Dec 29, 2009

Chapter Eighteen: This Must Be the Place

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun

Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home - she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place

Big changes are coming to the blog, I hope. I redesigned it recently as well. When I moved to Seoul I wanted something dreary and grey and impersonal. But it turns out that dreary is...well, rather dreary. I want to make this blog easier to follow as well. Soon I will be traveling and there will be more updates, more pictures, and more videos.

In other news, I lost my camera (see the sidebar "An Irish Ambush in South Korea"). A new one is on the way but in the meantime this blog is going picture free.

I am working on some thoughts on Korea/wrap up posts. In the meantime, here are some of the things I miss from Portland after almost a year away. (Of course, friends and family top the list. But you guys all have big egos and I don't want to do anything to make your heads swell further.)

Powells: It's a city ... of books. Duh.

Bye and Bye: Good beer, vegan food, good music; just a cool place. Maybe the best hang out place I have found.

Sweat Pea: I have only been here half a dozen times or so, but I can say this is the best bakery I have ever been to. The fact that it's vegan is almost irrelevant; this place is simply awesome.

New Old Lompoc: This could be any of a thousand microbreweries, but I dig their seasonal stouts and filling mason jars with beer is always fun.

Laurelhurst Theatre: You mean there is a cinema that serves beer AND is cheaper than the big cinemas? Seems too good to be true. I chose this over the Baghdad and others because they offer more movies and better beer.

Wildwood Trail. Almost as amazing as the length and beauty of it is the ready accessibility. You can hope onto this sucker from so many different places and instantly you are transported into a wilderness experience.

Rain: Scoff all you want, but the winters in Oregon are beautiful in their own drizzly way. If nothing else, they make the first sunny day of spring feel like an international holiday. And if that doesn't convince you, consider that I've been waking up to temperatures of minus twenty (Celsius).

Atomic Art: Joanne is a legend and I wish I was still getting some work done from her. The only consolation: for the price of a large-ish tattoo, you can live in SE Asia for three or four months.

Blossoming Lotus: When I think about the food I miss, their avocado sandwich on whole grain bread comes up first. *Drools*

Belmont Station: A truly impressive collection of great beers. If they allowed international online ordering, I would have spent embarrassing amounts of money on importing IPA's and imperial stouts.

Por Que No? The food and daily drinks are great, but this is one of the only places where I feel the ambiance alone is worth the visit.

Last Thursday: Pure awesome. Urban life at its eclectic best, and one of the reasons that NE Portland has supplanted SE as my favorite part of town.

Wandering and discovering new things. Urban wandering in Korea is still fun, but you come across the same restaurants, shops, and areas that you find everywhere else. I miss wandering and finding something like an interesting new cafe or shop.

Fred Meyers: It surprises me too; Freddies is about as glamorous as finding ecoli in your salad. But it is one place that has many of the comforts of home. Homeplus and Emart are nice, but they don't quite have the same variety (though they crush in the gimchi and dried squid department).

Dec 17, 2009

Chapter Seventeen: Happy Christmas (War is Over)

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun

John Lennon, despite getting Christmas and New Year's Eve mixed up, could write some songs. In the battle of best ex-Beatle Christmas anthems, poor Sir Paul could only muster Wonderful Christmas Time. Poor show, Sir Paul.

Christmas is a strange holiday because it sits in the middle. Most holidays, I think, fall into one of two categories.

Some holidays are outstanding when you're a kid You can spend the entire year looking forward to them and when they happen they're the best days of your life. Days like Easter, Groundhog's Day, 4th of July, Arbor Day (who knows why but kids love planting trees), birthdays, and, of course, Christmas.

Other holidays seem unnecessary when you're a kid but you grow to like: Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, Memorial and Labor Day, MLK Day. Most of these are good because they involve days off from work and heavy eating/drinking.

I can only think of two in the middle: St Patty's and Halloween. It was great to dress in green and pinch the people you liked in elementary school, and it's great as an adult to drink as much Irish Stout as you want. The nature of the holiday has changed, but I think kids and adults like it the same. Substitute booze for candy, and Halloween has the same appeal for all ages--create a clever costume, see your friends, overload on the treat of your choice.

Christmas is definitely more adult friendly than Easter, which becomes mostly useless, but I think it's hard to capture that excitement that children get the night before Christmas. Still, Christmas is great because, no matter your age, you can find something enjoy from it.

Anyway, happy holidays to all who have stopped by. Whatever your reasons for celebrating this year (I always think celebrating Christmas is like celebrating winter, at least in the Northern Hemisphere) I hope you have a merry time of it.

I mentioned last month that I would try to come up with a list of the top 10 movies of this decade. This was a lot harder for me than music--I love music, but I can't go a day without comparing it to some movie or other. And I have shockingly little music aptitude or understanding of the craft, but with movies I at least can approach them with more understanding. I do tend towards a bit of film snobbery, and you won't find some obvious choices on here. The likes of Shrek, Juno, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Wall-E, Little Miss Sunshine, Almost Famous, Napoleon Dynamite won't be found here, because I consider them all some form of horrible.. But for fun I've mentioned, where appropriate, the movie that a proper critic would have included instead of my choice.

Honorable mentions: Ghost Dog, The Cuckoo, The Castle, Children of Men, Donnie Darko, Hallam Foe, In Bruges, The Fountain, Coraline, Requiem For a Dream, and Choke.

10. Best in Show
Fans of Waiting for Guffman and This is Spinal Tap were treated to the zenith of the mockumentary, while others were blown away by a simply hilarious movie.
Replaces: Any Judd Apatow comedy.

9. Stardust
This decade was fantastic for the sci-fi genre, and Stardust was, for Neil Gaiman fans, highly anticipated and somewhat overlooked. Amazing scenery, an impressive cast, and a well-written adaptation makes this the representative of the genre.
Replaces: Lord of the Rings.

8. Memento
This movie came out so early in the century that it's hard to remember how incredible it was. The unique structure, however, hasn't been matched since. Nolan of course went on to direct the Batman movies, but the performance he gets here from Guy Pearce is good as anything from Heath Ledger's Malcolm McDowell impersonation.
Replaces: The Dark Knight.

7. Religulous
Bill Maher can come off as a smarmy asshole, but this is one of the few movies that will really important questions. How can a supposedly secular country not bat an eyelash when its president starts a war because "god told him to"? With Larry David directing, though, it's never dull, and perfectly strikes the balance between thought-provoking and entertaining.
Replaces: Fahrenheit 911.

6. Layer Cake
In my opinion, the best British gangster movie of not just the decade but all time. Fans of this film were stoked to see Craig get nominated for Bond; this is one of those immanently quotable re-watchable movies that deserve to be watched by large groups.
Replaces: Snatch

5. Science of Sleep
My favorite of the surreal, mind-blowing films of the decade. Gael Garcia Bernal is slightly off-cast as an unsure Everyman, but he handles it with aplomb. The blurring of reality and fantasy is deftly handled, the supporting cast is great, and Gondry's direction is uniquely brilliant.
Replaces: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

4. Into The Wild
I loved the soundtrack, I loved the movie. It's so hard for a Hollywood production to be truly inspirational, it's amazing when it can actually happen.
Replaces: Broke Back Mountain

3. Shaun of the Dead
This is going to be a controversial statement, but this is hands-down the best rom-zom-com ever made. EVER.
Replaces: Nothing. There's nothing in the same class with it.

2. The Proposition
To me, the greatest western ever made. An amazing cast, a well-written and told story, a superb soundtrack, and a location that oozes off the screen. The advance of dreadful inevitability invokes Euripides and Camus.
Replaces: There Will Be No Country For Old Bloody Men

1. The Fall
Reminiscent of Del Toro or Gilliam at their best, this tale within a tale of a young girl is both highly familiar and unlike anything you've seen before.
Replaces: Pan's Labyrinth.

There you have it. If you haven't seen any of these films, even the Honorable Mentions, consider them to have my highest recommendation. Let me know if you agree/disagree with these choices, your feelings on the Yuletide season, or your Granny's recipes for home-made fudge in the comments please.

Dec 8, 2009

Chapter Sixteen: Ignorance is Bliss

"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."

Keen-eyed viewers will have lately noticed a certain lack of, well, Korean things in this blog. This is mostly because after eight or nine months, life is pretty routine and it's hard to keep saying, "So I saw some funny signs today."

But I realized that I have neglected one of the most amusing aspects of life in Korea. Koreans believe in some funny things. I say this, knowing that I hail from a country that thought not once but twice that having a retarded cowboy manage our lives would be a good idea. So understand that I laugh not at Korea but with it.

* Names. Korea is a literal place. The capital city is Seoul, which translates as "Capital." The river that flows through the city is called the Han, which translates as "Korean." The most popular food here is made of seaweed and rice, and it's called Kimbap. Kimbap literally means, of course, "seaweedrice."

* A fruit by any other name. They think westerners are quite silly in their classification of the tomato as a fruit. Strangely, though, I have not seen a fruit salad here that didn't prominently include tomatoes.

* Why is everyone playing Basketball? I assumed the reasons for this were self-evident. But Koreans start playing at a young age because they believe it will make them taller. They do tend to be quite tall, so maybe there's something to this one.

* Avoid the rain. What you or I might call a drizzle causes Koreans to duck under doorways and brandish umbrellas. The reason: they think that rain causes hair to fall out.

* Japan is evil. Koreans hate the Japanese with surprising ferocity, to the point that they won't eat their version of sushi with soy sauce because the Japanese do. To be fair, Japan was pretty brutal, both historically and in living memory, to Korea. But the children here will "Boo" and be very comfortable when Japan is brought up. North Korea to them, by contrast, is just a funny, "angry" place.

* Eat your fermented cabbage. An apple a day may no longer keep you medically fit, but Koreans have a superfood that will actually prevent swine flu! Kimchi says so right on the package, and it's been presented in the paper, on the news, and, well, everywhere. I never touch the stuff and I caught the swine, so this one might have some merit. One problem: Koreans eat it three times a day and still hundreds of thousands have caught the flue.

* Why was six afraid of seven? They don't know about the Panama canal, and hence lump America into one mega-continent. Why Europe, Asia, and Africa don't get the same treatment is unclear.

* I'm your biggest fan. This one sounds made up, but it's the mother of them all. If you leave your fan on, it will suck all the oxygen out of the room and you will die. This is not urban legend, it is in the news, validated by scientists, and even highly educated people are convinced it's true. Fans here are made with timers so they can shut off automatically and thus save your life.

It makes me wonder what follies we've all swallowed from our own cultures? Surely nothing as blatant as fan death? Would we know it if we did?

Anyway, here's something that my students have been learning recently. Sometimes I feel that teaching them to sing Beatles and quote Bill & Ted might not be of the utmost importance (only sometimes though, don't worry!) but the truth is that their coursebooks are less than useless and so full of errors that they hinder more than help their education.