Caveat: Coleslaw after conformity

I keep craving coleslaw.  It's not like I'm not getting enough cabbage – my two daily doses of kimchi, and all that.  Fortunately, ingredients for passable coleslaw are easy to come by – unlike some things I crave, like Mexican food, which have ingredients that are downright impossible to come by.

So I made some coleslaw.  You know, chopped cabbage, carrots…  I like to add some chopped apple, for the tart sweetness, and maybe some raisins.  I have some "coleslaw dressing" which is basically something mayonnaise-like that Koreans apparently use.  But I also have some horseradish sauce, which gives a nice flavor.  And a shake of vinegar.  My only peculiar innovation:  I add some "drinking yogurt" (which is always sweetened and flavored in its Korean variety – but that sweetness can be a nice offset in the coleslaw, I guess).  It's pretty good.

Yesterday was a strange day at work.  I had no classes – the third grade was doing some special book-report-festival (is it possible to have a book report festival?).  But I ended up extremely busy, since Ms Ryu asked me to do practice JET speaking tests.  Fortunately, I was prepared and experienced in doing such a thing, so it went quite smoothly, and I spent the day asking high-end students questions and scoring the competence of their answers.

Then, in the afternoon, we were working hard to meet more of the vice principal's arbitrary demands for making our new classroom adequate to his expectations – putting military-style (meaning very very very dull and uniform) labels on everything, and making sure nothing in the room looks too personalized or fun – god forbid our new, high-tech classroom looking like a warm, welcoming place. 

So I tried to put myself into an army mindset and just line everything up… pretending, in my mind, that some high-level colonel was going to come a-inspectin'.  Probably, this isn't far from the truth – the power plant bigwigs that are paying for all this remodelling are bound to come around at some point, soon, to see how the school's spending their money.  And they're nuclear power plant officials – they're going to like seeing lots of sterile uniformity – it will match their expectations for order and good design.  So, actually, I have some small sympathy for the vice principal's position.  But that doesn't mean he needs to be so… inhumane.

Caveat: 4) 나는 어디서 왔는가, 어디로 갈 것인가를 생각하지 않고 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any misdeeds  lived, wherever I think I may have come from, wherever I think I may go to.”

This time, the translation was painful.

2. 지극한 마음으로 부처님 법에 귀의합니다.
     “I turn to the Buddha Dharma [Law of Buddha] with all my heart.”

3. 지극한 마음으로 승가에 귀의합니다.
     “I turn to the Sangha [Buddhist community-of-faithful] with all my heart.”

4. 나는 어디서 왔는가, 어디로 갈 것인가를 생각하지 않고 살아온 죄를 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read the fourth affirmation (very tentatively) as:  “I bow in repentance of any misdeeds  lived, wherever I think I may have come from, wherever I think I may go to.” 

Wow, I can’t even begin to really understand what’s going on with these verbs – they’re stacked deeper than a Duluth snowdrift in January.  And I may not have gotten it right – I deliberately have not gone out to try to find a translation.  The Googlator gets it stunningly wrong:  “I came from and where do you go from thinking you have lived without prostrate in repentance.”  But knowing that Google is wrong isn’t the same as being able to do a better job, myself.

Here’s a breakdown of the pieces, as best as I can figure out:

나 = I

-는 = [TOPIC marker]

어디서 = from where[ever]

왔 = come [with embedded PAST tense marker]

-는가 = [This thing puzzles the heck out of me, but I found the following in on page 255 of my “Korean Grammar for International Learners” (my “bible”):  “Vst-는가 하다  This pattern expresses the speaker’s thoughts, imaginings or suppositions about an action or state of affairs.”  Also, it seems to be something that’s used when there is an alternation of choices.  So from a translation standpoint, I’ve opted for the somewhat old-fashioned-sounding modal construction using “may … “]

어디로 = to where[ever]

갈 = go [FUTURE participle]

것이 = [a periphrastic “blank” nominalizer with a copula (“be-verb”) suffix.  Combined with the preceding future participle, it makes a periphrastic future or suppositional tense]

 -ㄴ가 = [This the second installment of the “alternation” referenced above, in talking about “may…”]

를 = [if you decide to take the whole “sentence so far” as a nominal, this is a handy OBJECT marker making it all the object of the following verb]

생각하 = think [unmarked verb stem]

지 = [pre-NEGative non-terminative flag (maybe analogous to some language’s deployment of a subjunctive)]

않 = [NEG… the whole “think” phrase up-to-this-point is now, suddenly, negative, but I don’t think it really has that meaning… it seems more subjunctive]

고 = and / for [a kind of verbal non-terminative conjunct ending, also used in progressive modes]

살아 = live [unmarked FINITE form]

온 = [this bothers me, but I think it’s a participle of “to come” that’s been strung onto the proceeding verb “live” – that would make it an example of the famous “verb serialization” phenom that we study in linguistics, for which Korean is often used as an example.  I have trouble seeing how the conjoined first “half” (up to 않고) joins to this relativized form that seems to mean “…that [I] have come to live…”]

죄 = misdeed

를 = [OBJECT marker … again, for the second half of the sentence, now]

참회하 = repent [unmarked non-terminative]

며 = while

절하 = bow [unmarked non-terminative]

-ㅂ니다 = [terminative, high-formal, declarative ending … YAY, we made it!]

I saw my breath this morning, walking to the bus terminal.  Fall is happening fast, this year.

Caveat: 3) 지극한 마음으로 승가에 귀의합니다

“I turn to the Sangha [Buddhist community-of-faithful] with all my heart.”

It begins to become a regular exercise (is it a linguistic pursuit, a cultural pursuit, or a religious one?).

1. 지극한 마음으로 부처님께 귀의합니다.
     “I turn to the Buddha with all my heart.”

2. 지극한 마음으로 부처님 법에 귀의합니다.
     “I turn to the Buddha Dharma [Law of Buddha] with all my heart.”

3. 지극한 마음으로 승가에 귀의합니다.

I would read the third affirmation as “I turn to the Sangha [Buddhist community-of-faithful] with all my heart.”

The Korean “승가” [seung-ga] is given as “priesthood” by naver’s dictionary, but I don’t think this is accurate.  Sangha (this is the Pali word, I think, but like dharma, it’s widely used in untranslated form in English Language Buddhist literature) is a little bit broader than that.  It’s kind of the Buddhist equivalent of the word “church” in Christian tradition, almost – it can mean those affiliated with a church directly, like priests or pastors or whatever, but it can also mean everybody in the community.

In the past week, since Chuseok day, fall has arrived and spun a cocoon of chill breezes and gold-green rice fields and loosening leaves across the Korean landscape.  Winter will emerge from this chrysalis, in a month or two.  I’m pleased.  I much prefer Autumn to Summer.

Caveat: 須藤元気 (Genki Sudo)

Genki One of my fellow foreigners-in-Hantucky (who I don’t know well at all but whom I follow in facebookland) posted a video, there, by Japanese polymath Genki Sudo.  I was impressed, and couldn’t resist putting him here.  The guy is the real-life-person who most reminds me of the Buckaroo Banzai character (well, except for the brain surgery and battling-aliens-to-save-Earth parts).  He’s a martial artist / wrestler / Buddhist activist and author / musician / dancer / calligrapher / graduate-student-in-public-administration and who knows what else – regardless, like any competent 21st century denizen, he’s an effective self-promoter.   I have to agree with Carl-teacher – the best part in the video is when the kids are joining in.  Watch it (the embed didn’t work that well, you can link out to youtubeland) –  it’s worth it.

What I’m listening to right now.

須藤元気 [Genki Sudo], “World Order.”

Caveat: Intrinsic or Extrinsic?

In education psychology, at least at the introductory level that I've been exposed to, there is a distinction drawn between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is supposed to be motivatation that arises from "desire to learn" type impulses, the inherent rewards of figuring things out, that type of thing.  It's generally characterized as "good" motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is motivation that arises from outside, like offers of rewards (typically, candy, it seems, if you're teaching English in Korea), etc.  It is sometimes characterized as less effective.

I've always been uncomfortable with the distiction – while still nevertheless not entirely comfortable with giving extrinsic rewards to students, either. 

Yesterday I had an amazing afterschool class with my third graders, that brought to the fore my discomfort with these categorizations of motivation and their typical characterizations.

As some of you know, I've been experimenting with building a "classroom economy."  It's based on a town, which is currently attached to a bunch of poster-boards that I assemble for each class, lacking a permanent "home classroom" in which to operate.  I'll add some pictures, sometime (I took a lot of the one we made on a bulletin board, over the summer, but have neglected picture-taking since the fall term started).

The town has land and money and salaries and buying and selling.  Things like that.  It's pretty simplistic, for the third graders, but they really love it.  And yesterday, I did an experiment.  I wanted to do a lesson where we could practice "giving directions":  "go straight"; "turn left"; "stop; etc.

I told the kids that we would practice for a while, and then we would have a race.  But not like a physical race.  They had to give ME directions, while I was "driving" a little paper car around the town.  The kids would get flustered, and say "go left" when they meant "go right," and I would immediately drive the little paper car off a cliff or a bridge and making exaggerated crashing noises.  But it was all about preparing for the "race" – because I had promised a prize purse to the winner.  The winner of this race was going to get a thousand dollars.  That was substantial cash in the scale of the classroom economy.  Every single student was BEGGING to practice, for this race (which will occur next class).

So my philosophical question:  was this extrinsic motivation?  Or intrinsic?  What was going on, psychologically?  They wanted to win the money.  That's considered extrinsic.  But the money is just play money, and it's limited to inside the classroom economy.  And they really seemed to be having fun, too, making my car crash as they gave me directions, and trying to find the location I'd told them to give me directions to.  It seemed really intrinsic. 

I don't know the answer.  I'm posing a question.

Caveat: 2) 지극한 마음으로 부처님 법에 귀의합니다

“I turn to the Buddha Dharma [Law of Buddha] with all my heart.”

More affirmations on 불교TV.

1. 지극한 마음으로 부처님께 귀의합니다 .
     “I turn to the Buddha with all my heart.”

2. 지극한 마음으로 부처님 법에 귀의합니다.

I would read the second affirmation as:  “I turn to the Buddha Dharma [Law of Buddha] with all my heart.”

I don’t like using the words dharma and law as if they were equivalent, although in this case the Korean word 법 [beop] also translates as law.  But I think in the Buddhist religious tradition, the concept of dharma apparently could just as easily be understood as “teaching” or “knowledge.”  The word dharma is Sanskrit, but the word is widely used as a naturalized word in English – in the closely related Pali Language, it is dhamma.  Pali was the language of the first Buddhist writings.

Caveat: Let us go and post an entry

More internet zaniness, from someone called copperbadge.  Really quite impressive – a commenter said:  "You've given Love Song a modern voice, for the intarweb generation, but the sentiment seems the same.

I will reproduce the first stanza here:

THE .DOC FILE OF J ALFRED PRUFROCK
with deepest apologies to T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a laptop, put in sleep mode on a table
Let us go through certain half-deserted streets
The blinking-light retreats
Of restless nights in free-wifi cafes
And public libraries with internet
Streets that follow like messageboard argument
of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming blog post
Oh, do not ask, "What, yaoi?"
Let us go and post an entry.

In the room the players come and go
Talking of their scores on Halo.

Caveat: “Now abideth beauty, truth, and intensity; but the greatest of these is intensity.”

The French novelist, Michel Houellebecq, in an interview published in Paris Review, quotes Saint Paul.  But then he makes his own version.  I'm impressed.

“Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” For me the sentence would be “Now abideth beauty, truth, and intensity; but the greatest of these is intensity.”

I may be an American, with a "mexican soul" as some have accused, and with an intractable fascination for things Korean and Japanese, but philosophically I have always been incurably French.

Caveat: … between Iraq and a hard place

"We describe ourselves as being between Iraq and a hard place."  This is a brilliant pun, even as it is, but doubly so when you consider it was uttered by King Abdullah II of Jordan, in a recent interview with Jon Stewart.   Jordan! … between Iraq and a hard place.  Heheh.

Jon Stewart was in high form, this past week – I tend to go through a weeks' worth of episodes on a lazy weekend morning.  The interview with Jimmy Carter was interesting, but mostly serves to confirm just how important Stewart has become in the broad scheme of the 21st century American polity, such as it is. 

The bit that preceeded it – in which Asif Mandvi protests "Better Wages for People Protesting for Better Wages," when he discovers that some pro-union people protesting in front of Wal-Mart are in fact non-union minimum-wage-paid temp workers – was utterly fantastic and biting satire.  And Larry Wilmore, as usual, is understated comic genius.

Hmm.  After my fabulous trip to Suwon / Seoul / Ilsan over the holiday, my return to Yeonggwang was anti-climactic and depressing.  I had a gloomy day, yesterday.  I had some things I needed to get done – dull and easy-to-procrastinate things, like website maintenance and some overdue paperwork for my accountant.  I did none of it.  I felt annoyed with myself.  I watched videos on my computer (a really funny Korean movie called 무림여대생 = My Mighty Princess, Jon Stewart and Colbert, etc.).  I took a long walk.  I read a chunk of several of the books I'd purchased in Seoul.  I ignored the world.

I guess for each good day, there can be a not-so-good day.  It's OK.

Caveat: Visiting n Thinking n Walking

I saw my friend Curt, yesterday.  We went to a restaurant in the building next his hagwon (that he owns) that we sometimes go to.   We ate bibimbap with tasty veggies, and his daughter (around age 8 or 9?) was as shy as usual.

Later, he wanted to talk about what it takes to build a compelling a curriculum at the elementary level.  I have some ideas, and I know he wants to hear them, but in some ways they run counter to what most Koreans believe a hagwon should be.

My dream would be to build an "Arts" hagwon that just coincidentally happens to be in English.  The idea is to teach English "by accident" while the kids are having fun doing art projects, drama projects, music projects.  I would want to strongly encourage team and peer teaching, too, and my work with my "town building class" over the summer confirms that findiing an "intrinsic motivator" (like having a complex classroom economy with lots of fake money in circulation) is a great way to keep kids engaged and help them forget they're bored.

Curt wants me to write something up about all this.  I'm going to try – the above paragraph constitutes a "back-of-napkin" draft of a statement of purpose, maybe.

I walked around Ilsan a little bit, then I took the subway back to the bus terminal and got on a sunset bus bound straight for Glory [Yeonggwang].   I took some pictures.

Fall starts coming to Ilsan.

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Looking north from a pedestrian bridge on the Juyeop esplanade.

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Turning to the right on the same pedestrian bridge, look – a Domino's.

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Some girls at play at a fountain on Juyeop esplanade.

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Here is the street I like to call "Academy Road" [real name is Ilsan-no = Ilsan Avenue].  Looking west (can you see North Korea?  It's just behind that hill in the far distance).  All the buildings' inifitude of signs are advertising hagwons. 

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Looking east, more hagwons, including my 3 former places of work (all clustered in two blocks along the right side).

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Here is the Honam Line bus terminal, looking down on some ticket windows.  Seoul's main express bus terminal is confusing, because it's actually more than one terminal, separated by several blocks of mall-like real estate.  Honam Line serves the southwest part of the country.

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As I was looking out the bus window, the sun set near Osan.

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People kept smiling at me, today.  Randomly.  This isn't typical, in Korea, where strangers ignore (at best) or are gruff (at worst) with other strangers.  Are Koreans in a good mood, because of the holiday?  Or am I putting off some weird "good mood" vibe that people are picking up?

Caveat: At Costco, the Kids Speak English

I returned to Sim City, today.  Sim City?  Every time I come back to Ilsan, now that I've lived other places and spent lots of time in other parts of South Korea, I realize just how untypical it is.  It's all organized.  It's extremely upper-middle-class.  It's got right angles and wide streets and trees planted in rows along them, and regularly placed schools, police stations, parks.   Ilsan was designed by a guy playing Sim City.

This place was my home, for two years.  I liked it here – partly, the kids were great students, because they all come from highly motivated, upwardly mobile families.  Partly, it's high density, easy to get around, convenient for a foreigner, without being so far from Seoul that it's hard to get there.  And to those who imagine coming to Korea to teach, I can recommend it as a "soft landing" – it's kind of a cultural halfway between American suburban lifestyles and Korean urban lifestyles.

Here's Ilsan-from-space, from Google Earth.  The evenly-spaced white rectangles are all schools, with their matching, uniform schoolyards (I think this satelite photo was done when there was snow on the ground, hence the whiteness).

Ilsanfromspace

See all the perfect squares?  My place of work was near the top center of this image.  My apartment was just off the bottom center.   My commute consisted of a two kilometer walk with only right-angle turns, of wide pedestrian esplanades with lots of trees and modernist public sculpture, and playing children on every side.  Quite different from the Yeonggwang fish market behind the bus terminal, the busride through rice fields, Hongnong's high street.  Both have their charms, to be sure.

I decided to go to the Costco, at 백석 [baek-seok].  There are many Korean Costcos closer to my home (in fact, I bet the Ilsan Costco is the one that is absolutely farthest from my home, given it's about 15 km short of North Korean border), but I go to the one in Ilsan for two reasons:  1) I know exactly where it is, and it's only 1 block from the subway station; 2) I like coming to Ilsan anyway, for nostalgia reasons.

I never (literally NEVER) shopped at Costco in the US.  I found it inconvenient, to have to be a member, and bargain-hunting, per se, is not my style of shopping.  But I like Costco in Korea, because it's one international retailer that makes very few concessions to local market differences.  The consequence is that walking into a Costco in Ilsan is like teleporting to suburban Los Angeles – the ethnicity of the clientele is even roughly similar, although skewed differently.  So it's a chance to make a quick shopping trip back to the US, without the expensive airfare.

I shop at Costco for pants.  Why?  Because I have had bad experiences getting Korean-sized pants, even doing conversions.  Costco puts the traditional (and irrational) American sizes right on them: I know if I pick up 34W30L jeans, they will fit, more or less. 

In my 15 minutes in Costco, I heard the following things, all uttered by different children under 12 years old:

"eom-ma [mom], can we get this?"

"oh, cool!" – brother;  "it's stupid." – sister.

"oh my god!  they have THESE."

So… the children in Ilsan's Costco speak English.  That makes sense.  This is a place for Korea's aspirational classes.  But it's a little bit disorienting to hear, after months out in the provincia.  

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Caveat: A Stone

A Stone

Just give me some thereness. The being in a some-where, unMoving. Resting. Still.

A stone. A stone in a highly regular plane of sand, like a zen garden.

[Poem written on date of posting, back-posted 2011-07-31]

Caveat: Röyksopp – You Don’t Have a Clue (& other insomnias)

Can't sleep.

Music track stuck in my head, by Norwegian techno group from the top of the world (Tromsø), Röyksopp.  The track, entitled "You Don't Have a Clue" (album "Junior"), I would describe the sound as: "ABBA goes to an all-nite rave, somewhere in a cave, tucks away a tab or two of x, and gets lost in itself.  Forever." 

I like being in Seoul, the city stimulates my creativity.  My mind feels far-ranging and vast.  But unfocused.  I bought books today.  I'm already restless to be back home in pitiful Glory County.   It's not that I like it better there than here, it's that I'm really becoming a homebody, these days.  Needing that feeling of stability or something, maybe. 

Caveat: OMG! Creepy… Palin said something I completely agree with.

Please forgive me.  Really, she did.  Here it is:

" 'Refudiate,' 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"
Tweet, July 18, 2010

I found this Palinism just as I was feeling annoyed with snobby "English Nazis," too.  Ironic that the most popular voice of the most reactionary sector of American society should put such eloquent, less-than-140-character voice to my reaction to the grammar reactionaries.

Caveat: Wait-so-long

The morning dawned utterly cloudless, but definitely fall-like, cooler and with lower humidity.  

I decided to reprise my old commute from Suwon to Gangnam, and it was interesting.  The bus was only half-full – as empty as I've ever seen it on a morning hour.  It is, technically, a holiday.   I was listening to my MP3, on shuffle, and watching the familiar scenery go by.  I love giant cities, and that feeling of anticipation that one gets, coming into one through never-ending suburbs.  Coming into Seoul from the south feels just like approaching Philly from the west, or New York from the north – you pass through alternations of high-density suburbs and green, rural-looking hills covered with trees and striking rock formations.  

I especially like coming through the 우면산 [u-myeon-san] tunnel that the #3000 express bus from Suwon goes through.  You're in green countryside, with only the barest hint that you're on the outskirts of a vast metropolis.  The hills are steep and forested.  And then you go through a toll-gate, plunge into the 3 kilometer tunnel and pop out amid the high-rises of Seocho-gu.  

As the bus burrowed into the tunnel, my MP3 player began to play "Wait So Long" by Trampled by Turtles.  I'm not sure how I feel about this music, but it felt appropriate as I waited for the long tunnel to end.  Trampled by Turtles, by the way, is the most awesome band name, ever.  They're a vaguely "punk" bluegrass outfit from Duluth.  I think I listen to them partly just because of their being from Duluth – I have a ambivalent relationship with bluegrass music.  It's not really my favorite genre, nor even anywhere near the top.  But it was a part of my childhood, and my father is a passing-fair bluegrass and folk musician who plays in amateur gatherings frequently.  I think the Duluth angle, combined with their genre-busting punk leanings, is what makes Trampled by Turtles enjoyable for me.

Teheran-no (the main east-west drag in the high-rent Gangnam district of Seoul) was utterly devoid of traffic.  Seoul does, indeed, become a ghost town on the Chuseok holiday.  I got off at my accustomed stop at the Gangnam subway station, and promptly parked myself in the vast Starbucks half-a-block from the northeast station entrance.

I'm not one of those anti-Starbucks people.  I refuse to get defensive about it – except, by virtue of saying that, and writing in this way about it, I am, in fact, getting defensive about it.  Oh well.

The facts, such as they are:  a) Starbucks is a giant corporation, yes, but I think that, over all, it's more ethical in its policies and behavior than companies such as Google and Facebook, both of which are widely used by many of the same people who proclaim Starbucks to be evil;  b) I own stock in the company, and it's not done well (absolute worst overall performance in my portfolio for the last half-decade, but that's my own fault, for having bought near the peak) – so I feel this weird, irrational, emotional need to "support" them, although that's ridiculous from the standpoint that I'm sure I've spent more money at their stores than I've lost in capital losses on their stock.  To reiterate:  Oh well.  Just remember, each 4 dollar latte that you buy will contribute 1 bazillionth of a cent to my net-worth, so, over a lifetime of latte purchases, I'll have increased my net worth sufficiently to be able to add one more sip.

The vast Starbucks that used to be one of my study haunts when I was trying to be a full-time Korean Language student is utterly deserted.  It's as if there was a North Korean invasion, everyone ran away, and the staff wasn't told.  Hmm.  I'll get back to everyone, on that.

OK.  More later.

Caveat: Merry Chuseok

Today was a day that restored my faith in the value of traveling with no plans whatsoever.  In the importance of allowing serendipity to guide one's footsteps, and just see where things lead.

I have come to Suwon – one of my Korean home towns, at this point.  I feel very at ease in this city, although I only technically lived here for about two months, in February and March of this year.  I didn't come on the bus – I got a ride with an acquaintance, a Korean man with excellent English who happens to be a doctor in Yeonggwang.  We had a wide-ranging conversation about many topics, and he got me riffing on linguistics.  He may have regretted this, as I can tend to get a little bit too enthusiastic on my favorite subject, and I maybe have overwhelmed him with my talk-talk-talk.

The day was grey and overcast, with low-lying clouds draping themselves over verdent green mountaintops like sleeping kittens.  The damp, green fields of South Korea's breadbasket alternately zoomed and crept past, depending on the flow of traffic – which was bad.  Traffic in Korea, during the Chuseok holiday, is like traffic in the US during Thanksgiving.  It's as if God went up to a mountaintop and yelled:  "OK, everybody… switch cities!  Now!"

We finally got to Suwon's old city walls' south gate (Paldalmun) at around 130.  I went to the guesthouse where I like to stay, and got my friend Mr Choi's phone number from the manager there – I'd lost Mr Choi's number because of my broken cellphone, last month. 

Mr Choi said, basically, "Oh wow, Jared, hello.  Go to the tea-seller's shop and wait there!"  He said it in Korean.  I wasn't even sure I'd understood.  But I deposited my bag into a room at the guesthouse, and ran out and down to the tea-seller's shop (see old blog posts if you're wondering who the tea-seller is).  There was the tea-seller man, and some friend of his with a very luxurious Samsung Renault car, still smelling of new-car-smell.

We drove to the tea-seller's apartment, where Mr Choi was hanging out with a bunch of the tea-seller's family, friends and relatives.  They'd literally just cleared the table after their feast as I walked in.  They insisted I eat something – so they set a single setting with a modest Chuseok mid-day feast and watched me eat as they drank tea and chatted about whether or not my Korean Language ability had improved.  Well, they probably chatted about other things as well, including the weather.

After I finished eating, we drank tea alternating with shots of 12 year scotch whiskey that someone had presented as a gift to the tea-seller, out of the same diminutive cups (the tea and the whiskey had the same amber color, and at one point I became a bit confused about what had been poured in my cup, much to everyone's amusement).

The tea-seller's children put in a shy appearance (but it was pleasing that they seemed to remember me fondly – I'd provided them with "free" English tutoring back in March as a sort exchange for my crash course in Korean tea-culture and the tea-seller's general kindness and friendship, among other things).

Actually, as I sat, gazing out the window at the overcast early afternoon, I reflected that these Koreans were possibly the kindest, most generous Koreans I have met in Korea, among many kind and generous people – I felt amazingly at ease and welcome and comfortable.  I need to remember to get the tea-seller's name and email address from Mr Choi … it's so strange in Korea that it's possible to become pretty close friends with someone and not know their name, but that's the way it works, especially if they're older than you.

We spent a few hours there, drinking a great deal of 보이차 [bo-i-cha = Chinese "puer" tea], and it was a pretty sympathetic Korean immersion environment.

After that, we drove in Mr Choi's new car (he has gotten out of managing the guesthouse, and is working for a disabled-person's advocacy organization – he seems to be doing much better than when I knew him last winter) to a movie theater and watched a movie, rather spontaneously.  Chuseok is a big movie-going day (much like Christmas in the US), and we saw the opening day of a Korean movie called "퀴즈왕" [kwi-jeu-wang = quiz prince], about a bunch of inept people who enter a quiz show contest after meeting in a police station one night having all been involved in a giant and surreal traffic accident.  I didn't really follow the intricacies of the plot, although I gathered something about the quiz show's supposedly "impossible" final question was revealed in some piece of evidence that everyone had had a chance to see while at the police station.  About halfway through the movie, I thought, "this movie is a cross between 'Crash' and 'Barney Miller', seen through the filter of magic-realist Korean cinema."  That about sums it up.  I think, despite not having understood it well, I liked it better than Mr Choi:  "재미없었어!" was his melodramatic lament, as we made our way out of the theater.

Actually, that's the first time I've been to a Korean movie, without subtitles, in a theater, and more-or-less at least had some idea what was going on.  More confidence-building, on the language front.

After that, Mr Choi and I looked for an open restaurant.  It was like looking for an open restaurant on Christmas day, in the US.  We found a little joint a few blocks from the Paldalmun, and we ate 부대지개 [bu-dae-ji-gae = "Army Camp" stew].  I've had this many times, over the years, in Korea, but I don't think I've ever mentioned it before.  It's basically a bunch of things that might be found in a Korean army base, thrown together and cooked into a stew:  ramyeon (ramen), spam, hot dogs, kimchi, grass and weeds, tofu….  Delicious?  It seems to be a popular thing to order after a hard night of drinking.  All Mr Choi and I had had was way too much tea, and a few shots of whiskey, but it was a good meal.  The restaurant lady was impressed by my ability to eat kimchi – some Koreans are, when they see a "foreigner" eating kimchi – and she kept bringing more. 

Finally, the day was more-or-less ended at a reasonable hour, and I headed back to the guesthouse in the first chilly evening I've experienced in months, walking down the familiar alleyways of old Suwon.  Is fall finally coming?  How appropriate that there should be the barest hint of the Siberian months ahead, on Chuseok evening.  The drizzle felt wonderful on the back of my neck.  I shivered.

Caveat: The place where no one wants to live but everyone comes back to

This is the Chuseok holiday – Korean Thanksgiving.  This is the holiday where everyone in Korea goes back to their hometowns and pays respects to their ancestors.  This is a holiday that celebrates traffic jams and excessive drinking.

I went down to the store yesterday, and the lines at the check outs were stretched back down the aisles of the store.  The massive gravel parking lot at the Hanaro Mart (the town Co-op grocery) was absolutely full – which I've never seen before.  The traffic circle was packed with cars in slow orbit, like a Paris intersection. 

This is a town where no one wants to live, but everyone comes back to.  The population must at least double during a "come back to your home town" type holiday.  I went back to hide in my little apartment.  The sky was blue but it was hot, yesterday.  Then last night, somewhat surprisingly, it rained.

I listened to LCD Soundsystem and Atmosphere.  I ate some yellow lentil dhal that I'd made on Sunday.  Today I'm going to attempt to go up to Seoul for a day or two.  I'm not sure how that's going to go.

Caveat: Three Minute Fiction

I overheard a fiction-writing contest on NPR, the other day, and something made me sit down and write a story in response to the contest.

The problem:  I can't enter the contest, because it's only for residents of the US, which I'm not, currently.  Whatever.  It was just a moment of weird inspiration – I've been thinking a lot about ghosts, lately.  

The parameters:  the story must be 600 words, and, "The Story must:  (i)  Start with the first line:  'Some people swore that the house was haunted.' and (ii)  End with the last line:  'Nothing was ever the same again after that.'"  So here's my three-minute ghost story.

Some people swore that the house was haunted.

The new house was probably haunted from the start.  From the day it was built, on the edge of the forest, there was a moodiness that would settle upon anyone who spent more than a few minutes near the modest, blue-tile-roofed farmhouse that squatted at the edge of the forest.

Perhaps it could be blamed on the man who built it.  Mr Choi was a taciturn man.  He would sit on the stoop in the evenings, smoking cigarettes and scratching himself.  People said one could overhear him talking, frequently.  But he lived alone.

He'd inherited the land from his parents, who had died in a bus accident on the new expressway, ten years ago.  He'd come back from the city, bitter and scandalously divorced at forty.  The storekeeper said that he thought that if he built a new house, he could attract a second wife.

Sturdily constructed, it was unxpectedly made to look traditional.  Mr Choi was the type of man one would expect to go for a fancy, Western-style house:  a flat roof, concrete walls, topiary bushes in a row in front and a satelite dish.  Perhaps it was an homage to his deceased father, who'd been a skilled craftsman and builder.  The house had a curving roof with rough-hewn eaves of raw wood, and sliding doors, almost like a temple building, but simpler.

People said the man had chosen the spot for his house badly.  There were some graves, in among the trees on the hillside.  There are graves everywhere, in Korea.  Ancestors are thick on the ground.

These graves were Mr Choi's ancestors – including his parents.  Perhaps he'd forgotten about his grandmother.  She had been a terrible, frightening woman.  Rumor said that during the war, decades ago, she'd collaborated, and had been responsible for the deaths of several dozen villagers.  Because of her, no one completely trusted the Choi family, even now.  The Chois didn't go to church, either.  They really weren't good, modern Koreans.

It was the pastor's wife, Ms Sung, who swore that the new house was haunted.   She would point out that the Choi family had been shamans, generations ago, before the Japanese, and that Mr Choi probably still practiced secret, pagan rituals.  He had placed some wooden jang-seung – the traditional, carved, protective totem poles – at the turning to the driveway to the house.  Probably, his father had made them.  "Superstitious," the woman spat.

All anyone saw him doing, though, was working his fields.  And talking to himself, sometimes.  He made a peculiar farmer – some noted that he was supposedly well-educated, with a university degree.  Supposedly, he had led a student strike, at the end of the dictatorship.

People dismissed the gossip, for the most part.  They just left Mr Choi alone.

Then, one spring evening, several of the older women were walking along the road by the house.  The sun was already behind the hills, making the sky orange and pink.  The air was full of smoke from burning the stubble, after cutting the spring barley.  The earth was muddy and red-black, dotted with flecks of gold.

The women had paused their conversation.  Suddenly they heard shouting, very clearly.  The women turned and stared at the house, across a field of freshly planted hot peppers.

Mr Choi came running out of his handsome house, his hair flying. He ran off among the trees, waving an axe.  The women saw him strike at one of the burial mounds repeatly with the axe, weeping.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.