Tuesday, July 22, 2014

jury-rigged solutions

A colleague who lives in my building told me he'd be off with his fiancée for a while. He asked me to take care of his plant while he was away (I think he's gone until August 13). Since I myself have been traveling to Seoul (I was there last week and am going again, for a few days, as of tomorrow), this made it necessary for me to think of a way to keep the plant alive in my absence. The soil in which the plant sits is very loosely packed; water runs right out of it, which is nice insofar as the plant's roots will never drown in too much water, but which is inconvenient since the loose soil dries all too quickly. My colleague said the plant could afford to "starve" for a day or so; it's wilted before, according to him, and has bounced right back upon re-watering.

Last week, when I went to Seoul, I simply over-watered the plant and left the rest to God. That seemed to work fine, since I was in Seoul for only a few days. This time, however, I'll be in Seoul for the better part of a week, interviewing and teaching, and I doubt the plant can survive too long of a dry spell. So the practical question was and is: how can I make a watering system that will work in my absence? Such a system would have to drip the water very slowly into the plant's pot so as not to flood it. I went online and looked up "dripper for plants," which led to the correct term for such a device: a DYI drip-irrigation system. There are plenty of photos and videos for how to make a DYI-DIS; human cleverness is on full display. After some trial and error, I chose the design that seemed most sensible to me—not to mention simple in an Occam's Razor sort of way.

Behold (hover cursor over image for explanation):

The rate at which the water leaves the soda bottle is determined by how tightly you screw on the cap. Screw it on too tight, and no water will leave at all. Too loose, and you flood your plant. Finding just the right degree of tightness took some effort, but I finally found it, and the system seems to be working well. As long as the plant's soil remains moist while I'm gone, I think the plant will be in no danger of drying and dying.

The Internet is, I must say, an amazing resource for getting things done. It's like one gigantic how-to manual, and has certainly become, over the past couple decades, humanity's brain trust. I needed a DIY drip-irrigation system for my colleague's nine-pound weakling of a plant, and poof—there were the instructions on how to build one.


good news

So it seems Dongguk University is going to be flexible about the documents issue. I managed to obtain the paperwork that DU wants, and will be bringing it to the interview tomorrow. It's not exactly what the uni asked for, but it'll work at least provisionally until the actual paperwork arrives and resolves everything. So I don't have to go into tomorrow's interview nervous that my papers aren't in order. This is in large part thanks to the friendly nature of the Dongguk-based lady I've been working with. She seems very accommodating.

On the Golden Goose front: I just got word that the company finally wants to see my résumé. My contact at GG tells me that there may be a way to push and get me into the company, despite Certain Uncontrollable Circumstances that aren't exactly militating in my favor. So in effect, I've still heard nothing absolutely definite, but this news is another step in the right direction. As much as I'd like to work at Dongguk, if I get an offer from GG first, I'm grabbing it: it's my lifeline to a much, much better financial future. If I were to jump to a salary of W5 million a month, things would instantly start to improve, financially speaking.


my buddy makes the news

If you read French, you might be interested in this article from the online La Nouvelle République about my friend Dominique Docoulombier and his new bed-and-breakfast, La Demeure du Marais, which I referred to earlier. I've been friends with Dominique since we met as high schoolers in 1986—my first-ever trip to Europe. I stayed a month in France on the Nacel "exchange" program (Nacel actually does non-simultaneous exchanges: one kid gets hosted by a family one year, then the other kid is hosted by the first kid's family the following year) and became fast friends with Dom and his family. More than friends, really: I think of the Ducoulombiers as actual family.

Bravo, Dominique!



Lowest weight ever: 125.2 kilograms (approx. 276.1 pounds).

Tonight's walk: 14,672 steps.

All right, that's not my lowest weight ever. When I was born, I was eight pounds exactly, and I doubt I'll ever get back down to that weight. After I came back from a year of living, studying, and hiking in Switzerland, I was in great fighting shape at 90 kg, almost unrecognizable to my mother, but I slowly regained weight during my senior year back in DC. No more trails to hike, no more awesome mountain vistas that inspired my legs to push me farther and farther. Nothing to impel me to make the effort to get out and about. I sat around our senior-year apartment playing Nintendo and watching videos.

Anyway, at my most bovine, I was slightly over 300 pounds, or 136.1 kg. I'm 11 kg down from that precipice, and still backing away from the edge. It's quite likely, at this point, that I have both hypertension and diabetes, so what I'm doing now is rather important. If or when I move back to Seoul, I want to get even more serious about exercise, and might even hit up my friend Sperwer for some strength-training tips. I have no designs on becoming a bodybuilder like Sperwer, but getting generally thinner, stronger, faster, and more flexible would be nice. This will mean a radical lifestyle change, which I'm not looking forward to, but I have to believe it'll be worth it. Otherwise what's the point, right?


Monday, July 21, 2014

good and bad news

Dongguk University called me back and invited me to interview, so I've made it that far along in the process. The interview is scheduled for this coming Wednesday, so I'll be heaving my ass back to Seoul on that day, arriving around noon and interviewing on campus at 2:30PM. Since I have to teach in Yeouido on Saturday, I've decided simply to stay in Seoul for the week, starting on Wednesday and coming back to Hayang on Sunday.

Unfortunately, Dongguk sprang a bombshell on me: there's more paperwork that I need to bring, physically, to the interview with me. I have some of it, but I don't have all of it. This is a potential problem, as the email I received today said, "No paperwork? Disqualified." So I'm in communication with Dongguk staff via email, trying to determine how flexible Dongguk can be on this point. I don't want to go all the way to Seoul just to end up disqualified because of a mere clerical issue. Here's hoping the university is flexible.


other travel companions

Tonight, I met two different travel companions. One was a new species of giant beetle—not quite a stag beetle and not quite a rhinoceros beetle. The horn on this thing is intriguing; if you know what type of beetle this is, write in and tell me. My other companion was, as mentioned previously, a huge earthworm. It was about a foot long—you'll see the foot/worm comparison below. I ended up throwing the worm into the soil to save it an arduous trip across the asphalt. The little bastard struggled in my hand while I was trying to carry it, flopping out several times because I was holding it loosely, not wanting to crush it in an overly strong grip. At one point, I was tempted to tie the thrashing worm into a square knot, but I decided not to. Some creatures are just too ignorant to know what's good for them.

The beetle:

The worm and my foot (size 11):



I've long wanted to take the following picture, which says so much about Korean culture:

The above is an ad—stenciled onto a wall like graffiti—for a fried-chicken place called Gyochon Chicken. It's not a bad joint, as chicken restos go, but leaving an ad this way—by stenciling it onto a wall like fucking graffiti—is so hilariously out of bounds that I had to get this shot. I can't imagine such marketing in America; if the stenciler ever got caught, his ass might very well be arrested or shot. In Korea, though, you don't need to care about other people's property, so stencil away! You also don't need to care that much about law enforcement, because... well, what law enforcement, right? It's a free country! In some ways, anyway.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

how the French measure their beds

In America, when we measure anything rectangular—like, say, a bed—and wish to transmit the dimensions of that rectangular thing to someone else, we normally give two dimensions: a king-size bed that's 76 inches wide by 80 inches long (or, 76" x 80"), for example. In France, as it happens, that's not always the case, and I didn't know this until just yesterday, when I was working on translating some French website text to English for an old French buddy of mine. In France, when you talk about bed sizes, you give only one dimension: the width. Why? Because most adult human beings are roughly the same height, so why even talk about the length of the bed? It'll always be around two meters.

This buddy, Dominique (whom I've blogged about many times before—see here, for example, but his kids have grown up since then), has made a radical life-change, going from prole in a German company to co-owner, with his wife, of a bed-and-breakfast near the west coast of France, in a region near Nantes called le marais poitevin, which translates roughly to the Pictavian [or Poitevin] Marsh, i.e., a marsh located in the Poitou area (Poitiers is the capital city of Poitou, an old French province). The words marsh and swamp don't sound anywhere near as pleasant or appealing as le marais does (fen, more of a UK-English word than an American one, sounds admittedly classier), so I told Dom that I'd leave that untranslated to add some francophone cachet to the English-language section of his B&B website.

Here's a look at the website for Dom's bed-and-breakfast. It's still under construction—the website, that is, not the B&B—and it'll be a while before the English version of it makes an appearance, but some of us are working behind the scenes to make it all happen. Dom's parents, who are retired and who have sold their old house in Carquefou (itself something of a castle, and a place I've known well since I was a teen), have been helping him and his wife Véronique prepare the property, called La Demeure du Marais,* for visitors; in fact, they've already had several customers thanks to other forms of online advertising (see here).

There hasn't been much translation work for me to do, but discovering cultural differences like the one-dimension-versus-two-dimensions issue has been fun. I wish my buddy good luck with this entrepreneurial effort—undertaken in the midst of all the craziness that comes with having four growing kids, ranging in age from elementary school to college. It's a beautiful region and a gorgeous piece of property. I hope to visit one day.

*Literally, "the dwelling on the marsh" or "the swamp dwelling." The word demeure means dwelling or abode. By extension, it can also mean castle, i.e., a fortified dwelling. I suggested to Dominique that, if he wanted to render his place's name in English, he could go British and call it something like "Fendwelling" or "Fencastle," although that might be too fanciful and/or archaic and/or pretentious—not to mention the problem of a "fen dwelling" being associated with the abode of the monster Grendel in the epic Beowulf, and the problem that the word castle might evoke a literal castle in the minds of low-IQ tourists.



My barber, Ms. Eom (pronounce it somewhere between "Awm" and "Um"):

I went for my final session with the cheapest barber in town yesterday. She's quick; she does the same haircut for all the guys; she complains about the customers who can't speak Korean; she's got a raging southern accent that rakes across my ears and makes her extremely hard to understand. I'm proud if I catch even a third of what she's saying to me.

Most of the salons and barbershops in town charge around W10,000 for a standard cut; Ms. Eom charges W8,000. She had been recommended to me by a colleague who goes to her routinely, and I quickly became a believer. Despite her pushy-ajumma exterior, Ms. Eom is a nice lady; the past few sessions, she's complimented me on my perceived weight loss, which is awfully nice of her (it would be too much to expect Koreans not to call attention to my weight at all, so focused are they on externals). And she really is quick: I doubt I've ever spent more than ten minutes, tops, at her place. That's how all barbers should be.

I wanted to take her picture before leaving, just something to remember her by, but she refused. Instead, she said we could connect via KakaoTalk, and her Kakao profile would contain pictures. That's where the above image comes from.

So—goodbye, Barber-ella! It's been real. Not sure I'll ever come back to Hayang, but we'll always have KakaoTalk.



My brother David is married but has no kids. I think he's waging some sort of campaign to prevent me from becoming an uncle. As a result, he doesn't bore me with an endless avalanche of kid photos; all he's got is his faithful dog Penny, whom I blogged about before. Here's a particularly cute shot:

Penny is a mix of Border Collie and boxer. Apparently, she's gotten a bit aggressive as she's matured, so David advises his guests not to look her in the eyes for the first fifteen minutes of their visit, otherwise she might challenge the guest and possibly bite him or her. I wonder whether Penny remembers me and my smell; I haven't seen her since she was much smaller. I wonder if, failing to remember my smell, she might sense the fraternal connection between me and David. It didn't work for my brother Sean, who almost got bitten at one point. That's all been smoothed out now, according to David; Sean and Penny have had no more problems, not since adopting the "no eye-contact" strategy.

Penny is undeniably cute, and I personally never saw her act aggressively—except once, and at that moment, she was obviously being playful. Penny plays rough, according to David. Sean has brought his tiny chihuahua, Maqz, over a couple times, and I suspect Maqz is a bit afraid of Penny. Despite being much younger, Penny is about three times Maqz's size.

She strikes me as a "people" dog. I can imagine Penny howling along with the partiers during David's frequent barbecues. There was a BBQ during the World Cup; I heard that Penny behaved herself just fine. It's actually hard to imagine her being anything but nice and gentle and playful; I never really saw her acting otherwise.

I kinda' miss her.


"...one small step for a man..."

This happened on July 20, 1969, about a month before I was born:


Saturday, July 19, 2014

nighttime travel companions

On my nightly campus walks, I often run across some interesting fellow travelers. Here's one:

I couldn't even begin to tell you what kind of beetle this is, but it's huge. It reminds me of the gas-farting, fire-breathing super-scarabs from "Starship Troopers." When I tapped on its shell a couple of times, it reared up in a very recognizable Wanna fight? posture. I left it alone. Here are some more shots of it—a front view, then my hand for scale (hover your cursor over the images to see the captions):

I've written about my travel companions before. If I get a chance to take a pic of the tailless cat, I will. I've also run across a few gargantuan earthworms, each almost a foot in length. I might not see those worms tonight: they normally hit the asphalt immediately after a rain, when the soil is too waterlogged for them to breathe. Then again, one or two adventurous annelids might be out there, squirming their way to parts unknown. We'll see.

ADDENDUM: Well, I decided not to take a walk tonight. I had already racked up nearly 5,000 steps earlier in the day (had to go get a haircut), so skipping out tonight won't hurt my overall average much. No cat or worm sightings to report, as a result.


another day

I've watched the final episode of "24: Live Another Day," which finishes, like the finale of Season 5, on an open-ended note, with Jack being carted away by an enemy. There were some satisfying moments of violence and vengeance, some ridiculously implausible moments (involving bladed weapons), and some moments of genuine pathos and tragedy. William Devane, as an Alzheimer's-stricken President Heller, deserves special mention for his heartfelt performance; at times, he evoked the smarts, dignity, and integrity of President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), and through Devane's portrayal, the presidency became great again.

Jack finally lets himself be captured by the Russians at the end of the show, and the last scene gives us Jack in a helicopter, on his way from England to Moscow for what is sure to be a long, long session of torture. Will the Russians break Jack as the Chinese could not? The door is open for a tenth season of "24"; a lot can happen.

Thankfully, this truncated season featured not a peep from perennial annoyance Kim Bauer, Jack's daughter as played by the ever-luscious Elisha Cuthbert. Cuthbert is undeniably hot, and she can act, so the "annoyance" issue isn't really her fault: it's just the way her character was so often unnecessarily shoehorned into the plot (e.g., the much-mocked "mountain lion" scene). Kim's absence was welcome, and there's also this: her character is now a mother, which is an unpleasant reminder that Jack Bauer is a granddad.

The Brits come off looking terrible this season: incapable, untrustworthy, and always too late to do the right thing—not to mention conspicuously absent while the American CIA runs rampant throughout their sovereign land. I felt bad for Stephen Fry, a fantastic actor who played the mostly hapless and feckless Prime Minister Alastair Davies, a man always offering to help when no help can be given. "Our country owes you a great debt," says Davies to an American at several points throughout the series. I can only imagine actual Brits watching Season 9 and throwing food at their TVs. England, this season, was little more than America's fifty-first state—a mere backdrop for the business-as-usual action. Not that that action was uninteresting, mind you: it wasn't. But I came away feeling that Old Blighty had been underused, not to mention betrayed by the series's filmmakers.

Still, "24" was watchable as always, the de rigueur implausibilities and silliness notwithstanding. I'm sad to see it go, yet again, and can only hope the writers have enough brain-juice left to produce a decent tenth season.


Friday, July 18, 2014


As a teacher at Sookmyung Women's University, I used to brag on this blog about my high evaluations at the end of every semester. It was a bit rocky that very first semester in 2005, but I still managed a 90 average. It was rocky again in late 2006 or so, when our center director decided to go crazy with her twisted notion of content-based instruction; the students absolutely hated the courses we taught that semester, and they vented their frustration by giving us all fairly low (85-ish) ratings. But for the most part, my evals ranged from 95% to 99%—near-total satisfaction with my teaching. I loved my kids; my kids loved me, and I was the highest-rated foreign teacher in our department.*

Not so here at DCU. The teaching of required courses to largely unmotivated students has been a year-long uphill battle, and while I'm in no mood to divulge my actual eval scores, I can say with confidence that, in my time at DCU, my scores have been significantly lower than those from my storied past. I'm not the legend here that I was there.

What's interesting, though, is that the database in which my evals are recorded also has an extensive sampling of student comments, and except for the one class I hated (my Thursday 3PM class full of lazy kids; the feeling was mutual), almost all the comments I received were either praise or high praise. So at some point, I'm going to put those comments up on the blog, both good and bad, with my responses interpolated among them. Stand by for that.**

*There was a teacher who had consistently higher ratings: a plump, happy Korean woman who taught Chinese. But she taught Chinese by speaking mostly in Korean, which I think is why her students connected so well with her. Had she pushed her students to think and speak in Chinese, I doubt the warm-fuzzies would have been at quite that level.

**I got back to Hayang around 7:15PM this evening, and after resting at home for a bit, I headed over to the faculty office to check on my evals, which hadn't been available on Monday or on Tuesday—the days I had been told the evals would be available.


au revoir, Séoul

Sadly, I'll be leaving Seoul in two hours. I had a good time while I was here; this trip just fuels the desire to move back to the city I consider my second home. Happily, I'll be back here next weekend to teach an all-day class for KMA; that's extra income I can use.

I think I accomplished most of my agenda while here. I did my major errands on the first day I arrived, visiting Sookmyung Women's University, obtaining an employment-history voucher, and zipping over to Dongguk University to drop the voucher off and complete my application. That same evening, I sat down for dinner and a meaningful talk with another potential employer. Got positive vibes, but nothing definite. Here's hoping that Dongguk calls me back for an interview, and here's hoping I have the money to get back to Seoul a third time so I can knock 'em dead. I also got most of my KMA-related to-do list done; there's only one list item left, and I'll finish that over the next few days.

Life was entertaining, too, during my stay. I made the discovery of Gwangjang Market, which is quite a little palace of wonders, a midget version of the much larger, more freewheeling Namdaemun Market just up the street a ways. Got myself some much-needed deodorant as well as a large bag that will be useful when the time comes for me to move back up north. Saw my old buddy Tom, ate dinner with him twice, and laughed along with him as we watched a big, bearded white guy get accosted by police in Jongno for singing Bruno Mars covers while playing guitar. The busker, busted.

Enjoyed my yeogwan, too, with much thanks to a DCU colleague of mine who had recommended it. Sorry for the lack of pictures; you'll just have to imagine the place, which was light years better than the pube-riddled dive I'd been staying in previously. The new yeogwan was W5000/night more expensive, but the expense was worth it: the digs were cleaner, roomier, and better furnished. Every night's sleep was a good night's sleep. I couldn't have asked for more (except maybe for decent Wi-Fi).

And the people of Seoul! Friendlier. More open. My Korean was complimented by several taxi drivers, and some of the market ajummas greeted me with sunny smiles and said, "Come back again!" Seoul really felt like home. It's been good to be back, and it's sad to have to leave.

On my next visit, I might drop by and see my relatives, whom I haven't seen in years—not since before Mom's death. Such a visit might be a bit awkward, but it needs to be done, and it's about time I did it. They live in Karak-dong, in the southeast part of Seoul, not far from all the Olympic facilities in Jamshil and the huge Olympic Park. Much to do, much to see, much to relearn. As always, the future beckons.

For now, though... it's back to humble Hayang.


Thor's Day

Thursday saw me going to KMA a second time to complete my list of tasks. By 3PM, I had done everything except for one list item, which I'll complete once I'm back in Hayang.

My dinner date had canceled on me, which was no big loss, so I hit Dos Tacos with my friend Tom and we gorged on a decent Tex-Mex dinner-- Tom with his shrimp burrito and yours truly with a Chipotle-style carne asada burrito bowl. I had wanted to visit Krispy Kreme to grab a pile of doughnuts to take back south with me, but Tom insisted on ice cream, so we visited the ball-shrinkingly pink interior of the local Baskin Robbins. I got a pint of chocolate mousse; Tom, white boy that he is, got a cherry/vanilla combo.

Before dinner, I explored Gwangjang Market, with which I had little familiarity despite having lived and worked for a year in the Jongno area back in the 1994-95 school year. It felt like a scaled-down, more orderly version of the gleeful capitalistic chaos that is Namdaemun Market, just a short taxi ride away. Still, Gwangjang Market has its charm, and enough nooks and crannies to keep the curious entertained for several hours. There's a little bit of everything there: clothes, food, flatware, and all manner of assorted knickknacks.

I bought one of my guilty pleasures while I was at the market: chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. I also found a lady who sold armpit deodorant, which is a true bitch to find in South Korea. Finally, I bought myself a large, cheap bag to act as a duffel when I do finally move back to Seoul.

I ended up being under 10,000 steps on Thursday, but I was pretty close to my goal at about 9,200 steps. As I mentioned before, you do a lot of walking in Seoul; it's an inevitable fact of existence here.

Friday afternoon, I go back "home," a term I use advisedly. Hayang and Daegu have never really felt like home the way Seoul had and still does. The moment I hit Seoul, I felt bien dans ma peau, as the French would say: comfortable in my skin. Talking and laughing with taxi drivers was easy again; there was no more struggling to understand that goddamn southern accent and its perpetually annoying, Japanese-style intonation. Navigating Seoul was easy, too, as I know the city well, despite the changes that have occurred in my absence. This is home. It's where I want to be.

With no Tom to sidetrack me on Friday afternoon, I might just swoop by Krispy Kreme and grab those coveted dog nuts.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

the walking I do in Seoul

I thought I would be well under my pedometer's 10,000-step goal while in Seoul, but I'd forgotten how much walking a person has to do just to go from place to place, even with the aid of public transportation or cabs. Simply transferring from one subway to another involves at least a kilometer or two of walking, especially if you're transferring at a huge subway station like Jongno 3-ga.

So in spite of myself, I'm getting plenty of exercise merely by being in Seoul-- enough to keep my daily average over 10,000 steps. Crazy.


at KMA

A very quick post to say I've been at KMA, in trendy Yeouido, since this morning. I've been given an entire auditorium in which to work quietly on some KMA-related tasks. I'll be leaving around 5PM and meeting my buddy Tom for dinner. Alas, the mystery-shopper thing fell through, so Tom and I will be going Dutch—probably at a chicken place near my yeogwan.

Yesterday was appropriately hectic, given my two major errands and my dinner appointment. I successfully retrieved the employment voucher from Sookmyung Women's University, then quickly cabbed over to Dongguk University's huge—and extremely hilly—campus and turned the document in, one day before applications would be due. In the evening, I met the director of R&D for the Golden Goose. He's keen to bring me aboard, and he's argued to his boss on my behalf, but for reasons of internal office politics that I hesitate to get into, my entry into his company is not a sure thing. We ate dinner in Itaewon, at a sports bar; he got a Reuben and I ordered a chicken schnitzel—my first-ever such dish. It was quite good. My dinner companion's Reuben looked meaty but a bit strange, as it had obviously been run through a panini press. Afterward, we went out for drinks; I'm a teetotaler, but my interlocutor is a San Miguel man. I sat fairly silently at the quiet bar we were in, listening to my companion hold forth in perfect Korean as he talked to both our friendly bartender and a gentleman who, it turned out, had defected years ago from North Korea. Interesting evening.

Then it was back to my nice, clean, roomy yeogwan for a decent night's sleep, followed by my trip to KMA today. Looking forward to this evening's dinner.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

off to Seoul!

Armed with a kind suggestion from a colleague for a new, pubeless-yet-cheap yeogwan (inn), I'm off to Seoul in a couple hours. Gotta prep, go to the campus bank to wire cash to my US account, check my student evals of my courses (cringe), withdraw the cash I need for this trip (lots will be spent on taxi fare, I'm sure), and then lumber over to the train station for my 10:30AM ride to East Daegu Station, whereupon I'll take the KTX up to this peninsula's version of Trantor.

Once I'm in Seoul, I need to hit Sookmyung Women's University right away, grab a certificate of employment, physically ferry it over to Dongguk University to complete my application package, then hit Itaewon for dinner with the head of R&D at the Golden Goose. Sometime in the middle of all that hubbub, I have to install myself in the aforementioned yeogwan.

Second day in Seoul: work at KMA, eat a lovely dinner with my buddy Tom on the company tab, and arrange dinner with a lady friend the following night.

Third day in Seoul: I'd like to say that I'm going to be meeting up with a CEO that I had encountered on LinkedIn, but the chump isn't responding to my LinkedIn emails, so I don't think that's happening. I know he's active on LinkedIn because the number of his "connections" keeps rising, so he's probably just ignoring my emails. Bastard. This may end up being something of a free day, except for dinner with my lady friend. Maybe I'll hike up Namsan—something I haven't done in years.

Fourth day in Seoul: who knows? Nothing in particular has been scheduled, but I'll be leaving Seoul around 4PM on Friday. Back in humble Hayang by dinnertime.


125 kg even

The lowest weight I've been in years: 125 kilograms (275.6 pounds). Yes, I'm still enormous, but trust me: this is good news. My daily walk average is now over 10,000 steps; I expect that to drop while I'm in Seoul, but there's nothing for it.

I'm actually really looking forward to being in Seoul tomorrow. I've got two free dinners coming my way, plus a third dinner with a lady friend of mine. Ought to be fun.


Monday, July 14, 2014

a quick word on "Apes" and subtitling

I had meant to include this thought in my recent review of the two latest "Planet of the Apes" movies, but I decided, instead, to note it here: in the theater where I watched "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," there was Korean subtitling for the English dialogue, and subtitling for the apes' sign language as well... but no English subtitles for the signage. That was inconvenient, although—if I'm to be positive—it forced me to rely on my shaky Korean-reading ability to follow what the apes were saying silently to each other. I think I caught most of that dialogue, especially when the apes "spoke" in short sentences, but occasionally they would sign in long, drawn-out utterances that translated to two or three lines of subtitling. These subtitles would flash on and off the screen very quickly, and since I'm not at a whole-language state in my Korean-reading ability, I had to cheat to figure out the meaning. In Korean, this often means scanning the end of the sentence first, because that's often where the most important semantic elements of the sentence are. So all in all, I got the gist of the apes' communication.

If you're an expat reading this, you might not have this problem; different versions of the movie are doubtless out there on the peninsula—some dubbed in Korean, some with Korean and English subtitling, some with Korean-only subtitling. Good luck.

It's also interesting to note that the Korean title for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" makes absolutely no mention of apes.* The Korean title is "혹성탈출: 반격의 서막"—Hokseong Talchul: Ban-gyeogae Seomak—literally, "Escape from the Planet: Prelude to [the] Counterattack," which makes no damn sense, since unlike the 2001 Tim Burton reboot of the "Apes" franchise, there's no planet-escaping space travel in these two movies at all.

*In Korean, the word for "monkey" is weonsungi (원숭이); the word for "ape" is yu-in weon (유인원), the in (人) character indicating the apes' closer proximity to humans, as 人 means "person." Generally speaking, apes, unlike monkeys, have no tails.


the cat and the stag beetle

Last night, I met a cat and a stag beetle during my campus walk. The cat—which, like many feral cats in Korea, was tailless—seemed unafraid of yours truly; I met it while it was chasing another cat away from its territory. The two cats had come racing toward me out of the night; I hissed and made a threatening foot-stomping gesture toward the lead cat, who dodged out of my way and kept running into the woods.

The second cat, "my" cat, stopped at the sound of my threat but didn't exactly run away. Instead, it walked away from me, and when I threatened it further with more noise, it merely maintained its distance in front of me, just out of reach. It occurred to me that this might be a "people" cat, and sure enough, when I slowed my pace, the cat slowed its pace, too, and eventually flopped down on a handicap-access ramp to begin grooming itself.

I approached the cat at that point; it paused to look at me, but didn't run away as I talked to it in a mixture of English and Korean. I stood on the other side of the guardrail for the ramp and put my hand through the rail's vertical supports to scratch the cat between the ears. The cat seemed almost to be inviting me to scratch it; it kept on grooming itself without a single sign of skittishness. Eventually, I got my fingertips to brush the cat's tiny skull, then I scratched it in earnest. Once the cat felt the rhythm of my scratching, it stopped grooming itself, stretched out its neck, and openly offered me its head to scratch, much like a typical house cat.

I scratched and talked for a few seconds but, worried that I was losing precious time (I try to get my steps in before midnight, because at midnight my pedometer resets to zero), I broke off and began to walk away. Instead of resuming its self-grooming, the cat watched me leave. About twenty yards from the cat, I turned around and paused to stare at it in salute; it stared back. I turned away again and left. If I see that cat again tonight, we'll have already established the tentative beginnings of a friendship.

Barely fifty yards later, I paused in my tracks again as a large shadow on the asphalt resolved itself into the shape of a mighty stag beetle, perhaps three inches long, heaving its way from nowhere to somewhere. The stag's jaws were huge and threatening; I was tempted to crush the beetle underfoot, the way I do with cockroaches and the occasional cicada, but something held me back, and I simply watched the beetle's progress for a while.

After meeting my two travel companions, it was time to get back to walking. I had started early, and had done a good bit of walking earlier in the day, so by the time I finished, I had 13,400 steps under my belt for that 24-hour period. My monthly average is very close to 10,000 daily steps now. Since I'm going to Seoul for the next few days, it's unlikely I'll be able to maintain that average, which is one reason why I'm overdoing it now. I'd like to be close to 10,000 by the end of July. That would be a huge improvement over June.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Rise of" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes": review

I'm pretty sure that both of these movies, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," are message films. They're didactic: they teach us something. What that something is is not immediately clear to me; more likely, it's not one moral lesson so much as several. Both films are a critique of human nature; even the apes in the second movie come to the realization that they're not so different from their human rivals. But more on moral lessons later. Let's talk genre.

It's devilishly hard to figure out what genre these films belong to. Primarily, the "Apes" movies are science fiction. But then there's the matter of sub-genre. Mutagens leading to enhanced abilities? That's "X-Men" territory. A human-ravaging virus that also creates a ravening horde? That's zombie-apocalypse territory. Scientific arrogance leading to uncontrollable consequences? That's "Jurassic Park"—or, no: that's everything territory.

A few aspects of the films to admire: the special effects for the apes, while not perfect (you're easily aware when an ape isn't acting like an ape in a zoo), are nevertheless fantastic, right down to every simian's facial wrinkle and fur (or with apes, is it body hair?). The transformation of the Earth into a post-apocalyptic wasteland is well done, especially in the second film. The acting by all the principals, both human and mo-cap ape, is spot-on, with special praise going to Andy Serkis as the alpha ape Caesar, whose view of humans is tinged with compassion and understanding because he was raised by a kind pair of people. The cinematography and sound editing, together, are also gorgeous: they quite convincingly evoke the redwood forest that becomes the apes' home.

One thing to deplore: the filmmakers pulled their punches in their depiction of simian brutality. I suppose a truer portrayal of how violent, say, a chimpanzee can be would have undermined the story the creators were trying to tell, but in both movies, ape fighting seems to consist mostly of kicks and roundhouse punches—primitive taekwondo with Captain Kirk's two-fisted "hammer" move thrown in. In truth, a simple, unassuming chimpanzee can be horrifyingly violent: chimps are extremely fast, frighteningly strong, and when provoked, mercilessly vicious. Read the story of Travis the chimpanzee, who attacked a female visitor in 2009, chewing off her hands and her face, detaching her jaw, and damaging her brain. Emergency workers saw what Travis had done, and some of them had to undergo counseling, so nightmarish were the wounds he'd inflicted. (Travis was gunned down by police, much like Bright Eyes in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes.")

Nothing close to that sort of violence appears in either of the "Apes" films; I suspect a vérité approach would have contradicted the noble-savage mythology that the movies are attempting to promote. In that sense, both films share something of James Cameron's "humans are evil" sensibility as seen in films like "Aliens" and "Avatar." Although, by the end of the second movie, Caesar acknowledges that apes were the first to attack humans, the filmmakers make clear that humans, by inadvertently gifting the apes with sentience and speech through their mutagen, then by mistreating the newly enhanced primates, put the apes in that terrible position. This is karma writ large.

So we return to the question of what the moral or morals of these films are. The first film focuses on the attempt to create an anti-Alzheimer's drug that will allow the brain to repair itself. The chemical is first delivered through an engineered virus, but human antibodies resist the beneficial effects, as Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) discovers when he secretly tests the drug on his Alzheimer's-stricken father (John Lithgow, who knows his way around big hominids after "Harry and the Hendersons"). Rodman reengineers the virus, making it more aggressive so as to penetrate the human immune system, but he doesn't foresee the cost: the virus is not harmful when tested on apes, but it kills its human hosts. By the end of the first film, an animated sequence shows us how the virus, now a pandemic, spreads inexorably along airline routes, infecting almost the entire world.

The whole first film screams hubris; that message, at least, isn't subtle or unclear. The second film, which picks up the story at that same animated sequence, deals more with moral issues that arise from sociology: apes and humans have segregated themselves into tribes, and almost equal time is spent watching the apes and the humans interacting amongst themselves. We see the politics, the pettiness, the vanity; we see schisms brought about by differing visions of the Other. In fact, a postmodernist academic might jump on the issue of "othering" as it's portrayed in these movies. Ape/human speciesism can be seen as a metaphor for racism. Along with these themes is a not-well-hidden anti-gun agenda.

So what should we learn from these films, both of which seem keen to teach us something? That we should be kinder to animals? That we should put aside our guns? That we should put aside our fear of the Other? That peace is preferable to war? That science needs ethical constraints to avoid global disaster? That super-apes can be reasoned with, but zombies can't? That an alpha-ape on a horse, wielding two machine guns, is too cool for words, even though the ape is mowing down humans? Whom do we cheer for?

Actually, that last question is by far the most interesting one for me. The movie is at its best when it presents a balanced view of the nobler and less noble members of each rival species. "There's enough blame to go around," the movie seems to be saying, "and it's up to you to figure out where you stand." The second movie ends on an ominous note, paving the way for an inevitable sequel: all-out war is coming, and not just in the remains of San Francisco. Conflict is on the horizon, but blessed are the peacemakers.

Both "Apes" movies are suspenseful without being scary. Both are heavily didactic, but also disappointing in their unrealistic treatment of simian violence: despite all the flying bullets and slashing fangs, there's very little actual blood and gore. Still, the films are watchable and entertaining, and they make you think. They're a worthy successor to Heston's old films, thoughtful in a Christopher Nolan sort of way, and standing in contrast to Tim Burton's maladroit attempt at a reboot. I should also note that the two movies, although helmed by different directors, flow easily, one into the other. The stories are almost seamless, so if you've seen the first film, you're well prepared for the second. Go watch. Go enjoy. Then go ape.


Brazil takes another pounding

It's halftime for the match to determine third place at the World Cup. Brazil is playing against the Netherlands, and at the half, it's 2-0 for the Dutch. Brazil seems to have lost all of its fighting spirit; it's a dying man on an anthill, being slowly eaten alive. Good thing I'm not actually watching the game; I'd be too depressed. Unless Brazil rallies in the second half, I expect a Netherlands victory after I wake up.

Yup—going to sleep now. At 6AM. Up at the crack of noon, folks, just like Tenacious D.

UPDATE: Brazil loses 3-0. The horror. The horror.


chronically bad sense of humor

Your 420 for the day—a sheer coincidence made of light and shadow, sure to please all my pothead readers:

I saw the above phantasm of Mary Jane on a brick sidewalk while I was doing my 10000-step campus walk this evening (it ended up being over 12000 steps, thank you very much). It almost made me want to sing "O Canada" in honor of our laid-back neighbors to the north, who always end up on the Korean news for growing their national leaf in their apartments (not to fear: many Yanks in Korea engage in the same stupidity; I suspect they either secretly harbor Canada-envy or secretly desire a hobbit-style hit of Old Toby).

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

off to Seoul—twice

I'll be in Seoul this coming July 15 to 18, leaving for Hayang again on the afternoon of the 18th. I'm currently feeling a great deal of pain because I had to turn down a massively lucrative work opportunity: a three-month, 9-to-5 stint in Luxembourg at the Doosan Corporation, earning an incredible W8 million/month translating documents from Korean into French. Alas, my Korean's not nearly good enough for such work, even though my French is. So I had to turn the job down. (Thanks, anyway, John Mac.)

On the very day I arrive in Seoul, the 15th, I have to sprint over to Sookmyung Women's University, my old employer, to grab another jaejik-jeungmyeong-seo, i.e., an official employment voucher—proof that I worked at Job X during Period Y. Dongguk University, to which I'm applying for work, is giving me a hard time: first, I'm not allowed to just email my documents to their office: I have to print out and snail-mail everything; second, Dongguk wants a voucher from every university I've worked at. I can't fathom why; Sookmyung was six years ago. Be that as it may, I do appreciate the fact that Dongguk was professional enough to call me and tell me that they still needed the extra voucher to complete my application package. An unprofessional racket like Sungkyunkwan University would have left me hanging out to dry instead of bothering to contact me.

On the 16th and 17th, I'll be in Yeouido, at KMA, working on some tasks, partly in preparation for my return to Seoul the following week to teach a Saturday class at KMA. I'm also hoping to get together with a CEO that I had "met" on LinkedIn, but this CEO isn't answering my emails, so that might fall through.

My buddy Tom says he's currently acting as a "mystery shopper," one who visits various high-end restaurants, and he's invited me to join him for an expensive dinner paid for by the company tab. "We only have a W250,000 budget," he said wryly. Hey, I'm all for buying a $125 dinner somewhere. Why the hell not?

The following week, as mentioned, I'm back in Seoul to teach at KMA and earn a little coin. KMA is great about paying promptly; that income, plus the income-tax refund I'll soon be receiving from the Commonwealth of Virginia, will be a small boost as I transition from Hayang back to Seoul.

In between these two trips to Seoul, I have to visit the Daegu Immigration Office to request extensions on my visa and my alien-registration card. This is particularly uncomfortable because I still don't know, yet, what my immediate future holds: will I be teaching at Dongguk University? Will I be teaching at Catholic University Seoul? Will I be with the Golden Goose? It's a bit frustrating to be where I am right now, not knowing what's coming next. It's even more frustrating to know that, despite my being an educated guy, my credentials are no longer exactly what the Korean language-education job market is looking for. These days, the requirements are pretty specific: a CELTA certificate and/or an MA TESOL—or a doctorate in applied linguistics. (Of course, if you have a doctorate from a foreign university, why on Earth would you work in Korea?)

No matter... I'll take each day as it comes. Right now, I've got to go do a 10000-step walk.


what a walk and a poop can do for your weight

I weigh myself before my evening walk: 127.9 kilograms. Not good.

I walk 12,000 steps and take a massive dump while I'm on campus. Sweat, walk, sweat, walk.


12,000 steps and one poop later, I stumble home and weigh myself.

126 kilograms exactly.

Yeah, baby. Suck on that.


Friday, July 11, 2014

become fluent in a foreign language in SIX MONTHS!

A colleague of mine pointed me to a YouTube video of an entrepreneur named Chris Lonsdale, who gave a very exciting TEDx talk that dealt, in part, with his experience learning Chinese, but more significantly with his claim that any adult can learn a foreign language to fluency within six months. That's a bold claim, and a suspicious one. I immediately smelled hucksterism. Lonsdale is an entrepreneur, after all, not a teacher: his primary goal is to sell products and make money, not to disseminate proper knowledge and technique.

Still, I didn't want to commit the genetic fallacy by dismissing Lonsdale before hearing him out. So I watched the video. While Lonsdale makes certain claims about language learning that I would consider legitimate, I couldn't help noting that certain crucial elements were missing from his talk, and that he also contradicted himself at least twice during the TEDx spiel. Let's first review what Lonsdale has to say, then I'll move into my critique of his sales pitch.

Because this is a TED talk, Lonsdale's speech is under twenty minutes in length (in fact, it clocks in at around eighteen minutes). I have to give the man credit for keeping his talk very clear and organized; if nothing else, Chris Lonsdale is an excellent motivational speaker. He begins his talk by identifying and refining a problem. At first, the question he claims to have asked himself was, "How can you speed up learning?" As he dealt more specifically with the problem of language learning and acquisition, the question eventually became, "How can you help normal adults learn a new language quickly, easily, and effectively?" This is the question Lonsdale tackles for the rest of his presentation.

The answer to Lonsdale's question is, according to him, threefold:

• look for people who can do it (i.e., who can speak the language)
• look for situations where it’s working (i.e., where language learning is effective)
• identify and apply those effective learning principles ("modeling")

Lonsdale goes on to highlight five principles, seven actions, and two myths. He begins with the myths.

Myth #1. You need talent to learn a foreign language (quickly).

Lonsdale thinks anyone, from any station in life, can learn a foreign language quickly. Effort, motivation, and focus matter much more than talent.

Myth #2. Immersion is necessary for learning.

Lonsdale cracks, "A drowning man can't learn to swim." Simply being immersed in a sea of information is no guarantee that learning will take place.

From there, Lonsdale moves on to the five principles of language learning:

1. Attention, meaning, relevance, and memory.

We focus on whatever aids our survival. Whatever aids our survival is relevant, so that's the language we need to learn first, and which we do learn first.

2. Use language as a tool to communicate from Day One.

Hit the ground running.

3. When you first understand the message, you acquire language unconsciously.

Lonsdale here relies primarily on Stephen Krashen's "input hypothesis," which postulates that language learning happens best when input—what we hear, what we read—is comprehensible. This brings us back, I think, to the "drowning man" image that Lonsdale had used earlier on: a sea of incomprehensible input is no aid to learning. Without something to grasp, no progress can be made.

4. Learning a language is physiological training.

There's muscle memory involved in learning a language; so much of this process is physical, not mental, which is why Lonsdale downplays intellectual tasks like memorization of vocabulary in favor of just practicing, practicing, and practicing more. We have natural filters in our heads that screen out unfamiliar sounds; getting rid of those filters is part of the learning process, and practicing new sounds and speech patterns takes physical effort. "If your face hurts, you're doing it right," says Lonsdale.

5. Your psychological state is important.

Here, Lonsdale focuses on the need to tolerate ambiguity. A person who always needs to know what every little phoneme and morpheme means will "go nuts" and undermine his own progress in learning a language. Communication can, believe it or not, proceed in a "fuzzy" cognitive state, one in which not all the linguistic elements are known. Go ahead and make assumptions while practicing your second language. Misunderstandings might occur, but they can be corrected in the course of a conversation. Throw away your perfectionism.

There are seven ways to enact the above five principles:

1. "Brain soaking": listen attentively by putting yourself in a situation where you hear "tons and tons and tons" of the target language.

2. Get the meaning first, before the words: this is possible, contends Lonsdale, by watching the non-verbal cues of your interlocutor—things like body language and tone of voice.

3. Start mixing: if you know ten nouns, ten verbs, and ten adjectives, then 10 x 10 x 10 = 1000 different combinations, a thousand different possible utterances. That's already a great start, and it's the road to creative output.

4. Focus on the core. There's a core set of important, high-frequency vocabulary that you need to learn, as well as a "toolbox" of expressions, like "What is this?" "How do you say [X]?" "I don't understand..." If you know 3000 vocabulary words, you've got a handle on 98% of all everyday discourse in the target language.

5. Get a "language parent." This person will serve as a sort of guide who provides the learner with a safe environment in which to practice and make mistakes. A language parent works hard to understand you, never corrects you, provides feedback, and uses words you know.

6. Copy the face: pay special attention to facial muscles in order better to understand how to make proper utterances.

7. "Direct connect": this means not relying on translation. You don't want your first language to be the medium through which the second language passes; instead, you want the second language to connect directly to your brain. Most words come down to wordless images and concepts, according to Lonsdale; one of his PowerPoint slides shows a person with a mental image of "fire," plus the English word "fire" connected to that image, and the Chinese word for "fire" (火) also connected to the fire-image, not to the English.

That's Lonsdale's spiel in a nutshell. But does it add up to anything?

I generally agree with one online critic of Lonsdale who feels there's nothing wrong, in particular, with any one of the principles and actions that Lonsdale suggests, but that the parts don't add up to the whole that Lonsdale is trying to convince us of: learning a language to fluency within six months. (For his part, Lonsdale claims he took six months to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese, but that native-level fluency took a little longer.)

My problem is that Lonsdale undermines his own trustworthiness, and reveals his hucksterish nature, by not offering us a self-consistent vision of language learning. He contradicts himself, at least twice, and he also leaves much unexplained.

First contradiction: Lonsdale rejects immersion as a learning strategy because "a drowning man can't learn to swim." But later in his talk, he advocates placing oneself in an immersive environment to absorb the target language—an act he calls "brain soaking." Lonsdale's advocacy of brain soaking is essentially for the same reasons that immersion proponents insist on immersion: throw enough language at someone, and eventually (unless the person is congenitally stupid) some of it will stick. So much for the metaphorical drowning man: there isn't any real "drowning" occurring in an immersive linguistic environment.

Second contradiction: Lonsdale rejects building up vocabulary through focused vocabulary drills, claiming that language learning is more about "physiological training" than about memorization. But again, later in his talk, he goes back to vocabulary in his Action #4, which is "focus on the core," i.e., memorize a core list of vocabulary that can be used as building blocks to constructing creative utterances (10 nouns x 10 verbs x 10 adjectives = 1000 things you can say!). So memorization does play a crucial role in Lonsdale's paradigm.

The notion that elements of language can serve as exchangeable building blocks also harks back to 1960s-era audiolingualism, a language-teaching approach that held that language is basically habit-formation (repeat, repeat, repeat), and that the elements of language are like the parts of a car: switch one element out for another, as long as it's context-appropriate. While audiolingual teaching methods do still find their way into the modern classroom, most teachers, these days, see the method as a quaint holdover from a bygone era. Audiolingualism failed to appreciate the creative, unpredictable nature of natural, free-flowing conversation, sacrificing that naturalness and creativity at the altar of habit and structure.

At one point in his lecture, Lonsdale quickly flashes us a graph that purportedly shows the difference in performance between people who have learned language through more grammar-explicit methods and people who have learned via a more comprehensible-input approach. My trouble with the graph is that, since Lonsdale makes no effort to explain its specifics, it is effectively meaningless to me. And as the aforementioned online critic pointed out, it could well be that the graph is showing us a false comparison: "comprehensible input" is not an actual teaching method, after all, and there is a wide spectrum of pedagogical approaches that make the learning of grammar explicit.

It also would have helped if Lonsdale had shown some concrete examples of his "method" in action, and if he had provided some hard performance data (perhaps in the form of before/after videos) of people who went from zero to fluent within six months. At the very least, I'd have liked to have seen video of Lonsdale speaking at length in his supposedly native-fluent, accent-free Chinese. In all, I don't know whether his Chinese is accent-free, but Lonsdale's spiel is remarkably evidence-free.

I agree that some of Lonsdale's advice is valid, but only the advice that he borrowed or stole from language experts. Aside from that, I think his method is pretty much a gimmick and a sham, and will work only for those who are especially gifted at learning languages. His approach is not aimed at the fat part of the bell curve; it's aimed at the narrow part—at the talented elite, much the way fad diets are aimed. Lonsdale claims that talent need not be a factor in learning a language, but little about his method actually supports this contention.

Lastly, I'll note that, when Lonsdale refers to a "language parent" who somehow never corrects errors yet always provides feedback, he's referring to a mythical beast. No such chimera exists: the provision of feedback will inevitably involve explicit error correction. There are movements in language teaching that advise against ever correcting student errors, but I think these movements are sadly mistaken. Students who aren't made conscious of their errors will form bad speech habits that calcify over the years as the errors are endlessly repeated; I've seen this time and again among Korean students, who have had years to learn how to drop articles, fumble verb tenses, and even mistake "he" for "she." A typical "oral-proficiency" approach forgoes error correction in the name of "fluency," itself a vague, ill-defined notion. Learning correct speech means slowing down and going old-school, but the end result is a student who is far more competent in the language than one who has graduated from the oral-proficiency school. (See my post on my teaching philosophy for more.) True proficiency in all four macroskills takes much more than six months, and native-level fluency may take a lifetime.


from the mind of Jeff Hodges

So I thought I was being all cool and sexy the other night when I put up that image of me in candlelight. But along comes my friend Jeff Hodges with an email linking to a picture of a smiling dolphin: "For some reason, Kevin, I looked at this... and I thought of you," he emailed (that is to say: Jeff emailed, not the dolphin, whom I don't know).

I should be thankful, I suppose, that Jeff didn't select a picture of a frog or a pig. I'd like to think that Jeff selected the dolphin for its power, grace and sleekness—qualities that the ideal Kevin would possess. In reality, though, I thought it more likely that Jeff saw the dolphin's multiple chins and went, "Ah! Kevin!"

But here's Jeff in his own words, in a follow-up email:

Well, he has a huge smile and an enormous brain . . . and probably has some trouble getting around on land (a regular theme of your blog posts).

Sigh... guilty as charged.



My July step average, thus far, is 9140 steps per day—way better than my June average of 6197 steps. This sort of average is going to be hard to maintain: I can't guarantee I'll walk 10000 steps every single day in July. But if I keep my monthly average above 7000 steps, that'll be satisfactory. Then in August: 8000 steps. And so on.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

candles and candlelight

First a candle, then a candlelit Hominid:

The above candle was a gift from a lady friend—a former student. And below—is it true that people look better in candlelight? Maybe... or maybe they just end up looking monstrous:


campus panorama

I've been taking nightly walks around my campus to fulfill the 10,000-step requirements of my pedometer. On occasion, when I see an opportunity, I climb up to the top of a building and look out over the landscaped expanse of this local patch of academia. The following picture was taken from the B1 building, also known as Thaddeus Cho Hall. There's a set of exterior steps that allow a person to climb all the way to the rooftop, which strikes me as a good place for kissing, what with the excellent view and the relative silence. (The campus is full of trysting spots, especially at night. I see couples all over the place. Like horny roaches.)

The view you see is that of the Centennial Building, a.k.a. Ignatius Cheon Hall, and its checkerboard plaza. Our school celebrated its centennial a couple months ago; many modern Korean colleges were established in the early 1900s, just before—or right at the beginning of—the Japanese occupation. That these schools have all survived to fête their 100th birthdays is a testament to Korean sticktoitiveness. The centennial plaza features two fountains, one of which is pictured: it's the dark, dome-like structure that emits a mist during the day. Many of us expat faculty members question the artistic merit of such a fountain, but I think it serves a practical purpose in the summertime, allowing people a bit of relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of the Daegu region. The plaza has definitely become a popular destination for lovers; many couples alight there at night, nuzzling and cuddling romantically. Can't say I blame them, although I'd wish for a bit more privacy, away from prying eyes. (Like at the top of a building! That's how Batman would take a woman on a date, I'm sure.)


Chris Lonsdale and learning a language to fluency in six months

Excitable entrepreneur Chris Lonsdale claims, in this TEDx talk, that any adult can learn a new language to fluency within six months.

There are skeptics.

I'll have more to say on this soon, because I'm a doubter, too.


get out (sooner)!

I had originally thought that I could leave my tiny studio by August 31, which is also my birthday, because that's when my contract was running out. (CORRECTION: per King Baeksu's reminder in the comment thread, I did know that our contract stipulates we must quit our residence one week before the end of the contract period. That would be August 24, not my birthday.)

But no.

I was told by the office that I had to vacate my studio by August 14 (August 15 is a national holiday, so moving on that day just wouldn't do). That's where things stood for several weeks. I was a bit pissed off by this news because it meant that I would be shoved out during my vacation (i.e., I'd have less vacation to enjoy) about 10 (corrected from 17—see above parenthetical) days earlier than I'd originally expected.

But no.

Our otherwise kind landlord, who obviously isn't coordinating with our campus office, put up the following notice for those of us who are departing:

Yes... it warms the heart to know I now must leave my residence by August 10. Catholic University is doing its best to kick us out early since we're not renewing. Well... given the bad blood that this notice generates, that makes leaving easier, emotionally speaking.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

something different

Last night, when I was out doing my 10,000-step walk around DCU's campus, I did something I haven't done in years: I jogged. To an outside observer, I must have looked ridiculous: a lumbering fatso struggling to heave his pitiful carcass forward against all hope and gravity. But yes: for a brief while, for a distance of probably less than 200 yards, I did, in fact, move my ponderous ass faster than normal.

It felt strange; I was running flat-footed, my soles slapping the pavement loudly and inefficiently. I finally got a clue and stretched out my stride a bit; that didn't eliminate the lumbering effect, but it did increase my speed and the smoothness of my run. Alas, jogging also brought back a twinge of hip pain—a reminder that I'm still not 100% healed. That said, I might try it again tonight. The pounding heart, the sweat, the breathlessness—all were welcome signs that I was actually making an effort.


holy fucking shit: Brazil pulls a Hindenburg

Germany absolutely stomped Brazil at the World Cup with an embarrassing score of 7-1, effectively killing Brazilian hopes for a sixth championship. I haven't read any commentary yet; I only saw the score when I woke up earlier this morning.

Soccer scores generally don't go very high. Games that end at 1-0 or 3-2 are common. Scoring seven—SEVEN!—goals in a single match is a phenomenal achievement, and at this point I can only assume one of two possibilities: either Brazil was asleep at the wheel or the Germans had voodoo on their side. The first possibility is difficult to imagine; certain Brazilian players are on record talking about the enormous pressure they've felt not to let down the home audience, so they'd have had to be on their toes. But this is contradicted by the fact that the Brazilian team let seven goals through: that points to a severely impaired defense.

Then again, it's not contradictory to think the Germans might have been on fire. Perhaps they performed some magical circle-jerk before the game. Perhaps they called down the aid of the Norse gods or of some obscure, chthonian, Teutonic deities. Perhaps they doped, like Lance Armstrong. Whatever it was, the Germans had the Force with them.

So now I give in to my curiosity and read some commentary. This article makes a crucial point about sportsmanship: both the Brazilian audience and the German soccer team were classy:

By the end of this utterly mesmerising masterclass from Germany, the fans were chanting olé – and that was the Brazilian fans. Germany were so fluid in their movement, so clinical in their finishing that even the vanquished had to applaud.

Brazilians know good football and only one team played it here. Oscar pulled one back but all the awards, including a couple of Tonis, went to Germany.

Luiz Felipe Scolari pleaded for “forgiveness” afterwards. Some of his players sunk to their knees at the final whistle, holding their hands to the heavens, seeking celestial succour.

There was no clemency afforded by the faithful in the seething tribunes. The Brazilian players were an embarrassment to a famous shirt, a point their furious supporters made splenetically. Yet they stayed to the end, most of them. They saluted Germany.

Joachim Löw’s players responded sportingly, going around consoling the defeated, even waiting respectfully while the likes of David Luiz finished their praying. Germany are a class act before, during and after the 90 minutes. Strong too.

My brother, whose wife is Brazilian, and whose house has been flying a Brazilian flag off the front porch, calls this game an "epic failure" by Brazil. "Still can't believe it," he writes.

I almost wish I'd seen the game. Almost.

And, hey—so much for the all-Latin final, eh? What if Germany does face the Netherlands?



Baz Luhrmann, in his speech titled "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," famously said, "You're not as fat as you imagine." The pic below is of a much younger Kevin who, back in the 1990s, thought of himself as fat—as fat as he thinks of himself now.

I can still get my foot that high, but there's no longer any force or speed behind the blow. Now, when I attempt a taekwondo kick, it's little more than pitiful-looking ballet. I used to have a 70-pound punching/kicking bag that I'd hung off a tree in our family's back yard; I'd kick and punch that fucker so hard that it would leap upward—sometimes leaping up so high that it would come off two of its four hooks, and when it landed, the remaining two hooks yanked the canvas hard enough to tear it. So yeah, I ruined heavy bags. That's how hard I punched and kicked. Ironically, those bags were called Everlast. Now, given my current fallen state, such bags probably would last forever. I'd barely leave dents in the canvas.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014


I'm applying to Catholic University Seoul (nicknamed Seoga-dae, 서가대, in Korean). I'm also doing something a bit revolutionary and leaning on a recent LinkedIn contact with a Korean CEO who, out of the blue, wanted to become a "connection" with me (on Facebook you have "friends"; on LinkedIn they're "connections"). We'll see how that turns out; I've requested a meeting with this gentleman when I go to Seoul this coming July 15-18. CU-Seoul, meanwhile, emailed me back to say that, yes, they'll accept applicants looking to be hired on an E-1 visa, so I'll be emailing CU-Seoul my application paperwork in the next couple of days. (I keep wishing that HUFS-Yongin would advertise, but I've seen nothing from them.)

So opportunities continue to appear, even this late in the game. In fact, my feeling this time around is that many colleges are putting out job ads much later than usual. Normally, the wave starts sometime in April and truly gathers momentum in May (I'm talking about job ads for jobs starting in September). The point, though, is that Tarzan hasn't run out of vines to swing from. There's still plenty of hope that I'll land something decent—anything that can be a step up, salary-wise, from my current job.


office chicas

Two of our intrepid jo-gyo, i.e., office assistants, Seonghae and Jihae:

They've been very helpful over this past semester. I think of them as Big Sis and Little Sis; I almost never see them apart from one another. That togetherness is kind of cute, actually.