Caveat: Psychedelia et Banalia

What I’m listening to right now.

The Monkees, “Porpoise Song,” 1968.

I used to watch The Monkees TV show in rerun syndication after school when I was maybe 10 years old. I was only able to watch TV indiscriminately in those few hours when I was a latchkey kid – mom still at work, I would sit at home watching whatever was on. The selection was poor. We got 3 channels, if I recall, in Humboldt County at that time. So I just watched whatever was on. I saw the entire run of the old Batman series, which was my favorite. I saw many episodes of the Brady Bunch (not bad) and The Monkees (I abhorred it – I thought then that it was a sort of pandering cultural fluff – but I watched it anyway).

I was thinking about it today because I heard on NPR that Davy Jones, of The Monkees, has died.

Here’s a music video from one of those Monkees episodes.

The Monkees, “Gonna Buy Me a Dog.”

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: La revolución es un libro y un hombre libre


pictureLa revolución es un pupitre,
es un estante en una escuelita
toda llena de lápices y papeles.

La revolución es el vestido,
es el estreno de los pobres en Domingo
y el pantalón y la camisa limpia para cada día.

La revolución es la comida,
es una mesa servida con su pichel de agua
y el tenedor y el cuchillo
sobre le mantel a cuadros,
teniendo además otro cubierto listo
por si acaso se aparece una visita.

La revolución es la tierra,
son los arados surcando los maizales
y una familia de azadones cultivando hortalizas.

La revolución es el trabajador
(La revolución es el obrero con una flor)

La revolución es el hombre
es el amigo que no piensa lo mismo
y vota en contra y sigue siendo el mismo amigo.

La revolución es el indio.

La revolución es un libro y un hombre libre.

– Mario Cajina Vega

Se trata de la revolución nicaragüense de 79. ¿Porqué estoy meditando sobre revoluciones? Pasé otro día no muy bueno. Me siento cansado y algo molesto.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Mistakes Were Made

"If there is a god, why did he make me an atheist? That was his first mistake." – Ricky Gervais

This is one of those "filler" posts that happen when I'm not really in the mood to write something. But, to provide a diary entry:

I watched the 2009 JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek last night, and liked it more than I would have expected. I'd actually avoided it up until now. It was clever as a reboot, since it took the characters from the original series and literally rebooted them into an alternate timeline, via a time-traveling psychopathic Romulan – and don't we all need one of those now and again? By dumping everyone into the alternate timeline, they needn't ever concern themselves with complaints about canon-breaking. It reminds of the way Heinlein resolved all possible issues with inconsistencies in his future history(-ies), by just saying "They're ALL true – parallel universes!"

Caveat: 망건 쓰자 파장된다

망건         쓰자                            파장된다
manggeon    sseu-ja                        pajang-doen-da
headband    put-on-AS-SOON-AS   [the exam] ends
“Put on the headband just when the exam is over.”

pictureThere is a Korean tradition of putting on a headband (such as a traditional horsehair headband – 망건) before taking on some difficult challenge or task, such as taking a major exam or protesting against the government or some other huge challenge. This expression means that you don’t get around to putting on the headband until the challenge is basically past. It’s proverbial meaning therefore seems like something like “Frittering away opportunities.” Some dictionaries have, “muddling away one’s opportunity,” which is essentially the same.

Some translations have “Easier said than done,” instead. I don’t think this is the same thing at all. Thus, I would say the first interpretation above – “frittering away opportunities” – describes my life perfectly. The latter is not as close a fit.

Wait – lemme go put on my headband. I’ll get back to you.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Running for President

In the middle of February, my advanced middle-schoolers ran for President of Korea. They gave "stump speeches" and impressed me greatly. Below is a video of their speeches, completely unedited. Note that I, too, am running for President of South Korea. This is not meant to be taken seriously, but a core aspect of my debate and speech curriculum idea is that as their teacher, I should give at least as many speeches as they do. The kids know that my ideas are not entirely serious, but a few of them address them in their own way.

I'm ready to vote for Jaehwan for president – he's not the most charismatic speaker (I'd give that prize to Haeun, maybe), but he's got a great grip on the issues, and he offered a rebuttal to everyone else's ideas. I also liked Dongyun's speech a lot.

As mentioned in my last post, these videos are "unlisted" on youtube, and, depending on feedback – i.e. anything inappropriately negative or nonconstructive by troll-like, internet-based creatures – I'll likely remove the embed.

Caveat: Plastic Surgery

I'm finally getting around to posting some of my advanced debate class student speeches. I have decided I don't have the gumption to produce anything like a more polished, edited version of these speeches, but I want to make them available – I've had coworkers request them and I like to share what the "end result" of my advanced debate classes is – in all its limited glory.

So these videos are somewhat "raw," but I don't think there's anything too embarrassing in them. The sound quality isn't always great – especially for those not used to listening to shy Korean middle-schoolers' accents.

Below, here is a debate we had on the topic of "Plastic Surgery" from the beginning of February. I'll post more tomorrow.

I'm always proud of my students. I think Haeun got the high score on this one.

I'm keeping my videos of student work "unlisted" on youtube – I got too many trolly comments from random people viewing them. So this blog entry constitutes the only "public" exposure of the video – hopefully this won't cause problems, but if it does, I may remove the embed in the future and set up some kind of "authorized viewer" with my youtube account.

Caveat: Occam’s Phaser

pictureThis is the recreational philosophy blogentry-du-jour.

Let’s see if I can explain this. “Occam’s Razor” is the “law of succinctness” in philosophy, the dictum that given a simpler and more complex explanation for something, the simpler is better, all other things being equal. So this philosopher named John Holbo, blogging at Crooked Timber, coins “Occam’s Phaser,” in which he suggests, “Do not compound the silliness of your examples beyond necessity.” This is due to one of those trolleological parables which he encountered while reading something by Nozick.

Personally, I agree with some of the commenters, who point out that the humorousness of these philosophical examples and stories is part of the point of them – I would suggest that, in discussing awkward or unexpected ethical or philosophical intuitions, these resorts to humor can help “disarm” us, vis-a-vis our preconceptions. They lower our defenses, thus enabling a more objective self-reflection.

Still, in all, I understand his point. Why suggest an outlandish situation that relies on impossibilities, when realistic examples meeting the same criteria (from a philosophical standpoint) are feasible? Perhaps because the philosophers aren’t as comfortable with their conclusions as they’d like to hope.

And beyond that, I love the name – the label – that he’s given to his new principle of trolleological plausi-parsimony: Occam’s Phaser. Occam, of course, would have a blue shirt – he’d be a science officer, right?

John Holbo, incidentally, is someone who offers change you can really believe in (which is to say, I was delighted by the below image, which is one of his compositions):


CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Newark, South Korea

Yesterday after work I took the subway in to Itaewon to meet my friend Basil, who’d recently returned from a holiday in Turkey. We went to a Middle Eastern restaurant there, of course. I like hearing Basil speaking Arabic with people in Seoul. It feels very international.

We stopped at the food store there that sells things like coriander powder and split peas and lentils, and I stocked up. We wandered around the neighborhood because Basil was looking for the hotel where he wanted to stay – I guess he’d been there before but forgot where it was. There are a lot of interesting halal grocers and restaurants and things on the side streets to the south east of Itaewon station. I said… “it’s like visiting New York.” Then, as an afterthought, looking at the uninspiring architecture, I said, “Or maybe Newark, New Jersey.”

I came home last night and made some soup and have had a very lazy Sunday today.

Here’s a picture of dusk from the hill in Itaewon, looking toward Yongsan.


What I’m listening to right now.

Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, “Down From Dover,” 1972.

Originally written and performed by Dolly Parton. And riddle me this – why does Lee Hazlewood have the same singing voice as Mr Snuffleupagus?

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Bush the Socialist

Obama is basically socialist in the same way that GW Bush is (was) socialist. In most of the areas that I most hoped he would reverse Bushian policy, he's merely entrenched and continued it: civil liberties, various wars, Guantánamo, etc. So, since the Repubs have to "prove" that Obama is socialist, they have no choice but to plunge ever farther rightward, themselves. Even Jeb Bush is uncomfortable, now. Go figure. The quote that's circulating:

I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective, and that’s kind of where we are.

Caveat: Talking Shi

pictureI once studied Chinese for a few months. And, being a perennial if rather unsuccessful student of the Korean Language, I am also constantly exposed to the more than 60% of vocabulary in Korean that is of Chinese origin. I have not, however, ever really seriously been drawn to trying to learn Chinese the way that other languages have interested me.

Nevertheless, this is really interesting, from a “wacky language” standpoint. Below is a poem in Chinese. I can’t read it – though I recognize a few characters (while giving them Korean pronunciations).

氏拾是十獅屍, 適石室.
石室濕, 氏使侍拭石室.
食時, 始識十獅屍,

Simple enough. Now here’s a translation.

Story of Shi Eating the Lions
A poet named Shi lived in a stone room,
fond of lions, he swore that he would eat ten lions.
He constantly went to the market to look for ten lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions came to the market
and Shi went to the market.
Looking at the ten lions, he relied on his arrows
to cause the ten lions to pass away.
Shi picked up the corpses of the ten lions and took them to his stone room.
The stone room was damp. Shi ordered a servant to wipe the stone room.
As the stone den was being wiped, Shi began to try to eat the meat of the ten lions.
At the time of the meal, he began to realize that the ten lion corpses
were in fact were ten stone lions.
Try to explain this matter.

Strange poem, but nothing too weird, right?

But… now here’s the romanized transcription of the Chinese – the digits at the end of each syllable represent the 4 tones.

shi1 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi3
shi2 shi4 shi1 shi4 shi1 shi4,
shi4 shi1, shi4 shi2 shi2 shi1.
shi4 shi2 shi2 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi1.
shi2 shi2, shi4 shi2 shi1 shi4 shi4.
shi4 shi2, shi4 shi1 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi4.
shi4 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi1, shi4 shi3 shi4,
shi3 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi4 shi4.
shi4 shi2 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi1, shi4 shi2 shi4.
shi2 shi4, shi1, shi4 shi3 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi4.
shi2 shi4 shi4, shi4 shi3 shi4 shi2 shi2 shi1 shi1.
shi2 shi2, shi3 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi1,
shi2 shi2 shi2 shi1 shi1.
shi4 shi4 shi4 shi4

Far out. [Source – yellowbridge. It is also discussed in the wikithing.]

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: The Other 9/11

pictureI ran across this interview with Chomsky recently. I really despise Chomsky in some respects – his academic authoritarianism (in a field near-and-dear to my heart, Linguistics) reveals no small hypocrisy behind his professed syndicalist anarchism. Nevertheless (or despite this), he sometimes makes some very good points about American hypocrisies, too. Perhaps this is in the vein of “it takes one to know one”? To quote from the interview (which was with the aptly-named Guernica magazine):

Noam Chomsky: Yeah, U.S. terrorism is often far worse because it’s a powerful state. Take 9/11. That was a serious terrorist act. In Latin America, they often call it “the second 9/11” because there was another one, namely September 11, 1973.

Guernica: In Chile.

Noam Chomsky: Suppose that al Qaeda had not just blown up the World Trade Center, but suppose that they’d bombed the White House, killed the president, established a military dictatorship, killed maybe fifty to a hundred thousand people, maybe tortured seven hundred thousand, instituted a major international terrorist center in Washington, which was overthrowing governments around the world and installing malicious dictatorships, assassinating people, [and] brought in a bunch of economists who drove the economy into its worst disaster maybe in history. Well, that would be worse than what we call 9/11. And it did happen, namely on 9/11/1973. All that I’ve changed is per capita equivalence in numbers, a standard way to measure. Well, okay, that’s one we were responsible for. So yeah, it’s much worse.

pictureYes, the other 9/11 was in 1973, in Chile. And it was brought to you by Nixon/Kissinger, in the person of Pinochet, not Osama bin Laden.

The other bin Ladens.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Comment No Comment

Perhaps I spoke too soon in stating, last week, that my job is relatively unstressful.

And now, I’ve been having a really horrible week. It’s enough to feed into that superstition that speaking positively about something will jinx it, making it worse.

Rhetorically: why do my coworkers ask my opinion if they choose to so consistently ignore it? Several times in the last two days I’ve been asked what I think of the placement (or re-placement – movement from one class or cohort to another) of students. I’ve given my opinions, which have been consistently disregarded. I think I need to just quit stating my opinion – it’s a little bit humiliating to not be taken seriously as a teacher after all this time.

Although… I must acknowledge that simply stating my feelings here constitutes a kind of passive-aggressive “push-back” vis-a-vis work, given that this blog is an essentially public forum, right? Hah. We’ll see if anyone’s reading this.

I saw the graffito below in a classroom. Does it really require comment?


Translation: “This hagwon is really boring.” Below that, in different handwriting, “dude” (not literally “dude,” but in the usage / pragmatics in teen slang, “헐” works the same way).

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Absolute Danglation

It was a hard day at work. I think I shouldn't complain about it, though. Just move on. As recently observed, overall, it's one of the least stressful jobs I've ever had. So… I shouldn't let it stress me out.

Changing the subject, the concept of the dangling participle was annoying today.

In fact, English also has something called an absolute construction, and many sentences criticized for including a dangling participle can be explained as including an absolute instead, which is considered grammatical.  Is the green sentence above an example of a dangling participle or an absolute construction? I believe it's the latter.

Really, then, I wonder: can something dangle absolutely?.

Caveat: Chaiyya Chaiyya

I was in one of my random internet-surfing modes that I sometimes get into, and ended up watching the video below. I sometimes consider that India is a country near the top of my list of countries that I would consider “moving to next” if I give up on this “South Korean project.” The natural scenery in the video (Ooty, Tamil Nadu state in South India) reminds me, vaguely, of some train trips I took in southern/eastern Mexico in the 1980s, or, also, the tropical setting that is my mother’s home in the Atherton Tablelands of Far North Queensland, Australia.

pictureThe video is interesting in part because it was apparently a low-budget, no-special-effects undertaking – those people dancing on the train are really just people dancing on a moving train (picture at right). The song, like most Indian hits, is Bollywood in origin, but according the wikithing article about the song, its lyrics come from a Sufi folk tradition. Which perhaps incidentally explains why I ended up discovering the video due to an article somewhere about Urdu, not Hindi (Urdu [Pakistan] and Hindi [India] are dialects of essentially the same language, often mutually comprehensible). But the video and song are clearly Hindi, although the setting of the video is South India (Tamil Nadu) which is neither Hindi nor Urdu, culturally.

Well, I’m kind of rambling. If I went to India, the South and Northeast are the parts that most interest me.

As a digression… I once came rather close to taking a month-long trip to Kerala (in the South), when I was still considering myself a computer professional. The story was that I’d worked out that, in net financial terms, it would cost me the same to fly to India and enroll in an Indian computer certification program as it would to stay in the US and get a much higher-priced but precisely identical (content-equivalent) certification. So I was going to go to Kerala and become a Microsoft Certfied Database Administrator, or something in that vein.

I never went to India. But I still think about it. My current status as an EFL teacher doesn’t really “work” for India – India has plenty of EFL, of course (it’s an official language, still, even), but it’s so large and so “self contained” in EFL terms that they’re mostly uninterested, as far as I can tell, in foreign native English speakers (especially American-accented ones) – there seems to be no market for my type of work, there. So if I went, I guess it would just be as some kind of long-term tourist. Or else something like the above, where I was trying to break back into computer work.

What I’m listening to right now.

Malaika Arora and King Khan, “Chaiyya Chaiyya.”

I like the somewhat obscure, almost mysteriously ominous ending of the video – perhaps a reference to the movie from which the song is taken, or some other pop-culture reference that is lost on me.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: It was not boring

We had an end-of-school-year "level test" today, since the new Korean school year starts at the beginning of March. I asked an advanced student named Jaehwan how the test was – did he find it difficult. He answered, laconically: "It was not boring."

I like kids with a sense of humor – although I'm not even sure he meant it that way. Though I sort of suspect so.

What I'm listening to right now.

Brian Eno, "Ali Click Trance Mix."

Caveat: Parabola

Do you like creepy rock videos about aliens doing strange stuff with reality? Or something?

What I’m listening to right now.

Tool, “Parabola.”

[UPDATE 2014-01-06: the youtube link was broken. I replaced it.]

[UPDATE 2024-05-03: the youtube link was broken again. I replaced it again.]

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 느허허허허허헣헝ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ주제어려워요

Chaeyon wrote some ideas for a recent debate topic. The first idea is pretty good. The second kind of trails off into nothingness. And then, at the bottom of the paper, in Korean, I found the following:


Keeping in mind that “ㅠ” is the local emoticon for tears, you could read this as “neu-heo-heo-heo-heo-heo-heong-heong-<tears>ju-je-eo-ryeo-wo-yo.” I’m pretty sure the first part is just onomatopoeia for crying noise, cf. English “whaaaaaa.” Then you have the <tears> emoticon, and then you have “topic is difficult.”

I appreciate that this is true. Sometimes I push them pretty hard with the topics in the debate class. I like when the kids keep their sense of humor about it.

pictureIn other news, my dreaded PM2 cohort taught me a game today, which was fascinating. Apparently, it’s mainly an adult drinking game, but kids have created an alcoholless implementation. Or maybe it was vice-versa, originally. The game is called 눈치게임 [nun-chi-ge-im]. nun-chi seems to mean something like “looks” or “signs” (as used in the expression “he showed a sign of his intention…”). ge-im is konglish – it’s the word “game” in Korean pronunciation and spelling.

The game is hard to explain. It’s a psych-out kind of game. It works great in a group of 10 or so, as I saw demonstrated. One person stands up, saying “one.” Another stands, saying “two.” A third, “three.” And so on. Easy enough. But there’s no rule about who is supposed to go when. And if two people happen to stand up at once, then those two lose points (or take drinks, in the drinking game) and the game starts over. If you’re the last person to stand and speak, you also lose – so there’s incentive not to be last. But there’s incentive to not be simultaneous with anyone else, too. So…

Everyone is watching everyone else very closely. One person leaps up, “one.” Another, “two.” Long wait. Suddenly, two leap up, “three!” They lose. Everyone sits down. The counting starts over.

I love this game. It would make a good ice-breaker party game, obviously. Alcohol or no.

Like everything in Korea, there’s an online version – see picture.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Lentil Chili

pictureI made lentil chili. I ate some.

I’ve been reading Milton’s Paradise Lost. Hard slogging. Can you believe, I never read it before? It was always a hole in my literary foundations.



What I’m listening to right now.

Absurd Minds, “Deception.”

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 그림의 떡

그림의       떡
picture-GEN ddeok
[like a] picture of a rice-cake

This means “pie in the sky” – which is to say, something you cannot have but fantasize about.

So that’s proverb for the day. Here’s a picture of ddeok (Korean style rice-cake) – there are thousands of different types and styles – this one looks rather delicious.


CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 니가 해 봐

I overheard a student saying this in the lobby of work, and it was a fabulous moment, because I was able to parse it instantly. "니가 해 봐" [ni-ga hae bwa] means something like, "You try it!" It's a protest, where someone is complaining about something the other did, saying "oh, it's not big deal," and so the other says, "Well, you try it, then!"

Anyway, it's a tiny, incremental victory. That's all we get, in trying learn a language. But I'm happy to have had it.

Caveat: 2000th Post

According to my blogomatic interface thingy, this will be my 2000th blog post. I feel so excited, on this significant anniversary. Well… not really. [UPDATE 2018-10-15: the alleged “blogomatic interface thingy” is no longer relevant, as I have moved my blog to self-hosting. The link is retained for historical accuracy, but the company linked to is no longer one I will endorse.]

But I will take this milestone to reflect, again (as I have before), on what this blog means to me.

Um. It’s surprising how few people actually read it. Fewer read it than two years ago, when I made my 1000th post. I’m not sure what that means. I suppose that one thing that it means is that my friends and family have better things to do, or I’ve been in Korea so long that they’ve mostly forgotten about me. I guess that’s okay – I’ve come to realize that I mostly write just for myself.

It’s true that I get a limited number of random visitors who link through to the blog from google searches. Currently, the number one search that leads to this blog is: “오승근 떠나는 님아“. Go ahead – try it. Why? I think that for whatever reason, I’m one of the few bloggers who’s successfully posted a clearly-labeled link to a video of this Korean singer’s song.

Recently, someone came to my blog after typing in “the world is messed up” into the google’s search box. That was funny.


I enjoy the fact that I have the ability to “look over the shoulders” of the people who visit my blog in this way. I’ve learned where the google spiders live (Taiwan, Mountain View CA, somewhere in Belgium, Council Bluffs IA) – they often visit shortly after someone follows a link to my blog from a search page, and crawl through various random pages of it.

Since coming to Ilsan, I’ve become very discouraged about some aspects of my “stay in Korea project” – as might be evident reading between the lines (or simply reading the lines, at times) of the blog. Whatever I do next – whether I stay or move on to some other thing – I will continue posting here. It’s cathartic, and entertaining, and it’s a good self-discipline, too. Since the beginning of this year (2012) I’ve posted twice a day.

Sometimes the posts are boring and self-indulgent journaling. Sometimes they’re random “found online” things: videos, pictures, humor, politics, poetry, philosophy. Sometimes they’re evidence of my dilettante’s approach to languages. Regardless, the whole of it is not that different in principle from the paper journals I maintained for much of my life before the advent of blogdom – and I don’t mind others reading along: the transparency is purgative. Which isn’t to say there isn’t some self-editing going on – of course there is. It therefore becomes a sort of self-creation, too. Or self-curation, anyway.

Anyway, thanks to whoever happens to be reading. ^_^


CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Zombie Hearts

Best Valentine's love-message ever:

"I love you like zombies love brains."

I saw that somewhere online. I must remember this quote – I can use it, should I ever fall in love again.

I had a pretty good day at work today, but I feel really tired – I have 6 1/2 classes (the half is a sort of tutoring thing I do before my first class). I have all these little tasks hanging over me, though. Having a full class load allowed me to avoid them, in good conscience – but they'll be back with a vengeance tomorrow, when a lighter class load will require me to confront them.

Caveat: che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno

Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono
di quei sospiri ond'io nudriva 'l core
in sul mio primo giovenile errore,
quand'era in parte altr'uom da quel ch' i' sono,

del vario stile in ch'io piango e ragiono,
fra le vane speranze e 'l van dolore,
ove sia chi per prova intenda amore,
spero trovar pietà, non che perdono.

Ma ben veggio or sí come al popol tutto
favola fui gran tempo, onde sovente
di me mesdesmo meco mi vergogno;

e del mio vaneggiar vergogna è 'l frutto,
e 'l pentersi, e 'l conoscer chiaramente
che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno.

– Canzioniere di FRANCESCO PETRARCA (1304-1374)

Caveat: Four Distinct Seasons

The weather felt spring-like, today. Above freezing, breezy – still cold, I guess, but a different feeling about it.

I have been in a sort of state of hibernation, these last months, I guess. Or avoidance. I came home to my apartment this evening, finished off some leftover borshch, watched some music videos on youtube.

I've started reading a book of Korean history. I was reading the introduction, where the author (a Korean historian? – the book is clearly a translation from Korean) explained in one paragraph that because Korea has four distinct seasons, the Korean people are strong. Does a Korean historian actually believe this? How does this pass for historiography? Somehow this concept is an article of faith among the Korean people, which they learn in elementary school and which they all believe, in somewhat the same way that Italians believe in the Holy Trinity. Personally, I find them about equally plausible as matters of fact.

Caveat: The Story About The Time I Got Shot At While I Was Riding A Horse

I often tell slightly edited but mostly truthful stories from my life to my students, as a kind of reward at the end of a good class. I’ve had an interesting life, and so some of the stories are pretty remarkable, I suppose. One of the stories that the students seem to most enjoy is The Story About The Time I Got Shot At While I Was Riding A Horse.

I really did get shot at while riding on a horse – but the bullet missed. Here is a slightly less-edited version of this autobiographical cowboy story.

After I quit my job in Mexico City in January of 1987, I went to visit a friend of mine named Jon who was living at that time in Morelia, in Michoacan state, about 8 hours by bus west of Mexico City. Jon was actually quite a bit older than me, but he sort of treated me as a younger brother. So we hung out for a while in Morelia, and one day he made an outrageous proposal. Well, actually, he made many outrageous proposals, but this is one outrageous proposal that I actually assented to, and this was it: we should buy some horses and travel around the mountains of Michoacan by horseback for a few months.

We did that. We bought horses (quite inexpensive in rural Mexico in the 80’s) and some low-tech camping gear, and we played cowboys in the mountains. We met many Mexicans, and even Native Americans (in that part of Michoacan, they were P’urep’echa indians, known sometimes as Tarascos). We visited villages which were not connected to civilization by automobile. We found scorpions in our shoes and drank raw eggs mixed with coca-cola, which seemed to be a sort of local delicacy, offered by gap-toothed farmers by way of hospitality.

We met a tribe of American exiles (superannuated draft-dodgers) and Mexican hippies living on a farm in a town called Ihuatzio, and while my friend Jon flirted with resuming his previously defeated drug habit, I read back issues of Co-Evolution quarterly and Mexican comic books about Condorito and a battered copy of El Poema de Mio Cid, which conveniently had the 12th century Spanish and modern Spanish translations on facing pages.

After some time in Ihuatzio, we continued on around the Lago Patzcuaro to a town which was called, if I recall correctly, Santa Fulana de Tal, or something in that vein. Now, I should first explain, that my friend Jon had acquired a puppy. It was a husky, dirty white in coloration, which Jon, in his infinite naivite, dubbed “Negrita.” Negrita, unfortunately, although funny in a punny sort of way for a white dog, is a very bad idea for a name for your dog, becaues “negrita” is a way to call the attention of a woman of low-repute, in that part of Mexico: “Ey, negrita, negrita!” means something like “Hey, bitch,” or “Hey, baby.” That kind of thing. Or you could remark on the not-quite-accidental etymological relation it bears to a certain English-language slur, too.

So in this village named Santa Fulana de Tal, Negrita the dog ran off, and Jon, in his infinite naivite, began yelling at the top of his voice, “Negrita, negrita!”

Let’s just say, this was a bad idea.

Several of the women on the street appeared alarmed. It was a conservative village, where people came through on horseback frequently enough, but where gringos on horseback yelling “negrita” after their dogs where perhaps less well-known. One of the women who were inadvertently being offended by Jon’s yelling (and yes, I was yelling the name too, honestly, though I should have known better – my Spanish was better than Jon’s) had a husband or father who overheard this yelling, and this man decided to take offense.

Unfortunately, he was drunk.

Unfortunately, he had a gun, and so he decided to begin shooting at us.

Fortunately, he was drunk.

Fortunately, his aim was therefore really terrible. He hit my shoe. He hit Jon’s foot, with a graze. He was shooting low. For all I know, he hit a horse, though we found no wound on the horses later. Jon’s horse ditched him, leaving Jon sprawled on the cobblestone. My horse ran like the dickens, but I held on tightly. Several kilometers later, feeling more like Paul Revere than ever before or since, my horse stopped.

When Jon finally caught up to me, later, he blamed me for abandoning him. I said it was the horse’s fault, and I was just along for the ride. I blamed him for so stupidly naming the dog. Jon said I was saying the dog’s name too, and if I knew the dog’s name was offensive, why didn’t I say anything. I said that I had said something, but that Jon had been too drug-addled to pay attention at that time. And so we argued, for a while, there on the side of that hill among some scrub and cactus.

Our friendship effectively ended, that day. I ceded ownership of the horse to Jon, forfeiting my investment. I walked up the hill to a local road, and found a bus back to Mexico City.

My passport was stolen later that same week. It was a bad week. By the end of the month, I was back in Minneapolis. But it was a grand conclusion to my year-and-a-half in Mexico.

What I’m listening to right now.

Mexican Institute of Sound, “Mi negra a bailal.”

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Headaches, Imagined and Real

Little Yedam was pretending to have a terrible headache. But she wasn't really that sick – every time I looked away, she would resume wiggling and bouncing and avoiding her chair. Her classmate would remind her: "don't you have a headache?" (in Korean). Yedam would resume her agonized chair sprawl.

Then she got excited when she was reading out loud to me, and she began jumping up and down. She hit her head on the windowsill by accident.

"지금 정말 머리 아파! [now my head hurts for real!]" she revealed.

Caveat: اللغة العربية

pictureI tend to avoid thinking about Middle Eastern politics. It’s mostly depressing – the same way that I find Mexican politics so discouraging, maybe. But I was listening to some news reports, and then saw the video below and was feeling a twinge of optimism. Just because it makes things seem more “human,” maybe. Regardless, it set me to contemplating studying Arabic again – I studied اللغة العربية for a semester in 1996, during my time in graduate school. I’ve always thought it’s a beautiful language. Arabic was a major historical influence on Spanish, which is what I was majoring in for grad school – mabye on par with the influence of Norwegian on English, perhaps. I’ve forgotten most of it now. I can’t remember how to type it, for example – I cheated and used google translate to make that smattering of it in my title.

Anytime I contemplate studying some other language, though, I immediately realize the interest is largely being driven my feelings of despair vis-a-vis learning the Korean Language. So here I go, grumping about it again.

What I’m listening to right now.

West Elbalad (Egyptian group), “Voice of Freedom.” It’s a pretty good song, anyway.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Back to Top