Saturday, May 22, 2004

some random Saturday notes

Adam at Higo Blog posts a neat picture of a bug that looks almost exactly like the creature in my kitchen. I've been calling this thing a silverfish, but I'm pretty sure that's not what it is. My bug is all gray, though; not nearly as colorful as Adam's.

I went to Anyang, just south of Seoul (two-hour subway ride!) for the international Buddhism conference, which focused on Buddhist nuns. Paper presentations were generally interesting, but I was bugged by one presentation that focused on the creation of a sort of "transcendental science" that would fuse Hanmaeum Zen Buddhist practice (Hanmaeum's founder is Daehaeng Sunim) with science. Way too many frustrations to get into in depth, but foremost among them is that neither the presenter nor the Buddhist nun who offered a critical response seemed to have a grasp on how scientists view science. It was a discussion that would have profited from the inclusion of scientists from various theoretical and applied fields, cognitional theorists, and plain old philosophers (including philosophers of science).

I also had the distinct privilege of seeing Dr. Robert Buswell, the prof under whom I'd like to study eventually, once my Korean's good enough. Dr. Buswell heads up UCLA's Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and remains in constant contact with Korea. He's a man on the move, a former monk (twice ordained; once in Thailand and once in Korea) who spent five years under the Venerable Kusan Sunim at Songgwang-sa. He gave the wrap-up presentation today, and was one of the better, more dynamic speakers. I caught him during the lunch break-- awesome vegetarian fare, by the way-- and he remembered meeting me in the summer of 2002: I'd flown all the way over to LA from the DC area just to talk with him for an hour.

I also got to meet the lovely Andi of Overboard. She's just as amazing in person as she is on her blog-- smart, witty, chatty; I was wowed. And damn, she's got a strong grip when she shakes your hand! I should let her and Dave the Air Marshal get into a handshaking contest. Dave's got an iron grip, too, even though he doesn't practice Korean swordsmanship. If I ever start up a death squad composed of throat-rippers, Andi and Dave will be the first recruits.

Andi was there with her friend (egads, I don't know her name! my apologies...), and they seemed to know half the people at the conference. Amazing. By the way, Andi: Neil Barker's started taking komdo as well. Any advice for him (not that he asked)?

Charlie the KimcheeGI of Budae Chigae couldn't make the conference because of exams, but I met up with him when I got back to Seoul. I ruined my vegetarian streak by chomping down some Taco Bell chalupas on base, and Charlie took a gander at the compilation of research papers from the conference.

I'm home now, settling in, not really planning to do much this evening except a little laundry (and I might just put that off until tomorrow morning, since it's 10PM). Tomorrow, I'm seeing "Troy" with Jang-woong and Bo-hyun, but before that, I might start packing up some books and other knick-knacks. Luckily for me, I don't have that many possessions, and since Adjoshi's planning on calling the movers after I find a new place, I won't have to worry about moving arrangements.

I got an interesting email from Scott, a.k.a. American_in_Japan:

Dear Mr. Kim,

I love your site! Don't sweat the folks worried about the scatological references. I sense they have...issues of their own.

I have a question about your recent post "my K'eun Adjoshi is a control freak". You wrote:

"...He keeps telling me that fan motors can overheat-- this despite the fact that, last summer, my fans were on continuously for weeks with no problem at all...."

Is there a wide-spread Korean perception that electric fans will suddenly start enormous fires? Or is it just certain (older) people?

Is the Great Fan-Fire Danger™ due to a history of poor quality fans? Fans which are no longer made - but once were commonplace? That is, are older folks re-living a history of poor quality fans which killed people years ago (in effect, now an Urban Myth)?

Also, is there a perception in Korea that sleeping with the air-conditioning running will result in the death of the people in the room? I encountered this line of thought in Japan - everywhere. Despite my being an engineer (at one time) I couldn't get the locals to relax about this "great danger."

Good luck with the job at Ehwa! You seem like just the person they will benefit from having on staff. And for what it's worth, I think your philosophical background makes up for your perceived lacking in political matters. At your second interview (which it sounds like you have coming) perhaps you could emphasize your religious understanding as a groundwork to greater political knowledge. That is, you know a lot about religion and can study up on whatever political details they want you to know. As far as I can tell, your philosophical background is harder to obtain than the political information they would like you to present in class.

Best regards,

Thanks for the kind words, Scott. I appreciate it. My buddy Tom was also reassuring: "Shut up, man. You got the job. The interviewer's son wants to go to Georgetown? You got the job. Now stop worrying."

As for the fan/AC thing... yeah, a lot of Koreans believe these items are somehow deadly, which fails to explain their popularity.

[NB: Back in the mid-90s, when I was in the middle of a stint as a proofreader at KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Co.), there was a power crisis caused by the sudden surge in AC purchases. Everyone simultaneously got sick of living in humid squalor. It's now 2004, and it's obvious that KEPCO (or whoever) has beefed up the grid; I don't think there have been any major power problems related to appliance usage for the past few years.]

When ACs became popular, there were a lot of cautionary blurbs about naeng bang byeong-- literally, "cold room sickness." Naeng bang byeong is a legitimate concern, in my opinion; in the US, this is often known as "sick-building syndrome." The sickness is linked to the dust and microorganisms that are blown out of the dirty filters of ACs. It has little to do with clean, normally-functioning AC units. I tend to agree that, generally speaking, the Korean paranoia about ACs and fans is little more than paranoia. Maybe someone died after turning his AC on to the coldest setting while sleeping in a small, damp room.

Wooj wrote in and mused that many Koreans might be making an associative connection between various disasters resulting from shoddy workmanship. He may have a point, but I still think Adjoshi (and others who think this way) are going a little overboard. I'd also want to check-- thoroughly-- those claims of death by fan. I've heard such claims from Koreans before, but can't buy into them. Fans are fans; if they were truly that deadly, we'd be hearing more about this in the US and other countries, I think. I have a feeling that asphyxiation is probably attributable to other causes than the fans. Until I find some hard evidence strongly correlating fans and the Grim Reaper, I remain a scientific skeptic.

Ah, before I forget: check out Wooj's "American Beauty" moment. No, it's not a plastic bag swirling in the breeze, but the tableau possesses its own strange, carcinogenic charm.

Check out a nifty pic of Horus over at Cerebral Bypass. And see if you have what it takes to crack the riddle only a kindergartner can solve.


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