Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 Christmas Letter

You can download this 3-page letter for printing HERE.

Dear friends and family,

Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2011 to you and yours! I am writing this letter on what will quite likely be my longest Christmas Day ever; by the time I see December 26th, I will have lived a full 40 hours of the 25th. This deserves some explanation, I realize.

The story really starts at the dawn of 2010, so this letter will be the story of my year as well as my prolonged Christmas day. In January and February, I was living in Vancouver with no idea how my year would unfold. Though there was excitement afoot—mainly the Olympic Games, which I took in avidly from outside the venues—I was fighting the inertia of unemployment and having second thoughts about not signing up for co-op in University.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Best of the season from me and my students! Canada in less than 40 hours!

Advent calendar: day 24

With this post, the blog advent calendar comes to a close. I've sure enjoyed putting it together - theme weeks, carols on weekends, pictures of me and all. In January, you can expect me to return to a more regular blog schedule--i.e. don't expect a post every day!

By the time you read this, it will be Christmas Eve for me. I will have finished work and will be packing for my long flight across the Pacific, then hopefully resting while Santa works his magic on my part of the world. With Christmas Eve in mind, I offer my last advent calendar prize behind door 24.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent calendar: day 23

The penultimate advent calendar prize! It's an adorable one, right behind the door.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Steve's Reading

Last Christmas of the War. excerpt from a book by Primo Levy, NY Review of Books. A moving account of a Jewish prisoner's Christmas in Monowitz.

A Physicist Solves the City. Jonah Lehrer, NYT Magazine. A potential theoretical urban studies breakthrough.

F.C.C. Poised to Pass Net Neutrality Order. Brian Stelter, NYT Media blog. An update on the net neutrality articles posted last week.

Advent calendar: day 22

Your Christmas memory for day 22, behind the door.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent calendar: day 21

Another Christmas memory, just behind the door!

Monday, December 20, 2010

An advent winner!

Congratulations to my Mom, who put together the pieces of the advent puzzle first. There will be a prize of some sort when I get home.

The solution is behind the jump, if you want to see it.

Seoular Energy II

Advent calendar: day 20

Welcome to the last week of the From Korea With Love advent calendar! I can't quite believe that in only one week, I'll be hopping on a plane to fly back home for a week.

Your theme for the last week is Christmas memories, and your prize as always is behind the door!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Only in Canada Quebec

A longstanding goal of the Quebecois separatist movement? Having their own hockey team.


On Saturday, the league that I've been dropping into had its first organized tournament. Organized by Russians working at the Samsung Semiconductor facility, the league draws Russians, North Americans, and occasionally some Koreans out to its weekly recreational games. The idea for this tournament was to have each group put together a team to compete in a more formal fashion.

What Steve's reading...

.. and watching. First, a TED video on the new ball and chain.

Advent calendar: day 19

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent calendar: day 18

I can't believe it's December 18th already! Only one week left until Christmas. Your Saturday prize behind the door. (Also: there are three digits on this door! Who can spot the third?)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Too good to pass up...

It's a math joke.

범계 in white

After the heavy snowfall from the evening, my world (well, the part between home and work) was blanketed with white! While it didn't even last until that evening, I took the scenic route to work and took a few photos.

It's funny how the world is so changed by a coat of white: the dirtiest, ugliest places can become picturesque, while beautiful places can become boring expanses of white. I hope I've captured a bit of that in these photos.

It's also very interesting what different people see in wintertime photos. I was all exited at the snow in the picture out my window; my Grandma--being from Saskatchewan--was completely unfazed by the snow but was astounded at the monolithic apartment buildings rising dramatically from the white ground.

Advent calendar: day 17

Happy Friday! Enjoy your last advent calendar prize of the week. (After this, no me in your advent calendar. Promise.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Exercice de tir militaire d'une journée

Subject: Announcement of One-Day Military Firing Exercise in Northwest Islands off the Coast of Korea Between December 18-21, 2010

The Canadian Embassy in Seoul is transmitting the following information through the Embassy's Warden System as a public service to all Canadian citizens in the Republic of Korea. Please disseminate this message broadly to Canadian citizens.

Today... ctd.

The view from my window this morning. There's snow on the ground and it's still snowing! I woke up early, so I'll go out and take some winter wonderland shots before work. Yippee!

Advent calendar: day 16

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


dreary, difficult
punishing, silencing, working
prison, factory, laboratory, creative space
thinking, encouraging, rewarding
engaging, exciting

A diamante poem I wrote as an example for my kids. Thought I'd share.

Advent calendar: day 15

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent calendar: day 14

As always, your prize is behind the door.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Decking the halls

As you saw earlier, I did my Christmas shopping over the weekend. Although I was glad to have my shopping done, there was something missing from my apartment, namely Christmas decorations!

So after work yesterday, my coworkers and I headed to Home Plus to liven up our Christmas spirit, and--because we're practical--to grab some groceries.

Advent calendar: day 13

A new week, a new theme! Click the door to get your prize.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Whose presents...

... will be left behind in Seoul?

Advent calendar: day 12

Another very special advent gift for day 12, behind the door!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A toast to 200 posts!

When I started this blog, I didn't really have a good conception of what it would turn into. Based on my patchy history of sending email updates back to my family from University, I half figured that the blog would run for a while and then fizzle, or perhaps have only a few updates a month.

It did look like this would happen for a while in the summer, but then a few things happened. First, I got my new camera. Suddenly everything became an object of photographic interest, and the blog sprung to life in living colour. A good hardware investment, I think.

Second, I've let From Korea With Love develop naturally by posting things that aren't strictly about my life. Judging by comments posted my readers are most interested in my own adventures; however, I can't resist posting links to the things I'm reading, little tidbits from class, cool photos I've taken of Seoul, and sometimes even longer writing on issues I'm thinking about. I hope these are entertaining and informative, but am not too concerned since the blog is not only a way to communicate my life back home, but a snapshot of my life in Korea that I will be able to look back on later.

Overall, the blogging process itself has been quite pleasant. It's a combination of writing, photography, art direction and information curation that I quite enjoy.

So - here's to you on your 200th post, From Korea With Love. May your three readers continue to enjoy you as much as your writer has!

화성 Fortress

Today after volleyball I stopped by Hwaseong Fortress, which is a World Heritage Site in Suwon. Although it was closed, I got some pictures of the gate, which looked pretty impressive in the fading light.

Advent calendar: day 11

It's a very special advent gift for Saturday, day 11! Enjoy it behind the jump!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent calendar: day 10

10 days into the Christmas season! I am getting even more excited than last time I said this about the upcoming holiday. We're also at the end of our Korea-themed week here on the calendar. Hope you enjoyed it! Your prize behind the door.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Where Steve finds What Steve's reading

Well, it's the end of the year, so here's a little retrospective on where I get my inspiration:

The Daily Dish. Written by Andrew Sullivan (a conservative gay Catholic Brit living in Washington DC) and hosted at The Atlantic. At ten years old, this is one of the Web's longest-lived blogs, and its reputation is well-earned. I don't always agree with Sullivan nor do I find everything interesting, but there's always something new and intellectually stimulating. A site dedicated to collecting and linking to the best long-form journalism on the web. If you've read the articles from previous "What Steve's Reading" posts, chances are I found them on They've also put together a best of 2010 list.

SLOG: Savage Love Blog. Dan Savage, writing for The Stranger in Seattle. For years I have enjoyed his weekly sex-advice column, now I read his blog to stay in touch with the West Coast gay scene.

This list doesn't count newspapers (NYT, CBC, BBC, and I'm trying to read Le Monde to brush up my French). My book pile to left.

Advent calendar: day 9

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Window to the Seoul



Unfortunately, it was just a flurry and didn't stick. Don't worry, I won't post photos of every snowfall - but you can expect photos when we get a blanket of white!

Advent calendar: day 8

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Some thoughts on education

I've read a couple of fascinating stories in the New York Times recently about testing in education and international education rankings which raise some interesting points and questions about Asian and Western approaches to education. paper a universally-accessible, practically permanent media where they can come back to bite me at any time. I should note now that this essay is much longer than I intended it to be.
I thought I'd put some of my thoughts down on

My thinking is of course informed by my background as a product of the Canadian education system, which is to the best of my recollection fairly relaxed. I acknowledge that I likely had a much less stressful experience throughout my whole education than the vast majority of students, but one can compare somewhat objectively: I took less tests in high school than my Grade 1s take at our English academy, and had as much homework in high school as my middle school students have for the academy.

Advent calendar: day 7

Continuing on the Korea theme for the week, your advent prize is behind the door!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Seoulja boy

Advent calendar: day 6

I'm going to try a theme this week for the advent calendar. Behind the jump: today's prize and this week's theme!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wintertime, dancing and volleyball

I went to a play and a rock concert Saturday night! Saturday afternoon I headed up to Itaewon, had a hamburger, and sat down for an evening of theatre. The play was called Wintertime, and it was alternately funny, groan-worthy, and insightful.

The script itself had its holes, and the acting was uneven, as you'd expect in the small expat theatre community, but the experience was fantastic. After being deprived of English theatre for a year, just sitting in a chair as the lights dimmed was exciting.

Advent calendar: day 5

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

In other news, ctd.

From XKCD:

"Ghost Town Where the Koreas Clashed"

A thrilling NYT photo collection of Yeonpyeong Island.

Advent calendar: day 3

Enjoy the third day of your advent calendar... behind the door!

You'll also notice that I've added a real door. You can click on it to see the rest of the post, and my more adventuresome readers can try to put the advent calendar together as a puzzle!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In other news, ctd.

Turns out the NASA news conference was more exciting than previously imagined. It's the top science news on the BBC and NYT:
The first organism able to substitute one of the six chemical elements crucial to life has been found.

The Coles notes: there are six elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus) that all life forms we know use to build DNA and other components of cells. Until now, that is. If supported by future research, this result shows us that life may be able to substitute arsenic for phosphorus as a building block in certain environments.

Why could this be important? Well, it's evidence that life can exist in more than one form, and can possibly reside in a wider range of environments than we thought possible -- and while this is a far jump from evidence that life has had more than one genesis, it's going in that direction. And that is cool, because if life has been sparked more than once, chances are it has been sparked many times all over the universe. This result is a little glimmer to say "we're [one step closer to saying that we're probably] not alone."

The tone at the scientific press conference is pretty excited.

In other news

From NASA:
WASHINGTON -- NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

Interesting! An announcement that will "impact the search for evidence" of aliens? A most likely disappointing update to come. (I'm predicting evidence of water found on an exoplanet, which is actually quite exciting if you think about it.)

Advent calendar: day 2

Open the door to get your advent prize!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wikileaks and North Korea

If you've been following the news, you'll know that Wikileaks has been releasing a trove of around 250,000 U.S. State Department documents -- more a flood than a leak, really -- pertaining to all sorts of diplomatic issues. There's an interesting but not surprising story on Canadian relations with the U.S. (NYT), and a fascinating cover story on Wikileaks' philosophy and next targets (Forbes).

I wanted to comment, however, on the revelations about North Korea. The main message of the cables seems to be that the world is still mainly in the dark on North Korea's motivations and actions. None of the cables predicted the sinking of the Cheonan in March or the recent shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

The world is a big, beautiful place

Photos from the National Geographic 2010 photo contest. Check them out.

Advent calendar: day 1

I've decided to start a blog advent calendar. Each day until Christmas I will post a little tidbit: perhaps a Christmas song, maybe something from my kids, or if you're lucky a picture of myself!

But you have to open the door to get the treat!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Excitement this morning

I woke up this morning to a somewhat panicked Korean voice on my intercom -- which of course made disaster scenarios race through my mind -- and after a call from my friend Jay, found out that the butcher's shop on the first floor was on fire! We were being advised to stay in place, open windows and put damp towels under our doors.

Outside my window, there were three full-size fire trucks, two smaller fire vehicles, two ambulances and a police van. It was exciting in the dull, stuck-in-my-apartment kind of way.

Fortunately, the smoke cleared out of the hallways before I had to go to work, so on my way to work I took my camera and snapped a few pictures. The butcher's shop was, well... gutted.

Of course, the Korean restaurant right next to the butcher was open and ready for business.

In memory of JS

I started crying at work while watching it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Weekend updates - new coat!

Last weekend I bought a custom made overcoat for the winter here. I picked it up today - and I love it so much I have to show it off here.

It's a long coat--down to the knee--of black cashmere. It fits perfectly and even has my name sewn into the inside! I feel like I've arrived. (Arrived at what, I'm still not sure.)

More weekend updates after the jump.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Quick life updates

The bad news: I still haven't heard from my replacement yet, so I'm still waiting in limbo and working my old/current job. It is now almost sure that I'll be transitioning in the new year.

The good news: I'm playing volleyball again! A group of Russians who play in Suwon (about an hour south) contacted me through the blog and asked if I wanted to join their weekly recreational games. I checked it out last weekend and went back today. The level isn't as high as I can play, but it's good enough to be fun, and there are other North Americans there! Although playing with the Korean teams was fun, it's really nice to be able to play and speak English at the same time.

Tonight, I'm off to a goodbye party (these are fairly frequent occurrences here) for a friend in Seoul.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What Steve's Reading

Gandhi's Invisible Hands, Ian Desai, Wilson Quarterly, 2010. A fascinating background on the team Mohandas Gandhi put together to further his political goals, that has largely faded into the background in the popular view of Gandhi.

Preexposure Chemoprophylaxis for HIV Prevention in Men Who Have Sex with Men, Grant et. al, New England Journal of Medicine, 2010. Alright, I didn't read the original study, but I have been following a debate as to whether this is a major breakthrough in HIV prevention at my favourite blog, The Daily Dish. Original post here, follow-ups here and here.

The Magical Number Seven, George Miller, The Psychological Review, 1956. A trip through the results of several psychological experiments on human information processing. I'm sure there are updated studies, but this is definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It gets better, family edition

A video after my own heart.

The incident winds down

From al-Jazeera, as well as NYT, CBC, and about every other news organization on the planet:
The United States says it believes North Korea's artillery attack on an island close to its disputed maritime border with South Korea was an isolated incident.

"This was, in our view, a one-off, premeditated act," PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said on Wednesday. "Without getting into intelligence matters, we don't see that North Korea is ... preparing for an extended military confrontation."

Evan Osnos at the New Yorker sums up the problem moving forward:
By the morning after North Korea’s most serious artillery attack on the South in decades, the unofficial American consensus had coalesced around a clear, unsurprising, and ostensibly comforting position: "The United States and its allies should hold Beijing responsible for putting a stop to Mr. Kim’s dangerous behavior," as the Washington Post editorial page put it. The Times agreed: "China … has the best chance of walking the North back from the brink. It must take the lead."

Now that this is settled, there’s only one problem: China doesn’t want to take the lead, and chances are that it won’t anytime soon.


Reactions from Korea

A national paper is getting hawkish:
Our military should be ready to counterattack without hesitation so as not to allow the North to commit this action again, even to the point of destroying the artillery squad that it has positioned along the tense western seacoast.

This provocation justifies any retaliation by us. Considering the possibility of additional provocations down the road, our military should be prepared to the utmost level to launch counterattacks strong enough to prevent any more provocations, and if necessary, it should put the preparation into action immediately.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The mood in Seoul, Ctd

From the NY Times:
"I was talking with a friend this morning and we wondered why we weren’t more concerned," a Seoul restaurant owner, Pyun Sung-ja, said on Wednesday. "I guess it’s because the area of the shelling is so far from here. It feels like it happened in another country."

This better reflects the mood I feel. Life goes on: kids still go to school, businesses still run, people still celebrate, mourn, work, learn and go about their daily lives.

Analysis... and China

From the NY Times "Room for Debate":
The most compelling explanation for Tuesday’s shelling is that it is part of an ongoing series of provocations that are uniquely intra-Korean in nature. Tensions on the peninsula have risen in recent months with clashes on the D.M.Z., and ongoing disputes surrounding the Northern Limit Line which demarcates the West Sea boundary, which North Korea does not recognize.

Moreover, after a decade in which the South Korean government sent food and cash support to the North, President Lee Myung Bok has instead severely curtailed South Korean aid. Accordingly, North Korea’s approach to Seoul over the past year has vacillated between threats, inducements and outright provocations, of which the attack on Yeonjeong Island is just the latest and perhaps most dangerous manifestation.