Friday, December 29, 2006

on the road

I'm in Portland Airport, looking at all the cool turbaned sikhs. One of them works at security, sending out waves of cool-osity to all the people coming in to P-town for the first time. I'm not leaving, exactly; my nephew David is leaving the nest for the first time, lancing out to Ohio to meet his internet-met girlfriend (not the first time, BTW) and start a new life there. Impressive. Me, I'm just hopping a train to Vancouver, B.C., to visit a dear friend and soak up the Coove's unique brand of coolosity. The coolosity meters over here in Contemporary Northwest Coast are all off the scales....

that's all for now, hep-cats, I'm sorry about the no photo situation but my camera absquatulated on me....


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Little Bathroom Pet

The eensy-weensy spider, crawled up the spout again....
This is a little pet I discovered crawling around my bathroom (and apparently the office room) - that explains the mysterious disappearance of the little flies that seem to spontaneously parthenogize from the drain. He's about 2 cm across and very quiet.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Moon Over Seoul

"Moon over Seoul" was the name of a popular TV show in the nineties, on which my best buddy Robert was the 'token white guy'- and apparently had a bit of a following of his own.

Here's to you, Robert.

Sorry for the lens artifacts ('flaring') visible to the right of the building. Too lazy these days to do any photoshopping.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Dempish, well vestilated place

This was taken from the 'cheese information board' at a local Carrefour supermarket, shortly after the French superchain was nationalized into a Korean company called 'Homever'. I was worried that the nationalization would bring about many changes, such as the removal of many imported items like cheese, and with it, this fabulous information plaque. I wasn't able to get a good single shot of the whole board, employees kept coming by to try and stop me from photographing this; apparently they were worried that a European-looking man might try to steal the "secrets of How to Eating more Delicious Cheese"....
Please enjoy this purloined dairy information deliciously....and don't forget that Giving cheese after Sweet things is Very, Very Bad....

Monday, October 23, 2006


While this may strike most people as just weird, conspiracy-theory paranoid blathering, I really AM afraid of a creeping political phenomenon which I believe is taking over the world.

I call it Costcommunism, or in the style of abbreviated American speech, more simply Coscommunism, which rolls off the tongue a little more easily.

Briefly, Coscommunism resembles communism in the following ways:

1. ideology - you must be a member in good standing. (substitute the word 'party' before member)
2. choices - costco makes the choices for you. Usually there is just ONE model of every category, a sort of Noah's Ark of consumerism. Costco usually goes for what they perceive to be the common good or the common taste, or something in the middle. Inevitably, in the fashion department, this results in bland, mediocre taste that I call Coscommie Fashion (not to be confused with Commie Fascism)
3. imagery and propoganda...

Regard the image above. Disregarding, for the moment, the image of the star which is a communist ideo-staple around the world, let's look at the whole concept of a membership card itself.
Does it not resemble something that a communist country might come up with? I mean, the whole idea of 'false exclusivity' that they create with this bogus membership idea, is reminiscent of some of the rantings of North Korea or something. (aren't they always saying that they are 'the only communists left' and how they must 'continue the good fight', etc, etc..?)

Another thing which communists are famous for is creating shortages of goods, resulting in scarcity black markets and such. I originally became a Coscommunist because I live in the Republic of Korea, a 'non-commie' country that has created its own unique shortage of goods through a system of protective tariffs and trade barriers. So, things like pesto, grapefruit, avocados, etc, that you may take for granted elsewhere were simply not availiable here for many years, though the market has opened up considerably. For these rare organic status symbols (avocados, unripe, used to go for six dollars apiece here - and I've seen cantalopes for over twenty, with a little gift card from the farmer thanking you personally), there was Costco - a rare twist on fate and history, that a form of communism, even if it was Coscommunism came to the rescue of a non-communist country.

But that was in the beginning. Since it's opening, Costco has been shutting down all of its luxury imports and has gone on a pogrom against these foreign invasions: to wit, since I joined, they have either been out of stock or completely discontinued the following items:

frozen blueberries (now they sell frozen cherries, at fifteen dollars a bag)
balsamic vinegar
Weber barbecues (during the heat of summer)
braided mozarella
spicy cajun sausage
Tillamook cheese (Oregonians unite!)

When one attempts to get help finding these non-or semi-existent items at Costco, when you talk to the Costco officials one encounters what you could only call a coscommunist work ethic or attitude:

Customer: "When will you have the Weber barbecues in stock?"
Costco: "Check back after summer"

or again:

Customer:"I can't find the frozen blueberries"
Coscommie: "What?"
Customer: "Frozen Blueberries. Blue...Ber--ies"
Coscommie: "What are those?"
Customer: "You know, like berries. Blue. Frozen"
Coscommie: (showing interest for the first time) "Oh! We have those? Where?"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Does this need any explanation?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Stolen memories

Last night at a party I was trying to show my friends some pictures on my camera of the local Carrefour cheese information plaque, and inadvertently wiped the flash memory. So, I'm not sure how many of the mongolian photos I lost- but it could be substantial. In memoriam of the wiped photos, then, here is an excellent self-portrait (well, self posed) of The Professor, or so we called this retired French Canadian gentleman....sometimes we called him the Nutty Professor (with affection of course.) This is taken on top of the sand dunes in the Mid-South Gobi...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More Strange Fruit

See if you can guess where these are from, and how the local people eat them there.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I think this image is self-explanatory, for anyone who grew up in a large family. The manufacturer of this product included a nice little picture for those of us who had a hard time mentally picturing a 'nuthouse'.
Looks pretty sweet, don't it?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kevin gets his first taste of horsemilk in the ger. The lighting was always golden and great in these tents, unless of course it was raining, and then it was unbearably gloomy inside.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Scenes like this one below of the wild horses on the lake were so commonplace in the Gobi that after seeing things like this, we hardly could get enough enthusiasm together to stop the van and pile out for picture taking (first picture above); At first I was so enthusiastic myself, that as a sort of postmodern joke about all of us, I took pictures solely of people taking pictures - the first dozen or so out of the 500-odd pictures I took on the trip.

Ironically, some of the best and most striking images of the whole trip were at the end -such as the horse and camel that we saw grazing with abandon on the sidewalk of the outskirts of Ulan Batur upon our return. Unfortunately, most of our memory chips were full, our batteries exhausted and our readiness to take those shots completely gone.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Periodically I would go to the cheapest budget hostel in Ulan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, to see if there were people interested in joining together to see the Gobi desert, the world's second largest. When travelling in Mongolia, it is prudent to travel in groups, not only for economy's sake, but because you have so much more fun with other people, because it is safer, and for a host of other reasons.
Still, we tourists mostly tend to be westerners with a strongly developed sense of individualism, a 'do-it-yourself' sort of spirit, and nowhere did I see this expressed more absurdly than on the wall of this budget backpackers dosshouse, where apparently some rock-bottom budget hunter was passing along this bit of 'wisdom'.

The bottom line is 12,800 tugrug, or about ten dollars at the current exchange rate. It's about what I spent on horsemilk every day -- or, more acurately, my daily budget which did indeed have a lot of horsemilk, but also included other more conventional goodies like cheese and chocolate.

So this bottom line on this notepad isn't a bad price for a two-day, all-expenses paid excursion to the Gobi desert, which cost me about 30 dollars per day on my trip (fairly standard, I'd say) - unless one reads carefully, notice the part where it says "Next morning Walk to "Khar Uul"....15 KMS"....."Walk Back"....

First of all, it's a FLIPPIN' Desert, Buddy! In case you'd forgotten, that means, "no convenience stores, no roads, NO WATER" you'll need to carry about 4 liters per day if you have the luxury of transport, about double that if you're walking. So, how easy is it going to be to carry 16 liters of water for the trip there and back, plus tent, sleeping bag, flashlight, iron rebar for the tent so the howlin' wind doesn't take your house away like Dorothy's, and anything you're going to eat to sustain you for the thirty kilometer DEATH MARCH that you've put yourself on?

Ten dollars. Hmmm...about what the taxi will cost when they take you to the hospital to treat you for extreme dehydration, I guess.

I guess you can tell my days as a dirtbag rock-bottom hippie budget traveller are probably coming to an end, right?

Friday, September 01, 2006

I'm Back

First of all, let's clear up some things. the boy in the picture on the previous page is Tibetan. I was taking a bus, most likely from Xigatse to Lhasa.
The heavy-duty truck below was dubbed "The BEAST" by it's British creators, who have apparently driven it overland from Europe through Russia and China. It is parked on the banks of the Mighty Mekong, not Vietnam, but Laos, in the cultural capital of Luang Prebang (I know, it has to be the funniest sounding city besides Timbuktu)
Now here's another mystery picture for you, this time I'll tell you the place...Ulan Batur....but what in the world is this 'fruit'?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I know I SUCK at Rewarding Reader Loyalty

But give me a break- I'm still recovering from the Mud Festival, my skin is still peeling from the four hour ride in the countryside sun...and haven't quite gotten dry since then.

I had some photos of Seoul's recent flooding, showing the river nearly swallowing the expressway, trees and lampposts under water, etc, but I haven't learned how to work the video camera download function yet.

To make a short story even shorter, the Mud Festival this year was something of a washout for us. Not only did we feel like there were TOO many foreigners here (maybe 2000 foreigners) but that there wasn't NEARLY enough mud, so we had the strange feeling that we should have brought our own mud to the mud festival, or maybe should launch our own version.

In the next installment, I'll briefly relate our white-knuckle ride through sheets of rain, the forced rescue of a baptist church (we forced them to rescue us, that is), and the strangeness of returning to Seoul without our bikes. To pacify those of you who are still with me, another mystery picture is here presented. (guess what riverbank this car is parked on, and guess where the inhabitants are from!)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Motorcycle Diaries' Maintenance

I don't own a motorcycle, but the protagonist of this story, as of so many other romantic Road Trip stories (cf. Zen and the Art of...) is a motorcycle. My Little Scooter That Could often acts like it believes itself to be a real motorcycle, especially on this 'mammoth' road trip I took for the three day Korean Constitution Day Weekend.

The Mud Festival was on in Chung Chong province, about 350 Km from Seoul, and I had never, ever even thought of taking my scooter, which is decorated to look like a 'Ska-mobile' and elicits a lot of jests from my friends, for more than a five minute spurt to get groceries or go to work, etc. My friend Lex insisted that scooters were underrated, and that he had once driven a 'Tact' brand scooter (that's a 'Pinto' to those of you not in the know about them) across the mountains of Kangwando to the East Sea (that's the Japan sea to those of you not worried about offending Koreans), and that it had done just fine.

After an hour of haranguing me to get off my arse and follow him and his motorcycle down to the festival, Lex finally came out with a soliloquy worthy of Captain James T. Kirk - a very moving piece of rhetoric, actually, and so I threw together a change of clothing and we whisked across the river to try to find our way out of this stinky metropolis of 18 million.

After three hours of exasperating zooming around in the dark, sharing six lane highways with eighteen wheelers and breathing their smog, the white-knuckling had finally got to me. Lex agreed to stop in the next town, which turned out to be a little village named "Paran". We expected to see the usual generic Korean mish-mash of stores and corporate names, the completely ubiquitous face of the Korean countryside.

Instead the first thing we saw was a sign that said: Store: Russian, Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia food. So we stopped in and admired the cheese and sausage, the packets of Nasi Goreng mix, and the curious Usbekis who manned the store. They told us about a cheap hotel around the corner, so we turned the corner and discovered even more foreign stores. For those of you who don't know Seoul or why it should be astonishing to find so much ethnic diversity in such a small place like Paran, let me just say that Seoul has never, ever really had decent and affordable Chinese cuisine, and until very recently only had one Thai restaurant where dinner cost twenty dollars. This is not because Koreans don't like eating out, or not because they don't like 'ethnic foods' - but rather, because they have never had much exposure.

So that night, we REALLY felt like it was 'vacation', since after all, we were eating Adobo chicken, drinking Red Horse beer, and sing-a-longing to Tagalog songs with a bunch of very friendly filipino guys. One of them turned out to have a voice identical to some seventies pop icon, but I cant think of the name just now- but the effect was quite astonishing, and as we talked to him we realized that this dude worshipped the music of the seventies and do many filipinos.

The next day we hit the road again, this time it wasn't such white-knuckle driving; just a nice pleasant three hour cruise to the mud festival town, Daechon near Boryung.

This festival has been going for a few years now, this will be my third time I've gone, and though I'm going to say a lot of negative things about it, it is hands down the closest thing Korea has got to real, honest-to-goodness 'fun'.

It was originally modelled on the Tomatina in Spain; the town fathers undoubtedly were quite interested in the story of this little nothing town in northeastern Spain whose only resource was tomatoes in harvest they decided to make what became one of the world's quirkiest festivals; the largest tomato throwing event in Christendom (or under any religious hegemony, for that matter, though I'm sure the Korean buddhists have thrown a few pickles at eachother, and Japanese Zen masters have flung a few grains of rice around from time to time).

That was the concept. But unfortunately it was the corporation, not the town pushing the event. Poryung mud company is a cosmetics manufacturer that makes a panoply of soaps, scrubs and creams from the tidal flat alluvial ooze near the town. Their idea, I suppose, was to drum up a little publicity for the product by highlighting the naturalness of its source. The nearby beachtown, Daechon, was ideally situated to host such an event.

At first their approach was open minded and experimental. They offered amusements like a mechanical bull covered in mud, mud wrestling and climbing a mud covered plank. It attracted mostly foreigners, and the first three years consisted of about twenty of us, covered in mud and shreiking to the delight of about 150 photographers, who couldn't get enough of the images of bodies covered in mud.

Now it is a corporate dream come true, a mud-covered freak show of epic proportions. Unfortunately, though the number of people attending and mudding up for the cameras has increased tenfold, and the number of people participating has finally leveled out....
to be continued

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

my friend who was contemplating a trip to burma has already gone on to the phillipines, but I find myself and my thoughts returning there.....this is a particularly intriguing snack to munch on with your spirulina tea salad!...the sesame and soybeans all being other things to throw on top of the salad.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

To be fair, lest the reader think Burma is all beauty, here is a picture from 'real life' Burma - a fried bird vendor on the street. I bet they're crunchy....ewwwww!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

a flashback to Pagan, Burma, for a friend who is considering going there....

Sunday, June 04, 2006

a junk floats through Hong Kong harbor; the red sails are just red spotlights that are shone from the deck.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Can you guess where in the world this child is from?
(Hint: not from a country featured previously on this blog)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

every now and then I like to get pictures out like this to relieve the crowding and claustrophobia of Korea

Monday, May 08, 2006

a little bit gross

Dear reader, I'm sorry to subject you to the grotesque or unneccessarily graphic parts of my life. I'll just say I've been posting much less than I had anticipated, because of the pain resulting from a minor (throat) surgery I went through recently.

So much pain, actually, that I had to go back to get more of those green and red pills that are just hopped up Tylenols (with a little codeine phosphate thrown in for good measure).

But today I felt like I passed a significant milestone in the pain reduction tunnel-without-light-at-the-end syndrome; e.g., the pain hasn't significantly lessened in five days, but this morning I did spit out a tiny plastic suture. wow! those guys had time to laser me AND tie little tiny knots in the two or three minutes they worked on me? That was pretty slick.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I can really empathize with the sentiments of this prayer written in French on the center tile. These copper tiles were purchased by visitors to a buddhist temple on the side of a mountain in Korea's Soraksan National Park. Money from the tile sale will probably go for more than just keeping the rain out; since monks eat a pretty simple diet (rice and kimchi for the most part) and grow a lot of their own food up here.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

This is sort of what I'm working on these days - I don't know where it's leading, though.

You'll need to click on the image to see it clearly. What you are looking at is a screen shot of the Wordsmith Concordancing program of the top 30 movie scripts in my database (330 scripts) containing the F word. This is a kind of representation of all the instances of the word in the entire script. On the left you have the names of the movie, sometimes abbreviated for convenience. The plot on the right, looking something like a DNA test, is a graphic representation of where exactly the word appears in the script; dark clusters represent scenes where the F word appears in rapid succession; usually scenes where two or more people fight together.

Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob strike back and Chasing Amy) and Quentin Tarantino manage to fill up quite a few of the top slots. If they aren't Tarantino films, then a case could be made that they are Tarantino wannabees, or very much like Tarantino films. Well, OK, Scorcese was doing that sort of stuff long before him. But the really weird thing is the football film (Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone), in which no one is actually killed or blown to pieces. IMDB describes it as "An aging football coach finds himself struggling with his personal and professional life while trying to hold his team together." - no indication of the potty-mouth level of the film, which comes in at #10 out of 320 films.

I've used charts like this to show my students about language usage, since they all know the F word, and have more than an inkling about it's power and mystery, they should at least have the benefit of knowing how directly, statistically linked it is to the onset of fights and fighting, killers and killing.

At least that's what I think I'm teaching them.

Oh Fuck it!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

as you might suspect, this dog is indeed half-wolf. a rather friendly looking wolf, though. I took this shot at an Indian Pow Wow in my home town...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

If anybody can figure out how to 'on dive', please let me know.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Here's a picture of Willem Da Foe at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

What I found interesting, however, was his choice of footwear - check out these 99-Cent Store Flip-Flops...Way to go, Willie!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I can never resist aging wood set off by pastel, I'm a texture junkie...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Monk peeks from behind a temple in Mongolia

If you remember the "Spirulina Beer" billboard from Burma a few months back, you'll understand my penchant for taking pictures of weird bulletin boards that we may NEVER understand, even if translated.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I couldn't find the picture of the arrow shooter, so here's The Hun (and a bloated, squinty-eyed looking one, at that) for you. Or is it more of a Tatar?

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Not an exciting title, I know. But these piles of dried, hardened, cheese piles (most likely from yak or sheep) was about the most you could hope for by way of snack, by way of variety in the Mongolian outback. I found this drying rack near the archery target...I suppose the idea being that when you tired of watching the cheese dry, you could allieviate the tedium by shooting arrows or watching them be shot by tourists like me. * (tomorrow I'll post that)

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Trivia At The Airport

"Trivia at the Airport", the man said to me, "That's what you ought to call it".

I had just returned to Chicago from my first trip abroad, a full three month circumambulation of Ireland, where I had picked up a tin flute and learned a few simple tunes on it. I was waiting for the airport bus, and playing Brian Boru's Song, I believe, when this impromptu-commenting man had walked by on the way to his parked car. I remember the initial sting of the 'Trivia' comment (or was it not a sting? Trivia would be a valid name for a jazz improvisational, would it not?) being followed by the thought, "Hey, if you like it so much, why not give me a ride to the subway?"

That was so many years ago that all the emotions I felt at that time are now distant and alien. But I had forgotten that some of my weirdest - and thus most precious experiences - happened to me at the beginning and ending of journeys, and so many times at airports.

Yesterday I was at Taipei airport (officially CKS airport) in Taiwan, coming back to Korea after two weeks in Thailand (at "Resort Khao San" , as a friend likes to call it). I had a layover of about three hours, so I changed back to winter clothing, cruised around and checked the layout of the place, and finally went to my gate, where I immediately ferreted out an electric wall socket, plugged my laptop in, and started to do lesson prep for this upcoming semester.

Before long I realized that the people I had previously assumed were not interested in this little corner of the waiting area, where they had some luggage scattered about, were actually incredibly interested in it, and in fact started stretching and doing warmups over there. Before long there were all kinds of people going in and out of this corner that I had cloistered off with my power cable, and each time someone stepped back and forth across it, I anchored my laptop and prepared for the worst; that someone might trip on it, ruin the laptop and sue me for damaging their face when they belly flopped...

But each and every time, they gracefully lifted their foot without looking, like they were some kind of ballet dancer...

After a while, I found it impossible to ignore the constant stretching, and warmups, and before I knew it, I found my self trying to type in the middle of a full-blown yoga class. The instructor was this big, buxom n blonde california type; the rest of the people looked like your basic Weekend Workshop crowd; hardly Republicans. So I unplugged the computer, put it away, pulled off my shoes and soon found myself obeying commands like reach high, feel the energy in your sternum chakra, just sort of let that foot come around and rest on your thigh, if you feel comfortable with that... and actually loving every minute of this high energy, high pace bhakti yoga class in the departure gate.

Only then did I think about gurus, India, turbans....hey wait a minute, howcome everyone, or nearly everyone, on this flight to Korea were wearing turbans? Holy Shit! I'm in the wrong gate! I hurriedly gathered my things which were scattered over three chairs and the floor, hurriedly made a gift of some fresh-squeezed Khao San Orange Juice to my new yoga guru, and ran off to the right place.

When I got there they were just boarding, but I couldn't help noticing the big change; there were no people stretching, and it even seemed like no people smiling over here. Suddenly I felt like I was in the wrong gate, that somehow like I had been unnaturally, preternaturally separated from my family....

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Windows on the World

This gilt window was apparently a work of inspired genius

Look carefully at the upper left hand corner, however, if you want to delve a little deeper into the Thai Psyche.

Unrelated Conspiracy Theory : today while watching CNN, they had a special report from a Rolling Stone reporter who had infiltrated the Church of Scientology. She was in mid-revelation of their innermost, most carefully kept secrets when the entire segment was yanked off the air, apparently pre-empted by the phony Phillipines coup, of which there was really nothing to report. Weird. Do they have people working at CNN as well? She was about to get into the churches strange creation myth, which truly rates as a work of science fiction (no surprise, considering that was L. Ron Hubbard's true calling)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Here was the 'Asian English' find of a lifetime. Apparently the word for 'staple' in Korean is pronounced 'hipi', sometimes spelled in this delightful way. How does it remove hippies? Just look at the bottom of the package.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Riders on The Storm...

Friday, January 27, 2006

a drying heap of bellflower root (to be made into kimchi for winter months) contrasts plastic with wood outside of a temple in Sorak San park.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

found this one among my ....electronic, guess I'm old, just looking at this convinces me like nothing else...

Friday, January 13, 2006

A random sign from Kangnam in Seoul, for the amusement and possible mock horror of my semitic friends around the world - honestly I'm not sure what this word construction is intended to convey- the 'free' is obviously borrowed from English, but the second part is just a phonetic spelling of a korean syllable cluster ('J' plus 'you' sound equals 'jyou')

Thursday, January 12, 2006

walk on it

Friday, January 06, 2006

A young boy is all ready for the morning Burmese sun, his face paint is a powder made from a kind of tree; Burmese believe it not only protects from UV rays, but also softens the skin and looks 'beautiful'. It's great to occasionally warp the whole magazine image of beauty.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Have I shown you this before? This is a concession stand (e.g. tourist trap) beside White Lake, Mongolia. (good luck at finding it on the map, there are at least 7 of them)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


My Friends always think I'm gay when I prepare a meal like this - but all I did was unwrap pieces I bought at Carrefour and plunk them down on a wooden platter I found at a flea market. And yes, it did taste as good as it looks.