Caveat: Breakdancing to Sad Songs About Autumn

Well, the song is "Autumn," which is kind of the wrong theme, for Spring. But I liked this song, and I thought the kids did pretty well. And now it's stuck in my head.

Little Chloe on the left was breakdancing through the whole song, too.

The Sirius Ban, "Autumn."


The leaves are changing their colors, their colors
And the sky is coming much closer, much closer
It's clear and blue
Autumn is coming to you


[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: 一刻千金

I ran across this four-character Chinese aphorism online.

一刻 千金

The second of the two terms, which I rendered, after much equivocation, as “wealth,” is literally “thousand pieces of gold.” The idea is that each moment is precious.
You wouldn’t know that from how I waste my time. Er… or is that the point?
[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Didn´t Wanna Fight

I didn't wanna fight with my laziness. I just let it walk all over me. Yay.

What I'm listening to right now.

Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight."


My life, your life
Don't cross them lines
What you like, what I like
Why can't we both be right?
Attacking, defending
Until there's nothing left worth winning
Your pride and my pride
Don't waste my time

I don't wanna fight no more [x6]

Take from my hand
Put in your hands
The fruit of all my grief
Lying down ain't easy
When everyone is pleasing
I can't get no relief
Living ain't no fun
The constant dedication
Keeping the water and power on
There ain't nobody left
Why can't I catch my breath?
I'm gonna work myself to death

I don't wanna fight no more [x6]

No, no, no, no!

I don't wanna fight no more [x7]
I don't wanna fight, I don't wanna fight!
I don't wanna fight no more [x8]

[daily log: walking, \sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac{1}{10^n}.]

Caveat: Sociopath?

I had been kind of making a joke about it in class. I was trying to distinguish the meanings of “sociopath” and “psychopath,” which had arisen some time ago in a reading passage in another class the kids had and so they’d asked me.

So I said, “well, Sangjin here is a sociopath, while Jinu, well, he’s a psychopath.” The kids seemed to find this entertaining to think about, as I explained the way the two boy’s personalities seemed to match these concepts somewhat: Jinu is kind of a “wild boy” and rather impulsive and easily distracted, and Sangjin is more just the quietly watching and muttering type, talking about things to himself, but then doing these very charming speeches and showing surprising charisma.

Later, Sangjin came into the staff room.

“Do you really think I’m a sociopath?”

I couldn’t figure out if he was offended or pleased with the idea, so I equivocated.

He said, “I think maybe I am.”

“Well, you don’t have to be,” I said, not sure what tone of seriousness to assume. He’s a very smart kid, but there is something a little bit dark about his personality, for an 8th grader. He’d be a goth if he was an American teen.

“I want to be a sociopath,” he insisted, like a cross between a movie villain and cheerful puppy.

“Hmm. Well, just try to be nice to people,” I said, feeling out of my depth.

I didn’t really know where to go with it. He’s the sort where maybe he was just testing my reaction. If he was willing to work harder, he could be in our highest group of TOEFL students, but he’s not really interested in academics. He draws pictures of explosions on his note paper. This isn’t really particularly disturbing to me – I remember drawing a lot of explosions at that age.

I told him he was very smart, and should come in my TOEFL class.

“That is too much work,” he sighed. We’d had that snippet of conversation before.

picture[daily log: walking, 7 km]

Caveat: Can’t Find the Garbage

It must be spring in Ilsan. The mormons come out in their noachian pairs and buzz at the major pedestrian crossways, like well-dressed flies that can't find the garbage. I saw three sets today: walking along Jungang-no, at Juyeop station, and crossing Ilsan-no close to work. Sometimes I talk to them, even, but mostly now I don't.

I'm tired although I had a fairly light teaching load today. I guess I'm still not fully recovered from the horrible cold thing I had.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: no one can tell when she cries

What I'm listening to right now.

They Might Be Giants, "Underwater Woman."


underwater woman
underwater lady
no one on the shore will ever know what’s in her heart

fiercely alive, will to survive
able to thrive on her own
self contained, properly trained
hydroponically grown

underwater woman
breathing underwater
brushing her hair, eating a pear
no one can tell when she cries
away away away

she scans the ocean floor
with ultrasonic blips
nothing but rocks and sand
and the broken wrecks of ships

underwater woman
underwater lady
no one on the shore will ever know what’s in her heart

laughing uncontrollably, who is she talking to?
holding up a shell like it’s a telephone
frantically digging through a pile of old papers
intently staring at a photograph

underwater woman
breathing underwater
brushing her hair, eating a pear
no one can tell when she cries
away away away

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: mi voz condecorada

Si mi voz muriera en tierra
llevadla al nivel del mar
y dejadla en la ribera.

Llevadla al nivel del mar
y nombradla capitana
de un blanco bajel de guerra.

¡Oh mi voz condecorada
con la insignia marinera:
sobre el corazón un ancla
y sobre el ancla una estrella
y sobre la estrella el viento
y sobre el viento la vela!
– Rafael Alberti (poeta español, 1902-1999)

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: 너무 많은 기침

Wow what a horrible flu this is that I have right now.
I woke up at around 4 am because I was coughing. I took some cough suppressant, drank some tea, and after a few hours, I went back to sleep again.
I had very strange dream-snippets.
In one memorable dream fragment, a student was following me around, poking me and invading my space and being generally annoying. I had this weird lucid-dreaming insight: I thought to myself, in the dream, “well, this is a dream, so it doesn’t matter what I do…” I spun around and punched the student. There, that took care of that. Actually, I don’t normally harbor impulses like that, but I think I know what it’s about.
I woke up with a kind of spasmodic turn and the sun was shining into my eyes.
I spent the day watching Korean documentaries and sneezing and dozing. I finished that Tolkien book I’ve been reading, but didn’t have the gumption to start something new.

Unrelated quote of the day:

“If I owned a dam and decided to donate it to charity, would I be giving a dam? I’m sure that might be a first because no one really gives a dam.” – the internet

What I’m listening to right now.

Junip, “Always.”

Droning chords and distant bells
Humming over empty shells
Holding on tight onto a dead sky

Nomadic moves across a lawn
Inch by inch into the dawn
Holding on tight onto a dead sky

Turn a deaf ear no matter what they might say
Turn a deaf ear pushing you further away

Droning chords and distant bells
To what’s been over since the fall
Holding tight to what’s been felt
Holding on tight onto a dead sky

Turn a deaf ear no matter what they might say
Turn a deaf ear pushing you further away

[daily log: coughing, 6k]

Caveat: Spring smog over Hugok

Walking to work, the haze was terrible. Here is a view up 강선로 (gangseon-ro) heading toward Hugok neighborhood, where my work is.


This is why I hate Spring in Korea. The smog is partly natural (the Gobi Desert dust – 황사), but I suspect also partly due to the fact that we are 300 km east of Beijing, and Spring breezes prevail from the west (while in other seasons they tend to come from other directions).

Anyway, I'm sick and grumpy.

I want to sleep.

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Keen

"The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of all our adversities."-Sophocles


[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Trying to return to the habit of posting debate videos

The HST반 kids (9th graders) this evening had written essays on the topic of Korean North-South reunification, but they only had about 10 minutes to prepare their speeches after we formed teams. They are allowed to read their notes, but these three kids really impressed me, as they are coming close to approximating what I think of as an "American" debate style, cramming their ideas into a short, timed speech (in this case, 1 minute).

[daily log:  walking, 6km]

Caveat: Transporting Guinea Pigs from Point A to Point B

What I'm listening to right now.

Parry Gripp, "Guinea Pig Bridge at the Nagasaki Bio Park"


Guinea Pig Bridge!
(Guinea pig, guinea pig , guinea guinea guinea pig)
Guinea Pig Bridge!
Transporting guinea pigs from point A to point B
Utilizing the latest guinea pig bridge technology
Conveniently and safely!
(Guinea pig, guinea pig , guinea guinea guinea pig)
Guinea Pig Bridge!
(Guinea pig, guinea pig , guinea guinea guinea pig)
Guinea Pig Bridge!

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: His Cup Runneth Over

During break between classes, a student named Jinu, a 9th grade boy with a bit of swagger and machismo about him, was standing at the water-cooler in the hall, filling a paper cup with water.

Four 9th grade girls from the HSA class, next door, walked by, giggling and carrying on, and paused to actually talk to Jinu about something. 

He was clearly much flattered by the attention. As a result, he didn't pay attention to his cup in the fill-position in the water cooler. The water kept running into his cup.

It ran into the little tray underneath, and filled that, and onto the floor. The girls kept chatting with him, and laughing. Jinu was only paying attention to the girls. The amount of water on the floor reached his shoes. The girls laughed more, and finally one of them gave away the game, pointing at the floor.

Jinu jumped back, embarrassed. The girls laughed more, and ran away down the hall.

I felt like I had watched a vignette in a sit-com.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: 끈 떨어진 두레박

This is an aphorism I saw in my book of aphorisms.

끈 떨어진 두레박
kkeun tteol.eo.jin
cord fall-PPART bucket
A bucket with a fallen cord

Apparently it refers to a person who wanders without friends or relatives. Although I have friends and relatives for whom I am immensely grateful, I admit sometimes I easily fall into a pattern of perceiving myself this way.
[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Pumpkin Porridge on a Sunday


I've developed a bit of a tradition (I don't always follow it, but a couple times a month) of spending my Sundays doodling my imaginary maps and architecture schemes, listening to strange music, and buying and eating take-out pumpkin porridge (단호박죽). 

So that's what I did with my Sunday. 

What I'm listening to right now.

[UPDATE 20180330: Video embed changed due to link-rot. The new embedded video is a different remix of the same song, and not the one in my mp3 collection. It's similar enough, but the lyrics might not match…]

Absurd Minds, "Herzlos."


Unwahr ist, was nicht meinem Wahren entspricht.
Unwahr nenn ich alles, was das Wahre verbirgt
Und unwirklich, begrenzt oder einengend ist,
was Täuschung und Wahn, was vergänglich ist.
Unwahr ist Begrenzung durch Zeit und Raum.
Unwahr – die Tränen in meinem Traum.
Was unwahr ist, das BIN ICH nicht.
Denn ICH BIN das Wahre, denn ICH BIN das Ich.

So bist du also wieder einmal hier. Und dennoch hälst du an deinem Unglauben fest.
Es ist der eine, starre, unveränderbare Glaube der Welt,
dass alle Dinge in ihr geboren werden, nur um wieder zu sterben.
Und doch ist dieses Leben ein Spiel,
aber du bist zu den Glauben gekommen, dass es die einzige Wirklichkeit ist.
Die einzige Wirklichkeit jedoch, die es gab und je geben wird ist das Leben.
Meißel nun in alle Grabsteine: Hier ruht niemand.

(… herzlos.)
Das verstehst du nicht, denn du bist mein Traum, der zu mir spricht.
(Du bist herzlos.)
Was willst du von mir? Denkst du immer noch ich bin außerhalb von dir?

Das freie Denken kann nicht durch irgendwelche Grenzen gebunden werden.
Die wahre Bewegung, die allen zugrunde liegt, ist die Bewegung des Denkens.
Und die Wahrheit selbst ist Bewegung und kann niemals zum Stillstand,
zum aufhören des Suchens führen.
Deshalb liegt der wahre und wirkliche Fortschritt des Denkens
nur im umfassendsten Streben nach Erkenntnis,
die überhaupt nicht die Möglichkeit des Stillstands
in irgendwelchen Formen der Erkenntnis anerkennt.
Meißel nun in alle Grabsteine: Hier ruht niemand.

(… herzlos.)

[daily log: walking, 1km ; falling down, 1 m]

Caveat: Jared Tackles Japanese Origins

Not me. Rather, Jared Diamond, a famous some-sort-of-scientist, wrote this article quite some time ago, that I just ran across. 

Any discussion of the origins of the Japanese, he points out, is ideologically fraught in a way that the origins of most other cultures on Earth is not. Korea has similar problems. This is because Japanese and Korean cultural identities, as modern constructs, rely overmuch on pre-modern myths that still undergird modern nationalisms. Many Koreans will tell you with a straight face that Korea was "founded" in October 3rd, 2333 BC. If such a precise date seems implausible, well… they don't care. 

Anyway, I found Diamond's article interesting reading.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: The Norm of Disengagement

I had bookmarked this article about education after reading it, with the intention of writing something about it. I found the article interesting in its reflections of the paradox of public education – that by virtue of being compulsory and free, it necessarily cannot be excellent for all, and those who seek excellence are compelled to opt out. 

Anyway, no need to summarize it. Just what's on my mind at the moment. I'm tired and have to work tomorrow morning.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]


Caveat: Their blood is red


Violin clutched tightly, I wait.
The bus roars up, clattering
Like a broken dinosaur
In bad movies. The stinging
Fumes stab at my lungs
Piercing the sweet spring air.

Climbing the steps make
Mountains seem easy.
Paper wrappers flap on rubber
Treads. The waiting fare box
Grins like a Gothic gargoyle.

Then they yell at me.
I try to give an old
Lady my seat. She has pain
Behind the brown in her eyes.
Bundles and bags spilling from
Skinny arms, pulling her dress
Askew. She yells at me too.

When I go to the back
To slide on the long seat
The way we used to, Grandfather,
The bus driver stops,
Tramps back, grim, gray
Face behind the glasses.

The whole bus begins shouting
At me. The noise settles
Like crows, around my head,
Pecking my bones with sharp,
Shiny, cruel beaks.
He throws me off the bus.
I was lost and had no fare.

Why didn't you tell me,
Grandfather, that people
Are different if their skin
Is like night, like coffee
With cream, like topaz?
Everyone's the same underneath,
Aren't they, Grandfather?
Their blood is red.

This poem was written by my mother. She is remembering being a child in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1952. I thought it was relevant given the occasion, this week, of remembering the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, Alabama. I was listening to Obama's speech on NPR.

I had a bad day at work. I don't like being a disciplinarian, but I like even less having other teachers get angry at me for failing to be the kind of disciplinarian they think I should be.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: Ssergorp

I saw this factoid at the marginal revolution blog I look at sometimes:

Percentage of annual net electricity generation by renewables in 1948: 32

Percentage of annual net electricity generation by renewables in 2005: 11

"Ssergorp" is progress, spelled backwards. So it means… regress?

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: The Algorithms of Beleriand

I spent Sunday doing two very nerdy but utterly unrelated things. 

I was reading The Children of Hurin. The author on the book is JRR Tolkien, but I rather suspect whatever he left behind was pretty fragmentary, and I think it would be more realistic to assume this is mostly the work of his son and editor, Christopher Tolkien. Not that that takes away from it – as always, I like these "obscure" bits of Tolkien much better than the famous ones. 

And I wrote a computer program in python. Python is a programming language. The program I wrote takes a text file of data points that form a polygon, and "simplifies" the polygon line (reduces the number of points in the line without sacrificing the shape). It's computational geometry, such as is done in graphics programming or, more to the point, GIS (geographic information systems – the tools that we use to present maps online).

It's really the sort of exercise one might do in an Intro to Computer Science course, except that I stole the actual algorithm off the internet, rather than doing the heavy lifting on that front. Mostly I had to familiarize myself with the syntactic features of python, which I've never used before. 

Why did I do this? Um… maybe I'll figure that out later.

[daily log: running, 6 nm]

Caveat: After 13 Days

I have worked every day for the last 13 days, either teaching my full class schedule or moving the hagwon over last weekend. 

Plus I went to the hospital for my CT scan, and I think they zapped me with more "contrast medium" than usual, it really gave me a heavy-metal hangover.

Therefore I am tired.

Therefore I am uninterested in posting something interesting on this blog. I am going to be super mega lazy tomorrow. That's the plan.

See you Monday.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: A saudade de coisa nenhuma

Tenho em mim como uma bruma
Que nada é nem contém
A saudade de coisa nenhuma,
O desejo de qualquer bem.

Sou envolvido por ela
Como por um nevoeiro
E vejo luzir a última estrela
Por cima da ponta do meu cinzeiro

Fumei a vida. Que incerto
Tudo quanto vi ou li!
E todo o mundo é um grande livro aberto
Que em ignorada língua me sorri.
– Fernando Pessoa (Portuguese poet, 1888-1935)

I have in me like a haze
Which holds and which is nothing
A nostalgia for nothing at all,
The desire for something vague.

I’m wrapped by it
As by a fog, and I see
The final star shining
Above the stub in my ashtray.

I smoked my life. How uncertain
All I saw or read! All
The world is a great open book
That smiles at me in an unknown tongue.
– Translation by Richard Zenith

[daily log: walking, 7.5 km]

Caveat: Looking More Normal

I did my CT scan, this morning. It's kind of a routine, now, as I've mentioned, but I never enjoy the injection of the contrast medium. It's not painful, per se, but I get this kind of semi-nauseated feeling of imminent-yet-unrealized incontenence, and a kind of burning feeling flowing up and down my body to the rhythm of my heart's beating. It's disturbing and uncomfortable, and it always makes me imagine I'm doing heroin, though I never have done that. 

After the CT scan, I saw the radiation guy, Dr. Jo – the german-accented Korean.

He peered at my scans on his computer screens, and poked around my mouth a bit. "It's looking more normal," he assessed. Nothing bad, at all. It's rather comforting, actually, in an understated way.

Then I had a full day of teaching. Now I have a headache, but I guess it's just tiredness and the hangover of the medical stuff this morning.

[daily log: walking, 11 km]

Caveat: Teaching Bulgarian

You will be curious at this blog-post's title. Who is teaching Bulgarian?

I had a vivid, long dream last night. 

I was sitting at my new desk in the new building, and Jody handed me a new schedule. Lo and behold, there were many surprises on the schedule – changes that affected me but about which I'd heard nothing prior to that moment. So far, so realistic… this happens once a month or so. It's part of life-at-the-hagwon, the "zen" of working as a member of team where communication is never quite what one would hope, due to both linguistic and cultural issues. I try to just shrug at these things, though just yesterday, I had a minor "tantrum" about a change – perhaps that brought on the dream. But then it got weird.

Studying the schedule closely, however, I noticed, written under a middle school block, the characters "бълг". Was this some weird cyrillic typo?

I went to Jody and pointed at it. What's this? She shrugged, and said Curt put it there.

I went to Curt. He was in the hallway moving desks. This is not unrealistic, but the hallway looked like a Hongnong hallway, not a Karma 4.0 hallway. I was self-aware enough, in the dream, to be disconcerted by this. But I was too upset about the schedule mystery to worry about it.

I collared Curt and pointed at the schedule. What's this?

"Bulgarian," he bellowed, optimistically.

Bulgarian? Why would I be teaching Bulgarian to middle school students in Korea? 

Some parents requested it.

Ah, well, that's typical. Customer is king, and all that. Uh, another problem: I don't know Bulgarian.

Curt grinned at me. "You say you're a linguist. You can solve it."

I did see it as something of a challange. I downloaded a "Teach yourself Bulgarian" file from the internet, and printed out some copies. 

A few hours later, I'm in my classroom, which resembles a converted storage closet (not necessarily unrealistic). There is an annoying concrete column in the middle of the room, and I try to rearrange the desks so the students can see the whiteboard around it. 

My students show up. They are new students – unfamiliar faces. Two of them are speaking something slavic-sounding to each other. Hmm.

I had decided at the start that I would stick to honesty. So I make a long, detailed, impassioned speech, in English, explaining that I am their teacher and that I will guide them in learning Bulgarian, even though I don't know it myself. I don't mention, but have in mind, the fact that some Korean teachers of English are in fact not very good at English. It's not that different. 

In fact, possibly this is what the dream is about, in some indirect way?

That's where I woke up. I thought to myself, I should write this down.

 I wrote it down.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: Algae Buddha

Last week my student said she had to study "Algae Buddha." 

I was surprised. "What is algae buddha?" I asked.

She was disconcerted. She thought I should know. 

It went back and forth.

Finally, I learned she was trying to say "Algebra."

The problem is that epithentic vowel. It goes between the "b" and the "r," because Korean doesn't allow those two consonants to go together. Al-je-beu-ra. Then, the rules of Korean prosody being applied, the epithentic gets the emphasis. And so you get "algae buddha."

I told her I thought it was more interesting when I thought it was Algae Buddha.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Sorting

We had no classes to day. We sorted and cleaned and sorted and cleaned. Karma re-opens tomorrow to students. Here is our new building – we're on the 2nd floor – with new orange sign and new logo too.


[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: Hagwon Location #6

I worked today, moving Karma. As a memento, here is a picture of our new conference room with a bunch of books I helped shelve. 


This will be the sixth location in the Hugok neighborhood where I have worked.

[daily log: walking, 7 km + 75 desks and miscellaneous boxes]

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