Be Careful

This week has been a bit of a thing. In addition to a terrible, utterly stupid mistake that, thankfully didn’t have any real consequences, I’ve just had to be scrambling a bit to learn and get ready and all that you know kegssiugougtaoqeign stuff (for those who can’t read keyboard smash, that roughly translates to me holding up my hands clenched tightly into claws and shaking them).

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of covering for someone’s one-on-one class. A single student, three hours, at the very lowest level. We read an extraordinarily simplified Dick Whittington (whose story I was not familiar with) and played hangman. For three hours.

But also, this is the last week of term. I have only tomorrow left. And my what a term. It’s crazy to think that I’m a quarter of the way through this year.  Today and tomorrow involves work and a snack party for each class, so that’s nice. Today, the staff also had pizza and chicken before the students arrives, which was a lovely surprise. Most of the teachers at our branch are leaving, so it was nice to have a little send-off sort of feeling going around.

Next week is setting itself up to be super scary. Teaching two totally new classes–scratch that, three. And three new levels, two much higher than I’ve done and one much lower. Most of the staff will be new but trained in these courses (whereas I was trained on the ones for this term). I’m super nervous. But I’ve learned that being boring, a little uncertain, and generally a mess is just how you do new things. It will get better. Anway, I’d like to avoid talking about it, so I have prepared a couple random thoughts, as I am often wont to do, because variety is the spice of life.

Sometimes I’m confused by the controversy that surrounds certain topics. For example, best Disney prince. Obviously it’s Phillip. He has a name, he slays a dragon, he waltzes in people’s dreams. What’s not to love. Other categories, I understand some debate, I get that. Best Disney villain, for example. I’d say Maleficent but Ursula, Hades, Frollo have strong contentions, maybe a couple others too. This just to say: it seems we value opinions and tolerate facts (if that). But we should value facts and tolerate opinions.

Also this week, I learned why Google maps can only do public transportation directions here. South Korea has a thriving internet censorship program and this includes, thanks to the fact that they’re still technically at war with the north, all maps of the country. It’s illegal to take them out of the country and that now includes mapping data. So Google can’t process the maps on its servers and we’re left with using Kakao Metro for directions on the metro and Google maps-ing the rest of it ourselves.

In other news, this week I lost my longest Duolingo streak, 74 days. I just forgot to do it before work and then went to dinner after and then forgot again. So that was a big bummer. Alas.

I don’t really have anything else to report. I expect next week’s post will be hectic but there it is. I’m just going to take a second to, you know, take a second. In the mean time, having been pretty moved by this short and sincere poem, I’m trying to be careful of other humans, and to be kind.

The Cheese

This Wednesday was another day off and I was determined to enjoy myself. So, naturally, I decided to climb a mountain. Just for reference, I will continue to say mountain here but I fully acknowledge it to be a Seoul ‘mountain’ (similar to an East Coast mountain) as it is only 338.2 meters tall–that’s about 1,100 feet for us Americans. Also, in the common fashion for Korean mountains I’ve seen thus far, it’s very steep. 인왕산 (Inwangsan) is pretty close to my apartment. Just on the other side of Ansan, where I’ve been many times. So I figured it was a good candidate. The rub was that Google Maps gave no indication as to how to get onto the mountain. I could see it, a big brownish blob with no roads, but couldn’t find an access point. But how hard could it be, so I decided I’d just wander around until I found something going up.

As luck would have it, there was no difficulty. Long before I got to my best guess for a trailhead (though still after about half an hour walking along the side of the mountain) I saw a sign that indicated this road went up the mountain. Good news. So I walked up this road for a while, going steeply uphill, but was still among apartment buildings and was wondering when the park part would start when suddenly it started. I’m still not sure what to make of the ‘park’ qualification so let me tell you a bit about what I encountered.

First, it is not marked as a park like Ansan and other places I’ve been. Not in Google and not in the real world. However, the signage was essentially the same. The major difference was that this one had gates and, it appeared, was not open all the time. Additionally, there were police guards and watchtowers quite regularly all along the trails. This was to ensure that no one took pictures facing certain directions. I discovered, reaching the first of like three summits, that there was some kind of (military?) installation, very small, running along part of the ridge. No idea what it was about, but no pictures of that. Also no pictures looking out toward the city in the direction of the river and one of the main palaces. I learned today that apparently from that one angle, you can see the president’s house and they weren’t taking any chances.

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One small glimpse

The view was spectacular. The haze wasn’t particularly bad yesterday so I had a decent line of sight across the city. I could see all of Ansan park, Seodaemun-gu, Jongno-gu, and the truly picturesque Bukhansan park in the distance. The trees and rocks were gorgeous and the sky was blue and the air mostly smelled of flowers and pine, for once, instead of city. And, I nearly forgot, the old city wall of Seoul, which has huge chunks still intact across the city, goes straight up the mountain and the trail follows it a goodly way. Parts of it have been restored over time, but I think a reasonable amount of it is original and, like in Exeter, you can clearly see the different phases in its construction spread out over centuries.

All told, with a quick nip into Paris Baguette on the way home, it was a four hour excursion. I would call it an unqualified success, which is something of a rarity for me. So I went home and just basked in the lovely day. There remained something irrefutably (and sometimes inexplicably) urban about everything and I couldn’t help but wish that I was on some other mountain, far away from Seoul, and the view was only of further mountains and wilder forests. Nevertheless, the fragrance of certain flowers and the texture of hearty bark under my hands did assuage, in some small part, all the city unpleasantness.

Now for this week’s thoughts from Keegan.

Quirkily, I’ve been singing The Farmer in the Dell kind of often since coming to Korea. In the metro, there is a little song that plays when a train is approaching and the beginning sounds just like it. I don’t ride the metro all that often, but the song has wormed its way back into my brain and it plays ad libitum, ad nauseam.

It’s a strange sort of song. As a person who is very much interested in and appreciative of cheese, the final verse is of particular note: the cheese stands alone.

And I’m not the only one entranced (haunted?) by that line. Robert Cormier, writer of controversial young adult novels like The Chocolate War, wrote a novel entitled I am the Cheese based on the concept of the main character feeling alone. It sounds hilarious but the blurb is very serious, sort of a teen spy mystery thriller vibe is what I was picking up.

But why does the cheese stand alone? I always picture a hefty slice of Swiss sitting regally on a little hillock in the bottom of a lushly planted valley, a few farm buildings in the distance. Who would see such an alluring enticement and just pass it by? In what universe is the cheese not the main character of the song? In an effort to avoid the grimness of last week’s post I will not suggest that the reason is because this universe is just a dark cesspool of poor, unfortunate souls. Nevertheless, the mystery is confounding.

Then again, maybe it’s not such a problem that the cheese stands alone. I often have difficulty describing to parents or other concerned parties that I don’t mind being alone for extended and repeated periods of time. I feel like I’m almost inundated with Buzzfeed posts or articles on Facebook about introverts and I guess I assumed that people just generally got it. But it is not so.

Introverts don’t mind being along for extended and repeated periods of time. We’re not anti-social, just differently social.

So there you have it. Who’s to say cheese can’t be introverted. Maybe the cheese likes standing alone. Maybe it’s having a great time just so. Maybe I am the cheese, too. Wow, I hope so. What a life. And what a great mantra.

I am the cheese.

I am the cheese.

I am the cheese.

Are you?

This Beautiful, Broken Speck

I’m going to start off with cats because today’s topic is pretty heavy.

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“War! I did not hate the enemy, I hated the spirit that made war possible.”

I first encountered this sentiment in an exhibit at the British Library on the Great War, printed on the wall next to an original manuscript for Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth. Mabel Dearmer, a British woman who would later die serving as a nurse in Serbia, did not like war. She continued in that same letter, “…I envied the proud mother who sends her sons, proud of them, proud of the war that calls them out, proud of the God of battles. But that God is not my God, and my heart was heavy.”

I’ve had war sort of on the mind of late. I do not think there will actually be a war, but this is the closest I’ve come to its possibility in my immediate surroundings. South Korea elected a new president on Tuesday and he seems to want a much more conciliatory approach to relations with the North (Sunshine Policy 2.0?). And, of course, I am thinking about World War I because we are still in the midst of its 100th anniversary. And also, people hating other people.

Some of you will be familiar with the photograph below, often dubbed “The Pale Blue Dot.” It even has it’s own Wikipedia page. It is a picture of Earth as seen from approximately 3.7 billion miles away in the vastness of space. It takes up just over one tenth of one pixel, caught in the middle-ish of the rightmost band of light.

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The Pale Blue Dot, credit to NASA

Carl Sagan, who asked that the picture be taken, said this about the image:

That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

[…] To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

I’ve thought about joining the armed forces. Not particularly hard, but I’ve considered it. I’ve contemplated what kind of war I would fight in, how I would handle it, what I would think about it. I honestly am not certain how I would react if our country went to war again, especially if the draft was instituted.

I’m very much a flawed individual but I think that I’ve determined for myself that there is no jus ad bellum. No just cause to go to war. There may be situations in which I think a war should occur, but there is no justice in it.

I’d like to think of myself as a pretty empathetic person but sometimes people totally confound me. It’s like when you’re watching a movie or show practically yelling at the character not to do the stupid thing because we all know how it turns out and then they do the stupid thing anyway. How could someone conceivably act and think like this? How could they be so stupid, so blind, so cruel and hateful? I mean, I’ve taken enough classes on conflict to know how, at least sort of. My undergrad capstone class was literally Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing. Still.

I want to preserve and cherish. I want kindness and compassion.

We live on a cosmic speck. It is full of incredible beauty, miracles, wonders. But it is terribly, if not irreparably, damaged. I truly do not believe that this peninsula will go to war, at least not soon. But come on, you have to actively goad conflict for things to feel like this, the status quo was (I almost don’t want to say it) better. Who do you think you are and what are you doing? This hate thing, this war, what are they good for?

Absolutely nothing.

Greennesses

So graduation for Trinity was a couple weeks ago now. A shame I couldn’t be there in person but I saw pictures on Facebook and got the gist (Ireland is very far away from Korea and I don’t have the vacation time). And my mother just sent me a picture, my degree arrived today! I’m for real an official Master of Philosophy–magister philosophiae since the whole degree is in Latin– now, I feel like I’ve been a pretender since August. But I have incontrovertible proof now so ha.

Last weekend was a bit of a tough one for me. On Friday, I lost my voice for no apparent reason halfway through my first class. I whispered through my second, went home, and went to bed. I woke up with no improvement. Saturday is my grocery day anyway, go I went and got some honey for my tea and did my best to just generally assuage my throat without much success. That night, I got essentially no sleep. I had given up and been up and about at 5 but then did manage to get a couple more hours around 8 or 9.  That meant that I woke up too late to go to church. I was also not feeling great, the reason for losing my voice finally revealing itself in the form of coughing up lots of super gross boogers and an incredibly runny nose. But I still had things to do.

I went to pay my bills (which you do here typically at a convenience store). Two of the three I couldn’t pay by card (though I had in the past) but whatever, I paid cash no problem. The last one, I have no idea what happened. There was some kind of problem. The man at the counter was so kind and helpful, we called the number on the bill and tried a few different things and then I was just like, nah thanks so much but I give up. Embarrassing and frustrating but whatever. I’ll go into the bank to sort it out.

Then I went a little further into town to get some more pots and soil to plant some basil seeds that I had gotten. That cheered me a little because I like growing things (a bit like a hobbit in that way, I guess). Already, I have a couple of the tiniest sprouts, they’re so precious.

This week we administered level up tests in class (luckily, so there wasn’t much talking as my voice still hasn’t fully recovered). There are three holidays so, naturally, we get one day off and some of us, myself included, have to do a make up Saturday for the students who are on vacation (because why wouldn’t we still have class when there are three holidays and my classes were all at less than half). Testing isn’t the most thrilling thing, but it meant that I didn’t have to talk much and, compared to invigilating at Trinity, it was no problem.

I have seen the most incredible transformation on the hillside I watch from the roof. It has gone from tree graveyard full of skeletal branches to a pink waterfall of cherry blossoms to a verdant mound of leafy green. It is not a unique or special transformation at all but it remains incredibly remarkable. In that spirit, I have prepared a few remarks.

There is much of God in trees. I’m definitely a green person. I’ve said it before, but I’m just not into that whole autumn/winter tree vibe. And it’s not just the sun either, though that certainly is lovely. I like rainy days. And weeks, and months. Against that I have been tested and was not found wanting. What’s really important for me is the green.

I think color symbolism is so much fun because it’s basically whatever you want. Green often means [new] life, growth, fertility but it can also mean envy, money, poison, and sickness. Hilarious. Going green means you care about the planet, looking green means you’re ill, seeing green means you’re jealous, and getting green means you’re rich.

Growing up in the Evergreen State, green trees were rather something I took for granted. Having now lived a number of places with a decidedly deciduous bent, I often find myself yearning for more cedars and pines (ect ect ect).

If I could write an ode to do justice to the unceasing miracle of the uncountable greennesses of this world, I would. Unfortunately, it simply cannot be done. I will only quote Joyce Kilmer and hope his words suffice.

“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Childhood; Dreaming of the Ocean

This week held nothing much of note for me, other than a great deal of wonderful weather. I’ve done more walking around than I’ve been wont to do of late and it’s been much to my benefit. I found a beautiful Buddhist shrine and a temple not far down the trail I normally take, just the other direction. There’s also a nice little part of the city that extends into the park a bit. It’s very quiet and pleasant since it’s so cut off.

On Wednesday, I did another test prep class but this time with the slightly younger kids doing the next level lower. It mostly involved picture identification from sentences and included a disturbing question about a man touching the boy kneeling in front of him. So that was not a great moment in test reading for me.

Only one more month of my first term. It’s at once insane how quickly it’s come and how slowly. It seems to always be like that, slow as it happens and fast looking back. It’s been an incredible learning curve and there’s still a ton more, obviously. It’s going to be going full steam until next February. It’s taken so much to figure out things, and I’m just doing two courses and three levels. There are other courses and levels that I haven’t even begun to tackle. So. But let’s not think of that for now. One more month with this. Let’s just get through that.

Anyway.

A small childhood reminiscence: did any of you have that mail subscription to Top Secret? It was those little magazines with puzzles and information about different countries. It was actually a lot like Carmen San Diego (another childhood favorite). The criminals all had fabulous names, the kind my AP Calculus textbook was also fond of. Izzy Sinkin, Sharon Sharilike, Ella Vader (Darth’s daughter). That last one, I kid you not, appeared exactly like that in an AP Calc question.

You had to solve the puzzles and each one would help you figure out who the criminal was, what they stole (it was always theft), and where they hid it. Like Clue too, I guess. They were so much fun. And you visited loads of countries before the subscription ended and you became an official sleuth or whatever. They had a board game too, though I don’t remember it much.

I was thinking yesterday about this, for no apparent reason, and thinking about what my younger self would think of me now. It’s a common question but not one I’ve actually thought much about. Small child me had a lot of interests. At one time or another, I wanted to own a nursery (the plant kind), be a history teacher, be an author, or be an Egyptologist (like Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities whose name I knew from a very young age).

Sometimes I think I’ve wound up doing just sort of random things instead, from high school until now. But that’s not really the case. I think in many ways I’m very much the same person. I wanted to travel the world and learn as much about it as I could. I’ve certainly seen a good chunk of it with hopefully more to come. And I’m teaching (though that one I honestly did not expect). I’ve studied languages–without achieving fluency…yet. I’ve seen a lot of history and, though I’m no archaeologist, I’ve gotten some rad opportunities to be hands on.

[Little story time on that last note: In Turkey, I visited the ruins of Ephesus and got to actually like touch everything. In England, one of my classes had a field trip to the cathedral library where we actually got to touch thousand year old manuscripts.]

It’s somehow comforting to realize that I haven’t come so far after all. Knowing that my childhood passions are, in fact, still alive and well makes me feel like maybe what I’m doing isn’t so unreasonable. Little Keegan would not, I think, be so disappointed as I sometimes fear. At my core of cores, from then to now, is a desire to know as much as I can about this pale blue dot. Sometimes that means Wikipedia browsing and other times actually traveling. I’m working on it.

Unrelated to everything above, but I was reading this morning and encountered a wonderful sentence that I have to share. Oh, how I ache sometimes!

To see the ocean once is to learn how to miss it.

Divine

Because there is no reason not to start a post with cats. Isn’t she very regal-looking here? And Bubba’s face is visible, so that’s a plus. Photographing black cats is hard.

This week has been decent. The weather has continued to be mostly fine and I’ve gotten in plenty of roof reading. I’ve also encountered a growing amount of lilac which is a major plus as it’s my favorite flower by scent.

There were a few less sunny moments. It did rain quite heavily on Tuesday and, in the midst of the weather, my trusty jacket finally gave up the ghost. The zipper got stuck and then there was…mangling. Poor jacket, I got you in 2010. It had been with me to more than a dozen countries on four continents. May your memory live long. I hardly knew ye.

That was followed by Wednesday, when I was rather suddenly thrust into a new kind of review class (suddenly meaning that I was given 24 hours to prepare). I was to help prepare students for the TOEFL Jr. using as basis a great deal of the material for a class I’ve never taught or even seen the curriculum for. So there was that. I scrambled, fudged, and managed like a champion, if I do say so myself. Which I do. I guess I’ll just be a teensy bit ahead of the curve when I teach that course next term. It was, I imagine, incredibly boring for the students and apparently their practice test scores were pretty low. But I didn’t mind doing it. I’m a test taker, it’s always come easily to me, and the question typology they gave me appealed to my routine-love. We’ll see how I feel about it when I’m actually teaching that course.

Anyway. Other things that happened this week: major religious holiday.

Remembering back to last Easter, and all the weighty history relating thereto, it is a curious thing for me this year. In South Korea, roughly a quarter of the population identifies as Christian (about four fifths of which are Protestant, the rest Catholic). There are churches everywhere, but they represent a relatively small portion of the country. The advanced commercialization of holidays is lessened here as well, so for Easter there is essentially no change to mark it outside of a church service.

Coming from the parades, historical commemorations, and general shenanigans of Dublin 2016, it certainly sets up a contrast. I went to a church like normal, and that was that. There was no lamb, nor eggs, nor rabbits. Probably for the best, actually, since Easter is actually just about the church thing anyway.

In one of my lessons, we were talking about human enhancement and the possibility of human perfectibility. Students, while vocal in support of plastic surgery (this is the plastic surgery capital of the world), were in general agreement that perfection is out of the question. And I tend to agree.

Alexander Pope said it well in 1711: “To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.” I’m a mess. Not in any particular sense, so don’t worry (parents). But just generally. I get by, I do fine, but nothing special, really. I lack commitment to anything particularly admirable or world-changing. I do intend to do more and then I mostly don’t because I’m lazy. Every effort of mine at self-improvement (how much more for improvement of something beyond myself) ends up collapsing after a fairly brief span. I’d like to think that on the whole I’m on an upward slope but who’s to say.

I fail, and will continue to do so. But the important thing is keeping the focus on the other part of Pope’s point. To err is what marks us as these weak mortals. It is forgiveness–and the faith that forgiveness will come–that changes everything. And that is the great transgression of Easter: it completes the bridge between the human and the divine. While we were still sinners (still are, still will be), Christ died for us. In his rising, forgiveness is made complete and perfect forever.

Let’s remember that. And let’s strive to mirror that divine act of forgiving.

 

Things, More or Less

A thing that I said to a close friend during a conversation about general life ills: “I’m not really complaining, I’m just complaining. If you feel me.” Luckily, she did. And I’d just like to say a quick word about that.

I complain a lot. And I recognize how harmful this can sometimes be. But I don’t think of myself as a negative person. I think it’s because I find pleasant emotions simple to work through. Unpleasant ones are less so. Bemoaning petty things does truly make me feel better most of the time. It is a privilege of not truly suffering. And complaining gives me an outlet for more deeply felt emotions that isn’t really that negative.

So I will strive to complain less. But at the same time, I recognize complaining about little things as a way to process bigger things constructively. Maybe. I don’t know, but there it is.

A recent message from a different friend contained several precious pictures of Captain Kirk, featured on this blog once before. So here’s a little update for you, looking very cute in the early morning light.

So this week. On Sunday, I was happy to briefly host a friend who had an extended layover at Incheon. He was pretty wiped from the preceding week so we pretty much just hung out (which was 100% in line with things I like doing). It was great to catch up with him and just chat with a good friend for a while. I’m not what one might call a fast friend maker, so it was sort of a relief to be with someone who just already knows all sorts of things about you without you having to explain.

On Wednesday, I had a surprise day off and so went in search of flowers and, hurray, found them. I heard tell of a nice place to see cherry blossoms on the other side of town and set off. I wasn’t actually certain where I was going, but I assumed the green blotch on Google Maps was the place, and indeed it was. It was, in fact, a theme park sort of thing next to a ginormous mall (I cannot describe to you how ginormous) circling around a small lake. It was lovely and the weather was nice and it was just all sorts of good. I took a book and read a bit in between walking around and admiring.

It was truly a pleasant day. Not perfect, of course. Plenty of little things to complain about. But the little complaints enabled me to enjoy what there was to be enjoyed. I could take it all in, soak up the little things that made me smile mixed with the little things that made me frown. I didn’t get lost in the maze of deeply troubling things going on in the world about which I can do nothing.

Certainly, I still think about those things. But I don’t obsess like I know I could. These are troubling times, especially here, but I’ve done what I can to be prepared. I follow the news, but I don’t want to rehash the same conversation a million times. I’d rather complain about the breeze being too chill.

I am not sure how coherent this post sounds. I wanted to tell you about my lovely time at the lake but also include everything else. It is what it is, I guess. I’d like to leave you with this lovely tune because I like it and I think the world could use more alleluias and fewer of the other things. More gratitude and fewer complaints. More peace, less war.

Good luck with that.