Caveat: 48) 나만을 생각하여 하늘과 땅을 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty heaven and earth [by] thinking of only myself.”

This is #48 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).

46. 세상의 공기를 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the world’s air.”
47. 세상의 물을 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the world’s water.”
48. 나만을 생각하여 하늘과 땅을 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this forty-eighth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty heaven and earth [by] thinking of only myself.”

I’m not sure about the “[by] thinking of” in the above. The ending -여 is most likely a simple finite verb ending – normally 하여 is contracted to the extremely common 해, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that in formal discourse (such as Buddhist affirmations?) it stays uncontracted. The real question is, how does such a simple serial verb, tacked onto the front, function semantically? – at the very least, I didn’t really see how it fit in with what follows, syntactically. But the “[by]” is the only interpretation that broadly makes sense, philosophically, to me. So I made it a sort of “adverbial of manner” from a semantic standpoint.

Or maybe I’m thinking too much of only myself?

Lately, here, heaven and earth have seemed mostly dirtied by the vastly huge quantities of rain we’ve been receiving. Over the long, long winter, one always forgets how much rain falls in Korea during the non-winter parts of the year. I mostly associate the deluge-like rainfalls like we had yesterday with high summer – but I guess the monsoons are starting early this year.

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Caveat: Courage and Conviction [Not Really]

This morning, it dawns rainy and thundery.  I sit in my new apartment and watch the water droplets pattering on my windows.  I may go to work today, although my contract doesn't actually kick in until Monday, because I'd like to have as much advance notice as possible with respect to my teaching schedule.

So.  Meanwhile.

Typically, if I follow the upheaval in the Arab world, I do so with quite a bit of distance.  I love the Arabic Language, and would someday hope to study it more (I did pursue it, briefly, while in grad school).  So I've long held a lot of interest in the culture and the region, but it's often been tempered by a feeling of despair with respect to politics:  the chances of ever flourishing what one might term progressive dreams.  The never-ending stream of news about repressions and demonstrations and military interventions and resistances all seem circular and futile.  To be frank, I don't spend a lot of time following the region's news, because it's generally depressing.

In my web-surfing last night, I happened across a blog entry that moved me to hope, however.  Hope for humanity and progress and genuinely ethical (meaning unhypocritical) behavior.  I recommend reading it – if you care about rational political discourse (amazing), if you care about human rights (very human), if you're interested in questions of true human equality regardless of religion or gender or sexual orientation (each of these relevant and addressed), if you believe in the possibility of genuine unconditional love of a parent for a child (stunning).

The Syrian woman's conclusion showed such a degree of personal courage and conviction that I felt moved almost to tears:

"So, when my father says he will not leave until either democracy comes or he is dead, I have no choice but to stay. Not because he is making me, but because he is not making me."

I have hope for Syria.  I've long thought of it as a much more nuanced place than it is typically portrayed in the Western media.  Read it – be inspired. 

[UPDATE 2011-06-13:  I have learned that this woman's blog was a hoax – the author was not a woman, not Syrian, and not gay.  The compelling nature of the writing remains, but one feels a bit bit less inspired, eh?]

Caveat: Returned From Exile

My self-imposed one-year exile in Hantucky is officially ended. 

The incontrovertable sign of this:  I have internet DSL in my new apartment.  Instead of the almost 2-month waiting period I was subjected to in Hantucky, metro Seoul does these things in about 12 hours, from moment of request to installation.  Admittedly, the delays in Hantucky were due to my employer, not due to the internet provider. 

Nevertheless, these differences are meaningful and worth comparing – my employer here is on my side.  That's really the difference.

Nevertheless, I'm really missing my Hongnong kids, at the moment.  I received the following message on my cellphone, last night.  Charming.  Heh.


Caveat: 47) 세상의 물을 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the world’s water.”

This is #47 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).

45. 내가 살고있는 지구를 생각하지 않은 것을 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of not thinking about the world in which I live.”
46. 세상의 공기를 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the world’s air.”
47. 세상의 물을 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this forty-seventh affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the world’s water.”

Simple substitution: air -> water. As when I was living in Mexico, in Korea, I trust the water more than the air, generally speaking. The day was beautiful and sunny today, though.

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Caveat: Coming Home

Moving back to Ilsan is like moving home, a little bit.

The new apartment isn’t perfect. I knew it would be very small – it’s marginally bigger than my last Ilsan apartment and it’s about the same size as my Yeonggwang apartment, but it’s older and a bit more run-down on the edges than either of those. Smallness, per se, doesn’t bother me at all. I wholly desire and approve a compact lifestyle, for the most part – the only reason I can think of to want a bigger apartment would be in the event that people came to visit me that wanted to stay with me – but in my almost 4 years in Korea, only one person has ever done that.

It’s also nice to have “full kitchen” which this place, like the Yeonggwang apartment, doesn’t have. But I can cope. I will buy some inexpensive furnishings that can help make up for that. Once I get the rest of my stuff here, it will feel like home. As it is, it’s pretty “bare” – I told Curt I would buy my own furniture, so I have to do that. Not going to buy a bed – I’ve gone native on that, and have no issues sleeping on the floor. It’d be nice to have a sofa of some kind, but that’s not super high priority. A small table or desk, and some shelves, I definitely need. I already bought a hanger-thing for my clothes – there’s no closet, which I may miss a bit – the thing I liked best about my previous Ilsan apartment was the relatively generous closet and storage space.

Okay. Enough of all that. No complaints – it’s entirely within the parameters that I was expecting. And of course, it’s in Ilsan. That boils down to the old dictum: location, location, location. Going across the street to the “Orange Mart” is like an entire day-long trip to Gwangju, as far as shopping opportunities. I bought some french whole-grain mustard, spinach and tricolor pasta, and cheddar cheese this morning. Plus the infinite variety of more typical Korean things that are buyable.

The building is about a kilometer northwest along Jungangno from my previous Ilsan apartment – which places me about 2 blocks from the Juyeop subway station and about 1.5 kilometers from my place of work.

Here are some pictures. The first one, I’m looking up at my building from the outside, from in front of the Orange Mart – I’m standing on the southeast corner of the intersection of Jungangno and Gangseonno (and isn’t it amazing, I know the names of all these streets now, which I once-upon-a-time didn’t, for several years, even).

I drew a giant green and gold arrow pointing at its location on the 7th floor – that’s my window that you can see open, there.


Here is from that little window, looking almost straight down and a little toward the street (note the “rooftop garden” on the next building across).


Here is a view from a less precipitous angle, looking toward the Orange Mart and the intersection (roughly east-north-east).


Here is view from the corner by the window, looking toward my kitchen and the entryway – bathroom door is open on the left middle.


Here is a self-portrait of me sitting on my bedding in the corner by the window, pirating an unreliable wifi connection. I’ll get internet of my own soon, I hope – meanwhile, this is uploaded from a wifi in a nearby cafe.


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Caveat: Hangoogopolis (Capital City)

I came to the capital.   Tomorrow, I will hopefully get to see – and move into my new apartment.  For tonight, I'm hotelled – my standby "love motel" in Ilsan was full! – so I had to use a different one around the corner… slightly higher price, no wonderful view of Jungangno.  How aggravating – must be springtime or something, so everyone's using the love motels.  Ha.

Word of advice:  don't give your cell phone number to 200 first through fourth graders if you have any issues whatsoever with a constant stream of phone calls that consist primarily of "hi teacher!… what?  OK, bye teacher!" and mysterious text messages in Korean with many emoticons.  Actually, I don't really mind.  It's sweet, in a way.

Caveat: 얄러뷰

Two of my first-grade students, Min-gyeong and Dan-bi, wrote “I love you 얄러뷰” in a big heart in their good-bye message.
I was trying to figure out “얄러뷰” – but it’s not Korean. I think “yal-leo-byu” is a transliteration of “I love you” – sound it out!
I got portraits of the fourth-graders today. Here they are.
The 4-2 class did some role-plays today, and I took a few pictures.
I am going to miss Ye-won especially (on the left, below).  The other day, she said to me:  “I will hate the new teacher, already, because you are the best teacher.”  That’s way too good for my ego.  Plus, her English is pretty good, eh?
Here I am goofing around with some fifth- and sixth-graders during recess today.  Note that the girls provided me with a disguise – can you tell it’s me?
Here are some memento photos of the cafeteria during lunch time.
My lunch tray, and my co-teacher Ms Lee across from me.
Here are some boys hamming for the camera.
Finally, here are some kids brushing their teeth at the communal teeth-brushing place:
I am going to miss this school so much. Should I have stayed?  Maybe.
I will not miss the feeling of isolation, which was exacerbated by a school administrative office that is xenophobic and stunningly incompetent, and which conducted itself without exception with utter disregard for my status as a fellow human being, despite my substantial dependence upon them for my outside-of-work day-to-day living.
I think that one way to put it is that I will miss the weekday 9am~5pm part of this experience intensely, but I will not miss the weekday 5pm~9am part of it not at all. And that, when you get right down to it, is not a good proportion for a sustainable lifestyle.
I have learned hugely, this past year – about myself, about teaching, about children and about what’s important in the world. I hope I can keep these lessons alive in my heart and carry them back to Ilsan and my next job.

Caveat: Countdown, 24 Hours

Today is my last teaching day here at Hongnong. The feeling is bittersweet. I hope I’ve made the right choice, in deciding to move on – one always has those moments of second-guessing oneself.

I was originally planning to jump on a bus tonight, but because some of my coworkers wanted to take me out to dinner tonight, I have decided I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning.  So the countdown to leave Hongnong is 24 hours. I will be back at least once, to fetch the rest of my stuff – I’m only taking what I can carry on the bus, tomorrow – I’ll have to fetch my boxes of books and kitchen stuff (meanwhile stored with a friend here in Hongnong) with a car (maybe a friend’s, or worst case, rental) over some weekend in the near future.

A view of the alley on which my apartment building (owned by the school) is located.  My student Seon-yeong actually lives in the farmhouse on the right – it’s one of the old-style courtyard farmhouses.


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Caveat: Lotus Flower, Paper Boat

pictureNo, I mean nothing Buddhist.

I’m packing. I’m listening to Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Current” (dumb name, great programming). Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” comes on. Nice track.

So. Where did I get all this crap? Wait… don’t answer that. I’m packing.

I went to Gwangju for a few hours, today. It was stupid – I needed to get some cash, and my bank has no local branch in Yeonggwang County. So I used it as an excuse to say “goodbye” to the City of Light, and procrastinate on some packing.

Inside the Gwangju subway, they post poetry. At the 송정공원 station, I saw this poem (above, right).

I had brief feeling of linguistic victory, as I managed to parse the first two lines of the poem without having to resort to a dictionary. The poem’s title is “Paper Boat.”  I think that’s what it’s about. The narrator launches a paper boat into a stream from a bridge.  Etc.

The Gwangju subway is desolate and not very useful. It only has one line. Mostly old people ride it. Here is the context of the poem I saw on the wall – note – there’s no one in the subway on a Sunday morning.


When I was leaving my home (well, my apartment, and only for two more days!) earlier, I walked past the school’s playground, and took a picture of some springy trees.


What I’m listening to right now.

Radiohead, “Lotus Flower.”

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Caveat: 46) 세상의 공기를 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the world’s air.”

This is #46 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).

44. 삼생의 모든 인연들을 위해 지극한 마음으로 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance with a sincere heart, taking care of all ties to past lives.”
45. 내가 살고있는 지구를 생각하지 않은 것을 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of not thinking about the world in which I live.”
46. 세상의 공기를 더럽히며 살아 온 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this forty-sixth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity which comes alive to dirty the world’s air.”

This is more of that “purity narrative,” of course, which is perhaps one of the aspects of Buddhist thinking that I find least appealing.  The metaphorical relation between concepts of cleanness and moral or virtuous behavior is, of course, almost universal in ethical systems, but I think that overthinking these kinds of purity-obsessed metaphors is insiduous vis-a-vis a social system’s ability to promote tolerance of otherness and difference. I have a lot of ideas on the topic, but I’ve never done very well at setting them down in writing – most notably, during my 10 day Vipassana retreat in December, 2009, I tried to develop this thinking and failed miserably.

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Caveat: Roleplayings

Yesterday was my last day with the third graders. It happened to coincide with “role play day” – a once-a-chapter event (about every two weeks given the current curriculum) that I very much have cherished. So some pictures were taken. This year’s third grade group lacks the charm and grace that I felt last year’s cohort had (who are now my beloved fourth graders), but they’re still a lot of fun.











Some of the third graders came to visit me later at lunch, and showed me an earnest, unexpected tribute – they’d written my name on their hands.


Also, I was visited by some fifth graders during lunch, one of whom had a hamster (there’s some kind of hamster fad plaguing the school’s student body, currently). I think it would be a very stressful life (and perhaps a rather short one, too) to be a hamster in a Korean elementary school.


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Caveat: More Food… No, More Food

Last night, I went out to dinner with my friend Mr Kim.  I wasn't really in the right state of mind to go out to dinner, but since I'm leaving Yeonggwang County in a matter of days, I wanted to get together one last time. I struggle with the Korean fetishization of food, sometimes – we went to a gulbi place in Beopseong (what else?).  So much food gets wasted, since any "true" meal requires zillions of side dishes, most of which are only sampled.  It's a weird food fetish, that works differently from the flat-out gluttony embedded in American culture:  you must be willing to eat anything, and keep eating, but it's not as volume oriented.

Mr Kim, nuclear engineer, is struggling with the fact that in order to get promoted at work, he has to transition to being able to present his training materials in English.  Now that I'm going, he's losing an English practice friend.  Likewise, I'm losing one of my better Korean Language teachers.  I'm sure I'll see him again, as he comes up to Seoul at some point or I make a trip sometime to Gwangju.

It's raining today – you could taste something almost summery in the air last night, and in Korea, summer means rain.   I have two teaching days left, and a weekend in which to try to pack my stuff together.  I'm feeling a little bit stressed by that, and sad at all the kids saying goodbye.

Caveat: Don’t Look Now…

I had dream in which I was riding around Ilsan in a minivan with some people I didn't know.  The streets were dirty, more like Yeonggwang than Ilsan, and there was a row of decrepit and unhappy-looking palm trees along the street, such as you see in 2nd tier urban aglommerations here at the southern end of the peninsula but almost never in Seoul, where the few-degrees-colder climate seems to put a stop to such fantasies.  I said I needed to stop at a bank.

We stopped at a bank, but it was only a collection of ATM machines – there were no employees inside.  I went to an ATM machine, but there was nowhere to put my ATM card – no slot.  The machine was very new and large touch-screen display.  But how could I use it without knowing where to put my card?  I couldn't find an "English" choice on the screen, either.  I walked to the next machine – same problem.  I turned around to see that one of the men from the minivan was following me around as I tried to find an ATM that had a slot for my cash card.  He had a black and white beard (beards are very unusual in Korea).  I tried to explain my problem, and he smiled sympathetically but had no useful advice. 

I decided, in my dream, to go back outside.  I walked over to the minivan with the bearded man, but some policemen had showed up.  They were "inspecting" the minivan, and arguing with the driver.  Suddenly, a man jumped out of the back of the minivan and took the policeman's wallet and ran off toward the bank.  As the policemen turned around, the back of the van opened and 3 or 4 Mexicans (yes, Mexicans) jumped out and ran off among the apartment buildings of Ilsan.  One of them was a grandmother.  Whaaaa? 

That's when I woke up.  What does this dream mean?  It means I shouldn't go to sleep listening to NPR with reports on Arizona immigration enforcement and the financial crisis. Or maybe it was the pizza I ate.

Yesterday I had dinner with my fellow foreigners-in-Yeonggwang at the Pizza Club in Yeonggwang.  Dan is also leaving, returning home to Oregon.  Donna (the other f-in-YG from my April "cohort") has renewed at her school, and is therefore staying.  I will miss these people, although I acknowledge I didn't socialize with them that much.    Perhaps some of them will come visit with me, some weekend, in Seoul.

Caveat: Making YOU (Dear Blogreader) Crazy

OK.  Most everyone reading this blog can now become annoyed with me.

I'm experimenting with embedding a KPop-playing widget on the right-hand column.  So… Watch out!  You can make it stop by clicking the ipod-looking gadget's pause button, if it's annoying too much.

I will remove it once I have received 3 complaints.  My mother likely will be one of them (probably more because it messes up her dial-up access of my blog-page than because she dislikes KPop music, although I suspect that might also apply).

Actually, having had it in place for less than an hour, I may be one of the complainants, for that matter.

Caveat: The Too-Short Commute

In the spirit of my previous "commute" videos, I decided to make one more before leaving Hongnong.  Here is my current morning commute, shot this morning at 8 AM.  Note that it is so short, I had to "pad" it out with some still pictures at the beginning, in order to fit the 3 minute soundtrack.  So be patient with the slow start.

I leave my apartment, I walk to the school gate, I walk across the school yard.

Caveat: First Day of Last Days

Since next Monday is my last day at Hongnong Elementary, today (Tuesday) is my "first day" of "last classes."  I said good bye to some first graders during first and second periods today.  I felt sad.  I will still see them around the halls for another few days, but the formal "goodbyes" to groups of kids are going to make this a long week.  Some kids ran up randomly and gave me hugs as I left the classroom, unexpectedly.   Others just tried to steal my plastic alligator.

I'm having all of my students in all of my classes write "yearbook" style messages on pieces of paper.  I will scan and post some (all?) of them at some point.  Many of them are writing very sweet and kind things.  I feel happy because of that.

Caveat: Never Satisfied

"It's a good deal, but some poor people remain, oddly, un-fucked," Jon Stewart said in last Monday's episode.  He was pretending to be a tea-partier, speaking about the tea party's mostly-rejection of the budget agreement emerging in Washington.

Caveat: Science

I was reading a review of a book I intend to read:  Nicholas Humphrey’s Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness.  I'm always fascinated by new, especially evolutionary, takes on the phenomenology of consciousness.  At one point, the reviewer, Caspar Melville, mentions another negative review of the book by a philosopher named Mary Midgley.  He writes, "Humphrey remains on her black list of reductionist scientists who think that science is the only way in which we can access the truth."

I had an immediate reaction to this thought:  I believe that science is not the only way we have to access the truth, but it is always the only way to confirm the truth.  This seems to best capture my anti-transcendentalist take on human spirituality – on my own spirituality – as much as referencing such a vague concept makes a certain inside part of me squirm unconfortably.

Caveat: Countdown, 9 Days

Yesterday was an utter waste of a full planetary rotation. I have these things I need to get done, given that I’m moving back to Ilsan in about 9 days. I tried to get them done. I failed.

Friday night, I went out with my coworkers – our reconstituted Hongnong Elementary English Department (with the usual caveats, of course, regarding the rather grandiose impression a term like “English Department” might give). We went as a sort of goodbye-to-me dinner, in Gwangju (convenient for the Korean teachers, since they all live there).

First, we went for coffee at this place behind the Jeonnam Univ campus, which was owned by a friend of the art teacher (note that the art teacher is an honorary member of our “English Department” because he hangs out with us, sometimes).

After that, we drove downtown and ate at a pretty posh galbi restaurant there. Here is a candid picture of the three Korean teachers, Ms Lee, Mr Go and Mr Kim.


Finally, we went to a bar-type-place over near the bus terminal, but we stayed too late to catch the last bus to Hongnong (which doesn’t leave that late) and so Moyer (the other foreign teacher) and I ended up in a taxi back to Hongnong. I don’t really have many good things to report about traveling by taxi, in Korea – especially long distances – but this trip was pretty good, as taxi trips go. The fare was prenegotiated and as reasonable as can be expected for a one hour taxi trip, and I ended up spending the whole hour having a conversation in 90% Korean Language with the driver. I think it’s the longest such sustained conversation I’ve ever had, and it left me feeling almost giddy with the level of accomplishment it seemed to represent.

Reflecting on it afterward, I realize it also shows how far I have to go – I often stumbled on things that should be simple at this point, and sometimes the cab driver would go on for whole paragraphs where I only had a vague notion of what he was going on about. But in general, it seemed like a good finale to my year in the Korean countryside.

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Caveat: 45) 내가 살고있는 지구를 생각하지 않은 것을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of not thinking about the world in which I live.”

This is #45 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).

43. 내 생각만 옳다는 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity that I believe through only my thoughts.”
44. 삼생의 모든 인연들을 위해 지극한 마음으로 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance with a sincere heart, taking care of all ties to past lives.”
45. 내가 살고있는 지구를 생각하지 않은 것을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this forty-fifth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance of not thinking about the world in which I live.”

Wow. I actually had no problem understanding this. I didn’t look any words up – I just wrote the translation, confidently. I’m either making some small progress, or else I got lucky and got an “easy” one. Or may this is one area where I might, in fact, have an opposite problem – I spend far too much time thinking about the world in which I live. It’s like a giant academic puzzle.

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Caveat: Virtuous Reflectivity

I've been rereading fragments of Terry Eagleton's philosophical/critical masterpiece, Ideology.

He talks about Aristotle's surprisingly still-relevant (almost post-modern) ethics (at least as he chooses to interpret them, in the context of a critique of what he calls neo-Nietzscheanism):

"Part of what is involved for Aristotle in living virtuously – living, that is to say, in the rich flourishing of one's creative powers – is to be motivated to reflect on precisely this process.  To lack such self-awareness would be in Aristotle's view to fall short of true virtue, and so of true happiness and well-being.   The virtues for Aristotle are organized states of desire; and some of these desires move us to curve back critically upon them." – p. 172 in my edition

I'm not really going anywhere with this.  Just thinking "out loud," I guess.

Caveat: The Consecration of Class Interest

Well some of you know, there was a point in my last career (in database design and business systems analysis) when I came very close to applying for business school.  I took the GMAT in 2005, and scored quite well.  I had filled out applications for several high-powered business schools in Europe, and had written some essays, for entrance to International MBA programs.  Why was I thinking this?  Well, before I realized that I needed a job/career that was more humanly (and humanely) fulfilling, I was working hard to find the more "human" side of my last, computer-related job.  And that seemed a logical direction to take it – I was interested in project management, management consulting, that kind of thing.

Sometimes, therefore, I return to surfing management-theory-related texts and blogs online.  Not very often – my interest in this stuff has definitely faded.  But now, and again, I go looking around.  For some reason, a line by Matthew Stewart has struck me as rather insightful – and ties into my interests in epistemology and philosophy and marxism, too.  In an article entitled "The Management Myth" (from The Atlantic, June 2006 issue), he writes, "Much of management theory today is in fact the consecration of class interest—not of the capitalist class, nor of labor, but of a new social group: the management class."

I suppose this struck me, too, in my thinking about how Korea as a society "works," who the vested interests are, that kind of thing.  Although what passes for management in Korea is radically alien to what happens in the "West," it still ends up working the same way, from a sociological standpoint.

Unrelatedly, two developments. 

1) With two weeks remaining at Hongnong, I have discovered that my blog's admin website is no longer blocked on my school's network.  Lucky me.  Hence this post, on a slow Thursday morning of desk-warming.

2) I am not so narcissistic as to assume every person likes me.  Or even respects me.  I suspect I have aspects of my personality that grates on a lot of people.  But I nevertheless feel depressed and dismayed when I get evidence that someone whom I have grown to respect and even like in fact doesn't seem to think very highly of me.  I wonder what I'm doing wrong.  Well… I'm not going to go into details.  But life is full of these revelatory negative social epiphanies, I suppose.

Caveat: 44) 삼생의 모든 인연들을 위해 지극한 마음으로 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance with a sincere heart, taking care of all ties to past lives.”

This is #44 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).

42. 내 몸으로받은 느낌만 옳다고 생각한 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity that I believe by feeling only [the sensations] of my body.”
43. 내 생각만 옳다는 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
        “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity that I believe through only my thoughts.”
44. 삼생의 모든 인연들을 위해 지극한 마음으로 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this forty-fourth affirmation as: “I bow in repentance with a sincere heart, taking care of all ties to past lives.”

I don’t believe in past lives. Perhaps I could view this as repenting my ties to history, a la a sort of Foucauldian geneology of ideologies.

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Caveat: Testimonial

I have a 2nd grade student, Jeong-seok, who wrote an essay.  His little essay was posted on the school's web forum, and my co-worker sent me a copy.  It's flattering, and my heart is touched.  I feel proud to be mentioned in a 2nd grader's essay in such a positive way.

영어수업을 할 때 게임을 했다. 동그라미모양종이에 자기가 하고 싶은 동전 숫자를 적으면 그걸 원어민 선생님인 제럴드선생님에게 드리고 진짜동전처럼 생긴 동전을 한국 선생님께 드리면 스티커를 받는다.  10개를 넘게 받은 친구들도 있었는데 나는 5개를 받았다.  나는 10개 보다 많이 받은 친구가 너~무~부러웠다 나는 스티커를 안내장 넣는 파일에 붙였다.   영어가 재미있게 되고 있으니 눈에 빨리 빨리 들어 오는 것  같기도 하였다.   방과후영어도 정말 재미있게 했다.

I guess that makes a good day.

[Comment added later:  Some have requested a translation.  My Korean isn't so good as to offer a translation.  Google's translate-o-matic makes gobbledy-gook of it, which is about what I would do.  I just kind of scan it and get the gist of it, knowing that it's positive.  Here's the result of plugging into google (with a few minor but obvious glaring corrections):  "When teaching English game. A circle on the paper and he'll put the number of coins you want it wiht a native speaker teacher, Jereot teacher, if it looks like a real coin coin Korea figure, the teacher gives a sticker. I have friends who were over 10 coins received five. I received more than 10, friends envied ~ Foreign ~ the invitation I put stickers attached to the file. English is fun may just be coming in soon, so eyes were fast. School English and was really fun."]

Caveat: onion rings with makgeolli batter

I sometimes get very experimental with cooking. Maybe too experimental for my own good.

When I visited my mom in January, I had discussed with her a dilemma I sometimes have had: I love cooking her recipe of chiles rellenos, but the egg-dense batter in which the chiles are coated is hard to substitute with something that would please my vegan friends.

I’m not vegan, myself, but I have in the past worked hard to come up with ways to make much of my cooking vegan, for three reasons: 1) I feel it makes it very healthy, 2) because I have a some friends who are vegan, and 3) just for the challenge of it.

Well, my mom had a brainstorm: beer batter. And I thought about this, and thought it was a wonderfully good idea. And so I filed it away in my brain. But I also had had a strange idea, at the time, about my life in Korea, and the various substitutions that happen in attempting non-Korean cooking in Korea. Now… it must be said, beer is not hard to to find in Korea. It’s hardly the sort of thing that requires a substitution. That’s not an issue. But I nevertheless had a thought – could I make an even more “native” beer-type batter, in Korea?  Specfically, I speculated on whether Korean makgeolli could be substituted for western-style beer.

Makgeolli is beery, in character. It’s often called Korean rice wine, but it’s more like beer (or maybe Mexican pulque) than it is like what I think of as rice wine, such as Japanese sake. It’s cloudy, and it has a slight carbonation to it. This is the property that made me think it might be substituted for beer in beer batter.

Tonight, I went to the grocery store. And I was staring at a refrigerator case, having just grabbed a bag of cheap packaged kimchi. There was a bottle of makgeolli. I remembered my idea, and, feeling inspired, or bored, or something, I bought it.

I came home. I got out some wheat flour, and mixed in some black pepper, nutmeg and salt and a tablespoon of my mexican masa flour for some corny flavoring. And then I dumped in some makgeolli, and stirred it up. Voila. Korean makgeolli batter. Hmm…. it seemed a lot like beer batter, sure enough.

Now, for something to fry. I saw my onions. Hah. Onion rings.

I made onion rings in makgeolli batter. Has this ever been done before? I don’t know.

I won’t say they were perfectly delicious. But this was a first draft. The oil I fried them in should have been a lighter variety of oil – maybe canola oil. And the batter needed more salt. But for a first draft, they were hardly horrible. I felt pleased with my experiment. Here is my plate of home-made makgeolli-batter-fried onion rings.


Note that the squarish item on the part of the plate closest to the camera is a block of colby cheese (imported from America, which I bought at Emart in Gwangju yesterday) that I’d used because I had a tiny bit of batter left over. That was, in fact, pretty tasty, too.

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Caveat: What Happened?

Did I stop blogging?

I spent the weekend with my friend Mr Kim. He invited me to spend time with his family – which, in the almost-year that I’ve known him, is a first. Mostly, before, we go hiking, stuff like that.

I’ll share more later. The positive – nothing leaves me feeling more positive about this ongoing Korean experiment than spending time immersed in Korean day-to-day life.  The negative – I think I’m a little bit sick. I got home and passed out – asleep at 4 in the afternoon. I haven’t had that happened with me in ages.

Meanwhile, here is a picture seen outside a bar on Saturday night – very loosely translated, it means “Pissing prohibited – big brother is watching”


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Caveat: 낑깡

My friend Mr Kim picked me up at the bus terminal at around 4 pm.  His younger daughter, 7th grade, had just finished taking a major hanja examination (there are 1800 characters that Korean middle-schoolers are required to learn), and was sitting looking miserable in the back seat of his car – this was the first time I would meet his family.
We had to pick up his older daughter (12th grade) but we had some time to kill, so we went to the Gwangju wholesale agricultural market (화물 시장 [hwa-mul si-jang] which I thought meant “wholesale market” but really means something like “freight market”) which is in the northeast corner of the city.  We walked around and he sampled various fruit, and we bought some 낑깡 (gging-ggang = grape-sized mandarin oranges).  These are eaten whole, with peels on, at least by Mr Kim, and then spitting out the seeds.  I actually like them a lot, but this was the first time I internalized the name of them.
We picked up his older daughter, who was more sociable.  When I asked her the standard English-in-Korea question “what is your dream?” (which means, roughly, “what do you want to do with your life?”) she said she didn’t know, but then her father said, “She wants to be a lawyer.”  I said, with good timing, “No, that’s your dream,” pointing at him.  This gave me an instant rapport and respect from both girls, who thought it was the funniest thing they’d heard in a long time.  Later, I learned she was thinking of writing novels or being a translator – which seemed more in line with how a teenager might think about the future.
We went to dinner for galbi at a place near their apartment in northwest Gwangju, and then later, we left them at their home and I also met his son (1st year college), who seemed stressed out by studying (which is natural I guess, in such an academically-driven family – dad is a pretty successful nuclear operations engineer, after all).  I was somewhat dismayed by the kind of uncomfortable, formal relation that existed between Mr Kim and his wife – but it certainly wasn’t a surprise, based on how I already knew him.  I just don’t understand marriages like that, but I know they’re very common in Korea.  In Korea, rather than get divorced, unhappy marriages just “stick together” as a sort of loveless business partnership, with clearly delineated roles and formalized nagging from both sides.
Then Mr Kim insisted we go out to a bar.  I wasn’t really into this… I rarely am.  But I went along with it, because I tend to let my Korean friends “lead” when I hang out with them.  The bar was one of the so-called “hostess bars,” which have a bad name as prostitution fronts, but played straight they’re just about bars with a high staff-to-customer ratio, where the staff are women who “chat up” the customers as they’re serving them.  This is all Mr Kim seemed interested in, although I was a little bit uncomfortable as he told ribald jokes to the woman serving beer.  But this is an inevitable part of Korean culture, and I was interested to visit this place roughly in “native mode,” to see how the average Korean businessman navigates these kinds of social spaces.
Actually, the highlight of the evening, for me, was when we were finding a place to park.  Mr Kim was driving around, finding a place to park, and couldn’t find one.  He saw a car with some people sitting in it, that was in front of a garage door.  He rolled down his window and asked if they leaving.  They said no, and then he said he needed to get into the garage.  This was a lie.  As soon as they pulled away, he took their illegal spot in front of the garage door.   Mr Kim has shown evidence, before, of this creative parking style, but this is the archetype, now, as far as I’m concerned.
He popped another gging-ggang into his mouth, and smiled slyly.  At the bar, we talked a lot about why I wasn’t renewing at Hongnong, and about his work at the nuclear power plant, which has been a never-ending sequence of training and drills, since the Fukushima events began unfolding (and as is only appropriate, I can imagine).  I think his English has been improving – he’s definitely been studying English more than I have been studying Korean, which left me feeling a little bit discouraged and depressed.
[This is a back-post, written 2011-04-11]

Caveat: Unknown Stories; Ad Hoc Recipies

My laziness continues.  I felt no desire to go out on a Friday night – so I've decided on skipping the Friday foreigner gathering in Yeonggwang – it's less appealing now, given it's a 30 minute bus ride away, than it was when I lived there in the town. 

So I came home, turned on the "radio" (streaming BBC), and cooked the most amazing ad hoc pasta dinner.  Very simple:  mushrooms, onions, garlic, stir fried in olive oil, with spices (including red pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary, ground bay leaves and coriander).  Add Korean-style tomato juice (which comes across as diluted tomato sauce since it's unsalted) which I let boil down for thickness.  Instant tomato mushroom onion pasta sauce.  Dinner – all ingredients bought in Hongnong (except the dried oregano and basil).

I was kind of off my game, teaching today.

You can tell I'm not having a good day, when the highlight of the day is finding a crying child in the courtyard, late in the afternoon.

How can this be a highlight?  Yu-bin was crying, some other kids were standing around.  She told a story, in Korean, that I didn't understand – something about sports and anger.  And then she pointed at a boy holding a badminton racket.  And cried harder.  The boy shrugged defensively.  I got the picture.

Some other kids came around.  But there were no other adults around.  In bad Korean, I ordered the boy to apologize to Yu-bin.  I didn't know what for, although I suspected some mild violence with a badminton racket was involved.  He bowed and apologized, mumbling.  I insisted he do it again.

Yu-bin stopped crying. 

Life has small, strange victories. 

Caveat: Radioactive Rain

All the Koreans are in a dead panic today over the fact that it's raining, and presumeably this rain, coming from the southeast, has been Japanified.   Fukushimized.    Radioactive.

I'm sure the rain is more radioactive than normal.  I have no doubt.  But people have such strange perceptions of risk in this type of thing.  Mostly, Korean culture seems to enjoy jumping on a once- or twice-a-year bandwagon of xeno-hypochondria (i.e. a fear of health risks associated with things from foreign places or things foreign people do). 

I would bet everything I own that in terms of background radiation, I am exposed to more and more dangerous radioactivity by the children of the nuclear power plant workers whom I teach on a daily basis – which is to say, their dads bring stuff home, that stuff gets on them, and the kids bring it with them to school.  And that's not to say it's a lot

I'm just saying that I expect that I get exposed to more radiation by virtue of the fact that I work in proximity to a major nuclear reactor here in Korea – and so, panicking about Japan-sourced rain seems out of place.

Caveat: 우리 편 파이팅!

I don’t believe that Koreans are less kind, less rational, or less capable of empathetic thinking than other people, on average.  Nevertheless, I do think that as a foreigner in Korea, it’s very easy to come away with the impression that these things are true.
There are two things that conspire to cause this:  1) the deeply communitarian nature of Korean culture means that everyone, including Koreans, suffer from the consequences of finding unkind, irrational or unempathetic people in their social in-group; 2) the fact that foreigners embedded in this culture have the inability to communicate their own feelings and needs clearly (due to linguistic and cultural barriers), and likewise also lack the ability to clearly understand the feelings and needs of others, means that they bear the brunt of the worst behavior of the always present minority of unkind, irrational and unempathetic people.
I suppose all of that is just a very philosophical way to say that I had a depressing day.  As many of the “volleyball Wednesdays” tend to be, although there were other events earlier in the day that left me depressed, too.
Actually, if I’m objective, I’d say that my volleyball skills, in and of themselves, have improved, at least slightly.  The majority of my serves seem to make it over the net, and once or twice each game I hit the ball in a way that is advantageous to our team.
I hate how competitive they are about it.  I hate how unkind they are to people who mess up or do badly.  There’s a lot of the sort of ribbing, joking, and teasing that I associate with my darkest days of high school PE class.  It’s a culture of competitive, jock-driven unkindness that permeates the feel of the event.
The phrase “우리 편 파이팅!” [u-ri pyeon pa-i-ting = our team, let’s go! (idiomatically)] is heard repeatedly.  At one point, early on, the principal and vice principal were forcing all the most reluctant, bad players to play a match before the hard-core competitors got started.  Naturally, I fall into the category of “bad player,” so I was participating.  They had changed the rules – most of these reluctant, bad players are women, so they’d made a rule that men couldn’t be the ones to send the ball over the net.   But I didn’t know that – I hadn’t caught the explanation in Korean – my Korean is really bad, you know?  Well, once… twice… three times, I hit the ball over the net.  I thought I was doing really good.  And then, each time, our team was losing a point.  Finally, the new art teacher – a hard-core jock if ever there was one, but not as mean spirited as some of the others – took the time to explain to me what was going on (his English isn’t bad).
I said, “I didn’t know.”  He explained my confusion to the everyone else.  And their response, to a person (even the other bad players, even the ones so much worse than me):  this was hilarious.  The poor confused foreigner.  Very funny.  Only the art teacher bothered to apologize.
I shouldn’t let it affect me so much.  But it does.  I keep trying.  I don’t really express my discomfort, much, on the outside.  I carry it around inside.
I think about the fact that this country has a high suicide rate.  I think that maybe it’s not so different for inept Koreans, navigating their own competitive, asshole-driven culture.  I can see why they just feel so ashamed that they decide to say “fuck it,” and check out.
And yet I’m still here.  I’m hoping things will get better when I return to Ilsan.
You know… I’ve stopped studying Korean completely.  I thought that’s why I was staying here.  When will I start again?  I’m like the student at the end of class, watching the clock.  I’m ready to check out.  I have 3 weeks left at Hongnong.  Will teaching at Karma be better?  Will I be able to resume my “projects”?  My art, my writing, my language study…  not feeling very good about any of it.
우리 편 파이팅!

Caveat: 43) 내 생각만 옳다는 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다

“I bow in repentance of all the stupidity that I believe through only my thoughts.”

This is #43 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).

41. 내 입으로 맛 본 것만 옳다고 생각한 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity that I believe by only trying tastes with my mouth.”
42. 내 몸으로받은 느낌만 옳다고 생각한 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.
       “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity that I believe by feeling only [the sensations] of my body.”
43. 내 생각만 옳다는 어리석음을 참회하며 절합니다.

I would read this forty-third affirmation as:  “I bow in repentance of all the stupidity that I believe through only my thoughts.”

Most of my stupidity arises in this way – I think of stupid things. I’m much more likely to give credence to my own stupid ideas than to those of others.

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