Sunday, February 27, 2005

next stop: PC-bahng!

My boss, Imelda, is a strange, strange bird.

This woman fired one of my co-workers, then attended the goodbye party. Is psychosis in the job description for all hagwon bosses? She also attended another co-worker's goodbye party, but she knew she wasn't wanted and ended up leaving early.

The staff is having an "event" on Monday evening, after we're done at 10PM. I suspect it's a goodbye party for me (hell, I know it is), but to be honest, I can't stand ceremonial goodbyes and have every intention of leaving the gathering within a half-hour. Nothing personal against my co-workers, all of whom I like, but the whole thing feels awkward, and since I don't drink, it won't be une nuit bien arrosée for me-- nothing to blunt the awkwardness. It's best to leave the partiers with their spirits... Besides, at such events I usually make people glum when I sit there, uncommunicative, gripping a Coke and pretending I'm a sullen, yellow-skinned "Sin City" extra.

So I'll be calling a moving service tomorrow (Sunday), giving my itty-bitty place a final cleanup (especially that freaky mold on the wallpaper in the corner by the foot of my bed), and moving the hell back to the north of Seoul, where I can enjoy the delights of Korea University three stops to the west, and the even greater delights of Seoul Women's University three stops to the east.

It's been a rough several months. Last year, I got booted out of my old place by my Adjoshi because he wanted to renovate the building. I ended up in a tiny hasuk for two months, and the planned renovation never happened. Then I joined up with EC, and they stuck me in a studio that wasn't much bigger than my hasuk. The problem there wasn't so much the size of the room (and I was quite happy to have a real bed again, after two years on hard floors) but the fact that I was slated to be there for only a short time. I was unable to unpack for three months, as it turned out, and this thoroughly pissed me off. Then, when it came time to move to my soon-to-be-former residence, I got almost no help from staff, after promises of help.

By 10PM on Monday, I will have worked at EC for seven months and one week. I will have spent three months at one residence and four months at another. Over a period of nine months, I'll have moved four times:

1. Out of my Jangui-dong residence and into the hasuk.
2. Out of the hasuk and into my first EC-provided studio.
3. Out of the first studio and into my "permanent" EC studio.
4. Out of my "permanent" EC studio and back to my old Jangui-dong residence.

It's amazing I'm not firing people and attending their goodbye parties. With that much moving going on, sanity starts to fray.

Of course I jest. Lest the Smallholder mislabel me as angst-ridden again, I'll confess that the situation isn't nearly as bad as all that. I'm still plump and healthy, and not really that stressed. I've even got some money now-- something I didn't have last year, when I was literally living paycheck to paycheck (or, more precisely, white envelope to white envelope).

One big bifference between the Kevin of 2005 and the Kevin of 1995 is that I'm no longer an angry young man, bent on suing the shit out of people. This time around, I saw a bad situation beginning to coalesce at EC, and took steps to extricate myself before the shit truly hit the fan. That's the major reason why I'm not stressing: I know myself better now, and I have a better understanding of the tricks hagwons pull.

I'm still keeping my expectations low for EC: they could, in principle, cheat me out of several hundred thousand won, as well as make problems for me with Immigration. If it happens, I won't be surprised or deeply upset; I'll simply take appropriate measures, whatever that might entail, up to and including the judicious use of a fireman's axe if need be.

So my ass is out of here. I'll be blogging from PC-bahngs for the next few days; you won't notice any difference.

Bye, cool residence. If I take the Cheongdam job, I might be able to come back to this neighborhood with key money, and rent out a much nicer place. One thing I can't stand about my Adjoshi's apartment is how old, run-down, drafty, cold (hot in summer), and moisture/mold-prone it is. On the flip side, it's a great place to find big, kick-ass centipedes.


Saturday, February 26, 2005

that's one decision down, at least

One of my final blog entries from this lovely little cubbyhole...

I'll be moving back up to my old place in Jangui-dong, not far from Korea University. Nothing has changed there, according to my K'eun Adjoshi.

Which means the washing machine there is still broken, but the difference is that, now I've got a little cash and can afford to call a repairman over. Yeah, baby!

Job search will continue. Many thanks to the people who've emailed with encouragement. No worries; I have faith that things will work out. It's only if you see a picture of an emaciated Kevin that you'll know things have gone terribly wrong. Fat is my talisman, an amorphous shield against the larger forces of fate.


and then-- a gig appeared

Before I die, I will fuck a cloned sheep. Then I'll fuck the original sheep to see if I can tell the difference.

--Hunter S. Thompson*

I got a call from a certain Mrs. Kim, a friend of my Korean friend Jang-woong's mother. I've never met this person, but JW's mom referred her to me. Mrs. Kim had a proofreading job for me, and in the grand Korean tradition of last-minute madness, she said she needed the work done by early Sunday. It was a 15-page document. I'm charging her W150,000 for the deal, which is a bit more than I'd normally charge. I made a point of grousing to her that I was moving this weekend and that this really was a bad time, which was why my fee was more than normal**. She sent a hurt-sounding email that said, "I seem to be squeezing you," but she accepted my terms all the same.

I'm working on her document now. It's about art and Buddhism, so it's right up my alley. Wish I could copy and paste some of it here, but that wouldn't be sporting, since it's intended for some sort of publication, and it's a translation of someone else's work.

So along with packing up, calling a moving company, and getting my ass ready for the Sunday move, I've got this proofreading gig.

My boss, Imelda (not her real name), called me in the office today to give me my letter of release, to express-- yet again-- her discontent at my departure, and to offer to help me in any way she could. I've been forthright with her about the rocky job search, and she mentioned a nifty plan to give me more time to shop around. The plan is this: I eventually have to go to Immigration to let their office know that I'm no longer sponsored by EC. Once they're made aware of this, they have to truncate my E-2 visa length to give me only 15 days to find new work, after which point I have to leave the country to get a tourist visa. Imelda's suggestion was to delay my Immigration visit for a couple weeks, then get the 15-day truncation. So instead of visiting La Migra this coming March 2nd and being doomed to leave by March 17th (Happy pre-Saint Pat's!), I'll visit the office around March 17th and be able to stay in country until the end of the month. Imelda's been a nasty minx in other ways, but I'll give her credit for thinking this up.

Her plan also allows me to remain in country to receive my damn pay, only part of which I'll be receiving on the regular pay day, March 10th. According to EC policy, our final pay is partially withheld to the tune of W600,000 while EC combs our residence and our classroom to determine whether we've damaged their goods. I'm hoping they don't nail me too hard for my apartment, whose only real damage is a few small patches of mold on the wallpaper. I'll know by Monday evening whether I've been penalized. If all goes well, I'll receive most or all of my W600,000 on the 25th of the month.

In other news:

"Constantine" was an absolutely goofy film. I saw it the other night. The theology is hilariously crackerjack, though some of the special effects were cool, and the presence of the great Djimon Hounsou was a nice (if underused) counterweight to Keanu Reeves's off-key acting. The movie's got DVD rental potential, though; some moments are classic, such as when a soul ascending to Heaven gives Satan the finger, or when Satan cures Constantine's lung cancer (he literally rips out the tumors) so that Constantine has a chance to prove he truly belongs in hell. There's also a nice nod to Kevin Smith's "Dogma"; look for it toward the end of the movie.

Back to proofreading.

*No, not really Hunter S. Thompson.

**If you're in Korea and you need your shit proofread, my rates are:

W10,000 per hour PLUS W5,000 per page of your document. By some standards, that's pretty fuckin' cheap. College students tend to moan and groan, though.


Friday, February 25, 2005

CDI of Sauron

My interview at CDI was at 10:30AM on Thursday, which forced me to drag my fat ass out of bed much earlier than usual to get ready. The CDI human resources office is located close to the COEX center by Samsung Station-- the Ch'eongdam district. That whole stretch of buildings reeks of money.

I was guided into a nice conference room where a nervous 20-something guy already sat. His name was Scott, he was from Vancouver, and he was also interviewing for a CDI post. Scott had been only six months in Korea, but I gathered that he'd already garnered plenty of teaching experience at various places. He was almost painfully polite, which made me aware of my age. He also reminded me of Seth Green, a.k.a. Scott Evil in the Austin Powers movies. So there I was, in an unfamiliar conference room, competing with Scott Evil for a teaching job I didn't particularly want. What a world, eh?

The CDI presenter finally lumbered in. This was Brian, a burly Korean guy with a shaved head and Joe Son look about him. Brian led us through a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation about the celestial greatness that is CDI, then asked us to type an essay (there were laptops at every seat) just to prove our English skills. I was having flashbacks to my previous essay-writing experience. As before, we were given a TOEFL topic to write on. My question was something like: "Some say life is like a river, or a party, or a journey, or a game. Of these metaphors, which do you think is most appropriate and why?" As you might guess, I chose to write on journeys.

We were promised a call/email to tell us whether we'd been accepted into the next phase of the training (CDI is supposedly pretty strict). I got a call later in the day saying I'd been accepted into training, but CDI wanted me to begin training the very next day, as well as to train on both Saturday and Sunday. They then wanted me to begin work on Monday.

This was obviously problematic, since I have to work on Friday, move out on Sunday, and work again at EC on Monday. Saturday's my day for final packing. When I spoke with burly Brian on Thursday evening, he said he'd want to keep in touch, and that I was "first in line" for whatever new jobs would be popping up. Nice to know, but I'm still leery: CDI's training program is supposedly a month long, and it seems they're expanding so fast that they now have to run people through the mill in only three days' time. Strikes me as a bit desperate, not to mention sloppy-- especially for a company that makes a point of hyping its own professionalism compared to other "regular" hagwons.

My plan at this point:

1. Move outta my place on Sunday, either down the street to a local goshi-weon, or back up north to where I used to live in Jangui-dong, close to Korea University.

2. Get a plane ticket and fly out to Japan ASAP, so I can change my visa over to tourist.

3. Fly back the following day disguised as Joe Tourist and resume my job hunt, perhaps lingering on as an illegal until the time comes for universities to hire again. They'll be scouting for September positions come July.

I'm also looking into the dreaded lateral promotion, i.e., working at another goddamn hagwon in the Kangnam area. I'd avoid this if I could, but cashflow is imperative. The point would be to go to a hagwon that offers better pay and a better schedule than the nonsense I've gotten at EC.

Speaking of EC, my students seem to be taking my departure stoically, which leads me to believe I haven't made much of an impression on them. No one's actually come out and said, "Fine! Good riddance!" yet, but it might still happen. I've got Friday and Monday to go, after all.

OK... gonna hold a vigil until 5:45am, then grab some empty boxes from the local convenience store so I can start packing shit up in earnest. The convenience store dude told me that 5:45 was the optimal time to scavenge for empty boxes, before the old people swooped down on them and took them away.

Box-scavenging. Heh. Such is my life.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

the same problem some Korean women have*

There's a lot I'll miss about working here at EC, including the students I've had. Although I'm averse to teaching children in large groups, I've had almost no trouble teaching children one-on-one or in pairs.

One of my students, who has the English name Jason, is probably about seven years old, and he offered me a profound insight two days ago as he walked out of class.

"GHOSTS HAVE NO BUTTS!" he shouted.

All too true, Jason. All too true.

*Yeah, OK-- it's not a problem unique to Korean women. Some white chicks also have no ass, but you've got to admit that, overall, American white chicks suffer less from dearth than from surabondance.


in case you missed it

In case the previous post didn't make clear to you what the basic moral issue is, it's this:

Should one whore oneself out for money?

That is, after all, the only real reason for me to take the CDI job. I doubt I'd enjoy the work; the job will force me to work at least one weekend day; they don't even offer goddamn housing (only a housing allowance for "key money").

But to complicate matters: the money issue isn't about a desire for filthy lucre. No, young Jedi: it's about debt relief, my personal bugbear. Jacob Marley was wrapped in the chains he forged in life; my chains are all debt-shaped. If I worked at CDI for a year, it'd be in the hopes of building up an impressive reserve of cash, most of which would be fed into the gaping asshole of that bitch Sallie Mae. In the meantime, my soul would be draining out of my body, drop by drop.

If I had a soul.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

the call

I got a call on Wednesday morning from CDI, the high-paying hagwon. Of course, I'm wary about CDI.

Kids, you know. Goddamn kids.

I've gotten repeated assurances from various friends and co-workers who know about CDI's reputation that "these kids aren't like the other kids," so I said to myself "fuck it" and decided to accept the offer for an interview. I'm going in on Thursday morning for a three-hour grilling. Gonna be messy.

It's a delicate period. I haven't settled on a new job yet, having lost two potentially good university opportunities, one through sickness, the other through my own circumspection.

The upshot is that I'm going to be missing out on university work-- again-- which sucks balls. Ball-suckage will continue for another semester.

But who knows? Maybe CDI will turn out to be everything I've ever wanted. If I have a consistently decent crop of kids, I might actually enjoy myself. I don't mind teaching kids one-on-one; the main problem for me is dealing with disciplinary shit. I hated being the controlling ogre when I taught high school French in Arlington, Virginia. I hated shouting, "Shut up! Siddown!" all the time. I hated chaperoning the little bastards on field trips (one of which was an absolute nightmare outing to the Kennedy Center in DC; remind me to blog about that some time). Do I truly want to return to this madness?

Maybe it's not madness, though. CDI kids range in age from elementary to high school. I don't like any part of that age range, especially not when they're in large groups of 10-20, which is the approximate size of CDI's classes. But my friend's cousin, who teaches there, says the kids are learning hyper-advanced material. Imagine elementary schoolers learning TOEFL strategy. Or how about middle schoolers discussing Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse? Maybe this isn't big shakes from the perspective of an American "magnet school," but keep in mind that these kids' first language isn't English.

So maybe they're not squirmy little students. Maybe they're scary little student-bots, genetically designed to achieve, conquer, and control. Maybe the UN will find itself overthrown one afternoon by a group of Korean Borg-children, working together in a frightening display of near-telepathic coordination. And maybe one day, when the Borg-children are defeated and order is restored, there will be a massive war crimes trial at the Hague, and I'll be brought to the stand, along with other CDI teachers, to testify about my own role in the cloning and nurturing of these Borglings.

I'm leaving EC after teaching my final class on the 28th. I have several problems to deal with at once, including moving out of my place on Sunday, making sure about where I'm moving to, and dealing with the next visa run I have to make. If the interview at CDI goes well, I might find all of these problems solved in the course of three hours. CDI offers 5 million won in "key money" toward finding a residence, and if they also offer to reimburse me for my Japan visa run, that'd be shweet. With 5 million won, I could, in theory, simply move my shit back across the street to the weon-lum where I started off. This would save me a painful move all the way across town to Jangui-dong. On top of that, I wouldn't have to return to a tourist visa; I could simply move to another E-2 visa straightaway.

If CDI falls through, I have a contingency plan: move my shit into a tiny goshi-weon, do the visa run on my own, come back to Korea on a tourist visa, and tutor while continuing the job hunt.

In any case, I've got the damn interview tomorrow, from 10:30AM to about 1:30PM, which is cutting things pretty fucking close since I start classes at EC at 2PM. Luckily, EC is only three subway stops away from CDI.

More on this as it happens.


a reminder of our impermanence

It wasn't a big shock to hear that Hunter S. Thompson checked out of Hotel Terra on his own terms. The following photo shows a man on the way to blowing his own brains out:

The real shock, discovered through Brian's site, was that Lee Eun-ju had also killed herself, apparently by hanging after she attempted to slit her wrists. I don't know much about Miss Lee, but I do know I had something of a crush on her after I saw her tragic performance in the Korean War movie "Taegeukgi." Here's a shot of Miss Lee from that film:

I wonder why she did it. This article offers some morbid speculation, partly based on her suicide note and other sparse clues.


Lumpy proletariat?

A satisfied customer sends me a photo of her... self wearing the Buddha Mind babydoll tee, available from my CafePress store. Now, if only I could persuade you all to buy several thousand tees each.

OK, just kidding. Those are my tits.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

and the Lord did spread His ass cheeks wide and grunt, "Let there be..."


I finally got the news from that publishing company, and it ain't good. I failed their test. This might be one of the only moments in my life where I've been considered "not pedantic enough." I'm assuming that's what the problem was: I failed their test because my sample TOEFL reading comprehension question wasn't to their liking.

So the job search continues.

Moving out soon. Have to go grab some boxes and start the process of packing. Sometime this week, I have to give my K'eun Adjoshi a call and tell him I want my old place back if he's still offering it. Then I'll move out on Sunday, and teach my last day at EC the following Monday, February 28. Then... I'm probably going to have to go on a visa run and get a tourist visa again, just so I can stay in country until I find a decent job.


The comfort in all this, cold though it be, is that the publishing company was looking for something extremely specific, and I didn't supply it, largely because I didn't have a clear idea of what "it" was.

I wrote the company back and asked what, exactly, I'd done wrong. No reply yet. We'll see if I get one in the next few days. I'm not counting on one, but I'll post the reply if it comes.

Occasionally, I'll get questions from friends and family along the lines of, "I thought it was so easy to find a job in Korea. Why's it so hard for you?" Leaving aside the insulting nature of the question, the problem is that it's exceedingly hard to find a job that satisfies these three seemingly simple conditions:

1. No teaching children.
2. No teaching on weekends.
3. No split shifts.

In a country positively begging for a huge proofreading/editing industry, you'd think that Korean companies would be using tuna nets to grab thousands of foreigners for help in straightening out their mangled ad copy, hilarious signage, mutant tourist brochures, and freakily written textbooks. Such is not the case, however. The obsession was and is with English conversation-- with classes taught by a white (or whitish) North American, if at all possible.

I'm going to be leaning on a couple other connections in the coming days, but if any of you readers have some good ideas for me, I'm all antennae.

By the way, "some good ideas" would include options in the States. Need a resume? Lemme know and I'll email one to you.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

back from the Pu

Pusan (now officially "Busan," according to the Korean government) was bright, cold, and windy. I spent most of my time there with the inimitable Jeff of the excellent blog Ruminations in Korea.

I did not go to the university.

"WHY?" your vagina screeches.

Because I didn't reveal to you that I'd been agonizing about this Pusan thing for some time. The deal sounded sweet at the beginning: huge accommodations, great hours, great pay... but then I started to think about the potential problems of the job, and chiefest among them was teaching kids for six weeks out of the year.

"Bite the bullet and just take the job," is the advice I got from a couple colleagues at EC, but I have a hangup about teaching young'ns. I was also thinking about the whole business of relocating all my shit down in Pusan, a city I know nothing about. I also got to pondering the teaching load, which sounded sweet at first but, upon reflection, would have involved a lot of time, since the course material is largely up to the teacher.

And finally, there was this nagging suspicion that never quite went away: How could a university hire someone for that much pay, based on a ten-minute phone interview and a quick scan of my resume?

There were a lot of things that simply didn't feel right about that job offer. My university contact was very polite, and the teachers I spoke with over the phone seemed either neutral or positive about the program... but something still bothered me. A disturbance in the Force.

So on Sunday morning, I cancelled my meeting with the university, having made a firm decision to try my luck in Seoul. I'm hoping to interview with that educational publishing company soon, assuming I did well enough on their screening test.

I still had my tickets to Pusan and back, though, so I went on down. Having been commanded by Jeff to "CALL ME," I decided to send him a text message when I was in town. We met and ate at a local joint that served Filipino food (among other things). Jeff seemed to know all the staff, some of whom spoke Filipino-accented Korean. I had my first chicken adobo in years-- quite good.

It was a late lunch. Conversation ranged all over, from rumors about people back home to taking care of kids to movies to law to you-name-it. Much time was spent insulting George Lucas and his cluelessness, and I got to learn a thing or two about the politics of Kuk Sul Won, a Korean martial art in which Jeff has trained (Jeff holds black belts in Kuk Sul Won and hapkido).

We walked the length of Texas Street ("Pusan's Itaewon," says Jeff), which is right across from the train station and features plenty of Russian-language signs (and people who I assume were Russian). As we walked along, some of the foreign shopowners would shout "Phone card?!" at us. It was Itaewon, but far quieter.

According to Jeff, there's some unwritten rule that all Pusan visitors must see the Chagalchi fish market, so we spent some time staring at the gutted corpses of thousands of fishes, crabs, and molluscs (including some impressively sized octopi). "There are two kinds of food in Pusan," Jeff said. "Grilled meat and raw fish." Prepared raw fish was definitely in evidence at the fish market: we passed stands selling slices of still-quivering mystery meats alongside bowls of red pepper sauce, and Jeff pointed out a building whose every floor housed a raw fish restaurant. I found myself fascinated by a bucket full of living sea creatures that looked remarkably like animated condoms.

Every once in a while, a pretty young thing in a miniskirt would appear, much to Jeff's delight. I think I made some remark about how nuts such women were, but Jeff's ardor was undimmed.

A bit later, we met up with Jeff's brother Adam and walked over to Yongdusan, or Dragon Head Mountain, a mountain that does not feature dragons giving people (or each other) head. Yongdusan has a teeny-weeny tower, a bit reminiscent of the upthrust phallus atop Namsan in Seoul, but the W4000 cost to go up the tower was deemed "not worth it," so we contented ourselves with the hilltop vista. Not too many people were in evidence on such a blustery day; a few brave pigeons were begging for crumbs from some kids. Then, a jarring intrusion: we heard Billy Squier's "Everybody Wants You" blaring out the window of a restaurant next to the tower.

NB: For those who are wondering, Jeff's Korean skills are indeed excellent. I'd love to have half his ability, and maybe if I spend enough time here, I eventually will.

It was fun to watch the rapport between Jeff and his bro; kinda made me miss my own brothers back home. Jeff's bro lived in Marseille, and although we didn't spend time speaking in French, I got the impression he knew his shit.

And then it was time to take the 7PM train back. I have to apologize to Jeff and Adam for not having held up my end of the conversation very well; part of the problem is that I'd been awake all night and had slept only intermittently on the train. Sorry, gents.

I also fell asleep a few times on the way back to Seoul; my own snores woke me up whenever my chin dropped against my chest. I can only imagine what my fellow passengers were thinking. At least I didn't drool.

This week might be a bit strange. It's my final week at EC, though I might be teaching on Monday the 28th as well. I'm hoping to interview with the publishing company this week, and I hope to have a job with them if all goes well. If not... I might have to move to some cheap accommodations, then hop over to Japan and get reconverted to a tourist visa again. That would buy me 90 days; I could continue my job search. And in theory, I've got another month's pay coming early next month, so I won't be hurting for cash quite yet.

EPILOGUE: While standing in the Line 4 subway on my way to Sadang Station, I looked up and saw someone's possessions on the rack. Among them: an organizer emblazoned with the logo of the publishing company to which I'm applying. Let's hope that that's a good omen.


my ass goeth to Pusan

I'm up at 6:15AM to get dressed and catch the 8AM train out of Seoul and down to Pusan. Keep yourselves entertained by doing shots and reading my poem (see below) aloud, or go visit Dr. Vallicella's site and read his reply to my post about chaos and order and mind. I've already commented on his post.

Since Dr. V's enabled the comment function on his blog, there's nothing stopping you, Dear Reader, from leaving (civil!) comments of your own, especially if you're a Buddhist with an interest in philosophy. Dr. V's probably not going to respond to anything overly mystical (e.g., don't waste your time writing stuff like, "Three pounds of flax!"); if you're interested in a challenge, try and engage him on his own terms. Perhaps you'll be unsuccessful, as I often am, but you might find it worth your while.

And there's this: if you think such philosophical discussion is a waste of time, don't trumpet that opinion on his blog. You only make yourself look petty, and if you're a Buddhist, you're not exactly being compassionate by griping.

I won't be back home until pretty late Sunday evening. Have a fun.


in praise of pussy

my cat!
my cat!
my fatass CAT!
it farts SAND in your FACE!
can your cat do that?

my cat!
my cat!
my goddamn, motherfucking CAT!
my cat knows jujitsu!
does your cat know that?

my cat!
my cat!
my fatass, fuckfaced CAT!
my cat knows how to surf PORN!
does your cat surf PORN?

my cat!
my cat!
my foul-tempered, scrotum-shredding CAT!
my cat can read biblical Hebrew and Greek!
can your cat do that?

my cat!
my cat!
my obscene and misshapen CAT!
my cat made a condom from hacked-up hairballs!
did your cat do that?

my cat!
my cat!
my stupid, drunk, gut-puking CAT!
my cat wrote in LIEBERMAN on November 2!
did your cat do that?

my cat!
my cat!
my stout-swillin', ho'-fuckin' CAT!
my cat'll eat your head and not think twice about it!
will your cat do that?

my cat!
my cat!
my sand-farting, head-eating CAT!
my cat can beat a harp seal to death with its DICK!
can your cat do that?

worship my cat!
worship my cat!


Saturday, February 19, 2005

chaos and order and mind

I'm revisiting an old issue, largely thanks to Dr. Vallicella's very interesting discussions about the Trinity, how to count entities, and so on.

Dr. V's most recent post deals with the question of a single parcel of land, A, divided into two sub-parcels, B and C. Are we looking at three entities? I think that, from Dr. V's point of view, we're not seeing three entities. A = (B + C), he says. In an earlier post, he argued similarly about taking a six-pack of beer to the checkout counter. If the entire 6-pack costs X dollars, you don't pay 2X dollars for it (i.e., X dollars for the six cans in the 6-pack plus another X dollars for the 6-pack taken as a whole).

This makes sense to me. Parcel A remains forever on its side of the equal sign; it never leaps over to the other side to be lumped with B and C. But at the same time, it seems to me that if we can differentiate between A, B, and C, then there must be some reason to refer to A as something separate, even if we can't declare A to be an entity separate from B and C. After all, that equal sign is separating distinct mathematical elements from each other even as it's equating them, yes?

Dr. Vallicella's argument, if I understand it, is similar to the move he makes in his paper about Buddhist no-self: his idea is that parcel A is not merely B + C, but B + C in their connectedness.

I tend to think, along with the Buddhists, that connectedness is an imposition of the mind, not an objective reality. So I appended the following (rambling) comment to Dr. Vallicella's post:

Question: if connectedness is empirically undetectable, is it simply inferred? If true, this might imply that "connectedness" is a subjective human notion and not an objective reality. Is connectedness discovered or invented by the mind?

Let's say we're talking about a trailer truck, its parts all properly connected so that it's recognizably a truck. Its "truckness" (for lack of a better term) arises from the antecedent connectedness of the truck parts, right?

But what is the truck from the point of view of, say, a rabbit*? Does the connectedness of the truck parts mean anything in lagomorphic phenomenology? What if connectedness is simply a function of how a mind parses the things it perceives and conceives of?

I don't mean to be flip, and far be it from me to presume to read a rabbit's mind (such as it is), but I think it's a legitimate question: what makes us think that "connectedness"-- whether we're talking about trucks or any other phenomena-- holds any objective reality?

I could say the same about chaos and order. Let's say I'm staring at two pixels that are just sitting there. Perhaps we can describe the scene as "orderly." (Or maybe it represents maximum entropy.)

We zoom the camera back a bit and now see three pixels-- the vertices of an invisible triangle. Things still seem more or less orderly as we stare at the three pixels.

Now we zoom back even more, and see a thousand pixels arranged in what appears to be a chaotic (random?) distribution. Are we staring at order?

We zoom back more, and the cloud of pixels turns out to be a single dot.

Another backward zoom, and we see that the dot is part of a facial feature-- say, a nose. Are we looking at order?

Indeed, we zoom back more and find that we're staring at a face composed of these dots.

Then we zoom back even more and see that this face is actually one dot among billions in another random pattern of face-dots. Hmmm.

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point: it's impossible for me to isolate a single pixel in this mess and declare it, definitively, to be a constituent of an ordered pattern or of a chaotic field. To make such a statement requires me to be arbitrary-- simply to claim "this dot is part of a larger chaos" or "this dot is part of a larger order."

Here, I think, we see that the mind makes the chaos and makes the order: the patterns and fields simply are what they are before they've been adjudged chaotic or orderly by human minds. We impose "chaos" and "order" on the phenomena around us**.

What, then, does this do to the idea of the objective reality of connectedness?

Or am I treeing up the wrong bark?


*If you don't like the rabbit idea, substitute a Cro Magnon man. I don't see how this changes the problem that much.

**I realize I'm probably angering some information theorists, but I think that "information" has no objective reality: it requires a mind that can be informed. Without such a mind, information has no existence.


Ave, Smallholder (again)!

The Smallholder writes a fantastic post contra John Derbyshire's opinion piece on homosexuality. Derbyshire bothers me. In my mind, I keep comparing him to that other NRO great, Victor Davis Hanson, and while VDH and I don't always agree, I think VDH is ten times the gentleman that Derb is.


Friday, February 18, 2005

quel toupet

Some people come to Korea and never learn a goddamn thing about the culture, even after almost a year in country. They insist on doing things their way, on being blunt, loud, and rude, and then they have the gall to wonder why the Koreans around them are pissed off. Never ceases to amaze me.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

unstable blogging

UPDATE: The excursion to the educational publishing company was interesting. A mostly-female staff (hmmmm... or should I say "mmmmm"?), a library-quiet atmosphere, and almost as many computer terminals as a PC-bahng. The "screening" was today; I won't know the results for a few days, and then I'll be called in for an interview if I make the cut.

What I wrote earlier about the screening procedure wasn't entirely correct. It went down like this-- I was given a bit over two hours to do the following:

1. Create a TOEFL reading comprehension passage, plus 10 accompanying questions, with the passage and questions in the style of the TOEFL test.

2. Answer a TOEFL essay question as if I were a student taking the exam. I imagine this was to gauge my writing ability.

Exercise (1) was probably a test of how well I understood the structure and philosophy of TOEFL reading passages and questions. I'm confident I did pretty well; TOEFL reading comp questions are fourfold multiple choice and follow the standard template known to testers everywhere: one answer is correct, one answer is obviously wrong, and two answers lie somewhere in the middle, but are easily seen as wrong upon reflection.

We were allowed to use internet resources to write the reading passage for (1), but picking a subject was damn hard. I chose, at long last, to write about octopi, a subject that fascinated me as a kid. Using a bit of Wikipedia, a bit of, and some Merriam Webster, I crafted what I think was a fairly textbookish-sounding bit of prose. I hope my multiple choice questions weren't too off the wall. I tried to avoid outrageous options, so there were no questions like:

The following cannot be inferred from the preceding passage:
a. Octopi have short lifespans compared to human beings.
b. Many octopi can hide in small crevices due to their flexibility.
c. The beak of the octopus can pierce a crab's shell.
d. Octopi have been known to travel far inland in their quest for tittie bars.

Results will come in a few days. Keep those tentacles crossed.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you know I'm about to hit a transitional period. I'm currently looking at two possible jobs: one at a university down in Pusan, a city about which I know next to nothing, and one at an educational publishing company here in Seoul, a city I've known for four years.

Tomorrow morning, I'm up bright and early to visit the publishing company. They're asking prospective employees to take a modified TOEFL exam and to write an essay as part of their screening procedure. I'm happy to do this, but it means I've got to get to bed right after this post, which sucks.

I'm also getting up early because I have to visit the train station: I never got that Pusan ticket the other day, and I tried again tonight, to no avail.

I need to start packing my shit into boxes and to make other arrangements, all of which means that blogging will be more inconsistent than usual. More news as it happens. I'm looking forward to my Sunday trip down to Pusan to see the campus & the ridiculously huge accommodations I've been told about. (Or to find out it's all a sham! Am trying to shop carefully this time. We'll see.)


Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ave, Smallholder!

The Smallholder writes exactly the brief post I wanted to write, in almost exactly the same words I wanted to use. He links to an excellent rebuttal of Keith Burgess-Jackson's ridiculous stance against gay marriage. Follow this link to the Smallholder's post (and I agree that it's to KBJ's credit that he linked to the rebuttal at all), then follow the link on the Smallholder's post to the piece in question.

While you're at Naked Villainy, be sure to read my buddy Mike's impressive (and lengthy) response to Skippy.


links and adverts

Not much blogging tonight, as I have to wake up early tomorrow, hit a train station, and buy a Sunday round-trip ticket to Pusan (now officially "Busan" with the government's change in romanization).

I'm 90% sure I'll be taking the Pusan job. It's offering 3.17 million won a month for about 5 hours/day of teaching, no weekends, and ostensibly no split shifts (though the contract contains some iffy language on this point). The housing accommodations are going to be huge-- 23 p'yong (a p'yong is about 4 square meters) for a single dwelling (single, not shared; you read that right), which is more space than I'd know what to do with.

The downside of the job: I'll be teaching kids for six weeks out of the year. Fuck. But I think that, for that amount of money, I should make an effort to appreciate the kiddies. At long last, I'll have a job that gives me weekends, reasonable hours, and the ability to start saving money to pay down my massive education debt.

Speaking of debt-- I'm all about debt relief, but I don't want to do it simply by begging. That's why I'm selling a book, and now is as good a time as any to pick up your very own copy of Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia.

To that end, behold my fearsome mastery of marketing strategy as I... market.

Each of the following panels contains an excerpt from somewhere in the fetid bowels of my book. Enjoy, then go to my sidebar and buy my book either through (where we're currently having a deal) or through my other blog, Only the Chewiest Tumors, where purchasing can be done through PayPal.

It's the book that has everything! We've got short and curlies:

We've got pissed-off seafood:

We've got uncultured people:

And we've got Spock!

Read an excerpt here!

And don't forget to drop by my CafePress store!


Monday, February 14, 2005

comestible vomit

Check out Rory's fucked-up soup. Great stuff.


postal scrotum: HK writes in

HK writes in about my post on fat and enlightenment:

hey kevin all that food is delicious looking. can i come over? we could use some pasta sauce. wait. i could use some of that pasta too.

short answer. inka is given to fat people.

enlightenment is different from practice.

practice leads to the ability to control ones karma. enlightenment alone isnt able to change anything. anybody can see the truth at one moment or another. but as you know, it doesnt necessarily last that long.

zen masters have enlightenment and they all practice, but theres definite varying degrees of practice. not all masters practice 10 hours a day. the ones who do practice 10 hours a day probably look a lot healthier than the ones who have to deal with jobs and sitting around at a desk 8 hours a day and cooking and dealing with family.

but whether they sit for 10 hours or sit at a desk for 10 hours, those that have received inka have shown that they can practice, and can teach others how to practice and have enlightenment.

"Can a person who so obviously wears his lack of enlightenment on his sleeve (and, well, everywhere else on his body) legitimately be certified as enlightened?"

sure they can! they were enlightened at one point. lets say youre a black belt in taekwondo. then you gain 50 pounds. just because you gained 50 pounds doesnt mean that youre not a black belt anymore. youre now an overweight black belt. you still have the knowledge and probably the ability to do what you once did. and you can be fat and enlightened too. receiving inka is exactly like receiving a degree. receiving inka just means you can teach.

zen masters dont walk around in a state of enlightenment all the time. theyre just folks with regular problems. what makes them different from us is that because theyve practiced and because they are strong (from practice) they are able to come back to their enlightenment when they want [to] more easily than us (non masters). they have better control over their karma.

hypothetically, suppose people can stay enlightened once they got it. then no zen masters will need to continue practice anymore! what actually happens is that there is a well established tradition for a newly born zen master to be a hermit for a few years before they move on to become a teacher and its called bo-in. and the point is to solidify their enlightenment through practice. and that is not the end of their practice either. they practice for the rest of their life. and some of them lose their enlightenment (ddengcho deul).

thats our (me and my hubby. mostly hubbys) take on this.

a very interesting question! i love this shit.



postal scrotum: Sperwer writes in

Sperwer writes:


Reread your excellent piece on Grigg's book. Your choice of the passage from Pirsig's Lila as the capstone of your argument is apt:

"you would guess from the literature on Zen ... that it would be intensely anti-ritualistic... But that isn't the case. The Zen monk's daily life is nothing but one ritual after another, hour after hour, day after day, all his life. They don't tell him to shatter those static patterns to discover the unwritten dharma. They want him to get those patterns perfect!"

I think this is true, but it's important to note that "ritual" doesn't HAVE to mean prostrating before graven images; it can mean simply - as Pirsig says, making daily life itself -- eating a meal and taking a shit -- a ritual, i.e., an exercise in mindfulness.

The problem with the religious "institutionalization" (shades of Randle Patrick McMurphy) of zen is that the mindset it engenders -- "get THOSE patterns PERFECT" -- is the same one that drill sergeants try to instill in recruits during bayonet practice. That probably sounds melodramatic, and the easy retort is that there's a big difference between bayonet practice and bowing to a statue of the buddha. But if you read Brian Victoria's expose of the deep links between the Japanese zen establishment and Japanese imperial militarism between the 1880s and 1945, you have to ask if there really is.

That's why the heart of the zen message is to kill the buddha that you meet on the road or better yet wipe your ass with him.


Man-haeng, as the title of Hyeon-gak's book says: the ten thousand (i.e., myriad) ways of practice. Eating, praying, breathing, pooping-- all opportunities for mindful action.


postal scrotum: about "contra Vallicella"

I received a very interesting email from a gentleman who had read my exchange with Dr. Vallicella regarding Dr. V's paper on the "chariot" no-self argument by Bhante Nagasena. To orient yourself, you might want to visit the following links:

1. Dr. Vallicella's paper, "Can the Chariot Take Us to the Land of No Self?"

2. My response, "contra Vallicella."

3. Dr. Vallicella's first reply.

4. My responses to (3), here and here.

5. Dr. Vallicella's "further response."

6. My response here.

Dr. Vallicella outguns me philosophically, but perhaps because I'm a stubborn bastard, he still hasn't convinced me that he's refuted the no-self doctrine.

Without further ado, here is the email I received (it was cc'ed to Dr. Vallicella as well) from Alan J. Cook of Austin, Texas:

Messrs. Kim and Vallicella,

I was delighted to discover your exchange of views on the Milandapanha; I'm going to try to work through it and throw in my own two cents worth. The first installment is on my blog at [permalink].

Here's the most relevant portion:

Not far into his initial presentation of the issues, Vallicella states the following:

"It is no part of Milinda's position as I shall reconstruct it that the individuals denoted by proper names be absolutely permanent entities: they could well be relatively permanent. Thus one is not forced to choose between saying that 'Nagasena' has no referent in reality and saying that it has an absolutely permanent referent. Charitably construed, Milinda's position is that the unitary and self-same individuals corresponding to names like 'Nagasena' are relatively permanent entities possessing relative self-nature. If Milinda's position so construed were correct, then of course Nagasena's would collapse."

Kim raises an objection here:

"Unfortunately, this sounds like a bogus notion to me: permanence strikes me as a yes/no proposition: things either are or aren't permanent. This is certainly the frame of reference from which the Buddhist makes the claim that all phenomena are impermanent. I don't know who first introduced the notion of "relative permanence," but it seems to be a convenient redefinition that allows one to claim permanence where no permanence is to be found. Dr. Vallicella (or whoever) is free to redefine permanence as he sees fit, but the question then becomes whether his critique of the Buddhist position is still aimed at the actual Buddhist position."

From my preliminary scanning of the exchange, it looks like this issue, whether "relative impermanence" is a coherent notion, remains point of contention throughout. This is a boon for the ambitious but lazy commentator like myself, because it allows me to throw in something relevant to the entire dialogue without having read very much of it yet.

Kim to the contrary, relative permanence is a perfectly sound notion, for the reasons that Vallicella adduces; moreover, it has a respectable pedigree in Buddhist thought, where it occurs as the distinction between the original doctrine of impermanence and the more radical notion of momentariness. Here's a passage from David Kalupahana's Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, pp. 82-3:

"[T]he Sarvastivadins and the Sautrantikas, in their attempt to present a logical analysis of the doctrine of impermanence (anicca), came to accept a theory of moments, which in turn led to several theories not consistent with early Buddhism...

What, then, is the theory of impermanence as found in the early Buddhist texts? Hardly any evidence can be gathered from the Pali Nikayas and the Chinese Agamas to support the view that things were considered to be momentary (ksanika, ch'a na). We do not come across any statement such as "All forces are momentary." The theory of momentariness is not only foreign to early Buddhism but is contradicted by some statements in the Nikayas and the Agamas.

For example, two suttas in the Samyukta called Assutava describe how a man should give up attachment to the physical body made up of the four primary existents because the body grows and decays, comes into being an perishes.

Comparing the vacillation of the mind with the change taking place in the physical body, it continues: "This physical body made up of the four primary existents exists for one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred or more years. That which is called the mind, thought, or consciousness arises as one thing, and ceases an another whether by night or by day."

That description of mind and body is not inspired by a theory of momentariness. In fact, it seems to refute the idea of momentariness when it says that the physical body is comparatively more stable than the mind. Physical bodies are experienced as enduring for some time, although they are subject to change and decay, which change is not perceived as occurring every moment. Nor is there any suggestion that the mind is subject to momentary changes. The suttas merely emphasize the relative speeds at which the body and mind change."

Of course, Kalupahana's views are controversial among scholars. (They wouldn't be scholars otherwise.) But the considerations he cites should be sufficient to establish that the theory of momentariness is not the universally accepted interpretation of anicca.

I'll let you know when I've added something more substantive, unless either or you would prefer not to be bothered. Or check out the blog.

Alan Cook
Austin, TX

Fascinating material. I've got a lot more reading to do. Thanks, Mr. Cook.

Regarding relative permanence: I remain of two minds about this.

On the one hand, it seems to be trivially true that material things are impermanent but retain some sort of coherence and continuity over time. This has never been a point of contention for Buddhists, as far as I know (and I admit I'm not nearly as well-read as I should be). If the term "relative permanence" is simply a synonym for "coherence and continuity over time, implying no absolute permanence," then I don't see how the term adds anything to the discussion, at least from the Buddhist end (keeping in mind that this exchange is primarily about the doctrine of no-self).

On the other hand, Dr. Vallicella seems to be using relative permanence as part of his own theory of "onto-theological personalism," in which personhood represents a supposedly "irreducible" category. Ultimately, what motivated me to write my original rejection of Vallicella's paper was this question of irreducibility, which smacks of an unjustifiable foundationalism, and the concept of relative permanence seemed to be fueling that foundationalism. To my mind, people don't "come down to" anything. They're just as dependently co-arisen as all other phenomena.

Vallicella contends that the self is not an object of thought and experience, precisely because it is the subject of thought and experience. I reject this as well: if I can talk about the self, then in some sense it's an object of thought.*

Bernard Lonergan's cognitional theory opposes Vallicella's stance, too: in Lonerganian thinking, one can "experience one's experiencing," which means that metacognitive processes can indeed catch lower-level cognitive processes at work in the mind. The subject of experience is always the object of experience in this cognitional schema. In fact, there's no theoretical limit to the meta-layering of cognition, in Lonergan's paradigm. Try to assign ultimate subjectivity to a certain "layer" of the mind, and watch that ultimacy fray and disappear in those constantly interweaving metacognitive processes. This undermines the idea that the self can ever be said to "come down to" something, or that personhood represents something irreducible. One never reaches an ultimate subject.

*Maybe I'm misunderstanding Dr. Vallicella's intentions here (it's happened before, after all), but let's put it this way: a round square might be a logical impossibility, and we will never see a physical instantiation of it, nor ever even properly conceive of "round squareness," but the fact that I'm writing about it right now means that, in some sense, it's an object of thought.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

the fondue you missed
(and other things)

A lovely afternoon meal with Person Who Shall Not Be Named consisted of a very good, if somewhat thin, fondue moitié-moitié, chopped-up baguette, and leftover salad from the previous meal. I have enough cheese for a second fondue; perhaps I'll blog that one.

The fondue got better as the cheese disappeared. Next time, I'll have to add more flour. There are flour and cornstarch versions of this fondue... perhaps the most unfortunate thing today was to be missing nutmeg and kirsch, but I've had-- and made-- fondue without those ingredients, and it tasted just fine. Wine is probably the most important component, along with the Gruyère, giving fondue moitié-moitié its signature smell and taste.

After the meal, I went for a long, late-afternoon stroll through the Olympic Park. Dedicated rollerbladers were out doing their maneuvers; some couples were about, gloved hand in gloved hand; flocks of becoated old people jabbered as they walked past me; some bikers and joggers added kinetic zest to the scene. The Olympic Park's man-made lakes had been drained for the winter; it was strange to stare out at the dry, cold, packed earth, which for some reason had bulldozer tracks all over it.

I swung by a bathroom to take what I suspected would be a massive shit, but only a single plop, about the size of half a Bratwurst, came out.

On my way back out of the park, I saw a rabbit on one of the sidewalks. White body, one black eye, and black ears. I asked it, "Why aren't you hibernating?", but it bustled away, its rabbity secrets unrevealed. I'm never sure how concerned I should be when I see animals out in the cold. Seoul has plenty of dogs and cats fending for themselves in the winter; I imagine they're all pretty street smart.

Had another shit when I got home; I suspect my body is reacting to the super-infusion of cheese. As I've gotten older my Asian genes have activated and I've become somewhat lactose intolerant. I expect to be taking another shit or two after blogging this evening. The shit will probably smell like Gruyère.

In lieu of fondueblogging, let me present you a few pics of the white sauce I made the same night I made the spaghetti sauce and pasta.

Some white sauce ingredients (Italian spices not pictured, but they played an important role-- the holy trinity of parsley, oregano, and basil):

The rinsing and draining of the shrimp (a large pack which cost me about $9):

I had also bought clams, but somehow I overcooked them and it was like eating leather. Seafood is volatile that way: most items from Mother Ocean come pre-salted and require little in the way of cooking. This is probably why raw fish is usually a safer bet than, say, drinking raw eggs or eating steak tartare (which, by the way, is tastier than it looks).

Here, you see the shrimp being fried up with a bunch of mushrooms:

The end result:

Frying completed, I removed the skillet and started making the white sauce. That, too, was initially a disaster, because I added way too much flour and ended up with a soppy mass that looked like Cream of Wheat. So I immediately tried again, and... success.

Here's the way you should really do it:

1. Ignore the recipe's indications for how much flour should go into the hot milk.

2. Start with at least 2 cups of milk and a huge-ass chunk of butter in your saucepan (think: about the size of 1.5 to 2 golf balls). Buttery Bechamel. Heat. As when making chocolate milk, don't scald the milk. It never did anything bad to you, so treat it right.

3. Start adding flour, tentatively, perhaps a heaping teaspoonful at a time. Make sure the flour is mixed evenly through the milk and butter mixture. If the liquid is hot enough, you should see a thickening reaction within a minute. Watch that reaction. Get a handle on when it stops. If the thickening stops, but the sauce is still too thin (ever opened a can of Chunky Style New England Clam Chowder? that's your test for viscosity), add a bit more flour and mix in the same manner.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste. That's the basic sauce. In fact, the next time I make a creamy chowder, I'm going to start with this as the base.

Combine the sauce with the fried-up shrimp and mushrooms, and voilà:

Person Who Shall Not Be Named liked the sauce so much that she kept it. It was gone in 48 hours.

In conclusion, I want you to ponder the fact that the sentence "You can never eat too much cheese!" can be read in two completely opposing ways.


postal scrotum: Zen reassurances

Regarding an email I wrote to Sperwer saying that I hoped to do better on the next kong-an from Lorianne, Sperwer responds (email slightly edited):


I wouldn't worry about doing better; I think there's a lot of infra-dig "zen" gamesmanship in the whole koan/kong-an business the way it's done in US zen circles. People seem to operate on the assumption that Tang and Song dynasty monks went around acting like the delphic oracle all the time, when in fact these relatively slender collections of koans that exist represent the record of hundreds of years of singular encounters. So who's zooming who? Here's a koan for you: what were all those chinese doing with all the time they had on their hands because they didn't have big collections of koans to work through like the multiplication tables because most of them hadn't been performed and collected yet? For that matter, when did Shaky* and all the patriarchs up to and including Mr. zen himself, Bad Boy Bodhidharma, EVER use a koan?

One of the more interesting questions in Zen history is that of the "institutionalization" of enlightenment. Ray Grigg hits this hard in his critique of Zen Buddhism, which he views as quietistic Taoism stifled by a religious Mahayana cortex. As far as Grigg is concerned, the Buddhists ruined a perfectly decent philosophical Taoism. I don't really agree with Grigg, because I see no reason to believe that Taoism and Buddhism are immiscible. To me, they can grow into each other and form an organic whole.

But questions still remain about whether an ossified technique can be passed down as a tradition and remain an effective means of determining the state of someone's enlightenment. Can enlightenment be "certified" through a traditional procedure? Tradition makes for stability, but it also leads to stagnation and stultification. One can often tell the adherents of a lineage by the mannerisms they've adopted from their spiritual parents (e.g., Lorianne's "quick! quick!", an exhortation straight from Seung Sahn himself). I sometimes wonder whether such mannerisms represent a sincere internalization of the spirit of that lineage, or the mere aping of externals.

However: I've been fortunate to meet Zennists who face the kong-an legitimacy question squarely, and many of them earnestly apply their nondualism to it.** The kong-an technique is, an sich, not-good, not-bad. How it plays itself out in reality is very much a function of the state of the practitioner's mind, as well as the nature of the relationship between the practitioner and her teacher. The kong-an, like brushing one's teeth or taking a shit, can be an opportunity for mindfulness or for mindlessness.

As for whether the Buddha ever used or uttered a kong-an: Zennists are quick to point out the Buddha's so-called "flower sermon," in which he held a flower to his lips and said nothing, and only Mahakasyapa fully understood. Mahakasyapa's knowing smile was, Zennists argue, fully in the spirit of mind-to-mind, nonverbal transmission of enlightenment-- the Buddha's acknowledgement of that smile being the first Zen-style inka, if you will. Whether my readers accept this argument is a different matter. Some contend that the reappropriation of the flower sermon as a kong-an is simply a retroactive move by Zennists to lend legitimacy to their lineage. Your thoughts, Dear Reader?

And Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Ch'an and the putative inventor of kung fu? Well, who knows? Maybe his "18 lo-han" techniques were physical kong-ans for the Chinese monks he encountered! I haven't a clue.

In the meantime, thank you, Sperwer, for the reassurances. You're right to say, "I wouldn't worry"-- that's surely a good attitude to have. Ego has no place in the context of the kong-an, and I suspect the Buddhists would argue it has no place anywhere else, either.

As for the "fat" stuff, I'm reminded of another of Suzuki's aphorisms to the effect that "wherever you are, there is enlightenment". We've all got attachments; realizing we do is much more than half the way to losing them. As for actually losing them, it's more a matter of them losing us, i.e., falling away, which is just a function of practice, focused but undirected practice.

About ten years ago I was on a flight from Seoul to Daegu or Jeju with my wife when this really huge monk came down the aisle. He was really BIG for a Korean - looked like a defensive lineman for Minnesota: about 6'4", 250+ easily, but otherwise looked normal, i.e., he didn't have that prognothic look that some of the really big sireum guys have got. I'm 6'3" and since living in Asia am not usually physically impressed let alone intimidated by anyone, but between his size and his zen mojo I was struck enough to wise-crack to my wife that he was about the best fed monk I'd ever seen. He overheard me and smiled.



Great anecdote. I'm about 6'1" and 260 pounds, which makes me just as well-fed as the huge monk. True: we've all got attachments, but like you say, for those attachments to "lose us," it's a function of practice. Simply being content with my fattitiude isn't the way to go. That way lies continued and deliberate laziness-- not exactly a virtue found in any of the major religions.

The Christian analogue to what Sperwer is talking about is the classic one: "We are not a church of the perfect." If we were, there'd be no need for Christian practice, Christian worship, etc.

The practical upshot is that I'll have to stop the foodblogging soon and replace it with some ass-reduction blogging.

*Sperwer's nickname for Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni, the Buddha.

**I'm certain Lorianne does this, too. And if her blog's any indication, she's not pretending to be a Delphic oracle. Like any good Zennist, her concern is centered here and now. I'd say Lorianne's the real deal. I don't think she gives a rat's ass what I think about her "real deal" status, but there we are.



I'm proud of myself. Not only did I make this spaghetti sauce from the ground up, but I also made the pasta from scratch. That should be reassuring to you: if an idiot like yours truly can do this, then you can, too. Now that I'm able to make my own pasta, it's doubtful I'll ever buy it again.

One note about drying pasta: it dries the way you leave it. If you scroll down this post to where I show a photo of pasta draped over a plate, you might think, "Damn, that looks pretty nice." And it did look pretty, but the pasta retained that shape when it dried. I had to snap off the droopy ends of all the noodles, because there was no other way to remove them from the plastic plate.

I learned something else, too: the only real reason to dry your pasta is to be able to transport it somewhere. There's nothing stopping you from plopping the pasta into boiling water while it's still fresh and moist and flexible.

And now, on with the show.

The cast of characters:

We're making sauce here. The tomatoes aren't quite ripe enough, which will surely violate the sensibilities of the sauce purists, but I was pressed for time and had already let those tomatoes sit for two days. In the following photo, we try to determine, Salem-style, whether the tomatoes are in fact witches.

Ladies: the next pic is a reminder of the importance of mushrooms in a good spaghetti sauce. Fresh mushrooms are usually stiff. Test stiffness with your tongue, running your tongue slowly up and down the length of the shroom, perhaps pausing to swirl your tongue teasingly around the shroom's "head" until it comes.

More where those came from:

Castration anxiety as shrooms are chopped to smithereens:

A missing member from the spaghetti sauce cast: black pepper.

Below: sliced-open green bell peppers, flesh still quivering, next to an onion about to suffer a similar fate. I hate onions, especially when they're chopped into large pieces. Maybe it's more about texture than about taste for me, because I don't mind finely chopped onions in salsa, or when served with caviar and minced hard-boiled eggs.

Green bell peppers are misnamed piments (or p'i-mang) in Korean, apparently borrowed from French. In French, such peppers are called poivrons. Les piments are what Koreans would call go-ch'u, i.e., chili peppers.

Cackling pepper:

Green bell peppers reduced to geometric shapes:

It turns out that every single tomato in that bunch was a God-cursed witch. See below:

The onion succumbs to the inevitable:

Below: tomato-witches, purified. Their souls will now enter heaven.

A glimpse of the spices and other doodads that help make spaghetti sauce possible. You see, among other things, oregano, parsley, basil, olive oil, garlic powder, and white wine. Behold:

This nasty pink sausage is kimchi sausage, a Korean product. Korean sausage is singularly unimpressive, a far cry from European fare-- or even from all-American Bob Evans' breakfast sausage. I wanted to simulate the crumbled look, so I removed the sausage skins, sliced the sausages into pieces, and then crushed them with a metal bowl, as you see:

The sauce starts to come together. Note the huge bay leaf. Don't crumble the bay leaf. Leave it in there, then take it out when the sauce is done cooking.

Let there be shrooms! I added only half the shrooms here; I wanted to stir-fry a bunch of them with onions and sausage.

Crushed sosiji-- the twisted result of my efforts. Luckily for me, I'd also bought some Korean salami, which was surprisingly good. The kimchi sausage did little more than add bulk and meaty texture to the sauce; the salami, on the other hand, did all the work of giving the sauce a meaty flavor.

Here, we see the salami being chopped into little pieces. Large pieces are a no-no: you want to increase the surface area-to-volume ratio to allow more of the sausage flavor to come out while the sauce is cooking. Et voilà:

I stir in the meat...

Here, we see our candidates for pan frying: meat, shrooms, and onions:

A close-up look at the sauce:

The sauce is yanked off the burner, and now we're frying the sausage, mushrooms, and onions.

The sauce comes together. It was pretty damn good when I tasted it, and it tasted even better after it sat and settled for a few hours.

The problem with fresh veggies and tomatoes is the wateriness. I didn't have time to "reduce" the sauce by simply allowing water to boil off, so I relied on the old "scoop dat shit out" method.

To make pasta, you need the following:

1. A cup of regular white flour, plus some extra flour on the side.
2. One egg.
3. A half-teaspoon of salt.
4. Water as needed.

Mix salt and cup of flour. Scramble the egg. Add it to the dry ingredients. Dust your hands and your work surface with extra flour. Knead dough for five minutes. Add water if dough is too stiff and/or crumbly. You'll get something like the following, which I've divided up into three balls:

Grab one of your balls, roll it flat, then cut it into thin, noodle-ish strips, like so:

Once you've cut everything into noodles, you're fuckin' done. You can make your pasta now, or let it dry, comme suit:

Once you've got your sauce and pasta ready, slap it all into a large bowl or on a large plate, then grate some cheese on top. What hath God wraught?


Saturday, February 12, 2005


The ingredients:

The guest stars:

Chop those shrooms:

Chop dem onions:

Choppa da carrotu!

Peel potatoes:

Chop those taters down to size!

Make the celery submit to your will!

Start boiling the hard veggies:

Attempt to make cream corn without blender. Fail miserably:

Chop up the meat:

Put aside the boiling "hard" veggies and cook that meat up!

Stir fry judiciously; be wary of burns!

Add in the boiled ingredients:

Add hunks of cheese and butter (what you see is mostly Havarti cheese):

Add milk:

Remove some chowder if the pot is too full:

Put the removed chowder aside. It'll be added back soon enough.

If the chowder's broth is too thin, add flour.

Don't forget to make the Yummy Anticipation Face:

Now it's time: pour that extra chowder back in!

And here's that final product: