Caveat: 오예스!

The above, transliterated, is "o-ye-seu."  What do you think it means?  It means "Oh Yes."  It's the name of a "Chocolate Coating Cake" which I was handed at work today – something in the same phylum as twinkies or hostess cupcakes, maybe.   Unusually for Konglish, there is no supporting English alphabet version, to give the Konglish away – so I had to think about it for a little bit to realize what was going on – all there is is the lovely "오예스" in a stylish, blue, cursive hangeul.

Then, the motto on the package says:  "You know that sweet things make smile.  We love to see you smile with your people.  So just taste this cake."

Oh, yes!

I emailed a long complicated correspondence to my accountant just now.  Hopefully we'll get this tax mess sorted out, until another year.  At the rate I'm going, maybe I'll just keep dropping my income to the point I don't have to worry about taxes anymore.

Caveat: Citizen Dog

I mentioned a Thai movie called Citizen Dog a while back.  The other day I found it online and downloaded it (it took a while, of course – downloading movies is slow business, even with a DSL connection), and this evening, amid my general gloominess, I watched it.  It was a delightful exercise in almost pure garciamarqezesque magic realism.  And isn't that a cool word I just made up: garciamarquezesque?

One of my favorite moments is when the narrator says:  "Now Kong is dead.  But he is still here because he really likes riding his motorcycle."  Kong is the character who is killed by the rain of motorcycle helmets.

Caveat: 경고

The meaning of  경고 (gyeonggo) according to the dictionary is "warning" or "beware," which is to say, "caveat."

Isn't that convenient?

After the events of last week, between the frustrations at work and the tax problem, I had a kind of depressing weekend, to be honest.  And I didn't get a lot done, either.  Not anything I needed to do.

Caveat: Taxes?

I just had forwarded to me (from my dad) a tax bill from the State of Minnesota for $666.  Aside from the incredibly (in-)auspicious dollar amount that I owe them, I am highly disturbed because of the fact that I thought I had resolved my 2006 tax issues with my accountant almost 6 months ago – what the heck is going on?

I will undoubtedly pay it.  But this is causing me some discomfort with my accountant, as he'd told me it was all automated payments – somehow I'd assumed the federal refund and state tax bills had cancelled out (approximately) and that the difference had been absorbed in the bill I receieved from him last October. My question is, if I still owe Minnesota this amount, where did my federal refund go? 

To summarize: argh.

Caveat: This Is A Blog

I found out today that at least one person at RingGuAPoReomEoHagWon has been reading my blog, or has seen it, anyway.  If I understood correctly.

I have always been aware that writing my thoughts and experiences in this most public of places, the internet, could lead to this – that is why I have often kept things much more "bland" and generic than some of my audience (as small as it is) might expect.  However, the actual knowledge is still something I have to adjust to, a bit.  And it leaves me feeling compelled to reiterate, in more explicit terms, what this "blog" is supposed to be.

Mostly, this is just a sort of extended letter to my friends and family – at least, so far, that's what it's been. A way to avoid writing the same thing in 5 or 10 different emails each week.  Secondly, it's a sort of discipline – a way to keep myself writing, if only a little bit.

It is most definitely NOT an effort at journalism (in which I have little interest), nor will I even guarantee truthfulness – I have dabbled in poetry and fiction a great deal over the years, and I reserve both novelistic and poetic license with respect to my writing here, even if I have, to date, rarely exercised it. 

Back when I first started writing this, in 2004, I was actually quite careful to fictionalize e.g. my employer, but since then I've been much less careful, and I wonder if perhaps that has been a mistake.  But on the whole, I don't actually write that often about work or about my employers – still, I should try to make clear that if I say something negative about my job, mostly I'm discussing my personal experiences and feelings.

Caveat: Doom and Gloom

I guess you could say I had a depressing day at work. Never any clear, targeted, constructive criticism – just vague allusions to shifting priorities and changed class assignments.  Am I just overreacting, being insecure?  I don't know.  But I left work today feeling strongly that under no circumstances would I renew my contract – and it seems pretty clear to me today that they had no plans to seek such, either.

What's going on?  I wish I could say. I don't know. The only behavior-specific criticism I received today was that I had failed to avail myself of the computer-based instructional materials created for the Passage Memorization curricula. I had test-driven it in January, and dismissed it as cumbersome and uninspiring to students.

I hadn't realized the administration had had their hearts set on it – they certainly didn't seem to have invested in the appropriate material technology to support it.   Had I been "ordered" to use it?  I definitely remember a "strong suggestion," but I also recall making a strongly argued case against continuing with it, which was received with mild-mannered acceptance – which I read as a deferral to my opinion.  Now I learn that they were displeased that I'd rejected their request.

Caveat: Obamistic Pursuits

Ever since the popularization of the Rev. Wright "problem" (and note that it is merely a "popularization," not a revelation, as Wright's views have been public and even well-documented, all along), I have been having some concerns about the Obama campaign – in how it's handled the "scandal," in the statements he's made (especially his speech last Tuesday, which I, uniquely among people of my political stripe, found weak-kneed and slightly vacuous), and in general, in a sort of indeterminate discomfort I've had with the quality and level of the "pro-Obama" discourse.   But I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me, exactly.

And today, surfing the news and blog sites, I finally found a fabulously articulate and cogent summary of all my concerns about this issue, in the form a column by a sports commentator for the Kansas City Star, Jason Whitlock.  Go figure.  Thanks, Jason.  And no thanks to all you other political bloggers and opinion-makers out there.

Yet on the flip side, my personal favorite guy in the race, Bill Richardson, turned around and endorsed Obama later the same week.  I wonder if some kind of secret deal is in the offing – did Obama promise Richardson the number two spot, if he wins the nomination?  And, is that based, in part, on Hillary's implied promise of the number two to Mr Obama if she gets it?  What's certain is that although I find a Clinton-Obama ticket plausible, an Obama-Clinton ticket is patently impossible (because Hillary doesn't want to go from First Lady to VP – that's like going from supporting actress to… supporting actress).

And frankly, an Obama-Richardson ticket would be formidable, as Obama's weakest demographic, latinos, would be perfectly complemented by Richardson's obvious super-strength in exactly that area – Richardson's chilangosity is rarely commented upon, but it's a well-known fact among the Mexican-American population that despite his American birth, he grew up in Mexico City. Additionally, Obama, perceived as weak on both foreign policy and executive-branch experience, would be tucking a former ambassador to the U.N. and current popular state governor into his belt.  Such a ticket would definitely remove any lingering doubts I had about Obama. So… we shall see.

Caveat: “그놈은 멋있었다”

"그놈은 멋있었다" is the title of a 2004 movie that I recently downloaded and watched.  Roughly, the name geunomeun meoshiteotda translates as "He was cool" or "That guy was cool."  It was a teen comedy-romance.

But I enjoyed it, as I spend most of my working days immersed in the world of Korean teenagerdom, and thus, although the movie is hyperbolic and romantic fantasy, it is also, at another level, a somewhat realistic portrayal of contemporary Korean teen culture. So, despite its genre limitations, I recommend it.  It's available on youtube in about 14 segments, with subtitles, if you can't find it in your video store or are unable to find a good subtitled download of it (I found mine on silentregrets.com [update: silentregrets no longer exists – presumeably shut down by the copyright police])

I learned a wonderful and useful phrase from the movie:  정말?  jeongmal = "really?"

The lead actress in this movie, 정다빈 (Jeong Da-Bin – a screen name), committed suicide in 2007, suffering from depression.  A quote associated with her is: "I'm complicated and I feel like I'm going to die…I have lost my identity."

Caveat: Oh Hay Lite

LOLCat is a sort of name for that weird dialect of internetchatese that is only semiliterate, is full of acronyms (such as LOL = laughing out loud) and contains lots of both deliberate and accidental "cute" misspellings.  And, just as someone, somewhere, is translating the Bible into Klingon, so it is the case, I have discovered, that someone is working hard to translate that same document into LOLCat.

Here are the first three verses of John:

1 In teh beginz is teh cat macro, and teh cat macro sez "Oh hai Ceiling Cat" and teh cat macro iz teh Ceiling Cat.2 Teh cat macro an teh Ceiling Cat iz teh bests frenz in teh begins. 3 Him maeks alls teh cookies; no cookies iz maed wifout him.4 Him haz teh liefs, an becuz ov teh liefs teh doodz sez "Oh hay lite."5 Teh lite iz pwns teh darks, but teh darks iz liek "Wtf."

More internet wackiness:  Check out Happy Tree Friends – but don't bring your children, these things are quite violent.

Caveat: The Mexican Space Program

Both chambers of the Mexican congress have approved initial versions of a law which will create, for the second time in history, a Mexican space program, under the title Agencia Espacial Mexicana (with the unintuitive acronym AEXA – probably chosen more because it looks cool than because it makes any sense at all).  I say "second time in history" because few people realize that the Mexicans actually had a space program in the mid-sixties, including rocket launches and collaboration with work by NASA during the same period, that was actually at least mildly significant. 

I don't know why I find this fascinating.  Part of the reason is that, as part of a running joke about "good names for rock bands" with some friends many years ago, one of the most popular ideas for a name for a rock band was "The Mexican Space Program" – perhaps because it goes against cultural stereotypes, and inevitably conjures images of some vato-ized low-rider space shuttle or maybe a burro in a space suit and a meal of freeze-dried tacos.

But I've also been fascinated because Mexico, as the one of the most "developed" of the developing-world nations, and as a significantly sized nation in terms of GDP and population, deserves one, and it has been one of the few mid-wealth nations in the world not to have one in recent times (compare Brazil or India – or Korea, for that matter – all of which have space programs, if not terribly ambitious ones).

Other thoughts…

Sometimes I feel as if I'm getting to be a first-hand witness of a major generational shift here in Korea.  Without exception, my students come from basically middle-class, suburban families cast in a "1950's America" mold:  father works, mom stays home, 2.1 children.

Yet as I interview my students and ask them about their interests and ambitions, I get some startling answers:  boys who want to be sushi chefs, graphic artists and lounge singers rather than the typical businessmen or engineers, and girls who energetically discuss their plans to be police officers, chemical engineers, politicians, dentists and even one who told me confidently that she intended to be a world-traveling "free spirit" (not quite sure where she picked up that phrase, though I suspect I must have given it to them at some point). 

The young of any generation exhibit more ambition than they ever live up to, of course.  That's human nature.  But I find it fascinating that I am getting to participate in my very tiny way in what will be the first generation of Koreans who are growing up in a world where men and women are no longer so constrained to traditional roles, and where anything if possible, at least in their dreams.

Caveat: 미국인?

I was surprised to overhear someone I passed on the street uttering 미국인 (migugin – American) in reference to me.  How can they tell? Do people just assume I'm an American? There are many foreigners in Ilsan, but I have come to believe Americans are not the most common sort: there are Canadians, Brits, Ozzies and Kiwis, Indians, Vietnamese, and others.  So does 미국인 stand for any kind of westerner?  It very specifically means "U.S.A.-person."

In other news… RingGuAPoReomEoHagWon's administrators are showing their inexperience. The curriculum is adrift, as complaints from parents, frustrations with student satisfaction, etc., drive them to experiment and change things around.  It's quite frustrating to have to be on the "receiving end" of this – it seems like not a week goes by when there isn't some change in what text I should use, or what method I should use, or even what group I should teach or what I should focus on.  There is still a consensus that they seem to want to use me for the "speaking skills" teacher (as opposed to e.g. writing, reading, listening skills).

But now I'm looking at this book they want me to use that seems only marginally connected with actual communicative speaking ability, and I just don't know how to explain any more clearly than I already have that if we use this book, we won't be improving speaking skills – it's all about grammar, parts of speech, periphrastic verbs and vocabulary building.  Speaking skills grow only through practice, practice, practice. You can know all the grammar in the world, but you won't speak well without that.

Caveat: Spokesoegugin

The last two days, we've been having a sort of parent-teacher conference thing, in the hours before school (1-4 roughly).  So, extra hours, as a consequence.  And, of course, anytime the parents wanted to talk to me, it ends up having to be translated.  Yesterday, only one parent wanted to talk to me, and I felt like I was just a token Foreign Teacher to sit there and look useful.  Today, Keith was my translator, and I actually talked with quite a few mothers – it's all mothers, as the Korean family is still much more traditional than in North America.

It was entertaining to try to guess who was whose mother – I didn't always get it right.  But now I feel very tired.

Caveat: … furiously

I continue to struggle with my alleged boringness. It's a common enough criticism that I cannot dismiss it. How do I become a less boring teacher? A less boring person. There were many things I didn't want to become, in life… and boring was one of them.

Mientras tanto, some (boring) quotes:

"We don't want to be swayed by superficial eloquence, by emotion and so on." – Noam Chomsky

"It can only be the thought of verdure to come, which prompts us in the autumn to buy these dormant white lumps of vegetable matter covered by a brown papery skin, and lovingly to plant them and care for them. It is a marvel to me that under this cover they are labouring unseen at such a rate within to give us the sudden awesome beauty of spring flowering bulbs. While winter reigns the earth reposes but these colourless green ideas sleep furiously." – C.M. Street

Caveat: Price-placebo effect

Recent publications by psychologists and/or economists have been discussing amazing neurological evidence to support what's called the price-placebo effect: that we actually derive more REAL efficacy from things we pay more for.  More pleasure from higher-priced wine, more boost from higher-priced energy drinks, etc. And it's been raised recently in the sordid context of the Spitzer scandal.

But I started thinking:  in light of this, I wonder whether it's really in our national interest to work hard to lower the cost of prescription drugs and medical care? Perhaps the high price of drugs and medical care in America is directly linked to their efficacy?

Caveat: SpongeBob Lumberjack

I just learned that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob Squarepants, is an alum of Humboldt State University – which, broadly speaking, is a sort of "first university" for me – though only by the broadest definition am I an actual alum, I do have credits from there, and I grew up practically on campus, as a child.  Somehow it seems rather explanatory, that SpongeBob has roots – in a sense – in Humboldt.

Caveat: I Love Alligator

This was something a student told me today: "I love alligator."

"Alligator" is a toy that I bought – Grace had bought one before, and I thought it was such a great idea, so I got my own. For 4 dollars, I got a plastic alligator: you open the mouth, and press down on his teeth one-by-one, and some random tooth causes the beast's mouth to close.  Each time, the specific tooth that causes the mouth to close is a different one.  It's useful in moments when you need to choose a "who goes first" person in class, for giving speeches or reciting memorizations or whatever – you pass the alligator around and the person whose finger gets chomped is the one who has to speak. 

I should post a picture of it. Maybe I'll take one tomorrow.

Caveat: Investing Adventures

Well, the recent situation with the stockmarket has made me grateful that I decided to live off my savings last year – last summer I drew down my equities positions substantially, and, in a move that was pure luck, parked a chunk of what was left in gold (thinking in terms of risk-reduction since I was looking ahead to such a huge drop in income).  This turns out to have been exactly the right time to do that.  The rest is in cash, and with the start of January, I also liquidated all of Jeffrey's trust fund and transferred the cash to him for his 21st birthday.

The net result is that the recent massive downturn of the stockmarkets worldwide has hit me far less than it would have last year at this time.  I still have unpleasant positions in things like Oracle, Starbucks, Microsoft, Nissan… not to mention the ugly scene involving my money in index funds based markets in Japan, India, Russia and Chile, where the dollar isn't depreciating fast enough to make the losses in those markets look any less painful.  But… it's all paper losses, and the positions are all quite modest.

I certainly will not  make claim to any great foresight – it was pure luck – but on paper, my drawdown over the last 6 months looks like the work of an investing genius.  I'm feeling very self-satisfied about it.  And, not only that, but just by virtue of the fact that I'm spending my U.S. cash while I save my Korean salary means that I've been in effect transferring my cash reserves from dollars (sinking) into Korean won (stable) – although the caveat there is that in the last month or two the won and dollar have been eerily in sync, unlike any other major world currencies, which are all generally appreciating against the dollar.

Of course, there's going to be some overhead in moving this Korean cash back into the U.S. at the end of my stay here – but lately , having reached the halfway mark of my contract – I've been considering whether I intend to stay another year or move on to something else.   On the one hand, I'm frustrated with my failure to have found any good friends here, and disappointed with the limits on time off with which to travel.  On the other hand, I've really enjoyed the teaching (despite the various moments of annoyance) and I still feel a desire to get more inside the language and culture, which is of course a very slow project, even slower because of my bouts with lack-of-motivation. 

Caveat: 김치볶음밥

One typical Korean food that I have often enjoyed here is 김치볶음밥 (kimchibokkeumbap = Kimchi fried rice).  Well, today, I got adventurous, and actually made my own.  I chopped up some onion and browned it in some oil with garlic powder, added chopped up kimchi and a can of tunafish (and some extra hot pepper paste), and got this nice and hot.  I added my pre-cooked rice and let this all brown for a while, broke in two eggs and turned down the heat.  10 minutes later, I stirred it all up, turning up a nice crusty bottom and hacking up the fried eggs into it.  Delicious.  Probably I like it because it's so clearly unhealthy.

Caveat: Kids Bouncing Off Walls

Yes.  Literally, they were bouncing off the walls.  Some walls were damaged.  Some kids were damaged.  The younger ones in all classes were wackier than troop of crack-smoking monkeys today.  I think it had to do with the warm weather – at least 15C, breezy and springy.  I'm not sure how much English they learned today – I focused on synonyms of "crazy."

Sophia tried to sell me some "magic shampoo" that would make me "look younger" – I'm wondering if this was some kind of hint regarding my appearance.  She said it was $400 per bottle, but said it would also cause me to grow a handsome beard instantly.  I told her it sounded kind of dangerous, and asked what sort of chemicals were in it.  She didn't know about the chemicals, but said it was perfectly safe.  I decided not to make an immediate purchase.