Caveat: Professoriality

A while back my best friend Bob sent me an email in which he responded to a comment I made a few weeks back about always ending as the "professor" at the teaching jobs I've taken on.  I was working on writing back to him finally, just now, but realized this could be a more general comment on the "state of Jared's life."  So here goes…

Bob wrote the following: 

    I wonder whether your multi-lingual, bi-continental, bi-millennial career of being nicknamed “professor” means that you should actually become one? I know you have trepidations about how much backlogging you’d have to do to start a degree in a new field, but shit, if you got a doctorate in anything, you could probably market yourself to teach anything else, perhaps in some cool, alternative-type institution and/or exotic locale. I don’t know how many such places actually exist, but I do seem to detect a trend within academia away from specialization towards more interdisciplinary courses, majors, and so on. Not sure I really know what I’m talking about—perhaps I’m just unwittingly fantasizing about my own dream job.

He's right, of course.  I should become a professor – I've always thought that's where I should be headed.  But getting a PhD is not trivial – especially when one is as unfocused and vaguely dilettantish as I seem to be.  Last fall, as part of my relocation back to Minnesota, I made an extended self-examination around the idea of returning to graduate school.

I audited a doctoral-level seminar with an old professor I really liked on the topic of good old Cervantes, who occupied the position of honor in my abandoned doctoral dissertation proposal when I was in the Spanish Lit program at the Univ of Pennsylvania.   This audit experience merely confirmed the fact that, as much as I love Cervantes and the whole lit-crit game, it's not what I would want to do a PhD on at this point in time.

I had some interviews and conversations with another old professor at the U of MN, who had been my undergraduate advisor and is now attached to the Philosophy Department, wondering if I would do a program in that subject area.  But as much as it attracts me, it's difficult for me to nail down what, exactly, I would do in the field of philosophy.  I'm not really a philosopher as much as a philologist… but we just discarded the philology line in the previous paragraph.

How about linguistics?  I could see doing this, sometimes.  And certainly, that's the subject area that dovetails best with my current pursuits – teaching and learning language(s).  In an aside, I had a fun moment in a class today, as I demonstrated for my terminally bored teenagers a few moments of my experience on their side of the hagwon divide (i.e. my Saturday Korean class):  I did one of those back-and-forth dialogues, where I played both student (myself) and the teacher (my Korean language seonsaengnim), and demonstrated conclusively that I, too, could be profoundly clueless in the face incomprehensible linguistic input.

OK.  No answers.  Just thinking "out loud" here.

I'm having some ramyeon and boricha and listening to Minnesota Public Radio's morning show at eleven at night.  More later.

Caveat: Birthday Cake with Chopsticks

Yesterday at work we had a birthday cake for Grace, one of the teachers.  It was a very western looking birthday cake, and we sang happy birthday in English.  Somehow this made the fact that we all dug into the cake with chopsticks seem all the more alien, somehow.  Odd, the things that strike me as alien here.

I've been working pretty hard Monday and today… I'm feeling like I need to put more prep time in, to be a better teacher.  Some classes go very well, and others, not so well.  With some classes I seem trapped in a spiral:  students don't do their work, come unprepared, so I "crack down," giving more homework, checking things more, and this quickly becomes profoundly frustrating for both sides.  I need to work on not getting caught in these loops.  But that's a minority of classes.  Most of my classes are quite fun, for the most part, and the students are engaged at some level or another.  And with this new schedule, I have pretty fun classes at the end of my daily run, each day.  So this is nice.

Caveat: Oops, missed a day

I was on such a good roll, posting each day to my blog.

I was awakened yesterday morning to my phone ringing, but when I answered "hello" there was dead silence.  I thought it was a telemarketer – there are as many of those here as there are in the US, but usually a few sentences of English discourage them quickly enough.   They also like to send you little text messages all the time.  Anyway, my phone rang a few more times after this, and finally I shut off my phone and tried to go back to sleep.  It was about 10 am… but I'd not gotten to sleep until 3 am the night before – my schedule here is so late, usually, which I don't really like, but I have nevertheless become very accustomed to it.  Sigh.  I couldn't sleep, so I pulled out the book I've been reading and several hours suddenly disappeared.

Net result: yesterday was a total write-off.  I did none of the things I'd intended to do, I was lazy and read all day.  But I guess sometimes I need days like that?

I finally made the dreaded "ne" mistake, which English-speaking learners of Korean often complain about.  I was in the convenience store downstairs, last night, stocking up on cold coffee and orange juice, two of my staples, and the woman asked me if I needed a bag.  I still have no idea what exactly they're saying when they say this phrase, but I hear it often enough I understand the drift of it and recognize it when I'm being asked.  So I shook my head and said "ne."

Here's the problem:  "ne" means "yes."  But it sounds too much like an English negative, don't you think?  So far, for whatever reason, I had successfully avoided this bit of linguistic confusion, but yesterday, whether because of my recent accelerated efforts or day of escapist reading, I slipped up.  It clearly confused her, that I was shaking my head no, and saying yes.   She gave up trying to give me a bag, because I was leaving the store, but she was obviously thinking "crazy damn foreigners!"

The proper word for "no" is "anio" (or even "anyo" like Spanish "año"), where the key negation syllable is "an" (which is also attached to regular verbs to negate them).   

There are other issues with affirmation and negation in Korean, which show up frequently with my students.  Koreans always say yes or no to questions in the spirit of "confirm" or "deny," thus, I will ask a student "So you didn't do your homework?" and she will blithely nod and say "yes," meaning she didn't do her homework.

In English, we typically say yes or no to a question in the spirit of the underlying content of the question, and asking the same question of a native speaker would get "no" as an answer in reference to the same basic facts.  So… lots of confusion.

Perhaps it's best to avoid yes-no situations as much as possible?  Stick with the gray middle ground.

Caveat: The other side

So I found myself on the other side of the hagwon divide: I'm now officially taking a class to help me with my Korean.  It's at a little school in Seoul's Gangnam district, and happens Saturday afternoons, which makes it compatible with my schedule – the main reason I chose the program, despite the long trip to get there:  a little over an hour on the subway.

The class is well-suited to my ability level, I think.  I'm a little ahead of the curve on grammar and verb conjugation stuff, but behind the curve on vocabulary, definitely.  Which is typical of my language-learning experiences, I suppose.

Gangnam is a very trendy area "south of the river" (which is basically what the name means).  After my class I walked along Teheran-ro, one of the few streets in Seoul that everyone seems to know the name of (perhaps because it's a foreign name?), and the address of a lot of trendy and high-rent stores, among other things.  After that, I took a round-about ride on the green line of the subway around the east side, across the river (where the train goes on a bridge) and saw a fabulous just-after-sunset rose-colored sky, with all the bridges and broad avenues along the banks with elegant high-rise apartments, random modernist arches, fall-colored orange and gold trees.  But the Youngpoong bookstore didn't have the latest Economist magazine yet.  So I came home on a crowded train, and bought some cabbage and delicious cherry tomatoes at the high-rent grocery in the basement of the Lotte on my way out of the Jeongbalsan subway station, and walked home in the cold wind while a drunk couple argued lovingly in the middle of the street.

Caveat: Psychogeographie et l’art de la dérive

I was listening to Warren Olney's (sp?) "Which Way L.A." radio program last night, and he had as a guest a man named Will Self who is a practitioner of Guy Debord's psychogeography – a 50's situationist pseudo-artistic movement that endeavored to move around cities in unexpected ways, thus  "reading" urban landscapes  in some way via the subconscious.  Or something like that.  But I realized that I may actually be a long-term  psychogeographer, given my love of wandering about urban spaces without plan, map or program. 

Will Self had just spent the day before walking in a straight line from LAX to Watts – about 11 miles, and something very much like what I would do – indeed, more than once while living in LA I would take long undirected and notably untouristic walks, once walking from Long Beach to San Pedro, for example.  And just recently I've taken some rather random jaunts around Seoul, as well as last Saturday's long hike from Imjingang to Munsan-eup.

It's a rather high-falutin'-sounding term, though.  I like better Debord's concept of 'dérive' – "drift."  This suits me just fine.  I think I'll pursue it.

Caveat: Not much to say

There, I've said it.  I haven't got much to say.  So now, since I can only use each title once in this blog, I can never say it again. 

It was strongly breezy today.  We had a farewell lunch for Marlene, the teacher from New Zealand, who isn't being replaced since enrollments at the school are down somewhat.  Danny and Diane, the school's owners, seem to be taking this decline with a certain amount of aplomb – I suspect there's some cyclical aspects to the 학원 (after-school academy) industry.  Some classes have been consolidated, and I like my new schedule better, mainly because the most difficult classes (which is to say, for me, the classes with the least motivated students) are no longer at the end of the day.  I like having a more fun class as my last of the day.

I'm pretty much resolved to try to find a for-pay Korean tutor and/or a Saturday class.  I'm thinking that if I can get up and get motivated early enough tomorrow, I'll go into Seoul in the morning and check out this Korean language academy in the Gangnam area. 

Caveat: Blogical Purity

So this is my 31st post in a row, on the last day of October.  Thus I have achieved a high blogical purity for the month!  Boo.  (Happy Halloween.)

School's been a bit chaotic, lately, as yesterday, the 30th, was the day of major exams for a large proportion of the students who are applying to the prestigious residential high schools.  I can't imagine it's particularly ego-boosting – they were telling me last week that most of the schools end up accepting under 5% of applicants.  So any news of positive performance on the exams is celebrated with much nodding and bowing and congratulations.

Anyway… the kids are also, therefore, dead on their feet (if they come at all, which they didn't, today), and the ones not participating in the exams seem to pick up the exhaustion via a kind of social osmosis.  Kind of a strange atmosphere of pent-up frustration and tiredness.

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Caveat: Starbucks

I went to Starbucks today and had a 4 dollar caffe latte.  This is notable because this is the first time I've gone since arriving in Korea, despite there being three Starbucks stores within easy walking distance from where I live.

Why did I do this?  Well, the pat answer is that I happen to own stock in Starbucks, and lately the share price has been languishing.  Obviously, this is because they've lost my frequent patronage, since my coming to Korea to live and work.

So, to help boost the company's fortunes, I resolved to spend more of my own hard-earned cash on 4 dollar lattes.

They don't seem to have gotten the message, however.  The stock market's been open an hour or so, now, and SBUX is down another 16 cents.  Oh well.  At least my Bombay Stock Market Index Fund is doing quite prettily.  And Nissan's perking up, lately.

Caveat: 제목없음

On Sunday, it was raining again.  I thought it would be a good day to ride the subway to a random location, so I got onto the orange line here at Jeongbalsan, and rode it all the way through downtown and past the river to the southeast, and got off at Dogok.   I have this idea that I will try to visit every single subway station in the Seoul Metro – not for any particular reason, except that I tend to do such a thing wherever I'm living:  explore the public transportation system far beyond mere curiosity.  The only subway system I've really done that with is the one in Mexico City – and since I lived there 5 or 6 new lines have been added, meaning that I can no longer even say I've been in every subway station there.

I'm wondering… perhaps if I set it as an explicit goal, and made a task of taking a picture or two at each subway station and documented my visits here. 

So I wandered my way to the Daechi station, next down the line, and then proceeded to go to the Youngpoong bookstore, where I splurged and bought myself a detailed atlas (on near-street-level scale) of South Korea.  I also found a quirky trilingual edition of Le Petit Prince (Korean, English, French) for only six bucks, and bought that too.  I have now successfully deciphered the Korean version's first paragraph, with much help from a dictionary.

Today, we had a Halloween party at the school, for the younger kids.  A few went all out and brought costumes, but, unlike e.g. Mexico, the Koreans haven't really bought into the commercialized, American-style holiday, so it's a bit of a novelty, though you do see the inevitable displays in large stores and suchlike.

One reader of this blog has observed that, based on my descriptions, Korea sounds like a gray, overcast and cloudy place.  That's not really true – at least not since the start of October, when the summer rainy season ended.  But, since I dislike sunny weather, I tend not to write about it much.  So what you see here is my commentary on the weather I enjoy.  Regardless, to remedy:  today was sunny – but it was also a cool 10 degrees (C).

Caveat: Rurality

Perhaps I was inspired by my previous post.  Yesterday afternoon I took the subway to Daegok, and boarded one of the regional commuter rail trains, bound for 임진각역 (Imjingak station).  Imjingang is basically the end-of-the-line to the northwest of here, and lies just about 3 kilometers from the DMZ (North Korean border). 

I had in mind the idea of actually seeing Camp Edwards – but I couldn't find it.  My geographic memory clearly isn't perfect – I had a recollection of it sitting right on the railroad, near the main highway.  But two factors intervene:  I don't know which railroad it sat on, but I don't think it was the commuter line, as I remember having to take a taxi into central Munsan when I wanted to take the train into Seoul;  also, Camp Edwards may not actually exist, now – the US Army has been significantly rearranging its Korean deployment over the last decade, especially moving away from major towns (such as Munsan or Dongducheon).

So I didn't find Camp Edwards.  But I walked through territory that was more than a little bit familiar, and covered the distance from Imjingang to downtown Munsan on foot (about 8 kilometers, given my roundabout route).  I enjoyed the scenery.

Imjingangkr_river02

Above is the Imjingang bridge.  In typical South Korean fashion, they have placed a major amusement park ("recreation park") here up against the DMZ – sort of this weird institutional tendency to pretend it's not really a major, militarized international border.  So right behind me from taking this picture, on the north side of the river, there were zillions of families on Sunday outing, a little amusement-park train going around some veterans memorial statue, a ferris wheel….

The concrete pillars are the old railroad bridge, and I remember these pillars vividly.  But just beyond, there is now a new railroad bridge that wasn't there in 91, and there has been much talk in the press of the new workable (but not currently actually working) rail connection with Pyeongyang.   Not to mention the talk of eventually hooking South Korea's KTX (high speed rail) with Russia's!  That would be cool… you could take the train from Seoul to Moscow!

Looking down, there were lots of men lazily fishing in the Imjingang (i.e. Imjin River)

Imjingangkr_manfishing

Walking south, I saw lot's of lovely trees, changing with the fall weather.

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Above, these are some scarecrows I saw in a field. I had this weird feeling that I spent a cold April day in this field, or one nearby, fetching a Humvee that some insane G.I. driver had flipped like a turtle into the mushy muddy rice.   I worked in "vehicle recovery" here… which is to say, I had a large green tow truck (named – not by me, but appropriately – "Rocinante"), and one of my jobs was to go out and rescue stranded Army vehicles from various spots.  This flipped Humvee was one of the most memorable, as it was the only instance where I was personally involved where there had been a major injury – the G.I. who'd flipped his vehicle had a broken back or something.  Made me somewhat paranoid about cruising around at too-high speeds in the soft-top Humvees that were so popular then.  Not so common now, since they're mostly "hardened," based on experience in Iraq, etc.

These are some flowers I saw.

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I saw a man on a tractor, and he waved to me.

Imjingangkr_man01

Later, as I walked farther south, I saw the man again, working with some others unloading a rice-threshing gadget from a truck.  He hailed me, and I discovered he spoke extremely good English – he'd lived and worked 8 years in Dubai, and also in mainland China, more recently, and wanted to talk politics.  It was interesting.  He was worried about the "red menace" and was extolling the virtues of George Bush's hard line with North Korea.  Perhaps typical of his generation in South Korea, I think.

He observed that given how South Korea is a U.S. client, geopolitically, and how the Chinese still viewed North Korea as "theirs," the DMZ was, interestingly, the place where the U.S. and China had a common border.  This was fairly sophisticated thinking for a Korean farmer.  I wonder how typical it is?

I kept walking…. I passed the 운천역 (Uncheon rail station), and this sign.

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As the sun set I got into the outskirts of 문산읍 (literallly Munsan village, though it's clearly outgrown what we would call a village), which appeared much grown from my recollection.  Here is a fairly typical sight everywhere in Korea:  cranes building high-rise buildings in the middle of nowhere.

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Now I'm listening to a streaming Mexican radio station from Estado de México, and thinking about the commonality of rural lifestyles, all over the world.

Caveat: “Set adrift on memory bliss”

The hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn (the Cordes brothers of Jersey City) had a 1991 hit single "Set adrift on memory bliss," which prompted me to buy one of only 3 albums I acquired while stationed here in Korea with the US Army's 296th Support Battalion at Camp Edwards, up towards Munsan (about 15 km north of here!).   I bought the album, entitled Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, in cassette form, at the Camp Casey PX Store (Camp Casey was the 2nd Infrantry Division's HQ at that time, and about 30 min. drive inland from Munsan, straight east).

Naturally, since I owned so few albums, it was on heavy rotation, with the consequence that I have very strong memory-associations of my year here when I hear songs from this album.  I recently was set to thinking about it, and so I broke down and bought the album, in MP3 form.  It's actually quite different from a lot of rap – an opinion I'd formed early on – as the group make lots of complex references to everything from religion and philosophy to broad aspects of popular culture from the 80's.

I was thinking of this partly as I was fishing in my brain for examples of rap music from the genre's formative period (i.e. late 80's / early 90's) that weren't entirely focused on violence and "gangsta" culture.   I have been wanting to see if I could combine sharing some aspects of popular culture and rap music (which interests one demographic of my students) with sharing a more literary approach to poetry and literature (which interests an entirely different cross-section). 

I have always held that rap music is our modern American culture's closest equivalent to the ancient forms of epic poetry, whether Homer's works or medieval creations such as El Poema del Mio Cid or Le Chanson de Roland.  And I believe the equivalence is perhaps even stronger than the obvious superficial resemblances of topic – both ancient forms and modern ones overlaid rhythmic music with repetitive and formulaic poetry.  Both treat extensively subjects such as war (or gang violence – same thing, right?) and questions of male honor and reputation.

I've often fantasized about trying to craft a "ghetto" reading of the original El Cid (in its archaic 11th century Spanish) to a modern drum-machine and sampled soundtrack.  I think it would prove quite interesting.

Meanwhile, I'm listening to KCRW (streaming).

Interesting (almost poetic!) English du jour:  "We will be the invisible motivation of link South Korea into one." — from Korean National Railway's website, English version.

[Update: youtube video added retroactively, 2011-08-03, part of the background noise.]

Caveat: Strange Markings

pictureAlways the anthropologist, I find myself intrigued by the graffiti that the school’s students leave on desktops.  My Korean is much too poor, and my knowledge of Korean pop/youth culture too limited, to make sense of of what’s written, but I nevertheless wonder.  And occasionally I get paranoid and think, oh, they’re writing bad things about me.  Or one of the other teachers.  And maybe they are.  But mostly, I’m sure, it has nothing to do with anything but the tribal fascinations of youth, as expressed in graffiti anywhere.

Caveat: K-Smog into Drizzle

Over the last several weeks it's become steadily drier, and the last couple of days have even been marginally smoggy – though nothing like Mexicopolis versions 1 or 2.  Perhaps the smog would be more intense if I went into the city proper – out here on the western edge of the Korean megalopolis, with the breeze off the Yellow Sea (oh, wait, a breeze laden with pollutants drifting from north China's industrial heartland).

So I walked to work today, looking at the sudden appearance of little piles of leaves under some of the trees that are beginning to change color.  It was sunny and vaguely hazy, and as warm as it's been for a while.  Yet when I looked out of the windows of the school a few hours later at dusk, it was drizzling.  First rain we've seen for quite some time.  I walked home on the shiny wet streets, and watched a cat attempting to get into a garbage can for a while.

I thought about how big the world is, and how small our minds are.

Caveat: 김치 찌개 (Kimchi soup) via text-message

Sometimes for lunch (at work) I have 김치 찌개, which is a pretty tasty soup based on kimchi, and the kind I have also has tuna and other bits and pieces.

Windows Vista crashed twice for me this morning – I was using it to download some music from a site where I have a membership (emusic.com) that doesn’t seem particularly adept at supporting Linux.

And every time Vista does something, it asks me to approve each little step:  “continue,” “allow,” “yes,” etc.  It’s like working with an insecure 3 year-old.  I can figure out no way to deactivate all these little notifications and requests for approval.  So… just to reiterate: I’m so glad I’m doing most of my work in Linux nowadays.

I finally have got the hang of typing hangeul into my cell phone.  It’s not really straightforward at first – the “consonant” elements of each syllable-glyph are letter-keys, just like in an English-based cell phone keypad – e.g. touch ‘4’ once for ㄱ, twice for ㅋ, etc.  However, the “vowel” component is a composition:  to get ㅒ I have to touch 1-2-2-1, which is to say, vertical bar, dot, dot, vertical bar.  Like drawing a little picture.  So, to key in “김치 찌개” I touch:  4-1-0-0 -> 9-9-1 -> 9-9-9-1 -> 4-1-2-1 ->.   Compare this to what you have to do for English to type “kimchi soup”:  5-5 -> 4-4-4 -> 6 -> 2-2-2 -> 4-4 -> 4-4-4 -> 0 -> 7-7-7 -> 6-6-6 -> 8-8 -> 7 ->.

pictureNot sure if anyone really is interested in this.  I would note, however, that to say essentially the same thing, the Korean method ends up being much more efficient, in terms of the number of times your thumb has to hit the little touchpad on your phone.  I’m guessing this would pan out under broader statistical analysis.  So, is this why text-messaging is so much more popular in Korea  than in the U.S.?

Now all I need is someone with whom to exchange text messages in Korean.  Uh… oh, and I also have to have something I know how to say in Korean.  I’m working on that.

When I need to look up a word, there’s a little dictionary in my phone.  Still haven’t got very good at looking things up in Korean – the search function is “alphabetical” (which is easy if I’m looking English-to-Korean, since I’m really good with alphabetization in English) i.e. there is a “hangeul order” that you have to be comfortable with, to be able to effectively use the search.

So far, it’s easier to wait till I can go online, and go to naver.com’s online dictionary – then I can key the hangeul in using my keyboard (which I more-or-less have the hang of, though on my Linux system I still have to use a hack of keying it into a text-editor and then pasting into the browser, as I haven’t been able to get the browser to allow me to type non-western input methods directly).

Caveat: Gary’s Ghost

It's been two months since I replaced Gary at this school, and still students (not all, but more than a few) clearly miss him and leave me feeling dull and mediocre in comparison.  This is discouraging.  I am not the same sort of "funny," dynamic personality as he was, and although I have my strengths (e.g. my breadth of knowledge and experience, my linguistic training, and at least some pedagogical theory), these are not strengths typically appreciated by teenagers.   I learned only on the 3rd week here that I already had a nickname among some of the students, which was, roughly, "the professor."  This is almost eerie given that was also my nickname when I taught at Moorestown in 97-98.

Well.  So this whole "take on the teaching thing again" is not feeling like a good move, just at the moment.  What should I be doing different?  Being "the professor" is not all bad, but it may not be what Korean teenagers want or need.  That leaves me struggling to define and then fill a more appropriate role, but one which no doubt will come less naturally to me.

Caveat: I dreamed I was blogging

Really.  I woke up this morning from a dream in which I had been writing all these excellent posts to my blog.  Of course, I couldn’t quite make out what the these fabulous posts were about, regrettably.  So instead, all I have to post about is the dream.

The weekend was a pretty lazy one, as weekends go.  I had this huge ambition to try to go somewhere new, but I didn’t.  I did a lot of reading, and although I’m not feeling sick at all anymore, I decided I had been stressing too much about my efforts at teaching, so I resolved to not push myself to do anything I didn’t feel motivated to do, this weekend.  The consequence was that although I did quite a bit of walking, it was completely untouristic in nature – I just explored bits of my neighborhood and the larger Ilsan area.

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Caveat: Seoul

Not feeling in a writing mood.  But I promised to post something everyday.  I’m listening to some new music I downloaded – LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great” which reminds me a bit of a kind of hyperactive Magnetic Fields song, actually.

Here are a few pictures.

This is Seoul, looking north across the Han river from Yeouido Island toward downtown, Yongsan and Namsan – see the tower, right horizon?

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This is the main south gate of the old city – the walls no longer exist, and so it’s just a gate in the middle of a giant traffic circle.  It’s called Namdaemun.

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This is the infinite stairway in my building, looking down.  I often take the stairs, as it’s more exercise that way.

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What I’m listening to right now.

[Update: I added this youtube video 2011-08-03 as part of background noise.]

Caveat: Listless Chilliness

Well, the high today was about 10 c.  That's about 50 f – which makes it the coldest day so far, this fall.  And a chill wind blowing, so that the weather news here for the first time decided to mention the concept of windchill.  I was walking around my neighborhood, not feeling motivated to go into Seoul today, and felt cold for the first time since coming to Korea.

It was a listless day and I ended up coming back and reading the afternoon away, losing track of time.  I'm reading Henry George's Progress and Poverty.  Pretty dry, and radically out-of-date, from a politico-economic analysis point of view.  But… I still think some of the argument may have merit.  Not sure.  Will have to get back to everyone on that question.

In other news: I'm thinking that Mr. William B. Ide may be a candidate for holding the record as the person who dropped furthest in a single demotion.  In June of 1846, he was the elected President of the de facto sovereign California Republic.  In July of the same year, he became a private in Captain Fremont's California Battalion.

Caveat: More Nonsense, or Immanent Cybersoul?

In other news:  I found a blog that is stunningly bizarre.  Go take a look at it.  I dare you.  [Update:  the link is dead.  The strange blog has disappeared.  Which supports the spam theory, below.]

OK then.  I’d like to hope that it is some kind of strange inside joke.  Or the product of a random text generator of some kind, like that Kant engine I found some time back (see my blog entry from 2006.05.02).  Or, at the least, I hope it is the output of some weird automated translation engine, from some profoundly syntactically un-English language.

Actually, I think it must be the output of some kind of automated, text-spewing tool: a database-driven textual abstraction engine of some kind?  a spider-phisher (meaning a tool for attracting the attention of automated internet indexers, such as Google)?

But part of me enjoys imagining that there is a real, human author of the blog, who is actually sharing the poorly edited contents of his/her actual brain.  I mean… what a remarkably strange brain that must be, to be inside of!

Actually, another thought occurs to me:  this is an emergent symptom of a new, global, incipient cybersubconscious.  Immanent (imminent?) oversoul of humankind.  I’m sure some of you will be quite skeptical… but let’s think about it.

The internet today is an almost unmeasurably large text.  Borges’s infinite library, maybe.  But it is not just a passive text, sitting there for all of us internet-connected readers to read.  It is also inhabited by a seething, swarming plethora of text-reading and text-generating machines (e.g. google-spiders and spambots, respectively).  A vast ecosystem of predators and prey, living and dying, battling and fortifying, all in a text-based universe.  The word made virtual flesh, but not incarnate.  There be dragons.

So it is an unmeasurably large text in constant dialogue with itself – if not particularly self-aware dialogue, if not particularly meaningful dialogue, it is nevertheless a huge babbling demon.  A giant idiotic infinitely schizophrenic mind.  Grendel ruminates incoherently in his deep.  The internet becomes humanity collectively dreaming.

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Caveat: “리케티”

The above hangul reads:  "riketi."

At the school, when students take their daily vocabulary quizzes, they are required to write glosses into Korean of the words on the quiz (among other things, e.g. on my quizzes I have them "use the word in a sentence").  Obviously when I grade these quizzes, I don't pay much attention to these Korean meanings written off to the side, given it would be time-consuming to "translate back" from Korean and try to verify they'd gotten it right.  So normally I don't really look at them – if something's written, I'll give a point.

But the above leaped out at me – because the English word on the quiz was "rickety."  And the sentence that was given was one of those "empty" sentences, e.g. "I like rickety" (these are very common when the student doesn't know the word: they're gambling that they can say something that makes sense by plugging the word into something common and generic). 

So what the student had done was merely transliterate the English word back to Korean.   I love turning things like this into subjects of classroom discussion – I wrote the answer on the board (without revealing the student's name, so as to avoid embarrassing him) and asked the class generally what this meant:  "리케티".

I think the students are still not used to the idea that a foreigner knows any Korean at all.  They seem newly amazed each time I reveal my ability to sort out the hangul syllabary.  So there was a collective gasp of admiration as I wrote the word on the board.  But then several students burst out laughing.  I felt relief – they found it funny, too.  The clever student's effort to "slip one past" was appreciated by his peers.  I wasn't putting it on the board to shame anyone – I just thought it was funny and clever and that's what I said.

Well, after that, class went on.