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.