Thursday, September 03, 2015

at the office

Yerp. Therss ers whert ert lerks lerk ert mer werk.

Teacups behind me belong to my boss, who has been collecting "Occupied Japan" hand-painted teacups and saucers for some time now. The "Occupied Japan" label was placed on certain Japanese(?)-made products for a short period after the end of World War II, when the United States occupied Japan before finally leaving. On eBay, these cups and saucers sell for absurdly cheap prices—like $3 a set or something. My boss wants to collect them all, then generate interest in them by starting a little shop somewhere in Seoul.

Koreans themselves might be intensely interested in these little pieces of art, if for no other reason than the karmic one: Japan occupied Korea, then the US occupied Japan. These tea sets are a reminder of that. I find the cups gorgeous, but there are now so many in the office that storage has become a problem. There simply isn't enough wall space to put in more pigeonhole shelving, so the rest of the cups, from now on, will have to be stored inside my boss's home. My boss is a collector of many other things, too, so I don't know whether he'll have much space at home for more of these sets.

Also behind me is some butterfly art, made by my boss's half-Korean sons as some sort of school project. The boys speak exclusively in Korean (my boss speaks the language fluently); the last time I met them and tried talking with them, they basically ignored me and wandered about the office. Cute kids, though.


part of my walking route

Here are two pics that show some of the greener parts of my walk home. The first pic won't do anything if you click it; the second pic will enlarge if you click it.

My walk takes me away from Mido Jonghap-sangga, the building where I work, and through a large apartment complex. Once I hit the Yangjae Stream, I turn left, follow the stream to a bridge (Myeongdong Bridge #6), turn right, climb some stairs, use the bridge to cross over the stream, turn left at the intersection pointing toward Daecheong Station, and walk straight to my building, the awesome and imposing Daecheong Tower. It's about a thirty-minute walk, all told. Above, you see the walkway that runs parallel to the stream before I reach the bridge. In the picture below (click to enlarge), you'll see the view from atop the bridge:

I still haven't walked to work; I've only walked from work. When the weather gets cooler, I'll doubtless do the round trip on foot. And very soon, I'll be tackling the two local mountains. Much awesomeness to ensue as I get back on track, health-wise.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

long walk back

It's a thirty-minute walk (about 1.5 miles or 2.4 km) from my workplace to my new residence.

Well, at least that's a known quantity now.


Tuesday, September 01, 2015

how to make a good day even better

The long-anticipated September windfall begins!

I just received an automated text message saying that my university pension was heading my way, and sure enough, a few minutes later—boom! There it was. Quite a surprise to receive the pension this early. To be honest, I didn't expect it until mid-September. There was another pleasant surprise, too: instead of W4.7 million, it was W4.8 million. A mere W100,000 is chicken feed in the greater scheme of things, but it's awesome to have a bit more spending money all the same. I just wired $600 home today, but sometime this week or next week I'll be wiring home $3500 to my US account. Some of that will go to one of my creditors; the rest will sit there, waiting to be used when I'm in the States this October for Sean's wedding.

This is the windfall month, and there's more money on the way. I'm expecting W600,000 from Seoul National University; my August 20 KMA gig's payment will probably arrive in my account (W470,000) around September 10. I've got two more KMA gigs happening this month (almost a million won right there); they're taking place early enough that I'm hoping they'll pay out in September as well. If not, it's no biggie: the money arrives when it arrives; the math works out the same, even if the timing doesn't.

Now I need to go purchase a hanbok and a plane ticket.


a better birthday than many

I can't say that I've had a string of miserable birthdays, but as a basis for comparison, I turned 40 the same year that my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. That year, 2009, my family got me a spanking-new Macintosh desktop that served me faithfully until it conked out in 2014, when I was teaching down in Daegu. At the little party, people sang happy birthday for me, including Mom, who warbled weakly but wonderfully. It was, to put things politely, a bittersweet moment. A Mac was a wonderful gift, but at the same time, I knew my mother was slowly slipping away from us.

Over the course of this latest August 31st, my thoughts tended Mom-ward. I set out, early in the morning, for the Goyang Immigration Office, all my F-4 visa-application paperwork bundled together in my bag. Truth be told, the night before, I had printed out and/or assembled more than the required documents, all of which I color-scanned into my computer for future reference, not knowing whether I'd ever see those documents again. (Turns out I was right to do so.) Among the documents, I slipped in Mom's death certificate, which I felt would be important: the certificate showed Mom's married name, but it also showed her parents' names, which would tie Mom to the Korean jaejeok-deungbon, i.e., the Korean family register, which listed Mom simply as "Suk Ja."

I got to Immigration a bit late—around 9:30AM. This didn't worry me, as the Goyang office has never been crowded. A guy intercepted me as soon as I stepped into the office. Before I could even take a ticket to be served, the guy told me I'd have to fill out different forms from the one I'd found online. He handed me three sheets of paper to fill out, then let me go at it. I admit I fudged: I listed my current residence as Goyang City, which is no longer true. But this was for practical reasons: had I listed my new and current location, there would have been employment-related questions, e.g., "How did you get housing for a job you supposedly haven't started yet?" Better to play the role of a prof whose contract has just expired (my contract with Dongguk University did, in fact, expire on my birthday), and who is running out the clock on the validity period of his alien-registration card (ARC). Later on, I'm going to have to get my ARC changed to reflect my new address in Daecheong Tower.

Before my arrival at Immigration, I had mentally prepared myself for a fight. Although the Goyang Immigration staff have been nothing but nice to me over the course of my several visits, I had been worried about one staffer's remark at the end of my previous visit: if Mom's documents showed different surnames, this would be a problem, and there'd be extra steps in the procedure, i.e., more delays. That was why I felt Mom's death certificate was crucial: it showed her married name, but also showed her parents' names, inextricably linking her to her Korean family and heritage. As the immigration officer looked over my paperwork, he asked me questions, mostly about the English-language documents: where was Mom's name on this document? You said her parents' names are listed, but where are they on this sheet? Things like that. I obligingly pointed out every bit of information the man asked for, trying to smooth the process for him as much as possible. The last thing I wanted to do was to put a bureaucrat in an obstreperous, and therefore unhelpful, mood. As it turned out, I needn't have worried: in the end, the officer looked over everything, said, "Just a minute," left me in suspense for several minutes as he went somewhere else, then came back and told me I needed to pay W120,000 at the other office down a short hallway.

I was flooded with relief: the worst was over, and that's what I live-tweeted. Even better, it turned out that the lady in the payment office charged me only W100,000 instead of W120,000. On a down note, however, I did have to pay yet another W30,000 to the officer. For what, I have no idea. But no matter: all that was left was the cleanup. The officer clicked and clacked on his keyboard, stamped my documents (many of which he wrote on with a pencil—including Mom's death certificate and my very own birth certificate, neither of which I expect to ever see again), and finally told me I was done. I left Immigration at 10:30AM on the nose. Almost exactly one hour had passed.

I walked out the door of the building's ground floor feeling both elated and sad. All that had happened was thanks to Mom: her heritage was paving the way for this privilege. Her death certificate had played, I'm convinced, a crucial role in aiding the processing of all that paperwork. Successfully applying for the F-4 felt like Mom's final gift, and as happened when I turned 40, the event was a mixture of celebration and somberness. Mom hadn't stopped giving, and I haven't stopped being thankful for her.

Being near Hwajeong Station, I strolled across the way to a local E-Mart to purchase some household items. Didn't find everything I wanted, but I got a new fitted sheet for my queen-size bed (a bed that had been purchased by the Golden Goose expressly for me, and it's quite nice, I must say), an extra wastebasket, and a soap dish for use in the bathroom. I trundled all the way back from Goyang to my apartment, dropped off my wares, then headed right back out to meet A Certain Lady* for lunch at Everest. We sat next to a group of foreign Buddhist monks dressed in Korean garb; they spoke Korean, well and poorly, with a lady who might have been some sort of guide, liaison, or coordinator. I ordered the same chicken masala that I'd had last time; ACL got the mutton masala. Everest was out of samosas when we got there for our 2:30PM lunch. That was disappointing; I imagine the samosas sell out fast, especially considering how cheap they are. ACL also presented me with some surprise gifts: a lovely blueberry-cream cake, a box of peppermint tea, and a very nice tea mug to go with it.

After lunch, ACL helped me shop around in the Dongdaemun district for a blanket. I told her my color preferences: dark blue, dark gray, black—you know, serious colors. Georgetown colors. We had a hell of a time trying to find a seller who actually had anything like what I wanted. In the end, I had to settle for a patterned blanket that was mostly dark blue, but that was also shot through with white. Ah, well. ACL got me a discount, too: the tagged price was W64,000, but all she had to do was bat her lashes, and the price went down to W55,000—a discount I could never have managed on my own, as ACL herself archly noted.

So I start work in the morning—full-time, now—at the Golden Goose. At present, the plan is to tough it out for maybe three years—the time it'll take to get out of debt. My budget's a bit wobbly: I'm no longer sure I can be totally debt-free by age 50, but I think I might still be able to make that goal. Just barely. It's possible.

Life is looking up. I'm 46, now, and the future looks okay.

*I think I'll refer to her as ACL for the time being. Since ACL is also an abbreviation for anterior cruciate ligament, one of the important structures inside the human knee, I might also just call her Ligament.


after my own heart

This dog understands how to live a good life:


Monday, August 31, 2015


I'll write more later, but the happy news is that my F-4 visa application went without a hitch. I spent a lot of money, but in two* weeks, I'll have my new alien-registration card and an F-4 visa that'll be good for two years.

The point of this visa is that it's not attached to a sponsoring employer: I essentially become a free agent, able to roam Korea at will, working wherever I want, enjoying most of the perks of a South Korean citizen thanks to my Korean heritage. If I suddenly want to act in a TV commercial, I can do that while working elsewhere. Private tutoring? Also no longer a problem. No need to look over my shoulder for the authorities.

After a raft of bad news, this is very good news, indeed. More later.

*Corrected. I'd originally written that it would be three weeks.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday news

I'm still putting everything in place at my new residence. Later today, I'm hitting Gangnam for a pre-birthday dinner with my buddy Tom.

Tomorrow, I turn 46. I had hoped to hit Braai Republic for lunch, but it turns out that Braai is closed on Mondays, of all the dingle-damn days to close. So I'm looking for alternatives. Your suggestions are welcome.

It's decided: I'll be hitting Immigration tomorrow morning with the paperwork I have in hand. If that's not enough to prove who my mother is and that I'm related to her, I really don't know what will do the job. My fear is that bureaucrats are narrow-minded dullards who will flatly state that only Document X will do, and nothing other than Document X.

My building, as I mentioned before, is a city unto itself. I'm still exploring the place, but I've now located the underground restaurants, the ground-floor restaurant, and the B1-level grocery known as E-Mart Everyday, a small-scale offshoot of E-Mart. Alas, E-Mart Everyday doesn't have all the items I need, so I'm on the lookout for a full-size E-Mart or some other, similar store (like Home Plus).

Once I've got my place squared away, the next step will be to explore my neighborhood. I began this process over a month ago, when I first found the path leading up to the mountain I want to start hiking. I need to find other, alternative grocery stores that carry the items I can't find in my building's shop. I'd also like to see what other restaurants are nearby, and whether there's anything else worth knowing about. I'm only a couple stops away from the famous Garak Market which, I'm ashamed to say, I've never once visited. I should take a stroll through there one day and see what's for sale. The market used to have the reputation for being the largest of its kind in all of East Asia, but I don't know whether that's true any longer. China is Asia's Texas: the Chinese do everything bigger, if not necessarily better.

Then there's the matter of signing up for a gym. There's one in my building, and there's also one at the building where I work. I need to find out which is cheaper, but there's a chance I might sign up for both, for convenience's sake. We'll see. Much depends on prices.

UPDATE: I've spoken with the lady, and we're heading to Everest tomorrow. I've written about Everest here, in case you've forgotten.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

bad news on the F-4 front

Murphy's Law turns up, not when you least expect it, but when you least want to see its ugly face. I suspected that something like this was going to happen, but foreknowledge (or foreguessing, in this case) doesn't make things easier when the Murphic reality inevitably intrudes. My brother David finally got the long-awaited CD-ROM, with Mom's naturalization papers, from USCIS. He dutifully sent over the two PDF files that were on the disk, and he noted in his email—as I had asked him to do—that Mom's married name is what appears on the document. Her maiden name is nowhere to be found.


Why is this a problem? you ask. Good question. I had been warned by the Goyang Immigration Office that, in the event of mismatched surnames, there might be some sort of extra step in the F-4 process because, if different documents related to Mom showed different surnames, there'd be some doubt as to whether all the documents referred to the same person. I'm guessing that Immigration might ask to see Mom's marriage documents—something to show her transition from one surname to another. I don't have access to such documents, so I'm just going to head over to the dreaded Mokdong Immigration Office this Monday morning and try to use what documents I have to apply for the F-4. Along with the required paperwork, I'll also bring along Mom's Sookmyung student ID, on which is recorded her date of birth; and her death certificate, on which are listed her parents. This will tie her, logically, to other documents like the Korean family register. Of course, invoking logic in conjunction with bureaucracy is a dicey proposition at best, but right now, that's the best plan I have. All these documents, put together, build an airtight case: yes, this woman is my mother; and yes, she was originally Suk Ja Kim before she changed surnames after getting married.

Here goes nothing.


arrived, but not settled

Am resting. It's been a long day.

I prepped half my affairs last night, then did the rest at a slow, steady pace this morning and early afternoon; the mover wasn't going to arrive until around 3PM.

When the mover finally came, he turned out to be an older gent: short, loud, cheerful, gap-toothed, and energetic, with a tendency to overdramatize everything. Together, he and I wrestled my boxes and bags and furniture onto his truck; the mover threw a net over the pile and secured it with an infinitely long, heavy-duty elastic belt. I said my good-byes and thank-yous to the landlady and did a final sweep of my empty studio, then the mover and I shoved off and quickly stopped by Dongguk's Biomedical campus so I could hit a Shinhan Bank ATM and pay the mover his fee in cash. We then trundled off to Seoul.

The drive was long. As we were leaving Goyang, my buddy Tom texted that it had rained torrentially in Seoul that morning, but by the time the ajeossi and I were on the road, there was no rain and things were drying up. Traffic was horrible; it was Friday afternoon, and the driver (whose accent was amazingly hard to understand) said that Fridays were always the worst. We crawled along the road that followed the north bank of the Han River, eventually crossing the Han and heading straight to my apartment building, Daecheong Tower.

I hopped out of the truck and asked the front-desk guy where we could park so as to move my stuff into my new place. My boss at the Golden Goose had also called and warned me that I would be charged W20,000 just to use a reserved elevator for the move-in. It's a good thing he'd called: otherwise, I'd have experienced a very unpleasant surprise. (My landlady also unpleasantly surprised me by removing another month's rent from the W3 million I had thought I would be refunded.*)

The move-in took several trips and a lot of sweating by yours truly, and some obnoxious Tower denizens failed to read the large signs plastered next to "our" elevator—signs that said, "For Moving Only." Eventually, though, we got everything into my new place.

I use the word "new" loosely: Daecheong Tower is actually a fairly old and dilapidated building, and my apartment looks a bit worse for wear. (I'll write more later in a "frank" post.) There are some perks, though: slightly more floor space, a very large fridge, a huge bed provided by the company (my own bed will now become a guest bed), and the building itself which, despite being old, is huge enough to be a city in its own right: there are restaurants and shops on the ground floor and in the basement levels; there's a gym on the fourth floor; the neighborhood has schools, athletic fields, trails, a local mountain, and even more shops and restaurants. The feel is that of a hive or a warren: there are people everywhere—charging into elevators, milling about, or walking aimlessly. This might take some getting used to after six months of country-style quiet in the hinterlands of Goyang.

If all goes well, I'll be mostly settled in by Sunday night. If not, then definitely by my birthday on Monday. I need to decide how to lay out my furniture, especially now that I have two beds. I had hoped for a much larger apartment than the one I'm in; the whole "guest bed" notion is predicated on having some space and breathing room for the guest, as opposed to having both beds crammed side-by-side so that my guest will be forced to witness my snoring, drooling, and farting. In the interest of space, I might have to get rid of one of the beds. The problem right now is this: the company-provided bed is actually nicer than my own, which makes it difficult to send this bed away. Meanwhile, my bed, while less comfortable, is my bed: I purchased it—I invested money in it. It'd be a shame to suddenly throw that bed away.

So I'm here, but I'm far from settled in. I'll work on the place all day Saturday; Saturday night, I'm tutoring, then Sunday evening I'm meeting my buddy Tom in Gangnam for a pre-birthday birthday celebration. On Monday, I'm going out with a certain lady for lunch at Braai Republic in Itaewon—a place I've heard many good things about. After my birthday, I start my hiking/exercise regime in an effort to slim down for Sean's upcoming October wedding. While I'm busy working and slimming down, I'll finalize the marriage-related paperwork for Sean; I'll get my F-4 visa stuff done, and once October has come and gone, I'll finally be able to settle into a routine at my new full-time job.

Watch out for a "frank" post sometime this weekend. I've taken lots and lots of photos.

*Initially, I had anticipated paying rent up until September 4, but the landlady had texted me a few weeks earlier to say that I'd only need to pay through August. I adjusted my budget accordingly... then she pulled this shit. Either she was being tricky or I had misunderstood her text messages. Both options are possible.


Friday, August 28, 2015

execrable writing

Journalists really need to learn to write better. This sentence, from an article about a Chinese cameraman's collision with fleet-footed Usain Bolt, just makes me cringe:

But his momentary triumphalism, a Jamaican flag draped across his shoulders, was shattered when he failed to outrun a Chinese cameraman riding a Segway, the ubiquitous two wheeled self-propelled scooter, which then crashed into him.

Go ahead: write an improved version of the sentence in the comments.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

packin' it up, guys

Quite literally, I'm packing everything up in an everything-must-go kind of way. The movers are coming tomorrow afternoon, around 3PM, so I have plenty of time to box things up slowly. My Golden Goose boss has been calling back and forth with HR to get me into my new housing; I still don't have a specific apartment number, but I will as of tomorrow. By tomorrow evening, I'll have signed my contract and will be ensconced in my new, much larger residence. It'll be nice to be in a real apartment again. Last time was 2013, when I left a comfy place in Front Royal, Virginia, at the foot of the Shenandoahs.

So this will likely be the final blog post I write from my residence in Goyang City. Tomorrow, we cross the threshold into a new phase of existence. If I have anything more to say before I plug my computer in again, I'll say it through my phone. If not: see you on the other side, muchachos y muchachas.


Jeff reminds me of the good old days

A recent post over at Dr. Jeff Hodges's blog, Gypsy Scholar, reminds me of a drawing I did back in the 1990s to illustrate one of my own short stories, "Little Billy in Hell," which appears as the final short in my nasty collection of verbal filth, Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms: A Panoply of Paeans to Putrescence and a Cornucopia of Corrosive Coprophilia (from which this blog gets its name... though listed on Amazon, the book is no longer sold there).

 photo bd02acf5-a14f-40ec-94df-6f9a0dcaf000.png

I've thought about re-publishing my old humor collection directly through Amazon's print-on-demand service, and I've also considered converting it to e-book form, which means I could sell it for cheap (you really shouldn't have to pay much for bathroom humor). After that, I'd like to put out a sequel, of sorts—a collection culled from the humorous poems, stories, and essays I've written on this blog, with some of my favorite tweets off Twitter sprinkled in. Once I settle into my new job, that's one of the ways I hope to spend my free time: churning out books. I've had this motivation for years, but maybe Young Chun has inspired me of late.


"Jodorowsky's Dune": review

This will probably be the last movie review I ever write in Goyang City.

This past Tuesday night, I watched "Jodorowsky's Dune," a documentary by Frank Pavich that features visionary and psychedelic director/artist/thinker Alejandro Jodorowsky at its center. Eighty-four years old at the time of the making of this documentary, Jodorowsky (whose Eastern European-sounding surname no one pronounces the same way), still feisty, cheerfully and passionately narrates the long and complicated story of a magnificent failure: his brave but doomed attempt, back when he was in his forties, to make the film "Dune," based on the cult-classic sci-fi novel Dune by Frank Herbert.

The cast of characters surrounding the Chilean Jodorowsky includes his son Brontis, French film producer Michel Seydoux, British sci-fi artist Chris Foss, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, French artist/singer Amanda Lear (a close friend of Salvador Dalí), South African writer-director Richard Stanley, and the late Swiss sci-fi concept artist HR Giger. Mentioned throughout the documentary are other luminaries who were supposed to be attached, in some way, to Jodorowsky's massive production: David Carradine, Orson Wells, and Salvador Dalí among them, not to mention music groups like Pink Floyd and Magma.

The documentary moves us from an introduction of Jodorowsky the man, to his attempts to assemble a group of "spiritual warriors" to produce a film that he saw as depicting nothing less than the arrival of a god (i.e., the messianic Paul Atreides from Frank Herbert's novel), to the difficulties Jodorowsky encountered along the way, to the film's eventual failure to materialize while—at the same time—becoming a major artistic inspiration for many of the sci-fi films that did appear, starting in the 1970s and moving forward.

Jodorowsky himself comes across as driven, as something of a guru or a cult figure. He starred in many of his early works—weird, spiritual, transgressive works that were sometimes banned in the countries in which they were shown. His personality, at times easygoing, at times fiery and teetering on the edge of sanity, is what, in my opinion, propels the film forward. He's philosophical about the failure of his movie, but at the same time resentful of how the film's demise occurred primarily because of a combination of risk-aversion and greed. At several points throughout the documentary, the idea is repeated that some studios might have been willing to greenlight the film except for the fact that Jodorowsky was helming it.

The interviews for the documentary were conducted mostly in English, French, and German. Jodorowsky himself switched randomly between heavily accented English and mellifluous Spanish that was sprinkled with the occasional French "n'est-ce pas?" from his years of living in France. HR Giger's high-voiced German was positively creepy to hear: he was near the end of his life when the film was being made, and his voice had a strange, saliva-laden, throat-bubbly quality to it, as if he were trying to speak while gargling. The other interviewees were memorable, too, each providing an interesting perspective on Jodorowsky—the persuasive man, the hypnotic myth.

Jodorowsky eventually puts together a massive book that is, essentially, his version of "Dune." The book is filled with concept art, storyboards, scripts, technical notes on camera angles and other moviemaking factors—all the ingredients that a person would need to realize Jodorowsky's grandiose vision. This, then, is the man's true legacy. According to the documentary, copies of this book are sent to all the major American studios, but the thoroughness with which the film is described in the book is somehow insufficient for any studio head to accept as a plausibly realizable vision. Chalk it up to a lack of cojones.

I found the documentary fascinating, but there were elements of it that didn't quite convince me, especially when it came time to talk about Jodorowsky's influence on subsequent sci-fi films. True, some of the concept art for Jodorowsky's "Dune" did seem uncannily similar to stills from films we've come to know, like "Alien," but there were other tropes that struck me as so archetypal that it would be silly to attribute them to Jodorowsky—for example, the column of flame that marks the conclusion of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The documentary attempts to link that moment in "Raiders" to the concept art and storyboards for the end of Jodorowsky's "Dune," but the notion of a pillar of fire is quite ancient: more likely, Steven Spielberg was taking his cue from biblical passages, not from this South American visionary. This isn't to diminish the power or the scope of Jodorowsky's innovation; my point is merely that the documentary went a little overboard, every now and then, in its claims.

I wonder whether Jodorowsky's "Dune" could be made today. Were I the director given this immense challenge, I would update the costumes to reflect a more modern sensibility (knowing, all the while, that we're all trapped in our particular moment in history; Jodorowsky might be a visionary, but his vision, seen through 2015-era eyes, looks pretty Seventies these days). I'd include the innovative camera techniques that have become commonplace nowadays, but I'd also strive to create some new tricks that were consistent with the boundary-pushing spirit of what Jodorowsky was striving for. I doubt I'd base my casting decisions on Jodorowsky's weird notions of a person's inherent spiritual power, but I'd certainly want to find people who deeply understood and resonated with the spiritual thrust of the story. Would I alter the ending as much as Jodorowsky had? I'm not sure.

This leads me to a rather uncomfortable topic. Jodorowsky, in describing the liberties he had chosen to take with Frank Herbert's original story, employed the analogy of a bride. You can't have children with your bride if all you do is honor her [from a distance], he contended. And then he released his salvo: at some point, if you're going to have children, you have to tear off her clothes and rape her. "I was raping Frank Herbert!" Jodorowsky laughed. Was this an expression of Latin passion from a man who hasn't mastered English? Was this the out-of-touch expostulation of an 84-year-old with little understanding for, or care about, modern notions of politesse? The rape metaphor struck me as harsh and brutal, although I have to admit that, through this violent and extremely uncomfortable image, Jodorowsky drove his point home with me: when adapting a work from one medium to another, any thought of honoring it by preserving its original purity necessarily goes out the window.

For most of the movie, I sat there wondering when someone was finally going to mention the ponderous elephant in the room: David Lynch's version of "Dune." The moment, when it comes, is worth the wait, as Jodorowsky describes how, after the De Laurentiis family made off with the rights to make the film, he was too depressed to see Lynch's version. His son persuades him to see it, anyway: "We're warriors," Brontis says. Miserably, Jodorowsky attends a screening... and little by little, as he's watching the film, he comes to realize that Lynch, despite being a great filmmaker whom Jodorowsky esteems, has birthed a steaming pile of garbage. I confess that I laughed as I watched Jodorowsky relive his delight, his Schadenfreude, as he bore witness to Lynch's spectacular failure.

The movie ends on an interesting note: after learning how Jodorowsky's "Dune" had Paul Atreides, the messiah, die and pour himself out into all surrounding living beings,* we then hear Brontis, Jodorowsky's son, talk about how Jodorowsky's unmade film was itself like that filmic Paul: Jodorowsky's "Dune" had died, but by influencing so many subsequent films, it had poured itself out into them, propagating itself into the future.

I wrote earlier that Jodorowsky was philosophical about his failure to make "Dune." He impressed me with his ability to say "Yes!" to both success and failure, and to move on from there. Producer Michel Seydoux, one of Jodorowsky's good friends, eventually reunited with Jodorowsky, and the two ended up making another film, recently—one starring Brontis.

"Jodorowsky's Dune" is the story of a vision, of an obsession, and of the magnetic, driven personality that tried to make this grand project happen. Much was learned along the way; much great art was produced, and many minds were set afire. Jodorowsky himself is satisfied that his vision still exists in book form as a ready template for someone, perhaps after he is dead and gone, who will be brave enough to attempt to incarnate his wild, far-reaching vision.

As documentaries go, "Jodorowsky's Dune" is definitely worth a trip.

*In the metaphysics of Frank Herbert's Dune, the messiah-figure, called the Kwisatz Haderach, stands at the nexus of all possibilities, seeing all worldlines—all facts and counterfactuals. Jodorowsky had Paul Atreides, the Kwisatz Haderach, die at the end of his version of "Dune," but Paul's spirit was to pass into the bodies of all the living beings around him. This would have made for an interesting reversal: instead of being the Kwisatz Haderach into whom all of the universe pours, Paul would have become, as Jodorowsky put it, a "plural being" who himself pours outward into all things in a manner reminiscent of the Christian notion of kenosis, or divine self-emptying—an idea associated with incarnational theology.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

boxing day

Moving day approacheth. Before it rains again later today, I need to go out and collect (ahem—steal) some boxes from the box-dump area across the street. I'll then pack everything up, mark the outsides of the boxes with my trusted Sharpie, take an inventory, and call the movers either this afternoon or sometime tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm waiting on word from the Golden Goose re: my apartment number. Word has to come by tomorrow... or at the latest, by Friday morning so that the movers know where to take my stuff. Failing Friday, the latest I can move out is Saturday.

One way or another, it's bye-bye, Goyang City! The last six months have been real.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

quick updates

1. I'm very likely moving this coming Friday. This hasn't been totally settled yet, but it's 90% settled. Wednesday morning or afternoon, I'm calling the movers and scheduling a damn move. Flatbed trucks, here we come.

2. USCIS wrote me back when I asked them where the hell Mom's documentation was. They had claimed to have closed my case back on August 8. In their latest email to me, they said they'd sent a CD-ROM with Mom's paperwork to my brother David on August 10, but nothing has arrived. I've asked USCIS to re-send. This is ridiculous. Another example of the cosmos working against me. Well, fuck you, cosmos—I'm getting my goddamn paperwork.

3. I start full-time work at the Golden Goose on Tuesday, September 1, which means I have Monday, August 31, free. So I'll be quietly celebrating my 46th birthday in some carb-laden, this-is-very-bad-for-you manner.


Monday, August 24, 2015

"If she looks back, it means she's interested."

A decision has been made. Read about it.


gate, gate, paragate

If my Golden Goose boss is to be believed, I'll be moving out of my current place this coming Friday or Saturday. (I have to be out by Sunday, August 30.) I was too tired to go box-scavenging last night, so I'll grab a mess of boxes tonight (or tomorrow) and start packing.

This might be a bit awkward because I recently ordered a regular-style mattress for my bed, and there's been no word on delivery, which I can normally track via a delivery-tracking app. I'm hoping to get the mattress before Thursday, but if it arrives on or after Friday, I won't be here to pick the damn thing up. That's vexing. Everything comes down to timing.

In any event, I'll be as packed as I can be by Friday morning, and if my boss has spoken truly, I'll be on my way down to my new residence in Daecheong Tower.


damned circuits

Over the past month, I've begun having problems with the circuit breaker in my tiny studio. The first time a circuit popped, I had several machines on at the same time: my clothes washer, my A/C, my microwave, and my regular oven. The next few times the circuit began popping, fewer and fewer machines were on. Today, I unplugged my fridge to allow my washer to run, and even when it was just the washer running, the circuit popped. Obviously, the circuit has rapidly gotten weaker over time.

I told my landlady about the problem three weeks ago. She sent her husband (at least, I think that man was her husband) down to investigate. I demonstrated the circuit-popping problem for him; at the time, I wasn't able to operate my electric range along with the fridge, and there was no question of running the A/C while I was cooking. It took several tries to get the gentleman to understand that I could only run, at most, two machines at a time on a circuit that should have been able to handle many more machines. In fact, I said repeatedly, the circuit had been problem-free until only a short time ago. The message finally sunk in, but I told the landlady's husband that I'd be OK until the end of the month; it wasn't a huge problem. That may have been a mistake.

Today, though, after the washer died twice in a row, I realized I'd need to change the circuit into which I plugged my machines. My circuit breaker has three switches: a master, then Circuit 1, then Circuit 2. Circuit 2 is linked to almost all the visible plugs in the studio, which is an abysmally stupid design: half the room ought to be on one circuit, and the other half ought to be on another. I had to flip some switches to figure out which wall socket was associated with Circuit 1, and I finally found it sitting above the toilet in the bathroom. So from now on, it looks as though I'm going to be plugging my washer and my microwave into the bathroom—but only when the bathroom is dry. I'll have to risk keeping the A/C and the fridge on the weakened Circuit 2 for the next few days, until I move out.

It's only for a few days, so I suppose things aren't as bad as all that.


translated from zee Fraintch

This 16th-century Ronsard poem, seen over at Michael Gilleland's fine blog:

Certes si je n'avois une certaine foy
Que Dieu par son esprit de grace a mise en moy,
Voyant la Chrestienté n'estre plus que risée,
J’aurois honte d’avoir la teste baptisée:
Je me repentirois d'avoir esté Chrestien,
Et comme les premiers je deviendrois Payen.

La nuict j'adorerois les rayons de la Lune,
Au matin le Soleil la lumière commune,
L'oeil du monde, et si Dieu au chef porte des yeux,
Les rayons du Soleil sont les siens radieux,
Qui donnent vie à tous, nous conservent et gardent,
Et les faits des humains en ce monde regardent.


J'adorerois Cerés qui les bleds nous apporte,
Et Bacchus qui le coeur des hommes reconforte,
Neptune le sejour des vents et des vaisseaux,
Les Faunes et les Pans et les Nymphes des eaux,
Et la Terre hospital de toute creature,
Et ces Dieux que l’on feint ministres de Nature.

The translation (see Mr. Gilleland's site) is ably done, but it loses the aabbccdd... rhyme scheme. Can I do better? Well, let's find out, shall we?

Truly, had I of sure faith not a trace
That the Father in me had left, by His grace
Seeing all Christendom, now scandalized
Shamed would I be, to have had head baptized
Repent would I then, of Christian having been
Pagan would I become, like those very first men

At night would I cherish the rays of the moon
Each morning, the sun, its aurora sky-strewn
The world-eye—and had this God eyes in His mien
Radiant and glowing, effulgent His beams
That give life to all, that protect and preserve
And the deeds of the men of this world observe


Ceres would I worship, who brings us the corn
And Bacchus, who comforts all hearts that are torn
Neptune, domain of the wind and of ships
The Fauns and the Pans, and the sleek water nymphs
And Earth, the great sanctum of all things alive
And these gods, whom we claim nature needs to survive

I took several liberties, but my biggest liberty was taken in the poem's final line about the gods and nature. The original French says, "Et ces Dieux que l’on feint ministres de Nature." The verb feindre has several meanings; in modern French, it's closest in meaning to the English feign or feint, i.e., to fake, or to fake out. But with a bit of semantic bending and twisting, it can be related to other French verbs like prétendre (to claim). If we render feindre as claim, then the last line literally reads, "And these Gods whom we claim as ministers of Nature." A "minister of nature" is a caretaker of nature, or, in overtly Christian language, a steward. Without the steward, the living things under the steward's responsibility can't survive, and that explains how I reinterpreted that final line.

To be honest, I'm sure I failed in successfully rendering the poem, but then again, this took me all of thirty minutes to puzzle over and re-translate on my own. Imagine the result had I spent a few days on it instead of just a few minutes.



What would you do if war broke out on the Korean peninsula? War is a topic currently being tossed about by expats on blogs and on Twitter with a mixture of jocularity and disquiet. No one truly takes the idea of all-out war seriously, of course; North Korea's leader Kim Jeong-eun is most likely doing what he's doing to bolster his image and authority among his own population. In the back of his mind, Kim understands that his country can never win a war against the South, and were he to disappear during a war, he'd be hunted down like Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden and would end up swinging from a lamppost. That said, expats can't seem to stop themselves from whispering about the prospect of a full-on conflict.

One of my friends told me long ago that he'd be "the first white boy outta here" if war broke out. I can understand his thinking: he's got a family to take care of. For me, I'm unattached. I've got two brothers in the States, but they both have their own lives: one's already married; the other's getting married in October. They've got plenty to keep their hands full. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins in places like Texas (the Korean-American branch of my family—Mom's side) and California (the Caucasian-American branch—Dad's side), but these aren't people I speak with all that often. What do they lose, really, if I'm not around? Meanwhile, I've got friends and relatives here in Seoul who would be my first concern if the South and the North decided to go to war. Since they're here, and they live here, how can I leave?

So, yeah: my plan is to stay, help my relatives flee south if possible and/or necessary, and to fight. I have no military training; I'm woefully out of shape; I'd need to learn how to handle a gun. All these factors are against me. But I'm grateful to this country, and I do love it as a second home, and there's no way I could stomach seeing it overrun by those bastards up north. If I can take down even one Norker, it'll be a good death for me.

That's my commitment. That's the price I'm willing to pay.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

striking camp

I still haven't been hired by the Golden Goose, and I still don't know where I'm moving to, but it's time to start packing things up: my time here in Goyang ends in exactly one week, and I need to be out of here by August 30.

Tonight, I'll sneak out to the giant apartment complex across the street and steal all the boxes I'll need. Over the next few days, I'll pack slowly but steadily, then write up an inventory so I know what to tell the yongdal ajeossi when I call his moving service to get my ass to... wherever it is I'm heading next, be it the hoped-for Daecheong Tower or some rinky-dink yeogwan in the southeast part of Seoul.

ADDENDUM: On a culinary note—I ended up eating the rest of my halloumi au naturel, and my local grocer seems to have run out of cilantro, so I won't be making my halloumi cheese sticks or bánh mì sandwiches before I move. That'll have to be a post-move thing.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

yesterday's Seoul-dae adventure

Yesterday kicked my ass. I'm not in my twenties anymore, that's for sure.

I had stayed up until about 3:30AM the night before my big Seoul-dae gig, printing out fifty-something student résumés, putting them in alphabetical (ganadanical?*) order, circling salient points that I might want to ask questions about as a way of individualizing each interview. Thursday's gig involved going to the great and powerful Seoul National University, there to conduct mock job interviews for students in a summertime "employment camp," i.e., a camp devoted to helping students find jobs. The gig was to start at 10AM. I woke up around 5:30AM—after a two-hour sleep—with the intention of being on SNU's campus by 8:30AM at the latest. I was groggy; morning prep was slow. By the time I left my place, it was close to 6:30AM. I waited several minutes for the local 080 bus to Madu Station; it was twenty-five minutes to Madu, followed by a backwards, three-stop leap to Daehwa Station, then the short, transfer-heavy route down to Seouldae-ipgu Station. En route, I missed the Line 6 train and had to take the next one, which threw my schedule off another few minutes. Ended up arriving at my destination around 8:45AM.

The Korean term ipgu refers to an entrance, and most subway stations located close to university campuses will have ipgu in their names. But SNU is an exception in that the station is located rather far from campus: you can walk the distance, in principle, but when it's 8:45AM and you're in business attire, trying to arrive early for a 10AM gig, walking that distance on a hot summer morning isn't in the cards. Knowing this, I elected to take a cab.

Several taxis passed me, frustratingly, and picked up people who stood not far from where I was standing. It took me a few angry, seething minutes to cotton on to the fact that there were actual, designated taxi-stop areas painted onto the street next to Exit #3 of the station. When I moved to one of the designated areas, the taxis stopped arriving—a classic example of the cosmic nature of Murphy's Law. But as Bruce Wayne said in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, the world doesn't make sense unless you force it to, so I walked around the corner, away from the taxi stands and the Kevin-ignoring taxis, over to one of the streets that fed into the intersection I'd been standing at. I figured I'd have a much higher chance of catching a taxi at my new spot, and sure enough, I caught one right away.

The driver dropped me right next to the building I needed to enter: the Lotte International Education Building, not far from the campus's main entrance. I had been told by my SNU contact, Miss Baek (not her real name**), that the mock interviews were to be held in Room 208, so I went there, found the spacious area gloriously empty, and began to settle in. Ms. Baek herself rushed into the classroom barely a few minutes later. As the day went on, I began to realize that rushing was her default mode, the poor woman.

"Kevin Kim?" she asked as she ran up to me on shuffling feet, beaming. I nodded. "I thought you were Korean!" she chirped, referencing our email exchange, in which I had apparently written in passably mistake-free (or mistake-minimal) Korean. Then she laid it on me: "We've changed rooms! We're in 205 now!" I sighed, shrugged, and packed up my stuff, then headed out as Ms. Baek led the way to 205, a much smaller room with a closet-y vibe, mainly thanks to the ranks of stacked furniture lining the walls, obstructing the classroom's bookshelves. Two rows of large table/desks faced each other on opposite sides of the classroom. The chairs at each desk were high-backed and luxurious—the sort of padded swivel chairs that you might find at an office. I began to lay out my paperwork again in a second attempt to settle in.

"Oh, no!" said Ms. Baek. "I printed all those out for you!" She looked with dismay at my pile of fifty-some student résumés. "There have been some changes in the student roster, too, so you're going to have to use my printouts." She had the grace to look apologetic, and I've lived in Korea long enough that I'm not as annoyed as I used to be when it comes to last-minute changes in plan. Koreans are zigzaggy people, and if you want to live in this culture and keep your sanity, you just have to accept that fact. She rushed out, then rushed back in with stacks of résumés that she plunked down on my desk. Among the résumés were a few other sheets of paper with crucial information on them: a schedule sheet that showed the order in which the groups of students would be appearing, a map of my building's interior so that I could find my way to lunch, a four-page student roster.

I thanked Ms. Baek and got to work redoing everything I had done the night before. I also hunted around for a wall socket so I could recharge my phone (it's over two years old, and the battery drains quickly these days), and was happy to discover not only an outlet but also an extension cord so that I could keep the phone on my desk while it charged. With barely thirty minutes before go time, I plowed through the stack of CVs, trying to remember what salient points I had marked on them the previous night.

The schedule sheet showed that there would be four groups of kids coming for interviews. The smallest group on the roster had only eleven students; the other groups all had thirteen or fourteen kids. For whatever reason, I was to be going backwards through the groups: Group D would be first, followed by Group C, then B, then A. There was to be a one-hour lunch break after Group C. I soldiered on with my prep.

Ten o'clock rolled around, and Group D came in. Another change: Group D was supposed to have eleven students, but only nine showed up. I made a few humorous prefatory remarks in English and Korean, introducing myself and explaining our procedure for the next 90 minutes, then we all settled in and got to it.

I interviewed the students for five minutes, one at a time, American-style. Korean job interviews tend to be with several students at once, but since I'm not very familiar with how such interviews go, I elected to go with what I knew. There was some fun during the interviews: I made no attempt to lower my voice as each student sat in a chair across from me and my small desk, and whenever I joked about something, the entire room would erupt with laughter, proving that the other students were listening closely to each exchange.

The students themselves were among the most interesting I've ever encountered anywhere, but I suppose that's not surprising, given that Seoul National enjoys its status as the top university in South Korea. What was surprising, though, was the high proportion of students with very shaky English. None of the kids actually failed at communicating, but many of them stumbled along with what I would rate as low-intermediate English. They tripped over words and ideas; they fumbled when trying to form complex thoughts into complex sentences; they stammered and paused and hemmed and hawed. I had thought, before yesterday's visit, that almost all the students at SNU would speak nearly flawless English, the way good gyopos do. During my final 90-minute session, I asked after two students who were absent, and one of the young ladies replied that they were afraid to interview because they were afraid to use English. That didn't sound at all SNU-ish to me, and I said as much, griping jocularly in Korean, "That's no reason not to come. Why would you go through 99% of a program, then drop out right before the last activity?"

I had established my rhythm by the end of the first session. The second session began late because Group C was held back during the activity right before mine. I grimaced: a fifteen-minute late start would mean a 45-minute lunch because I wouldn't be able to delay the 2PM start of the third session. 45 minutes proved to be plenty of time for lunch, however; I finished plowing through the last half of the résumés while I sat by myself in the room that had been set aside for us professors. Three other Korean gentlemen were in the lunch room with me; they'd already gotten started on their doshirak lunch boxes before I lumbered in. I downed the bulgogi, rice, seaweed soup, and sides while I worked. The three profs left the room before I did; in all, we had exchanged no more than a dozen words.

Despite the linguistic hangups (and to be fair, many of the students did speak English quite fluently), the students were impressive. Quite a few were nervous, but many seemed eager to show off their skills and knowledge. I met kids who were accomplished in other languages like Chinese, Russian, German, and Spanish (although, unfortunately, no one spoke French). Other kids regaled me with tales of their overseas experience, or they wowed me with stories of how they'd managed a large event or had worked a variety of small jobs. The final session, which was supposed to have fourteen people, had only eight, so we ended about ten minutes early. One charming and intelligent young lady, a Russian speaker from Group B, hung back after the end of the session to pepper me with some questions about overseas employment. She wasn't the only one to hang back, either: in all four sessions, two or three kids would remain to ask further questions, demonstrating a level of curiosity that I've never seen at any of the three universities at which I've taught.

Ms. Baek came into class during one of the later sessions and sat down to observe for a few minutes; she laughed along with the students as I made jokes in two languages. I needled her because she insisted on speaking to me only in Korean, and I publicly accused her of secretly knowing English while forcing me to speak Korean.

And then it was done. I finished the fourth session at 4:50PM. Ms. Baek burst into the room as the kids left; she said the ritual "Sugo manhi hashyeosseoyo" ("You worked very hard"). I nodded and thanked her for all her help. Despite her rushed, breathless nature, and despite the annoying last-minute changes to the day's agenda, Ms. Baek truly had been very helpful and very solicitous, and I definitely appreciated her kind efforts.

Having had only two hours' sleep, I was drained. John McCrarey and Young Chun were supposed to get together (with other people?), and both had invited me to join them, but I knew I'd be too tired to do anything but go home, so I turned them both down with regret. I took a cab to Seouldae-ipgu Station, trained over to Gyodae Station, then got on Line 3 toward Ogeum, the southeast terminus, with the intention of getting out and finding a seat on the first empty train heading toward Daehwa, the northwest terminus. As I trundled eastward from Gyodae to Ogeum, I nodded off.

The next thing I felt was someone insistently tapping me several times on the thigh. I woke with a start, and saw it was the subway's conductor. We had apparently advanced into the maintenance tunnel—that mysterious, "Here Be Dragons" region beyond the final stop into which many subway trains will mysteriously disappear. I had always imagined these normally off-limits places as occult, chthonian hideaways dominated by weird spiritual powers from Korean folklore. As images of orgies and human sacrifice filled my head, I stared out the subway car's window and saw nothing but more tunnel. "Just wait a minute," the conductor said before leaving. Obviously, the train was going to reverse out of the tunnel and start back toward some destination to the northwest—either Gupabal or Daehwa.*** I was thrilled to finally find myself in the forbidden zone, but as the train hummed and then slid back out to the boarding platform, I nodded off again. I woke up, confused, and heard that my train had now become the train to Gupabal, so I got off and wandered over to the other set of tracks to await the train for Daehwa.

Several Gupabal-bound trains departed before a Daehwa train appeared. I boarded and immediately resumed sleeping, waking up when we were past Gupabal. When the train finally hit Madu Station, I stumbled out of the car, blinking furiously to clear up my dried, mucus-filled contact lenses. I got up to street level, clomped onto the 080 bus going to my neighborhood, got off, and trudged over to a local burger place to have some Korean-style burgers. My brother David texted me while I ate; I cut the conversation short because I was just too damn tired to concentrate, and I walked home after the meal, unlocking my door just a little bit before 9PM. It had been a long, long day for me—hence yesterday's terse blog post.

So it was a good gig, all in all. I'd be happy to do it again, but this appears to be a summertime-only sort of job, i.e., once a year. Many thanks to Young for putting me in contact with Ms. Baek; she's a good lady who just needs to learn to relax.

*If you don't get the joke: the first three letters of the Korean alphabet are the letters "g," "n," and "d." When Koreans type out lists and use their equivalent of "A, B, C" to mark list items, they stick the vowel "ah" onto the first three consonants such that, when Koreans speak of "the ABCs," they say, "Ga, na, da," which does sound a bit like "Canada" said slowly, in an exaggerated manner, with a Korean accent.

**Miss Baek's real name has to be one of the strangest Korean names I've ever encountered.

***Subways in Korea don't always run as far as the terminus: they often stop several stations short. Any given subway's designated terminus is written on an electronic marquee on the side of the subway, easily seen by passengers looking to board the train. Daehwa is the absolute final stop on Line 3, so to get to Madu Station, which is three stops short of Daehwa, I'd need to take a Daehwa-bound train. Were I to take the Gupabal train, I'd have to get off at Gupabal, then wait for a Daehwa-bound train. That would be a pain in the ass because it would mean losing my much-coveted seat at the end of the row.