Caveat: So. That’s it.

I awoke this morning from a very simple, unfortunate dream.

My uncle was driving a big old-fashioned school bus. This is true-to-life – he bought an old school bus when I was maybe 13 or 14 and renovated it into a kind of do-it-yourself motor home. These were called “hippie buses” in my experience, but my uncle wasn’t really a hippie. More a kind of anti-hippie.

But anyway, it was realistic enough to be riding with him in an old school bus. I was sitting on some makeshift seat on the passenger side, and he was driving. We were driving on a dirt road in Guatemala. This departs from realism, since mostly when I was with him we were in Washington State or Idaho – although often enough it was on dirt roads. It was clearly Guatemala, outside the windows – I recognized streets and things from when I stayed in Quetzaltenango in November-December of 1989.

The dirt road was climbing a steep mountainside, with a cliff embankment dropping off to one side. There was an old man walking in the road, pulling a hand-drawn cart or wheelbarrow. My uncle swerved to avoid hitting the man, and the bus’ wheels slipped off the edge of the embankment and everything began to move in slow motion as the bus began to tilt and roll down the mountainside. We were going to die.

My uncle said, matter-of-factly, “So. That’s it.”


I didn’t take or save any pictures of my time in Quetzeltenango. But here is a picture I found with a simple online image search, of the main plaza, much as I remember it.


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Caveat: El Kabong Borrows from the Middle Class

I love El Kabong so much. He is my favorite cartoon character from my childhood. Here is a more contemporary re-imagining of the El Kabong mythos.

Heheh, mythos. I used "el kabong" and "mythos" in the same sentence.

That's weird, isn't it?

More originally, here is an old one, in which El Kabong battles Walker de Plank.

A memorable quote:

El Kabong never quits.
He rights wrongs,
punishes oppressors,
gives to the poor,
robs from the rich,
borrows from the middle class!

Caveat: 한 가랑이에 두 다리를 넣는다

한  가랑이에       두  다리를    넣는다

one pant-leg-LOC two leg-OBJ put-PRES
[Someone] is putting two legs in one pant-leg.

This might be the slapstick of proverbs. Or the comic relief. I guess the idea is that a person gets nervous and tries to put on pants and fails, putting two legs into one pant-leg. It’s a bit like Laurel and Hardy… or the picture at right.

The word 가랑이 means “crotch” or “inseam” in the dictionary, but I could see it being extended to the idea of the pant-leg. I could never understand why in English, a pant-leg couldn’t simply be called a “pant.”


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Caveat: es un y es mil

pictureMi espíritu y mi cuerpo

tienen siempre
    loca sed

de esos mundos nuevos
que voy creando sin cesar

y de las cosas
y de los elementos
y de los seres

y de esa sed admirable
nace el poder creador

y es fuego
que no resiste mi cuerpo
que en continua

de juventud
de carne
y de espíritu
es un y es mil

insaciable sed…

– Nahui Olin

Carmen Mondragón (que se llamaba con el seudónimo Nahui Olin) era una poeta y artista mexicana, activa en los años 20 y 30, pero vivió desde 1893 hasta 1978.

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Caveat: Conclusions grow up in us like fungus

picture“Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus: one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and gray. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him.” – Nietzsche, The Dawn.






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Caveat: Trust

I have many shortcomings, I know. Although I consider “reliability” to be something I need to work on, I don’t see “trust” as exactly the same thing as reliability, although they are clearly related or interconnected to each other.

“Trust,” to me, means keeping specific (explicit) promises as well as fulfilling people’s ethical expectations, e.g. to respect things like boundaries, privacy, etc. Reliability is more about fulfilling implicit promises that go above and beyond general ethics, especially on an ongoing basis. I have mostly tended to view myself as trustworthy but not always reliable – perhaps partly because I’m not very good at figuring out other people’s expectations of me (implicit promises), but also because reliability seems more open ended and I’m not as good with open-ended commitments as I am with narrow commitments. If I say, “I will do X tomorrow,” X gets done. If I say, “I will do X every day from now on,” X may get done for a while but over time I will fail.

…trustworthy in the short term, I guess, if not always reliable.

pictureToday I had two people convey to me that they basically didn’t trust me. Whether this arose in conjunction with issues of reliability or not, I can’t really figure out. Neither used those words (“trust” or “reliability”) – in both cases, the communication was fraught by the language barrier that arises so often for me. I think I understood their meaning, however – neither was a case where there was a lot of room for misunderstanding.

So people don’t trust me? Coworkers? Students?

This makes me miserable.

Needless to say, it was a crummy day. There have been times when I have let people down. I think I’m pretty good a admitting those mistakes. I’ll own up to them and apologize and hope that I can be forgiven. I really don’t feel, from what I understand at this point, that either of these cases, today, were examples where I “earned the lack of trust” (so to speak) that was communicated to me. These things today, they feel undeserved.

So I come online and start ranting about it, but I do so in unfulfilling, vague generalities because, god forbid, I further erode any possibility of trust.


What I’m listening to right now.

Phantogram, “When I’m Small.”

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Caveat: 열정적인 강의- 책상에 걸터앉은 수업 지양토록

Sitting in our staff meeting yesterday, I saw this phrase on my agenda. I thought it was something profound – some aphorism or exhortation or effort at being philosophical or metaphorical or deep.
But it’s not. It’s just telling us not to sit on the desks while teaching.

열정적인              강의-

impassioned-be-PART discourse
책상에    걸터앉은        수업   지양토록

desk-LOC straddle-PART class try-not-to-do-discussion
“Be an energetic teacher- try not to sit on the desks during class.”

Sure. Fine. I don’t normally sit on desks during class.

This is perhaps an exhortation to other teachers. Big brother is watching (literally – the classrooms have CCTV, you know).
I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to understand it, though – because I thought it was something important, set apart as it was under “Special remarks by the director.”I didn’t know what 지양 meant, and as a result, I thought it would end up meaning more than it did. I had to ask someone about the meaning of that vocabulary item – the Korean-English dictionary has “sublation” but… wtf?

Sublation” is not a “normal” English word – I have an English vocabulary probably in excess of 100,000 words but I never saw that word before in my life. The wiktionary has “removal, taking away” and implies it’s mostly a term for a process in chemistsry. But if one dictionary has a mistake, they all do, because they all pirate from one another and so there is really only one Korean-English dictionary in the universe, regardless of brand, which is a kind of copyright-defying, crowdsourced mess.


  • other words from meeting agenda

  • 원료 = materials

  • 연구 = inquiry (“plausibility study”? planning?)

  • 평균 = average, arithmetical mean

  • 성적관리 = grade admin

  • 이상 = …and up (greater than)

  • 특이사항 = special subject matter

  • 보충 = replacement, supplement

  • 결석생 = absent / nonattending student

  • 중등부 = middle school division (i.e. of the business)

  • 간담회 = “bull session” according to the dictionary, which I’ve been interpreting to mean “brainstorming meeting” but someone told me it means “open house” (i.e. for parents). huh.

  • 일정 = agenda, plan

  • 조절 = control, regulation

  • overheard in meeting

  • 준비하다 = prepare, arrange

  • 복사 = copy (how can I forget this word so often?)

  • 타임 = borrowing of the word “time” but in the hagwon business it’s developed a meaning different from English “time”: it’s become a counter meaning “a single class session, of whatever length” so the proper translation is “session” not “time”

  • 과목 = subject, lesson

  • 이만 = this much, so far, to this extent

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Caveat: Habits and Blogs

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Attributed to Aristotle, but in fact it’s by Will Durant, who is attempting to summarize some rather more complicated quotes and ideas from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. So it’s an Aristotelian idea, but the quote is not his.

Habits are so difficult to build, and so easy to break down. For as long as I have been teaching, I have been trying to build good habits of “classroom” journaling – by which I mean taking note of what works and what doesn’t in the classroom, of recording in a consistent way what the next homework is, what the next chapter is, how we did on the last chapter. All those basic out-of-the-classroom day-to-day management issues are hard for me to stay on top of. I mostly succeed, but I’ve done best where there were external structures in place to guide me. By “external structures” I mean the required lesson plans when I was at the public school, or the LBridge online “syllabus” that we had to fill out and adhere to.

In my current work environment, I have despaired of ever getting such external structures, no matter how many times I tell my boss that not just I but all our teachers and staff, not to mention students and parents, would benefit from the consistency and reliability having such structures would promote.

Having despaired of getting such a thing, I keep trying to come up with new ways to be organized, despite my inherent disorganizational tendencies. Lately, I’ve decided to try to leverage my “good habits” around this blogging thing for my work. I have started another blog. A work blog.

The idea is to post there my students’ next homework, and compile in one place the results of their work. It took quite some time to get it working the way I wanted it to, and I have been using it consistently now for only about two weeks, but I’m pleased with the results. If I can make it into a habit and stick with it, and begin to broaden its contents to include more things, it could be a major piece in becoming more organized.

Given that I’m the main “speaking” teacher (which in my curriculum means mostly “debate” teacher), I have for some time now been recording on video student work (speech tests, panel debates, etc.). The new blog offers opportunities for that, too.

So, without further fanfare, I present my new work blog: [UPDATE 2013-05-30: due to some concerns about the large amount of student content on this new blog, I have set up a password protection for the site. If you’re interested in viewing this blog I will be happy to share login information with you. Sorry for the inconvenience. 2nd UPDATE 2022-10-24: I long forgot about this – the site died a natural death at the point in time when I left my teaching job in Korea, in July of 2018. But the site is reincarnated as a link to my personal/professional site, the link still works fine – it’s just not what’s being described here.]

I don’t actually like the name I’ve given to it. It comes off as a wee bit narcissistic, doesn’t it? But I already own the domain-name (which is convenient), and I wanted to come up with something memorable for my students (i.e. easy to find online, and easy to tell them about), and I was wary of overlapping my personal “brand” as a teacher with the “brand” of my employer – my goal here is not to produce or support this technology for my hagwon but for me personally, since ultimately if my employers wanted something like this, well… then they should do something like this. It’s not my job to be a “technology guy” for a Korean hagwon – it’s not what I want to do, and if it was what I wanted to do, I’d be making a LOT more money doing it.

Its primary intent is for communicating effectively with my students, and not least, for communicating effectively with myself. In only the past two weeks that I’ve been posting homework on there, I’ve used it twice to open the blog on my smartphone and see what a student’s next homework was so I could tell that student, while away from my desk. That’s convenient.

Having said that, I also see this new work blog as part of consolidating in one place a sort of “portfolio” of my work as a teacher. I will try to post my student work there as well (e.g. essays, pictures, etc.), not just videos (although as I said, as a speaking teacher, video has become a substantial component of my work).

I hope this new work blog is successful. So far I’ve only told a few students about it, but I imagine it being handy for things like telling students where to find out their next homework, etc., too. I wish my workplace would provide an environment like this that all the teachers not only could use, but were required to use. I think it would go a long way to developing a feeling among customers that we were leveraging technology effectively for improving the hagwon experience.


Caveat: 말이 씨가 된다

말이       씨가       된다
word-SUBJ seed-PRED become-PRES
Words become seeds.
“You reap what you sow.” But also, speak kindly, for the words you express to others will come back to you.
Here is a picture I took at Kagoshima, Japan, three years ago in the Spring of 2010. It looks very exotic but I like it. I’ve been trying to organize my photo files better and that means I’ve been revisiting and re-finding a lot of old photos.


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Caveat: Maperchiefs

It’s been a while since I hiked up a mountain. I still do some hiking – but mostly of the “urban” variety, e.g. my 20 km walk across the Seoul ten days ago. When you walk up a mountain in Korea, it’s not really that solitary an experience, even if you do it alone. There are a lot of people in Korea who hike up mountains. There are shops selling things at the bases of trails.

One thing you can buy are these little printed hankerchiefs (손수건) that have maps on them. The maps show the specific mountain or park or location where you are hiking – they can function as a sort of souvenir, too. I have quite a few of these – maybe a dozen or so. I put them on my walls in my apartment, as a sort of dorm-room-esque decor.





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Caveat: Drafting a world where no such road will run

No Road

Since we agreed to let the road between us
Fall to disuse,
And bricked our gates up, planted trees to screen us,
And turned all time’s eroding agents loose,
Silence, and space, and strangers – our neglect
Has not had much effect.

Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown;
No other change.
So clear it stands, so little overgrown,
Walking that way tonight would not seem strange,
And still would be allowed. A little longer,
And time would be the stronger,

Drafting a world where no such road will run
From you to me;
To watch that world come up like a cold sun,
Rewarding others, is my liberty.
Not to prevent it is my will’s fulfillment.
Willing it, my ailment.

– Philip Larkin, 1945

I took the picture, below, in 2007. It is the front yard of the house where I spent my first 17 years (with a few interruptions of 3 to 12 months or so, here and there, over that period of time). The rainy weather today made me think of my hometown, Arcata.


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Caveat: 하늘이 돈잎만 하다

하늘이       돈잎만     하다
heaven-SUBJ coin-ONLY do
Heaven is only a coin.
This is about the gloomy person who can’t see how wide or beautiful the world is. I am that person, sometimes. I suppose a slight variant of this in English would the description of someone having “tunnel vision.” The sky narrows down to just a circle – a coin.
I had trouble with the word 돈잎 [don-ip] – it doesn’t appear in any dictionary, although I could guess the meaning (from 돈 meaning money and 잎 meaning leaf, hence “leaf of money” i.e. “coin”).
I messed around with the online dictionary for a while, and finally found a variant spelling 돈닢 [don-nip] (which is a logical alternate spelling if you know the weird spelling rules developed for syllables starting with vowels as a result of historical changes in the pronunciation of words). But even then, 돈닢 only appears in the Korean-Korean dictionary, not in the Korean-English dictionary. I think the quality of Korean-English dictionaries is very poor, online or off.

Caveat: Personally I Don’t Think Winnipeg Is That Bad

There seems to be a whole sub-genre of music devoted to disliking Winnipeg. There was an album by the Venetian Snares a few years back, called “Winnipeg is a frozen shithole.” And today I ran across this gem.

The fact is, I have a lot of nostalgia attached to Winnipeg – more than to any other place in Canada. I have some fondness for the Vancouver of my childhood visits, and the flash-romance of the week I spent stranded in Ottawa during my strange, cross-continental foray into homelessness, in my 20th year. But Winnipeg was a connection built on repeated visits with my spouse Michelle during the mid 1990’s. It’s a place of magic and romance and nostalgia re-nostalgified. Is that odd?

What I’m listening to right now.

The Weakerthans, “One Great City.”


Late afternoon, another day is nearly done
A darker grey is breaking through a lighter one
A thousand sharpened elbows in the underground
That hollow hurried sound, feet on polished floor
And in the dollar store, the clerk is closing up
And counting loonies trying not to say


The driver checks the mirror seven minutes late
The crowded riders’ restlessness enunciates
The Guess Who sucked, the Jets were lousy anyway
The same route everyday
And in the turning lane
Someone’s stalled again
He’s talking to himself
And hears the price of gas repeat his phrase


pictureAnd up above us all

Leaning into sky
Our golden business boy
Will watch the North End die
And sing, “I love this town”
Then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim


Below is a picture I took in Morris, Manitoba (about an hour south of Winnipeg), and above right, a desolate highway sign in Pembina, North Dakota, both in 2009 (I may have posted these pictures before – if so, apologies).


Unrelatedly (hopefully unrelatedly), a quote:

“The more laws you have, the more criminals there will be.” – attributed to the Tao Te Ching, but I’m not sure of that.

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Caveat: 까치를 봤다

Walking home from work I saw an exemplar of the bird the Koreans call 까치 [kka-chi], and which is probably what some Westerners term “Korean Magpie” although as the wikithing explains, it’s possible that it’s not a separate species from a European magpie. It resembles the black-billed magpie that I seem to recall seeing at my uncle’s home on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, too, though that is probably a different species.

I’ve always been interested by these raven-like birds. I took a good photo of one when I was in Suwon in January of 2010, but I don’t see that I’ve managed to talk about knowing their Korean name before, although I may have.

I’m really sick, I’m just going to crash now for the weekend I think. As a bonus, the medicine I got yesterday morning is really knocking me out, too. See you later, world.

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Caveat: homoeomerous from one end to the other

As is often the case lately, I really enjoyed a recent blog post by the philosopher Justin E.H. Smith. He’s a talented writer and addresses novel topics in a creative way. His posted is entitled: “The Moral Status of Rocks.” He recounts an annecdote of a visit to Iceland and a woman saying that in Iceland, one doesn’t simply smash rocks for smashing’s sake. This is an interesting thought.

He finds his way to discussing things as disparate as vegetarianism and abortrion. One lengthy, insightful quote:

Even smashing a mere chunk of solidified lava –evidently purely passive, and homoeomerous from one end to the other– can be experienced as a transgression by the person who is properly sensitized, for whom the chunk shows up as salient within her ethically charged environment. Are fetuses morally relevant? Yes, they are. So are chunks of lava. Does that mean you mustn’t destroy them? Not necessarily, but you shouldn’t suppose that the way to gain license to destroy them, whether this license is conceived cosmically, socially, or individually, is to produce arguments that cut them off from the sphere of moral relevance.

He uses the word “homoeomerous” – I’d never seen it before. Finally, he seeks out a new (really, very old) way of characterizing our space, which resonates with me despite my atheism.

There are souls, gods, ancestors (whatever!) all around us; they are in evidence in the structure and cohesion of nature; and it is a transgression against them to needlessly violate this structure and cohesion.

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Caveat: Can Linguistic Anxiety Lead to Health Problems?

Interestingly, yes.

I can now state tentatively that my linguistic anxiety has led, indirectly, to my rather unpleasant health problem.

I’ve been sick for a while. Flu-like stuff, mostly, but also, for more than a month, a persistent ear infection type thing that causes a lot of pain and discomfort, especially while eating. Probably, the ear infection thing is a lot older than a month: I had some pain in my ear last fall and early winter, but I ignored it and it seemed to go away. Then it recurred in February for a few weeks. But I avoided the doctor in both those instances.

And so I still hadn’t gone to a doctor when it returned again last month. Partly, I hate going to see a doctor, anyway. I’ve always had issues around seeing doctors. It’s not really a “fear” of doctors, but a sort of social or even philosophical dislike of them. Perhaps I don’t feel comfortable with the idea that someone else knows more about what’s going on with me than what I know about myself. I distrust doctors. I have had some negative experiences with poor diagnoses in the past, too – not least, the time I nearly died in Mexico due to a misdiagnosis and mis-treatment of typhoid.

But in Korea, that discomfort around doctors has only grown much, much worse. Aside from a single mostly positive experience with the doctor I saw for my food poisoning incident down in Yeonggwang in 2010 (which was a case where I already knew the doctor socially and thus had a high comfort level with him – I was very lucky), every other experience with a doctor, dentist, or medical professional in Korea has been deeply unpleasant, not to say downright depressingly insulting to my intelligence and human dignity. The Korean health care system is efficient and I’m very thankful for the national health insurance, which it makes it stunningly inexpensive by American standards, but Korean health professionals are, as a class, difficult people to interact with.

Korean doctors are mostly arrogant and intensely uncommunicative. More than once, I’ve had doctors make snide or unkind remarks about my appearance and language ability, too. This latter is what I’m talking about in the title to this blog post.

I’ve been feeling so much embarrassment and shame, lately, about my lack of progress in learning Korean, and this anxiety and frustration has bled over into other aspects of my life – including, it seems, the fact that I have been avoiding going to the doctor for much too long for my seeming ear infection. And so gradually it has become worse and worse. Each time I imagined going to the doctor, I would merely remember previous visits, when a doctor said things like “How can you be in Korea for so long and still be so bad at speaking Korean?” (yes, a doctor really said this to me, at the same moment he was prodding me in some ungentle manner).

Remembering this, I would say to myself, “aughg… maybe I will go some other time… maybe this pain in my throat and ear will go away on its own, like it has before… maybe my Korean will magically improve so I don’t feel ashamed to go to the doctor because I can finally talk about my ailment in decent Korean…”

I finally went to doctor today. As usual, he said almost nothing communicative, but at least he didn’t insult my effort at Korean. He even understood a few things I said, although I understood nothing he said. I can’t even be sure what language he was muttering in. He said “hmm” and “uhnn” and wrote out a prescription for some medications which I’m now researching. Maybe some antibiotics – if that’s what’s called for.

I guess I can’t really say that linguistic anxiety led to my health problem. But it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that my language-centered social phobia has worsened my health problem.

Sigh. *Popping pills*

I reproduce my prescription below, immortalized for posterity on This Here Blog Thingy.


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Caveat: Chaos at Folwell Hall

Last night I dreamed…

…that KarmaPlus was being run in Folwell Hall. Folwell, at the University of Minnesota, makes frequent appearances in my dreams, since roughly half of my undergraduate career was spent in that immense, old building. I still had the same coworkers and students I do in Korea, but there were lots of people around from previous periods of my life, including coworkers from ARAMARK in Burbank and colleagues from graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.

I had to give one of our routine “month-end” tests to a group of low level elementary kids. I was at my desk in our staff room, but I couldn’t find the test I’d prepared. I was opening folders and going through piles.

Meanwhile, the kids were making problems. They’d taken over a seminar room on the first floor of Folwell and some former University of Minnesota Spanish professor (maybe it was that old marxist, Vidal) was yelling at them to be quiet. I went in and passed out some doughnuts (which was one of my Karma coworkers’ suggestions), but that hardly calmed the kids down. And I was running back and forth between our staff room (which was located near the north entrance in the Folwell basement) and where the kids were (on the first floor).

There were all these people with luggage wandering around, and some PA system was announcing departing flights. Not only was Folwell transformed into a hagwon hosting environment, but it had apparently become an airport, too.

I was at my desk and I was finding things I’d written for work in the 1990’s, essays from my time in college, even on essay I wrote in high school. All stuffed in folders at my cramped desk at my KarmaPlus work area. I gave up looking for the test and went back down to the seminar room, only to find that the students had discovered there was a snack bar selling hamburgers at the back of the seminar room. I went up to the man operating  the snack bar – an elderly Korean who looked like the man who works the night shift in the 7-11 in the first floor of my apartment builidng. I asked him to stop selling the kids food, and he pointed helplessly into a back room behind the snack bar.

In the room were most of the members of ARAMARK Burbank’s IT department, sitting on the floor around long tables, Korean style, eating lettuce wraps and grilled pork and drinking soju. One of them looked over and saw me standing at the entrance, and called over an ajumma (serving lady) and whispered something to her. She came over to where I stood and bluntly pulled closed a sliding door in front of my face.

The man at the snack bar was still making brisk sales to my non-exam-taking students, who were playing some kind of tag game among the tables and chairs of the seminar room. A group of men in airline uniforms, toting luggage came into the room, and, assuming correctly that I was in charge of the kids, asked me to please control them better.

I gathered the kids and we went outside, into the courtyard south of Folwell that is in fact the roof of Williamson Hall (which is a modernist underground building). The kids seemed happy, chasing butterflies and eating hamburgers. I felt bad not having found the test they were supposed to take. I was reading one of my old college essays, and thinking what terrible writing it was.

Below, a picture found on the internet of Folwell from the air, with Williamson (with its courtyard) in the foreground.


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Caveat: 성어사자 (四字成語)

사 자 성 어

This idiom is an example of itself. This is what I’d been looking for – I was hoping there was a name for these four-syllable Chinese-origin aphorisms and proverbs that I sometimes run across and have made efforts to understand.

I found it. Here’s the definition in the online Korean-Korean dictionary: “네 개의 한자로 이루어져 관용적으로 쓰이는 글귀.” The googletranslate actually does a pretty good job with this (for a radical change from the norm): “Composed of four Chinese characters used in idiomatic saying.”

It works the same way as the English “TLA” – which means “Three Letter Acronym” but is also an example of a three-letter acronym. In other words, “성어사자” is a four-character idiom.

Here is another picture from last weekend – a view inside the main throne-room at Gyeongbok Palace.

Caveat: Mitakuye Oyasin

“Mitakuye Oyasin” is a Lakota Sioux (Native American) Prayer. I learned it slightly differently, as “Mi taku oyasin” but these are clearly grammatically similar. It means “we are all family” or “we are all connected.” There some alternate versions circulating but this is similar to the one I learned.

Aho Mitakuye Oyasin….All my relations. I honor you in this circle of life with me today. I am grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge you in this prayer.

To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.

To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.

To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.

To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.

To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.

To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages, I thank you.

To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.

You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.

Thank you for this Life.

Here is another picture from last Sunday.


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Caveat: 고슴도치도 제 새끼는 함함하다고 한다

고슴도치도     제   새끼는     함함하다고  한다

hedgehog-TOO self pup-SUBJ sleek-QUOT do-PRES

A hedgehog says its own pups are sleek.

“Everyone thinks their own children are beautiful.” I found this cool 속담 (aphorism) “smart comic textbook” (똑똑한 만화 교과서) which gives a slight variant: 고슴도치도 제 새끼는 예쁘다고 한다 (the word “pretty” substituted for “sleek” – the latter is a reference to the hedgehog’s fur I suppose).


The comic gives as equivalent the English proverb “The crow thinks her own bird fairest” which I’ve never heard in my life, but I can get the sense of it.

This is one of the dedicated teacher’s chief dilemmas: dealing with parents who think their children are something other than what they are. As a foreign teacher with very bad ability to communicate in Korean, I am somewhat sheltered or shielded from this issue in my day-to-day work. I don’t envy my fellow teachers who must deal with parents every day, and I have mostly unpleasant recollections of my dealings with parents when teaching in the US many years ago.

I have speculated that I simply couldn’t do this job if I had to deal more directly with the parents – that the positives would no longer outweigh the negatives.

In that light, I should feel grateful I can’t speak Korean well, because if I did, I would hate my job.

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Caveat: Centipigator

Staff meetings are stressful for me even when they’re not. Which is to say, they’re intense – I’m trying to understand a bunch of people talking Korean around me and, mostly, I’m failing.

But these days there’s not only that, but all kinds of anger and remonstrating and things being bad that need to be talked about and I’m continuing to not understand. So that makes the meetings even more stressful. We had one today. I sat and drew doodles on my agenda.


I created something I called “A centipigator” – see close up, below. It was orange.


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Caveat: A List Of Languages I Have Failed To Learn

I just had an interesting brainstorm, after writing my previous entry earlier this morning.

I think a great, alternate title for this blog would be: “A List Of Languages I Have Failed To Learn.”

If I was starting this blog right now, that is the title I would use. It might make a great title for an autobiographical novel, too.

Here is another picture from Sunday.


It’s a view of the Korean National Folk Museum, as seen from within the Gyeongbok Palace grounds next door. The museum was quite disappointing on the inside – “just another Korean history museum, the same as every other Korean history museum in most respects.” But the external architecture of the place, which might be termed “Neo-Imperial Faux Pagoda,” was pretty impressive.

Unrelatedly, a quotation:

“I love the word Disenchantment. It’s a word only used by the stupid becoming wise against their will.” – a commenter who goes by “BlaiseP,” at the Website Whose Name Disenchants Me.

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Caveat: хлеб ржаной кисло-сладкий

pictureWhen in Seoul on Sunday and showing my friend around we went into the Russianish neighborhood just west of Dongdaemun, where I stopped in an Uzbek/Russian bakery I sometimes frequent. It used to be you could buy dark rye bread, locally made in the Russian style, but the last few times I’ve been there they haven’t had it. Now they’re selling packaged dark rye bread imported from Tashkent (Uzbekistan). It’s just as tasty but it rather violates any notions of localism or freshness. I suppose it’s not different than going to Homeplus and buying cheese from Europe or getting fruit from Chile. The world is round.

The label says “Sourdough rye bread” in Russian (“хлеб ржаной кисло-сладкий”) and under that the same in Uzbek, I think (using roman letters “lotin”) – I figured that out because “javdar” is Uzbek for rye (Russian: рожь / adjective form ржаной).

pictureThere are a lot of interesting and complex commercial relationships between South Korea and the Central Asian countries, driven partly by the large Korean diaspora found in those countries (engineered by Stalin during his rearrangement of ethnic groups, such as moving Koreans native to the Russian Pacific [i.e. just northeast of Korea] to all kinds of far-flung places), but also by the fact that South Korea was viewed as a “neutral” country with which to develop commercial relationships after the fall of the Soviet Union – unlike the other major economic players: the US or EU or Russia or China or Japan or India or Iran, all of which had various perceived geopolitcial agendas. As a result, Korean businesses are quite strong in Central Asia and there are a lot of Central Asians in Seoul, for whom the lingua franca is generally Russian (the Soviet legacy).

I often gravitate to Russian when feeling frustrated by my efforts with Korean. I studied Russian in college, 20+ years ago, and progressed pretty far with it. I was probably better at Russian in 1989 than I am in Korean now. But having not used it at all for more than two decades means it’s all dormant and rusty in my brain. I suspect I could resurrect it pretty easily, though.

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Caveat: 석가에게 설법하기

석가에게    설법하기

Buddha-TO preach-GER

Preaching to Buddha.

English equivalents might be “Preaching to the choir” or “Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.” I hate the latter proverb – it’s both incomprehensible to modern speakers and kind of gross to think about. But I guess there was a time when people’s grandmothers were expert egg-suckers, and so teaching your grandmother to suck eggs was an unnecessary effort.

I had a very long day, although I only had three classes. There’s a lot of tension in the office and staffroom lately. I’m feeling a lot of uncertainty and big changes brewing.

Here is a picture from the temple wall at 미타사 from last weekend.


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Caveat: Юлія Тимошенко

While walking around Seoul yesterday, we ran into a group of young men from a high school named Hanil (it’s a common enough sounding name that I suspect there are many Hanil high schools, but the only one I found in a naver search is down in Chungcheongbuk Province near Sejong City).

The young men had a front man who spoke excellent English, and he explained that they were conducting some kind of human-rights campaign for “Yulia.” I guessed they meant Yulia Tymoshenko (Юлія Тимошенко), the former Ukrainian Prime Minister currently in jail (and hunger striking on and off). The boys were impressed and surprised that I knew about this. My current events obsession was finally bearing fruit.

pictureI can’t say I necessarily feel the deepest sympathy for Tymoshenko, from what I have been able to understand. She’s pretty far to the right: a fervent nationalist and furthermore an incomprehensibly wealthy “oligarch” as only the former USSR can produce. But she definitely possesses a certain charisma – she was one of the leaders of the famous “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004 – and I would concur with groups like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International that her current prison term seems more politically motivated than genuinely based on the alleged corruption charges against her. Of course she’s corrupt – she’s wealthy and Ukrainian – how could she not be? But, if so, why is only she in prison, whereas the other several thousand corrupt Ukrainian politicians are not?

So anyway, I like to see young Koreans being politically engaged, especially by something so exotic and external to their narrower cultural sphere. Mary and I were happy to pose with them for a photo, and I handed them my camera and they took one of us with mine, too. Thus we were commemorating Mary’s and my 30th Arcata High School class of ’83 reunion posed on the Gwanghwamun plaza in downtown Seoul.


Unrelatedly, my quote for this morning:

“The self-assured believer is a greater sinner in the eyes of God than the troubled disbeliever.” – Søren Kierkegaard

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Caveat: 청계천

I was at 청계천 [cheonggyecheon] in downtown Seoul today, with my friend Mary before she returned to Daegu. There were many paper sculptures set up in the stream, left over from the Buddhamas parades last week. Here are some pictures – they convey scenes and stories from Buddha’s birth and life.












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Caveat: More Jeongier Than Ever Before

My friend Peter made a pass at defining 정 [jeong] (juhng) in his blog. I’ve done that, too (see Caveat: 情 from two years ago). But I really think Peter has figured it out. He writes:

When push comes to shove, hwe-shik was/is a chance for building the emotion Koreans call Juhng (정),
which I learned to be a special kind of bond formed with those with
whom one has undergone mutual hardships, like the bond of soldiers
who’ve served together. As I understand it, Juhng doesn’t
necessarily mean friendship or even necessarily admiration, but a kind
of recognition of, and appreciation of, shared-experience itself, “we
are [were] all in this together”. It’s especially true for
emotionally-important experiences, like (again) combat, or working
together at a such-and-such company in difficult conditions. The harder
the situation, the stronger the Juhng.

So then we had a conversation, via comments on his blog entry (and/or email). Here it is:

jaredway 05/16/2013 2:49pm

I think that’s the best definition of 정 (jeong or as you trascribe juhng) that I have ever seen, written by a foreigner. I have attempted definitions of it before, mostly describing it as a cross between platonic love and sentimentality, but that concept of “shared experience” really encapsulates it well. “Intense Camaraderie” e.g. “brother-in-arms” is a possible comparison.

Peter 05/18/2013 3:11pm

Thanks, Jared. I see one place you attempted a definition:

“I find the workings of Korean jeong mysterious and impenetrable. It seems to be a hybrid of irrational loyalty and intense platonic love, with a strong seasoning of smarmy sentimentality.” (caveat-jeong — I’d make it a link, but I can’t figure out how, yet)

I wonder in what context Curt said that you “lacked” jeong. If someone working with Koreans “lacks jeong” (whatever that means), it would seem to be an institutional problem rather than a personal problem. Example: At my job as of this writing, “I” (along with the other foreigners) definitely lack a jeong connection with the Korean teachers and to a lesser extent with the students (when I compare it with my Ilsan job). Why: There is a wall carefully erected and maintained between foreigners and Koreans at this place. I complained about it in this very entry (above). In brief, I blame the weakness of management here.

Also in your entry:
The idea that jeong (정) is uniquely Korean. At first glance this reminds me of some other sweeping Korean cultural ideas, like the idea that English has no ABILITY to express politeness in speech, an idea coming from its lack of a 존대말/반말 distinction. Both of those ideas seem culturally…”insensitive”, at least.

It’s easy to criticize those ideas. I’d have to admit, though, that in terms of the USA I know, the one I was born into, those two concepts (jeong and politeness-in-speech) are at once both more ‘important’/explicit in Korea, and less important than they once were in the USA.

jaredway 05/19/2013 8:13am

You’re right that I’ve been trying to figure it out for a long time. But I definitely believe you’ve identified the essential feature – the “intense shared experience” factor. And in fact, your insight has allowed me to retrospectively re-think some of my past experiences, such as the unbearable yet utterly compelling staff field trips when I worked at the public school in Hongnong: they were jeong-building exercises, and thus there was a sense in which, of course they had to be unbearable – how else could jeong be built? More and more, when the idea that there is no equivalent concept in English comes up when talking to Koreans, I have thrown out the word “camaraderie.” And your new definition goes the same way. “Camaraderie” lacks the high-frequency-of-use that the word “jeong” has, and may seem milder or narrower in focus, but I think it captures the core aspect. Another translation might be “comradeship” but that always makes of communards standing at barricades.

Why am I sharing all this? Because I think jeong, and the conversations about it, are culturally fascinating, and because I have now come full circle from where I stood in 2008 when my friend Curt told me I “had no jeong.” I believed at first that he was wrong, and it was just a language issue, and then I started to believe it was in fact a genuine cultural difference, but now I’ve returned to the view that it’s a language issue.

The key factor is to remember that jeong is between people. The word doesn’t describe an emotion felt on one’s own by one person, but rather an emotion felt between two or more people (family, coworkers, classmates, etc.) So in that sense, Curt was right: when he told me that, of course I had no jeong – not with him. The funny thing is that, these many years later, I do have jeong – again, with him. He’s even said so. It resides in the shared experience (especially hardship of some kind), which he and I now have (i.e. the struggles of working together with him as boss at Karma).

When Peter identifies jeong as being the sort of emotion that seems rarer in the US (and perhaps rarer these days than in the past), I think he might be right, if only because ours is a culture of individualized hardships and experiences more than of shared hardships or experiences. Kids go to college and have experiences, but so much of what they experience, even though it’s social, is nevertheless always conceptualized individualistically. If I look for the points at my life where I’ve developed “jeong” with people, they are places there that individuality gets broken down – team efforts: the army, living (and quarrelling) with housemates, intense (and fulfilling) workplaces (the Casa in Mexico City, ARAMARK in Burbank, etc.), graduate school.

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Caveat: Here’s why basically I start laughing whenever Adobe tries to do updates.

All_adobe_updatesSee at right a wonderful xkcd comic.

Add to this the fact that Adobe still (years later) doesn’t seem to know what to do in multilingual O/S environments. I get the same question-marky stuff that I screenshotted in that old blog post with respect to Java. I’m not even on the same computer. See below for an Adobe screenshot from just the other day. It’s perhaps the case that this is more a problem of the way I choose to configure my computer as opposed to the update software, per se – but why is it only US-based software companies (e.g. Oracle [Java] or Adobe) that have this problem?

Frankly, Adobe’s update strategy has always seemed one of the most bizarre, broken software undertakings I’ve ever experienced. I’m glad to see that even a leading light such as Mr XKCD sees the same thing.



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Caveat: 19.74 km

I used Google maps to diagram my long walk on Friday, which I did with my once-upon-a-time fellow Arcata High School student, Mary, who was visiting Seoul for the first time – because both of us like to walk.


How weird is it, by the way, that there are two AHS class of 1983 people living in South Korea at the same time, exactly 30 years after our graduation? That’s weird.

But anyway, such as it is, we took a long walk.

I  took the subway (line 3) into Gangnam and met her there. Then we went to my favorite Kyobo Mungo (giant bookstore thingy). Then we walked back north to the river and across the river on the old Dongho bridge (동호대교 [dongho-daegyo]). There our luck got interesting. Nestled at the base of where the subway crosses the bridge and then tunnels into the mountain to become subway again, near Oksu station, there is a Buddhist temple called 미타사 [mita-sa]. Because it was Buddha’s birthday, the  temple was very busy – imagine a Buddhist version of a church Christmas street fair and festivities. Children were darting about, and old women were ushering and monks were clacking  their monk clackers. An old woman showed us a lantern and subsequently invited us in. Now in all my six years in Korea I’ve only been invited in once before to an on-going Buddhist service, and certainly not into something so festive and interesting. Mary took a lot of pictures while I tried to speak along with the chants (=prayers, with the words projected onto a big screen). It was interesting an entertaining. A talented woman sang pop songs and Buddhist “pop” music – sort of a parallel to Christian pop music that goes on in worship services, I suspect.

Here, I found another rendition of one of the songs we heard. (What I’m listening to right now).

“빙빙빙” [bing-bing-bing].

Imagine exactly what you see in the video, above, but with a giant gold Buddha as a backdrop. Here’s a picture I took right after that song ended and the singer was departing the stage. The projector screen still says the song’s title.


It was a lot of fun to be inside the temple. They wanted us to stay and eat but we pleaded busyness and so they dispensed some rice-cake sweets to us and sent us on our way.

Then we walked to Itaewon.


We had lunch at a Spanish restaurant called “Spain Club.” It was pretty good – we had some  tapas.

Itaewon is, among many other things, Seoul’s (and Korea’s) only predominantly Muslim neighborhood – and it being Friday (Muslim sabbath) combined with it being a holiday (Buddha’s Birthday) meant that everyone was out in force. The mosque was packed with prayer-goers at a giant outdoor picnic. Here’s a picture of the entrance and the inside of the courtyard area.



From Itaewon, we walked along the east side of the Yongsan U.S. Army base and on up the south side of 남산 [nam-san], where the iconic Seoul Tower is located. I’ve taken many pictures at Namsan before so I didn’t take any this time.

At the top of Namsan we looked in various different directions and then we went down the north side of the mountain into downtown. We walked through Myeongdong. It was so crowded that it was like being at a rock concert but instead of music it was Chinese and Japanese tourists absorbed in a consumerist frenzy (Myeongdong is a popular fashion shopping area). Finally we made it to Cheonggyecheon, the restored stream that flows eastward through downtown Seoul.


Then we walked to 인사동 [insa-dong] where I bought some 보이차 [bo-i-cha = puer tea] I had been wanting – I have it in tea bags but I wanted the kind that I could make in a pot. Then we went over to the 조계사 [jogye-sa] temple which, despite its understatedness, I consider to be the St Peter’s Basilica of Korean Buddhism – it’s the administrative heart of the Jogye Order which is the predominant zen (chan / mahayana) style branch of Korean Buddhism.

Then we went to find my favorite vegetarian restaurant and on a wrong turning we met some cats on a rooftop. They watched us.


Finally we ate dinner at the restaurant. I had sesame noodle soup.


It was a pretty good Buddha’s Birthday hike. Now my feet are tired.

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Caveat: 안뒤면 조상의 탓

안뒤면         조상의        탓

not-become-IF ancestor-GEN blame

If it doesn’t work out, [it’s] the fault of an ancestor.

So we blame others if things don’t work out. Who isn’t guilty of that? This wasn’t too difficult to figure out.

pictureWhile out yesterday, I got a new book, so I now have a functionally infinite supply of proverbs to attempt to comprehend. This is much easier than trying to find things on the interwebs that I could try to figure out – most online compilations of proverbs that I’ve found are fairly limited, although I admit my ability to search for such compilations in Korean is limited.

The book is a 2012 reprint of a 1970 re-issue of a 1958 publication, so it’s definitely “old school.” The title is Maxims and Proverbs of Old Korea, by Tae Hung Ha.

Here is another picture from yesterday – I like taking pictures of the paintings to be found on the outsides of temples.


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