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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Here in Pusan we have about an hour and 20 minutes left in 2006, so I thought I would get on the Roblog and shake things up a bit.

First, I hope you like the new format. I'm afraid I lost some bits that I liked. All of my links are gone now. I will put them back eventually. I'm using the new Blogger software, so it's supposed to be easier to edit the way Roblog looks. It looks to be true so far, though I haven't rolled up my sleeves yet to really get into it.

I just put Maxine to bed. It took her around 30 minutes to get to sleep, which is a bit long for her. Usually she is snoring within 20 minutes of lights out. Tonight she tossed and turned, tumbled and mumbled, played with her pacifier, and held on to my finger a bit before going to sleep. Her latest trick is to lay face down, plant her forehead on the mattress, and walk her feet towards her head, pushing her butt into the air. While doing this, she waves her hands in the air or grabs her legs or my finger. I swear this baby is ready to be a yoga instructor. I would love to post a picture of this, but she mostly does it at bed time, and the last thing I want to do is flash a camera at her or turn on the lights. When she does it during the day, it's never long enough to get a shot of, and we are afraid that this is one of those tricks that will disappear into the hazy mists of memory.

And so it goes on the Roblog, along with all of my whining.

One advantage of leaving Korea is that Horyon will be very unlikely to be put in charge of a high school Enlgish newspaper club in America. Right now she is editing articles for her sixth English newspaper. (As she pointed out, that means that I have also corrected six papers worth of articles. I had no idea this marriage would be so much work!) The students in her club write articles, usually in Korean and English, as well as choosing or taking pictures to put with them. Some of the articles are actually a little bit coherent as the students have written them, but many are not. And for every newspaper there are one or two articles that are so badly written that they are painful to read. I swear, last year I was reading one and I almost fell out of this dimension into a world populated by large, walking, talking soju bottles.

As usual, Horyon is doing the first editing pass on the articles, then I go through making them get there more perfect Englishly. It's a good gig, as I have many opportunities to slip in clever innuendos and scatological references which not even Horyon can catch. You would be surprised at how few Koreans realize that "pinching off a loaf" and "they enjoyed her buns" are not appropriate phrases to use in an article about baked goods.

So that's what Horyon is working on as the new year approaches. She has already printed up some for me to check, but I am following my motto: "Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?"

It looks like I will not be teaching an extra class at Kyungsung University in January. I'm a bit sad, because I taught a similar class last summer and loved it. It was an academic writing class for Kyungsung students who were going to Turkey as exchange students for a semester. Unfortunately, they only have one student for the coming semester, and the school doesn't want to pay me $30 an hour to make sure that they don't look like a complete idiot when they turn in their first paper.

I realized that it's been a while since I wrote about Maxine's progress in life, so here's a general update:

She still doesn't talk much. She says "amma" and "appa" (Korean for "mommy" and "daddy", respectively), but still doesn't seem to connect saying those words to us yet. I say "seem to" because in as much as one can ever know what's happening in another person's head, I have absolutely no idea what's going on in Maxine's head. It does seem to me that this shows a gap between listening and speaking, because she can understand very well. When asked, "Where is mommy?" in English or Korean, she points right to Horyon, or a picture of her if she's not there. She can do the same for daddy in both languages. "Grandpa", "Grandma" and "Handsome Uncle Youngwhan" are very solid in Korean, a bit shaky in English. She also has a pretty good handful of other vocabulary in both languages, though her Korean vocabulary is larger than her English.

All of this is somewhat expected if you do any reading on bilingualism in children. (You see, that Master's degree that I didn't get wasn't a complete waste of time!) Horyon was still a bit annoyed when a woman at church pointed out that Maxine doesn't talk as much as other children her age, and maybe something is wrong with her?

Yes, we are starting to personally discover the "mother bear defending her cubs" thing is true.

Back to Maxine. She has been walking for some time now, and running, too. When we visited J. and Sujin after Thanksgiving, Maxine had a great time with Maya and J. Jr. running around their house. It's one of those houses that has hallways and doorways that make a circuit through the house. Round and round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.

She enjoys shredding paper, tissues and the like, with occasional bits going into the mouth. She seems to have slowed down a bit on putting stuff in her mouth, but it certainly hasn't stopped yet.

She likes it when we read to her. Her favorite book from Horyon is "Boyinda boya!" ("Hide and Seek"). From me, she likes "Goodnight Moon", but her favorite is "Moo, Baa, La la la". I can rattle off the latter without even looking at the pages, but "Goodnight Moon" is not quite memorized. Yet. I'm pretty sure I remember all the stuff in the great green room, but darned if I can get it all in the right order.

She likes tangerines. Give her a tangerine segment and she will carry it around, getting juice all over everything, and slowly eating it. Give her a whole tangerine, and she will peel it herself. Sometimes fairly neatly, sometimes by plunging a thumb deep into it and just tearing it apart.

This Christmas Horyon's parents gave Maxine a singing Satan Claus. It moves around waving a bell while playing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" at an obnoxiously loud volume, even after putting tape over the speaker holes. (That's right. The "Satan" wasn't a typo.) Well, it used to move around. Now the base moves around, but Santa has become somewhat... detached from the whole thing. And so I present for you a brief photo essay entitled, "Santa had better watch out!":

You'd better watch out!

For this little girl!

She'll grab hold of Santa

and rock his little world!Ma-axine is coming, to town!

She totally busted up that Santa, dude.

The New Year has come, ushered in by a kiss from my wife. She stopped working long enough for that, but no champaign. Bummer.

Horyon's sister, Chaeryon, is in town for a while. As soon as she got off the plane, her father suggested coming to meet Maxine. So she did. Yeah, it was after 10 p.m., past Maxine's bedtime. And I'm sure that Chaeryon was tired after all that flying. But hey, this is Maxine we're talking about! How could she wait one more night?

Somehow Chaeryon manages to look better after a transatlantic flight than I look before I start one.

Maxine likes Chaeryon, but doesn't recognize her as "Eemo" (young aunt) yet. We'll keep working on it.

We're down to about two months left in Korea. The visa paperwork has started flowing, though at typical government work pace. We're talking about packing, and deciding what to take and leave. I've asked my Dad to keep an eye out for a minivan that we can buy through him. Horyon started worrying about the whole thing months ago, I have already made serious progress in putting off getting ready, and Maxine is just cruising along, completely unaware that we are about to completely change her world. Isn't that what parents are for?



Saturday, December 30, 2006

Moving Numbers

I'm starting this entry on September 27th, but don't plan to publish it until this semester is finished. It could cause problems if any of my students managed to hunt it down, understand it, and apply it to their course work. And as much of a pain in the ass as that would be for them, some of them would rather do that than actually do the work required to get a good grade without cheating.

Cheating has always made me angry. I will admit that I did cheat once or twice in university ("college", for those of you who speak American). Without getting into the sordid details, I'll just say that I had a very geeky calculator that had some memory available for storing variables, programs, formulas, etc. I honestly can't remember whether I had to did into any of those formulas, but I definitely did the rest of the work the hard way. And I had a sneaking suspicion that the engineering profs didn't care what you had on your calculator, as long as you knew what you were doing with it.

So perhaps I'm a bit hypocritical, now that the shoe is on the other foot. But there are definitely degrees of cheating, and what I'm seeing takes things to an extreme degree. You see, I am using a program called Moodle to enrich my courses. Moodle is an Internet-based Learning program. My main uses are

1) handouts, because with 250+ students, it's a pain for me to do photocopies. This way they each download and print. All I have to do is have it up on the website the morning of class.

2) on-line quizzes, so that students have a chance to practice and apply what we studied in class, to prepare for the test and keep the material reasonably fresh in their minds

3) passing information, such as canceled classes, reminders of assignments, etc.

Uses 1 and 3 are fine, but the quizzes... The students who took my Present Continuous (PC) Quiz on the first day got pretty low grades, many of them in the 50-60% range, and took the entire 15 minutes to get that. Oddly enough, some of the students who took the same quiz the next day took a minute and a half to get 90%.

I smelled a rat.

My current solution is that their on-line quiz grade will be automatically adjusted down to meet their in-class test/quiz grades.

There. The semester is finished, it's the end of December, and I know how the whole thing turned out:

I decided that adjusting quiz grades to match the written test grade would be too much trouble, and maybe not fair. Instead, I minimized the impact of the quizzes on their grade. Each quiz was worth about 1.5% of their total grade. Not enough to worry about the cheaters, when the written test was worth 25%.

The problem came when I exported the data from the website and tried to import it to my grading spreadsheet. The Moodle would only export as Excel files, and my spreadsheet is Corel's Quattro Pro. It's an excellent spreadsheet, and I've been using it for years. Which may be the problem. The version I'm using was current a decade ago. And I don't use Excel at all, relying instead on's spreadsheet, Calc.

Oh, by the way, if you are not interested in computer stuff, you might want to skip the rest of this post, if you haven't already fallen asleep.

I ended up opening the Excel files with Calc, and then saving them in Calc as Quattro files. It was then quite easy to move the data into the correct sheet.

But when I tried to juggle the numbers, I got some funny results. 11.38 looked fine on the sheet, but when I tried to divide it by 14 and multiply by 100 to get the percentage, it came out zero. All of them came out zero.

I figured maybe it was a mistake in my lookup formulas.

No. They worked fine.

I went back to the data page and typed in 11.38 again over the top of the original 11.38.

Boom. Out pops 81%. The rest of the scores are still saying zero, but the one I typed in manually is working fine.

That suggests one solution: type in all the scores. But here's the thing: I am sitting next to a machine that can do 902,000,000 calculations per second. That's why I'm not adding up numbers on a piece of paper using a calculator as a mental crutch. There's already a mental U-Haul sitting on the desk, and all I have to do is figure out why the gears don't engage.

Those of you who use computers probably have some idea of how this story turns out.

Technical Explanation: Instead of exporting the files from Calc, I copied and pasted the numbers. This made them appear to Quattro as numbers, rather than the labels which it original thought they were. ("Why is this a problem?" is not nearly as important as the "How do I fix it?" to me, so don't ask why!)

Real World Impact Explanation: I spent more time figuring out how to solve the problem than it would have taken to type in all the numbers by hand. And if I had known this would be a problem, I could have paid one of my assistants to type it in by hand. This is how Horyon would interpret the results.

To me, however, the more numbers I put in by hand, the more likely I am to make a mistake. Also, I am now aware of this glitch, and will be able to recognize it and do something about it in the future. True, I will probably not remember the details of how to solve the problem, but the mental pathway will still be there. I will also be able to recognize similar problems, and deal with them, too.

Our grades were due on Thursday. Earlier in the week I was worried that I might accidentally finish on Wednesday, but as it turns out I had nothing to worry about. I left my office Thursday night around 11:00 p.m. I didn't have to do much number juggling to get the right balance of A's, B's, C's and etc.'s, and when I left my office mate, Dennis, was still working. Score!

Actually, for me finishing at 11 p.m. is early, but that's another post. Something from the archives. Check back later, I'll see if I can hunt it down.

In the mean time, you can read about what we were going through back in November 2003 righ here. I got a chuckle or two out of re-reading it. Hope you do, too. You might also enjoy this from April 2002. Just after starting the ill-fated Master's Degree. Ugh.



Wednesday, December 27, 2006

December Wrap-Up

This morning I had breakfast with Maxine. First time since November. This month was rough. December is the month of final exams for me. Usually my students sign up for 8 minute appointments and ask me questions pertaining to the topic I give them on the spot. These topics have ranged from my vacation plans to what I do in my free time to how I met Horyon. It's fun, but exhausting. My first year at Kyungsung I had almost 350 students. I don't know how I did it without killing any of them. Or myself.

So this year I decided to back off a bit. I had only 250 students (ONLY???), and I had them sign up for 10 minute appointments in pairs. It lowered my testing time from 3.5 hours to about 2.5 hours per day. That one hour makes a big difference, but the bigger difference comes from the students working together.

In each class we worked up a list of conversation topics. In some classes it was only 8 or 9, but one class came up with two dozen, all approved by me. Each pair of students had to choose six topics to bring to their appointment. At the beginning of their ten minutes I rolled a die, choosing one of the six topics. They were to then have a conversation (with each other, not me) about that one topic for the rest of the ten minutes.

Of course, many of them prepared and memorized conversations, which was fine. But I was really grading them on how well they did once they were winging it. My role was usually to jump into the conversation and make some waves, see how they reacted. It was an interesting way to grade, and it required less mental exertion from me. It would have been the most relaxing final exam season ever except for one small thing: I had an extra class.

The extra class was made up of high school students who are about to graduate and start university. I was under the initial impression that they were students who were particularly interested in studying English. That impression was squashed like a python under a two ton weight.

The class was for university credits, and I was to grade it Pass/Fail. Out of 30 students, 16 passed. Pretty lame. My only demand was that they come to class on time. More than five minutes late, and I counted them absent (though they could still be present for the second hour of class). No real grades. No homework. I expected them to work in class, writing conversations, taking notes, all that crazy stuff teachers expect students to do, but without attaching a grade to any of it.

I must have been out of my freakin' gourd.

I'm used to teaching freshmen. I know that the first few classes are largely devoted to getting them to come on time, be quiet, and pay attention. In this class, some of them never got it. It was tiring, and made me look forward to my afternoon exams. I was paid well for it, and I suppose it was worth the money, but it gave me something I didn't really want or need: another reason to leave Korea.

It also reminded me of one reason I have stayed so long: the students who want to learn. There were about half a dozen students who were serious about the class. In a regular class they would have gotten A's and B's from me. In this class, they were the sanity check. They paid attention when I corrected their work. They seemed to learn from it! They were even willing to try working with me sitting next to them, coaching and encouraging them, rather than staring blankly and saying "English very difficult."

The point, from which I have once again strayed an unforgivable difference, was that this extra class was from 10 to 12 a.m. for the three weeks before Christmas. Until December, I had spent my mornings with Maxine. She usually woke up around six, demanding to get that special treat that only mommy can provide. She then went back to sleep in our bed, between Horyon and me. Horyon would get up, shower, have breakfast, and do all that morning stuff women do, then leave for work before Maxine woke up. We would sleep until eight or nine, then kick around for an hour or two until Horyon's father came to pick up Maxine.

I have to admit that I am not the best of company just after waking up. If that were our only time together, Maxine might grow up thinking that I only communicate in grunts and harumphs. Still, I manage to wake up enough to change a diaper or two, get breakfast into Maxine, and perhaps play with those crazy little stackable cups that she has. (It's so cool the way you can fit the small ones into the big ones but not vice versa.)

So in December we didn't get to do that. We basically woke up at 8, had about half an hour to get used to being awake, then Grandpa would come and take Maxine away. It has caused her attitude towards me to cool somewhat. When she's fussy, she doesn't want me, and sometimes runs away from me to get to Horyon. I can't believe how heartbreaking this can feel, even though she is fine with me at bedtime or when Horyon is behind a closed door for more than a couple of minutes.

It's a lot like when we first got married. Before we got married, things were almost always completely positive between us. But the stress of living with someone new, especially someone you love, can bring out the worst in anyone. As can menstruation, lack of sleep, job stress, or any number of other factors. And during that first year I had to learn to deal with the pain of the occasional sharp remark. I have gotten somewhat used to it. It was inevitable that I would, because my personality could try the patience of a saint under the right circumstances. For example, if I have a long-term project with a deadline.

Of course, it helps that Horyon and I can talk about our relationship and feelings. She always apologizes for hurting me, and has gained some control over the impulses to do so. But Maxine and I can't really talk about our relationship. She is only just starting to realize that other people have needs, much less feelings. And so I swallow the disappointment or talk with Horyon about it. In the mean time, I try to make it very clear to Maxine that I am always available to come back to, that I will always love her.

And there, right there, that's the problem with blogging about something like being a father for the first time. At times it is so overwhelming that the best words, the closest analogies, all seem inadequate to express what's going on in my head and heart. The best I can hope for is to stir a memory in the minds of the parents who read this. And for the not-yet-parents, like I used to be, or the never-parents, I suspect it's like reading an article about skydiving, or climbing Mt. Everest; you just can't get it, but I hope you can catch a glimpse of it.

In case I don't manage to get back on before Monday, I hope that you all bring in the New Year well. Maxine slept last night without waking up once. My sole hope for 2007 is that she continues this trend.



Thursday, December 14, 2006

More Soju Talk

When I read my friend Aubrey's blog post, Friendly Soju Bottles, I felt an immediate need to write a post of my own, Soju and Me. This was in part because just a few days previously I had posed for a picture with a friendly soju bottle, and partly because I disagreed with her about the gender of soju. Aubrey wrote a rather long comment on my post, which you may have missed. And so I offer to you her comment, together with my responses.

I love that you responded like that to my blog! But I also disagree. Firstly, I did get a picture with the soju bottle (we just have to figure out how to get it off her phone); he made Jen and I give him kisses on his cheeks.

Ah, yes. The picture. I am still waiting to see the picture, not that I have any doubt that this encounter happened.

Note the use of "he." Because soju is a he.

(1) The smell is of paint thinner or some sort of industrial strength solvent. It's so primal and manly, like a guy who's out in his garage.

I would like to apologize to all of our female readers out there who are capable of fixing cars and doing other "manly" things. True, men are more likely to be engaged in this sort of activity, but it is hardly definitive of "male". I'm not sure how I feel about the link between "primal" and "manly", but I'll leave that alone for now.

(2) Soju strong arms itself into a relationship, showing up at every meal and in every sort of juice. He's pushy. Not in a whiny sort of way, but rather one that assumes there's already a depth of relationship and he's entitled to you.

Once again, I would like to apologize to our female readers who happen to not be whiny. I am sure that Aubrey did not intend to imply that "whiny" is strictly a female characteristic. I have found that my male students are every bit as likely to whine as my female students. And it is not my experience that "pushy" is a strictly female trait, for that matter.

I also disagree with the characterization of soju strong arming itself into relationships (which is, incidentally, not an exclusively male behavior). If you go to an establishment in which soju is available, you will know. There are posters, perhaps a calendar. The menu may have pictures of a soju bottle, for our illiterate friends. Attractive packaging. Does that sound more male or female? But it is not automatically served anywhere. Not even in places that specialize in soju and the foods that are served with it. You still have to ask for it.

It is not water. If you want water, all you have to do is ask. If you want soju, you must be willing to pay the price. Perhaps I am taking my turn at playing the stereotype card, but this sounds female to me.

(3) All Korean men will put their arms around each other. But they don't kiss, at least not in public. Our soju bottle demanded kisses from the ladies. Sorry Rob, but soju is definitely male.

You don't see men and women kissing in public, either (here in Korea, that is). Does that mean that they don't? (That's some kind of odd logic pretzel there, isn't it?) And just to clarify, was it a kiss on the cheek, or a kiss on the lips? Because cheek kissing man-to-man and woman-to-woman is very continental. Perhaps soju is going for the international flavor?

OK, I know that I'm grasping at straws on this point, but I refuse to give up the battle. The fact is, you didn't mention the kiss in your original blog post, so I'm kind of winging it. I did not attempt to kiss my soju bottle, and neither did she attempt to kiss me. I just assumed that she noticed my wedding ring.

I think that your misconception comes in part from the association soju has with its bottle. Like most bottles, it is somewhat... longer than it is wide. However, soju, however closely associated with the bottles it comes in, simply is not the bottle it comes in. And so, with tongue firmly in cheek, I take my last shot, fully aware that Horyon may cause me physical harm after reading this:

Soju is served in short glasses. Beer is served in tall glasses.
Korean women are generally short. Korean men are generally tall (compared to their women).

Here are some more things to consider:

1. Anthropomorphizing is foolish. Why do we let soju goad us on like this?
2. My arguments are more poetic than yours.
3. Makeup. Look at the soju picture in my post. Are those eyebrows the untamed growth of the male, or the finely sculpted, mostly painted on decoration of the female?
5. Fashion. Look at the shoes on that soju bottles. Granted, in American culture they would indicate a clown, but in Korea they are definitely girly shoes.

However, in the end none of these factors matter as much as this:

6. Perhaps soju can be all things to all people, invalidating both of our arguments. Is it possible that soju is the RuPaul of Korean alcoholic beverages?

Is it possible that I need more sleep?

Tune in next week for the answers to these, and other questions. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.



Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Some Interesting Web Sites

I don't know about you, but I enjoy the Internet from time to time. There is some pretty fun stuff out there, but sometimes it can get to be too much. I was pretty relieved to find a link to
the cure for information overload.. Had to dig a bit for it, but it was well worth it. I was amused with the link to it from the Jedi Librarian, so I had to include that, too.

I also like music. One blog I was looking at the other day steered me towards The Music Genome Project. The link I've given here is actually the practical result of that project, a very fine-tuned internet radio station. You tell it songs you like, and it plays other songs that are like it. Sounds like some other internet radio stations, especially Yahoo's. At Yahoo Music you can give a zero to five star rating for artist, song and album. I'm not sure how they connect things, but they suggest some pretty good stuff. Unfortunately, they have to make money, so they also suggest crap, sometimes things that made me cringe. That's fine from time to time if you like to have your horizons expanded in odd directions. I figure that if ten songs are suggested to me out of the blue and I don't like nine of them, number ten might be a serious winner.

But sometimes I don't want those kind of odds. Plus Yahoo music plays ads between some songs. Annoying ads. You can get rid of them if you pay for it, but I am cheap.

Pandora is different. For starters, it's free. You have to register, but so far I haven't been spammed or anything. They say on the site that eventually the free version will have ads, but it doesn't have them yet. You can set up 100 different stations if you like, though I only have two so far. My computer at work is too lame to play this, but it tended to get logjammed on the Yahoo Music, too.

Anyway, I highly recommend giving it a shot if you've got a full-time internet connection, you like music, and you love the idea of categorizing songs the same way biologists categorize life. These people are more serious about their music than I am, and I enjoy that sort of obsessiveness from time to time.

And at this time of year it's a good way to pipe in some Christmas music. I've got a station programed with a wide variety of artists. I've labeled it "Christmas with Rob". You can't go to it yourself, but I can email you a link to it, if you're interested. Just send me an email, and I will do so.

Next link: On the right side of this page I have a link to Natalie D. I really enjoy her little drawings, though some of them have naughty words (Belgium!), and a few of them are sort of out of my reach, like the Far Side used to be. She also has a site that she does with her husband called Married to the Sea. (The site is Married to the Sea. Her husband is called Drew. Just in case anyone needed clarification there.) Drew also has his own website with an amusing comic, but not amusing enough for me to link to here. But this MttS is something else. They take very old illustrations and put their own captions with them. Once again, the language gets pretty naughty in about half the strips, so don't just buzz over there and show it to your kids.

The internet is also an awesome place to get a new hobby. Roblogging is pretty cool I guess, but I've got my eyes on a better prize, Destroying the Earth. If you are like me, and think it's about time this planet got what's coming for it, you may want to check out this site. It is actually a serious (well, scientifically rigorous anyway) forum on methods for doing away with this planet we call home. Not destroying humanity (too easy!) or wiping out all life on Earth (piece of cake!), but actually doing away with the planet itself. If this sounds like not such a big deal to you, I suggest you take a look at this site, because whoever actually manages the job has some serious planning to do. And this is the place to start.

For what it's worth, if you click the link at the top of his page, you will find other things of interest. His fiction is not too bad, and his games are quite interesting. I haven't looked at everything there, but it's worth spending a bit of time.

For word processing, it is hard to beat It can work with all of Microsoft Office's documents, as well as many others. It gives me great joy to use it for two reasons:

#1 It is free. No money needed. Download and use. Register if you like, but you don't need to. Send a donation if you like, but there is no pressure to do so. It is free, free, free. And unlike many free things, you get much more than you pay for. Probably because of #2.

#2 It is not shoveling money towards Microsoft. In fact, it is openly opposing the monopolistic policies of Microsoft. If you use computer documents at all, you are either aware of how widespread MSOffice is, or unaware of it because you just assume that there is nothing else out there. MS makes it difficult for other programs to access documents created by their software.

It's a big issue in some circles, but to me the two reasons listed above are as deep into it as I need to get. At their website you can find links to lots more if you want to read up on it.

And last, I would like to leave you with something that makes all the other links on this post look incredibly intelligent: has the most entertaining selection of stuff that you could hope for. Looking for a keychain to tell you exactly how much time President Bush has left in office (assuming no coup)? Want a wall calendar featuring pictures of dog poop? Wacky candy in many odd shapes and flavors? A 1950's style phone handset that plugs into your cell phone? How about a variety of animals that poop candy? I tell you, if this site doesn't have it, it isn't stupid enough for your discerning tastes.

And there are some of my web interests.



Thursday, December 07, 2006

Soju and Me

I have to say, this is in direct response to Aubrey's post.

I didn't just drink the free sample and take the free pen, I put my arm around the soju and embraced her. Aubrey speculated that the giant soju bottle was male. She didn't articulate any specific reasons, though I'm sure there are those who would speculate.

I, however, believe that soju is a woman, for the following reasons:

She makes you feel warm when she comes into your life. Warm and light-headed. She will often cause you to make decisions that your friends do not understand. You laugh and cry more easily, and it often feels like you are walking a few inches or feet above the pavement. Sometimes it bounces quickly between inches and feet.

And yes, she will make you hurt if you are not careful. Do not put too much of yourself into her (or vice versa), or she will leave you suddenly, without warning. Perhaps taking with her your dignity, strength and previous meal.

And so, Aubrey, I contend that soju is female, though definitely not a lady.



p.s. I hardly even noticed the girls in half-skirts that accompanied the soju. Not even hardly at all.

The Gravy of the Missing Giblets

It's Friday. Five days since we returned, and I am just now recouping the energy required to write about our trip to Taegu. We drove to Taegu to visit our friends, Jibraun and Sujin. Horyon and Sujin have been friends since high school. J. (his nickname of choice) and Sujin got married about a month after Horyon and I, and they asked us to be the M.C.s at their wedding. J. and I got along very well,
which made it a disappointment that they moved to the States immediately after their wedding. After staying long enough to have a couple of kids, J. Jr. and Maya, they were posted in Taegu, Korea. They visit Pusan from time to time, as Sujin's family still lives here, but we don't see them often. Family visits are often like that. We visited them in Taegu once. We're not absolutely sure, but Maxine may have been conceived there. In fact, we considered naming her in the "Paris Hilton" tradition, but decided that "Taegu Love Motel" would be a bit of an unwieldy name.

(Sorry, but that's one of those stories that I am physically unable to resist telling whenever I am asked about Maxine's name, and it's about time it got on the Roblog.)

We really enjoyed that visit. J. cooked turkey legs, collard greens and stuffing for us, Maya was just a tiny baby, and we took the train to get there and move on. This time we drove. It was our first time to drive outside of Pusan. We had planned to leave at 10 a.m., so I consider it a smashing success that we were out the door before 11.

We had packed enough clothes for overnight, including some extra Maxine clothes in case she had a toxic diaper spillover. Because we've had a couple of them recently, and sometimes all you can do is hose down the baby and put her in clean clothes. I had to deal with one all by myself. Washing Maxine in the bathroom sink, trying not to get poop all over myself, and Maxine laughing and giggling because this is such a crazy new experience that she can't believe I'm not doing it solely to entertain her.

And that right there could be the beginning of a complete post by itself. Maxine is still so new to the world that it takes very little variety to capture her attention and make her laugh. Horyon will sometimes do a funny little dance while making a weird noise, and Maxine just cracks up, over and over. I can do it, too, but it seems to come naturally to Horyon. The other day Horyon was washing the dishes while wearing fuzzy socks that my parents sent her. Maxine was sitting at her feet, and laughed every time Horyon wiggled her feet.

Back to the story. We packed extra clothes for her, and all the stuff we needed for on overnight stay. Well, almost everything we needed...

The drive went fairly well. Getting out of Pusan was a bit nasty. The traffic jam must have been pretty standard. We passed guys walking along selling snacks, and this on a toll road! I think that the cars behind me were getting a bit upset because I kept trying to leave a safe stopping distance between me and the car in front of me. This meant that cars from the other lane could cut in front of me easily. And so once again I found myself adjusting to Korean style driving: aggressively slow. It was stop and go traffic for about an hour, getting us just barely out of the city limits, then suddenly the road was relatively clear. Yeah, there were still other cars on the road, and lots of them were being driven by morons, but at least we weren't all parked next to each other.

I found that many Korean drivers keep their annoying driving habits even at speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. Cars would pass me and cut into my lane barely a car length in front of me. Scary. Some drivers would drive around 45 mph, and some more than 70. (I'm just guessing about the latter, based on how quickly they passed me.) And of course, lots of drivers talking on their cell phones.

The night before, I had gotten directions from J. Horyon, being the plan-ahead type, also got directions from Sujin. We compared them, and found the minor discrepancies to be just that: minor. We had no trouble for most of the trip, but right around five minutes from the U.S. Military base where they live, we hit a snag. The directions I had said to turn right onto a small street, but we were facing a six-lane road. We turned on to it, and drove until I found a safe place to pull over. Horyon called and consulted with Sujin, then we kept on. Within a minute, I saw a sign in English confirming that we were going the right way. Three minutes later we were at the gate of the base.

For those of you not familiar with U.S. Military bases in Korea, these days the gates are very obviously designed so that it would be impossible to barrel through at high speeds. There are armed Korean guards at the gate, but it doesn't convey the feeling that if you make a wrong move you will be shot. We drove in and told the guard that our friend was coming to let us in, and he gestured for us to pull forward to a small parking area to wait.

We had to jump through a couple of hoops to get on base. Unfortunately, we had some problems. Fortunately, J. solved them, proving once again that it pays to be friendly with the people who carry guns. I'm going to skip the details in the interest of national security.

We had a quick lunch at Taco Bell. And let me tell you, Taco Bell may not be great Mexican food. It may not even be good Mexican food. It might not even qualify as Mexican food in America, but over here it's the best I'm gonna get, and the only places with Taco Bells are U.S. military bases! Like they are so desirable that they require armed soldiers to protect them!

I was surprised at the innovations the Bell has made in combining meat, cheese, flour tortillas and sour cream to make new things. America truly is the land of innovation.

That evening we had turkey for dinner. Missed Thanksgiving by a couple of days, but that's OK. I didn't get to make turkey soup of the carcass, but I told Sujin how to do it, and that was almost as satisfying. Jay had rubbed a spice rub on the bird, and it was delicious. He only made one small mistake: he had pulled the neck out of the body cavity, but somehow missed the little bag with the heart, liver and gizzard. Fortunately, they were buried deep in the neck cavity. I fished them out, and threw them in the gravy.

They were kind enough to allow me to carve, which is how I found the missing giblets. They had also asked if I knew how to make gravy. I am not the gravy king, but I got gravy game when it is needed, and honestly, when is it not?

We had a wonderful afternoon and evening. Maxine loved playing with J. Jr. and Maya, but she especially liked J. Sr. The man has a way with children. When he held Maxine in his arms and talked to her, she was spellbound.
(Notice the way she can't take her eyes off of him!)

That night we stayed in a hotel on the base. J. took me by surprise by paying for the room before we arrived. Actually, it was another case of cung: J. is a very generous man. The hotel room was just the latest act of kindness we have received from him. Whenever they come to Pusan, he offers to purchase items from the military base which are not available in Pusan. At Maxine's birthday party, he brought me a case of root beer, which is pretty much impossible to find on my own. For those of you who like root beer, you will understand. For those of you who don't, it's kind of like crack, only it tastes better and it doesn't make you threaten cops.

I took this picture the next morning in front of the hotel:
I'm telling you that so that you don't get too worried about the events between checking into the hotel and Maxine being cute on a rainy day.

We settled into the hotel with no fuss. The room was big enough and warm enough, and they found a crib for us to use. Maxine took a bit longer to get to sleep than usual, but that's not unusual when she has a busy day with lots of new people and places. It's just hard to settle down, and there is a serious drive to not let it end.

At three a.m. the phone rang. It was not a typical hotel phone, with that annoying electronic beeping ring. This was a military base phone, manufactured with a genuine set of steel bells inside somewhere, under the presumption that if World War Three were to break out you would want to be able to hear your phone ringing over the sound of mortar rounds and machine gun fire. Needless to say, all three of us woke the heck up. Horyon answered the phone and quickly passed it to me.

I spoke to a young man with a crew cut (yeah, I could hear his hair style through the line). He asked if J. had signed us on to the base, and with what kind of pass. I answered his questions honestly, and with as much coherence as I could muster under the circumstances. He told me that he had tried to contact Captain J., but his cell phone was turned off. He also informed me that if the situation was not resolved within 40 minutes or so, someone would be coming around to escort us off of the base.

We called J.'s phone, but as I had heard from the crew-cut gentleman, it was turned off. So we called Sujin's phone. Fortunately, it was not turned off. Because if it had been, I would have had to wander around looking for J.'s house, and I had not a clue as to where it was from the hotel.

J. came and picked me up, and we drove back to the gate. Things were sorted out within 10 minutes. It was J.'s first time escorting overnight visitors, and he had neglected to get a 24 hour pass. No sweat.

Not much, anyway.

By the time I got back to the hotel, Horyon had put Maxine back to sleep. I'm not sure how long it took for me to get back to sleep, or how long I slept until Maxine got us up for the day. All I know is that it was a long day, as was the following week. We treated J. and his family to a fantastic buffet, the details of which I will skip this time, except for one very American exception: it had biscuits and gravy. Oh my, oh my, that was nice. If the price of biscuits and gravy in the morning is a phone ringing in the middle of the night, I'm not absolutely sure that it isn't worth it.

You see, as much as I like Korea, you just can't get a good breakfast here. Go to an international hotel and you pay $10 for a continental breakfast (you should never pay for a continental breakfast on top of what you pay for your hotel room, IMHO) or a lousy pair of fried eggs and toast with a pitiful glass of orange juice. LAME. I don't need to eat breakfast out every day, but once in a while I should be able to have hash browns, eggs, biscuits and gravy, a big glass of juice and coffee. I don't drink coffee often, but with a brefas like that, you need it to stay awake through the morning.

After breakfast we returned to J.'s home. We had all gotten around too late for church that morning, which was a shame. Not only because they have a very lively service, but because it starts at 12:30. We had time for a few more pictures, and some more running around the house. As you can see, J. Jr. really took a liking to Maxine. Is it too early for me to start worrying about suitors? Doesn't matter. I'm not worried about this one. He'll be a fine catch.
We hope to be able to spend a day with J., Sujin, J. Jr. and Maya again soon, but not while we are working. Our first overnight trip was exhausting. I started writing this the following Friday, and it's been a week since then. I am only managing to finish this now by staying up past the hour when a sensible person would have gone to bed.

Goodness, it's a quarter 'till midnight! I fear that I shall turn into a pumpkin!

It doesn't help any that I'm teaching a new class that started this past Monday, as well as testing my regular students. I'm putting in about 20 hours of edumacation per week until Christmas, saving up money to buy the only present that means anything:

Tickets home.

One-way tickets.



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.