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 work in Ilsan.
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.
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 recent distillation of my personal philosophy:
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.
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.
This idiom is an example of itself. This is what I'd been looking for - I was hoping there was a name for these four-syllable Chinese-origin aphorisms and proverbs that I sometimes run across and have made efforts to understand.
I found it. Here's the definition in the online Korean-Korean dictionary: "네 개의 한자로 이루어져 관용적으로 쓰이는 글귀." The googletranslate actually does a pretty good job with this (for a radical change from the norm): "Composed of four Chinese characters used in idiomatic saying."
It works the same way as the English "TLA" - which means "Three Letter Acronym" but is also an example of a three-letter acronym. In other words, "성어사자" is a four-character idiom.
Here is another picture from last weekend - a view inside the main throne-room at Gyeongbok Palace.
"Mitakuye Oyasin" is a Lakota Sioux (Native American) Prayer. I learned it slightly differently, as "Mi taku oyasin" but these are clearly grammatically similar. It means "we are all family" or "we are all connected." There some alternate versions circulating but this is similar to the one I learned.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin….All my relations. I honor you in this circle of life with me today. I am grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge you in this prayer.
To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.
To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.
To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.
To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.
To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.
To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages, I thank you.
To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.
You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.
고슴도치도 제 새끼는 함함하다고 한다 hedgehog-TOO self pup-SUBJ sleek-QUOT do-PRES A hedgehog says its own pups are sleek.
"Everyone thinks their own children are beautiful." I found this cool 속담 (aphorism) "smart comic textbook" (똑똑한 만화 교과서) which gives a slight variant: 고슴도치도 제 새끼는 예쁘다고 한다 (the word "pretty" substituted for "sleek" - the latter is a reference to the hedgehog's fur I suppose).
The comic gives as equivalent the English proverb "The crow thinks her own bird fairest" which I've never heard in my life, but I can get the sense of it.
This is one of the dedicated teacher's chief dilemmas: dealing with parents who think their children are something other than what they are. As a foreign teacher with very bad ability to communicate in Korean, I am somewhat sheltered or shielded from this issue in my day-to-day work. I don't envy my fellow teachers who must deal with parents every day, and I have mostly unpleasant recollections of my dealings with parents when teaching in the US many years ago.
I have speculated that I simply couldn't do this job if I had to deal more directly with the parents - that the positives would no longer outweigh the negatives.
In that light, I should feel grateful I can't speak Korean well, because if I did, I would hate my job.
Staff meetings are stressful for me even when they're not. Which is to say, they're intense - I'm trying to understand a bunch of people talking Korean around me and, mostly, I'm failing.
But these days there's not only that, but all kinds of anger and remonstrating and things being bad that need to be talked about and I'm continuing to not understand. So that makes the meetings even more stressful. We had one today. I sat and drew doodles on my agenda.
I created something I called "A centipigator" - see close up, below. It was orange.
I just had an interesting brainstorm, after writing my previous entry earlier this morning.
I think a great, alternate title for this blog would be: "A List Of Languages I Have Failed To Learn."
If I was starting this blog right now, that is the title I would use. It might make a great title for an autobiographical novel, too.
Here is another picture from Sunday.
It's a view of the Korean National Folk Museum, as seen from within the Gyeongbok Palace grounds next door. The museum was quite disappointing on the inside - "just another Korean history museum, the same as every other Korean history museum in most respects." But the external architecture of the place, which might be termed "Neo-Imperial Faux Pagoda," was pretty impressive.
Unrelatedly, a quotation:
"I love the word Disenchantment. It’s a word only used by the stupid becoming wise against their will." - a commenter who goes by "BlaiseP," at the Website Whose Name Disenchants Me.
When in Seoul on Sunday and showing my friend around we went into the Russianish neighborhood just west of Dongdaemun, where I stopped in an Uzbek/Russian bakery I sometimes frequent. It used to be you could buy dark rye bread, locally made in the Russian style, but the last few times I've been there they haven't had it. Now they're selling packaged dark rye bread imported from Tashkent (Uzbekistan). It's just as tasty but it rather violates any notions of localism or freshness. I suppose it's not different than going to Homeplus and buying cheese from Europe or getting fruit from Chile. The world is round.
The label says "Sourdough rye bread" in Russian ("хлеб ржаной кисло-сладкий") and under that the same in Uzbek, I think (using roman letters "lotin") - I figured that out because "javdar" is Uzbek for rye (Russian: рожь / adjective form ржаной).
There are a lot of interesting and complex commercial relationships between South Korea and the Central Asian countries, driven partly by the large Korean diaspora found in those countries (engineered by Stalin during his rearrangement of ethnic groups, such as moving Koreans native to the Russian Pacific [i.e. just northeast of Korea] to all kinds of far-flung places), but also by the fact that South Korea was viewed as a "neutral" country with which to develop commercial relationships after the fall of the Soviet Union - unlike the other major economic players: the US or EU or Russia or China or Japan or India or Iran, all of which had various perceived geopolitcial agendas. As a result, Korean businesses are quite strong in Central Asia and there are a lot of Central Asians in Seoul, for whom the lingua franca is generally Russian (the Soviet legacy).
I often gravitate to Russian when feeling frustrated by my efforts with Korean. I studied Russian in college, 20+ years ago, and progressed pretty far with it. I was probably better at Russian in 1989 than I am in Korean now. But having not used it at all for more than two decades means it's all dormant and rusty in my brain. I suspect I could resurrect it pretty easily, though.
석가에게 설법하기 Buddha-TO preach-GER Preaching to Buddha.
English equivalents might be "Preaching to the choir" or "Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs." I hate the latter proverb - it's both incomprehensible to modern speakers and kind of gross to think about. But I guess there was a time when people's grandmothers were expert egg-suckers, and so teaching your grandmother to suck eggs was an unnecessary effort.
I had a very long day, although I only had three classes. There's a lot of tension in the office and staffroom lately. I'm feeling a lot of uncertainty and big changes brewing.
Here is a picture from the temple wall at 미타사 from last weekend.
While walking around Seoul yesterday, we ran into a group of young men from a high school named Hanil (it's a common enough sounding name that I suspect there are many Hanil high schools, but the only one I found in a naver search is down in Chungcheongbuk Province near Sejong City).
The young men had a front man who spoke excellent English, and he explained that they were conducting some kind of human-rights campaign for "Yulia." I guessed they meant Yulia Tymoshenko (Юлія Тимошенко), the former Ukrainian Prime Minister currently in jail (and hunger striking on and off). The boys were impressed and surprised that I knew about this. My current events obsession was finally bearing fruit.
I can't say I necessarily feel the deepest sympathy for Tymoshenko, from what I have been able to understand. She's pretty far to the right: a fervent nationalist and furthermore an incomprehensibly wealthy "oligarch" as only the former USSR can produce. But she definitely possesses a certain charisma - she was one of the leaders of the famous "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine in 2004 - and I would concur with groups like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International that her current prison term seems more politically motivated than genuinely based on the alleged corruption charges against her. Of course she's corrupt - she's wealthy and Ukrainian - how could she not be? But, if so, why is only she in prison, whereas the other several thousand corrupt Ukrainian politicians are not?
So anyway, I like to see young Koreans being politically engaged, especially by something so exotic and external to their narrower cultural sphere. Mary and I were happy to pose with them for a photo, and I handed them my camera and they took one of us with mine, too. Thus we were commemorating Mary's and my 30th Arcata High School class of '83 reunion posed on the Gwanghwamun plaza in downtown Seoul.
Unrelatedly, my quote for this morning:
"The self-assured believer is a greater sinner in the eyes of God than the troubled disbeliever." - Søren Kierkegaard
I was at 청계천 [cheonggyecheon] in downtown Seoul today, with my friend Mary before she returned to Daegu. There were many paper sculptures set up in the stream, left over from the Buddhamas parades last week. Here are some pictures - they convey scenes and stories from Buddha's birth and life.
My friend Peter made a pass at defining 정 [jeong] (juhng) in his blog. I've done that, too (see Caveat: 情 from two years ago). But I really think Peter has figured it out. He writes:
When push comes to shove, hwe-shik was/is a chance for building the emotion Koreans call Juhng (정),
which I learned to be a special kind of bond formed with those with
whom one has undergone mutual hardships, like the bond of soldiers
who've served together. As I understand it, Juhngdoesn't
necessarily mean friendship or even necessarily admiration, but a kind
of recognition of, and appreciation of, shared-experience itself, "we
are [were] all in this together". It's especially true for
emotionally-important experiences, like (again) combat, or working
together at a such-and-such company in difficult conditions. The harder
the situation, the stronger the Juhng.
So then we had a conversation, via comments on his blog entry (and/or email). Here it is:
jaredway 05/16/2013 2:49pm
I think that's the best definition of 정 (jeong or as you trascribe juhng) that I have ever seen, written by a foreigner. I have attempted definitions of it before, mostly describing it as a cross between platonic love and sentimentality, but that concept of "shared experience" really encapsulates it well. "Intense Camaraderie" e.g. "brother-in-arms" is a possible comparison.
Peter 05/18/2013 3:11pm
Thanks, Jared. I see one place you attempted a definition:
"I find the workings of Korean jeong mysterious and impenetrable. It seems to be a hybrid of irrational loyalty and intense platonic love, with a strong seasoning of smarmy sentimentality." (Tinyurl.com/azano28 -- I'd make it a link, but I can't figure out how, yet)
I wonder in what context Curt said that you "lacked" jeong. If someone working with Koreans "lacks jeong" (whatever that means), it would seem to be an institutional problem rather than a personal problem. Example: At my job as of this writing, "I" (along with the other foreigners) definitely lack a jeong connection with the Korean teachers and to a lesser extent with the students (when I compare it with my Ilsan job). Why: There is a wall carefully erected and maintained between foreigners and Koreans at this place. I complained about it in this very entry (above). In brief, I blame the weakness of management here.
Also in your entry: The idea that jeong (정) is uniquely Korean. At first glance this reminds me of some other sweeping Korean cultural ideas, like the idea that English has no ABILITY to express politeness in speech, an idea coming from its lack of a 존대말/반말 distinction. Both of those ideas seem culturally..."insensitive", at least.
It's easy to criticize those ideas. I'd have to admit, though, that in terms of the USA I know, the one I was born into, those two concepts (jeong and politeness-in-speech) are at once both more 'important'/explicit in Korea, and less important than they once were in the USA.
jaredway 05/19/2013 8:13am
You're right that I've been trying to figure it out for a long time. But I definitely believe you've identified the essential feature - the "intense shared experience" factor. And in fact, your insight has allowed me to retrospectively re-think some of my past experiences, such as the unbearable yet utterly compelling staff field trips when I worked at the public school in Hongnong: they were jeong-building exercises, and thus there was a sense in which, of course they had to be unbearable - how else could jeong be built? More and more, when the idea that there is no equivalent concept in English comes up when talking to Koreans, I have thrown out the word "camaraderie." And your new definition goes the same way. "Camaraderie" lacks the high-frequency-of-use that the word "jeong" has, and may seem milder or narrower in focus, but I think it captures the core aspect. Another translation might be "comradeship" but that always makes of communards standing at barricades.
Why am I sharing all this? Because I think jeong, and the conversations about it, are culturally fascinating, and because I have now come full circle from where I stood in 2008 when my friend Curt told me I "had no jeong." I believed at first that he was wrong, and it was just a language issue, and then I started to believe it was in fact a genuine cultural difference, but now I've returned to the view that it's a language issue.
The key factor is to remember that jeong is between people. The word doesn't describe an emotion felt on one's own by one person, but rather an emotion felt between two or more people (family, coworkers, classmates, etc.) So in that sense, Curt was right: when he told me that, of course I had no jeong - not with him. The funny thing is that, these many years later, I do have jeong - again, with him. He's even said so. It resides in the shared experience (especially hardship of some kind), which he and I now have (i.e. the struggles of working together with him as boss at Karma).
When Peter identifies jeong as being the sort of emotion that seems rarer in the US (and perhaps rarer these days than in the past), I think he might be right, if only because ours is a culture of individualized hardships and experiences more than of shared hardships or experiences. Kids go to college and have experiences, but so much of what they experience, even though it's social, is nevertheless always conceptualized individualistically. If I look for the points at my life where I've developed "jeong" with people, they are places there that individuality gets broken down - team efforts: the army, living (and quarrelling) with housemates, intense (and fulfilling) workplaces (the Casa in Mexico City, ARAMARK in Burbank, etc.), graduate school.
Add to this the fact that Adobe still (years later) doesn't seem to know what to do in multilingual O/S environments. I get the same question-marky stuff that I screenshotted in that old blog post with respect to Java. I'm not even on the same computer. See below for an Adobe screenshot from just the other day. It's perhaps the case that this is more a problem of the way I choose to configure my computer as opposed to the update software, per se - but why is it only US-based software companies (e.g. Oracle [Java] or Adobe) that have this problem?
Frankly, Adobe's update strategy has always seemed one of the most bizarre, broken software undertakings I've ever experienced. I'm glad to see that even a leading light such as Mr XKCD sees the same thing.