bookmark_borderPost-98: Wishing Well for Surgeries

I know I said that post-97 would be my last post for a while. I’m making this one instead of packing, because I’ll be far, far “AFK” (Away From Keyboard) for almost a week.

Next week, the first week of July 2013, two important people to me will be having surgery.

One is my younger sister, Kate. The procedure has been planned for a long time. It has to do with her heart. The date has been moved around a lot, but my mother tells me it is now fixed on July 2nd. I’d heard “late July” just last week.

The other is my friend Jared. Jared’s surgery will be in Ilsan, Korea. that’s the city I used to live in, and the city he’s lived in most of the past six years. I will visit him in the hospital during his recovery in July. He may be out of work for up to two months. Jared has meant more to me, in Korea, than he may ever know.

My sister, Kate, is, actually, the “least intelligent” person I’ve ever personally known, in that she was born mentally-retarded and deaf (although, it may be possible that she was, in her younger years, “socially smarter” than I ever was, at a raw “dealing with other human beings” level). Kate cannot talk or understand any words. She can do some basic sign language. / Jared is, meanwhile, is very likely the “most intelligent” person I’ve ever known personally. He is a fascinating man (e.g., though accepted into Harvard, he declined to attend). I feel like I become smarter myself just being around him. He’s also been around the world. He inspired me to start this blog, whatever that’s worth.

I wish both well.  My sympathies extend clear across the IQ spectrum.

Please, be alright.

Here is a picture of my sister from the ’90s. I took it with me to Korea in 2011, where it has remained on my wall.

I miss seeing my sister. It’s been almost two years.

bookmark_borderPost-97: Jiri Mountain Vacation

Today, Friday June 28th, will be my last post in June 2013. I am rounding-out June having made 28 posts. That’s not bad.
Today is also the last day of two foreign coworkers, Matthew R. and Jon. H., both American. I mentioned them in post-93.

This is my last post in June because I start vacation on Saturday afternoon, when a get a bus to a small city near the Jiri Mountain [지리산] area of southwest Korea. I won’t give any details about the trip yet, partly because I don’t yet know what I will do, exactly. I am excited, because this will be first-ever (and perhaps only) “week off” working in Korea. All other so-called vacations have been a day here, a day there. Never more than three weekdays off in a row. After today, I won’t have to teach again till July 8th.

A photo I found of the Jiri Mountains:


Jiri Mountains [found online]
I will be back “home” next week before July 4th.

bookmark_borderPost-96: Veterans’ Bus in Seoul

Coming back from Osan on Sunday, we were dropped off at Seoul Express Bus Terminal, which is near Gangnam. From there, I got on the subway and headed home.

Outside the bus station, I saw this:


Bus seen at Seoul Express Bus Terminal, June 24th, 2013. “Welcome UN Korean War Veterans”

June 25th, the anniversary day of the start of the war, was only two days away.

The English on the banner is: “Welcome UN Korean War Veterans”
The Korean on the banner is: “환영 — 6-25전쟁 UN참전용사 방한”

(1) 환영: Welcome
(2) 6-25전쟁 (육이오전쟁): “Six-Two-Five War”. [This is the name most commonly used in South Korea for this war, because it began on June 25th. I’ve always thought that to be a strange way to name a war, after it’s starting date. I can’t think of an example of that from Western history. They also use the term “Korean War”, but less commonly. Every Korean knows what “6-25” means, but most 7th-12th grade students don’t know that it was June 25th of 1950!]
(3) UN참전: Participation in the War by the United Nations [UN]
(4) 용사: Brave Men; Heroes
(5) 방한: Visit (for Pleasure?) to Korea

It’s unclear who was supposed to be riding that bus pictured above, but on Tuesday (June 25th), I did see this:
I noticed that the caption writer wrongly wrote “North Korea began the war 60 years ago today”. Actually, it was 63 years ago today, on June 25th, 1950. This is June 25th, 2013. The very same newspaper reported, the day before, that 37% of adults and 53% of teenagers did not know which year the war began. The day after, a member of that 37% must’ve been at the editor’s desk!

Something interesting from the Korean language:

               참전: Participation in the(/a) War
               용사: Brave Men; Heroes

Combining those two words, i.e, “참전 용사” (cham-juhn-yong-sa) equals the word “veteran(s)”, I see from my (still-working) cell-phone dictionary. It’s not just a “participating in a war” thing, but a “bravery”/”heroic” component. This is not the case in English.

Etymology of the word “veteran” in English:1495–1505;  < Latin veterānus  mature, experienced.”

I wonder what the word in English for “participant in a former war” was before somebody grabbed the Latin word.

bookmark_borderPost-95: “All Cooks From Mexico” (Or, Dipping a Toe into the World of Off-Base Military Life in Korea)

I unexpectedly wound up at a Mexican restaurant near Osan Air Force Base Sunday, after I met my friend Jared.

The restaurant has an actual Mexican manager and actual Mexicans doing the cooking, which is something I’ve otherwise never seen or heard of in Korea (i.e., despite the recent rise in the popularity of Mexican food, managers and cooks everywhere else are Korean). On the advertisement for the place, near the entrance, they boast about it:


A Mexican Restaurant in Osan, South Korea
Slogan: “Authentic Mexican Food / All Cooks From Mexico”

We got there in the automobile of a fascinating man named Seungbae, Jared’s friend. Osan is something approaching an hour’s drive south of central-Seoul. This was, I do believe, my longest-ever car ride in Korea.

Both Seungbae and Jared speak Spanish well. Seungbae studied it in university. Jared lived in Mexico for two years, and is fluent. He even taught Spanish in the USA. The two of them had been to this restaurant before. Seungbae introduced Jared to it in 2010, from whom I’d listened back then, in awe, about the “real Mexican cooks”.

Seungbae graciously paid for the meal. He had an ulterior motive for the trip, though: He tried, at length, to enlist the support of the Mexican manager for his latest money-making venture, the details of which I zoned-out on a little bit. All I know for sure is that it’s connected in some way with Mexico, and he needs a Mexican contact. The manager was a kindly, portly, soft-spoken dark-skinned man (who I’d have believed were Arab, if he’d claimed to be). He was born in Mexico but he’s lived in both the USA and Mexico at various times. He seemed to lean more “American” than “Mexican”. (Then again, I’ve never been to Mexico, never even to Texas, and hardly ever to California, so what do I know.) He spoke English well, but only fully-relaxed when Seungbae and Jared addressed him in Spanish.

PictureForeigners attached to the U.S. military in the “Ville”
outside Osan Air Base, near clothes shops

This Mexican restaurant exists on a promenade adjacent to Osan Air Force Base, in which foreigners easily outnumber Koreans. What kind of foreigners? Some were obviously soldiers/airmen (judging by the haircuts) or their dependents, some were obvious military contractors, but a large share of those I saw were “hangers-on”, like this Mexican manager and his cooks. Many were (to me) of really indeterminate origin. Foreign businesses, and business catering to foreigners, define this street. It is a world unto its own, nothing like the “other Korea” I live/work in.

Jared (who was once in the U.S. Army in Korea) says these areas are called “the Ville” by soldiers. (The now-trendy, but once infamous Itaewon neighborhood, in central Seoul, started out the same, as Yongsan Army Base’s “Ville”, but is now something else entirely. The Itaewon of the 2010s has a Muslim atmosphere on the whole, actually, but that’s another story).

In the leisurely two hours or so we were in the Mexican restaurant, I saw perhaps ten groups of foreigners in and out, versus a single pair of Koreans, women in their 20s. The foreigners all seemed attached to the U.S. Military, either as enlisted men/women or contractors.

PictureA man of indeterminate origin rides a
“lowrider” motorcycle through
the “Ville” outside Osan Air Base
[June 2013]

This Mexican restaurant at which we ate would be wildly out of place in Korea anywhere except “Ville” areas, or possibly Itaewon (which, again, started as a “Ville”), it seems to me. Whether it would be “not out of place in Mexico” is less clear. Jared, who’s spent a good while in both Southern-California and Mexico, said it was much more like a California-Mexican place that a Mexican-Mexican place. I guess I could’ve surmised that. The place did have a recognizably “American” feel, but certainly was not-quite-as-American as on-base restaurants. I’ve been fortunate enough to have eaten two or three times “on base”, via my uncle (who gets sent to Korea as a contractor sometimes) and my cousin-in-law (who was at Kunsan Air Base last year). I tell you, earnestly, that to walk onto a U.S. Military base in the Republic of Korea is to walk into the USA itself.

At Jared’s suggestion, I drank horchata, a smooth and sweet rice-based drink, which I must confess to have never even heard of before that day. This horchata easily beats the Korean rice-based drinks I’ve tried, soju and Sikyhye.  Seungbae got a Margarita at the recommendation of the manager. Here is a picture of the food, before mine arrived. Jared (across the table) has tacos. I don’t remember what Seungbae got, but it looks good. In Jared’s hand is a horchata. I got one, too,

Mexican Food in Osan

One reminder that this is Korea was the bell on the side of the table. Very useful. I’ve rarely seen any in the USA.
One reminder that this place serves non-Koreans almost entirely: No kimchi at all was served.

The meal was good; seeing the Osan “Ville” was fascinating, riding such a distance in a car in Korea was novel, and the conversation provided by Seungbae (who spoke at length about Korean history and any other topic that came up) and Jared (who always has something interesting to talk about) was pleasant.

It was a good trip. It reminded me of being in the USA.

bookmark_borderPost-94: A Peace Corps Volunteer in Korea, Circa 1970

The great Korea-focused blogger “Gusts of Popular Feeling” (who is from Canada, and I think is a professor in Seoul) has just posted a link to a number of digitized books about Korea from the 1970s and prior.

One of them is an informational booklet about the 17th group of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Korea from around 1971. Here is a link to a PDF of the booklet. It consists of a short introduction, a lot of pictures, and then a profile of each volunteer in this 17th group of Peace Corps volunteers to Korea.

One of the pictures jumped out at me:


Peace Corps Volunteer in Korea, circa 1970 (from page 8 here)

He is imitating the typical Korean (East-Asian) picture-taking pose. (It is common for Koreans today to put up two fingers like that in photos, often near their eyes.) That was my first thought. Actually, he is almost certainly making a symbol that has long since become an anachronism in the USA, the “peace sign”. It took me a few moments to realize that. When I first saw it, I quickly speculated about whether Koreans already doing this in the early 1970s and whether he was imitating them. I was surprised, because I imagined the Koreans’ “showing two fingers for a photo” habit started much later (though I have nothing to base that on, actually). No, it’s just a run-of-the-mill peace sign.

This man may be Cris Groenendaal, judging by page 70 of the booklet, which I will reproduce here:

Cris Groenendaal (from Erie, Pennsylvania) graduated from Allegheny College, majoring in English Literature, it says. It lists the countries he had visited before Korea: the UK, France (spelled 불란서 here, which I had to look up — an awkward/old spelling), Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Austria, and Italy (spelled 이태리 here, which copies the English pronunciation — today Koreans call it “Italia”, not “Italy”). It says he could speak German and French, he had studied at Exeter University, and he had worked in a bank. His hobbies are listed as tennis (written as “정구”, an obsolete word I had to look up; Koreans today use the English word “tennis” [테니스, te-ni-suh)]). ping pong, swimming, singing, and either “guitar” or “other” (기타 can mean both).

I hope this man, who’d be 65 as of this writing, pardons me for prying into a snapshot of his life 40-some years ago.

Gusts of Popular Feeling also links to a neat little essay by Amy Lennard Goehner, a volunteer there in 1974-5.

The Peace Corps was discontinued in South Korea in 1981. Two years later, it stopped in Malaysia.

Both my parents were Peace Corps volunteers in Malaysia around the time the booklet I link to above was made. The Peace Corps website says that 4,067 American volunteers served in Malaysia from 1962-1983. I’ve known two of them since the day I was born. They both speak nothing but highly of their time in Malaysia. What I’ve done in Korea for three (non-consecutive) years is something similar, I like to imagine.

bookmark_borderPost-93: What’s the Opposite of “Golden Handshake”?

Golden Handshake (informal), a sum of money, usually large, given to an employee, either on retirement in recognition of long or excellent service or as compensation for loss of employment. [Link]

J.H. (American, born 1987) was always polite, to a fault, to the Korean managers. He is my coworker till next Friday.

J.H. missed not a single class for illness or any other reason in 19 months, and he was popular with the kids. He maintained a deferential politeness towards, and avoided any confrontation with, management (which allowed them to push J.H. around in ways I won’t go into). He didn’t fight when “corners were being cut” against us, instead shrugging it all off, even when I and others were ready to fight — “better to keep the peace”, he reasoned. Now, as thanks for all his loyalty and deference, he’s received a final kick in the stomach, right as his foot is out the door.

Next Friday is actually the last day of not only the magnanimous J.H., but also of the wiry M.R. (born 1971), who is occasionally called “Steve Jobs Teacher” (see post-21). M.R. has been very helpful to me in the past year, but he was antagonized by Korean management literally from day-one (in a humorous anecdote I could relate another time).

Both J.H. and M.R. will remain in Korea, and start different jobs. They are both a bit sick and tired of this particular place of employment, especially M.R. Still, both have served their time loyally.

J.H.’s “Golden Kick in the Stomach”
At about 3:15 PM yesterday, I overheard a heated discussion in the 4th-floor teachers’ room, between J.H. and one of the many Korean “managers”. They were alone in the teachers’ room. I don’t know where everybody else was. I only heard bits and pieces of their exchange, as I was in a classroom preparing something at the time. The Korean manager was that pernicious “stringbean of a woman” I briefly mentioned in post-61.

They were arguing in there. J.H. was still trying to be polite, but was getting more and more flummoxed.

A few minutes later, J.H. told me what the fuss was. Management is insisting it will not pay him his contractually-assured return-airfare, worth $1,200. This was confirmed when he met Miss Stringbean again at 10 PM, after work. I met J.H. after work for an hour or so to hear about the situation and give advice. Management had a few half-baked (technical) reasons for why they were refusing to pay. J.H. speculated they’d cooked-up half of them between 4 PM and 10 PM that very day. One was that J.H. is staying in Korea so he “wasn’t entitled to the airfare”. He is actually going home, anyway, in the first two weeks of July, to visit. His new job starts in mid-July. There is nothing in the contract stipulating some kind of “forfeiture of airfare for taking another job in Korea”. An absurd proposition. The other pretexts given were equally dubious. Management refuses to pay him even a portion of the airfare. Unethical. Illegal.

Also cruel. Being (in effect) so openly “screwed out of” an expected $1,200 in compensation is never fun, but it is particularly depressing for J.H. After all, for 19 months he tried so hard to be deferential and acquiescent, as I say above. He didn’t fight when he could have, over Management’s refusal to give legally-required vacation days, or over Management’s skimming-off-the-top regarding pay. He let it all go. I was also affected by those things, and I was committed to fighting…. (alas, perhaps it’s better to continue with that another time, if I ever care to).

J.H. is depressed and angry. He is now on the warpath, thinking seriously of going to court.

A “golden handshake” is a gift of money in appreciation of somebody’s service, when they are leaving a company. “Hey, thanks for your good work. Here’s a cash bonus.”  This situation calls for an opposite term, i.e. for “Hey, thanks for the loyal service and all, but we’re going to screw you out of a bunch of your contractual compensation anyway“.

I’d like to propose the phrase “golden kick-in-the-stomach for what has happened to J.H.

In 2010, I finished my first contract. I told the boss I’d buy my own plane ticket. I told her it was near $1,100, and the boss simply deposited that sum in my bank account. I wonder what my return-airfare-money “experience” will be this time, in light of J.H.’s recent trouble….

bookmark_borderPost-92: Summer Solstice 2013

The summer solstice is today. That’s the “longest day of the year” for most humans (i.e., Northern-Hemisphere-ites), when the Sun reaches its northern maximum.

The precise time of day when the sun hits its maximum, I found, was Friday, June 21st of 2013 at 2:04 PM Korea Time (1:04 AM June 21st, Eastern USA Time). I arrived at work shortly before 2 PM. When the clock struck 2:03. I decided to slip out of the teachers’ room, and mark the occasion by going to a classroom window, to catch a glimpse of the Sun. I didn’t quite see the Sun. I got a largely-obstructed view of a semi-grey, indistinct sky. At least it was the sky.

There are two things I find of interest on this topic:

(1) The Word “Solstice”. English uses the pretentious Latin word “Solstice”. Why use the Latin? German, characteristically, uses an old-Germanic formation for this event, “Sonnenwende”. That might be translated as “Sun Turning Point”, or simply “Sun Change”. (In today’s German, the word “Wende”, when it stands alone, refers to the German Democratic Republic’s disintegration, “die Wende“). That English so often chooses Latin words over simpler Germanic ones (even when Germanic ones will do), is something I’ve often pointed out to more-advanced students.

(2) Its Significance as a “Holiday”. The Pagans in Europe famously celebrated seasonal-holidays, like Summer Solstice. My own surname is related to the word “Yule”, an old-Germanic name for the Winter Solstice. Summer Solstice supposedly inspired the creation of Stonehenge and other megaliths.

Paganism and its seasonal holidays were on the way out in the centuries of the first Milennium AD. Supposedly, the early Church fathers chose the December 25th date to smooth over Pagan-Christian relations. Jesus’ birthdate was unknown, but being set by the Church at the same time as the traditional Yuletide festivals of Europe, must’ve led many Pagans to feel “these Christians are coming around!”


Stonehenge on Summer Solstice 2013 (from here).

The joke was on the Pagans, of course. Nobody celebrates these holidays anymore. However, I’d argue that the spirit of their celebrations lives on in “proxy holidays”, as change of seasons hits deep with us (see post-76 “Memorial Day as a Proxy Holiday, Or, Pagan Habits Die Hard”). I mean, with us humans who live in seasonal climates, especially in northern latitudes. For Northern-Latitude-ites, late June days are very long. Why not celebrate?

Actually, it’s not true that “no one celebrates these holidays [with a spiritual component]”. The news article from which I stole the above image of Stonehenge is of a kind I’ve occasionally seen in the past ten years. It gawks at the activities of so-called “Neo-Pagans” in Europe. Eighty thousand British listed themselves as Neo-Pagan on their recent census, A BBC article from this year discusses Greek Neo-Pagans celebrating solstice. It says:

The followers [of Greek Neo-Paganism] are an odd mix. There are New Age types who revere ancient traditions, leftists who resent the power of the Orthodox Church, and Greek nationalists who see Christianity as having destroyed everything that was truly Greek.

The article also notes that

an official of the [Greek] Orthodox Church described them as, “a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion”.

bookmark_borderPost-91: Korean Monsoon Average Onset Dates, 2005-2013

The Question of When Korea’s Monsoon Begins continues, for some reason, to haunt me, following post-89 and post-90. I remain puzzled about whether the first Monsoon (Jang-Ma [장마] in Korean) on June 17th of this year was “early” or not.

To satiate my curiosity, I tried to find, via online news reports, the reported first Jang-Ma days in Korea over the past ten years. Caveat: I am not so sure about 2011’s truly-very-early date, which may only have influenced Jeju Island.

Dates of the Start of Monsoon Seasons, Jang-Ma, in Mainland Korea
2005: June 26th
2006: June 21st
2007: ?? — I could not find it in the English press
2008: June 17th
2009: June 25th
2010: June 19th
2011: June 10th — “the monsoon…arrive[d] earlier than at any time since the KMA began compiling statistics in 1973”
2012: June 30th
2013: June 17th

The average “Monsoon season onset day” in the past decade, if excluding 2011, is June 22nd; if including 2011’s, it’s June 21st. Both are earlier than the historical average of June 25th-29th. That date range is according to this, which analyzes the entire period of 1778-2004 for Seoul.


Average Rainfall in Seoul, 1778-2004. “Pentad 36” is the five-day period, is June 25th-29th.
From “Variability and Singularity of Seoul, South Korea, Rainy Season (1778–2004)” [Link]

This is a pretty comprehensive academic study, and finds a June 25th-29th average onset day. The government says that the Jang-Ma season for central Korea started, on average, June 24th/25th in the 1981-2010 period.

1778-2004 Average: June 25th-29th
1981-2010 Average: June 24th-25th
2005-2013 Average: June 21st-22nd

My final conclusion: The June 17th 2013 Monsoon was “early”, but not very early. More interestingly, the recent average start day of the Jang-Ma season has been getting earlier, if my attempt to analyze the data is correct. This does not point to a general “warming trend”, because, also ancedotally, I can say that winter was very, very long this year (see post-34 and post-63). Koreans themselves have been saying spring starts later and later each year recently.

In the course of my reading, I saw that Korea’s rainfall is higher today than it was in the 1800s:

Rainfall Statistics in Korea, in millimeters.
Chosun: 1778-1907 / Modern: 1908-2004.
Table 1 from “Variability and Singularity of Seoul, South Korea, Rainy Season (1778–2004)” [Link]

That’s 10% more rain per year in the past century than earlier. Why? I have no idea.
This 85-mm increase in summer rainfall could be interpreted as more days of “regular” (non-torrential) rain, or as more days of true Monsoon, of torrential rain. The following may suggest the latter:

Meteorologists believe Korea is witnessing a rainy season throughout the summer as the country’s climate turns subtropical, with global warming raising the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. The “August rains” often cause a substantial amount of damage, since torrential downpours are focused on a small area over a short period of time. Between 1954 and 1963, only an average of 1.6 days a year saw 80 mm of rainfall a day. But that increased to 2.3 days between 1994 and 2003. The torrential downpour phenomenon is becoming a feature of our weather. Global warming increases the amount of energy in the atmosphere, leading to more frequent extreme weather conditions, such as typhoons.

I’d like to know more on the topic, but my mind is exhausted from looking to this “First Jang-Ma Day Question” I’ve been on, so I’m throwing in the towel. If someone else who may reads this knows or can guess, leave a comment.

bookmark_borderPost-90: Earlier Monsoons and Climate Change Speculation

In post-89, I noted that Korea’s skies were blackened by the Jang-Ma [장마], or Monsoon early this year.

That was June 17th. A day before, in India, the same thing happened, also early:

Monsoon covers India by mid-June, earliest ever
Jun 17, 2013
Monsoon rain has covered the entire country [India] a month ahead of schedule, brightening the prospects for a bumper output of summer-sown crops such as rice, oilseeds and cotton.

The rain usually covers all of India by mid-July, but this year it happened on June 16, the earliest such occurrence on record, a senior official at the India Meteorological Department said.”

PictureSatellite view of a monsoon
(Found online)

 India’s first monsoon of 2013 was a month early.

Is June 17th really “very early” for Korea? I said it was, though I wasn’t quite sure of that when I was writing post-89, I must confess. I was just repeating what I’d heard. Now I find a scholarly article (from 2006) that says the onset of the Jang-Ma season in Korea (i.e., the first Monsoon of the year) has always occurred in the window of “late June to mid-July” (after which a few more weeks of regular Monsoons follow). June 17th is outside that window, and two to three weeks earlier than the overall-average onset time of early July. June 11th, the onset date in 2011, is way outside that window.

I wrote, in post-89, that people were “speculating about earlier arrival [of the Monsoon season as] being connected with climate change.”

In my hunt for educated-speculation on earlier-Monsoons and climate-change, I find the following from June 25th, 2008 in Bangladesh:

BANGLADESH: Early monsoon floods “point to climate change”
The monsoon floods have come early to Bangladesh, with thousands of people losing their homes and crops to river erosion, in what specialists say is a clear sign of climate change.

Most major flooding in the low-lying nation is not expected until July and August.

“Early flooding of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers is an example of climate change caused by global warming,” Atiur Rahman, an environmental economist, told IRIN, noting a gradual advance of the annual flooding over the past 50 years.

Is it true that there has been a true “gradual advance” of the Monsoon season in Asia, and that 2011 and 2013 (June 11th and June 17th Monsoon season onsets, respectively) were not just flukes? If so, isn’t this evidence of “climate change”, by definition?

All those guidebooks that say Korea’s Monsoon season begins in July draw from established knowledge, which may no longer be correct.

bookmark_borderPost-89: Monsoon Season 2013 Comes Early

Monday June 17th was the first day of Monsoon Season 2013 in Korea. Monsoon season is “Jang-Ma” [장마] in Korean. This meant that endlessly-dreary overcast sky and intermittent rain defined the first two days of the work week.

PictureMonsoon rains in South Korea
June 10, 2011 (found online)

I had no idea, in early 2009 (before I first arrived), that there would be a “Monsoon season” here. Monsoons, I for some reason imagined, were limited to Southeast Asia. To my dismay and amusement, I experienced my share of running back or forth (to work or elsewhere) in an oppressive, pounding rain, around July 2009. / The Monsoon is not always oppressive or pounding, though. Pounding rain is, at least, exciting. Often, the Jang-Ma is just, well, endlessly dreary, day after day of steady rain and a blotted-out sky. I had students list words they associated with Jang-Ma/Monsoon. Nearly everyone came up with “depressing” or a variation.

I’ve been hearing that June 17th is early for the Monsoon season to begin. People are speculating about earlier arrival being connected with climate change. Travel books and guidebooks I’ve consulted over the years have said that the Monsoon season begins in July. Yet this year it began on June 17th. In casual googling to find an image to attach to this entry, I find that it began as early as June 10th in 2011!

I’ve read that the North Koreans chose to begin their offensive on June 25th of 1950 specifically with the Jang-Ma in mind. They wanted the critical first week of the war to be before the Monsoon season began. This would give them at least a week of good weather to capture Seoul and “bag” much of the South-Korea Army near the 38th parallel (both happened). The point is, NK planners were confident the Jang-Ma would come only in July. [In July 1950, when the Jang-Ma arrived, the pace of the NK offensive slowed considerably. I’ve read reports of the early U.S. battles, including the disastrous July-1950 defense of Daejeon. It ended not only in U.S. defeat/retreat, but with the capture of the U.S. general in command. U.S. accounts report near-daily, steady rain at that time. / Why did NK not attack earlier, if their aim was to avoid the Jang-Ma?  As far as I’ve read, they were getting all their ducks in order, vis-a-vis (1) Their recently-acquired T-34 tanks, and (2) the integration of the tens of thousands of crack Korean veterans of Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army who’d been streaming back into Korea from late-’49 to mid-’50.]

Is the Jang-Ma really all that bad? After the word-listing “brainstorming” activity I mention above, I made students write essays explaining what “Monsoon” is, good things about it, bad things about it, and “interesting” things about it.

A good thing, many said, was its cooling effect. Korean summer can be oppressively hot. The next few days call for clear skies and hot, around 85-90 Fahrenheit during the day (30 C and up). The next time ol’ Mr. Jang-Ma passes through, it’ll push the temperature down to the 70s or even high 60s! [20 C range].

bookmark_borderPost-87: Up For That, Down For That

“Would you be up for that?”  is what I asked.
“Yeah, I’m down for that”, he replied.
I was puzzled that these two opposite-seeming phrases could mean exactly the same. I’d never thought about it.

Translation into simple-English:
“Do you want to do that?”

“Yes, I do want to do that.”

After the matter was settled (he “did want to do that”), I noted with interest our use of opposite words (“up” and “down”) to mean the same. How could this have come about? A linguistic puzzle, perhaps.

A thirty-second analysis followed, twice the time spent on the fifteen-second conversation itself. He said that “up for that” sounded old-fashioned to him. He claimed it was something his father would say. (“He” is the 23-year-old Californian I’ve alluded to on these digital pages before.) / He is from the San Francisco Bay Area. He further proposed that “down for that” may be a more Pacific-Northwest-centric phrase, befitting the supposed laid-back attitude of the natives of that region (“down” being the more “laid-back”, I guess). “Up for that” sounds more optimistic and energetic, though, doesn’t it? “Down for that” sounds a little negative, a little sarcastic, a little cynical, a little suspicious…

“Down for that”
is a phrase I have never used. It’s always sounded “street” to me, by which I mean not-far-removed from ebonics. If I used “down for that”, I might as well call people “homeys” and so on. I’m not a “whigger” (as Whites who ostentatiously imitated Black speech were called, disparagingly, in my school-days). On the other hand, phrases / words from Black-slang have frequently shifted into general (White) usage in the past century or two, haven’t they.

That now-ubiquitous word “cool” is one of the words that comes from Black slang, so they say. When did it become “non-racial” and become commonly used by (non-“whigger”) Whites? I don’t know. 1970s? Another linguistic puzzle.

What seems obvious to me, anyway, is that there have thus always been people alive who’d developed their linguistic-sensibilities before the crossover occurred. White men of my grandfathers’ generation (both of mine were born in the 1910s-USA) would never have used the word “cool” unless the temperature were involved. Maybe I’m just a bit too old, too, and this “down for that” has been, unbeknownst to me, becoming “mainstream” these past years, after I’d already cast my lot against it. / I can’t imagine ever bringing myself to use it; I’d feel like a true idiot.

Update: Post-88 “Up For This, Down For That (Part II)” is a follow-up to this post.

bookmark_borderPost-88: Up For This, Down For That (Part II)

In post-87, I noted that “up for that” and “down for that” inexplicably have the same meaning.

I find online a place where others have discussed this “issue”. It’s at a group-blog called “Languaphiles“. Somebody asked if the two phrases have the same meaning. I will extract relevant comments here:

runa27 wrote:
I think “Up” has a connotation in many English dialects of sort of being proactive.

You are “up” for anything, “up” for more, “up” for a challenge, etc. You never see the phrase “down for a challenge”, do you? I said this in another comment above, but I think it’s a connotation of eagerness, either perky or defiant or both, compared to the “down for/down with” usage, which is more relaxed. “I’m down for that,” and “I’m up for that”, may technically mean the same thing, but they have a different feel to me. It’s like the difference between saying “okay” and saying “hell yeah!” 😉 Subtle, but there.

I wonder if it’s as much to do with the plosive in “up” as anything else… plosives after all, are one of the more active phonemes! 😉 Also, perhaps there’s a reason I associated the also-plosive-including “perky” and “proactive”, with “up”..

I agree with everything runa27 writes above in her second paragraph (although the subsequent “plosive” discussion is a bit beyond me). I expressed, or tried to express, the same things in post-87. There is an “enthusiasm gap” between “up for that” and “down for that”.

Another commenter has another idea:

k0dama wrote:
I was thinking the “I’m down for it” was a meme-like use of the word “down” as in “Put me down on that list of people who want to do something” or the phrase “hands down” as in “He was hands down the best actor that episode”. The phrase “hands down” means that someone is so obviously the winner that even if they don’t try very hard to win that they will still be the clear winner.

I think the “up” in “up for it” i the same up as in the expression “to stand up for someone” up: to show alliance, to be in agreement.

“Put me down” makes sense as a possible origin for this. However, because of the ebonics-association of this usage of “down” (which I admit is anecdotal, i.e. it is what I infer from the people I’ve heard it use, and the situations in which I’ve heard it used, in my own life), I’d doubt that “down for that” is a child of “put my name down for that”.

Finally, Runa27 again:

I think “up for” sort of subtly indicates a more proactive willingness – a cheerful, or optimistic or defiant sense to it, really, “up for the challenge”, “up for more”, “up for anything”, etc. To me, saying you’re “down for” something, is simply saying you’ve committed to it, as if they’re sort of rearranging the phrase “you can put me down for…”. I don’t hear that phrasing as often, but when I do hear it, that seems to be the feel.

“Down with” in a positive sense (as opposed to “down with [thing I disagree with!]”) is a LOT more slangy, to my mind. It has a sort of… I don’t even know if it makes sense to describe it this way, but I want to say I associate it with words like “groovy” and “slinky”. Like you’re trying to be cool when you say it… although that’s a bit of a harsh way of putting it I suppose. It’s more… informal, though. It makes me think of partying and vivaciousness. Like you can be “up for a party”, and yet “down with the party” indicates you’ve embraced it and thrown yourself into it already. It’s sort of like… the difference between “Sure, I’ll try it” and “yeah, I’d LOVE to!”. A very slight and subtle difference, but there nonetheless.

Runa27 wrote that using “down with that” to express approval is “a LOT more slangy”. I agree.

In fact, I think I can confidently say that “I’m down with that” is still firmly “urban street slang”, and that anyone who uses it is trying to affect a “ghetto” manner (“keepin’ it real“, as they say). Anyone not interested in “ghetto street cred” using the phrase “down with that” would be doing so purely ironically, is my supposition. Further, “down with that” may be a cousin of “down for that”. “Down for” may have made strides well outside “the ghetto” by now, but in-so-doing has forced a third cousin, the now-far-less-cool “up for that” to run off to the linguistic suburbs.

bookmark_borderPost-86: National Quotas in Sports / USA vs. Korea

Last week, a minor U.S. radio host was fired after picking up and waving that faded old banner bearing those two well-worn words, Yellow Peril. He was talking about golf, specifically women’s golf in the USA, the LPGA. He implied that East-Asians (esp. Koreans) were taking over the LPGA and called for a national-quota system for U.S. golf.

Who’d have thought it, but South Korea (and to a lesser extent all of East-Asia) is producing lots of winning golfers.

The fired radio host said the following:

I count 38 players from the Republic of Korea on the LPGA tour manifest.  Add in the eight female Japanese golfers, two from China and four from Chinese Taipei, and that’s a lot of Asians!  Fifty of ‘em, if you add it up.  Again, unless I counted wrong, there are 396 LPGA players on the entire list, but that includes retired players and those who don’t tour anymore.  Still, that is 13 percent of every player, both active and inactive, on the LPGA tour.  Break it down further and you will find five of the top eleven on the money list, nearly 50%, are Asian golfers, and finally, 26 of the top 100 money winners on the current tour are Asians — a whopping 26 percent!

The radio host, Craig Schaller, included some insensitive remarks (sounding like jokes we made in 5th grade) as he was explaining why such a huge increase in East-Asian players in the USA’s LPGA bothers him:

I used to look forward to the LPGA tour event coming to town.  I used to mark it on my calendar months in advance, ask off of work, and make sure I was at one day’s play at least.  Not any more.  Now, I couldn’t care less.

…[The East-Asian golfers] [don’t] have easily distinguishable names. It’s hard to remember specific golfers when half of them seem to have names that sound like the sound you get when you bang pots and pans together.

…I’m sure I sound culturally racist, but I would be willing to bet that I am not alone.

Schaller proposes a cap on players per country, a national quota system:

If I were the LPGA, I would put limits on how many golfers can qualify for the tour from a country each year.  A cap if you will.  If you cap the number of Korean golfers on tour at, say, twenty, then if you are Korean, and you want to play on the tour, you have to wait until one of those twenty retires.

The popular blogger ROK-Drop (who is, or was, connected with the USFK [U.S. Forces Korea] and who blogs on USFK matters, and who I think is married to a Korean) was really angry about this. He posted an excoriation of Schaller. It’s outrageous to propose a national-quota system for a sports league! was ROK-Drop’s idea.

The thing is….South Korea itself has an ethnic-national quota system for its sports teams. I’d always heard that the Korean baseball league limited teams to one foreign player. For some reason it’s always a pitcher. Now that I look it up, Wikipedia claims it is two foreign players per team. The cap may have changed since 2009, I don’t know. Let me point out that two foreign players (defacto limited to pitchers) on a baseball team’s roster is miniscule. I think similar rules apply in the other Korean sports leagues: basketball, soccer.

In other words, Schaller’s “outrageous” suggestion of trying to ensure local-players’ dominance of the league actually is…not so outrageous in Korea. It is the accepted practice in Korea. Of course, when Koreans do it, it becomes not so “outrageous”. Our instinct, even my own, is to look to justify it or excuse it away. Koreans are right to limit the number of foreign players; this is a Korean league. Koreans would not support teams that are mostly full of foreign “mercenary” players who can’t speak Korean and have no connection to this country. Korean fans need to feel a connection with these players, whom they are supposed to like and support — if the league is to succeed!

I think the above is a fair summary of the rationale for why the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) and the other leagues put such a low-cap on the number of foreign players here. The tricky thing for the critics of Schaller is, if you replace “Korean” with “American” in the above, well — Is that not the entirety of Mr. Schaller’s rationale?

I pointed this out in a comment on ROK-Drop, but got no meaningful reply.

bookmark_borderPost-85: Armenia, Belarus, China, Papua New Guinea…

Q. What do Armenia, Belarus, China, and Papua New Guinea have in common?
A. All were found to have “peacefulness levels” about equal to the USA’s.
     World Rank / Peace Index / Country
                     97th — 2.12 — Belarus
                     98th — 2.12 — Armenia
                     99th — 2.13 — United States
                     99th — 2.13 — Papua New Guinea
                     101st — 2.14 — China
From the Global Peace Index 2013. The scores range from from 1.0 (most “peaceful”) to 5.0 (least “peaceful”), and are calculated from a wide range of things, like crime, %-of-population in jail, police presence, use of state terror, “militarization” of society, weapons trade, relations with neighbors, involvement in wars [foreign or civil], political stability, etc. (See here for the data from the organization that calculated the scores).

Of the 162 countries analyzed (all the big ones), the USA tied with Papua New Guinea for 99th safest. USA’s rank was depressed due to an especially high “militarization” score. The USA’s jailed-population score is also very high, at 4.5, which is second only to North Korea’s 5.0 (the maximum possible score).


Global Peace Index Map (From here). Click to Expand

Peace Index Score 2013
. .1st — 1.16 — Iceland [Most peaceful country on Earth]
2nd — 1.21 —  Denmark
3rd — 1.24 — New Zealand
4th — 1.25 — Austria
5th — 1.27 — Switzerland
6th — 1.29 — Japan
7th — 1.30 — Finland
8th — 1.31 — Canada
9th — 1.32 — Sweden
10th– 1.34 — Belgium
11th– 1.36 — Norway
12th– 1.37 — Ireland
13th– 1.37 — Slovenia
14th– 1.40 — Czech Republic
15th– 1.43 — Germany
47th– 1.82 — South Korea
97th — 2.12 — Belarus
98th — 2.12 — Armenia
99th — 2.13 — United States
99th — 2.13 — Papua New Guinea
101st — 2.14 — China
150th- 2.73 — Cote d’ Ivoire
150th- 2.73 — Israel
152nd- 2.75 — Yemen
153rd- 3.03 — Central African Republic
154th- 3.04 — North Korea
155th- 3.06 — Russia
159th- 3.25 — Iraq
160th- 3.39 — Syria
160th- 3.39 — Somalia
162nd- 3.44 — Afghanistan [Least peaceful country on Earth]

What exactly does it mean that Papua New Guinea has an identical “peace score” to the USA? Does it mean people are equally safe in both places? No, because crime is just one parameter of many. (Papua New Guinea is actually much more dangerous in terms of crime, I see from the data.) Maybe the data behind the peace-score is so wide-ranging as to be useless, in the end.

A commenter points out out a methodological problem in line with what I mean: The idea of ranking nation-states’ contribution (or lack of it) to global peace, when the relative military power of those states ranges from Nauru to United States, is…obviously idiotic…” — Actually, Nauru is not one of the analyzed countries, but his point is valid. USA’s Militarization does depress its score. It’s easy for Iceland to get near 1.0 on militarization, because it has no standing army. Of the top 15 (above), most have benefited, for nearly 70 years now (after 1945), from the USA guaranteeing their security — via military aid, troop presences in Europe, and NATO Article 5. On top of this, none of the top 15 (possibly excluding Japan [NK] and Slovenia [the Yugoslav wars]), that I can tell, have had even the faintest pretense of a real external security threat after 1990.

bookmark_borderPost-84: The Best Prize Life Has to Offer

The best prize that life has to offer is
the chance to work hard at work worth doing

PictureTeddy Roosevelt, 1903
While U.S. President

I really agree with this idea.

Former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt said it. (Roosevelt looks similar to Mr. L, who is father of one of my boyhood friends, who was a member of our church, and who was a Boy Scout leader. He now lives, retired, in a cabin in Michigan with his wife. Mr. L also shares a certain “old-American” temperament with Roosevelt, in certain ways.)

The kind of spirit behind this quotation can also be stated as “doing quality work for the sake of quality work”, or “pride in a job well-done, expecting no reward other than personal satisfaction”. This is the way I (like to) think of my own attitude towards “work”, whatever that “work” may be. If there’s a job to do, you might as well do it well.

Talking this way sounds so old-fashioned, doesn’t it? Today’s people are more cynical, more inclined to avoid work, and probably inclined to make sarcastic remarks about anyone sharing Roosevelt’s idea there. I mean, he said these words 110 years ago (in 1903, I find online). The updated version, for a century later, may be: “The best prize that life has to offer is the chance to be able to get by doing very little real work and to mock those who think that anything is ‘worth doing’…”
Yesterday, a foreign coworker (a male from San Francisco, aged 23) told me that he’d decided to abandon a plan he’d previously proposed for a collaborative project for our 5th and 6th graders. It is something I’d done alone before. For reasons I won’t bother going into, his cooperation was necessary starting in June. In effect, he said he’d rather do as little work as possible. He aims to use prep time for goofing-around on the Internet, it seems. This project would eat into that a bit, it’s true. Sorry, he said, when he sensed I was a mite disappointed with his change of heart and his lame justification. Perhaps Mr. Roosevelt would say that the person this coworker ought to apologize to is himself!

bookmark_borderPost-83: Forty Minutes From East Falls Church (Or, Commuting-as-Adventure)

Writing post-75 last week got me to thinking again about the company at which I worked for the better part of 2008. It was called (in abbreviation, to avoid this being easily searchable), D’berry.  I lived in Arlington, Virginia (my place of birth). D’berry’s main office building, where I worked, was a fair distance away to the west.

D’berry was a great place to work. I was sad to leave. I liked the work, and they treated us well. Something has made me, over these past days, think about the commute I had then, five years ago (which was similar to the commute I had to/from my university, a bit further off to the west). The commute to or from work was 45 minutes at the very speediest. Coming home, though, I usually took longer than 45 minutes, by my own choice. I will explain below.

For getting to work (by 8 AM), the need to make haste most often compelled me to use the subway. Getting home, I had more options, not being pressed for time. There were three different ways I’d get home, involving some combination of bus, subway, and walking.

PictureA DC-area Metrobus as I remember them. (Found online)

(1) Bus All the Way. A bus that headed towards my home area was supposed to stop right in front of the D’berry building at 5:12 PM, I think it was, which was right after the quitting time of 5:00 PM. Upsides:  The bus was cheap ($1.35 one-way in those days), it offered a better chance for a seat than the subway, and it also dropped-off nearer to my home than the subway did. Downsides: In my several years riding Metrobuses in Northern Virginia, I never quite felt quite at ease or, frankly, safe on them (whereas in Korea I’ve never felt unsafe on a bus). In those years, I witnessed many disturbing incidents/people on Metrobuses. More practically, Metrobuses were not reliably  on time, in my experience: Occasionally they were very late; other times early, resulting in my seeing the bus whiz past as I was still walking to the bus-stop. Every so often, a bus just didn’t come at all. It was slower than the subway, potentially much slower due to the occasional bus lateness. / In those days, my biggest reason for riding the bus was the money it saved over the alternative of taking daily rush-hour subway trips. In the Washington DC regional urban rail system (subway/”Metro”) fares are higher at peak travel times (“rush hour”). In those days, peak-time fares could reach up to $5.00 for a long one-way trip, I think. That adds up! / The temptation of being able to limit  transportation-cost, to and from work, to $13.50 a week ($1.35 x 10 weekly trips), was high, despite all the negatives.

PictureThe East Falls Church Station platform,
much as I remember it. (Found online)

(2) Bus–>Metro–>Walk. Rather than catching a bus and riding it all the way home (#1 above), I could catch a different bus headed to the nearest Metro station, then ride the Metro, then walk home. The only question was which Metro station to get off at: East Falls Church or Ballston. East Falls Church was 40-minutes away from home on foot. Ballston was a lot closer, only 20 minutes’ walk from home. I often chose to get off at East Falls Church, though. My reasoning was that the 40-minute walk was very pleasant. That walk mostly followed the W&OD Bike Trail, which is a slab of pavement for bikes and pedestrians, surrounded by parkland. No cars to be seen. W&OD was built over an old railroad bed. Oh, I loved walking that trail. Conversely, walking from Ballston involved noisy and hectic streets. Still interesting, in a way, but not as pleasant. Going via Ballston also meant having to deal with the Ballston Station exit area itself, a place I had developed a distaste for in my experiences there in the mid-2000s. (I was pleased the day I realized I could bypass it by exiting the subway station via a seldom-used elevator off to one side.) / Getting off at East Falls Church also had an economic incentive: Metrorail fares were based on distance traveled, and getting off at East Falls Church was 75 cents cheaper than riding one more stop to Ballston. I got home 17 minutes later if I chose the East Falls Church route (20 minutes more on foot, but three minutes fewer in the subway). Was [75 cents] + [the chance for a pleasant walk] worth 17 minutes of my time? At the time, I thought so.

PictureThe W&OD Trail, as I remember it. (Found here)

(3) Walk–>Metro–>Walk. This is the same as #2 above, except that I would walk from my workplace to the Metro station, rather than get a bus there. You might think I’d do this only if I’d just missed the bus that went to the train station. Sometimes that was the reason. More often, though, I’d use this “all walking plus train” route if I was feeling impetuous, if the weather was good, and if I’d had a good day at work, which was often. It made me feel free and alive. / The 20-minute walk through the dense-suburban, traffic-filled roads near my workplace was not particularly pleasant, but still interesting for its own sake. I discovered lots of fascinating nooks and crannies out there via my walking in that area. If I also went the East Falls Church route, on the third leg of my homeward journey, it’d amount to quite a lot of walking, which was often the point. Method #3, as I say, is the one I favored when I was in the best mood.

My dad would sometimes point out to me, when I was young, that life is full of adventures to be had. All you have to do is seek them out. My sister always understood this better than I did.

To paraphrase somebody else, maybe “90% of adventure is just showing up”. I had various justifications at the time (as I’ve tried to describe above) for my decision(s) to deliberately take longer “commutes”. One of my justifications was that I was following the spirit of my father’s general advice, on everyday-“adventure”. Why rush home as quickly as possible? Is home so exciting? Does he who spends most time at home win? Why not make the commute a mini-adventure in itself? Commute-as-“adventure” is how I looked at things in the mid-2000s. Walking back from East Falls Church Station was a small adventure. Riding the bus was, too, even if not necessarily a pleasant adventure. Who said adventures had to be pleasant, though?

bookmark_borderPost-82: What is a ‘Maß’? (Or, Don’t Forget Your Wallet at Munich Oktoberfest)

My cousin told me that she plans to go on a trip this fall: Hungary, then Munich to catch some of Oktoberfest 2013.

I was reminded of her when I saw BILD reporting that beer at this upcoming Oktoberfest will now cost up to €9.85 (Euro) per “Maß“. What is a “Maß”?, I wondered. It turns out that it is a word in the Bavarian dialect for a mug of one-liter size.

PictureAn amazing painting by J. Galante
(Respectfully stolen from here)

One liter of Munich Oktoberfest beer for €9.85 would translate to $11-14 USD (based on the maximum and minimum exchange-rates over the past two years). One liter is 34 ounces. Twelve ounces of beer (the standard “can of beer” size in the USA), at the same price-per-unit, would cost about $4-$5. A U.S. pint (16 oz.) would be $6-$7 at this price-per-unit.

Beer in Germany’s grocery stores is shockingly cheap. A half-liter bottle, as I recall, was only about €0.30, which’d come to 25-30 U.S. cents for 12-oz., for U.S. comparison. I speculated at the time that Germany “subsidized beer”.
The artwork at right, of a Maß, is as if it is lifted directly from my own memory. In late April of 2007, I visited Munich for the first and only time. I was traveling around southern-Germany with another American student at the time. We found a veritable Biergarten, open-air, with long wooden tables, quite similar to the scene in the painting. I was a bit ambivalent about the actual drinking, but it’s a “must-do thing”, isn’t it. We got beer in large mugs. They must’ve been Maße (i.e., Maß plural). If I ever knew the word “Maß”, I’d forgotten it, before today. I think we paid €5, plus deposit. This was April, not October. And 2007, not 2013.

My traveling companion, B.A., ended up taking his Maß home to the USA, along with mine and those of several strangers. The strangers’ were abandoned ones he’d found in the huge grassy park adjacent to the beer-garden. Mind you, this was not stealing, because everyone pays a 1 EUR deposit, and those who don’t return it forfeit the deposit. So all were paid for, by somebody. / I remember that when B.A. was looking for abandoned beer-steins, a woman in her 70s approached us and spoke a few words. Both B.A. and I had fair, functional German abilities at the time, but her dialect/accent was so thick that we couldn’t understand her at all. You’d think it’d be demotivating, as both of us were students of the language, but it was more amusing. So this was the notorious “Bayerisch”, in the wild.
I occasionally try to keep up with the news in German. I appreciate the low-brow tabloid, BILD, for this purpose, because the writing in it is simple. I can generally understand the contents of most everything in BILD, aided by occasional vocabulary look-ups (as in this word, “Maß”). It can really be a strain on my skill if I have to read long texts in German from something more highbrow. Sometimes cultural in-references that I don’t quite get can be problematic, even in BILD.

bookmark_borderPost-81: Death Penalty for Blasphemy (Or, What Not to Say in Front of a Syrian Rebel)

This comes buried in a BBC article about the latest military developments in Syria:

Islamist rebels in Aleppo [in rebel-controlled Syria]…executed a 15-year-old boy in front of his parents as punishment for what they regarded as a blasphemous comment. …Mohammed Qataa was shot in the face and neck a day after being seized by the rebels, who allegedly overheard the teenager tell someone: “Even if the Prophet Muhammad comes down [from heaven], I will not become a believer.”

Before executing the boy, one of the rebels reportedly told onlookers: “Disbelieving in God is polytheism and cursing the Prophet is polytheism. Whoever curses even once will be punished like this.”

I’ve also heard, in my occasional following of the Syrian news, that churches have been “deliberately desecrated” in the battle zones by some of these Rebels. Why target churches? Assad and his group are not Christians. It just reminds me again that the more I know about Syria, the less I really know.


A scene from Homs, Syria, one year ago [The Atlantic]

bookmark_borderPost-80: One-Third of Syrians

PictureThe remarkably-European-looking Bashar Assad
Still president of Syria as of June 2013

I was reading an essay by somebody named Stephen Zunes.
He argues against (further) U.S. intervention in Syria, despite being anti-Assad.

He writes:
“A large minority of Syrians—consisting of Alawites, Christians, and members of other minority communities; Baath Party loyalists and government employees; the professional armed forces and security services; and the (largely Sunni) crony capitalist class that the government has nurtured—still cling to the Assad regime. There are certainly dissidents within all of these sectors, but altogether regime supporters number as much as one-third of the population.”

  This means…that even large-scale direct foreign intervention will not lead to a quick collapse of the regime.”

Maybe it’s best to be wary of armchair estimates of support for Assad. The one-third figure may count active-supporters. The “rebels” (a loose, motley group) may be actively-supported by even fewer. The majority may be ambivalent, just waiting-it-out till the fighting ends.

This discussion reminds me of something I remember from a U.S. history college class. The professor said that in (I think it was) the summer of 1776, as the Declaration of Independence was being signed, colonial-American Whites were divided in opinion, thusly:
            A — One-third supported independence
            B — One-third opposed independence
            C — One-third were either unaware of the independence movement, or were ambivalent about the outcome

[The hard core of group B “walked the walk” and actually fled the newly-created USA when the British abandoned their military effort in the early 1780s. They mostly went to Canada. It’s my understanding that these exiles were “the first English-speaking Canadians”. Before that wave, English-speakers were few and far between in Canada, though plenty of French-speakers were around. Anglophone Canada is a child of the American Revolutionary War.]

There’s a big difference between the Colonial-USA of the 1770s and the Syria of the 2010s that occurs to me, though. There were no “sectarian” splits in the 1770s Colonial-USA based on region, religion, or ethnicity. I mean, Group-A (above) could (and did) draw converts from ‘B’ and ‘C’, at least passive ones. This seems much less likely in Syria.

bookmark_borderPost-79: Buying a Haircut Online, in Korea

In this post [in German] a foreign student studying in Korea, Nikola, reports that in the fashionable Ewha Women’s University neighborhood of Seoul, you now have to “buy your haircut online”. If you don’t  “buy the haircut online”, then the price of a woman’s haircut (“with all the frills”) at the hair-salons in that area is at least 120,000 South Korean Won. That is over $100 USD at current exchange. All the salons participate in this, in a kind of cartel.

Nikola reports that you get a huge discount, nearly 50% off, if you do the following:
                (a) Select the haircut online from a list (like this one),
                (b) Reserve a time for the appointment,
                (c) Select a stylist(?), and
                (d) Pay online.
All of this amounts to “buying the haircut online”. In effect, you are given a huge surcharge if you don’t.

I can see some benefits to this: The hair-cutter who meets the client can be a specialist in the particular style she wants (I guess); time-efficiency is maximized because the stylists do not need to just sit around the workplace at all hours waiting, and would only need to come during the appointed times; no one needs to answer the phone to create these appointments, since it’s done online; plus no one needs to handle money or payments transactions, as that’s also online; nobody even needs to go through lengthy explanations or discussions about how to style the hair, because the stylist can see what the customer wants via the selected pictures, so yet more time/energy are saved….

Yes, it seems like an efficient system. A bit surreal, or unsettling, to pick a style online. I’ve never even gotten a haircut in which I asked for a particular style. The $6-per-haircut I pay does not qualify me for “styling”. I don’t mind. It’s just a haircut.
The author of the blog I link to above is Nikola, of Croatian origin but a German citizen (from what I gather) who is studying in Korea and speaks (at least) Croatian, English, Korean (passably), and German, the latter of which is most comfortable and is the language of his blog.

NOTE: The phrase “Buying a Haircut Online”, the title of this post, gets zero (0) hits on a Google search made on June 10th, 2013. I will be the first one to use it. I stole-it-via-translation from Nikola’s post-title, “Frisuren Online Kaufen, ein Muss in Korea” (Buying Hairstyles Online, a ‘Must’ in Korea).

Hits on Google
       Zero (0) for “buying a haircut online”
       Zero (0) for “buying a hairstyle online”
       Zero (0) for “selecting a haircut online”
       One (1) for “selecting a hairstyle online” [but the site seems to be a spam-site]
       One (1) for “choosing a haircut online” [obviously generated by a spam-program from the context]
       Two (2) for “choosing a hairstyle online” [both possible spam-sites]
       19 (nineteen) for “buy a haircut online” [none of which allude to the concept Nikola describes]
       Zero (0) for “buy a hairstyle online”
       Zero (0) for “select a haircut online”
       Zero (0) for “select a hairstyle online”
       Zero (0) for “choose a haircut online”
       Fourteen (14) for “choose a hairstyle online” [most are obvious spam-sites, only this one is a real, definite human usage of the phrase, and it is not connected with the concept Nikola describes]

I conclude that the concept of “buying a haircut online”, as described above, may be unknown to the English-speaking world.