Friday, 31 July 2009

Two Great Blog Posts from Non-K-Bloggers

My dear friend Tamie writes one of the most thoughtful blogs I've every come across. Today, a guy named Jonathan contributed a guest-post about what it is like to work in a prison, even just for two hours a day, coaching inmates in a writing workshop.

You should read it. It will make you think about freedom and hope and awareness and, uh, good stuff.

Also: my sister wrote a sweet and touching reflection on the hard parts and the wonderful parts of being mom to a toddler during a heatwave. Go read it.

One of the strongest impressions I came home with after my vacation to Canada was how sweetly parenthood changed my siblings. Hearing my brother talk about wanting a better life for his son was... a side of my brother I'd never seen before, in a really neat way.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Hey Remember Before You Got Jaded About Korea?

It's good to be reminded.

from Dave's
, HT to Brian


These folks have put together a flippin' awesome trio of videos that pretty much upstages everything the Korean Tourism Organization has done in the last year.

Watch them. They catch the variety and fun of life here.

(this one includes a bit of footage from Tokyo though)


Dang! It makes me want to travel!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Attention GI Korea: (plus other stuff)

I'm still going through the mad stash of photos I took while in Canada, and I missed Tim Hortons' Boston Creme donuts for the first time today. And I'm renewing my visa today. And while I wait in line I'll do some writing.

But here's something ... has anybody else had trouble accessing ROK Drop? Being shut out of one of my top three favorite K-blogs is a bummer. Hope it gets fixed soon...it's happened before.

Until then, I'll entertain myself with David Bowie's tight pants and Jim Henson's genius. Pretty good combo if you ask me.



and OK: here're three pictures I took before I left for Canada. Rain on glass in a coffee shop window.

And, how's this for creepy: at the Prada store in Shinsegye department store, Namdaemun... see those two mannequins to the left? They are, for the record, the first anorexic mannequins I've seen.

seriously, though: look at those protruding ribs and collar-bones. Scary, is all. Just gross.
Either those mannequins' torsos were made out of some old, discarded xylophones, or Prada's got some serious self-reflection to do on their contribution to the hyper-thin anorexic body ideal that's still going around these days. I'd be happy if stuff like this never happens again.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Prince and Back in Korea

So...

my buddy told me about a great website called Transfer Big Files, which will allow you to send files to your friends that are bigger than the usual gmail limitations. It's useful when you need to send somebody your "Park TaeHwan Gold Medal Swim Translation" video (still one of my proudest blog moments this year) or somesuch like that.

and...
the day before I flew back from Canada, I heard on the news that a Torontonian (someone from Toronto) caught a version of the H1N1 virus that was resistant to drugs, just before I got on a plane headed to Narita airport, the site where the other English teachers contracted the Swine Flu virus earlier this year. Fortunately, the entire flight wasn't herded immediately into quarantine facilities, and I got home OK. If I caught something, though, I probably gave it to girlfriendoseyo when she met me at the airport. Sure was happy to see her, though.

and...
It's funny, because Spin Magazine had a special feature on the 25th anniversary of Prince's "Purple Rain" movie/album that came out in 1984, the week after Michael Jackson died. It was a pretty good feature on the album that finally converted me from a hater of '80s music, to one willing to at least give it a listen. (Still hate synth keyboards, though. Sorry, Duran Duran and '80s Leonard Cohen and Frankie Goes to Hollywood). Along with the write-up, Spin Magazine had a tribute album put together of current indie-ish artists doing covers of all the songs on the original Purple Rain album, and I'm happy to tell you that each of the covers is interesting, and maybe even very good. In my opinion, that's the final test of a good songwriter: can another artist cover it, in their own style, and have it still be a good song? Each of the songs holds up.

You can download it here if you're a fan of Purple Rain (and if you get the same question as I did, the answer is Keyboardist).

Anyway, it's just funny that once again, Prince got totally overshadowed by Michael Jackson, and nobody really noticed that the 25th anniversary of one of the great albums of modern times got shuffled aside.

Do you want to hear more about what I think about Michael Jackson? You have to ask. (in the comments will do).

Got my schedule for the new semester. Have to extend my visa.

BTW: The best way to become OK with being back in Korea after almost a month in gorgeous Canada is: 1. to eat breakfast at the best samgyetang restaurant in Korea on the first morning, and 2. to follow that up by walking around a very, very populated area, and look around at the people. People watching in Korea is the best. I saw a girl with the exact same bung-eye as Lee Myung-bak has... she was really pretty, but one eye just didn't quite open as much as the other. That made me smile inside. Then I drank a tasty beverage.

Tasty beverages are good.

later.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Back in Korea!

Hey there all. You missed your chance to loot my apartment: I'm back in Korea, after a pretty epic trip. The plane from Toronto to Tokyo hit a snag: the incoming flight was late, so they turned over the cabin a little too quickly, and forgot to drain the sewage tanks. By about halfway through the flight, half the toilets in the cabin weren't flushing, and by the end of the flight, only two or three were, and poop-smell started filling the cabin.

Meanwhile, I managed to stock up on all the items I really needed, including three nice pairs of pants that fit my butt properly, as pants made for Canadian butts do.

Plus, in keeping with my zombie theme all through June, I found a great new title at Wendel's bookstore in Fort Langley: Pride and Prejudice...And Zombies!
It's hilarious, because the comedy of manners remains just as mannered as ever, but the art of being a refined and accomplished person of taste now suddenly encompasses the proper, ladylike manner of holding a killing sword, and the art of musketry carries as much weight as being well-versed in the modern languages.

I'll be cluttering up these pages with a few reflections of some of the interesting posts I've been unable, or uninclined to comment on during my vacation, and also a lot of pictures, so stay tuned. I'm back.

And, coming soon: my Bollywood kick!

Rob

Saturday, 18 July 2009

While I'm In Canada...

1. holy crap, tapwater tastes good.
2. my nieces and nephews are super cute
3. it's way different going around town with your siblings AND an infant, than going around town just with a sibling and their spouse. ("Can we do a drive-through instead of a sit-down meal? Silas is sleeping, and... you know")
4. Red Deer Alberta has the fastest, busiest drive-throughs I've ever seen in my life.
5. A month vacation in Canada is just enough time for Tim Horton's to lose its novelty.
[overshare warning:] 6. In Korea, I'm an XL waist when I buy underwear. In Canada, I'm an M. Yay, overweight North Americans making me feel normal again!
6. Though Korea's population is double Canada's, its make-up consumption is probably ten times.
7. Western Canada's mountains are just effing gorgeous. So lovely.
8. But the bugs on your windshield after doing the Crow's Nest Pass are hella tough to clean off.
9. Vancouver has a Hindi radio station... and it's awesome. Indian music is great for driving, and I love how Hindi is the same language, yet it sounds so totally different depending on whether it's a male or a female speaking it.
10. I love cooking spaghetti for my family.
11. I'm going way over my mileage limit on my rental car. Tough cookies.

That's it for now. Having a good vacation. Hope you're all well, too.

Ask me about Tilley Endurables...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Online Game as Competitive Sport

This post goes back a while, but I wanted to share it with you, before it's gone completely.

Back last August, I was bopping around Yongsan Station, and I decided to venture right up to the tippy top floor of the Yongsan Shopping center. I saw greeters at a table and attendants standing at the door of an auditorium. There didn't seem to be an admission fee, so I poked my head inside, and saw this.

It was an online gaming tournament.

Now, this is something that Korea doesn't often push when it starts getting into Korea promotions: the old Hanjeongshik stuff, Hanbok and Pansoori, that stuff gets a lot of press, and old ladies in ornamental robes singing folk-songs: that always finds a spot in the video, or on the brochure. Sure.

Then I came in here, and took a look around.

See, online gaming is not just a time-killer in Korea. It's an outright phenomenon.

tournaments attract big crowds, and the top players (like this guy) are legitimate stars.
The tournaments attract corporate sponsors, as do players, crowds turn out to watch the finals, and there are always a few channels on cable that are playing competitive Starcraft games.





those stands on the sides had huge posters of the different online games featured in the competition.
some other luminaries/star players:

I stuck around, and met a girl whose online handle was Peanut. She was Korean-American, from the East Coast, I believe, and totally excited about trying to popularize competitive Starcraft in America: she and some buds had this website called sc2gg where they took korean broadcasts of tournament games, and added English language commentary, and posted it on YouTube. Peanut was pretty nice, and we had an interesting chat about online gaming, and its potential for growth: seems she was bumping into a lot of naysayers in Korean promotion circles, but on the other hand, she was talking to some pretty high-up mucky-mucks about what could be done.

Here's peanut next to a display of game action figures.

The video cameras got some crowd shots... hey look! There were some foreigners there!

This is the golden Mouse hand of the superstar pictured above. He was the first guy to game in cool outfits and try to act like a star (plus he had the chops to win stuff) rather than just playing in sweatpants with greasy hair under a baseball cap: he really helped make online gaming into more than just a nerd-hobby.

We watched these guys compete in Guitar Hero:
but unfortunately I had to meet someone before the starcraft semifinal came on.

It was a neat experience, and one that people neglect in trying to get a handle on what Korea's young people do...but seriously, this online gaming stuff is a huge thing in Korea's modern culture, for whatever reason, and to really get a grasp of what Koreans do for fun, and how young people pass time, and how much gaming means to this subculture, I'd add "attend an online gaming tournament and/or a B-boy Competition" to the list of "things to see/do in Korea" before we all get tired of Hanbok.

Thank you for reading my essay.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Unmentioned Social Problem

Yeah, there are a lot of different issues Korea's working on these days.

Many of you expats may have noticed the Chosun Ilbo just hired a member of Anti-English spectrum as an intern...

but here's one issue that doesn't get much airtime, but if you start noticing it, it's an absofreakinglute outrage.



Nobody's really talking about this one. And Girlfriendoseyo's mom comes from a different city in Korea, and reports that overpackaging is not NEARLY as egregious there as it is here... but overpackaging here can be pretty extreme sometimes.

That's all for today.

Be happy, my readers.

Random Canada Trip Notes:

Judging from how carefully I read OTHER K-bloggers' accounts of their travels off-topic (that is, outside of Korea), I'll spare you the pages of journalling about the old friend I haven't met since high school and all that stuff, and I'll leave you with a few combinations that have struck me lately:

1. pecan pie + coffee (americano was the kind I used) = one of the best flavor combinations I've stumbled across so far. It helped that it was at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul, so it was real crackin' good pie, and real crackin' good americano...but why didn't anybody tell me that pecan pie and coffee is as awesome a combination as soy chai latte and coffee cake, black tea and clover honey, chocolate and mint, or coke and dalk galbi? WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY TELL ME? So anyway, now I'm telling you.

2. Night driving: nice
driving in rain: fun
driving on mountain roads in, say, the Rocky Mountains: awesome
driving in areas with road signs saying "watch for wildlife" = cool: maybe I'll see an elk!
driving in rain at night = NOT fun
driving from Banff to Red Deer Alberta at night in the rain when there's a risk of a deer crossing your car's path (deer will mess up your car... and I saw two on the roadside near Cochran) = NOT FUN AT ALL

3. toast + peanut butter + sliced bananas = a whole bucket of awesome. Seriously, I never got on board that whole PB&J thing -- peanut butter's good, jam's good, but I never quite dug the two together. However, peanut butter and sliced bananas is SO FLIPPIN' GOOD! (also try: toasted white bread, sliced tomatoes, lots of mayonnaise, and a bit of salt and pepper. You'll keep making more until you run out of either tomatoes or bread)

4. My brother and brother-in-law + fatherhood and my sister and sister-in-law + motherhood = sweet.

5. Girlfriendoseyo + my family = AWESOME! They really liked her. That's good. Girlfriendoseyo + bestfriendMelfromCanada = ALSO AWESOME. You have no idea how happy it makes me when people who are important to me get along. Girlfriendoseyo + My Surrogate Family S. in Agassiz = Girlfriendoseyo gets mauled with hugs! Also super special, and super important.

Yep. I don't talk about my deep, personally-personal stuff on the blog TOOO much anymore (with a few exceptions), but I WILL tell you that I was lucky enough to have Girlfriendoseyo join me in Canada for part of my vacation, and we had hella fun, and she loved it, and "gets" some things about me that can only come of meeting my family and seeing my country. It was great.

I was eating dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Banff yesterday when suddenly a lady at the next table just right passed out and fell off her chair. I saw her face as she went down and she was right out of it. That was strange. It's funny how a human being in rough shape suddenly pulls all the people around into his/her matrix of need, and nobody can look away. We are intensely social creatures who instinctively look out for each other. I do think we are, despite the evidence to the contrary that comes up here and there. It's good when we recognize this.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Catch the Corean Commie!

The Korean NIS (National Intelligence Service) has published an online game to help you spot North Korean spies.

It includes things like people covering their mouths with their hands when they talk (holy crap! every Korean woman with a cellphone is a North Korean spy!)

People who bring weapons to protests, people who leave PC rooms quickly after posting "impure" articles, and people who wear "I love Kim Il-sung" pins are among suspects for North Korean Spy-iness.

What about people who raise funds to buy weapons to assault the police?


Go play!

And don't forget, if you see a person wearing a Kim Il Sung t-shirt, talking with his hand over his mouth as he grabs his stick and furtively leaves the PC Room after posting messages to corrupt Korea's youth, and heads for a protest to hand out tracts and incite violence while photographing sensitive government compounds, the number to call is 111: Korea's spy hotline.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Going to Canada Tomorrow. Expect Light Posting

I still have lots to say... but I'll be saying it to my friends and family while I'm on vacation in Canada. Expect light posting on non-controversial topics, because I don't like moderating comment threads while I'm on freaking vacation. Unlike Christmas break, I've been just plain too durn busy putting out fires, slogging things out, negotiating crazy crap, and handling a few personal-life earthquakes, to set up a bunch of "future posts" that will come up in my absence. There's a restrospective on what's been a totally insane semester somewhere inside me, but right now, I'm quite nearly a wreck from weathering storms on numerous fronts... so you'll have to wait until I'm good and ready to talk about it.

Until then... an entire year of riding the subways, sitting beside weirdos or soju-and-squid-reeking drunks, and dealing with other people's bulgogi farts, is made up for by a suit like this.

ajosshi's a pimp!

Took this picture on a recent rainy day. Like.
enjoy the hot weather.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Thunder and Lightning

When I was a little kid, I lived in Southern Ontario, where summer evening thundershowers are a common occurrence. After bedtime, which was when they happened, the thunder used to wake me up, and I'd stand on the bed headboard, poke my head under the curtains, and look out at the skyline and empty land behind our house (before it all got developed into suburbs) and watch the lightning flash on the farmland on the other side of the lake.

To this day I love thunder and lightning storms, almost as much as they frighten one clan of my cousins, who inherited a pretty sharp fear of thunder from their mom.


we been having thunder and lightning storms in the early morning around Seoul this week, and I've been tempted to get out of bed and point my camera out the window, in hopes of getting something like this. Yeh. Supercool.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009