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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.


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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.