Total Pageviews

Friday, January 26, 2007

Christmas 2003 and winter travel

[Another from the archives. A couple of minor changes: I included my parents' phone number in the original, for anyone who wanted to call, but I don't really think it's a good idea to post it on a website that anyone can visit. I also typed "syllable" instead of "syllabus" the first time around. Other than that, it is the same as it was three years ago.]

Dear Friends and Family:

Well, we made it to America. My father-in-law picked us up at about 7:30 in the morning and took us, along with my mother- and sister-in-law, to the airport. After checking in, we had our last Korean breakfast: kimchi fried rice and fish soup. I was planning to sit by and eat nothing, but I couldn't resist.

It's been a day and a half since we arrived, and I am still jet-lagged, so don't be surprised if I drift in and out from one topic to the next, paying little heed to chronology.

And now it has been a few more days, and I am pretty much recovered. So let me catch you up a bit from my previous missive, keeping in mind that I don't have easy access to that missive, and may therefore overlap a bit.

Our Christmas in Korea was busy, and not very Christmassy. I was in charge of the Christmas Eve service at our church, as well as giving the sermon the Sundays before and after Christmas, as well as trying to finish my latest report before leaving the country. I managed to finish everything but the report, which is still waiting for my attention. I brought all of my materials home, and even made a trip to Lawrence to visit the K.U. library on Monday. Great library, and for an alum, or anyone with a Kansas drivers' license, you can get a library card for $10. Not bad.

But back to our Christmas: my parents sent us a small box of presents this year, despite the fact that we would be home a week or two later. It arrived a week or so before Christmas. Last year (well, I mean 1992, but you understood that, right?) I made us both wait until Christmas to unwrap our presents. This year we were both feeling worn out and down, so Horyon managed to talk me into unwrapping them all right there and then. It was very nice. Nothing to write home about (though I did)–just some clothes and small cute things. In a way, that was our most Christmassy moment. (My word processor doesn't like "Christmassy", but I don't care, I'm using it anyway.)

The Christmas Eve service went well, but attendance was low. I had planned for 60 and hoped for 100, but there were only 25 or 30, and most of those were our regular attenders. It was a bit depressing, but not until the next day. Holidays are always hard when you're in a foreign country, and the more different it is celebrated, the harder it is. Strangely enough, a holiday with no celebration (in the foreign country) is a lot easier to deal with. For example, American Independence Day (the 4th of July) is not observed at all in other countries. Believe it or not, they don't care that much. And some of them might be happier if we had never broken free of the British Empire, but that's neither here nor there. Christmas is observed in Korea, but in a very different way. Like biting into a lovely golden brown bun and finding that it's full of bean paste, Christmas has some of the appearance, but little of the substance of American Christmas. Korean Christians accept it as the Christ's Mass–a special church service, but no more so than the other Christian Holy Days. The secular view is very simple: it's a red day on the calendar. No school, banks and government offices are closed, and most people get the day off. It is more of a couple holiday than anything else. People meet their boyfriends and girlfriends, go to the movies, have dinner, then wake up and go back to work the next day.

Presents are uncommon, though some parents buy presents for their children. Korea already has a Children's Day in which kids are spoiled rotten, so there is not much cause to make December 25th another Children's Day. No big Christmas sales, and no big after-Christmas sales. In the past five years, I've noticed an increase in decorations and lights, mostly from businesses. Some people decorate their homes, I guess, but when you live in a shoe box apartment, you can't decorate the outside, and inside decorations don't show very much from the outside.

And so this Christmas, once again, I was in a bit of a funk. And knowing that I was going to be in America a week later didn't seem to help at all.

I spent the week after Christmas working feverishly on my report. I made some remarkable progress, but didn't consider it good enough to pass. So I have it here with me now, in my parents' home in Kansas. Just like the good old days. I'm planning to get it in the mail by this coming Monday. Should be no problem. The jet lag is mostly gone, though I still wake up and have to pee every couple of hours through the night. Horyon and I have slept 11 hours the past couple of nights, catching up for the past month, I guess.

We went with my folks to see "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" yesterday. Fantastic. I'm very much looking forward to seeing extended versions of all three, and have already put it on my Christmas Wish List for this coming Christmas. If somebody doesn't want to be tickled until she screams, it had better be under the tree next Christmas!

We will be in America until February 9th, when Horyon leaves. She has a week of teaching starting on the 11th, then 10 more days of vacation. How annoying is that? When we planned this trip, she said, "Are you going to make me go back to Korea all by myself? Alone?" I tenderly held her hand, looked into her eyes, and said, "I hope you have a nice trip." I will be leaving my parents on the 19th, and staying in the Detroit area for about five days. I will spend time with Andy and Sarah Douglas near Detroit, as well as Rick VanManen near Toronto. Then back to Korea on the 24th. Classes start for me on Tuesday, March 4th. I turned in my syllabus during the last week in December. Can you believe I got it done that early?

Unfortunately, this means that we will celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, on February 17th, in different countries. I will be sure to have a nice steak dinner, and I'm sure Horyon will have soup and rice. In some ways an ideal meal for us, if only we could have it in the same room.

So as I return to my report (ten pages of baffling balderdash so far, not counting appendices and bibliographies), I wish you all a joyful new year, in which you find true Peace.


An Excellent Student

Here's an embarrassing admission: This post is about Horyon, so I wanted to post a picture of her. I started looking through our photos and this is a rough breakdown of subject material:

Just Maxine 83%
Me with Maxine 5%
Other people with Maxine 5%
Horyon with Maxine 1%
Other People/Stuff 6%

I didn't count or anything "factual" like that, it's just my impression of what we've done with our camera. So I gotta get busy, because even the few pictures of Maxine and Horyon together are mostly at home, and she would not be one bit happy if I posted pictures of her in her house clothes.

So back to my original topic, Horyon's new sewing lessons.

Horyon bought her first sewing machine shortly after we got married. She had just quit her job, and was spending three months or so just living at home. She had gotten interested in quilting from a friend of hers (Young-ah, I believe), and thought it might be a worthwhile purchase. It has proved to be so. That original machine is long gone, sold to a coworker who was interested in sewing as a hobby.

Horyon isn't interested in it as a hobby. It may be a fine line between hobby and obsession, but Horyon definitely crossed that line in fairly short order. She bought a better home sewing machine, freeing up the one she gave away. In 2004 she decided that she needed something a bit more powerful, so she bought a low-end Brother industrial sewing machine.
It comes with its own table with fitting to attach the motor, which alone is as big as my head, as well as being just a bit harder. It was set up by a professional, because it was a bit beyond my level of setting up, as well as being to expensive to risk leaving to me. I'm fine for hooking up your stereo, or getting your printer to work, but this machine is something else. Your run-of-the-mill home sewing machine needs to be oiled from time to time, like most machines. This sewing machine has an oil pan, like your car. It is capable of sewing so quickly that sometimes your clothes go back in time a little bit. It takes four minutes for the motor to come to a stop after being turned off. It is so cool that you can buy an optional little tray for it on which you can burn incense and sacrifice small animals.

It took Horyon more than a month to stop making happy noises whenever she used it, and for allowing this purchase I was generously rewarded. But that is neither here nor there.

What's there is that she took sewing lessons from a woman with her own little sewing studio. The sewing teacher had a handful of students, and taught classes at the Lotte Department Store for their sewing machine customers. (The sewing teacher has since moved to Seoul and is seriously considering getting married to her troglodyte boyfriend, which is why she keeps popping up in the past tense.) The sewing teacher specialized in female clothing. Basically, she didn't know much of anything about men's clothing. Her style and taste in clothing was very different from Horyon's, but Horyon still learned a lot from her. Horyon studied with her up until the summer of 2005, just a couple of months before Maxine was born.

She had always had in mind to study sewing more before we left for the States, and this winter vacation was the last chance to do so. She found a tailor with a little shop in her parents' neighborhood, and asked about studying with him. He had never taken on a student before, but he agreed, and she started in January. They agreed on something like $400 for a month worth of studying, five days a week, no set hours.

Horyon came home from her first lesson day like a kid coming home from the first day of school. She couldn't wait to tell me some of the things she had learned, and how clever her new teacher was, and how much fun she was having. Actually, she didn't directly say that she was having fun, but it was obvious just looking at her. I hadn't seen her in this kind of mood for a long time, not since she first started learning sewing. But this was even better, because the tailor also happens to have the gift of teaching.

For those of you who have not spent time teaching, you may not realize it, but being able to teach well is a combination of skills and talents. The skills can be gained by anyone willing to invest the time and energy, but the talent is harder to come by. During my years learning foreign languages, first in Nepal and now in Korea, I have found that very few people are just naturally good at teaching. With adult conversation classes, I used to ask them to teach me Korean when we went out to celebrate the end of the session. They are usually very excited to do so, figuring that finally the uncomfortable shoe will be on my foot. They quickly discover that the teacher shoes are the four-inch stilettos compared to the students' Nikes. A good teacher makes it look effortless, like Babe Ruth knocking one out of the park. In my role as student, I don't even have to feign confusion or stupidity to frustrate the newly-appointed teachers. It just comes naturally to me.

Horyon's new sewing teacher, The Tailor (yeah, I think he deserves to be capitalized), has the skills to do and the talent to teach. This is one of his standard methods: He demonstrates how to do something while she watches. He then has her take out the stitches and redo it on the same garment, while he looks on occasionally, possibly giving advice. He then has her take out her own stitches and resew the garment again.

Her first round of practice is mostly on garments that customers have never picked up, but she has altered a couple of pairs of her father's pants, and some of her own clothes, too. Last week she was especially proud that The Tailor let her do the work on a current customer's pants. Earlier this week she fixed a jacket of mine that has not been wearable for years. The Tailor did a couple of days on zippers, which are apparently complicated enough to warrant a couple of days of their own. My Grandma Euler had given me a lovely, deep blue jacket that I wore every fall and spring until the zipper gave out. I just couldn't get rid of it, because other than that it was in good shape, but I somehow got a replacement jacket before I was forced to hunt down a tailor to get it repaired. And now I am happy, because Horyon got to fix it.

So that is what Horyon has been doing since early this month, laying a path for her future. We hope that there is enough business in Lawrence for her to supplement our income significantly, but that is not really the long-term goal. Horyon enjoys making clothes, and hopes to spend more time making than repairing. She has especially enjoyed making clothes for Maxine, and hopes to make dresses for girls on commission. She figures that grandparents are pretty likely customers for that sort of thing, but I can think of a few other outlets for that kind of product, never mind the scope of customers she might be able to contact through the internet.

One small worry I have about this particular direction relates to the title of this post, "An Excellent Student." Horyon loves learning new things. She spent a lot of time learning English before she met me, and has continued to improve since then. And though she is a teacher now, she doesn't really enjoy teaching as much as learning. It enables her to be a good teacher, because she thinks like a student, but the administrative pressures simply don't suite her, and neither do the teaching goals imposed on her by the education system.

And so the worry is this: what if she has enough of sewing and wants to go on to something else? It's a small worry, because as I have noted, her stubbornness and desire to help provide for this family will be enough to make her continue to work. But I don't want her to continue to do something she doesn't like just because we need the money.

Of course, even as I write this I can hear my Dad saying, "If it were fun, they wouldn't call it 'work'." True, but you spend so much of your life working that it is a shame if you can't do work that gives you satisfaction. In my experience, that is part of the American Dream; you don't have to do what your parents did, though you can. You don't have to study what everyone around you pushes you into, though many people do. Most people don't box jobs into different classes, always struggling to move up and scorning those who are lower on the scale.

Korea is no Nepal, but it still has vestiges of a caste system. White collar workers in general don't acknowledge the presence of blue collar workers. The cleaning staff, waiters and waitresses, people doing manual labor, they are all moving in a different world from the businessmen, teachers, and managers.

The last time Horyon and I were in America we met Mom and Dad for lunch at Wendy's. (Oh how I miss that cute little redheaded mistress of hamburgers!) Mom came from her job in the laboratory at Cushing Hospital, and Dad came from working on a deck. To me they are a matching pair no matter what they wear, but Horyon was struck by their different appearances, and even more so by the complete lack of reaction from anyone else. This was simply not a scene that one would expect to see in Korea. Americans have a healthy respect for anyone willing to get their hands dirty, whereas Koreans... don't.

Enough already. If I'm not careful, I'll end up setting this aside and posting it a week later without adding anything of substance. So at the risk of causing heart failure in anyone who keeps track of how often I post, this is going up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Worry is a funny thing. I don't tend to worry for myself until the very last moment, when there's nothing to do about it. Horyon is the worrier in this family, and she usually makes up for me. Of course, Maxine doesn't worry about anything. She's either happy, or not happy, and doesn't think about her situation in the future at all.

Which means that we get to worry for her.

And while usually I am content to sit back and let Horyon do the worrying, I am finding that sometimes it doesn't work that way. Especially when a family is involved. I am having a hard time convincing her that our future is secure, and there are times when I am worried about her future just because she is so worried.

Which is odd, because I have no doubt about her ability to cope. She is so intelligent, adaptive, enthusiastic, and charismatic that she can't help but succeed. She is also so stubborn that wild horses have been known to snort in resignation upon at the very sound of her name. She will be fine, and I have made this prediction:

By 2010, she will be making more money than I will be. That or she will be enjoying her job more than I will be. Maybe both. I am very confident in her sewing ability, as well as the marketability of her talents. The only thing I'm really not sure about is the Lawrence market for hand-made garments and tailoring, but I'm still sure enough to think that Horyon will do well. She plans to start by offering free garment alterations to family and friends, mostly so that she can get enough practice to keep up her skills. She will then move up to very cheap prices, and hopefully soon after that up to full price. And hopefully full prices won't be the same as the very cheap prices.

Just a month a go, this would have been a slightly empty prediction, but Horyon has started studying sewing again. You would know all about it by now, but that was the post that got dumped. After that, I went back to Netscape. Today I am writing in Firefox again, for one reason: it has an as-you-type spell checker built right in. Email, blogging, filling out forms, whatever you do, it does puts a red line under anything it thinks you've spelled wrong. Right click on it, and it gives you a list of suggestions, or the option to add the word to your dictionary. And so I have decided to be more careful. I won't do other stuff while I'm blogging or emailing. And if I am doing other stuff, I'll save my work more often.

Once I post this little gem, I'll start reconstructing the missing post.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Feeding Maxine

This is not the missing post. The post that Firefox threw away for me. This is a feel-good post. You see, everyone feels good when they see a baby eat. I believe that this is for

1. Empathy: When we see someone having a good time, we feel good. And babies who are eating are most assuredly having a good time, unless they are not.

2. Entertainment: It is fun to watch a baby eat. Even when I am the one who has to hose the baby off afterwards, it is fun to watch.

3. Self-satisfaction: It is almost always satisfying to watch someone else struggle with a skill which we have mastered. Unless, of course, you have not yet mastered eating without getting food all over yourself.

As my wife (and my shirts) testify, I only enjoy these pictures for the first two reasons.

A few days ago I made pasta with tomato sauce. It was quite good, and I thought that Maxine would enjoy it. I made sure to put a bib on her, to avoid making a mess.
She loved it, but the only part of her body and clothing that didn't have spaghetti sauce all over it was that little patch under the bib. Next time I feed her spaghetti, she's wearing nothing but a diaper. And with a smile like that, I guarantee that I will give her another chance at it.

Maxine, if you are reading this 10 years from now and feeling a bit embarrassed, don't worry. There's much worse to come.

A few days later, Horyon's friend from back in her high school days came to visit around lunch time. Her friend's son wanted pizza, so we ordered pizza. Horyon was worried about what to feed Maxine, and I suggested that I could feed her pizza.
It was hardly a smashing success. Do you like the pizza, Maxine?
"Well, I don't know. Let me take three little bites then start crying, and you can just guess whether it's because I don't like pizza or because Mommy's in the other room. OK?"

Sometimes taking care of a baby reminds me of being married. But I digress.

This morning I found a happy compromise: a food that Maxine enjoys that doesn't require 20 minutes of bathing to clean up afterwords: french toast. (Freedom toast, if you are an idiot.)
I've given her french toast before, and she has enjoyed it. But this morning I thought that she might like a condiment, since there's no way I'm going to pour syrup on it and put it within her grasp.
My friend Jon VanHoose once told me that french fries were nothing but a vehicle for ketchup. Apparently some sort of rift in time and space opened when he said that, and delivered the message to Maxine. Usually she eats about half a piece; Today she ate all but two bites! (Daddy-sized bites, not baby-sized bites.) And tell me, does she not look happy? I had heard that the Brits not only eat their french toast with ketchup, but call it "eggy bread". Weird, huh.

On a more serious note, I find myself... concerned about our upcoming move. I've moved to new homes more times than I can remember off hand, and across the ocean three or four times, depending on how you count. I've never given any of it a second thought: where exactly I would live, my job, friends, keeping in touch with family. I've always been pretty laid back that way.

But this time is different. More later.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Yesterday I spent about an hour and a half writing a Roblog post. While doing so, I clicked an MP3 to play, and my player (Winamp) suggested that a new version was available and would I like to download? Sure, I clicked. The download page opened in a new tab of my browser (Firefox), and I clicked through to download it.

That's when Firefox froze.

Firefox is no longer my default browser. I was not in the mood to redo the Roblog entry, so it will have to wait. As will you.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

First Week

So the first week of 2007 has come and gone. Felt like a month to me.

We've made arrangements for a moving company to come get our stuff on February 8th. They brought a bunch of boxes and bubble wrap in case we feel like packing first, but they will be happy to pack if we just sort everything out for them first. Yeah. We could just make one room be the "stay" room and the rest be the "go" room.

In addition, on Friday I started a temporary job. Four weeks of elementary school children, twice a week for about 2.5 hours each. Friday it was 2nd and 3rd graders, for 2.5 hours. I read three stories, and we sang "Old McDonald" and played "Simon Says". I also answered some questions about myself and my family. By the end, I had them all totally charmed.

I originally thought that I would be teaching three different age groups every day, but instead each age group gets two or three days. Totally cung, as Earl pointed out when I told him.

It will be OK. I can be charming for two and a half hours, especially if I do a bit of planning, put together a Powerpoint presentation or two and bring some fun ideas. I am just tackling this as a sort of public relations gig: helping kids to think that English can be more than just a lot of work.

You may have noticed that with my format change, I added a link to Librarything over to the left. It's pretty cool. I've always wanted to keep track of all of my books. When I was in junior high ("middle school" to you youngsters out there) I tried writing them down in a notebook. I'm not sure how many I recorded, but I got tired of it pretty quickly, as a notebook has no option for alphabetizing a list. Later I started on a computer data base version, but didn't get far with that either. I'm not sure what went wrong with that, but it probably had something to do with being in university, hence not in the same house as most of my books. I believe that I started on an old MacIntosh, though I wouldn't bet on it.

Now this Librarything is something else all together. You sign up for an account with just an email address and a password you make up, then they never bother you again unless you want them to. Click on the button to add a book to your library, and off you go. Type in an author or a title, and it gives you a list to choose from, including thumbnails of covers, so you can even be picky about which edition you are adding.

For now I have decided to just add books as I read them, as it would be way too easy to just sit and spend an hour or two adding books to my online catalog.

And if that weren't enough, it packs a few other features that could very easily lead to spending lots of time on line: discussion groups, for starters, based on genre and other things.

I found it in sort of a roundabout way, starting at Neil Gaiman's blog. (Be careful, the man is not only a very good author, he posts links to things that are fun to read. On this particular night of "research" I spent an hour and a half getting not much done!) He refered to this article, about the way books are organized in libraries and the way information is being organized on the web. It is a very fascinating read, if a bit lengthy. Not at all difficult to read, and it will point out things that you may have noticed.

They both mentioned the Librarything in ways that piqued my interest, so I checked it out. And now it's one of my regular websites. I've got a button for it on my personal task bar. Whenever I go online, I buzz it up and add whatever book I'm reading or have read recently.

One other way to waste (sorry, I meant spend) time at the Librarything is with the Suggester. You type in a book you like, and it goes through its vast library lists and tells you what books other people have in their libraries when they also have the book that you suggested. It's not really a recommendation, just a sort of observation: "So, you have Dune in your library? You know, a lot of people who have Dune in their library also have 'Ringworld' by Larry Niven, 'Man plus' by Frederick Pohl and these others. And they tag 'Red Mars' and 'The Left Hand of Darkness' the same way. Oh, and suggests these books..."

It is what the name says it is: a suggester. But along with it, on the same page in fact, is the unSuggestor. The unSuggestor looks at other collections with the book you type in, and notes which books seem to be missing from those libraries. Right now the database seems a bit small, because almost any SF title you give to the unSuggestor throws back Christian books, and vice versa. Eventually I will help to iron out this statistical anomaly, but I will absolutely not sit down and type in my library just to satisfy myself on this point.

I'm afraid I need to be doing other things. Horyon will already be upset that I spent time Roblogging when I should be packing.



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.