Monday, August 31, 2015


I'll write more later, but the happy news is that my F-4 visa application went without a hitch. I spent a lot of money, but in two* weeks, I'll have my new alien-registration card and an F-4 visa that'll be good for two years.

The point of this visa is that it's not attached to a sponsoring employer: I essentially become a free agent, able to roam Korea at will, working wherever I want, enjoying most of the perks of a South Korean citizen thanks to my Korean heritage. If I suddenly want to act in a TV commercial, I can do that while working elsewhere. Private tutoring? Also no longer a problem. No need to look over my shoulder for the authorities.

After a raft of bad news, this is very good news, indeed. More later.

*Corrected. I'd originally written that it would be three weeks.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday news

I'm still putting everything in place at my new residence. Later today, I'm hitting Gangnam for a pre-birthday dinner with my buddy Tom.

Tomorrow, I turn 46. I had hoped to hit Braai Republic for lunch, but it turns out that Braai is closed on Mondays, of all the dingle-damn days to close. So I'm looking for alternatives. Your suggestions are welcome.

It's decided: I'll be hitting Immigration tomorrow morning with the paperwork I have in hand. If that's not enough to prove who my mother is and that I'm related to her, I really don't know what will do the job. My fear is that bureaucrats are narrow-minded dullards who will flatly state that only Document X will do, and nothing other than Document X.

My building, as I mentioned before, is a city unto itself. I'm still exploring the place, but I've now located the underground restaurants, the ground-floor restaurant, and the B1-level grocery known as E-Mart Everyday, a small-scale offshoot of E-Mart. Alas, E-Mart Everyday doesn't have all the items I need, so I'm on the lookout for a full-size E-Mart or some other, similar store (like Home Plus).

Once I've got my place squared away, the next step will be to explore my neighborhood. I began this process over a month ago, when I first found the path leading up to the mountain I want to start hiking. I need to find other, alternative grocery stores that carry the items I can't find in my building's shop. I'd also like to see what other restaurants are nearby, and whether there's anything else worth knowing about. I'm only a couple stops away from the famous Garak Market which, I'm ashamed to say, I've never once visited. I should take a stroll through there one day and see what's for sale. The market used to have the reputation for being the largest of its kind in all of East Asia, but I don't know whether that's true any longer. China is Asia's Texas: the Chinese do everything bigger, if not necessarily better.

Then there's the matter of signing up for a gym. There's one in my building, and there's also one at the building where I work. I need to find out which is cheaper, but there's a chance I might sign up for both, for convenience's sake. We'll see. Much depends on prices.

UPDATE: I've spoken with the lady, and we're heading to Everest tomorrow. I've written about Everest here, in case you've forgotten.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

bad news on the F-4 front

Murphy's Law turns up, not when you least expect it, but when you least want to see its ugly face. I suspected that something like this was going to happen, but foreknowledge (or foreguessing, in this case) doesn't make things easier when the Murphic reality inevitably intrudes. My brother David finally got the long-awaited CD-ROM, with Mom's naturalization papers, from USCIS. He dutifully sent over the two PDF files that were on the disk, and he noted in his email—as I had asked him to do—that Mom's married name is what appears on the document. Her maiden name is nowhere to be found.


Why is this a problem? you ask. Good question. I had been warned by the Goyang Immigration Office that, in the event of mismatched surnames, there might be some sort of extra step in the F-4 process because, if different documents related to Mom showed different surnames, there'd be some doubt as to whether all the documents referred to the same person. I'm guessing that Immigration might ask to see Mom's marriage documents—something to show her transition from one surname to another. I don't have access to such documents, so I'm just going to head over to the dreaded Mokdong Immigration Office this Monday morning and try to use what documents I have to apply for the F-4. Along with the required paperwork, I'll also bring along Mom's Sookmyung student ID, on which is recorded her date of birth; and her death certificate, on which are listed her parents. This will tie her, logically, to other documents like the Korean family register. Of course, invoking logic in conjunction with bureaucracy is a dicey proposition at best, but right now, that's the best plan I have. All these documents, put together, build an airtight case: yes, this woman is my mother; and yes, she was originally Suk Ja Kim before she changed surnames after getting married.

Here goes nothing.


arrived, but not settled

Am resting. It's been a long day.

I prepped half my affairs last night, then did the rest at a slow, steady pace this morning and early afternoon; the mover wasn't going to arrive until around 3PM.

When the mover finally came, he turned out to be an older gent: short, loud, cheerful, gap-toothed, and energetic, with a tendency to overdramatize everything. Together, he and I wrestled my boxes and bags and furniture onto his truck; the mover threw a net over the pile and secured it with an infinitely long, heavy-duty elastic belt. I said my good-byes and thank-yous to the landlady and did a final sweep of my empty studio, then the mover and I shoved off and quickly stopped by Dongguk's Biomedical campus so I could hit a Shinhan Bank ATM and pay the mover his fee in cash. We then trundled off to Seoul.

The drive was long. As we were leaving Goyang, my buddy Tom texted that it had rained torrentially in Seoul that morning, but by the time the ajeossi and I were on the road, there was no rain and things were drying up. Traffic was horrible; it was Friday afternoon, and the driver (whose accent was amazingly hard to understand) said that Fridays were always the worst. We crawled along the road that followed the north bank of the Han River, eventually crossing the Han and heading straight to my apartment building, Daecheong Tower.

I hopped out of the truck and asked the front-desk guy where we could park so as to move my stuff into my new place. My boss at the Golden Goose had also called and warned me that I would be charged W20,000 just to use a reserved elevator for the move-in. It's a good thing he'd called: otherwise, I'd have experienced a very unpleasant surprise. (My landlady also unpleasantly surprised me by removing another month's rent from the W3 million I had thought I would be refunded.*)

The move-in took several trips and a lot of sweating by yours truly, and some obnoxious Tower denizens failed to read the large signs plastered next to "our" elevator—signs that said, "For Moving Only." Eventually, though, we got everything into my new place.

I use the word "new" loosely: Daecheong Tower is actually a fairly old and dilapidated building, and my apartment looks a bit worse for wear. (I'll write more later in a "frank" post.) There are some perks, though: slightly more floor space, a very large fridge, a huge bed provided by the company (my own bed will now become a guest bed), and the building itself which, despite being old, is huge enough to be a city in its own right: there are restaurants and shops on the ground floor and in the basement levels; there's a gym on the fourth floor; the neighborhood has schools, athletic fields, trails, a local mountain, and even more shops and restaurants. The feel is that of a hive or a warren: there are people everywhere—charging into elevators, milling about, or walking aimlessly. This might take some getting used to after six months of country-style quiet in the hinterlands of Goyang.

If all goes well, I'll be mostly settled in by Sunday night. If not, then definitely by my birthday on Monday. I need to decide how to lay out my furniture, especially now that I have two beds. I had hoped for a much larger apartment than the one I'm in; the whole "guest bed" notion is predicated on having some space and breathing room for the guest, as opposed to having both beds crammed side-by-side so that my guest will be forced to witness my snoring, drooling, and farting. In the interest of space, I might have to get rid of one of the beds. The problem right now is this: the company-provided bed is actually nicer than my own, which makes it difficult to send this bed away. Meanwhile, my bed, while less comfortable, is my bed: I purchased it—I invested money in it. It'd be a shame to suddenly throw that bed away.

So I'm here, but I'm far from settled in. I'll work on the place all day Saturday; Saturday night, I'm tutoring, then Sunday evening I'm meeting my buddy Tom in Gangnam for a pre-birthday birthday celebration. On Monday, I'm going out with a certain lady for lunch at Braai Republic in Itaewon—a place I've heard many good things about. After my birthday, I start my hiking/exercise regime in an effort to slim down for Sean's upcoming October wedding. While I'm busy working and slimming down, I'll finalize the marriage-related paperwork for Sean; I'll get my F-4 visa stuff done, and once October has come and gone, I'll finally be able to settle into a routine at my new full-time job.

Watch out for a "frank" post sometime this weekend. I've taken lots and lots of photos.

*Initially, I had anticipated paying rent up until September 4, but the landlady had texted me a few weeks earlier to say that I'd only need to pay through August. I adjusted my budget accordingly... then she pulled this shit. Either she was being tricky or I had misunderstood her text messages. Both options are possible.


Friday, August 28, 2015

execrable writing

Journalists really need to learn to write better. This sentence, from an article about a Chinese cameraman's collision with fleet-footed Usain Bolt, just makes me cringe:

But his momentary triumphalism, a Jamaican flag draped across his shoulders, was shattered when he failed to outrun a Chinese cameraman riding a Segway, the ubiquitous two wheeled self-propelled scooter, which then crashed into him.

Go ahead: write an improved version of the sentence in the comments.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

packin' it up, guys

Quite literally, I'm packing everything up in an everything-must-go kind of way. The movers are coming tomorrow afternoon, around 3PM, so I have plenty of time to box things up slowly. My Golden Goose boss has been calling back and forth with HR to get me into my new housing; I still don't have a specific apartment number, but I will as of tomorrow. By tomorrow evening, I'll have signed my contract and will be ensconced in my new, much larger residence. It'll be nice to be in a real apartment again. Last time was 2013, when I left a comfy place in Front Royal, Virginia, at the foot of the Shenandoahs.

So this will likely be the final blog post I write from my residence in Goyang City. Tomorrow, we cross the threshold into a new phase of existence. If I have anything more to say before I plug my computer in again, I'll say it through my phone. If not: see you on the other side, muchachos y muchachas.


Jeff reminds me of the good old days

A recent post over at Dr. Jeff Hodges's blog, Gypsy Scholar, reminds me of a drawing I did back in the 1990s to illustrate one of my own short stories, "Little Billy in Hell," which appears as the final short in my nasty collection of verbal filth, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia (from which this blog gets its name... though listed on Amazon, the book is no longer sold there).

 photo bd02acf5-a14f-40ec-94df-6f9a0dcaf000.png

I've thought about re-publishing my old humor collection directly through Amazon's print-on-demand service, and I've also considered converting it to e-book form, which means I could sell it for cheap (you really shouldn't have to pay much for bathroom humor). After that, I'd like to put out a sequel, of sorts—a collection culled from the humorous poems, stories, and essays I've written on this blog, with some of my favorite tweets off Twitter sprinkled in. Once I settle into my new job, that's one of the ways I hope to spend my free time: churning out books. I've had this motivation for years, but maybe Young Chun has inspired me of late.


"Jodorowsky's Dune": review

This will probably be the last movie review I ever write in Goyang City.

This past Tuesday night, I watched "Jodorowsky's Dune," a documentary by Frank Pavich that features visionary and psychedelic director/artist/thinker Alejandro Jodorowsky at its center. Eighty-four years old at the time of the making of this documentary, Jodorowsky (whose Eastern European-sounding surname no one pronounces the same way), still feisty, cheerfully and passionately narrates the long and complicated story of a magnificent failure: his brave but doomed attempt, back when he was in his forties, to make the film "Dune," based on the cult-classic sci-fi novel Dune by Frank Herbert.

The cast of characters surrounding the Chilean Jodorowsky includes his son Brontis, French film producer Michel Seydoux, British sci-fi artist Chris Foss, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, French artist/singer Amanda Lear (a close friend of Salvador Dalí), South African writer-director Richard Stanley, and the late Swiss sci-fi concept artist HR Giger. Mentioned throughout the documentary are other luminaries who were supposed to be attached, in some way, to Jodorowsky's massive production: David Carradine, Orson Wells, and Salvador Dalí among them, not to mention music groups like Pink Floyd and Magma.

The documentary moves us from an introduction of Jodorowsky the man, to his attempts to assemble a group of "spiritual warriors" to produce a film that he saw as depicting nothing less than the arrival of a god (i.e., the messianic Paul Atreides from Frank Herbert's novel), to the difficulties Jodorowsky encountered along the way, to the film's eventual failure to materialize while—at the same time—becoming a major artistic inspiration for many of the sci-fi films that did appear, starting in the 1970s and moving forward.

Jodorowsky himself comes across as driven, as something of a guru or a cult figure. He starred in many of his early works—weird, spiritual, transgressive works that were sometimes banned in the countries in which they were shown. His personality, at times easygoing, at times fiery and teetering on the edge of sanity, is what, in my opinion, propels the documentary forward. He's philosophical about the failure of his movie, but at the same time resentful of how the film's demise occurred primarily because of a combination of risk-aversion and greed. At several points throughout the documentary, the idea is repeated that some studios might have been willing to greenlight the film except for the fact that Jodorowsky was helming it.

The interviews for the documentary were conducted mostly in English, French, and German. Jodorowsky himself switched randomly between heavily accented English and mellifluous Spanish that was sprinkled with the occasional French "n'est-ce pas?" from his years of living in France. HR Giger's high-voiced German was positively creepy to hear: he was near the end of his life when the film was being made, and his voice had a strange, saliva-laden, throat-bubbly quality to it, as if he were trying to speak while gargling. The other interviewees were memorable, too, each providing an interesting perspective on Jodorowsky—the persuasive man, the hypnotic myth.

Jodorowsky eventually puts together a massive book that is, essentially, his version of "Dune." The book is filled with concept art, storyboards, scripts, technical notes on camera angles and other moviemaking factors—all the ingredients that a person would need to realize Jodorowsky's grandiose vision. This, then, is the man's true legacy. According to the documentary, copies of this book are sent to all the major American studios, but the thoroughness with which the film is described in the book is somehow insufficient for any studio head to accept as a plausibly realizable vision. Chalk it up to a lack of cojones.

I found the documentary fascinating, but there were elements of it that didn't quite convince me, especially when it came time to talk about Jodorowsky's influence on subsequent sci-fi films. True, some of the concept art for Jodorowsky's "Dune" did seem uncannily similar to stills from films we've come to know, like "Alien," but there were other tropes that struck me as so archetypal that it would be silly to attribute them to Jodorowsky—for example, the column of flame that marks the conclusion of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The documentary attempts to link that moment in "Raiders" to the concept art and storyboards for the end of Jodorowsky's "Dune," but the notion of a pillar of fire is quite ancient: more likely, Steven Spielberg was taking his cue from biblical passages, not from this South American visionary. This isn't to diminish the power or the scope of Jodorowsky's innovation; my point is merely that the documentary went a little overboard, every now and then, in its claims.

I wonder whether Jodorowsky's "Dune" could be made today. Were I the director given this immense challenge, I would update the costumes to reflect a more modern sensibility (knowing, all the while, that we're all trapped in our particular moment in history; Jodorowsky might be a visionary, but his vision, seen through 2015-era eyes, looks pretty Seventies these days). I'd include the innovative camera techniques that have become commonplace nowadays, but I'd also strive to create some new tricks that were consistent with the boundary-pushing spirit of what Jodorowsky was striving for. I doubt I'd base my casting decisions on Jodorowsky's weird notions of a person's inherent spiritual power, but I'd certainly want to find people who deeply understood and resonated with the spiritual thrust of the story. Would I alter the ending as much as Jodorowsky had? I'm not sure.

This leads me to a rather uncomfortable topic. Jodorowsky, in describing the liberties he had chosen to take with Frank Herbert's original story, employed the analogy of a bride. You can't have children with your bride if all you do is honor her [from a distance], he contended. And then he released his salvo: at some point, if you're going to have children, you have to tear off her clothes and rape her. "I was raping Frank Herbert!" Jodorowsky laughed. Was this an expression of Latin passion from a man who hasn't mastered English? Was this the out-of-touch expostulation of an 84-year-old with little understanding for, or care about, modern notions of politesse? The rape metaphor struck me as harsh and brutal, although I have to admit that, through this violent and extremely uncomfortable image, Jodorowsky drove his point home with me: when adapting a work from one medium to another, any thought of honoring it by preserving its original purity necessarily goes out the window.

For most of the movie, I sat there wondering when someone was finally going to mention the ponderous elephant in the room: David Lynch's version of "Dune." The moment, when it comes, is worth the wait, as Jodorowsky describes how, after the De Laurentiis family makes off with the rights to create the film, he is too depressed to see Lynch's version. His son persuades him to see it, anyway: "We're warriors," Brontis says. Miserably, Jodorowsky attends a screening... and little by little, as he's watching the film, he comes to realize that Lynch, despite being a great filmmaker whom Jodorowsky esteems, has birthed a steaming pile of garbage. I confess that I laughed as I watched Jodorowsky relive his delight, his Schadenfreude, as he bore witness to Lynch's spectacular failure.

The movie ends on an interesting note: after learning how Jodorowsky's "Dune" had Paul Atreides, the messiah, die and pour himself out into all surrounding living beings,* we then hear Brontis, Jodorowsky's son, talk about how Jodorowsky's unmade film was itself like that filmic Paul: Jodorowsky's "Dune" had died, but by influencing so many subsequent films, it had poured itself out into them, propagating itself into the future.

I wrote earlier that Jodorowsky was philosophical about his failure to make "Dune." He impressed me with his ability to say "Yes!" to both success and failure, and to move on from there. Producer Michel Seydoux, one of Jodorowsky's good friends, eventually reunited with Jodorowsky, and the two ended up making another film, recently—one starring Brontis.

"Jodorowsky's Dune" is the story of a vision, of an obsession, and of the magnetic, driven personality that tried to make this grand project happen. Much was learned along the way; much great art was produced, and many minds were set afire. Jodorowsky himself is satisfied that his vision still exists in book form as a ready template for someone, perhaps after he is dead and gone, who will be brave enough to attempt to incarnate his wild, far-reaching vision.

As documentaries go, "Jodorowsky's Dune" is definitely worth a trip.

*In the metaphysics of Frank Herbert's Dune, the messiah-figure, called the Kwisatz Haderach, stands at the nexus of all possibilities, seeing all worldlines—all facts and counterfactuals. Jodorowsky had Paul Atreides, the Kwisatz Haderach, die at the end of his version of "Dune," but Paul's spirit was to pass into the bodies of all the living beings around him. This would have made for an interesting reversal: instead of being the Kwisatz Haderach into whom all of the universe pours, Paul would have become, as Jodorowsky put it, a "plural being" who himself pours outward into all things in a manner reminiscent of the Christian notion of kenosis, or divine self-emptying—an idea associated with incarnational theology.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

boxing day

Moving day approacheth. Before it rains again later today, I need to go out and collect (ahem—steal) some boxes from the box-dump area across the street. I'll then pack everything up, mark the outsides of the boxes with my trusted Sharpie, take an inventory, and call the movers either this afternoon or sometime tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm waiting on word from the Golden Goose re: my apartment number. Word has to come by tomorrow... or at the latest, by Friday morning so that the movers know where to take my stuff. Failing Friday, the latest I can move out is Saturday.

One way or another, it's bye-bye, Goyang City! The last six months have been real.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

quick updates

1. I'm very likely moving this coming Friday. This hasn't been totally settled yet, but it's 90% settled. Wednesday morning or afternoon, I'm calling the movers and scheduling a damn move. Flatbed trucks, here we come.

2. USCIS wrote me back when I asked them where the hell Mom's documentation was. They had claimed to have closed my case back on August 8. In their latest email to me, they said they'd sent a CD-ROM with Mom's paperwork to my brother David on August 10, but nothing has arrived. I've asked USCIS to re-send. This is ridiculous. Another example of the cosmos working against me. Well, fuck you, cosmos—I'm getting my goddamn paperwork.

3. I start full-time work at the Golden Goose on Tuesday, September 1, which means I have Monday, August 31, free. So I'll be quietly celebrating my 46th birthday in some carb-laden, this-is-very-bad-for-you manner.


Monday, August 24, 2015

"If she looks back, it means she's interested."

A decision has been made. Read about it.


gate, gate, paragate

If my Golden Goose boss is to be believed, I'll be moving out of my current place this coming Friday or Saturday. (I have to be out by Sunday, August 30.) I was too tired to go box-scavenging last night, so I'll grab a mess of boxes tonight (or tomorrow) and start packing.

This might be a bit awkward because I recently ordered a regular-style mattress for my bed, and there's been no word on delivery, which I can normally track via a delivery-tracking app. I'm hoping to get the mattress before Thursday, but if it arrives on or after Friday, I won't be here to pick the damn thing up. That's vexing. Everything comes down to timing.

In any event, I'll be as packed as I can be by Friday morning, and if my boss has spoken truly, I'll be on my way down to my new residence in Daecheong Tower.


damned circuits

Over the past month, I've begun having problems with the circuit breaker in my tiny studio. The first time a circuit popped, I had several machines on at the same time: my clothes washer, my A/C, my microwave, and my regular oven. The next few times the circuit began popping, fewer and fewer machines were on. Today, I unplugged my fridge to allow my washer to run, and even when it was just the washer running, the circuit popped. Obviously, the circuit has rapidly gotten weaker over time.

I told my landlady about the problem three weeks ago. She sent her husband (at least, I think that man was her husband) down to investigate. I demonstrated the circuit-popping problem for him; at the time, I wasn't able to operate my electric range along with the fridge, and there was no question of running the A/C while I was cooking. It took several tries to get the gentleman to understand that I could only run, at most, two machines at a time on a circuit that should have been able to handle many more machines. In fact, I said repeatedly, the circuit had been problem-free until only a short time ago. The message finally sunk in, but I told the landlady's husband that I'd be OK until the end of the month; it wasn't a huge problem. That may have been a mistake.

Today, though, after the washer died twice in a row, I realized I'd need to change the circuit into which I plugged my machines. My circuit breaker has three switches: a master, then Circuit 1, then Circuit 2. Circuit 2 is linked to almost all the visible plugs in the studio, which is an abysmally stupid design: half the room ought to be on one circuit, and the other half ought to be on another. I had to flip some switches to figure out which wall socket was associated with Circuit 1, and I finally found it sitting above the toilet in the bathroom. So from now on, it looks as though I'm going to be plugging my washer and my microwave into the bathroom—but only when the bathroom is dry. I'll have to risk keeping the A/C and the fridge on the weakened Circuit 2 for the next few days, until I move out.

It's only for a few days, so I suppose things aren't as bad as all that.


translated from zee Fraintch

This 16th-century Ronsard poem, seen over at Michael Gilleland's fine blog:

Certes si je n'avois une certaine foy
Que Dieu par son esprit de grace a mise en moy,
Voyant la Chrestienté n'estre plus que risée,
J’aurois honte d’avoir la teste baptisée:
Je me repentirois d'avoir esté Chrestien,
Et comme les premiers je deviendrois Payen.

La nuict j'adorerois les rayons de la Lune,
Au matin le Soleil la lumière commune,
L'oeil du monde, et si Dieu au chef porte des yeux,
Les rayons du Soleil sont les siens radieux,
Qui donnent vie à tous, nous conservent et gardent,
Et les faits des humains en ce monde regardent.


J'adorerois Cerés qui les bleds nous apporte,
Et Bacchus qui le coeur des hommes reconforte,
Neptune le sejour des vents et des vaisseaux,
Les Faunes et les Pans et les Nymphes des eaux,
Et la Terre hospital de toute creature,
Et ces Dieux que l’on feint ministres de Nature.

The translation (see Mr. Gilleland's site) is ably done, but it loses the aabbccdd... rhyme scheme. Can I do better? Well, let's find out, shall we?

Truly, had I of sure faith not a trace
That the Father in me had left, by His grace
Seeing all Christendom, now scandalized
Shamed would I be, to have had head baptized
Repent would I then, of Christian having been
Pagan would I become, like those very first men

At night would I cherish the rays of the moon
Each morning, the sun, its aurora sky-strewn
The world-eye—and had this God eyes in His mien
Radiant and glowing, effulgent His beams
That give life to all, that protect and preserve
And the deeds of the men of this world observe


Ceres would I worship, who brings us the corn
And Bacchus, who comforts all hearts that are torn
Neptune, domain of the wind and of ships
The Fauns and the Pans, and the sleek water nymphs
And Earth, the great sanctum of all things alive
And these gods, whom we claim nature needs to survive

I took several liberties, but my biggest liberty was taken in the poem's final line about the gods and nature. The original French says, "Et ces Dieux que l’on feint ministres de Nature." The verb feindre has several meanings; in modern French, it's closest in meaning to the English feign or feint, i.e., to fake, or to fake out. But with a bit of semantic bending and twisting, it can be related to other French verbs like prétendre (to claim). If we render feindre as claim, then the last line literally reads, "And these Gods whom we claim as ministers of Nature." A "minister of nature" is a caretaker of nature, or, in overtly Christian language, a steward. Without the steward, the living things under the steward's responsibility can't survive, and that explains how I reinterpreted that final line.

To be honest, I'm sure I failed in successfully rendering the poem, but then again, this took me all of thirty minutes to puzzle over and re-translate on my own. Imagine the result had I spent a few days on it instead of just a few minutes.



What would you do if war broke out on the Korean peninsula? War is a topic currently being tossed about by expats on blogs and on Twitter with a mixture of jocularity and disquiet. No one truly takes the idea of all-out war seriously, of course; North Korea's leader Kim Jeong-eun is most likely doing what he's doing to bolster his image and authority among his own population. In the back of his mind, Kim understands that his country can never win a war against the South, and were he to disappear during a war, he'd be hunted down like Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden and would end up swinging from a lamppost. That said, expats can't seem to stop themselves from whispering about the prospect of a full-on conflict.

One of my friends told me long ago that he'd be "the first white boy outta here" if war broke out. I can understand his thinking: he's got a family to take care of. For me, I'm unattached. I've got two brothers in the States, but they both have their own lives: one's already married; the other's getting married in October. They've got plenty to keep their hands full. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins in places like Texas (the Korean-American branch of my family—Mom's side) and California (the Caucasian-American branch—Dad's side), but these aren't people I speak with all that often. What do they lose, really, if I'm not around? Meanwhile, I've got friends and relatives here in Seoul who would be my first concern if the South and the North decided to go to war. Since they're here, and they live here, how can I leave?

So, yeah: my plan is to stay, help my relatives flee south if possible and/or necessary, and to fight. I have no military training; I'm woefully out of shape; I'd need to learn how to handle a gun. All these factors are against me. But I'm grateful to this country, and I do love it as a second home, and there's no way I could stomach seeing it overrun by those bastards up north. If I can take down even one Norker, it'll be a good death for me.

That's my commitment. That's the price I'm willing to pay.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

striking camp

I still haven't been hired by the Golden Goose, and I still don't know where I'm moving to, but it's time to start packing things up: my time here in Goyang ends in exactly one week, and I need to be out of here by August 30.

Tonight, I'll sneak out to the giant apartment complex across the street and steal all the boxes I'll need. Over the next few days, I'll pack slowly but steadily, then write up an inventory so I know what to tell the yongdal ajeossi when I call his moving service to get my ass to... wherever it is I'm heading next, be it the hoped-for Daecheong Tower or some rinky-dink yeogwan in the southeast part of Seoul.

ADDENDUM: On a culinary note—I ended up eating the rest of my halloumi au naturel, and my local grocer seems to have run out of cilantro, so I won't be making my halloumi cheese sticks or bánh mì sandwiches before I move. That'll have to be a post-move thing.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

"So I can live a long and fruitful life?"

An update. All is not well.


Friday, August 21, 2015

yesterday's Seoul-dae adventure

Yesterday kicked my ass. I'm not in my twenties anymore, that's for sure.

I had stayed up until about 3:30AM the night before my big Seoul-dae gig, printing out fifty-something student résumés, putting them in alphabetical (ganadanical?*) order, circling salient points that I might want to ask questions about as a way of individualizing each interview. Thursday's gig involved going to the great and powerful Seoul National University, there to conduct mock job interviews for students in a summertime "employment camp," i.e., a camp devoted to helping students find jobs. The gig was to start at 10AM. I woke up around 5:30AM—after a two-hour sleep—with the intention of being on SNU's campus by 8:30AM at the latest. I was groggy; morning prep was slow. By the time I left my place, it was close to 6:30AM. I waited several minutes for the local 080 bus to Madu Station; it was twenty-five minutes to Madu, followed by a backwards, three-stop leap to Daehwa Station, then the short, transfer-heavy route down to Seouldae-ipgu Station. En route, I missed the Line 6 train and had to take the next one, which threw my schedule off another few minutes. Ended up arriving at my destination around 8:45AM.

The Korean term ipgu refers to an entrance, and most subway stations located close to university campuses will have ipgu in their names. But SNU is an exception in that the station is located rather far from campus: you can walk the distance, in principle, but when it's 8:45AM and you're in business attire, trying to arrive early for a 10AM gig, walking that distance on a hot summer morning isn't in the cards. Knowing this, I elected to take a cab.

Several taxis passed me, frustratingly, and picked up people who stood not far from where I was standing. It took me a few angry, seething minutes to cotton on to the fact that there were actual, designated taxi-stop areas painted onto the street next to Exit #3 of the station. When I moved to one of the designated areas, the taxis stopped arriving—a classic example of the cosmic nature of Murphy's Law. But as Bruce Wayne said in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, the world doesn't make sense unless you force it to, so I walked around the corner, away from the taxi stands and the Kevin-ignoring taxis, over to one of the streets that fed into the intersection I'd been standing at. I figured I'd have a much higher chance of catching a taxi at my new spot, and sure enough, I caught one right away.

The driver dropped me right next to the building I needed to enter: the Lotte International Education Building, not far from the campus's main entrance. I had been told by my SNU contact, Miss Baek (not her real name**), that the mock interviews were to be held in Room 208, so I went there, found the spacious area gloriously empty, and began to settle in. Ms. Baek herself rushed into the classroom barely a few minutes later. As the day went on, I began to realize that rushing was her default mode, the poor woman.

"Kevin Kim?" she asked as she ran up to me on shuffling feet, beaming. I nodded. "I thought you were Korean!" she chirped, referencing our email exchange, in which I had apparently written in passably mistake-free (or mistake-minimal) Korean. Then she laid it on me: "We've changed rooms! We're in 205 now!" I sighed, shrugged, and packed up my stuff, then headed out as Ms. Baek led the way to 205, a much smaller room with a closet-y vibe, mainly thanks to the ranks of stacked furniture lining the walls, obstructing the classroom's bookshelves. Two rows of large table/desks faced each other on opposite sides of the classroom. The chairs at each desk were high-backed and luxurious—the sort of padded swivel chairs that you might find at an office. I began to lay out my paperwork again in a second attempt to settle in.

"Oh, no!" said Ms. Baek. "I printed all those out for you!" She looked with dismay at my pile of fifty-some student résumés. "There have been some changes in the student roster, too, so you're going to have to use my printouts." She had the grace to look apologetic, and I've lived in Korea long enough that I'm not as annoyed as I used to be when it comes to last-minute changes in plan. Koreans are zigzaggy people, and if you want to live in this culture and keep your sanity, you just have to accept that fact. She rushed out, then rushed back in with stacks of résumés that she plunked down on my desk. Among the résumés were a few other sheets of paper with crucial information on them: a schedule sheet that showed the order in which the groups of students would be appearing, a map of my building's interior so that I could find my way to lunch, a four-page student roster.

I thanked Ms. Baek and got to work redoing everything I had done the night before. I also hunted around for a wall socket so I could recharge my phone (it's over two years old, and the battery drains quickly these days), and was happy to discover not only an outlet but also an extension cord so that I could keep the phone on my desk while it charged. With barely thirty minutes before go time, I plowed through the stack of CVs, trying to remember what salient points I had marked on them the previous night.

The schedule sheet showed that there would be four groups of kids coming for interviews. The smallest group on the roster had only eleven students; the other groups all had thirteen or fourteen kids. For whatever reason, I was to be going backwards through the groups: Group D would be first, followed by Group C, then B, then A. There was to be a one-hour lunch break after Group C. I soldiered on with my prep.

Ten o'clock rolled around, and Group D came in. Another change: Group D was supposed to have eleven students, but only nine showed up. I made a few humorous prefatory remarks in English and Korean, introducing myself and explaining our procedure for the next 90 minutes, then we all settled in and got to it.

I interviewed the students for five minutes, one at a time, American-style. Korean job interviews tend to be with several students at once, but since I'm not very familiar with how such interviews go, I elected to go with what I knew. There was some fun during the interviews: I made no attempt to lower my voice as each student sat in a chair across from me and my small desk, and whenever I joked about something, the entire room would erupt with laughter, proving that the other students were listening closely to each exchange.

The students themselves were among the most interesting I've ever encountered anywhere, but I suppose that's not surprising, given that Seoul National enjoys its status as the top university in South Korea. What was surprising, though, was the high proportion of students with very shaky English. None of the kids actually failed at communicating, but many of them stumbled along with what I would rate as low-intermediate English. They tripped over words and ideas; they fumbled when trying to form complex thoughts into complex sentences; they stammered and paused and hemmed and hawed. I had thought, before yesterday's visit, that almost all the students at SNU would speak nearly flawless English, the way good gyopos do. During my final 90-minute session, I asked after two students who were absent, and one of the young ladies replied that they were afraid to interview because they were afraid to use English. That didn't sound at all SNU-ish to me, and I said as much, griping jocularly in Korean, "That's no reason not to come. Why would you go through 99% of a program, then drop out right before the last activity?"

I had established my rhythm by the end of the first session. The second session began late because Group C was held back during the activity right before mine. I grimaced: a fifteen-minute late start would mean a 45-minute lunch because I wouldn't be able to delay the 2PM start of the third session. 45 minutes proved to be plenty of time for lunch, however; I finished plowing through the last half of the résumés while I sat by myself in the room that had been set aside for us professors. Three other Korean gentlemen were in the lunch room with me; they'd already gotten started on their doshirak lunch boxes before I lumbered in. I downed the bulgogi, rice, seaweed soup, and sides while I worked. The three profs left the room before I did; in all, we had exchanged no more than a dozen words.

Despite the linguistic hangups (and to be fair, many of the students did speak English quite fluently), the students were impressive. Quite a few were nervous, but many seemed eager to show off their skills and knowledge. I met kids who were accomplished in other languages like Chinese, Russian, German, and Spanish (although, unfortunately, no one spoke French). Other kids regaled me with tales of their overseas experience, or they wowed me with stories of how they'd managed a large event or had worked a variety of small jobs. The final session, which was supposed to have fourteen people, had only eight, so we ended about ten minutes early. One charming and intelligent young lady, a Russian speaker from Group B, hung back after the end of the session to pepper me with some questions about overseas employment. She wasn't the only one to hang back, either: in all four sessions, two or three kids would remain to ask further questions, demonstrating a level of curiosity that I've never seen at any of the three universities at which I've taught.

Ms. Baek came into class during one of the later sessions and sat down to observe for a few minutes; she laughed along with the students as I made jokes in two languages. I needled her because she insisted on speaking to me only in Korean, and I publicly accused her of secretly knowing English while forcing me to speak Korean.

And then it was done. I finished the fourth session at 4:50PM. Ms. Baek burst into the room as the kids left; she said the ritual "Sugo manhi hashyeosseoyo" ("You worked very hard"). I nodded and thanked her for all her help. Despite her rushed, breathless nature, and despite the annoying last-minute changes to the day's agenda, Ms. Baek truly had been very helpful and very solicitous, and I definitely appreciated her kind efforts.

Having had only two hours' sleep, I was drained. John McCrarey and Young Chun were supposed to get together (with other people?), and both had invited me to join them, but I knew I'd be too tired to do anything but go home, so I turned them both down with regret. I took a cab to Seouldae-ipgu Station, trained over to Gyodae Station, then got on Line 3 toward Ogeum, the southeast terminus, with the intention of getting out and finding a seat on the first empty train heading toward Daehwa, the northwest terminus. As I trundled eastward from Gyodae to Ogeum, I nodded off.

The next thing I felt was someone insistently tapping me several times on the thigh. I woke with a start, and saw it was the subway's conductor. We had apparently advanced into the maintenance tunnel—that mysterious, "Here Be Dragons" region beyond the final stop into which many subway trains will mysteriously disappear. I had always imagined these normally off-limits places as occult, chthonian hideaways dominated by weird spiritual powers from Korean folklore. As images of orgies and human sacrifice filled my head, I stared out the subway car's window and saw nothing but more tunnel. "Just wait a minute," the conductor said before leaving. Obviously, the train was going to reverse out of the tunnel and start back toward some destination to the northwest—either Gupabal or Daehwa.*** I was thrilled to finally find myself in the forbidden zone, but as the train hummed and then slid back out to the boarding platform, I nodded off again. I woke up, confused, and heard that my train had now become the train to Gupabal, so I got off and wandered over to the other set of tracks to await the train for Daehwa.

Several Gupabal-bound trains departed before a Daehwa train appeared. I boarded and immediately resumed sleeping, waking up when we were past Gupabal. When the train finally hit Madu Station, I stumbled out of the car, blinking furiously to clear up my dried, mucus-filled contact lenses. I got up to street level, clomped onto the 080 bus going to my neighborhood, got off, and trudged over to a local burger place to have some Korean-style burgers. My brother David texted me while I ate; I cut the conversation short because I was just too damn tired to concentrate, and I walked home after the meal, unlocking my door just a little bit before 9PM. It had been a long, long day for me—hence yesterday's terse blog post.

So it was a good gig, all in all. I'd be happy to do it again, but this appears to be a summertime-only sort of job, i.e., once a year. Many thanks to Young for putting me in contact with Ms. Baek; she's a good lady who just needs to learn to relax.

*If you don't get the joke: the first three letters of the Korean alphabet are the letters "g," "n," and "d." When Koreans type out lists and use their equivalent of "A, B, C" to mark list items, they stick the vowel "ah" onto the first three consonants such that, when Koreans speak of "the ABCs," they say, "Ga, na, da," which does sound a bit like "Canada" said slowly, in an exaggerated manner, with a Korean accent.

**Miss Baek's real name has to be one of the strangest Korean names I've ever encountered.

***Subways in Korea don't always run as far as the terminus: they often stop several stations short. Any given subway's designated terminus is written on an electronic marquee on the side of the subway, easily seen by passengers looking to board the train. Daehwa is the absolute final stop on Line 3, so to get to Madu Station, which is three stops short of Daehwa, I'd need to take a Daehwa-bound train. Were I to take the Gupabal train, I'd have to get off at Gupabal, then wait for a Daehwa-bound train. That would be a pain in the ass because it would mean losing my much-coveted seat at the end of the row.


Thursday, August 20, 2015


Too tired after a day of mock interviews and subway riding to write anything of substance. Running on two hours' sleep. Gonna eat, sleep early, and write something tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

a day of prep and tutoring

My morning began with a text message from my buddy Tom, who woke up with a nasty, severe, and likely contagious eye infection that had made his eye swell shut. He texted me a photo in which he looked as though a boxer had taken a shot at his eye. I have more taste than to reproduce that photo here (although I must say the prospect is tempting), so you'll have to make do with your imagination.

I'm now in the midst of prepping for a gig I'm doing at Seoul National University tomorrow. This work comes courtesy of the infamous Young Chun, who offered me this opportunity. I had originally said a sort-of no for [mumble mumble] reasons, then changed my mind to a yes. Young was very accommodating, and he passed the high-paying gig along to me. I won't say how much it pays, but it's substantially more generous than KMA's handsome W70,000 per hour, and I can use all the extra cash I can get.

I'm working with SNU's career-development center. 57 students interested in practicing job-interview techniques will be visiting me in groups of 13-15 as part of a summertime "employment camp" hosted by Korea's top university. I'll interview each student and provide feedback (give more eye contact, know your facts, be sure to dress well, have no typos on your résumé, etc.) for about six hours (there's one unpaid hour for lunch), and voilà—it's done. Young assures me that the job is easy, but I'm prepping like a madman all the same.

To that end, I've printed out a list of "50 Common Interview Questions," a list of "Interview Dos and Don'ts," and I'm in the process of reading over 57 résumés, looking for ways to tailor-make the questions I'll be asking the students. Many of the CVs already showcase impressive skills and short-term employment histories; my main worry is that everyone's going to be perfect during their interviews, and I'll have nothing to say. Koreans get suspicious when there aren't any complaints. It's a complaint-driven culture.

Of course, as Murphy's Law would have it, when the ZIP file from SNU (containing all the kids' résumés) arrived a few days ago, I opened it and groaned: over 80% of the files were in that goddamn ".hwp" format. I forced myself to find an HWP reader for Mac, and luckily, the Apple Store had a free download. Thus far, it's working perfectly.

So I'll be prepping well into the night, stopping only to tutor Amy for an hour. Then it's bedtime, and I'm up at 5AM to make sure I'm at SNU well in advance of the 10AM start time. Work is from 10AM to 5PM: seven hours total, six of which are paid.

Ought to be interesting, and many thanks to Young for the gig.


snails, baby

One of the neighborhood chicken restaurants sells snails in spicy pasta—golbaengi-jjolmyeon. I was delighted when I saw this on the menu, so, since the place was out of chicken fingers, I ordered me up some snails, baby. God, I love golbaengi. These are fat little sea snails, often served after having been split in two. (A whole golbaengi, plucked straight from the shell, is roughly comparable in size to a modest Italian meatball.)

The menu used chili-pepper icons to rate the spiciness of its dishes, and this dish was given a three-pepper rating. When I got home and began to dig in, I discovered that, yes, the dish was indeed spicy, but not inedibly so. I ate with gusto, gleefully anticipating the dragonfire that would be exiting my ass within the next few hours.

The dish reminded me of my most wonderful golbaengi experience: a restaurant—whose name I now forget—located in the Chungmuro district and discovered by my Korean buddy JW. If I recall correctly, the swollen golbaengi in my pasta bowl were uncut, which I found delightful. I could eat those damn snails all day long.


"Composite. Like plastic."


Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Expect a "frank" post when I get home. Things are not going the way I'd like them to.


coughing up that last bit of blood

Dongguk University paid me my final bit of contract-mandated salary today; I promptly sent home 70% of it to cover US-based debts. Next month, with my coming windfall, I'll be able to send a ton more money home, and at long last I won't have to worry about paying those stupid late/overdraft fees for PNC Bank. The gods of finance and budgets will be pleased.

As a commenter reminded me, next month's pension isn't coming from Dongguk: it's coming from the Korean government—from Uncle Jang, so to speak. So as of August 31, Dongguk and I will be shut of each other. And so we move on to the next phase in this strange life.


Monday, August 17, 2015

sometimes longer is better

Had to meet my KMA boss in Yeouido today, so I left my place around 7:15AM, waited until about 7:25AM for the bus, rode to Madu Station, got off the bus around 7:50AM, and took the subway backward three stops to Daehwa Station, the terminus, where I then got on the subway going the opposite direction.

I jog backward like this because, when it's rush hour, getting the desired empty seat on the subway is paramount. When you're at the terminus, you're guaranteed an empty seat. Today, once I reached Daehwa, I had a choice: I could take the shortest route to Yeouido, or I could take the most comfortable route. I chose the shortest route so as not to be late for my morning meeting with my KMA boss, and it was rough. Never again.

The shortest route, time-wise and distance-wise, from Madu Station to National Assembly Station (the stop right next to Yeouido Station), takes a little over 60 minutes and requires four transfers. I find transferring to be a royal pain in the ass, and today's route, a via dolorosa of gluteal agony, looked like this:

1. 5 stops from Daehwa to Daegok. Transfer to Gyeongeui Central Line, express train.
2. 2 stops from Daegok to Digital Media City. Transfer to Line 6.
3. 4 stops from Digital Media City to Hapjeong. Transfer to Line 2.
4. 1 stop from Hapjeong to Dangsan. Transfer to Line 9.
5. 1 stop from Dangsan to National Assembly. Get off.

The Gyeongeui Central Line was jam-packed by the time I got on it. Luckily, I had to go only two stops because this was the express train, which skips three-fourths of the stops and—seemingly, at least—goes faster than the regular train, although I'm mystified as to how the express is able to leapfrog past the slow trains. Still, I had to endure the claustrophobic reality of being pressed against the train's back wall for about five or seven minutes until I could finally get off and breathe again.

I got to KMA by 9:07AM, which is much earlier than I would have arrived had I taken the longer, more comfortable route. That route would have required only two transfers at most, depending on my timing: from Line 3 to Line 9 express, and from Line 9 express to Line 9 regular. I could have slept for an hour had I gone that way, but no—today I chose to follow a path that kept me awake and on my toes.

Bleh... I'd rather sleep, so from now on, I'll take the longer, more comfortable route into town, even if it means arriving at KMA at 9:40AM.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

by the power vested in me through the Internet...

I spoke via Skype with my brother Sean and his fiancé Jeff last night. They're knee-deep in wedding preparations, and as Sean said, it's been crunch time for a while. They seem to be soldiering along pretty well, though; no freak-outs yet—not this early in the game. (The wedding is on October 17—almost exactly two months from now.)

We talked primarily about the order of events for the wedding ceremony. Sean and Jeff have already done their homework, and they designed a program that's roughly modeled on a typical church liturgy. It marks out when the guests are seated, when the procession happens, when certain ceremonial words are read, etc. They did a thorough job; I was impressed. We talked a bit about what readings the couple wanted—maybe something from Hyeon Gak sunim, something from Khalil Gibran, etc. The vibe that Jeff and Sean are looking for is something between interfaith (i.e., explicitly mentioning the wisdom of different specific traditions) and nondenominational (i.e., more toward a non-specific, almost Unitarian-style delivery—not just "nondenominational Christian").

I was happy to announce to my brother and soon-to-be brother-in-law that I am now an ordained minister in the AMM (American Marriage Ministries) tradition. Ordination was as easy as filling some online blanks and clicking a button or two. Feels weird, all the same: in the US, I can now legally officiate marriages, baptisms, and funerals. The weirdness obviously comes from the fact that I did nothing to earn this: it's a bit like going online and automatically receiving inkga (certification of enlightenment) from a Buddhist website.

Sean said that he wanted humor to be part of the ceremony. I joked that I was planning to step up to the altar, do a double-take, and shout, "No one told me it would be two dudes!" I might still do that. We'll see. Jeff thought that'd be a hoot.

There are a few more things for me to square away, legally, before I'm ready to travel to the States in October. I have to register in West Virginia as an ordained minister authorized to perform weddings, and I have to be licensed as a minister. It's not enough merely to be ordained. West Virginia has a website that offers a package to prospective wedding officiants; the package guides one step-by-step through the process of ordination, licensing, and registration. I've ordered that package; it's on its way. And if I understand correctly, licensing and registration (I feel as though I'm talking about a car) happen pretty much simultaneously. After all that, there's one final matter: the marriage license, and I'm not entirely clear about who's supposed to take care of what, but it's just a matter of reading further.

Sean and Jeff offered to pay half my plane fare to the States and back, but I told them I was expecting a windfall in September, so there'd be no need. They're already investing so much money in this event that I think it's best if they save their cash for more important transactions. So it's all coming together; I'm prepping on my end, and they're prepping on their end. They've got the harder job, by far.

In the meantime, yeah. I'm a minister now. Go figure.



Go ahead. Caption this.

My attempts:

1. "Oh, hi! Yeah, sorry about this, but you walked away without saying whether you were planning to vote for me."

2. "So! What's for dinner?"

3. "SURPRISE, Bill! You keep talking about how boring things are in the bedroom, but you should know that this old white girl still has some tricks up her sleeve!"

4. "Boo! And I just wanted to congratulate you on some truly enormous hemorrhoi—wait—where are you going?"

5. "God, this cold water is a relief after being in your ass for five hours!"

6. "Happy Biiirrrrrrthday to you..."

7. "Uhuuuuuu—did somebody say pizza?"

8. "Yyyerp! That was me gnawin' on yer ball sac! Tee hee!"

9. "Oh, Arthur! Did you catch the sword I threw at you? Arthur? ARTHUR??"

10. "I—have—never—felt—more—alive!"


Saturday, August 15, 2015

yo, party people!

Ho there, Korea! Here's what a pizza really ought to cost:

I know it's Liberation Day and all, but get a load of what a pizza costs at a Domino's on Richmond Highway, northern Virginia, just up the street from where I used to live. None of this "W15,000 for a medium" bullshit. The price on the flyer, translated into Korean won, comes out almost exactly to W7,100. That's the proper cost for a large pizza.

Speaking of Liberation Day: one of my students in Ulsan asked, "I normally say that August 15 is Independence Day, but I've heard some people call it Liberation Day. Why do they say that?" I was a bit stumped myself. There's overlap, but there are also some nuanced differences between the concepts of liberation and independence. Liberation, on a national scale, doesn't automatically imply sovereign independence, for example: a people can be liberated from slavery, but find themselves within the context of a larger political system to which they must submit. There's also, somewhere in the shadows, the potential implication that "liberation" doesn't mean "self-liberation," i.e., one is liberated through the efforts of others (Hindus and Buddhists, with their philosophical view of what liberation means, might disagree). That said, a nation can be liberated, then the liberators can step back, more or less, and let the liberated citizens govern their own country as they see fit—independently.

Where does Korea, especially South Korea, fall in all this, given the confusing semantic tangle described above? I didn't have the heart to remind my student that Korea didn't liberate itself: Korea's liberation was but one effect of many that arose from the aftermath of World War 2 and the defeat by the Allies of the Empire of Japan. I don't know what sort of mythology modern Koreans engage in, these days, when they talk about liberation and the horrible Japanese occupation, but given the nature of the speeches normally given on this day—most of which don't thank America and the Allies for what they did—I'm guessing that Koreans want to convince themselves that they did indeed liberate themselves. Unfortunately, that's not the truth. Even a nation as vast and strong as China found itself at least partly under the Japanese boot in the 1930s and 40s. China lies to itself, saying the Japanese had already surrendered to Chinese forces even before the atomic bombs were dropped.* What garbage. Japan, too, is busy rewriting its own history, downplaying its role as an aggressor during World War 2, and trying to play itself up as a victim. This is why Koreans don't trust Japanese apologies: the consistent efforts by the Japanese (e.g., the textbook-publishing industry) to reinterpret history in a false manner.

But rewriting and interpretation are, perhaps, acts in which we all engage to a greater or lesser degree.** "History is written by the victors," the saying goes, but when the losers still exist and can concoct their own narratives, the battle for which narrative is the truest one is joined.

It's a massive, complicated question—one that makes my head hurt at times. I, of course, have my biases, but if I'm going to be honest, I must acknowledge that they are just that—biases. (And obviously, if I say I have biases, I'm not engaging in relativism. Admitting I have biases doesn't make me less biased.)

That said, Happy Liberation Day. And, hey, Korea: you're welcome.

*See "Iron and Silk," starring Mark Salzman, for one version of this myth.

**Cf. Iraqi outrage at the events portrayed in "American Sniper," a film I enjoyed but which apparently enraged many Iraqis who thought their country, their culture, and the wartime events within their borders had been depicted falsely and unfairly.


my trip to Ulsan

When KMA, my #3 employer, says "Jump," I say, "How high?" I go where they send me, and if they tell me I have to go to Ulsan—a city I've never visited before—then off I go to Ulsan, no questions asked. My KMA boss had asked me to teach my Persuasive Business Writing course on site instead of doing what we usually do, i.e., teach our courses at our headquarters in Yeouido, central Seoul. KMA is an extremely organized company,* so I'd learned about this latest gig a couple of months ago. I was told that I'd be teaching my 7-hour course, but that the course would be divided over two days—3.5 hours per day. My boss, who's a very nice guy, did all the arranging: he purchased my train ticket, reserved my hotel, and communicated with the on-site coordinator at Korea EWP (한국동서발전—hanguk dongseo baljeon: Korea East-West Power Company). I would have to pay for the hotel and taxi fare, but KMA would pick up the tab once I presented all my receipts. All I had to do was prep my lesson, dress properly, hop on an express train, reach the site, settle in, and teach.

Here's a shot of the KTX train I took from Seoul down to Ulsan. One of the cool things about leaving Seoul on the KTX is that, if you get to the train early enough, it's usually empty. I got to my train about 30-40 minutes before departure, hence the empty car:

Below, a shot of yours truly, settling in for the two-hour ride down south.

Next, a slightly more candid shot. When I uploaded this to Instagram, I wrote something like, "You don't wanna be inside my head." Well, it's kinda true.

The trip plunged us passengers into bad weather. Conditions had been decent in Seoul, but the farther south we went, the more it pissed down rain. The weather was positively English—overcast and drenched—by the time we arrived in Ulsan. Luckily, there was a covered walkway outside of Ulsan Station, so I was able to walk to the taxi stand without having to use my umbrella. The ride from Ulsan Station to EWP was much longer than I expected (about 20 minutes), and I ended up paying almost W18,000—to be reimbursed, of course.

The EWP building was large and imposing: it felt more like a fortress or edifice or ziggurat than a simple building. Its interior was spare and clean; this was obviously a new place. I walked up to the receptionist's desk—the lady seemed kind of lonely, sitting there in the midst of all that vastness—and told her I had come to teach a class and to speak with Ms. Jeong, the coordinator assigned to help get me settled in. I was told to wait a few minutes; Ms. Jeong came down, bright and perky and speaking English quite competently, and she helped me arrange a guest pass, which I got in exchange for handing over a business card (good thing I had one!). Ms. Jeong then led me up to the second floor, through several layers of security and past dozens of CCTV cameras, to the room I'd be using for the workshop.

While waiting in the lobby, I took the following pic of EWP's slightly Konglishy motto: "We make energy for happiness." Grammatically, there's no problem with that sentence at all, but culturally, it sounds strange to a Westerner. "Happiness" doesn't seem like a serious enough concept to slap on a wall and represent the ambitions of a large, powerful corporation. Something like "Powering the future" might have been better. Then again, Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, noted that happiness is the highest human good—that state of being in which we participate for no sake other than itself. Everything else that we do in life, we do to attain happiness, Aristotle contended. It sits at the top of the hierarchy of human motivation... so perhaps, in that philosophical sense, EWP's motto is perfectly appropriate.

Here's a look at my classroom—very clean, very neat, very nicely teched out, even though my workshop wasn't designed to use any tech other than good old pen and paper. (It's a very basic, very meat-and-potatoes course that I teach.)

The only drawback with the room was the near-total lack of air conditioning. This became a problem for me over both days that I taught: I sweated my way through seven hours of course material, incessantly wiping my face with three different cloths: a paper towel and two handkerchiefs. Normally, I prefer the room temperature to be down around 22ºC (72ºF), but I think this room was at around 26ºC (about 79ºF). It was hot. I'm half-Korean, and Koreans don't sweat easily, but I failed to inherit the no-sweat DNA. I also found it ironic that a power company didn't use its abundant electricity to crank up the air conditioner. When I mentioned this jokingly to a student the following day, she laughed, "Yes; we say that EWP is the only company to tell people not to use its product!"

The first day of class went fairly well. There had been 20 people on the roll, but only 19 people showed up (including the helpful coordinator, Ms. Jeong, who also sat for the class after working so hard to prepare the room and to help me out). Class ended with applause, which I normally take to be a good sign.

Ms. Jeong very kindly called for a cab to take me to my hotel. The ride from EWP to the hotel went more quickly than the ride from the train station to the company; I noted that the hotel seemed to be in a fairly downtown-ish area. It was called the Ulsan Hotel—a name so generic that I had to wonder whether that was its actual name. It occurred to me that I might have misunderstood: maybe I was being taken to "an Ulsan hotel" and not "the Ulsan Hotel." But no: the hotel really was named Ulsan Hotel. The cabbie dropped me off after laughingly giving me shit for having lived ten years in Korea without ever having visited Ulsan before. I lumbered into the lobby, paid for my room in advance, and made my way to Room 706.

Here are three exterior shots of my hotel as I pan ever upward:

Sorry for the lack of focus in these shots; it was dark and rainy—not optimal lighting conditions for a finicky digital camera.

Here's the hallway which, luckily, wasn't all red-lit:

After I'd settled in and hooked up to the hotel's free (but slow) WiFi, I decided to head out for dinner. The hotel sat next to a rotary, in the center of which was some sort of monument. I never got a close look at it, so I don't know what it commemorated, but that's homework for my next visit to Ulsan, whenever that might be. The monument shot:

Dinner was at a local donggaseu place. The menu offered wang-donggaseu (king-sized panko-fried pork cutlet), but the pork that came out wasn't king-sized at all. Still, it was uncommonly tasty: it's easy to do donggaseu badly, and this place did it well. I probably should have ordered two plates, though.

I went back to my room, and even though I was tired after a long train ride followed by several hours of workshop activities, I still had to tutor my student, Amy, who would be contacting me via Skype. (I've written about Amy and her brother Sam here.) She's in the US, so we'd agreed to have our sessions at 10PM, Korea time, which would be 9AM, US east coast time.

The slow WiFi connection meant that our Skype talk was broken up by multiple interruptions. We ended up using Kakao Talk's voice-call function to complete the hour; I've been helping Amy prep her college-admissions essays, so we've been going through all the brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and so on. Her parents had kindly paid for ten 1-hour sessions; Amy's a really good student, and she's applying to a wide range of colleges, including one Ivy League university. I'm sure she'll get in somewhere; I hope she makes it into her dream school, which is Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

Exhausted after tutoring, I still had one more chore: I needed to wash my clothes so that I wouldn't stink the following day. I had brought along some detergent powder, so I laboriously hand-washed all my clothing in the hotel's bathroom sink. I had told the lobby receptionist that I needed a fan for quick-drying purposes; she took me to the fourth floor, where we picked up a large electric fan. After washing my clothes and torquing them to squeeze out as much water as possible, I hung them up to dry, arranging and rearranging them in such a way as to get the maximum drying effect from the fan.

Despite the fact that this was a much higher-class hotel than the yeogwans I usually use, I noted with amusement that my room had that same naughty red mood lighting for when it's sexy time. I've already blogged about this, though, so I won't repeat myself here.

I went to sleep a bit after 3AM. My clothes were nice and dry when I woke up, late, around 10AM, and hastily prepared to check out. After packing everything up and checking to make sure I hadn't missed anything, I heaved the tall, heavy electric fan back down to the fourth floor, then went down to the first floor to check out. Checkout was as simple as handing over my room key and saying goodbye. I walked out to the street and grabbed a cab to go to EWP.

Ms. Jeong once again met me in the huge building's (stronghold's) lobby. She had already prepped the classroom for the Day Two session, so there was little for me to do but start sweating again. We ate a small lunch together in the first-floor snack bar and talked a bit about ourselves; Ms. Jeong, it turns out, spent six months in Spain and speaks Spanish quite well. I teased her in class by spouting what little Spanish I knew.

Somewhat disappointingly, only about half the students came back for the second day (an early start on vacation?), and the numbers fluctuated wildly throughout the 3.5-hour workshop: we had eight people, then twelve (after a few Day One students came back an hour or so late), then eight again, then six, then eight when some stragglers who had never shown up on Day One suddenly appeared for Day Two. It was an attendance nightmare, and I don't know how much the inconstant students benefited from the course, but by the end of Day Two, there was applause again, and some students said the course had been very helpful. One student even said it had been "an honor" to learn from me; I smiled, sweat dripping down my face, and told him it had been an honor for me as well.

Although the attendance issue was a bit frustrating, I suppose there's little I can do about it: these aren't young high-schoolers or college kids; these are busy, responsible adults who are always on call, which is why they were constantly darting out of the classroom whenever their phones vibrated for attention. I'm not sure, but I might institute a no-phones policy from now on, just to cut down on all the distractions. And based on the sudden drop in student numbers from Day One to Day Two, I might recommend to my boss that, if we ever do on-site training again, we should make sure it's all done on a single day for shorter classes like mine.

Below is a shot of the electronic panel outside our classroom, which shows the room name, the course name (somewhat cut off), the student demographic, the coordinator's name, and the time during which the room had been reserved. Like KMA, EWP strikes me as a very organized, very professional place. With all of the in-building security systems, I can see why it might be important to know how long an event might take: if you come too late, the doors will probably be locked!

And at long last, a picture of Ms. Jeong herself. She was gracious enough to permit me to take this pic and upload it to my blog:

Ms. Jeong deserves a medal for all her hard work.

This next shot is clickable: click to enlarge. It's a shot of my Day Two students, who were all kind enough to give their permission for me to upload their images to my blog. I see eleven students in this picture... the twelfth had probably already wandered off. Some of the students disappeared mysteriously, without a goodbye, and never came back. This was both sad and amusing at the same time.

The students often asked interesting questions or made interesting comments. One lady noted that many of the English errors we were examining were minor in nature—did it really matter that much that we correct them? I replied that, yes, the errors were generally minor, but even tiny errors can leap out for a native speaker, and a series of such errors just compounds the problem and gives the reader an impression of incompetence. To illustrate my point, I wrote "안뇽하세요?" on the board—a misspelling of the standard "Hello" in Korean (annyeong-haseyo? roughly translates as something like, "Do you do peaceably?"—obviously, "Hello" is a much better translation, but if you're a non-Korean-speaker, you might be wondering how it is that "Hello," which is declarative in English, is rendered as a question in Korean). The whole class immediately reacted to the misspelling, even though all I had changed was a single vowel, and that's the point I drove home to my student: the small stuff does indeed matter.

One of the older gentlemen in the class, a man who occupied a rather high position in the company, seemed to light up on Day One after we had gone through my unit on logical fallacies (my course is based on Aristotle's notion of rhetoric which, for Aristotle, contains three elements: ethos, pathos, and logos, i.e., authoritativeness, emotional force, and logic; it was during the logos section that we reviewed ten common fallacies)... but for him, the important thing wasn't to avoid committing the fallacies, but to learn how to keep an opponent off-balance by using the fallacies as a weapon to distract and confuse. Not exactly the lesson I'd hoped he would take from my course material, but I had to laugh. The same gentleman also excitedly parsed some recent speeches by Korean politicians, using the fallacies he'd just learned about to note that those speeches contained a fair amount of bullshit. I'd say that's true for most politicians, be they American, Korean, or whoever.

Anyway, the course is done. This was either KMA's first attempt at teaching an on-site workshop, or it was among the first attempts. I was, essentially, an ambassador for KMA; how well or poorly I was received by EWP's workers would reflect on KMA as a company and would determine whether KMA did more such on-site classes. Overall, I'd say the experience was positive. I thoroughly enjoyed my students, who were all marvelous—yes, even the ones who eventually disappeared, or who were constantly distracted by their cell phones. If EWP ever invites me back to teach another course for them, I'll be more than happy to do so. I had a great time in Ulsan, and it's sad that my time was so brief.

The course finished at 5PM on Day Two; I cabbed back to Ulsan Station and hopped onto the 6:22PM KTX bullet train back to Seoul. The trip took longer going north than it had going south; we didn't get back until a little after 8:30PM. I ate at the Seoul Station Burger King, then made my way to Gwanghwamun to take the bus back to Goyang City. By the time I got off the bus, it was after 11PM, and I was once again dead tired.

Here's a (clickable) shot of a huge, electronic Korean flag, which was on display on the building directly across the street from the front of Seoul Station. This August 15 is gwangbok-jeol, or Liberation Day (alternatively known as Independence Day). It's special because, this year, Korea celebrates its 70th year of freedom from Japanese tyranny.

Ulsan is a major port city, like Pohang and Busan. I didn't get to see much of the city during this trip, but I'm intrigued enough to want to come again. And if the EWP staffers I'd met during my course were any indication, then I came away with a good impression of the people of Ulsan as well. I'm sure I'll be back down here someday.

*I cannot emphasize enough how much I love working for KMA. It's a very professional organization that, I think, is one of the rare places that pays people what they're worth (so take that, Karl Marx, you fucking asshole). KMA lays out its teaching calendar at the beginning of every calendar year, so I know almost all of my teaching dates well in advance. True: this Ulsan gig wasn't on the original calendar, but KMA had told me about the gig back in May or June, so I had plenty of time to mentally prepare. I hate working for a disorganized, unprofessional, zigzaggy company that doesn't seem to know where it's heading. KMA is easily the best gig I've ever done on a steady basis. It's reliable, and it pays reliably, too—no foot-dragging, no indefinite answers when it comes to pay dates, etc.


Friday, August 14, 2015


Some frustration with USCIS: I've been faithfully tracking my FOIA request's progress up the queue. On August 11, we hit a snag. Here's the timeline:

7/20/15: 1346 of 1645
7/22/15: 1344 of 1669
7/24/15: 1266 of 1678
7/29/15: 1050 of 1764
7/31/15: 858 of 1665
8/3/15: 625 of 1547
8/6/15: 615 of 1620
8/7/15: 575 of 1641
8/9/15: 139 of 273
8/11/15: 154 of 264
8/14/15: 169 of 417

As you see, beginning August 11, I started moving down the queue instead of up the queue. I'm so close to the end, too, which makes this infinitely frustrating. The feeling is similar to what happens when you're watching a progress bar on your computer: the bar zips from 0% to 99% completion in the blink of an eye... then it hovers forever at 99%, for no good reason at all, as you stare impotently and will the progress bar to reach 100%. Progress bars are not to be trusted, and neither, apparently, is USCIS.

To add insult to injury: I sent an email to USCIS to ask why this retrograde motion might be happening, and for the first time ever, I got an automated reply. Up to now, when I've emailed the gargantuan bureaucracy, a human being has responded (surprisingly quickly) to my queries. No longer. And the timing is suspicious, especially for a paranoid person like me: I had suspected that something weird was going to happen as I got closer to the top of the list, and boom—sure enough, Murphy's Law has kicked in, and the humans have all disappeared, replaced by machines. Annoying, and not unexpected.

My application was put on what USCIS calls "Track One," which supposedly takes 41 business days. In theory, then, I could hover at this same spot in the queue until later September or early October. Here's hoping that doesn't happen: I can't tell you how fervently I want that F-4 visa. It's so close I can taste it.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

and now I know

My boss told me he'd gone out of his way to put me up in a "nice" hotel in Ulsan—something a cut above the usual nasty yeogwan fare.

In all seriousness, naughty mood lighting notwithstanding, the hotel I'm in is indeed much nicer than the typical W30,000-a-night yeogwan.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015


I probably won't write about my experience in Ulsan until after I get back to Seoul, so please hold your water until then.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

off to Ulsan tomorrer

KMA is sending me away to Ulsan, down southeast, for a rare on-site instructional session that'll be going on for two days. I'll be teaching my usual seven-hour persuasive-writing course that I'd designed for KMA (3.5 hours each day); it's not a top seller, but students apparently find it challenging, and instead of requesting a more well-known course, like "Presentation Skills," the company in Ulsan wanted mine.

My understanding is that there may be something riding on whether I can deliver the goods: mine is the first-ever course to be conducted on site and not at our KMA office in Yeouido, central Seoul. My boss is trusting me, despite the fact that his instincts tell him my course should be flashier: Korean-style courses often feature a pile of multimedia crap (think: PowerPoint), whereas my course is very old-school, very meat-and-potatoes and paper-driven. I don't even need my laptop, but I'm bringing it, anyway, because I have to tutor via Skype tomorrow evening from inside my hotel room. Teaching during the day... tutoring at night... you know, for a supposed vacation, this summer has been rather busy.

My KMA boss was very nice; he told me the company would be footing the bill for train, taxi, and hotel expenses; they'd also pay for up to W8,000 for a meal (ha ha: I eat way more than that). My boss told me he found a largish, nicely furnished hotel—not your typical pube yeogwan. I have to pay the hotel bill myself, but KMA will reimburse everything once I show my credit-card receipts. The train tickets, by contrast, have already been paid for; all I have to do is get to Seoul Station on time for the KTX ride south.

So I'm up early in the morning, boarding a train, getting off at Ulsan, taxiing to the on-site location, teaching until about 7PM the first evening, taxiing to my hotel, grabbing dinner, tutoring a student, waking up and eating a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, taxiing back to the company, teaching the second half of my course, then taking the train back to Seoul that same evening. Talk about a whirlwind tour. But it ought to be fun.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Mike and Bill duke it out

The title of this post isn't a reference to the multitalented Bill Duke.

Think back about a month to when everyone had their panties in a bunch about the Confederate flag, slavery, and the causes and effects of the Civil War (stubbornly referred to, by the losers, as "The War Between the States" or "The War of Northern Aggression"). In early July, my buddy Mike wrote a post in which he strongly claimed that, while there were several issues involved in the Civil War, the most fundamental one was slavery. Meanwhile, over at his own blog, and a couple days before Mike's post, my friend Bill Keezer had written two important posts about the Civil War: "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Again on the Confederacy."

The historical knowledge necessary even to participate in this discussion is far beyond me, but a quick summation of Bill's and Mike's positions might be that Mike boils the causes of the Civil War down to slavery (in his defense, I'll say that Mike is at pains not to oversimplify the problem, but he is clear on what he sees as the fundamental, overriding issue); Bill, meanwhile, espouses a more states'-rights view of what prompted the war. In a discussion of the causes of the Civil War, this is traditionally where the starkest lines of debate are drawn.

After Mike had written his July 12 post, linked above, Bill left a comment, as did several other right-leaning folks, almost all of whom disagreed with Mike's interpretation of the forces and circumstances that caused the country to plunge into the Civil War. Well, Mike has responded to these responses, and he's not budging from his original position. As I said, this debate has rapidly moved beyond the point where I can do anything other than observe, nod, and furrow my brow. I've always been terrible with history, and I simply don't possess the mental Rolodex that's necessary to marshal facts for an exchange like this. That said, I invite you to read all the posts I've linked to above, and if you feel moved to comment, then please do so.


the last two things I will ever cook here

I'm guessing that, this week or next, I'm going to be told by the Golden Goose that I've been hired. I'll probably move into my new place almost immediately after receiving that news. With so little time left, I need to start thinking about packing everything up, but before I do that, I want to have one last hurrah. Actually, two last hurrahs: I want to cook a couple more dishes before I pack up my ovens and turn off my studio's electric range forever.

Those last two dishes?

1. Fried-halloumi cheese sticks.

2. A big-ass, Kevin-style bánh mì.

The fried halloumi shouldn't be hard to do: I simply need to buy flour, some eggs, and panko. I'll create a dry-wet-dry breading station, set myself up for a nice pan fry, and Bob's your uncle, mate. Simple. Easy. Accessible.

The bánh mì, however, is going to be a twist on the sandwich I recently ate. Two major differences: (1) I'll be using an actual baguette—most likely of the modest-sized flûte persuasion, because that'll be slightly closer to what's used in Vietnam—and (2) I'll be adding liver pâté along with the pulled pork.

I'm heading out to Ulsan for a Wednesday-Thursday teaching gig, so the earliest this is going to happen will be Friday.

Des photos à suivre, comme toujours.


bagels vs. baguettes

I'm no expert on the making and eating of bagels, so I won't get too long-winded about them in this post. The bagels I've eaten have tended to be dense and heavy—you get a lot of bang for the buck. When someone makes a sandwich using a bagel as the bread, a single sandwich is generally enough for me; I can't even imagine trying to eat a foot-long sub whose bread is as dense as a bagel. If you toast a bagel, or split it in half and pan-fry the halves with butter, you're left with a little torus of pure carbohydrate joy. A bagel is fun.

A well-made baguette is also fun, although in a completely different way. If a bagel is masculine in nature, a baguette is feminine: its tough, crusty, and often-flaky outside is in no way a reflection of the delicate subtlety that characterizes its inside. A bagel is dense enough to use as a weapon; a baguette's crust would shatter if you employed it as a baseball bat.

And that's what I've come to conclude about bagels and baguettes: they're polar opposites. A freshly baked baguette is a combination of two principal textures—a brittle exterior and a gossamer interior. Bagels, by contrast, are unsophisticated creatures: they have no crust to speak of—just a smooth-boiled exterior—and their texture is consistent through and through. With a bagel, what you see is what you get—as obvious as a penis dangling out of an open fly. A baguette, meanwhile, hides its subtle interior inside a forbidding, shielded exterior: think of its crust as the labia majora, gatekeepers for the soft, warm, moist, and steamy labia minora.

I love both bagels and baguettes, but I have to admit that I love baguettes more. If you were to put both types of bread in front of me, and then you asked me to choose, I'd choose the baguette every single time. To reiterate, though: I love bagels, too. I would never say no to one. But I'd say yes faster to a baguette.


they're dead, Jim

I've chucked my basil plants, which had withered under the merciless blast of my air conditioner. Basil plants are supposed to bask in a hot, sunny, Mediterranean climate. I couldn't give them that. I also discovered just how long it took to grow basil to maturity (a couple months), and how little yield there was for the effort.

Buying and raising plants was a mistake. From now on, I'm buying basil leaves at need from Costco, which sells them in large plastic packs.