Saturday, April 18, 2015


Time to go shopping at Costco. In truth, today is a terrible day to shop at Costco: the best time, from what I've seen, is Tuesday evening, when there are no crowds. Saturday is Pay Homage to Costco Day, so I can expect a long wait at the registers. All the same, I need to be out and about so as not to remain completely stagnant. I also want to get started on that spaghetti sauce, which means I need to have it prepped and ready to go by this evening.

I went out last night and bought myself a 7-in-1 immersion blender-cum-food processor set. I had thought about buying two separate pieces of equipment, but when I saw the set, I thought, Why not save some money, eh? So now I can make things like hummus and pesto. Cool.

On the shopping list for this evening, then:

• heavy cream (I seem to keep running out of this)
• basil (3-4 packages: pesto, spaghetti sauce, caprese, curry chicken)
• parmigiano wedge (pesto)
• pine nuts (probably will buy locally, unless Costco is selling a big pack)
• jumbo shrimp (curry)
• ground beef (bolognese)
• mozzarella (caprese)
• portabello mushrooms (bolognese, bleu-fredo)
• raisins (reg. salad, carrot salad)
• naan (because you never know)
• butter (I seem to keep running out of this)
• mandarin oranges (regular salad)
• cheddar cheese (naan pizza?)
• fresh parsley (bolognese)

I thought about adding prosciutto to the above list, but a nameless benefactor provided me with peas, barbecue sauce, and a large pack of bacon. Ever had bacon pizza? It brings me back to my elementary-school days, back when any bullshit the cafeteria served you could be labeled as "pizza" with a perfectly straight face. So yeah, I have a sentimental attachment to "pizza" made with cheddar and bacon.

That's a lot of crap to buy, and I need to step out and buy it.


Camille Paglia on Hillary Clinton, 2007

Found this Camille Paglia excerpt from an old post of mine, and it's as relevant now as it had been back in 2007, pre-Obama:

Hillary's stonewalling evasions and mercurial, soulless self-positionings have been going on since her first run for the U.S. Senate from New York, a state she had never lived in and knew virtually nothing about. The liberal Northeastern media were criminally complicit in enabling her queenlike, content-free "listening tour," where she took no hard questions and where her staff and security people (including her government-supplied Secret Service detail) staged events stocked with vetted sympathizers, and where they ensured that no protesters would ever come within camera range.

That compulsive micromanagement, ultimately emanating from Hillary herself, has come back to haunt her in her dismaying inability to field complex unscripted questions in a public forum. The presidential sweepstakes are too harsh an arena for tenderfoot novices. Hillary's much-vaunted "experience" has evidently not extended to the dynamic give-and-take of authentic debate. The mild challenges she has faced would be pitiful indeed by British standards, which favor a caustic style of witty put-downs that draw applause and gales of laughter in the House of Commons. Women had better toughen up if they aspire to be commander in chief.

Commentary as prophecy.


Friday, April 17, 2015

busy weekend

This coming week is midterm week for the students, so this weekend will be devoted to typing up both the listening portion of the test and the speaking portion's one-on-one interview questions. It's always a toss-up as to how best to evaluate the students; group evaluations go faster but are harder to organize and more confusing to grade, whereas one-on-one interviews—which allow one to grade each student individually in a minimal-BS environment (an unprepared student can't fake his or her way through such an interview)—are too short to allow one much information by which to evaluate a student. All the same, one-on-one is what I've chosen, and I'm giving each student about five minutes. That ought to be plenty of time for me to figure out his or her proficiency.

The listening portion of the midterm will have detail and main-idea questions; the speaking portion will have four interview questions: one on vocab, one on grammar, and two asking for the student's brief opinion on topics covered in our textbook. Some students actually asked me whether they'd be tested only on the book material; it occurred to me that this is because they have some sloppy teachers who like to test the kids on random questions that have little to do with what's actually been taught. A shame, that, but such teachers do exist.


income irony

When I signed on with Dongguk University, I had been told that the salary would be 2.9 million won per month, bumped up to 3 million won in March. Well, the bump-up happened... and ever since March, my net income has been W100,000 lower than it had been previously. Yet another reason to love my employer.


upcoming culinary projects

What I plan to do with my money in the near future:

1. Build a better shrimp-and-chicken curry.

2. Make pesto, then do a shrimp pesto pasta + caprese.

3. Craft a mostly-from-scratch spaghetti bolognese sauce (based on Charles's suggestion re: what to do with my extra tomatoes and onions).

4. Buy a food processor and immersion blender.

Move on to making Korean food. Time to leave the Western-food phase.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

one year ago today (Ave, Anonymous Joe!)

Blogger Anonymous Joe over at the Marmot's Hole writes a good piece on the sinking of the ferry Sewol, which happened on April 16, 2014—exactly a year ago today. Joe's focus, at the beginning of his post, is right where it should be: on the captain, Lee Joon-seok, a pile of human garbage for whom I hope the Good Lord has reserved a special room in hell. Sure, the ferry company shares a huge measure of culpability, the ROK government doesn't come out looking all that rosy, and it's possible that certain Korean cultural quirks played a role in the eventual death toll (about 300 people). But Lee was the captain at the time, and instead of acting according to international maritime ethical standards, he was the first one off the sinking ship, having done next to nothing to help those trapped inside the hull. What followed, over the next few weeks, was a horror show as the death count ticked upward while parental hopes dwindled. More and more schoolchildren's bodies were found.

I asked my kids today what they thought, now that a year has come and gone. Has Korea learned any lessons from this? I wanted to know. One outspoken student, perhaps too quickly, barked, "Nope." Other students nodded sadly. The same situation played itself out in both of my classes today: students were unconvinced that the country, as a whole, has learned anything useful from this disaster. That's unfortunate if it's true.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

discovering the kwae-sok (쾌속) setting

I've long bitched and moaned about the inefficiencies of Korean front-loader washing machines. The pyojun (normal) cycle generally takes around 90 minutes to two hours. (My own machine takes two hours. My machine back in Hayang took 90-100 minutes.) For a couple months in my new place here in Goyang City, I've chafed at how much of a drag it is to have to dump in the wash and wait two hours before it's done.

No longer!

A second look at the washer's function-select dial shows the kwae-sok (쾌속) cycle, i.e., the super-fast cycle. In fact, on my machine, it's labeled as "쾌속30," which means the cycle takes only thirty minutes.

Like an American machine.

I'm immeasurably happier now. I don't really give a crap if the washing isn't as thorough; I don't normally stink up my clothes that much, anyway, unless I've taken a 30,000-step walk—and that hasn't happened since, oh, January. So a thirty-minute cycle works fine for me, and now that I've used the kwae-sok function two or three times, I've seen and smelled no noticeable difference in laundering quality.

Back when I had thought I would be doomed to two-hour washes, I had been at pains to get my laundry into the machine by 9:30PM at the latest so that the cycle would end before midnight and not disturb the neighbors.* Now, I can start my laundry at 11:25PM and be done before midnight. Just having that extra wiggle room is cause for joy.

It's a shame that it took me nearly two months to look more closely at that function dial to see what other settings were available, but hey—better late than never.

*My neighbors don't pay me the same consideration: through the walls, I've heard the musical jingle-bells, signaling the end of a cycle, after 1AM on many a night.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

it has begun

I've started working on a massive post: my reaction, three books in, to George RR Martin's sprawling saga, A Song of Ice and Fire. I'm done with the third book (A Storm of Swords) and am now a few pages into the fourth book (A Feast for Crows); the story is fresh in my mind and there's lots to say. I have to confess, though, that I was afraid even to begin writing this post because I honestly had no clue where to start. I'll beg your pardon in advance, then, for the meandering mess that will soon clog up this blog. Stay tuned. It may be a few days, yet, before the post finally makes an appearance.


Monday, April 13, 2015

take 2

The miracle of leftovers! Yesterday's dinner (click to enlarge*):

*You can enlarge even further by first clicking to do the initial enlargement, then right-clicking on that image and doing an "open image in new tab" command.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

the illogicality of logicality

I'm in a "Game of Thrones" sort of mood, so let's look at a hypothetical situation philosophically, using material from GRR Martin's A Storm of Swords.

Situation: three distinct events have occurred at King's Landing:

(1) The whore Shae, who testified against Tyrion Lannister at Tyrion's trial, has been found strangled in Tywin Lannister's bed. (Tywin is Tyrion's father. Tyrion, by the way, is a dwarf. An angry, clever, sometimes ruthless dwarf.)

(2) Tywin Lannister has been found dead in his privy (i.e., toilet), a crossbow bolt lodged deep in his lower abdomen. Tywin has long been a strict, cold, unsentimental father with exceedingly high expectations for his children: handsome, arrogant Jaime; dwarfish Tyrion; and comely, naughty, scheming Cersei. (Tyrion is arguably the kindest of the three.) It is known that there is no love lost between Tywin and Tyrion.

(3) Tyrion Lannister is no longer in his prison cell. He has escaped, presumably with help from the outside.

A normal human being would look at these three events, plus the meager background I've provided, and conclude it very likely that Tyrion killed both Shae and his own father. But is this a conclusion arrived at strictly through syllogistic logic? I would say no. If anything, it's human inuition that allows us to draw the necessary conclusion (and, in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Tyrion is, in fact, the killer of both Shae and Tywin).

The problem for someone like, oh, Mr. Spock, would be this: correlation does not imply causation. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to conclude firmly that Tyrion was the cause of Shae's and Tywin's deaths. The above three events all occurred near each other in time, true, but it could have been the case that one or two other people killed the whore and the father separately. Or, given this world of ghosts and demons, it could have been some avenging black spirit, birthed by the sinister priestess Melisandre, that took the lives of the man and the woman.

This type of situation is, I think, a major hurdle facing designers of artificial intelligence. In a loose sense, we're brought back to the classic framing problem: what should one consider relevant when sizing up a situation? What goes inside the frame, and what is pushed outside the frame as irrelevant? It seems, at least at first blush, that raw logic is of little help in pointing the finger at Tyrion Lannister as the murderer of two people. Instead, it's the human ability to see the situation in terms of "common sense," itself a vague and fuzzy term, that allows us to focus on the angry dwarf as the cause of all the mayhem.

Concepts like common sense and intuition are what make the framing problem so difficult for AI designers. It's going to be a long, long time before we get our very first robotic chief of police, I think. In the meantime, there's a vengeful dwarf running around somewhere.


BSG: the Cylons' paradox

The Cylons were created by Man.

Man gave the Cylons sentience and intelligence.

Man worked the Cylons like dogs.

The Cylons hated working like dogs.

The Cylons rebelled.

The Cylons, now freed, worked like dogs to create a huge war machine.

The manufacture of base ships, Cylon models, centurions, fighters, hybrids, resurrection ships, supply/storage bases, and military forts proceeded at an insane pace across many worlds, planetoids, moons, and asteroids.

The Cylons continue working like dogs—building, fighting, dying.

The Cylons think this is a major improvement.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

much pork was pulled

Click to enlarge:

My friends Tom and Charles made the long trip out to Goyang City to see me and nosh on some pulled pork. Charles very kindly baked the buns we used for our sandwiches; Tom supplied the drinks, and I supplied the pulled pork, frankenbeans, cole slaw, and dessert (courtesy of Chez Costco).

I had prepped the pork on Friday, slow-cooking it all day long in a bath that, this time around, contained over 50% Coca Cola. The Coke helped the pork to denature even faster than last time, and the results were, once again, amazingly fork-tender. I had bought two 1.3-kilo slabs of sirloin this time—more than enough food for three hungry guys. I ended up giving Charles a bag of pulled-pork barbecue to take home to his lovely Missus. I hope she enjoys it.

The frankenbeans—beans, dogs, BBQ sauce, brown sugar, and chili peppers—went over well; the least successful element was, alas, the cole slaw, which I'd based on a Bobby Flay recipe. Charles remarked that his buns had come out flat, but all I really cared about was how they tasted and smelled, and they tasted and smelled terrific. Everyone should have the chance to taste and smell Charles's buns.

In fact, given the nature of the food, I have to confess that a lot of our risqué humor was in that locker-room vein today: "Taste my buns," "Pull my pork," and so on. It didn't help that we sat down to watch the comedic stylings of the politically incorrect Bill Burr (the vid we watched is here; Burr has several other concert videos and podcasts on YouTube).

Tom had to leave a bit early, alas, but we're already starting to think about the next get-together, which may be a more serious rooftop barbecue this summer, over at Tom's place. I regret that I didn't take more pictures of the event (Charles snapped a few shots with his rather hefty-looking digital camera), but I think we were all having too much fun just hanging out and eating pig to think too deeply about taking photos.

Until this summer, then!



It appears the promised post on A Song of Ice and Fire never materialized. My most sincere apple polly loggies for that. Work filled up to claim all available time.


Friday, April 10, 2015

thinking while prepping

I'm in the midst of prepping for tomorrow's festival of pulled pork, and it occurs to me that today, finally, might be the day to crank out my reaction to George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire pentalogy (ultimately to be seven books, possibly eight, if the rumors are true). So stay tuned: there may be a discussion of Lannisters, Starks, Greyjoys, Baratheons, Targaryens, Tullys, Freys, and The Others later this evening.


1. A review of "Joe," starring Nicolas Cage.
2. A review of both "Tim's Vermeer" and "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."
3. A review of "Warrior," starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte.
4. Photos of my students giving you the finger (gonna mosaic out the fingers).
5. A review of Stephen R. Donaldson's The Last Dark.
6. A review of Suki Kim's Without You, There Is No Us.
7. A review of Bobcat Goldthwait's "God Bless America."
8. A review of "127 Hours," starring James Franco.
9. A long, long-promised review of "Oldboy."
10. A survey of student comments from my previous job.
11. A stupid dialogue with one clueless student.
12. A post that dishes (nothing too terrible) on a friend of mine.
13. A mopping-up post that dumps all the rest of the Pohang photos from last year.
14. A review of "The Lunchbox," starring Irrfan Khan.
15. A review of GRR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.
16. A post on prescriptivism/descriptivism, linguistic pedantry, and my disagreements with Steven Pinker.


Thursday, April 09, 2015

idiots abound on Twitter

As I mentioned in a recent comment, I like Twitter as a way of driving traffic to this blog. Twitter has almost no inherent value to me, but it does have instrumental value: it's a means to an end. Twitter is also, I'm sorry to say, an abode for idiots, although I suppose that holds true for all online forums. The best example of Twitter-related idiocy I can think of is the most recent one: I published my post on "how to tell if you're a Twitter idiot"; I then linked to the post on Twitter (here and here); a follower of mine was kind enough to retweet one of my tweets... and that's when the inbreds came out in force.

One eleven-fingered genius wrote:

rule number 2 and 3 are perfect for creating an echo chamber.

—which indicates that the numbskull didn't bother to read the post thoroughly at all. Had he looked more closely at Rule #2, he would have seen:

Does he provoke strong mental and emotional reactions because he thinks opposite the way you do?

And had he read the entire fucking final paragraph, he would have seen:

One last thought: in no way am I implying that you should follow only those whose views you agree with. Go ahead and follow people you disagree with: their points of view might piss you off, but they're guaranteed to make you think. And what could be better than associating with people who expand your mind?

Where's the echo chamber in that? But no, the resident ostrich-brain self-righteously continued:

if I'd only follow people I agree with I'd have a very empty timeline.

Not very grammatical, either. A word of advice: don't try to sound smart when it's painfully obvious that you aren't. See, it works like this: smart people can imitate dumb people, but dumb people can't imitate smart people.

And perhaps because he wasn't satisfied with his short, puffed-up little sermon, he continued to preach sanctimoniously:

I follow random people, people with thoughts completely the opposite of mine, to keep my Twitter balanced.

As if I don't? At least half of the people I follow on Twitter are people on the opposite side of the political fence. I actually agree with the shit-for-brains on this point, but he's too obtuse to notice. It all comes down to the Twitter mentality, I think: no one really bothers to read anymore; everything's become "Too long; didn't read."

Anyway, this reaction burbled up from the bowels of Twitter within mere minutes of that initial retweet, and it's a perfect example of why I'll use Twitter for my ends, but will never consider it my primary vehicle of self-expression.

Idiots. Idiots everywhere.



Here's what happens when you tell a class full of tired Korean university students that they can have a break for a few minutes:

All my students this week, except for the Monday class, were lethargic as hell. Not sure what it was; I wondered out loud whether it had anything to do with the arrival of spring. Some students, who were evidently beyond caring, nodded drowsily, then drifted back into their comas. It could also be that these kids are teens, and teens need their sleep.

I can understand kids under college age when they look exhausted: life for a child in South Korea can be nasty, brutish, and grindingly long—there's the neverending school day, followed by classes at various hagweon (cram schools). There's the unrelenting parental pressure and the pressure of competing with one's classmates. The system is a soul-crushing mess, but most of that pressure lets up when the students finally reach college. They suddenly find themselves with more free time than they've had in years, so if they're having trouble relaxing, it's probably a question of poor time budgeting.

I admit I wasn't that different as a college student; I don't think I managed to get my shit together before junior year (which I spent in Switzerland, hiking daily), and even now I contend with the demon of procrastination. I'm better than I was, of course, but the process of self-improvement takes years, so maybe I shouldn't judge these kids too harshly. Besides, I'd rather have a classroom full of conked-out kids than a classroom full of twitchy, violent, possibly armed felons-to-be.


how to tell if you're a Twitter idiot: a message to new followers

Why do you follow someone on Twitter? Specifically, why in the world would you follow me on Twitter? Read through this handy guide to not being a Twitter idiot.

Rule #1: Don't be fickle. If you follow, then commit. Don't unfollow later. If you're fickle, you're also a fuckle. That's Scottish for fuckhole.*

Rule #2: Exercise due diligence before following. If you want to know whether someone is worth your time, do some research: read a couple hundred of that person's tweets. It takes only five minutes to read through that many tweets, and it's a good investment of your time. Does he have your political leanings? Does he match your sense of humor? Does he think the way you do? Does he provoke strong mental and emotional reactions because he thinks opposite the way you do? If yes, then go ahead and follow. If not, don't follow and then unfollow later. That's a stupid waste of time—your time and his.

Rule #3: Don't be random. Live your life as if rationality actually guides your decisions: you'll be a happier person for it. People who merely—and constantly—follow random impulses are fucking dumb. Have a reason for following someone other than, "Duh... he seems interesting..."—an assessment that you make after reading exactly two of that person's tweets.

Rule #4: Don't be needy. No one respects you when you're needy. Did you follow someone because you're just looking for a followback? Then you're a goddamn moron, and I'm better off without your stupid ass on my list. Fishing for followbacks is lame and a sign of insecurity. Stop it. Show some backbone. Have some pride in yourself.

By the same token, it's equally needy to do a followback out of a sense of polite reciprocity. You are under no obligation to follow anyone back. Remember that. You're not "returning a favor." Follow someone back because you aren't being fickle, because you've done your due diligence, and because you aren't being random or needy.

Twitter Neediness Quotient: [# following] / [# followers]

If the above fraction gives you a number above 1.0, you're a needy bastard, and that has to change right fucking now. You should always have more followers than people you're following. You're a human being, remember—not a hungry puppy trotting after people and hoping to receive some of their scraps. Have some dignity, for Christ's sake.

Rule #5: Block spam followers and barnacles. This rule is a bit different from the ones above it in that it applies to your "followers" list, but it's important to keep yourself honest about how many real people are actually following you. Maybe you think you're popular because your profile photo includes a hot chick showing off her cleavage. But how many of your followers are actual humans and not, say, bots and porn spammers?

Also: how many of your followers actually know you to some extent? How many have a real personal connection to you? How many have bothered to interact with you via an "@" message or a Twitter DM (i.e., direct message)? Some of the people who follow you are mere barnacles: they attach themselves to the hull of your Twitter account and just... hang there, doing nothing. Not reacting, not interacting—nothing. Again, what a goddamn waste of time. Life is short. Block the barnacles.

Rule #6: Don't follow if you say "true" to any of these statements:
•I'm following this person just because I want a followback.
•I'm following this person just because he followed me. As a courtesy, see.
•I have not read a couple hundred of this person's tweets before hitting "Follow."
•I'm unable to say what this person's sense of humor is like.
•I'm unable to say what this person's political views are like.
•I'm unable to say what this person's religious views are like.
•I have no idea whether this person thinks the way I do about any given topic.

If you said "yes" to any of the above, then don't follow. If you follow despite your ignorance, you're being an idiot. Again: life is short. Don't waste your precious time. If you want to follow someone, then be a wise follower. Choose carefully. Choose people whose tweets somehow enliven your day, make you laugh, make you go, "Huh... I never thought of that before." Be worthy by choosing the worthy. There are plenty of morons out there. Don't be one.

One last thought: in no way am I implying that you should follow only those whose views you agree with. Go ahead and follow people you disagree with: their points of view might piss you off, but they're guaranteed to make you think. And what could be better than associating with people who expand your mind?

*Regarding the fickle/fuckle/fuckhole etymology: I just pulled that out of my ass, so please don't take it seriously.

More to the point: I can think of only two legitimate reasons to unfollow after following: (1) the person you're unfollowing unfollowed you first, and you're honestly disappointed in that action; or (2) the person you're unfollowing hasn't tweeted anything worthwhile in months—he's either inactive or he spends all his time either retweeting stupid shit or linking to stupid shit, i.e., not tweeting his own original thoughts.

Hey, everyone's entitled to retweeting and linking now and then—even to the occasional retweeting/linking binge—but when a tweeter does nothing but retweet and link, you can be sure that that person has no original thoughts of his own. As Ben Kenobi once observed, "Who's the more foolish—the fool, or the fool who follows him?"

Don't be the bigger fool.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Saturday event

I showed my Golden Goose coworker my pulled-pork blog post; he emailed the link to a female friend of his who's into Carolina barbecue; she apparently proclaimed herself hungry, but she also shot back that it was "a sin" to use an expensive cut like sirloin. On the contrary, young lady, sirloin is a relatively cheap cut compared to more artisanal cuts like flank, hanger, strip, and the king of them all: tenderloin (you probably know this as filet mignon when dealing with beef). I also think some Carolinians commit a massive sin when they use mustard instead of regular red barbecue sauce, so you'll pardon me if I take this young lady's reaction with a bit of salt.

Anyway, I've got two friends coming over this Saturday to partake of my pulled pork: Charles and Tom will both be over. It's just going to be a comfort-food sort of day—nothing special, nothing fancy. The pork will be the star of the show. This time around, I might use Coca Cola as the slow-cooking liquid: I kicked myself for not having used it last time around. Coke is the secret weapon for many a northern-Virginia ajumma who runs a Korean restaurant and marinates galbi. It ought to work equally well for slow-cooked pork.


Tuesday, April 07, 2015

JK Rowling has a fan

Here's a curious graffito that I saw inside the men's restroom today, at The Golden Goose in Daechi-dong:

Some bored Korean guy is a Harry Potter fan.


sofa tubers

Loved this:

For me, what makes the picture is Homer Simpson, who is obviously the archetype that boy and dog are instantiating in their cute, suburban way.



The above title is Elisson's preferred Germanic spelling for a Yiddish word meaning something like "foolishness" (various romanizations of the word abound). Here at the Hairy Chasms, I engage in Narrischkeit perhaps more often than I should, but such is the nature of the beast who runs this blog. If you're looking for all substance all the time, then look elsewhere. And pull the stick out of your ass so you can enjoy life.

What set me to chortling during the witching hour was this little GIF essay from "15 Cartoon Images Made Inappropriate by a Single Logo." The logo, in this instance, is Brazzers. For those of you innocent lambs who are completely unfamiliar with porn, Brazzers is a huge online source of throbbing, veiny, wet, and pungent adult entertainment. My favorites from the College Humor site are #11, #12, and the implied glory hole in #14. Enjoy. You're welcome.


Monday, April 06, 2015

false beginners

Most "beginner"-level students at the university aren't actual beginners when it comes to learning English. The technical term for such people, in linguistics, is "false beginner," i.e., someone at a low level who has already had experience in learning the target language. Textbook design usually reflects this: I've never taught a single "beginner"-level class in which the textbooks begin with the ABCs, pictures of basic common nouns, etc.

I get the feeling that most Korean students, when they start learning English, first learn it from Korean English teachers (1) whose own English is barely functional, and (2) who teach English in the regimented Korean way, i.e., via rote repetition, memorization, and other methods that don't involve much thinking and/or creativity. While some foreign teachers come into the picture as early as elementary school, most of us expats get involved in the Korean students' learning process around, oh, middle school or so.*

One reader critiqued me when I had written an earlier post questioning an English teacher's competence in English. My critic's questions implied his own belief that a teacher's competence in English isn't related to his competence in teaching English. I can somewhat see his point: after all, it's easy to imagine a teacher who is extremely proficient in English, yet whose teaching ability is garbage. At the same time, though, I think a teacher with a shaky knowledge of the subject he's teaching is more likely to teach that subject badly: that, too, strikes me as axiomatic.

But back to false beginners. I've never had to teach a class from the ABCs on up, nor have I ever had to design such a curriculum. At my second job, the Golden Goose, we design "beginner"-level textbooks that are way, way higher in difficulty than "A, B, C, 1, 2, 3." There's an assumption, at least in the Korean wing of the English-teaching business, that all students of a certain age can be safely rated as false beginners. One of my Golden Goose coworkers thinks this has something to do with parental expectations: design a textbook that seems too easy, and parents get antsy that their kids aren't learning enough. This is a shame, because most false beginners are still missing a raft of basic English skills that they really ought to work on before ratcheting up to the next level.

*I'm willing to revise this observation pending demographic stats that show that most expat English teachers teach at the elementary level. I'm pretty sure that's not the case, however, despite the rumor, current among expats, that most of the money to be had is at the elementary level. Show me the stats.


Sunday, April 05, 2015

pulled-pork shakedown cruise

Happy Easter!

What follows is a visual odyssey that takes us through today's pulled-pork adventure. I've been wanting to make a heap of pulled pork for my buddy Tom, but because there were a lot of variables to consider, I thought it might be a good idea to do a shakedown cruise first to work the kinks out of the process. Today would be, after all, the first day for me to use both my new slow-cooker and the awesome Wiswell convection oven that my buddy Charles had given me for my birthday nearly two years ago. I was also unfamiliar with the dwaeji deungshim (pork sirloin) cut of meat that I had purchased. Would it take the same amount of time to soften as the top sirloin I had gotten from Costco back when I lived in Front Royal, Virginia? I had no clue, so before I could cook anything for friends, I needed to find out what was what.

It all started with the pork itself. Behold 1.3 kilograms of sirloin:

Here's a closeup of the price tag. Using the Jongno-based restaurant Seorae as a comparison, I saw right away that this was a much, much cheaper price. At Seorae, you pay W17,000 for 500 grams of galmaegisal (i.e., pork skirt-steak cut, which is on the opposite side of the pig from the sirloin cut). At my local grocer, as you see below, it was W15,504 for 1,292 grams of sirloin. That's exactly W6,000 per 500 grams—about one-third the price of Seorae's galmaegi. To be sure, that's still expensive by American standards: when I left the US in 2013, beef (which is more expensive than pork) was about $3.70 per pound, or close to W4,100 per 460 grams (about W4,500 per 500 grams, if you're comparing American beef to Seorae's galmaegi or to my local grocer's deungshim). Nevertheless, my sirloin was cheap by Korean standards.

Next, you see that I had cut the slab of pork into three large hunks, then I bagged them and froze them overnight. Freezing meat that's going to be slow-cooked doesn't really affect the cooking time that much: the relentless application of heat, once the meat is in the cooker, means that everything un-freezes fairly rapidly. I doubt I added more than 30 minutes to the overall process. I had cut the meat into chunks so that all of it would fit nicely into the cooker instead of jutting out like a large baguette in a puny picnic basket.

Below: everything fits nicely into the cooker.

Next, I poured in the reagents that I felt would help give the pork some savor as it cooked: ketchup, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, balsamic vinegar (as the acid to tenderize the muscle fibers during the cooking process), salt, black pepper, and some basil.

Below, you see I've added a liter of water. The cooking now begins, and the big question is whether this meat will need only 5-6 hours, or whether it'll have to go longer.

In the photo that follows, I'm checking the meat's doneness after about six hours of slow cooking on the cooker's "high" setting (which, as you can imagine, isn't really all that high). Surprisingly, the meat had gone tough, which is not what had happened with the Costco top sirloin. I knew, however, that a certain rigor mortis was part of the tenderizing process, so I understood that I'd need another two or two-and-a-half hours. The meat would clench up, then suddenly release, turning into the melt-in-your-mouth treasure I was aiming for.

Two hours did it. The meat was ready. All the fat had melted away; all the connective tissue's collagen had sloughed into jelly. I pulled the chunks of meat out and flaked them easily with two forks. Now it was a race against time: with the meat steaming and moist, there was a good chance that everything would dry out if I worked too slowly. I piled the shredded pork into a large pan: spreading it out would have accelerated the drying. Here's what moist, flaked pork sirloin looks like up close:

Here's a shot of the flaked pork in the large pan:

I slathered the pork in honey and tossed it thoroughly. I then took half the pork, put it on a tray, turned Charles's oven on to its "broil" setting, and let 'er rip. I didn't get the crispy black "bark" until about five or six minutes later. Because I live in an apartment building, I'm constantly worried about smoke tripping a fire alarm somewhere; luckily, no alarms went off. I was also worried that five minutes of broiling might dry out the pork completely, but I needn't have worried: the pork was still mostly moist when it came out of the broiler.

This was Charles's oven's maiden voyage, and it worked perfectly... once I figured out the controls. You have to put on the timer to activate the coils, even if you're doing un-timed cooking. Aside from that quirk, the oven worked just as I had imagined it would.

I tossed the broiled, charred pork back in with the rest of the shredded meat, gooshed in a gout of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce (my thanks to a nameless benefactor), and tossed again. Below, you see the beautiful result:

I had decided to make pulled-pork sliders, so I sliced some Costco dinner rolls and buttered them up with—yes—homemade salted butter. Voilà:

I buttered the bread, pan-fried it, put on different types of cheese, microwaved the cheese for a few seconds to begin melting it, then arranged the bread on a plate to await the arrival of the pulled pork.

I piled the pork onto the bread...

...and here, at last, are the pulled-pork sliders.

I now have a good idea of (1) how my kitchen equipment behaves, (2) how Korean deungshim behaves in a slow-cooking situation, and (3) how much time I need for prep. With all this in mind, I'm now ready to serve my buddy Tom a veritable pile of pulled pork.


stay tuned

I've got a 1.2-kilogram hunk of pork sirloin (Kor. deungshim) burbling away in my new slow-cooker; it'll be ready for sugaring, broiling, and saucing in a few hours. Meanwhile, I need to go out and buy some baking pans for my oven, so that's today's mission.

I've been documenting the porking process, so stay tuned and expect a photo essay later.