Sunday, December 11, 2016

thoughts on the Korean upheaval

First John Glenn dies, then President Park Geun-hye gets impeached. These are sad-but-exciting times, especially here in Korea, where the mood has lightened from one of grumbling gloom to ever-so-slightly-cautious optimism. As John Lee points out, the impeachment process has only just begun. President Noh Mu-hyeon had also been impeached, but he ended up being cleared. The same is at least conceivable for Park, whose impeachment will take several months to conclude.

In talking with one of my KMA students yesterday during a break, I learned her theory that the reason why these massive weekly demonstrations have been so peaceful may be because the abiding sentiment isn't so much rage as it is sadness. I can't say whether her theory holds water, but given that Park's lack of leadership during the Sewol ferry tragedy is one of the issues fueling the current animus toward her, I can see how sadness might be playing a role in the crowd's emotional state. Corruption and tragedy are a sobering mix.

My student also had another, darker theory: what if Park and her confidante Choi Soon-shil are really the tip of the iceberg? What if there are other powers at work behind the scenes—powers that are even greater and more malevolent? This sounded as if we were wandering into conspiracy-theory territory, but given how weird the current story is, maybe it's not implausible to think that there may be puppet masters behind the puppet masters, as if South Korea were living a "The Cabin in the Woods" scenario.

Finally, my student expressed sadness because, as a woman, she'd had high hopes for President Park, who was revolutionary as the first female president in East Asia. Park has turned out to be a poor, incompetent leader as well as a massive disappointment, and my student felt the president had done much to sully the "woman" brand with her ineptitude and links to corruption.

The demonstrators are still on the march this weekend. They feel their job isn't done, and now the focus is turning, more and more, to persuading President Park simply to resign. Personally, I think this is what Park should have had the good grace to do in the first place. Instead, she passed the buck to the National Assembly, telling her assemblymen that it was up to them to decide her fate. This was a not-so-subtle middle finger to all those who want to see Park out of power now. Even the impeachment can be seen as a sort of delay in Park's eventual departure from the Blue House—not a deliberate stalling tactic, exactly, but still a process that will take months, ticking away the clock until Park leaves office at the beginning of 2018. Park may be counting on complicated legal procedure to carry her across the finish line of her presidency, if for no other reason than to be able to say she served a full term without suffering the disgrace of having been ousted.

Granted, I'm psychologizing—a naughty behavior that I normally condemn in others. I can't read Park's mind; I can only make deductions about her mental and emotional state based on her actions. But I don't think my reading is implausible: if Park indeed had the option of stepping down from office, simply and directly, but instead chose this more difficult path, then I think she could be accused of still trying to cling to power. If I'm right, then this clashes with the seemingly apologetic nature of the speeches she's given to the public since this whole sordid scandal began. That insight, in turn, has implications for the game Park is playing.

Not that I want to concentrate on Park any longer. As far as I'm concerned, she's of decreasing relevance, and I think the Korean people are looking forward to some major changes. Much commentary has focused on the idea that we now live in an era in which deep-rooted corruption is finally being exposed* and, one would hope, excised. Some Western commentators are linking this Korean movement to a global trend toward populism—the same trend that swept Donald Trump into office. Whether that's actually true in Korea's case is still a matter of debate: Koreans have gone through tragedy and upheaval before and learned nothing from the experience. It would take a lot to convince me that Park's imminent ouster indicates a fundamental shift in the national psyche.

In the meantime, though, South Korean citizens have every right to be proud of the way they showed the true power of people-driven, democratic movements. Weeks of nonviolent protests have led to what we're witnessing now. This stands in contrast to the childish tantrums thrown by liberal America in the wake of Donald Trump's election—the riots, the arson, the looting, and the street beatings. And while I might have utterly botched my predictions about the US presidential election, I was spot-on about the post-election chaos, but that was only because the rioting was, sadly, easy to predict. Korea has experienced no equivalent unrest thus far, no significant violence of any kind. This is how civilized people enact democracy; it's an example that American crybabies ought to follow. My worry, though, is what will happen if justice isn't served to Park in a timely manner, or if the president somehow manages to wriggle free and escape justice.

*In truth, it's been exposed before, and it will be again later. This sort of thing moves in peristaltic cycles of major change.

today's project

I'm not bothering to post photos of the huge batch of chili I made last night (another two-potter) because you've seen it all before. Last night's chili was Project #2 of three culinary projects this weekend. Today, the focus is on beer-batter salmon and hush puppies. Using salmon instead of the standard cod (or tilapia, the poor man's cod) might prove dicey, but I'm hopeful that the result will be especially savory.

Photos to come later tonight. Sit tight, Poison Girls.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

last KMA session of the year

Today's marathon session at KMA was one of my largest classes at six people. Four of them had come from the same company, so they all knew each other. Of those four, two ladies had no real reason to be there as they spoke almost no English at work and had nothing to do with international customers. As a more fluent member of their group explained, their company required them to take X hours' worth of self-enrichment courses somewhere, which is how they ended up selecting KMA and my course in particular. The other two students in my class each came from separate companies, but after the first hour, everyone was feeling cozy with each other. Such is my gift as a teacher: put 'em at ease.

The students were, overall, a pretty quick bunch, so we ended class a few minutes early. I think they enjoyed their time, although I suppose I'll know more if and when I get my evals back. (Not that I'm worried; my evals are always in the 95%-100% satisfaction range.) When class began, one student struck me as prissier than C-3PO, but he turned out not to be a problem; in fact, he ended up being one of the most eager and cooperative learners.

All in all, a good day. And now I'm making chili.

Friday, December 09, 2016

tangsuyuk: the final product

This was my first-ever attempt at tangsuyuk, I think—by which I mean real tangsuyuk, not the travesty I'd made before, which used pre-made breaded pork.

I had followed, more or less, the advice from a YouTube video on how to make this popular Sino-Korean dish ('s as authentically Chinese as American-style Chinese sweet-and-sour pork is, so I'll let you figure out the authenticity issue; meanwhile, watch this awesome TED Talk about Chinese food throughout the world), but now that I've made the dish (with a few alterations), I have two major points of disagreement, both related to the pork.

1. The video suggests marinating the pork with vinegar. I found that the vinegar was way too intrusive, even after rinsing off the marinade and patting the meat dry before mixing the pork in with the cornstarch batter. Next time around, I'm going to use a bare minimum of vinegar, or I'm going to forgo the vinegar altogether. In fact, I'm not convinced the pork gains anything from a marinade at all. I used thinly sliced pork sold in my building's grocery. It was already of very good quality, and I don't think it needed enhancement for tangsuyuk-ish purposes.

2. In the video, the degree of golden-brownness for the fried pork is, in my opinion, too light. Most tangsuyuk from your typical faux-Chinese eatery isn't nearly as crispy, or as golden brown, as it should be.* So, having learned my lesson about deep-frying, I fried my pork to my preferred level of brownness and crispiness, which is a much deeper brown and a much crispier crisp. My standard of crispy-brown is roughly the same as Outback Steakhouse's when they make their popcorn shrimp, just to give you an idea of what I mean.**

So next time around, I'll keep frying the pork my way, but I doubt I'll marinade it first. I just don't see the point.*** Let's talk a bit about other aspects of tonight's dinner.

Pickling the veggies, except for the shrooms (I used pyogo, which you Statesiders may know by the Japanese name shiitake), was a most excellent move. It kept everything lively and flavorful, and the citric-acid accent of the pickling (a gentle solution of salt, apple vinegar, lots of sugar, and lots of water) went well with the dragonfruit-pineapple sauce.

The sauce itself looked awfully disappointing: it was grey and cloudy, and when I mixed it in with the veggies after having stir-fried them, the whole thing looked as depressing as the gravy you see with pepper steak. However, the moment I put down my rice, piled on some pork, and ladled on the veggies-and-sauce, the sauce suddenly made visual sense. Those black flecks you see in the above photo? Those come from the dragonfruit: they're not flecks of black pepper.

Let's go back to the pork for a second. The video recommended making a slurry of potato starch, cornstarch, and water. I had once heard from my brother Sean that a local Korean in Virginia had made incredible tangsuyuk, and that her secret was that her pork batter was nothing more than cornstarch and water. So I left out the potato starch and added water... thereby creating an impossible-to-stir non-Newtonian fluid that was extremely frustrating to handle and not nearly as compliant as the slurry seen in the YouTube video. The video said to mix the starch with water, then to let it chill a few hours in the fridge. After that, you're supposed to drain out the water, add some oil, and mix the oil in with the wet starch. I tried and tried, but ultimately I failed: after I'd added the oil, the slurry would harden and become immiscible every time I tried to stir it or massage it with my fingers. In the end, I decided to "fool" the slurry by glopping it onto the marinated pork and letting gravity do the rest. Sure enough, the slurry slumped and became a liquid that oozed and dripped through all the cracks and eventually coated all the pork evenly, at which point the now-battered pork became very easy to handle, and the heretofore immiscible oil suddenly became miscible. Problem solved. I do wonder, though, whether adding potato starch would have made the slurry less recalcitrantly non-Newtonian. An experiment for another day, perhaps.

So there were things that went right and things that went wrong, but overall, the food was quite delicious. The fruit sauce (to which I did add some sugar and lime juice to amp the whole thing up) drowned out the citric sourness from the marinated pork; the veggies had been pickled and stir-fried to just the right degree of doneness; the pork's crunchiness was the ultimate saving grace. All in all, this was a winner, and I'll likely be doing this again soon, though maybe not with dragonfruit, which adds little to the presentation except for the cloudiness in the sauce and those black-pepper-looking flecks.

*One shining exception is a spot in Ilsan where they fry the fuck out of the pork, but somehow keep the batter surprisingly light. My buddy Tom knows the place I'm talking about.

**Years ago, when I first met Charles, he and I went to a lovely Italian resto in Gangnam called Puccini. Puccini's approach to fried frutti di mare was cautious and delicate, resulting in a light golden-brown color that's similar to the blond tangsuyuk you see in the above-linked YouTube video. But while I might be complaining about too-lightly frying pork for the Sino-Korean dish, I'm not at all implying that Puccini was also in the wrong to use a similar approach. First, consider that, in Puccini's case, we're talking about seafood, which should never be over-fried for the same reason you never overcook any sort of water creature: seafood gets real tough real fast when it's overdone (my rule of thumb: if it looks done, it IS done). Second, Puccini's approach to the dish in question was to let the seafood speak for itself, which is why the dish I received wasn't covered in heavy batter; it was more like a panko fry. Joe's Steakhouse in Front Royal, Virginia, showed similar respect to its calamari.

***According to Chef Ann Burrell, a marinade normally has three components: an oil (like olive oil), an acid (like lemon juice or vinegar), and an aromatic (like garlic). If I do stick with a marinade next time, I'll probably substitute Coca Cola for vinegar as the acid. Plenty of Koreans do this when marinating galbi (short ribs).

the elements

Here are the tangsuyuk elements: pickled veggies, un-pickled mushrooms (pyogo, i.e., shiitake), fried pork, soy sauce, and dragonfruit sauce. Goodness awaits.

The marinating veggies (lower right) are: red chilis, green chilis, cucumbers, carrots, and green bell peppers. The pickling solution, which was designed to be a mere gentle bath to kick up the veggies' flavor only slightly, was a mixture of water, apple vinegar, sugar, and chili flakes. After an hour or so, the veggies had all taken on a delightfully sweet-sour-spicy complexion. After that, it was just a matter of draining and stir-frying, all of which turned out perfectly, thank Cthulhu.

is it possible to SEE crunchiness?

Tangsuyuk (탕수육, Korean-style sweet-and-sour pork), but just the fried pork. Another photo, with all the elements, is on the way.

culinary projects

Today marks the beginning of a three-day weekend for me. My boss was lenient enough to let me start using my 66 hours' worth of comp time this week; he allowed me this Friday off, and I'll be taking off on December 23, the week between Christmas and New Year's, and January 2. Having now plotted out my work calendar, I've got a schedule that I'll be following through the Ides of March. The schedule takes my comp-time break into consideration, so everything works out nicely. Am still not sure what I'm going to do with myself during break.

Today, then, I'm planning to make some tangsuyuk, which is Korea's version of sweet-and-sour pork. For the fruity sauce, I'll be combining dragonfruit and pineapple juice: the dragonfruit will provide the robust texture and the funky visuals thanks to all those peppery-looking black seeds; the pineapple juice will provide the acidic tang and the much-needed taste that the dragonfruit utterly lacks.

That's Friday's project. Saturday's project is another big-ass batch of chili. Sunday's project—which I'm very much looking forward to—is hush puppies. I had two leftover bags of corn chips from our post-election get-together a couple weekends ago; since there was no way I was going to eat nachos for two weeks straight, I took the corn chips and pulverized them with my food processor, essentially turning them into a lovely cornmeal that has already been pre-infused with plenty of salt and oil. I have all the other ingredients I need to make the 'puppies, so that's what I'll be doing on Sunday. (It'll also be a chance for me to apply the harsh lessons I learned about deep-frying this past Thanksgiving.)

To sum up:

• Friday tangsuyuk
• Saturday chili
• Sunday hush puppies

Of course, you can't eat just a bowl of hush puppies (well, you can, but where's the fun in that?). Hush puppies are sides, so what's the main dish? I've elected to use salmon instead of cod to make beer-batter salmon chunks. That ought to be fun.

Thursday's lunch

On Thursday, I had lunch inside the building where I work. The basement restaurant I went to is one at which I'm a regular; the ladies serve large portions of good Korean food at a very reasonable price. On this particular day, I was coming into the restaurant as several managers at my company were leaving. One of them stopped at the register and quietly told one of the ladies that he would cover the cost of my lunch, which I thought was a very nice gesture.

What you see in the image is ddeok mandu-guk, i.e., potsticker soup with sliced-up rice cakes. Very tasty, especially with all the sides.

(I hate the word "potsticker," by the way.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

shoes: repaired!

There's a shoe-repair guy up the street from where I work. He's an older gent who speaks in very clear, easy-to-understand Korean, either because that's just how he speaks, or because—as he told me—he gets a lot of foreign customers in this hagweon-rich neighborhood. I gave him my battered shoes around lunchtime and asked him how long it would take to repair them. "Come back in two hours," he said, after palpating my shoes with almost medical precision. He actually found a few more holes than I realized I had, including a nasty crack in my right sole. Then he grimaced and said, "What if I just repair the soles?" I said that'd be fine. "Then it'll be W20,000 to do both shoes," he told me.

I did a lunch errand, then lumbered back over to the shoe-repair guy two hours later. The guy bade me try the shoes on; they felt fine. I noticed he had repaired all the holes, not just the holes in the soles. He had also shined and buffed my shoes to a high gloss; they looked almost new. Delighted, I told the guy that I had thought I was paying only for sole repair, so I gave him an extra W5,000 for his effort. The gent listed all the repairs he had done on my shoes, then said, "If you have any problems, let me know, and I'll do the repairs for free next time." I thanked him and went on my way.

Some of these shoe-repair guys will strip off a shoe's entire sole and re-sole the shoe. That happened to a pair of my shoes way back in the 1990s. The new soles, which are stiff and invariably made of different material from the previous soles, take some getting used to. Today's repairman simply patched over the holey sole using a thin and rubbery material that approximated the original sole's grip and flexibility. Although the hole is still somewhat visible, I trust that the super-gluing he did will be proof against rain and nasty puddles.

The repairman had also noticed how my shoes' heels had worn down. I tend to supinate, so the outer edges of the heels had worn significantly. To compensate for this, the old man had attached these bizarre-looking supplements that looked like puzzle pieces to the heels.* This felt a tiny bit strange at first, but I quickly got used to them and now think of these attachments as therapeutic, like orthotics.

Below are pics of several of the repairs. The first image is a general shot of the new sole of my left shoe. In it, you see a bit of cratering where the hole is, but the real proof of the quality of the repair will be evident when it rains and there are puddles. The second image is a side view to give you an idea of the thinness of the rubbery layer that the repairman placed over my sole. Part of me wishes he had simply ripped the soles off and re-soled the shoes completely, but that could have been bad, especially if the new soles ended up being too stiff. Over the course of several thousand steps, little problems become big problems, so in the end, I think the old man made the right decision when he respected the flexibility of the original soles. The third image lets you see my new "orthotic" high heels. They look ridiculous, but my feet are telling me that the new attachments feel just fine.

*On closer inspection, those "puzzle pieces" appear simply to be standard heel pieces, but rotated.

richer than I'd thought

Readjusting a budget downward after looking at your bank-account figures is never a good feeling. Not that I'm experiencing any sort of financial emergency, mind you: the downward adjustments I've made (mainly due to KMA cancellations) have all been above-the-waterline hits to my marvelously constructed budget, so I'm not worried. That said, watching your numbers go up is always more pleasant than watching them go down.

It doesn't help that, for the past month or so, I've been laboring under the delusion that I have less money than I actually do. This is thanks to a sort of scotosis (willful intellectual blindness—a term that's relevant to the recent US presidential election) on my part: I keep forgetting that I have two Korean bank accounts. Along with my primary Shinhan Bank account, I've got my old Daegu Bank account from back when I was a prof at Daegu Catholic. I dump a wee bit of cash into that account every month because that's the account from which my phone bill is debited (I got my cell phone in Daegu, back in September of 2013; never bothered to switch the billing information once I moved to Seoul), and it's also the account into which my KMA payments go. Whenever I teach at KMA, I have to force myself to remember to check my Daegu Bank account to confirm that I've been paid. It seems I've already been paid for my November work; my account currently shows around W650,000, which is W650,000 more than is reflected in my budget (which I've stored online as a Google spreadsheet). That's a good feeling, knowing that I'm not as far behind-budget as I'd thought. Forgetfulness occasionally leads to such pleasant surprises; I very much look forward to being senile.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

slipping in a third week of vaycay

I've accumulated enough comp hours—66—to take eight business days off, so I talked with my boss about how I might handle my extra vacation. I floated the idea of taking the week between Christmas and New Year's Day off, and the boss is also letting me take this coming Friday off (alas, I'm doing a KMA gig on Saturday, but that's fine—more money for me*). So tentatively, my upcoming vacation is looking like this:

1. Friday, December 9 off. As McDonald's said: you deserve a break today.

2. December 23 off (Fri.), then December 26 to December 30 off (Mon.-Fri.), followed by January 2 (Mon.).

That's a total of eight business days off, i.e., 64 hours. That will leave me with 2 hours' comp time, which I'll likely build up again in January and February as I work on writing and editing Book 2B and Book 3B of our series. After that, there will be only Books 2C and 3C to do, and after that, we've got some other book projects in the pipe—one being a listening-skills companion to the series I'm working on, and another being a book that introduces philosophy to kids. That's a brave choice of topic, but I'm impatient to get to work on that.

The standard "corporate package" for most regular-Joe Korean jobs is two week's vacation (i.e., ten business days) plus national holidays. By earning myself eight days' comp time, I've basically given myself an extra week of vacation. Am looking forward to some rest.

*I'd been paid W60,000/hour for my previous gig, at which only one person had shown up. This time around, I'm being paid W80,000/hour so that the two gigs average out to my usual W70,000. I thought it was very nice of KMA to take the hit, so to speak: they certainly didn't have to increase my hourly pay, but they did it, anyway. Another reason to love KMA.

electric bill: WOW!

Every month, I pay something that I often miscall "rent." Technically, it's more like an admin fee: my company, which is sponsoring my housing, is the actual rent-paying entity. In the summer months, when I'm not using much electricity except to drive my air conditioner, I pay about W180,000, or somewhere between $150 and $155, US. As summer bleeds into fall and my A/C usage drops off, my bill shrinks to an even more pleasant W160,000 or so.

Last year—my first winter in Daecheong Tower, my apartment building—the weather eventually got so cold that I finally relented and grudgingly turned on my floor heating. Once I made that decision, I kept the floor heating on pretty much every day during the winter—whenever I was home, I mean. Obviously, the ondol was off whenever I was out. Still, even though the ondol was on for only part of the day, my monthly bill doubled frighteningly in size to around W350,000.

We should keep this in perspective, though: paying W350,000 a month for "rent" is still a far better deal than paying the usual W500,000 to W1,500,000 a month for actual rent in an apartment with a standard contract. With this in mind, I would get a bit sulky whenever I saw my monthly admin fee, but the mood would wear off soon enough once I remembered how cheap my accommodations still were, despite the doubling in size of my bill.

This past November, as the weather finally went from warm to cool to occasionally very cold, I decided to try something a little different, which I talked about in an earlier post: I elected to heat my apartment with just my space heater and a couple pots of boiling water on the gas range. While my gas bills in Daegu and Ilsan were expensive, I currently never pay more than $2 a month for gas in Daecheong Tower (the gas bill comes separately, by the way). So I thought to myself: if gas is this amazingly cheap, and if my space heater supposedly consumes as little electricity as the salesman claims, then why not try to survive this coming winter on just those two heat sources?

Almost every day in November, then, I used my space heater. Sometimes I cranked it to "regular"; sometimes I cranked it to "high." And as the month wound down, I became curious as to how much my residence fee was going to be.

Well, good gentles, the bill for November came today, and the damage is:



It's unreal how cheap this bill is, and that's going to do wonders for my budget. The only real question left is whether I'll be able to keep this up when the weather gets truly hardcore. We've got a couple months to find out.

Monday, December 05, 2016

crispity, crunchity crunch time

I was in the office until about 12:30AM tonight. The boss had called to tell me to go home early and not run myself ragged, but being alone in an office is a delight to us introverts, so there was no real emotional stress coming from putting in quiet man-hours on a Sunday. The stress, such as it was, came more from the fact that I had been tasked with proofreading two huge textbook manuscripts in a row.

The first manuscript, for our "2A" book (whose title I probably can't/shouldn't mention here; suffice it to say there will, like the Nazgûl, be nine textbooks in total: 1A, 1B, 1C, and on up through 3C), took about four hours per chapter—ten chapters total—to proofread. It was rife with errors in all shapes and sizes—some ours, most not. Once initial proofing was done and the manuscript sent back to the designer, successive proofreadings went a whole lot faster, if somewhat asymptotically: I'd find 500 errors; the designer would correct maybe 480 of them and introduce new errors; he'd send back the much-improved-yet-still-imperfect manuscript; I'd proof that one even faster and send it back; the designer would then implement my new corrections (many of which were simply restatements of old corrections) and return a new draft copy; I'd look that one over, make what I hoped would be final corrections, then wait for the designer to send back his final draft, often labeled "final" (choe jong, 최종) on the PDF file. Historically, the final draft has often proved to be truly final, Cthulhu be praised.

The second manuscript, for our level 3A textbook, is what I've been working on over the past week. There aren't quite as many errors as in the 2A book, so the proofing is going faster, but not by much. I told my boss, given my irritation at the consistency of many of the errors, that I need to send the designer a style sheet. Three errors in particular, if the designer were made aware of them, would save me loads of time and trouble if they never appeared:

1. DO NOT put a space before a colon. That's French punctuation. (This error occurs perhaps 12-20 times per chapter.)

2. For all quotation marks and apostrophes, use curly quotes, not straight quotes, and never mix up the two styles of quotes in the same paragraph. (I can't begin to say how many times this error has appeared. It's as if the designer isn't even watching.)

3. For the love of Jesus, NEVER take an em dash and shrink it into a hyphen. However I wrote it in the original MS Word raw file, that's how it should appear on the finalized page of the textbook. Capisce?! (This error was ubiquitous throughout Book 2A, but is almost nonexistent in 3A. Can't say why, but I won't complain.)

In publishing, the deadline is king, and for Book 3A, everything needs to be done by Tuesday morning. I'm probably going to stay very late again, Monday evening, to get everything done. At this point—given that I also worked six hours this past Saturday—I've racked up almost 70 comp hours, which will likely translate into several three-day weekends in a row in both December and January. Maybe I'll go traveling. We'll see. I usually end up doing nothing much when I'm on vacation; lounging is, after all, one of my favorite leisure activities.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


Today's lunch was a big baguette sandwich from the local Kim Young Mo pâtisserie, which I amped up with salami purchased at the meatateria just two doors down. Alas, the KYM sandwiches are rife with pestilential onions, so I had to scrape all of those sneaky little bastards off. After that, everything was heavenly.

I took this shot in the "landscape" format, so I'm curious how it's going to look on the blog.

Sultan Cola!

Saw this in the store, in the beer section, and got curious. Curiosity killed the cat, as they say; the cola sucked. Like many beers, it has about 5% alcohol, which isn't enough to do a big guy like me in, but is noticeable enough to make the drinking experience unpleasant for a teetotaler, which I am. Bleh.

Luckily, I had bought other drinks.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

my left foot

While I was at KMA last Saturday, it was snowy, then rainy. As I was walking to lunch with my student, I stepped into a puddle and instantly felt my left sock get soaked. Does my sole have a crack in it? I wondered. I spent the rest of the day avoiding puddles and letting my body heat dry out my sock. Thought nothing of the incident until just today, when I suddenly remembered what had happened and finally looked down at my shoe. Well, well.

Not the best Photoshopping I've ever done, but I'd like to imagine my shoe being inhabited by some interesting residents. I feel sorry for the shoe; it's been with me for years, and all the walking I've done has finally torn a hole in its soul/sole. Time for a new pair.

the great heating experiment

Last winter, when it got too cold, I finally relented and turned on my apartment's ondol, i.e., its heated floor, which is something of a Korean residential tradition. In the old days, floor heating involved a system of heated water pipes under a floor's surface; in my current apartment, the ondol is electric. Being electric, the ondol gets expensive in the wintertime because, in some parts of Korea, electricity is expensive. Last year, my monthly cost of living skyrocketed to almost twice its summertime price—from roughly W186,000 to somewhere around W350,000, if I remember correctly. Granted, W350,000 is no cross to bear: that's barely $300, US, and most Seoul residents probably spend closer to $700-$2000 a month on rent.* Still, if I could pay less than W350K a month during the winter, I would.

Which brings me to my current experiment. As the weather gets colder, my apartment goes from greenhouse to icebox given its huge, uninsulated window. I'm away all day, and I leave my window open to aerate the place and to facilitate floor-drying in my very poorly ventilated bathroom. When I get back at night, I close my window and—lately—turn on my electric space heater. This is the same heater I had used back when I was still cooped up in that old, nasty yeogwan while teaching at Dongguk University. The heater still works great, and I haven't yet died in a fire. I also suspect that the heater uses far less power than does my apartment's ondol, so I used it through the entire month of November. In a day or so, I'll get my November admin/electric bill, and I'll be curious to see how much the bill has gone up with the constant use of my heater. Surely the bill can't be anywhere near W300,000, can it? We'll just have to pray to old Uncle Cthulhu and hope for the best.

My monthly gas bill never amounts to more than about $2 a month, so I've also decided to accelerate the apartment-heating process by wasting some gas and water. I've hit upon a highly effective method, too: I fill two large pots with water, place them on my gas range, fire the two burners up, then let the pots boil away on high for a few minutes before I switch them both to medium heat. This works amazingly well, I must say, however bad it might be for the environment to be cranking up the gas and wasting water in this manner. My place might be ice cold when I first enter it after a long day at work, but it's toasty within just a few minutes. That solves the problem of having my electric space heater at one end of my apartment while the other end goes unheated. The range-produced heat lingers thanks to the water vapor, and even after I turn the gas range off, the apartment stays warm with just the electric space heater going. If my gas bill goes up to an astonishing $3 a month, I doubt I'll stress all that much.

Meanwhile, we wait. My bill ought to arrive either this weekend or early next week. I'll be curious to see how much it's gone up since the summer and early fall. If it hasn't gone up much, then I'll know I've hit upon a winning strategy—something that, I hope, can tide me through the winter. We'll see. We'll see.

*As my boss reminds me, what I'm paying isn't rent, technically speaking: it's more like an admin fee. Since this is a company apartment (and a shabby one at that, but that's another rant), it's the company that's paying the actual rent. My monthly residence fee is a combination of the aforementioned admin fee and my electric bill. Most of the year, I don't pay much in electricity; it's the floor heating during the winter that drives costs up.

Friday, December 02, 2016

burger porn

There's this Croatian dude whom I follow on YouTube via his "Almazan Kitchen" channel. He appears to live out in some gorgeous forested region with a very lively creek nearby. His shtick is that he cooks everything outdoors, and while it's obvious, from his ingredients, that his outdoor cooking has little to nothing to do with "roughing it," he does seem to be spare with the equipment he uses. I'm guessing he works with a skilled cameraman (or camerawoman!); the visuals for his videos are always well edited and very food-porny. Here's an example to make you hungry for a big, juicy hamburger:

Thursday, December 01, 2016

the ROK Constitution

Ever been interested in looking over South Korea's Constitution?

Here it is in Korean, and here it is in English (PDF).

I suddenly got curious when I thought about the current presidential scandal and pondered what might happen should President Park Geun-hye step down next year. If PGH steps down, there will be a snap election to choose a president who will serve out the remainder of Park's term, which ends in February of 2018, thus giving the president pro tempore a bit more than a year to go, if we start the clock from right now. But here's the question: if a certain X is elected, will that X then be able to run for president in 2018?* I know the ROK Constitution forbids a president from serving more than one five-year term, but what about this special situation? Could X, in theory, serve this one year, then serve another five years if reelected? Is that constitutionally possible? Hence my sudden interest in the ROK Constitution.

Pore through the document(s) and tell me what you think.

*By this I mean: "run for president for the term beginning in 2018."

"Bad Words": review

"Bad Words" is Jason Bateman's first directorial effort. It's the story of bitter loser Guy Trilby (Bateman), a 40-year-old on a mission to insinuate himself into the Golden Quill, a national spelling-bee contest for elementary-school kids. Taking advantage of an obscure loophole, Trilby, who is a nasty piece of work (think: a Tourette's-afflicted Bill Murray: a smartass, and vulgarly so), plows his way through minor regional spelling bees until he's able to get placed in the nationals. A reporter named Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) follows Trilby on his mad quest, but is unable to uncover his basic motivations, despite her desperate efforts to buy him dinners and to engage in weird, quasi-violent, "Don't look at me!" sex. When Trilby hits the nationals, he meets kind-hearted Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), a friendless, nerdy, nine-year-old ingénue who somehow manages to become hard-hearted Trilby's buddy. This odd friendship undergoes several twists and turns; as with other spelling-bee movies, most of the suspense occurs at the very end of the bee. Does Trilby win? Does he reveal his motivations to Widgeon? Does he let go of his anger at life and the world?

The one big revelation in "Bad Words" is that Jason Bateman—whose career has largely been about playing likable goofs, WASP-y nebbishes, and generally low-key characters—proves he can play a consummate dickhead. The scene in which Trilby brutally insults the vagina of an angry mother who think's it's unfair for an adult to compete in a kids' bee is hilariously vulgar, utterly politically incorrect, and a joy to watch. Most of the movie's script delivers some level of raunch, but unlike the way it was with "Sausage Party," the filth is much better scripted, and it's much more effective because Bateman's vulgar Trilby has Rohan Chand's sweet, innocent Chaitanya Chopra as a foil.

"Bad Words" puts me in mind of other adult/child comedies I've watched or rewatched over the past couple of years: the father/son dynamic between Aaron Eckhart and Cameron Bright in "Thank You for Smoking," the weirdly platonic May-September relationship between Joel Murray and Tara Lynn Barr in "God Bless America," and more recently, the old-man-young-man bonding experience between Bill Murray and Jaeden Lieberher in "St. Vincent." These movies all have a common essence: the adult role model has maturity issues and is a corrupting influence on the child, but the adult's corruption of the child is forgivable because he (and it's almost always a he) also possesses certain redeeming qualities. "Bad Words" is no exception to this paradigm.

Bateman the director is almost as unpretentious as Clint Eastwood behind the camera: he allows the actors to do their thing, rarely interrupting the action and dialogue with weird and self-conscious camera tricks (well, there is that one kick-in-the-nuts scene, near the end, that gets a 1980s-style repeat-cut treatment so that we see the foot slamming the crotch again and again and again). His editing and visuals show his interest in getting out of the way.

The story of "Bad Words," written by Andrew Dodge, moves along at a slow-but-decent pace, keeping us on a steady IV drip of profanity to hold our attention. My main complaint, though, is that the story falls down at the very end, when the predictable, and implausible, climax drags on for far too long, like a bad joke that has worn out its welcome. Come to think of it, most of the story arc is predictable (I figured out the "twist" well before the third reel), but the acting and the salty dialogue save the script from mediocrity.

Professional critics seem to be divided over "Bad Words"; I side with the thumbs-up crowd, even while recognizing that the movie's conclusion could have used some rewrites to streamline the comedy. Most of the movie is gloriously nasty, and even if the filmmakers fumbled the ending a bit, it's obvious that the story has its heart in the right place.

BP = OK; BS = not so good

Went to the doc for the second part of my monthly (well, 5- or 6-weekly) checkup this morning. Blood pressure remains stable, i.e., not-bad, not-good; blood sugar, however, is way up, and I know why: November was a terrible month for me, diet-wise. You saw all the foodblogging I was doing, so this result isn't surprising. December and early January will probably be bad, too, as it's the holidays. I could compensate by fasting (something the paleo crowd recommends: the occasional random fast), I suppose... we'll see.

Today was the HbA1c test, which I'm supposed to do every three months. Results were quite diabetic at 8.6* (6.0 and under would be ideal; I was in the 7s previously, with 7.0 as a temporary goal), but we're not at a point where my feet are rotting off and I need dialysis and a kidney transplant. Still, let's face facts: this isn't good. The ghost of Dr. Atkins is tapping his foot impatiently and waiting for me to join the ranks of his acolytes, something I'm loath to do (I've tried Atkins before and became a bit depressed while doing it). But very soon, if I don't watch myself, I may have no choice.

*Corrected from 8.8, which I'd mistakenly written earlier.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

a trip to the tax office

I owe. I owe big. Last week, a multi-page tax document arrived at the office for me, and it declared that I owe Uncle Jang about W1.7 million (about $1500, US). Luckily, with my budget as strong as it is, I can absorb this hit and still forge ahead on schedule. So while it's a bad feeling to know I owe so much damn tax (the document apparently covers tax for more than one of my jobs, which makes me think that the people at my previous jobs didn't take care of my tax as they were supposed to), it's good to know I can absorb this hit with minimal damage. This is above the waterline.

The Gangnam Tax Office is located on the big, famous Teheran Street. As you might imagine, the building is essentially a giant, pulsating gizzard of bureaucracy, full of functionaries and grinding, soulless, paper-pushing activity. Stepping into the building was like stepping into the inner workings of a colossal machine. I felt puny.

Not knowing where I needed to go, I told the front-desk guy that I had come to pay my taxes; he pointed behind him, to a hallway with an elevator bank, and said, "Past the elevators." Sure enough, a huge sign on the wall said, in giant font, "TAX PAYMENTS." I found the door, went in, and stepped up to a bulletproof window. I showed the clerk my sheaf of papers and told her I had come to pay taxes. She looked over my documents, frowned, and said that I needed to wait for yet another document to arrive before I could pay: the documents I had were merely to inform me of what I owed; what I really needed was the gojiseo, i.e., the actual bill. But, the clerk added, if I wanted to talk with someone further about this, I could go to the sixth floor to meet Ms. Lee, whose name was on one page of my document pack.

So I went to the sixth floor, where I found myself in a maze of hallways, and tromped over to one promising office. Once inside, I asked the admin assistant—who had been busy texting before I showed up—where I could find Ms. Lee. She was kind enough to walk me over to the correct office (sea of cubicles again), and I found myself face to face with Ms. Lee herself. I began explaining my issue to Ms. Lee, who interrupted to exclaim how relieved she was that I could speak Korean. When I finished my explanation, Ms. Lee said the same thing that the first-floor clerk had said: I'd need to wait for the second document, the gojiseo (pronounce it "goh-jee-saw"), to arrive at my office. I thanked her, shrugged my coat back on, and lumbered out of the office; only later did I realize that I had neglected to ask how I'd have to pay the bill. Could I do it at a bank? Did I need to pay in person at the tax office? As my coworker said, the coming document will doubtless include payment instructions, so no sweat.

A bit of a wasted trip, this was, but still an interesting experience.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

President Park's speech

For those of you who haven't been following along with the South Korean presidential scandal, which may well end with the downfall of South Korea's current president, Park Geun-hye, I'd advise you to read the excellent Cliff's Notes version of the crisis as written up over at the blog Ask A Korean.

Start here.

Continue here.

End up here.

The TL;DR version of the scandal is something like this:

1. Someone found an abandoned iPad and, as s/he dug deeper into what was stored on it, discovered that President Park had deep connections with confidante Choi Soon-sil.

2. This revelation has led to further revelations about the spooky nature of the Park/Choi relationship, and also about a complex web of influence-peddling and other forms of dirty dealing. Choi, who had no right to be so close to the reins of power, appears to have exerted an undue amount of influence over Park. Choi had access to thousands of pages of confidential/classified information—thousands of pages per day. This is Hillary's Servergate times a hundred.

3. The public is extremely pissed off. Demonstrations—peaceful in comparison to the shameful post-election rioting in the United States—have been going on every weekend for weeks. Park has addressed the public twice before today's speech; she has seemed unwilling to resign, thus putting the people in a fouler and fouler mood. Some of us on Twitter are wondering how long this state of affairs can remain peaceful.

4. Park just gave a speech today; it was Trumpian in its vagueness, openness to interpretation, and probable tactical significance. Park seemed to concede that she might resign, but she has apparently left it in the hands of the National Assembly (South Korea's analogue to the UK Parliament or the US Congress) to decide her political fate. I'm reprinting her brief address in its entirety below. The English translation is awful—stilted and unnatural—so you'll just have to bear with it. Source here.

Dear respected citizens,

Once again, I apologize for causing you enormous troubles because of my wrongdoings.

As I see the citizens suffering heartache due to this issue, I think it is evident that I must apologize even hundreds of times.

But despite such efforts, all the disappointment and fury that I have caused you cannot be resolved and that wrenches my heart.

Citizens, as I recall the past 18 years that I spent with you, the time has been all the more thankful and precious.

From 1998, when I began politicking for my inauguration as the President and finally to this very moment, I have invested all my efforts in serving the country and citizens.

Not for a single moment have I ever pursued my own interest, nor even thought about it.

The series of events that have occurred now are a result of my pursuit of public benefit for the nation. And I did not take a single benefit during the process.

But I admit it was my huge fault that I have failed to manage my personal life and take care of people around me.

I will explain all the details about this political scandal in the near future.

Dear citizens, I have stayed up countless nights to come up with a right decision for the country and the people as the situation is getting worse for domestic and foreign affairs.

Now, I would like to express my decision here.

I will follow the National Assembly's decision about my course of resignation as the President, including cutting short my remaining term.

When the ruling and opposition parties propose a plan to transfer governing power in a way that can minimize any chaos and power vacuum in state affairs, I will resign from the presidency according to the rules and schedules proposed by the National Assembly.

Now, I have laid everything down. My only desire is for South Korea to break away from this chaotic state and return to its original course as soon as possible.

Once again, I would like to apologize to the citizens and plead that the political circle will combine their wisdom for the hopeful future of South Korea.

Since the speech is heavy by nature, I will explain further about the details in the near future. Any questions can be dealt with at that time.

Some see the above as a sign that Park will definitely resign. Others say the speech is "a final fuck-you," because now the National Assembly will be forced to bicker over how best to proceed, which means Park will likely end up serving out her final year in office with no resolution. If that's true, she will have held on to power until the end of her term.

Personally, I think Park should have had the good grace simply to declare her resignation and step down immediately. A snap election to choose a one-year replacement would have occurred; that's in doubt, now, as people digest Park's speech and mull over how to move forward. The public, meanwhile, will become ever more fractious once it senses that this speech is part of a ploy by Park to keep herself in power. And what happens once the demonstrators decide they will no longer tolerate this state of affairs?

Koreans really, really like coconut oil

As seen at the local Costco.

Monday, November 28, 2016

crunch time returns

At work, we're suddenly in a rush to proof two book manuscripts, so I'm once again busy. I spent this past Sunday in the office, and I'll be staying late this coming week as I proof the second manuscript (I just finished proofing the first one today). Work might bleed into the weekend. I've been keeping track of my comp hours; at this point, I have over 50, which will probably translate into several three-day weekends in a row. That'll be a nice change of pace. I might actually travel a bit. We'll see.