Saturday, August 31, 2013

no Murphy

Murphy's Law creeps up whenever you're simply trying to go from Point A to Point B. In particular, living in Korea involves a disturbingly high Murphy factor. You want to do something as simple as print out a map image from your office cubicle, for example, but before you can do that, you discover that you have to install Adobe Acrobat Reader, convert the map image to PDF, open Reader, then print through that program. Why not just print straight from the screen? God only knows. That's Murphy.

Today, though, things couldn't have gone any better than they did. I went to E-Mart and found my printer, the Samsung SCX-3400. There it sat, on its display shelf, with a sign that advertised its price as W169,000 (about $154, US). When I asked the staffer to give me one to buy, he retreated to the storage room for a moment, then came back out and told me that all he could sell me would be the display sample... which he'd part with for only W49,000 (about $44.50). I was overjoyed, so I said, "Heck, yeah! I'll take it!" I bought the printer, a toner cartridge, and a box of A4 printer paper.

Before I left E-Mart, however, I tromped down to the food court and bought myself a celebratory Japanese modeum dongkaseu jeongshik for W12,500. It was a ton to eat, as you can see in the image below:

Not a bad value in terms of sheer quantity and craftsmanship and carbs, but the set was way too heavy on ketchup and honey mustard. I wouldn't have minded switching out the ketchup for something more Asian.

My gullet now filled, I waddled out with my heavy, bulky load of boxes (printer, A4 paper, toner), found a cab, and drove back to my place. Once inside, I downloaded the printer and scanner drivers to my Big Mac, broke out the printer, plugged it into the wall and into my computer, downloaded an English-language PDF user's manual, and tried printing.

Success! Success on the first try!

Next up was scanning. I found the Scanner Assistant, placed a shortcut icon in my dock, then scanned an image.

Success again! And again on the first try! See below:

So I'm now set to scan and print to my heart's content. And I got the printer I wanted for less than a third of its original cost. Could things have gone any more right on my birthday? Oh, yes: the weather this evening was magnificent—unwontedly cool and breezy. I barely had a chance to sweat at all. Would that all days were like today.


about that printer

The printer I'm looking to buy from E-Mart is a printer/scanner/copier. The only function it's missing, were it to match the printer I'd abandoned in America, is faxing. My current target is a Samsung Bokhapgi SCX-3400, which costs W169,000. You can see it here.* It prints black-and-white copies, but I don't know whether it also scans only in black-and-white. (I'm going to presume not, but that may be a bad gamble.) I do know, now, whether there are Mac-compatible printer drivers for the thing: there are.

I'll likely buy the printer today, along with a toner cartridge and a ream of A4-size printer paper, then I'll go home and spend all day wrestling with setup and learning the printer's various functions. Like a kid at Christmas, really.

While I'm at E-Mart, I plan to hit the food court and enjoy a huge meal—far bigger than the Burger King meal I had last night—for only W12,000. A much better value than the Amurrican food. I saw a Japanese-style jeongshik set that looked as if it were meant for two people; that one's mine, baby. That one's mine.

*The large print on that ad says, roughly, "Enjoyable one-touch 3-in-1 black-and-white mini-laser all-in-one, with Windows 8 printing." Enough hyphens for you?


me 44 now

The wild, careering stagecoach known as Earth has stampeded madly around the sun one more time, and yours truly now finds himself 44 years old.

So I'm more than halfway done with my life. If you think about life from a God's-eye standpoint, it's really quite short, isn't it? Not a particularly novel or profound insight, I realize, but in turning 44, I already feel the weight of years upon me. Yes, how brief life is: if you were to stare downward at our solar system from a distance of a billion miles, and if you were to witness the progression of our planet around the sun as a time-lapse video, with one Earth orbit equaling a single second, then in less than eighty seconds, the life of this speck called Kevin would be seen to wink into existence, flourish a brief moment, then wink out.

And the world would simply whirl on.

If you know me well, though, you know that life's brevity doesn't depress me. The great, beautiful machine of the universe grinds ever forward, time and space intimately interwoven and moving together, gracefully unfurling to reveal an immense cosmic narrative, a vast story—everything in its place, every being with its role, every instant slipping away into the unalterable past, every possible future still hidden behind an existential veil, out of the reach of human knowledge and explorable only through theory and speculation. All there is, then—all we have—is the present moment, that infinitesimally thin slice of time, space, and experience. And that's enough. Life is brief, but life is also an infinity of present moments. In that thin slice of time and space, we make our choices, live our lives, and dream our dreams.

I'm 44 today. Just a couple dozen revolutions to go. What does the future hold?


about that squeegee

Dammit, how hard can it be to find a simple bathroom squeegee? I'd been wanting one ever since my return to Korea: after all, I knew I'd end up with a domicile in which the toilet doubles as the shower, which meant droplet-spattered walls and a soaking floor after every wash. I've talked about the hygiene issue before; getting my bathroom dry in a minimum of time is paramount, which is where the squeegee comes in. Use that tool for thirty seconds, and in conjunction with a fan, your bathroom dries in half the time.

I had looked for a squeegee at the local Daiso. I'd looked for it at the local Point Mart. I'd looked at the local open market up the street. Nada. So tonight, when I went to E-Mart in search of a printer, I decided I'd troll the housewares aisles for that elusive implement.

Turns out that E-Mart's bathroom section has plenty of sponges, towels, mops, and the like, but no bathroom squeegees. So I reparadigmed my search and included the automotive aisles.


It took a bit of looking, but I eventually found a cheap car squeegee (W3000) that would do the trick. Bought that sucker and took it home. When I shower tomorrow morning, I'll be pressing that thang into service.


Friday, August 30, 2013

lefty stars align

Britain, with conservative Prime Minister David Cameron at its head, will not back the US in a planned military effort in Syria. Meanwhile France, led by über-leftist President François Hollande, will back the US, led by our own fearless leftist leader, President Barack Obama. It's interesting to see France and the US in warm agreement on the topic of military intervention; it's not wild speculation to think that France might have temporarily dropped its contrarian impulses because it thinks it's standing with a kindred spirit. Of course, you could counterargue that Britain's "no" doesn't come from David Cameron himself: it comes, rather, from Parliament. But if you look at the demographics of Britain's Parliament, you see right away that it's fairly well-stocked with conservatives. Can there be any denying that ideology has much to do with both Britain's and France's current alignment?

UPDATE: a bit of Glenn Reynolds-style snark on the matter:

PRESIDENT UNILATERAL: Obama Set for Limited Strike on Syria as British Vote No. Good thing we got rid of that dumb cowboy Bush, who unilaterally invaded Iraq with like 40 other countries.

UPDATE: “Cluster bombs won’t solve this clusterf***.” “Obama has boxed himself — and us — into a corner. Having demagogued issues of presidential prerogative and the need for U.N. approval in the past along with other Democrats, but having set a red line, he (we) are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”

That must be more of the “smart diplomacy” we were promised or something.

Related: Obama ready to move on Syria without allies. It’s a good thing, since we don’t seem to have many of those left . . . .


the hunt for a printer continues

So I'm blogging this from E-Mart's food court, having just noshed on W13,000 worth of Burger King. Good ol' BK is more expensive in Korea: W13,000 is approximately the price I'd pay for a much larger BK meal in the States. The Coke here is half the size of the Coke at home, as are the fries. This particular BK branch doesn't serve Double Whoppers, which makes me sad. (They do have some sort of double burger, but it looks embarrassingly scrawny.)

I came to E-Mart this evening to continue my search for a decent printer. No staffer was available to help me; I asked one lady if she could answer some questions, but she said that she wasn't responsible for printers. She pointed to a staffer who, according to her, would be more knowledgeable, but he was tied up with a group of twentysomethings buying a laptop. The female staffer asked whether I'd be willing to wait; I said yes.

Then I waited... and waited... and waited...

Eventually, I decided just to take some notes about the printer/scanner I was interested in—a simple-looking Samsung that cost around W160,000 (about $150, US). I wanted to know whether the thing could scan in color (I didn't care about black-and-white printing), and whether it was compatible with my Macs. After waiting as long as I had, I decided it might be better just to look the information up online myself, and to find out whether Mac-compatible printer drivers were available for download.

After that, I wandered back downstairs, looked around for a bathroom squeegee and for contact-lens fluid, and went to the food court. Like a lot of Korean food courts, this one was set up with a Burger King that did its own thing, and a bank of Korean-food counters that would serve whatever one ordered at the main cashier station. All the food being served was laid out on display: exquisitely formed, creepily realistic plastic models of exactly what one would receive (I really need to take a picture of this, but you've doubtless seen this sort of marketing before). Burger King had its own cashiers, so I went there, ordered a meal, figured out that "iptime" was the best free Wi-Fi service to hook up to, and here I am, blogging.

I also discovered that Bus 158 goes from my neighborhood right to E-Mart, so there's no need to get off at Anshim Station and walk ten minutes. I'll take 158 home, do some online research about the printer I want, and go from there.


immigration: done!

I ran a bit late getting out the door this morning. I had wanted to leave around 7:45AM to arrive at the Daegu Immigration office before it opened at 9. Instead, I left closer to 8:10AM, but I was still able to make it to the office by about 9:05. The route to la Migra involved taking a bus from my neighborhood to Anshim Station (unfortunately spelled Ansim on the subway charts*), which is the tail end of Line 1. From Anshim Station, it's eight stops (about 16 minutes) to Dongchon Station, then a five- to seven-minute walk out of Exit 1 to the Daegu Immigration building.

The building itself looks surprisingly like the Seoul Immigration office, but once you go inside, you see right away that the lobby and work area are both significantly smaller. Still, there was a take-a-number system in place, like in Seoul, so I took a number. Only a handful of foreigners had arrived along with me, including a very tall white woman who was with her Korean minder. At a guess, the white woman had signed up with a hagwon, because having a minder tends to be more of a hagwon-style courtesy than a university-style one.

I didn't have to wait long at all. The ding that meant "Next!" could be heard several times in a row; I had pulled Number 8. Within two minutes, my number was called; I went over to the last booth in the row and sat across from a uniformed Ministry of Justice staffer who greeted me and then remarked that I was so sweaty it looked as if it were raining outside. I could do little but nod sheepishly; I was a dripping mess. I handed over all my paperwork, which was apparently in perfect order. "I can tell you've lived here a while," my staffer remarked, noting my Korean ability. I told him I'd spent eight years in Seoul, and that my mother had been Korean. The staffer plugged away at his computer, looked through my passport and other paperwork, then asked me to stand and place my fingers on a fingerprint scanner. "Press hard," he said. I scanned my four main fingers on each hand, then both of my thumbs.

"Are we done?" I asked. My interlocutor shook his head.

"It's W20,000," he said. I handed over two tens.

"Do you want your card sent to you?" the staffer asked.

"No; I can pick it up."

"Come back in three weeks, then," he said, "and bring this form with you." He handed me a voucher that served as evidence of today's application and transaction.

And that was it. I was done within ten minutes.

My next stop was the local Hi-Mart, an electronics-product shop. I was looking for a printer, but in talking with a staffer, I discovered that none of the printers at Hi-Mart was Mac-compatible, which sucked. There are other places for me to look, including the E-Mart near Anshim Station. I might go back there today. For the moment, though, I'm resting at home, cooling down and doing laundry.

My Friday thus far.

*Sometimes transliterations like "Ansim" are more misleading than phonetically faithful transcriptions like "Anshim."


Thursday, August 29, 2013

...and so ends the first week of work

When I got back to my place this evening, I was surprised to see that my door was slightly ajar. I immediately wondered whether I had left it that way this afternoon, or whether someone with the means had been snooping inside my studio.

In any event, nothing had been taken, although there was certainly plenty of value. At a guess, I had closed the door when I left, but the door hadn't locked itself properly. I'll have to be more careful from now on. That lock, which is keyless, has proved to be quite temperamental, often going into "lock" mode while the door is still open, thereby forcing me to manually retract the deadbolt so I can close the door. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that I had shut the door today, and that the door had simply never locked itself.

Aside from that bit of creepiness, my work week ended well. My Thursday 3PM class was one of my best—good-humored and responsive, and the students were the most aggressive of all my classes about actually using English. They almost got through the round-robin mixer exercise without any confusion, but in the end, as I did with the other classes, I led them by the nose through the activity's procedure.

After class, I went back upstairs and fiddled with my new computer, trying to print out a map of the walking route from Dongchon Station to the Daegu Immigration Office, which I'll be hitting very early tomorrow morning. I was unable to print straight from Naver, for some reason, so I used a nifty "print to PDF" command (Windows OS is finally catching up with Mac, which has had PDF-printing capability for years) to create a PDF document of the map. I downloaded Adobe Reader, opened the PDF file, and was able to print that. Afterwards, I hunted around the Korean-language Internet for the Alien Registration Application. Found it—or at least some version of it—and filled out most of the sheet on my computer before printing it out and hand-checking the boxes that couldn't be checked electronically. By that point it was late evening, and I still needed to find a place that would take passport photos of me. I wasn't looking forward to taking those pics: I knew I'd be a sweaty mess by the time I reached the photo shop.

I walked off campus in the gentle evening rain and headed for a nearby copy shop first, not knowing whether the shop would have cameras and photo-printing capabilities. The first place I hit, run by an unusually tall, middle-aged ajumma, was a bust. At first, the ajumma told me to try accessing a photo from one of my email file attachments (how she knew I'd have such an attachment, I'll never know). I opened a decent-looking photo, but told the ajumma that we'd have to edit it: the pic showed my bookcases in the background, but passport-photo backgrounds need to be blank. Ultimately, the ajumma suggested that I walk up the street to find a sajin-gwan, a proper photo shop. She cracked open a local phone book and showed me that there were several up the street. I thanked her and left.

Outside, the rain continued and the night was humid. I could feel myself sweating, and I began to wonder why I even bothered using an umbrella: one way or another, I was going to end up soaked. After a half-mile trudge, I found a photo shop and went in. The ajeossi running the place wasn't very talkative; he got right down to business, setting up a camera and a chair and a pull-down background for me. He gave me a wad of toilet paper with which to wipe away my sweat; it helped only a little, as I simply continued to sweat even after wiping down my forehead and scalp. I sat in the proffered chair; the ajeossi took a single picture, then told me I could get up. After a few minutes of clicking keys on a computer and making some large machines chug mysteriously, the ajeossi produced two sets of four photos. He cut them into individual rectangles with some long, evil-looking scissors, then he charged me W12,000 for the set of eight. I winced; I had only wanted a single photo, but I reasoned that if Walmart charges $7.50 for four photos, then W12,000 for eight photos was a reasonable price. Now, however, I've got seven more photos than I need. I'll have to find some way to use them.

I trudged home, found my door open, stripped off my sticky, sweaty vestments, read some AC Doyle (I'm almost done with The Complete Sherlock Holmes), and am now pounding out this blog entry. Tomorrow I wake at 7AM and head off to Immigration soon after; everyone at school told me to get there very early so as to avoid the horrible lines. There's also, apparently, a special line just for folks with an E-1 visa; the Korean staffers don't tell you about it unless you ask, which is mighty bureaucratic of them. Luckily, I've got my fellow expats to help me out with things like that. I ought to have my application for the ARC handed in well before 10AM, at which point I'll likely head back home, write up some lesson plans, do a bit of shopping, then enjoy a nice, long weekend.


spot the error

From here:

Melbourne, Australia: Australia's second city may not have the glamour of Sydney, but its colonial heritage and multicultural dynamism more than compensates.

Typical SAT-style error.


random weight check

130.4 (287.4 pounds), down from the previous weigh-in that resulted in a reading of 132.5 (292.03 pounds).

I can now tighten my belt one notch further. It'll be a long time, of course, before my man-boobs stop drooping and my gut stops hanging over my pants' waistline, but my weight seems to be heading in the right direction. Commenter Sperwer attributed some of my weight loss to the "stressors" in my new life: moving to a new place, learning the ropes at school, etc. I think that's all true, but I think it's also true that I'm now doing a daily exercise that I hadn't done while working at YB in Virginia: a 15-minute walk, twice per day. Given what I know about my own walking speed, I'd say that 15 minutes' walking constitutes less than a mile, which means I'm doing somewhat less than two miles' walking every day. I can add to that distance by walking around campus—something I plan on doing soon, like Immanuel Kant did with his daily strolls through Königsberg. Those walks, if I plan the routes well, could easily add another mile or two to my distance.

We've also got a campus gym, which I'll probably sign up for once I've obtained an alien registration card. I plan to head over to Immigration tomorrow for just that purpose. Today, I visit the Admin Building to pick up my copy of my employment contract, as well as to pick up a business document that I'll need for tomorrow's trip to la migra.


a disagreement

My buddy Charles has emailed with a disagreement. I had previously written:

Working with low-level students again is a reminder of the constant uphill battle against the inertia of Korean culture—the built-in aversion to associating with strangers, the deep-seated passivity, the reflexive retreat to silence when in doubt. How in the hell do young Korean girls ever become pushy, outspoken ajummas? I guess the answer is marriage and kids. Taking responsibility makes people more proactive, more authoritative, more confident.

Charles emailed me the following:

Just going on personal experience, I would have to disagree, at least partially, with your answer to the question of how young Korean girls become the horrific force of nature known as ajummas: it's mainly the kids.

Charles went on to give a vivid description of why this is so; to put it delicately, it's the pain and messiness of giving birth that together make shy girls into assertive women. I suppose there's truth to this, but I'd still contend that the long-term act of taking care of the kids has an enormous effect on the female psyche. In fact, I'd lump the husband in with the kids: Korean husbands, even in 2013, are often babies themselves, unable to iron their own clothing, unable to do the dishes, barely able to find their own shoes without spousal help. So much centers on the mother, and in a dynamic that would have made Freud dance with glee, the wife becomes mother to the husband.

Charles also said:

...and the fact of the matter is that social class plays a large part in it as well. All those pushy, outspoken ajummas? Most of them are on the lower to middle rungs of the social ladder. Upper-class ajumma tend to be much more graceful and reserved. This, too, of course, is a generalization.

But a good generalization, albeit shot through with frequent exceptions. My mother was twice president of a Korean-American women's society back in the States; rich ajummas, in my experience, can be as catty, crass, small-minded, and pushy as the lower-class ajummas, despite being the wives of diplomats, politicians, and prominent businessmen.

On a plane ride years ago, I once sat next to a very dignified, educated-looking ajumma who went on and on about her Ivy League son. The sound of her obnoxiously basking in her son's reflected glory was as pleasant as an elephant fart.


with thanks

My friend Ruth sends me a link to the Kama Pootra. Master your asshole, and you'll never poop badly again.

(Trivia: the word putra does exist in Sanskrit: it means "son," as in Brahmaputra or Sariputra: "son of Brahma" and "son of Sari." Sariputra is mentioned in the Heart Sutra.)


almost done with the first week

On Wednesday morning, I had two classes in Building B1, a.k.a. Thaddeus Cho Hall, Room 210. I had heard that this building was new and very hi-tech; when I went there earlier, it certainly looked the part, all shiny glass and modern interior. Today, I went to my office in Aquinas Hall first, cooled down, then went over to B1 for my 9AM session. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my necktie, so I stuck with my loose black button-down shirt—the one I'd worn during my sweaty walk to campus. The shirt didn't seem all that sweaty, so I decided to risk wearing it to class. (I did change from sweatpants to slacks, though.)

Room 210 had a glamorously panoramic set of windows on one side. With sunlight angling into the room, the greenhouse effect was in full flower, so of course, I started sweating again. A limp, chugging air conditioner set at 28 degrees Celsius (I understand that that's warm, based on the behavior of my studio's A/C, which I maintain at a cool 23) was doing its best to keep the heat down; a pair of custodian ajummas, just leaving the room, clucked in amusement at the way I was sweatily shaking my head.

Both of my classes that day were in Room 210. Afraid to sit because of how much I was sweating below the waistline, I stood the entire three-and-a-half hours. By the end of the second class, my feet were killing me. Luckily, both classes of kids were pretty good—again, better than I had anticipated—so the time went by quickly. Perhaps the worst trouble I had was in getting the students to choreograph the round-robin activity referred to in the previous post. It was amazing how clueless the kids were: they understood perfectly how to "count off" and divide themselves into four teams, but when I asked them to combine into pairs of teams, then recombine into different pairs of teams, the result was a hilariously confusing mess that took a few minutes to sort out. Again, I assume this inability to self-organize has a lot to do with the Korean sense of diffusion of responsibility: you're not truly focused unless you feel you're responsible for something, and in a crowd, no one person feels particularly responsible for moving the group toward a goal.

It's tempting to attribute this confusion to youthful stupidity, but I'm more inclined to see the problem as cultural. American students, given the same task, would know exactly what to do, and would self-organize instantly. I doubt this is because of the lack of a language barrier; the concepts in question aren't hard to grasp, be the students American or Korean. In my case, today, part of the problem was that some of the goofier students would simply forget their own team number and not know where to go. Their more knowledgeable friends would have to point out to them where they belonged. Being able to self-organize requires situational awareness and a sense of engagement. Whence this forgetfulness? How can someone forget something as easy to remember as a single-digit number? It's all psychological: people who shy away from responsibility often have decision-making disorders, and once a person divorces himself from a sense of responsibility, he's lost and unable to function. I could almost read some of these confused students' minds: I don't know what I'm doing... I don't know where I'm going... whafuck?

But once the hard work of choreographing the round-robin was done, the rest of the activity proceeded smoothly, thank Cthulhu. As I had done with my other classes, I explained that, in two weeks, the students would be using this format to teach each other material from their textbook. I advised them to get to know their teammates, and to meet with them to discuss how they planned to teach. I made myself available to anyone who might need extra help in figuring out how to approach their lessons.

So despite the initial difficulties of implementing my method, I'm optimistic that the long-range results will be worth it. If today is any indication, my Wednesday 9AM and 11AM students will fare well, confusion notwithstanding. I believe I'm doing something not being done by any other teacher; I've seen, from my colleagues, some excellent and impressive examples of lesson plans and worksheets (one colleague in particular deserves kudos for some truly amazing planning and prep), including some innovative, multimedia-heavy (and thus teacher-centered) lessons, but nothing like the round-robin. Here's hoping my gamble pays off, and my students end up empowering themselves without even knowing it.

On Thursday, I've got one more class to teach, and that's technically the end of my work week. It's felt like a long week even though I've taught so few hours. I'll spend my free time doing lesson plans and such, and I've got to hit the local immigration office this coming Friday, but I'm planning on just resting for much of the weekend.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

the method to my pedagogical madness

In an email to a good friend, I wrote the following:

Working with low-level students again is a reminder of the constant uphill battle against the inertia of Korean culture—the built-in aversion to associating with strangers, the deep-seated passivity, the reflexive retreat to silence when in doubt. How in the hell do young Korean girls ever become pushy, outspoken ajummas? I guess the answer is marriage and kids. Taking responsibility makes people more proactive, more authoritative, more confident. I want to give my shy undergrads a taste of what it's like to take responsibility, so I'll be making them teach the lessons out of their textbooks. There's going to be resistance at first, but the first-day mixer exercise was training for what's coming next: after I teach the first chapter of our textbook, the students will take over and teach the rest.

Traditional Korean classroom culture is heavily teacher-centered. I saw this at my old university job, and see it even at my new university job: a Korean professor stands in front of forty students, microphone in hand, lecturing while the students quietly take notes.* All focus is on the teacher. A clearer example of mammalian dominance hierarchies in action would be hard to find. Lecture is priest-centered pre-Vatican II Catholicism, not diffuse, egalitarian liberal Protestantism. I was trained, and firmly believe, in a different approach—one that is ruthlessly student-centered. This approach is, to me, far more valuable for the students than any teacher-centered approach could ever hope to be. Of course, demanding that Korean students comply with the dictates of a student-centered format isn't easy: as I wrote above, the teacher can expect resistance at first. Ultimately, however, this approach forces the passive student into a proactive role, accelerating the much-needed process of maturation.

The goal of Korean socialization is to produce people who fit smoothly within the larger hierarchy.** The goal of Western socialization is to produce functioning individuals who, no matter their respective goals and motives, contribute to the overall cohesiveness of the social fabric. Teaching English therefore means foisting upon my students a raft of Western values, including a Western notion of maturity (i.e., independence, initiative, inventiveness, etc.). That can't be helped: to teach language is to teach culture; the two are inseparable. The mixer exercises that I've been doing with my kids have been causing them no small amount of stress; even the more compliant classes have had some difficulty adapting to, and even understanding, what it is I'm trying to do. One mixer exercise in particular—the one I want to talk about in this post—is crucial for getting the students ready to take on the role of teachers.

The procedure works like this: I make the students count off—one, two, three, four, one two, three, four—until everyone in the class has a number. All the ones then go to one corner, the twos to another, the threes to another, and so on. This has the advantage (from my point of view) of separating the students from the friends they've been gossiping with. Once divided into four teams, the students are given a task—in this case, a topic to discuss or a simple question to ask an interlocutor. I then explain the round-robin format: groups will meet in three rounds; after each round, groups will switch and meet with other groups. In this way, each group will meet with the other three groups. Visually, the round-robin looks like this:

Let's focus on what Group 1 is doing according to the above chart. In Round 1, Group 1 teaches Group 2 and is taught by Group 2. In Round 2, Group 1 teaches Group 3 and is taught by Group 3. In Round 3, Group 1 teaches Group 4 and is taught by Group 4. Basically, whatever material Group 1 is teaching will be taught three times—an excellent way to reinforce learning. And the same goes for every other group.

I've taken our English conversation textbook and divided each chapter up (aside from the first chapter, every chapter is formatted the exact same way) into distinct parcels; Group 1 will be responsible for the first two sections of each chapter; Group 2 will be responsible for the next two sections, and so on. Luckily, the sections that contain spoken dialogue can be taught through the means of "audio scripts" located in the back of the textbook.

No method is perfect, of course, and the above method, which makes the students almost entirely responsible for their own learning, suffers the major drawback of not giving the students an opportunity to hear proper English modeled by native speakers. To compensate for that problem, I plan to review crucial parts of each chapter with the class, after the round robin, so that the students can listen to, and repeat, properly modeled English.

And that's it. That's the method and the madness. I was inspired to create the above format (for all I know, this sort of round-robin activity has been developed independently elsewhere) by the concept of the graduate seminar: such seminars are heavily student-centered, with the professor playing the role of shepherd and facilitator. Overall, I think this approach offers several benefits aside from making the students more proactive and responsible. Among other things, the method combats boredom by keeping the students constantly moving and mixing. It promotes team synergy; as Korean students get used to working with each other, they'll naturally form bonds of loyalty that will be hard to break, and that loyalty will have the side effect of making learning more pleasant. It also obliges the respective teams to meet outside of class (online or in person) to discuss how they will teach their sections, which adds something of a "homework" aspect to the proceedings. I'm hopeful that this approach, once the students get used to doing it correctly, will bear much fruit, and that by the end of the semester my kids will have become methodological converts who are confident, proactive, and most of all talkative. In English, of course.

*I take a very dim view of lecturing as a "teaching" technique. See here.

**As my Confucianism prof explained, in Confucian societies the individual isn't a discrete, atomistic monad, somehow distinct and defined on his own terms; instead, the individual is more a nexus of various social interrelationships, like the knots in a fisherman's net. Who you are is very much defined by where you are in that network. While this dynamic also obtains, to some extent, in Western societies, the Western conception of the individual undercuts the significance of hierarchies and interrelationships.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ass still hurts, Orientation Part 2, etc.

Life is full of aches and pains. Sometimes you give yourself a paper cut, and sometimes you trip over a bathroom scale and fall on your posterior. I guess I must have really bruised my coccyx. It still hurts to cough or sneeze, or even to sit a certain way on a chair. Damn that vestigial tail of mine. Part of me thinks that, if I cough hard enough, an actual tail will pop, fully formed and salaciously simian, out of my ass. Why, hello, ladies! While I'm groaning about my ass, I should also note that my right pinky toe still hurts as well. I'm trying hard not to limp in front of my coworkers; not sure how well I'm succeeding. Meanwhile, I'm idly wondering whether that toenail is going to just drop off one of these days. It seems my initial impression was mistaken: along with ripping off some toe skin, I did damage the nail.

In other news: my morning class went much better than I thought it would. It was a 9AM intro-level class, but the kids seemed more awake and alert than I'd anticipated. Communication breakdowns occurred, of course, as they must during such sessions: I asked the class whether anyone drank coffee; no one raised a hand, but one guy had a can of "Let's Be"-brand coffee sitting right in front of him, so I immediately singled him out and jokingly branded him a liar, much to the amusement of the other students.

The 9AM-ers responded well to a modified version of the mixer exercises I had done with previous classes; having seen how my intermediate-level kids responded to my original, unaltered tasks, I knew my beginners would have an even harder time. So as Clint Eastwood growled in "Heartbreak Ridge," improvise, adapt, overcome. I'm glad I changed the plan. Tomorrow, I've got two classes of beginners, so the plan will remain changed for them as well.

It was close to 11AM. To avoid a second sweatfest, I decided to stay on campus until 5PM, which was the appointed time for our second orientation. The first orientation had been for our department only; this orientation was for new foreign profs in general. As I whiled away the hours from late morning to midafternoon, my faculty office underwent a quiet metamorphosis: first, a small table was brought in so that students and profs would have a place to sit and talk casually, or to hold tutoring sessions. Next, the tech guys came in and we all received spanking-new telephones in our respective cubicles. I asked one tech guy what my desk's new phone number was and whether I needed to dial "9" before dialing out; he told me I could simply dial out without any prefix. This is bad news, because giving me a phone is like giving a five-year-old a stick of dynamite: I'm going to abuse this new power by ordering plenty of food at the office from now on. I hope my office mates, and the people in the hallways, get used to the harsh clangor of food-delivery men slamming open their boxy metal food-carriers and dropping off Chinese, bunshik, and bossam. Oh, hell, yes.

Around 4:40PM, I tidied up my work station, took a healthy dump, then headed over to the library for our orientation. When I got to the fifth floor, the situation was much the same as it had been for the first orientation: the room was too hot and humid. This time, though, it didn't seem there were any plans to move the venue into the more air-conditioned B1 level; we'd all have to tough this one out. I signed in and picked up a small calendar, which immediately became a hand fan. Some of my colleagues were there, along with some new faces; I met one Indian gent who is teaching chemistry, and an American woman who is at CU to teach anatomy and physiology. The food station at the back of the room was laden with cookies and cute little plastic-wrapped sandwiches; I grabbed a cookie and sandwich packet and sat near the back of the room.

The presentation was given by a young, 20-something guy from our Admin Building. He did a good job of leading us through his PowerPoint slides, then he fielded questions in both English and Korean. All in all, I felt that 95% percent of the information I'd heard at orientation came from the handbook we had already been given, so the meeting was mostly redundant. Still, it was a chance to see some new faces and to eat a cute little sandwich, so all was not lost. Also, some of the questions at the end of the orientation session dealt with matters I hadn't thought about, so that was useful as well.

As I may have written before, I've been quietly arranging free, basic-level Korean lessons with several colleagues who want to learn Korean from the ground up. I've got six students thus far; we'll be meeting for 90 minutes, once per week, and going over the rudiments of the language—from the alphabet to basic pronunciation to simple words, phrases, and sentences. My goals for this class are modest: just get the students able to read things like bus-route charts and menus that don't feature any English on them. The university offers more in-depth conversation courses for the asking.

And that's the update for today. Two beginner-level classes tomorrow, then an intermediate-level class Thursday afternoon, then I'm free on Friday—which is the day I'll most likely go apply for my alien residence card. And maybe get my required medical checkup to boot.


Monday, August 26, 2013

forgot to take photos

I had hoped to take photos of my first two groups of students today, but in all the turmoil and confusion* of my first day back at a job I hadn't done since 2008, I neglected to take them. That may be for the best: if it's true that the composition of my classes will change next week as students do the add/drop shuffle, then I probably won't take pictures of my kids until my class rosters have stabilized.

My first class, at 11AM, was so-so. There were things I could have done better and things the students could have done better. I was able to keep the pace that I planned on maintaining, but for that first class, my mixer activities didn't go over that well. Korean students can be remarkably shy and conservative when it comes to meeting new people; they quickly form small cliques and clusters into which it's difficult to enter if you're a newbie. Breaking up those clusters and having the students move freely about the classroom is harder than it looks: Koreans don't naturally mingle unless circumstances absolutely scream for mingling. It could also have been that that first class, being a morning class (albeit a late-morning class), simply lacked the necessary energy to go along with the exercise. In any event, leading that class through my exercises was an uphill battle. I sensed that the students were somewhat passive and unmotivated, and that initiative was a foreign concept to them. They preferred to stare into their smartphones and to speak in Korean whenever I was on the other side of the room. I told several kids to put their phones away—this after having reviewed my in-class rules with them, which includes a rule about turning cell phones off during class. No, you can't use your smartphone's dictionary. Tough it out.

My second class, at 1PM, was much better. Light-years better, in fact. These students (also intermediate-level kids) grasped right away what I wanted them to do, and for the most part they did it. Again, my pacing was spot-on, but I didn't feel as if I had to push hard to get these kids talking to each other. There was still some shyness and inertia at the beginning, as was true of the first class, but that hesitancy rapidly evaporated within just a few minutes. I did have to tell a few kids to stop speaking Korean, but most of them voluntarily spoke in English. All in all, a much better performance by both the teacher and the students. There's something to be said for synergy; when people click, things go smoothly.

My ideal language classroom, at least when I'm teaching low-level conversation, is a noisy one. Students move easily from social cluster to social cluster and perform their work proactively. Quiet means death: it's conversation, for God's sakes, so people need to be talking. I hate quiet, and I hate zombie-like behavior. In fact, I joked about the zombie thing with both of my classes; the second class took my jokes in stride while the first class looked as if I'd accused the students of leaving a turd in the punch bowl. I do hope the first class wakes up and gets used to me soon; otherwise, this semester is going to drag. Maybe next week, if the class's composition really does experience an upheaval, the morning class will be more responsive.

There was one bright, if confusing, spot at the end of that 11AM session: a skinny little guy marched up to me and declared, "I want to join your class!" I took this as a compliment, but I wondered what made him think he hadn't joined the class already. Then it occurred to me that this kid might have been the one kid whose name I hadn't called after calling roll: there were nineteen bodies in that class, but in my list of twenty people, I had marked two people absent. Eighteen on paper, nineteen in the room. All signs pointed to a communication breakdown. I hope this administrative gaffe won't have much impact: if the rolls for my classes are reworked next week, perhaps this error will be washed out of existence by the tide of new names. In any event, I asked the kid to write his name on my roll.

My classes were hot, too. Air conditioning, especially in the first class, was awful. I sweated through my 90 minutes despite having an electric fan, a hand fan, a handkerchief, and two small, cold cans of Gatorade at my disposal. The fact that Koreans insist on opening all the public doors and windows of their buildings (by which I mean the doors and windows not related to offices or classrooms, e.g., the main front doors, the windows at the ends of the hallways, etc.) didn't help matters; if anything, all those open apertures had the effect of raising the building's average ambient temperature and humidity. In my head, a whispered mantra: end of October, end of October, end of October. In Seoul, temperatures tend to drop around mid-October; in Daegu, one of the hottest, most humid regions of Korea, I'm betting that summer will have a hard time letting go, hence the end of October.

Many of my colleagues hail from places like England and Ireland and Canada, so talk of temperature is in Celsius. Despite eight years in Korea, I still think in terms of Fahrenheit, which makes expressions like "it'll be 25 next week!" nearly meaningless to me. I'll have to get on the ball and relearn my temps. Old dog, new tricks.

Tomorrow morning, I've got one single class, from 9AM to 11AM (well, 10:30AM, really). It's beginner-level English conversation, which doesn't bode well: I'd already heard stories from colleagues about the lack of energy among their own 9AM students. I had originally wanted to change my mixer exercises to something more tailor-made for these beginners, given my difficult experience with my Monday 11AM class, but in the end, our office closed at 5PM, and I still hadn't done up a new set of exercises. With the office closed, I took my original packet (syllabus plus mixer activities) to a photocopy store and had twenty copies made for tomorrow morning. I don't want to make a habit of using such places, but my office's photocopier jammed three times before I gave up using it this afternoon.*** I also knew that our office wouldn't be open until 8:40AM tomorrow morning (I asked), so I'd have no time in the morning to make copies. If photocopying is going to be such a dicey, time-consuming business, I'm going to have to figure out a better strategy. Quite likely, I'll buy a printer somewhere local (I'm pretty much resigned to getting an inkjet; I've heard from commenters and colleagues that they're cheap**) and make my own copies from that. Much easier to do at home, despite the expense in terms of paper and ink.

Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

ADDENDUM: Ah, one other amusing thing: my students were shocked to learn I'm 44. I could see the horrified look in their eyes—Christ, he's ancient! They all thought I was younger. Such is the advantage of being fat: fewer wrinkles.

*I also lost a W1000 butt pillow I'd purchased. Dammit. I'll check and see whether it's still in Room A2-404 tomorrow.

**The huge disadvantage with inkjets, aside from inferior-quality printing compared to laser printers, is that their cartridges run out disconcertingly quickly. Ultimately, you end up spending far more on inkjet cartridges—which aren't cheap—than you do on laser-printer toner cartridges. What attracts people to inkjets, I think, is the initial low cost of purchasing the printer.

***To be fair, this wasn't entirely the copier's fault: at that point, my original packet was dog-eared and had been drilled with a staple; I'm sure the staple holes and the dog-ear contributed to the jamming problem. I knew, though, that a copy shop's industrial-strength photocopier would scoff at such minor obstacles, and sure enough, I had twenty copies within three minutes.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

spot the error

From here:

"But at 54 percent in a Gallup Korea survey and 61.1 percent in a Realmeter survey, [President Park's] ratings are now much higher than her two predecessors at the same point in their terms."

HINT: The problem isn't that there should be a comma after "Gallup Korea survey."

ADDENDUM: I've put the answer in the comments. No peeking!


tomorrow, it begins

[NB: This post has been revised in light of some discussion in the comments.]

Tomorrow, I have my first day of class. It's a four-hour day, which won't be hard. I've mentally wrestled with the whole "let them out early" thing, and have reconciled myself to giving the kids the option of a 10-minute break in the middle of the session or a 20-minute early release from class at the end of an uninterrupted "block" session. I still feel guilty about this; part of me is convinced that I'll be short-changing the kids, and another part of me whispers that, given an already-easy schedule, I'm making life even easier for myself. If I'm teaching only 90-100 minutes each class, then instead of a four-hour day, it'll actually be a three-hour-twenty-minute (or merely a three-hour) day. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

Today, I'm finishing up my lesson-planning. I've got two things that need doing: (1) a calendar for all four of my classes, which will take the students day-by-day through the semester; and (2) this week's lesson plan, which is all about mixer/icebreaker exercises to get the students comfortable with me and with each other. Beyond that, I'll be ironing my clothes, prepping my awesome go-bag, and wondering when the hell I'm supposed to receive my class attendance list (at a guess, Monday morning).


le divorce

I've taken SiteMeter off my blog. As much as I used to enjoy, and make use of, the valuable statistical data that came from it, the service itself—its free version, at least—became too annoying to tolerate. About every other day, SiteMeter would crap out: I'd be unable to access the site, and the site wouldn't be collecting any stats while it was down. This constant crashing had a depressing effect on my traffic readings, and made me leery of SiteMeter's accuracy. So—fuck off, then. Bye-bye, SiteMeter.

Suggestions for a decent, reliable stat counter are welcome.

(And let's not get into a debate about how SiteMeter's counting methods are bad. Every stat counter has its own, idiosyncratic method for reckoning unique visits, page views, and the like. Blogger's stat counter, which doesn't provide much info, gives me wildly inflated traffic statistics compared to SiteMeter, which was one reason why I trusted SiteMeter more.)


of blood loss and meat intake

This evening, I somehow managed to catch my foot on my new bathroom scale. I tripped and twisted at the same time, clumsily slamming into the wall between my apartment and that of my next-door neighbor, then slumping with a loud bump to the floor, thereby recompressing Ye Olde Coccyxe. No neighbor ran up to see whether I was OK, although I imagine the impact of ass on floor made my fellow residents look up from whatever they were doing.

I felt a pain in my right pinky toe and thought, Dammit, I've ripped the nail. I looked down and saw a tiny spot of blood. Not wanting to peel off my sock and reveal the true extent of the damage, I peeled off my sock, anyway, and saw that my toenail was fine, but that I'd somehow ripped the skin on the tip of my toe. Since blood wasn't pouring torrentially out of the wound, I grumbled and limped over to the bathroom to get a bandage. I applied it to my toe, put my sock back on, then went out to do what I had intended to do before tripping: go to dinner.

It was raining hard outside, and it was evening, so the weather was cooler than it had been for the past few days. I walked over to a restaurant that I had discovered just the other day. It advertised itself as a "meat buffet," and was charging only W9000 per head, which is an unheard-of price for Infinite Meat. I was worried, at first, that the resto wouldn't allow a lone diner in: many Korean establishments have a stupid "two-person minimum" policy that allows only couples and groups to dine. I folded up my umbrella and went inside.

I was immediately greeted by a businesslike ajumma dressed in über-casual clothes. I asked her whether my coming alone was OK; she gave me a laid-back "no problem" shrug. She then pointed me to a seat and, when I asked her how to proceed, told me I could just go back and forth, grabbing and cooking meat as I went. A male server seated me and turned on my table's burner (as with many Korean restaurants, this one had tables with burners in the middle of them). Ass and toe still throbbing from my tumble, I wandered over to the serving station, grabbed a plate, and began piling raw meat onto it. The selection was spicy chicken, bulgogi beef, several types of fatty pork, and octopus or squid tentacles. There was also a vegetable station that had onions, garlic, fat saesongi (king oyster) mushrooms, green chilis, Korean-style green-leaf salad, and dwaenjang sauce. Another station held condiments like sesame oil, soy sauce, red chili powder, and salt. Over several trips, I gathered raw meat, chilis, dwaenjang, salad, saesongi, sesame oil, and salt.

I had brought reading material, but ended up consumed by the need to prep my own food. Some Westerners find this loopy: if the customer is paying for the food, why does he have to prepare it himself? But this is part of the fun of Korean dining, and it diffuses responsibility for the quality of the meal: if your meat is burned, it's your own damn fault, not the cook's. I, of course, laid out and cooked my meat perfectly.

I liked the restaurant's ambiance immediately. It was unpretentious and foreigner-friendly: half the clientele were Southeast Asian workers. I had no idea what country they were from, but they were loud, happy, and relaxed. This was a resto for working people and for families, and despite my own white-collar job, I felt immediately at ease among the other patrons.

The restaurant displayed ominous signs warning that patrons who didn't finish their food would be fined an extra W5000. I thought this was only fair. In the end, I managed to polish off two heaping plates of meat, two clusters of saesongi, and a small bowl of green-leaf salad. It was more than enough, and surprisingly Atkins-friendly. I didn't see any rice, although I might simply have missed it. Barely anything at the resto qualified as carbs.

My meal finished, I lumber-waddled over to the cashier's desk and paid my W9000. I told the lady, very sincerely, that I had eaten quite well, then I asked her how she was able to charge such cheap prices. Somewhat mixing cause and effect, she smiled and replied, "Because customers keep on coming!" "You're obviously popular," I said, pointing to the full parking lot. She smiled again; I collected my umbrella, bowed in thanks, and left.

When I got home, I took off my shoes and looked at my sock. Sure enough, the right pinky toe had bled around the bandage. Here's a picture so you don't have to imagine it:

I wish I'd taken pics of dinner, but I didn't bring a camera with me, so all you get is a bloody right toe.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

questions I wish they used on "Family Feud"

I know that the questions on "Family Feud" are geared more toward the, uh, heartland demographic, but I'd still like to see a bit more variety in the tenor and intellectual challenge of the questions that contestants are asked. So here's a short list of questions I'd like to see contestants wrestle with on the show:

1. Name an English word that has three vowels in a row in it. (e.g., "disagreeable")

2. Name a surname that ends with "I-E-S." (e.g., Davies, Humphries, Margulies, etc.)

3. Name a popular Asian hot sauce or spice.

4. Name a popular Indian dish.

5. Name an important mountain-hiking safety tip.

6. Name a common type of grammatical error. (e.g., comma splice, misplaced modifier, etc.)

7. Name a non-culinary Spanish word or phrase commonly used in modern American English.

8. Name a superhero who is not a genetic mutant.

9. Name one feature common to all major extant religious traditions.

10. Name a common type of sports injury.

[Technically, the above aren't questions, per se; they're commands. Feel free to add your own intelligent questions/commands in the comments section.]


whoa—weight loss!

I got a new bathroom scale. Just popped in the battery and weighed myself.

132.5 kilograms. That's 291.5 pounds! I can safely subtract at least two pounds from that to account for a huge Chinese dinner, a bottle of Pepsi, and half a liter of water. That puts me at 289.5 pounds, which means I've lost a net twelve pounds since I began weighing myself at the beginning of the year.

Of course, there is a bit of a fantasy element, here: my weight may be artificially low because of all the sweating I've been doing. Sweat enough during the day, and you can be two or three pounds lighter than you might otherwise be. I'll obviously have to keep weighing myself to gather enough data points to counter the pernicious statistical effects of temporary fluctuations. Perhaps at some point, I'll even get back to a low-/no-carb regime. I just don't feel like doing that right now.


Friday, August 23, 2013

how to handle sweat

It's impossible for me to hide the fact that I sweat. While a typical Korean (and possibly a typical American) might associate sweat with fatness, I'd argue that sweatiness has more to do with a genetic propensity: some people are born with water-barfing pores. I was sweaty back when I was a 180-pound high schooler. At this past orientation, I saw skinny dudes who were sweating as much as I was. No: sweatiness is not a necessary function of fatness.

Unfortunately, I sweat from everywhere. This means that even my ass is sweaty; that fatal valley becomes a steaming jungle after too much exposure to heat, humidity, and effort. And my sweaty ass will not be stopped—not by underwear, and not by underwear-plus-pants. When my ass sweats, the world knows. The world always knows.

In this infernal weather, I sweat all the goddamn time. It pours out of me from everywhere; I could water an African village with my sweat. It fountains out of my scalp, runs into my eyes, and drips nastily from my hair. It pours out from the skin covering my trapezius and shoulder blades, running in rivulets down the center of my back and right into my ass crack. It erupts from behind my knees and trickles down my calves. It oozes from my neck and armpits, and from under my man-boobs. It comes forth in such great quantities that any clothes I am wearing become, ineluctably, soaked and sticky. And once the clothes stick to my skin, my skin interprets that as a blockage and sweats some more.

Sitting down on any chair, when I'm sweaty, is never a good idea. I leave enormous ass-prints from my enormous ass. My forearms become so sweaty that the sweat runs down along radius and ulna and onto my fingertips, making the use of a smartphone dicey at best. Haptic interfaces, which work through the interrupting of the flow of electricity, weren't meant to handle biblical amounts of moisture.

Is it any wonder that my idea of a perfect day is one that is cool, windy, and mostly sunny but partly cloudy? Is it any wonder that I despise the summer climate of the Daegu area but love the summer climate of landlocked, humidity-free Switzerland? What I wouldn't do to stop sweating this much. What I wouldn't give to undergo surgery that would, at the very least, seal all the pores in my ass.

Next week, I start teaching. My walk to campus is a merciless trudge of fifteen minutes along a gentle uphill path and through a warm, gelatinous wall of humidity.* Every time I've made the walk thus far, I've ended up looking as if I've been avidly licked by a dinosaur. There's simply no fighting that fact. The question, then, is what I can do to appear (and to smell) dry to my students by the time class begins.

It all comes down to two things: timing and my go-bag. Timing, in my case, means arriving an hour early to campus to give myself some cool-down time—say, thirty minutes. The next step, after that cool-down period, is to reach into my go-bag, pull out my supplies, and change from my sweaty clothes to my teaching clothes. I may have to spend a few minutes just standing there, naked, while the last of the sweat evaporates from my huge form, but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. (I'll likely use a gym towel to speed the drying. In fact, I'll probably use a different gym towel every day, given how stinky the towels will become.)

Many of my friends seem to have some version of the Jack Bauer go-bag, uncharitably referred to as a "man-purse." Reminiscent of Indiana Jones's saddle bag, the Jack Bauer go-bag hangs just a tad below hip level and is an omnibus trove of survival tools. My own go-bag, a full-sized carry-on piece with enough zippers and pockets to scare a dominatrix, promises to be much larger than any of my friends' man-purses, and much more versatile, too. Its contents will reflect the level of my prep: I'll have clothes, a necktie, a tie pin, towels, shoes, an ass pillow, a jacket, an umbrella, aspirin, allergy meds, bandages, a contact-lens case, contact-lens solution, and whatever teaching resources I deem fit, including my laptop. A go-bag in full, then.

So that's my plan for handling sweatiness: walk to campus with my go-bag, arrive an hour early, cool down for thirty minutes, towel off and air myself out, change into my teaching clothes (travel-wrinkled, but shigata-ga nai), and face the day. One other weapon in the fight against sweat: a fan. I bought a second fan today for only W35,000; that fan will go into my office and fire a constant beam of air straight into my cubicle.

As Huey Lewis sang, Cool is the rule.

*I once quoted from Tom Robbins's incredible novel Jitterbug Perfume. One chapter begins with a pungent description of the sultry September in Louisiana. Robbins could just as well have been describing the Daegu region. He writes:

Louisiana in September is like an obscene phone call from nature. The air -- moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh -- felt as if it were being exhaled into one's face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time.


the big news

Click pic for link:


on tap for today

More shopping and lesson plans! I've got to turn in my lesson plans by the first day of class, i.e., this coming Monday. I've also got to keep shopping for household and office items that will make my life a bit more comfortable. I bought an electric fan for my studio yesterday; I'm going to try to find a cheaper one for my office today. I'm also going to look into buying a printer/scanner here instead of having my own printer shipped with me to the States. My brother David looked into UPS's rates for my printer, and they were well over $600, US. Since I paid a bit less than $300 for the printer itself, that sounded ridiculous to me. I'd rather risk buying an expensive printer here on the peninsula (Korean electronics prices are, depending on the item, about double what they are in the States, alas) than suffer wallet abuse from UPS (with the added trouble of a delay at ROK Customs, plus extra entry fees... I've been through such hassle before).

I also need to pick up my jeans from Computer Clothing Repair, as well as buy an iron, an ironing board, and other items for my digs. With all that accomplished, I can sit down at my Big Mac (which I set up last night) and pound out my two syllabi for the coming semester. Shouldn't be hard. And if I finish everything tonight, I've got the whole weekend free to explore the town, and maybe even dip into Daegu itself.

Lots of walking and sweating in store for today. I wonder whether I've lost any weight. Maybe I should invest in a bathroom scale...


Thursday, August 22, 2013

walk far enough, and you can find everything

I was on the hunt for more household items:

clothes hangers
tennis balls (to put on my metal chair's feet so as to reduce the scraping noise)
a bamboo back-scratcher
a bathroom mat
abrasive cleaner (for tile and toilet)
a bathroom squeegee
Chicken Farm Spam (I'm becoming addicted to this)
stapler, staples
tape and dispenser
A4 paper
2 electric fans (home + office)
one more head pillow (I need at least two for my enormous head)
2 ass pillows (home + office—the kind that won't show a sweaty ass-print)
a "down" transformer (220V to 110V)
iron, ironing board
nightstand and reading lamp
extension cords (220V)

My first stop was the much-ballyhooed Daiso, one of which sits on the main street just beyond the alley that leads out from my neighborhood. Daiso is, as commenters and colleagues have said, a Japanese discount chain—basically a dollar store where everyday home, office, and even automotive products are sold for cheap. Prices aren't literally W1000, however; some items in the store run as much as W5000 (a bit less than $5, US). If I'm not mistaken, daiso is Japanese for "big-small." In Korean, the Chinese characters for "big-small" (大 小) would be pronounced dae-so,* but because the chain is Japanese, the Japanese pronunciation and romanized spelling have been retained in Korea.**

Daiso had a surprising variety of articles. I was able to polish off almost half my shopping list right there:

clothes hangers
tennis balls (to put on my metal chair's feet so as to reduce the scraping noise)
(Daiso actually sells "socks" for chairs; I bought those instead of tennis balls—much cheaper)
a bamboo back-scratcher
a bathroom mat
abrasive cleaner (for tile and toilet)
a bathroom squeegee
Chicken Farm Spam
stapler, staples
tape and dispenser
A4 paper
2 electric fans (home + office)
one more head pillow (I need at least two for my enormous head)
2 ass pillows (home + office—the kind that won't show a sweaty ass-print)
a "down" transformer (220V to 110V)
iron, ironing board
nightstand and reading lamp
extension cords (220V)

Very satisfying. I also bought some extra items, such as a cheap chef's knife (W2000), cutting boards (W4000), and a reusable shopping bag (W3000). The total cost of this trip was W34,000. Not bad; I would have paid three times as much at a big chain store.

I had slightly, but still embarrassingly, ripped the crotch of my jeans the other day, when I was on my way home from E-Mart.*** Having washed and dried the jeans, I took them out, rolled them up, and toted them with me to my next stop: the local open market. Among other shops, I hoped to find an ot-suseon-jip (clothing repair shop) there. I'd heard about the market from my building-mate Mark, whose girlfriend had discovered it during her explorations of Hayang. So, having put away all the items I'd bought at Daiso, I started out again, walking east along the main drag.

The first thing I encountered was a bedding store; it was filled with blankets and pillows. I went inside and asked about the price for a more or less standard-sized pillow; the lady said that would set me back about W12,000 or W13,000. I asked how long the shop would be open; she said I had until 8:30PM. I left and kept on walking. As I walked, I scanned the street for the ot-suseon sign, and not far down from the bedding store, I found one: Computer Clothes Repair. Strange name for a seamstress's store, but that didn't matter. I went inside; a dignified 50-something lady appeared and I explained the problem with my jeans. "When do you need them? Right away? In the next hour or so?" she asked briskly. I was taken aback. I had thought she might tell me to come back in three days. I blinked rapidly and told her that I wasn't in any hurry; she told me to come back tomorrow afternoon, then she charged me a mere W2000 for the work. How cool is that?

I walked on, wondering when I would stumble upon the market, which Mark had said vaguely was "that way" down the street. A few minutes later, I did find it: a series of back streets with various emporia ranging from seafood to kitchen items. Most of the shops were closed, their metal garage-style doors pulled down tight, but some were still open. One was a rather humble-looking bedding shop run by an older ajeossi with a friendly smile. He saw me enter and walked up to me. I told him I was looking for just a standard pillow; he showed me his stock, which ran from W8,000 to W10,000—somewhat cheaper than the pillows from the place run by the lady. I bought a W10,000 pillow from him because it looked nicer, and tougher, than the W8,000 pillows, and I asked him where I could find a place that sold electric fans and "down" transformers. He pointed me to the end of the market street and told me that, at the end of the street, I could go in either direction to find such a store. I thanked the ajeossi and walked to the end of the street, then broke right.

Within half a block, I found a tiny, dilapidated jeonja (electronics) shop. It didn't seem to have much in the way of electronics, but one oscillating fan, wrapped in plastic, caught my eye. I asked the old ajeossi how much it was; he said it was W55,000. I asked him whether he could cut the price a bit, and he said he could go down to W52,000. I knew I was being fucked in the ass; I should have switched to vicious haggling mode and pled poverty to get him down to a more reasonable W30,000. Instead, I shrugged and paid. Ajeossi 1, Kevin 0. To add insult to injury, he said he didn't have a "down" transformer. "Come back next time," the ajeossi rasped. Yeah. Right. I walked out and up the same street, going in the opposite direction this time in the hopes of finding another store that might sell a transformer.

I found one. The shop looked ready to close, but I barged in, anyway. Two men and a woman were gathered around a TV, watching some show. The woman asked me what I needed; I described the transformer to her. She started going into a spiel about how different types of equipment require different wattages of transformer, but I told her I needed only the simplest, smallest type of transformer, because all I had was a computer, and computers don't use much power. She pulled out a shoebox-sized transformer from her stock and showed it to me. "Perfect!" I said. "How much?" "20,000 won," she said. I winced: back in the early 2000s, in downtown Seoul, I could have bought the same transformer for W15,000. But this one had a sticker that said "W20,000" on it, so there would be no negotiating the price. (You generally don't haggle if the price of an item is visible. There are exceptions, of course, such as when you're buying a lot of stuff in one place. In that case, it's fine to ask for a discount.)

Loaded down with a bulky pillow, an electric fan, and now a transformer, I headed back home. It was slowly, tentatively, starting to rain. There were other items I needed to buy, but I resolved to hit the market during the daytime tomorrow.

All in all, it was a good shopping trip. My studio is starting to feel a bit more like home.

*Don't over-pronounce! Dae should be pronounced closer to "deh," not "day." To pronounce the Korean ae as "ay" is a classic Yankee mistake.

**UPDATE: I just saw the Wikipedia entry on Daiso. The Chinese characters representing the phonemes "dai-so" aren't the characters for "big-small" at all. At least, the second character (so) isn't the character for "small." Daiso actually comes from 大創, i.e., "big comprehensive." The "創" character, pronounced "so" in Japanese and "chang" in Korean, means something along the lines of "include" or "inclusive." So anything daiso is big and all-inclusive. Daiso is a store with a little bit of everything.

***No, no, this wasn't an "ass too big" thing. It was more of a "jeans hanging too low, knees spreading too wide" thing.


the D&D meme

I saw the 129-question "What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?" survey linked on Mike's blog, took it, and here are my results:

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Wizard (6th Level)

Ability Scores:







Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Detailed Results:

Chaotic Good ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (17)
Chaotic Neutral - XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (15)
Lawful Evil ----- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Neutral Evil ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (15)
Chaotic Evil ---- XXXXX (5)

Law & Chaos:
Law ----- XXXXXXXX (8)
Neutral - XXXXXXXXXXXXX (13)
Chaos --- XXX (3)

Good & Evil:
Neutral - XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Evil ---- XX (2)

Human ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXX (13)
Dwarf ---- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Elf ------ XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Gnome ---- XXXXXX (6)
Halfling - XXXX (4)
Half-Elf - XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Half-Orc - XXXXXX (6)

Barbarian - (-6)
Bard ------ (-2)
Cleric ---- (-4)
Druid ----- (-2)
Fighter --- (0)
Monk ------ (-13)
Paladin --- (-19)
Ranger ---- (-2)
Rogue ----- (-4)
Sorcerer -- XXXX (4)
Wizard ---- XXXXXX (6)


and there was hot water... and it was good

Until just a few minutes ago, when an epiphany occurred to me and I solved the problem, I had labored under the impression that I had no hot water. The new-teachers' handbook had stated, rather ominously, that to get one's gas turned on (hot water is gas-heated), one would have to call a certain gas-company office. So I came into my studio on the night of August 14 fully expecting not to have any hot water.

This impression was bizarrely refuted by the fact that my gas range produced flame when I unstopped the valve (you dial your gas valve open or closed, leaving it closed when you're not using gas; you can see the valve, kind of, in a kitchen photo from this post—fourth pic down) and fired up a burner. I had also tested the room's ondol (heated floor), and had felt warmth there as well. All of this pointed to two facts: (1) I had gas in my studio, and (2) I obviously didn't need to call any office to get it turned on.

But as expected, there was no hot water. I went to my bathroom sink, which has a hot-cold lever that you raise and swivel to govern the water's temperature and flow. Every time I swung the lever leftward, toward the "hot" end of the spectrum, the water would stop flowing. That should have been a clue as to what was really going on, but I was blind to that clue then.

Days passed. I resigned myself to taking cold showers and using cold water when washing dishes. I told myself that, the next time I caught our building's landlord—and I still had no clue where he lived—I'd ask him what the fuck was going on with my hot water.

Then came today. This morning, I stepped into the bathroom fully prepared to take a cold shower. I had developed a method of withstanding the cold whereby I would wash myself from my feet upwards, against the tug of gravity (and all common sense). This has worked fine for me thus far; with my lower extremities wet, it's less of a shock to my upper body when I finally turn the hose on it. So I washed myself, and then suddenly a thought struck me, and all the little clues over the past few days came screaming to the forefront of my mind. Look under the sink, asshole, the universe said.

Sure enough: control valves. Goddamn motherfucking control valves!

My meaty hand shot over to the hot-water valve and cranked it counterclockwise. The flow of water coming out of my shower head immediately increased as hot water came running through the hose. I nearly laughed out loud. I had forgotten one of the most elementary aspects of plumbing: hot and cold water run into your faucet through separate pipes! The hot-water valve had been closed, which is why, back when I first arrived, the water had seemed to shut off when I had swung the lever to "hot."

In my defense, I'll say that I assume the best of people. I'm not one of those paranoid, cynical assholes who immediately assume that everyone is out to screw them. I had assumed—wrongly, as it turned out—that both the hot-water and cold-water valves had been fully opened for my convenience before my arrival.

Gleefully, I finished my shower, toweled off, and went into the kitchenette to test my theory. I opened the sink cabinet, reached inside, and cranked the hot-water valve open. I stood up again, then turned on the hot water. It ran cold at first, then... glory.

So I don't need to talk to our landlord about anything. I don't need to know where he lives. Just about all of my household-related questions have answered themselves over the past week; this was the last major question.

Let me tell you—you never take hot water for granted when you don't have access to it.

ADDENDUM: When I asked him about his hot-water situation at lunch yesterday, Mark gave me a quizzical look and said, "Mine's fine. Why? Yours isn't?" Obviously, his valves were already open when he arrived; he just took his hot water for granted. So before any commenters come finger-wagging to me about how I shouldn't expect this or that, look to Mark's experience. He assumed the best of people, too, and in his case he was right.



I somehow neglected to mention that I established an account at Daegu Bank (DGB) yesterday morning, before orientation. The process involved signing a slew of forms, and then poof—done. I guess I need to relay my account number to the campus finance office so I can be direct-deposited on payday.

Unfortunately, I only received my bank book (tongjang); an actual ATM card won't be issued until I've obtained my alien registration card (ARC), which has to happen within 90 days. Why this policy is in place, I have no clue. Bureaucracy is a strangling vine, impeding swift, direct action. Luckily, a bank book can serve as an ATM card in a pinch; I can make cash withdrawals and account transfers by inserting the book (which has a magnetic stripe) into a DGB ATM. Not that I have much cash in my new account: I slipped W10,000 (about $9, US) in there while I was filling out forms.


why I love Camille Paglia

My favorite feminist makes other feminists nervous. In a recent interview, Paglia wrote:

The true mission of feminism today is not to carp about the woes of affluent Western career women but to turn the spotlight on life-and-death issues affecting women in the Third World, particularly in rural areas where they have little protection against exploitation and injustice.

Damn straight, Camille.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

goodbye, my Droid?

Almost as if it understood that its time has passed, my Droid X finally appears to be dying. The smartphone has stood faithfully by me for three years, but now that I'm in Korea and the device has no more use (I can't simply switch out the SIM card and keep using the phone), it seems, at long last, to be giving up the ghost.

I noticed a problem just the other day: the USB charger cord no longer helps the phone to charge. (I charge my Droid, which is still useful to me because it contains so many photos, e-books, games, and exercise programs.) Where the cord attaches to the phone, things have become loose and unconnected, and no matter how much I jiggle and cajole the cord in the phone's socket, it's a greater and greater struggle for me to get the phone's display to read "Charging." I have no idea why this is happening now; perhaps a stopgap measure may be to buy a new, Korean version of that USB cord. But if the problem isn't the cord so much as the phone, then it won't matter how many new cords I buy: the phone simply won't charge, and all I'll be able to do is watch the battery die over the next day or so.

Perhaps on Friday, when I've got more money in the bank, I'll try taking the phone somewhere to see whether it can be diagnosed and, I hope, treated.


Kim Jong-eun tribute 2

In honor of recent reports that more and more North Koreans are becoming meth addicts:


Kim Jeong-eun tribute 1



Today, Wednesday, August 21, was orientation day for us new CUD proles. The meeting was supposed to begin at 10:30AM, but since Koreans are perpetually on Italian time, we moved from the library's Room 501 (which had no A/C; those of us who had arrived early were sweating horribly) down to the basement level and began promptly at 11AM. Before we went downstairs, I had the chance to meet up, once again, with Mark from the day before, and with an acquaintance of Mark's named Daniel (again, not his real name; in fact, let's just assume that I'll be using pseudonyms from here on in)—a Québecois-Irish-Italian guy who speaks marvelously fluent French (he taught at the Sorbonne for two-and-a-half years). Like me and Mark, Daniel was soaked in sweat from the nasty Daegu-area heat. We Westerners all looked miserable, and I resolved, then and there, to come to work an hour early every day to give myself some cool-down time as well as time to change clothes.

Quite an assortment of hires, I must say: most of my new colleagues have lived in Korea longer than I have (nine or ten years, as opposed to my eight), although I didn't get the feeling that many of them could actually speak Korean. (As is often the case, the Korean-handicapped guys have Korean girlfriends who do everything for their men—a topic worthy of its own post/rant sometime.) There were a few CUD veterans in attendance as well; some were our "team leaders" (we had been divided into groups, you see), while others were at orientation because they were still relatively new, i.e., second-semester profs. The room was filled mostly with guys, which I found bizarre; only two or three foreign women had been hired. I sat next to two nice Canadian women who also happened to live in my building.

The orientation itself was fairly straightforward; D, whom I'd met the other day, led most of the orientation after our director, Dr. Y, had given a sprightly introduction. D's presentation was via PowerPoint; he covered aspects of teaching at CUA that we would need to be mindful of, such as how to take attendance, how to enter grades, how to get students oriented with the online learning component of our conversation classes, how to write a generic syllabus (I had certain disagreements with the grade distribution, but the distribution is department policy, as are the testing formats for both the midterm, listening, and final exams), etc. Most of the advice we got was common sense: use your colleagues as resources, keep clear records, make sure the students understand your grading, behavior, and attendance policies, minimize student complaints by being thorough in your prep. All stuff I'd heard before.

We drove out in separate cars to an in-town Korean restaurant that Dr. Y had reserved for us; lunch was good, if a bit cold. One of my colleagues, an Englishman, struck me because he looked exactly like Bear Grylls. I told him so; he said that was the first time he'd been compared to Bear Grylls; normally, according to him, people say he looks like Scott Bakula.

I wasn't particularly talkative, as is my wont in group situations. Finally, 1:20PM rolled around, and I stood up. As I tried to usher myself out of lunch to go home and rest from all the damn heat, the Korean staffers asked me where I was going. "Home," I said. "No—you have to come to the office!" "Why?" I asked, annoyed. "You have to make ID!" I had no clue what the girls were talking about, but I shrugged and resigned myself to a sweaty trudge back to campus, about a twenty-minute walk away. Mark, my Canuck building-mate, accompanied me part of the way, then headed along the back streets to our neighborhood. He, apparently, didn't need to "make ID" that day.

Dripping, soaked, I continued on to St. Thomas Aquinas Hall, thinking about how fat the famed saint was reputed to have been. He supposedly had to have a specially made desk or table—one with a semicircle gouged out to allow for his enormous girth. How apropos, I thought, blinking away droplets of sweat and wiping uselessly at my brow with a handkerchief already saturated with perspiration. The fat prof goes to Aquinas Hall. I once again wondered what life would be like were I half my size and weight.

As I mentioned before, my office is on the fourth floor of Aquinas Hall. I clumped up the stairs to Room 400, the staff room. Opening the door, I saw the room was already full of my fellow expat profs, who were busy collecting their textbooks and office keys, and "making ID," which I discovered meant creating usernames and passwords for us to be able to log in to the university's email and intranet system. I guessed that my colleagues had ridden back in the same cars that had driven them to the restaurant. Lucky bastards.

"Making ID" meant talking to Frieda, and Frieda insisted on speaking English, a language she had only begun to master. I did my best to try to decipher her pidgin attempts at communication—mangled sentence fragments and Yoda-like syntax. Eventually, she resorted to Korean when it was obvious that we had hit a discursive wall, and that no further English communication was possible. Somehow, a username and password and email account were hammered out, and I was that much further woven into the CUD network.

Daniel was there; we spoke in French for a bit before he had to leave. I asked the girls whether there was anything more I needed to do; they asked me, in turn, whether I had received my office key and my pile of textbooks; I said that I had, so they told me we were done for the day. Still sweaty, I marched home, thankful that the walk home was entirely downhill. In my mind, it's already late October, and the walk to class is so much more pleasant in the cool fall air.

Once in my studio, I again peeled off my vêtements humides and cranked up the washing machine. God, I'm so thankful I have a washing machine, and that I don't have to pay a water bill: I've been using that poor device almost daily since I arrived in Hayang.

I now have until Monday to create my syllabi, of which I need create only two. Meanwhile, I've got more shopping to do. With my final direct deposit from YB coming this Friday, I'll have a few hundred extra dollars to throw around, and then I have to hold my breath until CUD pays me on September 15... at which point I'll send $1000 to my US bank account, and breathe easier for the first time in years.

The word "orient" means "east." To orient oneself originally meant to use the rising sun as a compass point for navigational purposes. A disoriented person literally couldn't figure out which way the east was. Today, I think, was constructive: as a new member of a burgeoning university community, I was happy to be shown where, procedurally and academically speaking, my east is. And I look forward to working with what promises to be a very interesting cast of characters.


campus walkabout

As promised, here's my final pic dump: 33 images from my campus walkabout the other day. Hover your cursor over each image to see its caption.