Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Escaped North Korean propaganda artist video on his US exhibition

Propaganda posters are still with us and take many forms though their appearance has changed over the years. When I see North Korean propaganda artwork I often feel like I am looking at the same painting again and again. I found this video today on the BBC website about a North Korean defector responsible for some of the artwork over the last few years who now uses the canvas for a different purpose.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Curse you immoral Eggnog latte!

I'm no fan of Starbucks. I find their coffee weak, overly milky and poor value. Indeed it is the coffee that coffee lovers don't generally drink. The recent tax controversy brackets them along with Amazon, Google, Facebook and others as massive companies who, though doing nothing illegal tax-wise are exploiting tax loopholes that are at best immoral and massively out of step with public opinion. People here have overwhelmingly voiced their anger and distaste with this especially in these austere times. But of course nobody is surprised that they are all doing this. So, in general it is the last place I'd go for a coffee. Unless it's an Eggnog Latte.

Eggnog isn't really commonplace here in the UK and I'd associate it with North America. I think the first time I'd heard of it was in an Hollywood film. Many of my former Canadian colleagues said they missed it at Christmas time so one year in Korea I tried to make it. I can honestly say I'd never drank scrambled eggs until then and so bad was the drink/meal I'd concocted that I won't be repeating my mistake again. Despite this I find myself drawn to the Starbucks Eggnog Latte and liking it. With mixed emotions I will probably buy this every now and then until the festive period is over before going back to avoiding Starbucks once more just as Starbucks enthusiastically avoids paying moral levels of corporation tax.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Carat Manchester blogging event

Last week a friend of mine got invited to a bloggers event in Manchester and asked me if I'd like to go along even though I have no connection with his blog. With the promise of free wine, food and some freebies thrown it would have been rude to say no. The event was hosted by Carat, a media company with a wide portfolio and was held in their Portland Street branch. A quick write up of the night can be found on their website here.

The event was for those with blogs on health & fitness and sport and included several presentations from their staff on how to improve your blog and especially how to monetise it. As I have no ambition of ever creating a blog with the aim of making money out of it I concentrated on the wine but did learn a few things and had some good conversations. Amongst those present was someone from talkSPORT who I had a good chat with and a representative from British Cycling. A few free things I picked up were nice too.

Friday, 28 September 2012

K-pop reaches the Guardian website

Korean pop music really had a great boost globally recently with Psy's hit Gangnam Style. That link alone has racked up over 300 million hits on Youtube and has received lots of TV and radio coverage in America as well as exposure in Europe and beyond. That's the kind of market penetration that those promoting other singers have dreamed of for years. Who, if anyone will be next?

Some people pour scorn on Korean pop singers. I used to watch some of the Korean shows, ostensibly to learn a little about popular Korean culture and also to have an extra something to talk about with some of my students when I was an ESL teacher. Some of the singers are undeniably good whilst some are amazing dancers yet some are obviously just pretty faces.

For the newcomer it can feel so different from Western music with a seemingly over emphasis on looks and dancing with too much miming and a lot of auto-tune on songs. One thing in particular that I dislike are the saccharine songs which pop up from time to time. It is easy for many to dismiss Korean pop music as being all style over content but there is undeniable talent on the peninsula. Music cannot be dismissed simply because you may not be able to understand what is being said. What is different is not always wrong.

The Guardian website today picks 9 acts that readers may be want to look at. Namely, 2NE1, Big Bang, Girls Generation (SNSD), U-Kiss, Sistar, Beast, Wonder Girls, Super Junior and 2PM. Notable omissions for me are Miss A, Brown Eyed Girls and Rain amongst others.

Could Korean pop become more mainstream in the coming years? We shall see. Psy is less polished and arguably more talented than other mentioned but crucially he has not altered his music to accommodate the tastes of others. He was/is essentially being himself, take it or leave it.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Terrible start to a game

These came up for me while playing Words With Friends. At least there weren't any U's.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

In the gym today with U.S. Olympians

Over the past few months there have been a few semi-famous people at my gym. I've seen actors, comedians, singers and some athletes, naturally. I think this is because of a few hotels nearby. The vast majority though have been z-listers. Today I saw and actually talked to some current Olympians.

Although the vast majority of the 2012 Olympics is taking place in London there is some action around the country, specifically football. There has been quite a few tourists here in Manchester watching games, Brazilians, and Americans especially. I haven't seen many (if any) North Koreans knocking around though. I wonder how many have actually travelled, apart from officials.

Yesterday the American women's team beat the North Koreans 1-0 at Old Trafford and today I saw about half of the American team in my gym as I was leaving. I had a brief chat with a few of them and for the record they were very friendly and approachable but I didn't want to pester them so I wished them good luck and made my way home. I wonder what the North Korean team are doing today? They've been knocked out at the group stage. I doubt they'll be shopping in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. So far the North Koreans are having a good Olympics as too is the South Korean team.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Gym pentathlon

In the few months before I left Korea I put on a bit of weight. I was drinking a little too much and a little too often. I had stopped taekwondo and the only exercise I was getting was on my bike. I was looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life.

I got back home in the UK and I enjoyed the pleasures I was largely denied over the years in Asia, namely particular food and beer. Oh bitter how I do indeed love you. Consequently I put a little more weight which became a little to noticeable in my midriff.

So I joined a gym and I've been going their for over half a year now. In the first few months I didn't take things too seriously, even getting to a stage where I just used the swimming pool and the jacuzzi. And then I came back from a trip to Barcelona and decided I wanted to lose some weight. It's slowly started to happen.

Recently I had a fitness test and one instructor gave me a new plan for weekly exercises and I've stuck to it so far and more importantly I've been enjoying the exercise and the challenge. A couple of weeks ago the gym put up some posters for a pentathlon and I signed up. I thought about it for a few days and thought I'd give it a go as there's no fee to do it and it may motivate me to get fitter.

There are five disciplines that you have to do and you have four weeks to complete them. The total number you need to do to be entered into a prize draw is twenty but to qualify for the draw you need to have done each discipline a minimum of two times. To qualify for a t-shirt you need to do each discipline at least once and have a total of at least ten. So far I have done four of the disciplines with a total of 8/20 done with over two weeks to go. Some of the challenges are harder than others but none are against the clock.

Swimming. You have to swim 25 lengths (any stroke in the 20m pool). This is easy for me because at the moment I am swimming about three or four times a week, often 30 lengths+  and am really enjoying it.

Treadmill. You have to run or walk at least 3 kilometres. Again this is fairly easy and is one of the things an instructor has set me to do as part of my exercise routine.

Rowing. You have to row 1,500 metres. I find this easy as part of my weekly routine is to row 2,500 meters as often as I can. I find this great exercise as I try to beat my previous best.

Spinning classes. I had my first one last week, and even though I use the bike in the gym a lot I found this brutal. I particularly found the standing upright and then doing something similar to push ups tough. I was buoyed though by the man in front of me who appeared much fitter actually stopping a few times as I ploughed on. I felt great the next day.

Bodypump classes. I haven't been to a class yet as the times haven't worked out for me so far. Although I have seen some on-line videos I am a bit wary of how hard this will be for me because one of my elbows clicks when I do certain exercises (tennis elbow?).

I hope to get through the twenty challenges before time runs out. Damn it, I am one class away from getting the t-shirt! Regardless, I feel a bit fitter right now and am probably at my lightest in twelve months or so. Hopefully all the cardio work will pay off at some stage. I have a target weight which will be difficult to get down to and will involve a bit of sacrifice, commitment and changes.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Last week a man died in Manchester city centre. I know because I heard it happen.

I live in the Northern Quarter, and area known for its pubs, bars, restaurants, fashion and shopping amongst other things. My apartment is less than a minute away from the Manchester Arndale shopping mall where the man died last Friday, July 6th.

In the morning my wife and I walked past the Arndale and saw the main street (High Street) next to it blocked off by police, diverting traffic and bocking the route of the city's Metrolink tram. As it was raining we just concentrated on walking as fast as we could. Five hours later we came back the same way and things were still blocked off.

The crowd was bigger, people speculating about things and we looked around to see what we could before deciding to go home. And then we heard a noise, similar to a gun shot, though not as loud but still dramatic given the police involvement. I thought there was a siege or a robbery gone wrong but it wasn't that. Then people started to say someone had jumped. And someone had.

I'm still relieved that I hadn't directly seen it happened or the aftermath that and more importantly that my wife hadn't. We sped up because my wife still didn't realise what had happened and I waited to tell her when we got home. Some six weeks previously a similar thing happened but police were able to talk a woman down but not this time.

Their has been very little written up on this since it happened - and I have looked - quite possibly to respect the man's family's wish for privacy but some of those that were there will never forget.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Olympic torch in Manchester

Coca-Cola chief marketer Joe Tripodi, "Without the sponsors, there’s no Olympic Games."

One of the things that I've been looking forward to for a while is the Olympic Games taking place this year in my home country. Writing this as a thirty four year old I realise that barring some dramatic improvements in medical science I am not going to see another take place in the UK.

Despite this interest I haven't even tried to get tickets for any events. Tickets + travel + accommodation + expenses for London are excessive even at the best of times but I will enjoy it on TV. Over the weekend the Olympic torch relay made its way through Manchester. The torch passed by just five minutes walk from my apartment. My wife and I went to check it out. There was a big crowd for the section I went to and people were clearly enjoying themselves.

Before the torch ambled down Corporation Street (a most delicious irony) we were greeted by a cavalcade of sponsors. The convoy was a rolling swamp of commercialism and capitalism so brazen it bordered on pornography. Vehicles containing (presumably) employees bizarrely waving to the crowd as if they were there on merit. Perhaps this is a touch harsh but there was definitely too much jam on the bread. There have been some truly touching stories over the last few weeks about those who have carried the torch on the way but this left a bad taste in my mouth. I wonder what the real legacy of these games will be or even if we will have one that isn't more product placement.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Off to Barcelona

In a few hours my wife and I are hopping on a plane to Barcelona for a few days break. I managed to get some very cheap tickets a few weeks back and have been looking forward to it ever since. It's our first trip to mainland Spain where I've wanted to go for years and years.

I've not done much research leading up to this but plan to relax a bit and take in as many sites as we can given time and money. The Barcelona Metro is supposed to be quite good so we think we can get around quite easily and our hotel is in a fairly decent/central area. Sadly my Spanish is nearly nonexistent but as usual I know how to order a beer. La Rambla here we come.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Kim Jong-il lookalike falls on hard times

I am a little late writing up on this but saw it a few weeks ago in the Guardian. Briefly summing it up, a South Korean shopkeeper made a nice side living impersonating the now former North Korean 'Supreme Leader' until last month and now is at a loss, perhaps in more ways than one.

An interesting quote in the article, "I feel very empty, as if a part of me died." Another article on this with more quotes and tracing the origin of his 'double life' can be found in The Daily Mail. Of all the looks to cultivate, Kim Jong-il wouldn't be most peoples top of the list.

I have always found lookalikes a most bizarre type of jobseeker. Being paid just because you often faintly resemble someone else but don't have their talent is for me a bit of a con but at least it puts bread on the table. In the UK we've had a plethora of them over the years but I didn't know they had them in Asia.

I find it a bit distasteful that someone could profit from impersonating (unless in a comic way) someone who is responsible for thousands of deaths. I didn't even know you could get away with doing this kind of think in South Korea anyway. But just for what purpose would you hire a Kim Jong-Il lookalike? To tour factories and dispense advise? Where was the demand? Perhaps he has a son who could join the family business like Kim Jong-Un.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Korean man taken hostage in lottery scam

Yesterday my wife was checking the spam folder of her email account when she alerted me to one in particular. The email, directing us to Singapore where upon arrival and after providing details etc etc, she would be in line to receive money from a relatives will. These emails are the scourge of the inbox but are easy to identify and easily dismissed. But nobody falls for those emails right? Wrong.

A South Korean man has fallen for one such scam. Worse still he turned up in South Africa in person with his daughter on the belief that he would be picking up millions of dollars and was then taken hostage. Thankfully he was rescued but was so embarrassed "traumatised" that he declined to testify in court. It is easy to ridicule someone for falling for such a story but you have to feel sorry for this mans ordeal.
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