Sunday, April 22, 2012

What I'm Reading

  • I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Kim Young-ha - There is a lot of sex in this novel, nost of it unfulfilling--a literary device to represent the unfulfilling lives of the characters. The shadowy, unnamed narrator of the tale helps people commit suicide; no blood on his hands, just advice. He finds his clients through a simple want ad: "We listen to your problems." After a completed assignment, the narrator rewards himself with a trip abroad, and so he is in Vienna, then Venice as the story of two brothers, C. amd K. play out with their unfulfilled love interests, Mimi and the girl who looks like Judith in a Gustav Klimt painting.
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley - This is the third Flavia de Luce novel, and it was a fine read without reference to the previous two, narrated by the precocious Flavia, an 11-year-old girl living with her perpetually bereaved father and two older sisters on decaying manorial estate in the British countryside, post-World War II. Riding her trusty Dunlop named Gladys, Flavia has a knack for encountering crime, and within the first several pages, an aged Gypsy fortune-telling clings to life, and a local ne'er-do-well is found skewered on Poseidon's trident of a fountain in a rarely-visted garden of Buckshaw, the de Luce estate. Good mystery and great atmosphere.
  • Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich - This true story of the MIT "card-counting" team, reads like a thriller. Gambling for profit, anyone knows, is for fools--but these super-bright Asian kids from one of America's top universities weren't fools. They weren't even gamblers, and they'll hasten to point out they weren't cheaters either: cheaters contrive somehow to alter the conditions or the outcome of the game, and frankly that's what the casinos do--the blackjack teams were only taking advantage of statistical probabilities inherent to the game of blackjack. Author Ben Mezrich details the involvment of Kevin Lewis in the high stakes world of Vegas players from his initiation into the team from Boston until things fall apart once facial recognition technology makes the game too dangerous in the late nineties. But in the meantime, the team earned hundreds of thousands or more per month on weekend forays into the '21' tables of America.
  • Without Warning: After America by John Birmingham - Okay, so this is the second part of a trilogy (with part 3 hopefully being released as i speak), which may explain some of my initial confusion--but even reading the first book would not help too much, as the "energy wave" that obliterates about 1/3 of the earth's population remains unexplained at the end of the second one. The Wave happened in 2003, so you can see this is an alternate history, but it has intriguing aspects, and some of the plotlines it follows (there are about six) are engrossing. I hope "Angels of Vengeance" is an adequate follow-up!
  • Gasoline, Texas by Joseph Flynn - Fast-moving, eccentric character-laden tale of LBJ's rumored love-child, Ladbrook "Laddy" Johnson, who grudgingly became a Hollywood stuntman before returning to his hometown of Gasoline, Texas to run for mayor against town big-wig Edwin (Win-Win) Winslow. Unfortunately, Win-Win dies of a heart attack before the votes could be counted, the rich oil fields that gave the town its name have been looted by Win-Win and half the power structure of the county, and mega-movie star Joanna Wells is having second thoughts about their nuptials, after seeing Laddy in a compromising situation with Win-win's long-lost daughter Hayley, who has been off assassinating people for the federal government, and only returned for her father's funeral. Sound like a fun read? Yep!
  • The Concrete Inquisition by Joseph Flynn - Chicago cop "Doc" Kildare recently lost an eye during a shootout with Armando Guzman, local drug kingpin, and has put in a claim for 15 million dollars, his share of the ill-gotten gains confiscated in the Guzman roust, pursuant to Illinois code. The Chief of Police doesn't cotton to the idea and looking for a way to sideline Doc--permenantly. As is Guzman and his lawyer cousin Hector. As is an unknown serial killer, who seems to have "disappeared" a neighborhood mentally challenged boy. Meanwhile, Doc's ex-wife Harry (short for Harriet) wants back in the picture, possibly not because of the impending 15 mil pay-off. Another well-plotted pageturner from Flynn with some interesting characters.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

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Your visit to the Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival begins at the National Assembly station on Line 9. Signs helpfully direct you to the correct exit. When you come out, cross the main road and turn right, proceeding east to Yunjungno, the Japanese cherry tree-lined boulevard that sweeps around the National Assembly building.

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The beginning of the road is sealed off with a selection of floral displays (that's a map of Korea behind me). Today's was a crisp, bright morning, and I arrived before the crowds got too thick. Sadly, the festival calendar this year arrived before the cherry blossomes got too thick, as well--winter just wouldn't take a hint! Most of the trees are budding, not blossoming.

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Still, there's other stuff to do besides gawk at the flowers:

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The Yeosu World's Fair opens next month, and there was a booth on hand to spread the word:

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...complete with the Expo mascots, Yeony and Suny. According to Wikipedia:
the official mascots of Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea, are personifications of plankton, a primary food source for marine life and a key absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The dark blue color of Yeony symbolizes the deep ocean water and its limitless natural resources, while the bright red color of Suny represents the living organisms of the oceans and land; the tentacles signify diverse, reciprocal connections for communication with all the visitors to this global event. Whilst each of their names is derived from “Yeosu,” where Yeo means “beautiful” and Su means “water,” the names Yeony and Suny convey the intention of promoting the host city to the rest of the world.

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There were a handful of gorgeous cherry blossoms, as you can see below.

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Remember you can click on any pic to see it full size, as taken by my new Nikon D5100. I may return on Wednesday for a few more shots after all the trees are in bloom. Meanwhile, here's what it has looked like in previous years:
Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2011
Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2010
Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival 2009

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Places I Have Visited

Due to scheduling of mid-term exams, etc., I will have 10 days off in mid-May. I have been toying with a visit to Japan, one of the top destinations I have yet to visit on my Korean sojourn, and this is the perfect time of year for Kyoto. 

Today was Election Day, a school holiday, so I went to What The Book in Itaewon for the guide book--actually I got two: the Lonely Planet Kyoto guide, and the Rough Guide to Japan. I am a fan of LP books (and now the iPhone apps), but the Rough Guide seemed similarly comprehensive and considerably less expensive. I'll let you know ...

Anyway, it seemed serendipitous and apropos that my pal Gavin sent this email forward (not that I want to encourage them) with subject line that is the title of this post. It reads:
I have been in many places, but I've never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can't go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone else.
I've also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognises you there.
I have, however, been in Sane. They don't have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and work.
I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I'm not too much on physical activity anymore.
I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often..
I've been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.
Sometimes I'm in Capable, and I go there more often as I'm getting older..
One of my favourite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get!
I may have been in Continent, and I don't remember what country I was in. It's an age thing.
From one unstable person to another... I hope everyone is happy in your head - we're all doing pretty good in mine!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Baseball's Opening Day, 2012 Edition

On Saturday, I joined a number of friends at Jamsil Stadium in Gangnam for Doosan Bears vs. Nexen Heroes, my fourth consecutive Korean stickball inaugural:

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I started from my local subway stop, making my way to Sports Complex on the Green (#2) Line. As one comes out exit 5, collect a free tip guide and fishwrapper:

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There is a wide plaza in front of the stadium filled with vendors, hawking snacks like dried squid and kimbap, beer, chicken and donuts:

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There is an election coming up on Wednesday, so the Seoul election council or something was out in force to remind us to vote.

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They even had some variety of election mascot on hand for photo ops:

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And someone else urging us to Go to Hell, or something:

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Opening Day is a legitimate local newsstory, and I snapped a reporter interviewing some young fans:

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Before going in, I got a shot of my friend Sally, posed in front of the stadium, and a pair of policemen, showing what a nice day it was for a game:

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Our seats were in the reserved section (10,000 W) behind home plate. You can see a fine view and a fine day, but a field which needs some work:

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One of the features of a Korean stadium is the availability and price of food and beer, which is the same inside the stadium as out:

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In the actual game, Doosan went up by a run in the second, but the Heroes fought back, going up 2 - 1 in the top of the fifth. Here is the go-ahead run being scored off a base hit by DH Oh Jae-il:

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The Heroes scored three more in the sixth. Here I am taking a potty break during the sixth when I encountered the Bears mascot. I had gotten a score update on my iPhone app for KBO. I'm smiling because I just told him, "I'm a Heroes fan, and we're kicking your bear ass 5 to 1, ha ha!" He's smiling because he's a mascot, and because he didn't understand anything I said:

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Final score: Doosan Bears 2, Nexen Heroes 6.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Is Getting ...

up off the couch and pressing its nose to the window, looking to see if it's time to come out. Winter in Seoul is a tenacious old bastard, but it looks to be receding into the shortening shadows, finally.

At this time of year, I examine the gray tangle of 개나리 kenari bushes for the first flowers on my walk to school, as the little yellow bells are the harbinger of springtime here on the peninsula. There were buds last Friday, but the first few blossoms showed up on Monday, as seen via iPhone photos below:

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I have previously blogged quite a bit about the annual flowering (check out this post from 2010, for example. Note that the first flowers were a full two weeks earlier that year!)

Another sign of spring, this one purely on the human calendar, not Mother Nature's, is baseball's Opening Day, which arrives this Saturday. I'll be there once again, thanks to good friend Nick's intrepid Korean internet skills for ordering tickets, and his forethought and foresight, as well.

So as Seoul awakes from its winter slumber, perhaps I will shake off my blogless torpor and treat you, dear reader, to more frequent missives from the Patch. I can almost guarantee more photos of the spring flowers, as I am anxious to see how I can do with my expensive new Nikon D5100. It even has a preset for "spring blossoms". So do I.