Sunday, November 29, 2015

debate aftermath

Arrived at the Golden Goose office, yesterday, around 1PM. Worked on proofreading until about 3:30PM, then headed out to Korea University. The three of us—my boss, my coworker, and I—piled into my boss's new car and drove across town to Korea University, making it there with time to spare despite bad Saturday traffic. (Want good traffic in Seoul? Drive around at 3AM.) The boss's GPS got us most of the way to the campus, after which we relied on directions from the guys manning the swinging-gate booths at each campus entrance. The building we were after—the Changeui-gwan—was way the hell over in a part of the campus with which I was unfamiliar. It had been years since my last visit to KU (nicknamed "Godae" in Korean: a polysynthesis of "Goryeo Daehakgyo"), and while it was good to be back, I had no idea what was what in this section of the school.

We found the building well enough; the guard had just let us through, telling us we could simply park without needing a time-stamp ticket since we were there for a special event on a Saturday. We parked, walked into the building... and discovered the first major change to our program: the debate we were to be judging had been moved to Room 127 from Room 116. Not a big deal; 116 had been empty when we found it, so we'd already suspected that something was up. When we got to 127, we had to tiptoe in because a Korean-language debate was in progress. We quickly took our places.

Once we had settled in, we discovered the second deviation from the anticipated program: we would be judging, along with a debate, four "individual" presentations. These weren't all actually individual, though: in one case, a two-person team would be presenting. This wasn't a big deal, either, because both the debate and the presentations would be occurring within the allotted time, i.e., from 4:30PM to 7:30PM.

The debate happened first. Two teams of four college students, not all of whom might have been from Godae, locked horns over the issue of "legitimizing" (by which I think was meant legalizing) gay marriage. Unfortunately, right before the debate began, the debate moderator rather improperly asked us judges what our opinions on the topic were: were we pro- or anti-legalization? This was in very poor taste, and I'm sure the statements we made of our positions didn't benefit the mental state of either team. As it turned out, all three of us were pro-legalization of gay marriage, which automatically put the "anti" team on the defensive.

The debate's format was thoroughly explained by the moderator, and she kept a strict rein on the time limits for each speaker. The format wasn't that of a typical US-high-school-style policy/CX debate, but it was fairly rationally laid out. We judges were given scoring sheets, and we all jotted notes as we listened to each side make its points. One student on the anti- side complained loudly about the judges' stated pro-legalization preferences (see why I didn't want to be asked that question?), and I knocked his individual score down a bit because he had wasted valuable debate time bitching and moaning.

My own sympathies were, obviously, with the pro-legalization side, but I did my best to be fair, and in the end, when I looked at the scores I had given, both for individuals and for the groups as a whole, I realized I had given the win to the anti- side. Out of 360 possible points for each team, the difference ended up being a mere 4 points, i.e., about one percent. It turned out that my boss and I had both given the win to the anti- side, while my coworker, an inveterate liberal, had scored the pro- team higher overall.*

We next scored four presentations. The first one was about the cultural impact of exposed female breasts; my boss made some jokingly off-color comments to the assembly that my coworker loudly declared inappropriate; I tried to keep as quiet as possible but got roped into making some comments, anyway.

And then, just like that, the event was over. We had been given two scoring sheets for team debates, but there was only one such debate, which came as a relief to me. Prizes were awarded, bizarrely, to individuals only—not to the winning debate team. In fact, I belatedly realized that the winning team was never announced. While the prizes were doled out by my boss—who seemed to bask in the temporary limelight of this brief event—photos were taken. In the end, I had no idea who won what as I'd never had a chance to get to know the students. It had been an interesting but confusing day, and I got through mainly by just going with the flow, realizing that nothing was going to move smoothly and directly from A to B because, hey—this is Korea, the Land of the Morning Nonlinearity.

My boss drove me to the nearest Line 6 subway stop; we ended up having to pay a parking fee despite what we had been told before re: no fees for a special event on Saturday. Typical. Presumably, my coworker got dropped off later on at a Line 2 stop. We had been given gift bags from Paris Baguette on our way out; I guessed they were roll cakes, given the long, rectangular shape of the packages, but they turned out to be dry, flavorless sponge cakes. Korean baked goods often leave much to be desired.

I trundled home on the subway, transferring to Line 3 at Yaksu Station. Once back at my place, I ate dinner (leftover cottage pie) and watched the opening episode of Season 2 of "Breaking Bad," a show that I'm finally getting into. Expect a review soon.

*If I sound as if I'm implying that my coworker's liberal bias got in the way of his scoring, well, I am—mainly because I've had the chance to spar repeatedly with him at the office on all sorts of matters related to current events and politics, so I know how entrenched he is in his beliefs. Naturally, my coworker offered rational reasons for scoring the way he did, but we all had such reasons, and I tend to think that giving the win to the side we (i.e., my boss and I) didn't prefer was a better indication of fairness than scoring, predictably, for the side with which we naturally sympathized. You could respond that my boss and I scored the way we did so as to appear fair, but then you'd be attributing malice to us, and I can tell you there was none toward either team. I might, however, feel malice toward you if that were your attitude.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

today, we work

I have to be in the office, today, from 1PM onward. Later in the day, my boss, my coworker, and I will be driving over to Korea University to engage in our Saturday project: debate judging. We have no clear idea what we'll be doing or how we'll be doing it, and my coworker is convinced that, whatever we thought we would be doing will be changed at the last minute to something else, because that's how things work in nonlinear Korea, where the best-laid plans inevitably fly off the tracks unless you're in the rigid fields of robotics, cell phones, or automobile assembly.

While I'm not happy about working over the weekend, (1) we did get this past Thursday off as anticipatory compensation, and (2) it'll be nice to visit Korea U.'s campus again. I haven't been in that neighborhood for years.

If I can snap some pics of the kids doing the debating, I will.


Friday, November 27, 2015

accent training

There's this thing I do, lately, with my cell phone. I open the Google Translate app, switch to a particular language—Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Korean, French, whatever—then I activate the microphone-input function and try saying phrases in those languages to see whether my accent is clear enough for the phone to understand me. If yes, then the phone renders my spoken words into written words on the screen while translating them, and I feel a certain level of cheerful vindication.

In Russian, I say:
"Nyet, nyet—ya dumayushto nyet." ("No, no—I don't think so.")
"Ya ni zuma zheychi." ("I'm not crazy"—which Chekov says in "Star Trek 3.")
"Lenin slushayet muziku." ("Lenin listens to music.")

In Spanish:
"Las cucarachas entran, pero no pueden salir." (Ren & Stimpy: that horse)

In Japanese:
"Watashiwa Americano sensei-desu." ("I'm an American teacher.")
"Arigato gozaimasu!" ("Thank you.")
"Doi tashimashitae!" ("You're welcome.")
"Itda takemasu." (Said before starting a meal.)

In Turkish:
"Sanchok güzelsin." ("You're beautiful.")
"Cinema egitmek istermisim?" ("Want to go to a movie with me?")

In German:
"Immer muß man sehr aufmerksam sein." ("One must always be attentive.")

In Chinese:
"Ddeuy buchi..." ("Sorry.")

In French and Korean:
Assorted. Too many to list or to count.

Google Translate's voice-recognition software is a useful metric for how clear my accent is. If you're bored and want to see whether you speak bits of a foreign language understandably, give the above exercise a try with the various phrases from different languages that you know. Keep in mind that the software isn't perfect: there were French phrases, for example, that I pronounced perfectly but that produced weird results. This was true for both short bursts of foreign-language output and for much longer utterances.

Have fun!


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving dinner

Ligament came over to help me celebrate Thanksgiving. Not wanting to give her just a cottage pie, I also prepped an appetizer of hummus with Costco naan, a side salad made with lettuce, chick peas (left over from making the hummus), cucumbers, tomatoes, raisins, sunflower seeds, and pesto dressing. Along with that, I wanted to prep a simple parfait, which meant that I had to buy some cheap sponge cake from the Paris Baguette in my building, as well as some heavy cream from the downstairs grocery.

The cream, however, turned out to be weird: normally, if you beat the cream for too long inside your blender or food processor, it'll very suddenly seize up and turn into butter (which is kind of awesome, actually: butter really is that easy to make), but this cream, mutant that it was, stayed liquid despite being blitzed for well over a minute. I suspect that's because this was a shitty brand that was pumped full of chemicals. Natural cream simply doesn't behave that way. Upshot: I had no choice but to ditch my plans for a parfait.

I was running behind when Ligament arrived from Ewha University, where she's going for a Master's in Korean/English interpretation and translation. I had prepped most of the cottage pie, but the potatoes still needed to be peeled, chopped, boiled, and mashed. Ligament set to work helping me out with this task, and I offered her the hummus appetizer as a way to distract her. Personally, I thought my hummus had come out extremely well, but Ligament didn't take to it, which saddened me. Ah, well: live and learn. A lot of Koreans have trouble with certain Middle Eastern or Mexican flavor profiles, especially when it comes to cumin (some of which I'd added to my hummus to give it more depth of flavor), and Ligament seems to be no exception.

I have to credit her with my cottage pie idea, though: after we had had our French dips last weekend, she asked me what I planned to do with all the fatty beef—the lips and assholes—that I had strained out of the au jus. I thought about it, and decided to grind that beef up along with raw shabu-shabu beef to make the meaty part of a cottage pie. I had already bought peas and corn, so I got mushrooms and wine (Manischewitz! they actually sell that in my building's grocery!) and potatoes to complete the picture.

Grinding the beef in my small food processor was a strange experience. The shabu ground up nicely into recognizable hamburger, but the au jus beef, already thoroughly denatured after slow-cooking for nearly eighteen hours, quickly turned into something like the pasty substance that's sold as Underwood "Devil's Food" in those little tins—deviled ham, deviled chicken, etc. I didn't care: the fresh beef would provide texture, and the au jus beef would provide no small amount of amazing flavor.

I cooked the beef up with a splash of tomato sauce, plus grated carrot and sliced mushrooms, adding the wine as an accent. I slopped the finished beef into the bottom of a baking dish, added the layers of peas and corn and, when Ligament had finished mashing the potatoes (to which had been added heavy cream, butter, parmesan cheese, black pepper, and two egg yolks), I spooned the taters over the top of the meat/vegetable layers. After that, it was just a matter of slipping the baking dish into the oven, baking the whole thing for about twenty minutes, plus an extra few minutes of broiling to brown the top.

Below are some pics of a rather non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner. First up: the unsuccessful (by Ligament's standards) hummus, right before I threw everything together:

After all the grinding and screaming were finished, my hummus looked like this:

I thought the hummus was great: the cayenne and the cumin, not to mention the sun-dried tomatoes, gave the hummus a smoky flavor. The powdered garlic and onion rounded things out; the lime juice added a bit of brightness, and the pizza-style chili flakes added a kick. Olive oil did its subtle work in providing smoothness.

Below, a shot of the completed cottage pie, pre-ovening:

I belatedly thought to take the following shot only after I had started cutting into the cottage pie. Ligament gamely tried to "repair" my cuts, but the scars are still visible below. That said, I do like the nice, golden-brown color.

Next: a cross-sectional view:

I had made enough components to put together a few more cottage pies, so I decided to assemble two more pies to take to work in the morning:

A closeup of one of the two smaller cottage pies I'd made:

Finally, a shot of the cottage pies as they cool on a rack:

It was fun to have Ligament there. I regretted that we didn't actually start eating the main meal until about 9 o'clock; I lamely joked that we were eating dinner in the French style, given that the French often eat dinner rather late: my French host family routinely ate at around 8:30 or 9PM. While the cottage pies were baking, I showed Ligament one of my favorite segments from Dane Cook's "Vicious Circle" routine—the bit where he's talking about a religious argument that begins with a sneeze.

Anyway, there we have it: an English meal to celebrate an American holiday. I have to remember that Ligament, skinny as she is, tends to eat like a bird. As with many skinny people, when she claims to be hungry, this is not to be trusted: what she calls "hunger" is nothing compared to Kevin-sized hunger. She managed—barely—to get through her piece of pie, but it was a close thing.

When I offered her dessert—not a parfait (I had ditched that plan), but a slice of sponge cake with berry sauce and that weird, unearthly whipped cream—she accepted, but she wasn't able to finish her cake. I envy her her tiny stomach, and I need to remember that, given how little she eats, I really don't need to prep all that much food to make her happy.

In principle, a cottage pie is easy to make. This was my first-ever attempt at putting one together, and overall it went well. Ligament later texted that the pie had been "perfect" and that she "couldn't stop eating." That positive review aside, there are things I'd do a bit differently next time. Whenever next time might be.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Turkey Day tomorrow

Our boss at the Golden Goose suddenly gave us tomorrow off because we have to come in on Saturday. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so the boss thought it'd be a good idea, morale-wise, to give us some temporary liberty. My coworker is, unbelievably, even more reclusive than I am, so I doubt he's going to do much with his day off except play the recently released Fallout 4 (watch Conan O'Brien try his hand at the game here, as part of his "Clueless Gamer" review series) and/or read. He (the coworker) is also prepping to move back to the States in early December, so his Thanksgiving might involve the preliminaries of packing. I, meanwhile, will be making a cottage pie, the beefy answer to lamb-y shepherd's pie. If I have any leftovers after dinner, I might share them with my boss and coworker on Friday.

So what are your Thanksgiving plans?


Quora level: grandmaster (for one question, anyway)

I'm new to Quora, a site frequented by my friend Amanda Tendler. Quora is a site where you are free to type up answers to questions that people throw online. I guess you can think of it as a lightweight social network coupled with the sort of freewheeling crowdsourcing that you'd normally associate with a site like Yahoo! Answers.

When you sign up for Quora and give the site some information about your likes and dislikes, you'll start to receive emails containing questions for you to answer on the site. You're free to give these questions a pass, as I've done with most of the questions that have come my way. If you do answer a question, it's likely that you won't be the only person responding to it.

A question finally arrived that I felt I could answer:

How long would you remain conscious if you materialized (à la Star Trek) or if you "jumped" (à la Battlestar Galactica) inside solid rock?

So I answered the question, being the seventh person to do so, and also having the distinction of providing the longest, most comprehensive answer. Quora tacks a view count to each question, and it also has other social-network-y features like up-voting and commenting. My question started off with only one or two views; my rivals' questions had a head start with 100-plus views. Visits arrived at a slow trickle.

A few weeks later, though, and my Quora answer to the above Star Trek/Galactica question now reigns supreme! The score:

Kevin: 487 views
Joseph V.: 117 views
Joan M.: 87 views
David M.: 161 views
Drezner D.: 208 views
Robb R.: 121 views
C. Stuart H.: 76 views

I was shocked to see how much my answer had shot up in the ranks, and I can now understand why some people plug away at providing answers to questions on Quora. Who wouldn't want to be known as a guru of sorts? Quora definitely feeds the reward center of your brain in much the same way that a good video game will.

But I don't think I'm cut out for a career as a Quora guru. Part of the reason is that 99% of the Quora questions I receive via email really don't interest me. The other reason is that, when a question does interest me, I check out the other answers to that question first in order to decide whether I'm going to write my own. If it seems to me that other folks have said everything that I might say, then I don't feel any need to repeat what's already been said. In the case of my Trek/Galactica answer, I thought through the problem a bit more thoroughly than had the other respondents, most of whom went on the assumption that beaming/jumping contained no safety measures.

Because the questions that appear on Quora generally seem to come from a place of genuine curiosity (there may be silly, cynical, or stupid questions, but I have yet to see these), I suspect that the most popular Quora answers are those that demonstrate care and thoughtfulness. I wanted to respect the geeky curiosity of the person who had submitted the sci-fi question and, being a bit of a sci-fi geek myself, I did my best to take the question seriously.


color me confused

Lemme get this straight:

1. Russia invades Ukraine, pisses everyone off.

2. Relations thaw when Russian jet is downed while ISIS rises.

3. Turkey shoots down a Russian fighter.

4. The US sides with Turkey and blames Russia for "incursion."

So what happens next? Russia collects all its toys, leaves the playground in a huff, and doesn't cooperate with us against ISIS? And meanwhile, what of the Ukrainians?


Ave, Charles!

My buddy Charles writes on the topic of Ben Carson, Carson's critics, and the proper (à la Kung-fu-tzu) use of terminology.

There's only one possible response to Charles's comprehensive essay, and it is this.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

a fantastic Saturday (2 of 2)

After my cousin's wedding, it was a little past 2 o'clock, so I headed home, texting Ligament that I was out of the church and in the subway. "Already??" she texted back. Yeah; it had been a short ceremony.

I got back to my place and, with an hour to kill, I finished my French-dip sandwich prep, cooking up the shabu beef two ways to see which way might be better. Method 1: drop some oil in a pan and fry the beef up with salt and pepper. Simple and easy, and the method would leave the beef as a sort of blank canvas to which the flavor of the au jus would be added during dipping. Method 2: ladle some au jus into the frying pan and cook up the beef that way, with no extra salt and pepper, given the seasoning I had already added to the stock. Result: I came out slightly in favor of Method 1, but to be honest, both methods proved to be almost equally tasty. I credit the wonderful flavor of the shabu beef for that fact.

With prep done, I headed out to Gyeongbok Palace Station to meet Ligament. It had been years since I'd been at that station; in one large passageway, there was a gorgeous stone-and-metal representation of an old Korean sundial; I couldn't remember whether the sundial had always been there or not. I found Ligament right at our meeting point, just outside of Exit 3, street level. We walked over to Daelim Art Museum, which I had never been to before. When we got there, there was an enormous line of people waiting to get in and pay their entry fee. Ligament and I got in line, but a roving employee swept by and asked us whether we'd be willing to pay a little extra for an art-gallery membership that would make future admissions cheaper (and we'd get free coffee, etc.). I said no to this, fatalistically resolving to wait in line, but Ligament picked up on the fact that becoming a member meant skipping past everyone in line. So away we went to the front of the line. We were shown a computer terminal where Ligament could register herself (she covered the screen so I couldn't see when she typed in her date of birth—cute); when the process was done, we moved five meters over to the ticket counter, got our tickets, and began our art-ogling experience.

It wasn't quite what I'd expected. First, Daelim Art Museum is more of a cramped exhibition hall than a typically spacious museum, and this seemed apropos given that the work of only one artist was on display that day: that of a Dutchman named Henrik Vibskov, a fashion designer. I was a bit disappointed: I had expected to see funky paintings and sculptures, and instead I was getting clothed mannequins and large photos.

But some of the work was interesting. Come follow me, now, as I give you a brief tour.

Establishing shot #1: just in case you get lost, there's a helpful wall that points you toward the Daelim Art Museum. We peeked inside the D Lounge as well, but saw nothing special there.

Establishing shot #2: a blurb on Vibskov himself. The bottom line of the blurb notes that this is Vibskov's FIRST EVER! exhibit in Asia.

For the photo below: Ligament and I are inside the building now. I have no idea what a "blowhole observatory" is or does, but it sounds vaguely dirty.

The museum was a tall, narrow building: see a small exhibit, then walk upstairs to experience the next phase. While I was on the stairs, I took a shot of the poor, suffering hoi polloi outside, still waiting in line and yearning to breathe free:

Here's a picture that tickled my fancy. Now, I guess, it's a picture of a picture. Art museums force you to go meta. I liked this image for its inherent goofiness. Definitely right up my alley, and vaguely reminiscent of the animated Laffy Taffy from "Wreck-It Ralph."

At last! We get to the good stuff. How can you not love the title below?

And here is Popeye himself, apparently having been... killed by penises. Those protuberances looked more like cigarettes to me; maybe the artist was in a hurry when he designed them. Note, too, that if the red tips of the penises represent the glans, then it looks as though Popeye was killed from the inside, "Alien"-style. (Unless the penises all swarmed at Popeye bottom-first, like a nasty Humboldt squid.)

Before I told Ligament what the title of the piece was, she had been delicately caressing one of the penises. Once she knew the title of the piece, though, she stayed chastely away from Popeye, despite my salacious exhortations to keep right on fondling. Her eyes now open, Ligament pointed me to the following picture of Popeye's recumbent corpse, sprawled in awful parody of those "reclining Buddha" statues that depict the moment of the Buddha's demise (God, now I'm imagining the poor Buddha, riddled with phalluses):

There was also a "mint room" that was filled with mint-colored balloons (penis-shaped, if we agree that a simple cylinder signifies a penis) and mint-scented smoke; I had taken a photo of this, but I don't know where it went. I'll have to reload it from my phone or from email.

Ligament and I then went to Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) to try—once again—to hunt down the crêpe guy. And this time, finally, the gods were with us. Crêpe guy was there, and even though I could tell that he didn't remember me from when I'd visited him in February, his skill at crêpe-making was undiminished. Ligament was ecstatic to receive a real crêpe this time, and she ate hers with obvious relish as the sun went down.

From the DDP, we trained back to my place, and I served up my long-anticipated French-dip sandwiches—our way of banishing the horrible memory of our Quizno's experience. The next two photos below are ones that had been taken by Ligament, who texted the pics over to me:

You're thinking about the weird sides, I can tell. One side is my homemade corn salad, with Ligament liked, but which I found a bit off-putting. Not my best work. Apparently, I had expended all my psychic energy on making decent French dips. The other side is Costco "Boom Chicka Pop" popcorn, which I'd bought in lieu of chips just to shake things up. The popcorn was a big loser: Ligament thought it was too sweet, so I've been eating it at night while I watch episodes of "Breaking Bad." (Yes, I've finally started watching that series, now that it's over. And yes, I know how it ends. Still, it's more about the journey than it is about the destination, ja?)

Below, a food-porn-style shot of my sandwich:

Next, another porny shot of the sandwich being lovingly dipped in something hot and wet. I punctuated the dipping with sexual moaning sounds. Ligament giggled, basically because she's not an uptight, panty-wadded bitch. If I tried that in America, I'd be arrested for sexual harassment. (Of course, I probably run afoul of the law in Korea, too, if the female across the table from me were a current student!)

The following day, I took the next two shots to show you which meats I had bought in order to make the au jus. Normally, a decent stock will be made largely from scraps, and those scraps will generally be some combination of meat and bone. I couldn't find any bones that were being sold without meat; there was a large package of ox-tail bones, but that was selling for an ungodly sum. Below, the next picture shows a package of hanu-himjool. I like to think of this as "lips and assholes," which isn't too far off. Hanu means, roughly, "Korean beef," and himjool means something like "tendon." I take that to be metonymy for "scrap meat that includes tendons and other connective tissue." Whatever the label said, I could see with my bulging frog eyes that this was scrap meat, fit for the slow cooker. Just to be clear: I took the following pics on Sunday, after my day with Ligament, but I had bought the packages of meat on Friday, before my day with Ligament.

So! Tendons and stuff:

The next package, below, says su-ip chadolbagi. Su-ip means "imported"; chadolbagi apparently translates as "brisket," if the Naver dictionary is to be trusted. And I don't trust it, because this extremely fatty meat doesn't look anything like the brisket I know and love. Whatever. My eyes could tell me more than any label could, and I grabbed this package up, too, trusting that the fattiness would make up for the lack of bones.

Some recipes call for cooking the au jus for twenty-four hours. I cooked mine from Friday night to Saturday afternoon. I added Worcestershire sauce, herbs, a bit of Korean beef dashida, black pepper, and little else. I sure as hell didn't add any tomatoes, the way Quizno's had. The sandwich spread was a combination of yogurt, cream cheese, and mayonnaise, along with powdered garlic, powdered onion, and some dried parsley. In the end, it tasted like a typical chip dip, but it went surprisingly well with the sandwich. I can no longer remember which French-dip recipe had suggested making such a spread, but it was good advice. (I've seen that places like Philippe's will use cheese instead of spreads; other restaurants serve their French dips with nothing but the au jus.)

Ligament loved her French dip. I loved mine, too—perhaps more than I should have. The upshot is that Ligament left my place happy, and I felt redeemed because, two weeks ago, our weekend had crashed and burned with the failure to find the crêpe guy. Awesomeness is the only way to make up for lameness.

Below are some pics I took on Sunday, the day after my awesome Saturday. If the food was good once, it'd be good again, right? First up: a lunch spread showing some fried-up beef, two croissants, my white spread, and a nice, hot bowl of au jus.

The spread goes on:

The meat gets dipped:

The 'wiches are prepped for eating:

And now... the money shot:

Finishing off with a second picture of dipping feels a bit anticlimactic, but if you stare long enough at this image, you might just smell and/or taste the au jus:

Not a bad weekend at all, I'm happy to say.

ADDENDUM: A note on calling it "the au jus" and not "the jus": I've seen plenty of Food Network types saying "the au jus" to the camera, so I assume this is a common American way to refer to it. In a French conversational context, I'd just call the liquid le jus ("the juice") and nothing more. But this is America, so I must bow to convention here.


Monday, November 23, 2015

a fantastic Saturday (1 of 2)

This past Saturday, November 21, was divided into two parts: a wedding, followed by a few hours spent with Ligament. The day started off with everything going wrong, but it ended up being a day in which everything went right.

I had planned to wake up around 7:30AM to get my to-do list done. I knew I'd have to stop everything around 11:30AM so I'd have time to shower, then dress in my hanbok, then shoot (well, lumber) out the door a bit after noon so as to be on time for my cousin Gi-yeol's 1PM wedding at Shinil Church near Yaksu Station. Instead, I woke up around 10AM, which gave me almost no time to finish the prep work I had begun the night before.

A bit of background: after Ligament and I had had a horrible experience with a "French dip" at the Quizno's in Jamshil Station, I had told her that I would take it upon myself to make her a real French dip—or at least something that was a closer approximation to the real thing than the bullshit that Quizno's had served (pastrami as the meat? a ketchup-like soup as the dip? seriously?). To that end, I'd had to buy all the components, and they weren't cheap. For the bread, I wavered between baguettes and croissants, neither of which is the proper hoagie roll that is used for a classic French dip à la Philippe's.

I eventually decided on croissants, given that I had to make a Costco run, and I knew the local Costco wouldn't have proper baguettes. For the beef... as a matter of research, I had bought 500 grams (a bit over a pound) of roast beef at Itaewon's High Street Market, but that beef proved to be bone-dry. It had decent flavor, but the texture was a combination of sawdust and sandpaper. What a waste of money. Don't ever buy roast beef at High Street. I was hoping that Costco would have packages of roast beef where the meat would be stored with a lot of liquid, thus keeping the meat moist. No such luck. I eventually settled on the meat that I felt would cook up in the most roast-beef-like way: shabu-shabu beef, which, in Korea, is normally made from paper-thin slices of amazingly marbled ribeye. A huge, 1.5 kg package was selling for around W33,000, so I grabbed it, expense be damned.

After Costco, I bought the ingredients I needed for the au jus at the E-Mart Everyday store in my building's basement, banking on being able to slow-cook some fatty chunks of beef to create what Koreans call yuk-su, i.e., "meat water," which in this context I'd translate as something like "beef stock."* With everything assembled, I fired up the slow cooker on Friday night and made the sandwich spread that I'd be applying to the French dips the following day. And that was it: I had the rest of my prep to do, along with cleaning my floor, taking out the garbage, and other household chores.

So when I woke up late on Saturday, I realized I didn't have time to do everything I'd wanted to do, like cook the shabu beef two ways to see which way I liked better for the French dip. I barely had time to do my chores and make my corn salad (I insist on some sort of vedge** at every meal except breakfast). 11:30AM came and went, and I was running behind. I showered and threw on my hanbok... but I'd forgotten how to tie the front knot correctly. A desperate, time-wasting search through YouTube brought me to some videos that proved utterly unhelpful, especially in my increasingly desperate state. It was nearing 12:30PM when I decided Fuck it, and just dressed myself in Western clothing. Right before I made that decision, there was a two-minute stretch during which I seriously considered not going to the wedding at all. I had told Ligament that I'd be meeting up with her after the wedding, around 4:30PM, in the Jongno area, so during those two minutes, I was tempted just to forgo the wedding and give myself a few hours' breathing room. In the end, though, I decided I'd try to make the wedding, even though I knew I was already late for the 1PM start.

Finally dressed, I went outside my building and hailed a cab. The friendly old taxi driver tried to be helpful when I told him I was looking for Shinil Church near Yaksu Station. He was one of the only cabbies I've ever seen who consented to use his GPS to find the church. Alas, the information he entered was of no help, and the GPS showed no results. I told him the church was about 150 meters from the station, so he could just drop me at the station and I'd walk from there.

As we approached the Han River, I flipped on my phone's GPS, looked up the church via my Google Maps program, turned on my own GPS, and then tracked our progress toward the church by following the moving blue dot on the map that represented my location. As we got within a few hundred meters of Yaksu Station, I showed the cabbie the info on my map, telling him he'd need to take the third right after turning right at the Yaksu Station intersection. The cabbie followed these instructions perfectly, and I got out right next to the church.

I lumbered up the church's front steps and was immediately greeted by a slew of cousins and uncles and aunts—the Korean half of my heritage was out in force. I signed the wedding ledger and gave over my (improvised) white envelope of cash for the bride and groom. One of my cousins, bizarrely, said the relatives wanted to eat first in the church's basement dining hall, but he also said the ceremony was just starting. Why eat during the ceremony? I wondered. Is this normal behavior for relatives? I shook my head and found a seat inside the church, whipping my phone out to take pictures. Unfortunately, I'd chosen a poor seat, so many of my pics required me to use my camera's digital zoom, a function I'd normally rather avoid because of its quality-destroying nature.

All of which leads me up to the photos you'll be looking at below.

I had wondered why my cousin, whose name is Gi-yeol, would have chosen to use a different church from his home church, given how active he is in church life. I think I understand the reason now: the number of guests at the wedding was large enough that Gi-yeol's home church, Geumho Presbyterian, probably would not have been able to accommodate the crowd. Shinil, meanwhile, had a much larger interior. But it's not as though Geumho Presbyterian had been totally put aside: Geumho's pastor was on hand to say a few words mid-ceremony.

Speaking of the ceremony: it occurs to me that I don't recall seeing any exchange of vows, such as what happened at my ex-coworker's wedding this past January. There was a ton of music, probably because Gi-yeol is a professional singer; the pastor said a few words; there was bowing and hugging... but the bride said not a word the entire time. (In fact, at one point, Gi-yeol humorously dragged a chair up to the front for his bride to sit in, cheerfully explaining that he thought she might faint.)

So—first photo. As I know thanks to Sean and his professional musical career, musicians have tons of friends in the music community. This is true the world over, and Gi-yeol was no exception. Below, you see a chorus of Gi-yeol's friends singing, both in real life and projected on the huge monitor (another thing that could never have been set up at the much smaller Geumho Presbyterian Church). Some of the singers did solo serenades as well.

Below: Gi-yeol himself serenaded his wife to great applause (as you see, she had accepted the offer of the chair). I felt a bit sorry for the chorus members: they were sitting directly under the huge speakers that blared out Gi-yeol's voice, and my cousin wasn't holding back. I vaguely remember some of the words in the song Gi-yeol sang: romantic words along the lines of "this moment... right here..." You get the gist.

But Gi-yeol wasn't done. He then switched hats and conducted his chorus. I have video of this, but I haven't uploaded it yet. This number, too, resulted in plenty of applause. If you train your eyes to the right side of the photo below, you'll see my cousin conducting avec vigueur.

The next photo, below, gives me a chuckle. That's Gi-yeol's father, Geun-seong, otherwise known as my #3 Ajeossi because he's the third of four brothers: my mother's cousins. I find the picture funny because Ajeossi had obviously elected to dye his hair for the occasion: when I saw him a few months ago, his hair was mostly Arctic white.

Below: Ajeossi has sat down again with his wife (my #3 Ajumma), and Gi-yeol's bride, Jeong-min, is bowing before her in-laws. Based on the wedding invitation, which listed only one parental name for Jeong-min, and based on the empty chair next to her mother, I surmise that Jeong-min either lost her dad some time ago, or her dad is no longer part of the family. Most likely the former. I have years to ask my cousin that delicate question.

And now, the hugging (which I think of as more American and than Korean):

The wedding was now over at this point. I got video of the recessional. All that was left to do was to get some pro shots of the couple alone, the couple with family, and the couple with friends. Jeong-min saw me standing near the front row, and I could tell she was wondering who the hell I was. I was tempted to shout, "Oy'm a rellie!" in a Cockney accent.

The following picture deserves comment because I fucking hate that lady you see on the right side. She ended up in so many of my pictures that I finally wanted to just harpoon her. She kept running up, always in my goddamn line of sight, to adjust this or that aspect of Jeong-min's dress. And she wasn't the only obnoxious participant in this event: some of the pro cameramen weren't that professional about being unobtrusive, either. I kept raising my camera to get a shot, then lowering it every time one of these assholes would pop into view.

Next: a nervous Gi-yeol's is grilled by his minister. Gi-yeol flubbed whatever it was he was supposed to say, but everything is forgiven on your wedding day.

Below: Jeong-min and the goddamn woman. This was one of the few shots that I managed to get of Jeong-min smiling. I get the feeling that she was under tremendous stress the entire time, and that she just wanted this ceremonial nonsense to be over. At least she kept her composure, though; she was the picture of grace under fire.

Next: Jeong-min's default expression, and Gi-yeol standing in a rigid, military manner, owning his new ajeossi status, now that he's married.

I stood with other relatives for one of the shots, so I couldn't take the all-important couple-with-relatives pic. Instead, I took the pic you see below, which shows the couple with their friends. The photographer, a bellowing guy, seemed kind of harried and desperate, trying to nudge people here and there into the perfect pose.

Below: my #3 Ajumma, who had helped me (along with hair-dyed #3 Ajeossi) earlier this year to obtain my family register so I could get my F-4 visa. My favorite aunt.

Here's a shot of another of my cousins: Gang-yeol. Gang-yeol looks significantly older, but because he greeted me by saying, "You haven't changed a bit," I couldn't tell him what I really thought. All of my cousins have the "-yeol" dollimja as part of their names: Gi-yeol, Jae-yeol, Byeong-yeol, Gang-yeol, Seong-yeol, Seung-yeol, etc., etc. Speaking of Jae-yeol: he lives and works in Germany, but he flew all the way from Europe, with his German-speaking Korean girlfriend, to be here for the wedding. He's really grown up, and I'm kicking myself for not having taken any pictures with him before I left the church. I tried speaking German with him, but his German skills far outmatch mine: my own German amounts to two mostly forgotten semesters; Jae-yeol, by contrast, speaks well enough to be attending grad school in Germany. Fantastisch, ja?

Finally, a shot of The Car of Love.

I left the church soon after the ceremony: I needed to get home to finish up my prep before meeting Ligament at 4:30PM. While I was on the subway home, one of my several aunts texted me her disappointment that she hadn't been able to see me. I told her we'd meet sometime, schedule permitting.

Thus concluded the first part of my amazing Saturday. In a subsequent blog post, I'll talk a bit about my day out with Ligament (not too much about her, though, as she prefers to have her privacy respected), but will focus on those lovely French-dip sandwiches. Stay tuned.

*One take on the differences between stocks and broths here. I've heard other takes and, very likely, so have you.

**Sorry, but I can't spell it "veg" the way others do in this fucked-up age of stupid, Internet-warped English. To me, "veg" rhymes with "leg;" "mic" rhymes with "stick"; "frig" rhymes with "pig." So: vedge, mike, and fridge. You know—rational spellings.


Sunday, November 22, 2015


Kim Young-sam, former president of South Korea, died yesterday of heart failure caused by blood infection at the age of 87.

Despite Kim's pitifully weak throwing arm (he once did a horrible job of throwing out the opening pitch at a baseball game: the ball plunked to the earth far short of the batter), he was admirable for his attempts at rooting out governmental corruption—an effort that didn't earn him friends and that may well have led, directly or indirectly, to the financial crisis of 1997. Many South Koreans today despise President Kim, which I think puts me in the minority of those who appreciate how he ripped open locked doors to shine a harsh light on some of the darkest corners of government. When Kim demanded the exposure of formerly secret bank accounts, this produced a real effect: dozens of prominent heads rolled. I will always, always respect Kim for his role in making that happen. And given how much we Western expats grumble cynically about Korea's culture of corruption, I think most expats should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me in saluting Kim for his presidency.

So I was genuinely saddened to hear that the old man had passed on. I extend my condolences to his family, and dedicate this humble blog post to his memory. Kim is probably the last of the modern Korean presidents to earn my genuine respect.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

a fantastic Saturday

Watch this space, which will eventually be filled with pics of my cousin's wedding and luscious, gloriously perfect French-dip sandwiches.


Friday, November 20, 2015

my buddy's birthday

My buddy Jang-woong had a birthday on Thursday. I had originally thought I might cook something for him and his family, but working at an office full-time has worn me down, and I normally come home tired and barely able to cook for myself, let alone for others.

This all started earlier in the week. I had texted JW out of fear that I had missed his birthday. "No, it's the 19th," he replied. Ultimately, he ended up inviting me over for dinner—a dinner that his wife Bo-hyun gamely cooked.

Below are some pics of the evening. None of Bo-hyun herself this time, so if you want a reminder as to what she looks like, click this link.

The amazing dinner spread:

Cute little Min-ji surveys her domain:

Ji-an did his best to look goofy every time one of us tried to take a photo of him. I can't blame him: I hated pics when I was a kid, too, and I did my damnedest to ruin Mom's shots.

JW himself has become much more philosophical since his return from India. He's always discoursing to me, these days, about this or that metaphysical insight. Tonight, it was all about how we live in a shifting existential context, which means the declarations we make today will have no force or relevance tomorrow, so it's best to approach reality humbly, without trying to assume things or trying to make forceful statements about how much we understand ourselves and the world. Quite a mouthful. I basically listened and nodded a lot.

When JW stepped away for a smoke, his wife picked up the slack and spoke passionately to me about the trouble with Korean education, which she contrasted with her kids' education in India, where they had attended a Western-style international school, i.e., a school that allowed kids to be kids—to explore and discuss as they would, without forcing them into regimented activities or a conformist paradigm. I felt her pain.

Here's JW, probably lecturing:

I had bought a cheesecake for the man of the hour; Bo-hyun brought out plates and forks, and Min-ji was allowed by Dad to try to cut the cake into evenly sized pieces. Her first cut didn't pass through the center; it divided the cake into a roughly 5/4 ratio, but none of us minded: we all ended up with sizable wedges of cheesecake.

Before the cake-cutting, though, was the candle-lighting:

The cheesecake had come with these tiny, antler-like sticks of pure chocolate stuck in the cake's surface, giving off a sort of wimpy satanic vibe. JW gave one antler to his daughter and one to his son, as you see here:

Bo-hyun wanted to take a family pic, and she didn't seem to be in a mood to appear in any pics herself, so she snapped the following image and emailed it to me:

I had also brought along a huge sketch pad and some markers; Ji-an and I went nuts with those, drawing stupid cartoons and making up bizarre games with constantly changeable rules. That's what it's like to inhabit a kid's mind: for a kid, the world is malleable, with fluctuating boundaries and no discernible limits.

I also learned a little bit about Korean chess (janggi) from Bo-hyun, who seemed as eager as her children were to interact with me. Later on, she declared that her birthday was in February, and she was going to invite me for that event. She also effusively proclaimed that she wanted me over this Christmas if I had no other plans, and on top of all that, she declared, "Just come over whenever you're bored and have nothing to do." I got the impression that she really, really wanted me to be a more integral part of her family's life, which was a touching sentiment. JW, for his part, understood that, as we get older, it's harder and harder for us to achieve the proper planetary alignment in our crowded schedules, so he knew I wouldn't be able to visit as often as his wife would apparently like.

A bit after ten o'clock, I heaved my sweaty self off the warm floor, tottered over to the bathroom, made my statement, then prepped to go back to my place. Bo-hyun, perhaps not knowing how to handle a Westerner, shook my hand twice in valediction. As an American, I'd normally expect to hug a friend's wife, but I'm a foreigner in Korea, which means that we sometimes have to improvise when it comes to figuring out customs, rituals, and gestures of politesse. The night air was blessedly cool; JW's apartment had been too warm for my taste. JW accompanied me to the subway station; he thanked me for my visit, and I thanked him and his family for the kind invitation.

And that's when I took my leave and trundled back, my belly pleasantly full.


Thursday, November 19, 2015