Friday, August 31, 2018

my pics of today's feast

And here are some pics that I managed to take today, which has been an otherwise unproductive day in terms of actual work. It's always like this when I do a luncheon, but people seem to forgive me.

Meatballs roasting on an open fire:

Red sauce nipping at your nose:

There was a lot of wine in that sauce, which made the whole office redolent once I started warming it up on the burner. "Oh, it smells so good!" several coworkers moaned.

Garlic bread, prepped old-school:

I was amazed at how much everyone loved the garlic bread. I had bought the baguettes from a shitty bakery called Napoleon, which is right next to the very good, high-end bakery called Kim Young-mo (which is where the lovely carrot cake came from). I deliberately bought baguettes from Napoleon because I knew they didn't do the crust right: instead of the true crunchy crust of a real baguette, a Napoleon baguette's crust is soft and yielding, which makes it the ideal analogue for American-style Italian bread, which also has a soft crust. I set out a stick of butter to soften overnight, and in the morning, I mixed the butter with powdered garlic and several herbs (parsley, basil, and oregano). I sliced the baguettes into Hasselback slices, slathered the butter onto the bread, and baked the loaves at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit for twelve minutes. Result: garlicky goodness and the cementing of my status as the office's official cook.

Below: caprese.

A shot of my own meal:

Homemade pesto:

And finally, one more panna cotta shot:

The boss came over, but he had to wait a while to be served: my other coworkers swarmed the first batch of pasta and cleaned me out, so I had to break out a second batch, which took time: you have to heat the water to boiling first, then wait while the pasta cooks. Eventually, though, the boss got his coveted meatballs and spaghetti with homemade sauce. I think he ate a little caprese and had a slice or two of garlic bread, but he didn't have room for dessert. He's by himself in the old Mido building now, so I think it was a bit of a relief for him to interact with fellow expats for a short while.

We all agreed to hold off on the carrot cake until much later in the day. Just before 5 p.m., a coworker got to work slicing the cake up, and that's when people ended up singing an awkward birthday song for the three birthday people. Some of us then said our goodbyes to our Canadian coworker, whose last day it was, but since she's planning to give me her stand mirror tomorrow (I already have one, but why not have two, right?), I decided to reserve my goodbye for Saturday.

Another good meal. Many "Thank you"s and "God, I'm so stuffed"s and "I can't move"s from around the office. Our lone Korean staffer said she had had to cancel dinner plans because she had eaten so much at lunch. She had originally planned to meet a friend for dinner and a movie, but she canceled dinner, forcing her friend to eat alone. Some other people uttered "I blame Kevin!" as they pondered their post-prandial discomfort. I took all of this with good humor, my mission having been accomplished.

pics from a coworker

It's a form of Murphy's Law that everyone's cell-phone camera is better than mine. Coworker SY, whose birthday is also August 31, took the following pics of today's feast which, tragically, left everyone so stuffed that most people weren't able to eat all (or even part) of the panna cotta dessert. It's a compliment to the chef when the masses gorge themselves on the chef's food, but it's a minor tragedy when people prove to be so stuffed with the main course that they're unable to appreciate dessert. I learned my lesson: with something as rich as panna cotta, I'll serve only tiny amounts of it next time.

Here's the beginning of prep in the office. Note the carrot cake purchased to celebrate three August birthdays (two on the 31st, one on the 26th) and one goodbye (to a Canadian coworker). Note, too, the raisin bread—from the mediocre bakery—that went largely uneaten.

I had to use an entire table to set up my three gas ranges, of which only two are visible here. I had meatballs to heat up, as well as my homemade spaghetti sauce. Off to the side, the third burner was devoted to pasta-boiling, so that one was filled with water and kept on standby until about 15 minutes before lunch was to begin.

Meatballs, bubbling away in bottled sauce quickly snatched from the downstairs grocery:

The pasta ended up perfectly al dente; here I am scooping it out into a strainer. Someone asked why I didn't just pour the whole thing through the strainer. Well, just look at the setup: the water would have risen high enough to bathe the bottom of the noodles inside the strainer. What good is that?

Coworkers graciously bought drinks. You can also see the caprese:

My coworker took a pic of the plates she'd made for herself:

NB: everyone loved the garlic bread. The 70s-housewife method still works well.

Below, a closeup of the panna cotta:

Lastly, the carrot cake in all its glory:

There was an awkward moment when someone asked whether we should sing a birthday song. I growled "No," but I ended up outvoted, and the singing began—in all keys and cadences, like that moment in the Harry Potter books when the students sing the Hogwarts school song, each at his or her own pace and in his or her own style. It was a bit like that. Which is why I'd voted "No" to singing at all. That said, it's the thought that counts, or so they say, and assuming the discordant singing hadn't been deliberately malicious, I suppose it was uplifting in some sense that I still don't quite understand.

And that's the end of my coworker's pics. Stay tuned for my pics, which aren't as good.

testing, testing


Whatever this is, it's not a true panna cotta, which ought to be as firm as a flan. Not enough gelatine, at a guess, despite my having used an entire pack for about 1.8 liters of heavy cream. This is more like a very rich, very tasty chocolate pudding. That's not bad in itself, but it's not what I'd been aiming for. And I must say that grinding frozen chocolate chips in my food processor was a loud, loud experience that I don't care to repeat ever again. I ended up switching to a mortar and pestle, but even that proved a difficult proposition: I'd have had to pound the chips so hard that I'd have disturbed my downstairs neighbors. Light pounding yielded little in the way of results, so I just went with what I had: a crumbled mixture of powder and chunks that didn't look very pretty.

Ave, Jeff!

Jeff Hodges very kindly pens a poem for my 49th birthday.

the new griddle does its thing

I finally put my new griddle to the test. Its measurements made it an exact fit for my two burners, but as you might expect, the burners provided uneven heating, so the griddle—which isn't cast iron*—had hot spots and cooler spots. Not a big problem; I adjusted and adapted.

What you see are some huge-ass meatballs made from a nearly 2-kilo package of ground beef purchased at the local Costco. With only two exceptions at the very end, each meatball has a pre-cooked weight of 120 grams, or a bit more than four ounces, which puts each meatball into burger-patty territory. I've got nearly twenty of these suckers (2000 grams divided by 120 grams is 16.6666, and I did indeed have 17 meatballs), so that ought to be enough to placate/mollify/satiate the boss.

A Hominid-style meatball doesn't go the traditional route with the binders: there are generally no bread crumbs and eggs. Instead, my binder of choice is cheese (Parmigiano in this case), which I think makes for a more succulent globe of protein overall. The usual herbs and seasonings are added in: salt, pepper, powdered garlic, powdered onion, dried basil, oregano, and parsley. There may also be a little cayenne hiding in there, and definitely some chili flakes. This time around, I did cheat and use two eggs, but that's almost nothing compared to two kilos of meat. I thought about cheating further and adding panko, but in the end... nah.

The balls will simmer in red sauce at the office to heat them back up (they've been fridging all night). People will have the option of grabbing two or three if they want. I know the boss will grab some. "Spaghetti without meatballs is like a eunuch," he texted the other day.

*Cast iron, despite the fact that it's a bit of a chore to maintain (not in the sense of being physically difficult to maintain, but more in the sense of demanding constant mindfulness to avoid rust and other frequent problems), is prized by cooks the world over for its even heating: a cast-iron skillet might initially have a hot spot as it's warming up, but eventually, the entire pan will be aglow with about the same level of infrared.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

foynul prip firruh feest

With the spaghetti sauce out of the way, all that's left to prepare is the minor stuff, the supporting cast for tomorrow's luncheon. That includes the chocolate panna cotta, the insalata caprese, the garlic bread, and the spaghetti noodles. Oh, and the boss's fuckin' meatballs. The man is obsessed with meatballs, and every time I make spaghetti, he insists on having them. Well, this gives me a chance to use my new griddle. (NB: the boss is no longer our boss; he's in a separate building, now, but I invited him to our luncheon to help celebrate birthdays and to say goodbye to our Canadian coworker.)

I might just boil the noodles right there in the office; that'd save me a bit of work to do at home. The garlic bread will likely be done tomorrow morning; I'm going to take the 1970s-housewife approach to making garlic bread for a large crowd: I'll slice the loaves 95% of the way through, thus leaving them attached at the bottom. I'll mix softened butter with garlic powder and dried herbs (likely parsley, basil, and oregano), then spread the butter on one side of each slice. Next, I'll wrap the loaves in tin foil and bake them whole for about ten minutes—enough time to toast up the bottoms and get the butter melted. The hoi polloi can then have fun ripping slices of garlic bread off each primary loaf (I bought two soft, shitty baguettes whose texture is similar to American-style "Italian bread"*). That leaves the panna cotta, which I'll do tonight, plus the meatballs and caprese. I'll save the caprese for tomorrow morning; veggies need to be prepped fresh, and I don't want sliced tomatoes sitting and dripping in my fridge overnight. So tonight's agenda will be the panna cotta and the goddamn meatballs. Salad, bread, and pasta will all be done sometime tomorrow morning and right before lunch (I'm talking about the pasta, to be prepped sur-le-champ).

Right now, I'm writing this entry while I cool down after having tromped up fourteen floors. That's right: blogging as a form of repose. Le blogging en tant que forme de repos.

*As with "Italian sausage," we must be mindful that "Italian bread" is an American label for what may or may not be one type of bread to come out of Italy which, like all European countries, has a pornographically long litany of breads that it claims as its own.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders vs. the Press Corps

From Bad Lip Reading (via Instapundit):

the problem with John Cook Deli Meats

Desperate to find some real Italian sausage this past Sunday, I traveled out to the John Cook Deli Meats branch near Apgujeong Station. Once again, I was greeted by the lovely smells of charcuterie and barbecue the moment I walked in. My goal was to buy a couple pounds of sausage to crumble up and put into my homemade spaghetti sauce for this Friday's luncheon. The last time I'd swung by, I asked a staffer for help in finding andouille, and it was while the staffer and I were rummaging through the basket of sausages that I saw plenty of Italian. This time around, I found only two tiny packs with two tiny Italian sausages in each pack, so I went to the counter, where I saw more sausages waiting to be vacuum-sealed, and asked the lady for about two pounds of sausage. It didn't occur to me to think any further than that, or to ask any questions, which is what I should have done.

When I got home and began making my sauce, I unwrapped the sausages and immediately saw they were tightly sealed inside fibrous casings. I tried gently ripping the casings off before giving up: they were stuck too tightly onto the meat, and they ripped off into ugly strips, even after I tried helping the casing off by making longitudinal cuts with a sharp knife. Shrugging, I gave up with the rippage and cuttage and sliced the sausages into little disks, cutting right through the casings and hoping for the best. When the sauce was made, I dumped the sausages in and simmered the sauce for a good hour; by the end, the sauce—a combination of Babish's and Kenji López-Alt's recipes—had become infused with the flavors of all the ingredients, including the sausage, but when I tried a sample of the sauce, the texture felt wrong. Part of the problem was the sausages themselves: the casings were edible but unpleasantly chewy. Another problem had to do with some of the vegetables; their strange texture added an unwonted gristly crunchiness to the proceedings. The sauce itself, meanwhile, was magnificent, so in the end, I decided to strain the sauce, separating out the solids from the liquids. I bagged the solids—veggies and sausage—in a Ziploc and stuck them in my freezer. I turned to the liquid remainder, which tasted truly amazing, and decided to re-buy more mushrooms and make my own Italian-style pork sausage, which I could then crumble and cook to achieve the consistency and mouth-feel I was after.

Which is what I did. I bought a ton more shrooms, sliced and chopped them up, and dunked them into the sauce. I bought a few pounds of ground pork and used a fairly standard recipe, at double strength, to turn the pork into Italian sausage. I cured the meat overnight, then crumbled and pan-fried it the following day, draining the fat and pouring the meat into the now-remushroomed sauce. Result: awesomeness. No strange textures, no annoying bits of sausage skin, nothing. Just sauce, the way God intended. I think my coworkers will like this.

So what the hell happened with John Cook? Well, the more I think about it, it's not entirely John Cook's fault: I share a measure of blame because I didn't have the wit to remember one crucial technique. You see, back when I'd first made feijoada, I learned how to remove fibrous sausage casings without leaving a ripped-up mess on the meat. The technique is actually quite simple: heavily dampen a paper towel, wrap it tightly and completely around the sausage, and leave for five minutes. After five minutes, cut through the sausage skin longitudinally, and the skin ought to peel off fairly obediently. Worked like a charm when I tried it months ago, but I somehow forgot about that technique in the heat of the moment this time. It was a huge tactical mistake to cut the still-skin-on sausage into disks: that move only multiplied the problem by producing dozens of ringlets of sausage skin.

So that's where I went wrong. That said, John Cook also takes some of the blame because I now see that the sausage-making part of the store is a bit lazy: the reason why all of those in-house sausages—andouille, Brats, Italian—look the same when packaged is that John Cook's sausage-makers are using pretty much the same techniques to put those sausages together. The ingredients are different, but the method is the same. Italian sausage, at least as it's sold in the States (and keeping in mind that the term "Italian sausage" is an American label for only one kind of sausage from Italy), normally has a natural-skin casing, not a fibrous one. Fibrous casings are more closely associated with dry sausages like Swiss Landjaeger. So even though I should have used the proper technique to remove the fibrous casing, the fibrous casing should never have been there in the first place.

This means that John Cook sausages probably shouldn't be my go-to when I want sausage meat to crumble into a recipe. They're meant to be pan-fried whole, which is how I'll enjoy them from now on. Live and learn.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

where to live?

While I was in the States, my friend John McCrarey, who's in the Philippines after a move from Korea, posed the following question in my comments section:

Does being back [in the US] make you miss living there?

I'm sure you can anticipate the superficial answer, which is, of course, yes and no. But what's the point of being congenitally verbose if you're not planning to give a lengthier response?

I suppose I should start by offering a glimpse of my headspace before I went on this two-week trip back to the States. The last time I'd been in the US was 2015, when my brother Sean got married during a wedding ceremony at which your humble narrator officiated, per Sean's request. It had been a few years since the wedding, and I'd been working at my current job, the Golden Goose, since before Sean got married up to now. My first contract with the Golden Goose had been for one year, from 2015 to 2016. The next contract, which I'm finishing up this week, was for two years, from 9/1/16 to 8/31/18—my 49th birthday (this coming Friday, in fact). This year, I had two weeks' vacation remaining to me on my current contract, and since I had opted not to travel internationally last year, because of my trans-Korea walk, I decided that 2018 would be a Year of Voyage, first to the States, and next to Europe, especially France, where I have people whom I consider family.

So I got my travel-permission form signed and prepped for my US trip... and it was a good trip. Really good. I had the chance to see my buddy Mike and his family, and that was a happy moment for me despite the fact that Mike had lost his mom only the month before. I had the chance to see my brother David as well, even though David was busy at work in DC and busy at home with all the dog-sitting he had to do thanks to my brother Sean and his husband Jeff, who had left their dogs at David's place for David to dog-sit. (David told me that, if I stayed at his place, I'd have to take over dog duties, so I elected to stay at a nearby hotel to preserve my freedom. As I told David, I hadn't come all the way across the ocean to be an unpaid dog-sitter who would have to take the incontinent chihuahua out every 70 minutes.) I had the chance to eat good food and drive out to Front Royal and Skyline Drive to do a bit of sightseeing and hiking, and that was all good. I didn't see any movies or consume any media not available on my phone—unless you count the few times I watched TV while at David's place. But all in all, I had the chance to visit the hometown and see some loved ones, and that was about what I had planned to do. My trip worked out well for me.

Let's talk, then, about some aspects of American life that I don't miss, and the best place to begin, I think, is with the aforementioned American TV, which proved to be just as shitty as it's always been. Most of what I saw at David's place was unmemorable garbage, but let me try to remember some show titles. There was, first and foremost, "American Ninja Warrior," a loud, in-your-face reality show devoted to athletes trying to make it across an obstacle course that, according to David, unfairly favors people with a rock-climbing background because so many of the obstacles are about grip strength. Also on tap was "Dual Survival," another reality show that started up several years ago, but which no longer features the same two guys I'd seen in the show's early years. In this show, the idea is that two guys with markedly different approaches to survival have to help each other through some tough outdoor scenarios. In that same vein is the sometimes-hilarious "Naked and Afraid," whose lone titillating gimmick wears off fast like a joke repeated way too often. In this show, two people with outdoor skills varying from beginner to expert are thrust into a survival scenario (in the Philippines, Thailand, somewhere in South America, etc.) in which they have nothing but a single tool of their choosing, a modest bag on a sling, and nothing else: they are literally naked when they meet each other. Since many participants are married and have families, the potential for sexual tension is pretty much zero, and even when it's a pair of singletons, there generally aren't any sparks. Both contestants get used to seeing each other naked within the first few hours, so the show's lone gimmick is rather hollow. The only time nakedness can be a factor is when it's cold and rainy at night, and no one has figured out how to make fire and/or weave together any clothing. There may have been other shows that I glimpsed, like "Alaskan Bush People," but reality shows have, at this point, all acquired a certain sameness that makes them only mildly interesting. Otherwise, there was the mainstream news, and readers of this blog know, especially since 2016, what my attitude toward that is.* So, yeah: American TV still sucks, and for the most part, I don't miss it at all. As I wrote earlier, my method for watching TV these days involves listening to online chatter, determining which TV series are considered awesome, purchasing those shows in their entirety if they've run their course, then binge-watching the hell out of them.

Coming back to the States was also an unpleasant reminder about how collectively unhealthy we are as a people. We Americans—especially when seen from behind—are lumbering, shambling, ponderous, beefy, neckless, vaguely gesticulating folk who seem singularly unable to move anywhere as if we have a purpose. We're all fatback and enormous, squishy buttocks. It's often hard to tell men from women when seen from behind.** Everything is fat rolls and cankles. We could all (and I'm talking to myself as much as to anyone else) do with about three sessions in a row of US Army boot camp to restore some flintiness to our gaze and some life and tone to our limbs. Wow, we are pachyderms. A few years back, South Korea's life expectancy leapfrogged ours, but we're not far behind (80 years for the US, 82.5 years for South Korea), and that's only because of the quality of our medical technology. Koreans are, compared to Americans, naturally healthier, and for longer. Koreans may put their faith in a lot of bullshit Chinese medicinal hocus-pocus, but they also tend to eat better and lead far more active lives. It probably doesn't hurt that Koreans—driven by their bizarre, mysterious urges—move as if being chased by demons; I've jokingly remarked on this tendency before, when talking about how Korean women always seem to kick my ass when walking on level bike paths (the ladies generally lose steam when there's a hill; that's because they focus relentlessly on cardio to the exclusion of strength), but it's true of the men, too: this is bballi-bballi ("hurry, hurry!") culture. As a people, Koreans do move with a purpose, even if it's not always obvious what that purpose might be. So along with TV, I can't say I miss the fat-and-lazy aspect of American culture. Even American kids are mostly elephants-in-training. Are you sensing a degree of self-loathing in this paragraph? Yep—you got that right. No one likes looking outside himself and seeing reminders of his less desirable characteristics.

Thanks to my experience at the DMV, I can also say I didn't miss American bureaucracy. It was an interminably long wait to see a clerk, and at the end of the process, I still wasn't given my license: I was given a slip of paper that acted as a temporary license, and my actual card was mailed to me with the promise of delivery in 7-10 business days. Granted, the license arrived in closer to four business days, which was a pleasant surprise, but I couldn't help thinking that, in Korea, any card would be printed and issued right there on the spot.

Let's move to the positives. One thing that pleased me was the driving culture: rule of law does, in fact, exist in the States, and it's not a chaotic, wild-West scenario in which people who don't trust each other are always selfishly vying for some temporary advantage, cutting each other off, ignoring traffic lights, risking their own and others' lives because selfishness is the rule in the public arena. Consideration is still a thing in the States, although I imagine some cynics would say it's either fading fast or nonexistent, depending on which part of the States we're talking about. I was reminded of the general lack of consideration in Korea just this evening: as I was tromping up my building's staircase on my nightly climb up to the 14th floor, I encountered a teenaged couple sitting together on the steps, blocking my path. The male half of the couple made only the slightest of moves to offer me room to pass; I wanted to kick the dipshit in the head. I also wanted to growl something about being considerate, but I knew any speech would end up falling on deaf ears or being mocked once I was out of earshot. In public, Koreans often give each other little to no consideration; consideration is reserved for family, friends, coworkers, and others who are part of one's concentric circles of familiarity, loyalty, and obligation. Everyone outside of those circles simply fails to register; far from being fellow citizens, they're merely background noise.

In the same vein, it was pleasant to see and hear people in the States apologize for stepping in my way. This happened several times while I was shopping at either Target or Walmart: I would round a corner at the same moment as someone else, and that person would instantly apologize. I, alas, have gotten so used to not saying anything in such situations that I often failed to offer my own apology, which probably made me look like an asshole to the apologizer. Koreans, for their part, lack any real notion of civic duty, recognizing each other as fellow citizens only in moments when, for example, nationalism is being evoked at a public event.*** Otherwise, as I said above, strangers are merely background noise, and a crowd of strangers is just something you have to move through, the way an airplane moves through turbulence. At the Yangjae Costco just the other night, I was in line for the cashier when the woman behind me began gently bumping her shopping cart into my ass. After the third time she did that, I slapped her cart loudly four times and shot her a dirty look. Problem solved, but at the expense of my serenity. I don't like having to take on the role of Behavior Police, but sometimes, the idiots around me leave me no choice. It takes me a few minutes to cool down when such things happen, and they happen with depressing frequency. Why? Because a stranger is nothing to a Korean, who has no theory of mind when it comes to strangers.

My experience shopping at Wegmans also gave me a pang: it was nice to be able to find all the ingredients I needed for my Middle Eastern chicken in one single store. Here in Korea, cooking Western meals often requires darting to three or four different and far-off places to piece together a repast. In some situations, the expat in Seoul is forced to make his or her own food, as I just did for this Friday's spaghetti: I made my own Italian sausage again because the local Costco doesn't carry such sausage, and High Street Market, which had been my go-to place for Western meats, decided to give up the ghost a few months ago. I had gone to John Cook Deli Meats to find Italian sausage, but that sausage proved wildly unsatisfactory (which is a rant for another time).

I also had access, in the States, to the bad-for-you foods that have made my people into the elephants they are today—which, I guess, amounts to a mixed blessing. In particular, I was happy to be able to grab a Cherry Coke whenever I wanted one, and while I had Jamaican beef pockets only once during my trip, I was comforted to know that they were always there, ready to be eaten at a moment's notice. While things in Seoul are highly convenient because of how a typical Seoul neighborhood is laid out, there's a certain convenience to being in America and knowing that the things you want or need are a short car ride away. Along with Cherry Coke, I made the acquaintance of the Brisk brand of fruit punch, which I ended up liking a lot more than Hawaiian Punch. While driving along Skyline Drive, I went to a general store and bought a teriyaki-flavored Slim Jim, which was a first for me. Quite addictive. Now that I'm back in Korea, I definitely miss Slim Jims, even though I know those lovely sticks of processed meat are almost as unhealthy as the cigarillos they resemble.

Despite my having chastised Americans, above, for not moving around with much energy or focus, I did appreciate the relatively relaxed tenor of life in northern Virginia compared to the frenetic pace of life in Seoul. I can't rightly make this a US-versus-Korea comparison because I know for a fact that the pace of life outside of Seoul is, in fact, much more relaxed, and similarly, that there are places in the States that are tightly wound, where life is lived with a sense of desperate urgency. Also, I say "relatively" relaxed because, let's face it, northern Virginia has one of the worst traffic problems in the nation. If I recall correctly, NoVA is third behind New York and Los Angeles when it comes to traffic jams and snarls and driverly surliness. How relaxed can the region be when so many people are stuck in traffic and pissed off? Still, my experience of NoVA, this time around, was generally pleasant, despite the rude awakening that was southbound Route 95 to Fredericksburg.

I could go on and on comparing this or that aspect of the US and South Korea, but it should be obvious by now that each place has its good points and its bad points. I've lived in Korea for a total of thirteen nonconsecutive years; while Koreans, with their nationalism and racism, will never accept me as one of them, Korea has nonetheless become, in some awkward sense, my home. I don't love the place unquestioningly, but I do love this country, flaws and all. I was glad to come back here at the end of my trip, probably because life in Korea has become so familiar to me. At the same time, I know I'm American through and through; Virginia will always instantly feel like home, no matter how long I've been away from it. For me, the somewhat morbid question has always been: where will I die? Will I die in Korea, or will I die in the States? I'm no fan of Korean health care, and even though things are more expensive in the US, I'd prefer to be there when I'm old and frail. This isn't to say I think the US system is perfect: I saw its flaws up close during my mother's cancer. But given the nightmare stories I've heard about Korean health care, and the experiences I've personally had within the Korean context (I think I wrote about the filthy hospital I visited near Daegu, back when I was teaching at Daegu Catholic), I'm leery at best.

Ultimately, I see myself growing old in a house in the mountains somewhere, not far from a river or lake to and from which I can hike. In this vision, I'm surrounded by natural quiet; I've got a couple loyal, lovable dogs and maybe even a cat. When I imagine myself as older and dependent, I still see myself in that mountain home, but maybe with a few emergency devices whose buttons I can press—I hope—if I need swift medical attention. Most of the time, when I imagine this future, which may or may not include a wife and family, I imagine it's set in the States. While I don't believe in destiny, I think it's very likely that I'll move back to the States someday and, eventually, die there. But the longer I stay in Korea, the more plausible it is that this land, which will never accept me, will be my final resting place.

*A coworker of mine, when we were out to lunch today, rather rudely noted that I sometimes didn't seem aware of certain goings-on being reported by the mainstream media. I held my tongue, not wanting to trouble him with my cynicism about an institution that seems to have devoted itself to churning out bias and lies. I know for a fact, because I've asked, that this coworker is equally unaware of the goings-on reported on by the alt-media. He might think me just as deluded and misled as I think him to be, but in the end, I prefer to rely on news and commentary that have actual predictive value—a mark that such information is anchored in reality. In the meantime, I stay away from the wild-eyed, shriller side of the alt-media: Alex Jones, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Mark Dice, Mike Cernovich, et al.

**Granted, it's sometimes hard to tell men from women in Korea, too, but for very different reasons: some Korean guys are extremely glam-rock effeminate, and the culture even cultivates the idea of the ggot-minam, i.e., the man who is beautiful like a flower. This is well beyond Western notions of metrosexuality (think: Ewan McGregor wearing mascara at a party), and it dominates Korean TV—which is also shitty, by the way.

***This may be a good time to note that Koreans who meet as strangers while abroad will experience all the fellow-feeling they fail to show each other inside Korea's borders. As strangers abroad, they suddenly become part of the We're In This Foreign Experience Together fraternity (to be fair, this fraternity is by no means unique to Koreans); strangers will seem to be real human beings and not mere ciphers to be ignored, deliberately bumped into, or brusquely pushed past.

I may need this soon

Fatal Heart Attacks Could Be Predicted Years in Advance

Fatal heart attacks could be predicted years in advance after a new method of reading routine heart scans that can pinpoint those most at risk proved successful in its first major trial.

The technology, based on analysis of computed tomography (CT) coronary angiograms, will “undoubtedly” save lives, according to its creators.

Heart attacks are usually caused by inflamed plaques – fatty deposits on artery walls – rupturing and blocking blood flow to the heart. The challenge for doctors is knowing which plaques are most likely to cause blockages, and therefore which patients should be treated with more aggressive therapies.

In the UK, someone has a heart attack every seven minutes. Doctors currently hope to identify the highest risk patients so they can be given preventative treatment and advised to adopt lifestyle changes.

my theory: the feet have spread

I've been wearing my new New Balance walking/running shoes ever since I bought them almost two weeks ago in the States, and it's been lovely. Shoe length, not width, was apparently the problem, and with my new size 11-and-a-halfs, I no longer feel any undue pressure on the fronts of my left foot's toes, especially my "turkey toe," next one over from my big toe, which is slightly longer than the big toe.

My theory is that size 11 had been sufficient until I got heavy-duty into walking, and after last year's trek, the feet began to spread. I don't know how prevalent this phenomenon is; I haven't looked into the scientific literature, but anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that the spread of hands and feet can occur through a regimen of sustained impact and/or pressure of some sort. Martial artists who use striking boards and/or practice other techniques for hardening their hands and feet, for example, often report some sort of spreading. Tom Wolfe's novel A Man in Full makes a big deal about the grotesque largeness of one protagonist's hands—a largeness caused by the fact that the protag's job involves lugging and shifting huge boxes of frozen goods, all weighing over fifty pounds, day in and day out, for years.

It's a fun topic that's ripe for some researching, so I'll look into this and get back to you. In the meantime, though, that's my theory: if you pound the pavement enough, your feet will eventually start spreading.*

*You might be asking yourself whether there's a difference between growing and spreading when it comes to body parts. When a man gets an erection, we'd normally say his dick grows, not that it spreads, and that's because of a sudden increase in blood in the nether regions. We speak of a single plant growing, not spreading, when it increases in size over time as it takes in nutrition, light, water, etc. This makes me think that, while the two terms have plenty of semantic overlap and may, in some cases, even be interchangeable, growth in the biological sense has more to do with an increase in cells (which also applies to blood filling the corpus spongiosum during an erection: blood has blood cells), while spreading has more to do with an increase in size unrelated to the number of cells occupying a given volume. You could, I suppose, counter that, when an infection spreads, it's spreading thanks to an increase in the number of pathogens, all of which indicates that growth and spreading are concepts that are difficult to parse. (And when we say that an office job causes our asses to spread, we're implicitly referring to an increase in the number of fat cells. This growth/spreading thing is complicated. The wart grew larger on his nose; the acne spread across her face. Hmmm.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Our office building suffered a brief flicker of a power outage—enough to stop me in my tracks with the project I'd been working on. When the power came back on, some of my work had been undone. Luckily, I'd been working on a Google Doc, which saves your work every few seconds (and when it's really peppy, at almost every keystroke), so I lost at most a few mere sentences. I can retype those tomorrow.

Alas, the power went off a second time, and this time around, it seemed to be a knockout punch for my office. Within a few minutes, power had come back on for the other half of our floor: the fourth floor is fairly equally divided between classrooms, on one side, and offices on the other. The classroom side of our floor had its lights back on, but our offices were, for whatever reason, down for the count except, bizarrely, for a narrow strip of hallway lighting. About thirty of us workers milled about, unsure what to do. After enough time had passed, it became obvious that restoring power to our particular section of the floor was going to take a while, so we all decided, en masse, that the time had come to call it a day. I ended up leaving at about the time I would have left had there been no power outage.

The rest of our part of town had power. The outage was so strangely localized to our floor, and to my section of the floor, that the loss of power had the feeling of something aimed especially at me. Since the outage failed to cut my work day short, though, I lump this event in with Alanis's "death-row pardon, two minutes too late."

PS: the subway was fine, and my gigantic apartment building is, unsurprisingly, unaffected.

PPS: this is not Typhoon Cimaron. That typhoon floats over Japan in a day or so, and it'll miss Korea, except maybe for its wispy western edge.

flerd ernd lerndslerd wernerng

Just got a texted warning about floods and landslides. This won't affect me where I am, but if you're closer to the mountains, batten down them hatches and be careful out there.

why knowing (some) Korean can be helpful

Incident 1: this past weekend, I was in Itaewon at the foreign-food store, shopping for tomato sauce, when I heard a loud Korean woman trying to ask a harried staffer about where to find tang galbi, i.e., beef short ribs for stewing. Unable to speak English, she was getting nowhere, despite having her granddaughter there as a sort-of interpreter. The staffer, for his part, was a South Asian guy who didn't speak much more than pidgin Korean, so the two were at an impasse. I finally decided to step in, flashing the staffer an image, from my phone, of the stew beef in question, then confirming with the grandmother that that was, in fact, the meat she was looking for. The staffer found some galbi in a freezer, but it was the cut of beef that you grill, not the type you stew. I mentioned this to the staffer, and the grandmother nodded vigorously, apparently understanding the English word "grill." Eventually, the staffer was able to find what the lady wanted. I, meanwhile, was happy to have helped out a little, but I had to wonder why on Earth the woman had come to a store that catered to Middle Eastern and South Asian tastes to find a Korean cut of beef.

Incident 2: just today, a non-Korean-speaking coworker, AL, told me that his renewed US passport had come to his residence via courier—or, at least, that an attempt at a delivery had been made. Obviously, my coworker wasn't home to receive the package, so the delivery folks tried a few times to contact him. They called; he missed the calls. They sent AL a message via the Kakao texting service; he didn't see it until much later. They also sent him a few text messages via regular text; he didn't see any of those until much later. (I'll be honest, here: I don't get how people miss their calls and texts so often when they've got phones that are capable of flagging messages. Set your phone to give you alerts, then don't ignore the alerts! If you want to live a caveman's existence, unplugged from the world, then it's better not to get a phone in the first place. That, at least, would be self-consistent behavior to me. Note, too, that I'm not saying you need to become a slave to your smartphone. But replying to messages in a timely manner is a form of politeness, even if your reply is a curt, "Got yr msg. Wll say mor sn.") When AL did finally see the record of all the calls and messages, he came to me and asked if I could help out by talking to the delivery folks to find out what was up.* Complicating the matter was that the delivery people expected to be paid a courier fee of W6,000 upon completion of delivery. So I looked over AL's various texts, took down his shipping-confirmation number, then called the courier office. Strangely enough, the guy I talked to immediately knew I was talking about AL and his passport; we went over the fact that the delivery guy would be wanting a fee, and I noted that re-attempting a delivery to AL's residence tomorrow would be fruitless because AL would again be at the office, not at home. The staffer I was speaking with remarked that, when today's delivery was attempted, someone in AL's building apparently said that "no one by that name lives here." Very strange, as AL lives in a small building, and all the neighbors know each other. I asked whether the courier could deliver AL's passport to our office here in Daechi; the staffer demurred, saying the delivery address couldn't be changed. The staffer then suggested that, instead of re-attempting delivery to AL's home, we could have AL come straight to the staffer's office, a well-known delivery service called Logis. And that's ultimately what we decided to do. So AL will head out to Logis early tomorrow morning (the place opens at 8:30, and it's near AL's home) to pick up his passport, thus obviating the need to pay any delivery fee. AL thanked me; I texted the Logis guy to confirm AL would be by tomorrow morning, and that's where things stand now.

My Korean is clunky, but it's helpful in some situations.

*Despite my parenthetical rant above, I don't actually know why or how AL managed to miss so many attempts to contact him. Is he the type to just ignore incoming calls and texts until they become an impossible-to-ignore pile? Did he have his phone off for several hours (not likely)? Does his service suck, such that the messages didn't get through until much later because of a glitch (I've always found the "glitch" excuse hard to believe; most smartphones perform with about the same level of efficiency these days)? I really don't know what happened, and I thought it might be rude to ask.

linguistic meditation: "...all the things!"

While we're on the subject of trends in language, someone needs to explain why some people are now saying "...all the things!" in a slangy way. The expression is used with a humorously wild-eyed tone of voice, often to mock what someone else, an interlocutor, has just said.


FRED: They really should ban incandescent light bulbs.
TED (in the exaggerated tone of a mad English king): Quickly! Ban all the things!

I'm seeing and hearing this more and more, and as with certain other stupid linguistic trends ("Not!!" "I know, right?" "Amazeballs!" —etc.), I find this increasingly annoying and hope that it eventually—sorry, I mean soon—dies a horrible death.

"pathological altruism"

Pathological altruism is a term I've seen bandied about with increasing frequency on the right. It refers to an attitude taken toward actual dangers in which the person harboring the attitude is in willful denial that any danger exists, preferring instead to view affairs through a lens of compassion, succor, and peacemaking ("Aw, nice grizzly!"). The Swedish attitude toward a huge influx of unassimilating Muslim migrants is an example of this orientation: many Swedes actively reject the idea that they might be doing anything wrong by accepting so many ISIS-ready people from the Middle East; cultural suicide isn't even a concept for them.

Sweden may be known for its popular music, IKEA and a generous welfare state. It is also increasingly associated with a rising number of Islamic State recruits, bombings and hand grenade attacks.

In a period of two weeks earlier this year, five explosions took place in the country. It’s not unusual these days — Swedes have grown accustomed to headlines of violent crime, witness intimidation and gangland executions. In a country long renowned for its safety, voters cite “law and order” as the most important issue ahead of the general election in September.

The topic of crime is sensitive, however, and debate about the issue in the consensus-oriented Scandinavian society is restricted by taboos.

To understand crime in Sweden, it’s important to note that Sweden has benefited from the West’s broad decline in deadly violence, particularly when it comes to spontaneous violence and alcohol-related killings. The overall drop in homicides has been, however, far smaller in Sweden than in neighboring countries.

Gang-related gun murders, now mainly a phenomenon among men with immigrant backgrounds in the country’s parallel societies, increased from 4 per year in the early 1990s to around 40 last year. Because of this, Sweden has gone from being a low-crime country to having homicide rates significantly above the Western European average. Social unrest, with car torchings, attacks on first responders and even riots, is a recurring phenomenon.

Shootings in the country have become so common that they don’t make top headlines anymore, unless they are spectacular or lead to fatalities. News of attacks are quickly replaced with headlines about sports events and celebrities, as readers have become desensitized to the violence. A generation ago, bombings against the police and riots were extremely rare events. Today, reading about such incidents is considered part of daily life.

The rising levels of violence have not gone unnoticed by Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors. Norwegians commonly use the phrase “Swedish conditions” to describe crime and social unrest. The view from Denmark was made clear when former President of NATO and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an interview on Swedish TV: “I often use Sweden as a deterring example.”
[italics added]

NB: the above article comes, surprisingly enough, from left-leaning Politico.

Attitudes and beliefs have consequences, and those consequences can be deadly. I've wanted to talk about the case of the young, idealistic couple—Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan—who had been biking and blogging across the world, only to be killed in Tajikistan by a group of ISIS sympathizers, but Paul Joseph Watson has done a pretty good job of saying what I'd have wanted to say:

On a related note, Sarah Hoyt thinks the left has a death wish. I've never been a fan of Hoyt's writing (she's not a native English-speaker, and it sometimes shows in how she puts her thoughts together), but I agree with her general thesis in the above-linked article.

Monday, August 27, 2018

the "It" pitch meeting

There's so, so much that doesn't make sense about Stephen King's novel It and the recent movie adaptation based on the book. So it warms my heart to see a professional (and hilarious) takedown of the film:

Ave, John!

Senator John Mac may have just shuffled off this mortal coil, but John Mac of the Philippines is still going strong. In this post, written on his 63rd birthday (Happy Birthday, by the way!), John McCrarey offers some humorous and thoughtful reminiscences.

Which brings me to a birthday memory. I was dating a girl from work named Darla. She was a clerk on the night shift. She left work early and showed up at my place just a little before midnight. At the stroke of 12 she commenced to give me a blow job. I was of course pleasantly surprised. Afterwards she told me she never wanted me to forget what I was doing when I turned 30. I’m sure I will never forget even though she left me not long after. Sweet girl!

When I turned 30 in 1999, I started taking religious-studies courses at the beginning of my grad-school career. I flirted a bit with a very cute-but-married classmate, but that never went anywhere, thank goodness. No jobs were blown in the attaining of my Master's degree. Such is the boring life I've led, utterly lacking in the adventures that John Mac has been through.

seen on Gab

La libertad individual es un concepto difícil para culturas que están condicionadas al pensamiento grupal. De hecho, el individualismo se enseña como algo malo en las escuelas desde hace décadas.

Individual liberty is a difficult concept for cultures conditioned to group-oriented thinking. For decades, in fact, individualism has been taught in the schools (of such cultures) as bad.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

what it's like to move a beehive

The following video, about a guy who takes care of bee-infestation problems, was way more fascinating that I thought it'd be. The man's a pro, and his goal isn't to eliminate the infestation by killing the bees in the hive. No: his goal is to remove the honeycombs by deconstructing them and then reconstructing them in a special box. Meanwhile, he vacuums up the bees, finds the queen and places her in a special container, does a final vacuum sweep inside the house to catch any stray bees, then moves the entire colony elsewhere, reintegrating the queen with her colony and allowing the entire hive community to flourish in a new spot that isn't inside a human residence. Again, I ended up way more interested in this process than I thought I'd be. It doesn't hurt that the video's host has a gentle, Saint Francis-like vibe about him. He obviously loves his charges. See for yourself:

turn it down, dawg

How to adjust the volume on a noisy dog:


Senator John McCain has died of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) at age 81. This makes me realize that his family's statement about it being his choice to discontinue treatment was probably disingenuous. If you're that close to death because of GBM, you're not making your own decisions. That burden has passed to whichever family members have taken up the duty of care and/or been given power of attorney.

People are also saying that McCain somehow "beat the odds" in his fight with this most common and most vicious form of brain cancer. By my reckoning, McCain barely made 13 months, i.e., one month beyond the average post-diagnosis life expectancy. Technically, this constitutes "beating the odds," but not by very much, and given one's quality of life at that stage, it's a hollow "victory" at best.*

If you hate the man, then hoist a glass to celebrate the world's having become a better place. If you love the man, then hoist a glass to celebrate a storied military and political career. If you're indifferent to the man, then hoist a glass simply because you're thirsty.

*I've heard the life-expectancy stat phrased as either "about a year after diagnosis" or "11-13 months after diagnosis." If we go with the latter, then McCain didn't beat the odds at all: 13 months is still within the average range for this statistic.

no tears for John McCain

The recent news is that Senator John McCain, who has generally acted more like a Democrat than like a Republican, has given up further treatment of his brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Styx, at his channel, has long professed scorn for McCain, and when the senator's cancer was announced, Styx was ecstatic, proclaiming that the old war veteran couldn't die fast enough for his (Styx's) tastes.

With the news that McCain has given up treatment, Styx has made the following vid:

I don't share Styx's visceral hatred for the man, but I agree that Senator McCain wasted the last decade or so being an unnecessary thorn in the side of his own party when he could have been more constructive and productive. Most recently, he stood in the way of President Trump's attempt to uproot Obamacare—a jab that may still have consequences come this November, during the midterm elections. On some level, I can understand McCain's animus toward the current president, who did, after all, go out of his way to deflate the whole war-hero mystique surrounding McCain. Trump's gibes were gauche and possibly even uncalled-for, yet at the same time, it may have been beneficial to the public to skewer this particular sacred cow because, for the longest time, it had been almost impossible to discuss anything McCain said or did without risking the appearance of defaming one of the country's most beloved veterans. Trump revealed that the emperor had no clothes, and McCain was furious at having his bubble burst. Fortunately or unfortunately, this fury has led McCain to focus almost solely on Trump when he should have been taking time to get treatment and to celebrate a long senatorial career. I almost want to wince as I watch the old man go down in flames, yet another victim of the much-ballyhooed "Trump Effect."

On a personal note: I watched from afar as GBM took down Senator Ted Kennedy, then I watched up close as GBM took my own mother. I knew there was no way Senator McCain was going to live until this Christmas: he'd been diagnosed last summer, and it's been a whole year. GBM victims typically live about 12 months after diagnosis; Ted Kennedy beat that average by about three months; my mother went under that average by about three months. Senator Kennedy had, as I've written before, all the king's horses and all the king's men at his disposal, but GBM isn't a cancer that gives a damn about how rich or famous or powerful you are. I've seen no reason for Senator McCain's trajectory to be any different; the stats are the stats. And while I can't say I agree with or even like the man, my grim wish for McCain is that he die like a soldier, stoically and unflinchingly facing his own end.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

you have my undivided attention

A new "floating" backpack could solve many of the problems that come with hiking and distance-walking. Click here and read the article, but be sure to watch the video to see this fascinating pack in action.

the wrong hairy chasm

A couple who tried for four years to have a kid had been mistakenly engaging in anal sex.

Porn might help, at least with enumerating all the available holes. Just do me a favor and leave the nostrils out of it.

with thanks to Bill Keezer

Via the mail, from Bill Keezer:

Styx on the topic of San Francisco-as-hellhole:

And while we're on the subject of shitholes, here's PJW on Paris:

a busy Saturday

My brother Sean and his hubby Jeff are at the Shanghai airport and ready to return to the States after a two-week jaunt in Asia—mostly Southeast Asia—whose dates coincided with my travel dates in the US. I was unable to see Sean and Jeff as a result, but Sean very kindly texted me a slew of photos from Vietnam, Bali, and Shanghai. I've asked why he and Jeff seem to be avoiding Korea (they visit SE Asia fairly often), and Sean's reply is that places like Japan and Korea are pretty expensive relative to other Asian countries. Sadness.

Sean's most recent barrage of texted photos arrived this morning, as I was waking up from my first really good night's sleep in two weeks (that Best Western bed was way too soft; it provided no back support and left me an aching mess every morning). I flipped through the images, texted some quippy remarks, wished my bro and his beau a good flight back, then got out of bed, ready to face life in Korea yet again.

Which brings us to cooking. I have a large luncheon to prep for Friday, August 31: that date is fairly loaded, at my office, because it's my birthday, the birthday for a female coworker, the final day of work for our departing Canadian staffer, and a day to celebrate the recent (August 26) birthday of another coworker. So, to celebrate three birthdays and one departure, I'm cooking up poutine (for our resident Canuck) as well as the already-on-the-calendar Italian meal of spaghetti bolognese, garlic bread, insalata caprese (with pesto and balsamic vinegar), and chocolate panna cotta (which I've done before, but which I'll be jazzing up with shaved-chocolate sprinkles this time).

That means I've got this weekend to do most of my shopping, and I'd like to have the spaghetti sauce, at least, cooked and ready by Sunday night: the sauce's flavors can marry for the rest of the week. Some elements can't be bought until right before the luncheon. For example, the basil for the caprese needs to be fresh, and the baguettes that I'll be using for the garlic bread also need to be fresh. To make the pesto, however, I can buy some basil hic et nunc so as to be done pesto-ing by the end of the weekend.

Since major stores are closed tomorrow (thanks to the stupid, anti-capitalist law that says major stores must close every second and fourth Sunday of the month to allow smaller stores room to compete), I need to get most of my shopping done today. I have to hit Costco, stores in Itaewon, a John Cook Deli Meats branch, and two local groceries (not to mention, later in the week, a decent bakery). I'm already wishing we had a true-blue, US-style Wegmans in Korea for one-stop shopping.

Much to write about later. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 24, 2018

arrived and back at my place

This is going to be brief: I've got reverse jet lag after two weeks of trying to acclimate myself to Virginia's time zone, and I can feel my energy steadily draining away. In a nutshell:

1. The flight from SFO to ICN was approximately 11 hours and 20 minutes. From IAD to SFO, it was a little over 5 hours. All told: almost 17 hours, not counting a 1.75-hour layover.

2. I had been told that I'd have a whole row of seats to myself (i.e., three seats), but some asshole sat in my row, probably after having misread his ticket. I didn't say anything, and since there was an empty seat between us, I was fine with having a little extra leg room.

3. I found it interesting that I didn't have to pass through a second layer of security when walking to my connecting flight yesterday. At a guess, there's more security for incoming passengers than for outgoing passengers, just as a matter of immigration/national security. There's less need to scan the passengers who're leaving the country, after all: once they're airborne, they're no longer the US's problem.

4. The rigid rhythm of in-flight meal service: drinks, then a dinner where you choose your protein (beef or chicken?), then a tiny dessert like an ice-cream sandwich or a mini-sorbet, then more drinks, then a snack in the form of a ham-and-cheese sandwich, then a round of water (in cups or bottles), then breakfast (choice of eggs or French toast this time), then more drinks. This pretty much guarantees that the restrooms are always in use.

5. Speaking of restrooms: peed twice, no shits while on the plane.

6. This flight from SFO to ICN, UA 893, had the largest percentage of non-Koreans for any Korea-bound flight I've ever been on. It was strange and disorienting.

7. Because of my F-4 visa, I'm now considered a resident and no longer have to fill out the "arrival card." I only fill out the declaration form. Cool.

8. I never bother to obtain headphones anymore. I try my best to spend my nearly 12 hours sleeping. That, or I spy on what other people are watching. I've noticed that most passengers have too little attention span to watch a single movie all the way through; everyone flips channels out of boredom.

9. Occasionally, I have to rock forward and assume the crash position as a way to relieve pressure on my coccyx. And ever since those articles on deep-vein thrombosis came out years ago, I've adopted a sort-of exercise regimen in which I flex my larger muscle groups repeatedly as a way of shaking things up internally. I do isometric exercises to flex my biceps femoris muscles; I raise my feet to flex my quads; isometrics again for my biceps and triceps; and I squeeze my glutes, much to the amusement of any passengers behind me as they watch the top of my head bob up and down.

10. There was a baby screaming somewhere behind me, but the creature was far enough away not to bother me. I felt sorry for all the passengers around the baby who had to endure its shrieking. There should be a law saying that young children cannot appear in public places or be allowed to travel until they are at least ten years old, when most of their inherent obnoxiousness has evolved into something more subtle and passive-aggressive.

11. I now worship my GlocalMe mobile WiFi hotspot, but it's not a panacea. I tried it while aboard the aircraft, and it didn't work, which is what I suspected would happen. GlocalMe works, I think, by siphoning the local LTE signal and converting that into usable WiFi, which is why my data package isn't infinite the way it is for regular WiFi. In the airplane, there's the airline's WiFi, but you have to pay for that, and you can't access ground-based LTE because you're flying too fast to hook up with any local cell towers: they're "local" for only a minute or so, and you're 40,000 feet (12,200 m) in the air. Now that I've brought my GlocalMe with me to Korea, I'm not going to need it at all while in country. I plan to store it in its original box and bring it out when I go to France in October. I just need to remember not to watch videos with it: videos consume enormous chunks of data.

12. Went quickly through Immigration, took a gratifying dump at a men's room in the baggage-claim area, got my backpack, then went out into the cloying heat and humidity to buy a W14,000 ticket for the 6009 bus that goes all the way to Gaepo-dong, the district where I live. Rode the bus, walked about a half-mile to my apartment building, and got hailed by the concierge who always gives me shit about my weight. No fat jokes this time; he simply noted he hadn't seen me in a while, so I told him I'd been in the States for two weeks.

13. Got to my apartment and found two notes stuck to my door: (1) a note from the building's electrical-management service saying I had used a lot of electricity over the past month and asking to do an inspection, and (2) a note from the gas company saying they needed an update on my address information so as to continue billing me. I called the electric folks and found out that no inspection was needed; they simply felt like sending me a note to inform me of my abnormally high consumption of electricity (I admitted I had blasted the A/C quite a bit, but also noted that this hadn't been reflected on my previous month's bill, to which they replied that this month's bill would reflect the usage). I made the electric folks aware that I'd be happy to pay for any overage, which is what I usually do. In fact, I'm really not sure why they bothered to contact me at all, given that, according to my monthly bills, I'm always an above-average consumer of power no matter the season. As for the gas company, I called them up, too, and they said that the real-estate company that managed my move hadn't given them any updates, so I provided my name, address, phone number, and saeng-nyeon-weol-il, i.e., my birth year, month, and date (1969.08.31). For good measure, I went down to the real-estate office, and the lady there said I didn't need to do anything more, so I guess that's that.

14. Ordered a large pizza from the local Papa John's. Surprisingly, I ate only half this time. I don't know why I keep ordering this pizza; it's really not that good, and it's way too expensive.

15. I need to do laundry and unpack, but I'm just too cross-eyed to do either. Will probably just crawl into bed and ride a wave of oblivion until morning.

Maybe this wasn't so brief. Anyway, I'm dead tired. Signing off now. More later.

checking in from SFO

My buddy Mike suggested that I buy some Ghirardelli chocolate since I was out San Francisco way, so I got the above assortment, which I'll share with coworkers once I'm back.

There was no trouble getting on the flight out of Dulles: the plane was two-thirds empty, and I had an exit row to myself. As I just texted to Mike, the one major inconvenience occurred when a mother decided to change her baby's heavily loaded diaper right there in the plane's main cabin.

Even before that, there was some excitement: as I was checking out of the hotel, the hotel clerk told me there was a dude stalking the hallways, buck naked. The clerk had called the police; I never saw the naked guy, but I did see two officers enter a stairwell in pursuit. I wonder how all that turned out.

Made it to SFO early enough to reach the international terminal before any staffers were at my departure gate. When the staffers arrived, I checked in, and they told me they'd call me up around boarding time. My cousin, monitoring from Texas, says my flight looks good.

And that's where things stand for the moment. Just a quick update, which I'm able to make thanks to my very liberating GlocalMe mobile WiFi hotspot.

Next update from wet and wild Seoul!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: I just got a whole row to myself. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

we dare

A pic of some of the cards I acquired this trip:

My cousin says there have been no delays or cancelations associated with the flights on which I'm tentatively booked, so we're sticking with Plan A and daring the storm. My understanding is that the worst will be over by late Thursday: by Friday, Typhoon Soulik will be battering North Korea, and it couldn't happen to a nicer country.

I've said my goodbyes to my brother David and to my friend Mike. It's a sad thing to leave, but I'm happy I had a chance to see some loved ones again, albeit briefly. Perhaps in the future, there'll be time for longer visits. We'll see.

Unlike when I arrived, I'm now armed with my GlocalMe mobile WiFi system, which means I won't have the communication snafus I had when I was coming into the US. I've used up the 1.1 GB of data that came as part of the device's "free" package, and I'm now steadily draining the $100 package that I'd had the foresight to buy two weeks ago.

I'm trying to decide whether two weeks was enough time or too little time to spend in the States. While I was here, I realized there were things about America that I missed, and things I didn't miss at all. This deserves a lengthy rumination, and it's pertinent to a question that my friend John McCrarey asked in a comment several days ago. I never got around to answering John's question, partly because I knew I'd have to give a lengthy answer, which is hard to do when you're typing on a tiny smartphone. Once I'm back at a keyboard, I'll be sure to meditate on this topic in some depth.

It's almost 10:30 p.m. as I write this entry. I need to be up at 3 a.m. and checked out by 3:30 a.m. in order to drive to Dulles Airport and drop off my faithful rental, which served me well for two weeks. It was empowering to drive again; using cabs and public transportation in Seoul can leave a person limp and passive. It's been nice having more direct control over my fate for a time.

If I drop the car off by 4:30 a.m., I aim to take a shuttle to the airport and be ready to check in by 5 a.m. for a 6:07 a.m. departure. In theory, I'll check my lone bag (the Gregory backpack) all the way to Seoul; my only carryon will be my black day pack, the same one I've used for two walks to Incheon.

I bought a few goofy baubles to attach to my backpack to make it instantly recognizable for when I pick it up at the baggage-claim carousel. Here's hoping the pack survives the trip; this'll be its first real test of character.

I didn't take a picture of today's lunch, which was my final meal Stateside. I took the subway into DC to meet my brother at work; we opted to hit the row of food trucks that line up at a park near David's office. I got a very tasty and messy gyro; David opted for a brisket sandwich. He shared his barbecue sauce with me so I could have a dip for my french fries. Very good and smoky. My gyro was a pretty standard one, except for the feta which, instead of being crumbled, sat in the wrap in the form of a long rectangle: a fallen Ionic column of Greek goodness that stretched the length of the gyro. While at the office, I met one or two of David's coworkers; they seemed nice.

And that, folks, is it for this jaunt back in the States. So long, Trumpsylvania; it's been real. In theory, my next blog post will be hammered out in Seoul, so stay tuned. Fingers crossed for a safe journey back to the land of the raging mandu.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

a last supper

On the assumption that tonight would be the final night to have dinner with my buddy since third grade, I drove down to Fredericksburg to meet my friend Mike. There was another reason to visit: I wanted to transfer the title of my Honda Fit over to him. The car has been in his family's care since I left for Korea again in 2013; Mike's been paying property tax on it, and he's been paying for gas and maintenance and all other car-related expenses, including insurance (I canceled my policy a while back). In effect, the car's been his for five years, so it was high time to formalize this fact. Luckily, the procedure for signing over the title would be simple enough: I had to fill in three blanks on the title, then leave the rest to Mike to fill out and take to the DMV.

We did the paperwork after we did dinner: food came first, and after some deliberation, we ended up going for seafood at a happy restaurant on the banks of the Potomac River called Tim's II at Fairview.

Here's the exterior:

Here's the menu:

Mike suggested the snakehead basket as one appetizer. It's not actually listed on the menu, but it's apparently a popular off-menu item. Chinese snakehead fish are a nuisance species, not native to the area, so just as we eat unwanted immigrants in the US, Mike and I decided to do our part to rid the area of foreign freshwater critters.

Below: fried clams on the left and snakeheads on the right. I commented on the huge chunkiness of the clams, correctly guessing they were probably geoducks (Mike said they were "Pacific clams"). I also said the snakehead seemed to be somewhere between a light whitefish, like cod or tilapia, and a more oily fish like bluefish. Mike noted that the snakeheads' flesh was quite firm. With its mild, neutral taste, the nuisance fish could be a blank canvas on which to paint all sorts of different flavors. I enjoyed the Cajun remoulade dipping sauce that came with the snakehead, and I always enjoy fried clams.

Mike ordered the ambitious "Steamer Tray":

I got the "Fried Rivershore Platter":

I hate oysters, so I gave mine to Mike. We talked about family strife, matters of life and death, and lighter topics as well. It was a good dinner, and a chance to reconnect with someone whom I consider family.

As with Chima, I ended up stuffed, but not explosively so. Mike and I walked out to the pier and talked some more; a severe storm had raged outside while we were eating, but the weather had calmed completely down by the time I was downing my last fried clam. As we were walking back to the car, Mike thought it'd be a good idea to take a picture of the ersatz palm tree outside the 'straunt. It was no aesthetic match for the undead tree at Mile 20 of Skyline Drive, but it had its own weird and tacky charm:

All that was left was the drive back to Mike's house, the filling-out of the car-title form, and the saying of goodbyes to Mike's wife, son, father, and Mike himself. I don't know when I'll see my friend again, but I hope it'll be soon.

Typhoon Soulik

A monster typhoon called Soulik (who the hell names these things?) is headed toward the Korean peninsula right as I'm scheduled to fly back. For the moment, the storm-- which appears to be huge and brutal-- is projected to brush by Japan's southwestern tip and slam full-force into the Koreas, lashing its way up the peninsula's west coast.

This is rare for typhoons, most of which lose their force as they drag themselves over Japan and undergo a wind-baffling effect. Even after leaving Japan behind, most typhoons hit South Korea's southern coast. According to one report, a typhoon with this trajectory hasn't hit Korea since 2012.

Last I checked, Soulik will be raking across Seoul on Thursday. I've asked my cousin to rebook me for a Friday or Saturday flight out; she wants to wait until tomorrow's projections before confirming a rebook. I found that reasonable and told her okay.

So it's likely I'll be back in Korea a day or two later than planned. As long as I arrive over the weekend, though, this schedule change won't affect my work at all: I'm expected back on Monday.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

how Monday went

I think a lot of what I've been doing this vacation, aside from fattening myself for some sort of slaughter, has been about reliving the oldies.

Today, I drove back out to Skyline Drive for the final time this trip and did the Dark Hollow Falls trail one last time. The entire round trip, way down then way up, took 38 minutes. I once again walked faster than everyone else on the trail, but as before, this was because people were walking in pairs and groups.

The major difference, this time, was that a thick fog had rolled in and covered the entire north-south axis of the Drive by the time I got there. This made driving somewhat hazardous, even at only 35 miles per hour; it also made the trail more hazardous, but not by too much: the rocks along the trail hadn't formed a layer of moss, algae, or lichen, so they weren't as slippery as I thought they'd be, Cthulhu be praised.

The fog put everything in an eldritch cast; at some points, driving visibility was only about 100 feet (30-ish meters).

The mist made the trail a bit more mysterious, but the people I encountered were more bouncy, talkative, and extroverted than last time. I even passed by a Korean family on its way back up, but I refrained from butting in on their family-only repartee.

You hear a lot of foreign languages on these trails. Along with Korean, I've heard French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese. There may have been some sort of Scandinavian tongue thrown in for good measure. A lot of foreign tourists end up in Shenandoah National Park.

As I was on my way back up, I happened upon the tableau you see below. Did the leaves fall that way of their own accord? Did someone arrange them that way? We'll never know, but I found the image pretty enough to pause in my climb and snap a picture:

And here I am, selfie-ing with an old friend:

Dark Hollow Falls is at Mile 51 of the Drive: about halfway down (the Drive is 105 miles long). After my hike, I doubled back and drove to Front Royal, where I hoped to eat at one of two favorite joints: Foster's Grille (a burger joint) in "upper" Front Royal, or Melting Pot Pizza in "lower" Front Royal. I tossed a coin and headed for Melting Pot, telling myself I'd eat at Foster's if the pizzeria proved too crowded. Sure enough, I saw that Melting Pot's parking lot was full, so I headed for Foster's.

To my grief and horror, I discovered that Foster's no longer existed. In that same shopping complex, though, was the depressing but passably good China City Buffet, so, defeated, I stopped in there to eat dinner. Plate One:

Plate Two:


And finally, the "fortune" from the fortune cookie that came with my bill:

I took this to mean, "Go ask that chick out as soon as your ass is back in Korea." The "fortune" is sitting in my wallet, emitting talismanic vibes.

I drove over to my brother's house and hung out for a while, watching "American Ninja Warrior" and other "reality" shows, which seem to have taken over American TV. One thing you learn from living in different countries is that TV is shite just about everywhere. I prefer my current method of TV-watching: find out about an awesome show from online chatter, then purchase several seasons of it and binge-watch.

Anyway, that's how Monday went down.