Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Google Earth Hunt

What city is this?

Same rules apply. There are running totals on the sidebar. So far, Sid is up.

Weekly Science: Underwater Turbine

Maybe I'm just ill-informed when it comes to science and technology, but it seems like this sort of thing would have been invented and in use decades ago.

"The nation's first commercial hydrokinetic turbine, which harnesses the power from moving water without the construction of a dam, has splashed into the waters of the Mississippi River near Hastings, Minnesota."

I think it's a pretty great idea considering underwater current has nearly 900 times the energy density of wind. And since it's underwater, it isn't as much of an eyesore as a dam is. Plus there doesn't need to be any flooding to create reservoirs. They are big though.

The image above is the actual model being placed in the Mississippi right now. The digital image below is what went into the East River last March.

"The largest test of this new type of power production is under way in New York City's East River, with six 35-kilowatt turbines scheduled to be installed by mid-March in a channel that's off-limits to large vessels. As the 16-ft.-dia. rotors spin, as close as 6 ft. to the water's surface, they'll provide power to a supermarket and a parking garage."
One thing in particular struck me here. These giant turbines with 16ft blades will be whipping around only six feet below the surface. Besides the aesthetics of a natural body of water being ruined, I wonder if this is a danger to humans or destructive to aquatic life.

And how cost effective would this be? Every time one of these things break, do we have to send a team of divers down there to fix it? If they want to put these huge turbines in high volume, high-traffic tidal rivers, what happens when debris slams into these things? Will they break?

It seems the same issues arise when we discuss underwater ocean turbines, except they are even bigger and obviously generate much more power. They are much deeper in the ocean, so humans won't be a risk, but I'm pretty certain marine life will. And how loud are these things? Will oceanographers have to decipher between the songs of the whale versus the hum of the turbines?

There seem to be tons of ideas being tossed around. Again, cost efficiency comes to mind. This one's being talked about for the Gulf Coast.
I'm not sure what the hell is going on here. Are they floating? I think the Gulf has enough rigs out there already, but I guess a few more things to ruin the sunset won't matter. Here's one that is in operation near Ireland.

And finally, here is one that is in the works for Korea. Hyundai is footing the bill.

"The scheme will use power from fast-moving tidal streams to turn a field of 300 60-foot high tidal 1MW turbines sitting on the sea floor. This gives the proposed scheme an operating capacity of 300MW. According to the press release, the power produced from the tidal power plant will generate enough electricity for 200,000 homes and will be completed by the end of 2015."

That's a lot of power. Much more than the ones being used in New York on a parking garage. All of these ideas seem great for coastal cities and towns near major rivers, but what about mountain towns and, you know, most of Africa and Asia? I'm concerned about the environmental damage that is likely to come from this and I hope that environmental groups won't shit on the idea immediately, but at the same time, I want to see a lot of research done to gauge the potential damage to plant and animal life.

It is clean though.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From Their Mouth: Homosexuality

Homosexuality is a strange and underground behavior in Korea. The stereotypical and media-sensationalized ways of identifying a gay man or woman using standard superficial means such as clothing, speech intonation or behavior are useless because of the extreme lengths some go to conceal their sexuality. You won’t see them walking around openly in the streets, but they’ve always been out there in the clubs, sauna’s and parks just like the rest of world. Recently, however, there has certainly been more and more publicity surrounding the LGBT community.

There have been gay pride parades in Seoul, lesbian pies, lesbian radio shows, lesbian parks and several teevee shows and articles written on the subject. Yet despite its plain view presence or its seedy underbelly status, many Koreans still believe that Korea has no gays.

Take Hwang Eun-young, 31. She’s an ordinary straight Korean woman. She’s studying to be a high school English teacher. She likes going to dinner friends, drives with her boyfriend, but most of all likes romantic comedies. She, like many, many Korean people, believes that there are very few "real" homosexuals in Korea. In class we discussed this topic. The original point of the discussion was how Korea treats homosexuals. She seemed to think that people were gay by choice and that most of them are gay only for a few months or maybe a couple of years. Ludicrous to say the least, but I didn’t want to interrupt the flow since it is a conversation class after all.

Of course, it is very difficult to gauge just how many homosexuals are in Korea, especially with the shame that surrounds making such an announcement. Korea Beat had an interesting write up on it awhile back which highlighted a study that claimed that 10% of gay Koreans get married to members of the opposite sex.

So, to continue on with "From Their Mouth"...

“How do you think mainstream Korea treats homosexuals?” I started.
“Well, there aren’t very many at all, so I don’t think there is a specific way they are treated.”
“But I’ve seen a lot of gay Korean men and women in various bars and clubs in some of the foreign areas of Seoul. They seemed to be pretty gay to me.”
“They probably weren’t gay. Western people think any man wearing pink is gay”

I laughed. That’s somewhat true. Not only pink shirts per se, but western people love to point fingers and call someone gay simply because they fit a certain mold. I do this all the time in Korea. My wife and I will be walking down the street and see a man wearing what looks like a very feminine outfit, yet he'll be with a woman who is clearly his girlfriend. I’ll say he’s gay and then will be corrected immediately with something like “He’s not gay. He’s just Korean.” I've seen teenage boys also acting in a way that could be considered homoerotic not only by sometimes overly homophobic Western standards, but by any standards. I have seen them scratching each other’s heads and hair, rubbing shoulders, excessively goosing and holding hands all over the place. When I ask about this outward display of affection, the response usually gets mixed in with an excuse about how hard they study and they’re just helping each other relieve stress. Makes sense, right? I wonder what gay men and women do to relieve stress? I bet it’s the same as straight men and women and it usually starts with affectionate touching and ends in sex. Just saying…

So, Eun-young thinks that the men dancing very sexily with each other at a gay bar were not gay. The young Korean men kissing were doing so to relieve stress. Of course, I asked her if she saw Western men engaging in such behavior would she think that they were gay. She gave a very clear “Yes!”

“Let’s pretend that the Korean men in the club were gay. Will they still be gay in five years?” I asked.
“No way. They wouldn’t do that to their family. Besides, their mother will get them medicine.”
“Medicine? Is homosexuality curable?”
“Absolutely! Medicine and counseling will cure it.”

I was shocked that she felt this way, but not at all shocked that a Korean would feel this way. Koreans tend to blame “deviant” behavior on temporary lapses of judgment. It is commonplace to refer your recently-discovered homosexual son or daughter to therapy the second that they break the news. And most of the time, it’s not a bi-weekly visit to the family psychiatrist, but a three month stay at the local “white house” (asylum). It’s like the US version of the Jesus camps for “confused” boys and girls.

The thought that homosexuality is a medically curable disease is so far out of touch with reality, still this young women sincerely believed it. Feeling that I should try to persuade her a little, I decided to find a list of animals that displayed homosexual behavior in nature. The list is quite long and actually a little gross. Here is an abbreviated version of gay mammals (it was originally 200+).

• African Buffalo
• Amazon River Dolphin
• American Bison
• Antelope
• Asian Elephant
• Asiatic Lion
• Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
• Australian Sea Lion
• Beluga
• Bighorn Sheep
• Black Bear
• Black-tailed Deer
• Bottlenose Dolphin
• Bowhead Whale
• Brazilian Guinea Pig
• Bridled Dolphin
• Brown Bear
• Brown Long-eared Bat
• Brown Rat
• Buffalo
• Caribou
• Cat (domestic)
• Cattle (domestic)
• Cheetah
• Commerson's Dolphin
• Common Chimpanzee
• Common Dolphin
• Dog (domestic)
• Doria's Tree Kangaroo
• False Killer Whale
• Fat-tailed Dunnart
• Fin Whale
• Fox
• Giraffe
• Goat (Domestic)
• Gorilla
• Grey Whale
• Grey Wolf
• Grizzly Bear
• Hamster (Domestic)
• Harbor Porpoise
• Horse (domestic)
• Killer Whale
• Koala
• Kob
• Larga Seal
• Lion
• Lion-tailed Macaque
• Lion Tamarin
• Little Brown Bat
• Livingstone's Fruit Bat
• Long-eared Hedgehog
• Long-footed Tree Shrew
• Moose
• Mouse (domestic)
• North American Porcupine
• Orangutan
• Orca
• Pacific Striped Dolphin
• Pig (Domestic)
• Pig-tailed Macaque
• Plains Zebra
• Polar Bear
• Rabbit
• Red Deer
• Red Fox
• Red Kangaroo
• Red-necked Wallaby
• Red Squirrel
• Reindeer
• Rufous Rat Kangaroo
• Savanna Baboon
• Sea Otter
• Serotine Bat
• Sheep
• Sperm Whale
• Spinner Dolphin
• Squirrel Monkey
• Swamp Deer
• Tiger
• Walrus
• Warthog
• Water Buffalo
• Western Grey Kangaroo
• West Indian Manatee
• White-tailed Deer
• Wild Goat

It seems that kangaroos and dolphins love male companionship more than the rest. Not to sound corny, but I wasn't too surprised to discover the sperm whale loved male parts, but the Red-necked Wallaby was a little out of place. Add about 80 species of birds, 60 species of amphibians and reptiles, 50 species of fish, and another 200 insects to that list and then we have a start. I read through some of these behaviors with Eun-young as well. Many of them engage in simple courtship and homosexual rubbing, but there's one animal that sticks out: the dolphin. It has been witnessed inserting its penis into the blowhole of other male dolphins. That’s super gay and it really drove my point home. No pun there, but I could have come up with a better way to say it.

After we looked at this list, I was thinking that something might have clicked in her brain. So I continued...

"Do you think we can cure these animals with medicine also?"
"No because they're just confused. They can't think like humans can."
"So, humans can think, yet we still engage in this behavior. What does that mean?"

It was clear that I was not going to be able to convince her of anything. My biggest concern is that nations like Korea, where minorities of any kind face some form of prejudice or discrimination should be well beyond this sort of thinking. This was not a debate of "born gay vs. choice"; that wouldn't go anywhere since she doesn’t think anyone is actually gay. It was simply an interesting look into how the everyday Korean views a very everyday issue.

Final Thought: This young Korean has been raised in a heavily globalized society. It's a society that tries so hard to infuse every bit of Western life into the normal Koreans life. Korea has done everything they can to create the facade image that it not only has developed economically, but also socially. Progress is linear and maybe it'll take a few years for them to catch up on this issue, but a person from the younger generation who thinks just like her grandmother is not a great sign.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Nope, but wanna see what it might look like if my wife and I have 26 year old son?

How about a 26 year old girl?

From Their Mouth: Adultery

One of the biggest advantages of teaching adults is that I gain a relatively more in-depth view into Korean mentality and logic. The students feel more relaxed when they're in class with me. The cultural barriers are down. They know that I'm not Korean and I won’t judge them by the same shaming criteria that their colleagues, friends and family do, so they tend to vent a lot and really articulate themselves without any restrictions. I have heard the most incongruous things in my time in front of these classes as well as some really remarkable stories as well.

"From Their Mouth" is their completely candid and unfiltered stories. It's a collection of stories, opinions, experiences and statements with a little research and my take on it. I changed the names slightly.

Kim Dong-jun, 44, is a single, successful man who loves his life. He regularly travels all over the world on both business and pleasure, but really loves to spend time in Macau. He likes to go there for one reason: sex. He loves Chinese prostitutes and takes weeklong trips down to the Southern port more than six times a year. I asked him why he didn't frequent any of the Korean brothels that blanket Seoul and he said that the Chinese girls were "less inhibited". Of course I was interested in what meant by that and he explained it to me as "strong sex". That indicated to me that he could get rough with his Chinese hookers and that was his thing.

As the exchange continued, I figured out that he was in a long-term relationship (9 years) and he plans on marrying her within the next couple years. Naturally, I was a tad perplexed since this information was discovered immediately after he revealed he frequented China for rough sex with prostitutes.

"Does your girlfriend know what you do in Macau." I asked.

"Yeah, but she can't do anything about it."

"Why not? Couldn't she leave you?" I was undoubtedly taken back by his cavalier attitude.

"Only Korean people can appreciate why a man needs more than one woman. It's our history. Women know, but ignore it."

I thought this was a great response and let him continue talking. He mentioned that all of his friends frequented all sorts of girl bars ranging from sexy, bikini bars to massage parlors and even full-blown brothels. He told me a story about a Korean-Canadian couple that he once knew who moved to Korea on business. Dong-jun took his new buddy to some of these places and his friend loved them. Together, they started going to these places several times a week. Dong-jun claims he never sleeps with any of the Korean girls who work at those places, but his new friend certainly did. Ultimately, the Canadian-Korean's wife found out what was going on and was livid. She divorced him and went back to Canada. Dong-jun almost laughed this detail off while offering this up as evidence for his outrageous "only Koreans understand" declaration.

"How many Korean men IN KOREA participate in this type of thing?"

"I'd say 90%." He replied as he casually leaned back in his chair.

"You mean 9%?"

"No, least."

"And you think that's okay?" I was hoping for him to admit that it’s a pretty shitty thing to crow about.

"It's our culture."

He claims that 90% of Korean men have been unfaithful to their wife or girlfriend. That's an enormous number for any nation and especially from a country where it's still illegal and jail-able to have an affair. There was a case that concluded recently where a Korean actress was caught having an ongoing affair for ten years with two men. Here's that story.

"A district court in Goyang, near Seoul, handed Ok a suspended eight-month jail sentence, South Korean media reported, meaning she will not have to serve time. Ok's lover received a six-month suspended term."

Her second lover was an Italian chef who has since fled the country. Any crime that involves a foreigner and a Korean woman, especially when sex is involved, is considered an aggravating factor in that crime (much like carrying or using a weapon in a robbery) and usually perused much more aggressively.

That's not the point of this post though. I wanted to know if Mr. Kim was even close to being accurate and according to Cho Joo-hee of ABC News, he was pretty damn close.

"Extra-marital affairs are nothing new in South Korea. In an online survey last year by monthly women's magazine Woman Sense, 79 percent of married men and 15.5 percent of married women in their 30s and 40s admitted adultery."

I did see another article that said the number was closer to 65% and since this survey was conducted by an online women’s magazine, some of those "male respondents" might actually be bitter wives. Still, it's a high number and even if women are pretending to be their cheating husbands which might suggest that they are at least aware of what is going on.

Cho (a Korean woman) seems to excuse this behavior though.

"But ironically having affairs is seen in a different light in Korea. In fact, my married Korean friends openly talk about girlfriends or boyfriends, moreso of "wanting" a lover rather than confessing to an ongoing relationship. But conceptually an affair is more often considered a rebelliously courageous and romantic act than a morally despicable betrayal. That is assuming that the would-be lovers in question are dutifully playing their roles as husbands and wives -- making money to support the family, taking care of the kids and spending time with the in-laws."

Cho apparently believes that marriage in Korea is not based on love, compatibility or romance, but more on the duty of being a husband or wife. Those roles, of course, are very gender-specific.
If both women and men are content with this arrangement, then Kim Dong-jun’s behavior is totally acceptable and his estimation could very well be accurate.

It’s not my place to say it’s wrong though. After all, I can’t understand.

Christmas Abroad

After three months of hiding in the mud, The Clam is back. I have been keeping myself busy though, but being away from the keyboard this long has left me confused about how to get started here again. I was so consumed with the US election that I started my second blog, not to mention the family one and now I don't know what to write on all three.

Regardless, in my three months away, I started a new job, learned how to play guitar, grew a sweet mustache and made some solid plans for the next couple years. You could say it was productive, but in reality I filled it with too many hungover mornings. Still, I'm back now and I figured I'd start out with a couple thoughts on my third Christmas abroad.

As you'll recall, I was in Cambodia two years ago for Christmas. Western holidays aren't widely celebrated in Asia of course and Cambodia is no exception. It's almost like they go out of their way to avoid it actually. Rather than a turkey, ham or figgy puddy (I'm actually not sure what the hell that is, but Brits seem to get excited about it) they brought out their street food staple: fried tarantula.

There was so f*cking way I was eating that arachnid, but there were some expats digging right in. Good for them. I'm willing to try seahorse and scorpion in China because I don't have a lot of first-hand experience with such creatures, so the exocitism of the experience takes over there, but a spider is just way too close to home. All in all, it was a nice Christmas because there was no mention of it. We exchanged presents under the pretext of the holiday, but Camboida itself could care less from what I witnessed. They understood that Cambodia as a nation does not celebrate the holiday. As much as they try to globalize and compete in the region, they know that mimicing the West is not the way to do it.

Korea, on the other hand, tries so hard to celebrate Christmas and, for that matter, mimic everything that the US does. Yet, they claim it to be uniquely Korean. The gaudy trees that are never decorated well come out at just the right time, techno verisions of "Last Christmas" replace the classics and millions of Koreans walk thoughtlessly past the Salvation Army Santa. And of course, the worst part of the whole thing is how Christmas is equated to romance. It's Valentines Day in December. People buy gifts for significant others and usually leave family and friends in the cold. Like Valentine's Day, the absurd Christmas holiday is just another excuse to merchandise more useless crap.

It's unfortunate.