I'm back home in Ilsan. And going away, then coming back–that kind of makes it feel more like home, strangely.
I'm in Hongkong overnight, returned from Cairns today. The flight was OK, despite the noisy baby in the row in front of me.
Hong Kong is essentially the opposite of rural Queensland, by any standard of comparison: population density, first and foremost. I have a pretty posh hotel, here, in the Kowloon area. I'll go exploring tomorrow and then fly back home to Seoul, and post some more.
I spent a good portion of the day today driving around with my mom and her friend Val (who's visiting from Apollo Bay, Victoria) meeting some of my mom's friends who she does quilting with. I saw a lot of artistic and beautiful quilts, both in-progress and completed.
My flight to Cairns was diverted by a Typhoon, so instead of changing planes in Hong Kong I switched in Brisbane instead. I picked up my rental car in Cairns at around noon instead of the scheduled 8 am. I was rather tired, but I managed the drive up the hill (via the Kennedy Highway through Kuranda, Mareeba and Atherton and, after getting lost on the road leading to my mother's house, I arrived at 3 pm or so.
I realized that if I'd driven the same amount of time at the same speeds in South Korea, I'd have nearly crossed the country, diagonally. Australia is a huge country, and very sparsely populated. I have been in a strange sort of culture shock since I got here – much stronger than during my previous two visits to Australia. I think it has to do with having come here after living a full year in Korea – my previous visits had been coming from the U.S., which really isn't that culturally different from Australia, when you get right down to it.
For one thing, both countries have lots of ockers. But in the U.S., we call them rednecks, I think. Or some word like that… I'm not sure that's the right translation. "Ocker" is an Australianism, and means a boorish and annoying person, from what I've gathered. My mother used the term to complain about the idiotic patrons in a store she'd been in, I think. I like the word, anyway. Maybe I can find an excuse to teach it to my students.
In the first picture, you see a wallaby. They congregate at the top of the hill above my mother's house, where the driveway starts at the dead end of the road. In the second picture is a friend of my mother's named George, a female kookabura, who often comes to visit seeking handouts and snacks.
-Notes for Korean-
외국에서 살기가 재므있을 것 같다.
="seems like it'd be fun to live abroad"
잘 하기는요="Ha, I do it well? Not really." (very idiomatic translation)
I'm going to Australia, now.
I'm off for a week, now. I fly to Australia tomorrow. I have about 120 student essays to correct–which gives me something to do on the plane journey, I guess.
It rained most of the day today, and it was cooler… It was nice. After work got out, I had dinner with Curt and we talked about his plans for his academy that he's trying to build. I hope he is successful… I felt a bit badly about having rejected his offer for ElBeuRitJi's, especially with those essays weighing down my backpack. But… that's life, right?
Curt spent some time talking about 정 (jeong), about how it was a Korean concept that had no direct parallel in English. It definitely seems to have a lot of possible translations: naver.com's online dictionary says "feeling, emotion, sentiment, love, affection, passion, human nature, sympathy, compassion, heart" among other things. But I don't think it's that inaccessible a concept. Curt feels strongly that Westerners are too dominated by practical and excessively rationalist tendencies, while Koreans are guided by emotion. I don't think this is true, but I have a heard time trying to argue with him about it, so I tend to just nod and reflect on what he's saying. I guess I'm always more interested in what people of different cultures and backgrounds have in common than what separates them, so I'm always seeking commonalities, maybe.
To the right is a picture of the shiny metallic-looking Jeongbalsan police station tower, as seen (through some other buildings) from a parking lot a block west of my apartment building. It looks a bit like a grounded rocket ship from a 1930's-era movie.
-other Notes for Korean-
In other notes: 뜻이 있는 곳에 길이 있다="where there's a will there's a way"
I had another tiny yet triumphal linguistic milestone this morning when I logged onto the internet. I opened up google news, which, because of my IP address, plops me down on the Korean version of the site by default. Normally, the only time I spend time on google news in Korean is if I’m intentionally and masochistically spending time there trying to decipher a headline or maybe (if I’m feeling ambitious) the first line of an article.
But today, I had the experience of a headline grabbing my attention and leading me to click through to the article. It said: “스페인 여객기 추락 153명 사망…19명만 생존.” It helped that there were a few keywords in the article that I easily knew: 스페인=(Spain), 명=(PEOPLE COUNTER), 사망=(dead). So it was about 153 people dead in Spain. More terrorism? I, the reading public, had to know more!
Of course, I went to google news in English, finally, to satisfy my curiosity. But it was cool to have the experience of “spontaneous reading” (as opposed to deliberate reading, I guess). Still, reading about airline crashes, whether in Korean or English, isn’t necessarily smart, right before an airplane trip.
And now, a completely unrelated thought. There’s been a lot in the news lately about McCain closing his gap with Obama in polls on the presidential race, and much commentary about how they’re “neck and neck,” or somesuch.
But Obama is still at 60 points to McCain’s 40, if you look at Intrade. Intrade is a “prediction market”–a place where people bet real money on the outcomes of future events–and a large number of studies have shown that prediction markets are phenomenally more accurate than polls at predicitons. So I’ll just keep watching Intrade and keep ignoring the polls–I will be surprised if that historical accuracy doesn’t again prove out.
My current favorite Korean word is 드르르 (government romanization deureureu, IPA /tɯɾɯɾɯ/). Although I’m not quite sure how to use it smoothly. Er… that’s what it means: “smoothly, swimmingly.” Something like that. I love the sound of it. The way it sounds like you’re beginning to hum some great musical trope or something. Duh-ruh-ruh.
I went to KINTEX this morning. KINTEX is a giant convention center, but every Wednesday the Uijeongbu area Immigration office (which handles the northern half of Gyeonggi province) sets up a help desk for all the foreigners in the Ilsan area, so they don’t have to trek to Uijeongbu to get their paperwork dealt with (40 minutes in on one subway line, then 40 minutes out on another is the most plausible way to make the trip, I would guess).
I got the reentry visa and paperwork worked out for my trip to Australia next week (leaving this Saturday). The matter went smoothly. There: 드르르 진행되었어요. I used it!
That date has crept up very fast. Of course, with my last-minute negotiations over the contract renewal and all, I actually only bought the tickets last week. So not that fast, really. It’s ending up being a last-minute thing all around.
I took the taxi to KINTEX–it’s less than 3 bucks, so no big deal. Then I decided to walk home. The sky was deep cerulean. The weather’s been hot, still, but much less humid, and so there’s not much haze in the air, especially with a nice morning breeze blowing. There were huge puffy lumps of cobalt and chalk cruising the skies randomly, looking for something to rain on. I zig-zagged through the narrow grid of the kburbs somewhat aimlessly, knowing my general direction.
I felt exremely aware for once of what a huge metropolis I’m living in–I’m on the northwestern corner of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, by population. I could travel east, south, or southeast for over an hour and still be in neighborhoods identical except in specifics. West and north are different–15 minutes west is the estuary of the Han River, and beyond that some islands and the Yellow sea and China. 20 minutes north is the most militarized border in the world, and a socialist workers’ paradise, I think.
Here is a picture of a lovely ivy-covered kburban home.
Any time I make a major decision, whatever it's about, I tend to go through a phase directly afterward where I spend way too much time second-guessing the decision, wondering if I did the right thing, worrying about the opportunities lost by having made it, etc.
So, given I signed that contract last week, I guess I spent the weekend feeling a bit a "buyer's remorse," as I tend to think of it. I'll get over it.
On Saturday, I go to Australia, via Hong Kong, to visit with my mother for a week. Meanwhile, I have an immense amount of work to do–grading papers and all that.
I was walking to work earlier, and a former student from RingGuAPoReom, John, ran up to me yelling "teacher teacher" and gave me a warm and completely spontaneous hug. That was a good feeling, to be missed, but there was a comic sadness to it too. John was always the class clown, and there was a component of clowning in his actions, as he was with a number of other students when he did this, probably from his new academy setting. But it was heartwarming nevertheless.
-Notes for Korean–
=I do as I please
(I heard this, and have no idea if I've transcribed it accurately–I'm not able to parse it as it stands, though)
마음=spirit, idea, heart, fancy, mood, intention, inclination, feeling, interest
사실=evidence, "as a matter of fact…", so: actually
자다=sleep, so: 자, 자자=(ja, jaja)="c'mon, let's go to sleep."
I finished watching 달자의봄 (Dal-ja's Spring). So far, this is the Korean drama I've liked most of all the ones I've tried watching–as I mentioned before, it's edgier, by far, than any of the others, despite its sappy, romantic core plot elements.
My favorite character in the drama is 강신자 (Kang Shin-ja, played by actress 양희경=Yang Hui-gyeong–see the picture below). Part of why I like this character (and/or the actress who plays her) is because she speaks a very clearly enunciated, slow, methodical Korean, which is easier to understand than most that I hear on tv shows. Whether this methodical Korean is part of the character, or inherent to the actress's personality, I'm not sure. Regardless, I enjoy listening to her clipped, slow syllables.
The character herself is kind of intriguing, too: a hyperbole of Korean stereotypes about the middle-aged female middle-manager. She's quite hilarious, without ever being silly or undignified. And in the end, you realize she's a very sympathetic character, too. I wish they'd made more of the fact that she turns out to be the male lead's aunt, but she kind of drops out of the last episodes.
If you want to see her in action, she figures prominently in part of episode 11, which someone has been kind enough to upload to youtube (with Spanish subtitles!). Check her out–she's the rotund woman in the red suit. Listen to how she minces out those Korean syllables… fabulous!
I was surfing wikipedia earlier and discovered an Austrian architect named Hundertwasser I'd never before heard of, but whose work is very interesting to me–in the same vein as Gaudi, I'd say. The building at right is not by him. But it shares a few stylistic elements.
I wonder if one can become a successful architect late in life? Has it ever been done?
When I was a child, I was certain I wanted to become an architect, and I held fairly fast to that ambition until the summer after my graduation from high school. I worked for a civil engineering office and became intimidated by the sheer magnitude of number crunching that successful structural design seemed to involve. And I was too committed, at that time, to understanding not just the design ideas but the engineering principles to even consider become an "art"-type architect (i.e. one who doesn't do the engineering parts). And from that time until now, I've never had much clarity of ambition.
-Notes for Korean-
context: a song lyric
이런=such, such..as, of this kind
마음=idea, thought, mind,
이런 내 마음 알고 있나요
=such my thought understand-PROGRESSIVE-CONJECTURE-POLITE
=[?] I wonder if I am understanding
"The essence of liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma, and insuring stability without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community. Whether this attempt can succeed only the future can determine." – Bertrand Russell wrote that, about 100 years ago, as the concluding words to his "Introductory" to his The History of Western Philosophy.
I'm not sure we've yet reached that "future" he references.
Well. As of last night, I made a commitment and started paperwork to extend my contract with 엘브릿지어학원 (LBridge Language Academy) for one year–that is, through August of 2009. This probably seems very illogical and inconsistent of me, given my many recent complaints about the place. But… first and foremost, we shouldn't forget that it's always easier to complain than it is to point out the positive: when I looked as objectively as possible at my options, my goals and my feelings about what I was doing, it seemed like the right decision. Additionally, a number of recent developments conspired to make the whole thing more attractive.
Last week, my old boss, Curt, made me a sort of "counter offer." It wasn't very firm on the details, though–he's trying to start his own, new hagwon, but such start-ups are notoriously unstable. Consider only the fact that LinguaForum, which was just such a start up, failed despite having "bought" substantial student body at the start and having extensive corporate backing, neither of which Curt has access to. So although I would enjoy working for Curt again, and found the idea of a more laid-back atmosphere than what prevails at 엘브릿지 to be almost compelling, in the end I was frightened about making a commitment to him.
Then, two days ago, the supervisor here made two suggestions (the second one at my prompting) to "sweeten" the deal 엘브릿지 was offering. First, apparently a raise of about 8%. And then, the possibility of about 9 days off before the start of the new term in September–a chance to take a little trip somewhere, out of the country (My intention is to go to Australia to visit my mother).
Another–probably significant–reason I changed my mind comes down to flattery, actually. The other day, I had someone observe my class, and then she gave a fairly glowing report back to the boss here, who subsequently reported that feedback to me enthusiastically. Given the occasional crises I've had in the past over feelings that my teaching efforts weren't appreciated or were downright disapproved of by previous supervisors (not including Curt, but others), this meant a great deal to me. "Flattery will get you everywhere," as they say.
Lastly, as I've mentioned before, I've been craving some stability, I think. Staying with my current employer makes the coming year predictable (as LBridge is too big to go crashing to the ground as Tomorrow School and then LinguaForum have done), and so it gives me a chance to continue improving my teaching abilities in an always highly structured and occasionally supportive environment. So… that's the plan. Signed, sealed, delivered.
I don't have much to say at the moment. But I've been putting together some ruminations on language learning. Here's a recent draft. I was thinking of making it into a standalone webpage somewhere, after some more editing and content, for my students to see.
Jared's thoughts on how to actually learn to SPEAK effectively. Or, rather… "a list of some things that don't really help you speak better."
- Memorizing vocabulary doesn't really help. Lists of words with definitions or translation-meanings have a place, especially starting out, but farther on, learning and memorizing lists of words with meanings, in this way, will not ever help you improve fluency.
- Knowing grammar won't make you speak better. It helps to understand the ways that the grammar of the language work, but studying it and memorizing "right" vs "wrong" grammar cannot improve your fluency.
- If you can't understand what you hear, you won't get better at speaking. Listening is critical. It's better to study listening by hearing real conversations, dialogues on television, etc., instead of just listening to things from textbooks, which are made-up conversations that are not real. And it's better to be able to answer simple questions about what you hear than to just memorize the content of the dialogues, too. Answering simple questions well (automatically!) is more help than answering complicated questions slowly or uncertainly.
- Good reading or writing skills don't guarantee you will be a good speaker. Spoken English is a different language that written English – really! The spoken version of any language is very different from its written version.
As anyone who looks at my little "notes for Korean" will no doubt realize, I'm not very good at following my own advice. There's a comfort and safety in pursuing language-learning analytically, that makes it very difficult to abandon such efforts despite their ineffectiveness.
-Notes for Korean-
소식=light fare, plain meal
새롭다=new, fresh, recent
Basic adverb-derivational endings
-이=for most "old" or native-korean verbs
-리=for descriptive irregular verbs in -르 (this is just a systematic extension of the -ㄹ- doubling irregularity)
-히=for sino-korean verbs in -하다 (this is a highly productive and large class)
I had an epiphany as I figured this out: most -하다 verbs are sino-korean, and the whole process is about accommodating the complex morphology of korean, when borrowing from other languages – it happens with english loanwords that become verbs, too!
곱다=beautiful, lovely, fair
I awoke from a strange, somewhat unhappy dream this morning, but the details quickly fled. Something about being left in charge of a large, gloomy place, with insufficient knowledge or support to know what to do. Like a cross between a poorly maintained data center (a la my last job at HealthSmart) and a musty old used bookstore, with shades of an automotive junkyard thrown in. And there was this wind blowing, and then some hero-type-person showed up, but he was made of dust, and was all bluster and no depth.
I ate a delicious nectarine as part of breakfast, and drank my iced coffees, and checked my emails. Not many emails, these days, except spam and direct marketing from Mr Obama's campaign and suchlike. I've mostly convinced myself that renewing with LBridge is the most stable, logical choice, the "path of least resistance," but I find myself groping for excuses to be angry with them and to avoid renewing. So it's clear I have some discomfort with the idea. The question is, is my discomfort with renewing greater than the prospective discomfort that will come with the multiple uncertainties about "what's next" that would accompany not renewing? I seem to be craving stability, lately, more than is my wont.
-Notes for Korean-
펼쳤다=unfolded, spread out, opened
정말… 괜찮은겁니까?="Are you really alright?"
There's a wacky infix -ㄴ거- that I can't figure out, though my guess is that it's related to the normally non-terminal -ㄴ걸, meaning "the action or state expressed by the verb occurs or is the way it is despite and contrary to whatever expectations what might normally have" (awkward phrasing courtesy my grammar book, p 225). The book also says "this pattern can attach '요' to express politeness," which leads me to think that in the above case, -ㅂ니다 is being attached to express higher formality, and that this is causing the -ㄹ to be dropped. But I'm not terribly confident about this.
힘들어="I'm tired" (it's arduous [?])
I was reading an editorial in the New York Times that, although clearly intended as satire and meant tongue-in-cheek, struck me as fundamentally accurate. And it made me feel outmoded, given the extent to which I buy into the "code of the Higher Eclectica" as Mr Brooks put it. I feel a certain scorn, combined with a distrust, of those who base their definitions of cultural coolness on media over underlying culture. But I think it's true. It's now the iPhone generation, and cultural content has become moot – all that matters is means of transmission.
I begin to imagine a marxian-style analysis that encompasses historically and materially determined transitions in "modes of transmission" that goes above-and-beyond the classically marxist transitions in "modes of production." Let's just call it the germ of an idea, for now. Mientras tanto, digamos adios a la "Higher Eclectica" del Sr Brooks.
Which reminds me of a couple of lines in the latest Korean drama that I've been watching episodes of: they mention the "386" generation as being those people in their 30's and early 40's (in Korea, but it applies just as well to U.S. culture I think)–people who's formative years included personal computers but for whom the internet and broadband cellphone connectivity seem just a tad "newfangled."
Anyway, the drama is called 달자의 봄 (Dalja's Spring), and it is consistently violating all the "rules of Korean drama" that I'd decided must exist up until now. It deals with all kinds of unexpected and "taboo" subjects that every single drama I've watched up until now scrupulously avoided: divorce, suicide, abortion, premarital sex, pregnancy outside of marriage, middle-aged career women, single mothers, irresponsible fathers. And more than just blinkingly, although by U.S. standards it remains utterly G-rated.
Yet despite all that, it is a very light-hearted, even sappy romance, with a fundamentally conservative social message, just like all the Korean dramas I've watched. This message strikes me as both compelling and unrealistic vis-a-vis human day-to-day realities in any culture. And it continues to reinforce my earlier not-so-clearly-stated hypothesis that contemporary Korean culture (and perhaps East Asian culture more generally?) is undergoing a kind of Confucian counter-reformation within a modernist and/or post-modernist trajectory.
Yesterday I worked–I'd "volunteered" to help with a speech contest, and so I woke up early and went over to ElBeuRitJi's Baengma Campus, and served as a judge for lots of not-bad student speeches. It was awesome to see some of my former RingGuAPoReom students (middle schoolers) who were participating, and one of my former students, shy-but-supremely-competent Irene, even managed to win a runner-up prize, which was quite an accomplishment in the context of ElBeuRitJi's much more intense academic standards, as well as a remarkable conquest of her own reticence. I felt parentally proud, as teachers sometimes do, I suppose–Irene is one of the few students who I remember vividly from my first few days of teaching back last September, when I realized quickly that she was the quiet one feeding all the right answers to her loud and gregarious friend, Amy, who was sitting next to her.
After work, I walked home in the steaming heat of mid afternoon, all the way down past Madu-yeok and Jeongbalsan, and when I got back to my apartment I felt terrible. Tired and sickly. Perhaps I had given myself mild heat stroke or something, I don't know. But I basically passed out, feeling exhausted, and had an unpleasant night of restless sleep.
-Notes for Korean-
context: 달자의 봄
쿨하게 나가야지="act cool" (kulhage nagayaji = cool-DO-ADVERBIAL go-out-SOME-IMPERATIVE-VERB-ENDING-THAT-I-CAN'T-FIND-IN-A-BOOK)
note that 쿨 (kul) is apparently directly from English
지금 뭔가 야한 상상 하고 있었구만, 맞지?
"Now you're having some vulgar fantasy, right?"
야한=dirty, coarse, vulgar
일어나다=to get up, wake up
so… 일어났어요?="you're up now?"
context: obsessing on unparseable Korean
According to the drama transcript on the KBS website, in episode 18, about 47 minutes in, grandma says:
고저 한번 잘해볼라다가 끝나는거 고거이 인생이라구 말이디.
I had tremendous difficulty trying to parse this, and I have failed. Also, as I listened to it over and over, I don't think that's what she actually says. The last words sound more like … 인생이라고 말이야, which, conveniently, I find slightly easier to parse–so I'm going to assume, with great hubris, that there's an error in the Korean written transcript, or else the transcript is meant to reflect some kind of dialectical variation and that the actress playing grandma chooses not to implement when she actually speaks. Certainly, I've never heard of a verb ending -디 before. Anyway… according to the subtitlers, the phrase is supposed to mean: "The true meaning of life is to live well once through." So, you can see why that caught my interest–a nice philosophical, aphoristic nugget. But I really have been utterly unable to parse this successfully.
With my revisions to the transcript, the transliteration would be:
goseo hanbeon jalhaebolladaga kkeutnaneungeo gogeoi insaengirago maliya
=fluctuation once well-do-try-[INTRO-WARNING?(p231 in my grammar)]-[INTERRUPTED-PAST(but can this ending attach to the previous one?)] end-GERUND-[MYSTERY-ENDING-#1] [MYSTERY-WORD-#2] life-[COPULA]-[AUX VERB -고 말다?=finish up?]
한번=once<=한=one (ADJ form)+번=time (COUNTER)
끝나다=end, come to an end
The news from Lone Mountain, Sunshine Heights, Near-the-Capital, Korea.
Place names in Korean are often revealed to be rather inane once you figure out what they mean. I became curious about some of the terminology in my address, and investigated a little bit. I live in a district called Ilsan, which means nothing more than "one mountain." Technically, there are two districts: Ilsanseo-gu and Ilsandong-gu (West One Mountain District and East One Mountain District) – so I guess that means the two districts have to share the one mountain. Nor is it clear to me which of various mountains in the neighborhood is the "one."
These districts (also called "wards" and, in my opinion, best translated as "boroughs") form part of Goyang City. Goyang seems to mean something like "sunshine elevation" – so you might call it Sunshine Heights City. It's also an exact homonym for "exaltation" and a near-homonym for "cat" (goyangi).
The city of Goyang is part of Gyeonggi province. Gyeong is just the Chinese hanja for "capital" (as in capital city), and is often a word used to refer to things related to the capital of the country, Seoul, which is just down the subway line. The -gi ending seems to refer to the fact that the province is "near-the-capital," which is self-evident if you look at a map.
Interestingly, the name Seoul is just the native Korean word for "gyeong" and means nothing more than "capital," too. In fact, you can use the word seoul to refer to the capital of other countries: e.g. 프랑스의 서울 파리 (peurangseu-ui seoul pari = France's capital, Paris).
-More Notes for Korean-
context: work preparations and random thoughts
기말=end of term
지긋지긋 하군요="it's revolting"<=지긋지긋 하다=be tiresome, be disgusting, be abominable, etc.
One of my former middle school students called me out of the blue at about 5 pm yesterday, while I was between classes here. "What's up?" I asked.
"Nothing," he answered.
"How do you like ElBeuRitJi?" I asked – he'd migrated with some of his peers to the Juyeop campus where they have classes for the middle schoolers.
"Teacher," he sighed, "there is more not freedom here!"
"You mean, 'less freedom'?" I corrected.
"Yes, teacher," he agreed.
It was a sad phone call – like getting a call from a friend who'd ended up in jail or something.