My name is Jared Way. I was born in California, and became an "adoptive" Minnesotan. Now I'm contentedly expatriated in South Korea.
For many years I was a database programmer, with a background in Linguistics and Spanish Literature.
I quit my well-paying job and starting in September, 2007, I spent 2 years teaching EFL to elementary kids in Ilsan (suburban Seoul), South Korea. From April, 2010, until April, 2011, I worked a public school position in rural southwestern Korea (Yeonggwang County). I have since returned to Ilsan and continue to work there.
As of June, 2013, I remain in Ilsan in South Korea, but I was diagnosed with cancer, and have been undergoing treatment. As a consequence, the focus and tone of this blog has changed somewhat.
I started this blog before I even had the idea of coming to Korea (first entry: Caveat: And lo...). So this is not meant to be a blog about Korea, by any stretch of the imagination. But life in Korea, and Korean language and culture, inevitably play a central role in this blog's current incarnation. Let's just say... it's a blog about whatever I happen to be thinking, that currently takes place in Korea.
Basically, this blog is a newsletter for the voices in my head. It keeps everyone on the same page: it has become a sort of aide-mémoire.
If you're curious about me, there is a great deal of me here. I believe in what I call "opaque transparency" - you can learn almost everything about me if you want, but it's not immediately easy to find. I also have a professional website: jaredway.com.
I like to take photographs. I'm NOT a photographer. Recently, I've been trying to consolidate my "good" photos and have opted to try hosting them at a webstie called panoramio - partly because I mostly take pictures of landscape or scenery and panoramio is well-integrated with google earth. Here is a slideshow of some of my photos.
A distillation of my personal philosophy (at least on good days):
I have made the realization that happiness is not a mental state. It is not something that is given to you, or that you find, or that you can lose, or that can be taken from you. Happiness is something that you do. And like most things that you do, it is volitional. You can choose to do happiness, or not. You have complete freedom with respect to the matter.
"Ethical joy is the correlate of speculative affirmation." - Gilles Deleuze (writing about Spinoza).
Think about it. We could have built a high speed rail network for the whole country for that price - if you assume $100 million per mile construction cost (very generous), you could get more than 10000 miles of high speed rail.
One project is Michael Marcovici’s Rat Trader. The book describes the training of laboratory rats to trade in foreign exchange and commodity futures markets. Marcovici says the rats “outperformed some of the world’s leading human fund managers.” The rats were trained to press a red or green button to give buy or sell signals, after listening to ticker tape movements represented as sounds. If they called the market right they were fed, if they called it wrong they got a small electric shock. Male and female rats performed equally well. The second generation of rattraders, cross-bred from the best performers in the first generation, appeared to have even better performance, although this is a preliminary result, according to the text. Marcovici’s plan, he writes, is to breed enough of them to set up a hedge fund.
I think this bespeaks the utterly rational nature of the market. Humans are irrational. Rats are just doing what they're trained to do, and their feelings (except the avoidance of electric shock or the reward or food) don't play a role.
I spent some time watching this video. I like it, and it's interesting, in a Koyaanasqatsi kind of way, but I'm not sure if "abstract" really is what it is? But if not abstract, what is it? It seems very concrete, in fact - it's all "really there" as is inevitable if you're making a film, right? The camera is capturing something real. Perhaps only the ritual is abstract...
I had long suspected this as a long-term trend (even since I was myself in the Army, 25 years ago), but finally I saw it confirmed: more US soldiers now die from suicide than in combat - despite the fact we have low-grade wars going on in various places. This is the new, drone-powered army.
There is a poem I ran across some time ago, called Changiparangga (찬기파랑가), which I liked but I didn't want to post it simply in translation - which is the form I encountered. I wanted to post the original.
But... the poem is 1300 years old. It was written by a Korean, but in Classical Chinese - as poems in that era were typically written. I know absolutely nothing about Classical Chinese, and I am not conversant in the discourses of Korean philology, either. So representing an "original" of this poem is a fraught proposition at best. Nevertheless, the text below seems to be the "original" (원문) in circulation. The "transcriptions" provided on Korean websites already are too opaque for me to make heads or tails of - they use obsolete Korean "jamo" characters to represent the Chinese sounds, and these aren't even unicode, but are instead gifs (picture files) that are being posted. I don't feel comfortable borrowing those when I don't even understand them. So there is no hangul transcription for this, and I couldn't find anything that looked like an "authoritative" modern Koreanization of the poem (which would be in the vein of a modernization of something like Beowulf in English literature).
The bad news is I had to pay a fine of $300 (₩300,000) to the immigration authorities, because I violated a rule that said I had to report a change-of-address within 14 days. In fact, it was 1 year and 14 days since my move. Heh. I sort of knew about this rule, in the abstract, but in the mess of having cancer last year, and the move (while Andrew and Hollye were here, who helped me move), and everything else... I just forgot about it, and Curt never thought about it... and so we never reported the address change.
The good news is that I did, in fact manage to renew my contract and visa for another year. It seems as if time has flown by very fast, this past year.
They originally wanted to charge a fine of $500 (and in fact they had legal discretion to fine me up to $1000 and/or deport me, according to some websites on Korean immigration rules). Curt, however, was with me, and he decided to argue with the immigration officer for 40 minutes (continuously, in his best school-teacher, Korean-Confucian-pedantic style), and this (maybe) got us the reduction of $200. Curt was very pleased with the result, and I have to admit that if I had been alone, I'd have simply paid the $500 without even trying to negotiate. This is a Korean vs US character thing, in part. In Korea, officers giving fines and fees seem to have a lot of discretion (this is a carry-over from the days when it was outright corruption - I don't actually think there is that much corruption now, but this capacity to negotiate the terms of minor legal infractions still seems universal in the culture).
Curt said, "Wow, 200,000 won for only 40 minutes work. It sure was tiring, though." Indeed, he'd worked up a sweat in the air-conditioned office with his passionate debating. One thing he conveyed to me, later, that I hadn't captured in overhearing the Korean, was that the immigration officer had said at one point, to Curt, "Why are you arguing this? - it's the foreigner who has to pay the fine." Curt subsequently harangued the officer about the idea that that was the kind of "pass-the-buck" attitude that caused so many social problems in Korea, and further, it was a little bit "anti-foreigner" (i.e. racist).
Well, thus it is. I will view the $300 as part of the cost of my cancer last year, since ultimately the fact that I never reported my change-of-address is best explained by the distraction of that illness.
Prior to the immigration office adventure, Curt and I had had lunch together, at a 설농탕 joint down the road from KarmaPlus a few blocks. Curt had said, "this is an old restaurant," drawing out the "old" to show emphasis.
I said, "Really? When did they build it?"
"Oh, 1998 I think," Curt answered.
We talked about how I had come to Ilsan in 1991, when I was in Korea in the US Army, and how at that time, it had been mostly rice-fields and a decrepit neighborhood around the train station, rather than a city of half-a-million.
My friend asked me what I thought of the Scottish independence question being voted tomorrow, knowing my interest in things geopolitical as well as my libertarian tendencies.
I do not have a horse in this race. Nevertheless I am following it with curiosity. I suspect it could have a bad outcome, regardless of the actual vote result. I read in a blog which I forgot to bookmark that political unions, like marriages, have questions best left unasked, because once asked, the relationship can never be the same. British political union was always, essentially, part of London's imperial project. That project is long dead, and the non-English parts of the home islands are geopolitical fossils - which is not to condemn, since all modern nation-states abound in such fossils.
If I were confident that London and Brussels were predisposed to accept any result with equanimity and generosity of spirit, I would support Scotland's effort. I have no such confidence.
If this could go smoothly, other divorces will follow rapidly: Catalonia, Euzkadi, etc. Divorces rarely go well, however.
In class, this evening, we were practicing one-minute-long TOEFL-style speaking questions. We listened to a passage where a teacher was lecturing about how we should read novels. It was age-appropriately simplistic: it was just saying they demand to be read linearly (to keep the storyline) and contrasting it with the way we read the web or a newspaper, or else they don't make sense. The speaking task it to attempt to summarize the lecture in a dozen sentences.
After talking about it some, and after two other students did passable efforts, I got to a girl named Hansaem. I repeated the textbook question: "Using examples from the lecture, how should we read a novel?" Hansaem must have not been paying attention, and she disregarded the first part of the question prompt, too.
She looked at me, as if she couldn't believe such a stupid question. "How to read a novel?" she asked, confirming the topic. I nodded.
"Eyes." she said. She was clearly finished with her speech.
I received a number of birthday greetings from friends and family - mostly via email. I was pleased by that. However, one birthday greeting I received came from an unexpected quarter, and it struck me as creepy.
When I got to work and opened my chrome browser, the google-doodle was a birthday cake. "That's odd," I thought - I wondered why the google-doodle was a birthday cake. I hovered over the doodle, and lo and behold, it said "Happy Birthday, Jared!"
This was a personalized google-doodle - which means the goog used information in my profile, linked to the fact that at least at work I'm pretty lackadaisical about my privacy settings (it's work, after all, and I use google a lot to store my documents online and pre-write for my blog, etc.
Frankly, I don't understand why anyone would appreciate this. It's just a robot (essentially), saying "happy birthday" because it has that info in its database. I guess it serves as a useful reminder that the goog knows everything, now.
Last night I had a strange dream. All dreams are strange, but somehow this dream seemed stranger.
I was in a house that wouldn't stay level. It was a run-down, wooden house in a rainy place - maybe Ketchikan, Alaska, or Craig, Alaska, where my uncle lives. It could have been Valdivia, in Chile, where I studied in 1994, which has a similar maritime temperate rainforest climate. The house would begin to tilt, slowly, and I would have to go out into the rain and put concrete blocks under one corner or another to prevent it from tilting further.
Inside the house, there was no furniture. There was sawdust in the corners, and the floorboards were badly spaced, so you could feel the cool air rising between the cracks. I had a roll-out set of blankets for the floor where I slept (a Korean-style bed - this is how I actually sleep). I had a little kerosene stove for cooking, but it was fidgety to control and all I had to cook was ramyeon (Korean ramen noodles) and a brass saucepan.
I was trying to hold hagwon class in this tilting house. It was going OK, except occasionally men on horses would gallop past the house in the rain, and the thundering of the horses' hooves would tend to send the house tilting moreso than it did normally, forcing me to interrupt class so I could put more concrete blocks under the house. I tried to get the students to help, but they refused to go out into the rain.
There was a landlord, a grumpy old man, who would come by occasionally and yell if the house was too tilted. He'd tell me it was my responsibility to keep the house level. I didn't really agree with that, but I also didn't like trying to teach class in a tilted house, so I did my best to keep the house level.
I have a student name Chaewon - she is a student of mine at Karma. She is a diminutive girl in only second grade of elementary, and I worry about her a lot because she has a slightly unusual situation: she lived, until last Spring, with her parents in Abu Dhabi, where she attended an English-speaking kindergarten. As a result, she in fact knows English almost perfectly, but she somehow got behind on literacy, and she is basically unable to read or write in English. We're trying to help her, but meanwhile she is mostly struggling with the fact she has to learn Korean now, because before she was only learning it from her parents. It's a linguistic minefield for her, but, like most kids that age, she has the natural ability to adapt to it. She'll end up fully bilingual if given the chance. She has a very forceful personality, and she tends not to use the correct honorifics in Korean with her elders (older peers or teachers) so all the Korean teachers complain that she is rude. I am certain it's a linguistic issue, not a social maladaptation.
She was in the dream, and she came up to me and pulled on my sleeve as I struggled in the rain to push a concrete block under a corner of the titlting house. She said to me, "The space jesters from the seventh dimension are coming."
I was alarmed, and turned around. Somehow, in the dream, I knew who these "space jesters" were and it was definitely bad news. Just then a group of the men on horses galloped past, splashing mud and making so much noise that further conversation was impossible. Chaewon was wide-eyed and fearful-looking.
I took her inside, and found all my other students were missing. My old friend Ken was sitting like a Buddha in the middle of the floor (this is not my recent coworker Ken, but an old college roommate of the same name, whom I haven't seen in more than 20 years). I asked him if he'd seen any "space jesters." He pointed to the wall. I looked closely, and there was a cartoon-style painting on cardstock pinned to the wall. Rainwater was oozing down the wall from a leak in the ceiling, making the characters seem to move and waver as the ink in the painting was diluted and blurred.
Chaewon pulled my sleeve, and I turned back. Ken was throwing my ramyeon out the window. I yelled, but he scrambled out after the packets he had thrown, and was gone.
Some student's mother showed up, peering in the open door. She was holding a newspaper over her head, from the rain. She spoke to me in Korean and I didn't understand.
I turned back to Chaewon, and she was disappearing into the painting on the wall. I woke up.