Caveat: Consequent Totalitarian Conditions

I really haven't been sleeping well, lately. Partly it's the sultry late summer temperatures, I'm sure – I don't like to sleep running my a/c which is, in any event, not very useful, but it's hard to sleep with my apartment at over 30 C. 

So my sleep feels fragmented. I wake up at 4 am. I read or something – I refuse to just lie in bed awake – though it might be smart to try to meditate, but my mind has been really resisting that lately, too. So then I doze off and wake up again at 5:30. Same pattern, several times. The night gets sliced up. 

When I was young, and could sleep continuously for 12 or more hours with little difficulty, I used to sleep with the radio on. I can't do that anymore, but I think it left some permanent effects. 

One thing that used to happen that was more than a little bit entertaining was that my dreams would have commercials. Fully separate, hallucinatory vignettes inserted willy nilly into some other hallucination. Mostly I don't have commercials, anymore. But the other thing my dreaming developed at that time which remains a recurrent constant is the "announcer voice." Sometimes, my dreams have an announcer, or a voice-over. It's not my voice, nor that of anyone I know. Just a disembodied, often authoritative voice making commentary. 

Since it's dreaming, however, the announcers rarely make much sense. Things don't seem relevant, or the utterances are non sequiturs.

Yesterday morning, I woke up before dawn with the following voice-over stunningly, clearly and precisely reverberant in my mind. In that moment of awakening, it felt incredibly profound, and I wrote it down – otherwise, like most of my undocumented dreaming, it probably would have faded from memory quickly and disappeared. 

"You're not wearing shoes, and you blame me for such totalitarian conditions?" – the disembodied voice in my brain.

Instead, later I found that scrap of paper where I had written it, and I decided that although it was rather gnomic and weird, it still seemed oddly profound.

I wonder what it means, or shows, about my subconscious and my state of mind. Perhaps, it only demonstrates that I read too much philosophy, history and political science while barefoot in my apartment? 

What I'm listening to right now.

Black Boned Angel, "The Witch Must Be Killed (Side B)." This is a "drone metal" group from New Zealand – I posted "Side A" some years ago. My musical tastes remain weird.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Head Tax

I got a very strange tax bill the other day.

Not strange in the sense that it was wrong. But after living in Korea for 8 years, I didn't really expect to discover a new tax obligation out of the blue. Did they just recently realize I existed, and finally get their stuff together enough to send me a tax bill? Did the law change? My coworkers seemed familiar enough with it.

It was strange in a kind of annoying way, too, because it was for such an insubstantial amount: 5000 won for a year. Wouldn't the cost of collecting this tax be more than any possible amount collected at such a rate? Maybe this is why they never bothered to collect it until now. 

Tax

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: the highest form of consciousness

"In a sense, we are all crashing to our death from the top story of our birth … and wondering with an immortal Alice at the patterns of the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at trifles – no matter the imminent peril – these asides of the spirit … are the highest form of consciousness." – Vladimir Nabokov.

This Nabokov quote serves, probably unintentionally, as a summary of the plot of the poem Altazor, by Vicente Huidobro, which is probably my favorite "long" poem, at least in Spanish.

[daily log: walking, 6 km straight down]

 

Caveat: Multipolarity

What I'm listening to right now.

World Order (Genki Sudo), "Multipolarity." These guys do really interesting robotic dance routines, which is why I first found their music. The music is kind of pop-generic but I don't mind it, either. Mostly it's for the videos, though. 

I don't have the lyrics. I searched by my ability to search in Japanese is stunningly poor. 

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: falling asleep with the light on

호박꽃

그동안 시인 33년 동안
나는 아름다움을 규정해왔다
그때마다 나는 서슴지 않고
이것은 아름다움이다
이것은 아름다움의 반역이다라고 규정해왔다
몇 개의 미학에 열중했다
그러나 아름다움이란
바로 그 미학 속에 있지 않았다
불을 끄지 않은 채
나는 잠들었다

아 내 지난날에 대한 공포여
나는 오늘부터
결코 아름다움을 규정하지 않을 것이다
규정하다니
규정하다니

아름다움을 어떻게 규정한단 말인가
긴 장마 때문에
호박넝쿨에 호박꽃이 피지 않았다
장마 뒤
나무나 늦게 호박꽃이 피어
그 안에 벌이 들어가 떨고 있고
그 밖에서 내가 떨고 있었다

아 삶으로 가득찬 호박꽃이여 아름다움이여
– 고은

Pumpkin Flower

For thirty-three years as a poet
I merrily defined what beauty was.
Each time, without hesitation
I would declare: beauty is like this, or:
this is a betrayal of beauty.
I went crazy over several different kinds
of aesthetic theory.
But beauty was never
in those aesthetic theories.
I was falling asleep
with the light on.

What fear in the days gone by!
From now on I will strictly refrain
from any definitions of beauty!
Define away!
Define away!

As if beauty can ever be defined!
All through the weeks of summer rain
no flowers bloomed on the pumpkin creepers.
Now the rains are over
and at long long last a flower has bloomed,
inside it a bee is quivering,
outside it I am quivering.
Pumpkin flower brimming full of life:
you are true beauty!
– Ko Un (Korean poet, born 1933)

The translation is not mine, it is from Cornell East Asia Series, 1996, and was shared on 3 Quarks Daily blog.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Does Curriculum Even Matter?

I haven't even touched my IIRTHW ("if I ran the hagwon") effort in more than a year. I kind of gave up on it as excessively idealistic and not relevant to my goals. But of course, the nature of my job means that I nevertheless think about it frequently.

Yesterday I was having a conversation with my boss about his constant casting-about for new, more effective approaches to curriculum.

It's odd, because I feel like we've reversed roles, somewhat, in comparison to when we first met, years ago. Back then, I thought, and argued frequently, that curriculum design was important, while he said, much to my consternation, that a "good teacher" ought to be able to work with whatever curriculum was on hand. 

I resented this at the time, and took it to mean that my frustrations with curriculum were symptomatic of my not being a good enough teacher. 

Yet over the last several years, I've evolved to a point where I more or less agree with the sentiment. Much to my dismay, yesterday, Curt seemed to essentially disagree when I said something to this effect. I had said that we should focus on improving our teachers, rather than on improving our curriculum. And his reaction was that he didn't see teachers as being the problem. It wasn't a direct rejection of the earlier philosophy, but it certainly felt like an about face to me. 

The context in which I suggested focusing on teachers instead of curriculum was actually a sort of brainstorm I had, during our conversation, about curriculum. Curt is looking at alternatives to the fairly fossilized "Reading-Listening-Speaking-Writing-Grammar-Vocab" subdivision of material that prevails in hagwon. I first went with my prefered notion, what he called "Immersion" but that I think of as "subject-driven" – teaching "subjects" in English, integrating the various functional components.

When Curt rejected that, for the same reason he always does – the dearth of native-speaking teacher to serve as a focus for that style of teaching (a rejection that strikes me as utterly rational if not completely necessary), I decided to suggest another alternative arrangement that I've been mulling over lately, mostly out of frustration with the seemingly excessive complexity of our modest hagwon's schedule. 

This alternative would essentially say we only have 3 types of classes, which is really my observation that we have three basic types of teachers in our hagwon: 

1) integrated class – this is the native speakers (like myself or Razel or Grace), who focus on "subjects" or "topics" in the immersion style mentioned above

2) analytic class – this is the grammar-translation style that is most traditional in Korean English education, rejected by pedagogy but a reality "on the ground" and we have teachers who teach this way and we might as well support them – some are quite good in many respects

3) foundations class – this is the "daily word test", the memorization words and also the naesin (school term tests) style memorization of speeches, essays and other fragments; this also includes the attendance-keeping and counseling aspects of the "homeroom" teacher job. I hate this memorizaiton stuff, not because I don't think it's helpful – I actually strongly believe that it is helpful – but when overly emphasized, it makes English painful, and that discourages students, and destroys motivation. 

Anyway, I laid these ideas out to Curt. He basically said, "that sounds like it's teacher centered." I said, well, but that's OK. If we focus on our teachers' strengths, and develop them, that will benefit the students, in the long run, as our consistency and quality will increase." He asked about how we would decide the curriculum for these new divisions of labor, and I said what he'd once said to me, that it didn't really matter – the focus was improved teaching and good teachers would inevitably choose or develop appropriately good curriculum. He was somewhat scandalized by this notion.

Hence my feeling that the tables had been turned. 

I haven't developed a specific thought about this at this point, mostly just recording here for future reference. 

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: a mirror-search

What I'm listening to right now.

Apoptygma Berzerk, "Paranoia."

Lyrics.

Chew the pill that tastes like hell, but gives you strength
Embrace the drug that makes you mad, cause then it turns you into something else
Feel the need for love grows stronger!
Swap your mind for a mirror-search, and shake until the break of day

One day you'll realize that you were wrong
And you'll regret that all this happened
Did it (all) happen?
Some day you'll realize that you were wrong
(You'll be) Left with paranoia, (as your only friend)

Your mind is full of enemies, the room is full of energies
That want to take control
They're all around you, and you're all alone
Your mind is full of enemies, the room is full of energies
Haunting your soul
They're all around you, and you're on your own

One day you'll realize that you were wrong
You'll regret that all this happened
Some day you'll realize that you were wrong
To be left with Paranoia

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: 남아도처시고향

I found this aphorism in my Korean-English Buddhism dictionary. Most of the aphorisms there are embedded in the articles, and are of Chinese origin (since that is the language of Buddhist scholarship in Korea for the most part). This makes them doubly hard to make sense of, and mostly I just go with whatever explanation is given, without trying to puzzle out the etymology.

남아도처시고향 (男兒到處是故鄕)

I found this explanation: 남아가 가는 곳 마다 고향인데, which (very roughly) seems to mean “every place is your hometown.”

I like the sentiment of this. There is an English aphorism that I think it was my uncle used to say: “Home is where you hang your hat.” I think this is similar.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Tragedy

We were working on a listening passage in my TOEFL2 cohort, last Saturday. Here is the last part of the listening, which is kind of a sophomoric imitation of a literature class lecture, I guess. That's the way the TOEFL goes, especially in the dumbed-down "prep" modes.

… One of the earliest genres of literature was tragedy. There are a lot of different defining qualities of a tragedy, but in general there's a heroic character with a tragic flaw, something in the character's personality that makes him or her meet with bad fortune – like Medea. Medea is a play by Euripedes, where the main character, Medea, meets with bad fortune because of her jealousy. Her tragic flaw was her jealousy.

Comedy is another genre. Comedy, these days, usually means something realy funny, but comedies earlier in history were more lighthearted than funny. Generally, strange events happen because of some sort of misunderstanding. Perhaps the most famous comedies come from Shakespeare, whom I'm sure you all know. Shakespeare's comedies usually involve people in love who are tricked or confused through some clever ruse. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a good example. People in that play fall asleep in a forest, where a magical flower makes them fall in love with anyone they see.

At this point, Sihyeon became agitated and interrupted, "No! That's a tragedy!"

"Why?" I asked, laughing already.

"Because right now Seokho is who I see."

Seokho wasn't offended by this. He seemed to feel similarly.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: 處暑

I don’t really know how it is possible that I have lived in Korea for so long with knowing about the concept of “solar terms.” Perhaps I was exposed to it and it didn’t stick.

I’ve been watching the Korean 24 hour news channel a lot on TV lately. Mostly, that’s because I’m curious about what’s going on with North Korea – I’m not really that worried, but those around me – my students and coworkers – like to worry about it, so I try to keep up. Regardless, having Korean-language programming running in the background when I’m at home feels virtuous, because I am hopefully picking up bits of Korean.

Today, on the news, during the weather report, the announcer said today was 처서 [cheoseo]. I wondered what that was, and so I looked it up. Specifically, today is the “start” of 처서. It’s a Chinese calendrical concept, the division of the year into 24 named periods called solar terms, each of which is subdivided into 3 pentads of 5 or so days. This must be linked to the every-five-daily market day pattern I remember becoming so aware of when I lived in Yeonggwang. Anyway, you can read about it on the wiki thing.

The name Cheoseo is Sino-Korean [hanja 處暑], and means “limit of heat.” Pretty much appropriate.

Happy Cheoseo.

[daily log: walking, 2km]

Caveat: un inmenso corazón que se abre

La lluvia lenta

Esta agua medrosa y triste,
como un niño que padece,
antes de tocar la tierra
desfallece.

Quieto el árbol, quieto el viento,
¡y en el silencio estupendo,
este fino llanto amargo
cayendo!

El cielo es como un inmenso
corazón que se abre, amargo.
No llueve: es un sangrar lento
y largo.

Dentro del hogar, los hombres
no sienten esta amargura,
este envío de agua triste
de la altura.

Este largo y fatigante
descender de aguas vencidas,
hacia la Tierra yacente
y transida.

Llueve… y como un chacal trágico
la noche acecha en la sierra.
¿Qué va a surgir, en la sombra,
de la Tierra?

¿Dormiréis, mientras afuera
cae, sufriendo, esta agua inerte,
esta agua letal, hermana
de la Muerte?

– Gabriela Mistral (poeta chilena, 1889-1957)

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: When North Korea Attacks, Cancel Homework

We are in class, it's about 7 pm. 

A student says, "Teacher. Are we going to cancel class?"

"Why would we cancel class?" I ask. I took it for typical teenage "joking." 

"Because 북한 [bukhan = North Korea] just shoot missile at Yeoncheon." 

Yeoncheon is the county just north of Paju, whose border, in turn, is just a few blocks from our current location. I may even have had students who commute from Yeoncheon, a few times. 

"Really?" I ask. I think the students must be inventing something. But Yeongjin shows me the news on his smartphone. It's true. Later, I will read about the details in English, where they are easier to understand. 

Anyway, it's believable enough, on a Korean news site. "When did this happen?" I asked.

"About 4 o'clock," one student said.

"Wow," I said. "What should we do?" I guess I meant this collectively, and not necessarily with respect to the current class setting. The students took it more immediately.

"Cancel homework," several said in unison, as if it were the perfectly logical and obvious response to a North Korean attack.

I made a retort: "I think, if North Koreans are attacking, we should study English even more." 

"Why?" one boy asked.

"Because you will need English when you have to leave the country." This was excessively grim, and largely facetious. The students didn't really get what I was meaning. I decided it was too dark to explain.

Keep calm and study English.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

 

Caveat: Sole Aims of Sabotage

Last week we had a rather competitive debate in my HS cohort (HS means "pre-HS", not High School – they are 9th graders, and are in their last year of middle school in the Korean system). I divided them into teams randomly, but neither team was really working well. Instead, each team seemed to be working to sabotage the other members of their own team. 

I had place an incentive of reduced homework for the winning team. I couldn't understand why the teams were self-sabotaging. I asked, and even explained the word "sabotage" to them in some detail.

The dynamic in the class is complicated by the fact that the class is divided about evenly between some very diligent, hard-working students who always do their homework, and some more slackish students who often don't. One student said explicitly, that he didn't mind if his team lost, because even if he got homework, it was unlikely he would do it. I commented that that seemed like a realistic but regrettable perspective. 

But then I asked, well, why bother anyway, then? 

And Jinu said, in much better English than he normally uses in his speeches, "My only aim is for Jihun to do homework." 

Jihun is one of the diligent ones. He is so diligent, that he is often the best prepared. As such, he has sometimes won one of my homework exemptions in the past. I guess this had caused resentment on the part of his peers, so they were sacrificing their own chance of avoiding homework simply to see him "go down." 

Indeed, Jihun's team lost, and so they got stuck with homework.

The unsurprising thing is, this week – the following week – we met again, and Jihun had done his homework. Indeed, since the other team had won the exemption, and since his own team were mostly slackers, he was the only one who had done homework. He gave his speech, self-satisfiedly. The other students seemed to regret their previous strategy, since my grade sheet filled up with a plethora of zeros, and, of course, as the only one who had done his homework, Jihun won yet another exemption.

I'm not sure if this exemption policy really works the way I want it to. I'm rethinking things, and have temporarily suspended the policy. 

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Hello? Your Goat Is Blocking My Driveway

In Korea, it's common for people to put their cellphone numbers on small placards or stickers facing outward in the windshields of their cars. The reason for this is that then they can park blocking entrances and driveways, and if someone needs to get in or out, they can simply call to have the person move the car. It's quite logical, if a little bit chaotic, and clearly subject to abuse, but because the Korean social contract is mostly civil, it seems to work out. 

Recently I read about a new thing emerging in Somalia, wherein people put their cellphone numbers on their goats. This seems similar, although obviously it's not, in fact, about goats blocking driveways so much as it is about goats getting lost or damaging someone else's property. But it's very fascinating to me that such a trend should emerge in a country like Somalia, which is supposedly a country utterly lacking in a civil social contract. Maybe that's not, in fact, the case? 

Goats2

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: The Ilsanigator

Recently, some civic-minded group of the sort which still abound in Korea decided to decorate the park benches along the pedestrian streets among the apartment blocks in Gangseon neighborhood, where I walk every day to go to work.

For example, someone placed a duck with ducklings on one bench. 

2015-08-14 14.03.39

 

Then I noticed there was an alligator – right in front of the church that annoys me so much because of the evangelists that stand on the steps handing out free packages of wet-wipes inscribed with biblical information (this is a thing in Korea).  

2015-08-14 14.03.54

I dubbed it the Ilsanigator.

[daily log: walking, 6 km right past the Ilsanigator]

 

Caveat: Zero to one hunnit baby

지금 듣고 있어요.

인크레더블, 타블로, 지누션, "오빠차."

가사.

오빠 차 뽑았다 널 데리러 가
Baby Let's ride (Hey) 빨리 나와 (Skkkkkrt)
어서 타 달리자 어디든 괜찮아
Baby Let's ride Let's do it All night

질리도록 말했잖아 돈 벌어서 데리러간다고
넌 그냥 몸만 오면 돼
쥐뿔 하나 없어도 날 믿어주던 사람들에게
확실히 보답해
Brake 없이 Accelerator
말년휴가처럼 달려가 제대로
신발대신 이젠 바퀴
멈출 생각 없어 아우토반이 된 앞길
풀릴 일 없게
꽉 조여 매 안전벨트
걱정 마 너 말곤
아무도 안태워 내 옆엔
아까워 우리 나이가
좀 빨라도 겁내지마
가끔 속도위반

오빠 차 뽑았다 널 데리러 가
Baby Let's ride (Hey) 빨리 나와 (Skkkkkrt)
어서 타 달리자 어디든 괜찮아
Baby Let's ride Let's do it All night

다 태워 먼저 부모님 또
뒷바라지해준 여자친구
절대 아냐 허세나 생색
내 차엔 없거든 Airback
돈 번 다는 말은 진짜 종이 쪼가리 몇 장을
바라는 게 아냐 알아서 따라올 걸 알아
이젠 사치가 된 부모님의 걱정
한낱 소원 같은 게 아니었어

I love my car my ride 네 바퀴 달린 왕좌

U know U want it baby Shotgun it baby
Strap on your seatbelt Let's ride

I love my car my ride 네 바퀴 달린 천사

Zero to one hunnit baby
We runnin crazy
Let's make some noise

오빠 차 뽑았다 널 데리러 가
Baby Let's ride (Hey) 빨리 나와 (Skkkkkrt)

어서 타 달리자 어디든 괜찮아
Baby Let's ride Let's do it All night

운전면허 딴 적은 없어도 아끼고 안 쓰고 벌어
그 당시 전 재산 털어 십년은 넘은
아빠차를 바꿔드렸어
한 달 뒤에 주차장에 세워져
먼지 덮인 걸 보고 화냈지
울 아빠는 말했지내 아들의 첫차 아까워서 어떻게 타겠니? For real

오빠 차 뽑았다 널 데리러 가
Baby Let's ride (Hey) 빨리 나와 (Skkkkkrt)
어서 타 달리자 어디든 괜찮아
Baby Let's ride

오빠 차 뽑았다 널 데리러 가
Baby Let's ride (Hey) 빨리 나와 (Skkkkkrt)
어서 타 달리자 어디든 괜찮아
Baby Let's ride Let's do it All night

[daily log: walking, one hunnit meter]

Caveat: Teacher, Go Home

Yesterday, Chris, a child of very little English, ran up to me and breathlessly said, "Teacher, go home." Unfortunately, it was not time for me to go home.

My colleague Grace overheard this and said, "Why is he telling you to go home?"

I said that I wasn't sure. My suspicion is that he was simply so excited to have mastered the (admittedly quite simple) grammar of the expression, he had to try it out. 

I was so proud of this idiomatic usage that I decided to disregard the failed pragmatics.

[daily log: walking, 1 km]

Caveat: All Izz Well

Lately I have been watching a lot of TV, trying hard to watch Korean-language content, guided by the idea that it could help me improve my Korean. I don't always understand much, but I try. Sometimes, however, one can stumble across very strange things when channel surfing Korean television. 

The other day, I arrived on a Bollywood movie being broadcast, right as some engineering students started a dance routine in the dormitory showers.

This struck me as funny.

At the end of the song, I was hooked – watch til the last seconds of the song above, you'll see why – the movie has a serious subtext. The movie was hard for me to follow, given the subtitles were in Korean. Only about 30% of the dialogue is in English. 

Apparently, the movie, called "3 Idiots," is quite famous.

[daily log: walking 6 km]

Caveat: The People’s Republic of Arcturus

I have my "alligator bucks" – play money that I give to my students as rewards for classroom points or for homework, etc. 

In most of my classes, I give the students the bucks and they each have their little pouches or pencil cases where they store their money. Some put their dollars inside their smartphone cases, which is also a common place where they "hide" real cash, too. 

I have many classes where the students have pooled their cash for specific events (like I will offer to sell a games-playing class event or "pizza party" for some amount) but the kids are always quite meticulous in their accounting for who has contributed what amount to the pool, and the "banker" role is always strictly temporary.

Then there is my Arcturus cohort. These kids set up a "banker," perhaps originally with the same of idea of pooling resources. But the student in charge, who goes by Gina, is a bit of a forceful personality. That's being polite – really, she's a bit of a bully, to be frank, and it's often an effort to keep her domineering ways in check. Anyway, she, of course, appointed herself banker. And now, no matter what, she collects all the cash earned by any student the class.

She keeps meticulous count of how much she has, how much is owed each day, but none of the students, nor her, have any accounting of who has what proportion of the total cash at this point. Thus she is more of a government agency or a feudal lord than a "bank."

I'm not totally happy with this situation at the moment, because a few times I've gotten hints (only hints, no kid will openly admit it) that not all the students want to be a part of this forced communitarian approach to holding alligator dollars. Gina currently holds more than 300 alligator bucks on behalf of her fellow students, and I think I'm going to have to come up with an exorbitantly-priced event of some kind, liquidate the bank, and then cancel the dollar system for a while.

But meanwhile, I see a sort of unintended social experiment unfolding, among 2nd and 3rd graders. I call it the People's Republic of Arcturus.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]