Caveat: Cubicleism

I have always had a special interest in what I think of as ephemeral visual-arts media: sandcastles, doodles, graffiti, etc…. and now, office whiteboards. Seeing Bill Taylor's cubicle whiteboard art almost makes me wish I worked in a cubicle, again. I say, almost. Maybe I should just buy a whiteboard for my apartment, instead. He draws these things on the whiteboard in his cubicle at work – a month or more for each one, during his spare time.

Bill Taylor, imitating Picasso's "Guenica," whiteboard and dry-erase marker.

Caveat: 많은 눈이 왔어요

By Minnesota standards, an inch or two isn’t much snow, but by Seoul standards it’s pretty signifcant. It snowed today while I was at work. It was beautiful walking home, the ground crunching, the air clean-smelling and cold.

Here’s a view from a classroom window at work.

Window 001


I felt good about work today.

What I’m listening to right now.

Cat Stevens, “Sad Lisa.” Something that recalls my adolsescence.

Caveat: Thinking Too Much

Several long-time teachers are leaving Karma Academy this week. Yesterday was Lena's last day, and she gave a small simple gift of a can of Starbucks coffee. There was a little note attached, and it said, "I was happy to work with you. Take care! P.S. Don't think too much." This last P.S. was funny – it's weird how even people who don't know me very well, and across cultural barriers, nevertheless seem to understand my neverending, utterly fundamental character defect. I was flattered to be so transparent, maybe.

Last night, we had hwehshik (business dinner+drink), but I'm trying so hard to not drink alcohol, which makes me a definite killjoy in the Korean cultural context at events of this sort. I tend to just sit very quietly and listen to the conversation and banter, viewing it as an extended listening comprehension exercise in the Korean language. Sometimes I can earn some respect and/or surprise from my coworkers by interjecting some short comment or question, generally in English, that's appropriate to the current topic – which shows that I'm understanding, at least sometimes.

Well, I always come away frustrated and slightly depressed after these things – because I refuse to drink because of my health (and because I'm such a depressed, unhappy drunk), and that makes my coworkers see me as "too serious" and strange, and that makes me mad that I can't just be taken at face value. Sigh.

Life goes on.

Caveat: 똥먹었다

Here follows an actual conversation with one of my favorite seven year old students:

“Hi. How are you?”

“I’m happy!”

“Good. What are you doing?”

“Water. 물.” He was translating – for himself, or to make sure he was getting the right word with me. He was standing at the water cooler, putting water in one of those envelope-shaped paper cups. Children seem to find drinking water this way endlessly entertaining.

“Did you have a good weekend?”


“Good. What did you do?” I was going out on a limb in asking this question, because it was somewhat beyond little Jinyong’s level of English ability.

Without hesitation, and with a straight face, he answered, “똥먹었다!” As cheerful and as pleased as can be.

I burst out laughing. You see, “똥먹었다” means “I ate shit.” Seriously.

On the one hand, I was very proud of the kid – he’d understood a question I hadn’t expected him to (past tense, open-ended), and answered it (although in Korean) with communicative competence. The whole conversation showed a higher level of comprehension than I’d expected from him – he’s probably my lowest ability student. So I felt proud.

At the same time, it was a rather disgusting answer. He’s what you might call a potty-mouthed kid. He’s a Korean version of a character from South Park. So his answer wasn’t exactly unprecedented. It was funny.

I was laughing too much to continue the conversation. And I unintentionally reinforced his disgusting sense of humor by laughing at his statement. Ah well. Life goes on.

Caveat: 백지장도 맞들면 낫다

백지장도           맞들면               낫다

blank-sheet-EVEN lift-up-together-IF improve
Even a blank sheet [of paper], if lifted together [as a team], [things] improve.

Wow that was difficult! Why do I even try these proverbs. The key to making sense of this was understanding the verb 맞들다, which seems to mean “lift up together, join forces, cooperate as a team.” But even then, the syntax seemed fragmentary, missing too many elements.  The proverb-to-proverb translation would be “Two heads are better than one.”

I had to cheat in order to make sense of this. My first draft, pre-cheat, was “if one hundred hinderances are tasty, things improve.” I thought it might be something weirdly Buddhist. I had carelessly mis-read (and mis-re-typed into the dictionary) the subordinate verb as 맛들다 [to be tasty, to become delicious], which would have the same pronunciation as 맞들다, but a slightly different spelling. And I had mis-parsed the noun phrase at the beginning as 백-지장 instead of 백지-장, hence the “one hundred hinderances” – but I’d made a mistake too, since that’s not really accurate given the need for a COUNTER particle if you’re going to count things.

Caveat: 22 años de soledad

Music and experience become intertwined. This is the principle of one´s life having a "soundtrack."

22 years ago, on a late January day, I finished reading the last chapter of Gabriel García Márquez´s Cien años de soledad. I was living in St. Paul, Minnesota, and it was bleak and white and snowy outside. I was listening to Peter Gabriel´s So album, and the song "Mercy Street" was playing as I read the last paragraphs of the novel. As a consequence, whenever I hear that song, even these many, many years later, I am thrust back into the dissolution of the world at the end of that novel, despite the fact that the song and novel bear only a distant thematic relation – perhaps something on the axis of dreaming and perception and subjectivity.

What I´m listening to right now.

Peter Gabriel´s "Mercy Street," in point of fact, is dedicated to the poet Anne Sexton, and treats some aspects of her biography. Here are the lyrics.

looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made solid
are the dreams all made real
all of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody's head
she pictures the broken glass, she pictures the steam
she pictures a soul
with no leak at the seam
let's take the boat out…
…wait until darkness
let's take the boat out…
…wait until darkness comes
nowhere in the corridors of pale green and grey
nowhere in the suburbs
in the cold light of day
there in the midst of it so alive and alone
words support like bone
dreaming of Mercy Street
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms again
dreaming of mercy st.
…swear they moved that sign
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms
pulling out the papers from the drawers that slide smooth
tugging at the darkness, word upon word
confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box
to the priest – he's the doctor
he can handle the shocks
dreaming of the tenderness – the tremble in the hips
of kissing Mary's lips
dreaming of Mercy Street
wear your insides out
dreaming of mercy
in your daddy's arms again
dreaming of mercy st.
…swear they moved that sign
looking for mercy
in your daddy's arms
mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
mercy, mercy, looking for mercy
Anne, with her father is out in the boat
riding the water
riding the waves on the sea.

Caveat: 바지락

바지락 [ba-ji-rak] is a small clam. Koreans love seafood, and I've been getting adventurous with the instant-foods aisle in the supermarket (see e.g. my recent post on nurungji). So I bought some ramen-looking stuff (that also claims to be lo-calorie and not fried – "notfrying" in English on the label) that was called 바지락. Last night, when I opened the package, I was surprised to find some actual vacuum-packed clams! And it cooked up pretty delicious.

Here's a tear-down (i.e. pictures).

Clam 005 Clam 007










I'm not going to make any assertions or assumptions about healthfulness – I'm sure it's packed with preservatives and MSG and who knows what else. But it was nevertheless pretty tasty. Clam 011

Caveat: Authenticity

The blogger IOZ is such a talented writer that I enjoy reading what he writes even when I don't necessarily agree with the sentiment. In a recent, broader discussion of Obama's rhetorical style and the recent State of the Union Speech, he says, "What, after all, is authenticity but the habituation of the self to its own autobiographical invention?"

That's such a brilliant, memorable line. It's going on my list of favorite quotes, thusly decontextualized.

Caveat: Opposite World

My student Jeongjae wrote this as a speech about a trip to an imaginary place. I like it. He's an interesting student. His writing is unedited, below – I have corrected nothing. Not perfect, of course, but I think for a 6th grader he does pretty well.

ImagesI went to an opposite world. It looked complicated, funny and horrible, because everything in the world was opposite to Earth.

I will introduce my experience in an opposite world. First, it was funny. A mouse was giving pain to a cat like Tom& Jerry and penguin was walking in a desert and flying through the air. Second, it was good for students. The students were teaching teachers and giving a lot of homework. 

teachers were crying because of a lot of homework, but every teachers studied hard. Third, it was good for kids. Every animation chracter and game chracter was living with people and  the animals were walking like people. The greatest thing is the president was Pororo, every citizen liked the president. Finally, it was good for everyone. All things were free and they didn't have war, so an opposite world's citizen liked to live in this world.


Caveat: iye qa iyohi Dakota wicoie waste

There's not much in the way of Dakota-Lakota langauge material on the internet. Dakota and Lakota are two closely-related dialects of the Sioux Native American language. Somewhat confusingly, the Lakota dialect is what is spoken in the Dakotas, while the Dakota dialect is spoken in Minnesota and Manitoba.

I studied the Dakota language while living in Minneapolis in the early 1990's, during one of (one of ?) my "strange languages" phases. I really like the language. As an "active" speaker I can't do much with, but I can still recognize verb conjugations and some basic vocabulary when I see it. During my Lunar New Year time off I was surfing the internet looking for random things, and I took a moment to wonder if anyone, anywhere, had posted some Dakota Language poetry.

The below is the only thing I found in that vein. It was written by someone named John Hunt Peacock, Jr., a few years ago. He has been learning Dakota as a way to get in touch with his own cultural roots. Finding written materials in the language is hard – there are only a few thousand speakers in the world. He learned his language from the Dakota Bible and other Christian materials in the language, but he feels ambivalent about Christianity.

The poem is quite brutal in its assessment of the Christian legacy provided by the European Americans. He is both glad there is a Dakota language Bible, and bitter about the fact that that Bible was used to justify the mistreatment and dispossession of his people ("the cross of the Dakota culture's crucifixion," he writes). He asks how he could possibly be Christian.


Miye ca wowinape un wati, wowapi ska akan,
Iyuieskapi topa dena —
Dakota Wowapi Wakan Kin,
Wocekiye Ikceka Wowapi Kin,
Mahpiya Oicimani Yapi Kin,
Sina Sapa Wowinwange —
icipahyapi okatanpi wan Dakota wicohan yapi,
Dakota iapi kin nipi, wotanin waste dena kapi.
Wowapi woyakapi, toked wakiye sni,
kais wawihingyapi sica, caje un econpi,
Miye ca, wicoie ed otokahe ekta wicoie heca,
Wan iye qa iyohi Dakota wicoie waste!


To me, living in exile on this white page,
these four translations —
the Dakota Bible,
Book of Common prayer,
"Pilgrim's Progress",
and Catholic Catechism —
once the cross of Dakota culture's crucifixion,
have become the gospel of the resurrected Dakota language.
I don't care what these books say or mean,
or what atrocities are stll committed in their name.
To me, in the beginning was the word,
and the word,
each and every Dakota word,
was good!

I don't know who this image should be attributed to – I found it here (a photographer's blog, who in turn attributes it to this website). It's pretty cool, though.


Caveat: Corn

I made home-made tortillas again today, using the masa harina my mom mailed me from Australia – I like  that masa basically keeps forever in a well-sealed container. Unlike most "foreign foods," Mexican-style masa harina isn't to be found in even the most obscure Korean specialty store, because of two contradictory facts: a) there's no market for corn flour, and b) masa harina is viewed by the government as nothing different than corn-meal (which is easily found), but corn-meal is a "raw food product" and therefore require a domestic manufacturer – which would require a market see a).

Anyway,  made-in-the-USA masa harina can be bought in Queensland, Australia, food stores, and so my mother mailed me some after I visited her last year (it was about one year ago this week, in fact).

I press the tortillas flat with a plate, using some ziploc baggies as a non-stick surface. Then I cook them in a heated frying pan with no oil. They're pure corn flour. Much healthier than store-bought ones.

It's possible to buy frozen, US store-style tortillas in places like Costco, here, but I really don't like those. Fresh, warm, home-made tortillas are awesome. I can't make folded tortillas (i.e. tacos) with them, because, being hand-pressed, they're a little too fat and brittle for that. Actually, they're almost more like Central American pupusas. I put cheese or beans or rice or mushrooms on them. They're delicious.

Corn 002

Caveat: 귀천

The below is apparently a very famous poem in Korea. I find it notable that the author was imprisoned and tortured by the dictatorship in the 1960’s.

귀천 / 천상병 

나 하늘로 돌아가리라.
새벽빛 와 닿으면 스러지는
이슬 더불어 손에 손을 잡고,

나 하늘로 돌아가리라.
노을빛 함께 단 둘이서
기슭에서 놀다가 구름 손짓하면은,

나 하늘로 돌아가리라.
아름다운 이 세상 소풍 끝내는 날,
가서, 아름다웠더라고 말하리라…..


Back to Heaven
by Cheon Sang-Byeong

I’ll go back to heaven again.
Hand in hand with the dew
that melts at a touch of the dawning day,

I’ll go back to heaven again.
With the dusk, together, just we two,
at a sign from a cloud after playing on the slopes

I’ll go back to heaven again.
At the end of my outing to this beautiful world
I’ll go back and say: It was beautiful. . . .

(translation by someone who goes by “Brother Anthony“)

I took the picture below in April, 2010. Somewhere near Gwangju.




Caveat: 새해 복 많이 받으세요

Today is 설날 (Lunar New Year, inappropriately called “Chinese New Year” in the West).

So… “may your lunar year be as wonderful and exciting and productive as the solar one you started a few weeks ago!” I guess it all depends on the moon, right?

I just can’t wait for the Mayan New Year. It’s supposed to be extra special, this year. Hehehe. Um. Just kidding.


I’m having a kind of boring day off. I’m so burned out on traveling places, lately. I’m just a dull homebody. It seems so cold and desolate outside, on the holiday. Like I woke up inside a dream, this morning.

I made some pasta and have been watching movies and listening to music.

What I’m listening to right now.

oOoOO, “Burnout Eyes.” What a great name for a band. What a great name for a band.

Caveat: Trips Up North

FiremanThis is reminiscence (which is to say, I don't mean a trip up to North Korea, a half-hour drive from here).

Lately, for some reason, I keep thinking of camping trips to northern Minnesota. It was an old, old tradition among my certain circle of friends, and camping trips to northern Minnesota and Upper Michigan were also a significant aspect of Michelle's and my relationship.

In a related vein, I ran across a very old and somewhat embarrassing picture of me, possibly from the late 1980's or early 90's, standing in a campfire somewhere close to Hibbing, I would guess. It's pretty funny.

Why do I post these things? Let's just call it the spirit of full disclosure… 

So, sometimes when we drove to Hibbing or Duluth or the UP, we'd stop and camp at Banning State Park, which is just off I35, pert' near Sandstone, along the kettle river.


What I'm listening to right now (nice segue, huh?).

Pert Near Sandstone, "Save Me." Minnesota bluegrass. An interesting genre.

Caveat: Less

This is comedy. Or maybe not. Painful, if it's comedy.

I think I should have less stuff. I've given up owning a car. I live in a 200 sq ft apartment, fairly contentedly. But I still have a storage unit in Minnesota with 5000 books and assorted furniture. I still have more clothes than I wear. I still have 2 (and a half) computers.

Simplify. Keep simplifying.

Here's something from TED, on a similar theme. I'm not entirely impressed with it – its default starting point is a  level of consumption I never actually reached in my life. But the same point can be recursively applied, and should be recursively applied, relentlessly.

Below is a picture I took in June 2010. Just because I want to put a picture.