I step out of my building at about 12:45. It's raining, but not too hard.
I start listening to my MP3 player as I wait to cross the street in front of my building – this is always the longest crosswalk wait, as the street is busy and the light is on a very long timer, and there are always police around, so jaywalking seems less attractive than at other points on my route. Once I crossed against the light, only to see a group of about 10 policemen marching in a line on the sidewalk directly opposite me, and the last one in the line looked at me directly and made a menacing face, though he didn't do anything – maybe because they were in a formation or going somewhere important. The borough police station is just up at the main corner, after all.
My MP3 player is playing Radiohead. I've been thinking about languages. Well, aren't I always thinking about languages? Lately, when people I meet ask me things like, "so, what are your hobbies?" I have been answering, "studying languages." And… I've been meeting alot of people, lately, what with the new job and all. It is true that studying languages is a major hobby of mine – not that I'm really that good at it – but it's not that common that I come out and state it as a part of introducing myself. After all, it's very eccentric – like so many things about me.
So, I had this thought, just now. The reason I like Korean is the same reason I like LISP. This may take some explaining. LISP is a computer programming language. It has a reputation for being elegant but eccentric and difficult, but it was the first computer programming language that I truly felt "at home" working with, and I much prefered to to something like BASIC or Pascal, which were the other programming languages I experienced and worked with in the 80's. In the 90's, I didn't do much with computers, and the only thing I worked with extensively was HTML and derivatives like DHTML, mostly for hobbyish pursuits.
Then in the most recent decade, I became a database hacker, and SQL became my dialect of choice, although I've done some work also with trying to learn OO-languages, such as C#. But I was essentially married to SQL, to the extent that I would attempt to solve network-admin type problems with SQL scripts (using extended dialects that allowed such things, like Microsoft's T-SQL or Oracle's PL/SQL). These efforts, though often successful, would tend to make the more traditionally-minded colleagues around me laugh and shake their heads.
Throughout it all, however, I have always thought that LISP was a truly beautiful and elegant language, like an abstract mathematical object. SQL is grubby, messy, and "evolved" – meaning that it grew to its present standard slowly and through trial and error, and it lacks the systematic beauty of something like LISP, I think.
Obviously, no human language is "designed" in the sense that LISP is. Nor is it, practically speaking, abstract – obviously. But there is a weird, complex elegance to the underlying grammatical patterns of Korean that remind me of LISP, in a strange way. It somehow reveals a potential about a different way of conceptualizing grammatical relations that I find fascinating – but it's very hard to explain. I need to refresh my grounding in syntax universals, deep structure, Chomky's "Government and Binding" (a creepy name for a grammatical theory, don't you think? especially coming from a self-declared anarchist like Chomsky), things like that. But I genuinely like the Korean language in the same way I like LISP – it's eccentric and fascinating and elegant and magical.
Rasputina starts on my MP3 player. I turn off the commercial "broadway" and begin walking up the footpath between the highrise apartment buildings. The trees are so green, and there aren't many pedestrians.
So many people ask me, why are you single? Actually, not just Koreans (where, culturally, it's a pretty typical question to ask someone), but even westerners that I meet here. And I never have a good answer for them, except something meaningless and vague, in the spirit of, "well, I guess I prefer it." But the real reason is tied to the notion above – my interest in, and commitment to, things that are eccentric. Being eccentric is difficult. It's not likely I will find people with whom I have things in common, at a deep level. And I'm not the sort of person to go into a relationship with someone with whom I don't have much in common, I guess. I am resigned to, and, in fact, comfortable in my loneliness, at this point.
A Japanese pop group, Round Table, starts "Let me be with you." It starts raining harder. Much harder. But… I like the rain. It always puts me in a weirdly low-key cheerful, optimistic state of mind. It may be the clearest indication of my birthplace's impact on my spirit. Those redwood trees… the eternally protective, sheltering greyness of Humboldt's summer, and the calm embrace of the Pacific Northwest winter rains. Cloud cover and rain are comforting things, to me, whereas I find bright, sunny skies vaguely oppressive and dispiriting. Water is the stuff of life – when it's raining, the stuff of life falls from the sky freely. Each raindrop, a gift from heaven. Innumerable.
Ruben Blades begins singing "Adan Garcia" – which is about disappearances during the dirty wars in Central America in the 80's, I think. I dodge puddles and wait for the crossing signal. I think about the eccentricity of listening to 80's Spanish-language protest music while standing in the rain in a Korean upper-middle-class suburb. Has it ever been done before? I find the idea that it makes me unique appealing.
Now I'm listening to Depeche Mode. The hard, hard rain continues, and my lower half is getting quite wet, below the protective perimeter of my umbrella. I love rain like this, but I begin to feel anxiety about showing up at work dripping like a wet dog. It's inevitable that social anxiety can wreck otherwise happy feelings about something. I get a sympathetic smile from a woman escorting her child, going the opposite direction, both huddled under one not-large-enough pink umbrella and bravely stepping through the rivers on the pavement.
-Notes for Korean-
context: I have been browsing my hardcore grammar book, Korean Grammar for International Learners, by Ihm Ho Bin et al. This is a truly excellent reference grammar for the Korean langauge, it's a translation of an academic work written in Korean, but with lots of supporting "translation-to-English materials" so it really stands as an independent reference work – it's the only reference grammar of it's kind that I've seen amid much searching and browsing in bookstores. It has received some negative reviews from other foreigners trying to learn Korean, but I think that is because it is linguistically sophisticated – I can barely understand some of it, and I have a degree in linguistics, so I could see how it could be intimidating to someone with no background in formal syntax.
내다=do all the way, finish thoroughly
this is a "terminative" auxilary verb; the preceding verb is in the minimally inflected form e.g. -어/-아/-여 (depending on vowel harmony)
경찰이 그 물건을 찾아 냈습니다=(police-SUBJ that item-OBJ find-INFL finish-PAST-FORMAL-DECLARATIVE)=the police found the item
물건=thing, article, item; also 품 (I like the hanja for this: 品 – looks like a little pile of boxes, a good symbol for "thing")
context: deciphering korean-language websites
직통=direct service (as in a train)
예약=appointment/예약하다=make a reservation
명함=business card (?)
context: surfing the web
this site has amazing vocab lists: https://21cseonbi.blogspot.com/
진짜=real (I know this… but I keep forgetting how to spell it)