Thursday, March 31, 2011


So I was out all day-- got my haircut, bought myself some new clothes and shoes, shopped for a fraction of my necessities, and ended up eating dinner with my brother David. The clothing shopping, while done on a clearance sale day, still set me back a massive amount (two new shirts, two new pants, two ties, a new tie chain, a new pair of shoes, new tee shirts, and a casual shirt), so I decided not to buy half the things on my list. The last thing I need to do is plunge into the red. The other stuff on my list, while important, can wait a pay period.

The French have a cute expression for putting a stop to something that's gathering momentum: mettre le holà, which, if translated literally, means, "putting the whoa [on]," holà being French for the "whoa" used to stop a horse (no relation to the Spanish word for "hello"). Today, j'ai mis le holà to my spending, well before it could get out of hand.

The Korean ladies were delighted to see me at the barbershop. I got the sides and back of my scalp trimmed to more civilized-looking dimensions, but failed to stop the overeager ajumma from slathering gel in my hair. I despise chemicals in the 'do; even shampoo gets rinsed out, after all, and I prefer a pristine scalp. Men and women who pile on the chemicals and end up with helmet head look ridiculous to me, like retarded acolytes of Darth Vader. Normally, when I go to this barbershop, I tell the ladies not to put anything in my hair; today, for whatever reason, I forgot to do so. After gel-flattening my hair, the ajumma laughed when I said I preferred a more forehead-exposing style, with the hair swept back the way a crazy person's might be.

Instead of going straight back home after my haircut and shopping trips, I hung around the Alexandria area and ate dinner with my brother David. He cooked a rather impressive herbed chicken, but there was a moment when I feared that the smoke from his skillet was going to trigger his house's fire alarm. Luckily, that didn't happen. I also watched a few hours of Food Network, which I haven't seen in a long while. I witnessed Bobby Flay lose a lobster mac and cheese throwdown, saw Aarón Sanchez win an intense culinary battle on "Chopped All-Stars," and marveled as Robert Irvine salvaged a dying, mismanaged restaurant on "Restaurant: Impossible."

Why would I be so delighted to watch these shows? Well, you may not know this, because I don't remember whether I blogged about this back when it happened, but about two months ago I took my own lovely TV back to Costco for a full cash refund. Why? As I mentioned before, I wasn't getting much of an income from ETS: from January to March, I worked a total-- a total!-- of ten or fifteen days. How can anyone live on such an income? The only way to make rent, back then, was to get a lot of cash in a hurry, and the TV was my best bet. Because I was still well within the 90-day grace period for full refunds, I very sadly took the TV back to the Costco branch where I'd bought it, and received a wad of cash for my trouble. I made rent-- just barely-- as a result, and the living room has been TV-less since then.

There's a chance I may buy another TV later on, but it's certainly not a high priority. Other financial priorities come first, like staying on top of debt. Since my Fridays are currently free, I may end up doing some tutoring of my own to supplement my income; we'll see. Right now, though, it's good to have a bit of purchasing power; I feel more human again. At the same time, I'm glad I said "Basta!" to over-spending. Things could have gotten ugly.


free time = get stuff done

In an eerie echo of my time at ETS, I was told that I had no work scheduled for me today due to a wave of student cancellations at the other YB branch where I work. For convenience, let's refer to the two branches as YB Near and YB Far, given that the nearer branch is less than an hour away, while the farther branch is an hour and ten minutes away. YB Near usually gives me a full complement of work days, but because it's a smaller branch with fewer students, I sometimes work only four hours instead of six (I think the schedulers give priority to the veteran teachers; my own workload tends to be the lightest of the teachers in that office). YB Far is a much larger branch, but having worked there a few times, I know they also have dry periods. Students cancel or switch hours at the drop of a hat, so a tutor's schedule is never totally fixed, even after the work day has started.

So I got an email last night saying that, due to massive cancellations for today, there weren't enough classes to go around. Perhaps because I'm the newbie (same logic as with YB Near), I got the short end of the stick. It makes perfect business sense: they'll group the students with as few teachers as possible (the advantage of keeping us on part-time status is that they don't have to guarantee us work) in order to save money. Bringing me in to teach one student would be silly; they can just lump the student with another teacher who has fewer than three students at his desk.

This means I'm free today, so I'm going to get a head start on some of the things I've been meaning to do. Top of the agenda: haircut and clothing. I need some new shirts and pants, and my hair, while still stiff and bristly on top, is in screaming need of mowing on the sides and back. I'll be visiting my favorite $7 barbers today, as well as the nearby haberdasher for my sartorial needs. I need better shoes, too, come to think of it. The ones I currently wear, which are very formal, cut into my Achilles tendons, forcing me to double up on socks to protect my skin. I know exactly the pair of shoes I want, and just where to get them.

Later today-- necessary household items. Luckily, nothing I'm buying will be hellaciously expensive (aside from the clothes and shoes, but even those will be reasonably priced), though it still saddens me to expend funds that were only so recently acquired.

Out into the world I go!


Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Kind of in a rush. No time to write. Stay tuned. At some point, I need to return to my promise to write about "The Great Queen Seon Deok." Tonight? Maybe. Or sometime soon.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

debts: PAID!

Of course, these days, the linguistic trend is to add "bitches!" to every triumphal statement, so:

PAID, bitches!

My money arrived from Korea way faster than I thought it would, possibly thanks to the Swift code that I included with my bank information. I immediately paid off all my outstanding bills-- internet, land line, cell phone, and utilities-- and now I'm free and clear. Rent is no longer something to dread; things have stabilized, just like that.

I've got some creditors to pay off as well; they'll be receiving their moolah in due course. One creditor will be paid off completely this week; the other two (my very patient brothers) will have to expect installments, given how much I owe them. But at least I'm back on track, now; I no longer have to labor under that crushing feeling that comes with not having enough money to do, well, anything.

My car, meanwhile, is slowly falling apart: I think I've now got a muffler problem to add to the list. Along with the car, I've still got to buy new clothing (and shoes!) for my job, buy some household necessities, renew my Costco membership, get new contact lenses, upgrade car insurance, purchase renter's insurance, and God knows what else. So it's not as if this windfall of cash is going to last me forever. Then again, thanks to my job, I've now got cash flow, and that's what matters.

I also had a great Monday at YB, which helped. It was the first day I felt on top of things.


facing the week, facing the future

I'm happy to be on the Monday-through-Thursday schedule. This past weekend saw me getting a lot done, at least in terms of blogging, setting up the new Twitter feed, and corresponding. I've begun hashing out possible routes for the upcoming walk, and finally received two desperately-needed paychecks. They've been deposited; once they're in the system, I can pay off some bills and maybe even buy some new clothes for my business-casual job. (For those who don't know me: I hate dressing up for anything. While I was in Seoul, teaching at Sookmyung, I tended to dress pretty rattily, and the students loved it: it made them feel more comfortable. Suits and ties and slacks are off-putting for the college crowd.)

Thanks to my buddy Charles, nearly $1500 will be coming my way from my Korean bank account; it took some doing, thanks to the goofy way in which the Korean banking system is set up, but the transfer did launch successfully and should be arriving in my account later this week. I had to laugh when Charles told me that his wife was horrified that I had actually sent my ATM cards and bank books through the mail. I agree: it's not the safest thing to do. But I had no choice, really; I was unable to access my account from online, and couldn't use the ATM cards in any US machines since they weren't international cards. So I placed my trust in the postal gods, and Charles and Hyunjin came through for me. I can't thank them enough.

You have no idea how much of a relief it was when Charles told me I had that much money in my Shinhan Bank account. I honestly had no idea that I had accrued that much cash since 2008. $1500 might not be much money to you, O Rich Reader, but it's like a pressure release valve to me. It's just enough money at exactly the right time.

Despite the high of knowing I have that much spare dinero, I still have to face sobering realities. With two weeks of YB under my belt, I now begin the third week of work. The schedule will be Monday through Thursday, like last week (and forever henceforth, in principle, since that's what I negotiated for), with most of my time spent at the smaller branch. This may mean only four hours of work on some days, since the smaller branch isn't as busy and the veteran teachers seem to get more of the students, but I'll still be earning plenty-- more than enough to live on. Come summer, our hours increase such that we'll be working from 11AM to 7PM, which will mean a bit more cash each pay period.

As for the walk, I've tentatively settled on September-- the beginning of the American school year-- as the month to start. This will give me time to train and, I hope, to begin raising funds. The walk will last several months, but because I'd like to have a home to come back to, I need to raise enough money to cover the several months that I'll be gone. Rent, phone, electricity, scholastic debt-- all these need to be covered while I'm out and not earning money.* I also need to think realistically about how many months I'll be gone. Last time around, it took three months to walk a mere 600 miles. While I had plenty of 20-mile days, I also had 7-mile days and quite a few rest stops as my knee worsened. I walked much faster without a 60-pound load on my back, as I discovered when Chuck and Lori helped me get from Irrigon, OR to Walla Walla, WA. Chase cars are really where it's at, and I need to recruit some.

For those who missed it: I've begun writing again over at Kevin's Walk. The blog never went away; now it's back to being used for its original purpose: to chronicle a trans-American walk-- the prep, the walk itself, and the aftermath.

Big thoughts. But right now: gotta prep for the week.

*Then again, I've pondered the thought of doing paid speaking gigs along the way. This would be consistent with raising awareness for GBM research. And, hey-- this might be my moment to try stand-up comedy. Heh.


Monday, March 28, 2011

starting to feel a little muscle again

Both paychecks came on Saturday: my final ETS check and my very first YB check. They've been deposited, and just in time, too: I had only five cents to my name. Now I can start paying certain crucial bills, and with another $1400 or so on the way from my Korean bank account (thank you, Charles), I can do nifty stuff like pay rent, upgrade my car insurance, buy some home necessities, etc. It's gonna rock. And there's even a chance it's gonna roll.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

listening in on someone else's discussion

The age-old question, "Is Buddhism a Religion?" is resurrected here.

Most adherents of distinct religious traditions resent having their tradition lumped under the category "religion," because they perceive such categorization as a form of denigration: my tradition becomes just "one religion among others." In my travels, Christians and Buddhists alike have told me that their respective paths shouldn't be thought of as mere religions: they are, instead, ways of life.

I think such an attitude is fine for laity, but it lacks precision in the academic realm, where terms like "religion" or "tradition" or "religious tradition" have certain connotations generally understood by fellow academics in the field. Such terms-- despite their lack of universally accepted definitions-- are meaningful and serve as a way to exchange valuable information about these human phenomena.

One can rightly ask, though, whether academe is (or should be) the final authority on tradition X's status as a religion. What makes the academics, who are often at an intellectual and emotional remove from the traditions in question, the arbiters and interpreters of a tradition's significance? It seems to me that, if an academic is truly to study a given tradition, he or she will want to learn something about the self-understanding of that tradition's adherents: the lay folks' opinions matter. To their credit, many academics do indeed strive to gain such knowledge, and the more phenomenologically-inclined ones will even go so far as to attempt an empathetic understanding of the tradition (scholar Huston Smith comes to mind as a popular example of this sort of approach).

At this point, after years of study, my own answer to the question of whether Buddhism is a religion is Joju's forceful "!"


how my Twitter feed should look

The left edge of the black bar represents the left edge of my monitor:

Ideally, the above is what should greet you when you visit the Twitter feed for my walk blog.



For the first time since April of last year, I've posted something over at Kevin's Walk. Sometime later today, I'll be writing about some of the lessons I learned from my 600-mile journey in 2008. And hey, feel free to follow me on Twitter.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

interreligiously speaking

Dr. Hodges notes a recent article by Alex Beam about Pastor Rob Bell, author of a book titled Love Wins, in which Bell apparently argues that non-believers like Gandhi are not currently roasting in hell. Dr. Hodges quotes from Beam's article:

One big heresy that Bell has been blasting on YouTube and elsewhere is that non-Christians may not be condemned to burn in hell. "[Mahatma] Gandhi is in hell?" Bell asks. "He is? And someone knows this for sure? Will only a few religious people make it to heaven?" Ix-nay, quoth Bell, who must have the inside scoop on this. He is after all, the author of "Sex God," another book with enviable sales figures.

Not being a classical theist, I have no use for the concept of hell (or heaven, for that matter), so I don't find Bell's insight particularly earth-shattering. I can, however, see how Bell's line of questioning might ruffle the feathers of the Christian exclusivists who insist on a One True Path notion.

Dr. Vallicella, meanwhile, recently re-published the paper that first got me reading him: Can the Chariot Take Us to the Land of No Self? (My thanks to Dr. Hodges for first pointing this article out to me back in 2004; I took it as a challenge to my own Buddhism-tinged metaphysical sensibilities and replied here. Interestingly, my reply was recently picked up by another blogger: see here.) Dr. Vallicella has also just written a post briefly comparing Christian and Buddhist notions of selflessness: The Christian 'Anatta' Doctrine of Lorenzo Scupoli. From the end of his post:

In sum, both Buddha and Scupoli are claiming that no one of us is a self for the reason than no one of us is in complete control of any of his actions or attributes. No one of the things which one normally takes to be oneself or to belong to oneself (e.g., one's body, habits, brave decisions, brilliant insights, etc.) is such that one has originated it autonomously and independently.

The main difference between Buddha and Scupoli, of course, is that the latter maintains that God gives us what we do not have under our control. Thus for Scupoli, what we do not have from ourselves, we have from another, and so have. But for Buddha, what we do not have from ourselves, we do not have at all.

Vallicella is right to note that the Christian and Buddhist notions are significantly different in their particulars. A convergent pluralist like John Hick would argue, however, that both religious traditions believe in a radical turn away from self in order to be properly oriented toward the Real, so maybe they're not all that far apart after all-- not where it counts, i.e., in the realm of moral action.


second week of work survived

I'm off today, having managed to negotiate a Monday-through-Thursday schedule for myself. (I plan to use my off days for personal projects, especially prep for the walk, and have informed my boss of this fact. She's been graciously accommodating.) All in all, it wasn't a bad week: I think I've improved slightly in my ability to keep records, and I've become a bit more familiar with some of the kids attending YB.

At the same time, this week had some low points, mainly in the form of trying to teach squirmy grade schoolers. The junior-high and high-school kids were fine, in terms of behavior, though I did have one HS student who was utterly unable to provide simple answers to direct questions: it turned out she had test anxiety, which has exacerbated by my looming, silent presence every time I waited for an answer from her. That sort of anxiety is hard to master; very often, the best you can you do is learn how to minimize it through knowledge and constant training.

I'm not convinced that YB's format is the best one for grade schoolers. Sitting still in a chair for two hours is beyond the capability of most kids in the lower half of elementary school. Unfortunately, this is what we're asked to do: keep them in place, make them focus, and maintain that state for two hours. Although none of my kids has acted out in a wild manner, I often leave those grade-schooler sessions with my nerves jangling.

Oh, and there's this low point as well, which happened happened yesterday: I had a moment, with my test-anxiety student, where I feel as if I failed her. It was a rather simple SAT math question, and for whatever reason, my mind blocked on the answer. The question went something like this: "If the square root of x equals x/k, what value represents x?" The choices given were answers like "-2k," etc. The answer is, of course, that x = k2, but for some reason this eluded me. Only later during the session did I have an epiphany and realize how simple it was to solve for x. But that was a bad, bad feeling, before the epiphany: the student doubtless felt I was an incompetent nincompoop, and I can't say I blame her. I may even have undermined her confidence in being able to tackle SAT math problems. Luckily, she and I worked primarily on SAT verbal problems, where I was much more helpful to her, but that math problem haunted me for the rest of the evening.

Speaking of evenings: I'm not sure how I'm adjusting to working a 3:30PM-9:30PM schedule. As I mentioned a while back, I keep my stomach empty during the day so as to avoid bathroom runs; this means avoiding breakfast and lunch, and eating dinner only after class is over. I get home a bit before 11PM, which often means a late, late dinner. One big, late meal per day is a recipe for disaster. Still, I don't see what else I can do except to stick with that plan: eat late in the evening, poop in the morning, and be ready for the day.

Once my paychecks start rolling in, what I may do is immediately grab dinner somewhere local to the YB branches where I teach, before the joints close. Eating at 9:30PM is, to my mind, little different from eating a French-style dinner, which can often be after 8PM. The problem is that, for the post-9:30 dinner crowd, restaurant pickings are slim. For the most part, it's either fast food or some "family dining" place like Bennigan's or TGI Friday's or Outback Steakhouse. The latter joints aren't always open beyond 10PM or 10:30PM, though I've noticed that that's changing: some establishments will stay open as late as midnight or even 1AM.

In any case, after months of agony, I've finally gotten what I wanted: steady work, with its attendant stresses, and a schedule that gives me free time and breathing room to do my own thing. While I would have appreciated full-time, salaried work that also provided benefits, I'm OK with what I've got. I've done two weeks at this new job, and while I haven't learned all the ropes, I now know that the days are survivable.


humble beginnings

I haven't started writing at Kevin's Walk yet (that'll change later today), but I have set up a new Kevin's Walk Twitter feed: The blog and the Twitter feed will work in concert to chronicle things like physical training, my thoughts on mistakes made during the previous walk, the status of fundraising, the status of route planning, and the walk itself, when it finally happens later this year.* For now, feel free to "follow" my tweets, and check Kevin's Walk-- the blog-- later this evening for the first posts to appear there in nearly a year.

Another milestone is approaching, actually: April 16 marks the day (two years ago, now) my mother evinced cognitive symptoms that led to my very first post about her cancer. On that day, we initially had no idea what was causing the symptoms. By the end of the day, though, we knew it was "a mass."

*Interestingly, there is no hashtag for "#walkacrossamerica." Yet.


Friday, March 25, 2011


I have two bank accounts in Korea. My Choheung Bank account, which I established in 2005 when I began working at Sookmyung Women's University,* has been useful as a repository for some of the odd cash I earned while in the States, after I had come home from several years in Korea. Choheung was eaten by Shinhan around 2006 or 2007, so it became my Shinhan Bank account. Unfortunately, I had established only a basic-level account with correspondingly rudimentary privileges; in 2005, this meant that I had only the most basic ATM card (and not a global one)-- not a problem while I was in Seoul, but a huge problem once I was in the States: I had no way to access whatever cash was in the account.

That there has been, for some time now, a cash reserve in my Shinhan account was something I knew. I left Korea with little in that account, but I accrued funds in 2008 (and 2009, after I'd come back from the walk) by doing odd jobs-- proofreading, mostly. The question was how much I had accrued, and I had no way to check. Unable to access my account online (I'm told that one can do this nowadays, but in 2005 I'd been told, right or wrong, that I wouldn't be able to), and stuck with a basic-level ATM card that I'd brought back with me from Korea, there was nothing I could do except mail the card back overseas and ask a friend to check my account. I came to this conclusion over a year ago, but delayed sending my banking materials until only a few weeks ago.

Two of my best buddies in Korea were available to help me out, and they offered their help at about the same time. I ended up mailing both of my bank cards and bank books to Charles, and just today he reported that I've got the lordly sum of nearly 1.7 million won, which is in the neighborhood of $1500 at the current exchange rate (roughly 1120 won to the dollar). So HELL, YES, I want that money pronto! Luckily, Charles is on the case, and will be wiring it in the next 24 hours. By early next week, then, I'll have more fundage than I've had in a while. This is great, great news.

*I had affectionately referred to the place as "Smoo" on this blog because of its initials: SMU (Sook Myung University). Only later did I find out-- after checking SiteMeter and seeing Google searches for "hairy smoo" that led to my blog-- that "smoo" is actually dirty slang for vagina. Whoops.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

looking forward to that first paycheck

With bills piling up around me, and with no tricks left up my sleeve, I find myself looking forward to the miniature double-whammy of pay coming my way this weekend. In theory, I'll get my final paycheck from ETS this coming Friday; it won't total more than $130 for a single day's work (unless there's a forgotten half-day tucked in there somewhere). My first paycheck from YB is supposed to be mailed on Friday, so I might not see it until Saturday (if it gets here fast) or Monday/Tuesday. The check won't be for more than four days' work, given how pay periods begin and end at YB.

The money will be a relief, but unfortunately, it's all spoken for. Land line* and cell phone bills, a Comcast internet bill, an electric bill, not to mention my several creditors, who have been very patient (they could have been more like this).

My second paycheck-- actually, it'll be a direct deposit-- will be for a full two weeks of work. A goodly chunk of it will go to rent and the aforementioned creditors, but that's not a problem, as I've got three paydays in April. Pitiful as it sounds, I'm looking forward to doing stuff like buying a few new shirts and pants instead of washing and re-washing my only two dress shirts and pants, over and over again. (Now you understand motivation behind the Dryel post, which was about my slacks.)

Being able to buy a greater selection of food will also be nice. You've probably realized by now that all the shit that's bad for you is also cheaper, and I'm tired of living on cheap food. About the only cheap vegetables are carrots and cucumbers, but a man can live on just so much homemade oi-kimchi before he's driven irrevocably insane.

*Some have asked why I maintain a land line at all. It's a good question. For now, the answer is faxing, which I've had to do more often than I thought necessary. If you know of a way to fax things without using an actual fax and land line, let me know. I'm aware of online faxing services, but question their reliability.


ululate and celebrate!

Actress Elizabeth Taylor and actor Michael Gough (you know the face even if you don't know the name: he played Alfred the butler in Tim Burton's version of "Batman") have both died.

Meanwhile, William Shatner just celebrated his 80th (!!) birthday, and his good buddy Leonard Nimoy is about to do the same in the next couple days.


party at Muammar's

This isn't the kind of joke I normally like to explain, but this blog draws in more than a few nerds, so in case you're one of the folks not getting the reference, see here.


so just who is this Obama character?

I've seen Obama compared to the following presidents:


I get the impression that, collectively, we have no idea who this man is.


a return to the walk this year

I mentioned in a previous post that I might not be at my current job for very long, and that I wanted to discuss my immediate future. Well, I don't have time to write much right now, but here's a general vision of my timetable:

1. Later in 2011 (a few months from now, really): restart the trans-American walk, now repurposed into something less vague and more streamlined: a walk on behalf of victims of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), to raise funds and awareness about the disease. Fundraising and prep for the walk would start now; training would start now; the walk would be completed either in very late 2011 or sometime in early to mid-2012.

People have been asking and asking about whether I planned to continue the walk I'd begun in 2008. I've generally answered with an "I don't know," because I honestly haven't been sure. Lately, though, having made the email-and-blog acquaintance of the Parks family (I wrote about them here; Marissa was diagnosed with GBM a couple months ago; she blogs about her own experience here), I've felt inspired to do something meaningful for good folks who labor under a burden they didn't choose to bear. And somewhere in the back of my mind is my remembrance of Mom, a day or so before the debulking operation that took away most of her powers of speech and coherent thought: she was sitting morosely in her hospital bed, her family all around her, and she asked me whether I was going back to my walk. "How could I do that now?" I'd asked her in reply. Her expression turned dark and she said nothing. I knew what was going through her mind: Don't stay here because of me. Go on and do your walk. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't leave. How could I possibly abandon her when she most needed her family?

Of course, the object of the game, this time, is to do the walk right: there were plenty of mistakes last time around, mostly related to planning and focus. Some mistakes, though, had to do with the paths I chose to walk: I set myself up for all manner of delays and hardships by choosing a northern path. This time around, on the assumption that it's easier to walk through heat and humidity than through a snowstorm or a tornado, I'm thinking of crossing the south. I realize that this is going to present problems when I'm in the American Southwest, but careful planning may resolve that issue.

More on all this later.

2. Late 2012: return to Korea. It's where I belong. After eight years in Seoul, I'm still not a fan of big cities, but if I were to choose a big city to live in, Seoul would be the one-- not NYC, not Chicago, not Paris or San Fran or L.A. A lot has to be arranged if I seriously plan to do this. The whole question of carting my library back to Korea with me has become something of a joke. I'm most likely going to leave that library here, and will have to budget public storage into my plan. As I wrote a friend recently, the only other viable alternatives are to (a) sell off my library and replace everything with e-books (which might not be possible, since I'm pretty sure most of my religion-related books are unavailable in e-format), or (b) miraculously become super-rich and buy two properties-- one in Korea and one in the US, so as to have space for my books no matter which country I happen to be living in. I think when it comes to choosing a place to live, I'm more of a "both/and" than an "either/or" kind of person. I simply lack the funds to justify such a lifestyle. Two home bases would be nice, though, wouldn't they? Oh, and maybe a third perch in Europe while we're busy fantasizing.

So that's the general timetable. It needs fleshing out, and I'll need to start talking about the specifics, but to that end, I'll be revitalizing the Kevin's Walk blog (which has been dormant since last year).


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

this could be me

A 400-pound marathoner? I need to gain another 100 pounds before I can take a stab at that record. And he was a sumo wrestler to boot!


Monday, March 21, 2011

home solutions

Today, I find out whether Dryel works. The process is supposed to take about 40 minutes. If it works, it'll save me a ton on dry-cleaning bills.

UPDATE: It does indeed work. I followed the simple directions scrupulously, and my pants came out of the dryer smelling clean. Of course, one does have to do one's own pressing, but that's not tragic.


Hahna's trouvaille

Hahna found this excellent Photoshop image and posted it to her blog:

Kirk gets around.


reflections on my first week

I began this new job at YB with such a high level of trepidation that it bordered on clinical anxiety. Working there constituted my first real steps back out into the human world since Mom's passing; my previous gig at ETS at least afforded me the introvert's luxury of working at home. Now, instead, I drive to two different sites according to what day it is, and sit across a desk from two to three sets of one to three bright-eyed young people. After my disastrous training session, in which I failed to manage my teaching time correctly (two other trainees were marvelous; I felt like the stupid one in the group), I was seriously considering calling it quits, even to the point of fantasizing about how nice it would be to crash the car somewhere-- not suicidally, but just to have an excuse for not making it to work. This fear translated into all the bellyaching you've seen here on the blog, as well as the private whining I've inflicted on my brothers and certain friends.

After six days of teaching, I can say that I've calmed down and have reached a point where I've put most of my worries behind me. Dealing with the students has proved, in fact, to be the least of the challenges I've faced: the kids are generally very good, and even the unmotivated grade schoolers haven't been that difficult to deal with. All you need to do is play upon their fear that you're a powder keg of potential anger, and they'll respect your authority. Don't smile too much, stay on task, never reward their silly behavior by laughing at it, always reward their on-task behaviors and achievements, and you'll be fine.

The biggest challenge has been learning how to keep proper records of every session, and after a week of doing this, I still can't say that I've mastered the skill. I do, however, think I've improved a great deal from my first day on the job, and I'm slowly but surely beginning to learn about the library of material that YB uses for its modular lessons. Like EC, one of the hagwons I used to work at, YB's corporate philosophy aims to make the experience of teaching and learning so streamlined that teachers should simply walk in, quickly plug in their plans for the day, then walk out at the end of the day with nothing more to do. There's a certain appeal to this, I suppose; not having to worry about anything when you finish is indeed a load off one's shoulders. At the same time, however, the daily format forces one to compress a bunch of duties that should take time and deliberation into just a few minutes at the beginning and a few minutes at the end.

I don't want to say too much about the students I've encountered except to note that most of them are very good at being on task. I feel sorry whenever I drop the ball and leave one of them hanging, e.g., when they've finished a worksheet and are waiting either to review or to move on while I confer with other students. At this point, I've taught a range of students spanning first grade to twelfth grade, and have generally proven equal to the task even when the topic is math (up to algebra). Student motivation tends to vary; most are here because their parents want them to study more, so they generally lack intrinsic drive. One wispy little fourth-grader even asked me to provide her with more homework than I had because, as she whispered, "my mom will yell at me if I don't have enough to do."

YB's policy is such that parents and teachers don't interact; all interaction is mediated through the front office. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the rare occasions that a student would complain about my class in Korea, I disliked learning about the complaint from a third party. On the other hand, Korean culture tends to view almost all negotiation situations as requiring third-party intervention, so it's not surprising that YB, co-founded by a Korean, would function along similar lines. I suppose the advantage of having the office as intermediary is that parents (and possibly even teachers) can't plunge themselves into confrontations that could easily spin out of control. For YB, this would translate into loss of business as well as a tarnished reputation, which would entail further loss of business. Still, I'm more a fan of directly addressing complaints and concerns; third-party mediation has always struck me as a mite yellow-bellied.*

Over the course of the past week, I had a few eighth-graders and high-schoolers say that they thoroughly enjoyed their time with me, which came as a relief. One TOEFL student complimented me, which was also a relief because he seemed rather tense for the entire two-hour session. One girl said that our French lesson was the best such lesson she'd ever had. One high school senior said he was learning more in our session than he ever did in class-- though I should note that this guy was intellectually ready to be sitting in a college classroom and digesting heady topics.

I was glad to discover that I wouldn't always be teaching nine students every single day. In fact, I don't think I had a single day, during my first week, in which I taught a full complement of students (3 sets of 3, with 4 sets of 3 on Saturday). On Monday and Tuesday, I had six students each day, and taught only two sessions on Tuesday. On Wednesday, if I remember correctly, I had four or five students. On Thursday, I had five students. On Friday, I taught only two classes, and one class had only one student (the French student mentioned above). On Saturday, I was scheduled to teach only three out of four possible sessions, so I ended early, at around 3:15PM, on what could have been a 9-to-5 day. The office provided us with pizza at lunchtime, which was nice.

Colleagues and staffers have all been, without fail, very understanding and encouraging. They're all good folks, and they all seem to care about teaching. I don't feel I've quite entered the circle of trust yet, but that may simply be my own insecurities talking. The point, though, is that adapting to life at YB hasn't been the nightmare I had thought it would be, so all my kicking and screaming was for nothing. The job isn't as undoable as it originally appeared, and while I'm still not a fan of the corporate elements of YB's pedagogical approach, I think it's a good, solid, decent job.

This doesn't mean that I plan to remain here forever, though. More on that later, as I talk about my plans for the next year or two.

*To be fair, I should note that US schools can use intermediaries, too. Back when I was a high school French and English teacher at a Catholic school in the early 1990s, I usually found out about problems with my students (or rather, with my students' parents) through the main office. But even in such cases, I always ended up speaking with parents eventually.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

ha ha

I see that the UCLA "racist white girl" video has gone viral. At the Marmot's Hole, they've embedded the vid of this hilarious reply by comic David So. Hard to believe that that girl actually made it into UCLA, what with her obviously low intellectual candlepower. While a few of her complaints may have some merit, overall I think she's dumb as a box of rocks, and So's deliberately wild-eyed replies to her criticisms are, in their own way, amusingly on target.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

the scheduled post

You may or may not have noticed that some of my recent posts occurred during my new work hours. In other words, I couldn't possibly have written them at the time they were posted. Ha ha-- that's the power of scheduled posting! This post, too, was written long before it was actually posted, and was set to appear at a time determined by me so as to provide the illusion of steady, consistent blogging. I can hear your nipples thrumming, so I know you're impressed.

My Friday session at YB was short: the larger branch is the only one in the area to have Friday classes at all, and they end the day earlier than normal-- at 7:30 instead of 9:30. On Saturdays, they go from 9AM to 5PM, but I've been told that, this week, I have no final class, so my own schedule will end at 3PM. That can change, of course: like EC in Seoul, my daily schedule is constantly subject to change as students cancel or shift their session times. I'm hoping I'll never have to find out all the possible ways that a Saturday schedule can pan out: I've been lobbying to change my schedule to Monday through Thursday, starting next week.

I've been happy, thus far, with the students I've taught at both branches. I'd been worried about screaming tantrums and such, but thus far, no student has proved to be all that troublesome. I attribute some of this orderliness to my age and heft and experience: unlike my 20-something self from the 1990s, I now look crustier and perhaps a bit meaner or more world-weary, and I know I no longer radiate that simpering "I wanna be your buddy" aura that plagued me as a freshman teacher twenty years ago. Like dogs, kids can sniff out weakness and fear. I balance my time-bestowed gravitas with my native good cheer and obvious attentiveness to my charges, which all students respond to. Treat kids with respect, and they'll usually respect you. Usually.

But the larger part of the credit should go to the kids themselves; they've brought their own motivation and good behavior with them, perhaps as a function of the decent upbringing I'd generally associate with families that value education either as a good in itself or as an instrumental good. My kids are mostly from South Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and South Asian families, so the education-is-golden metanarrative is firmly in place, even among the less-motivated students. We'll see how this plays out today; I've heard that Saturday can be a big kiddie day.


Ave, Justin!

Once again, Justin confirms his reputation as the finder of all things cool online. This YouTube vid (which I hope will be active when you click over to Justin's blog) is barely three minutes long and yet contains more plot and more philosophical depth than most of George Lucas's filmic oeuvre. I'm still trying to unravel the metaphysics of the commercial's fictional universe, which seems to fuse "Star Trek"-style causality loops with Sino-Buddhist notions of samsara, but even as my rational side chews that over, my aesthetic side gleefully affirms that this commercial was one wild ride.

Hey, Justin: I found this video.


eating and pooping

Another problem with my new work schedule is that it allows no time for dinner: I come into the office around 1:30 to prep, work straight from 3:30 to 9:30 with only five-minute breaks between classes, then head on home. So-- when to eat? I'm old enough to know the quirks of my own digestive system: it's usually six hours after I eat a meal that I experience the need to visit ol' Uncle John. This means that eating at noon-- before I leave for work, will entail a poop run sometime during my work hours. The office is too cozy for that: kids use the lone bathroom all the time, and no adult staffer would ever drop a load in there, for fear of being branded a turdmeister. So when I wake up in the late morning, I don't even think about eating; dinner has to be after 9:30.

I accepted two slices of haemul pajeon from a supervisor yesterday, and spent the evening worrying whether that might produce intestinal chaos. Luckily, it didn't. Now, the goal is to keep from overeating at night: eating right before sleeping is never a good idea. Then again, I usually stay up beyond 3am, so if I eat around 11PM, I'm not sleeping immediately afterward.

Back in the 1990s, when I was a fresh-faced French teacher, I remember a day where I was passing out copies of a worksheet for my kids. While I was standing next to one girl, my stomach let out a loud, long gurgling noise. She immediately looked over at her friend and shared a not-so-secret smile. I nodded and said something vague like, "Yeah, yeah-- that's right," as if I'd deliberately timed my gurgle for that moment. Now, sitting in front of groups of three students, I worry that my empty stomach might decide to do what it did in the 90s. Kids in a learning situation will often latch onto irrelevancies instead of concentrating on the task at hand, and my stomach could easily become that sort of a distraction.

It's a biological Scylla and Charybdis: a full stomach carries with it the danger of an in-office poop run; an empty stomach, meanwhile, brings the threat of gastric thunder.



Before I got this new job, I spent most of my time barefoot. Now, however, I cleave to a "business casual" dress code which includes, for the moment, a pair of dress shoes that have a tendency to cut into my Achilles tendons when I walk. The solution is to wear two pairs of socks-- a thin black pair over a thick white pair.

Today is only my fifth day on the job, and I'm amazed at the pile of socks I've already generated. They're heaped inside my laundry bag, no doubt confused and terrified to have been so suddenly called to duty after months-- years, really-- of placid inaction. Yes, O Socks: it's wartime, and I Want You.

The increase in sock-wearing has brought with it an increase in nighttime foot-washing when I come home-- water, soap, rubbing alcohol, water. Time to slip some Odor Eaters into those shoes to minimize the stink that develops during the day.


Friday, March 18, 2011

the fragile nature of subjectivity

At Conscious Entities, an exploration of a topic covered, in an obliquely similar way, by Daniel Dennett in his paper, "Quining Qualia." While the thrust of Schwitzgebel's Perplexities of Consciousness is somewhat different, it seems to focus on the same problem that Dennett was focused on: does the word qualia have a reliably solid referent? From the blog comments about Schwitzgebel's book:

Why is it, he asks, that scarcely anyone, even the most vigorous sceptics, seriously questions the infallibility of introspection on certain points? The core argument seems to be that we can be wrong about the way things are, but we cannot be wrong about the way they appear to us. But why not? Schwitzgebel claims the argument rests on equivocation between two senses of ‘appear’ , one of them epistemic as in ‘it appears to me that…’. I don’t know whether the argument actually rests so much on the word ‘appear’ , but it seems a valid and interesting claim that there are two levels at work here: our experience and our beliefs or claims about it, with no special reason to think that the latter must be magically veridical.


your moment of Saint Paddy's Day joy

First, a song sung by the cast of the most Irish movie of them all.

Next, an actual clip from that movie, which rapidly became one of my favorites when I finally saw it a year or two ago.

Finally, a video made by the cast that didn't make it into the movie (except perhaps as voiceover during the opening or ending credits). In the actual movie, we never see Robert Arkins, the lead singer in this video, singing. In reality, he was one of the most versatile musical performers in the cast.

Erin Go Bragh! One of these years, I need to get to Ireland.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

what these new work hours mean (and other news)

I'm no longer as in touch with the daily goings-on in cyberspace now that I work from 3:30 to 9:30PM. By the time I get home, the unread tweets have piled up, as have the unread blog posts by the usual suspects.* Luckily, I don't have to get to sleep until 3AM, given how late my day starts, so it's not that big of a deal.

In other news: my day at the bigger, busier branch of YB went well-- certainly better than I had anticipated. I don't have a single clue as to how well I'm doing; I had some very positive student reactions today, but the twelve students I tutored over Monday and Tuesday said nothing directly to me. Maybe they spoke to the boss lady on their way out (as often happens in Korean hagwons; it's a way of checking in on the teachers).

Alas, I continue to make mistakes, especially in terms of pacing and time-budgeting. The only reason there have been no major repercussions is that the students themselves have shown a remarkable level of tolerance for my gaffes (and the younger ones may not even realize what's going on).

On the bright side, I'm getting better at planning lessons and keeping records, but it's going to be a while before I attain the insane ideal of planning nine lessons in twenty minutes. One of my coworkers at the big branch was very helpful in explaining what I do and don't have to do when prepping. One thing I don't have to do was photocopy the lessons: the students are supposed to do that. My job is just to jot down, in the student's dossier, what modules we'll be working on, and it's up to the students themselves to grab the materials, photocopy them, and bring them to me over the course of the tutoring session. My colleague's revelation came as an enormous relief to me; I was trying to figure out how a person could possibly do all that prepping and photocopying in under half an hour.

*I anonymously follow a whole host of blogs on my blogroll, and visit them whenever I see an update. I know that, by following anonymously instead of "nymously" ("ominously"?), I'm depriving these good folks of a measure of self-validation (don't we all count how many followers we have?), but I just can't bring myself to follow anyone publicly. It's an irrational hangup, I admit, but whadaya gonna do?


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

what to do with my mornings

I don't have to leave for work until around noon (except on Saturdays, when the work schedule is 9AM to 5PM), and I tend to wake up around 9AM. I might be able to get my brain in gear by doing some exercise before I head off to work, but convincing my lazy self to do that isn't going to be easy. Still, a morning constitutional would be a good thing.

Today, I'm off to the bigger, noisier branch of YB. Charles asked, in a comment, how we're supposed to plan a lesson in two minutes. I think the idea is that, once you've memorized most of the library of modules-- not their content, but their titles, levels, etc.-- it's easy to plug in the correct module for the student. Since tutors are supposed to keep scrupulous records for every single thing they assign, it's possible to glance at the records and figure out right away what the next thing should be.

The problem, for me, is that I sometimes have to skip around the records to find the relevant information: a student's previous lesson might have involved math, and I'm not a math guy, so I have to hunt further in the past to find a day when the student had reading or writing work to do, then extrapolate forward from the record for that day. I can't say much more without getting into specifics, so I'll leave off here.

Third day of work. First at a new location. Fingers crossed.


the voice of common sense

ROK Drop has been covering the disaster in Japan. This post struck me as eminent common sense, based on what we now know. In particular, this sounded like excellent advice:

If people are really concerned about Chernobyl 2 occurring[, then] watch what the US military does with dependents at Misawa, Atsugi, Yokosuka, and other bases in Japan. If they are evacuated[, then] you know things are much worse than what the Japanese government is reporting.


second day survived

Whew. Second day survived. Record-keeping came to me more easily today, and thanks to a student absence and the lack of a third class, I felt more relaxed. Tomorrow, however, I'm teaching at one of the larger branches, which promises to be a hectic experience. We're supposed to be able to prep nine lessons in twenty minutes. I don't see how this is possible, personally, but it's what's expected of us. I need two hours just to prep six lessons; up to now, I haven't had to prep a full complement of nine. Tomorrow, though, that's likely to change.

YB is run a lot like EC was, but without the degrading obligation to wear a lab coat (it does have a specific dress code, but the code isn't unreasonable). At YB, most lessons are modular and the two-hour time constraint means that teachers need to approach all topics in very specific ways, following certain steps to get students to succeed at their tests. The exception to this is when students want to deal with school assignments. Students aren't supposed to do homework in class (homework is to be done at home!), but there's nothing wrong with helping them understand the principles that will allow them to tackle their homework. The teacher's approach to these issues can be more flexible and organic.

Nevertheless, that student-- the one with the school assignments-- is only one of three, so time management is crucial, and the teacher (or perhaps tutor, as Addofio pointed out in a recent comment, though I see the teacher/tutor distinction as somewhat blurred) still has to bounce back and forth among all the students at a steady rate.

With only two white shirts to my name, I have to wash them and iron them tonight so as to be ready for action tomorrow. Once I start getting a paycheck, one of the things I'll have to do is buy extra shirts, pants, ties, and all the rest. Along with that problem, the car needs repairs, my brothers and friends need to be paid back, and debts need to be reckoned with. I've already mentally tracked where all my money is going, and those first few paychecks are spoken for; it'll be a while before I can actually breathe again, financially speaking.


eBay: by the skin of my teeth

Would anyone would like to place bets on whether my eBay'ed monitor, a 24-inch Acer beauty that sold for $75 plus $25 shipping, will arrive intact at its destination in Wisconsin? I wrapped that sumbitch up real good, but there was still a lot of empty space inside the large box I put it in. The monitor fits diagonally inside the box without any chance of wigglage, but I'm a bit worried about what might happen should my box end up at the bottom of a stack of heavy items. Well... if the buyer demands a refund, then I guess we'll have our answer as to the monitor's condition upon arrival. Meantime, place your bets.

UPDATE: In case you're wondering why this post is titled "by the skin of my teeth," well... I'm wondering, too. I think it's because I had originally wanted to say something about the amount of time I spent this morning hunting around for packaging materials while also preparing for work.

I spent the morning desperately rummaging around, looking for enough styrofoam or bubble wrap to fill the interior of the box I ended up using, but didn't find enough. Luckily, I had plenty of material with which to cocoon the monitor. By the time it went into the box, it looked like Frodo after Shelob's attack: layers of bubble wrap and cardboard over the screen itself, and foam shielding for the monitor's mount.

The process of prepping the monitor, then prepping the box (with a dangerously dwindling supply of packing tape), took me most of the morning, and I needed to leave by 12:30 for my job. The post office scared me for a second: the nice lady said my box might have been in the wrong size and weight category, but it turned out that, because I had fortuitously clicked the "large package" selection when printing my shipping label, I was in the proper size/weight range after all.

Everything got done on time, but just barely, hence the "by the skin of my teeth" in title. At least I think that's what I intended when I wrote that.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Zen advice

My brother Sean, a professional musician, offers the following advice to his older sibling (pardon the cutesy lack of capitalization, most punctuation, and paragraph breaks!):

congrats for making it through it. ive certainly been in situations that are very strange like that before [i.e., 3:1 tutoring, with students all doing different things]. i find that the best way to deal with it is to empty your mind of preconceptions over how things should be run. a lot of people (myself included) get locked into a certain way of thinking that only this way or that way is the best way to teach or run rehearsal etc. but usually what happens is that so much energy is spent thinking about how the system is wrong that precious time and energy is wasted that couldve been used figuring out how to make the absolute best of the system.


anyway good luck!

Undeniably good advice. I promised Sean that I'd try to implement it. As I told him in my reply, the thought sustaining me right now is that I'm giving back to my brothers after all the help they've given me.


definitely too old for this shit

I survived my first day on the job, but it's obvious I'm not competent at it. The learning curve for someone my age is rather steep, and the job requires one to think like a waiter: dynamic situational awareness and super organizational skills are paramount. Given enough time and breathing room, I consider myself pretty organized, but switching into waiter mode is an extremely foreign experience.

It was fortunate that one student cancelled and that the remaining students turned out to be pretty pleasant. Still, I could sense the return of that old stress, from back when I used to teach high school-- the frustration that comes with "herding cats," as they say. All of my students were kids; none were teens. Nice as they were, they were still twitchy and unfocused (with two very notable exceptions).

There's also the fact that this job requires a highly specific form of record-keeping. Every student has a dossier in which it's necessary to tick off various items as the hours roll onward-- homework completion, scores on exercises done in class, estimated levels of student motivation and focus, hours devoted to a specific topic, written recommendations for the student, etc. It's a lot to keep track of, and by the end of the evening, I was distressed at just how spotty my own records were. I've been reassured that this will improve over time. I can only hope I retain enough sanity to be conscious of the improvement.

Life doesn't get any easier as you get older. I mentioned before that I'd been pampered by my final three years in Korea; it's true. Today marked a return to the hagwon mentality, and I'm rebelling against it.


Monday, March 14, 2011


First-day jitters got me waking up earlier than usual this morning. My job at YB starts at 3:30PM today, but it's a one-hour drive to the school and I want to be there at 1PM, when they actually open, to do my lesson planning and talk over pacing with my bosses.

I didn't do so well during the training session; the school asks you to teach groups of three students who are (1) at three different levels of achievement/skill and (2) learning three different subjects. Each tutoring session is a two-hour block, so you normally see nine students a day over the course of six hours. Hagwon style, for sure, and very confusing for us old folks.

Since the 3:1 student/teacher format holds throughout the day, and since you're likely to have different students every day, this means nine lesson plans per day, which is a lot, to put it mildly. The up-side is that the plans are pretty modular, pretty mix-and-match, so it's usually just a matter of finding the right modules for the right students and plugging them into the plan (homework is just as modular). After that, it's a matter of going from student to student, rotating the tutoring, so that all the students are getting steady face time with the teacher.

What went wrong during training this past Saturday-- we trainees role-played teachers and students-- was that I spent too long with one student; even though the other two had been given work to keep them busy, I was supposed to check in on them frequently. This is very different from 1:1 teaching, where you can focus on a single student, and it's also different from classroom teaching, where all the students are working on the same subject.

It's going to be a rocky start, I think. I came away from Saturday stressed out of my mind and dreading today. I'm hoping that the day goes more easily than Saturday did, and that I get used to the fast pace of instruction. If it turns out that I can't adapt, that I've become an old dog who can't learn new tricks after years of being pampered in Korea (well, pampered during those final three years), I may have to rethink my immediate future.

Don't mind me. As I said: first-day jitters.



Lee wraps up his musings on a book by one of my former profs, John Haught, Making Sense of Evolution. Sure enough, Lee notes Haught's intellectual debt to Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead (see here, last paragraph).

My old friend Dr. Steve sends me a link to this interesting article about the rise of the aerotropolis: a city built around, and depending on, an airport.


language note

This is utterly trivial, so feel free to ignore this post, but some readers may have noted that I've been having trouble labeling quakes consistently. I've referred to "the Christchurch quake" because Christchurch was the city most obviously affected by the earthquake in New Zealand last month; in the meantime, I've used the phrase "Japan quake" instead of "Sendai quake" because of how widespread the damage has been. Please forgive the lack of parallelism.


casualty figures

(another desultory meditation)

During the first few weeks of a massive national tragedy, general chaos prevents the public from seeing the big picture clearly. Wildly fluctuating casualty figures are one byproduct of this chaos. Americans will recall the early days of the September 11, 2001 attack, a few months shy of a decade ago: no one had a clear idea how many people might have been in the twin towers when they collapsed, so early estimates of the death toll swung as high as the tens of thousands. The eventual number, just under 3000, was arrived at many months later once the dust had settled, the missing had been accounted for, and doubled-up names had been crossed off the rosters of the dead and missing.

New Zealand and Japan are going through this process now. New Zealand's count seems to have stabilized, with a final tally expected to be somewhere between 200 and 300 dead. Japan's disaster is both more recent and more chaotic, largely because of the unstable situation with the nuclear plants affected by the quake and tsunami. The number of confirmed dead seems to have passed the 1000 mark, but officials-- doubtless looking at the lists of the missing-- fear the death toll may rise to the 10,000 mark. If so, that would easily surpass the stats for the 1995 Kobe quake (over 6000, not 5000 as quoted earlier; see comments to this post).

Measuring tragedy in terms of death toll is a gruesome game, and if it's true that placing value on human life is impossible, then death tolls tell us nothing about the subjective scale of a disaster. As CS Lewis noted in The Problem of Pain, the suffering of one person can't be assigned a value x, such that two sufferers are experiencing 2x worth of suffering. All that we can measure-- and even here, we can never do it accurately-- is damage to the economy, and there's little comfort in doing that.

NB: Justin Yoshida, whose relatives may well have been affected by the disaster, links to this article showing before/after images of Japanese cities. Hover your mouse over an image and slide the cursor back and forth to "peel" back the top-layer "before" photo and see the "after" photo. A few things that struck me right away were (1) the transition from green to brown, (2) the transition from boats to no boats in those harbors, and of course (3) the destruction of all those buildings.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Korean news makes Drudge

As for all the nuclear talk... I'll be curious to find out what the actual situation is. The Japanese are, for obvious historical reasons, super-sensitive about anything radiation-related, so I imagine they're going to do their damnedest to contain all these reactors as well as they can. Not that they have much choice, of course: with such a high population density, real estate is always at a premium. Unusable real estate spells trouble.*

More important, of course, is the question of lives. I shudder to think of the actual death toll. Comparisons with the recent Christchurch, NZ quake are perhaps inevitable, and I'm already hearing that the Japan quake was 8000 times more powerful than the one that struck Christchurch. Japan's 1995 quake in Kobe killed over 5000 people; God knows how many people died this time around.

Digging the living out of the rubble and wreckage, making sure the reactors are safe-- I see these actions being spun into political issues when to me they're merely common sense. Of course the living have to be dug out, and of course the reactors need to be tended to. Imagine if the reactors were left untended and the atmosphere started carrying all that radioactivity away from Japan and over other countries. Anyone who criticizes concern about the reactors is seriously lacking in brain cells. This isn't about money or even electricity: it's about safety.

I've been in only one earthquake in my life, and it wasn't even a true earthquake: it was simply a mild tremor. I can't even begin to imagine what people in Christchurch or Japan or other quake-prone regions go through.

*I don't mean to sound crass, as if the issue were merely about property and money. I mean "real estate," in this instance, merely as a synonym for ideas like land and space.


if you speak French

Fear-mongering! It's a global pastime! I watched this édito-vidéo by scarf-sporting journalist Christophe Barbier and had to laugh. The video's title indicated that he was going to discuss what risks are involved after an earthquake. I had hoped that Barbier's exposition would end on some sort of positive, constructive note, but what he did instead was offer a litany of disaster scenarios and conclude by observing that people seem able to protect themselves from almost any natural disaster except water, for which the only answer seems to be flight. Yep-- he ended on "la fuite." Rather depressing, Chris.


Japan quake coverage

Justin Yoshida notes where to find the best coverage of the Japan earthquake (and aftershocks). See his post here.

Bill at ROK Drop focuses on the nuclear problem. He and his commenters seem extremely worried about the potential for another type of disaster, should the nuclear plants lose their structural integrity.

Live French-language commentary about "la menace nucléaire" over at L'Express.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

a film worth seeing?

Can I sit through two hours of Kevin Kline speaking French?

Perhaps. The film looks interesting.



Japan's earthquake yesterday isn't a nightmare just for Japan: the resultant tsunamis radiating outward from the epicenter have hit Hawaii and are threatening parts of the North American west coast (in about an hour from this writing). Batten down the hatches!

Meanwhile, news from Japan itself is pretty horrific.

UPDATE: Check out BoingBoing here and here.


Friday, March 11, 2011

four months?

Dr. Hodges, in his recent post about the influx of foreign faculty into South Korean universities, quotes an article by David McNeill of The Chronicle for Higher Education, in which McNeill claims that foreign faculty who come to Korea to teach tend to leave as quickly as they come, departing the peninsula within, on average, four months. Jeff expresses surprise at this figure, and I'm just as surprised. Is life in Korea really that horrible for foreign faculty? I know the paperwork can be a bitch; one Korean professor who had lived most of his adult life in the States bemoaned the mountain of forms that Seoul National University made him fill out when he transitioned to a post on the SNU faculty. But I'm sure he lasted more than four months in his new position.

Did anyone else believe the foreign faculty turnover rate could be that high? That truly is an astounding figure. Anyway, be sure to read the rest of Jeff's post, which is about much more than turnover rates.



Orientation today from 1PM to 9PM. Some studying to do before I leave my abode, then it's the marathon. Online training tomorrow and Sad Turd Day. Blogging for the next couple weeks may seem weirder than usual as I get used to my new routine.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


Well, well!

I got a call around 5:20PM from one of the teachers at the nearer branch office of my new employer: they want me in the branch tomorrow at 1PM for an orientation, and I'm supposed to be there for a full day, i.e., until 9PM. I'm excited about going there, but a bit apprehensive that I won't have enough time to study for the test that has to be taken at the end of training on Saturday. Friday is also a training day, so I won't have any study time that day (except maybe in the early morning). So tonight I'll do a good bit of cramming (I've done some already) and arrive at the branch tomorrow, brimming with questions.

In other news: I've already cancelled my ETS session for Friday. On that day, I'll also fire off my "I want a divorce" email. My buddy Mike wondered whether I'd like to retain some sort of relationship with ETS, but at this point I'd say the likelihood is low, for several reasons.

First, there's the general dearth of work. I've heard from some supervisors that this isn't going to improve for another few months. Second, there's the fact that my new job will likely include a Saturday schedule, which leaves me only Sunday to rest. I'm not like my brother David, who seems capable of working seven days a week under the burden of two jobs; I need at least one day to myself-- preferably two. Working for ETS on Sunday after six days with my new job would be the short route to insanity. Third, if I did stay with ETS, I'd most likely sign up for 4-hour shifts. You have to sign up for these a month in advance, and priority is always given to people bidding for 8-hour shifts. Even during a high-traffic month, then, there's a good chance I might not get work.

So no: all in all, it doesn't seem likely that I'll be continuing with ETS. I'm thankful for the work I've been given, but there simply hasn't been enough of it for me to think about continuing with them.

For prudential reasons, I haven't named my new place of employment, so from now on, just to avoid saying "my place of employment," I'm going to give it une appellation fictive: Yong Bulal (dragon balls). That's right: I now work for YB. And I will not be giving out my email address to any students lest they find this blog too easily. This won't be like working and blogging in Korea, where Korean coworkers are unlikely to find your blog unless steered to it. This is the anglophone internet, so there's always a danger that some curious kid will spend time hunting down your online presence.

It's therefore doubtful that I'll be saying much, either positive or negative, about YB that might be used against me by students who have nothing better to do than fuck up other people's lives for no reason. I'm not saying I won't write about my job at all; I'm just saying I'll probably have to be very careful about what I write. Anyone who's read my rants about EC (2004-2005, just before I left to go to my wonderful career at Smoo) knows exactly the sort of language I'll need to avoid.

Right now, though, it's nice to be wanted.


days of study

My new job comes with two days of training: this Friday and Saturday, for 6.5 hours each day. Training will be done online as a videoconference, and I've been given plenty of material, some 60-100 pages, to print out and study. The only thing that makes me nervous is the setting-up of the videoconferencing software; the whole thing is taking place via a particular website, and while I think I've accomplished the initial configuration correctly (thank you, iMac!), I'm probably going to call the local branch office of my new company on Thursday, just to make sure. I admit I'm both nervous and excited.

On Monday, I actually start. Sometime after the training is over, I'll be receiving my teaching schedule by email, and if I'm not mistaken, I'll be spreading my time between two branch offices-- one that's under an hour from where I live, and one that's a little over an hour away, in good traffic. Classes go from 3:30PM to 9:30PM, no dinner break. For me, that means a long drive home and a late-night snack... or possibly a switchover to a Buddhist-style meal schedule: old-school Buddhism has you eating your final meal before noon, with nothing after that. It's kind of a reverse Ramadan, but for all of one's life instead of for just one month out of the year. Heh. In any case, here goes nothing.


for those who practice

Happy Ash Wednesday. Yesterday was Fat Tuesday for the partiers, and now we begin the Lenten period. For some, this means sacrificing something or other. Were I more of the sacrificing type, I'd happily avoid liver and onions (which I do, anyway), but today is gonna be another normal day for me. No special sacrifices foreseen, though God knows I could afford to let go of something. Carbs, maybe.

A mindful Lent, then, for those who practice.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

former profs of mine

My favorite grad school prof has a YouTube channel of his own! Here's Dr. Jones with his guitar.

And a prof from Georgetown, John Haught, gets a couple mentions on Lee's blog. I doubt Haught remembers me at all. If he does, he may remember me as the lazy sophomore bastard who walked into the final exam for his Science, Myth, and Religion class 30 minutes late.

Yes, my freshman and sophomore years really ruined my undergrad GPA, but I did clean up my act during my junior and senior years: junior year was spent in Switzerland, where I completed my religious studies minor, and senior year was primarily devoted to taking the courses that eventually got me a gig teaching French. I often think it's a shame that my grades from junior year weren't averaged into my final GPA; I did pretty well while in Switzerland.

Anyway, enjoy experiencing the music and theological insights of two of my spiritual parents. (Lee may already have figured out that Dr. Haught has a soft spot for process theology and the work of Teilhard de Chardin. Haught has been at the interface of science and religion since I first met him in the 1980s.)


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

the purview of English class

Excerpts from an email exchange with an English prof who shall remain nameless. I wrote:

I read your on-the-spot essay topic: "gender roles: nature or nurture?" and found myself once again pondering just what it means to study English. What is the purview of this field? Are students in an English class expected to give rigorous answers to questions-- such as the nature/nurture question-- that might better belong in fields like psychology, sociology, anthropology, and even biology (endocrinology and cognitive neuroscience come to mind)? I don't ask this facetiously or mockingly; I'm honestly curious as to what English (if I may personify the field) considers its purview. Is its purview, as some suggest, the entire universe, since language is the key to expressing anything?

I've wondered about this before, especially in my own frustrated dealings with PoMo/PostStruc thought. Very often, it seems to me that what starts off as perfectly plausible lit-crit theorizing gets extended (overextended?) into domains like hardcore philosophy (see Derrida, Foucault, or Baudrillard, for example), where it really doesn't belong. How much did Later Derrida, for example, have to backpedal from metaphysical claims made by Earlier Derrida (that's a rhetorical question; he backpedaled a lot, as it turns out)? So you've got students tackling a nature/nurture question that is rife with complexity. I think it's great that they're being exposed to the question and are wrestling with it, but are the articles they're reading giving them the scientific ammunition to handle the topic? If not, then what ammunition are they getting?

The biggest overlap I see tends to be between English, as a field, and psychology. The study of characters in fiction, for example, often requires students to tread psychological ground: students explore characters' thoughts and motivations, and may even explore the author's headspace in order to understand the text. I suppose this overlap of disciplines is inevitable (and it explains the presence of a thinker like Jacques Lacan in the PM/PS canon), but in the case of English, how far does it go?

A necessary concession: English isn't the only field that gets imperialistic. Read EO Wilson's Consilience to what happens when an entomologist tries to unite pursuits as disparate and super-specialized as biology and fine arts. Wilson, of course, sees his own field, biology, as the key to understanding all others-- a tendency I've seen in thinkers in other fields as well (religious studies, theoretical physics, etc.). But [if] Richard Dawkins, another biologist, is ill-equipped to handle meaty philosophical questions by retreating to the idiom of science, is English a field that can plausibly tackle questions like nature versus nurture? Obviously your answer is yes, which is why you assigned the topic... but why yes?

It's truly a fascinating and frustrating question for me: what purview does English, as a field of study, see itself possessing? In what disciplinary pies does it stick its fingers, and why?

The prof's reply:

Yeah, what goes on in comp classes these days has a lot to do with the great cultural-studies turn English departments have taken in the last twenty years. Live in a society that no longer gives a rat's ass about the artistic/cultural expressions you and your colleagues have devoted your LIVES to studying? Well, maybe you'd better persuade the world that the same critical apparatuses you'd devised for illuminating literary texts can also be brought to bear on movies, TV sitcoms, pop albums, and advertisements.

So what happens when we decide as a society we're in no way benefitted by conducting critical inquiries into THOSE sorts of "texts"?

Well...that might really be the end of English departments.

Though maybe we'll still have comp departments.

At least until we decide that writing (and an attendant activity called THINKING) is (are) no longer relevant.

But anyway....

That cultural-studies turn explains why a whole lot of the material in the "gender" and "social class" and "race" reading units in comp readers like the one I use (Rereading America) are ABOUT pop-culture stuff. For instance, my comp class today discussed an article by a woman named Joan Morgan who was agonizing about whether a good feminist can also be a HIP HOP fan.

But I guess the premise behind HAVING "gender" and "race" and "social class" units in comp readers and classes (rather than just "movie" and "sitcom" and "advertisements" units) is that as long as we've got to do a lot of thinking and writing in this class, we may as well think and write about issues playing out in national headlines every day. Don't squander an opportunity to create smarter CITIZENS, or something like that.

My students, of course, can't write with any particular AUTHORITY about, say, gay marriage after doing two or three or four class readings on the subject. But they can hopefully express some reasonably cogent opinion on the matter in the shape of a three page, seven-paragraph essay that nicely incorporates words and ideas from a couple experts they've read. school's freshman-comp class -- and this makes it totally unremarkable -- winds up being a sort of social-issues class. Which is fun, believe it or not. We get to talk lots about the differences between liberals and conservatives, and why these groups of people have the feelings they do about gay marriage or welfare or income taxes. It keeps the youngsters -- who very often, shockingly enough, have never HAD a class where they get to talk about this stuff -- reasonably awake and alert, since they're naturally curious about, say, all the ire they've heard directed at Obama, or what it's going to mean for their school that we Pennsylvanians just elected as governor someone who says Chris Christie is his hero.

Gives me a chance also to try to recruit them to the Leftist Cause. Which sounds naughty, of course, but I figure the fact that I tell them straight-out where I'm coming from -- and that I assure them they don't have to express liberal opinions in their essays to do WELL on said essays (no shit: they really don't) -- makes it okay. I even point out to them that their textbook is ITSELF wildly liberally biased.

Like ALL comp readers.



I had to take an SAT (stripped of the essay portion, so it was no different from the one I took in 1986) as part of my job interview today, but I guess the bosses thought a 1440 (740 Verbal, 700 Math-- better than I did in high school) was good enough to qualify as a teacher at their standardized test prep company.* They're not offering full-time work, but they're allowing me to stack up some hours because they have a pretty constant need for teachers. I train this coming Friday and Saturday, and start work on Monday.

In the meantime-- barring yet another cancellation tonight due to low student numbers-- I'll be working my final day at ETS tomorrow, cancelling my Friday session with ETS, and emailing the ETS central office my two weeks' notice. Not a problem, since no other work has been scheduled for me for March.

You can't imagine what a financial roller coaster ride it's been these past couple of months. I owe at least three people a good bit of money for helping me out with my living expenses. Life hasn't been easy. But at least, by the end of this month, I can begin to pay those debts off.

*The Korean boss lady who interviewed me said the 700 Math was just so-so by their standards, but with some brushing-up of my math skills, I'd be able to teach the subject.


synchronicity... sort of

Linked below are two very, very different posts by two very, very different Canucks who both make reference to Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra.

1. Nathan's continuation of his exploration of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

2. Skippy's evocation of Nietzsche as relates to Charlie Sheen (but it's der Mensch, Skippy!).


Monday, March 07, 2011

apple polly loggies

Sorry if I don't seem to be posting much today; I'm gearing up for tomorrow's job interview, which includes a test-- very likely a mock SAT, as I noted before. Having gone through some of the problems at the official College Board site, I now realize I very much need to brush up on my math skills. The SAT Verbal sections won't be a problem. I'm actually sort of excited about tomorrow's challenge.


Ave, Jeff!

Jeff Hodges writes on Niall Ferguson's "Six Killer Aps" for Western civilization. Very interesting, as are the links in his post. Jeff also adds a seventh killer app to Ferguson's list.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Ave, Staf!

Check out Stafford's review of the iPad 2.

Hope you didn't have any friends or relatives in Christchurch, man.


potential good news on the job front

I'm interviewing for an SAT prep position on Monday. The goal will be to persuade the nice lady that I'd be worth her while as a full-time employee and not merely a part-time one, but if part-time is all she has on offer, I may take that. Anything is better than what I'm doing now-- not because of the nature of the job (I promised months ago not to whine about that) but because of the amount of work I've been getting, which is next to nothing. You can't pay the rent and all your other bills if you've gotten only $600 the entire month. Luckily, my federal tax refund arrived by direct deposit this past Thursday, just in time to save my big ass. I need to get hired (and I need to say adios to ETS) this week if I plan on having a roof over my head.

So wish me luck. The interview also includes a sit-down test-- probably a mock SAT to make sure I'm as good as I claim to be. It ought to be a breeze, but just to be sure, I'm working on some online practice tests. If quizzes make you quizzical, then tests ought to make you testical, and testicular fortitude is what I'll be needing on Monday. I should probably take a hint from those crazy Swedes as to how to approach the interview that day:

Grrrrraaaaaaaaaaggggggghhhhhhh!! Sveedish styyyyyyyyllllllllllle!!!



Leave it to Fox News to report that there may be aliens among us. I'll be curious to see how this pans out. The "meteorite" claim has been made before, with inconclusive results at best. But who knows? Perhaps it's true that Life here began out there.


"Epic Meal Time" versus "Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time"

I've now seen a few episodes of "Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time," and they're all equally funny to me. There's another series, with greater viewership, called "Epic Meal Time," which seems to be done in the same vein. In fact, I'm going to guess that "Epic Meal Time," which appears to be a Canadian production, came first. But first doesn't always mean best, and having watched some "Epic Meal Time," I think the Swedes beat the Canucks. You see, the guys at "Epic Meal Time" don't pummel their food (or at least, they don't pummel it much), which automatically makes their show appear more timid. On the plus side, the Canucks seem more interested in presenting actual cooking techniques as opposed to leaving proper prep to the imagination. Here's their most recent effort: "TurBacon Epic Thanksgiving," with over 4 million views. You might also like "Chili Four Loko."

And while we're talking YouTube, here's a link to an oldie but a goodie: "How 'The Empire Strikes Back' Should Have Ended."


awesome art

"Pencil versus Camera" by Belgian artist Ben Heine.

The concept: make a stylized pencil rendering of a given real-life tableau, hold your drawing in front of the tableau so that the drawing's edges match up with the real scene, then take the picture.

Enjoy the slide slow.


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Ave, Hahna!

At reader and friend Hahna's suggestion, I went to YouTube to watch something called "Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time." Hahna says her hubby doesn't relate to it, but she suspected that I'd enjoy it.

She was right. I did.

I've seen only one episode (if "episode" is the proper word), but it had me busting a gut. The concept seems to combine a cooking show with wanton violence toward food. The net effect is to make Swedes look endearingly ridiculous, and the fact that the dialogue was in "Swenglish" made the goings-on all the more hilarious.

This is one of those viewing experiences that can't really be explained, so I'll leave off here and will simply link to the "Chop Chop Carnage Stew" video that I saw. I'm going to go and watch more episodes. (It occurs to me that "episode" in its medical sense might be perfectly apropos for this show.)

Sweden's national tourism bureau should hire these guys to do promos. And an episode in which they throw shit at Anthony Bourdain, pummeling him with boiled chunks of Swedish culture, might also be kind of cool.





"So you cooked up a story and dropped the six of us in a meatgrinder."
--Oscar-worthy line delivery by Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch to Carl Weathers's Dillon in "Predator"


l'artiste JR

Thanks to Jeff's post on the subject, I made the acquaintance of French multimedia artist JR. If you haven't done so already, please read Jeff's post, then go watch this TED video of JR explaining what he does and what he sees as art's role in the world. I like JR's transgressive spirit and the fact that he's doing what he can to build connections between people-- even people from opposite side of the world, both geographically and spiritually-- and I especially enjoyed his refreshingly unpretentious take on what art is and does: for JR, art isn't what changes the world: art is merely a catalyst that leads to discussions that lead to action that changes the world. What a relief it is to hear that.

[NB: If you're in piracy-rife Korea and can't see Hulu (I know that some folks on the peninsula can, but that's not true for everyone), you can watch this 5-minute YouTube video that covers many of the same bases as the TED talk.]


Friday, March 04, 2011

love your wound


"tractor beams" for "optical micromanipulation"

How awesome is science? This awesome:

A laser can act as a "tractor beam", drawing small objects back toward the laser's source, scientists have said.

It is known that light can provide a "push", for example in solar sails that propel spacecraft on a "wind of light".

Now, in a paper on the Arxiv server, researchers from Hong Kong and China have calculated the conditions required to create a laser-based "pull".

Rather than a science fiction-style weapon, however, the approach would only work over small distances.

The effect is different from that employed in "optical tweezers" approaches, in which tiny objects can be trapped in the focus of a laser beam and moved around; this new force, the authors propose, would be one continuous pull toward the source.

And it relies on directly impinging on an object, making it distinct from an approach demonstrated in 2010 by Australian researchers whose trapping worked by heating air around a trapped particle.

The trick is not to use a standard laser beam, but rather one known as a Bessel beam, that has a precise pattern of peaks and troughs in its intensity.

Seen straight-on, a Bessel beam would look like the ripples surrounding a pebble dropped in a pond.

If such a Bessel beam were to encounter an object not head-on but at a glancing angle, the backward force can be stimulated.

As the atoms or molecules of the target absorb and re-radiate the incoming light, the fraction re-radiated forward along the beam direction can interfere and give the object a "push" back toward the source.

Going somewhere, Solo?