Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

This Thanksgiving, I'm away from my family. This marks the  third Thanksgiving in a row I've been away from home for my favorite American holiday. With all due love and respect to my family, though, there's no place I'd rather be than where I am right now. I'm making the most of my time here in South Korea, spending it with friends I may never see again. Friends I would have never met if I hadn't decided to take this oddball route to South Korea, even while juggling my crafting and ultimate expatriation to Sweden. In that spirit of gratitude, awe and wonderment, I offer you this oft-quoted pearl of wisdom from Carl Sagan:

Carl Sagan apple pie quote

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ten Books Every Woman In Her Twenties Should Read

This came to me via Pinterest; I suspect it was one of those many, many pins that people repin without going back to the original source, because I don't think the woman I follow would be so vapid as to actually like or recommend the books listed. Anyway, here it is:

10 Books Every Girl Should Read in Her Twenties

The comments are hilarious, but I decided to take one half of the flame war's advice to heart and write my own list. So here it is!

I thought about the criteria for a moment, probably more than I should: what life lessons do I think women my age "should" be learning? Why should you read any book at all? Is the purpose of a list like this entertain, to educate, or both? Neither? What makes a book of particular interest to women, as opposed to everyone? I think the list ended up kind of schizophrenic in that regard, but I think it's nonetheless an improvement.

(At Least) 10 Books Every Woman Should Read in Her Twenties, by Kokoba
  1. For the coming-of-age tale, I'd have to choose either Martha Quest or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Both have female protagonists approaching, or eventually in, their twenties; they are both well-drawn and complex characters that I think (hope?) most women can relate to, despite both books being published over fifty years ago.
  2. The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf. While I think criticisms of her (lack of) intersectionality are fair (it's more than middle class white women in feminism), The Beauty Myth was incredibly eye-opening for me. Wolf articulated so many things that I felt but couldn't adequately express. You'll never look at a magazine the same way again.
  3. Likewise, Betty Friedan's seminal The Feminine Mystique, the other big feminist text of the 20th century.
  4. Much as I hate money, we live in a world where managing finances is important. The two names I see tossed around a lot when it comes to money and saving are Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey. So either Orman's The Money Book For the Young, Fabulous, and Broke or Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. Preferably both.
  5. On the flip side of money, I'd also recommend Bill McKibben's Deep Economy. You can agree or disagree with his solution (I don't think turning everything over to local communities is any kind of magic bullet cure), but the problem he outlines is compelling and worth serious consideration at a point in your life when you're laying the foundations for everything else: growth for the sake of growth doesn't make us happy.
  6. What's being in your twenties without ridiculous shenanigans? Not as fun (or dangerous) as it could be. But if that's not your bag, don't worry: the characters in Iris Murdoch's Under the Net get up to extremely hilarious mischief for you. Likewise, when you're down and out, watching someone else's life go to shambles is perversely comforting. This is the perfect book for that occasional morning-after moment: "My God, what did I do last night?!" Confession: this book has definitely provided that kind of comfort for me.
  7. Perhaps the only item from the original list that I'd keep is 20-Something, 20-Everything by Christine Hassler. I'm not normally one for woo-sounding self-help books, but we all need moments of introspection and over the course of the book Hassler forces you into just that.
  8. If I'm allowed to skew my list towards my nerdy pursuits (and I am, because it's my damn list!), then this slot goes to either Carl Sagan's Cosmos or Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Not only our world, but our universe is an immeasurably vast and spectacular place; to go through life without that epiphany is a sad life indeed.
  9. Your mother's (or mother-substitute's) favorite book. Lawyer Mom was also a fiendish bookworm growing up, and when I turned ten she gave me her favorite book of all time, A Wrinkle in Time. Sharing favorite books deepens relationships, and maintaining strong relationships with positive female role models is important when you're young and directionless. Even if you hate the book, you've still learned something about her you didn't know before.
  10. And, finally, allow me one piece of cheese on this list: Paulo Coehlo's Veronika Decides to Die. You can summarize the whole book as "carpe diem," honestly, but it really resonated with me when I read it at age 23.

And that, after days of deliberation, would be my list of "10 books every woman in her twenties should read."

 What's yours?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Music Monday: Booker T. and the M.G.s

Don't you ever wish your life had a soundtrack? I know I do, and yesterday my soundtrack for the day would just be one long extended version of this song.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 4

Day 4 was Friday, which was when I was leaving Gwangju to see a friend in Busan. I had to do at least one May 18th related thing while I was in Gwangju (see my reason for choosing to visit it at all), so I decided the best one would be the May 18th National Cemetery. I kind of wish I had done something for the April 19th protest as well, but truth be told there wasn't that much.

The bus that goes to the cemetery (and the surrounding cemeteries where I think other victims of the May 18th massacre are buried) is the number 518. 518. 5/18. I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.

I totally spaced out on the bus and accidentally rode it to the end of the line, which is an old folks' home.

Putting the old folks' home next to a shit load of cemeteries? Really?

Anyway, I had an awkward little moment where I got out of the bus, sat at the bus stop and read for a few minutes, then got back on the same bus with the same driver, but whatever. Fortunately I hadn't overshot the cemetery by nearly as much as I thought I had, so it was all good.

I kind of lost it at the cemetery, y'all. Maybe it's because I'm a big baby, but it was an awfully sobering couple hours. I've been to war memorials before (trips to Washington, D.C. much?) which are in the same vein, but none of them have been as serious and real to me as this. Everyone who died in the May 18th massacre were civilians, or students (at least, everyone buried in this cemetery; I don't think the police officers or paratroopers who died are buried in this cemetery), which to me makes it entirely different. Soldiers are expected (sadly) to die; students are not. Especially not at the hands of their own government. Plus, so many of them would be my parents' age, about, if they had survived: all of these people would have been someone's father or mother, if things had been different. They could have been the parents of someone who would have been my friend. Not to mention even younger casualties: small children inadvertently caught in the crossfire.

In case it's hard to read:
Here in the National Cemetery for the May 18th Democratic Uprising lie the meritorious persons who fought and sacrificed themselves during the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and those laudable victims who died in the aftermath of the physical or mental injuries they sustained.

The bodies of the victims were carried in garbage trucks and carts and buried without official reognition in the Old May 18 Cemetery (the 3rd graveyard of the Municipal Cemetery).

With the completion of a 3-year conservation project (1994-1997), all bodies were moved and reburied together in this new cemetery. In accordance with the Act on the Honorable Treatment for Meritorious Persons of the May 18th Uprising, this cemetery, which had been managed by the Gwangju Municipal Administration, was promoted and renamed as the National Cemetery for the May 18th Democratic Uprising on July 27, 2002 by the Korean state.

This cemetery will function as an education center, promoting the conviction that injustice and dictatorship should never return to this country, so that the spirit of the May 18th may be engraved on the hearts of all people making this a sacred place for democracy forever.

Beyond the "gate" is the cemetery proper.

English translation:

Oh, Gwangju! The Cross of Our Nation! by Kim Jun-tae

Oh, Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Our city of eternal youth
that sheds blood tears
between deaths!

Where has our father gone?
Where has our mother collapsed?
Where has our Son died and been buried?
And, where does our Daughter lie dead, her mouth gaping?
Where have our soul and spirit
gone, torn and broken into pieces?

Gwangju, which both God and birds have left!
Our blood-covered city
where decent people
are still alive, morning and evening,
collapsing, falling down, and rising again!
Ah, the phoenix, the phoenix, the phoenix
of the South Province full of wailing
that has tried to drive away death with death,
and to seek life with death!

When the sun and the moon nosedive
and all the mountain ridges
stand shamelessly high,
ah, the flag of liberty
that nobody can tear down
or take away!
The flag of humanity!
The flag, hardened with flesh and bones!

Oh, our city
where at times our songs, dreams, and love
roll like waves,
and at other times we are hidden in graves.
Oh, Gwangju, Gwangju
who carries the cross of this nation,
climbing over Mudeung Mountain,
and walks over the hill of Golgotha!
Oh, the son of God,
whose whole body is covered with wounds,
and who is the emblem of death!

Are we really quite dead?
unable to love this country any more,
unable to love our children any more?
Are we absolutely dead?

On Chungjangro, on Kumnamro,
At Hwajungdong, at Sansoodong, at Yongbongdong
At Jisandong, at Yangdong, at Kyerimdong,
And, and, and . . . .
Ah, the wind that blows over,
gobbling up our blood and flesh!
The hopeless flow of time!

Should we now
just collapse, fall, and cry?
Terrified of life, how should we
breathe a breath?

Oh, all those survive
lower their heads like sinners.
All those still alive have lost
spirit, and they find it difficult
even to face their rice bowls.
Afraid, they don’t know what to do.

(Dear, I was killed
while I was waiting for you,
waiting for you outside the door.
Why did they take away my life?
Though we lived in a rented room,
we were quite happy.
I wanted to live, loving you.
Oh, my dear!
But I was killed like this,
pregnant with a child of yours.
I am sorry, my dear!
They took away my life from me,
and I took away everything of yours,
your youth, your love,
your son, and all.
Oh, my dear! In the end,
did I kill you?)

Oh, Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Our city of eternal youth
who breaks through deaths
and flutters the ends of white clothes!
The phoenix, the phoenix, the phoenix!
The son of God of this nation
who climbs up the hill of Golgotha again,
carrying the cross of this nation!

Jesus is said to have died once
and been resurrected,
and to live till this day or rather forever.
But our true love
that would die hundreds of deaths
and yet resurrects itself hundreds of times!
Our light, glory, and pain.
Now we will be revived ever more.
Now we become ever stronger.
Now we – ever more.

Oh, now we,
putting our shoulders to shoulders, bones to bones,
climb the Mudeung Mountain of this nation.
Oh, we rise up to the oddly blue sky
to kiss the sun and the moon.

Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Oh, our eternal flag!
Our dream, our cross!
The city of youth that will get younger
as time goes by!
Now we are firmly united,
surely and surely,
we hold each other’s hands tight
and rise up.

To the one side there was an indoor photo memorial, with photos of everyone interred and either white or yellow artificial flowers. To the other was a "tree memorial," a rather nice, bright contrast to the dark and serious photo memorial. It's basically a nicely-manicured garden.

On the same side as the tree memorial was the May 18th museum, one of the more modern museums I've seen in Korea. Since the cemetery was dedicated in the early 2000s, its modernity makes sense. I would have gotten more out of it if my Korean weren't terrible, as they had short documentaries playing at every exhibit, but I did absorb as much of the English signage as I could. (I have to say, I don't think I could stomach an old school Korean version of a May 18th museum: those would be the bloodiest, most upsetting dioramas of all time.)

The one that stuck with me the most, for whatever reason, was a very small display containing wrist watches. These were the old fashioned kind that needed to be rewound, and since their owners were shot, no one rewound them after May 1980.

The whole time I only saw a handful of other people, which made everything even more serious, somehow; loads of families and shrieking kids would have taken away from the atmosphere.

That was the entirety of my day; after this I had a couple hours on buses before I got to my next destination: Kimhae/Busan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 3

I got off my duff and went to Soswaewon Garden. It was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, but a bit smaller than I expected/hoped for. Nonetheless, I saw my first-ever bamboo grove! How cool! I've never seen bamboo in the wild before because I am a loser of a white person who lives in really urban Asia!

Then, it was a long bus ride back to Gwangju proper. Long. I figured out my bus wasn't going to the bus terminal near where I was staying, so once in Gwangju I got off at a stop to change to a bus that was, but it was still a nice ride. I like riding buses, I guess. I'm a weirdo.

I tried to find a park afterwards, to enjoy the nice weather and people watch, but the one I tried to find COULD NOT BE FOUND. Signs had me wandering around a rather sad and poor-looking neighborhood, which isn't entirely weird because the entrance to Bukhansan Park is exactly the same thing, except there was never any entrance; the indicated street just dead-ended, so I looked like either a lost white person or a douchebag class tourist. Annoyed, I went back to the terminal, had Jeonju-style bibimbap for dinner, and had a nice long soak in the sauna (where I was promptly English bombed).

It was kind of a dud of a day, but it was better than sitting in my motel room doing nothing, I suppose! And Soswaewon was really unbelievably lovely, an infinitely big version of it would be my idea of heaven. My pictures do not do it justice.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 2 (Election Day)

I stayed in my motel room until dinner to watch CNN (HILARIOUS!!!), the concession and acceptance speeches. Overall, I was rather pleased with the outcome.

Buoyed by my smug liberal schadenfreude, I went across town to "Tteokgalbi Street" which is not as cohesive or as well-advertised as the Budae Jjigae Street in Uijeongbu. Frustrating! Nonetheless, I found a restaurant (not too skeezy, not too fancy) and gorged myself on tteokgalbi. It seems to be a regional specialty that I have also never heard of before! Before a few days ago, anyway, when I was casting about on the Internet to see what I should do/eat in Gwangju.

It was a bit of a shenanigans situation to find the place, but I did! On the subway ride over, an ajumma decided to dote on me. She offered to hold my bag (which, despite reading in my "Rough Guide to Korea" that this is a thing that happens all the time, WAS THE FIRST TIME A STRANGER'S DONE THAT EVER), and then when the seat next to her opened up she pulled on my sleeve to let me know the seat was open. After the first couple stops she dug into her purse and forced some candies into my hand. I smiled and said thank you, and put them in my purse for later (I seriously was going to save them for after my planned calorie binge of a dinner). Right before her stop came up, she also handed me a bag full of tteok! Aw! If she had gotten off at my stop I would have asked her to come to dinner with me. I had a couple right then because I was hungry and I also wanted her to know that I appreciated her gifts of food.

Gwangju is in Jeolla province, which is considered the bread basket of Korea. There is an astounding variety of food available and I will never get a chance to eat it all (especially because I hate going to restaurants alone and also because of my above seafood rule). Jong-min assured me I woud notice the difference if I ever went out to eat: "They'll have a lot more side dishes than they do in Seoul. They just have so much more food. They always have." At my tteok galbi dinner I had ten different banchan. TEN! The last time I'd had so many was when I got ssambap in Gyeongju. There were four kinds of kimchi alone, plus bean sprouts and daikon and anchovies (pass) and red beans in sesame oil. Not to mention a wide variety of greenery in which to wrap the meat, instead of just the usual romaine lettuce; the best was a very mild perilla leaf.

After I had sated myself on minced rib meat and garlic, I went back to my motel room and enjoyed a bottle of makgeolli before turning in early. Things to do the next morning, after all!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Science Saturday: The Khasi, The Karbi, and Women in STEM

I had read about this study ages ago but had never thought to look it up or bookmark it for reference. Then I broke one of the first rules of the Internet and (unwittingly) fed a troll on a feminist board on Pinterest; fortunately Googling for the study was relatively painless as I remembered enough salient details to ensure its quick retrieval.

Check this shit out, y'all!

Researchers led by Moshe Hoffman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego, studied villagers from both tribes. Genetically, the Khasi and Karbi are highly similar: the groups only became separate a few hundred years ago and some intermarriage continues. Both groups are also subsistence farmers, living mainly on rice in a hilly region that gets world-record levels of rainfall.
Culturally, however, they are quite distinct. The Karbi are patrilineal. Women are only rarely allowed to own land and the eldest son in each family inherits the property. Political and religious leadership is male-dominated and girls leave school nearly four years earlier than boys. 
Among the Khasi, though, women are the landowners, with no exceptions. Inheritance goes to the youngest daughter and men are not supposed to handle money. Even cash earned by men working outside the family farm is typically given to their wives. Both genders are equally educated...
...Hoffman and his colleagues studied 1,279 people, from four Khasi and four Karbi villages, paying them for their time to test their ability to solve block puzzles. Each block was divided into four parts and tests were scored by how fast people could accurately assemble the pictures painted on them. The puzzles were designed to test participants’ spatial abilities, which are linked to math and science aptitude. 
Among the male-dominated Karbi, men were 36% faster at solving the block puzzles than women. But about a third of the overall difference was attributable to the greater education received by the boys among the Karbi, and the rest seemed to be linked to other cultural differences. 
Among the Khasi, the difference between men and women was so small that it was not statistically significant. “This study tells us that culture does matter,” says Hoffman. “What makes [it] unique is that we can control for biology.”
The idea that women simply "don't do" math, or hard science, or whatever, can be traced pretty clearly back to the Enlightenment, where "rational" and "logical" fields of study were decided to be the superior (and therefore, masculine) fields, while "irrational" or "emotional" things were declared women's territory. Educating a woman in a field for men was seen as a waste of time and resources.

Even though we've come a long way, that great schism in the Enlightenment is still with us today, though more subtle and less egregiously offensive: how often do you hear people talk about left brain/right brain dynamics? Unfortunately, the idea that the staggering lack of women in STEM positions is due to "women be different than men" rather than cultural issues is still with us, despite the study cited above.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 1

I realized I should probably document my glorious vacation as well as I can, for posterity and all that jazz. So: a belated account of my first day in Gwangju!

After an afternoon to rest up and dry off in my motel room, Day 1 of the Glorious Vacation was spent on a museum binge. The Gwangju Museum of Art, The Gwangju Folk Museum, and the Gwangju Biennale (some kind of international art exhibit; apparently there are Biennales in other cities but Gwangju is the first I've ever heard of one) are all next to each other, so I hit all three in one go!

The first one was the Gwangju Museum of Art, which I think I accidentally snuck in without paying the 500 won entrance fee. My bad! The three main exhibits were: a variety of Chinese artists ranging from standard to kind of modern/avant garde; three kinda weirder Chinese artists; a Zainichi (Japanese of Korean descent) artist named Lee Ufan who is THE MOST BORING ARTIST WHO EVER ARTED. I still don't get modern art, you guys.

A whole gallery full of that. I just...what? It would be neat wallpaper or fabric, but framed art? Seriously?

The best part of that exhibit was the little biographical placque about the fellow who donated most of these incredibly boring pieces of art. The highlight: "Hopefully, his honorable and admirable spirit everlastingly continues to radiate."

I LOVE KONGLISH, YOU GUYS. I love how dramatic and pseudo-poetic this sounds in English because I can pretty much guarantee this is a word-for-word translation, with only word order changed (for the sake of grammar). Occasionally when Jong-min translates snippets of Korean subtitles in American news stories back into English, they sound more or less like the above—and it's not because Jong-min speaks weirdo quasi-archaic English.

There were some really cool art pieces too, that appealed to my more conservative, representationlist tastes. I really liked one that included a link to their  blog right in the painting. How Andy Warhol of them!

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to get a Chinese-speaking friend to translate it for me.

Here's the painting in particular that I liked:

Someone can earn all of the gold stars by telling me what the character in the painting means/represents!

Alas, finding anything else online seems to tax the limits of Google Image Search. They will just have to stay burned in my memory forever! (Because I forgot to put my memory card in my camera, d'oh!)

I wandered outside the art museum and followed the signs to the Gwangju Folk Museum. I love the Folk Museums in Korea, they're kind of tacky (and frightening, if you include some of the badly-stuffed animals....somehow weasels get the worst of it) but they're still pretty neat. I love old school museum dioramas and a Folk Museum is always, basically, a giant diorama. The best part was a display of all the different traditional Jeolla dishes, which was adorable and also kind of redundant. If I had to summarize the provincial cuisine in four words, those words would be: PICKLE ALL THE THINGS.

Also (and I'm glad I still had my notebook with me wherein I noted the most hilarious/interesting/appalling things) there was a mat made from human hair. I can't imagine reclining on a cushion lined with hair from my own  head, but then people shed SO MUCH it would be a waste not to use it for something "back in the day."

I still had plenty of time to kill before typical museum closing time, so I decided to cough up the 14,000 won (expensive, considering the last two museums were 500 won each) for the Biennale. It was a mix between really cool concepts and a bunch of hyper-academic nonsense. There were two installations in particular that I really liked.

The first was by a Mexican artist named Pedro Reyes, called "Imagine." I guess it would qualify as performance art? He collected like 1,200 unused weapons and, working with a whole team of people, turned them into musical instruments, The installation had a couple of the instruments on display, as well as a couple movies running simultaneously: one being the construction of the instruments and the other being performances on the instruments. They did a pretty cool version of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and, of course, "Imagine." Here's the guys just jamming out:

pedro reyes: imagine - musical performance from designboom on Vimeo.

The other one was called "The Shoes Diary: Adidas Tragedy Series" by Agung Kurniawan, from Indonesia. He did a small series of reconstructing Adidas shoes (there's a pretty big Adidas factory in Indonesia, apparently?) to make them really uncomfortable (in addition to painting designs) and had people wear them. The discomfort was to remind the wearer of all the trials and tribulations that political/civil rights activists go through.  He expanded it for the Biennale; his whole space was set up to look like a shoe store, and a TV in the corner played a video of his original demonstration of the piece back in whenever. There were a few different violent political activism incidents made into a different shoe (Gwangju, of course, was one of them; Libya, China, Egypt, and Cambodia were included as well). Both the shoes and their box were altered, ie the Chinese  sneakers had the outline of a tank.


There were four massive galleries in all, so by the time I left it was near closing time and also definitely very dark. After a long, uncomfortable bus ride back to my motel, I scrubbed off in a jjimjilbang and had some ramen. Back at the motel, I had the worst time falling asleep because OMG ELECTION NIGHT OMG OMG, it was like going to bed on Christmas Eve except that you might end up with a whole truck full of coal instead of any presents. But hurrah, my anxiety was unfounded!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Music Monday: Cake

While you read this, I will (hopefully) be in or en route to Gwangju, Jeolla province. Aside from an obligatory vacation in Jeju and two trips to Gyeongju, I've never been outside Gyeonggi-do.

I chose Gwangju because it's supposed to have some cool art museums, and also because it has a lot of relatively recent history: student protests against Japan in the 20s, and against Choo Doo-hwan in the 80s.

In honor of my historical Korean vacation, have some Cake. Not an official music video, but it's pretty well done:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

101 in 1001: Update

In progress:

I made an appointment at a dentist for a cleaning (6 - 8). I also started, tentatively, NaNoWriMo. We'll see how much I manage to write in a month while on vacation. (5 - 11) I've been watching a lot of Dr. Who now that I'm off work (5 - 13).


I dropped off a bag of clothes at Isaac's House!

17 / 101 completed!

1 / 101 failed!


I really dropped the ball on getting my absentee ballot in time. You're going to have to win this one without me, guys! I've showed up in the last two, so I'm not an entirely negligent citizen.

16 / 101 completed!

1 / 101 failed!