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.

The mood in Seoul

이외수: 나는 비록 늙었으나 아직도 총을 들고 방아쇠를 당길 힘은 남아 있다. 위기상황이 오면 나라를 지키기 위해 기꺼이 전장으로 달려 가겠다.
"I may be old, but I still have the strength to hold the rifle and pull the trigger. If any emergency occurrs, I will run to the arena to fight the country."

Dear Canadian Citizen

From the Canadian Embassy in Seoul, via email:
The Embassy of Canada in Seoul is aware of the current situation on Yeonpyeong Island. For the moment, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada has not changed the risk level for the two countries nor released any official warning. The Canadian Embassy to Korea is closely monitoring the situation and will advise the Canadian community in Korea of developments as required.

"North and South Korea Exchange Fire, Killing Two"

From the NY Times:
SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire on Tuesday after dozens of shells fired from the North struck a South Korean island near the countries’ disputed maritime border, South Korean military officials said. Two South Korean soldiers were killed, 15 were wounded and three civilians were injured, said Kiyheon Kwon, an official at the Defense Ministry.
More information from the Korean newspaper Joong Ang Daily, the Economist. Also useful: a timeline from the NYT.

My thoughts? Too early to say for sure, but as some of the newspapers have noted, North Korea has historically acted aggressively when it wants to come back to the bargaining table and extract concessions from the international community. Seoul is of course posturing angrily, but has a lot to lose if the conflict escalates.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Autumn in Beomgye

I took a couple walks around the neighbourhood in the last week - here's a short photo-essay on autumn in Beomgye.

The leaves change colour...

... and the air is brisk and clear.

Snow in Vancity

Most of my readers know this by looking outside... it's snowing back home! Nippy but no snow in Korea. Thanks to my friend Anthea for the pic.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

The PC Poly Gang

I thought that maybe I should introduce some of my friends here. This is a photo taken on Wednesday right before Erin went back to the States.

L-R: Taylor, Mandi, Jay, Gina, Angela, Erin, me, Jason. These are about half the teachers at our school (plus Gina, who doesn't work there), but they're the ones I hang out with most. It's taken at Happidus, which is the foreigner bar in the neighbourhood and a regular hangout.

Quote of the day

From a Gr. 3 debate on whether trains or planes are better:

"Building train tracks is easy, but building an airport is hard. We have to build parking lots and duty free shops."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Steve's Reading on Remembrance Day

Lives: How My Father Looked, NYT Magazine. Thanks to Auntie Liz for sending it!

Also worth reading:
Lives: The Missing-Piece Son.
Lives: South African Rites.

Lest We Forget

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Photo Credit Chris Borchert. Poem is In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Steve's Reading

The wedding banquet revisited: "contract marriages" between Korean gays and lesbians. Anthropological Quarterly, 2009. An academic but interesting paper which explains an aspect of Korean gay culture that I have noticed.

Debating Israel-Palestine, parts one, two and three. Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish. A nuanced view - refreshing when simple hardline views dominate the discourse.

The global monetary system: Beyond Bretton Woods 2. The Economist. I have started to realize my profound ignorance of economics, and would like to change that.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

澳門! Debate! Fun!

As I promised, here is the story of my trip to Macau (澳門 in Traditional Chinese). I went there to judge at the North East Asian Debate Open, or NEAO. Fortunately, a friend filled in for me at work, so I was able to attend the whole tournament, Saturday to Monday.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A taste of Macau

The whole story to come later.