Caveat: Better

Well today was better.

I guess what had me down yesterday was just some difficulties with a certain set of three students, whom I sometimes call, uncharitably, the three stooges. That's not actually wise, on my part, to make up epithets of that sort.

They are a triplet of very frustrating middle school boys, who are quite smart but tend to engage in a kind of right-on-the-edge-of-bullying banter among themselves during class, generally in Korean which makes it hard to detect when they're crossing the line, but I can almost guarantee that they generally cross the line. Let's call it "locker room" banter. Some of it is innocent, or just insults traded among themselves, but some of it is offensive to the less confident students, and especially I KNOW there are girls who have been made so uncomfortable by these boys that they have quit the class. Yet it's extremely difficult for me to manage these boys, because I'm not sophisticated enough in Korean to call them on their Korean, and they seem to know that and exploit it, because the Korean-speaking teachers always say, essentially, "oh, they're little angels in my class." So getting disciplinary support from my coworkers is pretty difficult, too. 

But I run a speaking class – I can't just make them all shut up. Well… maybe I should. Anyway, I didn't have them today. So today was fine. I had good classes, today. My great new middle school cohorts, the new new TOEFL class of 6th-to-7th 예비중 excellent, my MWF cohort of 8th-9th graders is excellent too, all interesting, intelligent, curious. 

Anyway. It's new years eve. I don't care. Or do I?

[daily log: walking, -5 km]

Caveat: 2014

I continued living in Ilsan.
[This entry is part of a timeline I am making using this blog. I am writing a single entry for each year of my life, which when viewed together in order will provide a sort of timeline. This entry wasn’t written in 2014 – it was written in the future.]

Caveat: The Trouble I’ve Been Through

One reason I claim that I'm in the right job, despite my frequent complaints, is that, on average, I am more likely to feel positive about my job at the end of my day than how I feel about it at the start of my day.

Today was not one of those days.

What I'm listening to right now.

The Limousines, "Dancing At Her Funeral." I'm afraid I don't fully understand this song. It seems kind of morbid. But it's a bit catchy.


Decorated in lights
And surrounded by traffic cones
There was a car crashed wrapped
Around a telephone pole
With a soft layer of firefighter's
Chemical foam
The stranger's favorite song still
Playing on the radio

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
The trouble I've been through

And as the ambulance takes her to the hospital
The only words she can say are, "Can you take me home?"
Before her spirit escapes her as a soft blue glow, oh, no…

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
The trouble I've been through

And we'll be dancing at her funeral
Dancing at her funeral

Now they're digging a hole
Cutting her name in stone
Sending out invitations to her friends back home
Digging a hole, cutting her name in stone, oh, no….

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
The trouble I've been through

[daily log: walking, yeh]

Caveat: White men come and ruin Mesopotamia

Last Friday, on a whim (and because I had a class in my schedule that I hadn't planned for), I gave some 2nd and 3rd grade elementary students some pseudo-TOEFL-style speaking questions. Yun (a 2nd grade prodigy of sorts) attempted to answer the question, "What is your favorite type of museum?" This is an actual TOEFL-style question which I normally use with advanced 5th and 6th graders or even mid-level middle schoolers, and I was quite surprised at how well Yun met the challenge. He took some notes and planned his idea, and patters on quite successfully for the allotted 45 seconds.

What he says near the end about Mesopotamians is rather funny in a sad, "wow that's still going on" way – hard to catch it, I know – here is a transcription based on my having had access to his notes.

But later, white men come and ruin Mesopotamia, So today Mesopotamia's museum is not stay their seat. 

His use of the term "white men" might seem odd, but in fact it's just a direct, naive, dictionary-driven translation of the Korean 백인 (literally white-man), which has a similar semantic scope. He means Europeans.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Detour-de-force

I ran across this on another blog I look at sometimes. If you don't know about toxoplasma, you might want to read up on it to understand better – it's so bizarre that it seems like something in science fiction. Slatestarcodex writes a blogpost about memes, starting off with PETA, riffing on Ferguson and police brutality, and concludes discussing what it means to write about controversial topics on blogs. But meanwhile, he takes a little speculative detour that strikes me as tour-de-force of memetics:

Toxoplasma is a neat little parasite that is implicated in a couple of human diseases including schizophrenia. Its life cycle goes like this: it starts in a cat. The cat poops it out. The poop and the toxoplasma get in the water supply, where they are consumed by some other animal, often a rat. The toxoplasma morphs into a rat-compatible form and starts reproducing. Once it has strength in numbers, it hijacks the rat’s brain, convincing the rat to hang out conspicuously in areas where cats can eat it. After a cat eats the rat, the toxoplasma morphs back into its cat compatible form and reproduces some more. Finally, it gets pooped back out by the cat, completing the cycle.

What would it mean for a meme to have a life cycle as complicated as toxoplasma?

Consider the war on terror. It’s a truism that each time the United States bombs Pakistan or Afghanistan or somewhere, all we’re doing is radicalizing the young people there and making more terrorists. Those terrorists then go on to kill Americans, which makes Americans get very angry and call for more bombing of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Taken as a meme, it is a single parasite with two hosts and two forms. In an Afghan host, it appears in a form called ‘jihad’, and hijacks its host into killing himself in order to spread it to its second, American host. In the American host it morphs in a form called ‘the war on terror’, and it hijacks the Americans into giving their own lives (and several bajillion of their tax dollars) to spread it back to its Afghan host in the form of bombs.

From the human point of view, jihad and the War on Terror are opposing forces. From the memetic point of view, they’re as complementary as caterpillars and butterflies. Instead of judging, we just note that somehow we accidentally created a replicator, and replicators are going to replicate until something makes them stop.

Replicators are also going to evolve. Some Afghan who thinks up a particularly effective terrorist strategy helps the meme spread to more Americans as the resulting outrage fuels the War on Terror. When the American bombing heats up, all of the Afghan villagers radicalized in by the attack will remember the really effective new tactic that Khalid thought up and do that one instead of the boring old tactic that barely killed any Americans at all. Some American TV commentator who comes up with a particularly stirring call to retaliation will find her words adopted into party platforms and repeated by pro-war newspapers. While pacifists on both sides work to defuse the tension, the meme is engaging in a counter-effort to become as virulent as possible, until people start suggesting putting pork fat in American bombs just to make Muslims even madder.

What I'm listening to right now.

Hooverphonic, "Eden."


Did you ever think of me
As your best friend

Did I ever think of you
I'm not complaining

I never tried to feel
I never tried to feel this vibration
I never tried to reach
I never tried to reach your eden

Did I ever think of you
As my enemy

Did you ever think of me
I'm complaining

I never tried to feel
I never tried to feel this vibration
I never tried to reach
I never tried to reach your eden

[daily log: walking, 1.5 km]

Caveat: Treat them with injustice, their hatred will naturally follow

Sometimes I read a blog called JF Ptak Science Books. That's a pretty dry title for a blog, but the author runs some kind of bookstore of rare and unusual used books and publications, and I find it endlessly fascinating.

Today, after coming home and having my increasingly customary but seemingly insalubrious Saturday post-work nap, I was browsing that blog and ran across a posting of this article excerpted from a publication called The Emporium of Arts, and Sciences (1814). I will not reproduce the entirety of it here, because I'm not sure of Ptak's policy on republication of materials, but here is the first facsimile, as a live link back to the blogpost. 

BooksAMuch of the advice could apply just as aptly to the treatment of our fellow adults as to children. But over all it's remarkable, in that it gets at the core of something it is far too easy to forget, with children especially – they learn as much (or more) by our example as by our "instruction" – whatever that is.

When I followed up on Ptak's reference to the supposed author of this 1814 article, Christian Gotthilf Salzmann, I found the wikithing's entry far too tantalizingly brief – what, exactly, might a school founded on Rousseauian principles be like? He was translated by Mary Wollstonecraft? – A bunch of late 18th century hippies, I expect.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: I don’t got time for holy rollers

Another really long, exhausting day: I don't even remember having had a day off yesterday. I stayed at work past 11.

Anyway, December is almost over. The new schedules and cohort assignments and syllabuses will all fall into place soon and things will get more routine again.

What I'm listening to right now.

Spoon, "Inside Out."


Time's gone inside out
Time gets distorted with
This intense gravity
I don't got time for holy rollers
But then they wash my feet
And I won't be their soldier

There's intense gravity
Yeah, there's intense gravity
I'm just your satellite
I'm just your satellite

Ooh, and I know that time's gone inside out
And now it's only like we told you
Hm, oh then they wash my feet
They do not make me complete

Break out a character for me
Time keeps on going when
We got nothing else to give
We got nothing else to give

Ooh, 'cause our time's gone inside out
I don't make time for holy rollers
Hm, there's only you I need
They do not make me complete

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: the winter will crave what is gone

Last week at some point, while searching for some utterly unrelated pedagogy-related material, I ran across a PDF of a PhD dissertation by a Korean-American graduate student at Georgia State University. The title is "Korean Teachers' Beliefs about English Language Education and their Impacts upon the Ministry of Education-Initiated Reforms," and was written by Cheong Min Yook in 2010 (it is accessible online here). I was so intrigued by the premise of the dissertation that  I downloaded and read a significant portion of it, hoping to find some insight into the sometimes beffuddling beliefs my coworkers exhibit in the realms of pedagogy and TESL. The dissertation is pretty dry (of course), and frankly I didn't feel it was particularly revelatory, but there was something else that struck me most profoundly, and was quite dissappointing: there is an almost complete disregard for what is, in my mind, the primary locus of ESL in Korea: the hagwon industry. 

Aside from a few single-sentence, off-hand mentions of the fact that parents often resort to "commercial supplementary education," the author seems to view the existence of the hagwon industry irrelevant to ESL in Korea. This strikes me as naive to the point of seeming like an alternate reality. In fact, I think that the hagwon industry (and the Ministry of Education's preoccupation with it, in the negative sense) is likely the single most significant factor in why reform in Korean ESL is so necessary yet also at the same time so incredibly difficult (especially if researchers like this graduate student are pretending the hagwon industry is marginal and nigh irrelvevant). 

I have attempted, anyway, [broken link! FIXME] elsewhere, to go into the history and structure of the ESL industry in Korea, although I confess I probably need to get back to it and make changes as I no longer entirely agree with everything I wrote there. Without going into a lot of that, however, as I read Cheong (is that the surname? I'm not clear if US-name-order or Korean-name-order was used, but Cheong is a more common surname than Yook so I went with that as a guess) I got a lot of insight into the timeline of what was going on with respect to "reforms" and changes in the Ministry of Education's approach to public school ESL. I was struck with a kind of insight or brainstorm about how that must have had a direct and probably uninintended consequence in the hagwon industry. Here is a brief outline of that brainstorm.

The "boom" in the hagwon business which occurred in the early 2000s wasn't just demographic (which is always how I'd conceptualized it, before) – it was also a direct market response to the government's effort to emphasize a more modern pedagogy in the public school system. That is because the government failed to support their programmatic methodological changes meant for the classroom with sufficient reforms to the exam system (i.e. the 4-times-a-year 내신 in middle and high school, as well as the 수능 [Korean "SAT"]).

As a result, what ended up happening was that the reforms, oriented toward spoken English and CLT ["communicative language teaching"], which occurred in the public schools in the late 1990s and early 2000s, rendered English education – as it was being provided by the public schools – irrelevant to what parents wanted and needed. What parents want and need, always, is adequate preparation for exams. The exams remained focused on passive-skills – mostly grammar, vocabulary and reading, with the only, arguably fairly minor, reform being some increase in a listening component. (As an aside, it's worth mentioning that the intended nation-wide TOEFL-style [therefore CLT-based and with a speaking component!] English exam, NEAT, was an utter flop, although I'm not clear as to the reasons for that). Thus, to the extent that public school ESL focused on communicative competence and speaking skills, to the exact same extent it became irrelevant to the national exams. Parents essentially fled the public system (not by quitting, but by simply ignoring it and influencing their children to ignore it) and instead invested even more money and hours in private supplementary education (i.e. hagwon) in order to adequately to prep their kids for the exams.

That makes a lot of sense to me, when I reflect on it. I wonder, therefore, if the current drawback in the hagwon industry is therefore also not just demographic, but is rather also a consequence (intentional or otherwise) of further changes to pedagogy in the public schools. Certainly I think the effort to increase emphasis on speaking and CLT in the public schools has been scaled back substantially – abandoned in middle schools and reduced in elementary schools. Just look at the reduction in foreign native-speaking teachers being employed by public schools. One could argue that the government was disappointed by the results, but it seems just as likely that at some high, administrative level they realized their previous reforms were driving the hagwon industry to new heights (which they didn't want) and so they reversed direction. 

Actually, there is one other factor driving the current travails in the hagwon industry that I might as well mention, as long as I'm writing about it, which is that the cost of 과외 [private tutoring] has veritably plunged in recent years, driven, I suspect, by the increasing number of English-fluent Koreans in the country, mostly returned emmigres who abandoned the Anglosphere due to the economic hardships post-2008. Unlike me or other foreigners who must be here on business-sponsored visas (E2), these returnees can work however they want, as self-employed one-on-one tutors, and there is zero regulation. Given the choice of paying the same for one-on-one with a native speaker or time in a raucous classroom with a native speaker only half time if they're lucky, it's easy to see why parents would pull their kids out of hagwon and find a tutor for them.

By the way… uh, merry christmas? Frankly, it was a sucky Christmas. Bah humbug, then.

What I'm listening to right now.

Future Islands, "Seasons."


-Verse 1-

Seasons change
And I tried hard just to soften you
The seasons change
But I've grown tired of trying to change for you
Because I've been waiting on you
I've been waiting on you
Because I've been waiting on you
I've been weighing on you

As it breaks, the summer will wake
But the winter will wash what's left of the taste
As it breaks, the summer will warm
But the winter will crave what is gone
Will crave what has all gone away

-Verse 2-
People change
But you know some people never do
You know when people change
They gain a piece but they lose one too
Because I've been hanging on you
I've been weighing on you
Because I've been waiting on you
I've been hanging on you

[daily log: what?]

Caveat: Christmas #50

So tired, again. I push hard but my endurance is lousy. So I put in my work day and then I'm exhausted and I have nothing left. 

I guess this gets to be a broken record, to have to see it over and over on the blog. But I feel like I should post something, and that's what I have.

As I pointed out at the beginning of the month, December is the hardest and busiest month in my experience as a hagwon teacher. This is entirely accurate. I get tomorrow off, but it's just a day, and back to work Friday. I may end up putting in more time this week than on a regular week, despite the day off. Certainly, even disregarding the time, I feel a lot of stress and I know my coworkers do too. Curt likes to criticize me about my lack of a "life" outside of work (my term, not his – he just says something like "you never do anything" or "you aren't very active"). I guess I don't have much of a life, it's true. Mostly, I don't feel up to it. Today he said I might as well be dead. Really, he did – I know he didn't mean it badly, but I felt pretty horrible after. Maybe it's true. I guess that work and doing nothing at home is all I'm up for, though. Is it really so bad? What should my life be for? I'm still alive. Doesn't that count for something?

[daily log: walking, 7.5 km]

Caveat: All this talkin’ Where’s it goin

It was a very long day. Meeting after end of classes, arguing about placement of students in new cohorts. It’s all very complicated, and I often feel like my opinions about the students and their potentials and interactions and issues are disregarded. It makes me grumpy.
What I’m listening to right now.

Cold, “She Said.”

I’ll be here alone
Bury everything around me
Her destinations unknown
I can’t believe how she drowns me
Well I won’t deny, it’s all the
Little things she said

All alone
Searched the world until she found me
Her destinations unknown
I can’t believe how she drowns me

Well I won’t deny, it’s all the
Little things she said

All this talkin’
Where’s it goin’
Take the needle
Rewind the show

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: the socio-psychology of a collective delusion (AKA Santa)

Why teach kids to believe in Santa? Will Wilkinson explains his opinion (at the Sullyblog):

Now, one of the most interesting truths about the empirical world is that there are all these powerful systems of myth that are kept afloat by a sort of mass conspiracy, and humans seem disposed to pick one from the ambient culture and take it very seriously. But it can be hard to get your head around the way it all works unless you participate in it. Santa is a perfect and relatively harmless way to introduce your child the socio-psychology of a collective delusion about the supernatural. The disillusionment that comes from the exposure to the truth about Santa breeds a general skepticism about similarly ill-founded popular beliefs in physics-defying creatures.

I don't ever remember believing in Santa. I vividly remember even at age 5 or 6, as I opened up the present under the tree labeled "from Santa" thinking to myself, "this is just a sort of story people tell because it's a fun idea." If I went through the disillusionment, I was too young to remember, but I suspect, based on my parents parenting style, that they never tried to deceive me, but instead explained it in a very adult-like and objective manner even though I was only 4 or 5. I think that perhaps in the long run, Mr Wilkinson is wrong: an even better way to teach kids about skepticism is to simply model it, honestly and forthrightly.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: The Post That Wasn’t

I had this idea I was going to create an in-depth post today about some reading I've been doing on the topic of "English Education in Korea." I have been reading the article, and looking some stuff up online, but I'm not ready to post anything. And I have no alternative post prepared and it's gotten late.

I'm not doing very well – I just can't seem to get past the flu-like thing that swallowed me up over a month ago. I had a week or so when I was feeling past it, but it reasserted itself fiercely this past week (and overworking didn't help, I'm sure). So I basically spent this weekend pretending I was in a hospital. Lying around. 

[daily log: coughing, 5]

Caveat: Money

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to." – Dorothy Parker.

Last night there was a kind of freezing-rain/snow/ice storm, and there was a thin coating of ice on all the sidewalks. It made my normally routine walk to and from work a bit hazardous, but I managed it without falling down. 

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km on thin ice]

Caveat: Still Teaching

I had a kind of terrible day. Probably, just being so tired from yesterday, I wasn’t at my peak. I had some issues with feeling adequate to managing my classrooms, and not fulfilling one function I think is important in the role of teacher-as-moderator: preventing kids from being unkind to each other.
Anyway, prior to those bad classes, I had a kind of good moment: a former student from 2008 stopped by. That was a time when I was working for Curt, and with Grace, at LinguaForum, in a location about a block away from where I work now. Juyeong was in 6th grade then. Now he’s starting university at Yonsei (which is, arguably, “Korea’s Harvard”). So I felt proud to see him.
Here’s a “reunion” picture from today, with Grace, Curt, Juyeong and me.
Here’s a picture reposted from my blog from 2008 in which Juyeong plays the role of befuddled 6th grader, on the right, while I go psycho with a plastc alligator.
picture[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Mean Teacher

13 hour day: Open house for parents, lunch with coworkers, a dozen speech corrections, six classes. The lunch is probalby the hardest part – I have to sit and try to figure out what the topics of conversation are, and I always feel exhausted after such intensive Korean listening undertakings, which are hardly successful most of the time. The classes were hard, too. When so many students don't do their homework, I have to be a "mean teacher" which is always more tiring than being a "nice teacher." 

Anyway. Good night.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: donde hablamos al derecho y al rebes

What I'm listening to right now.

Los Rakas (y feat. Big Dan), "Mi Barrio."


yayayao yo
quien 'ta a 'y
black lion crew
pa' mi barrio

im from the city
where the sun
burn like fiya fiya
we dont were
white t's, blue jeans, and some nikes
is wifebeater,blue shores,and chancletas everyday
donde hablamos al derecho y al rebes
y si ala fiesta
a nosotros
nadie nos invito
como sea entramos
y si te descuidas
a tu gial te agaramos
por q en panama
nosotros no perriamos
nosotros arrochamos
hasta la 4 de la manana gozando
no hay mesquindad
por la vesindad
soy caliente
pero q eso no se me culpe a mmi
yo lo tengo en las venas
lo tengo de erenia
desde q naci gial
si tu quieres demencia
ven pa' 'onde de mi
ven pa' 'onde de mi

pongan sus banderas en el aire
si usted estan orgullosos
de ser de de donde son
de ded donde son
let's go


this is fo' my barrio
this is fo' my ghetto
aquellos q nunca se conforman
si no llegan de primero

this is fo' my people
this is fo' my ghetto
aquellos q nunca dejan a su gente
por el suelo

My curfew is tight
So Ill get straight to it
Damn right im with dis ghetto
And barrio power movement
Cause dis ghetto war
Is big Guerra
En mi barrio cosinando Heroina
Traficando en la esquina cocaina y mariguana
And I bet yaw aint know
They filmed titanic en Tijuana
Dis is for los paleteros
Dis is foe los paleteros
Im gonna reflect
Connect with those that stay true
I got a full list but ill just name a few
Im in influence by brown bares
Che Guevara cesar chavez pancho villas
They protected our stolen tierras
They zapatitistas so rebellious
Is 2005 and we so intelligent
Check out the new stilo homes
No more white t is white guayaveras
U know


this is fo' my barrio
this is fo' my ghetto
aquellos q nunca se conforman
si no llegan de primero

this is fo' my people
this is fo' my ghetto
aquellos q nunca dejan a su gente
por el suelo

Dis ones for u
Him or her
Ghetto children that live in dirt
That don’t study cause they need to work
Esto es pa ti ella y el
Si tas orgulloso
Put ur flag in the air

(verse 3)

Where my ghetto people at//
Hustleing trynna live well//
On the paper chase trynna get mail but see jails//
Hustleing to make sells//
On the block slanging females//
Making that loot on some type of retail//
Where some niggaz might eat shells with no pasta//
Some living like mobsters some living proper//
Some using the choppers//
and even doctors come from where I come from//
the ghetto!!!
The place where I call my home//
Lay my throne and my day goes on//
To acknowledge you I lace this song//
You watch me grow moving to better places//
Understandably but never erased me for other faces//
A friend to me I made some enemies and bounced back//
Cuz I know it was jeolousy trynna put me off track//
I move and come back to your path//
Cuz without my ghetto I wouldn’t be glad//
And heres my reason to brag// hey!!!

pongan sus banderas en el aire
si usted estan orgullosos
de ser de de donde son
de ded donde son
let's go


this is fo' my barrio
this is fo' my ghetto
aquellos q nunca se conforman
si no llegan de primero

this is fo' my people
this is fo' my ghetto
aquellos q nunca dejan a su gente
por el suelo

to' ta' hablao
mi barrio bad buay el imigrante
y uzil en el booth con migo
no hagas papel de maton
ooooohh te metemo un garnato aguaebo

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Flight into a reality

We listened to a fairly long passage about the history of air transport, focusing on the role of Pan Am in the pre-WWII era. My middle school student Brian wrote a summary that begins:

The sky was limited. Pan Am is the first flight bring the passengers into a reality.

As a summary of the passage, it's utter nonsense and incoherent. As poetry, I admit I rather like it. 

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Birria

Sometimes I get weird food cravings. I have moved in the direction of ignoring them, because every time I go to satisfy one of those food cravings, I’m deeply disappointed. My food memory is intact, but my actual taste and “mouth-feel” mechanisms are essentially permanently rearranged since my surgery.
Today, for whatever strange reason, I found myself remembering and craving the birria that I used to buy as a lunchtime snack at one of the puestos on San Cosme (in front of the subway station) where I lived in Mexico City. I suppose that birria (a kind of goat-meat soup or stew – which it is depends on consistency, and the kind I got was always more brothy than stewy) would be hard to come by in Korea in any event. So it’s just as well that I mostly let these cravings just pass by. But it’s a fond memory in any event.
Here’s to birria – the picture is a random picture found online that matches what I used to get pretty closely.
It’s strange…  the random stuff that pops into one’s mind.
[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: can’t lose

A minimalist Sunday. I had a relapse of my flu.

"Success is a lousy teacher," Bill Gates once said. "It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."

[daily log: walking, 1 km]

Caveat: Lego Antikythera

Do you know about the Antikythera Mechanism? I remember reading about it a few times, but recently found someone who made a working replica using Legos. It's not clear to me if it is merely a functional replica or if it also replicates the specific arrangement of gears – i.e., does it produce the results the original mechanism produced using modern gear arrangements, or does it use the actual reconstructed gear arrangements? I suspect the former, because I doubt there are Lego gears with the specific characteristics of the orginal mechanism.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: There will be words and fault lines to fill the hours of the days

Walking to work in the falling snow, I saw a sign that announced that Goyangites (is that what people who live in Goyang can be called?) should clean the snow. I was struck by the fact that I just kind of “read” the sign without really working at sorting it out, just overlooking the words I didn’t know. That felt like a kind of banal linguistic milestone. This picture utterly fails to show the sign – I thought it would when I took it, but I was wrong. It shows the snow, though.
What I’m listening to right now.

Son Volt, “Dust of Daylight.”

Hand in hand there are angels that are holding warning signs
Show you the way like teachers and prophets of doom
Everyone has their idols, there will always be a story to tell
The search goes on, a balance in the final say

When you’re lost in folly, out of luck in the worst way
Love is a fog and you stumble every step you make
The dust of daylight holds you down and makes you wait
Love is a fog and you stumble every step you make

There will be words and fault lines to fill the hours of the days
There are ways to buy trouble but a bail bondsman finds friends in jail
Time to leave now, time to pack up all that you’re leaving
Your contest’s here but you’ll be judged just the same

When you’re lost in folly, out of luck in the worst way
Love is a fog and you stumble every step you make
The dust of daylight holds you down and makes you wait
Love is a fog and you stumble every step you make
Love is a fog and you stumble every step you make

picture[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Just Another Day

After about a week of "special classes," which provide a kind of transition for middle-schoolers between the 내신 (exam prep time) and the post-exam regular schedule, I had my first full-schedule of regular classes today. I don't really like doing the special classes – mostly because the middle schoolers are all so depressed-seeming and desultory in the immediate aftermath of their exams, but also because the odd schedules mean that I get mixed bunches of motivated and unmotivated students who don't know each other well because they're not in their regular cohorts. It's often challenging to put together a successful one-up lesson plan. 

Anyway, today I got my regular middle-school classes. So that was good, I guess. But very tiring. I always feel compelled to be a little bit "scary / hard" with returnees, so they don't start off on the wrong the footing.

Meanwhile, though, with my elementary honors class we had fun. We were getting ready to do a debate, and the kids said they wanted to be different "characters." Once, when I was doing one of my schticks where I have the whole debate myself (meaning I argue back and forth with myself, taking both sides), I made it more interesting by giving each person in the debate I was playing different personalities or "characters": so there was a lazy debater, crazy debater, stupid debater, annoying debater, etc. They wanted to play characters. I let them. I'm not sure it was a very good debate, but they sure had fun. I like seeing the kids being creative that way. Sally did an excellent job being shy, Fay was so good a being a confused debater that I thought she was really confused and wanted to correct her – I said, "you're arguing the wrong side," she said, "I know. I'm confused," and gave her winning grin, shrugging. It was a good class.

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Punningly

You may have heard that the Chinese government is has officially banned puns. I ran across some (serious) discussion of it on a linguistics site I frequent, Language Log. Ultimately, however, another site (Slate Star Codex) I have taken to frequenting nailed it, punningly:

China bans puns on the grounds that they may mislead children and defile cultural heritage. Language Log is on the story, and discusses the (extremely plausible) theory that this is part of a crackdown on people who use puns to get around censorship. Obligatory link to the Ten Mythical Creatures here. There’s no censor sensibility to the law, and it seems likely to cause Confucian and dis-Orientation among punks and pundits alike in its wonton disregard for personal freedom and attempts to bamboo-zle the public. It’s safe Tibet that dissidents who just Taipei single pun online will end up panda price and facing time in the punitentiary or even capital punishment – but those Hu support the government can Maoth off as much as they want and still wok free. I Canton derstand how people wouldn’t realize that this homophonbic bigotry raises a bunch of red flags. In the end, one Deng is clear: when puns are outlawed, only outlaws will have puns.

But even better was the following comment on Language Log by someone named Matt, in reaction to Slate Star Codex's punning:

You can definitely understand the Party's fears, though; after all, repurposing homophones or near-homophones in written Chinese has always resulted in radicalization.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: linguistics or hegemony, but never both together

Speculative Grammarian observed yesterday, "Today is Noam Chomsky’s birthday. To celebrate, discuss linguistics or hegemony. But never both at the same time! Why is that?"

More seriously, this is a Chomsky quote in linguistics that is worth remembering, and fundamental to linguistics.

The most striking aspect of linguistic competence is what we may call the 'creativity of language,' that is, the speaker's ability to produce new sentences, sentences that are immediately understood by other speakers although they bear no physical resemblance to sentences which are 'familiar.' – Noam Chomsky

What I'm listening to right now.

TV On The Radio, "Careful You." The lyrics aren't that interesting, but I like the song anyway.


Oui je t'aime, oui je t'aime
À demain, à la prochaine
I know it's best to say goodbye
But I can't seem to move away

Not to say, not to say
That you shouldn't share the blame
There is a softness to your touch
There is a wonder to your ways

Don't know how I feel, what's the deal?
Is it real? When's it gonna go down?
Can we talk? Can we not?
Well, I'm here, won't you tell me right now?
And I'll care for you, oh, careful you
Don't know, should we stay? Should we go?
Should we back it up and turn it around?
Take the good with the bad
Still believe we can make it somehow
I will care for you, oh, careful you, careful you

Oui je t'aime, oui je t'aime
From the cradle to the grave
You've done a number on my heart
And things will never be the same

Freeze a frame, freeze a frame
From a fever dream of days
We learned the secret of a kiss
And how it melts away all pain

[Chorus] x2

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]


Caveat: Inventing Modernity. Or Not.

pictureI finally actually finished a book. I read Arthur Herman’s popularizing history about the Scots, entitled, How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It.
Scottish history is a topic I haven’t actually read that much about – although I felt comfortable in my understanding of the broad outline of English History (and therefore British history post-Union), I never really spent any time studying Scotland, specifically – unlike Wales or Ireland. So I picked up the book in hopes of filling some of that in. In its purely historical aspect, I got a lot out of the book, including a much better understanding of the Scottish Enlightenment and some of the historical events surrounding it (Knox, the Covenanters and the Scottish Reformation; Bonnie Prince Charlie; etc.).
In fact, my main complaint about this book is probably the same as one of the other recent history titles I made a brief review of some time back, which is: good book, bad title. The title’s thesis (i.e. the idea that Scots invented modernity) seems unproven (and unprovable). It occured to me in looking up the text online just now that the title might not even have been the author’s chosen title, but rather the work of some hyperbolizing editor.
In any event, if the title had been something more modest to the effect of the Scottish Enlightenment’s impact on modernity (Hume, Smith, et al.), and their disproportionate contribution to the Anglosphere’s modern global cultural dominance, I’d have been less preoccupied with trying to decide if Herman did an adequate job proving his main thesis. As it was, I kept hoping the next chapter would explain exactly how it was they invented modernity. I’d say inventing modernity was a collective endeavor, in which the Scots definitely played a suprisingly outsized role.
picture[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: the small fire of winter stars

Lines for Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

– Mark Strand (American poet, 1934-2014)

Mark Strand died last week. I was not familiar with his poetry. But having heard of his death, I went poking around and found one I liked.

[daily log: stalking, 1 km]

Caveat: Empty Milestones

I think it was 10 years ago this week that I decided to quit my job at ARAMARK in Burbank. It was the beginning of the end of my brief but somewhat meteoric career as a business systems analyst and database programmer. I went on, the following year, to work at HealthSmart Pacific in Long Beach and Newport Beach, but from that December of 2004 I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be satisfied with doing computer work, at least in that vein, indefinitely. Perhaps not coincidentally, that same December was the month when I very intentionally ended my reliance on prescription psychoactives (as treatment for my run-in with dysphoric insanity 6 years earlier).

I was reflecting that my in-Korea teaching career is now extending to nearly the same length as that more conventional career did. It doesn't feel like a career in the same sense, at all. It is in some ways more fulfilling – I get a lot out of the kids, even the desultory post-exam teens like I had this morning. 

I had some idea that writing this "anniversary" post would be somehow cathartic or meaningful, but I think I'm just filling blogspace because I have my rule to post something each day.

The other night, I dreamed I was speaking Korean, almost fluently. There was one major problem with this fantastic scenario: I had no idea what I was saying. 

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Waiting for the Verbs

Ciceronian humor:

A senator in Late Republican Rome is running late for the day’s session of the Senate. He comes into the senate chamber about 15 minutes late. Cicero is out in front giving a speech. The senator quietly sits down next to one of his friends, and leans over, quietly asking, “Have I missed much? What’s he talking about?”

To which his friend replies:”I haven’t got a clue… he hasn't even gotten to the verb yet.”

I feel this way about Korean sometimes. When listening to a conversation, I ponder: what was the verb? Did I miss it? Was one provided? The verbs tend to come at the end (as in classical Latin), but there are all these transitional forms that do coordinating and subordinating things that, in casual speech, don't always seem to get followed up on.

Unrelatedly, another joke:

What are you doing?

I'm maximizing the availability of my cognitive resources. [when you work this out, this means "doing nothing"].

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Crunch December

The hardest period of the foreign hagwon-worker's calendar, in my opinion, is December and January. Schools are finishing up their school year, and after the hard crush of exam prep in November, which actually sees a lot of students skipping hagwon so they can just focus on studying, the hagwons have to ramp up activities for the winter break.

We have to "level-up" our students who need to change levels – elementary 6th graders up to middle school, middle school 9th graders up to high school, etc. This involves a lot of level-testing and parent-orientation sessions. We have to make any expected changes and tweaks to curriculum, as this is the expected time to do so. We have to offer "special" extra classes for the winter break – this ties in, partly, with the "day-care" aspect of the hagwon business that no one wants to admit – when the schools are closed, what are parents to do with their kids? Let them sit at home playing games on their phones?

So the easy days of naesin (easy for me, as a foreign teacher) are officially over as of yesterday. I worked an 11-hour day today. Although, to be honest, it was more long than difficult. There was a lot of waiting around. More such to come.

Between the morning orientation session held for parents and classes in the afternoon, we went to lunch – 회식 [hoesik]. Curt insisted I should order 청국장 – a kind of fermented soybean soup, allegedly healthy for me. It wasn't bad – very pungent smelling (which caused some of the other teachers to complain) but of course I have such a limited sense of taste, anymore, that it doesn't really matter if it has a strong taste. 

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km] 

Caveat: Signifiers and Signifieds

Linguistics humor:

"I believe that the relationship between the signifier and the concept it signifies is arbitrary."
"Oh yeah? What makes you Saussure?"

[daily log: walking, -5 C]


Caveat: 조약돌

I ran across this poem, in translation, by accident, while searching for something else. But I was deeply impressed by it. It may become a favorite.

A Pebble

On the path before my house
every day I meet a pebble
that once was kicked by my passing toe.

At first we just casually
brushed past each other, morning and night,
but gradually the stone began to address me
and furtively reach out a hand,
so that we grew close, like friends.

And now each morning the stone,
blooming inwardly with flowers of Grace,
gives me its blessing,
and even late at night
it waits watchfully to greet me.

Sometimes, flying as on angels’ wings
it visits me in my room
and explains to me the Mystery of Meeting,
reveals the immortal nature of Relationship.

So now, whenever I meet the stone,
I am so uncivilized and insecure
that I can only feel ashamed.

– Ku Sang (Korean poet, 1919-2004)
– Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé

It took some creative googling and some time with a dictionary doing some ad hoc reverse-translation (reverse engineering poetry?) to find the original text, but I’m confident that this is it.


집 앞 행길에서
그 어느 날 발부에 채운
조약돌 하나와 나날이 만난다

처음에 우리는 그저 심드렁하게
아침 저녁 서로 스쳐 지냈지만
둘은 차츰 나에게 말도 걸어오고
슬그머니 손도 내밀어
친구처럼 익숙해갔다

그리고 아침이면 돌은
안으로부터 은총의 꽃을 피워
나를 축복해주고
늦은 밤에도 졸지 않고
나의 安寧을 기다려 준다

떄로는 천사처럼 훌훌 날아서
내 방엘 찾아 들어와
만남의 신비를 타이르기도 하고
사귐의 불멸을 일깨워도 준다

나는 이제 그 돌을 만날 때마다
未開하고 불안스런 나의 現存이
부끄러울 뿐이다

– 구상 (시인 1919-2004)
I played around with understanding the translation in a few places, without really making an exhaustive study of it. I was impressed by the fact that one line in particular represents all kinds of Korean grammatical bugbears in one helping: “내 방엘 찾아 들어와” has doubled-up case particles (can a noun have two cases at once? yes, it can in Korean) and a three-member serial verb, yet it was surprisingly not that hard to figure out.

내 [nae = my]
방 [bang = room]
-엘 [el = locative particle -에 + accusative particle -ㄹ]
차 [cha = ‘look for’ verb stem]
-어 [eo = verb ending which I have always thought of as the ‘finite’ (conjugated) verb ending but which Martin mysteriously calls ‘infinitive’ and which I have no idea what it “officially” is called]
들 [deul = ‘go in; enter’ verb stem]
-어 [eo = ‘finite’ (conjugated) verb ending again]
와 = [wa = irregularly conjugated ‘come’]

So all together: “my room-IN-OBJ looks-for enters comes,” translated above “it visits me in my room.”
[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Peter & Wolves Redux

This was an adaptation I made of a group of "kindergarten" songs into a kind of musical that I put together several years ago while working at 홍농초 (see [broken link! FIXME] post from that time).

I decided to try it again with the kids of my Vega class. Last Friday, we had our month-end roleplay "test" and they did well, with not much practice or "extras" (zero props, costumes, etc.)… and "a capella" too!

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

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