Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Ant-Man": review

On the long, painful flight to Narita from Dulles, I went without in-flight entertainment for as long as I could, making it about eleven hours before I finally flipped on the tiny back-of-the-seat monitor and called up "Ant-Man," one of the most recent, and most lightweight, entries in the overcrowded Marvel universe. "Ant-Man" stars three actors I like: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Evangeline Lilly.

Rudd plays Scott Lang, a kind-hearted master burglar who loves his little daughter Cassie (winsome Abby Ryder Fortson), but who is restricted from seeing her because he is divorced and behind on child-support payments. After an opening sequence that shows Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, de-aged through CGI) angrily quitting SHIELD in 1989, the main story begins with Lang leaving a stint at the penitentiary. He gets in the van with former cellmate Luis (Michael Peña, our resident comic relief), who immediately invites Lang in on a potentially huge score. Lang refuses, unwilling to risk prison again, but desperation soon makes him interested in Luis's proposed heist. The burglary involves breaking into a mansion to steal something—we don't know what, and neither do the thieves—that has high cash value. Lang succeeds at breaking into the house... only to discover that the item in question is some sort of 1950s-era "motorcycle suit." Curious all the same, Lang takes the suit home, puts it on, then somehow activates it. To his initial horror, the suit shrinks him to the size of an ant, and the story kicks into high gear.

It turns out that the suit belongs to the aforementioned Hank Pym, discoverer of the "Pym Particle," a subatomic unit that allows "the space between atoms" (don't ask—the science in this film is utter nonsense) to be radically reduced. Pym has a daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), with whom he has been estranged since the apparent death of Hank's wife, Hope's mother. Hope works for Hank's former student and current intellectual rival, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who has long suspected the existence of Hank's shrinkage technology, and who is building his nasty, armed equivalent of the Ant-Man suit: the Yellowjacket. If action movies are driven by a ticking clock, then the clock, in this case, is Cross's eventual finalization of the Yellowjacket suit, which Cross then means to manufacture in droves to create a new type of high-tech army. Can Scott Lang master the Ant-Man suit to help Hank Pym avert the world's destruction? Can Hank reconcile with his daughter? Will Darren Cross succeed in creating the Yellowjacket? Have you ever watched a Marvel movie before?

I found "Ant-Man" to be light entertainment at best. It wasn't bad, but it had the same sort of major Hollywood-physics problems that plague the Thor movies, among others. There were plot points that I enjoyed: Scott's touching relationship with his daughter, who loves him despite the terrible things she hears about him; Scott's evolving relationship with Hope; Hope's tense exchanges with her father; Luis's bizarre cheer and optimism in the face of deadly adversity. I just wish I could get past the quantum nonsense and the biological implausibilities that the "science" of "Ant-Man" poses.

For example: Hope tells Scott that, even when he shrinks to the size of an ant, he will still have the punching power of a 200-pound man. This gives the filmmakers a chance to put together some hilariously comical fight scenes as Scott shrinks and reenlarges from moment to moment during hand-to-hand combat. But it makes one wonder how it is that, although Scott retains his full-size punching power, he has managed to lose most of his mass. F = ma is one of the most basic formulae that you learn in physics: if Scott loses his mass, then he loses his punching force; if he's retained his punching force, he must also have retained his mass. Something's gotta give.*

Later in the movie, Scott finds himself shrunken down to the quantum realm (the fate that befell Hank Pym's wife; she never returned), which the filmmakers portray as a phantasmagoric light show. Earlier in the film—and in a manner somewhat consistent with actual quantum physics—Hank Pym had warned Scott that the quantum realm was a place in which concepts like time, cause, and effect had no anthropic-level meaning... and yet we see Scott doing things, at the quantum level, that are consistent with anthropic-level physics: when Scott moves, there's time, cause, and effect.

Along with the wacky physics, there's the wacky biology. Ants are made to seem the equivalent of dogs, albeit dogs that are socially linked into colonies, not packs. Scott Lang even "befriends" one flying ant, and later in the film, an ant gets enlarged by one of Dr. Pym's weird weapons, and it becomes a family pet that Cassie feeds under the table. Ants breathe through spiracles (read more about them here), a biological structure that works just fine for God's tinier creatures, but when you blow an ant up to the size of a German shepherd, there's simply no way the ant can continue to breathe (unless, I suppose, it has retained its ant-sized mass... in which case it's going to blow away like a balloon, given its low density). So yeah, the movie's notions of biology are just as silly as its notions of physics.

True: the other Marvel films showcase their own ridiculous implausibilities, but for whatever reason, the Hollywood physics in "Ant-Man," perhaps because it's meant to be so front-and-center, was a true turn-off for me. I couldn't enjoy the movie as much as I'd wanted to. That said, I give full marks for good intentions. All the actors are likable; the story is serviceable and consistent with the rest of the Marvel universe; the comedy makes up for many of the movie's deficiencies. My recommendation: view at your own risk. You won't hate "Ant-Man," but you probably won't love it, either.

*Related to this is a problem that's actually mentioned in the movie: if Scott can, while shrunken, still punch with the force of a full-sized man, his fist now has such a tiny surface area that the impact of his blow would be more like the impact of a bullet or a needle. (Hope says "bullet," even though "needle" would be closer to the reality.) The fights should therefore have been a lot bloodier: far from punching his opponents, a shrunken Scott would have been stinging them or, at the very least, violently puncturing them. That's not what we see, though: during the fights in "Ant-Man," we see opponents reeling from blows that seem to have been delivered by an invisible boxer.

The film's not even consistent with its own notion of physics.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Ave, Jeff!

In the spirit of Halloween (and, apparently, his twentieth wedding anniversary), Jeff Hodges shambles, zombie-like, toward the camera, then dramatically sucks down a beer.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wedding Pics, Part 2: Rehearsal Day (October 16)

All of the images below are enlargeable through clicking.

October 16 was wedding-rehearsal day. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the rehearsal itself. What I do have are some pictures of how we spent our morning and afternoon before the 5:30PM rehearsal. After the large breakfast that was featured in the last round of photos, we broke up into groups. Some of us went to the nearby Lost River National Park.

The park contains some 1800s-era structures, including the Lee House, i.e., the home of Lighthorse (or "Light Horse") Harry Lee, better known as the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The Lee House has an interesting feature: there is no back door.

Below is the Lee Sulfur Springs. Our resort's proprietors had recommended that we give the spot a visit. "You'll smell it before you see it," they warned. We were also told that the sulfurous water was both good for the skin and great for making pure-brewed coffee.

As you see below, a shelter has been built over the spring itself:

Here, we get closer to the spring:

Finally, a look at the water, and at what the sulfur content has done to the stone trough or spout from which the water is issuing. See that raspberry-cream pink? That's from the sulfur.

Below, a pic of yours truly, taken by Jeff's dad, who was part of our group, along with Jeff's sister, Jeff's mom, Jeff's nieces, and Jeff's friend Joanne.

Witness the weird misspelling of "sulfur" in this picture. The "H" and the "P" are reversed, and it should be noted that "sulphur" is primarily a British spelling:

On the seesaw, below, are Jeff's nieces, Ansley (pink) and Lauren (black and gray). Ansley radiated cuteness, but Lauren had her own beautiful dignity... unless she was doing her exaggerated Zsa Zsa Gabor accent. "Oh, dahhhhhling!"

I visited the park's men's room, and this little fellow was shuffling away on the screen door:

The girls were freaked out when someone—Jeff's dad, maybe?—found this spider carcass:

Here's another view of the spider, now in my hand:

A shot of Jeff's dad, Jim, crossing a creek with his granddaughter Lauren:

In the late morning, around 11AM or so, we left the national park because the womenfolk were interested in doing some shopping. There's not much real shopping to be done in this part of West Virginia, but the Lost River Trading Post was there for the asking. Below, you see the Trading Post's claim to fame: a huge orange cow. Do click on this image so you can see all the cow's wacky details: curly hair, a cowgirl hat (cowgirl—get it?), a shirt or jacket knotted at the front (not a bull penis!), a gun belt with gun and bullets and holster, boots, and a bottle of whisky stuck in one of the boots. Do not mess with this cow, ladies and gents.

Across the street from the Trading Post was a cemetery. The tombstones varied in age and style from very modern to very old. Below is one of the more interesting-looking stones:

The Trading Post had its own totem pole:

We next tooled around until we found the Quarter Mile Diner, which had been recommended to us by a local. The food was surprisingly good. I had a taco salad; Joanne had a "white" chili made with white beans and shredded chicken. Others in our group had burgers and dogs.

I had to take the following shot for two reasons. First, as others in our group also noted, it seemed weirdly incongruous for a hick diner like this to be sporting fancy, European-style decor out front. My second reason for taking this shot was that these are supposed to be mermaids... but for some odd reason, these mermaids have buttocks.

Back in my hotel room and sitting on the toilet, I noticed this sign, which stands in marvelous contrast to signs in Korea that say the exact opposite. See, Korea? Civilized people put their used toilet paper in the toilet. That's why it's called goddamn TOILET paper.

In the shot below, I succeeded where my brother David had failed. David had his slick iPhone, but he couldn't get the shot that I got with my Samsung Galaxy S4—a shot in which the foreground and the background are in focus. Score one for Samsung.

The last pic in this cluster of pics shows David doing what he does best. Poor guy is so overworked at his PR job that he falls asleep whenever he's given the opportunity to do so.

More pics coming.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wedding Pics, Part 1: Getting There

I have plenty of photos from the wedding—though none of the wedding itself since I was the officiant. Sean and Jeff have promised to send me a slew of wedding photos taken by Rodney, the on-site pro photog. In the meantime, though, I hope you'll be all right looking at this humble narrative.

Below, the first photo is one of many pictures I took during my drive from Virginia to West Virginia. I had visited West Virginia a few times when I was a kid, and my memories of the state weren't that positive because the thing I remember most was all the strip mining. If you've never seen the effects of strip mining before, please look up some images via Google. It's pretty horrific and rather depressing: a mountain is essentially ripped open to allow people to get at the resources hidden within it. It's ugly work.

This time, however, I saw no strip mining and was impressed with the scenery as I drove along. The Guest House at Lost River is located in Lost City, West Virginia, not too far past the Virginia/West Virginia border. The drive takes you through a lot of farmland. Forsaking safety, I tried to get shots of farms and farm animals as I blew past, but only a few of those shots were decent. I'm showing you, below, the shot that I texted to ACL. She said "Wow!" when she saw it. This is a stretch of Route 259.

Next up is the first sign for the Guest House at Lost River that you encounter when you're close to the resort. Regular asphalt roads are about to end, giving way to gravel.
Below: the second sign for the Guest House. Almost there.
Click on the pic below to enlarge it. This is what you see when you finally pull up to the Guest House. I lost my way twice en route, but the locals were very nice and helped me out. One guy even drove ahead of me part of the way to get me on the right track. Good folks in these parts.

Go on—click the pic.
The next shot below shows the row of hotel-style rooms that some of us guests stayed in. Sean and Jeff were directly above my room (my room is the last door on the left in this picture); they had an enormous suite to themselves, but houseguests were coming in and going out of their place all day long. They had also brought their two dogs: Maqz the chihuahua (Sean's dog, looking all gray now) and Woodrow(?) the... I don't know what breed he was, but he was a furry, nervous little booger who barked and barked at me at first. He finally calmed down and even got to licking my hand.
Below: I was very taken by this plant, which had decided to wrap itself around a supporting post of one of the decks. The Guest House isn't just a single house: it's actually a collection of several houses that have all been converted into hotel-style accommodations. The main house is large, with a complex, labyrinthine, Hogwarts-like interior that includes several floors and several dens—a great place for just hanging.

A vegetal embrace:
From the vantage of the deck directly above my deck, we could look out at the mountains. Click on the image below:
I arrived a day before my brother David did. This was the room I'd been assigned (click):
Sean and Jeff had prepped burlap gift bags with purple tissue (purple was the theme for the wedding—probably my only aesthetic disagreement). They did a good job thinking through the bag's contents: mostly junk food (as if they had read my mind), with some sparkling water in there to make you feel as if you're not sinning dietarily.
I was tired the day I arrived at the Guest House. That was October 15; I probably slept a bit early. The following morning, at 9 o'clock sharp, a bell rang to signal breakfast—just as the proprietors had threatened would happen. Breakfast was held in a downstairs room of the main house, and it was huge: pancakes, syrup, scrambled eggs, sausage links—all piled high, along with huge bowls of cubed honeydew melon and cantaloupe. Milk, juice, tea, and water were flowing freely; there was even cereal for those who wanted more to eat.

Click the image below to enlarge:
Finally, I'll end this segment with a picture of my little brother Sean. Not so little anymore, and now he's married. Still hard to believe.
God, that wacky hair.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kev Trek '15: The Voyage Home

It was with great relief that I obtained my new passport, spent my final Friday at my brother David's house, then rode out to Dulles Airport on Saturday morning. I had spent several days feeling as if I had overstayed my welcome, and I was anxious to get back to South Korea, where I'd be less of a burden to others.

David dropped me in front of the United Airlines entrance at Dulles. I went in, happily carrying nothing but my Walmart-purchased carryon bag, and stalked the kiosks and counters in an attempt to figure out whether I needed to interact with a person or with a machine to obtain my boarding passes. Finally giving up, I asked a roaming attendant what I needed to do, informing her that I had no check-in luggage. She pointed me to the cluster of computer terminals—the "kiosks" in question—that mushroomed out in front of me.

I dutifully waited in line behind an older couple who were obviously struggling to understand how this confounded contraption worked. Another grim-looking older gentleman slotted in line behind me. After ten minutes of waiting, he groused loudly to the attendant, "I'm very disappointed with United. No one knows how to work these things. No one's helping. I've been standing here for ten minutes, and the line hasn't moved an inch." I'm sure this speech didn't help the mental state of the elderly couple in front of me; they had already apologized to me twice for moving at such a crawl through the ticketing process. I had responded with a pleasant "No problem at all" because it truly wasn't a problem for me: I was at the airport three hours in advance of my flight, so there was no pressure to speak of. Alas, assholes are a fact of life when you travel.

I ended up helping the elderly couple with the final third of the ticketing process, gently guiding them to hit the proper buttons. I understood their confusion: even though I grew up with computers, I often feel, these days, that the evolution of technology is happening far too speedily for me to keep up with it. I still prefer to learn how to handle tech on my own, but in situations where I have no time to move placidly along my learning curve, I get just as flustered and confused as these grandparents did. And if it's this bad for me now, imagine how I'll be when I'm seventy and trying to interact with some 3-D nanotech Disney character capable of natural-language processing but speaking in weird computerese.

My own turn at the kiosk went quickly. The only hitch occurred when the computer asked me to verify my passport. I had to hit "edit," which led to a "please scan your passport" screen. Luckily, I was able to follow the video instructions for how to do the scanning, so the grim-faced asshole behind me had no reason to complain.

Now armed with boarding passes all the way to Seoul-Incheon International, I went through security and boarded a tram to get to my gate. At that point, it was a matter of whiling away the remaining hours before my flight. I hooked up with Dulles's shaky Wi-Fi and sent off some goodbye messages. I also stared ruefully at my ticket: the kiosk had cruelly placed me in a center seat—my least-favorite place to be (it offered no seat preferences, as some kiosks do). Ideally, if I can't fly first class, I'd prefer to be in an aisle exit-row seat. These days, however, seats with slightly more leg room actually cost you extra if you want the "privilege" of sitting in them. Sighing, I resigned myself to my fate.

Soon enough, it was time to board. They use "groups" now: I was in Boarding Group 4. I understand that airline companies often rack their brains trying to figure out the ideal plane-boarding algorithm, but no one yet seems to have hit upon that magic formula, so we're still stuck with the messy, halting traffic jam of people trying desperately to stuff their carryons into the overhead bins so they can get out of the way and allow other passengers to squeeze past them. Being in Boarding Group 4 meant absolutely nothing to me. The boarding experience was no different from any of my previous boarding experiences.

To my dismay, the window seat was filled by a hulk who was easily as large as I am. I was about to get a fourteen-hour dose of my own, physically imposing medicine. He seemed friendly enough, Hulk did, but when I fly alone, I'm never inclined to talk, so I said almost nothing to him the entire trip.

Sure enough, the long flight to Tokyo-Narita was hell. Hulk, it turned out, was a big-time manspreader. If you've never heard the term "manspreading" before, it refers to the male tendency to slouch into a posture where one's knees are spread wide apart. This is considered, especially by various feminist critics, to be rude and possibly even assaultive. I had been inclined to scoff at complaints about manspreading, but now that I've been the victim of it, I may have to change my stance. Hulk spread his legs out far and wide, invading my personal space in a big way, forcing me to retract my fat self as much as possible to avoid touching him. In the end, I had little choice but to submit to thigh-to-thigh contact, which left me with a sour grimace on my face for much of the flight over. Had I been more confrontational, I'd have told Hulk to respect the boundary between our seats. He seemed like a well-intended dude, so he might have taken such a complaint in the right spirit. Then again, he might have been the type of guy to say "Okay" in response to my complaint, then go right back to manspreading once he fell asleep again.

Somehow, I endured. During the latter half of the flight, I watched "Ant Man" (review pending, I think). I had thoroughly emptied my bowels before getting on the plane, so I ate and drank only what the cabin crew served me, with no fear of gastric emergencies. One flight attendant, a large and stern African-American woman, muttered in exasperation about how the passengers never remembered the two meal choices she had announced, thus forcing her to repeat the choices, over and over, to every forgetful passenger. When breakfast service came around near the end of our flight, I almost laughed when she got on the horn and said:

"We will soon be commencing the breakfast service. Your choices today are eggs or noodles. Eggs... or noodles. EGGS... or NOODLES."

Yup: she really did say it three times, and what's even more hilarious is that, despite her noble efforts, there were still people who didn't know what the fucking choices were. It's a miracle she didn't whip out an AK-47 and go to town on all of us stupid sheep.

After "Ant Man" and my E G G S, I impatiently awaited the plane's descent so I could escape this minor circle of hell. I spent much of the trip imagining design improvements for the seating: sliding barriers made of hard plastic that could snap into place and prevent passengers from touching each other, cleverly staggered seats, etc. The whole thing was such a shame: I used to enjoy flying when I was a kid. Now, it's just a damn chore.

Everything got better once we arrived at Narita. It was good to be back in Asia. I gratefully escaped the plane I was on, gladly stood in line to pass through another layer of security (it was good just to stand), then enjoyed the long, long walk to Gate 37, where I was to board Flight UA 79 to Seoul-Incheon. Narita's not a visually impressive airport, but it has the virtue of being well organized. I went up to the gate's counter to ask an employee about changing my center seat (damn that Dulles kiosk) to an aisle seat. A few clicks on her computer, and I had my aisle seat. This did wonders for my morale.

The Narita-Incheon flight was only three hours. I kept falling asleep and drooping rightward into the aisle. Must've looked like an idiot to the passengers who saw me listing drunkenly to the side. Not that I cared. When you fly nearly twenty hours, you pass far, far beyond the threshold of caring.

So we landed. Another tram to the main terminal at Incheon. Another long walk. Passport control. I explained to the passport-control officer, in Korean, that I had lost my original passport and was now carrying a new one. She said I'd need to inform Immigration of this fact; my buddy Tom had texted me the same caution when I was in Narita and siphoning off the airport's free Wi-Fi. So I'll be doing that in the next few days.

After that, I walked past the baggage-claim area, sneering at all dem suckaz with baggage. I handed my declaration form to another attendant and strode into the main airport. My wallet was empty of cash, so I had no money to exchange. I went to a Shinhan Bank ATM and pulled out W50,000, took a triumphal shit, bought myself a limousine-bus ticket to Daechi Station, boarded the bus, and struggled not to sleep again as we chugged into Seoul proper. By the time I got off the bus about a block away from where I work, I was too tired and achy to consider walking to my apartment. I was going to grab a cab or take the subway, and the subway won out. When I got to Daecheong Tower, I went to the ground-floor concierge's desk and asked whether a package had arrived for me. One had indeed arrived... but it turned out to be for a woman—a Savannah Something or Other, who must have lived in my apartment. My own package is still languishing in Seoul Customs: last I'd checked, the box had definitely arrived in Korea.

Thanking the guard, I made my way upstairs and saw that one of my lights was still on. I guess I must have left it on all week. It's a fluorescent light, though, so I doubt my electric bill is going to be that severe.

And that was it. I was home again. I had work the following day, but I didn't get to sleep until after 3:30AM. My time in America had screwed up my rhythm, but I hadn't been in the States long enough to completely adjust to US time. I was, instead, stuck in some sort of time-zone demimonde—not quite Korean time, not quite US east-coast time. Not to worry: I'm sure I'll be back to normal by next week.

I've got photos from the trip—a lot of photos. I'll be showing some or most of them to you over the next few days. So stay tuned.


Monday, October 26, 2015

one last look at the dawg

Here's a final shot of David and Penny, out for a walk before David drove me to the airport. As you see, Penny is only doing what comes naturally:


Saturday, October 24, 2015

outta here

Snide comments from commenters notwithstanding, I'm leaving the States today. With my brother David's help, I dropped off the Honda in Fredericksburg last night; this involved crawling along for an hour through a massive, sanity-eroding traffic jam on Route 95 (which is routinely jammed thanks to accidents or road work). All I have left to do now is prep for the trip and go.

David's dog Penny has been affectionate ever since that one weird night. She was my body pillow for all of last night, and she greeted me with nasty wet kisses this morning. I think she and I are going to be fine.

And that's about it. Time to shower, dress, and pack. Not sure when I'll be able to write again, so until then, Dear Reader, keep yourself nicely occupied.


flight info

It's Friday, late afternoon, as I write this. I'm leaving the US tomorrow. Because I'm "borrowing" my own car from Mike and his family, who are the Honda's stewards (imagine the Honda as the land of Gondor, with Mike in the Denethor role), I have to drive the car back to Fredericksburg Saturday morning. There are two important factors to consider in determining tomorrow's schedule: (1) I need to be at Dulles International Airport three hours before my 1:35PM flight to Narita, and (2) David needs to be able to drive from Dulles straight to a birthday party for his five-year-old godson. In principle, I have to be at Dulles by 10:30AM, but if David is to make it to his godson's noon party on time, he probably needs to deposit me at the airport around 9:45AM or 10AM at the very latest. It's the better part of an hour to get to Dulles from Alexandria, but if we drop off my Honda at Mike's house in Fredericksburg first, we're going almost an hour south before we head back north.

So unless we drop the Honda off at Mike's tonight (unlikely, since David is working at in DC tonight), we're probably going to work it this way:

1. Wake up at 6AM.
2. Out the door by 7AM.
3. Drive separately to Mike's: yours truly in the Honda, David in his SUV. Arrive close to 8AM.
4. Quick pleasantries and final goodbyes with Mike & fam, then drive north to Dulles. Arrive around 9:30 or 9:45AM.
5. Deposit Kevin at airport; David drives off to his party and tries not to fall asleep at the wheel en route.

Best I can figure, that's the plan.

David has a tenant renting out his downstairs, a guy named P. P suggested that we drive the Honda down tonight, but as I mentioned above, that's not likely to happen if David works late again, as he's been doing all week thanks to his film projects. (David works in PR; lately, he's been the go-to media guy producing public-service videos for this and that client of his company, Hager Sharp (here's David himself).

One way or another, I'm out of here tomorrow. Although it's strange to say it, given how happy I've been to be back in Virginia, I'm impatient to return to Korea. America's my homeland and always will be, but Korea's the place I now call home.

Oh, yes: the actual flight info mentioned in this post's title!

Flight US 803, departing IAD on Saturday, October 24, at 1:35PM, destination NRT (Narita); arriving NRT on Sunday, October 25, at 4:40PM.
Flight UA 79, departing NRT on Sunday, October 25, 6:30PM, destination ICN (Seoul Incheon International); arriving ICN on Sunday, October 25, at 9:30PM.

After that, it's just a matter of taking a limousine bus to Daechi or Daechong; if Daechi, then I'll either walk the rest of the way home or grab a cab. Makes no matter.


brother's living room, morning


Friday, October 23, 2015


This morning, I went to the US Passport Agency, located at 19th and G Streets in DC. I had all my paperwork, and all the staffers were very nice. No one stonewalled or played Bureaucratic Asshole with me, which was a welcome change. The only hitch is that, because I'm leaving on Saturday and not Friday, I didn't get same-day service: instead, I have to pick up my new passport on the morrow, between 11:30AM and 3:00PM. Not a problem: if parking is as good tomorrow as it was this morning, I have nothing to worry about. And on Saturday, I can finally head back out of my home country to my second home. Work awaits.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

wish me luck

Penny the dog suddenly got weird on me last night, growling at me when I approached her where she lay curled up on the living-room couch. She showed her teeth and even snapped at me once, and I had to wonder what had put her in that mood. Figuring women out has never been my strong point.

I texted David about his dog's behavior, and he thought that Penny might need more time to get used to me: David had been out all day at work, and I was basically a newcomer to the house. It was strange, though: Penny immediately dropped the growliness whenever I gave her a doggie treat, then she went back to treating me like an alien in her home. Well... I do have something of the alien about me, so maybe she's picking up on that.

This morning, I'm off to DC to request a new passport. From what I've heard, this can be a same-day process, but it's also an all-day process: submit your request in the morning, pick up your document around 4PM. I might spend the day tooling around in DC, visiting the Smithsonian, walking the Mall, and hanging in Georgetown. Not a bad way to spend the day waiting.

Here's hoping the request process goes well. Wish me luck as I spend a shitload of money to redress a stupid mistake.


lap guardian

Penny the dawg

My brother David was initially worried that his dog Penny, a mix of border collie and boxer, might not remember me. Penny has apparently had a history of being aggressive toward new people, up to and including nipping and biting. I was banking on the idea that Penny would remember me from the several times that we had met back when I lived in Front Royal.

Penny did indeed seem to remember me when I showed up at David's house: she didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about seeing me, but she also didn't try to nip me. A day later, and Penny has warmed up to the point that she will actually crawl into my lap while I nap on the couch. Either she remembers me very well, or she smells the fact that I'm David's brother. Whatever the case, she and I had fun walking around the loop of Fort Hunt Park today; we did three laps, or about 3.3 miles. Penny was tired by the end, her tongue lolling. I rolled down my Honda's window while we drove back to David's house; like almost all dogs, Penny couldn't resist hanging her head out the window as the world assaulted her nose with a torrent of smells.

So yeah, I've left Mike's house in Fredericksburg and am with my brother David in Alexandria. Mike was an enormous help, and a good sport, while I was down south with him and his family. I had the chance to talk about language learning with Mike's second daughter; I spoke with Mike's wife about teaching in general, and I guided Mike's young son through some basic Chinese characters.

I moved up to Alexandria, though, because it's closer to DC, and I have an appointment with the State Department tomorrow morning to apply for a new passport via the government's same-day service. I'll be staying with David until my flight out. I had thought the flight was this coming Friday, but the departure is actually at 1:35pm on Saturday. I'll be back in Seoul Sunday night.

I had to borrow my Honda back from Mike, which means I need to return it to Mike before I go. David and I will be driving separately down to Fredericksburg; I'll drop the Honda off at Mike's house, say goodbye to Mike and family, then hop into David's SUV and ride up to Dulles Airport to catch my flight. Assuming I've succeeded in obtaining a new passport on time.

Meantime, I have the affection of a dog to sustain me. And that's not nothing.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

what's left to say?

I've been spending all this time kicking myself for my stupidity. Misplacing your passport is a costly mistake. Today, I went out to Front Royal to get passport photos done. At my brother David's recommendation, I also went to the local DMV in Front Royal (no lines in a small town) to get an official birth certificate printed out. That's about $7.50 for the photos and exactly $14 for the certificate. Getting the birth certificate saved me the effort of going to public storage to dig through all my possessions just to find an old passport. On Thursday morning, I have a 9:30 appointment with the passport agency to report my passport as lost and to put in my request for a new passport, same-day service.

Contacted my coworker at the Golden Goose. He tells me that there's much guffawing at my expense going on there, but the boss is fine with my coming back a few days late. We'll work out the details of how I make up my two missed days once I'm back in Korea.

I've been telling people that this new-passport thing is costing me over $300, but that's because I've been assuming that I'll need to fill out a records request to prove I'm a US citizen. That request costs $150, but it's not part of the actual passport-request procedure, which is itself also around $150. If it turns out that I have sufficient paperwork not to have to do the records request, I automatically save myself $150. I'm hoping that'll be the case.

So I'm filling out forms, scanning and printing copies of my driver's license, and basically assembling everything that I'll need to bring to DC on Thursday morning. This will likely be my final night at my buddy Mike's house; my brother David wants to host me for a night or two, and he's closer to DC, anyway.

More later. Dinner is calling.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

stupid is as stupid does

I'm not on the plane to Seoul.

Long story short: like a moron, I accidentally packed my passport into a box of goods (including my hanbok) to be shipped to South Korea. My buddy Mike and I went to two post offices in an attempt to catch the damn parcel, but to no avail: as Mike noted, the US Postal Service was far more efficient than usual, shipping off my parcel with unwonted promptitude.

I had promised my boss at the Golden Goose that I'd be back in the office by Thursday, but that's no longer in the cards. Instead, I'll be catching a flight this coming Friday after visiting the US passport agency this Thursday to obtain a new passport via a same-day expedited service.

The service will cost me over $300, a steep price to pay for unmindfulness. I've been kicking myself all day long over my blunder. "At least you'll never make this mistake again," Mike joked. My little brother David had lost his passport in similarly goofy circumstances back in the 90s; this feels like karma reaching its icy fingers out to touch another family member.

I have to show proof of citizenship when I visit the agency; this means either an old passport or my birth certificate, which is in Korea. I had reconciled myself to the idea that I'd be digging through miles of my public-storage junk to find an old passport when David texted with a better solution: get an official birth certificate printed out at any local DMV. That sounded like a good thought; I'll be hunting for a birth certificate tomorrow (Tuesday).

I also have three forms I need to fill out: one to report my card lost or stolen, one to rush-apply for a new passport, and one to request a records search to confirm my identity. I'm not actually sure that I need to go through that last procedure, which costs $150.

Mike drove me to National Airport, where I was able to obtain a change of flight schedule for free, thanks to the loss of my passport (normally, there's a penalty for changing one's schedule). So that, at least, is done. On a day in which everything had gone wrong, this one thing had finally gone right.

I've written my Golden Goose boss about my situation. I'm sure he's rolling his eyes and grumbling, "Par for the course." Not sure how I'll be making up two lost work days, but I sense some industrious Saturdays in my future.

Righto. Wish me luck as I try to obtain a new passport.


Monday, October 19, 2015

a glimpse of a wedding

Three brothers, all lined up in a row.


yours truly, caught in hanbok

One of my brother Sean's friends insisted on snapping this picture. My brother David found it floating around in Facebook later in the day. Note the incongruous Western shoes.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

it is accomplished

The boy is married.

Saturday began with another huge, family-style breakfast featuring scrambled eggs, huge strips of thick-cut bacon, hash browns, fruit, and some amazingly buttery country biscuits. All one had to do was slather some apple butter on those biscuits, pile on bacon and eggs, and make a sandwich. The dining area was crowded and noisy with friendly banter. Mentally, I was ticking down the hours to the 5:30pm wedding.

A bit before lunch, my brother David and I decided to drive out to the local general store to restock the fridge of the resort's hospitality suite. Much of the food provided to us came right out of Sean and Jeff's pockets, so David and I thought we'd pitch in. The folks at the general store proved friendly and helpful; one woman at the counter greeted me in Korean: she and her husband had lived in Seoul, at the Yongsan garrison, and their daughter had been born in Korea. The only hitch was that the store's soda cans cost us a dollar each, which was unreasonably steep. David and I opted to restock with only a dozen cans of soda instead of two dozen.

I made a discovery while at the store, however: a bottled cream soda called Saranac Black Cherry Cream which, when I tried it later, tasted incredible. I'll be buying several more bottles for my buddy Mike and his family when I leave the resort. Cream soda always feels retro to me, and it has the weird effect of transporting me back to the 1950s, an era before my time.

Lunch was sandwiches, pita chips, and crudités, courtesy of Sean and Jeff. I had planned to avoid lunch as the wedding time got closer, but in the end, I succumbed to temptation and ate a small wrap sandwich and a small roast-beef-on-croissant sandwich.

The weather got substantially colder and cloudier during the day; the wedding's location still hadn't been finalized: indoors or out? It was at last decided to stick to the original plan and hold the wedding outside on one of the resort's massive decks. There was some worry that the guests might quickly become uncomfortable, but we all knew the ceremony was scheduled to last only about half an hour.

As the afternoon went on, we were summoned to two photo sessions: one called "rustic," the other "formal." In the first case, these were outdoor shots with us in casual wear, taken by intrepid photographer Rodney; in the second case, we got into our formal wear (suits and dresses for everyone else, but a warm, thick hanbok for me). Lots of posing; lots of complaining by the womenfolk about the cold, about the way their dresses were soaking up water from the ground's damp surface, and about how their high heels were sinking into the soft ground.

It was a relief for all of us when Rodney finally told us we were dismissed, and we dispersed all over the grounds, having agreed to meet at 5pm in the appointed mustering room. The final half hour found me fanning myself in the room's heat; I was probably the only person happy to be outside for the ceremony itself. I entertained the ladies by going through a variety of foreign accents: Irish, Scottish, and so on. Jeff's nieces giggled.

And then, just like that, the coordinator told us it was time to line up in order for the processional. We did so, listening to the prelude music, and made our orderly way onto the deck, where sixty guests waited in the chilly air for us. Our backdrop, aside from the beautiful, fall-colored mountains, was a tasteful array of floating candles.

The ceremony itself went pretty well, in my estimation. I intro'ed the musical numbers and the readings; Jeff's sister read Jeff's selected reading (a Neruda poem) with great emotion, and my brother David read Sean's selection (Björk's "Hyperballad") with verve and humor.

I kept my homily short and sweet, starting off with a joke about how the idiot with no experience of marriage would now say a few words about love and marriage. I talked about M. Scott Peck's notion that love is an action, not a feeling; I went deeper and said that love was the mysterious source of action. I moved on to talking about how Mom's trial with brain cancer had taught me the meaning of love as the willingness to give absolutely everything, unhesitatingly, for the one you love. And I concluded on a Zen note, observing that real love is lived in the context of the ordinary:  like Zen, it's nothing special, even while being extraordinary.

Sean and Jeff had created their own vows, which were lengthy. They read the vows off sets of cue cards, each becoming emotional, but never losing composure. I led the group through the declaration of intent and the exchange of rings, and all too soon, I was saying the pronouncement while the couple kissed and we all stood awash in celebratory applause.

We did the recessional, filing out the way we came. The inner circle of the wedding party went up to the spouses' suite so I could do my duty and sign the marriage license. Photog Rodney snapped away.

After that, it was all about the partying and eating. I kept myself apart for most of that: I'm not that sociable a guy. But Sean and Jeff both told me later that everyone thought the ceremony had been amazing. Personally, I have to thank coordinator Christine and her daughter Morgan, who did all the work behind the scenes to make sure everyone followed protocol. I was just an emcee, but all of us were part of a happy, harmonious whole.

Dinner was magnificent. I think it was provided by the resort. The cake-cutting ceremony, followed by dessert, was sweet and tasty; my favorite confection proved to be the seasonal pumpkin pie.

And thus, sated, I returned to my room and just relaxed into bed, my role in this wedding now done and done. Little left to do but meet a former student on Sunday, hang out with my buddy Mike, and prep for the Monday trip back to Korea. Back home.

Wow. My brother is married.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

rehearsal day

Friday began with a huge, family-size breakfast of eggs, sausage links, and pancakes. Quite delicious, and I had the chance to sit down with some of my future in-laws. For the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon, we broke up into small groups and did our own separate things.

My group elected to hit the local state park. We got directions from the resort owners, then drove out to the park for a pleasant autumnal stroll. The park contained the Lee House, home of Lighthorse Harry Lee, as well as a sulfur spring that stank even as it put out water that apparently was good for the skin and also excellent for making coffee. Two girls, Jeff's young nieces, were with us, and while we were at a playground with slides, seesaws, and swings, I showed the older niece what Galileo (I think) had discovered about the periodicity of pendulum oscillations: each swing, no matter its width, always takes the same amount of time. We also found a large carcass that I thought must have been a wolf spider. The girls refused to come near it.

At the behest of the grown-up ladies in our group, we next drove to the Lost River Trading Post, a souvenir shop that sold old trinkets and works by local artists and craftsmen. Many of the items on display were interesting in a museum-like way, but I didn't see anything that was tempting enough to purchase, not even the pottery done by a Korean artist who had signed his or her name in Chinese.

Our third and final stop was for lunch at a place recommended by the locals. The Quarter-mile Diner proved to be a very good restaurant: I ordered a taco salad; others in the group ordered hamburgers, hot dogs, and even a "white chili" special made with white beans and shredded chicken. Service was quick and friendly. If I ever come this way again, I'll keep this place in mind.

Stuffed and pooped, I got back to the Guest House at Lost River and rested a bit before the afternoon wedding rehearsal. The organizer for the event, a feisty woman named Christine (whom Sean adores), got us in our places and took us through the general movement and rhythm of the ceremony. We did both an indoor and an outdoor run; the final location of the ceremony hasn't been decided yet because we're waiting to see how the weather will turn out. I'm not looking forward to being dressed in a heavy hanbok while indoors with seventy people, but one must prepare for any eventuality.

After rehearsal, we adjourned to dinner, which Sean and Jeff had purchased, but which the resort staff laid out and served. I met some of Sean's Korean friends and spoke in Korean with them; I also met one of Sean's French-speaking friends and talked with her a bit.

Not to jinx things, but I'm feeling pretty good about how the ceremony is going to go. We've got good and capable people in the wedding party, and everyone is rooting for this event to go well. It's just up to me not to flub this.


Friday, October 16, 2015

en Amérique

It was a choppy flight from Incheon to San Francisco, but I reached my homeland in one piece. A nice United Airlines staffer routed me directly to DC from San Fran, thus saving me the burden of transferring at Chicago's O'Hare. I arrived at National Airport almost 90 minutes earlier than scheduled (10:30pm as opposed to 11:50pm); I took advantage of airport WiFi to message my buddy Mike, who was on the grounds and ready to pick me up.

The drive down to Mike's place in Fredericksburg was both familiar and surreal; I admired Mike's new car, and we chatted desultorily, almost as if I'd never left the States. When we got to Mike's home, I was greeted by Mike's wife and by a pack of friendly dogs, two of which were being dog-sat.

After a brief-but-comfortable slumber, I grabbed my Honda Fit, which Mike and his family have been holding in trust, and drove off to The Guest House at Lost River, West Virginia. Got lost twice en route, but eventually found the place (photos of everything forthcoming). The resort is in a quiet part of West Virginia, which may be almost a redundant thing to say. It's somewhat, sort of, in the mountains, and it features beautiful vistas. The drive to the resort was gorgeous, too; I very unsafely snapped photos of the autumn-tinged landscape as I drove.

At check-in, one of the resort's proprietors kindly gave me a brief tour of the grounds, after which he showed me to my room. I re-parked my car around back and settled into my room, which was quite nice.

Sean and Jeff had arrived only a few minutes earlier, as it turned out. They have a massive suite that sits right over my head. I've already met a few of the major players involved with Saturday's wedding, including the wedding planner, whom Sean adores for her aplomb and acumen. After sitting and talking with a few new people, I retired to my room and wrestled with the notion of sleeping. Sean came and visited me before I napped; we talked. I discovered, while talking, that the US State Department had recently sponsored Sean (as one-fourth of a quartet) on a trip through the Caribbean islands as a sort of musical ambassador.

An afternoon nap went longer than expected, and Sean brought me back dinner: a salad that I had requested before drifting off into dreamland, and which I ate after waking up. The only meal the resort serves is breakfast, which means we guests have to drive out to find local eateries for our noon and evening meals. Not a big deal.

(During my tour of the grounds, I was told that breakfast begins promptly at 9 o'clock, and that a bell is rung to summon everyone to the table for a family-style meal. I haven't been summoned to table by a bell since I lived in Switzerland. My Swiss host family used to ring a dinner bell promptly at 7 o'clock. I found that bizarre, and as it turns out, most Swiss families don't use dinner bells. My host family was a mite weird.)

I had to do a bit of research, before leaving Korea, on how to avoid cell-phone roaming charges while overseas. The secret appears to be that you put your phone on "airplane" mode, then kick in the WiFi. I forgot to activate the "airplane" mode while I was in San Francisco; that gaffe went on for ten minutes (and I received a sudden torrent of Korean-language text messages informing me of the costs of roaming) before I wised up. I expect a massive phone bill next month. Someone really needs to work on making a globally operable phone network such that the whole world is your home, and nothing counts as roaming. Unless you're on the moon.

The wedding rehearsal is Friday afternoon; I have several kinks to work out in my presentation. The actual wedding is Saturday; someone's going to have to use my phone to take pictures of the blessed event, since I'm the officiant and will be unable to take any pictures. Right now, I'm going to look over the wedding program again, then head off to bed.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

a note on tech

I've decided not to take along my laptop so, if I do any blogging from the States (and I'm very likely to do so), I'll be blogging via the Blogger app on my cell phone. As for the phone itself, I've elected not to buy a SIM card or a TracFone; instead, I'll turn off roaming and will rely exclusively on Wi-Fi—on the assumption that the Lost River resort has Wi-Fi. I know National Airport has free Wi-Fi, and my buddy Mike's place in Fredericksburg also has Wi-Fi, so I ought to be more or less set.

See you in about a week, Korea.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

testing, testing (redux)

Today, I devoted a lot of time to learning the ins and outs of putting on a hanbok. Most of this was easy; the only difficult part was figuring out how to tie the knot that holds the front of the robe together. Luckily, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials to help with this, but despite the tutorials, I still needed several tries before I got the knot-tying more or less correct.

And in what may be a fashion faux pas, I've decided to recruit my Buddhist rosary—made of carved wooden skulls—to be part of my ensemble. I've studied and practiced enough Buddhism that, while I'd never claim to be an out-and-out Buddhist, I'd certainly feel comfortable calling Buddhism part of my spiritual heritage. The skulls merely signify impermanence, and in Buddhism, impermanence is not-good, not-bad: it's just the way things are. Besides, the skulls are kind of cute.

What follows are stills from a video I took to test out my hanbok. I hope you'll pardon the faux-taekwondo silliness.


Monday, October 12, 2015


A new record: 23,232 steps today. Of course, I'm now too tired to do much of anything else, so I'm skipping dinner (never hungry after exercise) and I'm going to hit the hay early tonight so I can take advantage of a full day tomorrow.

Gentlemen, to bed!



I'm off work and about to step out to do the remainder of my walk. My recent record is 21.7K steps. I might go for 22K steps this evening. Tomorrow, it's all about the packing and the hanbok knot-tying practice. With my coworker's help, I also discovered an airport-bus stop near where I work, so I no longer have to worry about taking a cab way into downtown just to grab an expensive bus. I can afford to wake up a little late on Wednesday morning, after which I'll very slowly go through the "spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch" checklist routine before heading out to the airport with a healthy time margin. Flight departs at 4:35PM; I need to be at the airport 2-3 hours beforehand, which means arriving at Incheon around 1:35PM. That, in turn, entails leaving the Daechi area around 12:15PM, as I'll be taking a cheap airport bus, which means lots of stops along the way, i.e., a long ride ahead of me.

But these details are trivial. As Neil Diamond sang, I'm comin' to America!


the one-day work week

I'm off to work today, then I'm simply off on Tuesday, which gives me time to pack for my trip to the States. I'll be in America from the 14th to the 19th; I start my trip back to Seoul on the 19th, but because of the number of stops and the length of one layover (nine hours in San Francisco, baby!), I won't be back on the peninsula until the 21st. This is something to keep in mind when you no longer have months and months of vacation time (I had four months a year as a university prof): the length of your departing and returning trips. The 19th, the 20th, and the 21st... that's three calendar days eaten up by travel alone. Sure, it was a cheap ticket purchased on, but cheap tickets have that hidden price: the price of time.

That said, it'll be good to see my brothers and my buddy Mike again. I won't be able to see my goddaughter, Mike's eldest, however: she's in college in Richmond, at Virginia Commonwealth University. But I'll see the rest of the family.

I'm also glad that my flight doesn't leave Seoul until 4:35PM on Wednesday. This means I can wake up a bit late that morning and finish whatever prep I didn't manage to do the previous day. As for the prep itself: I'm still trying to decide whether all I really need, this trip, is just a carry-on with a single change of regular clothes, my hanbok, and my toiletries. What else am I really going to need, right? I'm not going to go on a shopping spree while I'm in the States—except, maybe, to buy a mess of fiber capsules and underwear, and that's all stuff that can be shipped to my place separately.

The cell-phone issue, too, seems to have resolved itself: instead of buying anything in the States, whether it be a SIM card or an el-cheapo TracFone, I'm just going to shut off roaming and rely solely on Wi-Fi. The resort where Sean's wedding is happening is doubtless equipped with Wi-Fi; if it's not, well... that's how I'll know I'm really in West Virginia. My final day in the States will be spent back at Mike's house, and he's got Wi-Fi there, too. I think I'm set.

Getting excited about the upcoming jaunt.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Yankee Chinese

Saturday-evening dinner with Anterior Cruciate Ligament was American-style Chinese cashew chicken and shrimp, one of my mainstays. She enjoyed the dish for the most part, but I don't think she was thrilled about the green peppers, which may be an acquired taste for some folks. Ah, well. You can't win 'em all. The salad was delightful, though: it was a hearty mix of cucumber, apple, and carrot, done up in a very gentle kimchi-pickling style: very little apple-cider vinegar and a minuscule amount of salt. As I discovered, though, any amount of salt will initiate the pickling process, and plenty of liquid ended up being sucked out of the fruits and vegetables—to the point where I had to strain the whole thing in a mesh strainer to get rid of the juices. There might be some constructive use to which those juices could have been put, but I was too lazy to explore that question.

With my food mostly prepped, I left my place and met ACL at Jamshil to see "The Martian." A thought had been nagging me the entire trip over to Jamshil, though, and I confessed to ACL that I was worried that I hadn't shut off my gas stove. I had set the gas stove on very, very low heat in order to cook a batch of glutinous rice, and I honestly couldn't remember whether I had turned off the heat before leaving my place. Part of my brain raved that leaving the gas on would have been an amazingly stupid thing to do, so of course I couldn't have done that. Another, subtler part of my brain whispered that I couldn't remember having shut off the gas and having closed off the gas pipe's valve, so there was a good chance that, even now, the rice was burning, filling my place with smoke, mounting toward cataclysm.

I've had such stressful daymares before, even when I lived in Front Royal. It's a bit like being the guy who wants to look down at his pants to check whether he's zipped up his zipper: he suspects that his fly is down, but he doesn't want to draw attention to his crotch in public. There are moments—especially as I get older—when I honestly can't remember whether I've done something, and I end up freaking myself out because I'm sure I've killed thirty innocent people through inadvertent arson.

ACL saw the worry on my face and heard the stress in my voice, so she suggested I call my building's front desk. I'd had the same thought, but wasn't sure whether I should act on it. "Good idea," I said to ACL, and I went looking for the building's phone number. The most obvious Korean-language Google search (for "Daecheong Tower front desk number") yielded nothing relevant. Of course. So I looked up the Daecheong Tower website, scrolled to the bottom of the splash page, and found a number there. I handed the number over to ACL, who made the call on my behalf. "Let's hope that that number is up to date," I grumbled while she dialed. ACL did get through, and she told the front-desk ajeossi my problem. He said he didn't have a key to my place, so he'd go up and shut off the gas from the outside (I had no idea how that would be done). ACL relayed all this to me and, relieved, I slumped into my seat in the theater and enjoyed "The Martian" with no thoughts of an apartment building in flames.

When we got to my building after the movie, I saw that the mighty structure was still intact. I had told ACL my prediction that it would turn out I had done everything right and that there had been no need for urgency at all. The front-desk concierge we spoke to wasn't the same gent who had taken ACL's call, so he didn't know the story about the gas line. We shrugged and went up to my place: sure enough, I had dutifully turned everything off, and everything was safe. It was all for nothing. But when I tried to turn on the stove to finish off the chicken for the above-pictured dish, there was no gas. I suspected that we could figure out the gas-switch problem ourselves, and ACL gamely stepped outside, where she found a lever that she then turned 90 degrees. Voilà: gas restored. Another concierge came up belatedly to check on us, but I apologized and told him we'd figured the thing out for ourselves. He laughed cheerfully and went on his merry way. Thank God he was one of the better-natured guys and not one of the grumpier ajeossis.

Dinner went more or less well, although I startled ACL at one point when I made a ninja-grab for a gnat flying close to her head. "I thought you were going to hit me!" she chirped. I felt extremely guilty for not having thought through what my action must have looked like to other people. I apologized (second apology of the night), and we went back out in search of crêpes.

I had originally wanted to trundle over to Dongdaemun to visit the crêpe guy, but ACL said she knew of a crêpe place in Jamshil Station's enormous underground arcade. (Everything about Jamshil is enormous these days—even more so than in the past.) It was a place called Marion Crepes... but the circumflex was over the "s," not over the first "e," which indicated to me that whoever had designed the place's name had no notion of French, and/or no notion of what a circumflex is for. That was a bad sign for a place purportedly making crêpes à la française. Marion had a wide variety of offerings, but ACL and I went for the classic Nutella crêpe. I ordered mine with banana; ACL got hers with just Nutella.

I watched the lady as she made our crêpes. First, she didn't ladle on enough batter to give the crêpes a pleasant, soft thickness: she instead went for paper-thin. She was also rather violent with her râteau à crêpes (lit. "crêpe rake," for spreading the batter in a circular pattern; see here), raking the batter so thin that it was almost transparent on the iron. She then spread the Nutella on in a rapid, negligent manner, added sliced banana to mine, then perfunctorily folded the crêpes into their classic wedge shape, wrapping them in wax paper and handing them over to us.

I'll say this: the crêpes were pleasantly warm when they hit our fingers, so they had that going for them. ACL and I found it to be way too hot in that part of the underground arcade, so we headed for an exit to the surface. I held on to my dessert, planning to eat it once we found a place to sit down. We walked and walked, finding no usable benches at all. The benches we did find were still soaking wet from a recent rain, so I shrugged and bit into my crêpe.

It shattered like a flaky croissant. That's how thin and brittle it was. ACL complained that her crêpe's main body had hardened as soon as it had hit the cool night air. Mine had seized up as well: the brittle edge of the crêpe, once eaten through, led to a tough, chewy middle that was more mollusk than confection. Neither of us was very happy with our desserts, and ACL expressed regret for having taken me to Marion. I told her we'd hit the crêpe guy next time around, so she could have some real crêpes.

All in all, though, an afternoon and an evening well spent.


movies I'd like to see

I'm constantly combing through the site to watch movie previews. I admit it: I love previews, and very often, I love preview trailers more than I love the actual films. Most of the time, when I'm watching the trailers, I give the films nothing but thumbs-down: as I get older and crankier, fewer and fewer films are of real interest to me (which is why I'm thankful for preview trailers: I can nibble the hors d'oeuvre instead of wasting time gorging on the entire meal). But every now and again, some movies come along whose trailers succeed at piquing my interest, and that seems to be the case right now. Apple's site is currently dominated by Halloween-themed horror offerings, but among the latest group of movies to show up on Apple's site are the following:

1. "The Forbidden Room": I can't make heads or tails of this psychedelic film, but I definitely want to see it. Plus, it's got the bulgy-eyed Udo Kier, master of the pervy role.

2. "Extraordinary Tales": this seems to be a compendium of creepy, animated films featuring the voices of Sir Christopher Lee, Guillermo Del Toro, and others.

3. "Shelter": a gritty drama starring Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie. Looks good. Doesn't look typical, and I've enjoyed Mackie's work in the superhero genre (he plays Falcon opposite Captain America in the Marvel universe).

4. "Janis: Little Girl Blue": there's only one Janis, of course, and that's Janis Joplin. As you can probably guess from the film's title, this is a documentary about the famous singer who revolutionized the music industry for female performers. Joplin died at 27 from a lethal combination of alcohol and heroin, so this train-wreck aspect of her life makes this film a must-see for me.

5. "Hail, Caesar": a Coen Brothers film starring many A-listers: Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum. It looked, at first, like some sort of parody of the life of Cecil B. DeMille, but as the trailer went on, it turned into that Coen Brothers staple, the kidnap comedy (cf. "Raising Arizona"). I laughed during the trailer, and this is probably the movie that I most want to see, of all the movies on this list. And since when did Clooney become a Coen regular? He's featured in several of their films, now.


"The Martian": review

Ridley Scott directs and Matt Damon stars in "The Martian," a film based on the science-nerd novel by Andy Weir. Weighing in at a hefty 140-minute running time and starring an ensemble cast (including Sean Bean who, thankfully, does not get killed, but who has to suffer gamely through a corny-yet-funny Lord of the Rings reference reminding us that Bean played Boromir), "The Martian" is the story of astronaut Mark Watney, who begins his adventure as the botanist/engineer member of the Ares III mission to Mars, i.e., the third manned mission of five or six planned sorties to the red planet. A major storm hits the Ares team, forcing it to abort and to escape back into orbit via the MAV: the Mars Ascent Vehicle. Watney, however, is hit by a piece of equipment during evac. His suit stops broadcasting a signal, and he is presumed dead. The rest of the team escapes on the MAV, climbs aboard Hermes, the Earth-to-Mars mission vehicle, and begins the slow chug back to Earth. Watney, meanwhile, wakes up to discover he's been impaled by an antenna, but the antenna itself, along with his blood, has created a seal that prevents most of his oxygen from leaking out. And this is where the real plot begins: with Watney alive on Mars, trying to figure out a way to survive until he can be rescued. Other subplots include Watney's team's being made aware that Watney is alive, and what experts on Earth are doing to help Watney out.

I had two main questions going into this screening. The first one had to do with how faithful the movie would be to the book, which became a bestseller thanks to a fast-paced narrative featuring a likable protagonist and plenty of science-talk. The second, mentioned in an earlier post, had to do with whether director Ridley Scott was competent to handle the book's often-lighthearted approach to deadly danger.

As to the first question: the movie varies in some significant ways from the book, but this is only to be expected. Much is made, in the book, of the design of the Hermes, for example, with its ion engines that can't produce much thrust, but which nevertheless can slow-burn the ship's way to Mars, covering millions of miles with unprepossessing efficiency. Many science geeks have commented on the fact that we are currently working on just such technology. Given that "The Martian" takes place several decades in the future (this is only implied in the movie, whereas it's explicitly stated in the book), ion engines are a plausible bit of science fiction. Unfortunately, the engines aren't mentioned at all in the movie. Another point the movie drops is Watney's disastrous rollover in the rover right as he's entering the Schiaparelli crater. At a guess, this was just one disaster too many for a movie whose running time was already dangerously close to two-and-a-half hours. The Hermes crew's attempt to rescue Watney is also nearly completely rewritten from how it happened in the book. Another difference is that the movie puts a lot less stress on Watney's first-person narrative: Damon's Watney does keep a wry video journal, but many of the problems he encounters (e.g., the decompression of the Hab when the airlock's fabric tears open) are dealt with, in the movie, from the perspective of a third-person-omniscient narrator. The movie also puts the severe storm at Sol 18 instead at Sol 6 (why?). Furthermore, I was sorry to see that the film made no mention of either (1) how Watney managed to navigate to the Schiaparelli crater using little more than the path of Phobos across the sky and a homemade astrolabe, or (2) how Watney used solar panels and logic to figure out the size and general direction of a sandstorm in his path toward the crater (and come to think of it, the movie also left out the fact that Watney lost communication with NASA again, not regaining it until he had reached the second MAV inside Schiaparelli). A good bit of geekery was excised from the film, but the film does contain a terrestrial epilogue that is nowhere in the book.

None of the above deviations from the novel was fatal to the movie. "The Martian" was, overall, a fairly faithful interpretation of Andy Weir's story. Which brings us to the second question: how well did Scott handle the movie's tone? Scott is the man who helmed moody, atmospheric films like "Alien," "Blade Runner," "Gladiator," and "Black Hawk Down." Weir's novel, by contrast, gives us a plucky, can-do protagonist who has a quip for nearly every situation. Overall, I think Scott actually did a good job of restraining his own tendency toward darkness. Setting a movie on Mars must have been a dream come true for Scott—the craggy valleys and long shadows of the Martian landscape would have been overpoweringly tempting, yet somehow Scott managed to keep the focus on story and character. It was obvious, though, that Scott did give in to the darkness at some moments, e.g., the storm at the beginning of the movie, and the gritty scene in which Watney performs first aid on himself.

In the end, though, I wasn't as wowed by this movie as I'd been by Ron Howard's "Apollo 13." I'm still trying to figure out why that might be. Andy Weir's novel was a compelling, page-turning read, so it's not as though Ridley Scott was working from poor source material. I think, maybe, that part of the problem might have been that "Apollo 13" was based on a true story whereas "The Martian" is based on fiction. I've seen "Apollo 13" at least eight or nine times, and it never gets old. "The Martian," on the other hand, strikes me as well made but having little suspense. I knew the story going in, but I also have a feeling that I won't, in future, be able to re-watch "The Martian" and experience the same sort of gripping tension I felt while watching "Apollo 13" for the fifth or sixth time. Another problem might well be inscribed in the respective natures of the stories being told: "Apollo 13" gives us three men stuck in a tiny capsule, which is a great way to create dramatic tension; "The Martian" gives us a lone astronaut against the sere, quiet, grandiose backdrop of an entire planet.* Add to this the notion that Ron Howard edited "Apollo 13" very tightly, in a way that amped up the tension and pressure; Scott's editing style, by contrast, has always been more stately and grandiloquent—more simmer than boil.

That complaint aside, I thought that Scott's film did a good job of making certain moments of Weir's novel more real and visceral for me. Seeing the vacuum-packed squares of astronaut feces was both amusing and evocative: those feces packs were, in a real sense, human pollution on Mars (or they would have been if Watney hadn't rescued them and repurposed those packets as fertilizer for his potato farm). Watching Watney's attempts at creating water by using hydrazine was also a vivid experience, and kudos to Matt Damon for that scene in which he cringes and whimpers during the Martian storm, unsure as to whether his taped-over repair job on the Hab will hold up, unable to concentrate on doing his inventory.

I'm no science nerd, so I wonder what the nerdy fans of Weir's novel will think of how realistically Scott handled the novel's physics and biology. I can foresee some complaints about the way the Hermes seems to rumble in space as it passes by the camera: the "There's no sound in space, dammit!" complaint has been around since at least 1977's "Star Wars." It could be argued, though, that the rumble is there to give us a dim sense of what the crew members inside the Hermes are experiencing. Mars' gravity is a tiny bit less than 0.4g; it would have been nice to see how this might affect one's ability to move across the Martian surface and to pick up objects that would normally be too heavy to lift on Earth.

I should also note that sitting with a Korean audience made for a different viewing experience than sitting with Americans would have. There were moments in the movie that were obviously meant to evoke cheers and shouts of triumph from the American viewing public. The Korean audience that I sat with laughed dutifully at the more obvious laugh lines (e.g., when Watney confirms with NASA that he's to be leaving the surface of Mars in a stripped-down MAV that is now essentially a convertible), but there were no shouts of triumph during the moments when NASA and Chinese staffers were cheering. It's at times like that—during those scenes when it's the American who comes through yet again—that I feel Koreans fail to engage with the idea that this is a human triumph and instead see it purely as an American one. (To be fair, I think it's quite possible that this lack of engagement occurs in reverse, too. This would go a long way toward explaining most Americans' disinterest in foreign films.)

All in all, I liked "The Martian," although it didn't grip me as hard as "Apollo 13" (or even "Gravity") did. It's a great visual experience, and the acting is understated but professional (that Elrond joke aside). I think it'd be worth your time.

*"The Martian" actually makes an "Apollo 13" reference at one point when it refers to Rich Purnell as "a steely-eyed missile man"—a line from "Apollo 13" that comes right after the Houston team figures out a step-by-step procedure to get 13's oxygen scrubbers working again. Randall Munroe at XKCD actually joked about how "The Martian" was going to be, essentially, that scene played out over two or so hours.