Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas Cake 2014

It's Christmas Day--Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah, Cheery Kwanzaa, etc, etc ...

Here in Korea, one of my favorite holiday traditions is that of the Christmas Cake. Dedicated visitors to the Patch know that I get one every year, and post a picture of it for posterity. (Here is last year's cake, with links to previous ones.)

 photo DSC_0970_zps0d827a4b.jpg

Meanwhile, I'm spending my Christmas Day doing laundry, cleaning house and packing. As I mentioned previously, I'm spending a week before Winter English Camp begins on vacation in Vietnam. Meanwhile, take care of yourselves, and I'll see you, as the DJs say, on the other side.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Overdue Books

Wow! I haven't done this is some months. As a result, it's possible I've left off some of the reading I've done since the last "report". Heck, I read some of these while waiting for the rain to let up in Kathmandu! Anyway, forward the list:
  • I Got A Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock - This is a sad, short book, mainly because it covers the sadly short life of Jim Croce. There is some wooden dialogue in his wife's memoir, but there is gut-level honesty, too--I think she tried to present a loving but unflinching portrait of the man and his music. I have loved Jim Croce's music, his stories, since about age twelve, when they first got played on the radio. Happily, his music continues to be heard, even if his voice is silent. I remember being moved (this would have been around 1995) when I noticed one of my brightest students, great kid (Bo H for those in the know) had scrawled the lyrics to "Time in a Bottle" on the back of a notebook page--it was clear he had been up late listening, and just had to get those words written out. Twenty-odd years later. Now, it's forty-odd years later, and I feel sure Jim Croce's music is still touching people.
  • The Great Bridge: The Inside Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough - It felt like it took as long to read this book as it took to build the bridge. But I'm confident that I can stack my knowledge of the subject now against anyone--at least, anyone who didn't read the appendix, too. This is a follow-up, thanks to The Stumbler, to McCullough's fine book about the Panama Canal. Curiously, McCullough is not of an engineering turn of mind, but perhaps that is what allows him to write so clearly on topics like this. Plus, it's an engrossing story, not just the mechanics of it, but the politics, the zeitgeist, the personal hardships and drama of the Roebling family, etc. Not, however, for the fainthearted.
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, translated by Rod Bradbury - I don't read reviews before I've read the book or seen the movie--too many reviewers (over at miss the point, or I do. The allegory of 100 year old Alan Karlson seems to split them right down the middle. Yes, I suppose it could be called 'the 100 year old man who drank a lot of vodka and went on a killing spree'. Yes, it is a bit too obvious for irony that a man who hates politics meets most of the key political figures of the twentieth century. No, I don't really know if it is a bona fide #1 international bestseller. But comparing it to Forrest Gump! You go too far, sir! This was an excellent book that does not talk down to the reader or the characters, even though it is written in straightforward, clear prose (at least in translation). It embraces coincidence, but not luck, and does not demean intelligence--though it does at times demean the intelligensia. Anyway, read it. It's on Kindle.
  • Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Testsuko Kuroyanagi, translated by Dorothy Britton - In Japan, to be "at the window" is an idiom for failure--you hardly ever get fired in traditional Japanese companies, you just get moved to a desk at the window ledge and frozen out. The author uses this term in this metaphorical way, and also literally, to describe her school experience as a young girl, where she often spent time at the window, chatting with passers-by during classtime. The book is her memoir of her elementary education after she was asked to leave that school and was enrolled at a delightfully modern school housed in some old railroad cars, run by a truly amazing headmaster. This is a book every educator should read, and read again, not just because of the ideals of the school process itself, but because it reminds us of the potential inside each of our charges--that little girl grew up to become one of Japan's most beloved TV broadcasters.
  • Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell. and Know by Alexandra Horowitz - After I read Marley & Me, I snatched up this book at Narita to read on a flight. While I can't say that everything in the book is entirely scientifically validated, it does convince me that we humans totally misunderstand a lot of is happening with our furry friends--but also that we do have a virtually unique emotional link with our dogs.
  • Spycraft by Robert Wallace, H. Keith Melton, Henry R. Schlesinger - This is a lengthy, detailed treatment of the history of the CIA with respect to craft--that is, the codes,miniature cameras, secret compartments, kill pills, listening stations, "drops" and the like, devised by the engineers behind the scenes. There is plenty of discussion of the role of the the technology side in operations, but not much in the way of new secrets revealed about big successes or failures, because the authors are career CIA guys who had to have the book vetted. Still, good stuff.
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton - I read some Father Brown mysteries when I was young, but I don't remember them being this subtle, or Father Brown such a surprising non-entity. If you want a thoroughbred detective like Sherlock Holmes or action guy like Jack Reacher or Mitch Rapp (see next entry), the Padre is not for you. But if you like a well-crafted little cuckoo-clock story, give him a try. PS, he seems related to the Father Brown in the Tom Bosley CBS series by name only.
  • Kill Shot by Vince Flynn - Mitch Rapp is a lone CIA assassin working his way through a terrorist hit list when his handlers back home get nervous. He's gone of the page, struck out on his own. Or has he? They try to call him in from the cold, but he won't pick up the phone until he figures out who at the Agency is trying to take him down. Pretty hackneyed stuff, but a diverting read with that satisfying good-guy-kills-everyone-that-deserves-it ending.
  • Naive. Super by Erlend Loe, translated by Tor Ketil Solberg - Young guy drops out of college, confused and overwhelmed, and moves into his brother's apartment while the brother is out of town on business. He splits his time between ruminating on the nature of the universe while reading a cosmology tome, and obsessively playing with children's toys (a bit like little Oskar in The Tin Drum). They went crazy for this book in the author's native Norway, but I was just mildly intrigued.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Tuttle Update

Not as lot going on, but just a few random pics to liven things up.
1) I went to the trivia contest at Shenanigan's, a nice spot in Itaewon. This is actually my third go at the trivia there, but it's worth blogging because I came in third place. Playing on a team by myself. Full disclosure: I tied for third but won the "drink-off" to take the honors. The prize? A pitcher of Red Rock. Now this was at nearly 10:30, so the last thing I needed on a weeknight was more beer. So I spread my good fortune around. Here's a shot of the lovely barmaids toasting my success (Fuller disclosure: they helped me with a couple of the items):

 photo photo17_zps56e54d74.jpg

2) Then on Wednesday night I got together with heron and The Stumbler for dinner at Guro Digital, which is a hoppin' "eating street" area. This clown thought I look like the KFC grandfather (boy, if I had 50 won ...):

 photo stilty_zpsb8bc9088.jpeg

But here is what we came to Guro for, some lovely sirloin on the table grill.

 photo deungshim_zpsbd1ec250.jpg

3) In other news, I have booked my winter vacation, departing Incheon on Boxing Day, eight nights in Hanoi and surrounding. I literally just now completed the process for a three day, two night boat trip to Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island and Monkey Island.

Monday, December 1, 2014

How's the Weather?

Yesterday I posted a pic of a rainbow; today I'm back with another weather shot, not because my third graders just finished a chapter on the weather (although they did), but because it so well exemplifies the Seoul situation.

 photo snow2014_zps0298817a.jpg

When I took yesterday's weather photo, I was wearing a lightweight sweater and my lightest jacket--a windbreaker. The temperature was in the fifties.

This morning, there were snow flurries on my walk to school, and you can see above what it looked like out my office window around 10:00. It has snowed off and on all day, but hasn't stuck yet. The temp. right now is 27 and falling. If I go outside tonight, I'll have on my heaviest jacket (parka), scarf, gloves, etc.

That's how the weather is in Seoul.