Friday, November 26, 2010

Hunt's Catsup

The North is at it again. Nobody understands them, because they don’t make any sense. They insist on thumping their chest with nationalist posturing dreck, yet the whole world knows that they couldn’t even keep the lights on without the aid of their southern neighbors. They insist on going their own way for the sake of going their own way, like a 14 year old goth kid. The only reason anybody pays any attention to their ridiculous behavior is due to their geographic location.

I speak, of course, of Canada.

Ah, the old misdirection. I can’t write another North Korean aggression piece. I just did that a couple months ago. Though the North is always crazy, Canada is always funny, and it’s been too long since I mentioned this.

Americans often don’t know much about Canada. As I’ve been in close proximity with this obscure people for years now, I feel I should enlighten my fellow Americans. Here are some fun facts:

-Canada doesn’t like when we call ourselves “Americans.” They consider North America to be a diverse continent, and not just the continent that America happens to be on (own). Clearly the Monroe Doctrine isn’t taught in Canadian schools.

-Whenever I hear somebody use the euphemism “North American,” I realize I’m dealing with a Canuck. This happens a lot here.

-Speaking of Canadian schools - they all insist on calling college “university,” apparently not realizing that this requires an extra three syllables. If you hear (and around Canadians, you will) “When I was in university eh...” then you got yourself a frigid pucksucker.

-100% of the Canadians I know don’t think they pronounce the word “about” in a wrong and hilarious manner. 87% of the Canadians I know do, in fact, use the hilarious and cliche pronunciation.

-Canadians also pronounce “pronunciation” as “pronounce-iation”

-Canadians insist that they have great beer, and ours is terrible. Then they use unfair comparisons, saying a random microbrew IPA from Edmonton is better than Bud Lite. Of course it’s better than Bud Lite. Canada has delicious beer, and an Alberta microbrew and a Colorado microbrew will be on a similar plane. Moosehead and Molson are no better than Bud or Coors. Miller destroys Moosehead.

-Canadians call kickball “soccer-baseball.” Let that sink in. Koreans refer to the game as foot-baseball. This is far better than soccer-baseball, especially considering the fact that Koreans don’t speak English, and Canadians theoretically do.

-Canadians insist on calling the letter “z” a zed. Then they insist that the rest of the world uses zed, blah blah blah, and that America changed it to zee to make it rhyme in the alphabet song. I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, isn’t that a totally logical reason to change the pronunciation? Seriously, on Canadian Sesame Street, does the song end qrs/tuv/wx/y and zed?

-In some parts of Canada, they call a backpack a packsack. A packsack. This sounds like a cousin of the teabag. I’m not making this up.

-Canadians think that Toronto is some sort of combination of New York, Babylon, Sodom, and London. Yesterday, my Canadian co-worker told me that Toronto has minorities, even black people. He said it with a sense of fear and awe. He also describes his hometown as “just outside Toronto,” and then clarifies it’s a 9 hour drive away.

-Canada insists on using British spelling, ie, theatre, harbour, organise. I suppose they have to, as the Queen of England is their official head of state, and if they decided to use superior American spelling, the queen could waltz in and take over.

-Canadians refer to a winter hat or stocking cap as a “toque.” I don’t know why they do this, or why they use such a complicated francophile spelling, as the word toque rhymes with kook. Hilariously, toque is also slang for a foreskin, and Canadians use it as an insult when they tire of “hoser.”

-Canadian Thanksgiving is in October. Even stranger, they refer to real Thanksgiving as “American Thanksgiving.” I presume Canadian Thanksgiving commemorates when Leif Ericson met the Eskimos.

I spent my Thanksgiving Saturday (we don’t get Thursday off since it ain’t Korean Thanksgiving) with a group of local whities, including a couple of Canadians. I’m as tired of the word “douchebag” as you are, but it’s the best word to describe the Canuck dude that was there. Actually, I’ll call him Toque. That shall be his name. Like any good Thanksgiving family dinner, Toque provided “the incident” by erupting and verbally abusing his girlfriend over a game of Jenga that he lost. Beyond that, he also went on a rant against football unprovoked and for no reason, and when the group was playing random hilarious 1 minute Youtube clips for lulz, he chose a 9 and a half minute video about hockey.

Toque also went on numerous xenophobic rants. One was premised in the fact that there were no Asian geniuses since Confucius. His argument was that no Asian person living in Asia had ever come up with any idea or invention that changed the world. My thought (that I sadly thought of later) was yo, Toque, you’re Canadian! What world-changing ideas have ever come from Canadians living in Canada? Canadians go with Alexander Graham Bell (a Scotsman by birth, not a native Canadian), yet for some reason Bell Labs and AT&T were established in New York City. James Naismith was a Canadian by birth, but invented basketball in Massachusetts, perfected it in Kansas, and is buried in Lawrence. No Canadian entertainer contributed anything to the zeitgeist before the day they moved to New York, LA, or Chicago (where they likely still live.) Even most Canadian hockey greats have spent their prime playing for American teams. The only pure Canadian invention that I can think of (ie, created by Canadians who lived in Canada when they invented it) is the Blackberry. I defy you to find one person who says the quality of his or her life is better because of a Blackberry.

Look, I’ve got some Canadian friends, some whom even come close to seeming like real people. I don’t dislike Canada or Canadians (except for Toque). Canada has a far superior health care system, third party candidates, loose weed laws, and a strong social conscience. I’d even consider moving there, if not for the weather. And the accent. And the soccer baseball. That’s a deal killer.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Victimless Crime

An unexpected space, suddenly pitch black. I was hunkered down, and I didn’t expect the lights to go out. I didn’t expect this kind of darkness. I don’t know what was beyond my unlock-able half-door, a door that I had been holding closed with one hand while the other was otherwise occupied. I couldn’t hang out in this pitch black corner all night. I’m not the trappable type. I need to escape. But how? I couldn’t see the half door, only inches from my line of sight. Only one way out, really.

I stood up, glad to regain a standing position. Still pitch black. I let the un-lockable door latch go. I kicked the door open. The door hit somebody on the outside. The potential assailant cried out. The door swung slowly back toward me, bouncing off the unknown person. For good measure, I shoved the door, full force this time, right into this person, incapacitating him.

I jumped through the doorway. The corridor was still pitch black. I knew I was close to freedom, and I inched my way forward.

I felt I still wasn’t alone.

I moved blindly toward the faint glow in the background. I was near the exit of this hellish oubliette. As I approached the exit, my shoulder brushed that of another lurking stranger. I unleashed a swift elbow and felt ribs. The figure cried out and slumped toward the floor. My shot had been true.

I continued, unencumbered, and escaped the darkness.

I should also retell this story without all of the stylization.

So I was at Gorilla Bar in Hongdae last weekend. A Korean bar snack that I’d eaten earlier in the evening wasn’t agreeing with me. I tried to avoid it for some time, but at 3 a.m. or so, I had to evacuate.

I sat down on the much-to-be-desired (though far better than most in downtown Lawrence) shitter at Gorilla Bar. As noted, the shitter door didn’t lock, so I had to hold it closed throughout the process.

Mid-process, the lights went out. It really was pitch black.

I automatically assumed that the lights went out because of some sort of trickster. Most Korean bathrooms, for whatever reason, have their light switches outside of the door. I was instantly thrown into a rage.

I did kick my stall door open. Urinals, as you may expect, were on the other side of the stall, and my stall door did hit some random guy pissing in the far urinal. In my wrathful and slightly drunken state, I automatically assumed that this guy had something to do with the lights going out, so I did shove the door into him again. While washing my hands, another guy did enter my personal space, in the pitch black, and I assumed he also had to do with the lights going out. I got a pretty good rib shot on him.

When I actually left the bathroom, I noticed a maintenance guy working on the bulb. The light probably didn’t go out because of any foul play, but rather because of electrical issues.

Meh. In the end, I have no regrets. Seeing other random dudes at this bar later, I can say for sure that each and every one of them deserved an elbow in the ribs or worse. I’m also glad to learn that my instinctual response in a pitch-black bathroom is to go Rambo on everyone (glad it wasn’t Commando). Plus, as Nelson Muntz said, punching someone in the dark is a victimless crime.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seoul in pictures

I could live in most city in the world. I’m a young(ish) American citizen with no debt, a college degree, and an IQ well over 75 (the last two statements are not mutually exclusive). If I wanted to, I could move to London, Tokyo, or New York. I’m lucky that way. I don’t take any particular credit for this feat, after all, I could have just as easily been born in an impoverished village in Namibia, where I wouldn’t have had so many choices (actually, for that to have happened, it would have required my parents to move to Namibia for reasons unknown before I was born, but you catch my drift). For now, I’ve opted against London, Tokyo, New York, and Namibia and chosen to live in Korea, specifically Seoul.

Over the years, I’ve given Korea quite a bit of shit, in this space and otherwise. With Fan Death, dog soup, Dokdo, shiny suits, Konglish T-shirts, an evil twin to the north, love hotels, crazy nationalism, visors, sandals with socks, and couple shirts, Korea is a comedy well that won’t soon run dry. However, tonight, I’m here to praise my adopted home, specifically my adopted hometown of Seoul.

Korea in general and Seoul specifically make for an awesome vacation destination, yet very few people come here for that purpose. Is it the distance? Sure, that plays in. Then again, nearby Japan and China have no trouble drawing American and European tourists. I think a big portion of the problem, as mentioned by Michael Breen in an op-ed piece last week, is that (South) Korea shares a name with that other Korea. Whenever those crackpots are in the news, it brings down the value of the whole neighborhood. It makes South Korea sound dangerous. It isn’t. Avoiding Seoul out of fear of the North is like avoiding New York out of fear of hurricanes. For the record, two people that I know (in over 3 years) have come to Seoul on vacation, the Old Man and my buddy Wiley. Both enjoyed it enough that both are planning trips here in 2011. You should too. Here’s a few pictures of my Seoul from the last few years.

As always, click on the pics to enlarge.


Inghwansan Pavilion

Downtown Skyline from Inghwansan

Downtown skyline from Samcheong-dong

Gangnam skyline

International trade towers from Jamsil Stadium

International trade towers and Coex (site of the current G20 summit)

Seoul isn't just new, flashy buildings of course. An awful lot of it looks like this:

Concrete Jungle

Yeungdangpo-Gu from the 63 Building

Nowon-gu from Buram Mountain

Hanam-dong from Itaewon

Cheongye Stream - a cool twist on the concrete jungle theme. This stream used to be covered by a freeway, now it's essentially a miles-long park through downtown. Here, they left the supports of the old freeway to remind people what this stream used to be.

Nature/Green Space

Bukhan Mountain (I think. Don?) Seoul is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and has a few within the city itself.

Namsan Tower, from Nam Mountain

Pavilion in Children's Grand Park, one of Seoul's many large parks

Peak of Bukhan Mountain, Seoul's tallest

Cheongye Stream, downtown Seoul

Banpo Bridge and its fountain on the Han River

Street view of the cityscape

Traditional Hanok houses in Samcheong-dong, near downtown Seoul

Tons of neon, Suyu station area in north Seoul

One of my favorite modern buildings, downtown Seoul

Whoops, edit. It's come to my attention that this is,in fact, Ilsan, which is outside the Seoul city limits. My bad.

Gangnam skyline from the street

Gwanghwamun, the gate of Gyeongbuk Palace, Seoul's largest

World Cup, screens set up on Daehangno, east-central Seoul

Gyeongbuk Palace, downtown. I took this picture with a ghetto camera phone way back in October 2006, and I still dig it.

Seoul isn't Paris. I'm not trying to pretend it is. However, as you can see, it is a Great City. If I didn't love it, I would have left it a long time ago. Come check it out.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

TV Party

I admit, this post is a couple weeks out of date, but it still works. I wrote it at the same time as the Fantasy Football and Baseball playoff posts. I intended to post it that week, but then forgot, then had to do something different for post 200, and of course I had to comment on the election. Anyway, it still works, and I'm too lazy to update it to reflect the last 2 weeks of TV.

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, beyond the usual Daily/Colbert, I’m currently enrapt in The Simpsons, Family Guy, Mad Men, Dexter. How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, 30 Rock, The Office, and The Apprentice. That’s a lot of work.

I’m happy that The Apprentice is focusing on normal people rather than celebrities this year. I still hope that it’s a ratings bomb, because as I’ve said, I mostly hate this show and want it out of my life, but I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to break up with it. Who knew that when I had no cable and no money early in my Chicago days that I’d end up stuck with this show for 7 years and counting? I figured that, like most reality shows that I watched back then (Joe Millionaire, anyone?) that I’d be done with it in a season or two. I started watching the Apprentice because it was on, I had nothing else to do. Now I download it every week. Perhaps this was the question concerning technology that Heidegger was asking. I suppose I wouldn’t know, as I never finished that book.

How I Met Your Mother remains my baseline. I will not watch any shows that are worse than it. This season, its been consistent in its baseline-ness.

The Office hasn’t been awful this year. Thus far, it’s the best season in 3 years, although that isn’t saying much. 30 Rock has been a little uneven with its “live” gimmick. If I wanted to watch a 4 camera crap-fest, I’d download the Big Bang Theory. Modern Family, with Parks and Rec on the bench, has easily been this season’s best live-action network sitcom thus far. Also, NBC, tabling Parks and Rec in favor of Outsourced, continues to prove themselves idiots. CBS dominates with crap. Why fight crap with quality when you can fight crap with crap?

Thus far, The Simpsons has gotten the best of Family Guy. I am very fond of Family Guy and enjoy it immensely, but I love the Simpsons, at least the Simpsons of Mr. Sparkle and Knifey-Spoony. I want excellence from both programs, but it does give me some joy to see the Simpsons back and writing rings around Family Guy.

As I move on to cable shows, I must issue a spoiler alert, should you be concerned.

Dexter has kinda been the most formulaic non-formula style show for awhile. It seemed they knew it and wanted to do something about it. Since they killed off Dexter’s wife in a total unexpected turn at the end of last season, the formula has been broken. This year, They’ve brought in Julia Styles as a recurring character. As a 90s teen movie (and 90s any movie) junkie, Julia Styles involvement is cool by me.

This brings me to Mad Men. Mad Men will, sadly, be of no concern next week, as it aired its season finale. I say sadly, because over the course of this season Mad Men has moved to the alpha-dog position in my TV viewing. I download it the minute it’s available, and I watch it at the first opportunity I have. It is my favorite show. It’s number one. Not of all time, but right now.

I’m shocked that Don proposed to Megan. Looking back, it makes sense of course. When Meagan made the leap, so to speak (ie, terminology that I’m blatantly ripping off from Bill Simmons) in the episode that she hooked up with Don for the first time, I felt compelled to go back into the earlier episodes and even re-watched her parts in episode 4. Something had changed. Of course, Dr. Faye had also predicted that Don would be married within a year, and it would be too obvious for the writers to pair him up with her, so of course he proved her prediction prescient with the girl that he cheated on her with. At the end of the finale, it looked like Don and the horrible Betty Draper Francis were going to reunite, at least for the evening. They didn’t. This is why Mad Men is the best show on TV right now, why it wears the belt. The writers and Matthew Weiner certainly made it look like a connection was eminent, and no viewer wanted it to happen though everyone thought it would, then it didn’t. Well done sirs, well done.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pulling a Boehner

Two interesting developments this week:

First, the Republicans won. Not just the Republicans, but the dumbest sect of the Republicans, the sort of Republicans that even sensible country-club-style voting-for-their-own-economic-interest Republicans hate. Nope, this is the so-called Tea Party that won. A “populist” group that is funded by Texas real estate billionaires. Southern and rural people that make $14,000 a year make up the core of the group, and they are adamant that people that make more money per year than these populist folks will make in their lifetimes deserve massive tax breaks.

They are enraged that the government taxes and spends. I understand. I’m mad as hell that the Cubs lose every year. Then again, one day the Cubs might (not likely) win. Taxing and spending is pretty much the definition of every government that has ever existed ever. Only two systems of government never tax and spend, and both have only existed in theory since, say, the agricultural revolution. One is pure communism, the other pure anarchy. The closest that modern society has been to either of these theoretical extremes would be the Soviet Union and war-lord run Somalia. By my math, if the Tea Party is opposed to taxing and spending, that makes THEM the Marxists AND the Fascists (which, anybody with a dictionary can tell you, are essentially polar opposites).

My theory? We’re looking at 1994 2.0, only worse for the GOP. The 1994 election featured the Republicans roughly in lockstep together, willing to follow Newt to the ends of the earth. Fittingly for a flat-earth society such as the Contract for America gang, Newt lead them right off a cliff. Clinton was easily re-elected, the economy boomed, the dollar soared, and everybody in America except Ken Starr America got laid. This election cycle is different. The Republicans only won one house. The insurgents that swept into office yesterday are not beloved by the traditional Republicans that will be running the show. The Republican Party, an absolute monolith since 1980, will show fissures. Obama will be challenged by a split congress, but I also think he’ll take the gloves off a bit. Boehner will have a tough job too. He’ll have too get a group of buttoned-down establishment conservatives and a new group of crazed malcontents to agree. Though the Democrats have proved themselves excellent at fucking up simple opportunities, I think the American people will be disgusted at watching the “Tea Party” attempt to legislate. Obama will be re-elected. I’ll give him the same NES/NAS bump that prevented Korean War 2 and saved the Big 12.

Regardless, it’s gonna be an ugly couple of years. Not a whole lot of good things will be happening in Washington.

Second interesting development of the last week - Quarter Pounders finally came to Korea. Also, Taco Bell is wildly popular and opening a second branch. Seriously, I like Korean food. However, in my early days here, I often ate it because I had to. Now, between Costco, new Itaewon options, and new local places (Italian, a new burger place, a new Chinese place, a kebab/shawarma place) I can go weeks without eating Korean food entirely by accident.

My point - between the House Republicans and the local QPC, don’t leave the light on for me. I won’t be back soon.