Caveat: Oh, so that’s what he’s doing…

I've always suspected that Kim Jeong-il had a secret life in Ilsan.  It's such a modern, prosperous and exciting city, and it's well within tunnelling distance of North Korea.   He could have his troops put in a new, 15 km tunnel and pop out right at WesternDom (a big mall).  There's great shopping, multiplexes, good hospitals and the giant KINTEX convention center.  Beautiful parks, museums (included the famous Korean Toilet Museum, never to be missed) and sports facilities.

Finally, my friend Peter found evidence of Kim Jeong-il's secret:  in the form of a business card he found lying on a sidewalk.  It turns out Dear Leader Kim is moonlighting as a nightclub representative.  This is a perfect job – he's got the looks, he's got the wide network of influential people, not to mention, he's got "muscle."   The nightclub is a chain called "Shampoo."  With a name like "Shampoo," he's got the hair for it, too.  Wow, maybe he owns the whole chain?  He could integrate it with his network of spies and tunnels.

Below is a photo of the business card in question.  The name says Kim Jeong Il, of course.

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Caveat: Rule of Law

I think "rule of law" is important. 

I have been depressed and alarmed, of late, by the number of offers for illegal employment.  I realize that this is an endemic problem in Korea, and I will acknowledge that the often inconsistent and bizarre application of the poorly designed laws that surround employment of foreigners in Korea probably encourages the practices in question.

But it's just frustrating.  I think one area where Korea's made so much progress in recent decades is in "cleaning up" its reputation for corruption.   It's part of what has led to its remarkable growth and new-found prosperity, too.  Although that's an unsubstantiated opinion. 

Basically, people find out I'm looking for a job, and they make offers for me to teach English (as a tutor or as a classroom teacher) in exchange for cash – without getting a regular work visa and without participating in the formal economy.  On the one hand, my sympathy for the situation of "illegal immigrants" in the US causes me to question my own discomfort with these sorts of arrangements, but I worry a great deal that the Korean immigration authorities are sufficiently competent that if I were ever to be caught, their system of deportation and blacklisting for illegal workers would essentially ban me for life from Korea – I like it here too much to want that to happen.

But there's a broader philosophical concern:  I truly believe in the importance of rule of law.  I'm not going to make the outrageous claim that I'm a 100% law-abiding citizen.  Clearly not.  There are the occasional downloads.  The jaywalking.  The 10 miles-an-hour over-the-speed-limit.  And, when traveling in Latin America, things get much more problematic than that, very quickly.  I've paid bribes to border officials in Central America, for example.  And to cops in Mexico, in the 80's.  Most famously, in my own life, is the fact that my work in Mexico in the 80's was irregular – it was, essentially, the "gringo's revenge," because I was an illegal immigrant in Mexico, working a hotel job without visa or paperwork.

These are part of existing in societies made of imperfect laws.  But, in general, I feel badly about these violations.  I make rationalizations about why they've occured.  I suppose, I could easily make rationalizations about working illegally in Korea, if it came to that.   But I really think that one should make at least some degree of effort to "follow the rules" even when they appear illogical and inconsistent – as Korea's immigration and work-permitting processes so clearly do.

It's one thing to race across the street between crosswalks late at night when the light refuses to change.  It's another, somehow, to take envelopes of cash from people who feel their government places undue restriction on their ability to hire "foreigners."  Maybe the difference has to do with where the petty violations become unduly wrapped up in financial gain – something like the difference between illegal downloading for personal use, which feels OK, and illegal downloading for financial gain, which feels wrong.  Is this irrational?  Probably.  But it's pretty much the way I seem to draw the line, in my own mind.

Caveat: Mole poblano en Osan

He encontrado un nuevo amigo acá en Suwon.  Es un coreano hispanohablante, que parece ser una clase de persona tan rara como un gringo coreanohablante, por ejemplo.  Parece que se ha afiliado conmigo porque se dio cuenta de que yo podría ofrecerle oportunidades de practicar el español.  No siempre hablamos español, porque siente más cómodo en inglés.  También, me brinda lecciones en coreano con mucha paciencia. 

Anoche me llamó y anunció que querría invitarme a cenar en un restorán mexicano que conoce.   Entonces, fuimos manejando casi 40 minutos, partiendo directamente hacia el sur de Suwon, para llegar en la ciudad de Osan.  Lo interesante de Osan es que es una ciudad donde se ubica una de las bases más grandes estadounidenses en toda Corea.  Me acuerdo haber pasado una noche allí en 1991.  Por esta razón, hay muchas tropas estadounidenses residentes en el pueblo, y hay muchos comercios orientados al negocio con estos extranjeros.  Así, se explica la presencia de un restorán mexicano, bastante auténtico (digamos según un estandar norteamericano si no según un estandar mexicano puro).

Comimos una cena temprana de sopes y mole poblano, y tomamos horchata.  Pareció un milagro, poder hacer esto en Osan, Corea.  La comida era bastante bien, aunque el mole era un poco débil, probablemente para mejor adaptarse al gusto de las tropas gringas más que por acomodarse al gusto de los coreanos.

Tuve la oportunidad de hablar con el cocinero, un verdadero mexicano chilango de Ecatepec, bastante amigable si no tan entusiasmado de su estadía en Corea.  Me explicó que al terminar su contrato, volvería a México, pero que la oportunidad de vivir en un país extranjero "tan extranjero" como Corea había sido muy interesante.

Después de nuestra cena, exploramos la ciudad de Osan un poquito, y finalmente volvimos a Suwon.  A las once, mas o menos, comimos otra cena más ligera, como es la costumbre coreana en noches sociales, de 회 (sashimi, pescado crudo). 

Igual con casi todos los coreanos que he tenido la oportunidad de conocer, este nuevo amigo mio tiene un sinfín de conceptos difusos sobre posibilidades de futuros negocios, en el campo de intercambios interenacionales de jovenes y agencias de empleo para extranjeros en corea.  Incluso, me quiere reclutar como partner de negocios.  Siempre hay que aguantar tal clase de vagos ofrecimientos, porque Corea parece ser un reino de entrepreneurs frustrados.  No me molesta de ninguna manera, aunque a veces tengo que cuidar mi cinismo.

Aquel fue mi noche vagamente mexicanizada.  Hoy, vuelvo al estudio del idioma coreano.  Estudia, estudia, estudia!  파이팅!

Caveat: Institutionalized Infantalism

Like most, I'm disappointed with Obama.  It's hard for me to explain why or how – I actually didn't have as high hopes for him as so many of his supporters apparently did.  I saw him as a consummate politician, an insider, and viewed the rhetoric of hope and change as nothing more than that:  rhetoric.  Still, even in that light, I feel dismayed.

A recent blog entry by Jason Linkins at Huffington Post perhaps expressed my frustrations fairly clearly.  He wrote:

I'm particularly struck by the way this proposal [the 3-year spending freeze on certain symbolic sectors of the federal budget] marks a return to the institutionalized infantilism that so defined the Bush presidency. One of the most significant things that Obama promised to do during the campaign was to simply level with the American people — deal with them in straightforward fashion, tell the hard truths, make the tough choices, and go about explaining his decisions as if he were talking to adults. But this plan is so lacking in fundamental seriousness that it cannot be said to play any part of a mature exchange of ideas.

My primary optimism with respect to Obama was merely that he seemed quite intelligent and reasonably honest, and that would have been a nice change from the business-as-usual:  either intelligent or honest but never both in the same president, thank you.

It's almost as if somehow politcs will render otherwise honest people dishonest, or otherwise intelligent people stupid.  And thus it goes…

Caveat: 밥 먹었어요

I ate dinner.

A very Korean dinner.   To start with, I went shopping at the market area east of the 팔달문 (Paldalmun, which is the south gate of the city wall), rather than at a 슈퍼 (shu-pa = supermarket).  I got three kinds of kimchi (regular, “white” and radish), I got some tiny dried fish that I still haven’t figured out what they’re called [update, 4 hours later:  my friends Christine and Jinhee both made comments and told me what they’re called.  멸치 = myulchi, little dried anchovies.  I’ll put a picture down at the bottom of this entry.  Thanks!], I got 오뎅 (odeng = “fish sausage”) and a bag of polished (sticky) rice.  Finally, I got some 김 (kim = “dried squares of seaweed”).

I came back to the kitchen at my guesthouse.  I stir-fried some chopped onions with the odeng and a dash of salt.  I cooked rice in the rice cooker.  I put my varieties of kimchi in tupperware buckets.  And I sat down with the guesthouse owner-guy to a meal cooked rice, kimchi in containers, tiny fish, kim, and the bokkeum odeng wa yangpa, eating chopsticksfull of each thing from each container with the rice.

I’ve decided to stay in this guesthouse in Suwon.  It’s terribly inconvenient, since my class is in Gangnam, but the rent here simply can’t be beat.  And the owner is really friendly without being overbearing.  The regular nightly charge is only 20,000 won (around $18 at current exchange rates), but the owner gave me a 50% discount if I committed to staying a full month.  That means less than $10 per night – cheaper than rent in a regular studio apartment anywhere in Seoul (and that would require a 1 year contract).  There’s internet here, and a kitchen and all the basic necessities.  So even with the cost of the commute (about $5 per day round trip to Gangnam), it’s a pretty darn inexpensive living situation.

I can use the commute time to veg out or study or whatever.  It’s about an hour on a direct Suwon-Gangnam bus (the #3000 is almost door-to-door, guesthouse to hagwon), or a slightly circuitous subway + bus takes about an hour and a half (but runs more frequently, so timing is less of an issue).

Finally, Suwon has grown on me a little bit, in its extraordinarily mercantile, unglamorous way – it’s kind of the polar opposite of the Beverly-Hills-like character of Gangnam.  A nice antidote, as it were, at the close of each day’s studying.

Vnkf500

Caveat: What, me worry?

So, the revanchist Globally Dynamic and Xenophobic Cosmopolis had a little border skirmish with their annoying revanchist neighbor, the Insanely Autarkic Hermit Kingdom, involving artillery and machine guns.  Oh… some 50 km northwest of Ilsan.  Two very different brothers, squabbling in the back seat of the car, over where the dividing line lies.

Is it scarier than living in Los Angeles?   Not really.

Caveat: Visionarily Fashionable

When you see it once, it's just someone being eccentric – or else they're having some kind of bad day, maybe.  When you see it twice, on the same block, it's two schoolgirls trying to make a statement.  When you see it a third time, down at Suwon Station, maybe it's a peculiar local trend.  But when you see it a fourth and fifth time, on the subway around Seoul, you realize it's an all-out fashion movement.

What's this, I'm seeing?  Women wearing heavy-framed plastic eyeglasses, generally high-end designer frames like Ray-Ban or DKNY, without lenses.  Personally, I think it looks cool, but it does strike me as a bit out there, as a fashion statement.  Most of the few comments out in the interwebs that I could find are overwhelmingly negative, attributing the behavior to "emo posers" and the like.  But… whatever.

Caveat: 컴퓨터&효성

My friend text-messaged me the above, saying he’d seen it as a name for a 학원 [hagwon].  It means:  “Computer & Filial Piety.”  Which, in and of itself, just about summarizes the weird tensions in Korean society between old and new, East and West, etc., etc., and all that trite cliche stuff that’s nevertheless totally going on.

I wonder what the classes are like, there?  Is it like a Confucian-style computer-literacy school?  Or is it computer-based Confucian moral education?  Or a little of both?  Or is it just a cool sounding name, and has nothing to do with curriculum or teaching philosophy?  Hmm… I’d vote for that last one, based on my personal experience.  Maybe there’s neither a PC nor an analect in sight.

Caveat: Full-time Student

Well, my class doesn't start until Monday, but I've been contemplating what I'm attempting.  I've been worrying about my ability to really, truly, single-mindedly pursue this.  I always approach things so dilettanteishly, in life.  In fact, I've made a bit of a positive personal philosophy out of being a dilettante in many fields rather than an expert in any one subject.

All of which is to say, I'm actually feeling a bit terrified at the prospect of trying to be a full-time student, with virtually nothing else on my agenda, and no excuses not to study.  Even if it's only a one-month commitment.  Well.  We shall see.

I just barely placed out of the absolute beginning level on the placement test at the hagwon I'll be attending.  I would have been slightly mortified if I'd actually ended up in absolute beginning Korean 101.  As it is, I'm in something roughly equivalent to 102.

The problem, as I suspected, was entirely due to my weak vocabulary.  There was a section where I had to fill in noun case-endings, for example.  I know, quite well, my Korean case-endings.  But getting the right ones is next-to-impossible if you don't what the verbs are in the sentences in question.  So… not such a good score, there.   I actually did better on the spoken section, where the woman asked me questions and I had to answer.  But she said I was too informal, and my tenses were wrong.

I have decided that between now and next Monday, I'll try to work through the first half of the textbook, which is the Korean 101 that I just barely placed out of.  

Caveat: Actual Footage of Me Actually Teaching

I've finally done it – only six months later than originally planned.  I've posted the video clips from my last day at LBridge, and specifically, for that class where I went in and from absolute scratch I taught a simplified debate format and we had an actual debate.

These kids were at best high-beginning or maybe low-intermediate level students.   They had never had debate in English class before.  So in 35 minutes, we went from zero to exactly what I was doing with my advanced students.  Well… obviously, their speeches were quite short and the topic I gave them was quite simple, but  I was very proud of what we accomplished.  And I ran the video camera the whole time.  So, here it is.

Caveat: 내 한국어 능력을 향상하고 싶어요

Today I will make the commitment:  I will take a placement test and pay for my one-month full-time Korean Language class.  Based on grammar and passive understanding abilities, I’d be sure to place out of the beginning level, but my active vocabulary is so poor, I may get stuck in one of the beginning levels anyway.  I’ve been trying to cram vocabulary a little bit, but, as usual, to little real effect.

Caveat: Circumperambulation

My friend Peter came down from Ilsan today and we took a long walk around Suwon, which is where I'm staying for now – just be somewhere interesting and different, if not terribly well-located vis-a-vis the Seoul metropolitan area.  

Suwon has old city walls around about 80% of it's old-city perimeter, but it's otherwise a rather stark, industrial city.  Together the old fortress elements combined with its proletarian character make it seem vaguely European. 

Peter and I walked a full circle along the top of the wall.  Here is a view of the weird, gothic-industrial church to be found just southeast of the old city wall.

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Here is a picture of a bird.

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Here is a picture of Buddha, perched against the mountainside in the western part of the walled-in old city.

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Caveat: Navigating

Everyone who knows me knows that I love maps.  And I love online maps, too, and the amazing things that can be done with them, for example, google earth.  Unfortunately, google earth, yahoo maps, and related "international" (really, US- or Europe-based) mapping websites don't have very good data on Korea's mind-numbingly complex urban geography.  Google earth, for example, is inconsistent in their romanization of Korean place-names and therefore it can be impossible to find locations because one has no idea how the google-earthians might have spelled them.

But, in fact, there are excellent online mapping resources for South Korea.  Every single Korean vehicle has a GPS-using map-o-matic device of some kind on the dashboard, which delivers down-to-the-building navigation information.  It's definitely out there.  The problem is that it's not in translation.  You've got to be willing to work in Korean.

So, recently I have begun to feel competent using naver.com's map section.  I have figured out bus routes, located ATM's for my bank (외환은행), and located "addresses" (not street-number-based, as in the West, but rather based on "block numbers" and neighborhood names).  It's extremely cool, and I can spend hours poking around with it.

Caveat: The New Me

Per the advice of several people I have been interacting with during my job search, I have been implementing a new website dedicated to presenting myself professionally.  I went "live" with it today. It's still missing some pieces, but I'm fairly happy with it so far.  It's quite spare and simple, but I think that's best for a professional presentation.  https://www.raggedsign.net/jared

I would welcome any feedback or observations.  I'm not always good at following advice, so I won't necessarily follow yours, but I still would gladly hear anything anyone might have to say.

Caveat: 엉덩이에 사과한다

Oh dear, oh dear.  Sometimes, I can understand just enough Korean to create hilarity and confusion in my brain.

I was riding the subway, and in a sign above my head, right in front of me, I read “엉덩이에 사과한다.”  Now, as best I can figure out, this means “Apologize to your ass.”  Really.  Here is a picture of an ad (found via naver image search) that roughly resembles the one I saw.

Applehip

It’s advertising a product called “apple hip”.  There’s a lot going on here, perhaps more than anyone should want to know.

First of all, it’s important to realize that the Korean “엉덩이” can mean all kinds of things, from the innocuous “hip” to the dirty-sounding “ass” – the same word is used for all of these things.  I’ve had humorous moments in the classroom, when a student, after a short session with their little electronic dictionary, will innocently and confidently use the word “ass” where we would use the word “hips.”

Secondly, there is a common pun involving the word “사과” which means both “apology” and “apple”.  So they work in the name of their product and make a joke about how you need this product to improve your butt.  It is also drawing on the huge popularity of Apple Corp. products (and note the Applesque design look, below), making an English-language pun on the word “hip,” drawing on the Korean meaning of “butt” and the English meaning of “cool”.   Which is to say, you need this product if you want to be “hip,” or cool, butt-wise.

Now, I could get this far, but I still had no idea what the hell the actual “apple hip” product is.  Obviously, something to improve your butt, in some way.  One of an apparently infinite line of Korean “beauty” products of dubious intent and claim.  Some more research… The best I can figure out, it’s some kind of butt massager.  Here is another picture I found on naver:

Buttmassager

Seriously!  I would expect to see this advertised in my email spam box, not on the subway.  But hey (butt, hey?), this is Korea.   Strange country.

Caveat: 행복하는 것이 중요해요

I have a little book where I occasionally will write down little aphorisms, that I hear or that I make up.  I found the germ of the following that I’d made up last fall.  I’ve made some changes to it and thought it sounds very… aphoristic.

“I have made the realization that happiness is not a mental state.  It is not something that is given to you, or that you find, or that you can lose, or that can be taken from you.  Happiness something that you do.  And like most things that you do, it is volitional.  You can choose to do happiness, or not.  You have complete freedom with respect to the matter.”

Really, I should point out that this insight partly derives from studying the Korean Language.  In Korean, the predicate “to be happy” is “행복하다” literally means “to do [or to make] happiness”.  When you say “행복해요” (“I am happy”) what you’re really saying is “happiness [I] do.”  “행복한 사람” (“a happy person”) is literally “happiness doing [who-is] person” (taking into account the almost exact reverse word-order compared to English).

Caveat: The Job Situation

A number of people have messaged me or sent emails:  "Jared, what's the job situation?"

So, here's a summary, so I don't have to tell everyone:  I didn't get the job I was hoping to get, but I knew it wasn't a "done deal" when I came here, so I had contingency plans.

Plan B is that I'm now looking for a job in Korea.  But, I'm not in a hurry.  Most (or very many) jobs start in March, since that's when the new school year starts for Korean kids.  And I'm prefectly OK with waiting until then.  I will take my time looking, and be picky about what I can find, at least for now.  If March gets close and still nothing, I'll get less picky.  I've actually already rejected one offer – it looked way too much like another LBridge in terms of excessive hours and unnecessary staff-room rules.

What I'm doing, instead, is trying to work on the Korean thing.  I'm really bad at learning languages – I know all of you think, "oh, Jared, he's studied linguistics, he's studied all these languages, he's so good at it."  Well, just to be clear… that last concept doesn't necessarily follow, logically, from the previous ones.  So, it's a struggle.  I look up the same word dozens of times in my dictionary.  It goes on my flash cards. And still, I hear it and wonder, "now, what the hell did that mean, again?"  Just yesterday I heard 모든 and thought, "I looked that up about 30 minutes ago.  What did it mean?"  I recognize that I should know a word, but not always know what it means.

Anyway, because of that, and because of my "Motivational Deficit Disorder" that I sometimes struggle with, starting around Feb. 1st I'm enrolling in a full-time "Korean Language Hagwon for Foreigners."  I think it will help structure my time, and give me opportunities to practice Korean with Koreans who will be patient and scrupulous with me, because they're being paid to be.

So, in fact, because that's a month-long commitment, I don't actually want a job before March 1st, at this point.  And that's fine.  It will give me time, hopefully, to find something that works well for me.  I'm looking at "after school at public school"-type positions, right now.  They're the latest thing, where, essentially, public schools are elbowing in on the traditional private hagwon market by offering their own higher-level supplemental coursework in the afternoons.

Caveat: Melting…

It was raining yesterday.  And foggy.  And all the snow was melting.

Korean weather has been very weird for the last month (I missed the first part of it).  More Minnesota-like than typical, with lots of snow on the ground and sustained cold. 

Now, the weather is back to "Korean normal":  warm front came through, last several days, with rain.  Then, today, it's clear and bitterly cold.

Caveat: all the buddhas died

I was reading the Economist, yesterday.  Apparently, Tsutomu Yamaguchi died.  He was one of the very few "double survivors" of the US's atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 — meaning, he survived Hiroshima, and then, 4 days later, survived Nagasaki.  What I was struck by were some bits of his poetry, quoted in the magazine:

Carbonised bodies face-down in the nuclear wasteland

all the Buddhas died,

and never heard what killed them.


Caveat: “don’t get caught up on this planet, man, these humans are crazy”

There's a rap artist I've been listening to, lately, called K-os (sounds like an operating system made by anarchists).   He has a track I really like called "Emcee Murdah" with the line "don't get caught up on this planet, man, these humans are crazy."  Great line.

So… it's cool, man.  Personally, I like this planet.  But I agree, the humans are crazy.

I had delicious take-out kimchibokkeumbap last night.