Caveat: Carl?

I've commented before how it is possible to know and work with someone for years in Korea without knowing a person's name. This is due to the Korean custom of using job-titles in place of names in workplace situations. Hence, although I know my bosses as "Curt" and "Helen" in English (their "English names" which are really deployed, linguistico-semantically, as just a kind of specialized job-title), I would never, ever use their Korean names if speaking to them in Korean – I'd address them or refer to them exclusively by their titles: 원장님 and 부원장님 [won-jang-nim and bu-won-jang-nim, roughly "honored director" and "honored vice-director"]. Likewise, most of my coworkers have "English names" which are used as titles, often with an honorific suffix -샘 [saem = teacher] attached, e.g. Danny-saem or Gina-saem, and I don't know their Korean names (although in their cases, I know where to look to find out, should I need to know). But these English name/titles are only used for those who do actual teaching. For those coworkers who have other, non-teacher roles, they have job-titles in the the standard Korean. Thus, for example, there is 실장님 [sil-jang-nim = honored front-desk worker, more literally "section chief"] or 과장님 [gwa-jang-nim = honored assistant, more literally "department head"]. When one translates the terms, they seem inflated and unnatural, but they are truly natural and automatic in Korean discourse.

We got a new March class schedule today, and on it were the little two-letter abbreviations for the various teachers. I am "JW," Curt is "Ct," etc. There was an unfamiliar abbreviation: "Ca."

"Who is Ca?" I asked – the mysterious Ca was down for a few of what we call "online" classes – where kids complete work in the computer lab using the contracted online provider of web-based English practice exercises. It turned out Ca was the gwa-jang-nim – the assistant in charge of student transportation (the bus schedule) as well as a kind of jack-of-all-trades for the hagwon. "But what is 'Ca'?" I asked. "That's his English name," it was explained.

"What's his English name?"

Ken and I speculated: Calvin? We couldn't think of many English names that could be abbreviated "Ca." Finally, I asked the gwa-jang-nim directly: Carl. That's his English name. Because he's stepping into a teaching role, supervising the kids in the computer lab, suddenly he gets an English name, after knowing him for 2 years. Carl-saem.

It's weird. And then Ken and Gina and I reflected that we still had no idea what his Korean name was. He's always been only gwa-jang-nim.

Caveat: Alienating Debate

2014-02-27 17.22.34
We did a completely unrehearsed debate today. On some slips of paper, I wrote some rather silly debate propositions about the family of aliens that I drew on the whiteboard (see picture, above). Then the students drew the propositions and whether they would be PRO or CON, randomly, and had 5 minutes to prepare their speeches. The three propositions were:

"Bob the alien is weird."

"For aliens, uniforms are wonderful."

"For aliens, playing is most important."

I wrote the propositions originally for a younger group, but these three older (7th grade), more advanced kids did really well with it and had fun too.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Not Heaven itself upon the past has power

Happy the man

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

– John Dryden (English poet, 1631-1700)

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 인명은 재천이라

This is a proverb from my notes that I don't know where I ran across.

인명은 재천이라
in·myeong·eun jae·cheon·i·ra
life-TOPIC providential-BE-QUOT
Life is providential.

A person's life is under the will of heaven.

True dat.

What I'm listening to right now.

MC 900 Ft Jesus, "I'm Going Straight To Heaven."

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: I wrote this

I woke up.

I tried writing for a while.

I made breakfast and ate it. That took a long time.

I read.

I made lunch for myself – pasta with mushrooms and zucchini and mild tomato sauce.

I cleaned myself and some things in my apartment.

I went to work.

I did a passably decent job of teaching, but my heart wasn't really in it today.

I corrected a bunch of stuff.

I surfed the internet – French wikipedia, if you must know: somehow reading geographical entries in French makes them even more interesting. At the least, they're more challenging – my French is pretty lousy, although my passive French is still much better than my passive Korean.

I opened the window on my browser that allows me to write this entry, but then I didn't know what to say.

So I wrote this.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Spinach and Smog

I really have this desire to eat more healthily than I do. In trying to do this, however, I am challenged by my constant frustration around eating, which constantly leads me down a path of least resistance, seeking out "comfort" foods (which nowadays mostly means foods easy-to-eat: pasta with some mild sauce, bland rice concoctions, etc.).

2014-02-23 17.58.03Today, inspired by a mound of spinach at the supermarket, I decided to try something, and made some quite passable blanched spinach with mushrooms and a few bits of zucchini and onion sauteed with garlic and butter. A whole bag of spinach wilts and reduces quickly to a single bowl full. I've always rather liked spinach, but previous recent efforts were frustrated by textural issues. This time, by de-stemming all the leaves and chopping it slightly and letting it wilt more, I achieved a squishy but still mostly fresh texture that was quite manageable.

Well, anyway. The days are warming, somewhat, from the depths of winter. They have been accompanied by the terrible smoggy haze I associate with early spring in Seoul, which is probably due to a combination of the fact that winds prevail from the west this time of year with the fact that yucky-smoggy China happens to sit directly to the west. The sun in the afternoon sky was just a pale, glowing, peach-colored disk.

What I'm listening to right now.

Warpaint, "Love Is To Die."

[daily log: walking, 2 km]

Caveat: Small Things

Walking home from work today I stopped at the GS Mart in the basement of the Taeyoung Shopping Center which is across the street from my old apartment. I don't go into that GS Mart very often any more, because there are other supermarkets closer to my new apartment. But it's kind of on-the-way home (only a slight detour) and they sell a better selection of some things (they have a small selection of imported Campbells Soups, for example) than the store right in my building.

Interestingly, when I went in there today, two different cashier ladies recognized me and greeted me, and what's more, one of them asked me how I was doing relative to recovering from the cancer. I had zero recollection of having told her all this, but she apparently remembered many details of whatever I'd managed to communicate to her last summer. She asked about my brother, she asked how the radiation had gone, she asked if my insurance had covered things well. I guess I'd told her quite a bit. And this time, as no doubt last time, it was all in Korean. Having such an involved conversation in Korean is always good for my sense of accomplishment. I feel like my vocabulary is improving – if not active vocabulary, at least passive vocabulary.

Small things.

What I'm listening to right now.

Two Harbors, "You Pulled the Rug Out."

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]


Caveat: 所謂 佛法者 卽 非佛法

This is from the Buddhist dictionary.

所謂 佛法者 卽 非佛法
소위 불법자 즉 비불법
so·wi bul·beop·ja jeuk bi·bul·beop
so-called Buddha-teaching per-se nothing-but non-Buddha-teaching
The so-called Buddha's teaching [is] nothing but non-Buddha's teaching.

This is to say, do not become attached to Buddha's teaching – it is an attachment like any other.

Beware attachments. This is a philosophical something-or-other that I have been circling warily for about three decades now. I'm still not sure…

Grammatically, I was interested in the suffix (particle) 者 (-자 [ ja]) which seems to be a kind of hanja version of a Korean topic-marker (e.g. -은 or -는).

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: lo que va a escribir para el olvido


Ya el poeta no hace como antes
boceto de sus lágrimas
ni refunde su canto hasta el poema

Ahora directamente como el liquen
sobre la piedra inerme
dispone las palabras a sabiendas
de que el tiempo ha dispuesto el cañamazo
de lo que va a escribir para el olvido.

– Aníbal Núñez (poeta español 1944-1987)

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 흉가도 지닐탓

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

흉가도 지닐탓
hyung·ga·do ji·nil·tat
haunted-house-TOO keep-FUTPART-responsibility
[…like] a responsibility will [can?] keep even a haunted house.

I can't really figure out how to translate this. There's no verb – just a participle of "to keep" and I can't figure how "responsibility" can be the clausal subject of it.  But according to the aphorism book, this means "even an unlucky house depends on how you keep it." What it means doesn't seem well-connected to this meaning, either: the book says that it means a strong person can take control of even a hauted or ill-omened house.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: The best day

This is another poem by Ko Un, from his collection English translations entitled What? translated by Young-moo Kim and Anthony of Taizé. I was unable to find the original Korean of the poem in an online search.


Ha ha! Today's the best day. The best
for some guy to kick the bucket
and for some other guy to get born,
for life-starting cries, for tavern songs.

    The sky's clouded over.

– Ko Un

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Miscellany of Cats

2014-02-17 18.35.19The picture at right are some cats I drew on the board for my Copernicus반 elementary students today.

We had a 회식 [hoesik = business lunch or dinner, sort of] today for lunch, before work. It was at that buffet-slash-steakhouse that Koreans love so much: VIPS. I call it Korean wedding food. It's OK, I guess.

I ate some cream of broccoli soup that was good. Really, texture-wise I'm handling most things OK, as long as I take small bites, chew carefully, and down it with lots of liquids. I had a few bites of salad which is very hard to eat but that I miss eating.

At work I allowed my TEPS-M반 middle schoolers to "buy" a pizza party with their collected "alligator dollars" – for 100 (which they pooled among themselves) I ordered them pizza, and we skipped the vocab test (which may have been the highlight, for them). I ate a slice of the pizza, even.

Curt had asked me earlier how it is I get those TEPS kids to talk so much. I suppose buying them pizza helps – but to put it in more methodological/theoretical terms, I'm finding intrinsic motivator for them to seek out communicative proficiencies. Or, um, something like that.

[daily log: walking, 3 km]

Caveat: And here I sit

Yesterday evening, after taking a short nap, I traveled into Seoul because I had been invited to dinner by my coworker Ken. He is a fairly compartmentalized person – meaning, normally, he seems to keep the various aspects of his life (his jobs, his girlfriend, his family, etc.) all in separate spaces. So I felt flattered and compelled to socialize with him, as he doesn't reach out that way very often.

I got to meet his girlfriend and a friend of hers while we had dinner in the Itaewon, Seoul's notorious and unusual "international" neighborhood (imagine somewhere slightly downscale in Brooklyn, with Korean policemen, maybe).

It was interesting. I ended up on the last train back and got home shortly after midnight, and was tired today. The main thing I accomplished was chopping up the entire box of Seollal [Lunar New Year's] gift apples (from work) and rendering it into a rather mediocre applesauce – so I can eat them and not end up throwing them away.

What I'm listening to right now.

Joan Baez, "Diamonds and Rust." The song is about Bob Dylan, with whom Baez had a relationship. The song is a little by dylanesque, too.  I actually really like these lyrics, and my semi-pseudo-hippie upbringing left me with a congenital weakness for Joan Baez.


Well I'll be damned
Here comes your ghost again
But that's not unusual
It's just that the moon is full
And you happened to call
And here I sit
Hand on the telephone
Hearing a voice I'd known
A couple of light years ago
Heading straight for a fall

As I remember your eyes
Were bluer than robin's eggs
My poetry was lousy you said
Where are you calling from?
A booth in the midwest
Ten years ago
I bought you some cufflinks
You brought me something
We both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust

Well you burst on the scene
Already a legend
The unwashed phenomenon
The original vagabond
You strayed into my arms
And there you stayed
Temporarily lost at sea
The Madonna was yours for free
Yes the girl on the half-shell
Would keep you unharmed

Now I see you standing
With brown leaves falling around
And snow in your hair
Now you're smiling out the window
Of that crummy hotel
Over Washington Square
Our breath comes out white clouds
Mingles and hangs in the air
Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there

Now you're telling me
You're not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Because I need some of that vagueness now
It's all come back too clearly
Yes I loved you dearly
And if you're offering me diamonds and rust
I've already paid

– Joan Baez

[daily log: walking, 1.5 km]

Caveat: Aliens Proliferate

My routine of drawing aliens on the whiteboards in class is having an effect. I spotted this alien on a student's workbook in the middle school section earlier today.

2014-02-15 12.09.26

Clearly it is a direct descendant of one of mine.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: The Wine-Dark Pie Chart Slices of My Mortal Soul

I've been pretty depressed lately. The never-ending cold [update: by "cold" I mean the flu-like symptoms, not the outdoor temperature, which doesn't bother me in the least] on the one hand, combined with the PTSD-like experience of emerging from the cancer treatment, on the other hand, has lead me into a slough of despond. Layered on top of that is the fact that the same frustrations as I've always had with respect to work continue unabated despite my renewed commitment.

I can't maintain the somewhat artificially enforced optimism of the crisis period, and I feel frustrated with the quality-of-life issues, post-treatment. Things that I enjoyed and took for granted seems sabotaged or inaccessible: food, an ability to talk unceasingly, etc.

I don't have any easy solution. And so… I have been meditating overmuch of my mortality. Here is something I ran across the other day – a sort of interactive chart about the survival rates for various cancers.

You can hover over the body part in question, and see what it is. The pie charts show survival rates, with wine-dark slices representing 5 year mortality rates. For oral cancer, the rate appears to be around 40%. That matches another source, which puts 5 year survival for my type of cancer at 59%. At the moment, I seem to be beating the odds. Yet I can't help feeling frustrated and bitter – at this quality-of-life, is it worth it?

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Difficulter

Today was a bad day. I had one of my coughing fits this morning that was worse than usual, and then I was late to work. At work my difficult T1 cohort was more difficult than usual.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: A 12 year old explains jeong unintentionally

He just wanted to tell a funny made-up story about his friends. But he wrote – using the most atrocious grammar conceivable – a fine description of how jeong emerges in Korean male-male relationships. The experience of "shared adversity" and emergent sentimental companionship.


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

Caveat: en las antárticas arenas


Si alguna vez vivo otra vez
será de la misma manera
porque se puede repetir
mi nacimiento equivocado
y salir con otra corteza
cantando la misma tonada.

Y por eso, por si sucede,
si por un destino hindostánico
me veo obligado a nacer,
no quiero ser un elefante,
ni un camello desvencijado,
sino un modesto langostino,
una gota roja del mar.

Quiero hacer en el agua amarga
las mismas equivocaciones:
ser sacudido por la ola
como ya lo fui por el tiempo
y ser devorado por fin
por dentaduras del abismo,
así como fue mi experiencia
de negros dientes literarios.

Pasear con antenas de cobre
en las antárticas arenas
del litoral que amé y viví,
deslizar un escalofrío
entre las algas asustadas,
sobrevivir bajo los peces
escondiendo el caparazón
de mi complicada estructura,
así es como sobreviví
a las tristezas de la tierra.

– Pablo Neruda

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 솔 심어 정자라

This is an aphorism from my book of aphorisms.
솔 심어 정자라
sol sim·eo jeong·ja·ra
pinetree plant-PRES pavilion-QUOT
Plant pinetrees [and then] there’s a pavilion.
This is compared in one source to the aphorism “count one’s chickens before they’re hatched” but it also seems to be more positive, i.e. it takes a long time for something to happen.
The ending -라 gave me a lot of difficulty. I don’t really have a definitive answer – I just decided to assume it was one of those “quotative” copular forms (e.g. -라고, etc.) attached because it’s an aphorism. But that leaves the sentence without a main verb, maybe. Assume a copula – that’s what I did, in my translation as “there’s.”
[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Gathering Procrastination

2014-02-09 07.36.50After all that snow falling yesterday, when I looked out my window at dawn this morning I saw only a little snow.

I did very little today. I didn't correct those  things for work, either. Now I will have a stressful day tomorrow getting caught up.

[daily log: walking, 1.5 km]

Caveat: Flakey

I am so sick. Just a really bad cold – but it's impairing my desire to interact with the world.

So, to those who seek interaction, I'm sorry I'm neglecting modes of communication.

I got up, went to work, came home, went to sleep.

It snowed all day, as far as I can tell – but it didn't stick. It's what I call a "flakey" day.

I have piles of things to correct. This is overwhelming. I have a long-standing policy of not bringing work home, but I didn't have the stamina to stay at work to finish the correcting, so now it's at home. I am studying the piles of student writing that needs to be corrected with a wary eye.

More later, I guess.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Dreaming Mishmashes

I awoke  from a dream this morning where I was at some kind of camp/training/retreat. It involved children (my students), but it was half vipassana retreat and half something like the jeollanamdo training at gwangju 2010.

I had decorated my room with crepe paper for some reason, and my roommate was fellow teacher Ken from work. Curt was in the room next door. There were kids running around everywhere. The setting was like some kind of Korean Buddhist temple complex. We were running classes and activities for the kids, but also had to attend other classes ourselves.

I was out walking around on a break between classes and I was looking for Jello. I don't know why I was looking for Jello – maybe that was related to my mouth and eating problems. I paused when I heard a surprisingly deep-voiced girl – maybe 6th grade – giving a speech over a loudspeaker in the courtyard. She stumbled over some of the words. She came into a foyer area and cried because she'd messed up those words. I was trying to reassure her. She looked familiar to me be I felt mortified because inside the dream I was unable to remember her name.

That was the dream.

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

Caveat: 선방

Somewhat to my own surprise, I actually finished a book last night. I always have so many books in progress, but I've become so bad at finishing them, so when I do finish one, I feel surprised.

DiaryThe book I finished is called Diary of a Korean Zen Monk, by an author named simply Jiheo, and translated by Jong Kweon Yi and Frank Tedesco.

It's a very understated little volume, written in the 70's by a monk during a winter meditation retreat (which he calls by the idiomatic term 선방 [seon-bang], which literally means "meditation room" or "zen room").

He's quite well-educated, and it shows through his reflections – he mentions not just a great deal of deep knowledge of Korean Buddhism (and hence Chinese Buddhism, particularly the Zen (called Chan [Chinese name] or Seon [Korean name]) current within the Mahayana tradition) but also western theology. He quotes Sartre and Nietzsche in his conversations with other monks.

Here's a quote I liked where he is obliquely referencing the "middle way" – that is, avoiding the temptations of extreme asceticism. He's talking to another monk who seems overly obsessed with denial of the body.

There's an old saying "nothing is more important than your body, live first and then you can do everything." This may sound very materialistic and egoistic. If you look into it very carefully, though, you'll see that it expresses the universal truth of all beings very well. "I" can be found when I realize that I'm merely one of the countless beings appearing and disappearing through the endless functioning of infinite space, eternal time and inexhaustible energy. While searching for "I," I have to take good care of myself, and to do this, I'll have to practice. When I finally find myself on the path, there is no "I" but nirvana. This being so, do you really have to make a fasting retreat in your poor health? – p. 128

I connected with this particular conversation because of my own current preoccupation with my health and my uncooperative body, and my ascetic temptations (or tendencies).

I liked the book. It was well written and well translated.

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

Caveat: The questions themselves

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed with work, lately. I'm trying to be more organized, but such organization doesn't always come naturally to me. We have grading and student evaluation comments to finish, and since I didn't touch any of that stuff during the 4 day holiday, I had a huge pile on my desk Monday, that I'm still wading through.

Anyway. I'm also sleeping a lot, lately – another sure sign that my cold relapsed, or I got a new one, or something.

I like this quote.

"We should try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue." – Rainer Maria Rilke (Austrian poet, 1875-1926)

My question: which questions?


 [daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 7 Months Cancer Free


이제 바라보노라.
지난 것이 다 덮여 있는 눈길을.
온 겨울을 떠돌고 와
여기 있는 낯선 지역을 바라보노라.
나의 마음속에 처음으로
눈 내리는 풍경.
세상은 지금 묵념의 가장자리
지나온 어느 나라에도 없었던
설레이는 평화로서 덮이노라.
바라보노라. 온갖 것의
보이지 않는 움직임을.
눈 내리는 하늘은 무엇인가.
내리는 눈 사이로
귀 귀울여 들리나니 대지의 고백.
나는 처음으로 귀를 가졌노라.
나의 마음은 밖에서는 눈길
안에서는 어둠이노라.
온 겨울의 누리를 떠돌다가
이제 와 위대한 적막을 지킴으로써
쌓이는 눈더미 앞에
나의 마음은 어둠이노라.

-고은 [출전: "현대문학"(1958)]

The Snow Path

Now I am gazing
at the snow path that covers up what has passed.
After wandering through the whole winter,
I am gazing at this foreign territory.
The scene of snow
falls in my heart for the first time.
The world is at the edge of meditation,
a world covered with exuberant peace
no country that I have traveled has ever seen.
I am gazing at the invisible movements of all things.
What is the sky where the snow is falling?
Listening closely, through the falling snow,
I hear the grand earth’s confession.
I can hear for the first time.
My heart is the snow path outside,
and darkness within.
After wandering though this world of winter,
I have come now to guard the great quiet,
and, in front of the piling snow,
my heart is darkness.

– Ko Un (Korean poet, 1933- )

The poem and its translation from the excellent website called Korean Poetry in Translation. I have a book of translated poetry by Ko Un, too. Ko Un spent many years as a Buddhist monk. Here is a short one from that book that I liked (note that kalpa is a long period of time, like an eon or an age or an era, or sometimes means a human life-span).

Meditation Room

Try sitting
    not just for one kalpa
but for ten kalpas.
No enlightenment will come.

Simply play for a while with agonies, illusions,
                then stand up.

– Ko Un

The problem with books of translated poetry is that it is hard to find the originals, sometimes. Hence I have no original Korean of this poem.

Today is seven months since the surgery. I had a fever last night. I think my immune system is still pretty weak from the radiation treatment, and so I fall prey to every virus that ambles along. Or something – my speculations of yestermorning's blog post strike me as naive or ill-informed, at this moment. Still, I have a lot of work.

 [daily log (11 pm): walking, 2.5 km]

Caveat: Lapsing into convalescence

As I've observed before, my body (under the always unpredictable guidance of my mind) seems to "get sick" on my days off – it seems to be a way that I have of convalescing from my cancer treatment while at the same time maximizing my ability to work. It's as if I have these rigid controls, but on days off I let go of the controls and the immediate result is coughing, exhaustion, congestion and other cold symptoms: immune-system-on-demand.

Anyway, I say that by way of preamble to the story of my long, holiday weekend. After seeing Peter off last Thursday, and doing some minor household chores on Friday, I lapsed into total convalescence on Saturday and Sunday. I had, perhaps unwisely, started visiting some cheesy flash game sites on my computer, which didn't help (or helped, depending on one's view of getting-nothing-done): I spent a number of hours playing a stupid, scrabblesque word-making game called bookworm, for example. When not on my computer, I read books, and even studied some Korean – but overall it was a singularly sick-feeling weekend.

I'm not writing here to complain, really – rather, there are people who follow my life via this blog who can thus know how I spent my long weekend. Let's just say: I imagined I was recovering from cancer and exhausted and in need of recuperative rest, and did precisely nothing.

I had a lot of strange dreams from sleeping more than usual. I didn't even write most of them down.

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 2 km]

Caveat: The taciturnity of time


The sun set, but set not his hope:
Stars rose; his faith was earlier up:
Fixed on the enormous galaxy,
Deeper and older seemed his eye;
And matched his sufferance sublime
The taciturnity of time.
He spoke, and words more soft than rain
Brought the Age of Gold again:
His action won such reverence sweet
As hid all measure of the feat.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (American philosopher and poet, 1803-1882)

[daily log (1130 pm): walking, 2 km]

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