Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wacky Japanese Condiments

On our recent ski trip to Niseko, Japan, Nana and I came across a couple blogworthy condiments.

Exhibit A: Non-dairy creamer.Apparently, you're supposed to use the ones with your birthstone on it. It's a good thing I like my coffee black!

Exhibit B: Ingenious butter-and-jelly pack.You can find something similar at fast food restaurants in Korea, but of the jelly-only variety. You break the pack down the middle into a V-shape, then squeeze the two flaps together. Twin streams of jelly and butter squirt out from the point of the V. See it in action below:
video
Cool, huh?

Fan Death: Koreans Aren't the Only Ones

Korean fan death gets a shout-out in this humorous editorial by Joel Stein on American hysteria over nut allergies. Just goes to show that, when it comes to medical mass delusion, South Koreans aren't alone.

Editor's Note (by which I mean, um, my note, in an attempt to head off the inevitable nut-allergy horror stories): Yes, I know, nut allergies exist, and severe nut allergies can be deadly. But: 1) nut allergies are fairly rare, and severe nut allergies are incredibly rare, and 2) the draconian measures taken to safeguard supposedly-allergic children are, in my humble opinion, every bit as absurd as doctors telling you not to sleep with the fan on.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

OMGHOLYCRAP Part VI: Marrying the Captain in stores now!

Carla Kelly was kind enough to send me an advance copy all the way in Korea. I've held off on gloating until it was available in stores, but let me say now... I LOVED it and can recommend it without any hesitation. It's sweet, it's funny, it's romantic, it's touching, and it's got just enough sizzle for me to feel slightly awkward reading my name in it. And the even better news? There's a sequel coming out in Many and I'm going to be in that one, too! Does life get more fun than this?

Synopsis:

Ever since her father tried to sell her as a mistress to the highest bidder, Eleanor Massie has chosen to live in poverty. Her world changes overnight when Captain Oliver Worthy shows up at her struggling inn. Despite herself, Nana is drawn to her handsome guest….Oliver planned to stay in Plymouth only long enough to report back to Lord Ratliffe—about Nana. But he soon senses that Lord Ratliffe is up to something, and Oliver will do anything to keep this courageous, beautiful woman safe—even marry her!
Three Five-Star reviews on Amazon (counting the Kindle edition)! Positive buzz at All About Romance! Most importantly, of course, MY NAME!

What are you waiting for? Go buy your copy!

Amazon, where it is ranked #1 in Harlequin Historicals sales

Barnes and Noble

Powell's

It's a bad economy. Your country needs you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

AIrport Review: Connecting Internationally at Beijing Capital International Airport

We've had some interesting times flying in and out of Seoul - recall our bus chase? - and all things considered, our last trip, routed through China instead of Japan, went pretty well. Still, I think we're going to add Beijing to our international Do-Not-Connect list, at least for the time being.

The problem with connecting through Beijing is that most international airports keep all international flights in the same security zone - that is, you don't have to go through Customs if you're not staying in the country. China not only doesn't keep all flights in the same area, it doesn't keep them in the same terminal. And then all of this is made more complicated by Chinese visa restrictions and bureaucracy.

Flying home (Seoul-Beijing-Newark-Pittsburgh) looked like this. Keep an eye on the number of times somebody checks our passports.

1. Get off plane and go to international transit counter. Luggage is checked through to Newark but we don't have boarding passes for Newark. Lady checks passports and handwrites us boarding passes. Techno-savvy!

2. Lady escorts us to quartantine/customs. Quarantine officer checks our passports and stamps them. You get oval stamps when you enter China, rectangular stamps when you leave, and hexagonal stamps when you're just passing through. It's this kind of hot insider knowledge that you all tune into School of ROK to acquire.

3. In spite of the fact that we haven't been outside of a secure area since we left Korea, we have to go through another security checkpoint. This means that they take away our water bottles, and the guy says (in Chinese) "Why do the Westerners never know about the water bottles?" Maybe because in the West, you don't have to go through security again unless you've gone outside security! Passports are checked again, twice.

4. Our escort picks us up again and takes us to the bus for Terminal 2. Terminal 2 bus driver checks our passports and our boarding passes. The bus rumbles through the airfield, passing intriguing barb-wire fences. It takes at least ten minutes to drive between the terminals.

5. The people at the bus station check our passports and direct us to our gate.

6. We ponder buying duty-free liquor as a Christmas present for a friend, but decide against it because we're not sure if they'll take away liquids again when we board the plane. Lo, we are correct, and our luggage is searched again before boarding. We frantically pound water in the line and wonder where, exactly, they think we got explosives between the security checkpoint in Terminal 3 and the gate in Terminal 2. Duty-free, perhaps? Oh, and they check our passports before we board.

Total passport checks: 7. Did you catch them all?

Flying back to Korea (Pittsburgh-Newark-Beijing-Seoul) was more frustrating.

1. Disembark plane, where we have been told not to fill out a yellow form. The customs line for "International Transfers" has no staffer, so we get in a normal line. Of course, you know and I know that what this means is a) of COURSE we had to fill out the yellow form and b) of COURSE there is an International Transfers line; it's just the one marked "Handicapped." In English, by the way. Maybe they're making some kind of statement about people who don't stay in China?

2. Show proof to the Customs guy that we're not trying to stay in China without a visa. This means that if you're connecting through Beijing, you MUST MUST MUST bring a physical printout of your itinerary. Otherwise, I've heard, they make you buy a ticket someplace before they let you connect. Or you go to the gulag. Or perhaps, adding insult to injury, they make you buy your own ticket TO the gulag. We don't aim to find out.

3. Reclaim our bags. I'm not sure if this was a policy thing, or if the woman who checked them in Pittsburgh just wasn't very competent, because some other people had to do this and others did not. It may depend on your origin city.

4. Catch bus to Terminal 2, which takes a lot longer because it goes outside the airport (no fences this time). Basically, when we got to Terminal 3, it was like starting our trip from scratch: schlep bags to a check-in counter, wait in line, check in, get boarding passes, and go through security (where, of course, they would have taken away our water, except we drank it. Nyah!). This has only happened to us once in the U.S., in San Francisco, necessitating frantic sprinting. This was the same trip where the airline (Asiana) pulled a nasty bait-and-switch, only informing us at the gate that for some reason, our ticket "fare class" meant that we couldn't get frequent flyer miles on the trip. We are consequently never flying Asiana again.

5. Clear Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine. Again. This one is not random bureaucracy but rather the outcome of bad traffic flow. Remember, it's like starting the whole trip from scratch, and we're in the same line as people who haven't been checked at all that day. But based on the redundant security screenings, I wouldn't put it past them to check us twice anyway. In case, you know, we caught Ebola somewhere in Terminal 2. Perhaps at the same Duty-Free shop that sells exploding water bottles.

6. Terminal 3 is the largest airport terminal in the world, which means it takes a very long time to get from gate to gate. We sat upstairs from our gate (nicer chairs) and found out in the nick of time that they only actually run boarding announcements on the lower floor. Then you have to take a bus out to board the plane and line up in the cold. They checked our passports before we got on the bus but not before we boarded the plane. Imagine, all the identity-theft shenanigans that could happen on that bus! The potential for disaster is mind-boggling!

In spite of all of this, though, China knocked one thing out of the park: we arrived in Korea twenty minutes ahead of schedule, squeaking us in in time for the last airport shuttle runs of the day. We got to go home on the regular airport buses instead of on the airline charter buses, which are 0-2 in getting us home in under three and a half hours (in addition to the bus-chase incident, we also had a late-night bus take a wrong turn downtown and get stuck in the middle of last spring's anti-US Beef protests). So instead of getting home at 3:30, we got home just after eleven, and socked out.

Overall verdict on flying though Beijing: mixed. It's much more of a hassle than flying through Tokyo/Narita, but if you have a long layover, what else were you going to do with that time? I can, however, see so many potential disaster spots - if you forget your itinerary, if your bags don't come through, if you get one of the MANY employees whose English is not as good as they think it is (I had to use my Chinese at least twice on each leg). Yet the airport is huge and weather-resilient, which helps with delays, and China is very inexpensive, which can shave $20 or more off a trip through Japan if you decide to have dinner or snacks and more than that if if you like to airport shop

Bottom line: if the airfare is a lot lower, go for it. But schedule a long layover and be prepared for some wackies.

Back in Seoul

Nana and I returned safely late last night, much less disastrously than landing at Incheon normally entails--then promptly collapsed from exhaustion.

We'll keep you posted as the new semester starts!