Caveat: An Abbottabadian Ponders If Mayans Trolled The World

The new year is a good moment to reflect a little bit on what this blog is, or has become, or may be in the future. I have not changed what it's primarily for: my intention is not journalism – journalism doesn't interest me. Yet this is, in fact, a journal – in the narrower sense – of my life, for whoever happens to want to look. My readers include some close friends, and, more sparsely, relatives and even students or coworkers, past or present.

But strangers read this blog too. I use an online tool called feedjit to sometimes "watch" who's reading my blog. Many people land on my blog for many different reasons. People seem to stumble on it a lot while looking for the words "karma" and "bitch" in the same sentence – this is a coincidence of a one time post about a certain joke, and the name of my place of work.

More seriously, people like to read about "phenomimes and psychomimes." Go head, google it – I'll wait.

IndexBy far the strangest query on google that landed someone on my blog, however, has got to be one I saw just yesterday. Here is the query as reported on feedjit:

Abbottabad, North-West Frontier arrived from on "[broken link! FIXME] CAVEAT DVMPTRVCK" by searching for mayans troll the world.

What are they doing in Abbottabad, in Pakistan, such that they need this information? Did my blog help answer their question? I doubt it. If Osama wasn't supposedly already murdered by Obama, I'd wonder if the sociopath wasn't perhaps a little bit worried about the end of the world, sitting stooped over some computer in his stealthily-placed compound (uh, that's a sort of joke, in very bad taste).

Well, blog-readers: Happy New Year. We went out last night, some coworkers and I. I enjoy their company, but as usual, it's a little bit stressful – socializing in Korea is more stressful than work, mostly because of the linguistic issues and my insecurities surrounding those.

I have a cup of my Brazilian coffee, and big fat fluffy flakes of snow are falling from a slate gray sky on New Year's morning. The world isn't so bad.

Caveat: Grammar!

I have a little game that I invented, that I use sometimes in class when the kids are behaving well and I've run out of curriculum. It doesn't have a name, but I call it the "grammar game" just to be able to refer to it. I don't necessarily view grammar as being that central or focal for good English instruction, but I nevertheless am intrigued at how bad Korean students do at it despite English grammar being considered so focal to how Koreans are instructed in EFL.

The game is very simple. A bunch of cards with mostly random English words on them: "car" "dog" "sleeps" "sleep" "the" etc. Make a sentence in the right order using the right card, so you get "the dog sleeps" but they love to think "dog sleep" is just as acceptable. There are clear rules of grammar that say that's not the case, but they are difficult rules for Korean learners because Korean has no "the" and no verb endings to indicate subject number i.e. "-s" on "sleeps."

The game is much more "educational" than hangman, which seems to be an old standby of ill-prepared EFL teachers in Korea, such that no student has NOT heard of hangman. So I use it. And sometimes, the kids even like it. But it was nevertheless disconcerting when, running out of something to do in class today, the kids started chanting "grammar! grammar!" I mean really? Grammar? It was the game, of course. Or… the alligator bucks awarded to the eventual champion.

In other kid news, I was chatting with a 5th grade student who goes by Robin. I asked her, "Are you going over to the Tuesday class?" This fact had been in some doubt, whether she would stay in the Monday-Wednesday-Friday cohort, where she didn't fit in very well because of her strong ability, or switch to the Tuesday-Thursday cohort, where she fit in better. So I was just checking.

"Yes," she assented.

I was pleased. "That's good. That will be a great class," I added. "All the kids in there are very smart." I was paying her a sideways compliment, because she's a very smart student, indeed.

She was so smart, she recognized this compliment, and smiled. "Thank you," she said, not at all shyly.

There was another student in the classroom at that moment – a Monday cohort kid. He grinned at the two of us and our conversation, somewhat oafishly. He's not exactly the brightest bulb. He'd had no idea what we'd just been talking about. "Whaaat?" he said. It was as if he was demonstrating the implied point about the current, Monday cohort class being not-so-smart.

Robin and I exchanged a knowing glance, and we both burst out laughing. Good for her, I thought. She's going to move on to a better class.

Caveat: 2012

This was a very stable year, as years go. I stayed in the same job, all year, with only one slight shake up in management due to a merger. I taught a lot of middle school debate, and the debate program was successful. I was less content on a personal aspect, because I  felt unhealthy for most of the year, and out of touch with my goals. I began to feel despair of ever learning the Korean Language. I experienced conflict with members of my family.
[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 2012 – it was written in the future.]

Caveat: Gnossiennes

I have an uncomfortable relationship with "classical" music. I almost never listen to it, despite having grown up on it, and despite having close friends and relatives who are classical musicians of various sorts. Most the time, if I listen to classical music, it's for only two reasons: 1) I'm with a friend or relative who's taking me along to something, or 2) I'm seeking some nostalgia for some point in my life, e.g. I sometimes return to Rachmaninoff or Bach bits that are deeply familiar to me.

Yet when I listen to classical music, I enjoy it. So why don't I seek it out? I speculated once to a friend that it was too "intellectually challenging" – that is, I'm unable to appreciate it as "background music" the way I listen to most music (and as my blog category attests: Background Noise).

Today, though, I actually discovered and enjoyed a new classical composer I'd literally never heard of before – at least that I can remember. Erik Satie was an active French composer at the turn of the last century (19th to 20th), associated with the avant garde and sometimes seen as a precursor to Debussy (whom I rather like, too).  I even ran across an anecdote that I thought amusing:  There was a Debussy concert once, and Satie was in the audience. After the performance, someone walked up to Satie and said, "Did Debussy steal that from you?" – to which Satie answered: "That is Satie, but Debussy does it better."

Satie liked to not just compose music, but tried to invent whole new genres and idioms. His music is still popularly used sometimes in movie soundtracks, too. One "genre" he coined was what he called a "gnossienne" – that's an utterly invented word, but ties to his dabblings in gnostic philosophy. I'm always appreciative of made-up words, and I like these little pieces very much.

What I'm listening to right now.

Erik Satie (composer), "Gnossienes 1-3." [update 2015-06-17: video link replaced as previous was broken]

Some of his works were much more unusual. He composed something he called "Vexations," which consisted of a snippet intended to be played slowly, and repeated 840 times. Here is someone performing the full 9 hours and 41 minutes. This is a hint as to why John Cage thought so highly of Satie.

Caveat: Nurungji Halo

I've taken to eating Nurungji [누룽지] (Korean burnt-rice porridge, sorta) for breakfast. They sell instant burnt-rice. It's kind of funny if you think about it – the things that become comfort foods in different cultures. Nurungji is the crust at the bottom of the rice pot. If you add boiling water and scrape around at it, you get a sort of weird porridge. Then they make that into an "instant, just-add-water" product.

I've [broken link! FIXME] blogged about it before. I'm  getting repetitive – perhaps that's inevitable.

What I'm listening to right now.

Depeche Mode, "Halo." I remember listening to this song on my Walkman (yes, with a cassette), sitting in the woods on the hill at Camp Edwards (금촌), trying to avoid barracks clean-up detail, in 1991.

Caveat: Visitation-In-Dreaming

I was dreaming that I was writing in my blog. That’s kind of a stupid dream, isn’t it?

But in this dream where I was writing in my blog, Michelle’s ghost was leaning over my left shoulder. I could feel her touching my neck. Her ghost never talks to me, much. Just that she’s hanging around, sometimes. I knew years ago that her ghost had followed me to Korea. Or maybe ghosts have a way of getting around.

When I woke up, it was snowing. I took this picture walking to work this morning.


Work is the building dead-center, across the street.


Caveat: Never To Be Learned…

Yesterday I received a text message from my boss. It wasn't just to me – it was a "broadcast" update on the topic of whether or not we would be getting the Monday (Dec. 31) between Sunday (Dec. 30) and New Year's Day (Jan. 1) off as a holiday. I already knew that we wouldn't be – that kind of bonus "intercalary" holiday is more rare in Korea than chicken with teeth.We didn't get the Monday before Christmas off either.

But that's not what I'm complaining about. I'm complaining about the text message itself. It was in Korean, of course. And after studying it for more than hour, I have no idea what it says. I could figure out that the topic was about the holiday, but, except for the fact that I already knew the decision was that we would have had to work on Monday, I never could have guessed that meaning from the text. I can't identify the keywords that would allow me to glom onto the core meaning.

I am fond of trying to read and understand "found Korean" – as opposed to Korean from Korean Language textbooks, I guess. "Found Korean" means things in the real world that I might conceivably actually want to understand, such as text messages from my boss. But this type of "real" Korean presents huge challenges. The language has a lot of abbreviation – just as text-message-English does – elided words or syllables or strange spellings. Furthermore, Koreans seem to view punctuation of any kind as utterly devoid of meaning – it's just a convention, like how Westerners view paragraph divisions, perhaps. So note the message's utter lack of punctuation. The first thing I had to do, to even begin to understand it, was figure out where the sentences started and stopped.

Here is the text.

직원 공지사항 31일 휴원여부에 대해 많은 고민을 했지만 수업을 함이 옳다라고 결론내립니다 계속된행사여파로 피로가 누적되었을거 잘
압니다 저부터도 너무힘드니까요 연속3일을 못쉰다는 아쉬움이 아니라 하루만 일하면 다시 다음날 쉴 수 있구나라는 긍정의생각으로
임해주실것을 당부드립니다 수없이 많은 번민후의 결정인만큼 충분히이해해 주시고 기꺼운마음으로 받아주시기를 다시한번 부탁드립니다 애써
고생해 뿌린씨 막바지 조금만 더 힘 쓰면 풍성한 수확을 거둘수 있을겁니다 조금만 더 힘내주십시오 거의 다 와갑니다 그리고
새해에는 우리 모두 풍요로운 해가 될수 있을거라 믿습니다 언제나 자발적으로 일해주시는 여러분이 계셔 덜힘듭니다 올 한해 많은고생
함께 하신 전직원께 다시한번 깊이감사드리며 새해 더욱 건강하고 좋는일만 넘쳐나길 간절히 간절히 기원합니다 카르마플러스어학원장 올림

Eventually, I gave up trying to understand it. I simply can't – it's too far beyond my current level of competence in the language. And that, in turn, left me feeling extraordinarily depressed and gloomy. What? Five years in the country and I still can't decipher a text message about a familiar topic? What a freakin' loser I am…

Caveat: 가야금 산조

Sometimes I go off finding unusual or interesting things. I was surfing around some Korean traditional music. Here’s one I found of the style called 산조 [sanjo]. It’s a kind of improvisational folk style that seems to have emerged in the 19th century, based on what little reading I did about it.
What I’m listening to right now.

황병기류 가야금 산조.

Caveat: 돌다리도 두들겨 보고 건너라

돌다리도           두들겨 보고     건너라
stone-bridge-TOO knock try-AND cross-IMP
Try knocking on a stone bridge, too, [before you] cross.
The googletranslate has this as “Look before you leap.” But my list-o-proverbs has this as “Being a scaredy-cat.” I’m not sure these are the same at all, but I incline to the latter.
pictureThis was hard to figure out, I had to cheat and look stuff up. There’s an old tradition that you knock (or kick, or stamp on) a wooden bridge before walking across it – presumably, to make sure it’s sturdy. So some people, to be extra careful, might knock on even a stone bridge before crossing, even though it’s probably more sturdy. So that’s either “looking before leaping” or being overly cautious, i.e. a scaredy-cat.
Who’s leaping? Here’s a picture of a stone bridge at 금산사 [geumsansa = geumsan temple] that I took in 2010. I didn’t knock on it.


Caveat: Merry Tuesday

The morning dawned icy, sunny and cold, with a fresh sprinkling of snow on the roof-ledge garden of the building across the alley. I leaned out my window and snapped this picture.

Snow 001

To all my family, friends and strangers who read This Here Blog Thingy™, Merry Tuesday! Smiles and best wishes to all, and I hope we all can give and receive all our gifts with sincerity and grace.

Caveat: The Christmas Eve Hamburger

My student gave me a hamburger for Christmas. It was cold.

X 001

But I felt that it meant a lot, coming from a student (or perhaps a
generous mom). I brought it home and reheated it. It wasn't very
delicious, but I appreciated the thought. It was my most significant
Christmas present.

Grading journals, today, I ran across these two things. First, more love from Lucy:

X 003

Second, a philosophical sentiment at the end of a book-review by a 4th grader who goes by Harry.

X 002

"I think freedom is not always good."

Caveat: canada(electron) = neutrino

I'd heard of [broken link! FIXME] people who don't believe in Belgium before, but not believing in Canada was new to me. This blog entry at Crooked Timber was stunningly hilarious.

The author writes how he doesn't believe in Canada. It's great writing and great satire.

Even many of the comments, following, were brilliant. I laughed a lot at the joke that goes:

Q: How do tell the difference between a Canadian and an American?

A: Ask him a question about American history. If he knows the answer, he’s a Canadian.

And, I especially liked the fractal theory of Canada, by a commenter who goes by the handle of Don Cates. It goes something like this (I will quote from the comment at length, hopefully I will be forgiven, it is sheer brilliance – note that it's not just Canada-humor, but math-humor, which may be lost on some readers):

Given a community A and an adjacent community C, such that A is prosperous and populous, and C is less populous and prosperous, and nonreciprocal interest of C in the internal affairs of A, often C will need ego compensation by occaisional noisy and noisome display of its superiority over A. In this case C is said to be the _canada_ of A, C = canada(A).

For example, it has been previously established that

canada(California) = Oregon
canada(New York) = New Hampshire
canada(Australia) = New Zealand
canada(England) = Scotland

The Fractal Theory of Canada.

For all A there exists C such that

C = canada(A)

For example,
canada(USA) = Canada
canada(Canada) = Quebec
canada(Quebec) = Celine Dion

It would appear that the hierarchy would bottom out an individual.
However, an individual is actually a community of tissues, tissues of cells, cells of
molecules, and so forth down into the quantuum froth.

canada(brain) = pineal gland
canada(intestines) = colon

canada(electron) = neutrino


Speculation: what is x, if x = canada(South Korea)?

I'm not sure. But I will suggest canada(Seoul) = Ilsan.

Meanwhile, this photo:


I took the photo at Morris, Manitoba, November, 2009.


Caveat: Spelling Bee & Speech Contest

Today was a very busy day at work, for which we've been preparing for a long time. We had a spelling bee and speech contest event for the elementary kids. It was a madhouse of children eating a massive number of snacks and shrimp-burgers (bleagh, by the way). But the spelling bee and speech contests went well, I think.

If I find some good pictures or video, maybe I'll add them later, but nothing at the moment. After it was over, I ran some shopping errands and now I just feel tired.


Caveat: I have been in Korea for a long time

A former student stopped by, today. Her English name was Irene. She was possibly one of my first Korean students, among that group of middle-schoolers I inherited from the very famous Gary-teacher at Tomorrow school in 2007. She was in 7th grade, then, and I taught her through the time at LinguaForum, in early 2008. Well, she is starting college in a few months at Seogang University [update: my friend has informed me that the correct spelling of the name is Sogang University, but this violates the official revised romanization standard as established by the South Korean government – the Korean spelling is 서강, which is unambiguously romanized as seogang; the spelling sogang should be reserved for the Korean 소강 – I'm not sure if this is a word or name or not]. I remember her well – she was an excellent student, so her going off to such a good university is hardly shocking. But I felt very old.

ImagesI realized I have been in Korea for a long time.

Unrelatedly, a smart-alec kid named Kevin said the following in debate class, with respect to the proposition: "My soul is PRO, but my body is CON." The proposition was a sort of "joke proposition" such as I sometimes do: "Night is better than day."

Caveat: Planning Ahead

I ran across this cartoon meming around the interwebs.


Happy Mayan end-of-the-world day, everyone! Here's hoping you have the best end-of-the-world day ever!

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