Archive for January, 2009

Back to normality

Last weekend was a five-day weekend – due to the ‘Chinese’ or Lunar New Year holiday in Korea. I didn’t do much. Our new colleague, Travis, had suggested going to Busan, but that didn’t happen. My taekwondo master said she’d call me over the weekend, but she didn’t.

However, on the Monday, having been reading Dreamer of Dune, the biography of Frank Herbert written by his son, I was feeling somewhat inspired and loaded and read the story I’d been working on last year. I’d stopped for a good few months at an important point in the narrative. On Monday, I wrote the scene and I now have only one further segment to write before it’s finished (the first draft, anway). I haven’t worked on it since then, but I hope to do some more work on it this weekend.

On Tuesday, Bo invited me to going hiking with him and we walked from Danggogae Station (last stop on the blue line and one stop away from my nearly local stop) to the top of Buramsan and then to Suraksan. It took us the better part of six hours. Afterwards we took a taxi to Nowon Station to try to meet Travis for pool, but we were late and he wasn’t there. Instead we went to a branch of Yong Udong (udong is a kind of thick noodle) and had fiercely spicy food that left us gasping for water.


My blistered toe had been getting progressively better and the hike didn’t prove to be a problem (although I got a bit of a cramp in my foot at one point, caused, I’m sure, by a week of limping). On Wednesday I went back to taekwondo with my toe protected by a pad of gauze and a wrapping of tape. It was largely fine, but I was a little nervous of putting too much stress on it.

When I asked my sabeomnim what she’d done over the holiday weekend she said she’d stayed at home – a frankly disappointing answer. I’d really like to see her outside taekwondo (not even necessarily on a romantic basis – although that would be preferable), but I’m not sure it’s a realistic proposition. Aside from the obstacles of personality, culture and language, she’s probably not allowed to.

On Friday I went to the hospital straight after work and had my blisters removed – not by the usual small pretty doctor, but by another quite attractive female doctor (this one a little taller). The ajumma doctor, in a change of procedure, came to the bed where I was being treated to look at my foot. She recommended another course of cryotherapy, which I refused (with all the skin that had just been cut away from my toe, I expected that treatment to be another bad one). So she told me to buy this stuff called Duofilm – a liquid that’s applied to warts to, presumably, kill them. And instead of giving me more pills for the fungal infection in my toenails she prescribed a kind of lacquer for it.

I went to taekwondo later that evening with my reduced-skin toe. The affected area was noticeably scooped in shape and was pink and raw-looking, but it didn’t hurt particularly. I got my master to bind it up for protection, though. I was the only person attending the class – so I had both masters all to myself.


Before we started, I asked I Sabeomnim where the other most regular student, Gui-heon (I think that’s her name), was. This girl turned up late, but didn’t take part. Towards the end of the class, Master Lee (I Sabeomnim and Master Lee are the same – one is more Anglicised than the other) said something about me to Gui-heon. When I asked what she’d said, she explained that she’d told Gui-heon I was looking for her. I protested and said I was only asking after her. Then she told me she was joking. Deadpan, I said, ‘Very funny. Ha ha ha.’ Which cracked her up.

A moment later I Sabeomnim looked towards the office where the other master and the taekwondo-jang’s wonjangnim were before stretching my legs for me: as we sat on the floor, she pulled me forward by the arms while pushing my legs apart with her feet. Then she sandwiched my feet between her thighs and pulled me off – sorry, forward again by the arms.

I hung around for a moment at the end of the class while I Sabeomnim was leaving with a couple of masters from the other dojang and Gui-heon. I asked her if she’d asked her friends if any of them wanted English lessons (something I’d asked her about a few weeks before). She said something about being very busy, and, in retrospect, I’m not sure if she’d picked up that I was asking about her friends rather than her.

I’ve been in Korea for nearly eight months this time around – two-thirds of my contract – and one of my goals – taking on some private classes – is still unachieved. It seems like asking Koreans for help finding private students is completely useless. I should try taking another tack.

I left taekwondo feeling a rather miserable. However, pizza for dinner, an episode of Red Dwarf (series VIII, episode 1) and masturbation cheered me up a bit. My Korean class this morning was also pretty positive, although writing this has brought me down a tad. Finally, I had a phone call from our senior teacher, Sunny, who said that I start work at 3pm on Monday – no more early starts. Yay.

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CeltikaThe only other books I’ve read by Robert Holdstock are books in the Mythago Wood series, which are notable for their understated, thoughtful writing style. Celtika is very similar, but is perhaps a little more accessible. The first person narrative and the plot drawing on familiar themes from Greek and British mythology lend the story a great deal of readability – not that Holdstock’s other books aren’t readable, but this novel seemed especially so to me.

Celtika is the first book of The Merlin Codex, and Merlin is the narrator of the story. However, the story, at least in this first volume, takes place before the time of King Arthur. Merlin was previously known as Antiokus and had been an Argonaut and confidant of Jason. The story concerns Merlin’s resurrection of Jason from suspended animation in a Finnish lake, along with the Argo, and the search for Jason’s sons. Along the way, they meet Urtha (whose name may (similar to Uther) may be a clue to his future role) a warlord from the Land of Ghosts (England) who has also lost his sons, and a novice enchantress, Niiv, who is enchanted with Merlin and also his great-great-great- etc granddaughter, as well as various other new Argonauts.

Merlin is an immortal, along with a few others who seem to have a special purpose that Merlin has ignored or forgotten. By refusing to use any but the simplest charms inscribed on his bones Merlin has preserved a youthful appearance, but has also preserved an immature mind.

Celtika was an enjoyable read – as I’ve said, more so than the Mythago Cycle – elements of which turn up here: most notably the ten primitive deities who turn up in forests, carved on trees or into wooden masks. The book also contains what must be an important theme for Holdstock, family relations, especially fathers and sons. Some of the lexical choices concerned me a little – the characters use some modern sounding expressions and expletives; also, Greece is referred to as ‘Greek Land’, but none of this constituted a major issue.

I definitely want to read the next book in the series, The Iron Grail.

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Death Magnetic

It’s been quite a while since the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic, came out so it’s about time I write something about it (actually, I’ve been working on this review for about four or five months).

Metallica – greatest band in the universe, in case you didn’t know – went through a lot of trouble at the beginning of the millennium: Jason Newstead, replacement for Cliff Burton who died in a tour bus crash in 1986, was driven to leave the band after years of getting the short end of the stick from the rest of band, and their singer and rhythm guitarist, James Hetfield, went off the rails, spending his time in a cabin in the forest, hunting and subsisting on a diet of vodka.

Hetfield eventually went into rehab – as did lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett – and the band brought in a therapist, Phil Towle, to try and help them move on to healthier places. So they recorded St. Anger without a bassplayer (their producer since the ‘Black Album’, Bob Rock, took up bass duties for the recording) and the album was released to disappointing levels of indifference and disgust. Just before its release they took on Rob Trujillo as their new bassist.

Some time into the songwriting for the 2003 album they ditched all but two of the songs and refocussed on making a record about anger. The sound raw and brutal – grungy, even. Many people slated the sound of Lars Ulrich’s drums, which had a certain hollow, metallic feel to them. There wasn’t a single guitar solo on the album.

I liked St. Anger a lot – I thought its superficial lack of polish was a masterstroke of song- and album-craft. Some of the tracks had more visceral impact than many of Metallica’s best previous songs (‘The Unnamed Feeling’ comes to mind) – and there were a handful of stonking riffs on there (like the one right at the very end of ‘Invisible Kid’). The album was too long – but so were their previous two albums (and arguably the two before that, as well).

I had hoped that now that everything in the band seemed to be on an even keel the wait for a new original record would be somewhat shorter than the five years between ReLoad and St Anger … but no. After what seems like about two years or more of reading bits of news about a forthcoming recording, the news of its release began to acquire specificity. The Rick Rubin-produced album was originally suppposed to be out in February 2008, but then this was briefly pushed back to April, I think, then to September. All we had to listen to were two songs played live in 2006: ‘The New Song’ aka ‘Death is Not the End’ and ‘The Other New Song’ aka ‘Vulturous’.

But finally the album was finished, a release date released, a name chosen, and a song previewed on Metallica.com, ‘The Day that Never Comes’. And this preview song was actually rather disappointing – it seemed like a step backwards in terms of songwriting and production. On their MySpace page the band released a live version of another new song, ‘Cyanide’, and this was much better. The next preview song was ‘My Apocalypse’, and again it wasn’t exactly their best material. In the following weeks more songs were previewed, these ones better, until finally, just before the album’s release, the whole record was put up on Metallica.com. And two of these last previewed tracks turned out to be the best on the album.

The first track on Death Magnetic is ‘That Was Just Your Life’. This opens in ominously gentle style as per some of the greatest Metallica tracks. A heartbeat fades in and then there’s a clean guitar riff evocative of the opening of ‘Enter Sandman’, but a little more eerie. After some portentous power chordage, the tempo leaps upward and the main riff begins – a simple but effective thing. The verses are a rapid-fire monotone barking of images of frustration:

Like a siren in my head that always threatens to repeat.
Like a blind man that is strapped into the speeding driver’s seat.
Like a face –
That learns to speak –
When all it knew was how to bite.
Like a misery that keeps me focused though I’ve gone astray.
Like an endless nightmare that I must awaken from each day.
Like conviction –
A premonition –
Not worthy of so I deny.

The verses are lengthy, as are both the prechorus and chorus. Which introduces one of the main differences between this album and its predecessor, St. Anger – The lyrics are far more detailed, intense, extensive. Which is nice. After the second chorus there’s the strongest riff in the song, which is reprised towards the end with a great little variation very reminiscent of the riff just before the final verse of ‘Harvester of Sorrow’. A pretty damned good start to the album.

Number two on the record is ‘The End of the Line’, and this begins with a familiar riff – one cannibalised from ‘The New Song’. The track is a little slower than the previous one, but still fast-paced, and is a critique of celebrity life and living fast and dying young.

Hooked into this deceiver –
Need more and more.
Into the endless fever –
Need more and more.
New consequence machine –
You burn through all your gasoline.
Asylum overtime –
Never mind,
You’ve reached the end of the line.

The best riff here is the one under the first part of the chorus – again, a simple but effective two-note rhythmic tune made progressively more intense by rising harmonies. This riff reccurs just before the interlude, where its second repetition is palm-muted and is given an unusual harmony (a second interval, I think). The interlude itself is soft and melodic and rises to a crescendo and lyrcally segues into the renewed fury of the chorus.

‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’ is, in terms of lyrics at least, one of the simpler songs on the record. The opening verse is:

You rise,
You fall,
You’re down and you rise again –
What don’t kill you, make you more strong

which is then repeated. Then it’s repeated in a simpler version:

Rise, fall, down, rise again –
What don’t kill you, make you more strong

but here the first line is done with an almost un-Metallica-ish harmony. It’s not quite pop but that one line wouldn’t be out of place amid the punk-rock stylings of a Blink 182 or a Green Day. The verse riff (for the first half, anyway) debuts just before the first verse and is an intricate palm-muted tune with a fascinating rhythm; for the verse itself the riff drops down an octave. The guitar is pretty standard, as are much of the riffs of the whole interlude section. The riff that concludes the song is stronger and much more effectively used.

Track 4 is ‘The Day that Never Comes’ and was the first song on the record to officially see the light of day, being the first single. In many ways it’s a rip-off of Metallica’s classic anti-war anthem, ‘One’ (also the fourth track on its album, … And Justice for All). It starts off softly, with ethereal yet steely arpeggios, which is then accompanied by a somewhat plasticky lead melody. After a few bars the music changes to a more natural-sounding clean guitar and rhythm section, which then becomes the first verse.

The lyrics are about abuse and the hopelessness of the one being abused. The chorus is a heavier affair (just like ‘One’ – and I think the use of that particular word in the chorus here isn’t a coincidence), with a rather leaden riff overlaid with plasticky lead guitar harmonies. It goes thusly:

Waiting for the one.
The day that never comes.
When you stand up and feel the warmth.
But the sunshine never comes.

The song ups the intensity for the whole latter half. After a bridge the tempo rises and there’s a machine gun riff followed by a winding lead guitar part (again, more memories of ‘One’). The rest of the song is marked by heavy but unmoving riffs and more old-fashioned Kirk Hammett lead guitar.

‘The Day that Never Comes’ is very retro and the weakest track on the album (I would say ‘by far’, but I don’t like the final song much either). When I first started listening to it – when it was the only track from the album available – my initial excitement quickly faded to an unwilling disappointment. I’m so happy that in fact it turned out to be a weak link in a strong chain.

‘All Nightmare Long’ starts with a swift-moving but soft clean riff, similar to that at the beginning of ‘Harvester of Sorrow’, but less doom-laden. This is soon joined by a few thunderous power chords, and then the song launches into a trademark Metallica heavily palm-muted riff that goes exactly like this: d-d-de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de, d-d-de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de…. This riff evolves into something more complex; a two-beat hiatus allows James Hetfield to bark somthing unintelligible (it may simply be ‘One, two!’); there’s another riff: a combination of power chords and rapid palm-muted chugging; all this culminates in more rapid palm-muted chugging, but more delicate (it’s reminiscent of the verse riff from two songs earlier, ‘Broken, Beat and Scarred’), and this then becomes the first verse. The verse ends rather wonderfully – like so:

Still life – incarnation.
Still life – infamy.
Hallucination, heresy!
Still you run, what’s to come, what’s to be?

The second chorus gives way to a heavily wah-wahed lick (a Kirk Hammett specialty) that’s pretty good. This leads into a short guitar solo, and after more riffage there’s a longer guitar solo. When this ends there is the second of the two riffs cannibalised from the earlier work-in-progress, ‘The New Song’ – and this riff wouldn’t have been out of place on Master of Puppets or … And Justice for All. The final riff is very similar to that at the end of ‘My World’ (St. Anger).

All in all, four of the first five songs (‘The Day that Never Comes’ being the odd one out) are all pretty similar in feel, length, tempo, theme (well, all the songs are supposed to be about death), quality and enjoyability. I’m not entirely sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing…. Well, I enjoy these four songs, so it must be a good thing. On to the second half of the album.

A live version of the sixth track, ‘Cyanide’, was another early slice of Death to be served up, and it was my favourite of the three early tracks. The album version still disappoints me a little, as it’s somewhat slower than the live version and I keep thinking that it ought to be faster. It’s more concise than many of the other songs on the disc (and third shortest), and isn’t brimming over with dozens of different riffs. The riffs themselves have a slightly different feel to those of the other medium-fast tracks on the album – they’re simpler, and there’s a slightly Middle Eastern vibe to the bridge. ‘Cyanide’ is more similar the ‘Black Album’ material than any other track on Death Magnetic.

One of the things I like about ‘Cyanide’ is how the rhythm guitar mimics – imprecisely – the vocal line of the chorus; in between phrases there’s a pleasing chug chug chug on the low E. The chorus goes:

Suicide –
I’ve already died,
You’re just the funeral I’ve been waiting for.
Cyanide –
Living dead inside –
Break this empty shell forever more.

Number seven on the track listing is the album’s epiphany. ‘The Unforgiven III’ begins with a piano. A piano! On a Metallica song! The gently cascading melody is soon joined by strings and brass instruments. The whole effect is fantastically soft and melancholic. The song halts for a moment, then opens a new section with a clean guitar playing a quietly urgent part, with the other instruments coming in in the background – this is the backing to the chorus.

The verse changes tone, with a distorted guitar riff that is at once elegant and furious – as are the lyrics:

How could know this new dawn’s light would change his life forever?
Set sail to sea but pulled off course by the light of golden treasure.
Was he the one
Causing pain
With his careless dreaming?
Been afraid –
Always afraid –
Of the things he’s feeling.

After a pre-chorus in the same vein, but with a heavily wah-wahed lead guitar lick added into the mix, the song takes a breath for the chorus. The words are desperately sad:

How can I be lost, when I’ve got nowhere to go?
Search for seas of gold; how come it’s got so cold?
How can I be lost? In remembrance I relive.
And how can I blame you, when it’s me I can’t forgive?

The bridge is another quiet, urgent section, building to a crescendo, while the lyrics demand

Forgive me.
Forgive me not.

The guitar solo plays over the verse riff, a thing of blistering fire, its grainy, distorted sound achieved by more wah-wah use. Once this fire dies down the track recapitulates the first two lines of the first verse, but in reverse order and over the much softer chorus music. The song ends almost on the last word of the chorus, the final, ringing chord fading into a hiss that could be that of an old speaker, or the sea.

‘The Judas Kiss’ is possibly the best of the fast-paced songs on the album. It begins with a series of riffs – the first slow, then building in intensity; another riff very similar to the main riff from ‘Eye of the Beholder’. The verse riff moves swiftly and has a certain slippery feel to it.

The verse lyrics focus on being down and out, at the nadir of existence:

When the storm has blacked your sky,
Intuition crucify,
When the ego strips your reign,
Assassinates the living flame.

So what now?
Where go I?
When you think it’s all said and done.

The chorus contains the answer to these questions, and for me is perhaps the most pleasurable moment on the entire album:

Bow down,
Sell your soul to me,
I will set you free,
Pacify your demons.
Bow down,
Surrender unto me,
Submit infectiously,
Sanctify your demons
Into abyss,
You don’t exist,
Cannot resist
The Judas kiss.

The interlude following the second chorus takes one of the earlier riffs and expands on it, makes it a little more complex. Then there’s a half-speed slightly ominous section, and then the guitar solo. About halfway through which is this venomous couplet:

Judas lives, recite this vow –
I’ve become your new god now!

The guitar solo concludes with some interesting licks (and more wah-wah) and leads into the bridge – another slow, ominous section, full of tribal-esque drum rhythms. It builds in intensity and rage and segues neatly into the final chorus. As you can tell, I like this song, so I’m going to quote the bridge lyrics in full:

Followed you from dawn of time.
Whispered thoughts into your mind.
Watched your towers hit ground,
Lured your children, never found,
Helped your kings abuse their crown.
In the heart of feeble man,
Plant the seeds of my own plan,
The strong and powerful will fall,
Find a piece of me in all.
Inside you all so bow down,
Sell your soul to me …

Track 9 is another revelation – the first intrumental on a Metallica album since ‘To Live is to Die’ from 1989’s … And Justice for All. ‘Suicide & Redemption’ is very much in the vein of all three of Metallica’s previous instrumentals (‘The Call of Ktulu’ and ‘Orion’ being the other two): mid-paced, dark and epic. However, it’s easily the best of the quartet. And, at a few seconds shy of ten minutes, it’s the longest track on any original Metallica studio album (the original version of ‘The Outlaw Torn’ is longer, but it had to be cut down for Load).

It begins with the bassline and stabbing power chords. The guitar part builds in stages to become the main riff – the first beat and a half of which feels like a pause, with the note bent up and down, then the rest of the bar consisting of a palm-muted mechanical up-and-down tune. This riff alternates with another much heavier one reminiscent of the heavy down-sliding riff from ‘To Live is to Die’. The next go around, the main riff has a simple, repetitive, echo-laden lead guitar lick over it.

After a variation on the heavier riff, the piece moves into a quiet interlude. First there’s a delicate clean rhythm guitar part, which is joined by a soft melody on the lead guitar. The clean guitar is replaced by more heavy riffery, and the lead part, now harmonised, becomes stronger, more melancholic, somehow evoking nostalgia. The opening of the song is reprised in another bass-heavy section which then leads into the guitar solo. This solo – another expert bit of Kirk Hammett tune-weaving and shredding – is markedly different depending on whether you’re listening to the album version or the Guitar Hero version. The riff that follows this is a simple but intense up-and-down affair that repeats in different registers, building in intensity, before leading back into the main riff. The piece ends with a version of the heavy riff that has overtones of the ending of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.

Finally, track 10, ‘My Apocalypse’, the other song that was previewed along with ‘The Day that Never Comes’, is a traditional high-speed conclusion to a Metallica album (although quite a few of the band’s CDs also end with turgid epics). It’s also fairly weak, and expresses the need for violence in rather juvenile terms:

Crushing metal, ripping skin,
Tossing body, mannequins,
Spilling blood, bleeding gas.
Mangled flesh, snapping spine,
Dripping bloody Valentine,
Shattered face, spitting glass.
Split apart,
Split apart,
Split apart,
Spit –
Spit it out!

And at five minutes long it’s the shortest song on the disc by about a minute and a half. I can’t help thinking that ‘The Other New Song’, aka ‘Vulturous’, would have been a much better choice, but somehow, for some reason, it didn’t pass muster for the new album.

One random note about pronuciation on the album. I can’t remember many instances of specifically American English pronunciations on Metallica songs (maybe only a long A in ‘nadir’ from ‘The Shortest Straw’), but there are a couple of examples in one song that stood out for me. In ‘The Judas Kiss’ there’s ‘patronize’ with a long A, and ‘tourniquet’ in the non-French style. Finally, there’s also the unusual correct pronunciation of ‘deity’ in ‘The End of the Line’ – videlicet, ‘DEE-i-ti’.

Despite the amount of enjoyment I’ve got from the album so far, there are a couple of problems with it. The best riff on the album, for me, is the main tune in the instrumental – the one that begins with the bent up and down note. But this is by no means among Metallica’s strongest riffs – and it’s this ability to create amazing riffs that helps make Metallica the greatest band in the universe. A Metallica album without a couple of stonkers like the much-played-in-guitar-shops theme from ‘Enter Sandman’ or the thunderous riff from ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (which a magazine once described as sounding like Godzilla stomping through your hometown), is a little disappointing. This isn’t to say the tunes on Death Magnetic are bad – but by and large there’s nothing special about them.

Another major sticking point is the sound quality. I’d noticed this on the early preview tracks and had assumed they’d been compressed for web broadcast. But it turns out the whole album had been sonically amputated – supposedly to increase the volume (or so I’ve read). Compression strips out the very high and very low frequencies – usually the difference is negligible, but this album release has a distinctly plasticky sound quality. The solution, it turns out, is to download the Guitar Hero version, which sounds like it should do, with crunchy guitar sounds, crisp hi-hats and meaty bass. There are a couple of content differences in the Guitar Hero version, mainly to ‘Suicide & Redemption’, which has a slightly different guitar solo, and loses its fade in and fade out. There’s also an extra refrain after the first chorus of ‘The End of the Line’.

So there we have it: ten large slices of death – Death Magnetic. Four months or more after its release I was still listening to it regularly (although not so much in 2009), so my response is certainly very positive. There are five or six solid, enjoyable metal songs, two or three sub-par tracks (‘Cyanide’ is the one I can’t make my mind up about), and two out and out masterpieces: ‘The Unforgiven III’ and ‘Suicide & Redemption’; the third in the ‘Unforgiven’ trilogy is one of Metallica’s best ever songs. In short, the album is pretty damn good – though it could have been even better.

Track Listing (CD version)

1 – That Was Just Your Life (7:08)
2 – The End of the Line (7:52)
3 – Broken, Beat & Scarred (6:25)
4 – The Day That Never Comes (7:56)
5 – All Nightmare Long (7:58)
6 – Cyanide (6:39)
7 – The Unforgiven III (7:46)
8 – The Judas Kiss (8:00)
9 – Suicide & Redemption (9:57)
10 – My Apocalypse (5:01)

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It’s been a fairly miserable couple of weeks. As my nausea abated the weekend before last, my cough got worse – so bad in fact that my chest was quite sore. I went to a doctor the following Monday (at the clinic I’d been going to for my bowels) and he gave me a three-day course of pills. And that helped a lot, although for much of that week I was low on energy and appetite.

On Friday lunchtime that week I went back to Eulji Medical Center with my warts. The ajumma doctor decided to prescribe me another round of cryotherapy – which I was happy about: no more incredibly painful injections. I left the hospital before making a formal appointment and returned to work only just in time for my first class of the afternoon.

I went back after work for the actual treatment. And subsequently found that it was possibly the worst I’d had yet. With the top layers of skin having been removed at lunchtime, my toe had that much less protection from the liquid nitrogen. I developed large black blisters on the pad of my big toe.

This week I went to taekwondo for my Monday and Wednesday classes – but did no training because of my foot. On Monday it was just me and Master Lee (I keep wondering if I should refer to her as ‘Mistress’ instead). We talked for a while in the office, there being no students besides me. We used a Korean on-line dictionary to translate for us. On Wednesday, almost all the masters were present and they all looked at my burnt toe. The senior master, the wonjangnim had me talk to a doctor friend of his who asked me to think about coming to her hospital. I remain hopeful that next time at Eulji might be my final visit there for my warts.

I’ve missed taekwondo training, and with all my various afflictions haven’t kept up any sort of training or practice at home. My last real training session – the Wednesday of the night I got sick – was really enjoyable. I got to do some very hands on training with my ‘mistress’ – punches, blocks and kind of semi-throws. I even accidentally punched her in the face. Well, I clipped her on the nose – no harm done.

My foot is getting better by the day, but my cough is still quite annoying – although I can at least breath reasonably deeply without causing a burst of coughing. There’s no taekwondo today or on Monday – nor work until Wednesday – so I have a long weekend off, but I’m looking forward to beginning training again. That’ll be on Wednesday, while on Friday I have to return to the hospital and I can only hope they don’t cripple me again.

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I’ve had a rough few days. From the start of the week, the new schedule at the hagwon has left me rather sleep-deprived. Then I woke up in the middle of the night on Wednesday night with a headache and feeling sick. I vomited a mouthful of pizza and returned to bed – where I couldn’t get back to sleep.

By the morning, not only was I incredibly tired, but I had a sore throat and a cough – a combination which has left my oesophagus feeling like it’s been sandpapered (with the coarse kind, at that). I felt pretty miserable going into work for 8:30, and, during one of my morning classes, I had to leave to go and throw up all over the washroom floor. Which wasn’t deliberate – with the Asian squat toilet, it was simply difficult to get it on target.

I went to bed when I got in on Thursday and woke up some time during the night. I entertained myself by watching some Fawlty Towers and Red Dwarf – and actually this made me feel a lot better. On Friday I felt somewhat better than I had the previous day, but I was very low on energy, having not eaten much since Wednesday. Fortunately, my classes – probably picking up on the fact that I was under the weather – didn’t cause me any problems.

That night I went straight to bed again, got up a couple of hours later and decided I didn’t have the energy to do taekwondo. I watched the latter half of season one of Red Dwarf and went to sleep again. I slept for about ten hours and woke up before 7:30 – the perfect time to get up, get ready and go to Korean class. Which I did.

Right now, I’m over my nausea and my appetite is nearly back to normal (although I chose not to have breakfast this morning); my cough is a pain, and I have to take care not to walk too fast in case I trigger it. I also still have a sore neck and shoulders – that’s been going on for a couple of weeks now and I’m thinking about seeing a doctor about it.

On a more positive note, I’ve just bought Dreamer of Dune, Brian Herbert’s biography of his father, Frank, Queen + Paul Rodgers’s new album, The Cosmos Rocks and Guns N’ Roses’s new album Chinese Democracy. Even better, a slew of great TV programmes start or restart this weekend.

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Actually, I have had a sore neck this past week, for reasons unknown, but the main subject of this post is my recent return to the hospital for treatment on my foot.

We started a new schedule at work on Friday, first working day of the new year. Classes start at nine of the ante meridian clock. Coincidentally, Friday is my least busy day with only four classes (I have five on Thursday and six each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday), so at lunchtime, after having a grey, porridgey soup I went to Eulji Medical Center again to get a fresh prescription for the fungal infection in my toenails.

I had an appointment to go in the morning, but I let that slide. I’d also had semi-appointment a couple of weeks earlier to have more injections in my foot, but, frankly, I was too scared to go back. I did mention how painful the shots were, didn’t I?

After waiting for a bit, a young doctor (a trainee doctor, I think) came and told me in very broken English I should more injections today. When I asked him about my prescription he didn’t know what I was talking about. A while later I saw an ajumma doctor. (For those who don’t know, ajumma (아줌마 (pronounced ‘ahjoomah’)) is Korean for ‘auntie’ or ‘older woman’ (ie, middle-aged or elderly). Ajummas are typically very short women with permed hair who project an air of indestructibility.) The English she spoke was very good, but by no means comprehensive. I asked her if it was possible to have a local anaesthetic for my next inections, but I gathered from her response that it would dilute the effect of the ‘wart poison’ (she didn’t use that expression).

I got a prescription for more pills and an appointment to come back straight after work.

Which I did. As I waited to be seen I watched Korean-dubbed Thomas and Friends and Little Princess on the TV in the waiting room. I almost went to sleep on the bed I was shown to (early schedule, remember). After a longish wait while I tried to rest, the small, pretty doctor came to inflict pain again (whilst narrating the process to the trainee doctor). It wasn’t quite so bad this time, but by the end my foot was beaded with sweat and had a smear of blood running down it. The nurse put some anaesthetic gel on the incipient blisters and fastened it up with gauze and tape.

I went back to Eunhaeng Sageori and to my dojang to explain to my masters that I might not be able to train that evening. My foot was a little sore, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d be up for it. I said I’d come for class anyway.

Which I did – after a nap at home. I bound my big toe in sports tape and found that the anaesthetic gel had got to work – there was very little discomfort. So I trained as normal and went home as normal and did all the normal things I normally do of an evening.

In the early hour of the morning my hallux started throbbing a little, and today it’s been fairly painful, though it hasn’t swelled up like it did last time. I think that previous treatment did a halfway decent job of removing the warts – especially the big mosaic wart on the pad of the toe. I also think that waiting a month has given the skin time to thicken again – and both these factors mean that this episode hasn’t been as traumatic as the last one.

I have a lunchtime appointment for another consultation in two weeks time.

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Happy New Year

Last week I made arrangements to go out with my taekwondo masters for New Year’s Eve. When I got to taekwondo last night, Lee Sabeomnim, my main teacher, the one who speaks the better English (though still not very good), was evidently feeling down – in the office, she was sitting slumped with her head on her arms. She explained that her mum has some neurological disease like Alzheimer’s and she had to look for her. At first – and throughout class – I thought she meant look after her. At the end I realised that she really had to go looking for her mum with her friends – she’d gone missing. So our night out didn’t happen.

Earlier in the day Lee Sabeomnim had sent me a slightly confusing text message – although it was only confusing because I didn’t realise who it was from. A couple of texts later – with me having explained that I get up at midday and I was currently having breakfast – she called me ‘잠꾸러기’ (‘jamkkureogi’) which means ‘sleepyhead’. I texted back with ‘네. [‘ne’ – ‘yes’] -_- zzzz’.

Further back in time, the previous Saturday I’d been to Yongsan with our new colleague, Travis. He bought a couple of items he needed and I bought the new Nickelback album, Dark Horse (which I’d known nothing about) and Metallica’s ‘Black’ album. Which latter I gave to my two masters on Monday, in return for having received a diary as a gift from Lee Sabeomnim the previous week. So we did some of our exercises to the strains of ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Sad But True’ – until Lee Sabeomnim turned it off, anyway. I got my green belt, as well.

So back to last night – I considered contacting someone from my roleplaying group who’d said on the Yahoo! group that he was going out in Nowon. Then I thought I’d see what So-young and possibly Botond were doing. Bo was still out of the country, but So-young agreed to meet me for a coffee. So we chatted for an hour or so up until midnight, wished each other Happy New Year and goodnight and went home. I suppose I could’ve hooked up with the roleplayers after that, but joining a group where everyone’s already drunk isn’t a very attractive proposition – I’d rather get drunk along with everyone else right from the start.

So I went home and watched a bit more Green Wing and QI, played some Hammerfall and went to bed.

New Year’s Eve didn’t have the fireworks I was hoping for, but it was a nice enough evening. I’m not really disappointed. For much of my life the only thing I’d done on 31st December was watch TV, but last year I was in Varanasi, hanging out with Nathan and Adam at a hotel party; the previous year I went into central Seoul and watched the celebrations by City Hall and walked through throngs of people firing handheld fireworks into the air; the year before that I’d just moved to London and went down to Westminster to watch the firework display and the countdown projected on to the tall building next to the old Greater London Council building; and the year before that, in my final year at Bath Spa University College, I went out drinking with friends – but sadly the the expected fireworks didn’t materialise because of the Boxing Day Tsunami.

I texted Lee Sabeomnim again today – she found her mum.

Happy New Year, all.

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The Star FractionOne of the quotes on the cover of this book is praise from Iain (M) Banks, one of my favourite authors, so, although I don’t go in for science fiction novels so much, I thought this might be pretty decent. It had its good points, but overall it didn’t do too much for me.

Set maybe two or three generations in the future, the novel is all about a fractured society. The big picture is a jigsaw puzzle with various pieces missing, so it can be quite confusing, but it’s possible to put together some idea of how this fractured society has been shaped. Germany, once again, tried to conquer Europe; Britain is therefore ruled, mostly, by the ‘Hanoverian’ regime, but northern Britain is still under the control of the previous, and now rebel, Rebublican government. America has co-opted the UN and the two are generally referred to as the ‘US/UN’ (much like unionists in Northern Ireland used to say ‘Sinn Fein/IRA’). Even within the Hanoverian-controlled areas of England there are a multitude of political fiefdoms – greens, Christians and so on. Hanging above all like Damocles’s sword is Space Defence (which may be independent, or may be under US/UN control, I’m still not entirely clear) which can rain down nukes on anyone it doesn’t like.

All of these forces – and more – come into play in The Star Fraction – which gives you an idea of how complex a picture is painted in the story. It’s overly complex, really. Ken MacLeod may have a solid idea of the world he’s created, but bringing it to life in an intelligible way is another thing entirely. The ambition of it is admirable, as is the absence of spoonfed infodump, but it feels like there’s simply too much subject matter here – which I think is a typical first novel problem.

At least the number of characters is manageable: there are four protagonists – a cynical mercenary, a scientist, a computer specialist (and escapee from a fundamentalist Christian enclave), and another mercenary. By gender, they’re, respectively, male, female, male, female – and they form relationships in that order, too, which is maybe a little too pat (although one relationship doesn’t end exactly happily).

Apart from the complexity of the background, the plot and characters move along perfectly functionally, but the whole thing never really excited me much. Another problem is that it’s, to quite a large degree, exactly the same story as William Gibson’s seminal Neuromancer, which is a) the original and the best, and b) much better written.

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