Friday, June 20, 2008

Man! There's a lot to drink...I mean!

London is a cool place! I've been having a blast so far!

I arrived Tuesday morning around 7 am. Although fairly crippled by the flight, I got to my hotel (which was not what I expected. I booked a room that I thought would have a private shower and bathroom. What I got was four beds and a sink! It's relatively cheap though, so who am I to complain.), checked in and rather than take a nap, I decided to go for a walk. Being completely unfamiliar with my surroundings, I got lost in no time. My wanderings were not in vain however; as I stumbled upon the British Museum accidently. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I went in and checked it out. It's a pretty cool museum, but it was also full of screaming school kids on field trips. I stayed there as long as I could stand it and then went off to see if I could figure out where I was.

By this time it was around noon, and I was quite hungry (my last meal having been on the plane around 5am) and thirsty. I found a pub, ate a glorious bacon/cheese burger and had a few pints. Sated, I asked the bartender to point out where I was in relation to my hotel on the map I had. Turns out I had been wandering in the opposite direction of my hotel. Armed with the knowledge of where my hotel was, I confidently strolled out of the pub, took a wrong turn and immediately got lost. Thus started my first London pub crawl. I would walk around, find something interesting (I found Old Bailey and St. Paul's Cathedral this way), stop in a pub for a pint or two and some directions. Rinse and repeat. Who knows how far I walked but I made it back to the hotel tired, quite buzzed, and ready for bed. I crashed at about 9pm.

Yesterday, I was up at 6am. I bought my Oyster Card (discount Tube rates) and hopped on the Tube to go check out the Imperial War Museum. This is a very impressive place. I ended up spending almost three hours wandering about inside. After the museum, since it worked so well the day before, I set off to find a pub and start another tour. After I ate, I formulated a plan of sorts: orient myself with the goal of getting to Buckingham Palace. This turned out to be a good plan in that I ended up seeing Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Palace. Westminster is stunning. You see the pictures, but you never realise how huge it is until you're right up next it. I went into the Abbey itself, and checked out all the monuments to the illustrious dead of England's past. The worst part is that I couldn't get the scene from The Sixth Sense out of my head where the little kid says, "I see dead people." People kept looking at me slantwise because I kept giggling to myself. Buckingham Palace was a bit of a disappointment after Westminster. I wanted to get a picture of the Palace gaurds in their red uniforms and tall bearskin hats, but it seems there's been a uniform change (maybe it was only that day) and the gaurds were in dark blue uniforms and peaked caps with a silly little poofter thing sticking out the top. Oh well.

I headed up the street to Trafalgar Square and then onto Leicster Square where I stumbled upon the Opening preview to Will Smith's new movie: Hancock. I managed to get photos of Will Smith, Charlize Theron (sp?) and Justin Bateman. After that, I hopped on the Tube (I was tired of walking) and headed back towards my hotel. I stopped for a kebab on the way and went into the hotel bar to eat it and have a good night pint. However, I ended up chatting to a cockney guy with the odd name of Dabar, or something like that, and playing pool and drinking. It was afun night.

Today, I'm taking it easy. Woke up around 1 pm, and dragged my sorry, hungover ass to the train station to get my ticket north. The price difference buying tickets in advance rather than day of? Advance: £21. Day of: £55!!!

Anyway, I'm off to have a quiet pint somewhere and take it easy. Plenty of photos on the way.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Korea and the Politics of Mass Hysteria

There have been times in the eight years that I've been here in Korea that I have to wonder if Koreans, as a collective society, are capable of rational thought. Koreans themselves admit to being an emotional bunch - there's a Korean saying that compares the Korean people to an iron pot; quick to heat up, quick to cool - and nothing illustrates this better than the current flap over the US-Korea FTA and specifically the import of U.S. beef slaughtered after the age of 30 months.

For the past month or so there have been massive protests in Seoul demanding the renegotiation or cancellation of the FTA sparked by fears of Mad Cow Disease. Lee Myung Bak, elected by a historic landslide in January, obviously underestimated public sentiment, when he told the Korean public that US beef imports would resume, and if "You don't like U.S. beef, don't buy it." The government also released numerous scientific studies disproving the threat of mad cow disease in an effort to ease the public fear. The country exploded. Lee's approval ratings after three months in office are hovering around 20%, and the masses are calling him a dictator and demanding his resignation.

Much of the language coming from the protesters in their opposition to U.S. beef borders on the ridiculous. Signs calling for the end of American genocide in Korea are popular among protesters. Interviews with protesters have revealed that many Koreans believe that if you eat U.S. beef, you will, quite simply, die. Apparently there are some people out there saying that Koreans are genetically more suseptible to mad cow disease, that you can get it from kissing or simply breathing the air (some of these rumors are purportedly being diseminated by the left-leaning teachers unions in order to get high school and middle school kids involved). Of course, Korea's favorite political forum, the internet has got into the act.

All of this, of course, caused the Lee administration to cave, reinstating the ban on U.S. beef and resulting in the firing of a large number of newly appointed cabinet officials.

The protests are continuing this week with a reported million people expected to participate. Although the FTA and U.S. beef remain the focus, it would appear that other forces are going to use the issues as means to other ends. This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the death of two Korean middle school girls who were crush by US military vehicles while walking home from school, which should ramp up the anti-American sentiment (I'm surprised no one has brought up Apollo Ohno yet). It also marks the anniversary of the student protests which led to the ultimate downfall of Korean military rule and the beginning of the "democratic" process here, which should ramp up the hysteria in general.

I'm not anti-Korean by any stretch of the imagination, and I like living here (90% of the time anyway). Maybe my inability to get my head around the hysteria this issue has caused (much in the way the whole Dok-do thing boggles my mind) has to do with being raised in a different culture. The thing is that, at times, Koreans seem to approach social and political issues in much the same way they drive: don't look left or right, just plow straight ahead and be damned with the consequences.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


In the next week, I have a staff meeting that's going to be a complete pain in my ass and my contract renewal meeting.

This is my horoscope in today's Korea Herald:

"Don't count on anyone or anything. Do what needs to be done to your specifications and keep moving forward. Consider carefully walking away from anyone who doesn't give you a fair shake."


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Harvey Kormann R.I.P.

Anyone who grew up in the seventies probably knows Harvey Kormann either from his movies with Mel Brooks or my personal favorite, The Carol Burnett Show. Kormann's interplay with Tim Conway on the Burnett show was almost guaranteed to have you rolling on the floor, tears streaming down your face, belly aching from laughter. Even if the gags weren't exactly funny, Kormann's seeming inability to play it straight when faced with Conway's goofy antics often made the scene all that much funnier. Some of the funniest scenes ever came simply from watching Kormann trying not to laugh and yet still get is lines off. The man obviously loved his job.

See ya Hedy.

"It's HedLEY!!!"