Caveat: Running to be on the run

In fact, I ran a lot in my life, metaphorically. But not now. I have become stationary, it seems. And. . . then?

What I'm listening to right now.

John Prine, "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness."


You come home late and you come home early
You come on big when you're feeling small
You come home straight and you come home curly
Sometimes you don't come home at all

So what in the world's come over you
And what in heaven's name have you done
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You're out there running just to be on the run

Well I got a heart that burns with a fever
And I got a worried and a jealous mind
How can a love that'll last forever
Get left so far behind


It's a mighty mean and a dreadful sorrow
It's crossed the evil line today
Well, how can you ask about tomorrow
We ain't got one word to say


You're out there running just to be on the run
You're out there running just to be on the run
You're out there running just to be on the run

[daily log: walking, 2 km]

Caveat: 휴가

휴가 [hyuga] means vacation. The next four days are holiday at my work. This is not Curt’s choice. As a small business owner struggling to make ends meet month-to-month, he would just as soon stay open – and parents, who rely on the “daycare” aspect of the hagwon biz (though they would deny it if phrased that way), mostly prefer an “always open” hagwon, too.

It is not Curt’s choice, however. The provincial government mandates this hagwon vacation, which, consequently, is the longest continuous closure for the whole year (5 whole days!!).

My coworkers seemed vaguely scandalized that I intended to do “nothing” with my vacation. Don’t you want to travel somewhere? they asked. No, I don’t.

Perhaps my three month cancer vacation last year permanently altered my psyche and goals, but travel of any kind is uninteresting to me, these days. Have I become an old man, prematurely? My students call me “할아버지” [harabeoji = grandfather], mostly behind my back.
I intend on just hanging out at my home, taking walks and reading books and, if attacked by ambition, writing.

Below is a picture of the sign from the KarmaPlus door announcing our vacation. [NOTE somehow this picture was never added, and is now lost to history]

[daily log: walking, 2.5 km]

Caveat: hasta otra aurora

Poema Sonámbulo Siniestro Y Solitario…

sonámbulo siniestro y solitario
a través de una larga noche sin consuelo
van y vienen y van
los sucesos las olas los peces de tu alma

quién te dará su alivio
atormentada senectud en vilo?
eres tú mismo?

llorabas al nacer
sentiste el frío del espacio
invisible el tiempo de los lémures
los terrestres soportes
imaginarios dones de tristeza
de combate de ardor
de muerte en suma

pero te irás un día
en un momento y qué?
qué has hecho?
vivir y eso qué es?

qué pretendes ser
en el universo y pico
del instante profundo
y sin memoria?

todo pasa y esto calma
volveremos quizá
quién sabe si hasta luego
quién sabe si hasta dónde

son las cenizas horas de tu llanto al nacer
pero al partir sonríe quedamente
en la penumbra querida criatura
despreciable y pequeña

podía haber sido
tenías que haber sido quizá
abrazo para siempre
en el olvido
hasta otra aurora

– Miguel Labordeta (poeta español, 1921-1969)

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Most Impossible-to-Learn Language, Ever!

…which is my feeling about Korean.

What made me think this feeling, just now? 

I was walking to work, earlier, and this song came on my mp3 shuffle. It's in German. I only vaguely understand it, at the most basic level.

Yet, I thought to myself, well, my level of understanding isn't that much lower than it would be for a similar song in Korean. But here's the thing: I have never studied German (except some class in 8th grade where I learned to count, and we sang "Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken"). I have spent a sum total of 1 week in a German-speaking country.

Meanwhile, I have spent 7 years in Korea, now (or 8 years, if you count my Army year), including plenty of efforts to study the language, more-or-less intensively.

What gives?

… lo, the powers of cognates and linguistic siblinghood.

What I'm listening to right now.

Deichkind, "Luftbahn." 


Wir fahren mit der Luftbahn durch die Nacht
Der Mond scheint nur für uns gleich haben wir's geschafft
Und all die Probleme auf der Erde
Liegen für uns in weiter Ferne
Wir fahren mit der Luftbahn durch die Nacht
Wo der Sternenhimmel für uns lacht
Und all die Probleme auf der Erde
Liegen für uns in weiter Ferne

[Verse 1]
Von deinen Schultern fällt die ganze Last
Du spürst sie nie wieder, die Erdanziehungskraft
Und sollte es wirklich passieren, dass wir uns im Universum verlieren
Dann verglüh ich für dich, damit du niemals erfrierst


Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos
Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos

[Verse 2]
Deine Zweifel waren groß, niemand hat sich interessiert
Du spürst wie's langsam leichter wird, das schlimmste ist jetzt hinter dir
Du bist noch ganz benommen, wir sind bald angekommen
Du brauchst jetzt nicht mehr zu weinen, denn ich hab dich an die Hand genommen
Manchmal muss man einfach raus, ja, manchmal ist die Welt zu klein
Willst du die Unendlichkeit? Dann lass dich fallen und steig mit ein
Ich zeig dir wahre Liebe und wie gut es tut die Faust zu ballen
Wir fliegen vom Dunklen ins Sonnenlicht, bis wir zu Staub zerfallen


Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos
Schwerelos, wir fühlen uns schwerelos


 [daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Bleagh

I had a kind of bad weekend. Mostly due to food, which I try so hard not to complain continuously about on this blog. It is always some ill-calculated food texture that brings on the worst of the coughing and gagging. I made some rice to go with my soup I had made before. Something did not work. Bleagh.

[daily log: walking 2 km]

Caveat: 첨나!

[Update 2014-07-28: my friend Peter gave some useful insight, and I figured out more, because of it. The correct form is 참나, not 첨나 – my transcription is either an error or a legitimate dialectical variant. See comments below.]
My coworkers use and expression sometimes which I was trying to figure out, yesterday. It’s a kind of interjection following a declarative sentence. It is the term “첨나” [cheom-na]. I understand the pragmatics of it pretty well, I think: it seems to mean “How dare he/she/you?”
For example, Ken says (in Korean), “Jeong-yeol [a seventh-grader] is taller than me! 첨나! [how dare he?!]” Or [on e.g. a TV show] something like, “My girlfriend was looking at that other man… 첨나 [how dare she]!”
But not a single one of my coworkers could “explain” this expression. What I mean by that is that I want to understand the syntax/semantics/etymology. Where did it come from? Aren’t they curious? Is it a verbal particle? It seems to be some sort of verbal contraction, as best I can guess. Or is it a noun particle? It sounds vaguely Chinese, but these types of slang expressions are rarely Chinese – most Korean slang comes from native Korean vocabulary or from more recent Japanese or English borrowings. No one knows. No one is curious to know. 첨나! [how dare they?]
Anyway, I want to figure it out. If anyone reading this blog is knowledgeable about Korean and able to “explain” it, I’d love to know. I drew a complete blank on my internet searches – which are admittedly imcompetent in the area of Korean language studies.
picture[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: California

I was born in California, and lived my first 18 years there (with a few minor interruptions, never more than a few months). Although I generally identify myself as a Minnesotan now (because of my university and post-university years there), I have also lived in California for some years during my adult life. 

CaliforniamissionI have always had an interest in California's unique history, and when I was in the bookstore last Sunday, I bought another book (aside from the one about the Chicken, already mentioned yesterday on this blog) that made for quick reading. It was a used book about California's missions – a fragment of some journal by a French traveller who visited Monterey (at that time populated by probably less than 50 Spaniards and maybe a couple hundred Native Americans, but nevertheless the capital of California) in the 1780's. How a book of this eccentricity arrived on the shelf of a bookstore in Seoul, I have no idea. But I bought it. It's quite short, has a well-written and academic introduction (and many footnotes!), and offers an interesting perspective on the earliest Europeans in California. The title is Life in a California Mission: Monterey in 1786, by Jean François de La Pérouse.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Chicken, Duck, Weasel

Hen-500I bought some books last weekend when I went into Seoul, but I wasn't that happy with my haul at first – I have been reading a lot of Korean history, and was hoping to find more of the same, but I found nothing in that category that appealed to me at all. So I had desultorially bought some other books based either on having heard something about them or because they struck me as possibly interesting in my browsing. 

One book I picked up was the English translation of a novella by Korean Sun-mi Hwang (황선미), called The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly (original 마당을 나온 암탉). I agree thoroughly with one of the reviews on the cover, by Adam Johnson: "a novel uniquely poised at the nexus of fable, philosophy, children's literature, and nature writing."

It's a pretty good book. It's less than 100 pages, and I read it in a long morning.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 미국 아저씨

We had a 회식 (work dinner) last night. This was no ordinary hweh-shik, however. It was, arguably, my first hweh-shik where I was the initiator. I’d proposed sometime back, to Curt, that I’d like to give a “thank-you dinner” to the hagwon staff because it was the first anniversary of my cancer surgery, despite the hard times and difficulties, overall the staff has been hugely supportive.
Curt said he’d take it under consideration. I’d even offered to pay for the dinner, which I’m pretty sure he didn’t think I meant seriously, because last night, when it finally happened and we went to a buffet near LaFesta and had our hweh-shik, I took out my card to pay at the end, and everyone was dumbfounded. In Korean custom, it’s almost always the boss who pays for these things, but in fact there is one situation where another might pay – which is if the person paying is “senior” (i.e. older) than the boss. And that, unfortunately, is the case – I’m the old man at KarmaPlus, by about 10 months.
I was congratuleted, therefore, not just for surviving my cancer, but also for behaving truly “korean.”
Several commented that they’d never even heard of, much less witnessed, a “foreigner” buying hweh-shik for Korean coworkers.
저는 미국 아저씨인데요, I said, half-jokingly. [“I am an American ajeossi.” – ajeossi is a difficult-to-translate term that means a typical Korean man of middle age and indeterminate social status, maybe something like “average joe” but also used as term of address toward people with unknown names… it could be compared to the way mid-20th-century Americans would deploy names like “Mack” or “Joe”].
picture[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: Just like dust, we settle in this town

I try hard not to get boring or repetitive in these daily blog posts, but sometimes I just don't have the time or energy to put something of appropriate diversity. So here's another song – though quite different from yesterday's.

What I'm listening to right now. 

Kacey Musgraves, "Merry-Go-Round." I love when some song I don't remember buying or downloading rolls around on my mp3 shuffle and it's like hearing it for the first time, except that at some point I must have chosen it because otherwise it wouldn't end up on my mp3 player on my phone.

This song surprised me. It's just a sort of desolate but well-crafted country song, with simple melodic hooks and clever rhyming. These days, however, I tend to listen to songs while imagining trying to explain them to my students in one of my CC classes, as I often end up having to do with the various bits of American pop that roll along on the "CC" curriculum. In that light, this song qualifies as: too complicated, thematically too adult, and too culturally alien. I could imagine teaching a graduate seminar on American culture to Koreans, using lines from this song as lecture titles on the syllabus.


If you ain't got two kids by 21,
You're probably gonna die alone.
Least that's what tradition told you.
And it don't matter if you don't believe,
Come Sunday morning, you best be there in the front row like you're supposed to.

Same hurt in every heart.
Same trailer, different park.

Mama's hooked on Mary Kay.
Brother's hooked on Mary Jane.
Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary quite contrary.
We get bored, so, we get married
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go
Where it stops nobody knows and it ain't slowin' down.
This merry go 'round.

We think the first time's good enough.
So, we hold on to high school love.
Sayin' we won't end up like our parents.
Tiny little boxes in a row.
Ain't what you want, it's what you know.
Just happy in the shoes you're wearin'.
Same checks we're always cashin' to buy a little more distraction.

'Cause mama's hooked on Mary Kay.
Brother's hooked on Mary Jane.
Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
We get bored, so, we get married.
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go
Where it stops nobody knows and it ain't slowin' down.
This merry go 'round.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
We're so bored until we're buried.
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round.
Merry go 'round.

Jack and Jill went up the hill.
Jack burned out on booze and pills.
And Mary had a little lamb.
Mary just don't give a damn no more.

 [daily log: walking, 3.5 km]

Caveat: Back before time was time and space was space

After yesterday's excursion to Seoul, I felt really exhausted today for some reason. I think I'm not sleeping well. The weather has reached that continuously hot and humid aspect of the high Korean summer, but it's been a remarkably un-monsoony, dry summer (after what seemed like a wet, monsoony spring). Supposedly, rain is forecast, but it's been forecast a lot with not much actual rain. 

Anyway, I feel very tired. I had a number small, annoying failures today that added up to a bad day. Monday is a dense schedule of classes on the current arrangement. 

What I'm listening to right now.

N.A.S.A., "The People Tree" (feat. David Byrne, Chali 2na, Gift Of Gab, & Z-Trip).

I've blogged this song before, but at the time I didn't post the lyrics, which I was listening to more carefully today as I heard it, walking to work. I think it's a pretty interesting song, and pretty complex collaboration of a diverse group of artists that works out well.


With the N.A.S.A. team, we will take you bodly where no man has ever gone before.
We will take you back some fifteen billion years to the beginning of time.

Verse (Chali 2na)
Yo! From a drop of blood to bones and body parts
To vital organs form and your brain and tiny heart
Your fetus, date of birth, til puberty finally starts
Adolescence, adult, then your elderly body rots
It was devine decree that begun the plan
But it's disease by the greed of the sons of man
Who try to lead with their guns in hand
Understand God's the one that command…

Pre-chorus (David Byrne)
Did we climb out of the sea?
Where did we come from you and me?
Two legs to walk and eyes to see
Am I the man I want to be?

Chorus (David Byrne, The Crack Alley Children's Choir & Gift of Gab)
People grow in my back yard
In my garden, in my heart
Pink and purple, red and blue
On this sunny afternoon

Verse (Gift of Gab)
Back before time was time and space was space
The ever present I divine so laced with grace
Decided it was time to try to chase the taste
To what it was designed, now life is taking place
Within it' self-divided, now it takes some space
They can't be fathomed by a mind creates the state
Of ego now what's is mine, is mine, ok now hate
We'll reign until the blind have eyes and they awaken…

Pre-chorus (David Byrne)
Planting the seeds in the ground
How is my garden growing now?
A tender kiss, a little smile
The way a mother holds her child

Chorus (David Byrne, The Crack Alley Children's Choir & Chali 2na)
Tasty little human beings
I grow them on the people tree
I will eat them one by one
If there's enough for everyone

Bridge (GIft of Gab and Chali 2na)
Oh, unending ever flowing life beyond the birth
Tell me what the purpose is for creating the earth
Mainly we created the planet as man's habitat
Be fruitful and multiply across the planet's back
But why does hate exist, the war and AIDS and shit?
It we're to be fruitful, why can't poor people pay they rent?
Cause love and hate, both sides are conjoined
Physical forms have to deal with both sides of the coin
Why do we die?
So you can live
Why do we strive?
So you can win
But why do you defy every truthful word I recommend?
My question back is: Why do you recommend then throw temptation in?
So I can test you patience and tolerance in the face of sin
But why a test when you hold all the answers to the state we in?
For you to bear witness to imperfections of mortal man
So it's a lesson?
And a blessing journey back to where you've been
Cause before the tree can flourish, seeds must first be planted in!

Chorus (David Byrne, The Crack Alley Children's Choir & Gift of Gab)
People grow in my back yard
In my garden, in my heart
If you like my garden, you might like me
Underneath the people tree

Getting closer to God!
Getting closer to God!
Call upon your God!
Closer to God!
He'll answer your question!
Closer to God!
God said I trust you!
Who are you?
I'm God muthafucka and I'm not who you thought I was!
They better be giving me all the respect
All y'all, all y'all, all y'all, all y'all check yo self!
Cause I'm God!
Hello hello hello hello
Feel me, feel me, feel me all you

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Something Happened On Sunday

It was almost the case that nothing happened on Sunday. That’s probably the way I prefer it.
But it happened that my friend Nate, now formerly of the US Army, is around and we ended up going to dinner at my favorite Russian place near Dongdaemun – I was craving borscht. It was good….  Nate is an excellent conversationalist and, I suspect, a soon-to-be-famous writer – he already has some excellent non-fiction online.
[daily log: walking, 3 km]

Caveat: A dream deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes (American poet, 1902-1967)

[daily log: walking,  5.5 km]

Caveat: 굽은 나무가 선산을 지킨다

pictureThis is an aphorism from my aphorism book.
굽은 나무가 선산을 지킨다
gup·eun na·mu·ga seon·san·eul ji·kin·da
be-crooked-PASTPART tree-SUBJ ancestors-grave-OBJ guard-PRES
A crooked tree guards the ancestors’ grave.
Even a tree that is crooked has a job to do – it bends near the ancestors’ grave and protects it. Something viewed as useless turns out to have a use after all. (Image: a bent tree found online, guarding someone’s ancestors’ graves).
picture[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: We Are Girls

Teacher, exasperatedly: "Why must you talk so much? You are talking all the time! I am teaching class, right now."

Fay: "Teacher. It is simple." She gave a dramatic pause, with a gesture of placing the palm of her hand at her collarbone. Enunciating clearly: "We are girls."

The other girls nod. 

Ah. That explains it, then. Some things never change.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: zan achica ye nican


Niqitoa ni Nezahualcoyotl: ¿Cuix oc nelli nemohua in tlalticpac? An nochipa tlalticpac: zan achica ya nican. Tel ca chalchihuitl no xamani, no teocuitlatl in tlapani, no quetzalli poztequi. An nochipa tlalticpac: zan achica ye nican.

– Nezahualcóyotl (poeta acolhua [azteca de texcoco], 1402-1472)

Encontré el poema en español primero – no soy capaz de leer el nahuatl (arriba), aunque durante una época sí contemplaba estudiarlo.

Siguientes, hay traducciones encontradas en un blog llamado 69puntoG.

Yo lo pregunto

Yo Nezahualcóyotl lo pregunto: ¿Acaso deveras se vive con raíz en la tierra?
No para siempre en la tierra: sólo un poco aquí.
Aunque sea de jade se quiebra, aunque sea de oro se rompe,
aunque sea plumaje de quetzal se desgarra.
No para siempre en la tierra: sólo un poco aquí.

I ask

I Nezahualcoyotl ask: Do we really live with roots in the earth?
Not forever on the earth: Only a moment here.
Although made of Jade, it cracks, although made of gold, it breaks,
although it's plumage of Quetzal, it is torn apart.
Not forever on earth: Only a moment here.

 [daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

I went to the cancer center again this morning, to find out the result of my PET scan. The answer: "all clear." Dr Jo said I look remarkably healthy for the most part, although my continued, downward-creeping weight is of some concern. I thought I had been gaining back since my nadir at 69 kg, but my official weigh-in at the doctor's today was 73 kg, which is always a few kilos over because I'm fully dressed and carrying things, so that probably means my home scale would show me at about 71. I guess that's a little bit of a bounce-back. 

Anyway, I'm doing OK. I complained about eating, some, and I complained about the "ghost sensations" in the cut nerves in my wrist and neck, but overall I think I'm doing OK – I take no meds, work 50 hours a week, and walk 30~40 km per week.

I was walking back from the cancer center over Jeongbal hill, through the park, and approaching me was a girl of only maybe 4 years of age, walking as if she were a meditating monk or thoughtful ajeossi, hands crossed behind her back and pacing carefully. I was startled, as for a moment she seemed unaccompanied. Then, around the bend in the path, her mom appeared.

The mom was wearing a tshirt. It said, in simple yellow letters on a navy background: "SIMPLICITY IS THE ULTIMATE SOPHISTICATION." 

I couldn't help but grin slightly at this clever fragment of wisdom on the tshirt of the mom of the preternaturally composed child. 

I continued back home.

[daily log: walking, 9.5 km]

Caveat: On Being Temporarily Radioactive

My diagnostic PET scan at the hospital was delayed due to technical issues with their gadgets. I wasn't really upset by this, but it forced me to send a message to Curt telling him I would be late to work – later than already anticipated. Fortunately, someone was able to take my missed class, and I raced to work after the scan and went straight into my 6:40 class. 

"I'm radioactive," I announced. This, of course, required extensive explanation. 

I explained about Fluorine-18 radiotracer-tagged glucose (fluorodeoxyglucose – basically radioactive sugar) and how it shows hotspots of metabolic activity on the scan. It probably mostly went over their heads – elementary kids in Korea only know science well if they study it in hagwon, as the public elementary schools don't seem to do a very good job with science education.

I'm not sure the kids really cared that much – they didn't find it to be as interesting as I'd thought they might – sometimes with these kind of technological / medical issues, it's hit-or-miss.

I had a terrible headache this evening, but I suspect this has more to do with the requisite pre-scan fast than because of the radioactivity or injection or any of that. 

I go back tomorrow to get the result.

[daily log: walking, 7.5 km]

Caveat: Waiting Rooms in Famous Hospitals

Like old times, I am at the cancer center. I have my first-annual follow-up PET scan, a fairly involved affair, but just as always there is a lot of time to be killed sitting in waiting rooms, and so I decided to post this blog entry from my phone. as I did so often last year.
I am struck by how many nations are represented here. . . although Korea is so homogeneous, this cancer hospital is not. I have heard Chinese, something from India, French and English in the last 20 minutes.

Caveat: 줍는 사람이 임자다

This is an aphorism from my aphorism book.

줍는 사람이 임자다
jup·neun sa·ram·i im·ja·da
pick-up-PRESPART person-SUBJ owner-VERB
The person who picks [it] up [is] the owner.

“Finders keepers.” This seems strange to me only in that normally to VERBify a noun like “owner” (임자) you attach the copula -이다. This example is only attaching -다, which seems like a logical contraction but I confess I’ve never seen it before and it seems a little bit extreme as a contraction. But in any event it makes sense.
picture[daily log: walking, km]

Caveat: Que todos los hechos tienen un efecto

I blogged this song before, but I was listening to it as I walked to work this morning and was struck by the depth of the lyrics as well as the very catchy yet understated style of the rap, so I'll blog it again with the lyrics. I found the lyrics on one of those lyrics websites but they were quite badly transcribed (perhaps one of those "by machine" transcriptions?), so I tried to make some repairs – I'm sorry if any errors that remain.

Lo que estoy escuchando en este momento.

The Mexican Institute of Sound, "El micrófono."


El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
Yo prefiero utilizarlo para hablar en las rolas
Aunque luego mi discurso sea bien limitado
Y mis rimas sean baratas como que hablo cortado

Za za za zapatito blanco zapatito azul
Dime cuántas rimas tienes tú
Cuántos pandilleros has matado para que te persiga el estado
Que todos los hechos tienen un efecto
Ofendes a un machín que es poderoso
Asi que para tu micrófono y vete a tu casa
Ponte a ver los Simpsons hasta la madrugada
Oyete unos discos de Café Tacuba
Pídete una pizza pa' dormir con agrura

El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El tiempo sigue igual
El tiempo sigue igual
Sigue igual
Sigue igual

Si aún te quedan ganas con ocho temporadas
Ponte tus tennis y saca a bailar
A dos señoritas que tengan bigotito
Pa' que a una la puedas besar
Si en la calle te encuentras a los que insultaste
Dí que fue otro y que le pegaste
Solo lo solo
Claudio Yagarto Selena da igual
Que todos los hechos tienen un efecto
Ofendes a un machín que es poderoso
Asi que para tu micrófono y vete a tu casa
Ponte a ver los Simpons hasta la madrugada
Oyete unos discos de Café Tacuba
Pídete una pizza pa' dormir con agrura

El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El micrófono se ha vuelto un arma de moda
El tiempo sigue igual
El tiempo sigue igual
Sigue igual
Sigue igual
El tiempo sigue igual
El tiempo sigue igual
Sigue igual
Sigue igual

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: E a luxúria única de não ter já esperanças?

Estou cansado, é claro,
Porque, a certa altura, a gente tem que estar cansado.
De que estou cansado, não sei:
De nada me serviria sabê-lo,
Pois o cansaço fica na mesma.
A ferida dói como dói
E não em função da causa que a produziu.
Sim, estou cansado,
E um pouco sorridente
De o cansaço ser só isto —
Uma vontade de sono no corpo,
Um desejo de não pensar na alma,
E por cima de tudo uma transparência lúcida
Do entendimento retrospectivo…
E a luxúria única de não ter já esperanças?
Sou inteligente; eis tudo.
Tenho visto muito e entendido muito o que tenho visto,
E há um certo prazer até no cansaço que isto nos dá,
Que afinal a cabeça sempre serve para qualquer coisa.

– Álvaro de Campos (heterónimo de Fernando Pessoa, poeta portugues, 1888-1935)

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: The Social Construction of Discomfort

Pain is real, and exists at a fundamental level.

However, I think the principle of "discomfort" is quite different. I have come to believe that most of what we think of as discomfort is socially constructed – even what we think of as physical discomfort. It's important to understand that I'm not speaking of pain, here, not even mild pain, but rather that sense of being uncomfortable in some way. Certainly it is true that some types of physical discomfort can shade into real pain in inperceptibly small steps, but when we cringe at someone's awkward behavior, or complain that a room is too warm, or insist that our chairs are uncomfortable, mostly we are dealing with psychological constructs, which in turn are often the result of social (cultural) interactions and conditioning that we received as children.

What I'm thinking of is my recent observation that Koreans seem to find the idea of wearing a long-sleeve shirt in summer unbearable. They visibly stare and wince when they see me wearing my now habitual long-sleeved shirts. I don't really care, one way or another, as far as my own personal comfort is concerned – I don't think it really impacts my experience of feelings of relative "heat" or "cool," since frankly, in the summer I'm always just plain hot, and there aren't many shades of difference in my experience of feeling that it's too hot.

Korean-uv-sunlight-protective-elastic-arm-sleevesKoreans however – and at a very young age, apparently – are taught that wearing a short-sleeved shirt offers immense – even indispensible – relief from the discomfort of summer heat. Koreans do odd things, because of this belief that they must wear short-sleeved shirts – many older people wear short-sleeved shirts, and then they wear these weird-looking "arm socks" (see advertising picture at right) because they don't trust the sunlight's effect on their skin, either. My feeling is that this looks much less comfortable than simply wearing a long-sleeved shirt.

My students and coworkers regularly ask me, while wincing in sympathy and gesturing at my arms, if I'm too hot. I shrug but it's starting to feel awkward. I admit that there's a certain vanity involved, on my part – I have a really scary, icky looking scar on my right wrist, now, from the cancer surgery, and my arms are skeletally skinny. I'd just prefer not to have it out there. When my scar shows, people stare at that instead, so I can't win either way.

This social construction of discomfort goes both ways. We in the West are taught almost universally to "chew with a closed mouth" and not to slurp food. Koreans don't care at all, and to a person they will slurp noodles and cram vast quantities of food into their mouths and share with all their progress in masticating it. I still cringe when I am around Koreans eating because it's quite hard to ignore my own early social conditioning in the matter.

 [daily log: walking: 5 km]



Caveat: On Feeling Trapped – “For Better or For Worse”

My friend Bob wrote me a long email recently in which he discussed feeling trapped in his job. I, too, have struggled with that feeling, although perhaps in different ways or for different reasons.

I certainly have days of deep, deep dissatisfaction with my "life as it is" these days. The last few days have been in that category – I feel like a failure at work and that permeates all the other aspects of my life, since I have let work become so central to my current sense of self and identity. This is, of course, a dubious move from a mental health standpoint, but it seems almost unavoidable, for when I dwell on other aspects of my life, I find myself even more disappointed.

I won't say that I feel that I am a bad teacher. I don't actually think that. What I will say, however, is that I may be a bad teacher for this environment – what Koreans need and want, in a teacher, isn't necessarily where my strengths lie. Nevertheless, I remain, and keep trying.

Recently, our middle-school TOEFL-based program has been dying. Students have been dropping out of it in a steady attrition, either migrating to the so-called "TEPS" cohort or leaving KarmaPlus altogether. The reasons are obvious: being in the supposedly "premium" TOEFL cohort isn't getting them the high scores they want and need on their school tests. 

The reason for this, in turn, is because TOEFL and a Korean middle school English test are quite different animals. TOEFL is a fairly well-designed test, intended for university level, that seeks to determine a student's communicative competence in English. TEPS (Korea's special home-grown English test) and the middle school tests that seem to follow the TEPS lead are not tests of English communicative competence. Instead, what they most resemble is perhaps the types of tests in Greek and Latin that high-schoolers did around a century ago. With frozen idioms and artificial texts, they quiz you on minutiae of grammar and vocabulary and are brutally unforgiving of small mistakes that the TOEFL, by design, essentially ignores. 

If a student forgets to write -s on the word "drive" because it happens to be in the third person singular, the TOEFL scorer may take note, but the impact on the final score is minimal as long as the writer's ideas are clear. In the tests my students take, however, a missed -s can mean a hit to the final score that fails to get one into one of the elite high schools.

I have students who have gotten 80 or 90 points on practice TOEFL tests (a level that could get them into an American University, provided they meet other admission criteria of course), but who blow the naesin (school test). These are the students who are dropping out.

OK… this is a digression. My TOEFL2 cohort has died – there weren't enough students left to keep it running. We only have one TOEFL cohort left in middle school, and it's a mediocre collection of students at best – the English stars are all gone. 

As their teacher, I feel like a failure. I can't help them prepare for naesin by teaching TOEFL, it seems – knowing English isn't enough. What they need is meticulous attention to grammatical detail and the capacity to memorize obscure English vocabulary. I guess I'm willing to try to teach this, but I need to "train myself." Additionally, ironic though it is, I will have to further master Korean to be able to teach anything for naesin at all: the test is in Korean, after all (not the texts or words, which are English, but the questions – i.e. the parts that say e.g. "Underline the noun phrases in the below sentences" or "Which sentence below contains no grammatical error?").

I started out intending to write about feeling trapped. I guess my answer is… sometimes I feel trapped, but I'm kind of just accepting that I feel that way sometimes, and not fighiting it. I'm here for the long haul, it seems – both because I'm tired of quitting things (my life has been that of a "serial quitter," as my former coworker and friend Tyler once said with huge impact on my psyche), but also because I'm now a cancer patient who can't easily get insurance and inexpensive healthcare in my own country (I don't trust that obamacare actually solves the preexisting condition catch-22 – it doesn't appear to have done so).

I do not use the metaphor "I'm married to Korea, now" lightly – I mean to capture exactly that level of meaning: "for better or for worse…"

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 無呌響山谷

I made a surprising and interesting discovery today. I was browsing through my bilingual Korean-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terms, as I sometimes do to kill time and try to learn something (I have always been fond of consuming reference texts qua reference texts, which is why I like to surf wikipedia randomly, too).
I ran across a term I wanted to try to figure out better, and so I typed the phrase into google to do a search, with some accompanying English to rule out the Korean-only sites. Lo and behold, the first site to come up was an online version of my Korean-English Buddhist dictionary. That’s pretty cool: that they’ve decided to make it accessible online like that.
The phrase I was looking for was: 


The explanation given in the dictionary is “no echo valley” and the meaning, I think, is that you should stop listening so much to your mind. Turn off the echo-chamber of your brain, or something like that. Stop over-thinking things.
I don’t really know if 규향 means “echo” or not – I’m just guessing. I can’t figure out the hanja – it’s classical Chinese as opposed to something natively Korean, as is true for many Buddhist terms.
picture[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Well That Was A Busy Day

Sometimes when I have a busy day I have some pre-prepared blog post waiting that I can just clean up a little bit and post, which takes very little time. I have a "queue" of them, generally, sitting as "drafts" in my blog manager. Some of my aphorisms are done ahead of time, and some of my "found online" fragments of interesting news or humor are in that category as well. 

Today, my queue is empty, it's late, and I'm exhausted. I have nothing to post. So this is what you get. Sorry. 

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Nick the 6th Grade Graffiti Artist

I have student nick-named Nick (appropriately?). He is a very shy, quiet, unbecoming boy who doesn't always work very dilligently but he's quite smart and well-behaved. 

After writing yesterday about some of my students' writing okie-dokie graffiti, last night I had a dream that Nick, specifically, was going around writing strange things on the walls and desks and books of KarmaPlus hagwon. He was also suddenly dressing like a 1980's fan of Depeche Mode or something – vaguely "goth" with piercings and tattoos, too. It was quite strange. 

"What's happened to you, Nick?" I asked. He was just as shy as always, to talk about it. Yet every time I turned around, he was scribbling his name or some diagram on a piece of furniture.

Strange dream: not much plot to it except that. 

[daily log: walking, 1.5 km]

Caveat: 옼돜

Some of my students have taken to wrting 옼돜 on things – the whiteboards in class, their notebooks, their pencil cases, their desks (ahem).
This is not Korean. I asked them what it is. They said it means “Okie Dokie” : the hangeul, sounded out, is in fact something like ok-dok. I tried to figure out if they had adopted this phrase from me alone, or if it has some wider cultural diffusion recently in Korea. I know that I say it quite a bit – it’s one of those verbal mannerisms or tics that I use with kids, and I see it as having come to me from my father and to him from my grandfather John, who I remember saying it.
What’s interesting to me is how it it’s not quite phonetic, in the way that they’re writing it, and hence it’s an innovative use of hangeul. To represent okie dokie phonetically would require 4 syllables, not 2: something like 오키도키 [o-ki-do-ki]. Further, they’re deploying it visually, not in spoken form – more like a graffiti tag than a catch-phrase, e.g.:
picture[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: One Year Cancer Free

Well, it hasn’t gone perfectly. Being alive, however, means I am lucky.

I grossly underestimated my ability to meet the challenges of the long-term, despite having coped pretty remarkably well on the short term. The great challenge, frankly, has been that the centrality of eating to daily life, not just for sustenance but for socializing, has collided with the fact that eating has been rendered permanently unpleasant. Eating is a chore, now – on par with cleaning the toilet or jogging, with genuine unpleasantness being inevitable during the task, and only a residual and mostly hollow sense of accomplishment afterward.

Last night, we went to a work dinner (회식) for a coworker’s birthday, and Curt said to me – incidental to something else we were discussing – “Life is nothing.” I reminded him that exactly one year ago, on 2013-07-03, he’d said the same aphorism to me, on the eve of my surgery (and reprising previous uses of the same, vaguely Buddhist expression, such as on the date of my biopsy). It’s meant to be reassuring, and sometimes, it is.

I will summarize here the past year, just for completeness sake (and then I can point people to this blog entry for the “short version” of my cancer story).

I was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue on 2013-06-25 and things moved very fast. By the following week I was checking into Korea’s National Cancer Center (국립암센터) – possibly one of the best cancer hospitals in the world but which happens to be in my neighborhood – and I underwent a 9 hour surgery to remove the tumor from the root of my tongue on 2013-07-04. I spent three nightmarish, hallucinatory days in the ICU before finally being released out into the general ward.

My hospital stay was 23 days. I had a pretty good recovery although I had an infection that necessitated an additional “emergency” surgery to remove some badly behaved parts in my neck and tongue again.

My friends Peter and Grace and my coworkers Helen and Curt all provided immense amounts of emotional support and material support. I haven’t in any way adequately repaid any of them their kindness during this time.

My brother arrived a week or so into my hospital stay, and his help was quite useful, too – Korean hospitals expect family members to do a lot of the work done by nurse-assistant types in western hospitals.

By the time I was discharged, I was feeling quite elated, and that lasted until a week or two into my radiation treatment phase, which began in September. As the radiation treatments progressed, my brother left but stepmother visited. I was on a very limited schedule for work, and so I did a lot of daytripping around with them during that long, complicated summer. In early October, I had finished the 30 days of radiation by the time my mother came to visit, but I was also feeling much less elated and much grumpier about my health. Ultimately, it seems that the post-radiation discomforts were mostly permanent – or at the least very long-term.

I have lost a great deal of my sense of taste: especially sweetness – sweet things are kind of just bland. I have a saliva shortage in my mouth, which is the main cause of my difficulty eating – when I chew foods they turn in to dry, unswollowable blobs that my handicapped tongue is unable to push to the appropriate place in my mouth. Sometimes, I will have to shove a finger into my mouth and manually push the bolus of food to the right spot for swallowing. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t really feel comfortable eating in public, anymore. I have to be very careful or can end up with a choking fit. This problem, however, is in ironic conjunction with a horrible phlegm problem in my sinuses and throat such as I never suffered from before the surgery. I am constantly hacking up gobs of nasty gunk, despite having a dry mouth. I experience “ghost” pain sometimes in my my missing nerves in my tongue, neck, and wrist, all places where nerves were severed for the surgery. My tongue gets “sore” after talking a lot, which despite everything, is still a tendency of mine (not to mention my profession, as a language teacher).

I think I have a pretty high tolerance for pain – I almost never take pain medication but suspect that I would be a candidate based on a best guess at comparing my symptoms to those of others. It’s possible that this chronic low-grade, permanent pain (in mouth, tongue, neck, throat) has to do with my affective struggles of, especially, the last few months.

My eating difficulty has had a side effect of being a very effective diet plan. If you want to lose a lot of weight, tongue cancer is a great way to do it! It seems like I have managed to stabilize at about 70 kg.  We’ll see if I can stick with that.

I have been going in on a three-monthly basis to the hospital for CT scans to make sure I’m still cancer-free. In two weeks, I’m due for my first annual scan, which will be more thorough and include a PET scan.

There are times when I feel I made a deal with the devil. I worry that my post-cancer quality-of-life wasn’t “worth it.” Mostly, however, I remain grateful to be alive, knowing that it might not have worked out that way under different circumstances.

I’m going to discontinue these “X months cancer free” blog posts and perhaps even try to avoid discussing the post-cancer aspect of my existence much, as I feel it leads me to dwell more on the negative than I should. This entry is meant to be a kind of closing entry, then. Obviously, if something “new” comes along, I’ll share it.

picture[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: la nuestra es una civilización muy avanzada… Como dice la gente

This song came around on my mp3 player and I could not remember the last time I heard it, but I used to like it a lot. I swear I blogged about it before, but I was unable to find any entry about it, so I will blog about it now. 

It has an ecological message – a bit naive, in my opinion. But the entire Re album by Café Tacuba is one of my favorite albums – a masterpiece – and the lyrics are always deep, symbolic, and layered in meanings. Note, for example that the rebellious engineer in this song is named Salvador (AKA Christ). Because this is a Café Tacuba song, that is not an idle reference. 

Anyway, it is a great song from a great album.

What I am listening to right now.

Café Tacuba, "Trópico de Cáncer."


Cómo es que te vas Salvador
de la compañía si todavía hay mucho verdor?

Si el progreso es nuestro oficio
y aun queda por ahí mucho indio
que no sabe lo que es vivir en una ciudad…
como la gente.

Que no ves que eres un puente
entre el salvajismo y el modernismo.
Salvador el ingeniero,
Salvador de la humanidad.

Está muy bien lo que tu piensas
pero por qué no,
tú te acuerdas
que la nuestra es una civilización muy avanzada…
Como dice la gente.

Que no ves que nuestra mente
no debe tomar en cuenta:
ecologistas, indigenistas,
retrogradistas, y humanistas.

Ay, mis ingenieros
civiles y asociados,
no crean que no me duele
irme de su lado,
pero es que yo pienso
que ha llegado el tiempo
de darle lugar
a los espacios sin cemento.

Por eso yo ya me voy.
No quiero tener nada que ver
con esa fea relación de acción,

Cómo es que te vas Salvador
de la compañía si todavía hay mucho verdor?

Ay, mis compañeros petroleros mexicanos,
no crean que no extraño el olor a óleo puro.
Pero es que yo pienso que nosotros los humanos,
no necesitamos
más hidrocarburos.

Por eso yo ya me voy.
No quiero tener nada que ver
Con esa fea relación de acción,

Por eso yo ya me voy.
No quiero tener nada que ver…

Por eso yo ya me voy.
No quiero tener nada que ver…

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: 서당개 삼 년에 풍월 읊는다

This is an aphorism I ran across online.

서당개 삼 년에 풍월 읊는다
school-dog three year-AT poetry-compose-PRES
After three years a school dog composes poetry.

“Practice makes perfect.” But… if I am the dog in question, having been in Korea for 7 years, I still cannot recite a poem. Err… obviously, I haven’t been studying enough. Do dogs study diligently?
picture[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Into the whirlwinds of the upper sky

An Allegory


A portal as of shadowy adamant
Stands yawning on the highway of the life
Which we all tread, a cavern huge and gaunt;
Around it rages on unceasing strife
Of shadows, like the restless clouds that haunt
The gap of some cleft mountain, lifted high
Into the whirlwinds of the upper sky.


And many pass it by with careless tread,
Not knowing that a shadowy …
Tracks every traveller even to where the dead
Wait peacefully for their companion new;
But others, by more curious humour led,
Pause to examine; — these are very few,
And they learn little there, except to know
That shadows follow them where'er they go.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley (English poet, 1792-1822)

I'm going to confess I don't quite know what this Allegory is an allegory of. Death?

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

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