Wednesday, April 30, 2014

challenging my skepticism

My supervisor has suggested I try a local Chinese-style herbal clinic that's in town (probably a haneui-weon/한의원). He went there to get a problem resolved and came out of the experience a believer. From what I gather, there's some acupuncture involved, plus some palpations and medications to aid ki flow. I've been skeptical of this sort of medicine for years, but a clinic visit doesn't sound expensive, so I may as well give it a shot.

I had initially wanted to go to the Chinese clinic this morning, but (1) when I initially got out of bed at 8AM, I was in too much pain; and (2) after taking my meds and going back to bed, I woke up around 11:30AM, which made me too late to visit either my own clinic or this new place. So perhaps this afternoon, or sometime tomorrow, I'll give the new place a shot. Maybe the witch-doctor will just unblock a jammed ki-meridian and poof—the pain will miraculously disappear. As I wrote before, I'm not afraid to use myself as a lab rat, and I'm curious to see how my experience will (or won't) dovetail with my supervisor's.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014


As of this writing, 193 bodies have been retrieved from the Sewol ferry disaster. At this point, I'm pretty sure that all the rest of the missing are dead. It's simply a matter of how much time has passed, combined with the mortal limits of human endurance. Any "air pockets" would have lost their ability to sustain life by now, if living people had been using them. Hypothermia probably claimed the lives of most of the trapped students and adults early on, and random corpses continue to float out of the ship and into the open sea. Rescuers have strung nets, kilometers long, far from the site of the sinking in order to catch the bodies that might have drifted from the downed vessel; one can only hope that the nets are both wide and deep enough to intercept the lost.

I couldn't help noticing that the rate at which the body count has been ticking upward has slowed. I don't know, exactly, what this might imply. At worst, it means the rest of the bodies have already been carried away from the Sewol by random currents and are eddying into the dark distance. If that's the case, and if bodies slip past the nets, a full accounting may never be possible, and some families will be unable to experience the necessary closure that comes with knowing, definitively, that a loved one has perished.

At this point, all that I can do is what I've already been doing: just wait and see. The rescue—more like a salvage or a simple recovery, at this point—will proceed at its ordained pace, and Korea will continue to mourn.

On Twitter, I saw the following poignant image, which symbolizes the sadness of the parents who have lost their children:

I'm sure that many of those grieving parents wish they had the miraculous power to raise the ship and extract their children, alive or dead. I wish they had that power, too, but that's not the reality. Right now, the reality is a number: 193.

UPDATE: In the hours since the above post was written, the death toll has hopped up to 205. Twelve more bodies have been found.



Lookit my big sack:

The above 5-kilogram bag of sea salt comes courtesy of the local bargain grocery, the one that has the surprisingly cheap deals. It cost me a little over W5,000, or about 90 cents per kilogram. This is a Costco-scale purchase, of course: I can't see myself using up this much salt anytime soon, so I expect this bag will be following me around for years.



Monday, April 28, 2014


I'm tired. Walked 8,500 steps today, and I never made it to the clinic. In fact, it's almost impossible for me to make it to the clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays, mainly because I teach both early and later in the day (English + Korean classes). Walking to the clinic from campus is just too much. Tuesdays are all right for clinic visits because I have only one morning class, then a slew of hours to kill from 11AM to 5:30PM. Same goes for Thursdays.

I'm also tired because my second class, today, was wearisome. I don't know what got into some of the kids, but a few were harder to manage than usual—very talky, like American secondary-school students. I may have to separate some of them from their buddies next time around. It sucks to have to manage my students at all, but as I've noted before, Korean college kids are at about the same level of social and sexual maturity as American high schoolers.*

I had thought about doing some test grading tonight, since I didn't get any of that done over the weekend while I was in Seoul. I've already apologized to my Monday kids about not having their midterm grades ready. The same apology is going to go out to my Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday kids as well. Yes, I'm lame.

Meanwhile, Metatron has asked me to do an editing test this coming Friday (and possibly Saturday and Sunday as well). The test will determine whether I'm a competent editor (I may well prove myself not to be), and whether I can perform under Metatron's strict deadline pressure. This means that, as regards whatever lesson-planning and test-grading I have to do, all that work needs to be done by Thursday night. This is a "crunch" week for me.

*Think about it: Korean kids spend their entire childhood focusing on college entrance exams, the sine qua non of their existence. This focus is so intense that kids will actually commit suicide if their exam results prove unsatisfactory. There's no time, then, for young people to have real social lives or otherwise to explore their budding pubertal urges. Pretty much all of that has to wait until college: the four bright years during which Koreans have the latitude to take time to smell the roses. Korean college kids, unlike their American counterparts, don't seem to take college all that seriously. Much of college is playtime for Korean students, despite the looming prospect of getting jobs and plunging back into the hectic, high-pressure realities of the corporate world. Sure: Korean college kids complain about their workload, but the truth of the matter is that they spend an inordinate amount of time coloring their hair bizarrely, experimenting with miniskirts and other budding-adult fashions, and getting drunk. (Come to think of it, that's really not so different from what American college kids do.) I saw this at Sookmyung and I see it at my current job: kids aren't serious about taking responsibility, and it won't be until after they're in their new jobs that they'll be exposed to the harsh reality that adults have repeatedly warned them about.

To paraphrase Nabokov: college is, for Koreans, the one brief spark of freedom between two eternities of oppressive, daily-grind darkness. After graduation, it's back to conformity.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

John McCrarey, beef belches, and Herbert Hoover

The first thing you need to know about John McCrarey is that he has the most impressive radio voice in the world, easily rivaling that of James Earl Jones. John's voice doesn't have the same sinister, subterranean quality that Jones's voice has, but as I told John today when we met at Tabom Brazil in Itaewon, he should try working for KBS Broadcasting if he ever gets bored of life as a retiree. Thanks to his rich, sonorous vocal cords, he's got a lucrative career as a radio personality and/or voice actor ahead of him. "A face for radio," he joked.

John is a jovial presence. He noted that our meeting was nine years in the making, since we'd been following each other's writing for a long time. (John blogs at Long Time Gone, and will doubtless soon be publishing his own version of our encounter.) He also seems much more interested in talking about his interlocutor than in talking about himself. His relaxed, easygoing style kept things comfortable.

John's lovely wife Jee Yeun (지연) graced us with her luminous presence as well, and we three talked in a mixture of English and Korean the entire time. Jee Yeun is happy to be back in Korea; life in the States was boring to her Seoulite sensibilities. She and John go back to America every six months, however, so I hope that, on her next trip to the States, she takes along whatever she needs to keep from being bored.

Tabom Brazil proved to be a larger, calmer version of Copacabana, the other Brazilian rodizio in Itaewon. Tabom's setup for the food is roughly the same as Copa's: there's a salad bar, of sorts, along with a "hot" station that features carby entrées like feijoada (meat & beans), rice, and even French fries. The meat-on-a-sword guy floats over to your table and offers you a cut of sirloin or garlic beef or pork or chicken or whatever. I tried to impress our server, who was Brazilian, by thanking him in Portuguese: obrigado, but I don't think he was impressed that I knew only one word. The server, meanwhile, knew the Korean equivalent of "Bon appétit."

Conversation ranged all over, but generally focused on immediate family, friends, and relatives. John had many questions for me, and he tackled the task of unpeeling the mysterious layers of the Big Hominid with the élan of a professional interviewer. Later on, when we left Tabom and went to Coffeesmith, a local café just up the street (where the above photo was taken), conversation turned a bit more political. Jee Yeun knew a barista at Coffeesmith (his name escapes me, but he's also in the picture above); this gentleman hooked us up with free mugs of whatever we wanted. Since I don't drink coffee, I got my usual hot chocolate, which turned out to be quite good.

All too soon, it was time for me to get to my train. We said our goodbyes on the street; I caught a taxi to Seoul Station and talked with the taxi driver on the way—mainly about the state of traffic. The driver was afraid there might be traffic jams on the way I had chosen to take, but there were no jams, as it turned out, and we got to Seoul Station with plenty of time to spare.

In fact, I had an hour. I spent several minutes on the second floor of the station just people-watching, noting that women with kids—just like in America—tend to dress way more casually than women with no kids. I reflected again on the previous day: I had spent the evening at dinner with my buddy Tom, and we were both surprised to discover that the Buddha's Birthday parade was happening that very evening and not ten or so days later, when the actual national holiday, Seokga-tanshin-il, is celebrated.

I should note that Tom and I didn't eat the galmaegi-sal that I'd been expecting. Tom took me to a different favorite restaurant of his, and we enjoyed grilled galbi instead. So it was beef yesterday and beef today—a veritable beefucopia. When I found out that my KTX train was already parked and ready for boarding almost forty minutes before departure, I climbed aboard, found my seat, and began experiencing beef belches—noisome, not-too-pleasant echoes of the meat I'd eaten earlier. Luckily, I had the train all to myself for about twenty minutes, which gave my belch clouds time to dissipate before the passengers came in and we got rolling.

The trip home was uneventful until I was within 80 meters of my building. I got off the local train at Hayang Station, walked through the light rain to my neighborhood, and went over to the neighborhood garbage pile to pick up my food-waste bucket.* The way it works, in this area, is that you separate out your trash into various categories, and food waste must be dumped into a special black-and-orange bucket (black sides and handle, orange snap-top). Normally, what then happens is that you leave the bucket at the local garbage pile with all the other trash, and the collectors come and dump your food waste into their trucks. My bucket had been set out almost a week previous, and the goddamn garbage men (true men of garbage, in my opinion) had refused to empty it out. So I left the bucket where it was when I went to Seoul, and now that I was back, I wanted to see whether anything had been done about my food trash. I noticed that the bucket no longer had my plastic bag in it (I normally line the bucket with a plastic shopping bag to make food-waste removal easier for the trash dude), but I also saw, with horror and fury, that were was still food in my bucket. I did a double-take: the food waste in my bucket wasn't mine!

What fucking cocksucker did THAT? I wondered. I'd like to snap his fucking neck. So basically, at some point, my bucket did get emptied out, but some enterprising asshole then dumped his food waste into my bucket. I stomped home with the bucket, emptied the stinking contents—foul chicken chunks and ramyeon noodles—into a Ziploc bag, stuffed that bag into a regular garbage bag, and prepped it for a return to the garbage pile. A chicken in every pot, indeed. I knew I couldn't get revenge on the chicken-dumper, but I was determined to make the garbage men pick up my garbage this time around.

It was a weird, ugly ending to an otherwise fine (albeit rainy) day.

*I have no idea how else to describe how our neighborhood handles garbage than to style it a "garbage pile." It's literally a pile of garbage—a mess of pre-labeled, standardized garbage bags filled with (presumably) non-recyclable trash and regular plastic shopping bags stuffed with sorted recycling. The food-waste buckets are usually grouped together off to one side, each bucket marked with the owner's building name and apartment number. In principle, anyone can come along and steal your bucket, so there's something of an honor system at work with these receptacles.

UPDATE: John's fine take on our meet-up can be found here.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

back among the pubes

Yes, ladies, I'm back in my favorite pube motel. And I'm delighted!

The dour old ajumma's greeting was hilarious. "Wow... ajeossi's back," she droned. Her bored, weary, cynical tone completely undermined her words. For her, my appearance was the most unsurprising, unexciting thing in the universe.

I'm here tonight (Saturday night) as well, then it's back to Hayang on Sunday after a session of face-stuffing at Tabom in Itaewon with the evil and crafty John McCrarey.


what I was doing Friday

I came to Seoul to see some friends, but I'm also in town for a job interview. I still have to be a bit circumspect in how I describe all this, because the interview was with a large think tank not far from the Kwanghwamun sector, and I don't want them Googling me. Yet. Let's call the think tank "Metatron" for convenience's sake. The position I interviewed for, at Metatron, is essentially a combination of middle management and editing: I'd be cleaning up academic prose and managing three writers/editors. As described to me by my interviewers (and potential bosses), the job is high-demand, high-pressure, and deadline-oriented. That's a bit intimidating for someone who likes to live life in a slow, placid, bon vivant sort of way.

Aside from the scariness, the job sounds exciting, although I question whether I'm really a good fit for it. I can't say that I have much management experience (I was a teacher coordinator for a brief time while at Sookmyung Women's University), and I don't speak the language of foreign policy and diplomacy—necessary ingredients for a competent editor at a foreign-policy and peace-studies think tank.

I had first heard about this position from a friend, who wrote about his own interview at Metatron here. (You can see the real name of the organization at his blog.*) Humble as he is, my friend felt he wasn't right for the position because, as he put it, he's not a "people person," which would make a management role difficult for him. I had to smile, though, because he wrote, in that blog post, that he couldn't think of anyone else with his skill set, but he did eventually contact me privately about the position.

After Metatron—which required a taxi driver with GPS to find, given its tucked-away location—I met my buddy Charles for dinner in Itaewon. Charles was tired, having come all the way from Seoul National University to meet me. We decided to go Bulgarian, which meant my second trip to Zelen (obliquely mentioned here). I ordered a risotto-stuffed squid with green salad; Charles had a pork dish with a healthy layer of fromage gratiné on top. The squid was incredible—startlingly delicious. Charles gave me a sampling of his pork (don't take that the wrong way); that was also quite good. Zelen sits atop a set of stairs, which were a bit harder for me to navigate in my now-crippled state, but I was high on meds (my ass injection still seems to be having an effect, and it's working in concert with my prescription meds), so it was all good.

Coda: tonight, I meet my buddy Tom, who is currently out golfing, the fucker:

We'll be eating galmaegi-sal, which translates literally as "seagull flesh," but which in truth refers to hearty chunks of grilled pork. Veggies are normally served on the side, and after all that grilling, everyone ends up smelling like the dark recesses of Bobby Flay's soul. Pork is popular; Koreans have a special affinity for the pig, which may explain the relative dearth of Jews and Muslims in this country.

*As you see, I'm not making much effort to cover my online tracks. I'm interested only in deterring cursory Googling.


Friday, April 25, 2014

off to Seoul

I'm looking forward to this weekend, which will be a combination of busy and fun. In just two hours, I'll be off to Seoul to visit three friends—my buddy Tom, my buddy Charles, and my talented, dart-throwing e-friend John McCrarey, whom I'll be meeting face-to-face for the very first time. I have another, rather important, reason for going to Seoul this weekend. If things pan out, I'll be talking more about that later. The busy half of this "busy and fun" weekend comes from my having to grade a slew of midterms. I'll be taking along my laptop and my voice files; grading will doubtless take several hours and plenty of concentration.

In any event, I'll be in Seoul until Sunday afternoon, returning to Hayang around dinnertime.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

the 1% and a shot in the ass

I think I understand why the local clinic prescribes such limited amounts of medicine: it's a way to make sure you stay in close dialogue with your doctor. Every five days, I run out of meds and tell the lady at the clinic's front desk that I've come for both physiotherapy and a prescription renewal. I wait a bit, then I get to sit with the doctor, like a penitent at confession.

Today, the doc looked at me and said I didn't look as if I'd improved. We perused my pedometer again; he saw that I'd averaged about 8,000 steps per day since Monday, but fewer than 2,000 steps per day over the weekend. He jabbed his finger at the weekend numbers on my phone and said, "That's how little you should be walking!" I told him that that was impossible, given the fact that I walk among several buildings on campus, especially every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday—the days on which I teach Korean. I also mentioned that, in my opinion, the meds had lost their effect. This proved worrisome for the doc, and he put me on his table to do some range-of-motion exercises. After we finished, we went back to his desk and sat down.

Looking glum, the doc said that, in his estimation, the probability of necrosis had jumped. "Tissue necrosis?" I asked in English, not having memorized the Korean term. He shook his head: "Avascular necrosis. Bone." He showed me his little plastic model of a hip, spine, and legs. Continuing in Korean, with a few English words sprinkled in at key points, the doctor said that osteonecrosis (also called AVN, or avascular necrosis) happens when bone isn't supplied with blood. It gets brittle, and in the case of the hip's ball-and-socket joint, the "ball" part of the joint can eventually even collapse. Very painful. The doc told me to look up "avascular necrosis" online, which I of course did while I was getting my "therapy." (More on that in a bit.) He also told me the Korean term: 무혈성괴사, muhyeolseong-gwoesa.

The doctor still wasn't totally sure what was going on, but he said that, if we were looking at the onset of osteonecrosis, such a thing wouldn't show up on an X-ray. Not at first, anyway. So he said the next step most likely would have to involve something that could scan more deeply and in more detail, which brought our conversation back around to MRIs. I told the doc again that I wouldn't be able to afford an MRI (I also recently learned, from a supervisor, that our campus insurance doesn't cover MRIs), despite how cheap MRIs are here in Korea, compared to MRIs in the States. The doctor still felt that I should visit another center; I told him that my boss at DCU had already recommended a place or two, and the doc nodded at the names I gave him. I'll be making an appointment to visit the Keimyung University Dongsan International Clinic next week. I'm hoping the scans they do won't be MRI-scale, such that the cost of a visit won't be prohibitively high.

With all of that settled, the doc asked me again, as he did on my first visit, whether I wanted a shot to help me through the pain. This time around I said yes, despite not knowing the cost or knowing how long the evil needle was going to be. I was told to go to the forbiddingly named Injection Room (jusa-shil), where I was tucked into a tiny corner space and hidden behind a curtain; this made me feel as if I were a neophyte stand-up comedian. A nurse poked her head in, told me to loosen and lower my pants, and bade me expose a meaty Kevin-buttock. I was surprised: I had thought that the injection would be right into the pain site, inside the fold of my hip. I was mistaken. The nurse mimed the posture I needed to assume: fists on the waist-high bed in front of me, leaving me slightly bent over and presenting my ass as a hefty bovine sacrifice to the god of science. I kept waiting for the shot to happen...but felt almost nothing except the faint echo of a slight sting. The nurse told me to keep pressing a small wad of gauze against my ass, and that was it: we were done. Totally painless.

I was reminded of a blogger named Jelly, of the blog I Got Two Shoes, who used to describe her regular doctor visits and the "ass injections" she would always end up getting—injections whose effects seemed, to me at least, questionable at best, despite their frequency. Today, I had my own taste of those "ass injections" and, depending on how well the shot seems to work, I may go back for more. The cost of the shot? Only W600, or about 50 cents, US.

Necrosis had been presented to me as a "1%" option when I had my initial consultation with the doctor. While I was right that tissue necrosis would likely have been visible on those X-rays, osteonecrosis would not have been. At this point, the doc is assigning a much higher probability to the chance of osteonecrosis, hence his urgency in getting me to a facility that can scan me and treat me more deeply. I admire his modesty: he could have done the money-grubbing thing and fought to keep me under his care. Instead, he's done the ethical, sensible thing by preparing to send me on my way.

So when I left the doc's office and went upstairs for therapy, I used my phone to look up AVN. Sure enough: AVN is not visible in X-ray at the outset; it usually strikes men aged 30-60; deterioration leads to eventual bone collapse (again, this sounds amazingly painful); AVN's causes are currently unknown, although AVN is associated with several preexistent conditions, including hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure, which I have). At this point, I'm not ready to give up and say Folks, I have AVN, mainly because the pain's sudden appearance remains unexplained. I haven't read enough to know whether AVN symptoms can appear so suddenly, but I do know that AVN sufferers can be asymptomatic long before the first perceptible signs appear. That doesn't bode well for my case, but I'll withhold judgment until I know more.

The prognosis for younger patients with AVN isn't great. For older patients (in their 60s), hip replacement is generally the solution. That sounds like major surgery to me, and there's no way in hell I'm undergoing that. For younger patients, a more modest replacement of the femoral head is possible, although this procedure is still experimental in the States despite being more widespread in Britain. I'm not sure whether it's even done in Korea, and I'd be deathly afraid to go under the knife here.

But that sort of speculation is about events still far, far in the future. For now, I take things a day at a time. First order of business: go to a bigger facility and get checked out there. And if that facility also demands that I get an MRI, I'll look into whether I can get on some sort of payment plan so that I don't have to pay a lump sum and end up poor. Either that, or I'll have to wait until I'm in a much higher-paying job before I can think about undergoing more involved medical procedures—scans, surgery, whatever.

Options and gambles. Life is a series of walls, each wall with several doors. We contemplate the doors, not always knowing what lies behind each of them, and we make our choices.


Obama and ESL: a telling video

A colleague sent me link to this video. In his email, this colleague wrote:

Here's a funny video you can show your students to encourage them to speak English in public:

Obama repeatedly asks an auditorium full of Korean reporters for a question, either in English or Korean, and the only one finally willing to do so is Chinese, lol.

Commenter 정연욱 [Jeong Yeon-uk] writes simply, "Really embarrassing..."

President Obama got a taste of what it's often like for us professors to teach a beginner-level English class (for some of us, this might even apply to the intermediates!). Dead, zombie-like silence often indicates that students are in the grip of several simultaneous fears.

First, there's the fear of doing something that no one else is doing, i.e., breaking the silence and thereby disturbing the "group harmony." English teachers quickly learn that, in Korea, it's often better just to call on specific students than to ask a general, "What does anyone think?"-style question. In fact, the situation is so bad that there's a riddle:

Q: How do you shut a Korean student up?
A: Ask him a question.

Second, there's the fear of embarrassing oneself by demonstrating poor English skills—a type of performance anxiety that consumes many, many Koreans learning English. I've been giving midterms this week, and I've seen this phenomenon up close. Students who had thought they could skate by in relative silence now find themselves, this week, obliged to talk more than they ever have before, and it frightens them to be put in such a situation. It really shouldn't: much of my effort in class is devoted to "lowering the affective filter," i.e., decreasing the stress and anxiety that come with speaking in a foreign language. I'm not always successful.

Third, there is likely the fear of questioning as august a presence as the President of the United States. This last fear is a bit hard to understand, given how avidly and viciously the Korean press goes after its own politicians. Korea has a love-hate relationship with America, but be it love or hate, America looms large in the Korean consciousness. Does the reporters' hesitancy come down to a fear of appearing rude? Because ironically, the stony silence to our president was itself rude, at least from an American perspective. In class, I often can't help my own cultural conditioning: if I ask a question and receive no answer, I immediately interpret such silence as rebelliousness, even though I know, after having spent years in Korea, that the student isn't trying to be willful.

Mr. Obama should have been told by his advisors that it's the kiss of death, in a group situation, to float a general question to no Korean in particular. He would have gotten much better results had he indicated a particular reporter and asked, "Do you have any questions for me?" With that one gesture, he could easily have opened the floodgates for a host of questions once the Koreans realized that nothing disastrous would come of merely asking.

Below the video, several commenters weighed in, in both English and Korean. Some echoed the embarrassment; others testily came to the defense of the silent reporters. To me, a reporter who fails to ask a question has failed to do his job. Asking questions, finding out the truth, is supposed to be one of the most basic of journalistic responsibilities. By that metric, only the Chinese reporter who had the stones to address Mr. Obama escapes negative judgment. I have my own theory as to why that particular journalist was brave enough to risk a question, but I'll save those musings for later. In the meantime, I'll note that Mr. Obama's insistence that a Korean member of the press ask him a question was probably rooted in annoyance at and disappointment with the wall of silence: like me, he too interpreted the stillness as an act of rudeness.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

a full week

This was the first full week in which I taught my basic-level Korean classes. The very first week, we started on a Tuesday, so there was no Monday class. The next two weeks were marred by cancellations caused by departmental events that I hadn't been told about (and yes, it pissed me off not to be in the loop). This week, finally, I taught on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday—and I didn't die. My students have been real troupers, too; I know they're tired, but for the most part, they keep coming to class. I respect their dedication, and I hope something is sinking in. We're already almost halfway through our courses; time flies.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the long and suspended mourning

For many, if not most, in South Korea, it's a period of mourning. With 108 confirmed dead in the Sewol ferry tragedy as of this writing, and with 194 still missing, this catastrophe has the potential to surpass the body count of the 1993 ferry disaster that claimed over 290 South Korean lives. But hope in finding survivors, though dwindling, hasn't been extinguished yet, and the parents of the missing schoolchildren find themselves caught in a strange and terrible limbo, not ready to mourn until they know more, but already fearing the worst. For this latter group of people, poised at the precipice of grief, any mourning has been suspended until further information comes in.

South Korea has also plunged deeply into a period of loud self-examination and recrimination. Many families blame the government of President Park Geun-hye for having provided, at best, an incompetent response to the crisis. Others reply that blame should primarily rest on the ferry captain and his crew, all of whom had received the order, not five minutes after sending out a distress call, to make ready to abandon ship. This order, which came from the Jeju Island VTS (Vessel Traffic Services), was promptly ignored. The ferry's captain, Lee Jun-seok, has lawyered up and now claims, implausibly, that he did give the order to abandon ship. Unsurprisingly, no one believes him. Commentators both Korean and non-Korean wonder aloud about how much of this tragedy was the result of flaws in Korean culture—the rush-rush nature of Korean society, so impatient to succeed that safety measures are bypassed, or the hierarchical sensibility that would lead students and other passengers to obey nonsensical orders and complacently await their doom.

About the only thing that is clear is that the Sewol's captain and crew were criminally negligent in their handling of the crisis. Report after report from the survivors confirms that the passengers had been told to stay where they were "because it was safer." The result of this misguided order may very well be over 300 deaths. Also of note, as was discovered within the first 24 hours of the crisis, is that only one of the lifeboats had been used. Had all the lifeboats been deployed, there would have been the capacity to save up to a thousand people. The newest counts put the number of passengers and crew at 476 (up from 459), and there's a chance that there are several unaccounted-for passengers. There were more than enough lifeboats to go around, although it's doubtful the crew had been trained in how to deploy them.

Theories as to why the ship listed and sank abound. The most prominent one is the turn-and-tilt theory: for mysterious reasons, the Sewol veered sharply, dislodging cargo and unbalancing the ship. The immediate, obvious implication is that the cargo must have been improperly secured—yet more evidence of inattention to safety. Once the ship has been righted and all the bodies have been claimed, we will, perhaps, learn more.

Rescue efforts continue to be hampered by rough seas, poor visibility, and hunks of cargo that obstruct the passage of divers inside the ship. Sadly, as the rescuers scour more and more of the Sewol's interior volume, bodies continue to be found, and the death toll will, inevitably, continue to rise. At this point, finding even one living soul would seem like a miracle, although that one person's life would be of small comfort to the stricken families whose children have been confirmed lost.

For the moment, at least, I prefer to stay away from sweeping indictments of Korean culture. There are enough culture-independent factors here to occupy my mind; this accident was the result of a constellation of causes, ranging from human carelessness to institutional malfeasance. None of these errors is unique to Korean culture. At the same time, this whole crisis has been a stomach-turning display of human cowardice and venality, and I'm not just talking about the captain and his crew: I'm also referring to the despicable scum that had been sending fake text messages to stricken parents, to the serial impostor who managed to get herself on TV spouting nonsense about the rescue operation, and to the politicians who have adopted various poses in an attempt to present themselves in a better light instead of shutting up and doing what's helpful. Again, none of this is unique to Korean culture, but the disaster happened here; the sundered families are here; the body count is ticking upward here.


Monday, April 21, 2014


I think my body has built up a tolerance to the meds I've been prescribed. That happened with frightening swiftness. One of my "virtual parents" wrote me privately to theorize that the dosage I had been prescribed was probably the maximum allowable dose. If so, that would explain much: because I started off "at the ceiling," so to speak, there was really nowhere else for my body to go, so once my body built up its tolerance to the meds, it became doubtful that more of the same would be helpful.

To explore this point—both because I think scientifically and because I have no qualms about using myself as a lab rat—I did an experiment this evening: instead of taking the evening packet of meds (my pills are divided into "morning" and "evening" doses), I forsook the meds in favor of good old aspirin, of which I still have plenty. And guess what: for the first time in days, my pain levels went down. Yes, it's true: over Easter weekend, I was in constant pain, and the meds seemed not to be helping at all. So it's a bit annoying to have my suspicions confirmed, and to find out that a large dose of aspirin can do what the formerly miraculous prescription drugs no longer can. God, I loved those drugs at the beginning: they did away with 90% of my pain within thirty minutes. But over time, their effectiveness lessened and finally bottomed out. So here I am.

The problem with aspirin, of course, is that it's an NSAID, which means that too much of it will eventually make me bleed out of all sorts of holes. Aspirin also works for only about four hours, whereas the prescription meds are (were?) supposed to be effective for twelve. In fact, I'm probably going to take my "evening" meds tonight around midnight, when the aspirin will have worn off. As a token gesture, if nothing else.

Sometimes tolerance is a bad thing.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

"The World's End": a two-paragraph review

Starring the Laurel-and-Hardy-reboot comedy team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, "The World's End" (TWE) is the capstone of what has become known as the "Three Flavors: Cornetto Trilogy," which began with the zombie-apocalypse comedy "Shaun of the Dead" and continued with the police comedy "Hot Fuzz." TWE is the story of man-child Gary King, a 40-something recovering drug addict who gets his old friends back together to relive, and surpass, a failed event from the group's teen years: the Golden Mile, which is a mile-long walk in the town of Newton Haven whose path connects the dots among twelve local pubs. The object of the game: drink a pint at each pub. The boys discover, however, that the town has been taken over by robotic simulations of the townspeople, and this turns out to be part of a much larger alien master plan to integrate our planet with the rest of the galaxy.

TWE was watchable, but proved not to be as funny as I'd expected it to be. It was hampered by the typically slipshod British approach to science fiction, which is rife with comic implausibilities, incoherent themes, and disconnected plot points (the Brits are the undisputed masters of the fantasy genre, but their SF is generally confusing, low-budget, and a bit pointless*). TWE also felt like a full-circle return to "Shaun of the Dead," with shambling robots in lieu of zombies. The film's tone was reminiscent of an 80s-era Douglas Adams throwback, what with Gary King's passionate-yet-nihilistic speech about Earth's necessary lameness and the human desire to be free. The tone of TWE also swayed drunkenly between madcap comedy and syrupy sentimentality, and I had trouble understanding some of the main characters' motivations. It also seemed that, by the end of the story, Gary King had learned absolutely nothing from his experience in Newton Haven—there was no character arc there. In all, TWE is not a film I'd race to see again.

*One bright exception is the UK science-fiction series "Misfits," which comes off as a gritty, sex-laden parody of the US series "Heroes." This series showed some real creativity as it explored all the jokey, naughty, "What if?" possibilities that come with having superpowers while lacking the wisdom to use them well.


Happy Eat-ster!

A pic of Easter plenty for you:

Click on the following picture to aggrandicize:

This spaghetti sauce has turned out to be one the best I've ever made. I'm not always consistent in my sauce-making, but this one came out exactly the way I wanted it to: not over-dominated by herbs, not too salty or sweet, not overly meaty or vegetable-y. The only things that could have made it nicer would have been (1) fresh herbs—basil, parsley, oregano; and (2) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of the powdered Parmesan. But you make do with what's available to you, so voilà. All in all, I was delighted with the results.

The sauce contains ground beef (expensive), ground pork (cheap), button mushrooms, minced green bell peppers, Korean oyster mushrooms (very meaty), tomato sauce, garlic powder, dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil, olive oil (in which the veggies were fried and salted), tomato paste, and a bit of water to supplement the natural moisture that cooks out of the meat (it's not only fat that runs out of the meat) and the vegetables. Oh, yes: I did add an onion. A fresh onion—mandolined, minced, and caramelized in the aforementioned olive oil.

Cornstarch, something of a cheat, was thrown in as a binding agent. This kept the sauce from becoming too runny. I'd rather cheat and have my sauce be the right consistency than eschew cornstarch and end up with a thin, watery product.

I've got enough sauce and pasta to last me several more meals, but every meal needs a companion.* So—bread! To my delight, I finally realized that there is indeed a bakery in town that makes a halfway decent baguette, so I went there today, after therapy, and bought myself a loaf for a rather steep W2,500. But the price was worth it: the baguette passed the "shatter test," i.e., when I cut into it with a newly purchased serrated bread knife, crumbs flew everywhere as the knife bit into the crust. The second half of the "shatter test" is the "contrast test": the interior of a baguette must be as soft and gossamer as the exterior is hard and brittle. I'd give my baguette about a 75% on that score, but that's still saying something. The local chain bakery, Paris Baguette, serves crappy baguettes. As was true when I lived in Seoul, it's the independent bakeries that have proven better at making recognizably French breads.

So that's your dose of Eastertide food porn. Happy Easter. Eat well.

*Etymologically speaking, the word companion comes from "with" (com) and "bread" (pan), so a companion is someone with whom you break bread.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

my hip is with Jesus

It's Holy Saturday, so according to tradition Jesus is in hell, doing his best to burn away the karma of our collective sins. My hip is also in hell, taking a flamethrower of pain to the side of my body, making it very difficult to walk.

Despite the agony, I succeeded in making one of my most delicious spaghetti sauces yesterday—an American-style quasi-Bolognese. I took a picture of the meal, but upon review I decided the image wasn't appetizing enough: the Parmesan cheese looked soaked-through, as did the very nice multi-grain garlic bread that I had prepped. The veggies that I had cooked up looked as though they'd come from a bad cafeteria (not far wrong: they came from a package of frozen vegetables that I had bought a couple months ago). In all, the image was a turn-off. Now, of course, I have enough spaghetti sauce and pasta to make several attempts at getting a better photo, so perhaps at some point soon you'll get to see the fruits of my recent labor.

Today, I and my hip from hell must limp over to the clinic to get "therapy" and a new supply of pills. I'm a little worried about the timing, as I have to be in Seoul this coming Friday, the 25th, to visit friends and to do something important (more on that later, if it bears fruit, but I have to be coy for the moment). I think that I'll run out of pills by Thursday, which means I can resupply before I leave for Seoul.

The doc saw me yesterday and expressed worry that I wasn't progressing. I mentioned to him that, earlier in the week, I had walked a lot, which was likely the cause of current pain. He once again talked about my getting the MRI; I mentioned that I probably wouldn't be able to afford it, to which he responded that we could just continue on the current therapeutic path. I nodded half-resignedly.

There was a bit of weirdness yesterday, too, as one of the clinic staffers on the third floor got chatty with me. She began asking me questions about my job—specifically about whether I was able to jump around from school to school while on contract. She also mentioned two of my colleagues by name, and I told her that one of those gents was the person who had recommended this clinic to me. This conversation was weird because my pants were halfway down my thighs while we were talking, and the attendant was lube-massaging the fold of my hip all the while, her hand veering dangerously close to my cojones.

At the end of the therapy, I asked the lady about the clinic's Saturday hours. I knew the place normally closed early on Saturdays, but I wondered aloud as to whether it would close even earlier because of Easter. "It's Easter?" she said, surprised. Then she laughed, embarrassed. "I didn't even know." "Are you Buddhist?" I asked her. "No—no religion," she said. "Ah—mugyo," I replied, using the word for a person who belongs to no particular tradition.*

So I limped out of the clinic, away from the person who knew nothing about Jesus' suffering in the flames for humanity's sake, my hip still screaming in harmony with our Lord.

*Mugyo is not the same as atheist. A person who is mugyo might well be an atheist, but what the word really refers to is one's belonging to an established religious community. So someone mugyo could in principle be an atheist, or she might be the Korean equivalent of "spiritual, not religious." (See here. Don't trust Google Translate, which renders mugyo as atheist. Also: technically, mugyo can serve as both a noun and an adjective, but a person of no religion can also be called a mugyo-in, a "no-religion person.")


"au cou long" or "au long cou"?

Commenter "Bob" over at ROK Drop attempts a friendly correction of my French, but he has committed the mortal sin of providing me with an unnecessary correction, i.e., he's "correcting" me when I'm not wrong. The situation: blog author "GI Korea" had posted one of his "Korea Finder" pictures, this time not of a place (he normally shows pictures of locales, and commenters race to provide the correct answer as to which locale is pictured), but of a person—Fleur Pellerin, a Korean adoptee and government official (read more about her here).

I wasn't the first to post a comment, and when I tried, I didn't make any effort to get it right. I simply wrote, "La bonne dame au cou long"—the lady with the long neck. I had thought about writing "la bonne dame au long cou," since short adjectives like long are normally placed before the nouns they modify (in French, the general rule is to place adjectives after the nouns they modify). But I also know that quite a few adjectives can be placed before or after the noun with no damage to the intended meaning. Long was one such adjective.*

But Bob swooped in with his "correction" all the same, writing:

…et on dit “au long cou” (donc, “long” est une épithète antéposée). C’est bien simple. “Long cou” est une quasi-collocation et, d’habitude, les adjectifs épithètes brefs et fréquents sont antéposés.

—basically quoting to me the grammatical rule that I already knew. (The word "épithète," which Bob uses above, means "modifier" or "qualifier" in this context. And as you might guess, the adjective "antéposé" means "placed in front of.")

In his response to my comment, Bob's delineation of the grammatical rule in question is impeccably correct. In fact, I applaud his knowledge. But by offering a "correction" at all, he's implying that my locution is incorrect and/or impossible. It is neither. To prove my point, all I have to do is troll Google for evidence that au cou long exists.

See here: 166,000 results, including results from actual French people, not just non-French people "misspeaking." Examples:

1. Artwork titled "Tortue au cou long" (Long-necked tortoise), in Paris.
2. French website: "Bec au cou long" here.
3. A French translation of a page from the American Association for the Advancement of Science journal website mentions "Un prédateur marin au cou long originaire de la Chine"—here. The phrase "cou long" is used several times.
4. The Lexilogos French online dictionary has this to say:

c) Postposé. Qui se caractérise par sa longueur, souvent p. oppos. à un modèle normal, courant. Robe longue; chandail à manches longues; cheveux longs; avoir le cou trop long.

5. The Internaute dictionary leads to an encyclopedia entry for the idiomatic expression avoir le bras long (to have far-reaching influence).
6. A French professor of linguistics notes here that long can be pre- or postpositioned.

I suppose I could provide 166,000 more examples, but I think I've made my point, which is essentially that au cou long is neither grammatically impossible nor grammatically incorrect. Long can be placed after a noun. Ergo, I was not in need of correction.

Bob could respond that Google results for au long cou number 506,000—much more than for au cou long. True, but completely irrelevant: Bob was attempting to say that my locution was incorrect, when in fact it appears in thousands of instances, many examples of which are from native French-speakers.

Bob could switch tactics and adopt a strict "Académie Française" stance, the stance of a purist, clinging more tightly to the rule he quoted and telling me that my construction is "not strictly correct"... but if he did so, he would throw his lot in with the prescriptivists and sacrifice whatever vestiges of linguistic descriptivism he may retain (he would also be flat-out wrong, given the Lexilogos dictionary definition I quoted above). When a person ceases to be in touch with how language is actually written and spoken, his critiques lose their legitimacy. Although I consider myself a language Nazi in both English and French, I don't go so far as to be a full-on prescriptivist. That's just silly: language is a living human phenomenon; it evolves and doesn't always conform to strict rules. I recognize this.

Conclusion: thanks, but no correction was necessary, because I wasn't wrong.

*Some French adjectives can be placed before and after nouns, but they change in meaning. Un homme grand is not the same as un grand homme, and mon ancien prof is not the same as mon prof ancien. But some nouns are like long in that they can be placed either before or after a noun with no substantial change in meaning. Another such adjective is bref. Un discours bref and un bref discours are two locutions that mean the same thing. The nuance here is that, in the latter case, the brevity is being slightly stressed. But only slightly.


Friday, April 18, 2014

from 0 to 2100

I ended up walking—limping—about 2,100 steps yesterday. I expect to do about the same today, as I'll be heading over to the clinic up the street for another round of "therapy." Oy.


Good Friday not so good

The news about the Korean ferry disaster continues to worsen, but rescuers still hold out some hope. A quick update: according to the Korean news source, (1) the death toll has climbed to 26 as bodies are being found floating on the sea, away from the boat (these could be passengers who jumped away from the boat and died of hypothermia, or they could be passengers who drowned inside the ferry and have floated to the surface because of natural eddies and sea currents); (2) the long-awaited floating cranes are coming to the scene, one by one, and will soon undertake the difficult task of righting the ferry; (3) rescuers have successfully penetrated the ferry up to its mess hall but have found no survivors; (4) the process of injecting air into the vessel has begun.

It may be too little, too late for any people who had survived the initial capsizing and sinking of the ferry, which met its fate not far from Jindo, at the southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula. The water is reported to have gotten cold during the night, and at this point it's been more than 24 hours since the crisis began. Hypothermia will have set in for most of the initial survivors, and only those with a great deal of native toughness will still be alive at this point. I'm not too hopeful on that score.

Quite possibly the most hurtful comment I've seen was written at The Marmot's Hole:

The Japanese sailed the vessel in question safely for 18 years. Koreans had it for a couple weeks and killed 300 kids. This is sadly not surprising to anyone who has visited both nations.

The thrust of the comment seems to be that Koreans are clumsy, butter-fingered bunglers while the Japanese are adroit and competent. I'm not sure how true that is, given what we're still finding out about radiation leakage at Fukushima and its effects on the global environment, a situation that Japan has handled in a less-than-ideal way.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

just resting

My pedometer has read "0" all day: I've barely gotten out of bed. My hip is in extreme pain (yesterday was another 7,000-step day), but I need to be ready for an important trip to Seoul happening next week, so it's important that I treat myself gingerly. I had originally planned to visit the clinic today for more "therapy," but by the time 5PM rolled around, my mind said "Fuck it" and my two to-do items were reduced to one.* That remaining mission, which I'm about to attempt despite the still-regnant pain, is a trip to the local E-Mart to buy a load of pork, beef, and sausage so I can make spaghetti sauce this evening. I've got the other veggies, but meat is cheaper at E-Mart, so off I go.

*I had also failed to show up for therapy yesterday and the day before. Is there a correlation between lack of therapy and my current pain levels? I seriously doubt it.


disaster at sea

It happened early yesterday, April 16, so I'm far behind the ever-accelerating news cycle, but a Korean ferry, on its way from Incheon to Jeju Island with 459 passengers and crew, capsized and sank yesterday near Jindo, within two hours of sending out a 9AM distress call after the boat apparently suffered a mysterious impact that breached the hull, allowing seawater to rush into the vessel. The crew had, strangely, instructed the passengers to remain where they were; some initial (and thus unreliable) reports indicate that this move may have cost lives: some of the nearly 180 passengers who have thus far been rescued have claimed that their rescue was possible because they took the initiative to abandon the ship.

Wild-eyed speculation as to the cause of the accident currently ranges from random rocks to nefarious action by North Korea. Nothing more will truly be known until the ship's hull has been extensively examined. For the moment, officials' efforts are focused entirely on rescuing the nearly 290 people, mostly high schoolers, who are still reckoned as missing. There is a good chance that survivors remain inside the overturned ship, possibly inhabiting whatever air pockets they have been able to find.

News sites have noted that this current disaster—if the missing turn out to be dead—is on a scale comparable to that of a similar ferry disaster that occurred in 1993. In that incident, 292 lives were lost. Currently, anxious families await news about the fates of their loved ones. One news site showed a text message sent by a son to his mother, in which he expressed his love and said he might not have the chance to do so again.

The USS Bonhomme Richard, of the US Navy, has been drafted into the rescue effort. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has urged workers to do their utmost to find and save as many survivors as possible.

At this point, no one has given up hope, which means that nearly 290 people are still being reported as missing, not as having been lost. May the ongoing efforts prove fruitful.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

language rant: compounds and hyphenates vs. phrasal verbs

I just saw this sentence (found here) and became annoyed:

They called on parents to crackdown on tablet computer use and even turn off wi-fi at night to address the problem.

The article was written by—according to the byline—an editor. Now, you'd think an editor would know better, but apparently that's a naive thought. My problem? The word crackdown. As it's written in the sentence above, it's incorrect, because crackdown, written as a single compound, is a noun. That's the nominal form of the word.

The verbal form is crack down—a phrasal verb. TWO WORDS. One of the major reasons why English is classified as a Germanic language is that it contains so many phrasal verbs, a trait that it shares with German. In that latter language one might see, for example, the verb steigen (rise, climb, mount, get in/on [a vehicle]) paired up with various prepositions: einsteigen (get in), aussteigen (get out), umsteigen (transfer [from one vehicle to another]). The preposition is separated from the verb when written in conjugated form:

Wir steigen ein! (We're getting on!)

English has plenty of phrasal verbs. To put is a great one:

put in
put on
put up
put out*
put through
put (X) with (Y)
put (one) over
put into
put under
put between
put beside/next to


Very often, the nominal and adjectival forms of these phrasal verbs will be compounds and/or hyphenates (which many consider a form of compound).

to break down: a breakdown (more archaically, a break-down)
to line up: a lineup, a line-up
to fuck up: a fuckup, a fuck-up
to do over: a do-over (I've never seen anyone write a doover)
to smash up: a smashup, a smash-up
to break in: a break-in (no one writes breakin)
to break out: a breakout/break-out role (adj.)
to bang up: a bang-up job (adj.)

So I have to ask: how did this editor not realize he was using the wrong part of speech?


They called on parents to crack down on tablet computer use and even turn off wi-fi at night to address the problem.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who edits the editors?

*As the man bellowed in the corner while clutching his face, Katniss explained, "I put out his eye when he became put out that I didn't put out."


news bites

1. A helpful coworker informed me, yesterday, that US expats have an automatic two-month extension when it comes to filing taxes. This came as a relief, as I had been planning to rush my tax paperwork yesterday, on the 15th, in the hopes of sending out an envelope postmarked on that day. So now I can procrastinate until mid-June.

2. My Absolute Beginners Korean class has been steadily diminishing in numbers, and we're barely three weeks into the course. Everyone's got a reason for leaving, it seems—too many social obligations, not enough time/energy, etc. A shame, really; it doesn't actually take that much time to master the basics of the language. It's more a matter of one's willingness to put in the necessary effort (which, of course, applies equally to me and weight loss!). My Veteran Beginners class, meanwhile, is staying surprisingly strong.

3. I'm looking forward to not teaching this coming Thursday (Easter break), because I think what my hip really needs is rest. I walked another 8,000 steps yesterday, which didn't do my aching ball-and-socket joint any favors. But, hey—I saw the blood moon, right?


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

paying for my sins

I'm in pain today, despite the meds. Over 14,000 steps yesterday have brought me to this pass. This morning, I could barely limp around my studio, so I elected to drug myself up with more than just the prescription meds: I took four aspirin, too, and I'm about to take four more. I'm also kicking myself for having forgotten to bring along my cell phone, so my pedometer is going to be off by at least 4,000 steps today. Meantime, suffice it to say that I ache.


sent by my brother


Monday, April 14, 2014

ode to three assholes (and a wrap-up of the day)

[Names changed and details left vague to protect the guilty.]

Professor X in 301
you're quite the piece of shit
you left the damn projector on
I had to deal with it

Professor Y in 205
you're Satan's little bitch
you also left equipment on
I curse you with jock itch

you rancid motherfuckers have
no thoughts but for yourselves
the profs who follow you are naught
I hope you're raped by elves

and now this verse, a screaming curse,
goes to the biggest dick
the dude who shat, but failed to flush
the toilet I did pick

I fail to fathom how he thinks
I cannot comprehend
what makes a man refuse to purge
what exits from his end

three assholes known by their effects
three men uncivilized
three men deserving of my hate
I piss into their eyes

Couldn't believe what a shitty day it was today. In both of my classes, the profs who had used the classrooms before me had left the data projectors on (thereby rendering the white boards useless because the projectors were projecting Microsoft desktop images onto them). They had also left class with the podium keys and the projectors' remote controls, thus making it impossible for me to deactivate the equipment and shut down the computers. (Classroom computers are housed in electronic podiums, which are locked unless you've got the key. Keys and remote controls can be obtained from a special office in the building that I teach in most frequently.) I had to waste time gimping back and forth to get a staffer to come and "take down" all the electronic equipment that had been left on. To add insult to injury, when I went into a bathroom cubicle to take a dump, I lifted the toilet seat's lid and saw that the idiot before me had taken a dump as well, and had neglected to flush his load. The expression break my foot off in yo' ass crossed my mind.

It would be nice if professors gave each other some collegial consideration and actually thought ahead enough to realize that a classroom needs to be fully prepped for the next teacher: erase the white boards, turn off the projectors and computers, and leave everything neat and tidy. It would also be nice if incontinent morons remembered to flush the goddamn toilet every time they used the fucking thing.

Otherwise, my day was fine. My beginners did a decent job with their midterm review, and my Absolute Beginner Korean students, down to only three today, performed well. I'm tired, though; I went to therapy and had to see Dr. Kim to get another prescription; he wrote me a scrip for five days' worth of pills this time. His observation is that I seem to be improving, although I'm not feeling it. I showed Dr. Kim my phone's pedometer; he was shocked at how much I walk every day: about 6,000 steps on average. While that's well short of my 10,000-step goal, Dr. Kim says that, if my healing is to progress, I need to be below 2,000 steps. I told him that was impossible, given that I have to walk to campus every day, and that I walk around campus while I'm there, especially now that my faculty office is separate from the building in which we teach.

NB: As of tonight, I walked 14,200 steps. My hip did hurt for a while, until I drugged myself up again. I think I'll sleep peacefully tonight.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

expat spouses: you may be required by law to learn Korean

From over at the ROK Drop blog, I saw the following blog post: "Korea Implements New Marriage Laws Requiring Foreign Spouses to Learn Korean." The post quotes part of an AFP article. The most important paragraph of that article:

The latest regulations, effective as of April 1, require those applying for a resident-through-marriage visa to pass a language proficiency test, and for Korean partners to show an annual income in excess of 14.8 million won ($14,000).

So if you're an expat married to a Korean, and if you're looking to gain residential rights via a spouse visa, you'd better bone up on your Korean. Pronto.

I should note, though, that the article also says this:

Officials say this tackles the two main causes of marital strife among mixed-marriage couples — inability to communicate and low income.

It's cute that the government is saying that this new law is for your own good, but it seems to me, then, that if the Korean spouse speaks English well and the couple is drawing a more-than-decent income, then there's no need for the expat spouse to take a Korean-proficiency test. Not according to this logic, anyway.*

I'm still formulating my attitude toward this new law. On the one hand, such a law is consistent with my belief that expats who are in Korea for the long haul have a moral obligation to get curious about the culture that's feeding, clothing, and sheltering them. The least show of gratitude to the country that gives one life would be to learn something about that country's language. Learning a language means learning a culture—habits of mind, worldviews, and so on. What better way to reach out than to try to build bridges of understanding? The new law operates in a manner consistent with that spirit.

On the other hand, my inner libertarian balks at the notion of forcing any sort of morally worthy action, because the simple fact of requirement sucks the moral value out of the act. Immanuel Kant wrote eloquently of duty in his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, but even Kant assumed that duty's moral value stemmed from free will. Duty is how I bind myself to something or to someone, not how the state binds me to it. So a gesture meant to be moral, meant to be a way of building bridges of understanding, becomes a mere obligation that one must fulfill in order to avoid punishment.

Externally speaking, law or no law, the results are the same: the person aiming to learn Korean will learn Korean. Internally, though, the moral content of those gestures is different: in the case of a free choice to learn Korean, the act of learning the language has moral worth; in the case of a legal obligation to learn Korean, altruistic morality is replaced by selfish pain-avoidance.

You could try to counterargue that, in the latter case, it's still possible to want to learn Korean even while being required to do so. I don't deny it: there's no necessary contradiction. But the legal obligation still trumps the heart's desire, as is readily apparent when you expand the scope of legal requirements to include more and more human actions. Do a reductio ad absurdum: what happens when all actions deemed "good" become required by law, so that the failure to perform them entails punishment? Would you like to live in such a society?

*The article also says that the law is designed to stem the tide of illegally(?) purchased foreign brides (with the implication that the brides are purchased by Korean men):

“Strong state intervention is inevitable to stop ineligible people from buying foreign brides,” a Justice Ministry official said. “This is a diplomatic issue related to our national image.”

I think, however, that once the law is on the books, it's going to have to be more widely applicable than to the deplorable situation it purports to address.


one big, one small

The "invincible" Holden Beck may possess occult powers that allow him to survive even the severest of motorcycle accidents, but his most recent photo makes him look plenty mortal to me. In that photo, we see Holden's two legs—one healthy, one scrawny from multiple surgeries and long immobility. Holden talks about the amazing pain that comes with trying to walk again; as he noted to me privately, much of his physical therapy has to come from him, since the Korean system isn't doing much to help.*

I wish Holden good luck as he enters this new phase of his recovery. Perhaps his barista is right, and he won't be truly ambulatory until, oh, American Thanksgiving.

*My own view of the therapy I've been receiving is that it's fine for surface-muscular problems, but no good for deep-joint and deep-tissue ailments. I get a heat pad, electro-stimulation, and an ointment rub. All of these measures are surface-only. I would love an aggressive deep-tissue massage from a busty, lusty Swedish woman with aggressive, inquisitive hands—a massage whose effects burrowed down, down into my hip.


Palm Sunday

You may recall this post from early 2013.

Happy Palm Sunday, all. If only the story had happened this way. The unrighteous would have been dealt with swiftly and graphically.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

two "Captain America"s: a two-fer review

Before I went to the local cinema to see "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (CAWS), I had to study up, which meant seeing "Captain America, The First Avenger" (CAFA) beforehand. So I rented the older movie on Amazon Prime Instant Video, and generally enjoyed myself. In that first film, Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a 1940s-era runt (I assume Evans's runtiness was accomplished via Gollum-style CGI motion-capture effects) who desperately wants to join the fight against Hitler. Unfortunately, despite having a great deal of heart, Rogers has a long list of ailments, asthma among them. He attempts several times to enlist, each time offering a false profile to hide his previous attempts at enlistment, and each time being rejected. Steve's friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) does enlist, shipping off to Europe and leaving Steve behind. A certain Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) overhears Steve's fervent desire to enlist, and decides to induct Steve into a government-sponsored "super-soldier" program. Steve is supposed to be the first of an army of super-soldiers, but when a murderous agent from Hydra, a rogue wing of the Nazis, appears and shoots up the serum-injection experiment (killing Dr. Erskine in the process), only Steve has been injected. The experiment is a success: Steve is cured of all his ailments and has transformed into the tall, buff, studly Captain America we all recognize.

Much of the movie is devoted to how Captain America is used, at first, as a propaganda tool to encourage enlistment as part of the ongoing war effort. But Steve Rogers would much rather be out in the thick of it, striking a blow against Hitler instead of dressing in tights and mouthing patriotic platitudes. With the help of lovely British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), he gets his chance, and thus the real story of Captain America begins. The focus shifts to the conflict with Hydra, led by evil scientist (and early recipient of a cruder form of the super-serum, which turns him into Red Skull) Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving*) and his pint-sized assistant, Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). A bit like the Nazis in the Indiana Jones films, Schmidt has been in pursuit of powerful artifacts. At first, he did this work as Hitler's minion, but as he became more power-hungry, Schmidt turned Hydra into an autonomous agency with its own agenda. Schmidt's plan, as is perennially true for all power-mad movie villains, is no less than world domination. The focus of Schmidt's lust is an unearthly, glowing cube called the Tesseract (which figures in "The Avengers," reviewed here). Schmidt sees the Tesseract as a source of limitless energy, enough to power his massive weapons and to bring the world to its knees.

As I mentioned above, I generally enjoyed the film. Its sepia-toned narrative made for nostalgic viewing, and Captain America's awkward beginnings as a propaganda puppet signaled a less hagiographic approach to superheroic mythology. It doesn't hurt that Chris Evans is a likable Captain America, a man almost monastically devoted to the cause of justice. But had it not been for the luminous presence of Peggy Carter, Captain America would have been a flat character—all devotion, no humanity. Peggy allows us to see Cap's softer side. The nature of Cap's conflict with Hydra, though, means that the film operates on a somewhat parochial scale, despite the enormous backdrop of World War II. The story isn't about Hitler or freedom or the spreading of American values: it's about Steve Rogers finding himself and facing off against Red Skull. Despite all the spectacle, CAFA is a remarkably simple, remarkably personal story about one man coming into his own (thanks, in large part, to government-sponsored science), loyal to a cause and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. The coda, in which Cap wakes up from a 70-year sleep to a world he doesn't recognize, adds a tinge of sadness to the story. And before I forget: hats off to Tommy Lee Jones for being a good sport and tackling his typecast military role with wry good humor.

A much more interesting film, however, is the sequel: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." This is an action film that works well for younger viewers, but it also offers something cerebral for us older viewers to chew on. Unlike CAFA, CAWS actually delves into some deeper themes and serious topical issues, such as preemptive war, assassination, and what it means to cleave to a 1940s-era black-and-white morality in the jumbled, morally ambiguous world of the 2010s. I sympathized with Cap in this film: much of his dialogue with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is laced with doubt and frustration about whom to believe and whom to trust. In fact, trust is one of the overarching themes of this movie—trust, and how it affects things like loyalty, duty, and friendship.

"The Winter Soldier" is a reference to one of the film's main antagonists: a fearsome, ruthless soldier with a robotic arm. I was glad to have seen the first movie because when the Winter Soldier's identity is finally revealed, he turns out to be someone from the first film. In fact, CAWS makes many references to the previous movie; the plot would have been hard to understand with no knowledge of the first film.

CAWS begins with Cap and Black Widow on a mission: the rescue of hostages from the clutches of the pirate Georges Batroc. An impressive series of fight sequences ensues, including one with Batroc using savate versus Cap's integrated fighting style. Cap discovers that Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson), his boss at the agency SHIELD, has given Black Widow a different mission: the recovery of data from Batroc. Cap confronts Fury about the compartmentalized mission directives; Fury deflects and responds by revealing Project Insight, a massive build in which three networked "helicarriers" (like the ship seen in "The Avengers") will be able to target and terminate profiled suspects. Overseeing all this is Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a SHIELD bigwig whom I immediately pegged as a bad guy. CAWS did telegraph some of its major plot points although, because I've never followed the Captain America comics, the revelation of the Winter Soldier's identity came as a surprise.

An initial attempt to assassinate Nick Fury ends in failure; Fury is injured but manages to escape. A second attempt, this time by the Winter Soldier, proves successful, and Captain America suddenly finds himself in the position of an American ronin, a masterless samurai. Branded a traitor and a fugitive by Alexander Pierce, Cap goes on the run with Black Widow, but receives help from his friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a.k.a. Falcon. The plot thickens and becomes more tangled as it's revealed that Hydra, long believed defunct, has been growing like a cancer within the structure of SHIELD itself. Cap eventually comes to realize that the only way to stop Hydra's resurgence is to take down SHIELD.

All in all, CAWS does a much better job than the first movie of weaving both large-scale and personal themes together. It's a more mature film; I appreciate that it's got a brain. The titanic ending was a bit too long and drawn-out for my taste, and there were some minor plot holes that bugged me (e.g., why did Black Widow and Falcon allow themselves to be captured along with Cap after the fight on the bridge? they could easily have split up and regrouped). But I liked how the movie had something to say about the dangers of big data, about the surveillance culture we live in, about preemptive terminations** and the steady loss of our liberties. On a more amusing note, I appreciated the several Easter eggs laced throughout the film, the most prominent being a reference to Samuel Jackson's character in "Pulp Fiction": a gravestone that reads, "...the path of the righteous man..."

"The Winter Soldier" is a visual treat, but it doesn't insult the audience's intelligence. I'd like to see it again before it leaves Korean theaters.

*Weaving has said, in interviews, that his German accent was based partly on that of Werner Herzog, a fact that tickles me to no end.

**The filmmakers have explicitly said that CAWS is a critique of President Obama's targeted drone strikes.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Ave, Roboseyo!

Thanks to a post at the Marmot's Hole, I was alerted to "5 Signs the Author of the Article [Y]ou're Reading Doesn't Actually Know Much about Korea" by Rob "Roboseyo" Ouwehand. It's a good read; I recommend it. Rob's five points in a nutshell—

Take the writer-on-Korea with a grain of salt if

1. [his/her] main source of authority is marrying a Korean or teaching English in Korea for a while.

2. all [his/her] quotes are from English teachers or bloggers.

3. [s/he uses] han, jeong, Confucianism, nunchi, chaemyeon, and other “Magic words” to explain Korean culture.

4. [s/he refers] to Koreans as if all Koreans share the same opinion on issues, or [if s/he talks] about “Korea” as if it were a character in a drama.

5. [s/he doesn’t] know any Korean.

Koehler added a corollary to (5) above: "[J]ust because you speak or understand Korean doesn’t mean you’re an expert on Korea."

True enough, although I'd say that learning a language inevitably means learning at least something about a culture. Give both Robs a read.

ADDENDUM: One defensive-sounding commenter at The Marmot's Hole wrote, "If [your] job doesn't require Korean, then anything beyond basic proficiency is superfluous. I believe increased proficiency makes living here much easier (and more pleasant), but it's not necessary. And one certainly doesn't need to be fluent in Korean to have a valid opinion on Korea. There are plenty of immigrants in America who are not fluent in English, but they certainly understand things about America that some native speakers may not."

Some of this is true: especially since the 1988 Olympics, South Korea's foreigner-friendliness has improved by leaps and bounds, so it is indeed possible to live a life sheltered from the Korean-speaking community. But such a life implies a bizarre lack of curiosity about one's surroundings, not to mention a lack of motivation to expand one's horizons.

It's also true that one doesn't need to be Korean-fluent to hold a valid opinion about Korea and Korean culture. But knowing at least some of the language helps. That can't be ignored, denied, or blithely glossed over. I'm much more likely to trust Korea-related insights from someone whose mastery of Korean is advanced than from someone with a rudimentary knowledge of the language. The latter type of person acquires knowledge about Korea in a second-hand and third-hand manner—through his girlfriend, through his more Korean-knowledgeable friends and coworkers, etc. There's a moral component, here: such knowledge isn't really earned: it just floats over the transom. Learning the language means doing the legwork, making an effort to understand the culture from the inside.

As for those English-ignorant immigrants in America: I wouldn't trust many of them to understand the more important aspects of American culture, either. If they refuse to integrate and assimilate, if they prefer to balkanize themselves and remain isolated from the mainstream society and culture, how can they acquire penetrating insights into who Americans are? How can they ever have more than a superficial, distorted grasp of what America is?*

ADDENDUM 2: This might be a good time to bring up our old friend, often referenced on this blog, the genetic fallacy. It's possible to read Roboseyo's post too literally and to commit this logical gaffe. For those not in the know: the genetic fallacy occurs when a claim or argument is dismissed because of its genesis, i.e., where it comes from. My go-to example: a crazy homeless person shouts that the sun is shining. You're inclined to disbelieve him because, well, he's crazy. But you step outside, and sure enough: the sun is indeed shining. There is no logical reason to disbelieve a claim or argument because of where it comes from; instead, the claim or argument must be tested against reality itself. As a matter of phronesis (i.e., practical wisdom), we all have a tendency to commit the genetic fallacy as a "shortcut" to figuring out what to believe. This is why we normally mistrust the word of thieves, betrayers, and other lowlifes, and it's why lawyers try to negate a witness's testimony by undermining his or her credibility. But as the Joker knows well, it's possible to mix lies in with the truth, which means the best approach to a suspicious character's utterance is a scientific one—one that tests and verifies empirically and logically, matching the utterance with what's real.

So it's not quite right to say that because a man's insights about Korea come primarily from his wife, those insights are automatically false. They may be perfectly legitimate. The same goes for dismissing a person's claims because he can't speak Korean, because he quotes only teachers and bloggers, because he invokes "magic(al)" cultural terms, or because he seems to engage in crass Orientalism.** Don't take Roboseyo's post too literally; instead, when you're reading something about Korea, adopt what we in religious studies call a hermeneutic of suspicion—what normal folks call taking that with a grain of salt. That hermeneutic of suspicion is, I think, what Rob is driving at.

*So, Kevin: what IS America, hm? Let's not get into a discussion about "essentializing" America. Not in this post. You really don't want to go that route with me, especially if you're a misguided acolyte of postmodernism.

**Again, don't get me started. If you say "Edward Said," I'm going to beat you over the head with Bernard Lewis.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

thurrapy redux

I timed it today: therapy takes the better part of an hour. I got to the clinic at 5:55PM, about fifteen minutes before the closing of the doors. Once again, therapy came in three phases: slow-cook the hip joint with a heating pad, electro-suck the hip with the desperate octopus (shocktopus?), then give my hip joint the lubed-up sensual massage. Still no range-of-motion exercises or anything resembling my Westerner's notion of true physical therapy. As before, I left the clinic feeling pretty much unchanged. "Give it time," say my commenters. Yeah, yeah. Just gimme meds, I say in return.

I left the clinic around 6:45PM. Cost of this visit: W4400, or exactly $4, US.



I'll be heading off to therapy later today. The clinic is open until 7PM and accepts patients up to about 6:10PM, from what the doctor told me. My final class for today ends close to 5PM, so I'll have plenty of time to hobble on over and get heated, suck-shocked, and lubed. Joy.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

random sample

I was in my pronunciation class early this afternoon when I asked, out of the blue, whether anyone in the class had seen "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."

Not a single person raised a hand.

I was floored. If that class counts as a more or less random sample of Koreans of moviegoing age (and let me tell you, Korean college kids do love going to the movies), then scoring a zero out of eighteen is a significant result. It makes me curious, too: I'd love to survey more classes and get a much larger sample size. I'd also like to find out how well "Smaug" did during its run in Korea. How much did it earn here?*

I suppose this means I'll have to hold back on using too many "Hobbit" references in class. No one will know who Radagast the Brown is, and only a few will recognize Bilbo. I was joking with a colleague, earlier today, about the fact that I'm walking around with a walking stick for a cane, but I can't do any Yoda impressions because none of these kids knows who the hell Yoda was. How sad. And thus the huge Kevin fades slowly but inexorably into irrelevancy.

*One stat, from early in the movie's run in Korea, is here.


bad boy

Not going to therapy today. Not that I don't want to—it's more that I don't have time. What I should have done, had I thought this through better, would have been to wake up much earlier this morning, hit the clinic, then go to class freshly heated, electro-sucked, and lubed up. Ah, well. I'll go tomorrow. Early. Promise.


drugs, me new droogies

While the therapy I received yesterday (and will receive again later today, and daily for the next two weeks) wasn't particularly effective, the drugs I'd been prescribed more than made up for the lack: they were startlingly effective. Within thirty minutes of downing a packet, I was nearly pain-free. I had decided to take a packet right before going to sleep; each round of the drugs is supposed to last me roughly twelve hours, as I'm to take a packet twice a day. I woke up a bit achy this morning, but the ache was nothing like waking up after aspirin has worn off. Amazing things, these drugs. It didn't hurt that one of the pills—I'm guessing the big green one—tasted like a forest: there were notes of wood, peat, and pine. Very interesting.

On the down side, my W2600 prescription was for only three days' worth of pills, so the orthopedic center, my new drug dealer, is going to have to write me a new "scrip" in a couple of days. I can easily understand the psychology of dependence and addiction: having experienced the power of these drugs, and knowing what sort of pain awaits me when they run out, I'm actually fearful of being caught without meds in a moment of crisis.

Dr. Kim scolded me at one point during the consult yesterday, saying (as some of my coworkers did) that I should have brought my problem in to the office before it had gotten so bad. My feeling: if I bring every problem to a doc before it gets bad, I'll be a goddamn hypochondriac. No, thanks: I'd rather go old-school and tough it out as long as possible.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"Let's let the healing begin!"

Today's visit to the Kim Tae Yeong Orthopedic Center, like the center itself, could be divided into two principal parts: first, there was the exam; second, there was the beginning of therapy. The exam and consultation rooms were all on the first floor, as it turned out; physical therapy was up on the third floor.

I had been told simply to walk in, and was later told that that was generally how the center ran, i.e., without appointments. While I did have to wait for service at some points, at no time did I wait more than a few minutes. I filled out a basic form when I arrived: name, address, phone number, foreigner's ID number. I indicated where my pain was and was told to wait. I was eventually led to see a man who, I presume, was Dr. Kim himself, the owner of this practice. He spoke to me in Korean almost the entire time, only switching temporarily to English when it was obvious that I wasn't catching some of the medical terminology.

After Dr. Kim put me on a table and probed my range of motion, it was time for X-rays. I gamely went to a different room, emptied my pockets, and was asked to assume a variety of supine and near-fetal postures (plus one vaguely pornographic pose in which I had to spread my knees wide), all so that the technician could get clear shots of my lower back and my hip joints. After the pictures were taken, I was told to go back to the lobby to wait a bit more.

I was brought back into the X-ray room for one more set of pictures; the tech said he had seen something "strange" on one image; I joked that it was the alien inside me. With those pics done, I was sent back to the lobby again, but was almost immediately called into Dr. Kim's office for the next part of the journey: the consultation.

Dr. Kim took me through the X-rays image by image. The main thing he noted was that everything seemed in order: all the bones were symmetrical, there was no sharp-edged calcification, nor was there any over-smooth wear and tear. Everything lined up; everything matched. The X-rays revealed nothing but my apparently awesome bone structure. So Dr. Kim sat me down and shared his theories. Like any good doctor, he gave them to me in terms of percentages: there was an 80% probability, he said, that we were looking at a fairly typical case of joint inflammation. My own sense of the pain concurs with this. There was a 10% chance that the pain could be disc/nerve-related—possibly some sort of spinal pressure on a nerve somewhere, maybe in a location that the X-ray images didn't quite catch. Finally, Dr. Kim noted there was a 1% chance that my problem was tissue necrosis. I dismissed that almost immediately based on my view of the X-rays. I had stared at enough such images—X-ray, CAT scan, MRI—during Mom's cancer to know a little something about the difference between healthy versus unhealthy tissue. I'd have recognized necrosis in my joints, but I saw none. So: 1% chance, indeed.

Two other things: first, Dr. Kim shot down my speculation that my femur had been dislocated. "You can't dislocate your own femur on your own," he said. "That's impossible." I guess the femur is moored too tightly to the ball-and-socket joint; Mr. Kim strongly hinted that partial or slight dislocations are also impossible. Second, Dr. Kim told me that I should sit Korean-style on the floor: for now, it would be better to use beds and well-padded chairs.

The next step: where to go from here. Dr. Kim's recommendation was a two-week program of therapy: I would come to his center every day to receive physical therapy while also being put on a regimen of drugs, mostly of the anti-inflammatory type (i.e., not so different from aspirin). If, after two weeks, things weren't working out, then we'd have to move into MRIs. I asked how expensive this would be, and Dr. Kim couldn't say, mainly because it depended on the hospital as well as the person's insurance coverage. I have a feeling that I won't be getting any MRIs.

Therapy was scheduled to start today. I was given two sheets of paper: one was the prescription for my cocktail of meds; the other was the order for my physical-therapy (PT) regimen. I was told to go and do the therapy first, then to pick up the meds at any local pharmacy on my way home. Therapy was up on the third floor, so I took the elevator up, glad that I wouldn't have to heave myself up the stairs.

Beyond the heavy glass door that served as its entrance, the PT room was almost library-quiet, with one or two white-garbed techs placidly patrolling the area. The space had been divided into a long, wide walkway that occupied much of the interior, and a long row of private booths whose openings were screened off by curtains that drooped to a little below waist level. I was led to Booth 5, and was startled to see that each space, already snug, was actually a two-bed area. I had a boothmate. He was, luckily, uncommunicative, more occupied with his cell phone than with anything else. I was asked where my pain was; I indicated my left hip. The tech told me to empty my left-hand pants pocket, which I did. He then strapped on a heater that wrapped snugly around my hip. "If it gets too warm, tell me," he said. Then he left. I had begun live-tweeting my clinic adventure while I'd been downstairs; now, with nothing to do but absorb heat, I tweeted yet more.

The heating pad on my hip is comfortable; at least it's not hot enough to roast my left testicle.

Heat from my heating pad is so gentle that I suspect I'm being slow-cooked to perfection. Wouldn't surprise me if my leg simply fell off.

I could have stayed like that all day, but little did I know that my humiliation was up next. The tech came back in and pulled off the reassuring heat pads. He asked me more specifically where my pain was, told me to pull my pants down partway, and began applying these suckers—I don't know what else to call them—to my body, all of them clustering around my hip bone. He then started dialing up the suckers, which simultaneously sucked gently at my skin and released a tingle of steadily flowing electricity into me. Once again, the tech left me to percolate and prickle.

This stage of the therapy didn't feel particularly therapeutic; it felt more like a waste of time. I had been through the tingle-session before, years ago, when I went with my buddy Tom to visit Tom's chiropractor, a burly Korean guy whom Tom swears by. That chiro session, too, included a warm blanket with tingling electricity. The idea had something to do with micro-stimulation of the muscles just under the skin: the super-rapid clenching and releasing was somehow supposed to be beneficial—relaxing, maybe.

Even worse than the tingle attack was what came next. The electro-suckers were removed, at which point the tech smeared some sort of gel into the fold of my hip and began massaging my hip joint. I suppose I should be thankful that the tech was a guy and not a hot lady. Despite all the digital manipulation, no issues arose between us, praise Jesus. Soon enough, the rubbing was over, and I could stop staring into a nearby corner of the room. I was allowed to pull my pants back up, and that was that. I thanked the techs, headed for the door, then made for the elevator, intent on hitting a pharmacy.

Nothing had really changed regarding my pain levels. Today's therapy didn't do much for me. It certainly wasn't the therapy I'd been expecting to get: I'd been expecting a session of leg-flexing to improve range of motion, and what I got was heat pads and light massage. I pondered this as I limped outside, back into the world, and made my way down the street to one of the pharmacies close to where I live. The ladies running that pharmacy were an interesting pair: one was a forty-something ajumma who looked every inch the veteran pharmacist; her assistant was an old woman wearing some sort of cloth cap who didn't seem sure of what she was doing there. I was struck by this old woman, by the childlike way she seemed to apprehend the world, almost as if through a haze of brain damage. The way she handled paperwork, as if it contained alien script, and the simple, facile questions she asked all echoed in me. Her behavior was a forcible reminder of Mom, and I had to try hard not to lose it right there in the store, to burst into tears and grab the old woman in a desperate bear hug. Instead, I concentrated on striking up some humorous banter with the forty-something pharmacist, who carefully explained what the pills were that I would be taking, and when I should be taking them all. Internal crisis averted.

With that, meds in hand (all for less than $3), I limped on home. I'll start taking my meds tomorrow, and I suppose I'll have to show up for therapy sometime tomorrow, too. If this doesn't work, I won't be able to afford the MRI, but I might just take my supervisor's suggestion and try the hospital that he'd recommended.