Monday, February 07, 2011


Episodes: 3

Palm trees in the triangle of green space outside Eastwood Public Library, literally hundreds of red/green streaks of sound--rainbow lorikeets--darting among the fronds, curved shrieking paths testament to the otherwise hidden profusion of life tucked up under those thick green leaves. Inside the library free internet access, thirty minutes a day, reservations necessary unless you're willing to brave the queue, first come, first served. A corner to the left of the lobby door houses two electric typewriters--in ten short years, & in spite of memory enough to house five double-spaced pages, acquiring nearly the same patina as an Underwood--where the queue is shorter. Cross the threshold of the inner doors & one is plunged into a world separated from that outside in three immediately notable aspects: the unrelenting light damped behind tinted glass, a fifteen-degree Celsius drop in temperature, & the sudden silencing of what cannot possibly be less than a thousand rainbow lorikeets infesting each of the thousands of palm trees outside. Change enough to make a bibliophile out of the most entrenched illiterate.

Lorikeets everywhere. Also everywhere: Acacia longifolia--widely cultivated in subtropical regions, useful in preventing soil erosion, yellow and green dyes, as foodstuff, for wood. Bark of limited utility in tanning sheepskin. Referred to as "wattle," a sprig is traditionally worn on the first day of spring in Australia. It is widely believed to trigger allergies--common belief cites up to fifty percent of the population being adversely affected. Medical literature cites a far lower percentage--five percent--far lower than allergies caused by grasses.

Whatever the cause, after a full year's toughing it out here, I've fallen into a dangerous space in which the lorikeet is defined less by its plumage than by its voice. Pleasure is no longer pleasure, but the far more dubious form of pleasure defined, primarily, by the cessation of pain. The pleasure of dropping a heavy backpack after a long hike. Of elevating your feet after standing for a full eight-hour shift. Coupled with hope, itself an intense form of pleasure--the rich blue of the sky as seen by a prisoner upon release--but rendered far less vivid should the element of hope be absent. The certain knowledge that one must return to one's cell squelches that vibrant blue into the dullest of grays.

The word godforsaken is a bitter word that suffers in its utility for being both superstitious & lacking in charity, but in a land where over half of my energy is spent attempting to battle back headaches that are barely less than crippling, I find myself swallowing this word as regularly as I do ibuprofen. It goes down less smoothly, and its rough surface is prone to catching on the walls of my intestines--it does not pass easily, would, perhaps, serve me better if spoken. It defines the cycle I'm trying to break, in which the context I work in determines the shades of the world around me, which in turn determine the context in which I work. Impossible to extricate: are these headaches symptomatic of my unhappiness, or my unhappiness the result of my headaches? The two are locked in an embrace as intractable and unrelenting as time itself, and no amount of theorizing about the elasticity of perception serves to unbind them from each other.

I am not, today, within the confines of the library, but in the brief triangle of green just outside. My daughter, now in her third year of existence, is busily traversing the jungle gym there provided for citizens going about their daily chores. Making her careful way up the ladder, waiting at the top of a plastic slide for my hands, hands she trusts implicitly, to position themselves near the bottom to be ready to catch her should she falter in her joyous descent, or perched on one of two wooden ledges the height of my chest, bending clumsily at her knees, still slightly dimpled with baby fat, laughing & calling me to help her across the chasm between the two ledges. She grips a small triangular bar affixed to a sliding track, &, holding her around her recently undiapered waist, I pull her across, where she turns & awaits my aid once more. Her eyes suggest nothing of tediousness in this exercise, nor does she evince the least annoyance at the birds that screech & squawk above.

We attract attention for our oddity: our accents indistinguishable to the local ear from those promulgated by Hollywood fare, our identities careening off the contours of Americans before us, myself wedged into that sliver of the male population that might be found, midday on a work day, trusted aid to a toddler's regular odyssey through & around the local park. I cannot say I lack for human contact: on the contrary, there are days I find it difficult to handle the groceries precisely b/c I fear that contact. But the contact is brief, general, unquestioning. There is no Chris, no one person who would commit to those late-night, drunken, heady explorations of the central language we use to describe our minds, our selves, perhaps even our souls. All social, no intimacy. I could not even imagine explaining, much less actually explain, to any of these neighbors how, in my worst moments, even as I am handling my daughter, the phrase "murderous fathers", culled years before from some volume by Kerouac, reverberates within the confines of my uncertain mind. How each time I catch my infant daughter at the bottom of the slide, my primal & civilized selves wrestle with each other. How, each time I walk her back to the ladder to repeat this exercise, I have to both nod to the civilized & deeply question the validity of that nod. I believe I am a good father because I have more restraint than a supplicant to those bestial forefathers who, we imagined, would devour their children on a whim. The dizzying thinness of my self-esteem enough to send another pulse of pain ratcheting through my skull. If I'd birthed the child myself, if I'd been physically subjected to that set of chemicals, I'd feel less indulgent in my trolls through medical literature about the matter. As it is, I've spoken to no one, vaguely fearing ridicule, & daily weighing that fear against much less present, much more menacing concerns.

Those eyes. How to even begin to communicate those adoring eyes, the god-worship there, the startling absence of any question of my reliability I encounter there. How to begin to communicate to anyone, much less this one, where I've arrived from, what my own journey to the foot of my gods revealed. How to nurture that first essential question without shattering that trust. How to direct the point of that question towards myself at a time when I do not trust my strength enough to withstand its barb. Here, the din of Lorikeets, bright plumage rendered the brown of vermin in my pain-dulled mind, punctuating the blinding air that surrounds my daughter as she reaches the top of the slide's ladder, turns her head slightly to look at me over her left shoulder, and says, "Papa, catch me."

In the course of one day, how many times does the average human swallow? I swallow now, walk the ten feet to the foot of the slide, & wait, there, for my daughter to come hurtling down.


Episodes: 2

"You clearly don't want to work with us today."

"No, I just don't want to work with you."

Big hands, la-la lolling away from the man, being me, being the suit that hangs off me like the dead-alive bureaucrat I always feared becoming, pulling a 35% average if I don't count zeros, and there are plenty of zeros I could record in the gradebook under your name. No. No, I don't know the details of what you have to live with, only the details of the life I bring to this role. & maybe I know the difference better than you, but to fully entertain this reality, I'm asking that you imagine you don't care what I know.

Could be that's not much of a stretch. I keep trying to remember the name of the man who played this role for me, the man who guided & guarded the half-year that was sixth grade for me, & I keep failing. I can tell you what he looked like. He had good hair. Short hair, but a full head, unlike mine, shorn clean so I get the jokes about polishing. Young to my middle-aged. Wore a tie every day, same as me now. Handsome. He got me for the second half of the year, the first half taken up, over a thousand miles away, by an extended truancy brought on by necessity, & although I can claim no knowledge of the specifics he received about his new charge, my guess is he didn't know much more than that he had another student. I'm curious, because I have no way--short time-intensive & ultimately unreliable reflection--of knowing, if I ever gave him cause to clench his lips, as I do now, against a tide of remembrance, knowing that I was not ready for the lesson he felt prepared to give.

I admire, grudgingly, your intelligence, the laser point of your instinctual grasp of what will best bring on those minute tremblings of rage, & the self-castigation that a forty-year-old should feel at being reduced to mute anger by a twelve-year-old. I submit b/c I know my culture well enough to know that this is the barest beginning of a long tragi-comedic journey, half Falstaff, half Prospero, one hundred percent Grandpa Simpson. Should I have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? All unspoken. Also unspoken: among the many things the poets were wrong about, this habit of erecting monuments to self contains nothing of discipline. It is among the most basic of instincts. It occurs far too naturally, & while I may be new to the context particular to our exchange, I have taught long enough to know that the skill of disappearing, of stepping out of the path of learning, of not only claiming no credit, but actively denying that it was the product of anything but diligence on the part of the student, is a skill crucial to success. Really. Where will you aim your laser should your teacher have stealth enough to simply vanish?

You're laughing. I couldn't be more serious. Which is precisely why you are right to laugh. My reaction to your pointed words is proof enough that I've yet to master my own lesson. & I would presume to teach you?

I honestly can't remember his name. It wasn't a priority then. By the time I thought it important, his name was so buried away in events that I couldn't retrieve it. Nor, really, can I remember anything--anything--he taught me in that half year. I can, however, tell you the name of the boy who sat next to me. His name was William. He had black, unkempt hair, usually greasy. No friends. A steady stream of jokes, pop references to shows and music that I, fed a steady Mormon diet of country, gospel, & Elvis, had yet to encounter. Mr. Bill. Cheech and Chong. Came in every Monday with a news spoof, probably much more aligned to Weekend Update than I could possibly have known, having been forbidden from watching SNL. Ever, as my mother had it. "Funny news brought to you by funny cigarettes." Naive first peeks into a world I'd soon be fully immersed in, within two years a ward of the state, shuttled through juvie and the box of Zane Grey's they maintained for just such an event. At Risk. In Transit. There's a potential home in Taylorsville, but we haven't confirmed yet. "What's a funny cigarette?"

I remember both the surname & given name of the student who won the 6th grade spelling bee. Andy Draper, clean cut, crisp, ironed clothes, future elder of the church. Would fly into a blind rage when we teased him by calling him Andy Paper, from Puff the Magic Dragon. Even remember the exact word that made him champion.

Ptarmigan. P-t-a-r-m-i-g-a-n. Ptarmigan. As indelible in my mind as chiseled rock. I will likely utter it breathlessly, cryptically, on my deathbed.

But I cannot, no matter how much I point my mind toward it, remember my teacher's name.

The only thing I remember is this: that nameless man maintained, in his classroom, a store of paper, heavier stock than mere copy paper, cut into neat halves to approximate the right size, upon which we were to write our own books. I wrote three in the course of half a year. Highly derivative, all: an admixture of the sci-fi fare then popular, blending Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars. A trilogy. Premise: a deadly plague has broken out on the planet Earth, endangering not only humans, but all life, & threatening to render Earth uninhabitable. Fortunately, the American government, with unprecedented foresight, had built a giant spaceship, capable of housing half of the world's population. The first book was devoted to The Trauma of Deciding Who Got Left Behind. The second, A Chronicle of the Perils Our Pioneers Encounter in Deep Space. The third, The Discovery & Establishment of a New Home. In short, space dreck. But space dreck that was beloved not only by myself, but by a man who took those penciled pages home, punched careful holes in the left-hand margin, and bound those books together with brass brads.

His name? No clue. Did I follow procedures? Did I raise my hand for permission to speak? Did I ask permission to leave my desk? Did I refrain from eating in the classroom?

I don't know.

I will, in remembrance of him, shoulder this disrespect--is it disrespect? But in light of your deft amendment to my original statement, may I offer, silently, my own amendment to yours?

You just don't want to work with me today.


Episodes: 1

"I put people on the map that never seen a map" M.I.A.

Crunch time, bafflement, Chicago we cooked & ate & would have been happy as characters in someone else's story, Bulls' first three-peat still in the future but underway, books beginning to collect the dust of relics & the barest sense of fundamental change looming, still clinging to a romantic notion of what it meant to write our own stories. Impoverished bon vivants, really, taking up work in kitchens both for the work & access to prime cuts we wouldn't have been able to afford any other way. Time at home on homemade pasta, sauce, bread. Chris, tongue rolling around a mouthful of stolen red, "The trick to good black-eyed peas is molasses." Nobody made Thanksgiving sing like Chris, chestnut stuffing, gravies 40 hours in the preparation, mashed pots unpeeled w/ roasted garlic, but he couldn't bake a loaf of bread to save his life. 3 a.m., the rest of the party dismissed to their quarters dotted around the city, north-siders, Wrigleyville, Bucktown, Wicker Park, our flat 3 city blocks from the Belmont stop, walks to transport dotted with broadsides & tabloids, their readership a clear gauge on the splinters of the city's population, burrito joints wedged into the tangle of iron under the El station advertising "Burritos tan grande como tu cabeza," interiors brown with framed Spanish gastronomic jokes involving flatulence & a cork, Chris & I talking about choice, is it fundamental to being human or illusion, or both, as we try to decide if we're going to make the final slide into dawn cracking the last remaining bottle of wine, both cognizant, inebriatedly disciplined against the temptation to give into the maudlin, of time-sick days to come when we will refer to these slow pre-dawn hours, dusted over with the sepia of memory, as our glory days.

They will make fun of my ampersands, my abbreviations & run-ons, but I'm finished caring. Yes to those old tomes, yes to Wolfean inventories of grandmother's pantry, yes to Kerouacian name-dropping, to the glittering shards of beat poems smashed against the spaghetti of concrete we've erected, marked like cats, named, yes to Dostoyevski's innumerable Russian nicknames, Hamsun's hunger, Algren's court reports filled with broad-nosed Poles given to drink, the ignominy of not enough money an antidote to beat nostalgia for slums, yes to admiring ridicule at Hemingway's file clerk ways & to the picaresque in this age of plane travel. What's been offered as replacement is speed, fragmented, like the channels on TV, 150 where 4 once did, that sliver of the human population that makes any sense of this burnt out ignored b/c to really reflect & amplify that gestalt requires a mental state indistinguishable from schizophrenia. The post-mods should be having a field day, an absence/presence with no center, the only accurate representation of which must be pastiche. Bricolage my ass: I miss my electric typewriter and the dog-eared, highlighted to hell pages of my copy of "Visions of Cody," and that's all.

"The trouble you have here," Chris tells me, "is that you hold onto your ghosts. I never did. I only got into writing for one reason: I had something to say. That's why I don't write any more. I said what I had to say. But, I think, you're doing this for some other reason. I'm switching media. I'm moving to cooking, because it's an art that understands its own transience. It's meant to be consumed."

Glass raised. There is no beginning but the beginning we choose.

Monday, October 26, 2009



A word on confidentiality: being a writer and keeping good confidences are goals that are not entirely incompatible, but which are very difficult to reconcile. Take, for example, my final days in Germany, which happen to coincide with the beginning signs of neglect of this blog. I was working at a start-up restaurant in Munich, and watching it gradually fail. There was no shortage of stories during that period, but I didn't write them. On a different front, I now work for an English hagwon, and while it is far from failing, there is no shortage of stories to tell...but I don't. I don't because it's important not to betray confidences, but, as a writer, good story-telling involves not shrinking away from the truth, and this may have some little to do with why I don't just churn out work the way I used to. I have to think, sometimes deeply, about what I'm going to say, and I often find that central parts of the story must be left out for reasons of confidentiality. Similar thing this last weekend: I actually flew back to the US for a total of two days to interview for Teach For America, and while the trip and the interview process were fascinating, there's a lot I need to keep out of the story. Suffice to say, as with the CELTA earlier this year, regardless of the outcome, the process was enlightening. I feel I did my best, and made a lot of decisions that should make me an attractive candidate, but I've read too many blogs in which people talked about the process, felt certain they did well, then later updated the blog to report that they'd not been selected. Fact is, I've been thinking a lot about my responses during the interview, and I can think of fifteen reasons why I think I did well, and another fifteen reasons why they'll eventually say no. Most of those reasons, on both sides, probably have to do with styles of leadership. At the end of the process, I simply do not know enough about TFA's preferred style of leadership to even begin to guess as to how they'll ultimately decide. I'll know on November 10th, though, and that's not terribly long to wait.

As to the trip: if the travel arrangements themselves were used as a measure of how well I did in the interview, I should come out great--things couldn't have gone more to plan than they did: all flights on time, all luggage accounted for, all connections made, everything. Plus some extras: on the way to LA, was seated beside an elderly couple who struck up conversation largely because they needed a hand now and again, and I was courteous in giving them one. Turns out, the man is 84 years old, holds a PhD in mechanical engineering, and was born in Shanghai. Think about that. He was born in Shanghai in 1925. Actually moved to Taiwan shortly after WWII, then America seven years later. Landed in Stillwater, OK for college, and then moved to Chicago (this is in '57). At one point, after we'd discovered we'd both spent some time in Oklahoma, the man says, "I'm sorry if this offends you, but a lot of people in Oklahoma weren't very friendly to outsiders back then. Sometimes when I greeted them they'd pretend they hadn't heard anything. The fellow who lived in the dormitory next to mine was like that...when I said "hi" he'd just walk on by. Then there was this one night when I heard a knock on my dormitory door. So I answer it, and he's standing there with a book in his hand, and he says "Excuse me, you wouldn't happen to know anything about calculus, would you?" So I looked at the problem, and of course, it was very simple for me, so I showed him the answer, and after that, he was so nice..."

Beijing--as much as I would have liked to explore--I only got to see the inside of the airport, but already got the sense that China'd be a hard place to adjust to. Often guidebooks will tell you how conservative South Korea is, but I think if a Chinese woman is standing side-to-side with a South Korean woman, the difference is very clear, very quickly. South Korea seems a bastion of liberal thought in comparison. Mind you, I only saw airport workers and a few airplane passengers, but...well, for example, there was an H1N1 PSA on heavy rotation in the Beijing airport that I felt caught a lot of the spirit of the place (I especially appreciated the line "Social morality!"), and might fairly be offered up, in comparison, to a parody of a recently popular South Korean song, also addressing H1N1, as one touchstone of the differences between the two societies. I'm certainly not anti-collectivist, and often think we could benefit, as a species, from a little less adherence to individualist dogma, but I can also see how even someone with an open mind about the matter might find it hard to make the adjustment from one to the other.

In LA...well, first you should probably know that I have a mortal terror of LA. I think it's because when I first get to know a place, I prefer to learn about it by walking around in it, and LA makes that very hard to do. I really wasn't there to check out the sites. For the most part, I did the interview and did some shopping for the girls. Other than that, it was TV, eating, and trying to regulate my sleep schedule so I wasn't too whipped when I got back to Gangneung (well's about 40 minutes from my usual bedtime now, and I'm fading...). Spent more time at the airport than most probably would have, just because I really didn't want to go see the Getty museum or Universal Studios or really anything. While waiting to check in, I ended up nursing a beer at one of the airport bars and watching college football (USC v. Oregon State, I think...) with one eye, and watching a very flirty woman fall in love with the young bartender with the other. The woman was older, maybe late thirties to mid forties, and the bartender mid to late 20's. The bartender was making friendly chat, but the woman...well, it was clear that the woman would have been very happy to have taken the bartender home. As often happens, it became clearer as time went on. The bartender's co-workers were, of course, mildly ribbing him about the situation, but at some point, the whole process came to a head--for whatever legitimate or trumped up reason, the bartender ended up excusing himself from bar duties and going into the kitchen, and the woman, becoming aware of his absence, suddenly stood up from the bar with this terrible lost look on her face. The staff, at her insistence, guided her to where the bartender was, and she issued apologies and kisses and whatnot before taking off. The look on her face was absolutely heartwrenching, and seeing that moment of realization actually triggered in me a real need to record the incident--to write--which I resisted as best I could (you'll note this description has not veered toward the violet end of the spectrum, nor has it toyed with the idea of looking at the situation from either the barkeep or the woman's p.o.v...), and was made the more so for the fact that the woman could not have been gone from the scene for more than thirty seconds, tops, before all the guys central to the drama: the barkeep, the customers at the bar, the two waiters, and the manager, were having some pretty pointed laughs about the whole situation. Not that there wasn't humor in the situation--there certainly was--but I couldn't help thinking that the woman was probably still close enough to hear that laughter, and maybe close enough to see them laughing, and that she was already in bad emotional shape prior to this moment.

Other notes as well. Being away for the weekend, got to slip into that anonymous skin and just watch for a while...once I was done with the interview. Which, to get back to the point I made about confidentiality at the beginning of this post, I cannot talk about. I can, however, say that I did my level best on the work they presented me with, and that this passage Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, will likely be a factor in the decision that's ultimately made.

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master--to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now," said he, "if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy." These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty--to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

How so? Can't say. But regardless of the outcome, I'm grateful for the application process' having reminded me of this passage, which, I found quite recently, I've held quite close for many years now. Wish me luck...and until next time--tchitch

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


더 발칙한 한국학

It's been a hella long time since I wrote on this thing, and while some of that has to do with time, it's also had to do with motivation and with really, really needing a sense of something worth saying. These days, there are a few things afoot that may be worth saying...I'll know a lot more in a couple of weeks, and right now, I'm still pretty swamped in meatspace (I'm actually going to be on a flight to LA in about 36 hours...will explain more about that when I'm not pressed to be doing about 15 other things first), but suffice to say, with a little luck, and a lot of effort, there may be a major shift in life direction in the near future. Or decidedly not. We'll see. Suffice to say, after about 4 years of planning, I'm soon going to see if recent efforts are ready to bear fruit, or still need a year or two's worth of nurturing to get there.

Right now, it's still life in Korea--in my third year in the same hagwon, have good relations with my director and because of this, haven't moved on to more lucrative or prestigious jobs as yet, though I've been trying to get things together so that I can keep developing my own teaching skills with an eye toward positions that may be more satisfying than my current one. I enjoy my work, especially the kids I teach, but I also very much feel that I could be doing more, and I've been rapidly coming to the conclusion that I very much enjoy teaching. Also been working with this friend and that friend making something approaching music, and trying my best not to regret the fact that I didn't pick up a drum in earnest much earlier in my life. And Korean studies, and regular classes in Hapkido (not at black belt yet...but with luck, before I leave Korea...), so I keep busy.

One point of business that I did not mention was a Korean publication--mention of it did show up in a blog comment, but I never really mentioned it. If you remember, during my first year in South Korea, I was fortunate enough to not only encounter a particularly fun, particularly irreverent book on Korean culture (as seen very much with a oegugin eye) by one J. Scott Burgeson entitled "Korea Bug", but also to enjoy a long e-mail exchange with the editor that culminated in an interview over at Triplopia. We ended up meeting later at the Buddha's Birthday celebration--a fine night in which I was treated to Scott in all his grumpy glory: he was then living in a flat and had rooftop access to a view of the Buddhist temple where all the floats were going, and while everyone else was busy celebrating Buddhism in general, Scott was facing down a temple that had been constructing near his apartment, the staff of which he'd had enough confrontations with over the noise that he was essentially persona non grata on the temple grounds. He invited me and one of my friends--who was interested in getting some photos from above the blanket of colored lanterns hanging from the trees above--to come up to the rooftop, but my young friends were so busy playing on the temple grounds that they seemed pretty much oblivious to Scott's discomfort while I nervously hovered between those friends I had daily dealings with and Scott, and the temple staff loomed ever closer. The whole night was one of those marvelous instances of complete social awkwardness that seem always to signal that something really special is going on...and so it was. Scott eventually waited too long, was quietly but pointedly followed off the grounds, I ended up going with him, signaling to my young friend with the camera that he really needed to follow us, Scott consulted with his landlord about having a couple of guests up to the rooftop (a suggestion to which the landlord was clearly opposed) and then Scott snuck us in anyway. The view was a fine one, but, to top the whole thing off, my friend's photos came out poorly, and he ended up dumping them. Aside from a very odd evening's memories, I also came away from the meeting with a set of copies of the original Bug zines to fill out my incomplete collection. Then I served my year and was out, and Scott's books were decidedly among my trophies.

When, as circumstances dictated, I came back 9 months later, Scott approached me about contributing to a new project, a book with the working title of "Incredibly Strange Foreigners." I wasn't in a writing mood, to be honest, but it did feel like something I wanted to contribute to, so, after passing deadline after deadline, and finally being given a final date, I snuck a story in to Scott, and yes, was published in a slim volume with a stark black cover and the title (in white) of "Outlanders: Tales of Korea." I'm not sure where it can be purchased. In fact, I'm not sure if Outlanders was ever actually for sale--although I did get 10 copies for contributing.

Anyway, to cut a long wind-up short, I got a personal e-mail from Scott recently describing his most recent project, along with a link to a video that's actually pretty hilarious if you've ever spent any time seeing Korea from a "foreign" perspective. It's a land of fascinating, often outrageously humorous paradoxes, and the inward realities that are masked by the outward forms of Korean society are fascinating both for the fact that they are hidden and for the relief into which those outward forms thrusts them. You can get depressed about it, you can try to analyze it, or, you can just acknowledge your outsider status and poke gentle fun at it all in the hopes that it will serve as one small chink in the armor of tradition for tradition's sake. For your sanity, that last banner is the best to fly under, and that's where Scott's books land. His most recent book, 더 발칙한 한국학 (yes, in Korean) appears to be making precisely the kind of change described above: a tiny linguistic shift that may, given time, actually serve to break down some of the near impenetrable barriers between Korea's expat community and Koreans themselves.

Scott closes his previous book, "Korea Bug," with a (to my mind) fascinating piece entitled "Outside Country People," in which he uses material from an internet exchange on life in Korea from the point of view of foreigners. The piece is in turns (depending on who is speaking) starkly cynical and heartbreaking in its hopefulness. Scott explains his choice of title as follows:

In English, a oeguk saram (or oegugin) could be described as a "foreigner" "expatriate" or "alien." But none of these translations really fits. The term alien is both narrowly legalistic and suggestive of extraterrestrial difference; "expatriate," reverses and thus glosses over the oppositional nuance of oeguk saram, since the "ex-" prefix defines the individual as simply outside of their own home country, rather than the host nation; as for "foreigner," it is the most commonly used, but also the vaguest, since it fails to convey the essential Koreanness of oeguk saram (for native Korean speakers, "oeguk" implicitly and invariably means "not Korea," which is why, for example, it is technically correct when Koreans abroad refer to locals as oeguk sarams, since they are, indeed, "outside Korea people"). And so I prefer the literal translation "outside country people," because it best preserves the flavor and spirit of the original term, and because it is not a bad example of localized English or Konglish--cute, clunky, familiar and weird all at the same time.

...and "outside country people" is pretty much what I've heard when I hear "oegugin" ever since. But the term "oegugin" is somewhat of a sticky point for English teachers in Korea--many of the countries from which those "oegugin" come have adopted a brand of English that would look very poorly indeed upon any institution that referred to a native teacher of Korean as, not a "Korean teacher," but as a "foreign teacher." Suffice to say, on the ground in South Korea, there are zero qualms about so designating teachers from another country.

This is the chink that Scott aims his weaponry at, and it appears to be gaining a little--just a little--traction. His most recent book has shot up to the 11th spot in Kyobo's Politics and Society section. The book, comprised of Scott's work and of others, includes Scott's note about the preference, amongst those who are not tourists, at least, for the term "expat." And in its quiet way, it's working, as a number of reviews--published in Korean, aimed at a Korean reading public--often make note of this point. It all makes me wish my Korean skills were considerably better than they are, so I could have a good crack at the book. They're getting there, but they've a ways to go. It does suggest itself as a potential suggestion to adult students of English, as it might provide them with an interesting look at their own culture from the eyes of foreigners that are sympathetic, but not uncritical.

Anyway, always happy to hear of the continued success of Triplopia contributors, and, as I'm still on the ground, especially happy to hear of Scott's most recent successes. In language, it's always the small victories that are the most important and the most lasting, even if they're rarely won in a single lifetime.

All right...wrote way later than I meant to, but the good news is, for the first time in a while, it actually felt good to do so. We'll see how I'm feeling in a few weeks, but something tells me that just now, I'm getting tired of sitting in my room clutching my ball, and getting really antsy to get busy playing the game again. Now all I gotta do is find time enough to follow that impulse.

Right. Sleep. Be well, folks. --tchitch

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


13 Ways of Skinning a Cat

Apropos of nothing:

Thirteen Ways of Skinning a Cat

(apologies to Mr. Stevens)

Among twenty deserted farmhouses,
The only moving thing
Was the whetstone of a redneck.

I was of three minds,
Like a boy
With a cat and a Swiss Army Knife.

The cat’s carcass twisting in the autumn wind,
Delicate sinews suspended from a meathook.

A cat and a farmer
Are one.
A cat and a farmer and a machete
Are one.

I do not know which I prefer,
The sharp tang of heavy spices
Or the mellow coat of cream,
Cat Vindaloo
Or Cat Korma.

Kittens filled the farmer’s house
With incessant mewling.
The shadow of their mother
Crossed them, to and fro.
The mood
Festooned the stale air
With the inevitable conclusion.

O fat men of Georgia,
Why do you imagine obedient cats?
Do you not feel how the cat
Digs its claws into your skin
As you raise it to the butcher’s block?

I know feline contours
And troublesome sharp bones;
But I know, too,
That the cat will have its measure of skin
Before it yields.

When the cat slinks into shadow,
Its fur is no softer,
But it will do for mittens.

At the sight of cats
Moving in great slinking herds,
Even the Texas ranch hands
Would flee in terror.

He rode over Wyoming
In a checkered cab.
Once, a fear prowled through him,
In that he mistook
The local militia
For ASPCA agents.

I’ve opened a can of tuna.
The cat will be by, shortly.

It was morning all night.
The cat was glowering
And it was going to glower.
It doesn’t know
About my revolver.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Vids: You suck

I see Whitney's been busy on Youtube: these from last night's show, which was a blast to play and to witness.

Still no Clash/MIA mesh on vid...dang it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009



Got a new post in the works, but right in the middle of monthly lesson plans (done) and student evaluations (not done), along with a whole slew of other activities, including a hapkido belt test today...think I did well, should know by Wednesday...and the recent news that my application for the CELTA course at the Seoul British Council was successful--I'd promise to blog the experience, but I'm not 100% sure I'll have the time. We'll see. However...

I did find the following news item of interest enough to want to share it with anyone dropping by this blog--especially other South Korean teachers: Foreign Teacher Renews Visa With No Health Check

Seems like a news item worth keeping our eye on.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Busy Friends

Anyone who likes music of an experimental nature should drop by Jochen's website--he's been a busy guy with his band, Hinterlandt. I remember him for his two boys--among the first children I ever cared for, back in Australia. Neil, his oldest, is responsible for giving me some early, hands-on insight into how kids work through second languages: I cared for him for a year, and he wouldn't even consider using English (his first language was German), and then, one day, in the course of a typical post-nap craft session at the Parents' Co-op, he just sat down with me at a craft table, picked up some paper and a pair of scissors, and proceeded to carry on a conversation with me in full English sentences. He'd been absorbing the whole time. Hinterlandt also has a Youtube channel, if the website doesn't do enough for you.

Comedy: an old friend, Eric Rasmussen whose blog, I think, only exists on MySpace (and is hilarious, so go check it out), has been regularly producing a web-show entitled The Retributioners. Eric I know from high school, when we were both battling the constraints of the town we found ourselves forced to inhabit by virtue of our status as minors. Eric now lives in New York, and I live anywhere that isn't our hometown. Go figure. I especially recommend Oklahoma XMAS Smackdown, which I think a little too accurate in its depiction of those Norman Rockwell holiday dinners we all enjoy in the heartland.

More music: Hugh, co-conspirator from Munich days and subject of at least one post on this blog, is, in addition to celebrating his son's half birthday, working the cello with a group calledThe Balkanics. Some music to be had on myspace, and you can look them up on Facebook, as well. They also have a few videos on Youtube.

And I'm poking through old files on the computer. Can you tell? Best.

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