Saturday, November 26, 2005


Ground Level Korea

All Reet, some more stuff.

The last month has been a rather impoverished one, and for the last couple of weeks, I've been mostly hunkered at home, saving Won, and NOT writing. It's pretty horrible, but I'm just trying to weather it during a time when I really, really need to be writing more. I'm starting to get pissed off at myself about it, actually. But, in the last couple of days, I do seem to be hammering out a few words here and there, a trend I desperately hope continues. I suspect this is all a result of the lag between actually moving away from my wife and daughter, and into a very new environment, and actually coming to the realization that I've done so. But, there are some encouraging signs in that respect: I've made a few friends, done a few things, settled, as much as is possible, into work, am starting to actually pick up phrases in Korean (though that, too, might fall under the description of impoverished), and am in the process of figuring out the order of the alphabet. This is a little bit of a slog, because the alphabet is divided into vowels and consonants, which means I need to learn the order of two separate parts of the alphabet to get the whole thing done. As usual, the consonants are easier. The vowels still give me lots of trouble, though I have made some headway in that direction, recently. Mostly, whenever I see a word I don't know, I look it up in the dictionary, and am gradually starting to understand the order as a whole. Practical measures such as this tend to work better for me than rote.

And some fine moments in class. I seem to always have one class that gives me fits. Right now, it's one evening class, starts at 7 pm, entirely populated by humans in the 11-13 age range, who clearly enough aren't too keen to be there. In fact, most of my really troublesome classes are at 7 pm, the last hour of work with the school aged children (I have an adult class afterwards 3 nights a week, but that's actually quite fun). I do think the lateness of the hour might be a contributing factor. But, two moments of late stick out: one with my 'Worldview' class, which is the most advanced textbook short of the adult class, in which one student, a boy, who has taken the English name Jennifer (he's lately requested that be changed to Silver), asked me what the German word 'Einzwei' meant. It took two explanations before he twigged to the fact that it's two words, and, laughing at himself afterwards when he found out they were numbers, said "If I went to Germany, I'd be a two year old again." Well, I can relate. The other moment happened in my Adult class, when, reviewing past and present perfect tenses, I reached that point at which I ask the class if they understand, at which point one of my students, Chung-Geun, reflected for a good half a minute, clearly struggling to say what he needed to say, and finally answered, "I don't know what I don't know." The language student's koan, I suspect.

This weekend, I'm off to see a traditional Korean wedding with my Korean teacher, and, as usual, feel like I haven't studied enough. For better or worse, however, I should have something to report regarding Korean wedding customs. And the next, I'm treating myself to my first ever trip to Seoul (at least, if you don't count that first fly-by on my way to Gangneung), where I'll be visiting Bonghwai-Lee (I think that's inverted in deference to my Western-ness, especially as he insists on my calling him 'David') and Eun-ju, whose daughter I taught waaay back when I was doing the pre-school gig in Sydney. I've made contact with the mind behind Korean Bug, who says he's 'in monk mode,' so I may or may not get to meet the fellow on this trip, but it's still a possibility. He's also put me in contact with Zane Ivy, who, apparently, has his ear to the ground re: spoken word venues in Seoul. He's got a fair web presence for both writing and art if you google him. With a little luck, I might have something to report here, or elsewhere, re: the spoken word scene as it exists in Korea. In the meantime, I have J. Scott Burgeson's book, "Korea Bug," to get stuck into. I'm in the intro, which is basically a chronicle of the ex-pat newspaper and zine scene in Korea since the early 1900's. Already fairly fascinating reading, not just because of my interest in the subject (which, yes, does help), but also for the sneaky way it gets at those odder quirks of Korean culture most likely to put Americans off. I related immediately when he cited an article in a 1970's rag that worked under the title "The Noodle" that comments on the sometimes disconcerting closeness one may encounter when dealing with Koreans who are members of the same sex: it is much, much more uncommon to see a man and a woman holding hands in public than it is to see two women, or two men, doing the same. Put the two men into army fatigues (military service is compulsory for young men, here), and the effect gets odder. But, in personal relationships, figuring out where the hell such boundaries are can be frustrating and can lead to misunderstandings. I did get a very big kick out of this excerpt, however, in which an American and his male Korean friend discuss an evening they had together in the past:

Dubois: John, remember when we went to hear Billy Graham speak?
Kim: Yes, it was a beautiful evening, as I remember we held hands most of the way home that night.
Dubois: You know, that's a strange custom you Koreans have. Actually, I stopped holding your hand because I thought people would think I was a Homosexual. Isn't that funny?
Kim: Yes, it is. I thought you stopped holding my hand that night because you were.

Spot fucking on, let me tell you. I've been having some quiet difficulties with my friend Seung-gil on precisely this front, and I thoroughly dig the commentary provided in the above exchange. I think I'm gonna like this book lots.

Anyway, as always, lots to do, lots I should write, lots I should do to the sidebar, etc., and about 500 other long-neglected tasks knocking at my virtual door, as always. I will have a few new experiences to post up in the near future, though. Just wish I had more time to type them up...or made better use of the time I do have. But if you're patient, and check back every now and again, I promise I'll do the same.

Ok, tonight I have a going-away party to go to, should fix myself up some dinner so I don't succumb to the temptation to eat out, and time's starting to become a factor, so I'll end it there...but with promises to check back wichall soon.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Your mission

...should you choose to accept it, courtesy of The Ministry of Reshelving

(Thanks to Cosmopoetica for the heads up.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005



Well, shee-it, I just spent the better portion of the last hour trying to figure out how to post images on this thing...I had Flickr and Picasa all set up in Germany, nothing easier, so I figured I'd download those things (it gave me the option to put the program into one of the emptier hard drives) and get going, but then, I couldn't figure out how to configure the whole thing, so I ended up in Blogspot help and it tells me that there should be a toolbar at the top of the screen where I edit posts, and on that, an icon that allows me to upload images directly from my computer. Only guess what? I'm there, no such toolbar. I'm wondering if this doesn't all have to do with my location, as I've also been futzing around trying to figure out how to italicize and bold (if that's ever a really pressing issue, I do know how to look up the appropriate codes, so it's not such a big deal, though a bit of a pain...), and that was on the toolbar as well. I remember, in Germany, having the option also to use a wysiwig version of the post editor, and I can't find that, either. I'm guessing there's one button somewhere I need to push, (one that, with luck, won't completely screw the current formatting), but I have no idea where to find that button. Ain't technology grand? In any case, the photos will have to wait for another day, because I've given up on it for this morning, having decided, after having slept in much later than I meant to, and then wasting pretty much the first two hours of my day, that I don't have any more time to devote to it this morning. Plus, I can always ask Taylor, whose primary purpose for blogging is to share photos, how to go about it. The irony of all this is that he was asking me for advice just yesterday after Korean class. Ah, well.

So, with the time remaining to me, thought I'd post a quick update, as I'm getting ready to knuckle down on a lot of tasks that I've left unattended for a bit too long, including much neglected correspondence, both personal and Trip related, and really getting busy on the Korean so I can try to take it to the level of sentences, instead of wandering around like a three-year old who is just delighted to be able to name things. And images are seeping in for writing--not for the writing I was hoping to do (a longer project with one of the coolest working titles I've ever had the privilege to stumble upon), but still large, and actually something I've been working toward for many years. As, last week, I was approached by an editor for work, it's probably high time I started getting even more serious about amassing a body of creative work. I have probably 50 poems that are workable, but at many different levels of development (I work very slowly, being a bit of a perfectionist on that front...I'd calculate, on a good day, that for the two decades I've been writing at all seriously, I've produced approximately one poem a year that I'd actually be brazen enough to call a poem). It's time to pump that up. I fucking bleed experience. It's time to communicate it. But, I think, at a distance. Hit some of the stuff I tried to convey, with varying levels of success, when I was younger, but was too close to for getting it down in an effective way.

It's all about metal, and how different metals react to being tooled. Brass splinters. Aluminum comes off in long, razor-sharp ribbons. Duct curls around itself and forms small cylinders the size of rabbit feed. That's as much as I can say, right now.

On the ground, three hikes so far, not counting my many recon missions throughout Gangneung, which I'm starting to get quite familiar with. The first two found us in Odaesan National Park, which is but a fifty minute, 1,500 Won (about a buck fifty) trip from downtown Gangneung, thus a popular spot for day trippers. The Eastern trail, Sogeumgang especially so, as it is chokka with waterfalls, and a VERY short hike from the bus' terminal stop. The Southern end of the park is moderately more difficult to access, boasts two large Buddhist temples, Woljeong-sa and Sangwon-sa, the latter of which has a trail behind it leading to a 1,563 meter high peak named Birobong (not at all an unusual name, though, and I assume it means something fairly generic, like, highest peak in the area), along which there are Buddhist inner sanctums (yes, I should have a Korean name for this, but don't, right at present), plenty of steps, and even a pay-phone about a third of the way up. Hiking in Korea is not the same as hiking in the North American sense of the word. Sometimes, you even have to queue.

Now, I'm not jumping to any conclusions about my worth as a traveling companion just yet, but so far, I've yet to take on two hikes with the same companion. I think this is just time pressure, etc., along with money pressures and the like, all of which sometimes conspire to get in the way of a good trip. In fact, all three ended with what were, by all appearances, sincere hopes to do something similar in the near future. That said, the first trip, which was relatively light, was undertaken by my Korean friend, Seung-gil, who is trying to establish his own hagwan here in Gangneung, and his two nephews, aged 5 and 8. Having the boys along was a real blast, and a comfort, as most of my relations with children, right now, is as teacher, and it was good to just go out and have fun. The youngest, who chose the western name 'Jade', was particularly receptive to me, held my hand for a good portion of the trip, and taught me a fair few Korean words (this before I read, at all). The second trip I took with Chung-gun, my adult student, and his friend, Sang-eul (which, he jokes, makes his English name 'Thank you'), and culminated in an evening of Sam Gyeop Sal, a very yum Korean dish consisting of pork fried at the table and wrapped, with various sauces, Gim-chee, garlic and onions, in a lettuce leaf, and, should you happen to be out with two university aged Korean men, copious helpings of Soju, the local brew, a strong rice wine (about 21% alcohol) that's best served ice cold. As we finished off our third bottle of the evening, after having worked up a serious appetite, the boys informed me that it was Korean tradition to have two bottles each, at which point I stopped the 'when in Rome' routine. I was pretty toasty after one bottle. But, a good night, and rather amazing how much the boys' English loosened up under the influence of soju.

...and, it occurs to me, having looked up at the clock, and seeing that work is coming my direction very rapidly, that I have to cut it short to get the most recent news in here...there's lots of on the ground notes I'd like to post, both re: teaching and just living, as well as some notes on the latest trip with Taylor, BUT, as you are no doubt aware, last Friday was the 11th day of the 11th month, which in Korea, makes it Pepero Day. This is, according to one who at moments has been known to describe himself as the bastard spawn of Diogenes, clearly a brazen commercial ploy on the part of Pepero's manufacturers, Lotte. Peperos are basically sweet, hard bread sticks covered in a thin layer of chocolate, and on Pepero day, you're meant to give them out to just about anyone you hold in any sort of regard whatsoever. Well, before last Friday, this was something I did not know about, but I certainly did once Friday was over. As a (not quite) teacher, I got loads. I spent my entire shift pushing the things on my students, and got rid of quite a few of them, but still went home with 4 boxes, as well as a good dozen larger, individually wrapped Peperos as well. So. You live, you learn.

Much on the ground, but the time picture has now passed critical, so I'll just have to commit an hour or two on Saturday to laying down a few more notes. Til then--tchitch.

Monday, November 14, 2005



Lots I should post, but it's 2 in the morning here and I have an early appointment with a Korean teacher who also wants to celebrate my birthday (today) in Korean style...with cold noodle soup (shudders, but only slightly) least it isn't wiggling octopus tentacles. BTW, one of my gifts today was provided by my Korean friend Seung-Gil, who spent a few hours exploring the local seafood market with me, and tried to teach me new Korean words along the way. The one that stuck was octopus--Mun-au--which, directly translated, means 'door fish'. I don't have any idea about the logic behind this, but it is the sort of quirky word that tends to glue itself to my linguistically challenged mind.

There are actually many Korean words that use 'door,' including the words for window (clear enough), newspaper, and culture. I'm trying not to overgeneralize about these things, but I do tend to learn quicker when I spot patterns.

Good news is, I can read Hangul. Can't always understand it, but I know what the sounds are supposed to be, and can manage a reasonable facsimile, though at a painfully slow pace, when called upon to do so. Kinda kicky.

In any case, wouldn't have made the post, but one of the local English teacher, a young whipper-snapper by the name of Taylor, posted a few pics of our recent hiking expedition over at his blog, and I thought I'd share. I have a few other pics floating around on my hard drive, and should probably see if I can't upload those in the near future...warning, my computer's a bit out of date, has plenty of space but compartmentalized drives, and the drive it wants to decompress new programs in is the one that's pretty much constantly full. I'm trying to work with folks to get this figured out. I've been told switching to Microsoft 2000 is one option, but not one that a novice (and I'm not quite up to that level) should probably undertake solo on their first try. In any case, if I can get them up, I will.

(EDIT: Just checked the link to those pics, and see that it's only showing the first four of many...go to Taylor's main blog page and scroll down to heading "Tae Baek San" to get the full collection.)

Hiking's pretty much my leisure activity of choice...and Gangneung is very, very well located for that. However, if I don't get to bed very soon, I'll be here reporting for far too long...cuz stuff, as always, is afoot.

One last note, though: I found a book I want. It's called Korean Bug, and is a collection of the first (I think) five issues of a zine operating out of Seoul. You can read excerpts on the web. Hint: click on the little purple glowing thing in the right hand corner to get to the meat. I'da provided a direct link, but figure you need to be exposed to the song featured in the introduction. Anyway, my Korean teacher spotted this book in a bookshop on Friday night, and at first glance, I knew it was one of the things I MUST carry out of here with me. Plus, now I got a mission when I make that trip to Seoul (probably before year's end).

I do so need to get on here and write down some of the madness I've been encountering. I promise, I will, soon. Right now, if I don't get to bed, I'm not gonna get any sleep before work tomorrow, and as they're to be celebrating my birthday as well, that would be a very unwise thing to do.

Right, then...tchitch

Wednesday, November 09, 2005



...from Steve's House of Love, and we share the same result. No wonder he didn't select me for his anthology.

theory slut
You are a Theory Slut. The true elite of the
postmodernists, you collect avant-garde
Indonesian hiphop compilations and eat journal
articles for breakfast. You positively live
for theory. It really doesn't matter what
kind, as long as the words are big and the
paragraph breaks few and far between.

What kind of postmodernist are you!?
brought to you by Quizilla

...not surprised, really.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Checkin' in

Well, the Gangneung experience is proving to be somewhat emotionally taxing, especially with my wife's birthday just passed, and my girls flying back to the US tomorrow, perhaps in preparation for a move back there on a more permanent basis. We're still awaiting word re: my wife's proposal in Australia, and while I know that those who do not receive notification until near deadline at Triplopia can pretty much rest assured they're in the running (an early rejection means you didn't even come close), I'm not entirely sure that's the way it works when it comes to research proposals. Still, we hold out hope, because the fact is, I always kinda liked the idea of being based in Perth. It's just far out enough to appeal to me, but still wildly connected, and I've heard a couple of Perth bands I thought rocked. Plus we've already made some quiet connections with some of the lit-minded folks there, and it'd be great to solidify those and maybe even establish a quiet nest perched at what seems, from here, to be the end of the world. Korea, so far, provides an enormous challenge for anyone who likes to get away from humans every now and again, and while I had hopes to chronicle the goings on here a bit better than I have so far, pressures have been such that I've not been able to even check in on this poor, neglected blog, and don't look to particularly ease up in the near future. That's because there is a lot of work to be done at Trip: we are, I think, in the process of taking the project to the next level, and it means I need to get my head around a whole new set of considerations. Right now, I'm looking at a backlist of about 6 interviews, due to the fact that we went through 3 before we finally landed one for our latest issue, which, yes, went up on time on October 15th, and in the scurry to land said interview asked about 5 poets if they'd be willing to be interviewed. Four said yes, and we already had two others in the works. Good news is, if I tend to business as I ought, I will finally have the backlog I've been working for over the last 2 years, which will make the Spotlight section a bit less hair-raising overall. The last issue, we began the interview process about 9 days before press time, and the final went in about 2 days before--a much more truncated process than I'd ever before experienced, and kudos to our spotlight poet, Lillian Baker Kennedy, for being a sport through that process. More than a sport, actually. She's also a lawyer, and she surprised me with a list of 5 questions once I'd finished giving her the third degree (no doubt due to her sense of a right to cross-examine...), good, thought-provoking questions that few think to ask me. And the interview is quite interesting, I think.

In fact, Lillian's questions were very much appreciated, because aside from editorial duties, I'd also promised another editor, Marie Lecrivain, over at Poetic Diversity, an article on the craft of writing by the 20th, a mere 5 days after launch date. When, on the morning of the 19th, I found myself with plenty of ideas, but nothing solid to center them around, I turned back to my answers to Lillian's questions, and the central metaphor was right there for me to pick up and use. I banged the piece in question out in about 4 hours, found a couple of typos and inconsistencies (thanks, partially, to my co-editor, Tara A. Elliott, who spotted a couple of small details I completely missed) over the next 24 hours, and bang, Rules of Engagement: What the Chinese Shuffle Teaches us about Poetry was born. There's another, older, more creatively focused prose piece entitled Lash in the current issue as well, but that's been on hold for about 6 months now.

On a less positive note, I didn't make the cut for Steve Mueske's Digerati anthology, and I'd really hoped to do that. But of course, the odds have to be taken into consideration, and I now have about 15 poems that are once again free to be submitted. And again, on the plus side, Volume 6 of A Generation Defining Ourselves: In Our Own Words is just about due to be released, and it will include a prose piece by myself, entitled "Rage Within the Machine". This one I've been waiting about 1 year over, but I do suspect, when I receive that contributor's copy, and see my words not only published in print, but published in book form (a first for me, so exciting), I'm gonna be one happy man.

So I started thinking about some of this late last night as I lie in bed, trying not to think too hard on my girls' upcoming plane trip, and, no doubt, attendant reverse culture shock, and started distracting myself with an assessment of it all. I remember that on Jaunary 1, 2004, I received two e-mails, one of which was a request that I be a judge for a poetry contest (I eventually declined, citing concerns re: appearances of propriety), and one of which informed me that I was a prose contest winner. There is, of course, that old New Year's Day superstition that whatever that day finds you doing, you'll be doing for the rest of the year, so I entered that year with a real sense of optimism. I did not end that year with the same sense of optimism, as a brief review of the chronicle provided by this blog will attest, though it was certainly a year of much writing, and not a little progress into the world I've always seen as central to my sense of being. Well, 2005 had no such portents to draw from: I disagreed with my nation, my wife had just taken a severe cut in pay at her job, and I was deeply involved in a restaurant project that never really had the necessary resources to do what it aimed to do. From there, surgery, and eventually the need to go, on my own, to South Korea in an attempt to keep my family at least somewhat financially solvent (& that's a relative term for us at all times...). But there have been many, many high points this year in the writing, and a vast enough network being cultivated to rather boggle my mind. I don't know that any of these undertakings will ever provide anything approaching 'a living'--and highly suspect they won't--but, truth be told, that's absolutely not what this gig is about. It just helps. In the meantime, I do get the occasional (and increasingly less occasional) free book/CD of poetry, and am even due a 10 USD stipend for some work I did on an anthology recently. Not much, but as big a paycheck as I've received in some years doing this work.

Rather than dwindle off into nothingness, as this is primarily a post to update folks on my recent state of mind, I'll just relate this, and close: My wife has, of course, over the last 2 months, been faced with the enormous chore of packing up and securing storage for what has become, between the two of us, a rather vast set of files. I am a total packrat when it comes to words--I do not discard letters, and still have some from at least 18 years back. These, along with undergraduate philosophy and political science papers, my wife regards as superfluous, and has said as much, on multiple occasions, over the course of the last couple of months. She's promised me a scanner on the condition that I take all of this paper and convert it to computer files for ease of transport in the future. I'm game, though it's a rather daunting task. In any case, my wife also informed me that my daughter absolutely forbade her to throw any of my writing away, and apparently my daughter worded same with enough force for it to save many files from being tossed in the recycle bin. Upon receiving this news, I had only one real observation to offer: "Smart girl. She knows that if there is ever anything in the way of financial remuneration on that front, it's quite likely to come her direction, rather than ours."

Well, one can dream. Happy reading, y'all. I'm likely to be quite busy over the next month, which is, after all, NaNoWriMo, so it may be a while before I update again, but I will, when there is both time and inclination available to do so.

Until then, as the locals say, annyeonghi gaseyo. Tchitch

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?