Caveat: going down the stairs of study which you hardly climbed

So writes Brian, on a "mini-TOEFL" style test.  He's discussing the disadvantages of having a humorous friend over that of having an intelligent friend. Which is to say, funny friends will lead you astray.  But it's a delightful turn of phrase, which I'm guessing is a translation of a Korean idiom that happens to work well in English.

Caveat: 제목없음

I had a terrible dream, based at core on the fiasco of last Thursday night at work, combined with the staff observatons that are coming up.  And Condi Rice was there – in the role as Sarah-teacher.   There were supposed to be student presentations.  I was unprepared to give out the homework.  The headmaster came by (headmaster?  that’s from Moorestown).  It was on third floor of Old Main, and too hot (Old Main?  that’s at Macalester).  And I was wearing a cowboy hat.  What’s that about?  As Condi-Sarah was leaving, she was shaking her head, saying, “He did nothing… and THAT for homework?”  Pure derision.  Laughter from other annonymous observing teachers.
“God will only hear your prayers if you’re in your [home] congressional district.” – Congressman Barney Frank

Caveat: Kowloon

I don’t feel like dwelling on the present.  Here is a view from my hotel that I snapped in Kowloon (Hong Kong) on August 30.

Caveat: Sparrow

I picked up a novel while visiting my mother's house (always a good place to pick up novels).  The book was The Sparrow, which I finished a week or so ago.  It was a very intense novel, both fascinating and ultimately disappointing, for me.  I won't go into the details or make an effort at a review–better discussions and reviews can be found many places on the web, including the Amazon spot linked above. I will only say that basically I concur with the Publisher's Weekly reviewer who states "The final revelation of the tragic human mistake that ends in Sandoz's degradation isn't the event for which readers have been set up."

I enjoyed the anthropology/linguist themes, and they are developed quite well (as to be expected given the author's background). I had less fun with the religious/sociological aspect, as for the most part it seemed a rather pat re-hash of the 1492 encounter, and excessively and unnecessarily sympathetic to the Eurocentric viewpoint. Those aliens are real savages!  How can we possibly interact with them, ultimately, except to end up murdering them or exploiting them? It's us vs 'the Other.'

It was a rather dark novel, but I won't blame it for the darkness of my overall mood lately.  More just a curious synchrony than any kind of cause-effect. 


Caveat: Flobby Dombniss

Hi!  My name is Gina.  Today I'll read a story that I made.

^.^ Please listen carefully please ^.^

There was a stupid boy named flobby dombniss.  He was a farmer who grow cows.

One day snowflakes fall down to the ground.

He was growing cows in the meadow but he don't know what to do with it.

So.  Do you think he took them to inside?

No, if you think like that, that is wrong.

You know what he did?

He gave all the cows mittens and hats to put on.

This is the end of my story.  Did you enjoy my story?  I hope so and thank you for listening to my story!  Bye!


Caveat: Not Funny, Just Fun

"Funny" is, in my estimation, the single most mis-used word by Korean learners of English.  Somewhere along the line, they internalize a rule that tells them that "fun" and "funny" are synonyms, and that, furthermore, they describe an internal mental state rather than an external situation.  Hence you get innumerable variations on this sort of phrase:  "I am funny," by which is meant "I am having fun."   I think the problem arises out of a semantic overlap in Korean that doesn't exist in English, but is aggravated by the deceptive shared etymology of the two English words.

Lately, I've taken to telling my students that their chances of using the word "funny" correctly are sufficiently low that their best bet it to avoid the word altogether.  "Fun" has broader semantics in any event, and is generally closer to what they intend.  The issue of the fact that it describes an external as opposed to internal state is more difficult to resolve, and is linked to Koreans' efforts to use English "state" adjectives in general, I think.  Regardless, "I am fun" is slightly more comprehensible than "I am funny" as a multi-purpose response to an entertaining situation. 


Caveat: (마음이 아파요)

well, this weekend i haven’t been feeling well.  and plunged into a rather dark depression.  i know what it’s about–the whole work thing, y’know?   the feeling that i made a bad decision, signing the contract.  overwhelmed with the hours.  angry about various things, and not able to manage that anger properly.
it makes me mad that one of the reasons i wanted to stay in korea was so i could keep building on my korean language skill… but ive been so overwhelmed with work and the hours grading papers, that since the start of september i’ve devoted exactly one hour to study.  i feel too exhausted most of the time to push on it, although in august and especially before that, in july, i felt like i was finally making some amazing forward progress.
i’m really not sure what to do.  i’ll just wait this demon out, and hopefully things will smooth out at work a bit.

Caveat: 아자아자화이팅!!

아자아자화이팅!! (a-ja-a-ja-hwa-i-ting)=”work hard and push thru to victory, stay positive!”  Roughly, it’s something to be said to get a team to work hard, or to get an invidual who’s down in the dumps to cheer up and keep pushing forward.   The second component of the phrase, hwa-i-ting, is actually a borrowing from English:  it comes from the word “fighting” and is used like a cheer at sporting event, meaning “go team!”  I think it must have come into Korean via Japanese – English words with an “f” sound that enter Korean directly tend to get transliterated to “p” sound, but Japanese turns f’s into h’s most typically, and so when English words come into Korean with “f” changed to “h” or “hw” I assume it’s through Japanese.
Anyway, my students were complaining about something today, kind of moping and moaning (not unlike myself, outside of the classroom), and I said that phrase (which I learned watching one of those Korean dramas I’ve been neglecting since my return from Australia). They immediately perked up, partly because they’re conditioned to do so, but also because of the novelty of having an English native-speaker say it to them, maybe.

Caveat: Mexico Still Independent, Sorta

Monday and Tuesday were Mexican independence day.  Two days, yes.  They put the event of declaring independence right at midnight, as that way they can party two days in a row each year.  But this year, the celebration was marred by grenades being lobbed into crowds in Morelia (which is the place in Mexico where I've spent the second-longest amount of time, after only my "#3 hometown," Mexico DF).

Mexico has always had a strong undercurrent of violence and anarchy, but lately I'm beginning to wonder if my time in Mexico in the mid-to-late 80's was maybe exceptional in being relatively tranquil, or whether in fact it was just as violent as now but I was simply being oblivious to it.  I know that the murder rate in Mexico City was very high even in the 80's, but it's even higher now.  Back then, murders were out of hand in the U.S. as well, so maybe it didn't seem so alarming.  Nowadays, the rate in Mexico City is the among the highest in the world, while notorious death-dealing U.S. cities like L.A. or NYC have improved substantially.

My run-in yesterday with Korean private-sector bureaucracy had me thinking about Mexico, too.  Obviously, any run-in with bureaucracy can cause me to wax nostalgic for those interminable hours standing in lines at banks or government offices in Mexico.  Though the DMV in California isn't disimilar.   Superficially, Korea has leapfrogged into the developed world.  But the undercurrent of thirdworldism (as pat and offensive and cliche as that really sounds) is still there, to be found, lurking under the surface of things.

Now that I work for a large, much-more-faceless corporation, perhaps I'm seeing that more, too.  Anyway, it's on my mind. 

But back to Mexico.  I'm worried.  When I surf the news articles on the grenade incident, I detect a certain institutional despair over the increasingly out-of-control situation vis-a-vis the drug violence that seems to be sweeping the country.  And, like any vaguely liberal American, I blame the American "drug war," at least partly, for the problem.   But Mexico's ambivalence about genuinely enforcing rule of law is saddening.  It's depressing to observe its tendency to allow money of all varieties (thus including narco-money) to seep into and quietly control all political processes, in ways that makes U.S. money-driven politics look profoundly transparent, humane, and fair.  Calderón seems as weak and aimless as any old boy priísta in his day.  The congress, supposedly more under the panista´s control than during the Fox term, stil seems to resist any efforts whatsoever at reform.  The PAN, far from offering anything genuinely new, just seems to be a new PRI with a sexy neoliberal headdress but nothing really new, and the left (PRD etc.) remains as chaotic and self-absorbed as ever. 

In other notes:  "These are your father's parentheses."  LISP programming language humor.

Caveat: Corrupting My Mental Space

This having to take work home with me thing… it's really a drag. I never do well once that starts to happen. One reason I flourished at ARAMARK all those years was because I was able to work horrendous hours without ever actually taking work home with me – because I had 24/7 access to my workplace, and I found it a reasonably pleasant place to work. But I don't have 24/7 access to the hagwon, so, as soon as the number of hours I must put in exceeds the number of hours that the place is open, I have to carry work around with me. And I hate that. It spoils and corrupts the non-work parts of my mental space.

There. More complaining. Ain't I delightful to read, lately?

Caveat: Hint of Autumn

I had to go to a special office of KTF (my cellphone provider) because they wanted to cancel my service because their records showed I was no longer a legal alien – I had to prove my visa and residency permit had been renewed. It was all very bureaucratic. I was mostly unable to communicate with the various people I dealt with, yet I succeeded in conveying the issue through a combination of showing them paperwork, gesturing at various spots on the paperwork, and isolated phrases in Korean in the style of:  문제를 있습니다 (problem [I] have-FORMAL).
The office was near the 백석역, and after my hour of patient waiting and courteous nodding, I could’ve taken the subway back home, or even a taxi – it’s only 3 bucks for that distance, typically. Nevertheless, I decided I needed some exercise, so I walked back home instead. It was very sunny, and because today was the day after a major holiday, there was still a festive mood in the air and a lot of people had the day off and were doing things like shopping or lazing around socializing in sidewalk settings.
I saw a tiny hint of autumn, in the bushy bit of yellow embedded amid the latesummery green of the trees. You can make it out in the exact center of the photo I took with my now once again contractually functioning cellphone.

Caveat: Barack me obamadeus

I ran across the above phrase while surfing through panels of the webcomic xkcd (one of the best comics of all time – and the fact that I believe this proves I'm a nerd).  It struck me as funny, and made me laugh out loud (which is not the same as LOL, after all). The phrase is a play on the title of that German guy Falco's 1985 pop hit (his only U.S. hit), "Rock me Amadeus."

The distortion has been attributed to an episode of Jon Stewart's Daily Show in June, but I have found occurences of it in the blogosphere from quite a bit farther back than June, including a scathing criticism of Obama in a difficult to attribute blog written April 1, 2008. The criticism is sarcastic and brutal, yet cogent and mostly accurate as far as it goes. Yet it doesn't dissuade me from thinking we're still better off under Obama, next term, than McCain. Politics is so depressing.

Caveat: Costco

Basil (my neighbor and coworker) and I went to Costco today.  I bought green olives (expensive to find in other stores) and some bulk dried fruits and a giant brick of American-style cheddar cheese.  

Otherwise I had a profoundly unproductive day, except that my television died. I turned it on, it went buzz-buzz-buzz-swack! and the screen went shiny and then dimmed. I think the cathode ray gun inside the tube gave up the ghost.  So… it wasn't really good for me to own a television, anyhow, right? It had been a freebie I inherited from my predecessor at Tomorrow School.

Caveat: 추석

Today begins the Korean thanksgiving holiday, Chuseok. It’s different every year, as it follows the lunar calendar, like Buddha’s Birthday in the Spring.   But this year, the three day festival coincides very closely with my birthday.  I’m not sure I think  this is good or bad, to be honest.  I suppose it’s nice that I get my birthday off, but I often get gloomy during my birthday, so in fact, sometimes I prefer to just pretend it isn’t happening, which is harder if everyone around me is having a giant holiday, even if it’s completely unrelated to my birthday.
Whatever.  I’m not planning on doing anything special this long weekend.  I’m too exhausted and too overwhelmed with papers to correct.

Caveat: Hiding it

Well, I must be hiding my displeasure with my work situation well. One of my students said in class today, “oh, teacher, you’re always smiling.” I said, disbelievingly, “really?” I really don’t see myself that way. Most of the rest of the class concurred, though there were some holdouts.  Nevertheless, I was surprised and pleased that I was perceived that way. My students do generally make me feel pretty happy.
Below is a picture of a building I liked in Hong Kong.
I’m watching Senator Obama being interviewed on Letterman (time-delay of the Sept 10 show). He’s very articulate… you can almost see him working hard to talk “dumber” so as to be more of an everyman, but he nevertheless manages to bandy about words like “connote” carelessly.

Caveat: What Self-Destructive Impulse?

I wonder what self-destructive impulse it was that made me renew my contract with LBridge.  I'm feeling so very frustrated and unhappy with things at the moment.

But, because of how recently I made the decision to renew, and because I made that decision despite the many serious misgivings I had (and which I expressed here in this blog to some extent), well… now I have only myself to blame.  Basically, I'm hating myself for making what is beginning to feel like a very stupid decision.

Hopefully I'll get over it.

Blogs being what they are… and this blog being what it is, specifically… I think what I will do is rant my ravings–vent my anger, document my rage. 

My very first day at the company I worked for in Long Beach–circa May, 2005–I walked in and the first thing I had to do was assemble my desk.  It was in pieces, like a new piece of discount office furniture.  I made a lighthearted joke of it, and it's not like I was offended, exactly.  But it set off all kinds of alarm bells in my head, most of which were later confirmed, about the company I was starting to work for.

This week is the first day since then that I have felt the same degree of bemused disgust with a (relatively) new employer as I felt that day.

But it's not just one thing.  It never is.  These sorts of things are cumulative, and they build and then the most idiotic things become huge burdens, and the most minor annoyances begin to feel like grounds for drastic action.  I will try to list the things that are making me so angry, in the order in which I became aware of them.

1.  Chaos.  When I got back from Australia, that first Monday back was a chaotic mess.  Lack of information, last-minute requests and changes, unclear instructions.  I suppose that's not that different from my last academy, but it makes a huge difference when it's 700 students rather than 150, and 20-something staff rather than 6.  One needs to scale out efforts at communication when you get groups of workers this large.  But instead there were these brief announcements, not even always in English, about what to do, copies to be made, handouts to be prepared, etc.  I made hundreds of copies of syllabi that I didn't need, for example, because no one clarified that an earlier announcement that teachers were required to prepare syllabi for their courses was only intended to apply to the first block of classes.

2.  Load.  Once I had time to absorb the facts of my new schedule, I came to realize that several classes had been added to my teaching load relative to what I'd experienced during the 5 weeks of summer term that I'd spent here at ElBeuRitJi.  Further, when I studied the syllabi for the courses I'm now teaching, I noticed that Sarah had added a fair number of additional homework assignments per week, on average, when compared to the same given course level in the summer session.  I understood that this was in response to parental requests for "more homework," but that doesn't alter the fact that "more homework" for students equals "more time spent grading papers" for teachers–especially when the topic is advanced writing.  Overall, I would estimate (very roughly) that my total load (teaching plus prep time plus paper correction time) is at least 25% heavier than I'd been led to expect, based on what I'd seen in August.

3.  Rudeness, and Aforementioned the Communication Taboo.  This is probably the most seemingly irrelevant of my complaints, certainly it's the most naive, but it's the one that has left the longest-lasting bitter taste in my mouth.  Last Thursday or Friday, I was going to "punch out" on the little time-clock thing.  It's nothing more than a RFID card and a reader mounted near the doorway of the staff room.  When I was given the card, I received no orientation on its proper "use," but to all appearances it seemed extraordinarily self-explanatory–wave the card in front of the reader, and the reader beeps and then says something profoundly polite in cute, synthesized Korean, and that's it.  But suddenly, watching a coworker, I realized that there was a sequence of buttons that were supposed to be pushed before "punching in," and imagined there would also be a different sequence to be pushed before "punching out."  So I was left with the sinking feeling that my "ins and outs" hadn't been recorded correctly by the system.  So I commented on it.  "Oh yes," someone said, "you have to do this when you come in, and this other when you go out."  Thus enlightened, I turned to our manager and said, "Gee, no one told me this."  "You didn't ask," was his immediate, flippant response.  Which comes back to what I meant by the "communication taboo" I mentioned before.  Unlike in, say, the U.S., in Korea, it's the subordinate's duty to seek out all relevant information pertaining to his responsibilities and job duties.  If an employer had said something like what our manager said in a U.S. workplace, about something as sensitive (and as pertinent to issues of compensation!) as the proper operation of the time-clock, well, I'd hazard a guess that that employer would quickly have a lawsuit on his hands.  But even setting aside issues of legality (actually, I'm certain there was no illegality nor even irregularity about any of it, at least under Korean law), it nevertheless struck me as a profoundly rude thing for a boss to say to an employee–especially a new one.  Rationally, I understand this is a problem related to cultural perspective, not genuine rudeness.  But still, I can't seem to get over it.

4.  Hours.  So, last week I put in about 50 hours.  And this week, I'm going to hit something over 60.  Grading papers.  And the thing is, the way the contract is written, I doubt this entitles me to any kind of overtime pay, since overtime is calculated based on in-class hours, not "prep hours."  If I dared to complain about it, I'm sure the pat reply would be, "you're spending too much time grading papers.  Do it faster!  Do it more effeciently."  In other words, no acknowledgement that a competent performance, given the load, requires more work than is being assumed.

5.  Nickled and Dimed.  And then tonight, I got my pay stub.  And I was shocked.  First of all, ElBeuRitJi had exploited the fact that their "pay calendar" worked "differently" than RingGuAPoReom's to essentially avoid paying me for what were supposedly "paid" vacation days at the beginning of August.  At least, they would have been described as "paid" at RingGuAPoReom.  But ElBeuRitJi calculates things "differently."  Also, I was a bit surprised that my week off to Australia wasn't paid.  Now, I never got in writing that it was going to be paid.  But I distinctly recall the conversation with my manager about it.  I'd actually volunteered that it be unpaid, because I wanted it, regardless.  But when I volunteered that it be unpaid, what the manager said was "oh, don't worry about it."  I interpreted that to mean that, in fact, they intended to pay it.  Again, it wouldn't have mattered to me if they didn't want to.  But in fact, they didn't tell me that they weren't going to pay me.  Shouldn't they have?  No… they simply assumed it was "obvious" that I wouldn't be paid for that.  If that's so, why did he say, "oh, don't worry about it"?  Doesn't that imply that they would pay?  Well… it's comes back to that issue I rasied before, mentioning the visa renewal in August, really.  Or the blood test.  The fact that I had to pay both those fees, whereas at my last academy jobs, I know for a fact that the employer paid those kinds of things, from personal experience.  It boils down to:  they nickle and dime you, here at ElBeuRitJi, effectively reducing the contract salary, and manipulating the fine print of the pay system to save a few bucks.  It's not a good way to make workers feel appreciated, even if you're a worker such as me, who is constantly reminding himself:  "if I was in this for the money, I wouldn't be."

I love my time with the kids.   They're awesome–bright, smart, interesting, funny.  Can we just get rid of the management?  And isn't this the inevitable refrain at every job I've ever held?  So, is it just me?  Do I have "issues" with authority?

Caveat: 서버를 찾지 못하였습니다

I’ve really been struggling the last few days. Heads down with respect to the overwhelming aspects of the job I’ve committed to. As I’ve mentioned, I can’t even complain that I didn’t know what I was getting into. Well, so, I ‘m just “heads down” and pushing ahead. Work work work.
The picture shows a sign I saw, walking in Seoul on Saturday from Oksa station through the “embassy” neighborhood (I saw 7 embassies) to Itaewon, where I picked up a book I’d ordered at the English language bookstore that’s there.
-Notes for Korean-
서버를 찾지 못하였습니다=server not found

Caveat: Speaking of Mad Cows…

I saw this sign on the road between Ravenshoe and Atherton, in Queensland, Australia. That’s the sort of cow you need to beware of.
-Notes for Korean-
지금 나는 단지 우정을 찾아요.  now I only friendship seek.
아빠보다 엄마가 단순해=mom is simpler than dad (easier to
understand or get along with, I guess)
단순해=is simple
-보다=more than
일하고 있어요=I’m working (progressive)
재치=wit, cleverness, tact
똑똑=drops, dripping
따뜻하다=mild, genial, warm
한국말을 연습하고 싶어요=I want to practice Korean language
편안하다=peaceful, tranquil

Caveat: Commodities vs Knowledge Products

I was reading an editorial in the Fortune magazine dated September 15, written by Geoff Colvin, entitled “Brains vs. Brawn.” He was pointing out the way that raw materials and low-tech, mass-produced commodities (e.g. gold, petroleum, steel, food) have been massively outperforming knowledge-based, intensely engineered/designed/creative products (e.g. computer chips, luxury automobiles, movies) in terms of prices, over the last decade. He argues that despite this, he remains committed to an apparently earlier elaborated prediction that over the long-term, knowledge-based products are a much better investment prospect.
I’m not an economist. I’m an English teacher in Korea, with a training in linguistics and Spanish Golden Age literature. But I adamantly disagree. I think it should be obvious that over the real long term, commodities will always go up in price, but there is no such clear guarantee with respect to the prices of intellectual property (i.e. knowledge-based products). The reason is simple: we will not ever run out of the products of our intellects, collectively speaking. There is no underlying scarcity. You can keep making more ideas, art, designs, inventions, indefinitely. It’s historically cumulative. Meanwhile, commodities are physical things, and we are en route to running out, if not right away, eventually, for everything: gold, oil, iron, food.  Or whatever.
It seems elementary that the solution to reconciling the conflict between market capitalism’s requirement for never-ending growth and the world’s evident physical limits is to always increase the “knowledge” component of our economic activity, while limiting and creatively reducing our need for and consumption of physcial commodities of all kinds. The additional advantage of this process, which comes almost as a side-effect, is that people seem actually to prefer “knowledge-based” (i.e. creative) labor. This is the inevitable rise the creative classes.
But from a strictly “futures” – which is to say, investing – standpoint, it seems to me that the place to make bets is on those same commodities that I believe so strongly we should be working to limit the consumption of.  And, to reference that very much under-appreciated, 19th century, amateur economist, Henry George, all commodities and therefore all our society’s future wealth comes from the control of real estate (broadly interpreted to include oceans and even “outer space” in today’s day and age).  George used this to argue that land was the only thing the state should or could legitimately tax.  I’m not sure I agree–I don’t completely understand it.  But it makes a weird kind of sense.
The picture is of a waterfall near my mother’s home in Australia. A taxable waterfall?

Caveat: Running Mates

I really haven't been impressed with how the U.S. presidential candidates picks of running mates has played out. Obama played it excessively safe, and frankly I've always found Biden to be almost creepily inauthentic – an old-school democrat machine politician as far as I can tell. And now a vote for Obama isn't an unambiguous vote for "change," after all. 

Meanwhile, McCain chose a total wildcard in Palin. Pandering to the youth and female vote without actually managing to cross the line into something genuine or exciting. In actuality, if we look at her positions, Palin is more plausible if we read her as a fillip for the conservative, Christian-right base of the Republican party, who just "happens to be" female and relatively youthful. But she, also, therefore manages to make McCain's efforts to be a "different" sort of Republican – less beholden to the far-right – completely moot.

Their actions lowered my interest or desire to vote for either of them, and I am forced to return to my basic motivation: I will probably vote for Obama not because of what he stands for be merely because I perceive the Republicans to be the more dangerous brand of hypocrite, currently.

Caveat: Turned out not to be boring

I had a happy moment today. I collected some homework from my students in the “Rainbow-Indigo” level that I just started with on Monday. They’re younger, lower level students, but not bad at all, and sometimes fun. And I was going through the papers, and found the essay pictured below.
Kelly was a student of mine at RingGuAPoReom (my last employer, that got taken over by the current one). I don’t know if you can make out exactly what it says:  I thought summer program is boring.  But Fall Session I look for in Ling Forum teacher Jared in the here. I’m so happy!  and I have so many friends. It’s so fun and exciting.  As you can see, if you decipher the syntax a bit, it’s pretty sweet of her to write that about me. I felt very pleased.

Caveat: A View

Hmm.  Why am I so exhausted, these last few days? Maybe an aftereffect of my travels to Australia and HongKong.  Anyway… not much to write about.  Work is demanding a lot of hours, as I knew it would upon getting back.  Nothing unexpected or unpleasant, just a lot to be done.
I took this picture on the Kuranda road (Kennedy Highway) on a turnout driving down from Mareeba to Cairns last Friday.
-Notes for Korean-
기분이 어때요?=how’re you feeling?
그것 때문에 똥쌌다=”I had a hard time of it” (very vulgar, literally “because of that I took a shit”)
지루해요=it’s tedious / I’m bored

Caveat: Day 366

Today is day 366 of my stay in Korea.  My one-year anniversary. First day back at work, after my one week vacation. And everything was utter chaos at work, it being the first day of the new fall term.  I didn't end up feeling very positive about things… it was a depressing and difficult day. I will have to try to calm down about it, and work out how to cope with some of the crap in a better way.

Back to Top