Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lotto Adopted

In tribute to our most recent foster dog, Lotto, who was adopted Dec 6:

Dog... or teddy bear?

We anticipate picking up another dog in January. We'll keep you posted!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Irrefutable Proof!

That Nana is becoming a skier.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I Love the Japan: Vending Machine Beer

Yes, that's right. Vending machine beer.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Justin Drinks Weird Stuff for Your Entertainment: Australian Beer Edition

Now, Korea isn't exactly known for its beer. A few of the local brews are decent--"the Hite" comes to mind--but few breweries stray very far from light, malty lager, and when they do, the results tend to be pretty mediocre. What's worse, there are few foreign beers available, and even fewer at a reasonable price. As a result, I rely pretty heavily on Asahi and Heineken, which are generally available in most small stores.

However, there is one bright spot on the beer horizon in the ROK: many supermarkets stock a handful of Australian beers that are still relatively rare in the US. Thanks to Fosters, Aussie beer has an undeservedly poor reputation in the States. Most Aussie beers, though, fit squarely into the British Empire mold. You can find two examples below.

The first is Victoria Bitter, which is actually a mildly hopped lager. The fact that this is the top-selling Australian beer bodes well for Aussie tastes: it's full-bodied, flavorful, and very refreshing.
The XXXX Export Lager is the overseas version of XXXX's popular Queensland brew. XXXX is both hoppier and fruitier than VB--similarly refreshing, but it would be harder to drink more than one or two in a row.

Long story short: if you get a chance to drink either of these fine beers on a hot day, or alongside a nice burger or some spicy grilled meats, do.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Home again, home again . . .

After the longest birthday on record (36 hours), I returned to Chez Goff at 11:45 last night with a very sickly Nana in tow.

For those interested, we'll be in Pittsburgh through Christmas morning, then in Columbus through New Year's morning--then it's back to Seoul on the 2nd. You can reach us at my old cell phone number in the meantime.

Expect a post or two after the jet lag has worn off.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Back in Seoul . . .

. . . for 36 hours. And after two-and-a-half days of pretty epic skiing (it dumped snow the entire time we were there), we're beat. Expect pics tomorrow or right after we get to the Burgh.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hello from Japan!

Justin and I are settling in for the evening at our hotel, the Freedom Inn, in Niseko, Japan. Justin says that today was his best day of skiing since his knee injury. I've never skied on powder before (or just "skied powder?" I've never done it so I don't know!), and it was a novel experience.

The first run of the day nearly destroyed me - it was the hardest dang green I ever laid eyes on, that's for sure. Earlier in the week, I posted a Facebook status message that read, "Nana is going skiing this weekend and is worried about faceplanting all over Japan." Done and done, five times on that first run alone. My first fall was by far the best. I made it ten feet off the trail, losing one ski and having to poke at random with my pole hoping to strike gold before the ski patrol rescued me, and then once he found it I couldn't get it on because the poofy snow poofed out from under my foot every time I tried to stomp on the darn thing. Justin skied an entire run, came back up the chairlift, and found me frozen contemplating a Cliff of Doom halfway down. (Team Abject Terror, if any of you are out there - you know what I mean). I will man up and admit that some tears may have been involved, which is less than ideal when you're wearing spongy-framed goggles that soak up moisture.

But Justin talked me down and I live to tell the tale - and was dumb enough to try it again, with one fall, and finally vanquish it with complete verticality on my last run of the day. I felt much less humiliated this afternoon when I found out that Dr. Kim's girls saw the same Cliff of Doom and simply refused to have any part of it. They de-skied and walked the rest of the way down. So I'm either braver than elementary schoolers, or dumber than elementary schoolers. Perhaps a little bit of both.

And yet I had a very good time. Oddly enough, the mountain was flatter higher up, and there was a really nice boring flat run just perfect for me I could do over and over to build up some confidence. When I got on that, with the powder flying up over my skis, the only way I can think to describe it is that's what I always thought it would be like if you could walk on clouds.

(The Care Bears used to win all the gold medals in skiing before they got busted for using the Care Bear Stare against their opponents)

Dr. Kim kindly took us out for sushi tonight (fully immobile sushi, this time!), which was phenomenally delicious. I enjoyed the salmon roe most. Normally, it's quite fishy-tasting, but here it was so fresh that it almost tasted sweet. It's amazing that we've reached the point in our Asian adventures that after a dinner with tempura pepper and sea urchin rolls, I just about wrote here that I had nothing interesting to report.

So it's bedtime for me now and another ski day tomorrow before we head back. We'll be in Pittsburgh from the 18th to the 24th and then Columbus from the 25th to about the 2nd. If anybody is around, let us know - we'd love to try to see you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dude, the waves in the Baltic are kind of bogus.

This one goes out to Leslie.

From a student quiz:

"Peter the Great was czar of Russia, he brought European culture to Russia and reformed it, he also ordered surfers to build city called St. Petersburg."

Serfs, student. Not surfers. SERFS.

As Justin says: "That's almost too good to be true... you DREAM about that kind of mistake, but so rarely is life so perfect as to give it to you."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

North Korean Discipline

Here's to wasting no time making that previous post a lie:

A funny little article from Weird Asia News (site N-quite-SFW; article below is) about how, in a North Korean prison camp, "the punishment is always death." The list of camp rules reads like a joke. Here are the first five:

1. Do not attempt to escape. The punishment is death.

2. Never gather in groups of over three people or move around without the guard’s authorization. The punishment for unauthorized movement is death.

3. Do not steal. If one steals or possesses weapons, the punishment is death. The punishment for failure to report the theft or possession of weapons is death.

4. Obey your guards. If one rebels or hits a guard, the punishment is death.

5. If you see outsiders, or suspicious-looking people, report them immediately. The punishment for abetting in the hiding of outsiders is death.

You can read the rest here.

Meager Posting

The next two weeks will be wild: school, shopping, ski trip to Japan, long flight back to the Burgh. I'd like to apologize in advance for the scant blog posts, though we will try to put a few up before we get home for the break.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Some fall pepper photos

For lack of a better title.

These were on tarps outside our apartment in the parking lot for much of the fall. (Not these specific peppers, of course - they rotated as each batch finished drying). I'm not sure what the green stuff is. The red ones are (obviously) hot peppers, which play such a significant role in Korean cuisine that my lips have been chapped since August. No, not joking. I woke up one morning in September with lips so swollen that I couldn't talk right. They ended up peeling.

But that's not the point! The point is that I think Justin captured them really nicely in these photographs. I love the translucence on the second shot. And a little green and red, right in time for Christmas!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nana Drinks Weird Stuff For Your Entertainment: McCol

It's McDonald's! It's Coca-Cola! If they sold it in Starbucks, it would be every imperialist's dream beverage!

Except not.

It is very hard to describe this taste, except to say that it is not good. After taking my obligatory swig, I poured the rest of it down the sink. Justin thinks it smells like tuna and tastes like barbecue sauce. I can be a bit more specific.

In Korea, they have a barley tea (pictured at left). If you mixed it with Pepsi/Coke, that's what McCol would taste like.

In fact, that's probably what it is. "Maek," in Korean, means barley - "Maek-ju," or "barley alcohol," is the Korean word for "beer." So "McCol" is actually "Maek-Col," or "Barley Cola." Hence, in retrospect, the picture of the stalk of barley on the can.

Mediocre Korean skills FTW!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I've seen the best minds of my generation . . .

. . . well, not exactly starving hysterical naked (she's calmly eating a corndog), and I doubt the whole "best minds" thing . . . but destroyed by madness--she's got that one covered.

Why else would any sane teenager be wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt with the cover of Allen Ginsburg's Howl and Other Poems on the back? Bonus: it's the exact same edition of Ginsberg I have sitting on my desk right now.

They put the strangest stuff on T-shirts in this country.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Changdeokgung Palace

Two weeks ago, after the long-awaited end of our collective GRE travails, Nana and I spent the afternoon at Changdeokgung, one of the Five Grand Palaces of Joseon-era Seoul. (We've already visited three others: Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, and Changgyeonggung.) (Previous posts: 1, 2, 3)

Of the Five Grand Palaces, Changdeokgung isn't the grandest--that distinction belongs to Gyeongbokgung, Seoul's downsized version of the Forbidden City and the traditional seat of government during the Joseon Dynasty. Changdeokgung, however, is the only one of the five that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site--along with the Jongmyo Shrine, the only one in Seoul.

Whereas Gyeongbokgung, the ceremonial heart of the Joseon kingdom, was built to impress the stream of official visitors he received there (with the exception of the emissaries of the Chinese emperor, who were deliberately underwhelmed), Changdeokgung was built as an urban retreat for the Joseon royal family, and is still today the largest swath of greenspace in downtown Seoul (that isn't a mountain, of course).

Check out the photos below.

First, some gratuitous shots of the sky, which was perfectly cooperative--golden light, white clouds on bright blue. The tree above it a ginkgo. They're all over the place here, and the two weeks of brilliant yellow they give you in early November almost make it worth the horrible stench of their fruit.

Another cooperative sky below. Note the lack of color in the architecture: one of the Joseon kings built this residential complex for his wife's family, who specifically requested that their place be done in the country style. Most Joseon-era buildings in Seoul, as well as most Joseon-era temples throughout Korea, are famously colorful.
Here's another shot of the same building. The effect is very Japanese.
The Chinese are associated with red and blue or red and gold; the Japanese with black and bare brown wood (except for the Chinese-style Buddhist temples); and the Koreans for an explosion of greens, pinks, whites, reds, and blues. The buildings below are unmistakeably Korean.
In this next shot you can see the main throne hall of Changdeokgung. Just to give you a sense of the scale, the doors are a little less than twice the height of a grown man. The raised path in the foreground is for the king's exclusive use (except for when an emissary of the Chinese emperor came to visit, in which case the emissary would walk the high road with the Joseon king behind and to the side). The little tablets mark the positions various officials were expected to take during royal ceremonies.
Below is the Joseon king's office building, a short walk from the main throne hall. Note the deep blue tiles of the roof--these were a symbol of the Joseon royal family, just as the golden tiles in the Forbidden City symbolize the imperial family of China. To this day, the president of the Republic of Korea lives and works in the Blue House, under a blue roof.Changdeokgung rivalled Gyeongbukgung as the king's primary residence during the late Joseon period, and along with Deoksugung, which features a Western-style reception hall, Changdeokgung was the Joseon dynasty's preferred site for meetings with Western emissaries. As a result, the sedan port was widened into a modern driveway to accomodate Western-syle coaches and, later, cars.
One of the cool things about Changdeokgung is that, unlike almost any other historical site in Korea, an attempt has been made to make parts of Changdeokgung look like they did while the palace was in use. The late Joseon kings used the room below for receiving Western dignitaries.
And the bench below, wildly tricked-out with mother-of-pearl, was the queen's showiest seat.The real attraction of Changdeokgung for most visitors, however, is the Secret Garden. Below is the royal library (drool . . .) perched above a neatly manicured koi pond.

Nana was somewhat unimpressed with the Biwon, but it did provide some wonderful photo ops.
The fall foliage made the scene particularly nice.
And our final treat, on the way out: Nana mugs in front of a half-millennia-old juniper tree.
Nana: "Come on--you have to. It's a five-hundred-year-old tree!"

And still fragrant.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Everland, Part Two: The Zoo

A few weeks ago, Nana and I chaperoned a school trip to Everland, a local imitation-Disney amusement park. (Previous post.) Well, as it turns out, Everland is not only an amusement park, but also a zoo (and I'm not talking about the children). How we missed this last time is beyond me.

Here are some shots from the zoo.

Nana sez: "Looks like the bears have killed the most tourists today."
Justin sez: "Can't get complacent, though--the lions and tigers are right behind."
Common sense sez: "There's no way there were 21 bears in that park."
Nana catches a nap on the safari ride. As do the lions. (Yes, there was glass.)
Below is the liger, over whom youths here have obsessed ever since Napoleon Dynamite came out in Korean translation.
(In case you were wondering--yes, the lions and tigers here are kept in the same enclosure. Giggity giggity gigitty.)

And finally, the bears. Who basically seem to sit around all day until the safari bus pulls up, at which point they perform silly tricks for crackers.Also--up close, they're HUGE.

Cuteness award goes to these little foxes.
Awesomeness award goes to this orangutan, who, in true orangutan fashion, spent most of her time mooning, spitting on, and/or making faces at visitors. Also, she's separated from the outside world by a 20-foot pit. Orangutans are known for being wily tricksters, and zoos often have to go to great lengths to keep them in their enclosures.
Perhaps the coolest part of the zoo, though, was the chimp enclosure, which featured little bubbles you could pop your head up in and get face-to-face with the chimps.
At first, I was impressed by how much interest the chimps took in us--I mean, they were shaking their heads, "smiling," making faces, sticking out their tongues--but then I realized that most people send them treats via a little tube in the pillbox. The chimp below is reaching down for a cookie.Even among apes, we're cheapskates.

Second place in coolness, though, goes to these crazy monkeys. Look at them go!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mr. Rogers!

Remember Won't You Wear A Sweater day, sponsored through Pittsburgh last year and celebrated by Justin, me, and Annie in Korea?

Now we're famous. (You can go about halfway down the page, or you can do "find in page" and type Seoul. Or Nana.)

As far as I can tell, we hold the distance record. Kiss my 13-hour flight, Sweden and Germany! Yeah!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Overseas Vote

With regard to the US presidential election: I can't speak for the Korean man-on-the street, but our kids are overwhelmingly pro-Obama. I had the electoral map running on my SmartBoard each period when they came into class, and after the obligatory minute to figure out what on Earth the electoral college map says about anything, they cheered when they found out Obama was up.

This could be generational - young people around the world seem to be strongly pro-Obama, so maybe it's age as the determining factor instead of here. And I didn't really notice a difference between our Korean and non-Korean students' reactions - except perhaps some extra excitement from an African student.

But in any case, it's interesting because, as Justin posted earlier, Korean attitudes on Korean mixed-race individuals can be pretty closed-minded (until 2006, mixed-race Koreans were barred from serving in the military; even now, I think, they are exempt from the draft). 2006 was, not coincidentally, right after the Super Bowl when Hines Ward took MVP. So if his success in sports helped bring down barriers here, could Obama's victory presage anything for Korea? My guess is not with adults. Obama, unlike Ward, is not part-Korean, so I doubt his story will be seen as relevant. But seeing the kids respond like this (we had clapping and dancing) suggests that change may be coming generationally. It's encouraging, and I hope our students will remember this when they become the generation in political power, but I realize that for some people, it's a long time to wait.

Hines Ward and Bi-Racial South Koreans

My hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ran an article today on Hines Ward's continuing social efforts on behalf of bi-racial kids in South Korea. Hines Ward is himself bi-racial--half black, half Korean--and was basically run out of the country with his mother before being heartily claimed by Koreans as "their" Super-Bowl MVP (Let's Go Steelers!). The mere fact of seeing officials call Hines Ward "Korean" was a big deal, and Hines Ward's visit to Korea in the wake of Super Bowl XL attracted much attention in the media in both the US and Korea.

The fight's not over by a long shot, though--there's still a lot of racism here, some of which (without going into too much detail) Nana and I have encountered in our daily lives.

Check out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today.

GRE in Korea: Case Closed

The last phase of our joint GRE travails was brought to a successful close yesterday (successful in that I was able to take the test--no way to know how I did): the GRE Subject Test in Literature will haunt my dreams no more.

We celebrated the occasion by finally visiting the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Seoul we'd yet to see: Changdeokgung (aka, Changdeok Palace). Expect a post soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

OMGHOLYCRAP Part V: I have cheekbones?

Welcome back to the OMGHOLYCRAP series, in which we trace the adventures of my name, given to the heroine of Carla Kelly's upcoming Harlequin romance novel Marrying the Captain. I anticipate at least one more installment of this series (when I read the book, of course!). But half the fun of a romance often occurs before you even open the book. I am referring, of course, to that bastion of awesome and ridiculous, the romance novel cover.

Yes. It's out. The cover of Carla Kelly's book!

My personal reaction? Not bad.Nobody looks like they're in pain, her hair is obeying all known laws of physics, and everybody has the right number of hands. (You clicked on that one. I know you did. Can you believe that?). Returning to the point, though: she's pretty. I'm not ashamed that the person on that cover shares my name. I see no reason for her dress to be falling off like that (after all, his hand isn't even on her sleeve - it's on her waist) but the composition is strong and the captain's a cutie. You go, Nana!


For whatever reason, I can NEVER spell that word correctly. HurriCANE.

(hangs English-teacher head in shame)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, Nana!

That is all. Carry on!

Everland, Take Two

For the second year in a row, APIS dodged the whole Halloween question by packing the students off to Everland--you can read our general impressions of the place here.

And you can see our general impression of the food in the images below.

Mmmm, buttered chewy corn on a stick.
Tastes like home!

Anyway--Everland. The overall feeling one gets from a visit to Everland is something like, "I'm trying to be Disneyland and failing miserably, but in the process coming up with something quirky and fun."

Take, for instance, the Hurricaine, a combination rotor-pirate-ship that's the first ride you see upon entering the park (after a good kilometer of gift shops, that is--they got that part of the Disney experience right!).
Yes, that's the Epcot Center in the middle. The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building are on the left, naturally, with the Statue of Liberty nearby.
What's more, in the middle of a hurricaine so powerful that it blew the Epcot globe all the way to Manhattan, while cloning the Empite State Building through sheer force of awesome (yes, that's the Empire State Building behind Lady Liberty), we happy-go-lucky Americans are all dressed up like 80s Eurotrash and/or colorful turn-of-the-last-century circus clowns, dancing in the streets.

I'm especially fond of the androgynous fellow in the yellow sailor-suit-raincoat, who is apparently holding onto his hat and his leg, just in case either should start to blow away.Also, this guy. I think I knew him in college. And wish I hadn't. I'm also impressed by the fact that you can see he hasn't shaved for days. This is the worst storm in history, people. He may have time to don his best turqouise suit and flail around on the docks like a fish, but shave? Please.

Just around the corner from the Hurricaine is a charming little 1950s-nostalgia street. (American 1950s, that is--the 1950s in Korea didn't offer a lot to get nostalgic about . . .) The street is lined with old magazine covers and ads, most of them benign, like this one:
Others, I suspect, would not quite make the Disney cut.Finally, in another Disneyesque move, Everland as a whole tries to project a vaguely European feel. This is evident from the moment you set foot in the parking lot, at the edge of which the park has erected a giant wooden block clumsily painted with what, I think, is supposed to be an Italian hill town.

The theme continues in Alpine Village, ironically located at the lowest elevation in the park.

Yes, Herr Kessler, I can read the sign below. My German hasn't vanished yet!
Of course, they don't seem to care where it is in Europe, as long as it's European, and in this case, vaguely Alpine.
Here, for example, it seems the same monster storm that blew Epcot to Manhattan deposited the Jungfrau at Chamonix. Impressive.

The Alpine Village also included a halfhearted Korean attempt at German food, which was slightly troubling.
Though if I hadn't been on the clock, I might have been tempted to try the beer.

Stay tuned for a glimpse of Everland's wacky little zoo . . .