Caveat: New Year’s Dissolutions

I don't make New Year's resolutions. Or rather, I don't share them – I'm superstitious that in sharing them, I would either jinx their eventual success or else set myself up for disappointment in the event that they don't work out.

I was listening to NPR and someone said that in Portugal they avoid this problem by making New Year's wishes instead of resolutions. Wishes are less work than resolutions, too. And that way, I can share them.

So my wishes:

  • stay in Korea (i.e. Karma doesn't lay me off or go out of business, etc.)
  • continue to improve my Korean (my dream is to reach a level where I can take the TOPIK - it's been a "New Year's wish" 4 years in a row now)
  • lose  at least 5 kilos (the "Yeonggwang 5" - ancilliary to: exercise more, eat less)
  • make at least one breakthrough in teaching style or method
  • restart at least one abandoned novel (i.e. of ones I'm supposedly writing)
  • recover my lapsed zen(-ish) practice
  • more actively pursue my sketching and drawing (I've done some of this recently)
  • post to my blog twice a day (I've been getting better at this)
  • practice my mandolin (hahahaha this is the least likely – I practiced exactly 3 times last year)

To all my friends who put up with my periodic anti-socialism (and abstract socialisms, for that matter), who reach out to me to say hi and see what I'm doing beyond the slightly directionless blog, THANKS. Love.

Caveat: Well, That Was About One Year Long

2011, that is. Ending.

2011 went by really fast for me. That was after 2010, which was one of the longest, most stretched-out years of my life. The difference? There was a lot of instability and uncertainty in my life, in 2010. Whereas 2011 went pretty smoothly… mostly according to plan. 

2010 started with me NOT getting a job in Korea. I lived in a hostel and took language classes for two months, before finding a job. Then the job turned out to have… well, let's call them complications. Most notably, the Hongnong Elementary School had a tendency to make me move from apartment to apartment, and not ever tell me what was coming next, work-wise. Much worse than hagwon experiences I've had. OK. So that was 2010.

2011, in contrast, was easy. Predicatable. I finished the Hongnong contract, came back to Ilsan to work for Karma, and suddenly… it's 8 months later. Life, it seems, goes on.

Interestingly, this happens to be the 1900th post to this here blog thingy. How 'bout them apples?

Walking home from work, late afternoon, the sun hung low in the sky and was like a pat of butter in mashed potatoes. I tried to capture this with my camera. Below picture was taken about a block north of my apartment building, along Gangseonno [강선로].  

Sun 002


Happy New Year. 새해복 많이 받으세요~~. ¡Feliz año nuevo!

What I'm listening to right now.

Phaeleh, "In the Twilight."


Caveat: Immoral Government

A blogger named doctorzamalek who runs a blog called Object Oriented Philosophy (yes, I'm a bit of an avocational philosophy nerd) writes on the current US political scene, in a way that I feel like quoting (and leading to several layers of embedded quotes, as he cites NYT who cites Romney).

Romney may be saying this just for campaigning purposes, but it’s still worth talking about it:

“It is a moral imperative for America to stop spending more money than we take in,” Mr. Romney says in the ad, which will be running when he arrives in Iowa on Tuesday for a bus tour and an orchestrated blitz of appearances by surrogates leading up to the caucuses on Jan. 3.

No. There is nothing “immoral” about spending more than you take in. This practice has a name: investment. Did I spend more than I took in while studying for my various degrees? Of course I did. And it might actually have been “immoral” not to do that, since my entire future depended on it.

There's not much I feel I need to add to that.

Caveat: 2011

I travel to Australia to visit my mom in January for a week, and then make a week-long touristic trip to New Zealand that is mildly pleasant but merely reminds me that I don't really enjoy travelling as much as I used to – at least not travelling alone. I let my contract
at Hongnong Elementary School run out. With some sadness, I said good-bye to
Yeonggwang County and returned to Ilsan.  I started to work at Karma Academy, for my former LinguaForum Academy boss (from 2008). I have
a more stable housing situation (like!). I have fewer elementary students
(not like!).

[This entry is part of a timeline
I am making using this blog. I am writing a single entry for each year
of my life, which when viewed together in order will provide a sort of
timeline. This entry wasn't written in 2011 – it was written in the

Caveat: Cafe Mocha

One of my coworkers brought take-out cafe mochas (from one of the Starbucks clones that abound in South Korea) and distributed them to all of us, today, in the staff room. I like cafe mocha, but I haven't had one in a long, long time. They are addictive and unhealthy.

The taste and smell was weirdly evocative – I thought of studying late at night at Espresso Royale in Dinkytown (Southeast Minneapolis) in the 1980's, or at the now disappeared Bucks County Coffee joint on Locust Street at 40th just west of the U Penn campus in the 1990's. I thought, in short, of studying.

I wondered if I would someday return to school.

Why are smells and tastes so evocative? And sounds… 

What I'm listening to right now.

Bob, "Hurricane."

Caveat: Those Finns

There is a really interesting article about Finnish education at The Atlantic. I wrote before about the possibility that standardized testing neither helps nor harms quality of education, and speculated that the fact that countries as divergent in education policy as South Korea and Finland both score so high on comparative level-of-education surveys must have cultural roots.

The article, by a Finn working in the US, gives me a clue as to what that cultural aspect might be. I've always though it has to do with some qualitative valuation of education by, e.g. parents or educators, but the author points out a different possibility: collectivism and/or cooperation-based social models.

Korea, for all its competitiveness and inequality, shares with Finland a cultural valuation of cooperation and social cohesion over explicit dog-eat-dog social Darwinism. It seems that when Finns set out to reform their education system, they thought about how to encourage less of the latter in favor of the former.

Korea may have a lot of competition, but what I saw in the public school where I worked was constant reference back to cultural values of teamwork and collective achievement of goals. This means that even as Koreans are winnowing out low achievers with their never-ending tests, they are inculcating everyone with the importance of a kind of "everyone's in this together" social philosophy. It's cognitively dissonant, but it might point to a kind of counterbalance to the competition that ensures that scores rise across the board.

I'm not sure I have a point to make. But I highly recommend the article if you're interested in education, "education reform," and such issues. One stunning take-away: Finland achieves highest-in-the-world education rankings with no private schools. None. Wow.

Let's not forget that the Soviets, and Cuba even today, achieve remarkable education standards with extremely low investment through focus on equity and equal access, too. I think the US would be wise to think about this. Market approaches will never raise achievement across the board – market approaches to education will do what markets do: there will be some winners and lots of losers. That drives inequality, not high standards across the board.

Caveat: Knowing About Everything in the World

My TP2 cohort shrunk even further – two of the remaining three students are on vacation trips with their families, leaving me with one student left. Rather than try to continue following my debate curriculum (go ahead, try to have a debate class with one Korean middle-schooler – try!), I decided to just have a kind of conversation class.

I have these little cards from a "Kids' Chat Game" that I bought once at the Minneapolis airport. They have goofy or sometimes thoughtful little questions – conversation starters. We went through them, low-pressure, just finding ways to talk about things. One question was: "If you could invite anyone in the world to your school to talk, who would it be?"

The answer the student formulated and expressed surprised me: "I would invite my English teacher, Jared. He knows about everything in the world." 

Talk about feeling complimented! I didn't even think this student liked me. I often berate him, in my mild-mannered way, for not doing homework or being laconic in class. I was rendered speechless, momentarily.

Do I know about everything in the world? Not really. But I have a way of speaking, in my more advanced classes, rambling from topic to topic, telling little stories and snippets of news and autobiography, that must seem rather wide-ranging to these kids.

Well, anyway. I'm not reporting this except to say, it was nice to know a student seems to think well of me. One doesn't often get direct, clear, positive feedback in the field of teaching.

Caveat: Bound

ImagesWaking up from a dream fragment, this morning:

I was in the book bindery (University of Minnesota Press, where I worked 1987~1989), making a book. I was physically making the book. Stitching the spine, applying the glue and binding cloth, hammering out the curves of the hardcover "fit." Then I gave the book to someone – a coworker. It wasn't at the hagwon – it was some moribund office career.

I asked the guy later, "What do you think of my book?"

He stared at me with fish-eyes, saying: "Well, it seems basically like one of your basic 400 page fiction novel things."

So I ask, "Did you read it?"

He shrugs and says, "No."

Obviously, I'm struggling with anxieties with respect to my writing.

Caveat: Channeling Presidents

Last night in my debate class with the TP2 cohort we had a "practice debate" (they give speeches but with explicit reassurance that I'm not grading them – they actually do better on these speeches than on the graded ones). Our current topic is the space program – trying to decide if the US and/or Korea should end or continue their respective space programs. They seem really interested and engaged in the topic, despite their complaints of it being too hard. Sometimes I have to just pay attention to their level of engagement and ignore the verbal content of their complaining.

Anyway, the class has recently shrunk a lot – half of them were 9th-graders who have "graduated" middle school and will be starting high-school level hagwon in January, which means no debate (god forbid anything resembling a communicative-based curriculum for high-schoolers!). The consequence of this is that I don't have enough students to have an effective "team-style" debate – I had three kids last night.

When this happens, I make the students in the class one team, while I become the other "team" and play the various roles in the opposing team. This can seem monotonous, but I actually enjoy it – it gives me a chance to model all kinds of debate strategies and speech modes to the kids. To make it more interesting, I sometimes allow the various roles in my team to be different "people" or personalities. 

Last night, I was a team made up of Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama. We were tasked with supporting the U.S. space program, while the students were tasked with shutting it down. They did admirably, but I was quite interested in their reactions to my efforts to "channel" the various presidents. I'm sure I'm not actually very good at this, but they seemed pleased with how "different" each of them were, so I was channeling something.

Being Kennedy was hard, because I don't really know him the way I "know" the others – he predates me too much. But I made his rhetoric wide-reaching and inspirational, while I made Reagan slower, more "old" (obviously), but I think my Reagan sounded more like Lee Myeong Bak (if he were speaking English). Or maybe John McCain. Clinton came really easily – I can do the folksy Arkansas accent, passably, too. Obama… I was just my dad – I've observed before in this blog that Obama seems to have the same exact personality as my father (though with less of the dysfunction, perhaps, and more ambition).

The kids said afterward that my Kennedy was best, and Obama was most boring. I think this may be accurate, actually.

Caveat: Is this how it works?

A zen parable:

One day the Master announced that a young monk had reached an advanced state of enlightenment The news caused some stir. Some of the monks went to see the young monk.

"We heard you are enlightened. Is that true?" they asked.

"It is," he replied.

"And how do you feel?"

"As miserable as ever," said the monk.

Caveat: Language-Nerd Thing du Jour

Not of interest to most, but it's the sort of thing I spend way too much time on.

I asked myself, "I wonder which syntactical word-order is most common in human language?" Specifically, I was thinking about the "split" verb phrases implicit in e.g. VSO (verb-subject-object) in languages like Welsh, Irish, and various Mayan dialects (among many others of course). Was that order less common?

After only a little bit of googling, I found my answer, and much more. This map is a screenshot of a zoomable map-app that I found.


It's very cool if you're into that kind of thing. It seems to imply (to me, anyway) that SOV is a kind of substratum, which is interesting. I found an article (actually I think the article led me to the map, but I don't remember) that discusses this very idea, although it gets somewhat skeptical.

Caveat: Who Started It?

I'm not going to to say this is an endorsement. Some people will be offended at the idea, while others will think I'm engaging in a sort of national or cultural favoritism by even mentioning it.

I've long had a sort of gut feeling that writing came to Japan via Korea. But you don't see scholars on either side (meaning in Japan or Korea) – at least not those writing for Westerners – who would suggest this. Both sides prefer to downplay whatever cultural linkages might exist. But there are many.

So, I spend a lot of time reading Language Log – a blog on specifically linguistic topics. Today there was an entry about a Japanese "kanji of the year" that included – in a sort of parenthetical digression – the following claim (attributed to someone named Bob Ramsey):

You may know this, but in the Three Kingdoms period people on the Korean peninsula also used this unwieldy device [i.e.  the way that Japanese uses kanji to represent native, multisyllabic words, which in "three kingdom" times was also done in Korea but later passed out of favor], called hun by them, to write native words.  But then, Chinese character readings were completely standardized by the powerful monarch King Kyongdok in the Unified Silla period, and kun (or hun) readings largely disappeared from use thereafter.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seems pretty clear that the early Japanese learned this and most other ways of writing from people from the Korean peninsula, Paekcheans probably, but Sillans might also have played a role in the transmission of scribal methods. [emphasis added]

Why am I mentioning this? Because I've thought this for a long time, but this is the first scholarly article [err.. vaguely scholarly, anyway] that I've run across that supports this idea. So I'm annotating it here for my own future reference, I guess.

Caveat: No recuerdo


El poseedor

No recuerdo…
(Ya no viene el cavador
que cavaba en el venero)

No recuerdo…
(Sobre la mina han caído
mil siglos de suelos nuevos)

No recuerdo…
(El mundo se acabará.
No volverá mi secreto)
– Juan Ramón Jiménez

 Yo recuerdo demasiado…. Pero al final – de repente – no se recordará.

Lo que escucho en este momento.

UNKLE, "In a State." Which state?

I took the photo, at top, in 1983: Kneeland, California. I scanned it in 2007. It's not edited in any way, except the vast sky is cropped.

Caveat: In the backroads by the rivers of my memory

Div_fruitHappy Xmas.

I wrote some poetry. I'm not going to post it. Deal with it.

I pan-roasted an almost-perfect yellow bell-pepper (which Koreans call 파프리카 [paprika], after the German) and made a "from-scratch" vegan vegetable/marinara sauce, which I served over rice for my xmas dinner. I ate it with a cup of red wine – an 8 dollar bottle of Chilean shiraz that was on sale at the supermarket across the street in the basement of  the 태영프라자. It was good.

What I'm listening to right now.

Glen Campbell, "Gentle on My Mind." Haha. Country music. I don't listen to much of it, but I always liked this rendition by Glen Campbell.

The lyrics.

Gentle on My Mind

It's knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch
And it's knowing I'm not shackled by forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in the backroads by the rivers of my mem'ry
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind

It's not clinging to the rocks and ivy planted on their columns now that bind me
Or something that somebody said because they thought we fit together walking
It's just knowing that the world will not be cursing or forgiving
When I walk along some railroad track and find
That you're moving on the backroads by the rivers of my mem'ry
And for hours you're just gentle on my mind

Though the wheat fields and the clotheslines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman's crying to her mother cause she turned and I was gone
I still might run in silence, tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me till I'm blind
But not to where I cannot see you walking on the backroads
By the rivers flowing gentle on my mind

I dip my cup of of soup back from a gurgling, crackling cauldron in some train yard
My beard a roughened coal pile and a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands round a tin can I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you're wavin' from the backroads by the rivers of my mem'ry
Ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind

Caveat: Add Snow, Smile

Adding a layer of snow to the world makes me smile. That's good.

Here's a view down the Juyeop Esplanade at lunchtime, today, looking southwest. There's a giant ROK flag on a flagpole, at the subway station in the distance. Kids were driving sleds down the ramps of the pedestrian overpasses.

Walk 001

 RE xmas, I'll reiterate an old standard: "bah humbug."

Apparently my uncle really pulled a number of xmas-avoidance this year – he booked a flight from the US to Australia that departs on the 24th and arrives on the 26th (because of the international date line). Now that takes xmas-avoidance to a completely new level. I'm impressed!

What I'm listening to right now.

Kray Van Kirk, "A Medicine for Melancholy." I went to grade school with Kray. And middle school. And high school. He lived three blocks from the house I grew up in. Really.

Caveat: Helicopters, Dictators, Kids, Snow, Life.

I live about 10 miles from the North Korean border. Mostly, I can totally ignore this fact. Today, while I was walking to work, I was reminded, as I saw not one but two Korean military helicopters passing overhead, in the cold blue sky. Understandably, the Korean military is probably doing things.

The Onion conveyed the hereditary Stalinist, Kim Jeong-eun's insecurities.

Meanwhile, yesterday I had fun with first-graders. Three of my phonics kids drew self-portraits on the blackboard, during the break. I thought it was cute. They also drew Christmas trees for me, later.

Phonics 002

What I'm listening to right now.

The Youngsters, "Smile (Sasha Remix from Involver)."  Euroelectronica, I guess.

Walking home in the dark, it was snowing. First real snow, I would say – the other was a false alarm. This is the real stuff.

Side observation (or trivial pondering of the day): why do Koreans with foreign cars (like BMW's and Chevys) drive worse than Koreans with local marques?

Caveat: The Thing With Having a Buddhist Boss at Christmastime

The thing with having a Buddhist boss at Christmastime is that it doesn't mean anything that it's Christmastime. It seems like a lot of work is "ramping up" these days. Keeping me busy.

Actually, I'm just perfectly fine with that. I have nothing to do with Christmas, anyway. I'm a "grinch" as the family parlance would put it. So I'm happy to work some extra around Christmas, to be honest. I put in a very long day today. And we go in early on Christmas Eve.

A coworker asked me if I had a special plan for Christmas. I said, "No, I'm a Buddhist at Christmastime." I was joking. Or half-joking.

She said, "So what do you do for Buddha's Birthday?"

I said, "Well, then, I'm a Christian." She laughed, getting my joke.

Caveat: The Atheisticist

I have decided to coin a new word, "atheisticist," for use to describe atheists who are offensive, in the same way that sullyblog uses the term Christianist (apparently he coined it) to describe Christians who are annoying because of their shallow hypocrisies, militancy and/or dogmatic ideological rigidities and intolerant attitudes. The term Christianist is meant to parallel Islamist. Similarly, I would conceive Atheisticist as the same sort of parallel.

Having thus coined a new word, I shall apply it posthaste to the recently deceased philosopher/gadfly/atheisticist, Christopher Hitchens. There's some irony (or poetic justice?) in my imitating the sullyblog in this, since apparently sullyblog and the hitch were pals.

As is often the case in his bloggings on various current events, the blogger IOZ provides the sort of biting, dark and yet shiny, brilliant prose that best captures my own sentiments (almost exactly) RE the recently deceased man. He writes about his own perspective vis-a-vis Hitchens, "As an atheist, I found him as embarrassing as my loudest aunt's impenetrable Pittsburghese, mortifying in polite company.  If the universe were just, he would wake from his passage on Kolob, basking in the angelic light of billions of perfect, white, immortal Mormon smiles."

This connects back to something I observed about a concept from Bertolt Brecht in this blog a few weeks ago – one man's heaven can be another's hell. And nothing would be more hellish for an atheisticist of Hitchens' ilk than a Mormon Kolob.

 Perhaps releated, perhaps not (you decide): what I'm listening to right now.

보천보전자악단 "우리의 《김정일》동지" [Bocheonbo Electronic Ensemble, "Our Comrade 《Kim Jeong-il》"], from the DPRK. Don't suffer under the illusion that only North Korea produces music like this. You can find very similar things on South Korean television, with merely different themes – it's thought of as old-people's music, rather like Sinatra, maybe, in the U.S.