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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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.

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.

Unexpectedly Delicious

There’s really very little to say this week. Classes have continued to be alright and I think I do prefer this term’s classes to last, though it’s hard to say. My extra class of very small humans is trying to me but it’s not really that bad. Sometimes getting answers out of students is like pulling teeth but again, it’s nothing exceptionally unpleasant (so it’s not really like pulling teeth after all, but you get the idea). Maybe rather boring, but it isn’t awful by any stretch.

I’m trying to venture out more with my fellow teachers, just to socialize after work and the like. “More” is a relative term so it doesn’t mean much actually, but it’s the thought that counts. My outings have increased in frequency; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s much easier to be social with this group because, while I really liked the teachers from last term, they had all been together for a year at least–not that they were exclusive, they were just used to each other. This new batch is new, so it’s not like I really have to break into super established social circles.

I do have one quick story. Last Saturday night, my neighbor’s alarm went off. I didn’t note exactly when it started, but it was around 9:30 pm. It continued all through the night, was still going the next morning. I left at 10 am or so, it was still going strong. Luckily, it had stopped by the time I returned a few hours later. It wasn’t incredibly loud, but it was 100% audible for the duration. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep.

This story comes to mind because I just heard the same alarm, starting at 10:19 pm, but it lasted for less than ten seconds. So they weren’t actually dead, the killers returned to the scene of the crime, or zombies.

If it’s the zombie apocalypse, you heard it here first.

I recently purchased a bottle of peach and golden kiwi drinking yoghurt and it was really good. There are few delights in this world to compare with consuming something that is unexpectedly delicious. (Also, I spell yoghurt with an h. Sue me.)

This week has furnished precious few moments worth mentioning, but that one was particularly enjoyable. If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting some great peach golden kiwi drinking yoghurt, I’m sorry. I hope you do someday.

In the meantime, feel free to share with me your experiences of things that you may or may not have had expectations about but which turned out to be super tasty. Precedence will obviously be given to bread products and things that are sweet, but I won’t discriminate. I like food.

Until next week, here’s to tasty things. Especially the unlooked-for kind.

Quiet

Surprise, I have not been up to much of anything this week. We had our first solid rain yesterday and I was pleased. It felt good, even if it didn’t really seem to influence the city-ness of the air. And my walk to work is only like five minutes, so I wasn’t even that wet. Back in Dublin, it was tough when it started raining part way through my forty minute walk and there were no buses on their way. Anyway.

On Wednesday, I had a small addition to my routine. Normally, I go into work to putz around, plan, and grade or whatever miscellaneous work needs to be done before phone sessions. This week, I was in charge of a review session for the first part of the day. Basically, we looked at answers the kids all had already, chatted about topics they only vaguely remembered, and played games. But it wasn’t so bad.

I don’t really have anything else to report. Sometimes I appall myself with how truly and utterly I fill my time with nothing. I don’t even watch that much Netflix. I have no idea what happens to the time, though I know even if I had more I lack the willpower to do anything much with it. I have a few theories about this particular iteration of nothingness here in Seoul, maybe I’ll share them at a later date.

For now, I’d like to give you a bit of insight at how my BA in international studies continues to actually mean something in my life, even if it’s not directly related to my job.

I recently subscribed to the blog Political Violence at a Glance, which issues both a weekly compilation of important news articles and longer topic pieces on relevant issues. This is the latest of three similar updates I follow to keep track of international events. I claim this neither as many nor few, but I encourage everyone to take some time regularly to look at what’s going on from sources that don’t only care about things in other countries when our country is involved or there’s a horrendous disaster.

This week’s discussion was on the fighting, both militarily and socially, the violent extremist groups in the Sahel and Maghreb (if you’re interested, you can read it here). Importantly, as the piece notes, counterinsurgency is not just about wresting control of territory from violent groups, it is also about the classic winning of hearts and minds. This has long been the dilemma of people involved in counterinsurgency efforts. The author drew a comparison between contemporary states’ attempts in the region and colonial French policies and I think it’s an important one.

The writer talks about the ways in which groups are defined by the state as constitutively violent change depending on who’s in power (because generally religion doesn’t advocate a whole lot of violence). The problem they describe, therefore, is not one of message but of identity. The solution, it follows, is then not about amending your ways but of amending yourself. It’s “be a member of this sect” instead of simply “don’t preach violence.” This isn’t entirely unhelpful but it will not bring a durable peace.

In my studies, I have encountered a wide variety of ways to talk about peace but this brief article provided a new one for me, and one which I immediately took to heart in times like these. Defining the problem in the terms outlined above does not actually distinguish between violent and peaceful groups. They certainly are violent but the response to them comes from a redefinition by the group in power. The line drawn is between revisionist and politically quietist.

I may have run across the term “politically quietist” before but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Here though, and now, I find it resonating deeply. And the term is easily transferable. Protesters: Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Women’s March ect. Viewpoints: political correctness, legal discrimination, minimum wage ect.

Is it peace or is it status quo? Do you want what’s right or what’s easy? What’s true or what’s convenient? Political quietism is just a fancy way of saying the people with the power want to protect and (pre)serve power. Keeping things the same is a heavy and powerful idea.

And do we see people as essentialized, petrified bastions of oversimplified beliefs or human beings who can make mistakes and learn from them? Who are deserving of mercy and grace? Who can be forgiven even if they do not seek forgiveness?

Using another term, I want to seek positive peace–not the absence of war but the presence of justice. I want unity in diversity. If that makes me a troublemaker, so be it.

I reject quiet. I pursue peace.

Can Robots be Orphans?

Okay, you may know that most of like junior year of high school I thought I was going to major in linguistics. Specifically, historical and comparative linguistics (like, I sort of really had things planned out). Obviously, that didn’t pan out. But I remain generally fascinated by language and I love learning little quirks and things (and I’m still trying to become at least proficient in a second language, but that’s another story).

Anyway, near the beginning of first semester Russian, we learned the verb работать (raBOtat’) which means to work. My professor told us that it comes from the same Slavic root as a similar Czech word meaning forced labor that was used by the Čapek brothers, particularly but possibly not originally by Karel, in the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). They invented the word robot. So that’s pretty cool.

Additionally, the proto-Indo-European (the term to describe the theoretical language spoken by basically everyone from Ireland to India before languages diverged) basis for robota/работа is also the root, meaning to change from one state to another, for orphan. You can read more about it here. Thus the question posed at the beginning: can robots be orphans? Probably not, at least in the strictest sense, because of the whole they’re not alive and so don’t have parents thing. But I guess if their makers abandoned them, they’d be sad about it too. And who’s to say whether or not they dream of electric sheep.

All this has basically been to say: I have a job! It’s just a part-time seasonal position in retail, but money’s money so I’m not complaining. My job could 100% be performed by a robot, and I feel like it might be in some parts of the world, but I don’t mind the work and I’m finished about the time most other people’s jobs are beginning so I still feel like I  have a lot of free time. I may be job shadowing or something in the mid-future, we’ll see. Just trying to keep occupied to have things to say if ever I get an interview for a job in my actual field.

So that’s the news of the week, I started last Friday and, you know, it’s been a big thrill. Not much else has been going on in my life,  but I’m kind of okay with that. I’d love to be getting a move on, but while I’m here I’ll echo what I said when I arrived in Ireland: bloom where you’re planted. Other things are things (coughtheelectioncough) and they’re not terribly uplifting and they certainly don’t tend to inspire great confidence. I just watched V for Vendetta for the first time on Tuesday and wow. Firstly, I really liked it. Secondly, how terrifyingly topical. Wow, I tell you what, wow. Fascism is the worst.

The Wikipedia page on R.U.R., after describing the plot which involves a hostile robot takeover and the extinction of humanity, says that the play is “dark, but not without hope.” That is a direct quote. I haven’t read/seen the play, but if the extinction of humanity can be portrayed as dark, but not without hope, maybe there’s something to be said for humans after all. Maybe, just maybe, we’re a little better off than sad orphan robots (if it’s possible for them to exist).

Maybe hope is for the dark times anyway.