Caveat: My Canadian Bacon Implant

CanadianbaconI'm going to be honest: it's really pretty gross.

Don't scroll down and don't read this post if you are easily grossed out. This is about my wrist, which was the "donor" spot for the material that was used to reconstruct my tongue after the tumor was removed.

The irony, of course, is that a major portion of that tongue reconstruction was lost due to the infection I suffered post-surgery in the hospital. The fact that I have retained a fully functional if somewhat truncated tongue is mostly attributable to my obstinacy and linguistic obsession, so-to-speak. At least one portion of the reconstruction I literally swallowed one day, hardly noticing it, after the second surgery cut it off and left it like a hanging useless bit with nothing to do. I think of my original forearm-sourced donor flesh, only about 10% remains at the root of my tongue – unless I have misunderstood the doctors.

Those same doctors insist, however, that the transplantation, though not entirely successful, was still utterly necessary – as it gave my tongue a critical period when I could "retrain" it to stay straight and forward-pointed in my mouth. Otherwise, it may have healed curled into a knot at the back of my mouth and I would have lost a major portion of my function. I'm inclined to give the whole thing the benefit of the doubt, but recovering my forearm functionality is now a major obsession of mine.

My wrist seems to be healing well, though. Last night, I slept with no bandage on it, for the first time. I woke up with a sprinkling of scab-detritus around me but the wound itself remained solidly closed and fine. I've had no infection problems whatsoever at the wrist spot, and it causes only minor discomfort, more due to the severed nerves than due to any actual pain.

But looking at it is difficult. I may never feel entirely comfortable with it out in public – as Andrew remarked while I was still in the hospital, it looks like a small but vicious sharkbite scar.

Frankly, I think it looks like I received an implant made of Canadian bacon in my wrist, that was then crafted through clever scarification to look like a helium balloon floating away in the air. When I look at it, I think of ham.

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Caveat: faux-Victorian wooden space station quest

The dream that I was struggling with as I woke up this morning was not very narrative in structure, more episodic but repetitive. The below is a summary of something that in the dream was more circular.

Andrew and I had ended up wandering around some large underground space (which bears relation to some of our explorations in Seoul yesterday), but I became convinced we were in a space station. Yet, for a space station, or for an underground mall, it was quite strange. Everything was wood, like the interior of a restored wooden faux-Victorian shopping mall – all high ceilings, high Belle Epoque stained glass, wooden floors, balconies and balustrades.

Although the place was very finely  wrought and beautiful, it was overlain by decay and disorder. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of squatters living in the various rooms and halls. There were sleeping bags and tents set up, like an Occupy encampment, and there was IT equipment everywhere, just scattered: racks of servers, racks of routers, wires laid out willy-nilly on the floor. Hippies sat cross-legged with laptops, and would reach out and grab a dangling ethernet cable.

Andrew and I were searching for my Great Aunt Mildred (my mother's mother's sister). Andrew never knew "Aunt Mid" – she's not on his side of the family (recall that Andrew is my half-brother, so his maternal relatives are not the same as my maternal relatives). I was quite close to my Aunt Mid before she died in the early 90s, in a strange way. We shared a passion for left-leaning politics and academic-style speculative sociology, and we had exchanged long series of letters at various times on various topics.

I wasn't sure why we were looking for her, because even inside the dream, I already knew she was dead. At some point, because of this, we shifted the focus of our search to finding our sister.  We were wandering in and out of the maze of interconnected rooms, brilliant with sunlight shining through high windows and glimpses of dark space, too.

I would ask, "Have you seen my sister?" of various random old men eating bowls of rice or hippy children chanting songs in circles.

Suddenly this woman presented herself, very solicitous and manipulative. She was short but she was quite fat, and had a round, Caucasian face with close-cropped gray hair, like a Buddhist nun. Definitely NOT my sister.

"Who are you?" Andrew asked.

"Why, I'm your sister," she said, nonchalantly. She was trying to get us to go through this doorway. The room beyond was dark. Andrew was very sceptical, and was pulling away. I was following along, not out of trust but more a kind of curiosity.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"Trust me," she said, but there was something disingenuous in her smile.

The whole situation played out again, with slight variations. And again.

Eventually, I woke up.

Caveat: борщ

I want to prevent my brother from growing too bored while he visits. Plus, I have been craving Russian food from my favorite Russian-food restaurant for a long time – well before the diagnosis.

So we took the subway into Seoul and walked to the neighborhood I call Russiatown, near Dongdaemun. Andrew is even more of a Russophile than I am, so I thought he would enjoy this.

This is the restaurant.

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It's changed names several times over the years, but they always have the same borshcht recipe, which is delicious.

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I also ordered a fried liver stroganoff that was quite good – I can't
believe that I, the incipient vegetarian, was craving liver, but I was.
And so I ate it. The other purple stuff is svekolny – a beet and garlic slaw.

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I got extra sour cream on the side. Sour cream is hard to find in Korea. I really enjoyed that food.

Afterward, we walked up to the 청계천 [cheong-gye-cheon]. Andrew wanted a "proof of tourism" picture.

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Then we came home and relaxed. Currently he's off riding his bike somewhere – did I mention he bought a bike? I didn't see this as a bad idea – when he goes back to the States, I will inherit the bike – perhaps I will even ride it. 

Caveat: 구렁이 담넘어가듯 한다

Here, I return to my long-standing habit of occasionally trying to translate Korean proverbs. And, for the first time in a long time, this proverb is apropos of nothing in particular.

구렁이      담넘어가듯             한다
gu-reong-i dam-neom-eo-ga-deut   han-da
snake      fence-go-over-seeming do-PRES

Like a snake coming over the fence.


SneakysnakeSome people sneak around and get away with stuff. “Like a thief in the dark” is maybe an English phrase with similar usage.

It reminds me of that Bob Dylan song, “Man Gave Names To All The Animals.”

I drew this horrible picture of a sneaky snake sneaking over a fence, using MS Paint, in just under two minutes, so that this fine blog-post could be accompanied by an image.

Caveat: the stop cancer app

Yesterday afternoon I went to work again, to do more student-speech scoring for the month-end testing. I came home even more exhausted (and hungry) than Monday evening, but brother Andrew had thoughtfully started some dinner so I was quite pleased.

Andrew and I ended up watching a movie (from among my collection of movies, I've been showing him some of my favorites) – this time, we saw The Good, The Bad, The Weird (I've blogged about that movie several times before).

So in fact, I went to bed pretty late. I didn't not experience the blessed, uninterrupted sleep of the previous night. I was restless, and woke many times – more back to a hospital-style sleeping. I'm not sure what's behind that – obviously, tiredness from work isn't the sole factor in providing good sleep.

One snippet of a dream I had (actually from a short nap yesterday afternoon) was funny and worth sharing: I dreamed I was playing with my smartphone (an Android based Samsung Galaxy Tab) and all of a sudden I discovered an app that was labeled "stop cancer." In the dream, I thought, now why didn't I just use this app, instead of all that surgery and stuff? I remember feeling really annoyed, in the dream, that I hadn't found the app sooner. What use is a useful app if it's not well publicized?

Caveat: 고봉산 영천사

Today, Andrew and I set out for a temple I visited a long time ago. I believe it is the “working mountain temple” closest to my home. It’s on the side of a mountain called Gobong-san (고봉산), which is north of the railroad tracks in the part of Ilsan I think of as “old Ilsan”. It is my opinion that this is the “one mountain,” of the various mountains around, that is the best candidate for the origin of the name of the city of Ilsan, which means “one mountain.”

We visited the temple on this mountain called 영천사 [yeong-cheon-sa]. It’s a small, unpretentious working temple. I met a monk there and had an actual conversation with him – I lived in Ilsan, I had been in the cancer center, my brother was visiting. He wished me good health. Then he ran down and told one of the men hanging out near a storage shed, “OMG there’s a foreigner speaking Korean up there!” I didn’t catch the exact words in Korean, but that was the drift of it.

I felt flattered.

I bowed.

Here are some pictures.

Andrew on the trail up the mountain.

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The temple garden.

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Behind the temple outbuilding (monks’ quarters).

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Standing on the stoop of the temple looking toward Tanhyeon towers.

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The main temple building and administrative building to the right.

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A smaller shrine behind the main temple. These are always my favorite places to go to do sitting or prostrations, rather than the main temples. They are dedicated to various saints (bodhisattvas) and I have no idea which one this one was dedicated to – I don’t really see that it matters.

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The interior of that small shrine.

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Andrew took a picture of me doing a few prostrations there.

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I took a picture of Andrew sitting quietly there.

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Looking down on the larger temple from the stoop at the shrine.

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A trail leading up into the forest behind the shrine.

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A buddha in a stone niche near the shrine.

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A very large number of kimchi pots behind the administration building.

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A closed door detail on the shrine.

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I like how in random spots you can find little figurines enacting scenes.

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Some other figurines.

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Here is a picture of a woman getting a drink of water at the public fountain (every temple has one) and a laughing buddha. Slightly out of focus…

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Here is another smaller temple we passed while walking down the mountain.

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A jang-seung [장승 = traditional shamenistic totem] I saw amid some flowers on the main road at the base of the mountain at the end of the trip.

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Here are a ton of “temple-panel paintings” that I snapped. I love these things and am trying to build up a collection of images of them.

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Caveat: Drug Scarf

My drugs come prepackaged in little "breakfast/lunch/dinner" packets that come attached in a long chain of little cellophane packages. I was talking to Andrew about the fact that my ugly, deformed neck requires me to adopt some new fashion – turtlenecks or gauche scarves.

He suggested I could use my string-o-drug-packets as a scarf: drug scarf!
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Caveat: Yes, I actually went to work today

I worked about a half-day, scoring month-end student speech tests and interacting with all my long-missed students quite a bit, and several short meetings with Curt relevant to planning August and what kind of teaching load I might have.

I felt wonderful to see all my students, and as usual, I came away more positive than going in. That's what I'm in this job for. But I'm quite tired now. I'll blog more, later.

Caveat: 폭력을 당해서 이 회사를 떠나고 싶습니다


QaekfmwI have been intending to write this blog entry longer than any other unwritten blog entry.

The story behind it is that maybe 4 years ago, I ran across a book in a bookstore entitled Quick and Easy Korean for Migrant Workers. Of course, my interest in immigration policy combined with my interest in the Korean language made the book a guaranteed “win.”

I was prompted to write
this entry now, after so many years of having it just beyond my
consciousness in the back of my mind, because I’d pulled the book off
my shelf to show to my brother Andrew, who is visiting.

After spending some time with the book, I discovered some really revelatory and interesting phrases. Of all of the worst of these phrases, however, this phrase, from page 82 (image below right), takes the cake. I remember very hard and yet bittersweet laughter because of reading this 4 years ago.

폭력을         당해서          
pok-ryeok-eul dang-hae-seo    
violence-OBJ  experience-CAUSE
이    회사를       떠나고     싶습니다

i    hoe-sa-reul tteo-na-go sip-seup-ni-da
this company-OBJ leave-CONN want-FORMAL

I want to leave this company because I have experienced violence.

Scan0017I rather like the poetic version given by the googletranslate, too (although like most of googletranslate’s oeuvre, it is incoherent): “Five people I’d like to leave the company of violence.”

Or as the book translates it: I want to leave this company because I was beaten.

This is a sorry commentary on the state of migrant labor in Korea. Foreigners working in the hagwon and EFL biz don’t really realize that we are truly elites, no matter how badly we are treated.

Caveat: Façades

I awoke from an evaporating dream-scene.

I had taken the light-rail to the University of Minnesota. That places the dream in a hypothetical future, as the light-rail line going through campus is still under construction as far as I know, and certainly was never a feature of getting to the U that was a part of my experience of it in the 80's and 90's.

I stood on the Mall facing Northrup Auditorium, and it was a hot, overcast, humid day just as we have been experiencing here in Seoul. I began to look around more carefully. The campus seemed weirdly deserted. Was it a holiday?

Then I noticed that the Walker Library looked strange. I went closer, and realized it was just a "false front" – like those buildings made for Hollywood movie sets that have only the façade and nothing behind. Looking around, all the buildings were like that.

Looking back toward Northrup, I saw that it, too, was a false front. And so I walked up the stairs and tried to peer around to see what was behind.

What I saw was a breathtakingly beautiful although modestly sized Korean Buddhist temple, the doors wide open and a golden Buddha gazing down. A single monk sat inside the temple, in meditation.

I awoke then and everything dissolved as fiction, like at the end of Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude.

Below, a web image found of Northrup, looking toward it from near the front of Walker Library, I would estimate. Northrup is on the left.


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Also, this image of a Buddha inside a temple (from 법륜사, taken by me last September).


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Caveat: return from the riceless wilderness

This evening, I returned from my riceless wilderness, and ate rice – not Korean style, though.

Instead, I made my peculiar “Italian stir fry” where I started with some onions and lots of garlic and oregano and basil, stir fried it in some canola, added brocolli with some precooked rice that was getting long in tooth in the rice cooker, then a dollop of red sauce. It is a bit like what Americans call Spanish rice. The red sauce held the rice grains together making them easier to eat.

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Caveat: ICU Blogged

I have finally given up my perfectionism and hit the publish button on 6 blog entries dated from July 4th through July 6th, which cover my time in the ICU after my major surgery. I may return and "touch up" some of the writing on these entries, or add some deep thought or insight if one occurs to me, but from here on they are public.

Even before the surgery it had been my intention to blog that period of time, but of course having such limited access to "the world" while in the ICU, and only fragments and scraps of paper to work with afterward, has meant that it's been a kind "retroblogging" effort where I reconstruct my feelings and experiences of the time.

I had harbored some ambitions to cover some very deep topics, because it was an epiphanic time, and very intense (Intensive Care Unit, right?). But there's only so much I can put together, now.

Just know that it was near the top of my list of intense experiences in my life, and utterly mind-blowing. Nor were the epiphanies merely transitory – I am confident they will grow and branch as true epiphanies do, throughout the rest of my life.

ICU First Shift / Joy

ICU Second Shift / Gratitude

ICU Third Shift / Hermitage

ICU Fourth Shift / Lucidity

ICU Fifth Shift / Suffering

ICU Sixth Shift / Kindness

Caveat: how to know when your nap is finished

Being convalescent from such major surgery, I find myself (re-)discovering and mulling over very simple truths and ideas.

For example:

Q: How can you know when your nap is finished?

A: You wake up.



Book-thich-heart-of-buddhas-teaching-lgI have been reading a book by the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. It's not as "mainstream" nor as syncretistic as many of his books – it's a genuine introduction to Buddhist practice and goes into some detail on the doctrines and dogmas that embellish the history of the tradition.

He's doing a very good job of addressing one of my primary complaints (or frustrations) with how Buddhist practice is often presented, which is that it seems "obsessed" with suffering, and my feeling that all that dwelling on suffering can't be good. It was one of the things I least liked about my 10 days as a Buddhist practitioner at the Vipassana retreat in Northern Illinois in December of 2009.

The monk writes, "Our suffering is holy if we embrace it and look deeply into it. If we don't, it isn't holy at all. We just drown in the ocean of our suffering." (p. 9). Later he elaborates: "It is true that the Buddha taught the truth of suffering, but he also taught the truth of 'dwelling happily in things as they are' (drishta dharma sukha viharin). To succeed in the practice, we must stop trying to prove that everything is suffering." (p. 23).

Nhat Hanh goes on to use the metaphor of a mother with a crying baby. What does a good mother do with a crying baby? She holds and soothes and comforts it, while carefully analyzing and solving the possible causes of the crying: hunger, discomfort, frustration, insomnia, disease, etc. Likewise, our suffering is to be recognized and then held and soothed but also analyzed, like a mother with her crying baby.

Caveat: 홍삼

2013-07-28 07.25.00Koreans love their ginseng (인삼 [in-sam]). It's a matter of both tradition and national pride (not to mention a profitable national industry, too), and they strongly believe in ginseng's curative and health-supplementing properties – and then there's the aphrodesiac cult that surrounds it.

Yesterday when visiting Curt, he bought me a gift of Red Ginseng Extract. The "red" in red ginseng (홍삼 [hong-sam]) refers not to a subspecies of the plant but rather to a result of a specific curing process involving steaming and sun-drying.

The extract comes in little foil envelopes, which you open and then you squeeze the juice out into your mouth. So I got a "one month" set, 30 individual-dose envelopes (see picture below) that I'm supposed to take once-a-day. I opened and took my first extract this morning.

Like most forms of alternative medicine, I harbor my scepticisms. But red ginseng as an anti-cancer agent actually has a double-blind-study paper trail (mostly the work of fanatical Korean scientists trying to justify their traditional medicine – but still) where at least some of the studies have not been rejected on methodological grounds by the established global medical community. And there's not any evidence of harm from red ginseng. So I figured, what the hey – I'm becoming Korean, right?

Straight up red ginseng extract has a strong earthy taste. I have sometimes described it as "dirt flavored." Being charitable, I would describe it as similar to the aftertaste of strong maple syrup, but with absolutely zero of the sweetness. It's not horrible, anyway. I had some red ginseng flavored cooking vinegar that went well in certain savory concoctions that I used up a few months back.

Anyway, because Koreans take their Red Ginseng so seriously, it comes packaged (and priced!) like a luxury good (see picture above). I think Curt spent way too much money on this gift – let's just say, it's more expensive than an outpatient visit to the cancer hospital by a factor of about 500 (see yesterday's post).

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Caveat: After Exhilaration… Exhaustion

After the exhilaration of the first two days of post-hospital wears off, I begin to feel the tiredness lurking beneath. After pushing too hard, maybe, today, I feel downright exhausted. The kind of "you're sick and recovering exhausted" that could be a bad flu but in this case is rather more and less than that at the same time.

2013-07-27 09.27.46Stepping out from my apartment, while waiting for Andrew to run back up to get something he'd forgotten, I saw a cicada (right). It was making that mesmerizing loud "weee-wan-wan-waaaan" sound of Asian cicadas.

I stopped by work (KarmaPlus) this morning and straightened accounts with Curt some, and dropped in for 5 minutes with my HSTEPS class, to prove I was alive. I was pleased to be with my students, some of whom I've known more than 2 years now.

Then we went to the hospital for an outpatient wound-redressing and short consult. Total charge, after insurance: 200 won (18 cents?). Golly, let me see what I have in my pocket for that.

I learned that I had mis-learned the 10th floor resident doctor's name, whom I've been calling Dr Suh in this here blog – it's in fact Dr Seok. I learned it when I tried to give him a thank-you card. Oops. I will correct it in the record, but leave this mea culpa here. He is a very kind young man. And I feel like an "old man" that I have to say "kind young man" that way, rather than just "kind man."

Then, ambitiously, Andrew and I took the bus to Bucheon to see my friend Peter. I thought, how tiring can that be, taking at bus to Bucheon? Once there, very hungry, we splurged on pizza. Which was great – it turned out to be one of the easiest things to eat given my current mouth complications, much as I suspected. The combination of long morning plus bus ride plus heavy lunch, however, left me exhausted. We lounged around Peter's apartment for a few hours and ended up just coming home.

Now I'm going to take a nap.

Peter's apartment building allows access to the roof, so despite the smogginess of the day, I took some pictures (below). The building has a rooftop garden.

Looking north (toward Ilsan, way out of view here).

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Looking west.

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Looking south(-ish … maybe more like southeast).

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Looking east.

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Looking at Andrew and Peter.

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Looking at a charming rooftop tree.

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Caveat: Azadas son la hora y el momento

459px-Retrato_de_Francisco_de_QuevedoFUE SUEÑO AYER, MAÑANA SERÁ TIERRA…

Fue sueño ayer, mañana será tierra.
¡Poco antes nada, y poco después humo!
¡Y destino ambiciones, y presumo
apenas punto al cerco que me cierra!

Breve combate de importuna guerra,
en mi defensa, soy peligro sumo,
y mientras con mis armas me consumo,
menos me hospeda el cuerpo que me entierra.

Ya no es ayer, mañana no ha llegado;
hoy pasa y es y fue, con movimiento
que a la muerte me lleva despeñado.

Azadas son la hora y el momento
que a jornal de mi pena y mi cuidado
cavan en mi vivir mi monumento.

– Francisco de Quevedo (1580~1645)

El mensaje tiene un sabor fuertemente budista, a pesar de ser de un católico español del siglo de oro. ¿Debo confesar que he estado meditando sobre la muerte? Pero … de hecho, sí, por lo menos un poco – y, ¿cómo que no?

Caveat: Put-in-face

2013-07-26 21.21.21This was a milestone day because it's the first day I didn't really take a nap.

I was pretty tired this afternoon after Andrew and I walked around a bit too ambitiously this morning, but when I lay down to nap, my mind was racing and so I decided to just try to forego the nap.

I'm trying to get away from the wake-up-every-2-hours hospital style sleeping pattern. Maybe (hopefully), I've exhausted myself enough that I can sleep a full, more-or-less normal night tonight.

I made some pasta with broccoli and red-sauce, with some butter and basil added. Andrew ate it ("put it in his face" in his parlance), and even smiled. And then he did dishes.