bookmark_borderPost-241: Eating Shrimp Burgers at Lotteria (Or, the Shrimp Burger War)

Since time immemorial, as far as I know, Lotteria has been “the only game in town” for shrimp burger fans,

But, lo, McDonald’s has announced its own shrimp burger to South Korea, and Lotteria, worried, held a “buy one shrimp burger, get one free” in the last week of October to rally the faithful. I carefully investigated.

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A Lotteria in Incheon, South Korea. The sign says:
“Shrimp Burger 1+1” (buy one get one free) / From the 28th to the 30th / From 2 to 10 PM

That’s the Lotteria I found. In I went. This Lotteria, like many others, is multi-storey. You can see the second level of seating above. The inside of the ground floor was interesting in several ways:
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I’d like to make two comments about the above scene:

(1) All in the Family (of Companies). The naive foreigner likely wouldn’t guess it, but this “Natuur” brand ice cream and Lotteria are owned by the same parent mega-company (or chaebol, 제벌, based on the Japanese zaibatsu), namely Lotte Group. I learned this from my friend B.W. Cho who now  works for Lotte Group. Any time two businesses are inexplicably collaborating, it’ll mean they are under the same chaebol.

Korean society is dominated by these chaebol mega-companies. The biggest is Samsung. They say that Samsung alone constitutes 20% of the South Korean economy. This shocks Westerners and I think it’s fair to say that it seems “dirty” to us, almost what we’d expect in a dystopian sci-fi world. A few mega-companies control everything? Come on.

(2) Not-in-Kansas-Anymore Grammar. Part-2 here may seem cliche, because it is. But I think it’s worth pointing out: We have very little English in the above scene, but even so we get an awkward attempted semi-pun (“In-Joy Lotteria”). Then on the ice cream freezer we see another grammar error, “Pure, Nature, Freshness” (should be “Natural”; arguably “Fresh”). Oh well. No big deal and proof and testament that this is no Western franchise, anyway. Lotteria began in Japan and South Korea in the 1970s and has since spread across East Asia (though McDonald’s is still king).

Then I read the wrapper:

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Lotteria Shrimp Burger.

CAUTION: This product can be spoiled it should be eaten as quickly as possible.
As quickly as possible! Oh, my. It sounds intimidating, doesn’t it, like it’s a James-Bond-style timebomb.

I did eat them pretty promptly in one sense, in fact earlier than the rules allowed for: The event was supposed to start on October 28th at 2 PM, but I managed to get mine on the 28th at 1:50 PM. Two shrimp burgers for 3,300 South Korean Won, which is about $3.00 USD. It’s not the greatest deal in history but I hadn’t had a shrimp burger in a long time. The two shrimp burgers did the job they were made for well enough. I seldom eat at these kids of places, but when I do I like Lotteria for its shrimp burger (though more usually I order whatever is rock-bottom cheapest, which is usually what they call the “bulgogi burger”).

Many foreigners in Korea say they dislike Lotteria which has always puzzled me. In fact, I’d never heard of “Lotteria” before coming to Asia. Does unfamiliarity breed contempt? Does the strange English (as above) put people off? Do they just feel McDonald’s is their natural place? They say it’s the taste. I don’t see a difference.

Oh, one more thing: The name. “Lotteria” It took me a long time to figure out how to pronounce it. It is pronounced flatly, without accent (that is, it is not “loh-teh-REE-ah”, the style that would fit the Spanish tongue). The name comes from its parent company, Lotte Group. Its original meaning was “Lotte Cafeteria”, shortened to “Lotteria”. This I also know from B.W. Cho, who as a new worker for the company had to pass a test about company culture and history.

bookmark_borderPost-240: “First World, Third World” Travel Essay

From my experience in international travel since 2007 (I left the USA for the first time on Jan. 1, 2007), I’m led to believe that no other rich country on this planet is anywhere near as unpleasant to fly in as the USA. The only airport I’ve ever been in that was less pleasant than the USA’s airports tend to be today must be Manila, designated the “World’s Worst Airport”. (If you go through it for any length of time you will see why. I did.)

I discovered a stinging and incisive travel essay that captures the feeling of air travel in the USA today. Who among us can’t echo most everything the essay says (those who have traveled by air in the USA in recent years)? The writer writes specifically about New York City, a place I’ve been in and out of several times lately. His social commentary about NYC in the quoted excerpts below I can also agree with.

I find it to be good, engaging writing, which can be hard for travel writing to achieve. Here:

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First World, Third World: A Travel Essay
By Peter  Van Buren

You travel a bit, and you wonder what happened. […]

To the Airport
The subway might be faster, but the segment I’d use for part of the journey was first opened in 1904 and is a hodge-podge of patches and repairs today. The girders holding up the street have been painted by generations of workers over the last hundred years such that when a chip appears, it is deep and noticeable, a sort of archaeological find. Theodore Roosevelt was president when the first coat of paint was applied.

The subway isn’t really an option anyway. Public transportation to the airport, one of America’s busiest, is limited to a single bus that runs irregularly, with limited space for the luggage of the poor souls who need to check something, and drops off at stops at the airport equally convenient to no one. The bus isn’t yours anyway; it is designed for persons commuting out of the areas it passes through headed to work at the airport, staffing your Cinnabon. Some smiles there that don’t reach eyes. At least remember to say thanks.

On your way you pass through their crumbling neighborhoods where the open businesses are often check cashing places, we buy gold cubbies and pawn shops. Some fast food places, who pay minimum wage in the neighborhood while exporting profits to midtown banks. You can actually see over the roofs into Manhattan where the money goes, and where the morning newspaper has an article on “affordable” condos priced at over two million dollars.

At the Airport
The airport, originally built in 1939 (Franklin Roosevelt was President and WWII was just starting for the Greatest Generation) and randomly added to over since, is chaotic at best. At security, foreign tourists look around for validation as they are yelled at to remove their shoes. It all seems inexplicable to many from Third World places the U.S. can’t bully into following America’s security theatre script. The floor we walk on in our socks is still a bit sticky from some spill. Everyone holds their hands over their head inside the scanner, a position of submission prisoners assume. The analogy is only slightly an analogy. But people either believe in it for their freedom as they are told, or just put up with it to avoid the bullying that follows displays of even quiet resistance. Be glad you are allowed to fly at all and have not been put without your knowledge on the No-Fly list for some Josef K. offense.

Everyone on the plane, which departs late without explanation offered to you, is sorted into class. Those with the right credit card, or those who paid more, are treated one way, right down to a silly scrap of red carpet at check-in that to be fair does seem to validate something to some of them, judging by the smiles and the glances back into the lines. The other people are pushed onto the plane in a scrum of unintelligible “groups” to struggle against one another for the limited resources of space to sit, or to store giant amounts of luggage they are forced to carry to avoid usurious fees. The fee has nothing much to do with the airline’s biggest cost, fuel, as the weight is the same in or under the plane. The fee just is there. It’s a kind of modern icon, in other places called disingenuously a “convenience fee,” a fee you pay to buy something else.

On the plane everyone speaks in a bully’s (that word again) passive-aggressive verbiage. Sit down or we won’t take off, and it’ll be your fault, and God help you if the other flyers turn on you. You can’t congregate near the restrooms, even though there is only a tiny space anyway, because supposedly 13 years ago that’s what the 9/11 hijackers did. You are not passengers, or customers. You are all potential terrorists and will be treated as such. Here’s half a Diet Coke as a reward for being compliant.


[Note: Section headings added by me] [Full Essay]

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People”. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is “Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent”.


There are certain people in the USA who might view his commentary as “anti-American” (but as he was in federal service [U.S. State Department] for 24 years, he can’t be all that anti-American). The people waving away this commentary as “anti-American” will likely have never been abroad; will likely have never seen anything else; will likely have never realized that the other rich countries of the world seem able to do a lot of things a lot better than the USA can, at this late date. Why? I ask.

The author’s first words above: You travel a bit, and you wonder what happened.”  People say that the USA is the most powerful and richest country in the history of the world, and it has been so for something approaching a century. What happened?

bookmark_borderPost-239: [My Korean Essay] Mistakes by Foreigners in Korea

Our teacher’s usual whirlwind style whirled on as she handed out papers filled with small boxes, and let me try to approximate by using the written word what her speaking style feels like to listen to by which I mean lots of words without many breaks and accordingly you can hardly keep the logical flow of what’s going on and thus it gets confusing whereupon despite the strain you may feel somehow you’ve got to keep up since walking out and leaving the room is not possible and so when all is said and done you’ve got to figure something out. See what I mean? Hah. (If you read it quickly you can get some idea of what the class tends to feel like to me). But I digress.

There I was with my two sheets of paper full of boxes on them, puzzled. Han Teacher starts talking something about mistakes foreigners make in Korea, but as it sounds a bit to me like the previous paragraph may sound to you, I figure out what’s going on more through logical deduction than true understanding of the fine points of the instructions. We were to write about our own experiences making (humorous) mistakes in Korea.

In each box, there could only be one Korean character, or a space, so we were limited to a certain number of characters, 400 to be precise (closer to 300 if counting spaces). It was implied that we had to more-or-less fill in all the boxes and be done with it. Not less, not more.

Here is my essay in Korean (after corrections) and then a translation into English.

한국에서 했던 실수에 대한 글
한국에 있는 외국인들은 실수가 많다고 합니다. 저도 실수를 해본 적있습니다. 여기에 제가 했던 실수에 대해 성명하겠습니다.

먼저, 미국에서는 우리가 보통 집에 들어가면 신발을 벗지 않습니다. 하지만 한국에서는 한국인들이 항상 신발을 벗는 것 같습니다. 그래서 저는 실수를 했습니다.  제가 신발을 벗지않고 집에 들어갔습니다. 저는 한국인들은 왜 이렇게 신발에 대해서 조심하라고 궁금했습니다.

다 른 실수도 했습니다. 이전에 한국말을 잘 못했습니다. 문법을 잘 몰라서 재미있는 실수를 했습니다. 저는 “발표를 잘 할거예요” (영어로: “You will do well”) 말하고싶었지만, 저는 한국 문법을  잘 몰랐기때문에  “잘 거예요!”라고  이야기했습니다 (영어로: “You will sleep”!). 이런  재미있는 실수를 하고 지금까지 그 실수를 기억합니다.


A translation into English is below:

Picture

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An Essay About Mistakes Made in Korea
It is said that foreigners who are in Korea make many mistakes. I, too, have the experience of making mistakes. I will explain about mistakes I have made.

Firstly, in the USA we usually don’t take off our shoes when going into a house. However, in Korea it seems to me that Koreans always take off their shoes and so I have made this mistake. I didn’t take off my shoes when I entered a house. I wondered why Koreans care so much about taking off shoes all the time like that.

There is another mistake I have made. In the past, I didn’t know Korean well. As I didn’t know Korean grammar well, I made certain funny grammar mistakes. I tried to say to another student, “Tomorrow you will do well [on your presentation]” (“내일 잘 할거예요”) but because I didn’t yet know grammar well, I actually said “Tomorrow you will sleep”! (“내일잘 거예요”). This was a funny mistake so even now I remember that one.


Postscript: “You will do well” and “You will sleep” sound very similar. Trust me on this. The other student didn’t know Korean well, either, of course, and responded with a vigorous “Yes, I will sleep!!” (네, 잘 거예요!”). How about that! It’s a good thing no Koreans were around.


bookmark_borderPost-238: Back to Sailing the Seven Seas

I am led to post the song in #13 again, “Sail the Seven Seas”, also called “Rocking Chair” by “Jack the Lad” from England.

I do like this song. In many ways it is a very traditional English folk song, but below you will hear a 1970s rock kind of style (thus “folk rock”).

The song’s narrator is an old man, looking back wistfully on his own life. He compares it to his own grandfather’s life. The narration of the song weaves in and out between the present day and two sorts of memory: (1) The narrator speaking in the present day (as an old man); (2a) Entering the narrator’s memory of his own life (life review); (2b) Entering the narrator’s memory of his grandfather’s life.

Although recorded forty years ago, its message is relevant to really any time. The category to which I assign it is “Purpose of Life“. Why? Listen and read the lyrics, below. You’ll see. (According to Google, in 2013-2014, these lyrics can be found nowhere but here. Transcribed by me).
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When I was teaching English more regularly, I tried to get my most advanced students to think in this sort of way. I once told one group that every essay is, can be, should be, important, no matter how trivial it may seem.

I told them this: “Every essay you will ever write is really an answer the same question,‘Why are humans on this planet?‘” I admit this may sound…uh, pretentious, but it  helped some of them. Understand, the standard attitude was all essays were “punitive”, mini-punishments to  endure. Write as boringly as possible; in an inane “cookie cutter” style; “run out the clock”. This re-conceptualization was appealing to the bright kids. The “Purpose of Life” is an open question, which is why it is exciting: They (we) have the power in hand to make of it what they (we) want.
___________________________________

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Painting by James Williamson

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“Wanderer in the Fog” by Caspar Friedrich [1818]

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Recording of “Seven Seas” (Rocking Chair):

“The Seven Seas” (Rocking Chair) Lyrics
By Jack the Lad / 1975

Sitting by the fire
In an old rocking chair
Like my grandaddy taught me to do
Listening intently
To the words he had to tell me
Because in my mind
I knew they were true
He said he’d sailed the seven seas
In ships, with tall masted sails
And he’d ridden, from London to Leeds
In one day-!

[Lyrics Continue]

[Get up!]

I took a walk  to pass the time
I discovered many things
Things that I had to force myself to do
Like study and find a job
Take a wife, feed my kids
And I did them, as I thought they were new

But I never sailed the seven seas
In ships, with tall masted sails
I never rode from London to Leeds
In one day~!

As I’ve walked, there passed the time
I’ve collected many assets
Folks say that I’m “successful as can be”
But my grandaddy died
Without a penny to his name
He was a damn sight more successful than me

Because he’d sailed the seven seas
In ships, with tall masted sails
He’d ridden from London to Leeds
In one day

[Fiddle]

And now I’m sitting by the fire
In that old rocking chair
And I’m dreaming of the time around now
I’m searching for a yarn
To tell my own grandson
And I’m wishing to God that time would face about

So I could sail the seven seas
In ships with tall masted sails
And ride from London to Leeds

Sail the seven seas
In ships, with tall masted sails
And ride from London to Leeds
In one — day~!



(Jack the Lad was a 1970s group composed of Rod Clements, Simon Cowe, Ray Laidlaw,
Billy Mitchell, Phil Murray, Ian ‘Walter’ Fairbairn.)

bookmark_borderPost-237: [Scene from Korean Class] Famous Person from Kenya: Obama

The tedium of our Korean reading class was broken for a spell on Tuesday September 30th.

I will, below, do my utmost to reliably
re-create (in translation) the dialogue, as it happened:

Cast of Characters
Nine Students Present (born between 1985 and 1994): Seven Chinese [two absent during the below episode], one Singaporean, one Russian (Siberian ancestry) [absent], three White-Americans. (Those absent this lesson have a habit of disappearing during reading class.) Two of the present Chinese and one American (not me) are featured in this episode.

  • [Featured Students]
  • D.D. : Chinese Female (from somewhere around Shanghai) born circa 1992
  • J.R. : Chinese Female (from near Xian) born circa 1991
  • L.A. : American Male (from Texas) born 1985

One Korean Teacher (born 1987, I’m told): She is from Gyeongsang Province, the region that produced the generals who ruled South Korea from 1961 through the early 1990s. (Sidebar: I am proud to say that I was the one who figured out her region of origin. It so happened that her Seoul Accent veneer at times slipped away when she got annoyed at students, and Gyeongsang shone through. I later asked her if she was from that province, and she confirmed it). A graduate of Ewha University, the number-one women’s university in South Korea. She teaches our class reading.

We sat in a kind of modified semi-circle, with the teacher at the center, and the white board behind her.

Episode 1: In Which the “Obama Origin” Question is Discussed (Yet Again)
One of our reading passages dealt with Kenya. It talked about safaris; wild animals; coffee. The main comprehension questions were knocked out without much difficulty. Then this:

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Translated from Korean by me. Transcribed from my memory shortly after it happened. Grammar mistakes by students omitted.

Teacher:
Alright, class. How about famous people from Kenya? Do we know anyone famous from Kenya?
D.D. (Chinese): Obama! Obama is, uhh —

Teacher: Ah, Obama. [quizzically] Was he born in Kenya? [Pause] Where was Obama born?
[Indistinct noises as people whisper things or make inaudible comments]
D.D. (Chinese): Isn’t he from Kenya?
J.R. (Chinese)
: [eagerly] No, it’s Indonesia! He has–
Others: Huh? / Yes! / No, no. / What? / But…! / [etc.]
Teacher: Let’s ask the American students. How about you, L: Where is Obama from?
L. (American): He was born in the USA.
Teacher: Right, okay, but Obama’s parents were born in Kenya, right?
L.: Actually, his mother was born in the USA and his father was born in Kenya.
Teacher: Oh, is that right? [Wide eyed]. Really? So it’s not both parents.
Huh.
[Murmurs of agreement from others]
L.: [Chuckling] Some Americans who don’t like Obama say that he was born in Kenya.
Teacher: I see...
[Silence]

And so it happened. Our prestigious-university-educated teacher apparently believed that Obama was the son of two Kenyans. As  I told L. later, this was remarkable: She is highly intelligent, as she was accepted to Ewha (requiring test scores in the top 5% or so) but intellectual curiosity is something else all together. All these years of Obama in the news, and our teacher has apparently been under a misapprehension about this most basic of facts. This means that (1) our teacher is either particularly intellectually incurious [from her unimaginative teaching style, I’d say “yes” to this] or (2) “Obama as the son of two Kenyans” is a widespread belief among Koreans even at this late date.

Obama, in his heyday, was hugely popular across the world, both in 2008 and to a lesser extent in 2012, and
South Korean was on board too. They were polled about their own preference in 2012, and South Koreans favored Obama over Romney by 7-to-1 according to a BBC poll in October 2012 (of those with any opinion. (Specifically: 57% Obama, 8% Romney, 35% No Preference.)

The experience I relate above leads me to wonder, tangentially: How much have Obama’s many fans across the world ever really known about him? I don’t know. I’m not foolish enough to try to draw any conclusions from one incident but anecdotally, I can expand it to all the Asian students in the class on that day. My impression is that five of the six East-Asians present in our class that day were at least a bit mixed up about it. Only the Singaporean, P.G., born 1988, seemed to know about Obama’s origin correctly. (There are a few Singaporeans who study here, and I am impressed by them. There is also currently one Chinese-Malaysian I know of.)

bookmark_borderPost-236: Speedy Gonzales (1962)

“Speedy Gonzales” is a song I heard for the first time fifty-two years after it was released. I heard it on satellite radio in my uncle’s car in Connecticut, August 2014. It is based on the old cartoon of the same name.

It is a lively and fun song. It would also never, ever, be allowed by today’s “gatekeepers of acceptable discourse” in the USA. No way would a major pop singer be allowed to release anything like this today. There are still plenty of acceptable cultural targets of mockery, but this one would today be verboten.

Lyrics below:
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Speedy Gonzales (1962) By Pat Boone
It was a moonlit night in old Mexico
I walked alone, between some old adobe haciendas.
Suddenly, I heard the plaintive cry of a young Mexican girl….

La-la-la! La-la-la-la-la-la-la-laaa! etc.

You better come home, Speedy Gonzales
Away from Tannery Row
Stop all of your drinkin’
With that floozie named Flo

Come on home to your adobe
And slap some mud on the wall
The roof is leakin’ like a strainer
There’s loads of roaches in the hall

La-la-la-la!


Speedy Gonzales (Speedy Gonzales)
Why don’t you come home?
Speedy Gonzales
(Speedy Gonzales)
How come you leave me all alone?

Hey, Rosito, I hafta go shopping downtown for my “mudder”
She needs some tortillas and chili “paypers”


Your doggy’s gonna have a puppy
And we’re runnin’ outta coke
No enchiladas in the icebox
And the television’s broke

I saw some lipstick on your sweatshirt
I smelled some perfume in your ear
Well, if you’re gonna keep on messin’
Don’t bring your business back-a-here

Speedy Gonzales (Speedy Gonzales)
Why don’t you come home?
Speedy Gonzales
(Speedy Gonzales)
How come you leave me all alone?

Hey, Rosita come quick! Down at the cantina
They’re giving green stamps with tequila!!


(Speedy Gonzalez, 1962)