Caveat: rain water is feeled kindly

I might as well do another test of this posting-via-email problem. This is the trashcan nearest my desk at work. I just recently happened to notice that it features profoundly fractured English. It is so truly horrible that it becomes a kind of poetry.


The rain day is a beautiful.
Rain water is feeled kindly.
The umbrella is
unfolded toward sky.
If it is stopped,
rainbow will raise out of cloud.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo[daily log: walking 5 km]

Caveat: Technical Blahblah

I've been having some annoying technical issues with the ability to post via email to my blog, which I use fairly often as a short-cut when I want to post pictures I've taken on my phone directly to the blog, as the process of copying the files from phone to computer is more laborious than just composing a blog entry on the phone and sending the whole package as an email.

So on Sunday I took a picture of my lego monkey and emailed it, and it didn't appear and it didn't appear and it didn't appear. So Monday morning I realized it was missing and posted it the hard way, copying the picture from my phone and uploading it. Then, lo and behold, the emailed version appeared today, at 7 AM. I have opened a help-ticket with my blog host, and I'm leaving the duplicate blog posts for now while they (maybe) troubleshoot the issue. I'll clean up that and the test-post later, I guess. Meanwhile, that's what's going on, and why my blog is looking a bit scattered. 

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Lego Monkey Got Lego Banana

I have a largish lego alligator at work. I have blogged about it before. Today I was at the Homeplus store and I saw a similarly-scaled lego monkey. Now, my regular plastic alligators have an ongoing relationship with my stuffed monkeys (this makes for engaging EFL conversation with 10 year olds, trust me). So, the idea of getting a companion legomonkey for my legogator was impossible to resist. I bought and assembled the lego monkey. He was furnished with a legotoucan and a legobanana. Go figure.

2014-09-28 11.23.00-1.jpg

Caveat: let us celebrate the stupidity of our endurance


it's unlikely that a decent poem is in me
and I understand that this is strictly my
and of no interest to you
that I sit here listening to a man playing
a piano on the radio
and it's bad piano, both the playing and
the composition
and again, this is of no interest to you
as one of my cats,
a beautiful white with strange markings,
sleeps in the bathroom.

I have no idea what would be of
interest to you
but I doubt that you would be of
interest to me, so don't get
in fact, come to think of it, you can
kiss my ass.

I continue to listen to the piano.
this will not be a memorable night in my
or yours.

let us celebrate the stupidity of our 

– Charles Bukowski (German-American poet, 1920-1994)

Caveat: Lego Monkey Got Lego Banana

LegomonkeyI have a largish lego alligator at work. I have blogged about it before. Today I was at the Homeplus store and I saw a similarly-scaled lego monkey. Now, my regular plastic alligators have an ongoing relationship with my stuffed monkeys (this makes for engaging EFL conversation with 10 year olds, trust me). So, the idea of getting a companion legomonkey for my legogator was impossible to resist. I bought and assembled the lego monkey. He was provisioned with a legotoucan companion and a cyborg-looking legobanana. Go figure.

[daily log: walking, 1 km]

Caveat: 눈치게임 bis

It has been a long time since I played 눈치게임 with students in a class, but last night with my Honors kids (TOEFL-style elementary, our most advanced elementary kids) I was in a magnanimous mood and with 15 minutes left in class I told them we could play a game. After several proposals that I shot down as "boring" (they always suggest hangman, but that is just boring to me), I remembered overhearing some other student mention the 눈치game and so I suggested it.

I don't know why I don't play this more often as a reward for good classes – I have rarely seen kids have so much fun with such a ridiculously simple game. It's just a sort of psych-out exercise, but the kids really enjoy it (I wrote a [broken link! FIXME] detailed explanation of the game in 2012). When one student has gotten too far ahead, other kids will diliberately stand up simultaneously as the winning kid, to drag down that person's score. There are all kinds of implications regarding cooperation versus competition, I guess. I wonder how computers would do it? Would they do best being random, or is there some point where there is more advantage?

[daily log: walking, xx km]


Caveat: 아직?

When I was walking home last night I had an unexpect occurance. I walked by someone walking the other direction along Jungangno, and we recognized each other. She was one of the nurses from my stay at the cancer hospital last year. She was one of the nurses who spoke to me exclusively in Korean, and she rattled off a number of questiosn and comments, but I really wasn't understanding very well. She said (in Korean, and I only got the gist of it, not the exact phrasing), "Well. Your Korean still hasn't improved, has it."

I just nodded meekly, and I said, "아직" [ajik = yes, still]. I've been getting a lot of negative feedback about my Korean lately – at least that's my perception. My spirits about learning the language are lower than their usual low level.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: The Temple Of Not Doing Anything

At work the other day, I was defending my deep-held belief that work should not be taken home. Rather than take work home, I always prefer to stay late or come early. When I take work home, I end up not getting it done anyway, but it sits there and makes me feel guilty.

I declared, boldly, that my apartment was a "temple of not doing anything." This struck me as somehow profound or useful as a sort of shorthand for some philosophy or way-of-life. So here I will memorialize the concept.

[daily log: walking 5.5 km]

Caveat: Lo pasa echao panza arriba mirando dar güelta el sol

Fabricaremos un toldo,
como lo hacen tantos otros,
con unos cueros de potro,
que sea sala y sea cocina.
¡Tal vez no falte una china
que se apiade de nosotros!

Allá no hay que trabajar,
vive uno como un señor;
de cuando en cuando un malón,
y si de él sale con vida,
lo pasa echao panza arriba
mirando dar güelta el sol

 - Éstas son dos estrofas del poema muy largo "El Gaucho Martín Fierro" del poeta argentino José Hernández (1834-1886), que consta el poema que en cierto término ha definido a la nación y la cultura gauchescas. Es un castellano algo difícil de entender, porque incluye muchas representaciones fonéticas de la pronunciación rústico del gaucho platense. Hace mucho que me ocupo de la temática gauchesca, pero en algún momento fue algo que me atraía mucho, hasta que fue uno de varios posibles temas para mi tesis del doctorado, aunque no él que al fin seleccioné. Recientemente busqué y encontré los textos del poema gratis en línea, y he decidido descargarlo y leerlo de nuevo.

Caveat: Rats Play the Market

I ran across this utterly fascinating book excerpt on the marginalrevolution blog:

One project is Michael Marcovici’s Rat Trader. The book describes the training of laboratory rats to trade in foreign exchange and commodity futures markets. Marcovici says the rats “outperformed some of the world’s leading human fund managers.” The rats were trained to press a red or green button to give buy or sell signals, after listening to ticker tape movements represented as sounds. If they called the market right they were fed, if they called it wrong they got a small electric shock. Male and female rats performed equally well. The second generation of rattraders, cross-bred from the best performers in the first generation, appeared to have even better performance, although this is a preliminary result, according to the text. Marcovici’s plan, he writes, is to breed enough of them to set up a hedge fund.

I think this bespeaks the utterly rational nature of the market. Humans are irrational. Rats are just doing what they're trained to do, and their feelings (except the avoidance of electric shock or the reward or food) don't play a role.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: Abstract?

I spent some time watching this video. I like it, and it's interesting, in a Koyaanasqatsi kind of way, but I'm not sure if "abstract" really is what it is? But if not abstract, what is it? It seems very concrete, in fact – it's all "really there" as is inevitable if you're making a film, right? The camera is capturing something real. Perhaps only the ritual is abstract… 

Circle of Abstract Ritual from Jeff Frost on Vimeo.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Tromp

I went on a walk today, but rather than tromp around my haunts in Ilsan I took the subway to Seoul and spent money at a bookstore too. I bought a fat history book about postwar Korea to maybe read.
Downtown Seoul was crowded, some kind of special event, I’m not sure what. I took a picture that showed the old-new contrast well I think.
[daily log: walking, 4.5 km]


Caveat: The Knight Gipa

There is a poem I ran across some time ago, called Changiparangga (찬기파랑가), which I liked but I didn't want to post it simply in translation – which is the form I encountered. I wanted to post the original.

But… the poem is 1300 years old. It was written by a Korean, but in Classical Chinese – as poems in that era were typically written. I know absolutely nothing about Classical Chinese, and I am not conversant in the discourses of Korean philology, either. So representing an "original" of this poem is a fraught proposition at best. Nevertheless, the text below seems to be the "original" (원문) in circulation. The "transcriptions" provided on Korean websites already are too opaque for me to make heads or tails of – they use obsolete Korean "jamo" characters to represent the Chinese sounds, and these aren't even unicode, but are instead gifs (picture files) that are being posted. I don't feel comfortable borrowing those when I don't even understand them. So there is no hangul transcription for this, and I couldn't find anything that looked like an "authoritative" modern Koreanization of the poem (which would be in the vein of a modernization of something like Beowulf in English literature). 

The original:

찬기파랑가 – 讚耆婆郞歌


The translation that I originally found appealing:

The moon that pushes her way
Through the thickets of clouds,
Is she not pursuing
The white clouds?

Knight Kip'a once stood by the water,
Reflecting his face in the Iro.
Henceforth I shall seek and gather
The depth of his mind among pebbles.

Knight, you are the towering pine
That scorns frost, ignores snow.
– Trans by Peter H. Lee

[daily log: walking, 5km]

Caveat: The $200 Argument

Well, I have bad news and good news.

The bad news is I had to pay a fine of $300 (₩300,000) to the immigration authorities, because I violated a rule that said I had to report a change-of-address within 14 days. In fact, it was 1 year and 14 days since my move. Heh. I sort of knew about this rule, in the abstract, but in the mess of having cancer last year, and the move (while Andrew and Hollye were here, who helped me move), and everything else… I just forgot about it, and Curt never thought about it… and so we never reported the address change.

The good news is that I did, in fact manage to renew my contract and visa for another year. It seems as if time has flown by very fast, this past year.

They originally wanted to charge a fine of $500 (and in fact they had legal discretion to fine me up to $1000 and/or deport me, according to some websites on Korean immigration rules). Curt, however, was with me, and he decided to argue with the immigration officer for 40 minutes (continuously, in his best school-teacher, Korean-Confucian-pedantic style), and this (maybe) got us the reduction of $200. Curt was very pleased with the result, and I have to admit that if I had been alone, I'd have simply paid the $500 without even trying to negotiate. This is a Korean vs US character thing, in part. In Korea, officers giving fines and fees seem to have a lot of discretion (this is a carry-over from the days when it was outright corruption – I don't actually think there is that much corruption now, but this capacity to negotiate the terms of minor legal infractions still seems universal in the culture).

Curt said, "Wow, 200,000 won for only 40 minutes work. It sure was tiring, though." Indeed, he'd worked up a sweat in the air-conditioned office with his passionate debating. One thing he conveyed to me, later, that I hadn't captured in overhearing the Korean, was that the immigration officer had said at one point, to Curt, "Why are you arguing this? – it's the foreigner who has to pay the fine." Curt subsequently harangued the officer about the idea that that was the kind of "pass-the-buck" attitude that caused so many social problems in Korea, and further, it was a little bit "anti-foreigner" (i.e. racist).

Well, thus it is. I will view the $300 as part of the cost of my cancer last year, since ultimately the fact that I never reported my change-of-address is best explained by the distraction of that illness.

SeollongtangjointPrior to the immigration office adventure, Curt and I had had lunch together, at a 설농탕 joint down the road from KarmaPlus a few blocks. Curt had said, "this is an old restaurant," drawing out the "old" to show emphasis.

I said, "Really? When did they build it?"

"Oh, 1998 I think," Curt answered. 

We talked about how I had come to Ilsan in 1991, when I was in Korea in the US Army, and how at that time, it had been mostly rice-fields and a decrepit neighborhood around the train station, rather than a city of half-a-million.

Ah, life in the 신도시 [sindosi = "new city"]. 

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Free Scotland?

My friend asked me what I thought of the Scottish independence question being voted tomorrow, knowing my interest in things geopolitical as well as my libertarian tendencies.

I do not have a horse in this race. Nevertheless I am following it with curiosity. I suspect it could have a bad outcome, regardless of the actual vote result. I read in a blog which I forgot to bookmark that political unions, like marriages, have questions best left unasked, because once asked, the relationship can never be the same. British political union was always, essentially, part of London’s imperial project. That project is long dead, and the non-English parts of the home islands are geopolitical fossils – which is not to condemn, since all modern nation-states abound in such fossils.

If I were confident that London and Brussels were predisposed to accept any result with equanimity and generosity of spirit, I would support Scotland’s effort. I have no such confidence.

If this could go smoothly, other divorces will follow rapidly: Catalonia, Euzkadi, etc. Divorces rarely go well, however.

[daily log: walking, 5km]

Caveat: Eyes

In class, this evening, we were practicing one-minute-long TOEFL-style speaking questions. We listened to a passage where a teacher was lecturing about how we should read novels. It was age-appropriately simplistic: it was just saying they demand to be read linearly (to keep the storyline) and contrasting it with the way we read the web or a newspaper, or else they don't make sense. The speaking task it to attempt to summarize the lecture in a dozen sentences. 

After talking about it some, and after two other students did passable efforts, I got to a girl named Hansaem. I repeated the textbook question: "Using examples from the lecture, how should we read a novel?" Hansaem must have not been paying attention, and she disregarded the first part of the question prompt, too. 

She looked at me, as if she couldn't believe such a stupid question. "How to read a novel?" she asked, confirming the topic. I nodded.

"Eyes." she said. She was clearly finished with her speech.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Stalked by the Goog for my Birthday

I received a number of birthday greetings from friends and family – mostly via email. I was pleased by that. However, one birthday greeting I received came from an unexpected quarter, and it struck me as creepy.

When I got to work and opened my chrome browser, the google-doodle was a birthday cake. "That's odd," I thought – I wondered why the google-doodle was a birthday cake. I hovered over the doodle, and lo and behold, it said "Happy Birthday, Jared!" 


This was a personalized google-doodle – which means the goog used information in my profile, linked to the fact that at least at work I'm pretty lackadaisical about my privacy settings (it's work, after all, and I use google a lot to store my documents online and pre-write for my blog, etc.

Frankly, I don't understand why anyone would appreciate this. It's just a robot (essentially), saying "happy birthday" because it has that info in its database. I guess it serves as a useful reminder that the goog knows everything, now.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Space Jesters from the Seventh Dimension

Last night I had a strange dream. All dreams are strange, but somehow this dream seemed stranger.

I was in a house that wouldn’t stay level. It was a run-down, wooden house in a rainy place – maybe Ketchikan, Alaska, or Craig, Alaska, where my uncle lives. It could have been Valdivia, in Chile, where I studied in 1994, which has a similar maritime temperate rainforest climate. The house would begin to tilt, slowly, and I would have to go out into the rain and put concrete blocks under one corner or another to prevent it from tilting further.

Inside the house, there was no furniture. There was sawdust in the corners, and the floorboards were badly spaced, so you could feel the cool air rising between the cracks. I had a roll-out set of blankets for the floor where I slept (a Korean-style bed – this is how I actually sleep). I had a little kerosene stove for cooking, but it was fidgety to control and all I had to cook was ramyeon (Korean ramen noodles) and a brass saucepan.

I was trying to hold hagwon class in this tilting house. It was going OK, except occasionally men on horses would gallop past the house in the rain, and the thundering of the horses’ hooves would tend to send the house tilting moreso than it did normally, forcing me to interrupt class so I could put more concrete blocks under the house. I tried to get the students to help, but they refused to go out into the rain.

There was a landlord, a grumpy old man, who would come by occasionally and yell if the house was too tilted. He’d tell me it was my responsibility to keep the house level. I didn’t really agree with that, but I also didn’t like trying to teach class in a tilted house, so I did my best to keep the house level.

I have a student name Chaewon – she is a student of mine at Karma. She is a diminutive girl in only second grade of elementary, and I worry about her a lot because she has a slightly unusual situation: she lived, until last Spring, with her parents in Abu Dhabi, where she attended an English-speaking kindergarten. As a result, she in fact knows English almost perfectly, but she somehow got behind on literacy, and she is basically unable to read or write in English. We’re trying to help her, but meanwhile she is mostly struggling with the fact she has to learn Korean now, because before she was only learning it from her parents. It’s a linguistic minefield for her, but, like most kids that age, she has the natural ability to adapt to it. She’ll end up fully bilingual if given the chance. She has a very forceful personality, and she tends not to use the correct honorifics in Korean with her elders (older peers or teachers) so all the Korean teachers complain that she is rude. I am certain it’s a linguistic issue, not a social maladaptation.

She was in the dream, and she came up to me and pulled on my sleeve as I struggled in the rain to push a concrete block under a corner of the titlting house. She said to me, “The space jesters from the seventh dimension are coming.”

I was alarmed, and turned around. Somehow, in the dream, I knew who these “space jesters” were and it was definitely bad news. Just then a group of the men on horses galloped past, splashing mud and making so much noise that further conversation was impossible. Chaewon was wide-eyed and fearful-looking.

I took her inside, and found all my other students were missing. My old friend Ken was sitting like a Buddha in the middle of the floor (this is not my recent coworker Ken, but an old college roommate of the same name, whom I haven’t seen in more than 20 years). I asked him if he’d seen any “space jesters.” He pointed to the wall. I looked closely, and there was a cartoon-style painting on cardstock pinned to the wall. Rainwater was oozing down the wall from a leak in the ceiling, making the characters seem to move and waver as the ink in the painting was diluted and blurred.

Chaewon pulled my sleeve, and I turned back. Ken was throwing my ramyeon out the window. I yelled, but he scrambled out after the packets he had thrown, and was gone.

Some student’s mother showed up, peering in the open door. She was holding a newspaper over her head, from the rain. She spoke to me in Korean and I didn’t understand.

I turned back to Chaewon, and she was disappearing into the painting on the wall. I woke up.

[daily log: walking, 2 km]

Caveat: Kinda Boring

My day was kinda boring, so I don't have much to say. I walked through the park this afternoon, and it was really clear so I took a picture of Bukhansan, looking east from the top of Jeongbalsan.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

2014-09-13 15.44.43-1.jpg

Caveat: I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt

The Fascination of What's Difficult

The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There's something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day's war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I'll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

– William Butler Yeats (Irish poet, 1865-1939)

[daily log: walking, 5.5km]

Caveat: For 추석 I slept long

I gave my "Honors-T" students 10 minutes to write a little one-minute speech about what the did during the Chuseok holiday. One wrote about a trip to Japan. Another described spending the day playing games with relatives. My student Sally, however, after 10 minutes of seeming effort, had written exactly this:

"For 추석 I slept long."

I was unimpressed. But then she gave her speech.

She told how she had a dream that she went to an amusement park. "I ride a lot of ride" she explained. "Then I woke up. It was just a dream. So I was so sad."

She gave a sigh and a pause. Then she continued her speech. "Then that day we went to an amusement park. I ride a lot of ride. I am so happy."

This was a pretty good speech. Especially given her unpromising level of preparation. 

[daily log: walking, 5 km]


Caveat: Fal de ral de ral do

Apropos of yesterday's post, in his short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," Jorge Luis Borges wrote that the universe is a "code system… in which not all symbols have meaning." This is tied into something I've written about before, regarding [broken link! FIXME] apopheny - the finding of meaning where none actually exists. This seems central to the human condition, frankly.

Speaking of which, I had always thought that this song had some complex lyrics that I just couldn't make out clearly, but… when  I went to look them up…  lo.

What I'm listening to right now.

Lemon Jelly, "Nice Weather For Ducks." …interesting video, though.


All the ducks are swimming in the water
All the ducks are swimming in the water
All the ducks are swimming in the water

Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do

 [daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: A holiday in Tlön, via Khaiwoon

I have a hobby I don't talk about much – because it is not something most people can understand, and I don't always want to try to explain it. It does not even have a single term that describes it, but probably the most commonly used these days is "conworlding". This is derived from the noun "conworld" which is a contraction of "constructed world".

I have been doing it since childhood, when I called it "drawing maps", because that is how it started: drawing maps of imaginary countries. But by my teenage years it had become "writing encyclopedia articles about imaginary places." Mostly, I would fill notebooks with this material, as I was never satisfied (or expert enough) with the graphics software available for drawing maps, so I always drew the maps by hand.

This type of activity has a respectable side: JRR Tolkien apparently drew his maps and wrote his appendices for Middle Earth long before he wrote his novels. He also took very seriously the related pasttime of "conlanging" (inventing imaginary languages – not that he called it that, as the term came later). His complex Elvish and other languages are serious philological works. More recently, serious "professional" conlangers have even been able to make money: the guy who invented the Klingon language for Star Trek got paid something, and there's someone who works full time as a conlanger for the Game of Thrones TV show. I was always too perfectionistic, due to my linguistics background, to go very far with conlanging. Arguably, the the same thing that challenges me in learning Korean is what prevents me from being a serious conlanger. Setting that aside, however, I love to make maps and craft the fictional geographical data that accompanies them.

I remember when the wikipedia first appeared, I thought, "there should be a wikipedia for fictional places." Actually, this was an echo, updated for the internet age, of the themes in Borges' famous story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." I was so enamored of this idea that about a decade ago, I tried to use my database programming expertise to build a fictional online encyclopedia for myself, but that project lost momentum at some point.

Well, it turns out some guy in Germany has done it. Further, there is a google-earth-quality online mapping tool for it. Actually, the mapping tool was the thing created first, and I found it about 6 months ago – the wiki came just in the last few months. There are people who are much more serious about it than I am, creating fictional countries, with supporting encyclopedic articles, that are difficult to distinguish from reality. Tlön, indeed.

The collaborative aspect is what is genuinely new, and it changes things some. It is interesting to see what other people do. So I have been spending some time there – mostly crafting maps for my allotments (one can sign up for free, and receive a "country" by request – a terra incognita to do with what one wishes), but also writing some wiki entries for them. It has the same appeal to me of sim games like simcity or civilization, which I have spent plenty of time addicted to, but it is better: there are fewer rules, and the result is always cummulative and feels more creative.

I have attempted to attach a screenshot of a map of the downtown of the city state of Khaiwoon, a vaguely Singaporean nation created by one of the most prolific and talented conworlders. The site is called Opengeofiction – here is a link to his article about Khaiwoon. There are links from there to the mapping tool.


I will leave as an exercise for curious readers to find which countries are "mine".

[daily log: walking, 1 km]

Caveat: Ordinary


If there are great men
interestingly enough
there are weaklings too.
Who are these fellows
who lack an ordinary heart?

The monk Nanquan used to go on about
how the ordinary heart really is the Dao.

– Ko Un (Korean poet and former Buddhist monk, b 1953) [translated by Kim Young-Moo and Brother Anthony]

Yesterday's blog post got a sideways picture, because I was being lazy and tried to post directly from my phone rather than take the time to load the picture to my computer and reorient it before loading to the blog. I was going to fix it but changed my mind. Everyblog needs a sidewaysness.

Today was Chuseok. Merry Chuseok. I celebrated by being abnormally ordinary. Um. . . just reading and writing and doing laundry and taking a walk.

[daily log: walking, 4 km]

Caveat: Already Afalling

Yesterday when I met Peter to go to that movie, we walked around afterward, some, with an intention to go up Namsan, but we missed the uphill path somehow. Anyway, I was struck noticing there were already yellow leaves on some trees.

Today I did not do hardly anything. I tried to study Korean but got frustrated and discouraged.

2014-09-06 18.50.12.jpg

[daily log: walking, not really]

Caveat: 오발탄

I went to see a movie today, entitled 오발탄 [obaltan = aimless bullet]. It is a very old movie, especially by the standards of Korean cinema, having been made in 1960, in the waning days of the autocratic Syngman Rhee (이승만) regime, when the Korean war was still a very fresh memory and when North Korea still had a higher per capita GDP than the South. Thus the atmospherics of the movie are very much about the feeling of pointlessness that prevailed with respect to the war in that period (while later treatments could trend more ideological, given the retrospective "necessity" to fight for a better future – later fulfilled by South Korea's arrival in the "first world").

This existential atmosphere of hopelessness is also clearly influenced by the existential charecter of post-WW2 European cinema, but the movie's director, 유현목 [Yu Hyeon-Mok], has masterfully "nativized" that latter genre's cinematic vocabulary such that the movie feels authentically Korean rather than at all derivative.

Superficially, the movie could be summarized in one sentence as "man with a bad toothache and a badly-behaved family struggles to survive while retaining a clear conscience, but gives up in the end." The badly-behaved family includes a mentally deranged mother (traumatized by the war), a prostitute sister, a bank-robber casanova brother, and a dissolute, very pregnant wife who will die in childbirth. The movie is based on a short story by 이범선 [Yi Beom-Seon], which I will try to find and read in tranaslation.

I told my friend Peter, who had suggested us going to the screening at the Seoul Film Society, that I thought the symbolism of the film was not that hard to decipher: while everyone obsesses over and struggles with the various family problems (aftermaths of the War), the real, unbearable problem is the man's toothache, which represents the endemic corruption of South Korea at that time. Unless this core problem is plucked out and solved, the baroque madness surrounding him continues, yet he resists doing it until the end, "sacrificing" so as to provide for family.

Frankly, the movie is pretty dark and depressing. The cinematography is hard to appreciate because of the poor quality of the surviving print that was digitized. Nevertheless I came away quite impressed by the montage. There are all these visual leitmotifs and echoes and almost humorous pauses and dwellings of the camera. The dialogue, which of course was partly ruined by poor subtitles, seemed full of these sort of "speaking in aphorisms" that seem to abound in Korean, and thr movie was in all ways equal to "art cinema" I have seen that was made in the west in the same period.

I liked the movie. I have not been doing much movie-watching lately.

Incidentally, after the movie there was a "discussion group," which was in English and not bad as far as such things go until the conversation got taken over by a mulling of Korea's persistent cultural resentment of Japan. Apropos of this, after we left the locale, Peter said a very quotable thing: "people's opinions about Japan are rarely rational or interesting to listen to."

[daily log: walking 4 km]

Caveat: Not Chuseok, just Suck

I actually made a kind of bilingual pun today, which, based on my students' reactions, actually worked. This may a first time for such a thing, for me.

We are coming on a four-day weekend, for the Korean Harvest Festival called Chuseok, ("Korean Thanksgiving"). It's one of the two most important holidays of the year. Anyway, I asked a student what she was doing for Chuseok. She said she had to go to hagwon and study on Sunday and again on Tuesday – thus reducing the holiday to two days off, not even sequentially. I said, that's not Chuseok – it's just suck. The latter syllable in English has a similar vowel quality to the second syllable in Chuseok. Everyone laughed.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: The Platonic Ideal of Cuteness in the Liminal Chasm

Yesterday I was annoyed by the lack of internet at work.

Lately, you see, I've been making my blog-posts at work – either by coming in a little bit early or going home a little bit later. This is because I have almost completely ended my internet use at home – this is mostly as a means of self-discipline, because I find it improves my affect substantially. When I spend too much time online at home, I tend to feel like I've wasted my time and that I'm lacking in self-control, so by simply avoiding it, I feel better about my lifestyle and my choices. The consequence, however, is that I get my "internet fix" during breaks at work. It's more than sufficient, normally – but when the internet at work isn't working… well, it not only messes up my work routines, it discombobulates my fairly stable home routines, too.

Anyway, I came in early today and found the internet working again. So here I am. 

I found this strange little essay online the other day. It's some of the best writting I've run across, recently, about popular culture. A bit unexpectedly, the topic is Sanrio and Japan's "Hello Kitty" empire. Euny Hong, at, writes,

Hello Kitty, you are not what you claim to be. Kitty, what’s your game? I have several plausible theories as to her true provenance (it is with great restraint that I avoid the possibility of interspecies mating):

Origin of Species: Hello Kitty is like Caesar from Planet of the Apes; a regular cat made highly intelligent and biped via an experimental Alzheimer’s drug.

The White family is in some kind of witness protection program. This would explain why a so-called British family is faffing about with apple pies, cookies, and pancakes. They might have to pass as English in their new identity as the “White family.”

The Whites are like a family from a Henry James novel, living in that liminal chasm between America and Europe. Just as they are living in the liminal chasm between human and cat. So much liminality for one family.

KittySanrio is the world’s undisputed thought leader in “kawaii,” which is basically the Japanese word for “squee.” The Japanese, through some kind of cartoon phrenology and the design equivalent of genetic engineering (also known as “drawing”) arrived at an image that is the Platonic ideal of cuteness. And Hello Kitty is the brand ambassador for Sanrio. So it’s a bit shocking that it took the world so long to identify what she was. There’s more cult crit to be done here.

To paraphrase Nabokov: Hello, hello, hello Kitty. My sin, my soul.

 [daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: This will be a short post because the internet at work isn’t working well

The internet not working well at work is a bad thing – I have been using Google-docs for several years to keep all my teaching materials – so with no internet, I have no documents. I grew complacent, to think that the internet is "always on" in Korea. Obviously that only is true in theory.

So I'll write more some other time.

[daily log: walking, 5km]

Caveat: Naesin already

내신 [naesin] literally seems to mean something like "school transcript" but it's a shorthand way of referring to the hagwon exam prep time. I suppose that's because the results of your four-times-yearly exams are what go on your transcript. The period is also called 시험대비 which more literally means "exam prep time." In the school year cycle here, there are 4 naesin periods – two in the spring semester and two in the fall. 

It started today, the first of the two fall semester prep periods. It's an early start, because of the unusual early timing of the Chuseok holiday (Korean thanksgiving) – it follows the lunar calendar so it's different every year, and it will be next weekend this year, though normally Chuseok seems to be more of a late September or early October thing.

On the one hand, naesin is nice because I get a reduce teaching schedule since I don't teach middle-schoolers normally. This time, I'm doing some tutoring with middle-schoolers, however, so my schedule is not as reduced as in some past times.

On the other hand, naesin means a lot of extra time sitting in the staff room, which is probably the least-favorite aspect of my job. I found a lot to keep me busy today before and after my 3 classes, but over the next few days, as I plow through my backlog of grading and syllabus-making, I will have more free time and will have to find some "project" to work on, possibly. Or else… I could not work on some project, and then feel guilty for being unproductive – that often seems to be the option I choose for naesin. Also, although I once said I prefer teaching elementary kids to middle-schoolers, I have to admit that I end up missing my middle-schoolers quite a bit. 

The rhythms of the Korean school calendar are quite different from what we're used to in the US. I still haven't fully gotten used to it – September should a starting time, not a "middle-of" time.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Time Keeps Going By

Seven years ago, today, I landed in Korea to begin my new teaching job. I only intended to stay for a year or two. Now, six jobs and a bout with cancer later, I see this as my permanent home. Weird.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

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