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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.

Friday, May 01, 2015

How I Met Horyon

Memories are wax sculptures in our minds.  As we handle them, they get warm, and reform, or perhaps deform, to fit more comfortably in our grip.  The sharp edges smooth out.  Bits that make us look foolish or selfish shrink, and sometimes fall off.  Parts that we are proud of are enlarged, and made smooth.

When I met her, I had no idea that she was the answer to my prayer.  More plea than prayer, really, a literal mountain top surrender to God's will.  Begging for help.  I was revisiting Nepal, where I had apprenticed in being alone, where language and geography had tag-teamed me into believing that my previous life in America was nothing more than a half-forgotten dream. I was once again experiencing the isolation that lives in the places where all you can see is the sky, green fields, and gray stone. Where there is nowhere to go but down.

In Nepal the doorways trained me to obey one command: keep your head down while passing through.  The penalty for disobeying?  A direct assault on the organ responsible for the poor decision.  My rebellious brain suffered one punishing blow after another, for I come from a race of stiff necked people.  Eventually the tedium of washing blood out of my hair and the desire to spend a day without a splitting headache gave rise to obedience.  I bowed my head as I walked through doors.  At first resentfully, with much grumbling, then with resignation and sadness.  Finally, like a well trained dog, without even thinking about it.  Weeks after returning to America I found myself nodding deeply as I passed through door frames that would allow even the most elevated of hats to pass undisturbed on my head.

In Korea there was a different kind of training, with a different command:  keep your heart to yourself.  The girl who chose alcohol instead of me.  The girl who suddenly stopped returning my calls.  The girl who lied to me.  The girl who agreed with me that we didn't belong together.  Each one a blow urging me to stop looking for love, to get used to the idea of being alone.  To keep my heart down.

I returned to Nepal for a month.  Alone.  At the top of a 9,000 foot hill in the shadow of the Himalayas I sat down on a rock and talked with God.  I cried out, "I am so tired of being alone, but if you want me to be alone for the rest of my life, then so be it...  But I have no idea how I am going to do it."

The only answer was silence, though by the time I returned to the Land of the Morning Calm, I was cloaked in a calm of my own.  Vacations are often refreshing, so I did not recognize this calm as an answer to prayer.  Hindsight reveals that it was part of the answer, the Breath before the Word.

The Answer showed up in my classroom on February 1st, 2000.  One of four students in a class that should have been cut from the schedule.  The highest level of English conversation available at our institute, it was a class for talking.  The news, science, social issues, food, our hobbies and habits.  Some grammar, but mostly talk.  Lousy attendance.  Usually two students, sometimes four, but always The Answer was one of them, ready to talk, listen, learn.

During the third week of class her father invited me to have dinner at their home.  As he was driving me home afterwards, she and I sat in the back seat and held hands.  I didn't know what she was thinking, and couldn't have told you what I was thinking either.  A conversation without words flowing just under the conversation with her father about something that I pretended to be interested in.

The last class, a Friday.  I was early and she was waiting, so we talked in the hall for an hour before class.  No other students, so we talked for another hour, then we went out and talked for two or three hours more.  As we talked over one neglected beer, my hand wanted to continue the conversation it had started in the car with hers the previous week, so it did.  Neither of us said anything about it as our hands conversed, at first casually, then more intimately.  Once again, we ended the evening without acknowledging the silent conversation.

On the way home I took a detour to the mountain top by way of a pedestrian bridge over the rail yard in Bujeon.  The joy that had been percolating in me just bubbled up and for a moment I Gene Kellyed my way across the bridge, laughing and telling the sky, "I've found her! I've found her!"  My moment of clarity, when The Answer to my prayer was made abundantly clear to me.

Two weeks later, after dinner in a top floor restaurant, flowers, chocolates, and perfume, I suddenly realized that I was going to propose to a woman I had met only six weeks previously.  No more than a hundred hours of conversation, only two weeks of actual dating, but I had never in my life been more sure of anything.  "Will you marry me?"

Her answer, forever emblazoned on my heart, "I beg your pardon?"  An opportunity to laugh in this sacred moment, I took it.  Her second answer we are still living out for the world to see, for she said, "Yes!" and we have never looked back.

To you, the reader, this may seem like the magic moment, when it all came together.  In actuality, the magic is bound up in the days that follow.  In the joy and pain, the boredom and excitement, the triumphs and defeats.  The magic is not in the moment of clarity, but in remembering the moment of clarity and believing in it when you can't see your hand in front of your face for the fog.

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.