Monday, May 31, 2004

letter from home (and other things)

My brother David sends me an email. I now reveal to the world my intra-family nickname: BIRD. Sometimes BIRDY. This all started years and years ago, when David began making fun of how my hair resembles a bird's nest when I wake up in the morning. Imagine a really fat Harry Potter.* "Yo, where's my frickin' wand?" "Probably hiding under one of your enormous breasts, Potter. Ask a couple friends to lift it up so you can check under there."

Here's what David writes:



Oh no... new home? New nesties?


Bird nest?

I thought your whole block was being torn down... why are your neighbors above you staying? or ... HOW are they staying? will they float when the building is torn down?

OH NOooo...

biggest question -- is your newest nest air conditioned???


Yes, I forgot to blog about My Big Mistake. I obviously woefully misunderstood Adjoshi the first time he told me what was going on. I think I conflated what he said with what's actually happening in the neigborhood. Yes, buildings along my street are being torn down, and the renovation is progressing toward my erstwhile residence. But Adjoshi's request that I move was linked not to the street construction, which may or may not reach us, but to a renovation project uniquely for my old residence.

So no, the whole building isn't being torn down; they're renovating the lower floor, digging out and replacing old pipes and possibly fixing wiring and such to get things up to code. It's somewhat puzzling that they'd renovate only half the house, and it's doubly puzzling that they're doing this after having just renovated the residence next door to mine (new wallpaper, new kitchen facilities, etc.), but there we are.

To answer David's question: no, the new place isn't air conditioned, but it is sunk halfway underground in the style of the ban-jiha apartments (lit. "half-underground").

Korean residences are measured in p'yeong, a traditonal unit about 3.9 square meters in area. My new hasuk is, I'd estimate, about 1.5 p'yeong. Like I said-- a cloister. Except for all the material shit in it.

Speaking of shit: I had a perfectly normal one this morning as part of a perfectly routine constitutional. The only inconvenience was that the communal bathroom's ceiling is too low; I have to scrunch while shaving and showering. For those who don't know: many Korean bathrooms are laid out in such a way that the toilet hunkers next to a shower hose. There isn't necessarily a bathtub in Korean bathrooms, nor is there any demarcation between the toilet's floor space and the shower's. It's all one floor, with toilet and shower often very close together, so you end up living a life of water-spattered toilet rims and constantly-wet bathroom floors. Dainty and pampered American that I am, I can't stand this, nor do I like the "shower shoe culture" of Korean bathrooms: you're supposed to avoid the floor's filth (since the whole bathroom is basically the floor for the shower, and therefore the site of much free-range pubic hair) by wearing slippers. My brother David (he of the BIRDY letter above) is something of a germophobe; he warns me to be careful about hepatitis and the like, which is a legitimate worry. My other brother, Sean, who did his undergrad work at the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM, the #3 music school in the nation after Juilliard in NYC and The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, is a single building appended to the campus of Case Western Reserve), told me a horror story about a Chinese student at CIM who apparently squatted down in the communal dorm showers and took a dump into the shower drain. Sean didn't directly witness this, I don't think (did he?). I can only hope this is an urban legend in miniature. Jesus Christ.

In other news: somebody visited my site today from OhMyNews. Uh-oh. It might be time to batten down for another blizzard of stupid-ass cyber-attacks. I hope not. Maybe this was simply a friendly perusal. I can't access the referring link since I'm not a subscriber, but if you are a subscriber, here's the link.

Joel writes:

Sometimes friendship in Korea with Koreans feels like an exchange of services rather than a friendship. I will take you out to a fancy restaurant, but you must speak English to my daughter while we are there. I have brought juice as a present, so will you help me do my term project of planning a vacation in America? Sometimes it’s hard to know those people willing to get to know you genuinely and those who see you as an invaluable resource in the many English problems that may beset them in the future. Don’t think that I am saying this about all Koreans. I have many Korean friends who have never asked me an English question in their life and those who didn’t ask until after we had gotten to know each other for a really long time (which is fine because I ask them Korean questions too.)

I've spoken with my mother about this before. Her feeling is that, at least among Koreans, it's best to look at friendship as a kind of mutual obligation. It often takes the form of meaningful material and non-material exchanges, but at its root, it's still friendship. The problem, of course, is that ritual gestures can take on a life of their own, creating "friendship" instead of simple friendship.

Dr. Vallicella and I disagree about some very basic matters, but here I offer my full support. He writes:

The fact that many analytic philosophers lack historical sense, knowledge of foreign languages, and broad culture is of course no excuse to jump over to the opposite camp, that of the 'Continental' philosophers. For lack of historical sense, they substitute historicism, which is just as bad. For lack of linguistic competence, they substitute a bizarre linguisticism in which the world dissolves into a text, a text susceptible of endless interpretation and re-interpretation. For lack of broad culture, they substitute a super-sophistication that empties into a miasma of sophistry and relativism. Worse, much of Continental philosophy, especially much of what is written in French, is just plain bullshit. Indeed, to cop a line from John Searle, one he applied to Jacques Derrida, it gives bullshit a bad name. I'll get around to substantiating this charge later.

Please do. I've been waiting for a truly substantive philosophical critique of PoMo to emerge from Camille Paglia's amazing brain, but she's a magnificent zigzagger and I don't think I can wait much longer. Paglia comes close to a substantive critique in one chapter of Sex, Art and American Culture.

And that's all I have time for during this lunch break. Back to our regularly scheduled tongue exercises.

[*For those who don't get the Harry Potter reference: JK Rowling portrays Harry's hair as untameable by any comb.]


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