Caveat: You should follow the rule

Here I am in Tokyo:  a fairly high-end hotel in the Ikebukuro area, because I like my first night in a completely new place to be utterly convenient.  I'll get adventurous after I get my bearings.

The flight was without incident.  There was an unpleasant man on the airport bus from Narita into the City.  He complained I was hitting the back of his seat.  He said, in a loud, rude, tone, "Don't touch my seat."  Then, after a minute or two, he scrawled on the back of an envelope the words "You should follow the rule" and held it up so I could see.  I hadn't even been touching his seat after that first complaint.

Hmm… welcome to Japan.   And… which rule is that, anyway?  And… I only had hit the back of his seat twice, on accident, as I was looking for my hotel reservation papers in my bag on my lap.  Well, whatever.  The contrast:  on a Korean airport bus, chances are, everyone would have been bonking everyone's seat, as energetically as possible, and only getting offended if someone became annoyed at that.  So.  But I'm trying to be recovered from that.

There was a friendly woman who was returning from a first visit to Seoul to her home in Tokyo.  I chatted with her for a while.  I asked if she liked Seoul.  She said, "oh, it's like a small Tokyo." 

Indeed.  From that tiny, provincial megalopolis of only around 15 million, I get to visit the real deal, with double the population.  Cool.  What's it with me and big cities?

OK, I'm tired.  I will sleep, now.

Caveat: Bye

A short dialog with a student named Wendy, last Thursday.

Wendy:  So you are leaving LBridge?

Jared:  Yes.

Wendy:  Okay.  Bye.

Caveat: “an unsatisfied feeling”

In about 24 hours, I'm flying from Seoul to Tokyo.  I'm saying goodbye to my job at LBridge, but only a very brief farewell to Korea.

The plan: 2 weeks in Japan, 1 week back in Korea as a tourist, then to Minneapolis. After that… road trip (Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, LA, Humboldt, Portland — big circle). Expecting a month or more pause in LA, though. After that… ? Back to Asia, most likely. Looking at Vietnam, Tawain, Mongolia, and/or back to Korea. I'll have to see what sorts of opportunities turn up. It's best when all is in flux…

And here's why I really like this teaching thing.  I feel like I'm promoting myself by sharing this, but this letter I received from a student really touched me, and affirmed why it is I like trying to be a teacher so much.  Here it is, mistakes-and-all:

Dear, Jared teacher
Hi, teacher.  I'm Shaina.
I write this letter because I want to give expression to thanks.
For the past six months, thank you very much.  I was very shy, and I have no confidence about English.  But you were bring conviction to me, so I gain confidence about English.  Untill now, I announced many speech.  But always I was tremble and wobble, but teacher was always praise me.  So I can get good scores.  And you teach our very funny and interesting.  So I always respect you.  But you will go will go back to America.  So I have an unsatisfied feeling.  And I'm sad.  ^^
Even though you go back to America, I will not forget you.  Thank you, teacher.  and good-bye.
from Shaina.

Caveat: An Almost Korean Breakfast

Yesterday was my last day at work, and I came home feeling sad and tired.  Of course, I made no progress in packing, last night.  I basically just read for a while, finally finishing the first of the 6 or so "books-in-progress" that I was hoping to finish before moving out.    I doubt I'll actually finish the others.  The book I finished was a desolate piece of Korean-Lit-in-translation called Three Days in That Autumn, by Pak Wanseo.    Hemingwayesque, spare prose, that may be partly an artifact of translation, but well-written for all that.  Unfortunately, there was a bit of an annoying subtext, a kind of anti-abortion screed, with a dash of evangelical Christian redemption thrown in for the last few pages.  Then again, the take on it all was sufficiently ambiguous that there could have been some intended irony, too.   It would be hard to decide, if I had to work it through "semiotically."

I woke up this morning and gazed around my cluttered, packing-up-in-progress apartment.  It's frustrating, if not downright embarrassing, to find myself harboring vague home-decorating fantasies so close to my day of departure.  I satisfied them by cooking the last of my brown rice, and then ate it with the last of my excellent cucumber kimchi.   Except for the fact of it being brown rice, that's a totally traditional Korean breakfast, and I've grown to find it very appealing.   A simple, completely sugar-free and fat-free breakfast.

Caveat: 나는 전지전능해

My student Anastasia wrote “나는 전지전능해” on her workbook cover.  She translated it as “I’m almighty” but the dictionary suggests  “I’m omnipotent” might be a better translation.  In any event, it shows a lot of self-confidence, huh?
Saying goodbye to all the kids is hard.  Then there are the moments when I just have to laugh, too.  My student Brian (3rd grade) put on a very serious face and said, “teacher, I wrote you a letter.”  He handed me an index card.  I turned it over,  and read a single word: “~bye”
My student Paul (4th grade) came up to me right after the end of class and spontaneously hugged me.  That was great, but it wasn’t so great when he immediately poked me (well, gently) in my gut and said “I will miss your stomach soooo much.”  Maybe that’s a sign I need to lose a bit more weight?
Lastly, I got the following card from Sally.  She did the cover art herself, obviously inspired by my many alligators.   I was touched by what she wrote.

Caveat: We have a Skywalker in this class too

The backstory to this is that we have an eccentric (but fun) student in our class who insists his English name is "Skywalker."  Peter apparently did some research on his background, and delivers a speech that provides a summary of the Star Wars story.    Speeches that summarize stories are not easy at this level, and I think Peter does a truly excellent job, using no notes and without just coming off as a memorizing robot-voice.  I was really impressed with this — it was one of the best (absolutely best) low "Goldrush"-level speeches I've ever heard.

Caveat: Tagging on the 10

See video embedded below:  take some geeks, a lot of hardware and software and do some crazy coding.  Mix that together with some quadriplegics who got attitude.  And go out "tagging" on the 10 freeway.  As I understand it, it's a sort of "virtual tagging" that doesn't involve real paint, but I'm unclear as to whether the images are projected onto the real objects in real time (i.e. using something like an lcd projector of the sort ubiquitous now in business meetings for showing powerpoint presentations), or whether it's a matter of manipulating the video signal of the scene/surface in question after the fact.  Either way, it's a strange, unique, entertaining way to spend a lot of money and time.   The video is on a site called  I like the content on the site, but the streaming rate, at least from where I sit currently in South Korea, is horrendously terrible.  

SE2 EP4 – Eyewriter Tempt LA from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

Caveat: My mother stole my money

I'm recording some debates and student speeches in class with my new video camera.  I think that it will take a lot of editing to put together anything that looks like a "real" debate.  However, there are some short segments that will make for good excerpts, I think.  Here is Candy, telling a short anecdote about how her mother stole her money and went to Hong Kong.

Caveat: What about Gitmo

The Obama administration has proven disappointing in lots of ways, so far, although it's early to pass judgement.  But one thing I'm surprised about is how stymied they seem over the Guantanamo issue.  There was a proposal by someone named GUÉNAËL METTRAUX in a recent New York Times that seemed like a plausible and workable solution to the dilemma created by Bush et al. 

In a side note… I may have to stop reading the New York Times online… more and more, I'm getting "you have to pay for this section" or "you have to be registered for this section" notifications.  It's annoying.  I quit reading the Washington Post for a similar reason.  Everyone says… well, papers have to support themselves.  True.   But sitting in South Korea, it's not necessarily convenient to have some kind of online subscription to a website, given unreliable access issues (due to being inside Korea's weird, unpredictable national firewall, and having a crappy DSL provider, among other things).  So I just shop around for what's convenient, I guess.

Caveat: Trip to the bookstore

I played with my new video camcorder today, and took a trip to Seoul, and then spent the last 4 hours trying to learn how to load and edit.  The result is my first edited video, ever!  Of course, very amateurish.  But you can see my world "through my eyes" as I take the subway into Seoul for the afternoon.   I can see how playing with this stuff can become addictive.

Caveat: Are you devil?

I use my cellphone as a stopwatch in class when students are giving speeches. Further, I occasionally allow the students themselves to be “timekeeper” for a given other student’s speech. This means my students are often playing with my cellphone.  It doesn’t really bother me, although more than once, I’ve gone back to it later and found its most recently used application was something under the “game” heading — I rarely play games myself on the cellphone because, since it’s a Korean cellphone, it tries to help me play the game with instructions in Korean.  I did once manage to get a 37% score on a quiz game entirely in Korean, basically by viewing it as a linguistic abstraction game.
pictureSo… I was pulling photos off my cellphone last night, and found the following. I have no recollection of when this photo might have been taken. Is it flattering? I’ve definitely been making a lot of use of my plastic black and red pitchfork (lower left of photo), lately.
I don’t know how to put on the fancy frame, either. But whoever did this picture of me apparently had no problem not only surreptitiously taking this snapshot but then managing to add the fancy frame without my having a clue. I think it was a time when they were brandishing their own cellphones and I was hamming a little bit, so it’s not like I wasn’t aware of having my picture taken. In today’s modern (Korean) classroom, it’s ubiquitous, and something I accept as a matter of course. I suppose that technically, there are rules banning the use of cellphones in class, but I view such rules as both reactionary and irrelevant, and rarely enforce them except maybe during quizzes or when they’re clearly proving too distracting.

“Are you devil?” Gina asks, every time.
“Maybe,” I hedge. It’s all part of the schtick, right?
Every teacher needs a schtick. Or a fork. And a coupla alligators (made in China).

Caveat: A trip to the aquariroom

Jessica, a 2nd grader, writes about a trip to the "aquariroom" in her workbook.  Apparently while there, she saw "in toilet stool there a fishes!"  That sounds like a very interesting trip!

Caveat: Each Day…

I've been trying to decide if I will continue my monomaniac effort to post to this diary each and every day, after I cut myself adrift.  It will be less convenient to continue doing so — I imagine a search each evening for a PC방 (Korean internet game room) or the local equivalent wherever I am.  I've never been good at keeping up habits in the face of inconvenience.  One of the favorite creative bits of language I've ever run across in any of my EFL students' writing was Ella's "inconvenience is the mother of invention."  So what would I invent?  No need, here.  I can always "post date" / "pre date" my blog entries.  But that kind of feels like cheating.  Well, it's of no major consequence, actually. 

Yesterday I had a student giving me a long, drawn-out excuse for unfinished homework, involving diarrhea and visits to the doctor, apparently.  I would have preferred the abridged version, to be honest.  But it did expose me to some unexpected vocabulary in Korean, and thus, as tends to be the case, I made it into a "teaching moment."  I don't know it it was appreciated.  But whatever.

Not-so-random notes for trying (still trying, only trying) to learn Korean
자신 = self-confidence, confidence -하다 to have self-confidence
할아범 = old man (according to dictionary)
할아범탱이 = not in dictionary, my students tell me it means senile old man
전염 = infection
변비 = constipation
설사 = diarrhea
모든 = each, every, all, whole

Caveat: 일산역에서

The brand new, shiny Ilsan Train Station. When I got off at this station in 1991 (it was on the suburban route connecting my Army base with downtown Seoul) it was just a wide spot in the tracks and the town next to it couldn’t have been more than 50000. Now Ilsan is half a million, and it just got its old center-of-town trainstation upgraded this summer.

Caveat: Might Be… Collegeland for Kids

Currently, the public schools are on break.  But the consequence of that is that the "kid" population along "Academy Road" here in Ilsan actually skyrockets.  The real name for the street is 일산로 (ilsanno), but no self-respecting Korean knows the names of streets, so I just mentally think of it as "Academy Road," because it's where all the after-school hagwon are concentrated for the Ilsan districts of Goyang City.   And that's where I work. 

Walking along, in the humid, overcast midday weather, buses and taxis whizzing past and cicadas crying deafeningly, there are kids everywhere.  They're all enrolled in special "summer session" morning classes at the various hagwon.  There are English hagwon (like LBridge, where I work), there are math and science hagwon, there are huge, generalist "5-subject" hagwon and test-prep hagwon.  There are music hagwon and art hagwon and there's even a "lego" hagwon.   Just after 12 pm, the kids are on break between one hagwon and another, and they stop to buy toseuteu ("toast" – grilled sandwich concoctions) or kkochi (skewer food) or kimbap (korean rice/seaweed wraps) or so many other things.  Hundreds of kids, ages 6~18 or so, gossip on the streets, play ball games, cram for tests and quizzes, ride bikes, scooters, skateboards.  They shop with parents or shop in tribes on their own, they get into and out of taxis on their own, they play games and talk on their cell phones, they make purchases with bank cards on their own.  It's like being in a busy college community, but everyone is on average 10 years younger.   It's quite charming.

In a two-block distance between my bank and my workplace, I see and say hello to 4 or 5 kids that I know.  They wave and say "hel-lo tea-cheueueu!"   The toast-selling lady beneath our hagwon does that short, automatic dip-of-the-head bow when she sees me walking past, and then goes back to her incomprehensible monologue (to me — I catch something about working fast or working hard) as she flips her grilled-egg-ham-and-cheeses for the gaggle of middle-schoolers clustered at her window.  It's definitely a neighborhood, despite (or because of?) the incredibly high density of the surrounding high-rise apartment blocks.  And despite the patina of post-modernity exuded by the dull, concrete-and-glass architecture, the wide boulevards and omnipresent video-monitors in store windows.  There are men hawking raw fish and watermelons, old women selling lettuce and garlic, helmeted (and criminally insane) moped delivery dudes ignoring pedestrians and cars alike, teenage girls clustered around displays of fancy new cell-phones, a pair of 10 year-old boys weaving their bikes way too fast among the sidewalk crowds, yelling at each other.

In my experience, it's so very different from the feel of similarly-aged, large groups of kids in the U.S.  Somehow they're both more mature and yet also more sheltered.   There are things that are very tough for kids here – they're expected to work very, very hard and unpleasant things like corporal punishment, although much declining, are still quite common.

Nevertheless, there's something very protective and nurturing, in my opinion, in how this society, collectively, deals with children, and if I was in a position to be raising kids, right now, I would very seriously consider the potential advantages of living in a place like Korea as an environment in which to raise them.

Caveat: Dream in Debate

Given the subject matter I teach, and the way I teach it (which is with a lot of repetition and pattern modelling in class), it's actually surprising I don't dream "in debate format" more often.  Well, last night, I dreamed I was involved a debate.  But there were many peculiarities, as are inevitable in dreams.

Foremost, I and everyone one else were stylized like Japanese anime characters.   Actually, there was a point in time last year when I was toying with the idea of trying to draw out in manga format some of my teaching experiences, but I was profoundly displeased with my drawing ability – that's probably where the visual aspect of the dream came from, in part.   Next, the setting was not where I work.   It seemed to be taking place at some giant transportation terminal – a large bus station or airport.   Last, the topic was somehow earth-shattering.  The details weren't clear, but a lot of points hinged on proving deception on the part of media and government.  At one point in the dream, I was explaining that the massive "government report" in the binder I was holding up was created by a machine, and that if you studied the information in it carefully, you would realize that there were patterns that proved it was all random and computer-generated, and therefore was useless to prove what the debate opposition was claiming it proved.

In the middle of the debate, my friend Bob showed up and wanted to have lunch.  He was quite charming, drawn as a cartoon character – he looked a little bit like an itinerant zen monk.   We sat down Korean style (crosslegged on the floor at low tables) and ate borsht and rye bread.    He said that I was taking the debate far too seriously.  I offered him some cheese, but he didn't want it.   He said he had to go back to work, researching something.

I went back to give another speech for the debate, but one of my students was presenting quite adequately in my place.  I felt proud.  Then I realized the audience was mostly animals:  cattle, horses, sheep.  They were not being attentive, either.  I turned to my other students there, waiting their turn to speak nervously, and noticed that the opposition speakers had all disappeared.  I went to look for them, and ended up in a large institutional bathroom.  There was an old woman inside, mopping the floors.   I tried to ask her if she'd seen the opposition speakers (who suddenly included Obama, I realized as I tried to describe them) but she only spoke Korean, and became quickly incoherent and angry when I kept asking.

I started looking in the stalls, but the woman chased me away with her mop.  Back in the hall, the animals had begun to leave, too, and my students looked to me for guidance:  continue speaking?  Give up?  I looked at the large report I'd been describing earlier, and noticed that the pages were gradually losing their words — becoming blank.  Not all at once, but like a screen-saver was operating on them. 

I abandoned my students to look for a new version of the report.  But then I woke up. 

Caveat: Buyer’s Remorse, Deferred

I hate shopping for major purchases.  I'm terrible at bargaining and bargain-hunting, for one thing, but I also feel annoyed with myself for not being better at it.  So when I shell out for something big, I always, always have buyer's remorse.  I bought my camcorder today.  And I'm afraid to open it, because I don't want to be disappointed.  I guess I'm kind of weird, huh?  I'll update with more info when I get around to trying it out.

One of the reasons I felt a desire to get something like this is because I would really like to try to put together some kind of record of one of my classroom debates before I leave LBridge.  Something I could both use as a reference and as a way of remembering.  Of course, I'll only do it if the kids want to try it.  I think some of them will give it a go.  And I'll feel obligated to share a copy with my bosses at LBridge, which they'll no doubt want to use for publicity.  But that doesn't really bother me, actually.

Anyway, the first step is unpacking the box and learning how to use it.

Caveat: Cost of living

On average, I live very cheaply.  I probably average less than 20,000 won a day in expenses, including:  food, electricity, DSL, cellphone, transportation, and my magazine and book habit.  That's around $16 at the current exchange rate, or less than $500 a month.  I have no rent (that's covered by my contract).  Of course, I have another set of expenses – about $350 a month support my US-side dormancy:  storage unit, vehicle-in-storage, private mailbox.   Those costs make sense in the view that living abroad is strictly "temporary" but I'm beginning to question that.   But even including those costs, my overall "cost of living" is well under $1000 per month.  Of course, by most people's standards, I have a stunningly boring life.

What's interesting to me is that although my income is about 20% of what it was during its peak years 2004-2006, I'm nevertheless saving at a higher rate of net savings in absolute terms!  And I'm happier, besides.  So, at least in my case, money does not buy happiness, nor does it even buy security.

These reflections on my cost of living were brought to the fore of my awareness because I had one of those rare "extreme spending" days:  I bought two new pairs of glasses (much needed and much procrastinated), I paid for my tickets and some other reservations for my upcoming touristic trip to Japan, and I bought my last big installment of pre-move-out groceries, including my fix of good Dutch cheese, Spanish olives, several varieties of fresh kimchi (cucumber, white cabbage and radish being this time's selections), and some fresh fruits and veggies (I have some really excellent 국산 apples).   So, after months of extreme-cheap living, I spent over $1000 today!  It felt weird.  Plus, I'm still shopping for a camcorder, and I want to buy some "souvenir" type items to send back to gift to people in the states upon my return.

Vocab Notes for Korean
받은 = received, accepted (regular past participle from verb 받다)
공장 = factory
폭동 = riot
가능하다 = be feasible, be possible
인하다 = be a consequence of, be due to [attached to preceding nominals in -로 (?)]
매미 = cicada, cricket, locust
울다 = weep, sob
매미가 울다 = a cicada sings
면담할듯 = will converse directly (? how does this end up future tense?)
즉석 = instant, improvised
계약종료 = end of contract
경기안내 = game guide (i.e. schedule)
필요하다 = to need, to require


Caveat: … and the next Beckett?

My student, Troy, writes:

Person:  Hello.

Another Person:  Hello.  Who is this?

Person:  I’m a person.  What’s your name?

Another Person:  I’m just another person.

Person:  Really?  Oh.  I’m looking for my brother.

Another Person:  Are you my brother?

Person:  Yes.  I am.  Let’s meet at LBridge.

Another Person:  Hmm.  OK.  What is your phone number?

Person:  010-9246-7245872-3271.

Another Person:  OK.  My phone number is 010-4272-247671-1234.

Person:  OK.

Another Person:  See you at LBridge.

And Junseop writes:

A:  Hello!  My name is A.  Can I speak to B, please?

B:  This is B.

A:  How are you?

B:  I am sick.  I’m getting cancer, because I smoked too much.  I am going to die in two days.

A:  Oh.  That’s good.

B:  What?  I will kill you, too.

A:  No!  You can’t kill me.  I’m visiting my uncle in Russia.

B:  Ah!  I’m dying.

A:  Yes, you will go to heaven.

B:  Oh, no!

A:  I’m hanging up, now.

B:  Don’t do that.

A:  Why?

Caveat: “I want my America back!”

My contract at LBridge ends in just over two weeks. There are ways in which I'm looking forward to moving on from some of the more frustrating aspects of my job, but the truth of the matter is that I'm very much not looking forward to leaving Korea. I've been in Korea for almost two years, and I've never once felt homesick for my home country. I have felt homesick for some certain geographical or meteorological things: a California fog or a Minnesota blizzard or Lake Superior or the Chicago skyline. I have felt homesick for friends and family, sometimes. But my country, despite the election of Obama with is mandate for "change," seems downright nuts.  

Perhaps I spend too much time viewing my home country through the lens of Jon Stewart:  this recent episode underscores so many of the aspects of life in America that seem truly messed up.   I particularly enjoyed (maybe in an embarrassing schadenfreude way) the following exchange:

"I want my America back!" — Crazy lady in a townhall meeting about healthcare

"She wants her America back? Go tell that to the Indians." — Larry Wilmore

I know for absolute certainty that South Korea is no less messed up, in its own special ways… but living here as an alien, I don't have to worry about it so much.  I don't have to feel responsible.  I can look around and say, "Very interesting.  I'm sure glad this isn't my country."

Oh dear, oh dear… have I become (resumed being?  never gave up being?) one of those America-hating liberals?  I feel like a caricature.

Regardless, I'm kind of dreading my return to America.  Are things as bad there as my limited view seems to indicate?  Is there really that much acrimony, anger, and division?  Is the economy really that bad?  Have I been living in a fortuitous bubble?

Caveat: The next Ionesco

I have a student who insists his English name is Skywalker.  That's only the beginning of the absurdity.  Here's an imaginary telephone conversation he wrote.  I made some small corrections on word choice and grammar, but I made no effort to try to make the thing… make sense.  Here it is:

Skywalker:  Hello.  May I speak to my fish, please?

Fishfather:  No.  If I give you my son, you will kill him.  Please don’t kill my son.

Skywalker:  OK.  Aha… then can I fish with him?

Fishfather:  As long as you don’t kill my son.  Hang on…

Fish:  Hello, this is fish.

Skywalker:  What kind of fish hurt you?

Fish:  A tiny fish that couldn’t bite me.

Skywalker:  Maybe.  Let me think.  Aha, then I will make it so you can’t breathe.

Fish:  No, please!  I don’t like that.  Just fish with me.  Not breathing is not good for health.

Skywalker:  Really?  Oh, then… I will do that to the silver shark.  He ate my expensive fish… four of them!

Fish:  No, don’t do that.

Skywalker:  Why?

Fish:  He will be angrier if you do that.

Skywalker:  I don’t care.  Doo doo doo…

Fish:  Wait!  Don’t do that, you bad boy.

Skywalker:  I heard that!

Fish:  Bye.


Caveat: How much does the internet weigh?

Sun Microsystems, working with Internet Archive (the people who host the "wayback machine" which is basically a historically aware copy of the entire internet all the way back to 1996), has packed the whole thing into a single shipping container full of servers.  According to the article at the Reg, that means that there's a copy of the entire internet in that box.   That's pretty cool.  And that means you could put the entire internet (well, a copy of it) on the back of a truck.  Or store it somewhere safe.  Or launch it into space for some future alien civilization to try to make sense of.

Caveat: MacArthur’s Landing

Yesterday I went to Incheon with a friend, Peter. We took the subway, which is kind of an indirect way to go, since it’s straight south from Ilsan, but via subway one has to go into downtown Seoul (southeast 25 km) and back out again. But anyway. It took about 2 hours. We got off at the Incheon subway line station Dongchun, and walked west about 1.5 km to the Incheon landing war memorial. It was an impressive piece of monumental architecture. It was a very hot day.
We went into the Incheon city museum after that, as it was right next door, and saw some historical things related to Incheon, which was the first Korean port to be opened to western (and Chinese and  Japanese) powers in the 1800’s, and therefore was the part of Korea to begin feeling the influence of the outside world after the 500 year-long “closure” that was the Joseon dynasty period.
Then we took a random bus (#8) that ended up dumping us at Incheon City Hall, but that’s not actually downtown, so then we took another bus (#41) to Juan Station on subway line #1 and then took the subway (which isn’t actually subway but is elevated) to the end-of-the-line at downtown (old part) Incheon.  That’s where the touristy chinatown is (arguably the only “authentic” chinatown in Korea, as it was actually a Chinese settlement in the 1800’s, whereas all the other “chinatowns” in Korea are just gimicky tourist things constructed artificially in the most recent 30 years or so). We walked up the Jayu (freedom) hill to hear some atrocious children’s music at some outdoor concert and then we saw the old general himself (well, his statue) looking out over the old “red beach” that is now the highly landfilled and developed harbor at Incheon.
We walked around some more as the sun was setting, and the feel of the place was quite odd. I remarked to Peter that it was the first time I’d been in a Korean city in the evening where things were genuinely “dead” – the way that small American cities inevitably are after dark. “Man, this is like Long Beach,” I said, bemused.
Anyway, we walked some more and found an urban space more typically Korean, all neon lights and evening shoppers and half-drunk men stumbling about. Ah, the comforts of Korean civilization. We went into a Hweh house (a sashimi joint, roughly, but a dining institution in Korea).  I ordered Hwehdapbap (bibimbap style mixed vegetables, but with fish roe and raw sliced seafood) and Peter ordered chobap (sushi). We shared, and finished it off.  It was quite delicious.
Then we came home on the subway, all the way, 2 hours.  It was a long day, with a lot of walking, but it was good.
I feel very proud of yesterday’s blog post… I composed it in my own Korean, with only some minor assistance from my Korean tutor. Really, the first true blog entry I’ve managed in Korean, I think. I mean, that is at all substantial. Yet, in fact, it’s quite child-like and dull and repetitive and unnatural Korean, I’m sure. But one has to start somewhere, right?

Caveat: 냉콩국수

어제 내 친구를 만났어요. 엘브릿지에서 가까운 영어학원을 소유하고 있어요. 하지만 에전에 링구아포럼영어학원에서 내 상사 였어요.  우리는 이야기도 많이 하고 일산칼국수 식당에서 저녁도 먹고 갔어요. 우리는 냉콩국수도 먹었어요. 맛있었어요. 새로운 영어학원을 열었는데 학원이 절되서 다음해에 내가 근무할 수 있어요.  여하간, 이야기 하는 것을 좋아했어요.

Caveat: Old Hand

Today, I felt like an "old hand."  Cynical and well-informed.  We had the annual summer speech contest today.  It's my third speech contest for LBridge, so I knew the routine.  Last-minute disorganization, great kids, but a bit scaled down from previous events.  I got to be the finalist speeches' MC again.  It's weird how I just kind of shrugged and went with it, when the boss came to me five minutes before and said, oh, by the way, can you be MC?  There was a time, I remember, when such cavalier deployment of my limited talents would have pissed me of f and made me uncomfortable, but I just went with the flow, and it was fine.

I was please to see several of my students place in the finals, including Willy (6th overall), Tracey (5th overall) and tiny Dana (4th overall).  I'll try to post a few pictures later, although I don't have as many as I'd have liked, since my camera ran out of batteries. 

Willy gave a speech about how parents shouldn't try to make their children into slaves.  "I can think for myself, so please let me think for myself," he explained.  Another boy, David (not my student) gave a really serious, excellent and compelling speech about "one thing about Korean culture I would like to change":  his choice?  Korean men's drinking culture.  That's a pretty heavy-duty topic for a 5th grader.  And he did a really good job with it.

Caveat: Narrative

I have always felt there was something central to the role of narrative in the human psyche.  And recently, as I evaluate myself and my progress as a teacher, I have come to realize that if I assess my "toolbox" (those various tricks and gimicks and techniques that I've accumulated over my recent several years of teaching EFL), there is one thing that stands out as a consistent "winner":  telling stories.  Telling good, interesting, compelling stories is possible at all levels of EFL instruction, and I have yet to have a bad reaction to a story, as long as I've taken the time to make sure it is well-structured (beginning, middle, end, character, etc.).   I used to give away prizes or play games with my students, but nowadays, when they clamor for some kind of reward, they generally say, "tell us a story." 

So, to be a better, and better-equipped teacher, I need to work on building my repertoire of narratives.  Many of the narratives I tell the students are semi-fictionalized (some more, some less) episodes from my own life:  the time I cut my hand on a machine at work, the time I got shot at by a drunk man in Mexico, the time I was in a small airplane struck by lightning.   Lately, I've been telling purely fictional stories about mad scientists transplanting brains, since we're doing a unit in my Goldrush classes reviewing parts of the body.  They really seem to enjoy these — I came into class today to cries of "draw the man with the brain."  That's reference to the sketches I do on the whiteboard.

Caveat: wiu-wiu-wiu-wiu-wiu-wiu-wiu-wiu-waaaaaaa

There's that really distinctive "Asian cicada" sound.   Sustained, repetitive "wiu wiu wiu" and then suddenly a shift to slightly lower, flatter tone that is held for four or five beats "waaaaaa."   My musicologist friends could describe it better, I'm sure, if they heard it.

I don't recall hearing that particular, very distinctive cicada sound anywhere in the US (that doesn't mean I've never heard it… just that it never seemed salient).  But I remember it from summer in Korea in 91, and from my summers here more recently.  The one other place I've heard it and really noticed it, is in Japanese anime — it seems to function like an audio signifier for "hot, humid, summer stillness," kind of the way traditional crickets chirping signifies "silence" in American cartoons.

I really like the sound.

Caveat: Stealthbucks

I guess Starbucks corporation, having made its name synonymous with brand ubiquity, is going to be experimenting with running locations under alternate brands (see this article in the Seattle Times).  Call them "stealthbucks."   They're trying to have it both ways:  mega brand identity for mass consumers seeking sameness and comfort, but also the rebellious consumers who want locality and uniqueness.  Can it work?  What other companies have successfully operated this way?  Is this a genuinely new corporate branding strategy?  There have been many cases of companies maintaining different brands for different demographics, but the idea of creating one-off brands for individual locations… that seems very subversive.

Caveat: No Bowing, Please

My friend Basil returned to the U.S. last Friday, and after 3 years of living in South Korea, is suddenly in West Virginia about to start graduate school.  He sent me an email with an interesting line about the subtle complexities of cultural re-adaptation:  he writes, "I am trying to remember to not bow or give money to people in a Korean way."  

I suspect that when I get back the U.S. in September, I'll be under similar pressures.  There are small things with body language and composure that you find yourself doing, after living here — even if you never manage to control the language, really.  I remember that each time I've lived abroad in the past (Mexico, Chile), returning to the U.S. is always more of a culture shock than the initial departure.  I wonder why that is?  And, is it just me, or do others have that experience too?

Caveat: ‘오바마스럽다’=’쿨하다’

Headline from a Korean news website, an article about how the word “Obama” becomes a synonym for a certain type of “coolness” in the U.S.  The phrase above translates, roughly, “being like Obama = being cool.”  Note the Korean verb for “being cool” is /kulhada/ [literally “to do cool“], borrowed directly from English.

Caveat: 장난이 아니게 비가 오네요

(Poem #1 on new numbering scheme – this is a somewhat arbitrary beginning, arrived at by working backwards from my strong poem-writing habit at the end of the decade. There are poems written that predate this point in time – perhaps I’ll give them negative numbers.)

Nostalgia in July
The sky was overpopulated by the wind.
I had no friends.
I struggled to carry a smile for strangers because happiness is the most important thing.
The green-laden branches of trees labored to lift the earth into the clouds.
The storm tore up its first draft in frustration.
So rain droplets scattered, like solitude in a crowded subway.
The dry spaces between the droplets shrank, afraid and consumed by the imperial splashes of water.
How trite. How tiny.
A twilight of car headlights lased the half-offered monsoon.
Triumph of gray, but it's only inside.
Golden, radiant joy of still being alive, if only I could convince myself.
Unjokingly, the rain comes (장난이 아니게 비가 오네요).

– a free form poem.

Caveat: Sleepless in Suburban Seoul

Periodically I seem to suffer from an annoying insomnia.  It manifests not as an inability to fall asleep, but rather as an inability to stay asleep.  I went to sleep last night at around 12:20, but then woke up at 3:30 and was unable to go back to sleep.  Dawn came.  Still not sleeping.  I sat and read.  No sleeping.  Finally, I gave up.  But now I'm having an exhausting, unproductive day on only 3 or so hours of sleep.  Argh.

Back to Top