Caveat: Acknowledgments

pictureI am grateful to all my friends and family who have been showing support to me in these difficult times. I want to especially thank my friend and boss, Curt, and KarmaPlus’ subdirector Helen. They are truly caring and decent human beings. Other coworkers (and former coworkers) have been nothing but kind too.

I want to thank my friends Peter and Seungbae for some local emotional support and kindness. Peter blogged about me in words I’m almost embarrassed to report.

My mom has been exceptional in her outreach – we’ve corresponded almost daily via email.

The rest of my family, too, have shown concern and kindness, including always thoughtful notes from my stepmother Wendy and the always generous directness of my uncle Arthur. Aside from my mother and father, those two people have had a huge role in making me who I am today.

Old friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin have shown support too.

Some friends (some of whom I haven’t seen in years) have been very generous with words and thoughts in the facebook: Mary, Jeannine, Brenda, my cousins Jori and Sylvia, Tamera, Elizabeth, Aura… Despite my sincerest efforts to “avoid facebook,” I find the outpouring of concern and emotional support there to be genuine and compelling – I expect I’ll rely on it a lot during the hospital stay.

All of which is to say – although it seems like I am “alone” here in Ilsan, I have a huge, worldwide support structure. I’ll be OK.

This blog entry feels like the “acknowledgments” page in a book. I guess in a way it is.

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Caveat: Lose Yourself

I'm suffering from insomnia.

There are a lot of things on my mind, obviously. I feel an urgent need to do something. I straighten out piles of old papers, rearrange the books on my bookshelves, reorganize the files on my harddrive; clean something in my kitchen. There are more important things to be doing, too, but some of them feel heavy and I just don't want to direct my mind in those directions: my finances are more or less in order; my paperwork seems in order; Curt found someone to hire as a replacement for me and we'll be doing some orientation tomorrow.

But all that banality pales when faced with this giant thing happening to me. I'm sure it's much less interesting to the rest of the world than it is to me, too, but I told myself long ago that this blog was for sharing my feelings, mostly in honesty, however they might go.

I have a creeping suspicion that This Here Blog Thingy is going to be getting mighty narcissistic in coming days and weeks. I hope people can understand that. I'll get past it. I'm working on it. Trying.

What I'm listening to right now.

Daft Punk, "Lose Yourself To Dance." Haha. This video has Napoleon Dynamite dancing in one part. It's been a long time since I thought about that movie – I remember thinking it was awesome.

Caveat: The Korean Cowboy

I have maybe half-a-dozen novels in progress. I have harbored grand ambitions. But I'm terrible about follow-through. All but two of the novels are nothing but vaporware, as they call it in the software industry.

In reviewing some notes this weekend, I found several "outlines" for novels that aren't even "in progress" – they're just ideas for "someday." Something has induced me to want to put these "germs of novels" out into the world – perhaps my thinking is that, if I don't get to it, someone else, some day, might want to, if they find a particular idea intriguing or appealing in some way. So I thought I might publish some of these novel outlines here on this blog.

If you run across this and think – Oh, I'd love to write that idea, you're welcome to do so. It'd be nice if you gave me at least a sentence in an acknowledgements section, but I won't even hold you to that.

Here is one of my favorites among these novels not-being-written.

The Korean Cowboy

(drafted in fall of 2010, updated and expanded spring of 2013)

Over a period of many years, a Korean engineer named Kim Yeong-cheol became progressively more and more obsessed with American cowboy culture. When his wife committed suicide and he lost custody of his children to his in-laws, he decided to take off for America to pursue his dream of becoming a cowboy. Much to his own surprise, through several turns of luck and sheer obstinacy, he ended up becoming a semi-pro rodeo competitor, billed to rodeo fans as "The Korean Cowboy."

After several years, Yeong-cheol returned to Korea, and following the exhortations of old college friends and his aged mother, he tried to re-integrate to Korean life. But he has become estranged from his children, and so he decided to embark on a rather quixotic project to bring American cowboy culture to Korea.

He started with his parents' farm in Jeollanam. He bought some horses, spending his savings from the rodeo circuit and some windfall from his father's passing, and he imported some rodeo gear.

Yeong-cheol struck up a relationship with a local Catholic orphanage, and he taught some of the boys in the area riding and roping skills. He became well-known in his area as a bit of an eccentric but kind-hearted man, and he even got to make an appearance on a human interest television show. Soon he had a small "rodeo school" set up that was in fact breaking even financially.

Unfortunately, just as he was regaining a relationship with his son and daughter, his son got murdered by a corrupt police officer, and his daughter, Hye-jin, ended up badly disfigured and temporarily in a coma by the same incident.

Because of this, Yeong-cheol embarked on a peculiar path of righteous wrath and vengeance, in a single-minded effort to expose the corruption of the local police chief and political officials. He recruited a group of mentally and socially handicapped delinquents to assist in his quest, and among them is his own bitter but highly competent daughter, whom Yeong-cheol fails to recognize due to her disfigurement.

Together Yeong-cheol and Hye-jin battled the corrupt forces of power, and ended up befriending an AWOL American GI named Ricardo Blackhorse, a Native American / Chicano mix with roots in New Mexico, who had been framed by his corrupt US Army sergeant for some crime. They were later joinedtoo, by a high-ranking North Korean refugee, a former general in the North Korean Army, who, disillusioned with the South's materialism, had decided to throw in his lot with these eccentrics.

The story ended quite tragically, of course, with a flight across South Korea on horseback and a crash and burn at the DMZ at the end, confronting South Korean police helicopters, American military police and North Korean artillery.

I suppose I conceptualize this novel cinematically, but also with elements of that amazingly great novel by Hal Borland, When the Legends Die. Imgaine a cross between that novel and a good buddy outlaws western, but set in modern South Korea. I will confess that the first draft of this outline was made shortly after seeing The Good, The Bad and The Weird, which is a fabulous Korean remake of Sergio Leone's famous The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. That movie translates the action from the American west in the post-civil war period to Manchuria in the 1920's, but I became curious as to how one could make a "Korean Western" in a contemporary setting and keep it culturally believable and authentic.

Caveat: 그냥 제 결에서 걸으면서 친구가 되어 주세요


제 앞에서 걷지 마세요. 제가 따라가지 않을지도 몰라요.
제 뒤에서 걷지 마세요. 저는 당신을 이끌지 않을지도 몰라요.
그냥 제 결에서 걸으면서 친구가 되어 주세요.

I  thought this was a Korean proverb and I was all set to try to translate it, but then I saw it attributed to Albert Camus, with a longer lead-in to the last sentence that I had first run across. I did some googling.

Camus seems implausible as an author, just on the basis of its philosophical content. I suppose it’s some kind of popular poem or aphorism. It’s widely distributed online and definitely not originally Korean. I saw someone attributing it to George Sand – this seems slightly more plausible. And several online notes confirmed that attributing it to Camus is an error and one spot suggested it was an old Jewish children’s song.

In any event, I don’t need to translate it, as I found numerous versions in French and English online already for the longer quote.

In English:

Don’t walk behind me: I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me: I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.

In French:

Ne marche pas devant moi, je ne suivrai peut-être pas.
Ne marche pas derrière moi, je ne te guiderai peut-être pas.
Marche juste à côté de moi et sois mon ami.

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Caveat: Hitchens

Cover_of_Mortality_by_Christopher_Hitchens,_Atlantic_2012Walking through the bookstore only last weekend, I saw lying on a table display a cheap paperback edition of Christopher Hitchens’ short, posthumously published book Mortality. The man died last year after a year-long humiliation in the company of a metastasizing throat cancer.

Ah, how relevant, I had thought to myself. I purchased the book.

The book is not very long. I read the 8 essays collected there in spare moments – at bedtime, at wake-up time, waiting for things.

It’s well written and I’m deeply sympathetic to his curmodgeonly and materialist perspectives.

But… my gut reaction is jealousy: Hitchens had already attained his intellectual immortality, through his writing.

I, on the other hand, may die utterly obscure. There’s no finishing those novels I’ve been working on, now. I’ve been much too lazy with my alloted time on this earth.

I’m like the student waking up one morning and realizing the exam is today, but I’ve frittered away my time procrastinating, not studying, and now it’s too late.

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Caveat: Wending Around Kburbia

Today I set off to run errands. I’m trying to be “organized” about this long sojourn in the hospital that is fast approaching.

I took a long walk first, heading east from my apartment building along Jungangno (which just means “Central Avenue” but which I still always call “Broadway” in my mind for some reason). I went wending around “Kburbia” – the non-rectilinear streets on the west side of Jeongbalsan Park and north of Jungangno are eerie in the extent to which they echo yet reinterpret the curved streets and cul-de-sacs of suburban North America. I took some random photos.



There was a temple.



Then I went into the park and up the hill. I saw a magpie.


I saw a swampy place.


Turning the other way, there were redwood trees (a few of these are Chinese “dawn redwoods”).


At the top of the hill I took a picture of a view I probably have taken before – this is looking northwest, toward my place-of-work and the new towers of Tanhyeon on the right, beyond the old Ilsan station. Also, a fine portrait of the piece of dust on my lens, center.


I saw some weird bird sculptures.


Then I walked down the hill and went to the store.

What I’m listening to right now.

Ben Kweller – Holy Water from Guest List on Vimeo.

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Caveat: If Children

If Children
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
– Dorothy Law Nolte

It's a bit smarmy, but I believe it to be utterly true, accurate and very meaningful. It is especially relevant for teachers to always keep in mind.

Caveat: smartphone blog

Well. This post is written from my smartphone too (see previous post), but using my bloghosts website directly. I really dont like typing on the touchscreen keyboard, but as a proof of concept I think ths shows I have lots of options for maintaining my blog in the event the hospital limits my internet access. Note that this phone – a samsung galaxy tab – is connected via 3g, not wifi or 4g, so no problems there either. The typepad website is well optimized for tablet access.
More later.

caveat email blog

caveat email blog
This blog post is via email from my smartphone. Im testing my ability to stay in touch in event I dont have decent internet at some point in the near future. Probably not as nicely formatted and no pretty pictures or video but its serviceable.

Caveat: Metastasis

While I was in my class, I'd gotten a call apparently. Curt got a call from my doctor, and when I came back from my class, he was on the phone and I went into his office.

Finally, some good news: at least based on the tests run today, there's no sign of metastasization of the cancer from the tumor in the back of my mouth. Meaning that as far as they can tell, surrounding tissue in the neck and head is clear. I'll be getting a full-body PET scan next week some time, to make sure there isn't anything anywhere else, but this is encouraging.

The meaning is that if I can survive this tumor extraction and following radiation, the prognosis is pretty good. I'm still deeply scared about the surgery and not looking forward to the discomfort that seems inevitable with radiation, it doesn't appear to be one of those grim "stage 3 or 4" situations. They've caught it early enough, maybe.

Nothing fully conclusive, yet. Just that as things stand, that's some encouraging news.

Caveat: 뿡 뿡 뿡, 뿡 뿡 뿡, 뿡 뿡 뿡

I decided to walk to the Cancer Center. I actually live that close – it’s about 3 km and it seemed like a good way to try to meditate and clear my head before the procedures.

Here is a picture of the National Cancer Center as I approach from the west.


Just past the highrise part is the main entrance.


My MRI and CT scans were completed without too much incident. Right as they were happening, it was quite intense – I likened it spending an hour inside a running washing machine while having scary, cold substances injected into you. They set up this IV apparatus on my hand, for quick, convenient injection.


It really only hurt when they were injecting the “contrast media” – at which point it was definitely painful. But in the MRI machine especially, it was quite a long time – about 40 minutes. I tried hard to keep my mouth and tongue still and tried to practice my anapana (breathing control) that I learned some years ago during my meditation training. I didn’t really succeed, so then I was making lists in my mind.

Afterward, I felt like crying – everything felt so overwhelming. Partly, I’d just undergone this experience after fasting since 6 am, and I’ve been pushing hard lately. I went into this little canteen they have in the hospital and bought some apple juice and sat in a corner and tried to think about something happy.

So I decided to walk to work – it’s just up the road a few kilometers from the cancer center. I felt kind of woozy from the stuff they’d injected into me, but I figured I could walk it off – and I did.

I hadn’t really planned to go to work today. They were surprised to see me there. But I told my boss, “I just want to feel normal. I just want to keep my routine.” I spent time trying to organize my desk. I wrote some emails to relatives.

Then I went into my BISP1 class – even though Gina was scheduled to replace me. She said, “Are you sure?”

I said yes – I wanted to see them.

Helen said, “You always complain about them.” This is true.

I said, “Well, today I want to complain about them some more.”

I walked into the classroom, and all 6 of the kids (4th through 6th grade) where on the raised stage part of the front of the classroom. While doing something resembling PSY’s latest dance, in vague synchrony, they sang “뿡 뿡 뿡, 뿡 뿡 뿡, 뿡 뿡 뿡” to the tune of the Star Wars “Imperial March.” Keep in mind that 뿡 [ppung] is Korean for “fart noise.” So they’re singing “fart fart fart” as if Star Wars were taking place, while dancing on the stage.

This is how my class started. It was excellent throughout, although I think the ladies at the front desk felt it was too loud.

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Caveat: Life is nothing and that is sublime

One unexpected but happy outcome of my recent announcement on this blog (and hence in facebookland, too) that I have been diagnosed with cancer, is the outpouring messages and notes from distant friends, relatives, and acquaintances. I'm utterly grateful for all of that.

It really makes a difference in my ability to keep a positive outlook on this experience – please don't stop no matter what! Thank you – I love you all so much.

Among these messages, however, there have been some examples of what I can only term "religious outreach and sharing." I don't mean people who are saying they are praying for me – this is nigh universal, and completely unproblematic from my perspective. I mean people who take the opportunity to share something of their beliefs, or experiences with Jesus, etc., and who inquire as to my own religious standing.

Viewed charitably, people are offering me solace with displays of where, in their own lives, they have found their own meaning and solace. Taking a less charitable view, they're seeking to exploit me in a moment of weakness and hoping to gain a "deathbed" convert.

For the record, my faith is quite strong.

I realize these solicitations are meant in all kindness, but I don't take them as kindness. Efforts to convert me – even in the best of times – will, if anything, turn me against the belief system being advocated.

Perhaps it is the case that aggressive evangelism is in some ways admirable. Certainly it is worth noting the level of commitment and strength of faith that it requires, and the depth of human character that it draws upon. I deeply respect if not downright envy people of strong faith of all kinds. Nevertheless, that kind of "vested outreach" ("caring, but with a dogmatic agenda") strikes me as disrespectful to the intellectual autonomy of others.

Try to consider it from my point of view: "So sorry to hear your news about your being sick, but, by the way, what you believe is completely wrong. I sure hope that you can fix up your deficient belief system in the time remaining to you on this Earth, or… you-know-what!"

Ah. Thank you so much for making me feel better.

I am an atheist. If that changes, over time, then so be it, but in this moment, my faith is unshaken, firm and unwavering.

"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit." – Thomas Paine

Paine was called a "a demihuman archbeast" in an American newspaper contemporary to him. That being the case, how can we say that the voices in the current media are so alarming?

To digress further, briefly, for no reason, in a different vein: I once owned a horse that I named "Thomas Paine." I thought it a fitting name, as the horse seemed strongly anti-authoritarian and freethinking in character. I probably thought of the name because I was carrying around a slim copy of Paine's Age of Unreason at the time, which was the period of my disillusion with my previous "Quaker" identity. Thomas Paine was the only horse I ever owned. I didn't own him for long. When my several-months-long horseback oddessy in the mountains of Michoacan ended unpleasantly in the Spring of 1987, I gifted Thomas Paine to my friend Jon, who sold the horse later.

Thus when I think of Thomas Paine, and so too of religion and anti-religion and freethought, those meditations enchain to visceral memories of sitting atop a spirited horse in the pine forests of the high country of southwestern Mexico, or of eating carnitas and fresh tortillas and inhaling wood-smoke and shaking scorpions out of my shoes in the early morning.

For me there is a literal, viscerally-felt smell to be evoked for that sense of freedom from the anxieties of dogmas.

I should return to the question at hand: some of my friends' and acquaintances' sudden evangelical zealousness.

I assert that I am a "faith-based" atheist.

Some people might protest that I have repeatedly represented myself as Buddhist in this blog, and… isn't that a religion too?

Well yes… but no. Buddhism is indeed a religon, for many.

For me, though, Buddhism is only a practice, nothing more. It requires me to believe absolutely nothing. When my Buddhist friends talk to me of karma, I choose to interpret it metaphorically, and when they speak of reincarnation I nod politely and try to smile. Most pointedly, though, no one has ever suggested to me that it is a requirement that I believe such nonsense. So I very much appreciate that there exists a group of people that for the most part not only steadfastly refuses to dogmatize their beliefs but is even willing to affirm that I can be "one of them" without having to make any changes or adjustments of any kind to my own beliefs.

I suppose that when I was an active Quaker, 25 years ago, it was similar. Christianity, though, has an undeniable and unavoidable dogmatic burden: it requires of each believer the unambivalent affirmation of God's personal and accessible existence to each of us. No church, therefore – not even the Quakers or the Unitarians – are really able to dispense with all the metaphysical hocus pocus. If you're going to hold the Bible to some standard of eternal truth or even the broadest symbolic sacredness, you're joined at the hip to an irrational worldview. I could never feel comfortable pretending about that. I disliked my own imagined hypocrisy too intensely when I was an openly atheist "Quaker," and I felt unwelcome among Unitarians, too, for the exact same reason. They welcome all views, but, caveat: "hey, don't you think you're being a little close-minded, being an atheist?"

My "faith-based atheism" is strange to many people. Probably, it is even utterly unfathomable. People may ask, "How is it possible to have such a strong belief in, um… nothing?" As if atheism was an affirmational belief in "nothing." It's not nihilism. From my perspective, God is only one thing. So… Everything, minus one thing, is still almost everything. And that's what I believe in: I believe in everything that is in the world, everything that I can hear and feel and touch and see and taste and know and learn and achieve through my own rational mind.

In a way, I even derive some significant comfort from my atheism, in this difficult moment in my life. Where others, who have strong belief systems in benevolent or purposeful deities, would find their faith challenged or shaken by a revelation of their own possible imminent mortality, I am merely affirmed.

Of course life has no purpose, I can affirm in this moment, with a broad smile. And yet… what beauty there is in the world! What kindness other people can show! And how remarkable, then, that this happens for no reason whatsoever.

A miracle – utterly sublime.

Caveat: Furniture Blog!

I woke up at dawn this morning without an alarm (about 4:50 am), and decided to eat breakfast, because later today I'm going into the hospital for some outpatient tests (MRI etc) and I'm not allowed to eat or drink water for 6 hours before that.

So I ate my bowl of nurungji (which is a common breakfast of mine lately because it's porridgy, a bit like rice oatmeal or something). I have given up coffee – at least for now, which is a really hard thing to give up. So I drank several cups of water with my breakfast and some weak corn-tassel (옥수수수염차) tea.

Then at 6 am or so I lay down again, and after reading a few pages of a current book-in-progress, I went back to sleep quickly and almost unexpectedly.

I dreamed I was writing my blog. That's not really surprising, I guess.

But the topic of my blog was furniture. Only furniture.

In my dream, I was reading through old entries on my blog. There was an entry about a table. A few about sofas. One about a chair. Somehow, I was writing extensively about these things, but there was nothing at all interesting or remarkable about them as I read them.

That's all there was in the dream – it wasn't long or complicated, but it managed to be quite memorable and vivid. I woke up feeling banal and empty and pointless. Waking up from that dream was like putting down a Kafka novel halfway through, out of frustration and boredom.

My current schedule is to complete these tests today, and check into the hospital for surgery next Tuesday (July 2). Next Thursday or Friday (July 4 or 5) will be my actual surgery day. I feel dread about that. It's a big deal – a major surgery with lots of potential complications and immense impact on my functionality afterward.

In essence, yesterday (Thursday) was my last day of actual work. I will likely be visiting work at least once or twice either Saturday or Monday or both, but Curt and Helen (the subdirector) have cleared my teaching schedule. Hopefully some replacement is found – we interviewed someone yesterday but she wasn't commital. I guess regardless, they'll manage. Did I mention that of ten teachers, two are currently having health-crises, now? Another teacher, a Korean, has been in the hospital since last week, too.

Curt must feel that the plagues of heaven have decended upon his hagwon.

It's Karma. Karma+, even.

Caveat: 피할수 없는 고통이라면 차라리 즐겨라

Curt taught me this aphorism while we were in the waiting room the other day. It may be something associated or of frequent occurance in the military – which is essentially a universal experience for Korean males. The way Curt explained it, however, he implied it was Buddhist. It makes equal sense in both contexts.

피할           수   없는               고통이라면   차라리  즐겨라

pi.hal su.eops.neun go.tong.i.ra.myeon cha.ra.ri jeul.gyeo.ra

avoid-FUTPART able not-have-PRESPART pain-be-IF rather enjoy-IMPER

If pain is unavoidable just enjoy [life].

Of course. To the best of my ability.

I said it to the doctor as we were concluding our interview. He said something to the effect of, “I never met a foreigner like you before.” I guess I was pleased by that, in a strange way.

Unrelatedly (or is it?)… from 9gag.

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Caveat: Tea Poem On Cloth

As I mentioned, I went shopping last Sunday, where we stopped at the Buddhist bookshop next to the Jogye temple near Insadong. I mentioned that I had bought a Korean-English dictionary of Buddhist terms. Another thing I bought were some of what might termed “aphorisms-painted-on-cloth” – I guess I like these though I’m not sure what I do with them. I’ve gifted them to friends sometimes.

But first, I study them – I try to find out what they’re about. Here is one of them.


Here is a trascription. I could not find this poem or prayer (not sure which to call it) online with English translation, so the translation is entirely mine – please forgive defects (I welcome feedback to improve the translation)

Tea fragrance

가까이 할수록 좋고,
The closer you are to the scent of tea, the better,

인간(人間)의 향기는
느낄수록 좋고,
The more you experience the scent of humanity, the better,

도(道)의 향기는
깨달을수록 좋은데,
The more you attain the scent of the right path, the better, too

당신의 향기를
그리워하는 이들을 위하여
Here, caring for those yearning for your scent

작은 흔적을 기록하여
남기고 저 합니다
Recording small traces, prepare to leave [it] behind.

깨우치게 하소서.
Please let everyone find enlightenment.

I was so stumped by the second line of the penultimate stanza that for a time I had utterly given up. Googletranslate says “To leave me” which is just dictionary madness – look up some syllables and assign meaning then chain them together. But “저” as “me” is never a suffix. Googletranslate is useless.

Then I decided to break down and use the frustrating but exhaustive Samuel E. Martin book. I suspected -고저 is some kind of archaic verbal ending because then 남기 can be the stem of the verb 남기다 “to leave behind.” Sure enough, there it was: -koce “be willing to, intend to, get ready to, prepare to” with obvious examples using 하다 as the main auxiliary.

The very last verb+ending, 하소서, really stumped me too. It took a lot of dinking around the internet before I realized I could see if Martin had it, too – and it was there, alphabetized (in his crazy way) under the romanization -usose. Sure, that’s obvious. It’s a kind of super-high deferential imperative (“Let… “), common in e.g. Bible translations. And in Buddhist tea-prayers, too, I guess.

My lesson for the day: don’t avoid Martin just because his romanization is tedious and difficult.

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Caveat: My Own Private 6/25

Yesterday was what the South Koreans call 육이오 [yuk-i-o = six-two-five], which is to say, June 25th, which is the anniversary of the day North Korea launched its massive surprise invasion against the south, that led to the 3 year-long Korean War. It’s not really a holiday, but it’s a day of rememberance. A day to reflect on “national tragedy.”

For me, it was just a regular day. A morning, running errands, and an afternoon teaching four elementary classes and preparing some speaking test results.

Oh, and I had my cancer diagnosis confirmed and spent an hour discussing survivability statistics, neck and tongue reconstructive surgery, tracheotomies and the length and frequency of radiation therapies.

I guess the contrast feels striking to think about.

I’ve been really diligent about making video records of all my students’ speaking work, the last few months. There are more than 100 videos posted now at my other blog [UPDATE: this link still works in 2023 – very surprising!] – which is a work blog for my students and their parents, mostly – it’s not getting much use, yet, but it was meant to be a start of something.

One side effect of this is that I have some sort of video record of almost every teaching day. So for yesterday, I made and posted 3 videos.

First, with some younger ones where I was not their regular teacher, we did a “story reading” class. We made “books” (illustrations) and then they read the story. They hammed a lot for the camera, too. If you watch nothing else, watch the last 12 seconds of this video.

Next, I gave a speaking test to an earnest but low-intermediate level group of older elementary kids. They weren’t really that happy about it, as you can tell – but some of them are still getting used to my teaching style and I only see them once a week.

Last, I gave a debate speech test to my most advanced elementary kids. They really always impress me with their strong effort, research and thoughtfulness. These 3 minute speeches are completely from memory.

So… you’re not seeing me in these videos. But it’s nevertheless a kind of video record of a single day of my work. I guess I feel like it’s an affirmation that despite my emerging situation, I can hang on to a kind of normalcy.


Caveat: 김서방네 지붕위에 콩깍지가…

I’ve decided to do a series of Korean tongue-twisters, in the same way I have been doing aphorisms and proverbs.
김서방네 지붕위에 콩깍지가 깐콩깍지냐 안깐콩깍지이냐 ?
김서방네            지붕위에        콩깍지가
kim·seo·bang·ne   ji·bung·wi·e   kong·kkak·ji·ga
kim-mister-“chez” roof-ontop-LOC bean-pod-SUBJ
깐콩깍지냐                  안깐콩깍지이냐
kkan·kong·kkak·ji·nya     an·kkan·kong·kkak·ji·i·nya
husk-PASTPART-bean-pod-OR not-husk-PASTPART-bean-pod-OR
Is the bean pod on Mr Kim’s roof a husked bean pod or an unhusked bean pod?
There some things we must ask, in life. This may not be one of them.

Caveat: Please comebake healthy teacher

pictureI have about 20 students and former students who are friends on facebook. I knew that posting my health status there means that that information will become available to those students. Fortunately, I don’t think Curt is specifically uncomfortable with students knowing my status, but we both agreed it wouldn’t be something generally announced, either.

It didn’t take long, though, for my students to find out, since they are always checking their smartphones for any signs of novelty in their worlds.

Last night I got a kakao message from a student who had apparently seen my facebook posting. I’m actually impressed she took the time to figure out what my post was about, as she’s only an intermediate-level student. She deserves bonus credit just for that!

She made promises to always do her homework if I get healthy. Which is cute and charming and amazingly beautiful in its kidlike naivety. She concluded “Please comebake [come back] healthy teacher.” My heart is rended as I feel so happy from this sincere message.

How I’m perceived is so much different than how I perceive myself. Not just by students.

Last Sunday, my friend Peter told me that I was “one of the most consistently positive foreigners” he’d met in Korea. Really? He said my blog made me seem gloomier than my actual persona. Yet from the inside, if anything, it’s the opposite: my blog is more positive than my actual self. But I’ve remarked on that before – I guess I’m pretty good at keeping positive in social settings.

I awoke with incredible nausea this morning. I know it’s not anything directly related to my illness – I haven’t even started any treatment or serious medicine. It is, without a doubt, essentially a “gut level” emotional response to my emergent reality.

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Caveat: Tragedy Magnet

In maudlin moments, I find myself speculating that I have been some kind of “tragedy magnet” in this life.

This is ridiculous, of course. My life is perhaps more tragic than the lives of some others, if one wants to inspect it on those terms. But it is still so much less tragic than many, many lives. It’s just a life.

Humans, collectively, are perhaps better conceptualized as tragedy magnets than any individual. We perceive tragedy, and that allows us to draw tragedy around us like a proudly worn, tattered cloak.

13 years ago this week, my wife Michelle committed suicide. We were separated, but talk of divorce wasn’t at that moment on the table. It was a complicated time, and painful.

In my more self-punishing moments, I could imagine that I brought her suicide on, myself. Or that she and I, together, brought that tragedy on ourselves. After all, she and I chose the lives we were making… or failing to make.

But then life went on, after that.

In that same kind of self-punishing moment, I wonder how much of my current cancer (now that the doctors are calling it that without circumspection) is the result of “incorrect thinking.” I don’t mean that I’m conceptualizing this newly discovered illness as a kind of punishment for sins, because I don’t believe in sins – but rather, I’m talking about psychosomatic processes: a somatic expression of my broken psyche.

Of course there are senses in which this is true. There are senses, though, in which it is not true.

Scientifically – medically – psyche plays a role (via the way that stress impacts the body, if nothing more), but there are many other factors: genetics, pollution in the environment, bad habits of diet or tobacco (when I was much younger, if referring to me specifically) or lack of exercise, or even random stray cosmic rays zapping just the wrong molecules of DNA at just the wrong moment.

But cumulatively, my psyche has a job to do, too, and so I sometimes imagine I’ve brought this onto myself.

Should I just let it run its course? Is this creature meant to be fought?

Such a futile thing: to purchase a few more years, of uncertain quality, in exchange for a price of a vast amount of treasure and energy and willpower and yes, pain. I really don’t like pain.

Below, an utterly random and definitely unseasonal picture from my archive: the frozen Lake in Ilsan in January, 2009.


Those footprints in the snow on the frozen ice… There I go.

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Caveat: Cancer


I’ll just stick to the facts, mostly, for now.

The doctor said: “You have cancer.” Well. No ambiguity, there.

It’s cancer of the tongue, possibly lymph, too. What stage? “It’s a gray area.” We can’t know what ‘stage’ until surgery – that will include exploratory surgery and excision of lymph area on left side of neck.

Surgery will be in 2 weeks. Depending on how bad things look once they’re inside, looking around, it could be a simple 2-hour surgery or up to a 7-hour long surgery, including tracheotomy and extensive reconstruction after excision. Just to be clear: they will be removing some portion of the back of my tongue, and putting what’s left of it back together again, regardless of the other aspects (i.e. lymph etc.).

I will miss at least one month of work. Because of my relative “youth,” prognosis is good as far as recovery of functionality: speaking, eating, tasting. Still, I’m not sure what kind of “speaking teacher” I’m going to be, after this. Curt is being very kind.

There’s some irony, to be a linguist with tongue cancer…

Following surgery and recovery, radiation is standard for this type of diagnosis. Six weeks of daily radiation, starting probably in August at some point.

Statistics: survival rate is about 65%.

Insurance: with Korean National Health Insurance my copay will not exceed 5%. At that, probably still in the thousands of dollars.

Work: I need to find a short-term (one or two month) replacement. I will remain an employee of KarmaPlus.

Later, I can wax philosophical or journalistic or literary.

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Caveat: Jared의 실체

My student presented me with this portrait of my 실체 [sil-che = “true character, essence”].


Apparently, it turns out that my true character is that I’m a couch potato ajeossi demanding food.

I asked, who’s going to be bringing me my food – in the picture I’m demanding “밥 줘” [bap-jweo = “gimme food”].

She explained that my “double” (some kind of doppelganger, it seems) would be waiting on me. I said that sounded convenient.

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Caveat: 저기 가는 상장사가 헌 상장사냐 새 상장사냐

I’ve decided to do a series of Korean tongue-twisters, in the same way I have been doing aphorisms and proverbs.

저기 가는 상장사가 헌 상장사냐 새 상장사냐?

저기    가는         상장사가

jeo·gi ga·neun     sang·jang·sa·ga

There  go-PRESPART table-merchant-SUBJ

헌    상장사냐           새   상장사냐

heon sang·jang·sa·nya  sae sang·jang·sa·nya

old  table-merchant-OR new table-merchant-OR

Is that table-merchant there an old table-merchant or a new table-merchant?

Actually, I have zero percent confidence about the choice of “table” as the meaning for 상. My tutor and I figured the merchant was selling something, and 상 has a lot of possible meanings – assuming it’s a merchant.

pictureThe fact that it stumped a native speaker means I don’t feel bad about this. Table merchant makes some sense – maybe not nowadays, but I can easily imagine in olden times a man with some of Korea’s little wooden tables strapped to his back, going from town to town selling them at the 5-day markets.

Here’s my little table at right, that I bought from a streetside table merchant (or was it a more generalized housewares vendor?) in Suwon in 2010. I have no idea if he was an old table merchant or a new one.

I feel a sort of apprehension: tomorrow I return to get the results of my biopsy and probably get a CT scan. I received a text message this morning on my phone from the hospital:

WAY JARED 님의 정확한 조직 검사진단을 위하여 검사가 추가 시행될 예정입니다.
검사결과는 다음 외래 내원시 수납 후 확인하실 수 있습니다. – 국립암센터-
본 검사는 6월 19일 접수한 조직으로 검사가 진행되오니 내원하실 필요는 없습니다.

Basically, it’s telling me that they want to do additional “diagnostic tests” (검사진단)  and that it can be done when I come in for my next appointment (which is tomorrow morning). I don’t think this is really very encouraging, though I suppose I could conclude that it means “they don’t really know” which is better than “they’re certain.”

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Caveat: only a moment

I have been trying to write what are called Sapphic stanzas – an originally Greek poetic form that has a long history of adaptation in English, including efforts by Hardy, Kipling and Ginsberg.

I’m not sure about the typical thematics – sapphics seem to be used for odes and narrative poetry. They are in any event considered difficult and ill-fitted to natural English rhythms, better suited to the rolling polysyllables of Greek or Latin.

Still, I think I got the metics right in this little single stanza. I like it well enough to share it, anyhow, although it’s in the category of a sketch rather than a completed work. (Poem #13 on new numbering scheme)

"A Moment."
Clouds that parse the sky with their fractal, cold hands;
Trees held captive struggling against the strong earth,
Branches dividing, air is displaced with green thrusts:
only a moment.

Something in the metrical pattern strikes me as reminiscent of Robinson Jeffers. I suppose given his background in classics, his poetry was full of such meters as these. Here are two short excerpts of his poetry, which share a theme, which is not the theme of my poem above. These are also clearly not sapphics – indeed, I didn’t really invest the energy to figure out what they might be, but regardless there’s clearly something “classical” in the metrics.

Dear God, who are the whole splendor of things and the sacred
stars, but also the cruelty and greed, the treacheries
And vileness, insanities and filth and anguish: now that this
thing comes near us again I am finding it hard
To praise you with a whole heart.
– “Contemplation of The Sword” (1938)

I have seen these ways of God: I know of no reason
For fire and change and torture and the old returnings.
– “Apology for Bad Dreams” (1927)

The picture (found online) is of of Jeffers’ “Tor House” which he built by hand (in the 1920’s and 30’s) near Carmel, California.



Caveat: The drive from Seoul to Mexico took more than an hour but only because we got lost

Today I went into Seoul and met some friends.

First, my friend Peter and I met at Anguk and did some book shopping. Then we met my other friend Seungbae. Seungbae has a car, such as it is: he described his decrepit yellow van to Peter as his “Korean West Virginia Van” by which he meant to describe its origins in the Hantuckian southwest of the peninsula. It’s a kind of running bit of humor he’s had with me.

“Let’s drive to Mexico,” he announced.

So we did.


We went to Pyeongtaek, which is Korea’s Mexico. By which I mean, only, that in Pyeongtaek there is an authentic Mexican restaurant run by authentic Mexicans. Seungbae and I spoke Spanish with the owner. I’ve visited this place before, with this friend (a few years ago), but it was the first time for my other friend Peter.

I regretted not being able to enjoy spicy food, currently, but I had some bland but good tacos al pastor, and drank horchata.


Actually, we spent most of the afternoon there, talking. The part of the afternoon not spent there, talking, were mostly spent driving around. Seungbae has a very improvisational style of vehicular navigation that leads to a lot scenic detours.

Returning to north Seoul at 6 pm or so, I was struck by how smoggy it was looking. The view of the haze-shrouded highrises from the Gyeongbu expressway approaching Gangnam from the south made me feel like I was on the 405 in L.A.


Seungbae dropped us off at the Express Bus terminal in Gangnam, because it conveniently is located at the intersection of the two subway lines we needed – Peter to go home to Bucheon and me to go home to Ilsan.

After riding the subway home (another hour), I emerged at Juyeop right after dark, to capture the orangy supermoon rising over Jungangno. Why does an orangy supermoon look so small and unsuper in this photo? It was spectuclar in real life.


Here is the book I bought earlier that I’m most intrigued by: a Korean and English dictionary of Buddhist Terms.


[Update 2013-06-26: it turns out my friend Peter blogged this day, too. I think it’s novel enough to make a note of it  here – it’s a chance for someone to see two different people blogging the exact same experience.]

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Caveat: Vanidoso

pictureEl vanidoso

Yo sería un gran muerto.
Mis vicios entonces lucirían como joyas antiguas
con esos deliciosos colores del veneno.
Habría flores de todos los aromas en mi tumba
e imitarían los adolescentes mis gestos de júbilo,
mis ocultas palabras de congoja.

Tal vez alguien diría que fui leal y fui bueno.
Pero solamente tú recordarías
mi manera de mirar a los ojos.

Una de las caras del amor es la muerte,
en el humo de esta época eternamente juvenil.
¿Qué me queda ante ti sino la perplejidad de los reyes,
los gestos del aprendizaje ante la crecida del río,
las huellas de la caída de bruces entre la ceniza?
La propia juventud decrece
y trota la melancolía como una mula.

– Roque Daltón (poeta salvadoreño)

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Caveat: 고려고 교복은 고급교복이고…

I’ve decided to do a series of Korean tongue-twisters, in the same way I have been doing aphorisms and proverbs.

고려고 교복은 고급교복이고 고려고 교복은 고급원단을 사용했다.

고려고       교복은         고급교복이고
go·ryeo·go  gyo·bok·eun   go·geup·gyo·bok·i·go
Goryeo-High uniform-TOPIC high-quality-uniform-be-CONJ
고려고       교복은         고급원단을
go·ryeo·go  gyo·bok·eun   go·geup·won·dan·eul
Goryeo-High uniform-TOPIC high-quality-fabric-OBJ

The Koryo High School uniform is of high quality and the Koryo High School uniform is made of high quality fabric.

The only word that gave me a problem here was 원단. I’d already heard from a Korean tutor that the word means fabric, but my efforts to confirm that with a Korean-English dictionary failed – none that I consulted online include “fabric” as a meaning for 원단. But the meaning is right there in the Korean-Korean dictionary: 원단 (原緞) -옷 따위를 만드는 데 원료가 되는 천 (which translates roughly as a good definition for fabric). The hanja are different for this 원단 than the ones found in the Korean-English dictionary, too. Sometimes I think that mostly what I’m learning with all my efforts at study is not the Korean Language, but instead the shortcomings of Korean-English dictionaries.
I decided not to research what the actual Goryeo High School uniform looks like. I only found one Goryeo High School in Korea, which is located in the city of Gwangju. I may have even walked past it at some point during my perambulations in that city when living down in Yeonggwang in 2010~11, since Gwangju was the closest major city. I was surprised that there is only one high school with the name Goryeo, since there is a very famous university called Goryeo, and since the name “Goryeo” itself is one of the many names for the country called “Korea” or “Corea” in western languages, arguably one of the oldest names, and undoubtedly the name from which the western name for the country derives.
Anyway, I hope they have nice uniforms at that high school, made with high quality fabric.

Caveat: On Borrowed Time

Actually, I died in November, 1998.

I remember it vividly. My heart was racing and I heard it in my ears, and then it stopped. It was stopped a long time – it felt like several minutes but I don't know how long it really was.

I experienced the "seeing the white light up a tunnel," but even as it was happening I felt that I understood it scientifically, and so I contemplated its neurophysiology: the back of my brain was losing oxygen and shutting down first, and that is the center of the visual field, hence as the neurons shut off the visual field percept shifts to "nothing" – i.e. whiteness – and this whiteness spreads as the area of oxygen-deprived neurons expands.

I thought about many things. I considered becoming religious and rejected it, in that moment. I replayed memories, bits of my life. I had a sort of debate with myself – I can't say if I won or lost that debate. Both, maybe.

And then I heard a voice – my own voice – which said: "you're not done yet." My heart started again. I had the distinct impression that I had become a ghost – an idea which recurs to me occasionally even through the present day.

This episode is not invented or fictionalized in any way. There are a lot of surrounding circumstances that I'm less willing to share so transparently about that point in my life, but the core near-death experience was real and transformational.

From that time until now I have been living on borrowed time: "my bonus round."

Caveat: Stasera Che Sera

It was a strange, busy, up-and-down day.

I had to go to work early, because of an open house for parents. Not a lot of parents came, but some. Still, I never have much to do at these things – mostly it’s homeroom teachers meeting with them, after the director and sub-director make their talks. But they like to have me available, in the event some parent has a question or a complaint or a request, and I’m genuinely happy to be available for that – I sometimes enjoy playing a guessing game by myself, to figure out who is who’s parent, matching faces I’m seeing to the familiar faces of my students in my mind.

pictureAfter this, we had a hweh-shik (회식, normally romanized as hoe-sik but that’s one case where the revised romanization is pretty inadequate to pronunciation and so I’m willing to break the rules) – the typical Korean business lunch or dinner. Hweh-shik lunches are more fun for me than hweh-shik dinners, normally, because less alcohol is involved.

We went to 보양 삼계탕 [boyang samgyetang], a fairly upscale samgyetang joint on the west side of Ilsan, with a really lovely view down a tree-lined boulevard of the Kintex convention center, in one direction, and the Goyang city stadium in another direction.

I normally really like samgyetang, which is a kind of whole-chicken-in-rice-and-ginseng-soup concoction, but both because of the sheer volume of it and the complicated spices and dismemberment of it, I really didn’t want samgyetang (remember that currently, because of my illness, eating is painful, for me). I’ve been preferring to stick to soft, squishy, somewhat bland foods, lately. I special-ordered some black sesame seed rice porridge, 흑깨죽, which was earthy and delicious. I also drank a cupful of ginseng liqueur by accident, thinking it was tea. I almost choked, and who knows how that will interact with my percocet. I survived and felt OK afterward.

Then it was back to work for a long afternoon and evening of mostly correcting things at my desk and playing around with various ambitious curriculum idea documents on my computer, which may never go anywhere but they help me to feel useful. I don’t have a dense teaching load on Fridays even on the normal schedule, and with the current test-prep schedule for the middle-schoolers (for first semester pre-summer vacaction final exams), I have even less.

I lurked at my cramped desk in the crowded staffroom and drank a lot of 보이차 [bo-i-cha = puer tea], of the teabag variety as opposed to the loose-leaf kind I like to make for myself at home. I cleaned my computer files. Next week will be plenty busy, because one of my coworkers is going on a short vacation and so I will be filling in quite a few of his classes. So I decided to just not be too stressed about not having a lot to do this day.

During my last class, I made the students do their homework during class. They don’t like this – but that’s my “punishment” when they all come to class with incomplete homework. So we were looking at a question to the tune of “Do you do volunteer work?” that was in their workbooks. One boy, Sangjin, wrote, “I don’t do this work.” That was his entire answer – it was supposed to be a short paragraph.

I asked him about it.

“I don’t do this work,” he insisted, refusing to elaborate.

“You’re not a volunteer, ever?”


“Yes.” Korean students inevitably say “yes” to English negative questions where native speakers might be inclined to say “no” or try to be less ambiguous by saying “right” or “correct.”

“It’s because you have a cold heart,” I teased.

“Oh no. I’m lazy.”

He grinned and made one of those silly two-hands-cupped-together-in-the-shape-of-a-heart gestures popularized by Korean celebrities.

When I was back in the staff room, my collegue Kwon-saem (the middle school division bujang, a Buddha-like figure who spends long periods of time playing Windows Solitaire at his desk) came over and stuck the text of a poem or song in front of me.

“Can you translate this?” he asked, good-naturedly.

It was in Italian.

“Maybe,” I shrugged. “Do you want me to?” I grabbed it back from him and handily translated the first two lines on the fly. Italian can be like that, for me, given my strong backgrounds in Spanish
and French and Romance Philology.

He was surprised – I wondered if he was testing me or if he had been joking. He laughed. “You are genius,” he surmised, in his laconic way.

I was pleased, and he and I spent about 20 minutes slapping together a translation into English using the googletranslate, which he then worked on rendering, in turn, into Korean. I never did figure out why he was working on it – it’s an Italian pop song from the 1970’s.

My mood was swinging up and down a lot, today. I’m sure it’s partly this feeling that life is being turned upside down while continuing through the same rhythms and habits as always. But I had a sort of breakthrough moment while walking home, that maybe it’s the percocet, too. It’s a pretty strong, opiate-derived painkiller (and believe me, I’ve been needing it).

What I’m listening to right now.

Matia Bazar, “Stasera Che Sera.”


Stasera che sera
restare tutto il tempo con te
di notte l’amore l’amore
e’ sempre una sorpresa per me
poi respirare il profumo del mare
mentre dal vento tu ti lasci cullare
fare il signore o il mendicante
non scordarsi mai pero’
di essere anche amante
stasera che sera
restare tutto il tempo con te
di notte l’amore l’amore
e’ sempre una sorpresa per me
stringere il sole nelle mie mani
toglierti i raggi
come ad un albero i rami
per circondare il tuo viso in calore
non per fare un petalo intorno
al suo fiore
Na a ria na na na ria na na na
na na na na na na na na na na na na a
stasera che sera
restare tutto il tempo con te
di notte l’amore l’amore
e’ sempre una sorpresa per me
spegnere il germe del nostro gioco
sazi d’amore ma contenti di poco
chiedere all’aria i suoi tesori
e cosi’ nel chiuso
puoi sentirti sempre fuori
stasera “stasera” che sera “che sera”
restare tutto il tempo con te
di notte l’amore l’amore
e’ sempre una sorpresa per me
fare il conteggio dei giorni passati
sapere adesso
che non sono sciupati
e che tu sei sempre viva e presente
ora come allora
tu sei mia nella mia mente
Na a ria na na na ria na na na
na na na na na na na na na na na na a
stasera che sera
restare tutto il tempo con te
di notte l’amore l’amore
e’ sempre una sorpresa per me
stasera che sera
restare tutto il tempo con te
di notte l’amore l’amore
e’ sempre una sorpresa per me…

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Caveat: Kids vs Wolf

In my young ones class (Stars 반), this month we have been practicing a play called “The Wolf and the Five Little Goats.”

I made video of our practice yesterday. At first I had intended to make this the final version and edit it so it came out well, but the girls don’t really have it memorized yet and they were still deciding how they wanted to arrange their scenes, so this is just a kind of running practice. They are progressing well, though.

I know it’s really hard to understand what they’re saying – they have a sort of on-going chatter in Korean wrapped around their fairly decent reading of the lines of their characters in English, but it’s very focused and on-task – they’re mostly discussing how to do a given scene and where to arrange themselves.

I love to see my students “take charge” of their own learning process, which is clearly what’s going on here: I’m just a guy with a camera, while they are deciding what to do, how to do it, and the pace of things. This makes for a classroom setting that is very chaotic from a traditionalist perspective, and some teachers find it scary to contemplate running a classroom this way, and other teachers will probably contend that no actual learning is going on – “they’re just playing” was a remark directed to me by a Korean teacher once, after witnessing this type of classroom. But if there’s one thing that I can feel confident of: they are internalizing the English dialog from this play at a level that is hard to achieve otherwise at this age.

We have done previous plays and they have echoed lines from those plays in appropriate contexts months later. One example – although it’s not in the text of the play we’re working on now, toward the end the goats push the wolf into the well (you can see the girls acting it out): the two girls pushing say “push, push!” and “push harder” – which are some lines from a play we did quite a while back. They improvised it at the appropriate moment in our current play.

pictureI really like the series of books that we’re working with for these – they suit my feelings about good ways to do dramatic arts with low-proficiency young learners.

To show what these materials look like, here is the front cover (at right).

Here are our eight characters. This also is part of what makes the girls’ performance interesting: there are three of them playing eight characters and do so with a remarkable level of sophistication. Watch, especially, in the video when the girl in the light pink dress is playing both the wolf and one of the baby goats behind the door.


Here are some pages from the book so you can get a feel for it (you can click to enlarge them and see the lyrics to two of the songs).


If you’re teaching 1st/2nd/3rd graders at low or medium level EFL in Korea, I highly recommend this series, called Ready Action! by publisher A*List E*Public. It’s worth noting, too, that this publisher, A*List, is the same one responsible for one of my favorite series of speaking and speech-giving textbooks for more advanced elementary learners available in Korea, called Speaking Juice.

Here is a video by the publisher supporting the first song in the script – a little bit annoying but interesting to see.

Caveat: 앞뜰에 있는 말뚝이 말맬말뚝이냐 말안맬말뚝이냐

I’ve decided to do a series of Korean tongue-twisters, in the same way I have been doing aphorisms and proverbs.
앞뜰에          있는         말뚝이
ap·tteul·e     itt·neun    mal·ttuk·i
front-yard-LOC be-PRESPART hitchingpost-SUBJ
말맬                  말뚝이냐
mal·mael             mal·ttuk·i·nya
horse-tether-FUTPART hitchingpost-be-OPT
말안맬                    말뚝이냐 ?
mal·an·mael·             mal·ttuk·i·nya
horse-not-tether-FUTPART hitchingpost-be-OPT

주몽Is it [the horse?] tethered to the front yard hitching post or not?

I could see this conversation taking place in one of those popular Korean historical television dramas. Scene: the one guy runs into the palace, and the other guy asks, “Did you come on a horse?” and the other guy says “Yes my lord,” and then the first guy asks, “Is the horse tethered to the front yard hitching post or not?” – maybe because they need to plan an escape.

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Caveat: Cool, unlying life

When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels turning in the
cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don't know ourselves.

Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like
burnt paper.

– D.H. Lawrence

A friend quoted this to me some time a few years back. I finally have got round to posting it.

Caveat: Angry Legoguys… Oh The Humanity

pictureI saw an article (hattip to Sullydish) that talks about some study that shows that legoguy facial expressions have been getting angrier over time. This is … interesting, and utterly plausible. I would not place myself in the camp that views this as some kind of reflection of our society’s broad decline or somesuch – at worst, I think it merely reflects Lego Corporation’s growing cynicism vis-a-vis the global toy market and their role in popular culture.

I have always loved Legos. I’m too old to have played directly with Lego minifigures myself as a child. My own legos were simpler than what the toy series later became. But the minifigures came out in time for my younger brother to have had many of them, and later, my stepson had a large collection, too.

At one point, I invented some very elaborate stories about a Lego civilization called Legotopia with my stepson. I even wrote some of them down in the mid 1990’s, but a lot of those things I wrote down during that period were lost because of the disasterous Hard Drive Failure of 1998.

I recall that I had drawn a kind of map of Legotopia, which included a large city called Legoville in the center, and then various surrounding kingdoms and lands, such as a County of Towers (lots of Lego towers and a medieval theme), a Duchy of Roses (lots of pastoral Lego creations on the old Belleville theme), as well as a kind of “wild west” called Castle Pass. It was all more of a universe-creation project than it was a germ of a novel or series of short stories.

I always vividly imagined these lands and places populated by seething masses of undifferentiated “legoguys” with their quotidian struggles and triumphs. I’ve always called them “legoguys” (even the “girls” are called legoguys) – I’m not sure if the original coinage is mine or my brother’s. I made an emperor in Legotopia who went by the moniker of Legoguy XVII – as a proper name, appropriate to the leader of their grand civilization. He was the most generic-looking legoguy I could find in my stepson’s collection.

I still have a (very small) collection of Legos, which I have on occasion shared with some of my students (like the large Lego alligator that lives on my desk at work). Informal survey: I currently own 6 legoguys; two of them are angry. The picture I snapped just now, above right, shows one of them, battling a legogator.

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