Equinoctial Ensorcellments

I must admit that I had to look up the adjectival form of equinox. But now I’ve done it so you don’t have to. Now that that’s out of the way.

So the equinox is actually a moment, not a relative phenomenon. Unlike something like an eclipse that moves around as things move around, the equinox refers only to the equator and so only happens once each time. Which is a poor explanation for why I’m used to it being on the 22nd but this year it’s on the 23rd. Because I’m in Korea. And so it’s in the early morning of the 23rd while most of the world is still on the 22nd.

I don’t really care much about it, but it’s a bit of an interesting fact. (Also an interesting fact, the meaning of ‘factoid’ is an interesting fact that is actually false). Ancient peoples, I’m sure you know, often put great emphasis in the various celestial comings and goings and celebrated them in many ways. In Korea, more concerned with the moon than the sun historically, the primary autumn festival is coming quickly upon us in the next couple weeks. More on that as it comes.

The equinox itself is kind of a fun thing, the true beginning of fall (though I often feel like the equinoxes and solstices should mark the middle or like, one third of their respective seasons but whatever). I don’t really have anything mystical to say, but I wanted an alliterative title so I had to say something mysterious. Something evocative of druids or ritual sacrifice or ancient, harvest-helping dances. Anyway, I think that’s enough of that.

Nothing much is happening in my life. Except I feel like I’m having a really good week. My week itself hasn’t been anything particularly pleasant or good, but I’ve just been feeling it, you know? Most of the time, at least. I’ve gotten a couple errands done in the past week or two and so that’s nice. Bigger errands, the sort that have been hanging over my head for a while.

I’ve been reading some too, of course, and that’s been nice. But mostly things have been pretty humdrum here.

Thinking about the equinox, while I’m here, I might as well say a few words. Equal night and all that. My halfway point in Korea wasn’t actually that long ago and I guess I’ll take a moment to examine that.

When I tell people here that I’m planning on staying for a year, they typically say something about that’s how they started and here they are five years later. And I’m just like, no. Maybe it’s the mindset I came here with (though I’m not sure how exactly I’d define that) or maybe it’s just different strokes for different folks, you know? But I’m not cut out for Korea. My time here has not been bad. The food, as long as I avoid the spicy things (as difficult as that often is), is good. My coworkers are cool. Places I visit are cool. But it took essentially zero time for me to decide that I wasn’t going to stay for two years as had been my initial hope (because two years looks nicer on a résumé than one).

I think I’ve taken to teaching fairly well, especially since I don’t have to come up with a curriculum or anything.

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Doesn’t she just look like the epitome of cozy? It’s possible she’s trying to actually turn into a pillow, she moves about as often and she’s just about as squishy.

And with that incredibly sweet kitty, I’ll leave you for the week. The beginning of the end of the year is upon us. It will be November, methinks, before we know it.

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북한산

Bukhansan is the highest mountain in Seoul at 836 meters, or a little over 2,700 feet. Not monstrous but respectable, especially because it’s the heart of a national park on the fringes of one of the largest cities in the world. If you give it a second, you could probably divine what shapes make the ‘a’ and ‘n’ sounds–and therefore the others too. Maybe.

Anyway, on Saturday I was invited along with a couple friends to hike up the highest peak of Bukansan, Baegundae. The trail started out ‘moderate’ for about an hour, then was ‘advanced’ for about the same, and the final twenty minutes or so were ‘expert’. In this case, moderate referred to a pretty normal trail on a mountain. Advanced meant rough piles of rocks tumbled together in a steep, vaguely stair-like fashion. Expert, which certainly no one there was, consisted primarily of large bare rock faces at extraordinary angles with a rope handrail along one side. I’m probably exaggerating a little because of my relative inexperience, but it was quite a slog.

My goodness, though, the view. I may have mentioned this before, but Seoul is a ginormous city and standing on the summit (a tiny rock surface crowded by a memorial, flagpole, and selfie-takers) was an experience. It was a remarkably clear day and we could see well past the river, something the haze normally bars even from much closer vantage points. That meant the whole park lay like a rumpled green gown beneath us and the city itself showed its off-white endlessness as its claws dug into the small islands of treed hills scattered across the horizon.

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It was a beautiful view, and the mountain was absolutely gorgeous. But it was also kind of hideous to see this human behemoth blanketing what once was certainly an incredible and natural vista. Even the summit itself sported signs of humanity, from the fortress (which seemed silly, no army was going to climb directly over the top of the tallest mountain in the area) to the radio antenna to the power lines that followed much of the trail up. Even the noise–we ate lunch just under the peak facing into the park and when we went back up to go down we suddenly realized the dull roar we had hitherto been tuning out.

But I digress. Yes, it was beautiful. I would recommend it and I would return. There was an amazingly clear stream that followed our rocky trail. We even encountered a pair of mountain kittens on our way back down–we happened to be carrying some tuna leftover from lunch so we watched delightedly as they deigned to come a few steps closer to devour it.

IMG_20170902_132453849 Like I said, it was wonderful. The mountain kittens might be one of my favorite experiences in Korea. But it also just made me sad. You couldn’t escape the city in any direction, on any peak, in any park. Obviously there is plenty of land in Korea outside of cities–it’s maybe even better than in the US since more Koreans live in cities and they generally lack the urban/suburban sprawl that so afflicts North America.

I don’t know, I think I have some oddly complicated feelings about nature. I don’t need to go into them here, it’s whatever.

Anyway, the rest of the week held very little for me. Some more reading, dipping a couple toes back into Netflix but at a more reasonable rate, and not much else. Last week we had Wednesday off, the first in ages, and this week I had phone classes. This time, though, it was the early class and we only had a half day so we finished as seven. And I would ten times out of ten choose phone classes over a one-on-one. But this term is different insofar as I don’t know that Wednesdays will be regular like they were first term. So who knows what I’ll do next week. But they have been promised to be half days except for make-up tests.

Other than that, just settling nicely into the term. Here’s hoping it stays nice.

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.

 

Actual, Literal Thumbnails

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

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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.

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.

About Time

Importantly, I finally went to a cat cafe and it was amazing. Just being in the presence of a large number of cats…. it was a dream. They were all very soft, pretty friendly, and just in every possible sense a sight for sore eyes. I went with a couple friends to the one they liked, having found it much better than the others in our area. We just sat and chatted and played several rounds of Clue (because the cafe was well-stocked with board games). Though I am loathe to use hashtags for pretty much any reason, the manifold interactions of our game and the kitties inspired me to once use #catsofclue. It was an awesome way to while away the hours of Sunday afternoon.

I would post pictures, but I didn’t really take many and all I took were just on Snapchat. Mostly, I just enjoyed the atmosphere and lived in the moment. Hope you have a few cat moments to live in this week.

On Saturday, I had finally been roped into doing a service project with church. I had been avoiding it for no particular reason. In high school I did a lot of community service stuff but haven’t been that active since and it’s been kind of weird. I was generally dreading the work on Saturday but when I got there it was so good. It was basically a soup kitchen sort of deal and I didn’t even have to interact with people much. I was upstairs washing the enormous cooking dishes in the shower room. I got to know some cool people and even went out to lunch with them afterwards which, you may know, is really saying something.

It felt good to actually be doing something for other people rather than just spouting my nonsense on here about helping people and doing hard things. The project is only once a month but I definitely intend to go until I leave Korea. It was just so easy, even in the very, very hot heat and very, very humid humidity. If I can’t spare a few hours once a month then I would be a very different person than I’d like to think myself.

So it’s summer break and, naturally, I have an extra extra class (having already been teaching an extra one all term). I recognize that there are plenty of worse situations out there for summer school stuff but I will not let that fact detract from my desire to complain, not in the slightest. Allow me to explain what my schedule will look like for the next couple weeks.

On Mondays and Fridays I will go to work at 2:30 (actually, that’s when I must be there, I will certainly be there before then) and teach from 3-10. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I will arrive at 12:30 (again, I will actually be arriving before then) and teach from 1-10. On Wednesdays, blessedly, I will arrive at 2:30 (probs actually right around then) and teach 4-7.

There are breaks; between three hour classes we get a fifteen minute break and a five minute break every hour (though we aren’t meant to leave our classrooms during the short breaks, so they’re only kind of breaks).

Today was my first day of that, about a ten-hour day with the last nine spent actually teaching classes. Less than ideal. But livable. I’m not psyched to do it again on Tuesday, which is also my birthday. But whatever, can’t win ’em all.

You have two different kinds of work outlined, then. One for pay which is draining and one for free which is enlivening. I won’t deny a touch of hypocrisy in preaching service, but I’m working on it.

Not to be served, but to serve. Good luck to us all.

One Hundred Things That Have Happened in the Past One Hundred Weeks

  1. I moved to Korea.
  2. I read Pictures of Hollis Woods and The Graveyard Book for class and enjoyed both.
  3. Britain decided to leave the EU.
  4. I lived in a house that was perpetually cold and had no heating.
  5. I got a Kakao and a Line account for work. Kakao is much better.
  6. I developed a deep and abiding love for Tesco.
  7. I felt at home in a place that was not my home (more than once but not often).
  8. I visited my sister and checked off two more US states (AZ and NM).
  9. I learned that LG originally stood for Lucky Goldstar not Life is Good.
  10. I watched Inside Out and thought it was alright.
  11. I consumed gochujang in many forms and still don’t like it.
  12. I received this picture of my cat. Bubba2017-6-29
  13. I learned how to use screen mirroring because I do it in class every day.
  14. I despaired of finding real cheese in Korea.
  15. I found some real cheese in Korea, but only on one particular dish.
  16. I learned Hangul.
  17. I started playing D&D again (virtually) and it’s great.
  18. I felt lonely (more than once).
  19. I ate some tangerine named after Hallasan (the tallest mountain in South Korea).
  20. I killed a rosemary plant and nearly a mint but the mint is still hanging on. Barely.
  21. I washed a quilty-thing when I probably should have had it dry cleaned but it’s fine.
  22. I visited Antwerp.
  23. I read The Count of Monte Cristo.
  24. I tried aged kimchi for the first time. Better than regular, but still gross.
  25. I moved to Ireland.
  26. I got over not having a dryer.
  27. I learned more Konglish than Korean.
  28. I moved into an apartment that is always hot but has AC.
  29. I went to Jeju. IMG_20170621_105549827
  30. I graduated with an MPhil from Trinity College Dublin.
  31. I took a trip on a single line of the Seoul metro that was almost two hours one way.
  32. I visited Amsterdam.
  33. I had a Belgian waffle (with Nutella) in Belgium. Exceeded expectations.
  34. I started saying ‘grand’ all the time because the Irish do.
  35. I worked in retail at midnight on Black Friday (but not directly with customers).
  36. I had ox bone soup. It was delicious.
  37. I tried and failed to figure out how to turn down the temperature of a toilet seat.
  38. I learned that Ohio is the only US state that shares no letters with the word mackerel.
  39. Donald Trump was elected president.
  40. I read A Man Called Ove and am still emotional about it.
  41. I got over not having a key but still sometimes check my back pocket for one.
  42. I found out who BTS was and kind of wish I hadn’t.
  43. I became a teacher.
  44. I climbed Ansan multiple times.
  45. I reread Stargirl for the umpteenth time and still enjoyed it.
  46. I found an English-speaking church in Seoul that I like.
  47. I received this picture of my other cat. Camaro2017-6-29
  48. I got Snapchat. I mostly don’t regret it.
  49. I learned about gene doping because I had to teach a lesson on it.
  50. Three members of my family visited me in Korea for a week.
  51. I felt embarrassed (more than once–often).
  52. I read the Chaos Walking trilogy and very much enjoyed it.
  53. I made many new friends.
  54. I grew to hate air pollution personally rather than in the abstract.
  55. I told my French cat joke to more than one native French speaker.
  56. I watched The Bourne Legacy and wasn’t impressed but was entertained.
  57. I planted basil and it’s doing well.
  58. I went to many museums in Seoul and learned a lot about Korean history.
  59. I turned 22.
  60. I ate small octopus (different from squid and normal octopus) for the first time.
  61. I got used to waking up at 2:30 in the morning.
  62. As soon as I was able, I stopped waking up at 2:30 in the morning.
  63. I watched Man of Steel. It was decent.
  64. I saw a few of the original Dol Harubang (stone grandfather) statues on Jeju. IMG_20170622_120728388_HDR
  65. I managed to live without a microwave or an oven (so far).
  66. I visited Oslo.
  67. I tried Pokemon Go but gave up because I don’t have data here.
  68. I learned how to pay bills at a 7-11.
  69. I possessed more money at one time than I have ever done.
  70. I successfully completed a dissertation. Or thesis. Still not certain what it’s called.
  71. Macron became President of France.
  72. I walked almost two miles in the rain at night during winter because I am stubborn.
  73. I worked retail on Christmas Eve morning (but thankfully not Christmas).
  74. I started to give a slight bow instinctively in certain situations.
  75. FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian government.
  76. I visited the Hoh Rainforest.
  77. I had a lovely visit with a friend who had a twelve hour layover in Seoul.
  78. I felt proud of my accomplishments (more than once).
  79. I climbed a (dead) volcanic crater in the pouring rain. IMG_20170620_152819588
  80. I got a smartphone for the first time.
  81. I got another, better smartphone.
  82. I became a multimillionaire after only two paychecks.
  83. I came out.
  84. I was in Dublin for Irish elections to the Dáil.
  85. I was in Seoul for a presidential election.
  86. I visited Gyeongbokgung Palace. IMG_20170619_092830670
  87. Rio de Janeiro hosted the Summer Olympics.
  88. I became increasingly sensitive to and aware of nationalism.
  89. My sister visited me in Ireland.
  90. I did not visit the DMZ because of a mix up but was promised a trip at a future date.
  91. I had to drive to Seattle three times in one week and it made me sad.
  92. I bought a mask because spring air pollution in Seoul was killer (it hasn’t improved much).
  93. I bought a leafy green which turned out to be spinach still attached to the root.
  94. I saw many beautiful cherry blossoms.
  95. I read the Farseer Trilogy and thought it was good not great.
  96. I existed in closer proximity to more humans than I ever had before.
  97. I received this picture of my sister’s cat. Beegashii2017-6-29
  98. I visited Paris Baguette for the first time.
  99. I learned a lot about the Sami.
  100. I started a blog and here we are.