Caveat: Still Friends

On Saturday I met my friend Seungbae and his wife, who came out to Ilsan to visit. Seungbae is one of my closest Korean friends, and was very supportive to me through my cancer two years ago, but I don't see him much, because in his current job, he has been living in Mexico City. He is my "Spanish-speaking Korean friend," whom I met way back in 2010 when I was living in Suwon and looking for a job – he was looking for a job at that time, too. He found one, and is doing quite well.

Anyway, recently Seungbae's been tasked by his company with setting up a new company office in L.A., but has been back in Korea for a few weeks. So he came to visit. We went out to eat at the 본죽 (Korean-style congee restaurant) that's across the street from my apartment, and had some coffee.

I am lucky to have so many good friends who stick with me despite my antisocial tendencies. 


[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Just like that bluebird

David Bowie published this music video days before he died. Unsubtle.

What I'm listening to right now.

David Bowie, "Lazarus."


[Verse 1]
Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now

[Verse 2]
Look up here, man, I'm in danger
I've got nothing left to lose
I'm so high, it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below

Ain't that just like me?

By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass

[Verse 3]
This way or no way
You know I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain't that just like me?

Oh, I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I'll be free
Ain't that just like me?

[daily log: just like that bluebird]


Caveat: Soy un libro de nieve

Jardín de invierno

Llega el invierno. Espléndido dictado
me dan las lentas hojas
vestidas de silencio y amarillo.

Soy un libro de nieve,
una espaciosa mano, una pradera,
un círculo que espera,
pertenezco a la tierra y a su invierno.

Creció el rumor del mundo en el follaje,
ardió después el trigo constelado
por flores rojas como quemaduras,
luego llegó el otoño a establecer
la escritura del vino:
todo pasó, fue cielo pasajero
la copa del estío,
y se apagó la nube navegante.

Yo esperé en el balcón tan enlutado,
como ayer con las yedras de mi infancia,
que la tierra extendiera
sus alas en mi amor deshabitado.

Yo supe que la rosa caería
y el hueso del durazno transitorio
volvería a dormir y a germinar:
y me embriagué con la copa del aire
hasta que todo el mar se hizo nocturno
y el arrebol se convirtió en ceniza.

La tierra vive ahora
tranquilizando su interrogatorio,
extendida la piel de su silencio.

Yo vuelvo a ser ahora
el taciturno que llegó de lejos
envuelto en lluvia fría y en campanas:
debo a la muerte pura de la tierra
la voluntad de mis germinaciones.
– Pablo Neruda (Poeta chileno, 1904-1973)

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: gravis est dolor

What I'm listening to right now.

Cat Stevens, "O Caritas." The song is in Latin – "schoolboy Latin" such as was learned by Stevens' generation in British schools, before Latin ceased to be part of any country's curriculum. Apparently there are mistakes in the Latin, but it's still a worthy song, in my opinion.


hunc ornatum mundi
nolo perdere
video flagrare
omnia res
audio clamare
nunc extinguitur
mundi et astrorum lumen
nunc concipitur mali hominis crimen
tristetate et lacrimis
gravis est dolor
de terraeque maribus
magnus est clamor
O caritas, O caritas
nobis semper sit amor
nos perituri mortem salutamus
sola resurgit vita
Ah, this world is burning fast
Oh, the world will never last
I don't want to lose it here in my time

[daily log: walking, 6km]


Caveat: the winter shapes of trees

Thursdays are slipping into a kind of routine of going to the hospital in the morning. Today, I went to get my stitches out, from my procedure last week. It was fairly perfunctory, but I ended up waiting a long time. That happens sometimes.

Lately, I have been fascinated by the winter shapes of trees. I tried to capture them as I walked home over the hill. Limited success.


[daily log: walking, 11km]

Caveat: Miracles of Unbelief

There is a tradition in Buddhism of "acts of truth" as being capable of having great power – of healing, blessing, etc.

This is the use of "truth" as a kind of magic. But the examples that circulate in Buddhist tradition are often humorously ironic.

This anecdote is given by Donald Lopez, Jr, in his book The Story of Buddhism.

…a young boy is bitten by a poisonous snake. The distraught parents stop a passing monk and ask him to use his medical knowledge to save the child. The monk replies that the situation is so grave that the only possible cure is an act of truth. The father says, "If I have never seen a monk that I did not think was a scoundrel, may the boy live." The poison leaves the boy's leg. The mother says, "If I have never loved my husband, may the boy live." The poison retreats to the boy's waist. The monk says, "If I have never believed a word of the dharma but found it utter nonsense, may the boy live." The boy rises, completely cured.

This is a near perfect inversion of the miracle stories of some other religious traditions, wherein someone can be saved by professions of faith. Here, a profession of lack of faith brings the miracle, simply because it is honest. This is, perhaps, why I find Buddhism appealing.

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Here and There, A Bloggablog

Last week, because of my little surgical event, I missed a few days of posts to my "work blog." As I was catching up on these posts, yesterday at work, I noticed I had reached 1000 posts on my work blog. 

Compared to this blog, I think for most people my work blog wouldn't be very interesting. Then again, this blog isn't that interesting, either.

The "work blog" is not really a blog, at all – I'm just using the blog format (which I'm comfortable with) as a way to post a sort of "diary" about each class that I teach. My students, their parents, or my fellow teachers can consult it to find out answers to burning questions like, "what's my homework?" or watch the kids doing one of my videographed speech tasks. Indeed, although it's a minority, I have many students who use the blog to find out their homework or to watch their classmates embarrassing themselves for my camera. The Korean web portal I use as a platform makes the blog accessible to the students even from their ubiquitous smartphones.

Since sometime in the Spring, I've been diligent and faithful about posting an entry for each class I teach – if only to minimally write, "We had class. No homework." Normally, there is at least a sentence about homework. On about 20% of posts, there is some collateral, i.e. a video embedded or a scanned image of some student work – although sometimes I get a little bit behind (as I am now), so the most recent blog entries sometimes contain little place-holders "" where I will insert video when I get around to posting them (which is not that hard but is a bit time-consuming, so it has to happen during "free time" at work, currently hard to come by).

So 1000 blog entries means, roughly, 1000 class sessions taught.

I wish we had a platform, at work, that was in some way like this but was being maintained by ALL the teachers. I think it would go a long way toward solving Karma's perennial marketing problem and allow us to establish our own "web presence" – which it's really hard to conceive of a business not having in 2016. Yet… such as it is. We don't have an IT department. I'm not personally able or willing to take on that role, in a context where every interaction with a computer or Korean website must be tackled with a dictionary (because these computers, here, they speak Korean, y'know).

Jared's Karma Blog

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: 머리를 깎다

This is an idiom from my book of idioms.

머리를 깎다
meo.ri.reul kkakk.da
head-OBJ shave
“to shave one’s head.”

It means to join the Buddhist priesthood – since priests shave their heads. It is used as a kind of “when all else fails…” option, to express despair, maybe: e.g. “Well, when all else fails, I can always go join a monastery.”
This thought has a more than passing appeal for me – I have harbored it many times, long before learning the idiom.
[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: The definition is clear

What I'm listening to right now.

NWA, "Straight Outta Compton." This song is OLD, now. It came out when I was still in college.

Lyrics (NSFW – stop reading these if you are easily offended). 

You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge

[Verse One: Ice Cube]

Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes
When I'm called off, I got a sawed off
Squeeze the trigger, and bodies are hauled off
You too, boy, if ya fuck with me
The police are gonna hafta come and get me
Off yo ass, that's how I'm goin out
For the punk motherfuckers that's showin out
Niggaz start to mumble, they wanna rumble
Mix em and cook em in a pot like gumbo
Goin off on a motherfucker like that
with a gat that's pointed at yo ass
So give it up smooth
Ain't no tellin when I'm down for a jack move
Here's a murder rap to keep yo dancin
with a crime record like Charles Manson
AK-47 is the tool
Don't make me act the motherfuckin fool
Me you can go toe to toe, no maybe
I'm knockin niggaz out tha box, daily
yo weekly, monthly and yearly
until them dumb motherfuckers see clearly
that I'm down with the capital C-P-T
Boy you can't fuck with me
So when I'm in your neighborhood, you better duck
Coz Ice Cube is crazy as fuck
As I leave, believe I'm stompin
but when I come back, boy, I'm comin straight outta Compton


(City of Compton, City of Compton)

[Eazy E] Yo Ren
[MC Ren] Whassup?
[Eazy E] Tell em where you from!

[Verse Two: MC Ren]

Straight outta Compton, another crazy ass nigga
More punks I smoke, yo, my rep gets bigger
I'm a bad motherfucker and you know this
But the pussy ass niggaz don't show this
But I don't give a fuck, I'ma make my snaps
If not from the records, from jackin the crops
Just like burglary, the definition is 'jackin'
And when illegally armed it's called 'packin'
Shoot a motherfucker in a minute
I find a good piece o' pussy, I go up in it
So if you're at a show in the front row
I'm a call you a bitch or dirty-ass ho
You'll probably get mad like a bitch is supposed to
But that shows me, slut, you're composed to
a crazy muthafucker from tha street
Attitude legit cause I'm tearin up shit
MC Ren controls the automatic
For any dumb muthafucker that starts static
Not the right hand cause I'm the hand itself
every time I pull a AK off the shelf
The security is maximum and that's a law
R-E-N spells Ren but I'm raw
See, coz I'm the motherfuckin villain
The definition is clear, you're the witness of a killin
that's takin place without a clue
And once you're on the scope, your ass is through
Look, you might take it as a trip
but a nigga like Ren is on a gangsta tip
Straight outta Compton…


(City of Compton, City of Compton)

[Dr. Dre] Eazy is his name and the boy is comin…

[Verse Three: Eazy-E]

…straight outta Compton
is a brotha that'll smother yo' mother
and make ya sister think I love her
Dangerous motherfucker raises hell
And if I ever get caught I make bail
See, I don't give a fuck, that's the problem
I see a motherfuckin cop I don't dodge him
But I'm smart, lay low, creep a while
And when I see a punk pass, I smile
To me it's kinda funny, the attitude showin a nigga drivin
but don't know where the fuck he's going, just rollin
lookin for the one they call Eazy
But here's a flash, they never seize me
Ruthless! Never seen like a shadow in the dark
except when I unload, see I'll get over the hesitation
and hear the scream of the one who got the last penetration
Give a little gust of wind and I'm jettin
But leave a memory no one'll be forgettin
So what about the bitch who got shot? Fuck her!
You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain't a sucker!
This is the autobiography of the E, and if you ever fuck with me
You'll get taken by a stupid dope brotha who will smother
word to the motherfucker, straight outta Compton


(City of Compton, City of Compton)

(Damn that shit was dope!)

[daily log: ow]

Caveat: All except for Cain and Abel

Walking home from work today, the sky was bright and sunny. A strong breeze was blowing.

And it was -11 C (12 F).

This kind of weather always makes me nostalgic for my years living in Minnesota.

Thinking about those years causes me to listen to Bob Dylan, and read websites about linguistics or Spanish literature.

What I'm listening to right now.

Bob Dylan, "Desolation Row."


They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row.

Cinderella, she seems so easy
"It takes one to know one," she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning,
"You belong to Me I Believe."
And someone says, "You're in the wrong place, my friend
You'd better leave."
And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row.

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everyone's either making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row.

Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
NOW, he looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row.

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They ARE trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have Mercy on His Soul"
They all play on the penny whistle
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough

From Desolation Row.
Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest
They are spoon-feeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
"Get outta here if you don't know"
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row.

At midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row.

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row.

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the door knob broke
When you asked me how I was doing
Or was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: The Gangnam Yangachi Army

I was joking around with my HS3M cohort on Wednesday night. I try so hard to get along with those boys, but it remains a difficult class. 

They were trying to teach me the Korean slang term 양아치 [yang.a.chi]. It's hard to translate. The official dictionary translation is useless, as it says "ragpicker." I told my students that that might have meant something to my great-grandparents' generation, but it means nothing to me.

During class, I got the idea it might mean something like "slacker," but in researching it online (in various Korean-English slang dictionaries that people post on their blogs), I've decided it might be more faithfully reflected by something like "punk" or "thug." But as such, it's a "poser punk" or "poser thug" – not the real thing. These are the "wannabe bad-boy" clique in school, maybe.

Anyway, after they'd tried to teach me the meaning, they said there were a lot of Yangachi in Gangnam (a kind of high-status area of Seoul). Jinu said there was a whole Gangnam Yangachi Army. I said that sounded alarming, but added that it would be a good name for a rock band. The boys rather liked this idea, and riffed on it for a while. 

I'm going back to work today after my post-op rest yesterday. The pain is pretty bad, but I guess trying to function normally is the best distraction. 

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Bone-Scraping

I went to the hospital this morning, and in typical Korean healthcare fashion, things moved fast.

I had a minor outpatient surgery. I guess "minor" in the sense that it was outpatient, only about 30 minutes long, and not life-threatening in any way. But it was damn painful.

A molar was extracted, and some necrotic bone (bone dead or damaged by the radiation 2 years ago) was scraped away on my lower right jaw. It all seemed to be a very "brute force" affair – inject some local anaesthetic, then rip open the gum and yank and pull and scrape and grind, but the doctor seemed optimistic as it concluded. I have some stitches in my mouth, and a command to rest and avoid talking for the day – so I've been granted a day off from work. I think Helen and others can fill in for me – Thursday isn't too difficult a day, schedule-wise.

Curt was at the hospital with me, which was nice because after I couldn't talk, he helped interpret my needs as we went through scheduling the follow-up.  I am indeed grateful for his friendship, despite our sometimes locking horns at work.

After it all, I walked home. I feel it helps to do this after time at the hospital – it helps me feel grounded in the world. The cold (about -8 C, 17 F) felt weirdly good on my numb face – temporarily numb on the right side, in addition to the now thoroughly accustomed left side, permanently numb since my surgery. 

The anaesthetic is wearing off and the pain is quite intense. I am watching TV rather mindlessly, and contemplating what and how I'm going to eat… I should eat. 

There will be a follow-up next week to remove the stitches and check for infection, and then after that they may need to scrape more bone and after that they will definitely need to install a collagen "plug" – since my bone isn't capable of normal healing. There is also some concern about my jaw bone being fragile in the wake of this. I'm not sure what impact that will have.

More later.

[daily log: walking, 4 km]



Caveat: 90 Year Old Prophesy

"When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket." — Nikola Tesla, in 1926.

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: stare at the radical world

Valéry as Dictator

Sad. And it comes
tomorrow. Again, gray, the streaks
of work
shredding the stone
of the pavement, dissolving
with the idea
of singular endeavor.  Herds, the
of suffering intelligences
and out of
hearing. Though the day
come to us
in waves,
sun, air, the beat
of the clock.
Though I stare at the radical
wishing it would stand still.
Tell me,
and I gain at the telling.
Of the lie, and the waking
against the heavy breathing
of new light, dawn, shattering
the naive cluck
of feeling.
What is tomorrow
that it cannot come

– Amiri Baraka (American poet, 1934-2014)

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Kevin’s Passion for Money

I was trying to frame a debate for my HS3T cohort (9th graders) a few nights ago, where I'm doing a kind of "reboot" of my debate program since there are some new students, and the oldtimers could stand a review, anyway. I had chosen the fairly elementary (and ubiquitous, in debate curricula) proposition of whether money or passion is more important in choosing one's career.

A student, who goes by Kevin and who rarely participates (and whom I've known since his elementary years), raised his hand and said that the topic didn't make sense. I asked why. He said (I'm paraphrasing), "I have a passion for money. So which side am I on?" The other students found this humorous.

Of course this is a very legitimate point. At first, we tried to reframe the debate as money vs happiness instead of money vs passion, but that still didn't really solve the problem: one could say, in the same spirit, "Money makes me happy."

Finally, I ended up digressing, explaining that one strategy for the CON team in a debate is to "deny the validity of the proposition" – which is the sort of argument we were discussing. This made the students unhappy, though, because they felt it should be a valid strategy for the PRO team, too. So I was trying to explain that in a debate, the "government" – the PRO team – typically has a more difficult task, since they have to accept the proposition as framed, while the CON team is allowed to challenge the terms of the debate. In fact I was happy to to see some of the students relatively engaged with such a complex digression – perhaps this was even useful to the more advanced students, but those with less experience with debate just let their eyes glaze over. 

Actually, I was pleased with this whole development – it's perfect for a reboot, where the topics are ostensibly "easy" but where we can go into more depth about how debate really works.

[daily log: walking, 10.5km]

Caveat: 후회없이 꿈을 꾸었다 말해요

우리의 원장님은 나에게 이 노래를 보내셨어요. 아직 이해가 잘 못해서 노력할게요.

내가 지금 듣고있어요.

이적, "걱정말아요 그대."


그대여 아무 걱정 하지 말아요
우리 함께 노래 합시다
그대 아픈 기억들 모두 그대여
그대 감슴에 깊이 묻어 버리고

지나간 것은 지나간 대로
그런 의미가 있죠
떠난 이에게 노래 하세요
후회없이 사랑했노라 말해요

그대는 너무 힘든 일이 많았죠
새로움을 잃어 버렸죠
그대 힘든 얘기들 모두 그대여
그대 탓으로 훌훌 털어 버리고

지나간 것은 지나간 대로
그런 의미가 있죠
우리 다 함께 노래 합시다
후회없이 꿈을 꾸었다 말해요

지나간 것은 지나간 대로
그런 의미가 있죠
우리 다 함께 노래 합시다
후회없이 꿈을 꾸었다 말해요

지나간 것은 지나간 대로
그런 의미가 있죠
우리 다 함께 노래 합시다
후회없이 꿈을 꾸었다 말해요
새로운 꿈을 꾸겠다 말해요

[daily log: resting]

Caveat: Smowy Day

When the days are smoggy, it's hard to know whether to blame China, or instead Korea's endogenous smog-makers. These days, I'm more inclined to assume it's Beijing's latest export across the Yellow Sea, rather than completely home-grown smog.

Today, walking to work, it was strange, vaguely apocalyptic weather. Heavy yellowish-brown haze hung in the sky, evidently smog, but it was also lightly snowing – big, fluffy flakes that normally make one think of the "clean" feel of fresh winter weather. I think smog mixed with snow should be called "smow." 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Forget our possibilities

What I'm listening to right now.

Linkin Park, "Don't Stay."


Sometimes I need to remember just to breathe
Sometimes I need you to stay away from me
Sometimes I’m in disbelief I didn’t know
Somehow I need you to go

Don’t stay
Forget our memories
Forget our possibilities
What you were changing me into
Just give me myself back and
Don’t stay
Forget our memories
Forget our possibilities
Take all your faithlessness with you
Just give me myself back and
Don’t stay

Sometimes I feel like I trusted you too well
Sometimes I just feel like screaming at myself
Sometimes I’m in disbelief I didn’t know
Somehow I need to be alone


I don’t need you anymore, I don’t want to be ignored
I don’t need one more day of you wasting me away
I don’t need you anymore, I don’t want to be ignored
I don’t need one more day of you wasting me away

With no apologies


Don't stay

Don't stay

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: On necrosis and dentistry

I went to see the dental surgery specialist this morning, per the Cancer Hospital's referral. The outcome of this consultation left me feeling a bit frustrated, but anyway I have a better understanding of the issues.

The current underlying issue is really a simple dental problem. I have a cavity in a lower right molar, which probably had already started when I had my surgery 2 years ago. It was essentially benign until recently, meaning it was causing me no discomfort and I really didn't feel anything amiss. But a cavity, in the wake of radiation treatment, is not a simple cavity – the tooth is dead, because of the radiation. So the cavity gets to flourish unimpeded – it owns the tooth.

Now that the cavity is causing me pain and has grown, the molar needs to be extracted. Without the cancer-related issues, this, too, would be straightforward – contemporary dentistry is quite good at this kind of thing, and does it without complication all the time. However, because of the radiation necrosis – not just in the tooth but in my lower jaw – suddenly a simple dental extraction is a big deal. The reason is that, under normal circumstances, after an extraction the flesh and bone have a high capacity to heal and repair the damage. However, with the necrosis, there is a substantial risk that the damage done by the extraction will simply never heal. I will be left with a permanent gaping wound in my mouth, which either has to be managed or has to be artificially repaired somehow with additional surgeries. 

So what the dentists are afraid of are the complications after the extraction. The simple extraction becomes a medical issue that requires ongoing monitoring and management.

Basically, the dental surgeon said to me, politely, that he didn't want to do this extraction, because of these complication risks. Hence my feeling of frustration. He said that it was likely something that should be done, perhaps as inpatient, at the cancer center. The cancer center had referred me to the dental surgeon because they wanted avoid that, but this surgeon's answer is, it can't be avoided. 

I will return to the Cancer Center on Monday. 

The dental consultation was actually a bit painful, too. To take the various xrays and poke at the various parts, they needed me to do various things with my tongue – think about how often your dentist tells you to "move your tongue up," "move your tongue down," etc. But my tongue is not a normal tongue – I don't have full control over it – it's partly disabled. So the dentist and her assistant, after I'd made some frustrating attempts, was compelled to reach in and pull my tongue here, push my tongue there. It hurt.

This is why I had been dreading to see the dentist, and avoiding it. And now I suffer consequences… the karma of unright action.

This morning, going to see the dentist, I had to take the subway to Hwajeong, a neighborhood in the "other part" of Goyang City, closer to Seoul. Goyang geographically is divided into two halves – a newer, Western half (called Ilsan) and the older, Eastern half. Between, there is still open farmland, preserved, I guess, by zoning laws mandating a kind of greenbelt around Seoul (which is to say, Ilsan is outside the belt, while old Goyang is inside it). The subway goes across the greenbelt above grade rather than underground, so it's quite nice sometimes to flash through the rural district on the short trip from one side of the city to the other. 

This morning, looking out the windows of the train, the fields were covered by the light dusting of snow we'd received, unforecast, yesterday, and everything glittered white and clean. A Siberian cold had settled over the landscape, and wisps of steam rose from the rampart of apartment blocks on the horizon. This type of weather, combined with the rural vista, inevitably conjures visceral memories of my year in Korea while in the US Army – I spent a lot of time in bitterly cold rural Korean landscapes while in the Army. 

I don't really feel nostalgic. I just end up feeling sad – about lost opportunities, about unrecoverable mistakes, about my own moribundity. 

[daily log: walking, 8km]

Caveat: Hypothetical vowel shifts, just because…

It’s hard for me not to think about linguistics, sometimes.
As I was walking to work the other day, I had this strange thought: I wondered if, historically, the Korean language ever under went a major vowel shift – of the same sort that is somewhat well-known with respect to English. I think I was set off on this train of thought by noticing that, although Korean is for the most part rather punctillious about its many vowels and their correct articulation, there is definitely a degree of movement taking place in the Seoul dialect, which is noticeable in, for example, my students’ “playful” spellings of phrases like 안녕 [annyeong = “hi”] as 안뇽 [annyong] in their notes or text messages to me. The sound 어 /ə/ is definitely moving backward in casual speech, toward 오/o/.
Further evidence lies in the fact that although the consonantal system of the hangeul writing system is quite reliably systematic, the vowel system has always struck me is a bit “off” – it doesn’t seem quite as systematic as it could have been (i.e. why are some vowels written under and some vowels written to the right, and where’s the original logic behind the design, given there is consensus that it was designed?). Of course, it is well known that the “offness” of English spelling is, itself, a consequence of that famous vowel shift. So maybe the cause of the “offness” in the Korean vowel system lies in the same sort of phenomenon.
So when I got to work, I typed “vowel shift korean” into my google search-o-matic, and sure enough, my thought wasn’t a novel one. Indeed, there is a still not entirely settled but well-defended hypothesis that Korean underwent a major vowel shift, roughly during the same historical period as the English one. Mentions of it in English can be found online (mostly in googlebooks, rather than on blogs or webpages).
Thus, it is mentioned (and supported) in Samual Martin’s (he of the giant Korean Reference grammar with its despised Yale-ification) book, Consonant Lenition in Korean and the Macro-Altaic Question, somewhat browseable on googlebooks. The best explanation of the idea that I found, with some charts of the actual shift, is in a PDF by Oh Sang-suk. Meanwhile, I found a refutation of it in a PDF by Young-Key Kim-Renaud.
Personally, I find the idea appealing, and the arguments in favor of it that I ran across struck me as compelling. I am not an expert, however – so who knows?
picture[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Ziggy Played Guitar

I guess this past Sunday, David Bowie died – of cancer. There are not very many musicians that have had a more profound influence on me – not that that means much, but Bowie has prominently occupied a top spot in my life’s soundtrack for more than 3 decades now. There are very few others about whom that is true. His music has aged well, at least in my estimation.
I thought his song “Ziggy Stardust” would have made a great obituary, but I already included that song in this blog, so I thought I’d find something different.
What I’m listening to right now.

David Bowie, “Oh! You Pretty Things.” The song’s message seems vaguely fascistic, or at the least, transhumanist in philosophical stance (both tendencies being things Bowie openly professed at various points in his long career), but I rather like it anyway.

Wake up you sleepy head
Put on some clothes,
shake up your bed
Put another log on the fire for me
I’ve made some breakfast and coffee
Look out my window and what do I see
A crack in the sky
and a hand reaching down to me
All the nightmares came today
And it looks as though they’re
here to stay
What are we coming to
No room for me,
no fun for you
I think about a world to come
Where the books were found
by the Golden ones
Written in pain, written in awe
By a puzzled man who questioned
What we came here for
All the strangers came today
And it looks as though
they’re here to stay

Oh You Pretty Things
Don’t you know you’re driving your
Mamas and Papas insane
Oh You Pretty Things
Don’t you know you’re driving your
Mamas and Papas insane
Let me make it plain
([second time:] Let me say it again)
You gotta make way
for the Homo Superior

Look at your children
See their faces in golden rays
Don’t kid yourself they belong to you
They’re the start of a coming race
The earth is a bitch
We’ve finished our news
Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use
All the strangers came today
And it looks as though they’re here to stay


picture[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: crocodile… or alligator

As my students know, the fact that crocodiles and alligators are different is important to me, and I always teach them.

I showed some students this video, and asked them why it was "obvious" that it was an alligator, and therefore the man's indifference struck me as truly terrible.

A transcription of the man's words: "'M sick 'n' tired of people putting these logs across the pa… Oh! That's a crocodile… or alligator. Whatever."

I'd already told them some background on the differences between crocodiles and alligators, and so after watching the video, I let them brainstorm why it was obvious to me. It took them a while, but one of them actually figured it out.

He explained, "It's in America, so it must be alligator." His thinking, which I helped him elaborate: since America is home to wild alligators, but not wild crocodiles, right?

Another student asked, astutely, "How do we know it's America?" 

I said, "Well, in this case, you know it's in America, because I told you earlier. But I know it's America because of the man's accent." This gave me an opportunity to digress on the matter of different English language accents.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Prends ces mots dans tes mains

La Chair chaude des mots

Prends ces mots dans tes mains et sens leurs pieds agiles
Et sens leur cœur qui bat comme celui d’un chien
Caresse donc leur poil pour qu’ils restent tranquilles
Mets-les sur tes genoux pour qu’ils ne disent rien

Une niche de sons devenus inutiles
Abrite des rongeurs l’ordre académicien
Rustiques on les dit mais les mots sont fragiles
Et leur mort bien souvent de trop s’essouffler vient

Alors on les dispose en de grands cimetières
Que les esprits fripons nomment des dictionnaires
Et les penseurs chagrins des alphadécédets

Mais à quoi bon pleurer sur des faits si primaires
Si simples éloquents connus élémentaires
Prends ces mots dans tes mains et vois comme ils sont faits
– Raymond Queneau (poète français, 1903-1976)

[daily log: walking, among words]

Caveat: of Oz The Wizard

I found this online. It appealed to my interest in nonsense. The Wizard of Oz, re-edited so all the words in the movie are in alphabetical order. I think actually this would be fairly easy to automate, once you had a suffiently accurate .srt file. 

Of Oz the Wizard from Matt Bucy on Vimeo.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

[weekly log: 중등수업11타임 초등수업12타임]

Caveat: 能小能大

I learned this four-character idiom from my elevator last night.


This apparently means something like “versitile” or “skillful” or even “tactful and socially competent.” At first I was thinking it was something like “Jack of all trades” but I don’t think that’s quite right – it seems to be used mostly adjectivally, and the meaning seems more connected to the idea of someone who has competence in “big things” but also pays attention to detail. Maybe it’s more like “well-rounded” (as applied to a personality).
I felt pleased with my decipherment of this idiom, for two reasons. First, like many of these “either/or” idioms (where one of the elements is repeated with two different modifiers), the first and second terms seem interchangeable. Thus, the version I actually saw in my elevator last night was “능대능소” yet the one in the online dictionary was the one I cite above. So I figured it out. Further, this is the first case where I already had some clue as to the meaning just because I am familiar with all the individual components from other vocabulary. So it felt like a step forward in that respect.
Notes for Korean (finding meaning)

  • 방사선 괴사 = radiation necrosis
  • 시궁쥐 = rat, literally “sewer mouse”
  • 능하다 = to be proficient, to be skillful, to be expert (at something)

picture[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: It’s not all good news

On Tuesday, I got good news – I continue to be cancer-free. Given the typical pattern of my type of cancer, this means, statistically, that I seem to have beaten the odds, since metastases after 2 years are uncommon. 

Unfortunately, there is also some bad news. I returned to the hospital this morning for a follow-up. To be honest, I didn't exactly understand what the follow-up was about, when they gave me the appointment on Tuesday. Given my linguistic limitations, sometimes I don't understand everything my various healthcare providers are telling me, since although my primary oncologist and primary diagnostician both have excellent English, many of the other staff I need to interact with don't. I just go with the flow, and try to go where they say and do as they ask, trusting that they know what they're doing.

So I went to the follow-up, at Oral Oncology (which seems more like a dental clinic than a cancer clinic). Although I am cancer-free, I do have an issue: radiation necrosis in my lower jaw and teeth. Some of the living tissue in my lower jaw and inside my teeth has been damaged or is in the process of dying due to the radiation treatment I completed 2 years ago.  This is part of the faustian bargain that is implicit in contemporary cancer treatment regimens. Because of the location, it also seems to occupy a kind of grey area between dentistry and oral surgery, so now I have to spend some time with a dental specialist, I guess. I have a referral.

This is not at all life-threatening, as I understand it. However, it has the potential to substantially impact quality of life, both due to issues with chronic pain as well as further damaging my abitlity to eat normally. I suppose, in fact, it's more than "potential" – it seems already to be having some impact, otherwise I wouldn't have noticed and complained about it to my doctors.

I feel depressed and frustrated, at the moment – partly because I didn't completely understand the referral process, and so I'm going to have to rely on Korean-speaking friends to help me sort out what my next step is, and I hate relying on other people, especially in a way that hammers home my failure to learn Korean adequately.

More later.

[daily log: walking, 10km]

Caveat: Farewell Song

This week I learned that a certain student had “dropped out” of Karma, for whom I felt an odd attachment.
Her English name is Gina; she is an elementary 3rd grader (moving into 4th grade).
Gina is the youngest of three sisters, and I’ve mentioned these three sisters before. Their family name is Song, and so I made a punny little rememberance in my mind, walking home from work the other day.
Song of patient worry.
The oldest sister, who goes by the English name Irene, was a 7th grader in one of the first cohorts I taught in Korea, in 2007. I vividly remember her puzzled but slightly aloof face, in the front row of that dark classroom, on the 5th floor of the northeast corner of the very first hagwon building I taught in, on first week of class, and thinking, “These kids have no idea what I’m saying.” I don’t think I ever mentioned her specifically, but she was the “quiet one” in the group of girls I eventually dubbed the “princess mafia,” which I mentioned collectively many times in my blog, starting in January, 2008. Irene is now a university student and majoring in English. I most recently saw her when she stopped by Karma shortly before we moved into our new location, last February.
Irene was the quietest of the sisters, and the most intellectual, I now realize, although at the time I thought of her more as being a daydreamer and an airhead than being studious – but I think in retrospect that it was more one of those fronts that middle-schoolers put up defensively.  She also was, as I recall, the least confident of the three, at least as a student. She was plagued by that bane of language learners, perfectionism.
Song of kind confusion.
The middle sister goes by Sunny. I taught her in 2011-2012 or so, during her late elementary years (5th and 6th grades). She was the kindest – I remember her as being one of those “teacher’s helper” type students, she was good at getting her peers to stay on task, and despite her own lack of academic interest, she was always keenly engaged in class. For Sunny, it was a social experience, though, not a learning one. She never improved in her English ability in the time I taught her – she was on a sort of plateau, with high communicative competence but chaotic grammar and pragmatics. She was kind of the mirror image of her older sister in some ways – gregarious on the outside, but not very interested in the academic side of things on the inside. I vividly remember a time when I was checking homework, and many of the students hadn’t done their homework, and Sunny said to me something like, “Teacher, aren’t you angry?” I shrugged – I have always been very laid back, especially compared to Korean standards, about student compliance with homework – especially with elementary students. Sunny’s face became grave, and she said something like, “You should be angry.” She then turned to the rest of the class, and scolded them, in Korean, on my behalf, for not doing their homework. But instead of being cold about it, she presented it as a kind of, “let’s show some class spirit, and do homework” – like a kind of pep rally.
Song of brash joy.
Gina, the youngest sister, I have taught for the last two years, through 2nd and 3rd grades. She is the most confident of the sisters (or perhaps that’s just an aspect of her being the youngest at the time I’ve known her?). She is clearly a happy and well-centered child – to the point of being a bit annoying – somewhat annoying to her teachers, but most notably annoying to her peers, who often end up feeling bullied by her. I have experienced a lot of frustration with Gina, because she would hurt other students (mostly unintentionally, I think) and create a toxic classroom environment. A while back, I wrote about her as a mini dictator. Despite all this, her intelligence and firm engagement with the learning project has led me to consider her one of my best students. Every class, she learned something new, and this was evident because she is extremely verbal, so she is constantly practicing things she’s learned or figured out, or “explaining” them to herself in her own never-ending monologue (mostly in Korean, but I get the gist of it). This monologue is another thing that makes her annoying to her peers, but as a teacher, I found it to be a fabulous resource – it told me what I was actually teaching (as opposed to that common teacher’s illusion: what I thought I was teaching).
Since these days I post videos of all my students’ speaking exercises, I have extensive video of Gina. One example is a recent short speech she gave – she is first in the video below.

So now, in the end, it’s just a Song of farewell.
picture[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: At the place where the machines and their acolytes extend human life

It has become a bit of a tradition for me to post to my blog from the waiting room at the hospital. I guess I do it partly because sitting in the hospital waiting room is boring, but mostly it’s to remind myself of the time when posting to my blog from my phone was the only way I could do it, because I was in the hospital without a normal internet-connected computer.

I am at the hospital for one of my periodic follow-ups, where they do a CAT scan and look around, to make sure I don’t have any metastasis.

Always here I get a strange feeling of stress-mediated calmness. I think the place evokes that paradoxical mix as it is strongly associated with such intense memories, traumatic but ultimately life affirming. The mental state is similar to something I feel in a temple or church or sacred-seeming place of natural beauty. . . a feeling of sublimity tempered by pathos.

I lie down inside the machine and let the acolytes read the signs under my skin.

Update (a few hours later): The signs having been read, the acolytes spoke in short obliquities of long life and long odds overcome. My earth-residency visa has been extended.

picture[daily log: walking, 10.5km]

Caveat: 同苦同樂

I’m not sure what the difference is between an aphorism and an idiom – I have a book of aphorisms and a book of idioms, but a lot of what they have is the same.
I found this four-character idiom in my book of idioms.


This might be equivalent to something like the English aphorism, “Stick together through thick and thin.” My intuition is that this idiom would be used in the same context as discussions of 정 [jeong] (which I’ve discussed in detail before on this blog).
There was another interesting thing that made me laugh about this idiom: when you paste it into googletranslate, and accept its intention to translate from Chinese, it tells you that the English meaning is “Fun with pain.” This is accurate, but the English has an agential ambiguity that the Chinese lacks, I think – is it pain mixed with fun, or are we having fun with pain? If the latter, that’s more of a motto for a BDSM club than an aphorism for the thick and thin of life.
Apropos, I was thinking about jeong the other day when things got so bad at work. I wanted to turn to Curt and say verbatim what he had said to me those years ago: “you have no jeong.” I resisted that urge. But I definitely was thinking, in that moment, that his actions had been weirdly “jeongless” (I say “weirdly” since, presumeably, as a Korean, he has lots of jeong). I wonder just how one might accuse another of jeonglessness, idiomatically, in Korean. It’s a commonly-enough expressed sentiment, I think. Just a few weeks ago, I had a student complaining to me about the Japanese (I have many students who complain to me about the Japanese – they’re merely echoing the discourses that appear in the Korean media, of course), and she said, “they have no jeong.”
Notes for Korean (finding meaning)

  • 바로 = (adv.) directly, just, straight, promptly, only, precisely… 

picture[daily log: walking back to work after the short holiday, 6km]

Caveat: Minnaloushe

The Cat And The Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet.
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.
– William Butler Yeats (Irish poet, 1865-1939)

[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: Obamakorn

I have a short New Years Holiday. But after such a busy December, and facing an even busier January, it's hard to feel motivated to do anything. I decided to spend my weekend being a computer-potato (like couch potato but with a different focus, I guess).

What I'm listening to right now.

Someone arranged video clips of Obama's words so that he sings the rock group Korn's "Freak On A Leash." A great cover for a great song.

[daily log: not on Holidays]

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