Saturday, November 29, 2008

It has been a week of interesting reactions from my students and local children:

Reactions to me wearing a tie

A girl named Eugene: Mr. Adeel, you are a man!
Other student: Yes, Mr. Adeel is a man!

Student: Ah! It is so cute! Very cute!

Reaction to my drawing

Adeel: Now, remember to cut out a hat as big as the head you drew. Like this.
Adeel: What? Why are you erasing it? Does she not understand?
Teaching partner: Oh, she understands, but she says that Mr. Adeel draws very badly.

Reactions to my authority

Student #1: Mr. Adeel, you are going to get no presents from Santa!
Student #2: Yes, Mr. Adeel, you are going to get a rock from Santa!
Student #3: Yes, a black rock!

Reactions to my Korean

Adeel: Your Korean is Kwok Min Seong!
Min Seong giggles hysterically.

Another student asks me to read her Korean name. I read it, she giggles hysterically at my horrendous pronunciation. This repeats itself for the next few minutes.

Reactions to my appearance

Mulleted student, pulling his hair back: Mr. Adeel is like this!
Adeel, grabbing the party end of the mullet: And you are like this!

Last night and this afternoon, kids at restaurants have walked over to my table and stared wide-eyed at me for a good 2-3 minutes at a time. Maybe I'm wearing the wrong kind of cologne, but I don't wear cologne. This didn't use to happen.
Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down

NEW YORK—A worker died after being trampled by a throng of unruly shoppers when a suburban Wal-Mart opened for the holiday sales rush Friday, authorities said.

At least three other people were injured.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., in Bentonville, Ark., would not confirm the reports of a stampede but said a "medical emergency" had caused the company to close the store, which is in Valley Stream on Long Island.

Nassau County police said the 34-year-old worker was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at about 6 a.m., an hour after the store opened. The cause of death was not immediately known.

A police statement said shortly after 5 a.m., a throng of shoppers "physically broke down the doors, knocking (the worker) to the ground." Police also said a 28-year-old pregnant woman was taken to a hospital for observation and three other shoppers suffered minor injuries and were also taken to hospitals.


Way to go America. I wonder if there's a number out there as to the number of people that have been killed in stampedes on Black Friday.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm wearing a purple tie today. This week, my hours were reduced from 23 a week to 17. If I'm not going to be working hard, I figure, I should at least look like I'm working hard.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Even though I successfully called the Jets' upset of the undefeated Titans, I was 8-8 against the spread in last week's football games, which, as Andre is already thinking, is only as good as random chance. As a result, I will predict this week's games by flipping a coin. The coin to be used is a United States silver dollar featuring Andrew Jackson (editor's note: the coin is actually gold). Let's see if Old Hickory can smoke out a winning record this week.

If the coin lands featuring the visage of Martin van Buren's predecessor, I will pick the home team; if it features the morbidly obese French immigrant to America, I'll pick the visiting team.

(Bonus historical fact: Andrew Jackson should not be confused, a mistake I made, with Reconstruction-era president Andrew Johnson. Jackson was president from 1829-37, in that period of American history about which I know little save its obscure presidents.)

The dollar picks:

Lions, Seahawks, Eagles, Ravens, Browns, Panthers, Buccaneers, Redskins, 49ers, Falcons, Chiefs, Patriots, Jets, Bears, Texans.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Seoul's massive, chaotic Namdaemun street market is not what I pictured when I thought about coming to Korea. It's how I picture the crowded Ichra market in my hometown of Lahore, where I never actually went because my mother was afraid that I'd get lost and never be seen again. If it can be sold, you will find it somewhere in Namdaemun, which literally means South Great Gate in Korean ("nam" meaning south, "dae" meaning great, "mun" meaning door). It's a little different from Hong Kong's street markets in that there you will find just about anything that can be made (toys whose function you can't discern, souvenirs from other countries, Coca Cola flip flops, t-shirts billing a Starbucks in Chiangmai, Thailand, etc.).

Today I saw box after box quantities of large Hershey's chocolate bars, peanut butter, microwaveable hot dogs and bacon stored at room temperature, Korean bills turned into boxers, $30 suit jackets and three deep-fried jumbo squid for a dollar, my favourite. Don't even get me started on the many stores which sold blindingly powerful Christmas decorations, robot Santas and, in a city of 20 million where there are only apartments and parks are just squares, several lawnmowers.

Walking between neighbourhoods in Seoul is a bit like walking into a surreal no-man's land. There are no street names in Seoul, at least not names that anyone knows or cares about, no grid system, nothing. Walking in a neighbourhood is fine because people simply overwhelm cars. If you want to move around the city, however, take the subway, a taxi or drive in a car that has a GPS (I've never seen a car that didn't have one). The space between neighbourhoods is entirely roads, roads that were designed for driving, not walking.

I decided to walk from the Namdaemun market to the seedy Itaewon foreigner district. Itaewon means "foreign pregnancy", named after the Japanese who raped and impregnated female monks in this area during the Japanese invasion of Korean in the 1590s. Itaewon is full of American soldiers with room temperature IQs, foreign teachers who aren't much better, and migrant workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nigeria and elsewhere. It's like walking into an uncomfortable depiction of a not-so-distant future where poor, lascivious men eke out an uncertain living in a technologically advanced but destabilized society. Nothing about Itaewon will leave you with a good feeling, except maybe the Indian food, which is what brought me there.

Central Seoul is arranged almost like the numbers of a clock around Namsan (literally "south mountain"), which acts as a barrier of sorts. It is an oasis of calm in a numbingly loud city, and also offers spectacular views of the city. Going from Namdaemun to Itaewon by foot requires you to go up this 800-foot hill and to descend into the filth, much like to go to the Piraeus in ancient Athens was to go down to the Piraeus, a phrasing of Plato's of which my professors made sure I was aware.

Of course, when there are no street names and you're standing on the only landmark in the area, you're bound to get lost. Get lost I did, at dusk, in a maze of narrow, confusing streets that sometimes ascended breathtakingly and dropped steeply at other times. After about an hour, just as sunset was starting to make me wonder if sharing the road with reckless cars in this miserable three-dimensional labyrinth wasn't going to get me killed, I saw a Turkish restaurant filled with men of questionable morals. From there, it was a few zigzagging turns and then I was surrounded by Nigerians renting VHS tapes, Americans buying XXXL clothes and old Korean women hauling a tractor's worth of knicknacks on their backs.

Friday, November 21, 2008

If I could live anywhere in the world, I would probably live in Chicago. Everything about the city seems part of an elaborate conspiracy to convince you that it's the greatest city in the world, but it works. There's something about Chicago that I love. The long, straight streets are lined with tall buildings, each an architectural masterpiece, and the city is flat as a pancake. Coupled with the harsh wind on a cold day, the entire city seems to consist solely of straight lines drawn up on graph paper.

Every single person I've ever met from Chicago, or Illinois for that matter, has been singularly if needlessly devoted to convincing me of the greatness of Chicago. The city's ambition is impressive for a place that already has so much. In addition to some of the most spectacular architecture anywhere in the world, a gorgeous waterfront and an array of excellent museums and universities, Chicago is adding more architecture, bidding for the Olympics and counting America's new president as its own.

Too bad all the teams suck.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's snowing in Seoul today. Wow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sixty-six million dollars, about 70 billion Korean won, were in the balance when a referee reviewed and overturned a meaningless touchdown at the end of the Steelers-Chargers game on Sunday. If you missed the play, don't bother, and watch this Troy Polamalu interception instead.



Anyway, the enormity of the play highlights to the intrigue of the betting line, which keeps football games interesting even when they are by no means interesting to watch. Given that I haven't watched a football game in two weeks (it involves either staying up all night or getting up at 6 am on a weekend), I thought this would be a good way of staying in touch with the league. This can also help Richard make decisions.

Tomorrow the Steelers take on the Bengals in what will surely be an unbearably dull game. The Steelers are 11-point favourites. Somewhere, there is probably a statistic which shows, one way or the other, the likelihood of a very good team beating a very bad team at home by more than 11 points. If I had to bet, I would say that it's less than 50%. Bengals cover.

You can't bet on a 10-0 team to go 11-0, especially against a good team. The Jets will keep it within 5, and probably win.

I wouldn't bet on the Rams (+8.5) to stay within 10 points of any team. I don't think I've ever seen a team so good at losing big. They have lost 8 games by 35, 28, 24, 17, 7, 21, 44, and 19 points. This means that 7 of their 10 games this year have been loses by 17 points or more. Those are two-in-three odds!

The Lions (+8.5) are due, at least to lose respectably.

I don't have much confidence in the Dolphins (-1.5) to beat the Patriots again. I think the Patriots will win by a touchdown, maybe two or three.

The Redskins (-3.5) will definitely cover against the 2-8 Seahawks.

Other picks: Bills (-3), Eagles (+1), 49ers (+10.5), Broncos (-9.5), Giants (-3), Texans (+3), Jaguars (-2.5), Panthers (+1), Chargers (-2.5), Saints (-2.5).
The Chinese don't have a saying which says "may you live in interesting times", but we in the West do. And these are interesting times for football fans. The Tennessee Titans, somehow, are 10-0, and the Eagles, Bills and Saints are in last place despite having 5 wins in 10 games. In the NFC West, by contrast, the 49ers are in second place at 3-7. The Titans are astonishingly close to replicating New England's 16-0 regular season last year, and it's worth noting that the Titans have not resorted to cheating in order to win any of their games.

Sweeter than the Broncos' fumbling first-place ride is the fact that New England finds itself in third place this year behind the Jets and Dolphins, neither of whom have a convicted cheat for a head coach. There's nothing quite as sweet as watching unmitigated evil dissipate into nothingness. The Jets play the undefeated Titans this week, and I think it would be very profitable (and haram) to bet on the Jets.

I also have to say I'm happy about the resurgence of of Kurt Warner, who, for three years at the turn of the century was the best quarterback I have ever seen. After 6 years of ignominy with the Giants and then the football death sentence that is playing in Arizona, Warner has emerged like the phoenix with Phoenix at 37. He is on pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards this year and on Sunday could return football's oldest franchise to the playoffs for just the third time since 1975. I never thought I would give so much thought to the Cardinals or to Kurt Warner ever again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The gift that keeps on giving:

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the current issues on the agenda right now. And I speak to you as someone who is a emerging as a potential leader, not only in the Republican Party, but maybe if you want to run again for president or vice president down the road.

Right now a big issue, should the U.S. government, the federal government bail out the Detroit -- the big three automakers?

PALIN: Oh, that is the discussion of the day. And there is going to come a point here where absolutely the federal government must play an appropriate role in shoring up some of these industries that are hurting and will ultimately hurt our entire economy and the world's economy if there aren't some better decisions being made.

But we also have to start shifting some debate here in our country and start talking about personal responsibility and responsibility of management in some of these corporations and companies so that from henceforth it's not assumed that the federal government is going to be bailing out everybody who is going to soon line up, Wolf, for more taxpayer assistance.

And I'm talking about personal responsibility too in terms of homeowners and in terms of folks who maybe have extended their own credit. Sure, predatory lenders are to blame in all of this also, but we have got to make sure, for instance, we're not talked into buying a $300,000 house, because really we know we can only afford a $100,000 house.

And we've got to start living those lessons that we try to teach our children in terms of not living beyond our means and extending our own personal credit to the point of not being able to pay our monthly bills and then expecting government to grow and be the answer.

BLITZER: So, sorry, I'm still waiting for the answer, should the government bail out the big three automakers?


Or how about this?

My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Korea is known as the Land of the Morning Calm. In the early morning, a mist has settled in overnight and, for an hour or two, the screaming lights advertising karaoke, restaurants, Internet cafes and whatnot are turned off. Walking through the streets feels about as right as walking a living room filled with sleeping guests, but it's a rare moment of peace in a fish market of a country. However, there wasn't much calm inside the cab I caught at sunrise on the way to a race today.

Adeel (in Korean): Hi, Suwon station, please.
Driver (in English): OKAY! Suwon station? OKAY! CANADIAN?
Adeel (in Korean): Ah, yes. Yes, Canadian, yes.
Driver (in English): OKAY! OKAY! SUWON STATION! OKAY! OKAY! CAN YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? CANADA? OKAY! CANADA!

The rest of the conversation was in Korean, except for when the driver punctuated his sentences with "CAN YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?", which seems to be an exclamation from whatever TV show or tape taught him English. We got onto the topic of the US election.

Driver: I like McCain.
Adeel: Why do you like McCain?
Driver: McCain [unintelligible] taxi [unintelligible]
Adeel (thinking): John McCain presented a better deal to Korean taxi drivers? American taxi drivers?
Adeel: I don't understand
Driver (in English): McCain white, Obama.
Adeel: Yes...
Driver: Black Americans (here he made loud, growling noises that sounded like an imitation of English swearing), white Americans (here he imitates my slow, overly polite Korean).
Adeel: Ahh, Obama black, McCain white. You don't like blacks.
Driver: Yes, yes.
Adeel: Ah, here we are. Three thousand nine hundred won.
Driver (in English): Thirty-nine
Adeel: Nice to meet you, bye!
Driver: Yes, nice to meet you, bye.
Driver (in English): I love you!

The morning calm was restored when I crossed the Han River, which divides Seoul into south and north. The Han is a kilometre-wide river spanned by towering bridges in Seoul. From one such bridge, I had an excellent view up the river looking east. It was covered in mist, and the tall buildings on either shore were invisible. This calm, of course, is only in the morning. When I ran along the river an hour later, the mist and the calm were gone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's never good to rejoice in the failure of others, but I have to admit I'm very happy about the current woes of American automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The three have presided over a mind-numbingly stupid intransigence in the face of innovation that has seen the American market overtaken by Japanese, Korean and German products. The Big Three in Detroit, of course, represent for the backwards-looking face of the automotive industry: they produce large, inefficient vehicles and, the vice-chairman of G.M. has been quoted as saying that global warming “is a total crock".

It would be gratifying to see companies so willfully blind to the market fail, and fail spectacularly at that. Detroit, much like the city itself, has been undeniably and irrevocably left behind by the modern world. Ford only makes money when it sells large pick-up trucks, and the future strategy of American automakers consists of lobbying Congress to not change fuel efficiency standards and, failing that, to begging Congress for money.

Here is an example of why I would relish seeing the US auto industry fail. In late 2007, the US Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act. The law aimed to increase the fuel efficiency of new cars by 15% by 2015 and 30% by 2020. Here in Korea, Hyundai has decided that it can improve fuel efficiency by 30% by 2015. Detroit has decided that it can't even do half of that by 2015, and doesn't even want to try: they are already lobbying Congress for an exemption. Big, slow animals like dinosaurs, the Ford F-150 or American automakers truly deserve to be relegated to the history books.

Friday, November 07, 2008

My heritage is something of a mystery to people here. I've heard Turkish, Puerto Rican and even Indian, but the last few days have been rather absurd. On Tuesday, some of my 6-year-old students mistook a picture of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker for me. Considering that it was a tiny picture, it's an honest mistake. Some older students shout "Mr. Adeel!" whenever they see Franklin, the token black character on Peanuts. That's a little more accurate, I suppose.

The most flattering comment, at least I took it to be flattering, came today. Every afternoon, kids from neighbouring classes yell things at me as they go home, and I'd never understood it until today. They've been shouting "MR. OBAMA!!!" at me for the last month.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The reaction to Barack Obama becoming president of the United States is everywhere. Roughly 60-70 of my Facebook friends updated their status to reflect this historic moment. All but one, a Republican-leaning co-worker, expressed the utmost joy, in a way that is mystifying. You see, most of them are Canadians, and this event really has the most peripheral of outcomes on their lives. Of course, this has the effect of making America a more attractive and appealing country than it has been for the last 8 years, but it really didn't mean as much to me as it did to Americans.

Elsewhere:

  • My Republican co-worker and his wife have determined that everything in America will henceforth be free. Obama will raise taxes and ruin the economy and give money to poor people. Or something like that. Never before have I so deeply enjoyed someone's misery. Never before and, likely, never again. Never again.

  • Free Republic reports that the price of gun ammunition is going up because the Democrats are planning a 500% excise tax (sic) on all ammo (sic). The ammunition market, as sensitive to political developments as the other major commodity markets, is, of course, far more complicated than Freepers would have you believe. The cost of extracting, refining and pumping bullets is determined by myriad factors, the exposition of which is surely a topic for another post. In a nod to the genius of the sort of person who sells ammunition in the first place, the seller of ammunition will not be restocking this newly expensive product.

  • Vanguard News Network, the trashier of the many white supremacist websites I read, reports that "this is a very low point in Western history."

  • Stormfront, my white trash website of choice, has crashed from people simultaneously rejoicing that Obama's election will bring a racial war at hand and others, screaming at the terror of being under the yoke of the black man for a change.

  • FOX News, which I've lately determined to have an astonishingly sparse website, has responded with a turgid op-ed piece that tries to focus on all the obscure events of the last 15 years. It's a narrative constructed in a tortured connect-the-oblong-trapezoid fashion.

  • If you're reading this and you voted Republican, you're a moron. There's sadly no way around it. If you are in a wild panic about the state of your country, know that I take the greatest of pleasures in your wild panic, and that I hope your taxes get raised and Obamamaniacs come and take your PSP and plasma TV. I do share your regret that Sarah Palin will not enjoy more publicity. I enjoyed her interviews and public appearances greatly.

    Lastly, Chicago's Grant Park, one of the most architecturally spectacular places in the world, was an excellent choice for Obama's acceptance speech. Both Obama and Chicago's waterfront are constructed, however ostentatiously, to project the very best of America.
  • Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    I watch my Sunday night football on Shanghai TV and I'm watching my US election coverage on FOX 5 from Atlanta. It's important to me to watch FOX today, much like I sought out the Boston Globe after the Super Bowl.

    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    45 miles per gallon

    Created by The Car Connection



    The test is kind of nebulous, but I'm pretty sure that I could run 45 miles on 4 litres of water (I walked that much in 19 hours on less water). I could definitely do it on four litres of lentils or liquified pasta or something. That's a lot of food.