Caveat: New Year’s Dissolutions

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Or rather, I don’t share them – I’m superstitious that in sharing them, I would either jinx their eventual success or else set myself up for disappointment in the event that they don’t work out.

I was listening to NPR and someone said that in Portugal they avoid this problem by making New Year’s wishes instead of resolutions. Wishes are less work than resolutions, too. And that way, I can share them.

So my wishes:

  • stay in Korea (i.e. Karma doesn’t lay me off or go out of business, etc.)
  • continue to improve my Korean (my dream is to reach a level where I can take the TOPIK – it’s been a “New Year’s wish” 4 years in a row now)
  • lose  at least 5 kilos (the “Yeonggwang 5” – ancilliary to: exercise more, eat less)
  • make at least one breakthrough in teaching style or method
  • restart at least one abandoned novel (i.e. of ones I’m supposedly writing)
  • recover my lapsed zen(-ish) practice
  • more actively pursue my sketching and drawing (I’ve done some of this recently)
  • post to my blog twice a day (I’ve been getting better at this)
  • practice my mandolin (hahahaha this is the least likely – I practiced exactly 3 times last year)


To all my friends who put up with my periodic anti-socialism (and abstract socialisms, for that matter), who reach out to me to say hi and see what I’m doing beyond the slightly directionless blog, THANKS. Love.

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Caveat: Well, That Was About One Year Long

2011, that is. Ending.

2011 went by really fast for me. That was after 2010, which was one of the longest, most stretched-out years of my life. The difference? There was a lot of instability and uncertainty in my life, in 2010. Whereas 2011 went pretty smoothly… mostly according to plan. 

2010 started with me NOT getting a job in Korea. I lived in a hostel and took language classes for two months, before finding a job. Then the job turned out to have… well, let’s call them complications. Most notably, the Hongnong Elementary School had a tendency to make me move from apartment to apartment, and not ever tell me what was coming next, work-wise. Much worse than hagwon experiences I’ve had. OK. So that was 2010.

2011, in contrast, was easy. Predicatable. I finished the Hongnong contract, came back to Ilsan to work for Karma, and suddenly… it’s 8 months later. Life, it seems, goes on.

Interestingly, this happens to be the 1900th post to this here blog thingy. How ’bout them apples?

Walking home from work, late afternoon, the sun hung low in the sky and was like a pat of butter in mashed potatoes. I tried to capture this with my camera. Below picture was taken about a block north of my apartment building, along Gangseonno [강선로].  



Happy New Year. 새해복 많이 받으세요~~. ¡Feliz año nuevo!

What I’m listening to right now.

Phaeleh, “In the Twilight.”

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Caveat: Immoral Government

A blogger named doctorzamalek who runs a blog called Object Oriented Philosophy (yes, I'm a bit of an avocational philosophy nerd) writes on the current US political scene, in a way that I feel like quoting (and leading to several layers of embedded quotes, as he cites NYT who cites Romney).

Romney may be saying this just for campaigning purposes, but it’s still worth talking about it:

“It is a moral imperative for America to stop spending more money than we take in,” Mr. Romney says in the ad, which will be running when he arrives in Iowa on Tuesday for a bus tour and an orchestrated blitz of appearances by surrogates leading up to the caucuses on Jan. 3.

No. There is nothing “immoral” about spending more than you take in. This practice has a name: investment. Did I spend more than I took in while studying for my various degrees? Of course I did. And it might actually have been “immoral” not to do that, since my entire future depended on it.

There's not much I feel I need to add to that.

Caveat: 2011

I travel to Australia to visit my mom in January for a week, and then make a week-long touristic trip to New Zealand that is mildly pleasant but erely reminds me that I don’t really enjoy travelling as much as I used to – at least not travelling alone. I let my contract at Hongnong Elementary School run out. With some sadness, I said good-bye to Yeonggwang County and returned to Ilsan.  I started to work at Karma Academy, for my former LinguaForum Academy boss (from 2008). I have a more stable housing situation (like!). I have fewer elementary students (not like!).
[This entry is part of a timeline I am making using this blog. I am writing a single entry for each year of my life, which when viewed together in order will provide a sort of timeline. This entry wasn’t written in 2011 – it was written in the future.]

Caveat: Cafe Mocha

One of my coworkers brought take-out cafe mochas (from one of the Starbucks clones that abound in South Korea) and distributed them to all of us, today, in the staff room. I like cafe mocha, but I haven’t had one in a long, long time. They are addictive and unhealthy.

The taste and smell was weirdly evocative – I thought of studying late at night at Espresso Royale in Dinkytown (Southeast Minneapolis) in the 1980’s, or at the now disappeared Bucks County Coffee joint on Locust Street at 40th just west of the U Penn campus in the 1990’s. I thought, in short, of studying.

I wondered if I would someday return to school.

Why are smells and tastes so evocative? And sounds… 

What I’m listening to right now.

Bob Dylan, “Hurricane.”

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Caveat: Those Finns

There is a really interesting article about Finnish education at The Atlantic. I wrote before about the possibility that standardized testing neither helps nor harms quality of education, and speculated that the fact that countries as divergent in education policy as South Korea and Finland both score so high on comparative level-of-education surveys must have cultural roots.

The article, by a Finn working in the US, gives me a clue as to what that cultural aspect might be. I’ve always though it has to do with some qualitative valuation of education by, e.g. parents or educators, but the author points out a different possibility: collectivism and/or cooperation-based social models.

Korea, for all its competitiveness and inequality, shares with Finland a cultural valuation of cooperation and social cohesion over explicit dog-eat-dog social Darwinism. It seems that when Finns set out to reform their education system, they thought about how to encourage less of the latter in favor of the former.

Korea may have a lot of competition, but what I saw in the public school where I worked was constant reference back to cultural values of teamwork and collective achievement of goals. This means that even as Koreans are winnowing out low achievers with their never-ending tests, they are inculcating everyone with the importance of a kind of “everyone’s in this together” social philosophy. It’s cognitively dissonant, but it might point to a kind of counterbalance to the competition that ensures that scores rise across the board.

I’m not sure I have a point to make. But I highly recommend the article if you’re interested in education, “education reform,” and such issues. One stunning take-away: Finland achieves highest-in-the-world education rankings with no private schools. None. Wow.

Let’s not forget that the Soviets, and Cuba even today, achieve remarkable education standards with extremely low investment through focus on equity and equal access, too. I think the US would be wise to think about this. Market approaches will never raise achievement across the board – market approaches to education will do what markets do: there will be some winners and lots of losers. That drives inequality, not high standards across the board.

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Caveat: Knowing About Everything in the World

My TP2 cohort shrunk even further – two of the remaining three students are on vacation trips with their families, leaving me with one student left. Rather than try to continue following my debate curriculum (go ahead, try to have a debate class with one Korean middle-schooler – try!), I decided to just have a kind of conversation class.

I have these little cards from a "Kids' Chat Game" that I bought once at the Minneapolis airport. They have goofy or sometimes thoughtful little questions – conversation starters. We went through them, low-pressure, just finding ways to talk about things. One question was: "If you could invite anyone in the world to your school to talk, who would it be?"

The answer the student formulated and expressed surprised me: "I would invite my English teacher, Jared. He knows about everything in the world." 

Talk about feeling complimented! I didn't even think this student liked me. I often berate him, in my mild-mannered way, for not doing homework or being laconic in class. I was rendered speechless, momentarily.

Do I know about everything in the world? Not really. But I have a way of speaking, in my more advanced classes, rambling from topic to topic, telling little stories and snippets of news and autobiography, that must seem rather wide-ranging to these kids.

Well, anyway. I'm not reporting this except to say, it was nice to know a student seems to think well of me. One doesn't often get direct, clear, positive feedback in the field of teaching.

Caveat: Bound

pictureWaking up from a dream fragment, this morning:

I was in the book bindery (University of Minnesota Press, where I worked 1987~1989), making a book. I was physically making the book. Stitching the spine, applying the glue and binding cloth, hammering out the curves of the hardcover “fit.” Then I gave the book to someone – a coworker. It wasn’t at the hagwon – it was some moribund office career.

I asked the guy later, “What do you think of my book?”

He stared at me with fish-eyes, saying: “Well, it seems basically like one of your basic 400 page fiction novel things.”

So I ask, “Did you read it?”

He shrugs and says, “No.”

Obviously, I’m struggling with anxieties with respect to my writing.

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Caveat: Channeling Presidents

Last night in my debate class with the TP2 cohort we had a "practice debate" (they give speeches but with explicit reassurance that I'm not grading them – they actually do better on these speeches than on the graded ones). Our current topic is the space program – trying to decide if the US and/or Korea should end or continue their respective space programs. They seem really interested and engaged in the topic, despite their complaints of it being too hard. Sometimes I have to just pay attention to their level of engagement and ignore the verbal content of their complaining.

Anyway, the class has recently shrunk a lot – half of them were 9th-graders who have "graduated" middle school and will be starting high-school level hagwon in January, which means no debate (god forbid anything resembling a communicative-based curriculum for high-schoolers!). The consequence of this is that I don't have enough students to have an effective "team-style" debate – I had three kids last night.

When this happens, I make the students in the class one team, while I become the other "team" and play the various roles in the opposing team. This can seem monotonous, but I actually enjoy it – it gives me a chance to model all kinds of debate strategies and speech modes to the kids. To make it more interesting, I sometimes allow the various roles in my team to be different "people" or personalities. 

Last night, I was a team made up of Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama. We were tasked with supporting the U.S. space program, while the students were tasked with shutting it down. They did admirably, but I was quite interested in their reactions to my efforts to "channel" the various presidents. I'm sure I'm not actually very good at this, but they seemed pleased with how "different" each of them were, so I was channeling something.

Being Kennedy was hard, because I don't really know him the way I "know" the others – he predates me too much. But I made his rhetoric wide-reaching and inspirational, while I made Reagan slower, more "old" (obviously), but I think my Reagan sounded more like Lee Myeong Bak (if he were speaking English). Or maybe John McCain. Clinton came really easily – I can do the folksy Arkansas accent, passably, too. Obama… I was just my dad – I've observed before in this blog that Obama seems to have the same exact personality as my father (though with less of the dysfunction, perhaps, and more ambition).

The kids said afterward that my Kennedy was best, and Obama was most boring. I think this may be accurate, actually.

Caveat: Is this how it works?

A zen parable:

One day the Master announced that a young monk had reached an advanced state of enlightenment The news caused some stir. Some of the monks went to see the young monk.

"We heard you are enlightened. Is that true?" they asked.

"It is," he replied.

"And how do you feel?"

"As miserable as ever," said the monk.

Caveat: Language-Nerd Thing du Jour

Not of interest to most, but it’s the sort of thing I spend way too much time on.

I asked myself, “I wonder which syntactical word-order is most common in human language?” Specifically, I was thinking about the “split” verb phrases implicit in e.g. VSO (verb-subject-object) in languages like Welsh, Irish, and various Mayan dialects (among many others of course). Was that order less common?

After only a little bit of googling, I found my answer, and much more. This map is a screenshot of a zoomable map-app that I found.


It’s very cool if you’re into that kind of thing. It seems to imply (to me, anyway) that SOV is a kind of substratum, which is interesting. I found an article (actually I think the article led me to the map, but I don’t remember) that discusses this very idea, although it gets somewhat skeptical.

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Caveat: Who Started It?

I'm not going to to say this is an endorsement. Some people will be offended at the idea, while others will think I'm engaging in a sort of national or cultural favoritism by even mentioning it.

I've long had a sort of gut feeling that writing came to Japan via Korea. But you don't see scholars on either side (meaning in Japan or Korea) – at least not those writing for Westerners – who would suggest this. Both sides prefer to downplay whatever cultural linkages might exist. But there are many.

So, I spend a lot of time reading Language Log – a blog on specifically linguistic topics. Today there was an entry about a Japanese "kanji of the year" that included – in a sort of parenthetical digression – the following claim (attributed to someone named Bob Ramsey):

You may know this, but in the Three Kingdoms period people on the Korean peninsula also used this unwieldy device [i.e.  the way that Japanese uses kanji to represent native, multisyllabic words, which in "three kingdom" times was also done in Korea but later passed out of favor], called hun by them, to write native words.  But then, Chinese character readings were completely standardized by the powerful monarch King Kyongdok in the Unified Silla period, and kun (or hun) readings largely disappeared from use thereafter.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but it seems pretty clear that the early Japanese learned this and most other ways of writing from people from the Korean peninsula, Paekcheans probably, but Sillans might also have played a role in the transmission of scribal methods. [emphasis added]

Why am I mentioning this? Because I've thought this for a long time, but this is the first scholarly article [err.. vaguely scholarly, anyway] that I've run across that supports this idea. So I'm annotating it here for my own future reference, I guess.

Caveat: No recuerdo


El poseedor

No recuerdo…
(Ya no viene el cavador
que cavaba en el venero)

No recuerdo…
(Sobre la mina han caído
mil siglos de suelos nuevos)

No recuerdo…
(El mundo se acabará.
No volverá mi secreto)

– Juan Ramón Jiménez

Yo recuerdo demasiado…. Pero al final – de repente – no se recordará.

Lo que escucho en este momento.

UNKLE, “In a State.”

Which state?

I took the photo, at top, in 1983: Kneeland, California. I scanned it in 2007. It’s not edited in any way, except the vast sky has ended up slightly cropped.

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Caveat: In the backroads by the rivers of my memory

pictureHappy Xmas.

I wrote some poetry. I’m not going to post it. Deal with it.

I pan-roasted an almost-perfect yellow bell-pepper (which Koreans call 파프리카 [paprika], after the German) and made a “from-scratch” vegan vegetable/marinara sauce, which I served over rice for my xmas dinner. I ate it with a cup of red wine – an 8 dollar bottle of Chilean shiraz that was on sale at the supermarket across the street in the basement of the 태영프라자. It was good.

What I’m listening to right now.

Glen Campbell, “Gentle on My Mind.” Haha. Country music. I don’t listen to much of it, but I always liked this rendition by Glen Campbell.

The lyrics.

Gentle on My Mind

It’s knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch
And it’s knowing I’m not shackled by forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some line
That keeps you in the backroads by the rivers of my mem’ry
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind

It’s not clinging to the rocks and ivy planted on their columns now that bind me
Or something that somebody said because they thought we fit together walking
It’s just knowing that the world will not be cursing or forgiving
When I walk along some railroad track and find
That you’re moving on the backroads by the rivers of my mem’ry
And for hours you’re just gentle on my mind

Though the wheat fields and the clotheslines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman’s crying to her mother cause she turned and I was gone
I still might run in silence, tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me till I’m blind
But not to where I cannot see you walking on the backroads
By the rivers flowing gentle on my mind

I dip my cup of of soup back from a gurgling, crackling cauldron in some train yard
My beard a roughened coal pile and a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands round a tin can I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you’re wavin’ from the backroads by the rivers of my mem’ry
Ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind

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Caveat: Add Snow, Smile

Adding a layer of snow to the world makes me smile. That’s good.

Here’s a view down the Juyeop Esplanade at lunchtime, today, looking southwest. There’s a giant ROK flag on a flagpole, at the subway station in the distance. Kids were driving sleds down the ramps of the pedestrian overpasses.


 RE xmas, I’ll reiterate an old standard: “bah humbug.”

Apparently my uncle really achieved a new level of xmas-avoidance this year – he booked a flight from the US to Australia that departs on the 24th and arrives on the 26th (because of the international date line). Now that takes xmas-avoidance to a completely new level. I’m impressed!

What I’m listening to right now.

Kray Van Kirk, “A Medicine for Melancholy.” I went to grade school with Kray. And middle school. And high school. He lived three blocks from the house I grew up in. Really.

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Caveat: Helicopters, Dictators, Kids, Snow, Life.

I live about 10 miles from the North Korean border. Mostly, I can totally ignore this fact. Today, while I was walking to work, I was reminded, as I saw not one but two Korean military helicopters passing overhead, in the cold blue sky. Understandably, the Korean military is probably doing things.

The Onion conveyed the hereditary Stalinist, Kim Jeong-eun’s insecurities.

Meanwhile, yesterday I had fun with first-graders. Three of my phonics kids drew self-portraits on the blackboard, during the break. I thought it was cute. They also drew Christmas trees for me, later.


What I’m listening to right now.

The Youngsters, “Smile (Sasha Remix from Involver).”  Euroelectronica, I guess.

Walking home in the dark, it was snowing. First real snow, I would say – the other was a false alarm. This is the real stuff.

Side observation (or trivial pondering of the day): why do Koreans with foreign cars (like BMW’s and Chevys) drive worse than Koreans with local marques?

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Caveat: The Thing With Having a Buddhist Boss at Christmastime

The thing with having a Buddhist boss at Christmastime is that it doesn't mean anything that it's Christmastime. It seems like a lot of work is "ramping up" these days. Keeping me busy.

Actually, I'm just perfectly fine with that. I have nothing to do with Christmas, anyway. I'm a "grinch" as the family parlance would put it. So I'm happy to work some extra around Christmas, to be honest. I put in a very long day today. And we go in early on Christmas Eve.

A coworker asked me if I had a special plan for Christmas. I said, "No, I'm a Buddhist at Christmastime." I was joking. Or half-joking.

She said, "So what do you do for Buddha's Birthday?"

I said, "Well, then, I'm a Christian." She laughed, getting my joke.

Caveat: The Atheisticist

I have decided to coin a new word, “atheisticist,” for use to describe atheists who are offensive, in the same way that sullyblog uses the term Christianist (apparently he coined it) to describe Christians who are annoying because of their shallow hypocrisies, militancy and/or dogmatic ideological rigidities and intolerant attitudes. The term Christianist is meant to parallel Islamist. Similarly, I would conceive Atheisticist as the same sort of parallel.

Having thus coined a new word, I shall apply it posthaste to the recently deceased philosopher/gadfly/atheisticist, Christopher Hitchens. There’s some irony (or poetic justice?) in my imitating the sullyblog in this, since apparently sullyblog and the hitch were pals.

As is often the case in his bloggings on various current events, the blogger IOZ provides the sort of biting, dark and yet shiny, brilliant prose that best captures my own sentiments (almost exactly) RE the recently deceased man. He writes about his own perspective vis-a-vis Hitchens, “As an atheist, I found him as embarrassing as my loudest aunt’s impenetrable Pittsburghese, mortifying in polite company.  If the universe were just, he would wake from his passage on Kolob, basking in the angelic light of billions of perfect, white, immortal Mormon smiles.”

This connects back to something I observed about a concept from Bertolt Brecht in this blog entry from a few weeks ago – one man’s heaven can be another’s hell. And nothing would be more hellish for an atheisticist of Hitchens’ ilk than a Mormon Kolob.

 Perhaps releated, perhaps not (you decide): what I’m listening to right now.

보천보전자악단 “우리의 《김정일》동지” [Bocheonbo Electronic Ensemble, “Our Comrade 《Kim Jeong-il》”]

This is from the DPRK. Don’t suffer under the illusion that only North Korea produces music like this. You can find very similar things on South Korean television, with merely different themes – it’s thought of as old-people’s music, rather like Sinatra, maybe, in the U.S.

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Caveat: 첫눈

I awoke this morning and looked out my window, speculatively… facing the day, as it were.

There was snow.
“엄ㅁㅁㅁㅁㅁ… 첫눈”
So I leaned out my window and took a picture of the buses in the middle bus-lanes of 중앙로 (Central Avenue, the street I used to call Broadway because I couldn’t figure out its name, before they put up helpful western-style signs).
“First snow.”

Caveat: That Chlorinated Water Smell

When I was a child, I had not one but several traumatic experiences around learning to swim. There was the rather unenlightened “throw them in the deep end and they’ll figure it out” approach that I got around age 7 or 8 at the Humboldt State University pool for some community-based children’s swimming class. And there was an event a few years later, I think, at the pool at College of the Redwoods, where some people in my extended family had taken me, where I ended up cracking my face open and filling the pool with blood and getting stitches later. Finally, feeling the deficit of my swimming ability, I enrolled, on my own initiative, in a private beginning swimming class one summer at the Arcata community pool. After 8 weeks of flailing around, my instructor pronounced me that most unusual of cases: I was, apparently, “unteachable.” Though this last was just a wounding of my ego, it was perhaps the most traumatic of all.

The consequences of these experiences were twofold. The first, obviously, is that I retain some anxiety around swimming, to this day. I did manage, in fact, to pass a “tread water” test while in the Army, and I feel confident that I could perhaps manage to get across a short stretch of water if I had to, in an emergency. But I’ve never enjoyed swimming recreationally, and I’m not a confident swimmer. The second is less obvious: whenever I feel anxiety, that smell of chlorinated pool water makes an appearance, like an olefactory memory but just as vivid as any visual or aural one, if not more so.

This is perhaps interesting – it’s like a sort of special-case synesthesia that comes to me in moments of despair and high anxiety, which, thankfully, don’t hit me that often these days. In high school during exams, I would smell chlorine. In university, while struggling to write papers during all-nighters, I would smell chlorine. Once, when I asked a certain someone on a date, I smelled chlorine.

Today, I had a weird experience. It was what you might call a case of empathetic anxiety-related synesthesia.

We are giving all the students at the hagwon special year-end “level tests,” which is because, effective with the new year, they technically move up a grade level. So the hagwon needs to re-place them in their appropriate ability level. This is especially important for the students moving up from the elementary curriculum to the middle-school curriculum.

The level test, being a level test, is astoundingly difficult. I’d say it’s almost SAT-ish. These are Korean kids who sometimes struggle to emit a coherent English sentence about how they feel, under relaxed conditions. For these… well, it’s basically just gobbledygook to some of them. Specifically, the PN반. PN is the lowest ability middle-school level at Karma. Don’t ask me what PN stands for – something involving “Pioneers,” I think.

When I went in to monitor their test-taking experience, already in progress, I swear several of them were in tears. Others had long given up and were sleeping, face-planted at their desks, with more than an hour still remaining of test time.

I tried to rouse their enthusiasm, and few of the more communicative ones just said, “oh. very, very hard.” Heavy sighs all around.

Several of the students were drawing pictures on the test paper. One was using his pencil as a random number generator (to give him the answers), by spinning it and seeing which point of the compass it indicated (this is a near-universal test-taking strategy in Korea, The Land of the Morning Multiple-Choice Test).

I had this moment of deep, deep empathy. I realized that if I were confronted with a test of the Korean Language at the same rough level as the test these kids were facing (and given that I long ago concluded that I was a PN반-type student of Korean, and not one of the more advanced ones), I would, even at 46 years of age, be in tears, too. And I don’t even have to worry about getting into a good high-school so I can get into a good university so I can get a good job so I can be successful so I can fulfill my obligations to my family and, most importantly, to my ancestors.

Watching my students tugging at their hair, playing with their pencils, making red sleep-marks on their cheeks by sleeping against the corner of the desk, I felt rising up in me the most profound empathy. It wasn’t fair!

And then I smelled that chlorinated water smell. Perhaps for one of the few times in my life, it came to me not because of my own anxiety and pain and despair but because of an awareness of those feelings in those around me.

Maybe… it’s like being the kind of person who cries at the movies. Maybe.

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Caveat: Mission Improbable

I went to a movie last night after work. Curt spontaneously invited me because he wanted to see the new Mission Impossible release and no one wanted to go with him. So I went – after work means going to something starting at 11 and running very late. We went to this suburban-looking theater complex that is more like American suburbanism than almost anything you can see in Korea, out on the northwestern edge of Goyang beyond the stadium. Walking back to his car in the bitter cold, I thought, except for the Korean signage, this could pass for somewhere in exurban Connecticut – parking lots, fakey cobblestone walking areas between stores fronting on parking lots, the whole deal.

The movie itself? Meh. Honestly, the best part for me was hearing the different languages that go with the exotic locales. Lots of Russian, which is interesting because I can actually understand fragments of it having studied it all those years ago. But the plot was annoyingly obsessed with trying to replay some half-hearted cold-war plot, but minus the cold war it just reads like paranoia. The action itself is, of course, thrilling. Climbing around on the outside of Burj Dubai, crashing cars straight down 30 meters and walking away because the airbags worked. It all keeps you on the edge of your seat, of course. But the acting – not really.

Afterward, Curt said to me, "Tom Cruise got old. I remember he used to be young."

"Just like us," I joked. We laughed.

Caveat: Kim Jong Gone

pictureYuri Irsenovich Kim (the name he was born with) has died.

I assume that this event, the death of the dear leader in the next country over from here, will have some kind of consequence for my life here. Not sure what – I noticed the exchange rate taking a turn for the worse, immediately. There’s economic uncertainty, of course.

But, although the South Korean stock market plunged, South Korean defense stocks jumped 15% on the news, according to Bloomberg. Hmm. Haha.

I’m curious what happens next. As usual.

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Caveat: When the clean up is easy…

I have a new theory about how to know when what you've cooked is healthy. When the clean up from something you've made is so easy you can almost get away with not using soap, it means what you made is probably pretty healthy. There aren't any fats or sugars or burnt carbs to make it unhealthy, maybe.

I made a kind of mushroom, pepper, onion and tomato sauce and added rice –  I guess it's vaguely what some Americans call Spanish Rice. It was delicious.

I  talked to my mom, my uncle, my sister, my nephews on skype this morning. I don't like using skype… I'm not sure why. The call got dropped 3 times in less than an hour. Not reliable.

I've been feeling guilty about how little and how ineffectively I communicate with my family, which of course leads me to put off communicating with them. Vicious circle. I've retreated into a rather hermetic existence, lately. I'm not even unhappy with it. But I'm carrying an awareness that I'm sort of leaving people behind, not staying in touch with them… dropping long-maintained threads of communication and community.

I'm not content, I guess. A bit cut loose, existentially, by my terminal frustration with what had been the two chiefest, most important goals of my current life – learning Korean and becoming a better teacher. Neither are moving forward. They are simply … there. Static, unhappening projects.

What I'm listening to right now.

William Shatner (with Lemon Jelly), "Together." Really.

No kidding? Who'd have thought that William Shatner, even collaboration, could do something so… earwormy?

Caveat: “Maude Sanders”

I awoke from a strange, very vivid dream, this morning.

Sometimes my dreams offer up details that seem amazingly realistic, and I have no idea where my subconscious might have dredged up such details. Case in point, this dream was almost like a short story, or the beginning to a novel, or a scene from a Wim Wenders movie. There was a main character, who was named Maude Sanders. Really.

When I woke up, I wondered, who in the world is Maude Sanders? Why is she in my dream? I googled the name, but nothing popped out as being the kind of thing that might have lodged in my subconscious. Maude Sanders appears to be an entirely fictional person that decided to make an appearance in my dream. But somehow, her name was clearly known and repeatedly stated in the dream – it was somehow important.

The dream.  Or the story. Or whatever it was.

Maude Sanders

I am walking around some dusty Korean town – the sort that’s so rural, and so forgotten by the last 20 or 30 years of economic miracles, that it has an atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of Mexico: there are chickens being carried around and clucking in vacant lots, men smoking while squatting on street corners, old women carting bags vegetables on their heads. There is a woman selling knives laid out on a blanket on the sidewalk, but she seems to be dozing under her broad-brimmed hat. It’s summer or early fall, the air is clear and unhumid. The sun is beating down.

It’s not actually clear to me why I’m there. I’m really hungry, and I’m looking at the posted menus of the various restaurants strung out along the street leading from the bus station. I’m trying to work up the nerve to go into one of the restaurants and negotiate the Korean language, so I can order some food. I’m craving kimchi bokkeumbap, but none of the menus that I can see have it.

I finally walk into a cavernous place that is largely empty. There is a large television playing Korean pop music videos, but no one is watching. There are some men chatting with a waitress in by the back counter, leading to the kitchen area.

There’s a thin, frail-looking Western woman, with dusty blond hair, sitting at a table alone in the center of the room. Some Korean men are regarding her speculatively, and when I walk in – yet another “foreigner” – they look up in surprise, and maybe assume she and I must know each other.

She introduces herself by the unusual method of showing her discharge papers from a psychiatric facility. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

I sit down along one of the walls, not anywhere near the young woman. The waitress comes and takes my order, and for some reason I order jjajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce), even though I don’t actually like jjajangmyeon.

Right from the start, I could see that she is really, clearly, a very strange person. But she is young and attractive, and shortly after I have sat down, I see her go over and begin chatting with several middle-aged Korean men. This is before I have yet spoken with her.

I am surprised and jealous to see that she is speaking stunningly good Korean – clearly with a foreign accent, but fluent and effective. The men seem more taken with that aspect of her than her gaunt beauty or her bizarre proposition.

What is the bizarre proposition? I gathered, early on, that she is talking about something illicit or unexpected with the men – I can see their shocked, uncomfortable reactions. It is unclear what it might be. These men she is talking to seem more stunned by it than genuinely interested in whatever it is she is saying. Perhaps they are put off by the introduction – the frank announcement that she has recently exited a mental hospital. That is probably a bit overwhelming for a typical Korean man of limited world-view and provincial mentality.

By the time I get my food, she has returned to her table in the center of the room and is again sitting alone, toying with, but not eating, some jjambbong – a spicy noodle and seafood concoction that goes under the rubric of “Chinese food” in Korea, but which no self-respecting Chinese person would cook. It is “Chinese” in kind of the same way “Chinese food” in rural America doesn’t seem very Chinese to Chinese people, either. Although it’s quite different, jjambbong always reminds me of Chilean curanto  – I think it’s the combination of pork and seafood in a stew.

I distinctly remember thinking about curanto, and Chile, in the dream. That’s always strange, when there are reflective moments of just thinking, inside of a dream-memory.

The woman, seeing me alone, and having been not-so-politely brushed off by the bewildered Korean men, comes over and bluntly introduces herself, now, to me. This is when I come to understand that the papers she’s showing are the discharge papers from the psychiatric hospital.

“I’m Maude Sanders,” she explains. She has a non-North American accent, but not British. Perhaps Australian, or Irish. It’s not clear. It’s another of those moments of inside-the-dream just thinking, as I meditate on this.

“You speak very good Korean,” I answer, noncommittally. I am fascinated by her unusual mode of introduction.

“It’s not hard to pick up when you spend a few years in mental hospital in Korea,” she explains, with a shrug. This does, indeed, make sense. But how is it that she came to spend a few years in a Korean nut house? I feel afraid to ask. There is a short, awkward silence, then. I look at the TV. She looks over at the Korean men, as if wishing they’d cooperated with her proposition, earlier.

She lowers her voice and leans in close. I am drawn in by her attractiveness, but I can tell I am not going to like what she has to say. It’s a kind of inside-the-dream premonition.

“Wanna watch me kill myself?”

There are some disconnected images of me actually agreeing to this, right at the end: signing some kind of waiver.

But that was so shocking, that I woke up.

Dreams are so very strange. Except for the name, this dream isn’t really that hard for me to interpret, actually. If you know me well, you will understand what I mean. 

But the name has me puzzled. Why “Maude Sanders”? Why did the dream emphasize it, almost giving it as a title? Was it trying to help me make it into a short story?

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Caveat: Oh! It’s not Jared!


Pretty much self-explanatory – assuming you know what pikachu and aquajet are (they’re cartoon-based things, highly relevant and meaningful to the seven-year-old set).

The forlorn figure at the bottom left is, obviously, Jared.

Walking home from work, there was a thermometer that said -10 C (about 15 F). It’s windy. It would appear Siberia has dropped by for a visit.

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Caveat: Monster Engine

I found out about an artist in New Jersey named Dave DeVries who takes children’s drawings and transforms them into “realistic” paintings. Here’s the article I saw, and here’s his website. It’s really cool, and reminds me so much of many of the dreams I had as a child that I can still remember clearly and vividly so many years later. Here’s an example of his work.


One reason I love my students’ artwork is because I can often, with only a small amount of effort, see “beyond” their depictions to their imaginations, and my own imaginings resemble the kind of thing this artist is doing. I suppose what I’m trying to say is something along the lines of: “I’ve thought of what this artist has done.” So it’s very cool to see him doing it.

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Caveat: …as sedulously as the mediaeval Papacy

“Enlightenment is the ideological firstborn of the bourgeoisie in its course of ascent. In its actual concreteness and specificity, Enlightenment serves the purposes of the bourgeois order that gave it birth as sedulously as the mediaeval Papacy served the feudal order.” – Michael J. Smith in an entry from last year to his blog, Stop Me Before I Vote Again.

Just so we’re clear: we’re talking European philosophical Enlightenment, not the Buddhist nirvanic type. It’s food for thought, though I’m not sure where to go with it. But it struck me as I read it – it was an aha moment.

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Caveat: Aristotle, the other hand…

pictureAs a weird follow-up to my previous post, in my 7th grade debate class, we keep ending up mentioning Aristotle. Seriously – it’s not really me who’s bringing him up, either.

Somehow, after having established the fact that the English alphabet wasn’t invented by King Sejong, and having established that it wasn’t invented in England, and having hinted that it was several thousand years old, someone suggested it was invented by Aristotle. Perhaps he stands in for “famous Western philosopher from really really long ago.” A Greek Sejong, if you will.

The funny moment was when, upon hearing the name Aristotle, Jiwon shakes her head, looking down, and mutters, “아아, 아리스토텔레스! 어려운 남자…” [Ah, Aristoteles! Difficult man…]. But the phrase “difficult man” was more like a complaint about a boyfriend than a philosopher. That’s the connotation, I think, of “어려운 남자.” Or rather, it’s just as ambiguous in Korean as it is in English, and her tone conveyed this strange familiarity.

It made me laugh very hard.

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Caveat: Korean sixth graders don’t quote Deleuze

Last night I dreamed I was giving students tests. Somehow, this shouldn't be surprising. But they were math tests.

It was mostly to my elementary students from Karma, including, especially, the highly talkative and distracting sixth graders from the ET2 cohort – these kids, among all my students, are the ones who have best figured out how to get me "off track" by asking random questions of intellectual curiosity, and who exercise this ability quite regulary to ensure we do the minimum amount of textbook work possible in a given class.

The same thing was going on during these math tests. The students kept trying to change the subject. The location was odd – it wasn't Karma, it was more like a midwestern American school, maybe. I don't even have much familiarity with midwestern American schools, so I'm not sure why I say that. Actually, if I recognized the building, it was the place where I started fourth grade in Oklahoma City, during that traumatic year that started with the 4 months in Oklahoma City and ended with my parents' divorce.

I have no idea what the symbolism is, of giving math tests to my Korean English students in a setting from my own childhood.

During the dream, when I collected the tests, I sat around scoring the tests with coworkers. The coworkers included fellow teachers from Karma, from Hongnong, and even from LBridge. And then the strangest part of the dream: one of the students, I think it was a girl named Hyewon from the ET2 class, got up and gave a presentation on why she got a bad score on the math test. As an English language speech, it was quite well-done and coherent and even interesting. As an excuse for doing badly on a math test, it was unlikely. She quoted the French philosopher Deleuze.

That's surreal, of course – Korean sixth graders don't quote Deleuze.

I looked down at the copy of her test that I'd scored. It was covered in red marks that I couldn't remember making. I couldn't understand the math, either. There were some computers next to me, like the ones in the staff room at Hongnong. I looked up and the vice principal was glaring incomprehendingly at the student's speech.

I woke up. I'd slept the longest I've slept uninterruptedly in a very long time – just over 8 hours. I've been struggling with my "wake up too early and can't get back to sleep" insomnia, lately, so I felt very good about this.

I thought about my dream, and had some rice and coffee (not mixed together) for breakfast.

Caveat: The Psychohistorian for President

pictureIt has come to my attention that Newt Gingrich considers Asimov’s Foundation series to have been a major influence in his intellectual formation. Although this perhaps bodes better than some other Republicans’ idolization of, e.g. Ayn Rand, it’s still disturbing, in multiple, incompatible ways. In fact, it’s cognitively dissonant in at least four ways:

  • a) Asimov was an atheist liberal, while Gingrich positions himself as a christianist (neo-)conservative (arguably not very plausibly, but still);
  • b) despite the above-mentioned fact that Asimov was, politically, liberal, nevertheless the actions of Hari Seldon (the founding psychohistorian – fictional picture at left) in the novels are hardly exemplars of liberal or democratic political action – they more resemble elitist crypto-totalitarianism – more than one critic over the years has compared Asimov’s psychohistory and the emergent Foundations (First and Second) as essentially Leninist-style avant-gardist cabals;
  • c) Gingrich apparently shares his interest in psychohistory with none other than liberal(-ish) talking-head Paul Krugman;
  • d) Gingrich is hardly like Hari Seldon, despite being influenced by the fictional character’s ideas – the former Speaker of the House seeks political glory and the media limelight, while Seldon preferred to operate in secret, behind the scenes.

I’ll elaborate more, later, maybe.

Meanwhile, what I’m listening to right now.

Eyelit, “Sun.”

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