Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Maugrim replies!

Maugrim posted a reply to my remarks about the K Scene article. He was civil (despite my tweaking) and his reply was very well written. It's unfortunate that such a good piece of writing has found its way onto a blog with a puny readership, but them's the breaks. Sorry, Maug-- only about five people are gonna see this. The other 300 folks who hit this blog are random visitors doing Google searches for "hairy pussy" and "gay hairy men." Check out my SiteMeter if you think I'm kidding.

I suspect Maugrim hails from New York City because he took my ribbing with a good sense of humor-- something I, as a serious-minded Virginian, don't always do when people rib me. Because I went to Georgetown University, which is absolutely burstin' da ball sac with fuckin' New Yawkers, I know firsthand that, for New Yorkers, especially the ones from NYC, friendship means insults. That's the way the titties bounce.

Yo, den you got fuckin' Jimmy over dere-- remember last week, when he got his dick stuck in da toasta'? Haw haw haw! He was like, "I'm gonna fuck dat toaster! Watch!" Then he was all screamin' an' shit, and Tony was shoutin', "Goddamn, I forgot ta' unplug it!" and Mikey was goin' "WHERE'S MY CAMERA? WHERE'S MY CAMERA?" Haw haw haw! Hey-- hey, Jimmy! How's it hangin', you stupid fuck? Dis room still smells like kielbasa 'cause uh your dumb ass! Haaaaaawwww haaaawwwww haaaaaaawwwwwwwww!

By the way, I'd vote for Giuliani if he were to run for president.


enough darkblogging!

I'm done with darkness.

Grief and despair-- the dark side of the Force are they. I'm going to follow Jesus' advice to let the dead bury the dead. Shawn was a very good guy, in my opinion, but I'm not his close friend-- never was-- and won't be wearing any black armbands for him. His real friends need their time to grieve. The rest of us would probably do well to take what lessons we can from Shawn's life and move on.

If anything, it's potentially insulting for those of us who didn't know him well (our collective shock being a good indication of how little we knew him) to grieve as if we did. I'm shocked. I'm saddened. But you know what? I've just spent a couple hours in a bright, strong sun, pleasantly annoyed by the heat and the already-burdensome humidity, meeting up quickly with Nathan to pass him a book, then rushing over to Hannam Market for some shopping. I'm about to go out the door again, drop off some party supplies at Smoo, then do even more shopping.

Shawn-- wherever you might be: I'm sorry, man, but I've got students to tend to. Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about your friend Jake's excellent post was the set of photos at the end showing those get-well messages made by your kids. You had students to tend to, as well. Who's teaching them now?

Folks-- there is only this moment. Breathe it. Sweat it. Take Jelly's sound advice: Bone up. LIVE. I'm not going to say "Be happy," because that's bullshit. You need time to be pissed off and horny, too. Live. And pay attention.

Your life is a gift. I don't mean it's a gift given by God. Maybe it is such a gift; maybe it isn't. No: what I mean is that your life is a gift to others. You have it in your hands to make other people happy or sad or curious or angry. This is your power, and thus your responsibility. All actions have consequences, but the secret of freedom is that we have control, to some extent, over the nature of the ripples we make in this vast pond of being.

The last things I'll say about Shawn are these: after some thought, I've concluded that Shawn probably did the right thing by not letting on about his true mental/emotional state. Having lived in Korea a few years, I see things a bit from the Korean perspective. Shawn's blogs did mention the bad times, but in the tradition of East Asian machismo he didn't blubber to an unknown audience. Forgive me, ladies, if I sound unnecessarily sexist, but that's how a man should be. If you want to see another example of how to deal with your misery either stoically or humorously, read this post by Plunge and this post by Jelly (yes, yes-- Jelly's all woman, but she's got more balls than a lot of guys). Neither is whining.

I'll also say that, given how upbeat Shawn usually was on his Korea and China blogs, and how he never devoted his time to systematically bashing other bloggers/online personae, it boggles my mind that so many people reached inside their own asses just to be able to chuck crap at him. Never mind the question of whether all that venom affected his decision to kill himself; it was stupid no matter how Shawn was feeling. And I'm not directing this observation to the stupid people: why bother? What have they learned from this?

So finally, as the rest of the charitable blogosphere is saying, I'll join the chorus, Shawn, and bid you:

Requiescat in pace.

Now, with your permission, folks, I have to go make some ladies happy. They're gonna be hungry tomorrow and Friday, and I've promised to feed them during our end-of-semester jjong-p'a-t'i.


Nomad and Joel

The Lost Nomad has links related to Shawn's death. One link, to a Chinese-language news service (would anyone care to translate?), is in the "view at your own discretion" category.

I'm between classes (yes, I'm holding classes on a holiday so that I don't have to make them up during my summer vacation), and staring at a copy of Shawn's book, Island of Fantasy, just shaking my head. Damn.

Joel writes a fine piece about Shawn here.

Jelly offers her wisdom here.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

this has been one hell of a day

Tuesday is about to roll over and make room for Wednesday. In terms of job-related stress, today was nothing. But I couldn't help noticing the convergence of three overlapping negativities: suicide by jumping off a building, breakups with Significant Others, and people going nuts.

Shawn Matthews killed himself by leaping off the top of his apartment building in China. Matt B., in an email about the KrayzeeGrrrl, noted that a guy had recently jumped off a building in Kangnam last week. As with Shawn's and KrayzeeGrrrl's situations, this guy had suffered a breakup. Perhaps Matt is right and KrayzeeGrrrl has made a conscious or unconscious decision to retreat from the behavioral norm. At least she's not suicidal (or so I believe; I was obviously wrong about Shawn, whom I considered relentlessly optimistic).

My advice to people who might be contemplating suicide:

Don't kill yourself, asshole.

There's a good, practical reason for this: suicide is messy, especially if you're throwing yourself off a goddamn building. Maybe you think I'm being humorous, but no-- I'm again in a reflective mood this evening, and like Jake of Mei Shi (China Vlog), I am keenly and angrily aware that the consequences of suicide fall not just on oneself but on those left behind.

As I said, suicide is messy. Consider that before you off yourself. Someone will have to scrape you up off the ground. Or find your purple, bloated body in the living room or bedroom or bathroom or wherever the hell you are, hanged or drugged. Or find your body, your shotgun, and what's left of your head inside a garage or toolshed, then spend time scouring the walls and floor (and maybe even the ceiling) to get rid of all the skull fragments and pieces of brain. Unless you drown yourself in the ocean or blow yourself up with dynamite, trust me-- you'll be leaving a mess for somebody else to clean up. And if your body is halfway intact given the method of suicide you choose, keep in mind that your sphincters will let go at death and it won't just be blood and brains and bone that people will have to deal with.

Suicide isn't just physically messy; it's psychologically messy. In the wake of your death will be a lot of people wondering what they must have done wrong that you should feel so alienated, so hopeless. And they'll never know the real reasons. Even if you leave a suicide note, your departure from this plane of existence won't prevent people from engaging in morbid speculation about all the would-haves and could-haves. Your suicide is likely to cause a ripple of depression in others, and because death is irrevocable, your decease will forever be a scar in their lives. Now, thanks to you, they will have the dubious honor of trying to figure out how to reconcile themselves to a loved one's death-- an exercise that, by rights, should be unnecessary in the course of normal human existence.

If you refuse to think about these things, or if you consider them and then dismiss them, understand that you're a selfish, selfish fuckhead. Suicide happens when people feel-- rationally or irrationally-- that their personal horizon, the scope of their freedom, has narrowed so that only one course of action remains in view. In almost all cases, this conclusion is wrong. Things change. Darkness gives way to dawn. The stream of life flows ever onward, so why not remain a part of it for as long as you can? Don't force the rest of us to scrape up and cart away your dead ass.


"the answer that no one wants to hear"

Shawn Matthews's ex-roommate (and, I assume, friend) writes about Shawn's death here:

Shawn's Final Story



damn press leaks

This photo should never have been available to the public.

"Super-sized Junior." Heads will be rolling.


postal scrotum: Matt B. on KrayzeeGrrrl

My buddy Matt writes me in reference to KrayzeeGrrrl:

Hey Kev.

In my not-even-close to professional opinion, your student has snapped; but this doesn't sound like a chemical imbalance. I'd wager she just blew out the social moorings quasi- (though possibly un-consciously) intentionally.

Sound like an oxymoron?

In other words: she has chosen this option, apparent insanity, as a viable outlet for herself.

Before you say that sounds useless, I'd have you consider the 22 year old guy who jumped to his death in the alley beside Pagoda last week, apparently because his girlfriend broke up with him.


I really need to buy a DSM.


is Shawn of Korea/China Life Blog dead?

I got an email from Hardyandtiny, who had a look over at the blog run by Shawn Matthews's ex-girlfriend, Ling Ling. H&T wrote this rather startling sentence:

Shawner's ex-girlfriend is claiming he committed suicide.

I followed H&T's link and saw this post:

Hard Time

It wasn't long ago that Shawn had stopped posting on China Life Blog. He had his own reasons for doing so, none of which I ever found out directly. I had heard scuttlebutt that he'd been discouraged by the nasty commenters who flocked to his blog, but having read Shawn's book, Island of Fantasy, I was convinced the dude was irrepressible.

When Shawn left Korea for China and started up his new blog, his posts fairly thrummed with enthusiasm. New faces, new school, new culture, cheap food, a new girlfriend-- life was looking up.

Shawn struck me as pretty frank about his life abroad. Some of his trolls routinely suggested that he was always making himself out to be a heroic protagonist, with the Korean or Chinese forever in the wrong and Shawn in the right. I didn't have that impression; besides, I suspect that we are all, to some extent, the heroes of our personal narratives.

H&T's email was phrased in terms of a question and a speculation. That's the right way to go: I don't see any confirmation that Shawn is dead, though I have no real reason to doubt his girlfriend's claim. Trust but verify, as the maxim goes. Ling Ling's post says that one of Shawn's friends will be writing an entry about him. So far, that blog doesn't show any such post, but the absence of a post could be for any number of reasons, including the possibility that Shawn's friend is distraught and needs time to organize his thoughts.

If Shawn of Korea Life Blog and China Life Blog truly has killed himself... I'm shocked and I wish his family and friends well as they deal with his death. Shawn's writing always struck me as upbeat, and Shawn himself seemed like the kind of person to rebound from any setback. I don't know what could have pushed him to perform an act of such despair, but I hope his friends and folks will come together and comfort each other. It's horrible for a parent to lose a child, and devastating for friends to lose a friend.

It would be nice to find out that this is all a rumor or prank.


k'eu-rae-i-ji geol

One of my coworkers, Z (buy her book), told us a few days ago about a new student who wouldn't sit still, who broke out into song, who constantly interrupted, spoke loudly, and almost always spoke in Korean. Z's opinion was that the student wasn't all there. Based on Z's testimony, I agreed.

I had the pleasure of meeting this student today.

Yep-- she's a fuckin' nut.

Z surmised that the girl was off her meds. Another coworker, WS, said the girl never acted like that last year, but that she (let's call her "KrayzeeGrrrl") had experienced a nasty breakup with her boyfriend. A third teacher, EG, wondered whether the boyfriend had been especially abusive. WS said that the boyfriend had, in fact, called her a "mi-ch'in-nyeon," which I suppose could be translated as "crazy bitch." Not the best line to hurl at someone who's already over the edge.

I suspect Z's surmise is right. My first thought, upon encountering the girl this morning, was "Whoop! Whoop! Chemical imbalance!" I felt especially bad for another of my colleagues, because KrayzeeGrrrl was chasing him around, even loudly admonishing him (in English this time) not to smoke. KrayzeeGrrrl burst into my classroom while I was in mid-lesson to ask loudly where that coworker was. I assumed he had made his escape-- as I would have, had I been in his place! I told KrayzeeGrrrl I didn't know where he'd gone.

I have no clue what mental/psychological problem the girl has, but the idea that she needs medication to interact semi-normally with others is plausible. Her symptoms seemed to be the following:

1. Absolutely no sense of personal and social boundaries. I was in the teacher's room, getting ready for class, when she burst in on us teachers and latched onto me for a moment. "Oh, you look hot!" she said-- a reference to the sweat beaded on my forehead. She grabbed my hand fan from out of my hand and started fanning me. Her lack of a sense of boundaries was obvious not only in her willingness to charge into the teacher's room and grab a possession of mine, but also in the questions and remarks she began firing at me: "What'syourname? Whereareyoufrom? Whereareyougoingnow? Why?" Later on, we all could hear her screaming-- literally screaming-- inside the nearby stairwell. Not screaming incoherently, either-- it was something in Korean, but I couldn't catch the meaning.

2. Compulsive, energetic behavior. KrayzeeGrrrl's movements evinced focus and a need to press on with whatever she had decided to do. The rapidfire nature of her questions-- questions for which she apparently required no answer-- is an example of this. Her gestures and overall bodily comportment were not at all sluggish.

3. Extremely rapid mood swings, as evidenced by the tone of her utterances. She was scarily in-your-face with me, but not angry. In the hallway and stairwell, however, and in talking with my harried colleague (I could hear this through the classroom door), she sounded as though she moved from pleading to angry to friendly, passing from one emotional state to another like someone trying on a series of masks.

4. Erratic mental focus and a near-complete lack of an attention span. This may be linked to (3). From what Z had said, she seemed unable to sit down and absorb a lesson. KrayzeeGrrrl has no sense of the linear.

Heaven help us if this chick is allowed to register for our courses come July! I've just sent an email to our supervisor strongly suggesting that this student not be allowed to sit with the other students. From what I hear, KrayzeeGrrrl has already sat in a Korean teacher's class, where she promptly drove away most of her classmates: they couldn't put up with her behavior.

At this rate, I'm averaging one crazy girl per year. Remember last year's student? If not, take a gander at these posts from the early part of my Smoo career:

Start here...
...then go here...
...then here...
...and here...
...and here...
...and lastly, here.


housekeeping announcement

Thanks to the mighty ML, who lives in the lap of luxury in California, I now have in my clutches a copy of Mac OS 9.2, as well as OS 10.2. The software arrived Monday afternoon. Excellent. I had planned to install 9.2 this evening, but dinner went far longer than anticipated. I'll install 9.2 tomorrow, which will allow me access to my ancient scanner and camera software. Kevin-made graphics won't be far behind.

But now-- I must hit the sack.

After which I shall go to sleep.


Monday, May 29, 2006

what it means to have a Korean for a friend

This evening I told my Korean buddy JW about my 98.4% rating. His reply:

"Once you lose all that weight, you'll get a 100%."

A few Koreabloggers are now blogging about workouts and weight loss. I'm not usually a big fan of blogger "memes" (a word whose semantic field has rapidly spun out of control largely thanks to us bloggers), but if there's a meme worth following, it's the Fitness and Weight Loss Meme.

JW made me promise to set some goals for myself and take advantage of my month off, so I take back the response I gave to Rory in the comments section of a different post: I won't be spending my days downloading Japanese porn. Looks like I'll be... physically moving about.

Special thanks go to the following people for providing direct and indirect inspiration:

Mom & Dad
my buddy JW
Sumiyoshi Pilgrim
The Lost Nomad
Dr. Vallicella
Max Becker-Pos
Matt B.
...and a host of others who have either hinted or flatly stated that Something Needs to Be Done.

Joel, however, crossed the line when he reminded me of my original goal of being able to run up Namsan. In an email, he warned me that his Jedi powers have increased since our last meeting. He suggested we go for a run up Namsan... and he called me "chicken."

I promised Joel that I would pray that God give him herpes for his insolence, and will do so now.

Let us bow our heads.

Eternal and ever-loving God, Lord of Hosts, Thy Spirit blows over the waters of this world. Thou givest life to the smallest microbe, strength to the oldest tree, and lust to my scrotum when I chance upon photos of Mina.

Immovable and eternally constipated God, remember Thy suffering faithful here below. Bless us and grant us the wisdom to discern Thy holy path, to conduct ourselves in the ways of righteousness that we might better glorify Thee. Forgive us when we stumble, fill us with Thy mercy, and increase our sperm motility factor a thousandfold even unto the tenth generation. Shower us in milk and honey, and let the women rub each other until they be purified.

O Lord, Thou didst send to us the gift of Thy Son, whose death and resurrection did redeem the world from the Evil One. We beseech Thee now, O Lord, to send forthwith the gift of herpes to Thy servant Joel, that his Gentiles may be afflicted with boils, itching, and a horrible burning sensation. May Joel's privy region be marked forever by this sign of Thy divine wisdom.

All this we pray in the name of Thy Son, Jesus the Christ. Amen.


postal scrotum: Justin Yoshida and Nutella

Justin Yoshida emails me a link to a site showing how Nutella is really made. View at your own risk. Be sure to read the accompanying testimonials. Perhaps Nutella lives inside you.


the 98.4% man

Teacher ratings today. I currently stand at 98.4% approval. We get rated on a 25-point scale: five categories worth 5 points each. My point total so far is 246 out of 250, or 98.4%. (I hear Joel shouting "Grade inflation!" again.) One class gave me all 5s, or 100%, which was cool. Another-- much smaller-- class was less generous and rated me in the 90s. In fact, the student who gave me the lowest rating in that class, an 80-something, was one who had been skipping a lot. Three more classes will be rating me later this week; we'll see how it goes.

I feel fine posting these ratings because I know that all of us teachers receive similar ones. I doubt anyone in our staff gets below 90-something. The students who stick it out to the end of the semester are the ones who like the courses and/or the teachers, which definitely skews the ratings in our favor.

That's actually one reason why I value the ratings at the end of the intensive courses more: all students are obliged to attend-- it's not just the loyalists who stay to the end-- so a given teacher's evaluation scores will be a more accurate reflection of how the teacher is doing, PR-wise, during the intensive sessions than during the normal sessions.*

You'll recall that my winter intensive class was incredible: the rating I got from my class of 9 students (down from 12) was 224 out of 225 points: 99.6%. That's hard to top. I don't expect things will ever be that good again. I truly loved my students and they truly loved me-- a dynamic that's harder to arrive at than you might think.

Will I still be at 98.4% by Thursday? I suspect not, but we'll see. More grade inflation coming your way soon. Expect updates.

*Whether the scores have any meaning beyond PR is debatable. Students who love their teachers are sometimes just as deluded as students who hate their teachers (and exact revenge via the teacher evaluations). I suspect that the primary function of the evaluation sheets is to suss out whether a given teacher has any major problems, which students will write about in the comments section.

If a single student mentions a problem not noted by nineteen others, then it's safe to assume that that student is the one with the problem. However, I'd agree with my bosses that a teacher who receives a slew of similarly negative comments probably has to work on his or her teaching skills. I don't ask my colleagues what their own ratings are (though some will cheerfully volunteer them), but I seriously doubt they receive such complaints. I'm lucky to have good coworkers; I feel I learn from them.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

the final week before break

One of the reasons I like my job is that we get two 1-month-long breaks. The first is in June; the second is in December. We get what amounts to a third month as well: several one-week breaks scattered throughout the year. Along with that, we've got national holidays. From what my students tell me, this year's autumn Chusok break will be a long one because it will be end-to-end with another holiday, but it will also be the last long Chusok for eleven years. Many Koreans are already bemoaning this fact, and I add my groans to theirs.

It's Sunday evening, I'm getting ready for bed, and mulling over the final week of classes. Coursework and evaluations will be wrapped up by Friday (we teachers will be evaluated as well, as happens every semester); Wednesday will be another "optional attendance" day because the good citizens will be out exercising their right to vote. On Thursday and Friday, I have no specific lessons planned; instead, we'll be having the standard end-of-semester jjong-p'a-t'i. I'll be cooking my infamous pasta for my MWF 1pm class, which has demanded it. Because funds are tight, I may be asking them to cough up a bit of money, but I won't ask for much.

The disaster in Indonesia (the death toll is nearing 4000 as of tonight) has been sobering, and then, via Drudge, I saw this article about an Illinois doctor who, while on vacation in Florida with his family to celebrate his 10th anniversary, snapped and threw his two little sons-- aged 4 and 8-- off a 15th-floor hotel balcony, then threw himself off the balcony, too. All three died, as you might imagine. There's no need to believe in demons when people fill demonic roles so well.

All this life and death has me in a reflective mood. I had the privilege of seeing Nathan's son today (Sunday). What a cutie! I think often of my little goddaughter, her sister, and their little brother. I think of my own little brothers who, at ages 29 and 26, aren't so little anymore. I think about the power we have to choose our own destinies-- a power that isn't infinite, to be sure, but is nonetheless significant. And I think about how little we can really do to protect other people from the world's dangers, natural or human. We just have to do what we can.

During the month of June, I'll be focused on getting my book prepped and ready for purchase. The publication date-- subject to change-- is still June 26. Keep an eye out for Water from a Skull. Meantime, wish me luck as I and my colleagues at Smoo sprint to the finish of this semester.

Once more unto the breach!


LiNK post updated

I still don't have the name of the third presenter (the young lady with the PowerPoint presentation), but I now have the name of Adrian Hong, who I think is the director of LiNK.

If you didn't read my post about my first-ever LiNK meeting, check it out.


Ave, Dr. Hodges!

Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges is a serious scholar. He writes on various issues, religious, artistic, and cultural, and is one of the Koreablogosphere's deepest thinkers and sanest voices.

He's also really into porn.


coworker & Indonesia update

My coworker, WS, is fine: she and her husband have been safely back in Korea for a bit. They weren't affected by the quake.

The bad news: the earthquake-related death toll in Indonesia has shot up almost to 3000.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

LiNK gains a convert

I think I'm going to do something I haven't done in a long time and join an organization.

I attended the LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) session today. It was held at Smoo's Centennial Hall, Room 503, and started at about 4:30. The symposium went for almost three hours, and was in many ways an eye-opening event. What did we learn, kiddies?

First: I was surprised to see the room-- which wasn't that large-- packed mostly with students (high school? college? I'm guessing college for most of them), not scholars and other stuffed shirts. Many students were wearing LiNK tee shirts, and had apparently come to Korea from America to pass out flyers and spread the word about problems in North Korea. A few of the students were newcomers, including one I knew because she's currently in my English conversation class.

Second: I was glad to see that most of these students seemed truly to care what was going on. One of the speakers made the point that mere caring isn't enough, of course: you have to do something. What is belief without practice, after all? If you can't make the move from is to ought, why waste time attending symposia?

Third: I saw firsthand that some folks still seem to be in denial. One male student, who spoke English quite well, seemed to be hounding one of the presenters with his doubts about both LiNK's mission and the true nature of the North Korean problem. Even one of the previous presenters seemed not to understand that LiNK has made international efforts on behalf of North Korean rights.

Fourth: I thoroughly enjoyed the testimony of one presenter (there were four presenters in all), a North Korean defector who had been a prison guard, and who made it to South Korea in 1994. He sounded a lot like Kang Chol Hwan in expressing his disappointment over how little South Koreans seem to care about what's happening just across the border. He also tweaked the students' noses by declaring that he liked George Bush for speaking out about the North Korean problem, and said he wished the South Korean government would do the same. I imagine that, if you have the guts to risk your life escaping a dangerous hellhole, you won't be impressed by the spinelessness of your new host country's government.

Fifth: I was reassured to hear that, at least among LiNK members and presenters, the term "t'al-buk-ja" is alive and well, not replaced by some politically correct term for North Korean defectors. The term literally translates as "escape-north-person," i.e., "escapee from the North." Good! Keep this term alive and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. T'AL-BUK-JA IS WHAT THEY ARE.

Sixth: A PowerPoint presentation by one of the college-age LiNKers (and let me say that I was wowed by the poise of many of those students, especially two college women who did a masterful job of interpretation for the presenters) contained some harrowing film clips and some slides. Two slides caught my eye, both showing the same thing: a LiNK demonstrator holding a protest sign that used the mathematical symbol for "greater than" in the following manner:

22 million people > Dokdo

Got that, punks? You have no idea what evil, evil gratification I felt to see that sign being flashed before college students (and others) who need a bit more perspective. If I can find that photo online somewhere, I will happily make that a permanent part of my blog's sidebar, right up there with Dalma Daesa.

I'm sympathetic about Dokdo. I think the Korean claim is historically legitimate. But there are worse problems, more pressing problems, to deal with. The final presenter made that point succinctly. He said something to the effect that, "If we have to choose between reunification and human rights, we choose to make human rights the top priority."

The second presenter, the ex-prison guard, felt that South Korea (and, I suppose, other nations) needed to stop its food aid. Pace Andrew Natsios, he felt that the North Koreans who have learned to survive this many years of hardship would endure such a stoppage, and the lack of food aid wouldn't change their reality that much. What would happen, however, is that the food aid would no longer be there for the greedy creatures diverting it. Imagine: hungrier soldiers, hungrier party cadres, a hungrier North Korean government.

I mention this because I was deeply affected by the dilemma laid out in Natsios' book, The Great North Korean Famine. Natsios saw many of the problems in North Korea firsthand. Being a compassionate soul, and having his head screwed on right, he came to two conclusions, both of which I find fair: (1) North Korea is ultimately responsible for its own predicament, and (2) other countries should not combine the issues of food aid and politics. I think (1) is absolutely correct, and I understand why he advocates (2). I think Natsios has the right idea in advocating (2), but ultimately, we have to be cold bastards when it comes to food aid.

The ex-prison guard's testimony today gave me permission to envision the implementation of a grindingly hard-line policy, one that stanches food aid totally. Is it true that any civilization is only a few missed meals away from anarchy? It wouldn't be hard to find out! Natsios's well-written book had me hesitating on this subject. Back when I read and reviewed The Great North Korean Famine (five-part review: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), I favored the hard line, but my conscience bothered me.

After tonight, I don't have that worry. Hard-line stance, baby. The ex-prison guard said it best: "Not much will change as long as Kim Jong Il is alive." This comment produced a good bit of nervous laughter from the students.

Seventh: The first presenter made an interesting point: many of the North Koreans who've settled in South Korea hope one day that, after reunification, they'll be able to go back north to restart their lives. If I recall correctly, a comparison was made between those North Koreans and South Koreans who study abroad, but come back to South Korea to live and work, using their education as an advantage.

In case the above was a confusing, non-chronological jumble to you, let me state clearly the order of the presenters this evening. I didn't take notes and don't have anybody's name (perhaps Andy can email those to me, so I can give proper credit to the folks I saw tonight); please forgive the lack of specificity.

A college student's speech kicked off the symposium. Then:

1. The first presenter was a lady who runs schools for North Korean defectors, helping them adapt to South Korean society. She also spent a couple years in China, helping NK defectors there, teaching them and providing general care. She spoke on the subject of the t'al-buk-ja. Along with noting that many of the defectors dream of reunification and of one day going back north, she talked about the recent question of NKers going to America. In her opinion, the language barrier would be an enormous obstacle for those defectors. I've seen bloggers and commenters who beg to differ, citing the large Korean communities in America (and sometimes bemoaning those communities' insularity; some folks fear that NK citizens in America would still be treated as second-class citizens if they tried to make their fortune in America's Koreatowns).

This presenter was also a bit critical of LiNK and wondered why LiNK wasn't applying more pressure internationally, and not just pressuring South Korea. I understand her reasoning, but find it exasperating: as subsequent presenters mentioned, South Koreans are physically closest to the problem. It's on their doorstep, and, given the amount of "ka-t'eun-minjok" (same people/race) rhetoric, it's primarily their responsibility to do something about the problem. (I'm in the habit of using salty language in this blog and in person. Be aware that it took a lot of effort to write this paragraph without including swear words.)

2. The second presenter was a former NK prison camp guard who defected and arrived in Korea in 1994. He spoke about SK indifference and talked a bit about the wider political ramifications of SK government inaction (or, less charitable souls might say, outright collusion with NK in the destruction of their own people). He'd love to see Kim Jong Il dead-- soon-- and thinks George Bush is right to be hard on North Korea about the crisis up north. By implication, he also made known his contrition at having been part of a system of oppression.

3. The third presenter was a female college student who gave us a PowerPoint presentation that included the "22 million people > Dokdo" slide, along with two beautiful quotes by non-Koreans who know something about human rights. One by Martin Luther King was:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Another was by Elie Wiesel. I couldn't keep the quote in my head, but it was similar in spirit to this quote, also from Wiesel:

Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor -- never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees -- not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.

And just a reminder: this is what Kang Chol Hwan, the author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang, wrote:

The citizens of South Korea should realize they have an important role to play in welcoming refugees. They aren't just people who have fled something; they are people who have a hard time adapting and a hard time forgetting what they have endured. ...It is not enough for people to say they are for reunification. Their actions need to prove it. The rhetoric of reunification is one thing, people's attitudes toward North Korean renegades quite another. I don't question the South Korean population's desire for reunification, even though a large segment couldn't care less one way or another. What I do wish to denounce-- based on my own experience-- are the countless prejudices that are held against people from the North.

4. The fourth presenter (who looked at me after the symposium was over and asked, "Aren't you a blogger?") was one of LiNK's leaders (it frustrates me that the LiNK website doesn't seem to list its staff, and I'm kicking myself for not having asked for a business card). He spoke in English but obviously could speak some Korean and had no trouble understanding it. He talked at some length about LiNK's objectives and gamely fielded questions and critiques from the audience, including some of the questions/critiques mentioned earlier.

I was surprised-- and not a little pleased-- to be one of the oldest farts in the room this evening. It was heartening to see so many students in attendance. I view this as a hopeful sign, and have decided to cast my lot with LiNK. I don't know what this will mean in terms of how I will be spending my time. Perhaps it will mean more blogging about North Korea. Perhaps it will mean pounding the pavement in Seoul and spreading the word. It almost certainly will mean attending more LiNK symposia.

I don't know what's in store. All I know is that, tonight, something changed.

I found some of the missing names via Andy's blog, in this post. Two of the presenters this evening were:

1. Cho Myung Sook (Principal of Yuh Myung School/Jayoutuh School-helps North Korean refugees resettle in South Korea)
[She was the first speaker.]

2. Ahn Myung Chul (former North Korean prison guard)
[He was the second speaker.]

3. ????

4. Adrian Hong (LiNK director...?)
[The final presenter; he fielded some tough questions.]

Alas, Andy the Yangban wasn't in attendance this evening. Sneaky Republican scum. I know you're avoiding me, you bastard!


concern for a coworker

I see news reports of a large, 6.2 earthquake in the central Java province of Indonesia, close to a city called Yogyakarta. My recently-married coworker, WS, has spent the past week in Bali, an island not far from the quake's epicenter. I'm hoping that she & her hubby left Indonesia before the quake occurred (Korean honeymoons, like Korean wedding ceremonies, are notoriously short-- honeymoons are about a week, maximum). I don't know what airport they were planning to fly out of, but Yogyakarta's airport runway is now cracked and currently unusable.

In the meantime, my thoughts go out to the Indonesian people, who have suffered quite enough at the hands of nature (tidal wave) and man (Bali bombings, etc.).


my first-ever LiNK symposium!

I'll be on Smoo campus today for the LiNK symposium mentioned by the Yangban in this post at the Marmot's Hole. If you're going, look for the large, fat half-Korean. Easy to spot. Lots of pics on this blog to help you out.

The meeting's at 4:30 today, Smoo Centennial Hall, Room 503.

I'll be toting a backpack containing copies of my book, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms (whence the title of this, Ye Olde Blogge). I won't be announcing that I'm selling the book. Bad marketing, I know, but I'm not sure I'd be doing the right thing if I started shouting that I had books of dirty humor for sale during a symposium about oppression and starvation. Let's just say that I'll be lighting a candle of capitalism in the midst of quasi-Stalinist darkness.

See you there. W10,000 a copy. Sssshhhhh.


Friday, May 26, 2006

what K Scene actually said
about this blog and others

Out of sheer monkey curiosity, I got myself a copy of K Scene, the free magazine primarily about Seoul and things Korean (check out the website here; the online 'zine looks to be a couple months behind the print edition), to see what was written about Koreabloggers. I assume that the author, A. Maugrim, is using a pseudonym given that Maugrim is the name of the chief wolf in CS Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Not the kind of name your mom gives you unless she wants you to get your ass kicked from elementary school through high school.

The title of Maugrim's article is "Blogiation," already a negative spin: change the "g" to a "v" and you've got "bloviation," which essentially means hot air and bombast. This gives you some idea of what the author thinks of blogs, and he repeats the thought in various ways throughout the article. His essential point seems to be that a few blogs rise above the sea of crap-- but in general, reading blogs is, for Maugrim, a bit like this (excerpts follow):

1. The lack of editorial oversight and personal touches that makes [sic] some blogs so worthwhile is the same tar and brush that makes [sic] others so unreadable.

2. [Bloggers are] by definition and, perhaps, necessity self-righteous.

[Actually, I tend to agree about the self-righteousness, though I doubt its necessity. For me, self-righteousness isn't as much in evidence as narcissism, a trait found in most writers-- ink or photon-- who presume that they have thoughts worthy of dissemination. I gladly plead guilty to this charge. I don't think it's that big a deal. If you disagree, well... eat my balls. That reminds me: many bloggers also exhibit arrogance. Ha! Fuckheads.]

3. Browsing personal weblogs falls somewhere after huffing gas and before Dave's ESL on the "things to do when you're bored" list. Like bad jokes and communicable diseases, they're best shared only with friends and family.

Unadulterated praise is heaped on a select few blogs. Among them: Gusts of Popular Feeling, which is described as "nothing short of astounding in its ability to add context to contemporary events." Come to think of it, no other blog gets quite that level of praise.

The article's treatment of EFL Geek left me puzzled. Maugrim praises the Geek, devoting an entire paragraph to him, but also writes this strange bit:

The author has chosen to make his career in the second language industry and has presumably, if his bio is to be believed, completed his Masters in Applied Linguistics.

Both EFL Geek and I are lumped into the "personal blogging" category. The section of the article where we appear is titled "15 Minutes of Lame." High praise, that, and another indication of how sincerely the author approached his journalistic task.

His brief remark about my blog, which I take as a compliment, was hilarious:

Big Hominid's Hairy Chasms merits attention for the moniker alone. It's just a happy coincidence that it's also funny like a fat kid.

If I were the type to fill my sidebar with quotes from various sources describing either me or my blog, the above quote would definitely be added to the gallery.

Big Hominid: funny like a fat kid.

But as much as I like Maugrim's brief writeup of the Hairy Chasms, the grand prize has to go to his writeup of another blog. This quote, likely a product of the aforementioned "lack of editorial oversight," was a howler:

Scribblings of the Metropolitician is a photo essay blog that takes a slightly more academic approach than the norm. The essays are often long, but are also long (and interesting too).

A sidebar mentions all the blogs covered in the article. The roster (which I leave unlinked here) is:

The Marmot's Hole
Scribblings of the Metropolitician
Ruminations in Korea
North Korea Zone
GI Korea
Lost Nomad
Flying Yangban
The Asia Pages
Frog in a Well
Gusts of Popular Feeling
The Korean Blog List
Daejeon Daily Photo
Zen Kimchi Korean Food Journal
Space Nakji
Big Hominid's Hairy Chasms
EFL Geek

So-- you're always welcome to visit my blog if you're finished huffing gas and still bored.


cheap entertainment

My buddy Tom just sent me a link to this site. Click the "talk to me" link, then start typing in choice phrases for the nice lady to say. You can select what language to use (including English, French, and Korean), as well as what voice to speak the lines in (you can choose a US or UK English speaker). Curiously, the lady can be given a male voice. The speech tech isn't particularly evolved: the voices sound about like they do on the "speak text" function of a Macintosh, a feature that's been around for years.

I got the lady to say "Va te faire foutre, sale fils de pute" with a Québecois accent (male voice). She also uttered the immortal, "O Beauty, who dost betwixt thy fever'd buttocks my beleaguer'd skull embrace!" with a British accent. (Catherine's voice is best.)


(NB: Speaking of Macintoshes, Charles sent me a link to this parody of those Mac commercials. I know about the commercials only because they appear on's main page.)


God = Kanzeon?

[UPDATE: Charles inadvertently reveals to the world the fact that I had not read this essay in any depth before I put up my post. Charles is right: the writer of the essay is at pains to say that "God" does not refer to the traditional God of classical theism. I could attempt to mount a lame defense by saying that the writer is referring to the apophatic "God behind God" found in both Jewish and Christian strains of mysticism, but (1) that would be a phony defense, and (2) given what the author actually says about God, the defense would also be implausible.

While I often engage in post hoc editing of posts to clean up stylistic, mechanical, and factual gaffes, I'll leave my post untouched this time as a reminder to myself to actually read a link thoroughly before pontificating on the linked content. Charles is absolutely right. As for the reason for my negligence, I offer the Air Force Academy cadet's response: "No excuse, sir."]

The Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion is (Skt.) Avalokiteshvara, known in East Asia by three Chinese characters that are pronounced "Kanzeon" (kan-ze-on) in Japanese, "Kuan Shih Yin" in Chinese, and "Kwan Sae-eum" (often misleadingly romanized as "Kwanseum") in Korean.

The name translates literally as "observe-world-sound," and in the Buddhist context is rendered as the English phrase "(She who) hears the cries of the world." You can also refer to this divinity by dropping the middle Chinese character, giving you Kannon (Jpn.), Kuan Yin (Chn.), or Kwan-eum (Kor.).

I stumbled upon an interesting essay by a Buddhist who argues that Kanzeon is the same as the Judaeo-Christian God. Read the essay here. The appropriation of divinities, the transplanting of them from one cosmology to another, is a pretty common occurrence (cf. Jesus as Zen master, as guru, and as avatar of Krsna; cf. also the Buddha as Christian saint); I'm always interested in reading new, creative theologies, especially of the interreligious variety.


more lightsaber choreography

This time, it's Ryan Wieber (from the previous "Ryan vs. Dorkman") against Brandon Flyte. The scene is a bit long and drawn-out, and some of the moves (especially a stabbing motion about a minute into the fight) are almost painful to watch. I liked the first duel, with Dorkman, better. But this duel arguably has a neater, cleaner conclusion.

Watch. You'll see what I mean.

One thing I've noted about these fights is that it does make a difference whether the fighters have martial arts training. Although I think Wieber & Co. have a good sense of Star Wars-style saber choreography, they're sorely lacking in footwork. Every time the camera shows their legs (and it's more obvious in this fight than in the Dorkman fight), the stances suck the drama out of the moment. Wider, firmer stances are called for. That, or they should keep the camera's focus above waist level.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

the movie by Kevin Kim

Inspired by Annika, I went ahead and made my own movie.

Watch it here.


s'more report

Don't try it. I had damn good graham crackers, those excellent bakery-made marshmallows, and some decent Swiss chocolate. Somehow, it didn't come together. Might've been the culinary version of the problem plaguing all-star teams, where each player is too busy trying for his own glory, and there's no focus on actual teamwork.

The s'mores didn't gel tonight. I might try again, much later, with more modest ingredients to test my theory. S'mores are, first and foremost, camp food, so their preparation should be appropriately lowbrow.


K Scene writeup?

My buddy Tom tells me that my blog is one of many Koreablogs mentioned in the latest edition of the free magazine K Scene. My thanks to whoever did the writeup, but be advised that my blog probably doesn't count as a true Koreablog. Just as Koreans have trouble seeing or acknowledging anything Korean about me, your loyal half-breed, so it goes with my blog, a Frankensteinian monstrosity that remains true to its original, hard-to-classify, "shitting all over the place" spirit.

I'll be curious to see how many of my Smoo students pick up K Scene and find this blog. At a guess, none. I've found most English students remarkably incurious about the anglophone world, both in print and online. That's not a reference to the Hermit Kingdom mentality: most of us expats are the same way about the rich and thriving Korean internet. I rarely dip into it myself, and should probably make more of an effort to do so.


pics from Dad

Thanks to the kindness of others, photoblogging remains possible here at the Hairy Chasms. These are pics my dad sent me from his trip to Korea this past winter.

First up: a glimpse of my cramped office, which currently seats eight. I'm at my work station, and my coworker A is about to bash my skull in with his motorcycle helmet.

The second pic, below, is of me at home. Note the two Nutella bottles in the background, now long gone.

The third pic is of me watching Mr. Shin, the artist who does "rainbow style" dragon drawings, as he paints my mother's name, Kim Suk Ja, in Chinese. The end product was great, and Dad took it home to Mom. Mr. Shin had wanted to give the item to us for free; Dad and I slipped W20,000 (each!) into a plastic bag full of hand-made ddeok, then gave him the bag. Mr. Shin, who's a nice guy and a willing teacher, unknowingly made twice the normal price on that piece. I hope he didn't accidentally eat the money when he reached in for the ddeok.

The final pic is of Dad himself, about to bite down on a sandwich I'd made-- one that couldn't possibly have helped his heart condition: salami, brie, butter, baguette.

Speaking of food, our local bakery made some kickass marshmallows. I'd never eaten bakery-made mallows before; the pieces were cut chunky-style, as large cubes about 1.5 inches on a side. They're expensive at W500 apiece, but I might go back, get some more, find some graham crakers, and make myself some awesome s'mores this evening.

I took pics of the mallows I ate today (no worries: I took the pics before I ate them). Once I'm able to access my own camera software, I'll slap those images on the blog.


when estrogen attacks

I like my blogroll because it surrounds me with women who have a marvelous sense of humor.

1. I already linked to this, but I'm happy to link it again: Jelly makes light of her recent food poisoning.

2. Annika stars in her own movie.

3. The Maven offers links to horrifying (or fascinating-- take your pick) images in this post.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ave, Jelly!

Quite possibly the most humorous look at human misery I've ever read. I don't recall being half this funny when I was in the throes of those nasty headaches.

In her post, Jelly jokes about having formed a group called "MOAN" while in hospital. For whatever reason, this reminded me of that routine from the Jerky Boys' prank phone call album, where the one Jerky Boy calls a clinic up, puts on a fake Middle Eastern accent, and yells that he needs treatment because he's been hit in the mouth:

"He-- punch-- my-- teeth!! OWWWWW!!"


Ave, Scott!

The Iceberg rivals (well, it arguably surpasses) The Yangpa when it comes to funny-as-hell posts.

If you haven't checked it out yet, take a look at Find the Kyopos. A far, far better way to spend the time than staring at a "Where's Waldo?" page.

(Ladies: you are advised not to look. Unless you are of... a certain persuasion.)

While you're at The Iceberg, check out this post on cancer-causing kimchi. Strange... it might have been Brian who wrote a prophetic post on this subject not so long ago...

Yes-- here it is. March 28 of this year.

UPDATE: How did I miss this? The Party Pooper has a kimchi-and-cancer-related post here.


calling all fight scene addicts

Someone has already posted a bootleg clip from the French actioner "District B13" online (I mentioned the movie earlier, in a post related to the new "sport" called Parkours).

The following clip (NB: it might get yanked since it's a copyright violation; I've seen other YouTube and Google vids yanked) contains clichés from so many different American action movies that I stopped counting them after a while. What struck me, too, was the simplicity of the choreography: as with the old kung fu movies, the hero faces off against one opponent at a time; the bad guys never rush him as a group (I like how the Wachowksi Brothers dealt with this issue in "The Matrix Reloaded" during the so-called Burly Brawl, the scene where Neo fights a hundred Smiths).

Look for references to "Die Hard" (under-the-table shooting), "Hard to Kill" (some hapkido/aikido-style moves), and "Lethal Weapon" (neck-breaking and using your opponent's gun-- still in his hand-- to kill a third opponent), among other films.

You might argue that the above-mentioned clichés aren't unique to the movies I've associated them with, and you'd be right. But watch the camera work along with the choreography, then tell me what you think.

Strangely enough, I'm a fan of the old Steven Seagal movies because (1) it was a chance to watch Seagal do his street aikido thing (he does a variant of Tomiki, right?*), and (2) Seagal's fights often do involve opponents who rush him as a group.

Here's that clip from "District B13":

*Wrong: His background is apparently in Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido.


all look same? yes, indeed

The site All Look Same? has been around for a couple years. It tests your ability to tell East Asians apart: is this dude Chinese? Japanese? Korean? What about this chick? What about this person? When I took the test a long time ago (in 2003), my own score was horrible: 7 out of 18.

Today, I brought my 1pm English conversation class into my office and showed them the site. I challenged them to take the test, and asked them whether they would like to answer as a group for each question, or answer individually. They chose to answer as a group (which was funny, because we've got one Japanese student in that class; her presence caused something of a disturbance in the telepathic communion among the other girls).

Confusion reigned as the test began. Some of the same excuses I'd made a couple years ago were made by the students: "You can only see their head and shoulders... they're wearing glasses and those get in the way... his hairstyle throws me off..."

Result: the collective wisdom of my class produced a 6 out of 18.

The students were dead sure about many of the photos they saw: "Korean!" they shouted when they saw a particularly distinct-looking face. As it turned out, my students had the most trouble picking out Chinese people. If I recall correctly, when I took the test, I had trouble differentiating Koreans and Japanese.

It was an interesting activity, and a welcome break from the usual textbook-y routine. And now we know that some students are actually as clueless as I am about racial differences-- something we knew already, eh?

We need to do a white-person version of that site. Something with French, Germans, Irish, Scots, Amurricans, Aussies, and Kiwis (and perhaps the odd Icelander). I'd fail that one, too.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

postal scrotum: Jason

Jason emails with an interesting WaPo link about the efflorescence of Korean enterprise. Jason's own post on the subject is here.

The phrase "Korean enterprise" calls to mind a Konglish Star Trek crew. If we do the roll call with a heavy Korean accent, the crew of the Sta-sheep En-ta-p'eu-ra-i-jeu would include: Captain Cock, Mista Spoke, Mista Suru (ilbon-nom-saekgi-ya), Mista Seu-k'ot, Mista Ch'ae-k'o-beu, Dak-t'a Maek-k'o-i, and lastly, Uhura-- whose name would be the only one to survive the transition from English to Korean unscathed.

Given that Sulu is a Japanese bastard, we can expect that, on a Korean Enterprise, he would be a bit like Kenny of "South Park": getting killed in gruesome ways near the end of every episode, with Captain Cock screaming to the heavens, "Why, God!? WHY??" Sulu would then be on the bridge, alive and well, for the following episode, his continued presence aboard the Enterprise forever unexplained.

Where would the Korean Enterprise crew go? What adventures would they have?

Some possible scenarios:

1. The Enterprise encounters a gigantic space squid. The squid gets the better of the Enterprise until Mista Spoke gets the brilliant idea of firing photon torpedoes containing gochu-jang warheads. Sulu, having rushed out to engage the squid in single combat, is killed when one of the squid's tentacles lashes out and smears him against the Enterprise's outer hull.

2. The crew sights a new planet, which turns out to be a fat, bloated American. They land on the American. One or two nameless Red Shirts get killed by the American's living fat rolls. Sulu disappears into the American's hairy navel. Captain Cock gives some speech at the end about how they can't kill the American because, like it or not, they need him.

3. Actually, a truly Korean episode of Star Trek would be like this: the Enterprise crew board the Enterprise, revel in the power of Korean technology, then basically set the Enterprise to do nothing more than orbit the earth because, well, they simply aren't curious about what's out there. Sulu inexplicably commits seppuku with a hand phaser.


who rules Bartertown?

I was five minutes late to class this morning (Tuesday, Seoul time) because my ass was giving me trouble. I'm pretty sure the trouble was linked to the milk I'd drunk the night before: the milk, which I'd bought at a skanky little shop, was a bit off. When we add to that the fact that I'm becoming increasingly lactose intolerant in my old age (insidious Asian genes kicking in at last), it's a recipe for intestinal disaster.

I was awakened by my ass around 3am, Tuesday morning. Although I tried to get back to sleep, I was denied the privilege. Instead, my ass kept forcing me to go to the bathroom. Before 3am, my sleep was plagued with weird visions and nightmares, some of which I still remember.

The end result of all this was that it took me longer than usual to get ready in the morning, and I was still bombarding the toilet right up to the time I had to leave.

Later in the day we had a staff meeting at Smoo, for which I think I was only half-awake. (Apologies to my coworkers for being more of a zombie than usual.)

Tonight, my guts feel a bit better, largely because I ate only one meal the entire day. There's still a bit of rumbling going on, but I'm going to attack that with an extra-strong dose of Metamucil-- a bit like shutting a crying baby up with a fist-sized glob of peanut butter.

(A note to those of you who own, raise, and sell babies: that was a freakin' joke, so don't write in to express your outrage.)

Newcomers to this blog might be asking themselves, "I found this blog through one of the Koreablog lists. What does this nasty-ass post have to do with Korea?"

To which I would reply:

Everything, my child.



Ave, Mike!

Check out an interesting post on religious creeds over at Naked Villainy.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Smoo enters a new century

Smoo fêted the Big 100 today.

The weather sucked, but the festivities-- both indoor and outdoor-- happened all the same. Nothing, not even wind and clouds and rain, was going to stop the old lady from celebrating her birthday in style.

I didn't leave my building until a little bit after 8:30pm, which was just in time to hear the Smoo orchestra mincing its way through Ennio Morricone's theme from "The Untouchables"-- a good choice for the occasion, if a bit corny to those of us movie geeks who recognized the tune.

Not long after that, my buttocks clenched in awe as the heavens lit up with a very loud fireworks display. I had to wonder what Korean War vets were thinking as the booms and flashes pounded and sizzled across the cloudy night sky. The surrounding buildings both on and off campus did a great job of creating dueling echoes. I enjoyed the fireworks, which didn't last longer than a couple minutes. Others on the street also watched: some with open stares and smiles, others with their hands over their ears. By the time the fireworks ended, I was almost home.

And that, Dear Reader, is how I come to report this to you.


guess I'm behind the times

Imagine that.

According to a recent news article, menstruation is now effectively optional. In reality, it's been optional for years for many women who have chosen to take contraceptives to block periods. A new contraceptive, Seasonale, was launched in 2003 and has enjoyed immense popularity because it reduces frequency of menstruation to only four times a year (hence the brand name). Last year, sales of Seasonale enjoyed a 62% increase.

I guess a woman who takes feminine Viagra and Seasonale is pretty much unstoppable: guaranteed arousal and no blood-soaked aftermath.

Ladies, meine Schlange and I salute you.


an interesting Monday ahead of me

Smoo officially celebrates its 100th anniversary on Monday the 22nd (technically today). In my shuffles back and forth from my office in the Social Education Building, I've been watching the prep crews set up enormous metal tube frames for light fixtures and speakers. I won't be surprised if Neil Diamond shows up in the afternoon to rock the house and have our middle-aged adjumma faculty partying like it's 1983.

I was perturbed to discover that the festivities would mean cancelling classes for tomorrow (cancelled again on the 31st, which is election day-- check out the Yangban's excellent blog for info). Our supervisor told us that we would have to give the students make-up days. This bugged me because I had planned out my semester rather meticulously in late February/early March. I always give my students syllabi in the grand tradition of American academe, with chapters and activities noted day by day. Although I do occasionally depart from the plan (as any teacher must), it's rough when a sudden cancellation messes with something major, like an exam day. I thought I had been told about all our off-days before the 12-week term began.

Upon hearing the news of the upcoming class cancellations, one teacher decided that the 22nd and the 31st would make perfectly fine make-up days, since we would otherwise have to make classes up in June, which is vacation for us. (Did you think we would do make-ups on Saturdays?) I agreed with my colleague, and have told my students that Monday the 22nd and Wednesday the 31st are our makeup days. I also told them that attendance on those days would be optional, so I'll be curious as to how many students will be showing up on both days. One student has already texted me by cell phone to say she'll be there tomorrow (well, today).

Monday's going to be loud and obnoxious. I doubt I'll be getting much done during the day. I might actually travel over to Nathan's side of campus to watch the festivities from his building's rooftop, which offers a fantastic, sniper's-eye view of much of the campus. I'll also note once again that Smoo planned its 100th year celebration much better than did Korea University, which scrambled-- and failed-- to complete the construction of its centennial memorial hall in time for 2005, which was Go-dae's 100th year. Smoo's centennial center was fully operational in 2005, when I first signed on. Go, Smoo!


Sunday, May 21, 2006

philosophy as science's handmaiden

Dr. Vallicella of Maverick Philosopher has long been an advocate of the primacy of philosophy-- a discipline, pursuit, and way of living that should, in his opinion, take a back seat to nothing else. Dr. V's recent post, "First Philosophy or Scientism?", provides him an opportunity to advocate the primacy of philosophy with regard to certain intractable questions. In particular, Dr. V stands against statements like the following one by Robert Cummins.

Dr. V writes:

Robert Cummins (Meaning and Mental Representation, MIT Press, 1989, p. 12) regards it as a mistake "for philosophers to address the question of mental representation in abstraction from any particular scientific theory or theoretical framework."

I don't know Cummins, but I like him already. One thing I've advocated on various posts in this blog is that philosophy-- like religion-- should avoid making claims that are (or are likely to be) verifiable through science. This would include claims about the nature of mind/consciousness, as well as the fundamental nature of the universe. To the extent that religion or philosophy can provide answers to these questions, I think such answers should be treated as metaphorical-- more about informing our ethical sensibilities than about saying something literally true of mind and cosmos.

Science is, after all, where progress on these questions actually occurs. Philosophy hasn't provided any solid answers to these questions at all. The fact that the original questions that plagued ancient philosophers remain with us today is an indication of how little help philosophy truly is when it comes to what's important.

Pick a question:

What is real?
What is mind?
What is the "I"?
What is experience?
Does it come down to the One, the Two, or the Many?
What does it mean to be a person?
What does it mean to be human?
What does it mean to be good?
What is freedom, and are we free?
What is the nature of reality?
What exactly are cause and effect?

Philosophers of different persuasions, hailing from different cultures and time periods, have pitted themselves against these ultimate questions, and no universally satisfactory answers have been produced. In the meantime, science produces computers with ever-increasing cognitive skills, explores the universe beyond our planet, probes the very fabric of reality itself, and comes back with actual answers to some of our thronging questions.

I don't want to suggest that philosophy is useless, period. Having something of a philosophical bent myself (then again, blogs like MP and WWW make me feel like a chimpanzee in a roomful of Mensa members, so I'm probably not much of a philosopher), I think the pursuit of philosophy can be defended. The most obvious benefit is that it promotes thoughtfulness, a human quality often lacking in the general populace-- not only among the stupid, but also among the so-called smart. There is great benefit to just sitting and thinking sometimes.

And while I believe that philosophy has made little to no progress at all on the questions it originally posed, I happily concede that philosophy at least provides serious people with models and paradigms through which to think about a new problem, whether that problem be related to politics or bioethics or religious experience.

All the same, I have to hold philosophy's feet to the fire and burn away its orgueil, so my warning to all philosophers is this: you ignore and denigrate science at your peril. Science might need your guiding hand, but science is also more capable than you might think when it comes to answering those ultimate questions. "Does science have the answers now?" I hear a philosopher sneer. No; but it's actually making progress toward some of the answers. What, in the meantime, has philosophy been doing except rehashing ancient debates?

"Footnotes to Plato" indeed!


Polish sausage and chocolate milk

I went to the Hannam Market on Friday and bought myself a pack of sixteen Polish sausages by Gwaltney. When I boiled my first three sausages and slapped them into the hot dog buns with gobs of mustard, relish, and Vietnamese red pepper paste (instead of ketchup-- try it), I wasn't all that impressed. Tasted like a standard hot dog.

Today, however, I boiled another set of three... and guess what.

It's all about the time, baby.

If you boil those suckers long enough (i.e., over ten minutes), you get franks that are not only exploding out of their skins, but almost twice as thick as they were before. Made all the difference in the world.

While I'm on the subject of little things that make a big difference, I'll tell you about another discovery I made.

I occasionally buy Korean powdered chocolate from the local grocery. It comes in a tin can painted Hershey's brown. In fact, the logo for it ("Won Foods") brings Hershey's to mind, font and all. The chocolate itself is crap-- nothing special. It's weak cocoa powder inelegantly mixed in with large-granule sugar. Plop a couple spoons of the stuff into a cup of milk, stir it with your spoon, and it barely mixes. You end up with sugar on the bottom of your cup, a weak tint of chocolate in the milk, and an unpleasant head of unmixed choco-froth sitting atop the whole mess.

But about a month ago, I decided to try an experiment. I poured milk halfway into my tall drinking glass, then glopped in the Won Foods chocolate. I grabbed my wire whisk, stuck it in the drinking glass, and whisked away by flattening my hands and rubbing them in opposite directions, causing the whisk to whip madly back and forth between my palms. After thirty seconds, I topped the glass off with more milk and gave the whole thing another quick stir.

The results were nothing short of amazing. While I still ended up with some sugar at the bottom of my glass, the chocolate milk I drank was recognizably chocolate milk. Incredible. And the foam at the top was of a wholly different consistency and flavor. Veddy nice, veddy nice.

Some of you ladies might be thinking naughty thoughts because of all this talk of "sausage" and "buns" and "milk" and "head" and "between my palms." I assure you, I mean nothing by it. Only your dirty minds would draw such connections.


Ave, Malcolm!

Malcolm Pollack, over at his excellent blog Waka Waka Waka, has written a thought-provoking post on intentionality, a word with a special meaning in philosophy. As Malcolm explains it:

One of the knottier topics in philosophy of mind is intentionality. The term refers to the way our thoughts are about their objects, and intentionality is often considered to be an exclusive hallmark of the mental. A thought can be “about” Paris, but a stone, or a lampshade, cannot be.

Well then, what about something like a map of Paris, or a book about Paris? The response usually given is that a book about Paris derives its “aboutness” from the minds of the person who wrote it and the person who reads it. In other words, only minds have intrinsic intentionality, and only minds can then bestow a second-order, derived intentionality on the artifacts they create.

I side with Malcolm's thesis (stated later in his post): mind is something that arises naturally, i.e., through natural, material processes and requiring no immaterial cause, be it spirit-stuff or God-- which means that intentionality is also naturalistically explicable.

The idea that intentionality might evolve naturally makes sense: stupid creatures are less likely to live to reproduce. Those that are born with (and use) higher mental functions are more likely to breed, passing their mental traits along to their offspring.

I take a stab at an intentionality-related question (and will no doubt be pummelled for the sloppiness of my post) here.

Your question for the evening: does a chess-playing computer exhibit intentionality?


Saturday, May 20, 2006

why, God? WHY?

Cyberspace is positively tumescent with inadvertently hilarious news stories about the deaths of small, helpless creatures. I once again find myself cackling evilly and wondering when a bolt of lightning will send me straight to the Ninth Circle. This time around, I cackle because "dozens" of fish are being killed by that orange wonder, Sunny Delight.

It's almost as though God is trying to blast the human race, but keeps flubbing the attempt. I hear James Kirk from "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan" yelling, "You've managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman you keep missing the target!" Haw haw.


North Korea and the missile

The question is being asked: Will North Korea fire off a missile?

It's a good question. "Fire off a missile" is American slang for "take a shit." In North Korea, where the natives dine on tree bark and each other, it's hard to say whether anyone in that sad country ever gets enough food to produce any shit.

My answer to the question is therefore:

NK might fire off a missile. Might. And it might create a stink.


the marriage

Well... it is accomplished. My lovely coworker, WS, now embarks on her new life as an adjumma. By Korean reckoning, she is only now an adult, despite being a bit over 30.

It was something of a strange wedding. The ceremony took place at a wedding hall inside a large Marriott hotel in Kangnam. As with many Korean weddings, the marriage itself was quite brief; more time was spent taking photographs afteward, I think. The strange thing was that we, the overflow crowd who arrived too late to get a decent seat, were shunted to a separate room and seated at large round tables, there to... watch the wedding live on a huge video projection screen.

The next strange thing occurred right away: the wedding reception began even before the wedding had ended. As WS was marching up the aisle, we in the overflow area were served appetizers of smoked salmon. It felt strange to eat and watch a wedding in progress while people around us were talking, talking, talking. The meal was quite good, actually: the salmon was garnished with capers, two kinds of caviar, sliced black olives, and a dab of cream cheese. Nicely done. The main course was steak in brown sauce, steamed rice (the rice was stuffed inside a cute, hollowed-out cylinder of bamboo), oi-kimchi (cucumber kimchi), and steamed carrots. The side salad and soup (a bland, creamy chowder of some sort) were also tastefully done. We ate; WS got married on screen. Some time later, an announcement was made for "friends and coworkers" to pose with the bride and groom for pictures; we did so. I stood directly behind WS, but a few steps up from her. Stalker position.

After pictures, we went back to our dinners in the overflow area; two Western coworkers also appeared briefly, said hello to us, paid their respects to WS and her new hubby, and disappeared without a goodbye. Ah, collegiality! Considering that our side of campus plays host to a lot of introverts (three out of four Westerners in my office), such behavior isn't surprising: I too am an introvert, and therefore prone to acting bizarre in social situations.

The final bit of strangeness was an example of the kind of embarrassing behavior I've seen on occasion among Koreans in the States: two nameless ladies at our table saw that the plate of steak next to my own plate was uneaten; I heard them complain that it was a shame for the steak to go to waste. I pushed the plate toward them and said, "Please have it." When I looked back a few seconds later, I saw that the ladies weren't eating: they had emptied a plastic tissue container and were filling it with cut-up pieces of steak. After spiriting the steak into the tissue container, they wrapped the whole mess up in one of the linen table napkins, then one lady stuffed the bundle-- yes, napkin and all-- inside her purse.

As I said, I've seen such uncultured behavior from some Koreans in the States. They're usually first-generation Koreans; second-generationers have more sense of decorum. I'm not going to make an argument that all Koreans are uncultured: that would be absurd. I've occasionally found myself embarrassed in front of some especially dignified individuals, and it should be noted that many Koreans think Americans bring a lot of rudeness and bumpkinish behavior with them to the peninsula-- a sentiment shared by people of other nations.

But still, you can't get more gauche than coming to a posh hotel-- to attend a fucking wedding feast, no less-- and then proceed to steal the food, along with hotel property, in plain sight of fellow diners and hotel staff (who I suspect are used to seeing such things happen).

Banter with my Korean coworkers was polite, if a bit distant; the ladies were content mainly to speak in Korean with each other while I did my usual staring-into-space routine.

And then it was over. Another happy couple is now loosed upon the world, and I'm left once again to ponder whether marriage is really a path I want to follow. Judging by my friends in America, it seems worthwhile; they strike me as generally happy with their lot. My American friends in Korea, however, think marriage sucks. "Don't do it, Kevin," they warn me. "You'll regret it."



Bruce Lee's pointing finger

When I was living with the Thalmann family in Fribourg, Switzerland during my junior year in college (1989-90), I would often watch movies from the Thalmann kids' vast collection of videos, many of which were foreign films dubbed in French. One such movie was "Opération Dragon," known to us Amurricans as "Enter the Dragon," which is probably Bruce Lee's most famous film.

Toward the beginning of the movie, Bruce Lee is found training a Shaolin adept (interesting that none of them had shaved heads). He asks the adept to try to kick him; the adept fails until Bruce explains that he should not so much think as feel ("I said emotional content-- not anger!"). When a satisfactory kick is produced, Bruce goes on to explain the proper mindset using the classic Zen metaphor: "It is like a finger pointing to the moon." The adept ends up staring at Bruce's finger. I can no longer remember exactly how the line goes in English, but in French, Bruce smacks the adept over the head and says:

"Ne concentre pas ton attention sur le doigt. Sinon tu passeras à côté de toute la splendeur céleste!"

(NB: I think the English line is, "Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory!")

It's a beautiful day for a wedding, so I'll be attending one this afternoon. My laundry is percolating right now; when that's finished, I'll be heading to the office to work on a pile of end-of-semester preparations. At 3:30pm, a coworker will be swooping by to drive us to Kangnam.

Whether it's day or night for you right now, whether the day is mild or stormy, hot or cold, bone-dry or oppressively humid, may you never concentrate on the finger lest you miss toute la splendeur céleste.


Friday, May 19, 2006

postal scrotum: EFL Geek

I've been asked to relay the following info, sent to me by EFL Geek:


I was hoping that you would help me promote a new project. I've decided that I need more and better quality listening and the best way to do that is via podcasts (exactly what I tell my students) however there aren't any podcasts designed for Korean language Learners such as this one for Chinese Learners.

Basically I am willing to host, design, and purchase a domain for a site similar to Chinese Pod, however I need to find people with Korean skills (foreign or Korean) to help out with the production end. I'll even provide training on how to record the podcast on ones home PC. I've provided a few more details on a blog entry at [LINK] and was hoping you could post something on your blog about this or in some way help out.

I'm looking to start building and designing the site after the current university semester finishes.

Thank you for your time,

EFL Geek


the true Iron Chef

Justin links to a hilarious and-- depending on how strong your stomach is-- horrifying news article about a certain half-Korean, half-Japanese, renegade Cordon Bleu chef named Kaz Yamamoto who runs Le Menu, a shadowy restaurant that serves barely legal and flagrantly illegal dishes to the rich (an idea Yamamoto cribbed from the Marlon Brando film "The Freshman").

If you're an animal lover, please don't click the above link, and try not to stare at the following photo.

The article is quite long, but worth your while. Here's a plump and tasty morsel:

Whether it's immoral or illegal, I can attest to the fact that Yamamoto does know how to cook a penguin. He leads me back to his immense, gleaming kitchen, pulls a defrosted carcass from the refrigerator and goes to work, using several knives, first one with a three-inch blade, then a series of smaller ones. It's a tad unnerving witnessing this beautiful Antarctic bird being dismembered before me. But soon Yamamoto is frying up its walnut-size brain in a Japanese omelet with shiitake mushrooms and heirloom tomatoes. The aroma soon has my tummy growling, and when the result is plated, I dig into it with relish. Magnificent! The stringy, penguin gray matter has the same texture of sliced, pickled chanterelles.


vampiric repose

An amusing AP article over at the MSNBC site relates the story of a 20-year-old dude who broke into a funeral home and went to sleep inside a coffin. Korea needs crimes like that: illegal sleeping, and not just of the "in the park after hours" variety.

I remember being on a bus to Haein-sa in 2000. Scary ride, partly because the driver seemed sleepy as we shot along those curvy mountain roads. It didn't help matters that the driver refused to slow down whenever we whipped through a small town. In one such town, we nearly flatted an old guy who took his damn time crossing the street. I suspect that scenes like this are repeated daily in Korea and elsewhere. Good exercise for your heart, as well as a potential case of criminal drowsiness.


hooray for self-mutilaton!

It's not just Koreans who cut off their own fingers.


eh, wot?

How the hell did I miss this, a piece written in 2005?

I found the blog through SiteMeter and decided to go over and read the writeup of myself. I left the guy a thank-you comment. I suppose I should apologize to him (and to you, Dear Reader) for the current lack of foodblogging and cartoons, but I'm effectively scannerless and cameraless until I get the OS 9.2 software (again, many thanks to M).


Thursday, May 18, 2006

what is a "one-piece skirt"?

In a comment that's still sizzling because it's fresh off the frying pan, Jelly (whose delightful blog recently celebrated its first birthday and hit the 10,000-visits mark) asks what a one-piece skirt is.

I puzzled over whether to put that term in scare quotes in my previous post, because many Westerners contend they've never heard the term before coming to Korea, and that the term must therefore be Konglish or Japanglish or some such. A quick search of Google confirms my own suspicions that some Westerners do know the term, but I still have no idea as to how widely used the term is in the West. At a guess, it's not that widely used.

A one-piece skirt is essentially a dress-- top and bottom-- that's all in one piece. In fact, when I heard the term in America, I heard it as "one-piece dress." In my previous post about WS (see second link, above), I may have inadvertently adopted the Konglish expression, which I've heard variously as "one-piece" (weon-p'i-seu) or "one-piece skirt" (weon-p'i-seu seu-k'eot).

Most people know about one-piece bathing suits. It's quite likely that the term "one-piece (skirt/dress)" is derived from that. Not having done the research, I couldn't tell you whether the term arose independently in East Asia as an example of "Engrish," or whether the term started in the West, failed to catch on there, and migrated across the Pacific to a friendlier Eastern clime.

[NB: It occurs to me that the Google results may be skewed by the fact that some Westerners knowingly or unknowingly adopt Konglish or Japanglish or Chinglish expressions after spending time in East Asia. Some Koreabloggers have written about their "hand phone," for example.]


Ave, Nathan!

Nathan Bauman writes a very thoughtful post about religion and culture here. He and I share many of the same concerns about the future.

One thing I'll note: while Nathan and I were slaughtering sandwiches at the local Subway resto down the street from Smoo campus, we talked about the phenomenon of religious jurisprudence in supposedly secular cultures. It's not as shocking or novel as one might think, even though the question of Shari'a operating in Western countries has been in the news for a while.

I'm a Presbyterian elder, and my church, the PCUSA, has a two-book constitution: (1) the Book of Confessions, which tracks the evolution of our church's creeds; and (2) the Book of Order, which contains rules regarding how to conduct certain types of church meetings, how to handle disciplinary issues, etc. The Catholic Church, of course, has its canon law, and other churches have their own methods for addressing the varied concerns of a community of faith. These methods and rules are often found nestled inside a larger, pluralistic, Western secular context. Viewed from this perspective, Shari'a isn't quite as shocking as it may first seem (in our discussion, Nathan also mentioned the highly developed Jewish jurisprudential system).

The main difference, though, between Christian and Muslim believers living together in modern Western countries is that Christians are more likely to possess some notion of secularity: that the "law of the land" is, practically speaking, the more binding law (how many laypeople in my church are even aware of how Presbyterian self-governance and polity work?). Islam, still generally lacking any sense of the secular, offers Shari'a to its people as a complete legal system that is not to be considered somehow separate from the rest of a pious Muslim's quotidian existence.

I've advocated injecting Islam with a strong dose of Western-style secularism, but I suspect that, as many folks more knowledgeable than I have argued, the dose will have to be self-administered. Will this happen anytime soon? I doubt it.


the good sort of rumor

A beautiful Korean coworker of mine, WS, is getting married this weekend. Another Korean coworker in our office, EG, told me that she and WS had discussed me at one point and they both concluded that I would make "the perfect husband and father." I told EG that it's always nice to find out someone is saying good things about you behind your back.

At the same time, this revelation gave rise to mixed feelings. Many months ago, I had contemplated asking WS out, but had hesitated over the whole "coworker thing," in large part because of my previous nasty experience, which had been with a coworker. Then I found out that WS was getting married-- something she announced quite suddenly one day, without ever having alluded to it during the time I've known her. At that point, I thought it might be in exceedingly poor taste to ask out someone on the marriage track.

The stress of WS's upcoming wedding has caused her to say some interesting things in the office. I've had time to realize that, had we dated, things would not have worked out well. I suspect WS is a lot like a lady I know in the States: a fun lunch companion and maybe a good friend, but not the kind of person with whom I could grow old comfortably. That's not a dig against WS: I'm sure she's at least theoretically compatible with some guy (hopefully that guy is her fiancé), but she's not my type. Or so says my intellect, because my body says otherwise: WS looked quite fetching today in a new one-piece skirt.