Caveat: 13 Stone

I have a bathroom scale I bought for 12000 won at the Home Plus store. Apparently it was a leftover something originally intended for the U.K. market, as the weight is marked in stone and kilograms, but not pounds. According to that scale, I started the year 2008 with a weight of just a little over 13 stone, and I’m ending the year roughly the same.
That may seem inconsequential. And 13 stone and a fraction (it’s about 84 kg or 185 pounds, I think) is still more than my ideal weight, probably. But it’s really a major accomplishment for me to have kept my weight so stable this year, given it was only a few years ago (I think 2003 or 2004) when I peaked at around 245 pounds, and that my long-term year-from-year weight hasn’t shown a lot of stability, having mostly fluctuated between 200 and 250 over the last 15 years. So keeping it so stable, and at well under 200, feels like a major accomplishment to me. And basically, I have only one rule: “Eat less than you want. Always.”
Anyway, that’s my observation for this last day of the year. I have tomorrow off. No big plans, though. I ran across the following quote in an old file of snippets and notes of mine, but can’t figure out where I might have found it… I’m pretty sure it’s not mine. But I definitely think there’s something to it.
“Forget about all those years of therapy, just pretend you’re okay and you will be.” – unattributed.
The random picture below shows the changing of the guard (i.e. change of drivers) at the Jichuk station on the Orange Line of the subway, on a Daehwa-bound train – which is what I take from downtown Seoul to my home.

Caveat: 2008

Tomorrow School got taken over by LinguaForum. LinguaForum, in turn, got taken over by L-Bridge. Working at L-Bridge was really challenging, and I nearly quit. My boss, you see, was psychotic. But I discovered something about myself, which, retrospectively, I labelled “Zen With a Red Pen.” I spent a week in Australia with my mother in August – with a brief visit to Hong Kong, too.
[This entry is part of a timeline I am making using this blog. I am writing a single entry for each year of my life, which when viewed together in order will provide a sort of timeline. This entry wasn’t written in 2008 – it was written in the future.]

Caveat: 배달시도했으나 미배달

pictureI sent a package to my sister (and nephews – see picture at right) for xmas.
When I send a package using Korea Post’s overseas expedited mail service, I get little text messages on my cellphone telling me about the package’s progress. Well, I didn’t realize when I sent the package that my sister wasn’t in town over xmas. So, they are unable to get a signature for the package I sent. The message sent to me was “배달시도했으나 미배달, 수취인 수령대기.” See? Isn’t it obvious that they are tried but were unable to deliver the package, and are awaiting someone to receive it? Well, maybe not obvious… it took me a few minutes with a dictionary to work it out. The crucial part is “미배달” (mi-bae-dal = [UN]-deliver-[FUTURE PARTICIPLE]).

Caveat: Bumpy Things and Unplanets

The new year approaches.  In the hagwon biz, that means extended hours with special extra offerings for students who will be on their winter vacations from public school.  Two weeks ago, I was asked if I would volunteer to teach a morning class three days a week to go along with the standard 2-11 grind.  I was actually planning to say yes… mostly because, as I've observed before, even when I'm not liking work, I tend toward workaholism as a way to escape the fact that when I'm not liking work, I'm not liking life.  Kinda circular, I realize.  But it sorta works for me, at least some of the time.

But then, literally within minutes of having to give my yes/no answer to the question of whether I would volunteer, LBridge pulled another one of its "look at us, we couldn't manage to find our own butts in broad daylight" type mismanagement stunts.  And so, in fit of pique, I said nope. 

On Friday, I learned that a student had turned down enrolling the extra class, having stated to the person making the call that, since I wasn't the one teaching it, she wasn't interested.  That was mildly flattering.  And it was one of those little snarky revenge moments:  "see, I showed them, ha!"  But in retrospect, I don't feel very proud.  Just kind of annoyed and sad with the whole process.  I was planning to say yes, after all. 

Anyway.  I spent the weekend with a fever and so I was pretty disengaged from the world.  Sorry I haven't updated for a while.

Another student, a 2nd grader, had to write something describing the differences between stars and planets.  Actually, she showed a great deal of intelligence, not to mention good English ability.  Of stars, she includes the observation "It doesn't have bumpy  things."  And in defining planets, she points out, telegraphically, "It becomes not a planet -> Pluto."  Diagrammed exactly like that, with an arrow.  And, perhaps without realizing it, she's using strong irony to point out the arbitrary nature of the classification of "planet."  Isn't semantics fun?

Caveat: Woodsmoke and Wind

Well.  That was a pretty crappy xmas.  I would have rather been made to work, honestly.

Walking to work today, I passed a spot where they've been doing some construction, a big hole in the sidewalk.  They were burning some scrap wood in a barrel, and the wind was bitingly cold.  The smell of the burning wood and the temperature evoked some late fall camping trips in northern Minnesota.  Fond memories.

I went into the Rotiboy (a Malaysian / Indonesian chain of coffee/"bun" vendors that seems to be doing well in Korea).  I got a caffe latte and a rotibun.  They were delicious.  I'm high on cold-medicine at the moment.

Xmas eve I spoke on the phone for a long time with Basil.  I like Basil well-enough, and I know he's a well-meaning and decent person.  But he seems to obsess on and dwell overmuch on the shortcomings of hagwons in general, the negatives of life in Korea in general, and on the admittedly numerous horriblenesses of LBridge (my current and his erstwhile employer) in particular.  I found myself feeling very depressed after talking to him.  I often find myself depressed after talking to him, so when he called me on xmas day, I ignored his call and turned off my phone.  That's rude, I know, but I just didn't want to cope with his obsessive negativity — I was feeling low enough as it was.  I stayed at home and watched some downloaded episodes of Hawaii Five-O (really?  why?). 

And I finished that novel, Native Speaker, by Chang-rae Lee.  A pretty good read, and an interesting take on the immigrant experience in the U.S., specific to the Korean experience but hardly unique to it, I'm guessing.  All cached in a spy/politics thriller type plot.  I wonder if sometimes one of the reasons I like living in exotic places (like Mexico or Korea) has to do with my desire to somehow understand better that "immigrant" and/or minority experience, which, as a native-born American of the majority, I never really can.

Caveat: And… why?

Last lines, at the end of the pilot episode of Hawaii Five-O:
Ms Quong:  "To cops."
McGarrett:  "To hippies."
Ms Quong:  "Peace?"
McGarrett:  "Peace."
Now there's some 1968 zeitgeist for ya.

"There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread." — Gandhi

Caveat: Bah humbug

Yes, it's xmas eve.  No, I'm not particularly thrilled about it.  I do get the day off tomorrow (which was not, in fact, the case when I was at LinguaForum).  But… I almost wish I didn't have the day off, as I'm currently sick with a minor cold, it seems, and not very happy.  So having work to distract me seems like a potentially good thing.  Oh well.

I had fun, happy xmases as a child.  But mostly, now, I associate xmas with long, drawn-out, never-ending battles of words with Michelle – that was how we celebrated, I guess.  So… I'll spend it alone, mulling over potential exit strategies from my not-much-liked job.

Caveat: into the sunset

"Turns out this isn't one of these presidencies where you ride off into the sunset, you know, waving goodbye."– George W. Bush

Maybe in the end, he turns out to have at least some actual self-awareness, after all.  Better late than never?

I bought these little decorative paper clips today, they have messages in Korean in them.  Two of them I understood immediately:

안녕 = hi

사랑해 = love you

The other two I had to look in the dictionary:

두근두근 = beating (as in "my heart is beating fast…")

보고싶어 = miss you

Cute.  Maybe they'll make a nice gift or something.

Caveat: Good to get out of the house

It can be good to get out of the house. 

I went to work for a few hours.  That part… wasn't so great.  I was trying to prepare some lesson plans for next week, and doing a little bit of correcting.  But when I left work, I decided to stop by my friend Curt's hagwon, down the road a few blocks.  On the way, I ran into my former student Tom, who talked to me excitedly of his Ubuntu-Linux install.  In a country that's 99% Microsoft, Tom has the distinction of having successfully installed Linux on his home PC, partly at my suggesting.  He and another boy I had had while back had become very excited to learn that I knew a small amount about computers and especially Linux, and we had had some conversations about it before.

At the Karma Academy, Curt's new hagwon (that he's trying to start from scratch, basically), I chatted with him a bit, and with his daughter too, who's about 6 or 7, and is very shy about trying to speak English – so she gives me opportunities to practice Korean.  Then Curt's daughter went home with his wife and he and I had dinner together.  All kind of dull to recount, but I felt more content than I have in a while chatting with him about the hagwon biz and hanging out.

So anyway.  Good to get out of the house.

Caveat: 200% return?

I can't find the link or article now, but I really did see this:  apparently the Argentine government recently paid $3 (yes, 3 dollars) to nationalize Aerolíneas Argentinas (apparently in bankruptcy).  The previous owner was upset, although he´d acquired the bankrupt airline sometime previously for only $1.  I don´t see why he should be upset… that´s a 200% return on his investment, which is damn good, in these difficult times.  I´ll keep searching and post a link it if I can find it.

Soundtrack:  Moody Blues'  "Blue World"

[Embedded youtube added later, as part of Background Noise.]

<iframe width="480" height="390" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Caveat: That’s very hard to get a girlfriend

One of my third graders was quizzing me about my marital status.  This is not uncommon, but generally I am less offended than many foreign teachers seem  to be by the seemingly personal nature of some of the questions kids tend to ask.

I always answer fairly honestly:  Not married… actually, "widowed" (which is technically true, and is less likely to offend anyone's un-western sensibilities than to say "divorced," which is technically untrue, and the real, in-between reality of the situation would be infinitely difficult to explain to a bunch of kids, anyway).  And no, I don't have a girlfriend.  In response to this, the third-grade boy sighed deeply and said in a world-weary voice, "That's very hard to get a girlfriend."  Such is life. 

My day's trajectory followed one that is typical, for me.  I was miserable, earlier in the day, sulking and grading and stressing in the staff room.  Discovering, via the bilingual rumor mill whispered from desk to desk, of L-Bridge's latest affront to the concepts of humane management or post-medieval pedagogy.   Plotting an early exit, in a fantasy-oriented sort of way.

But then, through a series of 6 classes, climbing slowly from 2nd and 3rd graders up through to my supersmart 6th graders, I suddenly find myself, at the end of my last class, feeling cheerful and happy, if not actually any more positive about my place of employment.

One of my fellow teachers commented that sometimes hearing my laughter or the funny noises I make in my classes makes the students in her class laugh.  And that she laughs too.  That's pleasant feedback.  I'm aware that I make funny noises sometimes — it's one of my "gimmicks," I suppose, as a teacher.  But I'm surprised, once again, to hear that others hear me laughing often.  I think to myself, "really?"  "Despite being really annoyed and pissed off at this place of employment, I'm laughing all the time?"  Interesting. 

And this process of stepping up, from staffroom gloom in the afternoon to late evening effervecence… is not uncommon.  I don't think so, anyway.  How does it fit in with the big picture?  What is my life for?  Am I ever going to really actually learn some Korean?  Argh.  In retrospect, argh.

Caveat: From the inside…

picture… looking out…
onto my dinner:  tteokbokki from the corner puesto when I walk past TaeYeong on the way home from work.  They put it in a plastic bag, and I dump it into a bowl to eat when I get home, it’s still hot.    I was pleased to actually understand and answer correctly (as opposed to not understand and answer correctly anyway, which is my standard approach):  가저가세요?  네, 가저가요.   Simple stuff, but nevertheless a fulfulling minor linguistic triumph.  We take what we can get, right?

Caveat: Alien Nation

I went to my work Xmas party this afternoon/evening.  I felt very alienated and lonely, there.  Frustrated with my linguistic inabilities.  Isolated because I simply don't have a basis to relate to my coworkers. 

Actually, I've been feeling alienated a lot, lately.  I'm very conscious of being "older," here.  More than I have been.  Korea is a very ageist society, in some ways, and the majority of my coworkers are clearly unsure what to make of my being an "older" person without a clearly wrought space in the complex social hierarchies here.  It's perhaps easier to be a younger foreigner in Korea, because youth in general have more freedom in some ways to behave as they wish, and are more forgiven for failing to meet social expectations.  Perhaps.

Then again, as I sat watching the very alien proceedings of the Xmas party, I reflected that I'd likely have felt almost equally alone and isolated and alienated in a work-related holiday function if it were in the U.S.  Or anywhere.  So the fact that I'm here is no excuse.  In general, the fact that I'm here (here in Korea… here at hellbridge working…) offers no real justification for my feelings.  These are endogenous, right?

I've always been an alien.

Yesterday I got very lazy and decadent.  I'd downloaded some movies.  I watched Apocalypse Now Redux (the 2000 re-cut of the 1979 movie).  Then, just to make sure I got plenty of perspective on the whole Southeast Asian nightmare, I watched The Killing Fields.

Both profoundly uplifting fare.  In compensation, I also watched a few more episodes of 옥탑방고양이 (rooftop cat), although I must say that although I enjoy the show, I've decided the theme music that they play is incredibly annoying.  I actually will watch it with the sound turned off when they play that theme music (no big deal, since I mostly rely on subtitles anyhow). 

Then I took a long walk, in the wintery.


Caveat: Spain surpasses Italy in per capita GDP

We are mostly accustomed to thinking of Italy as the strongest of the economies of Southern Europe, but I have always suspected they were losing ground to the more dynamic Iberians.  Now an article I found today in El País confirms this suspicion of mine.  The Spanish, at least on per capita terms, are in fact richer than the Italians, and closing in on the French.  I think that's interesting, especially in this time of alleged global economic crisis.


Caveat: 금연구역

The words on the small sign at the top are: 금연구역 = geum-yeon-gu-yeok = no smoking area. The picture is of my friend Curt at the noraebang last weekend, smoking under the sign that says “no smoking area.” This is a fairly typical Korean approach to things. I hardly intend any criticism by it – it’s just the way things are.
One thing that’s always puzzled me, is that in Korea, pedestrians meticulously obey traffic signals, but cars blatantly disregard them, whereas in the U.S., it’s the opposite, if anything: cars meticulously follow traffic signals, whereas pedestrians do as they please. I have been trying to figure this out, and walking to work today, I had a thought. It may or may not be accurate, but I was wondering if the difference has to do with “what’s transparent” and in front of whom it might be “transparent.”
In the U.S., drivers obey traffic laws because they are transparent in front of the authorities (i.e., the government), via their license plates. Meanwhile, pedestrians are anonymous with respect to the authorities, and therefore feel free to do as they please. In Korea, the behavior is the opposite because what matters isn’t what the authorities think (who cares what the authorities think?), but rather, what your neighbors looking at you might think: when you stand on the street corner, your neighbors can see you, but sitting in your car, you’re anonymous to your neighbors, and therefore you feel free to blatantly disregard society’s rules.
This line of reasoning doesn’t explain Curt in the noraebang, except that there, “that sort of rule” is irrelevant, maybe?

Caveat: “self-inflicted ideological wounds in a largely ideological struggle”

Michael Gerson, writing about the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” summarizes many of the difficulties with the phrase “self-inflicted ideological wounds in a largely ideological struggle.” I think this is an excellent description the Bush administration’s overall effect on U.S. global image and identity, too. But I also wonder how different it will be possible for the up-and-coming Space Emperor to be: with Gates and Clinton as his representatives, it’s clear he’s not straining for a radical change or departure from the status quo. If he manages change at all, it must be something he hopes to effect gradually. Is he planning to do so? Or is it all smoke and mirrors? Is there any germ of ideological commitment of any kind, amid all the packaging? I’m disturbed by the recent mess in the Illinois statehouse, involving Blogojevich attempting to “sell” Obama’s seat in the Senate. How could the future Space Emperor not have been aware of these shenanigans? If he wasn’t, that seems nearly as criminal, from the standpoint of negligence, as if he had been aware of them but wasn’t addressing them. I’m unhappy… not that I was ever really wholly drawn into the Obamania in the first place. I’ve had reservations that it was all packaging and fluff around something less pure than people seem to have been hoping. Yet I still feel uneasy to find that I’m seeing those reservations confirmed.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Nostalgias Invernales

Hoy en la mañana me desperté de un sueño medio extraño. Había soñado con una serie de imagenes algo desconexas pero bastante pelúcidas traídas de los recuerdos de una telenovela chilena que me había interesado durante el invierno que pasé en Valdivia en 94: su título fue Rojo y miel. Lo extraño era que dentro del sueño, me desperté y me puse a indagar la telenovela en el internet, intentando recordarme mejor de su contenido, e incluso intentando buscar la posibilidad de bajar los episodios de ella para verla de nuevo. Dentro del sueño, habían páginas de google y wikipedia. No eran muy claras, respecto sus contenidos, pero las páginas verdaderas que después busqué, al despertarme, no eran exactamente paralelas. Sin embargo, nunca pude encontrar episodios de la telenovela para downloadear, ni en el sueño ni mucho menos en la realidad a la que regresé luego.
Tal vez mi subconciencia trujo estas memorias por causa del tiempo: estos días aquí en Seul han habido unas lluvias frías, al borde de ser la nieve, muy parecidas a las valdivianas de aquella época, cuando me sentaba acerca de la chimenea en mi casa de huéspedes, comiendo algun curanto casero chileno, muy delicioso, para mirar el nuevo episodio de Rojo y miel… para después, desaparecer el cuarto frío para estudiar el mapudungun (idioma mapuche), y mirar las luces de la noche sobre el Río Calle Calle desde mi ventana (véase la foto… mi casa de huéspedes quedaba dos o tres cuadras a la derecha del edificio que está a la derecha de la catedral… y en frente, el Calle Calle, gris y calmado).

Caveat: Actual snow on the actual ground!

It snowed most of the afternoon today!  It's lovely, slushy, snowy, nice.  I went out and took a long walk among the fat, wet, tumbling snowflakes.

I bought some Spanish green olives stuffed with anchovies and some Edam cheese at the HomePlus mart.  And some instant hot chocolate.  I came home and ate some "3분 팔락파니르" (sam-bun pal-lak-pa-ni-reu = 3-minute palak paneer — i.e. instant Indian curry stuff) on rice, and some of my olives, and it was good.

I'm reading a pretty good novel, Native Speaker, by Chang-rae Lee (a Korean-American writer).   I might try to discuss it more in depth when I finish it. 

Caveat: Solving Yesterday’s Problems, Today

I remain subscribed to certain SQL-Server programming e-newsletters and suchlike. Most of the time, I have no idea why. I never look at them. But today… I saw something that made me think, “gee, I wish I’d known how to do that, back then!” The idea of automating Excel from inside a SQL-Server stored procedure. Oh well… is late knowledge better than never knowing?  I’m not sure it is.  Then again, it could be that this sort of thing wasn’t really possible, back when I made the hacks that pulled this off (in 2002-2004). Advances in the technology and the platform, and all that.  Meanwhile… as far as I know, those hacks are still an active part of keeping the National Accounts department at Paradise Corp in business.
The picture is entirely random and unrelated. Cup Ramyeon, anyone?

Caveat: Page 56

This is a "note" from facebookland that I'm crossposting here. It's one of those meme things circulating there in facebookland.

* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence as a comment then repost these instructions in a note to your wall.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

My result was: "밥 먹고 난 후 설거지하기가 얼마나 귀찮은지 알아요?"

It's from my omnipresent Korean Grammar textbook: "[do you] know what a pain it is to wash dishes after eating?" But the sentiment is reasonable.

Caveat: Minnesota-y

The weather has turned suddenly wintery.  The wind-blown sky is completely clear and crystaline blue, there is a strong breeze, and it's about -8 C at two in the afternoon (call it 18 F).  This is like Minnesota.  I find it refreshing and invigorating.  Of course, this being Korea, there is no snow on the ground… only patches of ice from the frozen puddles of the drizzle earlier this week.  It's almost always warm when precipitation comes (or, at least, above freezing). 

I've been noticing an odd little problem with my MP3 player… I like to keep it on 'shuffle,' but I've noticed sometimes it seems to 'forget' that it's on shuffle setting, and go back to a normal, serial mode of playing through the songs I've loaded into it.  I was wondering why this happened, and now I've developed a hypothesis.  It seems to happen every time it it hits a folder with unicode (i.e. non-Western) characters in its name.  In practical terms, on my MP3 player, that means anytime it hits one of the Korean pop songs I've been keeping in fairly heavy rotation, if only for the linguistic content.  But I find it ironic that this seems to 'break' the shuffle feature, given that the MP3 player is a Korean-designed, made and marketed product (Samsung, I think).  

It doesn't actually bother me that much, but it means that about once every hour or so of listening, I suddenly start hearing all of my Korean songs in a row, and the randomness of the 'shuffle' disappears' – this is because once the shuffle hits one of the Korean-labeled folders, it drops out of 'shuffle' mode and begins to play sequentially, and for alphebetization reasons, all the Korean stuff is grouped at one 'end' of the MP3 player's memory.  Now all that remains is to test my hypothesis.  But I wonder what causes it? 

Caveat: I can’t remember

I had worked out this really cool idea of something I wanted to write about in my blog. And then Basil stopped by, and wanted to talk for way too long about the depressing hellbridge experience, and by the time I finally shooed him out of my apartment, I'd managed to completely forget what I was going to write.  Not even the title.  That's really annoying.  What's wrong with my brain?

Caveat: “Faith is a technology of transformation”

I found the above quote, written in my own incautious hand, on the endpaper of my Korean Grammar for International Learners reference book.   It was accompanied by a date:  August 26th of this year.  That means I wrote it while I was at my mother's house.  But there is no indication of where it came from.

Did it come from one of the books I was grazing upon while at my mother's?  Did it come from my own brain?  What does it mean?  De-contextualized, it seems somehow both meaningless and sublime.

Ah well.

Caveat: Two Kwakiutls under a blanket

That's an obscure pop-culture reference from a 1960's movie.  Can you say which one?

I have downloaded and watched a few movies, lately.  Pretty much random stuff.

Today we started a new "term" at work.  Not much change, except that I am now, allegedly, a "speaking" teacher instead of a "writing" teacher, primarily.  We'll see how this impacts my overall workload.

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