Caveat: Fragment

I think I have a bit of flu.

I woke up this morning with a fragment of a dream stuck to the inside of my brain.  Utterly realistic dream.

I was sitting at work, at my desk, overhearing my boss talking on the phone with one of a student's parents.  I was understanding it – not dream understanding, but actually capturing the words of the conversation.  A first grade (elementary) student, Jaehyeon, was leaving the hagwon.

When Curt hung up the phone, with his dramatic sigh as he often does when he has failed to convince a parent who is set on leaving to stay, I said to him, in  "Jaehyeon is leaving."  Statement, not question.

"네" [ne], he agreed.  In English, he added, "But she said he liked your class.  So why is he leaving."

In the dream, I felt very sad, that Jaehyeon was leaving.  He's by far my favorite first-grader, has a very active imagination and linguistic creativity.  He makes random funny noises when he doesn't understand something.

I woke up with this floating in my brain, thinking it was a memory of being at work.  But no, I'd remember for sure if Jaehyeon were, in fact, leaving.  But then I had another thought:  I'd dreamed in Korean.  Not completely, but somewhat.  What's distinctive is that it was understood dream Korean, that was real Korean.  Not the dream-Korean I stuggle with so often, where it's gobbledygook that I can't make any sense out of, and that I doubt is real Korean.  And that is a milestone, maybe.  Or a rarity, in any event, above and beyond the banality of the dream fragment.

Caveat: 93) 부처님. 저는 매사에 겸손하기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray to be humble in everything.”

This is #93 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

91. 부처님. 저는 남을 무시하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to disdain other people.”

92. 부처님. 저는 남을 원망하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
         “Buddha. I bow and pray not to resent other people.”

93. 부처님. 저는 매사에 겸손하기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this ninety-third affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray to be humble in everything.”

Caveat: Hey, Help Me Find a Dentist

Images Can any of my blog readers or facebook friends recommend a dentist? Preferably, someone in Ilsan (or northwest Seoul suburbs, or Jongno area) that I can get to in less than an hour. My last two dentists (one Korean, one in the US before that) were horrible – so I've procrastinated too long. Thanks.

I'm not that worried about how expensive – I'll pay a premium for a competent dentist, and I'd really prefer someone who can make a recommendation based on personal experience.

Caveat: Contemplating Blue Screens of Death

I had some computer problems over the weekend.  Or rather, on Friday… I experienced the notorious blue-screen-of-death on my little Asus EeePC netbook, which runs Windows 7.  It's the first time I had one on this machine – I had, in fact, come to believe that Microsoft had done away with the infamous crash-o-matic indicator with the new operating system, because I'd never seen it before.  But lo, there it was.

This made me worried.  I managed to recover the little netbook, but I felt a dilemma.  I rely on having a computer a lot.  More than just for going online – in fact, I spend a lot of time on my netbook off line, and I'm pretty OK with having to cope with lack of internet at home, as I learned the hard way during my struggles with internetlessness in Yeonggwang last year (although obviously I ranted about it quite a bit).  I do writing on my computer.  Not good writing.  Not writing-to-be-happy about, but it's a compulsive exercise.

Until last year, I've always had two computers.  Well, not always, but at least in the most recent milennium.    The idea being, that if I had a crash, I'd go to the backup.  Well, last year, my "main" laptop, an old Sony Vaio that I bought the month before coming to Korea in 2007, suffered an ignoble retirement.  It has 3 operating systems installed on it – Windows Vista, Ubuntu Linux, and Windows Server 2003.  I dropped it, and I guess I scrambled the Vista boot sector somehow.  I can still boot it up, even now, but using Linux is virtually useless for surfing the Korean internet (although that's changing rapidly, with the unexpected – to me – success of the iPhone and iPad and the various Android-running clones of those products, because Android is, after all, just Linux).  The linux boot has got some other minor issues, too, involving the Korean-language input thingy, which I've been too lazy to resolve.  The Server 2003 boot still works (and I use it when I'm searching for some old file I've misplaced, sometimes), but it never played well with the graphics card in the laptop, with the consequence being that it is only capable of presenting a bare-bones 800×600 half-size window on the already non-huge laptop screen.  The upshot of all this, I consider the old "main" laptop to be dead.

So my backup computer, since my hiatus in the US in the fall of 2009, has been this $295 Asus netbook that I bought at Best Buy with a gift certificate.  It became my new main computer.  It's very low-grade, but perfectly adequate for my writing and for doing things on the internet, if rather pokey running multiple applications, etc.   I had to abandon my computer games habit, but that's hardly been detrimental, in most respects.

Anyway, getting the blue screen of death, last Friday, set me to thinking… if this netbook fails, I'll be in a world of hurt.  I'll be able to boot up "old main" if I'm desperate to write something, but it's hardly convenient, and I can forget comfortably surfing the internet.  And besides, I've been missing having a computer that can have more than 2 windows open at the same time without slowing to a crawl.

So Saturday morning, I tromped off to Costco and spent 800 bucks.  I bought a desktop.  Which seems ridiculous, but I've considered that one of the main things I do recreationally with my computer, these days, is watch movies or TV serious, and my netbooks 7 inch screen is pretty pathetic, that way.  Those 24 inch flat screen monitors looked tempting.  So basically I bought a fancy screen with a cheapo Jooyontech (a Korean discount brand) desktop PC attached to it. 

I decided to make my life difficult for myself.  Not on purpose, exactly:  I somehow managed to click just the wrong set of initial choices on the "first boot up" of the Windows 7 Home Premium K (for Korea) operating system, such that the operating system knows I prefer English, but nevertheless refuses to use it with me about 80% of the time.  As if that even makes sense.  Haha.  Let's just say the remainder of the configuration process involved a lot of recourse to the dictionary.  And I'm the proud owner of a semi-bilingual computer. 

I decided that, well, wow, I had a desktop with an actual graphics chip set and a big screen, I should put a fun game on it.  I have always had an inordinate and unhealthy love for the game called Civilization, in its various incarnations.  I went to buy it and try to download it – only to be disallowed from buying by the download store thing (called Steam).  I felt annoyed.  I hate it when online vendors discriminate against me because of my IP address.  They're telling me they don't want my money.  Well, my reaction to being told by a product vendor that they don't want my money is to not give them my money.  It took me about 20 minutes to torrent and install Civilization 4 (not the latest version, but what do I care?  I like the old version just fine) on the new machine.  No money required.  The internet's like that, right?  Probably, it's a bit stupid of me to tell everyone this on a blog, but I feel pretty safe from the copyright police, because of the aforementioned discriminated-against IP address.  Korean copyright police only care about Korean content.

Well, I played Civilization for part of Sunday, and then, in a long-unfelt rush of self-disgust at wasting such a vast amount of time on a virtual empire, I went on a walk.  Such was my weekend.  The picture below shows the new computer.  It represents a certain degree of investment in my intention to stay in Korea, doesn't it?  I suppose if I end up leaving, I'll sell it or give it away to a lucky friend.

Bonk 003

What I'm listening to right now.

David Bowie, "Changes."  The video someone made for it in the youtube, above, is clever, too. It's an appropriate way to ring in the new computer, though Bowie always makes me think of freshman year at Macalaster College in St Paul.  Life has changes.

 

Caveat: Scrooge McDuckery

A blogger named Christopher Carr (at a site called League of Ordinary Gentlemen – a blog name that I somewhat dislike, by the way, because citing it makes me feel like I'm on a street corner handing out ads for a strip club) is refuting some ideas he ran across on another blog by someone named Dr Helen.  The level of writing and the way he manages the ideas is spectacular.

He uses the term "scrooge mcduckery" to describe the sort of wannabe-John-Galtism that seems to underlie some portion of the teapartiers.  Here's a great extended quote from the specific blog entry:

Going through the comments over there at Dr. Helen’s and measuring the levels of entitlement, uncompromising self-righteousness, baseless notions of victimhood, and B-team Scrooge McDuckery might be an appropriate exercise for Introduction to Physics students. As if the baby boomers haven’t already been doing this in spirit for years, advocates of going Galt suggest the appropriate response to the democratic government not doing exactly what you-the-one-citizen-among-many like is to sit back and be pampered, as if the baby boomers haven’t already been doing this in spirit for years.

Duckimages Actually it's all a sort of prologue to a paean to Victor Hugo and Les Miserables, and, having never been much of a fan of Hugo, myself, I stopped reading it.  But the introductory part really captures quite well a lot of what's caused me, in recent years, to turn rather leftward from my earlier infatuation with Ayn Randian ideations.

Even five years ago I still happily described myself as having strong libertarian tendencies, but I've become so uncomfortable with these tendencies in recent times that I cannot in good conscience use the word libertarian any more – at least about myself, anyway.  Perhaps these years in communitarian Korea, where even the hard-right conservatives still believe in things like universal healthcare and massive government-funded infrastructure projects, has colored my worldview.

I'm not really going anywhere with this, but I so loved Carr's use of the term "scrooge mcduckery" (and by the way, I loved Scrooge McDuck comics when I a kid – why?).  So I had to post this comment.

Caveat: 92) 부처님. 저는 남을 원망하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray not to resent other people.”

This is #92 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

90. 부처님. 저는 남을 비방하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to slander other people.”

91. 부처님. 저는 남을 무시하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to disdain other people.”

92. 부처님. 저는 남을 원망하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this ninety-second affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray not to resent other people.”

200909_UlleungdoKR_buddhaandseamonstersp090914174140 Resent.  Is this like jealousy?  The dictionary also offers the word “blame” as a translation of 원망하다.  It also lists “hold a grudge” and “feel bitter toward.”   I see resentment and blame as being very different things.  But I can see how they’re linked.  I would say resentment and blame, together, are the number one “sins” of the expat community in Korea – foreigners like to sit in Korea and resent how things are different, or blame strange Korean culture for all the various misunderstandings and frustrations they have.  It’s so very easy to slip into that mode.  It’s why I stay away from online groupings of foreigners at all costs, generally.

Actually, I don’t feel like this is one of my bugaboos.  Maybe my big problem isn’t with resentment but rather with metaresentment.  By which I mean the fact of resenting others’ resentments.  Haha.

I took the picture at left two years ago during my visit to Ulleungdo (an isolated island off Korea’s east coast by a few hours by ferry).  Ulleungdo is by far my favorite rural place in Korea that I’ve visited.  I’m mostly a city person, but I seem to like my rural places “extreme” or remote, in some sense:  Patagonia, Southeast Alaska, Upper Michigan, Ulleungdo.

Caveat: Dreamsourced

Dimages
reams are so strange.  They can be so vivid and memorable and yet make no sense, or seem utterly insignificant, devoid of deeper meaning.

I awoke from a dream in which I went back to Paradise Corp (an anonymization) to plead for my old job back.  The building was still in Burbank, but when I got to the IT department, it was a transformed space.  It resembled the trendy, loft-like interiors of some of those web 2.0 tech firms that make their work areas vaguly resemble a Starbucks or a Chuck E Cheese.  I once interviewed at a place like that in Santa Monica (and now, years later, I can’t for the life of me remember if I was offered the job or not – but I remember the interview pretty vividly, because they asked me to solve a weird, complex, recursive SQL programming problem on the fly, and I felt kind of stumped by it, but showed them how I would find the answer; and the man leading the interview looked exactly like Mark Zuckerberg).  There had been sofas and bean-bag chairs and long tables with giant flat screen monitors and little meeting tables like in a kindergarten.

The other thing about the IT department in this dream was that it had shrunk.  It essentially only occupied the one large, well-decorated room.  I asked the rather generic man showing me around what had happened: “Where did everyone go?”

“Oh, it’s all outsourced, now,” he responded in a singsongy voice.  “Mostly to Bangalore and Hyderabad.”

This made some weird sense, and reflected trends that had been developing when I was still at the company, but I was undiplomatic:  I responded, “Are you sure it isn’t just that the company has shrunk?”

This earned me a very realistic glare from my former boss, Tom, who was there but refusing to interact with me.  He stalked off in search of an elevator.

All the remembered denizens of the IT department were sitting at these long tables, working.  Some didn’t even have computers, though – they had paper notebooks open and pencils.  Looking more closely, a lot of them were studying phonics flashcards with words like “cat” and “cake” on them (symbolically in line with my current job, teaching elementary students English).  Some of them had cups of chicken nuggets with hotsauce, from the Aroha cup-chicken fast-food place downstairs (here in Ilsan, I mean).

One of my former coworkers wanted to make small talk, but I was trying to get at what they wanted me to do now that I’d returned.  “What kind of database are you trying to design, now?” I asked.

There was nothing to do – it’d all been outsourced.  I asked the man with the singsongy voice what this “rump” of an IT department was actually doing.  “We’re mostly keeping them because we feel sorry for them,” he explained.  He made an expansive gesture around at the tables.  Several of the erstwhile programmers were squabbling and skuffling over a comic book (again, I now teach elementary students, right?).

I looked around at my former coworkers, and saw the signs – the lack of computers, the fact they were doing crossword puzzles or sudoku or studying phonics flashcards.  This was no IT department – it was a sort of retirement facility.  And I had asked for this “job” back?

I said, “Maybe I should just go back to Korea.”  My former coworkers looked sad, but they all seemed to understand.  Karen nodded, sagely.

I walked back out of the old building in Burbank to find myself in a Seoul subway station.  I was confused, though, and couldn’t figure out how to get to the orange #3 line, that I could use to get home. I studied a map on a wall for what seemed a very long time.  Maybe an entire day.  After that, I wandered through the subway until I found a bowl of samgyetang (a sort of whole-chicken stew) sitting on a ledge in one of the tunnels.  My backpack sat beside it, which seemed unremarkable, but which I suddenly realized I’d been missing.  I looked at the samgyetang, but found it unappetizing.

I felt a huge sadness in me.

I woke up.

Caveat: The Right Time

In general, I'm contentedly expatriated.  But in some moments, I'm proud that my residual US address is the city of Minneapolis.  e.g. My congressman from Minneapolis, Keith Ellison, on the issue of Palestinian statehood, quoted Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.:  "The time is always right to do what is right."  He wrote an editorial in the New York Times. Palestine_html_75c32dce

I know there are serious issues between the Palestinians and Israel, and that the problems cut deeply both ways.  But denying a people a sovereign state (or, alternately, denying them full rights as citizens) can never be the "right thing to do." 

Personally, I find the so called "one state solution" (latterly espoused by Qaddafi, of all disrepeutable people) to be the most ethically appealing, but I recognize that this is the least likely from the facts on the ground.   Then again, who would have predicted in the 1980s that apartheid would have been utterly abrogated less than a decade later, in South Africa?  Things change fast once change takes root.

Remember the hundredth monkey?  Probably not.

Caveat: fork in a toaster

Images I've been watching some episodes of the "crime-procedural" TV series Bones.  Some of the episodes are pretty well written, atlhough it's inconsistent.  But there was a great line.  The main eponymous character, nicknamed "Bones," writes novels as a sideline to her work in forensic anthropology.  In a season one episode, she gets caught working on a novel by a coworker, Hodgins.  Dialogue:

Hodgins: "I recognize that look."
Bones: "What?"
Hodgins: "You're writing another book!  When you write, you get this stunned look on your face, like you stuck a fork in a toaster.  Am I in this one too?"
Bones: "You weren't in the last one."

I had to pause the video and laugh at this.  I love how this captures what happens to people who try to write.  That it's not, in fact, a particularly pleasant experience, but that, like sticking a fork in a toaster, it's an unthought-out, impulsive exercise with unexpected consequences.

Caveat: 91) 부처님. 저는 남을 무시하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray not to disdain other people.”

This is #91 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

89. 부처님. 저는 거짓말하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to tell lies.”

90. 부처님. 저는 남을 비방하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to slander other people.”

91. 부처님. 저는 남을 무시하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this ninety-first affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray not to disdain other people.”

The one-word substitutions from one affirmation to the next are the easiest to translate.  Even if I don’t know the word, with the syntactical matrix being exactly the same all it takes is a simple dictionary look-up.  무시하다 can also mean “ignore,” and I nearly preferred that word over disdain.  Mostly because it would make it a very “relatable” affirmation – I am, in fact, sometimes quite guilty of ignoring other people.  I have such strong anti-social tendencies, maybe… or else, in a more positive way, it could be said that I value and need my solitude, daily.  It’s so difficult when people “reach out” to me and I’m just not “in the mood” to be social.  It seems more polite to ignore them than to respond with a “leave me alone” (clearly), but I nevertheless feel guilty about it.

I wonder how this could connect to those Buddhist monks who go off and live solitary, isolated lives.  Are they still called upon to not ignore others?  I suppose they’re making it difficult for others to reach out to them … isn’t that a kind of ignoring? 

Caveat: refrigerator triage and other banalities

Yesterday was a long day at work.  It's the time of month when we have to post grades and comments about students into the giant, macro-infested spreadsheet that serves as the hagwon student database system.  Actually, the spreadsheet's not bad for an ad hoc job – I've sometimes admired its low-budget ingenuity.  Anyway, at least I felt competent to do this job:  it's a good feeling of accomplishment when you can write personalized comments about 80 students and remember each of their faces and personalities.

Earlier in the day, I'd come in earlier than usual because I have my current "frontloaded" schedule that is all-elementary.  I'm putting a lot of work on my "little ones" – mostly first-graders that have felt kind of challenging lately, walking the fine line between being entertaining for the students and parental expectations that they will come home acting as if they were learning something.  Putting together a scheme for phonics flashcards (spelling simple words like cat and cake), I want to implement some kind of regular mini-quiz that's not too painful for the students but that give me a sense of whether or not they're making any progress.

I came home and faced the leftovers in my fridge.  I like to cook, as I've said, but cooking alone always leads to leftovers, and having such a small fridge (it's essentially what would be called a "dorm room" fridge in the US) means I have to get brutal and triage my leftovers pretty regularly – I end up throwing away things that don't get eaten far too often, and that induces feelings of guilt, which leads to me cooking less, which leads to me feeling annoyed with my diet.

Um 001 Um.  What was I saying?  I found some beans in my fridge and finished them off, after heating them up for an extra-extended period because I was worrying they might have something growing in them.  They tasted good.  And I woke up this morning.

Over the weekend I had made a tasty curry-coleslaw (see picture), using some end-of-its-natural-life cabbage and the infinite supply of gift-apples-in-a-box that I received as a Chuseok gift from my employer (see other picture – note standard-issue excessive packaging).

Day 002 That coleslaw is keeping well, so far.  But I had to throw out some rice and broccoli and mushrooms into the compost bin downstairs.  Isn't it cool, by the way, that big-city apartments in Ilsan give residents the opportunity to segregate their organic garbage?  Not that I have huge amount of faith that anything useful is being done with it… it might be being mixed in with the regular garbage at the landfill, as happens so often in the US, for example.  But one might be pleasantly surprised – Koreans seem predisposed, in some ways (e.g. by the density of their society, and its historically recent extreme poverty), to creating a more sustainable version of consumerism.

Caveat: 흐림

I like the word 흐림 [heurim], because of its sound.  And the fact that it’s a kind of gerund, derived from the verb 흐리다 [heurida = “to be cloudy, to be overcast”].   So the word might literally translate as “clouding” or “overcasting,” although more natural English would be “cloudiness” maybe.

I awoke kind of early, this morning.  I haven’t been feeling well, lately, but the air outside my open windows was cool and truly fall-like, perhaps for the first time of the season.  It was maybe 15 degrees (60 F), and the sky was grey.  I felt really invigorated, to wake up and have it not feel warm and sticky humid.   So I looked at the weather forcast, and it said 흐림.

Clouding.

Caveat: plus or minus let-sick-people-die

Stephen Colbert, in an episode this past week, was referencing the recent "scandal" (not sure it really was one – there was at least some missing context) involving the Republican candidate's debate during which people seemed to be cheering when Ron Paul suggested that a sick, uninsured person just be left to die rather than be admitted to an emergency room.  So, a few moments later, he was discussing poll numbers, and in place of the regular margin-of-error qualifier, he said, "plus or minus let-sick-people-die."  This was extremely funny.

I'm having a lazy weekend.  I guess that's usual.  So… more later.  I'm reading a good book.

What I'm listening to right now.

Kraak & Smaak remix of "Man of Constant Sorrow." 

Caveat: 90) 부처님. 저는 남을 비방하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray not to slander other people.”

This is #90 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

88. 부처님. 저는 모진 말을하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to speak harshly.”

89. 부처님. 저는 거짓말하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to tell lies.”

90. 부처님. 저는 남을 비방하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this ninetieth affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray not to slander other people.”

 

Caveat: A Biebsterized Birthday

Dear Everyone,

Who could have imagined I'd spend part of my 46th birthday singing along to a Justin Bieber video with a bunch of Korean sixth-graders?  And that that would be, by far, the funnest part?

Ah, but such is life.  My coworkers got a cake, which was chocolate, and quite good – although they also ate most of it, too – which was actually good, too, as it would have been unhealthy for me to eat too much of it.

And then there was one of those most excellent of Korean traditions, the envelope of cash – but note that the envelope, in this case, had a hand-made label saying "Happy Birthday JW" in ransom-note style (see picture).  I like that kind of attention to detail.

Day 004

The Thursday "CC" classes that I have are kind of like noraebang (karaoke room) training – which makes sense:  all Korean kids need karaoke training, as one's ability to do well in noraebang are integral to success later in life.

I tried starting with a music video of a song I like, myself – OneRepublic's "Good Life."

It's a pretty good song, and I like it partly because it was popular on the radio during the week I was driving around New Zealand back in February.  So hearing it, and trying to sing along, reminds me of beautiful scenery and road tripping – how can that be bad, right?

But the kids said the song was difficult, and in thinking about it, I'd have to agree.  The rhythms are tough, and the sentences in it are long.  So then, at their request, we did Bruno Mars' "Just the way you are."

This is an easy song, and I actually had the lyrics down pretty well, myself, by the time we finished practicing it.  I got into it, even.  It grew on me.  The kids seemed to like it pretty well, too.

But in the end, I had to submit to their unceasing demands that we do Justin Bieber.  "Jeo-seu-tin Bi-beo!"  I can't say I love Justin Bieber, but I'm happy to make the kids happy, and this, somehow, in some mysterious way, makes 6th graders extremely happy.  Such is the impact of a Canadian teen idol and global pop sensation, even on Korean culture.  We did his song "Love Me."

It's not a bad song, if not terribly original – I like the chorus's riff on the 1996 Cardigans' "Lovefool," for example.

But really, it was just a regular work day, right?  Although I managed to get out of there a little early – not that I did anything resembling celebrating.  I came home, did a load of laundry, and read a chapter of a book about Buddhism.

I got a lot of Happy Birthdays on facebook.  Thanks everyone! 

Love,

~ Jared

Caveat: Theory of Truth

Theory of Truth

(Reference to The Women at Point Sur)
I stand near Soberanes Creek, on the knoll over the sea, west of
the road. I remember
This is the very place where Arthur Barclay, a priest in revolt,
proposed three questions to himself:
First, is there a God and of what nature? Second, whether there's
anything after we die but worm's meat?
Third, how should men live? Large time-worn questions no
doubt; yet he touched his answers, they are not unattainable;
But presently lost them again in the glimmer of insanity.

                                                                                        How
many minds have worn these questions; old coins
Rubbed faceless, dateless. The most have despaired and accepted
doctrine; the greatest have achieved answers, but always
With aching strands of insanity in them.
I think of Lao-tze; and the dear beauty of the Jew whom they
crucified but he lived, he was greater than Rome;
And godless Buddha under the boh-tree, straining through his
mind the delusions and miseries of human life.

Why does insanity always twist the great answers?
                                                                                Because only
tormented persons want truth.
Man is an animal like other animals, wants food and success and
women, not truth. Only if the mind
Tortured by some interior tension has despaired of happiness:
then it hates its life-cage and seeks further,
And finds, if it is powerful enough. But instantly the private
agony that made the search
Muddles the finding.
                                    Here was a man who envied the chiefs of
the provinces of China their power and pride,
And envied Confucius his fame for wisdom. Tortured by hardly
conscious envy he hunted the truth of things,
Caught it, and stained it through with his private impurity. He
praised inaction, silence, vacancy: why?
Because the princes and officers were full of business, and wise
Confucius of words.

Here was a man who was born a bastard, and among the people
That more than any in the world valued race-purity, chastity, the
prophetic splendors of the race of David.
Oh intolerable wound, dimly perceived. Too loving to curse his
mother, desert-driven, devil-haunted,
The beautiful young poet found truth in the desert, but found also
Fantastic solution of hopeless anguish. The carpenter was not his
father? Because God was his father,
Not a man sinning, but the pure holiness and power of God.
His personal anguish and insane solution
Have stained an age; nearly two thousand years are one vast poem
drunk with the wine of his blood.

And here was another Saviour, a prince in India,
A man who loved and pitied with such intense comprehension of
pain that he was willing to annihilate
Nature and the earth and stars, life and mankind, to annul the
suffering. He also sought and found truth,
And mixed it with his private impurity, the pity, the denials.
Then
search for truth is foredoomed and frustrate?
Only stained fragments?

                                        Until the mind has turned its love from
itself and man, from parts to the whole.

– Robinson Jeffers, 1937.

The greatest American poet, IMHO.

200911_RaggedPointCA_P1020371

[I took the picture above in November, 2009, not far from Point Sur, California]

Caveat: Unreturned Calls

In the past I've sometimes used the joking metaphor that I'm in a "relationship" with the Korean Language.  Learning (or trying to learn) a language is like that, sometimes.

On Monday (Chuseok day) my friend Peter, an American who had been living and working in Ilsan up until May of last year, returned to Korea for a new teaching job.  He visited with me yesterday before going off to his new job, and we took a long walk (about 13 km, in a circle around Ilsan, visiting old haunts and things I guess).

All the walking around, we talked about things, too.  One thing that happened was when he made kind of a laconic question to the effect of, "So, has the whole Korean Language thing lost its lustre?" (not exact words, but that was the gist of it).

Without missing a beat, I responded, "Oh, I'm as infatuated with the Korean Language as ever.  But she's not returning my calls.  It's very sad."

This takes the metaphor to a new level.  But it's pretty accurate.  Oh well.  I've been feeling stuck on a plateau lately, and unable to climb past it.

I didn't take my camera on the long walk – so no pictures.  But here's a map-plot of the walk, as best I can reconstruct it from memory.  The loop was completed with a two-stop ride on the subway #3 line, back home to Juyeop.

Walk_html_fef58a6

Caveat: 89) 부처님. 저는 거짓말하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray not to tell lies.”

This is #89 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

87. 부처님 . 저는시기하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to be envious.”

88. 부처님. 저는 모진 말을하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to speak harshly.”

89. 부처님. 저는 거짓말하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this eighty-ninth affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray not to tell lies.”

No lie.

P1050303

Photo, above, taken exactly one year ago, in Gwangju (during a Mudeung Mountain hike).

Caveat: Have a Googly Thanksgiving

Today is Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok).  I went on a walk.  The city is more shut down than Mexico City on Superbowl Sunday (which, contrary to preconceptions, is the most shut-down I ever saw that city).

Hurry, hurry, everyone.  Go to your home town, and propitiate some ancestors.

Maybe you can google them first, and find out what they need – google presented a chuseok-themed googledoodle today.

Googly_html_m3f14c327

Ok, bye.  Happy Holiday.

Caveat: enough of the nineelevenism, already

I have decided to call the obsessive tendency in the media to discuss, memorialize and analyze the events of 9/11 on the anniversary of that event nineelevenism.  I'm seeing way too much of it – on the English language websites I visit, on English language streaming radio I listen to. 

I'm sick of it.  I remember that day vividly.  I was working in the office in Burbank.  Somebody got some still pictures of it on their computer, and somebody turned on the radio.  Then one of the bosses had a television on.  I made an utterly inappropriate joke, very dark-humor, about disgruntled architecture critics – "those buildings were always so ugly."   Which I believed.  I've always felt guilty for having made such an insensitive, inappropriate remark, before having realized the magnitude of the situation.  I bear it like a little secret stain, a stolen moment of schadenfreude. Yet…

By the second day, I already saw the over-reaction taking shape.  Yes, 3000+ people is a lot.  But compared to wars and famines going on around the world at that time…

I wonder what date it was that the number of innocent, civilian lives taken by US / "coalition" forces exceeded the number of those lost on September, 11, 2001?  I'm not talking about the lives of those who plotted, who combatted, who terrorized.  I talking only about the collaterals.  I've read statistcs that, between Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of collateral lives lost is in the hundreds of thousands.  That seems plausible… and deeply inappropriate for a supposedly civilized nation to be implicated in.

I am not a pacifist.  But this just isn't the right thing to do.  It wasn't, not at any point. 

By the end of the first year, I felt despair.  I took to citing Luke 6:27-31 to people ranting on justice and vengeance – not because I am Christian, but because they claim to be.

27 ¶ But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.
30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

911_thomas_hoepker_moving_on

The iconic image above (which I probably shouldn't reproduce but I can't resist) had an interesting write up in the Guardian recently.  People love to rant about how inappropriate the mood of the photo is – this idyllic late summer scene, the smoke in the background.  But this is humanity.  Life goes on.

Look for beauty, don't dwell on suffering.  Seeking vengeance will rot your heart long before it destroys any enemy.

Caveat: Are you now, or have you ever been, a Whorfian?

Partly, I just really like saying the term Whorfian.  It makes me think of Klingons, because of the inestimable Mr Worf from The Next Generation.  And Klingons, of course, because of their language, are inextricably tied to first-order high nerdery (see, for example, the opera 'u').

But I'm not intending to write about Klingons.  Rather, I have been meaning to discuss a rather long comment that my bestfriend Bob left on one of my blog posts from the start of the month.  Bob's comment presented the following anecdote (I'll just cut-n-paste it here):

Apropos Korean language and culture, I heard a fascinating story yesterday from my Korean colleague here in the Music Department. Did you know that Korean Airlines pilots (and co-pilots, etc.) are only allowed to speak English in the cockpit? According to my colleague, this is because the myriad levels of formal discourse in the Korean language can make communication murky between subordinates and superiors (e.g., co-pilots and pilots). Analysis of black box tapes showed this after a Korean Airlines plane crashed several decades ago. The co-pilot tried to challenge a decision the pilot had made, but because of the circumlocution the co-pilot used, the pilot didn’t get what his colleague was trying to say. And the plane crashed, killing everyone on board. So now Korean pilots bypass the issues of formality and politeness altogether by speaking English. This sounded a bit far-fetched to me, but it came from a reputable source—an ex-pat Korean. Do you know if this is true? If so, it should give your linguistic/cultural interests something to chew on. Or perhaps you already wrote about this in a previous post at some point during the past 4 years?

I have heard this anecdote before.  And I believe the fact that KAL pilots are only allowed English in the cockpit is probably true – this is true in many commercial airline companies around the world.  But I always assumed the story behind the English-only rule to be a sort of urban myth.  So I'm going to explain why I think that.

First of all, there are less baroque and more plausible reasons for a non-English-speaking country's major airline instituting the English-only rule.  Most significantly, since English is required by international aviation rules when communicating with ground control regardless of country (there's that English is the international language thing, for you, if you ever doubted it), many countries require their carriers to use English in the cockpit for a simple reason – to keep people in practice because during a potential emergency, its use will thus be more reflexive.  In countries such as Korea, with such atrocious English-language education (such as I proudly represent!), it serves also simply to provide the crew members with lots of practice.

So, that's what you might call the constructive rebuttal – the conterveiling evidence.  But I'm more interested in the claim made in the anecdote regarding the fact that Korean makes straightforward cockpit communication more difficult.  And on that idea, without any concrete support pro or con with respect to the actual anecdote, my gut feeling is to call bullshit.

It's probably true that sometimes Koreans have trouble communicating with those around them in what we in the west consider a straightforward manner.  There are all these deferences and, yes, circumlocutions and oblique references that get in the way.  This is cultural, however, not linguistic.  There's an important difference.  It's undeniable that language is the medium of this culture, but it's one thing to say that culture comes embedded in language and another to say that language shapes culture.  This latter view is called the Whorfian hypothesis, after the linguist Benjamin Whorf, who hypothesized it.

The fact is, Koreans are also perfectly capable of communicating straightforwardly with each other in the Korean Language, if they feel like it.  If they're in some kind of social context that allows them to relax the cultural rules, so to speak.  A few minutes on a Korean elementary playground will bring my point home quite quickly, I think.  Or just give some Koreans some soju and wait half an hour.  Koreans have a term for this "low speaking":  반말 [banmal – literally, "half speech"].  If KAL had wanted to ensure clear communication in the cockpit, they could have just as easily made a rule requiring 반말 as they could have made the rule requiring English. 

But this brings me to a tangential point, which is fascinating in its own right.  There is a strong belief in Korea that English, as a language, not only doesn't require deference or politeness, but that it isn't capable of it.  This belief is further reinforced by the tribes of badly-educated, poorly-behaved, and ill-informed foreign English native-speaking teachers.  It makes for a bit of a depressing battle, sometimes, with Koreans, when I'm forced to explain, over and over, that phrases like "fuck you" or "shut up" are not always appropriate in English.

"Really?" my surprised interlocutors sometimes react.  "But you see it in the movies…"  I point out that you can see all kinds of low and banmal Korean Language use in Korean movies, too – but that doesn't mean you should use it with your teacher or your boss or even your friends.  "Oh, wow, I suppose that's true," they asnwer, reflectively, new understanding dawning on their faces.

Koreans are perhaps encouraged in their belief that English is a "low-only" language by the lack of complex, grammaticalized forms of humility and deference that my friend mentions above.  And to that extent, perhaps there's something Whorfian going on – they're letting the shape of their language guide preconceptions about how deference and humility should work in other languages and cultures. 

But finally, I reject what we might call the stronger Whorfian hypothesis (with respect to this particular anecdote) not just because of the existence of banmal, but also because there are Koreans who have perfectly good English who are nevertheless utterly incapable of communicating directly or straightfowardly in English, either (cue typical Korean English teacher trying to communicate with his or her English native-speaking coworker).  It's the culture shaping the language, clearly, and not the other way around.

As far as the anecdote above, it's easy to imagine the guys in the cockpit, forced to speak English, and still failing to communicate – they'll just end up being circumlocutious with less vocabulary and more limited grammatical resources to convey humility or deference.  And, contrariwise, if a Korean co-pilot manages to say to his superior, "shut up, you're making a fucking mistake, don't be an asshole," it's more likely because he believes English requires him to communicate this way, than because Korean prevents him from doing so (cue Korean playground squabble or typical drunken bar confrontation).  The anecdote, circulating in the culture, reinforces that belief, and so, to that extent, perhaps the English-only rule does serve to clarify things in the cockpit.

Caveat: 88) 부처님 . 저는 모진 말을하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray not to speak harshly.”

This is #88 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

86. 부처님 . 저는 교만하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to be arrogant.”

87. 부처님 . 저는시기하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
        “Buddha. I bow and pray not to be envious.”

88. 부처님 . 저는 모진 말을하지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this eighty-eighth affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray not to speak harshly.”

The following has a lot of harsh language in it  – so consider yourself forewarned.  But I don’t think it should be taken in that spirit. 

What I’m listening to, right now.

Prof, “Daughter,” featuring Brother Ali.

Caveat: Cerulean Skies of Late Summer

Langloisindex I had kind of a hard, depressing day at work yesterday.  I had slept badly.  I really hate sleeping with the air conditioner running, as it makes the air feel stale in my little apartment (not to mention driving up the electric bill, and setting aside the fact that Koreans would tell me that it's lethally dangerous – this is a strong cultural belief they hold) – but when I try to sleep with my window open, these horrible swarms of mosquitoes that live in the swampy between-buildings-place under my window invade and chomp on my blood.

So I woke up at around 3 am yesterday morning, chompified, and slammed my window shut and hunted mosquitoes for a while, and then couldn't get back to sleep.  Because of the way the window opens (a sort of angle out tilt-opening window), a screen wouldn't work even if it tried to have one.

So later I got to work, feeling tired out and under-rested.

I have some new classes, in new formats, because of the "test prep schedule" (see previous blog post).  I wanted to try to prepare for those some more.  Karma hagwon calls them "CC" classes, and I don't even know what this acronym is supposed to stand for, but they're meant to be multi-media classes where we watch, listen to and shadow various audio-visual stuff:  news presentations, movies, pop-song music videos, etc.

I am of two minds of this type of thing.  I think it can be very useful, and the kids get into it, as they do anything audio-visual and computer-based.  But Korean classrooms (especially hagwon) have such low standards of technology infrastructure that wrestling with the hardware and software is often much, much more trouble than it's worth.  Very often when teaching at Hongnong, and even more at LinguaForum and LBridge before that, any time I get stuck using technology in a Korean classroom, I soon find myself fantasizing that my next teaching job will involve a dirt-floored classroom with only a blackboard, somewhere in India.

So messing with the technology for this CC class put me in a grumpy mood.

Then, my boss kind of blew up at me over the fact that some mom called and complained that her kid was having too much fun in my class.  I've written about this many times before – there is a major subclass of Korean parents who believe that if their kids are having fun in hagwon, they're not learning anything.  It's a difficult demographic to please, obviously, especially given my own methodological predelictions.

There's never an easy answer to these things, but having him bitch at me about it really ticked me off.  He knows how I think about it, and I think at heart, he agrees – I know he does, because that's why I wanted to work for him.  But there's a lot of pressure on hagwon owners to please the parents, and as a businessman, that's only logical.  So, net result…  we have to figure out how to make little Jinmo a little less happy in his phonics class – give him a little extra homework, yell at him, a little bit.  So sad…  The parents are our customers, and "the customer is always right," right?

So if the CC technology made me grumpy, my boss's little parentally-induced tantrum had me fuming.  Not your typical day at hagwon.  And my "frontloaded" schedule – with no middle-schoolers – meant that I didn't have any later evening classes to escape into to cheer me up again.  I just sat fuming at my desk, waiting for closing time and trying to do something productive on my debate textbook project (which had been in stasis for most of August). 

But then a middle-school student named Wonjun poked his head into the otherwise vacant staff room, and said, in a quiet, forlorn voice, "Hi teacher."  Gloomily.  The test-prep classes aren't much fun, I know.

"Wonjun-a!  What's up?" I said, with that false cheerfulness I've learned so well since becoming a teacher. 

"I miss you," he said, grinning.

[Picture above – Van Gogh's "Pont de l'Anglois"]

Caveat: 시험대비

시험대비 때문에 어제부터 중학생을 가르치고 안 있어요.

Twice each semester, the hagwon shifts into 시험대비 [test prep] mode.  For 3 to 4 weeks, the middle-schoolers attend classes intended to help them raise their midterm or final exam scores instead of the regular curriculum.  Because these Korean middle school English tests are largely in Korean (yes, that’s the terrible truth of it), as a functionally non-Korean-speaking English teacher I’m not much help to them, so as a result, the schedule gets rearranged, and I teach only the elementary kids for several weeks.

150px-Wump_World Considering my ambivalence of a few months ago about returning to the role of middle-school teacher, I actually find myself missing the kids.  I guess that’s a good sign.

Yesterday I was teaching a special story-reading class to some intermediate level elementary kids, and I’d somewhat spontaneously decided to use, as a text, Bill Peet’s The Wump World.  This was one of my favorite books as a kid, myself, but as we read through the first couple of pages of this story, I realized that Peet actually uses amazingly complex language – he seems to deliberately seek out irregular verbs, unusual hyphenated adjectives, and the like.  So I ended up explaing a lot to the kids.  Still, I could tell they were getting into the story.  At least some of them.