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Friday, December 26, 2003

Thanksgiving and Christmas 2003

[I am once again dredging my old mass-mailing folder. Interestingly enough, Thanksgiving and Christmas from three years ago sound a lot like this year, with a few minor details changed. No spelling mistakes this time, and no big chunks seem to be missing. Enjoy!]

Dear Friends and Family:

I hope that you all had a good Thanksgiving or two. Horyon and I managed to have two. Maybe that makes us a little greedy, but I like to think it means that we're just lots more thankful.

Our Christmas was, by comparison, not a big deal. More on that later, though. Our first Thanksgiving was on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving. Horyon ordered a turkey from the same place we used last year.

(As you may recall, last year the turkey farm people were real turkeys. They sent us the bird three days early, and when I pulled it out of its styrofoam box, I found that it had been cut clean through the middle of the breast. On top of that, I couldn't cook the bird on Thanksgiving, so I cooked it the day before. When I reheated it in my oven, it dried out and became a sort of turkey brick. Not a good scene. Made good soup later, though.)

Back to this year: We had some of my former coworkers over for a potluck dinner. This time the turkey only had holes where you would expect them to be. I stuffed them full of a mixture of bread, onions, mushrooms and butter, popped the poor unfortunate thing in the oven, and five hours later impressed the heck out of everyone. It was a very familial kind of event, with some people even watching rugby on the tv. (What? Don't you all watch rugby on Thanksgiving?)

On Thanksgiving day we had another sort of party. My university, Kyoungsung University, invited all of the foreigners on their staff to dinner at the Westin Chosun, one of the classiest hotels in town. They had a buffet that...

Mmmm.... buffet.*

... so all in all it was a great evening.

In spite of having two separate Thanksgiving meals, both of fairly high quality, I missed being in America more than ever this year. I haven't been home for Thanksgiving since 1993, and I probably won't be home for Thanksgiving until 2006, if not later. (I've done a little better for Christmas, since I managed to be home for Christmas 1996.) In 1993, if you had told me that I would miss the next dozen Thanksgivings I would have questioned your sanity.

After Thanksgiving, we just sort of raced into Christmas, and now Christmas is quickly receding into the past, and our trip is preparing to jump on us, grab us by the throat and shake until we give up.

In church, I gave the sermon the first week in December, the third week, and this coming Sunday (the fourth week), as well as organizing and leading the Christmas Eve service. I've also been working on my 3rd paper for my master's degree. I need to get it finished before we leave Korea, and that will take some doing.

One of our members, Traci, had her mother come visit for the holidays. She brought fixin's for some yummy Canadian-style snacks. Some other members spent the afternoon decorating the lobby of the hall where we had our service. It was actually quite festive.

Post-Christmas Eve service Party

Of course, my job didn't just stop, either. For final exams, I interview my students. All of them. All 250 (give or take a dozen). I did a pretty good job of scheduling them–eight minutes per student, with 10 minute breaks every hour. I even had the interviews set up very well, such that the students had to basically interview me, asking follow-up questions (abbreviated on the blackboard as F.U.Q.s, much to the amusement of my colleagues) using the grammar that we had studied through the year. I did interviews for two weeks, from 3 hours to 6 hours per day. By the end of the whole thing, I was sick and tired of making up lies about what I was going to do the following weekend, or what I had done last summer. I always enjoyed talking about how I met Horyon, even when I had to use a simplified vocabulary and talk...



I managed to compute my grades and get them turned in on time this semester, impressing my wife, colleagues, friends, and myself. So far I've had one student come in to point out a mistake I made. Ironically, it was the same mistake I made last semester–not entering his final exam grade. This time there were a couple of in-class assignments also missing. I think that at some point I had hidden his line on the spreadsheet. Dunno why, but it kept me from entering his scores. Ended up bumping him from an F to an A. And let me tell you, the poor guy was in a panic. I truly feel like Santa Claus now.

For Christmas day we went to the in-law's church for an 11:00 a.m. service. We were about 10 minutes late, so they made up for it by going about 10 minutes too long. They use their Christmas day service to officially recognize people taking new positions in the church–deacons, elders and such. They recognize them by reading their names. All of them. All 398 of them. Fortunately they skipped the 319 people who were re-elected to do something they had already done the previous year. Horyon told me that a lot of the names were overlaps, but still, you have to admit, this is a pretty big church.

After church we went to an expensive sea-food restaurant where my father-in-law paid for lunch: lobster and crab. Good stuff. They boiled it, then cut it open so we could eat it easily. My one complaint is that instead of melted butter for dipping, they provided gochu-jang(go'-chew-jahng: chilli-pepper paste). No big surprise there, as they provide gochu-jang to dip everything into. They even dip chilli peppers in a mix of gochu-jang and fermented bean paste. Sounds a little over-the-top, I know, but it works for me. (Except for the times when it peels the skin off my tongue and burns all the way down, giving me the spicy-food-hiccups.) In Nepal, they told me that chilli-peppers are good for when you are sick. Kills the little bugs living in your gut, as well as those little bumps on your tongue that you used to use for tasting stuff.

When we got home, we watched a copy of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that I borrowed from a friend. Horyon was amused, and I was drawn back to my childhood. Do you realize that it came out in 1965? It seems very simple by today's standards, and the straightforward Biblical message it delivers would probably not be produced today. But the commercialization of Christmas is a modern issue that it tackles head-on. At the beginning Charlie Brown says, "I just can't get into the Christmas spirit. Every year it's a reminder that nobody likes me. Why can't I get with the program, Linus?" Questions I think we all ask from Christmas to Christmas.

Well, I have a ton of work to do in the next 5 days or so, so let me make one request: As much as I love hearing from you all, can you please send your next message on or after January 1st? Horyon would really appreciate it, and those of you who still haven't sent in your membership for Procrastinators Anonymous will totally understand.

I hope that your holidays bring peace to you, and I hope that you can make some joy for yourself and others in this season and coming year.


* I know it's silly to have a footnote in an email, but I'm doing it anyway to make up for going into a sort of memorial food coma. That buffet had turkey and potatoes and gravy, as well as a ton of other stuff. I didn't eat so much that I couldn't sit down afterwards, but I did eat enough that I didn't need any breakfast the next day. Mmmm... buffet...

Monday, November 24, 2003

Wedding, Typhoon,

[Once again, something from the archives. I edited out my previous spelling mistakes, but have otherwise left it alone. Enjoy!]

Hi everyone!

First of all, I've been delayed in sending this. Horyon wasn't very happy with it, as she thought it was a negative view of Koreans. This bothered me, until I realized that the couple involved was only half Korean. The other half was American, and God Bless Us, we sometimes manage to bring more than a little ridiculousness to situations. In a couple of weeks we will be attending their housewarming party. If any events at this party are worth passing on, I certainly will do so. Anyway, we have made reservations for our trip home. Well, I made reservations. And I've just discovered that they are, as usual, screwed up. We will still get to America, just...

Let me try to fix it first. I'll write to you more later. In the mean time, here is what I finished writing a couple of weeks ago:

Strangest thing. In Korea, I can't find the price of a plane ticket for next January until November. So on Monday I will go to my university travel agent and arrange our tickets home! I do have some bad news about this, though. Not terrible, just annoying. Horyon will be able to avoid teaching vacation classes (another in a vast series of Korean ironies) in her school this winter, but she still has to teach regular classes. Regular classes finish Dec. 31st, so we will likely leave January 2nd, just to avoid trying to fly on a holiday. She has to be back for regular classes on February 11th. That doesn't sound too bad, until you find out that they have one week of classes, then ten more days of vacation. So right now, our plan is for Horyon to return by the 11th, and for me to say another week or so. Once she's gone, I figure I can eat whatever the heck I want to. (She has threatened to return to Korea with my stomach, but I don't think she has the guts to go through with it. Blah ha ha.)

We are thinking of taking a road trip during the first week in February, visiting an Aunt and Uncle in Wichita, a long haul to Jon in Albuquerque, up north to see my friend Elon and his family in beautiful Limon, Colorado, then home again. Of course, this is all weather permitting, but Limon is in that little flat stretch of Colorado. They don't get as much snow as up in the mountains, so I think we've got a pretty good chance of getting there.

Back to the present. I have caught a cold. Or rather, it caught me. It's been running me down all week. Monday I was tired, slept 14 hours Monday night. I kept getting more tired, and waking up with my throat dried out. Thursday and Friday I taught my classes at the same volume I use talking with Horyon in bed. Rest assured that I was not as smooth and seductive while talking about asking follow up questions as I am when we talk about married people stuff. I was supposed to give the sermon tomorrow in church, but that has been nixed. We went to a coworker's wedding today, and I was still using that soft, husky voice, only even softer.

But let me tell you about that wedding. It was the strangest wedding I've ever been to, and I'm living in a country that specializes in bizarre weddings. Marshall had told us that he had put his foot down, and that there would be no smoke or bubble machines, two common devices in Korean weddings. They didn't want the hustle and bustle of a wedding hall (if your not married, photographed and gone in 45 minutes, it's FREE!), and they are not affiliated with any church (though I doubt many churches would be happy knowing that they had been living together for the past five years), so they decided to get married in a restaurant.

I arrived in time to sit with some of my coworkers and save a seat for Horyon, who had to come from work. After we sat down, the waitress came, poured us water, and asked what we wanted to eat. The choice was hamburger steak or fried rice. One of us ordered fried rice, but to no avail. The waitress came back and told us there was no more fried rice.

That's right. They ran out of fried rice. If you have never lived in an Asian country, that might not be shocking, but if you have, you are probably shaking your head to stave off insanity. Fried rice is nothing but rice, oil, some vegetables, a little meat, and kimchi. How does a restaurant planning a wedding luncheon run out of that stuff? People have been known to firebomb restaurants that run out of rice and/or kimchi! Craziness, friends, craziness. What is this country coming to?

Anyway, they brought us some bottles of beer, and we got started. Then the wedding got started. Ten minutes into it, we got our food. So we ate and drank through the whole service. The actual wedding ceremony was pretty typical: an M.C. talked for a long time, even a little in English, another guy talked for a while, they did the vow thing, they read a poem, they did one of those cute couple toasts where they intertwine their arms and try to drink cheap champagne without spilling it on themselves, then they cut the cake with a ridiculously large knife. Of course, they didn't kiss. And no one was there to give the bride away, as her parents think she is marrying El Diablo himself. His parents also weren't there because they've met her many times, and three weeks notice just isn't enough time to come to Korea for a wedding in a restaurant. After we finished our food, and they finished all the wedding stuff, the waiters kept bringing us food. We definitely had enough to eat, which is rare for a wedding service.

And the music was something else. Mostly they played organ music that sounded like the soundtrack to a 1960's soap opera, "Days of Our Lives," I think. That would be an accurate reflection of the spirit of the wedding (what with her parents protesting, and likely to show up any moment with baseball bats, or to say that her father was in a coma.). But then at one point it switched to the marching theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai." You may not recognize the name, but you would know it if you heard it. Imagine 20 or 30 people whistling. When I was a kid, we used to sing to it:

"Comet, it makes your mouth turn green
Comet, it tastes like gasoline,
Comet, it makes you vomit,
so have some Comet, and vomit, today."

I'll see if I can attach it to this email. That will do the trick. It was also an accurate reflection of the spirit of the wedding (in that it was funny like only the soundtrack to a war movie can be).

And in the background, I could see four t.v.'s playing an action movie with Sly Stallone. It added immensely to the ambiance, as well as providing a bizarre sort of reflection of the spirit of the wedding (for reasons which I cannot at this time explain, but see as a sort of gestalt).

On a more serious note (I know, how is that possible?), going through the whole thing unable to speak above a whisper was an odd experience. I was a little frustrated at not being easily able to add content to the conversations around me, but I found that I was choosing my words more carefully. It was kind of the same teaching my classes. Usually I joke around, explain things many times, and talk over students who are being mildly disruptive, but not this week.

Then Sunday night I found that after a long hot shower, my vocal cords had loosened up. I could talk! Not perfectly, not loudly, but loudly enough that Horyon could hear me in the next room. Way cool! Monday morning I found myself better equipped to teach, though still tired as all get out. I managed to teach four hours without attempting to raise my voice, and found that most students in my classes were quiet and well behaved. So I have decided that I will no longer raise my voice to be heard above a class. It is inevitable that raising my voice is stressful to me, and speaking quietly calms me, so why not?

Let me back up to our minor disaster this summer. Perhaps you heard about typhoon Maimee that swept through Korea and Japan in July, perhaps not. The States got hit with a big one about the same time. Maimee was one tough dog of a storm. That morning I rode my bicycle for an hour, and that evening I rode our building. We live on the 19th floor of a 25 story apartment, and we could clearly feel the building swaying in the breeze. The water was sloshing in the toilet. The curtains were moving even with the windows closed. When we stood we swayed like a middle school slow dance without even trying. As a human being who has studied more about concrete buildings than most people, I felt confident that it would not fall down. However, this was the first summer for our building, and if I happened to be wrong it would totally suck to be buried in the rubble of a 25 story apartment building.

We managed to ignore it for a while, then the outside veranda window popped loose at the top. We have (sorry, had) a big, sliding glass picture window, about eight feet tall and wide. A four foot wide window complemented it. Of course, the small one survived just fine, but the big one came loose. It bounced back and forth between the outside wall and the hand railing. Bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang. That was too much, but we tolerated it. Until it shattered. The inside windows were still closed, so we got no broken glass inside the apartment. But then we were worried that something could be blown into the inside window, making a real mess.

So we went down to the second floor and hung out in the stairwell. Some neighbors who we hadn't previously met invited us into their apartment. They had good, solid windows. We hung around chatting, looking at their funny-looking baby, and I read a book. (Quick show of hands, who is surprised that Rob was carrying a book during a hurricane?) Around 2 a.m., the storm had slowed down some, so we nervously padded up to our apartment and went to bed.

I must say one positive thing for this apartment complex: the electricity went off early in the storm, but the emergency light system worked. One 90-watt bulb in each apartment. Stayed on all night. I was seriously impressed, as I half-way expected the light bulb to explode, spraying shards of concrete from the wall, wrapping the electric wires around my throat, and in all likelihood knocking over our wedding picture. I was pleased to find that instead I could sit and read my book, in between reassuring Horyon that we were not going to die in the immediate future, and that even if we were to die, I would die happily with her, though it would be a shame to miss the trip home this winter.

The epilogue to this little tale of terror is not yet finished. It took a month to get the window repaired, talking to three different window companies. Those guys made some serious money this summer, let me tell you. We got the cheapest fix we could, dividing the picture window top and bottom, with sliding partitions in both top and bottom. Since there was already a hand railing in the middle, it doesn't really change the view. Price, around US$750. We paid for it, but the building insurance should cover the cost. But they won't pay us directly, because we don't own the apartment. Neither does my university. You see, my university rents this apartment from a guy. He can collect the insurance money, whenever it comes. Then we get to bug him to give us the money. He has promised us to pay the additional costs not covered by the insurance. And then last night a representative of the insurance company called asking for our documents, because today is the deadline. We've already given the documents to the apartment owner, so what's going on?

As I wrap this up, it is Thursday morning. I have to be in my office at 12:00, so I have time to catch you up on this week. On Monday I went to a doctor for my cold. I had decided that if the cold had me for a week I would go, so I did. I went with the doctor's wife, who is studying with a coworker of mine. Ginger (her nickname) speaks English fairly well, and interpreted for her husband, who was very shy. They were very kind to me, and set me up with the "premium" prescription. Ginger explained to me that most Korean patients complain because the medicine is too expensive, so he will sometimes write a cheaper prescription. She explained this while paying for me, which I could not talk her out of. The price was only about $10 for the IV and two days worth of pills. And people complain that this is expensive? Good luck seeing a doctor in the States! Anyway, the prescription was six little packets of pills. Well, not so little, I guess. The packet has five capsules, two pills, four half-pills and a quarter-pill. I actually managed to get the whole packet in my mouth and down my throat at one shot, though it took a few gulps. I was supposed to take them with food, so on Monday I took one packet of pills. That night I didn't get to sleep until three in the morning. Didn't feel sick, in fact I felt healthier than I had for the past week. I woke up Tuesday around 9:00, and took my medicine that day with lunch and dinner. Tuesday night I didn't go to sleep at all. I went to bed, read for a while, lay there for a while, then got up and watched TV, wrote most of this document, read some more, and spent the morning with Horyon as she woke up and got ready for school. On Wednesday I had six classes of students doing presentations. It was a long day, and I was much more lively and aware than I would have expected. I made sure to take my medicine Wednesday morning, just to make sure I got through the day. By the time I got home, around 4:30, I was ready to crash. I had to deal with the insurance guy, but I got to sleep by 5:30. I slept until 7:00 this morning. Now I feel good, though I still have a bit of a lung cough. At least I'm sleeping.

Well, if this wasn't the most boring mass email I've ever sent, it won't be for lack of trying. Have a pleasant day, stay healthy, and avoid typhoons.



Thursday, September 18, 2003

Correction +

[Perhaps you found the error, perhaps not. You may have wearied of reading the previous post before getting to it. Anyway, here is the follow-up.]

Dear All

Sorry, we are planning to stay for only 6 short WEEKS, not 6 months. Never fear, the next time we come home after this it will likely be for at least a couple of years. My mental slip explains why I had so many questions about what we were planning to do with so much time in the states. Huh? So much time? What do you mean how did we get time off? It's winter vacation! Now I understand that sometimes when the people around me act like morons it is a direct result of my being a moron.


We had a wonderful dinner with the in-laws tonight. We grilled beef in the middle of the table while we sat around on the floor (the table is only about a foot tall) stuffing ourselves. There were also a big bunch of shrimp and mushrooms cooked in there, too. As usual, I ate more than I should have. Food like this is difficult to resist.

afterwards, my father-in-law offered me a special drink, from Russia with love: It was a bottle of vodka with something black floating in it. It was about six inches long and as big around as my thumb, and bits of it had flaked off and were floating around in the vodka. Horyon told me that it came from near the river, and it was very bitter. I was trying to think of what plants grow near rivers, a pretty tricky concept for a guy who knows nothing of plants. Then she said it was from bears. Bears? River?

Oh no. Please, God, no. Not river. Liver. From near a bear's liver. Frankly, I can't think of
anything near a bear's liver that I want to stir my vodka with.

I told Horyon that I really didn't consider this to be a treat, and wasn't all that interested in stamina, if you know what I mean. She insisted that this was very expensive stuff, and good for my health, so I gave in. Mr. Kang poured me about a quarter inch of it into a cup, then went to get some water. I sniffed it, then took a sip. That is when I discovered what bitter really is. It isn't about working your butt off and getting a C+ while the class kiss-up gets an A. It isn't about your best friend stealing your girlfriend. It's about this obnoxious bear-gut cocktail.

I couldn't conceal my reaction to this anymore than the reaction to a swift kick in the crotch. Foul, foul stuff. Eye of newt and all that. Nasty.

After the laughter subsided (what are family for?), Mr. Kang topped my glass with water. I sipped it, and could still taste the stuff, but after an undiluted dosage it was pretty tame. I even got Horyon to wet her tongue with it. I then decided that this was too important to pour down the sink, and that it would be too shameful to not drink it, so I chugged it.

I rinsed my mouth with watered down whiskey from my pre-dinner drink. I was glad I had barely touched it, because it tasted remarkably refreshing after the bear juice.

After we got home, I made Horyon look it up in the Korean-English dictionary. I had guessed right, it was a bear's gall bladder. Yes, I drank bear's gall bladder vodka, a much sought after drink in Korea, where people pay obscene amounts of money to eat and drink things that will make them perform well in the bedroom.

And that concludes today's vignette. I hope that you managed to read this after a meal, and not before.



I used to think that my brain was the most important part of my body,
until I realized what part of me thought that.
-unknown (to me, anyway, but I got it from Jon, who got it from some
anthro prof's door)

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Summer 2003 Montage

[Once again, recycled stuff. Once again, I've corrected a few typos, and this time I rewrote some phrases that were a bit awkward, but the main body of the text stands as is, including a time-unit error in the second to last paragraph that will be addressed in the next recycled post.]

August 23-28, 2003

Hi Everyone.

Well, this little missive has received Horyon's reluctant stamp of approval. Towards the end there is a little bit about her that she sort of objected to, but in the end she agreed with Oscar Wilde: "There's only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." Enjoy!

I would like to start off with the good news, to avoid bad feelings about the infrequency of my communiques as of late: If all goes as planned, we will be visiting North America sometime during January and/or February of next year. It is not clear when exactly we will be there, nor for how long we will stay. Our itinerary is only at the conception stage, and we hope that the weather cooperates. Of course, we will spend most of our time in beautiful Kansas, undoubtedly making up for that summer of 2001 visit with temperatures above 100 degrees every freakin' day until the week before we left. If that pattern holds, you can expect record snowfalls this winter.

The last time I wrote to you, we had just moved to a new apartment. It proved to be a very nice place. Of course, after six months of us living in it, it is not nearly as new as it used to be, and will likely never be so again. But it is our home, for now, and we are happy with it. Horyon is quite happy that it only takes her about 20 minutes to get to work. Instead of spending more than two hours every day riding the bus, she is now sewing a lot more, and spending more quality time sitting on my lap while I'm at the computer. Not right now, as it happens, but she could show up any minute.
The Neatest We Expect Our Apartment to Ever Be
Of course, every silver lining has a cloud behind it, or something to that effect. My new job is somewhat less inspiring than my previous job. I'm teaching university freshmen from a variety of majors. My class is a graduation requirement, so many of them do not particularly want to be there. My classes vary in size from 20 up to 45. Their ability to speak English varies from roughly 3rd grade equivalent all the way down to The Confusing Cavern level (you know the place, right? Whatever you yell echos back as a question. "What's *your* name?" Response, "What's your *name*?") and the Yucca Plant level (sits quietly no matter what you say to it).
But I Have a Nice View from my Office
Amazingly enough, their enthusiasm varies according to the same scale, except that very few of them have the energy level of a 3rd grader. Perhaps because most 3rd graders never come to class with a hangover.

My new coworkers are an interesting lot. For the most part, they have a very practical approach to the job: do it well enough to not be noticed, but not so well that you get noticed, while minimizing planning and stress. Fair enough, I suppose. I quickly came to the conclusion that higher educational ideals were going to cause me more stress than I wanted to bear, so I have cut back on them a lot. I know, it's dangerous to wean yourself completely from idealism, but you can give yourself ulcers if you keep too much of it. So this past semester I focused on devising a system for distributing grades in an equitable manner. Out of 350 students, only two of them came to me to get their grades changed at the end, so I consider it a success.

(Psst, hey! You wanna know what happened to the two students? One of them was a clerical mistake on my part. I simply didn't enter his final exam grade into the computer. Boom, from C- to A+, that easy. The other was absent one too many times and got an F. I gave her the three points she needed to pass and made her promise to name her firstborn son after me. In hindsight, telling her that my middle name was "Wonkadilly" may have been a bit extreme, but I'm still holding her to it.)

In April we had a house guest, Justin. Justin went through a rough time with the children's institute he was teaching at. I believe that misunderstandings on both sides caused the situation to fall apart, but that's kind of beside the point. The actual point is that one Thursday evening he called me, worried sick about his situation. He called me at one hour intervals until about three in the morning. This made my classes the following day almost intolerable, especially the computer geeks. The next day Justin came to stay with us for a while. We figured a few days for him to get back on his feet, find a new job, get settled.

It ended up being two weeks. Two long weeks. Two long weeks of long, one-sided conversations and a self-renewing pile of dirty dishes. Two long weeks of my usually-good-tempered wife telling me that one lazy slob in the house is enough. Two long weeks with more marital spats than in the previous six months put together. Two. Long. Weeks.

Then Justin moved to China. He told us that he couldn't afford the plane ticket, so we lent him money. Yeah, yeah, so we can't really afford to eat meat for the next few weeks, it's okay, take the money. He is planning to pay us back this fall, and I believe that he will. Just because he was a bit difficult to live with doesn't mean he's dishonest.

Incidentally, this is where I got hung up in writing to you all. I wrote a couple of pages about our Justin experience, and decided that it was just too harsh. Imagine the "two weeks" paragraph stretched into two pages, and I think you'll understand why it never got sent. And once I get started not doing something, I continue not doing it for a long time.

Before Justin came, I bought a bicycle. Horyon doesn't know how to ride a bicycle, being a total city girl. I love it. As you may know, I'm not much for exercising. Health clubs are about as exciting as watching the American economy recover, and organized sports hearken me back to the days when I was always picked last for sports teams at school. The bicycle is a nice compromise: doesn't have to be competitive, but it gets you outdoors. This is a big city, and I could potentially ride somewhere new every day for the next six months.

Just the other day I took my bike in for a tune-up. (That's right, a tune-up. The only engine is me, but the transmission is still a collection of little pieces of metal that work better if they're properly adjusted, ditto the brakes.) I managed to fit it in a taxi by taking the front wheel off, but it was still a tight fit. I also needed some accessories. The first thing I desperately needed was a longer seat-post. I bought the largest cycle in the store, but it was still a little small. Now the seat is high enough that when I sit on it my feet are not flat on the ground. Makes pedaling much easier, especially on the long haul. I also bought a speedometer. It is an extremely clever device that uses a magnet on the wheel and a small induction loop to count how many times your wheel turns without physically touching it. It also has an odometer, and it told me that the ride home from the bike shop was about 10 miles.

I don't know about you, but I was impressed. I don't look like someone who can move themselves 10 miles in an afternoon.

And my last purchase was a pair of cyclist pants. That's right, knee-length speedos for Rob. Horyon said, "Oh my gosh, promise me you won't go outside in those." I promised to wear shorts over them. They're supposed to be good for your circulation, as well as for wicking moisture away from your body. I have yet to try them out.

How about that? 10 miles.

Another thing I am proud of: I have a rosemary plant that is now one year old. I think this is my first plant to hit a birthday. Does anyone have any ideas for using rosemary leaves? Unfortunately, another plant purchased at the same time, the lemon-thyme, is not doing so well. It has one little stem with eight or ten little green leaves on it. The rest are brown. It did this last summer, too, but not as bad. I don't think it's going to make it.

Oh my darling, lemon-thyme.
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry, lemon-thyme.

Skipping topics again: On Tuesday Horyon, her father and I took her brother, Young-hwan, back to his university. It's a good five-and-a-half-hour drive, but we had to leave after Horyon and her father finished at school and had some lunch, so we didn't really get moving until about 2:30. Young-hwan and his father tag-teamed the driving. Both of them make Horyon get worried sick, but I have ridden the top of a bus through the Himalayas on mud roads only a couple a feet wider than the bus itself, with forest on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other. Until an actual collision occurs, I'm not interested, I'll just read my book, thank you.

When we got to Mu-an (pronounced like the movie Mulan, only without the L), we went right to Young-hwan's new apartment. It's a one-room affair, about 10' by 12', with its own bathroom, kitchen sink and window. Of course, Young-hwan has his furniture to put in there. There is an arrangement of poles that telescope from floor to ceiling, with a cross-pole to hang clothes on, and some book shelves. He sleeps on the floor, with traditional Korean bedding, and he has a TV and a little gas camp-stove. I suggested to Horyon that we could buy him a lamp, so he could turn off the light without standing up, and maybe read before going to sleep, or at least turn off the miserable flourescent tube-light without being left in the dark. She told me that I was sweet, but that he wouldn't appreciate it or use it, much less like it.

(Later I got to turn those words around a bit...) [I have no idea what I meant by this. Undoubtedly something terribly clever. If you have any idea, please let me know!–Rob in 2006]

After getting Young-hwan a little settled in, we went for dinner. Young-hwan thought he knew a good restaurant, but he didn't. So we drove for forty minutes to have dinner at 10:00 p.m. in the only place we could find that was still open and serving food. I had a new first–beef cartilage soup. Sounds tough, but it wasn't at all. This is after hours of cooking, and it was quite soft. The actual broth was made from meat and bones, so it was a good soup. It came with dol-sot-bap (dole-sote-bop): rice served in a sizzling hot stone bowl. Keeps the rice hot, and slightly burns the rice touching the pot, making nu-rung-ji. This is a traditional favorite in Korea that I have become strangely accustomed to. Slightly burnt rice. After taking the non-burnt rice out of the bowl, Koreans like to pour water in to make nu-rung-ji soup, but I don't care for that. I like to just scrape it out of the bowl and eat it with the real soup.

We then drove back to Young-hwan's apartment. Mr. Kang suggested that we could all sleep there, but I couldn't quite imagine it. Four of us, plus all of Young-hwan's stuff, which was still spread out all over the floor. One window, one fan, and everyone else in the room hates having a draft. Fortunately, my wife is an angel. She interceded for me, insisting that I would only be able to sleep in a motel. So we walked 10 minutes to the nearest motel.

The next day we went to Young-hwan's school and met a professor there. She isn't from his department, but she sort of keeps an eye on him. Does the mother-away-from-home bit. She showed us around and was very enthusiastic. Like, intensely enthusiastic. She and Mr. Kang laughed at each others jokes and kept each other very entertained while we drove around the campus, took pictures, then went to lunch.
Doesn't Look Like Brown-Nosing, Does It?
It was later explained to me that Mr. Kang and the professor had a sort of special relationship. You see, one part of the job of professors at universities in Korea is recruitment. And so it is suspected that perhaps this prof doesn't so much care about Young-hwan as about how his father felt about the university. And of course, Young-hwan can see right through this.

My dear wife just came in and told me that my computer room was a mess. I told her that she should be more positive, meaning that my room is neater than it had been in the past. She, however, interpreted this differently. She said, "Oh, do you want me to say, ‘this is the cleanest room I've ever seen!' or how about ‘Wow, you have a lot of books!' or ‘Hey, your shorts are big enough for you!'" I'm afraid I've created a monster. A monster of sarcasm. Be warned, once she gets to know you, you too will be introduced to the monster.

School starts this coming Monday for Horyon and me. We both feel that our vacation has disappeared without a trace. Horyon is somewhat more justified in this thinking than I am. She had to teach vacation classes in the morning for all but a couple of weeks of July and August, as well as teaching a couple of private jobs. That's right, high school students go to school during the summer. Only from 9 to 1, but if you ask me, that's four hours a day too many. These poor kids get about a week of vacation at a time, and the teachers give them homework so that they don't get lazy during this holiday.

Now, I don't know much about ethics, but this strikes me as being inherently evil.

My cousin Mark has gotten a tatoo and is learning to ride a motorcycle. No doubt his mother is not very thrilled about this. I find myself this close (holding thumb and forefinger about half an inch apart) to feeling regret at not following that path. And now, with an additional conscience living under my roof, it is not too likely to happen. I guess I'll have to wait for my midlife crisis. (My spell checker doesn't like "midlife". It suggests midwife, midline and meatloaf. Mmm, meatloaf crisis.)

And in closing, I would like to give you fair warning. At the end of September we have an interview with United States Immigration. If it is successful, we will be heading towards Kansas in January of 2004. We plan to stay for about six months, mostly with my kind, long-suffering parents. We will not be able to be home for Christmas. Both of our jobs require us to be here through the end of December. As they say, here, "Scroo-jee". And so our family in America will celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ on a day other than December 25th. I don't think it makes any difference, because it will still be about family, being home, and eating turkey with all the trimmings until you almost explode.

If you would like to spend some time with us while we are in North America, please let me know ASAP. We may be traveling outside of Kansas, weather and funds permitting, and we may be able to come to you if you can't come to us. Just be prepared to have us sleeping on your floor!

Oh, and remind me of where exactly you are when (if) you write to say "Come visit me!"
And We Went to Outback Steakhouse. I Got to Keep the Hat.


Sunday, May 18, 2003

Me in Thailand

These are pictures we took in Thailand. Below is a small version of me for my profile.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

New Apartment and Anti-War

[Once again, another archive item. Upon rereading this one, I found that the anti-war rhetoric was seriously turned up, and made a big cut at the end, which I will explain once you get there. This time I found a paragraph had been cut in half. I was unable to find the original version, so I finished it the best I could. If any of you go to the trouble of hunting down the original email, you will probably find that I screwed it up there, too. Hopefully the idea I've completed here matches what I would have written three years ago.]

Dear Family, Friends and eavesdropping aliens:

We've moved. It wasn't fun, but it's done. And in the words of the theme song from TV's "The Jeffersons," we have moved "up to a deluxe apartment in the [north-]east side [of Busan]."

For the first time in either of our lives, Horyon and I are living in a brand new apartment! So new that it still smells like paint. So new that there was still plastic wrap on the doorknobs when we moved in and the windows have numbers painted on them so the construction guys wouldn't put them in the wrong apartment.

Let me tell you, this is a nice apartment. The doorbell has a video camera in it, so we can see what kind of idiots have come to visit us without opening the door to give them access to our home! The bedroom light has a remote control so you can turn out the lights without getting out of bed! There is a water filter under the sink so that we can drink the tap water without mutating into giant rat-creatures! There are phone jacks in every room, and internet jacks in all the bedrooms! (Of course there are no jacks in the kitchen, because I'm supposed to stay there barefoot and looking pregnant.) There is a new refrigerator! It doesn't have ice or water in the door, but it's new, so it doesn't smell like whatever food the previous owners kept until it went bad! It even has a dishwasher! The kind you put dirty dishes and soap in and press some buttons and wait an hour and your dishes come out clean!

This was, in many ways, the least painful move I've ever been involved with. We actually started to prepare last May. I was told by Kosin University that we would be moving in the fall, despite the fact that we had just moved that April. However, the move never materialized. Instead, many books, videos, clothes and some cooking supplies were put in boxes. Over the following months, many things came out of the boxes, but a lot of it just got moved as it was. In addition, thanks to the foresight of my lovely and intelligent wife, we did some packing up to two months before leaving. Our last 24 hours were still pretty intense, but we paid a little bit extra for the movers, and they packed a lot of stuff for us. Especially the kitchen. They put away all the dishes, and a lot of the foodstuffs. When we arrived at the new apartment, they pulled it all out of the boxes and put it in the cabinets. Of course, I wasn't happy with their choice of which cabinets to put which stuff in, but that is a minor problem.

The Sack household (Korean branch) has experienced a sort of twist with this recent move. Before the move, Horyon was always tired and frequently sick. Spending a total of more than two hours a day riding busses took a serious toll on her. I had to be Mr. Cheerful far more than comes naturally to me. However, I was in a good job, close enough to walk to work in 20 minutes, and only teaching four days a week.

Now things are different. Horyon has regained about eight hours a week a time that she can use to live. She wakes up later in the morning, doesn't get sick so much, and has moved nicely into the role of Mrs. Super-Cheerful. Which is good, because I need some cheering up. My teaching load went up from 14 to 20 hours a week. Gasp. It is divided into 10 classes of two hours each. My total number of students is 350, for an average of 35 students per class. One class has 50 students! And I'm supposed to teach conversation! My percentage of lecture/activity time has gone way up, I'm afraid. To make things even more interesting, around 90% of the students are freshmen. The 10% who are upperclassmen are a mix of students who really want to learn English and students who couldn't quite break the D+ line the first time around. Teaching the same lesson ten times is enough to fry my brain. It is in my nature to modify lectures as I repeat them, but I want to keep these classes as similar as possible, so that I can compare grades between different classes easily and write one test for all of them.

Now it takes me longer to get to work, too. I used to be able to do the front door to classroom run in under 15 minutes, now it is 25 minutes on a good day. On a bad day–rain, long wait for a taxi–it takes 40 minutes. Not bad for living in a big city, but pretty rough for someone who is not at his best in the morning. Like me. I have 9:00 classes four days a week, and at least once a week I have to skip breakfast to be on time for class.

In addition, I am required to have 10 office hours per week, double what I had at Kosin. So I have jumped from 19 hours required at work to 30.

Don't get me wrong. I know that I won't be able to find a job like this in America. At least not one that provides a spacious new apartment and a salary that lets me live well, save money, and continually expand my CD collection.

I would like to take this opportunity to reassure all of you that we are okay here in South Korea. South Korea, like many countries around the world, is going through some anti-American sentiment. However, as in those other countries, people here know the difference between Americans and the U.S. government. The U.S. military is a slightly different matter.

There is no doubt on the part of the older generation that the American military presence here is needed. People who can actually remember the Korean war, and the Japanese occupation before it, are still thankful to the countries that liberated Korea, especially the U.S.A. Younger people, however, see American military bases squatting on prime real estate. They see a few U.S. soldiers occasionally acting in a very disgraceful manner and not (in their opinion) being sufficiently punished for it. They see a predator. And our international politics do little to dissuade that notion.

With regards to the newly begun war with Iraq, I must say that I am deeply disturbed. I have a lot of respect for those in our society who serve in the military. I grieve for those lost and killed in action. But I do not respect our President's decision to go to war. To me, it seems that the U.S. is like a lynch mob hanging a child molester. No one argues that the child molester should be allowed to continue his activities, but in a civilized country he is tried in a court. Evidence is studied, a jury of peers is consulted, and rules that have been previously agreed on are followed. The U.N. is exactly that, and it has been completely ignored.

President Bush has not convinced me, or practically anyone else outside of the U.S., that Iraq was directly connected to the events of September 11th. Frankly, I foresee serious consequences to this war, regardless of whether we win quickly, slowly, or in a Vietnam-like manner.

It is unusual for me to enclose pieces written by other people, but I found this article to be some serious (and seriously disturbing) food for thought. A good friend of mine sent it to me, and I feel it to be my duty to share it with you. This is certainly not intended to suggest that you-know-who is exactly the same as the-guy-in-charge. (As one critic pointed out, the inference is that Bavaria=Texas! Good luck assessing the accuracy of *that*!) However, the parallels are interesting to note.

As always, I wish you all peace. I am more afraid for those of you living in the United States than I am for myself.


When Democracy Failed: The warnings of history

by Thom Hartmann (at )

[I have decided now, June 2nd 2006, to not paste the entire article here. After all, this is Roblog, and while I may agree with many things said in the article, I did not write it. However, I encourage you to go to the website above and look at it. When I originally emailed this out, it started a couple of heated discussions. I have no wish to revive them, but I will still post any comments you care to make. Incidentally, I have just finished reading _Modern Times_, a history book covering most of the 20th century. I still think that the Hartmann article linked above has some valid points, but like any essay that can be read in one sitting, it has some simplifications. Nevertheless, the point about us having to choose democracy is still valid. Enough said.]

[Now it is 2016, and I have updated the link and decided to include the text here. It hadn't even occurred to me that the link could change over time, but now I know that not only do links change, but entire swaths of the internet can just disappear. Text takes up very little space, so I'm throwing it in. The following is not written by me.]

When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History

The 70th anniversary wasn't noticed in the United States, and was barely reported in the corporate media. But the Germans remembered well that fateful day seventy years ago - February 27, 1933. They commemorated the anniversary by joining in demonstrations for peace that mobilized citizens all across the world. It started when the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack.
The 70th anniversary wasn't noticed in the United States, and was barely reported in the corporate media. But the Germans remembered well that fateful day seventy years ago - February 27, 1933. They commemorated the anniversary by joining in demonstrations for peace that mobilized citizens all across the world.
It started when the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack. A foreign ideologue had launched feeble attacks on a few famous buildings, but the media largely ignored his relatively small efforts. The intelligence services knew, however, that the odds were he would eventually succeed. (Historians are still arguing whether or not rogue elements in the intelligence service helped the terrorist; the most recent research implies they did not.)
But the warnings of investigators were ignored at the highest levels, in part because the government was distracted; the man who claimed to be the nation's leader had not been elected by a majority vote and the majority of citizens claimed he had no right to the powers he coveted. He was a simpleton, some said, a cartoon character of a man who saw things in black-and-white terms and didn't have the intellect to understand the subtleties of running a nation in a complex and internationalist world. His coarse use of language - reflecting his political roots in a southernmost state - and his simplistic and often-inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric offended the aristocrats, foreign leaders, and the well-educated elite in the government and media. And, as a young man, he'd joined a secret society with an occult-sounding name and bizarre initiation rituals that involved skulls and human bones.
Nonetheless, he knew the terrorist was going to strike (although he didn't know where or when), and he had already considered his response. When an aide brought him word that the nation's most prestigious building was ablaze, he verified it was the terrorist who had struck and then rushed to the scene and called a press conference.
"You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history," he proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded by national media. "This fire," he said, his voice trembling with emotion, "is the beginning." He used the occasion - "a sign from God," he called it - to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to the Middle East and found motivation for their evil deeds in their religion.
Two weeks later, the first detention center for terrorists was built in Oranianberg to hold the first suspected allies of the infamous terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the leader's flag was everywhere, even printed large in newspapers suitable for window display.
Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation's now-popular leader had pushed through legislation - in the name of combating terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it - that suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and habeas corpus. Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones; suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people's homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism.
To get his patriotic "Decree on the Protection of People and State" passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil libertarians, he agreed to put a 4-year sunset provision on it: if the national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack was over by then, the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people, and the police agencies would be re-restrained. Legislators would later say they hadn't had time to read the bill before voting on it.
Immediately after passage of the anti-terrorism act, his federal police agencies stepped up their program of arresting suspicious persons and holding them without access to lawyers or courts. In the first year only a few hundred were interred, and those who objected were largely ignored by the mainstream press, which was afraid to offend and thus lose access to a leader with such high popularity ratings. Citizens who protested the leader in public - and there were many - quickly found themselves confronting the newly empowered police's batons, gas, and jail cells, or fenced off in protest zones safely out of earshot of the leader's public speeches. (In the meantime, he was taking almost daily lessons in public speaking, learning to control his tonality, gestures, and facial expressions. He became a very competent orator.)
Within the first months after that terrorist attack, at the suggestion of a political advisor, he brought a formerly obscure word into common usage. He wanted to stir a "racial pride" among his countrymen, so, instead of referring to the nation by its name, he began to refer to it as "The Homeland," a phrase publicly promoted in the introduction to a 1934 speech recorded in Leni Riefenstahl's famous propaganda movie "Triumph Of The Will." As hoped, people's hearts swelled with pride, and the beginning of an us-versus-them mentality was sewn. Our land was "the" homeland, citizens thought: all others were simply foreign lands. We are the "true people," he suggested, the only ones worthy of our nation's concern; if bombs fall on others, or human rights are violated in other nations and it makes our lives better, it's of little concern to us.
Playing on this new nationalism, and exploiting a disagreement with the French over his increasing militarism, he argued that any international body that didn't act first and foremost in the best interest of his own nation was neither relevant nor useful. He thus withdrew his country from the League Of Nations in October, 1933, and then negotiated a separate naval armaments agreement with Anthony Eden of The United Kingdom to create a worldwide military ruling elite.
His propaganda minister orchestrated a campaign to ensure the people that he was a deeply religious man and that his motivations were rooted in Christianity. He even proclaimed the need for a revival of the Christian faith across his nation, what he called a "New Christianity." Every man in his rapidly growing army wore a belt buckle that declared "Gott Mit Uns" - God Is With Us - and most of them fervently believed it was true.
Within a year of the terrorist attack, the nation's leader determined that the various local police and federal agencies around the nation were lacking the clear communication and overall coordinated administration necessary to deal with the terrorist threat facing the nation, particularly those citizens who were of Middle Eastern ancestry and thus probably terrorist and communist sympathizers, and various troublesome "intellectuals" and "liberals." He proposed a single new national agency to protect the security of the homeland, consolidating the actions of dozens of previously independent police, border, and investigative agencies under a single leader.
He appointed one of his most trusted associates to be leader of this new agency, the Central Security Office for the homeland, and gave it a role in the government equal to the other major departments.
His assistant who dealt with the press noted that, since the terrorist attack, "Radio and press are at out disposal." Those voices questioning the legitimacy of their nation's leader, or raising questions about his checkered past, had by now faded from the public's recollection as his central security office began advertising a program encouraging people to phone in tips about suspicious neighbors. This program was so successful that the names of some of the people "denounced" were soon being broadcast on radio stations. Those denounced often included opposition politicians and celebrities who dared speak out - a favorite target of his regime and the media he now controlled through intimidation and ownership by corporate allies.
To consolidate his power, he concluded that government alone wasn't enough. He reached out to industry and forged an alliance, bringing former executives of the nation's largest corporations into high government positions. A flood of government money poured into corporate coffers to fight the war against the Middle Eastern ancestry terrorists lurking within the homeland, and to prepare for wars overseas. He encouraged large corporations friendly to him to acquire media outlets and other industrial concerns across the nation, particularly those previously owned by suspicious people of Middle Eastern ancestry. He built powerful alliances with industry; one corporate ally got the lucrative contract worth millions to build the first large-scale detention center for enemies of the state. Soon more would follow. Industry flourished.
But after an interval of peace following the terrorist attack, voices of dissent again arose within and without the government. Students had started an active program opposing him (later known as the White Rose Society), and leaders of nearby nations were speaking out against his bellicose rhetoric. He needed a diversion, something to direct people away from the corporate cronyism being exposed in his own government, questions of his possibly illegitimate rise to power, and the oft-voiced concerns of civil libertarians about the people being held in detention without due process or access to attorneys or family.
With his number two man - a master at manipulating the media - he began a campaign to convince the people of the nation that a small, limited war was necessary. Another nation was harboring many of the suspicious Middle Eastern people, and even though its connection with the terrorist who had set afire the nation's most important building was tenuous at best, it held resources their nation badly needed if they were to have room to live and maintain their prosperity. He called a press conference and publicly delivered an ultimatum to the leader of the other nation, provoking an international uproar. He claimed the right to strike preemptively in self-defense, and nations across Europe - at first - denounced him for it, pointing out that it was a doctrine only claimed in the past by nations seeking worldwide empire, like Caesar's Rome or Alexander's Greece.
It took a few months, and intense international debate and lobbying with European nations, but, after he personally met with the leader of the United Kingdom, finally a deal was struck. After the military action began, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the nervous British people that giving in to this leader's new first-strike doctrine would bring "peace for our time." Thus Hitler annexed Austria in a lightning move, riding a wave of popular support as leaders so often do in times of war. The Austrian government was unseated and replaced by a new leadership friendly to Germany, and German corporations began to take over Austrian resources.
In a speech responding to critics of the invasion, Hitler said, "Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators."
To deal with those who dissented from his policies, at the advice of his politically savvy advisors, he and his handmaidens in the press began a campaign to equate him and his policies with patriotism and the nation itself. National unity was essential, they said, to ensure that the terrorists or their sponsors didn't think they'd succeeded in splitting the nation or weakening its will. In times of war, they said, there could be only "one people, one nation, and one commander-in-chief" ("Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer"), and so his advocates in the media began a nationwide campaign charging that critics of his policies were attacking the nation itself. Those questioning him were labeled "anti-German" or "not good Germans," and it was suggested they were aiding the enemies of the state by failing in the patriotic necessity of supporting the nation's valiant men in uniform. It was one of his most effective ways to stifle dissent and pit wage-earning people (from whom most of the army came) against the "intellectuals and liberals" who were critical of his policies.
Nonetheless, once the "small war" annexation of Austria was successfully and quickly completed, and peace returned, voices of opposition were again raised in the Homeland. The almost-daily release of news bulletins about the dangers of terrorist communist cells wasn't enough to rouse the populace and totally suppress dissent. A full-out war was necessary to divert public attention from the growing rumbles within the country about disappearing dissidents; violence against liberals, Jews, and union leaders; and the epidemic of crony capitalism that was producing empires of wealth in the corporate sector but threatening the middle class's way of life.
A year later, to the week, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia; the nation was now fully at war, and all internal dissent was suppressed in the name of national security. It was the end of Germany's first experiment with democracy.
As we conclude this review of history, there are a few milestones worth remembering.
February 27, 2003, was the 70th anniversary of Dutch terrorist Marinus van der Lubbe's successful firebombing of the German Parliament (Reichstag) building, the terrorist act that catapulted Hitler to legitimacy and reshaped the German constitution. By the time of his successful and brief action to seize Austria, in which almost no German blood was shed, Hitler was the most beloved and popular leader in the history of his nation. Hailed around the world, he was later Time magazine's "Man Of The Year."
Most Americans remember his office for the security of the homeland, known as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and its SchutzStaffel, simply by its most famous agency's initials: the SS.
We also remember that the Germans developed a new form of highly violent warfare they named "lightning war" or blitzkrieg, which, while generating devastating civilian losses, also produced a highly desirable "shock and awe" among the nation's leadership according to the authors of the 1996 book "Shock And Awe" published by the National Defense University Press.
Reflecting on that time, The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983) left us this definition of the form of government the German democracy had become through Hitler's close alliance with the largest German corporations and his policy of using war as a tool to keep power: "fas-cism (fbsh'iz'em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
Today, as we face financial and political crises, it's useful to remember that the ravages of the Great Depression hit Germany and the United States alike. Through the 1930s, however, Hitler and Roosevelt chose very different courses to bring their nations back to power and prosperity.
Germany's response was to use government to empower corporations and reward the society's richest individuals, privatize much of the commons, stifle dissent, strip people of constitutional rights, and create an illusion of prosperity through continual and ever-expanding war. America passed minimum wage laws to raise the middle class, enforced anti-trust laws to diminish the power of corporations, increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, created Social Security, and became the employer of last resort through programs to build national infrastructure, promote the arts, and replant forests.
To the extent that our Constitution is still intact, the choice is again ours.
[Once again, the last half of this post is not my writing, but my attempt to comunicate the circumstances of my writing. It is not my intention to break copyright law, but to preserve history.]

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Christmas and New Year's 2003

[Once again, dear Reader, I offer you a musty old email taken from the electronic shelf of my hard drive and served up with a cup of good cheer. I admit to fixing one typo this time, but no other changes. So let us go back, back, back to 2003. Oo-ooo-ooooh.]

Dear Friends, Family and Loved Ones:

When I was in university, the father of a friend of mine said, "Being sick is never fun, but being sick when you're away from home is misery." I've had a cold for a week now, and once again that truth has been brought home for me. And now that I'm getting over it, Horyon is coming down with it.

I pointed out to a friend of mine that I rarely got sick before I got married. He suggested that perhaps inherent in the wedding vows (you know, "In sickness and in health,") is the implication that you *must* spend a certain amount of time being sick.

At Christmastime I was healthy. We both were, actually. Well, Horyon is always a little sick, but for Christmas she managed to get in good shape. She only had Christmas day off. No Christmas Eve holiday. No Boxing Day (a Canadian holiday during which one celebrates all the new boxes one has acquired over Christmas, I believe). Just the one day.

I suck at buying presents. This year I bought my darling wife a CD of Christmas music by her favorite piano player, Andre Gagnon, (don't ask me what he's gaggin' on, I don't know,) a set of cast iron plates for cooking stuff in the oven, like fish or steak or whatever, and a Hormel canned ham. She argued that the cooking plates were actually for me. I countered with the sexy underwear argument: I may actually cook with the plates, but she gets to eat what's on the plates, thereby enjoying it (arguably) more than I do. We definitely shared the ham. Hard to get real ham in Korea, and that stuff made some pretty good sandwiches. But the CD was definitely for her. There were many, many CDs I would have bought before that one.

Okay. Like I said, I suck at buying presents. Fortunately, my parents sort of covered for me. Two weeks before Christmas we got a package from home full of presents. Now, Koreans don't really do Christmas presents. Kids usually get one or two presents, and that's it. On gift occasions, it is considered polite to give money. Don't you wish it were that easy in North America? That was something I hadn't really thought about much until I came home carrying a box full of presents and my wife went nuts.

"Presents! Wow! Let's open them!" she squealed.

"We can't open them now," I countered. "You don't open Christmas presents until Christmas."

Thus beginning the debate. Usually when we disagree, I let Horyon win. But we both seem to agree that in matters of culture we should defer to the person who has spent the longest time living in the culture in question. Korea and America both have Christmas, but I decided that Korea wasn't doing Christmas properly, so I stood my ground. There was a lot of whining and begging and even a few threats to open presents while I was not present. I quickly conceded that the presents already opened by the just and fair employees of Pusan Customs should be properly unwrapped and appreciated. This, however, proved to be like the "freebie" that drug dealers are so fond of distributing.

Eventually, I got Horyon to promise that we would open one present on Christmas Eve, and the rest on Christmas morning, just like my family used to do. We went to sleep that night peacefully in each others' arms. Okay, I was sort of restraining her, but it was a very loving sort of restraining. She just doesn't have the years of Christmas Present Patience built up like I do. I hope she can get used to it by the time we have children old enough to notice things like that.

The follow-up is New Year's Eve. When the first midnight of 2003 (or was it the last of 2002?) rolled into Pusan, Horyon and I were at her parents' church. I was struggling to stay awake through a long sermon in a language which I have no deep grasp of, under a hot air vent that was blowing right down on us. Pretty much the same as last year. We had had a lovely dinner at their home previously, which deserves a lot more exposition than the church service.

One of my favorite Korean foods is called shabuh-shabuh. Like many of my other favorites, much of its charm lies in the presentation, though the taste still packs a punch, too. First a large pot of boiling broth is put on a small grill on the table. Also on the table are bowls and plates with various ingredients, different kinds of leaves and mushrooms, and very, very thinly sliced raw beef. These ingredients are thrown at will into the pot, like uncooperative explorers at the mercy of a tribe of cannibals. And like the cannibals, we enjoy it very much. You can throw in whatever you like, but throwing something in doesn't give you dibs on fishing it out, dipping it in sauce, and eating it. Unless my metaphor fails me, it's a cannibal eat cannibal competition. And sitting next to my brother-in-law, Young-hwan, means the competition is pretty hungry.

But that's okay, because there is plenty to go around. After the plates of meat and veggies are empties, the soup left in the pot is very rich and flavorful. Ready for the second course.

Mandu are Chinese dumplings. The best ones can be purchased uncooked from Chinese restaurants. Horyon's mother had picked up some earlier that day, and these were put into the rich, bubbling soup. She also put in some Korean dduk. (Don't worry about how to pronounce it, you're bound to get it wrong.) Dduk is made of rice cooked beyond all recognition, formed into unnatural shapes, like inch thick cylinders, thinly sliced, then put into soups to function as a sort of eating speed bump. Once you bite into a piece of dduk, it takes some serious chewing to get to the other side. A small pile of dduk chips was thrown into the soup, too. They don't really change the taste, because they have no flavor. Well, actually they taste like rice.

Most Westerners agree that rice doesn't have any flavor by itself, but Koreans (and most Asians in my experience) disagree. My rebuttal involves two Korean street foods: dduk-boggi and ho-dduk. These are both served off of street carts by ajumas (older women with ‘tudes) who call to you to come try their tasty treats. As you might have guessed, dduk is the major ingredient in both dishes. In dduk-boggi, four-inch-long tubes of the stuff are heated up in a thick red sauce made of sugar and chilli pepper powder. Other things are thrown into the mix, too, like whole hard-boiled eggs, green onions, and o-dang (pronounced "oh' dang" which is the polite version of what you would say if you knew what it was made of). It varies from spicy-as-hell spicy all the way up to burn-a-hole-in-your-stomach-and-take-the-paint-off-the-wall-behind-you spicy.

Ho-dduk is much more pleasant. The dduk is prepared a little differently, so it is soft and squishy like bread dough. A ball of the dduk is made around a core of cinnamon, brown sugar and nuts, then the ball is fried in butter. It is usually available in the winter, when you can see your breath. You stand shivering in the cold, pinching a light-brown pancake thing in a makeshift hotpad made of a couple of small pieces of card stock just folded together. You have to be careful how you eat it, because when it's hot the filling is liquid. It will burn your tongue, stain your shirt, and make sticky little circles where it drops on your shoes as you stand to eat it. Once piece usually sells for about 45 cents, though you can sometimes still find them at three for a dollar.

Of course, my argument is this: if dduk has flavor, then why the hell is it prepared with such overwhelmingly flavorful ingredients?

And that is why it takes me so long to write one of these letters. I start out talking about dinner, and end up out in the street eating ho-dduk.

Meanwhile, back at the Kang family dinner, I ate a lot of mandu, and quite of few of the dduk chips, too. In soup like that, they acquire enough flavor to be worth chewing through.

It was a fine dinner, worthy of song. Though it was many hours before the 11:30 p.m. New Years Eve service, it still fought a valiant battle to drag me into dreamland during that service.

At about 1:00 a.m. on New Years Day, Horyon and I caught a cab for home. We had had an offer to stay the night with the Kangs, but they were leaving early in the morning to go to my father-in-law's home town. I've done that once on a holiday. I will not do it again. I absolutely refuse. I won't.

Unless Horyon asks very nicely. Very, *very* nicely.

And now it is late January. This should be vacation, but once again I am working. (Am I turning Korean?) I'm teaching a reading class of 12 students. Their abilities are extremely varied. On my last test, the high score was 100%, and the low score was 26%. Some of the low grades are slackers, but some of them are working hard, if not necessarily doing their best. Fortunately for me, I have been teaching this class in a manner most unlike my usual style: every day we do exactly the same thing in class, except that on Fridays we take a test. So last Tuesday when I came to class unable to talk, I simply whispered that we should do what we usually do. Sujin (pronounced sue-JEAN) is the best student in the class, and she helped me out quite a bit.

Sujin has been in my class twice before. She is a vocal music major, but her conversational English is better than any student in the English department. She studied for a year or two at a music school in Cincinnati. I don't doubt that the music school improved her English, but she also made a little pocket money working at a TCBY. I would guess that that is where she sharpened her English, as well as her sense of humor. Nothing brightens my day like having a student actually laugh at my offhand jokes. She is going to get an "A" in my class, but she might not have the best grade.

Joy (a nickname, much easier to remember and pronounce than Hyoun-kyoung), has also been in my class a couple of times before. Joy doesn't speak or listen as well as Sujin, but Joy knows how to study. After getting 85% and 88% on the first two tests, she aced this one. As someone who used to take tests pretty well, I stand in awe of this. Granted, I have attempted to make my tests easier as I went, but she has once again proved to me that if you set a high standard, the students who care will make it. I just hope that the rest of them can figure out the trick before Thursday–the final exam.

As I finish this up, I have also finished my last pure teaching day at Kosin University. And today went out with a bit of a bang. A couple of weeks ago the professor in the office next to mine stopped me in the hall to complain. I had left my stereo on during my class, and he found it hard to work. I apologized, and made sure to not do that again. So today, after my class was finished, I was in my office with some of my students, and I had the music on. Not loud enough to hamper our conversations, but apparently loud enough to bother my neighbor. We heard him yelling, and banging on the wall. My students guessed that he was talking on the phone, and was mad enough to actually bang it against the wall. I turned the music down long enough to listen for a bit, then turned it back up. I didn't want to be party to listening in on someone else's conversation. A few minutes later, he stormed into my office and asked if this was a discotech. (Sorry, not sure how to spell that one, and my spell checker is more confused than I am.) We migrated out to the hall, three or four of my students and myself. The guy was tearing into my students. He wouldn't talk to me at all. He acted like I wasn't there, or like I was an overgrown child. I was so pissed off I could barely see straight. I finally left.

When my students caught up with me, they told me that he is an art professor, and therefore *sensitive*. I brought up a vocabulary word from earlier in the day: irritable. He ranted about how he had pounded on the wall, but I hadn't paid attention. I have grown fairly thick skin, living abroad these past seven years, but this shook me up pretty badly. This guy was angry. And he had never come and knocked on my door.

Things got better after that. I had lunch with my students (Pizza Hut delivery, yum!), then we sort of studied together for the final. At the end, I gave my last thank you and goodbye speech. I told them that I was sad to leave Kosin, but that incidents like the one today make me a little bit happy to leave. I don't expect that people will be nicer, or more fair in Kyoung-sung University, but at least they will not be constantly talking about being Christians, and doing Christian things, and how important Church is, as they attempt to stomp on me.

I am sad to leave Kosin. It has been a good job. It has provided our first home together as a husband and wife. It has brought me friends that I would not have even known how to ask for if I had gone to God with a request. And the students, with a very few exceptions, have been a blessing to me. And I choose to believe that the exceptions were blessings in disguise.

And to you, gentle reader, I hope that the coming New Year (January was just a warm-up month, you know) brings you sufficient challenges to make you grow, sufficient joy to warm your heart, and just enough sadness to make you appreciate how beautiful and wonderful it all is.



A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.