Sunday, December 25, 2016

how I spent my Christmas Eve

Spent Christmas Eve with my buddy Jang-woong (JW) and his lovely family. This is what I did last year, so I wonder if this isn't evolving into a nice little tradition.

Alas, JW's wife Bo-hyun did her usual disappearing act, trying not to show up in these photos. To see photos of her, look here and just keep scrolling.

I've known JW since 1994. Hard to believe it's been over 22 years. He started off as an advanced student of mine at the first hagweon I ever taught at, but quickly became a good friend. In 1995, he put aside his college studies to help me out when I sued my nasty boss (from that same hagweon). JW did a better job than the retarded lawyer we'd retained, and I eventually won that court case, which went from the labor court to the superior court. Since that time, I've felt that I owe JW a Wookiee-style life-debt for the enormous (and unsolicited) amount of help he provided me during my legal crisis.

Over the years, I've watched JW go from a low-on-the-totem prole at the giant LG corporation* to a functionary at POSCO, where he now holds a managerial position. JW and his family have only recently come back from living for four years in India—first in Navi Mumbai, then in Pune. JW was much changed by his immersion in an utterly different worldview; it's been interesting for me to compare the pre-India and post-India JWs.

I got the Christmas Eve invitation from JW's wife in early December; I of course said yes. Bo-hyun had asked me to bring something to eat as part of a potluck-ish dinner spread, so I made panna cotta and my version of mousse au chocolat. The panna cotta ended up being much better than the mousse, whose consistency was too soft (although the taste was just fine). I've told Bo-hyun—since she has so many extra cups of my dessert—that she can freeze the confections and use them to make lava cakes later on.

Anyway, here are some photos from last night. The first and last pics were taken by Bo-hyun, who texted the images to me; the pics in between (mostly of food—no surprise there) were all taken by Your Humble Narrator. Enjoy.

Below: most of the family, plus the dinner spread, which Bo-hyun didn't have to make but made all the same. JW didn't get home until after 10PM; I got to their place around 9:30, so I whipped out my laptop, hooked into the home's Wi-Fi, and showed Jiahn, the son, some OK Go videos on YouTube to pass the time. (Jiahn is interested in science, and OK Go videos, while bland and milquetoast in terms of their music, are normally spectacular in terms of their use of technology: drone cameras, freefall stunts in a parabola jet, and forced-perspective trickery are part and parcel of the OK Go brand.)

JW finally came home, and we sat for this lovely pose, in which Jiahn is choking his sister:

And now... a tour through the food on the table. First up: a very nice, light shrimp-and-chicken salad dressed with what Bo-hyun wryly called "oriental" dressing:

Next up: don't be fooled—the things on the right might look like cheese to the Western eye, but they're actually meat, too. Paired up with a honey-mustard dipping sauce, these made for delectable dollops of flavor:

Healthy apples on one plate, contrasted with unhealthy Doritos nuked with cheese on top:

Bo-hyun seemed almost embarrassed in explaining the snacks you see below, but I gather they're a hit with the kids. These are Ritz crackers (or the Korean knockoff, called "Zec" which, coincidentally, is Russian for "prisoner"—a fact I learned from "Jack Reacher") topped off, canapé-style, with either Nutella or peanut butter, and crowned with either nuts or chocolate cereal pieces. They tasted great:

My final food shot shows the bowl of oranges. It's gyul season in Korea; the season coincides with the arrival of cold weather. A gyul is somewhere in the tangerine/mandarin-orange part of the citrus spectrum.

Next up—the little monster himself: JW's son Jiahn:

I asked Jiahn to make a nasty face, so...

And here's Jiahn's little sister Minji, watching video on her cute little pink device that enforces harmful gender stereotypes:

And finally, here's Bo-hyun's shot of yours truly attempting to suck her kids' brains out through my palms:

A good time was had by all. JW walked me out when I left, and he was quietly reflective, as he often is these days. Both parents are worried about the quality of their kids' education, but they're a good, happy, tight-knit family. Good people. I broached the idea of traveling with them to Europe someday, and JW said, "Just say when." So maybe that'll be happening sometime. We'll see what the future has in store.

Meanwhile, I'll once again wish you all a Merry Christmas. I'm prepping a large dinner, but unlike what I did at Thanksgiving, I won't be live-tweeting the event (mainly because I'm no longer on Twitter!).

*It was while JW was working at LG that I received the best proofreading gig I've ever had or will ever have: JW handed me a document that needed proofing; it was about six pages long, and if I recall correctly, it was a same-day sort of job (as is typical in Korea: you're asked to do things only at the last minute). I grimaced: if a six-page document is written in broken English, as it often is, then the proofing will take hours. I sat in a side room at JW's company... and the English in the document proved to be so beautifully and perfectly written that I was hard-pressed to find three very small, very minor stylistic errors that barely counted as errors at all. I finished the job in twenty minutes... and was paid a very handsome W600,000 (a little over $500 at the current exchange rate—probably closer to $600 back then) for my trouble. If you're netting W600K for twenty minutes' work, then you're being paid at a rate of W1.8 million per hour (almost $1600/hr). hard to beat. More work like that, please!

That's the best gig I've ever had, and I have JW to thank for it.

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