The Disaster Tourist by Korean autjor Yun Ko-eun tells the story of Yona, who’s worked for Seoul-based travel company Jungle for 10 years, offering package holidays to destinations in disaster zones.
When she tries to quit after a #MeToo incident, her boss tries to buy her silence with a free trip to Mui, a remote Vietnamese island home to one of the company’s least popular disaster tours. In return, all she needs to provide is a full report on how to improve the itinerary.
To begin with, all seems okay. She joins 5 other people on the trip and has a bit of an adventure out to see some volcanoes. But things start hotting up when she becomes trapped on the island and begins to figure out what is happening around her – a tale of surreal conspiracy and powerful corporate entities plotting to stage a plausible disaster.
First published in Korean in 2013 but translated into English in 2020 by Lizzie Buehler sometimes it feels like the characters are a bit thin; we hear nothing of Yona’s life outside of work and her love story comes across as just lukewarm. Of course, as an emergency manager, I also naturally took issue at the use of ‘natural disaster’ throughout (see here for why natural disasters don’t exist).
There were also sections of the book, later in the story, which I found myself reflecting on in ways other readers perhaps wouldn’t. As emergency managers we develop similar stories for training exercises, and the faceless/nameless identities of the characters in those exercises seemed all too familiar whilst reading this.
It’s a short book at just 180 or so pages. I read it to a background of TV news showing Hurricane Ida making landfall in Louisianna, which seemed especially resonant. As Yona herself contemplates “disaster lays dormant in every corner, like depression. You never knew when it might spring into terrible action”.
The Disaster Tourist is thought-provoking throughout (especially as an emergency manager) but I suspect it takes on a slightly different relevance for everyone now contemplating post-pandemic travel.
And finally, it’s unlikely that other readers would draw a similar parallels, but this section seemed prophetic having been written in 2013…
I was passing through the south west of the UK last week with some time to kill. Naturally, I took to Google to find some noodles!
The first recommendation was in Exmouth, but on further investigation it wasn’t ramen, just regular noodles. No thanks. Not this.
In a mysterious place, the oft neglected page two of Google, I found a news article singing the praises of Goto in ExeterGoto in Exeter. It wasn’t completely out of my way, so off I set!
There were free tables when I walked in, but it was approaching 19:30 and they had some bookings so I was asked to wait outside for a few minutes.
After what felt like forever (but was actually about 12 minutes) I was beckoned back inside, with a wave which, I imagine, they keep for regular patrons!
Hand painted murals adorn the walls, they’re pretty cool, and remind me of the ramen joint I visited in Boston.
I’d had time to study the menu so ordered as I sat down – restauranting like a pro!!
The starter selection was a little limited, but I chose the vegetable tempura. The courgette was deliciously crispy but the sweet potato seemed to lack a bit of flavour.
Tonkotsu then arrived before me. However, I have to be honest, it was a bit disappointing. The bamboo shoots were really tasty and the chasu slice was well cooked. But that thick, stick-to-your-mouth broth was nowhere to be seen. This was more like brown onion soup, thin and watery. And it had iceberg lettuce in it?!
The table opposite me raved about their sushi though, so maybe ramen just isn’t Goto’s speciality?
If you’re passing through Exeter then definitely check it out, the customer service was great – quick, friendly and for the table who were a bit unsure of what to order they gave lots of recommendations. However, manage your expectations, this is not tonkotsu as you might know it elsewhere.
Generally, there’s a view from within, that that emergency management needs to be more mainstream, especially in the minds of political leaders.
Over the last 9 years I’ve also tried to use this blog as a way to bring greater visibility to emergency management issues; most directly in an early post about breaking out of the bunker, which is simultaneously the natural habitat of the Emergency Manager but can also be what holds us back as a profession.
It was with great excitement that I ordered Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition, about a group of like-minded (and like-frustrated!) individuals who know that something serious needs to be done about pandemic planning. The book tells how a small group initiated and then performed repeated course corrections to US pandemic planning in the face of indifferent, layered, and fragmented bureaucracies. Speaking about the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 one of the cast notes “there was no one driving the bus” and that despite pockets of good work across the country, the formal bodies people looked to for leadership (the Centre for Disease Control gets an especially scathing review) were deeply dysfunctional.
The book repeatedly asks the question “What happens when the people in charge of managing the risks have no interest in them?”. Pretty much every time it circles back to passionate people fighting to be heard and finally breaking through (often to be un- or under-appreciated).
Like Love Actually, there are several intertwined stories at play. Initially, each of the main characters (they’re actually real people) are doing their own wonderful things in splendid isolation, solving local problems using local means. But characters are brought together through chance meetings, introductions or happenstance, and realise their collective power.
One observation is that for a Public Health Officer in the States, there is no defined career path. I’ve heard similar representations about Emergency Management. This is thought to represent a problem because it means such a diversity of approaches and backgrounds and therefore a lack of a common approach. However, I would argue that this allows multiple perspectives to be more easily readily and more organically, but agree that some standardisation could be beneficial.
Like in an emergency, rapid response is vital to control and reduce the impact of disease outbreaks. The response to outbreaks and emergencies often needs to be instinctive, Kahneman’s ‘System 1’ rather than the more considered ‘System 2’. As one of the protagonists remarks about a Hepatitis C outbreak “if we had waited for enough evidence to be published in journals then we would have already lost,” and similarly, later in the book talking about wildfire response, someone remarks “you cannot wait for the smoke to clear – once you can see things clearly it’s already too late.”
Active vs passive choice seems to be another recurring theme throughout The Premonition, reminiscent of the Trolley Problem:
In particular, there is a chapter that considers a response to potential health issues following a Californian mudslide and one of the stars of the book is described as “She processes information quickly and spits out a decision fast, that makes people nervous. You don’t find people like that in government.”
Considering the profession, or at least the decision-makers background, there is an observation that the Homeland Security Council was “staffed by military types who spent their days considering attacks from hostile foreigners, not the flu” and that this had the effect of cognitive narrowing, choosing to not see the things which were unfamiliar.
One of the characters talks about how they wanted to try to get the President, then George W Bush, to pay attention to the widespread impact that a serious pandemic could have across all society, not just healthcare. I was particularly amused that rather than formal submissions and briefings, actually what got the President interested was providing him with an annotated history book.
An intensivist doctor talking about touch clinical decisions remarks that “I felt like my best when shit hits the fan. I focus like a laser when everything is going to shit” and someone else mentions “You are going to make mistakes. The sin is making the same mistake twice and best is to learn from other people’s mistakes.”
The Premonition isn’t a popular science review of pandemic interventions and response strategies. Although, if there is a Hollywood adaptation (like Lewis’ Moneyball) then there would be parts for Selena Gomez to reprise her role in explaining dense public health theories and concepts. There’s an extended section which compares 1918 influenza pandemic interventions in Philadelphia and St Louis and supporting evidence which indicates “cities that intervened immediately experienced less disease and death” and further that cities which “caved to pressure from businesses to relax social distancing then experienced a more severe second wave.”
Lewis also presents research that concludes that you “couldn’t design a better system for transmitting disease than the school system,” which got me thinking about perceptions, and why there is a persistent view that closing schools is a bad idea? Surely it’s only a bad idea if it is done badly?
The book notes how we are notoriously bad at understanding statistics and complex dynamics. Exponential growth is hard for us to visualise beyond the first few steps. Lewis provides an example of folding a piece of paper 50 times being able to reach a distance of 70 million miles. It just doesn’t seem right.
What comes through most clearly is that more often than not this doesn’t come down to expertise or evidence. Success often is the result of people who work around the system. Individuals with passion projects that compensate for the failings and deficiencies of their organisations.
My own passion project has been to try and better surface and understand interdependencies between different systems. It’s easy to become a specialist in your own field, but to see how that connects and relates to other areas is less common. My Anytown project started off as a way to try and convey the ‘whole society’ impact of various scenarios. The Premonition covers some of this in a short section that identifies the pressures on the production of nasal swabs which are only manufactured in three locations worldwide and are in extreme demand during a pandemic.
However, Lewis also makes the observation that decisions can no longer be made purely on the basis of technical evidence and draws the book to a conclusion noting that “greater attention needs to be paid to how decisions might appear to a cynical public.”
There are some wild claims throughout, such as “The US invented pandemic planning in 2005”, which I’m not sure would stand up to much scrutiny. And I’m sure that trying to tell a history of COVID whilst we are all still living through COVID means there is more to be uncovered. But overall, The Premonition is an easy to read yet insightful book which casts light on, more often than not, the failings of government-level risk management and the commitment and passion of public health and emergency management professionals, noting that some are “so committed it’s more of a mission than a job.”
One of the (many) shows I’ve watched on Netflix over the last year is Million Pound Menu. Hopeful restauranteurs set out to impress judges to secure funding for a new eatery.
The pandemic is far from over, but we have reached the stage that the Government is once again permitting people to eat indoors at restaurants. So the plan was to track down one of the successful contestants and support small businesses.
Trap Kitchen in Balham was top of the list. But after looking at the prices and portion sizes it felt a little extravagant for a Tuesday.
So instead, we returned to old faithful Nanban in Brixton. Not a Netflix winner, but the founder did win Masterchef some years ago. I’ve blogged about previous Nanban visits here and here.
This is was my first time eating in a restaurant since October 2020. Things are different in many ways, socially distanced tables, eMenus and app ordering, staff in PPE. But things are also the same too, relaxed atmosphere, delightful smells wafting from the kitchen, and clever marketing which appeals to your senses and gets you to order more than is really needed!
We ordered the Angry Birds wings and padron peppers, a Lazy Goat ramen and a The Leopard ramen.
That was all washed down with some unusual sounding drinks – a Kinnie (think a fizzy non-alcoholic negroni) and a Cloudwater soda (apparently pineapple and yuzu flavour, but you had to search hard for any kind of flavour to be honest).
Nanban is one of my favourite ramen spots in London. What they offer is Caribbean/Japanese fusion, so this isn’t somewhere for an authentic experience but is good for trying out new things.
First up was half a pound of angry birds chicken wings. I wasn’t really sure how many that was but it sounded like a lot. In reality, eight. The outside of the wings was crispy and drenched in a sweet yet spicy (like, lips on fire, fire emoji) sauce.
The padron peppers were, well, padron peppers, which brought a little hit of freshness after the fried chicken.
Two bowls of ramen then got delivered to our table. Nick had the Lazy Goat ‘fusion’ although his review was “I enjoyed it but didn’t get a Japanese vibe”. The meat was very tender but it was a bit lacking on the broth front. The scotch bonnet bamboo shoots were also a teeny bit too spicy for us.
It was only when I stirred my bowl that I understood it’s name ‘The Leopard’. Burnt garlic oil spotted through the creamy broth like a leopards coat. Clever. Surprisingly the broth wasn’t the sticky pork bone broth I was expecting, more of a thick sesame milk. The toppings (tea pickled egg, bamboo shoots, garlic chips, spring onion) were great and the chunks (rather than slices) of chasu pork were meltingly soft. Finished off with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, which didn’t dissolve into the broth but softened and sank into a cheesy lump. This sounds like a bad thing, but it was a nice surprise at the bottom of the bowl!
We rounded off the meal with a Nanbanana, a miso fried banana with cinnamon ice-cream and crispy noodles. In my experience hot banana can be hit and miss. This was a resounding hit! The banana kept its texture in the warm butterscotchy sauce.
My first ramen after a very weird period was great, and Nanban remains high on my list of favourite ramen spots (even if it did turn out to be about 20% more expensive than Trap Kitchen…which we turned down because of prices! #fail)
It can sometimes be hard to escape the swirling vortex that is the TikTok algorithm. Such was the case when Korean Corndogs popped up on my friend Nick’s ‘for you page’ a few weeks ago.
I hear what you’re saying. Corndogs are not Ramen. Why am I reviewing them? Well, it turns out Korean corndogs come served with a variety of toppings which include crushed ramen noodles. I’m listening…
Avid readers will remember that I discovered dry ramen as a snack earlier in this whole lockdown situation. Some bright spark has basically decided to incorporate that into the batter/dough for a corndog.
Before this weekend I’ve only ever had one corndog in my life. It was from a concession in Pennsylvania Station in New York City. I was underwhelmed, so the bar was relatively low.
The collection process was WEIRD! This is not a restaurant. It’s not even a food truck pop-up thing. This is direct from somebody’s actual kitchen in their house in West London. You wait outside the block and somebody comes down with your order.
Our order was broad enough so we got to try a bit of everything, but I’m focusing this review on the ramen coated corndog in an attempt to stay somewhere close to my brand!
It was incredible! I’m not sure exactly what made it Korean. However, the fried dough was crispy and didn’t taste oily, the sausage inside was soft and the ramen obviously added a crunch. Flavour came in the way of spicy siracha sauce and parmesan flakes.
It was a trek to get there. I think that would put me off going again as it’s not a part of town that I know very well or can access easily. However, they are looking at moving to more traditional premises so I would pay them another visit if it was more convenient. One of the toppings for your savoury corndog is sugar, and I would be keen to try that!
It’s only vaguely ramen, so I’m not sure it warrants a score, but this is a definite levelling up of my previous corndog experience if nothing else.
Amongst other things (like the adoption of ‘Homeland Security’ language and assertions of a ‘whole society approach and a ‘reservist cadre’) the report confirms £9.3 million of investment to “bolster our national resilience with a new Situation Centre at the heart of government, improving our use of data and our ability to anticipate and respond to future crises.”
A bit further into the document, at page 106, it describes the purpose of the Situation Centre is to “provide live data, analysis and insights to decision-makers on what is happening in the UK and around the world, strengthening our ability to identify, understand and respond to national security issues and crises.”
On the surface, this sounds good but it also has the potential to feed an illusion of control, control that may not actually exist. It could also become a facility which tries to be all things for all people and which becomes difficult and expensive to maintain.
Information is helpful (mostly)
One of the defining qualities of an emergency is that there is an initial information vacuum. I’ve mentioned in previous posts, that accurate information might not be available for some time. However, that cannot be a barrier to making decisions.
Attempts to speed up the availability of information can be useful in supporting decision making with evidence.
However, access to granular information could also result in COBR micro-managing rather than maintaining a strategic focus.
A Police Commander that I worked with described a similar situation with policing. With increased access to CCTV comes the temptation to ‘police by CCTV’, however, CCTV images alone do not give complete situational awareness.
I’m sure that it would be fascinating to collect the data and see what it shows. I attempted this myself several years ago (mostly as a proof of concept/experiment). Heavily inspired by Oliver O’Brien at UCL, I pulled together relevant data from existing feeds and presented this in a single dashboard. This went on to be the forerunner of a proprietary system that London still uses, but after 5 years without any maintenance, lots of the links in my own prototype are now broken. A relic still exists if you’re interested.
If I was able to knock this dashboard up relatively quickly with zero experience, I would be shocked (although not altogether surprised) if the bulk of the investment is going on this data tool.
Information can be misleading
The more data you have access to the larger your cohort of analysts and data scientists need to be.
But analysis can introduce bias into how information is presented and interpreted by others.
Tim Harford’s Cautionary Tales podcast touched on this recently in the episode Florence Nightingale and Her Geeks Declare War on Death. Harford described how Nightingale introduced data analysis to show decision-makers that deaths due to poor sanitation could be averted. However, in doing so she also showed that graphs can be persuasive whether or not they depict reality.
Similarly, after taking a module in my undergraduate degree called How to Lie With Maps with Professor Robert Mayhew I still find myself looking for clues that I’m being misled.
Unless there are some seriously competent and equipped analysts to support the Situation Centre (staffing of the centre isn’t mentioned in the report) then there is every possibility that incorrect conclusions will be drawn. And in times of national emergency, the consequences of that could be catastrophic.
My 3 hopes for the Whitehall Situation Centre
Towards the top of my wish list for a situation centre would be:
Be Interoperable – the situation centre should be able to ‘talk”, in data terms, to other relevant centres. Collect the data once, use it many times. I suspect this will be built in for defence and security information, but there will be less interest in information gathered at the local level through Strategic Coordinating Groups. The report released last week covers a lot of ground – Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy and therefore interoperability across the range of responders would be helpful too.
Be Open – the report makes it clear that significant shifts in policy are needed to fulfil the objectives. This includes a ‘whole of society’ approach and therefore I think if members of the public are being asked to do stuff, they should be able to operate with a similar information picture. There will be situations that don’t allow for full transparency of information, but the default should be openness.
Be Bold – I suspect the £9.3m will be quickly eaten up by consultants, and what we’ll end up with are some projectors and smartboards. Instead, the facility should look to use cutting edge technologies and innovations and be future proof. They won’t want to spend this type of money regularly, so it needs to anticipate what the trends and technologies are going to be over the next 10 years and be an early adopter.
Coronavirus has put paid to many of our traditions and customs this year. Around the world, people have adapted to find new ways to do old things.
As has become mtthwhgn tradition I was all set for my NYE lunchtime trip to Nanban. This would have been my fourth annual excursion, but it will have to wait until 2021.
Online ramen isn’t quite a thing yet, and I didn’t feel like cooking my own. However, I did find ramen crackers in a local Korean supermarket and so in absence of any actual ramen, I’ll be reviewing them instead!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, is this just uncooked ramen?
The answer seems to be yes! But they have been kind is smashed up and reconstituted with some additional flavourings, a bit like if bombaby mix had been somehow glued together into a lump.
One version was described as a ‘cube’ but both versions were like small fat cylinders.
I tried two flavours, BBQ and Seaweed. To be honest, I’m not sure I could tell them apart, but neither pack lasted longer than a couple of minutes. They’re super crunchy but packed with flavour, even if that flavour seems to be generic! The brand, GGE (Good Good Eat) also make actual dried ramen for cooking, so my inner cynic thinks this is probably a ‘waste’ product that they have found a way to market!
The only downside really is the price, they were about £2.50 for an 80g packet, which felt on the expensive side. Although, after a quick google, you can get these beauties online for around half that price. I’ll definitely be getting more ramen snacks – there are at least four other flavours from the same brand, so that sounds like a project for 2021!
Here we are, teetering on the precipice of a second COVID lockdown. Whether it’s just a short ‘Tier 2 circuit breaker’ or something longer remains to be seen.
We’ve all learnt lessons from enduring the first few months of the Coronavirus pandemic. No doubt there will be many more to learn.
One lesson we should all aim to learn is how to make ramen as good as the ramen I was treated to on Thursday.
Cooking for other people can be stressful. Dietary requirements. Allergies. Timings. Striking the balance between cooking and entertaining. Add to that, cooking somebody one of their favourites foods AND one which they (ridiculously) review online.
And so it was, earlier this week when Nick decided he would make his signature chicken ramen for me. BOLD!
But you know, it’s October. The world is a mess; we could all do with a bowl of chicken soup!
Some ingredients arrived and the process began…
Nick started cooking at about 11:00. We ate at 19:30. A goooooood percentage of that time went into preparing the broth. There were a whole host of things simmering away for most of the day. My kitchen smelt (and still smells) wonderful!
Surprisingly for a chicken-based broth it was quite opaque and had more sweet, sticky, slurpyness than I had anticipated.
Years of searching and the perfect packet noodles still evade me. Some are too curly. Other too straight. I’m not sure what brand we had on Thursday (there was no English on the packaging at all) but they were good; not too soggy, even after being submerged in broth for a while.
Four types of mushrooms and homegrown spring onions bobbed around. Perfectly tender chicken thigh meat joined it. As did an egg.
Nick stressed over the egg. He appreciates that it’s arguably the showpiece of any bowl of ramen. He needn’t have worried, the slightly runny yolks and soft pillowy whites were glorious.
Was this authentic ramen? No, but does that matter? Well yes, to a purist I suppose it would. To me, the guy who enjoyed the addition of cheese to ramen in Washington DC, it was flavoursome and filling. Which is essentially what I’m looking for in my noodles.
Learn how to make ramen this good. Better, find someone to make you ramen this good. Take lockdown one bowl at a time.
P.S. here’s the recipe if you fancy giving it a whirl:
Chicken leg and thigh
Store-bought chicken ramen
Put the chicken stock, ginger, star anise, garlic, onion and chicken pieces in water.
Slow cook for about 6 hours.
Once done, shred chicken, cook mushrooms and noodles and spring onions in the broth.
Let’s be upfront about this, lockdown has significantly affected my access to noodles. That, in turn, means I’ve had little to blog about. It’s been a tough time for everyone. There are support lines available.
However, the time has not been wasted and I’m the proud owner of a list of places to check out as restrictions are reduced.
With that in mind, when Nick had the genius idea of grabbing ramen I was quick to consider CoCoRo in Bloomsbury. CoCoRo self describes as ‘a space with a feel of genuine Japan in central London’. This authenticity sounded just the ticket after a few misguided attempts at making ramen at home.
But, sad news: CoCoRo remains temporarily closed until further notice. *shakes fist*
I turned back to my list and opted to go with a slightly off the beaten track (i.e. out of Zone 1) option, Ramo Ramen in Kentish Town.
My interest was piqued by the idea of Filipinx-Japanese ramen. What even is that?!
There seemed to be a slight nod towards a movie theme in the decor, which I did’t really understand.
We’d both had a chance to study the menu in advance so we were quick to order the miso baked prawn gyoza, the squid karrage and two bowls of the award-winning oxtail kare kare ramen; 2018 winner of Battle of the Broths.
I braved it and opted to drink something called a Dragons Fizz. This turned out to be a tropical sherbety mocktail in a luminous green. Nick chose a large glass of milo with tapioca balls. I’m going to say it, lumpy drinks are not the one for me.
The squid karrage isn’t listed on the online menu, so this was a nice surprise addition of tender squid and crisp and salty batter.
Prawn gyoza sounds fairly typical, but the twist here is that they are baked and then smothered in bechamel sauce and cheese. It was an interesting concept, kind of like a tiny prawn lasagne.
The ramen broth was a rich earthy brown colour, slightly oily but without the same stickiness of a tonkotsu broth. Dotted through the soup were plump shitake mushrooms, crisp spring onions, bamboo shoots, slightly sweet pea shoots and gloriously soft golden yolked eggs. Then there, slightly off centre, was a mound of deliciously soft and peanutty pulled oxtail which Nick agreed was “the perfect amount of meat” adding that the meat seemed to be the source of the peanuttyness.
I also really liked the stoneware bowls!
In a panic, I asked for the bill before we’d had a chance to order the mango peach pie for desert. So that’s the excuse for a return visit!
Randomly, the bill was presented in a Kill Bill 2 DVD case (why?!). At £12.50 a bowl it’s far from the cheapest you can find, but as a post-lockdown treat it was an absolute bargain!
I have to dock some points for the music selection. Back-to-back Justin Timberlake is the last thing we need in 2020. Especially if not one of those songs is ‘Mirrors’.
I’m awarding Ramo Ramen a very strong 4.6 out of 5.