Friday, March 03, 2006

Namsan 2006: first time up this year

What started out as a brisk hike turned into a four-hour walk as I met my old buddy Jang-woong (friendship vintage 1994-- Jesus, twelve years already!?) and headed up Namsan for the first time in months. We wussed out and took one of the easier paths up the mountain: the road that's fronted by a little toll gate to the far right of Namsan Public Library. I hadn't been up that road in years. It curves leftward up the mountain flank and is designed for cars and buses, with a little strip on the right side reserved for us walkers (san-ch'aek-gil, as can be found along the other path I used to frequent).

The mountaintop is open to tourists again-- no signs of construction anywhere. You can walk past the tower to the ledge, like in the old days, and take in that magnificent view of Seoul. The old ground has been covered with artificial wooden planking; I hope it'll withstand the pressure of millions of tourists' feet in the summertime. Something new: you can now climb above the row of shops next to the tower. JW and I decided against going into the tower itself: why spend money for the privilege of viewing Seoul from only a few degrees higher up?

JW and I talked about personal matters as we headed off the mountaintop and down into Chongno for dinner, but one thing worth public mention is his brief review of Steven Spielberg's "Munich," a movie I have been hoping to see.

"Don't waste your time," JW said. "It's nothing. No meaning. No philosophy. Just kill, then regret. Kill-- regret. Kill-- regret. Nothing." I asked JW whether he'd been affected by Golda Meir's remark (I have no idea whether it's historical, but it's in the movie), where she infamously says that every country must, now and again, negotiate compromises with its values. JW shrugged. Apparently, Meir's remark didn't affect him. Now I'm wondering whether "Munich" (called "mween-hen" in Korean, based very loosely on the German spelling and pronunciation: München) is worth the trouble. JW and I have radically different tastes in movies, so perhaps there's still hope. I might yet go see the flick.

Dinner tonight was at a small but extremely popular Korean resto that specializes in u-reong dwaen-jang jjigae, the "u-reong" being a type of snail, according to JW. The place had a long line reaching out the door; the red-faced, overworked hostess popped out to take our orders while we stood in the evening chill. Once inside, surrounded by the bustle of cooks and the rumble of food-in-your-mouth conversation, we were guided to the end of an already-full table to sit across from each other. Our orders were plopped onto the table before we even had a chance to settle. Two large metal bowls of rice were also plunked in front of us, at which point we tucked in.

Tired after a long walk and a hot meal, we left the restaurant and headed across the street to a YBM Sisa hagwon, where I sought out a restroom and blasted the toilet's insides with the remains of a previous meal. Shock and awe, baby!

Now I'm back, it's getting late, and I'm thinking about turning in early. This has been a very good vacation week in terms of hanging with friends, but it hasn't been so good in terms of getting ahead on personal projects or finishing up lesson plans. I have the majority of my lesson plans done, but need to stop in the office tomorrow (Sat.) to finish them up. I also need to hit a bookstore to buy more textbooks for my reading class (our office wasn't able to order them on time), and I've got other things needing to be done-- a haircut among them.

The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forever. Hallelujah, and Amen.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oscars for Osama

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, March 3, 2006; A17

Nothing tells you more about Hollywood than what it chooses to honor. Nominated for best foreign-language film is "Paradise Now," a sympathetic portrayal of two suicide bombers. Nominated for best picture is "Munich," a sympathetic portrayal of yesterday's fashion in barbarism: homicide terrorism.

But until you see "Syriana," nominated for best screenplay (and George Clooney, for best supporting actor) you have no idea how self-flagellation and self-loathing pass for complexity and moral seriousness in Hollywood.

The "Syriana" script has, of course, the classic liberal tropes such as this stage direction: "The Deputy National Security Advisor, MARILYN RICHARDS, 40's, sculpted hair, with the soul of a seventy year-old white, Republican male, is in charge" (Page 21). Or this piece of over-the-top, Gordon Gekko Republican-speak, placed in the mouth of a Texas oilman: "Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. . . . Corruption . . . is how we win" (Page 93).

But that's run-of-the-mill Hollywood. The true distinction of "Syriana's" script is the near-incomprehensible plot -- a muddled mix of story lines about a corrupt Kazakh oil deal, a succession struggle in an oil-rich Arab kingdom, and a giant Texas oil company that pulls the strings at the CIA and, naturally, everywhere else -- amid which, only two things are absolutely clear and coherent: the movie's one political hero and one pure soul.

The political hero is the Arab prince who wants to end corruption, inequality and oppression in his country. As he tells his tribal elders, he intends to modernize his country by bringing the rule of law, market efficiency, women's rights and democracy.

What do you think happens to him? He, his beautiful wife and beautiful children are murdered, incinerated, by a remote-controlled missile, fired from CIA headquarters in Langley, no less -- at the very moment that (this passes for subtle cross-cutting film editing) his evil younger brother, the corrupt rival to the throne and puppet of the oil company, is being hailed at a suitably garish "oilman of the year" celebration populated by fat and ugly Americans.

What is grotesque about this moment of plot clarity is that the overwhelmingly obvious critique of actual U.S. policy in the real Middle East today concerns America's excess of Wilsonian idealism in trying to find and promote -- against a tide of tyranny, intolerance and fanaticism -- local leaders like the Good Prince. Who in the greater Middle East is closest to the modernizing, democratizing paragon of "Syriana"? Without a doubt, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, a man of exemplary -- and quite nonfictional -- personal integrity, physical courage and democratic temperament. Hundreds of brave American (and allied NATO) soldiers have died protecting him and the democratic system they established to allow him to govern. On the very night the Oscars will be honoring "Syriana," American soldiers will be fighting, some perhaps dying, in defense of precisely the kind of tolerant, modernizing Muslim leader that "Syriana" shows America slaughtering.

It gets worse. The most pernicious element in the movie is the character at the moral heart of the film: the beautiful, modest, caring, generous Pakistani who becomes a beautiful, modest, caring, generous . . . suicide bomber. In his final act, the Pure One, dressed in the purest white robes, takes his explosives-laden little motorboat headfirst into his target. It is a replay of the real-life boat that plunged into the USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 American sailors, except that in the "Syriana" version, the target is another symbol of American imperialism in the Persian Gulf: a newly opened liquefied natural gas terminal.

The explosion, which would have the force of a nuclear bomb, constitutes the moral high point of the movie, the moment of climactic cleansing, as the Pure One clad in white merges with the great white mass of the huge terminal wall, at which point the screen goes pure white. And reverently silent.

In my naivete, I used to think that Hollywood had achieved its nadir with Oliver Stone's "JFK," a film that taught a generation of Americans that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA and the FBI in collaboration with Lyndon Johnson. But at least it was for domestic consumption, an internal affair of only marginal interest to other countries. "Syriana," however, is meant for export, carrying the most vicious and pernicious mendacities about America to a receptive world.

Most liberalism is angst- and guilt-ridden, seeing moral equivalence everywhere. "Syriana" is of a different species entirely -- a pathological variety that burns with the certainty of its malign anti-Americanism. Osama bin Laden could not have scripted this film with more conviction.