I'm ashamed to say I share my birth date (31 Aug) with gerbil-loving Buddhist actor Richard Gere, but am proud to say I share it with violinist Itzhak Perlman.
(notable August 31 birfdays are here at IMdB)
My father was born on January 17, 1942; he is exactly the same age as Muhammad Ali, and shares his January 17 birth date with Benjamin Franklin.
Friday, August 31, 2007
I'm ashamed to say I share my birth date (31 Aug) with gerbil-loving Buddhist actor Richard Gere, but am proud to say I share it with violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Well worth your time is Malcolm's paean to the end of summer. I agree completely; alas, summer won't end here until late September. As the Nomad recently pointed out, Korean seasons basically boil down to summer and winter, with summer apparently taking over the calendar.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
I've been 38 in my mind for months, but reality has finally caught up, and I'm officially 38 today. I sat down to write a long essay about how thankful I am that my schlong hasn't detached itself and crawled away from me in disgust, but decided against it. My parents wrote to say that a care package is on the way, and my buddy Mike wrote a lively email to tell me about a turd he'd made that was, disturbingly, shaped like a claw hammer.
What other famous 38s are there?
I celebrated early by hitting the local Outback Steakhouse last night. Strangely enough, the service was terrible, which isn't normal for that branch. The appetizer took 30 minutes to appear, and the main course followed it two minutes later-- bad form, that. But the food was good, and on the bright side, the wait staff was prompt about refilling my drink. That's something of a rarity in Korea. My brother David, who used to work in the restaurant business, tells me the general rule in America is, "The customer's glass should never be empty." In Korea you sometimes have to flag the server down to get your free refill.
But the weather was fantastic yesterday-- cloudy, windy, low humidity. I loved it. That was a nice birthday present.
Today, alas, I'm on my way to the office to take care of school-related stuff. Will probably be there over the weekend as well. We're still on break for part of next week, but the new courses I'm teaching require a good bit of planning.
And that's what turning 38 is like for me! En avant!
People have different metrics by which to judge how screwed up their own country is. I have no explicit criteria, but the following strikes me as an indicator of where things are headed: banning the game of tag on a school playground. The article in its entirety:
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - An elementary school has banned tag on its playground after some children complained they were harassed or chased against their will.
"It causes a lot of conflict on the playground," said Cindy Fesgen, assistant principal of the Discovery Canyon Campus school.
Running games are still allowed as long as students don't chase each other, she said.
Fesgen said two parents complained to her about the ban but most parents and children didn't object.
In 2005, two elementary schools in the nearby Falcon School District did away with tag and similar games in favor of alternatives with less physical contact. School officials said the move encouraged more students to play games and helped reduce playground squabbles.
And this is happening in the shadow of the US Air Force Academy. Does being chased hurt your wittle feewings, munchkie-wunchkie? Christ... the things we'll do just to make sure we and our kids feel good. Maybe it's for the better, right? Perhaps tag should be consigned to the dustbin of history as yet another shameful holdover from our barbarian past. While we're at it, let's remove all notion of competition, because competition implies winners and losers, and we don't want to get into the whole hierarchy thing, do we? So, children: you may run all over the playground, run to your heart's content, but please do so with no actual purpose in mind.
A belated Happy Birfday to old friend and fellow GU Class of '91er Mike D. Sorry I missed the 29th (uh... August 29th, not your 29th birthday).
Mike was in the GU School of Foreign Service like our Numba Wan Koreablogger, Robert Koehler, and while the SFSers have always enjoyed far more prestige than us LingLangers* (hell, we even lost our school, which got absorbed into the College of Arts and Sciences a few years after I'd left), those of us who were in SLL '91 had the privilege of graduating with Dikembe Mutombo. As I've mentioned before on this blog, he was in line right in front of me (he was the last "M" and I was the first "N"... "Kevin Kim" is two-thirds of my full name).
Anyway, Happy Birthday, man. If you ever want to speak Russian without going to Russia, visit Seoul. Tons of Russians here. Not to mention Russian-speaking Mongolians.
*Georgetown University School of Languages and Linguistics. I guess "LangLing" doesn't sound as sexy as "LingLang." Both sound suspiciously Chinese, though.
Idiots' Collective finally lands on my sidebar. Welcome aboard. Sorry I stole your pic, Aaron, but it seems apropos. "Idiot" calls to mind some sort of herd animal, as does "collective." This makes me wonder a bit at the choice of blog title, since the blog strikes me as individualistic in tone and not at all idiotic. Am I just slow to pick up on irony? Who's the real idiot here?
I finally get my connection back after almost 22 hours without it. Not as if I'm counting or anything, but I lost connection yesterday, not long after posting that last post.
The dorm connection has been very unstable of late. I'm tempted to say, "You get what you pay for (my Net hookup is free, one of the perks of staying in a dorm)," but I know that people who pay for their online connection often find themselves screwed over a couple times a year as well. Sometimes quality has no correlation with price.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Given the gravity of this situation, I know it's in poor taste to open on a comic note, but I find this weirdly relevant: over at the Metropolitician, Mike is hosting a YouTube vid of a preview for the new Harold and Kumar movie, cleverly titled "Harold and Kumar 2." The preview shows Harold (Korean) and Kumar (Indian) on a plane on their way to a weed-filled Amsterdam holiday when an old woman takes one look at Kumar and screams, "Terrorist!" Not long after, we see shots of Harold and Kumar in detention, with a smug federal agent purring, "North Korea and Al Qaeda workin' together... this is bigger than I thought!" I laughed my balls inside-out watching the first movie, so I have high hopes for the sequel.
But it's interesting to witness life mirroring art: Al Qaeda's most famous collaborators, the Taliban, appear to have reached a deal with North Korea's most famous collaborators, the current South Korean government, regarding the fate of the 19 remaining hostages. The hostages are to be released at some undefined point, according to the Chosun Ilbo. The Chosun goes on to talk about what's on everyone's mind:
However, there was speculation of other, under-the-table agreements. Asked about a prisoner swap the kidnappers had earlier demanded, the spokesman simply said, “In consideration of the Afghan government’s position, the Korean government proposed a feasible method to the Taliban and has been negotiating sincerely” with the Islamist group.
Other bloggers have already commented on what this might mean. For my part, I'll express relief that the hostages are supposed to come home, though I feel some trepidation about the fact that the particulars of the agreement apparently haven't been worked out yet.
I admit I'm morbidly curious as to what the South Korean reaction to the arrival of the hostages will be. My Korean coworkers have confirmed rumors that many Koreans probably will not receive these people warmly upon their return. One reason I heard was, "They've been wasting our tax money" by getting in trouble and forcing the Korean government to negotiate. I'm also curious as to whether Christian missionaries will continue to conduct covert mission work in Afghanistan. The current SK-Taliban deal includes an injunction against further Korean mission work there; all Koreans doing any mission-related work must leave the country by "late this month," which I take to mean "by the end of August." Will dedicated missionaries actually leave the country? Will all missionaries, even the ones in small, isolated villages, be aware that a departure order has been issued?
This isn't over.
My friend Tam Gu Ja wrote to alert me to an interesting American Indian story (here slightly edited for style):
An elderly Cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me; it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
"One wolf is evil-- he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.
"The other is good-- he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
"This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too."
They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied: "The one you feed."
My own question to the grandfather: why is the good wolf fighting? Does fighting transcend good and evil? I'm aware that people talk about "the good fight," and even agree that fighting can be justified if done for the right reason, but I'm curious as to what that grandfather's answer to the question would be.
Other questions: fear is a trait of the evil wolf, but courage isn't a trait of the good wolf. Why? Also: why is sorrow a trait of the evil wolf? I can understand regret being evil: Buddhists would call this a kind of attachment.* But if you are, say, forced to kill someone, wouldn't sorrow be an appropriate response to such killing?
*In the Buddhist case, though, an attachment wouldn't be so much evil as unskillful.
Points off for Facebook's slow-as-molasses customer service. Here's the email I finally received in response to my query (an altered form of the post I'd written earlier):
Our records indicate that you have successfully reactivated your account. Please let me know if you have any further issues.
Thanks for contacting Facebook,
Customer Support Representative
This is how not to run customer service: delay a few days and then provide a nonanswer. So I wrote back to ask what purpose the cell phone confirmation serves if it's possible to reactivate without it. I expect the answer won't come for a week, if it comes at all.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
My home internet connection has been spotty at best all day long; I wrote the previous entry at the office, then went to the bank and went home. Hours passed, and I found myself completely unable to check email or do any blogging from my Mac, so now, at 10:30PM or so, I find myself back in the office. Apologies to people awaiting emails.
The connection at my dorm seems to be worsening as time goes on. I wish they'd upgrade or something. That, or I need to spend some cash on stuffing more RAM into my old computer to increase performance, however slightly. The end result is that I've begun moving more and more programs to my office computer, which means I still live at the office. I installed my old copy of Photoshop Elements 2.0 here, and now do more Photoshopping here than at home.
Not that I want to spend all my time in the office, but I go where the connection's fastest and where it's free. Why spend money for a PC-bahng when my office computer is almost literally across the street?
Lunch with the sunim was very good. We went to a Middle Eastern resto near the edge of Itaewon closest to the Yongsan base and chowed down on some delicious vegetarian appetizers. Our waiter was an elementary school kid who, according to Soen Joon sunim, speaks at least three languages already. The kid's family (Sneem, did you say they were originally from Morocco?) has been in Korea a few years, and they own at least two restaurants in Itaewon. The resto's atmosphere was relaxed and friendly; a cluster of people close to us turned out to be French, but despite a powerful temptation, I chose not to dive into conversation with them.
I don't know what Soen Joon got out of our conversation, but for me, it was an eye-opener: I asked a lot of questions about her life as a nun, and SJ was her usual outgoing, forthright self. Out of respect for her community, I won't go into detail about the topics we covered (not that we were delving into state secrets or anything, but still). It was good to see the former Andi again... I passed along the one emailed message I received (she's probably gonna email you, Joel, but her day is kinda busy).
Apologies for the off-tint picture. I took that with my phone camera. It captures the moment quite well.
Note to Charles: the sunim is very, very interested in learning more about Korean-to-English translation. Her Korean has improved immensely since last I saw her; in fact, I'd say that her progress has leapfrogged my own. She might be emailing you at some point to pepper you with questions about the hows and whys of translation. Apparently, there are many translation projects in the works in the Buddhist community, some of which are being handled by foreign nuns right now, some of which might fall to Soen Joon later. Please don't be surprised if she visits Liminality (which, she says, she already does) and leaves a comment.
Monday, August 27, 2007
I don't know Elisson personally, but I do enjoy his witty, hilarious blog, which is aptly named Blog d'Elisson. His blog's sidebar contains a section called "Yet More Self-aggrandizement," which appears to be devoted to quotes from other bloggers. I've been racking my brains for eons, trying to think of a quote to add to his sidebar, and then suddenly, this very evening, it came to me:
Elisson's blog: mysterious... like unraveling a turban and finding a dildo inside.
I'm writing this entry as an apology to Elisson, who deserves more blogological solidarity than I've given him. You see, something special happened a couple months ago, and I missed it. I'm not sure how I missed it... perhaps it passed under the radar because it happened in May, right before I was to fly over to the US in June, but the point is that Elisson (Peace Be Upon Him) published his book Shorts in a Wad, a compendium of one hundred 100-word short-short stories. I've ordered a copy for myself and plan to review it. In the meantime, I'd encourage you to click Elisson's ad, which I've stolen and displayed below. The ad takes you directly to the book's Amazon listing. Buy the book; review it on your blog or on Amazon; help Elisson spread the word.
A smaller version of the ad will also have a permanent place on my sidebar soon:
UPDATE: Elisson, I read your comment, and I think the change is for the better: feel free to replace "dildo" with "moist dildo."
I'm meeting Soen Joon sunim (the former Andi Young) tomorrow for lunch. If you have something you want to say to her, please email me your message with the following heading:
I don't want you leaving your message in my comments because the sunim occasionally reads this blog; I'd like the messages to be a surprise. And while she's got a fantastic sense of humor, please don't make requests along the lines of "Show us yer tiiiiiiits!"
A long time ago, Charlie the KimcheeGI lent me a book of his titled Negotiating with North Korea, by Dr. Richard Saccone. Much to my shame, I have yet to give it back. One amusing chapter of NWNK is devoted entirely to NK negotiating tactics, which Saccone divides into eight categories and multiple subcategories:
A. Coercing Tactics
Creation of Crises
B. Offending Tactics
Insist on Answer
C. Manipulating Tactics
Lesson of History
Exaggeration of Public Support
Using the Opponent's Press
D. Asserting Tactics
Controlling the Agenda
Attacking the Opponent's Position
E. Confounding Tactics
Reinterpreting the Agreement
Good Guy/Bad Guy
F. Obstructing Tactics
G. Persuading Tactics
Seek Common Ground
H. Cooperating Tactics
Appeal to Fairness
Request Working Meetings
Pretty interesting material. Just thought I'd share. The chapter where this appears takes up the bulk of the book and is loaded with specific examples of each tactic. Amusingly, the book also provides suggested counter-tactics.
But I say, screw negotiations. I think the US needs to stop pussyfooting and just barge into the conference room from a position of power, acting arrogant and confirming every stereotype the world has of our government. I don't recommend such behavior with our allies, who in my opinion deserve our respect and humility. But since when has negotiating with NK been about rationality? We're entering what I hope will be a new age of cooperation with our Western European partners (Merkel and Sarkozy, at least, seem quite willing to work with the US, at least when compared to their predecessors), and I'm pretty sure the next US president (as I continue to predict, this will probably be a Democrat) will be keen to foster the spirit of cooperation. These folks are all rational. Is Kim Jong Il? Perhaps he is, but US-NK negotiations have always carried a whiff of craziness about them.
Dynastic Kimism is all about preserving a very specific power structure and little else. I see no utility in continuing to treat US-NK negotiations as somehow similar to other negotiations. What significant, material concessions has NK made? It's better just to ignore them and let SK deal with them. If we are obliged to meet NK delegations face to face, then our tactic should be simple: each time we meet, present the NK side with impossible demands (e.g., "We'll let you have what you want if we can film Kim Jong Il fucking a sheep."), then shrug and walk out with a "See you in six months" when the NK delegation goes batshit. This would save money and time, and would reduce the negotiations to what they actually are, namely exercises in uselessness. Time is on our side. Let the NK government keep on eating itself, and let SK shoulder the full burden of caring for its "little brother."
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I mentioned that I would try reactivating my Facebook account with an eye toward using it for the upcoming walk. So I logged on and received an email saying:
You recently tried to log into your deactivated account. To reactivate your account, follow the link below:
(If clicking on the link doesn't work, try copying and pasting it into your browser.)
If you did not try to reactivate your account, please disregard this message.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
The Facebook Team
So I clicked the link they gave me and was taken to a "cell phone confirmation" screen, which has to be one of the dumbest ideas I've seen: what if you don't have a cell phone? No matter-- I clicked "South Korea" on the drop-down menu, typed in my ten-digit cell phone number, and clicked the "Confirm" button. The idea, apparently, is that Facebook sends you a confirmation code via text message.
So I tried the procedure again, this time subtracting the initial zero from my phone number.
In the meantime, it seems I'm able to access my Facebook profile, leave messages on other people's "walls" (as I just did with my brother David), and so on.
So am I reactivated or what? I'm going to send a message to the Facebook team asking what the hell is going on, and whether they might consider changing their confirmation procedure to something not cell phone-centered.
Thanks to reader ML, I have this interesting video link to the always-outspoken Wafa Sultan, here contending that the basic clash we see on TV these days is between "two eras": the ancient and irrational one versus the modern, rational one.
In the meantime, my buddy Dr. Steve has sent me a link to an interesting article titled "The Politics of God" that argues much the opposite-- instead of dismissing what we in the West perceive as primitivism, we need to start taking political theology seriously:
A little more than two centuries ago we began to believe that the West was on a one-way track toward modern secular democracy and that other societies, once placed on that track, would inevitably follow. Though this has not happened, we still maintain our implicit faith in a modernizing process and blame delays on extenuating circumstances like poverty or colonialism. This assumption shapes the way we see political theology, especially in its Islamic form — as an atavism requiring psychological or sociological analysis but not serious intellectual engagement. Islamists, even if they are learned professionals, appear to us primarily as frustrated, irrational representatives of frustrated, irrational societies, nothing more. We live, so to speak, on the other shore. When we observe those on the opposite bank, we are puzzled, since we have only a distant memory of what it was like to think as they do. We all face the same questions of political existence, yet their way of answering them has become alien to us. On one shore, political institutions are conceived in terms of divine authority and spiritual redemption; on the other they are not. And that, as Robert Frost might have put it, makes all the difference.
Understanding this difference is the most urgent intellectual and political task of the present time.
Site traffic has slumped over the past week or so; I assume this is because of the last-hurrah vacationers doing their thing before September. Luckily for me, ROK Drop linked to the "postal scrotum" post featuring Rob's email about biker delivery dudes. Thanks, ROK Drop, and thanks, Rob.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Remember what it was like to be a child? How fondly I remember those carefree elementary school days-- playing childhood games like "Sniff My Festering Wound" and "Punch My Dick Without Hitting My Balls." As we kids grew older, the games began to reflect our budding pubescent tendencies: "Honk the Boob," "Crack the Butt," and "Tongue the Camel Toe" were perennial favorites, though perhaps not all that well appreciated by the fairer sex. With the teenage years, boredom and alcohol gave rise to games like "Electrocute the Puppy," "Vein or Tendon? Scalpel!" and "How Deep Inside Can This Bottle Go?" Hell, even college had its share of laughs, what with "Vomit Tennis" and "This Chunk Proves It's Not My Diarrhea!" being all the rage. College girls, as I recall, really got into "Who's the Father?" and "Why Am I Scratching?"
Ah, to be young again.
definite, not definate
separate, not seperate
weird, not wierd
reMUNerate, not reNUMerate
ENmity, not EMnity (think enemy, not indemnity)
And while some people pronounce it "miss-chee-vee-uss," the spelling is nonetheless mischievous. No "i" after the "v."
And a quick punctuation reminder: if you're American, keep your period inside the closing quotation mark, as you see above. If you're British or from a country that uses British English as the standard, feel free to continue doing "this".
UPDATE: Jelly correctly notes in the comments that "reNUMerate" means to count again. Yes, but I hope it was obvious that I was pointing out the very common mistake many people make when they use "renumerate" in reference to pay. Almost nobody uses "renumerate" when they can say "re-count" (here hyphenated to distinguish it from "recount," as in "carefully recount the events"). Googlefight stats here show the relative occurrences of the two words online.
Sperwer sent me some interesting religion- and walking-related links a few days ago. I thought I'd share:
Kusala: Buddhism in America
Fat Man Walking
Common Ground Mag
Books About Personal Pilgrimages
I've been home all day today doing, well, not much of anything. This is that relaxed, post-coital period after every semester when I allow myself to slump with exhaustion, sleep for twelve hours, then switch into Fart Around mode. I'm off this week and part of next week (placement interviews happen in early September), and will probably make up for the hiking and exercise I haven't been doing over the past ten days.
This semester wasn't really that tiring, to be honest. My schedule was light after that slew of cancellations in early July. I went from having to do six preps to only three. Three preps at four days a week is not a bad life. I did have to do some extra work to "make up" my missing hours (by contract, I have a minimum of 18 teaching hours plus 5 office hours), but that work wasn't hard.
I think the most tiring aspect of the semester was starting each day so late. Constitutionally speaking, I'm a vampire, not a morning person, so it was easy to slip into "go to sleep at 5AM" mode, which is where I've been for the past two months. My earliest class started at 1:30PM, so it was no problem for me to sleep from 5AM to noon. Some people shake their heads in wonder, but they're usually confusing "sleeping late" with "oversleeping." I don't normally oversleep; I get a decent 6 or 7 hours of shut-eye per night.
This fall, though, we're back to 7:40AM classes, so I'll once again have to readjust my rhythm. Not a big problem. I actually prefer to teach in the mornings and early afternoons, because we get done by 2:30 or so. Starting and ending early allows me to have most of the rest of the day to myself. I'm glad I never teach in the evening. One of my former colleagues was the opposite: he generally preferred evenings, but unfortunately, our office cancelled all evening classes due to a lack of student registrants.
Some goals to meet during my free time (at least one of which will require my readers' help):
1. Finalize a name for my walk and then start a blog devoted to it. That blog (which will probably allow comments) will have posts divided into two supercategories: "spiritual" and "practical." Not the best dichotomy, as many spiritual folks will contend that the spiritual is practical. My hope is to classify posts dealing with religion and "inner life"-related matters as "spiritual," while posts on such things as my exercise, health insurance, trip logistics, etc., will fall under the "practical" rubric. I'm also thinking I might reactivate Facebook on the off chance it might help establish some connections in the months to come.
2. Hunker down with Nathan via email to begin discussing this PR thing.
3. See "Ratatouille," which was recommended to me by Charles. It hasn't left the Korean theaters yet, has it?
4. Begin compiling the manuscript for the CafePress version of my 2001 book, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms (this blog gets its name from the title of my book). I've gone through the procedure to remove the book from Amazon.com (click here to see the entry); it's supposed to disappear from Amazon when the final book is sold. I've got copies of the book with me as well; I'll sell them off for cheap if you're interested. The cover price was $15, but I'll part with the books for the scandalous price of $5 plus shipping. Feel free to PayPal me (use the email listed on my sidebar to contact me and discuss arrangements) if interested. Be aware that PayPal charges a small transaction fee, so the additional shipping charge might be a dollar or two more expensive than the actual cost of postage. Apologies in advance.
5. Begin compiling the CafePress manuscript for the sequel to Scary Spasms. In a sense, you've read the book already: it'll be composed almost entirely of humorous pieces from the blog. As I noted long ago, one reason why I maintain this blog is for the express purpose of cultivating and harvesting book material. I write best in bits and pieces, I think, which may be one reason why I've studiously avoided events like NaNoWriMo. When writing becomes a test of endurance, I turn out to be just as mentally lazy as I am physically lazy.
6. Do some audio podcasting. I finally figured out that the solution has been sitting under my nose: YouTube. I own the full version of QuickTime Pro, which allows you to combine sound and images. I've got sound recording/editing software, and have made five or six podcasts in the past. My first project will be to fuse the recordings I've done with still images via QT Pro, then slap them up-- either on YouTube or on Blogger, which now offers its own "Add Video" function. YouTube is more likely, however, because embedding vids in my blog makes my blog difficult to view on my old Mac, which can't handle the size and speed of today's videos. I'd prefer to link off-site to YouTube. That, or I need to get a new computer, at which point I will stop worrying about all the folks with slower computers. Anyway, after I upload the old podcasts, I might make some new ones if I have time.
7. Hiking/exercise: I need to arrange those temple walks, and am planning to talk to the nuns of Seungga-sa (on Bukhan-san) about what's possible.
8. In the opposite direction, a decadent thing: a temporary coworker from across campus told me about a restaurant called Brasilia near the COEX Center (Charles, did you mention this place once? did someone else mention it?). You can apparently indulge in an all-you-can-eat meat fiesta for a non-exorbitant sum. A weekday raid sometime next week may be possible.
9. Start shopping around for a cheap plane ticket to Europe in December. This is for my upcoming one-week visit to France and Switzerland, the result of a promise I made to see my French and Swiss host families (I broke the promise last year, faute de fric), especially my French Maman, who has gone through treatments for breast cancer (the treatments are over now, but I'm not sure whether the cancer's in remission).
10. Last but not least, I have two school-related tasks: (a) lesson planning for the upcoming semester (this kinda goes without saying), and (b) poster-making to help market our new courses. I'm going to receive "comp time" for making the posters, to be used if my weekly hours are under the minimum next semester. If it turns out that I have a normal schedule (i.e., none of my currently listed classes are cancelled), then I'll get overtime pay for the posters. At Smoo, overtime pay isn't much, but it's better than nothing. In either case, whether my weekly hours are above or below minimum, I'll be compensated for the printing costs.
But right now, my immediate tasks are dinner, laundry, cleaning my floor, going for a Namsan walk, and continuing my rereading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Review, with spoilers, coming soon.
(Congrats, Kathreb, on finishing the book and securing that job. Oh, and Marmot? Kathreb's got a request for you. Check her post out, if you haven't already.)
Friday, August 24, 2007
Scientists appear to have found a way to simulate, at least to some extent, OBEs, or out-of-body experiences. I see ramifications in areas such as philosophy of mind, not to mention naturalistic explanations for what many people too hastily assume to be spiritual experiences.
"Scientists have long suspected that the clue to these extraordinary, and sometimes life-changing, experiences lies in disrupting our normal illusion of being a self behind our eyes, and replacing it with a new viewpoint from above or behind."
I got my evals back. Depending on how you calculate them, my average this time around is either 98.57% (345 out of a possible 350 points) or 98.4% (if you average the percentages from the three classes that reviewed me-- 95.2%, 100%, and 100%). Either way, I'm over 98% this time, so I don't think they'll fire me quite yet.
What seems to happen in this department-- and this is only a theory of mine-- is that the bosses, who do not come in to observe classes, rely almost entirely on student reactions to determine whether a teacher is doing a good job. A lot of front-desk rumormongering substitutes for hands-on management, which is much the same as what happens at many hagwons, where information about teacher conduct is passed along to secretaries (or to unwilling Korean colleagues), who in turn pass the information along to the supervisors. As you might imagine, I'm uncomfortable with this way of running things. If I were a manager, I'd be sure to block out time to observe my teachers directly, and I'd be sure to know well in advance what I was looking for.
Criteria vary, of course; different people look for different things in a good teacher. When I observe teachers (as I did in the US and have done here on several occasions), I normally take notes that include "time stamps" to get an idea of how a teacher flows from activity to activity. So: How evenly paced is the lesson? is one question I want to answer. Another question is How organized is the lesson? Yet another is What reinforcement/review strategies does the teacher employ? In other words, does the teacher leave a few minutes at the beginning/end of class to recap/review, or does s/he at least block out some review days (esp. before major evaluation periods such as quizzes and tests)? No reinforcement at all (and I've been guilty of this myself) is not a good thing. There's always a temptation to rush through a lesson, but that temptation needs to be resisted. Review is crucial, especially in language class.
Some points I don't care about:
1. How well does the teacher dress? It means jack shit if the teacher dresses well but sucks at his/her job. Koreans do say Oshi nalgae-da (roughly, "The clothes make the man"; literally, "Clothes are [your] wings"), but class after class of Smoo students have confirmed my impression that undergrads actually prefer teachers who dress in a manner that doesn't convey uptightness. One reason why I chafe at teaching businessmen (something I haven't done in over two years) is that I have to wear a suit. That makes me sweaty, uncomfortable, and, well, stanky. I much prefer the relaxed atmosphere at university. You've seen enough photos of me to know that I dress like a slob for my classes, and I've never once received a complaint about it.
2. Does the teacher make the students feel good? While I strongly believe that learning comes more easily in comfortable settings, I'm not fundamentally interested in cultivating a pleasant ambience. I know myself and know this will happen naturally in most classes, partly because of my sense of humor but mostly because the students I teach are generally decent folks. Unfortunately, many students tend to judge their class experience almost entirely on feelings, with only a few conscientious ones truly concerned about content. A better question than Does the teacher make the students feel good? is: In the end, did the students meet the teacher's cognitive and behavioral objectives? Students who have a good time but learn nothing should not pass into the next level. Unfortunately, many do. More on this in a bit.
3. Does the teacher give the students many handouts? Quite a few students are under the impression that "preparation" means that a teacher walks into the room armed with photocopied handouts. For some reason, this is considered a "rebellious" alternative to the department-assigned textbook. But stealing some random shit off the Internet and photocopying it for the students is not prep. Actual preparation takes time, and it does mean extra hours in the office. Not many expat teachers here seem willing to devote that sort of time to what they do.* Teach and go is the rule, and it's a shame. It also fuels the general disrespect many Koreans have toward foreign teachers, and doesn't help the image of those teachers who actually make the effort to do a good job.
I promised I would say something about student progress from level to level. One problem is that students who don't deserve to move up to the next level often do so anyway. They manage this in part because a given department has no clear criteria for level promotion. Students might, for example, go from Level 1 to Level 2 by passing the class, or they might fail Level 1 yet get into Level 2 by taking a placement test with an "easy" interviewer. Why is this even allowed? The idea that a student who failed simply should not move up is lost on many hagwons and university departments in Korea. Another problem is that some departments do have clear criteria for promotion, but those criteria aren't enforced by the relevant powers. This is frustrating for teachers who don't want to see incompetent students rise in the ranks.
Teachers seem to break into two major camps when it comes to the question of levels, progress, and evaluation. One camp is partial to Dr. Spock's idea that grades are inherently odious: not only are grades misleading, but they also give students the wrong motivation for taking a class. Learning ceases to be about education and becomes more about getting the "A." As a result, these Spockians believe class should be modeled on a low-pressure, "divergent learning" paradigm where students can create their own content or take their studies in whatever direction they please. The teacher isn't there primarily to push, but rather to facilitate. Evaluation, if it happens at all, is framed and reframed in terms of the student's self-established goals. This is a reasonable view: studies show that students regularly learn more when intrinsically motivated to do so. Tailoring lessons to the specific needs of a given class can yield very positive results.
The other camp, whose view I find equally reasonable, believes that students need structure, and that if you initially accept the idea of levelling, you are implicitly accepting the idea of evaluation. Convergent learning is more important to this camp: students should come away from classes having demonstrably mastered certain skill sets. This requires an "objective" measure of progress, something both the student and teacher can recognize, which can be used to determine whether a student is ready to move on to the next level. I say this view is reasonable because it's very hard to determine how, exactly, a student should move up to another level if every teacher in the department is, effectively, "doing his/her own thing." A large number of departments allow this to happen while paradoxically requiring students to register for and progress through different levels. Without some overarching departmental philosophy, effective curricula won't be put in place, and students will ultimately pay the price for this negligence.
In my ideal department (which we can't have because our staff is down to two expats), there would be a two-track system, each track appealing to students with different fundamental orientations-- convergent and divergent learning-- with the two tracks eventually meeting at the end of the line. This fusion would be the natural result of language mastery: whether a student goes through a structured or unstructured course, if they spend enough time in either track, they will eventually be able to handle higher-order cognitive tasks in the target language-- discussions that require analysis and synthesis, for example.
Teachers who, by temperament or training, prefer the divergent/Spockian approach should be assigned the task of handling that track. There would need to be a lot of discussion, though, about how exactly these teachers hope to measure student progress, or whether progress, per se, is even an important notion. Much of the preparation for the Spockian track would be in the area of underlying philosophy, general departmental goals, and specific cognitive objectives. The teachers assigned to the convergent, non-Spockian track would need to lay out specific behavioral objectives because it would be important for students to demonstrate mastery before progressing to the next step in the program.
I think the two-track system should also allow students some leeway to jump from one track to another. It strikes me as unfair for a student to enter one program and then be locked in. On a business level, I see that as a sure money loser. But everyone likes having a larger gamut of choices, and the track-jumping option would let students know they have some room to stray from their chosen path and see what life in the other track is like. However, I don't know how the track-jumping option would work in reality. It's obvious that a student can't constantly jump from one track to the other; this muddled approach wouldn't benefit the student at all. But how much jumping is too much? I suppose that would be something for each individual department to discuss.
Anyway, just some thoughts about the Big Picture. Comments welcome, as always.
*To be fair, many teachers have outside commitments that prevent them from spending too much time in the office. This is perfectly understandable, but because I've worked in the American high school system alongside 40- and 50-something teachers who have families, I know that you can make the time, despite domestic commitments, to do your job right. Sorry if I sound like a sanctimonious asshole, but my selfish reason for sermonizing like this is that I do worry about what sort of reputation foreign teachers have in Korea. As things stand, our overall reputation is in need of serious rehabilitation. Yes, true: a big part of the problem is the bad hiring practices that allow substandard teachers into Korean schools to begin with. But reducing the problem to Korean hiring practices rings false to me.
Charles writes regarding Biker Delivery Dudes:
BDDs are definitely one of the scourges of the streets here. What's interesting, though, is most people's attitude toward traffic laws. Someone driving in a car almost gets broadsided by a bus running a light*, yet every person on that bus who happens to be late for an appointment is secretly cheering the driver for getting them that much closer to their destination. It's all about perspective. Same thing with the BDDs. When the guy is bringing you food, he's awesome. As soon as the food is in your hands and he gets back on his bike, though, he sucks moose balls.
I remember a rather amusing incident some years back. My wife, myself, and some cousins were standing outside an apartment building getting ready to go somewhere, and a BDD pulled in to make a delivery. On his way out he decided to be a hot shot and tried to whip his bike around a corner by gunning his engine and leaning way into the curve. Of course his bike is not a racing bike and is thus not built for that sort of thing, so the wheels slipped out from under him and his bike fell flat on its side. He wasn't hurt, but boy I bet he felt like an idiot. It probably didn't help that we stood there laughing and pointing at him--you know the only reason he tried that trick was because he had an audience, and we didn't want him to think we weren't paying attention. The BDD just stared at the ground, picked up his bike, and puttered away. Good times, good times.
* This might not happen as much in Seoul because it's hard to get away with without causing an accident, but down here pretty much everyone ignores traffic lights whenever possible. I'm one of the minority that actually waits at red lights.
Oh, and congrats on finishing up yet another group of classes. I have great respect for you for all the effort you put into teaching your students and trying to make their experience more interesting. I'm sure you'll get great ratings from the girls that count.
Many thanks. We ended up with three girls-- one former Japanese-Korean student (she's a Japanese citizen but ethnically Korean) came to the party, so she got the leftover copy of the magazine. We ended up skipping the jjim-tak restaurant, which was way too crowded (today was graduation day for part of the campus, so the local restos were all filled), and at the other teacher's suggestion, we headed into dreaded Itaewon to eat lunch at Santorini, a Greek resto behind the Hamilton Hotel. The food turned out to be good, though the prices were way too high. Luckily, this is the group that earned W54,000, so we were able to defray a goodly chunk of the W85,000 cost. The other teacher and I chipped in enough money to cover the rest.
Yeah... a gyro-and-fries plate should never cost you W12,000 and be brazenly labeled a "lunch special." For those who don't know: there's a Turkish dude who owns a hole-in-the-wall doner kebab resto where the sandwiches are W3000 apiece. The kebabs are a bit on the small side, so I usually* order three of them, but they're good, and are definitely a much better value than Santorini's sandwiches. Want directions? Ask me.
*As most of you know, I normally avoid Itaewon. When I'm there with my buddy Tom, it's Tom who knows the good spots, and he's the one who introduced me to the Turkish place. Those're good sandwiches, and as Tom notes, they're probably healthier for you than hot dogs. I'm impatient to know how the guy spices the chicken. And I need to go buy a bottle of his red sauce, which rocks.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I was expecting a maximum of three students for today's Level 1 jjong-party, but one student has already sent me a text message saying she can't make it because she's meeting a friend she hasn't seen in years. Uh-huh. What she's really saying is, "This class has met from Monday through Thursday for eight weeks, and I can't stomach the thought of attending a Friday make-up class, especially if it's only for a party." Well... she won't receive a copy of the students' magazine, I guess. Not that it matters; their mag wasn't that great. (The Level 2s were cooing with delight about their magazine, which turned out amazingly well.)
I have a sneaking suspicion the other two Level 1 students won't be coming, either. Hey, fine by me-- more free time. One way or another, today marks the end of a hectic week. I was up until 4AM Thursday, at the office, finishing up the Photoshopping of the Level 1 magazine. I'm picking up the printed copies around 1PM today, and wonder who, among my students, will be there to receive a magazine.
My buddy and former coworker (from my old EC gig) Rob writes in:
I had to write to relate a story of an accident I saw the other day involving a couple of Biker Delivery Dudes.
I don't mean to take delight in the misery of others but...I absolutely hate those fuckers.
Anyway, I was waiting for a bus near the Kybo Tower. At the intersection there is construction for a new subway station (it's been going for for the better part of two years now but looks like it's getting close to completion). I'm sure you're aware of the blatant disregard these Biker Deliver Dudes have for any type of traffic law, much like most drivers in Korea seem to exhibit but to a far greater extent. Here's the situation: afternoon rush hour traffic; red light for the North/South bound lanes; Biker Delivery Dude #1 proceeding south...in the bus lane; Biker Delivery Dude #2 waiting patiently on the West side walk for a cross signal; Biker Delivery Dude #1 encounters the traffic waiting for the light and proceeds to cross over into the oncoming lane to get ahead of the traffic; cross signal for East/West pedestrians lights up; Biker Delivery Dude #2 begins to drive his 'Otto-bye' across the street in the cross walk; massive express and inter-city buses block the view of both BDDs; BDD #1 and #2 meet; a short screech of someone's brakes and BDD #2 is launched through the air over the handle bars; BDD #1 is virtually unharmed; BDD #2 is stunned, unmoving and lying on his back in front of the waiting traffic; BDD #1 paces back and forth then proceeds to try to get BDD #2 to sit up and move.
I'm sure you can get the picture from there. Both of them were doing something illegal (BDD #1 in the bus lane then crossing into the on-coming traffic lane while attempting to run a red light and skip ahead of traffic; BDD #2 riding across in the cross walk).
All I could do was think to myself..."YES, it's about time those bastards got hurt!"
I know, not very sympathetic of me but I could give a rat's ass what happens to a BDD. I've had several near misses while walking on the side walk or crossing the street in a crosswalk that I've lost any sympathy I had long ago.
I wrote back (edited):
I had a good laugh at this, though my own relationship with the local delivery folks (I think I know them all) is probably not quite as acrimonious as yours-- I'm a slave to Pavlovian stimulus-response: these guys bring me my food.
Rob responded (edited):
I was going to make the qualification about the guys who deliver to me as well, but once the food is delivered they return to the pits of hell from whence they came and are scum again.
Yet another blow to the "all Canucks are bland and overpolite" stereotype. Come to think of it, all the Canucks I know are fuckin' freaks, man. Freaks. Heh. Speaking of freakishness, Rob is a longtime practitioner of kung fu and he'll kick your tiny skull inside-out faster than you can say "Whafuck--?" I once saw Rob demonstrate flexibility in the hallway at EC by twisting one of his feet well past the 180-degree mark. That, folks, was messed up.
Here's an old pic of Rob about to employ the still-controversial "Sausage Method" of language teaching.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I have to go pick up the copies of the Level 2s' magazine in a few minutes. I wonder how they've turned out, and further wonder how the 2s will react to the finished product. Tomorrow, the few remaining Level Ones will get to see their own mag, which is much simpler in design, though still surprisingly lengthy (27 pages).
Today is also jjong-party day for my Level 2s and 3. We had a good semester, all in all, I'd say. As always, I'll be curious to see my evals.
Nathan writes in with a ton of ideas:
I have to say, your version of Dick and Jane cracked me up laughing!
I read your post in response to Charles, and thought I would offer you a few thoughts.
I would like to help you plan your trip in terms of the overall logistics of it. I think that the overall direction is up to you, of course. I also think that if the trip is being planned while you're walking, the actual planning and emailing and reserving of locations, as it were, might best be done by a couple of loyal emailers, because you will be busy walking. I will volunteer to be one such loyal emailer. Here's what I've been thinking so far:
--prelude in Vancouver, if desired
--start somewhere on the West Coast (or the East!)--I will volunteer to google, research, and contact people in different religious traditions in the initial phase (I can't promise my involvement from Coast to Coast), telling them of your walk, and asking them to be a part of it. Hopefully, of course, we can get the first weeks, at least, out of the way before you land. Simultaneously, we must also contact the local religious newspapers, magazines, and maybe things like "Christianity Today" and what-not. We should not leave out radio & local TV.
-"we" would be the team of loyal emailers, emailing from an address associated with your domain name; I suggest anywhere from five to a dozen such folks.
-I suggest that we contact people in the major urban centres first, making sure you have a place to stay in the cities. The churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and what-not in the urban centres will be asked for contacts for the suburban areas. This would all be done in advance of your walk in any given area. This might reduce the spontenaity of it, but I think that it still leaves flexibility.
-As we find places of worship for you to visit, we could chart our progress on a map on a website ("Austin, Texas: claimed by the First Presbyterian Church on 4th Ave!").
-Later, when you actually start walking, we could chart that on a map, too.
-On the website there should be a paypal button to an account you can access with an ATM card. Could you also create a non-profit organization or something so that monetary gifts could be tax deductible? If not, create the button anyway. Some people will want to help you.
One thing I don't know anything about is American roads. In Canada, you could actually walk along most of the Trans-Canada highway. I doubt you could walk along any of the interstates without being fined and handcuffed, but I don't know. I'm sure someone would know which highways you could walk along, though. This is an important step, but one with which I couldn't help you because I don't know the roads in the US.
I strongly suggest that you have people walking with you. It could be a few hours for them (10 miles for peace between religions!), and thus you would not be responsible for placing them in beds at night.
By the way, three disabled Canadians, all from my local area, have done trans-continental feats like this. The first, Terry Fox, intended to run across Canada, dying of cancer half-way in the early 80s. He was born and raised in my home town of Port Coquitlam; some of my teachers had met him, and my high school was his. The second, Steve Fonyo, was an acquaintance of Fox, I think, and was from another Vancouver suburb. He ran across Canada, but ran into problems with the law on several occasions after that. The third, Rick Hansen, an acquaintance of both, if I'm not mistaken, and also from the Vancouver area, wheeled around the whole world in a wheel-chair. Today he continues to lead a happy and very productive life in as a public speaker, consultant, sports coach, and lobbyist at the provincial government level.
I'm touched, man. I know you're busy with job and family, yet you're willing to do something like this.
Regarding companions: I was also thinking that, if people from Site X wanted to walk one leg of the journey to Site X+1 with me, they could do so. In order to avoid the problem of lodging them, I was thinking it might be cool to have people from Site X+1 drive those walkers back to Site X, taking some time to get to know each other along the way. Once back at Site X, there could be a barbecue or, if certain foods are off the menu, then some sort of potluck meal-- some way for these groups to engage in a bit of fellowship and perhaps lay the groundwork for something meaningful in the future (e.g., working together to help the homeless or clean a park or something).
I just had one thought: we maybe shouldn't plan too far ahead--say a pastor in Tennessee volunteers his church, and then by the time you get there (many months, two years later?) his board of deacons has run him out of town--he can't help you. I think that the overall ideas about planning still work, though.
All the best,
That's possible, though I'm betting it won't be that much of an issue. Church polities generally retain "institutional memory" even if there's a change in leadership. Ongoing projects remain ongoing, and in the case of many churches, the pastor won't take personal charge of certain events/activities; instead, he or she will delegate matters to a group or council (as happens in my denomination; we're a meeting-happy church).
Still, I agree that things might suddenly change along the way. Given Murphy's Law, this is likely to be the rule rather than the exception.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that yes, American freeways are a problem. It's not legal to walk along them, which means I'm obliged to use smaller roads. That's not a big issue for me; I'd rather take the scenic route, anyway. Freeways all have a certain dull sameness about them.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I've written about those wussy little gangster wannabes who zip noisily around Namsan on their scooters after midnight. They occasionally make the news (as they did recently). On Tuesday, I told my Level 3 students that I wasn't impressed by a bunch of guys on scooters and mopeds, and one girl's reaction to my remark made me laugh out loud. She said: "I think those gangsters are actually food delivery guys who stole the company scooters."
I think my student was serious, but I laughed because I immediately had this picture of a Korea overflowing with secret gangs of Delivery Dudes-- guys who putt-putt along the streets on their tiny scooters, weaving through crowds, scowling at passersby with battle-hardened stoicism, giving other Delivery Dudes cryptic gangsta hand signs as they pass each other in the alleyways, using vulgar slang to refer to their mundane cargo-- calling pizza "a skank," calling Chinese food "crack" and so on.
Imagine the turf wars. A new Chinese place opens up in an area heretofore dominated by the pizza guys. Imagine ugly street-fighter taekwondo with chunks of fried pork and pepperoni thrown like shuriken. Imagine scores settled with brandished woks, pizza cutters, and those ever-sharp kimbap steak knives. Who owns the corner of Saem-gil and Minari-gil, huh?
The gangs police their own dead after any rumble, and the dead are a mess: chopsticks rammed up foramen magnums, sushi crammed into eye sockets, Western cutlery jammed into urethras, entire pizzas stomped into colons, thoracic cavities filled with still-steaming ddeokbokki, biceps femoris flesh carefully sliced and placed on California rolls, nipples filleted and coated with wasabi. And woe betide the oblivious citizen who blunders into any gang war: he's likely to be chained up, then drawn and quartered by pairs of whooping scooterboys riding off in four directions-- his sundered body another meal for the rats and pigeons. This is Seoul: a city where, thanks to the biker gangs, the vermin have a taste for human flesh.
Wa chi yo asseu an deu kwi cho bi ching!
Dr. Hodges at Gypsy Scholar has been discussing René Girard's theory of mimetic violence (I have an English-language copy of Girard's Violence and the Sacred). But here's the biological angle: could the source of mimesis be mirror neurons?
It's been over a month since JK Rowling's final installment in the Harry Potter heptalogy came out. A spoiler-laden review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will appear on this blog in the next week or so. I'm currently rereading the book, so sit tight-- and for God's sakes, don't fart. No, I'm serious this time: hold it in.
Charles writes in:
I know you're getting a lot of mail on this subject lately, but I figured one more faggot on the fire can't hurt, right?
I have to admit I was rather surprised at your latest post on the walk, specifically this part: "What I'm leaning toward is putting the onus of sending me off to my next destination on the religious community I'm currently staying with. In other words, it would be up to them to find the next establishment for me to visit (I'd prefer that it not be of the same religion as the three previous establishments, though my choices may thin out in "flyover country"), and perhaps in making those arrangements with people of another tradition, certain ties will be born. That's my hope, at least."
Does this mean that you are not going to have a carefully planned route and instead are just going to kind of cross bridges when you get to them? I do understand why you're doing this (well, maybe not fully, but I think I understand enough), but I wonder if that's really a good idea. Most hikes across the country are very meticulously planned. Of course, there are hikes that are not meticulously planned, and some of them probably succeed. But it might not be a bad idea to have at least a backup plan.
Another thought: how good do you think the chances are that these religious establishments you visit are going to have enough connections (or interest) to direct you to nearby establishments from other traditions? In theory it sounds like a noble idea, but I wonder how well it is going to work in reality. In the end, though, this is your show, and I'm sure when the time comes you'll know what to do.
I guess what worries (yes, worries--sorry, I can't help it) me is that you seem to be focusing more on the ideological level of this walk as opposed to the practical level. Or maybe that's only what you're sharing on your blog. Whatever the case, we'll have to hook up with Scott at some point when I have a little more time in my schedule (probably after mid-October). That will hopefully help you get a better handle on the practical aspects, even if your hike is going to differ in nature from most hikes across the country.
As you've seen, I've been slapping up emails and comments that deal with practical issues (sparsely populated regions, unfriendly locals, showering, camping, etc.), so I'm not sure how it seems my emphasis is overly biased toward the ideological aspects of the walk. I'm also still in the "thinking aloud" phase, so let's not rush to hasty conclusions about my style of planning. Please give me a chance to cogitate, make calls, send emails, etc., over the next few months before we wonder about possible flaws in overall strategy.
Do keep in mind that it's also possible to overplan something, to suck the spontaneity right out of the experience and leave nothing to faith or chance-- sort of an ironic stance to take for a religious walk. I'm not planning to step out into the wilderness with nothing but a hairshirt, but at the same time I do want this walk to be about discovery, not about knowing almost every particular in advance.
The idea of a route that plans itself might seem either unwieldy or scary or both, but you're not taking into account the joyfully participatory nature of many religious communities, especially the youth, who might really get a kick out of such an idea. This is, in fact, one angle I'm thinking of working: youth involvement (senior highs, junior highs, or however it might work in non-Christian communities).
One absolute is that I will not go where I'm not wanted. The immediate corollary is that, while I'm at Site X, Site X+1 should already be aware that I'm coming-- the more in advance those folks know, the better. This will require a great deal of preparation in the coming months (lest we forget, it's the end of August, and I've got until late April of next year), but if we get some PR going,* it's possible that this might snowball into a trek that is totally mapped out by the time I actually start walking.
Peter Jenkins, the author of A Walk Across America (thanks again for the book, Mike) was a brave soul to do what he did in the 1970s. He visited crotchety hermits unannounced, stayed with a black family in the South (where he suffered the prejudice of some white locals), and even spent time at The Farm (where his beloved dog Cooper was accidentally killed by a truck). I'm not as intrepid as he was; I don't relish the thought of le camping sauvage for days on end. I want my walk to lead from human outpost to human outpost, with a minimum of "wilderness time." In theory, over 90% of my walk will be along roads, not trails. If it's anything like my three-day hike in Switzerland (from Fribourg to the Thunersee), I may have to watch out for huge farm dogs. But I'm hoping to leapfrog from shelter to shelter, not in a random way, but in such a way that everyone knows where I've been and where I'm going to next.
None of which is to say I dismiss your points. Good planning is indeed essential. Thinking about practical realities (like weather conditions, supplies, footwear, first aid, yokels, etc.) is absolutely important, and I am mulling these things over, both privately and on the blog. I think you may be jumping the gun by already judging what I'm up to and how I'm going about it. We've got months, man. Stop worrying. If it's April 1, 2008 and I've got nothing to show for all this planning, that will be a good time to worry. In the meantime, I'm pooling opinions and soliciting suggestions-- practical and spiritual-- from my readership.
*Nathan has very kindly offered to help out with that, should I do a "prelude" segment in Vancouver before swooping over to the US Pacific coast.
A study in Uganda has come up with a surprising finding about sex and H.I.V. Washing the penis minutes after sex increased the risk of acquiring H.I.V. in uncircumcised men.
The sooner the washing, the greater the risk of becoming infected, the study found. Delaying washing for at least 10 minutes after sex significantly lowered the risk of H.I.V. infection, Dr. Fredrick E. Makumbi reported on July 25 at an International AIDS Society Conference in Sydney, Australia.
The researchers do not have a precise explanation for the findings, which challenge common wisdom and the teaching of many infectious disease experts who urge penile cleansing as part of good genital hygiene. Health experts have suggested that washing the penis after sex could prevent potentially infectious vaginal secretions from entering the body through the uncircumcised penis.
Dr. Makumbi and other AIDS experts said they did not know why the washing practice increased vulnerability to H.I.V. infection, but offered various explanations. One is that the acidity of vaginal secretions may impair the ability of the AIDS virus to survive on the penis. Delayed cleansing — and longer exposure to the vaginal secretions — may then reduce viral infectivity.
See Dick wash.
Wash, Dick! Wash!
See Dick pustulate.
Pustulate, Dick! Pustulate!
So maybe there's something to that clichéd image from erotica in which "her warm juices anointed his throbbing shaft," eh? Perhaps female secretions provide a sort of protection during that most repetitive-yet-enthralling of docking maneuvers.
What about washing before sex? Most women consider this to be highly recommended. I'd have to agree. In fact, showering-as-foreplay should be standard operating procedure in all domiciles equipped with showers.
They've ripped up the street leading uphill to my dormitory in order to lay some new drainage pipe. The noise of construction echoes through the neighborhood; it's kind of neat, actually; my neighborhood's not that noisy. The middle of the street has been gutted and we dorm residents have to skirt our way carefully around the concrete chasm before we can reach our neighborhood's main street. Part of me wants the construction over with quickly, but part of me finds this too cool for words and would like the street to remain in its current strip-mined state.
On a completely unrelated note, I'd like to pass along a pleasant discovery in the Koreablogosphere: the blog Idiots' Collective, which I think has been around a while (oho-- since 2004!) but which merits your attention, especially if you're into travel writing. Travel writing is a genre I'm nowhere near mastering; I'm envious of those who do it well and Idiots' Collective provides some fine, lengthy essays about blogger Aaron's adventures, many of which offer piquant, Colin Fletcher-style observations about hiking. I often miss the evocative travel/religion essays by Andi Young (now Soen Joon sunim), and IC fills the yawning void she left. Go read IC. Soon to be blogrolled.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Drudge has had a link to AnneRice.com for a couple of days; he notes in his link that Rice has proclaimed herself both pro-life and a supporter of Hillary Clinton. Personally, I'm not too concerned with whether this stance appears self-contradictory; liberal Democrats are a hugely diverse group ranging from pro-gay-marriage whites to anti-gay-marriage blacks, from defense hawks to radical pacifists. No: what I wonder at is Rice's professed attitude toward voting, which I do find blatantly self-contradictory. Here's what she says:
Believing as I do that church and state should remain separate, I also believe that when one enters the voting booth, church and state become one for the voter. The voter must vote her conscience. He or she must vote for the party and candidate who best reflect all that the voter deeply believes. Conscience requires the Christian to vote as a Christian. Commitment to Christ is by its very nature absolute.
My commitment and my vote, therefore, must reflect my deepest Christian convictions; and for me these convictions are based on the teachings of Christ in the Four Gospels.
I am keenly aware as a Christian and as an American that the Gospels are subject to a great variety of interpretation. I am keenly aware that Christians disagree violently on what the Gospels say.
I am also keenly aware that we have only two parties in this country. Only two. This point can not be emphasized enough. We do not have a slate of parties, including one which is purely Christian. We have two parties, and our system has worked with two parties for generations. This is what we have.
I feel strongly that one should vote for one of these two parties in an election. I suspect that not voting is in fact a vote. I suspect that voting for a third party, when such parties develop, is in effect voting for one of the major parties whether one wants to believe this or not.
To summarize, I believe in voting, I believe in voting for one of the two major parties, and I believe my vote must reflect my Christian beliefs.
I don't know how to put this delicately, so I'll be my usual blunt self and say that I find this attitude obtuse. How can you exhort people to vote their conscience and then say they should vote for one of the two major parties? What if my conscience tells me that both the major candidates are worthless and that Choice C is the best choice? Should I not express my proactive preference for C?
There are a lot of people who think of voting only in terms of game theory. For them, voting ceases to be a human act and becomes a numbers game. Instead of voting for someone, many of these game theorists plan their strategies around voting against someone. I find that pathetic. Then again, if your conscience tells you that you need to vote against someone, by all means do so! But know this: when you give in to the game theory approach, you miss out on the chance to take one of the most private moments in your life to do something truly proactive. We live most of our moments as mere reactions to events; why carry that tendency into the democratic process? Forget the numbers, forget the game theory, and simply do what your conscience tells you, even if that means not voting at all.
Side note: Anne Rice converted to Christianity a short while back,* and her site reflects this fact. If you hang around the site long enough, you eventually hear a recording of "Ave Maria." I've now heard "Ave Maria" twenty fucking times, and I'm about ready to shoot that singer. I'm not musically talented, but my two little brothers are both musicians and they taught me-- whether they knew it or not-- to listen to music with a somewhat discerning ear. One thing I find unforgivable about this singer is that he goes way off key on the third syllable (the "ma" in "Ave Maria"). He's more or less fine after that, but having heard that mistake twenty times now, I'm thinking of hunting him down and castrating him.
*After you read her letter to the public re: her political views, be sure to scroll down and read her essay about how she reconciles her track record of vampire novels (none of which I've read) with her current beliefs. She makes some interesting points.
Andrew wrote in a few days ago:
How are things?
It looks like your brother beat me to the punch in his advice regarding your upcoming walk. I'm somewhat familiar with Washington, Oregon and Montana (lots of camping and motorcycling) and yeah... there's a lot of sparse country there.
I offer the following thoughts in the spirit of support and constructive feedback. I like your idea a ton and I look forward to reading the book when you're done. The ambition alone is noteworthy, the results should be something for you to tell the grandkids.
So in the spirit of what-I-intend-to-be-taken-as-helpfulness:
Your brother is also right about the sweaty-guy-showing-up-unannounced vibe. While a lot of folks in rural areas are pretty cool about strangers (they seem to sum people up pretty quick), a lot of them may not be really friendly off the bat. And to be honest, I'm not sure how friendly *all* elements of remote-farmland USA are to a surprise visit from a hulking, sweaty, half-Korean author with religious overtones. *I* know your intentions are legit... but it's kind of a hard-sell to deliver in 2 minutes when you suddenly appear in some fairly isolated town.
Even if the places you travel to aren't "isolated", per se, there's a big difference between a "City" in, say, Oregon, and a "city". The smaller outposts are even more unique in their culture.
Also keep in mind that we all have our Bad Days. A trek of just a few days can leave travelers in a pretty foul mood (if not presentation), which makes for a poor first impression. Something to keep in mind.
One summer I met a few unrelated bicyclists on various treks across the USA. They were of all ages, on all sorts of routes. They each seemed to get a lot out of their travels, but they definitely worked at it.
One rider was a 25-ish guy riding from Boston to Seattle, along the northern states. He had a blog (I'll see if it's still active) and was riding (hypothetically) as a fund-raiser for some kinda charity. Breast-cancer or something.
He was a pretty focused, kinda macho college guy. To give you a feel for his trip, he had a Raleigh road-bike with a single-wheeled trailer. His aim was to make a bee-line across the USA, so he took a direct route, which included a lot of staying at Forest Service Facilities (the infamous campgrounds so common in the west).
Compared to your plan of walking, he made pretty sweet time on 2 (well, 3) wheels. But even then, he had a fair amount of days-between-cities. And a couple stories of run-ins with good-ole-boys in pick-ups. He also mentioned that some of the storms on the plains were nothing to mess with. In the end, he had a great time, made pretty good time (I forget the total travel time), and seemed to get a lot out of the experience.
I hope your experience is as fruitful (or more so) than the cyclist guy's. Your intentions are in the right place, and you are still in the early planning stages - with lots of time to smooth out the bugs. Best of luck.
P.S. - If you'd like some information on traveling through Oregon, I'd be more than happy to help. I've done most of my traveling/camping around there and might be able to answer some questions that are otherwise hard to resolve. Safe travels!
Thanks, Andy. All good points. Please rest assured that I don't plan on showing up unannounced anywhere; that was never my intention. What I'm leaning toward is putting the onus of sending me off to my next destination on the religious community I'm currently staying with. In other words, it would be up to them to find the next establishment for me to visit (I'd prefer that it not be of the same religion as the three previous establishments, though my choices may thin out in "flyover country"), and perhaps in making those arrangements with people of another tradition, certain ties will be born. That's my hope, at least.
In fact, if what I'm doing catches on, then churches, temples, etc. can prep for my arrival far in advance, making arrangements, keeping tabs on where I am, perhaps sending someone along with me for that leg of the hike, either to act as a guide or to be a sort of ambassador, i.e., someone who hands me off to the next group: "You take good care of our Kevin, now." It sounds grandiose, but in this scenario, I become the torch of interreligious fellowship passed along from place to place.
Speaking of guides, one issue I might have to deal with is company. One or two companions might be nice (and if I have a documentary team with me, that number might increase), but it becomes a burden on each place I visit to feed and house not only me, but a bunch of people along with me. I have to think very seriously about how I'm going to handle this, because the day may come when some folks email me and say, "Hey-- you're the guy doing that walk, right? Mind if we walk part of the way with you?" How will I respond to this? One friend of mine joked that this could turn into a Forrest Gump-type situation (remember his run across the country? some people are wired to flock; others are wired to break from the herd).
More thoughts later as they burble up. Thanks again, Andy.
My Level 2s' magazine is going to look pretty damn good, I think. Yeah, it's filled with Konglish, but it's still not a bad effort. I was particularly impressed by the pages done by the students with some graphics manipulation skills; the design and layout of their pages was, in most cases, fantastic. A couple students didn't put too much effort into their content, but overall, the magazine gets a thumbs-up.
Perhaps later on, I'll show you all the pages we did as a slide show, but for now, I'll show you the table of contents I did:
The students asked me to put myself in the table of contents, so there we are.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
I didn't go to the office; couldn't bring myself to. Instead, I went on a shopping errand, and bought myself materials for sandwiches and salads. I just made a salad that was supposed to have a baby spinach base, but which used leaves from a Korean ssam variety pack instead. These are the leaves you'd normally use like taco shells when eating certain meat dishes-- you lay a leaf or two on your palm, pile on meat, vegetables, and spicy sauce, then wrap the whole thing up and stuff the Korean taco into your waiting mouf.
So I had ssam leaves as a base for my salad. I had bought some almonds, so I semi-pulverized them in my hand blender, fried them in a tiny bit of salt and oil to get that roasted almond flavor, let them cool down, and sprinkled some onto the greens. I crumbled some bleu cheese onto that, and topped the mess off with a homemade strawberry vinaigrette-- a variant of this recipe, which I'd found earlier today while waiting for my laundry to percolate.
Check this post again in a couple hours; I'm going to have a photo of the salad for you, though this time around I'll be adding some extra veggies. Damn, that was good. So simple, too.
More thinking out loud...
My friend Nathan sent me a very thoughtful email, the complete text of which I won't reproduce here. I did, however, want to slap this part up, which refers to one risk during my trans-America walk:
A couple of cautions: One thing I've been thinking is that if you try entering any mosques, and if any of them happen to see certain pictures on your blog, they might kill you! I'm only half-joking. Alternatively, if you got publicity, and if Hairy Chasms was considered offensive by the Presbyterian church you're a member of, and you were put on trial for heresy or something, would that be ok? The more publicity and people you have following your trip, the more likely these things become.
The prospect of a not-so-friendly reception is a legitimate concern, and it might require a measure of political skill to make some people understand how it's possible for a person to be equally comfortable mucking around in both the sacred and the profane ("profane" as in "obscene," not Mircea Eliade's sense of "ordinary").
But the risk that who I am and what I'm doing might offend people is there even if I close this blog, eliminate all trace of its existence on Google, and simply do my walk. Some folks don't want anything to do with this interreligious nonsense, and they'll have an attitude when they meet me, blog or not. I knew one woman, an evangelical/charismatic Christian, who wrote me that she'd never set foot in a Buddhist temple because "my Spirit [sic] wouldn't allow it." I expect I'll encounter plenty of folks like that along the way. That's part of the journey.
Because I've published a book that includes plenty of critique of Christianity (a pastor friend of mine wrote in to tell me he found some passages "smug"), I have already "left a trail," so to speak. My opinions are out there and can't be recalled. It's possible that someone, somewhere along the journey, will confront me about what I've written. That's fine; I look forward to such an exchange.
But I'm not actively seeking a series of fights-- God, no. While there's nothing inherently wrong with taking a position and having one's own thoughts, the best strategy is likely one that Nathan suggests in his email: do the walk with the intention of being a listener, a suppliant, a person looking for wisdom and knowledge, i.e., not a person who goes from place to place pointing out religious inconsistencies and such. Actually, that's been my intent all along-- to be an asker, not a teller.
I doubt my own church will "put me on trial for heresy," though I'd have to review the PCUSA's Book of Order, which contains a large section on disciplinary measures. The worst that can happen is a sort of defrocking, the stripping away of my status as elder. That wouldn't be tragic: I've been thinking for years that I'm not a very good elder, and never have been.
More thoughts as they come to me. Now, it's laundry time, and then I'm back in the office yet again. Hooray!
Saturday, August 18, 2007
A thousand-armed angel appeared and seized me.
"Come with us," one of the angel's heads grated. We hurtled into some sort of glowing vortex. I tried to scream, but moray eels flew out of my mouth, so I gave up.
We suddenly found ourselves on an immense cliff on a different planet, in a crowd with a billion raucous aliens, all looking skyward. I looked, too. The sky was buckling like tin foil being crushed. Disaster was imminent.
"I get it," I said. "I'm this world's champion, right? Its savior?"
The angel cackled maniacally, then handed me a scythe.
I'll be teaching French next semester. It's only basic French conversation, but I hope to have fun teaching it. This marks the first time I'll have the class as an official part of my schedule, i.e., I'll be paid to do this instead of doing it on my own free time, as I had done in the past.
I'll also be teaching a Fridays-only pronunciation clinic, sort of a throwback to a lot of the work I did at my previous job (longtime readers will recall I was at the Kangnam-based EC, a chain founded on roughly the same concept as Direct English, essentially a riff off one-on-one* private tutoring).
*In Konglish, this sort of tutoring is called "man-to-man." There's even a venerable English language textbook series with that term as the title. The irony of a Konglish title on an English textbook is lost on most Korean consumers, alas. While "man-to-man defense" and "a man-to-man talk" might be proper uses of the term, "man-to-man tutoring/teaching" is right out. Heh. Does anyone remember when the motto for Pagoda Language Institute used to be "I Can Do"? They did finally switch over to "I Can Do It," but it took them over a decade to make the change.
My favorite prof at Catholic U., Dr. Jones, spent a few years in Taiwan and when I told him about the Konglish "I Can Do," he immediately came back with the Chinglish slogan "Let's Active!"
From a scholarly reader:
I know you've ruled out vulgar names for your pilgrimage, but I couldn't resist: The Tyrdwyrm Crawl, or The Tyrdwyrm Creep.
The combination of turds and worms is Biblical:Fear not then the words of a sinful man: for his glory shall be dung and worms.
--1 Maccabees 2:62.
Friday, August 17, 2007
I thought it was kinda cool to get a comment to my previous post from BBC World Service radio:
Dear Sir, I work for BBC World Service radio in London and in our programme, World Have Your Say, today (Friday 17th August) between 1300 to 1500 East Coast Time in the US we will be talking about the suggestion by the Dutch Archbishop that Christians should call God Allah, and were wondering if the author of Jehovah's new name would be interested in taking part in our programme. Please call me on +447751727964 or +442075570635 or email your phone numbers and I will call you straight back.
Alas, I won't be calling in (thanks all the same, BBC, but I'm tired and I don't think my insights are all that special), as I'm about to leave the office and hit the sack. Then I'll go to bed. (FYI, BBC, I'm in Seoul, Korea.)
The Level 2 magazine is shaping up. It's kind of a mixed bag; some students did a bang-up job while others left me a ton of work to do. The Ones haven't even finished their cover design, so I don't know whether we'll even bother publishing the thing. Will have to think harder about how to organize this sort of class next time. The magazine project worked well with my very advanced Level 4 intensive students two semesters ago, but not so well with the Ones and Twos this time around. I don't think the issue is language ability, however; the problem is motivation.
And on a completely unrelated note:
Tonight... we dine... IN SAN DIEGO!!