Monday, October 31, 2005

personal notes

1. One of the most touching brotherly tributes I've seen can be found here.

2. Today, with my Level 4 (high-intermediate) conversation students, we talked about capital punishment. By the end of class, the students were wowed that we'd tackled such a deep topic and I asked them if they wanted to continue in that vein. "Go deeper!" they yelled lustily. (OK, they didn't yell, but they did in fact insist, "Deeper!") So I asked whether they'd like to take a crack at my field of study, interreligious dialogue. "Yes!" they said immediately. Looks like Wednesday's class is already planned, then: I can teach the basics of this subject in my sleep. The only trouble is figuring out how to condense the essentials into a single hour. I'll have that problem solved in me noggin by tomorrow afternoon.

3. Did you know that Al Pacino's "The Merchant of Venice" (in Korea, currently going by the title Bae-nis-ae Sang-in) was released in 2004? Both IMdB and list it as such. I saw the movie trailers for it only a couple months ago on the site, and now it's out in Korea. Western reviewers seem to have given it a general thumbs up; I hope to see it tomorrow.



100 Below: Volume 12 (Halloween edition)

The demon arrived in a puff of hell-smoke, opened its mouth to screech...

...and had all 666 of its razor-sharp teeth kicked into its throat by Esmerelda Firepower's exquisitely perfect leg. The demon tumbled backward, stunned.

Firepower struck a casual fighting stance, breasts levitating defiantly.

"I could split you in half with one squeeze of my pussy," she growled. The demon, still dazed, merely moaned.

Suddenly Satan himself appeared, an awesome, crimson mass of talons, tentacles, fangs, and crazed eyes-- a shapeless, infinitely deadly beast.

"FIREPOWER!" Satan’s mouths roared.

Esmerelda smirked.

At last, the main event.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

more on middle knowledge

The Wikipedia entry on middle knowledge (you get redirected to the entry on Molinism) has this to say:

This account allows God to arrange for a person to carry out a specific act, without overriding [human] free will; instead, God can arrange the circumstances surrounding the choice so that the act is both freely chosen and providential.

An important feature in this account is that, although God knows how free agents will act in any situation, God does not determine or cause (at least exclusively) the actions and choices of the free agent; if he did, there would be no freedom.

It sounds as if, from God's point of view, people are rats in a maze whose walls God can shift, leaving the rats free to navigate the maze.

Part of the problem, though, is the phrase "circumstances surrounding the choice." Does this imply that God arranges only external circumstances (by which I mean, circumstances physically outside the bounds of my body), or does God tinker with internal circumstances as well? This is the difference between (1) rearranging the maze's walls and (2) rearranging both the maze's walls and elements inside the mouse's body.

A strange set of dark splotches is visible on my chest X-ray. The doctor tells me we might need more tests. These splotches don't seem to have affected me up to now, perhaps because I haven't been aware of them. Now, however, I ponder whether I'm staring at evidence of lung cancer. Perhaps the time has come to quit smoking*. A behavioral change: internal circumstances will have affected my choices.

Just how invasive is God's "arranging" of things?

By the same token, how expansive is human freedom? This has always been a problem with arguments about free will: they rarely seem to consider the nature of the interaction between the purportedly free agent and the agent's surroundings. Do I reside inside some invisible "sphere" of freedom? Does my skin define the boundary of my freedom?

Obviously, the above is ridiculous: first, my skin is porous and is constantly replacing itself; it's not a definite boundary. At the microscopic level, it becomes very difficult to see where "I" end and "my external circumstances" begin. Second, my surroundings are often no less an extension of will than my material body. I get into a car; the car itself articulates my will as I move toward my destination or follow my whim. My tea mug comes to contain tea because I set in motion a series of "circumstances" that culminate in the tea-poured-into-mug event. I throw a rock. Fire a gun. Launch a nuke. Shout an obscenity. Type a blog post.

What, then, are the boundaries of human freedom? A single person can profoundly alter the course of history: Jesus, Hitler, Rosa Parks. A mass of people can get together and make almost no ripple in history. The boundaries of human freedom seem impossible to define; the effects of human action seem impossible to calculate.

And of course we always come back to the problem of God's foreknowledge. If God's knowledge consisted only of middle knowledge, perhaps there'd be no problem. After all, chess-playing computers are able to calculate possibilities, and they track different "possibility-trees" as the game plays itself out. This is a kind of middle knowledge**, too, but it's not omniscience in the classical theistic sense.

And that's the rub. Divine omniscience, classically formulated, means that God knows where every single speck of matter is going to be at time t long before it ever reaches that location in spacetime. That includes the molecules that make up your body.

Dr. Hodges wrote me an excellent explanation of middle knowledge once. In part, his explanation says:

Note three logical "moments" in God's knowledge: natural, middle, and free.

In God's natural knowledge, he knows all necessary truths, and all possibilities -- what could be true if God were to create worlds, including what free creatures could do. This knowledge is essential, or "natural" to God as God.

In God's free knowledge, he knows the true propositions about an actual world, including his omniscience of what will happen, e.g., what free creatures will do. It is "free" knowledge because it depends upon God's free act of creation. This knowledge is not essential to God's nature.

Between these two logical moments of God's knowing lies his middle knowledge, the knowledge that God has about particular worlds that he has not yet created but may freely create. This knowledge includes knowledge of what every free creature would do (not just could do). Like God's natural knowledge, this knowledge is logically prior to his free act to create, but like God's free knowledge, the content of this knowledge is dependent upon the actions of free creatures. Thus, "middle" -- between the other two types -- of knowledge.

There's a real question, though, whether divine omniscience, classically conceived, allows room for possibilities. Not being a compatibilist, I believe the answer is no: if God knows what's going to happen down to the minutest detail, there are no possibilities from God's point of view. Unconstrained by time, God perceives the universe from the aerie of his eternal Now, like a person who takes a roll of film off the movie projector, unrolls the entire thing, and can see at a glance how all the moments of the movie play out. What seems possible to us is actual to God. There are no other possible universes: if God knows you're going to sneeze in five minutes, you're going to sneeze in five minutes. God can't know what's not there to be known. Your sneeze is known to God because it's going to happen. The story of your sneeze was written before the world was born.

We could try to circumvent the problem by delving into the nature of God's independence from spatiotemporality, but such a discussion is meaningless for people who don't grant that God exists.

In my opinion, middle knowledge, knowledge formulated as conditionals ("I know that if he does X, then Y will happen"), is in no way compatible with classical divine foreknowledge. Unlike the chess-playing computer, which in truth can't predict what moves its opponent will make, God's omniscience rules out the murkiness and spatiotemporal plasticity of human freedom.

Yoda famously said, "Always in motion is the future," which shows his own middle knowledge percipience. But for the God of classical theism, the future is already set in stone. There is no motion; there is only the film, running its unalterable course frame by frame through the projector of God's mind.

*Ladies, rest assured. I don't smoke. I eat. And eat. And eat.

**I use the word "knowledge" loosely here. We haven't established whether a computer has a mind, or even whether the definition of "knowledge" necessarily implies a conscious knower.


Ave, Tam Gu Ja!

This had me rolling. Revenge is a dish best served religiously.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

divine foreknowledge

Dr. Hodges poses an interesting question about modal logic and divine foreknowledge.

Me, I'm not a theist, but it seems to me that if God exists and knows every aspect of the future down to the minutest detail, including details about our "free" choices, then I think that foreknowledge indicates lack of freedom.

Note that I say "indicates," not "causes."

An argument with a friend a couple years ago focused on whether foreknowledge is causal. Rem Edwards, in his Reason and Religion, takes the position that divine foreknowledge is, effectively, causal. Arguing that "human foreknowledge isn't causal" is not relevant. But one need not even talk about causality when talking about freedom and foreknowledge. It's enough to say that, if you (or God) definitely know that event X is going to happen, this knowledge is possible only because that event is inevitable.

The example my friend offered-- in demonstrating how foreknowledge is not causal-- was this:

Imagine you start watching a diver the moment after he's jumped. You know for a fact that he's going to get wet, right? At no point did your knowledge cause the wetness.

My reply is:

(1) True, but you know he's going to get wet because, at that point, his getting wet is inevitable. Note, too, that your example doesn't give us any idea how freedom enters the picture.

One could also question whether one really knows what one thinks one knows. Do we truly know for a fact that the diver, once he's left the diving board, will get wet? Here, I offer my Monty Python response, based on a scene in "The Life of Brian":

(2) Brian tumbles out of a tower. By most people's reckoning, Brian is doomed to become street pizza. This doesn't happen. In mid-plummet, Brian is scooped up by a spaceship, swept temporarily into space where he endures a quick space battle, then plopped back on earth when the spaceship crashes. By the same token, there is a chance, however small, that something might happen to the diver en route to the water. Are we absolutely sure the diver, having left the diving board, will get wet?

I was worried, for a while, that responses (1) and (2) were incompatible, but I now see them as perfectly compatible. Both responses say the same thing: 100% sure foreknowledge is possible only when the known event-to-come is inevitable. In response (1), I'm granting that inevitability and noting that there's no freedom. In response (2), I'm granting the freedom but noting its incompatibility with the claim to knowledge. Saying that X is "very likely true" is not the same as knowing X to be true.

I wrote a long while back on middle knowledge, a theological concept that attempts to circumvent the problem of the lack of human freedom in the face of divine foreknowledge. In my view, middle knowledge merely postpones the issue by redefining knowledge-of-events as some sort of if-clause:

If Johnny leaps off the diving board, then he'll get wet.

The "if" indicates, quite simply, lack of foreknowledge. Middle knowledge is non-omniscience, and not compatible with the more widely known, traditional* notion of divine foreknowledge. I don't think there's any getting around that.

A meaty article on middle knowledge is here.

A Wikipedia entry is here.

Knock yerself out.

*The notion of middle knowledge, scientia media, dates back centuries, but isn't part of the traditional, widespread, Christian conception of divine foreknowledge. A quick survey of various sermons and congregants' opinions on the matter will be enough to demonstrate this.


The Aquariums of Pyongyang

I picked up Kang Chol-hwan's The Aquariums of Pyongyang about two weeks ago and have been making my way through it. It's a much more compelling read than Michael Breen's The Koreans, but that can't be helped: Breen isn't a concentration camp survivor, and The Koreans is more of a survey than a personal narrative, though it occasionally dips into the autobiographical.

If any comparison is to be made, it's between Kang's Aquariums and Elie Wiesel's Night, a book I tend to reread every few years, and only with hesitation because it moves me to tears every time.

I'm only about a third of the way through Aquariums; I'll write more on it later, but want to make one comparative note here: in Night, Wiesel gives us very little preamble, focusing on his life in the concentration camp. Kang, by contrast, begins Korean-style, with a lengthy family history that explains why and how his grandparents (especially his grandmother) made the decision to leave their cushy life in Japan and return to the fatherland, family in tow, to support Kim Il-sung.

Reading books like Aquariums and Night is a bit like riding on a train that you know will be crashing soon. Because these are books, you can come back to those stories again and again. I'd like to think that I do this because such narratives teach a grim lesson about human nature. But there's also something dark about revisiting stories of tragedy and horror, something akin to the morbid curiosity that makes us rubberneck when we drive past a traffic accident.

More on this book, and Breen's book, later.


Friday, October 28, 2005

argh-- lame party

Our department's Halloween party... occurred. If the decorations looked good, that was almost entirely thanks to the hard work of the Korean staff from our main office, who made the magic happen.

We Westerners saw the party-- weeks ago, in conversation and during our recent meeting-- as a waste of time. The Korean staffers were naively expecting 60-70 avid, excited college students. We ended up with about 25 people (students plus everyone else), and that was because some staffers invited friends and relatives. A party that was ostensibly for the students was, for the most part, filled with teachers.

Western foot-dragging wasn't without justification. This week has been a terrible one for student attendance, because most of the undergrads (and quite a few grad students) were busy with midterms. During such times, English class is almost always the first class to be skipped. Given that our program doesn't offer the students credit, the students feel free not to take the program seriously.

It was embarrassingly lame at first: the party was to start at 5PM, and there was even a two-woman camera crew waiting to film the festivities. By 5:30, we had barely a handful of people, and most of them were popping in and out of the room (we were using 309, a large classroom that can seat about 70 or 80 students). I was the sort-of emcee, but the late start meant that opening remarks by our boss* had to be brief, and then we had to plunge right into a hectic series of games that had been planned. In my opinion, there was no need for games: the partiers were primarily college age and above. This was kid's stuff.

The evening was almost alcohol-free. That didn't make any difference for me, but a couple of my colleagues were hurting. A stiff drink might have made the proceedings a bit more palatable to them.

I did referee a game or four-- a pass-the-pumpkin relay, a pumpkin carving contest, a "marshmallow monster" craft event, and that "untie the people-knot" game I've used in a couple English classes. I'd made up a quick and goofy PowerPoint presentation to talk about the origins of Halloween, but that never got used (good: the presentation sucked).

I was also supposed to referee some other games after dinner had been served (here as well, I didn't see why we had to interrupt dinner with more games), but no one was paying attention since I was speaking in English. I guess it's only natural to treat a foreign language as background noise, to tune it out, or to assume that what's being said doesn't apply to you. Perhaps realizing that I didn't have anyone's attention, two of the Korean staffers loudly introduced the final set of games in Korean, and people perked up once they heard instructions in their own language.

In the background, on the classroom's video projection screen, we had the recent remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" playing. Two days ago, one of the Korean staffers asked me whether it'd be OK to play "The Exorcist" during the party. While I'm a big fan of Blatty's film, I told her it might not be a good idea, especially with some fundie Christians in attendance. My own suggestion was an even gorier movie: John Carpenter's "The Thing," also a remake. Aliens, not Satan, you see.

I have to chuckle: because I was the emcee, I'd been told what the program was. The party had been planned out practically minute by minute: 5 minutes for the speech, 10 minutes for the first activity, 15 minutes for the next activity, etc. Of course, all your best-laid plans go to shit when your guests don't arrive on time, and that's what happened tonight.

The party ended up going late: we passed the 6:30 mark and blundered toward 8PM. The major unplanned event, tacked on at the very end, was a dance. At that point, my head was a fucking mess again, and I left to take more of my leftover painkiller (ibuprofen from my dentist). I hung around in the faculty room, just across the hall, so I could help with cleanup when it was all over. Two of our colleagues left in disgust about two-thirds of the way through the festivities. A third stuck it out as bravely as he could (he even wore a costume, something I didn't do).

I should explain here that, as an introvert, I'm can't fucking stand most parties. The worst thing for me is the obligatory dishonesty: slap a happy expression on my face and pretend to enjoy myself. Had I not been the emcee (that word should really be in scare quotes), I'd have made my escape fairly early on.

I also can't relate to the Korean attitude, so similar to the overly cheerful American camp counselor's, that "We're going to have some fun, dammit!" While I respect the effort made by the office staff and feel like a fat, lazy shit for not having pulled my share of the load, I'll say in my defense that I-- and my colleagues-- used simple common sense to determine long in advance that this party wasn't going to fly. Pouring our energies into costumes and other decorations would have been what Koreans call heo(t)-su-go, or "hard work done in vain."

I'm not saying this was all a Korean vs. Western thing, by the way. It was partly that, yes: I could have done without the perky camp counselor approach to party planning. But some of the people who voiced dissent a few weeks ago were also Korean; this wasn't a purely cultural issue. It was a common sense issue, and common sense isn't the sole possession of any culture. Think about it: if students are buried under a pile of midterms, and if normal classes have been cancelled for exams (as they were today-- all classes except those in our department), it's a bit silly to expect droves of students to show up for a party that has barely been advertised.

How would I have done things differently? I'd have made a command decision: cancel the Halloween party this year. Halloween might be celebrated in places other than America, but it's primarily an American thing these days. My colleagues, none of whom hail from the States, weren't exactly into the event. Besides, Halloween's not even a holiday. What's the big deal?

An American Thanksgiving party, on the other hand, might have been nice. You know: a potluck dinner. Turkey is available in Seoul, and it's not impossible to find things like cranberry sauce and stuffing. Koreans already consume tons of potatoes, and Korean milk is tops in my book, so mashed potatoes aren't hard to make. American Turkey Day doesn't coincide with any major academic or national events, and it's a good, decent, sit-down experience-- a chance for the students to participate in something Americans are champions at: talking and stuffing their large, flabby selves.

Ugh. Well, at least it's over. I spent thirteen hours at school.

Head still pounding. I'm off to bed early, then up tomorrow to take care of the test rating I still haven't done.

*Ever heard of a casual party for college kids where the boss kicks things off with formal opening remarks?


Thursday, October 27, 2005


One of my favorite Korean snacks is jui-p'o, a dried fish that's been flattened out into ovals. You generally have to heat the fish up over a flame or an electric burner; it shrinks, burns a bit, and becomes crunchy. The fish is usually coated with a very thin layer of some sort of sugar (not as gross as it sounds), which makes it somewhat sweet.

Up until about a week ago, I'd never seen jui-p'o in any form other than those vaguely fish-shaped ovals so reminiscent of roadkill. All that changed this past Sunday, however, when my parents came back to Seoul after a few days spent on Cheju Island. Sunday night was my final night with the parents, so there was the obligatory exchange of parting gifts. My gifts to the parents weren't all that splendid, but Mom gave me a huge load of jui-p'o in a form I'd never seen before: poster-sized sheets.

Holy soiled underwear, Batman!


the long procession of concierges

I don't know whether this was the case before I arrived, but my dorm, Smoo International House II, has recently seen the rapid turnover of its concierges. For several months, there were two guys there-- one who was very friendly, another who was something of a grinning asshole-- but they both left. Since their departure, we've seen several pairs of concierges come and go at a rate slightly faster than one switchover per month. The whole thing is a bit odd.

I sometimes wonder whether the concierges are leaving because I live right over them and can be heard shitting. My room, 201, is directly atop the concierge's bathroom, which places my defecating self diagonally above where the concierge sits, watching TV.

When the building is silent, you can easily hear the pissing and shitting going on above you. Given how lustily my ass vocalizes when it's trying to impregnate the toilet with its steaming brown seed, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the adjoshis beneath me have been spending their evenings cowering in a fetal position, flinching like abused children in anticipation of the next outburst of sonic and olfactory cruelty.

Tonight, a new concierge adjoshi admonished me to leave my dirty dishes outside my own door instead of leaving them outside the main door. (In Korea, Chinese delivery often comes in reusable containers-- plates, bowls, etc.-- so you leave them outside for the delivery folks to pick up later in the evening.) I've been leaving my dishes outside the main door for months, initially at the request of one of the delivery people, who didn't want to be troubled with asking the concierge to let him inside. From now on, though, I'm to leave the dishes outside my own door, Door 201, the door of Rectal Rhapsody. This sudden, senseless change bugs me.

But very well. If the new pecker-- uh, adjoshi-- wills it, then So Be It: the delivery folks will have to tromp all the way up to my door to collect their reusables.

Which will bring them within earshot of my good friend, Harry Enos.

Perhaps I'll be scaring away more than just the current complement of concierges with my Chocolate Thunder from Down Under. Meanwhile, since this new adjoshi has decided to be a prick, I won't be holding anything back-- intestinally speaking-- on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Maybe I should start singing opera, too. I know the concierge can hear me downstairs, because I can hear him when he's on the phone: his voice travels upward through the drainpipes. Ah, the advantages of two-way communication.


grammar question

A minor disagreement, started by one of the Korean teachers, broke out in the staff room. The teacher's question:

Does the phrase "as well as" always take a gerund after it in sentences like:

Last night, I cooked as well as cleaning.


She posed the question to my British coworkers before I walked in.

Let me ask-- does the above sentence look awkward to you, or perfectly normal? To be honest, it looks mighty odd to me, but one of our number insisted on its correctness.

My own feeling was that the above sentence violates parallel structure. To me, this is a better construction:

Last night, I cooked as well as cleaned.

[NB: Actually, the best formulation would be the simplest: Last night, I cooked and cleaned.]

Honestly curious, I decided to look the phrase up in the online Webster's. Interesting discovery: the phrase "as well as" can be considered either (1) a (correlative) conjunction, or (2) a preposition. Webster's implies that interpretation (1) can be rewritten as "and," while (2) can be rewritten as "in addition to."

So consider:

(1a) Last night, I cooked AND cleaning.

(2a) Last night, I cooked IN ADDITION TO cleaning.

In (1a) above, you see the obvious violation of parallel structure, in which case I'm right, and "cleaning" needs to be rewritten as "cleaned." But if (2a) is a fair rendering of "as well as" in its prepositional sense, then I'm wrong, and the gerund "cleaning" is appropriate.

Ultimately, I think I'm right about this, but I'm open to good, strong arguments. Your thoughts?

Wait, I'll anticipate you: someone will doubtless comment that avoiding the "as well as" construction altogether is best. I'd agree. Not much is gained by using that phrase, when a simple "and" does the trick. When you comment, please focus on my question: if you had to choose between "...cooked as well as cleaned" or "...cooked as well as cleaning," which would you pick, and why? Cite sources, please. Here are mine:

re: "as well as" being either conjunction or preposition

re: correlative conjunctions and parallel structure

Other sources found through Google said much the same thing, but as of yet I haven't found Web articles on correlative conjunctions that show what happens when you surround them with verbs and/or verbals. Most online examples deal with nouns and adjectives:

Either Brad or his brother will be there.
This one is as good as mine.

Looking forward to your comments.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

100 Below: Volume 11

"But let’s say I help you kill the turkey," Torque said, muscular arms crossed under her voluptuous breasts. "What's in it for me?"

"The turkey cannot be defeated," Beemfer groaned. The terrifying slashes across his chest and face had been poorly repaired.

"What's in it for you?" Gorn suddenly rumbled from the cell's dark corner. "Like the rest of us. Freedom. That should be enough."

Outside the holding cell, the crowds continued to cheer. Somewhere in the arena, the turkey was being watered and rearmed, ready to take on the next opponent.

"All right," Torque said. "I challenge the bird."


pain and regret

My biggest regret, as far as this blog goes, is that I didn't name it

Still-uneaten Feces.

Maybe that's why I've been suffering a headache for the past few days. The remorse is killing me.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Smoo summer drama students

Another blast from the past, courtesy of my colleague A, who shot the pic:

I love how Jo-i, the girl in the left corner, is unknowingly offering the world a double helping of the British salute.


(très) bref parcours

Joel says goodbye to a good friend. Condolences.

The unthinkable happens: Mike and Skippy meet.

Wooj says it's all about da Benjamins, baby.

Still got a headache.


Monday, October 24, 2005

white noise

Currently laboring under a crushing headache, perhaps brought on by the cold weather. Too much static in the brain to say anything substantive. I did, however, finish Michael Breen's The Koreans and want to comment on it, and I have some unfinished Buddhism-related business stemming from a long-ago comment made by an astute reader of Dr. Vallicella's fine blog.

Tonight I taught my first lesson of "Staff English," a 6-week course we're offering to Smoo staffers who already speak English with some proficiency. By my reckoning, it was something of a disaster: a bunch of female students well beyond their college years and creeping toward that dreaded adjumma-style cattiness. Some students complained about my having put chairs in a circle instead of using the available desks. I explained that we'd be doing a lot of activities involving movement; the explanation didn't seem to pacify them. Apparently, some of the skirt-wearing students didn't like having their legs exposed. They preferred to hide behind a desk (many of our desks have shielded fronts, leaving only the ankles and feet visible to someone across from you).

While we had plenty of laughs, there also seemed to be more than the usual number of "down" moments in that class. Perhaps it was the late hour (4PM-6PM); perhaps it was the fact that the class was two hours long and the students were hungry; perhaps it was simply my teaching style. We'll see. One of the students is also my immediate supervisor; I'm sure she'll have feedback for me tomorrow. She likes me, and Koreans who like you tend to be brutally frank-- hence the interminable "lose weight!" litanies I get.

More later, when the fog clears. Probably not tonight at this rate. One thing's for sure: I'm not cooking myself dinner tonight.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

bye, Mom & Dad!

I wish you both a safe trip back. It was great to see you again after two long years. I'll be seeing you yet again in December! Stay healthy & dress warmly. Enjoy the Virginia fall!

Mom, good luck at work. Dad, good luck with medical training.

Tell the cat I say hey.

Thanks for everything, especially all the fattening food on base. That was just evil. I love you guys.


which is superior?

It was a debate that preoccupied us Georgetown freshmen in the grungy, second-floor lounge of St. Mary's dorm one night. Someone brought up the question of whether Eastern or Western civilization was "superior." One of my friends, Paul, a fantastically smart dude from Nebraska (and yeah, he had to live that down because Georgetown students hail primarily from New Joisey and New Yawk), took up the flag for the West, while another friend of mine, an equally IQ'ed Filipino named Andrew, made a case for the superiority of Eastern civilization.

I was just out of high school, fresh from Dungeons and Dragons geekdom, and still thinking about life in D&D terms. I remember listening in awe as these two titans, Paul and Andrew, went at it with more than the usual gusto, argument and counterargument, like wizards firing spells at each other from separate mountaintops.

But what they actually said now escapes me, and it's one of my greatest regrets that I didn't know as much then as I know now about both Eastern and Western civilization.

Which is superior? Despite the knowledge and wisdom I've gained, I can't say I have an answer. What's an objective measure of superiority?

Population? In that case, the East wins, but in a global comparison it's really the entire Third World that wins.

Quality of life? Notice that many elements in the East actively reject the Western lifestyle. How, then, to measure quality of life? In terms of general happiness? Can one measure happiness accurately? (I remember an Intro to Philo class in which the prof jokingly introduced us to a unit of measure called a "hedon.")

Technological superiority? The West arguably wins that one, but East and West make different sorts of innovations these days.

Global dominance? Here, too, we've got another hard-to-define term. Dominating how? In terms of cultural influence, China and Japan have marketed their cultures (which, if we're to be fair, are actually huge amalgams of multfarious subcultures) quite effectively in the West, to the point that folks on America's coasts think nothing of eating "Peking Duck Pizza" at the local California Pizza Kitchen, renting a martial arts video game, strolling over to the art shop to buy a calligraphic scroll or two, getting a Chinese character tattoo, flopping down to read a bit of the I Ching* or the Tao Te Ching, then calling up Su Hyeon to go see a Hong Kong-influenced flick like "The Matrix" or a samurai-influenced flick like "Star Wars." The above is happening even as Asians strap on their neckties and business suits and head off to work using transportation technology invented in the West. Is "dominance" even the correct term to describe this gleeful cross-pollination of memes?

Financial stability? Given the way America currently mocks Western Europe's economic woes and blames its quasi- (or fully) socialist economy for those problems, the West isn't even on the same page about how financially stable it is. And the East... we keep seeing bubbles in the various Eastern economies, proudly inflating and disastrously bursting, but there's definite progress, too. The current Chinese rise is likely a bubble, but this doesn't mean the Chinese population will willingly allow itself ever again to tolerate standards of living that made sense twenty years ago. China's hitched itself to the Progress bandwagon, to be sure, as have Korea and Japan.

Military power? Interesting question. We're not really sure who might win a nuclear conflict. In terms of sheer manpower, the East comes out on top, but they'd have a hell of a time moving those armies, say, across Russia to attack Western Europe, or moving them across the Pacific to attack the US. In terms of force projection, the West, especially as exemplified by the US, wins.

Values? Good Lord, another sticky question! As someone brought up in the West, I naturally find certain Asian values backward and inferior, but Asians view the West in much the same way.

Westerners deplore Asian cronyism, hierarchicalism, and Confucianistic rigidity. Westerners also deplore what they see as a general lack of principled behavior in the East. But is the West corruption-free and totally principled? Do we not have our own bizarre "rigidities"?

Easterners often complain about the West's "the law is the law" stance, one that seems, at times, to be almost inhuman in its absolutism. And don't traditional Asians have a point about the West's overall view of family? Westerners fire back that Asians are heading down the same path: Asian movies reflect changing values (more nude lesbians! woohoo!), Eastern countries' divorce rates are increasing, etc.

Cultures aren't immiscible. Quite the contrary! I think it was the Yangban's blog on which it was noted, long ago, that Easterners and Westerners often seem to be trying to turn into each other. A similar, half-joking conclusion was reached by Dr. Richard Nisbett in his book The Geography of Thought, which makes East/West psychocultural comparisons.

I could go on, but you get the picture-- assessing "superiority" isn't as easy as it sounds. Maybe we should use some sort of eschatological criterion: which civilization will be left standing in the end? But even this criterion seems rather vague: if the civilizations are cross-pollinating so furiously in our mediatized global village, will the remaining civilization consider itself Eastern, Western... or something else, something different, that makes no reference to compass points?

*Everybody who pronounces I Ching as "eye-tching" should be shot. You're closer if you say "eejing." And note: the "j," in Chinese romanization, doesn't denote a French "j." Beijing is not "Bay-zhing"; it's "Bay-djing."


scarily accurate sums up Rory's life with this song.


at last-- revealed!

Ha ha, you thought Morris Day was singing about poontang, but NO! He was merely affirming the superiority of Korean food!


Someone in Seoul is gonna track me down and shoot me for that lame-ass pun. But that person will have to admit they listened to Morris Day back in the 80s (or at least admit that they watched "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back").


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Namsan hike!

It's almost 10 o'clock and I'm leaving the office for a cool hike up my favorite local hill. Parents're back from Chejudo tomorrow, then they're off to the States on Monday morning, and I get back into the Smoo groove.

My off-white ass be outta here. Peef, yo.



It's 8PM and I'm at the Smoo office, Room 302. Not five minutes ago, I heard what sounded like the boom of a cannon outside my window. Not thunder-- it had the quality of an explosion of some sort. Anyone else in the downtown area hear this? It sure as hell wasn't a truck backfiring. Was I just hearing things?

8:02PM UPDATE-- HA! Fireworks at Hyochang Park Stadium, not far from where I'm working. Festivities. Move along... nothing to see here. With that first boom, I'd thought Seoul had experienced a gas explosion like the one in Taegu (Daegu?) in the 90s.


my lunch

Thanks to a load of errands, chores, and office work, I missed Sperwer's magnificent barbeque today, so I trundled home from the office around 2:30-ish to make a perverted sort of bibimbap from available ingredients. I used a multigrain rice mix, fried the rice up with sesame oil, then added the following leftovers: julienned cucumbers (raw), julienned carrots (quickly stir-fried in sesame oil), fresh alfalfa (is this the first-ever bibimbap to feature alfalfa?), fresh radish sprouts, leftover kimchi, two fried eggs (bring on the eggs, baby!), and a thorough gooshing of the wrong kind of gochu-jang (red pepper paste): I had a packet of jeon-gol-yang-nyeom (paste for a type of spicy stew), which had been given to me by my colleague Z. Self-respecting Koreans would agree the following is an abomination:

...but I ate it anyway, and pondered what I was missing over at Sperwer's place.

And now-- back to the office on what has been-- weather-wise-- a perfect, Kevin-style day. Sucks to have spent so much of it indoors, dammit.

UPDATE: Sperwer emails in to mock me: did miss the mother of all barbeques, including (in no particular order - which is pretty much how my one man operation managed it):

homemade burgers, parmesan mashed potatoes, grilled dilled salmon, grilled "goet deungshim" with l'ancienne moutarde, freshly baked baguettes and pain de campagne w/ bona fide chèvre, and the pièce de résistance, grilled leg of lamb that had previously been deeply drenched in a garlic, sesame and olive oil marinade.

I won't bore you with the wines, since I know you don't drink, but I also managed to snag a dozen bottles of Martinelli's apple cider, which the assorted Koreans, Mongols, Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos couldn't get enough of.

I thought I had overdone it, in terms of quantity, but much to my amazement, they ate it all, except for some - OK, a lot -- of the mashed potatoes - but now I'm set for my carb fix for a week.

We skipped the expected ice cream cake that was brought along by the crowd from the local house of umpteen flavors.



our first look at the nemesis


Friday, October 21, 2005

a return to the old spiritual/intellectual stomping grounds

I found this fascinating paper on religious pluralism here. I haven't read it through thoroughly yet, but it bears discussing. At first glance, the paper appears to be a refinement of the classic threefold typology of religious attitudes: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. More on this later, perhaps.

Meanwhile, the curious among you are encouraged to rifle through my sidebar's "Sacred and Profane" section for other posts I've written on the subject of religious pluralism. Some of those posts make me cringe now and are being revised for my book's manuscript, but many of them have withstood the testicles of time.


Trafalgar Day: 200th anniversary

I posted about Trafalgar Day here.

A toast to the Maximum Leader and his cronies as they celebrate this fine, fine moment in British history.


wet Friday

The title isn't a reference to any ladies I know. It's simply been raining out here.

Charles of Liminality left a great comment below that includes two worthwhile links about the Four Heavenly Kings-- one to his site, and one to the Bulguk-sa site.

Charles wonders whether the fierce image on the door handle (third picture down in this post) might be a tokkaebi (Korean goblin with magical powers) instead of a hae-t'ae, which was my original guess. His speculation is plausible, because the door handle image has horns, whereas your typical hae-t'ae is something of a cross between a hornless lion and an equally hornless dog (in fact, isn't the hae-t'ae the Korean version of the Chinese fu dog?).

Another possibility occurred to me yesterday, though: perhaps we're looking at an asura, a Buddhist demon or fighting spirit. If you move down my post to the first Heavenly King and look at the face in his cummerbund region, you'll see that it sure looks a lot like the image on the door handle.

At this point I have to admit my boundless ignorance when it comes matters of Buddhist imagery, symbolism, ritual, liturgy, and folk cosmology. My own admittedly superficial Buddhist studies have been limited to philosophical matters like metaphysics and ethics. This became obvious last night as my father peppered me with questions about what we were seeing as we walked across the grounds of the still-under-renovation Chogye-sa, the official seat of most of Korean Buddhism. Dad wanted to know why people were circumambulating pagodas and bowing toward them. Earlier, he wanted to know why some temple shrines and dharma halls feature dark-raspberry-colored lotus lanterns hanging on their ceilings along with white lotus lanterns. I had no answers, but I'm glad he asked the questions: now it's time to do some research.*

But I won't be providing Dad any answers today: he and Mom went off to Chejudo this morning, escaping the rain for nicer weather down south. They'll be meeting their friends and enjoying some gourmet meals, perhaps doing a bit of walking and shopping as well. I'll see them again on Sunday, which will be their final full day in Korea, then they're off to the States Monday morning (with, I hope, no hitches in the standby space available process).

So today, Momless and Dadless, I go about the business of planning my lessons for next week, doing a bit more shopping, and getting ready to face the final six weeks of our semester before the month-long December break.

*The research begins! Info on Korean images (great, concise, but superficial source) can be found here.

A Google Answers reference to haetae is here, but the links on that page are mostly bad.

A French-language link to haetae is here. The site is a little bit goofy, taking a whimsical approach to the question of whether the haetae is dog, lion, or dog-lion. The French site appears to be the translation of an English site (or maybe it's vice versa).


Kyungju pics: 31-37 of 37

And here at last are the final seven pics of my "roll of film."

This first pic (from Kirim-sa) is of... a wall. Lame, I realize, but look at the wall. Note that it's composed almost entirely of roofing tiles. It's a good wall. It contains a lesson. But I don't know what the lesson is. You figure it out:

Mom. Temple bell tower. Coffee. The very things Superman has been fighting for, as seen below:

In this next shot, we've left Kirim-sa and have moved over to Geolgul-sa, the temple housing the Seon-mudo academy. This is one of the statues guarding the school's entrance. It strikes a martial posture:

This struck me as sort of funny: the dragon appears to have been speared twice, but it's still laughing. If this photo and the previous one look well-lit, you can thank my camera's flash. It was actually getting dark out. The dragon (with the Sino-Korean character mu-- martial combat, war, etc.-- above it):

Inside the training hall now. The hall itself was pretty austere. It had an altar at the front, and the walls were sparsely decorated with calligraphy and a couple posters of deadly monks performing flying kicks and looking generally mean. The hall itself wasn't that interesting, and I had only a couple shots left in my camera, so I focused on the scary proverbs. In the following pic, we see mu shim, seon shim-- "Martial Mind, Zen Mind":

Another proverb: seon mu bul i, or "Zen and Combat are Not-two":

To be honest, I wasn't all that impressed with the calligrapher's skill. Both works look a bit sloppy-- not quite what I'd expect in a training hall.

Note, too: I'm reading the characters from right to left. Chinese can be written left to right, up to down, or right to left. The latter reading is often associated with traditional writing, especially labels on large buildings indicating what the buildings are (for).

Finally, picture #37: evening and the moon--



Thursday, October 20, 2005

Kyungju pics: 21-30 of 37

Still at Bulguk-sa, we see Mom reloading her weapon before firing once again into the crowds:

A view of the big dharma hall. I was fascinated by the dragon (gripping a fish in its mouth) under the corner eaves:

Judging by the iconography, everything seems to be eating something at this temple. A lesson about impermanence? An artisan's subtle jab at the vegetarian ethic? Here's a mean-looking entity (I've been wondering if it's the face of a hae-t'ae) eating a door handle:

I hiked with Dad up to Seokgul-am. The bell tower is visible as you near the end of the hike, which takes you relentlessly uphill:

While visiting the Weolseong Janghangnisaji Seo O-ch'eung Seok-t'ap, which required a very short but very steep climb to reach, I saw this imagery on the pagoda's side. What I like best about it is the weird effect of the two faces rising out of the stone in the center of the image:

At the il-ju-mun of Kirim-sa, Mom prepares to cross the threshold and gain enlightenment:

First of Kirim-sa's Four Heavenly Kings (Ch'eon Wang). He appears to be about to feed his struggling pet dragon a large, uncomfortable-looking gumball:

The second king:

The third king, whose green beard reminded me of toothpaste or wasabi for some reason:

The fourth king, who knows how to get down:

Speaking of getting down, last night was something of a treat. My folks had the chance to meet and eat dinner with my buddy Jang-woong in Itaewon's Gecko's Garden, a restaurant I'll definitely be visiting again despite my general dislike of Itaewon. The restaurant's atmosphere was relaxed but animated, and the paella I ordered was plentiful and delicious. The place seems to do a fusion of Italian, Spanish, and Mexican themes: they even had a tapas-style section in their menu. Dessert was a bit small for W8500, but also tasty.

After Gecko's Garden, we visited a jazz club so Dad could have a taste of Korean jazz. Jang-woong knows his way around Itaewon far better than I do, and he took us to All That Jazz, apparently one of the oldest clubs on the strip. We got an earful from a group called Honey Circle (probably a deliberate Konglish perversion of Honeysuckle, since many Koreans pronounce "circle" and "suckle" the same way). Jang-woong, the only drinker in our group, contented himself with his liquor and beer while we teetotallers sipped our fruit juices. A good time had by all.


the fallacy of composition

The fallacy of composition occurs when one attempts to make a claim about the whole based on some property of its parts. Occasionally, this style of argumentation produces valid results:

Every part of the machine is green, therefore the machine itself is green.

But watch out:

Every part of the machine weighs one pound, therefore the machine itself weighs one pound.

Now consider this from Dr. Vallicella's recent post:

Maybe it goes like this. I have a head full of homunculi. These little men and women, working together, ascribe intentionality to me. But each homunculus has its intentionality ascribed to it by other, stupider, homunculi which are constituents of it. The stupider homunculi, in turn, are composed of even stupider ones, and so on until we get to the level of individual neurons which, as Pollack says, "aren't 'about' anything." The base level homuncuili are so stupid that one could say that they don't even rise to the level of being either stupid or intelligent.

Does this avoid the dilemma of having to choose between a vicious infinite regress and a vicious circle? What Dennett is proposing is a finite regress that terminates with something naturalistically acceptable, namely entities that lack intrinsic or original intentionality.

Admittedly, this proposal gets rid of the infinity of the regress, but not its viciousness: we still have no explanation of intentionality. Consider the base-level homunculi. They are so primitive as to lack all intentionality. How then can they ascribe intentionality to their colleagues one level up? (italics added)

I may be wrong, but this strikes me as an example of the fallacy of composition. Consider the following:

Cells are all stupid, therefore a composite cellular entity would also be stupid.

False, right? The fact is that people-- including the smart ones-- are composed of cells.

Now consider:

The building blocks of mind are themselves mindless. Therefore no composite of these mindless building blocks can result in mind.

While the jury is still out on whether substance dualism or some form of materialism is closer to the truth, I think it's safe to say the above italicized claim is likely false.


Kyungju pics: 11-20 of 37

One reason why I'll never be a professional photographer is that I can take a beautiful locale like Anapji and turn it into something lifeless. Behold!

Dude chasing dogs (just off camera) out the front gate:

Mom expressing skepticism about dragons residing in the pond:

An almost comically dull shot of the pond, along with the near and far shores:

The building that houses the model of the old castle that used to stand in this region:

A shot of the carp that lectured us Americans about how we pollute the environment wherever we go:

When I saw this scene, I immediately knew I'd discovered the Pac Man breeding ground:

The first shot I took of Bulguk-sa was of the semi-secluded public restroom. Dad found a huge spider near the restroom and called me over, but by the time I got there, it had scurried off to do its spiderish deeds. Les chiottes in all their glory:

Two of the Four Heavenly Kings guarding the entrance of Bulguk-sa. They're the guardians of the four cardinal directions (see here for more info):

A fantastic view of the dust on my camera lens. Oh, and, uh, Mom in front of the wooden carp, a symbol of, among other things, monkish vigilance--

Dadso next to another Jenga set. Joking aside, he's standing in front of the famed T'abo-t'ap (more info here):

Another batch of photos is on the way.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Kyungju pics: 1-10 of 37

The weather over the weekend was unbelievable. We had a great time down south.

With this entry, I'm starting to put up my pictures from the Kyungju trip (37 in all, representing the camera's limited capacity). Mom and Dad, proud of their new Olympus 7-megapixel camera, were able to take much better pictures than I could. After they send me their pics, I'll be sure to slap a few select ones up on the blog as well.

Here we go with the first ten photos from my 1999-era 1.3 megapixel camera (the same one I've been using for foodblogging, etc.):

This past Sunday: the view from Room 308 of the Sam Kwang Grace Motel, looking toward the lake and Bomun Resort--

The view of where the parents slept (bed), and where yours truly slept (bundle of bedding at the foot of the bed & against the wall, which was nicely laid out on the floor at bedtime):

The blogger flaunts his stomach in a vaguely Lorianne-style double-reflection shot (did you find the second reflection?):

Mom relents to having a compromising pic taken. Notice how the shower seems to be growing out of her head:

Standing outside the W55,000/night "motel" whose lobby features a condom dispenser:

Mom and Dad go their separate ways-- Mom to photograph some hunk flexing his buttocks, and Dad to check a pile of bird droppings in the shape of the Virgin Mary:

Dad performs what I assume is some sort of Buddhist exorcism ritual, Tibetan by the looks of it:

At the Kyungju National Museum, standing by the Emille Bell:

Which inspires more devotion, a huge bell or a huge ass in purple pants? See for yourself:

Dad marvels at the shapes you can create using Jenga tiles:

More to come later. Stay tuned.



Justin posts some amazing pictures of the dancing martial art here. His brother Adam (no relation to the frothing conservative) is currently learning the art.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

bad Konglish pun

Gnaw cot tin gnome.

Pronounce each English word in the above phrase with a good, "standard" American accent. Fast. Now repeat.

If you're a Korean speaker, you might hear something. And your girlfriend might wonder why you're staring at your monitor chanting, "A bastard like you. A bastard like you. A bastard like you."

I hope somebody uses the above as either a blog title or an email address.


Bonny Ireland!

Thanks to Kathreb, I've learned that we've been looking at the wrong unholy alliance. While everyone worries over the NK-Middle East terror/weapons connection, how many people are looking into the NK-Ireland counterfeiting connection?



A Smoo colleague of mine, Z, sent me the following links from the hilarious, both of which had me in near-epileptic fits.

First link:

Gay Bar

And this link, from which I learned plenty of new vocabulary:

Axe Wound

I think the second link would make a great Valentine for some shy, winsome young lady.


like a mountain

While at Kirim-sa, a temple in the Kyungju alentours this weekend, I passed by a shop and was immediately entranced by a whole set of Dalma-do done by a single artist. All of the pictures portrayed Dalma-daesa (a.k.a. Bodhidharma) wearing that squeezing-out-a-turd expression, which immediately got my vote. After flipping through a pile of pictures, I decided on the one you see below, which seemed to have both the best calligraphy and the best imagery:

squeeeeeeze it, baby

I scanned the above image in three pieces, then put the pieces together like a puzzle. The scan mode was grayscale, originally 300dpi; the pieces were saved as compressed TIFF files. The final product before you is a Photoshop-enhanced JPEG image: because the image was scanned in grayscale, every single flaw and wrinkle in the original hwaseon-ji (brush art paper) was in evidence. I wanted the image in color, but it would have been impossible to mask all the wrinkles, and those were damn distracting. Hence grayscale, and judicious use of the "adjust brightness" function. Unfortunately, you lose something by not being able to see the redness of the dojang (stamps or chops) used by the artist, one of which is actually a miniature Dalma-daesa image.

Dalma-daesa, along with being comically stern, exhibits some interesting features in this piece. Note that his outline is that of a mountain. The artist accomplished this by giving Dalma a pointy head. Note, too, that this image features one eye that's bigger than the other-- a view I don't see too often in the many Dalma-do I've peered at. I'm also fascinated by the artist's handling of the bul (Buddha) and shim (mind/heart) characters. Is he implying something by making the Buddha character so huge?

Many artists portray Dalma as wrapping himself in his robe, a few strokes of the brush implying a hand or fist beneath the bunched-up cloth, holding the robe closed against the elements. This artist takes that feature and makes it quite prominent by using a very thick brush and a clever, serpentine stroke. It looks almost as if Dalma is doing his impression of Rodin's Le Penseur.

"Hmmm... shall I fart now, or wait until Kevin moves closer?"

Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, is the putative father of kung fu. He set up shop at the Shaolin (Kor. Sorim) Temple and trained his adepts in the aggressive calisthenics that evolved into a whole panoply of martial systems (if we believe the stories, anyway). He's also, perhaps more importantly, considered the First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism. This artist portrays the main features associated with Dalma-daesa: the large, bushy eyebrows, the huge, staring eyes, the ring in the ear that might look better hanging off an ox's nose.

The artist was also quite clever in his use of grey ink, and I've been trying to figure out whether he laid down the grey layer first, or the black layer. It's possible he alternated, but I'm not sure. The picture, itself something of a kong-an, invites contemplation, so I'll be staring at it for some time.


where fart thou, Romeo?

What follows is a blast from the recent past-- pics from my "production" this past summer session.

One of my strangest and most interesting students goes by the English name Perfume, which is derived from her Korean name, Hyang-su (the Sino-Korean word for perfume-- literally, "fragrance-water"). Along with her partner in crime, whose name escapes me at this late hour, she devised a way to avoid performing the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene as described in the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). In the RSC version, the balcony is a living person whose sole function is to act as a sort of horse for Juliet. None of my actresses was willing to carry (or catch) anyone else.

The table was Perfume's idea. It sounded good at the time... then I watched her perform the scene during rehearsals and wondered what would happen if she broke her neck and ended up suing me and the school.

Obviously, I was thinking like a litigation-wary American. Perfume got through rehearsals and the actual performance without a scratch, though there were some close calls. (You'll have noted that the table, already bending under the weight of two people, also has wheels.)

In the next picture, Perfume hews close to the RSC script, which calls for a distraught Juliet to stab herself multiple times in the head and neck. The audience (all fifteen members) loved this scene, which Perfume carried off with perfect comic timing.

Normally, Perfume is a quiet, shy student, but there was something about the role of Juliet that brought out the animal in her. Look:

I wish I could say I took these remarkable photos, but all credit must go to my Smoo colleague A, who captured quite a few good moments on film.

[NB: Perfume is the girl who, during rehearsal, uttered the immortal flub: "O Romeo, Romeo, where fart thou, Romeo?"]


Monday, October 17, 2005

Koreabloggers beware!

We're being talked about. All of us.

But it's a bit like when our family cat, Mozart, slinks into the room and flops down facing away from us: his ears are rotated toward us so he can monitor whether we're talking about him. When he hears the key words: "cat," or "kitty," or "Mozart," or some variation, he starts purring.

By the same token, I'll pretend to ignore the K-blogger thread, but its existence will fill the scrotum of my heart with a warm, fuzzy sensation-- a bit like wearing cotton sweatpants... then placidly urinating into them.


the bright, starless night

Walking home from the office a bit before 11PM, I looked up at the sky and noticed how bright it was. Clouds have rolled in, so I assume the brightness is a function of light pollution plus diffusion. No stars in evidence.

I was at the office for several reasons. First, I needed to collect my backpack, which contained crucial documents for making account transfers. Second, I needed to check email and work on a bit of lesson planning. Third, I needed to draft a to-do list for the week. Fourth, I needed to turn in some leftover paperwork regarding the Freshman English class I'd taught. The fifth reason popped up while I was there: I found out that the edition of Aesop's Fables I planned to use for the second half of my Level 3 reading course isn't available for order. This sets me back a bit, as I now have to ask the office to make up handbooks for the students.

So I got a lot accomplished at Smoo, and now I'm going to do some uploading and scanning. Images are on the way. Kyungju already fades into the past. Thank goodness for memory chips, eh?

Dental appointment tomorrow: the followup. Maybe a Namsan hike as well.


...and we're back to the madness

After two nights spent in Kyungju, I wonder whether I've been living in the wrong city. Except for the disgustingly high taxi fares and the impenetrable pronunciation of the locals, Kyungju has a lot to offer to people interested in both Buddhism and quiet.

Here's a quick rundown of some places we visited, thanks to our intrepid taxi driver, Mr. Kim:

1. Kyungju National Museum

2. Anapji, which features reconstructed Shilla-era buildings and a model of a palace that used to stand there. The main feature is, of course, the pond, which contains a large number of fat, happy crap-- uh, carp.

3. Bulguk-sa (bizarrely popular non-Zen temple)

4. Seokguram (the grotto with the big honkin' Buddha in it)

5. Weolseong Janghangnisaji Seo O-ch'eung Seok-t'ap (this was a five-storey pagoda that was accessible only by a rather steep-- if brief-- hike)

6. Kirim-sa (ki-lim-sa, not kil-im-sa), a much nicer, quieter temple than Bulguk-sa, where I also bought a fantastic Dalma-do (will scan it in and display it later).

7. Geolgul-sa, a mountain temple that features a musul-daehak, or martial arts college. People from around the world study there, primarily learning the art of Seon Mudo, or the Zen Martial Way. I snapped some shots of the scary hanja proverbs inside one of the training halls, stuff like: Martial Mind, Zen Mind, and Zen and Combat* are Not Two.

While at Geolgul-sa, we also visited some Buddhist shrines (our cabbie was a Buddhist, so he may have had a personal interest in doing this). They were quite high up, and it was getting dark. Part of the climb involved using ropes, and we even had to crawl through a strangely placed hole in the rock at one point. Great experience, but not recommended for the acrophobic.

8. Kam-eun Saji, a pair of pagodas, one of which, if I remember correctly, was the legendary entry point for the dragon-spirit of King Mumun. The king's son built tunnels to allow the dragon to pass in and out of the grounds to continue to survey the kingdom-- something the king had promised to do even after his death.

9. King Mumun's watery grave rounded out our whirldwind tour. By the time we reached the beach, it was quite dark, but Dad took some shots of the grave all the same, and I think they came out all right. There's some controversy over whether the king's remains (ashes?) are actually buried there. Dad's shot of the grave, which lies a bit offshore, was probably aided by the bright lights of the squid boats floating out near the horizon.

Our driver was a wealth of information about the Three Kingdoms and Unified Shilla period, though I think Mom got more out of the narration than I did. It was too bad that we had to rush around so much (I'm never a fan of rushed tours, preferring to explore independently and at my own pace), but it was great to learn about some places I'd never visited before. Kirim-sa in particular deserves another, deeper visit.

Tonight I'm planning to upload my photos and maybe blog a few. The parents will, I hope, allow me to upload their photos as well (perhaps not all 300-some of them; maybe just a few dozen), and those photos will be featured on the blog over the next few days.

Stay tuned.

*The proverb's hanja reads seon mu bul i, or "Zen [Fighting] Not Two." The mu character, pronounced "wu" in Chinese and "bu" in Japanese, translates roughly as "fighting" or "combat" or "war." The latter meaning is why the Sino-Korean mu-sul (wushu in Chinese and bujitsu in Japanese) is rendered in English as "martial art(s)." It seemed wrong, however, to translate the proverb as "Zen and War are One." That might send the wrong message. I'm tempted, in cases where one sees the Chinese phrase bul-i (not-two), to treat the phrase as a sort of equal sign-- e.g., rendering seon mu bul i as "Combat is Zen." This would be even sloppier, though, than my current rendering, because the "not-two-ness" of bul-i signifies nondualism, not identity or unity.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

blogging from Kyungju

Down in Kyungju with the parents. Spent all Sunday walking, hiking, and walking some more. The parents held up admirably-- especially Mom, whom Dad and I suspected of not being able to hack it. Mom was quite the trouper.

Mom and I are both having a time understanding the Kyungju accent, though I think Mom's adapting better.

Tons of photos and video taken. Some of it will doubtless appear on the blog, but not today. We leave for Seoul on Monday morning; I'll be uploading pictures that evening, I hope.

Stay tuned.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

student errors

One of the great rewards of English teaching is student errors, which are often hilarious. My Level 2 conversation students recently had their midterm, which covered nine chapters out of the book. One of the expressions they were supposed to have learned was "sweet tooth," as in, "I've got a sweet tooth."

My midterm was constructed in the usual mixer format: a partner writes the answer on your paper, but you control what the partner writes. The idea, as always, was to encourage students to talk their way through the test by holding each other's lives in their hands. This has been a fairly effective way to test the students, despite the problems I mentioned a while ago, such as clustering, speaking in Korean, or simply working silently on the test questions.*

The "sweet tooth" question was phrased thus:

If you like sweet foods, then you have a...
[fill in the blanks with the two words in the phrase]

Here are some of the answers I got:

rotten teeth
diseases (one blank filled)
cavisty teeth
getting weight
fatt body
terrible cavity
junk food

And the grand champion of them all:

glucose urine

That answer had me on the floor. My students ROCK.

*This time around, I controlled the mixing much more tightly and constantly insisted that students speak in English. Most listened. One girl was stubborn about speaking in Korean, and another pair of students tried to cheat: they signed their names on each other's papers, then took their own papers back to try and work on them on their own.

I thought about doing the Catholic school thing and ripping their papers to shreds in front of the class, but decided that was too dramatic. The problem is that cheating isn't nearly as stigmatized in Korea as it is in the West. While plenty of students have a sense of academic integrity, plenty don't. In the West, we have more than our share of cheaters, but they cheat while fully aware that they're doing wrong. I'm not sure how aware many Korean students are of the wrongness of cheating. It doesn't seem to have been impressed upon them.

There is, in fact, a version of the mixer exam that is almost cheating-proof. This is what I did twelve years ago with my high school French students: they had full access to the textbook and were even allowed to speak in English if they felt they had to. There was one caveat, though: I told them that if I saw a single error in any of their answers-- even so much as a wrongly tilted accent or an unfortunately positioned punctuation mark-- the entire answer would be marked wrong. No partial credit. This made the tests much easier to grade, and at first, failure rates were shockingly high because the students didn't take me seriously. Perfection meant perfection. I'm mulling over whether to do something like that with my current students. Maybe next semester.


missed opportunity

I suppose a few K-bloggers will be attending the KOTESOL conference being held this weekend at my university (Smoo). I myself won't be there: instead, I'll be tripping down south to Kyungju with my parents, enjoying some quality time with them and with Koreans who speak in a funny accent.

I was at the Smoo office until almost 11PM this evening, grading student essays and tabulating Freshman English final grades. The conference setup was going on at a frenetic pace a few floors beneath me; the display stands looked pretty impressive, and the conference will apparently be featuring some pedagogical heavy hitters (or so I'm told; the last linguistics course I took was in the early 1990s). A couple colleagues of mine will be attending the conference, though, so I'll crib their notes at some point.

For those of you who are coming to the conference: enjoy. Sorry I won't be meeting you; maybe next time, eh?


Friday, October 14, 2005

St. Francis and Wonhyo

Inspired by a recent post I saw at Dr. Hodges's blog, I offer the following:

From The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by Saint Bonaventure:

St. Francis and the Leper

And so by the practice of frequent prayer, the vehement flame of heavenly desires increased daily within him, and already, for the love of his celestial country, he despised all earthly things, as if they existed not; for he knew that he had found the hidden treasure, and like a prudent merchant he considered within himself how to sell all that he had to make it his own. But he knew not yet how he was to purchase it, nor what he was to give for it; only it seemed to be made known to him that the spiritual merchant must begin with the contempt of the world, and that the soldier of Christ must begin by victory over himself.

Now, as he was riding one day over the plain of Assisi he met a leper, whose sudden appearance filled him with fear and horror; but forthwith calling to mind the resolution which he had made to follow after perfection, and remembering that if he would be a soldier of Christ he must first overcome himself, he dismounted from his horse and went to meet the leper, that he might embrace him: and when the poor man stretched out his hand to receive an alms, he kissed it and filled it with money. Having again mounted his horse, he looked around him over the wide and open plain, but nowhere could he see the leper; upon which, being filled with wonder and joy, he began devoutly to give thanks to God...

And this, adapted from an email I wrote some time ago:

Wonhyo sunim and the Skull

While traveling to China to study Buddhism there, Wonhyo, a Korean Buddhist monk, crawled into a cave to rest. The journey had been arduous thus far, and Wonhyo was parched. It was night, and he had only the moonlight to see by. Miraculously, he found a perfect bowl of water, and slaked his thirst with it. The water was clean and pure and delightful.

The next morning, Wonhyo awoke to discover that the cave he'd chosen was full of skeletons, and the "bowl" had been none other than a human skull. He vomited in disgust, but suddenly had a moment of realization: the water had been wonderful when he hadn't known about the true nature of its container, and disgusting only once he'd known he'd been drinking out of a skull. Such dualities-- wonderful/disgusting, etc.-- reside in the mind. Wonhyo further realized that he had no need to go to China to explore such a truth, since it was already contained inside his own skull.



How to get rid of a lot of food in a short time:

Give it away to your coworkers.

I made more than enough food for the two students who showed up for class on the last day of the fall term's il ch'a. Another teacher showed up and chowed down with us, and I had food enough left to give to two more teachers. I've still got leftovers, too.

I wussed out: I didn't make the pita appetizer, and didn't even make garlic bread. I brought bread and butter along, and simply served buttered baguette slices, though I also showed off the Italian-style plain-bread-dipped-in-olive-oil practice, which grossed my students out: olive oil has become hugely popular of late (probably a fad), but Koreans associate it fairly narrowly with cooking. Dessert was Belgian chocolates.

I'm busily grading papers and trying to get this term over with so I can spend some true quality time with the folks over the weekend... more news later as it happens.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

the things I do for women

Tomorrow is the last day of the first half (il ch'a) of the fall term, and I'm holding a cooking class of sorts for my Smoo students. On the menu will be exactly what I made for my Korean friends a while back. I was planning to show my students how easy it is to prepare the shrimp/parsley/garlic section of the meal, in the hopes that they would, by the end of the class, be able to prepare it on their own, but I'm having second thoughts because it's a huge amount of food and equipment to carry over at one time.

Mom and Dad, ever the caretakers, took me on base and let me shop at the Yongsan commissary*, which is pretty damn large. "There's so much junk food!" Dad marvelled when we were inside. He was right. The produce section was dwarfed by the aisles of variously packaged, canned, and otherwise wrapped goodies. In defense of the soldiers, I remarked that the commissary was probably catering to what the soldiers were craving while in Korea.

Being at the commissary brought about that space-warp feeling I get whenever I'm on base: it's as if I've teleported out of Korea to military installations I know in northern Virginia: Fort Belvoir and Fort Myer, for instance. It's always jarring to step off base and back into the streaming life of Seoul.

Today's base excursion included a ride on the free shuttle, which took us from Dragon Hill Lodge to the commissary. I was amused to see so much English graffiti on the backs of the bus seats; I was getting used to seeing street wisdom expressed in Hangeul.

Now it's time to buckle down, eat a quick bite, and make a miracle happen. Can I get tomorrow's meal prepped before midnight? We'll see, grasshopper. We'll see.

*Er, technically, I wasn't supposed to be let in. But let's not dwell on that. It's in the past. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"Mary Shelley's Frankenstein": the review

Along with my Freshman English class, I had the chance to see Kenneth Branagh star in and direct "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," a 1997 flick that features Robert DeNiro as the monster. I have no idea why the movie's title includes Shelley's name; the film diverged from the book in fundamental ways.

DeNiro did a fine job as the monster; the makeup artists took advantage of his characteristic grimace/sneer and created scar tissue that accentuated it to poignant effect. The costumers also deserve praise for making DeNiro look much taller than he actually is, though the cloak he wore also gave the impression that we were following the misadventures of an undead Franciscan monk.

Another notable in the cast was John Cleese as Frankenstein's mentor, Dr. Waldman. When I first read that Cleese had been cast in the role, I cringed, but Cleese, like DeNiro, approached his part with the appropriate gravitas. In Cleese's hands, Waldman ended up being a sympathetic character.

If only the other principals had done as well. Branagh-- a shirtless Branagh, no less-- was beyond Shatnerian both in front of and behind the swooping, gyrating camera. Imagine Steven Spielberg directing while drunk and you'll have some notion of what Branagh's style was like. In front of the camera, Branagh's Shakespearean training worked against him: Frankenstein's shouts of "Live! LIVE!" were downright comical, as were his knuckle-biting attempts to stave off tears.

The same goes for Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Elizabeth (Frankenstein's love interest and, briefly, his wife), which caused much mirth among my students. Part of the problem lay with the script, but Carter and Branagh are also to blame for Carter's performance, which often seemed like a bad parody of Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara. The freakishness only got worse when Elizabeth was brought back from the dead. Carter is a good performer when she's got the right material (cf. "Fight Club"), but she added little to Branagh's production.

In Mary Shelley's story, Elizabeth dies but isn't brought back to life. This is one of many areas where the movie and book differ. Other liberties include: (1) Henry Clerval's survival of the monster's murderous rampage; (2) Elizabeth's death by gruesome heart-removal (as opposed to implied strangling, the monster's normal M.O.); (3) the sequence of deaths (in the movie, Frankenstein's father dies before Elizabeth does, and not of a broken heart); (4) the location of Frankenstein's second lab (in the book, the lab is on one of the Orkney Islands, and the female monster never comes to life); and (5) the story's end (the monster immolates himself and the corpse of Frankenstein in the movie).

I have a feeling that this film would be a great template for a drinking game. Branagh's tics and Carter's wailing should be milked for all their worth. Rent this movie at your own risk.


no Beijing for you! hooray!

My parents tried to make it on the flight to Beijing for the next phase of their Asia trip, but alas, the fates conspired to keep them in Korea. Still flying on standby, they had hoped there might be some empty seats on today's flight out, but no: everyone who'd booked a seat showed up.

This is good news for me: a little extra time to spend with the folks. We might do a bit of traveling over the next few days; I'm on break as of next week (except for a workshop next Wednesday), so I'll have time to jaunt around before we start the second half of the term.

While it may be a bit of a disappointment for Mom and Dad not to go to Beijing, I think we'll find plenty to do right here on the peninsula.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

my brother's souvenir

My brother David leaves for the States in the morning on Wednesday... I said my goodbyes to him on Tuesday night. Although David may have broken a few female hearts here by not showing up at any of my Smoo classes, he did leave me with a few good memories, including a lot of farting.

David, no slouch of an artist, also gave me his most precious memento-- a tribute to my "Are You Ready to Rock?" drawing (see the original, above). As replicas go, it's scarily exact.

Here, for your pleasure, is what my talented, 29-year-old brother drew for me-- from memory:

Pretty astonishing, eh? This new, duck-lipped version of the Alien reminds me of Michelle Pfeiffer.

Safe trip home, big boy.


the birth

Around 11:30 this evening, I sat down for a dump. When I got up, I did my usual thing and stared into the toilet, hunting around for anything cool. I found something, too: tonight, it appears I shat out a toothpick. Either that, or a long blade of dried grass.

Just goes to show: my ass is cooler than yours.


evening with family

So very light blogging until the morrow.


Cordon Bleu Christianity and Seoul by river

Earlier in the day on Monday, I met a Korean lady who works upstairs as a chef and French interpreter in the Cordon Bleu Academy which occupies the sixth and seventh floors of our building. Her French was heavily accented but a damn sight better than the usual mangled French I hear in Korea. It turns out she's also the owner of a cafe/restaurant I pass every day on my way to Smoo campus: Les Flots d'Amour (Streams of Love).

The lady's a diehard Christian, and her cafe doubles as a prayer meeting hall once a month, when a mini-service in French takes place there. "Are you a Christian?" she asked me. I said I was. "Then you should come. A lot of French teachers from various universities show up there." I politely thanked her, but readers of this blog know there's very little likelihood I'll be wandering over for a prayer meeting. Just ain't my style.

I met the folks in the evening and we did the Han River Cruise, a W9,000-per-person, one-hour excursion on the Han. The night was cool and a bit windy; I spent part of the time inside the boat. We did the unthinkable and took a black taxi from Chamshil to Itaewon. A short ride cost us about $13. Wallet rape. Unbelievable. Dinner was at a Korean restaurant in Itaewon, and then I escorted my family back to the base.

Ah, yes-- how could I forget: earlier in the day, my students expressed severe disappointment that my brother David never showed up to class. Quite a few of them had wanted to meet the "cute brother" I'd been talking about. Perhaps next year, ladies: David's on his way back to the States as of Wednesday morning, Korea time.


Monday, October 10, 2005

beg, beg, whine, whine

Today's hallway encounter with some students included the following gems:

"Teacher, my grammar isn't so good! Are you going to take off points for mistakes in my story?"*

"Teacher, can I have one more day to write my paper?"

Man, it's 1993 all over again: I'm reliving my past. The above questions are exactly the kind I used to get from my American high schoolers back when I was teaching French in Arlington, Virginia.

The high school seniors currently taking our Freshman English classes are perfecting The Whine. For those of you who have teens, you know what The Whine is: the behavior starts at home, then moves into a scholastic context, and is merely a modified form of an old set of childhood behaviors. The idea behind The Whine is both to wheedle something out of you and to make you feel guilty for not providing whatever the "something" is.

FYI: I had no trouble saying "yes" to the first question and "no" to the second. Two years in the high school teaching furnace made me deaf to the screams of damned souls. Once you've been dropped into the lake of fire, the only way out is to swim out yourself.

Eddie Izzard was wrong. It's cake and death.

*This refers to an assignment I gave my students on Thursday: write a one-page, single-spaced alternative ending to Frankenstein.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

stating the obvious

It's after 11 and I'm not in bed.


postal scrotum: Kubrick redux

Don W. writes:

Hey there, Big Ho!

If you liked even just a bit, you've got to check out


I hope that you find something or other of interest here.

Yours from Busan,

Don W

Charles of Liminality also wrote an interesting comment, which I'll reproduce here:

Nope, you weren't the last to see the 2001 site. I hadn't seen it either. Of course, I had my own ideas about 2001 before I saw this. When I first saw the movie, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Later on I learned about Von Neumann probes. That's what the monoliths are, of course. They weren't exactly "planted" by an extraterrestrial who visited Earth, they were just a few of many self-replicating machines sent out into the universe by an advanced civilization. The probe on the moon lay dormant until our Type O civilization evolved into a Type I civilization. The whole mission to Jupiter was a test to see if we had mastered interplanetary travel.

Of course, Kubrick mixes science and mysticism, and he also has his own message (the whole thing about humans being too dependent on technology). I think the final part of the movie (and the last scene of the presentation) are a metaphor for humanity's evolution beyond our current state. It's kind of like computer technology: we develop faster and faster chips with the existing architecture until we reach the limit of that architecture. Then we develop a new architecture and start over. In 2001, humanity had reached "the peak of its evolution" and so needed to start over. Thus, the Starchild. Like I said, there's a lot of mysticism in there, but I think it's ultimately metaphorical. It's only mystical because we don't understand it yet (and also because Kubrick takes us for a twenty-minute psychedelic ride).

For more info on Von Neumann probes and Type 0 and 1 civilizations (along with a paragraph on how this relates to 2001), see Michio Kaku's "The Physics of Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations." It's a great read if you're into that sort of stuff.

I think the monolith is a probe, all right. A probe sent by an evil Jedi knight obsessed with finding his son.


DVD shopping, Namsan, and more food

Sunday with the folks. It's been great having them here in Korea. Time passes far too quickly.

Mom and some of her Korean friends (all members of the Washington Korean Women's Society, of which Mom's the president this year) had a girls' day out while Dad, my brother David, and I roamed around on a quest for two DVDs: (1) "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," starring Robert DeNiro and Kenneth Branagh; and (2) "Equilibrium," starring Christian Bale and Taye Diggs. I'll be showing both DVDs in class this week: "Frankenstein" for the freshman English class on Tuesday, and "Equilibrium" for my high-intermediate level reading class on Tuesday and Thursday. The reading class had been working through Orwell's 1984; we finished it last Tuesday. Not many students had shown up to watch the Hurt-and-Burton version of "1984,"* so I'm showing "Equilibrium" in class, where there will be no escape.

Damn, that movie was hard to find! The three of us started our search at the most logical place: the jeonja sangga (electronics market) and Jeonja Raendeu (Electronics Land) next to Yongsan Station. Before reaching sangga and Raendeu, however, our first stop was a stand full of bootleg DVDs just outside the Yongsan Station exit. No dice. They had "The Incredibles" and "Astérix," but not "Equilibrium." A second stand also had "Astérix," but Christian Bale was apparently in hiding.

We moved on to another, very shady-looking stand; they pretended to have the DVD, but when I looked inside the DVD case I saw it was empty. Good thing I asked if I could play the DVD first. The guy grinned and said "Just a minute," then made a show of crossing the street and rooting around his cars for the missing DVD. He came back and offered us another sheepish "Just a minute." I gave him his minute, during which nothing of substance happened, then decided that, since he was bullshitting us, I might as well bullshit him. "I'll be back," I said, then left with no intention of coming back.

The short walk from the subway station to the electronics market and Jeonja Land was peppered with DVD and VCD stands. None of them had what I needed. A slightly more legitimate video store inside Jeonja Land had "Frankenstein," but didn't have "Equilibrium." Feeling somewhat guilty about dragging Dad and David along on what was turning out to be a fruitless quest, I ended up leaving them to their own devices for an hour so I could continue on my own. Inside Jeonja Land, I traversed several thousand kilometers of floorspace and finally-- finally-- found a DVD store that carried "Equilibrium." At first, the store dude claimed he didn't have the DVD. "That's too bad," I said, and began looking around, anyway. Store Dude suddenly got off his ass, moved toward the shelf I was looking at, and said, "Ah, it seems we do have it." Pure theater. I played along, paid a reasonable price, and found my dad and brother soon after.

We three next went back to my place so I could change shoes, then off we traipsed to Namsan. Getting there involved walking to Hyochang Park Station (about ten or twelve minutes' walk from my residence), taking the subway to Beot'igogae Station, and doing my easy walk up the mountain. Dad and David handled themselves well. Dad insisted he'd broken a sweat, but from what I could see, he didn't look all that sweaty. Dad took some pics at the top; eventually, I hope to blog some moments of my time with the folks (assuming Mom lets us display any pics of her).

Dinner was on base, and effectively nullified all the hard work we'd done huffing and puffing our way up Namsan. But it was quite good, especially for the price we paid. We had company for dinner, too-- Mom's longtime friend, Mrs. K.

Now I'm home, and have given up on the idea of doing my laundry this evening. I've got an extra change of clothes with which to face my Monday classes (imagine their horror if I showed up naked), so abandoning the laundry project doesn't weigh heavily on my conscience.

I'm considering calling it a night sometime before 11PM-- a true first.

*The astute will have noted that I routinely put book titles in italics and film titles in quotes. With the above two renderings of 1984/"1984," you aren't seeing an inconsistency.