Caveat: Pesto on rye toast

I found some pesto-in-a-jar at the upscale supermarket in the basement of the Lotte department store (which I can go through when exiting the subway station at Jeongbalsan).   Earlier today I took some rye toast (made from that dark Russian bread I buy sometimes in Seoul's "russiatown" as I call it) and spread the pesto on it.  It was really delicious.  I'm sure both Russians and Italians would be offended, not to mention Koreans.  I often like to imagine concocting odd cultural mixes:  lately I've been imagining making tteokbokki but with a Mexican-style mole poblano sauce.  Seems like it would be delicious.  I also occasionally concoct strange bibimbaps, using whatever's on hand.  I put peanuts in about a week ago, and it was pretty good.

200906_SeoulKR_mongolian_p090628205451 I found a cellphone pic that I had taken of a bank advertisement I saw in "russiatown."  It's in Mongolian.  Why do I think this kind of thing is cool?  It's stupid, really — you can see Mongolian anytime you want, just surfing around the internet.

Maybe it's the same reason I find it easier (if only slightly easier) to try to learn Korean from signs and advertising and boring work-memos than from textbooks:  it's because it's somehow more real.  Relevant.  Someone, somewhere, didn't construct this sample of language just to instruct, but to communicate with other users in a concrete context I can identify in my physical environment.

Caveat: მონანიება

I watched a movie called მონანიება /monanieba/, which means “repentance” in the Georgian Language (Kartuli is the endonym, i.e. what the speakers call their own language).  I really like this movie… for a long time I was unable to find it, but I recently found it and downloaded it.  I first saw it shortly after it was originally released, a product of the lead-in to Gorbochev’s perestroika period, mid 80’s.  Very intense, symbolic movie about that most famous of Georgians:  Stalin.

I actually tried studying Kartuli, once.  I got as far as memorizing the alphabet and learning some basic verb and noun forms.  Maybe someday I’ll go there.  I could continue my career as a professional cultural imperialist (i.e. EFL teacher).

Caveat: The Past

"The past is full of mistakes.   That's why we left it there."  – Stephen Colbert, on his show dated 2009-06-22.

And, according to wikipedia:  "Electron degeneracy pressure is a consequence of the Pauli exclusion principle, which states that two fermions cannot occupy the same quantum state at the same time."  Hmm… electron degeneracy?  Is that something you do with an iPhone?

"Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence." –H.L Mencken

Caveat: The icons of my youth are dying

I awake this morning to news that not one, but two, of the pop-culture icons of my youth had died:  Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.  I never idolized them, exactly.  But they were ubiquitous figures in the pop-cultural landscape of the late 70's and early 80's, those so-called "formative years." 

Is this what it's like, growing old?  Outliving the immortals…

Caveat: One year from today

Almost everyone likes to imagine the different possibilites that the future might hold.  "If I decide on X, then in one year, I might be doing Y.  If I start X now, in one year, I will have achieved Y."  Too often, we limit ourselves to our current path, and miss the many turnings that are all around us.  This list is in the spirit of capturing those turnings.  I tried to make a list of 5 things that I could visualize doing or having achieved exactly one year from today.  I tried not to spend a lot of time thinking about it — just used what pops into my head.  The point is to ignore "chance of success" and just imagine it happening.

One year from today I might be:

1.  Living in Lisbon, working on my "book" (not sure which book that is, but you get the idea).
2.  Back in Korea, teaching
3.  Looking forward to returning to graduate school
4.  Teaching English in Mongolia, after completing a short certification program
5.  Working in database design and administration again, maybe in Minneapolis or LA

Caveat: NOT a secular humanist

I was goofing around, and took an online quiz, which classified me as a secular humanist.   I hate that.  Why do I have to be a secular humanist?

Sure enough, I'm secular.  No denying that, really.  But humanist?  Where, in any of those questions, did I declare that I thought humans were the center of everything?  They most clearly are not the center of everything.  I rather prefer a philosophy like that elaborated once by the poet Robinson Jeffers:  I'm an inhumanist.  Not in the sense that I believe people should believe inhumanely.  Only that I believe that, ultimately, humankind is far from the center of things.

If we dethrone and reject superstitious things, such as god, isn't it hypocritical or at the least a bit stupid to then elevate our own selves into that dethroned god's place?  That would be like Copernicus saying, "well, obviously the Earth isn't the center of the universe… hmm, maybe I am the center of the universe."  It's going in the wrong direction.  The universe has no center.  No special god.  No special rules.  No special monkeys.

I saw a t-shirt:  "Nietzsche is my copilot"  

Awesome.

Caveat: Curses, ActiveX!

While surfing around looking for something else, I finally have figured out why I have to use MS Internet Explorer when visiting most Korean-based or Korean-designed websites:  ActiveX.   That's an internet technology that's not web-standard, and that only works in the Microsoft universe (microverse?), but which is apparently nearly universal in Korean website design.

Despite being at least a little bit computer savvy (although my expertise was mostly in "back end" stuff relating to databases), I confess I never knew that ActiveX was restricted to Microsoftland.   So… well… you learn something every day, right?

Here's the blog where I found it described fairly well, although it's also rather depressing, since it claims Google's Chrome browser will support ActiveX, which I have not found to be the case.  Maybe they're still working on it.

I like Kang's observation that Google is having a tougher time working with the Korean government than with the Chinese government.  I've speculated, before, that supposedly democratic and highly westernized South Korea may in fact be more protectionist and xenophobic in some respects than China, but without having spent time in China, I won't make any assertions.  It seems there's evidence out there to support the idea, though.  And the way the government here "runs" the internet is one of them.

Caveat: Confucian Immersion Therapy

For some reason, I regularly return to a gnomic little quote from Gilles Deleuze (his book, Spinoza) that somehow seems just perfect:  "ethical joy is the correlate of speculative affirmation." 

I've been meditating on simplicity.  On how deliberately putting boundaries around life's possibilities might, in fact, make life more livable.   Then there's my conviction that aesthetics can drive ethics.  This leads me to think about the relationship between constraints and aesthetics:   consider that fine art is about creating (or finding) constraints and then creating within those constraints.  Unconstrained creation is just chaos.

In this way, aesthetic creation is perhaps like other ludic activity — artistic praxis as game-playing.  The playful artist.  So, then, if you want an aesthetically grounded (ethically bounded?) life, you must accept arbitrary aesthetic constraints, just as in poetry or painting or whatever else.

Are the legalisms of Confucianism appealing to me in part because of the fact that they represent one such tried-and-tested set of "constraints on living"?  Can deliberately setting out to live inside such constraints make one mentally healthier, or does it just lead to repression?  Or is that dependent on other, unrelated factors.

Caveat: Language Soup

I went to see a movie called "Shinjuku Incident."  It's a project of Jackie Chan's, but it's not so much an action movie per se, more of a noir, violent drama.  It's set among the Chinese illegal immigrant communities in Japan in the 1990's, and the dialogue is about 75% Chinese, 25% Japanese.  Watching it with Korean subtitles made it into an Asian language soup.   I obviously didn't understand a great deal, but as is my tendency, I enjoyed trying to sort out the languages.  The ending was funny:  the Jackie Chan Chinese immigrant-gangster character is dying, floating away in a storm sewer, and says something profound — last words and all that.   The Japanese policeman character says something to the effect of, "what?!  I can't understand what you're saying!"  So the last words are unknown to the one witness of them.  My sentiments, exactly.

Caveat: “벼락 오버머” 사랑해!

200906_IlsanKR_ilovebarack

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I was correcting student workbooks earlier today.  There’s an article in the most recent newspaper (an ESL “teaching” newspaper published in Korea) that features “Barak Obama” — our belovedly misspellable future Space Emperor.

I found this picture, above, in Julie’s workbook.  It’s BHO’s best picture ever!  And she wrote above his misspelled name her own personal misspelled transliteration:  벼락 오버머 (byeorak obeomeo, rather than the standard translilteration, 바락 오바마).  Note the little lightning bolt above the “벼락” (byeorak means lightning bolt, I think).

Relatedly relevant:

Indecision An Indecision Exclusive!
JibJab – Obama to the Rescue
www.indecisionforever.com
Funny Political Video Political Games Joe Biden Jokes

Caveat: Monomanias

There's a strange man who's goal is to visit every Starbucks in the world.  Unfortunately, with recent downsizing, it's become challenging for him to "catch up" to all the different locations before they close.  It's a moving target, as locations open and close much faster than he can get through the list.  He hasn't even tried South Korea, yet even in my time here I've seen both openings and closings of numerous Starbucks just within my small range of famaliar haunts. 

Well, anyway… I can kind of empathasize with his monomania, in some ways.   I've flirted with various monomanias of my own, but in general I've been too lazy to really fall into them.  I remember once I wanted to try to visit every single subway station in Mexico City, when I lived there.  And I think, at one point, I had done it… but then they've added 3 or 4 new lines since I lived there, so I would have to go back and visit more.  Once, I was thinking I could go visit subway stations in Seoul.  But I really haven't had the singelmindedness to do that.  My explorations tend to be less goal oriented, and more just a sort of drifting across the landscape.

Like a ghost.

Caveat: 바보!

PHOTO0906180003I am now officially a baboizer — Ellie sent me this candid photo, retouched some way or another using her cell phone. Note that "babo" in Korean is "fool" or "idiot."    I don't actually ever call my students "babo" — or "idiot" for that matter.   I get the impression from the pragmatics that babo is fairly mild in most social contexts, though it's far from polite, obviously.

I other news, I tried to be like the Space Emperor BHO today — by killing a fly with a single hand in mid-air.  I wasn't successful.  But I did it in two tries, against the wall.  The kids reaction:  "disgusting, teacher."

Normally, I don't bother voting in shareholder actions… I own enough different stocks that I get quite a few opportunities to vote one way or another on various things.  Everything's electronic, of course, but I rarely feel sufficiently informed to bother voting one way or another.  But today, for the first time since coming to Korea, I voted:  I gave a "for" vote in the action for Sun Microsystems to merge with Oracle.  Not that I think it makes much of a difference, but it was empowering to feel as if I had an opinion worth having and to be able to act on it, whether an accurate one or not.  If the merger goes through at the declared price, I will more-or-less break even on my Sun investment.  And we shall see if Oracle is able to make the merged result profitable or not.

Caveat: Threading… Computers vs Kids

When I check under XP, my computer is running about 300 threads at idle (that is, no programs running).  Does an O/S really need that many threads?  When I boot under Windows Server 2003, I find 500 threads at idle.  And when it's running under Vista, the number is almost 800 threads. 

Obviously, Vista works a lot harder to do the same amount of nothing.  No wonder my laptop crashes sometimes when I ask it to boot to Vista… it's saying "please, no, I'm tired!"  Just like when I ask my students to do more homework?

A few months back, I said goodbye to Ubuntu.  But now I'm reconsidering.  Vista is getting on my nerves, again.  Nevertheless, I had a major insight, yesterday, at work, as I was trying to do something (anything!) constructive with the new install of Microsoft Office 2007 (or some recent year).  It doesn't help, obviously, that I'm stuck with the Korean language version at work, and that it doesn't let you switch to English.  But why is it that every time Microsoft upgrades something, they change all the keyboard shortcuts?  Do they think that no one uses them?  I really despise relying on my mouse to get things done, and since I'm working with the Korean version, figuring out the keyboard shortcuts basically boils down to randomly pressing keys and collecting data on what it does. 

Oh, so, what was I talking about?  My major insight…  I prefer teaching to working with computers for one very simple reason:   computers always make me feel stupid, and kids at least sometimes make me feel smart.  There's nothing complicated about that.

Caveat: Do the multicultural…

We have had "multiculturalism" as our debate topic the last few weeks.  Specifically, multiculturalism as an emerging social phenomenon (very peripheral, so far) in Korea.  I actually have some thoughts and observations at a fairly serious level about this idea, but I'll save that for a later, more coherent post.

For the moment, it's interesting seeing the Korean kids trying to make sense of it.  One of my favorite quotes comes from Kevin, who says, "if we do the multicultural, then Korean men can be happy."

I think Kevin is referring to the fact that many Korean men, these days, have been in essence "importing" brides from Southeast Asian countries – enough so that it's becoming a "problem" the government has been trying to address.  But the way Kevin writes about it makes it sound like it's some kind of weird dance.

"Hey, everybody!  Let's do the multicultural!"

Caveat: No plot

I woke from a strange dream this morning.  It was plotless… sometimes that happens.  This was almost like some sort of abstract conceptual film; but  it had a visual esthetic drawn from Architectural Digest magazine, maybe.    I was in a building.  Looking for someone, maybe.  It was drawing heavily on the Folwell Hall archetype in my brain (that building being the place where IOutside have spent the most time at my erstwhile academic home, University of Minnesota – see picture).

The interior wasn't quite right, though.  It was as if the building had been converted into million-dollar yuppie condos.  Actually, that might be kind of cool.  There were a lot of open, loft-y spaces inside, and then there was a hanging rope suspension bridge between two modernist-looking living rooms.  Finally, I worked my way up to a top floor, and went up a spiral staircase.  And through a door, and up a last flight… to find myself on a vast wooden deck.

The deck had no rails, and looking beyond, it was on open, unsullied prairie.  No other buildings.  No trees.  It was at ground level – the Folwell Hall I'd been exploring was underground.  The was a strong wind; the grasses swayed.  It was like standing at a rest area in North Dakota.  I turned around to go back downstairs.  There was a man selling Korean dalk-kkochi (skewer chicken) from a stand by the doorway where I'd emerged.  Other than that, it was utterly lonely and isolated.

That was the dream.  Nothing more.  As I said, no real plot.  The images were quite vivid and strong, though.

Caveat: Strange Busyness

I had a strange day full of small things, nothing quite routine.

200906_IlsanKR_willysaysno_p090613120650 I went to a movie in a theater for the first time in more than year.  It was a treat for some stellar students that Peter-teacher engineered, and he invited me along.  It was fun, and mindless.  Here's a picture of Willy, standing in a statue, saying "no," afterward.

And also, I took a picture of a movie star we apparently saw.  A Korean, of course.  Not someone I recognized.  And… of the various random figures in the picture, I have no idea who the actual movie star is.

I went to work, and ate an actual sit-down meal with some coworkers at the place-of-work (as opposed to off campus at a restaurant), for the first time since I used to work at LinguaForum.  That was fun, too, listening to them talk in Korean, understanding some of what they said, even.

200906_IlsanKR_someonefamous1_p090613120239 I went to a wedding of a (former) coworker, Niki.  But not a single other coworker that I knew was there, and I felt very isolated and out-of-place.  That wasn't so fun.  I fled.

I sat in a cafe and wrote some notes for my "If I ran the hagwon." 

I met Basil, and we went to Insadong and he went to a Buddhist temple gift shop.  He was shopping for trinkets, I guess.  I have a hard time completely relating to that.  I also find the idea of "Buddhist consumerism" strangely uncomfortable, the same way I find overtly Christian consumerism.  There's some kind of disconnect between dogma and action, maybe.  The temple neighborhood is full of stores selling Buddhist and "monk" paraphernalia.

We went to some bookstores, but I bought no books.  That's not my routine, either.

200906_IlsanKR_nikiwedding_p090613143218 We went to a vegetarian restaurant.  The food was good.  I liked it.  I daydreamed of someday becoming a vegetarian (as opposed to my current 5-days-a-week vegetarianism, I guess). 

At the subway station, the train was stalled, because an old man had fallen into the tracks and had been hit by the train.  A gruesome prospect…  Basil was fascinated and had to go look.  I walked the other way.   We ended up separated and I went back home.

My computer pissed me off by crashing as I started it up, when I got home.  What's with Vista, anyhow?  God I hate it. 

Overall, it was a good day, though. 

Caveat: 분노폭발

We have this newish thing at work, where we’re having the more advanced students post their typewritten writing assignments online, on a collaboration server that we’ve long ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ used for posting work-related stuff.  This is the wave of the future (or rather, of the recent past, really) — things like this are pretty much the standard in business, both in the US and Korea, nowadays.  I think the parents appreciate it, since it’s not necessarily something the students at that grade level (4th~6th mostly) are being taught in public schools, nor even at their “math/science” academies, which focus almost exclusively on test prep.   It gives them a small taste of how “grownups” need to be able to work with documents, computers, and the internet.

As can be expected, however, the student-destined collaboration directories fill up with some peculiar junk:  weirdly named (and unnamed) documents in a hundred different (“I didn’t even know that was a format”) formats, etc.  And today, in my Eldorado 2 class’ directory, I found a JPG picture of an enraged cartoon baby, with the quote “분노폭발” (see picture).

Is a student expressing frustration?  I have no idea who put it there — someone in that class, presumeably.  Or just sharing something they thought funny?  Or not having intended sharing it at all, maybe?

Anyway.

 

Notes for Korean
 변경 = change, modification (webpage context)
바람둥이 = playboy-type-guy, “playa” or don juan, braggart, boaster
철학 = philosophy
철학적인 = philosophical (I think?)
느끼다 = feel, experience, respond to (a stimulus)
폭발적 = tremendous popularity, population explosion
돌발영상 = spontaneous (unposed, candid) pictures
분노폭발 = explosion of wrath (see picture)