Caveat: 곰 세마리가

“Gom semariga” (three bears) is a ubiquitous children’s song that appears to be derived from the tale of the three bears – whether from a native Korean version or a Koreanized version of the western folktale, I’m not sure.  The song is very simple and seems to have the typical melodic “hook” that’s found in children’s songs, that can cause them to insinuate themselves into your unconscious.
I was exposed to it because of watching the drama Pulhauseu, where it recurs as a leitmotif around the on-and-off relationship between the contractually-married couple Han Ji-eun and I Yeong-jae, and with her in-laws (his parents), where the grandmother refers to her as “Three-bear” because of this song.
Anyway, it’s just a cute little song, I guess.  Here are two non-Pulhauseu, cartoon renditions of it that I found on Youtube: [broken]

And here is an excerpt of various performances of the song as it occurs in the drama: [broken]
[Update 2013-06-09: two of the youtube links were broken. I’ve replaced two links with embeds]
This includes Ji-eun’s initial, awkward performance, and a later hilarious part where Yeong-jae sings it in an “American accent,” apparently spoofing the fact that there seems to be a vogue among American teenagers who are fans of Korean dramas for singing this song and posting it on the interweb.
Here are the lyrics:
곰 세마리가 한집에있어
아빠곰 엄마곰 애기곰.
아빠곰은 뚱뚱해
엄마곰은 날씬해
애기곰은 너무귀여워
으쓱으쓱 자란다…
-more Notes for Korean-
context:  eavesdropping on a coworker’s telephone conversation
If somebody ends a sentence with -ㄴ데요, what does this mean?  For example, the copula (be-verb) 인데요.  Or perhaps I misheard it.
A grammar index in my Integrated Korean textbook (the one from my Univ. of Minnesota course) says that -ㄴ데요 is a “polite avoidance of refusal,” but then points to a chapter of the book in volume two, which I don’t own.  So I can’t look at any examples to make sense of the ending.  My Korean Grammar for International Learners tells me that -ㄴ데 is a connective ending (meaning it can’t end a sentence), and states, “it is useful to think of this anding as a sort of verbal semi-colon or m-dash, providing a loose linkage between two clauses” (p. 264).  But they make no mention of a sentence-final version with -요 added.


pictureAn article in the LA Times (online) about Sean Tevis was intriguing.  It’s showing how the new, Obama-style of internet-based fundraising is beginning to impact local political races, in the reddest of red states, Kansas.  He’s using geek-speak and webcomics to transform the electoral process in a state legislative race. At right is a particularly funny excerpt from the comic on his website. I could borrow this diagram to explain how to survive in Korea as a westerner!
In fact, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with Olathe, KS… I’ve spent a little bit of time there. That area is basically a Marin County or Westchester County for red-staters (which is to say that Johnson County, KS, is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, but unlike most of the U.S.’s wealthiest counties, it’s about as red as red can get). So the fact that a democrat-leaning computer guy is using the internet to raise unexpected campaign cash, even there, is proof that this new mode of campaign finance is truly taking root, I guess.
Really, the credit belongs to Howard Dean, as I understand it. And various semi-counter-cultural computer types from Vermont and, of course, Silicon Valley. It was Dean, in the 2004 race, who first used the internet effectively in this way – and had it been the case that he’d managed to avoid the “Iowa Scream,” things could have developed Obama-style in that election.  But instead, Dean’s campaign self-destructed and the deanoids (including Dean himself, from his position running the DNC) are now the not-so-secret engines driving the internet-based fundraising juggernaut that is  Hmm… I just had a thought. I said sometime back that Obama was going to be our Urkel-in-chief, but how about this: I wonder who might be squatting on that particular domain name.
In other news… The character Han Ji-eun in Full House is quite different from others I’ve seen, so far, in Korean dramas. Most of the characters (both male and female) in these shows seem to struggle with the same sorts of cultural-based communication taboos that I’ve confronted in my working environments–see my post of several days ago. In fact, it is the existance of these communication taboos that very often drive so many of the convolutions of plot and character development, where, just like in Baroque Spanish drama, the “misunderstanding” is the cultural apparatus behind all the great stories. But Han Ji-eun evolves to become amazingly straightforward in talking about her feelings and situation, which makes her a very sympathetic and appealing character to me.
“Power begets more power, absolutely.”–Frank Rich, regarding Obama, in a recent editorial in NYT
-Notes for Korean-
context:  talking with my students about big numbers
억=100,000,000 (one hundred million)
context:  learning to use the grade-posting website at my new job
관리=management, admin
상담=consultation, talk
원생관리=(I haven’t got a clue what this means, dictionary not helping…
문제=theme, subject, question
표시=indication, manifestation (with a check box, …표시 means “show…” I think)
context:  reviewing old notes (from 7/1 – 7/14)
첫걸음 baby steps, first steps
첫 maiden, first time of something
걸음 walking, pace
정표 keepsake, memento, love token
걷기 fall into step, tip toe…
운동 movement, motion
인재채용 employment recruitment
눈싸움 a snowball fight
긴급 emergency
기상청 weather forecast
문화 culture, civ
겪다 undergo, experience, suffer
분야 sphere, realm
인간  mortal, human
인간계 the world of mortals
사신 (邪神) demon, false god
사신계  ?the world of demons (shinigami)
매일 daily
같이 like, similar to, same as, as usual, side by side
똑같다 alike, absolutely identical, exact image of
맞다 to be right
여행  travel, trip, voyage
돈 money, cash
여우 fox
암여우 vixen (female fox)
아이구 oh my! oh goodness!

Caveat: Cicadas

Cicadas are singing loudly in the trees, now. It’s high summer: humid and hot, like the summer in Philadelphia or New York.
Here is a picture of a small part of a mountain as seen between some generic looking high rise apartment buildings. I took it when I was wandering around Seoul the other day.
-Notes for Korean-
context:  episode 9 풀하우스:
해라=do it (again there’s that pesky intimate imperative that doesn’t seem to appear in any reference works)
곰곰이=musing over, considering carefully
이상(異常)=strangeness;oddity;abnormality… ―하다=(be) strange;queer;odd
진짜 이상한 사람이야!=what a weirdo! (really strange-[DOING] person-[COPULA-INFORMAL])
…and from the transcript:
민혁; 그렇지만 한가지만 충고하자… 앞으론 흔들리지 말고 중심 잘 잡아… 그리고 나한테 빈틈 보이지마.
“Min-hyeok says:  still, let me give you some advice… from now on, don’t hesitate to get a grip on yourself…also, don’t underestimate me.”
I got interested in this piece of dialog was because of the translation of the second phrase:  “don’t hesitate to get a grip on yourself.”  It just sounds unnatural, so I decided to go out on a limb and make my own effort.  Here goes…
앞으론 흔들리지 말고 중심 잘 잡아
ab-eu-ron heum-deul-li-ji mal-go jung-sim jal jab-a
from now -[TOPIC] waver -[REVERSATIVE] don’t -[COORDINATIVE] center well hold -[INFORMAL]
“from now on, do not waver and stay centered”
I can’t really say I have much confidence in how I put that together, but it sounds better than the subtitle’s version, and conveys a roughly similar meaning.
앞으로=from now on
말다=stop, do not
… more
왜 텔레비젼 광고 같은데 많이 나오잖아
“the way it is in television”
고민=worry, dilemma, trouble
이제=now, and now
이제 와요?=”so you’re home?”=now come?
context:  my refrigerator
국산=domestic (as in a product, opposed to imported)
context:  looking around
문법=grammar (lit writing-rules)
context:  that damn internet
context: a coworker
보신탕=dog meat soup (I never knew this… I know 개고기=dog meat)

Caveat: Database Gurus Moaning in Dark Rooms

A recent business headline tells me that Microsoft is acquiring DATAllegro.  DATAllegro is a "Data Warehousing Appliance" vendor – which peripherally touches on some aspects of my last career.  I have a lot of lingering curiosity about the data warehousing industry, I guess.

It's not really surprising that MS is chasing and acquiring large data warehouse appliance vendors – just the press release makes clear that it's all about adding value to the SQL Server product line, and "scaling out" to be able to better satisfy the largest enterprise customers with SQL Server, where, currently, large enterprise customers are more likely to stick to Oracle, or find a niche-market provider (such as Netezza, Teradata, or DATAllegro).

Still, the fact that the acquisition is specifically DATAllegro is surprising – according to their website, DATAllegro is currently partnered with Ingres, which is an open-source database management platform.  Does that mean MS is going to be partnered with Ingres, now?  Or does it mean MS is now going to try to migrate DATAllegro's hardware/software appliances to their proprietary SQL Server?  I would assume the latter – but this causes me to visualize some extraordinarily miserable database gurus moaning in dark rooms, and much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair.

I suppose that in the world of high-end specialized data warehouse appliances (which can run several hundred thousand dollars per terabyte of capacity), choices were limited for Microsoft's M&A guys.  But going out and acquiring a business such as DATAllegro, who is using an open-source competing product (Ingres), and running largely on Linux servers (another open-source competing product), strikes me as more of a preventive acquisition as opposed to a value-added one.  These are common enough in big business:  if you can't win in a given competitive market on the merits of your product, there's always the option of buying out the competition and mismanaging them into oblivion.

Hmm… Uh oh.  That's starting to sound like the introduction to another rant on my current employers, isn't it?  Sorry.

…and how is it that I end up hearing Bob Dylan singing "You Belong to Me" (in English, of course) in the soundtrack of episode 5 of 풀하우스?  It seems it's all about love quadrangles:  roughly, 영재 loves 혜원 loves 민혁 loves 지은 and around again…

-Notes for Korean-
잠깐만요=just a sec
걸다=hang, hook, suspend, talk to, start [an engine], call [on telephone] … clearly a very useful word.
거셨어요=[you've] called… note verb is irregular, drops -ㄹ…
그럼=well, surely … transition/filler word

Caveat: Sandinistas and Mad Scientist Girls

pictureI found an unexpected treasure of a book yesterday.  A book I’d meant to buy, once, some time ago, but then upon coming to Korea, I  had postponed it indefinitely and forgotten.  In the several shelves of Spanish language books at Kyobo, yesterday, there was sitting the first volume of Ernesto Cardenal‘s autobiography, Vida Perdida.
I was profoundly affected by the work of another Nicaraguan author, 20-something years ago:  La montaña es algo más que una inmensa estepa verde, by Omar Cabezas.  One of my “top 50” books, I would guess – though that list is always changing, isn’t it?  That was an autobiographical bildungsroman, covering Cabezas’ life as a Sandinista rebel in the epoch before the Nicaraguan revolution of 79 and the overthrow of Somoza.
I had always struggled to appreciate the poetry of Cardenal (the poet-politician-priest, who was also a Sandinista, and in fact was later a minister in Ortega’s revolutionary government), and I have thought I would get more out of his prose, but had never had the opportunity to read it.
And there it was, published in Mexico, waiting forlornly to be purchased for only 22,000 원, in a Seoul bookstore. So, of course, I bought it. Vida Perdida, por Ernesto Cardenal. And started reading it.  It begins, not chronologially, but instead with his departure for a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky, having decided to become a priest. I’d forgotten about that – he went off to the same monastery that hosted Thomas Merton for so long.  Such a divergent life from Merton’s, though, despite the latter’s mentorship.
pictureIn other news, I finished the drama Delightful Girl.
Check out the girl with purple hair. A kid sat next to me on the subway and was reading this book, 프래니 (peuraeni = Frannie), about a Mad Scientist Girl. I remembered the title, I and navered it when I got home – it’s a translation of an English-language children’s book by Jim Benton, but the illustrations looked so extremely wonderful and entertaining.  Perhaps next time I hit a bookstore, I should buy this book and use it to try to work on my Korean some more – a children’s book would be about the right level, right?
-Notes for Korean-
context: Now I’ve started watching another drama, called 풀하우스 (pulhauseu=full house).  I find the attribution of its “hanja” name (according to the English wikipedia article) confusing:
lemme try to analyze this:
=[1랑][2만][3not in naver’s online hanja dictionary, but I found it here:만][4옥]
Is this truly a “hanja”?  Or is it simply a Chinese name for the show?  The proper Korean name of the drama is a Konglish term, and Konglishemes don’t have matching hanja, do they?  I’ll be the first to admit, my comprehension of the niceties of the hanja system is next to nil.
context:  dictionaryland and websites.
목록(目錄)=catalog, inventory
구동사=phrasal verb
형용(形容)=form, shape, appearance, description, metaphor
미리보기=preview (lit advance example)
다시보기=(lit again example)=?review?
가르치다=teach (I should know this)
말씀=language, talk
context:  thinking about what’s best.
최고=superlative, best
짱=best (slang.  perhaps mostly used by children–but don’t forget what you saw Ella and Stacey writing on the wall at school, that time)  (…a site for korean slang info)
context:  reading the script for episode 3 of 풀하우스, I’m seeing all kinds of reduplication words, which seem common and are interesting.
쓱쓱=easily, smoothly…
툭툭 치고=tapping…
씩씩=?smiling at each other? not sure what this is
잘 있어=take care (jarisseo=be well)
알았지?=understood?  got it? (This was exciting for me to understand, as I parsed it simply upon hearing it, without having seen the form in writing before… and then I was able to type it in–correctly spelled–and confirm that I’d indeed understood it).
context:  other random curiosities
문어=literary expression
…wow – nice pair of homophones.  far out!
고기=meat, fish (and could I forget this?  It’s one of the few words I thought I’d retained from my first time in Korea, in 1991)
글월=letter, note, epistle
동물=animal, brute, creature
낙지=common octopus
발=foot, paw, arm

Caveat: 빌코멘 오바마

I was riding the subway, and looking at a newspaper over a man’s shoulder. There was a big headline, that read “빌코멘 오바마” (bil-ko-men o-ba-ma). And there was a picture above the headline, that definitely gave away the second word – it was a certain popular American politician. The first word took a few more seconds to puzzle out.  But I’ll give a clue – that certain American politician was giving a speech in Germany. So, I’ll let you polyglots out there decipher what that first word is – it’s not Korean.
I decided to do some random exploring.  I got off the subway at 독립문 (Dongnimmun). I wandered around the neighborhood, with a vague idea of trying to go up over the mountain to the southwest, toward Sinchon past the Geumhwa tunnel, but the moutain didn’t appear to have footpaths over it – at least not from where I went.
One odd thing I noticed was when I looked up at the Independence Gate (which is what 독립문=Dongnimmun means), and I saw written there, very clearly, 문립독=Munipdok… which is to say, the three hangeul glyphs are in reverse order!  Why does the gate have its name written backwards, on it?  I have two speculations.  First, it’s because I was looking “out of” the gate – I was standing to the east of it, meaning closer to downtown, and the gate was on the western side of the old city, so, the side I was looking at was the “inside.”  So maybe the name was written backwards to match up with what was written on the other side?  The other speculation is that maybe it has to do with Chinese word order?  I couldn’t find a solution to the mystery through any googlings.  Anyway, I took a picture of the gate, but the backward hangeul at the top of the arch doesn’t show up very well – the resolution wasn’t good enough on my phone’s camera, I guess.
I got on a bus randomly, and it did in fact take me toward Sinchon.  But in the meantime I’d lost interest in trying to get to Sinchon, and had become fixated on making my weekly visit to a major bookstore.  So I got off the bus when I saw a station on the number 5 subway line, and rode it two stops to Gwanghwamun, where there’s a big Kyobo bookstore.  Too big – I like the one in Gangnam better.  This one was a freakin zoo, it was so crowded.  Maybe it was because of the rain.  I bought a few magazines and one book, and left much more quickly than I normally do.
I have spent some time messing around on, trying to become more comfortable and proficient navigating the internet in Korean.  I found a great posting (in English) that someone did on the basics of how to use, Korea’s number one internet portal.  In any event, I can now proudly say that I have a Korean email address – to go with all my other email addresses!  It is jaredway [at]
-Notes for Korean-
context:  surfing
만들다=make, create, so… 만들기=[a button on a website, “create!”]
…and therefore, “하느님께서 태초에 천지를 만드셨다” “in the beginning, God created heaven and earth.”
On seeing this, I got curious about the Korean word for God.  There are two words which have different origins but are (in)conveniently quite similar in pronunciation (which creates confusion and/or clarity depending on one’s attitude towards semantic ambiguity, right?):
하느님(haneunim)=god as a traditional “lord in heaven” and mentioned even in pre-Christian Korean literature, and, e.g., the Korean national anthem.  It comes from 하늘(haneul)=heaven, sky… hence, “sky guy [honorific]”
하나님(hananim)=a capitalized, monotheistic God, “number one guy [honorific]”

성격=personality, type
열린=open, unlocked
닫힌=closed… from 닫히다=close, shut
숨은=hidden… from 숨다=hide

생활=livelihood, lifestyle
생활하다=live, subsist
-점(店)=a store;a shop

Caveat: Parsimony. Then, more 쾌걸

I got home from work. Feeling very gloomy. LBridge made me pay for my visa “revision” (including 40 bucks for the medical checkup, the 30 bucks to the U.S. embassy, 10 bucks for the online “no criminal background” paper, 60 bucks for Korean immigration office). The last time we had to submit a revision, when LinguaForum took over my contract, they paid for it.  Which is logical – after all, it was the fact of the take-over that meant the revision had to be done at all.  If there had been no take-over, there would have been no visa revision fees and expenses, right?  Why should I be paying these expenses that have arisen solely because of the corporate comings and goings of my employers?  Well… the simple answer is, there’s nothing in the contract that says they have to pay for it, of course.
And when I said I needed some supplies for my desk, Sarah, my “team” supervisor, said, oh, I needed to go buy them. Again – supplies at the last two hagwon were something that the office managers would offer to buy.
It’s not that I’m being in the least parsimonious… I have spent hundreds of dollars of my own money to supplement my teaching work:  I have bought supplementary books, supplies that I didn’t feel justified asking for from my bosses, treats, food and gifts for my students, etc.  And I begrudge absolutely none of it.  Because in all those instances, what my bosses would say is… oh, you shouldn’t spend your own money.  Now, it’s the opposite – they’re saying to me, up front:  you should spend your own money.  They’re being cheap and miserly.  Maybe that’s why they’re big and successful.  But it makes them unpleasant to work for.
I screwed up today, too.  I had miscopied my schedule from Sarah, and the consequence was that an odd quirk in the Friday schedule didn’t get transfered to my version of it.  And so I failed to show up for a class I was supposed to teach, because I had it written down for a later hour.  It was entirely my own fault, and I feel guilty about it – the kids sat for 20 minutes with no teacher, while the front desk tried to figure out who was supposed to be in there.  I can’t even blame the problem on the “lack of communication” issue that has been so bothering me.  Sucks.
I came home and made some pasta with curried vegetables for myself, and I have been watching my drama.  In episode 16 of 쾌걸춘향, 이몽룡 says to 성춘향, “Boy, time flew by as if you were in some TV drama.”  I listened to this quote over and over trying to parse the Korean, but finally I broke down and found the transcript for the episode online, and the line is:  “인생이 참, 믿기 힘들 게 드라마 같이 흘렀다.”
I will swear, that Mong-ryong is very much eliding the fourth-from-last syllable of the phrase (which should be 티=ti, based on liaison rules), essentially eliminating it, but then palatalizing the /tʰ/ into /ʧʰ/ as a sort of a trace of the elided /i/, so that instead of 같이 흘렀다 he’s saying 가츨렀다.  This makes perfect sense, phonologically, but I’d be willing to bet that Koreans will swear to you up and down that they never do such a thing in their language.  Psychologically, internal representations of language are heavily influenced what we are told is “correct” in school and social settings, of course.  And it makes it damn hard to parse, aurally, since that word that’s getting mangled, 같이=”as if” (roughly – it’s a verbish thing that means “like that”), is critical to making sense of the phrase.
Anyway, apparently, according to some things I found online, there are all kinds of clever intertextual things going on in this scene.  성춘향 is making up a story about her past several years (which have elapsed since the last episode), and the made-up scenes are showing in flashback form as she tells them – but they’re all references and recapitulations of important plot points and scenes from other popular Korean television dramas.  So at this point, when 이몽룡 says this above quote as a reaction, the typical Korean drama watcher is going to burst out laughing – at least if they have any capicity for Cervantine irony whatsoever.
-Notes for Korean-
흘렀다=[time] elapsed<=흐르다=elapse, trickle, run down + [PAST marker]
Later in the same episode, repeatedly:  잘가라=”take care” lit. go well, farewell… the ending -라 (as such) isn’t in my reference grammar, which is kind of annoying, but I’m assuming it’s some kind of intimate imperative
제-(第)=number, [ordinalizing ending, as in -th in English]
회=installment, episode… hence 제16회=episode 16
context: surfing the korean dictionary
풀다=solve, work out, answer
설명=explanation, illustration (說明)
설명하다=explain, illustrate
-도(圖)=a chart, a plan, a picture
-공(工)=worker, mechanic
context:  surfing the internet in Korean
연결=connection, linking
활발하다=lively, brisk, vivacious
아름답다=beautiful, lovely (irregular, cf 아름다운 with that adnominal ending thingy)
여러=diverse, many
-분=esteemed person
so 여러분=ladies and gentlemen
so 초대하다=invite
context:  surfing the dictionary
북부=southern part
남부=northern part
-부=part (cf also 1부, 2부 as part of the school’s published class schedule)
the confusing word 주:
주(州)=a state(미국의);a county(영국의);a province(캐나다의)
주(株)=stock, share (this is how Koreans write “inc.”, too)
주(主)=owner; proprietor; master, lord
주(洲)=river delta; continent
주(朱)=vermilion;Chinese red color
주(週)=a week
주(註·注)=annotation, footnote
주(駐)=resident, stationed in
주(酒)=liquor, wine, alcoholic drink
이에=hereupon, hence, accordingly
그이의 딸=that man’s daughter
용어(用語)=terminology (hanja lit. use-language)

Caveat: Syntax in the Rain

I step out of my building at about 12:45.  It's raining, but not too hard.

I start listening to my MP3 player as I wait to cross the street in front of my building – this is always the longest crosswalk wait, as the street is busy and the light is on a very long timer, and there are always police around, so jaywalking seems less attractive than at other points on my route.  Once I crossed against the light, only to see a group of about 10 policemen marching in a line on the sidewalk directly opposite me, and the last one in the line looked at me directly and made a menacing face, though he didn't do anything – maybe because they were in a formation or going somewhere important.  The borough police station is just up at the main corner, after all.

My MP3 player is playing Radiohead.  I've been thinking about languages.  Well, aren't I always thinking about languages?  Lately, when people I meet  ask me things like, "so, what are your hobbies?" I have been answering, "studying languages."  And… I've been meeting alot of people, lately, what with the new job and all.  It is true that studying languages is a major hobby of mine – not that I'm really that good at it – but it's not that common that I come out and state it as a part of introducing myself.  After all, it's very eccentric – like so many things about me.

So, I had this thought, just now.  The reason I like Korean is the same reason I like LISP.   This may take some explaining.  LISP is a computer programming language.   It has a reputation for being elegant but eccentric and difficult, but it was the first computer programming language that I truly felt "at home" working with, and I much prefered to to something like BASIC or Pascal, which were the other programming languages I experienced and worked with in the 80's.  In the 90's, I didn't do much with computers, and the only thing I worked with extensively was HTML and derivatives like DHTML, mostly for hobbyish pursuits.

Then in the most recent decade, I became a database hacker, and SQL became my dialect of choice, although I've done some work also with trying to learn OO-languages, such as C#.  But I was essentially married to SQL, to the extent that I would attempt to solve network-admin type problems with SQL scripts (using extended dialects that allowed such things, like Microsoft's T-SQL or Oracle's PL/SQL).  These efforts, though often successful, would tend to make the more traditionally-minded colleagues around me laugh and shake their heads. 

Throughout it all, however, I have always thought that LISP was a truly beautiful and elegant language, like an abstract mathematical object.  SQL is grubby, messy, and "evolved" – meaning that it grew to its present standard slowly and through trial and error, and it lacks the systematic beauty of something like LISP, I think. 

Obviously, no human language is "designed" in the sense that LISP is.  Nor is it, practically speaking, abstract – obviously.  But there is a weird, complex elegance to the underlying grammatical patterns of Korean that remind me of LISP, in a strange way.   It somehow reveals a potential about a different way of conceptualizing grammatical relations that I find fascinating – but it's very hard to explain.  I need to refresh my grounding in syntax universals, deep structure, Chomky's "Government and Binding" (a creepy name for a grammatical theory, don't you think? especially coming from a self-declared anarchist like Chomsky), things like that.  But I genuinely like the Korean language in the same way I like LISP – it's eccentric and fascinating and elegant and magical.

Rasputina starts on my MP3 player.  I turn off the commercial "broadway" and begin walking up the footpath between the highrise apartment buildings.  The trees are so green, and there aren't many pedestrians.

So many people ask me, why are you single?  Actually, not just Koreans (where, culturally, it's a pretty typical question to ask someone), but even westerners that I meet here.  And I never have a good answer for them, except something meaningless and vague, in the spirit of, "well, I guess I prefer it."   But the real reason is tied to the notion above – my interest in, and commitment to, things that are eccentric.  Being eccentric is difficult.  It's not likely I will find people with whom I have things in common, at a deep level.  And I'm not the sort of person to go into a relationship with someone with whom I don't have much in common, I guess.  I am resigned to, and, in fact, comfortable in my loneliness, at this point.

A Japanese pop group, Round Table, starts "Let me be with you."  It starts raining harder.  Much harder.  But…  I like the rain.  It always puts me in a weirdly low-key cheerful, optimistic state of mind.   It may be the clearest indication of my birthplace's impact on my spirit.  Those redwood trees… the eternally protective, sheltering greyness of Humboldt's summer, and the calm embrace of the Pacific Northwest winter rains.  Cloud cover and rain are comforting things, to me, whereas I find bright, sunny skies vaguely oppressive and dispiriting.  Water is the stuff of life – when it's raining, the stuff of life falls from the sky freely.  Each raindrop, a gift from heaven.  Innumerable.

Ruben Blades begins singing "Adan Garcia" – which is about disappearances during the dirty wars in Central America in the 80's, I think.  I dodge puddles and wait for the crossing signal.  I think about the eccentricity of listening to 80's Spanish-language protest music while standing in the rain in a Korean upper-middle-class suburb.  Has it ever been done before?  I find the idea that it makes me unique appealing.

Now I'm listening to Depeche Mode.  The hard, hard rain continues, and my lower half is getting quite wet, below the protective perimeter of my umbrella.  I love rain like this, but I begin to feel anxiety about showing up at work dripping like a wet dog.  It's inevitable that social anxiety can wreck otherwise happy feelings about something.  I get a sympathetic smile from a woman escorting her child, going the opposite direction, both huddled under one not-large-enough pink umbrella and bravely stepping through the rivers on the pavement.

-Notes for Korean-
context:  I have been browsing my hardcore grammar book, Korean Grammar for International Learners, by Ihm Ho Bin et al.   This is a truly excellent reference grammar for the Korean langauge, it's a translation of an academic work written in Korean, but with lots of supporting "translation-to-English materials" so it really stands as an independent reference work – it's the only reference grammar of it's kind that I've seen amid much searching and browsing in bookstores.  It has received some negative reviews from other foreigners trying to learn Korean, but I think that is because it is linguistically sophisticated – I can barely understand some of it, and I have a degree in linguistics, so I could see how it could be intimidating to someone with no background in formal syntax.
내다=do all the way, finish thoroughly
this is a "terminative" auxilary verb; the preceding verb is in the minimally inflected form e.g. -어/-아/-여 (depending on vowel harmony)
경찰이 그 물건을 찾아 냈습니다=(police-SUBJ that item-OBJ find-INFL finish-PAST-FORMAL-DECLARATIVE)=the police found the item
물건=thing, article, item; also 품 (I like the hanja for this: 品 – looks like a little pile of boxes, a good symbol for "thing")

context:  deciphering korean-language websites
직통=direct service (as in a train)
매진=sold out
예약=appointment/예약하다=make a reservation
명함=business card (?)

context:  surfing the web
this site has amazing vocab lists:
진짜=real (I know this… but I keep forgetting how to spell it)

Caveat: “Notes for Korean”

Over the last month, I’ve been trying to get more serious and disciplined about my study of Korean.  I have begun to keep little computerized notes, every single day, of interesting or useful vocabulary items, phrases, and things like that.  But I’ve reached a point where I have compiled enough of these that they’re becoming difficult to keep organized;  more importantly, I sometimes go looking for something I know that I put into a note, and cannot find it.  Also, some of these things are things I would love to have found by searching online, in the same way that I have found other similar things.
Because of all of that, I have decided that it might be useful to post these daily notes and observations about Korean as a kind of footnote to each day’s blog entry.  This will make them searchable by not just me but by anyone – although it won’t improve their level of organization.  But with google, who needs organization? – just let the spiders crawl around and find it, right?
So, starting today, I will include a little, disorganized spattering of notes somewhere in each blog entry.  Most of my regular readers (how many are there, really? 3?  2?) will not have much use for this, but they’re mostly going to be there just for myself, as it’s a convenient and logical place to put them – I’ll be able to access them anytime I need, and I’ll be able to search them, too.  Further, by compiling them I’m helping myself to remember them, and I can express my joy at trying to make sense of this fascinating yet difficult language.
-Notes for Korean-
context:  my cellphone’s “phrase of the day”:  식품 매장이 몇 층에 있는지 알려주실 수 있습니까?
매장 =department, floor (as in a dept store), store
so:  식품 매장=food floor, food court
and: 알리다=know, tell, inform, notify
context:  episode 13 of 쾌걸춘향, 춘향 says to 몽룡, “금해애애!” (approximately) = “stop thaaaat”
금하다 =refrain, prohibit, or (idiomatically) stop doing something
In researching this online, I also found an interesting double negative:
…-ㅁ을 금할 수 없어요 = [I] can not stop myself from …
context:  deciphering instructions in a student textbook
풀이 =explanation, clarification
찾다= seek, search for, spot
발견 =discovery, revelation
발견하다=find, discover
context:  conversation of words with a coworker
나륵풀=basil (the herb)
풀=grass, herb, plant, pasturage, weed
context:  trying to figure out instructions on a korean website
지나다=pass, spend, elapse… etc. (I should know this – it’s lesson 1 in most Korean-as-a-foreign-language textbooks!)
사용=use, employment, appropriation
복사=reproduction, copy
똑=exactly, precisely
소리=noise, sound, talk, word
끝=end, conclusion
처음=first, beginning, start, cf. 첫
도우미=helper, wizard (in computers)
정보=information, report
닫다=close (close button says 닫기)
당신=a special word meaning “you” (I should know this)
context:  vocab words for “blue” class
discover (v)=발견하다
energy=정력, 에너지
shed (v)=벗다
source (n)=원천
stay (v)=머무르다
put on (v)=입다
until=-까지 (nominal ending)
spot (v)=발견하다, 찾다
have seen / haven’t seen=본적 있는 / 본적이 없는
Meanwhile, in other pursuits… I rediscovered a Portuguese poet named Fernando Pessoa, who apparently wrote criticisms of his own poetry under alternate pseudonyms (heteronyms). This is interesting, cf. Borges. I vaguely recall running across him before, but, if so, I completely forgot him.  I was reading the Portuguese-language wikipedia article about him, just to entertain my linguistic fancy, I guess – keeping myself challenged, and all that.  And under the Spanish-language article on him, I found the following pithy observation about Pessoa by Octavio Paz:  “nada en su vida es sorprendente, nada excepto sus poemas” (nothing in his life is surprising, nothing except his poetry).

Quote of the day:
Tenho o dever de me fechar em casa no meu espírito e trabalhar quanto possa e em tudo quanto possa, para o progresso da civilização e o alargamento da consciência da humanidade.” – Fernando Pessoa

picturePessoa is perhaps best known in the English-speaking world for his last words:  “I know not what tomorrow may bring.” I’m sure others may have said these words as their last, too, but he’s the one to whom the quote is generally attributed. It’s notable that he, in fact, wrote them rather than speaking them, as he was unable to speak at the time. And it’s also worth noting that they were in English, not Portuguese, since English was a second native language for him, because he’d spent much of his childhood in South Africa.

Caveat: The Communication Taboo

Now that this is my third completely new workplace this year, I think I’m going make a generalization:  Korean bosses and supervisors don’t feel any need or obligation to actually communicate with their underlings.
The consequence is that the learning curve at new jobs is steep.  I think this must be related to the confucian-heritage “respect-your-elders” ethic, that is also so deeply embedded in the language.  Because “juniors” owe respect to “seniors,” this also means that “seniors” are under no obligation to support or help “juniors.”
Nevertheless, ElBeuRitJi has definitely made an artform out of noncommunication, even compared to my previous two bosses.  Yesterday – my first day – I managed to get within five minutes of my first class and no one had yet told me where the classrooms were.  I had a notion they were upstairs – just based on the room numbers – but you’d think someone would have actually given me a tour or something.  I had to ask.
And today, as I sat in the staff office (with almost twenty teachers, compared to RingGuAPoReom’s five), and my last class had ended, I looked around uneasily realizing everyone was busy as a little bee at his or her desk.  No one was leaving, but classes were over.  And my instinct (fed by a careful watching of various contemporary-setting Korean dramas) kicked in:  there was a rule about staying.  This is standard in most work places, of course – but my last two work environments had had a very casual attitude about departure times, because of the late hours these schools keep.  If you were done with classes and paperwork, you were free to leave.  And so, although I wasn’t really surprised that this new place had stricter rules, it was nevertheless odd, to me, that no one had ever bothered to enunciate those rules to me.  My worry is that there are other unenunciated rules that everyone thinks obvious but that I won’t have any instinct to recognize.
Basically, I have received zero orientation of any kind to this place.  Is this standard?  What does it mean, for example, that I’m working there, but they haven’t given me a time card?  I noticed all the other teachers using electronic time cards, but I hadn’t even been told about them.  So I asked my boss, and he said something like, “oh, I should get you one.”  Does this mean I’m going to have problems with pay at the end of the month?  The last two places had no such things as time cards.
Maybe I’m just over-reacting because of my grudges over how the merger was handled, and over my perception that there was disrespectful treatment of the students and staff at RingGuAPoReom by the incoming people at ElBeuRitJi.
On the positive side, I like the students.  And the curriculum is pretty good, although the grading scheme is byzantine and the syllabus is brutal.
Here is a picture of something random.

Caveat: Dioses Antropófagos Barsonianos

Hoy mañana tuve que ir a Seul, a la embajada estadounidense para intentar arreglar la cuestión del papeleo de mi visa.
La foto muestra la gran avenida que está directamente en frente de la embajada imperial.  A veces cuando me meto en el metro, llevo un pequeño libro que encontré en una librería en Minnesota, que es una versión en español del segundo libro de la serie marciana de Edgar Rice Burroughs:  Los dioses de marte.  Me gusta leer el libro en el metro porque tiene apariencia de algun librito devocional, y no pinta de ciencia ficción.
En el libro leí estas palabras de la princesa Faidor, hija de Matai Shang:  “Pues si los hombres pueden comer carne de animales, los dioses pueden comer carne de hombres.  Los Sagrados Therns son los dioses de Barsoom.”
Bien, la teofagia es la práctica de comer dioses (digamos, simbólicamente, por ejemplo en el eucaristo cristiano).  Pero parece algo interesante y raro la idea de dioses antropófagos, ¿no?

Caveat: Love is not that special

I finished watching the episodes of 1%의 어떤 것 toward the end of last week, and immediately began a new series, called 쾌걸 춘향 (translated as Delightful Girl Choon-hyang).  I'm trying to figure out why I've been enjoying these romantic/comedic dramas as much as I have – above and beyond the insights to Korean culture.  And I made a realization because of the rather weighty tradition behind this new one I've started.

Delightful Girl is based on a traditional Korean story called 춘향가 (chunhyangga), which is part of what's called the pansori storytelling tradition – in essence, a kind of epic/lyric oral literature.  The plot of the story, just like the 1% story I was watching last week, revolves around frustrated love and romance in the broader context of Asian/confucian social systems and values.  And I suddenly realized, I've been enjoying these stories for years – they are extraordinarily similar to the almost hundreds of "framed stories" found in the Cervantine corpus:  girl meets boy of different social class, or under some unusual circumstance; love gets frustrated by conflicts involving parents, in-laws, or social mores and taboos; weird coincidences happen that alternately encourage or frustrate the relationship; everything ends happily-ever-after.   And Cervantes was just echoing the likes of Petrarch and Boccacio and the vast content of the Spanish Golden Age drama.

My hypothesis:  culturally, Korea is experiencing the equivalent of Europe's renaissance and baroque, alongside modernity and postmodernity, all at the same time!  That may be too bold, but I taste the germ of a fascinating comparative cultures / comparative lit paper exploring the parallels between renaissance drama and literature and the contemporary Asian television drama.

And my profound quote of the day:  in the 2nd episode, the character Han Dan-hee says to her boyfriend Pang Ji-hyuk, over french fries, "They only need a moment.  Love is not that special.  Crush on an eye, on ears, and then you get the feeling.  That's love."

Caveat: Last Day (again)

Today was my last day as an employee of LinguaForum, and a last day at that location and with the middle-schoolers.  I was pretty sad, and feeling a bit cares-to-the-wind about the whole thing, too.
Monday I start at ElBeuRitJi – and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by what that will bring.  Completely new kids, new curriculum, new environment.  And it will be a lot of work – there’s consensus, there.  The ElBeuRitJi people take themselves too seriously, and work their people hard.  It’s not as relaxed a workspace as I’ve become used to here in Korea.  And I’m not convinced I will like it.  I’m struggling to keep an open mind about it all.
Here is a picture of my EP2-Tuesday/Thursday ban that I took yesterday.
Attrition in the face of the big changes meant that the last week or so there have only been the three of them.  Hannah, Song, and Crazy Paul.  Great kids.
I’d love to post pictures of my middle-schoolers, especially my now-to-be-much-missed Princess Mafia (aka TP1 Tuesday/Thursday), but the middle-schoolers are much more camera shy than the elementary kids, and I’m not one to force them to be in a picture for me.  But I will miss them very much, and the TP1 Monday girls who were so difficult, sometimes, and those Gag-show boys from PTP/M, and all the rest of them.  I’m getting teary…
Here is a picture of me with my erstwhile boss, Curt.
I like Curt – he’s a good guy, and down-to-earth. Note that the picture was tilted because Sylvia wanted to make sure Curt was taller than me – this is a very indirect way of showing deference to the boss. since he’s the boss.
Here is a picture of me with the front-desk-person, Sylvia.
She was always very kind to the students, very genuinely caring and friendly.  I will miss her – I could always count on her to comfort a crying child (on those occasional times when I ended up with one in my classroom, due to accident or squabbles or whatever) or to oversee a child parked in the front lobby due to behavioral issues.

Caveat: 얘들아 깝치지마

I finally figured out the ending –지마: it means don’t [imperative]. It coalesced last night, as I was walking home, and I overheard two small boys playing, they were jumping off of a low wall along the footpath. One of them said to the other “하지마” (hajima – don’t do that). I have been familiar with this as a set phrase, but I had never successfully parsed it before into its component parts: ha [the verb to do] + ji [a verb-ending conveying conjecture or insistence] + ma [I think this is an informal intimate form of the verb 말다, meaning stop or cease]. So, at last I figured out that you can put –지마 (or the more formal –지마세요) onto any verb, in order to say don’t do X.

And the reason this finally clicked, for me, was because of another expression I’d learned yesterday from my students, and had been puzzling out: 얘들아 깝치지마 (yaedeura kkapchijima), which roughly means “you kids, stop being so obnoxious,” but the phrase is extremely informal, basically rude if not downright vulgar – so maybe a good idiomatic translation might be “y’all need to shut the hell up” (which is how an Army sergeant I once had used to introduce himself whenever he walked into a room, as a kind of signature phrase, and it was particularly humorous because he would say that, first thing, even when entering a room that was utterly silent).

Yesterday, I also found a great resource for learning abstruse tidbits of Korean language from a foreigner’s perspective: there’s a guy who’s been blogging (in English) his in-depth explorations of Korean for years now, at Korean Language Notes. He has a pretty academic orientation (which I find appealing given my own tendencies). I spent several hours surfing through old posts, though I’m at too elementary a level to understand all but some fragments of it.

I also successfully made use of’s Korean-Korean dictionary for the first time, which feels like a landmark of sorts – the ability to look up a word in Korean, and comprehend what it says about that word, in Korean. It’s a trivial step, but it felt like progress.

Caveat: My next laptop won’t be a Vaio (unlike my last 2)

I'm going to post one of my periodic rants about technology.  Specifically, after having owned this laptop for about a year, I'm going to give it a negative review.  I have a Sony Vaio VGN-SZ460N that I bought last summer when my previous Vaio laptop died. 

The thing about my last Sony that died was the screen – the LCD screens on laptops seem like the first thing to go, sometimes.  But I had owned that laptop for 3 years, and that was the first and only problem I ever had with it.  And I also owned a Vaio desktop that I had been very happy with.  So I felt some loyalty toward Sony Vaio – especially given the almost nightmarish experiences I've had with other brands, including Compaq (now HP), and, in work environments, with HP and Dell.  All these brands had serious quality consistency problems of one kind or another.

So I bought this Sony Vaio laptop.  Immediately, however, I knew there would be problems.  Vista was fresh out of the ovens at Microsoft, and I'd heard bad things about it already, but I had no choice, in getting a new laptop on short notice, but to get a Vista machine.  And, if you turn back to my blog of a year ago, you will see that I hated Vista immediately. 

But I have been blaming most of my frustrations with my laptop, up until now, on the operating system, which I supplemented with additional installs of Ubuntu linux and Microsoft Windows Server 2003.  Now, I am reaching the conclusion that there are engineering problems with the laptop, as well.  This is because my latest upgrade to ubuntu has created a new problem, which, up until this point, was unique to Vista:  the system appears to get overheated when running certain graphics applications, and will unexpectedly shut down completely.  Total failure.  I assume this is a safety feature related to the graphics chips running too hot, as it is clearly very low-level.  The O/S never gets a chance to notice what's happening – the box simply gets too hot and the power switch kicks. 

I guess I'm grateful that the chipset has this feature, in the sense that it's nice not to have a flaming laptop in my, er, lap.  But it points up a basic design flaw if this happens on a regular basis, and under more than one O/S.  I suspect I never had the problem before in linux, because the previous versions of ubuntu that I was running weren't "smart" enough about the presence of the graphics features of the laptop.  And with Server 2003, I don't have any problem at all, since it doesn't even have a driver for NVIDIA graphics, and I run it under a generic driver set with pretty basic features.

I'm still trying to figure out what specific features of the graphics set cause the overheating – it happens during some games that involve 3d graphics, and it happens when I'm watching movies and running at least one other ACTIVE application (e.g. a database or an internet download) at the same time.  Again, this happens now in both Windows Vista Business and Ubuntu 8.04.  If I can figure out what specific features are causing the overload, I'll try to disable them, but so far I can't figure it out.  I'm planning a downgrade of Ubuntu back to someting 7.xx, in the meantime, as I'd like to have something stable that's pleasant to work with and doesn't suffer the generic-level graphics I get under Server 2003.

But, again, my point in all of this is merely to underscore the fact that, when it was just Vista, I was inclined to blame the O/S.  But now that it's Linux, too, my only logical conclusion is to decide the problem is with the Vaio laptop.  And that means Sony Vaio just lost my customer loyalty.  The next laptop will involve lots of comparison shopping.

Still, this doesn't get Vista off the hook.  There are too many other things about it that I despise – so the fact that it can't manage my laptop's overheating problem is fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.  If I can return to a stable install of Ubuntu, I'll be happiest, but I've been struggling with that.  Mostly due to a lack of sufficient harddrive space – I need to shuffle some files around, ensuring I don't lose anything I want to keep, until I can get a free partition for a new Ubuntu witthout losing the existing one (so I can rescue the data off of it).  The problem here is about my recent fondness for downloading Korean movies and television shows.

Other, minor complaints about this Vaio:  the touchpad is much more difficult to tweak to the level of sensitivity that I like than on my previous two laptops;  the mouse buttons below the touchpad are already "dying" – I have to "bang" quite hard on the left button to get a response, now;  the keyboard is less comfortable than the last one, and the fact that the laptop runs "hot" so much of the time makes extended typing sessions unpleasant; the little trapdoor for the ethernet plug was shoddy plastic and doesn't stay shut, now; the cooling fan is loud (probably related to the overheating problem too, actually). 

OK, then.  End-of-rant.  Have a happy day.

Caveat: 웹 사이트 했어요

I made a new website. I’ve decided to redirect my “” domain to this new website, because I am building the site as place where my students can stay in touch with me, and the is a nice, memorable address to be able to give them.  My personal, more general website will continue to exist at, for those who are interested.  And of course this blog is redirected from
So this is going to be for my students.  I’m not sure how ambitious I will be. It would be cool if it was a place where they could build their own content, eventually – I’m evaluating the possibility of a .NET-based wiki-clone that might provide something intuitive for them to interact with.  But for now, it’s just a kind of place-holder where I might be able to post some photos and notes to them.
The reason I’m doing this, of course, is that this is my last week with all of my students.  Because when I move over to work for 엘브릿지어학원 (LBridge Language Academy) for the last 5 weeks of my current contract, I will have a completely different group of students – none of my current students placed into the upper level that I am slated to be teaching, there.  Which, actually, is something that leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, as I’ve commented on before.
I actually had a student in tears over her disappointmnet about where she’d been placed at 엘브릿지. And I’m not the sort who would suggest that a student who didn’t show the appropriate skill level should be moved ahead just for her self-esteem, but this student is one of the brightest, most hard-working and motivated students I’ve had at the elementary level, and if anyone at LinguaForum deserved to be placed at the top level at 엘브릿지, it was her.
[Update 2013-06-16: the domain has undergone repeated redirections since this original post, but the current address is a “gated” blog with detailed postings on class adminstrative stuff and student work.]

Caveat: Blood. Sweat. Tears. Etc.

I gave blood today. Despite the fact that, at the moment, I’m not renewing my visa, because ElBeuRitJi is taking over my contract it has to be “revised” with the Korean authorities.  As a consequence of this, I’m forced to now comply several regulations that were changed or created by the Korean immigration service since the date that my original visa and residence permit were approved 10-11 months ago – even though, technically speaking, I have only approximately 6 weeks left on the current visa.
One of those requirements is that I have to provide a “criminal background check” (also being called a “proof of lack of criminal record”).  This is a hassle, because as far as the U.S. consul is concerned, there’s nothing they can do to assist U.S. citizens who need this kind of paperwork.  I have to somehow work with my “local authorities” in the U.S. to get this resolved.  I’m still researching, but given the dearth of clear information online on how a U.S. citizen resident abroad can most easily accomplish this, I will try to post whatever I figure out – maybe others can find it in this blog and it will help them.  But no answers yet.
Another requirement is that I have to get a medical checkup – really, it’s only a blood test for a few communicable diseases and a urine test for drugs, I think.  So today I went to a hospital with a member of the ElBeuRitJi staff and two other foreign teachers in similar predicaments to get poked and proded.  Here’s where they took my blood.

Caveat: 1%

I had a melancholy weekend.  I guess I'm feeling depressed about what's happening with work.  I won't dwell on it here… suffice to say it interfered with my ability to enjoy my weekend.

I spend a lot of time messing with my computer – trying to get my linux install working correctly again, after having hosed it a week or so ago by trying to upgrade to the allegedly latest and greatest ubuntu.  I'm still not happy with it.  I'm spending way too much time logged in using Windows Vista – hmm, maybe that's why I feel depressed, as that's the sort of operating system that could depress anyone.

I've downloaded and watched a lot of Korean dramas and TV serials lately.  Trying to improve my listening skills, while watching the subtitles.  From a language standpoint, it's so discouraging.

One series I got kind of hooked on was 1%의 어떤것 (translated idiomatically as "one percent of anything"), basically an extended romantic comedy-drama, with weird subtexts around issues of contract-driven relationships vis-a-vis traditional and western/romantic notions of marriage, as well as some unsettling sidelong glances at the fact of men acting violent against women.  But it was funny, most of the lead characters were entertaining and reasonably plausible.  It was mindless avoidance of the things that are bothering me.

Caveat: Portraits and goodbyes

According to my TP1M class, today is the last time we’re meeting.  I’m not sure if this is true, but because of the merger with ElBeuRitJi, it might be – things are rather vague and uncertain around here lately.
pictureSo, because of that, I was feeling kind of sad, as I wanted to take the time to express my goodbyes to them well, and maybe even come up with a parting gift of some kind, or at least a little note.  When we last met, Uijeong drew some bizarre, picassoish portraits of some of the teachers here, and my feelings were a little bit hurt because she spelled my name wrong, although she apologized when I complained about it and said it was a joke. I snapped pictures of her portraits with my cellphone’s camera.picture
The lettering under Ryan says, roughly “If you don’t come to ElBeuRitJi you are traitors” (I don’t know the exact translation, but this is approximate).  I guess the idea is to convey the enthusiasm which Ryan has been showing for the new school – he always is very gung ho about whatever he does, and has always been a hardcore pitchman for whoever the current management is, so this is a plausible paraphrase, I’m sure.

Caveat: Comunistas y Anarquistas

Vicente Huidobro, el poeta chileno que, seguramente, he mencionado más de una vez, escribió, "Es incomprensible que un individuo que haya estudiado profundamente la sociedad actual no sea comunista. Es incomprensible que un individuo que haya estudiado profundamente el comunismo, no sea anarquista."  El hecho de que la cita ya lleva unos cuantos 70 u 80 años de edad no parece alterar su esencia verdadera fundamental. 

Pero… ¿y en quién se convierte él que haya estudiado el anarquismo?  Pienso en la situación de los llamados "estados fracasados," por ejemplo la de Somalia.  Porque eso sí es el anarquismo verdadero, ¿no?  Quisiera decir que él que estudiara el anarquismo se convertiría en libertario, pero no creo que sea la verdad, al menos en la mayoría de los casos.  Parece más probable que el anarquista frustrado se vuelva al lado autoritario, sea fascista o leninista.  Nos da un resultado deprimente, entonces.  Y circular.

Caveat: … or un-postponement

We were talking, in one of my classes, about the upcoming dissolution of LinguaForum and absorption into LBridge.  One of my students said she didn't like LBridge, so I asked her why.  She mumbled something about "people say things," and so I interpreted, "rumors?"  She and another student nodded.

"What rumors?" I asked.  She sat up a little bit, and looked me in the eyes.  Then she ticked off on her fingers, while speaking with a clearly enunciated English:  "bad students, bad curriculum, bad teachers…"  One.  Two.  Three strikes.  You're out.

Wow.  I was surprised.  Both at the content of what she said, but also with the sudden confidence and classical rhetorical flair with which she spoke.  This was serious.  Nevertheless, I started laughing – I think it was because of the irony of the situation, which was impossible to communicate to my students.  That fact is, after never getting much in the way of clarity from my colleagues, nor especially from the incoming new bosses, I was getting a remarkably straightforward declaration from such an unexpected source.

Is it wrong of me to want to give more credence to my students and their "rumors" than to my colleagues or bosses?  Is it wrong for me to feel that this whole merger has been handled with a rather cavalier disregard for the staff and students here at LinguaForum?  And is it wrong for me to feel that this cavalier attitude is, ultimately, a poor reflection on the character of my new bosses?

This in-class discussion happened Monday night.  Then, yesterday, the main boss from ElBeuRitJi came by and said to me something to the effect that we needed to discuss paperwork for my new contract.  As if my decision to stay were a done deal.  This caused me some stirrings of annoyance and resentment, and I repeatedly parsed the very short exchange we had had, wondering if I had misunderstood.  And it's possible I did misunderstand – no one's English here is flawless – but I don't think so.

Further, I still have been unable to shake the impression I got from the principal of the Hugok campus (which is where I will be working and therefore the person to whom I will be directly reporting) that I really wasn't wanted there – that I was being forced on him by his boss, and by the circumstances of the merger, against his own wishes.  Nobody wants to work for a boss that doesn't want him around, right?

Really, am I being culturally naive?  I have almost no doubt that I am!  Yet that doesn't in any way change my gut feelings.

So, after having made the decision on Monday to postpone my decision on renewal for another month and take a "wait and see" attitude, I'm suddenly leaning very much away from the idea of renewing.  I sent an email to the new boss last night, to try to make very clear that I hadn't yet consented to a renewal.  And to that email, there has been no response… silence.  Which has been par for the course with these new ElBeuRitJi people – they are remarkably bad at communicating.

If there is anything I learned during my years working in the corporate world, it's that new and incoming bosses who fail to communicate well are going to piss off both customers and staff.  Transitions of this sort need to be handled with a great deal of sensitivity and a whole lot of clear communication, especially where there are to be notable changes in organization and strategy, which this merger situation clearly holds in spades.

It can be very easy for staff (teachers, in this case) and customers (students and parents, in this case) to be left feeling alienated and ignored, if communication isn't managed well.  And I think that is exactly what's happening.  Parents and students are fleeing, or else shrugging their shoulders resignedly and saying "I don't know."  The teachers and staff here are all grumbling and acting pissed off, regardless of what decision they're taking.  The mood in the hagwon has shifted from gray to black, and more than one person has been quietly muttering the word "arrogant" as a description of the new management, which is an indicator that I'm not completely off base in my feelings.

I'm thinking… maybe best for me to move on.  So much for postponing my decision – I think I've made it.

Caveat: Just a mass-murderer, after all

I finally finished the Death Note manga series the other day, and I have to admit feeling slightly disappointed in how it all pans out, although I enjoyed how the authors kept me guessing right up to the end.  Light (Kira) – the main protagonist – turns out to be nothing more than a mass murderer, after all is said and done.  The point being:  the victors are righteous, and the losers are criminals, right?  And his shinigami (a being from another realm that enables the death note powers in our world to begin with) is who kills him, ultimately.  I really have no idea what sort of ending would have been more satisfying… I'll have to contemplate that.

Caveat: Postponement

After several weeks of anxiety over whether or not to renew my contract with ElBeuRitJi (the hagwon taking over my current employer at the end of this month), partly because of it being a bit of an unknown, now I've managed to simply postpone the decision.  ElBeuRitJi will "inherit" my existing contract, which ends at the end of August.  So I have to work for them, regardless, for one month.  That will give me a chance to get a feel for how they are, and for them to get a feel for how I am.  Essentially, I will just not sign anything until down the road a month. 

Meanwhile, I've decided to make a halfhearted commitment to the Obama campaign – I signed up on his social networking site  As I've said some months back, I was more of a Richardson supporter (although even that had its ambivalences because of my libertarian tendencies), but I'm so certain we need to exclude the Republicans from government (given that they have behaved in such frighteningly unlibertarian ways – in everything from size-of-government to social policy to civil liberties to foreign policy), that I've decied to just come out and openly support Obama – for what it's worth. 

Caveat: Lyric Babel

One thing I have been doing to improve my Korean is downloading Korean pop music (mostly pretty randomly, and not very focused on whether I like it or not), then finding the lyrics so I can try to learn to sing along a little bit.  Here is a fragment of the first song I grabbed that way, some months ago, and then forgot about.

나를 불렀던 똑같은 호칭으로 그 사람을 부르고
내가 널 데려 간 곳들을 그 사람 손잡고
마치 처음가보는 사람처럼 설레이는 척하며
모든 게 나와 함께했던 소중한 추억들인데
그 사람과 다시하면 다 지워질텐데
우리추억들을 왜 지우는데 왜왜

Nareul bulleottteon ttokkkateun hochingeuro geu sarameul bureugo
naega neol deryeo gan gottteureul geu saram sonjapkko
machi cheo-eumgaboneun saramcheoreom seolle-ineun cheokhamyeo
modeun ge nawa hamkkehaettteon sojunghan chu-eoktteurinde
geu saramgwa dashihamyeon da jiweojiltende
urichu-eokttereul wae ji-uneunde waewae

[Calling at him as if you were calling me
Holding his hands at those places where I hold yours
You seem so excited as if it’s your first time
The precious memories you’ve had with me
You’ve wiped them all away
While creating a new one with him
Why do you want to wipe away our memories?
Why? Why?]

The artist is Rain (Bi) [Bi=Rain in Korean], the song is called "In my bed."  Lyrics, romanization and translation courtesy various random websites.  It's an effort, anyway.

Caveat: Be Yoyr Own Brain

The other day, I saw one of those remarkably bizarre English compositions that occasionally crop up on clothing.  There was a man standing on the subway platform at Gasan, down in Seoul.  On the back of his shirt was the text, “GENDER BE YOYR OWN BRAIN HYSTERIC VINTAGE MODERN.” I couldn’t resist surreptitiously snapping a photograph of it – it was too unique to ignore. But now I wonder what it means.

After taking the guy’s picture on the platform, I spun around and took some other pictures from the platform, which overlooked a typically busy Seoul street.  The day was rainy and overcast, and the air was thick with humidity.  The tires of the cars on the street below made that subtle, sweet, hissing sound that tires make when roads are wet. It’s a sound I find weirdly peace-inducing.


Caveat: 어린왕자

Sometime back I bought Le Petit Prince, in a trilingual edition. Recently I’ve been trying to read little bits of it – the Korean part.  It’s fun to do that with a text as familiar as this one is. I was talking about it with someone at work the other day, and realized that the book has the peculiar distinction of being the book I’ve read (or tried to read) in the most different languages. I even remember once trying to decipher the Arabic version, though I made very little progress. I love the story.
The story starts, “나는 여섯 살 때에” (na-neun yeo-seot sal ttae-e) => I-[TOPIC] six [YEAR-COUNTER] time-[AT] => at the time I was six years old…

Caveat: Stay or Go?

Some observations regarding the conquest of LinguaForum by LBridge, and my own prospects.

I first met the new ubermanager at LBridge (president?), Andy, on Monday.  I had an initial interview with him and then a second interview yesterday (Wednesday), in which he confirmed an offer to renew my contract and have me work as a teacher at the Hugok campus (elementary students), probably mostly teaching advanced-level speaking/writing; a higher degree of specialization is possible because of the larger size of the academy, and this is actually rather appealing to me, as I seem to do my very best with those high-level elementary students.

I told Andy I could not offer a firm yes or no at the moment of the interview, explaining that, as a result of the chaos of the merger of Tomorrow into RingGuAPoReom in January, as well as the general rumors circulating about the current situation, I was feeling a little bit "gun shy" about making a commitment.  I said I wanted to understand better the curriculum I would be asked to teach, and maybe meet with my prospective managers, etc., before making a decision.  

And last night we all went out to dinner (Andy plus most of the staff of our current academy).  Andy somewhat offended me with a few repeated observations in the vein of "Jared doesn't like me, I don't think," and "can't we just be friends."  He was interpreting my standoffishness with respect to the job offer as coolness to him personally.  And I admitted that I am a shy person, in general, and slow to open and be trusting.  I tried very hard to understand it all as a matter of cultural differences, combined with a bit too much soju (Korean firewater) circulating.

So Andy told me, last night, to go over to the Hugok campus today at 2 pm and talk to someone there (a manager?  a VP of some kind? – his title wasn't clear to me at the time, though I know now that he's the VP there).  Frankly, the ensuing situation was almost comedic.

The man at Hugok campus today told me that he had no idea I would be coming.  Further, he in fact had not been informed that he would be receiving any new teaching staff of any kind from the two RingGuAPoReom academies being absorbed.  And that, in fact, he had no open positions for teacher until at least September.  I was puzzled.  What's worse, he then launched into a complaint about the fact that although he had been led to expect, by Andy, at least 50 new elementary students as a result of the merger(s), in fact, based on a parental informational meeting held yesterday, at this point he was realistically expecting at most 10 or 15.  Therefore he was even more puzzled by the idea that he would be taking on more staff at the end of July, when the two RingGuAPoReom campuses close.

And so I left, wondering what the heck was going on.  Shortly thereafter, I spoke to Andy on the telephone, who apologized for what had happened (which he'd had conveyed to him by Curt, to whom I'd reported), and he said there was a misunderstanding.  But it kind of makes me wonder about the reliability of the this whole enterprise, and the experience ties in with rumors that I've heard in a few places (not to name any names) that ElBeuRitJi is bureaucratic and impersonal when it comes to dealing with its staff.

Anyway, Andy asked if it would be possible for me to return right away to LBridge, as he had just had a telephone conversation with the manager there, presumably remediating the information deficit that clearly existed.  I went back over to the academy – it's only a block away, down "Academy Road" as us foreigners call it (a street with an inordinate number of hagwon all up and down it for several kilometers continuously).  And again, I spoke with the man who would be my putative new supervisor, and then I had a long and very interesting conversation with the man whom I would be replacing – an American named Doug.  

Doug was at a whole different level of professionalism from any other foreign English teacher I've met, to date, in Korea.  He is only wrapping up a one year contract with LBridge, but his reasons for putting in only one year were plausible, and were not linked to a negative experience with the hagwon, which he spent some time praising.  The teachers are in teams of four, and each team is allocated to one level of student ability.  So in moving from my current job to LBridge, I would be moving from generalist (grades 3-9, all ability levels) to specialist (grades 4-6, one ability level).  Doug's team teaches the most most advanced level, which bears the saccharine-sounding (and patently un-English!) name of "ElDorado."

But I liked the curriculum, and it was easy for me to see my place in it.  Which is what I was hoping to find, of course.  Doug had been working previously as a history teacher in the States, and he'd integrated his interest and competence in that subject area to a partly self-designed curriculum not completely unlike the debate program I've enjoyed working with at my current job.  He expressed positive feelings about the academy, and the chance to look at the materials and the teachers' prep space and the atmosphere there was, overall, encouraging.  Then again, what departing employees tell their incoming potential replacements is never the whole story (as I know from sitting on the other side of the fence, more than once), and so I tried hard to read between the lines, too.

I went back to LinguaForum and graded some essay books, and chatted with Curt and Grace about the situation.  Feeling stuck in the need to make this decision – should I renew or not?  

When I got into my ER2 class today, I was moody and indecisive about the whole thing.  And the kids had just completed taking the placement test for the new academy, so they were wound up and uninterested in the materials at hand, either.   Further, because of the upcoming changes, I already knew that we weren't going to complete this month's unit, in any event – we only had basically two weeks left before the kids transfer into whatever new school they go to (whether that's ElBeuRitJi or something else is up them and their parents, obviously).  With these thoughts in my mind, I made a snap judgment and decided to hold an impromptu debate on a topic that immediately had them all riveted in attention:  Should Jared go to ElBeuRitJi?  Pro or con?

Including them in my decision-making process, so-to-speak.  Based on the above-mentioned offer, these students would be among those most likely, by far, to "stick with me."  And after I had explained some things to them, they realized this.  So we had a pretty brilliant in-class conversation about "Jared's dilemma," as I wrote it on the whiteboard.  And perhaps unsurprisingly, they all ended up taking the "Pro" side in the informal debate, leaving me to debate the cons.  But that was exactly the sort of experience I'd been looking for, actually.  A chance to get outside of myself a little bit and openly discuss the merits and disadvantages of this one-year contract renewal on offer. 

I even went so far as to outline a clear sub-part of the debate, which is my own questioning as to whether I want to stay in Korea or "move on."  This was not something they could relate to as easily.  "Of course" Jared wanted to stay in Korea.  So that's a part of the issue that I will have to resolve on my own.  But if we take as "given" that I want to stay in Korea, the outcome of our discussion is that moving to ElBeuRitJi is a good idea:  it seems to offer a chance to work with the age group and ability level where I've felt my greatest successes;  the institution is big and highly professionalized, which is an environment where I've excelled in the past; it provides geographical and social stability, since I'd probably stay in my same apartment and have many of the same colleagues, with other previous colleagues still nearby for social purposes; and it would give me a chance to remain "loyal" to at least some of my charges – those who opt to go to ElBeuRitJi themselves (or, rather, those whose parents so opt), and who get placed into the same ability level that I do.

So there you have it.  To quote The Clash: "should I stay or should I go?" 

Caveat: Reading Some “Found Korean”

One thing I often do is try to decipher the "found Korean" in my environs.  I randomly look at signs, graffiti, etc., for phrases or words I'm curious about, and fiddle them into the dictionary in my cell phone to find out what they mean, to try to make sense of them. 

In the stairway of my building as I came home tonight, I found a scattering of abandoned business cards for a Buddhist 도사 (do-sa, teacher).  I brought one of the cards home and decided to read it.  A bit more challenging than just words on a sign.  Here's what I came up with – and the translations are tentative and in no way authoritative.

내 운명은 내가 알아야 성공할수 있다!
nae un-myeong-eun nae-ga ar-a-ya seong-gong-hal-su iss-da
My fate-TOPIC I-SUBJECT know-NECESSITY take-on-ABILITY there-is
I must know my fate in order to take it on.
"사주팔자"는 바꿀수 없어도 운명은 바꿀수 있다.
sa-ju-pal-ja-neun ba-kkul-su eops-eo-do un-myeong-eun ba-kkul-su iss-da
"Destiny"-TOPIC change-ABILITY there-isn't-ALSO fate-TOPIC change-ABILITY there-is
"Destiny" cannot be changed yet fate can be changed.

These are very Buddhist-sounding aphorisms, which leads me to think I'm at least on the right track as far as making sense of them.

There's probably something going on with the different vocabulary items indicating destiny, e.g. 사주팔자 (hanja:四柱八字) vs 운명 (hanja:運命). tells me that the former refers to the Four Pillars and Eight Characters (which is the day and time of one's birth, hence, via astrological notions, one's destiny), while the latter is just basic fate or fortune.   So with that understanding, it's saying that although obviously we cannot change the date and time of our birth (and hence, we cannot mess with the "stars" that shape our lives), we nevertheless control our fate.  The whole free will problem, right?

Who knows?  It's fun to try figuring it out, anyway.

Caveat: An Aimless Drive

"Life is an aimless drive that ya take alone.  Might as well enjoy the ride, take the long way home." This is the chorus from the Bloodhound Gang's song, "Take the Long Way Home."  I'm not sure that I have anything specific to say about this. But it's a good quote. And right now, I'm listening to the Beastie Boys.

On NPR, earlier, I heard a man named Tom Segev being interviewed.  He's a columnist for the newspaper Ha'aretz (Israel), and was talking about the whole question of to what degree the Israeli government interacts with groups such Hezbollah or Hamas.   He said (and, because this is overheard on the radio, I don't know that it's a perfect quote), "We claim never to be negotiating with terrorists.  In fact, we are always negotiating – every government in the world is always negotiating – with terrorists."

This struck me as profoundly and fundamentally true, and puts lie to the constantly enunciated position of most governments that "negotiating with terrorists" is neither appropriate nor ever pursued as a matter of policy – "so as not to encourage them" so to speak.

I would only like to add further to his observation, by wondering:  if this [i.e. "negotiation"] did not occur, with great regularity, mightn't terrorists eventually abandon their activities as fruitless?  Terrorists are successful with their generally ideological missions mostly to the extent to which the terror they sow can induce governments to react and change policies, cede resources, or capitulate.  This has always been true, and all war is, ultimately, terrorist in nature, and just an extension of politics by other means, as the aphorism has it.

And now I'm listening to Radiohead's "Backdrifts."

Caveat: 식민주의 학원을 말해요…

I will talk about “academy colonialism.” It’s not my idea, actually. My ER2 students suggested it to me. [In what follows, note that I am “round-trip-romanizing” the names of the Korean businesses in question, to protect (somewhat) their online anonymity. Maybe, down below, I’ll explain what I mean by “round-trip-romanizing.”]
First of all, if I haven’t made it clear before: after only 6 months of existence, it turns out that RingGuAPoReom EoHagWon (my current employer, and the result of the buyout in December of the Tomorrow School-my original employer) is ceasing to exist. It’s what they call a “reverse merger” in the world of business. The parent company to the RingGuAPoReom EoHagWon has invested in a “healthier” and much larger academy business called ElBeuRitJi EoHagWon, and they are spinning off their tiny and just-started-out English academy business and merging it into this other business.  So although the underlying ownership isn’t changing, RingGuAPoReom EoHagWon is being swallowed by ElBeuRitJi EoHagWon.
Naturally, the mood around work is grayish.  All the students are being forced to move into a new curriculum once again, and a new environment.  Our current campus will be closed completely, and the elementary-schoolers will go to one currently existing ElBeuRitJi campus, where there are already 500-odd students, and the middle-schoolers will be off to another already extant ElBeuRitJi campus, with a similar enrollment.  And the high-schoolers are off in limbo somewhere, since ElBeuRitJi doesn’t do high-schoolers.
Since we can’t teach at both campuses, we teachers are being forced to make a catch-22 choice: middle-schoolers or elementary-schoolers. And with only two months left on my contract, I’m just kind of shrugging and smiling and biding my time.  If the new environment is sufficiently appealing, I haven’t even ruled out the possibility of renewing, yet.  Who knows?
Anyway, my ER2 students made a telling and semiotically loaded comparison in class today, when we were discussing the upcoming change.  They said that RingGuAPoReom was Korea, and that ElBeuRitJi was Japan. Gavin nodded, grimly, and Tina made a disgusted face. The reference was obvious to all of us: we were discussing an act of vicious colonial conquest. Korea was conquered (“annexed”) by Japan in 1910, and suffered 35 years of brutal occupation and subjugation which left indelible scars on the national psyche.  So it was no insignificant thing that they would make such a comparison.  Given the cultural baggage, I’d never had dared put such a concept on the table.
When we first learned of the impending absorption of the academy, I had made the comment to Ryan that it was really mostly unfair to the children. Most children crave stability, and require it to thrive, and forcing two massive changes in less than a year – including changes to everything from curriculum and physical location to teaching staff and curriculum – was essentially going to prove  psychologically traumatic for them.  I mentioned the names of several timid and behaviorally challenging elementary-schoolers as case-in-point.  Some of them had taken several months to get over the shift away from the Tomorrow School.
The ER2 students comments, today, confirmed that these students are neither ignorant of what’s going on, nor are they in any way neutral observers:  they clearly have strong opinions and feelings about it, and I suspect very little attention will be paid them.
Footnote, RE my practice of “round-trip-romanizing.” Most of these English academies (어학원=EoHagWon), here, have English-based names, naturally.  But in most internal documentation, and even in advertising literature, these English-based names are hangeulized (konglishified, i.e. rendered in the Korean alphabet).  If you re-romanize the resulting hangeul following the official hangeul-to-roman rules, you get something that is generally unrecognizable as English at all, and in any event no longer recognizable as the original English names of the academies in question.
An example. Let’s say I have an academy called Happy School. I can hangeulize this as 해피스쿨, and then re-romanize this to HaePiSeuKul. See? It renders the name of the school “anonymous” to search engines, which are not in the least sophisticated when it comes to questions of inter-alphabetic transliterations. I think.

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