Not always probable, or likely

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Alis volat propriis

It’s a fifteen minute walk from my sister’s to Fred Meyers, that bastion of Oregonian grocery stores. Each day I go there, I pass squirrels jittering across the street, crows cawing from dead winter trees, rusting basketball hoops and evergreen trees. There are signs of modernity for sure–two different ganja dispensaries, a hip coffee shop filled with people on their laptops, an escape room. This is the Oregon of hipsters and yelpsters, of Portlandia fans and transplants so fresh they pronounce Couch Street like it’s furniture.

But most of the area around my sister’ house probably hasn’t changed for decades. The weathered auto repair shop, with the name spelled out on the door with fragments of duct tape. An appliance store. A combination Chinese restaurant/dive bar with a sign advertising their 5 dollar breakfast special. Burly men in baseball caps who probably wouldn’t ever be the inspiration for a Portlandia character. This is the Oregon of the past, of small towns and farmers and descendants of those who came over on the Oregon Trail. These things–even though they’re in the same city, are found next to each other on the same block–belong to a different, slower world than the modern Portland.

It’s probably true that Portland is no longer a little big city. It has grown up and grown out and grown across and is now just a city. Perhaps it’s not just any city, but most long-term residents agree that it has lost most of that je nais se weird that defined the city for so long, left with the dichotomy of small town, blue collar detritus floating beneath, partially supporting, the decadent layer of hipster institutions.Sure, she flies with her own wings but it’s not just her up in the sky anymore.

What does this all mean? I’m not sure, other than as a reminder that it’s not very useful to stereotype or generalize. But it’s interesting to me, to see these two oregons, these two times, blending together. Does that happen everywhere? Regardless, I think portland has reached the end of an era. And yet the older era is still here.  There’s a lot to think about, but my fifteen minutes is up. I have reached my destination and so thoughts on the nature of reality can wait until next time.

 

 

 

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Seventeen Weird Things That Aren’t Weird in South Korea

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This entire post is going consist of generalizations and over-generalizations (if those are even two different things?) Of course all of us know that weird is relative, and one set of cultural norms isn’t objectively less strange or more weird than any other.

That said, there are a lot of things found in the daily life of your average Seoulite (which is really the only part of Korea I can speak to) that might be surprising to your average westerner (or at least North American.) And with that in mind, I present the following list.

Thanks to Nahid for helping me come up with some of these items.

919mq5tx0zL._SY355_Ramyeon (also known as ramen) is popular, as you’d imagine. But it is maybe even more popular than you can guess, possessing perhaps the social cache of coffee in the west. Banks give you ramyeon gift sets when you sign up. popular Kpop stars endorse particular brands, optometrists and phone shops give away ramyeon too.

 

  • Crazy, Shut Up. Due to stigmas against mental illness, crazy isn’t really said much. In the west, or at least in the US, crazy is a very common description: “Last night was so crazy,” “That’s a crazy song,”  etc. Not so in Korea, and calling someone crazy is considered rude. (This is changing though and it’s becoming more acceptable.)
    However, telling someone to be quiet or, much worse, to shut up, is considered the height of rudeness. I taught little kids who would swear in English, “Oh my god this shit” but they wouldn’t dream of telling someone to shut up.

BillboardPlastic Surgery. In the west, there’s still a slight taboo against plastic surgery. Not so in South Korea, which is number one in the world (just beating Brazil). It’s a common gift to 16 and 18 year old girls as a coming-of-age present. Plastic surgery tourism brings tens of thousands of visitors every year. And when I was teaching Buddhists, all of the women (in their 50s+) said they had or would consider getting plastic surgery.Subway stations, especially in affluent areas, have many, many ads on the walls

  • CCTV Other than in your house and (possibly) in the the bathroom, you’re always on tv. Perhaps this is the reason crime rates are relatively low. Thieves and muggers both have been caught, weeks later sometimes, by police who followed them over a long series of surveillance videos.

soaponastickWashing hands after using the bathroom. Women and men alike use this time for a variety of purposes–to examine their reflection, possibly re-apply makeup or straighten their hair. Almost never to actually wash their hands. Culturally hand-washing is almost a non-existent concept. (I brought a bar of soap to my school bathroom during the MERS scare, and it lasted for 11 months.) This can be frustrating when you have to line up behind several people absorbed in their own reflections waiting several minutes for the chance to reach the water that no one else is using. (When there is soap, it’s a cool blue soap on a stick)

  •  Not just for the Toilet. Rather than use a discrete system of paper products–toilet paper for the loo, napkins for the table, tissue for runny noses, paper towels for the kitchen, etc, South Koreans have all those things, but they use toilet paper for all such purposes. Which makes sense, but for many westerners it’s odd the first time to see toilet paper on restaurant tables or clutched in student’s hands. Toilet paper is so useful that it is mostly sold in large packs–18, 24–and is a common housewarming gift.
    Additionally, toilet paper itself often isn’t for the toilet. Much of the plumbing in Seoul is old and not built to handle 25 million people’s bathroom needs. So you have a separate “used paper” trash in your bathroom that you take out with your regular trash. I know what you’re wondering and, yes, Seoul does smell very bad in the hot summer sun.

    8024956668_4fe644297a_mPigeons Admittedly, pigeons in Seoul can look incredibly manky, as close to the pigeons that you know as Gollum is to, say, Merry or Pippin. Both Koreans, especially women, act like they’re in Hitchcock’s The Birds when a Pigeon even gets close. They scream, run away, wave their arms and flee in the other direction at the approach of a pigeon.

  • Movie Snacks. Koreans have adopted the large cineplexes of the west and even improved them, with things like 4dx being standard options for new releases. Instead of popped corn with artificial butter (which is also a pretty strange snack if you think about it) they prefer dried squid as their go-to movie snack. Like popcorn, it’s also popular at amusement parks or really anytime.

mr pizzaHis and Hers food.  I have been to a few health food restaurants where they serve one kind of rice to men and one kind to women. There is even a pizza chain dedicated to serving women’s pizza (although for some reason it’s called Mr. Pizza). And it’s not as simple as women are assigned diet foods and men get more substantial portions–I think it ties into traditional medicine.

  • Packaging. When you buy a box of ten cookies, the package is wrapped, as are each of the cookies. Even fruit is shrink-wrapped as a matter of course, even BANANAS, which drives me, um, bananas.

trashTrash cans/Rubbish bins are a scarce sight indeed around the city. You can walk hours without seeing one. Because of this, there are piles of trash on the street that become defacto trash piles. Anyone unwise enough to have a basket on their unattended bicycle will likewise find it full of trash. Many foreigners fill their pockets or purses until they finally encounter a receptacle.  (Why are there no trash cans? It is said  because that way North Korean Agents can’t use them for bombs, but it is also said that the real reason is that there used to be many more but too many people used them for their personal trash to avoid paying for trash pickup at your home.)

  • Funny. Never does this mean something that makes you laugh. No, it’s simply a form of the word fun, and can be used like “so much fun.” It actually is more intuitive than the way we use the word, so I’ve stopped correcting my students.

5596039b-905b-4076-ab27-785fcf5a74b9PDA. It’s really not okay to hug or especially kiss your significant other in public. But holding hands is okay! And not just couples, but same-sex friends. Old men, little girls, teen guys, business men, mothers out shopping with other mothers, it’s just kind of a cool thing here. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s not a strange thing to happen.

  • Unique Situation It’s become a bit of a meme to mock this, but for some reason this is something that many Koreans say. Something like “I will be late today. Please understand my unique situation.”  Maybe the closest expression in English is “bear with me” but then again maybe that’s not very close either. It’s a weird bit of Konglish that doesn’t really make any sense but that many people use.

facemaskFacemasks You wear a facemask either when you are feeling sick, or when you are not sick but everyone else is. Other times are in spring (Yellow Dust Season, when the winds blow sands from the Gobi desert throughout the city) or on a high pollution day or when biking along the river. In other words, any day is a good day to wear a mask. The one time I wore one, back when I had the swine flue, it was really hard to breath and vastly uncomfortable, but I guess its something you get used to.

  • Names in red. As a teacher, I have a red board marker, a blue one, and a black one. Never, never never can I use the red to write a student’s name. The reason: Traditionally the names of the deceased were written in red on registers, gravestones and plaques to ward off evil spirits so now  using red to write a name means they will die soon or you want them to die.

adjummaGetting shoved. Personal space is fetishized in the west, but isn’t much of a thing in Korea. If you are in between an adjumma and her seat on the subway, she won’t even think twice about shoving you out of the way to get to her seat. For you to react to this shove in any way would be considered very rude indeed.

 

There are lots more things I could cover but I think that’s good for now. If you want to add any, please tell me in the comments.

Budget Yeti: Veggie Shopping in Korea

That old myth about going out in Korea being cheaper than cooking at home keeps cropping up and it always bothers me. Granted, many food items here are expensive, and costs keep going up. But it’s still cheaper almost every time to cook at home.

In Seoul, it pays to shop seasonally here. Unlike North America (and probably other places) there is a seasonal shift to produce prices here. Apples are super cheap in September, for instance, and now is Hallabong season. I think this is a good thing, environmentally of course but also habitually. Now some of these seasonal surpluses are strange to my eyes (why oh why is strawberry season in January?) but overall it’s a good system.

The area I live is kind of adjumma central–there aren’t really any bars or even noraebongs. In their place are lots of little markets though, and many good places to stock up on fruit and veg.

And stock up I do. The below list was all purchased at a biggish mart, which isn’t the very cheapest place around but it has good selection. Here’s a look at a week’s worth of veggies for two people. The total price is a little high because it’s a big bag of garlic but even still you can see how cheap it is.

Now this isn’t a complete meal, of course. You’d probably want to get a carb like rice (around $5 for a kilogram, or maybe $7 for 800 grams of brown rice) or udong (about 50 cents a package) or pasta (about 2.50 for 450 grams) or if you venture into Itaewon you can even get something exotic like basmati rice or couscous, though those start to get more expensive.

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A Typical Vegtastic Meal

The shiitake give you a little less protein than your standard mushroom, but not to worry. A big block of fresh tofu is about 2 dollars or the smaller, packaged ones are usually around 1 dollar.

Add it all together and a big, healthy meal with local produce is only a couple of dollars. There’s just not any restaurant that can compete with that. The cheapest comparable is a bowl of kalgooksu, which at a cheap place is around 4 dollars for a big bowl. For less than 4 dollars, this equals 4 bowls so it’s quite a bit cheaper.

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By contrast, this meal from Osegye Hyang, which had mandu, soup, and a gluten/rice dish (plus banchan) costs about 22 bucks.

Now I understand most people want a little more variety in their lives than daily iterations of the same meal. And not everyone is willing to make the effort to cook every night, even when they’re tired. Those are different reasons, though, from the tired old falsism that it’s much cheaper to eat out than cook at home. (And not very good reasons, either, in my opinion, although that’s neither here nor there.)

Yes, things are considerably more expensive now than they were 5 years ago but it’s still possible to cook for yourself and still not break the bank. That’s all for this installment of my rant. Thanks for listening!

Best of 2016 in pictures

Just like last year, I spent almost the entire year in South Korea, with a short trip to Japan constituting my only traveling. (And other than a trip to Seoraksan in the spring, I haven’t even traveled around Korea much this year; my weekends are filled with writing, playing RPGs, and writing.)

If 2015 got me back on my feet, 2016 sat me down at the table and fattened me up. It’s been a great year of urban wanders and veggie cooking. I’m still trying to figure out what’s in store for 2017, but it seems like it should have a bit more travels.

Anyway, here’s a picture from each month for the year.

January 2016

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January – The Frozen Wasteland of Yeoido

January – Yeoido gets quite a few visitors for the fall leaves, a lot more for the spring cherry blossoms, and even more in summer time for riverside picnics. Winter is, by contrast, empty and silent. Which is perfect for stark, chilly winter strolls.


February 2016

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February – Ice Turtle

February – For Sollal (Lunar New Year) I went on a writer’s retreat at a little area outside Seoul called Petite France. Petit France is kind of an underwhelming mini-theme park (with no rides) dedicated to The Little Prince.

After the conference, Nahid and I wandered around the area and climbed a small hill, where we discovered this frozen turtle fountain which was just above an ice festival.


March 2016

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March – Best Cake Ever!

March – Continuing the tradition of a birthday hike, a small group of friends took a quick jaunt up Namsan. Once there we ate some incredible Cookie Cream Pumpkin Spice cake from Plant before heading back into Itaewon and HBC for some live music. Good birthday!


April 2016

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April – Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

April – This spring went by quicker than ever, but a visit down to a friend in Suwon meant a day of walking around the fortress walls followed by an immense feast of Indian food and a round of Game of Thrones the board game. You can’t really see in this picture, but the trees were just bursting with blossoms. I’ve been to Suwon several times but this was the most beautiful of all.


May 2016

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May – Seoraksan’s Buddha

May saw my only trip out of Seoul, a return to my favorite part of Korea. We hiked up to Ulsanbawi, which was everything you could ask for: foggy, stark, dramatic, and squirrel-infested. But it was this friendly Buddha on the way up that really encapsulates the Korean mountainside.


June 2016

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June – Cozy vegan restaurant nestled in Insadong

June – With the dearth of vegan restaurants in Seoul, the discovery of Ose Gye Hyang was a beacon in the wilderness. It’s not a Loving Hut, but it’s owned by the vegetarian food company Vegifood that supplied Loving Huts with their supplies. I’ve been back a few times and for my money it’s the best vegan place in Seoul. (Plant is awesome but doesn’t really do Korean food).


July 2016

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July – Abandoned Bball Court in Children’s Grand Court.

July was hot as balls, and yet Nahid and I spent the weekends wandering far from the safe confines of aircon. One day led us, loaded with books and portable water coloring kits, (respectively) to Seoul Children’s Grand Park we spent a sweaty few hours wandering around and listening to the chorus of cicadas before sitting down to read and paint (respectively.) The discovery of this post-apocalyptic basketball court was just a bonus on our way out.


August 2016

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August- Toyoma Restored Castle

July – I’ve blogged about my disappointment with my big summertime trip to Japan, but the more time that goes by, the better the trip gets in retrospect. I guess that’s how it always works. Anyway, wandering around Toyoma was great practice in exploring a place I had no expectations of.


September 2016

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September – Mini Hike in the hills behind Insadong

September – Insadong keeps on popping up as my favorite place, month after month and year after year. It must be my favorite part of Korea, or at least one of them. This little hike is just an amendment to the proper one but the views from here are pretty cool.


October 2016

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October – Olympic Park and Lotte Tower

October was hot and autumn never really arrived. On the night before Halloween, I took Nahid to Olympic Park where I read “Shadows Over Innsmouth” to her as it slowly got darker and colder. Spooky! The Lotte Tower is doomed to collapse in ruin and tragedy, but for now it looks pretty cool.


November 2016

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November – Forest Temple

November – Fall went by oh-so-quickly this year, though I got out looking for leaves every weekend. This photo from a hill behind my house is one of my favorite views of Seoul.


December 2016

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December – Yeoinaru Station

December traditionally is kind of let-down in this series, but this picture was taken while we were filming a Cyberpunk short film that I wrote. A great entry for one of my best Decembers yet.

Past years: 2009, 2010, 2011,  201220132014 and 2015.

Yeti Eats: Measly, Mighty Feasting

Thanksgiving is not  one of my favorite holidays. Apart from the genocidal context, it’s pretty boring. I mean, I (really) like eating but I prefer holidays with a little more than just that. Especially because it takes hours of cooking and cleaning for 30 minutes of munching. Not the most efficient of holidays, but I can appreciate for a time to connect with friends and family and reflect on the goodness of your life.

But last year I made lentil shepherd’s pie for Nahid and she has repeatedly requested them again. I put her off throughout the summer, telling her it was an autumn food. With our limited cooking facilities (a hot plate and a toaster oven)  and my lack of dough making abilities, it’s a tall order. But if Tday isn’t the day for extravagant food, then I don’t know what is.

We just loaded up on veggies and I stir-fried eggplants, onions, garlic, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and King Mushrooms. I put that pan aside and cooked some lentils and spiced them with turmeric and sage. Then I made some dough with just flour/salt/baking powder and oil.

So I put down the crust, added the lentils and veggies, then topped with mashed potatoes. Then I put it in the toaster over for 15 minutes and actually it turned out really well.

For “pudding” I cut up some apples and added lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, and other pumpkinish spices. Then put some crust on top, and then some apples on top of that. It didn’t come out as good as the Sheppard’s pie, but it was okay.

Most importantly, we’ve got leftovers for tomorrow. So maybe it’s not such a bad holiday after all.

Yeti Eats: Vegetus

There’s a new vegan restaurant open in Seoul, and it’s even conveniently located in HBC.

The space is nice, and compared to Plant, it’s positively palatial. There is a beer/cider fridge for those who want to wash down their meals with something intoxicating. The service is great too.

But for me it’s not a very good value. The prices are high and the portions are low and unlike Plant, it mostly tastes like stuff I can make. Take the Burrito Bowl, which at 12,000 won is not cheap. It’s almost entirely rice and lentils, with a little bit of sauce and cut up cilantro. For that price, it would be nice to have seitan or tempeh or well anything other than literally the two cheapest foods in the world.

I hate to be negative about any place, especially a vegan place, especially here in the land of omnivores. And the veggie burger was good. But I don’t know if I’ll go back, not when Marrakesh has a vegan sandwich for 5000 won just 5 minutes down the street.

Political Yeti: A Tale of Two Atrocities

Disclaimer: This post is entirely political. If that isn’t to your taste, please head somewhere else. I am an unabashed Leftist and that skews the way I see things.

I have said very little about the elections this year, not even back when Bernie Sanders was running. That is for three reasons. The first is that I really don’t like reality TV and in my opinion, these reports and memes and jokes really aren’t any different from the scripted reality tv you can find on any channel. Did people watching the debates learn any substantive? Or was it mere entertainment? As John Dewey said long ago, “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”
We’ll get to my second reason in a bit; it’s a bit unrelated.

But the third reason is that there is very little that can be said. Trump is a moron, yes. But it’s not the first year he’s run for President, and everyone seemed to forget that. It seems  manufactured how easily he rose to the top. It’s almost as if control of the media means something. And let’s not forget that despite how ridiculous, abhorrent, and offensive  Trump is, he’s not even as scary as, say, Ted Cruz or his own VP. There is not one good thing I can think of to say about Trump as a person, as a politician, or especially as a presidential candidate.

But … I don’t know that Donald Trump would make for a worse president than Hillary Clinton. Part of that is because he ran as a Republican. That means Democrats would oppose him, watch his every move. Hillary would be able to move with less encumbrance, as we’ve seen with some fairly conservative policies by Obama not be opposed by the left.

Sidenote, if someone like Romney had added more troops (30,000) to the Afghanistan War, refused to close Guantanamo after promising to, ordered Drone Strikes on US citizens, changed the definition of enemy combatant to any male over 18,  funneled billions of taxpayer money to banks, increased offshore drilling and generally helped the 1 percent, he would have been seen as a terrible president. Obama operates under different standards, apparently, and it’s reasonable to suspect that Hillary will too.

I’m going to say it: I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. I don’t even care about the conspiracy theories and the right-wing suppositions. Her actual record is enough for me to know that as a liberal I can’t support her.

There are two things in particular  about Mrs. Clinton that horrify me.

Firstly she always votes for war. There are too many examples of this to list here, but here are some of the key points.

  1. She supported US bombing of Belgrade in 1999 (Kosovo War). She told reporter Lucinda Frank: [she] was traveling in Africa, called Bill, and: “I urged him to bomb”.
  2. She voted to invade Afghanistan in 2001
  3.  She supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in mid-2003
  4. She voted to invade Iraq in 2002 – gave stirring speech in US Senate in support of it.
  5. As Sec. of State, she poorly handled the illegal military Honduran coup in 2009, but as recently as April 9, 2016, she defended the illegal coup. Honduras isn’t doing well these days.
  6.   She voted in 2006 to let US military continue to use cluster bombs in areas with concentrated civilian populations. 108 nations (but not the U.S.) have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, because they are the single most lethal weapon for civilian casualties in war.
  7.  And recently she spoke of no-fly zones over in Syria. This worries a lot of people–I don’t think it will lead to WWIII– but it will certainly “kill a lot of Syrians” (her own words.)

There are a lot more examples (Libya) but you get the point. If you think American lives are worth more than people in other countries, than I get supporting her. That’s not a traditional liberal value, however, and it puzzles me how many liberals overlook the fact that Clinton in power means that a lot of poor people will lose their lives.

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John Dewey – “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

The second point about Mrs. Clinton is that she’s very beholden to corporate interests. This is well documented. The NYT reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin personally courting donors for a “super PAC” supporting her candidacy, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has fully embraced these independent groups that can accept unlimited checks from big donors and are already playing a major role in the 2016 race.

There is indication of collusion between the Clinton Campaign and the DNC, and hiring Debbie Wasserman Schultz did nothing to distance herself from the speculation. Nor is the sudden vilifying of Assange, who was a leftist hero when he exposed Bush’s dirty underwear but now is more of a pariah than ever.

Forgetting right-wing rumors and unsubstantiated claims, her factual record speaks for itself. Hillary Clinton voted to bail out Wall Street, and the Glass-Steagall Act passed under Bill Clinton is one of the underlying causes of the 2008 financial crisis.(Admittedly, maybe she’s not to blame for that but it’s certainly consistent with her values.) She’s pro-fracking and has accepted millions from the fossil fuel industry, she voted for the Patriot Act twice, gave the infamous Super Predator speech, and she’s earned the praise of Henry Kissinger. Oh and just quietly? Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a fence.

There’s a lot more, but I guess if that doesn’t convince you nothing will. I suspect that if Clinton was running against Reagan, liberals and moderates would have to choose Reagan as the more leftist choice. Perhaps it’s because my family grew up well below the poverty line, but I find impossible to ignore someone who consistently rewards corporations at the cost of opportunity for the impecunious.

I can understand voting Third Party. I can even understand the Chomsky “Hold your nose and vote for Clinton.” But I don’t understand this whole-hearted “I love Hillary” stance from the left. If you are reading this and you will/or have vote for Mrs. Clinton, I’d love for you to share why in the comments. I can’t see that a vote for her is anything but a vote for the American Empire, for war and bombs abroad and the rich getting richer at home.

Hillary Clinton is not Donald Trump; she appears far more intelligent, far more composed, and the people she represents a direct threat against are far less American. But the more I think about it, the more I think that might be exactly the point. Using a propped-up Bogeyman so that you are afraid of any choice but her. Maybe that’s not true;  perhaps Trump is a legitimate candidate. It doesn’t really matter.

By the way, my 2nd point that I alluded to earlier is just this. Ultimately I don’t think it matters for the US who is the next president. There is an idea that we need to act now to save the country, but I suspect that time passed long ago. But that’s a subject for a different time.

For the record, I’m posting this because I have seen many people I know vitriolically supporting Hillary Clinton. To the point where to even suggest an alternative is seen as offense. Many on the left have joined the right to become intolerant bullies when confronted by differing opinions. Luckily, no one reads this blog so I feel pretty safe.

In summary, this Simpsons episode is a little dated, but actually not dated at all.