Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hwe-shik and Possible Wisdom

I attended a hwe-shik tonight. Not one held by my current elementary school, God forbid the faculty there should have any fun! No, my old high school. I go back and forth occasionally with the messaging to a couple of the folks there, and got invited to the end-of-year English department dinner. I shared the best possible table, with Mr Right, Mr Hwang, and Oh Byung-hee, the three gregarious, more or less, men of a certain age, though I am the hyeongnim (literally, and officially, even).

Mr Oh confessed to me, after noting how young I am looking, that he is starting to feel old these days. He has dyed his hair black this year. I asked why he did not want to look distinguished. Like me. I investigated a little more, and it wasn't even creaky bones, or popping knees--granted, I have ten years on him, but it should at least include that!

No, his problem was to do with his relationship to the students. Let me back up a bit: Korean high school teachers have a kind of reputation for corporal punishment; my co-teachers regularly smacked bad'uns with their "teaching stick" or made them perform stress positions in the hall, despite my concerns. It was Mr Oh who explained to me once that students enter into this relationship with teachers willingly, because they see them as friends, really caring friends, who only want the best for them.

Mr Oh told me tonight about the many years he was a great friend to his students (his new class each year), how he joshed and palled around with them, grew close. That changed this year. He just didn't care for it much--they were immature and silly and stupid, and he didn't enjoy their company. I remember when that happened to me, but that's not the point of my story.

I explained to him (and here's the possible wisdom part) that that isn't really getting old, it's becoming mature. I said that I think what happens is that when little girls grow up, they become women. When little boys grow up, they become big little boys. But hopefully at some point, never before thirty (and sometimes not even after that), those big little boys actually mature into men. And that's what was happening to him.

I didn't go quoting at him, but I've always loved a line George Bernard Shaw gave to Prof. Henry Higgins: "I've never been able to feel really grown up and tremendous, like other chaps." I love that line, because for much of my so-called adulthood, it worked for me. Even today, it sometimes does--it is useful to retain certain childish enthusiasms.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

White Christmas

It did not actually snow on Christmas, but there was still snow on the ground from Friday's two inches when I made my way to school this morning to "desk warm". This is not the best phrase for the actual activity, for it was a bit chilly in my desk area; even though the heat was on, the space heater they gave me doesn't appear to work. I'll definitely want to check on that tomorrow, as I'd lost the feeling in my toes on the walk home. Despite wearing wool socks and my vaunted Hush Puppies boots.

Much as I have maligned my V-P (not without reason), she is allowing me to leave at 12:10 during the holiday break. They cut off the building's central heat about 2:00 so this is quite welcome. Since I am prepared for camp, I am using the time to prepare lessons for next semester, on the assumption that they'll keep the same textbooks--since they only adopted them this year.

Anyway, my purpose for writing was to share this photo of the soccer field, covered in snow, except for the word "Christmas" spelled out in Hangeul, if you can make that out, in the middle of it.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Cake 2012

As Christmas cake is a tradition here in Korea, it is no less so at the Seoul Patch, as you can see from last year. This is the first cake in my new digs, so I was torn between continuing to get a colorful chocolate cake or begin a new schema. Here is what I ended up with, still chocolate, but a more elegant, understated thing, with no sign of Pororo and friends:


Looks good, doesn't it? And, as the message says, to all of my friends out there in Seoul Patch land, "Merry Christmas!"

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hobbit

There is no greater fan of the Tolkien oeuvre than Tuttle. Well, at least among those of us who haven't become fluent in Elvish, or tattooed Dwarfish moon runes on our foreheads, or turned the backyard into a scale model of Helm's Deep.

A key reason I convinced my pal Andy to visit New Zealand with me a-way back in 2009 was to visit sites of filming for Peter Jackson's grand and amazing filmic treatment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. While we were there, at Bag End, so to speak, they were actually prepping for The Hobbit, which was originally proposed as a two-parter. Please visit my blog post about our time in Hobbiton, aka Matamata, NZ, and then return back here.


Above is an ad in the subway for the first of the three "Hobbit' movies, An Unexpected Journey which I saw last night, along with The Stumbler. I couldn't help but lean over to my friend and whisper during the initial Hobbiton moments, "I've been there."

But all that doesn't ultimately matter. Is the film any good? is the question. Emphatically, YES, is my answer. Three hours (well, two hours and 45 minutes) sounded like an eternity, but both of us were surprised when the end came! Events on the screen were fast-paced, interesting and unveiled with clarity. There are some heavy-handed moments and cliche images (like our first view of Galadriel, for example), but you've got to expect some of that in a Peter Jackson epic, I think. Still, the story was engrossing.

I tried to stay away from too much of the movie's publicity, but I think some of the poor reviews I read were written by people who saw a different movie than I did: the dozen dwarves were poorly-differentiated? The relentless action was boring? The plot was muddled and confusing? It strained believability a couple of times? (Okay, that's true.)

Jackson and his crew managed admirably to compress the LOTR story in three movies, but I think the shoe's on the other foot here: how can they stretch the smaller,less grandiose tale of dragon-hunting dwarves into three? The answer is that there's a lot of stuff here that isn't in the book. Part of this involves contextualizing the actions of the dragon Smaug as part of the awaking dark forces that will overrun Middle Earth by the time of Frodo. Another part is simply Jackson's fondness of Tolkien's great invention, the characters, creatures and stories, and his desire to get them all down in film, so to speak.

The next part comes out for Christmas 2013, and the final part the year after that. I don't know if I will be in Korea for part three, but wherever I am, I'll definitely plan to be there.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Oh, the Weather Outside


Seoul has had its second snow storm of the season and it's not even Christmas yet. Oh, dear! We may be in for a long, slippery, crunchy winter. After all, it's not the snow itself that people find problematic, not when it's falling, but the fact that it remains on the sidewalks--occasionally swept/scraped off by citizens--until two days at least of above-freezing temperatures have melted it all away.

Coarse salt is a rarity; usually sand is used to improve walking or driving conditions. Doesn't matter, you must wear your snow boots from the first snowfall until sometime in March. I have a pair of stylish half-boots by Hush Puppies that I swear by.

Anyway, my point is that this winter will be a bad'un, so be prepared. As for me, I have two weeks of camp (as well as my Public Speaking course), then the plan is a toasty beach in Vietnam for a week.


Never been to Vietnam, even in the old days, so drop me a line if you have any tips.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nosmo King, Inaction Man

December 8th, 2012, was a red-letter day in Korea. Korea welcomed itself into the list of countries that qualify as "nanny-states", those states that deign to tell people what they can and cannot do for their own good. A smoking ban was enacted in bars and restaurants.

(Full disclosure: Tuttle smokes. Not during the ordinary course of a day, really. But certainly two with my Diet Coke, er Coke Light, first thing in the morning, maybe three. And if I'm drinking of an evening, all bets are off. If I'm not having alcohol, however, I'm unlikely to light up.) (Oh, except if I'm having a Caramel Frappucino at Caffe Bene: I smoke then, too.) (Or if I'm driving a car. Which isn't an issue in Seoul, but it was when I was visiting the States in August, and had a rental with a circle-and-a-slash symbol on the ashtray.) (Fine. I hung one out the window a few times. I was careful though. Whatever.)

When I say a smoking ban was enacted on December 8th, I really mean: not so much. For example, the recently-opened Beerking hof across the street from my officetel still had ashtrays on the tables when I dropped in two days later. On the other hand, that place has eleven tables, and may fit one of the exceptions to the new law, of being under 100 sq. m. of serving area.

However, when I met up with my weeknight dinner regulars at a well-known izakaya in Gang-seo-gu-cheong earlier this week, I was disappointed to see a photocopied circle-and-a-slash cellotaped to the front door. I complained to the sajangnim that this new law is kind of silly and they should at least have a smoking section--it is after all, an extensive establishment well-over the 150-m2 mandated for pulmonary protection of the pissants. When she brought me my beer, she slid an ashtray across to me as well. In fact, we soon noticed that almost every table in the place had at least one smoker lighting up with impunity, and, may I say, relish.

As we left Warawara the izakaya, my friends noted they were living up to the law, in some interpretation, at least: there was a small glass-enclosed booth labeled "Non-smoking Area" with two tables in it. (Alas, I wonder if in 2015, when they start actually handing out fines, smokers won't be on the inside looking out.)

Our dinner round that night was at a similarly-sized place where we enjoyed gabeurisal cooked on a grill at our table, with carcinogen-laden charcoal smoke leaching into the atmosphere despite the fume hoods that are so ubiquitous in Korean barbeque. That being so, they didn't have the gumption to tell anyone smoking is not allowed. Even though it isn't.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What I'm Reading

  • The Dig by Michael Siemsen - A happy participant in the willing suspension of disbelief, this one was a bit too far for me. A mysterious artifact is found in an African dinosaur dig, and clairvoyant Matthew Turner is brought in to lay his hands on it, and thus "read" the thoughts and emotions of all who had touched it before. If this was the only unbelievable element of the story, I could have really liked it; (SPOILER ALERT:) alas, the object itself points to a pre-Mesozoic human culture so advanced that a few bits of woven metal armour are the least we should have found. He should have stuck with the human elements of love and greed in the Kenyan dig's encampment, and told a more gripping tale.
  • Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin - In case you've not heard of it, this is Korea's runaway best-seller from 2011, and deservedly so. The elderly mother of three grown children disappears from a Seoul subway platform during a family visit. The book is narrated in four sections by different family members, painting "Mom's" adult life as a mother and caregiver. In their search to find her, the children find out about her--a more complex person than they imagined, yet touchingly devoted to her family, especially the eldest son, as is expected in a Confucian society. Well-written, thought-provoking, also interesting for the light it sheds on Korean culture for the outsider. Recommended.
  • Cell by Stephen King - King's 2006 novel of the zombie apocalypse begins when incipient graphic novelist Clay Riddell has just gotten his first break. Suddenly, everyone talking on a cell phone begins acting oddly. Well, not just oddly, they're jumping out of windows, biting each other's necks, and generally rampaging. What follows is a gruesome but good read, populated by believable characters but a few unbelievable coincidences, in which those few untouched by the cellphone madness form small groups, while the zombies come together in a Borg-like collective consciousness, as if reprogrammed by the cellphone message. Upcoming movie to star John Cusack.
  • Hot Type by Joseph Flynn - Chicago crime reporter and aspiring novelist Dan Cameron gets a typewriter for his birthday, supposedly the one used by Ben Hecht (Chicago reporter and novelist). After writing his first novel on it--a big success--he is nearly finished with his second when it is stolen during a burglary. The burglar is a recently escaped convict and bank robber who slowly realizes what he's got--and starts to use the novel's plot as the basis for his series of crimes. Meanwhile Dan and his wife team up with a retired FBI agent who had chased down the bank robber and ... Anyway, this book is full of great plot twists, double-crosses, and funky characters. A great read!
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen - The jacket blurb points out that this is an "incisive piece of social commentary" but read it anyway. Isabel Duncan is a scientist at a primate research facility who gets along much better with apes than with her own species. An explosion at the center, blamed on animal rights activists who protest outside daily, nearly kills her, but the Bonobos escape. They are rounded up, sold off, and somehow become the stars of America's latest reality TV show, created by a well-known porn producer (Bonobos are highly sexed). She tries to get them back, by whatever means necessary. Thoroughly researched, well-written, an interesting and entertaining book!
  • Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank - Chick-lit about a divorced mother of two teenage girls, leaving behind life in New Jersey to return to her childhood home of the South Carolina Low Country. She wants a simpler, slower life, especially for younger daughter Gracie, who has been rather in the fast lane lately. Linda takes a job as manager of Jackson Hole, an upscale seafood restaurant with a downscale ambience, and slowly falls in love with Brad Jackson, the owner. I read it mainly for the atmosphere, and it did not disappoint.
  • Nailed by Joseph Flynn - This is the fifth Joe Flynn book I've read, and they have all been distinctly different--locale, characters, themes, plots. They have in common that they are very good, and that they are crime stories; and in this one, the crime is that a well respected black preacher has been nailed to a burnt tree in the Sierra Nevada town of Goldstrike. Police Chief and "recovering bigot" Ron Ketchum finds that his investigation, instead of focusing the suspect list, tends to widen it. Meanwhile, a desperate mountain lion has begun trying to pick off lone joggers and small children, making many in the community of Goldstrike wonder if the curse on the town from the dead pastor's bereaved grandmother wasn't being fulfilled in some way. As usual with Flynn's books I've read so far, the climax and denouement are both unexpected and satisfying. Good stuff!