Caveat: Canuckistan Rising

I guess there are enough Punjabis in Canada (and especially Vancouver) to make Punjabi hockey-fan music a thing. This is a bhangra-ized paean to the Vancouver Canucks sung in Punjabi.

Actually I think it's pretty cool – not that I was ever a hockey fan.

Caveat: Wingdings

An advanced-level elementary student was writing an essay for me in the computer lab the other day. She printed her essay and came running to me in either feigned or real panic. She showed me the printout, below. Obviously, something was amiss.

"Teacher! What's wrong. The printer is broken," she complained.

I went and looked at her screen and then again at the document.

"The printer isn't broken," I sighed. "You need to stop playing around with font choices in Microsoft Word and spend more time writing your essay."

Wingding 002

What is this font you speak of, O master?

I have been in a very strange mood, lately. I feel like an old man in a rest home for the mentally deranged. Just a feeling…

What I'm listening to right now.

Harry Nilsson, "Without You."

Caveat: 백문이 불여일견

백문이              불여일견
百聞이              不如一見
hundred-hear-SUBJ not-same-one-see
Hearing it a hundred times is not the same as seeing it.
“Seeing is believing” or “A picture is worth a thousand words” or “The proof is in the pudding.”
I chose this proverb because I thought it would be easy, not realizing it was another one of those Chinese-masquerading-as-Korean linguistic fossils. Still, I’ve gotten a little bit competent using the online dictionary, flashing back and forth between the 영어 / 국어 / 한자 [English / Korean / Chinese] tabs, so I figured it out in record time. It was trivial to find the proverbial meaning, since that meaning is the only one conveyed in the Korean-English dictionary. What takes time is sorting out the individual syllables – and you don’t get to lean on Korean syntax in sorting it out, because it’s not really Korean, it’s Chinese, with its rather gnomic and aggressively un-analytical rules.
I wonder sometimes if the South Koreans’ current obsession with English (both as a language of “globalization” to be learned wholesale in schools and academies, as well as a never-ending source for neologisms for their own language) isn’t just a continuation of their two-millenia-long, one-sided love affair with Chinese. They just changed the object of their attention. Regardless, the language seems remarkably open to a certain style of lexical borrowing.
In this light, note, especially, that little Korean particle (이 =- subject marker) inserted into the above proverb. If Chinese is good, then Chinese with some handy disambiguating particles must be better.

Caveat: Entropy Engines

I found this rather mind-blowing article at a website called Physics Buzz. It's about some theoretical modeling work being done in the field of AI (artificial intelligence). I can't begin to claim to really understand it – and that's just the layman's article, I wouldn't dream of trying to read the actual published paper. Apparently there are some interesting results emerging from a simulation program they call "Entropica" that suggest that just programming something to seek the "most possible future histories" (which sort of suggests something quantum-mechanical but I don't think it really does) leads to intelligent-seeming behavior. Is it really intelligent, if it's just trying to maximize entropy? Very weird and interesting. A few paragraphs from the summary:

Entropica's intelligent behavior emerges from the "physical process of trying to capture as many future histories as possible," said Wissner-Gross. Future histories represent the complete set of possible future outcomes available to a system at any given moment.

Wissner-Gross calls the concept at the center of the research "causal entropic forces." These forces are the motivation for intelligent behavior. They encourage a system to preserve as many future histories as possible. For example, in the cart-and-rod exercise, Entropica controls the cart to keep the rod upright. Allowing the rod to fall would drastically reduce the number of remaining future histories, or, in other words, lower the entropy of the cart-and-rod system. Keeping the rod upright maximizes the entropy. It maintains all future histories that can begin from that state, including those that require the cart to let the rod fall.

"The universe exists in the present state that it has right now. It can go off in lots of different directions. My proposal is that intelligence is a process that attempts to capture future histories," said Wissner-Gross.

I predict that if the research behind this article turns out to be "real" – in the sense that it isn't later falsified or found to be lacking in rigor – that it could be a more-than-incremental step in the development of AI (i.e. revolutionary).

Caveat: Leaders & Problems

I have two unconnected observations about "business" – I've been in a kind of involuntary "MBA" mode of thought, lately. I'm not really meaning to – let's just call it a relapse to an earlier life. This mode of thinking is brought by the many very serious conversations we've been having at work about the business of being an English hagwon in what is becoming an increasingly difficult context.

First, a meme-pic that was floating around the internet recently. I definitely agree with the concept here.


Second, a quote I ran across – I'm not sure who said it. If you think about it carefully, you will see it's meaning. And it puts a different perspective on solving business "problems."

"Everything you think is a problem is somebody else's income." – Anon

Caveat: Still Home

Two years ago yesterday, I moved back to Ilsan after my strange year in Jeollanam, and started my new job at Karma.

On this two year anniversary, it’s easy to get nostalgic and think about what I feel about being here. I’ve been much less content about “being in Korea,” lately, as many of my acquaintances know. And my job satisfaction suffers because of that, although even now I don’t think “job satisfaction” is a major factor in my discontent. It’s just that my discontent is negatively impacting job satisfaction.

Not sure that makes sense.

More later.

What I’m listening to right now.

GOSSAMER, “Her Ghost.”

Caveat: A Smoggy Disposition

Last night I dreamed I was giving a lecture to some business school. I have no idea why I was invited to give a lecture at a business school – I think lately, I've been thinking a lot about "business school" type things, in the light of the flailing business conditions at my current place of employment. As a consequence, my dream world invited me to give a lecture at a business school.

I was explaining something related to "dispositional" versus "compositional" analysis. Yes, I'd actually put those words onto powerpoint slides and was explaining the difference. Here's the thing: I don't think the meanings I was giving these two terms are really their meanings in some business context, but what I was saying made some sense, if viewed as philosophy or semantics.

I said that "compositional" was about finding the elements that make up some object or process or whatever, while "dispositional" meant finding the intent behind the object or process. This makes sense etymologically anyway, but it made for a very boring dream.

Because that's all I remember. Why do I dream this way? Why, dispositionally, I mean?

Yesterday was very springy here in suburban Seoul. Spring in Seoul always reminds me of winter in Mexico City. The temperature ranges tend to be similar, they are both fairly dry, and there's the smog factor – spring is Korea's smoggiest season – I think it's because of the prevailing winds from the west, which bring us the Chinese eco-disaster, with an admixture of locally produced smog, too.

Having said that, yesterday wasn't the smoggiest I've seen. It was only that the blue sky failed to make it down to the horizon, fading instead to a sort of pale gray.

Caveat: 도둑이 제발 저린다

도둑이      제발             저린다
thief-SUBJ most-definitely fall-asleep-PRES
The thief most defnitely falls asleep.
“A guilty conscience needs no accuser.” This is to say, the thief gives himself away, maybe. I’m not sure what that means about the thief falling asleep – there is a sort of karmic conception where in people who do bad things suffer health problems – is that what’s going on here?
Grammatically (or rather, lexically), I wonder about 제발. All three Korean-English dictionaries I consulted gave “Please” or a more strong “For god’s sake” as the only possible translation of this term, but my intuition was that it didn’t mean that, here. So I looked in the online Korean-Korean dictionary (the same dictionary, by the way, that I most frequently use the Korean-English part at:, and found the following additional meaning for 제발: “[반어적인 구문에 쓰여] 어떤 일이 있더라도 반드시.” Roughly, this seems to mean: “[used ironically] surely most definitely.” This kind of ironical “most definitely” seems to be exactly the meaning called for here.
Why are Korean-English dictionaries so bad? I understand that they’re all bad in basically the same way, since they all copy each other. But why was the original one that everyone is copying so bad, and why is there no stepwise incentive to improve the copies?
Incidentally, speaking of bad translation, sometimes after puzzling through the meanings of these proverbs, I will plug them into the googletranslate out of curiosity. The result of putting this one in was exceptionally amusing. Googletranslate gave “Please find my overcoat thief.”

Caveat: It’s Raining Cats

What I'm listening to right now.

My Robot Friend, "It's Raining Cats." This song is derived from that more well-known "It's Raining Men" by The Weather Girls (1982), but with different lyrics. As of this posting, it has 540 views on youtube. I'm predicting more than that.

The lyrics:

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

By the same auteurs, "Robot High School."

Caveat: ათოვდა ზამთრის ბაღებს

ათოვდა ზამთრის ბაღებს
ათოვდა ზამთრის ბაღებს,
მიჰქონდათ შავი კუბო
და შლიდა ბაირაღებს
თმაგაწეული ქარი.
გზა იყო უდაბური,
უსახო, უპირქუბო.
მიჰქონდათ კიდევ კუბო…
ყორნების საუბარი:
დარეკე! დაუბარე!
ათოვდა ზამთრის ბაღებს.

Snow Fell on Winter Gardens
Snow fell on winter gardens,
A black coffin was carried out
And the banners unfurled,
Swept up in the wind.
The path was desolate
Formless and dark.
Another coffin was carried out…
The cry of the raven:
Let the bells toll! Bury them!
Snow fell on winter gardens.
– Galaktion Tabidze (Georgian poet, 1892-1959)

The original poem is in the Georgian Language, written 1916. I actually studied Georgian once, but I can’t even remember the alphabet at the moment – it’s not like I make much effort to keep up on it. So I guess I include the Georgian here, above, just for the sake of completeness and as a linguistic oddity. Thanks to the googletranslate, I can even provide a fairly reliable romanization: at’ovda zamt’ris baghebs at’ovda zamt’ris baghebs, mihk’ondat’ shavi kubo da shlida bairaghebs t’magatseuli k’ari. gza iqo udaburi, usakho, upirk’ubo. mihk’ondat’ kidev kubo… qornebis saubari: dareke! daubare! at’ovda zamt’ris baghebs.

Caveat: W3 is what?

This is the world's first (oldest) webpage. It's at CERN, where Tim Berners-Lee created the WWW protocols and httpsd web server in 1990-91. That makes the below a 22-year-old website. Interesting.


I think it's cool they still have it up and available – I'm not sure to what extent it retains its original form, but based on appearances it matches closely with my recollection of what the internet (er… "world wide web") looked like in the very early years.

I'm pretty sure my first experience with WWW was at the University of Minnesota libraries, which were already running the locally developed gopher protocols (which was an early alternate version of www, basically) for their online library catalog in 1993, and they were experimenting with https in the same vein. I distinctly recall seeing "websites" that looked exactly like the above – all white with black text and blue links, zero or quite minimal graphics.

I wrote and published my first website in 1995, in raw html using a text editor, as a first-year graduate student at University of Pennsylvania – I used the now defunct geocities hosting site. I was publishing syllabi and supplementary materials for my Spanish classes that I taught there at that time. I called it "macondonet" after García Márquez's fictional town, Macondo.

I wish I still had the code for those early pages – it would be fun to keep them live somewhere as a sort of nostalgia trip. I was lucky in that I was attending early-adopting institutions at the time the internet was first emerging, and thus I got to be an early adopter, too. I think it's ironic that all these years later, as a teacher, I'm "lower tech" than I was at that time.

Caveat: 똥인지 된장인지 분간할 수 없다

똥인지           된장인지
          분간할               수   없다

shit-be-WHETHER miso-be-WHETHER distinguish-FUTPART able not-have
[He] can’t distinguish whether it’s shit or soybean paste [=miso].

Shit“He can’t tell shit from shinola” or “Wouldn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground” might be similar in tone and meaning.

In the picture at right, the shit is asked: “You… are you shit?” “Are you miso?” The shit answers, “Turns out~ Shit~”

Caveat: Teacher

Student: "Teacher! How are you?"

Teacher: "I'm good, how about you?"

Student: "Not so good, teacher."

Teacher: "Because of the tests coming?"

Student: "Yes, teacher."

Teacher: "You know, saying 'teacher' all the time is not really how English-speaking students talk. It's 'konglish'."

Student: "I know, teacher."

Teacher: "In the US, students almost always address their teachers by name. So I would be Mr Way. But mostly they just don't say 'teacher' or a name at all."

Student: "Mr Way? Really, teacher?"

Teacher: "Yes, really. So instead of saying 'Really, teacher?' you would just say 'Really, Mr Way?' or just 'Really?' Do you understand?"

Student: "That's … strange, teacher."

Teacher: "I know."

Student: "Goodbye, teacher. See you later, teacher."

i was surprised at how much madison got off

Caveat: Double Demographic Whammy

I ran across a pretty interesting article at Quartz. Quarz is an annoyingly-formatted spin-off of The Atlantic – perhaps I'm just too old-school to appreciate the smartphonesque stylings at Quartz. Regardless…

The article is about South Korea's demographic problems, which are even worse than I'd been thinking. The article includes the graph below, which the article reproduces from KNSO (Korean National Statistics Organization, I think), which covers the range from 1960 projected out to 2050. The proportions between youth, working-age and elderly is striking.


The article goes on to talk about the youth problem. The idea that a country with 22% youth unemployment has a shortage of workers is something I'd already sort of realized. The article attributes this to the country's over-obsession with college education, which leads to a vastly over-qualified workforce relative to the types of jobs available, but I'd like to suggest a different reading.

South Korean society has changed so much, and so fast, that there is a kind of "culture-gap" between the youth and the older members of the society. This was observed in the recent elections, for example. In a country where personal relationships – those built between peers, especially, but then between one's family and one's peers' families, too – are so important in finding jobs and building careers, the fact that youth and older workers essentially pertain to different cultures means that they no longer have a space in common where they can build those critical relationships.

If, for example, the young people are no longer interested in working until 10 pm and then going out drinking with their older work-mates in an appropriately deferential way, then those older work-mates are going to begin to view those younger workers as "bad workers" and begin to exclude them from the social circles where jobs are retained and careers are built.

This is just speculation, on my part. But I think there's more going on that just an "education gap" in Korea's weirdly astronomical youth unemployment rate.

Caveat: ¡Karmatrón!

Kt00102Karmatrón es el nombre de un comic (historieta) que recuerdo vagamente haber encontrado durante me estadía en México en los 80. Una clase de derivativo de la serie de los transformers, sin duda, pero con curioso subtexto religioso.

Ahora me interesa tanto por su nombre algo irónico (respecto al nombre de mi lugar de empleo acá en Corea) que por alguna nostalgia por su temática.


Caveat: 잘나도 내 낭군, 못나도 내 낭군

잘나도           내  낭군,         못나도       내  낭군
is-handsome-TOO my dear-husband, is-ugly-TOO my dear-husband
My dear husband is both handsome and ugly.
So, the one place where I found this phrase or proverb translated (interpreted) to English (actually he only interprets the truncated second clause but I suspect it’s familiar enough that the first clause is then understood) seems to think it’s equivalent to Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government except those others that have been tried.” That commenter also suggests “Every human being is defective.”

I think those are very broad interpretations – too much poetic license being taken. But I can’t be sure…

2mb loves you
I found another spot where some blogger blogging in Korean seemed to implying a political context for it, too – but my Korean is too lousy to really guess what that’s about. What I did understand is that a substitution is suggested, replacing “내 낭군” [my dear husband] with “우리 대통령” [our president], hence “잘나도 우리 대통령, 못나도 우리 대통령” [Our president is both handsome and ugly] (meant metaphorically maybe – but see picture of former president, at right).

I think maybe a better phrase might be something short and more personal: “I like him/her/it, warts and all.” Just that we accept the good with the bad in any given situation. Since I haven’t been able to find the source context for this line, I’m really just speculating. My intuition is that it doesn’t feel like an “old proverb” so much as a recent phrase that was popularized in some novel or TV show or suchlike.

Caveat: IIRTHW Part I – What is an English hagwon?

[In the form of various unstructured entries with fairly random thoughts, I’ve been working on this project for several years, and it’s come to have the name “If I Ran The Hagwon” (abbreviated as IIRTHW). This topic seems to be evolving into my first effort at something resembling long-form journalism on my blog. Here is Part I. Additional parts (number to be determined) will follow.]

Part I – What is an English hagwon?

To talk about this topic, first we need to define some terms, and provide some context and background. “Hagwon” is a transliteration for Korean 학원 [hagwon], often translated as “academy” or “institute,” but I’m not at all comfortable with those translations. In fact, a hagwon
is not an academy or an institute in the way we understand those ideas – both words convey a different although overlapping set of concepts that fail to exactly match up with what is conveyed by the Korean word “hagwon.”
A hagwon is an after-school supplementary educational institution, sometimes specializing in a particular subject area or sometimes more general. Sometimes they are focused on “exam prep” (in the style of what are called 学習塾 [Gakushū juku = “Cram Schools”] in Japan), but not always. In Korea, there are hagwon offering almost any subject you can imagine: I’ve seen chess hagwon, baduk hagwon (baduk is the game that is called by its Japanese name of “go” in English), computer-game design hagwon, lego hagwon, and robot design hagwon. The most common type of hagwon, aside from the broad-based, multi-subject test-prep sort, seems to be in the following topics: math, science, English, Chinese, and 국어 ([gugeo] i.e. Korean writing and literature for Korean native-speakers).
Hagwon serve all school grades, but the high school ones tend to be more strictly in the “exam prep” style (because the 수능 [suneung] is king – which is the Korean SAT-analogue), while the elementary and middle school levels are more diverse. (As a minor note on usage and linguistics, I have opted to treat the nativized word “hagwon” as an uncountable noun, hence the plural is also “hagwon.” I think this sounds more natural than putting an “-s” on it – e.g. “hagwons” – given that Koreans don’t make much use of plural markers.)
For the purposes of this essay, I will mostly talk about “what I know” – that is to say, I will focus on talking about hagwon specializing in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) instruction for the elementary and middle school levels, essentially grades 1 through 9. Before going into specifics, however, it’s worth the effort to make some more general observations about the “hagwon market”
and the nature of South Korean education.
South Korea has been ranked near the top of all the world’s countries on many lists of quality of education. The UN Education Index from 2007 puts South Korea at number 8 worldwide. A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit put South Korea at number 2, after only Finland, which includes data from OECD’s PISA project. But as someone who has worked in Korean education for the last 5 years, I find it remarkable – even inconceivable. My gut reaction is: are all the other countries really that bad? How does Korea do this?
The fact of the matter is that Finland and South Korea are almost diametrically opposed on most matters of education policy. Finland essentially bans private (tuition-charging) schools. In South Korea, private education flourishes, and, if you take into account the hagwon system in its broadest brush strokes, South Korea is arguably one of the most privatized and capitalistic systems of education on the planet: it’s an Ayn Rand fantasy version of education policy, given how lightly
the hagwon system is regulated by the government.
My personal conclusion has been that Korean education is good not because of matters of policy but rather because of Korean parents and culture. Korean culture values education, and Korean parents value education, and so they jump into the education market (on their children’s behalf) with both feet forward and with their wallets wide open. Without having been there, my suspicion is that Finland, in its almost diametrically opposed way, is successful for a similar reason: Finnish parents and Finnish culture value education, and they demand quality education from their system. Beyond such generalizations, I can’t really figure it out.
With that in mind, though, the conclusion is obvious: education policy isn’t as important as people make it out to be. Otherwise, how could two countries at such opposite extremes of policy both be at the top of the charts?
Korean public schools aren’t really that good. The year that I spent in a public, rural elementary school in South Korea was eye-opening. That time led me to understand that in point of fact,  education in South Korea doesn’t take place in public schools. Public schools are more about socialization and building cultural consensus, and education, to the extent that it occurs, is mostly peripheral. It’s a sort of side-effect, or hoped-for outcome. And hence we find the flourishing
hagwon system. If you want your kid to learn English, don’t count on the public schools, despite their requiring English from 3rd through 12th grade – it won’t happen. Instead, send them to a good English hagwon. Likely the same applies for other subjects as well.
The hagwon, then, is the real epicenter of Korean education. The main thing that schools do that is related to education policy is give tests.
These tests, standardized in the extreme and mostly centralized by the government, are the engine  that drives the hagwon industry. Parents don’t, in fact, enroll their kids in hagwon for the purpose
of education, but rather, their explicit purpose is that they want to improve their kids’ test scores. Even here, education, to the extent that it occurs, is a sort of side-effect.
It’s worth pointing out that this is hardly new. Since the beginning of Joseon in the 1400’s (and  probably well before that in some form), ambitious families have been sending their kids to various academies and institutes with the goal of getting good scores on various types of tests. In pre-modern times, it was mostly the various civil-service exams, which when executed successfully could lead to government work and sinecures. This is how ambition has been fulfilled in Korea from time immemorial.
The hagwon system, then, is merely a sort of modern expression of this ancient system. Indeed, looked at in this way, the hagwon system is Korea’s native education system, while the public school system, introduced mostly by the Japanese during the colonial period, on Western models,
is just a sort of Western cultural window-dressing, and a convenient way to administer tests.
This is my effort to summarize what a hagwon is. In the next part of this essay [maybe next week?], I want to explore how the unapologetically capitalistic nature of this hagwon system determines what is possible and what is not vis-a-vis various educational methodologies, and vis-a-vis the
presumed purpose of English education – which is to provide some degree of competency in English.
[Part II]
[Part III]

Caveat: Where Are We Now?

I was huge fan of David Bowie when I was in college, oh so many years ago.

I remained a fan, if not a super enthusiastic one. Once I saw him in concert, while I was in graduate school and Michelle and I were living in Philadelphia. I think it was one of the few concerts I went to during that epoch, in the mid-1990's.

Sometimes I can go for a long stretch without listening to anything by him, but recently I had a chance to hear one of the songs from his new album, which has gotten a lot of rave reviews. I'm inclined to agree – he's aged really well.

What I'm listening to right now.

David Bowie, "Where Are We Now?" That's his new one.

Here's an old one, that I used to listen to almost every day for a few years in the late 1980's.

David Bowie, "Life On Mars?"

Caveat: We are made of the same wood as our dreams

The other day I was surfing the internet. In and of itself, this is hardly an uncommon experience. More often than not, "surfing the internet" involves a lot of returns to wikipedia, "because that's how I roll." Whatever that means.

The other day, though, was more than just a "surfing the internet" moment. I'm not sure why. It was just one of those times when everything seems to link along to everything else, and it feels like I'm following some kind of [broken link! FIXME] apophenic chain across a universe of memes amd meanings.

Thus it was that, starting with a lake in Patagonia, I ended up researching a quote by Shakespeare, via a Nabokovian interlude with an aging dictator in 1955. Hmm.

I had ended up at the lake in Patagonia because sometimes I hit the "random" button in wikipedia (sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes even in Korean). I try to do this at least once a day – just to keep my brain topped off with irrelevancies.

From that lake in Argentina, I found myself researching the 1920 labor union uprisings in Argentina, which led me, in turn, to Argentinian President Yrigoyen, thence to Union Civica Radical, thence to the Partido Justicialista (Peronist), thence to Perón himself. Then things got weird.

There was a reference to a certain character in the the Perón saga, Nélida Rivas. She was apparently Perón's teenage protogée during his first twilight, before the coup in 1955 that removed him. I say "first twilight" because he subsequently returned to the presidency, as a very old man, in 1973 – only to die promptly.

As I looked into this historical personage – she liked to be called "Nelly" – there were all these little glimmerings on the web, only glimpses, of a strange, May-December, almost Lolitesque something-or-other between the General and his protogée. Following, here are some things I ran across.

Firstly, I found brief references to the affair in the online archives (direct from 1970s era microfiche, I suspect, with nary a human hand involved) of many second-tier North American newspapers of the era (e.g. Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 3, 1955 or Spokane Daily Chronicle, same date). I find it fascinating that these are newspapers Nabokov may have read while, having finished Lolita, the book was being prepared for publication – because there are weird parallels, with a [broken link! FIXME] Garciamarquezesque overlay.

Secondly, I found this quite strange reference, in a book at googlebooks, Los bienes del ex dictador (The possessions of the ex-dictator). I quote at length:

En cuanto a la joven Nélida Haydée Rivas no me fue posible tener contacto directo con
ella, es decir, no tuve ocasión de conocerla personalmente pero siguiendo muy de cerca la
narración verídica de los hechos en mi paso por la comisión interventora, debo expresar
que en oportunidad de interrogar al Sr. Atilio Renzi, me dio una completa versión acerca
de la presencia de la menor en la Residencia Presidencial.

Al describirla, me refirió que se trataba de una niña de diecisiete años de edad que tomó
contacto con el Gral. Perón cuando tenía catorce, como integrante de la UES, no muy
hermosa sino más bien suave y candorosa. Explicó Renzi que poseía un espíritu travieso,
transformándose al poco tiempo en una suerte de "fierecilla indomatable" que llegó a
dominar completemente la residencia presidencial. Todos le temían.
[Enfásis mía]

My own translation of the above is:

With respect to the young lady Nélida Haydée Rivas, it wasn't possible for me to get in
direct contact with her, which is to say, I didn't have a chance to get to know her
personally, but following closely is a the true narration of events I heard through the
inventorying commision, as I was able to interview a Mr. Atilio Renzi, who gave me a complete
accounting of the young woman's presence at the Presidential Residence.

He described that she was a girl, 17 years of age, who first met General Perón when she
was 14, as a member of the UES [a youth activity league, a kind of Peronist interpretation
of the Communist Youth Leagues or suchlike]; she wasn't very beautiful but she was gentle and
straightforward. Renzi explained that she had a bit of a mischievous spirit, and after a short time she became a sort of "little wild thing" who ended up completely dominating the presidential residence. Everyone was afraid of her. [Emphasis mine]

Nelly-Rivas-with-PeronLastly, however, I found the best write-up at a certain blog by someone named (or pseudonymmed) Sergio San Juan here
(in Spanish) – I am unable to decide if that text is a fictional (or fictionalized) bastard-child
of Nabokov and Borges or if it is, in fact, sincere journalism. I'm not sure that 
it matters, as it is so very well done. Perhaps someday I will make a translation of that post.

Naturally, that last link sent me to Borges, eventually, who was lecturing (in Spanish) on the topic of nightmares and English literature – as was his wont.

That link also got me curious about the tagline at the top of Sergio San Juan's blog: "Estamos hechos de la misma madera que nuestros sueños." This, he has attributed to William Shakespeare.

Of course, finding a Shakespeare quote in Spanish is not the same as finding one in English – it becomes more difficult to get at the original text. So it took a bit of research, but I finally found it. I noted that the Spanish version contains some additional "meaning" that the English seems to miss, and I was reminded of Nabokov's comment that Shakespeare was better in translation (although obviously he was meaning Pushkin's famous translations).

The literal translation back to English of the tag-line phrase above is, "We are made of the same wood as our dreams." This is delightful – imagistic, metaphoric, what-have-you. The original Shakespeare, although famous and appropriately pentametric, seems wooden (pardon the pun) in comparison: here is the extended quote from The Tempest, Act IV, scene 1.

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (4.1 146-158)

The two enchained half-lines are: "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on." There's nothing wrong with that, but it seems less striking. Perhaps it is rendered banal by four centuries of familiarity and citation.

En cuanto a la joven Nélida Haydée
Rivas no me fue posible tener contacto directo con

ella, es decir, no tuve ocasión de
conocerla personalmente pero siguiendo muy de cerca la

narración verídica de los hechos en
mi paso por la comisión interventora, debo expresar

que en oportunidad de interrogar al Sr.
Atilio Renzi, me dio una completa versión acerca

de la presencia de la menor en la
Residencia Presidencial.


Al describirla, me refirió que se
trataba de una niña de diecisiete años de edad que tomó

contacto con el Gral. Perón cuando
tenía catorce, como integrante de la UES, no muy

hermosa sino más bien suave y
candorosa. Explicó Renzi que poseía un espíritu travieso,

transformándose al poco tiempo en una
suerte de "fierecilla indomatable" que llegó a

dominar completemente la residencia
presidencial. Todos le temían. [Enfásis mía]


My own translation of the above is:


With respect to the young lady Nélida
Haydée Rivas, it wasn't possible for me to get in

direct contact with her, which is to
say, I didn't have a chance to get to know her

personally, but following closely the
true narration of events I heard through the

inventorying commision, I was able to
interview a Mr. Atilio Renzi, who gave me a complete

accounting of the young woman's
presence at the Presidential Residence.


He described that she was a girl, 17
years of age, who first met General Perón when she

was 14, as a member of the UES [a youth
activity league, a kind of Peronist interpretation

of Communist Youth League or suchlike];
she wasn't very beautiful but she was gentle and

straightforward. Renzi explained that
she had a bit of a mischievous spirit, and after a short time she
became a sort of "little wild thing" who ended up
completely dominating the presidential residence. Everyone was
afraid of her. [Emphasis mine]

Caveat: 닭의 모가지를 비틀어도 새벽은 온다

닭의         모가지를  비틀어도        새벽은      온다
chicken-GEN neck-OBJ twist-CONCESS dawn-TOPIC come
Even if you wring the rooster’s neck dawn still comes.

16330903-red-rooster-crowing-into-a-microphoneKilling the bearer of bad news doesn’t change the bad news. Perhaps “Don’t kill the messenger” is something equivalent. More seriously, this might be an admonition against magical thinking.

Caveat: Teacher! I hate your job!

I have a student named Sangjin. He is quite insane, but in a kind-hearted way and with a penetrating awareness, if not exactly an academically-oriented intelligence.

In class this evening, I was keeping points on the whiteboard for the students. He gave a wrong answer, and per the rules of this system, I deducted some points. It was actually a lot of points, because the points at stake escalate as the class nears the end – this keeps the game competitive right up to the bell.

"Teacher! I hate you," Sangjin said. He was grinning his silly grin.

"Why?" I said, with some sudden mock seriousness.

"Because. Points," he explained, telegraphically.

Psyarms"You're mad because I took away points?" I asked, to confirm.

He nodded and folded his arms, Psy-style (see picture). This is the way Korean rap stars have conversations.

"But," I protested. "That's my job!"

"To take points?" asked another student.

"Or to give points," I suggested, optimistically.

"That's a good job," the other student said.

Sangjin raised his hand. "What?" I asked.

"Well, then… Teacher! I hate your job!"

I couldn't stop laughing.

Caveat: far within some maze of habit

Way 003
Way 005Below
is a longer poem than I generally put in my blog. But it's in a
slightly different category, too. I was unable to find this poem online.
I can't even find the author online. But I met the actual author, David
Brennan, in Boston in the Summer of 1982. I have a signed copy of this
poem, published by Illeagle Press of Cambridge in 1981 as tiny 14 page
pamphlet with staple binding but high quality paper. Above is an image
of the cover, and at right are images of his autograph on the title page
and the edition page with facing first page.

have a vague recollection of spending an evening talking and carousing
with this author, whom I met through a close friend of mine from that
epoch, Quinn-of-Redbank (Stephen from New Jersey) who later disappeared
off the face of the earth after having lived furiously for some period
of time. Stephen was a companion of mine in my creative writing class at
the Harvard Summer School I attended that year.
<digression>Incidentally, for the curious, my conclusion was:
Harvard was fun but way overrated, academically. Note that although
accepted, I did not attend Harvard. My Korean acquaintances find this
fact to be the absolutely most scandalous thing in my entire life
history. This is why my Korean friends don't understand

Way 007It
was at about the same time that I first read this poem, between my
junior and senior years in high school, that I decided I was a poet.
Erhm… "Poet."

years later, I still believe that I'm a poet, although I've downgraded
my quality-of-poet substantially. I do what I do. I am what I am. I
write poetry. Sometimes. Occasionally. How about once-a-month?

On the edition page of this booklet is provided a translation of the cover:



Like leisurely clouds
and wild cranes
my home can be anywhere
in the universe

Calligraphy by Bob Kopacz.

Typesetting by Rick Schwartz.

cover is supposedly the Chinese character "dao" (道, which in Korean is
read 도 [do]) but if that is so, I have some scepticism as to the reading
(from my current cultural perspective), as the calligraphy distorts the
logograph to unrecognizability – not that that's an impossibility, as
different calligraphic styles tend to do weird things. I will continue
to believe that the main glyph on the cover means "dao" (Way) unless I
can find evidence to the contrary. The reason is that it is my name. I mean, at that time, I read it as such. My family name is, after all, Way. The booklet seemed to be addressed to me. Perhaps this had more to do with cannabis than semantics? It was a strange summer.

I was unable to find this poem online, and since it meant so much to me
at one point in my life, I have decided that I will transcribe it here.
I hope that if the author (or his inheritor) runs across it, he will
allow me this luxury to reproduce the poem. As stated in other places, I
will always respect a take-down notice in This Here Blog Thingy™ –
although to date, I have never received one.

Here is David Brennan's poem.

Translations of the Fall

being an experiment in translation across the centuries

and sensibilities (or, a severe mauling, if you prefer)

based on a poem cycle by the Chinese poet Han Yu.


Out this window the iron balcony

holds plants dying in greyed wooden boxes

Clotheslines dance, gulls gyre

Night soundless on the old bricks

The lamp lights my tangled bed

where rhymes of sleep lap my ear

a lake of undone poems shored

by breaths of sex and childhood

I struggle up

in the dawn's oily light

and look at my face

(different each time)

The day begins, ticks on like a clock

I sit at my table – my kingdom, my ocean

with a pen

            daylight roaring over me


Dew on the geometry of rooftops

Sea-clouds tasting high glass buildings

The maples burst, leaves blood lanes

hedges become skeletons, a fly narcotized

by the cold drums the drunken window

I am watching from my rooftop

The world, unstopping, turns

Each of us, unique in kind

plows some round, bears some music


Men's designs move in jerky flights

My interests turn to other times

Unhappy vets talk of lost wars in lost nights

but I've even given up wine

I go about, with my laziness and freedom

walking roads nobody wants

The lanes that leave my gate

bare star-trails seen by few

Home again I swim the texts

words oceanlike and limitless

Who rows these ancient waters but me

Dark ships, drowned suns, the recurrent mysteries


Now the adrenalin fall moves me

What excitement in this blood melancholy

Still I'm vainly unprepared

no scarf and only one glove

Here the flaring of the season's bones

burns the marrow of August

At dawn I close my books and walk

streets between glass and brick

down to the harbor after a night's rain

Grey battleships on a grey harbor

Dragons soaked in grey sleep


In the insect world November's a scourge

For us it invigorates

Yet insect guilt does not die, things

undone and the old sorrows stay

common and pointed as pines

Keep to the kitchen, dream by the hearth

drawn inward by the fire

What happened to the tranquil path?

My fevered connection

to ancients, friends, and poets still at work

has to suit me. I'm working

within a new silence, it is my

                                 hidden retreat


Difficult to get out of bed

Worries bite like fleas, hidden and bloodfed

Noon turns to afternoon

My heart is lost in some other age

or far within some maze of habit

Past loves jab like pricks, a thousand

ideas dagger round me like smashed glass

Fruitless these spinning words

Senseless turnings, impossible rounds


The talons of November

claw through my coat, cold

through to the innards, new season's bloodprints

Damned early falcon of winter

I can barely keep up with my life

drowning in wreckage, wrecked and drowning

Take the flute, finger the keys

play the mood that strikes, strike

the mood as you play, bring some lyric

to this mess, draw the June voice

out of the locked frost


In a battered book of photographs

I discovered a shot of Thelonius Monk

hat on, head back, puffing a halo of smoke

Eyes shut in an ecstasy serene

that magician of notes lights

the film with a shamanic sheen

a brilliance, a stillpoint, the

bloom of the being authentic

And there it all was: brought me

to tears in the dull basement

of that bookstore, illumination

from the cellar of living

And there it all was: life's

passion for life leaping mind to mind


Words, pizza, cigarettes shared

The common din is a tonic

Ideas crackle electric, star-edged

Then guests go and night

wraps me in fulness and loss

The cold sculpts mee

Far within a cave in secret chambers

bison dance on the deep rock

while initiates carry song and flame

Ten thousand years swallowed in a ceremony

Ceremonies of self:

the birth

and the burial

and the birth again


The white rose after

the first frost. A beauty so late, yet stern

with browning petals: a shock

a lament, a triumphing sign

One glyph of whiteness

dies, another comes

Snow and the western wind

offer their extinctions, their beginnings

Caveat: Thresholds

There's an article at the new online journal called The Ümlaut about something Tyler Cowen calls the "threshold earner." This is defined as someone who, rather than trying to maximize income, instead chooses an acceptable level of income and adjusts his or her life to stay at that level – i.e., if earning more than that threshold level, he or she can work less hours, or better yet, he or she can change to a less lucrative or maybe more rewarding career.

The article goes on to discuss how this niche of threshold earners is being marketed to – which I find both interesting and uninteresting, depending on which hat I decide to put on. In an older personal incarnation – as a corporate marketing data analyst – I do find it rather fascinating. In my current incarnation – as a half-unfulfilled threshold earner myself – it's depressing and dull to find myself lumped in with Trader Joe's and Uniqlo consumers.

Tj2Hey, now that I think about it… I admit I shopped at Trader Joe's more than a few times when I wasn't a threshold earner, yet now that I am a threshold earner, I don't shop there. Hmm, I wonder, do they really have their demographics right? Or am I just a freakish outlier, regardless of what hat I'm wearing? Or is it just that they don't have Trader Joe's in Goyang, so now I shop at Homeplus and Costco?

Google is amazing. In one minute, I can find a photo (at right) someone posted somewhere of the exact Trader Joe's in Eagle Rock (Northeast Los Angeles on Colorado Boulevard) where I used to shop. It always reminded me of a sort of for-profit coop grocery store (and I yearned for the real coops that abound in Minnesota's Twin Cities or my hometown in Northern California), and that seemed to be the demographic: gentrifying hippies and privatized libruls – and I guess I was one of them.

Caveat: Pure with cicadas, and slowing

Blue_cicadaThis Unimportant Morning

This unimportant morning

Something goes singing where

The capes turn over on their sides

And the warm Adriatic rides

Her blue and sun washing

At the edge of the world and its brilliant cliffs.


Day rings in the higher airs

Pure with cicadas, and slowing

Like a pulse to smoke from farms,


Extinguished in the exhausted earth,

Unclenching like a fist and going.


Trees fume, cool, pour – and overflowing

Unstretch the feathers of birds and shake

Carpets from windows, brush with dew

The up-and-doing: and young lovers now

Their little resurrections make.


And now lightly to kiss all whom sleep

Stitched up – and wake, my darling, wake.

The impatient Boatman has been waiting

Under the house, his long oars folded up

Like wings in waiting on the darkling lake.

– Lawrence Durrell



I drew the "blue cicada in a bottle" at right. I guess this is kind of a summery poem and picture but it's what was on my mind today.

Caveat: a nightmare on the brains of the living

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living." – Karl Marx, 1852.

Marx is writing about the memory of the period of the French Revolution, which is 50~60 years old at that point.

It's a bit like us remembering the Korean War.

What I'm listening to right now.

Animal Collective, "Today's Supernatural."

Caveat: 양자택일 (兩者擇一)

양    자     택     일
Selection between two choices
For this proverb, “Have your cake and eat it too,” is the meaning suggested on one site. But I think it’s more simple than that – it’s saying you have to make a choice – it doesn’t seem to carry as much baggage as the English version about cake with respect to the type of choice to be made.
Like some others I’ve chosen, this is one of those Chinesisms (Sinisms?). It’s not so much a proverb as it is simply some Chinese that’s fossilized in toto into the Korean language. Like some of the others, too, it can be verbified, just like so many noun-phrases in Korean: 양자택일하다 [yang-ja-taek-il-ha-da = to make a selection between two choices].
There seems to be a special category for these specifically four-syllable Sinisms – I hesitate to think of them as proverbs at this point, and I learn more Korean in studying the hanja dictionary trying to figure out the meaning than I learn from the phrase itself. The definition for this phrase was, “둘 중에서 하나를 고름, 둘 중에서 하나를 택하다.”
둘   중에서       하나를   고름,
two between-LOC one-OBJ equal-GER
둘   중에서       하나를   택하다.
two between-LOC one-OFJ choose
Two things being equal, choose one.

Caveat: The God-Shaped Hole / Azathoth and Buddha

There's a blogger over at the Website Whose Name I Don't Like, who writes by the name of Jason Kuznicki. I'm never sure on that site who's going by pseudonyms and and who's "real." But regardless, I agree with so much of what he writes. I may have just run across a post he made last year that dovetails nicely with some of my own feelings about the nature of the universe, of god, and the "purpose of life."

I'm not really interested in trying to summarize his ideas, as he makes his point very well, himself, talking as he does about evolution and Azathoth and God-shaped holes (which is a concept originally due to St Augustine, if I recall correctly), so I suggest you go read that post of his and then come back and read the rest of my thinking here, if you're really interested in watching me think about my faith.

Jason seems to be a variety of transhumanist. I think I am  too, though perhaps not so optimistic as he is, but still more optimistic than many bitter atheists of my sort. It's interesting that he brings Azathoth into it – I perhaps had Azathothian tendencies long before I "became" atheist. I see my own atheism as a defense against that sort thinking. I think Azathoth makes a good symbol (OK! like most Lovecraft, a great symbol), but nothing more than that.

You might have noticed I have described myself as an atheist, and yet I used the words "my faith," above, too. I don't see any contradiction in that. It may sound like a joke, but I genuinely consider myself to be a "faith-based atheist." That's because while I am atheist at core, I arrived at my atheism through irrational experience: it came to me as part of a near-death experience and was as bright and clear as the many Saul-to-Paul-like conversions associated with other religious traditions. Furthermore, I am utterly uninterested in challenging or arguing religion with other people – I feel no need, a la Dawkins or Dennett or Hitchens, to change other people's minds. I accept that my atheism is my belief, and other people have other beliefs. When people try to convert me, I get deeply annoyed, and I assume they would feel the same way if I tried to do the same to them. Let's all treat others the way they would like to be treated.

Some of my Christian friends are, of course, deeply puzzled by the fact that I am adamantly atheist and yet also have become increasingly comfortable calling myself a Buddhist. This is like a sort of double-blasphemy vis-a-vis Christianity, and the most hardcore among such friends seem to feel almost affronted, wondering if I'm somehow deliberately doubling down on my heresies.

There are two key reasons for my embrace of Buddhism. First, unlike with many other religious traditions, there is no requirement, in the Buddhist framework, that we believe anything in particular, or anything at all. There are Buddhist dogmas, but there are very few Buddhist dogmatists. I'm speaking of my own experience of course – and that's not to say that I haven't run across a few dogmatic Buddhists in my time. Ultimately, though, Buddhism seems to be not so much a dogma or a religion (although it can be be that, for those who want it or need it or grew up in such traditions) as it is a practice. As such, it's open to anyone who sees benefit it its practices. The second reason I'm comfortable calling myself a Buddhist is even simpler: it's because the Buddhists don't seem to mind having an atheist among them, whereas I've never met a Christian, however kind-hearted and tolerant he or she may be, who didn't carry in his or her heart at least some germ of discomfort with my assertion to my peculiar brand of born-again atheism. For the Christian (or any Christian, anyway, who buys into the key Christian messages of salvation and forgiveness and grace), there will always be an underlying hope or desire or expectation that I will somehow see the light. Unfortunately, I already did see the light – and it made me who I am. No group of Christians, no matter how liberal and tolerant and touchy-feely they may have been (I'm pointing at UUs and Quakers here, among others), has ever succeeded in making me feel welcome as I am, without offering up some subtext of, "gee, we hope you can see what we see, someday." What they see is God, of course.

Jason writes, in his transhumanist vein: "Either we are the immortals, or we are their progenitors. We should live accordingly." This is something that dovetails nicely with Buddhist practice, as I, at least, conceptualize it.

Here are some pictures from my walk home earlier today – Spring treeblossoms on a drizzly April day in Ilsan: Azathoth doing some ineluctable thing.

The back side of Munhwa Elementary.

Drizzle 003

A pedestrian area nearby.

Drizzle 005

The intersection at Gangseonno and Daesanno, halfway between work and home.

Drizzle 008

Caveat: háblame solo de nubes y sal


Lo que estoy escuchando en este momento.

La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros, "Cómo mata el viento norte" (1976). Es difícil de creer que esta canción surgió de la Argentina de la época de dictaturas y desaparecidos. Se quisiera buscar significaciones secretas…


Como mata el viento norte
cuando agosto está en el día,
y el espacio nuestros cuerpos ilumina.
Un mendigo muestra joyas
a los ciegos de la esquina,
y un cachorro del señor nos alucina
háblame solo
de nubes y sal
no quiero saber nada
con la miseria del mundo hoy.
Hoy es un buen día
hay algo en paz,
la tierra es nuestra hermana
Marte no cede,
al poder del sol
Venus nos enamora,
la Luna sabe de su atracción.
Mientras nosotros
morimos aquí,
con los ojos cerrados
no vemos más que nuestra nariz.
Como mata el viento norte
cuando agosto está en el día
y el espacio nustros cuerpos ilumina.
Señor noche, se mi cuna,
señor noche, se mi día,
mi pequeña almita baila
de alegría, de alegría.

Caveat: a sum of small events

Sometimes, a sum of small events can add up to a
very bad day.

Earlier, I met a friend (and former
coworker) for lunch and I was telling her about the recent evolution
of Karma Academy. How I feel that it's become too focused on
"business as business" and is forgetting the business of
education. I'm not sure what the solution is, but it's becoming a
much less pleasant place to work, in my opinion.

Still, I can't rule out that it's
partly subjective. My own feelings about my indefinite stay in Korea
have been evolving, and I keep returning to what has been one of my
core reasons for being here: my desire to somehow learn Korean.

But I'm not. I'm not learning Korean. I'm failing. This isn't Karma Academy's fault (though it
might be karma's fault, with a lowercase 'k'), obviously, but my
feelings of failure about that project are impacting my ability to
maximize my potential in my work environment.

These feelings of failure are further
combined with my coworkers' utter lack of demonstrative compassion
about my efforts to learn – it's mostly just amusing to them that I
want to learn Korean, as they seem to find it strange if not
downright suspicious that a foreigner wants to learn their language,
and they definitely find it amusing (in a laugh at me rather than
with me kind of way) that I'm so remarkably bad at it, especially
after having been here for so many years.

So I was talking about that with my
friend, and meanwhile I have a toothache that means I should be
seeing a dentist, which I've been procrastinating on. I fear dentists
more than North Korea. But lately, when I eat something spicy, it
really, really hurts to eat it. The fried rice at the Vietnamese
place where I was having lunch with my friend was a little bit spicy.
Normally I really like spicy food – I love spicy food – but because
of this toothache it really hurt. So I was in pain.

I need to go to the dentist. I will go
on Monday.

Anytime I feel pain, I feel negative
about human existence – this is natural. It's harder to keep a
positive outlook. This toothache is so much my own fault, because I
so despise if not downright fear dentists (due to past bad
experiences) and so now… it's my fault, and I'm feeling this pain.

Now I'm just whining, aren't I?

But then there's this next thing. I had
a rather horrifying class, during my last scheduled hour at the end
of the day. The class was so horrifying, I wrote about it
separately, in a previous blog post… so look for it and read about
it [broken link! FIXME] there.

Then one more thing happened. I came
out of the horrifying class to be told by the assistant director that
I'd had my students do the "Parents Day Letter" assignment
(see previous blog post) wrong, anyway. You see, there were special
prepared papers that the students were supposed to fill out, not just
write them on regular paper. These letters are supposed to go to
parents, of course, but only on the special prepared papers – like
forms to fill out.

I felt really upset by what had
happened in class, and now this was like a "last straw" –
because I really had zero recollection that I'd been told about these
special prepared papers.

"Perhaps you told me this in
Korean, not realizing I didn't understand?" I asked the
assistant director.

"No, I told you, in English,"
she protested.

Nothing is more upsetting than the
feeling that one is losing one's memory. At least… for me. So on
top of these other issues, I'm losing my memory, too.

"I really don't think you told
me," I complained, feeling helpless. I felt very angry, though.
"I really don't like how so often people don't tell me what's
going on around here," I finally exploded.

It wasn't exploded exploded. But I was
showing my anger, which I really rarely do.

I added to my rant: "And
then people think they told me because they said something in Korean
and they think I understood," I added.

The fact is, I'd much rather believe that she was
misremembering and had said something in Korean where I hadn't
understood, than it turning out I had had some kind of weird blackout
during some announcement in English in the staffroom yesterday.

There was no resolution to this, except
to underscore that if I would just get my butt in gear and learn
Korean, I wouldn't have the excuse I took recourse to above, and
perhaps I'd have known about the special prepared papers.

All of which is to
say, I'd traveled in a full circle back to my earlier frustration I'd
been expressing to my friend about being unable to learn Korean

Caveat: With A Baseball Bat

or… The Horrifying Class

My students are filled with passive-aggressive anger toward their parents, and I almost wanted to cry today, having to interact with it. Korean parents push their children so hard. And sometimes unkindly.

We've been having the students write "Parents Day Letters" – Parents Day is a Korean holiday on May 8th, that is sort of a combined Mother's Day and Father's Day. The idea is that the kids get gifts for their parents, or write them letters, etc. So as an activity at Karma, we're having the elementary kids write Parents Day letters, in English.

One boy, in 6th grade, wrote his letter, and it was filled with the appropriate platitudes: thank you for raising me, thank you for helping me with my problems and being there for me, etc., all in the somewhat unnatural English to be expected of only intermediate ability, limited English. But then he came up and showed me something. At the end of his letter, he'd written "I love you." He pulled out something he had in his pocket, a flashlight. It was a black-light flashlight. "I wrote in invisible ink," he explained. And indeed, he had written in invisible ink: superimposed on his "I love you" was a clearly visible "I hate you" under the black light. I didn't know whether to amused or appalled.

I shook my head. "Do you think that's a good idea?" I finally asked.

"Maybe not," he admitted, but grinning.

"Are you going to change it?" I prodded.

He shrugged, and returned to his seat. I may intercept the letter.

Then a 5th grade girl refused to write her letter. She was suddenly refusing to speak English. She's a pretty good student, but not very consistent, and she gets frustrated easily. I got a little bit angry, saying she had to write her letter. She wrote it. She brought it up and showed me. It said a lot of platitudes, but near the end it said, "Mom I hate you x 10 x 100 x 100 x 100." You get the picture. She was angry at her mom.

She was standing in front of me. I circled the phrase in her letter. "I don't think you should say that," I said. I could tell she was angry. I could see she was even on the verge of tears.

"But it's really true," she defended.

"I understand," I said, blandly. I really believe adults should validate the feelings of children as much as possible. "I think sometimes we shouldn't say things that are true," I suggested. "How about writing about something true that you can agree with. Something about the future?"

I crossed out her words and sketched out a possible answer on her draft letter. What I wrote was to the effect of: "Mom, I hope that in the future you can help me and show me your love." I pointed to my draft sentence and asked the girl, "Can you agree with that? Is it true for you?" I was kind of prompting her, and happily composing her sentence for her, because I didn't want to add layers of frustration with the English language on top of the frustration she was feeling with this assignment and about her parents.

She wrinkled her brow and studied it, to make sure she understood it – it's in English, after all, and she maybe had to sort it out or translate it in her head. Finally she nodded, but then she said, "I don't want to give her this letter." Adamant.

"I think you have to," I said. "It's the assignment."

She shocked me, then. "I really don't want to. Why should I give her this letter? My mom hits me with a baseball bat." Tears were coming, now. "yagubaeteu," she emphasized, repeating the term for "baseball bat" in Korean just to make sure I knew what she was saying.

I just stared at the girl, then, a little bit slack-jawed. The other students were staring, too. "We'll talk about it later," I said, somewhat awkwardly. I let her wrinkle up her letter draft and stuff it into her bag when she returned to her seat. At the end of class, I asked her was she OK.

She spoke rapidly in Korean, to the effect of: the bell rang, I'm getting out of here, leave me alone.

I let her go.

In the US, we're obligated as teachers to follow up on these kinds of revelations. Korea doesn't work that way – especially for foreign teachers like me, and especially not in a hagwon environment like mine. The most I can do it mention it to her homeroom teacher or the owner of the hagwon. Past experience with this kind of thing tells me that nothing at all will happen.

Parental child abuse as we conceive it in the US seems largely unrecognized as a crime in Korea, as far as I've been able to figure out. Yes, there are laws on the books about it, but they're only enforced rarely if at all. Just like the rules about corporal punishment in schools. Some schools follow the rules, some don't. Enforcement is random.

Helplessness is not a happy feeling.

Caveat: 도둑을 맞으려면 개도 안 짖는다

도둑을     맞으려면           개도    안   짖는다
thief-OBJ meet-INTENT-COND dog-TOO not bark-PRES
Even when you meet a thief the dog doesn’t bark.
This is the proverb that encompasses what we call Murphy’s Law or the Peter Principle in English: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Unable to find a suitable illustration of this proverb online, I decided it would be easier to make one, myself. So here is my picture.

Meanwhile, I took this picture walking to work yesterday – Spring is finally emerging in Ilsan. I met no thieves. Then again, I have no dog.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: The Scary Dino

My students did a rendition of "The Scary Dino" using cut-out, handmade paper puppets attached to disposable chopsticks. The kids love this type of thing, and never seem to grow bored of it. I think it's good learning, too. They memorize their conversation lines and songs over time, and those phrases come out in later lessons. It goes quite well, and reinforces my notion that a "dramatic arts" component would be quite successful in a hagwon environment, if only Korean administrators would open their minds to the idea.

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