If a guy somewhere in Asia makes a blog and no one reads it, does it really exist?

Saturday, October 30

My shoebox room

That's my fridge next to the TV.

Jennifer is using my computer.

Who's the evildoer again?

According to a new study, some 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the American invasion. That's 33 times the number of Americans killed on 9/11. That's 41 times the number of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor. That's 20,000 more than the number of Japanese killed outright by the A-bomb in Hiroshima, and 26,100 more than Nagasaki. That's 41,774 more than the number of American soldiers killed in Vietnam.

That's 2/3 the population of Jecheon.

Over half of those killed were women and children.

Not including the number of soldiers lost in battle, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Iraqis were murdered by the Hussein regime during his 23-year reign.

The US has managed to do a third of this in just a year and a half. A few more years and we'll top Saddam's record--all in the name of spreading freedom.

Rummy says, "Freedom is messy." Well, messy freedom don't mean too damn much to a dead guy.

Said the BBC, "Before the war, Iraq was a society with order but no freedom. Now it has freedom, but no order." As a teacher of semi-feral children at the ghetto-punk Dong Middle School, I can assure you that if you must choose between one or the other, order always takes priority.

Unless you like anarchy.

Friday, October 29

Curious George

I always suspected... (click the pic)

There was a good discussion on Larry King Live the other day about the separation of church and state. The guests included several reverends, Catholic priests and evangelical ministers. One guy said something along the lines of, "I believe that we must separate religion from politics, but I also believe that we cannot separate God from politics," to which Larry said, "But then why do you think our Founding Fathers explicitly left the word 'God' out of the Constitution?" The response was something like, "I'm not concerned with what the Founding Fathers intended, but I am concerned with what God intends."

Religious dogma is truly frightening. If political leaders start invoking the name of God to circumvent or alter the very foundation of the American government, we're in big trouble.

There were some other interesting things said. For example, did you know that when Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency, he specifically urged religious leaders not to endorse a candidate? Sometimes I feel like America's going backwards. Pretty soon, we'll be burning witches at the stake again.

"I'm the commander - see, I don't need to explain - I don't need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation." Dubya, 11/19/02

Hold on, isn't this what dictators believe? Oh wait, Dubya's different. He's got God on his side.

(Click the crucifix)

"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." Dubya, 7/9/04
"God loves you, and I love you. And you can count on both of us as a powerful message that people who wonder about their future can hear." Dubya, 3/3/04

An interview with God.

Thursday, October 28

Screw him!

"Mr. President, how do you respond to Senator Kerry's recent accusations regarding the missing munitions in Iraq?"

Field trip and vog

Yesterday, I had a field trip with the kids of Naeto Middle School to Mungyeongsaejae. Several kids were eager to speak with me during our hike. Our exchanges went something like this:

Kid: Hi Nick teacher.
Me: Hello!
Kid: Do you like Japan?
Me: Uh, sure.
Kid: I hate Japan.
Me: Oh. Okay. Why?
Kid: I like kimchi.

The museum there had a rather graphic diorama that depicted farmers defending themselves against Japanese invaders during the Imjinwaeran War, a seven-year war between the Choson Dynasty and the Toyotomi Hideyoshi Shogunate in the 1590s.

Amusing: "Beppu" is a Korean abbreviation of "best friend" (bestuh purenduh).

Funny: A kid was trying to say, "A man is fishing" during class, but since the "f" becomes "p" and "sh" becomes "s" in Korean, he said, "A man is pissing." I could hardly contain myself.

Funnier: These phonetic shifts are funny in Japanese too. A Korean guy was once trying to say 時間はまだ大丈夫ですか?(Do you still have time?), but with "j" becoming "ch", what came out was 痴漢はまだ大丈夫ですか?(Is molestation still okay?)

Another time, thanks to the same "j" to "ch" shift (and lack of extended vowels), the same guy asked me 宮崎のチンコはどれくらいですか?(What's the approximate length of penises in Miyazaki?) when he meant to say 宮崎の人口はどれくらいですか?(What's the approximate population of Miyazaki?)

Funniest: There is a traditional Korean song with a chorus that repeats, "Onara, onara, onara," which sounds like, "Fart, fart, fart," in Japanese.

Awesome: Korea's highest bungee jump is near Jecheon!

"Cheongpung Land has Korea’s highest bungee jump board at 62 meters. Since it is jumping from a high board facing Cheongpung Lake, the thrill is unspeakable. With an additional safety belt attached there need to be no worries about any type of danger."

That sounds like fun! But then it goes on to say, "In case of accidents, an artificial pool is set up at the falling point of the lake." Not very reassuring.

Totally unrelated: Living in Hawaii doesn't always mean fresh, hibiscus-tinged ocean breezes, especially on the Big Island. Mt. Kilauea spews over 1000 tons of sulfur dioxide daily, equivalent to 3,650 power plants. This produces "vog," or volcanic fog, that hangs over the Kona coast. That sounds worse than Kagoshima, where the residents can't hang their clothes out to dry because of the volcanic ash from the Sakurajima volcano.

Wednesday, October 27

Korean condos

Here is a great photo of Korean condos that I found on another South Korea blog. I told you they're ugly! But they're economical, comfortable and convenient! And, you're never jealous of your neighbors for having a better flat! (Get it? Cuz they're all the same.)

Tuesday, October 26

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

Sixty-two percent of Republicans believe that Saddam had something to do with the 9/11 attacks. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed in June believed that Saddam personally masterminded the attacks.

There is only one logical explanation for this: Americans are being exposed to mind control waves that are being broadcast through their television sets. I refuse to believe that my fellow Americans can be so ignorant. I am, thankfully, safe from the waves here in Korea, but I have to watch my exposure to CNN, my only English channel. I think the most harmful subliminals are sent out every half hour when James Earl Jones says, "This is CNN". You have to listen real closely, but it's there:

THIS We're turnin' the corner. Freedom's on the march. IS Spreadin' liberty. Everything is just fine. Juuuust fine. CNN Flip-flop!

Here is an awesome article entitled "Without a Doubt," which examines how Bush can simultaneously be so sure of himself and so wrong. In uncertain times, people tend to favor a strong leader who is wrong than a weak one who is right. Remember, Hitler was elected, too.

Yes, yes, comparing Bush to Hitler, how unoriginal. But when you're living abroad, shielded from the Compassionate Conservative Mind Control Waves, the comparison doesn't seem all that absurd. In fact, after six years abroad, what seems more absurd than anything is the whole us-them mindset that drives international relations. Even the concept of patriotism seems pretty ridiculous to me now, especially with all the flag worshipping I see everywhere in Korea (the school festival at Dong Middle School concluded with a group dance by students wearing Korean flags fashioned into aprons).

Are the cultural and ideological differences that divide us really that significant? I don't think so. Or do I feel this way simply because the foreign countries I've lived in--Japan, Spain and Korea--have societies (very secular societies I might add, even Spain) that are fundamentally similar to my own? Maybe I'd feel less affinity with my fellow man if I'd lived in an ultra-Muslim Middle East nation, in an ultra-fundamentalist Christian Bible-Belt state or with the Ik tribe of Uganda, but deep down, I can't help but feel that folks is folks. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, at this very moment, people like you and me, who are going shopping, watching TV, having sex and squeezing out turds (not necessarily in that order).

Look, 48 Iraqi soldiers were executed by the "insurgents" (Rebels? La Résistance Nationale?) just a few days ago. Don't hear too much about them anymore, do you? That's because it's "them" who died, not "us". 13,900 civilians have been killed in Iraq so far. No big deal, it's just "them". Then a handful of guys get their melons hacked off and everyone makes a big fuss, all because they were "us," folks who eat Corn Flakes for breakfast and wipe their asses with Cottenelle (which, by the way, is not quite as soft as Quilted Northern).

Okay, 深呼吸...1, 2, 3. Blogging is so therapeutic. Didn't young people make a big fuss about this kind of thing not too long ago about another unjust war in Vietnam?

The October issue of The Sun magazine contained an excerpt from the book "At Hell's Gate," by Claude Anshin Thomas, a Vietnam veteran turned Zen monk. Nonviolence is at the core of Buddhism, but, like most Americans, I used to think that war is sometimes justified; that's why people can say that certain wars are "unjust." But one passage from this article, written by a man who has killed many, many people, gave me pause:
At speaking and teaching engagements, when I make the pronouncement that violence is never a solution, I am often asked what I refer to as the "Hitler questions." These include: If by killing one person you could save one hundred lives, wouldn't you kill that one person? If someone broke into your home and was intent on killing everyone in your family, wouldn't you use force to stop him? If we hadn't taken aggressive action against Hitler, what would have been the consequences?

These questions are legitimate. And they are also inherently rhetorical. I don't know what I would do if I were confronted with the sort of situations that they pose. The Second World War appears to have been successful, but is the world a safer place for it? Have those who aspire to gain power through the use of violence and aggression been deterred? Without a doubt, the answer is no. While it is true that Germany's defeat stopped the Holocaust, for me there still exists the nagging question: Did this bring an end to genocide?

Many people believe that, in certain circumstances, we should kill to prevent further killing. My hope is to help people discover what a terribly dangerous argument this is. This argument has been used to justify preemptive strikes, to maintain a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the planet a hundred times over, and to uphold the death penalty. It is being used as a rationale for the current occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan--and it was used by the Fascists and the Nazis to justify their agenda in Europe. As we can clearly see, this argument can be used to justify almost anything.

One million people were killed in the Rwandan genocide. Two million killed in the Sudan. Combined, that's half the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. And that's just in the past twenty years.

Is all this fighting making the world a better place? The Americas were formed by Eurpeans killing the native peoples. In Gangs of New York, Scorsese makes the point that the New York City of today arose out of brutal gang wars. Does everything have to be passed through a funnel of violence before achieving stability?

Then again, America might not be stable for too much longer. Maybe the post-election lawsuits will throw the American political system into chaos, regions of the nation will secede, and the US will be fractured into William Gibsonesque corporate states. Cool! Cyberpunk!

There is a big, dilapidated, windowless building in Jecheon that is similar to how I imagine Gibson's Bay Bridge cyberpunk shanty town. It houses lots of individually owned shops, with hundreds of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling on wires, like fluorescent cilia.

By the way, do you know one reason why this war has cost the US, from the beginning, so much more money than the Gulf War? In the Pappa Bush war, Kuwait picked up the gas tab. Not so for the current war. I paid $40 just to send a box from Japan to Korea. It costs a lot more to ship a 70-ton Abrams tank across the ocean and drive it around the desert.

Even if you agree with the basic tenets of the Bush theocracy, here's one good reason why you should vote his ass out of office.

Friday, October 22

Where's everyone going?

Jecheon East Middle School held its school festival yesterday. It was nice, for a change, to see the kids dressed in regular clothes and having a good time. I was a little bit disappointed that no one bothered to invite me to watch the performances, but I would expect nothing less from this ice castle of a school. The teachers filtered out to watch the students sing and dance, and before I knew it, I found myself all alone in the teacher's room. Hell, North Korea could invade tomorrow and I'd be left sitting alone at my desk as the tanks rolled in.

The school actually had an "invasion drill" the other day to rehearse what they would have to do if the North invaded. Not surprisingly, I wasn't invited to attend. I'll have to fend for myself with my exacto-knife and ruler.

I was also surprised to discover that about forty students, who are training to become professional soccer players, live at the school in what appears to be a tiny concrete bunker. These "sports students" are common throughout Korea, I hear. They attend class only in the morning and play soccer in the afternoon, which alone is weird, but here's the real shocker: they are not required to take any tests. None! I used to think such specialized training programs existed only in places like Cuba, China and Axis of Evil nations. But apparently, this is how most professional athletes in Korea start out. The ones that don't make it become gym teachers.

The PE teacher Naeto Middle School was actually a weightlifting medalist at the Asian Games several years ago. I armwrestled him and nearly had my arm torn from my shoulder.

Wednesday, October 20


Strange English for a grey Wednesday

An official looking sticker on the doors of my school: Don't waste wastes

Name of a bar in Jecheon: F.A.G.

Name of a clothing store in Fukuoka: Labia

Name of a jewelry shop in Singapore: House of Hung Jewelers

Written on the spine of a teacher's binder in bold letters: WHANKY

Tuesday, October 19

Search for Shangri-La

Every year, as the weather turns cold and the nostrils start to mucify, I find myself feeling nostalgic for other places I've lived. It's Japan I miss more than anywhere else, and it's not the hot springs of Beppu, not the smoke stacks of Oita, but Miyazaki that occupies that special place in my heart. I think it was a powerful experience for me, those two years in the Zak. Never before had I lived in a foreign country, and never before had I had the opportunity to spend so much time with my grandparents. It was like coming out of the closet after an entire childhood deprived of contact with Japanese people. I wanted to run across Aoshima beach, naked, screaming, "Yes! I'm Japanese, and proud of it!"

A few years later, that sentiment was amended to, "Yes, I'm Japanese! Well, okay, not really, but I kind of am, sort of. My pronunciation is pretty good...what's that kanji again?"

Now and then, I wonder if it would be better to live in Japan instead of the States. A Japanese speaking foreigner, I'm a lot more marketable in Japan than in the US, which means that I'd probably make more money in Japan. It's proximity to Korea is convenient for Yoonsung, and moreover, Yoonsung already speaks decent Japanese. I find myself pouring over websites of companies like Maruhon, wondering what it would be like to work the rest of my life in a Japanese company.

But then I snap out of it. My god, if I have kids, they would never be Japanese citizens! Then there's the prejudice Yoonsung, and my child, are likely to encounter if we live in a large city. I read things like:

"Japanese children who are not born in Japan, or whose parents are not 100% Japanese, may experience racism from a very young age and can even be subject to beatings by their peers and adults, but mostly they are merely ignored. One recent example is of a 9 year old boy of 1/4 American heritage whose teacher aggressively pulled his nose while yelling 'Pinocchio, Pinocchio' until his nose bled. Initially the school refused to confront the issue until the boy's parents became incessantly vocal. The confused child was quoted as asking his parents if he was 'dirty' because he was 1/4 American. The teacher, a member of the Japan Teachers Union, was forced to resign."

Yes, like the US with Abu Ghraib, I'm sure Japan's Ministry of Education would claim this was an isolated incident, but shit like this is enough to convince me that Japan may not be the ideal place to raise my future 1/4 American children.

Here is a good research paper (pdf) about the state of Koreans in Japan.

By the way, Maruhon seems like a great company, but I'm not sure I'd want to live in Hamamatsu. It's an industrial city, home to Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki. After Oita, I've had quite enough of smoggy skies. The section "Preparing for the Tokai Earthquake" on the city's website also reminded me of the impending mega-disaster. I suppose living in the shadow of Mt. Fuji is the last thing you'd want to be doing when the big one hits.

Once, on the streets of Tokyo, a crazy woman grabbed my by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, "I can't wait until the big one hits and wipes all this scum off the earth."

It's no wonder the Japanese can be so fatalistic.

So where's the best place to go? There are plenty of places in the US with large, multiethnic populations, but they are also expensive. According to this fascinating report on the self-sufficiency standard in Hawaii (pdf), a family of three (2 adults, 1 infant) living in urban Honolulu (makai) has to earn $34,678 yearly just to make ends meet. That means living in a small apartment, no cable TV, no Play Station, no trips to McDonald's, no car, no movies. The situation is no better in other diverse US cities like San Francisco or New York. So I guess I'd better have a good job.

Then I look at home prices in Andong and think, "Dag! I could buy a brand new 890 square foot condo for $100,000!" Then I look at my employment options there and think, "Dag! I'll be 55 years old and screaming 'This is an apple!' to little kids!"

Then I take a deep breath and realize that no place is perfect, and that wherever I choose to settle down, I'll probably be pretty happy so long as there's no war or famine. As The George says, "She'll be alright."

Monday, October 18


This is the trippiest site ever. Just put your face really close to the screen and hold down the arrow key.

As you can see, I'm using my time constructively.

I'm the center of the world

It's weird how little things in my life fall into patterns. Is it coincidence or a grand alignment of the universe? For example: Right after I became obsessed with Hawaii, I discovered that Hollywood is going to make a movie about King Kamehameha starring The Rock. I bought a couple books by Thich Nhat Hanh, then immediately came across an article in The Sun magazine written buy a Vietnam vet who studied with him. After I get sidetracked while making a Scrabble game for my English class and read all about the cutthroat world of tournament play, I found that a documentary called Word Wars was an entry at the 2004 Sundance Festival.

These coincidences arise, of course, simply because I became aware of the existence of these things. It's like when you learn a new word. Before you learn the word, you never hear it being used; but as soon as you learn it, you hear it all the time. People don't start using that word more often because you learned it. I suppose it's human nature to think that you're the center of the world. Or it could be that I'm subconsciously picking up on current trends and vibes, and I'm nothing more than driftwood being tossed about on the waves of the media. Dag, man, that's some freaky stuff.

At least I'm not watching FOX. Ok, that's a lie. There are some shows on cable that are probably from FOX, and I'll admit, they are morbidly fascinating. Shows like "The Bachelor," "The Swan" and "America's Sexiest People" (or something like that) ("I'll give you a 8.4 on the face, but your thighs are a bit meaty, so 7.4 on the body.") I feel like taking a long, hot shower after watching shows like this. What happened to wholesome family entertainment like "American Gladiators?"

Right. I feel physically ill when I come to Jecheon East Middle School. Even as I write this, the bile is rising in my throat. It's totally psychosomatic, I know. The students are little punks, like peachy-skinned uniformed versions of Samuel L. Jackson's students in 187, a movie all fed up teachers should see. I'm lucky if the English teachers here speak ten words to me a day. Even nature is against me: when I opened up a classroom window last week, three huge mutant wasps flew into the room and started divebombing me. "Out, foreign devil!" I could hear them buzzing.

There is a 34 year-old 3rd grader at this school. He wears a school uniform and attends class with the rest of the 17 year-olds. I think the story is that he's a former gangster who's trying to set his life staight. I guess they don't have equivalency tests in Korea.

Saturday, October 16


I've recently discovered a pretty cool Korean group called Clazziquai. Sound like a shameless ripoff of Jamiroquai? It is. Here's a little review I ran across. It says that the music can't be classified, which is the hallmark of a cruddy review, but it's the only one in English that I could find. How about we call all groups that draw upon various musical styles "Postmodern Pop?"

Clazziquai brings unique spice to K-pop

Listening to Clazziquai's first studio album, "Instant Pig," is like having a dish full of neat and colorful sushi rolls in front of you. The name of the group connotes its unique brand of fusion. Classic, jazz and groove (quai) are well blended in its melting pot. The band's members say they were inspired by legendary acid jazz group Jamiroquai. After tasting the eclectic mix, some say it sounds like fusion house with acid jazz and others say chill-out-lounge, but it is a meaningless effort to try to classify Clazziquai. The Clazziquai adventure started when Kim placed some of his music samples on his Web site (www.clazziquai.co.kr) back in 1999. Those caught the ears of Web surfers who soon got hooked on the exotic sounds and melodies. Kim's music became known through word of mouth and was soon played as background music in trendy bars and in the Soho of Cheongdam-dong and Apgujeong-dong, Seoul's trendiest shopping districts. Eventually, Kim signed a record deal for "Instant Pig." Three vocalists joined in Clazziquai's first project, each boasting a unique voice. Alex takes care of the male vocals while Horan and Christina lend a female touch to every track. From the first track, "You Never Know," which features samba rhythms to the last one, "Cat Bossa" that has a spice of bossa nova, the band shows a diverse yet intense musical spectrum. Some of their songs have already captured audiences outside of Korea. "Playgirl" is playing in the background in a Hong Kong television commercial.

The English lyrics are silly, as they always are in Asian music, but the music itself is a departure from the pop mold and uses something other than the mindnumbingly predictable 1-4-5 chord progressions and frenetic techno beats that characterize most K-pop (and J-pop and pop music anywhere). Then again, it's a bit depressing that pop music with something as simple as jazz chord progressions and bossa nova beats should sound so fresh and innovative.

The album, Instant Pig, has a some bossa, a samba and some R&B-ish beats, all with a dash of disco background strings and electronica blips. It also has the male and female vocals singing in octaves a la Sade, which gives it a just-quit-raining-sun-coming-out quality that I really love.

Here's what a Japanese guy had to say about the group.

Not all the songs on the albums are great. "Playgirl" in particular is downright annoying, which is probably why it's being used for a Hong Kong TV commercial. It's strongest and most popular tune is "Sweety," which can be downloaded here. Check it out.

Tuesday, October 12


One more from Beppu. That tall thing is part of the Beppu Missile Defense System, which shoots down incoming missles from rival city Oita.

Beppu Bay

Pic from Beppu

APU (The Ivory Prison)

Another pic from Beppu

A pic from last winter in Beppu.

The shy Japanese / mystery bulge

If you've lived in Japan, you might have noticed how some people occupying toilet stalls flush as soon as you walk into the bathroom. Not because they're finished, but because they don't want you to hear their poopin' sounds. Well, the clever Japanese have invented a device to simulate the flushing sound precisely to serve this purpose. What will they think of next.

And, like the Singaporeans, young Japanese are starting to turn away from relationships and sex--not necessarily because they are shy, but because relationships can be more trouble than they're worth. I had a Japanese otaku friend who once told me he couldn't wait for Sony to invent a full body pleasure suit so that he could have virtual sex with his Play Station.

And, our debate-shy Commander-in-Chief might have been wired during the first debate! Not high-on-caffeine wired like he was during the second debate, but being fed lines through a mic strapped to his back. Man, I love this kind of stuff.

Friday, October 8

Deterioration, gravity, violence, sin

I woke up yesterday morning to find a small chip in my front tooth. I discovered that if I moved my jaw in a certain way the tip of a lower tooth fit exactly into the chipped area, which means I'm probably grinding my teeth in my sleep. Stress? Too much kimchi? Maybe my going to the gym will remedy the problem.

I went to the Dr. Ha Dental Clinic after work and had the offending tooth shaved down a hair to prevent further cracking. The visit cost me about $3.

Dr. Ha is just about the best name for a dentist I can think of.

About the gym, EuroSpa. People tell me that it has the best baths and saunas in Jecheon, which is a good thing because people also tell me that Jecheon winters are bitterly cold, even colder than Seoul's. It seems the EuroSpa gym guy adheres to an outdated North Korean training method. He told me to work the same muscles (curls, shoulder press, bench press) for four days in a row. Now, I'm no expert on weight training, but I thought you're supposed to alternate muscle groups. He also came to me when I was doing half-crunches and said, "No no no! Head down, up, down, up!" I wish he'd leave me alone.

On a positive note, the aerobics instructor wears booty shorts that reveal the lower third of her gravity-defying buttocks. It's mesmerizing.

God, this is starting to sound like the typical boring blogs out there. If you're not going to blog about anything mildly interesting, why blog at all? Well, here's something interesting. A fistfight broke out between two boys today, in the teacher's room of all places. This was the real deal. These adorable little boys were punching each other, full force, in the face. A teacher broke up the brawl, then proceeded to punch the students himself! He then violently yanked back the head of one student by his hair and yelled in his face. One kid got a bloody nose.

Strangely, the teachers seemed less upset by this than they are by less serious infractions, such as improper attire. "Boys will be boys" seemed to be their attitude. It's a far cry from kids packing a 9 to school like they did at my school in the good ol' US of A, but still, damn, I could hear flesh smacking flesh from halfway across the room.

Magic Game Land has moved into the first floor of my building. It's a slot machine parlor. Their mascot is Winnie the Pooh. When I open my door, I am greeted by Carl Saganesque planetarium music, which always makes me feel like I'm setting off on some great journey when I go to work. Unfortunately for Jennifer, the music can be heard through her floor all night long.

Wednesday, October 6

One more year 'till alzheimers and cataracts

"Prease to bro fire out, sonsengnim! Make happy wish!"

I've turned 29.

I had a very odd dream the other night in which I was watching a John Kerry campaign ad on the telly. There was that soothing, yet oddly compelling campaign ad voice saying something like, "John Kerry likes trees. He cares about the environment." Then I see a smiling Kerry, sporting a full beard, standing amid giant redwoods, wearing a plaid lumberjack shirt and cradling a baby.

That's it.

I sent in my absentee ballot today. I took my dream to be a sign and voted for the bewhiskered lumberjack. Not that it will matter, being from the staunchly Republican state of Virginia. Our great Commonwealth hasn't gone Democratic in over 40 years.

I also joined the Euro Spa health club today. It costs 60,000 won a month (about $60), but it's money well spent. The club lends you a clean pair of shorts and a shirt every time you go, so you don't have any sweaty clothes to take home with you except for your socks and underwear. Isn't that a brilliant idea?

Tuesday, October 5

Enlightened towns

Have you checked out Sperling's Best Places? It's a pretty cool site that lets you compare most US cities in terms of living costs, crime, climate, etc. Really neat, but it feels kind of like the US News & World Report university rankings; it ranks cities according to criteria that make good sense on their own, but in the end, all these quantifiable factors don't seem to add up to what the city really is. The parts don't equal the whole.

Then I ran across this enlightened towns ranking by UTNE magazine. I think it has the right idea. It says:

It seems to us that a good place to live ought to offer more than just high salaries and a low crime rate. That's why we set out to find towns that are making a special effort to foster connectedness and contentment among all the people who live in them.

I like the sound of that. A lot of people would probably dismiss such places as being pinko hippie vegetarian retreats, but I'd rather live with a bunch of socially conscious pinko hippie vegetarians than people who, well, aren't. And anyway, Portland, Oregon made the list, and that place is da bomb. Check out the site. It even has a list of what they consider to be the most enlightened town in every state. Believe it or not, Norman, Oklahoma and Arlington, Virginia made the cut, and they certainly aren't commie-vege-hippie-fag retreats. (So maybe the ranking is wrong...)

So just going back to what I said in an earlier post, integrated cities that lack sprawling suburbs seem to get the high livability ratings. The human animal was not meant to sit in cars all day! We are social beasts (Starbucks, community performances, civic involvement), we are bipedal (sidewalks, compact city center, public transportation) and we like to go when nature calls (plenty of public toilets).

If I could have it my way, cities would be designed so that its residents could flow through the city, parkour style.

Anyway, it seems to me that we have a psychological craving for a town center, an area where we can congregate and feel connected with our fellow townsmen. That's why in suburbia carland, developers are building shopping centers that are designed to look like miniature towns. Take my hometown in Virginia for example. One of the most popular shopping centers is called, appropriately, Reston Town Center. It's a fake, pedestrian friendly "town" that's really just a shopping center. A more inspired example that takes advantage of existing architecture is Charlottesville, Virginia's Downtown Mall. It's an open-air mall formed from the buildings of the original downtown area, which gives it more of an urban renewal feel than that of a planned shopping area.

Even Japan is getting in on the act. Oita has its Park Place. Fukuoka has its Canal City (complete with a man made canal flowing through the mall).

Problem is, with the exception of Canal City, which was built to be a "city within a city", you still have to get in your car and drive to these places for the pleasure of taking a "downtown" stroll.

Not sure how Jecheon would fare in an enlightened town ranking, but Yoonsung thinks it is a little bit better maintained than Andong. Her guess is that Andong spends a good portion of its tax revenue on Hahoe Folk Village, the city's big tourist attraction. Jecheon doesn't have any tourist attractions to maintain, so more money goes to the city itself. Good theory.

I'm thinking about going to the Andong Maskdance Festival this weekend.

Oh, and Brad Embree, the sound guy for the infamous never-to-be-completed movie When Love Walks In (check out the video clip for a good laugh), has co-authored a book called Going Corporate. He's attending law school in New Orleans.

Monday, October 4

Le Parkour

I've been checking out sites on parkour, an "extreme sport" originating in France in which the athletes (traceurs) run across, jump around and perform Spidermanesque acrobatics off of urban architecture. It looks, like, totally rad, dude. It's like skateboarding without the board.

Check out the gnarly vids on this dope website to see what it looks like. (Great French rap soundtracks too!)

I wonder if this has gotten any press coverage in the States? I certainly hadn't heard about it until a few months ago. The parkour community looks to be quite widespread, especially across Europe. I've found a couple websites devoted to the sport: Urban Freeflow and the UK Parkour Association.

Here is a good news article about parkour.

There is even a 2001 flick written by Luc Besson called "Yamakasi - Les samourai des temps modernes" that features Traceurs. I saw it in the video store in Japan with the tag line 7人の超人が飛ぶ! but never got around to renting it.

Parkour takes the stuff you used to do on the playground as a kid--or running from the cops--and elevates it to an artform. All good fun, but falling off a roof must hurt a bit more than falling off a jungle gym.

Sunday, October 3

Korean vs. Japanese teachers

I suspect that Japanese school teachers lead more stressful lives than their Korean counterparts. Here's why:
1. Teachers in Japan must pay a visit to the homes of each and every student in their homeroom class. This practice was stopped in Korea a couple decades ago.
2. All school employees in Korea go home between 4:30 and 5:00, whereas in Japan, teachers normally stay long after the official quitting time. (I got kicked out of the building last week by the building manager at 5:10.) Many of these teachers must stay late because...
3. Japanese schools have after-school club activities that are headed by teachers. Korean schools have virtually no extracurricular activities. Many students go to hagwons, or private academies, after school to study specific subjects.
3a. Club activities may start before vacation periods end, thus cutting short the vacations of many teachers.
4. Teachers in Korea don't have to oversee lunchtime operations since everyone eats in the school cafeteria. (In Japan, 3 or 4 students in each class are given the responsibility of bringing the food to the classroom, serving the students and cleaning up.)
5. In Japan, public school teachers are frequently transferred to other schools in the prefecture. Likewise, Korean teachers must cope with life-disrupting transfers. But unlike in Japan, where one may have to move to a school clear across the prefecture, teachers here in Korea can be relatively sure that a transfer will place them a commutable distance from their current location.

Teachers in Korea, however, do still have to teach on Saturdays. And from looking through the English textbooks, it seems that teachers here have to cover a lot more material in a year.

All this is based on nothing more than what I've seen as an outsider looking in, so I'm sure there must be many other ways in which teachers in Korea find work to be stressful. I don't know yet if they have parents day here.

I did hear that the home visits were discontinued because they were too much of a hassle for the parents, not the teachers. For a similar reason--to reduce the burden shouldered by the guests--Korean wedding ceremonies have been vastly simplified from the traditional format. In Japan, each guest has to shell out $200-$300 at the door, resulting in the coining of the word 寿貧乏 (kotobuki binbo), which means to spend all your money to attend a large number of weddings in a short period of time.

Friday, October 1

Beppu pic 2

One more pic I found waiting to be posted. Here is a picture of Beppu City, taken from above the Kannawa hot spring district. You can see some hot spring steam curling up from the chimneys. The mountain in the distance, slightly left of center, is Takasaki-yama, Japan's most famous monkey mountain. Check out how crowded Beppu is in spite of its small population (126,854 people). The city occupies a rather small area, a gentle, roughly triangular slope sharply bounded by mountains. Over the years, its hot springs have attracted a lot of tourist development, as well as people who sought the luxury of a home with hot spring water on tap. The city doesn't have very much agricultural land, another unusual characteristic for rural Japan.

Urban areas in Japan and Korea remind me of that game where you have to arrange your plastic buildings so that they fit perfectly on the board; a 3-D jigsaw puzzle with perfectly interlocking pieces and no room for grass or trees except in the properly assigned spaces.

When I went back to the States this past summer, I was immediately struck by how much green there was--not just in parks, but in urban areas. Jecheon in particular seems to suffer from a lack of green. Sure, there are plenty of mountains and rural areas surrounding the city, but within the city itself, there is not a single sizable park. Part of the problem is that Jecheon lacks a large river. Many Asian cities turn riverbanks into parkland, probably because these areas cannot be exploited in any other meaningful way. Andong, for example, has a river. It threfore has several big parks.

I found out today that a high school teacher in my English teacher's class is the wife of Jecheon's mayor. Before I knew this, I'd mentioned my thoughts to her about Jecheon's need for more parks. She promply conveyed my thoughts to her husband. Yes! A direct pipeline to the mayor! If I just casually mention, every week, one idea for improving Jecheon, who knows what kind of influence I could have on the city's future?

Beppu pic 1

Found a couple old Beppu pics I forgot to post. The grassy mountain in the distance is Ogiyama. It's not the tallest mountan around, but it's my favorite. It's lack of trees gives you a great panoramic view, both from the summit and during the climb.

Here are some pictures of the Ogiyama fire festival.