Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Food Review - MRE

One of the things you need to do as a professional chef is to be prepared to smack anybody in the head that snickers when you call yourself a "professional chef". You also have to be willing to try different foods, regardless of your gut reaction to the food.

With this spirit in mind, and recalling the luck I had Monday in eating Taco Bell on Yongsan, I bought a Meal Ready to Eat at a black market store around Hongjae station. Now I have not had the newer MRE's, I have though had some C-rations, or whatever they were called. I tried them in my youth as a military surplus store in the area has them for sale. So I had some frame of reference in what to expect, other than the recent flood of news reports, and blogs, about "life in the field" for the military.

First thing I must note is the packaging. I find some humor in the front having a small logo  on the front of a silhouette solider with an M-16 at the ready. Frankly the logo was a little nostalgic as the silhouette reminded one of the US "cold warrior" image of the 70's and 80's. Ironic given the fact that many Army critics (including Rummy) think the US is nostalgic for those days anyway. Anyway the food was nicely packaged up in individual packets: Pretzels, Peanut Butter, whole grain bread, pound cake, cherry drink mix, coffee service of sorts, and an entree that was advertised as something like chicken and pasta in tomato sauce. Included were instructions on how to eat the MRE. This is not as funny as it sounds, the notes simply included advice on what to eat first if you pressed for time (It helps you make decisions on what do first if you sit down for your meal and a grenade is thrown in your foxhole).

On a final note, the meal included salt, but no pepper. In a nod to fads, or perhaps just solider choice, the packet included a cute little bottle of Tabasco complete in distinctive bottle and label. I wonder of the makers donate them, or the military pays full price. It must be more expensive than little plastic envelopes labeled "hot sauce".

The thing also included a chemical heating unit that heated up if you added water. I followed the directions (complete with the memorable utilitarian diagram reference "Rock or something") to the letter, but performance was mediocre. Perhaps I did not allow enough time to pass. The chicken was lukewarm; the pack however was red hot through the miracle of chemistry.

Anyway review item by item (in the order eaten):

Pretzels - I expected this bag to be actually pretzel dust, as the packets must take so much abuse things are bound to get crushed. To my surprise there was minimal damage. The tasted fine, however the had a flavor that was strangely reminiscent of the crackers I once ate in C-rations. I wonder if it's the preservatives for crispy bread products or something. Not bad, but you can get better in the store. Great with the peanut butter.

Peanut Butter - This is nice. I had peanut butter in the C-rations, but it came out of the can very oil. This was smooth and creamy. Good complement to the Pretzels.

Chicken entree - First complaint, as I mentioned already, it was not really warm. Second, It was kind of hard to eat a solid pressed chicken meat patty with a spoon from a narrow envelope. To solve that problem I put it on the bread (more about that later). Lastly, and more importantly, it tasted a few grades lower than the hospital food made for patents that are allergic to everything. Basically it was a mix of solid play dough and sludge that had a feint chicken tomato flavor and color. It tasted edible with salt and Tabasco, but then even real play dough and sludge tastes edible with salt and Tabasco.

Whole Grain Bread-I expected the worst for this. It came out of the packet reinforcing my idea of the worst. It looked like a soda cracker on steroids. However it was nice and light, moist, and very tasty. It was roughly an individually baked 3in square bread loaf with little soda cracker-like holes in the middle. It served as a great substitute for a plate, which was sorely needed.

Spiced Pound Cake - This definitely gets my thumbs up. It was moist, flavorful, and in a strange way tasted homemade. It would have been nice to have a small envelope of frosting to go with it, but I am not complaining. What to trade for if you are stranded in the middle of nowhere with a friend and all you have to eat are MRE's.

Cherry Drink Mix - Just like Kool-aid, and I hate Kool-aid. 'Nuff said.

Coffee - Ummm instant coffee, just like you can get back home in Korea. A funny thing to note is that the Coffee, Hot sauce, and Sugar were exactly what you would buy "off the shelf" in the US. I read somewhere that the US military is changing some its food procurement practices in food to order to buy familiar brands to serve as a boost for morale. Perhaps this is why I had Tasters Choice, Tobacco, and Domino Sugar respectively (surprisingly it was generic non-dairy creamer, not Coffeemate). I also find some humor that a Swiss company is supplying the US army with an essential battlefield supply (Nestle makes Tasters Choice).

Overall it was not bad. The rest of the meal saved the horrible entree. I can see though they are really loaded in calories (a good thing considering all that energy you need to flee somebody shooting at you). The meal was not that big, but it has been two hours since I finished eating and I still feel like a small rock is my stomach and I feel a buzz from all the sugars in it.

The only thing that haunts me is what exactly to they put in these things. Granted the vacuum packing in an inert gas (such as nitrogen) helps alot, but still I wonder. One of my grandfathers favorite war stories (of which he told few, to much pain for him) was that in his WWII and Korean War C-Rations there was "Crackers and Cheese". The can was supposed to last over 50 years (and was considered in the mid and late 1940's to be safe to eat after a nuclear detonation). The crackers were nice a crispy and eaten. The cheese was soft, rich, and creamy, however nobody ate it. The logic went "If that cheese can spend 50 years in that condition, god knows how long what ever they put in it will last in my body after I eat it!"

Monday, February 16, 2004

Hub of Northeast Fantasyland

When I got to Korea I started to read my paper back to front. Not because I wanted to read Peanuts first, but because there is all sorts of incidentally comedy on the pages. For example, once I bogged on how an impassioned plea to end corruption in all levels of society was followed by review for a BMW car that the newspaper, or reporter, was bribed to write. One gets the idea that the layout is intentionally edited so the average reader will not pick up on this stuff.

Thursday was a similar situation. The first article I read was a report released by some business group expressing doubts about Korea's "Hub of Northeast Asia" plan. I urge you to read the article; one cannot with out smiling as saying "fat chance". The Joongang also dryly observes that the group used undiplomatic capital letters for emphasis.

You may still be fostering the idea that the Hub will become a reality. Let us take the nub of the report that said:

"Korea should be made the Most Open; the Least Taxed; and Financially the Most Deregulated; and the Most Transparent."

The response to this idea was actually spelled out on the page before by President Noh. In a speech, noted by the Joongang:

President Roh Moo-hyun told a business audience yesterday that his administration would put more stress on making it easier to comply with government regulations than to reduce the number of those rules.

Oh well, perhaps Korea can hold another Olympics. That force people to recognize it as a hub right?

Roh spun more fantasyland type yarns at this speech by the way. Roh called an increase in service firms a good way to create jobs. He said:

"If there is any discrimination in regulations or government support to service industries, please point that out. The administration will solve all the problems that prevent investments in the service sector."

As an owner and worker in the "Korean Service Sector" Roh I got a few thoughts to share with you. First, you need to realize the word "service sector job" does not always mean "investment banker". It is possible to have a huge service economy, but you need to realize they call cant be in insurance or software engineering.

More importantly Mr. Roh the problems that service businesses face here are not the problem of the explicit regulations, but the structural weaknesses in the economy, government, and society in general. In my own experience I have the following problems:

1. An expensive and unreliable supply chain (this echoes one of the major reasons companies find it difficult to do business in Korea). Part of the reason for this in my case is inconsistent imports. I recommend if you want to improve services, get off your ass and push that Chilean free trade pact!

2. A horrible real estate market, and real estate services market. Not only is finding a place to do business expensive, and difficult to understand in process, real estate agents are basically useless in helping. This goes not only for purchasers but sellers as well. When we thought of selling our place a long while ago, my wife asked "how much do you think we can get?" I said, "Well, lets ask the real estate agent to tell how much similar places are going for." I received a perplexed look and the oft heard response "They don't do that in Korea." Wonderful!

3. Laws regarding business leases being unclear, and biased in favor of the landlord. Compounding this is the structural weakness of being required to buyout a businesses "premium" or "goodwill" when you move in. For example, I got my place for a 20 million deposit which went to the owner. I also had to pay 40 million to the last business owner for "goodwill" (even though her business was dismal). Now the rub is the building owner can throw me out for things like reconstruction (among other things), but he is only required to give me my deposit. He is not required to give me money for relocation, improvements to the property, or loss of business. You can also guess what happens to that 40 million "goodwill".

4. Inefficient legal recourse for business contracts that go bad. Yes, you can get a judgment, even one to biased toward the Korean defendant. However your damages are limited to a pittance of the actual damages incurred. I ended up in litigation recently; I won, but got a small amount back. I was also unable to recover damages for incidental costs caused by the guilty party, nor estimate-able things such as loss of business or goodwill, and on top of that all there are no punitive damages (even for willful fraud which this case included), so people can do bad things again and again without any penalty.

5. In efficient tax enforcement. Yes we all have heard about Korean audits, and the debilitating effects they have on business operations. However what is not discussed is the fact that the tax service encourages such behavior by not requiring adequate records, nor by giving guidelines on how to be "in compliance". The way sales tax is collected is a joke, and furthermore our landlord is shaking us down because he gave us "Choice", pay him 50K extra or pay 100K in taxes. To be honest I want to turn him in and pay the 100 (doing so though would piss off my wife for "making problems"). However if there were adequate enforcement of minor things like this there would be no problem.

There are five things Mr. Roh. When you fix those, I will have five more for you.


Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Responce to an Anti-American

I have my first piece of email I want to comment to. In my last post a few weeks ago, I explained my theory that Japan's new found aggressive foreign policy and increasing militarization (for lack of better words) grew partly out of South Korea's wavering support of the United States. From this I got a post/email from Mr. Shin Jong-il.

Since I do not know his reading schedule, I decided to respond in this fourm. I hope you see this Mr. Shin. I want to respond to a few points of his:

"You keep telling korea how unappreciative she is, well, let's see you give a demonstration on how to show some appreciation, my friend."

Very well, my friend, I will point to the following appreciation:

  • 30,000 US troops in Korea to protect your right to spit at them and burn their flag.
  • 33,651, and counting, American men and women that gave their life to protect you from your "peaceful brothers"
  • US$1,000,000,000,000, in '97 dollars, quick estimate of total US aid to South Korea 1953-88 (CBO Report)
  • And lets not even begin to talk about the economic trade, nor how the use of billions of the US's own money was used to steal US jobs as some view.

How have you shown your appreation Mr. Shin?

"my suspicion is that you will never see korea as an equal no matter what she does"

Thank you Mr. Shin for answering the rhetorical question in my headline "Is Korea in a vacuum?" The post had nothing to do with "seeing Korea as an equal" in any sense, it is you that brought up that issue. I was thinking more along the lines of Korea's moves to be more "independent" and what effects that had on the larger regional security situation in Asia, and in turn how that comes back to haunt Korea. However, you want to be alone in your ignorant blissful vacuum and think the post was simply about how Korea has been "done wrong".

I also do not share with you your contradiction, "you like japan...because [they] do whatever the us [sic] tells her to do. But...you turn on her too since they must one day grow a backbone." Japan and the US have a shared view of the world, and common thoughts on how to adapt to that world. Whether I like it or not, that is the reality. And you conflict is in the fact that, as you, many, and I have noted, that the US is encouraging by silence Japan growing a backbone and taking a larger role in forgiven affairs.

Once again you can't see much of this since you like your vacuum so much, and like to think the world is a black-and-white powerful vs. strong game. Where in fact now a days in geo-politics every country has certain levers to pull. Even some of the most decrepit countries in the world can attempt to have some power (witness North Korea for one). Things are relative and dynamic.

Finally you note, "south korea is looking for more equality", which is fine, but you have to realize that your moves towards "equality" come with certain costs. The world does not just bend to your will, nor can we ignore cause-and-effect relationships. If you want less US protection that is fine, but you have to realize that it comes with the cost of having to put up with headaches the US one bore for you alone.

Lastly, Yes Mr. Shin, I have had a few Koreans regard me as a true friend. And those true friends do not sit idly buy as their kin spit in my eye, nor do they spit in the other eye as a show of "brotherhood".

My Dream Job

Apparently the head of the Phys Ed department at Ewha is in trouble for receiving bribes (Bribery in sports in Korea? No! Who would have thought!).


I want to apply for this job. Young women in skimpy clothing willing to do ¡°anything¡± to pass a test, and extra cash on the side. YEAH!