Saturday, May 31, 2014

"X-Men: Days of Future Past": review

Give "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (XMDOFP) credit for not insulting the viewer's intelligence. It's a convoluted time-jumping romp that doesn't quite make sense, but that delivers plenty of action and dialogue in the process. The film, directed by the embattled Bryan Singer (who also helmed the first two major X-Men films back in 2000 and 2003), stars Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as the current Professor Xavier, Ian McKellen as the present-era Erik/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as young Raven/Mystique, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, and much of the rest of the cast seen in previous X-Men films. Rebecca Romijn, who played "later" Mystique in the older movies, is conspicuously absent.

The opening of XMDOFP manages to evoke both the Terminator and the Matrix movies, and "Terminator" is the basic template for this film's plot.* It's the near future, and the world has been at war. Scientists, in their zeal to rid the world of mutants, have created huge, agile robots called Sentinels. Imbued with astute AI and adaptive, mutant-like abilities, the Sentinels have been hunting and eliminating mutants, mutant sympathizers, and normal humans who have the potential to give birth to mutants. As the mutants' numbers dwindle, a small group, led by a resurrected Professor Xavier and his frenemy Magneto, gather in a Chinese temple for one last, desperate move: to project someone's consciousness back in time to stop Mystique in 1973, when she assassinates Doctor Bolivar Trask (short-stuff Peter Dinklage of "Game of Thrones" fame) in Paris. This assassination sets in motion the chain of events that lead to the near-future dystopia. Stop Mystique, reset the future, and gamble that the alternate future will be a better one.

Time travel in this movie is handled somewhat strangely: instead of going back bodily, it's one's mind that goes backward in time. Kitty Pryde (Page) is the mutant with the ability to send minds backward; she's been using this power to undo mutant deaths from Sentinel attacks, but up to now, she's never sent any mind back further than just a few days. Hurling someone's consciousness as far as 1973 would, she fears, tear that consciousness apart. Xavier and Magneto are stymied, but Wolverine volunteers to be mentally projected: his self-healing powers will preserve his mind during the dangerous trip. Pryde warns Wolverine that, if he's successful, he'll be the only one to remember the "original" future: once the alternative timeline is in place, no one else will know what really happened.

So Wolverine is sent back in time, back into his 1973-era body, but where his 1973 consciousness goes is one of the many things left unexplained in this film (shades of television's "Quantum Leap"). I laughed when I saw how Singer chose to evoke the 1970s: the first thing we see, when Wolverine wakes up with a woman in his bed, is a lava lamp; the second thing we note is that he's on a waterbed. Hats off to Singer for such clever visual shorthand.** Other Seventies tropes appear as the plot progresses: big cars, Afros, sideburns, and the latter years of the Vietnam War. Oh, and President Nixon (Mark Camacho, with facial prosthetics, looking more like Chris Christie than Nixon).

Once firmly installed in the Seventies, Wolverine goes in search of young Professor Xavier (James McAvoy). He finds him at Xavier's old academy for mutants, which has gone to seed since the advent of the Vietnam War, during which many mutants, and their teachers, were killed in the fighting. Xavier himself has become a desolate alcoholic and drug addict; the only mutant tending to him is Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast (Nicholas Hoult, whose Beast makeup looks different from the way it looked in "X-Men: First Class"). McCoy has created a serum that has given Xavier the use of his legs, but only at the cost of his immense psychic powers.

Wolverine, thrust into the uncomfortable role of teacher and diplomat, but armed with his conviction and his knowledge of the frightening future, initially has difficulty persuading the bitter young Xavier to help stop Mystique from assassinating Dr. Trask, but Xavier eventually comes around, ultimately forsaking his serum in order to reacquire his psychic abilities. Knowing that this task will require more help, Wolverine enlists the aid of Peter Maximoff—Quicksilver (Evan Peters)—to break Magneto (Michael Fassbender returning as the younger version of Erik Lensherr) out of his solitary confinement deep in a metal-free chamber beneath the Pentagon. Magneto's crime: allegedly killing President John F. Kennedy by "bending" the path of the sniper bullet that struck him.

The Pentagon jailbreak scene is one of the comic-action highlights of this movie. Quicksilver's talents—like his DC Comics cousin The Flash, Quicksilver can move far faster than the eye can follow—are put to good use, once again evoking "The Matrix" through a steroidal version of bullet-time photography (all to the tune of Jim Croce's "If I Could Save Time in a Bottle"). There were some major "Hollywood physics" problems with this scene, but I won't be churlish by pointing them out as I have bigger metaphysical fish to fry later.

With Erik/Magneto successfully broken out of the Pentagon, Xavier and Magneto fly to Paris, along with Beast, to stop Mystique. Do they succeed? I don't want to spoil the entire movie for you, but suffice it to say that, success or not, an alternate timeline is indeed created, but not quite the one that was wished for. Magneto, now out of confinement, has his own agenda—one involving President Nixon. The Sentinel project, which originated in the 1970s, still seems to be under way. Suffice it to say that this film has many tangled threads in its plot, and not all of them get untangled to the viewer's satisfaction. The resolution, too, leaves us with an alternate timeline in which the action of the past few movies seems to have been rendered vain or meaningless—a twist that might leave diehard fans feeling cheated or scandalized.

Overall, I enjoyed XMDOFP, but I admit I went into the theater somewhat sleepy, and I may have nodded off once or twice during some of the many surprisingly talky segments. There was a weird sense of anachronism when I saw the 1973-era Sentinels; they looked a lot like early-2000s robots to me. I also had no idea how it was that Professor Xavier had come back to life.*** A brief mid-credits scene at the end of "The Wolverine" hinted that Xavier has certain "gifts" that allowed him to regenerate himself after having been destroyed by Dark Phoenix in "X-Men: Last Stand." These confusions aside, I enjoyed the acting and the action. At the same time, I didn't think the movie focused nearly as explicitly as did its predecessors on the series's cherished themes of racism and difference, perhaps because Singer wanted to take a full-on plunge into sci-fi.

But that leads me to one of my biggest complaints about the film: there was too much that simply made no sense, either scientifically or metaphysically. Let's return, for a moment, to Kitty Pride's trans-temporal mental-projection powers. If Wolverine were projected back to 1973, you'd think the rewriting of history would begin immediately. If that were the case, then the future Kitty wouldn't exist, which means she'd no longer be able to keep projecting Logan's mind back in time (the movie switches back and forth between 1973 and the near future). What would happen if Kitty Pryde were to disappear? Would the future Logan's mind be forever stuck in his 1973 body? And again, where did Logan's 1973 mind go? There's also a scene in which young Xavier, through Logan, connects and converses with his future self, meaning that information is flowing both backward and forward through time. How is this possible if Kitty Pryde's mind-flinging ability only allows a consciousness to be shunted backward in time? Logan himself is a problem: when he wakes up in the present day with his "old" memories of the "original" timeline, what have his mind and body been doing from 1973 to the present? Was Kitty Pryde projecting his mind backward for decades? I doubt that. So what happened, there?

I also confess that I may have been sleeping when the movie explained why Magneto wanted to kill President Nixon and his flunkies (did he want to kill them?). I'm not sure I completely understood his motives. By contrast, I completely understood Mystique's reasons for wanting to kill Trask: Trask had been capturing and experimenting on mutants, killing many of them, in his efforts to create effective Sentinels. He would eventually find the answers he needed in Mystique's blood.

In addition to its other problems, XMDOFP suffers from the fatal flaw of every time-travel movie, namely: what's to prevent other time-travelers from undoing what's been accomplished by the end of the movie? Nothing, really—which is precisely why "Terminator" was followed by so many sequels. I'm not sure what percentage of regular American viewers will be bothered by these metaphysical considerations, but they nagged at me mightily. XMDOFP pushes the reset button, in a big way, on X-Men continuity (and, by extension, on the continuity of the actions taken by any other Marvel superheroes during the 1973-to-2020s period). This is a Bryan Singer project, but it's encroaching on JJ Abrams's "Star Trek" reboot territory. Go see the film if you're looking for good action and dialogue, as well as a richly complex plot that doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence, but if you cherish your sanity, don't expect the movie to make much scientific or metaphysical sense.

*Commenter John from Daejeon points out that, in terms of comic-book history, the relevant X-Men scenario actually predates "Terminator." As I noted to John, many, if not most, viewers of the new movie won't be aware of the comic book's history and will draw the same conclusion I did. Read the comment thread for more information.

**As has often happened before when I've been watching an American movie in a Korean theater, I found I was the only one laughing at these very culture-specific moments.

***There's an old adage: "In sci-fi, no one stays dead forever."


death and projects

Yes: life is mortal, and this truth extends even to computer monitors. My 2009-era Mac's monitor has died, as of two days ago, and I'm now forced to blog from my MacBook Air laptop. That's not tragic, but it is an inconvenience. Once I get paid by KMA for my recent Saturday gig, one of my projects is to take the Mac to a local computer-repair shop to get it looked at and, I hope, cured.

I have two other projects as well: get some new contact lenses and get a Costco membership. I've already visited the on-campus eyeglass store, located at the bottom of St. Thomas Aquinas Hall. That was a bit of a fiasco: the guy I spoke with said he could provide me with monthly-wear contacts for W35,000, but he could give me only a six-month supply, which I found asinine. Why not just let me purchase two sets of lenses, then, right? For a year's supply? Upshot: I won't be going back to that contact store. Why get eye-tested every six months? Silly.

The Costco membership will allow me to purchase the goods I'll need for the jjong-party (end-of-term party) I'm planning to have with my intermediate kids. Not sure what I'm going to cook yet, but very likely it'll be my "faux-Fredo," i.e., Alfredo done up with bleu cheese instead of Parmigiano Reggiano. If Korean Costcos have the same huge blocks of Kirkland creamy bleu that I can find in America, I'll be very happy.

That's the sort of excitement I can look forward to over the next few weeks.


Friday, May 30, 2014

seeking greener pastures

It's no longer a private thing, so I may as well announce that I recently signed a form confirming the fact that I won't be returning to Catholic University for a third semester. I'll be seeking employment in or near Seoul; my aim is to move back north to a sector of the peninsula that I can understand and relate to better. Even after nearly a year in Hayang, I can't say that I've gotten used to the local culture: not the mentality, and not the grating southern accent, which I still have trouble comprehending.

Some colleagues are shaking their heads: why tell DCU that you're leaving if you haven't confirmed where your next job will be? Is it wise to jump off the train without checking out where you're going to land? I can see why my colleagues might think that way, but I'm not overly exercised about my future; I'm confident that something, some opportunity, will present itself.

On the job-hunting front, I have a few irons in the fire—not as many as I had last year, when I applied to twelve different places, but that's fine: part of the problem, last year, was that I wasn't on the peninsula. This time around, I'm here and immediately available for interviews, and the latest place to which I'll be applying is Hanyang University's Seoul campus.* Hanyang is offering a deal that's comparable to my package at DCU: 12 hours of teaching per week, two 16-week semesters (plus possible optional vacation teaching), for a net monthly salary of about 2.7 million won (after taxes, I suspect it'll be closer to 2.3, but that's still a few hundred thousand better than what DCU pays).

So it's not as though I'm jumping blind. I have a few options before me, and I think something will eventually pan out. Rest assured, Dear Reader, that there has been a good deal of looking before the leaping.

*You may recall that I applied to Hanyang's ERICA campus, located in Ansan, last year. I need to visit the Seoul campus and compare it with Ansan's.


Medusa meets the author of Germinal

Behold the Gorgonzola pizza I had Thursday afternoon (click image to enlarge):

The cheese itself wasn't bad, but the crust was severely lacking: way too thin and somewhat undercooked, it had a slightly yeasty odor about it (indicating its distant relationship to actual pizza crusts). The dipping sauce turned out to be some strange sort of herbed honey. It didn't clash with the pizza, but using the honey felt a bit strange.* Also, at W8,900, this pie was overpriced. All in all, I'm not sure it'd be worth purchasing again; I'm likely to move on to something else. The on-campus cafe where I bought the pizza, Windy City, serves a weird variety of Korean and Western meals, including its own "burger set," which I'll be trying soon. Because hope springs eternal.

*True: strong cheeses often pair well with sweet, non-citrus fruits and other sugary flavor profiles. A classic example would be Emmenthaler ("Swiss") cheese and grapes.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

pain-free = cane-free

No cane today. No walking-stick. No jipangi (지팡이), as the Koreans call a cane. The hip isn't at 100%, but it's feeling a lot better. Sleep is much more comfortable; I'm getting to a point where I think I can start doing some of my own physical therapy in the form of gentle, taekwondo-style stretching exercises (TKD is, if nothing else, great for getting stretched). Pretty soon, I hope to have full range of motion. But it's baby steps until that glorious day: I don't want to force things and end up retrogressing. One day at a time.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

more kind words

A touching email from one of my fellow teachers, who was also a student in the now-finished "absolute beginners" Korean course I taught (edited for space, style, and privacy):

First of all, I would like to thank you for your time and effort, and for sharing your knowledge of the Korean language.

The course was well-structured and your teaching method was clear and effective; in fact, I use your teaching style for my classes. That's the benefit of being a student: you will learn a lot from your teacher and your classmates. Thanks also for your patience, for being kind and approachable, and for explaining and making difficult tasks easy to understand. You were always prepared and used many resources to make learning fun and exciting. Your preparation and materials were consistently excellent and thorough, and for that you deserved congratulations from me for a job well done. You were one of the best teachers I've ever had. Sad that I won't be able to have class with you anymore. Anyways, we can keep in touch through e-mail.

I think it will take so long to be able to speak beyond a few basic phrases, but rest assured I won't stop learning.

I wish you good luck in everything you do. I will pray for more blessings to be showered upon you.

I can use all the good karma I can get.

Today was our final class. My Absolute Beginners dwindled from six students to only two, but those two remaining students were stubborn and determined to learn. I made them try to order food over the phone tonight—a scary experience even for more seasoned students of Korean. They were great sports and did an admirable job, despite some inevitable Murphy's-Law-style glitches in communication (all three of the delivery guys we called had no idea where St. Thomas Aquinas Hall was). I was proud of how my students handled themselves. Going from nearly zero to ordering food, after only a few weeks of Korean classes, is quite a thing: it took both hard work and a large dose of courage. I'll miss this class. At the beginning of the semester, I'd been wondering whether I'd even teach basic Korean again; I'm glad I made the choice to do so.



Writer, poet, and thinker Maya Angelou has left this plane of existence behind.

Her final tweet, four days before her passing:

Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.

Who can say? Perhaps she heard a voice on the far shore calling.

RIP, Ms. Angelou.


a note from a student

Received via KakaoTalk at 11:33PM, Tuesday night, from a pronunciation student:

Thank you for teaching us passionately. [...] I always appreciate your attention and passion. Thank you. See you tomorrow!

It's the little rewards that improve the day.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

pronunciation class: lessons learned, and thoughts on testing

Things I've learned while teaching my first-ever full-length pronunciation class:

1. Don't overthink how to grade. Don't create overly complex formulae to calculate student grades according to how much they've progressed—not unless you're a math wizard.

2. Give prompt reactions to student homework. Students need feedback, and the feedback for each student doesn't need to take more than a minute.

3. Place more emphasis on syllable stress. Many Koreans mispronounce words by placing stress on the wrong syllables.

4. Do more games. Students like games, and pronunciation is a very game-friendly subject.

Thus far, I've had several students tell me that the course has been helpful to them. I was also impressed by the improvement I saw from the diagnostic test to the midterm: most of the students improved, on average, by 10-15 points; they had become a lot more conscious of their pronunciation. Unfortunately, the class's grade landscape must be forced to conform to a curve, which means I can't give as many "A"s as I'd like: only a certain percentage can receive "A"s and "B"s. This means I have to design a final exam that will be an order of magnitude more difficult than both the diagnostic and the midterm; this will lower some students' grades and force the class into the curve. I don't like doing that, mainly because I think major exams should follow a consistent format that allows students to track their progress from test to test. Think of it this way: if you're training soldiers to fight, it's weird to give them a krav-maga midterm followed by a final exam on French fencing. Be that as it may, I can't have as many "A"s as I currently do, and rather than artificially knocking random students down a few pegs at the end of the semester, I'd rather redistribute grades through a proper test, even if the test's format will be significantly different from what has gone before.


Monday, May 26, 2014

pain update

The hip pain continues to fade. I keep my trekking pole with me, but I walk around without using it these days, except perhaps in the evenings, after I've done a few thousand steps. In another week or so, I'll try weaning myself off the "old-man stick," as some of my colleagues inelegantly style it. I still have a good bit of stiffness in the hip joint, which means I'm still limping ever so slightly (because I normally lumber, it's hard to notice the current limp given the rumble-roll of my stride); I experience occasional flares of pain if I shift sideways too quickly or twist my left foot too far. In my current state, I doubt I could break into a run, but running no longer seems like an impossibility.

This is a delicate phase to be in: I'm still vulnerable to repetitive-stress injuries, but there now seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. I haven't visited the orthopedic clinic in weeks (and the clinic has never called to find out where I am—how's that for patient followup?*), but I may go visit it once, without my "cane," to show off my Buddha's-birthday miracle.

May the graph of my condition continue to trend upward.

*I have received some random phone calls from numbers I don't recognize. In all fairness, those calls could have come from the clinic. Then again, they might have been mere spam.



My Mac's monitor appears to be dying. It's 7AM as I write this; my studio is dark except for the gentle morning light coming in through my windows, and I can see every little flicker the monitor is making. This problem has occurred, on and off, for the past several months. What's worse is that, along with the flickering, the monitor seems to be getting darker overall. It may be time to take my computer to a shop to get it looked at; otherwise, I'll be forced to rely on my laptop for blogging. There's a repair place up the street that might be of service.

Fortunately, KMA pays pretty promptly; I can't take the computer in until I've got more money in the bank, but I imagine I'll be paid within the next week or so for the seven-hour gig I just did this past Saturday. Here's hoping my monitor holds together until then.

Hear me, baby? Hold together.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

a mighty harvest

I'm on my way back to Hayang, having visited Sperwer's house, early this morning, to reclaim some of my old items from his basement. Because Sperwer says he's experiencing an itch for "spring cleaning," he had asked me to help him clear out some basement space: he's been storing a pile of my post-Sookmyung-era stuff since 2008. Part of my task, then, was to triage my remaining junk in order to free up some cubic footage for him and his family. We coughed and sneezed and wheezed our way through the procedure, breathing in a subtle cloud of dust and mold as we shifted boxes, opened them, examined them, and sorted. Some of my old clothes have now been consigned to local charities; most of my junk is simply being tossed. I kept one large suitcase and stuffed it with items of either practical or sentimental value—photos, my birth certificate, and the like. Sperwer's wife very kindly served me lunch after we had done our work, and Sperwer and I ate and talked while sitting out on his front lawn. He's installing a pergola there.

So that's how I spent my Sunday morning and early afternoon. Sperwer drove me over to Seoul Station, where I'm now typing this entry while I wait for my 4:20PM train.

When I was at my Pubeville yeogwan, I used a lint roller to clear my dirty bed of extra human filth. What follows is a picture of my Friday-evening harvest. Enjoy.

You'll have noted a lack of short-and-curlies this time around; most of these hairs are from someone's scalp. The very short hairs are likely from someone's leg. Then again, those short hairs look rather thick, so they might be scalp hairs, too.



I've been doing an informal series on Twitter titled "World's Weirdest Checkmate," in which I offer a screenshot of a chess game that I won on my Samsung Galaxy S4—a game in which the final configuration of pieces looks damn strange. I'm up to Number 9 now, and that one's got to be the chess equivalent of a rear naked choke.

See here.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

2 tired 2 post

You're going to have to wait until I've rested before I can post anything worthwhile. I taught a marathon 7-hour course in Yeouido, and I'm beat. More soon.


Friday, May 23, 2014

fleeting thoughts after a few hours in Seoul

1. The cabbie who took me from Seoul Station to Jongno was one of the coolest drivers I've met. Aging, humble, cheerful, not too talkative... and like those ladies I mentioned before, he never once made a big deal about the fact that I speak Korean.

2. I went back to Pho Mein (first mentioned here). The place is funny: it purports to serve Vietnamese food, but the food's been heavily Koreanized. My spring rolls had fake crab in them, as well as danmuji, i.e., sweet pickled radish. The food still tasted fine, but I think a Vietnamese person would have something to say about the culinary point of view.

A girl at Pho Mein remembered me from my months-ago visit. She remembered where I'd sat, what I'd ordered, and the fact that I had come close to closing time (for which I apologized this time around). She gave me a coupon to use the next time I came by.

3. While at KMA, I broke a chair. Snapped off the left arm, right in front of my two supervisors, as I tried to lever myself to a standing position. One supervisor told me not to worry: KMA's chairs have been similarly damaged by people much slighter than me. Sure enough, when I looked over at the far wall, there were two more chairs that were missing their left arms.

4. The KMA course that I'll be teaching tomorrow is about "strategic communication," i.e., communication with the goal of gaining something (e.g., a pay raise). It looks to be exciting material; I'm reviewing it this evening as preparation, then I do a marathon from 10AM to 6PM tomorrow, with an hour's break for lunch. Seven adult students are enrolled, and I've been advised that many of them will be very sharp. This ought to be a welcome contrast from teaching beginner-level kids at DCU.



Someone stole my textbook!

I couldn't believe it, but at some point between my 1PM and my 3PM Thursday beginner classes, some student swooped over to my satchel, plucked out my textbook, and carried it off to heaven-knows-where. I can't imagine that that textbook, universally hated by my students (and by some teachers who shall remain nameless), could be the object of a teen's desire. That leaves spite as a possible motive: my textbook was stolen to piss me off and ruin my day. Well, I was able to wing it without the textbook in my 3PM class, and after that class I went up to the fourth-floor office and got a fresh textbook, so my day was far from ruined. Still, it's disturbing to ponder the fact that some nervy fucker actually stole my textbook.

ADDENDUM: It's also possible the textbook was taken by accident, but I don't see how that works: my book was way at the front of the classroom, all by itself, while most of my students tend to sit far back from me. No: this has "dickhead" written all over it.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

karmic balance

I picked up W2,000 the other day, blessing my good fortune. Today, a vending machine ate one of my W1,000 bills. I've never had a problem with a Korean vending machine before; they perform, on the whole, much more reliably than do their American counterparts.

So this is the universe rebalancing itself, I gather. Sucks.


academe and Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, joked that, after disproving God's existence, humanity went "for an encore":

[Man argues that God doesn't exist, whereupon...]
'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.
'Oh, that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

This is where academic thought, especially in the humanities, has been headed for some time. Witness the following piece of garbage:

Gender is a social construct and therefore a performance while anatomical sex is an indicator which designates a person either as a man or woman. Gender is created through the repetition of acts which are socially accepted as “feminine” or “masculine” and applicable to female-coded or male-coded bodies respectively. Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity questions the idea of the gendered body against its performance, pointing out that “hegemonic heterosexuality is itself a constant and repetitive effort to imitate its own idealizations.” She argues that the concept of gender is in itself “drag” due to its repeated imitation of socially acceptable conventions of femininity and masculinity.

I have no quarrel with the idea that gender is socially constructed whereas sex is an objective biological fact. Camille Paglia would back me up on that: there is sex and there is gender. Paglia would go further, though, and note that you can't separate sex from gender the way so many modern feminists try to do. In any case, Paglia and I would both affirm the sex/gender dichotomy. Not a problem. But according to the above paragraph, Judith Butler would contend that:

1. Being in drag is drag.
2. Not being in drag is also drag.

That covers just about everything. And we've pretty much argued—if not exactly proved—that black is white.

As I said: garbage. So for your own safety, boys and girls, look both ways at the zebra crossing. You might get trampled by a gay Korean man.


off to Seoul

I'm going to Seoul to teach for KMA this weekend. It's not a course of my own preparation, but that doesn't matter: I'll be arriving a day early, and I plan to visit KMA, grab the course materials, and give them a thorough read-through before I teach my marathon on Saturday. Will be in Seoul until Sunday afternoon, like last time.


the role of the teacher in the EFL classroom

I attended a mini-conference this evening. It featured two presenters and left me wondering about each presenter's diametrically opposite ideas regarding the role of a teacher in the EFL classroom. The first presenter effectively said that the teacher should adapt to the class and accommodate the students' cultural needs; the second presenter argued exactly the opposite: the students should be the ones adapting to different cultural modes of thinking, speaking, and acting. Both of these views have merit, but I find I'm more sympathetic to the second presenter's view—primarily for practical reasons: I can't mitotically split myself into twenty Kevins, each catering to an individual student in the classroom. It's much more useful and realistic to adopt a "YOU come to ME" attitude, in which the students must bracket their own style of thinking and internalize both English language and Western culture. As the over-abused saying goes, to learn a language is to learn a culture.

My previous post made a similar point: Koreans will attempt to Koreanize the learning of English, which is exactly the wrong approach. Instead of sanitizing EFL so that it doesn't rub Korean cultural sensibilities the wrong way, Koreans should seriously consider plunging wholeheartedly into a radically different mental universe. Such a plunge would initially be painful and culturally subversive, but the linguistic dividends would be impressive. Much that is lacking in Korean culture—a culture of discussion, for example—would be brought to the fore in EFL classes that are taught in a fully Western mode. Is this a form of cultural imperialism? My answer to this accusation is twofold: (1) I wince whenever I hear the word imperialism, which I think is often misused, and is often employed as a cudgel that serves to end discussion; (2) I also think that, the moment a student decides to learn a foreign language, she is implicitly saying "amen" to admitting a raft of foreign cultural tropes into her consciousness. Whatever "imperialism" there is begins with the student's choice to learn, or with society's collective choice to prioritize English as part of the standard curriculum.

Years of less-than-impressive results on standardized tests have left Koreans frustrated and confused about how to improve their English. They don't seem to understand that, at heart, their own inertia—in matters of pedagogical ideology—is preventing them from realizing true progress in EFL. Adopting new language-learning methods, trusting the expat teachers to do a competent job, engaging with and participating in a more explicitly Western mindset—these are all things that Koreans could be doing to improve their linguistic lot. More focus on productive macroskills would also yield benefits. And the teacher most decidedly shouldn't accommodate the student's need to retreat to Korean culture at the first sign of foreignness.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

yesterday's lunch

My campus has several cafeterias, each with its own idiom. Several students had told me about one particular cafeteria that served Western-style pasta along with Korean food; they said the food was decent, but the portions were a bit small and overpriced. I found the place and ordered cream pasta (without onions) and a chicken salad. The salad turned out to be huge, but the pasta, while not tiny, wasn't particularly large. Amusingly, both dishes were served in Korean-style metal bowls, a bizarre move that I actually enjoyed.

Click on the image below to see Tuesday's lunch up close:

The chicken salad was typically chicken-salady; it didn't hit any false notes. Even the corn, which finds its way into all manner of Koreanized Western dishes, didn't seem out of place in the salad. The pasta, meanwhile, wasn't Alfredo: as you see, it was standard spaghetti done up in a very bland but creamy white sauce (heavy cream and maybe some butter), gussied up with soft bacon, broccoli florets, and other random vegetables. In all, both dishes were passably tasty, and I felt the meal was worth my while, despite being somewhat overpriced for campus fare. Everything was recognizably Western; there was no attempt to "spin" the food in a way that would have ruined it (although I think "cream pasta" is a Korean fabrication based on any number of Italian-American pasta dishes).

A colleague had warned me that, although this cafeteria had its own soda fountain, refills would not be free. Sure enough, that was the case, but drinks were only W1,000 per tall cup, as opposed to what they'd normally cost at a regular restaurant.

So, yes: I'll give this cafeteria a thumbs-up and head back again sometime. I enjoyed its not-quite-a-cafeteria ambiance as well.


a dubiously ethical day

This blog is nothing if not a very public confessional. You, Dear Reader, are my priest—listening, forgiving, and absolving. So hear the tale of my Tuesday peccadilloes:

1. I found two W1000 bills just lying there in front of Aquinas Hall. They looked, for all the world, like bluish slips of paper, random and worthless. I looked closer, perhaps attracted by the specific shade of blue, and saw that the images on the paper corresponded to money. I picked up the bills, unfolded them, smoothed them out, then stuck them inside my wallet.

2. While I was walking home around 11:30PM tonight, I detoured into the new 7-Eleven and spoke with the gentlemanly ajeossi who runs the place during the night shift. In the mood for a midnight snack, I went over to the sandwich shelves and selected two puny sandwiches—ham and egg, and chicken pesto. The ajeossi said that the pesto sandwich was a few hours beyond its expiry date, which was why he had placed it at the bottom of the shelving. I jauntily told him I had a tough stomach and didn't mind buying old food. He shrugged and, hesitating, rang the sandwich up, but didn't actually charge me for it. So I got a free sandwich. What I want to know is why the guy put the sandwich on the shelf in the first place: in theory, if its "sell by" date had expired, it should have been tossed, yes?* The cost of the sandwich was W2,000, so by the end of the day I had saved W4,000.

Two lucky circumstances, both ethically dubious in nature, both having a monetary value of W2,000. I almost feel something of a "Monkey's Paw" vibe about my possibly tainted good fortune: it wouldn't surprise me if, sometime tomorrow, I get hit by a truck in bombastic, splattery, "Final Destination"-style as the cosmos struggles to restore its karmic balance.

*Stores in the States have different ways of handling this particular food issue. Many stores, like Food Lion and Wal-Mart, have "Day-old Bread" (or cake, etc.) racks on which they place expired items for sale at extremely reduced prices. This works well for bread and other bakery items, but not so well for more perishable products like fruits and vegetables.

LINK: What Happens to Expired Supermarket Foods?


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ave, John!

Friend and fellow blogger John McCrarey hits the two-millennium mark.

Here's to 2,000 more posts.


no French... and no German, either

I discovered that one of my female students is learning German. Delighted, I asked:

"Warum studierst du Deutsch?"

She stared at me, blinking and smiling lamely.

It's a simple enough question: "Why are you studying German?" Even someone who can't speak German should, in principle, be able to figure out what I'm asking. But my student couldn't. I smiled and nodded cynically, then I asked her whether her German profs spoke Korean most of the time. She nodded. "But sometimes they speak German," she said. "95% Korean and 5% German?" I asked, laughing. She smiled and nodded again.

I tried another tack:

"Wo hast du dein Deutsch gelernt?" Where did you learn your German?

She halfway understood this question, but found herself unable to form a sentence. Instead, she made the "Right here!" gesture, jabbing her finger at the ground near her feet.

Yes, folks: welcome to Korea, the land where the education system beats you over the head with all manner of English lessons, but skimps horribly when it comes to the study of other European languages. I had heard the same thing about French from students of mine at Sookmyung Women's University: almost all lectures on French language and literature occur in Korean, which is absolutely ridiculous. I'm not so ideologically rigid that I refuse to use a bit of Korean in the classroom, but full-on lecturing... that's a bit much, wouldn't you say? How do you expect the student to learn the target language if he or she is never exposed to it and obliged to function in it?

Obviously, Korea's first and most relentless priority is English, not other European languages. The country, taken as a whole, is still trying to figure out the best approach to teaching English in a way that is somehow consonant with Korean culture. It's that last part that sticks in my craw: to learn a language is to learn a culture: you can't Koreanize the learning of English,* straining it painfully through a Korean cultural filter, and still expect the learners to come out as competent speakers and writers of Shakespeare's mother tongue. So yes, I freely admit that, if I had things my way, I'd be a total cultural imperialist, forcing Koreans to learn English the way we Westerners approach foreign-language learning in general. I'd keep the traditional Korean stress on grammar, but I'd place much more stress on the formation of the productive macroskills, i.e., speaking and writing. Korean education remains beholden to a notion of the student as a passive receptacle of knowledge (which is why lecture is still such a popular format here; you, Dear Reader, already know my opinion on lecture as a pedagogical tool); this mentality spills over into language education and results in French and German students who listen to long lectures in Korean that are about French and about German when they should be in French and in German.

While I'm not the biggest fan of modern oral-proficiency approaches (they encourage "talk," a vague notion at best, at the cost of sloppiness), I do think such approaches would be therapeutic if transplanted into the Korean academic milieu. They'd be an instant cure for student passivity, shocking the students into action and, yes, forcing them into a different cultural mode in terms of teacher-student and student-student discourse. Granted, many Western teachers in Korea are fully aware of the dynamic I'm talking about and have been doing just this—employing a proactively student-centered, oral-proficiency approach—for some years now. But we expats are fighting a cultural tendency, namely passivity, that's not going to go away anytime soon. Passivity is too rooted in other ambient cultural factors for it to be easily excised, dominance-hierarchical thinking not being the least among those factors.

Further complicating the problem is that, while modernization of language-teaching techniques is most visible in English, Koreans themselves seem to have balkanized foreign-language study such that going from, say, studying English to studying French is like moving from one universe to a completely different one. A college student of English can expect to encounter many different pedagogical approaches, styles, and methods; the same can't be said for the college student learning German or French: the latter student is in for lecture, lecture, and more lecture—mostly in Korean. It's a sad and frustrating state of affairs.

Where do matters go from here? There's been an unfortunate push away from the use of foreign instructors, who are being unceremoniously booted out of Korean public schools and other arenas. Parallel to this is a bizarre movement advocating the use of robots to teach English—a further unfortunate step toward the Koreanization of English-language pedagogy. Unwilling to trust us foreigners to step in and do things the right way, Korea meddles with the language curricula, and the result is widespread institutionalized mediocrity. Notable exceptions would be the elite universities, where even French and German learners can take actual courses in the target language. If anything, the cultural tide needs to move in the other direction, i.e., toward greater expat involvement in the educational process, and toward greater emphasis on different modes of thinking. Student passivity needs to be combated, but that fight is a multi-front war that won't be ending anytime soon.

Meanwhile, we wage slaves just toil away, doing what we do and hoping to get through to at least a few of our kids.

*Koreans Koreanize as much as, if not more than, Americans Americanize. When Doritos corn chips came to Korea, the Korean market instantly responded by producing its own version of Doritos. Several competing brands are now available; to anyone familiar with the original Doritos, the Korean analogues taste and feel different: they're lighter and a bit more weakly flavored—a mere flimsy shadow of the original, as is often the case when Western products—food or otherwise—are Koreanized.


Monday, May 19, 2014

four years too late

One of my young Korean cousins wrote me an email the other day. In it, he expressed his condolences regarding the loss of my mother. I guess word doesn't spread too quickly on this side of the family; Mom's been dead since January of 2010.

Communicating with my Korean relatives during Mom's illness was difficult. Constant international calling would have cost a lot, and most of my older relatives didn't use email. I ended up having to type out and print a four-page snail-mail letter to one of Mom's cousins (she has four, who live in and around Seoul); the letter described the gravity of Mom's situation and noted there was no cure for glioblastoma multiforme. The heavy implication was that, if they wanted to say their goodbyes, it'd be nice if they could come to the States. There was no response to this long letter, which had also mentioned that the relatives could follow Mom's condition on my blog—written in English, true, but my own cousins should have known enough English to get at least the gist of what I'd been writing.

I got a call from one of Mom's cousins about three weeks after she had passed away. He wanted to know how things were going. I mentioned Mom's jangyae-shik (memorial), and he shouted, "WHAT?!"—indicating, to my frustration, that he hadn't followed the blog at all, and didn't even know that mom had died. Had he not read my snail-mail letter, either? Did he not realize that "no cure" really means no cure? People live in denial, especially when it comes to terminal illness. They paper over the truth; they sugar-coat the harsh reality. They refuse to deal. Perhaps my mother's cousin just didn't want to follow the implications of what I'd written. After all, it's only brain cancer, right? We can beat that!

So that's what communicating with my Korean relatives has been like. Now there's this email, four years too late. I don't feel too motivated to reply to it.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

your thought for the day

Human beings, by habit or tradition, generally need to stop three times a day to refuel. When done in a tranquil manner, each refueling session takes the better part of an hour. Food intake implies waste expulsion, so humans must take time out of their day to perform that task as well. On top of the food issue, there's the fact that humans tend to sleep anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of the day.

Given all these pauses, it's amazing to me that people manage to get anything done during their remaining free time. Building the Pyramids and going to the moon are near-miraculous acts, and we still manage to find the time to kill each other now and then.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

movie options

There are a few movies out right now that have sparked at least idle curiosity within me: there's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," for example; there's also "Godzilla." But the one I'm waiting for, "X-Men: Days of Future Past," doesn't come out for another few days. In fact, since I have to travel to Seoul next weekend, I might just see it while I'm in Seoul. I have no interest in seeing either "Transcendence" or "Last Vegas," but "Weekend in Paris," with the awesome Jim Broadbent, looks interesting in a date-movie sort of way.

Unfortunately, "Godzilla" is not getting the best reviews on Metacritic, and "Spider-Man" is faring even worse. So the question is: do I say "Damn the critics!" and watch these movies, anyway, or do I not waste my hard-earned W9,000 on tickets? Perhaps I should just wait a few days and go see "X-Men." Yeah... that's probably what I'll do.


Friday, May 16, 2014

how to use a semicolon


Americans fear and loathe the semicolon. This is likely because they simply don't understand how it's supposed to function. The very shape of the semicolon may be somewhat disconcerting as well: there's something perverse, off-kilter, and a bit unnatural about the way that that comma seems to be lurking salaciously beneath that period. Even the name "semicolon" sounds as if someone has done violence to someone else's intestines.

For all its apparent malevolence, however, a semicolon is a rather simple, straightforward creature. It plays two principal roles:

1. It separates independent clauses.

2. It acts as a "super-comma."

Poets and other creative folks might wish to add one or two other nifty features to the semicolon, but for my purposes, it's enough to talk about the above two functions which, together, cover about 99% of the instances in which you'll see and use this punctuation mark.

1. The Semicolon Separates Independent Clauses

When I taught the use of the semicolon to high schoolers in my previous job at YB, I often had to backtrack. The dialogue normally went like this:

ME: So! Semicolons. A semicolon separates two independent clauses. With me so far?
STUDENT: Uh... sure.
ME: You don't sound so sure. You know what an independent clause is?
ME: Do you know what a clause is?

At that point, I would just nod grimly and explain what a clause is, what dependent and independent clauses are, and what a semicolon in action looks like. So I'll do the same for you. Let's start with clauses.

A clause is an element of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb. In fact, a clause can be a sentence (a sentence is essentially a complete thought). Here are some examples of clauses:

Sheila couldn't stop staring at Jenna's amazing nipples.
Blofeld contemplated the humping rats.
Jesus wept.
Elaine belched.
Jasper farted.
Not to be outdone, Richard sharted.
He sharts with suspicious frequency.
Karl, no friend of the fascists, declared his love of Neapolitan ice cream.
If I had known you were going to wear that glowing thong, I'd have worn my lightning bra.
My testicles whisper to each other in French.
Although Max had trouble putting on the condom, the condom had no trouble slipping off during sex.
If you show anyone that photo, I'll sell you on Craigslist.
I love you because you have eleven fingers.

In each of the above sentences, you can find the clauses by stripping the sentences down to their skivvies, i.e., to their simple subjects and simple predicates. To wit:

Sheila... couldn't stop
Blofeld... contemplated
Jesus... wept
Elaine... belched
Jasper... farted
Richard... sharted
He... sharts
Karl... declared
I... had known + I... would have worn
testicles... whisper
Max... had + condom... had
you... show + I... will sell
I... love + you... have

So what's an independent clause, then? An independent clause is a clause (subject + predicate) that can stand on its own. All sentences, because they're complete thoughts, contain at least one independent clause. By this reckoning, Jesus wept is an independent clause: it's a complete thought, understandable without elaboration.

A dependent clause, then, is a clause that CANNOT stand on its own because it's introduced by a subordinating conjunction such as because/since, if, although, as if, provided (that), even though, etc.

Imagine that I stare meaningfully into your beautiful eyes and begin to say:

"Because you have eleven fingers—"

—then get shot through the heart with a crossbow bolt. You're left hanging, right? I haven't completed my thought, which leaves you in turmoil: "Huh? Because I have eleven fingers, what, Kevin? WHAT??" It's the because that makes the thought incomplete: a subordinating conjunction, like because, introduces a subordinate clause, and a subordinate clause is the same thing as a dependent clause. It can't stand by itself.

Now you know what a clause is (it's got a subject/noun and a predicate/verb), and you know the difference between a dependent and an independent clause. I think we're ready to get back to semicolons.

As you'll recall, a semicolon separates independent clauses. This means YOU SHOULDN'T USE A SEMICOLON WITH A CONJUNCTION. Don't use it with subordinating conjunctions (like the aforementioned although, if, because, etc.), and don't use it with coordinating conjunctions (like for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so: FANBOYS), either.

So the following sentences are all incorrect:

Bill knew a lot about the Internet; but he still paid for online porn.
If you tug my hair again; I'll crush your two balls into one big ball.
Although Clarence knew better than to stare at his partner's ass; he couldn't help himself.
Janet was the fastest; because she had the smallest boobs.

In almost every case above, the correct punctuation would be a comma. The lone exception is the sentence about Janet of the tiny boobs: because the dependent clause comes last, there's no need for a comma.

Here are some sentences featuring correct use of the semicolon:

Richard sharted; Jesus wept.
Elaine belched; Jasper farted.
I love you for your eleven fingers; you love me for my twelve.
Karl declared his love of Neapolitan ice cream; hearing this, my testicles whispered excitedly in French.
Hobbits like racy magazines with naughty woodcuttings in them; Gollum prefers to watch "Two Girls, One Cup" over and over again.

Semicolons connect clauses that have some kind of organic relationship to each other—maybe a contrast, maybe a similarity, but there's some notional connection. Try to avoid using a semicolon to stitch together two completely unconnected thoughts:

Godzilla's power and speed were amazing; I like pizza.

2. The Semicolon Acts as a "Super-comma"

Normally, the items in a list are separated by commas; the comma just before the "and" is called a serial comma or an Oxford comma. Examples:

Jason, since you're off to Wal-Mart, please bring back some superglue, an enema kit, and a crossbow.
Batman's enemies list includes the Joker, the Penguin, and carbs.
What do butt plugs, dildos, and unicorns have in common?
My favorite TV shows used to be "24," "Battlestar Galactica," and "House."

But what if the items in your list already contain commas?

Jack, my best friend
Jill, his wife
Bert, my ex-boyfriend

That's where the semicolon comes in handy! Like a sort of "super-comma," it separates list items that already contain commas. To wit:

Susan! For our wedding, I want to invite Jack, my best friend; Jill, his wife; and Bert, my ex-boyfriend. That OK with you?

Some other examples of the super-comma in action:

The new Star Wars movie will feature Mark Hamill, digitally rejuvenated; Sir Alec Guinness, brought back from the dead; and Fritz Hoffenpenis, the new voice of molluscan Jedi Master Millennium Falos.

My favorite X-Men are Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman; Professor X, played by Patrick Stewart; and Magneto, played by Gandalf.

Gatsby wanted three things in life: Daisy, the object of his lust; fame, the culmination of his dreams; and a third testicle, the answer to his troubles.

And now... your quiz. Look at the punctuation in the following ten sentences and determine whether each sentence, as it's written, is CORRECT or INCORRECT. The answer is written between the brackets right after the sentence; highlight to reveal.

1. Although I find your eerily spherical boobs appealing, my heart belongs to another.
[CORRECT; no semicolon because these AREN'T two independent clauses. "Although" introduces a dependent/subordinate clause.]

2. The Nameless Gunfighter was wanted by Tuco; Samwise Gamgee; and Ed Grimley.
[INCORRECT; the items in the list don't contain commas, so there's no need for any super-commas.]

3. If I want your opinion, I'll suck it out of your soul.
[CORRECT; no semicolon because there's only ONE independent clause. (The "if" clause is a dependent clause.)]

4. I know you want children; but what if they end up with three heads, like me?
[INCORRECT; avoid using a semicolon with conjunctions like "but."]

5. The company of adventurers was led by Gandalf, the wizard, Aragorn, the future king, and Bilbo, the hobbit.
[INCORRECT; the list items have commas, so a brace of super-commas is necessary.]

6. When you reach Hell's Canyon, turn left, you'll see Satan's Abode about twenty miles after the turn.
[INCORRECT; this error is what we call a "comma splice," i.e., a comma (after "left") is being used where a semicolon should be.]

7. Because you ate the last Rocky Mountain oyster, my child will starve.
[CORRECT; no semicolon because there's only ONE independent clause.]

8. Gingerly patting his crotch after the grenade blast, Alex noticed that something had gone missing.
[CORRECT; the "Gingerly" locution isn't a clause at all: it's a modifier. Semicolons separate two independent clauses, so no semicolon was needed here.]

9. When Janeane farted and that hamster flew out; Josh knew it was over.
[INCORRECT; the "When" introduces a subordinate (dependent) clause; semicolons separate two INDEPENDENT clauses.]

10. Ever since Katniss decided to take on District 1, her ass has gotten firmer.
[CORRECT; this sentence is correct for the same reason that sentence 9 is wrong.]


"the oldest place on Earth"

Survival expert Bear Grylls (I've written about him here) once stood on a patch of ground in Africa and solemnly intoned, "This is the oldest place on Earth." I had to laugh: every place on Earth is the oldest place on Earth, because it's all aging at the same time.

I slapped the above thought up on Twitter, and received a "nay" from a surprising source: fellow blogger, teacher, and e-friend Brian Dean, who's much more science-minded than I am. Brian tweeted this reply:

I disagree. Some rocks have fossils 65 MY old, others are 200 MY old. Geologically some places are older.

I responded:

But wouldn't you say that every molecule of the planet ages at the same rate, at the same time?

Brian wrote (squeezing as much info into 140 characters as he could):

Atoms are 1 age, molecules another and current placement another again.Uranium releases He -in lava, He gone-diff atom content

I had little choice but to concede Brian's technical point, so I said:

Sounds like a topic to blog about. I should've said "atoms."

And now I'm blogging about this topic.

Long story short: I'm not convinced that I'm wrong, and it's likely that Brian and I are talking past each other. Let me see whether I can unpack some random thoughts.

How old is the Earth? By most scientists' reckoning, the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. When scientists posit this number as the Earth's age, they're assuming a rough starting point for the Earth's existence, i.e., the "moment" (it obviously took much longer than a moment) when the subset of matter that eventually became the Earth coalesced, becoming a proto-version of the oblate spheroid we all know and love.

But how old is the matter that makes up the Earth? That's really what I'm getting at. At a guess, I'd say that that matter is about as old as the universe itself, i.e., about 13.8 billion years old. By this reckoning, all matter is about 13.8 billion years old. We could get into the nitty-gritty of how all the wild energies a microsecond after the Big Bang weren't exactly matter yet, but that's an academic point that doesn't really bear on the discussion at hand. We could also bog ourselves down with a discussion of Einstein's rejection of absolute simultaneity (because of relativistic effects, time doesn't flow at the same rate everywhere in the universe), but that, too, would have little bearing on a discussion of Earth, which is a small enough clump of matter that we can dismiss those Einsteinian phenomena as trivially minuscule.

You could counterargue that, by claiming everything is the same age, I make it impossible to make any useful or meaningful distinctions between, say, a sapling that came into existence only a few months ago versus a 60-million-year-old plant fossil, or even between a toddler and a grandparent. But I have a guardian angel on my side: Carl Sagan famously said, in that sonorous voice of his, "We are the starstuff of the universe." What he meant, of course, is that the matter making up our bodies comes from elsewhere—from the ancient stars, and their matter ultimately came from somewhere even more ancient. The current arrangement of that matter into human forms is not ancient, but the matter itself is.

This feels almost like Madhyamaka ("Middle Way") Buddhism, a branch of religious thought that comes to us from the philosopher Nagarjuna (roughly a contemporary of Saint Irenaeus), who argued that there are "two truths," conventional and ultimate. Conventional truth is local, practical, and contextualized; ultimate truth is universal, eternal, and not dependent upon context. Conventionally speaking, I'm almost 45 years old and my brother Sean is almost 35; in ultimate terms, however, he and I are material aggregates that are nearly 13.8 billion years old. The arrangement, the pattern, that is conventionally called "Kevin" will cease to exist after, oh, twenty or thirty more orbits of our world around the sun, but the matter that belonged to Kevin will endure. So not only is every spot on Earth the oldest place on Earth, but every person, young or old, is the oldest person on Earth, too.

Ultimately speaking.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

100 years

Daegu Catholic University has chosen today, May 15, as the official day to celebrate the university's centennial. The construction of our campus's Baek Ju-nyeon Ginyeom-gwan (centennial building) was completed barely on time for the celebration; finishing touches were rushed into place at the very last minute, just before the start of today's endless raft of commemorative events. Since my office is essentially right next to the centennial building, also known as Ignatius Cheon Hall, I've been a witness to its coming-together for months. My relationship with the hall has occasionally been rocky; you may recall that I once tripped over some string or wire that had been strung across a path on the construction site. Suffice it to say that I'm glad the centennial building has been completed: no more goddamn tripwires. One student told me the cost of the building project was about 3 billion won—close to 3 million dollars, a figure that strikes me as awfully cheap. Earlier, he had mistakenly said "30 billion won," but when he told me the amount in Korean, I realized he'd meant "3 billion." The mistaken figure of 30 billion won actually sounds more believable to me.

We foreign professors have been invited to some of today's events; other activities are of the walk-in variety, requiring no specific invitation. I'll be on campus today (we have no classes; this is a day off for us teachers), but only to do lesson plans and other job-related things. Assuming the campus branch of Daegu Bank is open, I'll make my monthly transfer to my US account, and that's about as involved with campus life as I plan on being.

It's something to ponder: the continued existence of an ever-growing institution over a span of a hundred years. How does a university like Catholic U. survive so long? I imagine part of the answer is government funding, but another part would have to be private funding from such revenue streams as student tuition, alumni contributions, and so on. A campus is a little world unto itself—a place of classrooms and shops and eateries, performance spaces, green spaces, pretentious Greek columns, sculpture gardens, and sometimes-clashing architecture. People swarm mindlessly, mill about confusedly, and make solitary treks purposefully, much like ants. A sort of collective momentum, driven in large part by ever-flowing streams of cash, propels the university community forward in time and space. Days become months; months become years, and before you know it, it's the centennial.

So a Happy Hundredth to my employer, Daegu Catholic University, and many happy returns.


cluelessness update

I met my "F" student today. He's a bit of a mess, but the situation isn't entirely his fault. It's obvious to me that the boy belongs in the beginner level. As he explained it, he wanted to register for a beginner-level class (his entrance-exam results also indicated that he was a beginner), but there wasn't any room: the classes at Catholic had filled up, so he had no choice but to be shunted into intermediate level. He's been drowning ever since, which is why today's tutoring session was, unfortunately, about 70% in Korean.

We worked on basic grammar: how to put together a coherent sentence—subject, verb, object. I took him, step by step, through the wreckage of his "F" midterm; we listened to the interview sound file (my intermediate-level midterm was in the department-mandated, one-on-one interview format); the recording sounded a lot like me browbeating and interrogating the student while he offered little more than 40-second-long pauses and halting, incoherent utterances after hearing even the simplest of questions.

After an hour of intensive work, we stopped. I asked my student whether he'd learned anything during that time; he claimed that he had, but the proof is in the pudding. He's very weak in terms of listening-comprehension skills, and when I texted him before our meeting, it became obvious that his reading-comp skills were sorely lacking, too. Even more interesting was that his Korean skills were also subpar: we had begun our text-message exchange in English, but when it became obvious that the kid didn't understand what I was writing to him, I switched to Korean, and my interlocutor's replies were laced with rookie-level spelling errors—enough to make me question his mastery of his native tongue.

Comedian Steven Wright once joked about the French girl who was a bilingual illiterate: she couldn't read in two different languages. I honestly had to wonder whether I was seeing a living example of that joke. In any case, I give the kid credit for being concerned enough about his grade that he got off his ass and arranged for tutoring. I agree that, after an hour of tutoring, he was showing some small glimmers and motes of improvement. We've decided to meet again sometime next week. I can't guarantee that he'll be up to speed when it comes time to take the final exam, but I'm pretty sure that, in working with him, I can get him to a point where he won't be failing my class. As long as he remains willing to work and to learn, he'll progress. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Let's say that, once upon a time, there was a Korean kid in an English class run by a large, fat, sweaty, middle-aged half-Korean professor. Let's say that this kid was blessed with a special superpower: the power to misunderstand, completely, every bit of English that came his way, no matter how easy and rudimentary—a classic case of backwards wiring. What grade do you think this special kid received on his midterm?

We're hoping this tale ends happily. The large, sweaty teacher is meeting the clueless student at 3PM today. For tutoring. Because it's obvious the kid's special powers arise from the fact that he has no foundations in English. None at all.

NB: ae-peu is the Konglish pronunciation of "F," hangeulized as 에프.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

a cultural/discursive miracle

I did a bit of restaurant reconnaissance today: having heard about two on-campus cafeterias that featured Italian food (or perhaps I should say "Italian" food) on their menus, I went looking for them. Both proved easy to find; I'd walked past them on several occasions during some of my earlier campus walkabouts. One was a humble canteen that, at the hour I showed up, looked to be closed. It turned out not to be, though; one of the ajummas told me I could eat lunch, but that the menu was nothing but gukbap (soup and rice) with a side of ggakkdugi (spicy cubed radish) for the humble price of W2000. I shrugged, sat down, and ate that simple meal, which tasted an awful lot like yukgae-jang, one of my favorite winter soups. I mentioned this impression to a different ajumma, who nodded vigorously and said that the staff had evoked yukae-jang deliberately. As I was leaving, I asked about the cafeteria's business hours and was told that dinner would be from about 5PM to 8PM; the staff would be serving a variety of food, including, yes, the fabled Italian dishes. I may go back tonight, after I've taught my Korean class, to grab some dinner there.*

The second cafeteria was right where I suspected it was; like the first cafeteria, I had passed by this one several times while on different walks. A sculpture of a giant spider guarded one corner of the building; the interior was dim, offering an ambiance that was more restaurant and less cafeteria. I asked the cashier about business hours and about the menu, which featured plenty of Western food. I saw a "cream pasta" dish that looked vaguely reminiscent of carbonara; with some trepidation, I asked whether the dish contained onions (Koreans love piling onions onto Italian food, for some reason). The lady called a male kitchen worker over, and he said that, yes, the pasta had onions in it, but that the staff could make the dish without onions as well. That was reassuring. I thanked the cashier and told her that I couldn't order anything that very instant because I had just eaten, but that I'd be back later.

I was delighted, and found it nearly miraculous, that I had spoken in Korean with three or four different kitchen ajummas this afternoon, and not a single one of them complimented my Korean during our interchanges. You have no idea how happy that made me. You see, Koreans normally do the polite thing and compliment unfamiliar foreigners on their Korean skills, even if those supposed "skills" amount to utterances no more complex than, "Uh... hello." I suspect this is because Koreans have low expectations when it comes to foreigners: instead of assuming (the way many assimilationist Americans do about English) that foreigners in Korea should speak Korean, Koreans feel obliged to speak in English and generally assume that foreigners can't handle Korean. It fits the "Hermit Kingdom" psychological profile: speaking a language means taking a big step inside of a culture, and Koreans are just fine with foreigners' keeping their distance. If not learning a language keeps a foreigner outside the inner circle, culturally speaking, that's all well and good.

Hats off, then, to the intrepid ladies I met today. Like my local barber, these good people took my ability to speak Korean as a mere matter of course and simply interacted with me without engaging in condescending flattery of my admittedly middling linguistic skills. Based on my encounters with many different kinds of Korean folks in Korea, from taxi drivers to restaurant ajummas, I'd say such an attitude is rare, but welcome.

*This is the same canteen that serves free dinners to faculty. I'd heard a lot about the place, but had never visited before, and found it a bit of a bother to have to sign up online for the free dinner as opposed to just walking in.


Monday, May 12, 2014


I turned in my editing this past Friday and didn't hear from my potential employer until today. While I was in the middle of an afternoon class, my phone made the little defecating noise that I've assigned to arriving emails. I risked a peek, saw it was from Metatron, and forced myself to wait until class was over to read it.

Cutting to the chase, then: Metatron has spoken, and its answer is a polite no. While that's disappointing, it's also not surprising. It could well be that I made a few mistakes while editing that huge document. There's also the issue of competition: I wasn't the only one applying for this position, which put the odds against me. It could also be that Metatron's rejection email was telling the truth. Let's talk a bit about that email.

I said it was "a polite no." In fact, it has to be one of the politest rejections I've ever received from anyone, be it from a company or from a woman. I can't repeat the email here, word for word, because that would make the thing too easy to Google. So instead, I'll offer a bullet-point summary. Au fond:

• There was no mention of how I did with my editing—no critiques, nothing. The email began with "We have taken a look..." but not a look at my work, apparently: it was a look at Metatron's own budget. According to the email, Metatron doesn't have the budget (the "resources") for a full-time managing-editor position.
• This state of affairs is subject to change in future. For the moment, Metatron regrets that it must pass up the chance to bring me on as a staffer.
• If this is agreeable, Metatron wishes me to stay in contact as a possible consultant for freelance proofing/editing work.
• Such work would be paid on a per-project basis.
• Metatron wishes me best of luck with all future endeavors.

COMMENTARY: The rejection is formulated as a classic breakup note: "It's not you, love: it's me." Metatron is placing itself at fault for not having foreseen the tightness of its budget. How true or plausible is this? I'd say not very: Metatron is a rich company, given the property it owns and its location near Gwanghwamun in Seoul. I seriously doubt that the editing position suddenly became unavailable because of an unforeseen budget shortfall. The other alternative is that Metatron just wants to spare my feelings. Is that because my editing sucked? It would be depressing to find out that I was not enough of a language Nazi when it mattered.

Metatron's statement that things may be "subject to change" later on is a politic way of saying "Don't give up hope quite yet. Yes, we've kicked you in the nuts, but if you manage to stand, you have the chance to be kicked in the nuts again, which is character-building." Upshot: I can probably re-apply for the position later, which may imply that I didn't completely fuck up the editing job I'd been given.

Lastly, there's the offer of freelance work. I'm not sure how to take this. On the one hand, it seems to mean that Metatron found my work of sufficient quality that the company might use my services in a time of need. On the other hand, in offering me the possibility of freelance work without revealing anything more specific or substantive, Metatron has committed itself to nothing, which is no different, practically speaking, from an outright rejection.

So all in all, I think I got the boot in the politest way possible. I'll say this for the company: it's classy, and it's obvious that it traffics in the realm of international politics. Seeming to offer something without actually committing to anything is about as politician-worthy a move as a company can make. For what it's worth, it was interesting, for a time, for me to see how the big boys operate. Working at Metatron would have meant working in a completely different business climate and culture from the one I've gotten used to. I'm glad to at least have had a glimpse of the stratosphere.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ave, Laudator!

I'm an admirer of Harold Bloom, and here's one reason why.


poison in the food

I had a nice little bout of food poisoning this past Thursday evening. It was lovely. I was returning to the restroom about once every five minutes over a 90-minute period. Sometimes things would come out in a satisfying, biblical dump; at other times, it was what my buddy Mike would wryly term "empty promises." I vowed not to eat or drink anything more that evening: with malevolent bacteria running rampant through my innards, I didn't want to give those little fuckers the chance to feed on anything more.

The fifteen-minute walk home from the office was misery. The urge to shit waxed and waned as I walked; I practiced meditative breathing as I limped along, determined not to leave a brown-speckled trail on the streets and sidewalks. A Polynesian drummer, stationed just inside the floodgates of my anus, beat out a desperate, steroidal rhythm against my sphincter:

poundpoundpoundpoundpound now we shit, yes?

It didn't help that the night was cool: cool weather always makes me want to poop. I finally got back to my studio, sat upon the pot once or twice more, then warily went to bed, deathly afraid that I'd unconsciously enter the nuclear launch codes and release deadly feces while sleeping. Luckily, the next morning, I awoke to a clean mattress and un-beshitted linens.

The cause of my food poisoning was most likely the dinner I had ordered while at the office: the local BBQ chicken—which I normally hit up for wildly overpriced fried chicken—also offered some pizza options, one of which sparked my interest: a "shrimp gorgonzola" pie. I ordered it; the first few bites were somewhat tasty: the resto hadn't been shy about the gorgonzola, which was there in all its glorious stinkiness. The shrimp were disappointing, though: bland and few in number (one curly little shrimp per slice), they reminded me of nothing so much as pink rubber, which should probably have been my first warning sign. After a few slices, another problem arose: this was a "white" pizza with a layer of cream sauce substituting for tomato sauce, but the cream sauce was sickeningly sweet and tasted as if it had come from a powdered mix; with each bite, it tasted more and more like the Devil's semen. Never again, I vowed. Eating that pizza was by no means a pleasant experience.

About an hour or so later, disaster struck, and my guts were seized with the urge to purge. Thus began my torrid, 90-minute affair with a toilet. I can tell you this: of all the inventive, painful torture methods that exist, the most effective is whatever induces the subject of interrogation to cramp up and shit violently. Pain in the guts is an all-consuming thing: when your entrails have elected to rebel, they command your undivided attention. Not to put too fine a point on it, but gut pain is visceral.

This incident makes me a bit paranoid about ordering from BBQ Chicken again anytime soon. I've never previously had a problem with BBQ's chicken (before my intestinal problems began, my supervisor had quipped that one should never order pizza from a chicken place), but I recall having problems with chicken tenders from a chicken restaurant back when I taught at Sookmyung Women's University: ordering from that establishment gave new meaning to the expression eat and run. It's illogical, but I now conflate the sins of that old restaurant with the recent, pizza-related sins of BBQ Chicken, thus producing a mental image of a BBQ Chicken that's trying to turn my asshole into a poultry-firing cannon.

So this evening, I ponder my dinner options very carefully. A repeat of Thursday would be an outrageous fortune, transforming my quivering fundament into an emitter of many slings and arrows. Whatever dish I decide upon, I'll make sure it's been thoroughly cooked.


"The Amazing Spider-Man": two-paragraph review

Like a lot of people, I went into my viewing of 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" feeling rather skeptical: why do a reboot of a reboot? The three efforts by director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire were perfectly serviceable... and this new film purports to go over Spider-Man's origin story again? Directed by the appropriately named Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, and Rhys Ifans, "The Amazing Spider-Man" covers many of the same plot points as did Raimi's 2002 effort: Peter Parker's sad-sack existence at school (now a school for science nerds, so even the bullies are nerds), his fateful encounter with the spider that bites him, the death of his uncle, and his troubled love life—this time around with Gwen Stacy (Stone) instead of with Mary Jane Watson. Differences include the conspicuous absence of J. Jonah Jameson, a greater focus on Gwen's father—Captain George Stacy of the NYPD—a more pronounced conflict with New York cops, a Spidey whose webs are artificial instead of natural excrescences, and our chosen villain: the Lizard, a quick-regenerating mutant version of one-armed Dr. Curt Connors of OsCorp. The plot is simple enough: Connors, a former partner-in-science of Peter's missing father, Richard Parker (not a reference to the tiger in "Life of Pi," despite the fact that Irrfan Khan can be found starring in both "Pi" and this movie), has been trying to eliminate human weakness for decades; his cross-species mutagen promises to turn us all into self-healing, super-strong reptiles, so it's just a matter of dispersing the mutagen cloud across all of New York City, and Spidey has to stop him. That's really about it.

Spidey's exploration of his powers, in this new film, isn't nearly as exhilarating as it was in Tobey Maguire's version, and Andrew Garfield, with his overly poofy hair and a face that looks like a vertically crushed version of Jason Bateman's, doesn't make for quite as appealing a Spider-Man. But there are moments of humor and hubris that keep the movie from falling completely flat. The special effects, meanwhile, are not at all a quantum leap from those of the 2007 "Spider-Man 3," which again left me wondering why the hell I was watching this film. The Lizard just doesn't look all that impressive. On the bright side: I liked that Gwen Stacy is smarter and more empowered than either Kirsten Dunst's eternally hapless MJ (Dunst actually complained about MJ's victimhood in the DVD commentary for the third movie) or Bryce Dallas Howard's Gwen Stacy from "Spider-Man 3." The trajectory of her romance with Peter, while roughly following the Peter/MJ path from the Raimi films, shows a bit more promise. The musical score was a big disappointment: I generally enjoy the scores of James Horner ("Star Trek II," "Star Trek III," "Aliens," "Apollo 13," "Titanic," "Avatar"), but for this film he seemed both to crib from his own previous work (he's been guilty of that in the past) as well as from the much more memorable work of Danny Elfman, whose scores for the Raimi films were superb, albeit Batman-tinged. Overall, I found "The Amazing Spider-Man" to be watchable; as a different version of the Spidey origin story, it had its moments. That said, this was less of a true reboot and more of a mere retread. I'm not convinced the film should even have been made.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

culture of safety and care

Much of the Sewol-disaster talk these days revolves around the notion that Korea needs to reckon with, and eliminate, its culture of cronyism and corruption, and it needs to develop a culture of safety and care: safety, because safety features so obviously aren't in place in so many aspects of daily existence; care, because as the accusation goes, Korea as a society seems not to evince much care for human life in general. While I take issue with one or more of these insights, I do think they're worth discussing.

There's a personal angle for me: my current hip problem has brought to stark relief the fact that Korea is not a handicap-friendly country. Granted, I was well aware of this state of affairs even before my hip started bothering me, but what was, previously, a distant piece of trivia to shrug at has now become an obstacle to human flourishing. St. Thomas Aquinas Hall, where I teach most of my classes, has no elevator, nor does it have a handicap-accessible ramp. (Strangely, the nearby cafeteria does, so a cripple can feed himself, but he can't expect to teach.) Many buildings on my campus, in fact, have no elevators, and it's not just my campus: the Hanyang University ERICA campus, in Ansan (the city most affected by the Sewol tragedy), also has buildings with no elevators, including ERICA's Practical English Education Center, where I went for what I had hoped would be an interview.

Come to think of it, my relatives' small apartment building in Karak-dong, in the southeast part of Seoul, also has no elevator. That building, owned by my mother's cousin and his wife, has only a set of stairs running up and down its interior. I used to live there for a brief spell, and I remember, one time, that the guy who brought me the used refrigerator I had bought had no choice but to put the fridge on his back and haul that thing up the stairs, all the way to my rooftop apartment on the fifth floor.

Cripples and the mentally ill are generally marginalized in South Korea, a culture that cleaves to conformism and shies away from difference and individuality. South Korea's image of itself doesn't include a warm embrace of diversity; you rarely see ads that feature a group of people with at least one wheelchair-bound person.* One notable exception to this ambient handicap-unfriendliness is Seoul's excellent subway system, which does a decent job, overall, of providing elevators, sliding staircase conveyors, wheelchair ramps, and wheelchair niches (inside the subway cars) for handicapped use (older subway lines could probably use some updating). Aside from that, though, a handicapped person is on his own. The best he can hope for is to find himself in a modern building with wheelchair-friendly facilities.

It boggles the mind to ponder how much it would cost for South Korea to revamp all of its old buildings, from the creakiest hovel on up, such that every single one could be handicap-accessible (and fire-escapable). Moving back to the Sewol tragedy, it's hard to imagine the cost of upgrading all safety features on every form of public transportation, plus the cost of safety training for the staffers who man and maintain such transportation, plus the cost of passing that training along to certain sectors of the traveling public (e.g., ferry passengers, who really should be schooled in emergency procedures in much the same way that airline passengers must undergo the standard safety lecture). All of this implies a major overhaul of a very visible aspect of everyday Korean life.

But deeper than the above measures is the issue of mindset: can Koreans, as a people, retrain themselves to put safety foremost in their minds? As much as I despise America's often-frivolous culture of litigation, there's something to the idea that companies will perform better if they're afraid of being sued. Korean culture isn't nearly as litigious as American culture is, but perhaps that's one way in which the peninsula should change. It's people who keep other people in line, after all.

Litigiousness (which can be viewed as a repudiation of fatalism—the "oh, well, there's nothing to be done" attitude) is only one way in which the society could change, and a minor one at that. There are more effective methods for reorienting the public's priorities. Going back to the Seoul subway system as an example: quite often, while I'm watching the monitors inside the subway cars, I'll see a safety video come on. The vid explains the procedure for opening the subway doors in an emergency; it also goes over the procedures for using a fire extinguisher and putting on a gas mask to prevent smoke inhalation. Such videos appear with no fanfare, but it's important to observe that they appear regularly and repeatedly—the hallmarks of inculcation in progress. That's how you create a culture of safety, a bit at a time. You keep hammering the message—gentle hammering, mind you—into the public's consciousness until it sinks in and becomes an assumed reality.

Korean society, like Japanese society, is growing steadily older, which means the demographic pressure will soon force Koreans to reckon with disability—mental instability, handicap, and so on—without being able to marginalize or ignore it. A culture of safety and care will likely have to emerge as a response to the needs of the old and infirm, and it may be that Koreans will see that that mindset can apply to more than just the old: a culture of safety and care would embrace high-school-aged ferry passengers, too.

*To be fair, this could also be true in America, where we still have our own awkwardness issues regarding the handicapped, the mentally ill, and the otherwise marginal.


Friday, May 09, 2014

all edited out

Semicolons will have to wait a bit: I'm all edited out. Today was Part II of my Metatron adventure: I was given another manuscript to edit—44 pages long—and was told not to worry if I didn't finish it. The point was to see how much I could do, and how well I could do it. So I worked pretty much straight from about 9:30AM to 6:30PM today (how was your Friday?). I ended up getting through the main text and the endnotes, but I didn't have time for the works-cited list. At a guess, I got through about 39 of the 44 pages, thanks largely to the fact that the quality of the prose in this document was much, much higher than that of last week's document. Most of what I did today was tweak and write marginalia.

If Metatron likes what it sees, I'll get a call or an email to return to Seoul for a second, followup interview. I was told that there are staffers who would like to meet me (I imagine this is equally true for the other job applicants as well), so if I do secure the second interview, I'll be shaking hands, knotting tentacles, and exchanging pheromones with several different folks. Alas, Metatron seems to be a male-heavy culture, so the chances of meeting some slim, sexy potential coworker are... slim. And sexy.

It could also be that Metatron is going to look at my editing, find a few mistakes, and decide it doesn't need my services. I'm mentally ready for that: this job comes on top of several other options that I'm sniffing at, so I can take it or leave it. (Then again, if it turns out that Metatron wants to offer me W10 million a month to work for it, I'll feel pretty shitty about losing that opportunity.)

So it was a morning and an afternoon spent in language-Nazi mode. I hope I did a good job, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

coming soon

Stay tuned for a post on how to use semicolons. It's time to spread the true gospel.


Wednesday, May 07, 2014

pain levels

Things started to get a wee bit painful toward the end of the day. I spent the day having taken only a single clutch of aspirin in the morning. Didn't need meds at all, and as of this writing, I still haven't taken any. I deem this a good thing; nevertheless, the body can take only so much, and by the end of the day, I was feeling the distance I had walked. According to my pedometer, that distance was over 10,000 steps, which met the daily goal I had set for myself last year, when I first started playing with the pedometer.

This week, I find that I can climb stairs much better, even when in slight pain, than I could last week. Because I taught my Korean class on the fourth floor of a different building (which has no elevator or handicap access), and because I routinely use the downstairs bathroom in our office building, I climbed several flights of stairs today, and with very little trouble. The walking stick that serves as my cane saw relatively little use: I tottered and limped my way across campus on two feet, delighted to be able to place my full weight on my left leg.

But it's obvious I'm not fully healed. Raising my left ankle to my right knee causes me pain, mainly because of how it makes my left femur rotate inside its joint. Trying to kick my left leg out in a taekwondo-style side-kick motion is inconceivable, and would doubtless be extremely painful. My left hip joint remains stiff, probably because I've gotten used to limping with it. I have a way to go before I'm out of the woods.

There's a real question as to whether this problem was, in fact, osteonecrosis. In my online research, I discovered that one of the therapies for osteonecrosis is electrostimulus, which is exactly the therapy I'd been getting from the clinic. Electrostimulus somehow has the effect of prompting dying bone to re-neovascularize, i.e., to produce new blood vessels again. I haven't been to the clinic (or used prescription meds) for the better part of a week, now; part of me wonders whether the electricity really had been producing an effect. If it had been, then I might be able to deduce that the bone was necrotic but is now on the mend. If the therapy were ineffective, that would mean that something other than osteonecrosis has been going on inside me. Maybe an alien laid an egg inside my hip joint.

I also have to wonder whether stopping therapy and meds has been a factor in my current upturn. The meds had quickly become ineffective; I had built up a tolerance to them, and they were no longer good for blunting the pain (which is why I turned back to aspirin). Purchasing prescription drugs at the local pharmacy had begun to feel like a waste of time, but until last week, I still took the meds faithfully. Could going cold turkey have been a causal factor in my improved condition?

Or could it be that some weird dynamic has been at work inside my body? Imagine: for some conditions, it's necessary for things to get worse before they get better. In my case, therapy and meds have had the two-pronged effect of both alleviating some symptoms and exacerbating my condition. While I took the meds and underwent the therapy, however, a beneficial layer of something was building up inside me, and could only be released by the cessation of therapy and meds. When I put this hypothesis into words, it sounds utterly crazy, but it's a given that the human body is one of the weirdest, most mysterious machines in the universe; we're only beginning to understand its myriad interconnections.

One thing that could silence all this speculation would be an MRI. With one glance of that baleful, piercing, inhuman eye, everything would be revealed, especially as regards my soft tissues. I'd like to know how my joint cartilage is doing, for example. I'd like to know whether the head of my femur shows any wear and tear. I'd like to see spots of inflammation and/or necrosis. Not knowing all this is frustrating. I'd especially like to hear from a doc as to why this pain came upon me so suddenly. The suddenness is a huge issue, and I think it rules out most of the possible items on the diagnostic menu. Arthritis isn't sudden, for example, and I'm pretty sure that osteonecrosis isn't sudden, either. As I think I mentioned before, one possibility that remains is injury: how else to explain the arrival of such pain in such a brief time frame? It could be that I slept funny in bed.

But all of this is academic. The reality on the ground, so to speak, is that my condition seems to be improving, and pain levels are at the lowest they've been in a month. There's a chance I might relapse, but the current improvement has obtained since this past weekend, which makes me hopeful that it indicates a trend. Suffering on the cross as he was, Jesus was apparently too preoccupied at Easter to do anything about my pain, but the Buddha seems to have worked a miracle on his birthday weekend.

Keep those fingers and tentacles crossed.