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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Work in Progress

There are dishes in the sink, I am getting dressed for work in between sentences, and the house is a mess, so I thought I would write a Roblog post. I have to leave for work in 20 minutes, and will have a two hour lunch break today, but I intend to finish this post before the end of the day.

Let's start with random pictures. I may not taking as many pictures as perhaps I should be, but that is okay. I am enjoying the experience, and living it moment to moment.

First picture with Grandpa and Grandma. Who will win this contest of wills?
Maxine calls it a lunch bag. My Dad calls it a hat.
Grandpa Sack Lunch Sack Hat?

In a week of eating out, the first meal I cooked wasSunday breakfast:
banana, bacon pancakes. Lured Mom and Dad right over!

Mom was very amused that I could include Dad's good side
in a selfie with both of us.

Monday morning, 7 a.m., on the way to take Horyon to the
subway for work. That shiny thing in the background is a sunrise.
Or so I've been told.

Maxine posing in a slightly dangerous place.

Quinten working on his commando skills.

So my parents are here in Busan, and I have been asked a few times how I feel. Answering that question is like describing the pattern a leaf makes as it swirls its way down a meandering stream: the complicated motions you see on the surface only hint at what is happening just a few inches underneath. Nevertheless, I will attempt to share some of the currents with you.

So that was yesterday, I think. Today, November 18th, 2015, was hard, but it ended well.

My parents left this evening for their hotel and said goodbye to the kids, not knowing when they would next meet. Tomorrow I will take a train with them to Seoul before the kids come home from school. We will spend the night near the airport, and in the morning I will see them off. It will be hard, but it will just be me and them, and Goodbye is old acquaintance for us; not exactly welcome, but tolerated. After all, Goodbye often comes after some of the best times, when we have been living with the joy and spirit that precede the anticipated goodbye.

For Quinten and Maxine, Goodbye is mean bastard who rips Grandma and Grandpa away.

[Sorry this feels incomplete; that's where I stopped writing on November 18th, 2015, and for some reason I never got back to it. I'm keeping that publishing date, because that's when I wrote it.]

Monday, October 26, 2015

Not My Usual Style

Last week at our Life Group meeting there were just two of us, Izette and myself. We talked about many things, among them the idea of changing our meeting day from Monday to Friday. Because after all, who really likes Monday morning for anything? Judging by our lackluster attendance, no one in particular.

Today I was first joined by one of our newer members, Anel. She is in a difficult situation because her husband works in a different city, and she works here in Busan. Their three-year-old son stays with her husband and his family, so she sees him whenever the family brings him to Busan. She is worried about her son's English, as well as his faith.

I asked her the obvious question: Why doesn't she live with her family, and just stay in Busan Wednesday through Friday, the days she works? She told me that she would miss our church and this Life Group.

It is not my usual style to give advice, but ignoring this would have felt like criminal negligence.

"You should be living there and just coming to Busan for work!" I told her. "Just last week we were discussing moving our group day to Friday, which would let you continue. You would still miss Sunday services, but the sermon is posted on YouTube every week. Matthew gave the sermon yesterday and said that half of the sermon takes place in Life Groups! Here!"

The pieces all seem to fit together: her in-laws are welcoming and kind, just not proficient in English. Her son needs her, and she needs to be with him. And while there may not be an English church there now, Anel may be the seed of a new church in that community some day, but not if she keeps hiding here.

I don't know how it feels when the Holy Spirit works in other people. The Bible is not very descriptive on that sort of thing, focusing more on actions and results. But today I felt that the Holy Spirit moved in me, pushing me to advise a woman who I have only known for a couple of months to make a major change in her life pattern. It is not my usual style to give advice, but sometimes we have to move beyond what we are used to.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Like water from a rock in the desert,
      the words seem to spring up from nowhere.
Look what I've made!  How clever I am!
I forget that every word in the cistern of my skull
     was first poured in from elsewhere:
          from a book, a movie, a friend, a teacher.
And I should never be quick to write off
     the fountain of words from which I first sipped;

When my son and I said,
     in the exact same tone of voice
          at the exact same time,
               "Now THAT'S a mosquito!"
I realized that I was not the only one turning into his father.
I realized that a childhood spent
     swigging the words of my mother,
     guzzling the words of my father,
Would lead to me pouring out this inevitable concoction today.

So here's to your words,
     may you always pour and drink well.

So after writing my post, 30 minutes or it's free I became aware of an event called Wordz Only, put on by my coworker, Kenneth May. I really wanted to be part of it. I had little to no idea what to expect from it, but I wanted to be in it. And a poem sort of bubbled its way up out of my head. The story about Quinten just wanted to be written. I thought it would be a Roblog post, and it may still be part of one (along with me saying something just like Horyon's father,) but not right now.

I sent the first version to Kenneth, and he suggested that I try using "imagistic language instead of composing statements." Good advice. I ended up adding the first line, about water from the rock, and the idea of words being like water that we drink suddenly came into focus, and ended up permeating the entire piece. I have tweaked it and added bits and taken out bits, and even now it is not the same as what I read yesterday. But this is the version that is going up on the internet, so it's about as finished as it's going to get.

I told Horyon that I wanted to go to an event on Saturday night, but I didn't tell her that I would be reading something until the day of Wordz Only. When she found out, she was excited and wanted to come with me. We had a good evening, and spent a lot of time talking both before and after. It was fun for both of us, though there were some pieces (including mine) that she didn't understand. To be fair, there were some pieces that I did not so much understand as experience. It was a nice break from the concrete language that I use during the work week.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Back to Habits

Sunday I officially signed on to Busan's Biggest Loser #5, a diet competition based on the television show. I checked my weight: 103.5 kg (228 lbs). I have been stalled at this weight for about five months now, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Considering that seven months ago I weighed in at 117 kg (257 lbs). holding steady is a good thing; the usual pattern after weight loss is to gain some, if not all of it back.  So something had definitely changed.

I decided to join BBL5 about four days before the first weigh-in, and remembered that the organizer, Mike, had told me that previously contestants spent a lot of money on buffets before the contest started. After all, the more weight you have to lose, the more you can lose, right? So I decided to take a page from that playbook:

I ate a lot of tasty bread. The local French Bakery (featuring a real, live French guy you can see working in the second story kitchen) makes a lovely olive bread stuffed with cheese. (Give me a second to clean the drool off of my keyboard.) There is a corner stand that sells boneless fried chicken on a stick, with sweet chili sauce, please! There are coffee drinks that are prepared with all manner of sweet ingredients and whipped cream on the top. And candy bars. I drank four cans of Pepsi that week, as well as drinking cola with a meal. The worst was at meal time, when I ate until I was full, then ate just a bit more.

Until April I was drinking only a can or two of Pepsi a week, but the rest of those habits were totally mine. Then I did the juice thing, and dropped that down to once a month, and then as a mixer. My eating habits changed as my stomach got smaller, and I consciously avoided the larger portions I was accustomed to. Eventually I became accustomed to smaller portions, and stopped thinking about it at all.

So last week I broke all the "rules" and went back to my old habits. When I mentioned this in the office, one of my coworkers asked me, "Doesn't it feel good?"

My immediate answer was "No. I feel gross."

"I mean the taste, in your mouth!"

"Yeah, that's good for the first drink, and the first few bites. But as I drink cola and stuff myself with food, I just start to feel yucky. I've been doing it for just two days now, and I feel like a big block of lard."

It occurred to me that I must have felt that way all the time when I ate that way all the time, I just never noticed. I like to think that if I had noticed myself feeling that nasty, I would have lost weight just to avoid that feeling, but I would not wish that constant awareness of one's body on my worst enemy.

Just imagine if you were aware of every bit of discomfort in your body: even mosquito bites would be intolerable. A broken leg would drive you to madness if you could never get comfortable with the pain. I understand that some people with autism are acutely aware of the feeling of their clothes against their body. Time to move to a tropical country with a high tolerance for scant clothing.

Being comfortable with your current condition is a survival skill, but being uncomfortable with it is the path to progress.

I am on the path to progress. I have dropped one of the three kilograms I picked up last week just by reverting to my old new habits: eating less, fewer carbs, more vegetables. Today I made vegetable juice, hoping to spend a few days on a juice fast. I have enough to get me through tomorrow and into the next day, but unfortunately I tried to juice a peach pit. Bit mistake, juicer out of commision.  I will make the juice last a couple of days and try to get a replacement part soon, but in the mean time it is more raw veggies, more exercise, and no more tasty olive bread for me.

Oh yeah, we went to Gumi for Chuseok. Here are some pictures.

A cousin's home

The church built on the site of my father-in-law's home

Heading up Gumo Mountain
No, we are not walking all that way up.

Entrance to a Buddhist Temple

Maxine and I further up the mountain
This was a good trip, and deserves its own write-up, but this will have to do: the last time I went to Gumi was in 2002, I think, the Chuseok after we got married. I vowed to never again make that trip during Chuseok, as the traffic was so terrible. It took us 2.5 hours to get there, and six to get back. This time both legs of the journey were about the same. Korean highway driving is still no fun, but at least it wasn't bumper-to-bumper.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

30 minutes or it's free

I am going to set my timer and write for 30 minutes.  When it goes off, I will finish the sentence I am on and post this.  Ready, set, go!

I wrote that a few days ago, and it took a friend (thanks Kay!) goading me on to sit down and do it.  It is 12:42 a.m.  I am teaching Sunday School tomorrow in church, and I am coming down off of an all evening buzz enjoyed with my coworkers, my first night out in months.

I was talking with Kay, and told him, "This semester I don't have much left to give."

"That's your first sentence," was his immediate reply.

"But..." I said.  I actually said more than that.  The ellipses represent a load of excuses for not writing.  They may even be legitimate, but what it comes down to is that I just haven't done it.  And when I don't do it for long enough, the only reason for not writing is that I haven't done it for a long time.  So the timer is running, and whatever you get from this tired, sodden mind is what you get.

Not that there has been nothing going on up there.  There is lots.  But it has all been directed at one fire or another: plan the next lesson! get ready for the next English Hour!  get the website ready for Monday!  feed the kids dinner and get them bathed so they don't wake up in the morning hungry and stinky!

I do love Maxine and Quinten, more than words can say. But if I had properly understood what sort of time commitment would be involved in bringing them into the world, it is possible that I never would have done more than kiss their mother.

I have been trying to keep myself flowing outward.  Teaching is such an outward focused job, as is parenting.  I am not satisfied with my teaching unless I do it better than I did last semester.  I am not satisfied with my fatherly duties unless I am better than I was before.  These are so difficult to measure that I often find that I am not satisfied with myself.

In our life group this past week, we discussed the idea that humans are spiritually dead without Jesus.  "Those who have the Son have life.  Those who do not have the Son of God do not have life." 1 John 5: 12.  Like zombies, only spiritually instead of physically.  Spiritual food is prayer and scripture, that which keeps us alive.  If we deny ourselves these basic necessities, we are starving our spirit!

I know that many of my friends choose to feed their spirits in other ways.  It is a real hunger, whether you realize it or not.  You may feed the hunger with the latest episode of your favorite t.v. show.  You may feed the hunger with the company of others, with the good feelings that come with drinking. You might feed that spiritual hunger with family, and the sense that you are taking care of the most important people in the world. You may feed yourself with your own thoughts and imaginings.  And these might make us feel better for a while.

Who am I kidding?  Of course  they make us feel better for a while! If God were the only, obvious correct answer, we would all be Christians.  Anyone who suggested that something else could take the place of God would be considered an idiot, like a child suggesting that we don't need to go to the store to get food, we can just get it from the refrigerator.

But it's not obvious.  There are times when I am sure of the truth, and times when I seek comfort in the bottle, in my family, in my wife, in myself.  I look at the Christians who are so absolutely sure that they have the complete, perfect answer, and I wish I had that.  And at the same time I am scared of them, because they seem to be just a degree or two off of the crazies who are absolutely sure that they have the complete, perfect answer in blowing themselves up or killing others in the name of whatever they believe in.

I want that faith, but I don't want it.  I want to be sure, but I don't want it.  I want to keep my doubt, because doubting is what intelligent people do.  I want to have the faith that moves mountains because I want to be that kind of acceptable to God.  I want to believe that I understand God well enough to live my life the way God wants me to live.  It's so hard to believe that there is just one such way when I see how many different ways that the people who call themselves the children of God have scattered.

This important question, this all important defining of my life, I delay by giving myself and my time away.  By giving myself to my family.  By giving myself to my job.  By giving myself to my friends.  By giving myself to my entertainment.

This semester I don't have much left to give.  Why is giving myself to God so hard?

Forty-eight seconds to go.  Thanks, Kay, for reminding me that writing is part of who I am.  Thanks to Elaine and Amanda, two of the writers I admire and actually know on a first name basis.  Apologies for any typos, and a sincere hope that typos are the worst of the problems with this essay, because my alarm has just gone off, and the "Publish" button is calling!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Long, Tough Goals

It was inevitable.  I could not maintain the same intensity of juicing that I had at the beginning.  It is also common knowledge that the more weight you lose the harder it is to keep losing.

At one month I had lost nine kilograms (20 lbs).  At two and a half months so far, I have taken off another four kg (9 lbs), though I have been another kilogram lower for a day or two.  But yes, I've been stuck at the lucky -13 kg mark for a few weeks now.

The main reason I am not making much progress is that both of my kids are on vacation.  They require a lot of attention, and what feels like constant feeding.  I am trying to avoid taking them to restaurants, and it is very hard for me to cook without eating, because I'm a fairly good cook.  I try to keep my portions down, but going back for seconds is an old habit that is fighting like hell to not go gently into that dark night.

No.  Not Batman.  He's the Dark Knight.  Get it together, fanboy.

Sorry about that.  Yesterday Horyon told me that she is being patient with me and my short temper, and it made me realize that I have not been the most pleasant of company to be around.  My body is sure that this is a disaster.  After all, historically if a person were loosing weight like this, it would signify a food shortage, or disease, or perhaps some sort of war.  In those circumstances, it doesn't pay to be nice, so my brain is going into full-on self-preservation mode.  Sometimes it takes a very deliberate act of will to counter this tendency, and if I have been using my will power all day to not snarf cookies or rice or whatever, I just don't have much will power left.  

I am also just having trouble motivating myself to spend 90 minutes in the kitchen, sweating in this heat, making juice that doesn't really taste that good, and cleaning a stupid juice machine that has lots of little holes and crevasses in which vegetable matter hides, hoping that it will escape the fate of being taken out with the food garbage.  And with the kids around all the time, it's difficult to find time to shop.  And it's hot enough that just going shopping is justification for a shower when you get home.  And being hungry sucks.  And and and...

The benefits are showing.  Last week I ran out of blood pressure medicine, so on Friday I went to my doctor's clinic.  She was on vacation.  Just a three day weekend, but my Monday was busy, so I couldn't make it in until Tuesday.  She was impressed that my blood pressure was okay after five days with no medication, and cut my prescription in half.  Which means I'm back to cutting pills in half again.  The doctor visit and medicine cost me about $15 for two months, plus time and hassle.  Leaving that behind will not be a huge quality difference in my life, but I'm looking forward to it, especially after hearing so many people tell me that hypertension is something you just treat by taking medicine every day for the rest of your life.

I'm looking thinner.  (No, not another Stephen King review, sorry).  The other day I got out my barber scissors and cut off about half a pound of facial hair.  I was starting to resemble an Ewok with a perm, and it was time to do something about it.  When I finished I had to stop and look at myself in the mirror.  I'm not much of a mirror person, but my reflection really caught my eye this time.
Phone in one hand, mosquito bat in the other.  Ready for all 1:00 a.m. eventualities.
The first thing I noticed is that I really need to clean the bathroom mirror.  Yech.  It's like someone is maximizing the amount of toothpaste spit spraying out of his mouth as he brushes his teeth.  Maybe someone about six years old...  Who could that be?  Hmmm....

The next thing I notice is that my XL t-shirt hangs loose.  All of them do.  How does a L fit?  I don't know.  I haven't had a large size t-shirt in my wardrobe for many a year.  I don't remember making the change, and am not sure that my shoulders can deal with a smaller size, but I may be finding out soon.

Seriously though, what I noticed was my face.  The mirror selfie just doesn't capture the essence of what I see in the mirror.  What I see is a guy whose face is not so round and pudgy.  I see a few angles that weren't there before.  I'm starting to see my Dad, which is not a bad thing at all.  And by the way, how  much do mirror selfies suck?  The best thing I can say about this photo is that you can't tell that I'm not wearing pants.

Speaking of pants, I need to order new clothes for the fall.  My waist has gone from a 43 or 44 down to about 40 inches.  My 42 inch pants will slide right off with no belt and the wiggle that got me through college.  I'm just reluctant to order something in 40 inches because I am confident that this is not the end of my journey.  I'm not sure where it ends, other than the inevitable end that we all come to.

But it is a tough journey, like every other worthwhile goal I've ever striven for: the struggle to marry Horyon, moving to America, getting my master's degree, raising kids, being a teacher.  They all take time and effort.

My spiritual journey is also a long, difficult one, but substantially different.  I feel like weight and health have fairly stable goals: realistically, you can only dedicate so much time each day to your health, and once you reach the point of diminishing returns, there's no point in trying to eke out another 15 minutes to add to your three hours of daily exercising.  Once you have a healthy diet going, it's about maintaining, not reverting to eating an entire fried chicken by yourself.

But growing spiritually is different.  I'm not sure if there is an end goal this side of dying.

And that will be the focus of my next post.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Stephen King's The Shining, a review

A friend from work recently lent me a copy of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King's recent sequel to his 1977 book The Shining. So I bought the Kindle version of The Shining (only $2, how could I resist?) and am rereading it for the first time in about 20 years.  I am writing this review as I read it. Needless to say, there will be spoilers aplenty. I think that when a book is pushing 30 years old you are no longer obligated to keep the ending a secret. Nevertheless, I will attempt to at least spoil it in stages. That way, if you decide early in the review to read the book you can stop, bookmark the Roblog (as if) go read the book, then come back here. If you are like pre-parent me, you will probably finish it in a day or two.

The first quarter of the book is a much more interesting story than I remember it being. The central character is Jack Torrance, an author attempting to overcome his own inner demons. These manifest as alcoholism and self destructive rage. In the film he is played by Jack Nicholson. It's been too long since I've seen it, but Jack is very good at portraying anger boiling away just barely under the surface, which is perfect for the character of Jack in the first half of the story.

Jack's wife, Wendy, is caught between a rock and a hard place. When she married Jack it was partly love and partly to escape her emotionally abusive mother. She was close to her father, but he died of natural causes long before the beginning of the book. (I should note that while most "natural causes" in Stephen King books involve screaming and bloodletting, her father had a heart attack or some other mundane ending.) She loves Jack, but she is a little afraid of him, though very protective for their son, Danny. Wendy is played by Shelly Duvall. As I recall she did a pretty good job of being scared.

Danny is the first supernatural element in The Shining. He's a typical five-year-old, learning to read, riding a Big Wheel, adjusting to a new kindergarten, and loving his parents in spite of their flaws, especially his dad. But he also does some astral projection, can read the minds of others without even trying, and has occasional clairvoyant episodes. He is a good kid, especially considering some of the adult concepts that he is unwittingly exposed to, like sex, divorce and suicide. King does an amazing job of conveying the viewpoint of a child without being at all patronizing or simplistic. As I read I wanted to put my arms around Danny and send good thoughts his way.

The book opens with the Torrance family preparing to move to a big, fancy hotel in the mountains.  It feels like they are on a path back to success, and this winter caretaker job at an old resort in the Colorado mountains will be just what they need. As they prepare, all three flashback on key incidents from their lives. We get some happy moments and some Stephen King moments.  

Jack is an alcoholic, so many of the memories center around his need to get drunk. One of his key memories is of getting a ride from his friend, Al, both of them drunk, when Al runs his car over a bicycle. Fortunately there is no one on the bicycle, though they spend a tense half hour searching for the body that must have been with the now thoroughly mangled bicycle. This is the beginning of Jack's sobriety, though it doesn't eliminate his rage.

There is a memory of violence between Jack and two-year-old Danny that is both sickening and scary. Jack looses his temper and breaks Danny's arm.  As soon as he realizes what he has done he feels horrible, and does what he can to make it right. But a similar loss of control with a student later causes him to lose his teaching job, which drives him to a winter caretaker position at The Overlook Hotel, a mountain resort for the well heeled.

The second quarter of the book introduces The Overlook, and sees the family settled in.  We briefly meet Dick Halloran, the head chef.  He has the same talent as Danny, but not nearly as strong.  He calls it "the shining," and tells Danny that there are some disturbing things at The Overlook.  He warns Danny to avoid a couple of specific places, and tells him to mentally call for help if he needs it.  Danny does end up seeing some disturbing things, like blood and brain spattered walls, and a dead woman in a bathtub, but he follows Dick's advice to close his eyes, and they do go away.  At first.

Things seem to be going well for the Torrance family, but Danny has a strong feeling that things will not go well.  He has glimpsed a future of flame and pain at The Overlook, but he is devoted to his father, and can hear his father's thoughts at times.  Thoughts about how this job is his last chance to get his life started, and that if he loses it he will slip back into alcoholism, "the bad thing."

In the third quarter, The Overlook finishes the shift from setting to character.  The villain, to be precise.  Danny goes out to play in the hotel's playground, finding his way into the concrete tunnels that were the hallmark of all awesome playgrounds in the 1970s.  (The one that I remember was in Gage Park, Topeka, I think.  We didn't get there very often, but when we did it was The Bomb.)   One end of the tunnel is exposed, so he crawls in.  When he finds the other end blocked by snow, he turns to crawl back out and suddenly feels like another child is there with him.  One who wants him to stay and play.  Forever.  He narrowly escapes the tunnel, only to find that the topiary* is doing spooky things, moving when he isn't looking at them, like the Crying Angels from Doctor Who.  He escapes with scratches and torn clothes, then has to deal with his parents.  Wendy readily believes his story, and wants the family to leave.  Jack has already been creeped out by the topiary, but has convinced himself that it was an hallucination.  He has bought so deeply into this deception that he is ready to punish Danny for lying.

Needless to say, as we progress through the last half of the book Jack slips further from sanity and revisits alcoholism. He not only revisits, but settles in and signs a long-term lease, despite the fact that there were no alcoholic beverages in the hotel when the family arrived.  As he makes this journey, fueled by The Overlook and it's ghostly inhabitants, Jack remembers his childhood, and the horrors inflicted by his alcoholic father.  He finds himself talking like his father, and acting like his father.  King manages to paint Jack Torrance as a very difficult character, the sympathetic villain.  Yes, he has created all of the messes that he has to deal with (other than the haunted hotel).  Yes, he has a history of being a jerk, and yes, he broke his own son's arm.  But he doesn't want to be his father, and he is trying to be better.  The feelings he has are at heart the same ones that I have sometimes felt: that he has been disrespected, cheated, unfairly punished.  Everyone has felt the urge to hurt another person.  The only difference is that his self-control kicked in too late.  The Shining is a classic tragedy, with a sympatheic character sliding down into a disaster of his own creation, albeit with a supernatural twist.

King's major talent as a horror writer is taking the everyday, common things and using them to terrorize and kill everyone around them.  Cujo, a regular dog, possessed by rabies/demons.  Carrie and Firestarter, girls who seems normal until the pain of their regular lives wake up something powerful and deadly.  Christine, a classic car with a temper.  It.  Clowns who float in the sewer.  Ugh.  The Stand, where catching a cold leads to the end of civilization as we know it as well as the final showdown between good and evil. But The Shining hits closest to home, because it takes that one person who is always supposed to be safe and dependable--the father--and convinces you that under the perfect horrible circumstances he will break down the door and beat you to death with a roque** mallet.

Jack starts with the best intentions.  He makes repairs to the building, regularly checks the boiler pressure, spends quality time with his family, and is making progress on the play he is writing.  But as winter approaches, he starts looking through the old paperwork in the basement: mostly receipts, invoices and other dry documents.  In all that detritus he finds a scrapbook documenting the seedier side of The Overlook's history, including connections to organized crime, drug overdoses, scandals and cover-ups, and of course, death.  Jack becomes obsessed with this history.  At first he imagines writing it up as a book, but he gradually starts picturing himself in that history.  The more he learns, the more clearly he starts to see and hear bits of that history in the present.  In one memorable scene he goes to the hotel bar, orders one hundred martinis, and starts drinking and talking with the bartender.  He never sees anything more than a closed up, empty bar, but he senses the party around  him, just out of sight.  He can feel the judgmental stares of the guests on his back.  He can almost hear the crash of the empty glasses as he throws them over his shoulder.  He doesn't quite get drunk off the the "martians" that aren't there, but they prod his slumbering alcoholism into semi-wakefulness.  

Wendy notices.  She knows that there is nothing stronger than a bottle of cooking sherry in the hotel, and she can't smell alcohol on Jack's breath, but she recognizes the behaviors: the arrogance, the constant wiping of his lips, the drop off in his writing.  Somehow Jack is getting his drink on as we come into the last quarter of the book.

As Jack's hallucinations become stronger, they cross the line and become reality.  At first in small ways, bits of confetti, a party mask.  When the drinks become real to him, he more easily buys into the hotel's promises, that he is a potential manager.  The Overlook demands that he take control of his wife and child, because it feeds on power like the shining.  It wants Danny to die so that it can become more powerful.  

By the time Danny and Wendy realize the danger they are in, it is too late to escape.  The Overlook is snowed in, all communication is cut off, and they are fifteen miles from the nearest town.  When Jack attempts to strangle Wendy, Danny mentally screams for Dick Halloran to come.  He hears it all the way in Florida, strong enough to make him blank out for a few seconds.  Dick lies to his boss, and takes off for Colorado.  

Wendy and Danny manage to knock Jack out and lock him in the pantry during this first attack.  They both realize that he is no longer in control of himself, but they don't want to hurt him, they just want to survive as a family.  But The Overlook has its hooks in Jack, and is also siphoning off Danny's power.  It is materially weak, but strong enough to let Jack out of his cage.  He finds his roque mallet and his wife, and almost kills her.  He goes after Danny next, but is distracted by Dick's arrival.

Dick has had a harrowing trip, culminating in dealing with the hotel's topiary.  He manages to destroy the dog, but not without taking some injuries.  He enters The Overlook and starts looking for Danny, but is quickly ambushed by Jack and is seriously injured.  

Jack then resumes his search for Danny.  Their final confrontation is heart wrenching.  I know that I promised spoilers, but the ending itself I just can't bring myself to share.  If you really want to know, ask in the comments and I'll reply in the comments.  But first I will suggest that you get a copy of this book and read the heck out of it.  And if you have read it before, but the last time you were single, and/or without offspring, read it again.  It will tug at the daddy-heart-strings in a surprisingly effective way.  Maybe the mommy-heart-strings, too.

I am now 138 pages into Doctor Sleep.  The transition from one to the other is very smooth, especially considering the 36 years between publication dates.  The Shining was very rich in a minimalist way, having only five major characters (including The Overlook) and covering a span of only about four months (not counting flashbacks), but Dr. Sleep is 638 pages of world and character building.  It's a logical extension of what the whole country is like if the shining is something that some people actually have, and spooky hotels aren't necessarily the scariest thing out there.  

At some point, I think in my late 20s, I took in too much Stephen King at once, and just like when you take in too much tequila at once, it kind of put me off.  This one-two punch has knocked some sense into me, and I am now prepared to put his works back into rotation.  If you have also given up on reading his stuff, you might give these two books a try.  And if you've never read any of his stuff, this would be a good place to start.

*   One thing I like about King is that when he throws in vocabulary that I'm not sure about he almost always explains it through context.  In this case, shrubbery trimmed 
** If it  hadn't been explained it in the book, I wouldn't have known that roque is similar to croquet, so a roque mallet is a big, wooden hammer.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Month of Juice

It's been a month since we bought a juicer (May 22nd).  I would have been the first to guess that it would quickly find a home in a cabinet, to be pulled out from time to time to impress other people or make the kids happy.

Instead, a funny thing has happened:  I've lost 9 kilograms.  That's 20 pounds!  From 117 point mumble-mumble down to 108.1!  I am still a big, heavy guy, but not as heavy as I was.

Nor as light as I will be.

I am just going to answer some questions that I've been asked a lot.  Once again, I'm not sure how to go about making a narrative of this, because I'm not sure what the end of the story is, exactly.

Q:  What do you put in the juice?
A:  Buchu, kale, spinach, cabbage, carrot, and ginger are my reliable standbys.  Add to the mix apple, asian pear, orange, beets, various greens as found at the market, tomato, cucumber, broccoli, and whatever else I can find cheap.  That's the juice itself, then I add some fresh tofu and blend it until it changes from a sharp green to more of an avocado green.

Q:  What is buchu?
A:  Allium Tuberosum.  The Wikipedia article is pretty straightforward about it, but if you Google it you will find that many consider it to be a very healthy food.  Koreans make a kind of fresh (not aged) kimchi with it that is served with one of my favorite foods, pork soup (

Q:  Isn't the whole juice cleanse thing kind of...
A:  There's no need to be polite.  You can call it bullshit in front of me.  Strictly speaking, yes.  There are so many conditions piled on the juice fast concept that many of them alone would make a big difference.  For example, most of my snacking now is juice, fruit or vegetables, and I have had soda once since starting this.  I miss potato chips almost as much as I miss my parents.

Q:  What's the most difficult part of this diet?
A:  Making the juice.  It takes a solid 90 minutes from the time I start washing vegetables until the components of the juice machine are drying on the rack and the juice is in containers in the fridge.  If I am also cooking for the kids, and doing dishes from other people in the house, it adds to the time I spend standing in front of the sink.

Q:  Is this sustainable?
A:  Not long term.  My friend Chad did 30 days of nothing but juice,  I haven't gone more than two or three days without other food.  My intent is to integrate vegetables and fruits into my diet.  When I look at the typical pile of vegetables that are going to be my calorie intake for the day,
 A friend told me that his daughter said I would probably lose weight and be healthy if I just ate all of those vegetables.  True, but less likely to happen than me drinking the bottles of juice that came from them.

Q:  Aren't you hungry a lot?
A:  Yes, but when I am hungry I drink some juice or water.  That's the plan, anyway.  When I am on the ball, and carrying a a bottle with me, I sip it through the day.  The point of this is to convince my body that I am not, in fact, starving.  In the past I've done this with chocolates, junk food, and sugary drinks.  The juice is a dose of vitamins and stuff that gets the message across and actually addresses legitimate needs that my body has.  Plus it is just not that appetizing as a snack, so it tends to shut down the hunger pretty quickly.

Q:  Do you feel lighter?
A:  Believe it or not, after losing 9 kilograms I still don't feel lighter.  The change has been gradual enough that I don't feel like I'm walking on air.  That said, my feet don't hurt as much.  I used to wake up in the morning with sore feet.  After all, they carried me around all day.  Now that I've set so much weight aside, I have fewer leg cramps and my feet are happier.

Q:  So what other differences have you noticed?
A:  My clothes fit more loosely.  A few very large shirts and pants have passed into ridiculously baggy territory, and the pants that were too tight last month are very wearable now.  I've gone from a 44 inch waist to 42, and can probably wear the 40 inch pants that are hidden in the closet.  

Q:  And...?
A:  I've been on Sevikar for hypertension (high blood pressure) for about five years now.  With it I had been maintaining a blood pressure of about 120/90, which is on the high end of normal.  My most recent measurement was 107/67.  Not low enough to be a problem, but creeping down.  This medicine only costs about $15 per month, but the idea of ditching it is very appealing.

Q:  What do you want to eat when you finish your diet?
A:  Here's the thing, I've been eating things I want to eat from time to time.  This isn't like coming back from Nepal.  For one thing, when I returned from Nepal my body was a rice burning machine; I could put away a heaping plateful of rice and dal curry, and ask for seconds.  I came to Korea and always, ALWAYS ordered a second bowl of rice to go with my food.  In some ways, I never got over that.  But now my stomach has gotten used to taking in less food.  When I have eaten real food, I get full much faster.  I recently cooked hamburgers, french fries and broccoli for the kids.  I served myself fries and broccoli, but no burger.  I had a few bites from each of the kids' burger, maybe a third of one burger total, and that was enough.  My stomach was done, and it told me so.

The problem is that my brain just loves a good burger.  If I had cooked one for myself, I would have eaten it plus what Maxine and Quinten left.  I am truly in a battle against my own brain, and always have been.  Now at least my stomach is more on my side.

Q:  You didn't answer the question.  Stop lecturing me and tell me what you want to eat.
A:  Jeez, no need to be a jerk about it.  I want to go to Pizza Mall.  It's a pizza buffet with some of the best tasting pizza I've had in Korea.  $10 for lunch, $13 for dinner and on weekends.  It's a dangerous reward, but I'm also considering it a test:  will I be able to eat a reasonable amount at a buffet, or will I pig out?  I am trying to set myself up for success on this one.  I will pick up one slice at a time.  I will savor each slice.  I will rest before returning to the buffet.  I will drink water, and maybe have some juice before I go.  I will get my money's worth in satisfaction rather than volume.  I can do this.

Q:  Have there been any downsides to this?
A:  My body is coming around, but for the first two or three weeks it was convinced that I was starving.  I was short tempered and easily tired.  The food was gone, and so was the fun.  The first three days without caffeine was particularly painful, though revealing of my dependence.  Resuming coffee consumption has made me a much more cheerful dieter.  And I have had some slight back pain.  I assume that this is a combination of changing bikes (my mountain bike was in the shop for two weeks, putting me on the road bike, then back to the mountain bike), carrying my body weight differently (maybe my posture needs to adjust?), and all the time I spend hunkered over the juice machine and kitchen sink.  Honestly, I am still somewhat irritable after meal times.

Q:  Aren't you missing out on all that vegetable fiber? 
A:  Nope.  If you don't want to read about poops and farts, skip this next bit.  I am missing out on some of it, for sure.  My clockwork throne time (every morning, 15 minutes after waking up if not sooner, a few sips of coffee can always hurry it along) has become intermittent: every couple of days or so, and sometimes not of satisfying consistency.  And (ick) green.  Red when I supplement with beets.  But some fiber is soluble, and I am getting that.  And the juicer is not perfect.  Since I don't strain my juice, it has a consistency thicker than V8, like pulpy orange juice.  The tofu also adds to the mix.  And here's a shocker:  I don't fart as much as before.  It hasn't quite become special enough to write home about (Dear Mom:  You won't believe what just happened!), but it's definitely less frequent and less hazardous!

Q:  Ick.
A:  I told you not to read that last part if you can't deal with bodily functions.  Speaking of which, when I'm on the full juice and water, I have to pee every hour or two.  Giving the kidneys a workout, I guess.  Hopefully avoiding kidney stones.

Q:  I want to ask you more questions about this, but I'm not actually another person.  I'm just you pretending to be another person.
A:  Wow, this is awkward.  I've really enjoyed this conversation, but finding out that all along it wasn't real... I feel used.  By myself.  Ew.

That's enough Q and A.  Maybe more than enough.  Anyway, I would be happy to answer more questions.  From real people.  Who aren't me.  Just write them in the comments here, or on my Facebook link to this post, or just post on my wall.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Little Girl who is Not Maxine

The little girl was in second grade at a regular Korean elementary school.  It was early in the school year, so the teacher was going over some class rules.

"You must take off your outdoor shoes when you come into the building, and put on your indoor shoes."

"Teacher, I've seen you wear your indoor shoes when you go outside, so why is it not okay for us to wear our outdoor shoes inside?"

Let me give you some possible answers, and you see if you can guess which one this teacher said:

a)  Ha-ha.  That's a good question, but we don't have time to answer it right now.  Why don't you ask me during recess?

b)  Because I only wear my indoor shoes on the school grounds, which are quite clean.  Teachers are also more careful not to step in dirty things than students are.

c)  My shoes are enhanced with nanobots which constantly monitor the outer surfaces of my shoes.  Should any foreign material be found, it is immediately either collected to repair damage or ejected to avoid contamination.

d)  You are being disrespectful.  Be quiet.

If you guessed d) you are either very cynical or have some experience with the Korean education system. And you are correct.*

The little girl was not satisfied with the teacher's response to her question (who would be?), and followed up with a variation on, "But why?"

And so she was brought to the principal's office.†  After hearing the story of what happened in her classroom, which of the following actions do you think the principal took?

a)  He laughed, offered the little girl one of the first three options from question one, sent her on her way, and suggested to the teacher that perhaps she should consider answering questions that her students ask.

b)  He told the little girl that her question was acceptable, but that the time and manner in which she asked it were not acceptable, suggesting other ways she might have dealt with the situation.

c)  He solemnly opens a small, jewel encrusted coffer on his desk, delicately takes out a pinch of powder and throws it onto the brazier of glowing coals to the right of his desk.  The powder crackles, and a light, fragrant smoke rises up, bringing to mind long lost secrets and hidden places.  The little girl and the teacher find that all of the words they had brought with them have been carried away by the smoke, along with the feelings that accompanied them.  They lower themselves onto the floor cushions, and enter a contemplative silence.  When they leave the office three days later, their shared journey through consciousness will forever after bind them together closer than sisters, a bond which would be instantly recognized by soldiers who have fought side by side.  The issue of what shoes are acceptable to be worn by whom is of no consequence to them.  All is communicated in a glance, a barely perceptible shrug of the shoulders, a tilt of the head.  

d)  He calls the girls father to come in for a conference.

If you guessed d) you are good at pattern recognition.*

So the little girl's father comes to the school and listens to what the teacher and principal have to say.  He is a new character in this story, but keeping in mind that he is not new in this little girl's life, you can probably guess his reaction:

a)  The father laughs in that nervous way that Koreans do when they are nervous, and replies, "Yes," or "Okay" to everything they said.

b)  The father promises to give the little girl a sound thrashing when they got home.

c)  The father refuses to speak.  They attempt to use the carrot first, but Korean principals and teachers do not at heart understand the idea of "fun," so it falls fast.  They do not mind, as they are much more accustomed to the stick.  Soon harsh words turn to blows, also answered with silence.  The science teacher is called in.  His training in biology makes him especially well suited to this work, and his passion for the subject usually yields quick rewards.  But the father spits out a broken tooth and asks, "Is that all that you've got?"  The session lasts well into the night, neither side willing to give a centimeter to the other.  Finally, as the morning sun creeps into the office, the teacher admits that maybe she could have been wrong.  The father nods agreement and leaves the teacher to the mercies of the principal.

d)  The father says, "I don't understand.  What's the problem?  And by the way, what is the answer to my daughter's very good question?"

Once again the correct answer is d).**  Don't worry, I'll change up the answers next time.

The teacher says, "I can't teach a child whose rude, disrespectful behavior is not only allowed but encouraged by the parents."  If you ask me, she should have stopped after the third word.  The little girl's father agreed, and figured that if the principal was siding with the teacher, that perhaps a change of venue was in order.

This year the little girl and her sister are attending Apple Tree Waldorf school, where I met the father and eventually had a long, incomprehensible night of drinking with him.  The little girl is in 2nd grade (so yeah, that horrible story happened in 1st grade!), and her 4th grade sister is in Maxine's class.

Not every Korean school is like this, and not every teacher in Korea is like this.  But the school system as a whole encourages behavior like this, while the hogwan system encourages the parents to make every decision in how the child is educated.  It makes me relieved that Maxine is in the school where she is.  There are times when I think that the children at her school are too disrespectful to the teachers, but it is not terrible.  And compared to the extreme taken the other direction is most schools, I believe that Apple Tree students will benefit from it.

Now that I've finished, I'm guessing that you are going to

a)  leave a constructive comment here or on my Facebook page.

b)  go on to the next thing to read.

c)  contact me immediately, tell me that I am exactly what your publishing company is looking for and can I start producing content next week, anything I am interested in would be fine, and would a dollar per word be an acceptable rate?

d)  spend the next five minutes ranting about what a horrible Roblog post that was, and wonder out loud when the heck tarnation Rob is going to write something that doesn't irritate your bowels.

Put some thought into this.  I want you to make the right decision.***

†[edit:  In actuality, the teacher called the girl's father directly, so the principal was never involved in this story.  Which makes it slightly more palatable, though still disappointing.]

*  If you guessed a) or b), you might have what it takes to be a teacher.  If you answered c) then you automatically qualify to be my friend.
**  If you guessed a) or b), you might be familiar with Korea.  If you answered c) again, you might want to consider seeing a therapist.
***  If you chose a), you are awesome!  If you chose b) or d), you are the internet.  If you chose c) you are most likely a figment of my imagination.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Juice is Loose

I am not big into dieting. Four years ago I tried Herbalife.  I dropped two or three kilograms, but didn't find it sustainable. Those shakes don't taste bad, but the idea of getting my nutrition from a canister was further along the road to dystopia than I wanted to travel.  Now if it had come with some sort of post-nuclear holocaust collapse of civilization, I could see it working, but I found I wanted something more natural.

My friend Chad got a juicer in May, and started going nuts on it.  He did a 30 day juice fast, eating no other food, but drinking juices from a variety of vegetables and fruits.  I took a sip of one of the juices and decided that it was doable, especially for the results he was having.

The idea of the Juice Fast is simple, if not easy: juice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Vegetable juice.  Kale.  Spinach.  Leeks, a.k.a. 부추 (boo-chew), a.k.a. garlic chives, a.k.a. allium tuberosum, a.k.a. breathanator grass.  Serious health benefits, all the charm of garlic.  Beets.  Lemon.  Fresh ginger.  And I've taken to blending in some tofu, to give it more body and protein.  It's like drinking a chunkier version of V8, with more kick and usually less tomato, though I always throw in a little tomato, or apple, or pear.  The sweet fruits counter the bitter greens, and make the whole thing more palatable.

The main thing that he talked about and demonstrated was an increase in energy; he was needing less sleep, feeling more cheerful, and he shared some details of his love life with his wife that were best left to someone else's blog.  The point of a juice fast is that the juicer does the heavy lifting for your digestive system, while preserving the nutrients that your body requires to be healthy.  At the same time, meats and processed sugars are completely eliminated, and the only carbohydrates you take in are the traces that you get from the vegetables.  In effect, you are putting your colon on light duty, giving it a chance to rest and recuperate.  This lets you redirect the energy used in digestion for other activities.

Like making juice.

Sometime around May 20th I stepped on the scale with a sense of dread, hoping that willing myself to weigh less had worked.  It hadn't.  I weighed 117 point something kilograms.  I suspect that it was a round-up decimal, as I immediately wiped it from my mind.  260 pounds.  I couldn't believe it.  I have been big (as in overweight) since second or third grade in elementary school.  Other than a downward trend during my time in the Peace Corps (I left weighing 80 kg, 175 lbs) and the brief stint on Hebalife (dropping from 113 kg to 110 kg) I have been constantly on the rise.  I saw Chad getting results, and suggested buying a juicer to Horyon.  She agreed, and I  added another kilogram to my weight over the next few days in anticipation of not being able to eat a bunch of stuff.

We got our juice machine on May 22nd, and made my first batch the next day.  I subbed it in for a meal, but ate two regular meals that day and the next day, Sunday.  On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I had two meals of juice, and Thursday and Friday it was all juice.  Saturday was the first cook out of the year at my friend Lewis' home.  I could not pass up a grilled burger.  I ate one, plus about a quarter of Quinten's hot dog (he was too excited to eat it all).  I ate some of Arlen's awesome baked beans (with bacon? Yes, please!) and Lewis' potato salad (the perfect blend of mayo and mustard), and some chips.  One plate of food, whereas my usual modus operandi is to follow that up with a second identical plate.  My brain was telling me to go for it, but my stomach protested.  I was full earlier than I expected to be.

Dessert was a problem.  Two cookies and two rice crispy treats may have been overdoing it.  But again, last summer I would have considered that a good start.

The one thing that I would drop next time is the Pepsi.  I had one cup of Pepsi over ice, and found that it just didn't taste good to me.  I also had some wine, and that worked just fine.

I was up .8 kg the next day, but my friends, both on FB and in my physical proximity, encouraged me to ignore that, and two days later it was gone.  The biggest problem was that my stomach was a sleeping giant, and poking it with all that food sort of woke it up.  Makes it harder to get back on to the juice only part.

Let me reassure you that I am not planning to go hardcore on this juice thing.  I am aiming to do a few days of nothing but juice, then go back to one meal per day with juice the rest of the time through this summer.  Next fall, I plan to drop it to one juice meal per day.  Dinner would be best, as it is my most destructive meal; I eat too much, don't get much exercise afterwards, and spend the night converting it to fat rather than burning it off.

For now I feel good.  Hungry, but not terribly so.  One tenet of the juice fast is that when you feel hungry you should drink your juice, to reassure your body that starvation is not immanent.  After all, if the starvation mode kicks in, your metabolism drops.  Keep it low for long enough and it stays low.  This is why I continue to ride my bicycle to work and for exercise.

Before breakfast this morning I weighed in at 109.8 kg (242 lbs).    I would like to make clear that this is not just the juice.  I have seriously cut back on snacks (though I indulge in raw fruit and vegetables indiscriminately), sweets (chocolate still calls, and I still answer, just not as much), and restaurants (no McD's breakfast for 3 weeks!  I'm dyin' here!).  No Pepsi, which previously rivaled my children for a place in my heart, and very little meat.  I am waking up more easily, and tightening my belt.  I ate breakfast yesterday, and plan to eat lunch today, hoping to keep some sort of balance that will be sustainable once I reach my weight goal, which is to still be large enough to barrel through a crowd of Korean ajumas yet light enough to leap from limb to limb as I make my way through the jungles of Kenya...

Seriously, I am not sure where I want to stop and maintain.  Under 100 kg will make a big difference for my health insurance,  My blood pressure is already down a lot, it would be great if I could stop taking daily medicine for it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Return of TV

Let's get this out of the way first:

I really like watching good t.v. shows.  If the writing and dialogue are entertaining, and the characters even slightly sympathetic, or at least funny, I will watch.  And up until very recently, it was difficult enough for me to find that sort of show that I just didn't watch very much.

In Kansas, we never made the leap to cable t.v.  We made do with broadcast, and when it went digital we had it made: PBS broke itself into two channels, one full of the boring grown-up stuff and the other full of the fun kid stuff.  So there was always something for Maxine to watch that didn't make us feel like we were totally rotting their brains.

When we moved back to Korea in 2011 we had a t.v. for a while, but it stopped working and we never replaced it.  Maxine and Quinten spend a lot of their after school time at Horyon's parents' home, and they have cable t.v.  Some days Quinten gets two or three hours, while Maxine gets about five hours per week.  I would be much happier if both of these numbers were zero, but when your child care is free it is a bad idea to complain.  So Quinten sings theme songs from shows I don't know and begs for toys and comes home ready to release the energy that he has pent up sitting in front of the idiot panel.  (It used to be a box, but modern t.v.s really don't look like boxes any more.)

I have had a computer the whole time, on which I have watched some shows, but it has always taken some effort: I had to figure out what to watch, hunt down episodes on the Pirate Bay (yo-ho-ho, no link here, matey), and struggle with the guilt of being a criminal.  I justified it by bemoaning the lack of legitimate options for watching as they were released, and by spending real, actual cash money on DVD sets at some later time.  For example, the 2005 Battlestar Galactica series was one I watched fanatically.  (It was so much fun to see the grown-up version of one of my favorite childhood shows.) I have since purchased the entire series on DVD.  Doctor Who was also a favorite of mine from my youth that has been updated.  As the series has been released, I've been buying it on DVD, months after watching online.

This summer something changed: I bought a Kindle Fire while visiting Kansas, and it came with a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes a lot of videos.  I enjoyed this service, and when we came back to Korea I figured out a way to access this online (Spotflux), even though they don't want customers to access it from here.  I started watching Glee in Kansas, and ended up watching all the episodes that they had.  Then I found that my Amazon Prime membership automatically renewed for a whole year.  I was a bit upset that it was automatic, but it was only $100 instead of the $10 monthly fee, so I decided to go with it.  I did change the settings so it wouldn't do that automatically next time, but I was enjoying the service enough to keep it.

So I started watching another show, Grimm.  I watched some movies, and a few episodes of other shows.  Amazon Prime is fun, but the content is somewhat limited.

Then someone mentioned using their parents' Netflix account, and I thought, "Huh.  My parents have a Netflix account.  I wonder if I can do that?"

The answer is yes.  A shamefaced, hangdog, embarrassed yes.

I have watched more tv in the last few months than in the previous five years all together.  The one thing that saves me from total shame is that I have not just sat through anything that I didn't enjoy.  With a regular t.v. it is so easy to settle into the last half of a movie, or watch something just because nothing better is on.  I'm watching stuff that I enjoy.

I am currently working my way through 30 Rock, the sitcom created by Tina Fey.  Every episode makes me laugh, I enjoy the characters and stories, at 22 minutes each they are convenient to sit through, and I don't have to wait for the next episode.

And it is just evil.  I can waste an entire morning just watching shows.  And I have.  Too many times.

But I do not plan to stop.  I am enjoying it too much.  Maybe I need to scale back, though...

Monday, May 11, 2015

There's This Guy...

Last week was Maxine's spring vacation.  She was the only one in the family on vacation, though I had Wednesday off for my university's sports day and Friday off for Labor Day, as well as not having to teach at Maxine's school.  On paper that translates into six extra free hours for the week, but with Maxine around they weren't that free.

Horyon is concerned that Maxine should be entertained, or at least somewhat looked after, during her vacation.  So she gave Maxine permission to go across town to have a sleepover with two sisters in her school, Hyunbin (in 4th grade like Maxine) and Hyunjung (in 3rd grade, a year younger than Maxine).  Horyon thought that I would just take Maxine there, and leave her, not understanding exactly how paranoid I am about some aspects of her well being.

The sisters have been at our school since March, with their father, Ji Chan-geun, teaching science part time and doing some other work at the school, in addition to running his own organic produce store.  I met him in February at a parent teacher weekend sleepover thing.  He came late, but we got to talk some.  Most of our conversation was alcohol enhanced, and seriously aided by another parent who speaks a bit of English.  I've talked to him a few times since then, but there is no easy connection between us, so I don't really know him very well.

Changeun is a very friendly guy, and a bit eccentric.  He was a high school science teacher, but he wasn't happy with it, so he quit to start up this organic grocery store.
Okay, this looks legit.
From the outside it actually looks like a standard little Korean produce store, with machinery and stuff that your average American would not consider leaving outside just sitting around outside.  When we left, the daughter closed the gates on two of the three sides, but didn't lock anything.  You gotta love Korea.
Wow.  Not exactly standard...
But inside it seemed kind of... empty.  The shelves were about 10% full, not a lot of stuff to buy.

But the store doesn't matter.  What matters is that I spent the night at their home.  The kids had a great time, and Changeun and I drank beer and chatted for a couple of hours.

In my time here, I have spent more than a few evenings chatting with Koreans while drinking, usually in a mix of Korean and English.  Changeun studied physics using English text books and everyone agrees that he is a smart guy, but he is my language nemesis; he speaks far less English than I can speak Korean, and he speaks Korean in a way that I have great difficulty in understanding.  Actually I am understating the situation: I struggle to follow even his most basic ideas, and rarely catch a single word he says.

I've lived in this country for 14 years, and my four years in the States were not without some exposure to the Korean language.  On the TDFS (Taxi Driver Fluency Scale, a measure of how long you can chat with a taxi driver before becoming the village idiot) I usually rate 10 to 15 minutes.  Longer if the driver is chatty, shorter if he is a turd on a stick.

My Korean is not excellent, but I can make myself be understood most of the time.  But with this guy, Changeun, I'm not even sure if he understands me.  I say something in Korean or English, and the response may or may not be connected to what I just said.  I have no idea.  He might as well be just reading from a newspaper or dictionary for all I can tell.

My first thought was accent.  My first year  in Nepal I lived in the far East.  During my second year I helped with a training in the far West, hosted by Cathy Beahn (she's so mean).  When I first arrived, I thought that the Nepali people were speaking some other language, because I couldn't understand them.  This was not an unreasonable guess, as there are around 100 mother languages spoken in Nepal.  But they could understand me, even speaking my American accented Nepali.  I kept trying, and three days later something clicked.  Suddenly I understood as well as I did in the East, or in Kathmandu.

Horyon shot down this idea.  She told me that he just doesn't speak clearly, and uses unusual vocabulary.  I trust her, because her Korean is really, really good.

I don't spend that much time talking with Changeun, so it will surely take more than three days for my brain to latch on to his speaking style.  And the grey matter I'm carting around in this skull is not quite as sharp is it was 20 years ago.  I just need to anticipate how good it will feel when I finally do understand him, and not give up.

Some other good stuff happened that week.  Changeun's wife is a school teacher, so she was at work that week.  Their daughters just hang out when their parents aren't home.  They play in the neighborhood or in the house, get food from... wherever, and do the free range child thing that Americans seem determined to stamp out.  Maxine spent the next day with them, and Horyon picked her up that evening.  Then the girls came and stayed at our home a couple of days later.  We don't have extra bedding, so they slept in Quinten's bed, Quinten slept with Horyon in our bed, and I spent the most quiet, restful night at my in-laws, in their spare bedroom.

I think it was a pretty good week for Maxine.  Of course she caught a cold at the end of it.  I think she is allergic to vacations.  She had to miss the first day back at school the next week, and didn't get to do anything really fun for Children's day that Tuesday.  But hey, she got a Disney's Frozen Lego Set (not to be confused with a frozen Lego set), and Quinten got an Avengers Lego set, so it was still a happy day in our home.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

I Rode Anyway

I will be completely honest with you.  At 5:42 this morning when I got a message from Earl that said he couldn't ride because his shoulder was hurting too much, my first reaction was not sadness.  I was just about to get out of bed (no, really), and that was all the incentive I needed to stay there for a bit longer.  I considered going back to sleep, but finally talked myself into going for a ride anyway.  I left around 7:30 instead of the 6:20 I was aiming for, and that was just fine.  It was chilly and a little foggy when I left, but I had been awake long enough that I no longer felt groggy.
Gwangan Bridge looked like the Edge of the World
 I used an app called Map My Ride for the first time.  I can review my ride online (you are also welcome to do so), starting from the time I remembered to turn it on.  It's pretty fun to look at.  You can see my elevation, my speed for each kilometer, and where I stopped at McDonald's for breakfast on the last leg.
The bicycle path (red) is, of course, bumpier than the pedestrian path.
 I missed Earl.  Riding with a partner helps me keep up a decent pace, and makes it less likely that I will completely cancel out the positive effects of the ride by ingesting a 15 bazillion calorie breakfast.  It's also fun to talk to someone as you ride.
Bird, Bridge and Bugs.  I love the River Path.
On the other hand, when I ride alone I listen to podcasts, and that is fun, too.  I like hearing native Enlgish speakers, with clever ideas, fun stories, and relevant news without having to contribute.  My favorites include This American Life, Freakonomics, Escape Pod, Ask Pastor John, Marketplace, The Gist, and NPROne, which is not a podcast, but an app for my smart phone.  It lets me hear Kansas Public Radio News, which sometimes makes me homesick, and sometimes just makes me sick.  It is tempting to go into the virtues and vices of each, but that will have to wait wait for another blog post.
One of the exercise stations along this path.
The riverside walking and biking path is really very nice, when it is not crowded.  It's not very long, but it is obvious that there are plans to extend it.
The End of the Road.  That guy with the broom was told
to sweep up this mess.  15 years ago.
I rode for a while on some almost demolished trail, then on washboard dirt road to catch this last picture.  I could have gone further, but was not interested in that much off-roading.
Past the End of the Road.
It was a relaxing ride.  If you look again at the record of my ride, there is not much change in elevation.  (Shown in the little chart under the map.)  Until almost the middle, when the red elevation line climbs to 50 meters.  That's me climbing, about 40 vertical meters from where I started.
The Beginning of the Hill in the Middle of the Ride.
This is not an especially difficult climb, I think.  But two weeks ago when I tackled it with Earl, we both agreed that we were not going to complete it that day.  Today I finished it, based on the directions he gave me last week.  It was a good hill, with a wide shoulder so that the cars didn't pass me closely.  Some of the hills here in town are so crowded that I feel safer riding on the sidewalk.
Korean flag pinwheels in the shape of a heart,
the significance of which escapes me.
I miss the bike trails in Lawrence, KS.  You could ride around town for hours, crossing streets from time to time, catching some hills, occasionally riding on ten-foot-wide (3m) sidewalks.  But the river side park is not a bad substitute.  It's just limited in where you can go on it, and you have to get off of it to get any kind of climb going.
Lobster cages, windmills, the Gwangan Rainbow Bridge.  What a fun city!
I'm trying to get a ride like this in a couple of times a month.  Obviously it slows down the process when I stop to take pictures, but I want the folks back home to understand what I mean when I write that I've gone for a bike ride.  Next time I'll try to document one of the rides I do in town.

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.