Thursday, December 16, 2010

Private Moments

Midnight, pitch-black and unfairly cold. Snow falling softly on the bridge. Standing there, an elderly couple clutches something - papers? a bouquet? - in their four hands. Click. Hiss. A flame. The two stand, entranced. The fire roars and falls. briefly illuminating the two. Poof. As one, they let the flames go. Darkness again.

I turn and walk away. They didn't see me...they didn't see anything but their loss. I don't look back. This moment was never mine.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Foreign Lands Roundup

I mean, I've only missed like two weeks now. Meh. It's been a pretty busy two weeks for me. And it's been a pretty busy two weeks for the international community, so let's talk about the thing that's been on everyone's mind: WIKILEAKS!

::cue dramatic music::

I have, as you were probably desperately hoping, Some Thoughts on this whole Wikileaks business.First, though, some background: As we've been aware for some time, a while back, Pfc Bradley Manning managed to obtain and then release confidential information that included details about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as a series of about 250,000 diplomatic cables from members of the US Foreign Service. The contents of the cables varies, but most are fairly frank assessments of personalities and situations abroad (which make them of particular interest to me).

Here's one of the most fun things about these cables: as of yet, none of them have been particularly revelatory. Anyone with half a brain could have deduced from afar the "batman and robin relationship" between Putin and Medvedev, or the fact that Silvio Berlusconi is generally disgusting. That China would welcome a unified Korean peninsula and that many arab states are concerned about Iran came as a mild surprise (if only to have those things confirmed), but really are more damaging to those states' abilities to contain the Iranian and North Korean regimes (which were tenuous at best to begin with).

Many people are understandably upset about this. They (including the heads of state and foreign secretaries of many nations such as the US) have come out and condemned Julian Assange and his Shadowy Organization, S.P.E.C.T.R.E Wikileaks as giving aid and comfort to America's enemies or whatever. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, many are heralding Assange as a freedom fighter, persevering for the cause of truth and transparency in government.

Both of these reactions are pretty much bullshit. Wikileaks will cause serious problems for US diplomats abroad, yes, though the extent to which lives are greatly endangered is unclear. What's most problematic is the leaks (and the subsequent hurrahs for freedom of information) fails to understand a key facet of diplomacy: tact. Here's the thing. Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Ahmedinejad, Putin and EVERY OTHER WORLD LEADER are not complete idiots. You don't run a country by being a total moron who doesn't have some idea of how you're perceived by the outside world. Berlusconi not only knows he's seen as a manwhore, he REVELS in it. Same goes for most of the other leaders - they really do know just what we think of them. But the thing about diplomacy is, if you go around telling everybody exactly what you think about them, you're not going to get anywhere.

But I guess that's why some people are Anonymous. Real Connections with Real People are just too impossible for the tactless.

Just as they're not some torpedo in the side of US foreign policy, neither are the leaks some great victory of free speech and transparency. Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: what is gained by the release of these cables? The answer is: absolutely nothing, other than a re-confirmation that the United States Government is very much run by the people. Diplomats: they're just like us! What do we lose? Well ultimately it's a little harder in the short term for the diplomats to do what they need  to really it's kind of a wash. It seems to me that Mr. Assange and his organization decided to release a bunch of cables that are mostly needling annoyances in the side of the US, because they...I dunno? They just like doing things to be obnoxious? Which, really, is the worst, stupidest reason to do anything. "I'm bored. OH I KNOW WHAT I CAN DO! I'll be obnoxious!" It's basically tantamount to revealing the end of a Nicholas Sparks NovelMovie starring Rachel McMoore-Hathaway and Some Hot Dude With Abs - any idiot with half a brain could have seen it coming, but if you were looking forward to enjoying the movie (which I guess some people do?), it's kind of annoying to know what's coming before the opening credits rule.

So here's the deal, Assange: find us some information of real consequence that's been hidden from us and then we can talk about you as a free speech champion. But until then, you're just a high school philosopher, bothering everyone with his pseudo-intellectual crusades. BYE.

And now some other things that happened last week:

Laurent Gbagbo, who did not win. Despite what he'll tell you.
  • In the Ivory Coast, a once lovely and stable country in West Africa (like back in the 90s), there was an election between the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. Voting fell mostly along the division lines of the civil war (which ended a few years back), to the surprise of absolutely no one. What was shocking, to the Gbagbo camp at least, was the end result: it seemed that Ouattara had won the runoff vote by about 9 points. "Not so!" claimed the Constitutional Council, who can apparently do these things. The Constitutional Council then decided that Gbagbo would get to serve as president some more, for funsies or whatever. Now everyone is all upset, and the African Union doesn't recognize Gbagbo as president, and no one really does and now people are like "umm dude you should probs leave or whatever, k? great." and Gbagbo is all like "STFU haters!" Now the US, the EU, and the UN are like "dude you are illegit!" And it's all messed up. Poor Ivory Coast...great job, French Colonialism! [France24]

I can't believe they let Camilla ride in this.
  • The British students are revolting! I mean, have you ever eaten with them?? HA HA I AM JUST KIDDING BRITISH STUDENTS ARE OFTEN VERY PLEASANT HUMANS (well, insofar as college students can be pleasant humans). No but seriously, the Parliament decided last week to raise tuition fees for British university students (doing so in a way that would be met with cries of SOCIALST NAZI ISLAMOFACISTS from the current GOP in the US). The students, who had likely been planning on paying a significantly smaller amount of money for university, got rull upset and decided the best person on whom to take this would would be the powerless figurehead Prince Charles and his skanky companion, Camilla. Or more specifically, on their car. Prince Charles seemed nervous, but then he always seems nervous. Camilla continued to emit stank lines from her person. So...10 points to Ravenclaw? [BBC News]

Lisbeth Salander did not do this. Because she is fictional. Probably.
  • Sweden has been feeling left out lately, guys! With their continued low rankings on the governmental corruption lists, high standards of living, relative unharm in the recent global economic crisis, and complete lack of terrorism, Sweden lately has been feeling like a wallflower at a junior high dance. But not anymore! Why, just this weekend, Sweden managed to get their efficient, stylish, DIY hands on some of that sweet sweet terrorisms the western countries just love love love so much. Finally! Sweden was rocked as two blasts hit Stockholm (that's the capital of Sweden, nerds) and were apparently unconnected to Lisbeth Salander. But hooray! Now Sweden can have their very own Terrorisms Histeria! Congrats, guys! [Reuters]

Boo Korean Education System!

Following on the heels of a particularly good weekend has come a particularly shitty Monday. I suppose it's all my fault, I said (TWICE) on Sunday that I would be basically coasting this week, since I'd only be doing review worksheets in my classes. Reviewing is important! Especially in language learning, and ESPECIALLY when Teacher is burnt out at the end of the semester.

In doing the review worksheet, however, I learned an important thing about the students: most of them are morons.

That's not fair. Most of them have just been COMPLETELY failed by the Korean education system. There was a section on present continuous (or progressive) verbs, like "I am playing", and instead of filling in "am playing" in the blank, all any (and I mean each and every single one of the students) of them could come up with was "I playing". I realized that I needed to do a quick review explanation of the present continuous so the kids could do the worksheet without me going absolutely effing nuts, so I set it up. We went over the first question and then we conjugated the present continuous for "to be playing". It was all set up in such a way that at the very least, the smarter students would be able to make the leap from "I am playing" to "We are swimming".


This time, it was "I am playing" (because it was written on the board) and "We swimming". I realized, after some reflection, that this is largely because they way they are taught this verb construction in the textbook omits the function of the auxiliary "to be" verb, focusing only on the -ing verb. All they are learning is "swimming", not "am swimming". Indeed, at no point in the elementary school curriculum are they ever even formally taught the verb "to be", they are just supposed to somehow pick it up from the rest of the lessons.

I suppose there is some merit to this - it allows that particular function of language to develop organically or whatever, but that just doesn't happen in this country. The reason? Simply put, the Korean education system doesn't value problem solving or critical thinking; rather, it prizes an ability to memorize facts by rote as the most important part of a person's education.

The result? Children cannot pick up the pattern from "I am playing" and apply it to "We are swimming". Put in larger terms, the adults in this country have a serious problem-solving deficit. Unless they have been specifically told one way to solve a problem, it is a complete mystery to many adults here. Take, for instance, traffic problems. In narrow streets, the buses tend to assume they have the right of way. So naturally, instead of reversing to manoeuvre around a car that has been parked unfortunately far out into the street. the bus driver will lay on his horn to indicate that the driver of said car needs to come out and move the car.

Writ larger, this is a country where there is only one solution to any given problem. It is immaterial how inefficient that solution might be, or how much better a solution you might come up with is, that is the one solution they learned and therefore that is the only solution that could possibly be implemented to solve the problem.


NB: I realize that this is a pretty big generalization of an entire country. And I really don't generally look upon places as a monolithic whole. But I think anyone who has been in South Korea for a while can tell you about this phenomenon, and the fact is, it starts early. Until a greater effort is made to teach children problem solving and critical thinking skills, innovation and creative solutions will not be found in this country, at least not on any wide scale.

/Rant over

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm thankful for...

Last week, as many of you may know, was American Thanksgiving, where families (in accordance with American holiday tradition) gather together to stuff their faces and general remind each other of why they only do this once a year. Thanksgiving is, to me, a very important and special holiday for just that reason, so it's a pretty big bummer for me to not be with my family on Thanksgiving.

It was worse for me during my senior year in college, when I decided it wasn't worth the expense and time to fly to Houston (from DC), drive to Dallas, drive back, and fly back to DC all in the span of about 5 days, so I elected to stay in my apartment for the holiday. Of course, I was surrounded by all sorts of Thanksgiving stuff, so it killed me a little to not be with my family. (Thanks to a friend of mine staying in the city as well, there was still a wonderful dinner at a lovely restaurant.) This year, however, being in Korea made it a bit better, as I wasn't completely surrounded by American Thanksgiving (except in my classes, but that was all brought on by myself). That, plus my Korea family over here, made for Thursday that went by with only a small pang of homesickness.

That said, I DID have a thanksgiving with a family (albeit one to whom I am not related by a shared ancestry), and that's just one of the


  • I am thankful for bit torrenting and relatively fast download speeds. This way, I can keep up with my stories from afar and continue the slow, inevitable melting process that is consuming my brain.
  • I am thankful for the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo, for reminding me just what a good person I really am.
  • I am thankful for Regretsy (and specifically this post, very NSFW), because when you see it, you will shit bricks
  • I am thankful for Sesame Street and the fine folks at PBS and the Children's Television Workshop, for making their content readily available on the internet, taking care of so much of my lesson planning for me.
  • I am thankful to Korea for providing me with a cheap but fascinating place to live, endless sights to see, an abundance of delicious food, and a daily reminder of the importance of personal hygeine.
  • I am thankful to the inventors of "time zones" for providing me with a wonderful experience in time travelling, so that I can live in the future (relative to people back in the States)
  • Most of all, I am thankful to the amazing people I have met here, who have become, with no hyperbole, my Korea Family.
  • What I'm really thankful for, however, was the Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend. 
I arrived at my friends Lionel and Mel's place on Friday evening to begin our American culinary adventure. Armed with (what seemed like) hundreds of pounds of groceries, a determined will, and Good Old-Fashioned American Ingenuity, we commenced our foray into creating a Thanksgiving in a country that does not cook western food. And Thanksgiving is, of course, ALL western.
    Friday night started out...with some difficulties. Though our intention was to grab a quick bite to eat before heading up to Songtan to start baking, Jill's interesting bus ride (going the wrong way, finding the wrong bus terminal, taking seventy billion years to get to the Liomel's place) quickly nixed that plan. "Fine," I said to no one in particular (and likely worrying the natives about my mental state), "I shall simply head directly to Melionel's househome and hang out with them. And possibly eat dinner."

    As a testament to what good friends they are, they even shared some of their dinner with me. 

    The three of us - Lionel, Mel, and myself - lounged on the couch watching Arrested Development (the best show ever created) as we waited for Jill to arrive from her journey of terror. Finally, she made it, and I announced that the baking was indeed to commence.

    Note the time: 8pm

    The pie crusts started out fairly smoothly. The dough was made with little difficulty (but giant mess, as pie crust often makes), and I left the dough to cool while Melanie and Jill made their fillings for the pies. The first batch of pie crust came out beautifully. It rolled smoothly on the floured formica countertop, behaving completely appropriately as I lovingly laid it into the pie tins. The second dough...well, the second dough was made with a suspicious flour. It was NOT Gold brand all-purpose flour, but rather the Korean "Beksul" brand, which (though I am not sure) is likely made out of something ludicrous like dandelions. This dough simply would not roll. I cajoled and harassed, begged and pleaded, but NO DICE. Fortunately, there was enough dough left over from the first batch to complete the other two pie shells.

    And then it was time for the macaroni and cheese. Naturally, I became completely unable to open a bag of pasta, and my first attempt successfully spilled about a half a cup all over myself, the counter, and the kitchen floor. Fortunately Lionel and Mel have a dog.

    At some point, Meg showed up and bothered everyone (and also made stuffing, which was delish, and mashed potatoes (though those came later), which were also delish), and a pie was baked and another pie started and then it was 2:30am and OH EMME GEE IT IS TIME FOR BED. This was the plan: We would go to bed, and wake up at 8am to finish cooking in just enough time to put the turkey in at 9am. So I set my alarm, fully expecting other humans to wake up as well.

    THIS DID NOT HAPPEN (I know, it's shocking). I woke up at 8:30...and no one else did. I threw the last pie in the oven (the tiny, tiny oven that could only hold a single pie at a time, but thank goodness it existed at all), and noticed our savior: the Butterball directions, which shaved two hours off our terrible estimate of the turkey cooking time. I sent Lionel back to bed (when he finally dragged himself out of bed), and collapsed on the couch to wait on the pie to finish.

    The alarm buzzed and I checked the a cold oven. JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL.

    Long story short (too late!), we put the turkey in the oven, and one by one the guests arrived. And you arrived and you arrived and you arrived and you arrived and--


    Picture it: the turkey finishes to a delicious golden brown, and I am passed the drippings. I open the cornstarch to get started on the gravy, and BAM!

    Cornstarch everywhere.

    Chalk that up to another of Nolen's Thanksgiving (minor) Disasters.

    The gravy's done, the table's set, and the 16 of us dig in to an incredible Thanksgiving feast. Special thanks to Andrea for her delicious cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, rolls and CINNAMON BUTTER.

    The feast was amazing, the company better. Crashing on the couch after a marathon two days of cooking never felt so sweet. 

    So the last thing I'm thankful for: I'm thankful for everyone who made this Thanksgiving the best Thanksgiving in Korea, EVER.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    North vs. South, again

    The scene on Yeonpyeong-do late this afternoon. Photo via

    I know it's right after a Foreign Lands roundup, but this probably shouldn't wait until next week. So, kids, here's the deal. The North fired some shells on an inhabited island near the disputed maritime border between North and South Korea today. This was ostensibly in response to a provocative exercise by the South Koreans, though the South Korean government is denying the claims that any shells came close to the boundary. This is a fairly big deal because instead of firing upon a military target, the North Koreans fired on civilian targets - homes and businesses on the island of Yeonpyeong. The South Korean and American militaries are on heightened alerts, with South Korean fighter jets being (apparently) scrambled near the border and South Korean troops at the ready. More can be read here, here, and here.

    Of course, most of this information is fairly shaky at best - South Korea is not exactly known for its stellar journalistic practices (barest foundation for this fourth-person hearsay? LET'S PUBLISH AS UNQUALIFIED FACT!), and that goes double for the shitty Korean English-language news outlets, so the precise situation is not exactly known, and probably won't be known until tomorrow morning. But I figured some of you might be curious, so I am going to go ahead and give you my gut reaction to all this.

    To me, this feels like the sinking of the Cheonan, which happened back in March of this year. It was one of the most deadly attacks on South Korea since the cease fire in 1953, and was a real tragedy for this country. But ultimately, in the grand scheme of things - nothing happened. Well that's not precisely true. Most of the last vestiges of the Sunshine policy of President Roh Moo-hyun (which had largely been gutted by current president Lee Myeong-bak in previous years) were reversed, and business continued on as normal in the South. The GNP talked big, but, as expected, did little.

    Nor, on the other hand, did North Korea. Really. Nothing - and I mean literally nothing - came of the Cheonan incident other than people talked about what to do with a problem like North Korea. My gut reaction is that this incident will ultimately be similar - North Korea putting on a show of violence that is as much to shore up support amongst the top-ranking party officials for the impending transition of power from Kim Jong Il as it is to regain international attention as they seek to restart the 6 party diplomatic talks.

    That's sort of the beauty of this strategy. While I'm not 100% sure that the talks would go their way, they have pretty much forced the other five nations (Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the US) to agree at least in principle in order to avoid further violence. I'm betting that sometime during 2011, we'll be hearing about new rounds of talks between the six nations. Neither South Korea nor North Korea really wants all-out war - it would be way too destabilizing in the north, and I'm not sure the south is convinced it could win in a war with North Korea - 700,000 troops vs 3 million is a fairly daunting disadvantage.

    So there you go - I believe, at this moment, that this was a one-off, isolated incident. The problem, though, is North Korea sees these isolated incidents as viable ways to get the rest of the world to pay attention, and will almost certainly continue to do them whenever they need something. The key here is to stop treating North Korea like a petulant child - it just reinforces their behavior. What's more, I think it does us a real disservice in terms of our own abilities to understand and think through situations involving North Korea when we write it off as a child. It would behoove us to put ourselves in the shoes of Kim Jong Il and do a bit of critical thinking to try to figure out what they want and what they would be willing to sacrifice to get it. Only then will the outside world be able to come up with a workable strategy to successfully interact with/contain/isolate/solve North Korea.

    Oh yeah basic message: I'm fine over here, guys. No need to worry.

    Foreign Lands Roundup

    Okay guys here's the deal. Last week I didn't do a foreign lands round-up. Which you should probably get over because a once a weekly updated blog about foreign lands should not be your primary resource for learning about The World Around You. BUT ALSO IN MY DEFENSE: basically nothing had happened. There really was only one event of any real importance, the G-20 meeting in Seoul, and basically nothing happened there. I'll try to summarize for you:

    • CURRENCY WARS!!!!!!
    That's not really what happened. What really happened was that the United States and everybody else has been worried for a really long time that China has been keeping its currency artificially depressed, which is doing any number of bad things to the world economy, not least of which being hurting current account balances and trade deficits. So everyone has been all like "Ugh CHINA just let your currency rise already!" and China has been like "Um dudes hellz to the naw, we likes being net exporters plus also hello inflation much??"

    Then, a few days before the G20 summit, the US Feds decided to enact a program of Quantitative Easing, in which they attempt to ease some numbers or whatever (just kidding, they are putting more dollars into the market by buying their own bonds back). The problem with this, some people are whining, is that it will have the same overall effect on the US Dollar as China's policy of artificial deflation - in essence, the value of the dollar will be kept down. So everyone else was REAL upset with both the US and China, so people were all like "OMG G20 CURRENCY WARS, Y'ALL!" because they expected everyone to fight everyone else about dollars and yuan and other monopoly monies.

    Of course, this didn't happen. Because things like these rarely happen, especially when something as important as artificial depression of currency values is on the line. I MEAN.

    So that was the G-20 summit in Seoul. Moving right along to the present day, here's this weeks

    Foreign Lands Roundup

    No, Mr. Cowen, we don't think the PIGS name is a good idea either.

    •  The moronically named PIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) experienced a bit of a setback in their quest to no longer be the World's Worst Developed Nations. Ireland, a country with a fantastic current account balance (government expenditures relative to income are, in fact, some of the lowest in the EU) if you ignore the whole "we have pumped ludicriously large amounts of money into propping up the failing banking system" thing, finally admitted that its economy was basically in the shitter. Following the unilateral announcement (Taoiseach Brian Cowen would like me to stress that they absolutely did NOT ask for this) from the EU that a bailout package would be offered, world markets were in a scramble last week, all but certain that the European economy was on the verge of crumbling into a pit of despair. As of  publication, this has not happened. [BBC News]
    Not this Madagascar. Though the politics are sometimes just as funny.
    • Madagascar (the country, not the children's animated movie franchise) experienced a coup this week, or possibly it didn't, depending on whom you ask. Yes, that was the correct usage of the word whom. Take note, failed American high school students. Madagascar is no stranger to coups, however, so it came as no surprise to find out that Mr. Rajoelina had been ousted just a year and a half or so after a coup brought him into power. That the two coups were led by the same human was only marginally more shocking. Here's the thing about this coup, though: turns out it wasn't. A coup, I mean. Within a few hours,  Mr. Rajoelina showed up to smile, wave, and prove to everyone that he was just fine and not couped out off office, thanks very much. So it turns out there was actually no news from Madagascar, except the referendum on the Malagasy constitution which will probably end up letting Andry Rajoelina stay in power until forever. [Economist]
    She is beautiful. He looks like a horse. What is this, an American sitcom??
    • Debate the newsworthiness of this all you want, nerds, but I'm talking about it anyway! That's right, here's your post about the impending nuptials between Kate Middleton and Prince William. This has spurred the usual remarks about the relevance of the British monarchy, the importance of marriage in the modern age, and whether or not Kate Middleton will be the next Princess Diana. All of which is, to a fairly large extent, useless. But what is not useless is this: it will be nice for the world to have something that is just pleasant to focus on for a while. Seriously guys. We hear so so much about the bad crap that goes on around us that I for one am unabashedly looking forward to gratuitous articles about wedding planning, who will be wearing what, and who is going/who got snubbed. Deal with it, and mazel tov to the happy couple. I shall have to get a new hat. [BBC News]

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    No Ma'am November

    Okay, okay, so it's two weeks into this thing. But let's just pretend I had a reason for waiting this long that isn't "laziness" or something similar, alright? Let's go with "I was trying to make sure I would actually stick to this plan before writing about it." I think that sounds pretty good.

    So it's November, and that means a couple things: the weather turns colder, the leaves fall off the trees, and everything around you dies (seriously, that's why autumn is the season of tragedy, not winter. Winter is irony). November is also the month where the holiday season looms large - a season filled with excess and indulgence - and this year, I wanted to make the most of this last month before it all goes straight to hell (not that I dislike Christmas, it's actually my favorite holiday because it lasts for SO LONG).

    This year, I decided it would be time to institute a "No-ma'am-November" policy, entailing three things:
    1. No Spending Money
    2. No Drinking Alcohol
    3. No Shaving
    Let's take them individually.

    • No Spending Money
    This one is fairly simple. Do not spend money unless you absolutely need to. Now, this is kind of difficult - do I really need that sweater (it is getting fairly cold, after all), or do I just want it? Can it wait until December? The answer here is difficult to determine sometimes, so I've set myself a budget. I won't disclose numbers, for judgment, but suffice it to say that I'll be going on less than half of what I've been spending in previous months. The added side effect of this is that a) I'm saving up boatloads of money and b) I am finding new things to do with my time. Like Japanese dramas! Sidebar: everyone needs to start watching The Liar Game NOW.

    Related to no spending money is the next - and perhaps most difficult - part of No Ma'am November.

    • No Drinking Alcohol
    Drinking alcohol in Korea is a bit swimming in water for a fish. It's how you relax and unwind and finally let go of the stresses of the work week. It's enjoyed by natives and expats alike, and deciding to take an ENTIRE month off generally elicits reactions of "what's wrong with you? are you an alcoholic?" and faces that make it seem as if you'd just announced you were going to put a casino on the moon.
    Jim Gaffigan - People Who Don't Drink
    Jim Gaffigan Hot Pocket VideoJim Gaffigan Bacon VideoAll Jim Gaffigan Videos

    But so far, I've managed to successfully not drink this whole month. It's had some great effects - I've been losing weight, and I've been saving a TON of money. In addition, I haven't really had to give up time with my friends, though being the sober one can get, well, tiring. For want of a more judicial word.

    It's been 16 days since my last drink. Do I get a chip or something for this? I am pretty sure I deserve at least a gold star or something.

    Last, but not least (well maybe least), is:
    • No Shave November
    This is exactly as it sounds. It is a fairly common trope for this month to not shave - as the weather gets colder and clothes get longer, it becomes okay to stop shaving those parts that most of the year people expect to be clean shaven. In this spirit, I am not shaving for the WHOLE month, and it's becoming incredibly itchy.

    On the plus side, though, I am growing a FANTASTIC beard. Check me out!

    You're welcome.
    So that's No Ma'am November. It's been going well so far, and I'm over the halfway hump. I'm pretty proud of myself so far, and I'm considering carrying a few of these things over into December. Definitely the beard, for sure.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Foreign Lands Roundup

    Happy Daylight Savings Time, America! I hope you remembered to set your iPhones back an hour, or the LeprechaunWitchFairy will come and steal your first born! Or possibly give you a dollar. I forget which.

    You may not know this, America, but not everywhere has your fancy Congress with its power to effect the space-time continuum with a single legislative vote! Well two legislative votes. And then a Conference Committee from both chambers, and then two more votes and then the presidential signature. So it turns out it's quite a lot. But still! Not everywhere can do this, and one of the places that cannot change time via magic or whatever is Foreign Lands, where your author is currently residing. So keeping that in mind (and thus recognizing that you are currently another hour behind Foreign Lands), I give you the roundup of what happened this week! Hooray!

    Kathryn Bigelow presents: Greece (photo via)
    • Greece last week was terrorized by a series of bomb scares. "So what who cares?" you are probably saying to yourself, "Why just last week, we had our OWN bomb scare and THAT ONE WAS FEDEXED." Well you are right, America! Who cares indeed! Mostly, the people who care are the people at various embassies in Greece (any of whom happen to be looking for new staffers, I am mostly not scared of opening the mail! HINT, HINT!) Also scared of this nonsense are probably the people who open the mail for Sarkozy and Merkel. I guess the Greek wannabe-bombers did not want other, less messed up European leaders to feel left out, so he or she was kind enough to send some bombs to the French and German presidents. Being too badass to be deterred by something as small as a "mail bomb", Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel continued to open mail like a bandit this week. [RTE]
    Be careful, Mr. President! Do not wear a hat, or you will show everyone your secret Muslim identity!  (photo via)
    • Following the serious drubbing/tail kicking/better than expected showing in the congressional elections last week, Ol' Barry Bamz took his emo self and did what most of us would do when the guy we THOUGHT liked us but was really just using us for our hope/spare change for tolls: he hopped on a plane and jetted for someplace warm. Of course, for most of us, that place would be somewhere like "the south of France" or "Tahiti" or "Pensacola Beach, FL". But not ol' NObama. No he decided to go to a place of "strategic importance" or whatever (meaning filled with poor people and also guns) - India. Naturally, when one goes to India, one goes to various Eastern-flavored temples, and when one goes to these temples, one often has to wear headgear. Kind of like when I went to the orthodontist in 8th grade! Of course, we all know what this means: OBAMA IS A MUSLIM. So it's up in the air whether or not he will actually go to said temple. Also apparently the Indian security is concerned about murderous coconuts trying to kill the president (most likely sent by John Boehner). ALSO ALSO: Guys chill. This trip is NOT costing $200M per day. The WAR IN AFGHANISTAN does not cost $200M per day. [BBC News]
    This man is a douchebag dictator. He is also a winner. (photo via)
    • Burma held elections for the first time in 20 years this week. OH NO, you say, HE IS GOING ON ABOUT ELECTIONS AGAIN.  Yes that's right! I am! It's my blog and I like elections so deal. ANYWAY. Burma held elections, and HERE COMES THE JOKE...Do you know how we can tell Burma is NOT a democracy?

               ...Because it's run by a fairly brutal dictator named General Than Shwe and actively engages in              oppression of its citizens. THeir party-backed candidates are set to sweep the elections. Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be here all week. Tip your waiters, they probably have family in Burma who need the money. [Reuters]

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    A sample lesson, in play format.

    THE SETTING. A run-down classroom in a run-down school in a Seoul exurb. 

    THE PLAYERS. A beaten-down teacher and the group of fifth graders he tries to teach.

    Curtains up on the classroom. We start in the middle of the lesson, about present continuous verbs.

    TEACHER: Alright kids, let's open our books to page 113. Do you see page 113?


    TEACHER: Page 113? Yes?


    TEACHER: Okay really guys, page 113.

    STUDENTS: (mumble something incoherently in Korean)

    TEACHER: Great. Now please read the first sentence aloud. 3...2...1!

    STUDENTS: (on cue, as this is the only way to get them to speak) We are going to the jew to see the ryans.

    TEACHER: (blanching just a little) Okay...let's try that again. Repeat after me, "zoo".

    STUDENTS: Jew.

    TEACHER: Zoo.

    STUDENTS: Jew.



    TEACHER: (with a resigned sigh) Fine. Let's try another one. Repeat after me, "lions".

    STUDENTS: Ryans.

    TEACHER: (holding the 'l' for exaggeration) Lllllllions

    STUDENTS: (mimicking) Rrrrrrryans.

    TEACHER: (jumps out the window)

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Politics, she is a harsh mistress

    I haven't really done much actual political speaking on this blog. Sure I've got the foreign lands round-up, and from that you probably should have guessed that I'm fairly left-leaning in my own personal politics. So when I woke up this morning and turned on my computer, it was with the heavy sense of dread that had been looming over me for the last several weeks. Glued to my computer screen throughout the day today, I watched with sadness as a whole host of politicians I admire - and a few I didn't - lost their races for re-election. There was the whole host of midwestern politicians, from Earl Pomeroy and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin of the Dakotas to, well basically the whole Ohio delegation. Add to that, the surprise (and surprisingly painful) losses in a couple Virginia races, as well as a few important politicians in the Southwest (I say important because their input would have been invaluable on any immigration reform legislation). Though there are still a few outstanding races to be called, it was an unambiguously bad night to be a Democrat.

    But sitting here in my classroom in Osan, South Korea, I take heart in a couple of things. First, American politics is, as it always has been, a regression towards the mean. This cycle, the pendulum swung - hard - to the right, but I truly do not believe that it will stay there. The economy will perk back up, people will become happier with their lives, and it will be far harder to tap into the fear and anger that I believe drove (at least in part) the dynamics of this election. Hopefully (for supporters of the Democratic party), this election will serve as a wake-up call to the party, reminding us that the optics of the situation matter just as much as the actual facts - sometimes, the message does indeed get lost in the medium, and we would be very wise to wake up to the media.

    Second, while things will be tough for Democrats in the House, the fact is they still control the Presidency and the Senate. What's more, when you look at the Republicans who have won Democratic seats - guys like Mark Kirk of Illinois and John Hoeven of North Dakota (yes there's a lot of Midwestern politician love, deal with it) - these are not the fringe candidates we've seen in the media. These are intelligent, moderate gentlemen with good heads on their shoulders and an actual ability and desire to work across the aisle.

    Third, I look at my peers, the members of my generation, and specifically my group of friends. I grew up a liberal in the state of Texas, living in one of the reddest of congressional districts - I quickly and instinctively developed an ability talk with, work with, laugh with, and most  importantly understand people with differing political ideologies. I developed an ability to articulate my beliefs and an ability to accept opposing viewpoints in others. What's more is that when I look at my closest friends, I see the same thing. We are not all liberals, or conservatives, or libertarians, or Neo-Nazis or Pagans or Socialists or Islamofacists or Gun Nuts or White Supremacists. In fact, I would argue that NONE of us are any of those things (excluding the political ideologies)'s all just too extreme for us. We - this generation as a whole - are a group of people who oppose extremism, who look for the middle of the road, but who are willing to stand our ground when it comes to our beliefs. We talk with each other, we compromise, we are diverse, and we do not let that stop us from having personal relationships and what's more, we eschew those people would try to push us to one extreme ideology or the other. And that is the future. That is where America is heading and it is my generation who is going to lead us there.

    A final note: I am a political junkie. I readily admit this. I LOVE elections more than I care to admit in polite conversation, and I look forward to my next opportunity to work on one. But politics is a harsh mistress. Because you go through nights like this, or '08 for my Republican friends, and you feel hurt. You feel like you've been punched in the gut or hit in the face with a brick. The thing is, it hurts so good. You can't get enough of it because you know that the high of winning is a high like none other. You crave the long hours and sleepless nights, and you can't understand the concept of "free time in October". Politics - elections in particular - beats you down. And you keep coming back for more.

    And I wouldn't have it any other way.

    See you all in '12.

    [EDIT: 4:11pm] Sorry, I feel like a terrible jerk to all my friends out there: I did, in fact, intend to add a mention of congratulations to all my friends whose blood, sweat, and tears poured into these campaigns made them a success. Enjoy your evening, and get ready for the hard part.

    No, not the governing, the waiting until the next election season...


    Look. I've been busy. And preoccupied! What with "having a life" and "watching elections", it's been a pretty busy past couple of weeks for me. Plus it's freezing in my classroom which makes typing hard. But HERE YOU ARE, INGRATES.

    President Dilma Rousseff. A lady with lady parts running Brazil.

    • It was a pretty scary week before Halloween. The American midterm elections rolled into their last week, which in itself was terrifying, especially with all the mediocre comedy playing out in a situation filled with so many possibilities. Brazil, on the other hand, actually had an election, Their second one, in fact! And this time they actually CHOSE A LEADER! Which is just crazy talk. Who even knew that would be possible? Not only did they choose a leader, but it turns out they chose a lady leader! Hopefully she will be able to overcome this disability (being a lady) and actually lead a country. Good for her!
    Pretty sure God is actively trying to destroy Indonesia.
    •  Apparently God Hates Indonesia. ON THE SAME DAY, this country had not one, but two major disasters strike - the eruption of the volcano Merapi at one end of the archipelago, and an earthquake triggering a tsunami at the other end. There's really not much comedy to be found just sucks. So probably you should all just throw some money at Indonesia. And remember how much worse off some people have it than you.
    Good night, sweet prince. And may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
    • In ACTUAL tragic news, however, PAUL THE OCTOPUS, the famed psychic who successfully predicted the outcome of the FIFA World Cup this summer (doesn't that just seem like a lifetime ago?) has died! This is terrible. Now we no longer have an animal to predict outcomes for us...whatever shall we do?? Let us mourn the loss of this beloved creature, but celebrate his life, and remember the fond times we had this summer when an octopus ate food and predicted Germany's loss to whomever it was.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Supes Dupes Important Update Announcement!


    Yep folks, you're looking at this correctly. After much careful consideration, I have made up my mind to accept the job offer to teach English in Shanghai. Starting in April, this photo you see here will be my home! I'm seriously excited to start on this new adventure, and you all can be sure that there will be a couch available for you to hang out on. So come visit!

    Also of note, I will be spending the month of March in the good ol' US of A. So start clearing your calendars now for visitings!

    Oh HELL no! I did NOT leave the South Side for this!

    Please pretend there is a screencap of Tim Meadows in Mean Girls pulling a fire alarm and saying "Oh HELL no! I did not leave the southside for this!" here.

    Last Tuesday was...a day. I don't know if there was something in the Coco Puffs (or rather, kimchi and rice) that the kids ate for breakfast, but they were actin' like they had lost their damn minds yesterday! At first I thought it was just me...I was a little grumpy, over tired, feeling sick, and generally having one of those "But I'm not even supposed to BE here!" mornings. According to many of my other teacher friends, though, it wasn't just seemed to be a Korea-wide phenomenon. Perhaps there is something significant about October 14th that I'm missing.

    The morning started off like most crazy mornings, with me trying to teach students who CLEARLY do not want to learn. Which, btw, is just the greatest feeling ever. I officially apologize to every teacher I ever had in the past for being a jerk in class. It is NOT fun from the other end. There was shouting and playing and general dicking around going on in most of the lessons, but it was the period of time before my 4th period class was to start that really made me just give up on the day.

    A couple of boys were roughhousing, as they do, and generally seemed to be walking that line between fun and actual fighting that I've managed to tune out over the last seven months. Because that's just how it is here. Then all of a sudden, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of the boys was really struggling and that the noise coming from the two of them had been cut in half. I looked over and one of the boys had the other boy (who, incidentally, is my favorite student, Goatcheese) in a headlock. Fairly standard practice. But then I saw that Goatcheese was flailing his hands, trying to get out of the head lock. His eyes were bugged out, and he was CLEARLY NOT BREATHING. I was like oh HELL no and took the agressor kid over to my coteacher and told her what was happening. She said something in Korean, the kid nodded, and went to take his seat, and we started class.

    And that was it. If I hadn't looked over, or if they were in the hallway or on the playground, this kid could have DIED (or at least passed out), and no one would have said a thing. I don't understand it...this is exactly why you have to watch children! I get it, boys rough house. It's a thing. BUT STRANGLING IS NOT OKAY. PEOPLE. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN NOT TO MURDER OTHER CHILDREN. Good lord!

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    FINALLY Foreign Lands Roundup

    Ugh so busy lately. Blah blah blah apologies blah blah blah two weeks late blah blah WHATEVER here's your damn round up of what went on in the world while you weren't looking (last week).

    Now that's what I call SUCCESS

    • Haiti continues to be an important international success story. Possibly related to the collapse of the government a few years ago, or the literal collapse of the capitol city, Port-au-Prince, back in January, a confirmed outbreak of genuine, bona fide cholera is currently ravaging the country. Naturally, Charles Dickens will be rising from the grave this Halloween weekend to write an excessively long novel about life in the 19th century, because apparently that's where Haiti has regressed to. On the upshot, though, the early 19th century was a pretty decent time for Haiti, what with the successful slave rebellion overthrowing the French colonial establishment. Too bad it's basically gone right downhill for them in the intervening two centuries. [BBC News]
    The poor mediocre French cars...
    • Speaking of the French, they are revolting! I mean, have you ever eaten lunch with them? HAHA I AM SO FUNNY. No but seriously, the young French are taking all their traditional angsty French ennui out on the government (by which I mean cars and storefronts) because the French government, led by International Man of Mystery Nicholas Sarkozy, was in the process of raising the early retirement age from 60 to 62. The Youngs were mad at this because "they thought it would mean fewer jobs for them" or because "they really don't like Sarko" or because "they were bored and French." So that's good for them. Just please try not to COMPLETELY ruin the country, guys, as some of us happen to be particularly fond of it. [France24] (yes the link is in French, deal with it)
    We definitely won one for the Gipper.
    • The Afghan "government," in a desperate bid for "legitimacy" and "control of their national territory," have entered into to talks with senior Taliban leaders. I think this means we can successfully chalk up Afghanistan as another win for America. U-S-A! U-S-A! [Reuters]'re saying she did what?? WOMEN.
    • There was a fantastic murder in Belgium last week, one ripped from the pages of an Agatha Christie mystery. A trio of sky diving enthusiasts, two women and a man, went on a jump. One of the womenfolk's (ed. this is what spellcheck thinks should go instead of women's) parachutes failed to open, and the woman (obviously) perished. The case was considered closed until recent evidence surfaced indicating that the two women were in competition for the affection of the man. The investigation took place, and it was discovered that the parachute had indeed been tampered with . One can almost imagine Hercule Poirot standing in his quaint Belgian home, twirling his moustache until he finally realized that, when competing for the love of a man, a woman will go to almost any length. [RTE]

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Dear Blog

    Dear Blog,

    It's been such a long time since we've spoken. I'm so sorry for that. But it's been a particularly busy week and a half! You see, my grandfather came to visit two weekends ago, so much of my time was spent showing him around Korea (well not the whole country, but some of it!) And then last week was just so busy with school and trips and hanging out with friends and playing with birthday presents...I'm sorry. I have been a neglectful blog owner. Please forgive me?

    I hope you do, because I have so much to tell you. Like my grandfather's visit, for instance. It was so great to see him, and pretty awesome that a 78 year old dude would fly out halfway around the world to visit his grandson. We did a lot - mostly eating - and we talked a lot, and it just felt really good to catch up with someone on the family side of things. I saw my America Friends (some of them) in July, and now I got to see my family (again some of them) in October, so I should be fairly well set until March.

    Grandpa examines a traditional room at the palace extension in the Hwaseong Fortress
    ANYWAY, Grandpa's visit. He stayed in Suwon, the larger city near me, and we mostly just bummed around the town like bums. The only really touristy thing we did was a visit to the Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was a lot of fun!

    We also ate. A lot. I introduced him to Korean pizza, which is always an experience (think really sweet sauce and lots of corn), and watched him use chopsticks - he did very well, for a beginner. We also had a pretty good Chinese-Korean buffet and some delicious samgyeopsal (which is my favorite food) and some great sushi. In all, I think he left with a pretty good impression of Korean food (and convinced him to get a cookbook, so be prepared when you go to see him, family).

    Beyond that, I've been teaching a lot and going on tours with other teachers and just generally doing stuff. It's weird to have a life that I'm not immediately putting on the internet, but that should end soon. I recently got my iPod Touch (the new one with the camera!) birthday present, so I've been playing with that. Mostly what this means is I will be on the internet A LOT more often. So hooray! Blog! You will see me again!

    Plus I've got Foreign Lands to catch up on and you STILL need to hear about Jeju and then halloween's coming up soon so AGH SO MUCH BLOGGING COMING UP!

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    To Shanghai or not to Shanghai?

    This right here is the question. photo via
    As some of you might already know, yesterday, I was offered a teaching position in Shanghai, China. The job is with a company that will for now remain nameless, and will be essentially equivalent to hagwon jobs here in Korea - that is, I will work mostly afternoons/evenings, and during the day on Saturday and Sunday. I will, of course, have two consecutive days off each week (Monday and Tuesday at most branches). The schedule will change in the summers and winters during Chinese public school holidays (much like it does for Korean hagwons) to support more intensive classes for the students. The classes will be smaller, with students of a more similar language ability than what I'm teaching now in public school. The job looks pretty good on paper - the pay is super competitive for China - but I'm still undecided about whether or not to take it. That's where you come in, blog! Here we go:

    • On the one hand, I miss my friends and family, a lot. And I really feel like I should be starting grad school sooner rather than later.
    • On the other hand, this job in China would give me seriously good experience that would help any application to grad school and potentially the Foreign Service (the career goal I have been working toward since basically high school)
    • On the other other hand, I'm starting to let Korea get under my skin. If I'm feeling this way 7.5 months in, can I really hack it for another year?
    • On the other other other hand (this is getting really handsy...), if I can't hack two years away from my friends and family, I SERIOUSLY  need to reconsider this whole "Foreign Service Officer" career path...
    • On the other other other other hand, this place offers FREE MANDARIN LESSONS, which is probably the most important language to learn today (with the debatable exception of Arabic)
    • On the other other other other other hand (seriously this is getting ridiculous) hagwon jobs are NOTORIOUSLY painful and generally unpleasant here in Korea...what makes me think that this one will be any different?
    • On the other other other other other OTHER hand, did I mention free Mandarin lessons? And isn't all of this just stuff I can put up with until my time comes, knowing that it will be really good for me (character-building and all that) in the long run?
    As you can see, I've got quite a lot to think about. It's becoming this gigantic, handsy monster, and I could really use some honest opinions. What would you do if you were in this situation? Would you take the leap? Or would you get the career officially started by going for a masters? Halp! (he said because it is 2006 apparently)

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Foreign Lands Roundup

    And I was doing so well! But whatevs, you will just have to deal with having your roundup a little late. TRUST ME IT IS WORTH IT.
    Life on Mars? What do you think now, Bowie??
    • You all should know this one. But just to make sure, I am going to tell you again anyway. Last week, an alumina (whatever that is) plant exploded or whatever in Hungary. I know, I know explosions are inherently cool things. BUT NOT THIS ONE EVEN THOUGH IT IS A REALLY COOL COLOR AND ALL. See the problem is that alumina waste is SUPER toxic and is currently working on killing all life in the area. And now it's flowing toward the Danube and everyone is all like "oh noes that's a giant important waterway in Europe" and not  like "oh cool now Hungary looks just like Mars!" Either response would be acceptable, I think. OH also fun fact: Hungary was for a long time all like "no it's cool, guys, this super toxic stuff is just fine, don't worry," which means they are basically American. Congrats! [BBC News]

    This is what will happen to Korea without kimchi. Just ask Toronto, eh?
    • SUPER IMPORTANT NEWS FROM KOREA: the heavy rains and hot temperatures of this summer, combined with the extended winter (that lasted until basically may) have combined to pretty much completely destroy the cabbage crop in Korea this summer.(And yes, I know that because I am writing from Korea, it doesn't really count as a foreign land BUT THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR SEMANTICS) So now a head of napa cabbage (from Korea) is costing like $12-$15 (USD) per head, and everyone is like OH HOLY CRAP WE WILL HAVE NO KIMCHI ANYMORE, EVER. Which really sucks, because the people here seem to like it. I could probably take it or leave it. [WPost/Neocon War Pamphlet]
    This is what democracy looks like. Messy piles of paper.
    • Kyrgyzstan had an election, and, proving itself to be ready to wear the "big boy democracy pants", was unable to come up with a clear winner. These elections, however, were only parliamentary, and really it's just a matter of the third place finishing party (Respublika) caucusing with one of the larger parties (either Ata Zurt or the Social Democrats) to form a governing coalition, so clearly the Kyrgyz have a long way to go before they are ready to engage in real indecisive democracy. [Reuters]

    The Netherlands Antilles. It was a nice place, if you can ignore the crippling poverty and ruinous drug trafficking.
    • WHAT IS THIS A FOURTH BULLET POINT??? Yes, it is! It is a super important thing that happened yesterday WHICH IS WHY I HAD TO WAIT UNTIL TODAY TO POST IT. You guys! The Netherlands Antilles are no more! Following the close of a council of the five constituent islands of this former-part-of-the-Netherlands, the islands have chosen to dissolve this unity and go their separate ways (though still technically part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). Curacao and Sint Maarten will join Aruba as autonomous country things (kind of like Greenland is to Denmark), while the islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Bonaire will become special municipalities in the Netherlands. So basically, each of the 5 islands in the (former!) Netherlands Antilles are now their own thing, but still within the Kingdom of the Netherlands as a whole. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, your author has now been to an Administrative Division that no longer exists. It is basically like saying "I've been to the USSR" or "I've been to Czechoslovakia" or something. AWESOME. [BBC News]

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Weighing my options

    I've officially crossed the 7 month mark here in Korea, which means that I've only got a short while to really figure out what I'm going to do come March 5th, 2011 - the day after my contract officially ends. The first order of business will naturally be to return to the states to visit some friends/family I'll not have seen for a year or more, but that's not really a viable long-term plan. As appealing as "hobo riding the rails" sounds, I don't think it'll really work out for long-term career goals. America's train network just isn't that great.

    Thus, I'm left with a few options, and I figured that you, Blog, would be as good a person as any to talk to about all this.

    So here it goes: Nolen crosses (possibly) a line in sanity and continues to talk to inanimate objects about life things (oh also I'm doing it in a listicle form. Blow me):

    1. Option 1: Stay in Korea for another year (though not at my school). The reason why I couldn't stay at my school is manifold and complex, but suffice it to say they have become a gigantic assache, and one that I do not think I will put up with much longer. The volumes of administrative bullsh*t I'm left doing, the last-minute nature, and the generally contemptuous attitude my school takes toward me just cannot make it worth my time, especially not in my crappy old apartment with a landlady who refuses to fix the broken water heater. On the other hand, there really isn't anywhere else that pays as well as Korea does. Sometimes I do like it here, I least, more often than most of my friends. I could almost certainly tolerate another year in Korea if I were in a different school in a different place. But I don't really want to just "tolerate" a place...I want to actually be happy! 
    2. Option 2: Grad school back in DC. I'm also actively applying to two grad schools in the District of Columbia: George Washington and Johns Hopkins, both for International Affairs/Relations. The pluses of this are pretty obvious: I'll be back in Washington, which I miss terribly, with many of my friends, whom I miss even more. I'll also be getting along with my career, which might help this feeling of mid-20s ennui that is enveloping most of my generation. The cons: grad school is EXPENSIVE, yo. We're talking something like $50,000-$70,000 for the two years it'll take to get my MA. Also, I am fairly certain that my application will be something like infinity times more competitive with another year of Overseas Experience to add to my resume, and I KNOW that there are fellowships that will be much easier to get with that added boost. So it might behoove me to continue on this two year pre-grad school path.
    3. Option 3: This is a new one. Recently I've considered the possibility of teaching another year overseas, but not in Korea. And after much thought and consideration (read: wikipediaing) I landed on Shanghai, China. It's got a decent climate with four seasons; it's a big, cosmopolitan city; and the cost of living in Shanghai is relatively low (compared to Seoul or Tokyo, or even Beijing). It's also a chance to experience Chinese culture and hopefully learn Mandarin, an infinitely more useful language than Korean (sorry, Koreans). On the downside, it's another year away from my friends and family back in the states, and it's a HUGE unknown. At least in Korea or America, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting myself into...China? Not so much.
    So that's where I'm at, Blog. Thanks for listening, though I'm not sure how much it really helped. We'll see.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Taxi rides

    Well, one taxi ride in particular. This weekend, a friend of mine and I went to go see the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's autobiographical "Eat, Pray, Love" which I understand is a fantastic book. I would only recommend the movie if you enjoy watching movies that are about 45 minutes too long of pretty white ladies being whiny, neurotic, and self-centered. Or if you happen to be into the delicious travel/food/man candy porn that litters the movie (which I was, for sure).

    One scene in particular jumped out at me. It is a smash cut from a lovely Thanksgiving breakfast in Italy to a harrowing taxi ride in India, which, to me, immediately brought to mind every time I have ever gotten in a taxi in Korea. Weaving through traffic, playing roller derby in the streets, ignoring traffic laws and good sense and the looming specter of death - all of these are, to me, emblematic of getting in a taxi in this country. I suppose it comes from a country where cars have really only been around for a generation, and have only very recently become ubiquitous, but it. is. terrifying.

    Row upon row of terrifying hell demons.
    For me, though, one particular ride stands out as the absolute worst. Two weeks ago, during the Chuseok holidays, some friends and I decided we would take a taxi from our pension to Jeju City to grab a bit of Indian food for dinner (having become thoroughly sick of our personal stash purchased from the Emart upon arrival in Jeju). The ride there was fairly standard - swerving, changing lanes, barreling into oncoming traffic - but it was the ride back that really took the cake. It started out spectacularly from the get-go: our taxi driver clearly had no idea where we were going, so instead of refusing our fare, he spend a good 30 minutes trying to figure it out. While the meter was running. Asshat.

    But whatever, he finally figured it out, and we began our journey back to the pension on the beach. As we regaled each other with stories of awkward taxi rides past (I think Mel won with the cabbie who grabbed hold of her ankle for the whole ride), we appropriately decided to let Meg help with the navigation.

    A side note about Meg's navigation abilities: I have gotten lost with her ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS as she was walking back to her apartment (where she lives) from the train station in Pyeongtaek (where she goes all the damn time)

    To her credit, the ride almost went off perfectly. Aside from the wrong turn that nearly took all our lives. Let me tell you guys: always make sure you are making the correct left turn. Taking the one before can result in an early watery grave.

    And that's where we almost ended up, Mel, Lionel, Meg and I. Traveling down winding, completely dark road bordering the beach at high tide with a taxi driver who doesn't know the area or the meaning of the phrase "take it easy", well, that's enough to make a praying man out of anyone. The inky blackness of the ocean lapping at the shore just feet from the road, the midnight blue sky lit only by the milky moon, and the imposing silhouettes of the giant wind turbines on the coast convinced me that the four of us were about to be Mary Jo Kopechne'd (too soon?).

    Heart, stomach, and liver in my mouth, making peace with my maker with each death-defying swerve, I closed my eyes and tried to find a happy place. Though the entirety of that section of the journey took perhaps only a few minutes, it felt as though it were going on for literally hours. When we finally escaped the Death Cab (though it had nothing to do with cutie, so don't ask), we collapsed onto the ground heaving a sigh of relief and giving thanks we had survived the ordeal.

    And then we collapsed into a stiff drink. And all was right with the world again.

    Foreign Lands Roundup

    Busy week last week, culminating in the monument to ex-empire, the opening of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, hosted this year in Delhi, India. To which Canada may or may not have sent any athletes, because the facilities for athletes may or may not actually exist. Hurrah! But now for some actually important events:

    Some polices in Ecuador. They are upset.
    • A coup was attempted in Ecuador last week, because apparently Latin America has decided to practice "the 1980's" again. Rafael Correa was attacked with tear gas and reportedly bullets, and was held hostage for a short time on Thursday. He has since escaped? been released? left the hospital using "legs"? and the situation in Ecuador has for the most part normalized. As far as that goes in South America, anyway. Upon being attacked with the tear gas, President Correa was reported to say "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough!" and then make a very vulgar gesture involving his crotchal region. Because he is that badass. Oh, and apparently the police were frustrated because they were not going to get raises in the coming year. Which, all things considered, seems like a lame reason for a coup d'etat. Well done. [BBC News]
    The old Babri mosque, Ayodhya, India. It is not there anymore. (photo via)

    •  In 1992, the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh (in India if you couldn't catch that) was demolished by Hindu hard-liners in the city, prompting a months-long series of devastating riots throughout the country, killing thousands. The most widely-known of these riots occurred in Mumbai (then Bombay), killing 575 Muslims and injuring thousands more. You will know about these riots from the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire. Thanks, Hollywood! Following the demolition of the mosque, a commission was set up to determine to which community - Hindu or Muslim - the site belonged, with the Hindus arguing that it was the ancient birthplace of Lord Rama. The Indian High Court released its decision after 18 years of deliberating this week, and, as you might have guessed, they punted. They concluded that the site, essentially, is significant to both parties, while refusing to take a decision about how to actually resolve the dispute. Everybody's pissed. (But then again, everybody's almost always pissed about something. Just ask the Israelis and the Palestinians). [Hindustan Times] [Yes, it's a real paper, losers]
    • Two more countries decided to jump on the elections bandwagon this week, and, in order to prove just how Westernized they have become, neither country managed to actually make a decision about their future presidents. In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party and favored candidate of current president Luis Ignacio "Lula" da Silva, won 47% of the vote, short of the outright majority she would have needed to avoid the Endless Election Syndrome currently plaguing democracies around the world. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the already impressively confusing elections (they choose 5 presidents and 700 MPs to represent the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, as well as the Bosniak, Croat, and Serb populations. And that's just the beginning) have, to the surprise of exactly no one, been unconclusive. No shit, Sherlock...not even Miss Cleo could read that mess. Hopefully, though, this will bolster BiH's application to join the EU and NATO by indicating their willingness to have ludicrously complex, western-style elections that take months to decide. Hooray democracy! [Brazil - BBC News, BiH - BBC News]

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    There are three things I like in this life... paraphrase Liz Lemon in the Season 5 opener of 30 Rock. One most certainly is sweater weather.

    It seems like I got back from Jeju, and the weather decided immediately to switch over to fall (PS opinions on this matter from Alaskans do not count)...the last couple days, it's been pleasantly cool in the mornings, a welcome change from the months of dripping sweat on my way to and from school. This morning, it was in the forties, so I decided to break out the sweaters again! Woo!

    Of course, it'll be up near 70 this afternoon, so I will regret wearing a sweater. BUT I DON'T EVEN CARE RIGHT NOW. I AM WEARING A SWEATER AND IT IS SO GOOD.

    Sweaters really do make everything feel better. It's like a hug from an old friend that lasts for 3-6 months, and I love them. I love them so much. Even when Korea is getting me down (say, because cheese is so expensive and crappy here, or because my school has decided to take away my overtime while still insisting I work my 11 afterschool assache classes), sweater weather really brings me back up again.

    It's cloudy, chilly, and I'm sitting in my icebox classroom with a mug of green tea and a piece of Jeju chocolate. Life is pretty okay right now.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Foreign Lands Roundup

    After much peer-pressure from a certain Jill who shall remain nameless, I have succumbed. "Fine," I said, "I'll go back and figure out what the hell happened in the world last week just so you all don't have to EVEN THOUGH I WAS ON VACATION."

    So here you go, your Foreign Lands Roundup for last week.

    Things are going well in Delhi. (photo via)
    •  The 2010 Commonwealth Games (some pretend-Olympics that Britons like to do to remind themselves that they once ruled the world) are scheduled to open in just a few weeks in Delhi, India. Many people will recognize Delhi as "that city from Slumdog Millionaire" (ed. This is false. That city is actually Mumbai), and also as "that city with all the Poors". Both are accurate visions of Delhi, so why on earth it was decided that it could host an international sporting competition is beyond your humble author. Predictably, though, the hosts have gone both "further than anyone thought possible" and are also "not nearly ready for the games." Which, coincidentally, is exactly what people said about South Africa this summer. And Beijing in '08 and Athens in '04. And pretty much every host city for every international sporting event ever. So who really knows what's going on with Delhi? Sure, there will be some problems. Sure, many workers are getting cholera because it is still 1870 and they have deplorable working conditions. But as long as someone doesn't bomb a crowd watching a concert for the games (LOOKING AT YOU, ATLANTA), I think we can consider these games a success. [BBC Sport]
    A Swiss lady. (ed. Not really. That's Shirley Temple) (photo via)
    • Apparently even though Swiss ladies (such as Heidi from the novel Heidi, I assume) have only been able to vote since 1971, apparently they are popular enough in Switzerland now to make up more than half of the Swiss cabinet! Good for them. And good for you, Switzerland, for taking decades after most Western nations to allow women to decide who will represent them in government. You're still a bunch of horrible racists. [Reuters]
    This is the face of evil. According to the Burmese government. (photo via)
    •  The ruling military junta has graciously allowed the Worst Dissident in the World (tm) the ability to vote in the upcoming elections in Myanmar. Which she has told her followers to protest by boycotting. Why the benevolent military junta would give this undeserving woman such a great honor is really unfathomable, but far be it from me to question them. They have even gone so far as to include her name on the ballot, though they wisely have decided to keep her under house arrest until one week after the election. All hail Than Shwe for his infinite wisdom! (Please don't hurt me, Myanmar.) [Reuters]