Sunday, September 28, 2008

Planet China

I've been recovering from a nasty cold. I took it easy this weekend and listened deep into J. Maarten Troost's Lost on Planet China. I like it because the author doesn't pretend to deal even-handedly with China. He is disgusted by a lot of things there and lets you know. It has a similar effect to Into Africa: I'm now both repulsed and fascinated by China. I'd be up for a trip there - but only a short trip to get the catburger flavor on my tongue. Then I'd get out as fast as I could.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Slacker Uprising

Michael Moore usually delivers entertaining propaganda. Slacker Uprising is just plain boring, an example of why I avoid documentaries. I had to skip through most of it. This is filler, not filmmaking, the worst I've seen by Moore, and certainly not worth a theater ticket.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Image Streaming

McCain should be worried about the presidential debates. In terms of image, Obama strikes me as Jimmy Carter pretending to be John F. Kennedy. McCain strikes me as Richard Nixon pretending to be...

Well, no one. He just reminds me of Richard Nixon. Period.

Anyone who paid attention in American History class will remember what happened in the first televised presidential debate of 1960: Kennedy thrashed Nixon because he was more genial and camera-friendly.

I've heard both sides say the election is already over, McCain's got it clinched, Obama's got it clinched, whatever. But until the debates happen, it's never over (except for Ralph Nader).

But fuck the debates - I'm more interested in the new season of The Office, actually. I think that's the most "mainstream" thing I'm into right now.

By the way, when the U.S. economy keels over, do I still have to repay my student loan?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Death

"As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death." - Leonardo da Vinci

Hiking in Korea is totally different from America (or anywhere else I've hiked).

On Friday night I was in downtown Seoul on a bus. With me was an English teacher from Wales, a Korean girl that introduced me to the hiking group, and 40 other Koreans, mainly LG employees. At midnight our bus left Seoul and headed east, east, and further east, till we'd crossed the entire country (in about 3.5 hours).

We got out of the bus and it was dark. Stars in the sky were actually visible, unthinkable near Seoul. We were at the base of a mountain. Somebody gave me a bracelet of light like we were going to a concert. Somebody else gave me gimbab (food). We stretched. People strapped lanterns to their heads (not me).

Hiking at 4 AM in the dark in a strange land with mostly-strangers is surreal. We hiked uphill for 4 hours and it was steeper than stairs.

Onward upward we went and finally made it to the peak. A marker indicated this was indeed the top. The morning sun began to show through the clouds and I saw a body of water.
The East Sea, someone informed me. A.K.A. the Sea of Japan. Before this it was only words on a map - now it was a reality.

As we hiked we took occasional breaks to rest and snack. I couldn't understand why everybody had such heavy backpacks. After we passed the peak I found out why.

We progressed another mile or two, slowly coming down, and stopped at a rest area. Tons of Koreans were sitting on the ground - cooking! Yes, they had all brought propane stoves and were cooking ramen, duck, and other leviathan from the sea. I sat and ate whatever came my way. They also drank alcohol. I don't usually drink and hike, but everyone else was drinking a little soju or beer so I joined in. Peer pressure.

Onward we rolled, passing Buddhist temples and monstrous stacks of boulders, traversing terrestrial biomes with every change in altitude. Seoraksan is as beautiful as Yosemite and the weather was perfect.

I said Korean hiking is different - here's why: First, it's hella crowded! Okay, it's tourist season and I went on a weekend, but still. We did 12 miles and most of the time I was passing people every ten or fifteen seconds! F'reals.

Second, the trail is not as "natural" as most trails. Everything is kind of engineered. It's an eclectic mix of stones, rails, and wood planking, and I think I crossed about thirty bridges. The amount of work to create these trails is mind-boggling.

I didn't think that nature could have a nationality and cultural bias, but this was clearly "Korean hiking". I had a great time. It was just

After the hike we found a restaurant and had one of the my favorite Korean foods: sam gae tang.

The whole trip cost me 20,000 won (currently $17.73) - crossing the country twice, dinner, and various snacks through the day. Hella good bargain.

Two days later I'm still a little sore. Good trip.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Presume

I was trying to hold off reviewing Martin Dugard's Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingston until I finished it, but I can't wait. It's so good. It makes me want to read biographies of all the main characters, and then read all the books those guys wrote themselves about their travel.

It goes twenty levels beyond "Livingstone was missing in Africa and Stanley found him... 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume?' "

It's also got subject matter that makes me wonder: is Dugard a really good writer or are the characters so off-the-map that it's guaranteed to be a good narrative? Okay, a bad writer could ruin it - I'm saying that Dugard didn't. This book sucked me in.

It also works as a travel book. I'm now both curious and repulsed by "darkest Africa", thanks no doubt to the lurid imagery and detail of the book. I wish I could write this well. I listened to it as read by John Lee, and it's one of the rare times I'm like, "Damn, I want to read this again with my eyes." I also want some more true adventure books like these.

Speaking of true adventure, I'm traveling across Korea tomorrow for an 11-hour hike at Seoraksan. I'm taking a vehicle, so it's not exactly Livingstone walking from one side of Africa to the other. But if I don't blog for a while, assume that I'm lost like Livingstone and come get me (apr├Ęs
Stanley). But you can't say, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" You need to come up with your own catchy line.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm Not There

I finally watched I'm Not There, the quasi-pseudo-faux documentary of a bunch of alternate universe Bob Dylans.

If you don't really know Bob Dylan's life and work it won't make a lot of sense. If you do know Bob Dylan well it rehashes his most famous incidents in multifarious dreamy styles.

Either way it's really long, and generally boring.

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Monday, September 15, 2008


I heard Mitch Hedberg's last album, Do You Believe in Gosh? - slow start but pretty good:

Also heard Demetri Martin's
These Are Jokes, which I like even more, but he certainly owes something to Hedberg:

And they both owe something to Steven Wright, even though I don't find Wright very funny.

And here's a music album I've been listening to: LP3 by Ratatat.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008


One great thing about living outside America is that I'm not subjected to the constant election blah blah blah. Most people in Korea probably don't know who Sarah Palin is.

Whatever integrity a presidential candidate initially has is quickly dissolved under the weight of campaigning. To make it to the White House requires a candidate to become silly putty to 50 states with radically different politics. At this point in time I think the U.S. would be better off divided into three or four different countries.

As for Korean politics... I just hope North Korea doesn't go apeshit when Kim Jong Yomom keels over. I'd like to think North Korea will be more open to the world in twenty years, kind of the equivalent of China today. But the next few years could be sloppy.

Kim Jong-il in happier days.

Thank you for polluting your mind with my uninformed opinions.


Friday, September 12, 2008


It's a five-day weekend for me as billions swarm across this microscopic nation to celebrate Chuseok, Korea's sorta-Thanksgiving. All the trains are booked. All the highways have traffic. Fortunately I'm not going anywhere.

Instead, on my first day off I went looking for a haircut. My first haircut in Korea took place in July and it was horrible. It was some old guy who took almost an hour. He didn't use any kind of buzzer, snipping one hair at a time, I swear. Today I wanted something better.

I walked over to a grungier neighborhood that I like and found a place. In English it said "Men & Women" on the sign. I'm a man, I thought. I can get a haircut here.

An oldish woman was sweeping in front of the shop. I made a scissor-cutting motion and pointed to my head. She nodded.

"Olma-eyo?" I said.

She held up five fingers.

"OK," I said.

She cut it, did an awesome job, then shampooed it. All for $4.50.

So she is my new hair stylist.

That's all I really wanted to accomplish this vacation. Anything else is icing on the cake. The rest of my time will depend on how many stores, bars, and restaurants are open this weekend.

Holidays kind of mean nothing to me now. I breezed through July 4th and September 11th without nary a thought, but my co-teachers were concerned that I wouldn't have family to celebrate Chuseok with. They fail to see that Chuseok is meaningless to me - just time off. Wherever I'm living, I'd rather have my holidays selectable by me and not synchronized by the state.

Actually, wherever I'm living, I'd rather not work at all.

Check out this clay guy my students made me. I don't know if it's supposed to be me.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Family Circus Redemption Project #33


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Made to Stick

Fascinating book I just finished called Made to Stick by Dan & Chip Heath.

It explains (among other things) why deer kill more people each year than sharks.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008


I love that John Irving's wikipedia entry not only has a handy chart of his themes, but that the themes are: New England, prostitutes, wrestling, Vienna, bears, deadly accident, and absent parent.

I haven't read John Irving, just seen the cider movie. It was a documentary about making apple juice or something.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008


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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Two Things to Be Aware of

Neat post on yesterday's Boing Boing about millimeter wave scanners. They sort of undress you for one of those TSA agents - apparently they're being aimed at people not even going through the security line at the airport?? Here are the images from the TSA site:

But the wikipedia entry for Backscatter X-Ray, a related technology, has higher quality:

Whatever the quality level, I don't think most people are aware they're being so thoroughly undressed with scans like this, or that it might be affecting their health.

In unrelated news, while browsing the top 100 books on Amazon I found this gem:

And then looked into her and she runs some weird awesome money cult. You know anyone with "Supreme Master" in their name has to be good for you.

Three cheers for cults.

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