Caveat: It Floats

This blog is live, online, on a ferry boat, in the Cook Straight, New Zealand. And there's a cricket match on the television. I'm going from Wellington, at the bottom end of the North Island, to Picton, at the top of the South Island. I'd provide a picture, but bandwidth is limited.

I stayed in Palmerston North, last night. That's an oddly named town – I mean… where's Palmerston South? I can't find one. The town reminds me of Eureka, California. Or Temuco, Chile. A small town but too big to be a small town in its region, maybe. And the city geography is relatively flat and the streets are a dull, treeless grid. Wellington, on the other hand, is a beautiful city. It's one of those cities, like Duluth or Nagasaki, that I knew I would love before ever visiting there. Just that I have a sort of instinct for what places I will like, based on looking at things like maps and encyclopedias.

Caveat: Taumata-whakatangihanga-koauau-o-tamatea-turi-pukakapiki-maunga-horo-nuku-pokai-whenua-kitanatahu

I drove to Taumata-whakatangihanga-koauau-o-tamatea-turi-pukakapiki-maunga-horo-nuku-pokai-whenua-kitanatahu. It was very beautiful. Onomastics aside, New Zealand is a lot like California or western Oregon.


Here are some other pictures. I saw a chicken at dawn (at roadside rest area where I slept a few hours).


I saw some redwood trees (they’re not native to NZ, but they do quite well here – another reason why it reminds me of California).


I saw some lakes.


I saw the Hawkes Bay region, which reminds me of Monterey or San Luis Obisbo Counties, and the town of Hastings, which might as well be a funny-talking Salinas. The hills were golden.


I saw the beach, on the east coast. It was very, very, very, very, very, very windy. I waved across the vast Pacific to Validivia, Chile, where I lived in 1994 – same latitude. I watched the Antarctic clouds glowering.


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Caveat: Highway Service Plaza. McDonalds. 2AM.

I landed in Auckland at 12:20 AM.  I went to get my rental car, but they didn't have my reservation.  Fortunately, there was a guy there to rent me a car, who was very friendly and gave me the rate and car I would have had if my reservation hadn't failed to be entered into their system.  Something about the fact that I tried to do it online from Australia.  Oh well.  It all worked out fine.  And so then, with hardly a plan to my name, I began to drive south on the expressway out of Auckland.

Light drizzle, 2 AM.  I stopped at a service plaza.  There's a McDonalds, open 24 hours.  Now… as some of you may know, I have a certain strange tradition.  I'm very proud of having completely kicked my junk-food habits, years ago, but I still have this tradition of ordering a Big Mac each time I visit a new country.  And although it's 2 AM, this McDonalds has free wifi, too.  So… I ordered a Big Mac.  That's country number… um, around 25, I think.  There's a few countries where I never got a Big Mac:  Cuba, Morocco and Belize spring to mind.  But all the rest, yes.  I'm loyal to that weird tradition.

And I logged onto the free wifi and here's my first blog post from New Zealand.  I have no plan.  This is Jared-style free-form road-tripping at it's absolute best.  I guess I'll find a hotel or motel or pub somewhere to crash, or maybe just drive south  - I don't feel that tired.   It's only 7 hours to Wellington, if that's where I intend to go.  Holy crap:  we think of New Zealand as a small country, but the North Island is bigger than South Korea!  So… more later.  

First impressions:  New Zealand at the international airport at 2 AM isn't that different from Long Beach, CA.  That sounds funny – but I'm just going with what I know.   The fact is, Long Beach has one of the highest concentrations of Pacific Islander people in the continental US – and obviously, being on a Pacific Island, Auckland is … similar.  Ha.  And the freeways and industrial architecture and the vegetation, too.  But then, it's really dark outside.  So hard to judge, really.

Highway service plazas are the same everywhere.  More or less.

More later.

Caveat: Eating Well

I fly back out of Cairns, this morning. 

Because it's a fairly early flight, rather than leave my mom's at an ungodly early hour, we drove to her friend Pat's and stayed there last night, in Kuranda.  Kuranda is maybe my personally favorite place in the broader Cairns/Tableland region of Far North Queensland – it's up on the mountainside, but definitely within the tropical rainforest – very green and beautiful.  It reminds me of parts of Veracruz state, in Mexico, including my most favorite Mexican city, Xalapa. 

I've been eating very well, these days.  Too well.  Several times, my mother served me "chile verde" and bean burritos.  Her "chile verde" is quite famous – it is what is commonly called puerco pibil in Mexican restaurants in the states – it's a slow-cooked pork in spicy green chile sauce.  Thursday night, she made chiles rellenos – traditionally these are chiles poblanos (but her recipe, which I love, uses pickled Anaheim chiles) stuffed with cheese and fried in egg batter, with a tomato/onion/garlic/chile sauce.  Those are the most delicious things.  Friday, I made my recently innovated curried dhal, with split lentils, curry spices, onion, carrots, etc., over rice, and with some yoghurt on the side with cucumber, mint and onion.  Then last night, at Pat's, we had some fish in coconut broth with lemon grass (kind of a Thai type thing, it seemed), with roast chicken and stir-fried vegetables with rice, and an amazing baked peach custard for dessert.   It's been like eating restaurant food each night, but all home made. 

I guess the perennial diet will have to resume when I get back to Korea.  I'm not sticking to it too well, during these travels.

Caveat: Sunset, Sunrise

Despite dial-up, I don’t have much to say, so I will try to post some pictures. Really, I probably have a lot to say, but I haven’t yet digested it into something sayable. So, later.

I accompanied my mom to an appointment yesterday morning, and then I took the car down the road a bit further as I waited for her, and took these pictures.

The view from a roadside view-point.


An abandoned motel in the desolate, depressing, yet charmingly-named town of Millaa Millaa.


Sunset as viewed from my mom’s house’s verandah.


This morning, I saw the crescent moon, before sunrise. Venus was right below it, but I don’t think it shows in the picture.


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Caveat: Lookings Around

Here is a view of the tableland from the Tumoulin Road between Kennedy Highway and Ravenshoe (my mother’s closest town, still about 10 km from her house). I took it on the drive back from Atherton yesterday, after passing through Herberton.


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Caveat: Building Models

I meant to post these videos several weeks ago.  Having momentary access to broadband, in Atherton, Queensland, Australia, I decided to finish the post.

My students built "model classrooms" – 3 dimensional models of schools and other things – for my 3rd and 4th grade English "winter camps" during the first and second weeks of January.   I made a pretty thorough video record of our work, and I think it's a good example of "what I try to do in the classroom" when I'm at my best.  The full video is about 30 minutes.  I didn't do much editing, but the camera was mostly in the hands of the students, and there were a lot of starts and stops and goofing around, some of which I tried to cut out.  I divided it into 3 parts in order to post it to youtube.  Here are the 3 parts.

Caveat: The Wrong Side of the Road

I took my mother's Toyota and drove on my own into town today – this is the first time I've come to Australia where I haven't rented a car, but since my mom doesn't go places much, I have the freedom to use hers.   I've probably logged well over 5000 miles in my various visits to Australia, with my worst incident having been a speeding ticket in Melbourne some years ago. 

But driving on the "wrong side" is always a bit challenging.  The hardest single thing is actually the turn signals – they're positioned on the right side of the steering column instead of on the left, and so every time I need to signal a turn, I turn on my windshield wipers.  Turning right isn't hard – you pull into the right-turn lane and wait, as one would a left hand turn in the US or Korea.  There are lines on the pavement that prevent one from making a mistake.  I actually find left turns more difficult, especially where there are no lines or traffic in the street or road being turned in to – it's so easy to just allow oneself to drift over to the right as one completes the turn.  The worst I did, with that, was a time in 2008 when I was here, when I was in Cairns and turned left and put myself on the right side of a median strip.  I realized my mistake immediately (the truck coming head on at me was a good hint), and pulled into a parking lot and got myself turned around.  All of which is to say, it really isn't that much of a problem, but it's mentally intense during the "adaptation" phase. 

I drove into Atherton, which is about 50 km north of my mom's house.  They have a "Woolies" in Atherton – a sort of full-scale grocery store rather than the small-town grocery or convenience store in Ravenshoe.    I bought a guide book for New Zealand (since I'm going there next week for a few days and I have absolutely no plan as to what to do).  And I got some high-speed internet (though I'm not going to upload any photos because I haven't been taking many – I'll try to take more). 

Driving around the "tableland" – as this part of Far North Queensland is called – always reminds me, scenically, of the Tehuantepec area of southern Mexico – the point where Veracruz and Tabasco and northern Chiapas and Oaxaca all join together.  It's highland, but verdant and green with rolling hills and intermittent rain-forest in the gullies on the windward side of mountains.  There are cows standing around in fields, and palm trees in people's yards.  Tropical savannah farmland, it might be termed.  It's quite beautiful, I will concede, but I'm not sure I could ever live in place such as this – it's quite isolated, with Cairns, 2 hours away, being the only "big city" but still having well less than 100,000 residents.  The closest metropolis, Brisbane, is nearly 1000 km away.  And that's not much of a metropolis, to be frank.

I will maybe try to post one other thing, unrelated to my current traveling, while here at the high-speed internet spot – might as well get my money's worth, right?

Caveat: Australia Day

pictureToday is Australia Day, which celebrates the “founding of Australia” at Port Jackson (Sydney) in 1788. It’s not dissimilar to the Fourth of July in the US. I’m celebrating it with my mother, a naturalised Australian, by postponing our trip into Atherton, the nearest big town, until tomorrow – since everything would be closed today. Isn’t that a great way to celebrate?

The aboriginal people of Australia call it “Invasion Day,” according to the wikithing.

So my vacation, since arriving here at Ravenshoe, has consisted mostly of reading books and having long conversations with my mom. It’s pretty relaxing.

It’s very summery here, with temperatures over 30 C during the day, but the nights are quite cool, because her house here is up in the mountains. They were recovering from a lot of rain just as I arrived, but the days and nights have been stunningly clear since. Last night, looking up at the sky, the stars were so vivid I felt like I was in outer space.

There are many birds, wallabies and geckos about. My mother often yells at them. I think it’s a fairly good-natured coexistence, though.

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Caveat: Chinese Linguistics at Dawn

My mother knows me very well, and one thing she does when I visit is that she finds and refers me to various random linguistics texts that she also sometimes pursues.  She left a book on the floor of her guest room that was a big heavy text of Chinese historical linguistics, roughly.  

Naturally, me being me, I picked it up and was reading it.  I learned this morning that Chinese is full of substrata language traces, which is entirely plausible if one takes the time to think it through, but is not something I had ever thought about before.  One very fascinating observation:  the Cantonese "dialect" of Chinese shows strong lexical and even phonological traces of a non-sinitic, Thai-related substrata, which means that in some strange way, Cantonese is as closely related to Thai as it is to Mandarin (Beijing dialect).  This makes perfect sense if you look at a map, but it's counterintuitive to the way that we normally like to think about Chinese linguistics.  Not to imply that I know a lot about Chinese linguistics – I know next to zero, and what I do know is strictly theoretical, as in terms of actual speaking ability I'm lucky to be able to say "hello" – but it's quite interesting to me.

Caveat: Wallabies in the driveway

I got to my mother’s house last night, and woke up this morning to wallabies in the driveway. I won’t be posting a lot of content these days because she still has dial-up! Yes, it’s 1997 in Ravenshoe, Queensland. But here is a picture of what I saw, while having rye toast with homemade grapefruit marmalade.


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Caveat: Almost Realtime Obligatory Operahouse Photos

Well, it’s a touristic obligation, right? Last (and first) time I was in Syd, I didn’t pay this icon a visit (it was a wintery June, I think, and pouring rain). So here, I did it, this time. I walked 2 km up George Street from the train station, took a photo, ten minutes ago, and put it here.





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Caveat: 호주에 도착했다!

I’m sydneyed.  Sitting downtown, being my typical, cafe-sitting self.   I so much prefer just being places, to trying to be a tourist.  Tourism, per se, is not actually something I enjoy.  But I love sitting and existing in new or different places.
The bus from the airport was free of charge, because the authorities were feeling guilty the airport train was shut down for maintenance, I guess.  A cheap Sunday morning holiday in Syd.  30 degrees C warmer than Seoul.  Awkward climate transitions.  Australians are so casual.  They tell jokes and give sarcastic answers to strangers.
But the place I’m sitting, I’m overhearing two different conversations in Korean.  And one in, maybe, Chinese.  Sydney is global.
I had a weird insight, last night, sitting in the airport at Incheon.  Korea fascinates me because although it is stunningly post-modern, it manages to be post-modern in a deeply earnest, largely unreflective, and completely unironic way.  And that’s just plain weird, because for the Western sensibility, the post-modern position is definitionally ironic.

Caveat: Heading South – About 8300 km

I think I'll go to Australia now.  Sitting, waiting for the airplane. 

I will have a 10 hour flight to Sydney – almost straight  South! – where I have to wait 10 hours to connect to a 3 hour flight to Cairns, whence a 2 hour drive to my mother's house. 

Maybe 10 hours is enough to do something vaguely touristic in Sydney – there's an airport train there that connects to downtown, but according to the website, it will be closed for "track maintenance" tomorrow.  I guess there might be buses.  I'll definitely have to try something – 10 hours is too long to spend in an airport. 

Anyway, I'll update from Sydney, somewhere.

Caveat: I have been led to believe this is very funny

Here is a video I took last Thursday.

My student Seong-un seems to be an up-and-coming Korean comic genius.  I really only understood about 10~15% of what he's saying here, but even his deadpan delivery and timing seemed incredibly funny, and he had his peers all crying with laughter with this little narrative.  So, I post it here, unedited.  Let me know (if you speak Korean) if this is really as funny as it seemed to me.

Caveat: Winter Camps Endings

Yesterday we ended our “winter camps” (morning extracurricular English classes). Here are class portraits of the last two groups, taken yesterday morning.

The smart first and second graders (not all of them came on this last day, so the class isn’t full size, here – it was a large group of 24).


The calm and organized fifth graders (a few are missing, but it was a very comfortable class of about 8~10 – attendance varied).


Unrelatedly… here are some photos to remember my current “home” by, as I travel to Australia today.

Here is the view from the steps of my apartment building as I left for the bus terminal yesterday afternoon.


And here is the main drag in fabulous, cosmopolitan Yeonggwang, in front of the bus terminal.


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Caveat: 32) 한갓 취미나 즐거움으로 다른 생명을 희생시키는 일을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any sacrifice of the lives of others [in pursuit] of mere pasttime or pleasure.”

This is #32 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

30. 거짓말과 갖가지 위선을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all kinds of hypocrisy and lies.”
31. 남의 것을 훔치는 생각과 행동을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any thought or action of stealing another’s things.”
32. 한갓 취미나 즐거움으로 다른 생명을 희생시키는 일을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirty-second affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of any sacrifice of the lives of others [in pursuit] of mere pasttime or pleasure.”

Yeah. Bad idea.

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Caveat: 16 years ago, a termite that’s choking on the splinters

I was walking to work, and Beck's song "Loser" came around on my mp3 player.  Where does a brilliant line like "'My time is a piece of wax falling on a termite that's choking on the splinters."  It's Dylanesque, certainly.  I always liked this song.

The song evokes strong mental associations of January, 1995, when the song was getting tons of radio time.  I was working nights, at the UPS facility in Northeast Minneapolis.  I would go and throw boxes onto and off of conveyor belts for several hours, each night.  I was feeling very blue collar – I even had a teamster card, because you have to have one to work at UPS, even as a part-timer.  I was also taking classes during the day, trying to fill in some course work for my ongoing graduate school applications.  I was taking a fabulous graduate seminar on semiotics, I remember. 

The most significant thing going on in my life was that that was the point in time when Michelle and I had made the commitment "for better or for worse" to each other.  I had come back from Chile in November of 94, and Michelle and I had moved in together and decided we were most officially a couple.  In a sense, it was a time of optimism and contentment, for me.  I had "settled," perhaps, but it was that point in settling when settling was exactly what I wanted to be doing. 

Every night, driving up the 35W from our duplex apartment off Franlin Avenue, I would hear Beck's song.  "I'm a loser, baby.  So why don't you kill me."  I felt the song was deeply ironic.  I could relate.  Michelle, on the other hand, hated the song.  More importantly, she hated the fact that I liked the song.  It was indicative of low self-esteem, she would argue.  She was right – but I didn't see the big deal.  It was one of our few arguments from that period of our life, which was a sort of desperately poor married bliss, for the most part, at that stage.

Caveat: Someone Ranting Intelligently about Typography

I really like this super intelligent, well-argued rant about someone else's rant about the principle of double-space versus single-space between sentences in a single paragraph.  I don't actually care, one way or the other, but I love that someone can argue the points so cogently, tearing apart another's poor arguments.

Fonts and typography fascinate my, but I'm unable, for the most part, of forming strong opinions on their aesthetics.  I'm perhaps more strongly opinionated in the realms of usage or orthography – in a scathingly anti-prescriptivist direction. 

Not sure what my point is, in this post, except to reveal that I think about these things way too much – aren't there better things to do with one's brain?

Caveat: A Paleolithic City State with an Internet Connection

Sometimes I stumble on a pithy little phrase that I feel encapsulates some aspect of what life in Korea is like. 

Korea, as a country and culture, is a bunch of layers.  At the core, there is a group of mountain-dwelling hunter-gatherers, in a rugged, difficult climate.  That was thousands of years ago.  Add a layer of Confucian Chinese paternalism.  Add a layer of Buddhist soul-saving.  Add another layer of reactionary confucianism.  Add a layer of Japanese fascism.  And finally, a veneer of western modernity.  But all the layers are from the "outside" – the core is still this rather disparate, hardscabble tribe of hunter-gatherers.  This is evident any time you sit down to a Korean meal – everything and anything is edible, and, with some soy sauce and red pepper flakes, delicious. 

So some time back, I had coined a phrase to describe Korea:  "A medieval city state with an internet connection."  But my current revision of this idea is to take it farther back – to the paleolithic.  That's what I put in the title, above.  I really feel this, at times.  Korea is deeply primitive, yet in a weirdly post-modern way.  I like that, about this country.

Caveat: el regalo de su color fogoso


Oda al tomate

La calle
se llenó de tomates,
la luz
se parte
en dos
de tomate,
por las calles
el jugo.
En diciembre
se desata
el tomate,
las cocinas,
entra por los almuerzos,
se sienta
en los aparadores,
entre los vasos,
las matequilleras,
los saleros azules.
luz propia,
majestad benigna.
Devemos, por desgracia,
se hunde
el cuchillo
en su pulpa viviente,
es una roja
un sol
llena las ensaladas
de Chile,
se casa alegremente
con la clara cebolla,
y para celebrarlo
se deja
esencial del olivo,
sobre sus hemisferios
la pimienta
su fragancia,
la sal su magnetismo:
son las bodas
del día
el perejil
las papas
hierven vigorosamente,
el asado
con su aroma
en la puerta,
es hora!
y sobre
la mesa, en la cintura
del verano,
el tomate,
aastro de tierra,
y fecunda,
nos muestra
sus circunvoluciones,
sus canales,
la insigne plenitud
y la abundancia
sin hueso,
sin coraza,
sin escamas ni espinas,
nos entrega
el regalo
de su color fogoso
y la totalidad de su frescura.

- Pablo Neruda 
  (Chilean poet, 1904-1973)

En México, su país de orígen, se lo dice jitomate, palabra azteca. Es la fruta perfecta, en mi opinión. En Corea, es fácil encontrar tomates locales de invernadero en cualquier mes del calendario, y aunque no son muy buenos, son mejores que los muy bien “viajados” (digamos californianos o mexicanos o chilenos) que suelen encontrar en gringolandia en época de invierno.

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Caveat: 31) 남의 것을 훔치는 생각과 행동을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any thought or action of stealing another’s things.”

This is #31 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

29. 비겁한 생각과 말과 행동을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of cowardly thoughts, words and actions.”
30. 거짓말과 갖가지 위선을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all kinds of hypocrisy and lies.”
31. 남의 것을 훔치는 생각과 행동을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirty-first affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of any thought or action of stealing another’s things.”

Stealing. I once stole a book. From a library. Should I confess this, online, in front of the world?

It wasn’t an act of avarice – I don’t have much problem with avarice.  It was an act of pique – I was angry at the library because they had charged me a fine for stealing (or “losing”) a book that I had most definitely returned. It was an act of revenge, I suppose. So I’ll bow in repentance of thoughts and actions of vengeance and pique.

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Caveat: Thanks, Jared

I've always had a strange, love-hate relationship with my first name.  And now, a certain really annoying sociopath in Arizona has gone and disrupted that difficult balance.  Being Jared will not be the same, for me… not for a while, anyway.

When I was small, my name was quite rare.  It's popularity, as a boy's given name in the US, began to ascend in the generation following mine.  The first Jared (non-self-Jared) that I met in person, face-to-face, was a little boy who used to be a customer that would come into the 7-Eleven that I worked at in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1985. 

Before that, in grade school and high school years, I never met a Jared.  But it was a name many of my acquaintances nevertheless were deeply familiar with.  That's because Arcata (my hometown), when I was young, had a substantial Mormon population, and until the early 1980's, the name Jared belonged to Mormons, kind of in the same the way that a name like Lakeesha could be said to belong to, say, African-Americans.  The Book of Mormon has a two characters named Jared (not to mention a tribe of Jaredites, and a major character referred to, simply, as "Jared's brother," which always has struck me as very odd).   The "main" Jared, of course, is the biblical patriarch, Enoch's father.

How my parents chose the name is mysterious to me.  They were hardly religious.  I have sometimes been of the impression that my mother, unable to think of a name, grabbed a bible (not out of devotion but only because it's a good source of names) and began scanning the begats and begots until she found a name she could live with.  Possibly not true.  But whatever.

Anyway, starting in the 90's, the name became much more common.  I remember having a coworker with a son named Jared at the bookstore in Minneapolis.  I've never met a Jared who wasn't at least 10 years younger than me.  I guess you could say that my parents were "early adopters."

I remember how dismayed I felt when I saw that Jared had entered a top-50 given names list in the late 90's.  I thought:  there goes the neighborhood.

And now, the neighborhood, crowded as it's become, has been destroyed by a sociopath in Arizona.  Thanks a whole lot, Loughner.  Just.  Freakin.  Thanks.

Caveat: Phenomimes and Psychomimes

All languages have onomatopoeia:  words like “woof woof” (a dog barking), or “whirr” (a spinning thing or a dragonfly), etc.  But Korean (and apparently Japanese, too) possesses an abundant class of words known as phenomimes and psychomimes.  These are words that use “sound symbolism” (q.v. in wikipedia) to represent concepts that aren’t, per se, auditory, but in a symbolic way. Most of the Korean ones include a great deal of reduplication and vowel harmony – in fact, it could be argued that these are actually some fossilized productive reduplicative semantic feature of proto-Korean, and not really “phenomimes” or “psychomimes” at all – it’s all in the definition of those concepts, I guess. Most of them are adverbial, in syntactic terms.
I love these things.  They’re one of the reasons the Korean language is magical, for me.
Some examples, from my “bible” (Korean Grammar for International Learners, by Ihm Ho Bin et al.):
반짝반짝 [ban-jjak-ban-jjak] sparklingly
슬슬 [seul-seul] gently
주렁주렁 [ju-reong-ju-reong] richly, with fullness
흔들흔들 [heun-deul-heun-deul] shakily
옹기종기 [ong-gi-jong-gi] closely together
방긋방긋 [bang-geut-bang-geut] broadly [as in a smile]
드르르 [deu-reu-reu] excellently, smoothly
부둑부둑 [bu-dok-bu-dok] damp-dry, a bit damp mostly dry
[Update: I have blogged about this topic again with many more examples, 2012-06-04 and 2012-10-19. I have also modified this original post somewhat since it’s one of the number one draws of my blog from the broader internet, when people google “phenomimes” and “psychomimes” with “korean”, and I have been crosslinked, too.]
[Update 2 (2015-10-08): I decided to create a consolidated list of examples, which I can update periodically.]

Caveat: Glory

I happened to be walking across the Chukhyeop Hanaro parking lot on my way to the bus terminal, yesterday morning, 7:40 AM. I happened to look east. The sun happened to be rising. I happened to snap a picture with my camera.


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Caveat: northbound potatoes v southbound potatoes

When I traveled to Seoul last weekend, I took the bus. The Honam line buses all seem to stop at a single paired set of service areas along the tollway just south of Daejeon, called the Jeongan service areas. (Honam is an old word that refers to the geographical southwest of the Korean peninsula, including the modern provinces of Jeollanam and Jeollabuk).

When I travel, I like to buy junk food at the service areas – I see travelling as an opportunity to not be so strict about what I eat, maybe. I like to get 통감자 and 찹쌀도너츠 [tong-gam-ja = “potato bucket” (delicious roast potatoes) and chap-ssal-do-neo-cheu = “glutinous rice donuts” (chewy deep-fried balls of sweet rice dough)].

Well, it turns out that the northbound potato bucket is profoundly less satisfying and delicious than the southbound potato bucket. And the portion sizes of the donuts are much bigger on the southbound side, too. So I have to say, travelling south is better than travelling north, on the Honam line. At least it is for me.

Here is my southbound snack, on Sunday.


Here is a random picture out of the bus.


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Caveat: 30) 거짓말과 갖가지 위선을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of all kinds of hypocrisy and lies.”

This is #30 out of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I am attempting to translate with my hands tied behind my back (well not really that, but I’m deliberately not seeking out translations on the internet, using only dictionary and grammar).

28. 무시 함으로 인해 악연이 된 인연들에게 참회하며 절합니다.
         “I bow in repentance of the ties that become like an evil destiny due to ignorance .”
29. 비겁한 생각과 말과 행동을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of cowardly thoughts, words and actions.”
30. 거짓말과 갖가지 위선을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirtieth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of all kinds of hypocrisy and lies.”

I have a big issue with hypocrisy. So much so, that in fact I have, over the years, tried to get better at ignoring it, for the world is full of hypocrisy. Being guilty of various kinds of hypocrisy myself at one moment or another, I think that disliking or repenting of hypocrisy might be a sort of hypocrisy, too. Complicated, the ways of guilt. Is that what this is about?

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Caveat: Yeonggwang Skyline

I went to Seoul over the weekend.  Well, technically, I went to Ilsan, only passing through Seoul. I didn’t do much of what I’d originally planned. My visit with my friend who owns a hagwon in Ilsan turned into an impromptu job interview. I would say… it could happen, if we both take the leap to commitment.

How do I feel about this?

I had been focused on the idea of signing for another year somewhere in Jeollanam Province. Not at my current school – I have enough points of dissatisfaction that I was feeling it would be better to “roll the dice” and see what came up with a different public school down here. But, when I first came back to Korea last January, I had had mind set on working for my friend’s hagwon, but the job didn’t work out due to the financial constraints of my friend, the owner. So if there was any specific hagwon job that could draw me out of the public school teaching gig, it would be that one.

Additionally, I have been singularly unimpressed (not to say annoyed) by how I keep seeming to fall through bureaucratic holes in my efforts to follow through on this renewal.  I suspect my school administration is partly at fault, in this matter. But I don’t really know – I just know that while most of my fellow foreigners-teaching-in-Jeollanam (of the cohort that came in April of last year), I seem to be the only one that hasn’t been presented with renewal options in writing, yet. That’s just strange. What does it mean?

So it feels proactive, to just jump on something that seems more certain, more trustworthy. The other advantage is that I get to return to my beloved megalopolis. The drawbacks are easy to enumerate, too, however: the longer hours and less vacation time that goes with hagwon work, and the likelihood that my accelerated Korean-learning will decelerate, once I’m back in the “everybody-speaks-English-around-here-including-the-clerks-at-the-seven-eleven” land of suburban Seoul.

Well, anyway. I will be meditating on this decision. And it may fall through. I have to keep my expectations in check.

I took the bus back to Yeonggwang earlier today. Here is a picture I took from the bus, as we approached my current home town from the north: Yeonggwang Skyline.


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Caveat: The Commute to Work, part I: highway 23 and the market

Now that I know I’m not much longer for my current apartment, I decided to finally finish my effort to make a video record of my annoying yet also always interesting commute.  The commute logically divides into three parts (and, out of order, I have already posted parts 2 and 3): 1) highway 23 and the market, walking from my apartment to the bus terminal; 2) the bus ride from Yeonggwang to Hongnong; and 3) the walk along Hongnong’s high street to the school.

So here is part one, taken on my walk to work last Wednesday morning, January 5th. I made a “real time” recording and only did the most minimal editing, with jumps only for starting/stopping the camera. The music I added is what actually shuffled onto my mp3 player as walked. So it’s an effort at “shaky-cam” video realism, I guess. It’s probably kind of dull – but for those interested, I think it offers an unvarnished glimpse at the more banal aspect of life here.


Caveat: Fairview Avenue to Dinkytown

Walking to work in the morning, the sun not yet having cleared the hills to the east, with the biting wind, blowing snow, the crunch of ice when the temperature is no longer close to freezing – I am reminded of my last year as an undergraduate, at the University of Minnesota. I was a student there, but I was a commuting student – I lived in a sort of commune of friends in Saint Paul, 10 miles away to the east. Being a commuting, full-time student and working nearly 30 hours a week meant that I didn’t spend much time at home. I would leave before dawn, and I would get home around 11 or midnight, each day. I had no car – I relied on a combination of extensive walking and buses – much like my lifestyle now, here in Korea.

There were many Winter mornings or nights when I would walk the mile along Fairview Avenue from where the house was on Portland Avenue in Saint Paul to where the number 16 buses ran along University Avenue. With the Minnesota weather so cold, this always made me feel like an arctic explorer. My walks from my apartment to the bus terminal in Yeonggwang along highway 23 feel very similar, these days. Both hikes have the feel of being an arctic explorer of a bustling suburban wasteland. Sounds about right.

pictureI used to set up in the Expresso Royale in Dinkytown, in Minneapolis. That’s where I did my studying back then. I never studied at home. Just like I did my graduate degree in a certain cafe on Locust Street in West Philadelphia. Now that I think about it, I believe the Expresso Royale wasn’t called that name, back then. But it utterly escapes me what its name used to be. It was – and remains – the archetype college cafe, for me, even now. Although its more recent incarnations are less funky and more gentrified, it’s still there and still hospitable. Back in the 80’s, it was open 24 hours a day, and there were several times when I ended up studying all night there, not so much in the desperation of a typical student all-nighter but because I’d missed the last 16 bus back to Saint Paul, and rather than walk home 10 miles in 0 degree (F!) weather, I would just put in a night of casual study. There used to be a big shelf with board games, that denizens could use.

I had a couple cafes in Ilsan that I would frequent, in similar spirit. Most places that I have lived, there have been cafes – or rather, I have found them – and I have lived in those cafes, more than in any other spot. It’s just my nature. In Ilsan, there was the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf franchise in the La Festa shopping center, only two blocks from my apartment. And there was the Rotiboy, a block down from where I worked. When I lived in Uptown, Minneapolis, prior to that, I would spend many, many hours in the Dunn Brothers location on Lake Street at Humboldt Avenue. Prior to that, there was that rather bland Starbucks in Long Beach, off of PCH a block east of the Circle. Before that, there was my favorite single Starbucks location anywhere, in downtown Burbank, where I must have racked up veritable man-months over the years of working close by. I can work my way backward in the ladder of my life by hopping from cafe to cafe. It’s a continuum of coffee and close reading.

If there’s anything I miss about my many previous incarnations, in my current life, that’s it: there are no real cafes, in Yeonggwang. Not the kinds of places where people hang out for hours and maybe vaguely work or socialize. I will race off to Gwangju, sometimes, only because I’m desperate to spend a few hours sitting in a Starbucks or one of Korea’s many native cafe chains – Hollys is recommendable, if only for their always reliable and free wifi. As I think about what’s next, for me (my current contract is already winding down, with about 3 months left), I wonder if that could be a deciding factor. Probably not – it’s not really an indispensable aspect of my lifestyle – it’s only a much-liked one.

Hmm. I set out to write about Fairview Avenue, and commuting through snow. I ended up writing about cafes. In my mind, because of Expresso Royale and Fairview Avenue, trekking through sub-zero temperatures in blowing snow to get home at night is indelibly linked to the idea of long, enjoyable hours in cafes. Such is memory.

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