Caveat: 선날떡국

Yesterday, I spent the Lunar New Year’s day alone. I wasn’t invited anywhere and wasn’t in the mood to go out exploring on my own – I think I’ve got a relapse of that cold I had through much of the first half of January.

But I didn’t feel depressed or left out. I was happy to spend some quality time with my own soul.

2014-01-31 09.12.37The Korean tradition is that you should eat a bowl of 떡국 [tteok-guk = rice cake soup]. I decided to fulfill this tradition even though I was alone. I had on hand some 사골곰탕 [sa-gol-gom-tang = bone marrow broth] which several of my Korean acquaintances are always insisting I should be consuming for my “health” (in the broadly interpreted, pre-medical conception common in Korean discourse) and of course I always have the plain white 떡 [tteok = rice cakes] on hand because their soft and can add calories and bulk to a broth or soup. So I put the two together with some custom seasoning of my own and some chopped onion and parsley, and voila, rice cake soup al gringazo.

Eating this on New Year’s morning is supposed to give good luck for the year.

What I’m listening to right now.

Erasure, “Gaudete.” This is technically a kind of Christmas Carol, or sacred song from the Advent calendar which fell on December 15 last month for 2013. So posting it now is a bit late. I suppose Asian Lunar New Year is a kind of secular Advent, meant to celebrate the same Winter principles of renewal and beginnings.


Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

[daily log (11 pm): like a log]

Caveat: Farewell 2.0

Two months ago I bid [broken link! FIXME] farewell to my friend Peter, who was returning to the US. I perhaps neglected to mention in this here blog thingy that Peter came back to Korea, around 3 weeks later, because he just couldn't resist enrolling in an intensive Korean language class for January. So he was here through January, but I didn't see him much because, of course, an intensive Korean language is intense, and he didn't have much free time. And I was working.

Yesterday, therefore, I bid farewell to him once again. This time, he may be away longer – but who knows.

We had lunch at a Japanese place in Sinchon. I was brave and had tonkatsu, and it went OK. Here is a picture, although I feel I look weird in this picture – my face and neck look swollen.

2014-01-30 11.52.27

2014-01-30 16.29.37After lunch I was heading home on the subway but decided on the spur of the moment to stop at the bookstore at Gwanghwamun, having not been there in a long time. I bought some Korean poetry in translation and yet another "teach yourself Korean" book for my neverending collection. Walking out of the bookstore I was struck by the contrast of the statue of Admiral Lee and the highrises and crane behind him, so I took a picture (right).

Today is Seollal – Lunar New Year. Everything will be closed, and many Koreans have gone to greet the new year with their ancestors.

[daily log (11 pm): daily nothing]

Caveat: Burnamore Lambert and Shakespeare, but the things themselves are all right, so who cares?

I had all these fragmented dreams, because I kept waking up. Discontinuities.

First, Burnamore Lambert. I was looking for someone named Burnamore Lambert. I was in a nameless town, that resembled a cross between Wisconsin Dells and Hornopiren, Chile – I should note that I don't have particularly positive impressions of either of these places, the former being a crass, comercial "tourist trap" and the latter being the singularly most depressed town I have ever visited on 5 continents. I was in some hotel, which had weird Daliesque statuary in the hallways and rooms. The hotel went on and on, and I would go outside and wander around the town then back into the hotel to find new rooms and galleries. I never found Burnamore Lambert.

Second, I was in Folwell Hall (at the University of Minnesota). The whole hagwon was there – we were using the classrooms for our classes, but college students and professors kept interrupting us. It was inconvenient. At one point, the vice principal from Hongnong Elementary walked in, and caused me to feel chills down my spine.

Third, Curt called me into his office and wanted to talk about his new brilliant strategy: he wanted to have a Shakespeare-themed hagwon. Ken also thought it was a great idea. I told them it might be good marketing but the kids wouldn't like it. Curt said everyone likes Shakespeare. I asked him if he'd read any Shakespeare, and sheepishly he admitted it was too difficult for him to understand. "That's where you come in," he said.

I woke up. It's raining.

Unrelatedly, I ran across this the other day. Stick towers!


[daily log (10 pm): walking, 2.5 km]

Caveat: 생각이란 생각하면 생각할수록…

생각이란 생각하면 생각할수록 생각나는것이 생각이므로 생각하지않는 생각이 좋은 생각이라 생각한다.


I decided a while back to do a series of Korean tongue-twisters, in the same way I have been doing aphorisms and proverbs. Here is one that I have had on queue for a long time but was feeling intimidated by the grammar. I made a stab at it finally.

생각이란 생각하면
saeng·gak·i·ran saeng·gak·ha·myeon
thought-AS-FOR think-COND
As for thoughts, when [I] thought them
생각할수록 생각나는것이
saeng·gak·hal·su·rok saeng·gak·na·neun·geos·i
think-THE-MORE recall-PROB-PAST
the more I thought the more I recalled
생각이므로 생각하지않는
saeng·gak·i·meu·ro saeng·gak·ha·ji·anh·neun
thought-be-SINCE think-NEG-PRESPART
since it’s thoughts, unthought
생각이 좋은 생각이라 생각한다
saeng·gak·i joh·eun saeng·gak·i·ra saeng·gak·han·da
thought-SUBJ be-good-PASTPART thought-be-PROP think
thoughts being thoughts that are good think

As for thoughts, when I think them, the more I think the more I recall, since being thoughts, I think unthought thoughts are good thoughts too.

Seems like there is a lot of thinking going on. I think.

This was really a puzzle, grammatically – it’s not so much a meaningful sentence as it is a “showcase of endings” – a single word, “thought” is nounified and verbified at least 9 times in 9 different ways, that I can count. I don’t have a lot of confidence on my guessed-at meaning, but, like a Dr Seuss rhyme, I’m not sure that that really matters – possibly, something equally non-sensical but more poetic or farsical could be derived for the English, that wouldn’t violate the spirit of the original.

In any event, I spent about an hour puzzling through my grammar bible and even recoursing several times to Martin before settling on this interpretation.

What do you think? I really like it. 재밌당.

For the next three days, it’s a giant holiday here: the lunar new year. I’m not planning on any trip or major activity, so I mostly will focus on trying to get lots of rest and improving my habits.

I’m such a homebody these days.

[daily log (1130 pm): walking, 5 km]


Caveat: The Bones of Our Promises

Post-scans update: according to Dr Cho, there's "nothing there." That's a good thing.

All clear.

His biggest single advice to me RE my issues still with eating, phlegm and periodic coughing fits was: water, water, water. I already drink more water than I used to, but his advice reminds me that I could probably do yet more. I'm trying to always have a cup of water or bottle around, but it's never been a habit of mine so it's sometimes hard to remember. Definitely I drink more at night, waking up every few hours because of my dry mouth.

Anyway, I am once again grateful to be embedded in the South Korean healthcare system: for 35 bucks (about $200 before insurance) I got scanned and consulted and followed up on, and everyone I interacted with, from the accounts desk (수답) to the techs and doctors, was efficient and kind and patient. Thankful to be in walking distance of a great, global quality cancer center in a country that isn't so terrified of socialism that they think healthcare shouldn't be regulated.

Anyway, more later. I'm home for brief moment, and will head to work now.

What I'm listening to right now.

The Limousines, "Fine Art."


You! You are a disaster
You are a master of the fine art…
The fine art of falling apart

How'd you manage to stab yourself in the back?
How'd you get your arms to bend back like that?

Me? I'm just a bastard
Another master of the fine art…
The fine art of falling apart

They're coming back to point and laugh and ask me:
"How'd you manage to stab yourself in the back?
How'd you get your arms to bend back like that?
How'd you manage to stab yourself in the back?
How'd you get your arms to bend back like that?
How'd you get your arms to bend back like that?"

Burn it down

You pour the gas
And I'll strike the match
And we'll turn our back on this pile of ash

And the only things left
Will be the bones of our promises

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 9.5 km]

Caveat: Capsaicin Resistance Training

I really miss eating spicy foods so much. And I have felt frustrated with the slow pace of my recovery. I think sparing spicy foods completely for so long has meant that I've lost my resistance, partly, so lately in an effort to somewhat "force" my recovery, I've been sprinkling a very light dose of red pepper on my food sometimes – trying to build up a resistance. 고추가루Last month I made some pre-packaged instant curry and tried to eat it and it was a kind of painful disaster – even trying the "mildest" flavor available in the store. On Sunday, I did the same thing and it was tolerable. So that's a kind of food victory. If I can work up to the "medium" flavor of the packaged curries, I might brave a trip to my favorite Indian restaurant a block from here, and have "real" curry – as opposed to the rather lousy Korean-style you can get in the curries from the supermarket.

It's frustrating craving things you can't have.

Tomorrow morning, I go to the hospital for outpatient CT scan and such. I'll get injected, detected, inspected and hopefully rejected – to paraphrase and repurpose Arlo Guthrie's famous meditation on the draft.

It's a follow-up appointment, at the 4 month-iversary of the end of my radiation treatment. I'm past the bad cold I had for almost a month, and I've been feeling healthier, but I still have some weird paranoia about my overall health. I've always suffered from what I call meta-hypochondria – which is to say, I worry constantly that I'm sick in some way but then always and inevitably dismiss those worries as hypochondria. The problem is that sometimes those worries are in fact legitimate, such as my eventual cancer diagnosis last June. So meta-hypochondria is just as bad a condition as hypochondria, probably.

So I feel worried about what they might find. And then I feel dismissive about it. Or both, at the same time: cognitive dissonance. I guess we'll find out tomorrow.

Words for Korean Vocabulary
순한맛 = mild flavor
/ 순하다 = to be mild, to be bland, to be smooth, to be tame, to be docile

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Make Your Robot Dance

Roboboogie_html_14c9ae7fThere is a fun website where you can make your robot dance.

"Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers the most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture." – Thomas Merton


Caveat: i write to remember…

I awoke from an almost violent dream. It's been a long time since I had a dream like that, frustration bubbling to the surface.

I was trying to prepare for my classes, but they kept changing the schedule. Just as I'd put together my pile-of-lesson-plans, they'd come and give me a new schedule showing I had some other configuration of classes that meant everything needed to be re-done and reshuffled.

Then I went out into the hallway and it was dark and poorly-lit. There were homeless people sleeping in the halls at work but the work halls went on and on, like pedestrian tunnels in the subway. I went into a room with a lot of kids, but they were just playing, it wasn't a class. I tried to get them to help me organize this box of posters – each poster had to be rolled up neatly and slotted into its spot.

When I came out, pleased to have finally rolled up my posters, I was presented with yet another new work schedule. I started yelling.

"Get away from me," I finally said. I threw down my poster box and they all escaped and began unfurling. Instead of just being posters, it was like they were alive – like long blankets or banners of cloth unfurling in wind, with monsters dancing beneath them. Rather than feeling dismayed by this, I was thrilled, but the people around me were screaming. It was quite crowded, now, in the halls.

I pulled back the roiling paper to reveal an angry child with a pair of scissors, screaming and chasing another child. I was frustrated again, but unable to control things – they were getting out of hand. A homeless man looked up at me and grinned, and held out his hand in that passive way beggars do here in Korea.

I looked up in turn and saw my sister looking down a stairway toward me and the roiling paper and homeless men and children screaming with scissors. She was just watching. Next to her were other members of my family. They could do nothing to help. I shrugged helplessly, and fell down, as a now shoulder-to-shoulder mass of people moved through the hall.

A child was getting hurt, now – there was blood. I could do nothing.

It was 330 am. My mouth dry like dust, as it always gets at night, now. I sat up rapidly, the way one does after nightmares, sometimes.

What I'm listening to right now.

The kids from El Paso capture the mood at the end of my dream pretty well, here – and interestingly, the song includes scissors – if only one arm of them.

220px-At_the_Drive-In_-_One_Armed_Scissor_coverAt The Drive-In, "One Armed Scissor."


yes this is the campaign
slithered entrails
in the cargo bay
neutered is the vastness
hallow vacuum check the
oxygen tanks
they hibernate
but have they kissed the ground
pucker up and kiss the asphalt now
tease this amputation
splintered larynx
it has access now

send transmission from
the one armed scissor
cut away, cut away

banked on memory
mummified circuitry
skin graft machinery
sputnik sickles found in the seats

self-destruct sequence
this station is non-operational
species growing
bubbles in an IV

unknown origin
is this the comfort of being afraid
solar eclipsed
black out the vultures
as they wait

dissect a trillion sighs away
will you get this letter
jagged pulp sliced in my veins
i write to remember
'cause i'm a million miles away
will you get this letter
jagged pulp sliced in my veins
i write to remember…

Notes for Korean vocabulary
두고보다 = to "wait and see", to watch

[daily log (1100): waking, 1 km]

Caveat: 배안에 할아비는 있어도 배안의 형은 없다

This is another aphorism from my aphorism book.

배안에        할아비는            있어도
bae·an·e     har·a·bi·neun      iss·eo·do
womb-in-LOC  grandfather-TOPIC  have-TOO
배안의        형은                 없다
bae·an·ui    hyeong·eun           eops·da
womb-in-GEN  older-brother-TOPIC  not-have

Even if there is a grandfather in the womb,
there can be no older-brother in the womb.

This aphorism is not so translatable as most I have examined – it relies on some specific semantic features of Korean family-relation vocabulary vis-a-vis cultural conceptions of interrelatedness.

Firstly, a “grandfather” (할아비 [har·a·bi]) here is not just your mother’s or father’s father, but also other people of their generation – what we call great uncles (not to mention great-uncles’ friends and peers) in English. So “grandfather” is actually a rather misleading translation. The consequence is that it is, in fact, just barely possible to have a “grandfather” on this meaning who is “in the womb” – i.e. younger than oneself. Consider the rare but conceivable case of a person’s widowed great-grandfather taking a young bride and having another child late in life. By this definition, that child, a (half-)sibling (or generational peer) of the person’s own grandfather, is also a “grandfather,” despite being younger than that person.

Secondly, “older-brother” here is a somewhat inadequate translation for 형 [hyeong]. It can also mean unrelated people in a slightly older (fractionally higher?) generation than oneself. To my brother Andrew, I am hyeong, but so are my peers and friends. He should address all of us that same way. But what’s important for understanding this aphorism is that, unlike the term used for “grandfather,” it’s not the generational split that is definitional but rather the actual age difference. The consequence is that it is quite impossible to have a hyeong younger than oneself, because it violates the definition of the concept.

As far as what this aphorism means – well, I have no idea, really. I suppose it might be a sort of sideways reference to the awkwardness of those May-December marriages when they produce offspring, and how it can mess up one’s conceptions of the proper relations between the generations.

As an additional note, the word 할아비 [har·a·bi] gave me difficulties in itself. I assumed it meant grandfather, as that was what it transparently was to me. I’m sure I’ve heard it or run across it before, and it is a phonologically plausible reduction of the “correct” form: 할아버지 [har·a·beo·ji]. Yet in fact this particular version of the word is not to be found in Korean-English dictionaries. It appears to be “slangy” at some level. The Korean-Korean dictionary clarifies:

1) ‘할아버지’나 ‘할아범’을 홀하게 이르는 말.
[“grandfather” or “grandpa” carelessly spoken]
2) 할아버지가 손자, 손녀에게 자기 자신을 이르는 말
[as spoken by a grandfather referring to himself when addressing grandchildren]

Well, that makes sense. There are sometimes some quite annoying errata and lacunae in the universal Korean-English lexicon we all have to use (by which I mean there is, in fact, only ONE Korean-English dictionary out there in the universe, which everyone pirates from each other – the web dictionaries and the electronic dictionaries copy from the print dictionaries which copy from each other, and they all inevitably always show the same mistakes, the same missing elements, etc.).

Still, when I was searching for this particular missing term, I found that it crops up in weird places that seem to be of (much) higher formality, e.g. it shows up in the hanja dictionary, where it’s given as the gloss for 祖 [조], and I ran across it in a list of divergent terms for 평안 [North Korean] dialect, where 하내비 is given as the North Korean term versus the “standard Korean” 할아비 – yet it clearly isn’t quite standard, it seems to me, at least according to the dictionary.

Other vocabulary notes for Korean
성실 = devotion, faithfulness, integrity (overheard at work)
홀하다 = to be careless, to be negligent, to be rash
이르다 = to tell, to inform, to address (in speaking?)
똑똑하다 = to be smart, to be bright
인정하다 = to admit, to acknowledge, to accept, to recognize
/ ~ 인정해야 해요 = [I] have to admit (recognize) that ~
자기 [自己] = oneself

Only 300 words!

Recently in a discussion with my TOEFL2 class they observed that they have to memorize a list of about 300 words each week (300! each week!), and I felt embarrassed to realize that after 6 years (6 years!) in Korea, my Korean active vocabulary is probably at most about 300 words of Korean.

I instantly felt very depressed, and decided I needed to redouble my efforts to learn Korean vocabulary – not that “redoubling” nothing really leads to a much higher rate-of-return. Anyway, I’m going to try to return to my old custom of attaching Korean vocabulary I’m trying to learn to the the bottom of blog posts, even though I realize almost no one has any interest in this information. By posting it here, though, it keeps my efforts visible to myself, where I might thus take more time to study. 

… Blog as aide-memoire.

[daily log (1100pm): walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: mumbling “Good night” to a window hinge

A list of some observation…

A list of some observation. In a corner, it's warm.
A glance leaves an imprint on anything it's dwelt on.
Water is glass's most public form.
Man is more frightening than its skeleton.
A nowhere winter evening with wine. A black
porch resists an osier's stiff assaults.
Fixed on an elbow, the body bulks
like a glacier's debris, a moraine of sorts.
A millennium hence, they'll no doubt expose
a fossil bivalve propped behind this gauze
cloth, with the print of lips under the print of fringe,
mumbling "Good night" to a window hinge.
– Joseph Brodsky (Russian-American poet, 1940-1996)


[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Aliens And Ostriches

Aliens_html_m246e4d63I ran across a series of videos by a guy named Andy Martin (whose nom-de-internet is handymartian), called ThePlanets. As I watched these videos, my foremost thought was, "these are the exact type of videos I would make if I made videos." So this guy has saved me the trouble, and I can enjoy the result. Fabulous. Here is one of them.

Planet One from Andy Martin on Vimeo.

In other news, in the category of is-that-praise-or-insult, Juhui and Seungmin told me the other day that I looked like an ostrich, because I had a small head. …my life as an ostrich.

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 쑨 죽이 밥될까

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

쑨              죽이           밥될까
ssun           juk·i          bap·doel·kka
boil-PASTPART  porridge-SUBJ  rice-become-SUPP
Do you suppose boiled porridge becomes rice [again]?

You can’t undo making rice into porridge.  “What’s done is done.”

[daily log (1130 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Reunion

Ken and I had a sort of reunion luncheon earlier today with some of our former students. It was fun for me because three of the eight students had actually been my students way back in 2009 when I taught at LBridge. 


The girl crouched down low to the right of Ken is [broken link! FIXME] Christina, who was a great student from LBridge. And on the far right are [broken link! FIXME] Shaina and Jenny. They are all starting high school (10th grade) this year – next month. It's at moments like that when I realize how long I've been here.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: State vs Capital

My mother recently asked me how I feel about the NSA, the prospect of Big Brother via technology, the much-announced end-of-privacy and all that. She also mentioned the preponderance of "conspiracy theories" in the media universe that arise in relation to these issues.

I started to write a long, involved answer in email form, but decided to just give her a short answer and save the long answer for some kind of blog post. Here is that blog post.

One can't think about the state except in relation to what lies beyond it, the single world market, and in relation to what lies this side of it, the levels of minorities, becomings, and the "people." Beyond the state it's money that rules, money that communicates, and what we need these days isn't a critique of Marxism, but a modern theory of money as good as Marx's that goes on from where he left off. – Gilles Deleuze

I don't buy much into conspiracy theories, but concede the "scariness" of bigbrotherism via emerging technologies. My own marxian counterpoint is to observe that capital and the state are not natural allies. As antagonists, they tend to damper each others' totalizing tendencies. When google or facebook get out of hand with their accumulation of user data, the governments tend to step in. When the governments get out of hand with their spying on citizens, the corporations and the technoanarchists step in. This is a broad tendency, and of course there will be many exceptions and counterexamples in both directions, such as the apparent cooperation of US phone companies with the NSA or the recent failure of the government to back net neutrality.

As a reflection of this principle, I will note that a new internet browser was created recently by everyone's favorite Swedish anarchists at Pirate Bay,  that "bypasses" the government sponsored DNS system through use of the same technology as the file torrenting systems, and therefore makes possible a sort of "stealth" internet that regulating governments can't "see."

The state-capital conflict is a long-standing interest of mine, and perhaps it is a source of my continued optimism for the lot of the little guy vis-a-vis big brother, even now. I think that Marx over-estimated the role of the "worker" (collectively) but that he also in some ways under-estimated the role of the state – hence his hoping that it would whither away under communism, for example. But this miscalculation in his theoretical work does not invalidate the perception that there is a sort of conflict at work, and my own tendency is to apply the more recent insights of cybernetics and ecological system to realize that it leads to a kind of "balance" that is, over the longest run, a steady state (different meaning for state, here).

The South Koreans know everything I do online. I have a very strong faith in their collective incompetence, and thus worry very little about it. My take on ALL conspiracy theories returns to the theorem: "Never attribute to malice that which is better explained by stupidity."

Caveat: Gifigator

I decided to try something completely new yesterday: I made an 8 frame animation and then gifified it.


It took longer than its very amateurish appearance would suggest. The alligator is intended to be the infamous Kevin (or one of his many successors – Kevin II, Kevin III, Charles, Brian, etc.), and the well-known (among my students) mouse's name is Lunch.


Saturday night, a few hours after I got home from work, my friend Seungbae came out to Ilsan to visit me.

He may be returning to Mexico in February, and I hadn't seen him since he had gone off to Latin American last fall. I'm impressed with where he's been taking his career. Especially given how he's broken with Korean tradition and changed careers several times in his life – this career is a quite recent thing. My Spanish-speaking Korean friend is finally leveraging his Spanish abilities spectacularly. Anyway, he really is my best Korean friend – the person with whom I have the most in common. I was glad to see him although I've been pretty gloomy and antisocial lately.

He and his girlfriend (another way he's breaking with Korean tradition – divorced and dating again in his early 50's) and I went to dinner at the BonJuk across the street from my apartment and talked for a few hours. I was jealous of his bibimbap but ate my danhobakjuk fairly comfortably.

What I'm listening to right now.

Broken Bells, "Holding on for Life."

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Going On

"Perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."
– Samuel Beckett, concluding his 1954 novel The Unnamable.

[daily log: no]

Caveat: 먹기는 아귀같이 먹고 일은 장승같이 한다

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

먹기는        아귀같이             먹고     일은       장승같이          한다
meok·gi·neun a·gwi·kat·i         meok·go  il·eun    jang·seung·kat·i han·da
eat-CONCESSV starving-ghost-like eat-CONJ work-SUBJ devil-post-like  do-PRES

[He] eats like a starving ghost but works like a devil post.

The starving ghost here is probably those of the Buddhist cosmology, although I’ve developed the impression that there was a pre-Buddhist tradition of starving ghosts in Korea that adapted itself to the Buddhist concept (and vice versa, syncretistically). The “devil post” is the thing called 장승 [jang-seung], the pre-Buddhist shamanistic totems Koreans place outside of villages to ward off bad spirits.

The concept is a man who eats voraciously but works lazily – because clearly a starving ghost eats a great deal, but a devil post doesn’t do much but just stand there and look scary, in the off chance an evil spirit happens along that needs to be scared off.

I know a lot of people like this.

Here is a picture of some hard-working jangseung that I took in 2010.


[daily log (11 pm): walking, 6 km]

Caveat: 21 century temple-stay

Three boys were sitting in room 405 with no teacher. They were supposed to be studying, but lacking supervision, their efforts were desultory and they were mostly just goofing around.

Templestay-appbook-screenshot-1I put my head in the door, and asked Jeongyeol, the inevitable ring-leader of such goofings, what they were doing. Without missing a beat, he explained, "It's called academy-stay. It's like 21 century temple-stay."

Academy here is the standard Korean translation-into-English of the term hagwon, which I personally consider untranslatable and always just use the Korean term. "Temple-stay" is the konglishism Koreans use these days to refer to the immemorial custom of lay people going to stay at Buddhist temples for some period of time, as I did in 2010.

I found it quite funny. Jeongyeol is a much better comedian than he is a student. I've long thought that he has a future in stand-up.

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]



Caveat: en la niebla hundido



Eres sueño de un dios; cuando despierte
¿al seno tornarás de que surgiste?
Serás al cabo lo que un día fuiste?
¿Parto de desnacer será tu muerte?

El sueño yace en la vigilia inerte?
Por dicha aquí el misterio nos asiste;
para remedio de la vida triste,
secreto inquebrantable es nuestra suerte.

Deja en la niebla hundido tu futuro
ye tranquilo a dar tu último paso,
que cuanto menos luz, vas más seguro.

Aurora de otro mundo es nuestro ocaso?
Sueña, alma mía, en tu sendero oscuro:
"Morir… dormir… dormir… soñar acaso!"

– Miguel de Unamuno (escritor y filósofo español, 1864-1936)

Lo que estoy escuchando en este momento.

David Bowie, "My Death." En origen la canción fue hecho por el cantor bélgico Jacques Brel en francés. Bowie la cantó en su período Ziggy Stardust en los 70.


My death waits like an old roué
so confident I'll go his way
whistle to him and the passing time…
My death waits like a bible truth
at the funeral of my youth
weep loud for that –
and the passing time…
My death waits like
a witch at night
as surely as our love is bright
let's not think about the passing time

But whatever lies behind the door
there is nothing much to do…
angel or devil, I don't care
for in front of that door…
there is you.

My death waits like a beggar blind
who sees the world through an unlit mind
throw him a dime
for the passing time…
My death waits there between your thighs
your cool fingers will close my eyes
lets think of that and the passing time
My death waits to allow my friends
a few good times before it ends
so let's drink to that and the passing time

But what ever lies behind the door,
there is nothing much to do
angel or devil… I don't care
for in front of that door… there is you

My death waits there among the leaves
in magicians mysterious sleeves
rabbits and dogs and the passing time
my death waits there among the flowers
where the blackest shadow, blackest shadow cowers
let's pick lilacs for the passing time

My death waits there, in a double bed
sails of oblivion at my head
so pull up the sheets
against the passing time

But whatever lies behind the door
there is nothing much to do
angel or devil… I dont care
for in front of that door… there is…

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 제 꾀에 넘는다

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

제         꾀에       넘는다
je         kkoe·e    neom·neun·da
one’s-own  trap-LOC  run-accross-PRES

Petard_gros_1812[One] falls in one’s own trap.

This is essentially “Hoisted with one’s own petard” – an English aphorism of Shakespearean origin that was always utterly opaque to me, since petard is no longer anything but an archaic word.

A petard was a small, simple gunpowder bomb used to blow up walls and doors in the renaissance period, and the meaning of hoist in this expression is “get blown up by.” So the Shakespearean phrase simply means “Get blown up by one’s own bomb.”

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: The Horse-sized Duck vs The Duck-sized Horses

For my Saturday Special Speaking class, elementary section, I gave as an absurd debate topic the proposition: "It is better to fight one horse-sized duck than 50 duck-sized horses."

This idea circulated as an internet meme for a while. I have a recollection that even Barack Obama ended up addressing it at some point… yes, he did – in an AMA session on reddit.

This new elementary section of my Special Saturday class, started in December, is a kind of personal challenge to me – I took it on rather deliberately. This is essentially a class specifically targeted at kids who have moderate to good ability, but who are so morbidly shy they can't speak a coherent sentence in class. I'm testing whether this structured debate approach will help them to loosen up and actually get comfortable saying things.

They are hard to understand – most are horribly soft-spoken, and I was having trouble with the new external microphone I've been using, so I had to rely on my camera's built-in mic. The results are frustrating. But… Well, I'm going to keep trying, and meanwhile, this seems to be progress, of a sort.

KarmaPlus Saturday Special Speaking, Panel Debate, January 11, 2014.

Yesterday morning I intended to go to the hospital – I have a standing permission to show up without making a prior appointment to see my oncologist, Dr Ryu, on Mondays at 1 pm. But I procrastinated getting motivated yesterday morning, and 1pm came and went with me still sitting at home. I realized after I'd let the opportunity pass that I was deliberately avoiding going to see the doctor, because I don't look forward to hearing what I'm almost certain he will say: that my eating issues and phlegm issues and mouth pain and all the rest are pretty much par for course, and that I'm still doing better than most patients recovering from similar issues, and that his only advice is to try to keep positive. Keeping positive is something I was doing much better during treatment. This interminable let-down of the post-traumatic denoument is proving depressing.

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Sick Every Seven Days

When I got home from work Saturday evening, I turned off my phone and collapsed. I think I must have a cold – or… enough cold-like symptoms to qualify. Yesterday, during my increasingly-customary Sunday flirtation with luddism, I napped frequently and felt feverish. It's like I know I have a day off, and so I pause to allow my body to express its underlying unhealth.

On the one hand, I hate Sunday because it has become my "day for being sick," where the feelings of illness that I have ignored and postponed all week through force of will take over. On the other hand, Sundays are therefore devoid of feelings of responsibility or guilt.

I did a lot of reading. I've been reading a collection of Korean folk tales, and continue my non-linear pursuit of Heaney's translation of Beowulf. I'm not doing any "off-line" writing, lately.

Here is a funny graph I ran across that captures quite precisely why I don't bother preparing too much for individual lesson plans.


What I'm listening to right now.

Soft Eject, "Simple Song." Soft Eject is from Georgia (as in the Transcaucasian country by the Black Sea, not the US state). I found whole albums of theirs that I like on a streaming site called soundcloud, but there aren't many youtubes of their music, and I can't figure out how to get any kind of download (be it paid-for, legal, or illegal).

[daily log (1130 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Blinded By The Light

"I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker."
– Stanley Kubrick

What I'm listening to right now.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band, "Blinded By The Light."


Madman drummer bummers
Indians in the summer
With a teenage diplomat
In the dumps with the mumps
As the adolescent pumps
His way into his hat
With a boulder on my shoulder
Feeling kinda older
I tripped a merry-go-round
With the very unpleasing
Sneezing and wheezing
The calliope crashed to the ground

Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night
Blinded by the light

She got down but she never got tight
She's gonna make it through the night
Some silicone sister
With her manager mister
Told me I've got what it takes
She said, I'll turn you on sonny to something strong
Play the song with the funky break
And go-kart Mozart
Was checking out the weather chart
To see if it was safe outside
And little Early Pearly
Came by in her curly-wurly
And asked me if I needed a ride

Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night
Blinded by the light

Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun
'Cause mama, that's where the fun is
Some brimstone baritone
Anticyclone rolling stone
Preacher from the east
Says dethrone the dictaphone
Hit it in the funnybone
That's where they expect it least
And some new mown chaperone
Was standing in the corner
Watching the young girls dance
And some fresh-sown moonstone
Was playing with his frozen zone
Reminding him of romance
The calliope crashed to the ground

Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night
Blinded by the light

What's funny is that when this song (originally written by Bruce Springsteen) was young (and I was young, too), I was convinced that the line "Another runner in the night" was "The rohner in the night." Now, you might wonder: what is a rohner?

Well, near my hometown in Humboldt County, California, there is a town called Rohnerville. We used to go there a lot when I was small, because my best friends lived there. There was a small airport near the town – not a commercial airport, just a landing strip, really – and in my mind, due some ambiguous highway signage at the turnoff to Rohnerville, the concept of the town and the airport merged. "Rohnerville" merged semantically into "Airportville" in my mind. Then, the existence the alternating green/white/red runway beacon was always very salient, as it was quite eerie to drive past on the highway on foggy nights (which are the most common type of night in Humboldt). Because of that, I developed one of those misbegotten ideas that the airport's runway beacon was called a "rohner." I never bothered to find out if this was true or not from any adults. A couple years later, as I neared adolescence, I heard this song on the radio and I simply imagined a "rohner in the night" as being your typical airport runway beacon, and I thought that was a major theme of this song. Furthermore, due to that misunderstanding, the song became wrapped up in my mind with memories of fun times playing with my sister and our friends Steven and Jeannine at their house in Rohnerville – thus it became one of those nostalgia-anthems many of us have, but in this case a sort of ex-post-facto one.

[daily log (10 pm): walking, 1 km]

Caveat: The Good, The Bad, The Badly Prepared

Mostly the student speaking videos I post are the "good" ones – I'd rather showcase my students' successes than their failures. But lately I've been struggling with a profoundly undermotivated class called TOEFL1-T반. So two weeks in a row I've said if they were unprepared, I'd post their horrendous 45-second iBT Speaking Question answers online, and two weeks in a row they've been badly prepared. I posted these to the KarmaPlus video gallery where the Karma community can see them (it's a gated app so not open to the general public) but something made me decide to post them here, too.

KarmaPlus 중등 TOEFL1-T 반 Speaking Question Practice, January 9, 2014

KarmaPlus 중등 TOEFL1-T 반 Speaking Question Practice, January 2, 2014

2014-01-10 18.37.27This week has been a struggle because my health isn't intersecting well with my more-than-full-time commitment to work. I just work and sleep and eat and cough up disgusting things while trying to eat, mostly.

At right – some aliens.

Thursday night we had 회식 [hoe-sik = work dinner] to celebrate an apparent substantial uptick in Karma's enrollment with the new year.  I went along despite my low affect, and ate some juk and some jeon and some of that weird, overly-salted egg concoction (like an ingredientless quiche, maybe) that Koreans serve as a side dish (and I don't know the name of it), while my coworkers ate hoe [sushi]. Curt went around letting everyone give little speeches so I even gave a speech, thanking everyone for their support over the past year.

As usual, I found the experience much more exhausting than work – because it consists of high-speed, high-content Korean for several hours, and I'm trying so hard to understand.

What I'm listening to right now.

The Afghan Whigs, "Going To Town."

 [daily log (8 pm): walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: una necia diligencia errada

220px-Juana_Inés_de_la_CruzSoneto CXLV – A su retrato

Este que ves, engaño colorido,
que, del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores
es cauteloso engaño del sentido;

Éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,

Es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado:

Es una necia diligencia errada,
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.

– Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Spanish-Mexican poet, 1651-1695)

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 우렁이속 같다

This is from my aphorism book.

우렁이속         같다
u·reong·i·sok   gat·da
snail-interior  resemble
It is like the inside of a snail.

Delicious_download.phpThis is about something that appears simple on the outside but has complexity on the inside, like a snail’s shell. So, for example, a seemingly simple person with unseen depths.

Koreans traditionally eat snails, of course – like most things. I had some once, in a spicy soup. You can buy packages of snails in the supermarket.

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5.5 km]


Caveat: we blame you for the night

Dear Moon

We blame you for floods
for the flush of blood
for men who are also wolves
and even though you could pull
the tide in by its hair
we tell people that we walked all
over you
we blame you for the night
for the dark
for the ghosts
you cold unimaginable thing
following us home,
we use you
to see each others frail
naked bodies beneath your blue light,
we let you watch; you
swollen against the glass
breath a halo of steam
as we move against one another
wet and desperate
like fish under
a waterlogged sky.

– Warsan Shire (Somali-British poet)

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Coldest Days

I often follow the news from back home. And by "back home," mostly I mean Minnesota – I listen to Minnesota Public Radio streaming. I guess it's pretty cold there, these days.

What I'm listening to right now.

The Rural Alberta Advantage, "Coldest Days."

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 절에가 젓국을 찾는다

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

절에가            젓국을           찾는다
jeol·e·ga        jeot·guk·eul    chat·neun·da
temple-LOC-SUBJ  fish-sauce-OBJ  look-for-PRES
[Like…] looking for fish sause at a temple.

You can’t find fish sauce at a temple, because Buddhist temples in Korea keep a strictly vegan rule. So this aphorism means to look for something where you won’t find it. I’m not able to think of an English equivalent at the moment.

I found a slightly different version of the same aphorism online: “절에 가서 젓국 달라 한다” = “Go to the temple and ask for fish sauce.”


I had a kind of bad day. I woke up coughing a lot, after an insomniac night. I felt lousy. I decided to take one of my internet holidays and kept my phone and computer turned off. I made beans, cooking them for many hours but then felt like I had too upset a stomach to eat them. I’ve suffered from a gradually increasing problem with nausea, these last few weeks. I don’t know what’s going on – is it just a sort of psychosomatic manifestation of my frustration with food and phlegm (which is how it feels), or is it something more than that? I tried to study Korean for a while but I got depressed with it. I did some laundry. I read some chapters in a novel, and some appendices to Beowulf.

[daily log: no – I feel sick]

Caveat: Six Months Cancer Free

2013-07-04 20.46.07July 4 – January 4.

Half a year ago ago this evening, I emerged from 9 hours of surgery. The tumor had been removed, my tongue was reconstructed. I was still alive. At the time, I was very happy about this.

I need to remind myself, sometimes, when things get frustrating.


What I'm listening to right now.

Jake Bugg, "What Doesn't Kill You."


Step out the door 2 AM yesterday
Me and my friend keeping the night aflame
And as we're walking in the clear night blind
Two guys come up and take him out of sight
All I know is one thing they hit him hard he doubles up
They takes his money and they run and all I can do is watch them go
His hands are round his nose
His blood is on his clothes

What doesn't kill ya
What doesn't hurt
Sometimes you feel you're up against the world
What doesn't kill ya
What doesn't break
This life it seems
To bring you to your knees
You try you bleed then finally you breathe

She was the dream that kept me up at night
I couldn't face the world without her eyes
I never knew it till she disappeared
My life would be a bunch of souvenirs
All I know is what it is her heart she doubles up
She packs her bag and then she runs and all I can do is watch her go
I've lost all I own

What doesn't kill ya
What doesn't hurt
Sometimes you feel you're up against the world
What doesn't kill ya
What doesn't break
This life it seems
To bring you to your knees
You try you bleed then finally you breathe

What doesn't kill ya
What doesn't hurt
Sometimes you feel you're up against the world
What doesn't kill ya
What doesn't break
This life it seems
To bring you to your knees
You try you bleed then finally you breathe

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