In Which My Love Affair with Books Continues Unabated

Can I just start this post by mentioning that time, a number of years ago now, that I learned adults can get zits too. Like, you’ll never truly be rid of them unless you’re very lucky. I don’t have acne or anything, but even occasional zits are just beyond the pale.

The first week of autumn term is nearly finished. I’m back to teaching the same courses as my first term, but I’m teaching higher levels and one of them is substantially different. However, I’m only teaching two levels! A major improvement over last term, and I’m still very grateful for it. I like my classes, generally. I’ve taught nearly half of them before which means I guess I’m practically an old hand (at least in terms of foreign teachers here). They made me move classrooms, which is a shame as I’d been in 102 for the entire six months. But now I’m in 207, the last room at the end of the poorly-lit hall upstairs. It has its perks but I’m still getting used to it.

Not much else to report. I had Wednesday off, the first in a long time, and I made good use of it. I went to brunch with some friends and then wandered around. We visited a new cat café since the one we normally go to has been closed recently (hopefully not forever). There were no games to be had, but there were many more cats and of many varieties. It wasn’t long before we had given many of them names: Foxy Grey and Foxy Tan, Bedraggle, Cloud Baby and Cloud Baby 2, Big Face, Friend, and Tuxy. We passed a very enjoyable hour or two among the cats before heading briefly to an arcade and then home.

It felt like a long day but I got home at 6:30 and it was amazing. Plenty of time to read.

I know I talk kind of a lot about books. But it’s kind of how I live my life and I’m not sorry about it. I’ve been into several in the past couple weeks; not the same fervor from a while ago, but I’ve made my way through a number of them. One, that I started on Sunday night and finished less than twelve hours later, got me all sorts of feeling.

Some books are like that. They reach into you and start dancing around in your skin, singing songs you didn’t think you knew and stretching muscles you could’ve sworn you didn’t have. It doesn’t much matter whether the book is any good, or if you’re interested in the plot, or if you like the characters. Sometimes all it takes is a couple pages and wham bam it’s all over you have the book sickness.

I had that, a little, this week, and I’m grateful for it.

 

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Actual, Literal Thumbnails

Cat update from my sister, Béégashii is a jungle hunter and a model.

Beegashii2017-8-18

In other news, I almost cut my thumb making soup the other day. I was slicing greens. My first reaction was a little gasp, the kind you make when a glass is falling off the table. Seeing that I wasn’t bleeding and instead had a little gash on my thumbnail I said to myself, “I’m so grateful for thumbnails.” That is my story for the week.

As an aside, I get where the term thumbnail in photography comes from, pictures the size of your thumbnail, but like, strange yeah? Interestingly, the figurative sense of the word actually originates like in the 18th or 19th century, referring to any picture that was very small even before photography. So there you have it.

But actually. I’m trying to be more grateful in general. I’ve started a little practice of writing down things every day. It’s not really a journal, three sentences a day, but I’ve kept it up for a bit and I like it. I write 1) something I’m grateful for (from thumbnails to cookies to having a job) 2) something I’m praying for for myself 3) something I’m praying for outside of myself 4) something I enjoyed (this one is usually food). I haven’t noticed a discernible change in my life or anything but it does make me feel like I’m at least trying to be more content and less complaint-focused.

I’ve also spent a good deal of time this week reading. Not as much as I did a few weeks ago, but I finished up a short little trilogy and and almost done with book two of a much thicker and longer series. I haven’t watched any Netflix this week. As much as I am a Netflix-obsessed TV lover, reading is definitely my preferred medium, I think I may have mentioned my appreciation for it before. Also, random grammatical factoid that some may know, media and data are plural.

Also, tomorrow is the last day of term and it’s just a little frustrating that there’s no break, no marker of anything different. I’ll just have to jump into a new classroom Monday afternoon and start all over. Next week I’ll tell you what levels and stuff I’m teaching but I’m too focused on the end of this term to think too far ahead. Suffice to say that I’m generally positive and hopeful but we’ll just have to see how things pan out.

Last little comment for the day: the phrase ‘pan out’ comes from gold panning. Like, you wouldn’t know if a stream had gold in it or not, you’d just have to see how it panned out. I feel like that’s pretty common knowledge but you never know.

Apostasy and Un-postasy

The heat, I think, has finally broken. It’s not cool by any means, but being outside no longer feels like death. It’s also still pretty humid, but definitely livable. I’m excited for it to actually be autumn so I can go around and do things again.

That was really the highlight this week–that and the fact that intensives are over, the last day was Tuesday. So that’s a major relief. There’s also only one more week in this term, which is crazy. It also marks my halfway point on my contract, so there’s that. But I’d like to take the bulk of this post to talk about other things, as feeble as my attempt to discuss them may be.

Once again, I find myself in the untenable position where I cannot say nothing but can’t say anything adequate. Others have written much more fully on issues like the Confederate cause (here), Confederate statues (here and here), reactions and likely reactions in government (here and here), and just generally race in the US (here). And loads of others besides. It seems like recent events are almost literally an armed rebellion. A rebellion against the religious and civic foundation of the country that, simultaneously, is perfectly in line with its religious and civic foundation. And that’s really the issue.

A writer for the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, put it succinctly when he said, “The biggest indictment of the way we teach American history is that people can look at Charlottesville and say ‘This is not who we are.'”

When we say, “This is not us,” we’re lying.

That’s why I said it’s an apostasy and not at all. Actions like that are so against the story we typically tell about ourselves, but there are perfectly in line with the reality that so many people have faced across time and geography. The great American civil religion is Freedom, Equality, and Justice and the rituals of that religion are and have been Slavery, Inequality, and Injustice. Hate is both an apostasy and an un-postasy.

It’s so awful. And it’s so exacerbated by the reality that nothing is changing, or not much. I exulted a little hearing that Baltimore, in one night, surprised the city by removing all Confederate monuments. But the President, his administration, and Republicans in Congress will do nothing. The general public will do nothing. The majority of individuals (myself included?) will do nothing.

I cannot express how fully I condemn and abhor the violence in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, there is so much more to it than one weekend, one moment of revulsion. There is a system of violence supported by literal millions through actions and words both passive and active. A system that benefits me because I’m a cis white male.

I feel powerless. Guilt doesn’t help anybody, and I’m not sure what I can do. Donate to organizations like the ACLU, attend marches, speak forcefully to my own detriment when people deny the existence or depravity of the pernicious construct of racism that saturates our country.

It feels sort of hollow to preach ‘love’ in a time like this, when so much of me wants to violently tear into something. For all my words, it’s hard to believe that love has, does, and will win. But it’s true nonetheless.

My number one class rule is English Only because that’s a company policy. My number two rule is Be Kind. I say it all the time. So much so that many of my students make fun of me for it, which only makes me say it more, and so on, no one wins. Except I win. Because if I accomplish nothing else, I will have asked, commanded, cajoled, and begged kindness from a few score Korean kids who, perhaps, will be kind when they don’t want to be. And perhaps the scale of the world will tilt one grain or two toward love.

My post from a year ago definitely says what I want much better than the preceding rambles. But I had to say it again because here we are again.

Love only seems weak to people who don’t have enough. And hoping in love is about all I feel empowered to do just now. Hope and love.

Schnitzel with Noodles

Very little has happened this week, as is often the case in my life. But there is one small adventure that I would like to share with you. Adventure is perhaps a strong word because it was actually just dinner but whatever, let me have this win.

Anyway. Wednesday. We all finished at seven (because our Wednesday schedules are highly variable and generally incomprehensible). And I (yes I!) took the initiative to ask a couple coworkers if they had dinner plans. And so it happened that we decided to go to a special restaurant that they had pointed out to me before but which I had not yet eaten at. It was called Castle Praha.

If you’re in the know, then you would of course expect Czech food, as Praha is Prague in Czech. And you would be 100% correct. The building is actually designed a bit like a castle and the inside is close and stone and lovely, festooned with banners and shields and traditional, if a trifle creepy, puppet-doll things. The atmosphere was absolutely fabulous, I loved it the moment I entered. Part of it, I’m sure, was just feeling a bit of European which I have been so lacking for so long. But also it was just great.

There were four of us, later joined by a fifth, and so we ordered a few things to share amongst us. A sausage plate, pasta, and Wiener schnitzel (and so it came to pass that I consumed schnitzel with noodles even though the schnitzel was served with potato). It was really good. Nothing super crazy outstanding, but definitely quality and very much satisfying, but my appetite and an urge for classic European cuisine which I didn’t really know I’d been harboring.

I wanted to get the goulash but the others weren’t keen. It was kind of a let down, but I’ll be the first to admit that Hungarian goulash is much better than its Czech counterpart, a position with which my companions agreed. And what we got was more than adequate.

After dinner settled, we went for a very Korean passtime by visiting an arcade. And by arcade, I kind of mean what Americans would typically think of, but also a little different. The screen shooting or driving or whatever games, but also an entire floor dedicated to those crane pick-up-a-prize things and a variety of other things too. It’s a really major thing here for young people (like middle school through like twenty-somethings and even older). They’re pretty common. I wasn’t wild into it but was successfully coerced into a couple rounds of Mario Kart.

After that, all that remained was to go across the street for some soft serve ice cream and a leisurely walk home through an intermittent sprinkle. The evening was reasonably cool and, since we set off at seven, I got home with still an hour to spare before bed (because I generally take my bedtime very seriously). I had a lovely time.

On another note, today was the second to last day of my awful nine hour schedule so I’m pumped about that. Tuesday will be the last. And then the term is so close to being over! We have no break in between terms, but I’m ready for new classes and just to start over. I do prefer this term’s material to last/next but it is what it is.

That’s all for this week. One of my students today used Lenin as an example of character vs. society conflict, and I was so happy that he was paying attention for once that I made no comment on his choice of example (he tried Stalin first and I wasn’t buying it). So I hope you’re all fighting the good fight, eating Hungarian goulash, and bagging that plush Squirtle. In other words, hope you’re having a great week. Until next time.

Pound Foolish

Before I go any further, I would like to take a moment for cats. Last weekend I returned to the cat café and, as requested, took pictures so as to post them here. I took many but here are two, including one that showcases my new favorite hashtag (that I invented), #catsofclue.

This week was also my birthday (happy birthday to me, yes, thank you). I was at work for ten hours but it was fine, whatever. There was cake which we had to quickly scarf down in the ten minute break between classes, but all the other teachers were very kind. And the cake was pretty good (it was from Paris Baguette).

I had grand notions of writing this week’s thoughtful section on capitalism, greed, shortsightedness, and general social woes. Inspired by dumb things at work and this truly wonderful Vox piece on the subject. However, I did not work preemptively and I am unwilling to put too much effort into it now as it’s aftern 10 pm and I’ve been at work since noon. Shame on me for being more proactive, bad blogger (though you’re probably relieved I won’t be waxing eloquent about socialism). Anyway, here’s the boiled-down version.

People are greedy. Extremely rich people are very insulated from normal people. If things don’t change, there probably will be a revolution. By change, I mean capitalism itself, even if I don’t mean an actual, total shift to socialism.

The big lie is this: everything can keep growing forever.

It’s what contemporary capitalism is based on and it’s self-evidently ridiculous. Somehow we’re going to have to get rid of that idea, protect people’s welfare, and save the environment. Solutions must be very creative. It’s hard to even comprehend what it will actually look like. I really encourage you to read that article, I found that it artfully articulated many things that I have either thought about or vaguely felt for many years. Besides, if-not-you-who/if-not-now-when and all that.

In this, as in so many areas, people are shortsighted. Penny wise, as they say, and pound foolish. That is not really the original meaning of the phrase but I find it appropriate. We like to consider ourselves prudent and level-headed about the most minor issues in our lives but the big, systemic, catastrophic problems leave us unperturbed. Richard Branson (whose autobiography I’m currently reading for class) said of climate change, if I may paraphrase, that we’ve all agreed the building we’re in is on fire but calmly sit around and do nothing (there’s an applicable meme). It’s true of me, my boss, society, and the world at large.

Let’s take a second to look at the big picture. Do you like what you see?

This is not quite the post I wanted, a polemic against the evil forces of capitalism, wealthy people, and bosses who’ve never done the work of their subordinates. But whatever, it is what it is.

In this era of late capitalism, for I agree with Mr. Weinstein’s assessment, I feel like railing against the establishment is both mainstream and ridiculous. And I am strongly skeptical of anyone’s ‘enlightened self-interest,’ especially the ultra-rich. But anyway.

I’m not saying always plan for the future. But consider it, even apart from any particular plans. But consider what the future may look like. And spend your pounds like your pennies. Pence. Whatever.