Caveat: 밥 먹는 법

One thing that happens every time my friend Peter leaves Korea is that I get a pile of books. I am his Asian book storage facility, because he knows I appreciate them.

One book he left with me is a book of poems entitled "A letter not sent" by Jeong Ho-seung (정호승). The book is bilingual, which I like, with translation by Brother Anthony and Susan Hwang. Brother Anthony is a Catholic monk based in Seoul and prolific translator of Korean poetry – I've written about him before on this blog. Peter actually seems to know the man through their shared membership in the Royal Asiatic Society. 

I particularly liked this poem (note that I copied the poem's text from the book, so any strange typing mistakes, especially in the Korean where my typing skills are imprecise, are my own and not in the original).

밥 먹는 법

밥상 앞에
무릎을 꿇지 말 것
눈물로 만든 밥모다
모래로 만든 밥을 먼저 먹을 것

무엇보다도
전시된 밥은 먹지 말 것
먹더라도 혼자 먹을 것
아니면 차라리 굶을 것
굶어서 가벼워질 것

때때로
바람 부는 날이면
풀잎을 햇살에 비벼 먹을 것
그래도 배가 고프면
입을 없앨 것
– 정호승 (한국 시인 1950년-)

How to Eat

No kneeling
in front of the meal table;
the rice made of sand should be eaten
before the rice made of tears.

Above all else
rice on display should not be eaten;
if you must eat it, you should eat it alone;
otherwise you should fast;
by fasting you will grow lighter.

From time to time
on windy days,
you should mix grass with sunlight and eat that;
and should you still feel hungry
you should do away with your mouth.
– Jeong Ho-seung (Korean poet, b1950)

One comment on the title. The translation of the title, "How to Eat," isn't completely literal. Literally, it is "Rules for eating rice." But "eat" and "eat rice" are essentially synonymous in Korean (in a way that can sometimes lead to confusion for Westerners).

I very much prefer the literal title, and I think the poem is playing with the semantic overlap between "eat" and "eat rice" which means the title should include "rice." 

I have written a nonnet as a kind of "response" to this poem. I will post it tonight as my daily nonnet.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

 

Caveat: Breezy Farewell

I went into Seoul yesterday to bid farewell, once again, to my friend Peter.

Mostly it was just hanging out and watching him finish packing. A few of his other friends came by, too. I'm not sure my social skills are very good, anymore.

It was a cool, windy day, relative to the recent oppressive heat of August. A squall of rain crossed the city as we were leaving. The air was quite clear and the clouds were many stark shades of gray, like an abstract coloring book pattern in the sky.

Here is a picture of Peter, with a friend of his, and me, after going out in the street from his apartment (well, former apartment, now). In fact it is raining lightly in this picture, but it's hard to tell.

Peter_farewell_v3

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Nonnet #23

Some kids have a lot to say in class.
Other students stare wordlessly.
I want them to feel their worth,
understand our topics,
and become engaged.
Mostly I fail.
It is hard.
They just
sit.

Caveat: I’ve said I don’t like to complain on this here blog thing but here let me complain some more

I've been feeling a lot of stress, lately. The work cycle is at that typical September peak, as kids start their Fall semester at school, we wrap up the summer special classes, and enrollment starts heading for that hagwon-biz Fall surge. I have month-end writing tests to score, student comments to write, and new student interviews.

Further, there has been a kind of rumbling of parental dissatisfaction with the current state of the curriculum in the youngest cohorts. That means lots of wasted time in incoherent discussions and meetings about curriculum, and the resulting decisions which, inevitably, will not be the ideas I advocated for.

Layered on that is the fact that September 1 is the annual contract renewal date, which always forces me to contemplate, once again, the occasionally Faustian nature of my current, complicated, and unsatisfying relationship with my job, my host country, and the Korean healthcare system. It is easy to begin to wonder if it's all worth it.

Additionally, I was "volunteered" for some extra work, at work – of the least favorite kind, which  involves sitting and mucking with a computer trying to transcribe some simply atrocious English conversations: Bad, non-native speakers talking buzzword-filled English to the worst kind of consonant-glottalizing, modal-verb-abusing, corporatese-spewing Britishers with stunningly loud background noises and interruptions. I feel like my willingness to be helpful is being abused, and of course it's hard when the utility of the work at hand seems dubious at best.

I have a hospital appointment coming up, too. I always dread those – anticipating them is much worse than just being there dealing with it. Having moved past the worst of the jaw necrosis problem last Spring, I enjoyed a relatively hospital-free summer after the Big Anniversary Scan in July. So my "just deal with it" reflex is rusty. 

All said and done, I feel unhappy.

I am going to Seoul today to bid farewell (version 3.0? 4.0?) to my friend Peter, who is once again returning to the US, this time to start graduate school.

[daily log: walking, 3km]

Caveat: Nonnet #22

Fall
can't come
all at once.
Fall must sneak in,
catch us unawares
with a yellow leaf here
and a northerly breeze there.
I smelled autumn's covert rustlings
today: percepts tasting of woodsmoke.

Caveat: 強固無比

I learned this four character aphorism on my building's elevator last night.

強固無比
강고무비
gang.go.mu.bi
strong-firm-no-compare
"Incomparable strength and steadiness."

It can be made into a descriptive verb, too: 강고무비하다. The underlying meaning of this 고사성어 seemed more transparent than most – the dictionary definition given for the aphorism is simply: 비교할 수 없이 굳세고 단단함 (Incomparable firmness and strength).

 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: A Case Study in the Efficient Allocation of Limited Intellectual Resources by a Third Grade Elementary EFL Student

In my low-level TQ cohort, including second and third grade elementary students, we were practicing a very low-level "interview" format, starting with "What is your name?" Beforehand, I had given them formulaic "frames" where they could fill in their answers, and had helped them fill them in.

Teacher: "What is your favorite color?"

David: "I like yellow."

Teacher: "Why do you like yellow."

David: "I like it because chickens are yellow."

… later…

Teacher: "What is yoru favorite animal?"

David: "I like chickens."

Teacher: "Why do you like chickens?"

David: "I like it because chickens are yellow."

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Talking Through Britain

I found these two videos rather fascinating – essentially, in both cases the presenters step through discussing various dialects of the British Isles while at the same time reproducing those accents quite well.

I have a difficult relationship with various English language dialects: on the one hand, I find them fascinating and I work hard to be able to tell them apart; on the other hand, I am utterly incapable of consistently reproducing them in a sustained manner, which is weird to me, because I'm actually somewhat able to do something similar with various Spanish dialects. Is it perhaps that my own mother-tongue – Northern California English – is too deeply embedded and thus I can't seem to override it, while with Spanish, since no single dialect is deeply embedded, I'm more able to shift around the dialect space? Or, more likely, perhaps I'm really not that good at doing it in Spanish either, but I'm sufficiently incompetent that I don't realize what I'm doing wrong. 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #18

Maybe I am becoming a plant.
Every Sunday I cut my hair.
In the weird fluorescent light,
today, in the bathroom,
I looked at the floor.
Surprisingly,
the clippings
looked like
moss.

Caveat: umop apisdn

UPSIDE DOWN can be spelled upside down using right way up letters of the alphabet:

umop apisdn. 

Note that this only works if you use a font with a "double-storey" "a" - which is to say, if you use a "single-storey" font like the notorious Comic Sans, or anything in italics, it doesn't quite work: 

*umop apisdn. 

*umop apisdn. 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #17

Small
ripples
propagate
across the brown,
cream-colored surface
of my morning's coffee,
put there by the blowing wind
exhaled by my electric fan
which perches in my window, bird-like.