the high point of my day was sitting on a bench in Shinhan Bank, acting as a low-rent interpreter for a colleague, and listening with delight to animated conversation in Japorean (Koranese?).

The sad epilogue to this story is that I discovered I hadn't been paid. I marched over to the MATE office and asked the staff what was up. They claimed they had filed paperwork for my payment with the Finance Office in the Administration Building across campus; I asked which office I had to go to, then lumbered across the street and spoke with a lady who, right as I appeared, said that the MATE office had called over to say that they would arrange pay for next week.


I took this to mean that the MATE office had not, in fact, done jack shit about my pay, so it was with grim satisfaction that I left the Finance Office and went home. Sometimes you have triple-check these things. While I'm normally a fairly passive individual, even I get antsy when the pay is two weeks late.

When I was in the MATE office earlier, something else happened: two new male staffers were there being trained; I had arrived with tangerines to distribute as a gift to the ladies I knew, but shifted quickly and laid fruit out for everyone present. As I began doling the tangerines out, I joked in English that I was like Santa Claus.

"He looks like him," joked one of the new male staffers in Korean, at which point I said in Korean, "If you're planning to talk about me in Korean, be careful." I stuck a huge, shit-eating grin on my face as I said this, but that fucker's been put on notice and I doubt he'll be an idiot a second time. Funny thing is-- he's a lardass, too.

I was feeling too good after my lunch and bank visit to let this bother me too much, so I note the above with some amusement. I'm glad that staffer's just been hired: he now knows he started off on the wrong foot with a coworker who plans to be here a long, long time.**

*I'm damn stingy with my Lindt truffles, but I'll share the Kirkland candies. I somewhat regret sharing the peanut brittle, though; it was most bodacious.

**In our department, foreign teachers seem to last on average about two years before they bugger out.


off to meet some students

A group of students said they wanted to meet up before Christmas, so it looks as though today's the day for that meeting! I might have pics later. Or not. We'll see.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

movie freax!

Here's a pic of me and my two faithful students-- Erica and Sunny-- from the very informal Movie English course I taught. We saw "Ice Age" and "Hitch," watching the movies on Mondays and Wednesdays in half-hour blocks and then discussing them for an hour.

Not exactly heavy on substance, these films, though "Ice Age" did make my girls cry. It turns out the students were more touched by the reunion of the human father and child than I was. Me, I was happy to see Diego the sabertooth tiger back on his feet. My girls saw Diego's return from near-death as typical Hollywood; can't say I disagree. We Yankee wankers don't muck around too much in tragedy and gloom; that's more the province of Korean and German film! Ha ha!

The class pic, taken with Erica's phone cam (she's in the middle):



It warms my heart to see Man and God's creatures united in celebration. Leaves a lump in my throat.


feast your eyes (and ears)

My dad sends me a link to some French performance art. The clip starts in the middle of the emcee's spiel, and we hear that the performer, Jerome Murat, has done pieces wherein he has four legs or six arms. In the clip you will see, he has... two heads. Enjoy.

This second clip was something I found on the very fine Blog d'Elisson, a blog that shows the weird interconnections of the blogosphere: Rory and Elisson are correspondents, and I saw that Elisson had left condolences for Skippy as well. We all seem to travel in overlapping circles.

The clip is for something called Animusic. Watch and listen.


thankful for the little things

On Tuesday evening, I hit the local Outback steakhouse and was taken aback when I was greeted by half the staff. I guess I'm becoming like Norm on "Cheers." Apparently, I'm "the guy who speaks Korean." Many of the servers are relieved when they discover a foreigner can speak Korean well enough to navigate the basics when ordering.

After being seated and perusing the menu, I noticed something: menu prices had gone up by W1000 (approx. $1, US) for almost everything. I mentioned this to the server and pulled a rueful face. Perhaps as a result of this, two things happened:

1. I received my very own Outback Steakhouse steak knife-- yes, boys and girls, the very same knife that Aussies use to skin crocs, perform emergency circumcisions, and scoop the brains out of Kiwi skulls! It also cuts through bread and steaks pretty well.

2. I received a 10-15% discount card for future use. The catch is that I have to register at the Outback website in order to use the card. I asked the manager whether I'd have trouble with registration, given the problems foreigners usually have when trying to apply online for anything. He said there's a field for foreigners to type their alien registration number (instead of the standard jumin deungnok beonho that Koreans type for almost everything); we'll see. I haven't registered yet, but I have high hopes that a cheaper Alice Springs Chicken will soon be mine.

Earlier this week, on Sunday, I was at JW's house and his wife gave me a large bottle of balsamic vinegar. Seems to be quite good quality, too. JW's wife, BH, said she didn't know what to do with it, so she had no need of it. Score!

I'm thankful for those sorts of little gifts-- a knife, a discount card, some balsamic vinegar. Such gifts give me a warm and fuzzy feeling not even FedEx and the Korean Customs office can take away.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

postal scrotum: Annika peeks at Jonson

La belle Annika, sans peur et sans reproche, was kind enough to take a look at the Ben Jonson situation. Her take:

Oh gawd Ben Jonson is too difficult for me. I think the poem is about time. It's better to live [a] short and beautiful life, like the "lily of a day" than to live like an oak only to die "dry, bald, and sere."

Jonson lost a son, who was only seven years old, so that sentiment makes sense. He wrote about it:

On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

This might dovetail with Nathan's intuition that Jonson was referring to a person who has passed away. Hm.


postal scrotum: a Richardson and Charles two-fer

Regarding my FedEx/Customs woes, Richardson offers the following:

I suggest research to find some culpable Korean customs official, and then some variant of this prank:


...which is a hilarious prank, by the way. Richardson also points to a followup on Shatnerian overactor Brian Atene:

Brian Atene Returns—for Real

Charles actually emailed me first on this:

Ask and ye shall receive: LINK

The first 1:40 is a bit weird, as he just sits there and makes faces as the audio of his original tape plays in the background. In the rest he does some over-acting and shilling for the Christopher Reeve website (watch it and you'll see). Pretty funny stuff, actually.

Those of us who like acting, bad though we may be, are attention whores, when it comes down to it. It's horrible when you're a bad actor, because you want to be liked, but you offer little that's likable to your audience. That's why something like the William Hung phenomenon is such a flash in the pan: lameness can take you only so far.

Thank you, gentlemen, for your links.



Good news:

The FedEx box was brought to my dorm this morning, a bit after 10am. I had been trying to get some shuteye when the phone rang. The delivery guy said he was outside. Friendly dude; he simply wanted me to sign so he could be on his way.

Murphy's Law was in force, though: our concierge (one of two middle-aged guys who are usually there, each on alternate days) had decided to absent himself. As a result, the FedEx guy was trapped outside. I groggily made my way downstairs: I was wearing glasses instead of my usual contacts, and my hair looked like a wind-blown bird's nest. I went outside into the cold, and signed for th package. The FedEx guy skipped off... and I, too, found myself locked outside, because I hadn't brought along my damn keyring, which has one of those elliptical plastic doodads you tap on a sensor pad to unlock the main door.


There was no concierge, so no amount of buzzing the door buzzer was going to help (I buzzed several times all the same). I resigned myself to waiting for someone to come along and open the door, and after about ten minutes, a woman inside the dorm shuffled down the stairs and made her way out. As the door opened, I thanked her and went inside before the door could close and auto-lock again.

Many thanks to the parents for the chocoholic's delight: I got Lindor (i.e., Lindt) "blue label" truffles and a huge bottle of "chocolates of the world" (obviously a Costco purchase). Along with that, I got a new pair of pants, two books I had ordered a while ago from, two Christmas cards (one with images of dung all over it, from my brothers), a mess of thick, woolly socks, an old pair of paint-spattered jogging shorts (a hint, I think), a pile of junk mail from my undergrad alma mater and from United Airlines's frequent flyer service, and last but not least, half a rum cake!

When I saw the box it was in, I initially groaned because I thought this was going to be a fruitcake. After opening the box and removing the styrofoam peanuts, though, I was hit by a familiar fragrance, and suddenly all was right with the world.

(By the way, the cake's condition is fine. So if you're in Korea and want to order a rum cake, I can personally vouch that it will arrive both safe and eminently edible.)

Then I went back to sleep until Dad called and woke me from my nap a second time. Heh.

And now, the bad news:

CafePress's PDFHelp service tells me there's a problem with the PDF. You'll recall that they are the ones making the PDF, not me: I can't, because I'm on a Mac and don't have the same control panel functions to adjust printer settings. PDFHelp had told me back in June that CafePress simply had no service for Mac users (still true), which is why I had no choice but to send them my manuscript and ask them to render the PDF from it. In the meantime, they referred me to a message board for people publishing books and producing CDs. The board's not helpful to me, since I'm not making the PDF myself, but it does show, somewhat depressingly, that life is hard even for PC users when it comes to making one's own PDF. Take a look at some of the message titles.

More book news as it happens. A few people keep badgering me, "When it coming out?" At this point, it's safe to say that the book won't be arriving before Christmas, though there's still a chance you can order it before Christmas. Veuillez patienter, s'il vous plaît.


Dr. V confirms a suspicion of mine

Dr. V writes:

Slippery slope arguments are one and all invalid.

Thank you. That's relevant to some friendly debates I had with folks about gay marriage. I hope never to see that argument on the table again.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

links that rule

Julie sends me this "laser crotch" link.

Justin blogs one of the funniest 1980s-era audition videos I've ever seen. I wonder what that dude's doing these days...



Talk about a waste of my fucking time.

Hadn't slept all night. Don't know why. I left home at 8:30 this morning; took a taxi to the Lotte Hotel and managed to catch the airport limousine bus that was to leave around 9am. Got to the airport around 10:15 or so. Asked around for where to take the shuttle bus to go to the FedEx office (by the way, never say "Federal Express"; even when you pronounce the name with a Korean accent, no one understands, so just say p'aedek-seu [FedEx]). Caught the shuttle bus around 10:40; stepped off the bus around 10:55. I walked across a huge field of pavement to the FedEx office, which was on first floor of a huge air cargo terminal. Reminded me of Northwest Air Cargo, where my dad used to work. A bunch of guys were clustered around a small, makeshift, tin-box office; I showed the dudes my FedEx tracking number.

"Go upstairs to the second floor," they said.

I went upstairs, finally found the office, and met the lady I talked with yesterday, the one who told me there was a problem because of the damn beef jerky. I had to wait a few minutes while she got some forms ready for me. I sat still and just aged. I received the requisite forms, then had to go back downstairs to the guys at that desk. I apparently had to wait for my package to be brought out, and then I was supposed to perform the humiliating task of removing the offending beef jerky (you'll recall that Customs wouldn't allow it through) myself. One guy sliced open the already-sliced-open-and-retaped box. I rummaged through the goods and removed the illegal substance. I then had to go back upstairs again and get another set of goddamn forms. These forms, however, had to be taken over to a completely different office. "I think it's in this building," said the lady. Turned out the office was in a totally different building, a ten-minute walk away. Because it was now noon, everyone was going to lunch, so I had to wait a fucking hour before I could visit that building with my forms.

At one o'clock, after walking aimlessly around one of the huge parking lots for an hour, I went to the appropriate office and handed my forms over to some dude, who made copies of them and stamped them. I thought I had to sign something, but in the end I signed nothing. By 1:20 or so, I was back in the second-floor FedEx office with those forms, which I handed over. "Good! You're done!" the lady said. She made sympathetic noises about how long I'd had to wait and how it must have been expensive to bus in from Seoul. I was pretty fucking pissed off by the end of all this nonsense, so I went downstairs to get my package.

I approached the desk guys again. "I'm here for my package," I said.

"Do you have a form?" they asked. I had no form.

"Just a minute," one guy said, and he went upstairs. Good-- I had thought that I would be going upstairs yet again. He finally came back down, but said nothing. Then the first-floor desk phone rang.

"It's for you," said the other desk guy.

It was the lady from the second floor.

"Didn't I tell you? You can't get the package today! It still has to go through Customs! You'll get the package tomorrow!" I hung up. This was too much. I should have asked whether I would still have to pay a fucking W30,000 delivery fee, but in my fury I was just intent on leaving the FedEx building before I hurt someone.

I got back home around 4pm. What a fucking waste of my fucking time. So I suppose the package will pass through Customs and be delivered tomorrow. If that driver tells me I have to pay a fee, I'm just going to tell him to take the goddamn package back. If he tries to argue with me, I'm going to shove that fucking box right up his ass.

Yesterday, Jelly emailed me with her sympathies and said:

I just got a package from Belgium last week - and it included REINDEER meat,....and that managed to get through.

Lovely. I love the consistent enforcement. And as I've received beef jerky before (there were problems with that shipment, too, but everything arrived in the end), I can only assume one of three things: (1) the law's been changed recently; (2) the law hasn't been changed, but it's being enforced willy-nilly; (3) the FedEx and Customs people are playing, as writer Mark Salzman calls it, Let's Make a Regulation, a game Salzman encountered frequently while living in China. This is a game where people just make shit up to fuck with you. I'm betting on (3), personally.

OK... I gotta cool down. But understand: bullshit of this sort happens to me every goddamn motherfucking time someone tries to send me a package, so I think I have a right to be pissed off.

Tell you what, folks: just don't send anything. It's not worth the hassle.



Skippy's father just passed away, and he could probably do with some words of comfort. He is, as you might guess, taking this pretty hard. Unbelievable.


Ave, Mike!

Mike sends me this link, which leads to an unforgettable Jesus image. Praise the Lord!

If you're a Christian raised on a diet of primarily white Jesuses, you'll see the image pretty quickly, as I did. If not... you might have to stare a bit before He reveals Himself to you. Christians should also consider the uncomfortable possibility that there is no Jesus image there at all and that, if they see Jesus anyway, it is merely because they so desperately wish to see Him. Atheists who see a nonexistent Jesus are, of course, merely feeling their inner Christian.

So that's the question: if you see Jesus where He apparently is... did you put Him there?


book progress:
where we've stood for two days

Obviously, they weren't going to answer over the weekend. What you see is the automatically generated reply.

And that's where we stand. Updates as they happen.


Ave, Rory!

Wanna know the real reason for the season?


Monday, December 18, 2006

why I ask people not to send me packages

I always-- always-- have trouble with Korean Customs when people try to send me packages from the States. My parents recently sent over a care package and, true to form, FedEx called to tell me that the package had arrived, but that there was a problem: the package contains beef jerky (cue tympani and fright-wig chorus), which won't make it through Customs. I have several options:

1. I can wait a few days, during which time Customs will remove the jerky and then allow the remainder of the package to be delivered.

2. I can wait a few days and pay a W30,000 fee, which will allow the entire package to be delivered.

3. I can go to the FedEx office myself and collect the package; it's unclear whether I would still have to pay a fee to keep the jerky.

Something doesn't quite make sense, actually. The way the lady explained it over the phone, I wouldn't have to pay any money if I came to the office and "separated" the jerky myself. But, why not? If the issue is whether or not to allow the jerky into the country, then it would seem I would have to pay a fee no matter who does the separation. And what separation are we talking about, really? I think the lady might be saying that I should take the jerky out of the package myself at the FedEx office, and then let the rest of the package through Customs, i.e., illegally appropriate the jerky before my package is inspected. That, or she's saying I can simply collect the package myself and bypass Customs, but that can't be right. What the fuck is going on here? I don't think the problem in this case is my stunted Korean skills; I think there's a logical problem that's being glossed over by the FedEx lady in the interest of expediency over quality service.

I'm taking the bus out to Incheon Airport tomorrow to see what's up. More on this clusterfuck later.


Ban the Good?

I was, perhaps, a bit flip in my initial assessment of recently-sworn-in UN head Ban Ki-moon. Other Koreabloggers seem to think he's da shiznit. Check out GI Korea's take here, and the Nomad's take here.

Please note, fellas, that Ban's been sworn in, but he doesn't start his term until next year, so he can say whatever he wants right now. The proof is in the pudding-- what will he actually say and do during his term? I'll remain politely skeptical until I see some real, hard-hitting pronouncements. (Ban does, of course, have the support of the anti-diplomat John Bolton, which is-- pardon the pun-- a red flag for lefties everywhere.)


postal scrotum: Nathan tackles Ben Jonson

Nathan writes again with a more serious look at the Jonson poem:

Hi Kevin,

I dashed off that last email without an attempted solution because I was on my way to work.

Looking at it now, here is my interpretation:

"It is not growing like a tree (i.e. in bulk) that doth make a man better be..."; the "but, rather..." is implied. Charles is on the right track, although I would clarify that the metaphor is not the whole poem, but just these few lines. I-- rather briefly-- just looked at the poem in its entirety; as I understand the poem, it is comforting a man for the untimely loss of his young friend. The poet is not talking about nature, nor even really about Man, but about one special man who lost his special friend to an early death, which friendship is held up as an example for all. The last few lines of the first stanza are critical: like the flower which lives for a day before fading, the young man was a beautiful being worth remembering, despite having lived, like the flower of the proverbially biblical "grass of the field" (Isaiah 40), for only a short time.

All the best,

Now that would absolutely never have occurred to me, but like Charles's take, your interpretation strikes me as plausible and, further, reasonable. I'll have to chew on this.

Anyone else have any thoughts on how to rewrite the poem's first two lines in modern prose?


Ave, Iceberg!

Not in a silly or flippant vein: Scott writes a touching "letter to a departed friend." Go read. This has been, alas, quite the year for suicides rocking the Koreablogosphere. I wish Scott and his friend's family all the best. Can't be easy.


postal scrotum: ass blasting and Ben Jonson

This first email comes from Richardson:

Re your ass-blasting day... when things are that close to blowing, I like to refer to it as the 'enemy at the gates.'

Bummer that it happened, something that happened to a former co-worker serves to remind that it could always be worse.

'John' was traveling in Africa, from Sierra Leone to Cote d'vore (or vice versa, don't remember which). At any rate, he ate a large meal of fish before departing on his flight. He felt fine until he got to the arriving airport. While waiting in the VIP lounge, he started sweating, breathing hard, getting dizzy, etc. Then he *HAD* to get to the toilet. It was so bad that he forgot his carry on bag (with passports, money, camera, etc.) as he staggered to the restroom (luckily nothing was stolen).

He got into the room, into a stall - but couldn't get his belt unfastened in time. Several food poisoning powered blasts occurred, the worst 'John' had ever had, he said. Down the legs into socks, on shoes. . . let your imagination run wild.

It gets better; 'John' spoke no French, and the VIP lounge attendant apparently didn't speak enough English to help him. He was in the restroom for about an hour, trying to clean his pants/self in the sink, before the escort found him.

I can only hope that I never experience a similar horror. In my case, I know part of the problem was a low-fiber breakfast and no Metamucil to harden the stool, which is why I ended up voiding generous quantities of pancake batter.

This next email, about the Ben Jonson poem, comes from Nathan:

Hi Kevin,

I think it's pretty clear that the real message of the poem is "it's not how big it is, but how you use it." Poor Mr. Ben was evidently a little defensive!

Cheers & jests,

Jonson on his johnson, eh?

And Charles offers his take on the Jonson poem as well:

Maybe I'm missing something, but the first two lines seem fairly obvious: unlike trees, growing big and strong does not necessarily make a man better. At least that's how I see it--which would make the entire poem a metaphor for human beauty and frailty, I suppose.

Hm. Interesting thought. I've been trying to find online commentary on this poem, with little success. JW's mother is hung up on what the "it" of the first line refers to, but I told her that I felt the "it" was an expletive (in the syntactic sense), as in the sentence "It is raining." Madame wasn't convinced.

If Charles's take is correct, I may have to revise my rendering of the subsequent lines. The way I saw the poem was this: it was constructed very roughly as a sonnet (in this case-- 4 lines, 4 lines, 2 lines; aabb ccdd ee) in three distinct sections, the first of which dealt primarily with the oak's characteristics, the second of which offered the lily in contrast, and the third of which concluded that the lily offers a better analogy for the nature of beauty.

Charles is suggesting that Jonson is not simply dispensing with or dismissing the oak and its characteristics, but is actually painting a grander picture encapsulating "human beauty and frailty." It hadn't occurred to me that the poem was specifically about human beauty; it struck me, at least initially, as about the nature of the beauty we find-- whether in human activity or in nature at large: not like the oak, but like the lily.

If anyone else wants to take a shot at this, I'm all ears. I think Charles may be on to something, but I'm still trying to unravel Jonson's turns of phrase in my mind.


Ben Jonson's "Oak and Lily"

I need help.

My buddy JW's mother, an English scholar who used to teach full-time at Smoo (she's now retired, and teaches part-time largely for her own amusement, I think), handed me this conundrum: what, exactly, do the first two lines of Ben Jonson's poem, "Oak and Lily," mean? If you were to write them out in modern English, what would you see?

Here is the poem and my attempt at rendering most of it:

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May;
Although it fall and die that night,
It was the plant and flower of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see,
And in short measures life may perfect be.

My partial rendering:

[first two lines = ??]

Or an oak that stands long, for three hundred years
before finally falling over, dry, bald, and withered

A lily that lives for only a single day in May
is far more beautiful

Even though it shrivels and dies that night,
it was a plant and flower that throve in daylight

We see the truly beautiful in the little things;
life's perfection is found in small quantities

The poem is making a contrast between the oak's bulky permanence (and, ultimately, its ugly demise) and the beautiful lily's fragility and ephemerality. Jonson finds that the lily best represents the nature of the beautiful.

JW's mother is incensed at the way one of her poetry textbooks has rendered the poem in Korean (English and Korean both appear in the book). She demanded that I help her puzzle out both the supposedly faulty Korean translation and the exact meaning of the poem's first two lines. Her ulterior motive is to go after the translator and call him to the carpet for having sloppily translated Jonson's poem. In the meantime, she is seeking reassurance from a native speaker that her critiques of the translation are on the mark.

But we're stuck on how best to understand the poem's first two lines. Any help from my poetry-savvy readership will be appreciated.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

an ass-blasting Sunday

It sucks when my rhythm's off.

I'd known for a few weeks that I would be (1) meeting my Korean buddy JW at my place today, then (2) trundling over to his place in Huam-dong to see his wife, son, and parents, and then (3) cooking them dinner-- my fettuccine alfredo special. But as I'm still recovering from the book marathon (no news yet, by the way), I was woozy at 3pm when JW arrived. The visit went well; the fettuccine alfredo (which JW's wife had apparently been craving) was a hit. JW's parents live downstairs; it was when I went down to visit them that all hell broke loose, gastrically speaking.

When my rhythm's off, I usually get the shits. Perhaps my condition is simply a low-grade version of traveler's diarrhea. Whatever the hell it is, it interrupted a discussion I was having with JW's mother about a Ben Jonson poem, "Oak and Lily." As Madame was talking, I heard the telltale rumble of thick liquid pushing itself through large pipes, and I knew: I knew I had only minutes before disaster (a word that means "bad star," by the way) would strike. Madame heard the rumble, too, and her shrewd eyes flicked down to my massive gut. I was already sweating-- another sign of the end times.

Soon enough, I had to excuse myself. Although I had already visited JW's upstairs bathroom once, that was purely for urination purposes. This, I knew, was the real deal. Belly gurgling threateningly, I dropped the denim vestments, performed a quick docking maneuver to align my anus with the toilet's throat, allowed my buttock fat to create a tight vacuum seal around the bowl's rim, and executed the first of three courtesy flushes.

Fire one!

As male wisdom attests, diarrhea cannot be measured in loaves. In my case, the preferred unit of measure is the pitcherful. I did myself proud as I sat there, emptying out my innards as noiselessly as possible, applying only gentle pressure so as to avoid accidental trumpetings. Whatever foulness escaped my bowels had roughly the consistency of pancake batter. Don't think too hard about that image.

The first flush, it turned out, did not last long enough to catch all my output, thereby necessitating the second courtesy flush. My output neared its end and became distinctly gassier; it was becoming increasingly difficult to modulate the noise output, and after thirty seconds, I stopped trying, having decided that quick and noisy was better than prolonged and burbling.

Fire two!

The second flush caught almost everything, but did not last long enough to mask all the noise I was making. Luckily, the TV was on in Madame's living room, which I can only hope saved her from unnecessary auditory distress.

As I've noted before, courtesy flushes serve a dual purpose. First, they provide acoustic cover. Second, they rush the fecal matter out fast enough to avoid odor buildup, and in my opinion, that's only polite. Nothing says "gauche" like a dude who sits on the pot for twenty minutes with a rapidly evolving swamp burgeoning beneath his butt-jowls.

After a few more end-of-session hisses and squirts, the foul deed was done. Cleanup was comparatively easy; there was surprisingly little spatter, though a few floaters looked as though they might try to resist the final swirlie.

Fire three!

I flushed a third time; it was over. The sweat had stopped; I lumbered out of the bathroom and was able to discuss the Jonson poem a bit more rationally, and all was right with the world.

Five hours spent with some of my best friends, and that's the stuff I take away from the experience.