Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Patriots lose to the Bills, Colts lose again; is this the end of an era?

During the Bills-Patriots game on Sunday, Marv Albert mentioned that the Bills hadn't beaten the Patriots since the first game of the 2003 season. The Patriots had a string of 15 straight wins over the Bills, which is partly why the Bills never win more than 7 or 8 in a season and the Patriots never win less than 10 or so, and why the game felt like such a tough one for the Bills without me knowing why.

I remember that Bills game in 2003, they won big after Lawyer Milloy had been cut by the Patriots, went to the Bills and gave a scandalous interview alleging that none of the Patriots believed in their coach. For some reason, everyone picked up on this and it was all anyone talked about.

New England had won a Super Bowl in 2001, but they had missed the playoffs in 2002, and now this. Of course, they went something like 14-1 the rest of the year, won the Super Bowl and won it again the next year. For the Bills, it was a speck of significance on the way to an ignominious decade stretching back to when the team benched Doug Flutie for Rob Johnson, which I probably attach immense significance to as a short man myself (Johnson is 6'4, Flutie about 5'9).

Fifteen straight wins over the Bills later, the Patriots have two Super Bowls, a 16-0 season and eight years of being a perennially feared team in the NFL. Of course, they haven't won a Super Bowl since I was in high school, and the playoff disappointments for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are now numerous enough to be routine whereas once they seemed stunning.

This loss to the Bills is, in some ways, probably more significant than the playoff loss to the Colts in 2006 after a 21-3 lead, the loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl or recent losses to the Ravens and Jets in the playoffs. It was a 21-0 blown lead over a team that had been a sure thing for the Patriots, with four interceptions from Tom Brady to boot.

Seven hours after the Patriots lost, the Colts lost 23-20 to the Steelers to go to 0-3, a stunning yet not stunning turn of events for a team that has had 11 10-win seasons and 11 playoff appearances out of the last 12 years, the last 9 being consecutive.

It's safe to say that the Colts will be making the playoffs or threatening for a Super Bowl any time soon, though the Patriots could possible make a run this year, next year or the year after. It's likely, though, that neither Tom Brady or Peyton Manning will ever win a Super Bowl again, and that we're likely to see a new generation of teams and players dominate after a decade dominated by these two teams and quarterbacks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This is about the only reason that Korean unification might be possible

People often ask me where I learned Korean and I mumble something about overhearing students and storefront signs. That is a big part of it, but the subway is another big part of it. There are lots of signs on trains and in stations, you see them repeatedly, and there's often nothing else to do but to translate them using the dictionary in your cell phone.

Of course, a normal person ignores all the gibberish, but I'm someone who thrives on marketing Korean. Most people who have learned to speak Korean well come from either an academic background or a social background. I, unfortunately, have neither. I can neither read a textbook, nor can I watch a drama or understand slang. I can, however, quote marketing campaigns from a few years ago.

Anyway, I once translated this sign and almost vomited.

About two years ago, the Korean government began a campaign to get people to walk on the right. This ad from the subway reads: "Walking on the right! Walking on the right side is beautiful." Translated more literally, it reads "you who walk on the right are beautiful". I used to think about that every time I saw it for about a year: why does walking on the right make you beautiful?

Today I saw two North Korean propaganda posters. One similarity between the two Koreas is the over-the-top government advertising, what you'd call propaganda in the North. While it's not propaganda in the South (anymore), government advertising is often over-the-top syrupy to the point of absurdity, as we saw above.

This North Korean propaganda poster, charitably translated, says "Let's turn Pyongyang, the capital of revolution, into a global city".

What's that? A Korean capital city wants to be known globally? Well, let's go back to last year, when these two ads were all over Seoul.

This ad was seen around last November's G20 summit in Seoul. It boasts, or maybe promises, that "the world is taking notice of South Korea".

This one, which I actually liked for its depictions of historical Seoul, says "Welcome to Seoul, the city the world wants to go and see".

The smaller text reads: "The city that captivates the world with its endless enjoyment.
The city that the world wants to invest and live in.
The city where dynamic tourism is producing economic vigour and employment.
The world comes to our Seoul to learn about it.
Now welcome the guests with your smile."

Here's another North Korean propaganda poster of late:

The site that reported on these posters translates this one as “Let us all go for harvesting!”, but that's not entirely accurate because it leaves out the last word in the slogan. It's probably better translated as "Let's all go to the battle of the fall harvest".

This one promotes the highly controversial Four Rivers Project. It says, "Smile big, rivers of Korea!" There was one with a stronger message, one as upbeat as the criticisms of the project are dire and depressing, that I saw on a bus yesterday but I can't find it.

It's true, of course, that languages don't translate well, but I don't think I've ever been in a city that promotes itself so much as Seoul. Nor is it the case that floral, dramatic language is going to get anyone to take you seriously. All it does, I feel, erode trust and prevent people from taking the government seriously when they should do so, as we saw after the sinking of the Cheonan last year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Those wagons are circled again

I just had the chance to finish watching the Bills' 38-35 win over the Raiders thanks to the NFL Game Pass, which lets me watch NFL games live or whenever I want, for $270 for an entire season. Split three-ways, it's a fantastic deal. I'm able to watch a football game whenever I want, up to four at a time on the same screen, and since a game that's not live is shown without commercials, most games take about two hours.

I'm not a Bills fan per se, though they're the closest NFL team to Toronto. I like seeing them do well, but then, I don't really have a favourite team. I used to be a Broncos fan but then they started to suck after John Elway retired, and after that I've really enjoyed watching Peyton Manning play. There are lots of teams I enjoy doing well, but none I like enough to not root for their opponent when the game is about to become a rout.

At any rate, two things are impressive already about the Bills. First, they have scored 79 points this season, which is nine more than they scored in their last 6 games last season. This is a team that, for almost a decade now, has had one of the worst offenses in the league. The last time that the Bills ranked better than 25th in the NFL in yards gained was 2002, and they've ranked 30th four times in the last eight years.

This leads to the second key difference, which is that it was excruciating to watch Bills games, and the team under Dick Jauron never seemed like it tried very hard. It's one thing to watch a team lose if the games are close in some way, but the Bills lost five games last year by 24 points or more. It's hard to imagine a Dick Jauron team (yes, I know Chan Gailey was the coach last year) coming back from a 21-3 deficit.

This game simply was fantastic. The Bills had the ball five times in the second half and scored a touchdown every single time. The first three were unanswered scores which erased a 21-3 halftime lead for the Raiders with 14 minutes left in the game. The Raiders made it 28-24 with 9 minutes to left, the Bills retook the lead themselves 31-28 with 5 minutes to go, then the Raiders took just one minute to make it 35-31 with 3 minutes to go.

The ensuing Bills drive was dramatic, with a fourth-down conversion before ending up at the Raiders' 7 with 18 seconds left. It was 4th-and-1 and the Bills had no timeouts. A running back coming out of the backfield drew the linebacker out of the middle, and other receivers crossed to the left side of the field. This led David Nelson wide open in the centre of the field, on the goal line of all places, on the biggest play of the game.

With just 14 seconds left, the Raiders were actually able to get three plays off. The first, a 24-yard completion to the 44. If the receiver had gone down immediately instead of running a few more yards, the clock might have stopped with eight seconds instead of six. The Raiders tried to squeeze in one more play, but it was rushed and the pass was incomplete. With eight seconds and a timeout, even a quick strike over the middle might have worked. A 20-yard pass would have taken the ball to the 36, setting up a 54-yard field goal for a man who kicked a 63-yard field goal last week.

Even so, Campbell got off a hail mary pass that made it to the end zone and could have been a touchdown if it had been a foot to the right or a foot to the left. It was intercepted by a Bills defender sandwiched between two Raiders receivers. That's the kind of absurdly exciting game this was.

With the Patriots and Jets in their division, it's acceptable if the Bills don't make it to the playoffs, but if the games can be exciting, it's certainly a good halfway point between the doldrums of the past decade and the glory years of the early '90s.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book #12: Gorgias

This post should really be about two books, Les Miserables and Gorgias, but as much as I enjoyed reading Les Miserables, I have to admit that I don't really have much to say about it. I would probably end up gushing with praise for Victor Hugo's writing style, which appeals to me due to its focus on history and architecture, as I already did in this post.

Instead, let me talk about the Gorgias, which is a Platonic dialogue. This was an assigned reading in my second-year course on ancient Greek philosophy way back in 2005. My textbook included maybe a third of this dialogue, and as interesting as I thought it was, I didn't even get around to finishing that third.

In recent weeks, however, in the spirit of getting around to doing things, I started and finished this dialogue. This is probably the first time I have read any philosophy since the spring of 2008, which is disappointing in itself and also relevant to the lessons of the dialogue.

At first, I hated philosophy. The one course in philosophy I took in high school was an annoying mishmash of general knowledge with no real focus but lots of cliquish references to movies I had never seen and never would. I took a class in philosophy to round out my schedule in my first year of university and expected to hate it, but it was provocative and plain-spoken enough to instantly become preferable to political science, where I was learning gobbledygook terms like "operationalizing democracy".

To be fair, of course, over four years philosophy would teach me terms and ideas like pros hen equivocity, Tarski's truth quorum, the science of being qua being, the two meanings of the word 'is', how many stones make up a pile of stones and so on. Nevertheless, in retrospect, much of the appeal of philosophy for myself, as for others, lay in its counter-cultural appeal, in an obsession with meaning as our better-earning peers learned how to come up with weasel words.

Then I graduated and decided I was either going to become a teacher or a journalist. Either career path, it seemed, would make good use of philosophy: you surely can't write the truth without knowing what it was for something to be true and, similarly, you can't help someone learn without knowing what it was to know something.

Reality, of course, is very different. I didn't even realize how much my major differed from my ordinary, daily life until someone, with that "oh, wouldn't it be nice to learn some philosophy?" mindset, asked me to summarize the study of ethics in about fifteen minutes. As I laid it out, about a year and a half ago, I thought to myself that, as they say, you really don't need to know any of this after you graduate.

That thought went nowhere until a few months ago when I sat next to a man on the subway who was reading Plato's Cratylus. I went out to buy the Cratylus but ended up settling for the Gorgias.

At any rate, the Gorgias is very entertaining if you're an English teacher in Korea, no matter where you're from. Much of the early portion of the text discusses the role and the importance of rhetoricians, highly-paid instructors who taught others how to speak well. Socrates questions the value of rhetoricians as well as the knowledge they supposedly impart.

Classical Athens, then, is not all that different from modern Seoul in this respect. There might not be rhetoricians in the Athenian sense here, but there's a lot of money to be made by teachers and students in learning the sort of useless skills that Socrates dismissed as knacks. A knack, he says, is to knowledge what a pastry chef is to medicine: pleasing and flattering, sure, but ultimately useless.

Consider how this statement from almost three millennia ago reflect the present-day hagwon business in Seoul:

"Well, in my opinion, Gorgias, it doesn't involve expertise; all you need is a mind which is good at guessing, some courage and a natural talent for interacting with people. The general term I use to refer to it is 'flattery'..."

What makes the Gorgias so interesting to me is Socrates' claim that a tyrant is invariably powerless and unhappy. After he had said that rhetoric was a useless knack, Polus pointed to the immense political power enjoyed by those who excel at rhetoric. Socrates responds by saying that "orators and tyrants have the very least power of any in our cities".

His reasoning here might appear convuluted, but it is simple:

1) Everyone wants what's good
2) A tyrant might kill someone or confiscate their property, but this is not the good
3) Therefore, a tyrant can't get what he want and is both powerless and unhappy

This is another example of the ancient Greek view of happiness differing from our view of happiness. We view happiness as an emotional state, often in the short-term, but happiness to Plato was long-term well-being, perhaps better expressed by living well than by enjoying immediate emotional satisfaction. A person could be said by the Greeks to be happy while sleeping or performing some mundane task in a way that we wouldn't.

Reading this and subsequent discussions on whether it is better to be wronged than to wrong someone, I questioned, as Plato often did, the usefulness of philosophy in everyday life. Plato turned philosophy into almost a religious conviction, turning his nose at the possibility of rhetoric to one day save his life, declaring:

"No, my friend, you'd better consider the possiblity that excellence and goodness do not consists merely in the preservation of life. Perhaps the mark of a real man is that he isn't worried about how long he lives and isn't attached to life."

In the years since I graduated from university, I can say that while I use the skills I learned from philosophy, I seldom think about the material, and I suspect that I'm not alone. If there is one conclusion that I've reached in the last three years, it's that hectoring unsuspecting people in the agora in the way of Socrates is unproductive to modern life.

It's commonly said, as a cliche, that "you can't legislate morality". This, of course, is a very modern view of morality that, as my favourite professor joked, assumes ethics is about money and morality is about sex. We can and do legislate morality, such as when we punish murder and theft.

At the same time, many political controversies could be avoided if people recognized the difference between morality and the law. While, say, it would be ideal if everyone studied philosophy or excercised, it would be foolhardy to mandate this by law.

As for morality, the word itself has taken on a bad name and largely seems to come up when one group of people would like to restrict the lives of another group of people. Taken as a Latin equivalent of the Greek ethics, which today unfortunately applies in the negative to someone who embezzles money, it has a broader sense of how to live.

This sort of true ethics or morality is useful, indispensable really, even as job markets get tougher for those who do something in university besides outright vocational training. It seems foolish to spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars on learning how to get a job, but not even thinking about how to live, unless you value your job more than you value your life.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hiking the Baekdudaegan: Jirisan

I returned to Jirisan this week to hike the last, southernmost portion of the Baekdudaegan. Having covered the portion around Taebaeksan in June, clearly I'm not going in any kind of order, but that's a privilege I afford myself because: 1) I'm awful at hiking 2) I don't belong in any sort of nature except for the kind with the widest, most well-worn trail 3) I'm doing this alone.

There's an excellent English-language book about the Baekdudaegan by Andrew Douch and Roger Shepherd that details portions of the trail, such as how to get there, where to stay, and what makes that area special. It's an interesting enough book that it's worth a read if you have a strong interest in Korea and/or traveling in Korea, even if you've never set foot on a mountain here and never plan to do so.

For my part, I used the same, slightly less user-friendly website as last time to guide me. As unwieldy as a page it might be, it's very useful and covers the entire trail in excellent detail, complete with pictures, elevation charts and personal experiences.

I left Seoul on Sunday armed with not one, but two books (a Platonic dialogue and a collection of the works of Franz Kafka) in my backpack, but no map of Jirisan. Instead, I had this elevation guide of my planned route to guide me. This is, of course, a picture of a GPS readout from the site I mentioned earlier that I had on my cell phone.

Unlike the section of the trail just south of Taebaeksan, which is sparingly marked and even more sparingly used, the section on Jirisan is part of the well-traveled Jirisan ridge that runs east-west for 25 km. Add in few kilometres on either side to get up and down, and you've got a distance of about 32-34 km depending on who you believe. As I found out on this trip, you'll cover 2 km per hour when hiking including breaks (a hike on Bukhansan or Dobongsan in Seoul is 8 km both ways, which is why it takes you about 4 hours), which means that I was looking at about 16 hours of walking, maybe 12 if I packed light and tried to run a lot of it.

I got lucky, however, in that I was traveling on Chuseok and one of the less-popular shelters (Byeoksoryeong) on Jirisan was available on the all-important second day of Chuseok. This meant I could sleep on the mountain and hike leisurely with liberal breaks to read Plato in the sunshine.

The west end of the trail is the Nogodan altar, best accessed from Gurye in Jeollanam-do, while the east end is Jungsan-ri in Gyeongsangnam-do, not far from Jinju. I started in Gurye, traveling at night to avoid the Chuseok traffic, and arriving Sunday night. I slept in Monday and didn't leave Gurye until 10 am, which meant I got to Seongsamjae, a pavilion of sorts complete with its own cafe, at 11 am.

I've always felt that I could live in rural Korea if not for its jarring lack of good coffee, and I wasn't thrilled at having to settle for canned coffee down in Gurye. As an aside, the bus ride to Nogodan from Gurye is an hour through beautiful scenery and awe-inspiring mountain roads, well worth it if you're ever there. It wasn't easy for me to walk past this cafe in the sky, about the only time that an overpriced Americano at Angel-in-us might ever be worth it.

It's 5.6 km from this cafe by the bus stop to the Nogodan altar proper. You'll be surrounded by children, couples in casual wear and so on, though it's an easy but steep hike. From here, you'll get on the ridge going towards Cheonwangbong, the peak of Jirisan, with a sign informing you that you're 25 km away. There are signs probably every kilometre from here on out.

It had rained in the days before I got there, but mercifully not while I was there. There were plenty of clouds and, starting at about 2 pm, an ominous fog that made me wish I had picked an easier way to spend my vacation. I took lots of breaks but didn't eat much, reaching the Byeoksoryeong shelter after 18 km and 7 hours of walking.

Jirisan has recently reintroduced black bears into its vast wilderness. They go to pains to counter the impression given in the media that the bears are cute.

The walk from Nogodan to Byeoksoryeong is more or less flat, but the last few kilometres before Byeoksoryeong were quite challenging and made harder still by how tired my legs were.

As this sign shows, Byeoksoryeong is about the halfway point on the ridge. Many people left the shelter at around midnight to walk to the top before sunrise.

If you've never stayed in a shelter on a mountain, it's actually quite nice. They sell food and other supplies. The shelter itself is very clean considering the fact that it's on a mountain and full of mud-caked hikers. There's wifi if you have an account with Olleh and if you don't, there are still cell phone chargers.

I slept at 9 pm and I was one of the last people to wake up at 6:30. Pretty much everyone else was gone, never mind awake. I left at 7:30 with 11 km until the top and 17 until the bottom, figuring I could be done with the whole thing by 1 or 2.

It was a beautiful day and I really had no need to rush, so I kept taking long, leisurely breaks.

I made it to the top, finally, at around 2 pm. By this point the beauty of the day was long gone, and it was cloudy.

True, there wasn't much to see from the top, but while there are some amazing views from the top, Jirisan is also special for just how vast of an area it is. It certainly wasn't easy for me to make it to the top after 29 km of walking over about 14 hours.

I relied on three of each of these, along with some high-calorie packages of instant noodles, during the hike. It was good to have some vegetables after the fact, though I'm proud to say that I didn't have to buy any food or water on the top as I have in the past.

The way down was cloudy, dull, boring and uneventful except for the point at which I almost fell down a set of stairs and wrenched my left shoulder very badly, cursing at the top of my lungs in front of a very nice elderly couple that couldn't understand what my hurry was.

At the bottom, I knew I'd done something right by how weird it felt to be walking on pavement. I walked another 2 km to a bus stop at Jungsanri that takes you to Jinju, where I took a late-night bus back to Seoul, free from any traffic jams and making the trip in just over 3 hours.

In addition to the wrenched shoulder, I also walked away with a bleeding toe and a bloody heel from where my abrasive $30 hiking shoes had rubbed it the wrong way for about 48 hours. I did manage to run about 20 minutes (about 2k thanks to the terrain and a 20-lb backpack) both days, but even if I hadn't, my legs would have hurt just as much. The fatigue and soreness I had were similar, though not identical, to running a marathon. Completing the last climb of about 250 m (equal to an 80-floor building) was like running the last 5-7 km of a marathon.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I think this hyperbole is as hyperbolic as anything else you're going to see out there today, Jim

I missed the NFL's opening weekend out running and hiking, respectively, but thanks to the NFL's Gamepass service, which makes watching games possible online if you're not in America, I'm catching up to the only game that seemed to be a close match-up between two good teams. Thanks to having dinner in between, I can't remember who won this game even though I read the boxscore, so it's as good as new.

Not as good as new is the tendency of reporters and commentators to forget that there have been games and players before the current one, and that there will be ones after the one in front of us. That's how we get the sort of nonsense I picked up in the span of a minute during the Jets-Cowboys game.

First, the sideline reporter (I missed her name) reported on the Cowboys' offensive line, which is made up of young, inexperienced players. She quoted a coach (excuse me, I was doing the dishes so I don't remember the exact wording) who said something to the effect of doubting whether the linemen were ready for the big moment, but that he was being proven wrong. Yes, this is a primetime game in New York, but these players are also not fresh out of high school and this is actually the first game of the season, not the last.

Second, more baffling, was Cris Collinsworth's claim that Bart Scott, once he makes a decision, reacts faster than any other linebacker that he has seen on film. Bart Scott is a great player, to be sure, but Collinsworth, at the age of 52, has been around professional football for three decades. Unless he just started watching film this past week, surely he has seen a linebacker that is better?

Now, it might be pedantic to tear apart every single word that comes out of someone's mouth, but it can be astonishingly painful to watch a football game if you actually pay attention to what the broadcasters might be saying. For people who are highly paid to talk about something to make sense while doing is not too much to ask.

All that aside, this does look to be a good game through the first half, even if the Jets are done by ten points. Even so, both teams are showing why they're trendy Super Bowl picks every preseason. Of course, as I wrote that, the Jets got a nice catch and run by LaDainian Tomlinson to set up a touchdown. Like Tomlinson and his former Chargers, the Cowboys and Jets both have Super Bowl windows that might not be as lengthy as they might seem.

One side (immense?) benefit of watching games via Gamepass: I'm paying to avoid commercials and if watching on a 9" monitor means avoiding the same 4 commercials (Budweiser, pick-up truck, midsize sedan, American TV show that is simulcasted) that Global shows in Canada, I'm all for it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Going to see the IAAF World Championships in Daegu

I left Seoul Saturday night to go watch the men's marathon at the World Championships in Daegu. I went to Daegu last September as well, and I have to admit that I left Daegu with a much better impression this time around. Granted, it rained last time while it was reasonably sunny this time around, but I think I saw much better parts of Daegu this time around than last time.

Much of the trip highlighted the best of living, traveling and hosting major international events in Korea. I don't like to do it, but buying train tickets at the last minute made me to take the high-speed KTX half-way until Daejeon, before transferring to the lowest-class of train, the spacious if ramshackle Mugunghwa train. At any rate, you can travel about 300 km from Seoul to Daegu in two hours or so via high-speed rail.

Arriving in Daegu at 2 am, I had no problem finding a reasonably clean hotel room for $40, complete with a massive flat-screen TV, thanks to what might best be euphemized as Korea's thriving hotel industry. Elsewhere in the world, it would have been impossible to walk out of a train station and expect to find a hotel room within a few minutes' walk, much less one that wasn't at exorbitant rates, but that's the brilliance of Korea.

I was also able to walk to the finish line of the marathon from my hotel in about 10-15 minutes, adjusting for time spent lost in what is a major drawback of visiting Korea, its eternally confusing, nameless streets. While the government is pushing a system of addresses that uses street names instead of the present ward-neighbourhood addressing system along with lot number (eg 25-42 Bedford-Stuyesvant, Brooklyn, New York City), it might work best for mailing. It's hard to imagine anyone leaving the current system that relies on landmarks to focus on street names.

Daegu as a whole is plastered in advertising for the event. Standing in Dongdaegu train station after the race, I had a nice view of the city and I was stunned at just how many buildings had the championship logo plastered all over them.

The race was similarly well-attended. Sure, there were large numbers of people who had obviously been recruited in some capacity, but there was no shortage of people out to gawk at the spectacle, even people who had absolutely no knowledge of running. To those of us know who the sport, the World Championship marathon is maybe the least-competitive major marathon out there, but you can't underestimate the power of national singlets. If you had put those same athletes in Nike and Adidas singlets, ordinary people might not have cared so much over whether Morocco or Japan came sixth.

As for the race itself, this was my second time watching a world-class race, the other one was the 2007 Chicago Marathon. This was more interesting for whatever reason, maybe because of the sheer size of the field or because of how many actual fans there were. That's right, there were fans, the largest number coming from Kenya and Japan, who had signs, flags, knew their runners and cheered very loudly.

I wasn't that impressed with the speed of the pack the first time around, though I was definitely impressed with just how many people were running together. I remember being stunned at 30k with how fast the leaders were running. I didn't know at the time that Abel Kirui was in the middle of something like a 28-minute 10k.

It wasn't that the runners were moving unimaginably fast; I've run a 1500 at 2:06 pace and lots of people could run a 400 at that pace (72 seconds) if they really wanted to. For me, I was struck by how different it looks from TV. Someone whose torso makes them look like they're out for a jog looks very different when you see them go by in profile.

Ironically, while a marathon is an awful sport to watch in person because of how little you get to see, I think that the experience never seems to carry over onto TV, with rare exceptions. The sheer force with which a 2:10 marathoner moves and the awkward stiffness in their body over the later stages of the race somehow seem to get smoothed out on TV, but are so vivid in person that I was just glad to be standing on the side of the road with a coffee.

Here are some pictures:

Abel Kirui leads Feyisa Lilesa at 30k.

I was too intimidated by these fired-up Kenyan fans to get them to stop for a picture.

I misjudged how fast Abel Kirui was moving as he ran by around the 42-kilometre mark. This was my only whiff on passing runners.

This is the best picture I took. I was watching the race next to a mulleted man from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. The Russian on the left was putting on a tremendous kick to pass the struggling Mongolian runner on the right. The Siberian yelled something in Russian that caught the runner's attention, and he took the time to look at us, smile and wave.

This is the last-place runner, Sangay Wangchuk of Bhutan, running a 2:38 national record. I have no idea why his clothes (is that even a uniform?) don't identify him.

Monday, September 05, 2011

How is 안심클릭 still in business?

There's security paranoia and then there's trying to buy something from a Korean website. Generally, it's not worth it to pay by credit card online because the ensuing process will bankrupt your patience if not your computer's capacity to function. Even if you speak Korean, the Korean will not be rendered by your computer, you will have to use Internet Explorer (the older, the better), download about 3-4 security programs and give out information you didn't know you had.

I negotiated all this to buy a bus ticket, when I got this screen:

After all that security software, I need to input my card's pin number, its own four-digit security code, and, of all things, my national ID number. Is that really necessary? The next screen asks for a 30-character phrase in Korean that I no longer remember, so this is where the odyssey ended for me.

What is so bad about the way that the rest of the world handles credit card transactions?

Here is my previous look at Korean banking.

Buying a bus ticket, by the way, is no piece of cake either. Like anything else in this country, I had to enter my ID number, which includes your date of birth, only to be told that you need to be at least 14 to buy a bus ticket. When I tried it again with Internet Explorer, all of a sudden I was older than my students.

I wouldn't necessarily say that life in Korea is hard, or unduly hard for foreign residents, but getting things done online is incredibly vexing no matter who you are.