Friday, October 31, 2014

last hurrah for October

This is it: make or break for 14K/day in October. I haven't actually done the math, but I'm pretty sure that all I need to do is single-summit Namsan tonight in order to keep my 14K average. If I succeed in my mission, I'll slap up a screen shot from my cell phone. I'm actually going to try double-summiting tonight in preparation for walking with JW tomorrow. Am almost at 9K right now; by the time I'm done with the double-summiting, I ought to be around 26K for the day, which will definitely put me over the goal line. While it's disappointing not to finish out October at 15K, I can aim for that in November.


the new thing in my eye

Whatever jellyfish-like entity had been in my eye before has long since gone, but this morning its shift was taken over by an even more imposing piece of flotsam that resembles either a squid or the nebulous chalaza that clings to the yolk of a raw egg. It's big, whatever it is, and it's actually a bit disturbing to see it moving around, casting its enormous shadow as my eye movements make it zag and zag wetly inside my vitreous humor. I'm gambling that this, too, shall dissolve eventually, but because this object is so much larger than the previous floater, I'm also gambling that it'll take a lot longer to disappear. I'll do my best not to go crazy in the meantime, but it's very tempting to find an eye patch.


back up to 14K

As of Thursday night/Friday early morning, I'm back up to 14K steps as my daily average for October. I walked 23.5K steps on Thursday before midnight, then another 4,472 steps after midnight to get home, for a total of 28,007 steps. If I can do 20K steps' worth of walking on Friday, I'll have reached my reduced goal of making 14K steps in October.

On Saturday, I'll be walking up Namsan with a good buddy of mine: my Korean friend JW, who's been living in India for nearly five years, working at a POSCO branch out in the city of Pune. It's been a few years since I last saw JW; at the time, he and his wife had one son. Since then, they've been blessed with a daughter, and the kids are growing up speaking Indian-accented English plus Korean. JW is here in Seoul for just a few days, having brought along some Indian colleagues. He's taking a break from his frenetic schedule to spend time with me and possibly also with our mutual friend Tom, my other good buddy, this weekend. JW says he wants a challenge, so I'm going to take him on a double-summit route up Namsan. That ought to be plenty for him.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

milestones: 29.6K, 117.5 kg

Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, I walked from 9:30PM to midnight and then kept right on walking for almost another 10,000 steps. Didn't get home until close to 1:30AM. My route took me up Namsan twice for a double-summiting; by the time I was back in my neighborhood I had registered about 20.5K. I then walked along Euljiro to the downtown Lotte Hotel, at which point I turned toward Jongno, walked along the main drag for a bit, then hopped over to the Cheonggyae Stream and went back to my neighborhood via the markets: Bangsan Market and Joongbu Market. (It turns out that the mother of one of my advanced students works at Joongbu Market, where she sells dried fish. I'll need to track her down and buy myself a huge bag of juipo. God, I love that stuff.)

My other awesome news is that I weighed myself Wednesday morning and was delighted to see that I had whittled myself down to 117.5 kilograms—I had finally broken through the 119-kilo barrier, crashed through 118 and landed, somehow, in the 117 zone. This is a milestone for me, because in terms of pounds, it means I'm finally below 260. Next goal: 250. If I can get past 255, I'll be under my Sookmyung weight. I still have man-tits, a spare tire, a gut, a double chin, a fat ass, and blubbery triceps, but there's definitely less of me to love, which is a good thing. I won't stay at 117 kg, I know: I'll likely bounce back up to 119 or so over the next few days because my weight is constantly fluctuating as I eat and poop. But 117 is my new low, and it'll be easier to reach 117 the next time I walk... and the next time, and the time after that... until I get down to 116. Every few weeks, a new low. That's the agenda.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

barely 20K

I barely made 20K steps Tuesday night, and I managed to do so by only single-summiting Namsan: I had racked up about 7K steps earlier in the day, which made double-summiting unnecessary to achieve a 20K total. On Wednesday, I'll be in Daechi-dong, working at the Golden Goose. Wednesday night, I'll do another double-summit, and that ought to bring my average back up past the 13.6K mark (which is where I was last month). As long as I can keep hitting 20K through Friday, I'll have done better in October than I did in September. Here's hoping for a clean result of 14K.


2 kinds of "F" student

There's the "F" student who sees the error of his ways, who comes to the office seeking extra help from the teacher, and who promises to make a sincere effort to pull himself out of his rut. Then there's the "F" student who untruthfully insists that he's turned in assignments for which he's gotten a zero, who sleeps in class and shows little sign that he actually cares about his progress, and who is generally just an argumentative, unrepentant piece of shit.

Those with ears to hear, let them hear.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

bro's best friend

My brother David sent me these pics of him and his faithful hound, Penny:



All told, I walked 22,462 steps tonight. This was my first double-summiting of Namsan in about a week, and it felt good. Tiring, but good. I actually ran about 145 steps (by "step," in this case, I mean counting every time my left foot hit the ground, so by my pedometer's reckoning, I actually ran 290 steps), which had me quickly out of breath, especially since I was heaving my large self uphill when I did it. (Running downhill is possible for me, but it's murder on my knees.) Tuesday, I'll double-summit again, and on Wednesday night, I might try a triple-summit—sort of a compromise, since I doubt I'll be able to do a six-hour megawalk. Thursday and Friday nights will be my final opportunities to bring my October average back up to 14K. As of tonight, I'm in the low 13Ks thanks to spending several days in a row in the office, barely racking up 5K to 7K steps. It's gonna be close, and there's a chance my October average will be lower than September's. I've got my fingers crossed that this final burst of effort will carry me over the 14K hurdle.


Monday, October 27, 2014


It's so nice to find myself on the other side of that massive pile of grading. This week, over the remaining five days of October (if we include today), I'll be making up for lost time by hiking my ass off every night: double-summits where possible, and maybe a megawalk if I can manage that. My walking average is way, way down thanks to my having cloistered myself in my office. It's time to get out and about again.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

an orgy of grading

In my previous job, I had classes in which there were no "A"s. Sad, but true. I'm currently slogging through a raft of student midterm exams, and I'm happy to report that, for two of my four classes, at least, I've got plenty of "A"s and "B"s. This is reassuring: it's a reminder that I'm back to teaching a much higher caliber of student.

Today, I'll be finishing up my final two batches. Grades will be entered, and tests will be ready to give back this coming week. Not one of my colleagues has been in the office this weekend; I suspect they're all taking the "I'll slowly grade small batches and get these back to the kids in two weeks" approach instead of the "get it all over with" approach. Lazy bastards. Heh.


just wow

If you're a teacher reading this blog, and if you both care about teaching and have some sympathy for the pedagogical drum I've been relentlessly beating—to wit, make your lessons task-oriented and student-centered—you owe it to yourself to watch this absolutely incredible TED presentation by John Hunter, a public-school teacher based in Virginia, who uses a device he calls "the World Peace Game" to teach third- and fourth-graders about a whole constellation of concepts, practices, and values.

I was almost moved to tears while watching this humble, intelligent man's talk, and I couldn't help but be amazed at the method he had devised to get his young charges engaged in the endeavor of solving the world's problems. Is the game realistic? Come on: even without watching the video, you already know the answer to that question, and that's not really the important question, anyway. For me, a more important question was, Does the game have pedagogical value? And it does. It surely does. Hunter's game is the quintessence of task-oriented and student-centered, and the videos he shows us are proof that his kids are excited, challenged, and engaged by the framework he's created.

Hunter's talk was a smashing vindication of the message I've been trying to put out there on my blog regarding good teaching: you show the students you have high expectations, you stand back and let them get their hands dirty, and then you watch them rise to the occasion. It's amazing what people can accomplish when you give them room to breathe.

SIDE NOTE: One popular TED speaker whom I've mentioned on this blog before, Sir Ken Robinson, gives engaging lectures on the state of education and the need to improve it through disruptive paradigms that emphasize creativity and individualized learning. I like Sir Ken's lectures, but I'm often frustrated that he always seems to stop short of actually providing any concrete solutions to the problems he isolates. His critiques of our current, stultifying system are spot-on, and I applaud his diagnosis. But just once, I'd like to see a TED talk in which Sir Ken goes into detail about practical measures that can be taken to improve our schools, without giving us more warnings about the need to avoid factory-style conformity, to escape a 1700s-era view of the mind, and so on. John Hunter strikes me as enacting the other side of what Sir Ken is preaching: Hunter has a specific, concrete solution, and in his talk, we can see his solution in action. Perhaps Hunter and Robinson should do a tandem TED presentation. I'd watch that.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

stoppers, close-callers, off-cutters, and U-turners:
the hazards of walking in Korea

Koreans don't move in straight lines—not mentally, not socially, and not culturally. If there's a circuitous, inefficient way to get from Point A to Point B, Koreans will find it. Although Koreans can be infamous for their bluntness (I find this especially true among Korean friends or with Koreans who feel sufficiently comfortable in their social superiority to talk "down" to me in a relaxed and brutally honest manner), they're also famously conflict-averse in situations that require a modicum of politeness. Hearing a direct "no" or "you're wrong" from a Korean can be a rare and precious thing.

But I'd like to concentrate on the physical manifestations of Korean indirectness, specifically in the context of just walking down a sidewalk, or a corridor, or along any other path or walkway. For me, even after nearly a decade in Korea, I still stubbornly assume that I can walk a straight line down a given path because my fellow walkers will abide by implicit and explicit rules of politeness, walking on the right side in a manner indicating focus, purpose, and a consciousness of one's fellows' need for personal space and smooth forward movement.

How silly, puerile, misguided, and utterly naive this assumption is.

The hazards of the Korean walkway can be taxonomized* into four major types:

1. The Stopper

This is the sort of person who, while walking right in front of you (especially in a crowded situation where such action is inadvisable), will suddenly stop in his tracks for no apparent reason. At that point, you must either plow into this person (which would be a form of cosmic justice, in my opinion) or do your best to swerve around and avoid collision. The latter option is an act of politeness that will go completely unappreciated, as the person now stopped in front of you has already demonstrated (1) his obliviousness to his situation, and (2) his total lack of care about how he might be making life difficult for people behind him.

Best recommendation: have a dildo at the ready to ram up the Stopper's ass in the ultimate ddong-chim gesture.

2. The Close-caller

Life in Seoul means crowds, and crowds mean weaving because, as I noted above, Korea is not a country in which people move around in an orderly, linear manner. Signs everywhere urge people: u-cheuk bohaeng (우측보행): walk on the right. Does anyone abide by these signs? I'd say perhaps half the people do. The other half can't be bothered, and it's that half that causes all the chaos. When I lived in Hayang, zigzaggy behavior wasn't nearly the problem that it's always been in Seoul, simply because there was more space in which to dodge oncoming foot traffic. I'd forgotten about that, but returning to Seoul has meant becoming reaccustomed to the nonlinear life.

What happens, though, on a nearly empty subway platform, when two people are walking toward each other, each with plenty of room to dodge the other? In my mind, the person walking the straighter path has the right of way. I have no trouble "holding my lane," so to speak, but many Koreans do. I'll be on that subway platform, walking from Zone 10-4 (the part of the platform at the back of the arriving train) to Zone 1-1 (the place where one boards the train at the very front), and inevitably, some lone person will be walking towards me. The platform is huge; I usually keep to the right to allow the other person to pass on my left with plenty of room. Instead, what happens is that the oncoming person will curve his path toward me and will brush by with inches to spare. I find this horribly obnoxious, but I normally say nothing. My theory is that Koreans, especially Seoulites, are so used to living in crowded conditions that they swoop close to other people, even when there's almost no one else around, simply to recapture that comforting, fetal feeling of being in a crowd, surrounded by warm flesh. Others are like magnets, and Koreans have an ovine impulse to hang together.

Close calls don't occur only in pedestrian-on-pedestrian situations, as any Korea veteran can attest: on an average day, you'll be almost-hit by any number of mopeds, motorcycles, taxis, buses, cars, and God-knows-what-else might lumber mechanically into your path. Once, I was riding in a car that my buddy JW was driving; we were tearing down a country road that intersected another country road in a large X; another car was speeding toward that same intersection, and instead of slowing down, JW continued barreling forward at the same speed, as did the other car. As Murphy's Law would have it, it became obvious that both cars would arrive at the center of the X at the same moment, which we did. We blew past each other, barely missing (George Carlin famously complained that "near misses" are misnomers for "near hits" whereas actual collisions should be labeled "near misses"). I blew out a breath of pent-up fear, and JW said absolutely nothing about how he'd almost gotten our asses killed. (Asian drivers and their tendency to look only straight ahead so as not to lose face, right?)

That's what living in Seoul is like: it's a constant series of near-collisions, day after day. You get cynical and learn to expect someone bumbling around every corner, or popping out of the alleyway you're about to step into, or standing just on the other side of the public-restroom door, or launching himself impatiently out of a just-opening elevator.

Best recommendation for pedestrians: be twirling a katana whenever someone draws near.

3. The Off-cutter

Quite possibly the most obnoxious of the four types of walkway hazard, the Off-cutter cuts you off. A more callous display of fuck-you-ism isn't possible than when someone decides he deserves to be closer to the head of the line. I've stood in line for elevators, only to have late-arriving college students insinuate themselves in front of me. Oh, no, Virginia: it's not just arrogant grandmothers who engage in this behavior! I've stood in lines in which people have interpreted the empty space between me and the person in front of me (a polite acknowledgment of personal space) as license to interpose themselves. And like every other expat in Korea, I've had old people rush forward to the counter, cutting me off so they can be served first. Every single time, I've wished for a cane with a curved handle so I could yank those fuckers back by their necks. That, or the telepathic power to mind-blast a message into their brains with the voice of God (or at least of James Earl Jones):


Some Off-cutters do what they do in a manner that almost seems to evince calculation and not mere selfishness combined with a lack of impulse control. What I mean by "calculation" is this: you're walking along a school hallway; someone up ahead is leaning against the hallway wall and talking on his phone; then, right as you're about to pass this person, he breaks off from the wall, steps in front of you, and starts walking, thereby forcing you to stutter-step either to a halt or to a slower pace. Knowledge of a Sith power or two would be nice at this point: some way to Force-choke the offending party, or to vaporize him into bloody mist.

Off-cutters share certain behavioral traits with Close-callers, but unlike the latter, Off-cutters actually impede your progress; they don't merely violate your personal space.

Best recommendation: have a gun handy.

4. U-turners

U-turners are just as bad as Stoppers. As the name illustrates, U-turners will suddenly pull a U-turn right in front of you. This happens to me most often in crowded subway stations, although it also happens on street level, on busy sidewalks. An unbelievable number of people are, it seems, forever forgetting their keys or suddenly realizing that they're walking in the wrong direction to their appointments. It's enough to make one wonder just how spaced-out Koreans actually are when they're walking. They rarely seem to be doing the most commonsensical thing, i.e., looking ahead and being situationally aware. I wonder if this problem is widespread in East Asia. If it is, that might explain the prevalence of a religion like Buddhism. Religions flourish where there's a need for them: the ideals they preach tend to be ideals that the local people would do well to embrace. Since Buddhism preaches mindfulness, perhaps East Asians need to hear Buddhism's message because they're so unmindful when going about their daily affairs.**

Koreans are infamously indecisive at crucial moments; they change plans with little warning, moving meeting times, canceling and rescheduling, issuing memos that contradict earlier memos, U-turning in ways both physical and mental. Again, if I had telepathic powers, I'd want to blast the mental message Stay the course! to such people. To be fair, Koreans can be almost ruthlessly decisive in some ways—for example, when they dispense unsolicited advice on how to live your life, or when they order their favorite food at their favorite restaurant, or when they spot a hole in a line and decide to cut in.

Best recommendation: acquire the ability to use the Force.

Essentially, all four types of people evince a lack of civic-mindedness and a tendency toward selfishness. I'm not saying American society is a paragon of altruism: we Yanks can be selfish in our own ways. I'm merely commenting on an aspect of Korean culture that definitely rubs my American sensibilities the wrong way, and which I still haven't adapted to despite nearly ten years in country.

I do often fantasize, though, about having and abusing telepathic and telekinetic powers. This is one reason why I love walking up Namsan at night: it's not crowded. There are no U-turners or Off-cutters or Stoppers, and Close-callers (normally bikers) are at a gratifying minimum.

You know what? I almost forgot a fifth type:

5. The Phalanx (or The Moving Wall)

Three girls walk slowly, shoulder to shoulder, down a crowded campus hallway, happily chatting and perfectly oblivious to the fact that they're holding up traffic. A group of old men converse boisterously on a sidewalk in the Euljiro district near my neighborhood, equally unaware of the inconvenience they're causing to passersby. Koreans sometimes move in phalanxes, like the four good guys in that iconic scene from "The Untouchables"—the one where they're running down the street together, side by side.

Phalanxes can be hard to pass. I'm not so obnoxious that I'll muscle my way through a group of people talking to each other, although Koreans themselves might be so rude. Normally, when I find myself behind a Moving Wall, I bide my time, and if I can hop around the group by stepping onto the street or veering close to the edge of the path, then that's what I do. Occasionally, this means speeding up to seize the opportunity presented by a sudden hole, which puts me in the same class as the obnoxious people I resent, but at some point you have to stop being a doormat and start asserting yourself. In this country, if you don't fight for yourself, people will almost literally walk all over you. It's thrillingly Darwinian.

Best recommendation: keep a bazooka. Or drive a monster truck.

So there, at last, are the five types of hazards you're likely to meet while walking on this very non-linear peninsula. In Korea, there's no such thing as "minding your own business"; you're going to be fucked with at some point, and you have to learn how to deal with that. I didn't really talk much, in this post, about my own coping strategies, my own ways of keeping from going insane and lashing out, but perhaps in a later post I'll do just that.

*Yes, "taxonomize" is a word. It doesn't show up in or Webster for some reason, but it can be found here. I'm sure I've seen it lurking around elsewhere.

**I won't argue with you if you think Christianity's presence in the violent West is a sign that Westerners need to become less violent.


Friday, October 24, 2014

the most awesome spam email in the world

These days, whenever I see spam in my Gmail trash bin, I normally just hit "delete forever." (Why the word "forever" is assumed to add any meaning to "delete," I have no idea.) But tonight, for some odd reason, I decided to open one piece of spam and was rewarded with content so spectacularly stupid that I had no choice but to share it with you, Dear Reader.

The following barely literate email comes from a Portuguese email address (no attempt to disguise its provenance), from someone with the very Portuguese-sounding name of "Michael Smith." What you see below is exactly what I was sent. Nothing has been edited:

from: Mr.Michael Smith []
date: Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 9:16 PM
subject: Sending Package Information: Oct 24th,2014

Greetings !,

My name is Mr.Michael Smith,i am the Director Inspection Unit, United Nations Inspection Agent. We are currently in LaGuardia Airport New York, United States for official inspection while i discovered an abandoned shipment from UK via Diplomat with your name/email tagged on it, when i personally scanned it, it revealed an undisclosed sum of money in a Metallic Trunk Boxes weighing approximately 65kg each. On my assumption, each of the 3 boxes will contain more than $5M or above in each.

On further investigation, i discovered that the consignment was abandoned due to wrong declaration of the content, also the Diplomat inability to pay for Non Inspection Fees, because he did not know the content of the boxes.

I will arrange for the boxes to be moved out of this Airport to your address, once we are through I will deploy the services of a secured shipping Company geared to provide the security it needs to your doorstep.

Now i want to strike a deal with you, in your acceptance i will proceed on this. I have the capacity to secure the release of your consignment with my status as an United Nations\Inspection Agent. You will give me 40% of the amount in the consignment and you take the remaining 60%. Consequently.when i cleared it,

If you are not in agreement to this proposal, please disregard it. But if you can meet with my condition, then we have a deal. I can get everything concluded within 24 to 48 hours and proceed to your address for delivery upon your acceptance. Write me on this email: ,if you accepts to work with me.

Mr.Michael Smith
Director Inspection Unit
United Nations Inspection Agent.
LaGuardia Airport New York,
United States.

Absolutely priceless. An international inspector tells me that I've got an enormous shipment of money currently being held in New York, then he asks for a cut of it before he'll release it to me. I really should write back and say I'm with the FBI.


movies to see

Some movies I'd like to catch while they're in theaters:

1. "The Equalizer": it's getting very mixed reviews, but I'm all for watching Denzel reboot Edward Woodward's role and get waist-deep into some good old-fashioned ass-kicking.

2. "Fury": Brad Pitt's World War 2 film is being universally labeled as gory; critics are divided on how deep or substantive the film is, but everyone agrees on its viscerality.

3. "John Wick": this Keanu Reeves revenge drama looks like stupid fun along the lines of Mel Gibson's "Payback," but even grittier.

4. "Birdman": the buzz on this movie is that Michael Keaton is back. Keaton was dismissed as a lightweight for many years until he did 1988's "Clean and Sober," followed soon after by his turn as a pensive Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman." Many moviegoers still give Keaton the top prize, over Clooney, Bale, et al., for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne.

5. "Interstellar": Skeletal Matthew McConaughey and the freakishly ocular Anne Hathaway star in a movie that, one hopes, will rehabilitate the save-the-Earth narrative that had been attempted a few years earlier in the spectacularly stillborn turd that was "Sunshine." How alien will the alien worlds be? Will they be more alien that the world Hydros in Robert Silverberg's The Face of the Waters? How about the gas-torus world of Larry Niven's The Integral Trees (one of my favorite Niven novels)?

So, yeah. Movies.


how many jobs have I worked?

What exactly counts as "having a job"? When I draw up my résumé, there are certain things I don't include on it when I list my employment history. I don't include the library job I'd had in college, for example. I don't include the many tiny side jobs I've worked in Korea—teaching English privately, doing one-off proofreading work for a desperate professor, working as a copy editor for various English-textbook publishers, etc. When I think of "having a job," I suppose my own informal definition of that concept includes, as a major criterion, whether said job is listable on my curriculum vitae.

Going by just that, then, I've had the following jobs over the years:

1991-92 (I graduated from college in 1991): Fairfax County Public Schools, substitute teacher.
1992-94: Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School, French and English teacher.
1994-95: Korea Foreign Language Institute (hagweon), English instructor.
1995-96: Campus Foreign Language Center (hagweon), English instructor.
1996: SsangYong Paper Company, English instructor and proofreader.

1997: Adecco (temp service), admin assistant.
1998-2000: APIC (nonprofit), same.

[Assorted private jobs in Korea.]

2004-05: English Channel Foreign Language Institute (hagweon), English instructor.
2005-08: Sookmyung Women's University, English and French instructor.

[Unemployed during my walk and my mother's cancer, and for a bit after Mom's passing.]

2010: Business Korea Magazine, proofreader and copy editor.
2010: Educational Testing Services, TOEFL essay rater.
2011-13: YB (a pseudonym for my job in Centreville, Virginia), tutor.
2013-14: The Catholic University of Daegu, English professor.
2014-present: Dongguk University, English professor.
2013-present: Golden Goose (pseudonym for the publishing company where I now work Wednesdays), editor.
2013-present: Korea Management Association (KMA), English instructor.

That's sixteen jobs, not counting all the unlisted work. It's been a vagabond life, I guess, and one that's completely the opposite of my parents' lives: their generation believed in company loyalty—in staying the course and investing in the far-off promise of a retirement package that, once it arrived, wasn't nearly as rosy as it had been made out to be (Dad's retirement benefits from Northwest Airlines were particularly shitty). Generation X is a lot like me: we tend to be floaters, not settlers, and we've always got one eye on the exit in case The Next Big Thing comes along. We've had it drilled into our heads that we're suckers if we miss out on plum opportunities, so it's best not to be stupidly passive. We have none of the blind trust of the previous generation, which threw its lot in with corporations that promised to provide a soft landing for retirement.

The fact of the matter, though, is that my mother's retirement package and health-benefit plan weren't nearly enough to take care of her astronomical medical bills once she was diagnosed with brain cancer. By the time she died, her bills totaled about a million dollars, and it was Dad's military insurance (Tricare, pronounced "try-care") that ended up bearing the brunt of that load. Paltry Northwest Airlines couldn't be counted on to front the necessary cash, and even Mom's own health package from the National Association of Letter Carriers wasn't up to the challenge. So I guess the lesson is: when you retire, try not to come down with any life-threatening illnesses or conditions, because if you're not backed by an entity as big and scary as the United States military, you're pretty much fucked. I realize there may be better insurance deals out there—deals that aren't Tricare—but I'm guessing that they cost the policyholder a pretty penny long before the holder ever becomes ill or infirm.

Americans are often good about looking out for each other, though, and with sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, it's possible to crowdsource funds in a fairly short amount of time, assuming you market yourself and plead your case savvily enough.

Upshot: I take a stoic view of my own financial and medical future. The fact that I've worked so many jobs means I haven't built up a retirement package, but I also know that certain options are available to me that the older generation knows little to nothing about.


just a double, I guess

I got so caught up in grading the midterms for my advanced-level listening/discussion class that I failed to hit the trail tonight. That's going to yank my walking average back down to the 13K range, but after this weekend—or perhaps beginning this Sunday, if I can grade enough batches on Saturday—I'll start making the numbers up again. This late in the month, I don't think it's realistic to vie for a 15K average; the best I can hope for is a 14-point-something.

Alas, this means no three-in-a-row of double-summiting this week: I'll just have to settle for having done a double double-summit, Tuesday and Wednesday. Friday, I'm seeing my ladies, so I doubt I'll do much more than break 10K steps. Saturday, I'll be in the office all day, grading my heart out. Little hope for major walkage that day. Sunday is likely to be more of the same, assuming I don't finish grading on Saturday. If I do manage to finish early on Sunday, though, I'll try to do a megawalk. My buddy Tom, to whom I'd moaned and groaned about walking into Itaewon, suggested I try walking down to the river and following the riverbank trail on the river's north side. That actually sounded like a brilliant idea, so my next megawalk might involve a hike down to the old Han-gang, the Han River. Much better than having Itaewon as my halfway point.


Thursday, October 23, 2014


Today, I have two classes, and both classes have midterms to look forward to. We've spent a class period reviewing for the test—an activity that some of my colleagues don't even bother engaging in—so I hope my students are ready and their brains are loaded for bear. If all goes well, the kids will do fine on the exam. This semester, unlike the situation at my previous job, I don't have any students I could honestly label "stupid." Some of the kids at my previous place of work were so dumb that they wouldn't know where to scratch if their asses were covered in pox. So I'm hoping there won't be any "F"s this time around. We'll see.

This weekend will be a paroxysm of grading. Friday is out, as I'll be meeting two former students from my Sookmyung days. That leaves Saturday and Sunday, although there's a small chance that I'll try to grade a batch of papers between classes on Friday. Another former Sookmyung student recently tracked me down, and she also wants to be meet. I told her that this Sunday would be impossible, given the midterm situation, so we're planning to meet on Sunday, November 9. She'll be bringing along two other former students of mine. I'm not sure I can withstand this wave of giggly-wiggly estrogen, but somehow I'll manage.



I double-summited and managed 20K steps Wednesday night, which brings my average back up to 14,000 steps per day. My brother David was curious as to how many miles I've walked up to now. This isn't too hard to calculate. First, how many steps in a mile?

Very roughly: 20,026 steps = 9.6 miles, so 1 mile = 2,086 steps.

November 2013 average = 3,142 steps = 1.5 miles a day x 30 days = 45 miles.
December 2013 = 4,157 steps = 1.99 miles/day x 31 days = 61.7 miles.
January 2014 = 1,661 steps = 0.8 miles/day x 31 days = 24.8 miles.
February 2014 = 2,668 steps = 1.28 miles/day x 28 days = 35.8 miles.
March 2014 = 5,092 steps = 2.44 miles/day x 31 days = 75.6 miles.
April 2014 = 5,940 steps = 2.85 miles/day x 30 days = 85.5 miles.
May 2014 = 6,049 steps = 2.9 miles/day x 31 days = 89.9 miles.
June 2014 = 6,197 steps = 2.97 miles/day x 30 days = 89.1 miles.

Mileage subtotal = approx. 507.4 miles walked since November 2013.

At this point, I got serious about walking.

July 2014 = 10,692 steps = 5.13 miles/day x 31 days = 159 miles.
August 2014 = 11,458 steps = 5.49 miles/day x 31 days = 170.2 miles.
September 2014 = 13,661 steps = 6.55 miles/day x 30 days = 196.5 miles.
October 2014 = 14,001 steps = 6.71 miles/day x 22 days = 147.6 miles.

Mileage subtotal: 673.3 miles.

Total miles from November 1, 2013 to October 22, 2014: 1,180.7 miles.

I've walked half the Appalachian Trail at this point. Granted, the AT is a much, much harder walk: I'd be lucky to average 1.5 miles per hour on that terrain, given the number of rest breaks I'd need. So let's say I've walked a fourth of the AT at this point. When I hit 4,400 miles on Namsan, then I'll say I've done the equivalent of walking the AT from end to end. If I can average about 200 miles per month, 4,400 miles will be doable in two years (22 months, to be exact). Since I haven't yet averaged a full 200 miles per month (October might be the first time I do so), it might take more than two years to reach that milestone.

If I do manage to average 200 miles per month, I'll be doing about the same amount of walking as I'd done in the Pacific Northwest in 2008 during Kevin's Walk: I hiked 600 miles in three calendar months.

NB: As I've mentioned a couple times before, I think my phone's pedometer shortchanges me when it comes to distance. According to my pedometer, I'm barely making three miles per hour, but based on my walks in northern Virginia, where I could time myself while walking along the George Washington Parkway's well-marked bike path, I used to average 3.2 miles per hour. What I need to do is test out whether my suspicion about my pedometer is correct. Dongguk has a soccer field with a track around it; if the track is a standard 400-meter length, I ought to be able to walk four laps and see, on my pedometer, that I've gone about a mile. (1,600 meters is just under 1760 yards, i.e., 1 mile. The difference is only about 30 yards.) I could get an even more accurate measurement by walking eight laps, I suppose...


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

the double (or maybe triple?) double-summit

I'm meeting and having dinner with some former students from my Sookmyung days this coming Friday evening (not the best day to meet, really, given that I'm supposed to be grading a pile of midterms, all of which will be administered tomorrow and Friday). As a result, I need to cram the miles in before then. Another reason for cramming is to make up for a piss-poor showing from, oh, about last Thursday until this past Monday. Because I spent so much time in the office crafting review materials and tests, I really didn't walk much over the past week, and my October average suffered mightily for it. Yesterday, I began to make up for that lapse by double-summiting. I wasn't sure I had it in me to do a double-summit: a few days off and I began to feel distinctly de-conditioned. But the cold night air helped me greatly, and I ended up doing just fine. Last night's step total was a cool 24K.

I'll be double-summiting tonight as well, and possibly Thursday night, too. Friday, I'll be with my former students, but since we're meeting in Jongno that evening, I know I can walk there from my office, which means I won't be completely slouching when it comes to my step count. Three walks in a row, each over 20K, ought to do much to rehabilitate my average. I'd like to end October at around 15K, but I'll settle for a modest 14K. An improvement's an improvement. Perhaps I'll do 15K in November.

As for ramping up my routine: I'm going to start pushups and planks. Planks (or "planking," but not to be confused with the photographic prank also called "planking," which is a close cousin of "owling") are now considered a core-toughening replacement for situps and crunches. The problem—so the plankistas say—is that situps and crunches (1) don't work the entire core and (2) can cause imbalances in the overall hardness of your abdominals, leading to posture and back problems. Planking relieves pressure on the spine; it can be done facing the ground, and it can also be done on one's side. I've never been a fan of situps, anyway, so I'm happy to give planks a try. Given my general weakness in the arms and chest, my early pushups will more likely be "puss-ups." I'm going to combine the manly down-angle pushup (feet higher than head) with the girly on-the-knees pushup by bracing my knees on my bed while placing my palms on the floor. Once I can blast out several dozen of those with a fair amount of ease, I'll graduate to harder, more legitimate types of pushups.

Then, come December (and vacation), I'll see about finding a local boxing gym and signing my fat ass up. Imagine me, Mister Floppy Tits, doing the Stallone routine from the early "Rocky" movies, jumprope and all. Okay, don't imagine the floppy tits.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

me to a tee

My friend Sperwer leads me to this humorous look at prayers for different Myers-Briggs personality types. Those familiar with the Myer-Briggs test will know that there are sixteen different types—each type described by a cluster of four letters—that fall under four major temperaments: Apollonian (NF), Dionysian (SP), Epimethean (SJ), and Promethean (NT). I'm an INTJ off the scale; the NT temperament (Promethean) is professorial, pedantic, detail-oriented, and given to a fascination with abstractions, sometimes to the exclusion of any consideration of the human factor in working and loving relationships. On the other hand, INTJs make faithful, principled life-companions, so keep that in mind, ladies. Dr. House might be an asshole, but if you find your way into his heart, he'll defend you to the death.

As for the INTJ prayer listed at the above link, it goes:

Lord, keep me open to others' ideas, WRONG though they may be.

I added the vocative comma after "Lord" in the above quote because, anal-retentive as I am, I couldn't help myself.


the thing inside my eye

I've got a floater in my right eye. It's been there for a few days. While I don't think it's anything serious (read more on floaters here), it is slightly annoying. I'd like to fancy that it's some sort of godling that's gestating in my vitreous humor, and that one day it's going to erupt, and I'll give birth, Zeus-like, to a full-fledged deity.


nose-bridge crinkle

A pic of your humble narrator, freshly shorn as of Monday, October 20:

Like the Jewish comic's stereotype of a Yiddishe mother who can't stop herself from humiliating her boy, my own mother used to give me grief about my nose's lack of a Western-style, aquiline bridge. See the crinkle at the top of my nose? Yeah... that's thanks to my Korean genes. Plenty of Koreans have no nose bridge (although plenty also do), which may explain why some Korean chicks are fascinated by white guys: their facial geography is so much... craggier. The evidence? My mother used to have a thing for Kevin Costner, whose nose bridge pretty much occupies his entire face. (She would have said it was Costner's eyes that did it.)

"Why not go to a doctor and have him put some plastic inside there?" Mom would ask solicitously, staring at the top of my nose, as if my nose needed a neuticle.

"Mom... just stop," I'd reply sadly.

But remarks on my looks don't come exclusively from mothers. My buddy Tom recently used the term "salt-and-pepper" to describe my hair. I suppose I'm at that point, now, where the gray is impossible to hide or deny. One thing I won't do, however, is cover up the gray: coloring is for pussies, as I've noted before. I can't think of anything sadder or more ridiculous than a Korean octogenarian with perfectly black hair (and/or a combover). Whom do such people think they're fooling? Personally, I'd rather die than dye.

So here I am, un-Photoshopped, nose-bridge crinkle and all.


Monday, October 20, 2014

midterm woes

My advanced listening/discussion students recoiled in fear when I went over the type of exam I'm going to be giving them this coming Thursday (it'll be listening + vocabulary + discussion, each section subdivided into two subsections). A few of them said the exam sounded difficult; a few felt they wouldn't be able to speak at the advanced level required. Personally, I think they're all going to do fine, and they really don't have any reason to worry. While it was a little off-putting to hear whining of the "We want an easier test!" sort, I'm not planning on changing the exam's structure. And since everyone's got an "A" in the class as things stand, the exam will separate the men from the boys, so to speak. One thing I might change, however, is the number of questions: in reviewing the test today (we used a dummy test of my construction), I realized that the test might be overlong. Some of my kids can't afford to stay overtime, on exam day, because they've actually got evening classes (we normally end at 6:15PM). I can't keep those kids behind, or they'll be late to their next class, and since this is midterm week for the whole campus, I could potentially make them late for a midterm. Can't have that.

So otherwise, the test is a go. I'll be curious to see how my students do.

ADDENDUM: By contrast, my intermediate kids, today, had a ball reviewing midterm material with each other. I had them interact via my round-robin method, and it went great. Much talk and laughter, and no complaints or whining.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

little murders

One reason why I know that I'll never be a Buddhist, despite my profound interest in Buddhism, is that I just love killing insects that annoy me. Let me confess to this here and now: I am a mass murderer, and if insects had any sense, they'd stay the hell away from my domicile, my office's work station, and my personal space.

In my old place in Hayang-eup, I was assaulted by fruit flies, gnats, and the occasional mosquito. Here in Seoul, there have been no fruit flies at all, but there have been plenty of little flies that are, in size, somewhere between a bluebottle and a gnat. They fly silently; their wings are covered, moth-like, in a sort of scaly powder, and they're extremely slow-witted, which means I don't need much cleverness or agility to kill them. They land on the wall; I smack them or blast them with Windex; end of story. My yeogwan gets an occasional mosquito, but those bugs haven't been much of a problem. The gnat-flies, however, are numerous, and even though they're easy to kill, their sheer numbers are enough to vex me.

So I kill. And kill. And kill again. Without pity. Without remorse. My sleep is completely untroubled by what I do. And that's how I know I'll never be a true Buddhist.


got a lot done

My time in the office on Saturday was very productive, and I ended up knocking off every item on my to-do list but one. Admittedly, that one remaining item is a whopper, but I'm confident I can get it done by late afternoon Sunday, in time for a megawalk.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

muh cuz

On the left is my cousin Marie who, along with her friend Gary (also pictured), has started a little business that they hope to grow into something bigger. Their business is in the service of the "DTAD" campaign: Don't Text and Drive (for me). The parenthetical "for me" makes the slogan into something that a loved one would utter, e.g., a daughter reminding her dad not to text and drive—for her sake. I think DTAD is a good cause, so I told Cousin Marie that I'd help her out by retweeting her tweets when I could. In case you've been wondering, then, why I've been engaging in so many retweets from a single source, well... that's why. Now you know.

If you're interested in helping Marie and Gary out, you can follow them on Twitter at both @dtadfor me and @arousingear. Their product website, which is just starting out, is here. They're also selling their products on Etsy, the artists' website, here. Finally, check them out on Instagram here, and on Tumblr here.



It's a busy weekend for me, and it's after 5PM on Saturday, and I haven't even gotten started on the ton of things I need to do. Procrastination will be the death of me. Next week is midterm week at Dongguk University, so I have a lot to create: review sheets, midterm exams, project templates... not to mention that I've got three batches of student writing to slog through, grades to input, lesson plans to write, and an ATM bank transfer to perform so I can stay on top of my cell-phone bill. Since I don't have class until Monday at 3:30PM, I might get away with letting some of this work spill over to Monday, but I'd rather have everything done and done by Sunday afternoon so I can leave the office and do a megawalk the same day.

My Namsan walks have evolved into something of a hard/easy pattern; the "easy" days make my daily-step average sag, so the megawalks are now necessary to bring the average back up to something respectable, i.e., something over 15K. Not that I'll lose all self-respect if I slump to 14K for October: that would still be an improvement over the previous month, and 15K could still function as a noble ideal.

In any event, it's time to get off this damn keyboard and get doing some real work.


"Chef": review

There's a particular movie meta-genre that could go by either "labor of love," if I'm not feeling cynical, or "vanity project," if I am. This is the kind of film whose driving force is a "hyphenate," e.g., a writer-director-star or something of that ilk. Think: Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves" or Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" or Robert Duvall's "The Apostle." Most of these movies are worth seeing because, even though movies are intensely collaborative projects, labors of love tend of be purer artistic visions emanating from a single discrete source. Each such vision normally has a distinct aim, too: Costner went for an evocation of grandeur, loss, and human dignity; Gibson went for the gritty struggle to be free; Duvall went for spiritual conflict.

Jon Favreau writes, directs, and stars in the recent "Chef," a light, feel-good comedy about a high-end restaurant chef named Carl Casper who feels stifled by his career. Cooking the same conventional menu for the past several years at posh L.A. resto Gauloise, Casper wants to return to his creative, Miami-fueled, bad-boy roots and shake things up by introducing his customers to edgier culinary fare. His boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman in a brief role) will have none of it: Casper's current menu is what brings in the customers, and previous attempts at creativity have left people, according to Riva, either turned off or nonplussed. All of this comes to a head when Casper's food is trashed by prominent blogger and critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). Casper, introduced to the wonders and dangers of Twitter by his plucky son Percy (Emjay Anthony, an excellent child actor with a bright future ahead of him), tweets a challenge to Michel: come back to the restaurant and have some real food this time—asshole. But on the night that Casper tries to cook the menu of his dreams, Riva intervenes and issues an ultimatum: cook your normal menu or seek employment elsewhere. Outraged, Casper takes the latter route, leaving his sous-chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale) in charge and his good friend Martin (John Leguizamo) flabbergasted at his abandoning ship.

So the major story arc of "Chef" is about a man in his early forties trying to find his creative voice again. The second story arc, which is arguably just as important, is about Carl Casper's relationship with his son and his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara, giving off a distinct "Charo" vibe for most of her screen time). Carl and Inez are divorced, but they're still on very good terms with each other (in fact, the movie gives us few clues as to why these two good souls ever got divorced in the first place). Inez sees how down and out the now-unemployed Carl is, and she proposes that he accompany her and Percy to Miami, the land of Carl's culinary roots. Inez's ulterior motive is to hook Carl up with her other ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey, Jr.), who can provide Carl with a food truck. Carl returns to Miami, talks to Marvin, gets the food truck... and something clicks. From here on, what happens during the rest of the film is utterly predictable. And it involves a lot of Cubano sandwiches.

As I mentioned above, this is a feel-good movie: it's not about self-pity or tragedy or anything mawkish; it's just a light-hearted comedy about a talented chef who simply wants to feel alive again. The plot is a voyage from darkness to light, and all the characters in the film, even the antagonists, are likable folks who aren't truly evil. Special mention should go to John Leguizamo as sidekick Martin, whose friendship with and loyalty to Carl is the glue that holds the plot together. Leguizamo is easily one of the most affable, hilarious screen presences out there, and my feeling is that "Chef" would make little sense without him. Carl is a driven, artistic man who needs the counterbalance of a solid, reliable friend like Martin.

When I step back to consider the artistic significance of "Chef," I'm torn. On one hand, the movie isn't exactly profound. Because it's meant to be a light-hearted comedy, it neatly avoids the many potential problems that could have occurred among the various characters. We never see Carl and Martin in a heated argument over how to manage the food truck; we never see Carl and Inez screaming vitriol at each other; we never see Carl beating the crap out of Robert Downey's Marvin for insinuating that he and Inez had had sex fairly recently. "Chef" abandons realism in some ways while preserving a sense of authenticity in others: the moments of bonding between Carl and his son Percy, for instance, feel very real to me, as does the warmth of the friendship between Carl and Martin. Favreau's depiction of life in a high-end kitchen—followed by life in a sweaty, cramped food truck—also feels honest. So "Chef," along with being a comedy, is a bit of a vérité/fantasy mashup. Scarlett Johansson also stars as Molly, Carl's maybe-squeeze (and fellow toker) at Gauloise. Her presence, too, added to the sense of fantasy: it was a bit hard to take Johansson seriously as the movie's wisdom figure (she's the one who flatly tells Carl that he's unhappy and should leave Gauloise to follow his heart while also tending to the care of his son), even though Johansson went on to make "Lucy," a film in which she essentially becomes the ultimate wisdom figure: a goddess.

On the other hand, "Chef" is a labor of love which, to my mind, automatically makes it more profound than it would otherwise have been. We're getting a glimpse into Jon Favreau himself, and it's evident the man is a burly, kind-hearted teddy bear. He might have the chops to direct a big-time action movie like "Iron Man," but he's also an appreciator of the simple things in life, like food and family. And that's reassuring: it's heartening to know that Hollywood, evil and infernal though it be, has a few good souls working in it.

I'll leave you with this thought: "Chef" has widely been called "food porn" for its luscious scenes of cooking (I actually wish the movie had shown more cooking; Favreau, who had Kogi meister Roy Choi on board as a co-producer and food guru, was sent by Choi to culinary school to prep for his role), and it contains some jokes that, perhaps, only foodies will appreciate. For my money, one of the funniest of these jokes comes about ten minutes into the film. Carl has just had an argument with Riva about the menu that Carl is to cook that evening. Riva, who owns the restaurant, naturally wins the argument, telling Carl, "I think you should play your hits." Carl relents, and what follows is the speech he gives to the restaurant staff regarding the game plan for that night:

All right, let's go—pre-shift, guys! Big night tonight. Here's what we're doin'. We're gonna go with the favorites: starting with the caviar egg, scallop, French onion soup, frisée salad, lobster risotto, filet... and we're gonna finish strong with a crowd-pleaser: chocolate lava cake. Talk to Molly about wine pairings; lemme know when he [the food critic] gets here. Let's have fun. Put your heart in it, people. Let's have some fun. Good. Good.

I was rolling. While I don't consider myself a full-on foodie, I've watched enough Food Network to know a bit about what's in, what's out, what's cliché, what's passé—and Carl's litany of that night's food was a roll call of moribund cuisine. Chocolate lava cake? Seriously? You don't need to eat that at an upscale Brentwood restaurant when you can order lava cake at your local Chili's! And French onion soup? You can't get more typical than that at a Gallic-themed restaurant. Lobster risotto sounds perfectly safe and timid, as does filet mignon. So, yeah: as I heard Carl recite the night's menu, I busted a gut. Later on, when critic Ramsey Michel sits down to dinner and takes a look at the French onion soup in front of him, Oliver Platt's facial expression is absolutely priceless.

See "Chef." It's not the deepest film in the world, but if you love looking at good food, and you don't mind watching a predictably familiar, heart-warming story about a man once again following his passion, you'll have fun. Trust me.



Turning in early, folks. Night.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Lovers' Lane no more

I can't believe I haven't written about this yet, but tonight, while walking down the mountain, it occurred to me that I should note one major change to Namsan's usable space: there's no more parking along either of the access roads. Namsan used to be infamous for its nighttime line of parked cars—a sort of Lovers' Lane for people who didn't seem to care that much about privacy. Back when I was walking up the mountain from Beotigogae Station, I'd pass car after car. No longer. The only thing parked on the bus road, these days, is one lone bicycle.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

stinkgo trees

Christ, I hate ginkgo trees. First, the very word "ginkgo" is annoying because I only recently realized I've been spelling it wrong this entire time (yeah: I've been writing it as "gingko"). Then there's the matter of those fucking berries. If you've never seen a ginkgo tree, you should know that it's got small, pretty, fan-shaped leaves, and that it produces berries that look like a shrunken version of French mirabelles (see here).

But unlike mirabelles, which can be made into a very tasty, pleasantly fragrant jam, ginkgo berries are malodorous, leprous rabbit-raisins from God's own putrefying asshole. Once they hit the ground and start rotting, it's all over.* I've tried to reassign the horrible stench of rotting ginkgo berries to a more cheese-like category, but I'm not quite able to map the odor onto any cheese I'm familiar with. Obviously, I'm mentally searching through the stinkier cheeses, but not one of the ones I know has quite the same scent as a rotting ginkgo berry. Earlier today, I wrote a poem on Twitter about this damnable fruit:

How do ginkgo berries smell?
Like fetid underwear from hell?
Like cats that vomit gouts of hair
Right up my ass, then leave it there?

Malcolm Pollack very quickly added his own verse:

Like sweaty, skanky, stinky feet?
Like rancid cheese in summer's heat?
Like the stuff our bodies must expel?
Yep, that's how ginkgo berries smell.

Wikipedia says that ginkgo trees are classified as living fossils, to which I respond that I don't give an ass-fuck. Who cares how venerable they are? They stink! And as much as Koreans supposedly love this tree, it's clear that not all of them do. My daily walk to campus takes me past the very dignified-looking Ambassador Hotel, and it didn't take long for me to notice that, on the Ambassador's property, there is not a single ginkgo tree, even though the noisome vegetation lines the street on either side of the hotel. Whoever designed the hotel grounds knew enough to keep those trees off the premises, because no one wants to associate the Ambassador Hotel with leprous forearm stumps, bullet-shattered scrotums, cheese made from earwax and mucus, and piles of rotting corpses.

The berry-bearing trees are apparently female (yes, Virginia, there is sex in the plant world). The male trees don't make a stink at all, which is quite the opposite of how things normally are in the human world. While I don't consider myself anti-female, I'll make an exception in this case and propose that every single ginkgo tree-bitch be summarily napalmed off the face of the Earth. If this means the male ginkgo trees will have no choice but to take the homosexual route, I say go for it. You have my blessing.

Christ, I hate ginkgo trees.

*Read about "stink trees" in Queens, and the attendant Korean-blaming, here. Read the comments as well; I laughed out loud at the comment from a guy going by "Matt."


regarding Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

One of my advanced students, SY, works for the English-language campus newspaper, and she asked me whether I would consent to be interviewed about the "Umbrella Revolution" currently happening in Hong Kong, i.e., the pro-universal-suffrage protest movement that started almost a month ago and that still seems to be going strong.

I wrote the following responses to my student's six emailed questions (yes, I proofed and edited her questions just a little bit, but they were already in good linguistic shape before I began my surgery), and as I told her, I've elected to blog the full text here in the awareness that, given her newspaper's space constraints, it's unlikely that my responses will appear in unedited form. The real story needs to appear somewhere, hence my blogging this.

In reviewing what I wrote, my gut reaction is that a lot of it is mushy-headed pablum—interestingly worded, perhaps (and not even that is assured), but overly cautious in some ways and perhaps a bit overboard in others. Once this is published in the paper, in whatever its final form will be, my interview might be interpreted as extremely anti-Chinese, which could get me into much deeper trouble than could any of the arrant nonsense I've written on this blog. But, hey... what's life without a little risk and controversy, eh? I'm not one to "varnish my opinion" (as Barry Pepper said in "True Grit"), so my readers can read what I have to say, then take it or leave it. I don't want to be a shit-stirrer, but I was asked for my perspective.

Here it is.

Hello. My name is Kevin Kim, and I'm a professor of English at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea. I would like to thank SY for the opportunity to think out loud about the important events currently happening in Hong Kong—the so-called "Umbrella Revolution" (or "Polite Revolution," or "Umbrella Movement") which began in late September, largely initiated by disgruntled Hong Kong students concerned about universal suffrage and the encroachment of Beijing's political and economic influence over Hong Kong, and which continues even now. While I am by no means an expert on international affairs, I have watched events in Hong Kong from afar with a certain measure of interest. SY was kind enough to send me a set of interview questions, which I will now answer below.

1. The protests have been continuously taking place for a long time in the main districts, such as the commerce and finance districts of Hong Kong. How do you think this might affect the city and the citizens' mindset?

I suppose we could divide the people into four categories: (1) the "occupy" protestors who are fighting for universal suffrage, (2) the normal citizens who sympathize with the protestors, (3) the "anti-occupy" protestors, and (4) those who sympathize with the anti-occupy movement.

By concentrating their protests in the commerce and financial districts (and also around government buildings), the "occupy" protestors have the chance to affect the flow of daily business and administrative interactions. This could be damaging to Hong Kong's economy if the protests are truly impeding business on a large scale, but I'm not sure that that's actually what's happening in the city. From what I understand, the protests are, in reality, very well organized and generally polite and harmless in nature (the students even clean up their own garbage!); the intention isn't to strangle Hong Kong's economy as a way to get the government to reconsider its stance on voting.

But I don't really know the psychology of the local people, so it's difficult for me to speak intelligently about how they might react to the "occupy" protests over the long term. Will they eventually resent the protestors for gumming up the economy? Will they continue to sympathize with the protestors? (A recent poll suggested that 60% of average Hong Kong citizens do, in fact, sympathize with the "occupy" movement.)

A lot depends, too, on the way that Hong Kong and Beijing authorities react to the protests. There have been plenty of arrests, and numerous instances of violence as well. People have complained about the police use of tear gas and, even more sinister, there has been news that Chinese triads (gangsters, mafia) have been cracking skulls in the service of the "anti-occupy" movement, with the police doing little to stop triad violence.

I really have no idea what the future holds, but I think that these protests have gotten the attention of Beijing. The question now is whether Beijing will react in a brutally repressive way, as it did in Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989, or whether it will allow the protests to continue while seeking nonviolent dialogue with the protest leaders.

In short: this could end well or very, very badly.

2. The movement is spreading throughout the world, as we see with the rise of supportive voices in the United States and also in England. How would the spread of such voices affect the movement?

I'm sure that, because China is a "teched-up" society like the rest of East Asia, the protestors enjoy a constant awareness of reactions from all around the world. Whenever people from another country express support, I can imagine that this feels encouraging for the protest leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (mostly college students), Scholarism (mostly secondary students), and Occupy Central (started by a college professor).

The interesting question, for me, is: To what extent have foreign countries actually influenced the movement? Beijing has already angrily accused the West of fomenting chaos inside China, but my own impression is that "occupy" is a grass-roots movement that started in Hong Kong, and that is being buoyed primarily by Hong Kong citizens. The West has little to do with the actual "occupy" movement, but certain Westerners are doubtless cheering it on.

How much influence has the West had, in recent years, in China's internal affairs? I would say: not much, so Chinese complaints about Western influence are pretty much pro forma. Just ask the Dalai Lama how much influence the West has had on China. Is Tibet free? Consider, too, how much influence the United States, in particular, has with regard to China: China owns 1.3 trillion dollars of American debt, which means the US is going to negotiate from a position of weakness in many of its interactions with the Chinese. So again, I'd argue that the West in general, and America specifically, has little say in intra-Chinese affairs.

I'm not sure what sort of support and/or influence the West can provide the "occupy" movement. Anything other than verbal support will be viewed by China—correctly—as meddling with its internal sovereignty. So the only real weapon to help the movement (if "weapon" is the right word) will be things like social media and the major news media: the power of the written word and of audiovisual testimony to change perceptions. Will the pen (and the camera) prove mightier than the sword? Only time will tell.

3. Despite the rise of supportive voices regarding Hong Kong citizens' demand to change its election system from an indirect to a direct one, the Chinese government still seems unconvinced, while the Hong Kong government canceled talks with the protesters. What are your thoughts about this, and what would be the proper way for the two governments to react to the protests?

I would have to study Chinese politics more deeply before providing you with a good answer to this question. My intuition—and all I have, really, is an educated, non-expert guess—is that things need to continue as they're going now. While there's been police violence, there hasn't yet been a brutal, movement-wide crackdown, which means there's hope for the protestors to spread their message far and wide, and to be heard by Beijing and the Hong Kong government. I can only hope that, eventually, some sort of constructive dialogue will result from these determined protests. (More on "hope" below.)

The 1989 Democracy Movement protest lasted about 50 days before ending in violence and bloodshed when the hard-line government decided to take a tough stance against the protestors (not many young Chinese even know about this because the Chinese government has worked hard to suppress any rhetoric or images related to the brutal crackdown). The current protests in Hong Kong began around September 22. As of the writing of this email, the "occupy" movement has been protesting for about 23 days—not even four weeks. Perhaps in another four weeks, we'll see whether Beijing and Hong Kong authorities react to the protests with greater violence, in a reflection of the horrible massacre of 1989.

[Famous image of Tiananmen "Tank Man," whom many Chinese don't even know]

I hope this doesn't happen, of course. I hope the protestors and the authorities can settle their differences peacefully. Along with many Americans, I hope Hong Kong can preserve the legacy of its polity, jurisprudence, and economics: it's generally a much freer place than is the rest of China, and as some pundits in America have argued, if Beijing decides to take more direct control of Hong Kong, this will eventually be a disaster for the Chinese economy, because Hong Kong's free market is a salubrious influence on the rest of the country.

4. How long will the protests last? Do you think the Chinese government will accept the protesters' demands?

This question is related to the remarks I made above, and I'm sorry, but my answer is: I don't know. I can easily imagine these protests continuing for several more months. If the government uses violent means, again, to control the protests, this will inflame normal citizens, who will side with the protestors against the government. If, however, the government is moderate or even gentle in its use of force, then perhaps the protests will end sooner. But as I said before, I know little about the psychology of the local people, so it's impossible for me to make a prediction.

As for the other part of your question—"Do you think the Chinese government will accept the protesters' demands?"—I'm not sure. Part of me is very pessimistic on this score. I think Beijing is both powerful and stubborn, and I doubt it will be willing to budge on the question of suffrage. My hope is that the protests will end in peaceful dialogue and constructive solutions. My fear is that the protests will end in violent government repression, many arrests, and more than a few deaths, after which the government will again erase history and pretend that this incident, like the 1989 massacre, never occurred.

5. In your opinion, what should/would Hong Kong be like in the future? Do you think it should/would try to coexist with China or should/would it separate itself from China?

I think it's too late for Hong Kong to think about separating itself from China. China is very touchy about the issue of "one country"—witness the geopolitics of Taiwan. As far as Beijing is concerned, Taiwan is part of China. This isn't the way that many Taiwanese feel about the issue; many Taiwanese would like to see their land become fully independent. America's stance toward Taiwan has always been strange: politically, my country affirms the so-called "One China" policy, i.e., Taiwan is part of China. Practically, however, America sells American-made weapons to the Taiwanese (a recent example can be found here) and does other forms of business that indicate a not-so-secret desire to view Taiwan as independent. This is, naturally, irritating to China.

But Hong Kong has a different history. It was long under British rule until the handover in 1997, and precisely because of the official, formal nature of that handover, which was expected and anticipated, Hong Kong has even less say about its own independence than does Taiwan. I think that, if Hong Kong were to try to separate itself from the rest of China, this would cause more economic turbulence and social strife than would be worth the effort. Many lives would be ruined by a such a move. If the ideal, from an American point of view, is to spread democracy and combat communism, than it may be better for Hong Kong to work its weird magic from inside of China. As an independent outsider, Hong Kong would accomplish nothing because it would lack influence.

6. If you want to add anything, please feel free to write your opinion!

I just want to say "Thank you!" for giving me the opportunity to comment—however ignorantly—on the very interesting and exciting events now occurring in Hong Kong.

And a word to the Chinese students at Dongguk University who might read my words and disagree strongly with my perspective: please understand that, while I disagree with many of the actions of the Chinese government, I have nothing but respect for the hard-working Chinese people. You students probably also believe things about America, and American foreign policy, that I strongly disagree with. And that's fine! I think it's possible to disagree, even to disagree vehemently, and still live together in a spirit of peace and mutual dialogue. I wish China good luck as it attempts to resolve this difficulty. My own sympathies are obviously with the "occupy" protestors, but my greatest hope is for a peaceful solution to this troubled chapter in Chinese history.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy 35, Big Boy!

It's October 15, and my little brother Sean—not so little anymore—turns 35 today. Sean and I used to look almost the same in terms of fatness and build. Many people thought we were twins. Then Sean discovered the vegan lifestyle and dropped a ton of weight. He eventually saw the light and switched to Atkins, thus allowing him to eat meat again (veganism proved boring, he told me; I'd have to agree). These days, instead of looking like my twin, Sean looks like the thin version of me that I'd like to become.

It was a real treat to have Sean in Korea for a few days. He and his buddy Jeff started in Korea as part of their whirlwind Asian tour; I took them all over the place in Seoul. After Korea, they hit Vietnam, Cambodia, and China. I was sad to see my brother leave, but happy to have had the chance to spend time with him.

Sean's life remains busy. He works six or seven days a week as a professional cellist, with all that that implies: gigging, playing in symphonies large and small, running a chamber group, and teaching privately. (Many of Sean's students have gone on to win competitions, a fact of which I'm very proud.) I don't know how he manages to stay sane. I'd have cracked and killed a few people long ago, especially if I had to teach some of the spoiled, overprivileged, undermotivated duds that Sean has had the misfortune of encountering over the course of his teaching career. His war stories have been sobering. At the same time, it's obvious that he loves teaching his more talented and dedicated students, and even the ones who aren't so gifted have made an impression on him if they'd made any effort to excel. Sean is very giving with his time.

I hope the birthday boy has the chance to stop for a couple hours and just relax on his special day. I wish I were in a financial position to send him a nice gift, but unfortunately, that's going to have to wait until next year, when I'll be sitting pretty, monetarily speaking. So here's wishing my little bro a happy 35th. May his hair get no grayer, and may he continue both doing what he loves and loving what he does. Hard work isn't so hard when you love it.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

tonight's hike

I doubt I'm going to do more than a single-summiting this evening. I've got work tomorrow, in Daechi-dong, which means I need to wake up early. Can't be out too late tonight, and a double-summiting would keep me out late. My target, this evening, is 17K steps.

UPDATE, 11:59PM: 18.8K steps. My October daily average is still over 15.2K, despite a few slacker days scattered over the month. The megawalks have undoubtedly helped my average.



My previous griping post made reference to the afterlife. This got me thinking about what I believe regarding our postmortem existence.

Those who know me well know that, despite my fascination with and deep respect for religion, I think much of it is bullshit. I'm a scientific skeptic at heart, even more than I'm Buddhist in terms of my metaphysical sympathies and liberal-Protestant in my social and theological sensibilities. This makes me a doubter, an empiricist, a pragmatist—a "Show me the money" person. I don't take any scripture's word at face value, and I think the best religion is the one that offers experience as the greatest guide to truth. This is why Zen Buddhism, in particular, has long appealed to me ever since I began reading about it and engaging in limited, sporadic practice. Zen is simple, blunt, and pragmatic. Although it's not free of its own wild claims about the nature of mind and reality, I think Zen is, of all the religions I know anything about, the one that's most anchored in actual reality. It makes no dubious assertions about people rising from the dead, or walking on water, or commanding a sea to part. There are no blue-skinned gods cavorting with maidens, no bloodthirsty tribal deities demanding that we "smite the necks" of the infidel. Zen has none of that nonsense. Zen basically comes down to Who you is? Where you at? and Whut you do? Follow your situation. Be open to what the world is saying to you every moment. Be open to this moment. Zen, pragmatic and empirical, dovetails nicely with scientific skepticism.

But as I was reminded recently, my mother is dead. It'd be nice, in a romantic way, to think that she resides in some celestial paradise, a heaven of some sort. While I won't deny the possibility that such a place exists—after all, I haven't died, so I can't take my empiricism quite that far—I have my doubts. Personally, I'm not convinced that anything lies beyond the grave for any of us. "The rest is silence," as Shakespeare movingly wrote in Hamlet. It was only the living, those who survived Hamlet, who spoke of a heavenly reward: "Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." But what do those people know? Like me, they haven't died. All the faithful have is their belief. I won't go so far as to say that a belief in heaven is irrational or misguided; believe in it all you want, as far as I'm concerned, and I won't think you're crazy. But I have to be honest about where I stand, and my own belief, pending objectively verifiable evidence to the contrary, is that there's nothing on the other side of the Great Door.

This isn't to say, though, that I think nothing remains of a person after he or she dies. I may not believe in an afterlife, in a continuation of consciousness and experience after death, but I do think we leave echoes—echoes that reverberate through time and space, perhaps fading away years from now, perhaps not. If chaos theory has anything to say about postmortem metaphysics, it could be this: we can't know what effect our lives will have on the future of this world. Perhaps a ripple thirty years down the line—some vibration, some memory, some mention—might be enough to trigger a significant turbulence that propagates itself throughout the whole of human history. You never know.

I don't want to say too much about this here, because it's still too personal, but my mother left one letter, which I found folded up in a dresser drawer, that was essentially a prayer to God. I discovered this letter while going through her things a few months after she had died. The letter was in Korean, and it riveted me. What I held in my hand was the only bit of material proof that my mother ever talked to God, and that realization changed my understanding of her character. This method of talking to God—writing Him a letter—was her way of praying. I'd never seen my mother pray, truly pray, outside the context of church. Granted, she recited the Lord's Prayer with one of our church's pastors during the months that she was dying of brain cancer, but I don't recall her ever breaking out spontaneously into sincere, heartfelt, completely unscripted prayer. That letter was filled with anguish; it was a soul-cry, an attempt to make sense of wrenching circumstances in her life, and it left me in tears to see how she had put her rawest feelings on paper, then folded the paper up, hiding it in her dresser for no one but God to see. I ended up giving the prayer to my brother Sean as a memento.

And that's what I mean by a vibration, a memory, a mention: a significant effect felt only after Mom was gone. It's trite to say that Mom "lives on in our hearts," but I think this sentiment is true, however trite it might be. Those who leave us, passing away into the future, also leave something behind—something that we have to carry forward if we feel any sort of obligation to the dead. Perhaps that's my answer to the question of heaven, then: part of my duty is to carry my mother's fading embers forward in time and space. Some of this carriage is done willingly, consciously; some of it has nothing to do with my will: others see reflections of Mom in how I naturally think and act. To the extent that carrying those embers forward is a duty, it's one I assume gladly. There no longer exists a mother that I can hug, a mother whose warmth I can feel, so now it's up to me to gather up those glowing coals, the remains of her passing, and share that warmth and those hugs with others. I incarnate the echo. Perhaps heaven isn't so much a place or a state of consciousness as it is an action and a responsibility. This would make heaven a close cousin of karma: the momentum of all our decisions and acts, always moving forward, like a wavefront, into the unknown future. And behind that wavefront, propelling everything ahead of itself, is the driving force of love.


"novella" or "short story"?

No good deed goes unpunished. I tried to write a nice, complimentary, literate, five-star Amazon review for my friend Dr. Jeff Hodges, author of "The Bottomless Bottle of Beer."* Alas, Jeff, the eternal quibbler, couldn't simply accept the compliment gracefully: he had to offer what he thought was a correction:

One thing, though, I'd reword a phrase you used - from "this charming short story" to "this charming short novella" - since it's actually rather long for a 'short' story, and clocking in at more than 20,000 words, it's above the minimum for a novella.

I swear to God, that man is going to rise from the dead to quibble with the wording of his headstone. And you know what? I hope I'm there to engrave the wrong thing on it, just to annoy him in the afterlife!** Compulsive quibbling is its own form of hell. I think JK Rowling had Jeff in mind when she titled the brainchild of Xenophilius Lovegood.

I don't normally have a problem with quibbling or pedantry if the correction is a deserved one (I'm a quibbler and a pedant myself), but I do reject unnecessary "corrections." Unnecessary "corrections" normally occur when a given matter hasn't truly been settled, i.e., it is objectively the case that the matter is unsettled, which makes any attempt to deem something incorrect as itself incorrect.

So! Are the definitions of short story and novella settled? Perhaps the first thing to establish is whether these expressions are defined in terms of their respective lengths. says:

Short story: a piece of prose fiction, usually under 10,000 words.

Fair enough. Score one for Jeff. Now, is novella defined similarly?

Novella: (1) a tale or short story of the type contained in the Decameron of Boccaccio. (2) a fictional prose narrative that is longer and more complex than a short story; a short novel.

Note the lack of a page length in the above definition. I'd say this means we're not on solid definitional ground.

Looking elsewhere, then...

I type "short story vs. novella" into Google, and the very top result is a site called Writer's Relief (est. 1994, it says). The site has this to say:

How do you know if your short prose is a short story or a novella? How long is a short story? A novella? What’s the difference? If you want to get your short story or novella published, you’ll need to know who is publishing your type of fiction—and you’ll need to know the best way to target your writing to literary agents and editors of literary magazines.

How long is a novella?

A novella is a “short book.” As such, a novella is considerably longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. A novella must be able to stand on its own as a book, but the exact word count is not set in stone: 30,000 to 60,000 words may be an appropriate length for a novella in most markets.

How authoritative the above source is, I have no idea, but it certainly seems to think of itself as authoritative. So let's trust that assumption, and further trust that the writer of the above Q&A has experience in the publishing world. What the above establishes—and this is all that I'm trying to establish—is that it's far from settled as to what the length of a novella is. By the above reckoning, it seems there's nothing wrong with using the term "short story" to describe Jeff's wonderful work, which is indeed short, and which can be read in under an hour.

As with the grilled-cheese debate, I'm once again pulling a Plantinga, i.e., not trying to establish the rightness of my own claim as much as I'm trying to establish that my own claim isn't wrong.

And I hope that's enough pedantry of my own for one day!

*Whether to italicize the title or place it in quotation marks is the very issue in question in this blog post. One normally puts the titles of short stories in quotes; a novella's title, by contrast, would be italicized, as the general rule is that you italicize the titles of complete, stand-alone works. A short story is normally assumed to be part of a compendium; the compendium's title would be italicized, while the short stories' titles would be surrounded by quotation marks. You could argue that Jeff's story qualifies as a stand-alone work and, be it a short story or a novella, for that reason alone the title should be italicized. To which I say "Bollocks!" A short story can stand alone, and as long as there's the possibility that it can become part of a larger compendium, it seems safer to use quotation marks.

Of course, "clocking in at more than 20,000 words" puts the length of Jeff's story in an annoyingly liminal space that makes it hard to classify clearly as one thing or another. If a student of mine writes a two-page story, that's clearly a short story. If Stephen King writes "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," that's clearly a novella... although I should note that King has used the term "short story" to describe some of his works of short fiction that might, according to some, qualify as novellas, e.g., "The Mist," which is a story in King's compendium Skeleton Crew—a compendium in whose introduction King writes, "Here's some more short stories, if you want them." [emphasis added]

**"Here lies Horus Geoffrey Hotchkiss," the headstone will say.


Monday, October 13, 2014

wake me when gas prices come down

Conservative pundits have, with some justification, been trumpeting the triumph of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) as a way of opening wide the supply of petroleum-based energy that we can access. I say "with some justification" because I sympathize with the push, especially on the right, toward American energy independence (there are folks on the left who, for their own reasons, embrace this view as well), and I think this new lease on life, which has now pushed America into the forefront—ahead of Saudi Arabia—as an oil producer is something to celebrate. At the same time, I do respect the left's worries about fracking's potential for environmental damage, and I'm all for the continuation of in-depth studies that examine the problem. But it should be noted that humanity's primary aim ought to be the furtherance of human flourishing, and when environmental concerns begin to diminish said flourishing, it's time to reconsider the oppressive nature of those concerns. I don't want to live in a toilet, but I'm also not going to sacrifice basic freedoms merely for the sake of cleanliness. The freedoms come first. Quality of life isn't just about sparkling porcelain.

But I can't celebrate America's rise to the top of the oil-producing heap quite yet—not as long as gas prices remain as ridiculously high as they've been since before the outset of the so-called "shale revolution." For years now, we've been flirting with $4 a gallon, and some states (mostly blue ones like California) have gone over that line. By brother recently texted that gas was $2.95 in Front Royal, Virginia; it's sad to realize that my first thought, upon hearing that gas was under $3/gallon, was, "Revolutionary!" It's time to recalibrate the country's expectations. Get America to a point where gas prices are once again down below $2 a gallon, and then I'll seriously think about celebrating. In the meantime, I have a hard time seeing how Joe Citizen benefits from this sudden windfall of petroleum.

A commenter at Instapundit wrote something like a rebuttal to the above sentiment. In response to someone who remarked that gas prices need to get back to $1/gallon, this commenter wrote:

We won't ever have it down that low unless we somehow experience significant overall deflation.

The high price of gas is largely the result of lack of refining capacity. While we have some expanded some refineries over the last few decades we haven't actually built a new one since 1976. They just started a new one in North [Dakota] last year.

The other big reason is the weak dollar because of Fed monetary policy and the massive federal debt of the last 15 years. That is not going to get fixed anytime soon.

I'll grant that the above commenter probably knows far more about economics than I do. Still, gas at under $2 a gallon would be immensely heartening to most hard-working American citizens; it would be a much-needed psychological boost after six years of watching America's global reputation founder.

And the above interpretation of continued high gas prices isn't the only one on offer in the Instapundit comment threads. Another commenter said that leftist environmental groups have an interest in maintaining high gas prices, as this forces us to turn toward alternative sources of energy. I'm not against solar, wind, wave, or any other type of renewable power, but before I embrace alternatives, I need to know that those alternatives are realistic and efficient. Wind energy is a joke, given both its inefficiency and its potential damage to the environment. Solar energy strikes me as more worth looking into, but until we get those immense solar towers up and powering entire cities, I don't see solar as particularly viable. Wave energy seems like the most reliably constant source of power, but we still don't have systems in place that can collect and channel such energy in large quantities—the efficiency issue again. To reiterate: I'm all for clean, efficient, renewable energy, especially if it weans us off coal. But until I see a truly plausible alternative, I think we should keep on fracking. And no partying until gas is under two dollars.


Suji's kimchi Reuben: review

Click on the image below to see it full size:

I've mentally batted around the idea of making my own kimchi Reuben before, so it wasn't completely surprising to see that someone else had thought the same way. Switching out the Reuben's classic sauerkraut for kimchi seems like a plausible move: kimchi is, after all, a distant, cabbage-y cousin of sauerkraut, so it wouldn't violate the Reuben's basic flavor profile.

I should note that I love Reubens, and also that I'm not closed-minded (the way some people are regarding grilled cheese) about what constitutes a "true" Reuben. Switch out rye bread for white-bread toast? Fine, as long as you use awesome bread. Switch out corned beef for pastrami? You're stretching things, but not by too much. There was a restaurant in Haymarket, Virginia, just off Route 55, that was named, appropriately enough, 55's. That place served one of the most ass-kickingly non-traditional Reubens I've ever had. The main departure from a classic Reuben, at 55's, was the use of thick-cut white-bread toast. That was fine by me, and everything else about that sandwich was picture-perfect: it came with plenty of corned beef, plenty of sauerkraut, and a goodly amount of cheese and dressing. Outstanding in every way.

Despite my avowed open-mindedness, I do have standards. I can immediately tell a bad Reuben from a good one, the most obvious clue being whether the kitchen has fucked up the bread. Because a Reuben is normally made with juicy meat and even juicier sauerkraut, restaurants that put together sloppy Reubens will normally ignore the gravity-assisted drippage of the meat and sauerkraut juices. These juices will soak right through the bottom slice of bread, turning it into mush. So the first test that any Reuben must pass is the grip test: if my fingertips come into contact with saturated bread, it's all over. I might still eat the Reuben so as not to waste my food, but the experience will be one of pure desolation, and I won't patronize that establishment ever again. A bad Reuben is a deal-breaker, as well as a sign that the restaurant just doesn't give a fuck about the food it's churning out.

So when the Suji's kimchi Reuben came out, I gave that sandwich the grip test... and it passed with flying colors. Suji's also has a regular, classic Reuben on its menu, and I might go back and try that one, too, despite how overpriced these sandwiches are (W14,500 just for the sandwich, some slaw, and a small pile of fries this evening; Coke was a whopping W4,000 extra). I'm now confident, thanks to the kimchi Reuben, that the kitchen at Suji's does indeed know how to compose a Reuben properly.

That said, I wasn't entirely happy with my first and subsequent bites of the sandwich, which were dominated, not by kimchi, but by the unwelcome presence of garlic and onion. Kimchi, when eaten alone, doesn't normally hit me with garlic and onion right off the bat, so I knew that I was dealing with extra garlic and onion. When I inspected the Reuben more closely, I saw that pan-fried onions had been added to the sandwich in a typically Korean attempt to enhance flavor (Koreans add onions to all sorts of Western food that shouldn't have them, such as pasta carbonara and pepperoni pizza). The presence of strong aromatics in my sandwich actually upstaged the kimchi, which should have played a strong supporting role right underneath the meat, sauce, and cheese, as the sauerkraut would have done. I found the aromatics way too distracting, and in the end, I had to give the sandwich a thumbs-down.

All the same, I look forward to Suji's classic Reuben. The kimchi Reuben got the basics right, and it looked good; plus, as I said, I'm confident that the kitchen knows how to compose a proper sandwich. Here's hoping they don't add extra garlic and onion to their classic Reuben as well. That would really be too bad. So while the kimchi Reuben was a disappointment, it got me intrigued as to what Suji's classic Reuben might be like. There's still hope.