Caveat: Affirmations

I spent a good portion of the day talking. Talking with friends, talking with my stepson, catching up on things, reflecting, verbally, on this life I've chosen for myself. Talking too much, I guess.

One thing that I always notice when I go visiting like this, is that I begin to spin stories (not fictions – I'm meaning, here, true stories, but nonetheless for all that, stories) about the "why" of what I'm doing – my abandonment of my well-paying career in computers for a peculiar, low-paid expat's life as an ESL teacher is almost as deeply puzzling to my American compatriots as it is to my Korean ones.

And the conclusions, with this transoceanic perspective, are mostly affirmational: I chose my current lifestyle with extreme care and deliberation, with the intent to solve very specific deficits in my previous life. My entire life is a carefully constructed edifice with the chief intent of helping me to find greater satisfaction and contentment and "meaning" for myself.

Well, that sounds self-congratulatory. I don't mean to. But it's true I've had many very difficult times, in the past, so I feel some sense of accomplishment in the current state of things. Nothing's perfect, and on any given day, I may be moody or discouraged or annoyed, but it's so far from the crisis-driven defeatism of years past.

Caveat: Last Minute

Dateline: Eagan, Minnesota (around 11 am, July 31).

"If you leave it to the last minute, it only takes a minute." – I read this in The Economist magazine's letters section (paper Economist, not online). Sometimes, procrastination is the best way to do things. I really have come to be at peace with my procrastinatory personality. So… I'm putting some things off.

Caveat: Parental Wisdom

"Any politician who will not show multiple year taxes may be hiding something." – George Romney.

So far I haven't felt deluged with political discourse since coming to the U.S. – but I recognize that since Minnesota is in no way a swing state, the battle is taking place elsewhere. I'm not really looking forward to it.

Caveat: 3300

3300_html_f54c3a7Everytime I leave Korea from Ilsan, I think, "I should make a video of this airport trip." Not sure why I believe that would be interesting.

So this time, last Saturday, I made the video.


It's not really that interesting. But, there it is, such as it is. I call it 3300 because that's the route number of the bus from Ilsan to the airport.

Caveat: Quality Time With My Stuff

Stuff 003I went to my storage unit and confronted my possessions. I'm not sure I need them. But I'm not ready to assume I'm permanently expatriate, yet, although I obviously have tendencies in that direction. Given that, I guess I feel there's some value in keeping it all – in convenience if not in strictly financial terms.

The stuff is in good condition – dry and musty, but full of dust and cobwebs and somewhat jumbled. It's a bit like visiting a neglected attic.

My friends and I went out to a very authentic Mexican place in a nearby strip mall – it felt like a quintessentially American experience. It's definitely one thing I miss.

Caveat: Nietzsche and the obligatory driveway photo

Dateline: Eagan, Minnesota (about 9 am, Sunday, July 29)

I was reading Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals before I left Ilsan yesterday: killing some time with one of the great time-killers of all time. In the Third Essay, Section 6, I found the following quote, which I felt compelled to write down immediately in my notebook.

Kant, like all philosophers, instead of envisaging the aesthetic problem from the point of view of the artist (the creator), considered art and the beautiful purely from that of the "spectator," and unconsciously introduced the "spectator" into the concept "beautiful." It would not have been so bad if this "spectator" had at least been sufficiently familiar to the philosophers of beauty – namely, as a great personal fact and experience, as an abundance of vivid authentic experiences, desires, surprises, and delights in the realm of the beautiful! But I fear that the reverse has always been the case; and so they have offered us, from the beginning, definitions in which, as in Kant's famous definition of the beautiful, a lack of any refined first-hand experience reposes in the shape of a fat worm of error. "That is beautiful," said Kant, "which gives us pleasure without interest." Without interest! Compare with this definition one framed by a genuine "spectator" and artist – Stendhal, who once called the beautiful une promesse de bonheur. At any rate he rejected and repudiated the one point about the aesthetic condition which Kant had stressed: le désintéressement. Who is right, Kant or Stendhal?

I've never been much of a fan of Stendhal – I never have successfully read one of his novels. But I found the above insight very interesting. I have always felt that aesthetics is central to my understanding of the world, and Neitzsche's point about seeing art and beauty from the point of view of a creator and not just a consumer seems very important. I'll think about it some more and report back later, maybe.

Meanwhile, it was a drizzly rain at dawn in Dakota County, here.

I took a rather unaesthetic picture of my rental car, a Ford with Missouri plates, in my friend's driveway, and I thought, why am I always taking pictures of cars in my friend's driveway? I think it has to do with this view from my friend's front porch as being a sort of "first real confirmation that, OMG, I'm in suburban North America again" – a snapshot of the culture-shock moment.

Driveway 001

Caveat: Lakes

Dateline: Eagan, Minnesota (10 pm Saturday)

Lakes_html_m536cd40cI saw lakes and the setting sun looking out the window as we landed at Minneapolis. I didn't take a picture. But well, I'm here.

I feel as if I've been propelled backward in time – not culture shock, but temporal shock, maybe. By living in Korea, I live in my own future. It's another planet. And when I return to the US, I return to the past. That's the way it feels. I'm not referring to the putative modernity of either Korea or the US, but just the feel of the cultural differences and my own personal relationship, such as it is, with each culture.

Caveat: The Very Long Saturday

Dateline: Los Angeles

I'm at LAX. Not visiting, yet. Just passing through, waiting for my flight to Minneapolis in a little while. I'll come back to L.A. next week.

ImagesThat was a very long and somewhat unpleasant flight. I watched two movies as I wasn't really able to sleep. The first was one called Medianeras, a rather philosphical, internetty rom-com from Argentina – yes, you can find movies like that on trans-Pacific Korean Airlines flights, nowadays, I guess. I liked it. And then I saw John Carter, which I'd been curious to see but not curious to enough to go see it, when it came out. As an interpretation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' book, it was much better than I expected. Still shallow space-action movie – but that's all the original was meant to be.

Caveat: 인천공항

Dateline: Incheon International Aiport

ImagesFree wifi has become increasingly rare as the technology has matured. It is definitely true that Korea is the land of nearly complete wifi coverage – it's available on subways, buses, in parks and everywhere. But… the issue is that more and more, you have to be signed up for one of the big telecom's data plans to avail yourself of it. I'm not. Because I still don't have a smart phone – I have a dumb phone – dumbest phone imaginable. It doesn't even have a dictionary.

OK. But here at the airport, I find a lingering bastion of free wifi. So. Hello from the airport.

My journey begins. I'm always amazed at the ease with which one can navigate Korean security and immigration. I know it will be much less pleasant on the LA end. See you soon.

Caveat: Themes-to-come

Dateline: Ilsan.

This isn't really a blog post. This is more of a draft of some thoughts swirling in my mind about some actual blog posts that I keep thinking about writing, on the topic of the hagwon biz – my current career-for-what-it's-worth.

Alienation, factory work, unbridled capitalism in the field of education.

Parents-as-consumers, children-as-products.

The importance of counseling (상담).

Reliable curriculum vs innovative curriculum. The purpose of technology: it's marketing, not pedagogy.

Defining a market – are there customers not-worth-keeping? Do all customers have the same value?

Connection to my previous career (software): recent encounters with concepts of "slow web" or "neovictorian computing".

As I said, this is not an essay. I want to write an essay, but can't seem to get around to it. But during this very hectic day, I kept thinking about it. Watching the office dynamics play out as everyone deals with a lot of stress around the now month-old merger of two very different hagwon.

[Daily log: walking, 3 km]

Caveat: Countdown

Dateline: Ilsan

In about 30 hours I'm leaving Korea to return to the US for the first time since 2009 (although I took a trip to Japan in 2010 and to Australia and New Zealand in 2011).I'm looking forward to seeing friends and family, but overall I'm still feeling much less interested in "travel," conceptually, than I used to feel – I seem to have become a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.

I'm also feeling really stressed right now with the remaining work items – grades to be determined and posted in an as yet incomprehensible computer system, and some kind of outline of the classes that my substitute teachers will have to teach. Etcetera.

I woke up scrunched into the corner – a sign of restless sleep with preoccupations.

A random picture – because otherwise when my blog cross-posts to facebook some default picture shows up the selection of which I have no control over.


Mad River Beach, Arcata, 2007. Caveat: this is not to imply that my upcoming travel will include Humboldt.

Caveat: Invective!

My TP2 class was in high spirits. Two of them were arguing. They slipped between Korean and English.

One student said of another, "He said invective to me!"

"Invective!" the other said.

"See? Abuse. Abuse. Oh, he is not kind."

What was funny was that what he was saying was literally just "invective" (and I think words in the vein of "욕설" [yokseol] which mean "abuse, invective"). This is "meta" language – he wasn't actually uttering abusive language, he was just uttering pointers to abusive language. This was weirdly clever and strange to see played out.

[Daily log: walking, 3 km]


Caveat: Woful Ere

Youth and Age
Verse, a breeze 'mid blossoms straying,     
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee—     
Both were mine! Life went a-maying     
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,     
                            When I was young!
When I was young?—Ah, woful When!     
Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then!     
This breathing house not built with hands,     
This body that does me grievous wrong,     
O'er aery cliffs and glittering sands,
How lightly then it flash'd along—     
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,     
On winding lakes and rivers wide,     
That ask no aid of sail or oar,     
That fear no spite of wind or tide!
Naught cared this body for wind or weather     
When Youth and I lived in 't together.     
Flowers are lovely! Love is flower-like;     
Friendship is a sheltering tree;     
O the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,     
                            Ere I was old!     
Ere I was old? Ah, woful Ere,     
Which tells me, Youth 's no longer here!     
O Youth! for years so many and sweet,
'Tis known that thou and I were one;     
I'll think it but a fond conceit—     
It cannot be that thou art gone!     
Thy vesper-bell hath not yet toll'd—     
And thou wert aye a masker bold!
What strange disguise hast now put on,     
To make believe that thou art gone?     
I see these locks in silvery slips,     
This drooping gait, this alter'd size:     
But springtide blossoms on thy lips,
And tears take sunshine from thine eyes!     
Life is but thought: so think I will     
That Youth and I are housemates still.     
Dewdrops are the gems of morning,     
But the tears of mournful eve!
Where no hope is, life 's a warning
That only serves to make us grieve,
                            When we are old!
That only serves to make us grieve
With oft and tedious taking-leave,
Like some poor nigh-related guest
That may not rudely be dismist.
Yet hath outstay'd his welcome while,     
And tells the jest without the smile.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1823

He wrote this when he was about my age (a few years older). It struck a chord in me, I guess, just now. Loudly.

The best part: "Life is but thought: so think I will / That Youth and I are housemates still." I just wish my housemate would do his share of the chores, sometimes.


Caveat: Dreaming Anthropology

I had a very strange dream in the pre-dawn, this morning. I haven't been having memorable dreams, much, lately, but this one lingered for a long time after I woke up, and so I jotted a few lines about it.

I was living, like a field-linguist or field-anthropologist, among some very low-tech people in some kind of alternate universe where Korea was an isolated and utterly undevoloped country. I was with two old women sitting on the stoop of a pre-Western-contact thatch-roofed hut, and they were "teaching" me to eat manioc – that's what it was specifically called in the dream (in my mind, in the dream, if that makes sense – the women were speaking a Korean that I couldn't actually understand, and manioc is not a part of the Korean traditional diet, being from South America). Manioc is also called cassava, and yuca, and I remember eating it quite a bit when traveling in Central America, where it most definitely is part of the traditional diet. The women on the stoop of the house resembled Central Americans in other ways, too, perhaps.

It was a very slow-moving dream-time. The women chewed bits of manioc, and then would insist that I eat the pre-chewed bits of it. Then they taught me to chew a bit and pass it to them. This had some ritualistic purpose, but I kept trying to figure out how such a ritual could have developed. I wasn't really repulsed by it, but I was thinking "now I'm really integrated to their community – sharing spit like this." Yes, that was my thought, in the dream.

And I had this notepad where I was trying to write down in hangeul the various vocabulary items they used that I could understand. That's maybe more verisimilitudinous. One of the old women was clearly irritated with my note-taking. She kept gentlly pushing the pad away, and insisting that I chew more manioc. I wasn't really enjoying the taste of it, though. And they had these pickled radishes. These are more typical Korean cuisine. They tasted better, too. I reached for one with some chopsticks and the other woman got angry. She spit out the manioc on the ground told me to eat it. Pointing at it.

I woke up.

Dreams are weird.