Caveat: 삼일 운동 – “the whole human race’s just claim”

pictureHappy Independence Day.

We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.

We make this proclamation, having 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race’s just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means.

– from the Korean Declaration of Independence (from Japan), March 1, 1919.

I was thinking this pertinent especially in relation to recent events in the Arab nations. My understanding is that the leaders of the March 1st movement in Korea were at least partially inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s “Fouteen Points.”

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Caveat: Lightning in February?

Yesterday evening there was lighting, and thunder.  Drizzle.  In February in Yeonggwang County?  Odd.  Weather here is odd – more interesting than the boring weather of Seoul – I will miss that. 

I didn't do much updating this weekend, despite having an internet connection at home, did I?  Hmm.  I've been a bit of a recluse, lately.  Trying to study.  Trying to write.  Not being great at those things.  So I haven't had anything "public" to say, for my blog.  But anyway, hello, blog.

Caveat: 37) 집착하는 마음과 말과 행동을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of all actions and words and heart that cling.”

This is #37 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).

35. 어리석은 말로 상대방이 잘못되는 악연을 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any ties to the mistakes made by others because of their foolish talk.”
36. 어리석은 행동으로 악연이 될 수있는 인연에게 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any ties that can become an evil destiny through stupid talk.”
37. 집착하는 마음과 말과 행동을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirty-seventh affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of all actions and words and heart that cling.”

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Caveat: Oblivion needs no help from us

picturepicture“Oblivion needs no help from us” – Richard Hugo, in his book, The Triggering Town, which I finished yesterday, having bought it at Kyobo on Tuesday.

I’m also wrapping another book, Vellum, by Hal Duncan, that I’ve been working on for 15 months, since my brother handed it to me when I was in LA in December 2009. I guess I’m suddenly in a book-finishing state of mind. That’s good. I’ve been so un-booky for so long, I was worried I was losing my literacy.

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Caveat: And Suddenly…

And suddenly… there's internet at home.  And it's as if there had been no waiting, no inconvenience, and… isn't it nice that you have internet at home?  Oh, Korea is so good at giving fast, broadband internet to everyone, isn't it?

Um.  Yes… if you're willing to wait.  And wait.  And argue.  And wait.  And complain.  And wait some more.

I think waiting somehow works differently, from a sociological/psychological standpoint, here.  It's not that Korean people don't ever feel impatient.  It's that Koreans seem to forget, instantaneously, ever having felt impatient, once the need or expectation for which they were waiting is satisfied.  And so waiting is a problem only in the present.  The experience of having had to wait, once in the past, doesn't change or alter in any negative way one's current perceptions.  Waiting is not something that lingers after the fact like a bad aftertaste, as it does in the Westerner's imagination: where we then exclaim, with righteousness, "oh, I'll never do that again, because that waiting was unpleasant!"  The waiting is utterly and immediately forgotten.  What do you mean, it was a problem?  It worked out, didn't it?  How could there have been any problem?  Oh, you are so strange, can you be never satisfied?

Hmm.  As I continue to think this through, perhaps the issue isn't that Koreans wait differently, it's that they don't form resentments or regrets in the same way.  This is a promising perspective….  And it may be that by looking at it this way, I can understand better a small part of what it is I find appealing about the culture.  A culture in which resentments don't form?  Is that possible?  Isn't resentment something innate in human nature? 

There are different kinds of resentments, obviously.  Many (if not most) Koreans clearly resent the Japanese occupation, for example.  Many also like to resent the continued presence of US troops.  But no one seems to resent having been kept waiting by a service provider.  I mean… not one resents it, after the fact.  Of course, they will complain and carry on to no end, in the time while they are still waiting.  But after?  Not at all?  You mean there was a problem?

No one resents being told they have to work late today (when such a thing happens).  Yes, at the moment, I see the resentments.  The reactions.  But it's so quickly forgiven.  So quickly forgotten.

What is the difference?  Ah… is it, maybe, about in-group / out-group, again?  Offences on the part of members of the in-group (fellow Koreans, coworkers, service providers with whom you've been forced to interact repeatedly) are quickly forgiven, while offences on the part of members of the out-group are NEVER forgiven.  Unforgiveable, even. 

I don't know.  I'm just thinking "out-loud" here, I guess.

OK.  Enough of ranting on with inappropriate cultural stereotyping.  

The good part:  I have internet, now.  I wonder what kind of annoying thing will appear on my next bill?  Ah well.  It's just money, right?

Caveat: 36) 어리석은 행동으로 악연이 될 수있는 인연에게 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any ties that can become an evil destiny through stupid talk.”

This is #36 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).

34. 악연의 씨가되는 어리석은 생각을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any stupid thoughts [that are] the seeds of evil.”
35. 어리석은 말로 상대방이 잘못되는 악연을 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of any ties to the mistakes made by others because of their foolish talk.”
36. 어리석은 행동으로 악연이 될 수있는 인연에게 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirty-sixth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of any ties that can become an evil destiny through stupid talk.”

I’m not sure I translated that right. I feel like I’m missing something, on this one – the syntax isn’t the same pattern as recent previous ones. How do ties become an evil destiny?  Isn’t this a repetition of a previous one through different syntax? I’m looking for some subtle difference in meaning.  Anyway. I’m not feeling very hardcore about trying to figure it out, at the moment.

I’ve been feeling a little discouraged, lately, about the giant “learn Korean” project. Motivation will return.

Yesterday, I met friends and ate too much. I had vietnamese for lunch in Ilsan and italian for dinner in Hongdae. I got a ride back to Suwon with my friend Mr Choi and his colleague – traffic was so bad, I would have been better off by twice-as-fast using my usual subway-and-bus combo. I always knew having a car in Seoul was a bad idea – that just confirms it. But it was good to spend some time with him.

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Caveat: o beloved megalopolis

[this is just a jotting of a poem.  it’s not meant to be a finished product.  i♥서울]
(Poem #4 on new numbering scheme)

o beloved megalopolis
walking crowds
uncountable kilometers of streets and the writhing snakes of expressways
clogged with cars
strewn with neon
littered with convenience stores like breadcrumbs leading to mountainside neighborhoods
the undergrounds spaces
exhale and seem to breathe
breath slightly sweet of kimchi and cheap perfume
walking crowds
of old men spitting
of old women selling hothouse lettuce and radishes and garlic
of children
children playing
riding bikes and scooters
fashionable children
studious children
walking alone at 10 o'clock at night talking on cellphones
cellphones everywhere
four bars everywhere
in vacant lots
in factories
in tunnels
on trains
in subway restrooms
talking crowds
fashionable crowds talking on smartphones
dramatically sighing businessmen
drunk laborers
old women yelling
children gazing about happily
japanese tourists milling
foreigners stealthily alienated
tall buildings
short building
the same buildings over and over
marching across the landscape
soldiers on leave
shopping crowds
young women arguing in cafes
boys arguing on street corners
old men arguing in bars
teenagers arguing near schoolyards
the megalopolis argues with itself cheerfully
the city is always there
brand new
walking crowds
dreaming crowds
dreaming dreams


Caveat: Decision Validated

I'm being trusted to edit and make changes to my own new employment contract with the Karma Academy (카르마 영어학원) in Ilsan. 

What other public school or hagwon job in Korea is going to let the incoming foreigner do this? I'm sitting in the lobby, listening to the familiar sounds of hagwon-in-progress around me, and thinking about the terms of my new job, to start May 1st.  I'm feeling very positive about my decision.

Yes… maybe it's Karma.

Caveat: Atentado Celeste


Yo estoy ausente pero en el fondo de esta ausencia
Hay la espera de mí mismo
Y esta espera es otro modo de presencia
La espera de mi retorno
Yo estoy en otros objetos
Ando en viaje dando un poco de mi vida
A ciertos árboles y a ciertas piedras
Que me han esperado muchos años

Se cansaron de esperarme y se sentaron

Yo no estoy y estoy
Estoy ausente y estoy presente en estado de espera
Ellos querrían mi lenguaje para expresarse
Y yo querría el de ellos para expresarlos
He aquí el equívoco el atroz equívoco

Angustioso lamentable
Me voy adentrando en estas plantas
Voy dejando mis ropas
Se me van cayendo las carnes
Y mi esqueleto se va revistiendo de cortezas
Me estoy haciendo árbol
Cuántas cosas me he ido convirtiendo en otras  cosas…
Es doloroso y lleno de ternura

Podría dar un grito pero se espantaría la transubstanciación
Hay que guardar silencio Esperar en silencio

– Vicente Huidobro, 1948

He estado meditando sobre poesía, sobre permanencia, sobre silencio.  Por eso…  y ¿qué hago, acá?

Caveat: 35) 어리석은 말로 상대방이 잘못되는 악연을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any ties to the mistakes made by others because of their foolish talk.”

This is #35 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).

33. 오직 나만을 생각하는 것을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of thinking only of myself.”
34. 악연의 씨가되는 어리석은 생각을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of any stupid thoughts [that are] the seeds of evil.”
35. 어리석은 말로 상대방이 잘못되는 악연을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirty-fifth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of any ties to the mistakes made by others because of their foolish talk.”

This is exceptionally pertinent to my principal’s Friday night pontifications. So I will try not to attach to his words.

In Suwon I stay at my Korean friend’s guesthouse, which is near the Hwaseong palace. Here is a dark and fuzzy picture of the palace I took last night walking around.


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Caveat: Day Two – Redemption Amid Snow and Orange Groves

[NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part blog post. The first part is here.]

I awoke at 6, only a little later than my usual time, despite the poor night’s sleep. I escaped the snore-o-mania and explored the hotel a little bit. It’s what Koreans call “condominium” but that’s not what it is by an American English definition – it’s a hotel for large groups, where you cram 6 or 8 people into each room that is a little bit like a small apartment.

One of my roommates seemed to have set up camp in the bathroom, so I went out to the lobby in search of a public restroom. Koreans have a habit of posting small inspirational sayings along the walls and stall doors of public restrooms. I enjoyed the one I found there so much, I took its picture. Maybe that’s because I understood it.


"생각"을 조심하라, 그곳이 너의 "말"이 뒨다
"말"을 조심하라, 그곳이 너의 "행동"이 뒨다
"행동"을 조심하라, 그곳이 너의 "습관"이 뒨다
"습관"을 조심하라, 그곳이 너의 "인격"이 뒨다
"인격"을 조심하라, 그곳이 너의 "운명"이 되리라

[control your “thoughts,” as they become your “words” / control your “words,” as they become your “actions” / control your “actions,” as they become your “habits” / control your “habits,” as they become your “character” / control your “character” as that is your “destiny”]

I talked to Ms Ryu in the lobby for a while about the my feelings about last night. She was her usual upbeat self, trying to put a positive spin on things, but she seemed to understand.

The hotel is on the northwest coast of the oval-shaped island. I walked around and took some pictures. The day was windy and overcast.



At 8:30 AM we all piled onto a bus and went to get breakfast. We had the famous “hangover soup” that includes ox-blood and lots of red (spicy) pepper and vegetables.


I admired the Jeju City-scape. Well. Not really. Urban Jeju is exactly as unattractive as I’d always imagined it to be (as well as some very vague memories from a visit to the island while doing some weird training exercise in the US Army when I was here in 1991, although it’s much more developed now). Still, all the palms and citrus and stone walls made of dark volcanic rock reminded me of rural central Mexico. Except for the patches of snow on the ground.


Then we drove to Hallasan. Halla mountain is the extinct volcano that makes up the center of Jeju Island, and is, incidentally, the highest mountain in South Korea, despite its eccentric location. It was covered in snow – between half a meter and more than a meter deep, packed down, in most places. Here and there on the trail there were places where the pack was weak and your foot would sink down 20 or 40 cm. But mostly, it was hiking on top of snow. Everyone was using something called, in Korean, “a-i-jen” which they allege is English, but I have no idea what it might actually be. They’re strap-on rubber and metal cleats for the bottoms of one’s hiking boots.

Not all the teachers went. The group that did – about 12 of us – was a core group of teachers whose company I enjoy. It was a redemptive situation, hiking outdoors with people I like being with. I went from hating the trip to loving it. Which is why I went, right? Because things can change, like that.











I saw a child who seemed to be hiking alone. I love how independent Korean children are – it seems so at odds with the conformity in their culture, but I think on deeper reflection, it’s not. It all works together, somehow.


At the top of the mountain, we had kimbap and ramyeon for lunch, and the 4-1 teacher had packed a bottle of whiskey. She shared half-shots around, in a paper cup. We also saw many crows (or are they ravens?).


Stupid 138

Coming down, we saw many fine views.






We also did some “bobsledding” on our butts. I wish I had pictures of that. It was awesomely fun, careening down the trails with a bunch of elementary school teachers acting just like elementary school children. It reminded me how much I have actually enjoyed skiing, the times I’ve gotten into that. Hmm. Well, maybe again sometime. Anyway, I recommend “buttsledding” most highly.

Finally, at 3:30, we met up with the bus and the rest of the group again.  We drove down to the south side of the island, past many orange groves.


We stopped and had some spicy fish for dinner, and then arrived at the ferry terminal at 6:00, for the return trip to the mainland. Ms Ryu and Mr Choi insisted on one last photo op.


The drive back to Hongnong was agonizingly slow, and I was sore (from the 10 km hike on slippery snow the whole way) and damp (from the buttsledding). We stopped 3 places in Gwangju City, and also in Yeonggwang, dropping people off. I finally got home at 12:20 AM. I was tired.

I’m glad we had a second day, and that we got to hang out on the mountain with no principals. So to speak.

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Caveat: Intermission (Three Rules for Mountain Hiking In Korea)

I have compiled these rules after many excursions with Koreans, in many different social contexts, and I'm fairly confident that they are adhered to by most Koreans to some degree or another.

  • RULE 1. If at all possible, try to consume alcohol while hiking. Getting drunk before setting out is bad form, but getting slightly plastered while on the mountain shows commitment and, most importantly, sociability.
  • RULE 2. If the first rule cannot be followed, it is acceptable to set out with a bad hangover, or after a night of very little sleep. Extra points are possible, of course, in the event that this second rule can be combined with the first to some degree.
  • RULE 3. If the first two rules cannot be followed, some credit can be garnered by using inappropriate clothing, shoes and equipment (or no equipment). This rule is mostly to accommodate those who cannot consume alcohol: youths, hardcore Christians, Buddhist monks, and the like. This rule should NOT be combined with the first two – if either (or both) of the first two rules are being followed, then it is much more important to be dressed fashionably like a mountain climber and have lots of appropriate (if somewhat superfluous) equipment. In fact, combining all three rules is rank amateurism and will result is glares of disdain from those following the rules correctly.

Caveat: Day One – “Go Home!”

The semi-annual Hongnong Elementary School staff field trip – an epic adventure in Korean cultural immersion, over two days.
The Named Characters.

  • Jared – yours truly, a-bloggin’.
  • Mr Moyer – the new “other” foreign English teacher at Hongnong, Casandra’s replacement. A nice guy.
  • Ms Ryu – the English department head (direct supervisor) and a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. My favorite person at Hongnong.
  • Mr Lee – the “vice-vice” principal (#3 in the school’s administration), a very kind and intelligent man, and a 2nd grade homeroom teacher (2-1). I like Mr Lee a lot.
  • Mr Choi – An older 2nd grade homeroom teacher (2-3), who has been very kind an generous with me.
  • Mr Kim – A 3rd grade homeroom teacher who will be retiring NEXT WEEK. He has been kind to me but I have sensed he’s not popular with the other teachers. He’s got some “short-timer” attitude and is very traditional. Also, he mumbles, and I’m not the only person who finds him hard to understand – the other teachers and the kids too, often have no idea what he’s going on about.
  • Mr Song – the school’s bus driver, an uncomplicated but friendly man, and maybe a bit of a “party animal.”
  • Ms Lee (I think?) – the really kind preschool teacher whose Korean I find eerily easy to understand. Perhaps she’s realized that if she talks to me like she talks to her students, she can be understood for the most part – she talks very slowly and methodically, with a kind of sing-song rhythm, and enunciates those difficult Korean vowels very clearly.

The Unnamed Characters (Korean culture can make it hard to learn people’s names. These are people I know and interact with by their roles or titles rather than by their names, although for many of them, if pressed, I could probably figure out their names).

  • The Principal – the king, on his throne.
  • The Elementary Vice Principal – the will to power.
  • The Preschool Vice Principal – the always-smiling queen, with her many highly cute micro-minions. Actually, all the preschool leadership and teachers are much nicer, more fun, and less machiavellian, on average. Probably, this comes with the territory.
  • The 6-1 Teacher – also the technology queen of the school, but she’s always so stressed out… so the school’s technology infrastructure suffers. Her English is excellent, however. Lately, since Haewon has left, she’s sometimes gotten stuck with translator duty, when Ms Ryu and Ms Lee (Ji-eun) aren’t around.
  • The Preschool Administration Lady – I don’t even know her job title, but I think she’s #2 over there at the preschool. She helped me with my internet problem last spring. Of course, now, I have a new internet problem. Sigh.
  • The 3-1 Teacher – one of the teachers I wish I knew better. I sometimes decide which teachers must be “great” teachers based on the collective behavior of their homeroom kids, and her class is one of my absolute favorites at Hongnong.
  • The 4-1 Teacher – the school’s main music-person. Very cheerful and positive. And another great group of kids, too.
  • The Social Studies Teacher – he’s a floater, like us English teachers – a kind of specialist with no homeroom. He’s a younger guy… I really envy the amazing rapport he has with most of the kids. I think he’s one of the most popular teachers in the school, with the kids, and he’s also extremely conscientious and kind-hearted with his fellow teachers. One of the new generation of Korean teachers that are of a very high caliber.
  • The Male Preschool Teacher – this is so rare in Korea that often the school staff refer to him in this way, as if it were his title. He’s a really nice guy and although he doesn’t often show it because he’s rather shy, his English is quite good.
  • The 4-2 Teacher (I think it’s 4-2 … one of the 4th grade classes, anyway) – this is the guy I would end up being, if I were a Korean. He’s full of rambling, intellectual trivia about history, science, culture, etc., and he will talk long after others have lost interest, but they keep listening because he’s also sometimes funny, not to mention the fact that he’s a nice guy.
  • The New 5th Grade Teacher – she’s so young and small, she could pass for one of her students, and, being at the utter bottom of the hierarchy, she’s the recipient of a lot of crap and mistreatment by the other teachers. I don’t feel like I have any kind of interaction with her, but I feel sorry for her sometimes.
  • The Quiet, Mysterious Administration Guy – he’s new, and seems to have replaced the man known as “the big-headed administration guy.” Or something like that, anyway.
  • The Tall, Bitterly Resentful Physical Plant Guy – he’s the one I pissed off last spring, with my complaining. One of the reasons why I don’t really get along with the admin office people.
  • A half-dozen other teachers, all female

A final note regarding the people: not all the teachers or staff attended. Many stayed away – and I understand their various reasons. But from what I’ve come to understand, staying away is only an option for those unmotivated, career-wise. So if you want to advance your elementary teaching career, you’ve got to play the politics, and that means coming on these kinds of trips.

The trip started at 11 AM. We piled onto a bus and drove off into the hazy, mountainous southern extremities of the peninsula. Snacks were passed out: tteok (rice cakes, both savory and sweet), almonds, beef and squid jerky (with dipping hotsauce), beer (I had one can). After about one and half hours, we arrived at a restaurant, somewhere between Naju and Jangheung.
We ate saeng-go-gi (raw beef) and other delicacies. I avoided alcohol, except for one shot of soju (soju, for those uninformed, is Korean drinking ethanol, a sort of vodka-like substance) poured by the vice principal.

The 4-2 teacher discoursed at length, on subjects including local history, the evolution of Korean agricultural practices, Thomas Jefferson, architecure, King Sejong the Great, Julius Caesar, the Egyptian political situation, and other topics I wasn’t even able to identify. Listening to him is a bit like listening to someone reading out loud from the Korean version of wikipedia. I only understand about 15% of what he’s saying, though. But I enjoy it, nevertheless.

When we finished lunch, we stood outside the restaurant while some of the staff smoked. There was a cat in a tree. The principal, entirely deadpan, explained that this was a rare Korean cat-tree, and that the cat in the tree appeared ready to harvest. This is the first time I understood one of his jokes.



We got back on the bus and drove to the ferry terminal below Jang-heung. There’s a fast (hydrofoil) ferry that runs from there to the eastern tip of Jeju Island. The ferry terminal was very crowded, but our little group of people was well-organized, relative to the prevailing chaos. We boarded the ferry at about 3:30.


The ferry is one of those environments more amenable to mass transportation than to sightseeing. They only allowed us out on the deck for a short time, and ALL 500 PASSENGERS wanted to be out there. It was crowded.




The Male Preschool Teacher bought and passed out ice cream sandwiches with bean paste (kind of like sugary refried beans, a Korean favorite), in the shape of carp.


Some of the male teachers and staff began to drink in earnest. A lot of soju was consumed, and some of the other teachers got seasick – but only the Bitterly Resentful Administration Guy got both drunk AND seasick. There was general amazement at Moyer’s ability to consume alcohol – perhaps I’d led them to believe that all foreigners are weak pushovers. But no… it’s only me.

We arrived at Seongsanpo around 6:30. Mr Song was waving and happy with his new-found friend, Moyer.



The principal needed a cigarette.


We got onto a new bus. We drove to a restaurant in Jeju City, about an hour west (a quarter of the way around Jeju Island, which is a little bit bigger than Oahu in area, but similar in its overall degree of urbanization, I would guess). The island is volcanic, and there was an extinct caldera hovering on the coast shortly after departing the ferry terminal.


There are a lot of palm trees in Jeju, which strikes me an effort at horticultural fantasy on the part of the Koreans, for, although Jeju is at the same latitude as Los Angeles, it gets snow in winter even at sea level – I saw many patches of old snow alongside the road as the sun set.

At the restaurant, we had a very traditional dinner of hweh (sashimi, with some sushi and other seafoodish things). Moyer and Mr Song continued to drink soju.


Many of the others were drinking heavily, but I only drank when required to do so by protocol (i.e. when the principal or vice-principal offered) and otherwise stuck to beer. I thus avoided getting drunk.

The principal, vice principal, and the preschool leadership began hosting the long, drawn-out process of having the various members of the staff come and sit in front of them and offer and be offered shots of soju. It’s rather ritualized.


Meanwhile, I spent some time talking earnestly with Ms Ryu, and subsequently Mr Lee, about my decision to not renew. I shared my “decision spreadsheet” in its final form with Mr Lee, and he was very thoughtful, but he felt I wasn’t being fair in how I had made my decision. He, and later Ms Lee (of the preschool, and unrelated – remember, Lee in Korea is like “Smith”), both felt that the most compelling argument for my staying was one of continuity – for the kids. And in that, I am very much in agreement.

I found myself mulling, somewhat fuzzily, the idea of changing my mind. Which was their point, of course. I’m as vulnerable to flattery as the next person, and the three of them were piling it on. But then…

The worst moments came when I was ushered to sit at the table in front of the Principal, and he “talked” with me for a good 15 minutes, including many impossible-to-answer (almost zen-koan-like) rhetorical questions and remonstrances and possibly humorous cultural observations that failed to translate. One of the teachers with fairly good English (the 6-1 teacher whose name I always seem to forget) sat at my side and made some effort to translate as I got lost in his Korean.

Most of the specifics of his speechifying were lost on me, but I remember some things. A lot of it seemed to be, obliquely, about the fact that I wasn’t renewing at the school. He asked me repeatedly if I was able to understand “Korean culture,” only to repeatedly trap me in such a way that it was clear I did not, based on my failure to say the right thing to his questions or requests. He said he thought foreigners can never understand Korean culture, but offered few hints as to why. He did discuss the “we” not “I” issue. He told me that as far working in a Korean school, “it’s for the children” – I could hardly argue with that although so much of what they do (from my perspective) seems to forget children are even around. Things are structured so differently.

He complained that in fact, English is NOT important. It’s not a global language, he insisted. He expressed some xenophobic commonplaces about what “foreigners” and specifically Americans are doing in Korea. And his conclusion: “Jared: Go home” – this last in English.

Actually, given his age and geographical origin, I can easily imagine that 30 or 40 years ago, he stood in some anti-government protest and shouted this exact phrase at some gathering of American diplomats or US Army personnel. Anti-Western sentiment runs deep, in “red” Jeolla.

Context: He was very drunk. He always gets very drunk at these gatherings. Several teachers (including the one translating at my side and Ms Ryu, later) offered that as an excuse for his rhetoric. But I’m one of those people who believes, strongly, in the aphorism, “the drunk man reveals the truth in his heart.”

The principal showed his xenophobe credentials plainly. Not that I wasn’t already aware of them. And that’s that. Some people in Korea are xenophobic, and there’s very little that I can do, as a foreigner, except avoid those people and focus on the rest – don’t try to imagine you can change a xenophobe’s mind through some combination of argumentation or behavior. I don’t think it’s possible. In any event, in my experience, xenophobes are not a very high proportion of the population – maybe 10%.

Afterward, Ms Ryu began a song-and-dance of excuses, seeing the damage the principal’s behavior had done to any vestigial will to renew that I might have had up to that point. As she points out, it’s complicated. He’s not an unkind man, clearly, in his rigid, paternalistic, Korean-traditional fashion. He likes children, which is good to see in a school principal. He’s charismatic, which is great to see in a school’s leader.

Ms Ryu tried to tell me that the principal tended always to say the opposite of what he desired or believed, to those under him. For example, he would tell her that she did a bad job when he thought she did a good job, or that when he would tell her not to worry about something, this meant it was important. At some simplistic level, I might see this as being true. As an explanation that he presumes a kind of obstinacy in those around him – such that he is always compelled to operate on the assumptions of reverse-psychology… well, this struck me as more a coping mechanism on her part than anything with even a grain of real psychological truth in it. Ultimately, the idea that by “Go home” he meant “stay” is patently silly – it seems to be grasping at straws.

No. He said “go home,” and that’s exactly what he meant, from the depth of his Korean-patriotic heart.

Needless to say, I felt depressed. I wasn’t extremely drunk, but I wasn’t sober, either, and everyone knows, I’m not a happy drunk. I’m a moody, grumpy drunk. So the principal’s words combined with that factor to produce a very gloomy feeling for me. I lay down, and listened to my three roommates in my hotel snoring in synchrony (well, only after several had stayed up for several more hours still, playing poker and eating and drinking yet more).

I didn’t sleep well – Korean hotel rooms are always over heated, which I cope with when alone by opening windows, but with Korean roommates, this is not really an option.
Perhaps for the first time in more than a year, I found myself meditating on the possibility of simply giving up my quixotic “Korea project” and moving on to something else in life.

[this is a “back-post” added 2011-02-20.]

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Caveat: I am now going to do something somewhat stupid

Having declared, yesterday, that I didn’t intend to renew – thus undoubtedly raising the ire of those powers-that-be here at Hongnong – I will now set off on the semi-annual overnight “staff field trip” – this time, we’re going to Jeju Island. This is stunningly stupid behavior, on my part, given that the last staff field trip, last July, was THE WORST EXPERIENCE I EVER HAD IN KOREA (US Army INCLUDED). What’s my defense? I am armed by my guileless optimism (whaaa?) and my amazing ability to refuse Soju when it’s being offered (um…). I don’t really like Soju. I could have said, “no, I don’t want go” – yet, that didn’t even occur to me. I continue to insist that I will try to remain open and receptive to new and strange Korean cultural experiences. Besides, there will be a ferry ride. I LOVE ferry rides. And hiking. Sometimes, hiking is fun – although it’s not as fun when it’s freaking cold. So. I will be back Sunday. Hahahahaha aaaaah!

Caveat: Decision Taken

It’s official. I have opted to not renew at Hongnong (or, apparently, in Jeollanam Province anywhere). I will be returning to hagwonland. There are challenges ahead. But I’m looking forward to living in Ilsan again. More thoughts, later.

Caveat: Follow your heart

Rather than post something new, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. Today’s post will be a comment on yesterday’s post, continuing the conversation about my important decision. So go there.

Caveat: Decision Point

Should I stay or should I go?

I’m feeling the pressure to make the renewal decision. I have been saying, consistently (almost obsessively), that I would not renew at Hongnong under any circumstances. Yet when the day comes that I have to make the decision, I’m uncertain. I remember the same feeling when the question came at LBridge (aka Hellbridge) in July, 2009, and how tempted I was to just go ahead and renew, then, too.

But my circumstances are quite different than they were in July, 2009. I have nothing driving me to leave Korea, as I had back then. My stateside affairs are in order, right now, unlike they were then. And I have much less ambivalence about my overall intention to stay in Korea for the long term, unlike at that time. And so, all things being “equal,” why not just renew?

I really see myself as having two choices. Stay at Hongnong, or work for my friend Curt in Ilsan. Other options would have included: working elsewhere in Jeollanam (i.e. a different public elementary school) or working at a different hagwon, anywhere. The latter option really doesn’t appeal to me – there are so many variables about working at an unknown hagwon that can go terribly wrong. But the former option – finding a different elementary school – was actually the one I most preferred, up until recently. Unfortunately, I have gathered – only indirectly – that I’m basically being bureaucratically screwed with respect to this option. The Yeonggwang County education office is supposed to do some kind of paperwork to make a “renewal with transfer within the province” possible, but they are apparently refusing to do so, either due to sour grapes (resentment) or ineptitude. Consequently, I’ve basically had to rule out the option of trying to transfer to a different school. And it makes for a major dilemma, regarding staying at Hongnong: if I say, I am, in a way, rewarding those bureaucrats who are screwing me over through incompetence or bad feeling. But by letting this issue weigh majorly in my decision, I am favoring and encouraging my own anger, and perhaps ignoring the true value of the option of changing.

I have made some efforts to summarize my thoughts: I made a spreadsheet – but I can’t post that right now. Here are some notes that went into creating my “decision spreadsheet” (“decision spreadsheets” are actually something I do quite often, when faced with large decisions).

STAY AT Hongnong: why?
– I have some degree of stability and predictabilty: I know what to expect for the most part. and maybe, if I’m lucky, I won’t have to move again. I hate moving.
– This is a good environment for learning Korean; it is difficult to learn Korean in Ilsan: there are too many foreigners everywhere, and so many Koreans speak English well, there.
– Diversity of kids here makes for a teaching challenge.
– There are a lot of uncertainties in the Ilsan job offer.
– Working at hagwon will be more difficult: longer hours, more demand for overtime, unpredictable schedule, less vacation time.
– Hongnong and Jeollanam are very beautiful places to live, and there are many opportunities to explore.

GO TO Ilsan: why?
– I feel a lot of resentment and anger: staying at Hongnong means rewarding incompetence and unkindness on the part of administrators. This weighs heavily on me, but how important is it, really?
– English is not very important at this school, whereas at hagwon, English is, naturally, most important. Relatedly, it’s not fun teaching English to kids who don’t want to learn English: many kids at Hongnong don’t want to learn English.
– At Hongnong, future incompetence is not just possible, but inevitable: it might be very annoying to renew and then get hit with some new complication or unpleasantness – there’s a very high probability of buyer’s remorse.
– Life in in Hongnong is more expensive than Seoul, so it is easier to save money in Seoul.
– The offer in Ilsan includes an opportunity to improve my teaching CAREER: it would be a “career move.”
– Seoul and Ilsan have more cultural opportunities of the sort that I prefer: museums, cafes, etc. I LIKE living in Ilsan.

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Caveat: Human Decency

Now that I have no internet at home, the only way to post to my blog is via a hack (backdoor) that my blog host provides, in which I have no ability to add pictures or control formatting.
So my posts – except for weekends when I can run to a PC-bang or something – will be tending in a rather only-texty direction.
While traveling in Australia and New Zealand, I had the opportunity to finally finish several “books in progress.” One, that I enjoyed, was Gong Ji Young’s novela, “Human Decency.” Actually, included with that novela in the published volume is an even shorter novela (or longish short story) entitled “Dreams,” which I liked even better. Both treat similar characters, however – they’re that generation of Koreans who, like the author, grew up in the tumultuous 1980’s as South Korea was struggling to emerge from dictatorship. The author even uses the phrase “Gwangju Generation” at one point, in reference to the 1980 “Gwangju uprising” and the seminal role this played in the eventual democratization of the country’s politics.
Perhaps because of the recent events in Egypt, this is more relevant that usual – although it’s notable, to me, the way that “revolutions” seem to be getting more peaceful. Not always – but often: Egypt, Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine, etc. They’re not any more successful, typically. But I think if there’s any one thing this new, media-transparent world offers, it’s that repressive violence is harder for regimes to pull off successfully.
Um. I was talking about Gong Ji Young’s novelas: I recommend them VERY HIGHLY – they’re a great window into the mindset of 40-something Koreans, and the translation I found is excellent.
Last night, I settled into my new apartment. It seems very huge, compared to my Yeonggwang apartment. And the commute, this morning, was remarkable. Previously: Walk to bus terminal (2 km), ride bus (30 km), walk to school (1 km). Now: walk across school yard (100m). I like having a “real” kitchen – the one in my Yeonggwang apartment had something that would have disappointed an RV owner. But: there’s no washing machine (still!), and there’s no microwave. And of course, the killer: no internet. Hopefully, that will change, although if pressed, I can admit there are lifestyle changes that not having internet at home induce in me, that are… well, adventitious. I behave more responsibly with respect to myself in use of time and goals.
I found a great website yesterday afternoon, while “deskwarming” (at my rather damn cold desk, definitely in need of warming) that is useful for studying Korean vocabulary. I may be using it a lot over the next months, if I can keep some momentum.

Caveat: City of Light, in Darkness

I took the bus into Gwangju (literally, Province of Light) yesterday evening, to meet my friend Mr Lee.  We had dinner at a hweh (sashimi) place and talked for a few hours.  He ordered some infamous Korean mulberry wine, which tastes ok.  I gave him the gift I'd bought for him when I went to Australia.  We talked about New Zealand, since he actually knows quite a bit about the country, having traveled there.  He said something in Maori. 

Mr Lee is really a very amazing Korean.  He talks, sometimes, like a philosophy book that's been run through google translate.  Which is to say, I know he's amazingly smart and intellectual, and I wish we could communicate better, although his English (not to mention his Spanish) is definitely better that 99% of Koreans (non-gyopo) I know. 

Anyway.   It was so cold, biting wind.  And dark.  I took the bus back to Yeonggwang, and walked home in the cold. 

I will be moving, tomorrow.  My new apartment in Hongnong town will be very convenient to the school – literarlly across the schoolyard – but that has the drawback of feeling like your bosses are always watching you.  And… there will be no internet.  That will be deeply inconvenient.Argh.  I'm really, really annoyed and angry about just simply the fact that they're making me move for a FOURTH time since starting this one year contract.  They're so disorganized and inconsiderate.  Moving is not trivial.  You have to pack everything up, and unpack everything.  I'm not interested in living life like a soldier on deployment – my home and its settled feeling is important to me.  All this moving swallows up worry and time and energy.  I need to deal with these feelings some how.

Caveat: 엄청 귀찮아요

I awoke from a very annoying dream. 

In the dream, I was riding a bus in Korea.  Pretty typical.  But the landscape outside was New Zealand.  Not typical – but understandable, given my recent activity.  The collection of people on the bus resembled a cross-section of people I know on facebook:  barely-known fellow-foreigners-in-Jeollanam, old friends, former co-workers, schoolmates from 30+ years ago.  And some Koreans, too.  The bus was stopping at all these small New Zealand towns. 

I was feeling frustrated, because I wanted to go home, to Yeonggwang, and I was beginning to suspect I was on the wrong bus.

More and more passengers got off the bus, until finally, I was the only person on the bus.  And then, the bus stopped not even at a town, but at an isolated farm in a flat part of New Zealand – something like the countryside south of Whangarei, maybe.   And the bus driver announced, in Korean, that we would be taking a break.

In my broken Korean, I asked, for how long. 

The bus driver laughed.  "Until October 25th," he explained.

I felt very angry.  "엄청 귀찮아요!" [That's really annoying!] I protested. The bus driver merely grinned.  I noticed, for only the first time, that he wore a turban.  This seemed rather un-Korean of him, to be wearing a turban.

I spent some time assembling my next sentence.  Finally, I said something that I knew was bad Korean, but suggested the meaning:  "You never said anything.  At the last bus station."

The bus driver laughed again.  "I announced it this morning," he said.

"그렇지만…그렇지만…," [but… but…] I spluttered. I wasn't on the bus, this morning, I wanted to say.  But my linguistic capicity to put this meaning together in Korean was inadequate.

I got off the bus and sat down in the grass, in the hot New Zealand sun.  There were sheep grazing, in the green fields, and bugs buzzing around some flowers planted in a row beside the gravel road.  Some of the flowers had been crushed by the bus's tires, which struck me as really inconsiderate, until I meditated on the possibility this farm belonged to the bus driver.  He just didn't give a damn, I thought.

I'd definitely gotten on the wrong bus – Yeonggwang was not walkable, from here.

Inside the dream, I meditated on novels by Kafka and Witold Gombrowicz.  I decided there was a lesson to be drawn from these novels.

I turned around, and boldly approached the turbaned-yet-Korean bus driver.  "What's for lunch?" I asked.  "Do you have any ramyeon [ramen]?"

Caveat: 34) 악연의 씨가되는 어리석은 생각을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of any stupid thoughts [that are] the seeds of evil.”

This is #34 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).

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.”
33. 오직 나만을 생각하는 것을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of thinking only of myself.”
34. 악연의 씨가되는 어리석은 생각을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirty-fourth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of any stupid thoughts [that are] the seeds of evil.”

Stupid thoughts. Huh-huh.

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Caveat: Sun Found to Be Cause of Global Warming

Who would have thought?  But seriously, I'm certainly not what one would call a global warming skeptic, but I have been known to harbor doubts about the anthropogenic aspect of it.  This report on recent scientific work on the variable radiation output of the sun sheds some additional light on the subject.

Global warming or not, I've been really cold lately.  Obviously a bit under the weather in one way or another, sleeping far more than usual at night, and not fully "with it" during the day.

The latest iteration on the date for my upcoming move to the new housing facility:  next Monday.  I'm not looking forward to it.  I will not have internet at home, again, for at least a while.  And of course, as mentioned before,  I can't access my blog's maintenance page from school computers.  Just like the Toys R Us website, it's arbitrarily blocked.

Caveat: Knowledge governs ignorance

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." – James Madison

Caveat: Airplane Crud

It seems like often, after traveling by airplane, I get a kind of flu-like thing, which I often associate with jet-lag.  But traveling north-south, of course, there's not much jet-lag.  Nevertheless, I definitely feel really awful.  Possibly partly it's just the contrast in weather, temperature, all of that?  Yesterday I felt so incredibly cold  – yet I'd gone through all of December and January with hardly ever really feeling cold.  But coming from definite summer to the middle of definite winter… I really felt it.  Oh well. 

It turns out I get a slight reprieve on my expected #4 move, which my school had promised for right after returning to Yeonggwang – I don't have to move until the end of February.  Currently, the new structure – according to the poor guy who's already there – has no hot water and no internet.  Hmm… I think I'm content with the long commute and no washing machine.  Well, it will be one thing or another going wrong, it seems.  How to stay positive?

Caveat: 33) 오직 나만을 생각하는 것을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of thinking only of myself.”

This is #33 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).

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 bow in repentance of any sacrifice of the lives of others [in pursuit] of mere pasttime or pleasure.”
33. 오직 나만을 생각하는 것을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this thirty-third affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of thinking only of myself.”

I’ve actually felt like this whole vacation trip I’ve taken was kind of an exercise in self-absorbsion. I went to visit my mother, but I don’t know that I was particularly good at efforts at selflessness in my ongoing interactions with her. And the trip to New Zealand, while interesting, has left me feeling like it was self-indulgent without in any way contributing to my growth as a person.

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Caveat: Reglorified

"Glory glory glory" – Dylan Thomas.

I have returned to Glory Town.  I'm very tired.  I have tomorrow to rest.  So, I will rest, and return to the contingent chaos that is work on Monday.

If I lived on Mars, the Earth would be a mere turquoise-tinted star.

Caveat: Bloody Auckland


I arrived at downtown Auckland around 10:30, finally. I drove around and explored a little, but I had to turn in my rental car by 1:30, and so I didn’t end up parking or walking around the downtown area as I had planned.

If Wellington is like San Francisco, then Auckland is like LA. All sprawling and patchworkily multicultural. I like the multicultural aspect, but the sprawl I can do without. The New Zealanders pronounce the name as Californians pronounce “Oakland,” and they also call it “the Big Smoke” – which is a great nickname for the metropolis of the South Pacific. But in my several days in New Zealand, when overhearing locals speaking of the city in conversation, it was always only referred to as Bloody Auckland.” I guess that’s how the rest of the country feels about it.

I’m at an airport hotel in Sydney tonight, because I have to check in really early for my flight back to Korea tomorrow morning. I’m freeloading some crappy free wifi – very slow. So no more pictures.

Maybe later. I’ll see you from Korea, probably.

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Caveat: Late Night Radio

I drove late last night, and slept at a rest area.  What road trip is complete without a few nights like that?  I surfed the late night radio as I drove across the North Island.   Some items of interest.

1.  Item.  There are Maori radio stations.  They speak in a mixture of Maori and English, and play a lot of reggae and R&B.  What's with that?  Relatedly, what's with all the LA-looking gang tags on rural bus shelters in this country?  I should try to get a picture of one.  Interesting.

2. Item.  NZ is crazy for the NZI sevens tournament this weekend, in Wellington.  Which is why the ferry across from Picton yesterday was so crowded that there were no seats.  I sat on the deck.  They love their rugby.  A lot.  And talk about it, too.  At least I more or less understand when they talk about it, whereas when they talk about cricket, I can barely figure out that it's a sport, and not some kind of abstruse mathematical recreation.

3. Item.  Racism and rants, part 1.  There seem to be a lot of Limbaughesque clones ranting on the radio about entitlements and lazy, freeloading Maoris and the need to limit immigration and the like.  It's depressing.

4. Item.  Racism and rants, part 2.  On the other hand, I heard a story about a Cambodian grocer / reataurant owner in New Plymouth who had another local businesswoman who owns a pizzeria handing out blatently racist literature in front of his establishment, urging the community to boycott his business.  The hurt was compounded by the fact she is a member of the town council.  But… the community rallied around the grocer, and he says business has improved a huge amount, because of the many people coming to his establishment to protest the councilwoman's protests.  "I think everyone needs a racist.  It's been so good for business," he comments, good-naturedly.  It's uplifting.

What I'm listening to right now.

Kanye West – Runaway.  This thing is getting almost constant airplay in NZ right now.  So in this way, Kanye West becomes permanently associated in my memory and imagination with rural New Zealand.  Is that wierd, or what?  [I added this youtube link later (2011-07-21)]

Caveat: Cyclone Yasi… and meanwhile in NZ…

My mother survived Cyclone Yasi’s attack on Queensland. I guess I just missed it, eh? I was very worried when I heard that the town of Tully was “utterly destroyed” on New Zealand Radio. You see, she lives just off of Tully Falls Road. I know the town of Tully is about 60 km away from her house outside of Ravenshoe as the raven flies, but that’s still pretty close.

On the Australian Courier-Mail (newspaper) website, I saw the following picture of Tully, for example. More on the article, here.


My mother’s email notifying family and friends of her survival is worth reproducing as a sort of first-hand account of the experience – so here it is:

But definitely don’t want to repeat the experience, EVER AGAIN. However, very lucky…house intact, simply have a completely new skyline to the north. Two huge trees down with parts of them about 2 meters from house. One is iron bark so will have plenty of firewood for foreseeable future.

Phone will probably go out sometime today, so want to send this to reassure all. Probably without power for a long time to come. Heard from Debbie (Gary’s wife). They survived in Charters Towers with category 3, and hope to be back tomorrow–something I doubt will occur if the Burdekin is up which the continuing rain will probably ensure.

I endured 5 hours of category 5 and likening it to a huge freight train barrelling through house is as close as I can get to a comparison. I was SCARED and huddled down in hallway–only narrow panels on back door to threaten with glass. Huge thumps in night…will have to check out roof once it dies down some more. “Torrential” rains is not an exaggeration for present condition of weather. Wallabies and butcher birds pretty pathetic at present. Will probably run out of power on computer and my iPod speakers, boo, hiss. But can run the earphones if so inclined/bored. Will be sleeping today!!! Not a wink before it quietened down around 4:45 AM, and only 7:45 at present.

Ben stopped by and helped me set up my old camp propane bottle/burner. It works–we extracted it from my little shed under house. He says there are heaps of trees down on their property–more on the old creek flat than on the hill. But it sure looks bright with all the tops off the trees.  It’s going to be a long clean up, but he said he’d get around to getting the two-three trees down on drive off sometime in next couple of days. I’m cool for two days as long as I stay out of freezers and fridge. A lot of meat that needs to be cooked, but not sure when I’ll be able to get to it. May start giving it away.

Enough for now. I’ll see if I have an internet set up. It goes through Cairns and they didn’t suffer like Innisfal and Tully and Mission Beach. Feeling pretty lousy, nauseated from exhaustion.  Could almost feel you all wishing me well. Much love, and, despite gloom of rearranged skyline (a lot of my natives gone–mostly lovely grey-green wattles), laughter and a feeling of being both lucky and blessed. Will be in touch when things get back to normal, or a semblance thereof.

Meanwhile, here in NZ (EnZed, pronounced locally as we yanks would pronounce “InZid”)… it was Southern California-like weather, as I re-crossed the Cook Strait back to Wellington, and began my drive back up to Auckland this afternoon. Here are some pictures from today.







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