Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I just came back from taking a walk to grab a fàn tuán (飯糰) for breakfast. I purposely timed my walk to coincide with today's solar eclipse, its maximum coverage of 82.5% occurring at 9:40am in my area.

People were gathered in the park and on the sidewalk with their special glasses to view the event. I brought along a makeshift pinhole camera (just a piece of paper with small holes punched in it) but it didn't work so well. A friendly guy on the corner let me use his viewing glasses at the time of maximum coverage. It was pretty cool to see the big 'bite' taken out of the sun. Appropriately, the Chinese word for solar eclipse (日蝕 rì shí) literally means "sun nibble." I marveled at the power of the sun, because even though at that moment we were receiving only 17.5% of the sun's light, I didn't perceive any lighting change in the area.

I learned something today: You don't need special glasses to see the effects of a solar eclipse. Just look at the shadows from trees. Sunlight passes through small spaces between the leaves, casting interesting crescent-shaped shadows

Click on photos to enlarge

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

A student's poetry

One of my students, a woman my age, wrote the following. It comes from her bittersweet observations of her grandmother's aging process. I think it's a beautiful poem, all the more so since English is not her native language.

     If it could be allowed
     That one body be occupied by two souls--
     I hope the one with beauty, grace, and some kind of humor
     Leaves me first.
     Go ahead, my dear!
     You shouldn't be cooped up in such a body.
     And as for the remaining one
     I will learn to know your sadness.
     Let's begin from "Let me introduce myself."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It's 2:20am, July 14th. Just got woken up at a little after 2:00am by an earthquake. I stayed in bed for "the ride", listening to the glass doors in my cabinet rattling, wondering if it would get strong enough for me to get up.

Went online and the premilinary report is that it was magnitude 6.3 of the northeast coast. It got my heart pumping for a bit, but now I'm sleepy again. Goodnight.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

North Korea 北韓 북한

I wonder what it must be like to be an average North Korean citizen. Some writers have described living in its government-controlled society as like existing in a bubble, but I don't think that's quite right; even in a bubble, you can see the outside world.

Perhaps "living in a bubble, with Dear Leader's soap in your eyes" would be more accurate.

Even a seemingly innocuous news story about a new Italian restaurant in Pyongyang is turned into a self-glorifying tribute to Kim Jong Il.

There is a restaurant specializing in Italian dishes in Kwangbok Street, Pyongyang.

Its main dishes are various kinds of pizza and spaghetti dishes including pizza margherita and spaghetti vongole bianco. It also serves famous Korean and foreign dishes.

Manager of the restaurant Kim Sang Sun told KCNA:

There is a moving story behind the appearance of this restaurant. Leader Kim Jong Il took care that a restaurant specializing in Italian dishes was opened, saying the Koreans should be let to taste world-famous dishes. He took necessary measures, learning that the restaurant found it a tough row to hoe, having no cook experienced in Italian dishes. Now our cooks are just as good as Italians in making Italian dishes. No wonder the Korean and foreign customers are satisfied with the famous dishes of the world served by our restaurant.

I think The Onion did a perfect job of parodying the North Korean fantasy-world propaganda machine in the following video. Enjoy...