Caveat: spinning faster by 1.26 microseconds per day

I read an article in the LA times recently that said that the recent giant earthquake in Chile shortened earth's day by 1.26 microseconds.  Somehow, the adjustment to the distribution of mass for the planet as whole was such that the earth began to spin a tiny bit faster, kind of like a spinning ice-skater pulling in his or her legs to spin faster.

1.26 microseconds isn't much.  In something short of a million years, we'll lose one day, because of it.  Plan your calendars accordingly.  And it'll make a good excuse, if you're late for work.

Caveat: Things Only Seen, Unthought

Sometimes when I go to put something in my blog, I open my little black notebook… and whatever's there on the pages doesn't translate to blogland very well.  Early today is a good example.  So, just to be different, I decided to take a picture of the notebook's pages, instead.  Here it is.


And here is where I was sitting – looking out a cafe window at a Gangnam street.  Note the fresh snow (a few cm) melting in the bright morning sun.


Caveat: Weird, weird music

So, my chinese-tea-making acquaintance in Suwon has 2 children.  The older child, Bong-jun, is 13 years old.   There was a picture of the two siblings, along with two history-re-enactors (who are not acquaintances) and me, in one of my blog posts from about 2 weeks ago.

Anyway, Bong-jun has a blog.  And he's got a very weird video on it, which I can't figure out how to embed directly, here, but I suggest you go have a look.  I'm not sure the video will work for you, if you're looking outside of Korea, since it's hosted on a Korean website, but it's pretty interesting.  The video shows some computer-generated / computer-played music, which is strangely fascinating to me – because it's so evidently something that would never have been composed, I suppose, without computers. 

If I can figure out how to embed it, later on, I'll drop a copy of it here.

Caveat: 고스톱

Gostop3  I’ve been trying to learn how to play a game called 고스톱 (go-seu-top = “go-stop”), which is played with a deck of cards called 화투 (hwa-tu = “flower cards”) – see picture.  It’s a very complicated “go fish” type of game that holds a status similar to poker in South Korea, often connected to themes of family togetherness or gambling-among-friends.

There’re several places online to find the rules in English, which is good because just watching the game, and even having it explained by someone as they play in moderately good English, is pretty incomprehensible.  The best thorough description of the rules that I’ve found is at galbijim, a website devoted to explaining Korea to “expats.”

I don’t go there often, as I generally avoid the “expat” community, especially the online expat community.  Collectively, they seem too negative about so much of Korea.  I’m perfectly capable of feeling negative on my own (see previous several posts!).  So… I hardly need the encouragement and influence of thousands of disgruntled foreigners.  But anyway, galbijim’s explication of the game is pretty thorough.

If anyone’s interested, I’m sure it’s probably possible to buy hwa-tu cards in any Korean-owned grocery or convenience store on the planet.  The Japanese use a version of the cards called hanafuda (which represents the same Chinese characters – 花鬪, in Japanese, as hwa-tu does in Korean) to play a game called Koi-koi.

Caveat: More neverminding

Normally, I try to change themes with each new post.  But this racism thing seems to have opened a can of worms – not so much among others, as in my own mind – although I've received some feedback, too.  

My friend Christine wrote a long comment in an email to me, which she sent to me right as I was posting my first "nevermind" (previous post).  She said things that surprisingly matched what I wrote in that post, but one thing she said that I didn't address stands out.  I will quote the relevant paragraph:

I would never defend racism, especially after my own experiences with them.  But honestly, after all the racial slurs / comments I've heard in America towards non-whites (and many directed at me), I don't feel like Koreans' racist views are all that unique, only disturbing in how comfortable they are in them.  But you know…if you want to see things as cause and effect rather than good or bad, Korea's own idea of race will probably change as they become economically wealthier, better known globally, thus inadvertently attracting other races to move to Korea. 

I think this is a very important perspective, and it's surprising to me that I didn't include some mention of this before, in either my original post or in my subsequent apology.  Surprising to me, because, in fact, I've talked about this idea very often with friends (probably with Christine, more than once, last year):  Korea is changing rapidly, including in its attitudes about race.  I've said before that actually, I believe Korea may be better positioned, culturally, to become a country that welcomes immigrants than any of its neighbors, e.g. especially Japan or Taiwan, which are the countries it most resembles socio-economically at this point.

And if Korea is going to be welcoming immigrants, that implies strongly that it's going to be dealing with its blatant racists in some way or another… much as Europe has been struggling, not to mention the U.S., over its long historical cycles of immigrant-welcoming and immigrant-bashing.

What I most want to make clear is that even in my anger, in my original post, I realized that the racists in Korea are not the majority. And my conclusion, now, is that they're really no more numerous than in other places. They're only more visible, because of the lack of social constraint on the open expression of such ideas.

Perhaps the same analysis could be applied to one of my other personal conflicts with Korean culture: ageism. This is one which negatively affects me much more directly than the issue of racism (which, given the bias toward people of northern European descent, actually favors me, in a majorly guilt-inducing way – see also the "charisma man" phenomenon, from Japan). I wonder if, like what I'm saying about racism, Koreans are only more open about age-related biases that, in fact, exist within and across most world-cultures, these days: the youth-worship, the superficial-beauty-cult (with respect to both woman and men), etc.

These tendencies are deeply embedded in the output of the world media machine(s) (i.e. Hollywood) , which Koreans happily consume, just like Americans. If anything, we should be looking for the origins of Koreans' worship of youth, superficial beauty, as well as their preference for pale skin and blue eyes, not in Korean culture, but in the Western paradigms they're avidly consuming.

More later.

Caveat: Nevermind about the rant

Well, somewhat.  In my previous post from earlier today, I was angry, and so I ranted about Korean racism.  Riding the bus back to Suwon, I had an insight:  maybe Koreans are no more racist than Americans.  Which is to say, I would guess that there are probably just as many racist Americans as a percentage of total population as there are racist Koreans.  Not a majority, but probably a scarily large subset of the total population.

The difference is more subtle.  Americans who happen to be racist are raised, nearly from birth, to be circumspect about their racist attitudes.  They come to understand that there are real consequences for openly expressing their feelings, from ridicule to lawsuits to criminal prosecution.  So they learn to be circumspect.  Koreans, who live in a largely homogeneous culture, have little reason to be circumspect about such attitudes.  "Good" race or "bad" race, it's all the same, mostly:  just a bunch of foreigners – so openly expressing one's positive or negative opinions about them is no big deal.  So racist Americans are stealth-racists, while racist Koreans are in-your-face racists.  Maybe there's actually something positive in that, as there is in any kind of transparency.  Certainly, at the least, it's clear whom to avoid.

That doesn't change my feeling that it bothers me.   A lot.  But I need to be careful about what I allow to annoy me about Korean culture, lest I fall into a trap of hypocrisy.  So… nevermind about the rant – at least on the charge of racism.  The other comments can stand, for now.  But I'm over being mad about it, I think.  Sorry.

Caveat: Language is not the same as culture (thankfully)

This is one instance where the "caveat," above, is "real" – I really mean that as a caveat to what I am about to say.

I have been feeling a bit annoyed with some aspects of contemporary South Korean culture, lately.   The issue that came up yesterday was perhaps just a "final straw" that pushed me into outright anger.  Many Koreans are unabashedly racist.  This is not the same as the mild xenophobia that I often comment on.  Korean xenophobia is something that is both historically understandable given their repeated subjugation over the centuries to the Chinese, Mongols or Japanese, as well as being something that I would characterize as essentially more naive and reflexive rather than somehow premeditated or unethical.  

But many Koreans also have openly racist attitudes, which are more complex than simple xenophobia, because there are hierarchies of "good" and "bad" races.   I see these as having been "imported" at some point from both Japan and the West, and more specifically, from 1930's Japan and 1950's America – which were the "occupiers" at those specific times.  Pale Europeans, whether from Europe or North America, are near the top of the hierarchy.  Koreans and Japanese are, too – although since the Japanese are the "enemy," they get disqualified from Korean respect for different, non-racist reasons… if that makes any sense.  More like a hated sibling.  But to be a non-European, non-East Asian in Korea must be utter hell.  That's my speculation.

Um… I'm being disorganized, here.  I'm ranting.  Yesterday, talking about student exchange programs with a Korean, he mentioned something about the difficulty of placing minority American kids with Korean host families.  And something like, "hopefully we can convey this sensitive issue to the Americans."

I thought about this a bit, and felt only outrage.  Why should Americans bear the responsibility for accommodating Korean racism?  If Koreans want to participate in a student exchange program, it should be their sole responsibility to cope with making sure their attitudes can accommodate any possible American.  That's the only possibility that looks ethical, from my point of view.

OK.  Back to the "caveat."

I have always felt a great deal of ambivalence about some aspects of Korean culture.  There's the low-grade disrespect for rule-of-law:  the never-ending stream of offers for illegal employment being just my own personal brush with this phenomenon.  There's the xenophobia, already mentioned.  There're the in-group / out-group distinctions, which can sometimes make one feel that one is living in a country inhabited exclusively by people suffering from a mild form of autism.

Then there's the ageism.  Ostensibly, Korea is a culture that honors elders.  But there's a caveat there: elders are only honored as long as they're doing what they're supposed to – they need to be fulfilling age-appropriate roles.  Thus, I have actually been refused two interviews for teaching jobs, solely because of my age, and I was openly told that that was the reason – it's not illegal, here, to discriminate because of someone's age.

My love affair (if you want to call it that)… my interest… my focus… has always been an unabiding fascination for the Korean language.  Unless you're some kind of unreformed Whorfian, you will understand that culture and language aren't the same thing.

So, I reserve my right to love the Korean language, and nevertheless harbor serious misgivings about parts of Korean culture.  Which isn't to say there aren't parts I like, also.  The food is incredible.  The entrepreneurial spirit is stunning – though often repressed by the neo-confucians in the bureaucracy.  The genuine generosity and kindness of most individual Koreans is undeniable.

I feel thankful that language and culture are not, in fact, the same.  Otherwise, I'd feel compelled to leave, just at the moment.

Well… that is a really poorly-structured rant.  But… such as it is.  More later.

Caveat: Chasing Rhiannon

Having applied for another job last week, I'm now once again in that really difficult position of waiting for the next thing to happen.  This is not something I do well.   Yesterday, for that and whatever other reason, I felt very gloomy and sad.

I took a long walk, and I was thinking a lot about Welsh mythology:  specifically, that business with Rhiannon on her horse, luring Pwyll to the underworld.  Why does that particular story always haunt me?  Aside from the fact that it was only text I ever got to the actual point of reading (with dictionary obsessively in hand), in Welsh.  Maybe it's the parallelism of living "dictionary in hand" as I am now (with Korean), that made me think of that.

I had awoken from a really unpleasant dream, yesterday morning, which had a symbolism that was pretty transparent.  I dreamed that…

…I found a suitcase in my room (since I'm effectively living out of my suitcases, currently, it's not that strange) and when I opened it, it was full of Michelle's clothes.  And further, there was blood all over the clothing.   I pulled the bloody dresses and skirts and shirts out onto the floor and just stared at it, inside the dream.

So:  I see that I'm dealing with my old baggage;  I'm digging out my dirty laundry.  With symbolism as easy as that, who needs Jung?

Friday, I had gone out to Ilsan to pick up reference letters that my former bosses Curt and Sun had written for me.  Sun's letter was surprisingly glowing – it was good for my ego.  Curt was a bit lazy, and said, "what do you want me to write?" and I felt strange, like he was asking me to compose my own reference letter.  But now I have two good reference letters.

Before picking up the reference letters on Friday, I had had lunch with my friend Peter.  He and I found this pretty nice restaurant on the second level of WesternDom (the big mall between Jeongbalsan and Madu stations) where I had some 해신칼국수 (seafood with homemade noodles) that was delicious.

Someone complained to me, a while back, that I don't put many pictures of myself in my blog.  I'm not good at that, that's true.  So, here is a picture that Peter took of me, getting ready to eat a very small, whole, slightly purple octopus that I found in my soup.  Note that I dressed up in a tie on Friday because I wanted to be "prepared" in case I got a call-back from this job I'm trying to get.  Plus, sometimes I do that, because feeling professional helps me feel more self-confident.


Caveat: Toward a Quantum Theory of Holiness

There's no need for anything behind, or beyond.  We can look at each individual snowflake, each individual pebble, each face, each tree.  Little self-contained units of magic, or holiness?  Like Neruda's garlic, or Ginsberg's grandfathers in Kansas.  This is a poem that I haven't written.

A quantum of holiness would be… a hole?  A microscopic hole in reality, floating across… magical  beautiful window on nothingness.  Yes, a poem I haven't written, that I hold in my hand like a bit of snow, that's suddenly gone.

Caveat: 1000th post

According to my blog host's administration page (on, this is my 1000th blog post.

So it's a kind of a little anniversary – of a serial, enumerative sort.   I started this blog in August of 2004, when I was still working for ARAMARK corporation in Burbank (which I used to call, pseudonymously, Paradise Corporation, to avoid offending anyone, but I don't think I need to worry about that much, anymore).

Actually, this blog has worked out almost exactly the way I intended and hoped.

It got a slow start – I missed many months at a time, more than once, and even a whole year (in the 2005-2006 range).   But once I came to Korea, in September, 2007, I began posting quite regularly, and starting last year, I  began a commitment to post at least once a day, which I've kept, although a few times I've had to "cheat" and do a "back-post" from a later time.

Once I accepted that I might do "back-posts," I began to consider the possibility that I could "back-post" my entire life – I have huge quantities of journal-type writing that I contemplate eventually adding here – but to date, I've only made exactly 2 "historical" posts, both for my birth year of 1965. 

I had envisioned this blog as means to achieve three primary goals: 

1) I wanted a means to overcome my perpetual writer's block

2) I wanted a way to more easily communicate with my far-flung family and friends, since I've always been so negligent in writing letters or email

3) I felt that my expressing myself in so public a forum, I could in essence use the blog as a tool to look at myself more realistically, with a lesser degree of self-deceptiveness – it's hard to continue deceiving yourself when you've decided to live "live" in front of others

I have achieved all of these goals far beyond my original expectations.  I know that this blog is often banal, frequently self-indulgent, mostly chaotic.  But for all that, it's serving its purposes excellently.  I had no interest in making something that would get lots of "hits" or become popular – I'm writing this, first and foremost, for myself, with the added benefit that those who are interested can "watch me," too.

If I study who's looking at this blog (using the administrative tools provided by typepad or by feedjit), I know that I rarely get more than one or two page views per day from "strangers" – but I've discovered that, for example, that the single most common way that strangers "discover" my blog is by googling:  "뭥미 meaning english".

To me, this is funny, but it also points up a 4th possible goal, to add to the above 3:  I can use this blog provide some unique or useful information to random people in the world – in the case mentioned, I seem to be the major online resource for people who are trying to figure out what the Korean slang term "뭥미" means in English (it seems to mean "what the…!", normally said in a kind of tone of disgust or annoyance).  I feel so proud. 

Now that I've got the blog consistently (mostly) cross-posting to facebook, that's added some to its functionality.  To those who find it annoying to have to come "outside" of facebook to "visit" me, I apologize – but I have too many friends or family who are not interested in adopting facebook, and so I need to stay outside of that convenient but tightly-walled garden.

If I follow my intention, I think the "next 1000" will come more quickly, as I genuinely intend to pursue my plan to "back-post" at least some of my pre-blog writing – I've even brought along some major chunks of it (electronically and in the form of paper journals) to Korea, with this plan in mind. 

Anyway, to my few but beloved readers – friends and family – thank you.  Thank you for tolerating this rather droll effort to stay in touch.  Thank you for being my friends, too!  I have been so very lucky in my life, to have the kinds of friends and family that I have.  Take care… 


Caveat: 꿈도꾸지마

“꿈도꾸지마” means “stop dreaming” – it’s a negative command form.  It was cool to hear this on TV only a few days after having managed to finally acquire the relevant grammar and vocabulary.  Mostly I learn things and I’m left wondering, when do they really use that? … or else I hear things and I wonder, when am I going to learn about that?  

I’m frustrated with my current Korean teacher, still.  She seems less pedagogically able than the one I had last month.  The insight I had last night:  the one I had last month always dedicated a minimum 10~20 minutes in each class talking with each of us in the class about our lives.  Where we lived, what we were doing, etc., in Korean.  And often, successfully using whatever vocabulary or grammar items we were currently learning.  Whereas my current teacher always only follows the lesson, which at best represents fictional situations or roleplays and more often is just rote substitutions of various kinds.  

It’s so much easier to learn a new bit of language when you’re using it for something relevant to your life.

Caveat: Becoming a better teacher

I read a long book review of a book by Doug Lemov entitled Teach Like a Champion, in the New York Times.   While the apparent reported premise of the book – that good teachers can be "made" as opposed to it being something that is innate – resonated with me deeply, I came away from the review feeling a bit annoyed with the both the reviewer and the book's author.

That's because instead of coming out and explaining the details of Lemov's thinking about how one becomes a better teacher, or how one can be taught to be a better teacher, the review only serves to "tease" the content of the book.  The reviewer is obviously a Lemov "fan," and she's just cheerleading without really contributing to an intelligent discourse about teacher education.  Basically, the message of the review is:  buy this book, and you'll get the secret to becoming a better teacher.  

Knowledge like that shouldn't be proprietary.  But setting aside philosophical/ethical quibbles, I also suspect that knowledge of that sort can't be proprietary – by which I mean that it's not going to help improve education as long as it remains proprietary, when looked at from a cultural practices / knowledge systems angle.  Where good educators come from and how they're made, if they can be made, is not the sort of information you can or should hide behind a "for only $16.77!" barrier (current price on Amazon).  Lemov (and possibly the reviewer) may wish to revolutionize education in America, but I doubt they'll make much progress until they lose the mercenary attitude.  Is that too idealistic of me?

I have had consistently bad experiences with knowledge that hides behind "buy this book" barriers – I'm thinking mostly of the infinite number of self-help manuals that circulate in the world, but my experience with Rosetta Stone language-learning software is also a recent, and expensive, example.  I have begun to develop the belief that "good" knowledge (by which I mean truly revolutionary and/or useful knowledge) must, by definition, be "open source" in some sense of the term.  

So getting back to the idea that good teachers can be made, instead of found, I guess my thinking is that I agree, and I think the idea could be revolutionary for teacher training, but for now I'll continue looking at my own insights, and keep searching blogs and other online content, and keep reading less promotion-reliant tomes.

Caveat: ∃@*$

I carry around my little black book, which is kind of like a private version of my blog, combined with a place to write down names, or addresses, or vocabulary, or other things I want to remember.  In my black book for the other day, I found written:  “∃@*$”

I have a long history of inventing weird ways to symbolize and abbreviate things.  I can go back and find pages of utterly incoherent codes and abbreviations in my old college notes, for example.  But I figured out what the above meant:  “I am at starbucks.”

The first symbol is probably the obscurest – it’s what’s called the “existential quantifier,” and is used in mathematical logic, higher-order mathematical proofs, and some types of formal semantics.  So that symbol means “I am.”  Really, I mean it in the locative as opposed to existential sense, though, which isn’t really right.  But the “@” makes it clear that’s what I mean.  The asterisk is fairly clear:  it’s a “star,” in computer-people-slang.  And the dollar sign means “bucks” of course.

What was I writing about being in Starbucks?  I was being weirded out about hearing Joan Baez on the soundtrack (all Starbucks play the same music – no concessions to locale on that playing field) while sitting in Korea.  Why was I sitting in a Starbucks?  Call it an indulgent and somewhat embarrassing habit.

Caveat: 시티홀

I’ve been watching a drama called 시티홀 (The City Hall, from 2009 – although the hangeul could more justifiably be said to represent the English phrase “shitty hole,” from a pronunciation standpoint, which I think is kind of funny, although not really relevant).

Actually, I like this drama – it addresses South Korean politics, which, at least up until now in my personal experience of Korean dramas was an off-limits topic.  And as a parody/commentary, it’s got some strengths.  I’d say that in some ways, it seems a little darker, and more cleverly self-referential, than the others I’ve been looking at recently.   I definitely recommend it, if you want an entertaining and fairly light look at the rampant cronyism and corruption that seems to prevail in South Korean politics.

Caveat: Ephemera

(Poem #2 on new numbering scheme)


There were many faces in the corridors.
I had given my seat to an old woman, on the bus, and so I stood the whole way. It’s odd, but there’s no discomfort in standing that way – voluntarily. Swaying.
In the faces, then, I saw the resolve of each person, to live each person’s life. All separately.
On the sidewalk, there was a discarded cigarette, still burning.
I felt despair. These feelings come and go.
Like this, the sun strikes out across the sky in the morning.
I saw it glittering off the side of a glass building. A weird angle.
I felt resolute. These feelings, too, come and go.


Caveat: (re-)making history

Korea has a lot of history.  And contemporary Korea loves exploring, studying and re-enacting their history.  Just take a look at the sorts of dramas popular on TV, for example – there're always several historical dramas running.  Those aren't the sort I enjoy, mostly because the language is stilted and harder to understand (which makes sense, since they're trying to capture the more formal Korean of centuries past).  Also, I don't always think those sorts of dramas are particularly faithful to the historical "facts."  But anyway…

Yesterday I went with some of my Suwon friends to see some re-enactors at the Hwaseong palace.  These were guys with swords and pikes and other things, doing martial arts displays of various kinds.  Half choreography, half hapkido / geondo (= japanese kendo), etc.  Here are some pictures. 

In the first two, the guy was using a big pikelike-thing to hack up some bundles of straw.  The last picture is me with some re-enactors, along with two kids I've gotten to know, who are the Chinese tea-maker's children: a brother and sister named Dong-jun and Dong-hui (it's very common for siblings to share a syllable that way, in their name).




Caveat: 다시 차를 마셨어요.

I went with Mr Choi again to meet his tea-making friend, and provide some informal English practice to him and his acquaintances and various children, too.  And then we went out for “Chinese.”  Going out for Chinese food in Korea is a bit like going out to Chinese in the U.S., in the sense that what you end up eating isn’t actually Chinese cuisine, but rather an American interpretation of Chinese cuisine.  So it’s basically a special type of Korean food, that they conventionally call “Chinese.”

It was interesting, and maybe helped to keep my mind off my frustrations with learning, at least while it was happening.  Afterward, of course, I could nothing but meditate on how ineffective and stupid my various efforts at using the language were.

It’s obvious I’m feeling very frustrated, lately.  This is, from a language-learning standpoint, entirely to-be-expected.  But knowing that it’s part of the process doesn’t make it any more pleasant.  And my feelings of discouragement tend to rebound against other aspects of my life:  feeling like I should be trying harder to find a job; feeling like I should be working on other things, like my writing; feeling lonely.

Of course, there’s the approaching solstice.  I always feel like I have some weird seasonal-affective thing going on, around solstices.  My mood starts to seem very volatile and shifts around.  Not sure what that means, either.

Caveat: Pop Architecture

Modern Korean pop architecture is fun to look at sometimes.   I think any country where there is a strong capitalist, advertising-driven culture, you will find architecture that is kitschy, often tasteless, over-the-top, etc.  Some of the more interesting buildings tend to be the ubiquitous "wedding halls" as well as churches.  Here are some pictures I've taken recently.