Caveat: The Japanese Aesthetic

I confess that I love the Japanese aesthetic. It’s my favorite design philosophy, in architecture, in the way gardens and spaces are arranged, in the visual impact of two-dimensional images. I spent part of yesterday taking way too many pictures. I don’t normally take a lot of pictures, but I kept trying to capture “postcard” images. I’m not sure how I did, but some of the pictures below seem like I did not-too-badly.

Caveat: 빈집

pictureI saw the most remarkable movie last night.  It is a Korean movie from 2004, entitled 빈집 (bin-jip = empty house).  The “official” English title is 3-Iron (a golf reference) which is both unimaginative, and utterly fails to capture the primary symbolism embedded in the Korean Language title vis-a-vis the movie itself.
I found it on my hard drive last night.  I must have downloaded it at some point, and totally forgotten about it.  I`m glad to have found it again.
I think it will be my new favorite Korean movie, although the fact that it`s Korean is not really relevant to the plot, which is more universal, and the almost utter absence of dialog (and the relative irrelevance of what little dialog there is ) means that even if you don`t have subtitles, you will understand and enjoy this movie.  It`s pure moving image, with nevertheless deep and interesting characters and a complex plot.  It`s what movies can and should be.
Anyway, I`ll let others summarize the plot and provide a formal review.  But this was a great movie.

Caveat: Hello Kitty

When I went to the Sengan-en garden/estate (which was made many hundreds of years ago, and then expanded by one of the modernizing pre-Meiji Satsuma [sp?] lords in the 19th century, who built Japan’s first machine-based factory, first electric plant, and first telegraph, all here in Kagoshima).

On the grounds of the garden there was a shrine to cats. Some Japanese conqueror had taken some cats with him to Korea in the 16th century (where he no doubt worked on building that excellent rapport that exists to this day between Korea and Japan – this is a joke, OK?). The cats came back with him, having provided excellent luck and service (what sort of service, exactly?) during the war.

I took some pictures of the cat shrine, and promptly spent 25 bucks in the inevitable giftshop nearby. I will add the pictures when I get a chance and the appropriate bandwidth.

What`s weird is that in the hours after my visit to the cat shrine, I started running into cats. Cats in parking lots, cats in the forest climbing up the mountain. I took some pictures of these cats, too. I think it was a “hello cats” day. Which is only right, in the land of Hello Kitty.

Here’s some pics.













Caveat: Kagoshima

I arrived in Kagoshima, checked into the guesthouse I`d made a reservation at, and went exploring.  There`s a volcano across the bay… somewhat active.  I walked around a little bit in the town that`s on the volcano island, but decided not to try to go up it – I was feeling tired, and you`re not allowed all the way to the top in any event, for safety reasons.  I took some pictures, which I`ll post later, since I`m on a public computer at the moment. 

Last night I slept longer than I have in a long time.  I guess I was tired – I`ve been feeling like I haven`t been getting enough sleep, lately, but unlike my normal self, I haven`t been simply sleeping more.  I had a lot of dreams last night.  Some were like being in a Korean drama – I`m still watching those, I carry around downloaded copies on my computer that I can watch in the evening or suchlike.  And the dream I woke up from was really strange…

I had several children, with me, and I was traveling in Japan.  The traveling in Japan part makes sense, of course, but why were these children with me?  Everything was perfectly natural, in the dream.  I had the kids with me for some logical reason – were they my kids?   There were 2 or 3 kids, in the dream.   The youngest was maybe 4, the oldest was 9 or 10.  I suppose this is an outcome of being an elementary teacher?  The last scene, before waking up, was where we were trying to get on board a bus to somewhere, and the youngest child had lost her hat, not paying attention, and we were going to miss the bus.  She was crying.  I efficiently chased after and scooped up the hat, and attached it to her head, picked her up carefully and jumped onto the bus with the others following.  It was a happy scene in the dream, not scary or unpleasant at all.  It was a kind of aimless domesticity, floating across my current landscape.  But weirdly vivid, the way dreams sometimes are.

Caveat: Sakurajima

Here are some pictures from my wandering around yesterday, to the volcano (Sakurajima) and around Kagoshima.




The following is a “play volcano” that I saw in a school yard only a few kilometers from the real volcano. Funny.



There is a lot of fine black ash or sand on everything. Here`s some piled on the sidewalk.










[this is a back-post, completed 2010-03-31 18:00 JST]

Caveat: Absolute must-have information

I bought a book yesterday. It’s a Japanese phrase book – for Korean speakers. I figured that would be a way to help me get around in Japan, without dropping the ball on the Korean Language thing.

pictureAnyway, it’s pretty handy, and if I want to know how to say something, I have to first figure out what the Korean means before I can jump on the Japanese phrase I might need – although at least some of the vocabulary is provided with English glosses, too.

On page 75, I found the most important information. Namely, I need to know about オタク (otaku). ‘Cept… I already knew that word. Plus, if you’ll notice, the Korean is the same. Actually, the only time I’ve heard Koreans using that word is with reference to specifically Japanese cultural phenomenon.

Walking around, I saw more cherry blossoms. I guess I picked the right time to come hang out in Kyushu. Here’s a view at the intersection half a block north from the little guesthouse I’m staying at.



Caveat: Easy Japan

I won’t say that I like Japan more than Korea. But in a lot of ways, I find Japan easier to like than Korea. I spent a long time yesterday trying to figure out why that is. It might be something as simple as the fact that the Japanese character includes a level of cultural self-confidence that is comforting after constantly coping with the myriad minor insecurities embedded in contemporary South Korean cultural discourse: the petty nationalisms, the linguistic deference … these things are mostly absent in my interactions with random Japanese and in my observations of cultural output, here.

Maybe if I spent more time in Japan, these perceptions would become more nuanced. But superficial impressions count for a lot. Still, there remain many reasons why I’m sticking with Korea, despite my fascination with (and liking for) Japan.

A picture.


Caveat: Public Art

I love public art. Probably, that’s one reason I like walking around Ilsan. And Fukuoka was interesting, this morning, too. Here are some pictures of public art (and/or interesting architecture).

Walking around Ilsan, near Baekma area:


Here is something tucked next to a building walking out the east end of the mall called “WesternDom” in Ilsan, on the way to Madu Station:


Here is a picture I took this morning, here in Fukuoka, Japan. It’s a digital clock that changes to show the time. But the pixels are made of little fountain spouts. So it’s an altogether new take on the “water clock” idea:


Here is a weird frog-creature-arch-thing in the Tenjin area (downtown) of Fukuoka:


Here is the somewhat famous ACROS cultural center in Fukuoka, with its rooftop gardens:


For contrast, some blossoming cherry trees along the river:


Lastly, some palm trees in the median of a major street near Hakata Station:



Caveat: Japanese? No hablo…

Somehow, since I was here last September, I forgot what little Japanese I used to know.  I think it's part of having been so deeply immersed in learning Korean over the last several months.   So in that sense, it's a good sign.  But it's frustrating to be in Japan and functioning at an even lower level than I was 6 months ago.

Ah well.  Win some, lose some.  I'll go exploring in Fukuoka again tomorrow.

More later.

Caveat: 치즈라면

Yesterday, I zoomed out to Ilsan after signing my contract, because I wanted to thank two of the people who made the contract possible, which were my two former bosses who gave me such glowing recommendations.

I stopped by the hagwon where my friend Peter teaches, too, and we had a quick supper at a local hole-in-the-wall Korean fast-food joint (these are called 분식집: bun-shik-jip = minute-meal-house).

I ordered 치즈라면 (chi-jeu-ra-myeon = cheese ramen), which holds a special place in my heart.

pictureCheese ramen is the first “Korean cuisine” meal that I ever ate in Korea. I was stationed at Camp Edwards in 1990-91 while in the US Army, and I was out running some errand over to Camp Casey at Dongduchon with my sergeant. We were zooming along in our humvee, on some twisting road (there were no expressways back then, yet, in northern Gyeonggi-do, like there are now), and the sergeant announced we were stopping for lunch.  We pulled up at some apparently random “next-to-some-US-base” ramen joint, that was set up at the intersection of two roads, and he ordered us cheese ramen from the ajumma that apparently knew him.
“Korean delicacy,” he explained, tersely.

“Yes, sergeant,” I nodded.  I was curious and excited to finally have an “off-post” cultural experience, having been on “lock-down” for my first 3 months in Korea (due to the gulf war going on in Kuwait, half a world away).

Being February, it was cold.  The warm, gooey mess of spicy ramen with a slab of plasticine american cheese melted into it was comforting – a perfect mix of the exotic and familiar. I was hooked, and have been ever since. Living in the US, I would simulate Korean cheese ramyeon by adding a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a slice or two of american cheese to bland, US-purchased Japanese-style ramen, such as Maruchan or Smack Ramen.

Yesterday’s cheese ramen was, as usual, unnaturally delicious and warmly nostalgic.

How is it that we later feel nostalgic for times in our lives that, at the time we were living them, were so difficult and unpleasant?

Caveat: Contract

I signed a contract today.  This means I have a job – unless the bureaucrats intervene:  I really have too little confidence in the Korean Immigration Authorities' objectivity (which is to say, in their capacity not to be arbitrary), but… I think I have a pretty good chance.  More than 90%.

So I will start in mid-April, presumably – as soon as I get my E2 Korean work visa.  I have to get this from an overseas consulate, so since I'm going to Japan this weekend, I'm just going to stay in Japan until I get my "authorization number" for my visa, which I can take to the Korean consulate there to get the actual visa pasted into my passport.  I may be in Japan a week or two.  Maybe I'll go somewhere interesting:  back to Nagasaki, or over to Tsushima, or something that's a fairly short trip from Fukuoka.

The school where I've signed is in Yeonggwang County, in Jeollanam Province.  If Seoul is Korea's New York City and Washington DC and Los Angeles all rolled into one, and if Gyeonggi Province is Korea's Maryland and New Jersey and New York State all rolled into one, then Jeollanam is Korea's Kentucky, or Korea's Georgia.  It will definitely be a big change.  But I'm looking forward to it.

Caveat: The big f엌ing deal

I want to say something about Obama's healthcare reform.  And don't blame me for the title – that's what Joe Biden calls it, and he's probably right, too.

I was reading Andrew Sullivan's blog at The Atlantic, and he said something in passing about the fact that if Obamacare is successful, it will improve his overseas popularity.  This is exactly right.  In fact, I would hazard a guess that it will improve his popularity a great deal more in foreign countries than in the U.S.  If this healthcare reform passes, I would like to suggest that that single action will do more "cancel out" the bad image W's invasion of Iraq gave of the U.S. than any possible Iraq exit-strategy.

How is this possible?  It's because for the most part, in most parts of the developed world, the U.S.'s refusal to have comprehensive, universal healthcare is not only puzzling, it's downright weird.  I can only speak from the example of South Korea, where I am now, but I think it's same when looked at from Japan, Australia, Canada, or Europe, too.  No one in Korea, no matter how conservative, questions the government's important role in providing healthcare to citizens. It's part of being civilized.  So Koreans are often shocked and dismayed when I begin trying to explain the lack of universal coverage in the U.S., and even more disturbed by the notion that it's been a sufficiently unpopular idea that it still may not pass. 

So Obama, by passing healthcare, will give the U.S. a newfound patina of rationality in the eyes of foreigners like Koreans.  And that, in turn, can improve U.S. credibility, which has been so badly damaged by Bush's unilateralist tendencies in the area of foreign policy.  Thus a strictly domestic policy move on the part of Obama's administration will, I predict, actually have more impact in the area of foreign policy than anyone realizes.  And thus it is that Hillary Clinton still has a vested career interest in healthcare reform.

Caveat: Yo yo

I’m a yo-yo. Up and down, like that. 

I’m referring to the job situation. Latest:  the one on offer, from down in Jeollanam, is back on the plate – they stopped ignoring me. I’m trying so hard to be zenlike and detached about this process. It’s hard. And now, if I go for it, and it happens, and then later, I regret the decision, I’ll have a chance to beat myself up for “going for it” even though I was unimpressed by the hiring process.

And here I am… feeling regrets over possible feelings of past regret in the context of future feelings of regret. See how that works?  Ah um… just let go.

Caveat: 이번 토요일에 일본에 가려고 해요

This Saturday, I’m going to Japan. My 90-day “tourist” visa for South Korea expires soon, so I need to exit the country. Hopefully, they’ll let me back in. I’ve never heard of them NOT letting someone back in, but one can always find new ways to feel paranoid, right?

Korea has been getting increasingly meticulous and rigid about immigration matters, and for the most part, I don’t resent this – it’s no worse than what you see in the U.S. or Europe. But it does make for a certain amount of stress, when one’s status isn’t “nailed down.”

Caveat: Spring unsprung

I looked out at the sunny blue sky early this morning, and removed my gloves, hat and scarf from my knapsack. I figured South Korea’s winter was over. 

It was too soon. This afternoon at 3 pm, it was dumping snow like gangbusters. I was feeling very cold – I went out to Ilsan again to make use of my friend Curt’s scanner to scan some documents so that I could apply to a new recruiter who wanted to have copies submitted online. Since I’ve given up on the last recruiter. 

By the time I got back to Suwon this evening, there were piles of damp slush everywhere. Melting, but not very springy.

Caveat: Projects

“There are projects for the dead and there are projects for the living. Though I confess sometimes I get confused by that distinction.” – Jim White, lyrics from his song “Still Waters.”

I’m pretty confused. Need to focus on my projects, regardless.

What I’m listening to right now.

[Youtube embed added 2011-08-02 as part of my background noise project]


Caveat: 황사

황사 (hwang-sa = yellow sand) is what they call the springtime storms of dust that roll in from the Chinese desert far to the west. Korea’s always had these… but in recent years, because of Chinese industrial pollutants and deforestation in China and Mongolia, they’ve become more severe and much more of a health and environmental hazard.

Yesterday was heavily grey, overcast but with a vaguely brownish-yellow tinge. It’s hard to capture on film, but here’s a picture I took, out wandering about randomly in Seoul – note that it’s about 3 in the afternoon – hardly sunsettime – but weirdly dark. Today is blue and clear. Huge contrast.

Caveat: Hazard

It might be obvious to some, who know me well and can “read between the lines” – I’m not doing well, lately. I’m frustrated and depressed on multiple fronts. Foremost, the Korean language acquisition efforts aren’t feeling successful. Next, the job front is dispiriting: the latest affront has been the fact that the recruiter who offered me a job in Jeollanam Province has completely ignored me since I responded with an acceptance. It looked like a “firm” offer and that it was just a matter of paperwork. But… nothing. For over a week. I even called the office, which is in Canada, and only got a “oh, he’s out of the office at the moment.” I don’t know what’s going on. And such blatant unprofessionalism merits a firm but depressing response on my part, which is to say: “nevermind, thankyouverymuch.” And, it’s time to find a new recruiter. Again. Lastly… well, lastly, I’m just feeling generally gloomy, uncreative, aimless, lonely, old.

I really shouldn’t even be complaining. My life isn’t so bad. 그냥…

Caveat: spinning faster by 1.26 microseconds per day

I read an article in the LA times recently that said that the recent giant earthquake in Chile shortened earth’s day by 1.26 microseconds. Somehow, the adjustment to the distribution of mass for the planet as whole was such that the earth began to spin a tiny bit faster, kind of like a spinning ice-skater pulling in his or her legs to spin faster.

1.26 microseconds isn’t much. In something short of a million years, we’ll lose one day, because of it. Plan your calendars accordingly. And it’ll make a good excuse, if you’re late for work.

Caveat: Things Only Seen, Unthought

Sometimes when I go to put something in my blog, I open my little black notebook… and whatever’s there on the pages doesn’t translate to blogland very well. Early today is a good example. So, just to be different, I decided to take a picture of the notebook’s pages, instead.  Here it is.

And here is where I was sitting – looking out a cafe window at a Gangnam street. Note the fresh snow (a few cm) melting in the bright morning sun.

Caveat: Weird, weird music

So, my chinese-tea-making acquaintance in Suwon has 2 children. The older child, Bong-jun, is 13 years old. There was a picture of the two siblings, along with two history-re-enactors (who are not acquaintances) and me, in one of my blog posts from about 2 weeks ago.

Anyway, Bong-jun has a blog. And he’s got a very weird video on it [UPDATE 2022-10-04: sadly the link rotted away long ago, there’s no video there], which I can’t figure out how to embed directly, here, but I suggest you go have a look. I’m not sure the video will work for you, if you’re looking outside of Korea, since it’s hosted on a Korean website, but it’s pretty interesting. The video shows some computer-generated / computer-played music, which is strangely fascinating to me – because it’s so evidently something that would never have been composed, I suppose, without computers.

If I can figure out how to embed it, later on, I’ll drop a copy of it here.

Caveat: 고스톱

pictureI’ve been trying to learn how to play a game called 고스톱 (go-seu-top = “go-stop”), which is played with a deck of cards called 화투 (hwa-tu = “flower cards”) – see picture. It’s a very complicated “go fish” type of game that holds a status similar to poker in South Korea, often connected to themes of family togetherness or gambling-among-friends.

There’re several places online to find the rules in English, which is good because just watching the game, and even having it explained by someone as they play in moderately good English, is pretty incomprehensible. The best thorough description of the rules that I’ve found is at galbijim, a website devoted to explaining Korea to “expats.”

I don’t go there often, as I generally avoid the “expat” community, especially the online expat community. Collectively, they seem too negative about so much of Korea. I’m perfectly capable of feeling negative on my own (see previous several posts!). So… I hardly need the encouragement and influence of thousands of disgruntled foreigners. But anyway, galbijim’s explication of the game is pretty thorough.

If anyone’s interested, I’m sure it’s probably possible to buy hwa-tu cards in any Korean-owned grocery or convenience store on the planet. The Japanese use a version of the cards called hanafuda (which represents the same Chinese characters – 花鬪, in Japanese, as hwa-tu does in Korean) to play a game called Koi-koi.

Caveat: More neverminding

Normally, I try to change themes with each new post. But this racism thing seems to have opened a can of worms – not so much among others, as in my own mind – although I’ve received some feedback, too.  

My friend Christine wrote a long comment in an email to me, which she sent to me right as I was posting my first “nevermind” (previous post). She said things that surprisingly matched what I wrote in that post, but one thing she said that I didn’t address stands out.  I will quote the relevant paragraph:

I would never defend racism, especially after my own experiences with them. But honestly, after all the racial slurs / comments I’ve heard in America towards non-whites (and many directed at me), I don’t feel like Koreans’ racist views are all that unique, only disturbing in how comfortable they are in them. But you know…if you want to see things as cause and effect rather than good or bad, Korea’s own idea of race will probably change as they become economically wealthier, better known globally, thus inadvertently attracting other races to move to Korea. 

I think this is a very important perspective, and it’s surprising to me that I didn’t include some mention of this before, in either my original post or in my subsequent apology. Surprising to me, because, in fact, I’ve talked about this idea very often with friends (probably with Christine, more than once, last year): Korea is changing rapidly, including in its attitudes about race. I’ve said before that actually, I believe Korea may be better positioned, culturally, to become a country that welcomes immigrants than any of its neighbors, e.g. especially Japan or Taiwan, which are the countries it most resembles socio-economically at this point.

And if Korea is going to be welcoming immigrants, that implies strongly that it’s going to be dealing with its blatant racists in some way or another… much as Europe has been struggling, not to mention the U.S., over its long historical cycles of immigrant-welcoming and immigrant-bashing.

What I most want to make clear is that even in my anger, in my original post, I realized that the racists in Korea are not the majority. And my conclusion, now, is that they’re really no more numerous than in other places. They’re only more visible, because of the lack of social constraint on the open expression of such ideas.

Perhaps the same analysis could be applied to one of my other personal conflicts with Korean culture: ageism. This is one which negatively affects me much more directly than the issue of racism (which, given the bias toward people of northern European descent, actually favors me, in a majorly guilt-inducing way – see also the “charisma man” phenomenon, from Japan). I wonder if, like what I’m saying about racism, Koreans are only more open about age-related biases that, in fact, exist within and across most world-cultures, these days: the youth-worship, the superficial-beauty-cult (with respect to both woman and men), etc.

These tendencies are deeply embedded in the output of the world media machine(s) (i.e. Hollywood) , which Koreans happily consume, just like Americans. If anything, we should be looking for the origins of Koreans’ worship of youth, superficial beauty, as well as their preference for pale skin and blue eyes, not in Korean culture, but in the Western paradigms they’re avidly consuming.

More later.


Caveat: Nevermind about the rant

Well, somewhat. In my previous post from earlier today, I was angry, and so I ranted about Korean racism. Riding the bus back to Suwon, I had an insight: maybe Koreans are no more racist than Americans. Which is to say, I would guess that there are probably just as many racist Americans as a percentage of total population as there are racist Koreans. Not a majority, but probably a scarily large subset of the total population.

The difference is more subtle. Americans who happen to be racist are raised, nearly from birth, to be circumspect about their racist attitudes. They come to understand that there are real consequences for openly expressing their feelings, from ridicule to lawsuits to criminal prosecution. So they learn to be circumspect. Koreans, who live in a largely homogeneous culture, have little reason to be circumspect about such attitudes. “Good” race or “bad” race, it’s all the same, mostly: just a bunch of foreigners – so openly expressing one’s positive or negative opinions about them is no big deal. So racist Americans are stealth-racists, while racist Koreans are in-your-face racists. Maybe there’s actually something positive in that, as there is in any kind of transparency. Certainly, at the least, it’s clear whom to avoid.

That doesn’t change my feeling that it bothers me. A lot. But I need to be careful about what I allow to annoy me about Korean culture, lest I fall into a trap of hypocrisy. So… nevermind about the rant – at least on the charge of racism. The other comments can stand, for now. But I’m over being mad about it, I think. Sorry.

Caveat: Language is not the same as culture (thankfully)

This is one instance where the “caveat,” above, is “real” – I really mean that as a caveat to what I am about to say.

I have been feeling a bit annoyed with some aspects of contemporary South Korean culture, lately. The issue that came up yesterday was perhaps just a “final straw” that pushed me into outright anger. Many Koreans are unabashedly racist. This is not the same as the mild xenophobia that I often comment on.  Korean xenophobia is something that is both historically understandable given their repeated subjugation over the centuries to the Chinese, Mongols or Japanese, as well as being something that I would characterize as essentially more naive and reflexive rather than somehow premeditated or unethical.

But many Koreans also have openly racist attitudes, which are more complex than simple xenophobia, because there are hierarchies of “good” and “bad” races. I see these as having been “imported” at some point from both Japan and the West, and more specifically, from 1930’s Japan and 1950’s America – which were the “occupiers” at those specific times. Pale Europeans, whether from Europe or North America, are near the top of the hierarchy. Koreans and Japanese are, too – although since the Japanese are the “enemy,” they get disqualified from Korean respect for different, non-racist reasons… if that makes any sense. More like a hated sibling. But to be a non-European, non-East Asian in Korea must be utter hell. That’s my speculation.

Um… I’m being disorganized, here. I’m ranting. Yesterday, talking about student exchange programs with a Korean, he mentioned something about the difficulty of placing minority American kids with Korean host families. And something like, “hopefully we can convey this sensitive issue to the Americans.”

I thought about this a bit, and felt only outrage. Why should Americans bear the responsibility for accommodating Korean racism? If Koreans want to participate in a student exchange program, it should be their sole responsibility to cope with making sure their attitudes can accommodate any possible American. That’s the only possibility that looks ethical, from my point of view.

OK. Back to the “caveat.”

I have always felt a great deal of ambivalence about some aspects of Korean culture. There’s the low-grade disrespect for rule-of-law: the never-ending stream of offers for illegal employment being just my own personal brush with this phenomenon. There’s the xenophobia, already mentioned.  There are the in-group / out-group distinctions, which can sometimes make one feel that one is living in a country inhabited exclusively by people suffering from a mild form of autism.

Then there’s the ageism. Ostensibly, Korea is a culture that honors elders. But there’s a caveat there: elders are only honored as long as they’re doing what they’re supposed to – they need to be fulfilling age-appropriate roles. Thus, I have actually been refused two interviews for teaching jobs, solely because of my age, and I was openly told that that was the reason – it’s not illegal, here, to discriminate because of someone’s age.

My love affair (if you want to call it that)… my interest… my focus… has always been an unabiding fascination for the Korean language. Unless you’re some kind of unreformed Whorfian, you will understand that culture and language aren’t the same thing.

So, I reserve my right to love the Korean language, and nevertheless harbor serious misgivings about parts of Korean culture. Which isn’t to say there aren’t parts I like, also. The food is incredible. The entrepreneurial spirit is stunning – though often repressed by the neo-confucians in the bureaucracy. The genuine generosity and kindness of most individual Koreans is undeniable.

I feel thankful that language and culture are not, in fact, the same. Otherwise, I’d feel compelled to leave, just at the moment.

Well… that is a really poorly-structured rant. But… such as it is. More later.

Caveat: Chasing Rhiannon

Having applied for another job last week, I’m now once again in that really difficult position of waiting for the next thing to happen. This is not something I do well. Yesterday, for that and whatever other reason, I felt very gloomy and sad.

I took a long walk, and I was thinking a lot about Welsh mythology: specifically, that business with Rhiannon on her horse, luring Pwyll to the underworld. Why does that particular story always haunt me? Aside from the fact that it was only text I ever got to the actual point of reading (with dictionary obsessively in hand), in Welsh. Maybe it’s the parallelism of living “dictionary in hand” as I am now (with Korean), that made me think of that.

I had awoken from a really unpleasant dream, yesterday morning, which had a symbolism that was pretty transparent. I dreamed that…

…I found a suitcase in my room (since I’m effectively living out of my suitcases, currently, it’s not that strange) and when I opened it, it was full of Michelle’s clothes.  And further, there was blood all over the clothing.   I pulled the bloody dresses and skirts and shirts out onto the floor and just stared at it, inside the dream.

So: I see that I’m dealing with my old baggage; I’m digging out my dirty laundry.  With symbolism as easy as that, who needs Jung?

Friday, I had gone out to Ilsan to pick up reference letters that my former bosses Curt and Sun had written for me. Sun’s letter was surprisingly glowing – it was good for my ego. Curt was a bit lazy, and said, “what do you want me to write?” and I felt strange, like he was asking me to compose my own reference letter.  But now I have two good reference letters.

Before picking up the reference letters on Friday, I had had lunch with my friend Peter. He and I found this pretty nice restaurant on the second level of WesternDom (the big mall between Jeongbalsan and Madu stations) where I had some 해신칼국수 (seafood with homemade noodles) that was delicious.

Someone complained to me, a while back, that I don’t put many pictures of myself in my blog. I’m not good at that, that’s true. So, here is a picture that Peter took of me, getting ready to eat a very small, whole, slightly purple octopus that I found in my soup. Note that I dressed up in a tie on Friday because I wanted to be “prepared” in case I got a call-back from this job I’m trying to get. Plus, sometimes I do that, because feeling professional helps me feel more self-confident.



Caveat: Toward a Quantum Theory of Holiness

There's no need for anything behind, or beyond.  We can look at each individual snowflake, each individual pebble, each face, each tree.  Little self-contained units of magic, or holiness?  Like Neruda's garlic, or Ginsberg's grandfathers in Kansas.  This is a poem that I haven't written.

A quantum of holiness would be… a hole?  A microscopic hole in reality, floating across… magical  beautiful window on nothingness.  Yes, a poem I haven't written, that I hold in my hand like a bit of snow, that's suddenly gone.

Caveat: 1000th post

According to my blog host’s administration page (on, this is my 1000th blog post.

So it’s a kind of a little anniversary – of a serial, enumerative sort. I started this blog in August of 2004, when I was still working for ARAMARK corporation in Burbank (which I used to call, pseudonymously, Paradise Corporation, to avoid offending anyone, but I don’t think I need to worry about that much, anymore).

Actually, this blog has worked out almost exactly the way I intended and hoped.

It got a slow start – I missed many months at a time, more than once, and even a whole year (in the 2005-2006 range). But once I came to Korea, in September, 2007, I began posting quite regularly, and starting last year, I  began a commitment to post at least once a day, which I’ve kept, although a few times I’ve had to “cheat” and do a “back-post” from a later time.

Once I accepted that I might do “back-posts,” I began to consider the possibility that I could “back-post” my entire life – I have huge quantities of journal-type writing that I contemplate eventually adding here – but to date, I’ve only made exactly 2 “historical” posts, both for my birth year of 1965. 

I had envisioned this blog as means to achieve three primary goals: 

1) I wanted a means to overcome my perpetual writer’s block

2) I wanted a way to more easily communicate with my far-flung family and friends, since I’ve always been so negligent in writing letters or email

3) I felt that my expressing myself in so public a forum, I could in essence use the blog as a tool to look at myself more realistically, with a lesser degree of self-deceptiveness – it’s hard to continue deceiving yourself when you’ve decided to live “live” in front of others

I have achieved all of these goals far beyond my original expectations. I know that this blog is often banal, frequently self-indulgent, mostly chaotic. But for all that, it’s serving its purposes excellently. I had no interest in making something that would get lots of “hits” or become popular – I’m writing this, first and foremost, for myself, with the added benefit that those who are interested can “watch me,” too.

If I study who’s looking at this blog (using the administrative tools provided by typepad or by feedjit), I know that I rarely get more than one or two page views per day from “strangers” – but I’ve discovered that, for example, that the single most common way that strangers “discover” my blog is by googling: “뭥미 meaning english”.

To me, this is funny, but it also points up a 4th possible goal, to add to the above 3:  I can use this blog provide some unique or useful information to random people in the world – in the case mentioned, I seem to be the major online resource for people who are trying to figure out what the Korean slang term “뭥미” means in English (it seems to mean “what the…!”, normally said in a kind of tone of disgust or annoyance). I feel so proud. 

Now that I’ve got the blog consistently (mostly) cross-posting to facebook, that’s added some to its functionality. To those who find it annoying to have to come “outside” of facebook to “visit” me, I apologize – but I have too many friends or family who are not interested in adopting facebook, and so I need to stay outside of that convenient but tightly-walled garden.

If I follow my intention, I think the “next 1000” will come more quickly, as I genuinely intend to pursue my plan to “back-post” at least some of my pre-blog writing – I’ve even brought along some major chunks of it (electronically and in the form of paper journals) to Korea, with this plan in mind. 

Anyway, to my few but beloved readers – friends and family – thank you. Thank you for tolerating this rather droll effort to stay in touch. Thank you for being my friends, too! I have been so very lucky in my life, to have the kinds of friends and family that I have. Take care… 


Caveat: 꿈도꾸지마

“꿈도꾸지마” means “stop dreaming” – it’s a negative command form.  It was cool to hear this on TV only a few days after having managed to finally acquire the relevant grammar and vocabulary.  Mostly I learn things and I’m left wondering, when do they really use that? … or else I hear things and I wonder, when am I going to learn about that?  
I’m frustrated with my current Korean teacher, still.  She seems less pedagogically able than the one I had last month.  The insight I had last night:  the one I had last month always dedicated a minimum 10~20 minutes in each class talking with each of us in the class about our lives.  Where we lived, what we were doing, etc., in Korean.  And often, successfully using whatever vocabulary or grammar items we were currently learning.  Whereas my current teacher always only follows the lesson, which at best represents fictional situations or roleplays and more often is just rote substitutions of various kinds.  
It’s so much easier to learn a new bit of language when you’re using it for something relevant to your life.

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