Saturday, January 29, 2011

A house guest

My friend Mandi is out of town, so I had a house guest for a while today. Meet Tokki, the adorable (though small) dog!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quote of the day

A Grade 1 kid ruminates on winter in his writing test:
We can go sledding too. I know that it will be fun because I have been sledding 7 times before I was born.

Tiger Mother, continued

Amy Chua, who I mentioned in an earlier post, was on the Colbert Report last night, where she explained how her book has been somewhat misconstrued. Take this as a correction to or clarification of my last post.

If you're in Canada, you can see the video at this link. If outside of Canada, the video is just behind the jump.

Gimme the beat boys and free my Seoul

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wish I was as brave...

... and as self-aware as this girl is, when I was in high school.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Magnetic ramps?

No editing tricks, just cardboard and glue. More incredible illusions from Kokichi Sugihara here.

What Steve's Reading

Clay Shirky on Wikipedia's 10th Anniversary., 2011. On how Wikipedia has forced us to re-examine our conceptions of authority.

Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay. New York Times, 2011. Think cyber-warfare the domain of science fiction? Think again.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Stirfry with pork, apple, red pepper, mushrooms and steamed greens in a ginger, chili and Cab Sauv sauté.


화성 Fortress Revisited

On my way back from volleyball I stopped by Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, this time before dusk. I climbed the old fortress wall up to the hilltop pavilion (a hard climb with my volleyball gear) and snapped a few more pictures.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Urban Studies Watch, ctd.

Main and Broadway, Vancouver

As promised, I have been following the Economist debate on the proposition "This house believes that restricting the growth of cities will improve quality of life" and I have come to a conclusion of sorts. It is this: it depends on the city.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Steve's Reading...

... parenting edition!

The book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is getting some attention on the internet. In it, Amy Chua recounts her philosophy and experiences of "Chinese" motherhood. I haven't read the book, but it was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, and here are another few anecdotes. A characteristic quote, from the mother to her daughter Lulu:
I gave the card back to Lulu. “I don’t want this,” I said. “I want a better one — one that you’ve put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia, and this one can’t go in there.”

I'm going to...

Jeju Island!

Jeju is Korea's largest island and a huge tourist attraction, and I'll be going there for four days at the beginning of February, for Lunar New Year. I did battle with several websites to reserve tickets, gave up in despair, and was saved by my angel supervisor. So excited!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Monday morning afternoon

My body feels like this spaghetti bridge:


There is a silence about mornings and hangovers which I don't experience very much. I did briefly this Saturday morning, and it seemed like the world and my brain both paused. This was after the three-alarm fire without the fire woke me up at 8am with Friday's soju still somewhere in my system, but before I dragged myself out the door and on the hour-long bus ride to volleyball at 11. The eerie calm of the morning stands in stark contrast to the hustle of my weekend.

The weekend was full of volleyball and partying, really. I mentioned partying Friday night and playing ball on Saturday; on Saturday night and Sunday I repeated the pattern. Saturday night was dancing in Hongdae, which is far enough away that you kind of have to stay out all night. Fortunately I paced myself on the drinking and kept hydrated, so it was only moderately difficult to put myself on the subway for another day of volleyball. This time, I played at the Osan US Air Force base with some military folk I play with in Suwon (see picture).

And, after a fun and busy weekend I'm still surprised I survived, it's back to the silence. Surrounded by my drying clothes and still apartment, my brain has again dimmed its clamor. I suppose that means it's bed time - have to get ready for another week ahead!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Urban Studies Watch

The Economist has biweekly web debates which are often interesting. The current topic? "This house believes that restricting the growth of cities will improve quality of life." It's at the opening statement phase now and is worth following for the next two weeks.

Check it out HERE.

My own view? I'm leaning pro right now, but I'll think about it during the debate and post a more thoughtful view later.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


7:15am. ~60km from the Military Demarcation Line. The three alarms that I set for this morning blaze into action. Only one is necessary, as I am still waking up early due to my New Year's time change. I shower and get ready to go.

9:00am. ~45km from the MDL. I arrive with ten minutes to spare and was surprised to be one of the first on the Adventure Korea bus. We would wait twenty minutes there and pick up more people at another stop to the north.

11:00am. 3km from the MDL. We stop at Imjingak, the last place civilians can travel without registering with the military. There is a theme park, which is odd, and a train bridge into the DMZ, but there's not much to see here. I buy some North Korean currency - I think I now have more than the average North Korean. (Pic to left: me with North Korean money and random Canadian.)

11:45am. 2.5km. We pass over the hopefully named "Unification Bridge" into the less-so "Zone of Civilian Control". There is a village here, whose residents continue to live in the land of their ancestors, and each make the equivalent of CAD $100,000 a year from their goods and the government subsidies. We stop to take lunch. Some of the group get a little silly in the snow, especially the group from South Africa for whom this was the first snow they had ever seen.

1:00pm. 820m. We arrive at the "third tunnel": the Southern side of the third known infiltration tunnel under the De-Militarized Zone. The DMZ was established around an armistice line known as the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and generally extends two kilometres in both directions. We are just south of the Southern Limit Line of the DMZ, so either the tourist maps are lying about the distance or the DMZ is narrower than usual here.

Before descending into the tunnel, we are shown a propaganda video about the DMZ. This would happen once again on the trip, and I was put off--it felt like the South Koreans were trying too hard to claim moral justification for their fight against an aggressive North.
I know where I stand in this Civil War, thanks, and don't need agitprop that felt like it should come from the North.

1:30pm. 435m. We descended what seemed an interminable tunnel of very steep grade. This was not the original tunnel blasted by the North, but the tourist tunnel. My camera was left hesitantly in a locker upstairs; no photography in the tunnel. I look down the real tunnel and realize I will now have to stoop the whole way through.

1:40pm. 170m. We reach the barrier to civilian passage, which is claimed to be only 170m from the Military Demarcation Line. For now, that's as close as I'll get to North Korea. I don't like the cramped tunnel, or the massive exertion it takes to get back up the steep passage, but it's worth it.

2:30pm. 1200m. Feeling good to be above-ground. We arrive at Dorasan Station, the last station. Since it's in the Zone of Civilian Control, it's not currently used, but it's a real testament to the hopes of the Koreans: a modern, fully equipped and large train station complete with waiting chairs, multiple platforms and customs inspection equipment. It looks like every other modern train station in Korea, minus the hurried commuters.

There were a few Korean soldiers standing guard at the station, and I was reminded of a detail about the South Korean army: it's predominantly made of young, conscripted men serving their two-year term. My mental image of service members is weathered and, well, older, so it's always a little jarring to see the fresh faced recruits under their tan helmets.

3:15pm. 1600m. We were scheduled to go to Dora Observatory, but it was closed to civilians due to the resumption of propaganda broadcasts by

... the South! Instead, we bussed to Unification Observatory (starting to see a theme here?), which overlooks the meeting of the Han River, flowing North from Seoul with the Imjin river, flowing West.

Due to the snowy weather, it wasn't the greatest day to be at a North Korean observatory: the view was limited and the North Koreans were inside whatever shelter they have. It was still cool to be looking at North Korea. I did some spying through the binoculars and some nature photography, but was less interested in the museum-like display of North Korean goods and artifacts on show.

4:45pm. 2km from the MDL and gaining. The Adventure Korea bus was slogging through the snowy streets and heavy traffic back to Seoul. I had visited the DMZ. Overall, I was somewhat underwhelmed, though in retrospect that's not surprising. The DMZ is the most militarized border in the world and has seen many skirmishes in the last 60 years, so obviously they keep the tourists away from the potentially dangerous places. Because of this, it felt more like a museum-piece showing an old, dead war than a living, manned conflict zone: even the points only hundreds of metres away from the zone were well-staffed and gift-shopped tourist attractions.

But I have the bragging rights, so I'm happy.

This is fantastic!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


In two months I may again be jobless, homeless and untethered. The best word I can find to describe this is ... possibility.

To make a fairly long, complicated story shorter, the job I have been waiting to transition into since September lost its sponsorship in Korea. This means a couple things for me:

Short term, it means that I'll be returning to Canada at least for a little while in March. I fly back March 2nd and will be attending the Canadian National Debate Seminar in Hay River, NWT from March 9-14, so I'll have a week home in Vancouver and on the island. This is very exciting for me!

Long term, it's less clear. The organization I was supposed to work for is trying to relocate the job, and I will have the right of first refusal for the new position, so after mid-March I may be back to Asia for another year--perhaps in Korea, perhaps a different part of Asia. I can also choose to decline the job and return to Canada, and I have two months here to set up plans. So, despite my plans being upset, I feel like I have many doors open!

For now, I'm going to make the most of what could be my last few months in Korea. I'm going to the DMZ tomorrow, so you can expect pictures and a story this weekend. I'm also considering a 4-day trip to Jeju Island (the Hawaii of Korea) at the Lunar New Year. 2011 is getting off to a good start!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Steve's Reading...

... on his Kindle!

A two part essay on trains:

The Glory of the Rails. Tony Judt, New York Review of Books.

Bring Back the Rails! Tony Judt, New York Review of Books.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year! 새해 복 많이 받으세요!

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?"
I'm just wrapping up a trip in BC, visiting some auld acquaintances, and I'll be heading back to Seoul (and restarting the blog) soon.

May your 2011 be prosperous and happy. Happy new year, everyone!