Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I feel Charles's pain

My buddy Charles just published a post in which he noted a certain lack of motivation to write. True: sometimes it's hard to summon up the mighty ball juice to put something out there. Tonight, at least, I think I know how he feels, although perhaps for different reasons. Charles says that he asks himself whether what he has to say is worth saying out loud, and the answer is often "no." If anything, he finds himself biting his tongue or, as he puts it, self-censoring. In my case, I have plenty of (generally stupid) shit to say, but because I now work corporate hours, I find myself coming home tired, lapping only halfheartedly at Thalia's crotch whenever I sit down to blog, bathing in a sad, stingy trickle of her inspiration-juice.

But fear not, Charles, for we are men, and these things always move in cycles. What is limp now will be tumescent in good time, and when our ardor quickens and the gleam comes again to our eye, we will prowl the meadow of fresh ideas that lies open and sunlit before us, seizing by the neck every unsuspecting prairie dog that dares to pop out, impaling those little bastards on our oak-hard shafts. And when one prairie dog has been death-fucked, its creative essence now a lubricant for our rigid exultation, we'll move on to the next—and to the next—and TO THE NEXT—until we are wearing prairie-dog condoms! And when the last prairie dog has been sent screaming to hell, we'll run madly through the fields, our creativity-boners preceding us like swollen, bouncing knights' lances, fair maidens leaping and squealing and grabbing at our fur-covered manhoods as we streak by, faster than thought itself.

And on that propitious day, good friend, we shall write.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes and other news

I've gotten my new mailing address listed on iHerb, now that I've moved, and I celebrated the address change by ordering three bottles' worth of psyllium-fiber capsules (for great justice). I've also done an address change for Wi Mae Peu (We Make Price), the delivery company that had proven to be such a pain in the ass in the past. Ideally, now that I have a stable address that can accept large parcels in my absence, I shouldn't have the same troubles anymore. WMP's prices really are much cheaper than those at most brick-and-mortar stores, so I'd like to get back to using them.

In other news: I had ordered, back in mid-August, a "licensing kit" to get myself licensed and registered as a minister able to solemnize marriages in the state of West Virginia. The kit had arrived at my brother David's house, and David sent the package to me care of Dongguk University on August 24th. Over the past 30-plus days, I've contacted Dongguk several times and have heard nothing. I've also tried contacting USPS via its online query/complaint forms, but so far nada, and I'm getting antsy. My brother Sean's wedding is in just another couple of weeks. I've reordered the kit and have asked David to scan the documents inside it so that he can email them to me, after which I'll fill out the docs and email them to the appropriate county clerk and the Secretary of State of West Virginia. In theory, that'll all be done this week, and I'll be able to enjoy a stress-free flight back to the States in mid-October.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

your Chuseok morsel for the evening

Prosciutto. Wrapped around three thin slices of Romano.

Microwaved for a full minute.

Result: flavorful ensemble, delightfully chewy meat, and wonderfully crunchy cheese.

Downside: your apartment will stink.

Happy Chuseok, all.


"Big Hero 6" and "The Hundred-foot Journey": mini-reviews

2014's "Big Hero 6": There's very little I can say about this movie that hasn't already been said by Steve Honeywell in his review. Steve zooms in on the movie's essential problem: while the story is affable and entertaining, it's also derivative and predictable. I completely agree. Humorously scripted and done with excellent voice work by the cast, the movie nevertheless fails in its attempt to head-fake us about who the real villain is. I figured out who it was long before the reveal, mainly because the dialogue had been leaning so hard in the opposite direction. As for the derivative elements: look for images straight out of "Kung Fu Panda," "The Matrix," and "How to Train Your Dragon," and watch out for the Iron-Man-beyond-the-space-portal scene that looks lifted from the first "Avengers" movie. This film is also, strangely enough, a Marvel tie-in (it's based on a Marvel comic), so there are plenty of familiar origin-story elements. What the movie gets right, though, is its gentle depiction of how to deal with the loss of a loved one, so it can't be all bad. That said, I have no inclination to watch "Big Hero 6" again anytime soon, and it's weird to think that these cartoon characters are all an integral part of the Marvel universe. Will Groot ever meet Baymax?

"The Hundred-foot Journey" is the story of an Indian family that, for reasons of political strife in the homeland, moves first to England, then to France, in search of a place to put down roots and open an Indian restaurant. The family settles on a property, in the middle of a picturesque French village, that sits exactly one hundred feet across the street from a Michelin-rated restaurant run by the imperious widow Madame Mallory (Dame Helen Mirren). What begins as a bitter rivalry between the two restaurants becomes a friendship—but you knew this going in because you've already seen the preview trailer, which basically gives away the entire movie. As with "Big Hero 6," the plot is entirely predictable. Dame Helen also seems to be struggling with her French; she speaks it with a heavy British accent. As fupomus go (my own term for the "food-porn movie" sub-genre), "Journey" is more self-conscious than "Chef" was—more self-conscious and a lot less fun. I also had trouble understanding why everyone who spoke French would keep alternating between French and English, even when they didn't have to. These complaints aside, "Journey" is a well-intended movie. Not deep or memorable, but not bad as a form of light entertainment—more amuse-bouche than plat principal.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

good save?

I'm running on about an hour of sleep as I'd pulled an all-nighter last night, so this blog entry will be fairly brief, I hope.

Disaster struck early this morning when my spaghetti sauce burned. Chalk it up to inattentiveness caused by drowsiness. I had also been cooking meatballs at the boss's request, and while the sauce had been compromised, the meatballs turned out to be surprisingly excellent. So—change of plan: instead of serving pasta, I elected to do meatball subs. This meant hitting a bakery and grabbing a shitty baguette. The boss, meanwhile, felt that a single baguette wouldn't be enough, so he lumbered downstairs and found some fresh-baked hoagie rolls that were only a step away from being Vietnamese-style personal-sized bánh mì baguettes. They proved to be the perfect size for my meatballs. I also quickly bought a bottled tomato sauce from the grocer in our office building's basement. This was to give the meatballs a bath in which to sit while they were being reheated in our office's microwave. That was a revelation to me: I'd had no clue that the first-floor bakery made and sold hoagie rolls. Are there enough Westerners in the area to justify making such explicitly Western bread?

The original plan had been to have my boss and my coworker over for lunch, but I scrapped that plan in favor of feeding all three of us at the office (because this is Chuseok Saturday, no one else from the company was there). I think this worked out better for everyone, and it was easy for me to tote my lunch materials to the office in my large Costco shopping bag. The real question, of course, was whether the revised lunch would be a success.

I think it was. My coworker told me it was the best lunch he'd had since he'd gone on his recent vacation cruise (which took the cake, for him, mainly because of the vast panoply of food options on offer); my boss merely rumbled, "I'm full" after downing his meatball sub. Lunch also included insalata caprese, but the basil leaves had turned a horrifying dark green because I had stored the salad too high inside the fridge: the proximity to the freezer had caused the leaves to darken. The salad still tasted fine, but the texture suffered a bit.

For dessert, I had also bought a Paris Baguette cheesecake. As I've mentioned before, I think cheesecake is one of the few bakery items that Koreans do better than Americans. I'd pick Korean cheesecake over American any day of the week: it's lighter and fluffier, but still cheesecake-y enough to be recognizable as cheesecake. Costco's American-style cheesecake, by contrast, is heavy and lugubrious, and getting through two slices of it is an actual chore. Today, at the office, we had cheesecake for dessert, topped with my homemade berry sauce. Like it says in Genesis, And it was good.

Some pics of today's lunch. Below, my boss's sandwich before the Great Cheesing:

Next—the same sandwich with Parmesan cheese on it. The meatballs themselves are ground beef with egg, salt and pepper, plus dried parsley, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese. I didn't have bread crumbs at hand, but it turns out that you don't need them: the cheese and egg are sufficient as binding agents. I've filed that fact for future reference.

Another glimpse of a meatball sub:

Below, plump meatballs swimming in a bowl of red sauce:

Next up: a picture of my own sandwich

Finally, dessert:


Friday, September 25, 2015

gearing up

So I'm feeding lunch to two big, hungry guys tomorrow. Gonna cook until well past midnight, clean my place, sleep a few winks, get up early in the morning, finish prepping, go to work, yawn my way through several chapters of proofreading, feed my boss and coworker lunch, then collapse bonelessly onto my lovely bed and catch up on all the sleep I'll have missed. I won't worry bout cleanup until I've had a nice afternoon's (and possibly evening's) snooze.

Ought to be fun. There might even be photos.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

spaghetti it is, then

My boss has told us that we need to come in this Saturday for a half-day's extra work on a textbook project. This will involve massive proofreading of hard copies of the manuscript (I've already stayed late—twice this week—proofing the electronic files, which got sent off to our printer, who will be sending us hard copies to look over tomorrow and Saturday), so that's mostly on me, as I'm the resident proofreader/editor, although the boss and my coworker will be sharing the workload.

I had thought about cooking a pre-Chuseok meal for the boss and my coworker (let's just call them The Men from now on), so I emailed them last night to ask about their meal preferences since we all have to work an extra half-day on Saturday. (Before I found out we had Saturday work to do, I had originally wanted to know whether The Men would be up for a Friday meal served in the office. When Saturday was put on the table, I changed the day to Saturday, and the boss suggested we have the meal at my place as a sort of housewarming-ish party.)

I offered the following selection:

1. spaghetti bolognese + caprese salad
2. American-style Chinese cashew chicken + oi-kimchi
3. chicken and pasta with pesto + caprese
4. Southern comfort food: pulled-pork sandwiches, cole slaw, sweet frank-and-beans
5. choucroute alsacienne (wurst/meats + sauerkraut + apples + potatoes, all cooked in beer)
6. budae-jjigae + rice + oi-kimchi (or Korean-style slaw)
7. Tex-Mex: taco salad

Today, the boss said he's partial to the bolognese—but with meatballs—while my coworker said he was fine with whatever, as long as there was no seafood involved.

So—bolognese on Saturday it is: The Men will be coming over to my place for a sort of housewarming-ish party, and we'll eat a late lunch of spaghetti bolognese, insalata caprese, some sort of Korean slaw that takes advantage of the ton of apples I'd been given as a Chuseok gift, garlic bread, and God only knows what else.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

starting home soon

Worked late again, but I got the project finished, and now I'm on my way home. My boss mysteriously said, "No good deed goes unrecognized," so I'm expecting wine and slinky dancing girls in my near future.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A/C: final(?) update

Back home. Left the office at 10PM.

The little elves came by this afternoon and basically ripped out my old wall-mounted A/C, replacing it with a spanking-new unit (by Carrier, no less—an American brand). I assume they replaced the hallway unit as well. Either way, the air is blowing cold and lovely in my place, for which I'm very grateful. My boss is also going to see about getting me a refund on the W12,000 I paid this past Sunday—a fee I should never have had to pay.

So God is in His heaven and all is right with the world. For now.


here late

I've racked up over 10,000 steps just at work alone, but that's partly because I'm stuck in the office until later tonight: we're working on a rushed project given to us at the last minute (sound familiar to anyone else who lives in Korea?), and I've got to get a shitload done tonight, then come in tomorrow and stay late again until the whole damn thing is done. The reward at the end of all this is that we might get Tuesday off, along with Monday, for Chuseok weekend. (I did, however, hear rumors that our company would be granting Tuesday to its workers all the same, so being granted a Tuesday that's already being given isn't much of a reward. How about Wednesday off, too, Boss?)


Monday, September 21, 2015

A/C update... updated

My company's building manager (whom I met in the lobby this evening, and who was a wee bit tipsy) will be invading my apartment tomorrow around 2PM, while I'm at work. He and a third A/C guy will be there,* presumably to replace the old, outdated, malfunctioning unit that sits across the hall from me, hidden from view by heavy, louvered shielding.

It's like a riddle, isn't it? "How many Koreans does it take to fix an A/C?" Thus far, the answer seems to be five: (1) the A/C service guy who works inside our building, and who passed the buck along; (2) the Samsung guy who came yesterday, did nothing, and declared the hallway unit would need to be replaced; (3) the guy at HR whom I had emailed regarding my situation; (4) the building manager, whom I just met downstairs; and (5) the other repair guy who, presumably, will be replacing the old hallway unit, per the Samsung guy's prophecy.

Shall we go for six? How many other people can we involve?

This is a country in which things almost never go linearly from A to B. My boss told me his horror story late last week: his car began to overheat while he was driving along; he pulled off and called his go-to service center for help. As it turned out, he hadn't placed the gas cap on his radiator correctly, so the liquid had boiled and the cap had popped off and disappeared. No more cap. All my boss needed was for someone to drive out with a new cap and some water (or whatever) to stick in the radiator. This simple request proved almost impossible to fulfill.

"We don't have radiator caps," my boss was told by the go-to service guy.

"Can't you drive around and find an auto shop that sells them? I'll pay," replied my boss.

"Uh... we'll send a tow truck to tow your car to a center that has radiator caps and water," said the go-to service guy.

That's the Korean way: make the work five times harder than it needs to be.

More on (yeah... moron) this air-conditioned comedy as it happens.

The BM (heh) also told me that I'd start receiving bills next month, and that my first bill would be a bit jacked up because its pay period will include all of September plus a few days in August. Not a problem; I'd already been warned about the "admin fee" that I'd be charged for living here; it'll normally come to around W150,000 or W200,000, which is a damn sight better than paying $500-$800 a month for rent.

*I had to send HR my door-lock entry code so that the guys can get in tomorrow. I hate doing that because it means I have to change the code yet again. The first time around, the building manager helped me with setting the code, but he did so by asking me that code I was going to use, then typing that four-digit number onto a notepad on his cell phone. So after he left, I sifted through the Korean instructions on the door lock and figured out, for myself, how to change the code again. I did so, but now I have to reveal that code to these jokers. Very annoying. I'm running out of clever four-digit numbers. (And yes, I realize that I can make longer code strings than four digits, but using "8675309" seems rather trite. Maybe I could go for "e": 2.718281828459045. Or maybe a Fibonacci sequence. Or perhaps Dolly Parton's measurements from when she was in her prime...?)


Sunday, September 20, 2015

A/C update

I had to pay W12,000 for the visit from the A/C repair guy. He didn't fix anything, either: he checked my apartment's wall-mounted unit, then he checked the larger unit out in the hallway, which is where he discovered that the hallway unit (the shil-wae-gi, i.e., the room-outside-machine), being twenty years old, had finally given up the ghost. The fan was no longer working, and neither was the compressor. He said the machine wasn't even worth repairing, so he called a service center to have the thing replaced. I asked him when this would happen; he lamely replied that he had told the center to replace the unit quickly, and that was all he could say about the time frame. So I'm out W12,000, nothing has happened, and I don't know when the damn unit's going to be replaced. The joys of living in an old building.


The Martian: review


death on Mars, "Total Recall" (1990)

Death on Mars can't be a pleasant prospect. The planet has an atmosphere, but only just barely. Scientists describe that thin layer of gas as a near-vacuum. It may well be that Mars was once teeming with life—or, at least, it was a planet covered in water. The evidence of that water is all over: there are imprints resembling channels, deltas, rivers, and possibly even oceans. But now, the world is dead. We've been to Mars via probes and rovers, and up to now there's been no sign of life. Mars is arid and frozen, and dying on its surface would be a bleak death, indeed.

Self-described science nerd Andy Weir's get-me-home novel The Martian is the futuristic story of Ares Mission astronaut Mark Watney, who wakes up after a disaster to find himself alone on Mars. His team abandoned him for solid, plausible reasons: there had been a storm; NASA had scrubbed the mission after only six "sols" (Martian days); Watney had been struck by flying equipment; the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) had been tilting dangerously in the wind, threatening to strand the entire team; Watney's suit had stopped broadcasting life signs. All evidence pointed to Watney's death, and a fruitless search by teammates would have led to more deaths than just Watney's. The man was alone—Mars' sole citizen.

The rest of the story, initially told purely from Watney's point of view (he keeps some sort of journal), is about Watney's efforts to survive, to reestablish contact with NASA on Earth, and to get home. Watney is a botanist, and one of his main priorities is to grow enough food to survive for however long it will take for NASA either to send supplies or to send a rescue team. That could mean years. How do you grow potato crops when Martian soil has no bacteria? For that matter, there are other survival issues to face: how do you keep yourself supplied with potable water? If your CO2 scrubbers are unusable once they're saturated, how do you get rid of excess CO2? If you've lost communication with Earth, what can you do to reestablish it? If you're trying to navigate across a barren, flat planetary surface with no obvious landmarks, what celestial guideposts are there?

Weir's novel is a testament to his science-nerd status. He has obviously thought through almost every detail of what an actual, manned mission to Mars would be like, from the equipment used to the problems one might face, to the jury-rigged solutions one might conjure up in response to problems caused by either the Martian environment or by one's own mistakes. Weir covers it all in very readable technical prose interspersed with flashes of Watney's humor and wit. The tone of the novel feels almost like something Michael Crichton could have written, but without becoming cartoonishly ridiculous or overly didactic.

Is it really a surprise, or a spoiler, to learn that Watney makes it back? Americans can't seem to write space-disaster stories that end in tragedy. The movie "Apollo 13" is a prime example of this (granted, it's based on a true story); so is the film "Gravity." Both of these are movies about just making it home after everything has gone to hell. In Watney's case, his personal mission involved surviving for more than eighteen months on the surface of the Red Planet, eating nothing but vitamins and potatoes, and bathing almost not at all.

After the first few chapters, the novel startlingly changes from first-person narrative to omniscient third-person so that we can be privy to what's happening on Earth. Watney gets most of his help from NASA, but the Chinese also elect to scrub a mission they had spent years preparing for in order to give the United States a much-needed booster rocket to launch supplies. Watney's team is initially kept in the dark about the fact that Watney is still alive, but the team members end up being crucial to rescuing Watney as they turn their ship, the Hermes, around to do a Mars flyby in the hope of catching their abandoned teammate while he's launching off the Martian surface.

For a story that covers over eighteen months, The Martian moves along at a steady clip, and we share Watney's mounting excitement and dread as he finally reaches the Ares 4 MAV, strips it of all nonessential weight, and launches himself off the planetary surface. Despite the foregone conclusion, Weir keeps our interest. My only real complaint is that I would like to have seen the story told exclusively from Watney's point of view, but I can understand why Weir shifted perspective throughout the book: there's simply too much story to tell, and it won't all fit inside one man's perspective.

The movie version of this novel, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon as Watney, is coming out in Korea soon. I'll be curious to see how Hollywood handles all the science nerdery. Weir wrote his novel in a "hard science fiction" vein, i.e., he wrote with a deep respect for actual physics. Hollywood, with its penchant for "Hollywood physics," could very well muck this up. Here's hoping that that doesn't happen.

A/C problems everywhere

Not only was the A/C in our office on the fritz: the A/C in my apartment decided it no longer wanted to blow cold air. A repair guy is coming over at 10:20AM today to see what he can do. If the repairman has any common sense, he'll bring along coolant and whatever tools he needs to make the coolness happen. If he has no common sense (as I suspect will be the case), he'll come with just a tool belt, scratch his head when he sees the problem, and leave again to go grab whatever he needs. Worst-case scenario: he tells me he'll have to come back another day, thus leaving me to stew in my greenhouse of an apartment for several days.

But I'll hope for the best. It could be that the guy will be a miracle worker on the order of Mr. Scott on the Enterprise, and he'll solve the problem in five minutes.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

hanbok 2: the Uzbek coda

Shopping for a hanbok with Anterior Cruciate Ligament proved to be quick and easy... but mainly because I stopped the shopping after the second store we visited. If ACL had had her way, we would have spent hours going around to ten different stores. I'm not that patient of a shopper, and I viscerally despise clothing shopping because Mom traumatized me as a child, repeatedly dragging me all over northern Virginia's Springfield Mall to find clothes that would fit my growing body. In that phase of my life, I grew to hate those shopping trips with a passion, much the way pets hate being taken to the veterinarian. So today I was happy when, on our second try, we found a store—one floor above the first store—that was selling tailored hanboks for almost half the price. We went from W450,000 to W250,000 plus tax.

The two hanbok photos below come from our assay at the first store, so you're not seeing the hanbok that I'll eventually be wearing for Sean's wedding. The official hanbok will be slightly darker. The price tag includes not only the outer garment, but also the inner shirt, the pants, and whatever ceremonial belt or sash will be used to keep the hanbok securely closed.

ACL commented that I looked like a priest, and that's sort of the effect I'm going for: I'm using traditional clothing to evoke something ecclesiastical. Given that most of the wedding guests will know little to nothing about Korean culture, the hanbok's wow factor ought to be enough to get people in a properly serious mindset.

After I had been measured by the cooing ajumma (who said I needed to do some TV work for EBS Broadcasting) and had paid for the outfit, which will be available for pickup this coming October 3, ACL and I left the hanbok shop and wandered over to Saeun Sangga, the electric-and-electronics market that stretches from Jongno to Cheonggyae. I bought another tiny electric fan to take over to my office (ACL batted her eyelashes and somehow got the fan seller to cut another W1,000 off the already-cheap price for the fan), and then I got two screw-adjustable pipe clamps (two for W1,000) that would allow me, finally, to clamp my plastic tube to the A/C drain hose in my bathroom.

I had thought about taking a cab over to Samarkand, but ACL said, "Let's walk!"—so walk we did. ACL bought two large water bottles along the way; she laughed as I sweatily downed mine with the desperate alacrity of a thirsty camel. Koreans almost never sweat.

I had proposed Samarkand as the place to go for an early dinner, and had copied some directions that I had found online. Those directions proved to be extremely poorly written, but they got us to within a couple hundred yards of the place. ACL finally sniffed some foreign food and, following her nose, found the alleyway where Samarkand was located.

The place was empty when we went in. Normally, that's not a good sign, but I'd read too much about what a popular spot this was to think that Samarkand had suddenly lost its reputation. (And as if to confirm that, several groups of Koreans did come into the restaurant later on.) We took a seat in the middle of the small dining area to enjoy the A/C's breeze, then looked at the menu. I had already done some homework as to what the most popular dishes were among the expats, and they are these:

samsa: meat-stuffed pastry, somewhere between a Cornish pasty and an Indian samosa
golubsty: meat-stuffed boiled cabbage leaves
shaslik: skewers of grilled meat
chizbif or chizbiz: french fries topped with fried(?) lamb
pelmeni: meat dumplings
plov: supposedly the national dish, which is basically lamb on rice

Some of the above dishes are visible below:

We ended up ordering the samsa (which ACL didn't eat), the golubsty, the chizbif, and a small loaf of Uzbek bread, which tasted almost exactly like the Afghan bread with which I'm familiar. ACL liked the bread but thought it was too dry. I thought it could have been split in half and fried up with some butter, but I enjoyed the taste all the same, dryness notwithstanding. We ended up dipping the bread into the golubsty juices.

Below is a picture of half of the samsa I'd ordered. It came with a red sauce that I had expected to be spicy, but which ended up being strangely sweet and maybe a bit tomato-y. I spooned it over my samsa, and the whole thing was quite good, although also a bit dry because the meat stuffing itself wasn't liquidy.

I could hear my mother's voice telling me to eat my veggies, so I ordered a salad of tomato, cucumber, and thin-sliced onion; I ended up eating most of this. ACL nibbled, but otherwise concentrated on her chizbif.

The salad:

I wish I had thought to check the focus before taking the following picture of the golubsty, a dish I really enjoyed. The lack of focus makes this dish look like a horrifying bowl of puke, but it's actually quite tasty, thanks mainly to the meat. That red thing is a meat-stuffed tomato.

Below, the star of the show: I think ACL and I both agreed that this was the best dish—the chizbif, i.e., grilled or fried lamb atop french fries. Every bite of the lamb made me want to wrap it in a salty, buttery pita, pile on some feta, tomatoes, lettuce, and tzatziki, and have myself a gyro. It was great lamb; ACL kept feeding it to me. In Greece, gyros are often served with french fries as part of the stuffing inside the pita. The Uzbek dish gave off a very strong gyro vibe, but at the same time, I didn't feel that anything was missing from the dish, if you know what I mean. The chizbif evoked something, but was also its own thing.

Finally, below, a shot of the dry-but-tasty bread.

I was stuffed by the end of that meal. Somehow, skinny ACL and fat Kevin both managed to plow through it all. I was so stuffed, alas, that my stomach started screaming, and I had to cancel my plan to go back to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza to cadge some crêpes from the crêpe guy. Instead, ACL and I walked to the nearby subway station and parted ways when I reached the restroom. It was a sad and silly way to part company, but biology is insistent, and my coiled, writhing guts can be more demanding than any spoiled girlfriend.

So on October 3, I have to go back to the hanbok store to pick up my clothing. I had started off wanting to obtain a rental hanbok, but there weren't any in my size, and all rentals would have involved tailoring, which would have been expensive, anyway. Luckily, the place ACL found was cheaper, by far, than the first place we'd hit, and I'm happy with the price I paid. I had prepared myself to go as high as a million won for a hanbok; I'm glad it didn't come to that.


hanbok shopping

Today, I'm meeting a lady friend to go hanbok shopping. This ought to be fun. My buddy JW strongly advised me to rent, and not buy, a hanbok because, as he said, I wouldn't end up wearing it that often, anyway. We'll be starting our hunt for clothing in Gwangjang Market, possibly moving toward some of the clothiers in Dongdaemun, then finishing up with an early dinner at a highly recommended Uzbek restaurant called Samarkand. Along the way, I need to buy an electric fan for my office, given that our A/C is out.

I had first heard of Samarkand while working at Dongguk; some colleagues had mentioned it. I've since seen some online reviews of the place by expats, all of whom agree on the deliciousness and the cheapness of the culinary experience. It's too bad I don't drink: Samarkand apparently also sells certain vodkas at a tenth of the going rate found in Korean restaurants. Not to worry: I hope to try a wide sampling of Samarkand's meat dishes—samsa, golubsty, shaslik, chizbif, pelmeni, and plov. I think I'll pass on the borscht, thanks.


Friday, September 18, 2015

death and reincarnation

My cell phone's pedometer decided that today would be the day for it to pull a Ben Kenobi and just—poof—disappear into the Force. One moment, it was there; the next moment, gone. This was simultaneously annoying, disconcerting, and frustrating to me, but the program vanished from all my lists and menus, so there's no recovering it.

I got right to finding a replacement via Google Play, and I settled on the Google Fit exercise app, which seemed simple and straightforward. It actually lacks a lot of the functionality of the dearly departed native Samsung app, but all I care about is the pedometer, which seems more or less accurate. I had racked up around 3,600 steps before the Samsung app disappeared; with the Google Fit app, I logged another 4,709 steps. This is what I expected to log, i.e., about 8,000 steps just while I'm at work. I took the subway home today, but if I had walked home, that would have added another 3,000 steps (it's a thirty-minute walk, and I walk at a rate of 100 steps a minute) for a total of approximately 11,000 steps. Another hour of walking, and I'd be averaging 17,000 steps a day on weekdays. Some of that hour-long walk could be partway up Daemosan, given the steep way that the trail begins.*

So how did I rack up all those steps while at work? I walked a five-minute lap around my building for every twenty-five minutes of work, i.e., 500 steps a shot. (See my recent "frank" post for a discussion of Pomodoro.) Over eight hours, those 500-step bursts add up. My boss was amused, but as I noted before, the method works wonders for my concentration and, by extension, my productivity.

At least I have another pedometer for the phone. I don't know how or why the original one disappeared, and it's upsetting to know that all those data have dispersed into parinirvana. But with Google Fit now wearing the red shirt and sitting in the same unlucky spot as the Samsung app, I'm back in business and ready to continue counting steps. September and October won't be very impressive in terms of step count, but I hope to be back up to speed come November. Fingers and tentacles crossed.

*I may end up buying a flashlight headband so I can hike Daemosan at night. While that won't resolve the safety issues involved with hiking the mountain in the rain or snow, it'll open the mountain up to me during clement weather, after work hours. The stairs on that mountain are hell, but they're my ticket to once again losing weight.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

go, Tom!

My buddy Tom appears as the Western talking head in this Wall Street Journal video about the rising popularity of Korean baseball, especially among female fans. Catch it while the link is still nice and hot. Of course, the link will eventually rot away, which is why I've graciously provided you with the above shot of Tom doing a wanking gesture.


gym membership: DEAD

Like a fool, I had paid a whopping W513,000 (nearly $500, US) for a four-month membership to a gym in my building. After completing the transaction, I immediately felt as if I'd done the wrong thing. While September has been a windfall month for me—I've got over $4,200 in the bank here and over $1,000 in my US account—I felt that paying nearly $500 for a damn gym membership was way too steep: while the budget feels looser, it's actually still tight; most of my windfall is already spoken for.

Originally, I had signed up for the gym because of the convenience: the gym is two floors down from where I live, making it easy for me to walk down and then back up to my apartment. But after nearly two weeks of not going to the gym—and having twice gone hiking in the mountains—I concluded that Mother Nature is offering her services for free, and free is a much better price than W513,000. So Mother Nature is free, and now so am I: free to hike and to figure out how to engage in strength training on my own. I've canceled my gym membership. Shot it in the head like an injured whore. Horse. Whatever.

It's good to have the money back in the bank, even if it's not a 100% refund.



Stuff happened in the office, and now I'm home early.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

salmon meal

Last night's low-carb dinner. I'm not even pretending this is a Greek salad anymore. And the salmon is very gently pan-fried and basted with honey-mustard sauce.

Very light, very simple, quite delicious.


Korea's lack of a culture of discussion

Dr. Hodges on student silence. As he notes, the theme of a lack of a culture of discussion in Korea is one he's revisited many times. Go to Jeff's blog and type "culture of discussion" in the blog's search window at the top to see a list of Jeff's posts on the subject.

Akli Hadid on professors who shout foreign students down instead of engaging in thoughtful dialogue. What morons.


more money? not complaining

I've signed my employment contract, received my employment certificate, been registered for direct deposits of my salary, and reported my change of address (and that report was free, too!). My company is going to pay me my very first direct-deposit "paycheck" on October 1 to cover work done in September. In the meantime, I'm still awaiting pay for work done in August, but I think that'll be on its way soon. After October, the pay date will switch to the 16th of the month (if the pay date falls on a weekend, I get paid the Friday before), so my next big check won't be until November 16th. However, I'll also be receiving a 50% payment around mid-October (i.e., while I'm in the States): this is apparently due to the two-week shift in pay date, although I have trouble wrapping my mind around why this is occurring.

Back around 2006, when Sookmyung University suddenly shifted pay dates from the 15th of the month to the 25th, we were given no half-salary bonuses. I recall being angry at not having been informed of the date shift; my boss half-apologized with an offhand "oops—forgot," and that was that. The entire campus knew about the date change except for us foreign professors. Sookmyung's logic, in not paying us for the date shift, was that we were still being paid once a month for the previous calendar month's work. If I were normally to be paid for September work on October 15, then changing the pay date to October 25th wouldn't change the fact that I'd still be receiving pay for the calendar month of September. In other words, I'd be getting twelve paychecks a year, no matter the specific pay dates.

At my current company, however, the logic is somehow different. My boss tried, three times, to explain it to me, but it just wasn't computing. The 50% salary that'll be coming to me in mid-October seems like extra pay to me—a bonus that I didn't earn. Not that I'm complaining, mind you: who doesn't want an extra 1.6 million won, right?

Anyway, I entered the extra pay into my grandiose Google Docs budget... and lo and behold, I'll be coming out almost $2,000 ahead of where I had projected I'd be in December. December's important because it's the month I pay off my car loan. I'll officially own my car at that point. Too bad it'll still be in the States, but the way I see it, it'll save me the cost of renting a car whenever I'm Stateside: I'll just pay for gas and whatever trip-related repairs will need to be made. In fact, I'll soon be in a financial position to send my buddy Mike several hundred dollars a year to cover property tax. Mike's been acting as the car's guardian; my goddaughter, among other people, has been driving the little Honda now and then, and Mike volunteered, way back, to take care of property tax. I think I'll be able to re-shoulder that burden myself pretty soon.

With my car payments gone as of this December, that'll free up about $225/month. This is part of my overall strategy: start by eliminating the small debts first, thereby freeing up a few hundred dollars per month here, a few hundred there. That will produce a snowball effect as I accumulate cash and, over time, I'll find myself with a pile of funds—enough to pay down my much larger debts. I'm still on track to be debt-free before I turn 50. Feels good.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

treated myself

I got my F-4 visa yesterday and felt like celebrating, so I asked my coworker and my boss (the three of us work in the same room) to recommend me a restaurant. My coworker mentioned D'Maris, a local chain buffet. He warned that it was a bit upscale. "Around thirty to fifty thousand won?" I asked. He nodded in a way that indicated he wasn't sure of the exact price. I was feeling a bit spendy, so I schlepped over to D'Maris which, per my coworker's directions, was only a couple blocks up the street from our office.

Once you enter the restaurant, someone will guide you down a very long walkway to your table. Along the way, you pass by the entire buffet, all decked out in polished stone and silver and glass, with a dizzying array of international food. Your guide will show you to your seat, then say, "You can start anytime," after which it's up to you to grab a plate and go to town. People refer to D'Maris as a "seafood buffet," but from what I saw, there was no special stress on seafood except at the Japanese station.

All the main courses were nice; I scarfed down three plates' worth before I turned my still-ravenous attention to dessert. Alas, dessert wasn't nearly as good as the main courses. While all the cakes and cookies and confections looked reasonably pretty, they suffered from the typical Korean malady of being too dry and not sweet enough (to be fair, Koreans often have the opposite complaint when they travel to America: our desserts are too heavy and sweet for the Korean palate*). If I go to D'Maris again, I'm just going to forgo dessert.

Here are some pics of yesterday's stuff-a-thon:

Above, you see the "D'Maris" sign up on the building's roof.

Below, the entrance—you have to walk downstairs.

I hope this shot, below, conveys a sense of just how large the buffet is. It's a long walk. Not only that, but I discovered, too late, that I'd been walking the stations backward: the station farthest from my table was the one with all the appetizers. D'oh. I'll know better next time.

Here's my first plate of food. The veggies are there mainly as a symbolic gesture—a nod to the idea that I should eat healthy. That notion went out the window by the second plate. Note the Chinese-ish food cohabiting with Korean haemul-pajeon:

Below, my second plate. Tangsuyuk, spicy Korean pasta, seafood fried rice, Western meatballs, and a tuna roll. All quite good. All quite carb-y.

Round Three continued the East-West theme: batter-fried Korean fish and tofu (tofu in the foreground; it sure looks like fish), Korean jeon (pancakes), Korean-style Western sausage, pizza (surprisingly good), and sweet-potato salad. Oh, and something that was advertised as beef stroganoff. I'm normally used to stroganoff being white and creamy-looking, but I'm aware that it's also a dish that varies widely according to region (Russia and Eastern Europe). This stroganoff went in a brown sauce/red wine direction, and it was delicious.

Finally, dessert. It all looks pretty, yeah? Alas, it was dry, dry, dry. I did enjoy the meringue, though. And the fruit. (Again, the fruit was a symbolic gesture.)

When I went to pay for my meal—which meant hiking twenty miles to the entrance—the cashier couldn't stop giggling nervously at the fact that she was helping a foreigner. I tolerated her giggles while smiling blandly, thanked the staff for a very good meal, then trudged upstairs to the street level and, after pondering taking a cab, opted to walk back to my place. That proved to be a mistake: part of my walk led me past what must have been a sewage-treatment plant. Whatever it was, it reeked.

"What an awful way to end a meal," I thought to myself. Ugh. I regretted not taking a cab.

But despite the stink at the very end, I enjoyed myself at D'Maris. There were so many things I didn't get to try (an entire sector of the buffet was devoted to piles and piles of premium-cut red meat, for example), which means I'll have to go back and try them someday. But not for a while: the meal turned out to cost W37,400, which is definitely steep for one person. (By comparison, a bowl of soondae-guk will set you back W6,000-W8,000.) But I didn't mind paying a steep price: except for dessert, dinner was fantastic.

*I've long pondered the weird paradox of how Koreans love to make and eat main dishes that are marvelously full of bold, spicy, taste-bud-punching flavor... but then, when it comes to dessert, they prefer to gnaw on crumbling cardboard. This bears examining.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Happy Birthday, David!

My brother David turns 39 today, September 14. David was born in 1976, so we've always referred to him as a "bicentennial baby." This makes it easy to remember how old my country is: just take 200 and add David's age.

David's busy as always these days, but on the weekends, he seems to have time for long Skyping sessions with me. Sometimes these sessions include video. Alas, I can see that his hair is going as gray as my other brother Sean's hair is; both of my younger brothers are now grayer-looking than I am. Strange.

I'm happy, though, because I get to see—and room with—David in October when we all meet up in West Virginia for Sean's wedding. My understanding is that it's a nice place we're going to, somewhere out in the woods and mountains. It'll be good to reconnect, however briefly.

I wish I could do more for David's birthday; he's always been very helpful to me—giving me tech advice, updating me on Stateside affairs, and so on—but all I could give him was a small gift. Still, I hope he enjoys it and puts it to good use.

Happy Birthday, David! Love and hugs.


F-4 update

I had wanted to do several things today:

1. go to Goyang and pick up my ARC with the F-4 visa
2. go to the Gangnam District Office to register my change of address
3. go to my company's HR department and sign my contract

I did item (1) and left Immigration elated, catching the eye of one of the cute staffers and doing a victorious fist pump. She smiled.

After that, things didn't go so well, but I didn't mind: I had my F-4.

The Gangnam District office told me that I had to bring my contract and my certificate of employment (jaejik-jeungmyeongseo), so I said I'd be back later. I tried to hit our HR department, but there was no one in the office, so a different staffer told me to call back later and make an appointment. I'll be going to HR tomorrow, then hitting the Gangnam District Office again once I've gotten my paperwork. Bureaucracy is always exasperating, but given that I now have the thing I've wanted for so long, nothing can exasperate me.

At least for now.


I look forward to this day

This morning, I'm off to Goyang City to pick up my alien-registration card (ARC), which will have a spanking-new F-4 visa inscribed on it. You have no idea how happy this makes me. This visa opens all sorts of doors and windows of opportunity; it means I can move about almost as freely as a Korean citizen. This is important: the visa isn't linked to an employer, which means I can walk out of a bad job if I want to.

Once I get the visa, I need to zip right back to Gangnam to visit the Gangnam District Office, where I have to register my change of address. Once that's done, I go back to the Daechi region to sign my life away at Human Resources. The HR office of the Golden Goose is just up the street from where I work, a short walk away. I'll go there, sign my employment contract, and voilà—I'll be officially employed, officially salaried, and life will move forward. Things at the Golden Goose haven't been entirely ideal (see my "frank" post on the subject), but there's been a promise that conditions will improve once I've put in a year with the company. We'll see.

What's important is that I'm getting my F-4 today, and that's reason enough to celebrate.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Happy 46, you old fart!

A shout-out to my long-time buddy Dr. Stephen doCarmo, who turns 46 on September 12. It's September 13 here in Korea as I write this, but it's still early on Saturday in the States.

Steve apparently prefers not to be called "Steve," but that's what I've called him all these years, and I may be the only person who gets away with doing that. He's a bigwig at his college, now, where he works as an English prof (Steve's Ph.D. is in modern American lit); he also manages, among other things, Bucks County Community College's honors program. At this point, it's safe to say he's an old veteran. On the side, he composes and performs alternative music, and has even produced some CDs of his work. A man of many talents, he.

Steve and I rarely see eye-to-eye when it comes to politics. He's way to the left; I'm a moderate who, to liberals, seems deeply conservative, despite my protestations to the contrary. I also can't say that I have much appreciation for Steve's field of study, given how saturated it is with postmodernism, poststructuralism, and other noisome aspects of critical theory.

Yet despite the deep philosophical divide between us, Steve and I remain great friends. When I was living by myself in Front Royal, Virginia, Steve would come over almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we'd chow down on homemade food. His contributions to the feast—he'd bring over a huge plastic bag of goodies—varied from the sublime to the ridiculous: he once whipped out a nasty, sickeningly sweet Scandinavian cheese that neither of us could finish, but he also got me hooked on Idris, a British brand of so-called "fiery ginger beer." Along with Northern Neck ginger ale (which my buddy Mike introduced me to years ago), Idris is one of my absolute favorite brands of ginger-based potable.

The good professor recently became the proud owner of his own house—something I'll probably never be as long as I live in Korea, where real estate is a nightmare, and the money to buy big almost always comes from one's rich parents. So he's back to enjoying the suburban pleasures of mowing his lawn, unclogging his rain gutters, dealing with pests and wayward pets, and paying a lovely, lovely mortgage. I admit I envy him.

Steve is an entertaining writer. He blogs, occasionally, at Up the Flagpole—which I suspect comes from the slang expression "piss up a flagpole," i.e., to engage in a vain, useless, or ineffective activity. His leftism is on full, proud display there, but despite my frequent disagreements with his blog's content, I can't deny that Steve is a sharp and talented prose stylist. His unpublished(?) novel The Shaker is a fun, fascinating, and sometimes frustrating read. (Frustration is good: it means you're emotionally engaged with the text.) Steve has a singular sense of humor that often comes through in his emails: for example, he cynically refers to Christmas and Easter as "Cursemas" and "Beaster."

Yet another quirk: he's also a fairly dedicated meditator, although I still have no idea what style or tradition of meditation he engages in.

Life crunches ever forward; Steve's hair gets grayer and grayer, and his Rate My Professors rating climbs higher and higher. I think Steve once told me he'd rather be a full-time musician than a full-time prof, but I don't think he's unhappy with his day job. And since we're now talking about happiness, the state that occupies the most exalted position in the Aristotelian hierarchy: I wish Steve the happiest of birthdays, and many more to come.

Happy Birfday, man.


Daemosan: first real hike in six months

On Saturday afternoon, during what turned out to be an amazingly pleasant day, I hiked up Daemosan, the local mountain. I took over 80 photos along the way, but whittled that number down to the eighteen most relevant and/or interesting ones so as not to bore you. NB: while I've written little captions for each image (hover your cursor over an image to see a caption), I've decided to describe the images in the main text of this post so that people can look at the pictures on their mobile devices and not worry about missing "ALT" text.

Come along with me, now, as we go on a rather brutal hike.

To set the stage: I haven't hiked in months. I used to hike Namsam almost daily, but once I moved to Goyang City to teach my second semester at Dongguk University's Ilsan campus (Ilsan is a district of Goyang), I stopped hiking. In fact, I pretty much stopped walking altogether, partly because I was so depressed about the slim pickings, mountain-wise, in the precinct where I lived. There were three nearby mountains, but all of them had military bases on them, which meant they weren't hikeable. So I only walked to and from Ilsan campus... and I regained most of the weight I'd lost over the previous semester. Of course, saying that the mountains were unavailable is no excuse for not exercising: I still could have walked (and I did try, half-heartedly, to do so), or I could have amped up the intensity and done some jogging. But I didn't. It is what it is, and now I have to start almost from Square One again.

These days, walking about 1.5 miles home from the Golden Goose means getting sweaty, getting winded, and most dangerous of all, experiencing some tightness in my chest. Not enough to constitute actual chest pains, mind you, but enough to make me wonder about what I've done to myself, and whether I might need to be airlifted off the mountain after collapsing from a heart attack.

So—out of condition, but needing to start somewhere, I set off for Daemosan.

Here's the walk down the street from my apartment building. You can see the shoulder of the mountain off in the distance:

Eventually, the walk leads to the robotics high school, with its massive copyright infringement (i.e., the Google Android image) inscribed shamelessly in brick. The path up the mountain starts behind the high school, so that's where we're headed. You can see, can't you, how the road goes on, then curves around to the left.

Below, you see we're behind the high school now. Some cars are parked out back, and there's a concrete road leading upward at a steep angle: the hike has begun in earnest. The road leads up to a dead end... for cars, anyway. The hiking path continues at the top, where the road ends and the path levels off.

Next: there are signs, at this point, indicating direction and distance, including one arrow pointing to Daemosan's peak. For further clarity, a large map stands in the same spot. In this picture, you see the "You Are Here" arrow pointing right behind the high school, along with the yellow path that leads upward, ever upward, to the blue path that goes along the ridge of the mountain. While it looks simple and straightforward on the map, there are, in fact, many tiny (and walkable!) paths, some of which are presumably shortcuts to the summit for the trail-wise. I decided to keep things as simple as possible, focusing purely on the main pathway up the mountain, not allowing myself to be distracted by the temptations of smaller trails.

Below: a lot of the path looked like this. I had wondered whether Daemosan would be as paved-over as Namsan is, especially for nighttime hiking. Would there be street lamps? Would there be asphalt sidewalks? No and no, as it turned out. This was, I decided, unfortunate, because I had wanted to make Daemosan into my Namsan surrogate: a mountain that I could hike every day. Now, alas, I know that (1) I can't hike the mountain after dark because it won't be safe, and (2) the dirt paths will be slick in the rain, so I can't hike during or just after rain, either—not a big guy like me. When you're my size, you're constantly worrying about slipping, falling, and breaking something. This discovery—that Daemosan isn't accommodating to big hominids—was, to put it mildly, a major disappointment.

At one spot where the path leveled off a bit, there were these cairn-like structures. Were they ancient? New? There were no explanatory signs that I could see, although I admit I didn't look very hard. Two women were sitting at this spot, just shooting the breeze. The spot also served as an overlook, and one gentleman was busy taking pictures of the urban panorama below us. Here are the structures in question:

And here, below, you can see Lotte World Tower, uh, towering. It's going to be the tallest building in South Korea once it's finished—yet another phallic symbol thrusting priapically upward from the landscape, straining skyward in an attempt to fuck outer space.

The trudge continued. I found myself a bit confused, and I wondered, at several points, whether I had missed a turn to keep going upward. Sudden descents like the one in the following picture didn't help my bewilderment. I do remember thinking, "These will be a bitch to get back up." Little did I know what sort of stairs awaited me farther on. This set of stairs would prove to be nothing.

Ah. Here we are. Look at the pic below. This is the most fearsome set of stairs on the mountain, and get this: by the time you reach the end of these stairs, you're still not at the summit! I remembered David Carradine's Bill, in "Kill Bill: Volume 2," telling Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo how he didn't envy her imminent kung fu training, which would involve a long mountain stairway and "carrying buckets of water up and down that fucker." In fact, I think "That Fucker" is a good name for this part of the mountain path.

Below: more of the same. Just to emphasize how huge this stairway is.

And here are yet more stairs for your enjoyment. By this point, I was soaked in sweat, and my heart was pounding. I clumped up the steps one by one, my feet moving to the rhythm of my gasps. But something strange was also happening. I'm not sure what to call it except to say that I think my heart got its second wind: despite this being the most arduous part of the path yet, there was no tightness in my chest—no heart-attack-y feeling at all. In fact, despite being winded and despite lurching like the undead up the mountain stair, I felt bizarrely good.

Eventually, the path leveled off. At the landing, there was another signpost with many arrows, including one pointing toward the summit. Civilization intruded: there was, as you see below, a fence that ran along the ridge. At least that made it easy to decide which way to go, and go I did, thankful to walk on level ground for a few meters.

Of course, this is Korea, which fancies itself a theater of suffering, a character-building crucible that strengthens the heart and the will and anneals you until you can endure any hardship. With that pleasant thought in mind, I saw the renewed onslaught of stairs up ahead and committed myself to the climb, following that lady you see in the distance.

There were more hikers than I'd thought would be there, but then again, Saturday afternoon was a perfect day to go hiking, so this shouldn't have been surprising.

Eventually, the more organic-looking stairs gave way to actual staircases:

I didn't know it at the time, but the stairs you see below would turn out to be the final quadriceps-abusing challenge before the summit:

The ground leveled off; there were some easily navigable rock outcroppings, which I crossed over like the lumbering bear-gazelle I am. I had expected to see a helipad at the summit, based on an online article I had read (or had misread, more likely), but there was none. There were, however, plenty of old people lounging around. Most of them had arrived at the summit by other paths. Here's that rock outcropping:

The actual summit is marked by a large stone compass. I had arrived!

Going back down was, overall, much easier than trudging up. It had taken me almost 90 minutes to reach the summit after having started at my apartment building. This meant that a round trip would be close to three hours. I did the math in my head as I walked back down; if I were to wake up at 6AM, I'd end up late for work every day. Since I normally got home from work around 6:45PM, it would be too late to hike Daemosan safely: it's getting dark at 6:30PM these days. Conclusion: Daemosan is a weekends-only mountain. On weekdays, I'd have to do something else, like go to the gym or use one of the local hiking/biking paths. This was disappointing, but not entirely so: Daemosan's hiking path was brutal, and given how potentially unsafe it was, I knew early on that I wouldn't be climbing it every day.

So I walked most of the way back down the path before taking this next shot, right beside the large map I'd mentioned earlier, at the fourth photo above. On the signpost, you can see the arrow pointing me toward the path to the summit.

And that's how I spent three hours on Saturday before coming home and tiredly making dinner, which I had discussed in an earlier post. Daemosan is a far greater challenge than Namsan ever was; frankly, I found the mountain intimidating. I still plan to hike it, but as I said above, I won't do that on weekdays. Weekdays will have to be gym or bike-path days.

Still, it was good to hike again. I need to try tackling Daemosan in the morning one day—maybe even a weekday, if I can persuade myself to wake up at 5AM, which is ghoulishly early for me. A 5AM wake-up would be possible on a weekday because I'd be finished by 8AM, and that would give me plenty of time to prep for work. Hmmm. Much thinking to do, I have.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of my hike.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

the new restraint

I'm trying to go low-carb again, so here's tonight's dinner:

Bay scallops—lightly seared in olive oil, butter, salt, and garlic—with faux-Greek salad ("faux" because it's missing black olives and red onions). I got the feta cheese from the downstairs grocery; was surprised that they stocked it. It tastes more goat-y than Costco's standard feta, which is a good thing in my book.

Cooked the scallops perfectly, and a lucky thing that was, too. I'm normally paranoid about cooking scallops; in my hands, they usually turn out overcooked and rubbery. Today, though, I closely controlled the flame during the cooking, drained out the oil late in the game, then did the light sear at the very end of the process. These were bay scallops, which means they were tiny, wussy little creatures, albeit flavorful. It occurred to me that they might might serve better in a stuffing, or perhaps as part of a chowder (with cold weather on the way, it'll be chowder season soon), or maybe as the meat in a sandwich.

The meal was good but brief—a fitting way to cap off my first-ever hike up Daemo-san, the local mountain. Daemo means "big mother," so I might be able to get away with calling it "Big Mama-san." The hike was hell—but more about that later. For now, I'm going to shower, then kick back and finish digesting my lovely, low-carb meal.


hanbok shopping: phase 1

I have little notion as to what sort of hanbok (traditional Korean clothing, often worn ceremonially these days, but even now sometimes worn as normal, everyday clothing) might be apropos for the officiant of a wedding, so I'm just going to go with my gut and select a design that I find appealing. Here are four examples of hanbok that caught my eye, along with some remarks about each.

I've always been more a fan of solid, conservative colors than of patterned wear, which is why the above hanbok, which feels somewhat modest and rustic, appeals to me. Depending on the screen angle—and on the device I'm using to see the picture, the above hanbok could be dark blue, dark gray, or perhaps even some species of black. Whatever it is, I like it.

Let's talk about the couple below.

I love the above picture. The contrast between the man's simple color coordination and the woman's much fancier, much more complex hanbok is very appealing. Of course, the man's outfit loses something when he's not paired with the woman: simplicity, all by itself, is just simplicity. On an anthropological note, I was amused to see the woman wearing the more complex outfit: in many societies, especially during ritually significant moments, it's normally the man who dons the fancier garb: the one with more patterns, the one with flared shoulders and intriguing folds, etc. This struck me as an interesting sort of gender reversal.

My only hesitation, with this hanbok, is that it cruises dangerously close to Japanese territory—especially the pleating, which is a classically Japanese thing to do (see an example of a hakama-like garment here).

My apologies for the quality of the photo below: it was low-res when I found it.

Again, simplicity is the order of the day here. I kind of wish there were more going on with the shoulders, but the dark tunic suits me just fine.

Moving on...

I'm actually not sure what it is that attracts me to this hanbok. I normally can't stand wearing white clothing, and then there's the practical problem of wearing something white when you're eating a messy dinner. Maybe it's more the cut of the hanbok that appeals to me, as well as the design: I like that low-hanging flock-of-cranes image at the bottom. If I can find someone willing to make something like this hanbok, but in black or very dark blue or gray (with matching pants), I'll be a happy guy.

If you know something about hanbok and can match the clothing better to the occasion (as a wedding officiant, I'm basically a glorified emcee...are there hanbok out there for that role?), please leave comments and link to images of the clothing you think would be more appropriate. Thanks in advance.