Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nepal: Food and Drink

Nepal has a population consisting of various races, religions and castes; however, as best as I could tell, the Nepali diet seems relatively consistent across those groups, and is largely vegetarian. Even your "meat choice" in the traditional vein will be 95% vegetation by volume.

Below are some variations on the standard Newari meal, called daal bhat. Daal means lentil soup, and bhat means rice. In addition, there are typically several sides, one of which will be meat (probably mutton) if you went the non-vegetarian route. You'll have papadum, a thin, salt-and-pepper cornmeal wafer; some form of stewed green, probably pumpkin or gourd leaves; grilled or stewed vegetables; achar, which is a spicy turnip pickle; and yoghurt, possibly from nak's milk (a nak is a female yak). The traditional method of consumption is to dump everything into the rice, and eat it with your fingers.

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It doesn't necessarily sound appetizing, but every time I had it, it was really good. In order, I ate the set at World Heritage Restaurant, near Durbar Square, cooking class, Yak Restaurant (no yak on the menu--and no photo), and Thamel House Restaurant, which was double the price of others at 1050 NR, but had mutton and wild boar, as well as black lentils in the daal.

The appetizer is usually peanuts and pumpkin seeds, perhaps potatoes or potato soup.

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Perhaps the most famous Nepali soup, aside from daal, is thukpa, which has really thin glass noodles, masala (aka spices), veggies and perhaps meat. The restaurant at my hotel had an awesome one with buffalo (aka buff). It's one of those dishes you could eat everyday for weeks and never miss other food.

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Another iconic Nepali food is the momo, which is basically a meat or veg filled dumpling, usually steamed, but also available fried. The meat might be mutton, but buff is commonly available. The blogs I read seemed to be crazy about these, but I suspect that's because they've never had the steamed buns available on the streets of Taipei.

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Dessert is likely to be khir, rice pudding flavored with cinnamon and/or cashews.

Nepalis also make a few varieties of bread, starting with chabati, which is like a mini-naan, flour-and-water dough, formed into a round and puffed over direct heat. I helped make some chabati during an impromptu cooking class during my stay at Resort Eco-Home in Nagarkot where I was the only guest during my stay (about which more later).

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I made a different variety of bread, lightly sweet, slightly cinnamon-flavored, and fried, called sela roti or celebration bread, in the more formal cooking class I attended in Kathmandu, run by the Puri family, but mostly the daughter Anu (here holding the greens we were to prepare).

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It's supposed to be donut-shaped, but it's quite a trick to pour the batter in in such a way the circle is completed. My classmates, S. and S. from Adelaide did a better job of it than I did, but it all tastes the same--good.

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When I use the term street food, it means food prepared and intended to be consumed on the street. I saw only a few varieties, mainly guys who sell fruit and/or make juice, a few early morning sellers of what they told me was zapati, an egg thing that looked quite unappetizing to me, and a snack called chana chatpat, which is a really spicy mix of puffed rice, some chick peas, nuts, other stuff, and quite a lot of finely ground chillies.

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I stayed in a district of Kathmandu called Thamel, which has a concentration of hotels, foreigners and Western-style restaurants. Since the native population is Hindu, or Buddhist, or both, beef is not part part of the standard diet. One upshot of this is that the Western places have excellent beef at low prices. The most popular fashion of preparation is the "sizzler" which is a sizzling hot plate laden with nearly a pound of quality beef for about five bucks. Including all the fixins!

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Many of these restaurants were located in a courtyard behind their associated hotel or other businesses, thus shielding them from the noise and chaos of the streets (about which more later, I'm sure). The flagship is a place called the Kathmandu Guest House, where the Beatles stayed during their flirtation with Eastern mysticism and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. However, resting on its laurels, perhaps, I found better steak sizzlers at Delimio's (or something close to that name) and at K-Too Beer & Steakhouse. A couple other places worth a try, though maybe not for a sizzler, include Rosemary's Kitchen (south, toward Durbar Square) and Olive's Garden (north end of Thamel).

LP mentioned a place called New Orleans, which had a famous chicken basket for 320NR. It consisted of four pieces of over-fried chicken, which were mainly spine, bone and that part of the thigh you can't really eat, and a handful of badly-done French fries. Speaking of fries, another recommendation was B.K.s, almost at the north end of Thamel. The menu there was quite ... limited. So limited that the chef's specialty is ... French fries. Although I have to say they were awesome. But, really?

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Nepal's traditional beer, tongba, is made of fermented millet--actually, the container is the tongba, the drink itself is jaand. Pour some hot water into the tongba, let it sit for a bit, then sip the water and alcohol through the straw, which has tiny perforations to strain through only the liquid. As you drink the water down, just pour in more water. It's not very strong, and a bit sour.

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The malt beer industry only arrived in Nepal in the 1970s, and Tuborg (from Denmark) has led the pack since its appearance in about 1990. Despite this, there is a variety of local and imported brands. Carlsberg and San Miguel lead the imports, and Nepali produced brews include the following (I didn't get them all on film, but I tried--AWOLs include Kathmandu Beer):

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I found a few places to imbibe and chill that were not courtyard places, but rooftops--some with retractable roofs. Zibro's had a great vibe, but poor food, even though zibro means tongue and refers to the importance of taste, according to the menu; Sam's Bar had free popcorn but no food; another popular spot is supposedly Tom and Jerry's, though it was deserted when i went; but the best was Paddy Foley's Irish Pub. From my journal notes at the time: "The cover band [Supertramps--'s' added when they learned of a band that already had that name] is pretty good, doing CCR and now The Doors. It's an Irish pub in the sense that the name of the place is Irish. That is all. And it ain't a bad thing by my reckoning, if occasionally a so-called Irish pub isn't, but is an awesome thing that it is, even if a sign somewhere is Paddy Foley's Pub. Still, I do like my pubs to be sort of comprehensible by certain clues. Like the name. But it was a good surprise I'm saying, not a bad one, where instead of a smilin Mick with a bar trick, it's some dudes who want to harvest your kidneys. Not fucking mine, they don't! They'd probably be doing me a favor."

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But perhaps my favorite place, for no other reasons than its view of Thahiti Tole, and its slogan, was this place, the Delicious Cafe and Cushion Bar.

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"Probabably the best place for coffee, food and wine." You just don't get that kind of honesty, or modesty, whichever it is, very often these days!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Movie Review: 명량, or Roaring Currents

I rarely go to the movies, even though it's a pleasanter experience in Seoul than it often was back home--the times I've been, people don't chatter, phones don't ring, kids don't run amok ...

Anyway, I went to see the title above at the CGV in IFC with TSAM, and quite enjoyed it (the screening had English subs). It concerns of the great naval battles of all time, in which Korean Admiral Yi Sun-shin with 12 ships faces off against the Japanese fleet of some 130 battleships plus support vessels at Myeongryang in the summer of 1597, a part of the Imjin War during which a newly unified Japan tries to subjugate Joseon.

 photo admiral_zps4449f0dc.jpgEarlier, Admiral Yi had fallen into disfavor in the factionalized court of weak-willed King Seonjo, and he was imprisoned, tortured and then reduced in rank to a foot-soldier. Meanwhile, Won Gyun, who took over command of the navy, led a disastrous series of campaigns against the Japanese, reducing Yi's carefully-grown fleet of 150+ ships to a mere twelve. When Yi is again elevated to leadership, and plans to fight a pitched battle against the advancing fleet, Won has the temerity to bitch and complain that he can't possibly expect to succeed with only 12 ships.

This is where the movie picks up the tale, in the briefing during which Won and his supporter Baek Seol question Yi's wisdom. He pauses for a moment and says, "This briefing is over."

The overall narrative thread of the movie is accurate, but I can't speak about many of the details--The Stumbler's friend Mija said it was all pretty true. Well, the Japanese are stereotypically evil, Yi stereotypically wise, stiocal and iron-willed, the soldiers by turns petulant, cowardly and courageous as the plot demands. The movie spends a lot of dialogue on the nature of courage, and/or how to bend fear to do your will, the value of sacrifice.

Yi's strategy is brilliant, depending almost entirely on the strangely veering and backing currents in the strait where he chose to set the battle. The movie is about 2 hrs, 10 min long, about 50% build-up and 50% battle.

The battle scenes are quite well-done, the right mix of close-up action, gore, strategic pans, etc. Even though you know the outcome, there's edge-of-the-seat suspense, well-earned cheers from the audience, and satisfying In fact, every aspect was quite good, from the music to the philosophy of war stuff, to the acting. Here's a Joongang Daily interview with the actor who played Admiral Yi.

 The movie has been out just about a week, and has smashed every Korean box office record for any release, foreign or domestic--10% of the country's population has already seen it. Partly, of course, that's because of the whole nationalism thing: in addition to being indisputably one of the world's greatest military strategists, Yi Sun-shin is also Korea's number one or two national hero. But whatever your nationality, it's a ripping good war flick. Catch it. In America, it will be released later this summer as "The Admiral".

Tuttle Update

1) I finished Week 2 of camp yesterday thus completing my obligations to my employer until August 28. In Week 2 of the Schoolhouse Rock camp, we covered The Beatles, Reggae, Rap and the musical Frozen. We also covered adverbs, prepositions, interjections and the predicate. Around the World campers learned about staying in a hotel, with Mr Bean's stay in one providing an example of what not to do, amusement parks, and how to boost Korean tourism. Students created their own tourism posters:

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2) I will be in Nepal from the 11th to the 25th, so look forward to a travelogue upon my return.

3) I went searching for some Nepali Rupees to take with me yesterday afternoon, visiting all the "exchange" banks in the area, even venturing as far as Gimpo Airport. Some of them never even heard of Nepal--Indo? Indonesia? China? So I came away without rupees of any sort. I don't like changing money in the destination airport because I'm never sure I can trust them.

4) This afternoon I'll get a haircut, finish the laundry. This evening I'm going to see the new Korean release about Admiral Yi with The Stumbler and his lady. Tomorrow I'll pack and clean the house. Then first thing Monday morning make my way to Incheon for a 9:10 departure.

See you on the flip side.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Camp 2014

Summer Camp is a Korean education term of art. It is really just half-days of class that extend into the vacation period, for kids that have a strong interest in a subject, like English, or more likely, for parents who don't want to spring for a paid daycare service. I'm doing two weeks. For older students, a grammar and music camp called "Schoolhouse Rock" which combines a part of speech and a style of music; for younger ones, an "Around the World" camp, with topics like kids' games from around the world, world amusement parks, making a toy.

One of the games we played was "three penny hockey", for which 50 wons make a good stand-in:

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We made an arcade toy from an empty water bottle, which the kids enjoyed. I was too busy helping to get pictures, but you take a water bottle, peel off the label, and pry off the ring under the cap. Pop the ring inside, roll up a paper tube about three inches long, glue the tube into the neck and screw on the cap. Now you invert the bottle and try to shake it so you ring the ring around the tube. We also made paper footballs and played flick football with them:

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Yesterday's lesson was about world landmarks. After watching a ppt, I showed them some paper models I assembled, from the website papertoys.com:

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I wanted them to have the choice of Mt. Rushmore and the Eiffel Tower, but the tower took me about 45 minutes, and turned out to be a bit too fiddly, so everyone did the American presidents:

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Tomorrow, we will explore Africa by way of scenes and songs from The Lion King; meanwhile, the rockers will be exposed to some love songs, from Greensleeves to Donny Osmond's Puppy Love, and wrap up the week with a quiz game.

See you in August!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Report, Part Deux

  • The Rho Agenda by Richard Phillips (The Second Ship, Immune and Wormhole) - A trio of teenage kids stumbles across a hidden cave in which they find what can only be an alien spaceship. Despite being smart and mature, they investigate it, and fitting peculiar headbands on, they eventually find themselves trainees of the ship's intelligence. They learn that there is another ship, in famed Area 51, possibly sent by a rival group of aliens. Donald Stephenson, lead scientist for the National Lab on the First Ship exploration project, and a nasty piece of work, is meanwhile performing unauthorized human experiments using the alien technology. His ultimate goal is to form a rapprochement with the aliens and rule the world. Can three teens stop him? Of course they can, but thereby hangs this engaging and imminently readable--if lengthy--tale.
  • New World Orders by Edward G Talbot - On a planet Earth teetering on the edge of global meltdown, mass extinction and resource depletion, Samuel Tan heads a secret group of the super-rich and super-powerful with a long-term, even generational, goal of getting the hell off this spinning ball before it's too late. Mega-corporations, massive defense contractors and huge amounts of infrastructure are actually secret parts of the new world order to build their spaceships and transport them to a new terraformed home. Washington, DC police detective Jim Patterson {not my old college professor} stumbles onto their plans, and has only twenty years to stop them. That last bit makes it sound silly, but it did make for a fun read.
  • Hell's Corner by David Baldacci - Hell's corner is a location in Washington, DC where Lafayette Park stands opposite the White House grounds. The jurisdiction here depends on who wants it most: the DC police, the Secret Service or the FBI--or indeed who wants it the least. A sixtyish Oliver Stone (not his real name} is visiting the park, one of his old haunts, before being recalled from a forced retirement to perform a mission at the special request of The Man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He's watching a State Dinner wind down across the street when suddenly a bomb goes off. Just like that, his mission changes, and he is thrown into a hornet's nest of terrorism and intrigue even more complicated than it was in the old days. Tight plotting, quirky characters and believable (mostly) action make this worth reading if you don't have anything better at hand.
  • Black List by Brad Thor - The US government has a list of people to be "eliminated"--and once you get on it, there's only one way off. Counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath has just been added to the list. He's got to find out why, and by whom, and do it in time to prevent the worst terrorist attack in American history. Harvath reminds me of Lee Childs's Jack Reacher character--so proficient at fighting and killing there just isn't any point in the opposition's bothering to try. Of course, if they didn't, there wouldn't be a book. And I like books. He's also not that great a writer, this Thor (pseudonym, much?) but he does have a reasonable take on plot-driving action, which is to say the action seems to drive the plot rather than vice versa. If Brad Thor wants my advice, he would give up on invincible, murderous hero Scot Harvath and devote his career to spinning plots about one of the minor characters here, dwarf computer hacker Nicholas with the giant dogs and similarly outsize romantic desires. Until then, don't bother ...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Report, Part 1

The general laxity in my posting updates of my various fascinating thoughts and activities has been unforgivable, though I admire the persistaece (and perspicacity) of the Teeming Dozens who've stayed with me during this dearth of output. Most shocking of all, has been a failure to provide my deathless reviews/summaries of what I've been reading! Fret no more! i'll begin with two longish books, considered together for their similar theme, even if that theme is not apparent at first.
  • The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan, and The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 by David McCullough - Although united by unnecessarily long subtitles, these books have a great thing in common: the satisfying true story of what Americans can do, both individually and as a nation, when called upon to do it to achieve some greater good. The first book uses the words and stories of two dozen women lured or hired to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to perform tasks from nursing to janitorial work, secretarial duties to physics lab tech jobs during the so-called Manhattan Project. At Oak Ridge, a series of massive plants was built to enrich plutonium eventually used in the making of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, none of them knew it at the time, and it could be argued that the bombings only marginally accelerated V-J Day, but hindsight is 20-20, and it's also easy to argue, besides, that the Bomb nonetheless saved hundreds of thousands of Japanese and American lives.

    This book doesn't much concern itself with that, it is mostly about the wartime lives of the women the author interviewed at some remove--their country called on them, and they responded as best they could. Their stories are dramatic, ordinary, at times comedic, and at times tragic, but make for a great read. For many years, I took my school's seventh graders to Oak Ridge every spring as part of a week-long science trip focused on "Energy". The Museum of Science and Energy had an exhibit about the lives of those who Built the Bomb, but it merely scratched the surface of the story this book plumbs so well.

    David McCullough, who later became one of America's best, and best-known, biographers, wrote the biography, so to speak, of the Panama Canal in the mid-seventies, when it had become newsworthy once again. Like the Manhattan Project, it is about a country's strategic needs and willingness to surmount almost impossible odds to meet them. The country was France. Well, for thirty years or so, until they had ultimately to admit they couldn't do the job. I'm sure we all know the famous palindrome "a man, a plan, a canal, Panama." That man was Ferdinand de Lessop, who had triumphantly engineered the Suez Canal a few years earlier. He took on the Isthmian canal project as a money-making venture for ordinary Frenchmen, who ultimately lost their investments because of poor decision-making and dogged persistence in wrong ideas by de Lessop, his son, and his board.

    What I previously knew about the Panama Canal was mostly wrong--though TR deserves some credit for it, he gets considerably more than he deserves; while American medicos eliminated malaria, they did so by continually fighting their higher-ups, conventional wisdom, and the US Congress, none of whom believed mosquitoes were responsible for its spread; while the US did indeed have a treaty involving the canal territory's return after X number of years, that treaty was with Colombia, who no longer controlled the territory by the time the US actually started to build.

    And that's just for starters. Great book. Well, two great books!
  • J. Edgar Hoover: The man and the Secrets by Kurt Gentry - As far as I can tell, this book is exhaustively researched, and yet does not reveal any of the salacious scuttlebutt I was expecting in such a thick, detailed, and thorough book, about J. Edgar's rumored transvestitism, homosexuality or fetishism. Disappointing as it is, I have to conclude that it turns out not every homophobe is a closeted gay. Still, there are revelations aplenty about this foul man and his iron grip on American law and "morality" for the nearly forty years he ran the FBI until his death in 1972. He personally destroyed the lives of many good men and women, while supporting the worst kinds of cretins and elevating them to rhe hallways of power. And he still impacts American culture in negative ways. For example, even though the American Communist Party was always a tiny, ineffectual group of aesthetes and wannabes, their disproven approach still serves as a rallying point for conservatives to this day. Though his illegal surveillance techniques were eschewed in the seventies and eighties, the dramatic news of programs like Echelon and Prism seem to bore Americans, in part because Hoover's FBI (or rather the revelations about it) has somewhat normalized them.
  • The Hornet's Sting: The Amazing Untold Story of World War II Spy Thomas Sneum by Mark Ryan - Thomas Sneum indeed was an amazing spy; sadly, he was a poor excuse for a human being. He abandoned his wife and daughter, he threatened his biographer with a loaded pistol, he left his brother to freeze to death, he was a misogynist and all-around asshole. However, he wasn't a coward. The key thing abouut him, that makes the other stuff less important, is that he performed several feats of amazing bravery or derring-do to assist materially in the Allied cause during WWII. Sneum was Danish, and got involved in the war effort after his homeland crumbled under Nazi power without even testing itself. Near his home, the Germans installed a new kind of radar; he took pictures of the installation, and unable to provide the photos to the British any other way, he and a buddy rebuilt an old Hornet Moth, filled it with extra fuel cans, and flew it across the north Atlantic, climbing out onto the wing to refuel it along the way. Wow! That was just the beginning of his remarkable tale, which is replete with British spy agency bumbling, double-agent shenanigans, assassination by crossbow, and seducing a mother and her daughter. Long derided as a double agent, Sneum was ultimately exonerated and rewarded with the King's Medal for Courage.
Part 2 of this installment of the book report will have a slightly more sci-fi leaning. Coming soon!

Friday, July 25, 2014

School Elections

Today is the last day of the semester, here at 양명초 , and it was also the day for student government elections--terms apparently run from August to August.

Just as it was at my high school, the key means of canvassing for votes seems to be standing at the entrance to the school in the morning and serenading the students, or at least getting your name in front of them.

This is a big deal to the fifth grade, as they will be the school leaders just one semester from now. Here are some pics of democracy in action

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I say today is the last day of the semester, but I still have two weeks of camp, which is all prepared and ready to go, of course, beforee my vacation time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Linus' BBQ, Itaewon

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It's a bit hard to find, even though it is in the heart of Itaewon, but you are a fool if you don't change all your plans for dinner throughout the next century to beat a path to Linus's door!

After enjoying his "pop-up" at Magpie's in Noksapyeong a while ago, The Stumbler and I have tried to meet up at this new southern-style bar-be-que joint for a couple of weeks, but somehow never worked it out. What the HELL were we thinking!?! Finally, we made it to his newly-opened, non-pop-up restaurant tonight, with new pal Mike, and I never want to eat anywhere else again.

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First, how do you get there? Find the main drag in in Itaewon and make your way to the McDonald's. To its immediate left are some stairs down into a little underground shopping area. Follow the hallway to the end, and turn left, where you'll see the picnic tables outside and a relatively small indoor eating space, as shown above.

Second, I was joyful when J.R.'s Southern Style BBQ opened on the main street last year, and many folks have heard me sing its praises. And I wasn't wrong to do so. but Lawd a' Mercy! you ain't had nothin' like Linus's BBQ! Starved as I was of the gen-you-wine article, I thought J.R.'s was as good as I was gonna git!

I'm not gonna get into where JR or Linus and them is all from--mainly 'cause I don't give a rat's ass--and I think both have a reputable product. But if we just compare the basics, the standard pulled pork BBQ sandwich, Linus wins on every point. The meat is perfectly smoked and seasoned, the buns buttered and lightly grilled, the sauce just like back home (and the right amount of it).

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Third, there are the sides. Both have the shoestring fries, both good. But Linus offers so much more! There were three of us: Mike had the fried okry (delicious, but not as good as my sister-in-law's); I had "Smoky mac-n-cheese", and I do not think I exaggerate when I say I could subsist on a big ol' bowl o' that till my dying day (it's on the left above); Chris had a side of fried mac-cheese-and-jalapeno-balls that were a spicy delight.

Neither restaurant (nor any place I know of in Korea, including KFC) yet has a handle on how to make cole slaw, but I still give the edge to Linus. Neither restaurant is a bargain, either, with the basic sandwich coming in at 12,000 W--if that matters a lot to you, then by all means veer right on Itaewon-gil and enter the Golden Arches. Serves you right.

Finally, a little pedantry. I'm allowed, after such a glowing review. The sign says "Linus' BBQ". This is incorrect, as Strunk and White instruct on--literally--page one: "Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's." They do allow for exceptions in the case of ancient proper names, e.g., Jesus', but Linus is no Son of Our Lord, even if a god of southern-style dead pig preparation. Hmmm, on second thought ...