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Monthly Archives: September 2012

There was once a time when notes meant something to me.

The anticipation before the lifting of the baton,

The intake of breath, deep, like filling a jug from its depths.

The nerves in my fingertips tingling, poised, just enough perspiration.

The empty space between the notes, that’s what music is,

The push and pull, the manipulation of time, ever so slightly.

The melody soars, like clouds amongst clouds,

The chill that runs through my spine, in the most pleasant of ways.

The relief, the calm while holding that last note, that last chord,

The crowd hushed, as the last breath of air evaporates away.

The satisfaction.

And I wonder. Will this be the last serenade.

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According to a prominent DC trade lawyer, who shall not be named, if one is to become a good lawyer, one must worry about everything, all the time.

One must constantly worry about every little way others can screw you, one must constantly worry about every little way you can screw others. Every sentence, every phrase, every word, every breath you take can be used against you down the road, and people will bring the forces of hell to screw you. Worrying, hence says the prominent lawyer, is lawyering.

Why the hell would anyone want to become a lawyer?

There lies the answer to the ever-sought question – why are lawyers so unhappy, all the time? Worrying, my friends, that’s why. You are paid to worry for others, so others don’t have to worry about getting screwed by the forces of hell.

In bed, eating breakfast, in the shower, walking down the sidewalk, in the coffee line, in the elevator – you worry.

Some are a natural fit to this phenomenon. Who knows, you might be gifted at worrying. A born-worrier! Oh through all the layers and depths of worrying, for worrying for lawyers is not one dimensional. There are two, three, four layers of ways others can screw you, so you must worry on, through all two, three, and four layers. It’s like the movie Inception – layer within layer within layer.

So, my friends, if you’ve ever thought of law school, ask yourself. Am I a good enough worrier?

The gastronomical adventures of Los Angeles. More accurately, K-Town, as I cannot seem to venture beyond Wilshire and Olympic every time I’m in the area. Early morning soft tofu stew (“soonduboo”), In-N-Out for brunch, my go-to Korean grill joint for lunch (Corner Place restaurant) for beef ribs and brisket, then late night soonduboo once more.

All that in less than twenty hours, and the next morning, I wake up craving a hot, American breakfast – eggs, bacon, French toast. And most of all, hot coffee to jolt my MSG-soaked brain.

Wilshire Blvd at 8 am on a Sunday is calm, serene. The unusually scorching heat has not yet bloomed to its full fury, and the short walk to the old Wiltern Theater building is, well, surprisingly pleasant. They say Wilshire was first made when Henry Gaylord Wilshire first cleared out a path in his barley field. No sights of barley now, just cement and concrete through a maze of upright structures.

Even at that hour, the drug addicts, the alcoholics, and the homeless roam about, occasionally stopping to stare, to converse, or attempt to converse, as locals and tourists alike pass by nonchalantly, seemingly uninterested.

The sidewalk is littered with the remnants of the past night, cans and bottles, decorating the streets, glistening as the morning sun rays bounce off and scatter about in unpredictable directions.

Walking through the streets and through the crisp air is the most genuine way to experience a city – out of the car, from beyond the glass windows. K-Town to me was always distant, far and near simultaneously, as I was always being carted through its streets in a vehicle of one form or another. K-Town on foot was like another country, another culture. The people and the buildings seemed different, more personal, more approachable, more natural and fitting.

Novel Cafe at Wiltern was a refreshing mental (and intestinal) break. Hardly realized this before, but my sun-dried tomato omelet, syrup-soaked French toast, and side of bacon brought order to my organs. And that first sip of hot coffee – Wilshire was no less glamorous or peaceful than any cafe on the banks of the Senne River.

Breakfast of champions. In the heart of K-Town. On Wilshire.

No surprise to see The New York Times, Reuters, and The Economist report this, as Ahn Cheol-soo’s formal announcement to run for the Korean presidency is indeed newsworthy. Here are five reasons why the U.S. should pay attention to this election cycle.

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1. Ahn epitomizes a drastic paradigm shift in the Korean populous. He cries for the need for “horizontal leadership” in the presidency, one that will listen and heed to the needs of the people, and rule for the people as a whole. He is the prime example of the “T-Rex Squared” leader I wrote about in a post depicting a new leadership paradigm for the twenty-first century (read it here). The Korean people want their voices heard, and many now consider Ahn to be their vehicle of choice. But what is the current “voice” of the Korean people in regards to the U.S.? There are numerous sensitive political issues, the KORUS FTA, military outposts and command chains, and the Investor-State Dispute resolution process being a few. How Ahn conveys Korea’s position on such issues will be critical to Korea-U.S. relations in the coming years.

2. Ahn is a true “outsider”. He has never held political office, and he has never been directly involved in policy making. He is an ex-doctor, an ex-venture CEO, and now an ex-professor and college dean. His latest best-selling book, “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts”, and his rhetoric thus far is eerily similar to President Obama’s “Change” slogan of 2008. Indeed, Ahn’s central message is an overhaul in many critical arenas – politics, business, taxes, and so on. What’s different about Ahn, compared to Obama, is that Ahn is truly an outsider – he is not (yet) part of a major political party. Although winning a presidential election without the help of a party will be a daunting task, Ahn believes he only needs grassroots support of the people to win and bring genuine change.

3. Ahn will call for major changes within Korean big businesses and the “chaebol”s. The term “economic democratization” has been thrown around repeatedly thus far, its main purpose being tighter restrictions on business and demanding transparency in business processes. Similar to Obama’s rhetoric, and the Democratic Party platform, Ahn seems to reject the “trickle down” economic theory; instead, he emphasizes accountability in business and the government’s role in providing fair opportunities for the jobless. If Ahn is elected, the impact on business should be watched closely, as Korea an its companies are a major trading partner of the U.S.

4. Ahn is already calling for a revolutionized election process, and furthermore, Ahn strives to be a symbol of a transformed political process as a whole – transparent, fair, and more democratized with the incorporation of voters’ views. I find it interesting that the U.S. has not yet used its leverage to press Korea to clean up its political scene, given its notorious scandals over the years. Straying away for old-school politics, where generations voted based on where the candidate was from or from what political faction he was in, Ahn is presenting a new political paradigm.

5. Ahn’s stance on North Korea should not be equated to that of the current opposition party. Although he has not yet made it crystal clear, Ahn’s approach to the North does not seem to be as lenient. While his stance would probably be more warm-hearted than that of the current Lee administration, and based on two-way dialogue between the nations, one would expect Ahn to hold the North accountable on many more issues before blindly pouring aid into the country. If elected, Ahn’s interaction with the U.S. State Department regarding the North would be interesting to observe.

*     *     *

Korea is standing before major crossroads. The chosen path will indeed affect how Korea and U.S. will dine together for years to come.

Back in the day, I loved the Food Network (FN). I watched two channels: ESPN and FN. Emeril Lagasse, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, Iron Chef (the original Japanese version) – all were fair game.

For whatever reason, cooking intrigued me. The food itself – its preparation, knife work, sauces, marinades, heating process, the presentation – grabbed my attention. In hindsight, my insatiable appetite fueled the interest, thus legitimizing the moments spent watching whole roasted chicken coming out of the oven and bread pudding being doused with vanilla ice cream.

I cannot say I appreciate FN any longer. Yes, I guess Anthony Bourdain’s literature was part of my enlightenment. My reason is simple: food isn’t just food. FN, regardless of its efforts to do otherwise, treats food as food, nothing more, nothing less.

No, this isn’t hatred. Some portray FN as the “evil empire”, and maybe it is, on many levels. But my decline in appreciation is primarily due to an increased appreciation for higher goods. Food media that does not treat food as just food. Food media that enraptures the ambiance, the mood, the people, the culture, the city, the nation.

Even food porn in written form. Limited are the words and phrases in describing food. I once wrote about Annapolis blue crabs (damn good crabs for sure – read it here). When one’s vision is narrowly constricted to the crabs themselves – yes, the steaming aroma of crab meat infused with Old Bay seasoning, married with green crab innards is, indeed, heavenly – there is only so much one can elaborate. That’s Version 1.0.

Luckily, there has been a rise in media dedicated to spreading Food Porn Version 2.0. One such outlet is roadsandkingdoms.com (you must check this out, also follow R&K on Twitter, @RoadsKingdoms).

More folks are opening their eyes to the stories behind the dishes. No sauce is richer than the stories. No dish is richer than the local culture that gave birth to it. These folks take on an entirely refreshing view, a horizontal approach to cuisine. If FN’s food porn 1.0 is “vertical”, as in cook food, show food, and eat food, version 2.0’s “horizontal” approach links food with culture, politics, travel and stories. It links food with – people.

Alas, even the State Department has caught on, as it has recently embarked on a “culinary diplomacy” program with top chefs.

But State and chefs aside, “ordinary” foodies everywhere can take initiative. Broaden your taste buds and taste the nation. There are stories out there. Food is an inherent vehicle for storytelling. Discover those stories and write about them.

Only then will we fully appreciate gastronomy. Upgrade to Food Porn 2.0.

Farragut West metro station is a congested toilet bowl. Swarming with dazed somebodys and nobodys, dark and light suits alike, marching monotonously towards the escalators, towards the light, towards the freedom of the outside world, but not really towards freedom, towards nothing, really.

The creaking escalators cheep churning and churching, transporting the somebodys and nobodys up and up. Perhaps moaning and groaning. Autumn is definitely here, you can smell it in the air, you can feel it in the wind, you can see it in the sky.

All of a sudden, as if in a dream, as if in that ephemeral place between sleep and waking up, the sound of harmonized brass soars through, ever so slightly, yet ever so majestically. Bach?

The 18th Street exit at Farragut West may still be a toilet bowl, but now it is transported to the Kennedy Center, or a local high school brass quintet performance, or anything in between. But ears are perked and necks are craned, wondering the origins of such harmonies, questioning their presence and purpose, their placement.

The trombone is flat on that F-sharp, and I cringe. Imbalance of chord structure is not acceptable, certainly not as I near the top of the escalator, breathing in the crisp air, the espresso aroma, the stress and solitude permeating the atmosphere. Damn trombone, you almost ruined it.

As I refuse a morning paper for the third time already, the earth is once again flat, and the toilet bowl is no longer. The marching continues.

The brass and the harmonies slowly fade as distant memories, lightly tugging at my jacket sleeve. Briefly, indeterminably, I hesitate, the melodies and counter melodies colliding with every force of organized thought. But with a shrug, I move on.

Bach moves on as well.

 

After much debate and wailing from the beverage industry, New York City’s Board of Health has voted to ban the sale of “sugary drinks” in containers larger than sixteen ounces in restaurants and elsewhere (excluding supermarkets).

Mayor Bloomberg’s argument, now supposedly agreed to by the Board, is that sugary drinks are a leading cause in obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in NYC. And he says don’t forget, the City spends about $4 billion each year on medical care for overweight people.

So his solution? No more super-size-me’s at McDonald’s.

Maybe I’m in a cynical mood today (more than usual perhaps), but this is hilarious. I applaud Bloomberg’s efforts. True, big, sugary drinks of more than sixteen ounces probably does contribute to obesity and weight-related diseases, at least to some extent. And true, yanking away the option to biggy-size my Coke with the force of law could lead to a somewhat healthier lifestyle for some folks (wait, but what about Diet Coke? another debate in its entirety…).

But really, is this going to help?

I walk into a burger joint and gaze voraciously at a menu, which flamboyantly taunts me with double-patties, extra sharp cheddar cheese, bacon strips, onion rings, onion rings in my cheeseburger, fries, bigger fries, and cheese fries. “Heaven on Earth!” I exclaim, and I order it all. Have at it. Then, sheepishly, I whisper to the cashier, “And I’ll have a small Coke with that.” Do the math, my friends. Somehow, the caloric math does not come out in my favor.

This ban is arbitrary. The power of local governments to inhibit the personal dietary choice of the individual is another story, equally worthy of discussion at some other point in time. That aside, if banning a food group is your weapon of choice, you’ve got to do better than sixteen-ounce sodas, NYC.  God forbid, but maybe fries? That would certainly make NYC a less-enjoyable place (no more steak and frites?), but the Board of Health would sleep better at night, knowing they’ve saved Gotham.

NYC’s struggles, and the entire nation’s struggles, with obesity is not one-dimensional. Man does not live on sixteen-ounce sugary drinks alone. The issue is one of unhealthy lifestyles – lack of exercise, public perception, eating habits, and much more.

But hey NYC, the ban does not take effect for another six months. Drink up.

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