Caveat: I’m alive, how about you?

I'm really bad about staying in touch with people, sometimes. Lately, I've been in a very hermetic phase. Lately? Well, for the last few years, I guess. Haha.

My mother sent me an email, this morning, that underscored this fact. She wrote:

"I'm alive, how about you?"

I answered.

Caveat: Oh, Teacher, Don’t Say That!

My student said, "오오… 단어 좆같에" [ohh, dan-eo joj-kat-e]. This is bad Korean cussing – literally, it means "oh, vocabulary, like a dick," but the pragmatics (the elocutionary weight of it, so to speak) might be something like "oh, vocabulary is a motherfucker."

I often understand when my students are cussing in Korean. Most of the time, unless they're insulting me or one of their peers directly, I ignore it. This is in line with the way most Korean teachers seem to handle such things, in my experience. But he'd said it right in front of me. Rather than try to call him on it, or scold him, I tried a different strategy, this time. I repeated it, exactly, right back at him.

He laughed, and one of the girls in the class put her hand to mouth, scandalized. Then he said, "Oh, Teacher, Don't Say That!"

I laughed. "But you said it."

"Oh, I know. I'm sorry, teacher."

It actually resolved really well, in my opinion. I'll have to remember this in the future.

Caveat: she knows that it’d be tragic if those evil robots win

This is a song that's so bad it's good. I love it.

Flaming Lips, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." Awesome.

The lyrics:

Her name is Yoshimi
she's a black belt in karate
working for the city
she has to discipline her body

'Cause she knows that
it's demanding
to defeat those evil machines
I know she can beat them

Oh Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots eat me
Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots defeat me

Those evil-natured robots
they're programmed to destroy us
she's gotta be strong to fight them
so she's taking lots of vitamins

'Cause she knows that
it'd be tragic
if those evil robots win
I know she can beat them

Oh Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots defeat me
Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots eat me


'Cause she knows that
it'd be tragic
if those evil robots win
I know she can beat them

Oh Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots defeat me
Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots defeat me

Oh Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots eat me
Yoshimi, they don't believe me
but you won't let those robots eat me


Caveat: Preternatural Student Skills

We were giving a month-end test today. I was giving a listening test to a group of 7th graders, and one student, who I know has moderately high ability but who is stunningly lazy about studying or doing homework, stared at me during the entire time of the test.

Here's what's weird. He got the high score – by a great deal: 97%. And I had this weird feeling that he was somehow watching me, as we listened to the listening test, and was somehow reading my facial expressions or gestures to determine the answers. I think of myself as keeping a "straight" face during these tests, because I know that sometimes it is possible for a teacher to "give away" answers during a listening test in how they react to the possible answers given. But really… am I giving away the answers in some transparent way? Some tic or something?

Well, who knows? Should I ask him? Is it cheating? It's unconventional… to be certain. I should sit in the back of the class, maybe, next time, and see how he does.

Caveat: Childhood of a Circle


A very cute story.

Childhood of a Circle from Kadavre Exquis on Vimeo.

Archibald, a creature to whom nothing ever happens sees his routine changed by the arrival of a mysterious circle.

-Directed and Animated by Kadavre Exquis
-More to discover on facebook:
-Sound design by John Kassab
-Voice over by Julian Smith
-Foley sounds by Adrian Medhurst

Music by Kadavre Exquis & guests
Get the Full soundtrack of 11 tracks, the poster, the full film, and other goodies here:

Making Of :


Caveat: My ZeroG Dumbphone

I hate my cellphone. I got it because when my old cellphone died two years ago, I just took the cheapest phone on offer (that could go with my particular contract) at the cellphone store in Yeonggwang. But now that ALL of my students have iPhones and Samsung Galaxies, I'm beginning to feel like a luddite. Some of my students asked me, earlier, when I was going to get a new 3G or 4G phone. I lied, and said I was happy with my "zero G dumbphone." Which made them laugh. But I'm not happy with it. Then, I saw an article at Atlantic Wire about "Dumbphone Pride." It's interesting, as some of the reasons in that article for avoiding the smartphone bandwagon resonate with me. Most notably, I, too, worry about "addiction," and, also, the cost of my current phone's usage plan is quite unbeatable – for 11 bucks a month I get more text and calling capacity than I'm capable of using. Most smartphone plans in Korea are going to run upwards of 50 or 80 bucks or more a month, and I'd probably find myself finding out I was capable of using more data than allowed under those plans, too.

In fact, I have not been much of an "early adopter" of cellphones – I was late to the cellphone bandwagon, having gotten my first in 2004. But in some other technologies, I have been a proud early adopter: I was using word processing in the late 1970's (Apple ][) email in the late 1980's (before the world wide web existed). I taught myself HTML and designed and posted my first webpage in 1995. It was even useful – it was a means of communicating with my students at UPenn, where I was a grad student.

I think if everything goes smoothly with my renewal at Karma (about which I'm feeling anxiety at the moment), I'll end up shopping for and getting a new smartphone. I really want a phone with a dictionary, for one thing. And having the internet in your pocket is clearly useful – I see my students using it all the time, both recreationally but even in educational ways, looking up words, finding pictures or information that pertain to classroom discussions, etc.

Caveat: Cool Black Bike

This is pretty cool. Some guy in Melbourne. I couldn't ever dream of doing such a thing, but it's fun to watch.

I'm feeling stressed lately.

Caveat: Slaves of Democracy

I'm having my debate class students write speeches "for the UN" – i.e. what would you say if you could address the United Nations?

One of my students offers some harsh, harsh words. It's not perfect, but it's pretty intense from a seventh-grader. I'm not entirely comfortable with his implicit embrace of authoritarian solutions, but in other ways he's very perceptive. As usual, I reproduce without corrections – I've changed his name, however ("Hong Gil Dong" is Korean for "John Doe").

Good evening! All members of United Nation. I am Hong Gil Dong. I am from Republic of Korea. Just call me John. Today, I am going to show some opinions what all members have to listen and practice. I`m going to tell the problems of ethics, environment, and economy.

First, don`t think democracy is always ideal and make fair democracy. I think members of UN are slaves of democracy. Do you know why? Because if there is a good policy but it damages your country, you always say sophistry. Then, you don`t choose any policies. So is the democracy ideal? In addition, if there is a good policy which was made from weak country, you just ignore the policy. And it`s not fair.

Second, it`s both economy and environment problems. I think Un makes people, the slaves of money. Why? Because, your policies are good for economy but these are just protection for big companies, and big countries which like to destroy environment and take lots of money. Such as Republic of Korea, Japan, China, some countries of Europe, and USA. These countries are rich countries, and the top of mammonism. So if you keep making these policies, these countries will kill environment continuously, and make innocent people to slave of money.

Last, this is most environment problem. You say human must  develop with good environment but you force to join all environment treaties what countries don`t kill environment. But you don`t force to join these treaties what countries kill environment. So I think you stop talking symbiosis development.

I said some criticism to you. I wanted to criticize more but other people, Earth, and me will give you some chances. So please, practice good policies and carve my criticism in your heart. Thank you.   

I will conclude with a random picture, which I took in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico in 2007.


Caveat: cualquier otra fuckin cosa

I'm a near-daily reader of the Language Log blog. I've never felt the urge to place a comment, before, but a coincidence today has induced me to want to do so.  Geoffrey K Pullum posted about a hapless Indiana teenager who was expelled from school for tweeting about the amazingly productive nature (in the syntactic sense of productive) of the English word "fuck." I felt sad, but the student's observation is hardly news to one with some background in linguistics.

Shortly after reading that Language Log article, however, I happened to see, on facebook, the posting of an acquaintance of mine. She's a native Spanish speaker, who I believe I should allow to remain anonymous – I don't know her very well, as she's one of those encounters-in-passing who becomes a "facebook-only friend."

Her post was fascinating seen so shortly after reading the Language Log post, because it shows that the amazing syntactic productivity of the word "fuck" is crossing linguistic boundaries pretty successfully. Here's the relevant facebook text:


[transcribed: No voy a explicar más que ir a recitales me hace más feliz que cualquier otra fuckin cosa. FIN.]

Caveat: sin remordimientos

Una cita encontrada en la facebook de una amiga:

Un sabio se paró ante un público y contó un chiste y todos se reiron. Al cabo de un rato, contó el mismo chiste y casi nadie reía; contó el chiste una y otra vez hasta que nadie se reía. Y dijo: si no puedes reírte varías veces de una sola cosa, ¿por qué lloras por lo mismo una y otra vez?


A wise man got up in front of a group of people and told a joke, and everyone laughed. After a little while, he told the same joke and almost nobody laughed; he told the joke over and over, until nobody laughed. And then he said: if you can't laugh more than once or twice at the same thing, why do you cry over the same things over and over?

It has a zen-koan-like quality to it.

Caveat: Culinary Misadventures

I've posted before about my habit of sometimes pursuing rather random culinary undertakings. Today I attempted to make a vegan curry from scratch (even making my own curry powder). I attempted to use some tofu I had… I breaded it and fried it up in a style similar to abura age (as in [broken link! FIXME] kitsune udon). When the tofu was fried it was quite tasty (see picture below), but when I added it to my curry, it got rubbery.

Kits 003

Kits 004

And the balance of spices in my curry was off, too. So it was a rather atrociously mediocre creation.

Maybe next time.

Caveat: Colossus

220px-Colossus_the_forbin_project_movie_posterI just watched a movie called "Colossus: The Forbin Project." It's a Strangelovesque, understated science-fiction movie from 1970. It's not quite as over-the-top satirical as Dr Strangelove – It's more subtle, and perhaps more dystopian… or utopian – depending on how much stock you own in Google Corp., Facebook, and their brethren. Rather than waiting for me to try to explain that joke, I recommend you watch the movie.

Caveat: SoB

In one of my classes, we were discussing the fact that English has a plethora of vocabulary terms for young animals:

cat – kitten
lion – cub
goat – kid
pig – piglet
duck – duckling

Then I asked, "so what's the term for a baby dog?"

All Koreans know the word "puppy," but they don't necessarily use it, semantically, as in English – it seems to just mean a cute dog (admittedly English can do the same thing, too). I assumed someone could think of this word, though.

Without even a pause, however, a bold seventh-grader raised his hand.

"Yes?" I said.

"Son of a bitch."

Brilliant. I laughed for a few minutes.

Unrelatedly, a picture of the Ilsan power generation plant, on the east end of town, taken from standing across the street from the Costco. I was struck by the stark tree and the grey scudding clouds. The picture isn't that good, though. Just random.

Robot 004


Caveat: N.A.S.A.

…Not the space agency: the hip hop muscial collective. It stands for "North America/South America." Very inclusive.

What I'm listening to right now.

Peopletree_html_m3d83425N.A.S.A. (feat. David Byrne, Chali 2na, Gift of Gab, Z-Trip), "The People Tree."

I originally started watching these N.A.S.A. videos for the surreal animation – they're all very interesting, each different, mostly creepy, but well-done. So don't watch just this one video – there are lots of incredible videos. Note, however – all of these videos have vignettes in them that would qualify as thematically NSFW.

 But I really like the music, too.


Here are some other videos I liked.

N.A.S.A. "Watchadoin."

N.A.S.A. "Strange Enough." This video doesn't seem very well connected with the song, but maybe I just don't understand the song.

N.A.S.A. "Money."

N.A.S.A. "O Pato." "O Pato" translates as "The Duck" from Portuguese.


Caveat: Purple Cat and Yellow Lion

I do "telephone teaching" sometimes, with the elementary students. Not very many, but about a half-dozen a week or so. I have some rules about how this works, since I designed the concept and suggested it as a way to build goodwill from parents (parents love the telephone teaching because they get to see their child actually using English on the phone – it's a demonstration of the hagwon's commitment to the students). So really, the telephone teaching is a sort of marketing gimmick more than it's a valid pedogogical technique.

And it's true that most of the students are pretty low ability. One thing that I do is that I ask the student to draw a picture based on something we've attempted to talk about. The conversations are pretty simple: "What do you like? What are you doing right now? What will you do this weekend?" Anyway, I tell them to draw something and present it to me the next time I see them. It's a sort of comprehension test, too, then, since if I get the wrong picture (or no picture), I know they haven't understood.

Jeonghyeon drew for me a Purple Cat and Yellow Lion, based on telephone instructions, on some scrap paper. She presented it to me yesterday, proudly.

Py 001

What I'm listening to right now.

Madonna, "Frozen." I distinctly remember when this song came out, in 1998. I remember I was sitting in the Burger King in Craig, Alaska. The video and song came on, on the TV in the restaurant. It was raining outside. It's always raining in Craig, Alaska. Always. It's weird how some songs associate to such vivid memories.

Caveat: Bilingualism

There's a really interesting article from the NYT about the cognitive benefits of bilingualism. I've believed this at some weird intuitive level since I was a teenager, and I made this weird half-hearted vow to spend my life learning languages. I haven't actually done very well. I've learned tiny bits of a lot of languages – but althought I've studied at some academic level about 20 languages, for most I've only done a semester or even less. I've only reached actual fluency in one other language (Spanish). Then, in descending order, I might list French, Korean, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese… where I have some rudimentary survival ability. My desire for and interest in languages is obviously much stronger than my mental capacity and/or my actual deep-seated motivation to learn them. I nevertheless believe one of the greatest and most lasting gifts we can give children is 'another language.'

Caveat: Collateralized Again

I was collateralized [broken link! FIXME] once before – in the advertising sense, where my image got inluded in advertising material. It doesn’t bother me.
I like the picture this time – I’m deploying my alligator.
There’s a write up in an Ilsan area “trade publication” of some kind, about the hagwon biz. There’s a picture of the cover of the magazine, at right. The title is “학부모를 위한 최고의 명문학원 가이드,” which would roughly translate as Guide for Parents to the Best Hagwon [after-school academies] in Ilsan. The magazine is distributed at public school parent meetings.
For some reason that our boss doesn’t understand, Karma English Hagwon is the first write-up in the guide. This is extremely lucky, from an advertising perspective. There’s a two page write up on Karma Academy, with yours-blogging-truly, alligator to hand, on the second page.
Here’s a scan of the two pages. You can see our entire staff (yes, it’s a small hagwon). There were a bunch of children down the hall behind me yelling when we took the picture – because they were all in their classrooms unsurpervised. Very exciting moment.
The picture of me with the alligator is slightly ironic – because that is perhaps my single most difficult student there, facing the alligator. You can click the below image if you wish to embiggen it.

Caveat: 할아범탱이

One of my students called me 할아범탱이 [harabeomtaengi]. I didn't really know what this meant, but I could guess it was related in some way to 할아버지 [harabeoji = grandfather, old man]. I asked my colleagues later what it meant, and they said it's kind of an informal way of saying grandpa that can be either condescending or affectionate, depending on context. I would guess since it was coming from a second grader, it's more likely to be the latter than the former. I've decided the best idiomatic translation would be a word like "gramps."

I confess that, as has happened before, it's really disconcerting if not downright depressing to be called "gramps," regardless of context or language. I'm only 46.

It's the gray hair, I would guess. And receding hairline. The fact that Korean men universally dye their hair in middle age and late middle age means that only genuinely really old men have gray hair. So that sets the cultural context.

I think I want to join a monastery.

Caveat: Captain Janeway’s Advice

"You can't just walk away from your responsibilities because you made a mistake." – Captain Janeway, in a homily delivered to the character Neelix at the end of the episode "Fair Trade" (Star Trek: Voyager, Season 3, Episode 13). That's so Korean. Or something. But the point is, I was watching that episode, somewhat listlessly (it's really a pretty dumb episode, and not that well conceived or written), and that line just jumped out and grabbed me.

I've been struggling with a strong desire to "flee." To give up on the Korean project and go do "something else" with my life. It was very clear that the situation down in Yeonggwang County, last year, wasn't sustainable, but there is no objective reason why this situation here isn't sustainable. They've in no way affronted my basic humanity in the way that was almost routine at Hongnong Elementary, and the work itself isn't impossible, and it's sometimes fulfilling. So am I wanting to quit just because it's frustrating? Captain Janeway explains that that's a lazy response – which I already know (knew).

I had a rather uncomfortable conversation with my boss today. I tried to remain humble, and explain that I was hurt by his remarks last Friday. He continued to make some rather broad accusations regarding my "tone" and "mood" – which may, in fact, be somewhat valid – but I still resented them. I resisted getting angry, though, this time. I need to make changes in my life. But the changes required are mostly on the inside, not on the outside. There is therefore no valid reason to be listening to the man in my head yelling "abandon ship! abandon ship!"

More on this theme later. No doubt.

On the matter of Star Trek, I've probably said it here before, but one should never, ever lose track of one essential fact: none of the "rubber forehead" aliens that inhabit the trekkiverse are so alien to the human culture of the Federation (AKA Americans) as the Koreans in 2000 AD.

So… here I am: a Vulcan in voluntary exile on the Klingon homeworld… it's year 5. How's it going?

Caveat: But kids are jerks

[broken link! FIXME] Walken_html_m422c12daChristopher Walken reads Where The Wild Things Are – most excellently. Actually, as some commenters at the youtube have observed, it's probably not actually Christopher Walken, but someone doing a pretty good impression. That's OK. It's funny and well-done.

I have a lot of work to do. I'm descending into the workaholism I associate with states of denial.

Caveat: 엎드려 절 받기

엎드려      절  받기

face-down bow receive-GER
[…like] receiving a bow [while?] face-down.

This means receiving a courtesy such as a bow and disregarding or ignoring it, according to the proverb guide I found. I suspect I make a lot of mistakes with this type of thing in Korea – the rules are so different from how courtesy normally works in Western culture, although I sometimes think they're not as different as we think they are – they just seem really different.

I'm feeling really down. I'm engaging in major escapism, playing a game on my computer and ignoring reality.

Caveat: OK, so I’m feeling insecure…

I had a bad, bad day. On top of a pretty crappy week.

I've been feeling really lousy about my teaching ability. And today, I got in an argument with my boss. Nominally, it was about the fact that I have this very low-ability 6th grader who has been placed into a class of slightly higher-ability 2nd through 4th graders. My concern is that – given Korean social dynamics, especially – he's setting a really bad example to the younger students. And frankly, I personally have no idea how to control him, or what to do with him.

But it turned into an argument about me complaining "all the time." I don't think I complain all the time. So that made me angry, that he would accuse me of that. And then the last straw was when my boss said something to the effect of, "well, it's the job of a good teacher to manage this kind of situation." The obvious implication was that, in complaining about this situation and insisting it was insoluable within the classroom, I was… a bad teacher.

This is not something I take well, even on good days. But in the light of my recent insecurities regarding my teaching, it was a brutally unpleasant blow.

I've been toying with the possibility that I may not renew at Karma, despite everything I've said in the past, and despite my intense desire to remain in Korea. This was a further nudge in that direction. Leaving Karma would be a big decision, not to be made on a whim. I have to realize that, all said and done, it's the best job I've had since coming to Korea, and one of the best jobs I've had, in general. It's really mostly my own insecurities, along with my frustration with a feeling of "stasis" in the non-work-aspects of my life, that are driving this desire… this restlessness.

It's not a restlessness to travel. Even a year after I made a renewed commitment, last March, to never "travel" alone, again (in the touristic sense, I mean), I'm still steadfastly uninterested in being a wanderer, anymore. I have a huge level of a weird kind of comfort with my corner of the world, and if I were to leave Karma, that corner would be hugely destabilized – I can't say I would feel anything but dread about that. It would probably result in my returning to the US, because if I can't be satisfied with the "best job" in Korea, my prospects for other Korean jobs would be quite poor. Returning to the US has about the same level of appeal for me as entering a mental hospital – given the US media's self-portrait, as seen from here, my home-country is going patently off the deep end.

The fact is, though… I'm becoming painfully disillusioned with respect to my teaching ability, these days. I like teaching. I love the children, I get so much from them. But if I can't be a decent teacher, then… for everyone's good, I should get out of it.

Caveat: 하늘에서 별 따기

하늘에서  별   따기
sky-ABL star pick-GER
[…like] picking stars from the sky

Which is to say, trying to do something impossible. Pretty self-explanatory. I've not been very consistent in how I mark (terminologically speaking) word endings – I use so many different reference sources, and there's certainly no consensus among those sources. I sometimes think of the -에서 ending as an ablative or simply "lative" case for nouns. And there is definitely something gerund-like in the -기 ending for verbs. Hence my choices for today, above.

The sky is overcast. It might rain later.

Back to Top