Thursday, August 30, 2007

Another try.

New survey.

I was in a sandwich shop, and I heard some music in there that got me thinking, what's the PERFECT music to play in a sandwich shop? I mean, it's an interesting question for a variety of establishments, but there are a number of factors that play in, depending on the place.

1. familiarity. For some kinds of shops (most), familiar music is the best. Especially for drinking establishments, where people love to warm over the old rock classics. I can't remember the last time I went to a sit-down bar and DIDN'T hear Brown Eyed Girl. I'm told another kind of bar can't go a night without playing "Paradise City" by Guns'n'Roses (I usually avoid those kinds of places. In N. America, you're likely to run into a lot of cowboy hats and in Korea, you're likely to run into a lot of American G.I.'s there, which amounts to about the same: rednecks.) Bars like playing music people can sing along with. (Everybody say Hey Ya for Gnarls Barkley!)

Personally, I think sandwich shops and bars should play music that's familiar, like "Hey! I love this song" not familiar like, "Criminy! I swear Bob Marley's ghost is haunting me!" (My friend swears Bob Marley is the most overplayed artist in the world. I think it's a toss-up between Bob and the Beatles, with the winner depending on whether you count other artists covering the Beatles or not. Think about it. EVERY place that involves a beach and alcohol probably plays Bob once a night or more; a LARGE percentage of shops selling beach-ish goods [beach towels, tourist keychains, sandals, postcards] probably plays him once a day, and any establishment where patrons may purchase, use, or visit after using, ganga, will probably play Bob frequently, while any place far from a beach that has a beach/Carribean theme plays Marley on repeat. . . that's a flippin' lot!)

Tempo: tea rooms and wine bars ought to have slow tempoed music (they can even get away with classical), while coffee shops and sandwich shops want to have music that's upbeat but not too rousing. Bars want music that's more intense again -- hence the constant retreads of Doors, Stones and Green Day songs. (When will you ever hear THOSE three in a sentence together again, other than the sentence "Hey! I bet you can't use Doors, Stones and Green Day in a sentence that doesn't also include the words "conversely" "on the other hand" or "unlike" or "much much better than"!)

Volume: You want stuff that can fade into the background if you want it to be unobtrusive, but. . .

Quality: you also want it good enough that if somebody IS listening they aren't thinking "Cripes almighty! Boyz II Men? We either need to go, or somebody can just kill me now!" (Yes, I'm a hater now. Yes, this was my favourite song when I was twelve. I'll come clean.) I've been places where the music totally ruined the experience, and I've actually asked if we can go to a different place if the music is crappy enough -- music in a coffee shop is like cuisine during a trip: it'll make or break the experience. Nice beaches but bad food will dampen the entire vacation, turning it from an "it was great!" trip to an "It was great, but. . . " trip, and good coffee/food but atrocious music will make me never want to re-visit a coffee shop or restaurant. Like good/bad kimchi in a Korean restaurant. It's the final test of a place's awesomeousity. (I love inventating words.)

You certainly don't want to play something grating or unfamiliar unless you cater to a specific audience, or you're in a Portland coffee shop, so I've decided the perfect music for a sandwich shop or coffee shop is . . . Stevie Wonder. (For coffee shops, I will accept cool jazz as a good, but not original, choice.)

Who DOESN'T like Stevie Wonder? Nobody, that's who. He's not too loud, but if you DO listen, he's really good; he's happy and upbeat, but not cheesy (especially Songs in the Key of Life -- NOBODY else could have pulled off "Isn't She Lovely" -- a song about his newborn daughter, without rating eight out of ten or higher on the tripe scale). He's familiar, but not "Not this song again," familiar.

Marvin Gaye and Ella Fitzgerald are also good choices.

So the question of the day is,

What do you think is the best music for a coffee shop or diner?

Also: what type of establishment, as a rule, has the worst music (after country bars)? My vote goes to family restaurants like Swiss Chalet or ABC's.

P.S.: 1.

and 2.

(second one's funnier)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Survey of the Day

I can never remember which is which:




both are popular seasonal fruits in Korea, one you eat the seed and the other you eat the flesh, and I've spotted and figured out which is which a dozen times, only to forget (like when I was seven and I couldn't figure out left from right until I figured out the "Left hand forefinger and thumb makes a capital "L" shape" rule of (haha) thumb. I didn't really get it nailed down until I started learning to drive.)

I also used to always mix up the words prostate and prostrate. The highlight of that confusion was the time in my Fantasy Literature 300 level class in university, when I said "The priest fell, prostate on the floor" and I got a good snicker from everyone, and even a snarky little comment from Dr. K.

what two words/things do YOU mix up, however many times you've tried to remember? Ever embarrassed yourself?

Friday, August 24, 2007

My beef with Harry Potter, book Seven.

In case you doubted that I was a bad guy before:

<-- it's me. Time to rant about Harry Potter, book seven. (Maybe it's just sour grapes, and maybe I've officially become the contrarian ass who hates The Beatles, not because The Beatles are bad, but just for the sake of argument, and for attention. Or maybe this is my desperate plea, my cry for help to anybody who still reads my blog to post comments so I know I'm not just writing for the space aliens to read 3000 years from now, when they dig up our civilization. . . but here goes anyway.) My Beef With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Now I'm serious: if you haven't read the book, DON'T read this post. It's ALL about Harry Potter Seven (and touches on the previous books). Yes, it's in my inimitable writing style, so you can read it for the fun of reading my words (hyuk), but if you plan on reading the book, and haven't yet SKIP TO THE NEXT POST BY CLICKING HERE. Any place where it says "SPOILER WARNING", I'm about to talk about plot points in the book, so if you don't want to know what happens, SKIP THIS POST AND READ PREVIOUS ONE INSTEAD. Also avoid reading the comments. The comments include spoilers, too. Or go here instead.

So yes, I'm spoiling the book in both ways: giving away the ending, AND pointing out flaws that will be glaring once they've been pointed out (like sometimes a friend makes a comment about another friend, like "He interrupts constantly" or "she ends every sentence like a question" or "really. loud. chewer." and, after that person mentions it, you can NEVER be around that person without being annoyed by those things yourself.) So don't read this post if you want to preserve the magic of old Harry Potter.

1. Let's just get this out of the way. YES, it's a good book. It's as readable as bacon is edible, that is to say, compulsively, irresistably so. Rowling is a master of storytelling and scene-writing, she creates interesting situations and her characterizations are full of energy and life. Yes, the book touches on all the important points foreshadowed in the previous books, and each of the characters, in one way or another, gets his or her due (except Snape and Dumbledore).

2. I have some problems with the book. Snape is as woefully underwritten. All through the series, Snape has been the most interesting character. The "Is he good or is he bad?" conundrum lent dramatic energy to every book. In this book, everything is explained (too late in the book), at a point where Harry can't make any more choices about what to do or how to feel about him. He's a total non-factor, except as a source of important information. . . about the BACKSTORY! Changing him from the dramatic lynchpin of the series to a source of exposition was a shocking disappointment.

SPOILER WARNING IN THIS PARAGRAPH Mainly, though, WE BARELY SEE HIM! Matt rightly said Snape is the Gollum of the Harry Potter series. Imagine if Gollum disappeared halfway through The Two Towers and didn't reappear until Frodo and Sam passed him at the foot of mount Doom, where, nearly dead of thirst from waiting for them, he only has the energy left to point and say, "Keep right past the fist-shaped boulder. Loose gravel there. Good luck!" and die. That's the level of short shrift Rowling gave Snape in book seven. As we learned in 2 Fast 2 Furious, it's a bad move to take the most interesting character OUT of the story.

3. There were points where I really felt like Rowling was just going through the paces -- as if she'd written out a chart of characters and brainstormed each one's "just dessert," and basically plotted her seventh book around making sure we revisit every interesting member of the Potter world somewhere or another. The first half of the book especially felt, at times, like a farewell tour, playing all the greatest hits one more time. Good for a fanfiction, not for the climax of the most popular book series of all time.

4. The Dursleys were barely despicable at all. Throw me a bone here!

5. Give me more in the epilogue! At least make it INTERESTING. Matt pointed out, after the climax of Lord of the Rings, there's another hundred pages or so of the Scouring of the Shire, another hundred pages of time to revel in Sauron's defeat, and enjoy Frodo's newfound asskickery, before the book finally ends. How quickly did Rowling wrap up this book? ELEVEN pages after Voldemort dies, the book, epilogue and all, is finished. It's like she got sick of her own series, and wanted to wrap it up as quick as she could. (PS: Wouldn't Return of the King have been better if they had 20 minutes of the hobbits cleaning up the Shire instead of having 28 minutes of "And. . . . it's over. . . no, no it isn't. Gotcha!" These guys made fun of the ending of Lord of the Rings in a really funny way.

6. Voldemort is dumb. (SPOILER WARNING) -Voldemort uses magical means to try and kill Harry four times (book one, four, five, early in book seven) and also as a baby. Each time, he fails. Obviously, its time to change tactics. If he had any brains, he'd have just given each of his minions a knife and said "disarm him, and cut his throat on sight." Messy, but effective. Bellatrix threatens Hermione with a knife -- wizards obviously know how to USE knives (unlike postage stamps, which they don't quite get), so why not? -instead, he insists on facing Harry himself, in the same arena (magical duel) where he lost many times before. ego? pride? stupidity. Then, in the final climax, when he didn't kill Harry THIRTY MINUTES BEFORE with his killing curse, he STILL tries to defeat Harry in a duel AGAIN! My buddy quotes an old Alcoholics Anonymous proverb: "Doing the same thing, but expecting different results, is insanity." Moldy-wart is BIGGER than Harry, and meaner -- he could probably have killed Harry with his bare hands if he wanted to, if he'd disarmed him. At least he hadn't already tried that and FAILED (four times).

-if he really fears death, why does he make so many powerful enemies, and try to take over the wizarding world, sticking his neck out so far, rather than holing up in a forest and working his dark, life-extending enchantments? (That one's courtesy of Gregg Easterbrook from

-He should have read the evil overlord list.

-(MAJOR SPOILER WARNING) He's not scary anymore. By losing to Harry so often (see above), he loses the menace he had in the first three books, before they even arrive at the climax, and by STILL wanting to duel Harry magically after he came back to freaking life the last time, he proves himself obstinate and suicidally stupid. It's Darwinism, pure and simple: evil masterminds that stupid don't deserve to be in the evil overlord gene pool anymore, and must make room for smarter antagonists, like Darth Vader, the bugs in Starship troopers, Godzilla, and Moe, the bully in Calvin and Hobbes. In Lord of the Rings, Sauron is more frightening, BECAUSE we never see him. We see the terrifying creatures that serve him, and if Sauron is undisputed master of such monsters, he must be miles more terrifying than them! We don't need to see him to be frightened. Like God in Milton's Paradise Lost vs. God in Dante's Paradiso, the one shown and displayed loses his power and mystery and, ultimately, his impact. It's just more impressive that Dante's God was so great the entire epic poem had to end rather than us laying our eyes on His face, compared to Milton's God, who was so pedestrian he could be reduced to explaining theological excuses for why he allowed Adam and Eve to sin. I'd rather have Dante's God of mystery than Milton's Great Heavenly Explainer.

7. (This point is mostly Matt's, though I agreed once he pointed it out) Harry won by dumb luck, especially in the first two books, and in the later books, more because of who he was (The Boy Who Survived, selfless, brave, kind to house-elves, able to love, endowed with special powers because of the twin cores, because of the scar, etc.) than because of any real wizarding skill of his own. That was disappointing. I wanted to see Harry kick some butt, on his OWN steam, his own wizarding power -- I mean, he didn't learn ANY new spells after the patronus charm in book three (except apparating, which is more a dramatic device than a spell for fighting evil -- faster transitions when you can teleport magically) -- sorry, but if adult wizards can do the cool stuff THEY can, how could Harry have made it through year six of Hogwarts (much less defeat the greatest evil wizard in a century) with about five spells, and a lot of guts? When did Hermione learn all the cool spells SHE knew? Why weren't the books about HER, when she's obviously the most buttkicking wizard of the trio?

True to my evil nature,
I shall destroy your enjoyment
of the latest Harry Potter book!


8. Too much wandering in the woods. Dissipated any momentum that existed at the beginning. Made Harry seem like a schmoe. Plus, Harry spent too much time resenting either himself, Ron, Hermione, or Dumbledore in the last two books. Eyes on the prize, son! Unless the book is Catcher in the Rye, and the writer is JD Salinger, self-absorption and resentment aren't appealing! Harry (and Rowling) could get away with it for one book (book five, when it actually WAS him against the world) but after three books of self-pity, sullen resentment, and occasional rage and/or outbursts, I got tired of it. It would have been much nicer to see him get through this book on righteous rage or noble purposefulness, or even hell-bent-for-revenge passion, rather than surly, resentful, and passive-aggressive confusion about the clues Dumbledore left him. Plus, right to the bitter end, he NEVER trusts his friends. All the way to the end, he lies to Hermione and Ron about his ability to see into Moldy-wart's mind. What kind of a hero is this kid, anyway? I've heard the Potter books criticized before for the kids never trusting adults, but by book seven, he's even lying to his friends!

9. Dumbledore does things (especially concerning the Horocrux he found in the Gaunt's cabin) that just don't seem to fit with the rest of what we know about him. Sure, they were important to the action and other, later plot points, but they were still pretty dumb for a wizard smart enough to discover twelve different uses for dragon blood, AND powerful enough to defeat the wielder of the Elder Wand in open combat. And how on EARTH does he turn up inside Harry's head in the chapter King's Cross? That chapter -- an entire chapter of exposition in the middle of the climax of an incredible, LONG book series, was the most awkward chapter in the entire seven-ilogy.

My Conclusion:

10. I think it was because somebody was pressuring her to finish the book in time to coincide with the release of the fifth movie. The book (especially Snape, the episode in Godric's Hollow, the intermnable "wandering in the woods" part, the episode in the Malfoy Castle, the awkward "King's Cross" chapter, and Voldemort's mental meltdown --what's worse than a brain-fart? a brain-shart?), just felt like they could have benefited from more ripening. My guess is that her deadlines were too rigid, and her crafts(wo)manship suffered, which is an unfortunate end to the series. I waited two years; I'd have been glad to wait one more, even three more, if you could have made book seven one for the ages, Ms. Rowling -- I would have thanked you for taking your time.

11. Go back to point 1 and remember that I DID enjoy reading it the first time, and Rowling IS a really good storyteller, and writes action better than just about anyone I've read. However, I just felt like she could have done better. Return of the King is the best of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the jewel in the crown. This one was a bit more like the original Star Wars trilogy, peaking in the middle (books three-five; The Empire Strikes Back), and ending with a let-down. Yeah, the right people lived and the right people died, but it just didn't live up to the standard set by what came before. (Return of the Jedi -- come on. Teddy bears with bows and arrows?)

By the way, while I'm spoiling stuff everybody loves anyway, how did Fezzik learn that Count Rugen was the six-fingered man in The Princess Bride?

And there is no Santa Claus, either.

And Shakespeare was a plagiarist.

And I've been to Narnia, and it sucked. Bad food.

And babies smell bad.

(boy I'm a jerk)

Holy overkill, Batman!

I just realized that was WAY too much ancient Chinese wisdom for a single blog post, so if you haven't already been overwhelmed by it and skipped to the end ("Man and wife"), go ahead and try again: I edited out a bunch, to make it a little more manageable.


Ever notice how twenty years ago was the best time to buy real-estate, but six months from now (when the next model comes out, twice as fast for the same size and price!) is the best time to buy technology?


This picture made me snicker with its unabashed brazen-ness. I guess when it comes to beer advertisements, subtlety is overrated. (Hite is a local beer brand. Lots of t'n'a in their advertisements. Maybe if I look at the poster while I drink, I won't notice that the beer's not actually very good.)

After the Tao Te Ching, I suppose I also needed to post something asinine, just to balance out the blog content.

If you don't actually know English, but you think English letters look cool, you can just mash a keyboard for a while and hope patrons of your bar don't know any English, either.

Maybe it's a different language: anybody recognize any words?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The ancient wisdom of China

According to legend (or, according to the introduction), Lao Tsu lived in the sixth century BC. An old scholar, he was fleeing his country, and a border guard asked him about Tao and Te. That night, and he sat down and wrote the entire Tao Te Ching, after which he vanished completely. I like to imagine he put so much of his essence into the text that he just kind of evaporated into his text, or maybe into the universe at large, having already contributed an entire soul's worth to the world.

The Tao Te Ching really appeals to me, as a lover of poetry, because of the way it's written. Rather than being overtly prescriptive, or offering words so deeply rooted in a specific cultural context (which makes interpretation difficult when you exist in a different time and place than the original text), the multiplicity of meanings inherent in Chinese characters, goes well with the multiplicity of meaning in poetry, and also makes for a text that moves across cultural time/place boundaries more easily than things like the laws in Deuteronomy about stoning an adulteress, or protocol for what to do if your neighbour steals your lamb. Even in the bible, the parts of the bible that touch me the most powerfully are the poetry and wisdom books -- Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Job, as well as Christ's teachings, which are amazing.

Here are my favourite parts of the Tao Te Ching. It's food for thought, but it doesn't go and say "If you disagree with this, you're wrong," or "If you do this, or if you DON'T do THAT, you're out of the club." This makes it a bit more flexible than some of the other codes and credos, and it means that it can co-exist with wisdom from other source texts without contradicting them, and (this is important) without requiring you to choose one or the other.

Tao means "way" -- the basic idea of Tao is that mastery comes from the balance of opposing forces. The yin yang symbol represents that balance -- the world is in harmony when light and dark, life and death, creation and destruction, male and female, etc., are in harmony. The idea of finding that balance is the goal of Tao. I like that.

A lot of this is written in poem or paradox; again, this appeals to me, because its much more interesting to me to be presented with a paradox, where I have to hold both sides of the contradiction in my mind: I much prefer that to being given a statement: "This is truth. Either agree or disagree. (But you'd better agree.)" Because then if I disagree, it causes anxiety, rather than just challenging and stimulating my mind. The goal of the Tao is virtue and simplicity which, again, I like.

The Tao Te Ching is in 81 parts -- a nice, round multiple of three, the good old number of completion; here are some of the passages I liked best. The number after each entry is the book where it's found -- like the chapters in Psalms.

The translator is names Sam Hamill.

Beauty and ugliness have one origin.
Name beauty, and ugliness is.
Recognizing virtue recognizes evil.
. . .
Is and is not produce one another.

Bestow no honors,
and reduce contentiousness.

Cling to no treasures
and create no thieves.
. . .
The sage governs
by emptying minds and hearts
and filling bellies

Over-filled, the cupped hands drip.
Better to stop pouring.

With the greatest leader above them,
people barely know one exists.
. . .
Trust the cautious sage,
whose words are most carefully chosen.

Learn manifest simplicity.
Grasp the uncarved wood.
Cast aside self-interest and desire dissipates.

A good knot needs neither rope nor thread
and yet cannot be untied.

Music and fine foods
detain the passerby
But tao, explained,
has no flavour. It's bland.

The world's softest thing
tramples the world's hardest.

One hears of those who excel at grasping life.

Out walking, they don't flee from wild animals,
and in battle, don't need armor.
. . .
How, truly, can this be so?

Because they make no place for dying.

Heaven rescues and protects us
through compassion.

(I liked this next chapter enough to include the entire thing)

People are born soft and weak.
We die stiff and unyielding.

Everything--grass, trees--
begins life soft and tender,
and dies, decaying, rotting.

Therefore the hard, the unyielding
are death's companion.
The weak and pliant belong to life.

The unyielding army cannot prevail.
Unbending trees are felled.

The treat unyielding belong below,
the pliant and tender above.

Heaven's way is like stringing a bow;
drawing down the higher
raising the lower

Nothing under heaven
is as yielding as water.

And yet in attacking the hard,
the unyielding,
nothing can surpass it.

Sincere words are not beautiful
beautiful words are not sincere

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Something I love about Seoul.

In Canada, if you see a steakhouse restaurant on a street, and YOU want to open a steakhouse, you think "Oh. There's already a steakhouse here. I should open a steakhouse somewhere else, where there's a need."

In Korea, instead of thinking "Oh. I should find a neighbourhood with NO steakhouses, and open a steakhouse there", entrepreneurs think, "Oh. I guess this must be a good place to open a steakhouse. Maybe I should open one here, too."

It has been explained to me that the hope is that later, another steakhouse will open there, and another, and soon, that neighbourhood will become known as "steakhouse town" or "the steakhouse district", and people will come from far and wide to sample the amazing steaks on Steak Street, and that the competition will keep prices down, and keep each individual steakhouseiere honest and committed to quality, while the area's new reputation as Steaktown will draw enough extra traffic that you'll make up in volume what you lose in cutthroat price/service competition.

Because of this tendency for Korean shops to cluster, you get neigbourhoods all around Seoul known as "potted plant district", "bulk fabric district," and pretty much any other service or product you can think of, will have one area somewhere in Seoul known as a hot spot.

Another funny thing is the random, TOTALLY random combinations that will converge on a particular neighbourhood -- an area won't have ONLY steakhouses. It'll have steak, cellphones, cosmetics and antiques, all concentrated in a small area, so that within a ten minute walk, you'll pass eight antique shops, four cellphone sales or service centers, five cosmetics shops, and three steakhouses.

My neighbourhood is known for tuna sashimi restaurants and a spicy seafood stew, and there's one little alley with about a dozen barbequed pork restaurants. Also, hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, for good measure.

Here are some other odd combinations I saw walking around today, shopping for a new chair. It's like that old sesame street segment, "One of these things is not like the others", except it's "all of these things are not like the others"

chairs, shelves, home safes, and printshops

(around the corner: textiles, lighters/engraved items, linens, and dried fish)

one block over: sewing machines, (from industrial to home-use sized) wood latticeworks and detailing, electric circuitry

(around THAT corner: more electronics components, power-tools, and porcelain bathroom fixtures, and flooring supplies, light fixtures)

across the street (approaching my house)
trophies, fresh seafood (restaurants), Buddhist icons and paraphernalia (statues, robes, shoes), traditional musical instruments, and sign-makers

(around the corner from that: a neighbourhood with about a hundred fifty shops selling jewelry, jewelry packaging (ring boxes, etc.), gems, and literally NOTHING else. I have NO idea how these places can stay afloat, except that there are just THAT many people living in Seoul, and they ALL go there to buy jewelry.)

(there's even a block near my house that carries specialized doctor's office and laboratory equipment, along with pirated DVDs, watch repair (with electric alarm clocks too), and street food)

The nice thing is that within a forty-minute walk of my house I can find literally ANYTHING I want to buy, for prices that only cutthroat competition could create, but the drawback is that I have to know which direction to walk, or I'll never find it. It's like a Walmart exploded, and then grew copies of each of its parts, kind of like the brooms in the Sorcerer's Apprentice section of Disney's Fantasia.

A former coworker swears she once stumbled upon an alley of nothing but prosthetic limb shops. Just imagine. There are enough amputees in Seoul to support an entire block of prosthetics shops, and (the kicker is), instead of planting prosthetics shops in spaced-out locations, so that there's one conveniently close, no matter where you live in or around Seoul, they've all bunched together onto this one little street, to steal each other's customers.

Makes me shake my head.

I love this city! I guess I understand the logic, but it still surprises me sometimes. How many printing presses does one neighbourhood need?


Sunday, August 19, 2007

If you live in Canada. . .

If you live in Canada, Follow this link. Get upset. Write a letter, or five, or ten. A country that claims to be one of the top five in the world needs to look very carefully at a situation like this. It's a heartbreaking post from my friend Mel, who's a paramedic, and saw it.

Some pictures.

On festival days, go to a folk village or a temple, and you can see demonstrations of traditional Korean games, including this one -- like in the cartoons when you jump on a plank and fulcrum and you shoot somebody up in the air, except in Korea it's an acrobatic form. Dancers/acrobats do turns and twists and stuff in the air, and send each other way up high. I was once told by a friend that noble women, who were usually confined in their palace walls, would play this game to see over the palace walls, to the world outside.

At temples, especially during festivals, you get these big stacks of candles set out for people making a wish or prayer.

Here's a picture of a shiny street. I call the neighbourhood where I work "megawatt alley".

I saw this ad poster. It made me smile. Western film history (Wizard of Oz) and ancient Chinese history together. The wizard of Beijing. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. . . "

I've always wished I were bright enough to use the line "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" when I'm talking bulls__t and somebody calls me on it.

This restaurant name makes me laugh, because it's making fun of Konglish.

I got blisters on my feet by walking too much in a new pair of shoes, but now they're finally better. I like walking around -- I walked right over one of the downtown mountains, and that made me happy. Now I'm gonna go outside and find a street I've never walked down before.


Friday, August 17, 2007

more bubbles on the street

this august has been unseasonally wet. Most augusts are really really hot and humid in Korea, after a couple rainy weeks in July, but rainy season is all out of wack this year.

but if life gives you lemon, make lemonade, and if August gives you rain, take more pictures of bubbles on your street.

living where I do, there are a few hobos I see running around regularly. I've started to get to know some of them.

There's the one who keeps knives taped on his walking stick. Don't mess with that one. There's the one who's dressed in black and has a gangster moustache. He looks kind of young, he's always at least half-cut, but he also has a tendency to take a few steps that look as if he's about to go into a pretty darn powerful taekwondo jump-spin-kick. I wouldn't want to tangle with this one. I think he's a gangester, he looks like a tough old bastard.

My favourite is the one who looks just a bit rotund still, and every time I see him he's carrying a newspaper. I like to imagine he's a poet, composing poems in his head. He has these bookish looking glasses, and he always has a coy half-smile that makes it seem like he's perfectly content to be a hobo, as long as he has a cardboard box to sleep in and a newspaper he can sleep under after he reads it.

The nice thing about hobos is, even the gangster-looking one isn't intimidating or menacing in the least. In most western cities, if there's a public park known as a hobo hangout, people go out of their way to avoid walking through it, for fear of being mugged for drug money or something. In Korea, even in downtown Seoul, if you leave the hoboes alone, they'll leave you alone. I love this country.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Here's something that makes me happy.

Two of my most wonderful friends have come into contact and become friends through the links on the side of my blog page. I LOVE when my friends meet/connect with each other. Spread the network!

I have a five day weekend, and I just got back from a short trip out of town. Mercy me, the landscape was almost like being back in Canada. In Korea, mountains are described as deep instead of tall, because of the layers of mountains behind each other, each going closer to the horizon.

After that, I watched "Howl's Moving Castle" with my girlfriend at my house. Entrancing! Gorgeous! Rapturous. Miyazaki's the same guy who did My Neighbour Totoro, which I've discussed before in my blog, and he just might be my favourite single artist working in movies (thought Charlie Kaufmann, the writer of "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is also in contention, as well as the cinematographer that did "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", and "Hero". Miyazaki's stories are charming and touching; the animation is technically dazzling, but always serves the story. He respects his audience, and stays true to his characters at the same time as creating dramatic conflicts of motivation. Often/usually, his moments of violence or clash are hinted at rather than portraying violence onscreen -- you will see the trap set and sprung, see the chase, or the aftermath, but the violent action is left unshown. His worlds are full of magic, but the magical creatures work by a logic as cohesive (even more cohesive and sensible) than the Harry Potter world.

(PS: here's my beef with Harry Potter. Why can a wizard just do fifty spells in a row -- wouldn't that be exhausting? I mean, every other difficult task a human can do: lifting a heavy weight, convincing a stubborn person to do something, defeating a person in hand-to-hand combat, shooting an orange ball through a small hoop while five people protect it -- are physically or mentally exhausting, and most take practice to become good at it. Why doesn't Hermione need to take a break and recharge? All she needs is to know the right words and the correct wand movement, and she can perform ANY spell, as often as she likes, as quickly as she can repeat the incantation and perform the correct wand movement -- if magic were real, wouldn't there be certain spells that would take a lot of training to learn, or that would demand so much willpower you'd be exhausted once you'd finished it? I'm sorry I just think that if there WERE wizards and witches, and there WERE a killing curse, it would be such a powerful bit of magic that even a dangerous, powerful wizard would be exhausted for two days after performing it. Maybe the difference between a powerful and a weak wizard would simply be how much magic they can perform without exhausting their energy stores. Maybe I'm really asking, "where does the magic COME from?" with this musing. . . oh well. Rabbit trails.)

I'm happy these days. I got a note from my funniest student saying "I really appreciate your teaching", and that's always warming (especially because adults don't do that as often as kids do). So I'm happy now.


So in the last two months, here's the input I've had for my blog:

1. "less writing. all that text is daunting"
2. "you post way too infrequently"
3. "you post just frequently enough to help me feel updated without burdening my busy life with information overload"
4. "less videoclips and more writing in your updates, please."

By which I've decided I'm just going to manage my blog how I like it. Because any old whatchamacallit from who knows where can read this thing, I DO have to be aware of what goes on here, but I will continue to post things that make me happy, whether they fit YOUR preferred medium or not. And if you don't like the internet clips, well just remember that I'm the guy who chose those particular clips as the ones I wanted to share with you, so think of them as an alternative way to get your finger on the pulse of old roboseyo -- kind of like the way people sometimes say "Can I look through your music collection" just to get a different kind of handle on a person than you can get from reading e-mail or having a conversation or listening to them tell stories. I can't exactly show you another angle of myself by bringing you to my favourite restaurant or posting the smell of my cologne, so clips will have to do. Also: be aware I only post the stuff I really love -- I don't go looking for stuff to put on my blog; only the cream gets on here -- the kind of stuff I'd be excited enough in person to say "OK, I'm gonna pause the conversation for three minutes to play you this song."

Think of it as me communicating with you in multimedia. and it's good stuff, I'm posting. really.

In that vein, without apology, here's the cleverest commercial I've seen in ages: cute, touched with a little pathos, and about an important subject. It won awards in Germany.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I love tom waits. And Pixar.

That song was called "I'm Still Here" and it's a good third of the reasons I love tom waits. This next one is called "Hold On" and along with Martha, I Hope that I Don't Fall In Love With You, The Heart of Saturday Night, and Time (none of which had satisfactory versions on Youtube), is my favourite Tom Waits ballad.

Wait. found "Time"

He also does wacky strange amazing interesting stuff like this. Without ever using a synth in any of his music ever. "Hoist that Rag"

(this one, if you listen to the words, is absolutely hilarious. Cemetery Polka)

though rough, his voice is surprisingly musical -- it fits his arrangements and atmospheres perfectly every time. plus, the lyrics are, to a song, beautiful and interesting and the most poetic songwriting I've read except Leonard Cohen.

You don't have to, but I like him.

(also listen to him tell a story. he's an awesome engaging performer, to boot. Song: Cold Cold Ground)

However, what you DO have to see, and will almost certainly like, is Ratatouille.

The people over at Pixar have made yet another wonder of a movie. This one's about a rat that wants to be a chef in Paris. He meets a sad-sack kid who needs a boost, and they collaborate to try and get Chef Gusteau's old restaurant back on its feet.

It contains two of my three favourite Pixar moments of all time. 1. when the food critic takes a bite of the ratatouille, the way they show the impact food can have on a person is perfect, perfect, perfect. Worth the entire hour and a half leading up to that point. 2. when they use sound and colour and shape to describe the way tastes mix together, two or three times in the film. It's pure genius, and a bang-on representation of how tastes are unique, and create something new when they mix.

(The other favourite Pixar moment, and one of my favourite moments in all of film, is the last five seconds of Monsters Inc. So understated, but again, perfect.) I'm not putting up clips. You have to see the movies. The clips wouldn't mean as much without the movies around them, anyway.

(one more of tom: can't resist: "I don't want to grow up")

Some pictures for you. To make you happy and stuff.

A common sight in Korea, the ginseng capital of the world, is pictures (or jarred specimens) of the ginseng root that resembles a human as closely (or shall we say anatomically) as possible. Sometimes they even have man and woman. Ginseng was originally thought to be healthy because it sometimes took humanoid forms -- so obviously it must be good for humans! Later, we discovered that it actually IS healthy! This was on the side of a subway car.

I've decided I like tea more than coffee. . . though it really ought to have honey in it instead of sugar. If I'm gonna be a tea-drinker, I may as well be a tea snob of some kind or another.

At you can find out what you'd look like if you were a character on the simpsons. Does it look like me ? What say you?

Sometimes chipmunks are cute.

But usually I think they're scary.

Oh yeah. One more thing.


Some silliness and some juggling.

There's such a fine line between crazy and awesome.

The second one's even better than the first one. This is the kind of stuff you might see on a gameshow -- celebrities watch a video clip, or have to partake in some ridiculous game, and then their reactions are filmed and repeated, with much audience response.

This one gets funnier the more times you watch it.

There's nothing crazy about this one. Just a lot of awesome. Pay attention: he doesn't repeat a trick!

His name's tim kelly. He's the world champion three-ball juggler.

Look at how big his hands are.

This guy even more so: huge gorilla arms.

This clip becomes better when you know the backstory: there's this guy named Chris Bliss who goes around juggling three balls in cool patterns to this exact same music, so this guy basically is doing the juggling equivalent of a rapper's diss track -- trumps Bliss in every way, with five balls. His name is Jason Garfield, and I don't know if he's world champion in anything other than awesomeness. Hold on (yay internet) he IS the three-time world ball-juggling champion. He's also (if you watch some of his podcast videos) a bit of a jerk. . . but if you're the world champion at something, I guess you've kind of earned the right to be an arrogant jerk, so I won't criticize him, but I don't have to like him. If you could have found a guy who could beat him, Muhammed Ali would have stopped saying "I am the greatest," too.

I finished the first draft of a play this week. I'm sure happy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

this is really funny too.

This is really funny. I don't know how to embed it, because it's from another page than youtube, but it made me laugh a lot.

Monday, August 06, 2007

OK im sick

that's why I'm posting so much today.

this is my favourite Korean tv commercial ever.

I have cracked up entire dance floors by doing this dance when this song comes on. For some reason, seeing a white dude make a Korean pop culture reference counts as a show-stopper her. I think it's my curly hair.

This is too much.

Here's a silly video that circulated all around the internet a few years ago -- about in 2004 or 2005. It makes me laugh.

numa numa song

On a COMPLETELEY unconnected note, here's a cute popsong that I heard constantly (when there's a hit song in Korea, it's TOTALLY ubiquitous -- it's almost dizzying how much you hear a song when it's number one in Korea, walking past storefronts, etc.) in 2006. Even my little seven year old students would sing along to it. The artist's name is Hyun Yeong. Yes, she is at least somewhat serious.

nuna wei ggum - the sister's dream

Here's another pair of videos that caught my attention for TOTALLY UNCONNECTED reasons. Especially the Choruses. If you wish, you can ignore the imagery and just listen to the music, or you can watch the videos and muse on the objectification of women and the vileness of beauty culture, both in the West AND in the East.

I know what you're thinking with all these videos by now: CEASE AND DESIST ALREADY, ROB!

"Do Something" by Britney Spears

(yes, I just put Britney Spears on my blog. But I'm making a point here, OK?

Now, "Gonna Getcha" by Korea's own number one Pop Tart, Lee Hyori. In this one especially, pay attention to the loving fixation on stuff, especially in the transitions between dance sequences -- car, phone, clothes, those amazing boots -- so many materials to obsess over, it's almost like stuff pornography.

Not to be nothing but disparaging (how do you like THAT triple negative!), here's my favourite Korean songwriter/singer. His name's Kim Kwang Seok, and like Jeff Buckley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and almost every other artist I love except Tom Waits and Radiohead and Prince (and a few others), he died young. He committed suicide (purportedly) because he was depressed from hiding his closeted homosexuality in Korea's very conservative society. Before his tragic death, this guy was about as beloved as a pop star can be in a country--every Korean my age and up can tell you their favourite Kim Kwang Seok song, and how they felt when they heard the news that he died.

This dude has a gift for melody, an incredibly expressive voice, and a real grace that I love. It's a shame he died and let the plagiarists take over.

This one's called "Letter of a Private" it was made for the soundtrack of the movie "JSA" which is remembered as a high watermark in Korean filmmaking; it's a story about low level soldiers on either side of the demilitarized zone (the Joint Security Area, or JSA is where North and South stand closest to each other), who become unlikely friends. If you ask nicely, I'll do a post about my favourite Korean movies, and one I loathe.

I really like the next one's melody -- my man Kim is a real wizard with a melodic line. I think it and his expressiveness are his best strengths. The song's title translates as "Please Wait"

This is my favourite Kim Kwang Seok song, the one that I think shows everything I love about him. It's also the only Korean song I can even come close to singing in the noraebang (karaoke room). The title is something like "I used to love you". If you're only going to listen to one of these, choose this one.

He even warrants a tribute: here's a tribute to him, recorded by some other big Korean stars. It's another of his best songs, rendered. . . adequately and lovingly, by some other people.

And one more upbeat one.

Let me tell you about my wonderful friend.

Here's Mel and me and her husband (fiancee at the time) Brent, all at my university graduation.

I made a joke on my blog comments page that wasn't nice to Mel, so with apologies to Tamie's penance post, here's my own penance post.

Mel, also known (to me) as Mellifluous, and Melly-Cat (Melly-cat, oh Melly-cat, what are they feeding you?) is my best friend in Canada. All my students in Korea hear about her so often that "My best friend in Canada Mel" has (along with "My best friend in Korea Matt") become my own personal sigh-inducing equivalent to American Pie's "This one time, at band camp. . . " line.

Mel is great! You can go to her interesting, thoughtful, more-frequently-updated-than-mine blog (link at the side of the page), and learn more about her if you like. Our friendship goes back to a Milton class where we seem to basically have sniffed each other out as fellow artists. (Mel corrected me when she read this, informing me that she sniffed me out as an artist; I just wanted attention. I'll pass that on to you, and let you judge for yourselves whether, from what you know of me, that might be true.) Since then, we've have some of the most amazing talks I've had in my life, some of the most ridiculous laughs, and borne with each other through various "I thought I'd hit bottom, but THAT'S when everything REALLY hit the fan" kinds of crises.

She's one of the best conversationalists I know, very articulate, even for a brunette, and in the top ten list of "nicest/coolest/kindest/most reassuring things anybody's ever said to me," she owns at least a third of the spots. For example. . .

(just kidding. Those are between me and her. I'm such a tease.)

She has a wonderful husband and two great kids I got to hang out with this July when I was back in Canada, and she's an awesome life-saving siren-wailing first-class cool-under-fire paramedic.

Plus, she's kickin' smart, but even though she's kickin' smart, she hates intellectual arrogance (thus keeping me in check).

She's also the one who teased me out of talking about music incessantly (you may all want to immediately hop over to her site to thank her personally).

My friend Mel. She's top-shelf.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007


So this place next door to my school has a bubble machine they run from the balcony all day long.

It's fun to watch people walking by, suddenly startled by bubbles drifting into their paths, and then avoiding, or chasing, or popping, or swatting at them. (See the bubbles?)

When they touch the pavement, the bubbles usually pop, of course, as bubbles do.

But when it rains, and the pavement is wet, the bubbles stick in half-spheres, like bits of glow growing out of the pavement, on one of the busiest streets in Korea, and people walk by without even noticing them, and it makes me happy that such fascinating little things are all around me.

Most people don't even notice them, and, perversely, that makes me happy too, because if most people don't notice them, but they give me so much great joy when I spot them, it makes me think. How much of the wonderfullness (wonderfulousity?) in the world goes unnoticed -- is the difference between hating and enjoying, and immensely loving your life, just a matter of paying more attention to little wonders, and noting the little wonders for what they are? And if 99.9 % of the people don't notice these little bubble-globes, how many brilliant little scintillae am I also missing, because I haven't learned yet how to pay enough attention to them?

To paying more attention!
Have a vivid day.

Tamie wants me to post more often.

So this is for her.

Check out this excellent, thoughtful post I just read in one of my friends' blogs.