Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kitty's are good for ratings, too

[Bear with me, my "s" key is stuck, I think there' a bead in there.] Poor Gunner Bunner has been a little sick lately. If the authorities saw what he swallowed yesterday, they'd put him in protective custody. Let's just say it had to do with jewelry. He' better today, poor Bunny.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Puppies and Babies

Dear Political Pundits,

I know we Americans tend to be simpletons. We like our American Idol and we occasionally TiVo King of the Hill. And sometimes, admittedly, we click on the "Britney Misses Court Appearance" link on the CNN homepage before we click on the link regarding "progress" being made on either of our two war fronts. (Okay, I am NOT the only one who has done this because that link is still up there, so 'fess up.) We're not totally dumb, it's just easier sometimes to play dumb. But we are not dim enough to keep swallowing that pablem you've been spoon-feeding us for 7 years now. It's starting to taste lumpy.

On Sunday, as hesitant as I was to turn my political inquiry over to the network that gave us the "boxers v. briefs" debate, I flipped on the MTV Choose or Lose Special. The CNN/Fox/NBC/ABC pundit round-up just wasn't raising the level of debate higher than, well, a 6-year old pulling his sister's ponytail. (And because The Colbert Report is not on on Sunday.)

In a round table discussion, Obama and Clinton were confronted by about ten 20-something Iraq war veterans. There were females who developed PTSD when their Hummer's flipped over in combat, a guy who lost his leg, another guy who, upon his return to his home state of New York, found out in person that his DMV turned him down for a driver's license grant (worth $45) because the woman at the DMV told him "you didn't fight for me, you fought for George Bush." (I can picture this large and sloth-like DMV employee in my mind, and she was just as unsympathetic when I told her I was forwarding my address to an Air Force base in Japan. Socialists, every one of 'em.)

The same guy who was denied a driver's license is also without a home, and currently without a job, as he has taken to self-medication for his PTSD. Alcohol seems to be an insufficient, if immediate, replacement for inadequate veteran benefits. (That phenomenon transcends generations, doesn't it?) 9 of 10 of the kids had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

MTV for all it's bling-alicious faults, is usually good about cutting through race, gender and socioeconomic lines. One young skinny Asian-American kid who looked like he should be kicking someone's ass in a Chemistry exam had been awarded the Purple Heart. An Alex P. Keaton stand-in had joined up out of post-911 patriotism. A college-educated combat nurse couldn't seem to get a job because of the pesky "PTSD" warning label in her repertoire.

Now pundits, here's where you can learn something, so put down that set of talking points jotted down on White House letterhead.

Not a one of these kids asked Obama why he didn't wear a flag pin on his lapel or if he really is a super-secret Muslim. Nor did they ask Hilary if her moistness-of-tear-duct is a sign that we're just not ready for estrogen in the West Wing. They didn't ask Obama why his wife hated America, nor Hilary how she planned to keep Bill from trolling for interns when she's busy answering that ominous 3am call (or where she got those sexy reading glasses). They didn't ask who accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior the VERY MOSTEST. And they didn't compare who's preacher was loonier. (I'm gonna go with the preacher who said that 911 was payback for all the gays in the Village, but John McCain wasn't at this round table.) Not a one of them tackled the enormous weight of these pressing issues, because, well, you guys have have done a bang up job and really, we should leave the weighty stuff for the professionals.

Instead, these 20-somethings grilled Clinton and Obama about the war, the lack of planning, the lack of armor, lack of VA medical benefits, and would not let the candidate's canned answers suffice. When you have a 25 year-old homeless veteran asking you directly how you plan on helping him, it's a lot harder to give a test-grouped answer. At the end, I wasn't even watching the candidates, just the kids. They bought their way out of college debt with ROTC scholarships. They felt compelled by 911 and found themselves fighting a completely unrelated war.

Now, I know you've got corporate sponsors that need to see ratings. Nothing brings home the ratings like seeing a pissed off black preacher (what's he all worked up about?) played over and over and over again until you really get the race war goin'. That's responsible journalism. Nothing sells newspapers like a front page article that insinuates John McCain had an affair with a lobbiest, but never quite says it outright. Man, that's a skillful word dance. A little slight-of-hand trick. David Blaine would be impressed. But don't fear, there are other surefire tactics to improve your ratings. You can eat bugs, or host a dance competition. G-Dub did that little Gene Kelly number and that was a total hit on YouTube. See, he's thinking OUTSIDE the box.

Guess what else is good for ratings? Puppies. Puppies bring excelllllllent ratings. And babies, boy we can't get enough of watching cute babies.

So here's what I'm thinking.... hire some puppies and some babies. Even Dick Chenny will look like an adorable old grandpa if you sit a baby and a puppy in his lap. Then when he's told that two-thirds of the American people do not think that the war in Iraq is worth it, he can reply "So?" and he won't seem like a totally out-of-touch jerk. He will seem endearing, because he is holding a baby and a puppy.

It's really a win-win. We get puppies and babies, you get a ratings bump. And we will never again have to be asked: Is Obama black enough? Is Hillary masculine enough? Was McCain's wife really fabricated in a Mattel factory? (The answers, by the way are "Who Cares," "Who Cares," and...oh go ahead and tackle that last one for us, we know you'll do it justice.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I will not break the first rule of blogging (which is to apologize for being a delinquent blogger)...I will simply say that I have had a busy week. After a hard-fought battle with notecards, audiotapes, Hirigana charts and my own will, I took my Japanese final and got an "A" and a smiley face from Miyagi-Sensei. Can't remember the last time I got a smiley face on the top of a test, but the Japanese are good like that. This IS the land of Hello Kitty. John scored an A as well, after only studying for ONE HOUR. Mr. Smarty pants and I have enjoyed this week off from school, but next quarter's class commences at the beginning of April.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, and we hopped on our bikes for a little ride up the island.

Once we got off the main road (past at least two Starbuck's), I felt like we were really in a foreign country. The land is plush with thick greenery. There are these small plots of land that local farmers plow, and you can see them hand-pruning the fields.

The only reason this photo is impressive is that it is a self-portrait and I was going about 45 mph downhill.

There are tombs peppered around the island. Large marble and cement tombs of Okinawans passed. You can see them off to the side of the highway, or even on army bases, or like this one, on a hill next to fields of vegetables. The are usually guarded by shisa dogs, but this one had a nice pair of lions and an awesome view. Not a bad place to spend eternity.

These guys were just hanging out by the side of the road.

I don't know if you can tell by the photos, but his eyeball was the size of a golfball.

I was actually about 5 feet from this guy, or else he wouldn't have ventured out.

Enjoy your Easter!

Saturday, March 15, 2008


I should be studying for my Japanese final which is TOMORROW. I should be working on conjugating adjectives, which is befuddling to me. What have I spent the greater part of this week's alloted study hours on? Weaving hundreds of tiny beads together to make an absurd necklace I will probably never have the chutzpah to wear anywhere outside of LA.

I can't help it. I love to be distracted by shiny things. I try to hide the evidence when John gets home, but a mysteriously covered pile of jewelry tools on the corner living room table violates our "no crafts in the living spaces" rule. Well, he knew what he was getting into when he signed up for life with me. As my parents read this I know they are happy THEY did not sign up for life living with me because they know exactly what my piles of craft supplies look like.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Part IV: The Fun!

The whole reason we went to Seoul was to see the LA Galaxy play FC Seoul in the World Cup Stadium. Unfortunately, Donovan was not there, but Becks did play all 90 minutes and he earned every penny of the $250 million that they pay him. Even the South Koreans rooting for FC Seoul went nuts when he touched the ball. FC Seoul won in shootouts, which John says doesn't count, so he keeps telling people they tied. No one cared, it was a good time regardless.

On the way to the soccer game


John where's your Galaxy Flair?....much better

Be The Reds!


Looking for a good pub

Found one!

She looks so innocent...

...but about 10 minutes earlier this woman literally smacked our friend here when he refused to buy flowers from her. We guilted him into his eventual purchase and international relations were restored.

Like a kid in a candy of wine and some coasters and I'm all set for the evening.

The Ice Skaing Rink at Lotte World

Some seriously colorful speedskaters in training

Have you booked your flights to Seoul yet?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Part 3: Artful Korea

First of all, Happy Birthday Dad! It is Gunner's birthday as well, but we will put an extra candle on his cake for you.

Before coming to Okie, everyone was saying to me "Oh, this experience is going to be so INSPIRATIONAL for your jewelry line, you'll be so INSPIRED in Japan, just let the INSPIRATION flow." One thing that is not helpful to inspiration is the pressure to constantly be, guessed it. I think I've had to let my brain diffuse for a couple months, but Korea definitely got the juices flowing.

We went to the Leeum Museum, a really gorgeous piece of architecture made of smooth grainy woods, earthy metals and stone, offsetting the vibrant works inside. It houses what you might think you would find at a traditional Korean museum: pottery, scrolls of caligraphy, landscapes. But, as you descend this spiraling staircase, the exhibits get more modern and unexpected....giant and colorful, and fairly indistinguishable as "Korean" but then that's what made it interesting. No cameras were allowed, but I snuck a few shots for my loverly readers.

Insect Life at the Leeum

A performance art interpretation of the Leeum Architecture

The shopping in Korea is absolutely amazing. Despite being a lover of fashion, I am not a lover of shopping. There is streetside shopping with blocks and blocks of knock-offs and stacks and STACKS of everything you could wish to purchase.
Shoes Anyone?

She's too sexy for Milan New York and Japan.....

There are elegantly dressed men who approach you and ask if you would like a handmade suit, shirts, boots, cashmere's almost too tempting to resist! Clay bought some great suits for when he gets out and can actually wear them. John and I found a great antique store, where he bought a sexton for his office (oddly, his office is taking on a more "Navy" theme, what with the 5 foot pirate painting and all...) Then there are the trendy girls, dressed soup to nuts in ridiculously high boots, tights, coats, coifed hair, make-up to perfection. The older women are beautifully dressed, and look like....women. Much like French woman who look all the more beautiful as they age.


By far my favorite area (and John's too) was the artsy district called "Insadong." I would liken it to a SoHo of sorts. No tchokies or knockoffs in Insadong, but rather tiny shops filled with handmade goods, a feast for my craft-lovin' eyes.

Nina & Clay

Clay's friend Nina, a lawyer living in Korea, joined us for the day in Insadong. She took us to a lovely periodical-stocked cafe for some spiced wine. I could have stayed in there all day.

Korea's "Literary Cafe"

Chestnuts roasting in Insadong

Some sort of Korean Idol Competition

Me mashing a moshi-like substance for the candy-maker in Insadong

Stay tuned for the 4th and final installment of Korea!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Part Two: The DMZ

The most fascinating part of my time in Korea would have to be the DMZ tour. The Demilitarized Zone is a 4km-wide zone along the entire border between the North Korea and South Korea, the most heavily guarded border in the world.

The 3 of us were lucky enough to have our own personal tour guide Youngsan (Angela) who gave us a fascinating history. (On a funny note, she actually picked us up in Seoul looking like the Korean version of Gwen Steffani....patent leather high-heels boots, leopard-print tights... thinking we had hired her for the "City Tour". When we told her that we had actually signed up for the DMZ tour, she switched gears immediately - and like Superman emerging as Clark Kent from a telephone booth, transformed herself into a very serious and extremely knowledgeable historian.)

Youngsan and Clay ready to descend into a tunnel

We drove about an hour out of Seoul to the DMZ area. I will not attempt the details of the history, as the tour guide was talking for a full 4 hours, and I could not begin to cover it. Suffice to say that the war is still technically "on" since 1953, and both sides stand and watch each other and the whole thing is very tense. There are a ton of land mines that the US helped to plant, keeping the North from coming into the south.

Land Mine indicator, up close and personal. I probably should have backed up a bit and used my zoom lens.

The Tunnel

Since 1953, the NK's have actually carved tunnels deep in the granite of the earth, USING CHISELS AND DYNAMITE. This thing is an amazing feat. Well, I should mention that the workforce consisted of NK's political prisoners, and they were probably not volunteers. I can't imagine how many died in the process, as there is hardly any air down there, and NK is not known for it's safety standards.

Figurines of NK's building the tunnel

SK has discovered 4 tunnels, and suspect there to be about 20. The 3rd tunnel, which we got to go in, was large enough to permit 30,000 heavily armed troops to pass per hour into South Korea for a surprise attack only about 30 miles from Seoul. NK's discovered the tunnels from the South side, and then landmined and stopped up the tunnels, and we got to go all the way to the middle point.

We took a tram 45 Meters DOWN into the earth and then got out to walk to the end, not even being able to stand straight because the tunnel was not that big. I must say if I had known that it was going to be a claustrophobe's worst nightmare, I'm not sure I would have braved it, but I'm glad I did. It did not help that I was sitting across from a ginormous, dreadlocked Canadian guy on the tram that was about the girth of the tunnel itself, and I spent the ride trying to figure out a way I was going to get around him should we become trapped.

The funny part is that the NK's actually painted the walls of the light brown solid granite to appear black so that when the international community inspected the tunnel, NK said they were "mining for coal-- see? black walls...coal! We're not trying to bypass 100,000 land mines to try to sneak spies into South Korea, we were just mining for coal....IN SOLID GRANITE." Um hmmmmm. Kim Jon Il must have learned that one in an "I Love Lucy" episode.

So there are these tunnels, and the SK's don't know where they all are, and there is this potential to invade South Korea at any time. And the US military is under a 1:00 AM curfew in all of Korea, so I guess they're hopin' the attack doesn't come at 3 AM, because they'll be fightin' on their own. (Speaking of curfew, MP's actually come into the bars in Seoul to get all the military people out, so we had to leave at 12:30 every night, which is a tad embarrassing when you're just hanging out with a bunch of Canadians, and you have to run out at midnight for fear of turning into a pumpkin.)

A group of wealthy SK's raised a bunch of money to build a brand new train station on the border, in the expectant hopes that someday they will be able to travel once again into North Korea. The train station has never been used other than as a site on the tour. It shows that this fierce antagonism between the two nations is not necessarily felt by the people. The South Koreans are optimistic that they will be reunited with the north and seem to be awaiting the day. The train station is symbolic of that hope.

John and I with a South Korean guard at the Train Station

(Another odd note, one that will send shudders down my germaphobic father's spine...the soap in the bathroom at the train station was not of the liquid kind.... it was literally a bar of soap on a were just supposed to rub your hands on a bar of soap that presumably 400+ other people had used. And yet the Koreans walk around the city with medical face masks on. Go figure.)

All in all, it was a very intriguing trip for a history buff like myself.

More on the fun, more colorful Korea tomorrow!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Part One: The Taste of Seoul

What a great trip we had! Thank you to Ellen and Nancy Lee and everyone else who gave us some really great recommendations - we covered a ton of ground for only having been there 6 days. Most prominent in my recent memories of the trip was the COLD. Turns out I am a beach girl, who knew? It ranged from 30-45 degrees the whole time we were there, and actually snowed on the last day. The core group of travelers consisted of John, Clay (a fellow JAG lawyer) and me, but we were joined by many other friends of friends throughout the trip which made it a really good time.

We really ate our way through Seoul, never passing up an opportunity to taste the nuances of the culture. That, and because it was darn delicious.

First morning we woke up in Incheon, just outside of Seoul. Upon a breakfast inquiry, our concierge pointed us toward a Dunkin' Doughnuts. "Ha! Sir, you have us mistaken for unadventurous Western tourists! Show us the Kimchee, and NOW!" Well, we dove right in and had one of the best meals of the trip. "Kimchee" is a Korean standard, served at every meal. It is cabbage soaked in vinegar and spices. It is an acquired taste (one I've not yet fully acquired). One of our tour guides later in the trip said her mother told us if she ate her kimchee everyday, she would become Miss Korea. Apparently even the natives have to be talked into this unique flavor at some point.

One of my favorite Korean dishes is the "Bibimbap" which is a mix of raw egg (sometimes chicken egg, sometimes fish eggs), rice veggies. It is served in a sizzling heavy stone bowl, kind of like the fajita platter, except this bowl stays sizzling literally the entire meal. You stir up the ingredients and it cooks right in front of you. I made a fool out of myself eating it with chopsticks (it is supposed to be consumed with a spoon, but I felt like a four year-old eating rice with a spoon). At any rate, I tried about 3 variations of this dish and it was outstanding every time.

Clay betraying his Western roots by eating bibimbap with chopsticks. Still tastes just as delicious.

The boys, of course, loved the Korean Barbeque, which I'm sure many of you have had in the US. The amount of food they give you is really amazing and so cheap! Many of the authentic Korean meals we had varied from $11-20 per person and that included giant CASS Beers!

Sidewalk "street meats" are another authentic part of Korean culinary fare. I generally try to steer clear of food prepared on the street, but Koreans take this cuisine to a whole other level. In the fuh-reeeez-zing cold, people are huddled around steaming carts of meats, squids, fish, corn, chestnuts, SILKWORMS, nuts, fruit and moshi candy. My favorite curbside treat were these piping hot sweet doughy biscuits filled with red beanpaste, at $2 for about 8. Those biscuits were so tasty that I ate them all before I remembered to take a picture. I did, however, document many other streetfoods below....

Seoul is a really international city, as you would expect in a city with 23, 800,000 inhabitants (yes, that's almost 3 times the pop. of Los Angeles.) We stayed in Itaewon, which is the "foreign" part of town. Rather than it being an American enclave, as we had been warned, we found it to be pretty diverse. We played darts and drank Guiness at an Irish pub. We played the quiz game with Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians at a Canadian Bar (and were spanked on our knowledge of current events, greek mythology and movies embarrassing). Unlike Okinawa, the foreign food was pretty authentic. The best restaurants would be found by ducking down dark and narrow alleyways, again, not something I would recommend doing in the US. The alley way behind our hotel had some fantastic finds. We indulged in some French, Moroccan and Indian food, all of which were outstanding.

Clay, John, Jen, Charlie and other John enjoying Moroccan food. Charlie and John both live in Korea.

Indian cuisine...lots of garlic naan and spicy sauces...yum!

More tomorrow!