Caveat: Running to be on the run

In fact, I ran a lot in my life, metaphorically. But not now. I have become stationary, it seems. And. . . then?

What I'm listening to right now.

John Prine, "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness."


You come home late and you come home early
You come on big when you're feeling small
You come home straight and you come home curly
Sometimes you don't come home at all

So what in the world's come over you
And what in heaven's name have you done
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You're out there running just to be on the run

Well I got a heart that burns with a fever
And I got a worried and a jealous mind
How can a love that'll last forever
Get left so far behind


It's a mighty mean and a dreadful sorrow
It's crossed the evil line today
Well, how can you ask about tomorrow
We ain't got one word to say


You're out there running just to be on the run
You're out there running just to be on the run
You're out there running just to be on the run

[daily log: walking, 2 km]

Caveat: 휴가

휴가 [hyuga] means vacation. The next four days are holiday at my work. This is not Curt’s choice. As a small business owner struggling to make ends meet month-to-month, he would just as soon stay open – and parents, who rely on the “daycare” aspect of the hagwon biz (though they would deny it if phrased that way), mostly prefer an “always open” hagwon, too.

It is not Curt’s choice, however. The provincial government mandates this hagwon vacation, which, consequently, is the longest continuous closure for the whole year (5 whole days!!).

My coworkers seemed vaguely scandalized that I intended to do “nothing” with my vacation. Don’t you want to travel somewhere? they asked. No, I don’t.
Perhaps my three month cancer vacation last year permanently altered my psyche and goals, but travel of any kind is uninteresting to me, these days. Have I become an old man, prematurely? My students call me “할아버지” [harabeoji = grandfather], mostly behind my back.
I intend on just hanging out at my home, taking walks and reading books and, if attacked by ambition, writing.
Below is a picture of the sign from the KarmaPlus door announcing our vacation.

[daily log: walking, 2.5 km]

Caveat: hasta otra aurora

Poema Sonámbulo Siniestro Y Solitario…

sonámbulo siniestro y solitario
a través de una larga noche sin consuelo
van y vienen y van
los sucesos las olas los peces de tu alma

quién te dará su alivio
atormentada senectud en vilo?
eres tú mismo?

llorabas al nacer
sentiste el frío del espacio
invisible el tiempo de los lémures
los terrestres soportes
imaginarios dones de tristeza
de combate de ardor
de muerte en suma

pero te irás un día
en un momento y qué?
qué has hecho?
vivir y eso qué es?

qué pretendes ser
en el universo y pico
del instante profundo
y sin memoria?

todo pasa y esto calma
volveremos quizá
quién sabe si hasta luego
quién sabe si hasta dónde

son las cenizas horas de tu llanto al nacer
pero al partir sonríe quedamente
en la penumbra querida criatura
despreciable y pequeña

podía haber sido
tenías que haber sido quizá
abrazo para siempre
en el olvido
hasta otra aurora

– Miguel Labordeta (poeta español, 1921-1969)

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Most Impossible-to-Learn Language, Ever!

…which is my feeling about Korean.

What made me think this feeling, just now? 

I was walking to work, earlier, and this song came on my mp3 shuffle. It's in German. I only vaguely understand it, at the most basic level.

Yet, I thought to myself, well, my level of understanding isn't that much lower than it would be for a similar song in Korean. But here's the thing: I have never studied German (except some class in 8th grade where I learned to count, and we sang "Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken"). I have spent a sum total of 1 week in a German-speaking country.

Meanwhile, I have spent 7 years in Korea, now (or 8 years, if you count my Army year), including plenty of efforts to study the language, more-or-less intensively.

What gives?

… lo, the powers of cognates and linguistic siblinghood.

What I'm listening to right now.

Deichkind, "Luftbahn." 


Wir fahren mit der Luftbahn durch die Nacht
Der Mond scheint nur für uns gleich haben wir's geschafft
Und all die Probleme auf der Erde
Liegen für uns in weiter Ferne
Wir fahren mit der Luftbahn durch die Nacht
Wo der Sternenhimmel für uns lacht
Und all die Probleme auf der Erde
Liegen für uns in weiter Ferne

[Verse 1]
Von deinen Schultern fällt die ganze Last
Du spürst sie nie wieder, die Erdanziehungskraft
Und sollte es wirklich passieren, dass wir uns im Universum verlieren
Dann verglüh ich für dich, damit du niemals erfrierst


Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos
Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos

[Verse 2]
Deine Zweifel waren groß, niemand hat sich interessiert
Du spürst wie's langsam leichter wird, das schlimmste ist jetzt hinter dir
Du bist noch ganz benommen, wir sind bald angekommen
Du brauchst jetzt nicht mehr zu weinen, denn ich hab dich an die Hand genommen
Manchmal muss man einfach raus, ja, manchmal ist die Welt zu klein
Willst du die Unendlichkeit? Dann lass dich fallen und steig mit ein
Ich zeig dir wahre Liebe und wie gut es tut die Faust zu ballen
Wir fliegen vom Dunklen ins Sonnenlicht, bis wir zu Staub zerfallen


Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos
Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos


 [daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Bleagh

I had a kind of bad weekend. Mostly due to food, which I try so hard not to complain continuously about on this blog. It is always some ill-calculated food texture that brings on the worst of the coughing and gagging. I made some rice to go with my soup I had made before. Something did not work. Bleagh.

[daily log: walking 2 km]

Caveat: 첨나!

[Update 2014-07-28: my friend Peter gave some useful insight, and I figured out more, because of it. The correct form is 참나, not 첨나 – my transcription is either an error or a legitimate dialectical variant. See comments below.]

My coworkers use and expression sometimes which I was trying to figure out, yesterday. It's a kind of interjection following a declarative sentence. It is the term "첨나" [cheom-na]. I understand the pragmatics of it pretty well, I think: it seems to mean "How dare he/she/you?" 

For example, Ken says (in Korean), "Jeong-yeol [a seventh-grader] is taller than me! 첨나! [how dare he?!]" Or [on e.g. a TV show] something like, "My girlfriend was looking at that other man… 첨나 [how dare she]!" 

But not a single one of my coworkers could "explain" this expression. What I mean by that is that I want to understand the syntax/semantics/etymology. Where did it come from? Aren't they curious? Is it a verbal particle? It seems to be some sort of verbal contraction, as best I can guess. Or is it a noun particle? It sounds vaguely Chinese, but these types of slang expressions are rarely Chinese – most Korean slang comes from native Korean vocabulary or from more recent Japanese or English borrowings. No one knows. No one is curious to know. 첨나! [how dare they?]

Anyway, I want to figure it out. If anyone reading this blog is knowledgeable about Korean and able to "explain" it, I'd love to know. I drew a complete blank on my internet searches – which are admittedly imcompetent in the area of Korean language studies. 

[daily log: walking, 5 km]




Caveat: California

I was born in California, and lived my first 18 years there (with a few minor interruptions, never more than a few months). Although I generally identify myself as a Minnesotan now (because of my university and post-university years there), I have also lived in California for some years during my adult life. 

CaliforniamissionI have always had an interest in California's unique history, and when I was in the bookstore last Sunday, I bought another book (aside from the one about the Chicken, already mentioned yesterday on this blog) that made for quick reading. It was a used book about California's missions – a fragment of some journal by a French traveller who visited Monterey (at that time populated by probably less than 50 Spaniards and maybe a couple hundred Native Americans, but nevertheless the capital of California) in the 1780's. How a book of this eccentricity arrived on the shelf of a bookstore in Seoul, I have no idea. But I bought it. It's quite short, has a well-written and academic introduction (and many footnotes!), and offers an interesting perspective on the earliest Europeans in California. The title is Life in a California Mission: Monterey in 1786, by Jean François de La Pérouse.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Chicken, Duck, Weasel

Hen-500I bought some books last weekend when I went into Seoul, but I wasn't that happy with my haul at first – I have been reading a lot of Korean history, and was hoping to find more of the same, but I found nothing in that category that appealed to me at all. So I had desultorially bought some other books based either on having heard something about them or because they struck me as possibly interesting in my browsing. 

One book I picked up was the English translation of a novella by Korean Sun-mi Hwang (황선미), called The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly (original 마당을 나온 암탉). I agree thoroughly with one of the reviews on the cover, by Adam Johnson: "a novel uniquely poised at the nexus of fable, philosophy, children's literature, and nature writing."

It's a pretty good book. It's less than 100 pages, and I read it in a long morning.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 미국 아저씨

We had a 회식 (work dinner) last night. This was no ordinary hweh-shik, however. It was, arguably, my first hweh-shik where I was the initiator. I'd proposed sometime back, to Curt, that I'd like to give a "thank-you dinner" to the hagwon staff because it was the first anniversary of my cancer surgery, despite the hard times and difficulties, overall the staff has been hugely supportive. 

Curt said he'd take it under consideration. I'd even offered to pay for the dinner, which I'm pretty sure he didn't think I meant seriously, because last night, when it finally happened and we went to a buffet near LaFesta and had our hweh-shik, I took out my card to pay at the end, and everyone was dumbfounded. In Korean custom, it's almost always the boss who pays for these things, but in fact there is one situation where another might pay – which is if the person paying is "senior" (i.e. older) than the boss. And that, unfortunately, is the case – I'm the old man at KarmaPlus, by about 10 months. 

I was congratuleted, therefore, not just for surviving my cancer, but also for behaving truly "korean." 

Several commented that they'd never even heard of, much less witnessed, a "foreigner" buying hweh-shik for Korean coworkers.

저는 미국 아저씨인데요, I said, half-jokingly. ["I am an American ajeossi." – ajeossi is a difficult-to-translate term that means a typical Korean man of middle age and indeterminate social status, maybe something like "average joe" but also used as term of address toward people with unknown names… it could be compared to the way mid-20th-century Americans would deploy names like "Mack" or "Joe"]. 

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: Just like dust, we settle in this town

I try hard not to get boring or repetitive in these daily blog posts, but sometimes I just don't have the time or energy to put something of appropriate diversity. So here's another song – though quite different from yesterday's.

What I'm listening to right now. 

Kacey Musgraves, "Merry-Go-Round." I love when some song I don't remember buying or downloading rolls around on my mp3 shuffle and it's like hearing it for the first time, except that at some point I must have chosen it because otherwise it wouldn't end up on my mp3 player on my phone.

This song surprised me. It's just a sort of desolate but well-crafted country song, with simple melodic hooks and clever rhyming. These days, however, I tend to listen to songs while imagining trying to explain them to my students in one of my CC classes, as I often end up having to do with the various bits of American pop that roll along on the "CC" curriculum. In that light, this song qualifies as: too complicated, thematically too adult, and too culturally alien. I could imagine teaching a graduate seminar on American culture to Koreans, using lines from this song as lecture titles on the syllabus.


If you ain't got two kids by 21,
You're probably gonna die alone.
Least that's what tradition told you.
And it don't matter if you don't believe,
Come Sunday morning, you best be there in the front row like you're supposed to.

Same hurt in every heart.
Same trailer, different park.

Mama's hooked on Mary Kay.
Brother's hooked on Mary Jane.
Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary quite contrary.
We get bored, so, we get married
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go
Where it stops nobody knows and it ain't slowin' down.
This merry go 'round.

We think the first time's good enough.
So, we hold on to high school love.
Sayin' we won't end up like our parents.
Tiny little boxes in a row.
Ain't what you want, it's what you know.
Just happy in the shoes you're wearin'.
Same checks we're always cashin' to buy a little more distraction.

'Cause mama's hooked on Mary Kay.
Brother's hooked on Mary Jane.
Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
We get bored, so, we get married.
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go
Where it stops nobody knows and it ain't slowin' down.
This merry go 'round.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
We're so bored until we're buried.
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round.
Merry go 'round.

Jack and Jill went up the hill.
Jack burned out on booze and pills.
And Mary had a little lamb.
Mary just don't give a damn no more.

 [daily log: walking, 3.5 km]

Caveat: Back before time was time and space was space

After yesterday's excursion to Seoul, I felt really exhausted today for some reason. I think I'm not sleeping well. The weather has reached that continuously hot and humid aspect of the high Korean summer, but it's been a remarkably un-monsoony, dry summer (after what seemed like a wet, monsoony spring). Supposedly, rain is forecast, but it's been forecast a lot with not much actual rain. 

Anyway, I feel very tired. I had a number small, annoying failures today that added up to a bad day. Monday is a dense schedule of classes on the current arrangement. 

What I'm listening to right now.

N.A.S.A., "The People Tree" (feat. David Byrne, Chali 2na, Gift Of Gab, & Z-Trip).

I've blogged this song before, but at the time I didn't post the lyrics, which I was listening to more carefully today as I heard it, walking to work. I think it's a pretty interesting song, and pretty complex collaboration of a diverse group of artists that works out well.


With the N.A.S.A. team, we will take you bodly where no man has ever gone before.
We will take you back some fifteen billion years to the beginning of time.

Verse (Chali 2na)
Yo! From a drop of blood to bones and body parts
To vital organs form and your brain and tiny heart
Your fetus, date of birth, til puberty finally starts
Adolescence, adult, then your elderly body rots
It was devine decree that begun the plan
But it's disease by the greed of the sons of man
Who try to lead with their guns in hand
Understand God's the one that command…

Pre-chorus (David Byrne)
Did we climb out of the sea?
Where did we come from you and me?
Two legs to walk and eyes to see
Am I the man I want to be?

Chorus (David Byrne, The Crack Alley Children's Choir & Gift of Gab)
People grow in my back yard
In my garden, in my heart
Pink and purple, red and blue
On this sunny afternoon

Verse (Gift of Gab)
Back before time was time and space was space
The ever present I divine so laced with grace
Decided it was time to try to chase the taste
To what it was designed, now life is taking place
Within it' self-divided, now it takes some space
They can't be fathomed by a mind creates the state
Of ego now what's is mine, is mine, ok now hate
We'll reign until the blind have eyes and they awaken…

Pre-chorus (David Byrne)
Planting the seeds in the ground
How is my garden growing now?
A tender kiss, a little smile
The way a mother holds her child

Chorus (David Byrne, The Crack Alley Children's Choir & Chali 2na)
Tasty little human beings
I grow them on the people tree
I will eat them one by one
If there's enough for everyone

Bridge (GIft of Gab and Chali 2na)
Oh, unending ever flowing life beyond the birth
Tell me what the purpose is for creating the earth
Mainly we created the planet as man's habitat
Be fruitful and multiply across the planet's back
But why does hate exist, the war and AIDS and shit?
It we're to be fruitful, why can't poor people pay they rent?
Cause love and hate, both sides are conjoined
Physical forms have to deal with both sides of the coin
Why do we die?
So you can live
Why do we strive?
So you can win
But why do you defy every truthful word I recommend?
My question back is: Why do you recommend then throw temptation in?
So I can test you patience and tolerance in the face of sin
But why a test when you hold all the answers to the state we in?
For you to bear witness to imperfections of mortal man
So it's a lesson?
And a blessing journey back to where you've been
Cause before the tree can flourish, seeds must first be planted in!

Chorus (David Byrne, The Crack Alley Children's Choir & Gift of Gab)
People grow in my back yard
In my garden, in my heart
If you like my garden, you might like me
Underneath the people tree

Getting closer to God!
Getting closer to God!
Call upon your God!
Closer to God!
He'll answer your question!
Closer to God!
God said I trust you!
Who are you?
I'm God muthafucka and I'm not who you thought I was!
They better be giving me all the respect
All y'all, all y'all, all y'all, all y'all check yo self!
Cause I'm God!
Hello hello hello hello
Feel me, feel me, feel me all you

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Something Happened On Sunday


It was almost the case that nothing happened on Sunday. That’s probably the way I prefer it.
But it happened that my friend Nate, now formerly of the US Army, is around and we ended up going to dinner at my favorite Russian place near Dongdaemun – I was craving borscht. It was good….  Nate is an excellent conversationalist and, I suspect, a soon-to-be-famous writer – he already has some excellent non-fiction online.

[daily log: walking, 3 km]

Caveat: A dream deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes (American poet, 1902-1967)

[daily log: walking,  5.5 km]

Caveat: 굽은 나무가 선산을 지킨다

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

굽은 나무가 선산을 지킨다
gup·eun na·mu·ga seon·san·eul ji·kin·da
be-crooked-PASTPART tree-SUBJ ancestors-grave-OBJ guard-PRES
A crooked tree guards the ancestors' grave.

TreeEven a tree that is crooked has a job to do – it bends near the ancestors' grave and protects it. Something viewed as useless turns out to have a use after all. (Image: a bent tree found online, guarding someone's ancestors' graves).

[daily log: walking, 5 km]


Caveat: We Are Girls

Teacher, exasperatedly: "Why must you talk so much? You are talking all the time! I am teaching class, right now."

Fay: "Teacher. It is simple." She gave a dramatic pause, with a gesture of placing the palm of her hand at her collarbone. Enunciating clearly: "We are girls."

The other girls nod. 

Ah. That explains it, then. Some things never change.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: zan achica ye nican


Niqitoa ni Nezahualcoyotl: ¿Cuix oc nelli nemohua in tlalticpac? An nochipa tlalticpac: zan achica ya nican. Tel ca chalchihuitl no xamani, no teocuitlatl in tlapani, no quetzalli poztequi. An nochipa tlalticpac: zan achica ye nican.

– Nezahualcóyotl (poeta acolhua [azteca de texcoco], 1402-1472)

Encontré el poema en español primero – no soy capaz de leer el nahuatl (arriba), aunque durante una época sí contemplaba estudiarlo.

Siguientes, hay traducciones encontradas en un blog llamado 69puntoG.

Yo lo pregunto

Yo Nezahualcóyotl lo pregunto: ¿Acaso deveras se vive con raíz en la tierra?
No para siempre en la tierra: sólo un poco aquí.
Aunque sea de jade se quiebra, aunque sea de oro se rompe,
aunque sea plumaje de quetzal se desgarra.
No para siempre en la tierra: sólo un poco aquí.

I ask

I Nezahualcoyotl ask: Do we really live with roots in the earth?
Not forever on the earth: Only a moment here.
Although made of Jade, it cracks, although made of gold, it breaks,
although it's plumage of Quetzal, it is torn apart.
Not forever on earth: Only a moment here.

 [daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

I went to the cancer center again this morning, to find out the result of my PET scan. The answer: "all clear." Dr Jo said I look remarkably healthy for the most part, although my continued, downward-creeping weight is of some concern. I thought I had been gaining back since my nadir at 69 kg, but my official weigh-in at the doctor's today was 73 kg, which is always a few kilos over because I'm fully dressed and carrying things, so that probably means my home scale would show me at about 71. I guess that's a little bit of a bounce-back. 

Anyway, I'm doing OK. I complained about eating, some, and I complained about the "ghost sensations" in the cut nerves in my wrist and neck, but overall I think I'm doing OK – I take no meds, work 50 hours a week, and walk 30~40 km per week.

I was walking back from the cancer center over Jeongbal hill, through the park, and approaching me was a girl of only maybe 4 years of age, walking as if she were a meditating monk or thoughtful ajeossi, hands crossed behind her back and pacing carefully. I was startled, as for a moment she seemed unaccompanied. Then, around the bend in the path, her mom appeared.

The mom was wearing a tshirt. It said, in simple yellow letters on a navy background: "SIMPLICITY IS THE ULTIMATE SOPHISTICATION." 

I couldn't help but grin slightly at this clever fragment of wisdom on the tshirt of the mom of the preternaturally composed child. 

I continued back home.

[daily log: walking, 9.5 km]

Caveat: On Being Temporarily Radioactive

My diagnostic PET scan at the hospital was delayed due to technical issues with their gadgets. I wasn't really upset by this, but it forced me to send a message to Curt telling him I would be late to work – later than already anticipated. Fortunately, someone was able to take my missed class, and I raced to work after the scan and went straight into my 6:40 class. 

"I'm radioactive," I announced. This, of course, required extensive explanation. 

I explained about Fluorine-18 radiotracer-tagged glucose (fluorodeoxyglucose – basically radioactive sugar) and how it shows hotspots of metabolic activity on the scan. It probably mostly went over their heads – elementary kids in Korea only know science well if they study it in hagwon, as the public elementary schools don't seem to do a very good job with science education.

I'm not sure the kids really cared that much – they didn't find it to be as interesting as I'd thought they might – sometimes with these kind of technological / medical issues, it's hit-or-miss.

I had a terrible headache this evening, but I suspect this has more to do with the requisite pre-scan fast than because of the radioactivity or injection or any of that. 

I go back tomorrow to get the result.

[daily log: walking, 7.5 km]

Caveat: Waiting Rooms in Famous Hospitals

Like old times, I am at the cancer center. I have my first-annual follow-up PET scan, a fairly involved affair, bit just as always there is a lot of time to be killed sitting in waiting rooms, and so I decided to post this blog entry from my phone. as I did so often last year.

I am struck by how many nations are represented here. . . although Korea is so homogeneous, this cancer hospital is not. I have heard Chinese, something from India, French and English in the last 20 minutes.

Caveat: 줍는 사람이 임자다

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

줍는 사람이 임자다
jup·neun sa·ram·i im·ja·da
pick-up-PRESPART person-SUBJ owner-VERB
The person who picks [it] up [is] the owner.

"Finders keepers." This seems strange to me only in that normally to VERBify a noun like "owner" (임자) you attach the copula -이다. This example is only attaching -다, which seems like a logical contraction but I confess I've never seen it before and it seems a little bit extreme as a contraction. But in any event it makes sense.

[daily log: walking, km]