Sunday, July 31, 2016

steak sandwich: better the second day

Here's a photo of tonight's version of yesterday's Argentine-style steak sandwich:

The baguettes from Paris Baguette suck... if you think of them as baguettes. As baguettes, they're utter failures, but if you think of them as inadvertent ciabatta, they make a lot more sense. I don't think the baguettes from Paris Baguette are inedible, but they are definitely not what they purport to be, and are a perfect example of how not to make a baguette. As a kind of ciabatta, however, they work well for hot sandwiches.

So I bought a baguette, sliced it, pan-fried it in butter, reheated yesterday's shabu steak, and once again added my heavenly chimichurri made from fresh herbs—basil, parsley, and cilantro. I must say, the beef benefited from the reheating, and the pan-fried baguette was arguably better in texture than the ciabatta had been. When I share this with the guys at work, I think I'm going to stick to Paris Baguette's baguettes, which are more readily available than Le Pain's ciabatta since there's a Paris Baguette bakery right in my building.


This hasn't been a good month for me, step-wise. In terms of weight loss, it hasn't been bad: I'm down to the last notch on my big leather belt—a notch that I'd had specially punched in for me by an old belt-kiosk ajeossi over at Euljiro 4-ga in 2014, back when I'd been losing weight from all the Namsan hiking. The old man had told me to come visit him whenever I might need new holes punched into my belt, and I'd told him that I'd take him up on that. If things continue as they are now, I'll be visiting him soon.

But I've definitely been walking less: I used to do my creekside megawalk—around 34K to 36K steps—at least three times a week, but that began to wear on my feet, and then the full force of Korean summer hit, which sucked away much of my motivation to walk. I currently do the walk about twice a week, and I try to do my building's staircase another three times a week, thus leaving we with two "free" days during which I do no significant walking.

A thought occurred to me, however: walking only twice up my building's staircase—even though that's the rough equivalent of one trip up the Namsan stairs—still puts me below the aerobic minimum traditionally suggested for good health, i.e., 30 minutes of continuous activity. Two times up my building's staircase means only 23 minutes' walking, so... God help me, but I think I need to commit to walking up 26 floors three times per session, not two.

So this week, I've resolved to up the ante and walk up my building's staircase three times, for a total of 78 floors. I won't do that today, but after my Monday megawalk, I'll be 3X-ing from here on in. I'm not looking forward to the change, but this is what it means to commit to a minimum of aerobic-fitness activity.

If I suddenly stop blogging, you'll know I've keeled over from a heart attack.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

steak à l'argentine

The pic speaks for itself:

Shabu steak sandwich on buttered, pan-fried ciabatta with chimichurri. I do believe I might share this with the guys at work. The chips are Terra brand, "natural blue potato," whatever that is. They weren't very good. The sandwich, on the other hand, was fantastic. It was a good decision, I think, not to put on any cheese and just to let the steak and chimichurri be the stars of the show. Very simple, direct, and delicious.

my "daunting" Middle Eastern chicken recipe

My coworker asked for the recipe for my Middle Eastern chicken, of which he devoured two large helpings this past week. When I wrote the recipe up and emailed it to him, he proclaimed it "daunting," given the fact that the recipe is three pages long and involves a ton of ingredients, some of which aren't easy to find in Korea outside of specialty stores. After having sent the recipe to my coworker, I went back, proofed it, corrected some errors, printed it to PDF, and uploaded it to my Google Drive space, where I hereby make it available to you.

Thank me (or excoriate me) later.

Ave, Jeff!

Dr. Hodges on Trump versus Clinton. Jeff writes: an American abroad, I find my thoughts drawn more to the issues of foreign policy, and on these, Trump has already done damage by publicly questioning America's commitment to protecting its allies. Hillary Clinton has shown poor judgment in particular instances, but Trump's off-the-cuff remarks call basic principles into question.

I gather that Trump's stance is at least partly informed by his desire to start paying down the US debt, which apparently now hovers around an incredible 20 trillion dollars. Trump is basically saying to other nations, "We'll provide the same services, but now it's going to cost you (extra), so get ready to pony up." Whether this stance is objectively good or bad, I can't say, but I agree with Jeff that, diplomatically speaking, it's bad for relations.

on the hunt for ciabatta

There's a bakery at the Jamshil Lotte Mall complex called, simply, Le Pain (which is the French word for bread, not pain). I went there last night, hunting for ciabatta (chyuh-baht-duh), a firm, hearty, hole-y Italian bread that is wildly popular in some parts of the States. Ciabatta, tough as it is, is great for pan-frying; it can absorb a ton of heat from the pan without completely denaturing (try pan-frying a delicate French baguette on high heat and watch what happens). This makes it an almost perfect bread for concocting a variety of hot sandwiches, and I'm trying to craft just such a hot sandwich this weekend.

My sandwich is simple: shabu beef with chimichurri on buttered and pan-fried ciabatta. I've made the chimichurri; the beef can be prepped—from a frozen state—within minutes because it's sliced so thinly; all I need is the bread. I went to Le Pain last night and saw the shelves were empty. It was near 10PM, so that's not surprising for any decent bakery: most bakeries make their primary batches in the early morning and sell them throughout the day; a bakery with empty shelves at night has been doing something right. Anyway, I'm going back today because Le Pain is closer than Itaewon is, and I don't want to spend a lot of time either in a cab or on the subway. I want to buy the bread, take it home, fry it and the beef up, make a sandwich, and see how it is. If it's a success, I'm going to prep sandwiches to take to work and share next week. If it's not, well... I won't be sad about eating all that lovely shabu beef on my own. Anointed with chimichurri.

Friday, July 29, 2016

cash infusion

KMA paid me today for my two recent gigs—a tidy sum of almost 2 million won, which pleases me. The only hitch, and it's a slight one, is that KMA always wires payment to my Daegu Bank account. Since I do most of my transactions through my Shinhan Bank account, I have to wire the money over from Daegu to Shinhan. But as I said, that's a slight hitch, something I can resolve in just a couple minutes at an ATM. Come August, I'll pay off my second major debt, and I'll still have several thousand in the bank—a rather unprecedented state of affairs, given the debt burden under which I've labored for years.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

food success

Middle Eastern chicken.

I reheated it right there in the office, tossing all the pre-cooked ingredients together and mixing gently. I instructed my charges on how to eat: lay out a bed of couscous first, then spoon some chicken broth over it to keep it moist; next, spoon on the chicken mixutre; finally, spoon on the feta cheese and the crushed pistachios.

My boss couldn't finish his meal; he had put too much on his plate, so he packed up his leftovers. My coworker went back for seconds, then later asked me for the recipe so he could make the dish for his soon-to-be fiancée. I grabbed a second helping myself. Not much of the dish was left to bag up and take home. A good time was had by all.

what it looks like when I make lunch for the office

The bag was too heavy for me to think about using the subway, so I cabbed it today. Later this evening, I'm very likely to cab it back to my place.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ave, Charles!

My buddy Charles flies out, with his wife, to Scotland this evening for a two-week trip that includes a ten-day hike through the not-so-badlands, during which time the couple will encounter many hotels and much beer. Charles says he's never been to Scotland, land of kilts and die-hard socialists, so in honor of this new adventure, I offer:

I suppose Charles'll be sitting on a lot of bar stools like this one.

Twitter: likes vs. retweets

On Twitter, you have a constantly self-updating news feed called a "timeline" in Twitterspeak. The most recent tweets always appear at the top, forever bumping the rest of the timeline downward. If you follow thousands of people (I follow under 100), many of whom tweet more than once a day, you'll be deluged with tweets, and the best you can hope to do is quickly scan your timeline for the juicier recent tweets, i.e., the ones that hit your funny bone or plunge you into A Profounde Reverye for a millisecond. Given that dynamic, Twitter doesn't encourage deep thought: instead, it encourages the development of a studio executive's skill: the ability to judge worthy and unworthy tweets with just a glance.

So let's say you find a worthy tweet. Twitter offers you several options:

1. You can reply directly to the tweeter. This reply is normally visible to the tweeter, but not to the general public (or more specifically, to your own followers) unless you place a period before the "@" symbol in your reply.

2. You can send a direct message (DM) to the tweeter as long as you and the tweeter follow each other.

3. You can "like" the tweet by clicking the "like" button. This signals the tweeter that someone reacted favorably to the tweet, and it also specifies who the "liker" was.

4. You can "retweet" the tweet, i.e., send the tweeter's tweet out to your followers. Many folks on Twitter will claim "a retweet is not an endorsement" because, on some occasions, people retweet a tweet to show how stupid or egregious the tweet is: "Look at this fuckin' guy, wouldja'?" That said, most retweets are endorsements.

5. You can retweet while "quoting" the tweet and adding your own reaction to it. Your followers can thus see the original tweet plus your brief thoughts on the matter.

6. You can do any combination or permutation of the above. Many folks favor a "like and retweet" strategy.

My feeling is that a retweet is better than a like, mainly because a retweet is, in most cases, implicitly a like, and it has the advantage of spreading the coolness of a clever tweet more widely, whereas a like is merely entre nous—it goes nowhere further. At the same time, even though I do engage in retweeting binges, I'm not really in favor of mindlessly retweeting everything that comes my way. Those sorts of people on Twitter strike me as having no real thoughts of their own, and on such a substance-free medium, sending out your own thoughts is much better than merely parroting someone else's.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


The last time I had an attack of vertigo, it was a few years ago, and I was in my buddy Mike's house. I don't think Mike or the rest of his family even noticed that I was spacing out; I tried to maintain a stoic mien. Tonight, for the first time in years, it happened again—not once, but several times, and truth be told, my head is still spinning a bit even as I type this.

This evening, I was standing in the subway, on my way to Itaewon to buy some ingredients for the Middle Eastern chicken that I'll be making again and serving at the office on Thursday. I was busy rereading A Song of Ice and Fire on my cell phone (I'm currently halfway through the series, according to my Kindle) when the world began to tilt, and my mind started to unmoor itself. It was a weird-but-familiar feeling, given that I'd experienced the same phenomenon back in Virginia. This time around, however, the vertigo was accompanied by a wee bit of nausea—nothing I couldn't manage, but I did start thinking wild thoughts along the the lines of Do I have a brain tumor? I performed neuro checks on myself, flexing my fingers individually and in tandem; closing one eye, then the other; shifting my weight from foot to foot; shuffling my feet to make sure I still had some level of coordination. If this was a brain tumor, it wasn't depriving me of any functionality.

It goes without saying that, with vertigo in the picture, balance goes partly or wholly out the window. I had a couple wild moments during which I wondered whether I would keel over and slam meatily into the floor. That didn't happen; the world spun, but I kept my grip on the subway's cold metal railing and rode through each wave of dizziness as it hit. My next worry was whether I'd be able to walk upright and in a straight line once I left the subway. I did somehow manage not to make a spectacle of myself, but I also walked much more slowly and carefully than usual. I was dizzy as I headed down Itaewon's main street (and I'm dizzy again now, as I'm typing these words), but I made it to High Street Market, found everything I needed to buy, and managed to get to a cab. I closed my eyes for much of the ride back.

So instead of prepping my Middle Eastern chicken tonight, I think I'm going to call it a day, slip into bed, try to read A Song of Ice and Fire, and hope that a few hours' sleep will be enough to get rid of the last traces of vertigo by morning. This is more annoying than anything, especially when the cause isn't obvious. I've never suffered from motion sickness; I used to read in moving cars all the time, so I'm not quite ready to say that reading on the subway was what triggered the vertigo. And when I had the attack at Mike's house, I was talking with Mike and his family while seated; I wasn't reading anything.

A mystery. One I hope I won't have to solve.

MORNING UPDATE: All better. No symptoms at all. For now. And on top of that, I now have, thanks to commenters, several theories I can bring to the doc when I see him next week.

From Henry: a drop in blood pressure.
From John Williamson: Ménière's Disease.
From Bill Keezer (via email): "...a middle-ear infection, it could be the onset of a neurological disease that does not show up on the usual stroke/tumor quick tests. It could also be a problem with the otoliths in your middle ear."

We'll see what the doc comes up with.

Oh, before I forget: it got bad last night, right before I flopped into bed. I did discover, however, that shutting one eye greatly lessened the whirling effect. I gather that binocular vision makes it worse. Walking very slowly also kept me from doing something silly like stubbing a toe or overshooting a handhold.

the reward for 36K steps

first take on the DNC

The Democratic National Convention is now under way, and it's already a shit-show. This listicle piece over at The Atlantic, while flippant in tone, gives a blow-by-blow of how the DNC began, noting its first major casualty, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, congresswoman (D-FL23) and chair of the Democratic National Committee. Schultz has been a powerful force both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, and now, thanks to a WikiLeaks email scandal that likely has Russian backing, she's been ushered off the stage to a loud chorus of boos. The over 20,000 leaked emails revealed that Schultz and others had indeed been doing what everyone had long suspected: gaming the electoral system to put Hillary Clinton at the top of the bracket. Bernie Sanders, her nearest rival for nomination, has been crying foul for months; WikiLeaks now gives wings to his accusations.

That said, The Atlantic also notes:

Eventually, Clinton likely will regain control of her convention. Like in Cleveland, the desire to defeat a hated enemy will overcome internal differences. The blues will line up against the reds, Wall Street will support both teams, Clinton will win in November, and the status quo will declare victory over change. Populist unrest will broaden and intensify.

Or Trump will win. He won’t keep his promises, because he never does. He won’t make America any greater than it already is. He might make it worse. The status quo will declare victory over change. Populist unrest will broaden and intensify.

For the moment, though, the barbarians are in control, and the DNC is a mess (except, from what I hear, for Michelle Obama's rousing pro-Clinton address*). Day One has pretty much been wasted. My fear is that there's going to be significant violence such as wasn't seen during the Republican National Convention. I hope I'm wrong.

*Over at Instapundit is a reminder of when Michelle Obama attacked Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election.

tonight's walk (2)

Step total: 36,413
Distance walked: 17.98 miles * 1.15 = 20.677 (between 19 & 20 miles, let's say)
Calories burned: 2,537

tonight's walk (1)

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Green Room": review

[WARNING: SPOILERS. Starting with the pic below.]

I watched "Green Room" mainly to give poor, deceased Anton Yelchin another go after having watched the mediocre "Odd Thomas" (reviewed here), but also because another Trek star appears in the film: Patrick Stewart, who plays Darcy, the film's main antagonist. So "Green Room" pits Captain Picard against Mr. Chekov, and I suppose the photo at the top of this review is a bit of a spoiler as to how that conflict turns out.

Stewart is interesting for the dramatic choices he makes. Classically trained as a Shakespearean, he has played a wide variety of characters ranging from very good to very bad. Even within a particular production, the choices he makes as an actor are often interesting to the point of being controversial. In a film production of "Macbeth," for example, Stewart's recitation of the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy was done in a sad, rueful tone of voice that caused highbrow critics to howl: everyone knows, the critics said, that at that point in the play, Macbeth has become detached from reality as everything is falling apart around him, so the soliloquy should be delivered in an equally detached tone. Stewart generally shrugs and smiles at such criticism, content to let audiences sort out their reactions for themselves. (Stewart, as King Claudius in a Royal Shakespeare Company/BBC production of "Hamlet," caused another stir when he had his character shrug right before quaffing a poisoned drink at the end of the play.) Ever the provocateur, Stewart plays the malign Darcy in "Green Room": a white supremacist who manages, among other things, a skinhead club in a remote, forested part of the Pacific Northwest.

The story focuses on a punk band called the Ain't Rights, which is composed of hipster twenty-somethings: there's Sam (Alia Shawkat), the female guitarist; Reece (Joe Cole), the drummer; Tiger (Callum Turner), the lead singer; and Pat (Anton Yelchin), the bassist. As a band, the Ain't Rights are talented but obscure, and they're hard up for cash. After getting skunked at one bar, they hear about a gig at a skinhead club not far from Portland, Oregon; the show will pay enough to allow the band to pay for gas instead of illegally siphoning it out of other cars, as they usually do. The band, despite being composed entirely of liberals, fatefully decides to play at this club. Their set begins with a bit of tension as they open with a cover of the Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," but the skinhead crowd eventually warms to the Ain't Rights when the band starts to play its own music.

As the Ain't Rights are packing up and preparing to leave, Pat darts back into the green room (sort of a lounge-cum-prep area for performers) to retrieve Sam's cell phone... and he stumbles upon a murder scene: several skinheads are standing around a dead girl who has a knife driven hilt-deep into her temple. The other band members come back in to see what's taking Pat so long... and the rest of the drama unfolds from there. The neo-Nazis running the joint have no interest in letting witnesses to a murder go, and the Ain't Rights have no interest in dying. A tense standoff takes place, with the frightened punk band trapped inside the green room and everyone else outside. Darcy, the owner, eventually shows up and begins negotiating with Pat—who now represents the band—and through their conversation, we get a vision of several possible outcomes, none of which bode well for our heroes.

"Green Room" tried its best to be unpredictable, although I was pretty sure that, as is the tradition in most horror movies, the meekest/weakest people would end up surviving. In many such movies, this is normally a female character—someone whose strength and resolve we are encouraged to underestimate until, in the end, she ends up outsmarting the rampaging killer/monster/whatever. In "Green Room," Anton Yelchin's wise, soft-spoken Pat is the closest we get to the "final girl," unless we also count Imogen Poots's character, Amber, who is a witness to the initial murder.

Stewart provides the right amount of menace. His Darcy remains calm as the situation erodes, and he seems almost regretful about having to kill the young band members. Underlying this impression, though, is the character's sinister world-weariness: we get the feeling that Darcy has been involved in this sort of criminality before, which explains why, like Harvey Keitel's Winston Wolf in "Pulp Fiction," he knows exactly what to do to clean up the mess with minimal involvement from the police.

Yelchin's Pat is a more much challenging role than his Odd Thomas was. Pat gets severely injured by the neo-Nazis near the beginning of the film: his hand is nearly lopped off by a machete, and another band member uses duct tape to both stanch the bleeding and act as a crude splint. This leads to one of the film's major implausibilities: Pat never goes into severe shock despite having a nearly amputated hand. This allows Pat to remain a functioning part of the film up until the very end, and Yelchin, despite the lack of realism, does a great job playing a normal Joe who finds himself in a nightmarishly impossible situation.

While watching "Green Room," I had a hard time deciding what genre the film was. The closest I could come up with was either "thriller" or "comedy-thriller." Wikipedia lists "Green Room" as a "horror-thriller" film, but I didn't find the movie all that horrifying. Maybe I'm too jaded. Maybe I've been so desensitized by Hollywood gore that I feel next to nothing when one character uses a box cutter to unzip a large man's abdomen. The dialogue throughout the film often tilts toward humor, which is why I thought of it as a comedy. The film also contains a running joke: when asked what his "desert island" band would be (i.e., the one band he'd like to accompany him to a desert island), Pat doesn't have an immediate answer, and he keeps coming up empty until the movie's very last scene.

At the beginning of the story, "Green Room" feels like some sort of stoner comedy: as the movie opens, the band members wake up inside their van, which has run off the road and into a cornfield (I think it's corn, which I don't associate with the Pacific Northwest, but whatever); Pat and Sam bike up the road to a local hockey rink, where they siphon off some gas and get their van going again. The movie then becomes almost a slice-of-life documentary about what it's like to be part of a traveling punk band, crashing at a stranger's place and being interviewed for a podcast; I was being exposed to a subculture that I know nothing about, and I didn't really start relating to the band members until they found themselves in danger at the skinhead club. So the movie takes us through several different moods, and it seems to dabble in different genres before settling into thriller mode.

In all, "Green Room" was tense and watchable, even if the ending was somewhat predictable. And aside from Pat's ability to survive his horrific injury without going into shock, the only other thing that bothered me was why an old British guy was heading up a neo-Nazi chapter in the forests of Oregon. "Odd Thomas" came out in 2013; "Green Room" was released this year, in 2016. Neither film is the last in Anton Yelchin's filmography: he has at least four films now scheduled for posthumous release, so his ghost will be haunting us for some time yet. That said, "Green Room" is a far better vehicle for showcasing Yelchin's acting ability than "Odd Thomas" could ever be.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

a new addiction

I really shouldn't be eating this, but...

At a convenience store not far from KMA's headquarters in Yeouido, where I normally teach for my KMA gigs, there are these Oreo-style ice-cream "bars," for lack of a better term.* I haven't seen them anywhere else, so I look forward to buying them whenever I'm doing a KMA class. I discovered this snack about a month or so ago, and I was instantly hooked: the vanilla in between the cookies is uncommonly rich and smooth, and the cookies themselves, while not Oreos, per se, are sufficiently Oreo-like to earn my seal of approval.

I know, I know: I shouldn't. Yet I must.

*Actually, as I'm sure you've realized, there is a better term: ice-cream sandwich.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

two liberal takes on Trump, culture, and everything

Here are two shockingly different takes—both by self-professed liberals—on the right as it's currently incarnated by the likes of Donald Trump and the recently Twitter-banned gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos (banned for supposed racist trolling of African-American actress Leslie Jones, who appears in the new "Ghostbusters").

"I am a Dem and I’m Voting for Trump"

"I’m With The Banned"

I think you can gather which of the two offers a pro-Trump take. As I noted on Twitter, the pro-Trump article doesn't move me to vote for Trump, but I do think it should be required reading (if you can get past all the typos and other gaffes) for liberal Democrats. The other article, "I'm With the Banned," was—like a lot of hipster journalism—an alloy of well-written prose and incoherent postmodernist garbage. Take the final paragraph, for example:

What’s happening to this country has happened before, in other nations, in other anxious, violent times when all the old certainties peeled away and maniacs took the wheel. It’s what happens when weaponised insincerity is applied to structured ignorance. Donald Trump is the Gordon Gekko of the attention economy, but even he is no longer in control. This culture war is being run in bad faith by bad actors who are running way off-script, and it’s barely begun, and there are going to be a lot of refugees.

I can guess at what "weaponized insincerity" means since the author spends a lot of time repeatedly claiming that Yiannopoulos doesn't believe his own rhetoric. But "structured ignorance"? The "attention economy"? These are little more than hipster terms that are meant to sound intellectual without actually signifying anything concrete or coherent. I'm also not sure what sort of apocalyptic vision is on offer in that final sentence: who are the "bad actors running way off script," and what does it even mean to be off-script? What does it mean to say there are going to be "refugees" in the culture war? This entire vomitous blob of pretentious abstractions gets dumped on us with little to no explanation earlier in the article. It's a shame, really, because the author, at other points, is actually quite witty and demonstrates some talent for stringing together evocative sentences.

Perhaps coherence was too much to ask for.

"Gentlemen, to bed!"

I've got KMA happening Saturday morning to Saturday evening—a marathon seven-hour session with seven students. That's a larger class than normal, which bodes well. I'll probably grab dinner at that Viet-Thai place again (the one that serves the shrimp wrapped in spaghetti-string potato); the food isn't award-winning, but it's serviceably good.

Friday, July 22, 2016

since we're all about uselessly making predictions here...

I predict that the specter of rioting and violence, which somehow failed to land on the Republican National Convention (unless you count the gruesome beheading of Triumph the insult Comic Dog), will find expression at the Democratic National Convention. Will it be a repeat of 1968's DNC? I hope not, but I expect fights with cops (especially given the anti-cop mood among a certain sector of the US populace), riots, and things getting generally out of hand. I mostly avoided news about the RNC, but I couldn't escape it completely because I'm on Twitter, where news is a perpetual urine stream. I'll be morbidly curious to see what happens at the DNC. If things do turn 1968-ish, the country as a whole might find itself once again sympathizing with the cops and not the rioters, thus paving the way for a conservative (well, a nominal conservative) to occupy the Oval office.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

teaching, teaching, and more teaching

My extracurricular work isn't done. I've got a KMA session this coming Saturday (six students, apparently), then my August 1-2 sessions at Seoul National, then in theory another KMA session on Saturday, August 6. That last session might be cancelled if we don't get more than one student to register (last I heard, there's only one student on the list thus far). If it does get cancelled, I won't mind too much, as I do prize my weekends.

Looking ahead, I see that I've got KMA sessions on September 10, November 26, and December 10. I may or may not also receive more work from Seoul National (Young Chun is my pipeline: the offers of work go to him first, and when he can't do it, he passes the work along to me and my buddy Tom), but whether I accept that work is doubtful: this time around, SNU was stingier about pay than it had been in the past. A man's got to have standards.

Anyway, the near future looks to be fairly busy, which will be good for the budget. By the end of August, I'll have paid off my second major debt, and that will be cause for a big celebration. After that: two more gigantic debts to go, with the hoped-for goal of freedom from debt before I turn fifty in 2019.

Ave, Charles!

I had written up my visit to Baekchae Kimchi Jjigae; Charles has written up the same visit.

ADDENDUM: Charles has also written up our trip to 9 Ounce Burger.


a visit to 9 Ounce

Charles, Hyunjin, and I schlepped over to 9 Ounce, a burger joint that's a crowded shuttle-bus ride away from the center of Seoul National's campus. The place is popular, which means it's always crowded at mealtimes, so when Charles and I got there first (Hyunjin approached the resto separately), we were told we'd need to wait. We sat outside in the sweltering heat, trying to stay as immobile as possible as we talked, people-watched, and speculated on how many times the same SUV was circling around the block, possibly in search of a parking space.

Hyunjin showed up a few minutes after Charles and I sat down for our burger vigil; not long after that, a server called us inside.

Here's a pic of the restaurant's sign by the front door:

The singular "burger" seems a bit odd: "burgers and fries" would seem more natural, but that's a minor complaint given how good the food turned out to be.

Here's a peek at the menu:

I knew I'd be getting the Nine Ounce. Hyunjin ordered a California burger, which is apparently her usual here. Charles (help me out here, man) got either the Rucola or the Tongue Tied, both of which come with bacon.

Here are Hyunjin and Charles peering at the menu:

Next—a shot of our table setting. Sorry for the blurriness.

At last: the burger arrives! Below is a shot of my Nine Ounce. I'd failed to notice, on the menu, that the Nine Ounce came with caramelized onions on the patty; I scraped those off and gave them to Charles, who happily slapped them onto his burger.

The burger:

If you look at the above photo, you might not see the burger patty, but it's right there in front of you, covered in melted American cheese. The burger itself was fantastic, and it's obvious that that's the restaurant's focus, not fries or anything else. The fries were kind of a joke: I got maybe five or six on my plate, so I cracked to Charles that their presence was symbolic.

But the burger was large, juicy, and cooked to perfection. No one asked me how I wanted my patty, but that didn't matter: what came out was tender and prepped with care. Not having eaten anything all day, except for a light snack during my SNU class, I devoured my burger in just a couple minutes. Astonishingly, Hyunjin quickly slaughtered her own burger, completing the foul deed not long after I had finished. Charles, pokey as he is, took his time and finished his own burger off at a leisurely pace, talking and eating. He and Hyunjin ordered beers; I had myself a can of Coke followed by a can of Dr. Pepper. Charles noted that beer might be a tactical error on the restaurant's part: people tend to nurse their beers, which slows down turnover, and that's not a good thing on a busy night.

I was amazed at how busy the place was, and I couldn't help wishing that Joe's OK Burger might enjoy a similarly packed dinner crowd. I was also surprised to realize that, even though the Hongik University neighborhood is touted as a foodie destination, the SNU neighborhood seemed to have plenty of high-quality eateries scattered through it.

9 Ounce gets my seal of approval, although I wish they'd serve more fries with their burgers. Great atmosphere, great burgers, prompt service, a well-balanced menu, and plenty of reasons to go back. Like Arnold, I'll be back.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

SNU, Day 2

I did my afternoon gig at Seoul National University today, finishing a few minutes early, then meeting up with Charles and his wife Hyunjin for dinner at Nine Ounce, a burger joint in the SNU neighborhood that serves juicy, delectable burgers. I'll be talking more about Nine Ounce in a different post. For now, let's concentrate on how class went today.

Eleven students were slated to come to class; about half showed up very late for various reasons, ranging from a funeral to final exams to traffic jams. I had no choice but to start class without the stragglers, so I began by passing out a review sheet that was meant to reinforce what we had covered the previous week re: résumés. I then had the students watch an excellent pecha-kucha presentation by Indo-Canadian Shawn Kanungo, who talked animatedly and humorously about spelling bees and the secret of Indian kids' success in them. As a class, we discussed the things that Shawn did right during his spiel, after which I segued into my own presentation on how to present.

The students seemed fairly engaged by my talk, although it ended with cheerfully sarcastic "golf clapping." From there, I had the students place their names on two sign-up sheets—one for the ten-minute, one-on-one brainstorming sessions we would be having that day; the other for our fifty-minute, one-on-one presentation sessions to be done on August 1 and 2. After a ten-minute break, we plunged into one-on-one brainstorming for the presentations that the students would be doing in August.

I sat with each student, and we talked over what the student's topic was, whether he or she had a thesis, what sort of approach the student would take to the problem they had chosen to work with, and so on. As with many students, there was occasionally some trouble when it came to narrowing a topic down. In such cases, I would remind my charges that time constraints meant they would be able to cover only two or three major points at best, so they needed to be focused and memorable in their delivery. Most of the students elected to craft their presentations according to a "problem-solution" structure, introducing the problem (e.g., finding a better alternative than detention centers for refugees, migrants, and "the stateless") with facts, then proposing solutions that would also contain the students' opinions on the matter. I found myself giving pretty much the same advice over and over: focus on delivering just two or three memorable points. Narrow your topic because you don't have time to range widely. Stick with the problem-solution structure. Do more research so you have a clear idea of what the problem and solution are. Be ready to define your core concept simply and clearly. Think about your conclusion.

I ended up finishing several minutes early, which gave me time to lumber over to Charles's office, talk with Charles, and change into my scraggly walking clothes while Charles worked on a page of translation. Sometime after 6PM, Charles and I headed out for a much-anticipated dinner... but that is the topic of a different blog post.

provocateur: a very different worldview

Over on Twitter, James, whom I follow, and who leans way, way harder to the left than I can even imagine, has a very different take on the near future when it comes to Donald Trump's and Hillary Clinton's respective political fortunes. Quite the opposite of some pro-Trump optimists, he sees a world in which Trump is debased and Hillary reigns triumphant. I now reproduce his series of tweets, edited for form:

1) As amazing a clusterfuck as the RNC has been so far, I'm willing to bet the most amazing moment of the Trump campaign comes in October when...

2) down by at least 10 points in national polls, and with the electoral map a solid blue, Trump quits because "I have credible info. Hillary and the CIA..."

3) "are planning to assassinate Melania, Donald Jr., and / or Eric."

4) He will throw the nomination back to the Republican Party, and even desperate power-whores like Cruz and Rubio won't accept that hot potato.

5) So Trump remains on ballot, losing even bigger, but blaming HRC / the national media / non-existent death threats /...

6) ...and the Republican Party (this is critical!) for his loss.

7) The GOP doubles down on crazy, does nothing to reform its structural racism, and, frankly, HRC is a pretty good POTUS who rules for eight years.

8) The GOP probably splits into establishment / Tea Party Cuckoo camps around, oh, let's say late 2017.

9) The End

You might need some context before you react. I don't doubt that James, good lefty that he is, sincerely wants to see Trump crushed, or that he views the GOP as racist and a "clusterfuck," but you need to realize, too, that James is often funny as hell, and he's not seriously proposing the above scenario as if it were an actual prediction, so please don't confuse him with an earnest election-year prognosticator. That said, he's putting forth a worldview that's very different from the "Trump in a landslide" faction's. I'd almost say this is worthy of further discussion, but the above isn't an argument so much as it's merely a scenario. Twitter isn't the place for arguments: there's no room to marshal evidence and have substantive exchanges. That's what blogs, and their comment threads, are for.

walk update

It appears I'm doing my long walks at the beginning and at the end of the work week. I had to work on my SNU PowerPoint presentation on Monday evening, so I couldn't take advantage of that beautiful night to take my walk. Instead, I walked last night, when it was more humid (97% humidity, according to a local electronic marquee) and hotter.

Steps: 32.9K
Distance walked: approx. 17 miles
Calories burned: 2320

My weekly schedule, unless it rains, is now:

MON: long walk
TUE: rest
WED: building staircase, 2X
THU: building staircase, 2X
FRI: long walk
SAT: building staircase, 2X
SUN: rest

power hiccup

Power went out in my place last night. Circuit breaker. I had come back from my huge walk, flipped on the A/C, and done some laundry. A few minutes after finishing the laundry—poof. No power. I went to the circuit breaker and saw that the master switch (the breaker is a row of four switches, three of which were all still flipped up) had flipped down. I flipped it up, and power came back on... for only a few minutes, after which it popped off again. Given how late it was (after 1AM), I decided to sleep on it. The contents of my fridge would remain cool for several hours as long as I didn't open the appliance, and my cell phone's battery would survive the night without needing a charge.

So I woke up and went right over to the circuit breaker to try flipping the main power on again. No dice. I dressed, went downstairs, and told the friendly concierge what the problem was (the chadan-gi, i.e., the circuit breaker, whose full name is the hwaero chadan-gi; I'd had to look that word up back when I lived in Ilsan and had suffered the same problem); he called the electrician, who showed up ten minutes after I had gone back up to my place.

The problem stumped the electrician, so he called in reinforcements. A second guy appeared, and the two were able, after lots of arcane tinkering, to restore power. I'm back to enjoying my A/C; my room faces east, and the sky is already lightening around 4:30AM, so by 9AM, I'm getting the full greenhouse effect in my apartment, with everything heating up to barbarous, sweat-inducing levels.

The second guy gave a long spiel about what the problem was, but I understood less than half of what he was talking about. There was something about water leakage, and possibly something else about how my circuit breaker is hooked into the building's larger electrical network, and how part of the problem lay outside the confines of my apartment. At least... I think I caught that. I just nodded sagely as he talked, feigning full comprehension. To me, the practical issue was: did I have power again? For now, the answer seems to be yes.

I'm off to Seoul National again today—the second of my four SNU teaching days (August 1 and 2 are my final two dates). I'll be meeting up with the infamous Charles again, this time for burgers. Charles says that the place we're going to serves nine-ounce burgers, and I'm all about the huge. Expect photos tonight.

Happy Moon Landing Day!

rightie responses to Melania Trump's fart in a church

Rightie sites are finally acknowledging what Twitter has been digesting all day: Melania Trump cribbed a portion of her speech from a 2008 speech by Michelle Obama. Word for word, idea for idea, beat for beat—see the video embedded in my previous post—it's a shameless copy.

As I speculated in that previous post, Melania and The Donald probably won't suffer too much for this. I say that out of cynicism. Meanwhile, the reactions from the right have been interesting; a quick taxonomy would seem to show three types of response:

1. Minimization. This is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, we're talking about a few sentences in a much larger speech. Piffle!

2. "Others have done this." It's a bit of a fallacious deflection to state this (and I suppose I'm guilty of it in my previous post) because it doesn't make the wrong any less wrong. If a scientist plagiarizes work in a research paper, and people die as a result of his bogus research, he doesn't get to say that others have plagiarized before him. At best, he can truthfully claim to be no better than those others as he's led off to the guillotine.

3. "She did wrong, but yeah, she'll get away with it, anyway." This is probably the most honest reaction (although outright condemnation from elements on the right would, in my opinion, reveal a bit more spine and integrity), as it's blatantly true that her speech has cobbled material and that she'll likely escape serious consequences.

Disappointingly, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit opts for (2):

“PURLOINED PIFFLE:” I don’t have anything to say about the Melania Trump kerfuffle that I haven’t already said about Joe Biden’s plagiarism scandal that took place back when he was, you know, actually a candidate.

The Drudge Report also links to an article that notes that everyone is guilty of plagiarism—Joe Biden, Michelle Obama (the speech Melania cribbed from itself contained cribbed elements), and Barack Obama. All very amusing, but none of it absolves Melania, who I still think should have known better and should apologize.

The article also says the Trump campaign is doubling down and denying that Melania borrowed anything from Michelle Obama. Stupid, and obviously bullshit, but not surprising. If you're going to be shameless, go all the way, right?

Must be nice to live a consequence-free life. (Same goes for Hillary, of course.)

ADDENDUM: Steve Schale points out that Melania, whose mastery of English is shaky at best, probably didn't write her own speech, and there's a chance that whoever did put her speech together may not have had the most benign intentions.

Whoever wrote Melania Trump's speech knew what they were doing - they were sabotaging the moment. They wrote a speech that they knew cribbed not only from Michelle Obama, but also from Rick Astley -- the latter of which is the dead giveaway. And honestly, if they didn't do it as intentional sabotage, then the Trump campaign is a bigger goat show than we all thought.

I suspect the speech shibacle had one of two goals: Either, the campaign itself wanted to marginalize her following reports that she was unhappy with the way the VP selection went -- or, some disgruntled speechwriter/comms staffer is just over the campaign and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. To believe the third option, that this was just an accident, would be to believe that the Trump campaign is being run with the competence of a dysfunctional city council campaign -- and one completely unprepared to run a national government.

Very few things in campaigns are secrets, so I suspect we will learn what happened in the next 24 hours. And no, I don't think the moment will have a single impact on the actual campaign. However, it does provide just another insight into just how bad the Trump campaign is at this politics thing.

And that, friends, is what makes this relevant to The Donald himself. If his speech-vetting process is this sloppy (didn't notice the cribbing?) and has this many holes, what makes him better for national security than Madame Makeshift Server?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

why on Earth would Melania Trump plagiarize?

So the GOP convention is in full swing in Cleveland, and the big news is that Melania Trump, Donald Trump's wife, has given a speech parts of which were ripped directly off a speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008. The Twitterverse is all over this right now; rightie sites like Instapundit and Drudge haven't posted anything, but the comment threads at Instapundit are alive with cross-talk about the scandal.

Barack Obama infamously lifted large swaths of text from a speech by Deval Patrick. You may recall this as the "Just words?" speech. The words themselves were powerful, but Obama failed to attributed them to Patrick, whom he later called a "friend" while offering a lame justification for his plagiarism. What Melania Trump has done is the moral equivalent of Obama's naughty deed, so I'd say she deserves whatever opprobrium is heading her way.

What boggles my mind is how Mrs. Trump (and possibly by extension, The Donald) thought she could get away with lifting text almost word for word from Michelle Obama's speech. In this day and age, any lie you tell, any plagiarism you commit, will be caught and aired in public almost instantaneously.

Here, too, while you're at it:

Anyway, this is embarrassing for Melania Trump. I'll be curious as to whether Donald Trump manages to Teflon his way through this new mini-crisis, or whether it becomes a "Dean scream" moment for him. Somehow, I doubt it'll be a "Dean scream"er. Consequences don't seem to attach themselves to his, or to his wife's, conduct.

ADDENDUM: this site mulls over the 2008 incident involving Obama's use of Deval Patrick's rhetoric. While the site author's conclusions are somewhat sympathetic to Obama, the author also makes some strong statements about those who accuse others of plagiarism, noting that such attacks tend to be politically motivated while generally lacking in substance, especially when seen in a larger context. For all I know, Melania can bat her lashes innocently and claim she was "inspired" by Michelle Obama, and/or that she and Michelle are "friends," thus making it somehow fine for Melania to appropriate Michelle's words. Two weeks from now, we probably won't be talking about Melania's text-cribbing.

axe attack: no "double pits to chesty" this time

A 17-year-old Afghan on board a German train has apparently gone nuts and attacked passengers with an axe while yelling, "Allahu akbar!"

A teenage Afghan refugee shouted 'Allahu Akbar' before hacking at passengers during an axe rampage on a train in Germany - in scenes likened to a 'slaughterhouse'.

The 17-year-old was gunned down by armed police after fleeing from the scene near the city of Wurzburg, 70 miles north of Nuremberg in southern Germany.

As many as 19 passengers needed hospital treatment while three victims are fighting for their lives after being attacked with 'cutting and stabbing weapons'. Officials have said it was 'probably' an Islamist attack.


The train was reportedly "soaked in blood" after the attack. What boggles my mind is how the kid could have wounded so many people. Wouldn't the passengers have ganged up on him and tackled him immediately? Or could it be that docile Germans have no "9/11 reflex" that comes into play in such situations? Americans in a similar crisis, remembering what happened aboard United Flight 93 in 2001, would never tolerate such an outrage and would attack the attacker en masse. Or so I'd like to believe, anyway. Many of us Yanks have spent the intervening years trying to forget instead of trying to learn.

NB: For those of you who don't get the "double pits to chesty" reference, it's from a commercial for Axe deodorant spray. See here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

a charley horse in the weirdest place

I was lying on my bed last night when I was seized by the urge to yawn and stretch at the same time. It's a perfectly normal urge—one that strikes even cats and dogs and other mammals. So I yawned and I stretched—

—and the muscles right around my navel suddenly went crink! and sent me into a startled, agonized fetal position.

Abdominal charley horse!

It's a bit like when you get a splinter under your pinky fingernail: you don't realize just how crucial a body part is until it's afflicted with pain. With every cough, every sneeze, every motion of my torso, I've been forced to acknowledge just how important my core muscles are. It's almost enough to make me want to join a Pilates class. Almost.

It's evening, now, and the pain is fading. This is a dangerous time, though, because muscles in spasm can be easily induced to re-spasm with just one false move. I'll be cautious about stretching from now on. Yet another thing to be cautious about as I get older.

"It's not the years, honey... it's the mileage."
—Indiana Jones to Marion Ravenwood, "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

questioning each other's sanity

My buddy Steve doCarmo writes on his blog, regarding the slogan "Black Lives Matter":

The Black Lives Matter movement has given us all an excellent litmus test—in the form of its very name.

Some people hear that name, that phrase, “black lives matter,” and they’re sure they hear a particular word right after it:


These people say, “Black lives matter more?” And they get angry. And they put signs on their lawns—and bumper stickers on their cars—making a retort: “All lives matter.”

Others of us hear that name, that phrase, “black lives matter,” and we’re sure we hear a different particular word right after it:


And we say, “Has it really come to this? So many years after Brown vs. Board and Dr. King and Malcolm X and the Freedom Riders, black Americans are actually having to remind us, in the wake of so many ugly recent incidents, that their lives matter too?”

And we say, It’s clearly time to get back to work.

And we say, Police, schools, and tax codes gotta change.

And we say, How on earth does any sensible American hear that name, that phrase, and imagine there's a more after it?

Meanwhile, at the Observer, Austin Bay writes:

No sane person ever said black lives didn’t matter or that racial prejudice doesn’t exist in America—quite the opposite. But two or three short weeks ago try and whisper “all lives matter” much less “blue lives matter” (ie, the lives of law enforcement officers) and Black Lives Matter activists, their political allies and their friendly media pals would have scorned your words as gutter racism.

Black Lives Matter activists and their propagandists have waged a very effective War On Honesty. Black Lives Matter leaders employ vicious charges of racism to silence political opponents, or, failing that, deter media criticism of their radical tactics, which include violent language and occasional violent incidents. The goal is political provocation and divisiveness. Yes, Black Lives Matter benefits as an organization from divisiveness. It serves their political goals.

So who's saner? Could it be we're all just talking past each other?

Statistics seem to indicate that it's not blacks who are killed at the highest rate by police.

But when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.

“It is the most surprising result of my career,” said Roland G. Fryer Jr., the author of the study and a professor of economics at Harvard. The study examined more than 1,000 shootings in 10 major police departments, in Texas, Florida and California.

The result contradicts the image of police shootings that many Americans hold after the killings (some captured on video) of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; Walter Scott in South Carolina; Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La.; and Philando Castile in Minnesota.

[Fuller disclosure of context: the article still concludes there is police bias against blacks in terms of the use of less-than-deadly force.]

And from Heather Mac Donald [sic—she really does write "Mac Donald" as two separate words, not as "MacDonald"]:

For starters, fatal police shootings make up a much larger proportion of white and Hispanic homicide deaths than black homicide deaths. According to the Post database, in 2015 officers killed 662 whites and Hispanics, and 258 blacks. (The overwhelming majority of all those police-shooting victims were attacking the officer, often with a gun.) Using the 2014 homicide numbers as an approximation of 2015’s, those 662 white and Hispanic victims of police shootings would make up 12% of all white and Hispanic homicide deaths. That is three times the proportion of black deaths that result from police shootings.

The lower proportion of black deaths due to police shootings can be attributed to the lamentable black-on-black homicide rate. There were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014—the most recent year for which such data are available—compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.

Police officers—of all races—are also disproportionately endangered by black assailants. Over the past decade, according to FBI data, 40% of cop killers have been black. Officers are killed by blacks at a rate 2.5 times higher than the rate at which blacks are killed by police.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, himself black (which matters not at all to me, but which matters to the identity-politics crowd), has this to say about the BLM movement:

The bloodbath continues for the American law enforcement officers in the name of "Black Lives Matter."

I listened to the president this afternoon...

Here's the thing [President Obama] will not do. And this will go a long way...

He will not condemn anti-police sentiment. He condemned the violence, he has to condemn the violence, but he will not condemn the anti-police sentiment.

When a terror attack happens, he goes out there and warns and condemns against Muslim-backlash. He will not do that for American police officers...

Black Lives Matter are purveyors of hate. It is a hateful violent ideology... That I said has to be wiped off the face of the earth. I said that a year ago and the liberal mainstream media went haywire. They bear some responsibility too.

So I would tentatively conclude that the BLM movement, by focusing on blacks, is itself adding an implicit more to the dialogue, and that this is what "All Lives Matter" is pushing against. Don't be so quick to cry "racism." All lives do matter... don't they?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Odd Thomas": review

I had rounded up two afterlife-related movies: "What Dreams May Come" (reviewed here) and "Odd Thomas." It didn't occur to me, at the time, that the afterlife was the connecting theme: I had originally wanted to see "What Dreams May Come" because I'd been curious about it for years, and I had chosen "Odd Thomas" because poor Anton Yelchin—better known as Mr. Chekov in the recent Star Trek reboot—had just died in a freak accident, and he was the eponymous Odd Thomas.

"Odd Thomas" is about a twenty-something guy, born of a psychic mother, who has the ability to see the dead and the world of the dead. Among the beings he sees are spirit-creatures called bodachs (pronounced "boh-dacks") which, while not destructive in and of themselves, are attracted to impending mass death. "Odd Thomas" plays out as something of a mystery: Odd lives in a small town, working as a short-order cook and hanging out with his gorgeous girlfriend Stormy. A stranger suddenly arrives, trailing a sense of danger and a horde of bodachs with him. Odd realizes that this means a mass killing is going to occur in his town, and much of the story is devoted to his attempts to stop this disaster from happening.

Odd (whose name might be a bastardization of "Todd" resulting from a clerical error at the hospital where he was born) has help in the form of friends who know he has a gift and who trust his abilities. Among them is Chief Porter (Willem Dafoe), who counts on Odd's psychic hunches to help solve murder cases. As the plot unfolds, we discover that the mysterious stranger is only one of several people who appear to be in on a large plot. Will Odd be able to stop the plot in time? What will Odd's abilities mean for his relationship with Stormy?

Ultimately, I found the movie to be little more than cute. There's one major twist at the end, but as twists go, it's fairly easy to predict, and that, really, is the problem with the whole film: it follows a formula; its jump-scare moments are a cinch to anticipate; there's very little actual suspense to be had. "Odd Thomas" almost feels as though it could have been a TV movie: it was certainly filled with enough lame dialogue and visual clichés.

The tone of the film is mostly comic, and in some ways, it borders on "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," although the writing isn't nearly as witty. At the end, the tone changes to something much more somber, and I got the feeling that this was supposed to be the first of a series of Odd Thomas movies (Odd Thomas is a character created by horror novelist Dean Koontz). What I found unsettling, though, were the ways in which the film seems to hint forward in time at Anton Yelchin's death. In one scene, Odd is the victim of a poltergeist* attack in an empty house; he gets crushed against a wall by a refrigerator, much the way Anton Yelchin himself was found crushed between his SUV and his property's front gate. And if you think about what it means to be Odd Thomas—being able to see the dead means that one already has one foot in the grave—this too can be disturbing in hindsight.

Sad to say, but "Odd Thomas" is interesting mainly because Anton Yelchin recently passed away. As an artistic achievement, the film isn't the one I'd pick to remember Yelchin by. The story has its heart in the right place, but the plotting is too predictable, the dialogue is too stilted and writerly, and the overall effect isn't all that memorable. I'm going to be watching another Yelchin film—"Green Room"—very soon. It's gotten great reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes (and it also stars Patrick Stewart in yet another unconventional role), so I have high hopes that "Green Room" will prove to be a better viewing experience.

*The word poltergeist is being used here in the same way it was used in 1982's "Poltergeist," i.e., as a descriptor for a powerful ghost that can cause major disturbances in the physical plane. Traditionally, a poltergeist is just a minor spirit that can, at best, create small disturbances in the physical realm—enough to hint at its existence, and nothing more.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

a quick OK Burger update

If you saw my two photos from yesterday, then you know I visited OK Burger again last night. What follows won't be much more than the addition of a few scattered remarks to the review I'd written earlier.

OK Burger's menu continues to evolve, much as Joe McPherson said it would. Joe has brought back his Brunswick stew, which I didn't order last night. Instead, I went for a different, but equally new, menu item: the chili fries. I also went for Joe's Spicy Smoked Jerk Chicken Burger (in his recent blog post, Joe noted that it's a Korean thing to refer to this as a "burger" and not as a "sandwich," despite the fact that the chicken isn't a ground-meat patty).

Manager John came by as I was eating (he also took my order), and after I had polished off the food, he asked me which I had liked better—the sandwich or the chili fries. I said it was a hard choice, but in the end, the sandwich was the winner. John winced and told me that, because of my decision, he and Joe now had equal scores in a friendly contest that the two are running. I suppose it's good to know that both guys are putting out equally good food, statistically speaking. That says something about quality and consistency.

John's chili definitely deserved praise for its smoky savoriness, as well as for its recognizable Americanness. It's billed as "Texas chili," but not in the classical sense: truly old-school Texas chili has no beans, no tomatoes,* and is little more than beef and spices—much more Mexican than Texan. I had ordered the chili without first asking whether there'd be onions on it. As you can see in the photo, there were plenty, but the chili was so good that I ate everything.

Joe's chicken burger (read more about it here) was a surprise: the first time I saw a picture of it on Instagram, I mocked it in a comment, saying it could be finished off in two bites and had better not cost more than W6,000, or someone was going to get shot. Frankly, it looked tiny. Joe calmly replied that most people's initial reactions to the burger are about how big it is, and I conceded that I might not have the best sense of scale.

The chicken burger is big. It's a large slab of meat that's been brined, rubbed, and smoked to perfection, the way jerk chicken should be. As advertised, it comes with lettuce, tomato, fresh cucumbers, spicy mayo, and pineapple salsa (more of a chutney than a salsa, I think, but that's semantics). The burger is somewhat steeply priced at W12,000; I think maybe W9,000 would be more reasonable (W12,000 strikes me as the price for a set including fries and a drink), but I imagine Joe has his reasons for the pricing. The burger's shape also takes some getting used to: normally, a burger bun is smaller on the bottom and bigger on the top. The vaguely conical shape of Joe's burger, though, does nothing to impede your eating thereof. If anything, a larger bottom bun does much to solve the drippage problem that many burgers have.**

The jerk chicken itself is what makes the burger work. I could eat a bucket of nothing but that. As with the smoked chicken that I had last time, this chicken was moist for every mouthful, and very flavorful. Joe writes that he's been making jerk chicken for years; as with John's chili, the expertise shows. After smoking for hours, there's a firm and even crispy outer layer, immediately backed up by that juicy, succulent interior. Sublime, and definitely not gone in only two bites. I'm happy to be wrong about that.

So yeah—a good meal. Next time around, I'll go back for the Brunswick stew, and to see what else might be new on OK Burger's constantly evolving menu.

*To be clear, I'm pretty sure that John's chili didn't have any tomatoes in it (I could be wrong), but it did have beans.

**A place called Spelunker's in Front Royal, Virginia, serves incredibly good burgers. The only problem is that no one there knows how to build a burger correctly, resulting in off-puttingly soggy bottom buns. If you look at the photos of Joe's burger, you'll see that he stacks smartly: lettuce on the bottom to intercept any gravity-assisted meat juices. Joe's bottom bun is also thick enough to serve as a Plan B: if the lettuce doesn't stop the dripping, the bun is able to absorb the juices and still remain firm without getting too soggy.


escargot redux

Leftover puff pastry. Garlic. Parsley. Butter. Snails (Korean golbaengi, or sea snails). Soften butter; mix all together.  Roll puff pastry into large discs; tuck into pre-buttered muffin tin. Stuff with snail mixture; run mayonnaise-covered fingertip over exposed pastry as a substitute for egg wash. Bake 15-20 minutes. Not bad, all in all.

Turkey, from my unnamed source

I know someone who works in the US State Department, so I asked her, half-jokingly, whether she had any insider information on what's going on in Turkey. Here's what she said (edited for privacy—sorry for all the redactions):

If only I knew what the hell was going on! I served my tour in Adana, Turkey as [redacted] from 20XX-20XX. Erdogan's AKP party was just getting rooted and the opposition pushed out—but democratically, the people have elected AKP for the past 15 years and the military has been summarily squeezed out. This absolutely bizarre turn of events has astonished me. Not sure about the timing, above all. Why now? Why not five years ago when all the upper ranks and echelons were being witch-hunted for ties to an alleged "deep-state conspiracy" called Ergenekon?

So there we have it. The best I could do on short notice.


France, Turkey, and the world

France and Turkey are perpetually in the news.

France, mainly because of terrorism, which is a specter that has haunted the country since even before my first-ever visit there, way back in 1986 when I was a high-school student. One of the most powerful images from my youth is that of French soldiers with machine guns patrolling the airport. I also recall Paris train stations whose garbage cans had been bolted closed to prevent jihadis from leaving bombs inside them, and regular French-language announcements at those same stations declaring that, if you leave your bag unattended, it will be confiscated and blown up ("on va le faire sauter").

Turkey, mainly because there's this perennially unresolved question about whether the country should become an EU member. I used to be pro; these days, I'm anti because I see Turkey as one of many bridges across which terrorism can enter Europe: why make that bridge even more easily crossable? Although Turkey has tried—somewhat—to be a secular state, it has always had jihadist factions banging at its door, and its government has always had an authoritarian streak whose psychology, while generally anti-al Qaeda in its stance, is the psychological cousin of the mentality of the jihadists.

On Bastille Day, which is basically "French Independence Day," France experienced yet another terrorist attack as 31-year-old Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel commandeered a massive truck and drove it murderously along Nice's famous Promenade des Anglais, the street that abuts the Mediterranean, mowing down crowds of pedestrians, including women and children, resulting in a death toll that, at present, is close to 90 and may rise. Bouhlel was taken down by French police during a gun battle; the marksman who killed him is reportedly a markswoman, although this has yet to be confirmed. The terrorist's truck was loaded with heavy weaponry and explosives; the French president, François Hollande, has declared that France's state of emergency, due to end about now, will be extended another three months. Areas around Nice are on high alert, especially since there is an ongoing hunt for Bouhlel's probable accomplice(s). The usual hashtag-scented furor has erupted online; the usual debates about whether the terrorist represents "true" Islam have erupted as well.

When I woke up this morning—it's Saturday the 16th as I write this—Turkey is in chaos. Its military has staged a coup against President Recep Erdogan, who is perceived as a not-so-crypto theocrat trying to impose an Islamist agenda onto the country.** The military, which has a history of coup attempts, has decided that Erdogan must go, which has put the army in conflict with loyalist elements in Erdogan's government as well as the police, who are all Erdogan's men. It's a "Game of Thrones" scenario come to life; reports from news agencies and Twitter currently form a conflicting picture as to how successful the coup attempt has been. By some accounts, Erdogan is applying for asylum in Germany and/or flying out to London; according to other sources, the military's coup attempt has failed, and angry citizens (again, Erdoganistas) are attacking soldiers on the street. From what I gather, the soldiers have thus far shown remarkable restraint in not mowing down the citizens who are attacking them, but to be honest, I expect to be eating my words within the next 24 hours: I expect to hear news of civilians being shot. (Update: at least 60 people are dead, and 300-400 have been arrested.***)

So we live in very interesting times. The possibility of widespread race riots, or even an all-out race war, continues to increase inside the United States, a country that is blundering headlong into a presidential election touting two extremely unlikable candidates. Vladimir Putin seems finally to have fully assumed his KGB mantle* and is pulling the strings behind many, many world events. China continues its imperialist drumbeat in the South China Sea, even while it clandestinely violates UN sanctions regarding support for North Korea. These are interesting times, indeed, and I'm selfishly glad to be hunkered down here in Korea, where the situation is always tense, thanks to the North, but also always stable.

*I say this because, when he first became president, Putin immediately failed a leadership test during the tragic Kursk incident in 2000, which involved the sinking of a Russian submarine. During that incident, Putin did precious little, prompting the anger of the Russian people. I'd had high hopes that Putin would use his KGB skills to ruthlessly clean out the Russian government, purging it of the mafia elements that had infiltrated it like a cancer during the Soviet era. Putin has, over the years, returned to his spymaster roots, which is why I'm not surprised whenever I hear stories of dissident journalists who mysteriously die or disappear in Russia these days. It's also why I no longer dismiss as conspiracy theories those stories about Putin's far-ranging influence in places like Africa, Eastern Europe, and even East Asia. Like the judoka he is, Putin has managed all this with relatively little bombast and flamboyancy (unless you count all those photos of him engaged in topless fishing, or flying a bomber, or forcing a submission on the judo mat); he has learned and grown as a leader since the early days, although not in the direction I would have liked.

**Erdogan is, nevertheless, a generally popular leader.

***A handy-dandy guide for the perplexed regarding Turkey can be found here. It's also important to note, as some news articles do, that Turkey's military is not monolithic: it's been generally the younger elements of the military who have organized and staged this coup, while the older officers have expressed anti-coup sentiments.


Sadly for the rest of us, Lee Farrand is jumping off the blogging train.

jerk-chicken sandwich at OK Burger

chili fries at OK Burger

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ave, Joe!

My friend Joe McPherson has just written a blog post over his ZenKimchi site. It's worth a read. While Joe is coy about getting into too much detail re: his recent travails, he talks about some of the difficulties of running a restaurant and expresses optimism about the future. Since it's going to be pissing down rain this weekend, that's going to nix my long walk, so I've decided to pay Joe a visit again tonight to try out some other items on his menu. I've already reviewed Joe's place, so if I write anything about tonight's visit, it'll likely be brief—more of an addendum than an article unto itself.

More later, perhaps.

PS: it turns out that my boss knows Joe's partner, Susumu Yonaguni.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

stairwell critters

I normally prize my time working out in my building's tall stairwell because, generally speaking, no one else comes in there. Not counting yours truly, there are only two types of people who enter the stairwell: (1) those walking downstairs—never upstairs—instead of using the elevator (such people never appear above, oh, the tenth floor: above 10, it's too long of a descent to the lobby), and (2) those ducking into the stairwell for a quick, illegal smoke (the stairwell is a no-smoking zone, but this is Korea, so "no smoking" signs are ignored).

Tonight, however, I had three encounters. Well, more precisely, two actual face-to-face encounters and one near-encounter.

I was on my way down the freight elevator after my first ascent; when I reached the B1 level, I heard a young couple outside the elevator doors, and my heart sank: I knew I was a stinking mess, and I didn't want to be around any fellow human beings. The couple got on the elevator as I exited; I inwardly cringed as we passed each other, then the elevator's doors shut, and I started up the stairwell a second sweaty, gasping time.

Around the sixteenth floor, I heard someone pop into the stairwell and fumble about for something—probably a cigarette and a lighter. I then heard silence, followed by the sound of someone exiting, followed by the sound of a heavy fire door closing. I'm guessing that I had scared away a potential smoker who didn't want to be caught smoking. Good.

I continued my upward trudge, eventually reaching the twenty-sixth floor and hitting the button for the freight elevator. It arrived after some delay; I got on and hit the "6" button for my floor. I watched impatiently as the floor numbers clicked down on the LED display, then the elevator suddenly stopped at the ninth floor. "Goddammit," I muttered.

The same couple that I had met in the basement got on the elevator, the female half of the couple now staring owlishly at me. I was tempted to laugh, to say something, but I held my tongue as we rode down another three floors. I quietly exited. God only knows what the lady said to her boyfriend after I'd left. Ideally, she said nothing, but from what I know of the female character, that's not likely. Ah, well. Nothing for it, as the Brits say.

And that, friends, was my encounter with some stairwell critters this evening.

fish or cut bait?

Summer heat and humidity are forcing me to make a decision as to how to proceed with my long walks. The way I see it, I can either bring a lot of water and continue to do the full-length walks about twice a week (which is my current frequency: doing them every day would be too much), or bring no water and cut the walks back to about half their current size (from 35K steps to about 18K steps). The cardio benefit would be about the same, as a truncated walk would still take me past the first fourteen large creekside staircases (you'll recall that, from #15 onward, the staircases are much shorter, making their aerobic/strength benefit somewhat dubious), but I'd be losing out in terms of caloric burn. Then again, truncated walks would give me more free time in the evenings—a couple hours more—and besides, there are other ways to reduce calories than caloric burn, such as eating less (dammit).

I'm leaning toward cutting back on the walking: carrying extra water in my satchel causes the satchel strap to bite uncomfortably into my shoulder. If I were simply commuting from work to home, that wouldn't be a problem, but my satchel is on my shoulder for almost five hours when I'm doing a long walk, so the pressure does become a problem after a while. It's conventional wisdom among walkers: take a tiny problem, like a slight tightness in your shoes, then repeat the occurrence of that problem several thousand times over the course of a long walk. Et voilà: your heretofore tiny problem has now become a big problem.

Then again, there's the bath-towel solution: fold a puffy bath towel over several times, stick it under the satchel's shoulder strap, and the strap-biting-shoulder problem disappears, even if I'm encumbered by a few liters of water. I've done this before on long hikes (when I'm carrying several towels and can afford to "waste" one or two this way); it works wonders. I think I may have to experiment a bit, over the next week or so, before I decide what my strategy will be for the rest of the summer. Stay thou tunèd.

Baekchae Kimchi Jjigae (resto's name)

Not to be confused with Baekje, the Korean dynasty. In the word "Baekchae," the baek is Chinese for "white" (白), and the chae is Chinese for "vegetable" (菜), in this case specifically signifying "cabbage," an essential component of kimchi.

(With thanks to Charles for his explanation of the etymology.)

the gelato place's name

my gelato vs. my friends'

tofu monoliths

Hyunjin cuts the pork

...and along comes the egg

the stew arrives!

animated Hyunjin also waiting for stew

Charles waiting for the stew