Caveat: Teachable

Teaching is important. I found this interesting article reflecting on new reasons why.

I've been feeling kind of inadequate as a teacher, lately. And a little bit rudderless as to how to improve. I have good classes and bad ones, good days and bad ones, but how much I plan or prepare for any given day or lesson seems utterly unrelated to whether they go well or badly. So what's going on?

Today, little Jinyong had  paper cup of green tea, to which he had added a square of chocolate – as only an innovative 7 year old can do – he called it "choco-cha." Then, somehow, this concoction ended up on the floor of my classroom. The hectic process of cleaning this up discombubulated the routine, and I never recovered my stride. It was a terrible class.

Well, anyway.

Caveat: Working Through Cultural Differences (Or Not)

Tonight, leaving work, I said to my coworker Danny these exact words:

“수고하세요. Don’t work too hard.”

Then suddenly, I realized this was incredibly funny. You see, each, in their respective languages (Korean and English), is a conventionalized way of saying goodbye to coworkers who are staying – but they must reflect some deep cultural differences, because their meaning is exactly opposite, and combining them was an act of pure cognitive dissonance.

“수고하세요” [sugohaseyo] means, roughly, “take pains, put in an effort, work hard.” It’s a typical thing you tell colleagues when you’re leaving them. “Don’t work too hard” is the sort of phatic, leaving-work phrase that I’ve used with late-staying colleagues during most of my working life, in English.

It’s an interesting cultural difference on display.

What I’m listening to right now.

Basement Jaxx, “Where’s your head at.” The video is freaking awesome, too.

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Caveat: Heaven / Caveat: Hell.

Below, from Bertolt Brecht's Hollywood Elegies.  I particularly like the characterization of heaven, at the start. Who needs heaven and hell? You can make just one place, that's really nice for some of the people to be in, and horrible for the other people.

The village of Hollywood was planned according to the notion
People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts
They have come to the conclusion that God
Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to
Plan two establishments but
Just the one: heaven. It
Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful
As hell.


By the sea stand the oil derricks. Up the canyons
The gold prospectors’ bones lie bleaching. Their sons
Built the dream factories of Hollywood.
The four cities
Are filled with the oily smell
Of films.

The city is named after the angels
And you meet angels on every hand
They smell of oil and wear golden pessaries
And, with blue rings round their eyes
Feed the writers in their swimming pools every morning.

Beneath the green pepper trees
The musicians play the whore, two by two
With the writers. Bach
Has written a Strumpet Voluntary. Dante wriggles
His shrivelled bottom.

The angels of Los Angeles
Are tired out with smiling. Desperately
Behind the fruit stalls of an evening
They buy little bottles
Containing sex odours.

Above the four cities the fighter planes
Of the Defense Department circle at a great height
So that the stink of greed and poverty
Shall not reach them

Hat tip, for the above, to Frederic Jameson, who cited this Brecht in his chapter on Utopia in his Valences of the Dialectic, which I am currently attempting (but mostly failing) to read. Also, as an erstwhile Angeleno of the ambivalent, love-hatey variety, I appreciate the dark vision of the place.

Caveat: Preoccupied

My friend and former LBridge colleague Christine commented on my post about the Occupiers from a few days ago. I think her criticisms and points are completely valid. Certainly, I am not making any claim to a better sort of politics or activism than the activists – I am an armchair activist, at best. A bourgeois marxist with zero praxis.

But I’m a strong believer in the idea that minds cannot be changed through confrontation, and my main discomfort with the occupiers is that they seem to thrive on a sort of aimless confrontationalism that comes across as confrontation-for-the-sake-of-confrontation, which would be the worst sort.

Perhaps if I was there among them, I would feel differently. In past lives I have been “down in the crowd” in some types of political activism, generally rooted in a commitment to anti-war movements. And as the Arab spring has been showing, or the colored post-Cold-War revolutions of 1989-91, activism can yield spectacular results in the right geopolitical setting.

So the question is, is the setting right, in the US, right now? Seen from afar, dissatisfaction with the system certainly seems incredibly high. In my own self, it’s high enough that I dread going back “home.” I’m happier to be an outsider in someone else’s dysfunctional system, e.g. South Korea at the current moment.

Anyway, I’m just meandering, here. I don’t mean to come across as anti-Occupy. I just had a cynical moment of reactionary libertarianism.

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Caveat: Less Facebooky Than Before

To my facebook-based friends and acquaintances, sorry. I prefer the control having my own webpage and blog give me, so I will continute to post here at caveatdumptruck, daily.

I have stopped logging into facebook on a regular basis. Partly, that’s in protest of the fact that they are so aggressively tracking users’ web activities – did you know that if a page has “Like” button, facebook knows you’ve been there even if you don’t click it?

Because of that, among other reasons, I only log into facebook once every couple of days. These blog entries still sometimes cross-post, but I’m not trying extra hard to make sure that always happens.

pictureThose of you who know me well, and read between the lines… probably realize I’ve been kind of down, lately. Above all else, I’m so utterly discouraged about my learn-Korean project that I’ve essentially stopped studying. I don’t know how to regain my motivation.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wasting a lot of time reading bad novels and surfing radical politics websites (e.g. Who Is IOZ, whose recent rant was fabulous – most hilariously: “The supercommittee, a sort of homeopathic version of a legislative body, a thing, reduced to its essence and then placed near a vial of water whose molecules were supposed to realign and magically cure what ails us, or, ahem, whatever, failed.”).

I ate very healthy today: I had rice with gim (seasoned dried seaweed) and kimchi for breakfast, and for an early weekend dinner I had tricolor rotini and penne pasta with a simple vegan homemade sauce of onion, garlic, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, rosemary, bayleaf and pepper, with a half-cup of red table wine to give it some character. It’s not really that attractive, nor even deeply delicious, but it was healthy and satisfying. And I saved the leftovers, hopefully I’ll get better at using leftovers.

What I’m listening to, right now.

Stereo MCs, “Step It Up.”

Catchy tune.

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Caveat: Do the Waffles Cause Time to Reverse?

I can’t quite figure out this video. But I like it. Nice music track, too.

What I’m listening to right now.

Bentley Rhythm Ace, “Bentley’s Gonna Sort You Out.” The car in the video below is very similar my dad’s (and formerly grandfather’s) old 1913 Ford Model T.


I loved that car and I hated when my dad sold it. But I love the ’28 Ford Model A more – and he still hasn’t sold that (below left, from circa 1970 – with me, my sister, and mom).


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Caveat: Death Map

This thing I found online is very strange. It’s a map of the US, with each traffic-related death pinpointed. It’s like a density map of the country, zoomable to individuals – but it’s only dead people, and for a specific reason. You can see the patterns of highways and cities in all the dots.

[UPDATE 2024-05-02: This embed seems to have rotted long ago, and the original web content is utterly lost to all humanity. Yay internet!]

You can find its host, here [Also lost].

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Caveat: Gobble Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving.

[UPDATE: the Youtube video I embedded here has disappeared. And I can’t find a replacement. There are an infinite number of other “Gobble gobble” songs to be found, but not the one I remember.]


It’s just a regular working day here in Korea. So…no thanks.

The kids love that song, though.

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Caveat: minus

pictureI guess winter has arrived – it’s almost noon and the official temperature is below freezing. I’m not sure I’m totally happy with the quality of the heating in my apartment… I’m going have to mess with the thermostat.

I like winter, and like cold weather, but I don’t necessarily like the feeling that I can’t get warm. I think part of it is that still not entirely gone flu-like thing I was struggling with.

Ok. Enough griping. More later.

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Caveat: Dem Bones

Teaching first graders is so often an utterly hit-or-miss proposition. I’ll come up with a game or lesson plan that I think is a good idea, and it will be a flop. I’ll be improvising, and suddenly have the best class ever.

Recently, with my Tuesday kids, I found an unexpected hit with the video and song, below. I had showed them a different youtube video, and they saw the icon for the little skeleton down in the corner, and were saying “해골 해골” [“skeleton skeleton”]. So I followed the link – maybe it was a good song?

Maybe they’d seen it in school or something. We watched video (and watched it again, and again, and again, because that’s how it is with first-graders), and the look of concentration as they tried to follow along and say the words to the song was precious.

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Caveat: Yay, America!

I say that in the deepest irony. The “pepper spraying cop” of the recent UC Davis incident has gone memic, with a tumblr dedicated to photoshopping him into just about everything imaginable, most images full of obscure cultural references and cruel satire. My personal favorite was his elevation to a new, 2011 version of Lady Liberty – see below.


It’s interesting watching all this from abroad – it gives some distance, some cultural perspective. It’s not like South Korea doesn’t have its own pepper spraying cops (or the rough equivalents) – in fact, I would almost say that it was South Korea that perfected the difficult arts of both public rioting and of the police repression of said rioting – these American occupiers and their pepper-spraying cop friends could learn a lot from a careful study of the last two decades of Korean history – they are rank amateurs in comparison.

Nevertheless (or perhaps, because of this), there is something disturbing, depressing, and, yes, ironic that South Korea seems so… settled and calm, these days, while other parts of world, including places not so far from where I was born and raised (such as UC Davis) are undergoing these social upheavals. I tend to want to start studying gini coefficients, and suchlike.

From a broad economic and/or politico-historical perspective, let’s just say… mistakes may have been made. I’m feeling depressed about the future of my passport-issuing polity (because I don’t like saying the word “nation” with a possessive pronoun like “my”).

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Caveat: Is Life Sucking Real?

Since last week, we're back in the 시험대비 (test-prep special schedule for middle-schoolers). So I have taken a bunch of "CC" (I have no idea what CC is supposed to stand for) classes for the elementary kids, since I have more free time in my schedule and the other teachers have less.

This gives me a weird, unexpected exposure to American pop music – the kids demanding things like Justin Bieber or Kelly Clarkson. Yesterday we did Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You." And now it's stuck in my head.

Because of that, I applied an antidote – despite the fact that I sort of like the Clarkson song, to be honest. So…

What I'm listening to right now.

Icon of Coil's "Everything Is Real?"

… mashup in my brain … 

Caveat: the sound of running water

I don’t know the origin of this idea, but I find it singularly fascinating. A commenter at the LanguageLog blog by the handle of “Mark F.” writes (in a comment to a recent entry):

I have read that beavers can’t bear the sound of running water, so much so that they will cover speakers playing that sound with mud, sticks, and rocks until they can’t hear them any more; and that this is what induces them to build dams.

pictureThe implication is that what appears, objectively, to be evolved instinctive behavior is, in fact, subjectively experienced as a profound, even unbearable discomfort with some environmental condition – e.g. the sound of running water. Somehow this jibes quite well with my own subjective experiences with some aspects of my humanness – that things that are really evolved adaptive behaviors are only with immense difficulty perceived as such, because inside the own individual’s mind, they resonate more as various sorts of discomforts or dislikes.

Hmm. Thinking.

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Caveat: Occupy Someone Else’s Space

“Occupation is more exhilarating and instantly gratifying than the hard slog of advancing political and social change” – Wendy Kaminer, at The Atlantic, November 18. This really was the first criticism of the Occupy Blah-Blah movement that really clearly summarizes my own discomfort with it.

Kaminer goes on to suggest (in different words – I’m extrapolating) the idea that the Occupiers are hypocrites, because they are setting themselves up as an “elite” of their own sort – an elite who are somehow more politically aware than the remaining 99% who remain clueless, conforming sheep. And that’s the point – the remaining 99% aren’t clueless – they know just as well (if not better) than the Occupiers what’s going on, and how things work. But they prefer to attempt to advance social and political change using other methods – less confrontational, in-your-face methods.

The main thing I like about the Occupy Whatchamacallit movement is mostly that they provide a kind of loony, far-left counterweight to the loony, far-right idiocies of the Teapartiers. I keep hoping the two groups will somehow accidentally reach a political critical mass while passing each other on the streets, one day, and then suddenly cancel out, like so much matter/anti-matter, in an explosion of useful political change.

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Caveat: Not Traveling

Originally, because I had Saturday off from work, I had planned to travel to Gwangju and Yeonggwang this weekend.  But I lost my momentum, as has often happened with me lately.  So I didn't go.

Just not in the mood to travel, right? I haven't felt like traveling since I moved back up here to Ilsan in May, frankly. Even weekend trips seem like more than I'm wanting to do. I'm perfectly content to tool around Ilsan, such as it is, and be a sort of homebody.

I ended up going into work on Saturday, after all. I had been procrastinating on posting my monthly grades all week, and they're due start-of-work Monday. So I came home early on Friday night, and went in yesterday, instead.

I derive a lot of feeling of accomplishment from recognizing 100+ student names (in Korean), associating faces with the names, and writing personalized progress comments for each one.

To be  truthful, lately my only sense of accomplishment has been coming from work – my other projects, as I've remarked elsewhere, are going badly, or not at all.

Last night, after work, it was cold, walking home in the dusk. Maybe 2 or 3 C (36-40 F).  The rain was clearing, and you could feel the Siberian cold approaching. Last night, it got solidly below freezing, and I discovered an annoyance with my apartment – really, the first truly annoying thing I've found about it: the windows sweat, when it gets that cold. The condensation collects on the inside window-sills, and makes things sitting on them wet. Yeargh.

This morning, I woke up with a snap of insomnia, at 6 am sharp. Not able to go back to sleep, I made split pea soup and read random articles in the wikithing.

Life goes on. I'm watching things on my computer, and killing time reading a bad novel.

Caveat: Immigration to South Korea

Recently my debate classes completed a unit I put together on the topic of immigration. Despite the fact that I have admitted (on this blog) strong personal views on the subject, I try very hard to hide those opinions during the class, because I really want to get the students to competently address both sides – that’s the spirit of a true debate class, and also because I hate the idea that I might be indoctrinating them somehow (they get enough of that from their Korean teachers).

For their final written test, they have to write a “speech” for either the Pro or Con side of a proposition similar to (but not exactly the same as) one we have done in class, without using notes – although I typically allow them to use their dictionaries.

I had two students to whom I gave perfect scores. Below are their essays – I’ve typed them up “as is” from their test papers, retaining the spelling and grammar exactly as written (really, not that bad considering these are two Korean eighth graders who have never lived outside of Korea) with only minor adjustments to punctuation.

The proposition was: “Immigration to South Korea should be encouraged.” I really feel quite proud of their work, and the reasonable clarity of their arguments.

Hyeonguk wrote for the Pro team:

Hello? I’m Ted from Pro team. Our team absolutely think we should allow and encourage immigration to Korea. We have three strong ideas. After you hear my speech, you’ll also think encouraging immigration is good and why it is good for Korea and you.

First of all, immigration is a right. Immigration is a right that we can’t stop and restrict. Immigration is a right like liberty. If we restrict immigration, it’ll be not only like slavery, but also like restricting their freedom. So I absolutely think we should allow immigration because it is a right.

My second reason is, it will help our economy to grow. We need more consumers and workers to grow our economy.  And immigrants can solve and improve this problem.  Immigrants can be a strong promotion to increase our economy. So I think we should encourage immigration because they can help our economy to grow.

My third reason is about aging problem – so-called old people problem.  And I think it is the strongest idea that our Pro team has. We’ll go through aging problem soon.  Then, we need more young people to work. However, Korea’s child birth rate is low now, but there is a way that we can solve it. It is immigration!  So our Pro team think we should allow immigration.

Untill now, I’m talking about why we need immigration. Those are about right, economy, and aging problem. It can be hard for a few years after we allow immigration. However, after we bear it, we can get a lot of benefits. “After a storm, comes a calm.” We should remember this and we should allow immigration to Korea.

Haeun wrote for the Con team:

Hello! I’m Candy from the CON team. Our proposition is “Immigration is good for South Korea” and I disagree with this idea.  Nowadays, many people are coming to Korea as immigrants. For example, many Vietnamese and Filipinos are coming to Korea to marry with the farmers or the old man.  Also, many Chinese are coming to work in the factory. Like these, immigrations are increasing in South Korea. I’ll tell you 3 reasons why I disagree with the proposition: immigration will lead Korea to have much more unemployment, will cause conflict between Koreans and immigrants, and Korea’s tradition like culture and language should stay pure.

First, I think immigration will cause increase of unemployment. Nowadays, many Chinese are coming to Korea to work in facotry and because the have the low pay, many factory owners like them and it will lead koreans to lose jobs.  Also, because most immigrants who come to earn money came to Korea illegally, the owners can threaten them to work more. And it’s a profit to the owners, so they won’t employ the Koreans.

Second, I think immigration will cause conflict between Koreans and the immigrants. It’s a fact that most Koreans are conservative and don’t like the foreigners, especially people from South East Asia.  For example, there was a woman who wanted to go to a bathhouse who came from Southeast Asia. However, the owner of a bathhouse didn’t allow her to go in because she thought many people odn’t like the foreigners. And it caused many of foreigners (immigrants) to feel bad. Like these, immigration will cause a conflict and if it gets bigger, it will lead to a social problem.

Lastly, I think Korea’s tradition like culture and language should stay pure. Unlike other countries, Korea’s culture is traditional and it’s a strong point in Korean culture. If you look at America, you can see many culture and languages existing in one country because most of the immigrants have a tendency to keep their culture.  And it leads a country to be confused because each of them speaks differently and has different cultures.

These are all of my 3 reasons why I think immigration is not good for South Korea. First, immigration will cause increase of unemployment. Second, it will cause a conflict between Koreans and immigrants. Third, Korea’s tradition should stay pure. I hope the immigration to South Korea won’t increase any more and want not to have the problems between immigrants and Koreans.

I also made a video of the debate speeches (which were somewhat distinct from the topic for the written test), but because the sound quality is poor and because they are not accustomed to public speaking, it’s not quite so impressive as their writing. Nevertheless, I’ll try to post that sometime.

Caveat: Aquí todo va de mal en peor

pictureUno de mis cuentos literarios favoritos es el “Es que somos pobres” del mexicano Juan Rulfo. No puedo explicar porque me parece tan buen cuento. No es el cuento en que se fijan los críticos. Lo más notable, por supuesto, es la novela rulfiana, Pedro Páramo – también muy importante en mi mitología personal. Pero no puedo pensar en Rulfo sin recordar este cuento tan breve, tan sencillo, tan distinto de Pedro Páramo en tono y voz.

No estoy seguro de su copyright status, pero me atrevo reproducirlo aquí porque es tan breve – y porque el texto ya es tan fácil encontrar en el web.

Es que somos muy pobres

por Juan Rulfo

Aquí todo va de mal en peor. La semana pasada se murió mi tía Jacinta, y el sábado, cuando ya la habíamos enterrado y comenzaba a bajársenos la tristeza, comenzó a llover como nunca. A mi papá eso le dio coraje, porque toda la cosecha de cebada estaba asoleándose en el solar. Y el aguacero llegó de repente, en grandes olas de agua, sin darnos tiempo ni siquiera a esconder aunque fuera un manojo; lo único que pudimos hacer, todos los de mi casa, fue estarnos arrimados debajo del tejaván, viendo cómo el agua fría que caía del cielo quemaba aquella cebada amarilla tan recién cortada.

Y apenas ayer, cuando mi hermana Tacha acababa de cumplir doce años, supimos que la vaca que mi papá le regaló para el día de su santo se la había llevado el río.

El río comenzó a crecer hace tres noches, a eso de la madrugada. Yo estaba muy dormido y, sin embargo, el estruendo que traía el río al arrastrarse me hizo despertar en seguida y pegar el brinco de la cama con mi cobija en la mano, como si hubiera creído que se estaba derrumbando el techo de mi casa. Pero después me volví a dormir, porque reconocí el sonido del río y porque ese sonido se fue haciendo igual hasta traerme otra vez el sueño.

Cuando me levanté, la mañana estaba llena de nublazones y parecía que había seguido lloviendo sin parar. Se notaba en que el ruido del río era más fuerte y se oía más cerca. Se olía, como se huele una quemazón, el olor a podrido del agua revuelta.

A la hora en que me fui a asomar, el río ya había perdido sus orillas. Iba subiendo poco a poco por la calle real, y estaba metiéndose a toda prisa en la casa de esa mujer que le dicen la Tambora. El chapaleo del agua se oía al entrar por el corral y al salir en grandes chorros por la puerta. La Tambora iba y venía caminando por lo que era ya un pedazo de río, echando a la calle sus gallinas para que se fueran a esconder a algún lugar donde no les llegara la corriente.

Y por el otro lado, por donde está el recodo, el río se debía de haber llevado, quién sabe desde cuándo, el tamarindo que estaba en el solar de mi tía Jacinta, porque ahora ya no se ve ningún tamarindo. Era el único que había en el pueblo, y por eso nomás la gente se da cuenta de que la creciente esta que vemos es la más grande de todas las que ha bajado el río en muchos años.

Mi hermana y yo volvimos a ir por la tarde a mirar aquel amontonadero de agua que cada vez se hace más espesa y oscura y que pasa ya muy por encima de donde debe estar el puente. Allí nos estuvimos horas y horas sin cansarnos viendo la cosa aquella. Después nos subimos por la barranca, porque queríamos oír bien lo que decía la gente, pues abajo, junto al río, hay un gran ruidazal y sólo se ven las bocas de muchos que se abren y se cierran y como que quieren decir algo; pero no se oye nada. Por eso nos subimos por la barranca, donde también hay gente mirando el río y contando los perjuicios que ha hecho. Allí fue donde supimos que el río se había llevado a la Serpentina la vaca esa que era de mi hermana Tacha porque mi papá se la regaló para el día de su cumpleaños y que tenía una oreja blanca y otra colorada y muy bonitos ojos.

No acabo de saber por qué se le ocurriría a La Serpentina pasar el río este, cuando sabía que no era el mismo río que ella conocía de a diario. La Serpentina nunca fue tan atarantada. Lo más seguro es que ha de haber venido dormida para dejarse matar así nomás por nomás. A mí muchas veces me tocó despertarla cuando le abría la puerta del corral porque si no, de su cuenta, allí se hubiera estado el día entero con los ojos cerrados, bien quieta y suspirando, como se oye suspirar a las vacas cuando duermen.

Y aquí ha de haber sucedido eso de que se durmió. Tal vez se le ocurrió despertar al sentir que el agua pesada le golpeaba las costillas. Tal vez entonces se asustó y trató de regresar; pero al volverse se encontró entreverada y acalambrada entre aquella agua negra y dura como tierra corrediza. Tal vez bramó pidiendo que le ayudaran. Bramó como sólo Dios sabe cómo.

Yo le pregunté a un señor que vio cuando la arrastraba el río si no había visto también al becerrito que andaba con ella. Pero el hombre dijo que no sabía si lo había visto. Sólo dijo que la vaca manchada pasó patas arriba muy cerquita de donde él , estaba y que allí dio una voltereta y luego no volvió a ver ni los cuernos ni las patas ni ninguna señal de vaca. Por el río rodaban muchos troncos de árboles con todo y raíces y él estaba muy ocupado en sacar leña, de modo que no podía fijarse si eran animales o troncos los que arrastraba.

Nomás por eso, no sabemos si el becerro está vivo, o si se fue detrás de su madre río abajo. Si así fue, que Dios los ampare a los dos.

La apuración que tienen en mi casa es lo que pueda suceder el día de mañana, ahora que mi hermana Tacha se quedó sin nada. Porque mi papá con muchos trabajos había conseguido a la Serpentina, desde que era una vaquilla, para dársela a mi hermana, con el fin de que ella tuviera un capitalito y no se fuera a ir de piruja como lo hicieron mis otras dos hermanas, las más grandes.

Según mi papá, ellas se habían echado a perder porque éramos muy pobres en mi casa y ellas eran muy retobadas. Desde chiquillas ya eran rezongonas. Y tan luego que crecieron les dio por andar con hombres de lo peor, que les enseñaron cosas malas. Ellas aprendieron pronto y entendían muy bien los chiflidos, cuando las llamaban a altas horas de la noche. Después salían hasta de día. Iban cada rato por agua al río y a veces, cuando uno menos se lo esperaba, allí estaban en el corral, revolcándose en el suelo, todas encueradas y cada una con un hombre trepado encima.

Entonces mi papá las corrió a las dos. Primero les aguantó todo lo que pudo; pero más tarde ya no pudo aguantarlas más y les dio carrera para la calle. Ellas se fueron para Ayutla o no sé para dónde; pero andan de pirujas.

Por eso le entra la mortificación a mi papá, ahora por la Tacha, que no quiere vaya a resultar como sus otras dos hermanas, al sentir que se quedó muy pobre viendo la falta de su vaca, viendo que ya no va a tener con qué entretenerse mientras le da por crecer y pueda casarse con un hombre bueno, que la pueda querer para siempre. Y eso ahora va a estar difícil. Con la vaca era distinto, pues no hubiera faltado quien se hiciera el ánimo de casarse con ella, sólo por llevarse también aquella vaca tan bonita.

La única esperanza que nos queda es que el becerro esté todavía vivo. Ojalá no se le haya ocurrido pasar el río detrás de su madre. Porque si así fue, mi hermana Tacha está tantito así de retirado de hacerse piruja. Y mamá no quiere.

Mi mamá no sabe por qué Dios la ha castigado tanto al darle unas hijas de ese modo, cuando en su familia, desde su abuela para acá, nunca ha habido gente mala. Todos fueron criados en el temor de Dios y eran muy obedientes y no le cometían irreverencias a nadie. Todos fueron por el estilo. Quién sabe de dónde les vendría a ese par de hijas suyas aquel mal ejemplo. Ella no se acuerda. Le da vueltas a todos sus recuerdos y no ve claro dónde estuvo su mal o el pecado de nacerle una hija tras otra con la misma mala costumbre. No se acuerda. Y cada vez que piensa en ellas, llora y dice: “Que Dios las ampare a las dos.”

Pero mi papá alega que aquello ya no tiene remedio. La peligrosa es la que queda aquí, la Tacha, que va como palo de ocote crece y crece y que ya tiene unos comienzos de senos que prometen ser como los de sus hermanas: puntiagudos y altos y medio alborotados para llamar la atención.

-Sí -dice-, le llenará los ojos a cualquiera dondequiera que la vean. Y acabará mal; como que estoy viendo que acabará mal.

Ésa es la mortificación de mi papá.

Y Tacha llora al sentir que su vaca no volverá porque se la ha matado el río. Está aquí a mi lado, con su vestido color de rosa, mirando el río desde la barranca y sin dejar de llorar. Por su cara corren chorretes de agua sucia como si el río se hubiera metido dentro de ella.

Yo la abrazo tratando de consolarla, pero ella no entiende. Llora con más ganas. De su boca sale un ruido semejante al que se arrastra por las orillas del río, que la hace temblar y sacudirse todita, y, mientras, la creciente sigue subiendo. El sabor a podrido que viene de allá salpica la cara mojada de Tacha y los dos pechitos de ella se mueven de arriba abajo, sin parar, como si de repente comenzaran a hincharse para empezar a trabajar por su perdición.

[Imagen: Colima, México, lugar cuyo recuerdo está conectado con la lectura de Rulfo en mi imaginación.]

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Caveat: 108) 부처님. 오늘 지은이 인연 아낌없이 시방 법계에 회향하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and turn today to the realm of Buddha now in generosity and kindness.”
This is the last of a series of 108 daily Buddhist affirmations that I have been attempting to translate. I started, almost accidentally, in September of 2010, and now I’ve reached the last one.  I can’t guarantee the results, as I don’t really know Korean very well, but it’s been nice to try.

106. 부처님. 저는 선지 식을 만날 수 있기를 발원하며 절합니다.
           “Buddha. I bow and pray to be able to find the ways of the prophets.”
107. 부처님. 저는이 세상에 부처님이 오시기를 발원하며 절합니다.
           “Buddha. I bow and pray that Buddha comes into the world.”
108. 부처님. 오늘 지은이 인연 아낌없이 시방 법계에 회향하며 절합니다.

I would read this one hundred eighth affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and turn today to the realm of Buddha now in generosity and kindness.”
This was difficult. I didn’t know what to do with “인연” (probably “karma” in this context) – so I ignored it as a gratuitous extra noun.  There was nothing for it to “attach to,” grammatically. I had all these adverbs (“in kindness,” “in generosity,” “today,” “now”) but no verbs to attach to.
So I finish with the same doubts and ambivalences as I started with. As I’ve said in other places in this blog, I’m feeling very discouraged about my progress in learning Korean. I’m not doing very well with it. Having these little translations to turn to over the last year has been a good way to recover some focus on this project, so I’m going to miss it.  I’m fishing around for a replacement project, but so far I haven’t come up with anything.
“We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.” – Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, 2005.
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Caveat: Waking Life

How strange is it, to be quizzed by a group of sixth graders about the idea of lucid dreaming?  They didn’t remember the terminology, so the first several minutes of discussion required them explaining it to me, with their imperfect English. In and of itself, that was interesting, too – a lucid-dreaming-style sort of coming-to-awareness of the fact that the topic that we were attempting to discuss was, in fact, lucid dreaming. Hmm… I’m making it sound a little bit eerie, and it wasn’t.

It was just an interesting and engaging discussion such as rarely happens with my students, but that is deeply pleasing when it does.  

And then I came home and I somewhat spontaneously (but perhaps prompted at some subconscious level?) decided to watch a movie I saw when it first came out, and that I’d recently re-downloaded: “Waking Life.” Which is all about lucid dreaming. Among other existential and vaguely gnostic themes. And don’t forget Pedro Páramo.


“We are asleep. Our life is a dream. But we wake up, sometimes, just enough to know that we are dreaming.”- Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Caveat: El pecado, que nunca en paz suele seyer


Uno de los textos que mas me gustó entre aquellos medievales que leí en la época de mis estudios graduados. El comienzo (de su versión en línea):

1 En el nombre de Dios y de Santa María,
si ellos me guiasen estudiar querría,
componer un romance de nueva maestría
del buen rey Apolonio y de su cortesía.

2 El rey Apolonio, de Tiro natural,
que por las aventuras visco grant temporal.
Cómo perdió la fija y la mujer capdal,
cómo las cobró amas, ca les fue muy leyal.

3 En el rey Antioco vos quiero comenzar,
que pobló Antiocha en el puerto de la mar;
del su nombre mismo fízola titolar.
Si entonces fuese muerto nol’ debiera pesar.

4 Ca muriósele la mujer con qui casado era,
dejole una fija genta de grant manera;
nol’ sabían en el mundo de beltat compañera,
non sabían en su cuerpo señal reprendedera.

5 Muchos fijos de reyes la vinieron pedir,
mas non pudo en ella ninguno avenir.
Hobo en este comedio tal cosa a contir,
que es para en concejo vergüenza de decir.

6 El pecado, que nunca en paz suele seyer,
tanto pudo el malo volver y revolver,
que fizo a Antiocho en ella entender
tanto que se quería por su amor perder.

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Caveat: 107) 부처님. 저는이 세상에 부처님이 오시기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray that Buddha comes into the world.”
This is #107 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).

105. 부처님. 저는 수행하는 마음이 물러나지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
           “Buddha. I bow and pray not to withdraw from a functioning mind.”
106. 부처님. 저는 선지 식을 만날 수 있기를 발원하며 절합니다.
           “Buddha. I bow and pray to be able to find the ways of the prophets.”
107. 부처님. 저는이 세상에 부처님이 오시기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this one hundred seventh affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray that Buddha comes into the world.”
What I’m listening to right now.
[UPDATE 2024-04-19: The link to the music video rotted. Because yay internet.]
정재은, “당신과 둘이라면.” This is a genre of music called 트로트 [teuroteu “trot”] and it is the Korean cultural equivalent of country-western music in the US, or maybe norteño music in Mexico. Basically, the genre consists of Korean folk-songs and love ballads, with cheesy 70’s-style backing music. Also please pardon the cheesy Korean historical-drama screenshot on the youtube I found with the song.

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Caveat: I wasn’t, actually, a very good programmer

xkcd explains why quite succinctly:

The General Problem

Last night I had one of my increasingly infrequent "coding nightmares" – dreams that consist mostly of a sort of montage of SQL programming code, where I haven't got a clue what's going on.  While I acknowledge that, if it became financially necessary for me to return to programming, I would, I find it less and less appealing the longer I spend away from it.

Caveat: Natural-Born Pretenders

I had a really awesome debate class, today.  The group of 7th and 8th graders debated Korean education, informally, as we sat in a circle.  They actually opened their mouths and expressed intelligent opinions, in often comprehensible English.

The best was when a girl named Jiwon said, “Koreans are natural-born pretenders.”  She elaborated (I will paraphrase):  Korean schools and teachers pretend to teach, Korean students pretend to learn, Korean hagwon (after-school academies) pretend to help, Korean parents pretend to care. And the Korean government pretends everything is fine.”

Pretty dark and cynical, yet she is one of the brightest, most cheerful students I know, in a somewhat unmotivated way.  I was, needless to say, impressed, both with the depth of her analysis and her evident interest in the topic.

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Caveat: Ending up at philosophy

There is a meme (perhaps started at xkcd) that says that following the first (non parenthetical) link on a wikipedia article, recursively, always leads to the article entitled “Philosophy.” Someone built a widget online to test this. You can try out random wikipedia articles, and see them leading to Philosophy – it draws a tree. Here’s a tree I made with some random articles using the “random” button.


There are some caveats (naturally) to how this works – explained here (read the comments thread). I like the example of a circular set of articles (try “Exogeny” in the widget).

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Caveat: 106) 부처님. 저는 선지 식을 만날 수 있기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray to be able to find the ways of the prophets.”

This is #106 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).

104. 부처님. 저는 반야 지혜가 자라기를 발원하며 절합니다.
           “Buddha. I bow and pray to grow in wisdom.”
105. 부처님. 저는 수행하는 마음이 물러나지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.
           “Buddha. I bow and pray not to withdraw from a functioning mind.”
106. 부처님. 저는 선지 식을 만날 수 있기를 발원하며 절합니다.

Saul on the Road to DamascusI would read this one hundred sixth affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray to be able to find the ways of the prophets.”

I’m not sure about “ways of the prophets” for “선지 식” – but just “the prophets” made me uncomfortable. “식” means “ceremony” or “rite.”  I decided to make it “ways.”

I have two affirmations left. Raggedsign day is approaching. I think I will make my last post on that anniversary. Another finishing, another beginning. Year 13 of my life as ghost-in-the-world draws to a close.

[Picture: Saul on the road to Damascus]

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Caveat: The Cult of Steve

We had a sort of game in my debate class the other day, where students had to make strange or funny or outrageous propositions for mini-speeches.  On one of the cards, I found the following written, verbatim:

Steve Jobs is alive
b/c he's living in my house.
he takes my Halloween chocolate
But, he gave me iphone
+ [plus] teach English to me
He's good friend


Caveat: Pepero Day Eve

pictureYesterday, some of my students gave me Pepero (빼빼로).

I said, “but Pepero Day is tomorrow, not today.”

“Today is Pepero Day Eve,” answered one of the students, creatively. We had recently discussed the fact that Halloween comes from Hallow’s Eve, meaning the day before All Saint’s Day (November 1).

Actually, today must be some kind of “Pepero Millenium” as one of my students put it. I would like to coin the term Peperocalypse: 11/11 in the year 2011. That’s 11/11/11, right?

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Caveat: Rationality

"The world is not just mad. It is mad and rational as well." – sociologist Theodor Adorno (in a 1956 conversation, presumably translated from German).

"Ce qu’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste." – Karl Marx (in original French, to Lafargue) [If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist].

Caveat: 105) 부처님. 저는 수행하는 마음이 물러나지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다

“Buddha. I bow and pray not to withdraw from a functioning mind.”
This is #105 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).

103. 부처님. 저는 보살행을 실천하며 살아가기를 발원하며 절합니다.
            “Buddha. I bow and pray to live and practice toward becoming a bodhisattva.”
104. 부처님. 저는 반야 지혜가 자라기를 발원하며 절합니다.
           “Buddha. I bow and pray to grow in wisdom.”
105. 부처님. 저는 수행하는 마음이 물러나지 않기를 발원하며 절합니다.

I would read this one hundred fifth affirmation as: “Buddha. I bow and pray not to withdraw from a functioning mind.”

Or… functioning heart. Or heart that functions. Mind and heart:  마음. It’s not so much linked to a specific organ in the body, as the western terms are, as to the function of feeling, I think.
I like this affirmation. It seems to be saying: trust your feelings. Follow them. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know.

I’m running out of affirmations. I can’t decide what I’m going to replace this amazingly regular blog-feature with, when I run out. Any suggestions, O universe? I guess I’ll just follow my heart.
Not at all related, and maybe even somewhat inappropriate… what I’m listening to right now.

Eisbrecher (a German goth/industrial rock group), “Schwarze witwe” (black widow). The song seems to be about vampiric sex, or something like that. I’m not so good at understanding German – but I never let a failure to understand a language interfere with my ability to enjoy it. So I have a lot of music in various languages that I barely understand in rotation among my mp3 files – German, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, etc.

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Caveat: Org Chart

Curt drew a Karma Org Chart on the blackboard of the staff room last night. He didn’t know to call it an “org chart” – I taught them that term, from my years of working in business. Here’s the picture.


The arrows represent not lines of authority but rather “lines of complaint.”  It all seems more or less accurate. Some of the other teachers added some lines.

Yesterday was one of those days where I start out feeling truly horrible, but the kids are entertaining and lift my spirits so that by the end of the day I’m feeling OK about life. One of the reasons why being a teacher “works” for me, from a psychological standpoint.

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