Saturday, February 06, 2016

haircut + doctor + work = Saturday

Technically, I'm on vacation: it's the Lunar New Year weekend (Happy New Year! Year of the Monkey coming up, so get ready for a lot of public masturbation and shit-flinging). Seollal is normally a three-day holiday, but this year, the first of the three days falls on Sunday, which makes the weekend the start of my personal vacation. Our boss very kindly gave us Wednesday—an at-discretion holiday—off as well, so I'll be seeing Ligament on Monday (the actual lunar new-year's day) and my buddy Charles on Wednesday.

Five days of bliss en vacances, right? Well, not exactly. I have a KMA gig a week from now, and I promised to show my KMA boss my new, revamped Persuasive Writing course, which will essentially be a slightly collapsed version of the original course, with a new PowerPoint slide component added on to make the whole thing more multimedia-like. The course material is about thirty pages long; I'm going to spend a chunk of today at the office, condensing the course and creating a PowerPoint. I expect the PowerPoint effort to take up most of my day. (I can't do this at home because making PP files on a Mac results in skewed-looking slides when the Mac-made file is opened on a Windows machine. Better just to use Windows, which is why I have to be at the office.)

But even before I step into the office today, I need to get a dang haircut and then see my torturer, the doctor I saw yesterday. So it's looking more like a four-day weekend for ol' Uncle Kevin, not a five-day weekend. And there's a chance I might be in the office tomorrow as well; I need to catch up on my regular office work because I've fallen a bit behind on that.

Busy, busy, busy, as Bokonon says—albeit in a different context.


Friday, February 05, 2016

digital aftermath

Here's what my bandaged finger looks like. Ligament texted that it looks like the Pope. She wants to draw a face on it. My buddy Tom wondered whether my finger had joined the Klan.


I am Theon Greyjoy, turning into Reek

 photo 88fe4e19-ea1b-4bb2-8f22-2b1166ac8482.png

If you've seen HBO's TV series "Game of Thrones," you'll recall that Theon Greyjoy's story arc goes from delusions of grandeur to abject misery: Greyjoy, a ward of the Stark family who is lodged at Winterfell as a sort of guest/hostage/adopted son to keep his father, Balon Greyjoy, in line, seizes an opportunity to take Winterfell in the multi-king chaos that follows the death of King Robert Baratheon and the beheading of patriarch Eddard "Ned" Stark. Theon captures Winterfell through trickery, using only a couple dozen men to do so. Later on, Winterfell is taken over by the treacherous Bolton clan. Roose Bolton's unhinged son Ramsay Bolton straps Theon to a giant wooden X, then begins torturing Theon using the Boltons' favorite method: flaying. Ramsay starts with one of Theon's fingertips. HBO is normally not prudish about bloody violence and gore, but for whatever reason (some director finally decided that "Let the viewers use their imaginations" was a good aesthetic strategy), we never really get a decent glimpse of what, exactly, Ramsay is doing to Theon's fingertip that is causing Theon to scream and writhe as he does.

I had a little taste of fingertip torture today. I went to the internal-med clinic in the building where I work, filled out a first-time patient form and signed a private-info waiver, then sat and waited for my name to be called. I don't think I waited more than twenty minutes before my name came up, and I was directed into a side room where a stocky old doctor sat. He told me to sit down, then asked me what the problem was. I explained that my finger had gotten infected a few days ago, but that I didn't know how it had happened. I showed him the finger, and the doc made a sound that was a cross between a surprised "Oh!" and a stern "Tut-tut." (Imagine the interjection "Oh!" being said in a mildly scolding tone.) The doc told me to go wait in a different side room, so I gathered my things and moved.

In the new room, a nurse beckoned for me to sit on the cushioned clinical table. I looked around: everything seemed old, run-down, and a bit grungy. The nurse puttered around; at one point I heard her working with a whirring centrifuge, and I knew that whatever she was doing wasn't relevant to me: I had given her no blood samples to separate.

In time, the old doctor lumbered into the room, and suddenly everything got serious. The doc took out one of those peanut-shaped metal trays that you normally use to catch major fluid spillage, and that gave me an idea of what was about to happen. He motioned for me to hold out my hand; the nurse, meanwhile, had stopped puttering and was waiting for the doctor to tell her what he needed. He asked her for scissors; she gave him a rather evil-looking pair that looked like the curve-bladed cosmetic scissors my mother used to have.

Scissors in hand, the doc asked the nurse to hand him wad after wad of soaked cotton balls. He swabbed my fingertip repeatedly with them; I noticed, from the way the scissors tweezed the cotton, that those curved blades weren't sharp. The thought, Is he gonna tear into my finger with that? was just forming in my head when the doc stopped swabbing and started tearing right into the pus-filled part of my finger with those blunt scissors.

It wasn't painful at first, maybe because of the initial shock. It could also be that the pressure of the pus buildup had thinned the fingertip skin to the point where the skin was ripe for fairly painless ripping. And that's what this was: ripping, not cutting. The scissors darted into my finger, again and again, like a dog's long, bloody muzzle lunging and digging into a freshly killed carcass. The first bite of the scissors didn't hurt, but the next one did, as did the next, and the next, and the next.

There was a spectacular amount of pus at first. "Wow...a lot came out!" I remarked, and the doc chuckled. The metal peanut-shaped tray was doing the work it had been designed for, catching all the off-white goo ejaculated by my throbbing, tumescent finger. "I should be videoing this for my friends!" I said, to which the doc responded with a disgusted "Huh?" After the pus came the blood. Given that the doc had basically ripped the side of my finger open, there was a good bit of bleeding. I suppose the wound needed to bleed clean before we went any further. Throughout all this, I kept silent, gritting my teeth in agony but realizing that things could have been a lot worse.

The doc began another interminable round of swabbing, gradually switching from drenched white cotton balls to cotton balls soaked in a dark-brown liquid that might have been iodine or tincture Merthiolate. He would sometimes press his swabs mercilessly into my fingertip, making me wince inwardly. I had to figure out how to position my tongue inside my mouth so as not to bite it. Eventually, the swabbing gave way to actual bandaging, which is when I finally began to feel some relief. He laid some iodine-soaked gauze over my finger, then set to wrapping it with regular gauze.

"Normally, I'd ask you to come back two days from now, but we can't because it'll be Sunday, so come back tomorrow," the doc said. I asked him what time to be there, and he said to come around 12:30. I also asked what I should do when I showered or needed to wash my hands. "Don't get the bandages wet," he said unhelpfully. Having worn a plaster cast when I had broken my wrist in grade school, I knew the drill regarding plastic bags, so I could figure out for myself what to do. "Have to write you a prescription," the doc sighed as he heaved his large self to his feet. With that, he left. I put on my coat and scarf, thanked the nurse, and went back to the front desk to pay for the session and receive my prescription. I took the prescription downstairs, got a single day's worth of medicine, then made my way up to my office, where I've been secretly typing up this lengthy entry like the naughty boy I am.

Is there any care in Korean health care? As I thought about what had happened, it occurred to me that, in the States, I'd have been given a local anesthetic, and the doc would have nimbly lanced the finger before squeezing out all the pus—none of this barbaric, canine-style ripping and tearing. Of course, my bill would also have been way higher: probably close to $200 instead of the mere $6 that I actually paid today. You get what you pay for, I suppose.

So I can look forward to visiting the old doc again tomorrow at lunch.

Great. I'm very excited.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

on Cruz, Rubio, and other matters

Fascinating article by Spengler here. Way too much good material to excerpt, so I'll just encourage you to click the link and read the whole thing.

(h/t Instapundit)


gettin' a little pussy

Ouch. A pic of my finger infection, with Gordon Ramsay's lamb in the background. I must say, when your middle finger gets as sensitive as mine has become, you start to realize how much it bumps around randomly into almost everything. Amputation would be a mercy.


reasons not to like Korean health care

My left middle finger continues to swell, albeit slowly. Perhaps the witches' brew of garlic, honey, and cayenne that I concocted last night did some good. Hard to tell.

Samsung Seoul Hospital is located right up the street from where I live, so I decided to give the place a call to make an appointment with one of the hospital's several clinics. Conversation was difficult, given my middling Korean, and I got transferred twice before finally talking with a lady who was willing to set up an appointment. Near the end of our conversation, after having told me what time to come to the clinic (I didn't get to choose a time), the lady said I needed to bring along a "referral letter" from my boss. Huh? I told her I had an insurance card, but she said something about how referral letters were the standard, and how sometimes it was unclear whether insurance would cover a given procedure. I wasn't clear on how one thing related to the other, but I realized I was stuck in the typically Korean valley of We Cannot Color Outside the Box—a common problem in this country. If all the hospital has is round holes, and I come as a square peg, the only recourse is for me to round out my corners to fit: the hospital (or whatever institution) makes no changes of its own. As with kamikaze pilots, there is never to be any deviation from the plan.

Ideally, with clinics, you should just be able to walk on in with no previous appointment. It could be that this is, in fact, how it works at smaller Korean clinics that aren't affiliated with hospitals. I looked for such clinics during my lunchtime walk today, but saw nothing but Chinese-medicine facilities. No, thanks.

Won't be surprised if I leave tomorrow's appointment missing a finger.

UPDATE: my boss tells me there's an internal-med clinic inside our building. Just walk on in, no fuss, no muss, and they accept your insurance card without asking you for any bullshit "referral letter." So I'll be going there in the morning and, very likely, canceling my afternoon appointment with the bureaucratic nightmare that is Samsung Seoul Hospital.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016


I'm tired and I've got an infected finger that might require a doctor visit, so that's about all I'm going to write this evening. Sorry. I had hoped to write a big piece giving my impressions of HBO's "Game of Thrones," which I finished watching a couple days ago, but I'm afraid that that'll have to wait. For the moment, it's meds and rest.

ADDENDUM: I'm likely going to visit a doctor in a day or two, but in the meantime, I'm taking the meds I got from a local pharmacy, and I just filled my body with home-remedy antibiotics like cayenne pepper, honey, and garlic. Who knows—if the witches' brew works, I might not need to see the docs after all. (But I doubt I'll be so lucky.)


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Groundhog Day and the Iowa caucus

America is on tenterhooks as it watches an event with little to no predictive power unfold within its borders: the Iowa caucus, one of several hurdles that nominee-wannabes must jump in order eventually to secure the nominations of their respective political parties.

We've been here before. As a bent-backed part of the mid-forties demographic, as a part of the crowd that has seen its share of election cycles, I can say with assurance that polls mean little, and pundit commentary means shit. What will be will be. Granted, Iowa might have a certain amount of psychological impact—especially on a fool like Donald Trump, who seems positively obsessed with poll data. (He used poll data in a rambling answer to a question about how Republican/conservative he really was.) But even if Trump's nose is bloodied in Iowa, there are other caucuses and primaries for him to look forward to (see the 2016 schedule here), and a man with that much ego isn't about to let one setback, well, set him back.

My poor luck at predicting Oscar winners doubtless translates to an inability to predict caucus results. With that in mind—and knowing full well that I may, in fact, be jinxing certain candidates—I'm going to call Iowa for Trump by a less-than-comfortable margin because, at the last moment, people are going to pussy out and vote for Ted Cruz as a more "realistic" choice. As for the Democrats, I'm calling Iowa for Hillary by a very slim margin: the Bern will continue as grass-roots momentum picks up over the course of the election year, and as Hillary's email scandal continues to have a (mildly, mildly!) corrosive effect on her perceived trustworthiness—not that the corrosion will affect her core supporters in any way.

One way or another, the American samsara rolls on, just like Bill Murray's experience in "Groundhog Day." But this is one wheel from which only death affords a possible release. We'd be wise to remember what HL Mencken wrote about political campaigns.


Monday, February 01, 2016

Korean chicks react to Amurrican BBQ

"Reaction videos" have been a YouTube staple for some time. I remember first watching "2 Girls 1 Cup" reaction videos, which were hilarious (especially when they involved Grandma). Years later, we had "Red Wedding" reaction videos as people watched a crucial episode of "Game of Thrones," in which several major characters die. These days, there's been a bizarre interest, among Westerners, in Korean-chick reaction videos (I like this one, in which the ladies react to American porn). The mirror-image version of that, with Westerners reacting to all things Korean, has been rather lame and muted.

Over at Instapundit, there's a link to an article about young Korean women reacting to their first-ever taste of American barbecue. In the article is an embedded video of the tasting, with cute little graphics popping up now and again as the girls rate the BBQ from 1 to 10. As always, some of the girls were more perceptive than others. The video includes a bit of voiceover narration that describes, very generally, how each type of meat is made.

If you're interested in American reactions to Korean reactions, check out the relevant comments section at Instapundit.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

the problem with binge-watching

Binge-watching "Game of Thrones" (I'm almost done with Season 5; I'll finish either tonight or tomorrow) is the quick road to self-hatred: if all you do all day long is watch TV, your mother's voice in your head accuses you of just sitting there and watching "the damn TV" (one of my mother's favorite phrases whenever she caught me at the goggle box). You get your overdose of entertainment, but you're saddled with a deep sense of guilt as you think about all the grand things you could have accomplished during your hours of laziness.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

another amazing dinner

Friday-evening dinner with Ligament was a thing of beauty. Ligament had wanted to come over and bake cupcakes; I told her that I'd do pulled-pork quesadillas. I also quietly decided to make a companion dessert for her: some of the same faux chocolate mousse—my "mouce"—that I had made earlier. This time around, I think I did a much better job.

Below, a shot of the table setting (hover cursor over image for caption):

Next, a picture of the now-prepped pulled pork:

It's not so obvious in the above photo, but the muscle fibers in pork shoulder—and the fat deposits as well—look substantially different from both sirloin and tenderloin. More chunky. A bit silkier, a bit less fibrous. The mouth-feel is also a bit different.

Below, my franks and beans (why am I thinking of "There's Something About Mary"?):

The tortillas were a Costco purchase, and all the local Costco had was wheat tortillas sold in enormous 40-packs (3 kg worth of bread!). I'll be eating tacos, burritos, and enchiladas for a month, I fear. ("Not a horrible fate," my coworker joked.)

Big tortillas make for big quesadillas. I painted one side of each tortilla with mayonnaise, per a suggestion made by Wolgang Puck years ago. A German chef with a heavy accent isn't normally the first person I'd turn to for suggestions on how to prep Tex-Mex, but mayonnaise works because it's mostly egg and oil. The only drawback is the smell: cooking mayonnaise doesn't exactly evoke quesadillas for me. But the results, visually speaking, are undeniable.

Below, I'm holding open a tortilla to give you a peek inside. With cheese both above and below the pork, I've justified the "quesa" in "quesadilla."

Here's a better shot of the mayonnaise:

And here's the first quesadilla, loaded onto Ligament's plate before being topped:

Here's my quesadilla, cooking on one side and soon to be flipped:

The nice thing about the one-tortilla style of quesadillas is that such quesadillas are easy to flip. When you use two tortillas and try to flip the whole thing, the chance of spillage is much higher. I spilled nothing during the making of all three of my quesadillas.

Below, my quesadilla, prepped and ready for eating:

We paused after dinner to wash dishes and prep the kitchen for making dessert. I became Ligament's sous-chef, helping her where I could. A bit of eggshell got lost in the batter when Ligament cracked an egg, but das macht nichts.

The cupcakes came out flat-topped instead of rounded and puffy, the way they're supposed to look. As much as I love my oven (a gift from Charles), it does have flaws, and two of those flaws are (1) weak heating elements and (2) wildly uneven cooking. This isn't a big deal when baking cottage pie, but it matters greatly for cupcakes: each cupcake is like a data point, indicating quite clearly where the hot spots and cooler spots are inside the oven.

This flattening was to our advantage, however, when it came time to put on my homemade Nutella ganache (Nutella, cream, and a bit of table sugar to make the ganache shiny—all heated in a double boiler): the cupcakes, being flat, dipped straight into the ganache and were 100% covered without any need for rolling them around.

Here's the ganache:

I put a lone cupcake on a plate to make it look all pretty:

And here's another cupcake, but not plated:

Here's a platoon of cupcakes that, no matter how they looked, tasted amazing and had a perfectly moist consistency to them:

We ate cupcakes and my "mouce au chocolat." I made it pretty much the same way I'd done before (Nutella, gelatine, heavy cream, water), but this time, I beat the heavy cream until it became more whipped-cream-y, and I added chocolate chips. The whipping made a small difference in texture, but the most curious phenomenon, visible in the final picture, is how the bubbles floated to the top, even after my having mixed the gelatine thoroughly, to form a true couche mousseuse—a foamy layer that, when scraped off with a spoon, felt and tasted like the mousse I had been trying to simulate all along. This gives me ideas for how to make a better mousse next time.

And in this final image, you can see the cross section, with the different layers of pudding and mousse now clearly visible:

It was a fantastic dinner. Very comfort-foodish and rib-sticking. We were stuffed, having enjoyed ourselves immensely, and we'll be doing something along these lines again soon. Ligament needs to get more familiar with Tex-Mex cooking, so, given all the damn tortillas I have, that's the path we'll be heading down for the next little while. I think she'll enjoy the culinary tour; she texted afterward that her quesadilla had been "sexy."


Friday, January 29, 2016

on pork shoulder

This morning, I pulled nearly three pounds (about 1.2 kg) of pork out of my slow-cooker and flaked it apart with forks (only pussies need bear claws). For the first time ever, I had cooked pork shoulder—the proper cut of pork for pulled pork. Up to now, I've only ever used sirloin or tenderloin—both of which have proven tasty, and both of which are pretty solid, un-marbled muscle groups.

Pork shoulder is completely different, and I'm regretting not having used an oven-based method for prepping it—a nice dry rub followed by hours of mindful baking. The shoulder is an extremely fatty cut of meat, and by "fatty," I don't mean merely marbled: I mean there are actual veins and chunks of fat shot through the muscle (see a picture here). In a slow-cooker, some of that fat, if you haven't cut it off, will dissolve during the slow-cooking process, but much of it will remain. I suspect that, were I to bake the pork instead of crock-potting it, the results would be quite different. Baking often entails drying, unless you surround your food with (or set your food in) water. A fatty shoulder, though, probably wouldn't dry out after hours of baking: it would remain moist and succulent as the fat deposits denatured and the meat essentially basted in its own juices. At the same time, the fat deposits wouldn't become waterlogged and unpleasant to the tongue.

So as things stand, I'm a bit disappointed. I'm not sure that a crock pot is the best way to handle pork shoulder. My results weren't bad, but I didn't think the meat looked, felt, or tasted ideal. Next time, I'm going to do it right and bake the bastard. One good thing, though: the pork chunks actually look different from sirloin and tenderloin. The latter two cuts produce stringy, fibrous-looking meat; pork shoulder, by contrast, naturally breaks off into bite-sized chunks. I look forward to a major difference in mouth-feel.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

losing followers

I gain and lose followers on Twitter all the time, mainly because most of my recent followers are little bloodsuckers hoping for the superficial validation of a followback. If I don't respond within a certain amount of time to their having followed me, then they flake off and unfollow, seeking fresh blood elsewhere. Good riddance, I say.

But my list of blog followers is a different story. These followers are people who show a serious sense of commitment. They might not do much; they might be more "barnacle" than commenter, but they stick around. They're loyal folk.

Over the past 48 hours, however, my blog followers have been disappearing. It feels a bit like an Agatha Christie novel: I've gone from 34 followers to 30, which makes me suspicious: even when I lose Twitter followers, the drop is never that steep or that quick. Surmise: there's a problem with Blogger's software. I seriously doubt that the four people (thus far) who have unfollowed this blog all coincidentally had the urge to unfollow at the exact same time. That would be surpassingly strange.

I expect the drop-off will continue; I have no idea for how long.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

prepping a Friday dinner and dessert

Dinner this Friday evening with Ligament ought to be interesting. On the menu: pulled-pork quesadillas, chocolate "mouce," and cupcakes with chocolate ganache.

I'm going to try my hand at making homemade sour cream, which is a bit hard to find in a regular Korean grocery. Even though I'm going to hit Costco in a few minutes,* I'm not sure that the warehouse store actually has any sour cream. If Costco does happen to have some, then I'll put off my Frankensteinian experimentation until later. If not, then I'm going to make the cream myself with milk, heavy cream, vinegar, and a sterilized bottle.

The misspelling is in the spirit of faux foods like Krab or Quorn: I wrote "mouce," above, instead of mousse, because what I'm making isn't a true mousse: it's not foamy in the least (mousse is French for "foam"). If anything, it's moving a bit toward flan. The other night, I successfully combined Nutella, unbeaten heavy cream, warm water, and gelatine to make something that was not quite custard, not quite flan, and not quite mousse au chocolat. That said, it was smooth, incredibly rich, incredibly delicious, and absurdly easy to make. Gelatine sheets are the cheater's way to a mousse-like texture, and I don't mind cheating. I could even mix things up a bit by freezing some semisweet chocolate chips, blitzing them in the food processor, then mixing those flakes into the "mouce" to provide a welcome bit of texture.

Et voilà: ma mouce au chocolat.

*Nerp—didn't hit Costco. I came home from work too late, and I was too tired to go out again. Tomorrow, God willing. Tonight: shop locally and watch more "Game of Thrones."


Tuesday, January 26, 2016



bullet, dodged

I hate tax forms.

In Korea, depending on where you work, you might be asked, as a foreigner, to fill out tax-related forms. Or not. I've worked in places where everything was done by the school; I've also worked in places that require the employee to fill out some paperwork.

A few days ago, the HR department at the Golden Goose sent me an email saying that I needed to obtain a year-end earnings/expenditures statement from my bank (Shinhan Bank, in my case), then turn that in along with a tax-return form so that I would be assured a refund. This email was sent late last week, which means I didn't have much of a chance to prep anything. Today, I met with one of the Korean managers in my office to ask him what exactly needed to be done. He frowned at my email printouts, asked me a bit about my spending levels, shook his head, and made some calls. Upshot: no need for me to do anything because I don't spend enough to justify receiving any sort of refund. (I'd need to prove that I've spent more than 25% of my yearly income, and the expenditures would have to fall into a narrow range of refund-eligible transactions. All I do with my money is shop, and the chunk of cash that I send overseas every month isn't eligible for any refund.)

So although it's bad news that I'm not up for any refund, I'm happy that I don't have to fill out any goddamn paperwork.


a gathering of The Leathery Ones

Saw this at the local Burger King the other day (click pic to enlarge):

I was reminded of the problem in that New York City McDonald's—the one where the old Korean guys would gather daily, order very little, and stay all day, crowding out the restaurant and gabbing loudly. But the group of old folks that I saw yesterday wasn't anywhere near creating that sort of disturbance: I go to that Burger King about once a week on random weekdays, and this is the first time I've seen these guys there, so I'm pretty sure they don't come to BK routinely. I imagine they simply appeared, like a flash mob, having decided through collective telepathy that, today, Burger King would be the place to gather.

I have no problem with loud conviviality. These old guys weren't planning on getting drunk, throwing things around, getting into fights, or grabbing female staffers' asses, so what could possibly be the problem? I took the above photo because the scene radiated cuteness and because it was a humorous reminder that, somewhere in New York, things are a bit different.


Monday, January 25, 2016

one way to handle leftovers

Some time ago, I had made mashed potatoes with bacon, herbs, and some diced mushrooms. I still had some left in a plastic container that I'd been keeping in the fridge up to now. Today, I finally decided it was high time to eat the taters before they spoiled, so I elected to make croquettes out of them.

It was the standard procedure: fill three small cake pans with flour, beaten egg, and panko, respectively. Form the taters into slider-sized croquette pucks; run each puck through the flour, egg, and panko. Deep-fry until golden brown.

Et voilà:

And here's a shot of one croquette after it had been forked open:

The taters were firm after having been in the fridge so long, but they softened back up during the deep-frying process. This isn't to say they were bad, but I later thought that I should have made smaller, bite-sized morsels to fry instead. Ah, well. Live and learn.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

a Saturday reunion

My buddies Tom and JW have both seen me several times in recent weeks and months, but they haven't seen each other in years. The last time JW saw Tom was probably before JW left, with his wife and son, for a four-year stint in India, courtesy of JW's company, POSCO. JW had been wanting the three of us to get together for some time; I suspect that JW, thanks to his stressful business schedule and the fact that he's also a husband and father, has harbored a desire to relive old times. But getting the three of us to sit down together has been a chore; we all lead such different lives now, compared to when we'd met in the 1990s. Somehow, though, a syzygy was arranged through JW's assiduous text-messaging efforts, and we three all sat down yesterday (Saturday) for a galbi dinner at Uri Nara in Jongno, followed by a Baskin Robbins dessert. I have no pictures of our galbi to share, but here's a snapshot of the very pink-themed Baskin Robbins aftermath:

JW, who has no sweet tooth, wasn't exactly avid for ice cream, but Tom, despite being an atheist, has a keen sense of ritual, so we had no choice but to hit Baskin Robbins, which is what Tom and I traditionally do after eating galbi. JW gallantly paid for dessert; I had paid for dinner to celebrate the fact of my recent debt-resolution.

We talked, and I noted with amusement that JW, after finishing his tiny cup of ice cream, gestured to me to indicate that he wanted a chunk of my pint of chocolate mousse. I smiled and handed some over to him, then texted his wife to say that he was stealing my ice cream. She wrote back that he was a pig and that it made no sense to be eating ice cream in freezing weather, anyway. After showing JW what his wife had texted me, I joked to him that this was the mirror image of the Korean notion of i-yeol, chi-yeol: eat hot, spicy food in the summer on the assumption that this somehow cools you down (there may actually be some evidence to support this notion, but I still don't like sweating through a hot stew in August)—fight fire with fire. So why not eat ice cream in the cold?

JW's son Ji-an took over his mom's Kakao text-messaging account and sent me thundercloud emoticons to indicate how unhappy he was not to be sitting there with us guys. I told him we'd all meet together next time. Otherwise, I was fairly quiet during dinner and dessert, mainly because I felt that JW and Tom needed time to catch up.

We finished our ice cream and headed out, but before we got too far from Baskin Robbins, I turned around and snapped two shots of a gross poster that Baskin Robbins was displaying:

As you likely know, a bris is a Jewish circumcision ceremony. The mohel who leads the ceremony is a trained foreskin-cutter; in some traditions, the mohel removes the blood from the cutting via oral suction. (Yes, I have trouble imagining that, too, and it's been the subject of recent controversy.) So when I saw "Café Bris" being proudly advertised, I imagined a mug of coffee with bloody chunks of foreskin floating around inside it like a morbid chicken soup. Pleasant thought, eh? I think these thoughts so you don't have to.

(Above, I've put up the pic I took with Tom in silhouette.)

It was good to get together. I'm not sure that we relived old times, but for a couple of hours, at least, there was something like a return to the old and familiar. Tom and I used to teach at Koryo Foreign Language Institute; that's where I met Tom in 1994. JW was one of my early students there, and he's the one who dropped everything to help me when I sued my Koryo boss after having been illegally fired. I owe him much, and I try to be good to his family. He's got a fine wife and two great kids. Now he works for POSCO, shuttling back and forth between Seoul and Geoje Island every week. Tom, who's married and has a toddler son himself, works for Sungkyunkwan University and teaches six or seven different private gigs; I'm now at the Golden Goose and doing part-time work for KMA. Getting all three of us together these days is hard, but JW pulled it off, and I'm glad he did.


the Gorgon in the bowl

My bathroom is a disgusting color. Not quite scarlet or crimson, like fresh arterial blood, but more burgundy, like drying venous blood after an energetically executed murder. Even my toilet is burgundy, and I quickly discovered that that was a major problem: I can no longer look directly into the toilet after I take a shit. Back when I lived in residences that had white-porcelain toilets, staring triumphantly at my shit was a ritual so natural to me that I didn't even think about it. Now, however, thanks to the awful color of my current toilet bowl, I can no longer look at my shit without feeling nauseated.

I'm not sure what it is, but it's very likely that the queasy shit/burgundy contrast hits me on a visceral level. Surrounded by burgundy, my shit no longer looks human: it looks sickly, yellowish, leprous—more turd than shit. I feel no organic, motherly connection with it, and the color contrast sinks into my mind, threatening to paralyze me. So now, when I flush my toilet, I stare at the swirling image that's reflecting off my smooth, shiny burgundy-paneled wall, like Perseus staring into his shield to avoid the Gorgon's glare. Thanks to the color of my bathroom, my shit has become Medusa, snarling and lethal, and I can no longer feel the sense of achievement that I used to feel whenever I would stand up after a decent shit and look down into the bowl to behold my accomplishment.

Thus is my life become less than it was.