Mike Hurt's first Seoul Glow video podcast is up, and it's excellent. Subtitling is in both English and Korean to "bridge the language gap," as Hurt says. I will definitely be watching each new episode as it comes out. Fantastic production-- not to mention a fantastic way to begin the series, from the loud-and-proud opening credits to the optimistic New Year's theme.
(found courtesy the protean Marmot)
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Mike Hurt's first Seoul Glow video podcast is up, and it's excellent. Subtitling is in both English and Korean to "bridge the language gap," as Hurt says. I will definitely be watching each new episode as it comes out. Fantastic production-- not to mention a fantastic way to begin the series, from the loud-and-proud opening credits to the optimistic New Year's theme.
One of the best damn high school bloggers has finally returned to the Koreablogosphere as a college blogger: Daehee P. assaults the senses with his new, more techno-geekily toned blog, IT Milk. I'm going to miss the old days when Daehee, no fan of political correctness, would remark, after taking a test, that he had "raped that exam," but the new Daehee, whose recent posts show the same old flair and no-bullshit attitude, will doubtless bring us plenty of surprises.
Welcome back, man. May the ass-fattening life in IT never destroy your TKD/boxing ability. And don't let your Penn State-ness go to your head.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
On some level, we worry about social faux pas. I remember once eating dinner with my buddy Steve at his folks' place-- this was back in junior high or high school-- and while I was saying something to Steve's mother, a chunk of food flew out of my mouth and landed almost in the middle of the table. That was about the only thing I could remember about the evening, so embarrassed was I.
I've also blogged before about flecks of spit and the occasional random booger flying out of my orifices during class. These problems seem to occur with increasing frequency as I get older.
But I had never before committed a faux pas quite like the one I made this evening. I was walking back from dinner at a restaurant near campus, and had entered Smoo's underground parking garage. The garage is the final stretch before my particular building, and I only rarely encounter people walking in the opposite direction. Not seeing anyone before me, I decided to cut a massive fart. It billowed comfortably upward inside my Michelin Man-style black winter coat, radically altering my infrared signature.
About halfway through my walk, a woman popped out of a side entrance and arrowed purposefully toward me. I recognized her as a certain Dr. Yang, a woman who had constantly badgered a former coworker of mine for proofreading assistance. Dr. Yang marched right up to me and asked whether I would be willing to take over my coworker's proofreading job. I kept my poker face on and replied in a grave and sober manner to her questions and remarks, conscious all the while of the billowing nimbus of fart gas escaping through my coat's collar. Dr. Yang, for her part, either noticed nothing or tastefully chose not to react to this disagreeable olfactory stimulus. We concluded our negotiations and I walked on, trailing more gas behind me.
I fervently hope that the fart gas was instrumental in Dr. Yang's acceptance of my rate quote for proofreading. I wonder what she was thinking. Probably something along the lines of, Foreigners can fart with their heads?
Two letters! The Maven writes:
I think it's all bunk.
It should be READ-Letter... as it's LETTERS that get READ.
Just my two cents... whatever that might be worth in Korea, what with
inflation and the rate of exchange...
Peace ('two fingas")
And Sperwer offers a serious take:
I think red letter days comes from the old missals (brevaries?) from those Saints Days in which the first Letter, usually of the saint's names, was in red. Probably goes back to medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Holy crap, it's true!
The Baby Basics
Remove the father hamster from the cage immediately. Some dwarf hamster males can help raise the babies, however you don't want to stress momma hamster with a second pregnancy so soon! Don't touch the babies unless you have a really good reason. Leave momma hamster and the babies alone if at all possible. If you make the mother too nervous, she may hurt or kill her babies.
You do learn something new every day! Oh, that came from here: LINK
When not being stuffed up some eager pervert's ass, hamsters generally serve as pets. Having a life expectancy of about one or two years, the little fuckers barely live long enough to reproduce. When they do reproduce, it all happens quickly-- the mating, the gestation, the birth, the weaning-- everything.
Today, one of my Level Threes claimed that hamsters are "the most horrible pet to have." When I asked why, she told the class a story about her hamster, which was apparently pregnant when purchased. The hamster gave birth to five little hamsterlings (or so she claimed; I have no idea what a standard litter size is for hamsters), but not long after the birth, the pups appeared to have stopped moving.
"I poked the body of one of the babies... and its head rolled away!" said my student. I asked about the others. "All five had been killed by the mother!" was the reply.
At this point, another student in the class jumped in to support the first student's claim: "Oh, yes! Mother hamsters will kill their own babies if they think something is threatening them," she said. Confounded by this logic and fearing I already knew what rationale the students would offer for such behavior, I asked the second student why the mother might kill her babies. "Because if something is threatening them," she said, "she would rather kill them than allow something else to kill them."
The first student said, "I was about five when I saw the dead babies. Then my mother grabbed the mother hamster, took her to the bathroom, and flushed her down the toilet." The class was rolling with laughter as we imagined this scenario. I asked my student why her mother would flush a living hamster down the toilet. "I think she thought that the mother killing her babies wasn't a good example of nature for me to see," she said.
This was the opening I needed to write Nature is red in tooth and claw on the board.
And now, for your viewing and listening pleasure:
I love the blurb at the top claiming that the creator has been threatened with legal action.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Sunday, January 28, 2007
I appreciate Nathan's kind post. A red-letter day,* too: this may the first time that Nathan has ever actually linked to my blog in one of his posts (please correct me, Nathan, if I missed a previous link). Nathan's a great photographer, and his post, consistent with the tone of my own blogging, incorporates some Buddhism, some ugly fish (food? object of ridicule?), and a urinal with ice in it. Nathan asks why Korean urinals so often have ice in them. Truth be told, I've never noticed this before. All it takes is a single shower of warm piss to destroy an ice cube gathering; for all I know, I've slaughtered thousands of ice cubes without once noticing what I had been doing.
Anyway-- humble thanks, man.
*Why do we say "red-letter" and not "red-number"? Isn't it usually the number that's red?
I was asked a few days ago to teach makeup classes for freshmen who cannot fulfill the "under five absences to pass" requirement. The class will last about two hours and twenty minutes, and will count as two days' attendance for the students. The date for this class has yet to be determined. Sometime in February, I guess.
On top of that, I was just informed today (yes, Sunday) that I will have to teach extra classes Monday through Wednesday, from 1:30 to 2:55pm, because the actual teacher (someone from across campus) won't be able to make it over to our side until Thursday. According to my supervisor, that teacher had told his/her managers about the situation well in advance, but apparently the news did not travel from their department to ours.
Because I am currently teaching slightly under the minimum number of contracted monthly hours (72 hours is the minimum), these makeup classes will, in all likelihood, be counted as "makeup hours," i.e., there will be no pay.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Google's decision to censor its search engine in China was bad for the company, its founders admitted yesterday.
Google, launched in 1998 by two Stanford University dropouts, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, was accused of selling out and reneging on its "Don't be evil" motto when it launched in China in 2005. The company modified the version of its search engine in China to exclude controversial topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre or the Falun Gong movement, provoking a backlash in its core western markets.
Asked whether he regretted the decision, Mr Brin admitted yesterday: "On a business level, that decision to censor... was a net negative."
A "net negative." You have to love such a sterile euphemism for "abetting oppression." I'm reminded of the late, great Ellen Ripley:
Bad call? These people are DEAD, Burke! Don't you have any idea what you've done here?! I'm going to make sure they nail you right to the wall for this. You're not going to sleaze your way out of this one. Right to the wall!
It is, of course, doubtful that Google's owners will be held accountable for acting like whores. In the Alan Dean Foster novelization of "Aliens," Burke (the corporate prole at whom Ripley shouts the above line) ends up being impregnated with an alien, but is given a grenade by Ripley as a final, grudging gesture of mercy on her part. He blows himself up with it. Would Google's masters have the strength to do themselves in should they find themselves in a Chinese jail?
I just read your post about quizzical quizzes and troubles with electronic media and have two comments.
I teach at a university and am required to give first- and third-year students oral exams. These exams constitute part of the student's formal university grade, so my situation may be different than yours.
The first time I gave oral exams, I felt I needed to give each student the largest possible opportunity to demonstrate their English ability and so be accurately judged. I expected each interview to last five minutes but many went longer-- and this was with twenty students per class, so the later interviews were pinched.
A year later, I observed a coworker interview students at a rate of about one per two minutes. Upon listening, I found he gave his student only a few seconds to answer a question before he moved on to the next question on his list. If the student was way off in answering the question, he stopped the student and asked the next question. If the student didn't answer the first few questions, the interview was over.
I don't want to make it appear the teacher was 'phoning in' the interview (although that might be a good idea-- something to think about for my long commute); he was only being efficient. I realized that, in my interviews, I very quickly evaluated the student's ability and completed the interview to give the weaker students a chance to change my decision, but mostly for the sake of completion.
I inform my students in great detail what the oral exam will cover and require and I think a weak English speaker who was a diligent student could do very well. That is, I can't really say my exam purely tests English; it also tests other skills. Still, I feel that a short interview allows me to better evaluate and rank my students within their class (that dang ol' grading curve). With the longer interview format, I felt my criteria drifted too much and my concentration lapsed a few times over the sixty-plus minutes.
Anyway, my question here is, why not shorten your interview to fit them all in the time allotted? Do you feel a long or full interview provides a measurably better evaluation? This question also applies to your recordings; even if all were in one format, will you spent the time to listen to each recording more than once?
Regarding student recordings, I had similar experiences-- late students with weak excuses and a wide variety of formats. Still, I found the product very interesting and wish I had the recordings earlier in the semester as I was better able to recognize the students as individuals after seeing their projects. Colin Skeates, at the KOTESOL conference at your university, gave an interesting talk about video diaries. I plan to organize something of the sort for the spring semester and I will probably post about it.
In your situation, did you not suggest ODEO, or did they not listen? I know you have used their MP3 recording service and that seems the easiest way for a diverse group to make a uniform product.
BTW, I'm in the trenches with you; teaching makework classes during the university break, although mine are elementary school students.
Kwandong University International Education Centre
I'm not sure how stable Odeo actually is, given my own bad luck in using it. I'm also leery of using the one-on-one interview strategy in class when I have nearly twenty students to interview within only seventy minutes: for a class that large, it's not a good idea to let the other 16-18 students simply sit around with nothing to do. That means, essentially, planning meaningful activities for them to do while they wait. Given that the teacher is occupied during the entire class with interviews, such "filler" activities would have to be of the self-directed sort-- things the teacher would not have to manage too closely. It's possible to find or create such activities, and perhaps I should have done so, but it's still a royal pain.
I find that lengthier interviews are better if I'm interviewing more for content than for language skills. For example, my freshmen had to tell me about the role they played in their group, as well as offer me a brief summary of the other students' roles.
Going multimedia isn't easy-- that's one thing I learned from this. Even though most of the students have the tech at home to do whatever I ask, actually getting them to do the job properly is another matter. A few practice runs before an actual oral exam might be a good idea in the future. In the meantime, I'm probably going to do face-to-face interviews for the freshmen's final exam. Far easier to implement. It's just a matter of concocting some while-you-wait activities for them.
"Purple and Brown" is a hilarious animated series of short-shorts starring what appear to be two cheerful piles of shit, one of which is tall and purple, the other of which is squat and colored a more classic brown. My brother David sent me the links to two episodes (they last anywhere from a few seconds to about a minute). After watching those two, I started watching the others. I assume the series has been on for some time, because there are quite a few episodes.
Watching this series is like watching how my mind works-- dopey, simple, generally cheerful, often obsessed with eating and excreting. Among my favorite episodes:
Farting and Burping
Big Green Thing
"All-new" Purple and Brown
As the Swedes say: enyoy!
Friday, January 26, 2007
Long Friday. The bazaar went well (confession: our group didn't earn nearly as much as on previous occasions), and English Circle went for four hours instead of the planned-for three hours. I'm tired, I've got a shitload to do, and I don't feel like doing it. So guess what? I'm going home, calling it a night, and going to the office early on Saturday.
My brother David emailed me the following:
Boy's Screaming Killed Chickens, Court Rules
BEIJING (Jan. 24) - Hundreds of chickens have been found dead in east China -- and a court has ruled that the cause of death was the screaming of a four-year-old boy who in turn had been scared by a barking dog, state media reported on Wednesday.
The bizarre sequence events began when the boy arrived at a village home in the eastern province of Jiangsu Bhurdees in the summer with his father who was delivering bottles of gas, the Nanjing Morning Post reported.
A villager was quoted as saying the little boy bent over the henhouse window, screaming for a long time, after being scared by the dog.
"One neighbor told police that he had heard the boy's crying that afternoon and another villager confirmed the boy screaming by the henhouse window," the newspaper said.
A court ruled the boy's screaming was "the only unexpected abnormal sound" and that 443 chickens trampled each other to death in fear.
The boy's father was ordered to pay 1,800 yuan, or $230, in compensation to the owner of the chickens.
That's a lot of fried chicken. Did you see the prank my brother inserted in the article?
If you're in the area and interested, our English classes are hosting their bazaar today. We'll be in Smoo's Social Education Building, in the lobby, from noon to about 3pm. A yoga demonstration, organized by one of my colleagues (he knows a yoga master), will happen around 12:15. Be there or be a parallelepiped.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I'm not exactly proud of this one:
Seung Sahn scandal
Some members of the Kwaneum School, which Seung Sahn established, weren't particularly pleased with my having brought this scandal up long ago, but I'm not as willing to forgive the old bugger because, whatever his virtues (and I do think he was, on the whole, a wise and perceptive individual), he succumbed to a temptation that arises for many men in authority-- the temptation to abuse that authority for sex. One could argue that he "proved he was only human," but one could say the same thing about a man who hauls off and punches his wife through a wall. Is a wife who quickly forgives this transgression doing the right thing?
I'm alarmed when it's women who defend Seung Sahn's actions*-- this is just as disconcerting as when feminists rallied behind Bill Clinton despite his having shown, multiple times, that whatever his rhetoric, he was no respecter of women.
*Not defend, exactly, but some women do seem to want to minimize the significance of his actions.
The final three-hour session of the four-week Greco-Roman Mythology course met today. Out with a whimper, I think, not a bang.
But things didn't end badly, all in all. The session actually went fairly well: it was easily the most student-centered of all the Thursday classes we had had. Last week, at the end of class, the students divided themselves into two groups for their presentations; they then had a week to prepare. Today, one group did a PowerPoint spiel about the relationship between Zeus and the Olympic Games; the second group did a very amusing skit about the story of Perseus. I was pleased and gave both groups "A"s.
The next hour was spent in a student-centered manner as well: the students divided themselves into four teams and began teaching each other the material I had assigned them last week. They did a decent job of that, too; they were much more active than they had been during previous sessions.
The final hour was spent making Greek food. I got the girls to wash their hands and help me prep the vegetables-- tomatoes that had to be cut, lettuce that needed ripping, onions that needed slicing, and so on. The students also stared in fascination at the tzatziki sauce, though one student avoided it because, as she told me, cucumbers made her nauseous. While most of the students claimed not to mind the smell of lamb, they weren't quite as pleased with the taste. I had anticipated this and didn't mind their dislike at all; I told them to stop eating if the taste got to them. As I recall, my own first taste of lamb wasn't a happy experience (same with duck heart, now that I think of it), so I knew where they were coming from. Beef, chicken, and pork, which are practically universal, are fairly bland meats when you get down to it. Lamb, on the other hand, carries a certain pungent quality that takes some getting used to. When the students left, I combined the remaining lamb (actually, a mixture of lamb, beef and the very meatlike saesongi-beoseot* [a meaty Korean mushroom], which added bulk) with the leftover tomatoes, feta cheese, and what little tzatziki sauce remained to create a pita-less, gyro-like salad. Not bad, if I say so myself.
I'd still rather have a real gyro, though.
I'll be teaching this same course all over again in the coming four weeks, but this time around, I'll have plenty of teaching material. I'll be spending a good chunk of my weekend getting most of it into book form and putting it in our office for the students to grab and use as references. Pre-reading makes all the difference in the world; Korean students who are asked to expound on material they've encountered only in the past hour will not be able to contribute much to a discussion. They need time to read and digest the material, partly because of the language issues, and partly because of culture: a group of Koreans in English class aren't likely to spout off without plenty of prompting. Stephen Krashen's affective filter is very much alive and well on the peninsula.
*The words beoseot and songi both mean "mushroom." I have no idea why the thing is labeled "saesongi-beoseot" at the supermarket. Perhaps it's another instance of Korean pleonasm, such as when Koreans say "weolyo-il-nal" for "Monday." "Il" and "nal" both mean "day" (imagine someone saying "Monday day"), but that's the pleonastic construction Koreans prefer. Think about the stuff we do in English, like: "I saw it with my own eyes." That's a classic anglophone pleonasm. Or "descendre en bas," as some francophones say-- that's not far from the English pleonasm "fall down."
Not great, to be sure: the lamb and beef are both lean, which makes for dry meat. But when you stuff the dead animal in a pita along with chunks of feta, some tomatoes, some onion, and my so-so tzatziki sauce, you get... something edible. I won't be ashamed to feed this to my students tomorrow, though I doubt any self-respecting New Yorker would like what I've done.
I think an artificial solution to the juiciness problem might be to bring along some tin foil, put flattened patties into the foil along with dabs of olive oil, and cook the foil-wrapped meat en papillote style.
Suggestions within the next eight or ten hours are welcome. It's 2am here; I'm going to sleep, waking up at 8am, heading off for morning classes, then coming back home around 12:30 to grab my food items and go back to class. I'll check my email to see whether any suggestions have come in. They have to be of the "quick and dirty" sort, as I'll have only about 15 minutes to implement them while I'm at the dorm. Keep in mind that my only equipment at school will be a gas range-- no oven, and no rotisserie.
(Another possibility occurred to me: I could try cooking the meat on a much lower flame. I had cranked it up to "high" in order to get a quick result, but that may have inadvertently dried everything out. Or maybe not: the meat cooked in about a minute; there simply wasn't much juice coming out of it to begin with.)
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I promised my Greco-Roman mythology class that we would try to end "on a happy note," and that I would make gyros for them. I wish I had a working camera to document the current process, which started at 4:15pm today when I left school early to head over to Hannam Supermarket to buy the requisite supplies.
Making gyros at home, without a rotisserie or an oven, means finding clever alternatives to the standard recipes online. I can't say that the solutions I've come up with are all that clever (and I'm not sure my tzatziki sauce has turned out all that well), but I'm forging ahead.
One thing I did have to do, alas, was buy a food processor. I've got my buddy Max's blender, but I don't think I should gum it up with chunks of lamb meat. It's not wise to press your luck when it comes to electric appliances (just ask the fuckhead who put detergent in our dorm's clothes dryer).
Perhaps an enterprising student will take pictures of the horrifying results tomorrow. If so, I'll blog them for you later.
By the way, I've heard the term "gyro" pronounced "jy-roh," "yee-roh," and even something like "hero." What's your preferred pronunciation?
Trivia: the original Greek term was, according to the great Wikipedia, "guros" (γύρος, "turning").
I took a French drama class with Dikembe Mutombo, who at the time was in the Georgetown School of Languages and Linguistics (SLL-- now, sadly, subsumed into the College of Arts and Sciences). Our teacher was Roger Bensky, and we spent the entire semester working on the extended version of Paul Claudel's La Ville, an allegory about the 22-year-old Claudel's conversion to Catholicism. In the third act, an angelic figure appears after the second-act destruction of the city (the city represents Claudel's shattered inner state; he is ripe for the conversion moment, which is what the beatific third act represents).
Dikembe was the angel.
When the moment came, he stepped impressively on stage dressed in white garments. With that booming voice of his, he declared, "Ô vous! Ô camp des hommes malheureux! Je viens, et non pas la nuit, mais le jour est dans le milieu de la ville!" The first time we performed the play, however, Dikembe flubbed the line and mixed "day" with "night," inadvertently (and somewhat humorously) turning himself into the Angel of Darkness-- not quite what Claudel had intended, but pretty damn cool.
Dikembe's handshake was surprisingly gentle; his hands felt like jelly, though I imagine this is because they were relaxed: Dikembe is also a black belt in karate; his fist could easily punch my head clean off. He tended to address the guys in French drama as "mon frère." He speaks several languages fluently-- among them, English, French, and four or five Congolese dialects. He is, of course, known to many Americans as a top-flight basketball player...
...and it was while reading the text of President Bush's State of the Union address that I saw, with a shock, that Dikembe had been invited to the speech, and that he had been personally recognized for his charitable work in the Congo. Bush apparently said the following:
Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine – but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth – or the duty to share his blessings with others. He has built a brand new hospital in his hometown. A friend has said of this good hearted man: “Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things.” And we are proud to call this son of the Congo our fellow American.
I am "Kevin Kim" on this blog and in my dealings with most Koreans because that is, in fact, two-thirds of my whole name. My actual surname begins with an "N." As a French major, I was also in the School of Languages and Linguistics. Like Dikembe, I was Class of '91. We went to the same graduation ceremony, and I received my diploma right after Dikembe got his, because "Mutombo" was the last "M," and my name was the first "N." (I have no idea why Dikembe was in the SLL group that day; if he had originally come to study medicine, that's a surprise to me. I always thought he was just a language major. In any case, his career path followed the bouncing ball, and Dikembe left us for bigger and better things.)
There isn't much I remember about that particular day (ah, wait: Lynne Cheney gave a forgettable speech for us SLLers in Gaston Hall), but I do remember that I was-- and still am-- dwarfed by Dikembe Mutombo. He's a good guy, a kind soul, and fully deserving of recognition for the things he has done. Allez, mon frère!
I haven't read much serious literary analysis in recent years, but after following a SiteMeter hit, I found myself reading this interesting essay that begins with an analysis of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, from an online publication called Anthropoetics.
Those who have read Martel's novel know that, at the end of the novel, the reader is suddenly presented with an alternative version of the plot and is, in a sense, forced to choose which story is the more believable. The article's discussion of this is fascinating. Here is part of it:
The problem is not so much that Life of Pi resolutely resists deconstruction; it’s that Pi deconstructs its own metaphysical conceit so completely that there is hardly anything left for the canny poststructuralist reader to do. This happens because Life of Pi shifts the framework of its argumentation from an epistemological plane to an aesthetic one. The book says, in effect: "given that we can never know for sure what is true, isn’t it better to enjoy what is beautiful, good and uplifting rather than dwell on what is ugly, evil and disillusioning?" The book doesn’t however just pose this question as an abstract postulate. Instead, it forces it on us in terms of a concrete choice: we are given a long, beautiful story and a short, brutish one and asked to decide for one or the other. And this choice, of course, is part of a larger aesthetic set-up or trap. Readers opting for the more plausible, ugly tale will tire of it quickly and let the whole thing drop. Readers choosing the beautiful, untrue tale, by contrast, will continue to reflect on it while treating its precepts as something that might be true. This type of novel elicits a specific, aesthetically mediated performance from readers by forcing them to believe in a character or event within the frame of the fictional text. Indulging in this doubled suspension of belief might at first seem incautious or naive. However, it is a necessary precondition for all future acts of interpretation, which in themselves may be ironic, intricate and subtle.
Alas, the essay is all downhill from there, as the language deterioriates into the PoMo gobbledygook I have come to loathe. A sample:
The kind of framing or forced identification described above doesn't rule out intertextual citations or critical reflection. These external factors must however always be subordinated to the unbending outer frame of the text. The frame, in other words, fences the text off from the truth conditions of discourse in general--that endlessly shifting, infinitely open realm in which seemingly singular, unequivocal arguments can always turn into their exact opposites. While it may indeed be possible to be very skeptical about certain aspects of what is going on in the story, we nonetheless accept it because we have been made to find it beautiful. This makes the aesthetic mode--something that has traditionally always been roped off from the conditions of practical everyday judgment--the privileged place of argumentation. The difference between this performatist type of aesthetic and the traditional Kantian one is, however, that this one works by coercion: instead of adhering to formal, presumably transcendental attributes of beauty, the text forces us to decide for beauty in terms of a relative, very narrowly defined scene or frame. Performatist aesthetics are in a certain sense "Kant with a club": they bring back beauty, good, wholeness and a whole slew of other metaphysical propositions, but only under very special, singular conditions that a text forces us to accept on its own terms.
Sweet mother of penis. "Kant with a club" indeed. Almost makes me wish I had a club.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Ah, life in Seoul.
I gave my Smoo freshmen their midterm exam, and something occurred to me: because I usually teach conversation, I almost never have a chance to see all my students seated at their desks, writing implements deployed, staring at a piece of paper, and silently scribbling answers. It was eerie and a bit depressing, but I had asked for it: I had told the frosh that they would be taking a three-part test-- vocab, short essay, and oral. They did the vocab and short essay sections in class; I had told them to record answers to questions I had posted online, and to send me their sound files by midnight.
While not a total fiasco, the oral exam was nevertheless problematic. I regret having done things this way; it would have been better simply to extend the test over two days to allow me time to do face-to-face oral interviews. My students had been given specific instructions, several days in advance, regarding the oral component of the midterm. They were to send their files in the MP3 format, which is widely available thanks to the glut of MP3 player/recorders on the peninsula. They were to respond to the questions I had posted by answering them in a single take (no reading allowed!), and to speak for a minimum of five minutes. This being the advanced class, I knew that the latter request wouldn't be too much of a problem. The students had until midnight, Monday night, to email me their sound files.
As you might guess, if you were honest in remembering your own college days, I got most of the sound files between 11:30PM and midnight. The students had had all day to work on their recordings, but this didn't stop them from dithering. Worse, they sent sound files in almost every format except MP3-- I have now made the acquaintance of a veritable alphabet soup of bizarre file suffixes (who knew there was a ".rec"??). The emails that arrived after midnight featured all manner of pleading and "tears" emoticons (grrrrrrr), as well as some abominable English: "please forgive my lating" from an advanced student?
Two students claimed they were simply unable to get hold of MP3 players; I refuse to believe this. That's like saying you can't find a single can of Coke in an American town. One girl gave me her mother's voice recorder, on which she had done her recording; another gave me a standard cassette tape.
This, of course, is a big reminder of what teaching high school in America was like: students almost always tend to slither and slide around the requirements you give them, sniffing out plausible reinterpretations of the teacher's instructions, seeping like water through whatever verbal and logical cracks they find.
By having the students record their voices instead of simply interviewing them, I had added several extra steps to what should have been a straightforward process, and as Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott knows, the more you overthink the plumbin', the easier it is to stop up the drain. So today's partial snafu was partially my fault. The rest I chalk up to the natural squishiness and squirminess of adolescence.
I have a few things to say in my defense, though. First, these freshmen are far and away better than that previous crop of Neanderthals. I came to trust that they could and would do anything, and do it competently. I should have realized that teens can do only so much before their teen-ness begins to show, but I think I can be forgiven my charitable assumptions.
Second, I did have several reasons for opting for the recorded samples this time around. Among them: (1) I didn't want to extend the test over two days, which made it necessary to make the oral component something the students could do within a 12-hour period on the same day. (2) With such large classes, I'm naturally leery of using the one-on-one interview method for testing purposes: you inevitably have to shorten each interview, and you're also left with the problem of how to occupy the rest of the class. I normally use the interview method during "regular" semesters, because classes are substantialy smaller. But with nearly twenty students and only seventy minutes' class time, this didn't seem like a viable option. (3) I wanted the chance to listen to student output at my leisure, which is one big reason in favor of making recordings.
As my friend Max pointed out in a recent email, this style of testing-- recording a lengthy spiel-- doesn't put the student in an interactional context; the dynamic flow of conversation is not a factor, which makes an already-artificial test even more artificial. I agree, and consider this a major flaw of such a test, but at the same time, I felt free to use this method because I had not billed this course as a "conversation class" to my freshmen: I am, instead, using a more project-oriented approach this semester, and I made my students aware of this at the beginning.
Still, my defense aside, I've realized that the language lab technique is probably not a good idea unless one has access to recording facilities that can accommodate around twenty people at the same time. Lessons learned.
And now I've got a shitload of grading to do.
Having been both out of my home country and without a TV for this long, I don't have any idea what Orlando Jones has been up to lately... but if I don't see YouTube footage of Jones doing Barack Obama parodies soon, I'll be sorely disappointed.
Monday, January 22, 2007
I've got too much to do, but lucky for me, Gord sent me a meaty missive for you all to chew on:
Thanks for the link. I'm glad you found my attack on Chopra to be interesting.
I'll be traveling over the next while, but I'll make sure to check back and see what you have to say about religion, materialism, science, and how they meet, clash, clatter, etc.
In terms of this snippet from your site:There have been many attempts at describing the nature of the conflict/dialogue between science and religion. Some, like SJ Gould, would say that science and religion represent "non-overlapping magisteria," each pursuit confined to answering the questions only its methodology can answer. Others see science and religion, not as conflicting, but as pursuits occurring within an as-yet-unnamed larger paradigm. Still others view the matter in an almost Manichaean way, seeing science and religion as destined for eternal conflict, with only one side representing "the good" or "the right." I think a mature dialogue requires tolerance and patience on both sides. As you say above, Max, "No one should claim to have all the answers." The humility born of scientific skepticism and the humility born of religious virtue seem in line with that conviction.
I think one of the problems is that religion traditionally claims to have all the answers. For every question, religion has an answer. As time has passed and scientific investigation has led a more rigorous search for certain kinds of answers, lo and behold, we find that a lot of the answers offered in a literal sense in the past have turned out to be, well, basically hogwash. Extremists deny this, and mainstream religion backpedals to claiming it's a metaphor. Neither answer speaks to the fact that religious myths about, say, the origin of the world or of humans, or the mutation of, say, how we get sick, are far less effective in terms of real explanation than scientific explanations that are repeatably observable. That's not a reason to mock religionists, but it shoudl be enough to get them to question what they've been taught is literally true. I mean, if the age of the earth, and the reasons we get ill, and physical cosmology of the universe were all factually wrong, maybe other facts -- all the way up to the central claims made in various religions -- become equally questionable. Why should one believe that a man named Jesus was a deity, or that a man named Gautama had the key to spiritual freedom, just because it's been claimed as true? That might not be factually disputable, but many of the factual claims made by religious teachings and texts have been falsified by science, leaving behind a faulty track record, and even if that doesn't lead one to dismiss the idea of a divinity, it certainly ought to lead one to question the validity of those very human structures that have emerged over time, and which are actually very human in nature, very much like nations or businesses in certain ways.
I find it funny when people say that they've become "spiritual", as if they have some kind of characteristic that atheists don't have. Atheists have a sense of wonder, they have a feeling of gratitude for their existence, fear of the cessation of their own existence, silence in the face of unspeakable mysteries, and the whole shebang. I used to call myself "spiritual" in my early adulthood to soften the blow of my general rejection of religion. But it was a kind of self-defense, that's all. But I don't write less profoundly about the human condition (in my fiction), and musically nothing's fallen off since I've basically accepted an atheist stance.
As for Goswami's book, I'm sorry to say I've long ago thrown away any patience at all for people who try to use Quantum Mechanics to prove that souls, ghosts, ESP, and so on exist. We're at the point now where we pretty much know that these things don't exist. It'd be nice, and hell, I throw it into my fiction occasionally, but in real life, it's just not likely. The basis for that statement is that every case I've encountered in the past depended on some kind of non-falsifiable claim, or on anecdotal evidence. I know, my father remembered rushing home one day (for no apparent reason, except a feeling of urgency) when my mom fell down the stairs and needed to be helped up. I once consistently predicted seven random pairings of names writing on a deck of cards (and it was random, the deck was shuffled, so I wasn't just inconsciously counting cards from previous days when names were selected in this way). Except that maybe my teacher was messing with my head when he claimed I was guessing right.
A much better recommendation of a book -- one that I've recommended here before -- is Pascal Boyer's _Religion Explained_. It goes quite far to explain why certain types of religious notions have proved to be infectious among humans, while others just don't spread... and why even atheists "get" the ideas that they're rejecting.
In one segment of Dawkins' documentary _Root of All Evil_ -- a title he himself didn't want to use -- some fundamentalist diarrhea-brain starts telling him not to be arrogant. The guy who distrusts his own intuitions as much as he can manage, and relies wholly on observable, repeatable evidence for his knowledge, is more arrogant than the guy who thinks he knows the unseen, hidden, divine nature of the universe from reading a magical book? It's the height of irony, that.
Race and student reactions: some students say to me, "You're almost Korean!" in that way that reminds you that you're always going to be "not-Korean" (alarms and flashing lights) in the heads of almost everyone here. Students tell me that I know Korean culture well, and that's why they feel comfortable in my class. I think there may be an element of racialized thinking, but I also think the racialized thinking is part of the cognitive filter, or the intepretive filter, or whatever. They're comfortable. They ask themselves why, and grab the answer that seems most likely to them, and given the way race is made such a central defining characteristic here, it makes sense that many people would misattribute their comfort to your race, or, perhaps, a combination of race and family background.
And you can't ever discount family background. I realized at some point that while my French is horrible, I have inherited from my mother the Quebecois attribute of conversational interruption as a sign of engagement and paying attention. This is a big no-no in a lot of Anglo societies -- an outright sign of disrespect -- as I realized when I started figuring out why some people found it rude. But I feel a little like my mom -- if people wait their turn and talk, I find exchanges a little "cold fish"-like.
Whoops, I see that Charles made a lot of my point already. But it may be that who you are and what you are, on some deep level, actually do affect how you interact with your students. That maybe you have certain, very subtle approaches or nuances in how you interact with them that come from having had with a Korean family member? That might well be a small part of the mix, where the main issue is that racialized interpretation is likely going on.
As for your pole not rising, man, don't worry about it. Sometimes a pole doesn't rise, and that's fine. It doesn't make you any less of a man, or a teacher. You were probably just tired, or nervous, or something. And then there's the pressure of a having a whole roomful of young women fingering it. I should say that's enough stress to give anyone performance-inhibiting anxiety. I think you should have some bok bun ja and eel, though, and not dog... it's cheaper and tastier, with double the effect if you have the two at the same time.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
My dorm room has one of those mini-fridges familiar to anyone who has lived in a dorm. The "freezer" is barely worthy of the name, and over the course of several months, as often happens with such "freezers," it develops a thick layer of ice that completely covers the metal freezer element and diminishes what little freezing efficiency the fridge already has.
I usually deal with this by emptying out my fridge, eating or drinking whatever's perishable (almost everything), and allowing the thing to thaw overnight. I tilt the fridge back when doing this, so that when the ice melts, the water remains in the fridge without slopping onto my floor.
But a novel approach occurred to me yesterday, and it worked like a charm: I unplugged my frozen fridge, dragged it three feet over to my bathroom door, tilted it forward, then blasted the freezer element with scalding hot water from my shower attachment.
Within three minutes, the evil deed was done, and chunks of ice lay gasping and dying on my bathroom floor.*
The only risk, of course, was in accidentally blasting any exposed electrical elements. I dried everything inside the fridge as thoroughly as possible, plugged the fridge back in, and... not a single problem.
Guess which de-icing method I'll be using from now on.
*Note to Americans: Korean bathrooms are set up similarly to American ones; they have, at the very least, a sink, a toilet, and a hose with a shower attachment. They may also have a bathtub, but almost never have shower curtains. The entire bathroom doubles as a shower when it's time to bathe, so it's expected that the floor will be wet. Koreans generally use plastic slippers to navigate wet bathroom floors, thereby keeping their feet (socked or unsocked) dry.
I can't stand that state of affairs because I worry about mold and other evil creatures associated with standing moisture. My parents gave me an awesome bathroom squeegee; I use it after every shower to scrape all the water off the floor and other surfaces, including the sink, the toilet, and the bathroom mirror. I then wipe everything down with a rag (an old tee shirt). The result is that my bathroom is pristine within minutes instead of hours. The method works: no mold, nothing.
I'm not against the plastic slipper idea in principle, but in practice, I've had trouble at every Korean household because no one has slippers large enough for my feet.
Many modern Korean houses and apartments boast shower stalls, thereby eliminating most of the ancient water-on-the-floor problem, as the water is largely confined to the stall's interior. But most Koreans, as is true for most Americans, don't use squeegees for that post-shower wipedown, even if they have stalls. A shame.
I usually spend my weekends catching up on the sleep I don't give myself during the work week. Waking up "at the crack of noon," as Tenacious D's Jack Black puts it, is normal for me on Saturdays and Sundays.
I was up until almost 8am this morning, and went to sleep as the sun was peeping into my curtained window. I got up just a few minutes ago. Damn-- check that time stamp!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Charles is back!
I wasn't able to follow most of the Liminal One's discussion of the second season of "Lost," as I haven't watched the series, but I did appreciate what he had to say regarding how the "Lost" actors and writers handle-- or mishandle-- Korean culture.
I was disappointed, however, that Charles, in his second podcast, put questions about his sex life off limits. Howard Stern will not be calling.
I guess this would be a bad time to bring up the "special" functions on that pasta maker of his. The device is adjustable; it has numbered settings. But a few of the settings say things like "jiggle," "wring it," "prostate," and "happy bag."
I won't ask what that's all about.
James Horner, perhaps best known as a composer of movie soundtracks, almost always ends up scoring films in which some sort of launch occurs. He scored "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," which features a launch sequence with the USS Enterprise (film footage almost entirely stolen from the previous movie); he also scored "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," with a memorable "escape of the Enterprise" sequence; he scored "Aliens" and "Uncommon Valor" (listen for the "choppers popping over the ridge" sequence); he did a fantastic score for the launch scene in "Apollo 13"; he also did what is, in my opinion, a mediocre score for "Titanic," and he has worked on plenty of other films, often shamelessly reusing tropes and leitmotifs from his previous scores.
Horner should have been here this evening as I took Eva, my new Braun iron, on her maiden voyage across the blue expanse of my denim pants. Eva warmed for launch with nary a hitch, heating rapidly and tamping down wave upon wave of unruly wrinkles. She tacked with flawless grace across sky-blue and Kermit-green seas, across solid colors and plaid, navigating shirt after shirt, her prow cutting fearlessly through the undulating fabric, mastering each garment with her merest touch. It was a proud maiden voyage; a spot of James Horner would have made it just that much better.
Skippy on Kim Kardashian, daughter of lawyer Robert Kardashian (who helped defend OJ):
There are some women so attractive that a gentleman just loses control of his bladder around them. Then there are women whose personalities compel you to urinate on them. I imagine that Jennifer Lopez would be in the latter category. I don't know enough about Kim Kardashian's personality to make an informed judgement, but by looking at her body, I know that I wouldn't go on a date with her without drinking at least four gallons of water first.
For more golden shower insights, flow here.
To Jelly and the Maven-- my humble thanks for the two packages containing all manner of delectables, from tea to salmon to olives to cookies to chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Ladies, you keep the brown people brown. I have no idea what that means, but it's true.
A hapjang in Malcolm's direction for leading me to one of the most beautiful opening paragraphs I have ever read:
Revolution has always had some ostensible end by which its means have been thought justified; and yet, whilst there has never been a revolution that has had for its express purpose the causing of wrack and slaughter, or the causing of a state of society worse than had existed before, such is how it tends to turn out. One might say this is tragically and foolishly accidental, and for the most part, that is how it is; for men are wont to suspend their faculties of sense and sell off their funds of experience for the promise of something great or noble but hitherto unattained.
The above is from a goddamn blog post. I'm not even going to try to emulate such eloquence. The full post is here.
I am now the proud owner of a Braun iron, which replaces my broken-down Eüpa (Korean brand?). The latter had served me faithfully since about the time I started this blog back in 2003. It wasn't the best iron, but it did its job with few complaints.
Braun is, of course, a brand with global name recognition, so I will be severely pissed off if this iron doesn't last at least twenty-five years.
I'm thinking of naming it Eva.
Friday, January 19, 2007
One of my students wrote the following in a homework assignment. I quote here only the relevant part:
I want to talk about the novel "where the river runs".
It was written by Richard S. Wheeler. And the story is related to topic we talked about(ethical question).
It's about the period of pioneering of America. There was a soldier. He had to negotiate with many Indians with his privates. But most of them caught cholera and died.
Ladies, the white man's penis is positively swarming with bacteria. Do not approach it, let alone touch or taste it. Should you see such a penis in the vicinity, report it to your local police station. If a white man should attempt to negotiate with you with his privates, move quickly to a public area. If the white man should trip and have his penis accidentally fall inside you several times, do not panic, but proceed immediately to a local hospital for treatment. This pubic service announcement is brought to you by sperm.
Looks to be another super-busy weekend. I have two large (paid) projects to do, along with planning for next week's lessons. Monday is midterm day for my Freshman English class; one of the things on my to-do list is to design a test for them. I've got French class in half an hour, but English Circle has been canceled for this week; next week, we'll be watching "Kill Bill, Volume 2."
I have another project, too: buying a new iron. My old iron seems to have taken the death of my digital camera rather personally, and has also given up the ghost. So a trip to either Lotte Mart or Namdaemun Market is in order for later today.
Much to do, much to do.
My digital camera-- or maybe it's just the ancient memory card-- seems finally to have died. That's too bad, because there's a rather important picture I had wanted to take and slap up on the blog.
I don't have the money to buy another camera quite yet, but I might soon. Soon.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
What and who only get tangled if you believe that your race defines you. Same thing with the sinner/sin distinction: they only get mixed up if you believe that the sin defines the sinner. Semantically speaking, of course, the sin does define the sinner, but since people who use this formulation generally accept the idea that all people are sinners, a more accurate formulation might be "hate the sin, love the person who is struggling with it." I realize that the issue is more complex than this in reality, but I'll leave it at that because it's not the main point of my email.
Back to your original dilemma--the discomforting idea that your students' reaction to you is racially motivated. I think it's more likely that your students feel comfortable around you because you are funny and easy to get along with, but these qualities are not as visible or easily pigeonholed as your race. Your students are probably drawn to you because of your harder-to-define qualities and are only attributing this attraction to your race after the fact because it provides (for them) an easy answer. But just because someone says they are motivated by something doesn't mean they actually are--it could simply be a justification after the fact.
This doesn't solve the problem of implicit racism in your students' attitudes--they still look to race for the answers--but I think it should relieve some of your worries about "amicable racism." If anything, the racism becomes less amicable, since making the (necessary) distinction between your close relationship with your students and their racial justification for that closeness reveals the fact that the racism itself isn't friendly. If your students had a problem with you (say with your poor jokes or non-rising pole), they could just as easily attribute that to your non-Korean half. What it comes down to is an unwillingness to see beyond the us/them (or, more fundamentally, self/other) dichotomy and recognize that those boundaries can be crossed.
I probably used too many words to say that, but I think you get the picture.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
My dad is 65 years old today. It feels like some sort of milestone (better a milestone than a millstone, right?).
Like some sort of countdown.
Words can't express the love I feel for my pops, which is why I've chosen to display scantily clad women.
Happy Birthday, Dad. Sorry I can't be there to help you celebrate. Enjoy the gift when it arrives. I hope it arrives in decent condition!
The friendly side of racism is what I sometimes get from my students. Consider something that happened at the end of my Intensive 3 class on Monday (the day of the botched joke and the limp pole): as everyone was leaving, a student asked me out of the blue, "You're not part-Korean, by chance?" I said I was. "Ah," she smiled, "That's why I feel so comfortable around you! I don't feel as comfortable around the other foreign teachers."
I'm always happy to find out that my students feel relaxed in my class, and I've often seen comments to that effect on the evaluation forms at the end of any given semester. However, the idea that the students' sense of comfort might be linked to my race is disturbing, primarily for the racism it exhibits, but also for the uncomfortable implications regarding the effectiveness of my teaching style and methods. I'd like to think that I get through to students based on what I do, not who I might seem to be.
But "who can tell the dancer from the dance," eh? Questions of "what" and "who" get tangled pretty quickly, as when people talk about hating the sin and not the sinner.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
I joined the ranks of the civilized today, when I went to the bank and did something I've been needing to do for years: obtain a check/debit card.
The Korean cards work the same as the US ones: they act like credit cards, but debit cash from your checking account instead. I prefer this system: it keeps you from spending heedlessly. I've been wanting the card for a while because I always feel like a barbarian when, in restaurants, I'm forced to pay with cash. From now on, I can just whip out the plastic.
I'm also happy to be done paying off a $530/month debt. I can now focus on paying off an old debt to a relative, and once that's been paid off, there will be little aside from my ever-looming scholastic debt to worry about. That latter debt is on a low-interest payment plan, however, and doesn't crimp my budget-- at least, not for the moment. Getting these immediate debts out of the way has been a goal of mine for the past two years. We're almost there. Almost there.
Today, then, shall henceforth be known as A Day of Sheer Awesomeness. Let no man say otherwise.
I found it interesting that your pole failed to rise despite the fact that a class full of women were fingering it. Massmind, perhaps, but I think that is too simple an answer. Had it happened in all of your classes, I might be inclined to believe that, but only in that one class... perhaps your pole was exhausted from being fingered by the two previous classes? Male stamina has its limits, you know. Maybe you should eat more dog.
And there you have it, folks: a glimpse into the minds of my friends.
I can no longer find the online source from which I stole this activity, but I did something I called "The Floating Pole" with my students. Sounds Freudian, eh? It might well be.
The way it works is this: you bring a long, thin pole into class, something measuring about six to eight feet (1.8-2.4m). An inch-wide PVC pipe of that length is perfect, and that's what I had. You then tell your students to stand in two rows, facing each other. If one row has an odd number of people, that won't matter. You then ask all students to hold out their right index fingers, pointing downward at a 45-degree angle, and warn them that they will use their fingers to support the pole, which you will lay down the middle of the two rows. Two rules: (1) all fingers must be in contact with the pole at all times, and (2) the pole must lie perfectly level, parallel to the floor, on everyone's fingers. The students present their fingers, the teacher lays the pole upon them, and...
...and what's supposed to happen is this: the pole will inevitably rise as students try, unevenly, to correct the pole's angle while also maintaining finger-contact with it. In my first two classes, this worked perfectly, and the students laughed in astonishment as the pole seemed to rise almost of its own volition. Yes! Women fingering the rising pole!
But then came my third class, the Intensive 3s. I gave them the instructions, placed the pole on their waiting fingers, and... nothing. I was bowled over. The pole was perfectly level, and it wasn't moving anywhere. In fact, the students were looking at me, confused about what the big deal was. I kept shaking my head in mute denial, and pretty soon the students started laughing: while they didn't know what was supposed to happen, they could also see that the experiment was a failure.
I then snatched my pole from the students' hands, whisked it into the corner for safe keeping, and shouted that my students were freaks and aliens, every last one of them, which simply made them guffaw all the more.
Class then proceeded more or less normally, until about the final five minutes.
We had been reading and talking about a guy who had climbed Mt. Everest despite being an amputee. The man, Tom Whittaker, had made several attempts up the mountain prior to his triumph. We talked about "triumph over adversity," chewed over the question "What would you like to be famous for?" and, as we moved the conversation to the general subject of disability, pondered which of our five senses we could most easily part with.
I knew, at the end of class, that the time had come to tell the Seeing-eye Dog Joke. I'm sure you've heard some form of it:
A blind man and his seeing-eye dog walk into the middle of a convenience store. The blind man suddenly grabs his dog's leash and begins whirling the dog violently over his head, as if the dog and its leash were a helicopter blade. The store's patrons stare in horror at this spectacle, and the owner, unable to keep silent any longer, shouts, "Sir! What are doing?" The blind man calmly replies, "Not to worry-- I'm just looking around."
The first time I ever heard this joke, way back in the mists of my youth (thanks, Dad), I laughed like a slobbering fool. Most guys do. My students had a different reaction: every single one put on her patented Sad Face and went "Awwwwwww" in sympathy for the poor dog. The moment froze in Matrix-style bullet time. I was busted: the teacher was making sport of the suffering of a defenseless beast! Forget the fact that this country has a thriving dog-harvesting industry: what mattered to these girls was that the fat foreigner was chortling at the death of something cute! The students' scandalized looks were too much; it was almost as though I had been caught skull-fucking Hello Kitty.
And that's where matters stood as a grim silence descended. My attempt at humor was a fiasco, an abortion, a botched joke of John Kerry-like proportions. The ambience had flatlined.
But all was not lost: like Jesus resuscitating that aborted fetus with his glowing fingertip, I managed to crack some jokes and end the class with laughter (not by taking off my shirt, no; that would have led to screams of horror and Oedipus-style, self-inflicted eye gougings), and all was more or less right again.
Guess I'd better be careful about which jokes and activities I spring on the students from now on. Another lesson learned.
Epilogue: I told my coworker about the Floating Pole weirdness in Intensive 3, and his reply was: "Massmind. Pure massmind."
Monday, January 15, 2007
Richardson riffs on my recent excusrion:
Your trip to the sex shop reminded me of my first time. It was 1991, I was 19 and had been in Germany for less than a week, directly from an Air Force technical school. My roommate and a few other guys from the dorm took me off base to Kaiserslautern for a night on the town. The first stop was a sex shop with a "live" sex show, down a cobblestone street, not too far from the centuries old cathedral downtown.
The sex show turned out to be a large, circle shaped, rotating stage with booths all around it. One had to put in 5 Marks (then about $3) for a certain amount of time. There was a glass window between the stage and the patrons.
So four or five of us stumbled into our own booths to enjoy the show. It was some topless chick on the stage, using her hand for... self stimulation. For a 19 year-old who'd been in the Mid-west his whole life until a few days before, it was "interesting."
But then it happened; she whipped "it" out, and by it I mean the schlong, the gochu, etc. She was a he; a transsexual. As I and the other realized this, several doors slammed open as we exited the booths in horror, as did some GIs that were not part of our group (but no Germans). Aside from being shocked/grossed out, I was a bit upset at having thrown away 5 Marks.
I took a moment to ponder about the doors that didn't open. Empty, or with folks still enjoying that show? I'll never know. About the same time I noticed a janitor mopping the floors of adjacent booths. If was a first and last time in such places.
On the way out we browsed the various videos, magazines, and implements for sale. I took a close look at the sign on the way out. If we'd bothered to try to read the German, we might have picked up "trans" something and figured it out, but we hadn't stopped to try to read it.
Perhaps that first trip colored my perceptions, but I've never been too excited about such shops and haven't been a patron since.
In defense of what I wrote on your blog, I think Richardson did misunderstand me somewhat. However, I believe he didn't know the context of the situation. Let me explain. Before I begin, two points. First of all, I thank Richardson for the admonition that not all Christians interpret the Bible literally. Point well taken. Secondly, I would like to admit that my purpose in writing you about the religious debate between me and my friend did have something to do with satirizing her position.
Ordinarily, however, I'm not very sarcastic, cynical, or satirical these days (now that I am, in my own estimation, more mature—people generally don't like to be criticized). I especially try to refrain from being cynical when it comes to others' religious beliefs. The problem here was that my friend kept rubbing her religiousness in my face.
We were having general conversations about her life, mine, and the state of the world, but every twenty minutes or so she would bring the conversation back to religion. About how every major decision she had made in life was due to God. About how God has made all the good things she has done possible. About how if only mankind obeyed the laws laid down by God, there would be no evil in the world.
Still, none of this really bothered me; she has a right to her beliefs.
But she was also playing preacher, trying to win me over to her viewpoint of the universe. Hence the "debate" that we had. Let it be known here, though, that I didn't voice much of my cynicism to her; I reserved that for your blog.
What I didn't like was how she kept disparaging my position (I don't believe in a Christian God) but how I felt that if I, in the spirit of debate, disparaged her position (she does believe in a Christian God), would be insulting her. I don't know why I felt this way, but I did. Maybe I felt that she was more vulnerable to criticism than me, or that she would take it badly? (I'm pretty good at taking criticism well, I believe.) Can you understand how I felt? Anyway, because of this feeling I had, I didn't debate with her much.
The other thing I didn't like was how it basically came down to her telling me, "I'm right and you're wrong." That bothers me. Apparently, her conscience was not at all troubled by her exclusivist beliefs; with a proverbial wave of the hand, she roundly discounted and discredited all other religions and hundreds of millions of believers. You know, I couldn't help but recall the old line: "If you don't believe in our God, then you're going to hell!"
No one should claim to have all the answers.
My next topic has to do with what you call "atheistic version of fundamentalism." Wow. Cool. I've never heard it put that way before. I think you're making a really important point here, namely that any kind of fundamentalism must be eschewed.
You see it all around you. The materialists—those who don't believe in the existence of anything not directly observable (by sight, sound, touch, and so on)—would have us believe that there is no such thing as a God. Funnily enough, I myself was a staunch materialist until recently. However, I've become more of a spiritual person, in part due to some books on metaphysics that came across my path.
This is an excellent book. It has given me a lot of new insight, and I haven't even finished reading it yet. I was struck when I found out that there is now a substantial body of scientific evidence—yes, evidence collected via the scientific method—that suggests there is a basis to phenomena such as ESP, out-of-body experiences, and reincarnation.
Here's one experiment that was discussed in the book. There are two psychics, each in a sealed room. One of the psychics sits in front of a computer and the computer automatically selects a random image. That psychic looks at the image and concentrates on it, while the other psychic in the next room tries to draw the image that enters his mind. I was amazed to learn that the artist was sometimes able to draw the correct image. I forget the exact results of the experiment, but they were statistically significant.
To conclude, my point here is that I think spirituality (religion) and empiricism, two extremes, can meet halfway. It doesn't have to be either one or the other (I think you would agree?). And I was intrigued to learn that science has made and will continue to make inroads into the understanding of our spiritual side.
Very interesting insights.
I would probably be like James Randi and treat any claims of psychic power with great skepticism. If it should turn out that several carefully conceived batteries of experiments yielded statistically significant results, I would, at the most, say, "This warrants further study."
Science, especially lab science, relies on repeatability for independent confirmation; it also relies on what the philosopher Karl Popper called "falsifiability." Falsifiability is not the ability to fake an experiment, but the ability to disprove a particular claim through empirical means. Carl Sagan's famous "dragon in my garage" chapter of his The Demon-Haunted World addressed falsifiability and the question of an unfalsifiable claim's veridical worth (zero, in Sagan's opinion).
For now, the evidence seems to lean significantly toward the view that psychic powers do not exist, despite millennia of claims to the contrary. First, defining what a psychic power is is a hairy business. Second, getting experimental subjects who are willing to sit repeatedly for experiments can be a touchy matter, and then there's the question of methodology.
[NB: I would be curious to know more about the lab conditions in the image-reading experiment mentioned.]
As for the idea that science and spirituality can meet halfway... I think there's something to that notion, but I won't delve into that topic here.
Quick note about materialists: they do believe in the existence of things not directly observable, though I think they would say that "believe" isn't quite the right verb here, given what it implies religiously. Atoms and molecules, for instance, would be considered a given by materialists-- a brute fact of existence. The ultimate composition of atoms and molecules is still the subject of keen exploration and will remain so for years to come, but that they exist is beyond dispute. The same can be said of macroevolution, which is also not directly observable, but which is nevertheless considered a brute fact-- not a "mere theory," as some creationists would have it-- by all legitimate scientists.
There have been many attempts at describing the nature of the conflict/dialogue between science and religion. Some, like SJ Gould, would say that science and religion represent "non-overlapping magisteria," each pursuit confined to answering the questions only its methodology can answer. Others see science and religion, not as conflicting, but as pursuits occurring within an as-yet-unnamed larger paradigm. Still others view the matter in an almost Manichaean way, seeing science and religion as destined for eternal conflict, with only one side representing "the good" or "the right." I think a mature dialogue requires tolerance and patience on both sides. As you say above, Max, "No one should claim to have all the answers." The humility born of scientific skepticism and the humility born of religious virtue seem in line with that conviction.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Well-intentioned Buddhists aiming to gain merit through a ceremony may have released birds afflicted with avian flu on an unsuspecting populace. In an article written by the appropriately named Dikky Sinn, we read:
HONG KONG - Something was strange about the little brown bird found dead from bird flu in one of Hong Kong's busiest shopping districts.
The scaly breasted munia usually lives in rural areas of the territory. So how did it and five others come to be in a bustling urban district — raising the threat of exposing residents and tourists to the virus?
Experts think the birds may have been used in a Buddhist ritual that frees hundreds of birds to improve karma. So, with worries rising in Asia about a new outbreak of bird flu, officials are urging that the religious practice be stopped to protect public health.
Hong Kong is hypersensitive about disease outbreaks — especially bird flu. The illness first appeared here in 1997 when it jumped to humans and killed six people. That prompted the government to slaughter the territory's entire poultry population of 1.5 million birds, and the disease has since largely spared this city of 6.9 million people.
But authorities remain on alert, particularly with new outbreaks in other parts of Asia.
This post by the Praiser of Time Past nicely sums up the problem with South Korea's attitude toward North Korea. Especially that last part from Chamfort.
Mike offers a hilarious YouTube clip of Peter Sellers performing the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" in the style of Olivier doing Richard III.
Justin, who has an unerring sense when it comes to cool links, digs up this freakish YouTube clip of Mary Poppins. The clip has been retooled into a 21st-century-style movie preview trailer making "Mary Poppins" out to be a horror movie: "Scary Mary." And it works. Justin also shows off his mad ghetto grill skillz. Burn them animals!
My dorm has two washing machines on the fifth floor, which is also our building's top floor. I live on the second floor, and tromp up with my weekly double-load. Normally, there's no problem: the two washing machines are almost always empty, and I'm able to do laundry without fear that my clothes will be mishandled by people coming after me.
But for the second week in a row, I have had problems with the clothes dryer because some lobotomized fucknut insists on filling it with laundry detergent.
I normally pull out the dryer's filter to empty it before starting my own drying cycle. Both last week and this week, I have pulled out the filter only to find it caked with a nasty combination of lint and powdered laundry detergent. More detergent is visible inside the dryer's drum, and inside the bottom of the slot where the filter is normally tucked. In both cases, last week and yesterday, I cleaned everything out as best I could, then started the cycle. The clothes have dried without a problem, and I think the rotation of the drum naturally ejects any of the extra soap I might have missed in my cleanout. My clothes show no trace of soap, and the dryer seems to be functioning well, all things considered.
Nevertheless, it is infuriating to think that some dumb asswipe has been trying to introduce detergent to the dryer. I decided to do something about the situation, and left notes in three languages (Korean, English, and French for the hell of it) on the dryer's door, saying:
PLEASE DO NOT PUT LAUNDRY DETERGENT IN THE DRYER. IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW TO USE THE DRYER, PLEASE COME SEE ME (Kevin, 201).
I hope the notes remain on the dryer for the entire week, but I suspect that one of the concierges will quietly take them down, then speak briefly with me when I'm on my way out the door. Grrrr.
What sort of buck-toothed, pea-brained, sheep-fucking bumpkin puts soap in a dryer?
One of the Koreablogosphere's most prominent Canucks is currently traipsing through China, but he's written a very interesting screed on Deepak Chopra, religion, and science. In his comments section, Gord "calls bullshit" on a remark about scientism, which is a topic I plan to address soon. My previous post, pregunta religiosa, was meant to be a prelude to this, my upcoming post. Stay thou tunèd.
Can a moral vegetarian legitimately own a meat-eating pet? I'm trying to work out the implications here: by the moral vegetarian's reckoning, humans should not eat meat because of the suffering they-- we-- cause through meat-eating. The idea of animal suffering is linked to the idea that animals can be viewed through a moral prism: they have rights, hopes, dreams, and needs. Does this latter stance imply that moral vegetarians see animals as moral agents? If so, then some animals must be morally superior to others: all meat-eating animals must needs be morally inferior due to the suffering they inflict. The best pet to own would be a ruminant, I imagine-- something large and stupid that feeds only on grass or other plant life. But even pet-owning should be frowned upon if the deeper issue is animal suffering, yes? And how exactly does one assess the level of an animal's contentment or suffering? To what extent can we say that we know what is going on in an animal's mind?
I think moral vegetarians base too many assumptions on unprovable claims involving animal subjectivity. "Go thou and eat a burger!" I say.
*By the way: the above spiel is full of holes and isn't meant to be taken as a serious argument. While it's true that I don't quite get the moral vegetarian stance, I'd have to work harder to formulate a decent argument against that worldview.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
My buddy Mike is worried about the disappearance of what many philosophers call "libertarian free will." I'd venture that Mike has little to worry about: even if we become capable of tracing every single human impulse back to a previous physical cause such that nebulous concepts like "mind" and "will" need not be invoked as explanations, there will always remain the question of predictability. Although not often explicitly included in philosophical definitions of freedom, it is usually implied that freedom contains an aspect of unpredictability. This is not to say that freedom is merely a form of randomness; after all, random phenomena do not demonstrate the existence of freedom. But a free creature, and that creature's interactions with its environment and with other, similarly endowed creatures, will produce possibility trees that ramify in surprising and unpredictable ways. Rest easy, my friend. You're as free as you need to be.
The Party Pooper explains why we must gloat about Michelle Wie's thrashing by a significantly younger (and shorter) Japanese-American chickie. Key quote:
Now some of you may question why I gloat over Michelle Wie's dramatic failures. To tell the truth, I had never had anything against Michelle Wie until her father opened up his mouth to Korean reporters about how 'the only thing American about Michelle Wie is her passport'. He basically played the Korean nationalism card to get some sweet advertising contracts for his daughter and did his little part to set back Korean-American relations in the States just that much further. Honestly, if Korean-Americans are to become fully accepted into American society (as most should be), idiots like this need to shut up and keep their nationalism (and implied racism) to themselves.
Max has some great posts, including one about the very creative French class he's running. My class isn't nearly this exciting. Yet.
A few days ago, the Marmot showed off this YouTube video of a Canadian dude, who calls himself Kimchiman, doing a strange and funny sendup of "Arirang."
Charles's January 6 piece regarding his podcast is quite educational. Masochist that he is, Charles seems to prefer "honest criticism" to words of encouragement. Knowing Charles as I do, I can say the man is his own worst critic and needs no help from others when it comes to self-assessment. I thought his podcast was a fine first effort, given that he had followed my last-minute suggestion to ditch the script and simply talk. Speaking as a teacher (not as Charles's teacher, of course, but as someone who spends a lot of his time being encouraging), I tend to think that too much criticism early on in the learning process does more harm than good. Success experiences are paramount; stumbles need to be seen for what they are, but they also don't need to be set in bold relief. Later on, critics of the learner's effort should indeed become less forgiving and more "honest" in their criticisms, but during those crucial early stages, standing back and letting the learner make his own mistakes and discoveries is far more important than informing him of his errors, about which he is doubtless already well aware.
My buddy Tom has a "radio" show (actually a DMB cell phone broadcast) called "New Red English," which airs at midnight. NRE is devoted to teaching the raw stuff-- i.e., sex and scatology. Tom has already done several dozen shows, and is thinking of inviting me on one evening (actually, the shows are recorded in the afternoon, not the evening). This is relevant to later events, so please bear with me a moment.
I spent a good chunk of today helping my buddy out with his house-hunting, using my so-so Korean to bolster his so-so Korean as we tag-teamed various real estate agents, peppering them with questions about utilities, facilities, neighborhood shops, contractual issues, and all the rest.
In the evening, I had to go in the direction of Itaewon, to Hannam Market, to pick up some Metamucil for my recalcitrant ass. Tom said he needed to visit a sex shop he'd been to before in order to get props for his show, so we headed Itaewon-ward by subway and walked in the direction of the Itaewon Hotel. Don't ask me why a radio show needs props, but that's how it goes: Tom wanted sex shop items for his next broadcast. He was particularly obsessed with obtaining a double dong, i.e., a long, flexible dildo with "heads" on both ends for two eager vaginas to snack on at once. I think the idea is that Tom wanted to scandalize his producer, who is a woman.
While my blog is characterized by plenty of raunchy humor, I can't say that I've incorporated much raunchiness into my personal life. I've never actually been inside a sex shop before, this despite having lived in Europe, where sex shops are as exposed and ubiquitous as tits on a topless beach. This particular sojourn, then, was a first for me. Another cherry popped.
A shop labeled simply "Adult Shop" in English is located across the street from the Itaewon Hotel; we went up the narrow stairs and found ourselves in female heaven: the shop was pretty much wall-to-wall dildos, with plenty of other adult products thrown in: "Gimp"-style masks, leather bikinis, riding crops, whips, bondage gear, various creams and elixirs, and perhaps most humorously, boxes of batteries.
The old lady who ran the shop greeted us with a wide grin; Tom talked with her a bit while I simply drank in my surroundings. I think I'm going to tell my Smoo students about my adventures this coming week. Maybe not my high schoolers (the early-acceptance high school seniors whom we call shin-ip saeng, or "freshmen"): while I doubt these girls are as innocent as they portray themselves, it seems somehow wrong to write words like "dildo" and "butt plug" on the white board. I might risk broaching the topic with the girls in my Intensive 3 class; they seem sturdy enough to face such material without quailing or giggling, though I'm sure they'd rather talk about such things with a female teacher, not a large, leering male.
I eventually began talking with the shopkeeper. I asked her what sorts of people visited her shop and she immediately said, "Americans. Koreans never visit, though they sometimes send an American friend in to make a purchase." She expressed regret at not being able to speak English-- "It'd make things go a lot easier." So we talked about language learning. The shopkeeper scoffed at Korean kids who spend six months to a year outside Korea, then come back showing little to no improvement in their English. I told her that her generation (which is also my mother's generation) had done much better on that score: that was the generation of people who came to America to work, to survive, to start a new life, and many of those people now spoke English quite well, if not perfectly. Many foreigners coming to Korea these days also apply themselves to Korean study, and learn Korean more rapidly than previous waves of foreigners.
It was a strange talk to be having while surrounded by plastic dicks, but I imagine that, from the shopkeeper's point of view, the items in her store were nothing more than products for sale, no different from a grocery store or electronics mart. About three-quarters of the way through our conversation, some white dude walked up to the shop's door, saw me and Tom inside, and hesitated. He eventually worked up his courage and came in, but damn, did he look sheepish about being there. I don't blame him: I've seen the window displays of sex shops in places like Germany, but can't say I ever had the nerve to walk into them. Tonight's excursion was a plunge into another world, almost as though I had been sucked into the realm of the female id, a strange paradise in which disembodied penises, not angels, were the heavenly host.
Good night, sweet princess. And flights of dingles sing thee to thy rest.
Then, Tom's shopping complete, we got the fuck out of there. Tom said he would be going back tomorrow; the shopkeeper looked pointedly at me and said, "It'd be nice if you both came back." She was apparently relieved to have a "customer" who spoke some Korean.
This ranks among the strangest evenings I have ever experienced in Korea. My major regret is that Tom is a guy.
You look around you and realize that you are surrounded by people who just don't get it-- people who really should know better. If only they made an effort to understand how things actually are, they would be far less of a danger to themselves and those around them. What frustrates you is that you are so obviously right, and these jerks-- of whom there are far, far too many-- are so obviously wrong, and it makes you want to slam your head against the wall every time you have to deal with them. Their misguidedness (or is it stupidity?) constantly amazes you. You hold some hope that your point of view will one day triumph and become the majority worldview, but for the moment, prospects look dim.
So the question is: who are you? A dogmatic atheist or a dogmatic believer?
Friday, January 12, 2007
I had six people in today's 1pm French class, which was a net gain of one person from last week. However, of the five people who attended last week, three were missing. One told me yesterday that she would be dropping because she lives far away, which makes the long commute for a one-hour class more of a pain than it's worth. A second student called this morning to say her stomach was "killing [her]," so I imagine she won't be showing up for this afternoon's English Circle, either.
French class went well, otherwise. We moved beyond the alphabet to simple greetings and basic vocabulary, and class ended with applause, something that's pretty rare for me when teaching. I think the girls are caught up in the novelty of weird pronunciation and spelling; this novelty will wear off once it becomes obvious that French, like any language, requires work to learn.
I'm morbidly curious as to which students will or won't be returning next week.
After class, the main office sent another high school student up to my office to talk with me about the advanced French class. We spoke for about twenty or thirty minutes in French, and I must say, this girl gave me a run for my money. She lived in France for five years, from about age seven to age twelve; she has a fantastic accent, not to mention a very natural, fluent delivery. I was able to speak with her at full speed from the outset, and it was something of a shame to tell her that I had cancelled the mid/advanced class because no one had shown up last week. I'm actually regretting that having said that to her, because the girl wants to maintain her French. That makes her the perfect conversation partner, because I share that goal. Alas. I did tell her, however, that I might consider reopening the French class if she found some French-speaking friends. I think this is for the best; it hardly seems worth it to have a class with only one student.