Movemus, ergo sumus

This will be our last regularly scheduled post before the new year. We will try to post sporadically, but considering we will be living in hotels (in Seoul until the 17th, then in Kyoto for ten days) and our computer will be living in a box, this break is unavoidable. We move into our new apartment at the end of December. We went to see the place last weekend, knowing beforehand that it would be "cozy". It is small as promised, but in a nice building much more centrally located than we are now. We are looking forward to being a few minutes walk from two different subway lines, giving us easy access to whatever kind of shenanigans we want to get ourselves into.

Deanna completed her contract at Heritage yesterday. There were some tears, some laughs, and some nice cards and letters from the students. We both enjoyed our time there, met and worked with some wonderful people, and feel that as far as first jobs in Korea go, we really lucked out. This afternoon we are meeting friends for drinks then heading to Everest for Indian food, a pleasant way for Deanna to begin a five week break before having to start work at her new school.

And in the midst of all this change, a little legerdemain. One of us is bursting with delirious anticipation that the World Magic Show, featuring some of the best stage magicians and mentalists from around the globe, will take place here at the end of December. I'm a little excited too.

And so, as OOFALWO's first calendar year nears its end, a photo of the sun setting over the East Sea.


All he wants for Christmas

Although this baker does a great job impressing onlookers by mixing dough for rice snacks with a giant mallet, he's secretly hoping this is the year Santa will bring him a 12-speed Sunbeam mixer.


Here comes Santa Claus

With the holidays looming, the poinsettias are out in force in Seoul's City Hall area. Of course, it is next to impossible to ignore the impending yule with Wham's 1984 classic Last Christmas piped at full volume into every public space a hundred times a day.


She says

Humanity's crowning achievement.


He says

Humanity's crowning achievement.


Ram overboard

As everyone knows, the urial is a medium-sized, reddish-brown wild sheep indigenous to the grasslands of northeastern Iran and western Kazakhstan. Evidently, they may also be found plying the high seas on ferries between Korea and Japan, hiding in toilets to feast on misplaced detritus.


Self-appointed soothsayer

It takes all kinds to make an (expatriate) village. This fellow, who hails from Sheffield, spends his free time on the busiest corner of Itaewon, enlightening passers-by with his particular worldview. He seems to believe the end is nigh, and that George W. Bush is a Satan who has created his own Babylon and is resonsible for an unjust war in Iraq, AIDS, poverty, Hurricane Katrina, and Al Qaeda. Such sentiments must go over very well with the US soldiers who flock to the many nearby bars and restaurants.


Subterranean Sushi Blues

Like something out of a Poe short story, had Poe written science fiction set in a futuristic and ultra-modern Japan, this catacomb-like shopping mall sprawls under Fukuoka's downtown core. Instead of an ossuary replete with vampires though, I found a few pieces of sashimi and a peppermint mocha from Starbucks.


A Manga for All Seasons

The ferry terminal in Fukuoka features this subtle yet fierce reminder to behave appropriately.



With my addiction to Sudoku now bordering on the pathological (and enabled from afar, with my sincerest gratitude, by my wonderful in-laws – grandma, mom, and sister), and my capacity for what Deanna terms “rubbish TV” (most notably the UFC) as high as ever, I have still managed to turn a page or two in the last year. And so, to complement Deanna’s list, on all of which I heartily concur, I offer some of my own must-reads:

Divisadero, Michael Ondaatje
For my money, there is no greater living writer. This novel, not unlike every other book he has written, features prose as lyrical as it is compelling, with unforgettable characters and a story that I continue to think of months after finishing it.

What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt
The cheat on my list, as I originally read this a few years ago, then was delighted to find it here in Seoul. A novel with so many richly considered themes is truly hard to characterize. Both Deanna and I were allured by Hustvedt's descriptions of an art world she created for the story, and then more broadly by the implications of that world on the creative process itself.

The Friar and the Cipher, Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
Those who know me know that I am as much a sucker for nonfiction about obscure thirteenth century astrological/ religious tracts written in an indecipherable code by a presumed madman as the next guy. And the ending is a ripper - for budding cryptographers, I offer the short version: Kiluvhhli Lofn, rm gsv hgfwb, drgs gsv ilkv.

Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
In 1987 this was a comic book, and the language I had to describe it was as enlightened as "cool" and "awesome". Twenty years on, this is a graphic novel, and with a few university English classes on which to draw, I have upgraded my assessment to "beyond cool" and "unbelievably awesome".


Raison d'etre

We love the croissants here - they have a certain, um, je ne sais quoi.


One for the road

Nothing says good times like a mini-keg of Japanese beer. I took this picture at the duty-free shop as I was leaving the country, and had to fight off a mob of Korean tourists who actually wanted more than to manhandle the jugs for blog purposes.


L'art pour l'art

From the mind and hand of my incredibly skilled brother at his latest art collective in Montreal... Congratulations, Mark - these are unreal.

Aged Man, graphite & acrylic, 36x30

Philosophy of Art, acrylic and graphite, 36x48

O Sensei, charcoal and chalk on acrylic, 36x30

Five Women and Mona, oil and graphite, 36x30


Preparing for the next page

I guess we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t uproot ourselves every few months. As we contemplate packing our possessions for yet another move, I marvel that people who live in one place for years don’t have hordes and hordes of stuff. Or maybe they do, but store it well. I suppose compared to the computer, six dishes, and two suitcases of clothes we have in Korea, most people have a lot of things. One thing we do amass at a very rapid rate, though, is books. It’s a deliberate amassing, as an ideal weekend isn’t complete without a trip to the bookstore and a few hours spent with our favourite authors. In that spirit, I thought I’d share with you the best books I’ve read since our arrival in Seoul.

Travels in the Scriptorium, Paul Auster
When it comes to Paul Auster, I’m probably Amazon’s most loyal customer, pre-ordering all of his books before they’re even released. His latest didn’t disappoint. He’s a magical storyteller, and this book revisits characters from many of his previous works, making it a nice reminiscence of Auster novels of the past.

Leaving Home, Anita Brookner
Brookner is another writer of whom I am a loyal reader, and Leaving Home has the same cloistered, quiet atmosphere of her other books. I admire her vocabulary and am always moved by her protagonists. I once had someone tell me The Misalliance was the most boring book ever written, and wrote that person off as having absolutely no taste in literature. Unforgiving, I know, but really, that novel (and this one) is brilliant.

Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles, Simon Winchester
In the early 1980s, Winchester walked from Jeju Island in the south of Korea to the border with the North, where he had to abandon his intentions of reaching the North Korean/Chinese border. Required reading for anyone who is planning to come visit us; it will make you want to bring your walking shoes and recreate his journey. In my daydream-y moments I contemplate doing the same.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Haruki Murakami
I’d never read Murakami before this year. How was I to know the genius I was missing? Norwegian Wood is tender and lovely, but it was the short stories in Blind Willow that made me add Murakami to my mental must-read authors list. I re-read many of the stories in the same sitting because I was so impressed I didn’t want them to end. I also found myself reading excerpts aloud to Lee, and begging him to read the stories to me again while I was recovering from eye surgery.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, James Shapiro
In 1599, Shakespeare wrote Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. Shapiro tracks the evolution of Shakespeare’s work through an examination of the politics of the theatre and the nation. Thoroughly well-researched, with nice imaginative leaps to keep us entertained.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Kang Chol-Kwan
More required Korea reading, this is the terrifying kind that stands in direct opposition to Winchester’s whimsical wanderings. The author was raised in the North and spent ten years in a North Korean Gulag before escaping to China, then South Korea. Kang left the North in danger of being arrested for listening to banned radio, which is just one example of injustice difficult for us to comprehend. I liked the honesty of this book, the description of his difficulties “fitting in” in Seoul, and the realization that escaping the North was only the first step on a long road to a comfortable life.

The Republic of Love, Carol Shields
A very satisfying examination of marriage and romantic love, with a prairie setting that reminds me of home.

Her Mother’s Daughter, Marilyn French
Is it a cheat to offer a re-read? I read this novel years ago. On my first trip to Seoul’s best English bookstore I found a hardcover copy on a dusty shelf in the far corner of the used section and gave it a home. I loved it as much the second time, maybe more. Happily, I have French’s newest novel on my shelf, waiting for my upcoming holidays.

Take Care of Yourself, Sophie Calle
This one is definitely a cheat because I have ordered it from Amazon as an end of contract reward for myself and haven't yet read it. Calle is a French conceptual artist whose latest work was featured at the Venice Biennale this year. I tried to convince Lee to fly to Italy on our summer holiday to have a look at her latest work, but he convinced me that it was far more practical to stay in Korea and buy the book. I am a huge admirer of all of Calle's work, have haunted YouTube to watch all the tourist clips of Prenez Soin de Vois, and believe that this book, like her others, will be beautiful and fascinating.

Do you have any reading recommendations for 2008, loyal readers? If so, do send them our way.


Behind the curtain

Japanese street life looks a lot like Korean street life. There seems to be about the same number and range of top-end boutiques, mom and pop convenience stores, English signs, Western amenities, menu boards with pictures, and vending machines that we see in Seoul. In Seoul, though, the street food stalls don't typically have places to sit. Instead, people just stand to eat (it is rare indeed to see people walking and eating at the same time). In Fukuoka, there were many street stands like the curtained and self-contained mobile restaurant cart seen here. Not only a place to rest your weary feet and have some grilled meat, but to drink heartily should you choose. This cart also had a well-stocked bar section, with a great range of hard liquor to complement any choice of food.


Land of the Rising Sun

I'm back in Seoul after a whirlwind trip to Japan to obtain another Korean visa. Fukuoka was beautiful - wide streets with sparse traffic, quiet parks with lush green trees, and bright blue skies. I met a teacher from Reading who had studied urban planning in university at Sheffield - he was suitably impressed and had the lingo to quantify the subtle differences between the layout of Fukuoka and what he has seen in Seoul.

I had hoped to get a series of quintessentially Japanese photos for OOFALWO, but I really only had time to see the Korean consulate and the downtown area where I was staying. When we go to Kyoto in December, Deanna and I will have the time we need to capture temples, parks, palaces, and people to post here.


Where does inspiration lie?

On its billboards, Chuncheon advertises itself as "a leisure city where there are youth and being romantic." One assumes that the being romantic part of that sentiment had a direct influence on the local sculptors. Perhaps that assumption is a fallacy. Or a phallus-y?


An unexpected journey

Three and a half hours on a train and three hours on a ferry take Lee to Japan today, where he will visit an embassy in Fukuoka, drop off his passport, and spend the night. Tomorrow he'll do the same trip in reverse, arriving back in Seoul with a valid visa for another year and a few photographs of the East Sea. Sadly, he misses his school field trip to the zoo, but plans to make up for it next month with a trip to the Coex aquarium.


She sells seashells

Sitting by the seashore, shucking shellfish, and making friendly chitchat with the tourists - not a bad retirement gig.


P.B. Shelley said it best

There is a harmony
In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!


The Spoils

Dakgalbi is chicken, cabbage, and sweet potato marinated in red pepper paste, cooked at the table, and eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves. What could be better for a post-run feast than Chuncheon's regional speciality and one of our favourites, though on this day Lee would have really preferred to sit at a table rather than on the floor.


And the winner is...

In the last decade world running has been dominated by East African, most notably Kenyan, runners. The Chuncheon Marathon was no exception. Five male Kenyan runners competed and finished in positions one through five, with the first Korean runner finishing sixth. Here's the winner, breaking the tape in an impressive 2:14:00.


The home stretch

Here I am 20 seconds from the end. While I have definitely had better runs (hoping mid-race, as my back spasmed from a now-apparent lack of proper hill training, that the organizers had secretly gone with the non-traditional 26 km 'marathon' distance), I am glad for the experience of running in such a large race. I go back to the drawing board for the next one, as Deanna and I both look to the Seoul International Marathon in March, at 26000 participants bound to be a spectacle unto itself.


Off and running

Here's Lee 20 seconds in, unaware of the Korean peculiarities that lay ahead, including acupuncturists every 10 kilometers and an aid station selection of Choco Pies, cherry tomatoes, and iced green tea.


Runners, take your mark

Chuncheon, a small city in the mountains north of Seoul, is an ideal setting for a marathon. As you can see from this photo taken seconds before the start, 21 000 runners fill up the stadium rather impressively. Runners line up in seeding groups from A-N. A-K are based on finish times in marathons within the last year, with A runners sub 3 hours and K runners 5+ hours. L-N are reserved for runners who haven't run a sanctioned marathon in the last year. Lee was in L. He crossed the start line 27 minutes after the first group left. After 30 minutes, all the runners were on the road. Fall leaves and a mountain lake make this Korea's most scenic and popular marathon. The mountains make it quite a challenge. Lee made us all proud, finishing in 4:26:54 with a big smile, already planning to run again next year.


Long way from Nome

In the land of scrawny dogs in sweaters and designer dogs with their tails and ears dyed some garish shade of fluorescence, it is a banner day when a true exemplar of the genus is spotted.


Utopia today, flesh and blood tomorrow

Shangri-la, the Garden of Eden, that Thai beach Alex Garland wrote about...into every paradise a little hate and madness must intrude. It seems trade disputes and a contract won by a foreign company have made certain Muuido residents more than a bit disgruntled. The signs above read "Jack Rosen, Kempinski, and their Jewish bastards - prepare to be peppered with rocks of Yong-Yu and Moo-Eui" and "May Ahn and his entourage are traitors. May you spend the rest of your lives licking their asses and kissing their filthy toes." Apparently vitriolic insults translate well from Korean.


Good eats

A day at the beach just wouldn't be a day at the beach without kalguksa, a delectable chili broth with noodles and fresh shellfish.


Primetime Comes to Life

Those of you who are familiar with Korean television will recognize this house on Hanagae Beach as the setting of the popular drama Stairway to Heaven. The location is marked on every map and explained in detail in a brochure which outlines the small and big screen history of Muuido Island. While the set of a soap opera may not seem like a big deal to those of us who don't watch the show, we had our first indication of its magnitude while on the ferry. Two girls saw a poster of the show, ran over to it in a fit of squeals and giggles and began posing for pictures next to a pinup of the male star.


Safety first

We like to think that this sign was raised on the causeway to the Muuido ferry by the local clammers in the interest of workplace safety. Foraging for clams in tidal mud flats probably requires the highest levels of dexterity and concentration, and wayward cars raining down from above would tend to get annoying.


Hut with a view

Hanagae Beach is lined with rental beach huts, raised on stilts to keep their inhabitants dry at high tide. Since it's the off-season we had the beach mostly to ourselves, but it's easy to picture the beach chockablock with tourists in the summer.


Subway to seashore

Sometimes living in the world's largest third largest city is all-consuming, and it's easy to forget that Seoul is actually close to the sea. Since we've been enjoying clear skies and glorious crisp and cool fall days, it seemed a perfect time to get out of the city. We accomplished our mission, and it only took us three hours, a subway, three buses, and a ferry to get us 50 kilometers to Muuido, a world away from the big city hustle.


Angels and Easels

Does God give helpful advice on techniques such as perspective and shading? Any points on pointilism? Do I need to bring my own paper and pencils?


Zen and the Art of Motorcy...nah, too obvious

Chalk up another for odd juxtapositions. One could scarcely imagine Gautama blasting up and down the Middle Way on a hog, yet he stands serenely by as the over-priced, under-muffled two-wheelers tear up the streets of Itaewon.


A double scoop of spaghetti

On the heels of the classic buger [sic] with strawberries and kiwi we offer this abomination. Good old garlicky pasta, in a waffle cone. How could you eat this? With a fork? Chopsticks? A spoon? The mind boggles. They didn't even have whipped cream and sprinkles.


Pa rum pum pum pum

A sunny day, a quiet spot in the shade, and a few friends with bongos of their own - no better time for a little percussion.


Prince Charming, I presume?

I'm unsure why there were large glowing frogs being transported on trucks through our neighbourhood last night. I think the most likely explanation is that the frogs are filled with dashing and handsome young Korean men, who are waiting for young Korean women to come kiss the frogs and release them. What do you think?


New-school colonialism

Yes, we are! With rabbit ears, for local flavour.


Korean Graffiti

Artistic communication of a socio-political message or unwanted and unsightly vandalism? You be the judge.


Information age

No more the leisurely cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Busy commuters can now save a few trees and catch up on world events in the local rag from these news stations. We still prefer the old-fashioned way.


Winged Victory

A hearty congratulations to Chris and Alison who have just completed the events of the Kelowna Marathon. Chris ran a 1:45ish half marathon, which, for those readers who have endeavoured to cover 21.1 kilometers on foot will know, is an excellent time. Alison, in her second of three full marathons this year, finished 42.2 km in an incredible 3:49ish, demolishing the four hour barrier with style. We are thrilled and very proud of them both. Their email after the run stated they are both well, so we hope much less scathed than the goddess from Samothrace seen here.


The bridge to Seonyudo

Seonyudo is an island in the Han River best reached by footbridge. Originally a retreat for gentleman scholars and poets, then home to Seoul's water purification plant, Seonyudo was converted into a public park a few years ago. Some of the industrial aspects of the water plant still remain, but most of the space has been given over to a greenhouse, gardens with carefully labelled flora and fauna, and an emphasis on eco-preservation and environmental consciousness. The postmodern combination of industry and nature make it impssible to forget one is in the city, but the island is a nice respite from the traffic.



Though native to the scrub fields and meadows of Mexico, the Cosmos seems to be the de facto national flower of Korea. Elderly folk stand and marvel at the fields of wildflowers, and six year olds in English schools, who can't make heads nor tails of cat and car can lift up the flower's name to the heavens.