Caveat: Ten Miles From Crazy

I've gotten some messages from people I know, in the vein of "Are you OK?" recently, because of all the wacky threatening and counter-threatening that's been going on here in the Korean peninsula. A lot of people in North America or other distant places don't really understand just how "same as usual" this type of thing is. So just to reiterate: I'm fine.

I live exactly 10 miles, as a crow flies, from North Korea. I checked it out on google maps. But if I didn't look at the news, I'd never know there was a problem. It literally seems to have zero impact on my day-to-day life. If push comes to shove and things go crazy, they will probably go crazy really fast. But if that happens, I'll figure it's about the same as an earthquake or tornado or some other natural disaster. Most Koreans I know look at it that way: it's not something they can control, and it's just a hazard of living here. Just in exactly the same way that living in San Francisco means you have in the back of your mind that there might be a giant earthquake someday, or living in Oklahoma means you have to imagine there might be a tornado at some point.

I know I've written about this before. Probably exactly in the same way – This Here Blog Thingy™ is getting a bit long in tooth – in the blogular timescale of things – and so repetition may become inevitable. But anyway, don't worry. Unless you like to worry about earthquakes and tornados, too.

What I'm listening to right now.

Sixto Rodriguez, "Cause."

 

Caveat: Tláloc


Tlalocaus_44_04_2TLÁLOC

Sucede
Que me canso
De ser Dios
Sucede
Que me canso
De llover
Sobre mojado

Sucede
Que aquí
Nada sucede
Sino la  lluvia
            lluvia
            lluvia
            lluvia

– Efraín Huerta, 21 de agosto de 1969

Huerta fue un gran poeta mexicano. Fue uno de los primeros poetas que leí en español.

Tláloc es el nombre náhuatl del dios azteca de la lluvia y de los lagos y ríos.

Me gusta también este otro poema, aún más corto, sobre el revolucionario argentino, Ernesto "Che" Guevara .

CHE

Para Eugenia Huerta

En
La
Calle
Deben
Pasar
Cosas
Extraordinarias

Por
Ejemplo
La
    REVOLUCIÓN

Caveat: 말이야 좋지

말이야       좋지
word-CONTR good-SUSP
Words are good [but…]

I understand this almost perfectly but I'm just as almost clueless how to understand the grammar of it.

It's not really a complete sentence – the "-지" ending on the verb stem "좋" is what I think of as a contingent negative, a sort of non-finite subjunctive or something like that (in saying that, I don't mean to offer some alternative interpretation to the formal linguistic description – e.g. Martin calls it a "suspective" ending, but that term [like most of Martin's] seems rather misleading [or limiting] about usage). So you could read the verb as "I suppose it's good" and then you add the contrastive "-이야" on the noun "말" which means all kinds of things, but mostly "words."

So eventually you get something like "Sure, words are good, but…"

In fact, this phrase basically seems to mean: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Caveat: An amalgam of sorrows

What I'm listening to right now.

Assemblage 23, "Damaged."

This song explains why I'm single.

Lyrics.

I am merely the product
Of the life that I've lived
An amalgam of sorrows
And the wisdom they give
But the weight has grown heavy
And its dragging me down
It's so hard not to sink now
But I don't want to drown

(CHORUS)
I'm damaged
But somehow I've managed
This far
But I don't know if I can find my way back home
I'm damaged
But somehow I've managed
For now
But I don't think I can face this on my own

There is beauty in hardship
There are poems in grief
There are trials we must go through
Though they may shake our beliefs

But I don't know how I got here
Lost in the cynical dusk
Set adrift in the worry
That I've no one to trust

(CHORUS)
I'm damaged
But somehow I've managed
This far
But I don't know if I can find my way back home
I'm damaged
But somehow I've managed
For now
But I don't think I can face this on my own

If to suffer is holy
I'll take my share of the pain
I can swim through this sadness
If there's something to gain

I can reach for the surface
And try to pull myself free
But the last thing I want is
To drag you down here with me

(CHORUS)
I'm damaged
But somehow I've managed
This far
But I don't know if I can find my way back home
I'm damaged
But somehow I've managed
For now
But I don't think I can face this on my own

Caveat: Bad

"All the other classes are playing. Last day of month." Kevin had an expression halfway between offended and desperate. "It's not fair."

Jinu, in the front row, squirmed his discomfort, and tried to peer out the classroom door, down the hall, toward these other classes allegedly playing.

"Fair?" I asked. "This class really hasn't earned play time," I said. This went over most of the kids' heads – earn isn't a word they've likely learned yet. I tried to simplify. "You're a bad class. Bad!" I said this with a little too much conviction. They shrank back in their seats.

"OK, then, where were we?"

What I'm listening to right now.

Gary Wright, "Dream Weaver" (1975).

 

Caveat: 기대가 크면 실망도 크다

기대가             크면      실망도               크다
expectation-SUBJ be-big-IF disappointment-TOO be-big
If expectation is big then disappointment is big.

"Big hopes lead to big disappointments." This was easier than most of the proverbs I've attempted lately. The grammar was pretty straightforward and the vocabulary was basic.

I can relate to this proverb.

Caveat: Hello! and Enormous Turnips!

Hello 004

With my second graders, we were going to do a play based on the story about The Enormous Turnip, with some musical bits, based on a script in our text, but the kids found the script too hard to memorize and disliked the costumes too. Furthermore, there were five characters but only three students. So we did a "dramatic reading" instead. I think they did fine. I'm happy with them and they are very cute.



The picture at the top was drawn by one of the girls in the play. She did it freehand and presented it to me, saying "Hello!" She's a pretty good artist.

Caveat: Harping on Consistency

I think one of the issues I've had with the hagwon business as I've experienced it is the utter disregard for genuine consistency in how rules are applied to students or parents alike. Or worse, the utter lack of rules. It's about relationships but everything is therefore subjective and unpredictable to someone "not in the loop." I guess there's nothing wrong with trying to have a personal relationship with each of your customers, but it makes for an unscalable business model on the one hand, and it makes for unpredictable quality of outcomes on the other. I get really tired of the line "well, for this student, do this way, because her mom wants that, but for this other student, do this other way, because his mom wants that other way." Some students stay late when they don't do their homework; for others it's forbidden. Some get "level up" even though their test scores are inadequate; others stay behind despite better scores. Some get special schedules: "little Haneul only comes on Monday's and Fridays, so you have to remember to tell her about the Wednesday homework."

This comes about in part because of all these personal relationships. But… there's no one tracking it all. It's not in any system that anyone has ever told me about. It's utterly unpredictable and unscalable. And ultimately, I think it leads to poor quality outcomes.

The end result is that you're not able to track your progress as an institution, you're not able to compare one student to another because they're all being treated differently. I have nothing against providing personalized attention and even bespoke curricula to students. But at some point, there has to be an objective standard: where are we trying to get this student, ultimately? What constitutes acceptable progress, and if the student isn't meeting benchmarks of progress, what should our response be? It's quite telling that I'm not even able to have this conversation with my coworkers, much less get any kind of answer. They are befuddled that it should concern me. The only thing that matters is: will the student continue to enroll at our hagwon? That's putting the cart before the horse… provide a quality education to your students, then customers (parents) will recognize that, and they will continue to enroll.

My boss has an ambition to be a successful
businessman. I know that he thinks highly of an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs – he somewhat idolizes him. In light of this, I'd like to make an observation about Jobs' business style, as I've understood it. Steve Jobs
never seemed worried about how much market share he was getting. Until
recently, Apple was always a "minority" product – a niche. Jobs would
identify a niche market at the "top end" and focus on quality,
consistency and attention-to-detail. He never worried about who was
interested in his product. He was happy to turn away customers who were
not interested in his product. He was happy to tell customers to go buy the competition if he wasn't meeting their needs. That created an elite and clubby feel to his niche, and conveyed an image of extremely
high quality, which may or may not have been really accurate. I think that kind of strategy can be successful in a Korean for-profit hagwon,
too. It's a similarly fragmented and commodified market, despite the huge differences. Don't try to be every thing to every customer. That's impossible.
Decide what students you want to teach, decide what kinds of parents you
want to work for, and stick with them. Never be afraid to say "I'm
sorry, but this hagwon is NOT a good place for what you want. Please
shop somewhere else." There are many parents and students who might be
too expensive – in both time and effort – to match what you can offer.

There a
many niches in the English hagwon market. Choose ONE. Only ONE. Then… do it better than
anyone else.

Caveat: 부전자전 (父傳子傳)

부전자전 (父傳子傳)
father-transmission-son-transmission
… transmission from father to son.

"Like father like son." This is another one of those "actually it's Chinese-not-Korean" proverbs I've been running across. A Chinese proverb nativized into Korean in toto. Just like Latin fossils persist in English, e.g. "in toto." This one, according to the dictionary, can even be made into a verb: just put the good ol' -하다 on the whole thing, and it's a verb meaning to transmit from father to son. I like that.

I'm more like my father than I prefer. I'm a bit of a flake – not very reliable. Further, I tend to not reach out or communicate with people. This is clearly a trait of both my parents, but more my father than my mother in style and mode.

Caveat: Dunes

What I'm listening to right now.

PldunesCat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), "Lilywhite."

This song makes me remember my years living at my then-stepfather's on the edge the Arcata bottomland, in the late 1970's when I was young adolescent. The property backed onto the Lanphere-Christensen Dunes preserve (which is his half-namesake). I would explore the dunes on my own on rainy days when no one else wanted to be out there. I would sit in my room and read Ursula LeGuin novels, listening to the rain on the metal roof and playing Cat Stevens.

Caveat: Cronus and Casanova Walk Into a Hagwon Named Karma. . .

In the non-stop laugh-fest called the BISP1-M 반 class on the elementary side, we were attempting to read a painfully bowdlerized version of the Greek myth of how Zeus came back and killed Kronos. It's surprising the extent to which certain rarefied aspects of Western mythology permeate Korean pop culture – apparently, most of the kids already knew this story. There may be some song or video or "gag show" comic routine involved in their knowledge of this, but a truly bizarre moment came when, as I was explaining the bizarre facts of the Zeus myth, a fifth grader named Kevin burst out in song. I'm not familiar with the song.

I was talking about how strange it is that when Zeus give the poison to his dad, Kronos, the old man proceeds to vomit up his other children, whom he'd eaten earlier in the story. I'm miming the act of vomiting for the kids, since it's not a well-known vocabulary item. And fifth graders being fifth graders,  this is profoundly entertaining, in a way few other things can be. So we're having fun. And then, right as I say, "and they're not even babies!" (talking about how the eaten children that Kronos vomits up are now grown-up siblings), a boy named Kevin croons, "Ahhh, Ohh, Casanovaaa!"

Huh wuh?  Casanova? How's he fit in this story? One of the girls yells out, "Zeus was a Casanova!"

Well. I guess they know this story already. "Not really a normal Casanova," I try to amend. But it's really too late – they are all dissolving in tears of giggles. And that's how the class ended.

As a kind of nerdly incidental, I would like to point out that it is speculatively believed by many Indo-Europeanists that the Greek name Kronos and the Sanskrit "karma" share a common etymology, a sort of "cutting" or "inscription."

Caveat: Cha

I said to my student, "Whatcha doin?"

He shrugged.

"Do you understand my question?" I asked. He was a fairly advanced student.

He shook his head.

I slowed it down, but I deliberately retained the phonological contractions, because I had an intuition as to the problem, and I was curious. "What cha doin?" I repeated. I was turning it into a lesson.

There was a long pause. Then he asked, "What is 'cha'?" He was perplexed.

Indeed. Here's the thing: he's not a beginning student. If ever there was a sign that the kids need more interaction with native speakers, this was it.

Caveat: 절반의 성공

절반의     성공
half-GEN success
[…like] half of success.

"You're halfway!" "See the cup as half-full, not as half empty." I'm think this proverb is meant in this vein, like as a way of encouraging people. But I could be misunderstanding it, and it might mean "Not worth the effort." I have no idea. Then again, it might be neutral in meaning, indicating you could look at it either way.

Given my own pessimistic tendencies, I should take this kind of thinking more to heart. I'm much better at being optimistic toward others than I am toward myself.

 

Caveat: Fences

"You mustn’t believe in your own religion; I don’t believe in mine. Religions are like the fences that hold young saplings erect. Without the fence the sapling could fall over. When it takes firm root and becomes a tree, the fence is no longer needed. However, most people never lose their need for the fence." – Swami Muktananda

Caveat: Gotta go, buffalo

I want to build a lesson plan around this "Good-Bye Poem." It's a composite of several versions I have found. I'm sure there are many variations.

The Good-Bye Poem


Alligators5fa46b6849b46c7751d902ebd9146360See you later, alligator!

After a while, crocodile!
In an hour, sunflower!
Maybe two, kangaroo!
Gotta go, buffalo!
Adios, hippos!
Ciao, ciao, brown cow!
See you soon, baboon!
Adieu, cockatoo!
Better swish, jellyfish.
Chop, chop, lollipop.
Gotta run, skeleton!
Bye-bye, butterfly!
Better shake, rattle snake.
Give a hug, ladybug!
Blow a kiss, goldfish!
Take care, polar bear!
Our school day now ends.
So, good-bye, good friends!

I could see making the lesson for my lowest level (1st and 2nd graders) all the way up to my most advanced (e.g. my current "poetry" unit with my 9th graders).

Caveat: alone in austere emeraldry

The Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has passed away. I vividly recall reading his novel Things Fall Apart – it was something assigned in a university class of some kind, but it had an impact on me, and I returned to it and reread it many years later and it will pop into my mind sometimes. It's a great book.

I always felt some ambivalence about Achebe as a personality (as opposed as an author) because, like so many great authors from poor, post-colonial countries, he seemed to exist mostly in Europe and the US. I'm thinking in terms of the great Latin Americans whom I loved reading so much, but all of whom were living lives as academics in US universities: Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende. Achebe was the same – he lived in New York and New England for most of the second half of his long life [UPDATE: shortly after posting this I ran across a very interesting meditation on Achebe that pursues this aspect in depth – it's not at all flattering to one's perception of Achebe, however].

I don't mean this despectively. It is simply a reality that talented writers will gravitate to places where they can be well paid for their talents. But it creates a certain ambivalence vis-a-vis their having crafted  narratives critical of colonialism and neocolonialism.

… enough of uncharitable ranting.

What's undeniable is that Achebe was a great writer – one of the greatest of the 20th century.

A poem of his:

Pine Tree in Spring

(for Leon Damas)

Pine tree
flag bearer
of green memory
across the breach of a desolate hour

Loyal tree
that stood guard
alone in austere emeraldry
over Nature’s recumbent standard

Pine tree
lost now in the shade
of traitors decked out flamboyantly
marching back unabashed to the colors they betrayed

Fine tree
erect and trustworthy
what school can teach me
your silent, stubborn fidelity?