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Archive for December, 2008

Toll the HoundsThis is the penultimate-but-one of the vast Malazan Book of the Fallen and is the best one since at least book five (Midnight Tides). The story here concerns two broad arenas: the city of Darujhistan, setting of the first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon; and the city of Black Coral – though, of course, the action isn’t confined to these two locales. As usual, the chapters alternate back and forth between the two places; and, like all the other volumes, Toll the Hounds is composed of four books – although, unlike many of the preceeding novels, there is no change of setting from book to book. And, as is also usual with the Malazan books, there is practically a cast of thousands. There are about two dozen main characters – if not more.

What’s more specific to this eighth Malazan tale, is a) the bodycount and b) the number of characters presumed dead or not part of the story who turn up on the pages. The book also has one of the most dramatic climaxes yet as titanic beings struggle against each other, heroes die and reality is reshaped. At 900+ pages it takes a while to get to this part, though, and some of the sub-plots are a little tedious. In Darujhistan, for instance, there’s a lot of hanging around in bars.

There are a couple of oddities in Toll the Hounds. One is that Karsa Orlong, who, in book seven was on course for a deadly confrontation with Rhulad Sengar, king of the Tiste Edur in Letheras, appears after this confrontation – without the reader having witnessed the fight. Which is to say that book eight, at least in part, takes place after book nine – essentially because of Erikson’s predilection for the back and forth format.

The other thing is that part of the book – the Darujhistan chapters – takes on the narratorial voice of one of its characters, Kruppe. Kruppe has always been a mysterious character; he speaks of himself in the third person – and therefore could be said to narrate his own life. Now he seems to have been upgraded in status.

Despite its length and its occasional leadenness, Toll the Hounds is pretty strong all the way through and packs an emotional punch even (or even especially) outside the grand two-sided climax. One example of this is the boy Harllo, who, through no fault of his own ends up lost and working in a mine. Particularly moving was the despair of his mother who had palmed him off on relatives, and the aging duellist who sets out on an ill-starred mission to rescue him.

Finally (and, once again, as is normal for the Malazan books), volume eight is a huge chunk of hugely satisfying high fantasy.

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The leader of Robot Club, Tim and Mike’s Robot Wars robot fighting club, Spaced, Series 2, Episode 3 – ‘Mettle’.

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Tim Bisley arguing with Bilbo Bagshot about the awfulness of The Phantom Menace, Spaced, Series 2, Episode 2 – ‘Change’.

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Sphere of Death

Unlike my photos, my videos are now completely up to date, and, as promised, here is what I call the Sphere of Death from the acrobatics show I went to on Jejudo.

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Androgyny

Reading the new Ansible a few minutes ago I noticed a reference to a website that analyses the gender of the author of a blog, GenderAnalyzer. Of course, I had to give it a go. The website explains:

We created Genderanalyzer out of curiosity and fun. It uses Artificial Intelligence to determine if a homepage is written by a man or woman. Behind the scene, a text classifier hosted over at uClassify.com has been trained on blogs written by men and women. In our lab it seems to works pretty well, we want to see how it performs on the web! We hope you like it!

And the result for Infinite Probability was:

We guess http://www.infiniteprobability.wordpress.com is written by a woman (52%), however it’s quite gender neutral.

I guess I’m happy with that.

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Another long Saturday

I got up early on Saturday to go to my first Korean class since last year. I got the bus to Nowon Station, then waited about 25 minutes in the cold wind for the express bus to Gangnam. I had been aked to come half an hour early in order to take a level test. In the event I arrived shortly after the morning classes started at ten. I also found out they didn’t have a class doing book 2 in the morning, but I could join a level 1 class.

And so I did. It was pretty easy – the class was less than halfway through the book I nearly finished last year. There were still a few things I hadn’t learnt last time around or had forgotten, though – it wasn’t a total cakewalk. Afterwards I had lunch with an Englishman and a Frenchman from the class.

Then I made my way back to the hagwon for my second three-hour Korean class of the day. This class was on book 2 – but they were up to chapter 19. Whereas the teacher from the earlier class was – of necessity – taking it fairly slow, this teacher used natural Korean. Which is to say she spoke quickly and used long sentences. I was able to vaguely follow most of what was going on, but I found it very difficult.

And that was the frustrating thing – of the two classes closest in level to my Korean ability one was too easy and one was too hard. My thought at this point is that (having now handed my money over for a month’s tuition) I’ll attend the easier morning class. There are several things in its favour: while I know most of the subject matter, I don’t know everything and it’ll be good to go over stuff again, it leaves the afternoon free for writing (if I did the afternoon class I’d only sleep in the morning), and I got on pretty well with some of the other students.

After a caffe latte and a croque monsieur at Starbucks I headed back up to Nowon. I considered getting the subway, but then thought that the balance of probability meant I probably wouldn’t have to wait quite so long for a 3100 bus as I did in the morning and when I met Paul the preceeding week. And I didn’t. But – it was rushhour so the Dongbu expressway wasn’t very express.

While on the bus I exchanged a couple of texts with Su-jin, the girl I’d met in McDonalds on Thursday night. I gave her a time to meet that I thought would give me time to drop in at home and change my shoes (I bought a pair of brown Doc Marten’s on Friday and they were chafing in a couple of places) and my top (I was a bit sweaty and I was out of deodorant – Lotte apparently only stocks it in the summer) and deposit my bag. By the time the bus arrived back in Nowon it was time to meet her.

She took me to a shabeu-shabeu restaurant where we ate – what else? – shabeu-shabeu (you have a large bowl on a gas burner set into the middle of your table, in which you boil vegetables and thin slices of meat). We talked about our travels and ambitions. Su-jin had studied in Phoenix, Arizona (is there another?) for the first year of her film course and was now (or soon to be) in her second year having just recently returned from the States. I was impressed again by how pretty she was; she told me later she’d put on 10kg in America and was worried about it, but I think she has a lovely feminine figure.

I was intending to meet various people in Itaewon for the birthday celebrations of Steve from the Jejudo trip and Mike from the roleplaying group. Steve and his friends were due to meet earlier so I invited Su-jin to come with me to meet them. We took the subway and met Steve, James and Genna in the Hard Rock Café.

The Frenchman from earlier on had recommended Hoegarden at lunch so I continued drinking that for no other reason than it made the decision of what to drink easier. It’s very creamy, which is a bit strange in a beer (and later on I got tired of it).

By eleven o’clock it was time to make a move to get subway to Hongdae. Not having a phone number for Mike and not knowing him very well I didn’t go and seek him out, although I mentioned it to the others and they were up for it; most importantly, we didn’t have time.

By the time we got on the subway it was too late for Su-jin to get all the way back to Nowon, but she asked her mum to pick her up somewhere along the way. I hope she had a reasonably good time. She’d protested earlier that she was very nervous of meeting the people down in Itaewon, and even had to be prodded into action by her friend when she approached me on Thursday.

And so began our odyssey to Hongdae. At the Hard Rock Café, we’d also been met by Julia, a Korean woman who must have spent time overseas as her English was near-perfect. The first stop was a bar that appeared to be called Ride ‘Em Cowboy. We played a few rounds of card games. At one point, loud happy music came on and one of the bar staff started speaking – addressing his remarks to ‘Stebe-uh’. Another bartender started juggling a bottle and a cocktail shaker (dropping the latter at one point). Eventually he poured a drink into a glass, stirred it vigorously with his first two fingers, and appeared to down the drink. Someone then lit the alcohol on his fingers and he spurted a cloud of flaming drink on to a table. Standing on the table amidst the orange-blue flames was a shot glass – and this was Steve’s drink.

After this mostly impressive display we hit the streets in search of a club where some of Genna, Steve and James’s acquaintances were. We didn’t find it, but we were given cards for free entrance to a club called Vera. So we went there – along with pretty much no one else. There were a few people in the club – the main room being a dance hall with a high ceiling, a VIP gallery, a bar at one end and DJ/video screens at the other. Fully half the people on the dance floor appeared to be staff. We had a couple of tequila shots each and another beer, stood in a cluster on the dance floor pretending to dance, and eventually left.

Then we made another search for the acquaintances eventually finding them at a place jam-packed with foreigners. Apart from being met by these three girls outside we spent no time with them inside (or so it seemed to me) – in fact most of our time seemed to be spent waiting for the toilets.

Next on the agenda was a club called Harlem. This was full of Koreans. I was getting tired by this point and after standing with the others for a while I sat down on one of the sofa/benches near the dance floor. And fell asleep.

I was woken by Genna at half four who appeared to tell me it was half an hour until the subway opened (but don’t quote me on that). I nodded and closed my eyes again, my half-drunk beer still in my hands. A few minutes later I got up, abandoning my drink, and made for the locker room. Re-equipped with my coat and bag, I looked around for the others/the toilets, finding neither. Then I left.

After a toilet stop, a bottle of water and a Twix, I decided to head to Hapjeong Station. Not the nearest to Hongdae, but it’s a transfer station – and I thought the walk would do me good. What also did me good was eating a cup ramyeon in a Family Mart near the station. Waiting for the noodles to become ready (can’t think of a better verb at the moment) I noticed some deodorant and bought it. It was Nivea like the stuff I’d been buying from Lotte Mart, but a roll-on instead of a spray.

On the subway I spent my very last ₩400 on a cup of coffee. Once on the trains I kept falling asleep – willingly, actually – and missed both my tranfser and my stop. At each station where I doubled back I vaulted the turnstiles to avoid taking a long route or paying another fare. Eventually, I returned home and went to bed. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer a hangover of any description – but that’s because I didn’t drink any soju.

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Oh, no – not the soju

Wednesday was our last day at work until Monday – because of the end of term. It was also Jon, our senior foreign teacher’s last day at E-Castle. He’s starting a new job soon and has a part-time post lined up for the intervening time – which he had to start on Thursday while his erstwhile oeguk colleagues were enjoying a day off. Well, I didn’t enjoy it much – but we’ll come to that in a moment.

People from work went for a meal once they’d finished. I had taekwondo, so I joined them a bit later. And that brought the total of foreign teachers up to two – Todd was getting an early start on some travel and Bo, I think, was meeting his Hungarian friend. Jon and I looked at each other as the rest of the company nattered away in Korean. Being Korean women it didn’t sound like a very intelligent conversation (or is that too racist and sexist a comment?).

Once the food was eaten (it was the quintessentially Korean barbecue kind of thing), we went to the nearby WA Bar (pronounced by everyone ‘Wah Bar’) which is an American-style chain of bars (it may even be American). Here we had tequila and beer, and Jon and I talked about TV programmes.

After that it was off to another place for more food and drink. In Korea there is often no sharp distinction between drinking establishments and eating establishments. Peter Ghazarian described it thus – if it has bright lighting, it’s a food restaurant; if it has dim lighting, it’s a drink restaurant. Well, this new place was at the latter end of the spectrum, but its lights weren’t as tenebrous as some, and it had more of the feel of a food restaurant – but we were really there for the drink – specifically, the soju.

The dreaded soju. I have a dim idea that I must have drunk about a bottle’s worth. Jon avoided the Korean liquor and he and his wife (our senior teacher – I’m sure this has a lot to do with Jon’s decision to quit the hagwon) made an early exit. This meant I didn’t have the safe option of just talking to the only other westerner. It seemed to surprise some of the other teacher that I was actually talking to them for a change. Lindsey Teacher – Eun-yeong – was sitting next to me, so we chatted for a fair while. Which was nice – she’s one of the nicest teachers at our place.

When we were all loaded up on soju apparently it was time for noraebang (‘singing room’). I’m sure I had a go at two or three songs, but my memory of the latter part of the evening is incredibly hazy. I think Wednesday night must have been the drunkest I’ve ever experienced – my recall of such nights is usually pretty good. I do have one recollection of standing up singing and not being able to read the lyrics quickly enough. I also remember heading to the toilets a couple of times to be sick.

Before I knew it (I fell asleep for a while … I think) our hour was up and we made tracks (S-shaped ones, probably) for home. At the main junction – the eponymous Eunhaeng Sageori – I couldn’t tell which side of the road I was on and needlessly crossed over, then had to wait for the crossing further down the street.

Thursday was a washout. I felt pretty terrible most of the day. I kept making trips to the bathroom to throw up – even deliberatly spasming my trachea to encourage the process. Often there was nothing coming up but the few sips of water or tea I’d just drunk. Once I’d been sick and drunk a little, I went back to bed, then woke up a couple of hours later to repeat the process.

Eventually I recovered enough to keep down some liquids, and then some food. To give me something to do (and partly on the theory that laughter is the best medicine) I spent a few hours watching Fawlty Towers and also 24: Redemption. Some time fairly late in the evening I shaved and showered and went out for a walk in the rain.

My walk took me first to the KEB branch at Nowon Station to check my balance. I hadn’t been paid. (When I checked again later on Friday, I had been.) Then I came back to Eunhaeng Sageori and got something to eat at the 24-hour McDonalds. Whilst writing up my account of the Jeju trip a very pretty young woman sitting at the next table attracted my attention (I was also listening to Death Magnetic (I’m going to finish my review of that some time)). She wanted to meet me another time to practise her English conversation. I couldn’t possibly say No to an attractive female person … and indeed I didn’t.

Yet another unusual Thursday.

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