Wednesday, March 04, 2015

secondo giorno

The second day went about as well as the first, so that's two classes down, out of four. I'm morbidly curious as to how tomorrow is going to go, given that the next two batches of kids are the lowest of the low groups. Well... we'll soon know.

Gonna nap a bit now, then take a long walk, then maybe buy me some more pork dinner franks while I'm a-walking along. It's a 90-minute hike to Costco from where I now live; a three-hour walk is roughly 18,000 steps, and I've already put in nearly 3,000 steps just by walking to and from campus, so that'll be over 20K steps for the day.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"Do you mind [me/my] smoking?"

What's the correct answer?

Do you mind __________ smoking?
(a) me
(b) my

I'll save you the suspense: the correct answer is (b)—"Do you mind my smoking?"

The rationale is simple: smoking is a gerund, i.e., a nominalized form of a verb—basically a noun, and it's the accusative of the verb to mind as well as the complement of the possessive my. Here's an easy way to think about this: imagine a situation in which Fred owns an obnoxious dog that likes to jump all over houseguests. Brenda is sitting in Fred's living room when Rex, his paws muddy from a romp outside, decides to hop onto Brenda's lap and start licking her face. Fred, who has the good grace to be apologetic, belatedly asks:

Do you mind __________ dog?
(a) me
(b) my

The answer should be obvious: "Do you mind my dog?" No one says, "Do you mind me dog?"—unless they're speaking in Cockney English.

So there it is, as easy as that: use a possessive adjective in front of the noun if the noun is the accusative of the verb to mind. And remember that a gerund is basically a noun.

Do you mind [possessive] [noun, accusative (direct object)]...?

This applies to more than just to mind, of course. Knowing what you now know about the need for possessives, the following questions ought to be absurdly easy:

Sir, I daresay I object to __________ defecating upon my face.
(a) your cat's
(b) your cat

Ah, yes—Gerold. I remember __________ fucked my wife in the waters of the Trevi Fountain last year.
(a) him having
(b) his having


like menstruation

So my arrangement with the Golden Goose is this: since my Dongguk schedule leaves me free on Tuesdays and Fridays, I'm to come into the office in Daechi-dong on Tuesdays. But there's a proviso: if I'm needed for crunch time, then I might be called in on Fridays as well (for pay, of course—not for free). Well, guess what: this week is already a crunch week! My boss told me that, if I do Friday this week, I don't have to come in at all next week, which means that, as with menstruation, we go from heavy flow to light flow. This will be interesting because it'll give me an idea of what a truly heavy week feels like, after which I'll find out what a three-day week feels like. Cool. And so early in the semester, too!

The other thing is that my Golden Goose boss doesn't like filling out the paperwork to get me paid every four-week pay period (I'm a freelancer, so there's no auto-pay for me). He decided to pay me every eight weeks, which meant a two-million-won windfall about every two calendar months. This time around, however, he's elected to pay me for twelve weeks so that he doesn't have to fill out any paperwork for an entire season (for most of my upcoming semester at Dongguk, actually). Mathematically, it all works out to a million won every four weeks, which is fine by me. All I'm doing is socking that money away and/or paying down debts; I'm not spending it frivolously. That said, I'll be happy to receive a three-million-won windfall sometime later this week. Half of that is going right to my Golden Goose coworker, who generously spotted me W1.5 million when I was moving from Seoul to Goyang.

If the gods are with me, I'm also supposed to do a special gig for KMA this month. There's been substantial delay on this point; I had thought that I was to do it last month, but the student in question never got back to KMA with a "Yes, I'll take the course." In fact, we're still waiting for his answer. It's a one-on-one tutoring session for which I'm to be paid the usual W70,000 an hour, plus another W500,000 for having specially designed this course. I imagine that the prospective student and his boss are slowly and cautiously pondering the cost-benefit ratio. It's company money that'll be paying my fee, of course (the student apparently is German and works for a German company), so it's not a question of the German guy's paying out of pocket, but it'd be nice to hear an answer from him soon.*

In theory, then, if all goes well, I could be receiving around W4,000,000 won this month on top of my Dongguk salary. It'll be a twelve-week dry spell after that, as far as the Golden Goose is concerned, but KMA has some gigs lined up for me through the rest of the year; in fact, there's a regular gig coming up later this month for what should be another 500,000 won, give or take a few tens of thousands.

Sometimes the cash flow is thick and torrential; sometimes it's a mere trickle. By March 31, we'll know for sure which type of flow this is.

*I'm betting, at this point, that all the stringing-along means there's an eventual "no" in my future, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed all the same.


no pain, regain

I have a lot of make-up work to do in the exercise and weight department. February was a terrible month for walking, mainly because the move to Goyang took up so much of my time. My final walk average for February was an anemic 8,212 steps per day. It's almost bad enough for me to consider seppuku as the only way to restore my honor.

The lack of exercise also resulted in the significant regaining of weight—five kilos, by my scale's reckoning. That's eleven pounds. Now, as I've said before, I'll still fat enough that a gain or loss of ten pounds won't be visible to outsiders (nor has it affected my waistline much: my pants are still loose, despite my having regained weight), but I feel the difference in my energy level and my ability to move around.

So, starting in March, several possibilities suggest themselves as ways to make up for lost time and lost progress. The cheapest solution, financially speaking, would be to wake up at 6AM four days a week and do a four-hour walk, i.e., 24,000 steps, with perhaps 10,000 steps done on weekends, and under 10,000 steps done every Tuesday, which is my new Golden Goose day. (That comes out to about 16,000 steps a day.)

Another solution is to start running. I live in a fairly flat area, now, and this is problematic. My walks aren't giving me nearly the same bang for my buck as walking on Namsan did. Namsan hikes actually meant cardio thanks to the slope. My brother David suggested that I buy a weight vest to add difficulty to my walks, but I worry about the return of knee problems if I do that. Running would also be a risk for my knees, true, but I wouldn't be running long distances—at least, not at first. Running also has the added advantage of being doable within a short time frame, which is important now that my weeks are busy again.

So along with extended morning walks and the prospect of running, another thing I could be doing is cutting back on how much I eat as well as, yes, drastically cutting carb consumption per Mr. Taubes's wisdom. I was actually doing fairly well when I was in my yeogwan and unable to cook. True, I'd buy snacks, but not too much, and I'd always be walking the snacks off. Now, however, I'm able to cook again, and cooking a bunch means eating a bunch. Combine eating a bunch with walking less, and you've got weight gain, mon vieux. So: portion control seems to be in order. The hurdle here, though, is psychological: there's a feeling of extreme dissatisfaction that comes with eating a meal that's half the size of what I'd normally eat. I need to figure a way over that hurdle—something that isn't depressing in the way that so many diets can be ("Eat celery sticks to stave off those hunger pangs!").

Finally, given the inordinate number of gyms in my neighborhood, there's always the option of joining a gym. The problem here would be one of cost: I'm on a budget, and I don't know how much I'd have to spend, per month, to maintain a gym membership—let alone to hire a personal trainer, which was something my friend JW had suggested I do.

Actually... there is one other option.

The Lonely Mountain.

It sits in the distance—near, but far. It's the only local mountain that's close enough to reach on foot. I've already tried, once, to walk up its flank, but I think at least part of the mountain (whose name I still don't know) is covered by a local military base, so finding a hiking trail might be problematic. If, however, I can do some research, perhaps with the help of some of my students, I might be able to find my way up the mountain. It's far enough away to make the simple act of getting to its foot a hike in itself, and the slope of the mountain appears to present a decent challenge to the determined day hiker. If I do a four-hour walk starting at 6 in the morning, I could doubtless reach this mountain by 8AM, as it's definitely less than six miles away (the distance I can walk in two hours); I might even be able to reach the mountain's summit by 8AM.

The Lonely Mountain would be the most wholesome option for me: it'd be a long-distance walk; it'd involve a strenuous hike, thus providing me with a decent workout; and it'd be doable within a four-hour time frame.

Whatever options I go for, something needs to be done to get my ass back on track. I don't like being heavier again. I want the weight to keep coming off.


Monday, March 02, 2015

la rentrée

And so we begin again. I just taught my first class, which was scheduled to go for three hours (noon to 3PM), but which I let go about 45 minutes early because it's the first week of classes. My first impressions never usually pan out, but today's kids seemed like good ones: there was plenty of laughter and, like last semester, a round of applause at the very end of class (probably to celebrate the fact that I was letting everyone out early). This has no bearing on how the semester will turn out, of course, if last semester is any indication. But it was a good start all the same. Hope springs eternal, right?

The kids don't seem as chatty and smart-assy as some of the kids in my lower-level classes last semester. That's a good thing. I ran them through my syllabus, did some partner and mixer exercises, then broke the class up into teams and got them into a "living sculpture" exercise in which one team would strike a pose while the other teams would shout out guesses as to what the tableau was about. Good times. I hope the rest of my classes are just as good.

I can also say that it's nice to be back at work again. Even though I was busy this vacation, mainly because I had to move in February, I can't say I used my free time as well as I could have. Without specific marching orders or some sort of routine, I slump into jelly when I'm on break. My life needs structure; that much is obvious.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

yo, Charles!

Charles will be happy to see this:

So I did as Charles recommended and went to the local flower shop, which sold a wide variety of plants, including basil. I asked the lady for bajil, per the Korean pronunciation (which vaguely mimics the French, although in French it's actually basilic); she didn't know what I was talking about, but another, unseen woman in the back of the store overheard my request and shouted to the first woman that "The basil's up front!" The first woman led me over to the shelves that held several rows of plants. The basil was sitting there in its little plastic pot, minding its own business.

"How much?" I asked.

"2,000 won," the lady said.

"I'll take two, please," I said.

And that's how I wound up with my new children. Before I left the shop, I asked the lady whether the care instructions were printed on those plastic tags that had been thrust into the soil. "Yes," she said, and that was that. I made the ten-minute walk in the evening cold, fired up my electric heater when I got inside my studio, and read the Korean instructions with the help of an online dictionary. The instructions boiled down to: plenty of sunlight, and re-water when the top of the soil is dry. However, a look online told me that my new children are likely to come to a bad end:

Unless you are moving and growing the herb in a greenhouse, the hot temperatures and direct sunlight that basil thrives in are not usually found in the average person’s home, so be sure to provide as much light as possible; artificial lighting for 10-12 hours a day during the darker winter months. Even so, the plant may linger for a time, but it will succumb at some point. With this knowledge, it is best to be prepared to either purchase another plant or start your own from seed in the spring.
[emphasis added]

Alas. I can only hope my plants will grow—fast—before they "succumb." My buddy JW has moved back to Korea and, pushy bastard that he is, he's asked me to come over to his new apartment in Samsung-dong (where the richy-riches live) and cook something Italian for his family on March 14. So—pesto, for sure. Probably fettuccine Kev-fredo, garlic bread, and maybe a caprese or a Mediterranean salad. I already told JW that we'd have to go out for dessert: I've never tried to make tiramisu, and I sure as hell can't hand-make gelato.

Wish me luck. Charles says that caring for basil is easy, but the website says that my basil is doomed to die, despite my best efforts. It's all a question of timing, then: will my basil plants grow luxuriant enough for me to snip off their leaves before the plants themselves give up the ghost? We'll see. As for twelve hours of light... not gonna happen. The kids're gonna have to make do with sitting next to a window covered by blinds.



Some hot dogs with homemade faux sauerkraut:


Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Mind if I give it a little dance?"

In which I rant about last-minute schedule changes.



Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Death comes for us all, eventually, and that's just as true of childhood heroes as it is of everyone else. My brother David texted "Spock DEAD" last night, which jolted me. But as the news sank in, I realized that I hadn't been all that surprised—not really. The man was old. Leonard Nimoy leaves behind an impressive oeuvre as well as millions of loyal fans. His activities took him from acting to singing to photography to spoken-word performances to movie directing to political activism. Ragingly liberal, he was also unfailingly kind and humane—the more modest, less hubristic half of the Shatner-Nimoy Ashkenazi Jewish friendship. I admit that, as both Shatner and Nimoy got on in years, I morbidly wondered which of them would step first through the Great Door. The two men are only days apart in age (Shatner, also 83, was born March 22, 1931; Nimoy was born four days later on March 26, 1931, but always managed to seem the older of the pair), after all, so it was a tossup. Shatner had packed on the pounds over the years, but Nimoy had been an inveterate smoker until thirty years ago, when he quit. This wasn't enough to halt the appearance of the COPD that apparently killed him. There's comfort, though, in knowing that Nimoy died at home, surrounded by family and friends. 83 is a good, long life, even by today's medical standards, and Nimoy's mind was sharp until the end. Many people have commented on his final utterance on Twitter: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP." As so many on the Net have said, the man truly lived long and prospered.

There are too many online tributes and hagiographies to Nimoy to count, so I'll just talk for a bit about his impact on my life. Nimoy's Spock was a half-breed with one foot in two very different cultures. Was it any wonder that I, as a half-Korean, could relate to him? I admit I didn't get into Star Trek until I saw "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," which was the first good Trek film. I was originally a Star Wars fan (in one of his autobiographies, Nimoy thanks George Lucas for revolutionizing big-screen science fiction, which made possible the rejuvenation of the Trek franchise). But I was in the theater with my parents in 1979 when Mr. Spock stepped aboard the Enterprise, approached an intimidated Chekov (Walter Koenig) and sonorously intoned, "Permission to come aboard, sir" in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"... and the audience around me erupted in insane applause: Spock was back where he belonged. As with many fans, I too enjoyed Spock's logicality and quiet compassion, which seemed the antidote to the frequently uncivilized way in which people, both on the silver screen and in real life, acted toward each other. Spock was, in a real sense, the most human of the characters on Trek, and I enjoyed how the movies took the original TV character and made him even more human. By "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," Spock was telling his protégée Valeris that a person must have faith that the universe will unfold as it should. That's not a line that would have been uttered by the more logical-positivistic Spock of two decades previous, but it made perfect sense given the contemplative man Spock had become over time, and smart writers like Nicholas Meyer understood this.

So now Leonard Nimoy is gone, and the world is a slightly dimmer place. Life will go on, of course; the universe will continue to unfold as it should (as long as people stop messing with the space-time continuum, dammit!). Nimoy will be remembered for Spock, but some people will also smile as they recollect his other, quirkier performances, such as his singing of "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" (enshrined here on YouTube) and his hilarious Audi commercial with "new Spock" Zachary Quinto. I regret that I never saw "Fringe"; I understand he was a recurrent character in that series and had found more fans thanks to his role as Dr. William Bell. But the impression I have is that Nimoy's touch turned pretty much every project he was involved in to gold (except, perhaps, for projects that required him to sing).

The photo I've chosen to accompany this post reflects my favorite part of Nimoy's career: his turn as Spock in "Star Trek II." I still consider that movie the best of all the Trek movies—yes, including the sleek, new, chrome-plated ones produced so recently by JJ Abrams. The costume design for "Trek II" gave the crew of the Enterprise a more overtly military look, which altered the tenor of how we perceived Spock himself. There's even a drill-sergeant-like moment in "Trek II" in which Spock barks, "Company—dismissed!" to his trainees, and that's a side of Spock we see nowhere else. This, then, is how I'd like to imagine Spock: calm, competent, logical, humane, disciplined, in control, and ready for action.

I suppose we should be thankful that such a large repository of Nimoy's writing and performances exists. The man himself is gone, but his body of work remains, a legacy to be treasured. Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy. You will be remembered with fondness.


Captain Picard versus... the dress

If you're not acquainted with the "dress" meme that's going around right now, you might want to familiarize yourself, otherwise the following image won't make much sense.

And in case you're wondering what the Internet thinks after having seen the initially uploaded image of the dress in question:


For me, as for the majority of folks, when I saw the original shot of the dress, I thought it looked white and gold after I mentally compensated for strange lighting. To say otherwise struck me as insane. But if you click the first link, above, you get to see the same dress in much better lighting, and it's obviously blue and black.

The moral of the story is: never trust digital cameras, which have traditionally had a hard time handling less-than-optimal lighting conditions.


Friday, February 27, 2015

perhaps there's nothing to worry about after all

My brother David alerts me to this article:

Google Allows Porn on Blogger After Backlash

So it might well be that my blog is safe. Stay tuned.


au lit!

The bed finally arrived. The ajeossi who drove the bed to me also got out and put the bed together, insisting the entire time that he needed absolutely no help from me. Having nothing to do, I stood off to the side and snapped some surreptitious shots of the old guy at work, coughing loudly to cover the clicking noise my phone's camera made with each shot.

In the pic below, you see the driver putting together the bed's completely unnecessary frame. Bed design in Korea is a bit strange: the frame—at least for small, cheap beds—is mere ornamentation, not an integral part of the bed's structure. The bed can stand alone just fine without all that wood. This new bed has, in fact, some features in common with the very hard bed I'd slept on in my studio in Hayang, the unnecessary frame foremost among them.

One major difference, though, is that this new bed's mattress is only about two inches thick whereas the bed in Hayang had an actual mattress. I asked the delivery driver whether I was looking at a box spring; he laughed and said, "No, this is it! This is the mattress!" I told him that I'd seen a mattress in his truck. He smiled and replied that that mattress was for a different household. So there we are.

Next, here's a shot of the completed bed being popped into place. The mattress portion of the bed needed to have seven fat plastic legs screwed into the bottom: six along the edges and one leg in the very center to prevent sagging. With those in place, the last step in the bed's assembly was simply to pop the bed inside the ridiculously thin wooden frame. Not that I was expecting heavy-duty wood for a bed that cost only $100, US.

Below, a pic of my satisfaction. I've had a chance to lie on the bed, now, and it's a thousand times better than lying on the floor. I might take the step of buying a memory-foam pad to augment the bed's thickness later on, but for now, this is quite comfortable compared to what I've been doing for nearly a month. So, yeah—I'm very happy to rejoin the civilized world. Monasticism is not for me.

And here, below, is a shot of the bed with all its linens and pillows in place. I have a big, fat head (like in that Peter Gabriel song, "Big Time"), so I need a lot of pillows to support it, mainly because I tend to sleep on my side. The other nice thing is that, because I no longer have to use my blankets as a makeshift mattress, I can shut off my ondol floor heater at night and just cover myself up. That saves a ton of cash. My first month's heating bill is going to be outrageous, but from here on in, I'll be very stingy about using gas, which will just be for hot water from now on.

And there we are. I'm a much, much happier camper now that I have a bed to sleep on, and you, Dear Reader, can be spared more of my old man's bellyaching.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

the bed is on its way

I had spoken with Wi Mae Peu's customer service yesterday about why it was taking so damn long for my bed to arrive. Overall, I'm not impressed with WMP's performance when it comes to deliveries, and I'm beginning to wonder how worthwhile it is to order items when there's so much inconvenience involved.

Anyway, WMP's service rep told me, with apologies, that the bed would arrive sometime next week. This morning, however, I got a call from a truck driver who told me he'd be delivering the bed today—this evening. So that's good, I suppose. Fucking finally.

Alas, the truck driver also noted that there'd be a W25,000 delivery fee. I had thought my bed was listed on the site as being "free delivery," so I called customer service again just a few minutes ago to see what was up. Turns out the fee was there the whole time; I had blithely misread the "mu ija" ("interest-free") tag as the "muryo baesong" ("free delivery") tag that normally sits in the upper-right corner of the entry for any given item. When I looked at the beds catalogue again, I saw the tags clearly this time around. Sure enough: mu ija.

In any event, yesterday's phone call must have lit a fire under someone's ass because my bed is coming today. So tonight, at long last, I'll be able to sleep in relative comfort after three weeks spent on the goddamn floor.


"The Equalizer": review

[NB: Here be spoilers.]

"The Equalizer" was originally a short-lived TV series (1984-89) that starred crusty old Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, an angry man with a mysterious past (he was a government operative of some sort or another) who uses his skills to help the everyday Joe or Jane get out of a jam, advertising his special services in the classifieds. I don't know whether much was made of the fact that McCall was British but worked for an American agency; perhaps the viewers weren't supposed to think too hard about that.

After a long slumber, McCall was reincarnated in 2014's reboot "The Equalizer," which stars Denzel Washington as McCall and is directed by Antoine Fuqua (whom you might remember from "The Replacement Killers," among other movies). As in the TV version, Washington's McCall is an ex-operative with a murky past—a man of extreme self-discipline and strict habits, now living a life as a hardware-store clerk. Because of insomnia caused by the death of his wife, McCall often finds himself in a local diner late at night, reading his way down a list of books that he had promised his wife he would get through. Also frequenting the diner is Teri/Alina, a Russian-speaking call girl (Chlöe Grace Moretz) who turns tricks for the local Boston branch of the Russian mafia. McCall and Alina don't know each other's names at first, but Alina finds herself charmed by the retiring McCall even as McCall finds himself growing increasingly concerned about Alina's life choices and her safety. Alina confesses her plans to leave prostitution and become a singer, and she tells McCall that "Teri" is just her street name.

The plot leaps into high gear when Alina's Russian keepers beat her severely after she strikes an overly grope-y client one night. McCall visits the Russian gangsters, walking right into the restaurant serving as their headquarters and offering the head guy, Slavi (David Meunier), $9800 to buy Alina's freedom and allow her to lead her own life. You can predict how this scene is going to end, and sure enough, when Slavi refuses to grant the hospitalized Alina her freedom, McCall opens up the long-expected can of CIA-trained whoop-ass on everyone in the room. By the end of the fight, Slavi is on the floor, bleeding out through a gunshot wound in his neck; McCall then sinks down to the floor next to him and offers this cold, pitiless, testosterone-filled speech, which sounds as if it had been written by Frank Miller for The Dark Knight Returns:

Your heart's beating three times the normal rate. That's because you're losing so much blood. About thirty seconds, your body's gonna shut down, and you're gonna suffocate. Alina, the girl you beat half to death, her life's gonna go on. Yours is gonna end right here, on this funky floor, over ninety-eight hundred dollars. You should have taken the money.

Keanu Reeves, in "John Wick" (see my review here), could never have delivered those lines with the same gelid conviction. Even though "Wick" was also about a trained killer with a beef against the Russian mob (and what's with all these Russian-mob movies, anyway?), Denzel Washington can out-act Reeves anytime and anywhere, which automatically elevates "The Equalizer" to a stature far beyond that of "John Wick." And I have to admit, I'm a sucker for the kind of Batman-style dialogue that "The Equalizer" delivers. There's a lot that this movie gets right—or at least does better than what was done in Keanu Reeves's actioner.

But at the same time, "The Equalizer" is a frustrating combination of smart and stupid. The screenwriters do a good job with the good-guy/bad-guy verbal interactions, but the action itself stretches the bounds of credibility. It's not that Denzel, who is now 60, can't pull off the role of a believable action star: it's more that some of the action, especially the climactic fight inside McCall's Home Depot-style warehouse, doesn't always make sense. One question that ran through my mind throughout that entire scene was: Where are the police?

That complaint aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there was no huge, nonsensical final battle between the two main antagonists, McCall and ex-Spetsnaz badass Nicolai "Teddy" Itchenko (Marton Csokas, a.k.a. Celeborn in Lord of the Rings, in sinister Russian mode). When McCall finally does Teddy in, he gives Teddy absolutely no quarter, using a nail gun—an implausibly weaponized nail gun—to strike Teddy's major nerves and render him completely unable to move. It's cruel, it's ruthless, and it's entirely in keeping with the quietly vengeful nature of McCall's character. The nail gun itself was cartoonish, but McCall's bloody-mindedness made for good cinema, at least for those of us who dig righteous anger.

Taken as a whole, "The Equalizer" is light years better than "John Wick," but I thought that director Fuqua, who has a few action films under his belt, could have done a better job with editing his fight scenes and scripting the action sequences more logically, plausibly, and adroitly. Some of the pacing is clumsy—and I say this as an admirer of Fuqua's work (again with Denzel Washington) in "Training Day," which I thought was a fine film. (If anything, McCall seems like the moral mirror image of the corrupt cop that Washington portrayed in "Training Day").

Critics have complained that this version of "The Equalizer," far from being a reboot of the TV series, seems to be completely its own thing. I'm not so sure: Denzel Washington's McCall takes on more than the Russian mafia: several subplots show him going after run-of-the-mill robbers and dirty lawmen in the Boston Police Department, much as was true in the TV show. The movie ends with McCall putting out his classified ad, just like in the show, offering his services gratis to people who are down on their luck and who need to even the odds.

A word about fight choreography: we live in a post-Bourne age, so fight sequences have evolved to be meaner and more intimate. I can't say whether this trend in fight choreography represents a truer reflection of actual CIA-style hand-to-hand combat training, but I like the look of most modern movie fights. Denzel's character doesn't deliver balletic martial-arts kicks; it's mostly arms and hands, elbows and forearms, holds and locks and short, sharp weapons that make for more close-range killing. In "The Equalizer," the fighting style matches well with Denzel's aging physique, and Denzel's physique (there's at least one scene in which it's clear the man has a very slight paunch) makes him a more relatable action hero.

And some final observations: Chlöe Grace Moretz's character, Alina, is in the movie for a few minutes at the beginning and a few minutes at the end. That's one problem, especially since she's a major catalyst for the movie's main plot. Another is that I felt Moretz was completely miscast in the role of a teen hooker. It's not that Moretz can't act: I thought she was an awesome little spitfire in "Kick-Ass" (review here); it's more that I simply wasn't convinced the girl could ever be a whore. Moretz radiates a cuteness, sweetness, and innocence that completely drown out her sexuality. It's impossible to think of this girl as dirty.*

I'm not sure whether "The Equalizer" has some sort of moral. If there is one, it's probably something like If you know your opponent is a trained killer, do not face off against him inside a hardware store, no matter how many Russian cronies you bring with you. But I don't think you watch a movie like "The Equalizer" because you're interested in moral messages; you watch "The Equalizer" because you know, going in, that ass is going to be kicked, and the bad guys will get their comeuppance. All of them.

*Your mileage may vary. She's got boobs now.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

chili dawgz

Sticking with the sausage theme, I've moved on to chili dogs:

Sorry for not having done a process-and-product series of photos of the chili-making, but it was late and I was tired, and I didn't want to spend all night resizing photos and uploading a dozen images when what I'd really like to do is kick back and keep reading A Clash of Kings.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015


If you suddenly find yourself unable to see my blog on March 23, it may be because this blog will have suddenly been switched over to "private" mode by Google. We Bloggerites all just received a notification stating that Google, a nanny-stater par excellence, is instituting a new adult-content policy. Here's what it says, in part:

Adult Content Policy on Blogger

Starting March 23, 2015, you won't be able to publicly share images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity on Blogger.

Note: We’ll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.

Changes you’ll see to your existing blogs

If your existing blog doesn’t have any sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video on it, you won’t notice any changes.

If your existing blog does have sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video, your blog will be made private after March 23, 2015. No content will be deleted, but private content can only be seen by the owner or admins of the blog and the people who the owner has shared the blog with.

I have a picture of Muhammad as a dildo-faced donkey. I have a copy of a sexual cartoon from The Onion that's meant to offend almost all religions. I've got a naughty picture that I recycle whenever I do a birthday tribute for my buddy Mike. Will these be sexually explicit enough to get me "privatized"? If so, you might want to think about becoming a follower of this blog so that you'll be able to see my content. (See the right-hand margin for my followers list, which contains the link that lets you become a member. Heh. Member.)

So: you've been warned. I don't consider this blog to be a font of pornographic imagery, but it's undeniable that I've slapped some potentially raunchy content up here now and again. So prepare for the worst: assume I'm going to be turned into a private blog, and become a blog member NOW. I wouldn't normally be so demanding, but I don't see how else I'm going to keep my already-meager readership. And if not enough people show up as new members of this blog (e.g., if I end up with under 100 members by March 23), I might just have to shoot the Hairy Chasms right in its hairy chasms and live life bloglessly. That would be a shame.

But we'll see. There's a chance that I might be passed over, like a Hebrew firstborn ignored by the Destroyer in ancient Egypt.


"St. Vincent": a short review

"St. Vincent" stars Bill Murray as Vincent MacKenna, a grouchy, down-on-his-luck misanthrope who owes a lot of money to a lot of people, but who still finds the time and the will to help others out. One day, MacKenna backs his car into his own fence, goes inside to fix himself yet another drink, hurts his hand while chipping ice with a hammer, slips on the ice, and knocks himself out cold against some cabinets. He wakes up the next morning to the sound of two Latino movers arguing about the fact that they've just trashed MacKenna's car by knocking a tree branch onto it with their truck, and to make matters worse, the movers are there for MacKenna's new neighbors: a divorced medical technician named Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her runty son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie has to work long hours, and when Oliver meets some bullies at his new private school, losing his keys and wallet and uniform, he ends up having to hang with Vincent, his mean old next-door neighbor. Vincent eventually accepts Oliver as his babysitting charge—for a price, of course—as Maggie has to work long hours at the hospital. Thus begins what the viewer can predict will be a beautiful friendship as poor Oliver is led around to various bars and racetracks, and is taught one very useful nose-breaking move as a way to fight back against his tormentors at school.

For people who hate comic formula, this movie will offer nothing new. You can see the setup and punchline coming a mile away; the very title of the movie gives away the movie's ending, and the script is unabashedly manipulative. But despite all that predictable boilerplate, it's still good to see Murray clowning around like the Irish Catholic imp he is, and the chemistry between him and freshman thesp Lieberher is entertaining and authentic. Melissa McCarthy also proves she has acting chops that go far beyond SNL-style comedy; one scene requires her to tell her heartbreaking single-mother story through tears, even while delivering laugh lines. It takes talent to make people laugh when you're crying, but in that scene, she managed to make me both laugh and cry. In the end, "St. Vincent" isn't a cosmic drama or a divine comedy; it's a movie about the little things. Oliver is given a class project called "Saints Among Us," in which he has to choose a person he knows, some everyday Joe, as his personal saint. I think we all know whom he picks. But the point Oliver makes, in his presentation about sainthood, is the everyday nature of it. That appeals to my Zennish sensibilities, and it humanizes what could have been an otherwise run-of-the-mill, easy-to-anticipate dollop of nothing. It's the actors who rescue "St. Vincent" from mediocrity and make the story accessible to the rest of us.


Monday, February 23, 2015

the frustration of deliveries

My buddy Tom persuaded me to download not just the WMP shopping app but also an app that tracks the status of your deliveries. The WMP app tells you how many of your orders are being handled and shipped; the second app tracks your orders' shipping status with a "clock" icon—a circular progress bar that fills in bit by bit as your packages go from one shipping point to another, ever closer to your domicile. Sometimes progress happens at a crawl; sometimes your package arrives in record time. I've experienced WMP deliveries twice, and I've had both extremes. Right now, though, something strange is happening: the shipping app tells me that I have a package on the way, but my WMP app says that no items are currently ready for shipping. Which app to believe?

Also frustrating is the idea that I have to remain home all day, waiting for these damn items to be delivered. I suppose I could text the delivery guys my building's entry code and my own door's entry code, but that would be highly inadvisable, even to people who aren't paranoid. I don't know what the procedure will be if the delivery guy happens to arrive at my studio when I'm away; does he come back the next day? Is the order simply canceled and a refund issued? Is the item crassly dropped off in front of the building? There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut way to deal with packages that get dropped off when you're not home. Back in the States, my apartment buildings both had rental offices, and any packages would be dropped off there during business hours, and I'd be notified of my package's arrival. In Hayang, I saw that a somewhat similar system was in place: if I happened to be away when a package came, the delivery guy would leave a sticky tag on my mailbox's metal cover, with a cell-phone number to text him so that he could come by the following day.

I've got to leave the house today and tomorrow, but I'm very worried about what that might entail. If the delivery guy calls me while I'm out, I suppose I could verbally give him the entry codes, but that would still be risky. Perhaps the best approach is simply the most honest one: just tell the driver that I'm out and can't receive the package, then let him tell me what the procedure is. No matter how you slice it, though, this is a frustrating situation.

UPDATE: I texted Tom, and he offered some commonsense solutions like, "Tell your landlady that the package is coming, and have her kid open the door for the delivery guy so he can place the package in front of your door. Or tell the delivery guy you're home only during such-and-such hours." That second suggestion is one I'll use during the semester, as I'll be away in class at certain times, and away all day on Fridays.



Each batch of choucroute alsacienne has yielded three heaping platefuls of food. I've gone through two such batches and, as much as I love the choucroute, I think six plates in a row is enough, and it's time to move on to the next thing. Since I seem to be recapitulating my favorites, I suppose I'll shift my focus to chili—good ol' Texas-style chili, i.e., no damn beans, and no damn tomatoes: just beef and spice and some scattered aromatics (onion, garlic). Pair that up with some massive hot dogs and some cheese, and it's chili-dog time, baby!* After that... I'm not sure. My next favorites could be any or all of the following:

spaghetti bolognese
• Kevin-style bleu/Gorgonzola fettuccine with garlic bread + caprese
• pulled-pork quesadillas and sandwiches
• honey-mustard (or sweet soy) salmon sandwiches with wasabi mayo
• New England clam chowder
• bacon cheeseburgers
nachos grandes
• shrimp-and-chicken curry on rice
• cashew chicken (and/or shrimp) on rice
golbaengi dwaenjang-jjigae (see here)
budae-jjigae (see here, among other places)
• chicken and/or lamb shawarmas
modeum (everything) salad
• hummus and pita (or naan)
• egg-and-sausage frittata
• lobster macaroni and cheese
• beef Stroganoff with mushrooms
(NB: the above isn't an exhaustive list of things I know how to cook!)

Now that I've broken out Charles's oven, I'm impatient to do some baking. While I doubt I'll be baking much bread, I'll be attempting savory items like the above-mentioned frittata (see here) and baked chicken breast for the chicken shawarma (see here). Along with that, I'd like to make lasagna, different kinds of cake (I'll need to buy cake pans), macaroni and cheese (see above), and anything else I can think to bake. If I can get hold of some puff pastry, I might even try my hand at some Beef Wellington.

It's going to be a good six months.

*John Mac takes his chili with corn bread, which also sounds really good.


Oscar: quick predix

[Now updated.]

Just for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress:

Picture: It comes down to either "American Sniper" or "Birdman," both of which I've seen. "Sniper" is, without a doubt, the populist favorite, but "Birdman" wins on artistic merits, which probably counts more for the Academy. Given the way the biased media have been pounding "Sniper," I suspect "Birdman" is going to win this. Both films are equally deserving, but comparing them really is like comparing apples and oranges.

Director: Eastwood or Iñárritu? This is a toughie. Eastwood has always been a simple, unpretentious director who mainly just points the camera at his actors and lets them act. "American Sniper" is vintage Eastwood to that extent, but "Sniper" also allows Eastwood to direct battles, something I've never seen him do before. (I never saw his pair of WW2 films) Eastwood does so with aplomb and competence, a fact that militates in his favor. But "Birdman," as I said in my review, essentially turns a moviegoing experience into a theatergoing experience, and that's a nearly impossible trick to pull off. I'm going to go with Iñárritu for this one.

Actor: As above, I think it comes down to Michael Keaton versus Bradley Cooper, but personally, I think Keaton deserves the win, here. Cooper's performance was fine, but it was simply a more understated version of the performances he normally gives. Keaton had the more difficult task of acting in a "meta" film, which often required him to engage in acting about acting. (One classic scene in "Birdman" has him weeping in front of Edward Norton's character while telling the sad and horrifying story of his fucked-up childhood, only for him to stop and snarl at Norton, "See? I can act, too!")

Actress: I don't think I've seen any of the films in which the nominated actresses have played, but the scuttlebutt gives this award to Julianne Moore for her turn in "Still Alice," the story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's. It's easy to see why: you've landed a plum role when you can play someone mentally deteriorating. Sad degeneration is always a pity to behold, especially when the character begins the story as lively, powerful, and mentally sharp. The Academy eats such roles and stories up—terminal cancer, Alzheimer's, whatever. So I think it'll be shocking if Moore doesn't get the Oscar for her performance here.

And those are my modest predictions for tonight's Academy Awards. We'll soon know whether they bear out. I'll be doing errands when the results finally come in, but as always, I'll update this post to give you the harsh reality and to see how accurate my predictions turned out to be. Given my history, I suspect I'll be wrong about three of the above four predictions.

UPDATE: Wow—I actually got three out of four right this time: everything except Best Actor which, according to commenter Charles, went to Eddie Redmayne for his work portraying Stephen Hawking in the misleadingly titled "The Theory of Everything." (Hawking hasn't actually developed a Grand Unified Theory.) I had heard that Redmayne's performance was good, but it seemed to me—from the previews, anyway—that it was less about Redmayne's acting and more about his physical resemblance to Hawking. But I have yet to see the movie myself, so I really have no idea how good Redmayne's acting was.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Birdman": one-paragraph review

Just saw "Birdman," starring Michael Keaton (eminently watchable), Emma Stone (touchingly soulful), Zach Galifianakis (surprisingly restrained), Edward Norton (hilariously egomaniacal), Andrea Riseborough (remarkably arch), Naomi Watts (endearingly delicate), and Amy Ryan (depressingly world-weary). Wow. This movie is probably about as close as cinema can get to mimicking a live-theater experience. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu ("21 Grams," "Babel") and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, have done amazing work in bringing to life the story of a has-been action-movie star who, in a desperate bid for legitimacy and validation, decides to direct and star in a stage play based on Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson—neurotic, driven, helpless, commanding, and probably insane. Half of the movie seems to be an hallucination; sometimes the story plays like a family drama; sometimes it plays like a black comedy, albeit one without any true laugh-out-loud moments. Instead, as with a good Robert Altman film, there are sly references to stars and films and tropes that you've seen before; and as with a good Terry Gilliam film, there are trippy flights of fancy accompanied by a sweeping, "Brazil"-style orchestral score. I wouldn't recommend "Birdman" for anyone other than theater lovers because I think it's primarily theater lovers who are going to "get" the film, in all its New Yawkish glory. It's a drama, it's a comedy, it's a parody, and in its final moments, I guess it's safe to say it's something of an uplifting mystery. I can see why the movie has garnered so much critical praise, even as its ratings from the hoi polloi are in the 3.2-star doldrums. This isn't really a movie for the general public, but as I said, it's definitely for lovers of the stage. If you're that kind of animal, you'll be blown away. As I was.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

on Peter Jackson's Gandalf

In Peter Jackson's version of The Lord of the Rings, Isengard is something of a flat valley with the tower Orthanc at its center. All around the tower, in a three-dimensional mandala of evil, are the charnel pits and Uruk-hai spawning chambers—the machinery with which the twisted Saruman the White is generating an army.

In "The Fellowship of the Ring," Jackson shows Gandalf riding into Isengard. Saruman meets Gandalf outside; the scene is cut, and we see both wizards inside Orthanc. As the tenor of their conversation grows more sinister, Gandalf realizes that Saruman has changed allegiance and is now a minion of the Dark Lord, Sauron.

So the question is this: how did Gandalf, as he was riding toward Orthanc, not realize Saruman had turned? Surely he would have seen several square miles of fumes and smelled the intense charnel stench, no? I don't recall clearly, but I think Tolkien's novel actually elides all of this, leaving it to the reader to imagine how Gandalf's encounter with Saruman went. Jackson's movie, by contrast, produces what may be an unforced error: Gandalf's inability to see what Saruman is doing on Isengard's property means either that Saruman is very good at hiding his operation (and we're given no hint that he's hiding anything), or that Galdalf, for all his years and wisdom, is unwontedly imperceptive.


Friday, February 20, 2015

short and curly

I plucked this from my body with a feeling of bizarre pride—the pride of a mother who has just given birth to a beautiful baby son.

Now, Dear Reader, I leave it to you to guess from which part of my body I tweezed this lovely hair. One hint: it's not a pube.


new studio: outside

I like how quiet my new neighborhood is. If Goyang/Ilsan is a satellite of Seoul, my neighborhood is a satellite of that satellite. I'm 15 minutes outside of downtown by bus (and am about to walk the bus route into downtown and back today); at night, my street has almost no cars, and there are almost no stray cats yowling in the alleys. We're still close enough to Seoul to get Seoul's nighttime light pollution, but some few stars are visible in the skies above Goyang/Ilsan.

Here are some exterior shots, taken on February 8, of my studio's building and its surroundings. I live in the shadow of two or three major apartment complexes; Goyang/Ilsan is still fairly empty at its edges, so a lot of this real estate has been seized by developers and is being developed at a rapid clip. As my friend Tom remarked, "Come back in ten years, and it'll be as crowded as Seoul." I think he's right. Construction projects are going on everywhere.

As always, hover your cursor over each image for its caption.


new studio: inside

Some shots from inside my new studio. Hover your cursor over each image to see its caption. Otherwise, read the descriptive text that accompanies each image.

Below, this first shot shows the kitchenette, the studio's front door, and my bathroom door (left). You might not agree with the way I've set up the clothing rack, and I'd agree that it's unsightly as it is, but right now, that's the best place to put it. I might change its position once my bed arrives. I took this shot while sitting on my makeshift bed, which right now is nothing more than two blankets folded in half along the long axis to provide some padding. That leaves me with no blanket to put on top of me, so I just wear my winter coat to bed. This is basically how I started out in my Hayang studio back in 2013. My life proceeds in tight little circles.

Next: below is a shot of my metal table, which cost me only about $36. You'll note the nightstand, which I'd ordered from online via Wi Mae Peu ("We Make Price"). It's much smaller than I thought it would be, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Also visible in this shot is Charles's oven, given to me as a birthday gift in 2013 and about to be unboxed (see below). You also see my stubby fridge, some pots and pans, and the obligatory mess of wires.

A shot taken while standing—roughly from the same position as the first photo.

The following shot was taken while I stood next to the kitchenette. I've turned around; the front door is behind me, and you can see my desk (thanks again, Joe) and my, uh, "bed." The studio's one big window gives a lovely view of the parking lot and of the building across the way. No sweeping panoramas here, alas.

A better shot of the "bed" and its environs:

A closeup of the nightstand. I texted this picture to my brother David, who commented, "Nice!"

Charles will be happy to see that I've finally deployed my birthday gift. I also bought a microwave the other day; decided to go with a tiny one, after all, because it was on sale for very cheap, and because it looks and works just like the microwave from my Hayang studio—simple, and brutally efficient.

Commenter Texas Annie had asked for wide shots of the kitchenette. I don't normally take requests (or orders) regarding what content I put on my blog, but I decided, what the hell, and have consented to show my kitchenette off in some detail. Below, my kitchenette as seen from an angle:

Here's a closer shot of the sink/counter/cabinets area, which drives home the point that I have almost zero counter space, and that's why I don't feel the urge to put up wide shots (I'd rather focus on the food). As you see, my stove is electric, not gas, which means I won't spend quite as much money on gas, thank Cthulhu:

My next post will show you some exterior shots so that stalkers will have an easier time finding me.


currying favor

My local grocery stocks a surprising number of non-Korean goods. I found bay leaves and cloves there, much to my delight, and the biggest jackpot of all: I found a huge plastic bottle of curry for only five bucks. That's the good news: I won't need to go all the way to Itaewon to fetch my much-coveted spice.

The bad news, alas, is that it's East Asian curry, which I think of as the Bill Murray of curry: sweet and not very serious. Indian curry doesn't fuck around: it's got an aroma and a flavor that both hit you. Hard. Indian curry isn't shy about its pungency. It's like the guy who deliberately refuses to shower for a week, then sits next to you on the subway, breathing heavily and staring at you with a Dafuckyougonna doowuhbahdit? look on his face as he wordlessly assaults you with his brain-raping fetor. East Asian curry, by contrast, is a dainty little geisha who titters in shame when she farts accidentally.

Be that as it may, I'm going to try to use this curry to make my old shrimp-and-chicken curry dish, assuming I can find fresh basil somewhere.* And proper peas—not the shitty little flavorless green jawbreakers that Koreans normally eat.

*Every now and again, I'll mention fresh basil on the blog, and Charles will ask me why I'm not growing my own. I'd love to try, but I'd need to know where to find basil seeds and the proper soil. I assume the local E-Mart or Home Plus will have planting/gardening supplies, but will they have the seeds? Or should I order the seeds from iHerb? Because if I could grow large quantities of basil, I'd make myself a ton of pesto. Pine nuts are expensive in Korea, but at least they're readily available.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

process and product:
a Lunar New Year's post

I kick off the lunar new year by making you drool.

Here, in seventeen images, I've tried to capture the process of making yesterday's delectable choucroute alsacienne. Hover your cursor over the images to see the captions. If you're viewing this post on a smart phone, then I'm sorry, but you won't be able to see the title text. All the images have a width of 300 pixels, so there will be no "click to enlarge" here. (The original images were 2300 pixels wide.)

Damn—that sauerkraut recipe is a keeper. And it's so, so easy to make.

Happy Lunar New Year! You can't imagine how ecstatic I am that I'm once again able to cook.