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Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: April 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sunday, bloody Sunday

I must preface this post with a bit of a disclaimer. I generally like living in Korea and being overseas, but sometimes some things happen that make you wish you could just teleport home for the evening. Normally on these days it's pretty easy to just lock the door and put on some movies or music and pretend that our apartment is somewhere else, but Sunday was a special case for a few reasons. A lot of what I'm going to write you should take with a grain of added snark for amusement. I really have no major issue with living here, but sometimes the cultural dissonance between Korean culture and my own really pushes me to the point of wanting to drop a couple of choice words and gestures, and Sunday was one of those days.

It started out ever so pleasant, Sunday did. We woke up at around 8:00 or so to the sound of construction up the street. This isn't one of the extra-irritating things I mentioned previously, but it certainly is enough to make us laugh a bit in the morning. Mainly though we find that we wake up early no matter what. What do you expect, we're getting old. Anyhow the morning started out great. We freshened up, packed up our laptops and headed over to one of the four coffee shops on our block (DaVinci Coffee this time) to do a little bit of travel planning. We shopped and searched and finally booked our accommodations for our not-too-distant-future trip to Japan and started making a list of things we want to see and such. That's always a super exciting thing, in my opinion. My aunt always says that if you're not on a trip you should be planning one, and I generally agree. Anyhow, we enjoyed the morning about as much as you can with slightly too much caffeine and excitement in the air and finally had to head on to our afternoon plans. We dropped off the computers at home and headed out to grab a quick lunch on our way to the animal shelter to walk some dogs.

We had a quick bite of food (Carolyn had ramen and I had donkatsu) and hopped the subway down to the shelter. Now, the dog walks are usually pretty well organized, but this time they needed a few people to walk two dogs instead of one because there weren't a boatload of volunteers. I had a super cute terrier (my heart breaks just thinking about the little gal) and a pekinese that was super excited for a walk. It's spring time, so of course all of the dogs wanted to hump each other. Keeping them separated while staying with the group was challenging enough on its own. I always feel a huge amount of what I'm calling cultural dissonance on these dog walks because Korea has evolved so fast that a lot of people don't appreciate domesticated animals. It's not uncommon on the walks to hear a drunk old man yell "mashita" which means "delicious" in Korean or see them kick at the dogs. I try to remember that this isn't my culture, avoid where possible, and move on. Yesterday was a different story.

As we headed toward the park where we usually walk the dogs I heard the sounds of Samulnori drums. Samulnori is one of those cool things you just sometimes run into in Korea. I was hoping there'd be a small performance or something. No way. It was a huge festival, and the girl leading the dog walk decided to walk right through it rather than turn around or avoid through the empty parking lot behind the street. I was happy I wasn't leading the walk, but the dogs were obviously not welcome in the area. My two pups were quite frightened by all the noise as well. Anyhow, here's where the cultural dissonance turns into irritation. Old men too drunk to lift themselves from the ground were yelling things at our group. Old ladies came out and yelled things at individuals with the group. In my mind I wondered, what makes it not okay to walk a dog in a park, but perfectly acceptable to get so drunk you can't even sit up? It's an ugly thought, and I hate that I even think such a thing. It's not my culture, I came here, I don't make the rules. I get it. But the fact of the matter is there is no rule about walking dogs in said park, and there's something wrong with old men yelling things at a girl they think is Filipino (I'm pretty sure she was American) no matter where you're at. I think this country is changing so fast that it must be quite difficult for those who still remember not having enough food to grasp the changes. Anyhow, that rant is over. The dog walk concluded without any big trouble and we headed out to do some grocery shopping on the way home.

In front of the store I tripped over a curb. It was enough to really set me off. The straw that broke the camel's back. Carolyn managed to talk me down from my unreasonable anger at the curb (it was just sitting there minding its own business after all) and we went inside. I remembered that there's a Baskin Robbins concession at the store and forgot about my troubles. While we were waiting though some teenage girls walked up, busted in front of us, and one of them elbowed Carolyn while being quite unaware of her surroundings. Carolyn snapped and said "watch out!" and the girl at hearing English and seeing a foreigner did what she's practiced while running up and saying "hello" to her English teacher at school, ran off shrieking (albeit a quiet shriek). We're used to getting jarred and bumped here, and it's usually no big deal, but when you're in the middle of ordering ice cream and kids just go nuts and you end up getting a bruise it's a bit much.

We were pretty fried at this point. We did our grocery shopping and things were getting better. We needed to go up to the 2nd floor of the building though, so we got our shopping cart on the escalator and noticed the wonderful parenting happening in front of us that would within about a minute blow the lid off of both of our brains for the day. The mother was texting or watching TV or something on her phone, while her daughter tried to walk along the glass stanchions of the escalator handrail, and her son stood in the basket. We were both wondering when the mother was going to lay down the law when the cart hit the threshold at the end of the escalator and the kid in the cart flopped right over and landed on his face. They're probably lucky there was no spinal injury, but I'd say the kid must have at least gotten a concussion from the fall. His head had a small egg on it from the impact when we first saw him, but a couple other close passes in the store showed us more than half of his forehead covered with a huge bruise. It was a brutal thing to see to finish off our waning ability to be outside of the apartment for the day. This might have been the single most mentally taxing day out of the past year and a half we've lived here.

After we got home and relaxed a bit, Carolyn made a strawberry cake and I made some brats and potatos for dinner. Life was good again.

So what's the takeaway lesson from this story? I think there's a few.
1) Living overseas you will have days that are particularly challenging and if you can manage to remind yourself that it's all okay and the culture is just different you're doing just fine.
2) Cake and TV SitComs can fix anything.
3) Leaving cute terriers at an animal shelter is a terrible thing that no one should ever have to do.

So now it's Monday afternoon and I'm once again happy to be in Korea, with awesome travel opportunities and none of the crap from yesterday really bothers me, but I thought I should write it down to remember that not every day here is sunshine and cherry blossoms.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Not-so-real-time blog (spoilers)

So I may have mentioned that I replayed Mass Effect 2 in anticipation of playing Mass Effect 3. One of my favorite characters in the series is definitely Dr. Mordin Solus, the ethical Salarian scientist who seems to feel some remorse for releasing the species-crippling genophage on the Krogan. I'm about 10 or 12 hours into Mass Effect 3 including a significant amount of multiplayer time, and to this point I haven't felt very moved by the story. Then last night's play time happened.

I thought it was important to cure the genophage and have the Krogan on my side. This series is known for making you make tough choices, and the first big one of the game really gave me my first taste of the emotional impact that I remembered from Mass Effect 2.  Mordin wants to cure the genophage. I didn't lie to him and keep him from doing so, but it became quite clear that it was going to mean he died. There was a pretty fatalistic final conversation with him before he stepped onto the elevator that he would ride to meet his fate. It was gripping. It was enough to make me stop doubting how great the series really is. I hope I can succeed in saving the galaxy since I've sacrificed already a hugely important member of my team. See, it's making me talk about him like he's real, even though he's not!

Gotta love a game that makes you think so much.

A tale of two girl bands.

Before we moved to Korea I was pretty impressed at the scale of the dance routines and staging and all of what makes k-pop a "global" powerhouse in the music scene. Now that we've lived here for a while I find the songs to kinda all sound the same and be pretty formulaic, and the dance routines to be quite simple and predictable (and later performed by old ladies on the back of flat bed trucks during political campaigns.) While I understand that there is a phenomenon called "hallyu" by the Koreans, basically that Korean pop music and pop culture is being imported by lots of other countries and they're finding fans all over the world, I can't help but think that the "Korean Wave" is less tsunami and more "breaker that you can't quite surf on" when it hits the shores of the US. I don't really know how to explain why Americans are probably less likely to enjoy k-pop than the other audiences, but I think that these two videos can give you some insight into the way the music is performed that can help you judge for yourself.

Undoubtedly the original version of this song is quite catchy. The staging and video production are well done, and the dancing is fun to watch. There's just something about it that doesn't suit my tastes and while I don't presume to speak for all Americans, I think there's something that's grating about this music that just doesn't mesh well with our tastes. I think just about anyone could watch this and be like "hey, that was really good," but that you'd be hard pressed to find this tune and others like it on the same people's iPod playlists.

Now, I think this song is a particularly good example of k-pop and actually does translate well to a song that could be enjoyed quite well by an American. I think it just needs a few changes. In essence, I think it needs some muscle tone. There it is! I figured it out. The original song is too cute. It's all frosting and no cake. It doesn't have a whole lot of passion built in. What it needs is a few girls wearing vinyl dresses, electric guitars, and excessive amounts of makeup. A translation into English would be nice too.

Ah. That's better. I think this particular group could find a wide audience playing songs like this. There's something in this performance that was missing in the original. Muscle tone. Passion. Cake. I mean literally, look at the girls of Nylon Pink and the girls of Girls Generation. There is literally more muscle tone. Are they as pretty? It's all debatable. Is there more passion in the performance of the same song from Nylon Pink? I argue yes. You can say no, but the fact of the matter is that there's at least more volume. Not that what's appealing to Americans is simply louder bigger faster and better, but a little more beef never hurt anything so far as I'm concerned.

The point of this post isn't to disparage hallyu, k-pop, or any of the cool cultural things that come out of Korea. The point I'm trying to make is that the hallyu wave has hit hard throughout Asia, and it made a good push for the US, too, but I don't think it will catch. I think there's something missing in these very choreographed and perfect performances that an American audience will notice, and that cute is maybe not enough to win over a stateside fan base.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Japan, booked!

Heian Shrine, Kyoto by jhandelman
Heian Shrine, Kyoto, a photo by jhandelman on Flickr.
Today Carolyn and I headed over to DaVinci Coffee to do some vacation/wedding planning. We have a set of five days at the end of September and beginning of October that are national holidays and thus days we don't have to be in the office, and we decided that we should get out of town for that weekend.

Luckily we're strategically located a short flight from a place that both of us have always wanted to visit, JAPAN! I've felt for a long time that Japan was just out of reach. We don't have many weekends long enough to make getting there practical, and we haven't wanted to use a full vacation to go there because it's a very expensive place to visit. Now we've got our chance, and this September we'll visit a place we've always wanted to go!

So it's cool that we're going to Japan in September, but we've both been saving money pretty feverishly and it's exciting to get to spend a fraction of it on something as cool as an international trip. This is this first time Carolyn and I have made a really big purchase together, and it was 100% cash. How cool is that? Pretty freaking cool, I say. We've spent the day learning about Japan online, Carolyn ordered some travel guides, and we're both more excited about this than I can adequately explain. Hooray!

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Springtime can be cold.

I mentioned that we joined a running group in my last post. We went out and ran today with the group. It was perhaps 58-60 degrees out, and raining. It was fine while we were running. We did our post run stretch in the subway station (where we were approached by not one, but two different Korean families who wanted to convert us), and then waited for the bus back to our neighborhood. It was all fine until we got off the bus about 100m from our apartment, then we were COLD. A few minutes under the covers and one bean burger later and I'm warm enough to take a hot shower.

Anyhow, on the bus on the way back we saw 2 trees that still had cherry blossoms. Carolyn pointed out those might have been the last two cherry blossoms we'll see in Asia. Almost a little sad, right? I'm thinking that's okay. We might have to make a spring trip to Japan one day.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Busy Busy Busy

Carolyn and I have been on quite a fitness kick for a while. About 2 or 3 weeks ago she decided she wanted to start running and of course I joined in. Then one of her friends from the dog shelter started a running group and we've joined in there too. We've been doing about 4 runs a week in addition to our other workouts. I think I successfully maxed out the value of the Men's Health book of body weight exercises, and  bought a new book. The new workout program comes from Mark Lauren, a former Air Force physical fitness dude, and it's all body weight exercises. I'm surprised that I've never thought about using things like doors and beds and tables and such to increase resistance and provide the right positioning. It's pretty challenging. I'm having to change up one exercise to avoid destroying the dining room table, and the accompanying iPod app won't let you change the workout while it's in progress, so I missed a set today (but damn, I was kind of relieved anyway because my muscles got blasted this week.)

So why are we trying so hard to get into tip top shape? Because it's time to start planning for vacation! This summer we're planning to head down to Phuket in Thailand and get a boat load of beach and ocean time. We ordered a couple of travel guides from The Book Depository a couple weeks ago, and they finally showed up at the end of this week. Looking at the guides makes me really really excited.

There's a huge Korean holiday the last weekend of September/first few days of October, and we're also planning a trip to Japan for those days. Japan is like the promised land of everything that's cool in Asia that's been sitting just out of reach for the whole time we've been here, and I can't wait to visit. Hopefully we'll get in and spend our time mostly in Kyoto to see everything cultural that we can in just a few days. We might book the flights over this weekend to get a decent price. It's gotta be better than last year's trip to the Daegu Art Museum for the long weekend. I can't wait to have sushi, soba, yakitori, takoyaki, and all of that great stuff.

Sunday morning we're planning a little vacation/wedding planning date over at one of our many coffee shops on the block. There could be an update after that.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring is Springing

Spring in Korea is a huge blast of color on a fairly bleak and desolate canvas. It really blew up over the past couple of weeks. We saw our first cherry blossoms of 2012 about 2 weeks ago on a dog walk for the animal shelter, and on Wednesday we went to Gyeongju to see an easy to get to set of destination-worthy cherry blossoms. The weather wasn't perfect, but it was really nice.

Let me tell you a little bit more about Wednesday. It was election day in Korea, so all of us public school teachers had a day off. A few of us met bright and early at DongDaegu station and took the first train over to Gyeongju. At a speed of 275km/h it only takes about 20 minutes to get to Gyeongju. We met another friend who lives in Busan at the downtown train station and wouldn't you know it, the sky opened up and it started raining. We needed somewhere indoors-ish to go, so we made election day erection day and headed to a famous Gyeongju site, the Gyeongju Love Castle.

How do I describe this in a tasteful manner? Hmm. If Gyeongju Love Castle needs to be described in a tasteful way I guess I can't really describe it. Here's a comparison: Did you by any chance see that Portlandia sketch where they "put a bird on it?" If not you can watch it right here:

Now imagine some things for me here before I move on. You need to imagine a turtle, a frog, a battleship, samurai sword, and a bunch of door handles. Now, instead of putting a bird on it, put a weiner on it. No, not the kind of weiner you put on a bun with chili and cheese. It was quite a display. In the first building there were all sorts of sexually explicit paintings, then the path led you through a penis statue garden, into a sexually explicit hardcore porn garden, right along into a smaller gallery with a hilarious set of clay statues of various scenes you might imagine from say, American Pie movies (a flasher, boys dry humping each other whilst getting humped by dogs, boys frantically trying to turn off a porn movie as their mother opens the apartment door, and so on). From there you take a magical walk through a mock-up of a Japanese "accessory" shop, and a real Korean one (if you need penis shaped salt and pepper shakers I know where you can get some). Then comes one of the most disturbing things of the whole experience, a walkway through a forest where they were playing "lovemaking sounds from around the world." Apparently the world is comprised of the US, Japan, and Korea. Then a small cafe where you can watch soft-core porn and nom on a hot dog.

It was a lot of laughs. I don't know what else to say about it in a public forum. I mean, it was full of laughs from start to finish. There was nothing really too incredibly graphic I guess, because one family was there with their two small children. Okay yeah right, what the hell were they thinking? Those kids are going to be scarred for life...and what was the deal with all the references to sex with dogs? But anyway, if you're more interested in this topic I'd recommend going to Gyeongju and checking out the Love Castle.

We went back into town on the bus and popped off at a great little pond surrounded by some really dense cherry blossom action. Our friends decided that they needed to shoot engagement photos for us so we handed over our cameras and had a super silly photo shoot. If you need to see those I'd recommend heading over to my flickr page. Here's the spot we spent a bit of time before grabbing lunch.

As you can tell, it was quite pretty. We had a quick lunch (I had a donkatsu, haven't had one of those in a while, and it was delicious) before walking along the lake in Gyeongju and back to town. We caught the 5:30 train back to Daegu (this time the slow train) and got back to Daegu just in time for dinner. We were pretty tired after that, and a quick shower put me right into bed for the night. Not bad for a day off in the middle of the week.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Self-Serve Bar, and WTF happened here?

This weekend was pretty interesting. We went out for a friend's birthday, and caught up with the party (okay, we beat them there by nearly an hour and a half) at a self-serve beer bar in downtown Daegu. The idea is you go into the bar, pick a table, go over to one of the 6 or 8 refrigerators, pick whatever you want, and drink it. Then at the end of your visit you pick up a little shopping basket, take it all to the cash register, and they scan the bottles and bill you. GENIUS. I love it, you don't have to wait for a bartender to look at you OR leave a tip.

I might have gotten a new favorite beer out of it. I really liked Edelweiss from Austria, and Maisel's WeiƟ from Germany. Maisel's might have been my favorite between the two but it's hard to tell, so I might just have to go back and give it another shot.

Yesterday I joined a ukulele group. I met them downtown at about 7:30, and we jammed on Iz Kamakawiwo'ole's Somewhere Over the Rainbow and a song from Spongebob Square Pants. It was a lot of fun to meet a couple of new people and make some music. We played right outside the Hyundai Department Store, so afterwards I snuck in and bought a Dr. Pepper (such a treat) and a bag of Peanut M&M's (HELLO).

When I got home from work today I was greeted by two Korean men who said that a pipe had burst underneath our floorboard and rained on the apartment below us. They've been fixing it for about 3.5 hours now. We can't use our shower until tomorrow night. Wonderful. Now they're looking at a problem with the water heater. I can't wait for them to get finished up so I can use the restroom and put on pajama pants.

Anyhow, that's the deal for now. Not a whole lot exciting here. We did decide on a destination for our summer vacation, and I can't wait to get on an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur to connect to our final destination of...wait for it...wait for it...

...let it hang there...

...building suspense...


It's going to be legendary.

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