Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Walk this way

I've read that Korea has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in the world, and I believe it. Exhibit A: the short and winding road that is my walk to work.

First I turn right out my building's front door and right almost immediately at the corner:

I live on a very quiet street, except when the workers in the 30-story LG r-and-d  building are coming or going from their work day; that's a parking lot that caters to them on the left.

Then I walk to the main street, with no sidewalks and, as you can see, cars parked every which-a-way:



 
Then I arrive at the world's worst-designed intersection and cross the street that separates E-Mart and Costco, which are two blocks to the right, and divides Yangjae-dong, in Seocho-gu, in the city of Seoul, where the school is, and Gwacheon-si, in the province of Gyeonggi-do, where I live.

What, you may ask (unless you're the type who only looks at the pictures and thus are not reading this, so what am I babbling on about) makes this such a poorly planned intersection? Well...

The two crossing streets are misaligned by ten feet. There's a stoplight, independent of the one in the last photo,  fifteen feet to the left of the intersection and another one forty feet past that. There's a bus stop between the traffic lights.

People turning left out of the side street make the turn and wait, slightly diagonally, while people cross the main street with the "walk" light. Sometimes a second car lines up behind the first, sticking into the wrong traffic lane.

Others (as you can see) park with their butt ends... their car's butt ends... almost in the intersection. This is common with small trucks delivering to the convenience store on the left.These drivers may back into the intersection.
 
People who have had to turn right out of the E-Mart parking lot, a block to the right, pull three-point turns and u-turns at this spot; I've seen a three-point, a u, and a back-in performed simultaneously.

Delivery guys on scooters, cabbies, and often bus drivers ignore stoplights if there are no pedestrians crossing the street.

Then I zig left, walk across at the crosswalk (that's logical, right?) which is about at the back end of the car in this picture, and zag right, down the little street you see here, which turns into this:

Often at lunchtime there are cars parked on both sides of the street as people are eating at the restaurant on the left. I follow the street around to this, where two Korean guys and I once spent a minute helping a driver navigate between lines of parked cars:

And this:

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking home for lunch, I saw an SUV parked with its tail sticking out a little, in front of the left-hand building, leaving room for only one-way traffic; the guy in a black car going north wasn't going to back up, nor was the guy in the white car going south. Pretty soon the latter couldn't have backed up if he'd wanted to, as there was a line of cars behind him. The two guys just sat and sat and were still staring each other down as I turned the corner; I don't know how that one turned out, but apparently it was resolved somehow, as the cars aren't all still there.

Finally I turn right down the long homestretch to school, past the beer distributor and the garbage collection center, and make my way to school, which is all the way down the street on the left.


Let's see... three minutes to the main street, wait to cross, three minutes more to the school... what am I leaving out?

Hmm. There is a lot of traffic at lunchtime and rush hour and traffic jams, extending blocks in all directions, on the weekends, when everyone's going to Costco and E-Mart. I took these photos a month ago; now the streets are covered in slush and snow. Korean drivers are crazy, especially cabbies and delivery guys. Drivers here in general don't drive fast, but they don't leave space between vehicles, aren't slavish to the idea of traffic lanes, and don't like to yield.

A lot of pedestrians are pretty casual in their respect for cars; I've seen a group of a dozen men and women chatting, spread across that striped speed bump at the big intersection, several photos ago. I try to be careful and get well out of the way of traffic, especially after I got bumped in the calf by a car in Daegu. Even so, I've had cars come within a few inches of clipping my elbow with their mirrors.

Isn't Geritol supposed to help with that run-down feeling?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snow place, like home

I had already had my Eggo waffles and pot of coffee this morning when Lauren called; she was back from Christmas in Daegu and wanted to know if I'd like to join her for our traditional Sunday brunch... I would. We stayed in the neighborhood, at CofFine Gurunaru ("CofFine Gurunaru wants to be a tree and a ferry in a river just like a place to rest," as it says on the mug.) Having already eaten, I comported myself in a saintly manner and only had a caramel latte. (A big one; I said saintly, not messiahesque.)

By the time I got back to the apartment, it was snowing; the flakes were small albeit multitudinous and determined. I looked out my balcony window...
video
...and knew I had to get out in it. I have missed snow so much.

I've come back to the view I had as a kid in Ithaca, that snow is magical, and I felt absolutely exhilarated when I got out. I walked, in something much like one of Thich Nhat Hanh's walking meditations, along my running path down by the stream, escorted by ducks, egrets, and magpies...
video
...for a half hour, till I got to the AT Center, the convention hall where they were having a huge clearance sale with dozens of clothing and shoe vendors. It was a cold but serene walk.

By the time I emerged with a shell top and a pair of gloves for running, the local drivers were having even a little more trouble than they always do with the concept of merging at an intersection...
video
...and, by the way, I've been meaning to post for months that 95% or more of passenger cars in Korea are white, silver, or black. This video is Exhibit A. Just be glad that you're not a food-delivery guy on a scooter in Seoul traffic today... or any day, come to think of it.

I walked back to E-Mart, bumping into our principal Ron's wife and son along the way. (It's a small town after all.) Outside High Brand, the five-story gallery of little shops above E-Mart, I found proof that neither snow nor cold nor wind nor... um, more snow... will stop those poor girls who have jobs trying to draw attention to stores by wriggling about to K-pop music. They're pretty ubiquitous, both here and in Daegu (I posted about it back in April), but in this case, I think they went above and beyond...
video
...and, just as always, absolutely nobody passing by paid any attention to them whatsoever. Ah well, there's no business like snow business.

Then I stopped down at E-Mart (for horseradish sauce, ketchup, soy milk, pancake syrup, and cocoa mix... I have one hell of a recipe.)

And there, despite all the lovely, peaceful, blessed snow, I found the true high point of my day, a remarkably large kiwi, which, considering also its acquisition of a primitive sort of self-awareness, I suspect has been genetically modified...

...thus completing a truly fruitful journey. I returned home...
video
...to a whiter place than I'd left.

I love me some snow.

Friday, December 25, 2009

And so this is Christmas


It's dinnertime on Christmas day and I'm in for the night. All day there was an odd grayness in the air, which seems to always be the case in Seoul when the winter warms up a little. It isn't fog, it isn't smog... you know how the air looks in the distance when it's snowing over there someplace? It's like that all day here, but there's no snow, there's just gray. My steel-gray windbreaker blends right in; I was going to call this entry "Don we now our gray apparel", but that sounded too negative.

I'm off for ten days. This week at school, we had our little Christmas party with the students on Wednesday evening (I wore my Santa suit) and took a field trip yesterday to the Seoul Art Center, which has an exhibit on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There are Monets and Picassos, Van Goghs and Liechtensteins, O'Keeffes and Wyeths. I'm whatever the equivalent of tone-deaf is when it comes to art, but I was glad to be there, especially to see the Wyeths; as is required for a middle-brow American, he's my favorite.

I admit I was kind of down last evening, Christmas Eve, with nobody around to share it with. I went to the health club and I was even the only person working out there for awhile. Christmas isn't a big-deal holiday here, though the stores certainly do their best to pump up the spirit. On Christmas morning, the Christians (a quarter of the population) go off to church, the bigger stores open, and the streets and subways are a bit emptier than usual.

I wasn't entirely my usual effervescent self this morning, either. Lauren's off to Daegu, Nick to Taiwan, Zach to Miami, and I'm just here. I'm not calling the grandboys till tomorrow morning, and it was rather a solitary morning.

But at noon I met my new friend Ray from the Veggie Club and we went off to a Loving Hut restaurant nearer to me than the one I wrote about in my last post. Then my day brightened; a couple of hours with a sympathetic friend can make a big difference when you're a long way from home on a holiday. We talked about our pasts and our beliefs and gorged on vegan goodies and it was all very nice. The restaurant was packed, I think with people coming from Christmas services, and that was good to see.

When we came out, it was raining; I was going to call this entry "I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas", but then it stopped. It stayed damp and windy, though, as I went to Kyobo Books for a little atmosphere and then back to the 'hood to E-Mart (which was packed) for a little Tug Chow and came home.

And here I am, on quite a quiet Quistmas. I haven't actually done this yet, but I wish I could write like this, so I'll quote Dylan Thomas:

"...I said a few words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."

Merry Christmas, everyone.

* * *

Stop the presses!

I'd just completed the post above, resigned to just spending the night at home, when Chris from work called, asking if I'd like to go out and eat. I wasn't hungry, but it took me about five seconds to decide that it was a lot better than sitting here alone all evening, so I said absolutely. Chris wondered if it was raining again, so I slid open my frosted-glass balcony door and found...

Snow, snow, lovely feathery snow coating the park across the street and wafting through the air. To quote from my entry from one year ago tonight, "And then it was Christmas." I laughed out loud like a delighted little kid; instantly, faster than instantly, it really felt like Christmas at last.

We slipped and slid to the bus to Gangnam, where we sat, surreally, in front of an electrical heater, in a little plastic-tented alcove at Dos Tacos, watching the snow blow by as we ate burritos and I sipped a lime margarita from a glass with a stem shaped like a saguaro. So very, very Korean.

...and as we were walking back from the bus stop at 11 p.m., snow blowing around us, some windchimes tinkled... or it may have been sleighbells...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cold and warmth

It's been really cold here every day, usually with a high in the low 20s Fahrenheit and a cutting, mean wind. Every night, I think of Tiki, probably half-frozen, half-starved, and always terrified, back in Daegu. And the cold accentuates the sometime loneliness, as Christmas draws nearer and family grows farther away, in distance and in time. I have good friends at work, but they belong more to the expat stay-out-very-late-and-drink culture that's so prevalent for Westerners working in Korea, and they can be hard to get ahold of on weekends. Yesterday I was so flat emotionally that I went out in the freezing night to get a quart of ice cream, then came back and ate it. All. Without a bowl. For that matter, I was considering not dirtying a spoon.

Christmas is hard, you guys. (The only source of amusement is hearing Korean singers trying to enunciate "Feliz Navidad" on the Muzak in every store and coffee shop.) It's not the most wonderful time of the year everywhere; in some places, it's the hardest.

Today was much better, though, as I went across the city to the Veggie Club's luncheon. There is a chain of restaurants, in many countries now, called Loving Hut. They have huge vegan buffet, with all kinds of fake meats, salad, soups, coffee, slushies, cookies. All of it's good... 'ceptin the cookies. Vegan cookies suck; always have, always will.

The Loving Huts are owned or inspired-- not sure which-- by a Vietnamese woman who has her own spiritual-religious community; there's a tv playing her talks silently in the background, with subtitles in literally 20 languages. She's called Supreme Master Ching Hai, but you don't have to pay attention to any dogma to enjoy the meal. It's just in the background.

It's clearly a tactical mistake to let me into any "all-you-can-eat" place. It's nearly eight hours since I stopped eating, and I'm still not hungry. I brought a whole bunch of frozen stuff back, too. (Fortunately, it didn't have a chance to thaw on the way home.) More importantly, I made new friends, American, Canadian, and Swedish. Carley from Florida told me that there was a Loving Hut in downtown Orlando, but all the time she lived there, between the name and the fact that it was in downtown Orlando, she always assumed it was just another sex shop.

It's striking how energized I am after a Veggie Club get-together; more than the food (though it's a great pick-me-up, too, to be able to fix veggie meats at home after all this time), it's being around people who look at the world the way I do. I've been told that there are 10,000 vegetarians in Korea, which isn't many out of a population of 50 million. But I saw a dozen of them today, and the warmth with them is stronger than the cold outside.

So now I know I'm not the Sexiest Vegetarian in Korea. I may, however, have Korea's Only Mustache. And that's something.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You saw Mommy doing what now?

Saturday night was Santacon Seoul, the local iteration of a worldwide event involving cheap Santa suits, songbooks full of irreverent-to-filthy carols, and copious amounts of liquid refreshment. In mid-afternoon, Zach, Chris, and I headed to Costco for candy (a shared bag of 300 chocolate coins for Zach and me, sixty bucks worth of Tootsie Pops and candy canes for Chris) and took a long, sardined bus and subway trip to the plaza by City Hall and the US embassy. Chris and Zach, being bolder/braver/crazier than I, pulled their Santa suits on right outside Costco and rode the whole way there passing out candy to... well, mostly to attractive girls.

Fortunately, it was unseasonably warm, unlike the conditions right now, when the wind chill is 7 Fahrenheit. (Pop quiz: think of an adverb and an adjective that begin with the letters "f-r-i-g".) But, as I say, on Saturday is was pretty balmy, just like us.

We met Tony, in his Santa suit, and his Korean girlfriend Olivia, very fetching in Santa hat and jacket, I struggled into my outfit, and we put on our beards and went to work. In the plaza, there's a big, brand-new statue of King Sejong the Great and, way behind it, an enormous ramp had been set up for a huge snowboarding competition. We had decided to start our Santacon several hours early, hoping to see some of the hotdogging action, but we never got near it.

The second we started ho-ho-hoing and passing out candy, we were mobbed. Kids' faces lit up, dads by the dozen asked us to pose for pictures with their kids, children (and a lot of grownups) eagerly reached for chocolates... have you ever tossed a few crumbs to a pigeon or a scrap to a seagull? You don't have one bird for long. I felt like Robert Pattinson at a Twilight convention.

Oh, it was terrific; the excitement on little kids' faces made my Yuletide bright. Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow shouted out with glee... um. I'll start over.

It was so perfectly Christmas.

Zach's and my chocolate coins were gone in five minutes, but we still had people asking for photos and saying "Merry Christmas!" and smiling at the crazy Americans. After awhile, we retreated to a restaurant for a beer and some taters, then we caught cabs to Hongdae, the neighborhood by Hongik University.

Hongdae is every collegetown bar/restaurant/bar/shop/bar/coffeehouse/bar area you've ever seen, rolled into one. Santacon started at 7:00, at one of the three bars in the same building, called Ho Bar 1, Ho Bar 2, and Ho Bar 3. This event was at number three. That's right... the Ho Ho Ho Bar.

Yes, there's one guy in a banana suit. Just go with it.

We were among the first there, but Santas just kept thronging through the door. It quickly got packed, loud (deafening dance music) and smoky.

This is me at the Ho Bar. It was posted by someone else on Facebook and I can't seem to enlarge it, so you might not notice that the beer bottle's full of water. A regular Billy Bob Bad Santa, that's me.


It was kinda cool to see 200 Santas in a little bar, but after awhile the novelty wore off and it was just a packed, loud, smoky, red bar. Not my thing, really, though Chris and I did have a friendly darts game (he destroyed me, then was destroyed  in turn by a vivacious new Aussie friend named Kat...) 

I stuck around long enough to take part in the procession to the next bar. That was nearly as much fun as our afternoon adventure, 200 Santas parading along singing "Jingle Bells" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to the astonished smiles of the local college kids. The next gathering place was a more upscale restaurant/bar where perfectly nice Korean couples who'd come out for a quiet dinner were suddenly surrounded, like Moses, by a red sea. A loud, singing red sea. And, night owl that I am, 9:30 seemed about the right time for me to head home.

I took off the Santa suit, rolled it up inside its own belt, and caught the subway back. (Young woman on the platform, noticing the outfit I was carrying: "Part-time job?") Horrible, horrible trip home, seventeen stops, so crowded that for much of the way I had four strangers up against me. They were touching me at my northeast, southeast, southwest, and, I believe, west-by-northwest compass points. I hate being pressed up against strangers. When I got back to Gangnam Station, I was so tired and my knee so sore I just couldn't face another bus ride and I took a cab all the way home.

I found out later that, in addition to the raunchy songs and general debauchery that comes later in the evening, I'd missed a big fight involving two soused Santas and a special guest appearance by the police. Maybe Santa wears a red suit so the blood won't show.

Anyway, it was an enormous hassle to get there and back and the bar scene was no thrill, but the moments of Santaing, singing, hohoing, and giving candy to kids made it more than worthwhile.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Like a vegan

I've been getting so tired of eating the same few things that after school today I took the long trip (a short bus ride and fourteen stops on the subway) to Insadong, the ten-block long area where last weekend's Veggie Society dinner was, to visit the other restaurant I saw, the one with the vegan "meat".

It was a perfect time to visit Insadong, with rain-slicked streets but no rain, unseasonably warm just after dark, and very few people out at dinnertime on a weeknight, so I could stroll around and really look at the courtyards, alleyways, and shops. The latter, hundreds of them, carry an amazing array of traditional Korean clothing and art, and innumerable ticky-tacky items. Insadong is a much higher-class area than Itaewon, which is right by the US Army base, and I only saw one instance of the double barber pole, which is the sign in Korea of an establishment of ladies whose pecuniary motives are strong and whose virtue is negotiable. The Christmas lights were on all around Insadong and it was very pretty.

I bought a half-dozen frozen vegan items, not actually having any idea how to prepare them, but upon arriving home I found the company's website, in English (more or less, like nearly everything translated into English by businesses and the government, and even by our "American" school), for example: "high quality vegetable hamsausage. Once try the favor, then twice will be surprise at the taste" and "soy protein processed to taste chicken... enjoy conveniently it with ketchup or honey mustard in one mouthful". Mostly, I had no idea whether to grill all this stuff, nuke it, or shove a stick in it and lick it like a Popsicle. The website says "warm in microwave or on fryer". So, basically, it just doesn't matter.

It's kind of pricy, about ten bucks a pound, it's a time-eating, often uncomfortable hassle getting to Insadong, and I don't know yet if the food is any good, but I am so ready for "vege soy meat" and "soy chicken ball". Maybe I can cut the eggs and hashbrowns down to three times a week; I've been eating the same stuff ova and ova.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A very cool Saturday

I was running on the treadmill at the hael-seu cleob yesterday morning when it started to snow (outside, fortunately). The treadmills face the windows and the street, and I was on the machine on the far left, so I could open the side windows and let some cool air into the overheated room. So I had windows two feet to my left and two feet in front of me.

The snow started tentatively, one big wet flake drifting aimlessly around, then another, and another, and soon I was running in a snow globe, the air just full of thousands of swirling flakes. It was magical.

It was possibly marginally less magical as I took the short walk home, all sweaty and virtuous, and the wind started blowing the heavy snow at 20 miles per hour into my face. Still, I felt invigorated and alive. By the time I got out of the shower, the air was still thick with enormous flakes, the little park across the street had a thin blanket of white, and the mountains were ready for yodelers.

 I was reminded of a 3 a.m. walk around the Addams Family house and Six-Mile Creek in Ithaca, nineteen years ago, and a Christmas Day cross-country skiing down Linn Street, ten years before that. Now we know exactly how long it takes, after four decades in the sub-Arctic, to find snow enchanting again. Fourteen years, nine months, twelve days. And three hours.

But it melted.

I had a long a rewarding Skype talk with an old friend from St. Augustine, which continued my cool day. (If any Sarah Palin fans are reading this entry, I'd be glad to explain my sophisticated use of the word "cool" in both the metaphorical and literal senses to describe my day.)

In the early afternoon, I met my friend and fellow member of the Most Righteously Marvelous Department at St. Paul Prep (tm) Zach at his apartment. He had a four-foot-high bookshelf he wanted to get rid of, and we carried it a third of a mile to my place. Of course, Zach is the only teacher who doesn't live within two minutes' walk of my place, but as frickin' frigid as the walk was (the snow had stopped, but the wind hadn't), as cumbersome as the bookcase was, and as parlous as it was dodging the traffic on the tiny sidewalk-bereft streets, it was worth it. I barely have room for another coffee mug in my apartment, but the shelves in effect increase my space. I can get a few things off my little table and finally unpack the last box I brought from Daegu.

The best part of the day, though, came when I took the long subway ride to Insadong for my first dinner with the Seoul Veggie Club. I got to the area early, so I had a little time to explore. I had walked through Insadong (a blocks-long pedestrian mall with alleys and courtyards, lined with restaurants and tiny shops) once before, with Zach and Chris, to get to Gyeongmokgung Palace. But that was on a lovely Saturday in fall, and the sheer mass of people made it impossible to actually see anything.

True trivial fact: Insadong has the only Starbucks in the world with a sign that reads "Starbucks" in the local language's writing system. By law, Insadong shop signs must be in Hangeul.


Now it was very very cold, very very windy, and just about to get dark. (Just reg'lar dark, not very very.) There was all the space in the world to look around at the art galleries and shops selling traditional Korean goods, wall hangings and Buddha statues and shamanist totems, ranging from the almost lovely to the truly tacky, caricature artists (one of whom I think drew my picture at the New York State Fair in 1982) and street carts, some protected from the winter by heavy plastic sheets, selling roasted chestnuts and little doughy custard-filled "walnuts".

And then it was time for the elite to meet, greet, and eat. I met a bunch of folks at a subway exit and we walked to a vegan restaurant a few blocks away. The place is like a church basement meeting room, just a big space with several rows of long, tables covered with white tablecloths, with more long tables laden with aluminum containers full of food. The get-together was a joint effort between the SVC and the Korean Vegan Society, and the room filled up with fifteen or twenty Westerners from the former and twice that many Koreans from the latter.

Please don't tell PETA, but vegan food doesn't thrill me; just not enough fat and sugar for my sophisticated palate. But the buffet was good, lots of greenery and brownery, identifiable and un. My favorite dishes were the pumpkin tempura and the Chinese noodles with... mushroom stroganoff?

It wasn't the food that was the best thing, though. It was meeting people in this tremendously carnivorous country who think like me; I had almost given up the thought that there were any. Our table looked like Ithaca, scruffy beards and flannel shirts on the men, adorable knit hats with tassels and long straight hair on the women, and I made some new friends, the first I've found in Seoul whom I don't work with. In particular, I had a really nice conversation with a couple of friendly guys named Zenas and Ray about Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, and football. One of these things is not like the others...

I don't know if you can understand the "up" I get from all this unless you're a veghead living in a nation full to the brim with meatheads. (Note to self: edit this before posting.) But it's so good to be around people who exude positive energy and kindness.

What's almost as good is that they told me about other veg restaurants: two more in Insadong (one of which carries frozen prepared veggie "meat"-- oh frabjous day!) and a chain of vegan places called Loving Hut, one of which isn't too far from my neighborhood. I Facebook-friended Zenas and talked with Ray about meeting for lunch at Loving Hut sometime soon. And the next Veggie Group dinner, at a different location, is only two weeks away.

And my late Sunday morning is blindingly bright, and there's still a light confectioner's-sugar dusting of snow on the highest mountain outside my window.

Very cool.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose

Some ends and odds possibly of interest only to me... possibly not even to me... I have a short attention s... ah, heck, read it. It's free.

I've been really pleased with the effort and originality the kids in my creative writing class have shown. Of course, they have some problems with English grammar, but some of them are amazingly sharp and put a lot of work into their assignments, illustrating them with their drawings or a myriad of images from the 'net. Yuri, especially, who when she speaks is very hard to understand, writes all her poems in Korean and then translates them, always including sophisticated words such as "effervescent" and "redolent", and always correctly; so many times, kids find words in thesauri but don't quite get the right word. In their illustrations, the kids use glitter and cotton and White-Out (to simulate graffiti on a photo of a brick wall) and I'm blown away.

(By the way, where do you find synonyms for all the words in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre? In a Brontesaurus! Thank you, thank you very much.)

Anyway, earlier in the week I used Simon and Garfunkel's I Am a Rock and James Taylor's Sweet Baby James (appropriately, on the first of December) to teach alliteration and extended metaphor. (Brilliant lyrics in both of them.) Today we had a fire drill; it's been cold, windy, hazy, and gray for quite awhile, and as we were all shivering in the wind in the little park across from the school, I said, "Remember the song? 'A winter's day... in a deep and dark December...'" Whereupon the girls in the class spent the rest of the drill huddled in a circle for warmth, singing "I am a rock... I am an iiiiiiiisland!" over and over. A forty-some-year-old song, and a bunch of fourteen-year-old Korean kids love it. Neat.

***

With the cold winds a-blowin', it's getting a bit raw to run outside, so along with several of my friends, I joined the little gym right on the short walk home from work. It's quite a comedown from the health club I belonged to in Daegu, with its gleaming hardwood floors, bright lights, and multitudinous jacuzzis, saunas, and steamrooms. This place is small, darkish, and utilitarian. But it's a lot cheaper, certainly a lot cheaper than hopping the KTX to Daegu every time I want to work out. Six of our dozen teachers belong. I will say it's less a social outing than I'd hoped; listening to my iPod on the treadmill while Lauren listens to her iPod on the elliptical machine ten feet behind me is oddly uninvolving. But I've put in two weight circuits and an hour and forty-five minutes' running in the first three days. It feels good to be so sore.

***

The air's been weird for days, a thick gray haze that I can't identify. It isn't dank like fog, and fog wouldn't last all day. It doesn't smell like smog, and nobody's coughing. Like Pauly Shore's career in the eighties, it's ugly, you can't figure it out, and it just won't go away.

***

I posted thirteen months ago about the Obamarama we had at my apartment for the election returns and about the cheap mugs I found for party favors, with a happy, grinning donkey on them. Tuesday, as Silent Sustained Reading period was about to begin in the school's library, I was holding my donkey cup full of coffee with my back to the doors when a kid ran in just the bell rang, and he bumped my elbow; my mug flew out of my hand and shattered on the hardwood floor. Considering American politics recently, there's some heavy-handed political symbolism in there someplace, I just know there is.

***

There's a Seoul Veggie Club page on Facebook, and I just joined the group. In less than 48 hours, they're having a dinner get-together at a vegan restaurant called Hwangwachae. I'm not sure which I'm looking forward to more, eating some good food for a change, or meeting some people I don't work with. And the folowing weekend, I'm going to take part in Santacon, in which a large number of idiots in Santa suits traipse around the streets hugging people, singing songs, and drinking seasonal libations... it's beer season, right? I haven't traipsed in a long, long time.