Saturday, April 30, 2016

don't trust websites: they lie

Per a comment by perennial contrarian/one-upsman John from Daejeon, I tried to hit Haddon Supermarket last night in my quest for foreign food. In one of his comments, John had linked to two Haddon-related websites, here and here. Both sites provided similar descriptions of the market, as well as contact information. The TexaSeoul blog (second link) had specific directions and listed the business hours as 8:30AM to 9PM.

On Tuesday the 26th, while I was at work, I had tried calling Haddon once to confirm their hours of operation, but there'd been no answer, which I thought didn't bode well. On the day I'd called, I had thought about just trundling out there; the lack of an answer to my call made me decide to table the trip until later, as the market was likely closed. Yesterday, though, I said "Fuck it" and elected to make the trip out to Haddon anyway. At the very least, I could reconnoiter the route. So I left the office around 7:30PM and headed north to Oksu-dong, the district where Haddon is located.

The directions on the TexaSeoul blog say this:

Itaewon Station. Line 6. Exit 4. Walk straight to the first bus stop. Take bus 110B for 8 stops to Okjeong Middle School. Turn right when you exit bus and walk ~30 seconds. The building is on the left. You will see a sign for Haddon House – that is the back entrance. Walk around the right of the building to the main entrance. The store is downstairs.

The subway-and-bus part of the directions were fine; no problem. The "walk 30 seconds" part was bullshit, as it's closer to a minute, but I'll forgive the writer's lack of a sense of time: Koreans themselves are often optimistic when they tell you how long it takes to walk somewhere; a 25-minute walk will often be described as taking "maybe ten minutes." I also didn't see any big sign for Haddon; I had to look inside one of the building's several entrances, and I saw a sign for Haddon set way back from the front door, hanging over a downward-leading staircase to the B1-level market.

In looking at the route via Google Maps on my cell phone, I saw that Haddon actually sat very close to Oksu Station (it's in Oksu-dong, after all), which made me wonder why the writer of the directions would want to make everyone take such a roundabout way to the store. John from Daejeon's comment noted that the walk from Oksu Station would involve some "fortitude," as he put it, and I soon found out why: after I'd found Haddon and begun to walk toward Oksu Station, I quickly discovered that the Oksu Station-Haddon Supermarket walking route goes up (or down, depending on your direction of travel) a steep hill that would be like a miniature Namsan hike for me, in my current shape. I realized the blog writer had been trying to save us all some pain and agony, as it's all uphill from Oksu Station.

The store, when I got there, was closed tighter than a virgin's thighs. An old man sitting in a concierge-like space close to the descending staircase seemed like a Person Who Knew Things, so I lumbered up to him, interrupting his TV-watching, and asked him what time Haddon normally closed. "Seven," he replied. "What about on weekends?" I asked. "Seven," he said again, with a smile. I thanked the old man, bowed, and left.

So now I know. I know that Haddon sits on a steep hill if you approach it from Oksu Station, and I know that its hours of operation go until 7PM every day. This may explain why no one had answered my phone call before: I had tried to call around 6:45PM this past Tuesday; the staff would have been prepping the store for closure at that hour.

While the trip to Haddon felt as though I'd wasted my time, I now had some information that I hadn't had before. It could be that the "9PM" listed on the TexaSeoul blog had been correct at one point, and that Haddon had reduced its hours because of a lack of business. Whatever the case, it's almost never a good idea to trust what's written online: verify for yourself. I knew that particular life-hack already, of course: it's why I'd tried to call the store in the first place.

Armed with my hard-won knowledge, I'll be attempting Haddon again this weekend. In Korea, where nothing proceeds in a linear way, it often takes two tries to get things right.


Friday, April 29, 2016

separated at birth?

Jeff Bezos, head honcho at, and Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), main villain in "Ant Man." It's not just that they're bald, powerful white dudes: they really do look like brothers.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

22K steps

The late showing of "Captain America: Civil War" let out around 1:15AM, and I resolved to walk back to my apartment. I had somehow gotten it into my head that the walk from Jamshil to Daecheong Station would take me under an hour, i.e., that it would be less than a three-mile trek. Ha ha—wrong! The walk ended up taking me about 90 minutes, so I racked up about 9,000 steps before I finally toppled—like a gross, sweaty sequoia—into bed.

Today, I did my usual walks with my coworker, racking up another several thousand steps over the course of the work day. Then after work, I went down to the creekside trail and racked up enough steppage to put me at a grand total of 22,000 steps for the day. Almost all of this is on flat ground, so it's nothing like the workout I used to get by summiting Namsan several nights a week. I need to start walking up and down the stairs that line the path so I can work my heart and lungs.


so behind, and getting behinder

I have so many movie reviews to write that it's not even funny. Stay tuned for a double-whammy review of "Philomena" and "Spotlight," both of which focus on the naughtiness of the Catholic Church. Expect a triple-whammy review of a trio of dumbass action flicks: "The Expendables 3," "Machete," and "Machete Kills." Finally, as I just watched it in the theaters, expect a review of "Captain America: Civil War."

Much writing to do, there is.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016


This looks to be the same Vader statuette that I saw in Toys R Us last Christmas. If it is, then that little guy is running for a cool half-million won, and as tempted as I am, I haven't fallen so far into the dark side as to have lost all financial perspective. Must restrain myself for now.

Maybe one day, though, when I'm filthy rich...



My boss went looking at the same Hannam Market that I had gone to, and voilà. Canada Dry found.


lunch 2

Shabu beef with chimichurri on romaine.


lunch 1

Chicken moghalai (or mughlai) sitting on romaine lettuce.


rendezvous with Cap?

I might be going out to see a very late showing of "Captain America: Civil War," which just came out today in Korea. I have a feeling that I'm approaching my tolerance threshold for Marvel films, no matter how good they might be. "X-Men: Apocalypse" is also coming out this year; I'm dangerously close to overdosing on Marvel and suffering an emetic reaction. But that won't stop me from seeing the movie tonight.

Expect a review later.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

today's run-on sentence

Brought to you by the blockquoting Ed Driscoll, writing at Instapundit:

But hey, if Robin Wilson wants to behave as though the only people in America who are repulsed by the idea of a career academic making a salary writing about Martha Stewart and Twilight conventions trying to bully a campus reporter due to some delusional notions of social justice ends justifying means are conservatives, who am I to get in her way?

Yikes. That needs some serious surgery. Although to be honest, if I wanted to teach students about run-ons, I'd more likely turn to the KCNA,* which loves spewing diatribes filled with hilariously hyperbolic run-ons.

*KCNA and KCNA-related sites are blocked within South Korea. I need a proxy to visit them.


Monday, April 25, 2016


I counted up the number of photos I had taken while on my 21K-step Saturday walk, and the total is close to 150. Most likely, I'll either (1) break this up into batches of roughly 50 each and post the batches over several days or (2) just choose the 20 or so best pics, as I did when I put up the photo essay of my Daemosan hike, and post the whole thing at once. I'm probably going to choose Option 2 because it's less boring than Option 1. Not everyone enjoys slogging through other people's slide shows, especially when there are 150 images to get through.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

today's linner: "Kobb" salad

Here's a pic of your standard Cobb salad. What I made for "linner" today (it was between lunch and dinner, and I don't like calling that "dunch," which sounds retarded) substituted chicken with shrimp and used a homemade dressing that was a purée of avocado, heavy cream, yogurt, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and many dollops of chimichurri. Along with the shrimp were quail eggs, bacon, avocado, red cabbage, and corn, all on a bed of baby greens. I can't rightly call this a "Cobb salad," so I hereby dub this a "Kobb salad," in the spirit of "krab" and "mouce au chocolat." Behold:


that path

Wow. I walked long and long yesterday, eventually racking up over 21,000 steps over the course of nearly four hours. I think I reached what was technically the end of the path I'd been on, but it didn't exactly feel like closure. The name of the watercourse I'd been following seemed to change from the Yangjae-cheon to the Yeoeui-cheon (여의천); it was dark by the time I reached what was likely the end of the trail: a road that cut across my path near the foot of the local mountain, Cheonggye-san.

I took a ton of pictures along the way, so I'll be slapping those up in a hypertrophic photo essay over the course of the coming week—maybe as a single blog post, maybe as a series of posts, with each post devoted to a "phase" of the walk.

One thing my hike brought home to me was the humbling fact of just how built-up Seoul is: construction was everywhere along the route I'd taken; evidence of herculean human effort abounded. There was some beauty; there was some ugliness; you'll see a good bit of both when you see the pics I took.

Most humorous fact about last night: I've now discovered the walking route to the closest Costco—the one that I normally take a cab to. My brother suggested that I take a backpack with me if I want to shop there from now on. That's actually not a bad idea, although (1) it means that going Costco will henceforth be An Event as opposed to just an errand, and (2) because it'll be An Event, I basically have to devote my day to it. Of course, the walk would only be to Costco: with perishables in my backpack, sitting flush against my warm back, there's no way I'd risk spoiling seafood by returning to my place on foot.

Pictures and narrative soon. Stay tuned.


McPherson's BBQ Pub... no more?

My buddy Tom sent me a DM (direct message) via Twitter: "Did Joe McPherson get screwed out of his business?" This turned out to be an astute question, as I sent Joe a Kakao message to inquire further and discovered that, yes, that is essentially what happened. "It's been all over Facebook this week," Joe wrote me. I'm not on Facebook, so I missed this entire tempest, and since I don't know the extent to which Joe has explained the situation on Facebook, I don't know how much I'm permitted to say here. Suffice it to say that Joe and his Korean partner had a fundamental disagreement that led to Joe's departure.

Happily, Joe says he's had partnership offers from more prominent (and more trustworthy) people, so he expects to begin again, probably at a different location. In the meantime, this is extremely sad news for those of us who have been to Joe's place (I've already been there twice). As I texted to Joe, I'm not particularly interested in going back if Joe himself isn't going to be there. I also hypothesized that the resto wouldn't survive long without him, and Joe grimly agreed. Those of us who are loyal to Joe and his brand of 'Bama-style low-and-slow barbecue will just have to sit tight for now and wait for Joe's resurrection, which I hope will happen well before the end of this calendar year. Fingers crossed.


Saturday, April 23, 2016


It's late in the day, but I'll be walking as far along the Yangjae-cheon walking/biking path as I can to see how far the damn trail goes. I've already looked at a map, and I have a sinking feeling, based on what I saw, that the trail ends far short of the mountains I see in the distance whenever I head east. (Going west eventually leads to the Han River... I'll be exploring that part of the trail soon, too, and maybe walking a stretch along the Han.)

Tomorrow's mission: shopping! I need to buy halloumi so I can cook up some Indian chicken with curds; I also need to re-stock my beef supplies, grab some more fresh parsley, basil, cilantro, and olive oil to keep making that positively addictive chimichurri, and if I have time, I also need to find a decent shoe store where I can buy a new pair of walking shoes. My current pair, which has been with me since before my 600-mile trek in 2008, is about ready to give up the ghost after having accompanied me for thousands of miles. I hate to see them go, but I fear the time has come to put them out to pasture.

If I have any time after that, I need to think about buying some DVDs and Blu-rays so I can finish setting up my TV and watching some damn movies. My brother is suggesting that I forgo the DVDs and Blu-rays—which he contends are dead media—in favor of getting a Roku or a Chromecast device, which would allow me to stream movies from my laptop to my TV. I'm leaning more toward a Roku myself, but we'll see. It'd be nice to re-watch "Game of Thrones" on a big screen instead of on my dinky (but well-meaning) laptop.

More news later. I'll be walking until way after dark, so my step count for today ought to be... interesting, to say the least.


Friday, April 22, 2016

"Your English sucks," says Hackers Talk

This very morning, I saw the following Hackers Talk ad in the subway:

The tone is typically Korean: it busts your balls, but does so with a smile. Very roughly, the large text in blue font says: "If you've learned English for ten years but can't even speak [it] for ten seconds, you're an absolute beginner."* This sort of tone is consistent with the tone of a lot of Korean ads that evoke shame or guilt about one's own looks, abilities, circumstances, or accomplishments in life. I understand that Korean ball-busting is supposedly rooted in a subtext of compassion, but (1) I think that notion is baloney, as well as an excuse for people to act like jerks who simply say whatever they happen to be thinking at that moment; and (2) well... look at the smug, smiling asshole on that ad. He doesn't look compassionate: he looks like Nelson going "Ha ha!"

That said, as a former English teacher and current textbook-designing grammar-Nazi-in-residence, I kind of agree with the sentiment, and at a guess, I'm not alone among expats. The ad isn't simply shaming potential customers into finding a better way to master English: it's also critiquing 99% of the English-teaching methods out there by implying they're all a waste of time—a ten-year-long waste for many learners.

I, too, think that most Koreans "learn" English in a time-wasting, inefficient manner. The Korean style of language learning varies little from the Korean way of accomplishing anything in life: find the most difficult (random, unfocused, time-wasting, desperately last-minute) way possible to accomplish something, then keep working in that vein until you feel the requisite amount of sadness, frustration, and anger—at which point you can nobly characterize your meltdown state as han, i.e., a species of passionate existential bitterness. When Koreans do corner-cutting rush jobs that end up falling apart because of poor quality (Seongsu Bridge, 1994, comes to mind, along with the 1995 Sampoong Department Store collapse, the 1995 Daegu gas explosions, and the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster**), they have to go back and do it again, beating their chests in self-pity as they go, but never really learning any fundamental lessons. Do-overs are a colossal waste of time, effort, and money. In Korea, the culture is such that it's often more important to look busy than actually to be busy, and it's more important to work hard than to work efficiently. This isn't to detract from Korea's many impressive accomplishments both at home and abroad (e.g., the monumental Burj Khalifa, mostly constructed by Samsung and absolutely a thing of beauty that I hope one day to visit), but the Korean track record of inefficiency and unwisdom is clear.

Back to English learning. When Koreans study, their approach is often little more than the brute force of memorize, memorize, memorize. Memorization isn't really learning, except to the extent that it involves correctly parroting information for a test. The Korean approach to English has long been rooted in a parody of 1960s-era audiolingualism/structuralism: there's an immense focus on grammar (I'm not against focusing on grammar, to be sure, but I'm against an insane focus on it to the exclusion of real, dynamic context and actual, natural usage) and a mechanistic, robotic understanding of how conversation works: for Koreans, English conversation is the exchange of memorized phrases. Language pedagogy in Korea has its head thoroughly up its ass, and millions of students have gone through this assembly line, coming out with their brains twisted and their time wasted. It's a huge garbage pile, and it's a miracle that any students at all can speak or write passably in English. I'd contend that such students are accomplished in spite of the system, not thanks to it.

So the ball-busting Hackers ad may be on to something. But the real question, which the ad fails to answer, is: does the Hackers approach work any better? I'm pretty sure I know the answer, as I've discussed charlatanry before.

*The orange-ish text, right after the blue text, says "Escape from absolute-beginner English," and the final line in huge yellow font simply says the program's name: Hackers Talk, followed by a standard Korean-style "exit" icon, implying escape from the hell of linguistic newbiedom.

**Seongsu Bridge and Daegu are clear examples of corner-cutting rush jobs thanks to sloppiness during construction that led to disaster. The Sewol ferry isn't as obvious a case of a "rush job," but I contend that it is one all the same: the ship was overloaded with cargo in an attempt to send out as much material as possible in as short a period as possible. The Korean "hurry-hurry" mentality was definitely at work. Safety standards were deliberately overlooked, and this includes the refurbishing of the ship itself: the ferry, originally Japanese, had been illegally expanded to allow for greater lading capacity.


ululate 4U!

Prince—the Artist—has died. At five feet, two inches, Prince was shorter than my mom, but he wasn't shy about being a randy little bastard. Essentially an id with legs, Prince debuted with his innovative, funky style in the 1970s and dominated the 80s before going even weirder in the 90s, changing his name to [symbol].

I was never a huge fan of Prince's music, but I happily acknowledge that he was a transgressive innovator who pushed the boundaries of mainstream songwriting and musical composition. I recall perking up when I learned that Prince's music would feature in 1989's "Batman," starring Michael Keaton. I bought the double album for that movie—one tape (yes, these were the days of cassettes) with Danny Elfman's orchestral score, another with Prince's songs. I specifically recall a funny line from "Vicki Waiting":

I told the joke about the woman
Who asked her lover, "Why is your organ so small?"
He replied, "I didn't know I was playin' in a cathedral."
Vicki didn't laugh at all.

One regret I have is that I've never seen Prince's movie "Purple Rain" all the way through. I've seen only bits and pieces of it. Prince starred in that film with smoking-hot Apollonia Kotero, who's now in her fifties. Prince was also associated with the singer Vanity, who also died this year (just this past February, in fact) at age 57, the same age at which Prince died. A multitalented lyricist, Prince famously wrote the words and composed the music for Sinéad O'Connor's wonderful "Nothing Compares 2U." Prince had crafted the song and set it aside; O'Connor got famous doing her own arrangement of it.

I'd like to imagine that Prince is up in heaven—having changed into his true form, a randy satyr—and he's chasing screaming angels around and among the clouds, promising glorious buggery, even as I write this. The angels' paths, as they try to evade Prince, describe musical notes, and the notes form a tune that will get heaven partying like it's... well. You know.


the creek path in pictures

Not too many images to share tonight—just four shots that I took while walking during this evening's 15.5K-step march. I've described the creekside path before, so there's little need to elaborate. Without further ado, then, the pics:

Above is a shot that looks forward down the path I'm going to be walking. Not much to look at, I'm sure you'll agree. The path is fairly straight; there are curves, but they're so gentle as to almost not be there. Bikers are supposed to be in the right lane; pedestrians walk in the left lane, which is actually a two-way path. Painted signs on the path enjoin walkers to walk on the right side, but this is Korea, so that instruction is routinely ignored by people who prefer to almost-collide with each other.

The creek path goes under several bridges—both car bridges and foot bridges. There are also occasional stone bridges set into the creek bed: as long as the water isn't high, you can walk from one side of the creek to the other by using those stones. There are also small, arched foot bridges spanning the creek, so a walker has plenty of opportunities to cross to the other side whenever he or she desires.

The walk is also marked with painted distance markers spaced every hundred meters; where I normally hit the path, the first such marker I see says "1000 m." I now usually walk all the way down until I reach "3300 m," but on Thursday evening, I walked farther—almost to 4000. It occurs to me that, assuming the marks have been placed accurately, I can use them to really test out how trustworthy my pedometer is. So I might be doing some experiments soon.

Below: one of the sets of stairs that I'd mentioned before. The stairs (and there are many such staircases all along the path) allow you to move up from the creekside-level path to a path that's halfway up the slope, or you can climb all the way to the top, to street level, and do your walk while all aloof and above it all. A lot of Korean walkers prefer the halfway-up path because it's for walkers only: no bothersome bikes. (The bikers don't always respect their lanes; sometimes this doesn't bother me, and sometimes it's obnoxious.)

Below, this next shot shows a look backward at the path I wouldn't be taking that evening.

Finally, the last shot shows a large group of dancercising ajummas, happily moving together in loose but playful choreography as the group leader counts out the beat in English.

Click the image to enlarge the ajummas:


Thursday's lunch

I had run out of shabu beef (1.5 kilos can go fast), so Thursday's low-carb lunch was a none-too-fancy lettuce wrap with tuna, quail eggs, and Korean jalapeño pickles. You won't see it here, but I later added some chimichurri to the eggs before stacking them on the tuna. I had feared the sauce wouldn't go with the tuna, but the Gestalt was funky and delicious. Anyway, here's a pic of Thursday's lunch, for your delectation (or horror):


Thursday, April 21, 2016

a full-on Godwin-ing

Does this strike anyone else as a Hitler reference?


16.46K steps

Tonight's walk was 16,464 steps. According to my pedometer, the walk—which was actually several walks spread throughout the day—took me 168 minutes, which puts me at a step rate of 98 steps per minute. That's reassuring because this result means I'm starting to creep back up to my old rate of 101 or 102 steps per minute.

The path I'm walking goes alongside the nearby Yangjae-cheon, a wide creek that feeds into the Han River, which describes a serpentine path through the middle of Seoul, dividing the city into its famous Gangbuk (north of the river) and Gangnam (south of the river) halves. The creek itself is straight, so the walking path is correspondingly flat and straight—for miles, apparently. The creek is flanked by steep sides that have been landscaped in such a way as to have narrow paths running parallel to the creekside path. One path sits halfway up the slope; the other path is at the top of the slope, at street level (the creek is well below street level), so there are three parallel paths on both sides of the creek—six paths total.

Every couple hundred meters, there are stairs that allow a walker at creek level to walk all the way up to street level if he wants. As long as I'm walking on fairly unchallenging flat ground, those stairs are my ticket to creating a more intense workout. Maybe starting next week, I hope to force myself to walk up and down every single set of stairs I encounter. This will significantly lengthen my walk, but short of trying to climb up Daemosan again, this is my best hope for halfway decent cardio. (As you may have guessed, I gave up on the staircase in my building, mainly because it left me gasping, and at that point, I hadn't resumed walking in earnest, which means I always felt this close to a heart attack every time I dared the stairs. That said, I might try the staircase again at some point.)


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

you must now choose

Look at the following two altered images.

Now choose wisely. One is an image of bacon; the other is an image of Bernie Sanders's forehead. Which one shows Bernie?


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

weight-loss testimonial

This is from an online friend who requested that I not use his name. Agree or disagree, doubt or not, it's an interesting story about a guy who lost a hundred pounds (45.4 kg).

So: the background before I lost 100 pounds. Around age 14, I developed acne, allergies to pollen, and a strange need to sweat a lot at night. It turns out the sweating was my skin processing the gunk my kidneys weren't getting out by themselves during the day. It wasn't "a problem" by any stretch... I just smelled bad when I woke up, and after I was old enough to drink alcohol, the alcohol smell got sweated out quite obviously within the hour.

Fast forward to last year. I was a touch over 300 pounds, had gallstones, and my wife had been looking for ways to get me better. The method that finally worked was the one outlined by William Davis in Wheat Belly: no sugar, no flour.

I thought my wife's latest "fix you!" plan was going to yield yet-again tiny results, but I did it... I got to keep up drinking alcohol, and the meat, bacon, and veggie dishes I ate were pretty yummy. My sugar intake at the time was pretty small, I thought—usually a Coke, and whatever sugar I added to black coffee. But I took it to zero.

Over the next three months, I ate normally and drank coffee to get going in the morning. I took to beating the summer heat with lemon juice added to water, with some turmeric added... strangely refreshing, and I had a huge craving for the turmeric around week 3, hopefully to clean out whatever from my insides.

I was slowly losing fat from all over, not just my gut. My calves, my temples, etc., lost weight pretty evenly. After about two months, I noticed I was displacing a lot less water in the bathtub. At month 3, I finally checked, and I was down a touch over 100 pounds—and nearly all fat, as far as I could tell.

Around here, I noticed my kidneys doing their job fully. I was no longer needing to sweat badly at night to feel rested. And without my skin needing to process gunk, my acne disappeared. I also noticed that the strange "fog" on my wedding ring was gone. Since I was no longer sweating gunk, my ring was uncoated by gunk, and shiny again.

It also turned out about then that a bulge just under my now-much-flatter abs was a parasitic worm I had. A couple days of garlic tea got rid of something that, as far as I could tell, I’d had for about 20 years. With the worm gone, I noticed that I was able to more completely sleep at night, and more completely be awake during the day.

So it's about a year later, and without flour, things are going fine. I cut out milk/cheese for a while. After a binge of Costco cheddar, my wife noticed my temples getting puffy. Turns out the cheese was doing it. Hopefully my mild dairy problem is the sort of food allergy that can be overcome by three months or so of abstinence. I'm looking forward to getting back to cheese.

In terms of other food, I'm actually doing okay without the flour (pasta, bread, cake, etc.). I can now make a mean steak, and with potatoes in the mix, I'm fine in terms of being not so hungry.

If you're looking for some advice on a full-bore water fast, I can ask my wife. She's been on one for about 4 weeks. The turn-around has been huge in her case.

I hope you get better, Kevin. You're a good guy. I hate to see you not at your peak.

If you want any more info, let me know. My wife has been the one doing all of the reading and research, and she did a ton of it. She reads Japanese, English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Most of the good info she got started with some Brazilian doctors who were exploring various nutrition works from the USA. Altogether, she found a lot of interesting things.

Losing a hundred pounds in three months is incredible, although I find it counterintuitive that my friend could continue to eat potatoes, which are as starchy as wheat-based carbs. Then again, I haven't read Wheat Belly, so who knows?

In the meantime, my friend Charles sent me a link to a website called Nutrition As I Know It (NAIKI). Charles writes:

It's maintained by a Nutritional Science and Kinesiology student, and it's pretty fascinating. Of the many things on the site he has a list of trustworthy nutrition sources and untrustworthy nutrition sources (Tim Ferriss is on the latter).

Apparently, there's a lot of bullshit out there, and NAIKI's mission is to act as a sort of guide and corrective. The NAIKI "naughty" list of diet-info sources to avoid is here. Are Wheat Belly and William Davis on it...? Even if they are, I have no reason to doubt that my friend did in fact lose a hundred pounds in three months. At the very least, the diet worked for him, even if it's not guaranteed to work for other folks.



I've been doing long walks along the Yangjae-cheon. The path itself is relentlessly straight and flat, and it goes for miles, but there are interesting sights that greet the attentive walker. One such sight is an amazing tadpole pond in which thousands upon thousands of spermatozoic tadpoles swim in massive black swarms that remind me of the tentacled machines that poured into the Zion docks in "The Matrix Revolutions." Another sight is this rather eldritch-looking set of stairs—a sluice slicked over with algae:

I could stare at those steps all day long. And the algae definitely remind me of chimichurri.


low-carb lunch

Today's lunch looked like this and tasted fine, fine, fine:

If eating low-carb were like this all the time, I'd have more fun dieting.



Seen on my Twitter timeline:

Got that? If you enjoyed the beating, do please subscribe.



Tonight's low- and no-carb dinner comes courtesy of Costco, which sells 1.5-kg packages of paper-thin shabu-style beef for W30,900. The beef is so amazing that all you have to do, to prep it, is throw it on the skillet with a wee bit of oil (the oil's not actually necessary) and a dash of salt and pepper. That, all by itself, is unbelievably tasty.

But tonight, I fancied the beef up a bit by adding some freshly made Argentinian chimichurri to one batch, and by tossing a second batch of beef in a classic gravy. I took one picture of each batch, which you can see below.

With chimichurri:

If the above sauce looks a bit like algae to you... yeah, it does to me, too, and that's how it looks in real life as well. I did some research on chimichurri before coming up with my own recipe; there are three or four main herbs associated with it, and recipes vary widely in terms of which herbs get used, and in what proportions.

The main herbs are cilantro, fresh basil, fresh parsley (usually Italian parsley), and fresh oregano. Aside from that, chimichurri is a lot like pesto, but without any nuts or cheese, and with the addition of plenty of red-wine vinegar to heighten the acidity. My own sauce began with a cup of olive oil followed by two handfuls of basil and two handfuls of cilantro. I added almost a quarter-cup of red-wine vinegar, fresh-ground garlic, salt, pepper, dried parsley, dried oregano, powdered onion, and a scant half-teaspoon of my dietetic xylose sugar to blunt the vinegar's acidity a tiny bit. The result was perfect.

I admit I know absolutely nothing about Argentinian cuisine and Argentinian flavor profiles, but I've heard that Argentina is a huge, meat-revering gaucho steak culture, the way Brazil is (in fact, I suspect Argentinian steak is going to be the Next Big Thing in the States once the Brazilian rodizio wave dies down). Chimichurri contains—as chef Anne Burrell might say—all the ingredients of a marinade: an oil (olive), an acid (vinegar), and aromatics (garlic and onion). I didn't marinate anything last night, but one of these days, I going to have to do a steak à l'argentine. Now if only I could find a place to grill...

The next picture is of a more classically American approach to beef: gravy. See that sheen? I had made yuksu (meat broth) by slow-cooking some leftover scrap meat from when I'd made French dips with Ligament, plus some super-fatty cuts of beef I had just purchased for precisely this purpose. After nine or so hours of slow cooking, the aroma that filled my apartment was heavenly. I let the broth rest overnight, then reheated it and strained it the next day, taking some of the liquid and stirring in cornstarch to thicken it into a gravy. I then slopped some gravy into the skillet with the frying beef, pulled the beef out of the liquid and let it drip-dry, then took the photo you see below:

Both forms of beef would go well as the filling for sandwiches. Alas, I can't do that—eat bread, I mean—if I'm on a low/no-carb diet, but a man can dream, right? Admittedly, the cornstarch made the gravy a bit carby, but I kept the mixture thin so as to minimize the number of carbs, and as I said, I drip-dried the meat before eating it. I'm debating whether to share any of this with my boss and coworker... both the gravy and the chimichurri are pretty damn good.

I've heard that chimichurri also goes well with chicken and seafood. I've got some chicken breasts and jumbo shrimp, so who knows? I might give the sauce a whirl on some dead birds and dead sea-critters.

Monday, April 18, 2016

color me skeptical

This article by Sam Kim says Ahn Cheol-soo is in a position to become South Korea's next president after two consecutively conservative administrations. The lowdown:

Touted as a probable candidate in the 2017 presidential race, Ahn has offered few policy specifics. He has cited U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt as a role model and advocates higher welfare spending, stiffer capital gains taxes and caution on free trade agreements. He has been critical of Park’s get-tough policy on North Korea and favors expanding economic ties to entice Pyongyang to give up nuclear weapons.

He hits all the leftie check boxes, for sure: more emphasis on welfare, higher taxes, less free trade, and the cautious-yet-joyous return of the misbegotten, misguided Sunshine Policy, which will simply ensure that North Korea continues on its current intravenous drip. Sorry, but I'm a doubter. And because countries are subject to pendular mood swings, I fully expect Ahn, or some leftie numbskull like him, to be the next occupant of the Blue House.

(To be clear, this post isn't an endorsement of President Park.)

ADDENDUM: the article notes that some in Korea view Ahn as a "center-right alternative." Nothing in the above list of policy positions strikes me as center-right. Not from an American perspective, anyway; maybe Korea, as a whole, leans so far left that less left equals way right.


gotta be a good boy now

The weekend debauchery is over.

I probably gained back half the weight I'd lost, but I now have a plan of attack for future weeks and months. As the Architect said in "The Matrix Reloaded," there are levels of survival I'm prepared to accept. I now know I can tolerate a very, very low calorie input without my body going haywire, so on weekdays, it'll be a lunch-only regime for ol' Uncle Kevin. Lunch will be low-to-no-carb, and to that end, I've begun buying a supply of vegetables and proteins to get me through the week: shabu beef, tuna, quail eggs, seafood, and leafy greens. If I can find no-carb snacks like sugar-free pudding and pork rinds, I'll be set.

Last night, I made a succulent beef gravy (thin and runny because I didn't want to add too much carby cornstarch); I also made my very first Argentinian chimichurri, which came out beautifully. It's got a rich, almost algae-like color to it, and it's sharp and tangy. I think of it as pesto without the nuts and cheese, but with a strong hit of red-wine vinegar.

I'm still feeling kind of "bleh" from the weekend, which is a sure sign that I need to behave myself, culinarily speaking. Wish me luck.


how the mighty have fallen

I took a trip out to Hannam Supermarket (also known as Hannam Market or Hannam Super) for the first time in years. I used to go there often when I lived in the Sookmyung University neighborhood; years later, I'd heard a rumor from a colleague that the market had gone under, which was disappointing news. Last year, I'd heard from someone else that that rumor was wrong, and I've been wanting to go back ever since. I tried to go there once, not long ago, but the place was closed. Tonight, I called the store first and discovered that it would be open until 8:30PM. I was looking for cilantro, among other things; from what I remembered, Hannam would be the place to find it. Overpriced, yes, but available.

The entrance to Hannam Super lies underground, so when I first stepped out of the cab, I couldn't tell whether the store was really open. I trudged down the steps and was happy to see that the place was indeed open... but the moment I stepped through the sliding doors, I saw and felt that something was very, very wrong.

It used to be that, as soon as you walked in, there was a mini-store to your left, with its own cash register: this store sold household products (detergent, etc.), bottles of Nutella and Nutella knockoffs, US and foreign cheeses in small packages, frozen rolls of Jimmy Dean sausage (and other frozen meats found in typical US groceries), some hygiene and pharmaceutical items that Westerners would normally have trouble finding in Korean stores (proper armpit deodorant, 300-count bottles of Bayer aspirin), and so on. On the right, as you walked in, there used to be a cheesemonger with an impressive (and impressively fragrant) spread of cheeses from around the world: wheels, wedges, slices, cubes, and logs of it. In front of you, there had been another shop-within-a-shop that sold larger items—things like gas ranges or large plastic boxes of flash-frozen berries. Beyond that store lay the main store, where you could find items that would be nearly impossible to find anywhere else: cilantro, different types of parsley, kirsch, Turkish delight, couscous, lamb from Australia or New Zealand, star anise, cumin, decent masala.

Almost all of that was now gone, I saw. The little store-to-the-left was still there, but it was no longer an independent store. The main store in the back was sealed off and dead; the lights were off, and stacks of boxes made the place look as if people were getting ready to strike camp. Perhaps a third of the stock from the main store had been pulled forward into the store-within-a-store, and that was now the main store. One man—the same man I remembered from 2008—sat at a makeshift cashier's counter, keeping watch over both segments of the now-reduced market. It was a sad sight.

Gone were the racks of imported vegetables; in their place was a single glass-door fridge with a sad little supply of veggies; I found some packs of wilted cilantro and tossed them into my basket. I went into the little side store to look for aspirin, Pepto Bismol, and Preparation H—all of which I remember having been there before—and found only the Pepto. Fine. I tossed that into my basket. I found couscous and red-wine vinegar; I found a few other American items that made me smile, and I tossed those things into the basket as well.

When I went to the counter to ring my purchases up, I told the man that I used to come here often, but that the last time I had been here was likely 2008. "So you remember how the store was—back there?" He jerked a thumb behind him, indicating the black space that used to be the main store, but which now held only stacks of boxes. "We'll be closing up in a few months," he went on. "Too many new stores like this one have popped up."

"Competition," I said, and he nodded and grimaced. My total came out to a whopping W95,000 (almost $90, US) for a half-full basket of items. Hannam was as overpriced as I remembered it, but for the cilantro, at least, I had little choice but to go to a place like that. (High Street Market, up the street in Itaewon, sells cilantro, but they're almost always out whenever I look for it.) "Well, it's disappointing to see this happening," I said. "I used to come here to find things that were hard to find elsewhere."

The man gave me a business card and said, "Let me know if you need me to find anything for you." I told him I would, but in all honesty, I had no idea whether I'd be back. The store was no longer what it used to be.

The cilantro was wilted, but it was potent enough to flavor up the chimichurri I made when I got back to my place—my very first chimichurri. Which was awesome, by the way. I'll be using it as part of my new low-carb regime. I bought 1.5 kg of shabu beef from Costco, plus fresh basil (half of which I used in the chimichurri) and some leafy greens, and I'll be making vegetable beef wraps starting this week. This incredible Argentinian sauce is, at least in part, courtesy of the moribund Hannam Super. I'm sad to see the store go.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

the 14-day regime: an explanation and some insights

I'll get right to the point: for fourteen days, I cut back on eating so drastically that I never took in more than 600 calories a day. I didn't want to tell people that I was doing this because I didn't want to hear the usual cant about how this would be unhealthy, or about how there'd be a "starvation response" (much rhetoric about this response is nonsense; it applies mostly to extreme cases, not to fasting for a few days, and not to eating minimally, as I did), or any of the other over-dramatic warnings that supposedly charitable commenters might offer in an attempt to discourage me.

More specifically, I ate no solid food during that period, sticking to drinks, the very occasional cup of yogurt (yes, there were fruit chunks—sue me), and during my second week, bowls of soup. I also took multivitamins the entire time—overdosing on them, to be honest—so there was never any danger of malnutrition.

The idea that the "starvation response" would begin mere days after I began fasting was roundly contradicted by the fact that, for the first four days of the regime, I lost almost no weight. This lack of weight loss would seem to indicate that the starvation response happened immediately, which is obviously ridiculous: the body needs time to "realize" that it's starving before it can react to starvation. I concluded that the lack of weight loss must have had some other explanation unrelated to "starvation response."

There was one immediate effect, which you can imagine: I almost completely stopped pooping. Sure, there was residual poop that took a few days to expel itself, and I did continue to offer earthy gifts to the porcelain god every day for all fourteen days, but that was mainly because I continued to consume my psyllium-fiber tablets. For a frequent and voluminous pooper like me, though, the change from pooping lots to pooping almost nothing was a radical one, and not unwelcome.

Way back when I was in high school, I once starved myself for a week straight. I did this to impress a girl, but of course, she never noticed. This was partly because I never told her what I was doing, and partly because she had no clue I liked her enough to want to impress her in any way. (Can't say that I've evolved much since those days.) What I did back then was fairly hardcore: I consumed only water. What I discovered was that the hunger got intense for the first two or three days, then it stopped. After that, I simply got tired.

With memories of my high-school stunt floating around in my mind, I worried that lethargy would be a major problem this time around, but one of the things I discovered was that, as long as I was still consuming several hundred calories per day, there was no question of lethargy. I was awake, alert, and focused, even while at work doing the fairly boring tasks I do every day.

Over this two-week experiment, I did begin to lose weight; you'll recall that I tracked my weight loss by listing out, on Day 8, the results of my weigh-ins. I tried to be as scrupulous as possible about weighing myself after having evacuated; although this served an ego-driven purpose (you weigh less after you pee and poo), the practical reason for a post-evacuation weighing was to minimize fluctuations: drinking a liter of water after a long walk, for example, would make me seem to have suddenly gained a kilogram (1 g of water = 1 cc, or 1 ml, of water: mass equals volume because water has a metric density of 1,* so 1 liter of water = 1 kg of water). Juices have roughly the same density, and for a "heavy drinker" like me, drinking two liters of fluid is as easy as it would be for a thirsty camel.

Weight loss went from 129.6 kg to 124.6 kg—a loss of five kilos, or 11.025 pounds. Conventionally speaking, a healthy weight-loss rate is about 1 kg per week, so I lost weight at 2.5 times the conventional rate. I'm not saying that to brag, and I'm certainly under no illusions that the trend was linear: I'm pretty sure that the slope of the weight-loss graph would eventually have begun to shallow out. I'm also under no illusions that losing 5 kg amounts to much of a loss overall: on my frame, fat as I am, I'd need to lose another 25 kg before anyone would begin to notice the loss.

As I noted during the fourteen-day period, one big discovery I made was that I have an incredibly slow metabolism. This is bad news: it means I can gain weight easily, but I don't burn calories fast enough to lose weight as quickly as I gain it. Even after having cut down my calorie consumption as radically as I did, weight loss still struck me as slow. The usual rule of thumb is that, for every pound you weigh, you need to consume 12 calories to maintain your weight. Anything below that, and you begin losing. Perhaps because I'm wired strangely or have some sort of alien body chemistry, I think I really need to consume far less than 12 calories per pound to maintain my weight: even 6 cal/lb. might be too much. At no more than 600 calories per day, I was consuming one-sixth of what someone my size should supposedly consume, and I still wasn't losing weight all that quickly. This is an important datum.

It may be because I have large stores of fat hanging off my frame, but I never felt in danger of starving. There were no mood swings; there was no anxiety, and as I said above, I never suffered any cognitive problems in terms of level of focus, attentiveness, etc. If anything, my mind and senses felt ever so slightly honed. I was more alert, more focused, more attentive. Strange, right? But there we are. Perhaps things would have been different had I begun the experiment with only 5% body fat.

Let's talk about the pros and cons of what I just went through. Pros first.

1. Some problems cleared up right away or began to clear up. Blurry vision? Gone. Chest pains and/or tightness? Also gone. Nasty leg scabs? Fading somewhat. These problems could have been related to the volume of food I'd been eating, but more likely, they were related to the dietary quality of the food I'd been eating. By reducing my consumption to a very narrow range of non-solids, I had radically reduced my intake of everything, including carbs. (I confess that I did down the occasional soda, but the key word, here, is occasional.)

2. Not eating meant I didn't have to think about menus and food prep. I saved a lot of time, energy, and effort by simply cutting food out of my life. I started going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, too, mainly because I didn't know what else to do with my sudden gain in free time.

3. My wallet could breathe a sigh of relief. I normally spend a lot on food shopping. By not eating anything solid, I drastically reduced my shopping expenses. Although this particular effect was an unsurprising corollary of my choice to avoid solid food, I feel that it does indicate a way forward because it was a cogent demonstration of the facts that (1) I really don't need much food to survive, and (2) I really don't need much food to stop feeling hungry.

4. The release from physical shackles like chest pain felt liberating and empowering. I had become cautious, almost fearful, of puffing my way up a couple flights of stairs. I had had visions of collapsing because of a heart attack while simply walking home from work. By the time I was more than halfway through my regime, I was able, at some points, to start jogging around my local park—something I would have been scared to do before the regime.

But there were two major cons as well.

1. Removing myself from the world of food felt like a social and psychological amputation. Everyone eats. Eating is often a social activity, and even though I'm an introvert, I appreciate what it means to sit down and break bread with fellow people. I also like cooking and need to cook as a means of self-expression. Not cooking for two weeks was a miserable experience—I won't lie about that. The bowls of soup that I ate came from powdered mixes: not very inspiring.

2. Not eating meant that I frequently dreamt and thought about food. This is obviously related to con (1) above. But part of me wonders whether this is what the rest of you normal humans feel like: you're routinely hungry before mealtimes, routinely thinking about—looking forward to—what you're going to be eating. Maybe the hunger I was feeling during my two-week regime was nothing more than the normal hunger that most healthy people in the first world feel. If so, then in my default state, I'm pretty far from normal. On the plus side, I became much more appreciative of the idea of eating even modest amounts of food. "Hunger is the best sauce," as the proverb goes.

So: how does all of this point the way forward?

Well, let me start by telling you what my Saturday was like. I broke my fast by ordering a large pizza and some "garlic twists" from the local Papa John's branch. I wolfed down all the twists within minutes, then snarled and slavered my way through half of the pizza before I had to quit. This in itself was astonishing: I normally have the capacity to eat a whole, multiple-topping large pizza by myself, plus more. But not this time. This time, I had to stop far short of where I'd normally stop, and I realized... my stomach had shrunk. Not the exterior, mind you: I still looked, and look, as fat as ever. But my stomach, the actual organ, had shrunk, and this was significant. First, it meant that two weeks of self-abnegation had produced real effects. Second, it meant that there might be some sort of force-multiplier at work: as the effects of the regime rippled outward, they had been causing other effects that had, in turn, reverberated with even wider implications.

As I knew would happen, the above realization was accompanied by a wave of guilt. I had joked glibly about "undoing two weeks' worth of progress," but now there I was, doing exactly that. I somehow fought through the guilt and ate another two slices of pizza later in the evening. The remaining two slices are sitting in the fridge. They'll be Sunday's lunch, and I doubt I'll be having anything else the rest of the day.

I also realized that stuffing myself silly had failed to lead to any deeper sense of satisfaction or contentment: gobbling was an empty gesture, a physical attempt to fill a void that couldn't be filled by food. This lesson is important to remember but easy to forget. Hunger makes one forgetful. That said, I need to remain mindful that effort and discipline can lead to real and lasting results, whereas gluttony provides, at best, only a temporary comfort.

The way forward, then, will involve cutting out carbs, raising my metabolism by continuing to walk, and indulging in bad-for-you food only very occasionally. As I've known for a long time, my body does respond more quickly to physical effort than it does to changes in diet, so I need to continue with walking, but I also have to begin to include more intense activities—exercises that have me breathing hard, get me sweating, and leave me tired. During the two-week regime, I saw that the most significant weight loss happened on those days when I also walked, and on days when I didn't walk, almost no weight loss occurred. The math is wrong: my body isn't burning 3,600 calories a day—not with my current lifestyle. I have to adjust the math and plan my activities to match my own personal body chemistry, not the charts in diet and exercise books.

A while back, I reviewed Tim Ferriss's The Four-hour Chef. While I didn't come away from his book with the most positive impression, I can't deny that Ferriss is brimming with interesting ideas. He mentioned something called "the slow-carb diet," which is something I might look into. He also talked about an interesting weight-loss strategy—something he called "30 grams within 30 minutes." Ferriss contends that you can kick-start fat loss by consuming thirty grams of protein (meat, fish, whey protein) within thirty minutes of waking up. I know there are skeptics out there (here, for example), but I'm going to experiment with this for a couple months and see whether it leads to anything. In the meantime, I'm going to eat only at lunchtime on weekdays, and the food I'll eat will be carb-free, or as low-carb as possible. This will be a much more comfortable life than the one I'd been leading for the past two weeks.

We'll see how this goes.

*This is, of course, not an accident: the developers of the metric system originally set water's density at 1.0 (density = mass/volume). See here.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

yesterday's Seoul-dae adventure

Yesterday, I took a day off from my full-time job at the Golden Goose (with my boss's kind permission) to go teach a résumé-writing clinic over at Seoul National University. The clinic was supposed to go from 10AM to noon, but because of circumstances that I will explain below, the class ended about forty minutes early.

As I'd done last time, I took the subway to Seoul-dae Ipgu Station. Despite the word ipgu (entrance) in the station's name, the station isn't anywhere near the campus entrance: from the subway stop, once you climb up to street level, you have to take a cab or a local bus to get on campus. (There are a few such "campus-ipgu" stations in Seoul: some of them lie about dropping you right at the entrance. One thing you quickly learn, when living in East Asia, is that it's bad policy to take anything literally.)

The cabbie got me to the Lotte International Education Building , which is not far from the campus's main entrance, before 9:15AM, giving me plenty of time to prep for the class. Room 208 was empty, but the huge projection screen was down and someone else's PowerPoint presentation was still being displayed by digital projector. I walked up to the front of the classroom, went to the multimedia desk-cum-lectern, closed the PowerPoint presentation, and tried to call up Google Drive so I could download and set up my own PowerPoint file.

First hitch: the computer didn't have the Google Chrome browser. No sweat, I thought as I tried to access Drive by typing "" into the Internet Explorer browser. I got to Drive, but—second hitch—I was unable to log in. I thought this might be because I was using the IE browser, so I went over to the Chrome-download webpage and downloaded Chrome. I then tried to log into my own account... and got—third hitch—a page demanding verification of who I was, as I was trying to access my own account from a different computer than my normal ones (I usually access my personal Google-related material via my phone, my home Mac, and my office Windows machine). The warning screen told me to select one of three or four options to receive a verification code; I chose "text message," but—fourth hitch—no code came. This was confusing, as I was sure I had set up Chrome to send verification-code text messages to my cell phone.

Since I could access Google Drive through my phone's browser, I downloaded my PowerPoint file into my phone with the hope of using a USB connection to get the file from my phone and onto the classroom's computer. The multimedia desk-cum-lectern had a USB socket, so I plugged my phone into that... and—fifth hitch—the computer failed to recognize the phone. Unsure what to do next, I decided to wait for Ms. Baek (not her real name), this program's coordinator, to show up. She did, a few minutes later; I explained the problem, and she plugged my USB cord directly into the CPU instead of into the desk's USB jack. Voilà: success. My phone's icon appeared on the computer screen, and I was able to search through my phone's folders to find my PowerPoint presentation (Ms. Baek actually saw the file first and pointed it out to me). Relieved, I downloaded my file onto the lectern's desktop. Everything worked fine, and Ms. Baek stepped out to do an errand. There were several remote controls on the desk, and I finally figured out which one managed the PowerPoint slide show. The controls were a bit finicky; sometimes, a single click would advance me forward by two slides. I practiced clicking through the entire presentation, learning how to rein in the button's tendency to advance the slides too quickly. I had wanted to take a trip to the restroom, but time was getting short, so I resigned myself to toughing it out for two hours.

As I was practicing with the remote, the first students began to trickle in, looking tired and not too enthused to be there. I had piled my worksheets on a desk at the front row, but the first student to come in informed me that there was assigned seating, so there might be people needing to sit in the front row. I spoke with this student in a mixture of English and Korean; her English was pretty shaky, which I once again found surprising for a Seoul National student, despite my previous teaching experience. As I collected my handouts and took them back to the desk/lectern, the student told me she was a German major, so I asked her a few basic questions in easy German (since easy German is the only German I know). Her replies were halting; she admitted she had begun studying German only a few months earlier.

By 9:55AM, about half of the students registered for the workshop had wandered in, many looking fairly bleary, but some looking more or less alert. I remembered back to my own college days; college had basically ruined my sleep habits, taking me from the morning person I had been in high school to a full-on vampire who dove into bed at the crack of dawn. I knew how these students felt. Ms. Baek had returned and settled herself at the very back of the classroom; I asked her whether it would be all right to begin despite the presence of only half the class. She said yes, so at 10 o'clock, I began.

I had planned the two hours to go like this:

1. How Not to Write a Résumé (25 minutes)
2. How to Write a Résumé (25 minutes)
3. Résumé Workshop (30 minutes)—partner and individual work
4. One-on-one Résumé Checking (40 minutes)

Ms. Baek had mentioned earlier that many of the students would be testing that day, and she was worried that the one-on-one checking would go overtime, thus making some students late for their tests. Why she hadn't told me this before, I'll never know. As I quickly discovered, though, this was a minor problem. The major problem was this: even though I had asked Ms. Baek, weeks before, to tell the students to bring both their own résumés and their own laptops (with the résumé files on them), only two of the students present had actually thought to bring their résumés. When I asked the students why so few had bothered to bring résumés and laptops, they claimed that this course was "short notice" to them: they had heard about it only last week. I growled a low growl when I heard that: Ms. Baek had asked me to teach this course back in January. There had been plenty of time to market the course widely.

So most of my workshop was fucked from the very beginning. I shrugged and did the only thing a person can do in such a situation: I improvised. Parts (1) and (2) of the course were essentially a PowerPoint lecture, so I took the students through that. Those parts went without a hitch, except for one amusing hangup: when I gave the students a pile of sample résumés to distribute among themselves, they weren't able to do it!

Let me explain. I had photocopied two sample résumés that I had found online—one by a fictional guy named Jose, and another by a fictional guy named John. Each résumé was two pages long; I had stacked photocopies of them together to alternate John-Jose-John, with all the Johns perpendicular to all the Joses. All each student had to do was pluck one John and one Jose for him- or herself, then pass the stack over to the next student. Somehow, this task was beyond them, and they ended up getting confused. Some students were pulling out only one page of each résumé; others pulled out two Johns for themselves, ignoring poor Jose. I shook my head and mocked them: "You're the country's smartest students?" Several students giggled and smiled sheepishly.

Back to the PowerPoint lecture. It went smoothly. I had created an animated slide show that analyzed all the problems in John's résumé (John's résumé was the bad one; the students had to figure out which résumé was good and which was bad), interspersed with images I had plucked from online—a crying baby; the horrific, tongue-cutting girl from the remake of "Evil Dead"; Deadpool giving a thumbs-up; and so on.

After the slide show was done, I still had over an hour to go and nothing to do, so I told the students to look at John's bad résumé and figure out ways to improve it. I gave them fifteen minutes to work together with partners; the students all spoke to each other in Korean, which bothered me, but there was little I could do: this was a résumé clinic, not an English class. After I called time on the partner work, I went around the room, asking pairs of students for their suggestions on how to improve John's piss-poor CV. After that, I did a Q&A that was dominated by one male student who had a slew of questions (to be fair, they were good questions). I had the chance to talk with the students about cover letters, which I hadn't originally planned to do (two hours isn't a long time to cover résumés, let alone résumés plus cover letters), and by the time we'd finished all that, it was 11:20AM, and I dismissed the class.

Later on, I emailed Ms. Baek to thank her for her help, and she emailed back that the students had said they'd really enjoyed the class, which was a good thing. I had actually found it hard to tell whether the kids had enjoyed the class; they had all had a wanna go home expression on their faces by the end of the session.

A few students hung back after most of the crowd had left. The two students who had bothered to bring their résumés were among them, and I did a bit of consulting work. Two other students had further questions about cover letters and letters of recommendation, so I fielded those questions as well. Not long after that, Ms. Baek asked me whether it'd be all right for her to have a copy of my PowerPoint presentation; I said that would be fine. She left soon after, and I was alone in the classroom. I collected my things and headed for the nearest restroom, both to relieve myself after two hours of holding things in and to change clothes, as I wanted to walk most of the campus's lovely perimeter road before my next appointment of the day—with my buddy Charles, at 1PM.

I took my time in the toilet stall, partly to seek blessed relief, and partly to change my clothes. While I was in there, I heard several guys come in and use one of the stand-up urinals. They all apparently chose the same urinal to use (not at the same time, mind you), and a weird thing happened with every use: the urinal screamed.

I wrote about this on Twitter, but I don't think anyone who read those tweets believed me. The noise was obviously coming from some pipe, but the sound was almost exactly that of a high-pitched, feminine scream: "Aaaaaaaaaagggghhhh!!!" These were "sensor" urinals; the sensor would activate the moment someone stood in front of the porcelain, water would begin to flow... and the screaming would begin. It was surreal. It was comical. It was a bit unnerving, thanks mainly to the unearthly realism of the screams, and to the fact that I couldn't see what was going on. That urinal probably screamed three or four times before I finally let myself out of my cubicle, refreshed and now wearing a scruffier set of clothes.

With my two satchels slung over both shoulders, I lumbered out of the Lotte International Education Building, walked up to the perimeter road, turned left per my traditional walk (around 2003 or so, I used to live in the Nakseongdae neighborhood, not far from Seoul National, so I'd walk the perimeter road), and started marching around the campus. The idea was to do as much of the perimeter as possible, then turn into the campus around 12:45PM or so and head straight for Charles's building to meet him for tea at 1PM ("meet for tea" always sounds a bit pretentious and pinky-twiddling and oh-so-veddy-English to me, whereas "meet for a cup of coffee" sounds more homey and relaxed; problem is, I don't drink coffee).

I noticed right away that, despite the perimeter road's hilliness and my huffing and puffing and sweating, I was experiencing no chest pains. Two weeks on my regime had improved me at least in that respect. I managed to chug past clusters of students who were walking more slowly and desultorily, which made me a bit proud of myself, even though I knew my pride was founded on an illusion: any one of those kids, had he or she had a mind to, could have easily kicked my ass up and down the street, out-hiking me without even breaking a sweat.

One older ajumma in front of me had had the same idea of walking the perimeter road. I gained on her and was about thirty meters behind her when she stopped, turned, and noticed me. She looked like a frumpy Korean version of Susan Boyle. I ended up walking past her, but a few moments later, she ran past me, having decided that I had become her competition. She slowed back down to walking speed once she had gotten sufficiently ahead of me. This sort of small-minded competitiveness is common among Koreans, but I don't occupy any moral high ground in observing this: when I drive in the States, I become just as competitive. It's why I have several speeding tickets to my name.

Susan Boyle got ahead of me and stayed ahead: she now knew what pace I was setting, so she was determined to stay in front of me, even if this meant she could no longer enjoy a leisurely stroll. Our competition (well—her competition, as I never changed my pace) ended when Ms. Boyle decided to take an inward-turning downhill road toward the center of campus, while I continued up and up a large hill on the perimeter road. I swiveled my head and caught her staring at me. She must have realized that I had chosen the more difficult path while she had elected to pussy out. I gave Ms. Boyle my own tight, small-minded grin and continued uphill, after which I forgot about her until I began writing this part of the current blog post.

I think I had gone at least two-thirds of the way around the perimeter when I checked the time: 12:50PM. I was late. I had wanted to turn toward the center of campus about five minutes earlier but had gotten too absorbed in walking. I called Charles soon after, telling him I would likely be late, and that there were no off-roads on the part of the perimeter where I was, so it'd be a few minutes before I could veer campus-ward. Charles, annoyed but trying to hide his annoyance, reminded me that he'd suggested I go counterclockwise around the perimeter so as to make it easier to reach his building. I didn't take that advice because, first, it would have meant doing a much smaller fraction of the perimeter before veering off; and, second, clockwise is how I've always walked that road. Sorry, but that's how it is.

I called Charles again once I had left the perimeter road and started to wend my way among the campus's jumbled buildings. He pointed me in the direction I needed to go, and I found his building with no trouble thanks to his instructions. Sweaty and stinking, I arrived at his office; we jawed for a while, talking about students, teaching, Charles's upcoming stint at Harvard University, and other things. Charles served me a bottle of cold water and a piping-hot cup of "Freak of Nature" oolong tea which, as its name suggested, didn't taste like typical oolong. Soon enough, it was time to head off to my next appointment of the day, and Charles guided me out to the perimeter road. We shook hands, and off I went.

My next appointment was with friend and author Young Chun (see here, too), who had promised to give me a hard copy of his book (I had bought the e-book version, and had acted as the proofreader for his manuscript back when the ms was still a draft). I walked down the perimeter road to the building where Young works. Friday wasn't a work day for Young: it was actually his first day of a two-week vacation, so he had chosen to come out to the campus expressly to met me and hand off his books. I had asked for two copies: one for me, the other for my buddy Tom, who was interested in Young's harrowing story of being drafted into the Korean army despite being an American citizen.

Young and I talked about some his projects. He's working on a few different things, including an English-language textbook that addresses common student errors, a Korean translation of his army-nightmare story, and a novel that Young says has been back-burnered for years. I had to envy his ambitions. I used to have ambitions like that once.

I got Young to sign the two books; he left a very kind message in my copy. Young doesn't know Tom, so I told Young to write "Fuck you, you dingleberry dickhead" in Tom's copy. (On the day Tom and I first met, Tom used the expression "dingleberry dickhead" to describe one of the managers at the hagweon where we first worked in the early 1990s. We've laughed about that ever since.)

Soon enough, it was time for me to hit the road. Young and I said our goodbyes, then I grabbed a cab and headed back to Seoul-dae Ipgu Station. After that, it was a short subway trundle to my apartment. In all, it had been a satisfying day: a good class to start the day off, a nice walk around most of the campus's perimeter road (despite Susan Boyle's small-minded attempt to ruin my day), and two good-but-brief meetings with friends. Young mentioned that I ought to come out to SNU more often; the campus really isn't all that far away from where I live, so that's definitely a thought. Oh, yes: I was also happy because Friday was the final day of my 14-day regime, and I couldn't wait to eat something real on Saturday.


Friday, April 15, 2016

It's Only for 14 Days: Day 14 of 14

Final day.

WEIGHT: 124.6 kg (scale was all over the place again, so this is just a guess, but most of the results hovered around this number, and 124.6 itself came up twice in a row)

APPROX. RESTING PULSE: 81 (20-sec calc method).


SKIN: as before.

CHEST PAIN: nada, even after a somewhat strenuous walk around Seoul National University's hilly perimeter road.

MENTAL STATE: mostly alert and focused; emotionally stable. It's been an interesting two weeks, and one of the surprises has been the general lack of a problem in this area.

GENERAL WELL-BEING: Overall positive, but now thoroughly sick of this regime. Can't wait to eat tomorrow. Will try to rein in the urge to overdo it, but no promises. Scorched earth very likely, followed by abject penance on Sunday.

Insights tomorrow.

End report.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Only for 14 Days: Day 13 of 14

WEIGHT: 125.8 kg (scale was all over the place, so this is just a guess)

APPROX. RESTING PULSE: 81 (20-sec calc method). Yeah... yesterday was likely a fluke, despite my having counted twice. I have noticed, however, that it's not wise to take a pulse even a half-hour after exercising: my body is still in the cool-down period, so my heart continues to beat fast. I've found that it's also not necessarily good to get a pulse right after eating, for some reason. Maybe it's the sodium...?


SKIN: as before.


MENTAL STATE: mostly alert and focused; emotionally stable. So alert and focused today that I did, in one business day, a task that normally takes me 1.5 business days.

GENERAL WELL-BEING: Overall positive. I'm not exercising (walking) tonight because I've got to prep for tomorrow's résumé-writing clinic over at Seoul National. I've got most of the prep done, but creating an animated PowerPoint presentation takes me a million years, mainly because I've become the thing I've dreaded: a confused, technology-averse old fart. Once I figure a technique out, I usually get slightly faster at it, but overall, I'm still a slowpoke. So I'll be working until very late tonight to finish my prep. I need every available hour for this. If, by some miracle, I have spare time late in the night, I might do a nighttime walk.

One more day!

End report.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It's Only for 14 Days: Day 12 of 14

WEIGHT: 125.8 kg (after drinking almost a liter of water + a 15K-step walk after work)

APPROX. RESTING PULSE: 75 (20-sec calc method). Sorry—had to revise down from 82 after two recounts. Wow! Must revise hypothesis re: influence of diet on resting heart rate.


SKIN: as before.

CHEST PAIN: No tightness at all today. At a guess, tightness and pain are a thing of the past as long as I eat moderately and healthily.

MENTAL STATE: mostly alert and focused; emotionally stable. It's been surprising to discover just how alert I am—not that I've become more alert since beginning this regime, but my alertness level has been amazingly normal. There's been no wooziness, dizziness, or inability to concentrate during work hours, which is astonishing given how unexciting my job is (eight hours of clickety-clacking at a keyboard). There's been no abnormal irritability or moodiness, as you might expect with hypoglycemia. Everything's been rock-steady. Then again, I haven't gone out of my way to test my mental acuity and emotional stability, so I should be cautious about saying anything too definitive.

GENERAL WELL-BEING: Overall positive, but definitely ready for this to be over. It's been a very long two weeks, and I have a lot to say. Meanwhile, everywhere I look, I see piles of painfully succulent food weaving back and forth seductively, beckoning me forward with sexy food-tentacles and whispering Eat meeee... eeeeeeaaaaaaaat meeeeeee...

End report.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

It's Only for 14 Days: Day 11 of 14

WEIGHT: 126.0 kg

APPROX. RESTING PULSE: 81 (20-sec calc method). This really seems to be happening.


SKIN: as before.

CHEST PAIN: No tightness at all today. I walked maybe 7K steps because I've got loose bowels, probably acquired after having eaten something I shouldn't have.

MENTAL STATE: mostly alert and focused; emotionally stable.

GENERAL WELL-BEING: Overall positive, but ready for this to be over. As I'd posted previously, I do little but think about food all day long. Not that I'm not eating, but I'm really not eating much at all. Right now, I feel as if I'm bargaining with some celestial being, promising it that, when I start eating again, I'll be good and will avoid carbs—just please let me EAT SOMETHING.

End report.


dreaming of food

I mentioned in my previous post that I'm not on a starvation diet. This is true. At the same time, I am putting myself through a rather extreme privation, and while it's done wonders, in a short time, for my health, it's also been driving me slowly mad because all I do, these days, is think about the enormous pile of food I'm going to eat this coming Saturday.

Now, I realize full well that I can easily undo two weeks of effort by plowing through an entire groaning board of hot, steaming delectables. But know this: my brain and my stomach don't give a fuck. My stomach, in particular, has been sending siren-song signals to my brain, making it fantasize about all sorts of food. I've been trying to leaven these fantasies with thoughts of how to make the food low-carb, but that effort hasn't been going well.

I've comforted myself with modest thoughts of lettuce-wrap tuna and quail eggs, maybe with some chopped-up tomatoes and sweet-vinegar marinated cukes inside. I've thought about going to Costco, buying another large package of shabu-style beef, and frying it all up for either French dips or more lettuce wraps, possibly with a chimichurri sauce for the beef, Argentine-style. I've pictured myself buried under a pile of cooked jumbo shrimp, eating my way out with the aid of some ice-cold cocktail sauce.

Worst of all, I've imagined making my own fried "amugeona" platter* composed of all sorts of bad-for-you food: chunky-chopped sausages, tiny but meaty mandu, hunks of ddeok, salty French fries—all gently drizzled over with a nice, spicy-hot Korean yangnyeom chili sauce.

I'll do my best to rein in my raging appetite this weekend, especially now that I know what I know about how my body works. That said, things are going to go a little overboard, and you'll just have to trust that this will be a one-day paroxysm of eating.

*The term amugeona ("ah-mu-gaw-nah") means, roughly, "anything." This word actually appears on some restaurant menus, and it's a hilarious response to those indecisive customers who don't know what they want: just order the "anything" platter if you really can't decide!


Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Only for 14 Days: Day 10 of 14

WEIGHT: 126.2 kg (Weighed myself in the evening after having drunk a steady supply of water all day. I bet I'll be lighter in the morning if I behave myself with fluids tonight.)

APPROX. RESTING PULSE: 81 (20-sec calc method). Glad to see continued improvement. I got 81 as one result of several; another result was 78, but I found that hard to believe, so I decided just to stick with 81.


SKIN: as before: scabby, patchy, and blotchy, esp. on left shin. You've now seen what my left shin looks like. Attractive, yes, ladies? Skin on my face is about the same as it always is: slightly greasy in the T-zone, dry and needing exfoliation everywhere else. I suspect that the blotchy discoloration of my leg skin is here to stay, even if things improve, diabetically speaking. That's a shame, but I did this to myself.

CHEST PAIN: No tightness at all today. I walked 15.5K steps.

MENTAL STATE: mostly alert and focused; emotionally stable.

GENERAL WELL-BEING: Overall positive. Still disappointed not to be losing more weight, but I'm not exercising super-intensely, and as I noted before, I've got a molasses-slow metabolism. Weight goes on, but it doesn't come off that easily. Also, for those who've been wondering: I'm not on a starvation diet. I do, in fact, take in both nutrients and calories, but the calories have been radically cut back. I'm surviving just fine.

End report.


a reminder

I've copied the following exchange from the comments section of a recent post over at Malcolm Pollack's fine blog. Malcolm's words are in bold. Read Malcolm's original post to get the context for this exchange, which is something of a side discussion that doesn't directly address Malcolm's central points.

The comment exchange was refreshing for me, and a reminder that I'm capable of writing about more than just step counts, food, and my bowel habits.

My first reaction:

“Religion wants a ‘skyhook’: something above us upon which we can depend, and with which we can make a kind of contract. In return for our faith, and for a promise of effort and self-sacrifice in the required virtuous forms, we are given protection, or even salvation.”

I think this is a good descriptor for theistic religion, but not so good for something like Theravada Buddhism, which stresses empiricism and self-effort: no one can save you from your suffering but yourself. (Folkloric types of Mahayana do view the Buddha as a sort of gift-giving divinity—I see this in Korea all the time—so I’m not including Mahayana here.)

Rudolf Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans is also good for theistic religions, but not so good for either philosophical Taoism or the more sere strains of Zen Buddhism, both of which steer the adherent way from “divine drama” in favor of an appreciation of the ordinariness of ultimate reality. You’re not supposed to “Wow!” the Tao: it’s enough just to know and to follow your situation.

Malcolm's reply:

Hi Kevin,

Yes, I thought about that as I was writing this post. (I thought about you at the same time, as you have a sophisticated understanding of the sacred and the soteriological aspects of the great religions, and I thought you might raise this point.)

How to square the Buddhist religious impulse with the others? I think it’s that Buddhism does indeed rely on a skyhook, but one that takes a different form (and, as compared to the for-public-consumption versions of the other great religions, a more esoteric one): the skyhook in Buddhism is erected by lowering the self. The vector pointing from the believer to the sacred is a matter of relative position; while most religions have the practitioner stand where he is and build a ladder to something above him, Buddhism sees the sacred already at hand, and the great work is to remove the obstruction of the petitioning Self. But the relative status of the self and the sacred — with the self, properly understood and properly positioned, being a negative infinity in relation to the sacred — is the same.

My two cents. What do you think?

My reaction (slightly edited):

Interesting thoughts.

Mahayana Buddhism’s central insight is that nirvana is samsara, i.e., the ordinary phenomenal world is ultimate reality—there is no separation, thus no vector pointing from believer to sacred because the two are not-two. Zen’s “finger pointing to the moon” image is, I think, a direct denial of any skyhook, at least as Zen Buddhism reckons things.

I’m not sure what to make of the phrase “lowering the self.” There is a no-self doctrine in Buddhism, called anatman in Sanskrit (“no-soul”) and wu-wo (無我) in Chinese (“no I”), but what this means is not that “there is no self,” tout court, but rather that the self exists yet has no fundamental reality because it is “dependently co-arisen,” i.e., it is the confluence of convergent and contingent circumstances. Buddhism is said to strike a middle way between eternalism on the one hand (a permanent, unchangeable self imbued with aseity) and nihilism on the other (no self at all).

If, by “lowering the self,” you’re referring to a sort of de-emphasis of the self/ego in Eastern thought as compared to the affirmation/elevation of the same in certain strains of Western thought, then I think you’re on solid ground. I also don’t think that anything I’ve written here really detracts from the point you’re trying to make since you’re making it from a Western perspective. Religiously speaking, the story of the West is the story of theisms (and even when the Europeans reached the New World, they encountered natives who were also theistic in their own way), so “skyhook” language may not be inappropriate.

Just to be even more pedantic, I should note that certain Westerners, in considering Buddhism some sort of special case among world religions, often mistakenly claim “Buddhism isn’t theistic.” There may be a sense in which that’s true, but it’s true only to the extent that we strip Buddhism of its religious elements and see it purely as a philosophical system—and then strip it even further so that we consider only the metaphysics taught by the Buddha himself.

Buddhism, taken as a living, evolving tradition, however, has plenty of theism in it: many lay Buddhists view the Buddha and his bodhisattvas as divinities to which one can offer petitionary prayers that are little different from the prayers offered by lay Catholics to the saints and the Blessed Virgin. In traveling outside of India and settling into other lands, Buddhism has always taken on the local religious color, adopting the local deities and making them part of Buddhist cosmology (with the understanding that those deities are not above the laws of karma or the Three Marks of Existence: no-self, impermanence, and suffering). So again, to that extent, even Buddhism may be said to have its skyhooks.

[end of exchange... so far]

Had I gone further, I'd have noted that, in non-theistic Buddhism, there isn't anything with which to make a contract and on which to depend; that's more a trait of theistic (which roughly corresponds to saying folkloric) Buddhism, so I'd still link any "skyhook" concept with theism. Original Buddhism teaches one to test reality for oneself and to "seek your salvation with diligence"—supposedly the Buddha's final words. What you do is up to you.