Monday, December 19, 2011

A Thousand Acres - Review

Jane Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres, a novel about an Iowa farm family.  Since I was on my way to Iowa (though not to a farm family), I thought this would be a good read.  I was right.  True to form with good books, I ended up staying up late one might to finish the last 100 pages.
A Thousand Acres moves through the mundane details of farm life - cans of used nails, repairing tractors, cows in corn fields after harvest, etc, etc, etc.  But through the slow trudge through minutia, Smiley also reflects on the relationships and deeper meanings of life that find expression in these microscopic realia. 
This is a story of sin, abuse, recovery, failure, transition, selfishness, unselfishness, humilty, and even - barely - healing.  While I typically hope for more positive resolution, the final chapter of the book is one of the best I've ever read in terms of sheer poignancy. 
The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gospel of Restoration - Isaiah 61

             Hello.  My name is Josh, and I’m an alcoholic.
             I’m a porn addict, a compulsive gambler, a smoker, and a semi-regular crack user.
             I’m a shopaholic, workaholic, me-aholic.
             I’m the child of abusive parents, and now I’m a codependant adult.
             I beat my wife, and I’m more than $100,000 in debt.
             I am a rape victim, and I’m a sexual abuser.
             I’m grieving the loss of a loved one.
             I’m a racist, a legalist, a moralist, and a recovering hypocrite.
             I am depressed and lonely. 
Sometimes I have thoughts of suicide.  I may even have a plan.
I look like I have a lot of friends, but really I have a very hard time developing meaningful relationships.
I’m struggling with problems with my parents, and my marriage is falling apart.
I’m obsessed with my looks, and I have an eating disorder.
I’m addicted to the internet, and I am a flagrant procrastinator.  Not a good combination!
I have deep resentment and hidden anger.
I am addicted to romance.
My life is dominated by anxiety.
I use profanity often – especially when I’m not at church.
I can’t stop gossiping, no matter how many times I tell myself I’m going to stop.
I’m beginning to lose hope in God.
I am actually an athiest.
I doubt everything all the time.
I value achievement more than love.
I’m struggling to become the person God wants me to be, and I’m beginning to give up.
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.
I am lost, captive, blind, despairing, mourning, helpless, and hopeless.
I am broken.  I am a sinner.

Some of these are true of me.  All of these are true for someone in this room.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Korea Tip 123: What the Book

If you want English books in Korea, you have scant options.
1) Scour the frustratingly small selections at local bookstore chains.  (However, these have improved from nothing in 2004 ... to a single shelf a few years ago ... to a genuine English book section with several book cases.)
2) Hit up some of the larger bookstores in Seoul with expanded selections.
3) Pay exorbitant international shipping rates through - something like $9 a book, with no discounts for multiple book orders.
4) Order from  What The Book has a physical location on the side streets of Itaewon (near the fire station), where you can also buy used books.  However, their real value is their online selection.
They can provide most English books in a wide variety of genres.  True, they mark up the price a bit higher than Amazon and other US based online distributors.  However, they don't charge for shipping in Korea if you spend more than 25,000 won.
Payment is relatively easy.  You can pay through credit card or bank transfer.  I do the transfers.  Just jot down the info on a post-it note, and head to your closest ATM.  In a few days or weeks, depending on whether they have your book currently in Korea, you'll be lounging on a couch with your new book.

Korea Tip 122: Fine Italian Dining in SsangYong Dong

There are some great Italian restaurants in Cheonan, and there are some Italian restaurants in SsangYong Dong (one of Cheonan's neighborhoods or districts, where KNU is located).  But there aren't many really good Italian restaurants in SsangYong Dong.  Most are semi-fast food, or they are a good try, but not quite. 
Until now.
Lieto opened several months ago, but I thought it was just a pricey coffee shop.  Sarah and I stumbled into this fine dining establishment looking for another place for our Friday night date last week.  We were pleasantly surprised!
First of all, the atmosphere is great - really classy and quiet.
Secondly, the service is very fast.  I noticed that she was already preparing the house salads as soon as she gave us the menus and confirmed that we would be ordering a meal.
Then, the house salad was hands-down the best house salad I've had in Korea.  It had a variety of fresh vegetables and a mouth-watering red wine and vinegarette dressing.
Next, out came a pumpkin soup.  Then, garlic bread.  Both of these were moderate, but I had to love the constant flow of appetizers.
The main courses were good.  Sarah's carbonara was a little bland, and my amitriciana was very spicy - even for me, but the quality was very good. 
Finally, the meal was topped off with high quality home roasted coffee. 
The only downside was the price.  For the two of us, it cost 29,000 won.  We won't be going back often, but maybe for a special occasion. 
It's located just a block east of the SsangYong Lotte Mart on the main street.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Annie Hall - #35 Greatest American Movie of All Time

Thanks to Itunes and loaners from friends, Sarah and I are slowly working our way through the American Film Institute's Top 100 Movies of All Time.  This week we watched Annie Hall, a 1977 movie, co-everything (writing, directing, staring) Woody Allen.
It's a semi-biographical, romantic comedy, telling the story of Alvi (Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) and their on-again, off-again relationship.  It has lots of flashbacks, in which the lead characters are present on the sidelines of the flashback - much like the Ghost of Christmas Past or It's a Wonderful Life.  Except that here, to great comedic effect, the present day characters are able to interact with or even interpose themselves into the flashback characters.  The whole movie has this playful disconnect with reality that allows the characters to move in and out of each others' stories and even to step toward the camera to address the audience directly.
Overall, I found it an interesting mixture of funny and sad, but not overwhelmingly good.  I was particularly disappointed that Allen's character didn't seem to make any progress in dealing with his own issues.  The Josh rating: JJJ.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Korea Tip 121: English Teacher Rights

  1. Health Insurance: Your employer is required to enroll you for National Health Insurance.  The cost is shared 50/50  Employer/Employee. The employee’s contribution is usually 2.82% of the monthly wage.
  2. Pension: You are required to participate in the National Pension Savings.  The contributions are shared 50/50 Employer/Employee.  The employee’s contribution is usually 4.5% of the monthly wage. After leaving the country you should receive about 9% of your total wages as a lump sum payment.  (This is not available for citizens of some countries.)
  3. No Deductions: The employer cannot deduct anything from wages for any reason other than health insurance, taxes, and pension, even if you end your contract early.
  4. Leaving Bonus: If your contract stipulates a monthly pay rather than an annual salary, you have a right to about one month’s pay in “severance” or “leaving bonus” (Tway-jik-keum: 퇴직금) for each full year of work.
  5. Written Notice or Severance Pay: If you have worked for at least six months and are fired without one month written notice, you usually have a right to one month of severance pay.

Time Lapse Theology (Isaiah 40:1-11)

    That was called “Cheonan By Night,” and it is a time lapse video by our own Andy Phelps.  One of the things I love about this video is the contrast of stability and change.  If we could expand the length of this video to 24 hours, we would see even more change.  The ebb and flow of people and traffic and light would change. 
    If we could expand the video to a month, we could see more coats and scarves emerging.  We could see the huge Christmas tree being installed.
    If we could expand the time frame to a year, we would see the streets packed for a few frames with the Cheonan Dance Festival.  We would see the changing of the seasons.  We would also see Yaoori change to ShinSeGye
    If we could expand the time frame to ten years, we would see the art plaza remodeled and the addition of the flower spear.  We would see the renovation of the river, construction projects, changing fashions, and businesses moving in and out.
    If we could expand the time frame to one hundred years in the same location, we would see Cheonan arise out of the rice fields and pine forests.  We would see North Korean tanks roll in during the Battle of Cheonan.  Even earlier, we might see occupying Japanese soldiers and cars replacing horse drawn carts.
    If we could expand it to one thousand years, what would we see?  Maybe kings on their way to the OnYang springs.  Maybe invasions by the Mongols or the Manchu.