Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Reader and e-friend Ruth directed me to this incredible Twitter pic of a lovingly carved Cthulhu pumpkin, which I now display for your delectation:

George Takei, on Twitter, posted the following pic, which had been sent to him by a fan:

Bonne Fête des Morts, vous tous.


more to come

I'm still at the office, prepping for next week's classes. When I get home, I'll be sure to slap up more Pohang pics. Hang in there.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

the Seoul metro: "more civilized" or "a fucking war zone"?

I heard the opinions of two different colleagues yesterday. One colleague, a French speaker, said he encountered a Frenchman while they were both on the Seoul metro. The Frenchman remarked to my colleague that Seoul's subway was nothing like Le Paris Métro: "Ici, ils sont plus civilisés," he supposedly told my coworker. Here, they're more civilized.

While walking home with another colleague, however, I heard a very different assessment of the Seoul metro, and of Korea in general. This colleague had lived and taught in America, Thailand, and Japan, and he often found himself pining for Japan–a place he deemed cleaner than Korea, and peopled with citizens who understood rules of politeness and the value of living in a civil society. Japan's subways, according to him, are orderly and sedate. Seoul's metro, by contrast, is "a fucking war zone."

My own experience lies somewhere between these two impressions. For the most part, I can't say that I've experienced much trouble on the Seoul subway system, which I used quite often back when I lived in Seoul. I saw plenty of drunk people on the subways at night; I also saw my share of crazies. But those folks were notable mainly because they were in the minority: for the most part, my subway rides were hassle-free. Come to think of it, my experiences on the Paris Métro weren't that bad, either. I recall one drunk guy telling a woman in a leather miniskirt to "spread 'em, dirty whore! Go on—spread 'em!" ("Écarte, sale pute! Vas-y, écarte!"), but she and her boyfriend just laughed the drunkard off. One of my most traumatic Seoul subway experiences involved standing ten feet away from a furiously drunk guy who started taekwondo-kicking one of the subway car's windows; he eventually spidered the glass, then left the car in a hurry when the train stopped. No one did a thing.

But one such incident does not a war zone make, and I don't know enough about other subway systems around the world to be able to make an intelligent comparison.


Pohang Trip, Part II: from the restaurant to the shore

This is a very small batch of pictures—just three images this time around. The first two images are of fish tanks. What better guarantee of freshness than to have your living, breathing dinner right there, in residence, just like a beloved professor who makes his home on campus? (This is not an analogy that bears extending—not unless you don't mind the notion of slaughtering and eating your beloved professor to guarantee his freshness.)

The first picture shows a mix of fish (and at least one eel); the second image shows my molluscan buddies, the squids, which are routinely brought up by the ton just off the South Korean coast. Squid boats sit almost a mile offshore, shining huge lights into the ocean. The lights attract the squids in unimaginably vast numbers, and fishermen simply sweep the wriggly critters out of the sea.

The final image offers a view of the water. Not exactly the open sea, but close. I was trying to get a shot of the parasol table, a slice of the city, and the jet d'eau in the distance.

Enjoy. As before, click each image to enlarge it. Before clicking, hover your cursor over each image to read its caption.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pohang Trip, Part I: the restaurant

Here's the first batch of photos from our Saturday trip to Pohang. My buddy Charles had driven down for an academic conference, and since he was in the area along with his wife, he wanted to swing by, pick me up, and go exploring. Around 10:15AM on Saturday, Charles tooled into my neighborhood, presented me with a healthy-sized plastic bag of fresh apples in a gesture of equine fellowship (I whinnied my thanks), then invited me to strain the suspension on his tiny car. The three of us drove to Pohang on a bright, cool, perfectly sunny day; Charles was at the wheel, but Hyunjin was our navigator, using her smartphone to call out distances and directions. Pohang turned out to be easy enough to find, and Hyunjin, who had assumed the role of guide, told us we should try the mul-hwae (raw seafood in cold soup broth) at a famous restaurant called Marado. So after parking, we walked along the shoreline until we found ourselves at Marado's threshold.

Click on the following images to enlarge them. Hover your cursor over each image to see its caption.

Stay tuned for Part II, with many more photos, coming soon.


Monday, October 28, 2013

You, Lou! Late!

Cranky, self-righteous Lou Reed is dead at 71.

I knew him best from that godawful depressing album, New York, which he excreted in the very late 1980s. There was one song in particular that reeked with bitterness: "Last Great American Whale." The lyrics:

They say he didn't have an enemy
his was a greatness to behold
He was the last surviving progeny
the last one on this side of the world

He measured a half mile from tip to tail
silver and black with powerful fins
They say he could split a mountain in two
that's how we got the Grand Canyon

Last great American whale
last great American whale
Last great American whale
last great American whale

Some say they saw him at the Great Lakes
some say they saw him off of Florida
My mother said she saw him in Chinatown
but you can't always trust your mother

Off the Carolinas the sun shines brightly in the day
the lighthouse glows ghostly there at night
The chief of a local tribe had killed a racist mayor's son
and he'd been on death row since 1958

The mayor's kid was a rowdy pig
spit on Indians and lots worse
The old chief buried a hatchet in his head
life compared to death for him seemed worse

The tribal brothers gathered in the lighthouse to sing
and tried to conjure up a storm or rain
The harbor parted, the great whale sprang full up
and caused a huge tidal wave

The wave crushed the jail and freed the chief
the tribe let out a roar
The whites were drowned, the browns and reds set free
but sadly one thing more

Some local yokel member of the NRA
kept a bazooka in his living room
And thinking he had the chief in his sight
blew the whale's brains out with a lead harpoon

Last great American whale
last great American whale
Last great American whale
last great American whale

Well, Americans don't care for much of anything
land and water the least
And animal life is low on the totem pole
with human life not worth more than infected yeast

Americans don't care too much for beauty
they'll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
They'll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
and complain if they can't swim

They say things are done for the majority
don't believe half of what you see and none of what you hear
It's like what my painter friend Donald said to me
"Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they're done"

I suppose someone has to corner the market on dark and dismal. Nature abhors a vacuum: with Lou Reed gone, what embittered soul will take his place? Was he indeed the last great American whale?


I guess they were serving ham

Perhaps taking his cue from the dog who photobombed everything, my buddy Charles photobombs this otherwise lovely image of our post-Pohang dinner in Hayang, namely pork ribs, Korean-style (click on image to enlarge):

More photos coming. I've got dozens.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

"These go to 11."

SHE: Who turned off the alarm?

ME: Not me. When I came in, the alarm was already off.

SHE: Well, make sure you use your ID card to turn the alarm off. Tell the other professors, too, please. The security office called our office.

ME: OK; I will. But you know... the problem is that the alarm switch is inside our office. We open the door in the morning, the alarm goes off, and then we have to turn it off. So it's always giving a false alarm. The alarm [arming] system should have been set up outside the office. That way, we could turn off the alarm first, then unlock our office without tripping the alarm.

SHE: (long pause) But the alarm system is inside the office.



Saturday, October 26, 2013


Here's one pic of many that I shot with my cell phone while I was out and about with my buddy Charles and his wife Hyunjin (click on the image to enlarge it):

We drove out to Pohang, a coastal city I had never visited before, tromped over to one of the city's most famous restaurants, Marado, and enjoyed the local specialty: mulhwae, i.e., raw fish and shellfish in cold, spicy, sweet broth. It was quite good—certainly better than it sounded on paper. Above, you see a variety of raw fish all lumped together, along with some abalone, seaweed, gochujang, onion, sesame seed, julienned cucumber, and shredded Asian pear. The broth was an icy red slush that I had to ladle onto the above contents, then stir together with some cold noodles and enjoy. The result was surprisingly delicious.

I've got dozens of photos from today's road trip; expect quite a show tomorrow.


Friday, October 25, 2013

a Last Dark review on Sunday, perhaps

My buddy Charles is in the area for a conference, so I'll be hanging out with him and his lovely wife in Pohang for much of tomorrow. There may be photos after that outing, but there's also a very good chance that I won't be blogging anything until Sunday. So if I do review The Last Dark, Sunday's the earliest day that'll happen.


Ave, Noe!

Noe Alonzo, @noealz on Twitter and Noealz1 on YouTube, has been working with the good folks at Arirang TV to produce some video segments on life and food in South Korea. The first of several such vids is here. Although there already exists a plethora of large- and small-scale video efforts by expats who want to tell the world something about their host country, what sets Noe's Arirang videos apart is that he's not afraid to ask frank, pointed, and potentially offensive questions of his Korean interlocutors.

Let me talk for a second about my dislikes. I can't say that I'm a big fan of shows like "Eat Your Kimchi," which seem to pander shamelessly to Korean tastes in a transparent effort to be liked (this is why Koreans themselves know of and enjoy "Eat Your Kimchi").* Nor am I a fan of many of the smaller-scale podcasts and vlogs out there, run by people who seem to know little about how to minimize their annoying tics when presenting to the camera. To those pro-wannabes I say: Be simple, be honest, be clear, and be yourself.** Watch your lighting, your sound levels, and your spoken rhythm. Don't be the cringe-inducing Bedroom Broadcaster. Have a realistic notion of what you actually look and sound like when you're pontificating to the masses. And for God's sake, avoid pretentious-sounding pseudonyms—anything with "-wolf" or "-goddess" or "-warrior" or "-explorer" or "-wanderer" in it.

Noe's videos (check out his above-linked YouTube channel) are professionally done, but Noe himself comes off as natural and unpretentious. He also makes no effort to disguise his dislike for certain aspects of Korean living: he's talked about his distaste for this or that region of Seoul before, and in his latest Arirang video, he asks some potentially offensive questions to a Korean man: wouldn't it be embarrassing to you, as a Korean, to see a foreigner eating in this dirty place? What might the foreigner be thinking? It was a totally unexpected direction in which to take the interview. Noe could have asked fawning, softball questions about Korean cuisine; he could have appealed to Korean nationalism (the interviewee does, in fact, try to go the nationalistic route early in the exchange, before Noe hits him with the "this dirty place" question); instead, he went right to the heart of Korea's image-consciousness in order to tweak some of those insecurities.

To his credit, Noe's interlocutor responded with aplomb and civility, which I found refreshing. He was a decent English-speaker, and he fielded Noe's questions intelligently. That's the sort of thing I want to see more of among podcasters: intelligent, civil exchanges that contain a potentially provocative edge. Credit goes to Arirang TV, as well, for allowing Noe the freedom to ask these sorts of questions.***

All in all, I found Noe's latest Arirang video to be a pleasant contrast to most of the podcasting and vlogging dross that's out there. Keep up the good work, Noe!

*For all I know, the couple behind "Eat Your Kimchi" are perfectly fine individuals. I cast no aspersions on them personally. I just can't stand their damn show, which is as fluffy and overproduced as a Korean variety show. There—I said it.

**Again, these may all be good folks. I don't question their intentions, but I do question their professionalism. True: you can't become a professional without going through the awkward stages first, so perhaps a little compassion is called for. But some of these podcasters have been at the game for years, and still haven't grasped the fundamentals of good TV or good video. Stop aping and mugging, guys! Be serious, be professional—be like this guy, who knows his stuff and doesn't fuck around.

***In an ideal world, such freedom should be taken for granted: it's not as if Noe is in North Korea, walking on eggshells to avoid offending his hosts.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

to review or not to review?

Stephen R. Donaldson's final novel in his Thomas Covenant tetralogy, The Last Dark, came out for Kindle download this past October 15. I snapped it up right away, and have just finished reading it. Some of the major questions I had before reading the novel included:

1. Would Covenant and/or Linden meet the Creator again? As in the Christian Bible, the Creator's role has diminished over time in the Covenant stories. Many characters in the Chronicles talk about the Creator, but the Creator himself has become little more than a background figure. At the beginning of The Last Chronicles, there's no Creator at all.

2. Would the world actually end, and was it really going to be the last dark? I had guessed that Donaldson was going to take the story in a CS Lewis-ish direction. You may recall that, in the final novel of the Narnia series, The Last Battle, Aslan unmakes the world of Narnia (I can't remember why). Donaldson seemed, at least, to be traveling the same road.

3. What would the eventual fates of Covenant, Linden, and Linden's adopted son Jeremiah be? Would they live out their natural lives in the Land (since they had all been killed in "our" world)? The whole thing reminded me of the poor Pevensie kids, who all end up dead in a train crash in The Last Battle, but who find themselves at the beginning of an awesome postmortem adventure, standing before the paradoxical gates of heaven.

4. Would we finally find out whether this world existed objectively, or whether it was all a figment of someone's imagination? Donaldson himself dealt with this question from his fans, may of whom argued (reasonably) that the introduction of different point-of-view characters, as well as the addition of other characters from "our" world, would seem to indicate that the alternative universe of the Land did indeed have an objective existence (like Narnia in the Lewis books). Donaldson, who was obviously irritated by this argument, insisted that he had done nothing, narratively speaking, to indicate the ontological status of the world of the Land.

So the question is: should I review the novel? If I do write a review, the piece is guaranteed to be rife with spoilers, because many of the issues I'd like to discuss are linked to major plot points. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that most of my minuscule readership is both unacquainted with Donaldson's writing and unlikely ever to pick up a Donaldson book, so revealing spoilers might not be a big problem.

I may just table this question for now. The final three chapters of the novel bear rereading. I'm still not sure how I feel about how Donaldson ended his opus; it has elements that seem almost as if they'd been borrowed from "The Matrix Revolutions" (itself a movie that felt as if it had borrowed tropes from Stephen R. Donaldson!). Perhaps a rereading will shed some new light on the story.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the reflex

I've been living in my current digs for a couple months, now—since August 14. I still haven't gotten used to the fact that the way to get into my studio involves a keyless entry; my hand still dips into my pocket to look for nonexistent keys every time I approach my building. Time and again, my fingertips close on nothing, and I offer myself a twisted grin, embarrassed by my inability to jettison the past and live in the present moment.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013


A more or less typical meal at the campus cafeteria:

No major awards for imagination or innovation, but the food at our campus cafeteria, which costs us profs W3500 (about $3.20), isn't bad at all. Occasionally, there are menu items that disappoint; at other times, there have been selections that leave one scratching one's head, such as a fried-pork/soup combination in which the crispy-fried pork (Kor. donggaseu, Jpn. donkatsu) was left to soak inside a cold(!!) udong (Jpn. udon) soup broth.

Mostly, though, the food is fairly fresh and flavorful. The above tray shows a Korean-style mixed-vegetable salad, a pile of sauce-covered mandu (Jpn. gyoza), another pile of ggakdugi (cubed, pickled radish), and a white-broth soup with thinly sliced beef and some noodles in it. Oh, and we can't forget the rice. I deliberately piled the rice high because there's a thing I do whenever I eat Korean soup—something I've done since childhood: I eat all the solid elements of the soup, leaving the broth, then I dump the rice in at the very end and enjoy the soup again, but this time with rice in it. My favorite soup to do this with used to be dubu-jjigae (tofu stew), but this was before I had made the acquaintance of the much more savory budae-jjigae, which you, Dear Reader, know I like to make (and one more!).

Ah, yes: the drink sitting next to the tray was good old American-style sweetened ice tea.


Monday, October 21, 2013

the cat in the tree

A day or so ago, I was taking a shower and staring out my bathroom window. I saw what appeared to be a brown, furry animal high in the branches of a tree across the street, and my immediate thought was: Cat. I was unable to see the beast's head through the waving branches, however, so I couldn't confirm this. As I showered, I continued to stare; the animal seemed at times to take the form of a rabbit (irrational thought, that: rabbits don't climb trees); at other times I wondered whether it was some other type of forest-dwelling mammal. Eventually, the creature did indeed reveal itself to be a cat, which explained why all the birds had been screaming at it.

"Idiot," I muttered as water poured down my face. The cat had treed itself, and was having a hell of a time getting back down. Felines are normally a clever lot, but they get stupid around tall plants, for whatever reason, and this animal was no exception. Slowly, hesitantly, the cat turned itself around and started back down, head-first like a squirrel, to the ground.

Our neighborhood has an army of feral cats roaming it. Koreans are ambivalent at best about having cats as pets; the animals aren't treated that well on the peninsula, and many are simply let go, left to fend for themselves. Natives will often claim that cats' eyes freak them out. Perhaps the little critters are an object of superstition here. After eight years in Korea, I can't tell you how many street cats I've seen that have broken or missing tails-- signs of abuse and neglect. Not that cats generate much sympathy: in our neighborhood, at night, I sometimes hear choruses of cats yowling in counterpoint at each other, or random catfights that begin with vocalizations that sound eerily human.

Cats are at least partially insane, I think. They've been cursed with unhealthy doses of intelligence and curiosity that are counterbalanced by equally unhealthy doses of skittishness and general cowardice.* Perhaps this explains the feline urge to run up trees, then just to sit there, tails twitching irritably, puzzled about how to get back down.

Our neighborhood's back street is almost, but not quite, an alley. A true alley would have buildings on both sides; in our case, there's our row of studio buildings, and across the street, there's the steep face of a wooded hill. Plenty of tree trunks for cats to climb. I look forward to seeing, and perhaps photographing, the next cat to engage in such folly.

*One exception was when our family's cat in Virginia, Mozart, hissingly chased a dog away from our front yard. That was magnificent to behold.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

but-pen Dalma-do

I found my Monami but-pens (brush pens) at the Home Plus in Gyeongsan City. I need them for the art project that I'm doing for my buddy Charles, but before I could turn to the images he's requested, I needed to take a pen out for a spin, so to speak. Here's one result of that test drive—a Dalma-do, i.e., a brush-art image of the saint that Korean Buddhists know as Dalma Daesa, a.k.a. Bodhidharma, First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism and putative father* of kung fu:

Every Dalma-do, no matter its style, normally bears the following features:

Dalma's large eyes: according to legend, the saint ripped off his eyelids to keep himself from falling asleep during the nine-year meditation (in a cave, or staring at a temple wall) that led to his enlightenment. Where the eyelids fell, tea plants sprang up, and that's how tea came to China.
Dalma's beard: this is a distinguishing feature, since not many East Asian monks permit themselves facial hair (I did once meet a bearded Korean monk in Seoul's Insa-dong district, however, so I know there are exceptions).
Dalma's luxuriant eyebrows: I don't know enough about the history of Bodhidharma, or about the history of Dalma-do art, to say why Dalma Daesa's eyebrows need to be so big and droopy, but that's often how he's drawn.
Dalma's bulbous nose: this is a typically East Asian way to indicate otherness. A non-Chinese, non-Japanese, or non-Korean is frequently depicted as having an exaggerated schnoz. Japanese depictions of the Buddhist hells show demons, who torture the damned, as having large noses. Being from India, Bodhidharma was given a big nose.
Dalma's pendulous earlobe(s): a pendulous earlobe is a mark of the Buddha, so just as some Christian artists, in the Middle Ages, anachronistically** depicted Saint Peter wearing glasses (a medieval metaphor for wisdom and insight), so it is that Dalma is shown with the Buddha's ears as a way of saying that he incarnates Buddha-nature.
Dalma's facial expression: it's the rare artist who draws Dalma Daesa with any expression other than one of stern concentration. Ideally, the saint should look as if he's ready to punch through a stone wall, for such is the degree of his concentration. Goofy or joyful-looking Dalma-do are extremely rare. A smiling Dalma by a prominent artist would be, by my estimation, a collector's item (though also, possibly, an object of ridicule).
Dalma's robe and halo: I mention these together because many clever artists draw Dalma Daesa as if he were a mountain, and the halo then represents the sun rising behind him.

The inclusion of Dalma's mustache appears to be optional. Some artists go for more of an Abe Lincoln approach to the First Patriarch, giving him a bald upper lip.

The two most popular ways to draw Dalma Daesa are (1) a portrait in the style seen above, or (2) an image of Dalma crossing the Yangtze on a reed—his own Jesus-like water-walking miracle, if you will. Scholars interested in the biographies and historiographies of Zen Buddhist saints will note that water-walking is more of a Taoist superpower than a Buddhist one, although Buddhist doctrine does talk of the acquisition of siddhi, i.e., special powers that come with deep practice. In Taoism, water-walking is an expression of harmony with the Tao (see my article, "The Tao of Chance," for more on Taoist sainthood). Attributing this power to Bodhidharma hints at the degree to which the Chinese appropriated the historical figure and Sinicized him. Bodhidharma may be just as much a Taoist saint as he is a Buddhist saint. For more on this, read Ray Grigg's The Tao of Zen. The Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism, Hui Neng (pronounce it "hway nung," not "hooey-neng"), underwent the same treatment, which makes it hard to know who, exactly, Hui Neng really was.

*I think that it's a sign of Chinese largesse to give the credit for ancient Chinese fighting systems to an Indian monk.

**Lens-grinding may have been known to Egyptians in the 5th century BCE, so the notion of Saint Peter's wearing glasses might not have been as anachronistic as all that.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

"Gravity": review

Director Alfonso Cuarón's spare-but-magnificent "Gravity" is a near-Earth-orbit space adventure starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Cuarón wrote the story himself, along with his son Jonás. The film has received orgasmic reviews by almost all the major critics to be found at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, and is assured several Oscar nominations. I went out to see "Gravity" for myself this past Friday; I had to know whether the film was really worth all the hype.

The short answer is yes. "Gravity" is what I had previously conjectured it to be: a minimalist play performed on a maximalist set, and I love minimalist drama.* The story concept is about as simple as it comes: a woman, neophyte (and nausea-prone) payload specialist Dr. Ryan Stone, finds herself stranded in the deadly environment of space, with almost no help from anyone except veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, out on the final EVA of his career.

The movie begins with Lieutenant Kowalski puffing around in near-Earth orbit, playfully testing out his jet pack and joking with the folks down in Houston, while Drs. Stone and Dasari conduct repairs on the Hubble telescope. A report from Mission Control warns that a Russian missile, in exploding an old Russian satellite, has inadvertently caused a chain reaction: flying debris from the missile impact is striking other satellites, causing more debris, and it's all heading toward the team, which must immediately abort its mission. The team fails to strike camp quickly enough, and when the debris cloud comes, with some pieces flying at 20,000 miles per hour, all hell breaks loose. The space shuttle Explorer is irreparably damaged; the crew inside the shuttle is killed, and so is Dr. Dasari, who receives a horrifying, instantly flash-frozen head wound while still outside the shuttle.

The rest of the film focuses on Dr. Stone's attempt to return to Earth alive. Although it's set against the backdrop of the entire universe, "Gravity" is primal in its simplicity, and it portrays a classic Hollywood scenario: the ordinary person who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances, relying on nothing but her guts and her brains to survive. Critics have noted the thematic resemblance of "Gravity" to films like "Apollo 13" and the just-released Robert Redford adventure "All Is Lost" (about a man surviving alone at sea in a damaged vessel). They have also mentioned that "Gravity" contains pensive moments of silent interiority that recall "2001: A Space Odyssey," especially the moment when we see Dr. Stone floating in a fetal position, much like the star-child at the end of "2001."

Without a doubt, "Gravity" is full of such references and symbolism, but I see it primarily as an eloquent sermon on the existentialist point of view. Post-World War II French existentialism, as exemplified by its two most famous exponents, the philosophical Jean-Paul Sartre and the literary Albert Camus, is a worldview that sees the cosmos not merely as meaningless, but as actively absurd. The meaning we find, in this universe, is the meaning we create: we are the sum of our own choices; our significance arises from the exercise of our inherent human freedom. We shape our destinies; the alternative is to be a victim of circumstance, to curl up and die helplessly, pathetically. Existentialism is a tough-minded philosophy, and another of its major themes is alienation—separation from God, nature, others, and one's own self—a condition that "Gravity" portrays with almost brutal efficiency. Dr. Stone, at the beginning of the movie, initially enjoys the silence and aloneness that come of being out in space, despite her nausea. But partway through the film, hopeless and in despair after struggling through a series of disasters, she contemplates suicide. Eventually, though, she makes the choice to survive, to see this trial through, and that choice, the choice to bear her own burdens and soldier on, is resoundingly existentialist. To live is to choose to live.

I saw, earlier, a very negative YouTube review of "Gravity" by an ostensibly feminist reviewer who critiqued Sandra Bullock's character. The reviewer noted with annoyance that Bullock's Dr. Stone is, at the beginning, reduced to little more than screaming and hyperventilating. Stone needs help from the only male in range, Clooney's Matt Kowalski, and all of this struck the reviewer as another offensive example of Hollywood's tendency to showcase weak female characters. After seeing "Gravity" myself, I'd have to disagree. If Dr. Stone is screaming and helpless at the beginning, it's because (1) she's never been in space before, (2) she suddenly finds herself in an unimaginably horrifying situation, and (3) she's only human. An inexperienced guy in that same situation would doubtless also need help from a robust, self-assured Matt Kowalski. Given how Dr. Stone handles herself for the rest of the movie, I'd say she was very strong, indeed.

If "Gravity" doesn't win the Oscar for best visual effects, I'll be shocked. I think it could also easily win an award for best cinematography: Cuarón's inventive camera takes long tracking shots that subtly slide into and out of the astronauts' helmets, switching perspectives but never once allowing us to be confused by the action. Watching "Gravity" was like watching Martin Scorsese (another lover of long tracking shots) work in three dimensions. Clooney gives a workmanlike performance as an astronaut on his final mission, and Bullock does a superb job of carrying most of the film on her slight shoulders. My prediction on Twitter was that "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" would clean up at the 2014 Oscars, leaving few pickings for the rest of the hopefuls.

My only real complaint about the movie isn't the inaccuracies of the physics (geeks have noted that, due to their different orbits, the Hubble telescope and the International Space Station should not have been in the same story): it's about the music. Composed by Steven Price, the music occasionally sounded like warmed-over James Horner (who scored such films as "Star Trek 2," "Aliens," "Titanic," "Apollo 13," and "Avatar") mixed with Brad Fiedel ("Terminator," "Terminator 2," "True Lies"). It was intrusive, overly melodramatic and, I think, totally unnecessary. If anything, it reminded me of the aesthetic strategy used in "Firefly," a TV series that recognized there was no sound in space, and that filled the vast silence with twangy music during the space-travel cut scenes. How different would "Gravity" have been without music?

But that's a relatively minor complaint about a gripping, fascinating movie. "Gravity" is well-acted, beautifully shot, and deals with primal, profound human themes. It's a feast for both the eyes and the mind. I saw it in regular 2-D, but I've heard that it's one of the few films that really justifies the use of 3-D technology. If nothing else, "Gravity" is a big-screen experience: your living room's HDTV is too small of a canvas to display this adventure in the great, unforgiving vastness of space. See the movie while it's still in theaters.

*Hence my admiration of "The Sunset Limited," which I still haven't reviewed. I'd like to watch it again before I say anything about it.


the plateau: 128.5 kg

Since my last weigh-in, I've lost only 0.2 kilograms over the past two weeks. I'm now at 128.5, which is a sign, I think, that my body is getting used to the routine of walking thirty minutes a day—fifteen minutes to campus, and fifteen minutes from. It could also simply be that I'm not shedding pounds (well, kilos) as fast because I'm sweating less as the weather cools down: retained water equals slower weight loss. Still, one colleague commented that I now look thinner than I did at the beginning of the semester, which is a tentative sign that some progress has been made.

Now, it seems, I'm going to have to make a greater effort if weight loss is to continue: I'll need to pay more attention to my diet, as well as exercise even more. A gentle walk, four times a week, really isn't that much exercise. If I lost weight because of it, it's because I had been doing zero exercise before coming to Hayang. Anything's better than zero.

But we've hit a plateau. At a guess, this plateau is the first of several. The body goes through its phases of consent-then-resist, and breaking through that resistance to the next phase will mean ever stricter levels of self-discipline. Doing more walks will be helpful: my new phone has a pedometer that demands at least 10,000 steps per day (about five miles' walking for me), and I still haven't mde the effort to get to know the rest of Catholic University's layout. There's also a gym on campus, which means I could begin weight training.

Much to do. Much to do.


the 809 lets me down

I took the 809 bus to Gyeongsan City this afternoon so I could go see the 6:40PM showing of "Gravity." (I'll review the film soon; it was quite good.) I got out a little after 8PM and wandered across the street to the nearby Home Plus. Saw one of my students working there; we talked for a few minutes, then I went out to the 809 bus stop for Hayang. It was about 9:30PM. I waited for the 809. And waited.

And waited.

Like an idiot, I waited for over an hour before I finally gave in and hailed a cab. The fare turned out to be cheaper than I thought: instead of the anticipated W17,000 or W18,000, it was only W13,300. Not too bad for a 15-kilometer ride.

So I'm left to wonder whether the 809 bus simply stops its service sometime after 9PM. There may be some sort of online traffic resource that provides that sort of information. We teachers were warned that Hayang/Gyeongsan buses generally stopped their service around 11PM, which is why I'd thought I still had a chance at catching the 809. No dice, as it turned out.

Next time, if I find myself in a similar situation, I won't take a cab back to Hayang: if it's before 10PM, I'll take the subway to Anshim Station, then grab a bus from there. Much faster, and much cheaper, than waiting an hour for a bus and then grabbing a taxi.


Friday, October 18, 2013

the Friday agenda

Every Friday this semester, I have the day off. That's nice because I have an unbroken series of sixteen three-day weekends. Today, I've got a few things to do:

1. Appointment. A dental appointment, to be precise—but not for me. One of my coworkers, who speaks extremely fluent French but only very rudimentary Korean, has asked for my help in getting him an appointment with a Seoul-based dentist—Dr. Lee, who speaks English and French along with her native Korean. So I'm going to make that call today.

UPDATE: Tried to make the call, but no one's answering.

2. Laundry. Given how sweaty I've been, laundry happens twice or three times per week, and today is Laundry Day. I sometimes wonder whether my tiny little washing machine can take all this punishment; I try to compensate by not overloading the washer. My feeling is that, if I'm good to it, it'll be good to me. That said, the washer has given me a "too heavy" warning signal before, despite the fact that the drum was half-empty. Not knowing what else to do, I opened the washer's door, manually spun the drum around three or four times, then closed the door and restarted the machine. That seemed to work, but I'm afraid that, once the problem appears, it'll appear again with greater frequency, a sign of the washer's mulish recalcitrance and sad decline.

3. Ot suseon. Yes: clothing repair. One of my dress shirts' pockets is starting to peel away from the main shirt, so it needs a bit of reinforcement. I tried handing the shirt off to a laundry/seamstress place yesterday, but the guy managing the establishment said he couldn't repair any clothing. When I said that "clothing repair" was written in big letters on his storefront, he had no answer for me, perhaps because his pride made him unwilling to admit that he didn't know how to sew. This is Korea: never trust signs. They may advertise one thing, but you just never... goddamn... know.

4. Movie. I'm going to take the 809 out to Lotte to see "Gravity." My buddy Charles, who is supposed to be visiting me (with his wife) next week, told me that I need not delay my viewership for his sake. So off I go!

5. Shopping. A Home Plus sits right across the street from the movie theater. I'm now officially out of my Target-brand psyllium fiber (au revoir, solid poops and regularity), so I have to go somewhere that sells what I need. I'm gambling that Home Plus will not disappoint. All the same, finding cheap fiber tablets will be nearly impossible in Hayang and Gyeongsan City, I'm sure; I'll be lucky to find a super-expensive ($30-$40) tub of Metamucil, if Home Plus sells such a thing (or the British equivalent). If I can't find proper psyllium in bulk, I may have to resort to eating a bowl of dry cereal every night—also an expensive solution to the fiber problem, given that a W5000 box of cereal will last only a few bowls.

6. Lessons. Next week, except for my Wednesday class, I'm back to regular teaching. For my intermediates, this means business as usual: the round-robin format, plus an extra worksheet/activity by yours truly. I just need to prep the worksheet, which in this case will be Part 2 of a pronunciation exercise that I had given my students earlier in the semester.

7. Proposal. Our department's director, Dr. Y, has tasked me with writing up a course proposal that she would like to submit to a planning committee for approval. Dr. Y liked an early idea I had presented to her: a pronunciation workshop. If the proposal is accepted by the planning committee, it will become an official course next semester, and I'll likely be the one to teach it. I told Dr. Y that the course, which I designed and taught at Sookmyung, was originally a short clinic that lasted only 6-8 weeks; she felt it could be expanded to a full, 16-week length. So one of my tasks, today, is to draft a comprehensive course syllabus that will be incorporated into the formal proposal. I have until Sunday night to email this to Dr. Y.

That ought to be enough tasks for one day, yes?


Thursday, October 17, 2013

do I seem distracted?

In looking over my posts for the past few days, I noticed how short and clipped they've been—terse, almost. I think we can chalk this up to simple distraction: I downloaded Stephen R. Donaldson's The Last Dark onto my phone's Kindle app, and I've been reading it. This is the fourth and final novel in Donaldson's The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant—the crowning moment for the series. Last Dark seems to have started well, although I've been reading it with less suspension of disbelief and more of a proofreaderly eye. Donaldson still doesn't know how to use semicolons (he often mistakes them for commas—the opposite of a comma splice), and I've caught one dangling modifier within the first two chapters.

So please expect more short, distracted blog posts for the duration, at least until I finish the novel. As Donaldson would say, it's a geas: I have to follow the sad-but-noble adventures of Thomas Covenant and his love, Linden Avery, to the bitter end. Nothing less than the entire universe is at stake in this story. What could be more gripping?


one more batch of tests this week

All in all, I've been surprised and pleased with the performance of my students on their midterms. I've got one more class of students to interview this week, then two classes to interview next week. I want to see lots of "A"s, as I saw with previous classes.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

spot the error(s)

Seen here:

The notable exclusion of poverty from the Christian agenda would doubtlessly puzzle European Christians, whose support of Christian ethical approaches to family life have always been paired with a deep and vigorous concern for the poor.

Did you find the error(s)?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

happy 34, little bro

My brother Sean turns 34 on October 15. (Here's my tribute to him from last year.) Sean is ten years, one month, and fifteen days younger than I am, but I think it's fair to say that he's accomplished more in his short life than I have in mine. His professional music career has taken him all over the world; he has privately taught students who have gone on to win prestigious prizes and awards; he has been the driving force behind the formation of numerous chamber groups; most important, he loves his little chihuahua, Maqz. Some of the most interesting conversations I've ever had have been with Sean, as we've shared our pedagogical insights with each other. Oh, yes: he's also a talented cook.

Happy Birthday, Little Bro. And many happy returns.



Every 15th of the month is payday at my university. My coffers are full... but only for the next few minutes, as I must send 80% of my funds to my US bank account to take care of massive one-time and revolving debt. Off I go, then, to the campus bank, to send away my earnings. Hello and goodbye, O Beloved Cash.



Elisson brings sad tidings of the death of beloved actor Don Knotts...

...who died in 2006. See the comments.


Monday, October 14, 2013

midterm week

This week is devoted to midterm exams, which will happen for four out of six of my classes: my two Wednesday classes, being a week behind, will have their tests next week. Thus far, I'm pleased with the results of my intermediate students: many "A"s and "B"s, and no "F"s in the bunch. Tomorrow, I'm testing my lone Tuesday-morning class of beginners; I hope they perform as well as the intermediates did. We'll soon see.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

"...mas sim o que ama."

Se quiseres conhecer uma pessoa, não lhe perguntes o que pensa, mas sim o que ama.
–Santo Agostinho

The above quote, attributed to Saint Augustine, reads in English: "If you want to know a person, ask him not what he thinks, but what he loves."

My brother David, currently in Brazil, re-sent a cute image, which contained that quote in Portuguese. The image shows a large, sleeping rabbit whose floppy ear serves as a blanket for a tiny, pink piglet cuddling close to his fluffy companion (see here).

David's wife, Patricia, hails from Fortaleza, Brazil. She just lost her aunt Regina at about 11:05AM on Saturday, Brazil time—barely three hours ago, as of this writing. Patricia is my little sister, now, and although I've never met her aunt, I heard nothing but good things about her from David who, back when he was courting Patricia, visited Brazil several times and enjoyed Tia Regina's magnificent hospitality. You may recall, on this blog, a series of almoço (lunch) food pics that I displayed, passed on to me by David (here, for example). Those bountiful meals were often thanks to the magic that Tia Regina and her relatives worked. Even from a distance, knowing as little about her as I did, I could see she was a woman with a fulsome, Texas-sized heart. She welcomed David, a potential in-law, with open arms, and made him part of Patricia's Brazilian family.

Tia Regina's passing wasn't unexpected: she had been fighting metastatic lung cancer for a long time, and David had wisely made it a financial priority to be able to visit Brazil, with his wife, as frequently as needed during the course of Patricia's aunt's sickness. Still, the fact that a death is not unexpected doesn't make it easy to bear; I know this from personal experience. For Patricia, this is the second major loss of a loved one: she lost her father years ago. Tia Regina was like a mother to her; I can only imagine Patricia's pain, and I grieve with her. My deep regret is that I never had the honor of meeting Regina myself.

My condolences go out to Patricia and her family. I hear, from David, that the funeral will be on Sunday. Peace and blessings upon all the bereaved.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

lazy Saturday, and further agendas

Saturday is almost always a day of late starts for me. It's a day for la grasse matinée, desultory futzing about, and being a slob. Today's lax agenda, already in progress: laundry, working on an art project for my buddy Charles, printing out midterm-exam rubrics (most of my classes have oral interviews next week), and perhaps taking an evening walk around CUD's campus to get to know the place better.

Sunday, assuming I wake up early enough, I'll attempt the temple again, and will try two hours of meditation there. And because I'm idly curious about Home Plus, I may give that place a visit on Sunday as well: there's a Home Plus right by the Lotte building where I saw "Rush" the other day. I can just take the 809 down to Gyeongsan City and get off at Lotte.

Tuesday is another big day: I get paid (will also be sending about 80% of my pay to my US bank account to propitiate the god of hypertrophic debt for another month), and I plan to attend a mini-conference on campus that day. I'll also be receiving my automatic download of the pre-ordered Kindle version of Stephen R. Donaldson's epic finale to The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, his novel The Last Dark. I've been waiting over a year to read that book, and I'm very likely going to lose sleep while devouring it.

Later in the week, I might train up to Seoul and see Alfonso Cuarón's well-reviewed "Gravity" with Charles and Tom. Of course, I need to see whether such a meet-up is even possible; both gents are busy people—busier than I am. But "Gravity" is an Event Movie, if ever there was one; it'd be a shame to watch it alone. Besides, the theater will need warm bodies: when I saw "Rush," which is huge in the US, there were only eight other people in the Lotte Cinema theater with me. If that mentality holds—i.e., Koreans not jumping at big American films—the theater for "Gravity" might be empty as well. Hence the need for warm bodies. (Then again, a Seoul theater might be naturally more crowded than a Gyeongsan City one.)

Otherwise, the coming week is going to be devoted to midterm exams, except for my Wednesday classes, who are a week behind everyone else. I've reviewed the material on the midterm; I hope my students all do well on it. So we'll keep our fingers and tentacles crossed for them, ja?

So that's the present and the near future. How smoothly will it all unroll?


Friday, October 11, 2013

getting to the cinema: a comedy of errors

I got to see "Rush" at the time I'd wanted to see it—5:10PM this past Wednesday—but getting to the cinema was a comedy of errors, some of which were my fault, and some of which weren't. is one of Korea's two huge portal sites. It's an omnibus website filled stem to stern with links to topics of interest ranging from news to sports to movies. (There are even links to an impressively comprehensive online dictionary, as well as to a Google Maps analogue.*) I used Naver in the hopes of finding the best public-transportation route to the theater, Lotte Cinema, because I'd never gone there before. According to Naver, after I had plugged in my neighborhood as the starting point and Lotte Cinema in Gyeongsan City as my destination, I needed to take the 803 bus into town, and it would drop me at "Pyeonhan Saesang Geon-neo," i.e., a point across from a place called Pyeonhan Saesang (Convenient/Comfortable World—probably a shop or something). Naver predicted that the bus ride would last 56 minutes. Click on the map image below to enlarge:

So I went out to my neighborhood's bus stop, Hayang Station, and waited for the 803. It came within five minutes, at around 3:05PM. I got on and rode the bus for about twenty minutes... which is when I noticed that the scenery, far from becoming more citified, was becoming more countrified. I was heading in the wrong direction: I should have waited at the bus stop across the street. My stupid mistake made me kick myself: I normally ask the bus driver which way he's going. I didn't do that this time, and I paid for my lapse in judgment.

I got off the 803 at a random stop somewhere in the mountains and crossed the road to the opposite 803 bus stop, finding myself next to a weird little place that seemed to be passing itself off as a Buddhist temple—Seongbul-sa, or Attain-Buddhahood Temple. Sutra chanting, boosted to high volume by mikes and speakers, boomed out of the little building. Cartoonish Dalma-do, brush paintings of Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who brought Zen and kung fu to China, hung in a row outside the building. I waited another twenty minutes for the bus; this was the country, not Hayang, so I didn't expect the buses to come by nearly as frequently as they would in town. Some pics of the "temple" follow; click to enlarge:

Around 3:45PM, I got on the next 803, now confident that I was heading in the right direction. Frustratingly, the bus-route maps inside the bus didn't show every single stop; as was typical for Korean buses everywhere, they showed only the major stops, leaving a person to guess where, on the route, his particular jump-off point might be. By the time we reached Gyeongsan City, I was again antsy: the bus was empty except for me, with no Pyeonhan Saesang Geon-neo stop in sight. When we stopped at one traffic light, I lumbered up to the driver and asked him whether he was heading toward Lotte Cinema. His brow furrowed and he shook his head, then he told me that we had just passed that area. I mentioned the name of the bus stop I'd wanted to go to; he shook his head again and said the 803 didn't go there (so much for Naver's guidance). Miffed, I told the driver I'd get off at the next stop. Seeing the look on my face, the driver let me off then and there, at the traffic light, pointing me to a bus stop across the street.

I got off the bus, crossed the street, stared at the bus-route signs, then decided Fuck it and hailed a cab. The cabbie was a stern-looking gent with short-cropped, military-style hair. He turned out to be friendly, though. For three-quarters of the trip, he was convinced I was Korean, so when he turned around to receive the cash I paid him, he was startled to see I wasn't the full Korean he'd been expecting. He complimented my Korean-speaking skills; I brushed the compliment off by noting I still had a lot to learn. The fare was only W2800, which was the base fare: we didn't have to drive far to find the movie theater. I paid the cabbie W3000 and told him to keep the change; we wished each other a good day.

Somehow, miraculously, it was 4:50PM when I entered the Lotte building and took the escalators up to the fourth-floor ticket area. The ticket counters worked according to a take-a-number system; I pulled Number 59, all while looking at the scrolling movie charts for the movie I wanted to see: "Rush." I found a title with a 17:10 showtime; in Korean, the title read "Reo-shi deo ra-i." Huh? "Rush, the Rye"? Was this, in fact, Ron Howard's "Rush," or was I in for some children's cartoon? I saw no movie posters for "Rush" anywhere; it was October 9, and "Rush" had just come out in Korea that very day. Shouldn't they have been advertising it? It wasn't until I saw my movie ticket that I understood what had happened: "Reo-shi deo ra-i" was one syllable short of the full Korean title: "Reo-shi deo ra-i-beul." In other words, "Rush: The Rivals." That made more sense, since I knew the film was about two rivals.

I watched and enjoyed the movie (reviewed here), then went out to the bus stop next to the Lotte building and saw that I should have taken the 809 bus, not the 803. 809 goes all the way from my neighborhood in Hayang right to the Lotte building. Well, damn. Of course, the 809 bus stop going toward Hayang wasn't located in front of Lotte; it was across the street. I crossed the street, waited a bit, and took the 809 all the way home.

Quite an adventure, that. I had made the fatal mistake of getting on the wrong bus and wasting the better part of an hour; Naver didn't help by putting me on the wrong bus line to begin with. We often learn from our mistakes. That day, I learned a good bit about certain bus routes between Hayang and Gyeongsan City.** And since there's no chance that I'll be leading a mistake-free existence from now on, the learning will surely continue.

*Koreans Koreanize. When Google Maps came out, of course Koreans had to make their own version: reinventing the wheel, but in a Korean-accented way, is a national pastime. When Doritos chips came to Korea, the idea was quickly seized upon and converted into the Korean version of Doritos. There's a good bit of nationalistic subtext behind this, but at heart the dynamic is little different from Food Lion's creating house-brand versions of popular products, using designs and color schemes that bear an uncomfortable resemblance to those of the big brands. Food Lion's version of Mountain Dew, for example, is called Mountain Lion and features a greenish logo. Its version of Dr. Pepper is called Dr. Perky and has a reddish logo. Food Lion's Coke/Pepsi analogue has a blue, Pepsi-like logo. Turning our attention back to Korea: how many Korean coffee-shop chains have concentric-circle logos that resemble the Starbucks symbol?

**The 803 passes Gyeongsan Station. To visit Daegu Haany University, where I have a friendly acquaintance, I would get off the 803 at Gyeongsan Station, then grab the 100 bus and take it all the way to the terminus. The trip would be around an hour or so, depending on traffic and wait time.


40 little corpses

I just did a head count of all the fruit flies and gnats that my traps have killed: forty thus far. A nice, round number. One shouldn't gloat over or speak ill of the dead, so let me express my sincerest hopes that these intrepid little explorers have left this vale of tears and have found peace and fulfillment in a better place—a heavenly realm filled with pungent, rotten odors and weird nectars from which to sip unto tipsiness. May they abide in closeness with their Gnat-father, Lord of the Fruit Flies, forever.


the genetic fallacy


"What's up, big guy?"

"Did you know that haptic technology means touch technology, like a smartphone's touch screen, and that the word haptic comes from the Greek word haptesthai, meaning to touch?"

"Pretty cool. I didn't know that. Where'd you find that out?"


"What? Wikipedia?"


"Son, you know better than to trust Wikipedia! It's full of mistakes and misinformation! It's garbage!"

So Dad, however well-intended he might have been, just committed the genetic fallacy. It could very well be that Wikipedia is as full of holes as he suggests, but this doesn't give him grounds to dismiss his son's information, for that information might correspond to reality.

The genetic fallacy involves dismissing a claim, proposition, or other information because of its origin—its genesis (hence the term genetic fallacy). This dismissal is fallacious because the information in question might be true.

Example: a crazy homeless person grabs you and shouts, "The sun is shining!" If the sun does indeed happen to be shining, the crazy person would be right, no matter how crazy he might be. There's no relationship between the man's insanity and the correctness of his claim.

In American jurisprudence, people—including lawyers, who should know better—commit the genetic fallacy all the time: "You can't trust his testimony! He's a convicted felon!" Little thought is given to the possibility that the testimony, measured not against the testifier's character but against reality itself, could be veridical.

Imagine that your eleven-year-old son quotes a claim—say, about something purportedly scientific—from a teen magazine devoted to Lady Gaga or the (currently fracturing) Jonas Brothers. Do you dismiss the claim simply because it came from such a fluffy magazine? If you're logical, you don't. You verify. If the claim is veracious, you'll be able to confirm its truth independently (if you can be bothered to do so; most people aren't that scrupulous). If you disagree with the claim, then the way to counter it isn't by saying, "Meh... never trust those kiddie mags." It's by marshaling evidence and making a rational counter-claim—an argument. "Never trust kiddie mags" isn't an argument: it's fatuity.

So in your everyday dealings with your fellow aliens, try to avoid committing the genetic fallacy. Committing the fallacy doesn't make you look particularly impressive. In fact, you may just end up looking... well, not exactly bright.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

all things end

Know why I'm excited? Because I've pre-ordered, for the Kindle app on my phone, Stephen R. Donaldson's The Last Dark: the fourth book in, and the swan song of, the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant tetralogy. Donaldson, as usual, puts his characters through hell before they can find any measure of release, relief, or redemption. The third book in the series, Against All Things Ending, finished with a scene implying that all things were indeed ending: the fell Worm of the World's End had been roused from eons of slumber, and the stars were winking out in the sky, one by one, in a manner reminiscent of the deconstruction of the universe in CS Lewis's The Last Battle, or in AC Clarke's short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God." With time running out, and the very foundations of this alternate universe threatened, what can a resurrected Covenant and a beleaguered Linden Avery do? Covenant seems to be without his own white-gold ring; he's got his wife's ring. Meanwhile, Covenant's mad son Roger is wreaking havoc across the Land; equally mad Kastenessen, the Elohim freed from punishment, has his own bitter designs against the Earth, and the stalwart Haruchai have been perverted from their old integrity to name themselves "Masters" of the Land, having transformed from guardians and stewards to rulers.

The whole situation is quite bleak, which makes me curious as to how Donaldson will write himself out of the corner he's in. One prediction is that he'll continue in a CS Lewis vein with the dismantling of the universe of the Land. But what will become of Lord Foul, the demonic, godlike presence who wishes only to be free of the constraints of this universe so he can enact vengeance upon the Creator? And what role does Linden's adopted son, Jeremiah, have to play in all this, now that we know his formidable talents?

The Last Dark (not a very optimistic title) has many loose ends to tie up, and it all has to happen within about six hundred or so pages. I look forward to devouring the book once it's been auto-downloaded to my phone. This may become a temporary addiction.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

"Rush": a review in under 300 words

“Rush,” by director Ron Howard, is the story of two racing champions, Englishman James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda. The plot, told mostly in flashback, concerns the two men’s fierce competition during the 1976 racing season. Hunt is brash and intuitive, a natural who has bad luck with faulty cars, but who is a guaranteed winner when all the random factors break his way. Lauda is his diametrical opposite: precise, technically astute, and gifted with his own mechanic’s intuition. Hunt and Lauda first meet during a downscale Formula 3 competition; Hunt wins. Lauda eventually gets a loan and buys his way into the big leagues: Formula 1 competition, and sponsorship from none other than Ferrari. Hunt follows suit, and in 1976, the two meet again. And again.

As you might expect, the rivalry slowly evolves into a friendship, but the movie never over-sentimentalizes this, instead placing constant emphasis on the racers' contrasting styles and worldviews. Chris Hemsworth’s Hunt is a party boy, living as fast and loose off the racetrack as he does on it. Daniel Brühl’s Lauda, more focused and introverted, and often blunt to the point of being considered an asshole, falls for Marlene Knaus; Hunt, meanwhile, marries British supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) on an apparent whim.

Is “Rush” a movie about racing or a movie about two men? I’d say the latter. The racing scenes are well filmed, although not as exhilarating as I’d expected. Hans Zimmer’s score was also unhelpful: it was essentially his Batman work, but without the thundering bass. The story contains enough flirt-with-death tension to maintain interest (for those of us who know neither driver’s biography), but I didn’t leave the cinema with an adrenaline-fueled need to speed. There was no rush from “Rush” for me. Still—a movie worth seeing.


my Wednesday mission (and a spiel on hangeul)

We've got Hangeul Day off today, so I'm going to try and see Ron Howard's "Rush," which opens in Korea on the same day that Koreans celebrate literacy. (And how wonderful is that? I wish we had a national day for literacy in America.)

For those not in the know: Great King Sejong and a team of advisors developed the Hunmin Jeongeum (Proper Sounds for the Edification of the People) back in 1443, and released their product to the masses in 1446. The goal was a Confucian one: the democratization of knowledge. Now known as hangeul, the Korean alphabet* originally had 28 letters; these days, like modern Greek, hangeul has only 24.

Much ballyhooed among Koreans, hangeul is often called a "scientific" alphabet. A bit of skepticism about that claim is warranted, but there are elements of hangeul that do reveal some method to the madness. Linguists have long noted, for example, that the shapes of many Korean consonants mimic the shape of the human speech organs (the Korean letter "g," for example [ㄱ], is shaped like a bent tongue making the hard "g" sound). The arrangement of most of the alphabet's vowels also shows a general progression (except for "ee," the final vowel) from front vowel to back vowel. So, while not totally unscientific, hangeul, as an invented alphabet,** shows that much thought was put into its conception.

All in all, Koreans have every right to be proud of this marvelous invention. As comedian Steven Wright once noted, "The guy who invented the alphabet invented everything." The point Wright is making, however wryly, is that the content of so much human thought is linguistic, and written language provides the framework for the articulation of linguistic thoughts. Sejong didn't invent the Korean language, but in an important sense he gave the language its "voice."

Happy Hangeul Day!

*An alphabet is a system of symbols in which there is, roughly, a one-to-one sound/symbol correspondence. There are exceptions, of course: the letter "x" represents two sounds, as does the long "i" in English ("ah" + "ee"). Alphabets stand in contrast to syllabaries, such as can be found in Japanese (hiragana for Japanese words; katagana for foreign words). In a syllabary, one symbol represents a cluster of sounds. Alphabets also stand in contrast to characters, such as can be found in Chinese. A character is a single symbol (often containing a smaller root-symbol, or radical) that simultaneously represents (1) a cluster of sounds and (2) one or more specific concepts.

**You might be saying to yourself that the phrase "invented alphabet" is a redundancy because all alphabets are human inventions. You'd be partly correct, but it's far from obvious that all human alphabets were invented by a single person or team, then deliberately distributed to the masses as was the case with hangeul. In fact, it's likely that, in many cases, the letters of the world's alphabets developed over time, somewhat haphazardly. The origins of parent-alphabets, like Phoenician script, are shrouded in mystery, with no indication of a single inventor or team of inventors.

For practical purposes, my use of the phrase "invented alphabet" is analogous to how we speak of "invented languages" like Esperanto and Klingon, both of which are the products of focused effort by a small group of people, and both of which were developed over a very short period (years as opposed to centuries; Klingon is primarily the 1980s brainchild of linguist Marc Okrand). Compare this to a language like modern French which, far from being the deliberate and quickly developed product of a few scholars, is an organically evolved language.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013


My answer of 32.5%, for last week's Manhattan GRE Math Beast Challenge problem, was correct. See below:



In poring over the teacher evaluations written by my students, I normally ask myself whether more than one or two students have written the same complaint. My feeling is this: if, in a class of twenty kids, only one or two complain about some aspect of the class, I can safely ignore that complaint, because eighteen to nineteen kids are probably not having problems with that same aspect of the class. With a 90%-95% satisfaction rate, there's really no need to change anything: I won't submit to the tyranny of the minority. If, however, four to six kids independently write the same complaint, then I think it's best to assume the problem is real, is significant, and needs to be dealt with.

It's something of an "Is it you, or is it me?" issue—a question of ontological status. If one or two students complain a certain way, I assume the problem is more subjective, more in their heads than about my teaching. If, however, four to six students name the same problem, I'm more inclined to believe the problem has an objective existence and that, while other students might not have written that same complaint, they would have done so had they been prompted to.

By that reckoning, for three out of six of my classes, I really have nothing to worry about. I assume that, at the end of the semester, the students will be given more formal eval forms to fill out—ones that allow them to rate the teacher with numbers. When that happens, I may have some percentages to show you, as I did when I was working at Sookmyung.*

*You may recall that my Sookmyung evaluation numbers, with only one exception, hovered in the 95% to 99% range. That one exception was due less to my teaching than to the fact that we were trying an experiment that semester: we were seeing how well the intensive students could handle straight academic lecture in English, as if our courses were actual, Western-style college courses. The result was disastrous for all of us; I was down to 90% (going below 95% felt like dishonor to this Klingon); other teachers experienced similar drops. It had been an attempt at "content-based instruction" (CBI), but I don't think our director had clearly understood the concept of true CBI, which isn't at all about generating a torrent of incomprehensible information for bewildered students.


where was the beating?

My first wave of mid-semester evaluations from my Tuesday beginner-level class wasn't anything like the tsunami of abuse I had anticipated. I got comments like "class is so fun!" and "teacher is handsome" (ha!) and "I can speak English better now" and "confidence has improved." There were only very minor complaints about the round-robin format, which shocked me: I had been expecting a mutiny.

I can only hope this wave of goodwill will continue with my Wednesday beginners (whom I see next week; we have this Wednesday off for Hangeul Day), but how likely will that be?


what on earth is a "me-too"?

I saw the ad in my neighborhood, standing among all the real-estate and leasing signs:


One-room... me-too... two-room. I know what a "one-room" is, because I live in one: it's a shoebox studio. I know what a "two-room" is, because our university had tempted me with one before The Powers That Be decided to put me in the shoebox: it's a larger apartment—not quite as large as my palatial digs* in Front Royal, Virginia, but about twice as large as my current bachelor pad.

So what's a "me-too"? Something in between? I need to look this expression up.

*Almost 900 square feet, 1.5 bathrooms and 2 bedrooms, plus a kitchenette with actual counter space and cabinet space. Tiny studios are interesting because of the space-management challenges they present. Luckily, there's the old man.


Monday, October 07, 2013

thumbs up

My first set of mid-semester teacher evals came back from my intermediate kids. Not bad, all in all. Complaints were minor; compliments included, as one colleague predicted, a couple "I love you"s. That's cute.

And that, as Forrest Gump would say, is all I have to say about that.


Sunday, October 06, 2013

the old man

There's an old man at the local market. He sits in a poorly lit atelier with his power tools and makes furniture—bookshelves, nightstands, and such. In mid-October, once I've been paid again, I plan to visit him with a design for a shelf that can be placed atop my fridge, and that will allow my new oven to perch above the microwave that's already crouched, vulture-like, upon the fridge. I might also ask this gentleman to craft a tall, thin system of shelves that can stand right next to the fridge, thereby affording me space in which to put plates, bowls, cups, pots, and pans. That would help a great deal with my storage issues.

It's nice to know that this gentleman is here. Now, I just need to learn how to say "custom-made" or "made to order." (Yeah, yeah—I can look the expression up.)


Saturday, October 05, 2013

E-Mart wows and woes

Went to E-Mart this evening. I was on the lookout for several items:

•floor wipes for my studio
•paper towels (for home and office)
•a standing paper-towel holder (like this)
•a second utensil-storage container
•laundry pods (or powder, if no pods were available)
•a mattress cover
•a proper ironing board
•psyllium fiber
•art supplies

I got the floor wipes, paper towels, utensil storage, ironing board, and some markers, but failed to find the paper-towel holder or a proper but-pen (a sponge-tipped calligraphic brush pen). The ironing board was a pleasant surprise: before, E-Mart hadn't stocked any regular, normal-looking boards; instead, they'd had some sort of stubby-looking contraption that sold for almost $80. No way in hell was I going for that. Today, however, next to those stubby, expensive ironing boards, E-Mart had some standard boards out, and they cost less than $30. I gladly tossed one into my shopping cart.

I did find mattress covers, but a single cover (100cm x 150cm) cost W38,000, which was outrageous. I don't know whether Daiso sells bed linens, but I can't see myself paying more than $10 for a single fitted sheet (see this for some perspective). The same was true for the fiber: I went to the health-food section of the store, knowing full well that all the prices for health-related items would be jacked up. I asked whether the ladies there had any fiber tablets; they showed me a very nice-looking, cigar-box-shaped container that would have cost me W37,000 had I bought it. Fuck, no, ladies! They were very nice, though. They asked we what country I was from; I told them I was American. They said they'd thought I was Korean. I explained that my mother had been Korean, and they obligingly nodded and said, "Ahhh..." I wish I could always part on good terms like that, after not buying anything from a Korean seller. Some sellers give you the stink-eye if you walk away from them.

The laundry pods were pretty expensive. I think I regret buying them. W24,900 for a package of 32 (about 12-16 weeks' washing for me, given how often I use my washing machine throughout the week) strikes me as rather steep. Walmart sells a 72-pack of Tide pods for $33. I bought the pods, though, because the powdered detergent doesn't seem to remove enough of the funk that builds up in a well-worn shirt (and continues to build up when the shirt sits in a laundry pile for a couple days). That's one reason why I miss clothes dryers: they cook odor-causing bacteria to death. I'm hoping these pods can provide a more intense cleaning, thus compensating for the lack of a dryer.

I'm going to check the local market for the paper-towel holder and the mattress cover. I'm hoping I can get a more reasonable deal there than I can at E-Mart. If I become a Costco member, I'll have to see whether Korean Costcos sell psyllium fiber for semi-reasonable prices. Back in Virginia, Target was my supplier: I could buy a 160-tablet bottle of psyllium for only $4.40. Compare that with Walgreens, whether a 320-tablet bottle could set you back about $16-$18. It's going to be a sad day when I run out of my current fiber supply. That shit keeps me regular.

Meanwhile, I'd say today's shopping foray was a decent hunt.


fud pix

Some of what I've been cooking and ordering lately:

Above is a plate of pan-fried mandu with home-made sweet gochujang sauce. I was lucky enough to find a fairly cheap one-kilo bag of frozen mandu, which I then used in soups and ate steamed before frying the remaining dumplings up. Easy does it with the oil: manudpi (mandu skin) is delicate, and crisps up quickly in the pan. No need for full-on heat.

Below: I threw some of the 30 eggs I had bought into the pan, scrambling them by piercing the yolks with my spatula and stirring desultorily. Eggs are, of course, Atkins-friendly, and much of what is said about the dangers of their cholesterol content amounts to myth (for more on that, read Gary Taubes's Why We Get Fat, which I talked about here).

Below, an attempt at re-creating a dish I'd made before: pan-fried honeyed ddeok. I had no honey on hand, but I did have a mess of brown sugar, which I mixed with water and microwaved to make a simple syrup. Not quite the result I was looking for, but cooking the ddeok was still hypnotizing: I could almost convince myself that these were seared scallops. Stare long enough at the image and you'll see what I mean.

Below, we see the benefits of having a cell phone. This is my very first order-in meal, from a place called Two-Two Chicken. The restaurant specializes in something called pa-dak (i.e., onion chicken), and while I don't particularly like onions, I saw, on the establishment's ad, that these were green onions, and that they were piled atop the chicken in an easily removable way. As you see below, I had already removed most of the onions:

Two-Two Chicken doesn't deliver as far as CUD campus, dammit—at least, they didn't on the day I called them. For W16,000, I get almost twice the amount of chicken that I'd get by ordering from their rival BBQ Chicken, which is the place I order from while on campus. But there's a quantity/quality trade-off: BBQ Chicken's chicken tenders are made from chicken tenderloin, which is basically white meat blessed by God—super-soft, super-moist, despite all the deep-frying. Two-Two Chicken swings more Chinese, preferring smallish chunks of dark meat (with all that that implies regarding the possibility of encountering bits of gristle in a random bite). Dark meat is arguably more flavorful, but I've never been a fan of it. Breast and tenderloins are where it's at for me (and I apply the same sensibility to women!).

So that's a quick tour of the food I've been making and eating recently. Nothing particularly healthy, but then again, I haven't photographed everything I've been eating.