Thursday, May 31, 2007

These roots are strong and deep

At least deeper than I expected. I've just been off playing with the wonder that is, and I've learned a lot about my father's side of the family tree. My mother's is easy, because both her parents come from Ireland, so as far as I really care that's where the story ends, but my dad's family is a different story. I've never known much about his mother and father's families, except that my grandmother's family objected to her marrying an Italian, even though he was a freaking doctor! Oh how times have changed.
The most interesting and mysterious branch was always my grandmother's, because everyone else is just European immigrants, Ireland and Italy, blah blah blah, while her family could go back to the Mayflower, for all I know. Well in act her father's parents were also immigrants from what he referred to on a census document as "Irish Free State". Her mother's parents, according to the same documents, were born in Pennsylvania and Maryland, making me at least a fifth generation American, which is a weird thing to me since the grandparents I was closest to were immigrants.
Other interesting things I learned in my research:
  • My paternal grandmother attained a rank of captain in the U.S. Army during World War II.
  • My paternal grandfather's father was a barber who owned his own shop despite being an immigrant from Italy. On his census the taker enigmatically filled in the language he spoke at home before coming to America as English, and yet it also indicates that he could not read or write, nor could his wife. Perhaps this is why their names on the forms were Frank and Mary.
  • Also, due to a strange document mix-up, indicates that the next person on the list, a black deckhand on a schooner from Florida, is a member of his family.
  • My grandfather Joseph Mondello's brother and sister were named Gustave and Katherine Mondello, less Italian names I can not imagine.
  • It seems my grandfather was arrested in 1926 for newsying in a no-newsying zone by the Soused and Be-'stached Brotherhood of Corrupt Irish Police.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Korean Video Resume

Here is my first attempt at a video resume, in Korean. I thought it was pretty decent considering it's not my first language, but my wife said it had "no good points". But rather than chucking it out after all my hard work, I've decided to put it up until I can put together something a little more snazzy, most likely next weekend. In the meantime, enjoy, if you can speak Korean, and if not, pass it along to any Korean speaking HR directors at large international banks you happen to know.

I got fired from a voice recording job . . .

. . . for having too weird of a voice, it would seem. This should not be a terrible surprise to anyone who knows me. My man Nick at Nicolia hooked me up with a small recording studio as a favor to the owners. I was excited about the prospect of doing a bunch of goofy voices and getting paid for it. This is what the engineer's booth looks like.

When you step into the recording booth, you have to take off your shoes. Very Korean.

And this is what you look at while the engineer and the manager confer with each other on how best to kick you to the curb.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cool Things Korean (part 7): Buddha's Day in Bucheon

So I've been playing with Windows Movie Maker because I am working on my video resume (coming soon!) and I just so happened to shoot some really neat video today. It provided the perfect excuse to practice some simple editing and give you a peek at some great Bucheonnage.
Here is a group of child drummers performing in honor of Buddha's Birthday, which is today. The end also features a great view of a nice carefree ajeosshi dancing and keeping everyone's spirits up in the torrential downpour. Forgive my unsteady hand towards the middle, it ain't easy to do a 360 pan with an umbrella in your hand.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lolcats: apparently that's a thing now.

Slate says so. Here's my own attempt at a Lolthing, featuring my nephew June-young.

The syntax is not Lolcatty, it's actually super-Konglishy.

The names of the two kids in '28 Weeks Later' . . .

are Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots. No fooling.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Is Asperger Syndrome the new Tourette Syndrome?

I keep hearing all these references to Asperger's Syndrome, ranging from the simple "That dude totally has AS" to specific fake diagnoses of the "such and such clearly exhibits many of the classic Asperger symptoms" variety, so I asked myself the natural question, which is "Since people generally don't know what they're talking about at any given point in time, what do these people mean by 'Asperger's Syndrome?"
Wikipedia starts off incredibly unpromisingly by stating that it is a
pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) on the autistic spectrum. It manifests in various ways and can have both positive and negative effects on a person. It is typically characterized by issues with social and communication skills. Due to the mixed nature of its effects, it remains controversial among researchers, physicians, and people who are diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

I.e. laymen have no chance of understanding it. It boils down to this:
  • Narrow interests or preoccupation with a subject to the exclusion of other activities
  • Repetitive behaviors or rituals
  • Peculiarities in speech and language
  • Extensive logical/technical patterns of thought
  • Socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and interpersonal interaction
  • Problems with nonverbal communication
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements
Among the peculiarities of speech, the foremost is that
People with AS typically have a highly pedantic way of speaking, using a far more formal language register than appropriate for a context. A five-year-old child with this condition may regularly speak in language that could easily have come from a university textbook, especially concerning his or her special area of interest.

Individuals with AS may use words idiosyncratically, including new coinages and unusual juxtapositions. This can develop into a rare gift for humor (especially puns, word play, doggerel and satire). A potential source of humor is the eventual realization that their literal interpretations can be used to amuse others. Some are so proficient at written language as to qualify as hyperlexic. Tony Attwood refers to a particular child's skill at inventing expressions, e.g., "tidying down" (the opposite of tidying up) or "broken" (when referring to a baby brother who cannot walk or talk).
So from now on, when someone you know who doesn't know anything about developmental disorders uses the phrase 'Asperger Syndrome', you can assume what they actually mean is "Talks a lot and is kind of funny and awkward."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Culture Shock Redux (part one)

Coming to Korea was an experienced marked by plenty of culture shock, mostly of the "Oh, how interesting" and "Pardon me, I shan't make the same gaffe twice" variety. I hadn't counted on returning to America after almost five years being fraught with moments of culture shock, but an exchange I had with my mom today made me realize that it is an inevitability.
Mom: Have you set a date for your flight?
Me: We haven't bought the tickets but we're looking at August 16th.
Mom: Oh, you know I think Uncle Pat said [their childhood
friend] Carl's [second] wedding is on the 16th.
Me: Oh, well make sure of the date, if it is the 16th we'll come a day
Mom: . . .
Me: I'm sure Miyoung would like to see an American wedding.
Mom: Well, I'm not even sure if I'm invited, you know Uncle Pat
was always closer with him than I was.
Me: Well, whatever, give them a call and tell them we're coming.
Mom: . . . I think they'll probably want to keep it small, you know, second
wedding and all.
I was not getting at all that the wedding was invitation only. My poor mom did her best not to insult me by telling me that we wouldn't be welcome at what was sure to be a small private event, but I am so stuck in the Korean 'come uninvited with money, grab a meal ticket, skip out in the middle of the ceremony to eat and then leave as fast as possible' thing that I had completely forgotten that that's not the way we do things back home. This, I'm afraid, is sure to be only the first of many culture shocks for me, as Koreanized as I'm afraid to admit I've become.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What's in a Yeouido office building?

I work in this office building in Yeouido every morning and so last week I took some pictures of the place for those curious about such things. I usually get there a little early and go up to the top floor, where there is a cafeteria, a health club, a pavilion and a green house of sorts. I found i was not the only person needing that morning inspiration. Note the KT&G (Korea Tobacco and Ginseng) garbage can/ashtray and the round benches made of plexiglas a ndfull of fake flowers.

And here's the view of Korea's Assembly building (green dome on the left) with Yeouido Park (a real dump with an ocean of red concrete as the centerpiece) towards the bottom.

But Yeouido Park is not all concrete, as you can see in the picture below. Just the parts I've been forced to trudge across on my way to work.

Here's the view of Korea's world-famous 63 building. That's right, sixty stories up, three stories down.

Here's a shockingly underused rest area on the roof, with greenhouse for houseplants. A great place to relax and I am sure it is packed with smokers after lunch, but I, going there early in the morning, have never seen another soul there besides the cleaning staff.

A little stone walkway leads through the trees to a breathtaking view.

Of Yeouido and Gangnam. Gasp!

What lives in a birdhouse at the top of an office building?

A soda can and a snack wrapper have made their interracial relationship work and are hard at work raising their cig-babies.

This is what yellow dust looks like when the rain drags it down to earth and you wipe it off the edge of a puddle.

These are pictures from inside one of my students' offices.

Books absolutely everywhere. I've been in a lot of these offices and I've never seen one with adequite bookshelf space.

Altoids, antacids, scotch tape, change, snack cakes, etc.

decorative/dessicative charcoal sculpture, photo with the president, award, healthy flowers. I know the guy who keeps all the plants in this building alive, he's definitely the hardest working farmer in Seoul

felt-covered conference table, inadequite bookshelves, high-tech partition with mirror.

Organizational chart of the company, standard issue for every office in the building.

Only in the top ranking offices: a chart showing all the various members of the press that are milling about the building at any given time. My top students know this chart by heart and know to keep quiet in the presence of these people.

One more shot for the road.

Transformers is coming

"No one does car chases better than Michael [Bay]. But no one's ever seen a car chase where the car was literally transforming into a robot in the middle of the car chase"
-Alex Kurtzman, writer, Transformers

I am not a nostalgic person, and I disdain hype, but I refuse to strike a pose of detached disinterest and ignore the awesome potentiality that is this summer's Transformers movie.

Is this blethical?

Check out this hi-larious comment on The Marmot's Hole from reader Austin:

How to give a Korean Nationalist an orgasm..

Yes, Korean is Scientific
Yes, I love Kimchi

Oh Oh Yes Yes!!

Yes, Koreans are kind to Foreigners
Yes, you are superior because you have 5000 years of history
Yes, the sky is bluer in Korea

Oh Oh , don’t stop please, Oh Baby!

Yes, Hangul is the greatest alphabet in the world
Yes, Korean products are the best in the world
Yes, Koreans are the most internet savvy people in the world

I’m coming I’m coming just a bit more!!!

Yes, Korean rice is the best in the world
Yes, Korean beef is the best in the world

Did the earth move for you too!!!

Pokes the holes in all the fictions that some Koreans have been telling themselves for ages about their nation's superiority. I guess as a Scientific American this kind of nationalism is just inherently dumb, because its conclusion (our country is great) precedes the evidence. Not that Korea's not great, but it's not great for any of these flimsy reasons, just like the U.S. isn't great because it's the world's first modern democracy or because it was ordained by God.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hipster Comedy: The sound of charitable laughter.

I have recently begun to listen to the radio show and podcast The Sound of Young America, and it has allowed me to put together a lot of disparate ideas I've had for a while about contemporary comedy, 'hipster comedy', and Adult Swim comedy. I have gone on in this blog many times before about the distinction between comedy for actual amusement and comedy for comedy's sake, comedy for purely social reason where the jokes function as a series of cultural shibboleths allowing people to figure out who's cool and who's not. "Oh my God, you laughed at a joke on blue collar comedy? You're an idiot.", "Hey, I totally forced myself to sit through that whole 'Patience' episode of Wonder Showzen, let me in the tree fort now please." and of course "I don't make distinctions between high and low comedy, I just like what I like. Mostly because I'm a college senior and I'm about four months from not being peer pressured into saying that David Cross's stand-up is funny and two years from completely abandoning all that junk and just laughing at whatever's on TV."
And as I have said my main exposure to this social comedy in recent years has been here in Korea, where it is the dominant form of comedy. Now perhaps in the U.S. social comedy thrives because it is a minority passion, but that masks the fact that it's mostly hoo-ha and almost all hype. A comic like Eugene Mirman becomes such a huge 'celebrity' in such a scene because he is one of the few people in the scene who makes an actual effort to be funny. Most of the hipstery 'alternative comics' that I've heard make much more of an effort to be smugly likeable, affably insecure or ironically fun than they ever do to be funny. Those are all great and they really make people feel like they are sharing some special experience with the people around them, but they are not a replacement for actual funniness. They feel good though, and sometimes that's better than laughter, the thinking seems to go.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Really bad pictures of a really bad idea

Here's a really dumb place, a 'cell phone outlet', a huge jewelry store-style emporium selling nothing but cell phones. Mind you now that there is a huge strip of cell phone shops running under Bucheon station. The worst thing is this place is located across a busy main drag from the Hyundai Department Store in the absolute worst possible place with seemingly nowhere to park. It's just an awful place to put this redundant establishment full of identical stalls selling identical products at identical prices.

Look at all those little cell phone stands just waiting to be filled with shiny new cell phones. Awesome.

Chunui Mountain

Chunui Mountain is situated in scenic Chunui-dong, East of Jung-dong and North of Wonmi-dong. Check out the red X on the map. The Mountain is covered in artwork. In fact the gate leading to the mountain itself is made out of elaborate metal flowers. That's about three blocks and a bunch of not so scenic factories away from the actual beginning of the scenic mountain trail.

No trip to anything scenic would be complete without a sighting of Mama Kimchi, the ubiquitous Korean equivalent of the 'Keep on Truckin'' guy.

This is an interesting view of the small half-assed attempt to apartmentalize Chunui-dong, with the looming and seemingly ever-present Doosan We've apartments skulking in the background, um, looming and skulking at the same time. In the foreground is the electrical pole accoutrement graveyard serving the Bucheon area.

The first really scenic and mountainy thing we meet on our way up is Wisteria House (등나무집). No fooling, right nest door there's gingko house and across the street there's some other plant themed house. The menu at Wisteria house is topped off by dog soup, followed by several duck dishes.

This is the first sight we get of the mountain as we round the bend. To the left of the path you can see there are a lot of pieces of sculpture, which all serve roughly the same role as jungle gyms for most of the people hiking this mountain, i.e. children climb all over them and adults ignore them entirely.

On the right: giant cherry made of CDs. In the back: giant cherry tomato made out of IUDs.

These two statues appear to me to be perfectly positioned. The sun-dappled ideal of Bucheon as the perfect place to raise a shimmering and perfect family, and the reality lurking in the shade of the salaryman trudging, and I mean like super speedwalker trudging to work, umbrella in hand, because, as if life weren't dismal enough, the guy on TV said it's supposed to rain.

Here's some more hackneyed social commentary cum gymboree equipment.

I really like the layout of this hillside here, it's like some kind of mid-nineties test film that Pixar made to woo investors or something. Unfortunately the paint is chipping off of the red steel parabolic curve on the right, slightly detracting from the effect of the thing.

But enough sculpture, excelsior!

Another nice metaphor: the big broad paved road here is a complete dead end, winding up at a locked gate to a field full of pipes somehow vital for Northwest Bucheon's municipal water system. The tiny right turn is the way to go.

I lack the vision to be able to tell whether or not this scene would be nicer without the giant pinwheels.

Here's a grave or two.

And your back on your way.

Inside this head there is an honest to god jungle gym of the real kind, but it seems, to me at least, to be unenjoyable. This is no abortive attempt at a joke.

Here's my favorite piece of sculpture on the mountain. Manhole cracked, bass writhing, bald man in a suit jacket holding an enigmatic flute/paintbrush/'tool' cigarette-style and appearing to be reeling from the fishing trip. Why?

This is more or less the adult jungle gym portion of Chunui Mountain. On the right is some more low-key sculpture and on the left is some untarnishable indestructible public-use exercise equipment.

Seesaws, waist-twisting machines, and arm swinging machines.

Here's Bucheon stadium, seen from afar. If Mad Max comes to pass, this will be someone's stronghold.

Time to mount the summit, really really.

Oh, not yet, here's a rest stop. OK, now it's time to reach the top.

We're getting there.

Tada, Chunui Pavilion (춘의정). This is the catbird's seat from which to get hazy pictures of all the Bucheon landmarks.

On the left, the much talked-about Doosan We've apartments. The cream colored building on the left is the GS Square Department Store.

Cracking through the trees, it's Bucheon station (and Emart).

Pulling out, we can once again see Chunui-dong with Doosan We've in the background.

Here's the view off to the Northwest, and a bunch of stuff I don't recognize, including some of Incheon.

This is what the inside of Chunui Pavilion looks like.

On the way down I passed a woman swinging a farcically large hula loop, apparently under the impression that this was some sort of exercise.

And just as it began, so ends our trip up Chunui Mountain. Do check it out if you're in the neighborhood.