Sunday, September 30, 2007


The great thing about climbing mountains is:

exactly that.

mountains inside the city limits of Korea are crowded sometimes (especially in October), but mountain culture, as Matt will tell you, is one of the best sides of all Korea's culture. The same old lady who will hit a young lady with her purse as a way of saying "Hey. You stand up and give me your subway seat, because I'm older and louder than you." will, on the mountain, invite you to sit with her and share a glass of makkeoli (a mountaintop drink). It's lovely.

This picture's on Dobong Mountain.

Mountains are great. They're so beautiful -- if you're gonna do an hour of cardio exercise, may as well have a panoramic valley view at the end of it, I say.

this is mat perched on a rock on near Sapye mountain. We did a 2.5 hour hike on Sunday, a 3.5 hour hike on Tuesday, and a 4.5 hour hike on Wednesday, and at the end of the third one, I felt better than I had at the beginning of the first one (other than a single sore spot on my feet.) I got new hiking shoes (North Face: good brand) last week, and despite being new, they treated my feet so well that after over 9 hours of cumulative hiking, my feet are still happy.

Plus, hiking is good for my bum knee.

Hiking at night is dangerous if it's too dark, or if you're careless.

But this is the payoff.

Quite a payoff, I say.

Those are all apartment buildings. Matt and I calculated that each apartment building probably houses 1500-2500 people. Wrap your mind around how many people live in view of this camera shot.

This is an ad for one of those water-jet toilet seats. Also, it's just. . . odd.

That's all I have to say about that.

There's huge pressure on Korean pop stars and models to have plastic surgery.

Look at this before video.

I saw this picture in an ad poster and had to ask my girlfriend "Who's that?" I was shocked and appalled that this picture below is the same person as the one in the video above.

Sad, isn't it?

Some of my students say that they can't even tell the difference between one star and the next by the time they all reach their late twenties, because surgery has homogenized them all into the same, cookie-cutter mold.

This car made me smile. What happens when you cross a low-rider truck, a mini-car, and a lunchbox?

During Chuseok Vacation (the most important holiday of the Korean year -- like Christmas in the west), between 70 and 85% of Korea's urban population hits the road and drives out to their hometowns to clean and tidy their ancestral tombs and party down with their extended family. This picture was taken Friday afternoon at the beginning of the vacation.

Then, at the end of the long weekend (or the three day holiday), it's as crowded as this, but because the population is all coming BACK into Seoul, rather than fanning out in every direction, the traffic is like this, bumper to bumper, starting about 70km. outside of Seoul, and all the way in. My friend travelled to her hometown this Chuseok vacation, and spent 14 HOURS in the car on the way back home.

(Think about how much pollution goes into the air while all those cars idle.)

Something's gotta be done about this.

This was the drumline I mentioned in a previous post.

Climbing mountains was great, but then you have to come back into the city.

To this.

Every morning walking to work, my eyes are assaulted by business cards and flyers tossed around the previous night by various promoters for numerous restaurants.

It angers me every day.

But then, other times, Seoul can be just bloomin' beautiful.

(If you like music recommendations, take these ones to the bank.)
(Iron and Wine: The Stranger's Dog)
(Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala)

if you want something a little more avant guard, despite the fact it's already had lots of press in indie music circles,

(Broken Social Scene: You Forgot it in People)
(Broken Social Scene presents Kevin Drew: Spirit If)

These two are atmospheric, excellent, the musical equivalent (to me) of driving fast in the rockies, or climbing a rock face and turning around to see an entire valley.

One more thing:

A story and some thoughts.

Play this song. It's fun.

Jens Lekman

Now here's the thing. Gambling is the ultimate obssessive compulsive behaviour -- the ritual is exactly the same each time -- pull the lever, push the button; put down chips, ask for cards, see who wins, lay bets, spin the wheel, etc.. The repetition, along with slightly varying results and occasional big wins gives a suspense/resolution/gratification cycle that's downright addictive.

The other thing is, once your luck turns to the downside, there's that constant, just-beyond-the-fingertips hope that maybe the next hand, the next roll, the next spin, will be the one that turns your luck around. That's how people get in deep.

“Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant”
- P.T. Barnum

I went to a casino last Saturday night. It was a singularly unique experience.

I've never seen such weird energy in a room. Usually, with most leisure activities, and the places where they are done, either 1. it's really low key, all around: people are low energy, and low effort (sitting in a coffee shop or wine bar) or people are active and high energy (sports, etc.). At places like drinking holes or beaches, you can see some of each -- some lazing around or chilling, and others getting excited.

At the casino, everybody was extremely engaged -- their attention was rapt and really focussed -- yet glum and joyless. Usually, if a room is that high-energy, it's because there's some kind of great party going on, and there's a lot of shouting and laughter; at the casino, it was really high energy, yet a little desperate, almost hungry, like foragers in a scrapyard -- not happy, but intent. And people do this as a leisure activity! I think it's because they were all A. sucked into the obsessive-compulsiveness of the thing, and B. had money at stake -- as soon as money's at stake, everybody stops smiling.

It's an amazing racket they run at casinos -- they take your money, pat you on the head on the way out the door, do the Jedi mind trick, and say "You had a good time tonight" -- then they tease you with the good ol' "Maybe you'll get us next time" (but the house always wins).

If you don't have a good sense of when to quit, casinos are a REALLY bad place to be. With alcohol, you'll wreck your body, but it's pretty hard to spend more than $130 on a night of getting trashed, even if you're really ambitious, start early, and drink fancy drinks. Not to say $130 is chump change, but with gambling, there's literally, NO ceiling to how much you can lose in one night (other than your bank card's withdrawal limit + credit card limit).

Also: it reeked of cigarettes.

This was the first time I'd ever been to a casino. Never really felt the wish, and don't really want to return, but it was interesting to add that to my reservoir of life experiences. I'll add it to the list of behaviours that could easily addict me (along with playing EA Sports NHL Hockey videogames and visiting YouTube and social networking websites -- damn facebook!)

But this time, I went with Matt and James, his good friend (a top-shelf, quality guy). They played blackjack for a while, which didn't appeal to me whatsoever, but, after circling the room people-watching, James came to me and suggested we try roulette. Now roulette is a game of purest pure chance -- no skill whatsoever. I decided I was willing to put a small amount of money down for the sake of having the experience of placing a bet (I'm usually not in the habit of throwing my money away, unless I get something delicious in return). I put in 20 000 won (about twenty dollars) and Matt and James each put in ten. Then, I sat down at the table and bet very conservatively, betting a lot of odds or evens, red numbers or black numbers (each bets with about 50/50 odds and a double-your-money payoff -- not much by roulette standards, where guessing the number where the ball lands will give you a 30-1 return) but I wasn't there to blow everything on low-odds betting, so we played small and conservative, and suddenly, went on a tear!

Behind me, Matt and James were getting free drinks (of COURSE a casino gives you free drinks while you're sitting at a table and gambling) standing behind me and laughing and joking, cracking me up while I placed bets, and I rode my beginner's luck as far as it went, laughing all the while at James and Matt's silliness. We had a few really spectacular rolls where we got returns on almost every bet we placed, and Matt and James got into the action by laying chips on the table once we had a bit of a lead. Later, when our luck ran out, we figured out that it was turning JUST in time, before we started blowing the big stack of chips we'd accumulated. It was fun as anything, and, while we started with 40 000 won, we peaked at about 230 or 240 000, and then started losing regularly enough to decide it was time to walk away while we were ahead (the hardest thing to do in all of gambling). We cashed out at 190 000 won, nearly a quintuple increase!

So, I've decided I'll never go to a casino again, because there's just no flippin' way I'll ever manage to equal the fun, and the return I had, on my first night, so why bother, really, especially when you're risking hard-earned money.

After we walked away from that table, we went to another one, starting out with another forty, and lost it in about five minutes: we'd obviously rode my beginners' luck as far as it would go. Fair enough.

But it sure was fun as heck, for that one time.

We just had the five day Chuseok vacation: Chuseok is Korean thanksgiving, and it's awesome. Matt and I hiked three mountains during the break, and I got myself addicted to a MUCH better, healthier compulsion: the desire to be on the mountain whenever I have free time. I climbed another mountain today with Matt and his wife Heyjin, and we had a great time. The peak was in a cloud. Fun.

Also, my wonderful lady, Girlfriendoseyo (info about her will be sparse and hint-laden, just because it's fun to be a tease) got back from her conference in New York, and it was sure nice to see her again. She's great. Even when she's exhausted and jetlagging.

PS: just saw this. Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the Dutch soccer star, proves that American basketball players don't have a corner on trash-talking and getting in each other's faces. This made me laugh out loud.

question of the day

been a while since i did one of those.

what would be the most disgusting toothpaste flavour?

(let's narrow this down to items that people would at least conceivably allow in their mouth: that's right. Poo tooth paste is out. All the dung beetles reading my blog sigh and go back to their halitosis-cursed lives of dirty mandibles.)

I'm torn between Ketchup and Big Mac.

What do YOU think would be the grossest flavour?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back on my high horse again. Here's a cool online comic, and more about materialism

Remember a few posts ago where I said, in reference to the vicious materialist "gotta have a bigger flat screen TV than my next-door neighbour" cycle:

I just wonder how many never bothered to stop and ask "do I actually LIKE spending so much of my life-energy on the opinions of people who don't love me anyway"?

Here's an online comic that almost perfectly expresses what I was trying to say.

Also, go check out the movie Supersize Me. Seriously. Before you eat another whopper meal or big mac, go watch it.

It seems like I'm experiencing materialism culture shock right now. Here are a few things:

Chindogu is an interesting, slightly subversive kind of invention. It's a useless or cumbersome tool designed to solve a simple everyday problem -- one that solves a problem, but usually creates other problems along the way. I talked about these in class, and found out more about it online. It's a charming channel of creative thinking. The concept was developed by a journalist who got tired of materialist society -- why must we ask "is it useful?" "is it profitable" of every invention? He set out to develop useless inventions, to improve his creativity rather than just to line his pockets. (Ironically, he then made a bundle by writing a book about chindogu.)

Here's the other thing. I want to know what you think.

The thing I hate about materialism is that it's an entire way of thinking, an ideal, that's designed to foster self-hatred. Advertisers know that if I hate something in my life, I'll spend money to fix it, so they present me with TV ads and characters that show people who are richer, more beautiful, more WHATEVER than I am. That's the insidious thing about beauty magazines and TV commercials -- they introduce a measuring stick to my life that I can't possibly measure up to, and thus make me vulnerable to being sold the "solution" to my fabricated "problem".

Here in Korea, one area where this has really been getting at me is in beauty culture. It's so disgusting to me that advertisers have created a beauty ideal (Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz) that is genetically out of most Korean women's reach, and then (implicitly) made lots of perfectly nice, perfectly attractive women feel ashamed for having a single instead of a double eyelid, for having black instead of blue eyes, straight black instead of curly, red, or blonde hair, for having a smaller, less curvy frame than those voluptuous northern-european-blooded women can manage.

There's a harsh stigma against ugly and overweight women in Korea: "Lazy girl isn't willing to do the work needed to take care of herself!" This link is to a synopsis/review/trailer/clip of a recent Korean movie about a fat, ugly girl who gets $60 000 of plastic surgery to become a beauty, and then gets everything she wants -- it's a cute, charming, funny movie (the review's right about that) but the message -- "If you're a woman, you can only have a happy ending if you're beautiful" is the most disgusting subtext I've ever heard, and teen-aged girls are eating it up. Korea is known around Asia as a plastic surgery hotspot -- cheaper than Japan, better quality than China, and it's common for women to get their eyelids done as a high school graduation gift.

The other thing is: by setting up the western beauty as an ideal in Korea, the best Korean women can ever do is attain to a near-facsimile, a "best possible imitation" of the western ideal, because of the aforementioned DNA issues. Instead of saying "This is what we are, and THIS is beautiful," too many people idealize the impossible, and come off making poor imitations of what ISN'T, instead of celebrating what IS.

You can't tell me that this:

Is more beautiful than this:

Anyway, I wish people would celebrate who they are, instead of longing for what they're NOT -- in terms of beauty, talent, success and wealth, and all that stuff.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I know harping on this is a faux pas. Last one.

I like this.

I really want to read this: my friend's been talking about it for a while.

As to what I mentioned in my rant post. . . here's something I saw today.

About thirty steps from these folks (today) was a stage with a performance going on. You see, next week is the biggest holiday in Korea: Chusok, the harvest moon festival. It's a big family holiday, and so the festivities are starting up even now, on Friday. A fantastic drum group, vibrating with energy and charisma, performed an amazing show.

I love drumlines. I really do. I think if I were going to take up an instrument for fun, or for social purposes, it would have to be drums. watching these people just give it their all filled me up with joy.

have a good chusok, everybody.

Hee haw.

I'm trying not to post too many clips and links, but I had to put this one on. Made me laugh out loud.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Strange advice and comment-pimping.

Yes, I'm out pimping for comments today.

Two things.

1. I'm surprised at how few comments I had on my rant two posts ago. I'd hoped to hear more people weigh in on this topic.

Those who wrote me personal e-mails are exempt.

2. Strange advice.

Ever noticed an old aphorism or proverb that actually seems like terrible advice? The one that just gets me is "curiousity killed the cat" -- after all the developmental experts telling us that an inquisitive mind should be encouraged, that asking a lot of questions is a sure sign of an intelligent child, we get this smarmy, snappy stifling little saying that basically (if you look at it the right way) means "stop asking questions, kid, Daddy's getting annoyed".

Another one: "Live each day as if it was your last" -- how the heck can you actually do that? If I knew today were my last, I'd skip work, eat the nicest food I could, spend like a sailor, run down a calling card talking to all my loved ones far away, and try to finish my day with the people I love the most (or at least the ones nearby) at my side. If I lived two days as if they were my last in a row, I'd lose my job.

What common folk wisdom or aphorisms never made sense to YOU?

Also: if you have an opinion on my rant, I'd be interested to hear and have a dialogue.



I can't decide whether, as transport vehicles and motorbikes go, this is getting the best of both worlds, or the best of neither.

Funny to look at, though. I wonder where the shop is that does these kinds of alterations. It's obviously a custom job: does that qualify it as a kind of chopper?

"It's a chopper, baby." (Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Photo Essay Tribute to Diversity

Here in the downtown center of Seoul, I get to see some amazing things. One thing that blows my mind is the amazing diversity of activities that young Seoulites enjoy when they hang out together. Here are nineteen different places my friends here in the downtown enjoy, and frequently suggest, when I want to spend a few hours with them.

Really, it's an embarrassment of riches and variety.

All of these places are within about a twenty minute of walk of this first place (which just opened last week: apparently there weren't enough to meet the demand!) I opted not to go past City Hall Station (at least one more) or Gwanghwamun Station (at least two more) and there might be one or five of these which I missed, in building lobbies and such.

The flowers in front signal a new opening, and good luck.

I swear these are each unique, individual places.

The atmosphere is TOTALLY different in this one: they play the Starbucks mix CD volume 3 more often than the other ones!

The one above and the one below this caption are within a hundred steps of each other.

Below is the one nearest to my workplace. It's across the street from a Dunkin Donuts (which may be the subject of another photo essay in the near future.)

The one below is in the prettiest setting of them all.

These next two are two photos of the same place -- it got me to an even twenty photos, and it's the coolest one, because of the roof, which is just like the old style houses, temples, and palaces. I like thinking of it as the Temple to Coffee.

Insadong is a traditional market, so they wouldn't allow the English letters on this one. I once heard it's the only Starbucks in the world where the word Starbucks is written in a different lettering system. That makes it my favourite one -- this is a close as they get to adapting their shop for different cultures. I'm not sure what to think of that.

Nothing says ubiquity like Starbucks Korea!

Again: all those places are within a twenty minute walk of each other.

Starbucks had a shop in the Forbidden Palace in China for a while. . . it might still be there, but I know some Chinese officials were complaining about the corporatization of one of their national monuments. All I can say is, I bet the CEO of Starbucks leaves a message on the answering machines of the MacDonalds and Burger King and Dunkin Donuts CEO's once a week saying "I got one in the Forbidden Palace! Where did YOU get a franchise? Sucker!"

Having a chain franchise in the Forbidden Palace is kind of the chain store equivalent of hooking up with Jessica Alba (or Bridget Bardot, or Darryl Hannah, or Julia Roberts, in their primes, depending on your age) -- you get bragging rights for life, over anyone, ever, except Paul Henderson, (you Canadians know what I'm talking about there,) Tom Brady, and Joe DiMaggio (geez. World Series, MVP, AND married Marilyn Monroe! Throw some cold water on me!)

I learned today that in a lot of English-Korean dictionaries, and maybe even in the Korean language in general, there is no distinction between the word "individualist" and "selfish" (hence the stigma against marching to the beat of your own drum, I suppose.)

(The old debate: does language create culture, or does culture create language? continues. I find this debate as interesting as the old chicken or the egg riddle.)

It is with great dismay that I watch new dunkin donuts, baskin robbins, macdonalds, burger king, ralph lauren, revlon, outback steakhouse, and nike stores opening all around downtown seoul. Because of the collectivist tendency of Korean thinking (the nail that sticks up its head gets hammered down), this city and brand name advertising were a match made in heaven -- if the right star is spotted holding a Louis Vuitton Handbag

this. exact. one.

suddenly every woman in Korea (and Japan) NEEDS to have one. There was a point last summer when, of twelve Korean women working in my office, at least four were coming to work with the exact same handbag (real or fake, I don't know, but there you go.) I've seen about a thousand of those things. Probably more.

anyway, brand names are ridiculous here. just ridiculous. the pressure to fit in is unbelievable, and everybody feels it, and sometimes (maybe this is just my western bias) I just feel so so sad that people become so self-confined by their own worry that a stranger might judge them.

There's strength in unity, sure. When Koreans get behind a project or a cause, the energy and enthusiasm is balls-to-the-wall and amazing to see, but when people feel the need to buy a handbag or car they don't need, just to keep up with the joneses (or the Kims, I suppose), I just wonder how many never bothered to stop and ask "do I actually LIKE spending so much of my life-energy on the opinions of people who don't love me anyway?"


What the heck. I'll post it anyway.


I spent a long time on this one.

OK. I'm angry about something. I've been talking about it with my students in class, and I'd like to get it off my chest. I've done my best to get the sarcasm, bitterness, and overstatement out. Here we go!

You may not have heard about this: it was downplayed by the world media, probably so that the Taliban wouldn't get leverage from a worldwide outcry, or maybe Afghanistan is just yesterday's news (isn't that possibility disgusting in itself -- that a place where people are dying and a whole country is laced with minefields isn't newsworthy anymore?). However, here in Korea, it was a proper, candlelit-vigil-level crisis. Twenty-three Korean missionaries were kidnapped, and two murdered, in Afghanistan by Taliban terrorists. Seoul denies it, of course, but rumours keep popping up that a large sum of money changed hands for their recent release.

The kidnapped missionary group's story reads like a litany of bone-headed recklessness. They ignored international warnings against traveling to Afghanistan, to begin with, even flaunting their daring by having their pictures taken in front of the sign warning them not to enter Afghanistan. They rented a tour bus (big, easy target), and didn't check whether the highway they were traveling was safe to traverse on a tour bus. It wasn't. By blundering into such a dangerous situation, this group backed Korea into a corner where no face could be saved, where Korea looks bad in front of all its allies. Not that anybody deserves to be kidnapped and confined, but they sure weren't exercising much common sense.

Beyond the international faux-pas' committed by Seoul in response (negotiating with terrorists directly, rather than through the local government, possibly funding terrorist organizations, and painting a big bulls-eye on the back of every Korean missionary and aid worker in any unstable country), this has also led to a lot of hand wringing and self-examination about the way Korean missionaries act when they go abroad.

Here are some quotes from an article I read in a recent issue of the Korea Herald about the work of Korean Missionaries abroad.

"Doing God's Work for Taliban" by Shim JaeHoon, Korea Herald, Thursday September 6, 2007; page 13.

". . . The kidnapping . . . has revived criticism of missionaries' no-holds-barred proselytizing. The zeal of some churches, often offending local sensitivities, has made the Korean missionaries controversial at home and abroad. . . critics suggest that Korean missionaries pause and moderate their course.

"Korean missionaries are 'too loud and aggressive in their ways and self-centered. . .'

"In temperament, Korean missionary activities reflect the country's aggressive outward-looking economic push in recent decades. . . [as in their economic expansion,] an obsession with numbers and size weakened the moral foundation of what Korean church historians say is an otherwise splendid achievement. . .

"But such success is the root of present-day problems. Obsessed with over achievement, pursuing quantity over quality, the churches are often criticized for placing secular interests above spiritual commitment. . . Some critics suggest that vigorous missionary activities abroad actually serve to cover up the churches' manifold problems at home, including some corrupt and divisive institutions.

". . . The Afghan incident not only prompts a hard look at Korea's overseas missions, but also much-needed reflection on the state of South Korea's religious establishment."

Rob again. You see, other issues aside, at home and abroad, Korean Christians (and especially Korean protestants) are about the most aggressive, in-your-face proselytizers I've ever seen. When you walk around downtown Seoul, especially on weekends, you'll run into groups of Christians singing into megaphones, strumming guitars into car-battery powered amps, hollering Christian slogans at people and handing out fliers ("Hey Barri! Gatt lobjuh yu! Berriebang Jejus!" the old lady shouted at me. "Hey buddy! God loves you! Believe in Jesus!"). Students of mine have recounted a lot of instances, during discussions I've had about this in class, of Christians telling them they're guilty, wrong, or hellbound.

Now, I'm not going to get into a discussion about the relative merits of different world religions, but what I will say, emphatically, is this: that brand of street evangelism has always been my least favourite thing about Christian (and any kind of faith) culture. I personally think it's wrong-minded, and it puts the worst features of religious communities on display -- aggressiveness and arrogance, moral smugness and judgmental superiority, standoffishness and, frankly, heedless rudeness. When I say "I know Jesus, and I LOVE him a lot!" and they still insist, "That's not good enough. You have to come to MY church!" As if only the baptismal water at THEIR church works properly, it makes me think, "why would I want to go to a church full of people as pushy and presumptuous as you are? It sounds very unpleasant." Why would anybody? (When you take such tactics across cultural barriers that are sometimes not fully understood, doing as Koreans do, even though you're in Rome. . . you can see how the chance of people being offended increases: at least here in Seoul, people are USED to it.)

Telling people they are wrong, guilty, and going to hell only builds walls of stereotype, prejudice and hurt that make it really hard for people to listen to ANY kind of talk about such topics from even the most open, considerate, and reasonable person of faith. I believe that there are people honestly seeking God, and seeking something to believe in, who are rejecting the Church out of hand, not because of any problem with Christ at all, but because they've been hurt or offended or judged by people who treat Jesus as if he were a pair of socks to be peddled on the street.

One of my students (a Christian himself) mentioned how, when Christians chase you down like that in the street, it certainly isn't going to make their religion or church attractive to you. In fact, he suspects the main motivation is a kind of self-validation of one's own faith: "I must be really committed! I approached thirty people this hour, and one even swore at me!" If those people need faith-validation, I wish they'd go have a quiet time, or even better, feed the hungry, visit prisoners, and clothe the naked instead! The church ought to be forming tight, holy, integral communities that take leadership in helping people, and attracting people to them in THAT way, in my opinion.

I just feel like people who take these tacks, who tell Catholics they're going to hell because they worship Mary, who use scare tactics like "where would you go if you died tonight", or dismiss other religions out of hand: "It was the Devil talking to the Buddha!" completely miss the point that faith is not about being right, and then judging everyone from their moral/philosophical high-ground, but about being grateful that God loves them.

I suppose I admire the courage it takes to sing hymns into a megaphone on a city street: you can't deny these folks are passionate, but passion that is not tempered by sober-minded leadership and deep humility is dangerous, irresponsible, (not to mention, if numbers remains their goal, off-putting to those not "in the club"). By acting without grace and moderation, and putting arrogance and rudeness on display as they represent the church (and, by association, Christ) they are defeating their own purpose of advancing the kingdom of heaven (as THEY define it), and sowing distrust and dislike for Christ.

"Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." St. Francis of Assisi

"Our words show what we want to be. Our actions show what we are." -me, age 17


Feel free to comment. Anyone can comment, but your comments won't show up until I've checked them. Don't worry: they're filed away waiting for me to log on.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Ever heard of International No Car Day?

A few thoughts

today is international no car day, and in commemoration of that, Seoul is not allowing cars to run in the downtown Jongno area (finance district), or in Apkujeong (where rich people live). Most of my young students liked it: conservation and responsibility and (gasp!) sustainability will, I think, be the buzzwords of our generation. Some of my older students were annoyed. In the words of one longtime car-commuter: "The mayor of Seoul is inconveniencing many of his citizens."

I think it's force of habit, really -- it's totally illogical to drive to work if you work in a downtown center (especially one as accessible by subway as Jongno), between traffic and a free-for-all parking situation, it seems it'd be more trouble than it was worth, when the bus system here is efficient enough to get you into town, and all the time you spend walking to the bus stop, you get back in not having to find a parking space downtown. Some people, I think, LIKE to drive to work, so that everybody can admire their mercedes as they wait for the lights to turn green.

In fact, that's part of my "roboseyo save the world" scheme. Here's what I think, after watching human nature at work.

Human beings are simply too short-sighted to individually, all at once, decide to live in sustainable ways. We're just too accustomed to our lifestyles. Even if we DO try to make things better, often it almost works like bartering -- "I planted ten trees last arbor day, so that balances out my driving to the convenience store" or "I compost, so I'll take a long, hot shower," or "I only buy free range eggs and humanely slaughtered beef, so I'm gonna run the air conditioner all night long." (This kind of thinking culminates in the idea of carbon credits -- "I sponsor hectares of rainforest in Brazil, so it's OK for me to fly my private jet around." Why not sponsor the rainforest AND take commercial flights?) Planet Earth is not a merchant to be bargained with, she's more like a mother that needs nurturing, at this point.

So, I think humans are just too short-sighted to make the changes necessary. "But Rob, that's a dim view of humans!" I refer you to Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black, when asked why aliens are kept secret:

Jay: Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it.
Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.

Individuals can be very reasonable, but humans en masse find it much harder to change patterns than A person, until there's an incentive (like tax breaks and consumption penalties).

(not to knock on the people who DO try to make a difference: all the power to you! Continue being leaders and examples!)

I think, to effect the wholesale changes that will be necessary to avert ice-cap melting, petroleum reserve depletion, and other such disasters, sits on our leaders' shoulders to, um, take leadership here, and make changes that will actually make people WANT to be more environmentally conscious, and as we've learned, the only way to do that is to make it affect people's pocket books. Increase car taxes for people who work in urban areas. Increase large vehicle and SUV type vehicle taxes (for non-families and small families) through the flippin roof. Make gas taxes in the city so high that it's WORTH the extra 20 minutes to use a bus, and then IMPROVE the public transportation enough that people find it worth using. Maybe, abolish private car ownership and allow only company cars. Decentralize cities so that people can bike to work. Create parking lots for bike riders and carpool lanes, offer tax incentives to people who don't own a car. It's just not going to be important to people to stop taking long hot showers until their water shuts off after they've reached their daily quota, or they get dinged, hard, on their monthly bill for every day they go over.

But here's my fantasy. I want to see downtown car bans every day -- it was GREAT walking around downtown Seoul today, seeing nothing but buses on the street. They closed two lanes on either side of the thoroughfare and laid down grass turf, simulating park space. People were chillin' on the street. It was awesome! I'd be so happy if that happened in EVERY major city in the world -- imagine only buses being allowed to access Manhattan Island, and downtown LA, Chicago, Vancouver, London, etc. I mean, something's gotta be done, and I have a sinking feeling that it might happen too little too late, if world leaders keep worrying about economic growth over everything else.

that patch of grass is usually the lane where taxis pick up passengers. Doesn't that look so much nicer?

Another thing on my mind:

Whether you follow sports or not, you've just gotta hand it to Roger Federer. The man has won 4 Wimbledons, and 4 US Opens in a row, in an extremely strong field, with a level of dominance never before seen -- straight set victories over guys ranked top ten in the world, consistently! I won't put a bunch of stats here, but imagine winning the best actor award four years running, or the Booker Prize for Literature, or the Pulitzer Prize, four years in a row; of course, that wouldn't happen, because there are so many politics involved in awards like Bookers, Pulitzers and Oscars, but really, that makes Federer's accomplishment MORE impressive -- in sports, your history or reputation doesn't mean squat, other than a possible mental advantage over your opponent. You STILL have to hit the ball inbounds, return the service, etc. -- every time a new tournament starts, you're back at zero again, unlike in arts, where Martin Scorsese gets handed the Best Director and Best Picture Oscar for making "Just Give It To Me Already" (oops. I mean "The Departed"), and Tom Hanks can "nice guy" his way into two consecutive Oscars (though he really did deserve the first one). Plus, you don't have a team to support you, like Wayne Gretzky or Pele did. In tennis, it's just you. Tiger Woods is impressive, but he's collected his trophies over the course of eleven years, while Federer has basically gotten spitting distance from the all-time major tournament wins record in the space of four years. (But Woods is American, so he'll still get more props and press, even if Federer goes an entire year without losing a single set.)

Friday, September 07, 2007

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

"Who cares about Derek Zoolander anyway? The man has only one look, for Christ's sake! Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigra? They're the same face! Doesn't anybody notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

Now. . .
seen on the side of the bus:
Mun Geun Yeong, Korean TV and commercial star.

these pictures were side by side.

Now, for comparison. A North American model showing off HIS versatility:

except, one's a satire, and one's in earnest.

Pretty much, this is the only note dear Mun Geun Yeong plays. Last summer, she was LITERALLY on the side of every third bus and billboard, stumping different products. She earned the nickname "Korea's little sister" and she was the flavour of the month. She's a TV star, and while she still had her baby fat, was ridiculously cute (so much that she never bothered with things like versatility or talent). Pretty much, imagine seeing this every where you turn. (She had other commercials for other products, but the only thing that really changed were her clothes.

I hope she doesn't mind if I poke at her balloon. Maybe she can go cry on a pile of cash to feel better. Korea supersaturates their celebrities -- tv, movies, posters, commercials -- ubiquity seems to be the catchword of Korean celebrity agents. They don't seem to realize a little mystery adds staying power. A little of the old, "leave'em wanting more"

Anyway, thought for the day. Celebrity worship and star overexposure is annoying, in any culture.

P.S.: 100th post!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Tribute to the Magic Umbrella

I bought this Umbrella in Osaka, when it was hinting at rain.

I should have known then. You see, as soon as I bought this umbrella, it stopped hinting at rain and cleared up, leaving me, nonplussed, carrying an umbrella around when I didn't need it.

I liked this umbrella, because it had a cord instead of a little plastic loop at the end, which meant I could tie it around my bag strap instead of having to carry it in my hand any time I wanted to bring it with me.

It was only after about a month of bitter cold in March (the first of the odd weather this year) that I noticed something strange. First, I attributed it to Murphy's Law, but later I realized I had purchased a magic umbrella over in Osaka.

You see, this umbrella controlled the weather. Every (I mean every) time I brought the umbrella with me to work, it didn't rain; every time I left it at home, it DID rain. All through late March, April, and May, this continued, so consistently it could only have been magic. I began to boast of my magic umbrella, really, to anybody who would listen. It became a bit of a running joke.

Then, in late June, I decided to leave the umbrella in Korea while I went to Canada. I was lucky, in retrospect, that rain didn't follow me to every destination in Canada, but instead, a far sadder thing happened. Probably from disuse, the magic umbrella lost its power to control the weather.

You see, in August, I carried the umbrella every day. . . but it rained every day, too. This brilliant umbrella lost its power to control the weather, and then, as if to really hammer it home that it was no good anymore, on one of those ghastly rainy August days, it started dropping water on me, right through its cloth rain-shield. The poor thing had had it. So, I have retired the magic umbrella, and purchased a normal umbrella, whose only power is shielding me from the rain (except mist rain on windy days, which blows right up under the umbrella, pleasantly flecking my face with cool rain, and [if my Korean friends are correct] burning all my hair follicles and causing me to go bald.)

Here in Korea, many women have two umbrellas. One for rain, which keeps the acid rain from burning off their hair, and another light one for the sun, to keep the sun from tanning their skin into a darker shade (big no-no in Korean beauty standards). I'm not sure what happens when they bring the rain umbrella and it's sunny, or vice versa. Things must get very confusing.

Meanwhile, the weather in August was the worst of any month in my life. Yes, worse even than those three weeks of cold rain and grey skies in Fraser Valley Februaries. It rained almost every morning, which is tiresome in itself, but then, in the afternoon, it totally defied normal "rainy morning rules". Instead of brightening up into a nice, moderate day, where all the humidity has rained out in the morning, all the rain on the ground, and more moisture in the sky combined for a hammer/anvil double-whammy attack, and made the whole world as muggy and hot as a steam bath. Your skin melts off and you can't move, and the sun's bright, but then every once in a while it starts raining (sometimes really hard) so you better not be caught without an umbrella. . . yeah. it sucked. Most muggy Augusts have at least a few really brilliant beautiful days between the dog-days, but this entire month had no reprieve. Just disgusting.

THIS is why people are finally worrying about climate change. Because they NOTICE it.

Anyway, a moment of silence for the magic umbrella's untimely demise.

OK that's enough.

And let's hear it for September!

It's gotten interesting choosing subject matter for the blog, now that my Korean students, as well as my funky uncle, my dear friends, and, for all I know, total strangers, are reading it. Just when I think I can write anything I want, one of my students mentions a post or something.

What can you do, except write as if you might one day run for office? I don't know. I'll try not to do that, though.

Love you all, and hope to continue giving you an honest slice of my life.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

This post has a bad word in it.

If posting a comic that uses the "F" word will change your opinion of me. . . I'm sorry I disappointed you. But I'm not apologizing, because real life has the "F" word in it, too, sometimes. (And nudity -- parents are STRONGLY cautioned that some parts of real life may not be suitable for viewing by small children, families, or the discernment-impaired.)

XKCD is a comic my brother-in-law showed me. It varies from way over my head, to extremely nerdy, to awesome, and from "I know I got it but it really wasn't funny" to snarky, to drop-dead-hilarious. Here's a recent issue. I like it.

As the comic homepage itself says:

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).