Caveat: 밥 먹는 법

One thing that happens every time my friend Peter leaves Korea is that I get a pile of books. I am his Asian book storage facility, because he knows I appreciate them.
One book he left with me is a book of poems entitled “A letter not sent” by Jeong Ho-seung (정호승). The book is bilingual, which I like, with translation by Brother Anthony and Susan Hwang. Brother Anthony is a Catholic monk based in Seoul and prolific translator of Korean poetry – I’ve written about him before on this blog. Peter actually seems to know the man through their shared membership in the Royal Asiatic Society.
I particularly liked this poem (note that I copied the poem’s text from the book, so any strange typing mistakes, especially in the Korean where my typing skills are imprecise, are my own and not in the original).

밥 먹는 법

밥상 앞에
무릎을 꿇지 말 것
눈물로 만든 밥모다
모래로 만든 밥을 먼저 먹을 것

전시된 밥은 먹지 말 것
먹더라도 혼자 먹을 것
아니면 차라리 굶을 것
굶어서 가벼워질 것

바람 부는 날이면
풀잎을 햇살에 비벼 먹을 것
그래도 배가 고프면
입을 없앨 것
– 정호승 (한국 시인 1950년-)

How to Eat

No kneeling
in front of the meal table;
the rice made of sand should be eaten
before the rice made of tears.

Above all else
rice on display should not be eaten;
if you must eat it, you should eat it alone;
otherwise you should fast;
by fasting you will grow lighter.

From time to time
on windy days,
you should mix grass with sunlight and eat that;
and should you still feel hungry
you should do away with your mouth.
– Jeong Ho-seung (Korean poet, b1950)

One comment on the title. The translation of the title, “How to Eat,” isn’t completely literal. Literally, it is “Rules for eating rice.” But “eat” and “eat rice” are essentially synonymous in Korean (in a way that can sometimes lead to confusion for Westerners).
I very much prefer the literal title, and I think the poem is playing with the semantic overlap between “eat” and “eat rice” which means the title should include “rice.”
I have written a nonnet as a kind of “response” to this poem. I will post it tonight as my daily nonnet.
picture[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #25

(Poem #50 on new numbering scheme)

Automobiles are a kind of theme
that were roaring through my childhood.
My father grew up with cars.
My youngest memories
thrum with the noises
emerging from
my father's

– a nonnet

Caveat: Nonnet #24

(Poem #49 on new numbering scheme)

Last night we got a refreshing rain.
so my coworker turned to me
and wanted to know what kind
of idiom we use
to express that breath
of cool pleasure
in English.
"I don't

– a nonnet

Caveat: Breezy Farewell

I went into Seoul yesterday to bid farewell, once again, to my friend Peter.

Mostly it was just hanging out and watching him finish packing. A few of his other friends came by, too. I'm not sure my social skills are very good, anymore.

It was a cool, windy day, relative to the recent oppressive heat of August. A squall of rain crossed the city as we were leaving. The air was quite clear and the clouds were many stark shades of gray, like an abstract coloring book pattern in the sky.

Here is a picture of Peter, with a friend of his, and me, after going out in the street from his apartment (well, former apartment, now). In fact it is raining lightly in this picture, but it's hard to tell.


[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Nonnet #23

(Poem #48 on new numbering scheme)

Some kids have a lot to say in class.
Other students stare wordlessly.
I want them to feel their worth,
understand our topics,
and become engaged.
Mostly I fail.
It is hard.
They just

– a nonnet

Caveat: I’ve said I don’t like to complain on this here blog thing but here let me complain some more

I've been feeling a lot of stress, lately. The work cycle is at that typical September peak, as kids start their Fall semester at school, we wrap up the summer special classes, and enrollment starts heading for that hagwon-biz Fall surge. I have month-end writing tests to score, student comments to write, and new student interviews.

Further, there has been a kind of rumbling of parental dissatisfaction with the current state of the curriculum in the youngest cohorts. That means lots of wasted time in incoherent discussions and meetings about curriculum, and the resulting decisions which, inevitably, will not be the ideas I advocated for.

Layered on that is the fact that September 1 is the annual contract renewal date, which always forces me to contemplate, once again, the occasionally Faustian nature of my current, complicated, and unsatisfying relationship with my job, my host country, and the Korean healthcare system. It is easy to begin to wonder if it's all worth it.

Additionally, I was "volunteered" for some extra work, at work – of the least favorite kind, which  involves sitting and mucking with a computer trying to transcribe some simply atrocious English conversations: Bad, non-native speakers talking buzzword-filled English to the worst kind of consonant-glottalizing, modal-verb-abusing, corporatese-spewing Britishers with stunningly loud background noises and interruptions. I feel like my willingness to be helpful is being abused, and of course it's hard when the utility of the work at hand seems dubious at best.

I have a hospital appointment coming up, too. I always dread those – anticipating them is much worse than just being there dealing with it. Having moved past the worst of the jaw necrosis problem last Spring, I enjoyed a relatively hospital-free summer after the Big Anniversary Scan in July. So my "just deal with it" reflex is rusty. 

All said and done, I feel unhappy.

I am going to Seoul today to bid farewell (version 3.0? 4.0?) to my friend Peter, who is once again returning to the US, this time to start graduate school.

[daily log: walking, 3km]

Caveat: Nonnet #22

(Poem #47 on new numbering scheme)

can't come
all at once.
Fall must sneak in,
catch us unawares
with a yellow leaf here
and a northerly breeze there.
I smelled autumn's covert rustlings
today: percepts tasting of woodsmoke.

– a reverse nonnet

Caveat: All right

Did you hear about the guy that got the left side of his body cut off? He’s all right now.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Nonnet #21

(Poem #46 on new numbering scheme)

That ineffable cobalt color
was painting the glowering clouds.
the air whispered its plans
for inundation.
Then I felt it
on my cheek:
one cool

– a nonnet

Caveat: 強固無比

I learned this four character aphorism on my building’s elevator last night.

“Incomparable strength and steadiness.”

It can be made into a descriptive verb, too: 강고무비하다. The underlying meaning of this 고사성어 seemed more transparent than most – the dictionary definition given for the aphorism is simply: 비교할 수 없이 굳세고 단단함 (Incomparable firmness and strength).
[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: A Case Study in the Efficient Allocation of Limited Intellectual Resources by a Third Grade Elementary EFL Student

In my low-level TQ cohort, including second and third grade elementary students, we were practicing a very low-level "interview" format, starting with "What is your name?" Beforehand, I had given them formulaic "frames" where they could fill in their answers, and had helped them fill them in.

Teacher: "What is your favorite color?"

David: "I like yellow."

Teacher: "Why do you like yellow."

David: "I like it because chickens are yellow."

… later…

Teacher: "What is yoru favorite animal?"

David: "I like chickens."

Teacher: "Why do you like chickens?"

David: "I like it because chickens are yellow."

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #19

(Poem #44 on new numbering scheme)

Some days feel like things are going well.
Some days start well but end badly.
Some days I dread but end great.
Some days are smooth like glass.
Some days are bumpy.
Some days give joy.
Some days don't.
Some days

– a nonnet

Caveat: Talking Through Britain

I found these two videos rather fascinating – essentially, in both cases the presenters step through discussing various dialects of the British Isles while at the same time reproducing those accents quite well.

I have a difficult relationship with various English language dialects: on the one hand, I find them fascinating and I work hard to be able to tell them apart; on the other hand, I am utterly incapable of consistently reproducing them in a sustained manner, which is weird to me, because I'm actually somewhat able to do something similar with various Spanish dialects. Is it perhaps that my own mother-tongue – Northern California English – is too deeply embedded and thus I can't seem to override it, while with Spanish, since no single dialect is deeply embedded, I'm more able to shift around the dialect space? Or, more likely, perhaps I'm really not that good at doing it in Spanish either, but I'm sufficiently incompetent that I don't realize what I'm doing wrong. 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #18

(Poem #43 on new numbering scheme)

Maybe I am becoming a plant.
Every Sunday I cut my hair.
In the weird fluorescent light,
today, in the bathroom,
I looked at the floor.
the clippings
looked like

– a nonnet

Caveat: umop apisdn

UPSIDE DOWN can be spelled upside down using right way up letters of the alphabet:

umop apisdn. 

Note that this only works if you use a font with a "double-storey" "a" - which is to say, if you use a "single-storey" font like the notorious Comic Sans, or anything in italics, it doesn't quite work: 

*umop apisdn. 

*umop apisdn. 

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #17

(Poem #42 on new numbering scheme)

across the brown,
cream-colored surface
of my morning's coffee,
put there by the blowing wind
exhaled by my electric fan
which perches in my window, bird-like.

– a reverse nonnet

Caveat: Enslaved on an alien planet

HamelsjournalA few weeks ago I finished that book my friend Peter loaned me – Hendrick Hamel's Journal. Essentially, I read it in one sitting – it's not a long book. Peter guessed correctly that the parts I found most interesting were the appendices and footnotes. In general, however, it reads pretty well – it is a remarkable gateway to a truly alien world: a 17th century Dutchman stranded in an even more alien 17th century Korea. Yet I was impressed his remarkable equanimity and his refusal to categorically condemn his captors (indeed they made him a slave, which was the typical fate of foreigners landing in Korea in the period).

I recommend this book even to those without a specific interest in Korea. In some ways, the narrative most resembles those "stuck on an alien planet" tropes common to certain types of science fiction. That, in itself, makes it quite fascinating.

I have often joked that in my long-term residence in Korea, I have "emigrated" to one of those alien planets that so fascinated me when I was younger. This book captures the same idea. Korea of the present day is hardly alien at all, compared to the Korea of that era.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #16

(Poem #41 on new numbering scheme)

Perhaps the ground has dried out too much.
The last rain was a while ago.
So the worm started a trip
across the vast sidewalk,
its goal uncertain.
The sun's so hot.
It wriggles;

– a nonnet
picture[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: Nonnet #15

(Poem #40 on new numbering scheme)

Some say the world is a living thing;
Or that it's a clockwork machine.
But I don't see it that way.
Instead, recursively,
the world gives a proof
of the theorem
that says that
we are

– a nonnet

Caveat: The Mountains of Lower Zhokzonzad and Other Interesting Locations

There is a twitter account that is a "bot" (an automated account that posts content according to a preset program rather than under human direction), called @unchartedatlas. It posts algorithmically-generated fantasy maps. All the objects (features, names, etc.) on the little maps it posts are randomly generated. Some of the maps are quite interesting. 

Mountains of Lower Zhokzonzad
— Uncharted Atlas (@unchartedatlas)

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Nonnet #14

(Poem #39 on new numbering scheme)

Ví que amaneció nublado
pero ya al mediodía
se había convertido
en día de calor.
Una cigarra
allá arriba
me cantó,

– un noneto
[Update: My friend Bob suggested I translate this into English, but retaining the nonnet form. I took the challenge:]

I saw that the morning dawned cloudy
but by the middle of the day
the weather had changed so it
had become a hot day.
Then a cicada
somewhere up there
sang to me

– a nonnet

Back to Top