Saturday, October 4, 2008

still alive

Still alive, but unable to slap up a map yet: gotta go mow the front lawn.

UPDATE: The front lawn took about an hour. With that huge dumpster sitting on part of the lawn, there was less for me to mow. And now... the shower.

UPDATE 2: Spent another hour killing weeds with one of those "Roundup" pump sprays-- the one where you mix an ounce of formula with a gallon of water.


Friday, October 3, 2008

possible work!

I confess I put up a rather grumpily-toned ad on Craigslist, advertising my services as a French tutor (look for "Apprenez le français!/Learn French!" in the "northern Virginia/Washington, DC" section), and am happy to report that I may already have two students-- possibly as many as five. I chose to write the ad in that tone because years of experience have taught me that wishy-washy people will sign up for something, only to bail out soon after. Not only is this annoying (and a depressing statement about humanity), but it's also bad when you're trying to calculate your budget. So: it's better to scare off the easily scared. The people who remain will probably be more dedicated learners.

We'll see how this goes. The gentleman who responded to the ad was very nice; he and his wife are interested in learning French (for privacy reasons, I won't go into details as to why), and they may be able to round up three more friends as well.


news flash

Apparently, in a bid to help the renovators, we-- the homeowners plus yours truly-- have to move everything out of the house, then move it back in.

Anyone know about twenty people who can help us with this? For little or no pay? I told Dad we need to hire a group of college students, but I don't think he's going for it.


what 500 miles looks like

I'm putting together that map everyone's been wanting-- the one where you see the route I've walked. Check in later today for more; it'll appear in a subsequent post. For now, know that walking 500 miles is like walking from Seoul to Busan, then from Busan to Seoul, then about halfway back to Busan again, if this chart is correct.


"one of the dirtiest little open secrets"

I had no idea that 44% of Korean kids who attend Ivy League schools drop out... but it isn't surprising. As Mike notes in his post, Korean parents don't realize that what Koreans call "education" these days is far from the real deal. Mike writes:

The problem is that Korean kids are quite good at the standardized testing that gets them [into] American colleges, but what the schools cranking them out don't do is prepare them to do all the work AFTER they get in the door. And that means no more multiple-choice, do your own research without plagiarizing, and the 8-10-page paper assigned today is due next week in class.

Korean education is good for stuffing facts into your head. It's not much good for anything else, and with an education culture that often seems little more than a stripped-down version of the old Confucian education system-- one reduced to its worst traits-- you can't really expect these kids to hack it in an actual educational environment. Those that do make it in the States are often the beneficiaries of a sort of clandestine affirmative action that forgives them their linguistic and cognitive incompetence* and grades them on a steep curve.

This is no slight against Koreans and Korean culture. It is, however, an indictment of the sad state of affairs that obtains today.

When I mentioned the Korean problem to one of the Americans I'd met during my walk, she responded that the situation is just as bad in the States. I think the problem is pretty bad here, too-- teaching kids through rote memorization, not giving them a chance to engage in any sort of higher-level cognition, stifling creativity in the name of cookie-cutter conformism, etc.-- but the US problem is, despite all that, nowhere near as soul-crushing as what you see in Korea.

*I'm not suggesting that Koreans-- my people, you'll recall-- are stupid or somehow inferior. Not at all. I'm talking about a culture that thinks of education purely in terms of getting a leg up on the competition. Gone is any pretense that education might be about personal enrichment or the cultivation of real wisdom. Gone, too, is the idea that education is merely about "getting a decent job." No: these days, when Korean college students talk about the bleak job market, they're talking about their inability to find A-level work straight out of undergrad. The previous generation's ethic of "gosaeng-eul saseo-do han-da" (the Korean version of the Chinese saying that you have to "eat bitter to taste sweet") is pretty much finished. Whatever "gosaeng" (hardship) students experience up until they enter college pretty much falls away once they become undergrads. Upon graduation, most students would love to be plopped into a secure, well-paying job. Stability is one of today's watchwords in Korea-- not fulfillment. This is what they hope the Education Machine will provide: a stable, secure job they can settle into and remain in forever.



A seven-year-old kid in Australia is said to have gone on a "killing spree," sneaking into a reptile pen, killing some of the hapless beasts, and tossing them, living and dead, into the holding area of Terry, a large saltwater crocodile. Terry, croc that he is, dutifully ate the incoming food. The zoo is located in downtown Alice Springs. In true Stephen King tradition, the boy, seen on security camera footage, is described as "expressionless."

I'll never look at Outback Steakhouse's Alice Springs Chicken the same way again.

(Yes, I know Outback is an American joint.)


Thursday, October 2, 2008

from 18 to 17

Oho! Don't think I didn't notice the drop from 18 "followers" to 17!

I can't, for the life of me, figure out who that 18th person was, but I guess I'll never know now.

You'll be back, whoever you are! THEY ALWAYS COME BACK TO THE KEVIN!!

In other news: interesting VP debate this evening. Palin did surprisingly well, though I thought she had a tendency to veer off-track in her answers. I thought Biden did fine, so I was surprised to hear him get a drubbing from the NBC commentators (Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, and some other dude) immediately after the debate. Biden struck me as more poised (and damn-- that wolfish smile!), while Palin-- whose breathing and blinking became a bit uncomfortable to hear and watch-- struck me as quick on her feet, but somewhat breathless, especially on HDTV. It's a good thing no one emitted a spit fleck or snot bubble. HDTV spares no one.

In terms of actual substance, I thought Biden had better command of facts and figures than Palin, but Palin scored some right-wing points in the foreign policy arena and, of course, with energy policy. Things got confusing, though, when both candidates found themselves largely in agreement in two or three areas (friendship with Israel, the need to focus on the middle class, and an issue that now escapes me). Both seemed better about reining in their temper than I would have been in such a situation.

The fallout from the pundits seems to be that this debate will do little to affect poll numbers and the eventual outcome. Were I a betting man, I'd call this election for Obama, if for no other reason than that there's bound to be a backlash against eight years of GOP domination of the executive branch. The financial crisis isn't helping.

In a few minutes, I'll be off to my tent for a 40-degree night. Chilly.


"Religulous"... to see or not to see?

I've been wondering whether to see Bill Maher's "Religulous." I used to like Maher a lot back in his "Politically Incorrect" days, but a few episodes of "Real Time" on HBO, seen while I was at various motels, were enough to turn me off to the smug, self-satisfied bunghole he's become.

Here's an interesting review of "Religulous," and a fairly negative one, at that. I might still go and see it, though; "Curiosity killed the kitty," as one of my French teachers used to say.

Am also wanting to see... this.


the lap of luxury


We've got nights in the 40-some degree range these days (for all you Celsius-heads, 40 degrees Fahrenheit moves us from cool to cold, depending on your wussiness level), so I toted an extra blanket into my tent and found myself in a miniature version of a Mongolian yurt.

Covered in blankets as I was, I suddenly understood the allure of a living in a tent-like dwelling with layers of heavy softness above and below me. Were I a man without flapping, gelatinous man-boobs, I might seriously contemplate living life on the steppes, charging across the great flatness upon my ferocious pygmy horse, downing prey with my bow and arrows, screaming cheerful imprecations at the sky divinities, and returning to my yurt to make sweet love to my (and possibly my friends') women. Yes, that would be a good life.

Good enough.


"Kevin's Walk" mug and my "belt" from the other day

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

une bonne nouvelle

Alexandria Translations wrote back within an hour of receiving my query (which I wrote in French), telling me to send them my resume. So I'll be writing up a cover letter to go along with the resume I just updated, and will be adding a translation sample to it-- probably that article about Nicolas Sarkozy I translated way back when.

This marks my first tentative step into the world of professional translation (assuming I'm asked for an interview). Keep them fingers and tentacles crossed.

UPDATE: Documents sent. Now we wait. Oh, and look for other job opportunities in the meantime.


happy October!

Fall has, technically, been here for nearly ten days, but the weather's still too summery for me. Can't wait for the truly brisk weather.

My night in the tent went well-- perhaps too well: I went to bed around 3AM (might still be on Pacific time) and got up around 10:30. Didn't actually leave the tent until 11AM; the Korean guys were taking a smoke break when I sheepishly shuffled past them like a freshman girl doing the Walk of Shame.

Yesterday's spaghetti went beautifully. Sorry for the lack of pictures. You'll have to imagine the harmonious combination of

-olive and grapeseed oil
-5 strips of bacon, minced
-1.5 pounds of ground beef
-1 pound of sausage
-hand-crushed garlic
-half a large onion
-dried Italian herbs (but no parsley, alas)
-salt and pepper
-1 tbsp. sugar
-1 medium carrot, minced and boiled soft
-p'yogo (shiitake)
-3 green bell peppers
-1 gochu (chili pepper)
-1 jalapeno pepper
-canned tomato (2)

We did have to cheat, though: the sauce was way too watery after the addition of two cans of chopped tomatoes and no tomato paste; it was too late in the day to do a proper reduction, so we relied on two heaping teaspoonfuls of cornstarch to thicken the mix.

But the results were quite tasty, and now we've got enough sauce to last us several meals.

Today, as part of the job hunt, I'm sending a query to a place called Alexandria Translations, to see whether they could use a temp staffer. I'm not hopeful: French is, on their pay chart, a "Group A" language, i.e., one of the most common ones, which means it pays the least (too bad I'm not good enough at Korean to try my hand at that: it pays substantially more). I also couldn't help noticing that the current staff is composed almost entirely of French speakers, which makes it unlikely that they'll need more.

Still, it might be worth a try.

I'll also be helping out with tonight's dinner: chili dawgs. And no, we won't be performing one of those horrifying spaghetti-sauce-to-chili conversions; this'll be a separate sauce.

Happy October, folks.


home is where the living room was

Scenes of renovation in progress. My father, thinking ahead, shot "before" pics. I might gain access to those photos at some point. Dad also plans on shooting "after" pics, but so do I, so I won't need his for this blog.

The basic renovations are these:

1. The porch is to become the new dining room. Outside the porch will be a deck (for grilling, etc.).

2. The old dining room will become part of the new, larger kitchen, with some space left over as an accessway to the dining room.

3. The parents' bedroom is to be enlarged, with the closet moved from the north wall to the west wall (and enlarged almost to walk-in size).

4. The second bedroom is to be shrunk into a study/den.

5. The upstairs bathroom is to be accessible from both the hallway and the parents' bedroom (the type of setup that leaves me paranoid: I'm not a fan of bathrooms with two doors).

6. The upstairs bathroom is to be enlarged.

7. The kitchen is to be enlarged (as mentioned); the new kitchen will feature more counter space, better appliances, more storage, and a clear view of the living room. It will also feature an "island" whose function I haven't yet determined (probably a sink plus cabinet, with some counter space).

8. The entire house is to have central air and heating, something we've lived without since, oh, about 1983.

9. The downstairs (a.k.a. the basement) will lose its archaic drop ceiling in favor of something more solid, with modern recessed lighting replacing the current fluorescent setup.

10. The laundry room will have a new electric water heater, and outside, there will be a pump for central heating and air.

11. The upstairs will return to hardwood flooring.

There may be other changes I've missed. We're hoping that all will be done by the end of October.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

coming soon

Pics of this poor, gutted house will be coming soon. Hold tight.


sanitized religion

I hope to write at greater length on this subject, but I want to address a topic brought up by Mom, who has tried to get some of her Korean friends (think: upper-class ladies married to diplomats, high-ranking officers, prominent businessmen, etc.) to read this blog. One of her friends apparently found her way to my CafePress site (Mom keeps confusing that site with my blog), saw some of the less savory greeting cards, and had a coniption.

Folks, if you think religion is the antithesis of earthy humor, or that people with religious points of view have some special duty to avoid irreverence and/or the word "fuck" in their everyday discourse, you need help.

More on this later. It's an annoying-- but rich-- topic, one on which I could rant frequently and diarrhetically.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Google search results for "Hauerwas fuck." Stanley Hauerwas is a prominent Christian theologian known for his direct manner and liberal use of the no-no words. I'm in complete disagreement with his theology but can't help liking his style.


the unbearable lightness of being home in the middle of a large renovation project

The central problem of familial existence, when all the children in the family have become visiting adults, seems to be that of finding something to do with oneself. Before that time, roles are clearer: mothers know they can mother their babies; fathers can be fathers; children more or less know their place in the pecking order. But what happens when an adult child drops in for a few months, in the middle of a renovation project where there's very little for the homeowners to do but shuffle furniture, hover about, and plan meals around all the construction?

I'm trying to figure out my place in this mess. The parents have identified a few projects I can work on, such as reducing the two enormous piles of sticks and branches in our back yard to something that can be dumped in large plastic garbage cans and dragged over to the curb for "lawn debris" disposal.* I'm also going to be cooking spaghetti tonight; the parents have two large fridges and there's no shortage of food. No reason to go out and eat, really; we can cook just fine with what we have, and being on KP duty would actually come as a relief.

The problem, though, is that Mom can't help involving herself in the process. To some extent, this is how moms are. As she said yesterday when she saw me making a face, "Get over it." My feeling, though, is that unless two cooks really know how to work in synch together, it's better not to create static, especially if both cooks have control-freakish tendencies (cf. Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network-- yikes).

So I'm doomed to not working alone tonight. Or ever, as long as we're talking food. Mom and I are figuring out what ingredients we have and will be making the spaghetti this evening, after the renovators leave. Perhaps I'll have some photos of how it goes. Wish me luck.

*Ugh-- "lawn debris." It's the suburbs. There's a sanitized term for everything, because it just wouldn't do to say "all that shit in the back yard." I'm sure that, if I were a Mafia hitman in the burbs, "whacking someone" would be re-branded as "annoyance reduction" or some such.


Monday, September 29, 2008

"The History of My Pants"

I found my jeans from spring of this year-- the ones I'd bought in Itaewon, the ones that fit me just fine back then.

Well, four months and forty pounds later, I and my jeans are no longer as close as we used to be. The denim is now like barbecued meat that just falls off the bone; as a result, I spent most of Monday evening trying to prevent their gravity-assisted escape.

Our family decided to have dinner at the local Chili's; my current clothes needed a wash, so I went looking for my pre-Walk shirts and pants, which is how I happened upon my jeans. My parents had already left for the restaurant and I was hurrying to catch up with them, so it was with some frustration that I realized I didn't have a proper belt for the now-baggy jeans.

Like the Marines, then, I had to improvise, adapt, and overcome. My jury-rigged solution: four plastic shopping bags, square-knotted end to end and fed through my belt loops.

Hey, it worked.

A pre-dinner weigh-in showed my current weight as 258 pounds; I've got another 58 pounds to go before I'm down to my 1989 weight of 200 pounds. Is this doable by the end of the walk? My brother Sean seems to think I should try to hit 200 by the end of next February, i.e., before I start again from Walla Walla.

Es possible. I might just take Sean up on the challenge.


when custard attacks

I imagine that, somewhere out there, a Frenchman is reading this and laughing.

Slightly more substantive blogging later this evening, when the crew leaves. The parents are surveying the destruction and thinking that we might want to go out for dinner tonight. I've been pretty much useless since this morning, but am thinking I need to convert our backyard into a camp kitchen-- the least I can do for my folks. Aside from moving a few heavy objects hither and thither, there's little for me to do, except to stand aside and let the pros do their work.

I might also set up my and the parents' tents; the inside of the house is so full of mosquitoes that tents might actually be more comfortable than sleeping inside. The past two nights, I've been sleeping on a downstairs couch. It's nice, but at this point I'm more used to my tent, I think.


bang, bang, crunch

I'm lazing about in our basement laundry room, lying on a makeshift bedroll composed of two scruffy blankets and a pillow. Overhead, in our kitchen, today's renovation team is hard at work: two Korean guys and one or two Hispanic dudes are hammering away, beating our house into submission, violently rearranging its facial features into something pleasing.

I've done my work for the day. With Dad this morning, I wrestled three couches curbside along with a bed frame, two mattresses, a large particle board, a large desk, and a futon (my brother Sean's). The sound of construction continues upstairs, and I'm kicking back.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

pic dump: scenes from Walla Walla and beyond

These pics are hosted over at Photobucket; they may appear cut off on this blog, so my advice is to right-click a given image, then do a "show picture" or "view image" command. If that doesn't work, try right-clicking the image, selecting "properties," and cutting and pasting the image's URL into a separate browser window so you can see the pic at full size.

Hover your cursor over each pic to read the caption.

I decided to take a stroll through Whitman College's fine arts hall, a building I'd been passing almost daily on my way to the library.

The above two pics come from the same piece: a chair faces a wall that is blank except for the graffito "I think, I am alive." The comma is ungrammatical, but is it there intentionally? [NB: A proper construction would either have no comma or would use a semicolon in place of a comma. People often mistakenly use commas when what they really need is a semicolon.]

The above two photos were taken while I was seated at my favorite lunch spot on Whitman's campus grounds.

I took the above pic while waiting outside Maxey Hall just before Michael Shermer's presentation on "Why People Believe Weird Things." Cute dawg. Very friendly. I sat next to her, and she tried climbing into my lap-- about the only woman to pull that stunt since, oh, 2005.

My host Bob, who was renting from CouchSurfing host Jeanie (and her hubby Rob), used to own a restaurant. I was wowed by his kitchen, but while he liked it, he thought it needed a bar and some other minor tweaks.

I met the above two dudes while walking toward the campus convenience store to say goodbye to the Korean couple managing the place. Tony and Mark were taking a break from working on Mark's house, and they boomed out their "hello"s to me as I was passing. I stopped and talked with them about travel, the difficulty of doing renovation work, and other matters. Mark told me I'd be welcome to stop on by when I'm back in Walla Walla. Friendly folks. I've been fortunate: the Pacific Northwest has left me with a great impression of its people.

Below, we see the Korean couple who run the local Apex Food Mart together. The Missus was shy about being photographed. We said our goodbyes after I took a couple pics; the hubby wanted a photo alone with me, and that's what you'll see after the pic below.

I went over to the teriyaki-jip for a final meal, and managed to get pics of the couple running that place, as well.

The server, Andrew, took the following pics:

The following three pics are of my upstairs bedroom in Bob's place. I appreciate his hospitality.

And below, we've got shots of the Bob-meister himself: restaurateur, guitar player/singer, gastronome, bon vivant, horse rider, and Licensed Practical Nurse.

The following shots are from a brief detour I took with Lori and Kaylee to the Whitman Mission. From the main building (which houses a small museum and theater), you can walk left and see where the Whitmans died, or you can walk right and see where they lived. Whether we went left or right will become obvious when you see the next few photos.

The following pics come from my drive to Portland, Oregon with Chuck. We were in Kaylee's SUV, and Chuck saw an opportunity to photograph Mount Hood. What follows are the sad results of my attempts at shooting the venerable formation: