Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday 5: Korea Guidance

I see your pun, Friday 5. Well played.

What would be a better name for the color of goldenrod-colored paper?

What's wrong with "goldenrod"?

Where did you get your silverware?

Either IKEA or the grocery store downstairs.

It is a weird tradition in America (and possibly elsewhere) for parents to have their children’s baby shoes bronzed. What artifact from this past week would you have bronzed as a keepsake and heirloom?

Last week was pretty unremarkable. If I had to pick anything, it might be the toy dinosaur that lives with Chuck, one of my snake plants.

I have no sentimental attachment to the dinosaur or anything. (I bought it as part of a Jurassic Park costume a few years ago.) I just think it would be funny to have it bronzed. Maybe I'll just spray paint instead?

What was the most recent ceremony you attended?

The wedding I went to in August.

What east Asian cuisine is good for your Seoul?

I lived and taught in South Korea for over two years, as I've probably mentioned before, and one of the (many) things I miss big time is the food. The Korean diaspora means that Korean barbecue is familiar to most non-Koreans who live in any metropolitan area that approaches international; it seems that bibimbap is also gaining traction thanks to the recent health food obsession with "Buddha bowls."

But that is only the tip of the iceberg, my friend.

Korean street food is the best, hands down. (Apologies to all of the gatuköks and Philly pretzel carts out there, but it's true.) My favorite in this genre is tteokbokki: dense rice cakes in a sweet and spicy sauce. It wasn't uncommon for teachers at my first school to spring for a whole tray of these for a "snack party" after a particular class finished a level test, since they were cheap, tasty, and filling. It helped that we had a little snack shack in the first floor of our building.

A step up from street food are the ubiquitous gimbap restaurants. I don't know enough about Korean food history to know whether or not these restaurants predate the appearance of American-style fast food chains in the peninsula, but I would guess that they did. These places specialize in cheap, easy-to-make meals and are popular with broke students and people with criminally short lunch breaks. (This is also the kind of restaurant built into Korean spas.) The backbone dish of these restaurants is gimbap (rice, veggies, and sometimes meat rolled in a sheet of dried black seaweed) and all of its varieties, but the menus always include a wide assortment of variations on jjigaes, larger portions of popular street food, and a few odds and ends. Anything off the menu here will be fantastic, though my personal favorites are dolsot bibimbap, rabokki (a combination of the aforementioned tteokbokki and ramen), and cheesy ramen. I actually don't care that much for gimbap, ironically enough, because I'm not a huge fan of black seaweed.

When it comes to "real" restaurants, places start to narrow down their menus to a handful of specialty dishes (or a handful of variations on one particular dish). Now you have your Korean barbecue restaurants, with various cuts of pork or beef to grill at your table. I preferred the chicken stir-fry equivalent, the marinated version known as  dak galbi; sometimes my coworkers and I even went out for duck. You have seafood restaurants, with raw fish, squid, and octopus. You have, borrowed from Japan, shabu-shabu. On a slightly lesser tier, you have chicken-and-beer joints. You have what are theoretically restaurants but are really bars with obligatory anju (bar snacks, or bar more-than-a-snack-less-than-a-meal), like stir-fried rice or seafood or kimchi pancake-fritters. (These bars are usually famous for the quality of their anju, though, so having to order to be allowed to drink isn't a problem at all.)

But for me, the crown jewel of Korean cuisine is something else entirely. The city where I lived, Uijeongbu, is famous for budae jjigae, a relatively modern invention that takes a traditional jjigae and incorporates the kind of meat found in American military MREs: sausages, hot dogs and (of course) SPAM. Unlike other jjigaes, it's usually served with ramen and glass noodles right in the dish.

By LWY at flickr -, CC BY 2.0,

As far as I can tell, Korean entrepreneurs haven't brought budae jjigae abroad yet. I guess the immediate connection with scraps and cast-offs from American military bases doesn't really jibe with the image Korea wants to present to the rest of the world? But that's a tragedy, because budae jjigae is so damn good. I've learned to make a lot of Korean food myself, to scratch my Koreastalgia itch, but the one thing that you can never just make yourself is budae jjigae. It's a dish best cooked in huge heaping batches, tended by a watchful restaurant employee, and enjoyed in the company of others. Like, if I were fabulously, obscenely wealthy, I would open a budae jjigae restaurant in Stockholm. That is how much I love this dish. One day...!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pi Day 2018: Mathart and Islamic Design

This is usually a spot where I hype some cool pi stuff I've found on my Internet meanderings, but truthfully I'm not really excited by a whole lot at the moment. I'd like to broaden the scope to mathart instead.

Mathart, as a hashtag, doesn't seem to have the same draw as sciart (has there ever been a mathart tweetstorm? it doesn't seem like it), but nonetheless you can find some cool stuff in there. One of the more popular artists (and one of my favorites) is Regolo and their abstract geometrical designs:

I love this on so many levels. So. Many.

Another recurring theme throughout the mathart hashtag is islamicdesign. Not surprising, since so much of Islamic art is explicitly geometry-based. There are lots of different people chiming in on this hashtag; the best example is maybe in the Islamic Design workbook from Eric Broug. Here's a math teacher from Michigan working through one of those designs:

And here's a designer applying the same concepts (with some more...artistic license? finesse?) to fashion design:

It's exactly this kind of symmetry and abstract geometrical art that I like best in adult coloring books. That's what I first got into, and then it seemed like the trend tilted towards the magic forest style of representational art with lots of little fiddly doodly bits. That's well and good, but I jut want my shapes to color...! I like that Broug's workbook has you first construct the design before you color it. That extra wrinkle makes it a little more engaging, and it's enough to make me want to order a copy for myself.

Happy pi day!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 17, Part II: Wedding at Old Orchard Beach

"Wouldn't it be funny if we saw Walter and Seth?" L asked as we tooled around, looking for a parking spot. I don't know if he said that because he'd already seen the two lanky figures, one blonde and one brunette, ahead of us or if he was just idly wondering, but there they were.

"That's totally them," I said, and waved my arms as we drove past. Maybe L honked? Somehow we caught their attention and they wave back. L found a place to park and we spilled out to say hello. Bucky with her family (baby Luca, husband Joe) and Becca with her boyfriend were also wandering around, so we stood and caught up in the middle of the sidewalk.

The last time I was in Old Orchard Beach was in 2008, at the very beginning of June, or maybe the end of May. Tourist season hadn't started yet and everything was largely abandoned. It felt like we had the whole town to ourselves. I couldn't imagine it being any kind of major travel destination.

In the short drive around with L, I could see there are a lot more people than the last time I was here. Parking along the street was pretty crowded (maybe it was wedding guests?) and a steady trickle of cars passed us by as we talked on the sidewalk. We didn't see anything of the bride (Shufang) beforehand, but we caught the groom, Aaron, and the groomsmen (and groomswoman) to say hello and introduce ourselves.

The ceremony was brief and bilingual, with Aaron's dad reading some bits in Chinese and Shufang's father reading some bits in English, and mercifully free of tepid Bible verses. ("If I have to hear 'love is patient, love is kind...' at one more wedding," L had grumbled on the way up. Saved!) They exchanged the rings and everything and, for the third time, they were married (they'd already had two weddings in China: one more or less ceremonial and one legal). In my head I made a joke about how does this mean they need to get divorced three times if they want it to stick, but I thought better of it and didn't say anything. Everyone left the venue to the tune of "Can't Help Falling in Love" as rendered by a dude with a guitar, and we had a few minutes to kill before the lunchtime reception at Joseph's By the Sea. L wanted to head to the beach, and I did too, so after we stopped for some coffee with Becca and her boyfriend, we wandered towards the shore.

I hadn't been to a beach in ages, so it felt really good to take off my shoes and get some sand between my toes. L and I both went right down to the water and got our feet wet. He was wearing long dress pants, so it didn't quite work out for him like it did for me in my knee-length dress.

We walked back to the reception, L soaked almost all the way up to his knees.

"Do you want a towel?" Becca asked. "We have one in our room."

"Nah, I'm fine. It's just water. It'll evaporate."

The reception wass at a mixed indoor-outdoor space, a restaurant that had a porch and then patio leading down to a lawn overlooking the beach. (Hence "Joseph's by the Sea," I guess.) L and I milled around and ate at a table on the lawn, accidentally separating ourselves from the rest of the Hamilton crew and spending the lunch with the bride and some of her friends instead, chatting about public health and economics.

Then it was time for wedding party photos. They took some photos of the bridal party on the little wooden porch, and during the photos of just Shufang and Aaron, a parasailer drifted by, in a huge skull-and-crossbones parachute. I immediately remembered Aaron as he was in college, plaid pants and a Misfits t-shirt; there couldn't have been anything more appropriate to suddenly fly over his wedding. I'm sure the photographer tried to keep that out of the shot, though, which is too bad.

We joined everyone else back on the patio after the toasts, and the cake was cut and the dancing began. There were a few short family dances to Aselin Debison's version of "Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World" and then everything really kicked off with "Ballroom Blitz." No one danced at first, except Aaron and Shufang. I was a few drinks in by now and fidgeting in my seat. After maybe thirty seconds I couldn't stand it anymore and rushed the dance floor to keep Aaron company. He grinned.

"I always want them to play this at wedding receptions and they never do," he said-shouted over the music. "I told the DJ I wanted this song at least. I don't care about anything else."

The rest of the playlist was equally danceable and we danced our collective asses off. L even got a chance to use his contradance powers to save the day when no one could remember how to do the electric slide. I always assumed it was like a collective racial memory; that a large enough group of people will just know how to do the electric slide, but nope.

All the Hamilton people drifted out to the lawn for a breather. The photographer wanted to get some photos ("Great, when everyone's all sweaty from dancing?" I complained mostly to myself) and so we crammed into assorted group shots in between conversations. All that taken care of, L decided it was time to drive back to Albany soon (eight hours in a car for four hours at a wedding? I guess...) and so he and Walter and I ducked out so I could drop my bag in Walter's car to make sure it didn't end up back in Albany.

When Walter and I got back to the restaurant, it was clear that the rest of the reception was beginning to wind down. The restaurant needed to start getting ready for dinner, so by 4 p.m. things had more or less wrapped up. We returned to the motel and I hopped into a closet to change out of my dress and into a tank top and bike shorts. My thighs were on FIRE.

I wanted to know what we were doing next so I could give Typhani a heads up, and eventually we decided on dinner. Things took a little negotiating and research, since both Becky and Becca have Celiac's and thus restaurants need to be reliably gluten-free. After all of the appropriate preparations are made--changing clothes, setting up baby playpens, using the bathroom--we left. We had a little trouble finding the restaurant. It was peak tourist hour along the boardwalk, and we were swamped with swarms of people and families, loud music, signs announcing beer specials, and kiosks hawking typical beach tourist gear. I had sudden flashbacks to the boardwalk shops at Rehoboth Beach, where my family vacationed every summer for years.

After some finangling and Google maps and asking a traffic crossing guard, we managed to figure out where we were and how to get to the beach shack/diner-y place Becca we had settled on.  Typhani had a heck of a time trying to find parking, but she managed to squeak in right after we order. The food was filling, though not particularly memorable, and we talked and joked away for a couple of hours.

There were plans to go to some bar or other after dinner and hang out with Aaron and his friends. But first I had to go back to the motel and get my bag into Typhani's car. Becky was there before us, getting Luca settled and still coming down off whatever fight she'd had with her husband before dinner. I gave her a good, solid hug and then Typhani and I were off to the afterparty.

Oh good Lord, it was TOO MUCH. Now my long day was starting to hit me, also paired with Typhani and what I knew about her own sensibilities. The loud sports/dance bar with fog machine and lasers? Not her scene. And it wasn't feeling like much of mine, either. But I said hello to  Aaron and introduced him to Typhani and congratulated him, and he let us know that there was a breakfast tomorrow morning for everyone courtesy one of his aunts. We hugged goodnight, and Typhani and I were officially on our way to the camp in Pittsfield. It wasn't as long a round-trip drive to make as the drive from Albany to Old Orchard Beach, but it wasn't a short one.

"The camp" is really a prefab little cabin, but it's surprisingly well-designed and roomy-feeling (and solid-feeling) for being what it is. The property belonged to Typhani's grandmother and used to house what she described as a crazy, rambling shotgun shack that kept having additions added to it, with light switches outside of rooms and wobbly stairs that went up too high and then had to descend down again. But it had burned down a while back and Typhani's mother used the insurance money to get the cabin. I dumped my bag in one of the two bedrooms and fished out my gifts: some Söderte and my copy of Journal of a Solitude.

"I think you'll really like it," I explained as I handed it over. "It's about a woman who just spends a year living out in the country, just writing."

Typhani is big into the homesteading and farming movement, and by her own admission she was on the verge of getting the farm she had set up with her ex to finally turn a profit when he dumped her. The plan now is set her nose to the grindstone and get her own homestead and community farm up and running herself, but these things take time, especially considering her invisible health struggles. In the meanwhile, I thought May Sarton could keep her company.

Typhani also has a gift for me: a little clay owl magnet that she made:

We stood around and chatted for a bit. It was close to midnight by now and I was feeling a little delirious from exhaustion and dancing. It felt like I'd been up for days. Exhaustion and dancing also meant I was sweaty and gross, so I hopped in the shower and heat blasted all of the grime right off of me. Nothing like hygiene to make you feel human again.

"How many bucks do I feel like?" I announced when I come out of the bathroom. "A million."

With that, I bid my hostess good night and collapse onto the brand-new bed.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Newly Listed: Fuschia Chemistry Bracelet

Hey guys, remember when I used this space to talk about my jewelry and stuff? Yeah, me too. Now that the sun is making a comeback here in Stockholm, I can engage in my favorite hobby* again: item photography! And with new photos come new listings!

A hot pink chemistry bracelet featuring Avogadro's number that would be a great gift for chemists and chemistry nerds.
Avogadro bracelet by Kokoba Jewelry

So I don't really know what color this is? The glass beads are a really fun and funky iridescent so it's hard to say what color they "really" are.

A hot pink chemistry bracelet featuring Avogadro's num

From a distance they look mostly pink or fuschia or magenta or something, so I guess choose one of those.

I realized too late, also, that I forgot to edit out or crop out that little bit of cupboard label in the bottom left there. It says "RICE IN HERE!" and surprise, that's where the rice lives! It's also where my international tea collection lives. Enjoy that peak behind the curtain!

A hot pink chemistry bracelet featuring Avogadro's num

Continuing in that "funky" theme, the spacer beads in this bracelet are aluminum cubes. (I'm guessing they're aluminum based on how lightweight they are, anyway.) I love, love, love cube as a bead shape and I want more of that in my bead box and in my life. It's such a simple shape (visually, at least), and yet it's so eye-catching.

A hot pink chemistry bracelet featuring Avogadro's num

Alas I couldn't continue the cube/square theme in the toggle, but a toggle is never not the perfect bracelet clasp so I don't really mind. The base metal toggles I have are understated and simple enough that it still works.

The number in this one, if you didn't figure it out by now, is Avogadro's number. It's Pi Day this week, but let's not forget that Mol Day (10/23) will be upon us before we know it!

*Not actually my favorite hobby.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Friday 5: Dog

Happy year of the dog!

What doglike traits do you possess?

I'd like to think that I'm an unflaggingly loyal ride-or-die friend. I'm also usually pretty optimistic (or as optimistic as being a realist gets you) and bounce out of bad moods easily, though I wouldn't call myself full-on "cheerful."

What’s your favorite dog movie?

I'm going to go ahead and count Babe in this one. It's about a pig who acts like a dog and does a dog's job in a dog's world, so I say it's close enough.

When did you last have a hot dog?

Probably when I had a tunnbrödsrulle from a random gatukök (literally "street kitchen") back in the fall. For the uninitiated:

Image courtesy

I don't really like hot dogs at all, but in the interest of Drunk Swedish Tradition opted to try one. The standard recipe calls for two but I could have sworn that mine only had one. It's some of the heaviest drinking food I've ever had; it's not a snack, it's a full-on meal. (These days I opt for the sit-down kebab places and go for a plate. No less filling, but more manageable. And no hotdogs.)

Who is (or was) a good celebrity dog?

I always felt sorry for the chihuahuas that got toted along in celebrity purses. Has that stopped being a thing? I hope so.

What are you doing for chow this weekend?

Friday nights are pizza nights. Saturdays I usually have tea or coffee and some sweets at my morning tutoring appointment, then a small lunch at home,  then either dinner with one of my tutoring families (usually homemade pizza or a Persian dish of some variety) or at home. Sunday will be a morning tea and snack with another tutoring appointment, and then either food at home (sandwiches, pyttipanna) or take-out at a friend's.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What I Read: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I've long been interested in Russian literature, so when this title came up in the comments section of my favorite writing blog, I added it to my towering GoodReads "to read" shelf. A book club buddy gifted me a copy earlier this year and so I immediately sat down to read it.

Nothing happens, which will either bother you or it won't. I've long been a fan of the "slice of life" kind of stories, where small struggles gain epic proportions (television shows like The Adventures of Pete and Pete or Seinfeld, movies like Clerks), and that's largely what One Day... is. It's just that the backdrop is a prison camp instead of American suburban life. If your tastes overlap with mine, then you'll get a lot out of it. But if "a book about nothing, set in a gulag" sounds tedious to you, then it probably won't be a lot of fun to read. (Not that it was "fun," exactly.)

Aside: reading this in February in Stockholm is just like...the weather? Relateable struggle, my dude. Actual text I sent a friend (who currently lives in Dubai, the bastard) two weeks ago:


On that particular morning I should note I was wearing a coat, hat, and scarf, plus two layers of bottoms and two or three layers of tops. Was it Soviet gulag cold? (Which according to the book was minus 20 *C?) No, probably not. But still. Relateable struggle.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Capitalism Alternatives: Simbi

Around Christmas last year, I stumbled on the website Simbi. The idea is simple: connecting people around the world to trade and exchange via bartering instead of money. Users list the services they can provide and the help that they need, and the rest is self-explanatory.

I'm not naive enough to believe that we can build a complex and thriving society based purely on trade and bartering. We live in a global economy and you can't PayPal an order of groceries across the globe; much as I love freshly-baked bread, it would get pretty tiring to cart bags of it on the bus and then subway on my way home from a lesson every week. Thus, the utility of money.

At the same time, there's still plenty that can be traded or bartered for, as money is a way to value things, not a value in and of itself. (Though I'm sure most minor and mid-level bloggers and YouTubers reach a point where they'd rather get paid money than get a free monthly subscription box or bag of cat food or whatever.) Enter Simbi.

I joined as a favor to a friend of a friend, part of a holiday wishlist granting event. If you join Simbi through someone's affiliate-ish link, they get site credits ("simbis"). That's why I did it, originally; it was a free and easy thing to do, and it got someone else something that they valued. But then I stumbled on to a huge community of people with a variety of skills, services, and sometimes even goods to trade. Before the calendar rolled over to 2018 I'd already completed my first major deal—critiquing someone's sci-fi novella. Good practice for me as an editor, and while I wasn't paid in fungible government-backed currency, I still got something out of it. (In this case, the simbis I earned through novella critiquing were enough to cover the cost of social media promotion for my Etsy.)

Full disclosure: The links to Simbi I use throughout this post are my own affiliate-ish link, so if you join by clicking one of them, I'll get 25 simbis. I'll get another 25 if or when you complete your first deal. But it's not a pyramid scheme setup, so I don't take any cut of your deals.

When I first signed up, I was ambivalent about it; I will fully admit that it was the gamification aspect they added, with badges and completion percentages, that got me to set up my profile as thoroughly as I did and to offer as many initial services as I did. But then I was surprised when people immediately flagged interest in what I had to offer, including people who had knowledge that could really benefit me!

I can see how Simbi would be a really valuable platform for artists. Anyone trying to sell art or other indulgences (like, I don't know, STEM-inspired jewelry...?) knows that it's really hard to navigate the shark-infested reefs of consumer capitalism. Too much money and you price yourself out of the market; too little money and you're working for less than minimum wage. Psychology also means that sometimes things sell better when they're more expensive, because people perceive it as being of high quality (but not too much more expensive, or you have the problem of pricing yourself out of the market), but somehow you're still always trying to convince people that your art is "worth" the price you've put on it, whatever "worth" means.

But trading on Simbi can simplify that process. There are quite a few tax specialists on the site; maybe one of them could help settle your accounts with the tax man in exchange for a painting, sculpture, or photograph? Maybe you can find someone local to fix that creaky porch step in exchange for a custom portrait? One of my favorite Simbi deals was a custom piece of high-res digital art (which will shortly be professionally printed, framed, and up on my wall) in exchange for a few simbis, some Swedish candy, and one of my gel electrophoresis bracelets. I was able to work with an incredible artist and scratch an art itch that I've had for years.

Is it a substitute for being paid (like, actually paid) for your work? No, definitely not. But I've found it to be a meaningful supplement. Not the least because Simbi provides an environment for anxiety-free, meaningful social interaction. There are two factors at play here, I think. One is that because so much of the interaction around Simbi is based on negotiating deals and transactions, conversations with people are goal-oriented rather than open-ended. For me, that removes like 95% of the anxiety I have around talking to people. Smalltalk is hell, but transactions are easy. The other is that people on the site, by and large, have a healthy balance of idealism and practicality.* I'm an idealist at heart and at the end of the day that's where my inner compass points, but I won't deny that frou-frou hippie types can be (willfully?) ignorant and frustrating to work with.

*There definitely some weirdos, though. But there are always weirdos, and the Internet means you can just choose not to engage with the weirdos.

Real talk: sometimes I get tired of the Kokoba Etsy. Like, really super ultra tired. (And I realize it's the height of melodrama to say this when I haven't listed anything new in, uh, a long-ass time. It's still true. Peep my pretty high-key inactivity here.) But I've always been more interested in sending my jewelry to appreciative nerds than making this a 24/7 job. Hobby artists and crafters who sell their stuff will spend 90% of their hobby time creating and 10% of it marketing; pros will spend 90% of their time marketing and 10% creating to be able to sustain themselves. That doesn't sound like an awesome work-life balance to me, and frankly I'm not cut out for that.

Simbi, for me, represents an alternative. I can keep cranking out pi bracelets and DNA necklaces to keep my hands busy, but now my only option to offload them isn't to market myself. If I can trade them for cool things (like custom digital map art, recipes, ASL lessons, help with my complicated expat taxes, or houseplant caretaking tips), why not?