Caveat: FTS RIP

You might be surprised to learn that my toilet seat had a name. I say "had" because it died this morning.

It was a fraught relationship, anyway.

The toilet seat was a bit out of adjustment – perhaps it wasn't quite the right dimensions for the toilet. So the seat part would never quite stay up properly, the way a male has been trained to hope for. Thus it was that my brother, when visiting in 2013, dubbed it, in the most politically incorrect way imaginable, "the Feminist Toilet Seat" – because it always wanted to put the seat down. Hence "FTS."

At some point after he left, however, one day, I was frustrated with how it never stayed up quite right, or would fall down just at the most inopportune moment. I snapped it up more vigorously than it could tolerate, and broke one of the plastic hinge attachments.

This had a good result, however. After that, the seat stayed up just fine. Sitting on the seat, on the other hand, became more complicated. It had a tendency to lurch sideways if my weight wasn't properly centered on it. That could be alarming, as you might imagine. 

So at some point in 2015 I added "toilet seat, 40cm x 36 cm" to my little shopping list that I keep on my phone, where, in my typical gnomic fashion, in fact I called it "toilseat."

For the last 2 years, I didn't buy a new toilet seat. Because although it was a bit annoying, it was always an annoyance that was quite transient. This morning, snapping it up in that way that exploited the broken hinge, however, I broke the other hinge. And thus it died. The FTS traveled quickly to the trash.

I walked over to the Home Plus store and bought a new one for ₩12,900 (eleven bucks – made in Vietnam), and installed it with zero problems. I wonder why I didn't do that sooner? 

[daily log: walking, 3km]

Caveat: let’s celebrate end-of-semester government-mandated close-all-the-hagwon day

I have a little holiday, today. It's the "end-of-semester government-mandated close-all-the-hagwons day."

As I often do when I get days off from work, I find myself being extremely lazy. I guess that's OK, but the consequence is that I don't even have anything interesting to post on this here blog thingy. 

I keep posting just because some people use the blog to see if I'm doing OK. So here I am, doing OK.

More later.

[daily log: walking, 2km]

Caveat: 家和萬事成


I learned this aphorism from the Shamanism Museum on Friday.

가화만사성 (家和萬事成)
A happy home can achieve anything.

It was on a sign board on an outside wall (picture at right).

The most notable thing at the museum, to me, was the extreme similarity and parallelism between these shamanistic accouterments and images and those I normally associate with Korean Buddhism. I suppose 1500 years of coexistence has led to extensive syncretism on both sides.

So I took some other pictures at the Shamanism museum.

There were some exhibits.


There were various rooms.


There were token examples of Nepalese and Tibeten shaman costumes, perhaps to justify the name “Museum of Shamanism” as opposed to “Museum of Korean Shamanism.”


There were stylistic pseudo-Chinese decorative objects.


There was a tranquil-looking back room.


The museum’s location is in a newly developed neighborhood of typical Korean highrises, but the building itself is a historical site of some deified ancestor.


[daily log: walking… uh, nope.]

Caveat: Random Poem #61

(Poem #362 on new numbering scheme)

Some clouds disputed with the ground and trees.
The earth kept forcing its branches skyward;
the sky in turn was throwing down droplets.
My friend and I were waiting; so we talked.
I sat and pulled out from my pocket, then,
my smartphone, checking something. Suddenly
a splash of rain struck the screen. Like magic,
the dictionary app was opened. "Look,"
my friend insisted, "there's your next poem."

Caveat: subway2

I met my friend Peter this morning at Gupabal (구파발) to go to the shamanism museum (which we tried to visit a few weeks ago but it was closed). This time it was open and we went, though the founder/main proprietor wasn't there, which I think disappointed Peter a little bit, since he'd met him before and had been impressed by him.

I'll write more about the museum later, and maybe post some pictures or something, but for now, lacking time, I'll just comment that afterward, Peter and I decided to have a quick lunch. We went into a Subway sandwich chain shop. These shops are not just ubiquitous in the US, but are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in Korea as well – there's even one across the street from Karma.

Peter was very surprised when I announced that in fact this was the very first time I had visited a Subway restaurant in Korea. I don't visit American brand fast food very often in Korea – I've only visited McDonalds twice, that I can recall, in the 10 years I've been here. So not even before I got the mouth cancer. And now there is even less reason to visit those types of places. It was fine to eat there, though sandwiches are bit challenging to eat for me, being a bit too dry and requiring a lot of tongue-gymnastics to bite off and chew, if you think about it. Not my strong points, these days. But I managed fine – I can manage anything, these days, in fact. 

So if visiting a Korean Subway sandwich shop was on my bucket list, it's taken care of now. After that, Peter went to his work and I went home. On the subway.

[daily log: walking, 8.5km]

Caveat: Destiny

Andy is a fifth grader who is in an Honors cohort otherwise made up of sixth graders, because of his high ability. It was a bit problematic placing him there, because he ended up in the same class with his older sister, Julie. I suspect the direct competition isn't helping the younger boy.

Last night, we took a month-end speaking test. Julie scored 99%. Andy, on the other hand, only managed 71%. Their ability levels are similar and normally they score similarly. Andy moaned and made a sad expression. "It is my destiny!" he exclaimed.

"In Karma, it is your destiny," his older sister intoned, with mock seriousness. On the one hand, I think they were imitating the famous Darth Vader line, "It is your destiny." But I realized they both are also probably quite aware that one possible meaning of "Karma" is in fact "destiny" – certainly the fine semantic differences between them is lost, since both words are often translated 운명 [unmyeong] in Korean. I suspect they have a running joke between them. 

[daily log: walking, 7km]


Caveat: contra el dorado pájaro latente


Nunca podrás ver nada claramente:
todo es zarzal, espinas y maraña.
En vano gastarás toda tu maña
contra el dorado pájaro latente.

Errado el tiro, vuelves bruscamente
el arma hacia otro lado, mas te engaña
la jugada de sol que el árbol baña.
Te vuelves loco y lloras tristemente.

Todo del tonel sale de la vida
tosco, deforme y dando tropezones.
Dejas pasar los años y su herida,

y cuando quieras darte explicaciones
ni te sirvió la espuela ni la brida:
un pétalo fue más que tus razones.

– Baldomero Fernández Moreno (poeta argentino, 1886-1950)

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Latter Day Parking Lots

The Mormon church that has been under construction in my neighborhood is nearing completion – I've commented on it before, partly because I'd developed a kind of special feeling or affinity for the vacant lot (so rare in Ilsan) that had previously occupied the space for most of the years I've been here. 

I guess the architecture is solidly Mormonesque – whatever that is, although I do believe there is, at least, an identifiable (post hoc) Mormon architectural style. What was more depressing was that half of the lot is given over to an at-grade parking lot.

Believe it or not, I've contemplated the cultural semiotics of Mormon parking lots before. This may be partly due to having grown up across the street from the local Mormon church, and thus for me, as a child, the concepts of expansive parking lots and Mormonism became deeply intertwined. For me, as a child, the Mormon church's parking lot was simply the parking lot. It became the archetype of an American sort of over-engineered, low density, space-wasting, parking-in-front approach to parking.

I had imagined that local Korean building codes would preclude the construction of such a parking lot for this church. Apparently, I was naive. 

It's not that Koreans don't build low density parking lots. It's that in my experience, if Koreans build an at-grade, open space parking lot (as opposed to a high density parking structure), these constructions seem to be, inevitably, fairly contingent, strictly temporary affairs. If they have a vacant lot, by all means, slap down some asphalt, paint some lines, put up an attendant's booth, and charge money to park there. These can be found all over Ilsan, in fact, as well as the rest of Seoul. Perhaps that was partly why I was so surprised that the vacant lot where this new church has been built remained simply vacant for so long.

As I said, however, these low-density parking lots are not, normally, viewed as particularly major undertakings, and they lack any feeling of permanence. There are several in Ilsan that are not even properly paved – they're just gravel. I kind of intuit that the expectation is that eventually the lot will get built with something, with the inevitable multi-level parking structure integrated into the new building.

But these Mormons – they've created a parking lot in the boldest of North American, low density, highly engineered traditions. There are little rows of trees, there are elaborate curbs and bays, there is even the modern "permeable parking lot" concept whereby grass can grow between the gaps and water can drain down – thus preventing the loss of so much rainfall for the groundwater. These are all things that seem so utterly American to me, and quite alien to the way Koreans approach parking in my experience. 

Not only that, there's a giant fence completely enclosing it. Most Korean parking lots are quite pedestrian-friendly – I cut across or through both open low-density lots and parking ramps all the time, as I walk from one place to another. 

What does it mean that Mormon churches always have such substantial and, more interestingly, prominently visible parking lots? Partly, it's about the fact of being a wealthy but most definitely minority religion. Their churches thus have to draw from a widely dispersed community, where most members might be coming from quite some distance away. Thus, they all have cars and they all need a place to park. But it's also a kind of declaration of suburban American values. I can't say I'm scandalized, but a part of me had expected something different of Mormons in the Korean context. I gather I was mistaken.


Anyway, I hope they enjoy parking their cars.


[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: 호우경보

Several times a week, it seems, the helpful Korean government authorities send little text message advisories to my phone. Most of these seem to have little relevance to my day-to-day existence: I get warnings about remote bird flu outbreaks or rural landslides or what have you. But I enjoy the opportunity to work out the meanings of these fragments of “found Korean.”

This morning, I received this message:

[국민안전처] 오늘 08시20분 경기(고양,파주) 호우경보, 산사태ㆍ상습침수 등 위험지역 대피, 외출자제 등 안전에 주의바랍니다

Given the stunningly aggressive thunderstorm taking place outside my window, I had a suspicion as to its meaning already. The sky was dark like twilight, there was lightening and pouring rain. Not just more of the same old monsoon, this was hardcore weather.

Sure enough, the message says, roughly:

“[National Safety Service] Today 8:20 AM, Gyeonggi Province (Goyang, Paju) Storm Warning, please evacuate landslide or flood-prone areas and exercise caution when going out.”

I felt pleased with the lack of difficulty I experienced in making sense of this message.

And that’s your Korean for the day. Happy stormy Sunday.

[daily log: walking, maybe not]