Caveat: 바쁜게 좋은 거예요

바쁜게 좋은 거예요 => busily good thing is => “it’s good to be busy.” This is what it seems nearly every Korean says when one complains about being busy. I don’t entirely disagree, either.
I saw my friend and former coworker Basil off at the airport today. He’s returning to the U.S. with intentions of starting grad school in a few weeks. I wish him best of luck, but I’ll miss being able to occasionally hang out with him and BS about various topics.
I’ve been working on mastering the distinction between Korean ㅅ/s/ and ㅆ/ss/, which are phonologically quite distinct but which sound essentially identical to English-trained ears. The /ss/ (revised standard transliteration) is not just a geminate (double) /s/, but rather something quite different… it’s “tense” or “faucalized” featurally, and seems to involve something like a pharyngealization of the subsequent vowel. So far the best pronunciation tip I’ve received is to try to remember holding my teeth together, touching, when making the /ss/, but letting them relax on the /s/. This may be why some transcriptions render ㅆ  as /ts/ instead of /ss/. Here’s a horrendous tongue-twister based on trying to practice the distinction: 싸서샀어요 /ssaseosasseoyo/ = (it) was cheap so (I) bought it.
Vocab Notes for Korean
외계인 = a space alien
주요 = main, essential, important
구하다 = search for, look for, demand, desire, buy, purchase
순수하다 = be pure, be genuine, be true
평범하다 = common, featureless, humdrum-looking
아담하다= elegant, graceful
일탈하다 = deviate from, depart from 일탈 deviation
행위 = act, work, conduct, behavior …so… “일탈행위” deviant behavior (?)
장 애자 = a handicapped person; a brain-damaged person (this is very important vocabulary for comprehending the joking around of 5th graders – see picture below for what is apparently an exemlar of a “jangaeja” – probably best not to ask about the plastic pitchfork)

Caveat: Breaking point

Normally I have a pretty high tolerance for cute animals. But this picture found while surfing randomly online made me break down. A cat and rat cuddling together.

Caveat: “i must of wrote that shit with blood”

Atmosphere is a Hip Hop / Rap artist from Minneapolis that I like.  Here are the lyrics to a track called "write now" that popped up on my mp3 shuffle today.  It struck me as interesting vis-a-vis my recent struggles with writer's block.

excuse me my friend, but is that your pen?
is it cool if i use it to duel with my skeleton?
is it proper for me to use it to persecute these people?
is it wrong for me to caress it against my ego?
can i use a ball point just to make my small points?
are these mechanical joints anything like hollow points?
old fashion #2 when i need that shit quick and steady
but that's assuming i ain't chewed off the eraser tip already
if i touch a felt tip believe i'm bout to make hell flip
computer friendly, only cuz that deadly bitch helps me spell shit
scribble for the you, the me and the politicians
aerosol to the wall, write it tall, for all to vision
he wrote it in jail, she wrote it in Braille
i wrote that shit named it, recorded it, i got one for sale!
if i truly feel i got something to show ya
i'd pull out a blank sheet of loose-leaf and draw it out in crayola
i've grown to keep an extra utensil in my sock
and i've been known to market on the sidewalk with chalk
most times, i write with a pen, sometimes i write with a buzz
and if i ever go gold, i must of wrote that shit with blood
and if i ever go gold, i must of wrote that shit with blood
and if i ever go gold, i must of wrote that shit with blood
and if i ever go gold, i must of wrote that shit with blood
multiples level 4, courtesy of the Slug
it's all about the penmanship baby,
it's all about the penmanship baby,
ayo it's all about the penmanship baby,
ayo it's all about the penmanship baby

Here's the video.

[Youtube embed added as part of background noise project.]

Caveat: If I ran the hagwon (Items 1 – 11)

This list started as occasional jottings in my little notebook, and then several months ago, moved into my "might make a blog about it" document. It's by no means complete, and these are only some thoughts, wishes and desires about what might make for a great working and learning environment. 

It's not necessarily an effort to think about what's really possible given all the different constraints that Korean English-language hagwon operate under. Further, the list is fairly specific to the private hagwon environment as it currently operates in Korea, and is based on my experiences of the last two years with elementary-age students. Maybe I'm thinking about this a little bit as an entrepreneur… what I would be comfortable with if I really did run a hagwon, and how I would differentiate it and be successful in the cutthroat Korean private after-school academy market.

What would make a great hagwon?  Here goes…

  • 1) Korean teachers should have some amount of time set aside each week to study (i.e. improve!) their English, and this should be a compensated additional duty of the English native-speaking teachers
  • 2) Vice versa, non-Korean-speaking teachers (i.e. foreign teachers) should have some amount of time set aside each week to learn Korean, and this should be a compensated additional duty of the Korean-speaking teachers. This functions as a perk for the foreign teachers and a way to get the Korean and foreign teachers interacting, too.  It can also provide some awareness of cultural-differences to both sides.
  • 3) Collegiality is important (part A).  Managers should feel obligated to attend certain types of social events of their employees, and should encourage other employees to attend too.  Things like weddings, children's first birthdays, etc., are very important in Korean culture, and by attending these sorts of functions, they're showing interest in their employees lives.  I suspect managers and coworkers avoid these sorts of things (when they do) because of the cost (since small financial contributions are essentially obligatory).  For this reason, there should be a discreet gift fund set up to make this possible for managers and employees who want to attend but can't afford to.
  • 4) Collegiality is important (part B).  I really enjoyed eating with my bosses and coworkers, when I was working at a place the had that.  I also remember learning a lot about my coworkers and my job when I would eat lunch in the cafeteria at Moorestown (NJ), when I was teaching there.  Group meals should be a regular event, and should be an integral part of the schedule.  It's about building your staff into a community.   For large hagwon, this could operate on a once-a-week "team lunch" type concept, rotating between different teams of teachers.  It can be on-site or off-site (although I prefer on-site, and I think it's cheaper, too).  You will get strong participation if you make the "free meal" part of the perk package, and pay for it out of the hagwon's operating expenses.
  • 5) The Korean hagwon market is almost entirely "month-to-month."  Parents are billed month-to-month, and make decisions about enrollment / re-enrollment / cancellation on monthly boundaries.  So why do hagwon create complicated multiple month academic calendars, only to have kids dropping out and in at the most inopportune times (vis-a-vis that complicated schedule)?  There should be monthly progress evaluations.  Grades should be closed out monthly.  There can be "continuing" curricula, but there should be logical breaking points built on calendar month boundaries so that "drop-ins" don't struggle. 
  • 6) I still have vivid memories of the novel and unique "contract-based" learning that was used at the Moore Avenue school I attended (grades 1-3). I think that the concept of written contracts with children is exceptional as a means of motivating and making expectations clear, and I'd love to try to develop and apply something like that in a hagwon environment, where it seems even more appropriate (given it's both a private business and a specialty "after-school" educational institution).  It would allow for the hagwon to market itself as highly individualized while not over-taxing teachers with extensive "counselling" duties.  Contracts could be based on quantity-of-work metrics (projects completed, workbooks filled out, etc.) and on relative score increases on standardized or specialized level tests (such as the widely used TOSEL tests in Korea, and special interview tests — see below). The whole could be managed with an interactive website.
  • 7) There should be regular objective and subjective teacher and course evaluations, which should not be subsequently ignored by the management.  Teachers and courses can also be evaluated on the basis of progress in student scores on standardized and placement tests, which should be administered monthly.  Korean parents love objective measures, and hagwon should work hard to generate genuinely meaningful objective measures of both student progress and teacher and course effectiveness.
  • 8) There should be a Korean-speaking homeroom/"study hall" at the beginning of each day's schedule for each cohort of student.  This would be a place to check homework, attendance, pass out memos and other administrative stuff… It would help to keep it separate from classroom face-time for instructors, and provide a chance to check each student's individual progress in a way that minimizes time wasted in teaching classroom.  Also, it would not necessarily have to employ high-English-competency teachers, so teachers could be hired with other strengths (administrative skills and compassion for students would be notable requirements), probably at a cost savings to thehagwon management.
  • 9) I think it would be more fun for teachers and students to have integrated curriculum (all "four skills" [reading writing listening speaking] combined) with topic-based courses rather than skill-based courses.  For example, history class, literature class, debate / discussion class, science class, etc.  As well as intensive "clinics" in particular skill areas, prep courses for standardized tests.  There could be different, varied  and interesting different offerings for each monthly cycle.   All offerings could be evaluated for their ability to draw students' interest and their ability to improve scores on test metrics.
  • 10) Don't just use standard ABCD multiple choice test formats. There should be something I have been thinking of as a "graded dialogic evaluation" — roleplay-based "situation cards" that students would have to respond to with trained testers, where the situations that needed to be played could be controlled for vocabulary and concept content (e.g. "let's talk about what you did last year" would be testing things like past tense and vocabulary about activities).  They would be graded in difficulty, and in sufficient number that there was a basically random selection (although in free-form [judged] speaking tests, repeated material is not necessarily problematic, since pre -memorization / cheating is nearly impossible).  Each month students would take these tests, and scores would be based on "highest level of card" completed along with simple judge-scoring (cf. how TOEFL speaking is scored, 4 point scale).  Staff doing the testing would not be the same staff that teaches the students (computers make this kind of administrative task fairly easy).  This IS labor-intensive, but I think the value should be immediately apparent.  I basically envision dedicated testing days, say two each month, with special schedules. 
  • 11) Technology can be and should be better leveraged than what I've so far seen.  Internet Cafes (as Koreans call forums) can be created for classes.  Grades and teacher and course evaluations can be interactive.  Writing assignments can be mediated using FREE! tools like Google Apps, rather than crappy ActiveX-based Korea-specific fee-based websites.  The web is swarming with fairly effective (and often nearly free) software-as-a-service that can keep in-house technology know-how requirements to a minimum.

Caveat: If you try sometimes

House: As the philosopher Jagger once said, "You can't always get what you want."

(. . . later . . . )

Oh, yeah, I looked up your philosopher, Jagger; you're right, you don't always get what you want, but I found that, if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

Caveat: Making money from open source

I've seen two news items that seem to me to be defining moments in the open-source software industry.   First, Microsoft is apparently contibuting to the Linux kernal, obviously therefore conforming with the GPL.   Everyone loves the irony, but my only thought is that it signals Microsoft's undeniable adaptability.  They may suck at the internet, but they're still kings in the world of actual, meaningful giant software projects (hey, even kings can sometimes still make dogs like Vista, but they've made plenty of products I definitely respect, most notably SQL Server and the .NET framework).    The other item that I thought was mildly interesting was that Red Hat, the biggest Linux distribution company out there, has now been added to the S&P500.  I wish I hadn't sold my stock.

Caveat: Confident about…

I have this really smart class called Eldorado 2a월.  The students had a debate speech test today, and so they embarked on a project to try to keep me distracted and conversational in hopes of delaying the inevitable start of the speech evaluations.

Somehow, we were talking about self-confidence.  Unlike most of my classes, there was no need to spend time explaining what self-confidence was, conceptually.  Someone asked, "Are you self-confident?"

"I am in some things, and not in others," I offered.

And rather to my surprise, one student asked, "Do you feel confident about teaching?"

It was a penetrating question from a 6th grader.  It was not being asked in a hostile tone, so I answered honestly:  that in fact, I don't always feel confident about teaching.  I said that in teaching, I was always feeling I could do a better job.  Yet in that moment, in that class, I felt really pleased with how things were going.  I wasn't "fishing for compliments"…  and none were offered.  They just nodded as if they understood.

The tone felt a bit serious, so Candy lightened the mood.  "I feel really confident about eating," she said, with a wry smile and a dry tone.

"Yes, me too," chorused some of the others.

Caveat: Panopticon

A lot of people seem to comment about how the internet seems to be increasing the insularity of societies.  I don't really think that's the case.  I think what happens is that the internet makes visible (to outsiders) the preexisting insularity of societies.  Prior to the internet, the only window we had on other societies and social groups was whatever they made public via the mass-media.  But now, we can "look inside" each society's internal "conversations," and this, inevitably, reveals their fundamental insularity vis-a-vis other social groups and societies.  This is especially true across linguistic boundaries.

I've commented before about how South Korea somehow manages to be one of the most internet-connected societies on earth yet also manages to remain alarmingly xenophobic and uninterested in the "world outside."  But that's an example where I myself have fallen into this trap of imagining the internet would somehow broaden minds and level differences.  It doesn't do that, especially across language-barriers.  Instead, it only "makes visible" preexisting differences.  It puts us all inside Foucault's panopticon, but it doesn't really change how we act as social and fundamentally "tribal" beings.

Caveat: One year of not quitting

I have hang-ups about quitting.  Which is to say, I often have beat myself up, in the past, because I feel I quit things too easily.   And, in fact, I have quit many things:  jobs, relationships, careers….   One thing my stepmother Wendy (whom I hugely respect and admire) said to me, long ago, that meant a huge amount to me and that I remember often, is that she believes that one of the reasons she is on this earth is to learn patience.   Actually, I think in my own case, I'm pretty good at having patience with others, at least in some ways, but I definitely lack patience with myself.  And this manifests as a frequent, premature notion that it "must be time to move on!" Or that moving on will somehow make life suddenly easier, or solve some grave motivational deficit that I'm suffering from.

So to make her words my own, I would say that I believe that one of the reasons I'm on this earth is to learn how to "not quit."   That is why, when I so desperately wanted to quit my job, last fall, I "stuck it out" — not because I thought it was the best thing, necessarily, but because I felt that quitting, right then, would have left me feeling more like a failure.   In essence, although there were many, many logical reasons why any person who had a modicum of self-respect might have decided it was healthier to move on, I chose not to quit simply because "not quitting" was (and is) the current priority in my life. 

I will acknowledge that this is probably not entirely healthy, psychologically.  But having taken on the project to learn how to "not quit," I would do very badly indeed to quit that project, wouldn't I?  Hmm… this is sounding circular.  Well, welcome to my brain!

Why do I choose to reflect on this business of "not quitting" at this moment?  Because today, July 21, 2009, is my exact one-year anniversary of working at LBridge.   I have successfully "not quit" for one year, and I'm on track to finish my contract on good terms at the end of August.  And I feel a huge sense of success and accomplishment, because of that.

Just sayin…. 

Perhaps that's one real psychological advantage, for me personally, in working on a time-delimited contract, is that I can leave a job with no guilt whatsoever, on the scheduled end-date of the contract:  no loose ends, no feeling that I'm abandoning something prematurely.  It's perfect for me.

Caveat: Libertarian Utopia

I had kind of a bad day yesterday, as sometimes happens when I have one of my "one-day weekends" (the result of working Saturdays).   I don't know why that makes me particularly blue, but it does.  I didn't accomplish any of the things on the "to do" list.  I read some books, surfed the internet, watched part of a movie (and didn't like it enough to even finish it).  I took a long walk.

I was listening to NPR (streaming KCRW of Santa Monica) and I heard a reporter talking about working in Somalia.  Explaining that it was MUCH more dangerous than Iraq, because in Iraq, there's an occupying army trying to control things, and offering places to take refuge from the danger.  No such refuges in Somalia.  Lack of functioning government, and all that.

I didn't catch his name, and I can't confirm what he said.  But it was terribly funny, in a gallows sort of way.  He offered an anecdote about landing at the Mogadishu airport, where he was given an "entry form" or something like that to fill out.  The form only had a few questions:  Name?  Date of Birth?  Nationality?  Caliber of Weapon?

Hahaha.  "Caliber of weapon?"  It reads like something straight out of a vaguely Heinleinian future-libertarian utopia.  But we all know that Somalia is not particularly utopian.  I grow more cynical about the possible advantages of libertarianism as I get older.

Caveat: Saliendo del túnel por fin

Acabo de terminar la novela El Túnel de Ernesto Sabato.  Me costó mucho tiempo terminarlo, porque me dediqué a leerla únicamente en el metro.  Incluso, sólo la leía durante los períodos cuando el tren se metía debajo la tierra… en el túnel, por supuesto.  Era mi 'subway project.'  No tengo la menor idea porque se me ocurrió leerla de tal manera, aunque al fin y al cabo, fue una forma de leerla muy fiel a sus monomanías novelescas.  

No sé decir si me gustó o no.  Lo cierto es que nunca me aburrió, y a pesar de mi decisión de leerla sólo en el subte, a veces me fijaba bastante para que siguiera leyendo algunos momentos en alguana estación, después de bajar y antes de buscar mi destino.  La terminé sentado en un Starbucks, esta tarde, bebiendo un cafe helado y mirando afuera el tormento a truenos, con fuertes lluvias y viento, que se sintonizaba con la tormenta al final de la novela.

No estoy seguro de que fuera una novela posmoderna, como la califica algunos.  Tiene su cara kafkiana.  La primera mitad me acordó bastante a Gombrowicz, por ejemplo.  Pero al final, es tal vez más que otra cosa un sencillo estudio sicológico, con parecer a una novela decimonónica — como algo de Galdós (Niebla) o de Henry James (Turn of the Screw). 

Hace mucho tiempo que me dedico a un analisis literaria.  Es la primera vez hace casi cinco años que leyo uno de los libros de la maldita lista de los 300 que eran los libros requeridos por mi programa de doctorado en la U de Pennsylvania, de la cual sólo logré leer menos que 50 antes del examen de maestría en 96.  Aquel fue el peor verano de mi vida.  Salí del programa, en parte, porque no quería llegar a odiar la literatura hispana.  Me alegro haber terminado y gozado de este libro, si sólo porque sirva de prueba de que he logrado no odiarlo por pertenecer a la literatura hispana.

Ahora vuelto a casa, he cenado muy sencillamente de arroz con un gimchi de pepino (오이김치) muy sabroso que compré en un mercado el otro día.  Estoy escuchando algunos nuevos tracks en mi computadora y estoy organizando mis notas y pensamientos.

Lista de música recientemente disfrutada…

  • Metric – Gimme Sympathy
  • Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream
  • The Herbaliser – Same as it Never Was
  • Hyperbubble – Better Set Your Phasers to Stun
  • Marina & The Diamonds – I am not a Robot
  • Moby – Pale Horses
  • Yelle – Qui Est Cette Fille
  • Röyksopp – This Must Be It

Caveat: Underground Railroad

There is an amazing underground railroad that exists, right now.  It moves North Koreans through China, and thence to the "outside world":  mostly to South Korea.  The politics of it is driven, like America's underground railroad of the second quarter of the 19th century, most often by people of faith.  That makes for complicated motives, and ones that I sometimes disagree with.  But the humanitarian aspect is undeniable.  Here is a compelling video about one case study.  The video is a bit melodramatic, in parts, but I think it's something people should see. 

I often make light of, and even joke about, the fact that I live within "walking distance" of a "socialist workers paradise."  I know that that's not the case.  I am fascinated by many aspects of the North Korean polity, but I think that ultimately, from a humanitarian standpoint, it doesn't have much redeeming value.

Caveat: Cheating (on testis)

I managed a situation badly.

The background.

I had two students, let's call them Jim and Jerry.  They're among my more advanced cohort, both 6th graders.  Normally, cheating isn't much of an issue, with these high-level kids.  If a kid relies on cheating to get ahead, it's unlikely that a sustained habit of it can get them to this advanced level — there has to be real ability.

It wasn't a major test — just a quick vocabulary quiz.  The sort of thing I wouldn't even bother with, if I could design my own curriculum.  Certainly not in the "memorize the English words to match the Korean definition" format that these kids are given.  But… anyway.

I don't keep an eagle-eye on the kids when they take these quizzes.  If anything, I keep up a bit of a monologue laden with (hopefully) clever uses of the vocabulary words, mostly as a kind of good-spirited effort to give some hints as well as distract them to make the quiz more challenging.  I'd rather have a more interactive classroom with slightly lower scores, to be honest.

Anyway, I guess Jim and Jerry cheated.  One of them copied the other's paper, and I didn't notice during the quiz.  There are occasional roving eyes, and I will sometimes say something like, "Keep your eyes on your own papers, please."  But, at least in the advanced classes, I've never caught anything that looked much like blatant cheating.

But when I was correcting the quizzes, the evidence for copying was overwhelming.  If two kids get right answers, then obviously they're the same right answers, and whether they've cheated or not is not something that can be determined after the fact.  But Jim and Jerry both got very low scores (in the area of 20%).  And they had lots of peculiar wrong answers, which were exactly the same between them.  Some examples:  "facillity" for "facility"; "endangerous" for "endangered"; and, most hilariously, "testis" for "attest to".  There was, in fact, only one word where their answers differed at all — one of them got it correct, and the other left it blank.  It was a word near the bottom.  You can see, I hope, why I concluded that there had been cheating.  

I jumped to a further conclusion… though with less certainty.  Jim had studied for over a year in US, while Jerry has never studied abroad (I don't think).  And I feel it was much more plausible that Jerry copied from Jim than vice versa, based strictly on linguistic evidence.  Why?  Because misspellings like "facillity" and ANY use of the word "testis" by a 6th grader reeks of what I think of as "native-speaker error."  No Korean, exposed to only Korean English education, will know the word "testis," whereas almost any American child will have been exposed to term in some playground or locker-room context, and will find it funny or strange or mysterious or all of the above.

So my working hypothesis is that Jim wrote his answers (mostly wrong, a few right) and Jerry copied, except in one instance near the end when he happened to remember on his own a word that Jim hadn't gotten.

Whatever.  That's not why I'm frustrated, now.  I'm frustrated, because I managed the situation badly.

I circled their scores on the quiz papers, and was due to give them back to the students today (Friday).  I intended to discuss my observations and concerns with the two boys, and keep the problem entirely "close to the vest" i.e. "in house."  But I also left blanks for their scores in my grade sheet (rather than make a note – my first mistake).  Because we just finished mid-terms, I was trying to get caught up in entering grades into the computer system, and so I turned around and at another point in time I was tearing through my grade sheets, entering grades.  I wasn't really paying close attention — just making sure everything I had was in.

When I saw those blanks for those two boys, I decided to put in zeroes (my second mistake — blanks should be blanks, never zeroes).  I did that with the idea in my mind that the two boys in question weren't stellar students, and that there was some issue, but I wasn't specifically remembering the cheating problem.  I've done this before, rarely, and mostly what happens is one of two things:  (a) neither the students nor the parents (who see the scores online once they're entered) care; (b) the student or parent comes to me and asks to resolve the issue somehow — doing a make-up or something like that.  No problem.  Normally.

But Jerry's mom saw the zero online almost immediately, and then called his homeroom teacher.  Jerry’s homeroom teacher sits right across from me, so when she got this "alarmed-mother" call, she immediately just said, "hey, Jared, what's the deal with Jerry's quiz grade?"  

I looked in my grade book, and saw the quizzes with the circled scores, and, remembering the cheating concern, I simply explained, immediately, the whole story.  That was my third, and biggest mistake.  I have always felt, believed, and tried to practice the idea that things like cheating controversies should be strictly between student and teacher until at least one conversation has taken place between them.  But I'd not seen Jerry since quiz day, and so I hadn't met my own criteria.  Yet I nonchalantly dumped the whole problem out there in public view.  

If I'd followed my own rules, I'd have (a) never typed a zero into the computer (b) never said anything to Jerry's homeroom teacher about it until talking to Jerry.  The fact that both things happened in sequence meant that the thing exploded (predictably), and got completely out of my control.  The mom was furious.  Of course, she picked a peculiarly "Korean-mom" way of being furious:  she declared that I must be a terrible teacher, because I wasn't doing my job, which was, apparently, first and foremost, to "prevent her son from cheating."  It has been reactions like this, in the past, that caused me to make up my own policy regarding keeping such controversies "in house" as much as possible.  

So the whole thing escalated to the campus director.  The mom's anger has been assuaged, a little — by removal of the zero, a commitment on my part to "talk fairly" with her son, and, most importantly, a chance to "retake" the quiz for a better score.

But the whole thing has been a bitter experience.  Embarrassing.  Frustrating.  Depressing.  I'll get past it.  But.  Argh.

Random Notes for Korean
답장 = reply
전달 = delivery, conveyance
인쇄 = printing
목록 = listing, catalog
방울 = drop, dewdrop, little bell
완화하다 = mitigate, assuage, mollify
거짓말 = lie
언론= speech, discussion
언론의 자유= freedom of speech

Caveat: Let’s put a moratorium on fun

"Let's put a moratorium on fun."  – my timid student Sarah, when asked to use the word "moratorium" in a sentence in a workbook.

And Ellen, summarizing an article, had some problems with a certain homonym:  "Ulsan asked the International Wailing Commission to allow wailing on a limited basis."

Meanwhile, I was surfing around earlier today and found reference to something I'd explored a while back but never got around to posting (I don't think, anyway… I've been blogging long enough that I don't actually know everything I've posted, but a cursory autogoogle says "no").   I've always been into abstract art that looks like writing or maps (but isn't actually writing or maps).  This is sometimes called "asemic writing" apparently, and I found an interesting commentary on "asemic art" recently at a blogger named The Nonist.

If I ever ventured to be a "real artist" in the field of visual arts, that's one sort of aesthetic I'd try to pursue, I'm pretty sure.

Caveat: Floor Mats

During my years in Burbank, working for Paradise, I learned more about the commercial floor-mat market than I ever dreamed possible.  Certainly, it was more than I wanted to know.   Why am I mentioning it now?   I saw the guy changing out the floor mats here at LBridge hagwon — replacing the dirty ones with clean ones.  These are "logo mats" — they have the hagwon's name on them (maybe sometime I'll sneak a picture and post it).   And I felt this weird kinship with the man rolling out the mats and lugging the dirty ones to the elevator. 

"I've done that," I thought.  Well, I wasn't the delivery guy.  I was a "corporate office" guy, doing database things.  I analyzed customer buying patterns across different product lines, and helped tell the marketers who they should target for their next promotion, or worked out more cost-effective ways to enforce large corporate contracts with respect to our unruly branch service locations.  But all of us central office types had gone on the occasional "route ride," where you accompany the delivery guys as they go out and deliver the uniforms, mats and other laundered paraphernalia to the customers.   I'm not sure if LBridge rents these mats, or if they own them and pay a laundry service to clean them.  I have no idea if the company cleaning them operates giant computerized plants all over Korea or is a mom and pop business that spreads them out on concrete somewhere and hoses them down.

But I spent way too much time thinking about it.  Speculating about the secret lives of our hagwon's floor mats.  Or maybe it's not bad to spend time thinking about it.  Mostly, most people never think about things like the vast number of rubberized floor mats that exist in businesses all over the world:  how they get there, who owns them, what they're made of, how much they cost, who cleans them.   I remember when I worked at the Casa in Mexico City, watching the maids taking them into the courtyard and having to hose them off and scrub them.  Unpleasant business.   And I had to do that with floor mats myself, when I worked at that 7-11 store in Boston, that summer.  Where were the rental and laundry guys, then?

And… there are wider cultural questions.  What's the cumulative carbon footprint of all rubberized floor mats, in all the world?   I mean, there's manufacturing issues, the wasted water and toxic chemicals involved in cleaning them, and disposal issues, too.  Are they really necessary?  Are there alternatives?  What are those alternatives?  Would western civilization be the same, without them?  Would we all be languishing in hospitals with fractures acquired from slipping on slippery floors?  Would retail business models collapse due to a lack of repeat business, because there were no snazzy floor mats establishing brand identity in the entryways? 

Oh… that gets deep.

Caveat: 쓴경험이 있었어요.

My students, especially at the lower level, often write about some bad thing that has happened to them, leading to being reprimanded by parents or teachers, and they will conclude with a sentence that looks rather formulaic:  “I had bitter experience.”
That’s not bad English, but it’s not really idiomatic.  It’s clear to me that they’re translating some Korean idiom.  I’ve been trying to figure out what that idiom is.  My best guess has two variations:
1)  쓴경험이 있었어요 = bitter experience (subj) there was
2) 쓴경험을 했어요 = bitter experience (obj) I did
Both seem like good Korean.  But I still haven’t gotten clear feedback if either of these is really a common idiomatic phrase.  More research required.

Caveat: Vowels are a scarce resource

There are not many jounalistic spaces on the web that I would consider personal "destinations," in the sense that I save bookmarks to them and return to them regularly because I enjoy the content and find it reliably entertaining.  This is doubly true for blogs and news sites related to technology.  I'm much more likely to simply find myself surfing to locations because of some specific interest being pursued via one of the big aggregators of news and opinion, e.g. Google News or Wikipedia, etc.

One place I have found myself returning to regularly is The Register, a UK-based news and blog site about technology.  The writing is reliably high-quality for the most part.  And I especially enjoy the dry, sarcastic humor of blogger Ted Dziuba, from whom I borrowed the observation that I used as the title of this blog.  It's not really relevant to anything in particular, it's simply funny.  It reminds me of the Onion headline from a decade or so ago, that said something along the lines of "Clinton deploys vowels to grateful Bosnia."

Then again, it depends where you are.  In Korea, if anything, they suffer more of a vowel surfeit than a shortage.  I think the language would be a lot more manageable if they would dispense with a few of their more challenging vowels and diphthongs.  Ah well.

Notes for Korean (while trying to use a computer)
검사 = inspection, test, examination
무료치료 = "no charge cure" (in context of antivirus ware.. seemed weird)
취소 = cancel
종료 = end / close

Caveat: … Survey Said!

Cue music, and Richard Dawson.
I posted a survey here and on facebook a little over a week ago. I got exactly one response (comment) on the version posted here on this blog.  That was my friend Bob, who wrote:

Teaching English in Mongolia, after completing a short certification program–and after visiting your friends and family in North America

In the spirit of your initial list from the previous post, I didn’t give this much forethought either–it was just the one idea on that list that jumped out at me as the type of a thing you should do. Living in Lisbon sounds intriguing too.

This was not entirely unprompted, since a little while prior, I’d posted a possible list (without having planned, at that time, to make a survey).
There were many more comments on the facebook page. Not what I’d imagined, but interesting nonetheless. I’ll meditate on the possibilities, and want to let everyone know (especially Colin, Kray and Jeannine, none of whom I’ve seen since high school and all of whom were close friends in around 3rd-4th grade) that I’m both stunned and yet weirdly comforted that, after all this time, they seem to know my soul so well. Whether I can act on their advice, I can’t say. Colin’s elaborate recommendations are appealing, in a mythical sort of way, though whether I will ever really be a poet… I have doubts (see post of two days ago). But I’m definitely leaning toward Mongolia for next year, after some time back in the states.
So here’s everything that people wrote at facebook:

 Gerri Smith Weiss at 1:59am July 4
Wow.. you must have very mixed feelings! I’ll keep you in my thoughts
Karen Choske-Anderson at 5:36am July 4
I know you love to travel and experience the world. If you come back to the States for other than a visit — it will still be a visit…just longer. 🙂 I wish you the best guidance possible while you make your decisions…and I would love to see you if you come through Burbank again.
Colin Brant at 7:15pm July 4
You have just enough time to get your applications in to the artist’s camps (Yaddo, MacDowell…) before you finish school and set off on a hitchhiking trip across Asia, (pack lightly: notebook, pencil, pocketknife, poncho, change of clothes) stopping in Mysore where you will meet an old, wise (wo)man by chance who will be able to guide you forward… Read More from that point. If you don’t meet that person, continue on through the Middle East, pause along the way (probably not Afghanistan) to learn the ancient art of falconry, make your way west and hole up in an obscure quarter of Amsterdam and write an epic poem about your adventure. It will be like a great necklace, looping across that whole region, with ancient and modern historic references, each line a pearl. Pepper the poem with falconry lingo and also words like
“tabernacle” and “pyjamas” for example “I slept at the foot of a sumptuous tabernacle/After dining on wild figs and sweet rice wine/My pyjamas heavy with the monsoon” .
Colin Brant at 7:34pm July 4
Well, I’ll leave the poetry to you! Anyway I recommend taking a lover during this time, perhaps a woman of Turkish or Armenian origin, with black hair and green eyes. She will be a muse, but also knowledgeable about arcane lore from that region that you can use in the poem. Go easy on the hashish unless you really need it, try espresso. At … Read Morethis point you will be hearing back from the residencies (next Spring?) and installed there begin work on editing the thing, making contacts,lining up readings…
First thing you need to do is print out two copies of these suggestions and laminate one, fold the other one up and double zip-lock in case you lose the laminated one.
In short I think you should concentrate on your poetry because you’ve got talent kid.
Kray Van Kirk at 3:18pm July 5
I think Colin has rather pre-empted the rest of us!! :-p
I think you should do an experiment by going insane a la Quixano, making cardboard armor and taking up the Quest Valiant. See what happens.
OR… Read More
Become a climatologist and work to overturn the sad and dreadful ignorance in the US regarding climate change
I really like Colin’s suggestion regarding the Turkish/Armenian woman.
Retreat somewhere for several years of contemplation and study to write a book on Cervantes, write poetry and draw pictures. Again, Colin’s suggestion is also very relevant to this scenario.
Become governor of Alaska. Please. Seriously. Please!!
Colin Brant at 7:20pm July 6
I don’t think you want to clutter your brain with all the hassles being a governor must involve (budgets, special projects, long meetings, oil politics…). Wallace Stevens may have been able to compose poems on his way to a full time office job, but I think you need more space.
BTW I have a friend who is a poet, she’s from Mexico but lives in NY … Read Moreand teaches at Columbia and editor for a magazine called Bomb. She might be interested in seeing your work esp Spanish stuff. Is there a way to post a selection (blog?) so she could check it out?
Jeannine Rossa at 6:27pm July 8
Kray, as much as I love you, I like Colin’s suggestions the best. Besides, we’ll get interesting stuff to read! Can I also add a tiny bit? Before your trip, you fly into Phoenix, AZ and pick up your nephews for a camping trip in the Sangre de Christo mountains (I mean the name alone says GO! plus you should train for mountainous Asia) which … Read More becomes epic b/c you all get stuck up there in a snowstorm (freaking out your sister) but you’ve got plenty of food, so you teach the boys some Korean (thereby procuring forgiveness from sister) and tell long, drawn-out stories, which they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, and when the storm is over, you return the nephews, and then fly off into the horizon for adventure and poetry as described earlier by Colin.
Don’t go to L.A.


Caveat: 탱큐☆★

The following conversation with one of my students took place via cellphone text message this morning.  I’ve never had a student do this before – she wrote English purely using Korean syllables.  I’m going to have to show her how to key Roman letters on her cellphone.  Or maybe she did it to challenge me in some way?
Jessica:  티쳐 캔 유 리드 코리안? 아이 호프 소.아임 제시카 앤드 아이 해브 어 쿠에스텬스 [tichyeo kaen yu rideu korian?  ai hopeu so.  aim jesika andeu ai haebeu eo kueseutyeonseu]
Jared:  what is your question?
Jessica:  슈드 아이 츄스 온리원 토픽 올 두 얼 토픽스?? [syudeu ai chyuseu onliweon topik ol du eol topikseu??]
Jared:  right.  choose 1 topic
Jessica:  탱큐☆★ [taengkyu]

Caveat: Notapoet

My longago friend, Colin (who is, apparently, an amazing visual artist), said in a recent facebook note that I should share some of my poetry. And he insisted that I was a poet. He knows my soul (or at least has read between the right lines in some bit of my confessional writing that’s floating around the internet). But I’m not. Not a poet. Maybe, just barely, I’m a writer.
Writing. I style myself a writer. I style myself poet, even. But really, I’m just a “poser.” I don’t do that much actual writing. It’s an ambition. A destiny. But it’s far from a vocation. Far from an avocation, even.
At least with respect to prose, I can say that I do, in fact, do some “writing.”  Which is to say, I have a large number of self-generated texts swirling through my personal cyberspace: on USB drives, uploaded to secured servers, or stored on my harddrive. I once lost over 200 pages to a Microsoft Word fiasco, which is why they’re now all in the form of raw .txt files. But they’re nothing I’m comfortable sharing, ultimately.  My perfectionism prevents me.
I’m desperately uncomfortable with the fact that basically, what I do, is write naked skeletons for complex but not particularly original fantasy and science fiction novels. Some of my friends know that I have a fondness for inventing imaginary worlds. It’s a fondness with an aftertaste of obsession. I think of my imaginary worlds as the possible spaces for speculative novels which, naturally, I never seem to get around to writing.  Another way I have often explained it, is that I am much better at writing the appendices to my novels than the actual content of them. Imagine a written corpus that consisted only of Tolkien’s appendices, without the main novelistic texts of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, etc. That might be an approximation of what I have achieved, over the years.
There are two novels that have at least some germ of existence.
Only one has a good working title: Self-reliance. Despite the title, it’s basically a space opera genre work, set in a very complex future history called, alternately, “Rahet,” “Corporation Space” or “Rasf Sayan.” Unfortunately, it has yet to develop any kind of compelling protagonist. I have some characters I rather like, but no one has leaped out to take charge of the narrative, the way that good characters must. It’s not really just one novel. I have outlines for about six, which are interconnected in that they belong to the same universe, but not so interconnected that they constitute a single epic trajectory.  More like different snapshots on the same subject, where that subject is a future point in human history around circa 20000AD. I suppose if you have to compare it to something, you could look at something like Dune, though that is a bit hubristic of me to say.
The other novel is utterly devoid of a good working title, but is actually much clearer in my mind. A much more ambitious undertaking, from a genre standpoint, I guess you could say it is a bit “high-concept.” Littered with shifting points of view, odd Joycean (or Burroughsian?) turns and discontinuous narrative, it’s set in a sort of alternate present / alternate past (with unclear connections between), a la Nabokov’s Ada or Pynchon’s Vineland. And, like Vineland, it includes a fictional coastal county with fictional coastal college town somewhere nonspecific in California, which, for those who know me, will be of easy-enough-to-understand origins. But my little town of “Onirica” in “Las Urnas” county has nods to lots of fictional otherwheres, from Lovecraft’s Arkham to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Pynchon’s Vineland to Garcia Marquez’ Macondo. Hah. Sounds ambitious, indeed.
Will these mythological spaces ever see “light of day”? My mother’s record as a novelist does not bode well for my own progress. Not that I’m that much like my mother, nor am I specifically imitating her in any way, but nevertheless it’s worth observing that she’s written some half dozen novels, all more publication-worthy than much of what’s “out there.” Yet she seems for the most part utterly uninterested in putting her ego on the line by attempting to publish. And I understand that, viscerally.
There are risks the fragile ego does not crave. I write plenty of garbage for this blog, but when it comes to things close to my heart, like my novels or my mostly virtual poetry, I have too much ego invested to risk sharing. I don’t dare face the potentially deafening indifference. So I guard it close. I don’t talk about it much. And in fact I don’t actually dedicate much time to it, for the most part.

Caveat: The atheistic gyrovague – who me?

I'm cleaning house among my documents.   Here follows another set of collected "non-starters," from my list of "possible things to blog about."  Utterly random.

1.  "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don't exactly know what they are!" – Alice, after hearing the Jabberwocky poem.  But this reminds me of something Tracey said in class the other day:  "Teacher!  I understand the topic.  I just don't understand my ideas."

2.  Found at at

Student Leader: In Iran we always use this joke to describe this situation: they say that a group sees a fox that is running away, they ask him, "Why are you running away?" The fox says, "The ruler has ordered that all foxes that have three testicles be killed." They note, "But you have two testicles," and the fox responds, "But first they kill and then they count."

This is exactly the situation activists in Iran are facing. Any crisis is an excuse to suppress them; their crimes have been decided beforehand.

3.  I don't normally have much interest in chess.  But I was surfing wikipedia and found a long article explaining some aspects of "fairy chess," which I found fascinating.

4.  What is a voodle?  [it's a "video doodle" … nice.]

5.  Comedy Central neologisms…
Stewart:  "obitutaiment" (RE Jacko's infinite death coverage)
Colbert:  "the dead can twitter!" (RE Jeff Goldblum's visit to his show)

6.  "Writers don't own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody? 'Your very own words,' indeed! And who are you?" — 'Cut-Ups Self-Explained' in Brion Gysin Let the Mice In, while reading about Wm S Burroughs' life in wikipedia…

7.  "not proven" is apparently a concept in Scots law, which creates a double opposition to traditional English law's "Guilty vs Not Guilty" … hmm, cf. Arlen Specter, years ago, on President Clinton's guilt during the misfired impeachment of that era.

8.  Multiculturalism in Korea … in the newspaper, and poking around online:

9.  "…the idiosyncrasies of civilization…" a sculptor talking on Canadian radio show "As It Happens," about his bronze sculptures being stolen by meth addicts.

10.  "A man of honor lives with whatever he does."  – the Rachael MacCloud character, in episode 4-15 of the Highlander TV series.

Notes for Korean:
부드러운= furry, soft, smooth (really! all of those meanings)

Caveat: Bing? uhhhh… Boogle.

I have been trying to use alternatives to Google, when searching things online.  Why?  It's not that I dislike Google.  It's that I always tend to favor the underdog.  It's some kind of instinct, almost.  I try to be anti-follow-the-crowd.

So, although I despise Microsoft in some respects, especially their Windows consumer franchise (can someone please repair Vista?  why does my computer crash several times a week under Vista, but never crashes when I boot under Windows Server 2003, and only crashes rarely under Ubuntu?), lately I've been making an actual effort to try using their newly branded search engine, Bing.

What a joke.  Today I was doing some searching on something Bing is supposed to be good at, according to the reviewers:  shopping.  I've been thinking of buying some "gadgets" before leaving Korea, to best take advantage of my hoard of Korean cash.    So I was trying to research camcorders and netbook and small notebook computers.   Hahaha.  The entire first page of results when I typed in "camcorder comparison shopping" were links to Google directory pages!  Which, in my personal experience, are useless for actually finding anything out.

Well, at least we know that Microsoft isn't skewing results to proprietary sites.  But, still… how could they allow this to happen?

Anyway, back at Google, I had much better luck finding some comparison buying guides, etc.

Caveat: Thanks for the moe

"Moe" is a Japanese term for a kind of romantic cuteness.   Sometime back, I watched a Japanese anime series called "Ouran High School Host Club."  I think one of the episodes was titled, "Thanks for the moe," which is kind of a tongue-in-cheek ironical remark, I suspect.  Moe is really a flipside of otaku-ness (otaku being Japanese nerdy-geeky-fandom).   I guess you could think of moe as the cuteness that gets the anime fans all excited.

The series is kind of silly, but it's actually rather complex, too, as it deals, in a cartoon setting, wtih some rather deep issues around gender roles and sexuality in contemporary Japan.  As anime series go, I would rank it only middling for visual style and character interest, but for depth and philosophy (and lots of irony), it's near the top.  Certainly, it seems unlikely that its themes would be dealt with in anything like the same way in either more salacious America or more prudish Korea.

Anyway, I thought of it because yesterday listening to my mp3, I heard the series' closing theme song, "Shissou," by Last Alliance, a Japanese alt-indie-sounding rock band.  And now that damn song is stuck in my head.

[Youtube embed added later as part of background noise project.]

Caveat: Subwayification and weeds redeem bury the past

The intensive subwayification of the Seoul’s infinite exurbs continues apace – recession? what recession? The old, slightly decrepit-seeming Gyeongui Line (경의선) is being given some coats of new paint (along with massive infrastructure upgrades, etc.) and the first phase of its integration into the Seoul Metro System took effect on July 1st.
The Gyeongui Line is interesting for both historical and personal reasons. Historically, the current Gyeongui Line is the rump end of the old Seoul-to-Pyongyang line that was the first railroad to open in Korea, in around 1906. With the closed border since 1950 or so, it ends a few kilometers south of Panmunjeom and the DMZ at Imjingang. Since then, it has functioned as the northwest suburban commuter rail line, but it’s name still implies it makes it to the Chinese border (Gyeong is “capital,” as in Seoul, and ui is short for Sinuiju – by the wacky rules for Korean acronyms – hence Gyeongui means “Capital and Chinese Border City Railroad”). I wrote about taking it out to Imjingang in October, 2007.
It’s interesting to me for personal reasons, because when I was in the US Army and stationed at Camp Edwards, whenever I wanted to go into Seoul during a day-long liberty, I would take a taxi to Munsan station and take the Gyeongui line into the city. That’s why I can actually say that I had been in Ilsan way back in 1991, which always brings Ooo’s and Ahh’s of amazement when I report this to the kids. It’s definitely a changed place. In 1991, Ilsan was a village of maybe 5000 surrounded by hills and rice paddies, a whistle stop on the commuter railroad, still beyond the edge of the megalopolis. Now it’s been reengineered as a “New City,” and the districts that are refered to colloquially as “Ilsan” include more than 500,000 residents, almost half of the Goyang municipality.
Anyway, starting July 1st, the Gyeongui Line between “Digital Media City Station” (on Line 6 near the World Cup stadium) and Munsan has now been fully integrated to the Seoul subway. Rather than sporadic-seeming once-hourly service, the trains zip by 4-8 times an hour, and you can pay with the same “t-money” card that you use for the rest of the subway system, with barrier-free, clearly marked transfers to the other lines at Daegok and Digital Media City. For a subwayophile like myself, that’s cool, and it’s cool to see an old line “grandfathered in” that way.
To celebrate, today I took the orange line (line 3) that goes by my house a few stops down to Daegok, and changed to the Gyeongui line. I took it out to Geumchon. It was a hot, humid day, with occasional strong winds that smelled like the ripe standing water of all the rice paddies to the north and west, and had just the hint of 10000 pots of kimchi fermenting on rooftops or apartment balconies, as well. The “smell of Korea.”
Now, in the fall of 2007 I wrote about taking the Gyeongui line out to Imjingang and trying to find my old Army base. I thought maybe I’d located it. But I wasn’t certain… the pace of urbanization has been so fast in this region, and I knew it had been closed. Maybe it had been turned into a mini mall.
But I have subsequently spent some time studying the increasingly clear images of the area on Google Earth, and I had become conviced that my old base lay just north of the limit of old Geumchon (which doesn’t jive with my memories, because no one ever mentioned Geumchon to my recollection… we always went to Paju or Munsan… it’s possible Geumchon was basically a nothing-village at that point, though). Anyway, I took the train to Geumchon, got off, and started walking north.
Sure enough. There it was. My old base, Camp Edwards, all shuttered up, overgrown with weeds, with a lone watchman at the main gate. Here’s a picture of the main gate.
Inside the gate, you can see the remains of the Alpha Company barracks (cooks’ company). Note that the old Gyeongui line tracks ran right in front of the gate… basically, the railroad crossing gate and the gate manned by the Korean policemen at the base entrance were one and the same. In the picture, you don’t see the railroad tracks, because they’ve been elevated. They were right above me, where I stood. That was different.
But the “tank traps” on the MSR were the same.
It’s not called “the MSR” anymore – that stands for “Military Supply Route” and was US Army lingo for Highway 1, which was the fourlane boulevard that parallels the Gyeongui line all the way from Seoul to Imjingang (where the DMZ puts an end to civilian traffic). I don’t know what exactly the right term for those tank traps is, but the idea is that they’re filled with rubble and dynamite, and if the North Koreans come charging down the MSR, all the tank traps (strategically positioned every few kilometers over all highways) get blown, preventing easy access for all those North Korean tanks.
Looking the other way from the tank traps over the highway, you see the concrete obstacles planted like gravestones in the fields to the side of the highway.
The whole infrastructure is no longer well maintained as far as I can figure out … there are many places where there are modern bridges over these old tank barriers, etc. Then again, maybe all the modern bridges are embedded with dynamite, too, as the old urban myth alleges is the case for all the bridges across the Han River.
I walked past my old base, feeling a bit of nostalgia, but a sense of closure, too. Nice to see the crappy old place overgrown with weeds. I’ve outlasted it! Below, there’s a picture I took looking west from a pile of railroad ties under the now-elevated Gyeongui tracks.
You can just make out the brownish structure in the center, which was the old Bravo Company 296th Support Battalion motor pool, where I labored under the despotic and corrupt Sgt Wise for almost a year. And in the foreground, but behind the concertina fencing, you can see a bit of the “track.” That was where we did our two-mile runs… a little half mile loop on level ground, in circles around the warehouse (which appeared to be missing, now). I have vivid memories of that incredibly boring run. It was only on rare occasions that we got to do company runs off-post, up down and around the countryside.
I kept walking north along the MSR (er.. Highway 1). The first left turn off the highway, going north, used to have a little ramen joint on the corner right across the railroad tracks. I think that’s where I was first introduced to that Korean-military delicacy: spicy ramen with cheez-whiz. Now, as you can see, it appears that they’ve built an office park there.
Finally, I reached a place called Wollongyeok (Wollong Station). I’m confident that this station on the Gyeongui line didn’t exist, before. It’s an addition, part of the densification of the commuter line as part of integrating it to a subway system. But it was convenient to find it. I took this picture from the little hill walking down toward it, because I like that you can see the huge highway sign with an arrow pointing the way to Panmunjeom.
Panmunjeom is a tiny village. Technically speaking, since 1950, it has zero actual civilian residents – it’s where the North and South face each other, and they have little meetings if things are too tense to actually allow each other to cross. And since nothing in South Korean signage admits the existence of an actual border, the only way to know when you’re getting close is when you start seeing signs for Panmunjeom. So I like the sign because you see that here you are, at a nice modern-looking suburban railway station, within a few kilometers of North Korea.
And that brings me to…. So, life so close to North Korea, what’s that like? As a bird flies, my apartment in Manhattanny Ilsan lies about 10 km from the North Korean border. It’s more like 25 if you drive, because of the twists of the Imjin river and of the line itself. But it’s weird sometimes to think how close it is, and how much the people here seem to be either ignorant or in denial – or some weird symbiosis of those two mental states.
Actually, despite all the sabre rattling (and missle-launching and nuke-testing) to the north, no one in the circle of people I interact with seems in the least concerned. This is just the way it always has been, with the north. Weird, scary, unstable… but not, in the end, something that is likely ever to change. Those giant armies facing each other — the high-tech-and-armed-to-the-teeth South and the 2-million-cannon-fodder-plus-a-coupla-handy-WMD-(but-nevertheless-noticeably-incompetent) North – they’ve been glaring at each other for almost 60 years now. It feels very much like “status quo forever.”
And frankly, if it’s nukes you’re worried about, Ilsan is THE safest place outside of North Korea to be, if you think about it. Kim Jong-il may be a wack job, but he’s not gonna nuke the one spot in South Korea that’s practically within walking-distance of a major North Korean city (namely, Kaeseong). As a point of fact, I very much doubt there’s any tactical or strategic scenario in which the North would nuke the South. The nukes are for those “damned foreigners” – i.e. Japan and the US, largely. The South is not foreign, just misguided. It doesn’t need nuking… just reeducation. If things got really, really bad, and the North launched some kind of preemptive invasion of the South, Ilsan would definitely be overrun. But from a tactical standpoint, it seems to me that it is literally so close to the line that it would be behind the line before anyone knew what was happening (and despite those decrepit tank traps).
How things would play from there, who knows? It could end up very grim… I imagine the ways in which seemingly well-developed and relatively westernized Yugoslavia decayed into chaos and civil war in the 1990’s. It’s not impossible, here. But… well, it’s not something worth worrying about. Terrible disasters are possible, whether human or natural, no matter where one chooses to live. In any event, consumer culture is so deeply rooted in the South Korean psyche, now, that I wouldn’t envy any effort on the part of the North to absorb or reeducate the South. It would end up a kind of pyrrhic victory, perhaps. Nor should we underestimate the strength of the South’s military and of its no doubt innumerable contingency plans.

Caveat: Make a comment…

Normally I don't invite much comment on this blog.  It's more of a one-way thing, seems like.  Partly, it's because the comment notification gadget doesn't seem to actually work — typepad (my bloghost) never sends me any notice when someone comments here.   That being said, this one time, go ahead and comment on the below "survey," if you want.  I'll try to check back regularly to this post and see
what people have put.

This is cross-posted from my facebook page (where actually I don't spend much time). 

Jared is going to make a little survey.  I'm approaching the end of my teaching contract in South Korea (39 teaching days left; two months).  I'm trying to decide "what next" for life.

Without allowing for ANY preconceptions (though obviously some of you are more informed about my interests and abilities than others)… what do all these various friends and acquaintances think I should do next?  Obviously, I reserve the right to ignore everyone.  But I'm curious what people come up with.

Caveat: “Wait a minute!”


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Caveat: Already Amazing!

I have a little self-inking rubber stamp that I use to "sign" my students' homework, as it goes faster and the kids think the stamp is fun.  The one I'm currently using says "AMAZING!" and has a picture of something vaguely resembling a dragon (or perhaps an alligator).  So it's all part of a theme, I suppose.

Today I was in my "Mayflower"-level class, which is the lowest level I teach, currently.   So there are sometimes challenges in communication.  I was going to stamp my student Ellen's workbook, but she put her hand up very seriously and said "teacher, I'm already amazing."  That was pretty good English, for a level that often struggles to put together a sentence.  And she used the adverb correctly, too ("already").

So I answered, "yes, I can see you are amazing.  That was amazing!"  And I stamped her book three times, rapidly, which everyone thought was hilarious.

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