Monday, September 30, 2013

get it up

My new phone works, and because it's running on an Android platform, I'm gonna fuckin' re-download all the games and widgets that I enjoyed on my Droid X in the States. Yeah, baby! I've also got to get my Droid repaired: it's got plenty of files that I still want to harvest—photos and such.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

30 minutes' meditation, 40 minutes' slaughter

After some internal debate (me versus my laziness), I went to Hyangrim-sa today and meditated for thirty minutes. It wasn't the full two-hour meditation I had originally intended to do, mainly because I left for the temple rather late in the day: after 2PM. Had I started out at 12:30PM, as originally planned, I'd have meditated a full two hours at Hyangrim-sa per the cham-seon (zazen) schedule I had first experienced at Hanguk-sa in Germantown, Maryland. At that temple, cham-seon went like this:

1. 40 minutes' seated cham-seon
2. 2-3 minutes' brisk walking meditation
3. 40 minutes' cham-seon
4. 2-3 minutes' walking meditation
5. 40 minutes' cham-seon

That totals two hours of seated meditation and 4-6 minutes of walking meditation. Instead, today, I arrived close to 2:15PM. No nuns greeted me at all; the day was rainy and the temple was absolutely still. Even the big dog was curled up, sleeping or thinking canine thoughts. I went up to the dharma hall's side entrance and stopped, enjoying standing under the temple eaves, paradoxically exposed to the weather yet protected from the rain. I took off my shoes and noticed, in the distance, a layperson pushing her cart and staring openly at me. I should have bowed or something. Perhaps she thought I was a thief, come to steal some golden statues. Or perhaps she was merely curious as to who I was. Ignoring the woman, I turned toward the door, carefully pried it open, and entered the empty dharma hall.

Silence. Stillness. Dark. I had no company except the statues and paintings and the sound of the pattering rain. I crossed the hall to the far corner, where a four- or five-foot-high stack of rectangular cushions stood. I plucked a cushion off the top of the stack, aligned it roughly toward the image of Jijang-bosal, bodhisattva of transition and guide for the dead, set down the pillow I had brought from home as a makeshift zafu (is this called a "방석," bang-seok, in Korean?), brought out my alarm clock (also from home), sat myself down, and dropped into meditation. The quiet ambiance made it easy to achieve more or less the right state of mind; I stopped taking ownership of my thoughts, and the noisy torrent of words and images began to settle into a more tranquil, quiet flow—not disappearing, but no longer in wasteful, unproductive chaos.

Half an hour passed fairly quickly; I clapped my hands in imitation of the wooden chukpi that normally signals the end of a meditation session, got up, did three circumambulations of the dharma hall's interior, then went back out into the world. Still no one. I shrugged and walked out of the temple, ready to eat.

The Palace of Infinite Meat was near the bottom of the hill, close to the main drag. I went in and piled my plate high with dead-animal flesh, gathered some other plates of vegetables, got myself a bowl of rice and some sesame oil/salt dipping sauce, then sat down and started grilling. As before, I ended up eating two plates of meat. This time around, I also grabbed two bottles of soda (for an extra W1000 each). The whole meatfest took perhaps forty minutes to complete; my fellow diners were, once again, Southeast Asian blue-collar workers happily jabbering in their own tongue. One guy at the table next to mine would rattle on in his native language, then punctuate his utterances with the Korean, "Ai, jinjja!" Another table was a mixture of Koreans and Southeast Asians; it was interesting to hear Korean spoken hesitantly, and with a Southeast Asian accent.

Thoroughly stuffed and a bit sleepy, I rolled my large self home. Today, I'm re-watching "Doubt," starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (my brief review of the film is here)—a fitting continuation for a religiously themed day.

Next time I visit the temple, I'll endeavor to do the full two hours of meditation.


129.6 kg

Not much weight loss to report, but I'm down from 130.1 kilograms on September 14 to a new low of 129.6 (285.8 pounds).

As John McCrarey likes to say on his blog: onward and downward.


my first Samsung Galaxy pics

Not a very auspicious beginning—no photos of Korean dragons or sharknadoes or anything—but here are the first three pics taken with my new smartphone:

Above, you see the very first shot I took while lying in bed. The colorful gift bag is what the phone-shop guys gave me on my way out the door Friday night. Shampoo and toothpaste, basically. A lot of toothpaste. I won't need toothpaste for a few years, I think. So I got dat goin' for me. Which is nice.

Below: three of my four vinegar traps. The bottles look as if they contain basil leaves or something, but that's just the warped reflection of a black plastic bag sitting behind the traps.

Finally, a pic of yours truly, happy to have a phone again. The phone-shop guys gave me a slew of frills: a thin plastic protective cover that they placed directly over the phone's touch screen (it doesn't impede the haptic interface at all), as well as a molded, billfold-style protective cover for the entire phone. That may be one reason why I'm happy. Another reason might be that my new phone has a front-facing camera, which is how this shot was taken. No more guesswork as to where the camera's button is.

The screen of my new phone is even more high-resolution than the screen on my poor, dead Droid (it died a while ago, yes; I'm going to take it in for repairs so I can salvage its data). The camera's viewfinder is also amazingly clear. I don't know how many megapixels I get with a Samsung Galaxy S 4 LTE-A, but I imagine I can look the stats up easily enough (ah—here we are: front cam = 2 megapixels; rear cam = 13 megapixels, 1080p resolution).

When I first plugged the phone into my Mac by USB, my computer didn't recognize the phone. This seemed like a bad thing: how could I access the phone's photo files? But because I had downloaded the Android File Transfer program (originally to extract files from my Droid X), I was able to use that application to view the Galaxy's files. The icing on the cake is that, because my computer still doesn't recognize the existence of my new phone (even though the Android program does), I can simply unplug the phone from my computer without having to go through the annoying eject procedure. Win-win.

I'm impatient for Monday, 1PM. At that time, I can punch the long code into my phone and activate it. Once that happens, I'll be back inside the great hive mind of 2013-era civilization.

Oh, and I just downloaded the English version of the phone's user manual from here. I see that the phone shown in that manual is slightly different from my own, but I trust the manual is still at least 90% applicable to my situation.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

things that had slipped my mind

Although I try to present a fairly comprehensive writeup of my adventures wherever I might be, there are things that do slip my mind. Here are two.

1. Doctor's X-ray. I had forgotten to chronicle the very first thing that happened to me during my checkup at Samsung Hospital on that shitty Tuesday: an X-ray. A male technician—the only male I dealt with during my hospital visit—told me in a blandly friendly voice to empty out my shirt pockets and to stand with my chest pressed against a large, squarish plate, and with my chin posed, more or less, atop a chin rest. He told me to take a deep breath and hold it; he took a picture of me (I imagined myself being blasted by cancer beams, X- and Y-chromosomes writhing in microscopic agony), then told me I could release my breath. Apparently, the first attempt wasn't good enough, because he asked me to do the procedure one more time. He repositioned me ever so slightly, asked me again to take a deep breath, took another pic, told me to breathe again, and that was pretty much that. I would have liked to see my X-ray pics, but alas, it is not to be. My office at the school will get my personal data, however; that thought warms my heart.

2. Cell Phone Contract. I had said, in my post about obtaining a cell phone, that I had understood maybe half of what the Pon Gap Ddong Gap employee told me regarding my contract. I then listed what I had understood. A couple things I failed to mention having understood:

a. I wouldn't have to pay anything at the store. I would be billed.

b. Bill payment would be in the form of an auto-deduction from my bank account.

PHONE UPDATE: At around 3:45PM today, I lumber-waddled back to the store and picked up my sleek new Samsung Galaxy S4 LTE-A smartphone. All the paperwork was done; I was allowed to take the original documents that I had signed (I presume the store made photocopies); I was shown how to type in the long activation code after 1PM on Monday, and that was basically that. I am now be-phoned, but it won't be until Monday that I send out my first calls and text messages. What really delights me about all this is not that I'll have voice access to my friends: it's that I'll be able to order food from my studio. At last!


Friday, September 27, 2013

on the brink

I left my office around 7:40PM after another long day of waiting for—and not seeing—a few students who needed tutoring. (Correction: one intrepid student did show up. Praise be upon her. She's a good egg.) I decided en route that I'd go find out how much a cell phone would cost me. Along the way, I met another student on the street; he seemed pleasantly surprised to meet me. When I told him I was thinking about getting a cell phone, he said, "Why?"

"Because I don't have one."


"Because I didn't get one when I first arrived in Hayang."


"Just because, dude."

We waved and went our separate ways.

At the edge of town was a huge cell-phone store with the unappetizing name Pon Gap Ddong Gap (폰값똥값), i.e., "Phone Price Dung Price." The interior of the store was cavernous and way too well-lit, the ambiance reminiscent of a bright ballet studio or a beauty salon. I went in.

Dung Price was being managed by three twenty-something guys when I entered. I told them roughly what I was looking for: a good Samsung 4G phone with plenty of data and bandwidth. They cracked open a bible of possible options—page after page of rates and phone types, all listed in bewildering detail. When I asked for an unlimited data plan, they said that unlimited this-or-that didn't exist at the 4G level of service: I'd have to select how many gigabytes I wanted. One guy asked me whether I'd be on the Internet a lot; I said yes, so he pointed to a 9GB option. I shrugged and went with it. The other guys asked me for my alien registration card; they made some calls to unknown parties to determine whether someone in my situation—a foreigner with an E-1 visa—could go through with this purchase. The invisible person on the other end said yes, I could get a phone.

I was then handed a sheaf of papers on which I had to repeatedly (1) print my name, (2) put down my signature, (3) write my office phone number, (4) check "agree," and (5) write down my alien registration number. I also had to write my residential address twice. While I labored over these sheets, all three guys ended up crowding around me, watching, occasionally commenting, and sometimes pointing at pink-highlighted blanks that I had missed. I felt almost as if I were at a bar, given our drunken-looking huddle. I finished signing the final form; the huddle broke up, and one guy gave me a lengthy explanation about the policy and benefits I had signed up for. I doubt I understood half of what he said, so I interrupted him and asked whether I could have a copy of the contract that I had just signed fifty-eight thousand times. He said yes. I did catch a few things from his spiel, though:

1. My first bill will be less than W10,000, as it will cover only the tail-end of this billing cycle.

2. The phone won't be activated until Monday. No activation after 8PM on Friday, and no activation over the weekend. Weird.

3. My regular monthly bill will be around W88,000, which is a bit steep, but I did ask for a lot of bandwidth.

4. The contract is for 24 months.

All I care about is having a functioning phone on Monday. I'm finally on the brink of being reconnected to civilization.



Thursday was obviously a busy day for me—so busy, in fact, that I did the unthinkable and blogged nothing. Sorry about that.

8AM: Woke up to get ready for a French conversation with my goddaughter at 10AM (9PM the previous day, Virginia time). Not long after I woke up, I received a message from my goddaughter saying that she was sick and on her way to bed. I crawled back into bed and got an extra hour's sleep.

9:30AM: Take two. I got up, showered, dressed, and shuffled off to school for the first of several student appointments before my 3PM lesson.

11AM: Student appointment.

1PM: Another student appointment.

2PM: A student missed her appointment, leaving me extra time to grade some quizzes.

3PM-4:45PM: Class with my intermediates, who took their quiz and did a good job with the round-robin. Later in the day, I graded the students' quizzes, and... not a single "D" or "F"! That was a proud moment.

5PM-6PM: Student appointment. A group of four this time: as with the previous pair of students, they were there to learn how to teach. I'm not sure how well the session went; two out of four students could barely understand what I was saying. One student, in fact, had no clue even about the English alphabet. This was one of my two Chinese students, about whom I've written briefly before. Also in today's group was a girl who is truly vacuous: she fits the American stereotype of an airhead to a T. She chews gum, she talks in class when she's not supposed to, she's always reaching for her cell phone when she thinks I'm not looking, and she doesn't understand anything of what's happening around her (she was, in fact, the girl who missed her 2PM appointment with me). While she's not quite as bad at English as her Chinese classmate (this girl is Korean), her character prevents her from becoming a success.

6PM-11:20PM: Massive data entry: I had finally gotten most of my students to give me their email and phone contact information. I had also polled most of them about what projects they were going to do, and had asked them to tell me what teams they were members of (each class is divided into four teams). All of this information needed to be entered into my specially tailored Excel spreadsheet, along with the latest batch of quiz grades. I also had to check my students' progress with their online homework; this proved rather disappointing. A month has gone by, and many students still haven't even registered at the appropriate website to do their homework. I'll check my students' progress again this weekend; I had told the stragglers to catch everything up by this Saturday.

It's quite cool at night now. I enjoy my walks home in the dark. The campus is fairly quiet; the cars are relatively few. The days are still hot, but I can sense that the overall humidity is beginning, grudgingly, to yield to the advent of autumn. By mid to late October, lower temperatures ought to predominate.

Thursday was a long day. Friday promises to be long, too. More appointments.


when the bugs get serious

My traps are working now. I've got about twenty-three little gnat and fruit-fly carcasses—floating or sunken, vinegar-logged—in my four bottles. Surprisingly, the tiniest trap in the kitchen has caught the most critters. Then again, because the trap is in the kitchen, a high-traffic zone for rot-loving flying insects, it might not be surprising at all that it should catch the most pests.

Tonight, just after midnight, I witnessed my very first fruit fly officially trapping itself. Two or three more of the little beasts have been crawling around the outsides of the three plastic bottles sitting on the bookshelf next to my computer desk, but one intrepid (or obtuse) fruit fly traipsed right into the trap's hole and sealed its fate.

Watching the behavior of fruit flies as they approach my traps is fascinating. While I haven't figured out fruit-fly flight patterns quite yet, I've seen a great deal of variety, enough to suggest that fruit flies, brainless as they are, may possess something like moods or personalities. Some seem happy-go-lucky, zigging and zagging merrily through the air, while others seem to cruise along sedately (thereby making themselves easy targets for a shot of Windex), free of the world's cares and oblivious to the many dangers lurking in my studio. Is the same fruit fly capable of two different flight patterns? Are there subspecies of fruit fly that have certain unalterable flight patterns genetically encoded in them?

It matters little, as far as the vinegar traps are concerned: fruit flies, whatever their idiosyncrasies, all seem to behave the same way once they're close enough to catch a whiff of the fermented liquid inside those cylinders of death. They zigzag or arrow toward a bottle, at which point they suddenly shed their sense of fun and become deadly serious. I know they're serious because once they land near a vinegar trap, they rarely take off again right away: they're concentrating. They land, then they begin crawling around in staccato bursts—start-stop, start-stop—following whatever search algorithm is graven in their rudimentary consciousness. The algorithm is sensitive to the presence of fermentation, and the fruit flies often find themselves led upward, upward along the outside of the plastic bottle. With luck, some insects arrive at the top, on the trap's edge, hesitating on the rim of a deadly but seductive crater. With further luck, some fruit flies pause, drinking in the scent of the vinegar, determining where the most intense concentration of it is...

...and then they start down.

Watching this phase of the entrapment is agonizing to me. Many fruit flies don't make it to the bottom of that crater—to the hole that is the threshold for the trap. Instead, for some frustrating reason, they turn around, crawl back up the crater to its lip, and fly off, playful once again. Tonight, though, I watched while one ill-fated fruit fly crawled down and through the threshold. It had killed itself, and it didn't even know it.

What I've learned about fruit-fly behavior, though, is that temptation, seduction, makes a fruit fly deadly serious. One whiff of vinegar, and it ceases its ludic antics to become suddenly, ruthlessly focused on the pursuit of putrid perfection. It lands, it quests, it pauses for long, pensive moments. If I'm lucky, it follows its olfactory receptors and finds its way into that fatal womb from which no fruit fly ever returns. If I'm unlucky, it wends its way right up to the aperture, then crawls back out and sails off.

And when that happens, if I have my Windex handy, I blast the fucker.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

a better day today

Today was a busy day, and both tomorrow and Friday promise to be just as busy. The reason: I've scheduled a slew of appointments with students from my Tuesday 9AM class. Some appointments are for groups of students; some are for individuals. Starting Wednesday afternoon, I had three appointments (it would've been four, but one student canceled on me): two were individuals, at 1PM and 2PM, and one was a pair at 7PM, which met me after I had finished teaching my Korean class. So, in list form, my Wednesday looked like this:

9AM-10:45AM: Beginning English
11AM-12:45PM: Beginning English
1PM: Appointment with a student (make-up quiz)
2PM: Appointment with a student (in dire need of tutoring)
3:30PM: Obtain ATM card from Daegu Bank
5:15PM-6:45PM: Korean class
7PM-8PM: Tutor two members of Team 1 (from the Tuesday 9AM class)

It was a long, tiring, but fulfilling day. I was glad to have gotten my ATM check card from Daegu Bank: I feel almost human now. I still need to get my campus ID card and my school insurance card; those things will happen over the next week or two. I was also glad to have had the chance to meet with some of my kids in smaller numbers; they're a lot better up close than when I'm declaiming loudly to twenty of them at the front of a classroom.

My first tutee came to make up the quiz he had missed. He had provided me with a doctor's note to explain his absence; otherwise, I wouldn't have allowed the make-up. My second tutee had gotten a 50% on his quiz; his English needs massive work, and we only just scratched the surface during our one hour together. I wasn't clear, at the end of our session, as to whether he would be coming back for more tutoring; I hope he does, if he has any concern for his grade. My final session was with two members of Team 1 (you'll recall that I've divided every class into four teams for the round-robin format I'm using); the team captain was a shy but studious girl who told me she was actually very interested in the round-robin style of learning; I was heartened to hear this, but I also think she's in the minority. Perhaps things will change once I've had the chance to sit, team by team, with most of the class.

With that final pair of students, I worked on pedagogy: how to teach. We spent an hour going over my suggested method, but in the end I told the students that they could change my suggestions to whatever they felt would work. Their team, Team 1, actually has four members, but half the team was unable to make the appointment. The two kids I saw this evening will have to take what they've learned and teach it to their teammates. Little by little, I expect to see improvement in how the students teach (tonight, we ran through a practice drill in which I role-played a student).

Compared to my awful Tuesday, Wednesday, though tiring, was a vast improvement. As I mentioned above, Thursday and Friday promise to be equally busy; I just hope both days are as good as Wednesday turned out to be.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness": the huge plot hole

While he's in the Enterprise's brig, Khan tells Kirk that he killed all those unarmed Starfleet flag officers because he "responded in kind" after mistakenly thinking that Admiral Marcus had killed Khan's 72 crew/family members. Later in the movie, Spock explodes the 72 torpedoes that Khan has beamed aboard the commandeered USS Vengeance. Once again, Khan believes his people dead, so his first thought is to ram the Vengeance into Starfleet Command. He instead misses, smashing Alcatraz, skimming across the Bay, and plowing the Vengeance into several very tall buildings, presumably killing thousands of innocent civilians. As before, Khan's mass murder is the product of a misapprehension.

So at this point, Admiral Marcus's words make sense: Khan was condemned to death long ago, and it's up to people in the 23rd century to carry out that sentence. By killing thousands in San Francisco, Khan has added significantly to the list of crimes he must answer for. Instead, he's given the most merciful sentence I can imagine: he's re-inserted into a cryo-tube and returned to slumber. Does this make sense?

There's also the question of what happened between the moment that Spock knocked Khan out with that upper cut and the moment that Khan was placed back in deep-freeze. Was Khan told, when he regained consciousness and became an unwilling blood donor for Captain Kirk, that his people were still alive? Did this news make him more docile, or did it infuriate him to learn that Spock—who can't lie—had nevertheless managed to outwit Khan's supposedly superior intellect?

I didn't miss the fact that, after Khan had taunted Spock by saying that a being unable to break rules can't be expected to break bone, Spock broke Khan's arm. That made for some satisfying dramatic symmetry. But was that satisfaction enough to make up for the above-mentioned plot holes? I'm not sure.


a shite day

Tuesday started off badly, as I had to talk with my 9AM beginner's class about their awful performance on the quiz two weeks ago. I also had to call each student up, one by one, to discuss why so many of them hadn't done any of the online homework I had assigned them on the first day. Quite a few hadn't even bothered to register for the online component of their coursework. A month has gone by, and some students are just sitting there, doing jack shit. I'm trying very hard to avoid using the word stupid to describe these kids, but it's becoming more and more difficult to find an adjective that basically means "less than intelligent." These kids seriously lack common sense; they have no self-motivation at all.

Today, I drew on the board a circle of cause and effect for them: if the students fail their quizzes, it's because they didn't learn. If the students didn't learn, it's because their teachers (i.e., their classmates) didn't teach them well. If the teachers didn't teach well, it's because the teachers didn't prepare. I've told all my classes, over and over, that their teams need to meet and talk before every class—to familiarize themselves with the material and to formulate plans—but my beginners just aren't getting this through their thick skulls.

It's at times like this that I realize how good I had it when I was at Sookmyung. Sookmyung prided itself on being the second-best women's university in the country, second only to Ehwa Women's University.* The girls I taught at Sookmyung could evince their own form of lazy and stupid, when they wanted, but in general they were smart and driven and ambitious. On days like today, I long for a return to those golden, olden times.

I signed up nine of my students—who had all gotten "D"s or "F"s on the quiz—for extra tutoring later this week, starting tomorrow (Wednesday). I also signed up all four teams in my Tuesday 9AM class for extra tutoring: I plan to teach the kids how to teach, because what they're doing now is pure crap. I admit this was a mistake I had made early on: I should have spent a lot more time in training my beginners. That's a mistake I won't make again next semester. It sucks to realize how much time I've wasted.

With dark thoughts burbling in my brain, I ended my 9AM class at around 10:45AM and trudged back upstairs to gather my things and prep for the rest of the day. It was a big day: pull out cash from Daegu Bank, get my alien registration card from Daegu Immigration, get my mandatory hospital checkup out of the way, and see about resurrecting my cell phone.

I changed back into my street clothes, spent a million years at the bank before I could get my damn money, then went to Immigration, which sits close to Dongchon (East Village) Station. The wait at Immigration wasn't long, thank goodness, and I wasn't as sweaty as I'd been last time. I was given my card; I signed a register, and that was that.

I took the subway back to Anshim Station, then got in a cab and headed for Hayang Samsung Hospital, a place that, according to several colleagues, was dirty and grungy. One colleague mentioned having seen a roach crawling around on that hospital's floor. I wasn't looking forward to this checkup, mainly because I had never gone through such a procedure with a Korean medical facility before. The cab dropped me at the front of the hospital; two old men in hospital pajamas sat outside the front door, just hangin'. I went inside, found the front counter, and told the young ladies that I was a college prof at Catholic University Daegu, there for my checkup. I gave them the photocopied sheet that the school had given to me. Next, I filled out a form at the front counter and verified that my name was indeed on a list of foreign faculty at CUD. I was led upstairs, where I was weighed and measured; I was also asked to give both a urine and a blood sample. It had been years since I'd pissed into a cup, which felt unpleasantly warm as I carried it, grimacing, out of the restroom and back to the attendant.

When it came time to take my blood pressure, the machine proved unable to get a proper reading (despite squeezing my upper arm so tightly that my fingers turned purple and almost visibly pulsated). I was sent back downstairs to the naeshi (endoscopic) room, where another medical professional was supposed to get my blood pressure manually. The door to this professional's office had a cute poster on it that politely described the various ways in which an asshole can be probed. I hoped that a blood pressure check was all that I was in for. A smiling doctor popped out, took my form, and told me to wait five minutes. Some time later, she came back out and took my blood pressure by hand, frowning at my reading and telling me my blood pressure was high enough for me to require meds. I knew this already; it wasn't big news. I'm not taking any of your goddamn meds, thanks. If I croak or stroke out in front my students, I'll be content in the knowledge that I have only myself to blame. After a little homily about the need to diet, the doctor put on her smiley face once again and told me that my info would be sent to the university (why another person has access to my personal medical data, I'll never fathom), so there was noting left for me to do. I walked out.

I thought about catching a cab from the hospital back to my neighborhood, but after waiting like an idiot for five or seven minutes, and getting progressively more annoyed, I decided I'd just start walking back home. Somewhere early in my walk, my foot came down on a buckled asphalt surface, and I lost my balance and fell messily onto the gravel. Fucked up my right thumb and scraped my right knee, but my left hand and knee were both fine. The thumb bled a bit, but not much. I didn't even realize my knee was bleeding until I noticed, later, that my sweatpants were stuck to my knee. That bleed wasn't so bad, either: no blood was visible on the outside of my sweatpants.

At first I was disoriented as I walked along; although I've gotten to know a lot about Hayang, I don't know it thoroughly. Luckily, I saw a bus stop that showed the bus's route: one arrow pointed in the direction of the Hayang Town Admin Office, which was right close to where I lived. So I simply followed the road, more mindful, now, of the ground's unevenness. I passed several tempting restaurants, then found myself in an incredible part of the open market that I didn't even know existed: what little of the market I had seen was obviously only the tip of a very large iceberg. After that, I knew right where I was, and I followed the main drag, Hayang Street, to the local SK Telecom office to take care of my phone.

You'll recall the phone's back-story. Or maybe you won't, so I'll summarize it here: my buddy Tom got me the phone mainly for temporary use back when I was in Seoul this past April and May. Tom and I had gone to Itaewon, where I purchased the phone, an old 90s-era slider, for about W30,000. It was a "prepay" phone, i.e., I would have to dump money into it periodically. The screen on the phone advertised SK Telecom, so I assumed that I'd need to recharge my cell at an SKT branch. When I tried this, however, I discovered that the phone wasn't actually on an SKT service; instead, recharging turned out to be a long, complicated procedure that involved going to a local 7-Eleven and asking the cashier to call someone who would help recharge the phone. I took the phone back with me to America, popping out the battery so as to keep the remaining money from draining away in roaming charges, but as it turned out, the money drained away all the same. I further discovered that keeping the phone at zero money for over 90 days meant that I'd lose the phone's phone number. At the end of August, I tried to "resurrect" the phone at a local SKT office, but was told that I'd need my alien registration card. So I waited three weeks—until today, really—and seized my chance when I was walking by an SKT branch.

I went into the branch and was told to wait. I waited. And waited. When it was finally my turn, I told the employee my situation; he listened, then handed me over to a cute female employee. She determined that the phone still had its number, despite having lost its service. Unfortunately, she said, there was nothing I could do to salvage the phone. She gave some reason for this, but I didn't understand the vocabulary she used, so that crucial reason will forever remain mysterious. I understood the upshot, though, because I asked her whether my phone was now just garbage, and she nodded yes while grimacing.

So to cap off my already-shitty day, I've got a useless phone. I could, in theory, go out later this evening and get myself a decent smart phone. I may still do that. We'll see.

After a day of slacker students, shooting out blood and piss for random women, being lectured about my blood pressure, suffering an embarrassing fall, and failing to salvage my cell phone, I came home, sweaty, exhausted, pissed off, and a bit depressed, just wanting to take a shower and to do some goddamn laundry. Now I'm pounding out this blog post, and not looking forward to the rest of my week, which is filled with student tutoring sessions. This includes Friday, normally my day off. Fuck.

I think I'll print some worksheets out, then get to bed early tonight. Yeesh.

*Technically, the formal name for Ehwa is the Konglishy "Ehwa Womans University"—yes, that's "womans" with no apostrophe. There's a history behind that misspelling, which I understand was supposed to be deliberate, but I consider that spelling so egregious that I refuse to repeat it. My apologies to friends of mine who teach there. I mean no disrespect to the school. In fact, it's precisely because I respect Ehwa that I call it a women's university.


two more dead

My humble kitchen trap netted two little bugs without my knowing. These traps are working—just not as fast as I'd like.


Monday, September 23, 2013

my first! second!

Let it be known throughout the land that I have caught my very first fruit fly in one of three fruit-fly traps sitting upon my computer desk (a fourth trap resides in my kitchenette). The happy event must have occurred sometime between yesterday and this evening.

Here's to many more trapped bugs.

UPDATE: Note the corrected post title: to my great joy, I found a second tiny corpse in another trap. So, laddies, I suppose the traps are working their subtle magic.


peer observation

I sat in on the lesson of an amazing colleague today—a fellow newbie to CUD, whom I won't name here. In fact, I don't think it would be appropriate to get too deeply into the specifics of his teaching technique, but I will say, as a general comment, that I was thoroughly impressed by his engaging demeanor, his super-organized management of the class, and the rapidfire changes he made in going from activity to activity. This was a beginner-level class, and I couldn't help thinking that I should have adopted a style more like his for my own beginners who, I now realize, could use a firmer hand. While I think the jury is still out on whether my beginners can handle the tasks I've given them (the semester's only a quarter over), it's obvious that they're a passive bunch who would doubtless respond more readily to a somewhat more teacher-centered approach.

When I observe colleagues, I always take copious notes (observations of what I see, not commentary; that happens later, if it happens at all), and whenever the teacher changes activities in the class, I habitually note the time. This gives me a good idea of how a teacher paces his or her class. In my colleague's case, he was switching activities about every two or three minutes, never giving the students time to rest or be bored. He also used his own form of round-robin technique: the students would partner up, and one member of each pair was the designated "change" person while the other partner was the designated "stay" person. When the teacher called out, "Change!" the "change" students would rotate one partner over, while the "stay" partners would simply stay in place and find themselves with a new partner. This was a great and innovative way to get the students to compare answers after, say, doing short writing exercises. I thought it was brilliant.

What's more, the students had been so thoroughly trained in the teacher's kinetic method that they could focus their energies on the lesson at hand without getting confused or tripped up by the precise choreography of the round-robin. What I saw today, the teacher told me afterward, was primarily about cultivating writing skills; the next class, which I won't observe, will be devoted to speaking. There was a balanced emphasis both on being grammatical and on producing output of any sort, good or bad. This balance kept the students relaxed and unselfconscious enough to produce English fairly freely.

So I'd say today was a learning experience. I'm glad I did the observation. Since I've cancelled my trip up to Seoul this week, I'll be observing two more colleagues—CUD veterans this time—on Thursday and Friday. Ought to be interesting.


'til Tuesday

I had thought I would be able to hit the Daegu Immigration Office Monday afternoon, to pick up my alien registration card (ARC), but that'll have to wait until Tuesday: on Mondays I teach from 11AM to about 2:45PM, and on this particular Monday I'll also be sitting in on a colleague's 3PM class to observe and to steal techniques. Chalk it up to that golden calf known as professional development.

I've always been a big fan of peer observations, but it's obvious, in this school at least, that not everyone shares my opinion: the colleague I'm observing is one of only three who responded to my shotgunned email sent to all twenty-five or so foreign faculty in our department. In my email, I had asked all professors for permission to sit in on their classes to watch and learn—not to critique. I made that very clear, in an effort to minimize nervousness. I admit it was a bit disappointing to receive only three affirmative responses out of twenty-five or so folks; I can only imagine some profs' private reasons for not wanting to be observed.

I remember one colleague, who shall remain nameless, from my previous gig at Sookmyung Women's University. She said "no" when I asked whether I could observe her class, but in her case, I already knew why she didn't want me there: her comedy routine, during her lessons, involved trashing her fellow teachers. That was how she kept her kids' attention. It must've worked, too. Some of her students told me this was happening—with smiles on their faces since, from their point of view, my colleague's trash-talk was all in good fun. Obviously, and unfortunately, my fellow teacher felt the need to vent her insecurities in a sad effort to make herself feel somehow superior to her coworkers. On the surface at least, this colleague and I got along fine; she did, however, have trouble with a male colleague of mine (who shall also remain nameless). They tended to squabble in the office.

I'm sure that trash-talk isn't the reason the other profs in my department haven't responded. I've actually formed a very good impression of both the CUD veterans and my fellow incoming faculty: no weirdos, no "hagwon freaks," no visibly unstable folks among them. Everyone strikes me as professional, caring, talented, and quite personable, which is a damn miracle given the sheer size of our staff. I hear, however, that CUD is planning to hire another ten or fifteen expats. Christ. I have no idea where all the newcomers are going to be housed, but I imagine that someone, somewhere, has already planned things out.

In any event, my Monday peer observation will run until almost 5PM, which will leave me no time to hit Immigration that day. So: Tuesday it is. I have only one class on Tuesdays, and it finishes at 11AM. I can be at the Immigration office before noon... although I suspect the office will close for lunch and not open again until 1PM or 1:30PM. My other Tuesday activities include my run to Samsung Hospital for my checkup (mainly, this is about getting tested for drugs and AIDS), after which I'll finally hit an SK Telecom office and get my old cell phone—the one Tom got me this past April—resurrected. I'll use that phone until I have the funds to buy a real smart phone for myself.

Tuesday's a big day.


Sunday, September 22, 2013


Justin Yoshida offers us a cute photo of two girls talking. I supply the dialogue:


Saturday, September 21, 2013

how's that to-do list coming along?

Here's where we are so far:

To do:

1. Tend to my eye infection and sore throat. I was unable to get at the A/C's real filter, so I shut the A/C off for a good part of the day. Result: my cold symptoms started clearing up within hours. But because my studio traps and builds up humidity fairly quickly (I discovered this after my Hayang walkabout yesterday: the place was hellishly humid when I got back), I'll be turning on the A/C whenever I leave the place. I still have a bit of a stuffy nose, but it's nothing serious. Also: no eye infection and no sore throat.

2. Get a haircut. Done!

3. Watch some movies. Done! I still might write a review of "The Sunset Limited."

4. Shop for kitchen stuff, and for other household stuff. Not totally done, but mostly done. I still need a rice cooker, floor-sweeper wipes, and a storage shelf, but I fear the expensive items will have to wait until next month before I can purchase them. Otherwise, I've got legitimate bowls, plates, and utensils, as well as a cheap colander for pasta and a ladle for budae-jjigae. Bought my hangers, too.

5. Construct gnat and fruit-fly traps. Done! But they don't work.

6. Do a walking tour of my campus. Maybe today.

7. Visit Daegu proper. This ain't gonna happen this vacation.

8. Meditate. Tomorrow around 1PM, perhaps?

9. Find a local mountain to hike. Probably not. Maybe later. Not tragic: there are plenty of things to see on foot right here in town, the campus included.


haircut: accomplished

I wandered around Hayang yesterday, searching for a salon that would cut my hair for only W8,000, but after visiting four or five different places, I gave up and went into Coco, a second-floor salon that charges W10,000 as all the rest apparently do. Service took a million years, and a Korean woman who came in after I did was served before I was, so I doubt I'll be returning to Coco. I've found that I generally prefer salons where the workers are over 40. The young'uns, such as those perky twenty-somethings at Coco, often cater to foreigners last instead of styling on a first-come-first-serve basis. The older ladies, by contrast, don't seem to care whom they're treating next. I had a similar insight while working at Sookmyung; in that neighborhood, there was a salon run by young people and another salon run by burly ajummas. Guess which provided better service.

In any event, the haircut is done. While W10,000 isn't what I wanted to pay, I have to admit it's better than the $13 I routinely paid my Korean barbers back in the States. So that's a major item to strike off my vacation to-do list.


my little failures

My intermediate students generally did a very good job on their first-ever quiz from me. Out of forty students quizzed, only three or so failed. Most of the students got "A"s and "B"s. I'm very proud of how well those students are doing, in general. A few could use some extra help, which I'll be proposing to them this week.

My lone beginner class on Tuesday morning, however, did horribly. Over a third of the students failed the quiz—some spectacularly (one got a 19%). I thought I had constructed a ridiculously easy quiz for the kids, but apparently I was wrong. It probably hasn't helped that the beginners haven't really developed their teaching skills; their second week of teaching was no better than their first. It's not obvious to me that the kids are prepping. They should be meeting outside of class, discussing their approach, putting together a plan, emailing a lesson plan to me, and then teaching their hearts out when they come to class. Instead—silence. Hesitation. Confusion. That's what I see in class, and it's frustrating the hell out of me.

So I obviously have to lead the kids by the nose, because that's what they're tacitly begging for: my leadership. I'm going to start calling them into my office, team by team, to show them how to teach their lessons. I'm also going to call the failures in for extra help. The lesson I'm learning from this is that, for the beginner level, I need to spend a lot more time teaching the students how to teach.

Sometimes I forget the oceanic extent of youthful stupidity. If my beginners had understood clearly, and really thought about, the connections between their lack of action/preparation and their poor quiz performance, they would never have gotten into this jam. But along with being beginners at English, they're apparently beginners at life. But that's weird: many of my beginners are the same age as my intermediates, so why the difference in maturity level? I'm still puzzling that one out. Does being in Level 1 make you into a helpless little child?

I haven't had the chance to quiz my two Wednesday classes (beginners) or my one Thursday class (intermediates); I imagine the same pattern will reveal itself with those students as well: the intermediates will do fine while the beginners will stumble. It's going to be bloody.

ADDENDUM: I should say a word about foreign students. At first, I didn't realize that I had any foreign students, but I now know I've got two Chinese kids, both of whom are in my disastrous 9AM Tuesday class. One is a guy; the other is a girl. One of them got the above-mentioned 19%; the other also failed, garnering a 31%. Both of these students are going to need a lot of help. The guy, in particular, was unable to answer a basic question I had asked during the quiz (something like, "Is your mother an actress?"—to which the reply was an equally simple, "No, she isn't."). He obviously didn't—and doesn't—understand a damn thing that's happening in that class, and he's cruising toward an "F" for the semester. I'm going to assume his Korean is better than his English, and will try to approach him from that angle. This won't be easy: he's not even able to sound out basic words in a sentence—that's how bad his English is. Normally, in a Korean college, when students are placed in the beginner level of an English conversation class, they're not true beginners: most of them have had years of English study under their belt, both at their public school and at their private hagwon. I can't assume that that's the case for the Chinese kids who, if I recall correctly from my experience with Chinese kids at Sookmyung University, often come to Korea with little or no English background. Living in China is not good prep for facing the world; it's a pretty solipsistic culture. Hell, even the Chinese name for China—"middle kingdom"—tells you everything you need to know about how China sees itself. Why learn foreign ways when you're already the center of the world?

And what are the fruits of that arrogance? Getting 19% and 31% on English quizzes in Korea.


Friday, September 20, 2013

for the record

I've long loved this hilarious—and famous—picture of surrealist painter Salvador Dali and his pet ocelot Babou:

Go through life with a wide-eyed appreciation of the world, both man and pet seem to be saying. Carpe diem.


traps not working

I've got my three vinegar traps laid out, but they ain't trappin' nothin'. It's not as though the traps don't attract the fruit flies—they do. But the flies never fall for them. I watched, riveted, while several fruit flies landed on the outside of my traps, crawled up and into the bowl-shaped entrance... then crawled back out and flew away. Fuck.



No galbi this vacation—way too expensive—and no oven use until October (unless I decide to broil some garlic bread). The oven problem is that I need a surface on which to put the oven. I don't want to put the precious appliance on my rubberized floor, and I can't simply set it directly atop my microwave (which is too small for the oven's footprint, anyway). Much more likely, meanwhile, is that I'll be making budae-jjigae, whose ingredients are less expensive, and whose preparation requires only the use of a knife, a cutting board, a sink faucet (for veggie rinsing), and a pot. I've got all that.

Next month, when I get paid, I'll send $1400 home to cover revolving debt (Sallie Mae will have kicked in come October). That will leave me close to $600 to play with for a month—certainly more than I ever had while working in the States. Galbi action will likely happen then. Meantime, this month, I have to save the meager funds I have for things like travel to—and overnighting in—Seoul. Things to see, people to do, and all that.


time for a change

My air conditioner has been blowing stinky air for the past week. I'm pretty sure that this is what has contributed to my current sickness. Koreans speak of naeng-bang-byeong, or "cold-room sickness," resulting from overexposure to air conditioners. I think part of the Korean leeriness about A/Cs is rooted in a native caution: A/Cs didn't become popular in Korea until the mid-90s, and once they caught on, they overloaded the peninsula's power grid, causing several embarrassing outages until KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Company) was able to firm up its infrastructure. Even these days, though, Koreans tend to be stingy in their A/C use. I've been in numerous taxis, for instance, in which the car's interior heat was stifling because the driver had the blower down at its lowest possible setting. The same goes for bank offices and subways: it's rare to find such places sufficiently cooled down. Still, Koreans aren't wrong to be cautious: A/Cs can generate a microbe-rich halitus that is dangerous to breathe. In a small, cramped studio like the one I inhabit, that's a recipe for respiratory trouble.

But let's get back to my stinky A/C. I shut the appliance off last night and turned on (gasp!) my electric fan. Didn't die. Before I went to bed, I looked up some information on Whisen brand A/C repair, and I'll be applying my new knowledge to my air conditioner today. Accessing the filter seems easy enough; there's a panel that pops out and swings up, and the filter comes out in two or more parts. I'll scrub down what I can with a combination of bleach and water, and we'll see whether that improves things. The filter is the main focus, of course; it needs a thorough cleaning.

Just a little extra something to do during vacation.


Thursday, September 19, 2013


All the barbershops and beauty salons along Hayang Street were closed today. I did, however, meet one of my adult students (Korean class) on the street; she and her friend/colleague had a productive day, going off to Gyeongju to walk around and see the sights. Gyeongju is such an eminently walkable city, and it's fantastic in the off-season; I'll be going there myself in the fall. I admit I was a bit envious. My own day was much more sedentary: I did a bit of local shopping when I realized I wasn't getting a haircut anytime soon, then I went back to my studio and watched Tommy Lee Jones versus Samuel L. Jackson in the HBO production of Cormac McCarthy's play, "The Sunset Limited." I may write a review of that production soon.

And that's about it for me. I've got a stuffy/runny nose to replace my sore throat, and I sneeze occasionally. My coccyx no longer flares with agony when I sneeze, which is a sign that the healing continues. My eye infection is completely gone, and I've got a free Friday ahead of me. It's all good. I still need to shop for galbi and budae-jjigae and oi-kimchi ingredients, and I might need to purchase a small rice cooker while I'm at it.

A haircut on Friday, then, perhaps. And a campus walk as well...?


about that grilled cheese...

Look carefully at this screen capture of comedian Doug Benson's tweet. I plucked it from my Twitter feed (I follow Simon Pegg, who retweeted this):

In a bit of "The World's End"-related trivia (Simon Pegg's third movie in his "Cornetto Trilogy"; the first two movies were "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz") we see, above, a menu that includes, as one of its items, a grilled cheese! And contra what my brother Sean insisted to be the case, the menu still lists the sandwich's name as Grilled Cheese without modifying the title (written in large, boldface font), despite the fact that the sandwich includes bacon, apples, and onion in it. In fact, Benson also simply says "I had the grilled cheese," again without modification. Sean's argument was that to say "grilled cheese" when the sandwich contains more than just cheese is to create a misleading impression. Well, here's comedian Doug Benson doing just that, and not caring. The fact that he did do it is ample proof that it can be done. As one philosopher likes to say, esse implies posse: something's existence implies its possibility.

So this, Dear Reader, is yet more evidence in favor of my argument that you can indeed refer to grilled sandwiches—with more than cheese in them—simply as "grilled cheese." And if you misunderstood the speaker, when he said "I had the grilled cheese," because you assumed that "grilled cheese" meant "cheese only," then your misunderstanding was purely the result of your overly narrow conception of grilled cheeses.

Eat that.


the Khan/McCoy question from "Star Trek Into Darkness"

Much online verbiage has been devoted to nitpicking the flaws of "Star Trek Into Darkness," a movie that does, I admit, have plenty of plot holes. Happily, there's one lacuna that, as it turns out, isn't as nettlesome as it first appears.

The complaint goes like this: why did Khan's blood have to be used to save Kirk? Spock could have killed Khan, and there would still have been 72 perfectly healthy Khanlings from whom McCoy could have drawn blood.

I found myself nodding at this complaint at first: it made sense, and I agreed that the movie hadn't answered that question satisfactorily. But then, last night, I re-watched "Star Trek Into Darkness," and I realized that the problem was, in fact, a non-problem. Why?

Because the movie actually makes a big deal about how 23rd-century science isn't equipped to handle 20th-century cryotech. About an hour into the film, Drs. McCoy and Marcus have discovered that Khan's photon torpedoes are serving as hiding places for Khan's 72 crew/family members. McCoy tells Kirk that, were he to try to crack open a cryo-tube "without the proper sequencing," it could kill the tube's occupant. By the end of the film, McCoy and Marcus have figured out how to remove the cryo-tubes from the torpedoes, but they still haven't learned how to thaw the corpiscles.*

If there's any inconsistency at all regarding these cryo-tubes, it's that McCoy has apparently learned enough about the technology to re-insert Khan into one (an extra, seventy-third tube not previously mentioned in the film?). How he managed to figure that out, without also figuring out the thawing procedure, will forever remain a mystery.

In any event, the Trek-nerd accusation that McCoy could have saved Kirk by using another superman's blood reveals itself to be a non-problem: McCoy needed Khan, specifically, because he didn't know how to thaw out any of the other Khanlings.**

*Sorry—that's Larry Niven's term for someone in cryogenic suspension. Also: while it's true that McCoy did, in fact, remove one of Khan's men from a cryo-tube so that he could freeze Kirk, he kept the guy in suspended animation, not daring to "thaw" him further.

**It could be objected that Admiral Marcus had successfully thawed out Khan, so the technology for thawing corpsicles did exist. But Marcus had the awesome power of the secretive Section 31 behind him; the Enterprise had no access to whatever wizardry was practiced in that place, and since Section 31 was mostly destroyed in a blast at the beginning of the movie, well after Khan had been awakened, it's doubtful that the thawing technology survived. The Enterprise was on its own.


two opinions on "Django Unchained"

My e-buddy Steve Honeywell reviews "Django Unchained": "Djang It!"

And lest we forget—my own review of "Django": "Auf Wiedersehen."


Charles writes in

Telling me that his comment to my post on Korean hostility toward Korean-speaking foreigners was too long for the comment thread's 4096-character limit, my buddy Charles sent me his full comment by email. I asked Charles's permission to publish the comment as a separate post; he kindly assented, so, for a single post at least, Charles becomes that rarest of rara avis, a guest blogger on the Hairy Chasms.

I came to terms with my place in Korea a long time ago. It used to annoy me when Koreans would say, "You're practically Korean!" (한국사람이 다 됐어요!), because everyone knows that's not true. Now, though, I'm past even that, and just accept it for what it is: an awkward compliment.

As far as actual hostility toward foreign speakers of the language [goes], I am a bit skeptical. My Korean is good enough, and Koreans generally have one of two reactions when I speak Korean: blithe acceptance of something they see as completely natural and expected, or excitement and glee at a foreigner having gone to the trouble of learning their language (and thus saving them the trouble of having to fumble through an awkward conversation in English). I have met Koreans who are reluctant to speak Korean with foreigners, generally because they pride themselves on their English ability, but their reactions are not what I would classify as "hostile."

There is one exception to this rule, though--that is, Koreans who react with genuine hostility toward a foreigner who speaks Korean: Koreans who have lived sheltered lives abroad. For example, a guy is born in Korea, but he moves to the States at a young age. His English skills are poor at first and thus he fails to integrate into the local community, becoming something of a pariah in his own eyes. He spends his formative years shut off from most of the world around him and develops a "persecution complex" in which white people are the aggressors. Though he will eventually learn to speak English just fine, he will always feel that the white people look down on him, and he will resent them for this (whether it is true or not).

Now, take this guy and bring him back to Korea. Now the tables are turned. He may not be open about his feelings, but he relishes being on the other side of the equation, with the white person now being the one on the short end of the language-barrier stick. So when a white person who can speak fluent Korean comes along, he panics, feeling himself shrink back into his persecuted shell. He has two options now: he can retreat or he can attack. But he spent the whole of his formative years retreating in a foreign culture. Now he is on his "home turf" (and I won't get into all the insecurity he feels having missed out on his formative years here), and there is no way he is going to retreat again. If his own Korean is not up to par (which is very likely), he will be even more volatile.

Add to this the fact that, while life can be difficult for foreigners in Korea, white foreigners have many advantages that non-white foreigners do not have. So while life can sometimes be frustrating, the truth is that we (white foreigners) have it pretty easy. Now this guy comes back from a society where white people have the overwhelming advantage, only to find that they have an advantage (of sorts) in Korean society as well. Given all this, it is not that surprising that he feels the need to put the white person in his or her place. Thus he attacks, and you get open hostility.

The above may have sounded hypothetical, but I actually had a specific person in mind when I wrote it. I have run across a number of people like this during my stay in Korea. Their reactions run the gamut from condescension to hostility. For example, I knew one girl who claimed that she just could not speak Korean with (white) foreigners because it was too "weird." It didn't matter how fluent in Korean her interlocutor was, she would reply in (fluent) English. I suspect that, in her case, she harbored some insecurity over her own Korean ability and felt the need to assert herself through English.

My first encounter with such a person left me baffled, but over time I learned to identify these people more quickly. Now I can generally tell right away if I am dealing with such a person, and if so I steer clear of them. Perhaps I am being cynical, but there is nothing you can do to prevent the hostility. The issues are too deep-seated, too ingrained in the person's psyche to be dislodged by a mere acquaintance. The best thing to do is identify and avoid.

In summary, I've had my own issues with language and identity over the years, and the emotions involved are not easy to explain or quantify. But I can say that, while I have run across the rare Korean who does seem to be somewhat uncomfortable speaking Korean with me, the only Koreans I have ever encountered any open hostility from when speaking Korean have been those who spent their formative years in a country (usually the U.S.) where they did not speak the native language well. Koreans who move to the States early enough to assimilate linguistically and Koreans who move to the States after their formative years do not seem to react the same way.

A lot of that is generalization, of course, but it's a pretty good description of my experience.

Thanks, Charles. I'm not sure I've ever encountered the type of Korean you're talking about, but I'll be on the alert for him—the bitter, formerly(?) linguistically incompetent ex-expat who is loaded down with insecurities and resentments—from now on.


Happy Chuseok!

Today, Thursday, is Chuseok—the actual day. Thor's Day. Does Thor celebrate the harvest moon? I wonder. Given the sad finitude of the Norse gods, he probably just sits upon his throne and broods about the upcoming Ragnarok.

So where am I on my list of things to do this holiday?

1. Tend to my eye infection and sore throat. Am still gargling, a little, and my eye infection seems already to have gone back down thanks to that antibiotic ointment.

2. Get a haircut. I tried to go out and do this last night, but I went out too late, and everyone was closing or closed. The one hair shop I did go into wanted W10,000 for a cut, so I smiled and got the hell outta there. I'll try again in an hour or so.

3. Watch some movies. I had to ask Apple for a refund since "Star Trek Into Darkness" didn't successfully download into iTunes. I watched "Trek" via Amazon Prime Instant Video instead. The movie was still OK; I caught some details I didn't remember from before, such as the "Kelvin Memorial Archive" sign at the street-level door for Section 31's secret offices.

4. Shop for kitchen stuff, and for other household stuff. I went to Daiso and bought large soup bowls, medium cereal bowls, small rice bowls, and tiny dipping bowls, along with two funky-looking, rounded-triangle dinner plates, some Western forks and knives, and a huge plastic serving platter for more fulsome meals. I also went to the local Point Mart and bought a large pot in which to boil some budae-jjigae, a stew of which I never tire. Still to buy: wipes for my sweeper mop, a tall bookshelf for kitchen storage (this might not happen until after Chuseok break is over), and some more clothes hangers.

5. Construct gnat and fruit-fly traps. I constructed one trap and left it in the kitchen all night. Not a single gnat went in. I think there might be a design flaw: the Pepsi bottle that I used is both ribbed and scored with weird, wavy lines. As a result, the "cap" of the trap doesn't fit perfectly inside the cylinder. This has the effect of allowing the delicious vinegar fumes to escape around the trap's sides, which means the gnats and fruit flies don't actually fly into the trap's mouth. (I moved the trap to my computer desk and watched as a gnat crawled along the trap's outside, breathing in the lovely vapor inadvertently emanating from the trap's neck.) I'll need to seal the circumference with tape or something—preferably clear tape, so I can see the little critters once they're trapped.

6. Do a walking tour of my campus. Nope. Maybe later today. Or tomorrow (Friday).

7. Visit Daegu proper. Again, no. I'm not even sure whether any of the sites I'd like to visit will be open today, it being Chuseok Day.

8. Meditate. Alas, no. Maybe tomorrow or Sunday.

9. Find a local mountain to hike. No, not done yet. I have a feeling this will happen last, given how big of a project it is.

So that's where things stand as far as my list of things to do goes.



I set up the first of three planned gnat/fruit-fly traps in my kitchen, and once it was done, the bugs all went quiet. I watched "Star Trek Into Darkness" in my lightless studio; I'd have seen a random insect, silhouetted against my monitor, had it flown across my line of sight. But—nada. No critters at all. It's almost as if they understood that the game, inside my apartment, had fundamentally changed, now that I've begun using traps.

In other news: the smell of apple vinegar (Koreans call it "apple vinegar," sagwa-shikcho, not "apple-cider vinegar") isn't as bad as I thought it would be.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

finally: an alum who isn't stingy like the rest of us!

I just received the following form letter from my alma mater:

Office of the President

September 18, 2013

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is with great pleasure that I write to share the news that Georgetown will take a transformative step in the history of our University and create our ninth school, the McCourt School of Public Policy. This milestone is made possible by an extraordinary gift of $100 million from alumnus Frank H. McCourt Jr. (C’75), the largest gift in the history of our University.

I invite you to read more about The McCourt School here and in today’s Washington Post.

The McCourt School is grounded in the existing strengths of our University – our academic excellence, our extraordinary faculty, our location in Washington, D.C. and our relationships with global leaders. Throughout our history, Georgetown has risen to meet the most pressing challenges of our time. Following the First World War, Georgetown created our Walsh School of Foreign Service to contribute to global peace by preparing young diplomatic leaders. In 1957 we started what is now our McDonough School of Business as a recognition of America’s place in a growing world economy. And now we have the ability to build on our existing strengths once again to bring new understanding to the complex and evolving field of public policy and its application in solving global challenges.

The McCourt School will build upon the foundation of exceptional research, scholarship and teaching that has characterized the Georgetown Public Policy Institute since its founding in 1996. This will position us to compete for the most talented students through the new McCourt Fellows Program, which will recruit and offer full scholarships to the country’s most promising future public policy makers and scholars. Our faculty will benefit substantially as we expand our expertise through the addition of endowed faculty appointments, as well as more core faculty and interdisciplinary positions as the school grows.

With this new school, Georgetown will shape public policy in a new way by taking a dynamic, data-driven, interdisciplinary approach. We seek to respond to the changing landscape of public policy by harnessing and navigating the data that new advances in technology and communications have generated in the past decade. Through the Massive Data Institute, the McCourt School will train the next generation of leaders to critically analyze, extract and use these large sets of data to better inform public policy.

With the establishment of a new Center for Politics and Policy at the McCourt School, we will strengthen our tradition as leaders in civil and civic discourse, convening leading policy makers and scholars who are grounded in policy and bring broad expertise to our dialogue.

The McCourt School represents a new era for Georgetown, one that connects the strengths of our community – our resources, our traditions, and our enduring commitment to building the common good – with the power of innovation and technology to address the policy challenges of the 21st century.

This gift, a historic achievement in our $1.5 billion For Generations to Come campaign, is a testament to our exceptional community and the truly outstanding accomplishments of our students and faculty. The result of deep engagement with Mr. McCourt over many years, this generous act of philanthropy reflects the very best of this vibrant community of which we are all a part.

I look forward to the opportunity to celebrate this milestone for Georgetown on October 8, when we will formally launch the McCourt School of Public Policy at an academic ceremony and celebration.

You have my very best wishes.


John J. DeGioia


Dear Everyone,


Thank you. We are so awesome.

Hell, if I had $100 million lying around, I'd seriously consider giving it to Georgetown to found the Kevin Kim School of Logsmanship and Scatology. Alas, I barely have $100 to rub together, let alone $100 million. I'm happy, though, that Mr. Frank H. McCourt, Jr., gave the gift he did: that takes pressure off the rest of us, and skews the statistics that show the relative generosity of various university alumni. Georgetown normally scores pretty low on that scale, and I have to admit that I haven't been much of a giver to the G-town cause in the years since I graduated. In my defense, I'll say that's because I've chosen a life of relative poverty, and also because I rarely, if ever, worry that Georgetown University will somehow run out of funds.



hostility toward Korean-speaking foreigners?

For background, you'll need to give fellow Hoya Robert Koehler's post a read. Come back when you're done.

Here's the comment I wrote on that post (and God knows I only rarely ever comment at the Marmot's Hole, given the general quality of the comments and ensuing discussion):

Sometimes the "refusal to speak" is the result of a snap judgment by the Korean interlocutor that conversation with the foreigner will simply be impossible, even though the foreigner just managed to grunt a few syllables of perfectly understandable Korean. I've had that experience before in Seoul: I once went to a box-office ticket window to purchase a ticket; the girl took one look at me and, as I began speaking to her in clear Korean, she waved her hand in that "eraser" or "table-wiping" gesture so common on the peninsula, and said, "I don't know!" in English—i.e., the conversation was already over. Bitch. She just didn't want to make the effort to get through a new and possibly interesting linguistic situation.

Granted, such occurrences are rare. More likely, if I enter a new conversational situation and start speaking understandable Korean (which happens more often than not these days), my interlocutor will simply take my Korean ability for granted and will talk to me as if I were a normal human being—no exaggerated pantomimes to help me out, no speaking too slowly or loudly as if I were retarded, nothing. I've even had older Koreans come up to me and start speaking rapidfire Korean as if they took for granted that I should be speaking their language. Very often, this would happen in a Seoul subway station as the oldsters were trying to figure their way through the maze of rails and tunnels; to me, it [i.e., their addressing me in Korean] was always a relief. I'm an assimilationist: to me, Koreans should assume that foreigners can speak Korean; we make the same assumption in the US, and get very grumpy when a foreigner can't speak English well. Rightly so.

So yes, it's true that an expat's mileage will vary. I've heard from many independent sources that Koreans can be leery of the foreigner who understands too much, too easily. They prefer to keep their petty secrets, and prefer to be able to make their snide, sotto voce comments about the round-eyes. That power is taken away from them when they meet a Korean-speaking waeguk-nom. But that's just some Koreans—not all, by any means. Most Korean folks are civil and civilized, and will treat you with dignity, no matter your level of Korean competence.


vacation agenda

To do:

1. Tend to my eye infection and sore throat. I always get sick when it's vacation time, and sometimes this involves eye infections, which can be both annoying and annoyingly frequent, and which usually involve the slight but very palpable swelling of one of my eyelids. You'd notice the swelling if you stared comparatively at both of my eyes. I have antibiotics and anti-inflammatories that I can apply to my eye (along with the old warm-washcloth-on-the-eye approach), so that's covered. Normally, an infection takes a few days, with treatment, to die down. I'm washing my pillow cover right now, just to make sure it isn't rife with pestilence. Because I woke up with a sore throat today, I'm also gargling with salt water. Hurts like hell, but sometimes pain is good, especially if it means bacteria are dying.

2. Get a haircut. I've been needing one for a while, now. Some local places charge a steep W10,000 for a cut, while others charge a more reasonable W8,000. I hope to find an W8,000 spot nearby, get my head buzzed and shampooed, and be on my way post haste.

3. Watch some movies. I successfully downloaded "The Sunset Limited" (Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson in a film based on a Cormac McCarthy play about a suicidal white college prof rescued from death-by-rail by a black ex-con), so I'll be watching that later today. I unsuccessfully downloaded "Star Trek Into Darkness," so I'll be attempting to restart the download with my laptop before I give up, demand a refund, and obtain the movie through Amazon Prime Instant Video. That'll fix my movie jones until Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) hits Korean theaters—hopefully later this year.

4. Shop for kitchen stuff, and for other household stuff. Bowls, plates, a pot for budae-jjigae, storage units of all sizes and shapes—all for cheap at the local Daiso. I'll also need to go out again and hit the nearby market for galbi marinade ingredients (gonna do some damn galbi in my spanking-new oven!). I'm pondering buying a rice cooker as well. I also need to buy some more wipes for my sweeper/mop, so I can keep my floor clean and pube-free. For my kitchen, I need to buy a tall, skinny bookshelf—one with many shelves—to use as storage space since I don't have much in the way of cabinet space. (This was how I lived when I was at Sookmyung Women's University as well.) I also need some more hangers.

5. Construct gnat and fruit-fly traps. The bug problem has gone on long enough. The madness must end, and it's up to me to end it. I'm going to construct three traps: one for my computer desk, one for my kitchen, and one for my veranda, whose humidity level is always high because I hang my laundry there. The little bastards love humidity. In a day or so, I aim to be surrounded by tiny, odious corpses. And I'll hope that the smell of vinegar has aromatherapeutic properties.

6. Do a walking tour of my campus. I've been meaning to do this for a while, but now I'll have the luxury of even more free time than usual to do this tour. I'm embarrassed when a coworker will ask me something like, "Do you know the gym? Over that way? Well, the student center is just behind that." I'd like to know what people are talking about when they talk about different parts of campus. I'd like to know where the various facilities are, especially the gym and the student center. A comprehensive walking tour of CUD's campus would do much to cure me of my current ignorance.

7. Visit Daegu proper. I know so little about where to find all the important stores and restaurants that people keep talking about: the Home Plus, the Costco (need to get a membership there, really), the restaurant that serves the mean-looking, four-stack "challenge" bacon cheeseburger for W25,000, etc. I know nothing about Daegu itself, and haven't roused myself to travel there extensively. It may be that I have a bit of an attitude problem about the place: I hate the subway system, which covers only a tenth of the city, unlike Seoul's.* The Daegu system will eventually get another two or three lines (see a map of Daegu's future here), but right now, the subway amounts to the same two lines the city has always had. In my mind, I imagine Daegu's subway map to be a sort of drunken or crippled X-chromosome. That doesn't improve my opinion of Daegu's rail network. It also doesn't help that 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the horrible Daegu subway fire, in which about 200 people died, and about 150 more were injured, after a desperate man attempted to kill himself (he survived his own suicide attempt, but died about a year later). All those ghosts, eh?

God, there are times when I miss Seoul.

8. Meditate. This is, of course, something that a person can, in theory, do anywhere. A temple environment certainly helps, though: it contributes to the seriousness of mind that makes a good subtext for effective meditation (if meditation can be said to be oriented toward effects). With Hyangrim-sa so close by, and with an open invitation from the nuns to just come on over during the quiet periods to do cham-seon, there's little reason not to do this.

9. Find a local mountain to hike. I really, really need to get back in the habit of hiking. With the weather starting to cool down, with the sun's grip on daylight temperatures loosening slowly but surely (it's already quite cool in the early morning and at night; the warm/hot periods are getting shorter), now is the time for me to be up at altitude, enjoying breeze, sunlight, and majestic views. If I find decent hiking somewhere, I'll be sure to photograph my route the second time I travel it: the first time around, I'm guessing that I'll waste time blundering around and getting lost.

That really ought to be enough to occupy my big ass for the next few days.

*If Korea can be likened to Asimov's Galactic Empire, then Seoul is Trantor, the capital planet upon which George Lucas based his Coruscant. Trantor has all the best stuff—the best food, the best buildings, the best bustle and boom. Seoul, compared to its rival cities and the provinces, is a lot like that.


Charles brings da heat

Charles and his wife Hyunjin sent me a wonderful housewarming gift: an oven! Take a look at the following three photos. First, there's the anticipation pic, to get us in that "kid at Christmas" frame of mind:

In the above image, you also see an envelope that has nothing to do with Charles's gift. No: that envelope contained my three neckties, left behind at John McCrarey's daughter-in-law's apartment this past May. The girl's boyfriend graciously mailed them to me.

Next, below, we've got a lovely shot of the oven and all of its accessories:

Finally, below, a shot that takes us into the mouth of the lion, so to speak:

Because I'm now on vacation, and have managed to finish all my lesson planning for next week, I do believe I'm going to take some of my hard-earned cash, spend it on meat and other things, and bake or broil myself something very un-Buddhist.

Thanks, Charles!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Once again, the fact that I don't have an alien registration card has prevented me from accomplishing a crucial task-- in this case, the task of getting my mandatory medical checkup done. I decided to call Hayang Samsung Hospital to find out whether I needed my ARC, and it was a good thing I did, or I'd have wasted a trip downtown. Yes, the lady said: you need your ARC to get the checkup.

Well, balls.

Upshot: with the Chuseok holiday dominating the rest of this week, and with my ARC technically ready on the 20th, I'll just have to go pick my ID card up as early as possible next week, then go right over to see the doctor.



Wow-- Joseph Steinberg, a.k.a. the Infidel, a.k.a. Hume's Bastard and various other IDs, is dead.

I knew Steinberg primarily from his comments, and from the fact that he connected with me on Google Plus and possibly LinkedIn; can't say that I ever reciprocated. We were never friends, exactly, but we had a cordial relationship. Joseph used to be quite active as a commenter on many sites; he also started and stopped his own blogs and feeds on numerous occasions. He was, in fact, such a pervasive online presence that the news of his death, which I saw on Twitter, came as a true shock.

RIP, Joseph.


ass probe and haircut

I'm about to go get my mandatory medical checkup done, after which I'll get myself a much-needed haircut (see previous post, in which I appear shaggy). I'm hopeful that the med check won't violate my personal spaces any more brutally than a haircut will.


the fried-chicken update

I ordered chicken fingers Monday afternoon, both to celebrate Chuseok early and to celebrate the fact that I'd gotten paid and could finally access some money.

Three images upon which to meditate:

Above, you see three 1.5-liter bottles of soda. The scene looks pretty awful, I'm sure. Here's the thing, though: the left-most bottle of soda has been empty for over a week: I use that bottle to store water that I get from the water cooler down the hall. The Pepsi bottle in the middle was one I had started drinking before the fried chicken had even arrived, and the Coke wasn't my fault: it came free with the two boxes of fried chicken.

Below, you see a sight that I wish you could have smelled. Koreans really do do chicken right. The packets of sauce are honey mustard (right) and garlicky, Korean-style yang-nyeom red sauce (left).

As you see, a single box of chicken fingers is a lot of chicken. In my greed, I had thought that I could polish off two whole boxes, but I had to stop after finishing just one. I've got the other box in my fridge right now; that chicken will be slaughtered for dinner Tuesday evening, probably after I buy some oil, and a pan, so I can pan-fry the bird to reconstitute it. (Microwaving fried chicken is a serious mistake: the crunchy batter gets soggy.)

Below, you see a very happy man with a gut full of chicken. Satiety.


Monday, September 16, 2013

very disturbing

Perhaps two or so years ago, I had written a post on this blog titled "Krakauer, Penn, McCandless, and Me." It was a comparative review of Sean Penn's movie version of Jon Krakauer's nonfiction book Into the Wild, a monograph that chronicled the life and death of Chris McCandless, painting a stern but sympathetic portrait of a young, doomed soul yearning for true independence. It was also a meditation on people like McCandless, and their similarities to and differences from yours truly.

That post received a few insightful responses, but I'm now unable to find it. Every attempt to search for it has turned up nothing, and I fear that, in one of Blogger's major outages over a year ago, the post was simply eaten. This makes me wonder whether any other posts have similarly gone missing, and now I'm a bit paranoid. I'm also sad that I can't find the post; it was one of my better pieces.

UPDATE: Never mind. I found it: I had written the post on Kevin's Walk. Thanks, Bing. You did better than Google in helping me find my post.


photos pending!

It was a long, complicated process, but I went to the campus branch of Daegu Bank and managed to do four things:

1. I found out why my bank book didn't work. It's because I don't have my alien registration card yet. Absolutely everything in my life depends on having that damn card. All things will run more smoothly once I've been officially entered into the database of the Korean version of the Swiss police des étrangers. Until then, if I want to withdraw cash, I have no choice but to visit the bank teller, like a Dickensian beggar, to ask permission to have my own money. Humiliating.

2. I managed to send a sum of money to my buddy Tom, to whom I owe the price of a plane ticket (the very ticket that got me to Korea this past April and May).

3. I managed to pull out W200,000 in cash as pocket money for my own use.

4. I finally managed to send $1300 to my US-based PNC bank account. The balance on that account is below zero right now, thanks to a series of automatic withdrawals, but the $1300 will be in the account by Tuesday, Virginia time. Thus begins my financial rehabilitation: I'll be able to start paying off various debts. Luckily, many of these debts are one-time-only, not revolving debt. Once they're gone, they're gone, and my budgetary picture will improve immediately. How I look forward to the day when I'm in a comfortable financial position! Right now, if I were to speculate, I'd say that that day is about a year away.

So I celebrated Chuseok early by immoderately buying myself 2 boxes of fried-chicken fingers. It still freaks me out to think that chickens somehow evolved fingers, but I'm happy to eat ornithoid phalanges as long as they're juicy and good. As it turned out, one box of appendages was enough to kick my ass, so I'll be saving the second box for tomorrow's dinner.

To top it all off, today's two intermediate-level classes went really well. My students were very much on task. Things can't get much better than they have been today. So, tonight: sleep, wake up, teach a 9AM class, grade a pile of quizzes, get my mandatory doctor checkup done, then... a five-day vacation! I feel as if I'm cheating, as if I somehow don't deserve this. I'm sure that feeling will fade, though.

Photos of fried chicken, and of my satisfied face, are pending. Stay tuned.


the 4.5-hour week

It's Chuseok week. We're off Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, which means I teach only today and tomorrow. Today I've got two classes (11AM and 1PM), and tomorrow I've got only one (9AM). That's a total of 4.5 hours' actual teaching. I managed to finish writing up my quizzes for the kids, along with a Konglish exercise and a comprehensive "teaching manual" of sorts. Unless my students engage in open revolt against the round-robin system, this week promises to be smooth sailing.

Today, I'll be visiting my bank, resolving my bank-book issues, transferring money to my US account, withdrawing a chunk of cash, and very likely celebrating Chuseok early by ordering either Chinese food or fried chicken while I'm at the office. Hard to imagine a better way to spend the day.

Oh, yes: I'll also be getting my first haircut since arriving in Hayang. I've been looking mighty shaggy for the past week.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ave, Charles!

My buddy Charles writes a post about the graduate class he's teaching at a different university from his usual HUFS this semester. At one point, Charles opines:

I’ve heard it said that if you really want to learn a subject, you should teach it. Well, I’d like to take that aphorism one step further: if you really want to learn a subject, you should teach it in your second language.

That's exactly what I'm making my kids do. To learn, you teach. In English.



I had originally intended to write my update to my payday post on that post itself, but I thought that the recent turn of events merited its own post, so the update's happening here.

Long story short: yes, I got paid—almost $200 more than I'd estimated—but no, I can't access my money. First thing tomorrow, I'll be asking the goddamn bank why this is so.

I walked halfway across Hayang in my search for a Daegu Bank branch. This turned out to be harder than it looked; I would have thought that DGB branches were everywhere. But, no: that honor goes to the local Nonghyeop Bank, which has several branches conveniently spaced along the main drag. In any case, I eventually found a DGB. I went in, took out my bank book, and immediately did a tongjang-jeongni, i.e., an arrangement or settling of accounts in my bank book. In plainer language, it meant that the ATM would print, in my bank book, my most recent account status, listing all transactions, changes to my balance, and my current balance.

I was delighted to see that the total in my account was, as I mentioned above, almost $200 more than I'd anticipated. So I eagerly went to the next step: cash withdrawal.

But I hit a snag.

For whatever reason, the ATM kept telling me that my attempts to withdraw W200,000 were in oryu, i.e., in error. The word oryu ("error") would appear, along with an impossibly long alphanumeric code that probably described exactly what sort of error I was dealing with. I pulled out my bank book and tried withdrawing cash from several of the other ATMs, but no dice. This was frustrating; I'd gotten used to having a bank book that could be used like an ATM card. That had been the case with my Shinhan and Finebank accounts.

So, first thing tomorrow, I'll visit my campus branch of Daegu Bank and find out why the hell I can't use my bank book to withdraw any cash. If that problem isn't resolved (by which I mean, if I'm still unable to use my bank book for its intended purpose), I'll just make my withdrawal at the teller's counter. I also need to send about $1400 to the States so I am start taking care of bidness. Lots of creditors to pay.


some are gnats

Yes, I've got fruit flies, as commenter Elisson speculated. But I've also got gnats: they love to buzz my eyes, my nose, and my mouth, as gnats are wont to do.

I can't decide how much I hate the little bastards. On the one hand, they're annoying as hell. On the other hand, killing them provides me with such giddy satisfaction that I think life might be boring without them. The gnats add spice and drama to my day. When winter comes, and all will be gnatless, I imagine I'll be quite bored.