30 September 2008

A Typical Day

This may be a little boring to some - a recounting of a typical day at work.  I'm writing it just because some of my relatives have requested such a thing several times.  Move along.

7:30 a.m. - Wake up and get ready for work.  It's Tuesday, so a teacher will pick me up to go to 븍.  If it were Monday, Wednesday, or Friday I would just meander on over to 쌍봉 on my own a half hour later.  Thursdays is the other branch school, 쌍암.

8:30 a.m. - Arrive at work after a short drive.  I pull my slippers out of my bag and put my outside shoes up on the rack at the front door.  Most people have cubbyholes, but I don't want to buy a pair of slippers for each school so I bring them with me.  Then I sit down to do whatever I want in the teacher's lounge.  I generally read, study Korean, or fool around on the net.

10:00 a.m. - Class with the third-graders.  At the branch schools, I follow their textbooks, so less preparation is required.  At 쌍봉, I write my own lesson plans based around one-sentence guiding suggestions for the curriculum (that I generally ignore).  Third grade and below do not learn to write, but they do learn English names for things by listening, and sometimes they learn to sight-recognize words.  For example, they will learn to recognize "mother," even if they can't spell it or piece out the letters.  Class lasts forty minutes, and then I have a half-hour break.

11:10 a.m. - Class with the fourth-graders.  These classes out at 븍 and 쌍암 have me teach the entire school each time I am there.  Fourth grade has only seven students, though, so it's no big chore.  They're all farmer's kids, but they are actually more advanced than at my bigger main school of 쌍봉 because of the tiny class size.  They get much more individual attention and breeze through lessons in half the time of a forty-student class.

Noon - Class with the fifth-graders.  They learn more complex things, such as subject-verb agreement and sentence composition.  Really, the level to which they are held is remarkable considering their youth and that it's a very difficult second language.  Of course, the dedication to the program helps a lot: they bring in people like me, for example, and start teaching the language in first grade.

12:40 p.m. - Lunchtime in the cafeteria.  I sit with the other teachers and eat the surprisingly great cafeteria food.  We chat and they teach me bits of Korean; my Tuesdays always net me a bulk of my new words each week, since they are so enthusiastic about helping me.  I have taken to carrying a pen and notepad with me everywhere I go these days, which gets filled with scribblings in Korean and translation notes.

1:50 p.m. - Class with the sixth-graders.  They are starting to get too old to be silly or get too involved with the singing games we do, so I generally am less goofy with them and instead play Cool Foreigner Guy.  It works pretty well usually, and they are pretty dedicated - if a bit less fun.

2:40 p.m. - Class with first and second grade.  This alternates between being very boring and being very fun, depending on what we are doing.  I have to drill them more than the older kids to keep them on task, with lots of repetitions.  Going down a list of words on the board and repeating each one ten times gets very boring, but it gets them used to saying the English pronunciations.  On the other hand, the activities I design tend to be very fun, because otherwise I wouldn't want to do them.  I get to do whatever I want with these grades, since there's no text, so I arrange for guessing games and identification games and whatever else I please.  I talk in goofy voices and dance and make faces and generally cut loose at this point, at the end of the day.

3:20 p.m. - My day is over, so I just do whatever I want until five.  Often my coteacher and I will eat fruit and just chat until it's time to leave.  She's a pretty young newlywed, and is the most adorable damn thing.  She has an infant child, and she picks me up every morning with the most glowingly proud grin which she inevitably explains as a result of her child doing something amazing (like eat a grape).  Today I showed her Facebook and all the people on it.  When she Ruri's photo as x-23, she said with a gasp, "She is asian!  You date!?  So sexy!"

And so that's pretty much it.  It's less busy on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but otherwise it's rather similar.  At least I am able to get a lot of scholarly reading done at work, as I muddle through it, and have a computer and desk and whatnot to fill with paraphenalia.  Good times.

29 September 2008

Reading a Paper, or Why I Am Dumb

Whenever I read through a whole volume of a journal, I am always struck by precisely how enormously uneducated I actually am.  I have barely dipped a toe into the pool of knowledge, and gazing into the depths is almost too wet for my abilities.

Take, for example, "Black Sounds: Hemingway and Duende," by Kristine Wilson at Purdue.  You can even read it for yourself here if you have access to Project MUSE.  It's an immensely fascinating article, exploring Hemingway's Spanish writings through the lens of an esoteric Spanish concept known as duende, which appears to be a unique descriptor for the sense of the arts when they involve moments of the highest passions mixed with the deepest sadness.  It's one of those "impossible to translate" words like the Japanese wabisabi or the English serendipity.

Reading through the paper involves a true flurry of secondary efforts, just to try to bring myself up to speed on the very basic concepts involved.  It is frustrating.  My thought process with this paper ends up going all over the place.

I start on the paper.  Who is Wilson, and what has she done?  I need perspective since I don't recognize the name.  I check out her Purdue page and JSTOR for other referenced works.  Her CV is not up to date, but in combination with JSTOR I locate that she concentrates on feminist critiques but has a very broad range of cross-cultural work, very fitting for a professor of library science.

Now I can read the actual paper once, making checks next to things that need further examination.  I have to print these damn things out in hard copy because of it, and it's the cause of my absurdly full binder of papers in storage right now (pleasebeokaynoroachesnoroaches). 

Right off the bat, she references a pivotal speech given by a major Spanish poet whose name is not in the least familiar - Federico Lorca.  Swell.  So I find the speech by this Lorca in translation, and read through it.  Oh, hey, he lists as a bunch of examples a number of his contemporaries.  What do I know about early-century Spanish authors and artists?  Damn near nothing.  I recognize and understand his Dali references, and I know roughly who the "Generation of '27" are in Spanish history thanks to a marvelous couple of examinations of the Spanish Civil War I read, but I don't know their works anywhere near well enough to get the references by Lorca.  So I log onto ARTstor, a marvelous compilation of extremely high-rez images of paintings and drawings from museums around the world.  Thank goodness I still have login privileges at UT.

So after referencing a bunch of paintings and an hour of examination of the speech, I understand the entire concept of duende.  However, Wilson references a number of Nietzschean concepts.  I've read my Nietzsche, and found it very difficult, but I haven't even brushed past the one she is speaking of - The Birth of Tragedy.  So what is that?  I find it, and read some synopses.  I make a note to read the whole thing soon.  The concepts involved are very familiar ones, since I read some analyses of Greek tragedians when researching background on Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a book which has attracted an Ayn Rand-like following, albeit somewhat more Buddhist in nature).  So "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" are old hat to me, but it seems as though Nietzsche's approach was interesting.

Then Wilson is hitting the hard points about the involvement of duende with the literature.  She moves into bullfighting.  I am such a dilettante when it comes to bullfighting that I can recount only what I have learned from Hemingway study (the picadors, the kill, the toreo, and so on).  But I can scramble through an understanding of her discussion of it, given her excellent treatment of the subject.  And hey, I even know and understand the Paganini and Cezanne references!

Now, of course, she has to get back to making me feel uneducated.  A famous essay by Freud.  Okay, I get the concept, but wouldn't it be expressed more aptly by the later work of Emile Durkheim, in his "On Suicide" look at the notion of "anomie?"  No, I am wrong, it would seem.  Rather different concepts, as I find out once I have tracked down and consumed the Freud essay with associated research into a German text referenced by Freud.

And so on, and so on.  The whole process is far too long to recount here.  But suffice to say I am in continual awe of those pillars of academia who can read through something like this and not spend five hours achieving understanding.

27 September 2008

To the Reft, to the Reft

"How long should I cook this chicken for?"

That was the simple call from my neighbor Shauna, a great girl who lives upstairs and can only cook spaghetti.  She was cooking a chicken for some reason, and had no idea what to do.

I had been planning a quiet Saturday, since all week was pretty hectic at work.  I had gotten up early to watch the debate, but now I was going to hang out and read and listen to music.  Then maybe Sunday I would go for a hike, since the weather has become simply beautiful here.  A cold front came in late in the week, and the air was crisp and cool, lifting the veils of fog on the mountains away like the touch of the groom at a wedding.

But hey, I know how to cook a chicken.  So I pulled on pants, much to my displeasure, and walked upstairs.

Shauna was fussing around in the kitchen with a very pretty Korean girl who was introduced to me as Becky.  Stepping carefully around the enormous jigsaw puzzle that Shauna and I had been assembling over the past three weeks, I greeted Becky and asked what was the deal with the chicken.

As it turns out, they were trying to throw a birthday party for their pal 미나.  They wanted two chickens and mashed potatoes and vegetables and a cake and balloons.  But it was 4:30 and the party was supposed to start at 7:00.  I didn't know exactly when Shauna went completely insane, but apparently it was in full bloom.  She had a tiny stovetop oven that could barely fit one of the chickens, and didn't know where to start.  Becky was not much more help, since she didn't seem to have any notion of how to cook Western-style food like this.

Well, we got into action.  I showed them how to rub down a chicken with some spices, rather than just shoving it in the oven, told them how long to cook it, and got it ready.  Then we got to work on balloons while Shauna started chopping vegetables.  I washed potatoes, then returned so they could be chopped and taped up the balloons around the apartment.  Wendy had tried to tape up some of the balloons, but one of them had popped and she was too afraid to really do any more.

Many preparations later, the place was looking ship-shape and a big meal was done - on time!  A few other people had arrived, some of whom I knew, and I was invited to stay for the party.  I think they felt a little guilty at the prospect of me helping get everything ready and then not attend.  I agreed, since it seemed like it would be fun and the birthday girl, 미나, was reportedly very laid-back and didn't seem like she would mind a new person at the party.

As it turns out, it was a lot of fun.  미나 was good to know, and everyone ate and drank and enjoyed themselves.  Oddly, there seem to be relatively few Americans around Yeosu; there was only one other a party with six foreigners.  Canadians and South Africans, instead.

Afterwards, we went out to a bar called 엘러이, a pretty fun place I have been to a few times already.  It's one of two popular "foreigner bars," so the regulars are either wayguk or else people who want to hang out with wayguk.  We hung out there and drank, and mingled with some people whom I am steadily getting to know.  Really, it's a small city.

When that started to get old, there was some discussion, then a few of us piled into a car and drove twenty minutes north to 슨첸, a slightly larger city inland.  슨첸, you see, has the virtue of superior nightclubs.  And a Korean nightclub was something I wanted to see.

As it turns out, they're pretty awesome.  Well, I thought so anyway.  There are rows and rows of tables, without a bar really, which was unusual.  Harried waiters in glitter-covered suitjackets, lit up by glowsticks in their pockets, ushered people around and served beer and fruit to the tables.  The stage was huge, with big light-works along the back that flashed on and off in patterns or strobed in time to the music.  The music itself changed every two minutes, as the DJ (playing on a turntable lowered from the ceiling) cut into each song to try to seamlessly segue into the next.  They would alternate with a couple of fast dance sessions - everyone out on the dance floor, shuffling and jiving - and then they would do one slow dance.  The slow dances generally had only one or two couples out there, and most people seemed to view them as just changes to rest.

Every half hour or so, they had a floor show on the stage with dancers.  We were there for just under an hour and a half, so I got to see three of them, and they were all different.  The first was just a trio of dancers on the stage, dancing along with perfect synchronicity to the music that was playing.  It was pretty impressive, but they had some amateur rivals in the audience with a group of teenaged "b-boy" dancers who clearly spent way too much time practicing.  The second show was one of the female dancers in a string bikini, dancing to a slower song under a big shower-contraption that they wheeled out onto the stage.  It was pretty damn hot, and a little funny when she put on a frumpy flowered housecoat after the song was over and scurried off the stage, naked butt bobbing.  The third show was a full band of eight people that alternated between either playing songs or pretending to play songs, and they were just okay.

At some point, I just burst out into laughter when I thought about where I was a year ago.  Could I ever have fathomed myself watching a girl shower on stage in a Korean nightclub?  Seems a little far-fetched.  Even now, although I just saw it yesterday.

26 September 2008


Now all the "who won?" crap. I truly wish this nonsense didn't occur... you can't really "win" these things. They're not a football game. They disagree only on a few matters of substance, and both candidates were guilty of stretching the truth or outright lying on multiple occasions (although McCain was rather worse there). What it really comes down to is whose version of reality you buy... which narrative you think is true.

Ah, well, at least I get to watch my mancrush Anderson Cooper in the post-debate analysis.

UPDATE: Well, people seem to be in agreement that Obama "won." So there's that. As usual, partisans all went their own way overwhelmingly, so it's the independents that make the call.

Debate Live Blogging

Counting up the lies or unacceptable exaggerations of each candidate. Sources: WaPo Factchecker, U.S. Budget Access, 538, and me.

"You said there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni."
"[Mullen] did not say that. It's not true."
"Your own advisor, Dr. Kissinger has agreed with me."
"...at one point, while you were focused on Iraq, you said, well, we can muddle through Afghanistan."

"...raise taxes on everyone..."
"...earmarks have tripled in the last five years..."
"Look, we're sending $700 billion a year overseas to countries that don't like us very much."
"...most liberal Senator..."
"This strategy has succeeded and we are winning in Iraq."
"The surge has worked."
"...voted to cut off the funds for the troops."
"...wants to stage military strikes within Pakistan, our ally...

I'm watching this on CNN International, a channel I do not get in my free basic cable package... so Obama is blue.  The sound is perfect, but the video feed is in the negative.

The results so far are not too surprising.  Neither of these guys are very skilled at debating; McCain is not the best speaker to begin with, and Obama tends to express himself in florid sentences that don't make good soundbites.  They are both hitting their talking points, although Obama has been doing better so far thanks to having had more time to prepare (since he didn't put on a circus and fake-suspend his campaign for a day).

McCain is pushing every button he can find, and has been jamming his thumb down on the "Israel" one from the start.  He's counting on the single-issue voters, and getting his message out to them.  For years the Republicans have managed to convince people to vote against their own interests on the basis of emotional single issues - abortion, Israel, gay marriage.  McCain is looking like a typewriter as he tries to portray himself as the wiser superior statesman while hitting every button he can reach. This his continual "Senator Obama still doesn't understand" and "Ahmadinejad has called Israel a 'stinking corpse.'" Buttons, buttons, buttons.

A lot of the pageantry of this bugs me.  I mean, things like the memorial bracelet crap don't contribute to dialogue at all.  They're just gimmicks that tug on the heartstrings of the soccer mom independent (unbelievably enough, a major demographic).

25 September 2008

Disappearing Act

It's been a ballsy week for the McCain/Palin ticket.

As everyone knows by now, America is in the middle of a major financial crisis.  Actually, it seems more appropriate to say crises, since they are arriving on the heels of each fresh disaster.  Huge lending firms like AIG are going out of business, and the administration is pushing a $700 billion bailout for them.  The public is not too happy about this, by and large.  They are inclined, for some strange reason, to blame things on the party that has dominated the whole of government for eight years.  They're just irrational that way.

So naturally, the Dems numbers started going up very quickly.  This is bolstered by the ugly fact that McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, is still an officer with a lobbying firm that is being paid $15,000 a month by Freddie Mac - one of those financial giants in such trouble.  And it is further bolstered by McCain's irrational reaction to the crisis, wherein he initially attempted to deny the real severity of the problem by repeatedly declaring that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," before moving on to loud criticizing of deregulation later in the week.    This last move was a bit awkward, since McCain has actually been a vocal proponent of the very deregulation that led to this crisis.  Even Katie "Softball" Couric was motivated enough to press this one in the face of such a lie!  When Couric seems tough, you know it's pretty weak sauce.

So McCain is attempting a hugely ballsy move, again in this campaign.  The last one was picking Palin, which has turned out pretty badly for him.  Now he's making another play of similar magnitude: he wants recess.  He has announced he is "suspending his campaign," and has declared he is going to go back to Washington.  McCain has also said he wants to cancel the first debate on Friday in favor of delaying it.

Talk about savvy: this is damn smart.  Obama is put into a tough spot, with either choice he makes being ripe for GOP spin.

If Obama agrees, then he has just made McCain the bipartisan leader willing to rise above politics.  Every headline would read "Obama Follows McCain's Lead" or similar, and it would give enormous credibility to this move.

On the other hand, if Obama declines to agree, then McCain can suggest that Obama is putting politics ahead of the people, and try to put himself up on the cross.

However, it sure doesn't seem like it's working.  Things were going too badly for McCain, and he didn't have this kind of political capital with the people on the economy.  With the upcoming debate, it looks instead like he is just running away from his own mistakes and errors.  Obama has rejected the gamble and answered it with a very effective charge, saying that a debate is needed now "more than ever."  Columbia Journalism Review has a great piece about the reporting on this "McGambit," saying:
This move is so transparently political that covering it as a transparent act of politics is pretty much the only approach.
McCain even canceled on his upcoming Letterman appearance, prompting the comedian to joke:
"What are you going to do if you're elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We've got a guy like that now!"
No one's buying this one, Mac. Sorry.

23 September 2008


I've been following this site for a while, but it doesn't seem very well-known outside of a certain set.  So I thought I'd share the site.  I know Lilith at the least will be interested in it.

Fivethirtyeight.com is run by a dude named Nate.  It's named after the number of electors in the electoral college.  And he is some kind of insane statistics wizard.  Since the site's inception, it's been pretty darn accurate with its own unique method of tracking and predicting votes.

They start off with assigning each new poll a weighting.  This means that Zogby Interactive weighs about as much as a feather, while a respected pollster like Rasmussen has a lot more oomph.  Right off the bat, this takes out a lot of the crap we see from "polls of polls," which assign Zogby and Ras the same weight.  Considering how Zogby generally has about as much to do with actual results as reading tea leaves, 538's way makes a bit more sense.

The site also does some kind of regression thing with the data, to account for days without data and trends in neighboring states.  I admit to not understanding exactly how they do this, since their methodology is absurdly complex for an English major, but I'll be damned if the results don't work pretty well.

Then, each day, they run ten thousand simulations.  I'm not kidding... 10,000 simulations of the race, according to their current data.  This gives them a pretty impressively tested dataset each day, with which to guess at future electoral votes.

So if you're interested to know where the race stands, please pay little attention to the national polls, which don't account for the fact that the office is won by virtue of electoral votes on a state-to-state basis.  Check out 538.

22 September 2008

You know a pun is bad when...

...it's so obscure - involving author Mark Halperin and anticoagulant medication Heperin - that you can literally not think of a single person who would get it.

19 September 2008


What I've read in the past couple of weeks:
  • Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy - Pretty good, although I didn't enjoy it as much as Tess of D'urbervilles. Jude was superior in stylistic choices and construction, I have to admit, it just wasn't as smooth.
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nobokov - Read for the umpteenth time. Beautiful and disturbing, it remains one of the best.
  • The Chicago Way, by Michael Harvey - Noir murder mystery. Interesting enough. Sent by my mother.
  • Obama: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell - Written by a Tribune reporter, it has an excellent analysis and history of Obama up to the primary race. Sent by my mother.
  • The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway - Yeah, I'm an addict.
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot - Virginia Woolf's literary criticism was about as ill-founded as T.S. Eliot's when it came to matters of pure excellence, but she was spot-on about the exemplary nature of Middlemarch. Great stuff.
  • Demian, by Herman Hesse - Full of some of the most subtle writing I have seen. Such brilliance as a twofold and conscious set of references to both Dante Alighieri and Dante Gabriel Rossetti seamlessly drawing in their stories and associated themes into the whole... masterful. I am going to have to read the rest of Hesse.
  • Four Saints in Three Acts, by Gertrude Stein - Actually the libretto for an opera, music by Virgil Thompson. Not ready to render a verdict on this one, since I just read and listened to it today.

Behold thy heart.

From Dante's Vita Nuova:
E pensando di lei, mi sopragiunse uno soave sonno, ne lo quale m'apparve una maravigliosa visione: che me parea vedere ne la mia camera una nebula di colore di fuoco, dentro a la quale io discernea una figura d'uno segnore di pauroso aspetto a chi la guardasse; e pareami con tanta letizia, quanto a sé, che mirabile cosa era; e ne le sue parole dicea molte cose, le quali io non intendea se non poche; tra le quali intendea queste: Ego dominus tuus.

Ne le sue braccia mi parea vedere una persona dormire nuda, salvo che involta mi parea in uno drappo sanguigno leggermente; la quale io riguardando molto intentivamente, conobbi ch'era la donna de la salute, la quale m'avea lo giorno dinanzi degnato di salutare. E ne l'una de le mani mi parea che questi tenesse una cosa la quale ardesse tutta, e pareami che mi dicesse queste parole: Vide cor tuum.

E quando elli era stato alquanto, pareami che disvegliasse questa che dormia; e tanto si sforzava per suo ingegno, che le facea mangiare questa cosa che in mano li ardea, la quale ella mangiava dubitosamente. Appresso ciò poco dimorava che la sua letizia si convertia in amarissimo pianto; e così piangendo, si ricogliea questa donna ne le sue braccia, e con essa mi parea che si ne gisse verso lo cielo; onde io sostenea sì grande angoscia, che lo mio deboletto sonno non poteo sostenere, anzi si ruppe e fui disvegliato.

And thinking of her, a sweet slumber overcame me, in which a marvellous vision appeared to me; for methought I saw in my chamber a cloud of the color of fire, within which I discerned a shape of a Lord of aspect fearful to whoso might look upon him; and he seemed to me so joyful within himself that a marvellous thing it was; and in his words he said many things which I understood not, save a few, among which I understood these: Ego Dominus tuus.

In his arms meseemed to see a person sleeping, naked, save that she seemed to me to be wrapped lightly in a crimson cloth; whom I, regarding very intently, recognized as the lady of the salutation, who had the day before deigned to salute me. And in one of his hands it seemed to me that he held a thing which was all on fire; and it seemed to me that he said to me these words: Vide cor tuum.

And when he had remained awhile, it seemed to me that he awoke her that slept; and he so far prevailed upon her with his craft as to make her eat that thing which was burning in his hand; and she ate it timidly. After this, it was but a short while before his joy turned into the most bitter lament; and as he wept he gathered up this lady in his arms, and with her it seemed to me that he went away toward heaven.
Dante met Beatrice when they were both children, and fell instantly in love with her. And while he would marry another and have children, and she would marry another and die young, she became the very soul of divinity to him. He would claim in his autobiography that they only met twice. Once when young, and then nine years later, as she walked through a garden. After that second meeting, he rushed home and fell into a fevered sleep: the above is what he dreamt.

An entire body of the most marvelous works ever to be put to paper, all dedicated to a woman whom he barely knew. What fear must have been in his veins, that he couldn't venture towards her! He was afraid for his heart... he was afraid she would consume it burning and whole.


Things I Like About Korea:

250 mL Cans of Soda.  This amount is the absolutely perfect amount for quenching my desire for an occasional soda.  Initially it seemed small compared to the Western convention of 12 oz, but I find that after 250 mL, I really don't ever want more soda.  And I damn sure don't need a 48 oz Super Gulp.
Cost of Living.  A shopping trip for all my food for the week rarely runs more than $14.  My gas bill is $7 a month, and my electric bill is $15.  Considering my comparably generous pay, I've been able to sock away more than three grand in the bank in only two months.
I Am Foreign and So Therefore the King.  Why yes, small children, bring me water.  Ah, fellow teacher, how nice of you to move that fan over here.  Yes, old woman at the market, I would very much like some free potatoes.  Fear me, tiny Asians, lest I step on thee.
Pretty Girls.  The Korean notion of "fat" is the American notion of "thin."  And I am not exaggerating.  I was out to dinner with a pair of college girls last week, and one of them described herself unlaughingly as fat.  I could have met my thumb and forefinger around her waist.  And plastic surgery is astonishingly common and cheap.  In some ways, it's unfortunate that being a Korean girl is based so much on such superficiality.  But on the other hand: hotness.

Things I Dislike About Korea:

Coffee.  What the hell, people?  Is there just one real coffee machine per city?  Relative to many people, I'm a coffee initiate, but even I know that sucking back on this oversugared instant mix is tantamount to defecating on the altar of the dread god Java.
Uniformity.  There is almost no diversity at all.  As a rule, the only time I see a non-Korean face is when I actively seek out a waygook hangout.  I haven't seen a hispanic person or a black person since I left America, and the culture here is entirely homogenous.  It's disconcerting.
Language Difficulties.  These go beyond the normal difficulties sometimes.  For example, for two whole weeks I was under the impression that sexual harrassment was the norm here, since some male coworkers would grin widely, point at female coworkers, and say, "Ah, you know she is virgin?"  That kind of thing doesn't fly in polite discourse back home.  It took me until this past week to find out that that Korean common parlance doesn't have separate words for "single" and "virgin."  They were actually just saying that the girls were single.
Penis Fascination.  I don't care what the rumor mill says around here, it just ain't cool to lean over and examine me while I'm at the urinal.

15 September 2008

"Roast Beef," excerpted from Tender Buttons, by Gertrude Stein

Tender Buttons was one of Stein's experimental books of poetry, that sought to make old words retain new meaning. My advice is to read it aloud, with your own natural rhythms. The pacing should approximate the pacing of sex between two women, since that is the topic of the poem.

In the inside there is sleeping, in the outside there is reddening, in the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling. In the evening there is feeling. In feeling anything is resting, in feeling anything is mounting, in feeling there is resignation, in feeling there is recognition, in feeling there is recurrence and entirely mistaken there is pinching. All the standards have steamers and all the curtains have bed linen and all the yellow has discrimination and all the circle has circling. This makes sand.

Very well. Certainly the length is thinner and the rest, the round rest has a longer summer. To shine, why not shine, to shine, to station, to enlarge, to hurry the measure all this means nothing if there is singing, if there is singing then there is the resumption.

The change the dirt, not to change dirt means that there is no beefsteak and not to have that is no obstruction, it is so easy to exchange meaning, it is so easy to see the difference. The difference is that a plain resource is not entangled with thickness and it does not mean that thickness shows such cutting, it does mean that a meadow is useful and a cow absurd. It does not mean that there are tears, it does not mean that exudation is cumbersome, it means no more than a memory, a choice and a reëstablishment, it means more than any escape from a surrounding extra. All the time that there is use there is use and any time there is a surface there is a surface, and every time there is an exception there is an exception and every time there is a division there is a dividing. Any time there is a surface there is a surface and every time there is a suggestion there is a suggestion and every time there is silence there is silence and every time that is languid there is that there then and not oftener, not always, not particular, tender and changing and external and central and surrounded and singular and simple and the same and the surface and the circle and the shine and the succor and the white and the same and the better and the red and the same and the centre and the yellow and the tender and the better, and altogether.
EDIT: Edited introduction to better reflect intent, after helpful criticism by a commenter.

14 September 2008


Today was 츠석, the Korean holiday of thanksgiving. Rather than a pseudomemorial to Pilgrims, it is just a general designated day for thanking one's ancestors. I went with my friend 형식 to meet his family. I assumed it would just be a small affair; dinner and a ceremony, something like that.

I was very, very wrong.

He picked me up in the morning with his wife and daughter. His wife is a very pleasant woman, and his daughter is this absurdly adorable little thing with a perpetual grin. And I'm feeling pretty good: this is something new, and it looks like it will be fun. But then twenty minutes after we start out, 형식 tells me that it is good I am okay with sleeping on a mat rather than a bed, since there are no beds at his parents' house in Suncheon. My immediate thoughts were:
  • Wait, we're staying the night? He didn't tell me that... I have only the clothes on my back!
  • Wait, we're going to a different city? Where the hell are we going?
  • If I jump out at this speed, how badly will I be hurt?
I was somewhat less than delighted with this turn of events. It was only because of rather fortuitous caution that I had thought to bring a few extra allergy pills, a fully-charged phone, and a larger amount of money than I ordinarily carry. I told my friend as politely as possible that I wished he had told me about this, since even Americans like to change their underwear. He apologized, of course, and we worked out that we would stop at a small store when we got there to get a few items.

A couple of hours later, we arrive at Suncheon. It's to the north of Yeosu, and it is heavily rural farming country. There are fields of rice and tea, mountains, and ramshackle Korean traditional homes with a few small trading centers with stores and things. 형식's family home is a smallish place by most standards; four rooms and a kitchen, but they have a nice cement courtyard of about the same size, and two long sheds filled with the odds and ends of the mechanically-inclined modern country farmer. When we got there, all of the men were gathered around a small tire, busy patching it (or commenting on how lousy the other guys were doing at patching it). 형식's father and two brothers, as well as two young teenage boys, squatted there and hammered away and shouted at each other as they swabbed rubber cement or pumped air with a battered bicycle pump.

형식 introduced me. I caught a few words, now that I know enough to begin to pick up things. They had already heard about me, I could tell, since they just greeted me and returned to their business, swatting at the tire tread and complaining about the heat (which was considerable). 형식's father was the very soul of a Korean grandfather: tanned almost black, wrinkled, balding, and extremely kind. Minus the balding bit, that also described 형식's mother, for that matter. She was reportedly very nervous, since she had never met a foreigner before and didn't know if I would like the food.

I would come to find that food would be the theme of the weekend. I saw relatively little of the brother's wives and 형식's mother since they spent about 75% of their time in the kitchen. Almost ceaselessly from dawn to the early hours of the morning, they were preparing ingredients (husking, shucking, shelling), or cooking them (rolling, frying, boiling), or serving them out on folding tables. I was not permitted to help. I was not even permitted to clean up. In this highly traditional home, I was the uncomfortable benefactor of male status. It was, of course, impossible to even think of saying anything: that would be seen as an egregious insult against their ancient way of life. But I couldn't help but notice all weekend that the women of the family never got to stop working.

The results of this endless work was a huge amount of food. I mean, we're talking just goddamn ridiculous. Breakfast was rice and a big plate of noodles and a dozen side dishes. Then there was a midmorning snack of fruit and rice cakes. Then there was an early lunch of soup and side dishes and rice, as well as big plates of fish. Then there was an early afternoon snack of clams and conch, which we cooked on an outdoor range and pulled from their shells in the courtyard. Then there was a late afternoon snack of fruit and some kind of potato-ish nut. Then there was an early dinner of all the lunch dishes plus some new ones, and more noodles. Then there was dessert by way of an enormous plate of four different kinds of fruit, peeled and sliced. Then there was a late dinner of two different kinds of fried chicken and beer. And finally, a final plate of fruit and 서즈.

And I had to eat a large amount of each meal. I am not joking or even exaggerating. If anything, this fails to describe the immensity of food. I'm not even counting the three different kinds of teas, juice, and coffee that were also served throughout the day. And given how kind 형식's mother was to me... what could I do? She looked at me with her eyes - almost wholly black, as their natural narrowness has drawn to almost a line with the years of sun - and she would be hopeful and plaintive... I had to keep eating.

During the days, we did numerous things. The kids watched some television, generally tuned to the gaming channel which would play some of the league games of Starcraft with excited announcers jabbering commentary. I hung with the adults, doing many things:
  • We played late-night billiards. Not "pocket pool," but billiards - two white balls and two red balls. It's a much simpler but much more difficult game, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to learn and I picked it up quickly.
  • They taught me 장기, a traditional Korean game that resembles chess vaguely. Everyone gathered around the board while one of the kids and I tried to play a halting game, interrupted at every turn with someone else reaching in and making our move for us or shouting about strategy, laughing as someone suggested something crazy. I still have little idea how to play, since I never could get them to stop horsing around long enough to show me how the pieces move.
  • I taught them blackjack. They had never played it, and so when I saw the deck of cards I decided to teach them. It was easy to do, since I know all the numbers and simple words now. We used 50-won pieces as our money, since we had handfuls of them (they are essentially worthless, like pennies). At first, just the kids played. But after the adults watched for a bit and had learned the rules, they sat down and wanted to play too. I guess it helps to have children to watch make mistakes, since that way you can sit down and pretend it's easy.
  • We opened the gate, strung two clotheslines between the posts, and played volleyball. I hate volleyball at this point, but couldn't say no in this situation. I embarrassed myself at it. Again. But it was a little fun, at least.
So there were numerous things to do, much more than I would have imagined. I am probably too urban, since I was surprised they could find things to do out there.

This morning, we did the actual 츠석 ritual. They carefully wrapped up a plate of their best fruit and a bottle of expensive rice wine, and carried them to a nearby mountain. We climbed it a bit to find their family shrine, which was in fact the grave site of 형식's paternal grandparents. I could tell that the family was all quiet and respectful with some sort of awe - religious or familial, I'm not sure. Essentially, it was a small cleared area, carefully maintained on a little plateau cut into the hillside. In the middle was a tall and round mound, about four feet in height, with a couple of stone tablets in front of it. They carefully plucked up by hand the blades of grass that were growing stray or too tall, and wiped down the tablets with a wet cloth. Then they all did the traditional bow. This is the full-fledged get-on-your-knees-and-put-your-face-to-the-dirt bow. I stood a bit aside and bowed my head, which I reasoned was a way to show respect without being presumptuous. Then they poured out careful glasses of wine, and took turns sprinkling them on the mound gently. They cut up the fruit into small pieces, and scattered them on the mound, whispering things.

And then, almost without interlude, the ceremony was done and we were just on a hill in front of a grass mound rather than at a sacred family site. They drank from the wine and ate the center parts of the fruit, chatting and taking pictures. 형식 pointed out a few things to me in the countryside, such as their family's fields and where he had once lost his cow when he was a child.

The ride back to their home was, in a word, terrifying.

First, let me explain something about Korean driving. They ignore the signs when convenient, drive way too fast down one-lane streets, and very frequently squeeze past each other between buildings with literally an inch to spare. I am not joking at all: one inch. And they do this going 40 mph. Riding with a Korean "safe" driver is like being in the car with the most dangerous driver you can think of in America; riding with someone Koreans consider a "crazycrazy" driver is tantamount to just admitting you will never sleep soundly again.

So when I say the ride was terrifying, this should give you some sense of perspective.

All the kids got in the back of a small truck, and grabbed onto ropes there so they wouldn't bounce out. I, along with 형식 and the brother who wasn't driving, was herded up into the bed of the truck. We stood behind the cab and held onto the cab as he drove. We were going for a tour of the area before going home.

I knew this was dangerous, but I figured that, hey, he's going to go slow. These roads are narrow, broken, and in some places just big slabs of rock haphazardly laid down. Riding inside the car is a jarring experience, and they're not morons.

As it turns out, they are morons. Well, that may be a little harsh, but that's what I thought as I gripped the slipper metal bar of the truck cab until my knuckles turned white, as we roared off.

I don't know how fast 70 km/hr actually is. But a converter tells me that it's a little over 40 mph. At the time, all I knew was that we were going way too fast. And what's more, 형식's brother who was driving thought this was hilarious, and so he would stop suddenly, start suddenly, make fake turns and then swerve the other way, and speed up to about 100 km/hr on the straightaways. It was absolutely insane and incredibly stupid of them. I couldn't help but remember 형식 telling me with chagrin that the biggest cause of death here was car accidents, and how it was a big shame to them. Gee, I thought as I almost slid out of the back of a moving truck, I wonder why that could be?

My palms have bruises across them from my grip on that truck.

In the evening and after a final meal, we said our goodbyes and headed home. 형식 still had to go to the home of his in-laws (and maybe - and this is just a wild guess - have a meal), so they dropped me at the bus station and I caught a ride home.

All in all, an out-of-control, total-immersion, crazy and fun and delicious experience.  And I hate that truck.

11 September 2008

Too Many People Making Sense

There has been a huge amount of Palin news recently. It's either about her, about Obama's "attacks" on her, or about McCain's "defense" of her. And really, who can blame the media? There's a whole series of incredibly compelling and interesting stories in this mess, and the highly controversial issues involved are ones that are ripe for commentary. Despite the whining from both sides of the aisle, the media is actually doing its damn job for once.

Obviously, I'd like it if they were more skeptical of the McCain fairy-tale, where status as a POW means that people should vote for you, even if most of them dislike most of your policies. But they're seriously and carefully analyzing things for the most part. For the past month or so, something like 75% of news articles about the race have looked like slightly reworded press releases, from one campaign or the other. I'm glad to see some work being done.  That number is down to a good 50% or less.

Here are some of my favorite recent articles:

Frank James, Chicago Tribune:
Is Sen. John McCain against kindergartners being taught the difference between good touching and bad touching to protect children from sexual predators?

Or does the McCain campaign really have such a low opinion of Sen. Barack Obama that it actually believes he wanted to have Illinois kindergartners taught all the titillating details of human sexual anatomy.
Elizabeth Holmes and Laura Meckler, WSJ:
Despite significant evidence to the contrary, the McCain campaign continues to assert that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told the federal government "thanks but no thanks" to the now-famous bridge to an island in her home state.
Jack Bookman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Sarah Palin is out on the campaign trail, this time in Ohio, still repeating the lie that she rejected federal funding for that infamous bridge in Alaska.

Andrew Romano, Newsweek Blog:
It's clear what Team McCain is trying to achieve here. They want to portray Palin as the poor little victim of a looming Obama-media industrial complex that's "out to get her" just because she's a woman. They want to insulate their veep pick from any real opposition by equating valid journalistic inquiries and good hard politicking with the sort of anonymous smears that have spread online. They want to gin up sympathy for her among female swing voters who have faced improbable odds in their own lives
.Ruth Marcus, Washington Post:
Come on. I’ve covered a lot of incredibly trivial and ridiculously hyped campaign controversies, but the McCain campaign’s feigned outrage over Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” comments has to take the cake. I mean, no offense to bakers.
And in a rare insightful column, Joe Klein, Time:
Democrats do have the facts in their favor. Polls show that Americans agree with them on the issues. The Bush Administration has been a disaster on many fronts. The McCain campaign has provided only the sketchiest policy proposals; it has spent most of its time trying to divert the national conversation away from matters of substance. But Americans like stories more than issues. Policy proposals are useful in the theater of presidential politics only inasmuch as they illuminate character: far more people are aware of the fact that Palin put the state jet on eBay than know that she imposed a windfall-profits tax on oil companies as governor and was a porkaholic as mayor of Wasilla.

It's been popular for opponents to claim that the media has handled Obama delicately and refused to vet him.  And in fact, it's true that he has gotten less flack on things like the Rezko scandal.  In case you're unaware, this was a messy business for Obama that occured when there was an appearance of impropriety from a corrupt Iranian real estate magnate's suspiciously generous price on a piece of property.  It caused Obama a lot of problems for some months, early in the primaries.  People still try to bring it up occasionally.

Do you know why that charge has stopped sticking, despite how many times McCain surrogates throw it out there? Limbaugh mentions it religiously, as if reciting accusations of corruption in a mantra will make the incident to become more than the appearance of misconduct, blossoming into full-fledged corruption.  It's a sticky and messy scandal, and Obama was clearly wrong on the matter.  So why doesn't it work?

It's because early in the campaign Obama sat down with a room full of Chicago reporters, and literally promised to answer every question they had about Rezko. He admitted flat out to them that it was a "boneheaded decision."  And he answered every question. Thereafter, the reporting was done. Since then the charge doesn't stick because the story is over and Obama dealt with it as thoroughly as anyone could have.  It was, in fact, one of the most Presidential things I've seen him do.  He took a big story, dealt with it, and forced the media to move on.

It's not even a question of morality; his deft action didn't make him less mistaken.  It's a question of ability.  The media can only keep writing stories about a single event as long as there is a story.  Obama didn't deny it and didn't duck it: he made them write the story and then it was done.  There weren't any "Obama Dodges Rezko Questions Again" stories.

McCain/Palin have taken the opposite tact.  For two weeks since the announcement, Palin has ducked the media.  She has literally given her first interview since becoming vice-presidential nominee fourteen days after the nomination.  And the Republican campaign has been relentlessly pushing their story of the vicious Obama-loving media unfairly beating up on Average Sarah.  It's worked a lot in the past, but I think they're pushing it just too far this time.  There's not enough noise in the air right now: too many people are making sense.  It won't pay off.

10 September 2008

I need advice.

So here is my conundrum:  my fellow native speaker, Jamie, is leaving on November 4th, a day approaching soon.  At that point, 상벙 will not have a teacher for their upper English classes.  I can't do those, since I am already teaching the lower classes and going to two other schools.

Now, I am offered the option to make a change when she leaves.  I can either continue my schedule as before, and they will find another native speaker to cover the upper classes, or else I can alter my schedule and spend all my time at 상벙 and stop going to the other two schools.

The latter holds a lot of attraction.  By just going to the one school, it would simplify everything immensely and make my life much easier when it comes to planning lessons.  The other two schools only have me, so I am teaching all English classes right from the text.  This is in contrast to at 상벙, where I am teaching the extra "discretion courses" of my own creation.  It's diverse and crazy.

But on the other hand, I like spending time at the other two schools.  They're small and a lot more intimate, some of the teachers are a lot of fun, and I'm developing a close rapport with the students that isn't possible at 상벙.  These schools have six or seven students to a class, whereas 상벙 has thirty or forty; it's an entirely different experience.

Ping-ponging back the other way, though, I should admit that I would probably do an overall better job if I was only at 상벙.  I could be consistent and devote more time to planning.  That might be better, too.

I am honestly unable to decide.  This rarely happens, even with big things.  Some advice would be welcome.

Goddamn life lessons

I dislike making a fool of myself, so it was with trepidation that I went to pay my electric and gas bill today.  You can do both from central bank locations.  The only problem is that I arrived at the one in my area via a circuitous car ride from a friend; I didn't know where the damn place was.  And in Korea, they don't use street names at all, so I couldn't find it that way, even though I knew the address.  And I don't know enough of the language yet to get directions.

How, I wondered, could I conceivably find this place without making an ass of myself?

Aha!  I will take a cab.  The taxi will find the place immediately and with absolute disregard for human life: the perfect solution.  I could pay attention on the way there, and learn the route (two miles down the street, turn right at the shattered bodies that have been crushed by a cab, cross the street...)  Everything would be solved.

The only problem was that I was unwilling to do this.  If I took a taxi to every place that was unfamiliar, I would be broke at this point.  They're cheap, but not that cheap.

No, I would have to be willing to look like a tool.

So I thought, "The hell with it" and took to the street.  I asked the first idling old lady I saw where the place was, pointing at the address I had written down.  And sure enough, she pointed and gestured: down the street, to the left.  Of course, that could mean two miles down the street... or twenty.  No way to know, since I couldn't catch any numbers in her instructions.  I can count in both of their number systems now, but that doesn't do me a lick of good if the people don't use them.

Still, I figured it would be silly to give up immediately.  I crossed the street, went to the end of the block... and there was the damn bank.  Down the street and down the block, marked with a huge sign.

And it was only then that I realized what an enormous ass I would have looked like, taking a cab. I had to be willing to go out on that limb.  It's a goddamn life lesson, is what it is.

05 September 2008

First Real Week of Teaching

So my first real week of teaching was, in a word, bizarre.

I already related how I spent my first day essentially doing nothing. I hammered out my schedule and planned a little, but I had no classes. From nine to five, I sat there and diddled around with my computer or chatted with my co-workers. Not the most strenous experience.

Tuesday was my first day at 븍, however, and I didn't know what to expect. The school is larger than 상암, but not anywhere near as big as 상벙. What would this mean to me, as their only 원아민산상님 ("native-speaker-teacher")?

As it turns out, the school had different plans than I ever could have imagined. As soon as I got to the place, I was herded stright onto a big rumbling bus already packed full of kids, and handed a nametag. I soon discovered that the school paid for some new students (and in my case, new teachers) to go on a tour of the city to see some of the landmarks. Two other 원아민산상님 were there as well as some Korean teachers and forty kids. I was partly a teacher - helping out with crowd control, scolding them, helping with translations - and partly a new student, looking at where we were going.

We went to some places I had already been, such as 어덩다 ("Odongdo," a large seaside park and parade ground), but also several places that were new to me. I had been wanting to see 진남갼 ("Jinnamgwan") for weeks, since it was one of the most famous places here. For centuries, it was the seat of Korea's naval authority, and housed the ever-famous Yi Soon Shin (whom they worship in Yeosu). As it turns out, the original building was destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times, and right now it's just a roof on some supporting poles. Kind of a letdown. But very historical, so I felt educated when I went to the mini-museum with its tiny animatronic representations of battles between the virtuous Korea and scandalous Japan.

Another place we visited was Ocean Park (I didn't catch the Korean name for it), which memorialized Hendrick Hamel, a Dutch sailor. Hamel and his crew had been sailing to Nagasaki when their ship was caught in a storm. They were shipwrecked in Korea, and held prisoner for fourteen years thereafter. The last four of those years were in Yeosu, and it was from here that he and his crew eventually escaped by stealing a boat. Back in the Netherlands, he wrote and published his diary of his imprisonment - the first time Europe had ever learned of Korea. Modern-day Yeosu has thanked him by putting a small representation (50% of actual height) statue at the spot where he escaped, and hails it as a tourist attraction.

I'm not sure how many people grasped the irony that they were memorializing and lauding their people's unjust imprisonment of this man. C'est la vie.

Wednesday, Thursday, and today I have spent actually finally teaching some classes. I have adopted essentially the same approach with every class, with the only difference being changes in some of the levels of complexity. I introduce myself, draw a map of America and indicate Florida, tell how tall I am ("Whooooooaaaah!" from all students), and tell my age. Then I field some questions. Without exception, I am asked if I have a girlfriend, what sports I like, and what food I like. I throw out whatever Korean I happen to know about given things, which impresses them and makes them hesitant to talk about me while I am right there. Gotta keep them in line. Luckily, I know many food words and pronounce them very well. And finally, I have them all introduce themselves with a few English phrases ("My name is _____. It is nice to meet you.")

After that, it's your standard "What I Did Over Summer Vacation" thing. I take their answers and have them speak in sentences, etc, etc. Throughout the whole of the class, they giggle and point at me.

At 상벙, my home school, I teach first through fourth grades. But at the other two schools, I teach all grades. In fact, I teach every student. I have found that first and second grades are impossibly rambunctious unless you get them on the right track by making them seek approval. Whenever a student in those classes answers a question in correct English, I pull a goofy face, raise their arm up, and declare in a funny but impressed voice, "The winner!" Halfway through class, they had stopped horsing around and were paying intense attention, hoping to be the next one declared the winner. I felt some pride at figuring this out until I recalled that they were in the first grade, and perhaps that wasn't setting the wit bar very high.

Next week I will have to begin on the curriculum. I have outlines of vague concepts I am supposed to follow, but otherwise it's up to me. It will be a relief to have a course to follow, since flying by the seat of my pants is getting old.

01 September 2008

On an adventure

Well, today was the first day of the school year proper. I have spent literally the entire damn day doing nothing but surfing the Net and haphazardly staring at Korean vocab lists. Because it's introduction week, it was a half day and I have no classes here at 상벙, but I still have to be here all day.

Instead, 형식 and I spent the day mostly working out my schedule. It's difficult, since every teacher wanted to change it around a little. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I will be at 상방 - which is nice, because it's five minutes away from my place and I like it the most. Because I'm the junior English teacher to Jamie, I will be teaching the lower grades for a few months until she departs. I have first through fourth grades, teaching each class once per week. Tuesdays I will be at 북 and Thursdays I will be at 상암, but I really don't mind it since they have teachers picking me up every week. I don't even have to sweat trying to figure out the bus. That's very good, since working out the schedule of the express bus to Seoul took me like two hours.

I have 22 hours of teaching each week, my living expenses are about $60.00 a week (electricity, gas, and food), and I'm socking away a big chunk that I can use to travel. And I'm in what appears to be the most gorgeous city in a gorgeous country, learning a new language and a huge variety of new skills. I'm on an adventure, as my friend May recently and succinctly put it.