bookmark_borderPost-143: Punish the Homicidal (Syrian) Maniac! War! War!

“Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.”   Orwell
The U.S. Must Act Against Assad by Eugene Robinson

President Obama has to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s homicidal regime with a military strike.

PictureEugene Robinson

The editorial by this man Robinson (“Punish the homicidal maniac!” ) is just the same as one reproduced this week by the Korea Herald, written by none other than Tony Blair. The latter seems to call for an Iraq-style invasion/occupation of Syria. The editorial was titled “It is time to take action in the Middle East“. 

This really is, face it, “warmongering”, strictly. 


Both men assure the reader that toppling Syria’s government would be an act of self-defense. In so doing, they nestle themselves snugly into Orwell’s mold of the hypothetical pushers of “every war”, of course.

Blair’s final sentences:

They have to be defeated. We should defeat them, however long it takes, because otherwise they will not disappear. They will grow stronger, until we will reach another crossroads; at that point, there will be no choice.

This all makes me a bit dizzy. Blair seems to be talking about Radical Muslims, but isn’t the Syrian government sort of an Arab Fascist government? I mean, if “fascist” were not a pure pejorative (Orwell wrote an essay on the uselessness of the word “fascist” by the 1940s in English since English already has the word “bad”, I think is what he wrote). Syria’s government is not Radical-Islamic, and is actually trying to kill Radical Muslims on a daily basis, in this war.

bookmark_borderPost-142: Royce

I gave a student the “English name” of Royce on Wednesday.

The boy’s real name is Kim J.H. He was born in September 2000. This is his very first week at the institute, according to the the online system. He is in seventh grade and lives in the Sang-Dong neighborhood of Bucheon. His attitude is optimistically-boyish, as it has neither been pressured-downward by adolescence yet nor, frankly (as he is new), has it yet been soured by this institute’s weekly grind (lots of homework and endless and pointless memorization of English words, both under threat of “detention” if not completed, and with no significant breaks in the year).

Kim J.H. said he had no English name. A friend from school his was also in the class, sitting next to him in fact, and declared, “He needs an English name!”  A wave of excitement washed over several students in the room.

Why English Names?
In fact, I’ve always felt a “vicarious guilt” (I’ve never done it myself but others here have) about the idea of imposing English names. My feeling is, who is an English-speaking foreigner to just cruise into a place and bestow an “English name” on somebody? They already have names, after all.

Incidentally, at my Ilsan job English names were never used. At this Bucheon job, English names are used for about 90% of students, with the rest insisting on retaining their Korean names. These are usually the angriest and most sullen students. This, at least, fits with the Koreans’ idea that English names are “fun”. There is (in my experience) a strong correlation: Those having the least fun learning English are most likely to reject English names. I don’t think use or non-use of English names has anything to do with causation of that unhappiness, though.

An Ad-Hoc Naming Plan
The issue was in the air. English name! English name! Okay, I thought, I can use this as an opportunity to try to make the students laugh by doing something unexpected. (My best strategy in that particular undertaking is to amuse myself. It usually succeeds in amusing them, too.) I asked a random student to “choose any number between 1 and 26”. She was confused but took it in good humor. She chose 18. I counted it out: “R” is the 18th letter. I said to Kim J.H., “Okay, your English name will start with ‘R’. Let’s see…” and I started listing, on the board, all the names beginning with “R” I could think of. Ronald, Roger, Rex, Roland, Ricky, Roy, Robert, Ralph, Randy…..

My idea at this point was to put the names on the board and leave it to the Darwinian nature of the open classroom. Some names would be ridiculed by the class while others would be thought “cool” and one of the “cool” ones would win (a kind of mini, on-the-fly social experiment). Some discussion of that kind did follow. This was very much an ad-hoc plan, as it must have been since I didn’t know this “English name” issue would come up at all.

The boy, Kim J.H., hitherto English-name-less, was hesitating.

Anything But “Kevin”!
Around this time, J.H.’s friend Jack suggested “Kevin”. Argh. Not Kevin! A search of the online database yields 66 “Kevins” enrolled as middle school students at the institute since 2007. It is a very popular name. By comparison, there’ve been only 53 “Johns” and 41 “Jameses”.

My old British coworker, E.R., believed that certain English names augur trouble (in terms of behavior problems from the student), and “Kevin” was the first one she cited. I tend to agree. I wonder why problem-students end up choosing and/or being given “Kevin” so much in Korea.

I rejected “Kevin” outright. I’d have felt like I failed if he ended up merely another “Kevin”, one of dozens. He’s already saddled with “Kim”. Give the boy a unique identity!

Choosing “Royce
We spent three or four minutes discussing this English-name issue. It was the first day, so my goal was to make the class more fun-oriented. Still thinking about the “Kevin is too common” concern, I circled and gently suggested the name “Royce” on the board, another of the “R’s”. I guessed it may have never been used in the history of this institute, of all its thousands of students since 2007. (It turns out this was right. There have been four “Roys”, but no “Royces”.)

Kim J.H. remained indecisive. Probably too shy, I thought. My vague guilt feelings persisted about “forcing an ‘English name’ on an East-Asian”, so I gave him the attendance sheet and told him to write whichever name he chose next to his Korean name. He took a minute. To my surprise, he wrote “Royce”, the name I’d circled on the board. I realize now he’d wanted the decision made for him by an authority figure, in the typical East-Asian fashion, and I’d done it.

And thus was “Royce” christened. I was so proud of this naming that I went onto the staff website that very night and input this as the student’s “영어이름” (English name).

My First “English Name”
This may be the very first time I have given an “English name” to a student. Others have discussed “changing” theirs with me, but never before had I had a student who claimed to have never received an English name yet in life.

I think this is a happy side effect of my being moved down to the lowest-level classes for my last three weeks, my last partial semester here. Only in a low-level class would a student show up in that condition, i.e. without already possessing an “English name”. (The class was actually “MI”, about mid-range in skill level.)

Postscript: How Common is the Name “Royce”?
You can check the popularity of baby names by year of birth in the USA here. It turns out “Royce” was one of the top-500 boy-names from the 1910s through the 1960s, and then became less popular. It even fell off the top-1,000 list by the early 2000s. Curiously, it recovered to rank #493 in 2012.

Popularity Rank of “Royce” as a Boy’s Name in the USA, By Year
2012 : 493rd [i.e., 492 other boy-names were more commonly given to babies born in 2012]
2011 : 529th
2010 : 743rd
2009 : 941st

493rd is the highest ranking that “Royce” has had since 1963. I wonder why the sudden popularity jump.

bookmark_borderPost-141: Writing Cartoons With Students

This is the last week of the semester for elementary students, and I decided to do a fun activity. It ended up being very successful with a class that has been difficult this semester, to my pleasant surprise.

Here is part of the activity:


“Writing Cartoons” End-of-Semester Lesson, August 2013. [Click to Enlarge]

I stole the two strips you see from here and here.

As you might guess, the activity was first reading and discussing the comics, then asking them (in pairs) to think of possible new dialogue for the pictures. I pretended these two strips were connected. On another page, they were supposed to continue with nine more boxes, all totally empty. They were to draw, write the dialogue, and caption each box. Groups that were most advanced I had finally write the comic as a narrative (“One day, a boss had a meeting with a worker…”). At the end were half-hearted, giggly presentations and candy prizes. Most groups had fun.

My apologies to Scott Adams for using his Dilbert comic without permission, but on the positive side for him, this activity exposed two dozen students to Dilbert. None of them had ever seen it. One or two said it looked like the “Wimpy Kid” series they use in class.

[Warning: Negativity Below]
The success of this activity, which I came up with in only fifteen minutes, and the success of an MI class at the end of the day in which all the kids were enthusiastic, contrasted sharply with my rising anger toward Management, whose hostility increases by the day. I mentioned in post-140 the issue of back pay for about 50 essays I did months ago. I was accused of “lying” about doing them. Argh….Really. Well, I took the time this afternoon to carefully take screenshot evidence proving beyond any sensible person’s doubt that I did, in fact, complete those essays and submitted them into the system. The parents paid this institute, but the pay never got to me. I presented really knockout evidence. I gave Stringbean the paper with the evidence. An hour later, the paper appears back on my desk marked up with ways she still “thinks” I am “lying”. If one untangles the logic of the implied continuing-accusation that I am “lying” despite evidence from the online system (which I screenshotted and explained exactly how she can check directly, herself), then the implication from Manager Stringbean is that I have hacked into that website and manipulated evidence, a theory so wildly implausible as to be laughable…..if it weren’t happening to me.

See post-138 for an artist’s rendition of Manager Stringbean’s appearance.

bookmark_borderPost-140: WashPost Commenters Angry About Syria

More bad news keeps coming from work. The dark clouds are gathering. The latest, they refuse to pay me for several dozen essays I did months ago. Pathetic.

Speaking of dark clouds, tonight I browsed the comments to a Washington Post article on the (seemingly) impending war against Syria. John Kerry 2013 sounds a lot like Donald Rumsfeld 2003: “There must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious […] This international norm cannot be violated without consequences,” said Rumsfeld, err, Kerry.

This led to what somebody, or some algorithm, selected as the top reader comment:

The reader comments were amazing. They were overwhelmingly against the war, a bit to my surprise. There were almost no non-ad-hominem-based pro-war comments (see the end of this post for the one I found). I will post some representative comments below:
The above makes most sense to me, to be honest.
Of all the dozens of substantive comments I saw, only one was pro-war, although others were (partisanly) “anti-anti-war”, attacking “Tea Party” members and attacking Republicans, the relevance of which I cannot determine.

This is the single “pro-war comment” which was not based in ad-hominem:

bookmark_borderPost-139: Syria Intervention and Atrocity Propaganda

U.S. intervention in Syria may be imminent. That makes me sad.

Behold the magic wand of atrocity propaganda:

August 25th:

There is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians…

Talk of Strike on Syria Moves From ‘Will It Happen?’ to ‘When’

In 1990, a Kuwaiti woman testified before Congress that she “had seen” Iraqi troops kill babies in Kuwaiti hospitals. Her allegation was later proven to be totally false. She just lied; plain-old made it up. The truth only came out after the Rubicon was crossed and the war was waged. They say this single liar’s performance before Congress, then-believed, so outraged Americans that it helped push the USA to go to war against Iraq. She said:

I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die. [Crying] It was horrifying.

It turned out this “eyewitness” was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the USA. She had been coached to tell this lie. What a disgrace, although she should’ve gotten an award for theatrics, anyway.

In 2003, I was in high school, and one teacher had us watch live as Colin Powell told lies about Iraq’s fantasy-WMDs. I disbelieved in what he was saying at the time and I was conscious of being a clear minority in that. I discussed this a lot with my friend Paras in early 2003. He said he was against the war, but he believed there may have been WMD. I was insistent there were no WMD. I don’t know why I was so sure. What the heck did I know? But I was right.

One of the most flagrant and shamefaced examples of phony atrocity propaganda that I know of was in WWI. German soldiers were said to have been “bayoneting Belgian babies” by the thousands. Nothing like that ever happened, but it was used to whip-up war frenzy. See this poster:

Atrocity Propaganda in WWI — “The Hun Murders Belgian Babies”

On Syria again, if we look closely at this, the story (as presented) is very suspicious, as summarized neatly here:

Comment from Nornoel Vincent [August 26th, 2013]
Assad would have nothing to gain and everything to lose by using chemical weapons in a war he is already winning by ‘conventional’ means; but (2) the Syrian Government’s opposition (inter alia), who are presently losing, not only have the ability to make and deploy these chemical weapons, but would gain by enlisting European and American support with claims that Assad’s government has done this. Finally, (3) the U.N. Inspectors are saying that it may be “difficult” or impossible to pinpoint the culpable party. On the basis of these points alone, any intervention seems premature and foolhardy, at best.

bookmark_borderPost-138: Earth’s Longest Insect and Starcraft

I was surprised to learn that the world’s longest insect lives in neither Africa nor the Amazon, but in Malaysia (Borneo). It is called “Chan’s Megastick“. With its legs fully stretched out, it can reach two feet in length. Picture below:

World’s Longest Insect. [Image from here]

A two-foot-long insect is really reminiscent of a “zergling” of the Starcraft computer game. That game is a common point of reference for all males born after 1980 or so in South Korea. Really, it is. They all know it, in and out.

I wonder why Starcraft became so popular in South Korea. There may be some social significance that I can’t see.


Zerglings attacking a Protoss enemy [Starcraft]. Found online.

I played the game in the late 1990s and early 2000s a bit. I often tell boys here that when my friends and I played on the server back then, we informally resolved to avoid playing against Koreans because they beat us so easily and so quickly that it was just depressing and no fun. (We also half saw them as “cheaters” for some complicated reasons, but I don’t mention that to the kids.)

bookmark_borderPost-137: Five Months; New Banner

Five months is not a short time. Post-1 was five months ago.

In honor of the occasion of this blog’s five-month anniversary (or, “fifth monthiversary”), I will retire what has hitherto been its (clumsily-made) banner.

Instead, I clumsily made a new banner:


New top-banner, created August 26th, 2013

Ah. These have been a hard five months, in some ways, due to my work situation. The inclusion of the Dilbert comic is an “homage” to that. The train track pushes on, and disappears off into a brighter future.

I first posted the Dilbert comic in post-19. I took the picture of the railroad tracks during my hike from Lynchburg to Roanoke in Fall 2010, when I visited my friend Jonathan S. The symbolism in this banner was unintentional, but works for me.

bookmark_borderPost-136: Low Point, High Point

Something happened at 10:05 PM on Thursday that marks what must be the lowest point of my working life during the past two years. Then, as if life were a movie drama, just seven hours later on Friday early morning, something amazing began to happen, totally unconnected to the previous night’s disgrace except that both relate to my job. The Friday thing probably ranks as one of the highest points of my three working years in Korea.

I don’t really know if I should write about either one. If I wrote about the former, I’d not be able to avoid negativity and bitterness. It would turn into an “anti-Av****” diatribe. And who likes diatribes? If I wrote about the former, it may look like shameless boasting or self-promotion.
The implications of the “low point” thing frighten and depress me (I’m led to believe that management [such that it is] may be about to thrust the proverbial knife in my back, as my foot is out the door).
I drank an unhealthy amount of coffee during my two nights of two to three hours’ sleep (see post-131 and post-132). So many essays submitted late. I did them all. This weekend, I completed thirteen final “straggler” essays which students submitted on Friday, the last day. I won’t be correcting another single essay the rest of 2013.

bookmark_borderPost-135: Civil Defense Drill (Part II)

I think the Civil Defense drill yesterday was nationwide. It happened in Ilsan, too, I’m told.

Here is a picture  the intersection in front of my workplace which was closed-off for the drill:


An intersection [left] in Jung-Dong Neighborhood, Bucheon, South Korea.
Background: E-Mart [left] and Hyundai Department Store [right]. July 2013.

This is about the view I had of the drill.

To conceptualize the scene as I saw it, you’d have to first image the steady wail of a siren. I have no recollection ever hearing one in the USA. The closest thing was the “fire drill” in school. This was a society-wide fire drill, I suppose.

So, right, the siren. Imagine, further, that all traffic, including foot traffic, is stopped cold. No exceptions. Picture two policemen blowing whistles at anyone who flinches, and four to six retired-age volunteers in a bright uniform that resembles a jersey. The volunteers are holding flags that say “Civil Defense” in Korean.

Fifteen minutes float away thusly. Everyone is frozen in place. A captivating nothingness.

Well, actually, it was not all nothingness. There were was the whistling whenever someone broke ranks and tried to cross. And, the highlight of the nothingness: A few minutes in, a little convoy rolled through: an army jeep, a fire truck, an ambulance, and two or three other such vehicles. They drove fast and on the left (the wrong way in Korea). As all normal traffic was stopped, the path forward — on the left or right as needed — was clear. That must be the purpose of the drill, to practice allowing military and other vehicles to travel at high speeds unimpeded.

bookmark_borderPost-134: Civil Defense Serenity

The word “민방위” was on flags all over this week, on flags on lamposts. That words means “Civil Defense”.
I realized why yesterday. At 2:00 PM, the sirens blared. The old volunteers of the Civil Defense Corps appeared. All traffic was stopped. No one was allowed even to cross the street. Serenity was imposed.

I’ve seen several of these by now. Even this time, I was spellbound, although not as shocked as I was the first time. I was in a classroom correcting essays at the time. I opened the window. I stared. I stared some more. There it was, one of the busiest intersections in Bucheon’s  Jung-Dong neighborhood, still. Twelve traffic lanes. Many buses, both local and to Seoul and to Incheon. Subway station. Two department stores. Restaurants, coffee shops. And always lots of people, either milling around or racing somewhere.

The only thing happening at this intersection from 2:00-2:15 PM yesterday, though, was a bunch of nothing, punctuated by an occasional angry whistle-blow beration (from a policeman) at somebody bold enough to try to cross the street. Crossing the street was forbidden. Stillness was mandatory, except for the siren.

My coworker, C.R., has to cross this busy street to get to work. He sometimes arrives slightly after 2:00 PM. I wondered, as I stared at the scene of Civil Defense serenity below, if he was stuck on the wrong side. My view was blocked by a tree. I peeked in, and he was in the teachers’ room (a place I dread being in these days). Lucky him. He’s already been threatened for being “late” once. (These are people who generally can’t even produce a class schedule on time until the very day a semester starts. Generally we don’t know what we’ll be teaching till “the day of”).

Update: A follow-up post is here: Civil Defense Drill, Part II

Actually, I happened to see the Bupyeong headquarters(?) of the Civil Defense Corps yesterday, hours before the unexpected (by me) drill. The training center is very close to the small Bupyeong History Museum, my morning destination (a small and sleepy place with free admission).

Bupyeong District Civil Defense Training Center

The sign above says “민방위교육청”, or “Civil Defense Educational Office”. I presume this means it’s a training center.

Bupyeong History Museum

I enjoyed looking at the old maps, in the museum, of the area between Incheon and Seoul (i.e., Bupyeong and current Bucheon). In a very detailed U.S. Army map published in 1959, only a few dozen small structures are drawn in what is now Bucheon. The rest was all empty. Farmland. Population today: near 900,000.

bookmark_borderPost-133: Eighty Essays

PictureBy Paul Consella; Stolen from here

My “final grand push” succeeded. All 75 essays in my stack of last night are now corrected, commented, posted online, photocopied and given to the students. I slept two hours.

Naturally, I was glad to have that out of the way. This calls for a “Phew!, right? I knew I’d still have to knock out a few more stragglers, but only a few.

Imagine my astonishment when I checked the website again today. Many new essay submissions! The fresh to-do-pile now stands tall at….eighty.

I was once in fifth grade. We read a fantasy story, parts of which have stuck with me ever since. At one point, the characters are given “subtraction stew” to eat. The more you eat, the hungrier you get. This reminds me a lot of that.

bookmark_borderPost-132: No Time for Content

I always tell students that the purpose/goal of any essay, on any topic, is to add value to the world. Few care enough to bother with all that. Even fewer get what it means, I think. I don’t think I even get what it means, but I am sure it’s the right advice for Korean students (i.e., essays ought not be fill-in-the-blank exercises. I have fought a long-running losing battle against that idea.)

Likewise, my goal here has always been to make posts of value to the world. Things I’d like to read myself. Maybe I’ve failed, or maybe not; I hope I’ve succeeded at times, regardless of how many people ever read these words. (This may be the opposite of the narcissistic Facebook/Twitter model of what-I’m-doing right-now banality).

Anyway. I don’t have time for value/content today. As I mentioned in post-131 , this is the end of the semester. I have to finish 75 essays by 4:00 PM tomorrow. “No ifs, ands, or buts”, as we say. It’s the last time I will see the students this semester, and some of them it’s the last time I will ever see them. There is no possibility of delay.

I write this at 11:30 PM (Korea time). I have another plan from 9:30 AM to 1 PM tomorrow, so it’s “down to the wire”. The stack of essays sits there taunting me.

bookmark_borderPost-131: Oppressive Heat. Oppressive End of Semester Work.

Every day, now, exceeds 90 Fahrenheit (32 C) during the day, easily so if counting by the “heat index”.

Weather Forecast for Seoul’s Kimpo Airport [From here]

At the language-institute (hagwon) at which I’ve worked the past two years, each classroom is a sealed-off box with a junky old window or two that barely opens; some rooms have no window. The classrooms are, resultantly, stuffy and oppressive by U.S. standards. There are ACs in each room, but they are single units hanging on the wall, not a central ventilation/air system.

Maybe that’s why these temperatures, not so different from those in my hometown in the USA about now, seem harder to bear in Korea. I remember, with some fondness, the luxury of a central ventilation/AC system within a building. That seems to create a much more pleasant atmosphere than what is normal in South Korea (but maybe that is just “the grass was greener in the past” thinking).


How AC works in the typical American home (from here)

I also have, this week, a Damoclean burden more distressing than the heat. No matter the temperature of the room, thinking about it makes my head get hot.

I need to write up comments for every student (184 as of this writing) and finish up the semester’s essays (100+ to go). The semester for the 7th, 8th, and 9th graders ends this week. For 5th and 6th graders, it ends next week. In most of August, I had a 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM schedule (due to students’ vacation from school), but now it’s back to 2-10 PM.

The hours of comment-writing will hurt. I try to approach them seriously, though, and write meaningful and true comments. The purpose of the comments is for the Korean homeroom teacher to report on students’ progress with the mothers over the phone. Since these will be my last, I’ve tried to do an especially thorough job. And partly they are for my successor: All comments from all teachers at all times are input on the website onto a kind of “student page”, a kind of digital “permanent-record” that all (and only) teachers can see, including those who come later.

bookmark_borderPost-130: “What Properties Have Verbs?” (1912)

Somebody found a Kentucky county’s 1912 eighth grade final exam [Reported on Yahoo-News].

I was surprised to see grammar question #4:

What properties have verbs?

I assume this means “What properties do verbs have. That is how we would write the phrase today. I wonder, is there some rational reason why “Do you have” triumphed over “Have you” (as well as “Do not be” over “Be not”)?

Consider the German “Was haben Sie zu Essen?” In English, its word-for-word translation is “What have you to eat?” which sounds wrong, today, but once was right. That kind of “Germanic” phrasing was common for most of English’s history, I think. I remember seeing it in Shakespeare [circa 1600], and Gulliver’s Travels [1700s] and Moby Dick [1850] as well. Even Lincoln, in 1862, wrote to General McClellan, “Have you any more perfect knowledge of this?”

Experts say that the extra “Do” comes from Celtic:

In Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, John McWhorter [….] first demonstrates how Anglo-Saxon, brought to England in the Fifth Century A.D. by the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and which we tend to call Old English, morphed into Middle English over half a millennium or so. In the process, its Germanic grammatical constructions were nearly all replaced by a grammar that is seen to be Celtic, resembling Welsh and Cornish, including in particular our tendency to use “do” as a “helper verb”: “Do you want to go?” or “I didn’t take it!” have replaced “Want you to go?” and “I took it not!”. The former are Celtic constructions, the latter, Old English but with modern spelling. [From “Three Steps to English” by Polymath07]

If that’s the case, why did such major verbs as “to be” and “to have” retain the Germanic structure so long?

By the way, one reason the 1611 King James Bible seems so poetic may be that it doesn’t follow, at all, the way we use this “do-helper” today:

The Gospel of John, Chapter 6 [KJV]
26 …..[Y]e did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth…..

“You all ate the loaves and were filled. / Do not labor for the meat which perishes…”

bookmark_borderPost-129: On Fear and Going Abroad

I appreciated the following essay. It’s by an Australian who has been in Korea for almost three years, the same as I:

[T]he main reason I first came to Korea was to force myself to confront fear. Actually, this is not a particularly unusual reason; I’ve met a few people who’ve had similar epiphanies and ended up in Korea because of them.

At the time I had been working from home and living alone for nearly two years. For an introvert this can be an appealing way to arrange your life, but in the long term it’s pretty dangerous to your mental health. For me, I was fine with that for a long while, and then I wasn’t fine anymore, and things fell apart for a bit. When I pulled myself back together, I had as a key understanding that I needed to do something radical with my life; something that would shake me out of my slumber and re-introduce some risk, because I had made things perfectly safe for myself, and that had become a problem.

Shortly after that, I was looking through job advertisements in the hope of finding something different to do, and came across an ad for teaching English in Korea. It was far more “different” than what I had consciously been looking for, and I was immediately gripped by a realization; that the idea was terrifying to me, and that it was also absolutely what I needed to do, and that if I didn’t do it, my realization about what I needed to do with my life was phony, and I was just a coward.

So I started going through the process, and in less than three months I was in Korea, and it was probably the best decision of my life.

Now I am not, despite appearances, a brave traveler. The thought of the unknown is scary to me; the idea of being lost in a city where I don’t speak the language, with nowhere to stay for the night, is and continues to be a great fear of mine. So it wasn’t easy for me to make the decision to come to Korea, but as with most such decisions, the brave option is the better one; it sure beat the hell out of another year of living alone and working from home.

Before I came, I got two pieces of really good advice from……. [Continue Reading]

I find a lot to sympathize with in the essay.

A few months ago, I tried to write about my first night’s experiences (post 46 and 47 and 48 and 49 and 50 and 51 and 52) but I never finished. I never even got to the “punchline”. Maybe later. The reason I was able to write so much about that night was that I, too, was definitely scared about coming to Korea and scared when I first arrived. In those circumstances, memories stick, of course.

bookmark_borderPost-128: August 15th Independence Day

August 6th: An American atomic bomb destroys Hiroshima.
August 9th: An American atomic bomb destroys Nagasaki.
August 15th, 12:00 Noon: The Emperor of Japan announces Japanese surrender via radio.
August 15th, 12:01 PM: The Japanese Empire is dissolved; all overseas possessions are released. The war is over.

And so it goes that Koreans celebrate August 15th as Independence Day (광복절). (Or, some do. I had to work a full day. Mandatory. Overtime pay, at least. So they say.)

Students were depressed/sullen about being compelled to “study” on a national holiday. Speaking of students: North Korea teaches its youth that August 15th was when Japan surrendered to Kim Il-Sung’s triumphant rebel army. A sheer fantasy. South Korean education has, from what I gather, a trace of that kind of thing, too. Students have expressed to me their idea that Japan was partly compelled to surrender because of pressure from Korean rebels.

Koreans put more emotion into another “independence day”, March 1st. A nationalistic anti-Japanese uprising occurred in 1919 on that day. It failed, but it was a native-Korean effort all around. (In fact, Japan largely controlled Korea as a puppet from the 1890s or even 1880s, and fully-annexed Korea in 1910. That means that in 1945, only the very oldest of Koreans could remember a truly independent Korea. Syngman Rhee [born 1875] may have been one.)

March 1st is untouchable. I’ve never heard of anyone working on it. It’s also the beginning of the Korean school year.

At 2:00 PM (or sixty-eight years and two hours after independence), I met a friend, J.A., for a lunch of kong-guk-su (콩국수, a summer food) at “Kimbap Heaven”. He works at another hagwon (language institute). His is in the Sang-Dong neighborhood of Bucheon. J.A. had this national holiday off, unlike me.

It was a lively meeting. I talked very quickly, knowing I had to be teaching again by 3:00. / J.A. is in better spirits than I’ve ever seen him, I think. He was excited to learn a very-big “Starbucks” is opening right below my workplace.

bookmark_borderPost-127: Lincoln’s Pet Goat

One-hundred and fifty years ago last week, Lincoln wrote to his wife on a very unusual matter: A pet goat named Nanny had been milling around the White House, and had been kept as a pet, but had recently run away.

Executive Mansion, Washington,       August 8, 1863.

My dear Wife.
All as well as usual, and no particular trouble any way. I put the money into the Treasury at five per cent, with the previlege of withdrawing it any time upon thirty days’ notice. I suppose you are glad to learn this. Tell dear Tad, poor “Nanny Goat,” is lost; and Mrs. Cuthbert & I are in distress about it. The day you left Nanny was found resting herself, and chewing her little cud, on the middle of Tad’s bed. But now she’s gone! The gardener kept complaining that she destroyed the flowers, till it was concluded to bring her down to the White House. This was done, and the second day she had disappeared, and has not been heard of since. This is the last we know of poor “Nanny”.

The weather continues dry, and excessively warm here. [….]

I wonder where a runaway goat goes to?

An Internet search says that the pet goat stayed in the “East Room” of the White House.

bookmark_borderPost-126: Robert E. Lee’s Appalling Treason

PictureGeneral Lee

Some agitator named John Schachter demands that an Arlington, Virginia high school — one I happened to have attended some years ago — drop the name “Lee”.

Schachter thinks, or claims to think, that Robert E. Lee was actually a monster with anappalling record of treason, racism, hatred, and dishonor”. (Americans tend to think of Lee as a Southern Gentleman par excellence. Even those who dislike the CSA, or even dislike the South itself, respect and revere General Lee.)

Schachter claims that better names would be “James Armistead Lafayette, Mary Elizabeth Boswer, William Harvey Carney, Barbara Johns, Maggie Walker [or] Oliver Hill”. All no-names.

Some Googling reveals that every single one of those alternates is Black. I highly doubt John Schachter is Black. (Here is what some Internet site says about that particular surname: “[The name Schachter] was apparently often Ashkenasic, and used specifically to describe a [kosher] ritual slaughterer. The derivation is understood to be from the Hebrew ‘shachet’ meaning to slaughter.”) An actual Black guy, an NAACP leader from Arlington, opposes the idea.

This story is as if it were designed just to prove post-122’s point about politically-correct school names in Arlington.

Here is the article:

It’s been an Arlington institution for nearly 90 years. But is it time to change the name of Washington-Lee High School? / John Schachter thinks so, although it likely will be an uphill, perhaps quixotic, battle to remove the Civil War general’s name. / Schachter, who can see the high school from his 21st-story condominium unit nearby, used the citizen-comment period of the Aug. 8 School Board meeting to say Lee’s name (though not Washington’s) should be removed from the school. / Lee deserves “no positive recognition for his appalling record,” a record that includes “treason, racism, hatred and dishonor,” Schachter told School Board members. / “Lee deserves no honor for fighting on the wrong side for the wrong cause,” he said. / Schachter asked board members to establish a committee to “right this egregious wrong” and come up with an alternate name for the school, whose history dates to the early 1920s. [Article Continues]

Obviously Schachter meant the petition as an act of political agitation (against anyone who holds Lee in any esteem, which is, I think, the majority of Americans). Schachter probably lives in a mental fantasy-land in which he imagines himself brave or heroic for being obnoxious.

Was Lee a “traitor”?

PictureA Pair of Traitors

It’s true that he fought against the USA despite swearing an oath to it. That was after resigning his commission in the U.S. Army, though. George Washington himself did the same: He swore loyalty to the British Empire. He broke that oath…and pretty dramatically…

The question about Lee’s “treason” becomes the tricky and unresolvable one of whether the States, or the USA itself, were the primary unit(s) of political identity in America.

A strong case could be made that Lee would’ve been even more of a traitor even if he’d stayed in the U.S. Army and led the invasion of Virginia, his home state. Ironically, Lee opposed secession personally, I’ve read. Yet Virginia had voted to secede. It was done. Why would Lee fight against Virginia, against his family, his friends, his neighbors?

bookmark_borderPost-125: Two Years Gone; One Month To Go

Today is August 13th, 2013.

One Month Left
On Friday September 13th of 2013, I will walk out of my present place of work and never return to it. Never.

My immediate plan is to hike across what we can call “Korea’s Appalachian Trail” (Baekdu-Daegan). I will get around to posting more about this, as the plan comes together. Things open up in mid-September. After the long hike, there are other possibilities. I will be in the USA before the year is out.

Two Years Ago
Around this time in August of 2011, I interviewed with M.G., then the British “foreign head teacher” at my job here. The interview lasted twenty or thirty minutes. I was impressed that a foreigner was giving the interview. Korean employers, frankly, arouse a high level of suspicion in me. Hearing a British voice was really relieving and even exciting. I took the job, mostly because I thought a foreigner giving the interview was a very good sign. I started a month later, mid-September 2011. Twenty-three months after that, here I am.

[M.G. (b. 1985), who gave the interview, became a friend. We played soccer, ping-pong, basketball. His girlfriend E.R., also from England, worked with us too. M.G. was quiet and cerebral; E.R. was upbeat and pragmatic. We can say they complemented each other. E.R. baked delicious cakes. Declining them was impossible. They left in late June 2012.]

In the next weeks, coming up to the glorious End, maybe I’ll do more substantive “retrospectives”, but maybe not. Maybe it’s good to just avoid the subject. I’ve tried and usually succeeded. As that bland old advice goes, “If you can’t say something good about something, don’t say anything at all.” Various people have given me that advice. It is good advice. If they let me talk to my replacement, though….

bookmark_borderPost-124: Bloodtype Webtoon

In post-123, I wrote about “Blood Type Personality Theory” in East-Asia. My understandings of the types was:

    Blood Type A: Careful and hardworking but shy; internally nervous and worried about others.
    Blood Type B: Fun-loving and charismatic, but unpredictable and can be rude, selfish, and/or lazy.
    Blood Type O: Sociable (can be over-sociable), optimistic, and a natural leader.
    Blood Type AB: Serious, smart, and able, but aloof and eccentric.

Here is a cartoon someone made of hyper-stereotypical examples of the four types gathered together:

Bloodtype Cartoon [from here]

When the four bloodtypes are in the same room, the quiet TYPE A would be near the wall so as not to attract attention, self-centered TYPE B would naturally go to the center of the room, TYPE AB would be daydreaming in a corner, and TYPE O would be walking around the whole room socializing.

O comes off best in my synopsis. People say it is the best overall type. The cartoon shows O’s weakness, though: A tendency to be “shallow”. B has lots of fun, A gets lots of work done, AB has lots of ideas, and…O talks a lot. Maybe.