My name is Jared Way. I was born in rural Far Northern California, and became an "adoptive" Minnesotan. I have lived in many other places: Mexico City, Philadelphia, Valdivia (Chile), Los Angeles. And for 11 years, I was an expatriate living in South Korea. In the summer of 2018, I made another huge change, and relocated to Southeast Alaska, which is my uncle's home.
For many years I was a database programmer, with a background in Linguistics and Spanish Literature. In Korea, worked as an EFL teacher.
In June, 2013, while I was in Ilsan in South Korea, I was diagnosed with cancer, and underwent successful treatment. That changed my life pretty radically.
Currently, you could say I'm "between jobs," somewhat caretaking my uncle (to the extent he tolerates that) and getting adapted to life in rural Alaska after so many years as an urban dweller.
I started this blog before I even had the idea of going 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 have come to play a central role in this blog's current incarnation.
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.
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).
Geofiction - this has evolved into a significant "hobby" for me. I like to draw imaginary maps, and there is a website that has enabled this vice.
I worked as a volunteer administrator for the site OpenGeofiction on and off for a few years. I created (but no longer maintain) the site's main wiki page: OGF Wiki. I am not currently working as administrator but I remain active on the site.
The above work has required my becoming an expert in the Openstreetmap system. Openstreetmap is an attempt do for online maps what wikipedia has done for encyclopedias. I have considered becoming an openstreetmap contributor, but I feel that my current location in Korea hinders that, since I don't have a good grasp Korean cartographic naming conventions.
Starting in April, 2018, I decided somewhat capriciously to build my own "OGF stack" on my own server. This was not because I intended to abandon the OGF site, but rather because I wanted to better understand the whole architecture and all its parts. I built a wiki on the Mediawiki platform (the same as wikipedia). This wiki has no content. I built a map tileserver and geospatial database, which contains a very low resolution upload of an imaginary planet called Rahet. And I built a wordpress blog, which is a separate, low-frequency blog intended to focus on my geofictional pursuits rather than this more personalized, general purpose blog. All of these things can be found integrated together on my rent-a-server, here: geofictician.net
TEFL - my "profession," such as it is.
Online English Grammar reference Grammarist. Useful for settling disputes over grammar.
One thing that happens every time my friend Peter leaves Korea is that I get a pile of books. I am his Asian book storage facility, because he knows I appreciate them.
One book he left with me is a book of poems entitled "A letter not sent" by Jeong Ho-seung (정호승). The book is bilingual, which I like, with translation by Brother Anthony and Susan Hwang. Brother Anthony is a Catholic monk based in Seoul and prolific translator of Korean poetry - I've written about him before on this blog. Peter actually seems to know the man through their shared membership in the Royal Asiatic Society.
I particularly liked this poem (note that I copied the poem's text from the book, so any strange typing mistakes, especially in the Korean where my typing skills are imprecise, are my own and not in the original).
밥 먹는 법
밥상 앞에 무릎을 꿇지 말 것 눈물로 만든 밥모다 모래로 만든 밥을 먼저 먹을 것
무엇보다도 전시된 밥은 먹지 말 것 먹더라도 혼자 먹을 것 아니면 차라리 굶을 것 굶어서 가벼워질 것
때때로 바람 부는 날이면 풀잎을 햇살에 비벼 먹을 것 그래도 배가 고프면 입을 없앨 것 - 정호승 (한국 시인 1950년-)
How to Eat
No kneeling in front of the meal table; the rice made of sand should be eaten before the rice made of tears.
Above all else rice on display should not be eaten; if you must eat it, you should eat it alone; otherwise you should fast; by fasting you will grow lighter.
From time to time on windy days, you should mix grass with sunlight and eat that; and should you still feel hungry you should do away with your mouth. - Jeong Ho-seung (Korean poet, b1950)
One comment on the title. The translation of the title, "How to Eat," isn't completely literal. Literally, it is "Rules for eating rice." But "eat" and "eat rice" are essentially synonymous in Korean (in a way that can sometimes lead to confusion for Westerners).
I very much prefer the literal title, and I think the poem is playing with the semantic overlap between "eat" and "eat rice" which means the title should include "rice."
I have written a nonnet as a kind of "response" to this poem. I will post it tonight as my daily nonnet.
I went into Seoul yesterday to bid farewell, once again, to my friend Peter.
Mostly it was just hanging out and watching him finish packing. A few of his other friends came by, too. I'm not sure my social skills are very good, anymore.
It was a cool, windy day, relative to the recent oppressive heat of August. A squall of rain crossed the city as we were leaving. The air was quite clear and the clouds were many stark shades of gray, like an abstract coloring book pattern in the sky.
Here is a picture of Peter, with a friend of his, and me, after going out in the street from his apartment (well, former apartment, now). In fact it is raining lightly in this picture, but it's hard to tell.
I've been feeling a lot of stress, lately. The work cycle is at that typical September peak, as kids start their Fall semester at school, we wrap up the summer special classes, and enrollment starts heading for that hagwon-biz Fall surge. I have month-end writing tests to score, student comments to write, and new student interviews.
Further, there has been a kind of rumbling of parental dissatisfaction with the current state of the curriculum in the youngest cohorts. That means lots of wasted time in incoherent discussions and meetings about curriculum, and the resulting decisions which, inevitably, will not be the ideas I advocated for.
Layered on that is the fact that September 1 is the annual contract renewal date, which always forces me to contemplate, once again, the occasionally Faustian nature of my current, complicated, and unsatisfying relationship with my job, my host country, and the Korean healthcare system. It is easy to begin to wonder if it's all worth it.
Additionally, I was "volunteered" for some extra work, at work - of the least favorite kind, which involves sitting and mucking with a computer trying to transcribe some simply atrocious English conversations: Bad, non-native speakers talking buzzword-filled English to the worst kind of consonant-glottalizing, modal-verb-abusing, corporatese-spewing Britishers with stunningly loud background noises and interruptions. I feel like my willingness to be helpful is being abused, and of course it's hard when the utility of the work at hand seems dubious at best.
I have a hospital appointment coming up, too. I always dread those - anticipating them is much worse than just being there dealing with it. Having moved past the worst of the jaw necrosis problem last Spring, I enjoyed a relatively hospital-free summer after the Big Anniversary Scan in July. So my "just deal with it" reflex is rusty.
All said and done, I feel unhappy.
I am going to Seoul today to bid farewell (version 3.0? 4.0?) to my friend Peter, who is once again returning to the US, this time to start graduate school.
I learned this four character aphorism on my building's elevator last night.
強固無比 강고무비 gang.go.mu.bi strong-firm-no-compare "Incomparable strength and steadiness."
It can be made into a descriptive verb, too: 강고무비하다. The underlying meaning of this 고사성어 seemed more transparent than most - the dictionary definition given for the aphorism is simply: 비교할 수 없이 굳세고 단단함 (Incomparable firmness and strength).
In my low-level TQ cohort, including second and third grade elementary students, we were practicing a very low-level "interview" format, starting with "What is your name?" Beforehand, I had given them formulaic "frames" where they could fill in their answers, and had helped them fill them in.
Some days feel like things are going well. Some days start well but end badly. Some days I dread but end great. Some days are smooth like glass. Some days are bumpy. Some days give joy. Some days don't. Some days suck.
I found these two videos rather fascinating - essentially, in both cases the presenters step through discussing various dialects of the British Isles while at the same time reproducing those accents quite well.
I have a difficult relationship with various English language dialects: on the one hand, I find them fascinating and I work hard to be able to tell them apart; on the other hand, I am utterly incapable of consistently reproducing them in a sustained manner, which is weird to me, because I'm actually somewhat able to do something similar with various Spanish dialects. Is it perhaps that my own mother-tongue - Northern California English - is too deeply embedded and thus I can't seem to override it, while with Spanish, since no single dialect is deeply embedded, I'm more able to shift around the dialect space? Or, more likely, perhaps I'm really not that good at doing it in Spanish either, but I'm sufficiently incompetent that I don't realize what I'm doing wrong.
UPSIDE DOWN can be spelled upside down using right way up letters of the alphabet:
Note that this only works if you use a font with a "double-storey" "a" - which is to say, if you use a "single-storey" font like the notorious Comic Sans, or anything in italics, it doesn't quite work:
A few weeks ago I finished that book my friend Peter loaned me - Hendrick Hamel's Journal. Essentially, I read it in one sitting - it's not a long book. Peter guessed correctly that the parts I found most interesting were the appendices and footnotes. In general, however, it reads pretty well - it is a remarkable gateway to a truly alien world: a 17th century Dutchman stranded in an even more alien 17th century Korea. Yet I was impressed his remarkable equanimity and his refusal to categorically condemn his captors (indeed they made him a slave, which was the typical fate of foreigners landing in Korea in the period).
I recommend this book even to those without a specific interest in Korea. In some ways, the narrative most resembles those "stuck on an alien planet" tropes common to certain types of science fiction. That, in itself, makes it quite fascinating.
I have often joked that in my long-term residence in Korea, I have "emigrated" to one of those alien planets that so fascinated me when I was younger. This book captures the same idea. Korea of the present day is hardly alien at all, compared to the Korea of that era.
There is a twitter account that is a "bot" (an automated account that posts content according to a preset program rather than under human direction), called @unchartedatlas. It posts algorithmically-generated fantasy maps. All the objects (features, names, etc.) on the little maps it posts are randomly generated. Some of the maps are quite interesting.
Last night we had one of those post-work dinner meetings as is the Korean custom, called 회식 (which is one of the few words where I find the "official" romanization highly dubious as far as implied pronunciation: officially, [hoesik], but what you hear might be better written in English as "hwehshik").
It was unlike most hwehshik of this sort, however, in that it was spontaneous - meaning there was no advance notice. Curt even admitted this, trying to teach me a Korean word which means "spontaneous" but which, as so often occurs, failed to stick in my calcified brain.
I don't really deal well with unexpected demands on my time. I think in general, I can cope with unexpected occurrences - meaning when students do unexpected things in class, or there is a sudden schedule change at work. Indeed, some of my colleagues comment on my seeming equanimity in the face of these kinds of things. But these types of unexpected things occur within the boundaries of my normal working hours. On the other hand, after-work activities infringe on time I perceive as my own. As long as I know they're coming, I don't really have a problem with them - like a pre-work meeting or a morning parent-centered event that we all know is coming, I work them into the calculus of my "work time." But unannounced, I don't deal with them well.
Anyway, this is all to say, I had an unpleasant time, and it was unpleasant from the moment I knew it was happening, 5 minutes after coming out of my last class at 10pm. The after-work dinner is stressful for other reasons, too.
It involves eating. I don't enjoy eating, and I feel self-conscious of this fact, because the people around me make eating and the enjoyment of food such a focus of social interaction. I'm sure I've written before that I don't see this as a specifically Korean trait - it's a universal human characteristic. With my post-surgical, handicapped mouth, with my lack of taste, with my constant struggle to swallow things correctly without devolving into a fit of gagging or choking, eating is task that exists in my mind at about the same level as cleaning my toilet: not at all enjoyable and only to be done because it must.
Furthermore, of course, during these times everyone is babbling on in rapid Korean, and so my sense of shame and failure around my lack of mastery of the language impinges. At work, by nature of the work, I intereact with my students in English. That's my job, and there is no guilt in it. But for socializing in a country where I have lived so long, I feel a moral obligation (not to mention the practical necessity) to do so in Korean - so the fact that it still doesn't come easily feels like a moral failing. I'm letting the people around me down, and my fundamental incompetence is on display.
This morning I feel gloomy and discouraged, because of these things. Perhaps I should do like Grace, and simply refuse to participate - although clearly her reasons for boycotting the hwehshik are different from what mine would be.
In fact, I have always rather liked the concept, abstractly. It seems a strong and useful and important social custom, as a way to build a cohesive social unit out of a group of people who work together. But the way that it challenges me personally, I really doubt if it's useful for my overall mental equilibrium.
When I was in middle school, we had an Apple ][ computer. I messed around with programming - not very seriously, but I taught myself the rudiments of the MOS 6502 Assembler ("machine language"). The 6502 is perhaps one of the most famous CPUs in the history of personal computing, since not only was it the CPU in the first Apple computers, it was also the heart of early Nintendo and Atari game systems. Even today, there are "6502 fan clubs" and "retro computing hobbyists" focused on the platform.
Later, in college, I took a few computer science courses (enough to make a minor), including an assembly language programming class, at that point in time based on the platform of the Motorola 68000 (the CPU in the Macintoshes of the era). I'd had some chance to experience one of that chip's ancestors when in middle school, too, because my uncle had brought home a project he was working on involving a Motorola 6800.
That assembly language class was undoubtedly the most valuable computer science class I took, because if you can make something work in assembly language, you have a genuine understanding of how computers actually work, and this provides an excellent foundation for any future programming efforts. I have long believed that assembly programming should be a foundational course in high school curricula - for all students, at the same level as courses like math, physics or biology.
During the time I was taking that course (1988?), I dug out an already-at-that-time antiquated Apple ㅍ, and with some help from my friend Mark (who at that time was starting his career in embedded systems), I began writing a Lisp language interpreter for the Apple, using the 6502 Assembler directly, and using my battered, red-covered reference manual preserved from the middle school years (the picture at right was found using an online image search, but it looks exactly like my old copy).
I didn't really get much further than the rudiments of my interpreter - I think I got it to respond to some kind of "hello world" instruction, in the vein of
(DEFUN HELLO () "HELLO WORLD" ) (HELLO)
I was unable to solve the "garbage collection" problem (memory management), and I never took the Operating Systems Design course that could have given me the understanding necessary to do that. But it was fun. Recently, remembering this activity, and aware that your average internet browser tab has much more abstract computing power than a 6502 chip, I was curious if there were 6502 emulators available.
Sure enough, there are. Many, many emulators - google is your friend, if you're interested.
Not only are there emulators, but someone has taken the time to construct a fully-functioning "virtual 6502" which is visual - meaning you can watch the signals step through the fully mapped processor as it executes its instructions. You could run Space Invaders on the emulator (if you could find a compiled code for it), and watch the processor step through the execuation of the classic game.
Given I am a nerdly geek, this was interesting to me.
I had a very strange dream during that dawn twilight time when I often dream.
I was walking around Paris. I actually did that... about 31 years ago. It is strange how dreams dredge up old material like that. It was quite vivid.
There was a strange building (Centre Pompidou?) and I felt compelled to go inside. Inside it was like some kind of bar or nightclub, but the people were all just standing around - not drinking or eating or dancing or anything. I had this thought that they were ghosts.
I tried to leave the place, but I was unable to do it. It was like a maze, trying to get out. It became a maze - an image borrowed from some movie seen on TV, perhaps - a hedgerow maze with little gold flowers attached the leaves of the hedges. The flowers were like stars strewn across the sky. The sky whirled, as if time was moving rapidly.
I lay down, and the floor was asphalt. This has some precedent in reality, at some point in my past. I felt lost.
When I awoke, it was later than my usual wake-up time. The weather is hot, already at 7:30 am, and the sun is shining in my southeast-facing windows. The fan is blowing, and the air seems a little less humid than yesterday, but still my apartment is uncomfortably warm.