Sunday, October 4, 2009

Since Departure/before Departure

"Have fun in Korea."

"Have fun in China."

Met and later sang, in a noraebang that looked like the planet at the beginning of Alien, with my replacement, a certified teacher who will do a good job with Pluto Class.

Was bored by grammar talk. This boredom was disappointing because I used to love talking about grammar, but such talks have become just another way of marking who's right and who's wrong. How does one teach a good an English without becoming an asshole? It's possible.

Worked on "Exeunt Omnes." Decided there's been enough ground clearing. "Do you know caveat lector? / It was a child from my songhood. Everything / needed my looking up."

Was bored by drug talk. Anymore crave sobriety.

Sat at a table in the middle of the street in front of a closed-for-the-holiday restaurant with my Scottish friends, Ruth and Walker, enjoying a couple beers. Passing parents encouraged their children to practice their English with us and then to bow. Always a teacher here.

"You're the only person here who never has any trouble understanding my accent."

Was told by my R. and W.'s just-arrived friend that only British English would be used at this table.

Walked home with Megan, who told me everything's different.

Packing. Back.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Again Bye

I'm once again waiting for a bus to Ssangmun. Just dropped Al off for her flight to Shanghai to visit her brother. So while she goes on to the country I now live in, I stay behind in a country where we already lived.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gave Up on Having to Be Correct

그리고, "and"
지만, "but"
which are damn useful

little yellow buses with the students in them, their automatic sliding doors that play Beethoven, mostly sliding only after the buses start moving

subway system with its voices in three different languages: target audience(s)

last night, you: cricket should be played without points, just who can close everything first

this afternoon, Wallace, "E unibus pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, p. 67: "Irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It's critical and destructive, a ground-clearing… But irony's singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks."

thus a considered restructuring of "Exeunt Omnes"

a bit of raised sidewalk for the blind to follow, here and in Dalian

Pluto Class: "Why you Korea come?"

yesterday: a sudden revulsion toward learning Korean

ideal writing and learning environment: three tables covered with open books

the conjugation of verbs in English according to about whom one is talking
the conjugation of verbs in Korean according to to whom one is talking
the conjugation of verbs in Chinese

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Parody of Having Lived Here

Ssangmun, where I lived for a year and some, is in the northern part of Seoul, near mountains, a bit far from where we used to go, Itaewon and Hongdae. Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, is something you can learn in a few sessions of sitting down with it. The bus and the subway train are good places to practice. Do you remember the time you and I were practicing on the train, standing because there were no seats, and the person next to you read aloud over your shoulder? Now, on your near way out, your students teach you words and a few sentences. Now, after having moved to China, I'm practicing every day, going into Koreatown, which is near the school, and I'm making bigger and bigger circles through Dalian as both my Korean and Chinese improve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Always Say the Conjunctions in English

An attempt to tell a friend who speaks only Korean that I'm learning Korean in China and that lessons must be in three languages because the Korean Chinese teacher doesn't speak much English: "{In China, I study Korean. The teacher is Korea Chinese. The teacher English [making an X with the hands]}, so {Korean, Chinese, English.}"

She laughed—whether because she understood me, I have no idea.

Only now do I remember that I know the Korean for "I don't know," because I use it all the time (though I do not know the Korean for "I know," which I almost never say), and so instead of using my hands, I could have told her that the teacher doesn't know much English.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Ten)

"Acceptance is its own verve."
—David Foster Wallace

One hour ahead of home.

On Saturday night, Ted and I went to an outdoor Korean Chinese restaurant, where I ordered in Korean and he ordered in Chinese. At one point, while responding to something I'd said, the waitress started talking to me in Korean and mid-sentence switched over to Chinese. Because each half was out of context without the other, Ted and I separately had to translate each into English in order to make one sentence we could both understand. Then we simultaneously responded in the separate languages.

After I bought a ticket for the bus yesterday, I went to stand at the stop. A man at the curb grabbed the ticket out of my hand, looked at it, handed it back to me, and grabbed my shoulder with his right hand and pointed with his left for me to sit and wait. OK. A bus drove up to the stop, so I stood up and asked the driver, in Korean, "{Are you going to Ssangmun?}" He said no, and then the man from before pushed me away from the driver. A bit of time went by before another bus pulled up. Again I asked the driver, in Korean, whether he was going to Ssangmun, but before he could respond, the man came back, grabbed my shoulders with both hands, and started pushing me rather hard back toward the bench. I twisted out of his grip, and not knowing how to say, "Don't touch me," in Korean, I said it in English. Then I sat there feeling weird about whether I had a right to be bothered by being moved around. It's not as though one doesn't get pushed around all the time.

"Why are you back in Korea?"

Today I bought David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments at What the Book? in Itaewon. Instead of taking a whole bunch of books to China, Ted decided to take only Infinite Jest, thinking it would take him a long time to finish, but then he got something like addicted to it and declined to go out just so he could spend whole nights reading. Since he finished it nine days ago, we've spent a lot of time talking about it. He seems to be in withdrawal. He's even spent hours at work contributing to a wiki on the book. Not that I blame him. IJ was the better part of the summer of '07. Shortly after arriving here last year, I gave IJ as a gift to my then new friends Andrew and Lacy, from Newfoundland, a couple days, I think, before Wallace hanged himself. I've been jonesing for more.

One more week here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Once again waiting for a bus to Ssangmun.

Only slightly more literate in this country.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


After a few minutes of looking back and forth between my face and my passport, the immigration officer said, "Jonathan Lantz?"



"Yes. I've lost weight."

A laugh, but he kept looking at the passport. I pulled out another ID. "OK. Will you come back to Korea?"


My plane is set to board in fifteen minutes.

Last Day in Korea


Friday, August 28, 2009

Last Day at LCI

Pluto Class (without Alex)

Elmo kids who now attend afternoon classes: Barbie, Bert, and Hanna

Sean, my one-person Monday-Wednesday-Friday class

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


"It's going to be hard being here without you."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to the 거선당빌딩

My test results came back from the hospital. Normal—no surprise, though of course I was relieved, as always. I gave the comprehensive list of things I don't have to the travel agent, and this time he said, "OK"—literally, as though he'd expected me to fail once more in getting the correct document. I'll be able to pick up the visa on Thursday afternoon, during my two-hour break between kindergarten and third grade.

Monday, August 24, 2009


I think the first book I'll read in China will be Don Quixote. It's been on my reading list for years, and I finally got it for Christmas. Every time I look at the Penguin Classics edition on my shelf here in Seoul, usually as I fall asleep, I think of Terry Gilliam and all but crave his film version. Perhaps one day. But sooner:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Week Left

That is, if I get the Chinese visa in time. On Thursday, I went back to the travel agent in Myeong-dong. I'd gotten another health checkup, this time with the results in English, and here you go, sir. But the hospital I'd gone to, Seoul National University Hospital, isn't recognized by the Chinese government, so my results won't count. I had to go to a different hospital, Sahmyook Medical Center, this morning and go through a more thorough examination. The results will be ready Tuesday afternoon, though I'm not sure that gives me enough time to get the visa before Saturday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Just before Lunch

This morning there was a page in one of the books that required my kindergarten students to organize containers into three categories: bottles, cans, and boxes. At the bottom of the page, the students had to draw their favorite bottle, can, and box.

"Teacher," asked one when he got to favorite bottle, "how do you spell soju?"


The student began her story this way: "Very, very yesterday…"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Year Out

My friend Meg Sparling asked me last year to write an article for Revelator on living in Seoul, South Korea. I'm still working on it. Maybe I'll get it finished when I'm no longer here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Speaking of Names and Addresses

Where the Hell Is the 거선당빌딩?

Addresses here are by building name, not street number. Thus, when I went to Myeong-dong today to file for my visa at the Chinese-authorized travel agent, because the Chinese embassy in Seoul will not issue individual visas, I spent an hour looking for the place. The name of the agency was 한화관광여행사. Now, I can read Korean, but I couldn't find this place anywhere. I asked several times in my horrible Korean, and everybody had a different answer for where I could find it—or I had a different interpretation every time as to what was being said, which works out to the same thing. Nobody even knew the name of the building. My phone's busted, or else I would've called. Finally I found an information booth that wasn't closed and blocked by sidewalk sales. The people there called the agent, and he came to get me. Upon seeing my sweat-covered shirt, he said, "{Seoul is hot.}" When we reached the building, one I'd passed three or four times, I noticed that the name of the agency was nowhere to be found. The only thing on the front of the building was "노래방" ("karaoke" [literally "song room"]). Only once we got to the second floor were there signs for the agency, and these were on the steps. I thought things would at last go smoothly, but it turned out that because my health certificate was in Korean, not English or Chinese, I couldn't use it. I have to go to the hospital tomorrow for another checkup and ask for a certificate in English. I'll be cutting it close to get the visa before I leave.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


For a more thorough description of today's trip to the DMZ, written by a fellow English teacher we met today, click here.

The DMZ and Dorasan Station

Today some of my friends and I went to the DMZ. My favorite part was Dorasan Station, the last train station in South Korea before North Korea. According to one of the guides, a train used to travel twice daily between Dorasan and the Kaesong Industrial Region in the North, but now the train runs only once a week. Shortly after I paid five hundred won and walked out onto the platform, a train pulled up, and its passengers got off. Though I hadn't had to, they had to pass through turnstiles inside the gate, military police officers handling the perhaps-not-worn-in-enough bars of the turnstiles. A stairway led down into nothing I could see. Everything appeared new and deliberate, though perhaps—how do I say "holding its breath" and still avoid anthropomorphism? I loved the space, but I'm not sure why. Empty or nearly empty buildings usually—what's the word?—repulse me, but the near emptiness of this station was strangely comforting, like the as-yet-nonexistent structures, the planned-for purposes, around which the building was designed would appear.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Yesterday I received the invitation letter from the school in China. Now all I have to do is get my Z visa. About this time two weeks from now, I'll be boarding the plane.

* "China."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dead On

"I'm the language maker."
—C——, third-grade student

School after School

Today the mother of one of my third-grade students came in. I'd talked to her only once before, in a conference, with my Korean partner translating, but this afternoon the mother either didn't feel she needed a translation or didn't want one. She said she was concerned about her son. "He has mistakes."

Missing a word, she called her son over, but he refused to translate a conversation about him (or is it himself here [one can talk about oneself, but can one translate about oneself?]?), which I thought was justified. Finally, with a droopy head, he walked over. "'Serious,'" he said.

"Is he serious about LCI?" she asked me. What she really meant, I decided, was, Is he serious about English?

I tried to convince her that he was, but the principal whisked her into the office. "She's worried about [name withheld]," I called after.

"So am I," the principal replied.

Why? And taking things seriously? Why should he?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

News from China

My flight to Dalian leaves at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 29, I was told by e-mail today.


In one of the introductory English courses in college, I was handed back a paper on the back of which the teacher had written, "You may know grammar, but you don't know anything about writing." I still don't know what to think of that.


Yesterday my third- and fourth-grade class had to take a placement test. This class is at the highest level in the school, so when the students came in in the afternoon for a test at which I hadn't even been allowed to look and for which they'd had no way to prepare, except perhaps to review everything English they'd ever been taught, they were understandably nervous. They thought they'd be kicked out of my class if they did poorly. One student told me that his mother had said he'd be in huge trouble if he didn't do well. He must be in the top class, she told him. (Not coincidentally, perhaps, his sister happens to be in the "top" kindergarten class, Simba Class.)

When my students were finished with the test, they looked exhausted. "How was it?" I asked, having still not seen the test.

Nobody answered. They just looked at the board as though pissed they might have to learn something in the thirty minutes of remaining class time.

"Harder than one of my tests?" I asked.

"Very many harder."

They were even more scared than when they'd come in. They thought they'd be moved out of my class for sure.

The whole notion of the "top" class irritates me. Yes, I have told this class that they know the most English in the whole school. Maybe I shouldn't have. I meant only to boost their confidence, as they so often express doubts about their abilities to talk. I mean, Jesus Christ, they're nine and ten years old, and they can already hold pretty stimulating conversations with me in their second language. These kids are fucking amazing, and so I want them to feel good about themselves. But they've mixed my praise with some kind of competitive jive.

As a high school student, I was told I was smart but not competitive enough. What a stupid thing to say, I thought then. And I still think that. What a stupid thing to say. One may say that competition is how things work. Pragmatically, yes, one must do things in order to look good and therefore to gain security, whatever form that security may take, but I see so much of this work as bullshit posturing. I have always loved learning—and therefore I have always loved teaching, which is the same thing—but I have never loved proving I know something.

There are constant speech contests and tests. The language has become a competition.

Why are my students studying English? I hope they love it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they hated the fuck out of it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Although I must admit to a fascination with grammar. Not its strict adherence/inheritance. The expectancy of consistency is sometimes so silly.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Both of my third-grade classes use a grammar book intended for college students. Although these students are great with English, their having to use these books doesn't say as much about their abilities as it does about the maniacal former teacher who thought it a great book for nine-year-olds (ten, Korean). When the book was first assigned, back when the kids were in second grade, I protested, especially when I learned that we'd have to get through eight pages every class. Not surprisingly, then, students began to have trouble right away even though most of what we were covering was review. It wasn't the grammar they didn't understand but the way it was described. Parents complained, but they didn't want to spend money on a new grammar book, is what it came down to. Completing the book by a certain time seems to be the most important objective (not just with this grammar book either). Although that teacher is gone and things have slowed down, so that we may cover as little as two pages a day, there's still little time to review sometimes.

To talk about words using only other words.

I care less about the names of parts of speech than I do about the use of them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Teacher, Teacher China Go, Andy Me China Go"

Somebody, probably his mother, told Andy that he's moving to China with me in a few weeks.

David Foster Wallace

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Foreigners

Yes, there are many people here who point and yell, "{Foreigner!}"—not so derogatory, just plain annoying usually. I've taken to returning with "{Korean!}" My Canadian and Scottish friends are continually called migukin, "Americans." I make faces at staring children, sometimes at adults as well.

In May, when there were twenty-one reported cases of H1N1 in Seoul, we foreign teachers were told to stay away from Hongdae and Itaewon, the so-called foreign districts, because being around that many foreigners was too risky.

Known issue in China.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


"Teacher, me this everything doing?"

* "Language."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Closed Set

Sometimes I forget how young the kids are. Seven, my students would say. In Western terms, five- and six-year-olds.

They will work on a page of math with "ADDING TO 10" at the top, use their tiny fingers, finish, take a few minutes to look back and forth between the book and me, and then say, "Teacher, this '10' everything—that's OK?"*

Sometimes I even say aloud, "Look: every answer on this page is '9.' Just write '9' for everything." Just to see what they'll do.

Those who understand me the most, whose number changes daily or maybe not at all, look up at me and say, "Teacher, what?"

"Never mind."

Soon they'll run out of fingers.

* When I say "they," it's actually always Andy's voice I hear and therefore quote.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


In this apartment, I avoid the spots for which I once planned furniture, though it's clear now I won't have furniture here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Only Four Weeks Left

Tomorrow my visa will be extended so that I can stay and work in Korea until the twenty-eighth, and then it's off to China.

Free Chinese lessons are one of the new job's perks I'm most excited about. Admittedly, I haven't learned much Korean in the almost year I've been here. My students speak their Englishes, and, sure, they're hard to understand sometimes, but. Hangul is mostly straight lines, with a few circles— (the \h\), (the not pronounced or \ng\, depending)—and there's a certain stroke order to the characters that is comforting, as though one could start to know a language by its left-to-right, top-to-bottom progression. Returning to Korea from my first trip to China, in January, I thought, At least I know the letters.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blake Butler

Butler's a great writer. Here he is destroying his newest book just in time for preorder:

Scorch Atlas (destroyed) by Blake Butler from featherproof books on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

None of These Names Is False

Yesterday my friend Charlene 조 finished her translation of my poem "Antarctica." When I asked her which name she wanted to use, she somewhat proudly said, "I want to use my English name with my father's name." Although I've called her by her Korean name before, she acted surprised to hear me say it again.

Yesterday one of my kindergarten students called me Tim. Everybody else stopped working. I looked around. "Teacher," Thomas said, "Wendy call you Tim." To her: "Wendy, Tim Teacher name Teacher."

"No, that's OK. She can call me Tim. I don't mind."

And then the next ten or so minutes were filled with a kind of wonder, as though there were some joy or maybe power in their dropping my title.

I just finished talking to my brother, who's working on a song called "Pink Pink Makeup Makeup." A few Christmases ago, he was talking to a little girl who was playing with a doll. Pink Pink Makeup Makeup was the doll's name. "Genius," he said.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Michael Wesch

I watched his newest video yesterday:

I still love watching "The Machine Is Us/ing Us":

From Scott Horton's "The APA's Nuremberg Defense"

As the Bush Administration introduced its torture program in 2002, the APA modified Section 1.02 of its ethics rules, to state that in the event of conflict between ethics standards and law as interpreted by government organs like the Department of Defense or CIA, psychologists are free to disregard the requirements of applicable ethics guidelines and “may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.”
More here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Possible Names for Andy

Korean (transliterated), following Korean name order: Song Junhyeok
Korean (transliterated), following Western name order: Junhyeok Song
English: Pluto Andy
Combined: Andy Song

This doesn't even count the nicknames I've given him, like Andy Pants.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Though my afternoon students are in the Pluto classroom, they aren't Pluto Class. Therefore, unlike my morning students, whose English surname I've come to think of as Pluto, my afternoon students seem to have no English surname, unless, of course, they think of their Korean surnames, transliterated, as their English surnames. Of course, it's entirely possible to dismiss the idea of an English surname, to let one name stand for her or his English identity, assuming that a name is an identity (vide Pessoa).

And in a sense, Teacher has become my name. More often than anything else, I'm called Teacher, even by adults, which gets confusing when I'm standing in the school's lobby with the nine other foreign expat teachers.

The children address each other by their English names, and as I call on them, I wonder about their parents' having to come up with an English to address their own children. Yesterday I had lunch with Barbie, Hanna, June, Vincent, Wendy (my former students [are their surnames still Elmo?]), and their moms. Wendy's mom kept calling Wendy "Yujin" and then correcting herself, correcting to "Wendy." My presence, it seemed, provided an English context. And even the moms wanted to be known as so-and-so's mom. During parent-teacher conferences, the name on the mothers' name tags are the names of their children.

Because not all of the expat teachers can read Korean, we've begun renaming frequented places. A galbi restaurant has become Christmas Lights, and a bar has become The Patio.


Andy is one of my favorite but also one of my most challenging students in Pluto Class. Almost every day starts with "Andy very good?"

"Andy, you don't say your own name."

"Me very good?"

"'Teacher, am I doing a good job?'"

"Teacher, I good job?"



"'Am I…'"

"Am I…"

"'Doing a good job?'"

"Doing a good job?"

"So far," I say, "but it's only 9:55, Andy. Class hasn't even started yet."

"Teacher, Andy very good, one star?"


And then he goes ahead and speaks Korean or talks while I'm talking or dances while I'm teaching the simple past of irregular verbs or. But he's such a sweetheart. He's always remorseful, perhaps overly so, and any praise he receives perks him right up.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On Thursday, Alex and I returned to our building to find a tiny dog at the front door. A young man translated for us as the guard explained that somebody had left the dog, saying she'd be back for him in five minutes. It had been an hour or two, and the guard didn't think she was coming back. Immediately Al asked, "Can I have him?"

Nobody's come for him. He still doesn't have a name.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Today I signed a contract to work at a school in Dalian, China, for eleven months starting September 5.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Front Seat

My brother has started writing here about the making of the album AM:PM.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Tonight Angela, one of my third-graders, told me, "I can see you're pretending to be crazy."1

I'm not sure what fluent means. When describing my Tuesday-Thursday third-grade class, I say that one of the students is fluent and the other two are nearly so, but maybe I'm full of shit. In a sense, although it sounds crazy, perhaps I would say that my kindergarten class is also fluent, albeit in a version of English I don't speak.2 They understand each other. "Teacher, no," one will say after I shrug my shoulders at another. "Andy say…" I still don't understand, and they look at me like, Jesus Christ, Teacher, this is your language.3 The language they speak certainly isn't Korean; there's no yo or needa to it.4 There are words I recognize, but the context is so often far removed. Additionally, many of the students talk about themselves and about me in the third person.

"Who are you talking about?"


"Which teacher?"

"Tim Teacher."

"You say 'you' if you're talking to me."


At least they know more English than I know Korean. That's not saying much, though. By next month, my kindergarten students will have been studying English for only about six months longer than I will have been here.

* "Konglish."

1 Crazy is not a word one should use here. The connotations of the Korean word for crazy (which I don't know) are severely negative—that is, to call someone crazy is to say that she or he is mentally damaged. One of the kids from the new Elmo Class calls me Crazy Tim Teacher. "Look," I told him once. "I don't mind your calling me crazy, but you shouldn't do it in front of the Korean teachers. They won't be happy"—this to a six-year-old boy who at the time was screaming and running through the halls. Sure enough, he addressed me as Crazy Tim Teacher a couple days later, and the Korean aunt next to him slapped him in the back of the head. "I told you," I told him.

2 On the test my Tuesday-Thursday class took this week, I asked my students to underline each noun and to make it plural if necessary. One underlined English correctly but then changed it to Englishes, reminding me of one of Kass Fleisher's stories.

3 Actually, I need to stop saying "Jesus Christ" in front of the kids. Andy's gotten into the habit of saying it, mostly because I laughed my ass off the first time he said it, after he'd actually heard me say "cheese." "Cheesus Christ," he said. I nearly spit out my coffee.

4 I still feel weird about punishing students for speaking their native first language, but no student, not even Kitty, the three- and four-year-old class, is supposed to speak any Korean while in LCI, the only exception being during lunchtime. While I understand the immersion theory, I find it hard to explain sometimes to some of my students.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Dick Cheney's Withdrawal Timeline
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran


When I lived in Normal, I could never tell whether the neighbors in the next apartment were having sex or merely sneezing. I never met them or those to the other side, though sometimes I felt obligated into their lives, at least through their vibrations, whatever their sources.

Two weeks ago, the doorbell to my Seoul apartment rang at 10 p.m. When I answered the door, a woman I didn't know indicated, through gesture, that I should take the plate of hot food she carried. She spoke rapidly in Korean, and of course, I couldn't understand her. "{I don't know,}" I kept saying. It was only when she entered the apartment next to mine that I realized she was my neighbor.

The next night, I washed and returned the dishes. She invited me in, and I ran back to get my iPod so we could use the translation software on it. She didn't want to use the device, though. She kept saying, "Communication," as though to use the iPod were to give up on the word. Through her rough English and my worse Korean, we talked for about thirty minutes. She wanted to learn English, she told me. She was to take off for India for five days and wanted to start when she got back. OK, I said. I haven't seen her since.

I'm reading José Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (translated by Giovanni Pontiero), in which Fernando Pessoa tells Ricardo Reis that "loneliness is not living alone, loneliness is the inability to keep someone or something within us company, it is not a tree that stands alone in the middle of a plain but the distance between the deep sap and the bark, between the leaves and the roots." Ricardo Reis doesn't get it. "You're talking nonsense, the things you mention are connected, there is no loneliness there," he responds.

Monday, June 29, 2009


There's a kid around these apartments who knows my name. I told it to him once, while we were both standing at the local food stand run by my friends, and he remembered. I ran into him three times yesterday, and each time, he yelled out, "Teem!" The last time I saw him, he was fighting in the grocery store with who I figured was his sister, presumably over which snacks they were to buy with the paltry sum she carried, a couple thousand won. Because the boy, whose name I forget or misunderstood as something else or never learned, couldn't understand my English, I asked him in German, "{What's the matter with you then?}"

* "A little" (which sounds like "joke 'em" or sometimes almost like "choke 'em"), an utterance I use whenever I hear the Korean word for Korean.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Fernando Pessoa"

My latest published piece could be called a B-side to one of the parts of "Exeunt Omnes."


One student's mother expressed concern in the weekly exchange between teacher and parent: her son wouldn't practice his English with foreigners he encountered on the subway. Should she be worried? Could he really speak English? The teacher said, "Well, the student's probably just shy around foreigners, and why should he talk to strangers anyway?" But according to the teacher's supervisor, foreigners are never seen as strangers; they are teachers; therefore, it's considered strange when a child won't practice her or his English with them.

Andrew and Lacy, great friends, are gone. The turnover since I've arrived has been stunning. All the Western teachers who were here when I started are gone. All the Korean teachers who were here when I started are gone. The Korean mothers/aunts (as they're known)—whose job it is to take care of the students on the bus, before class, during lunch, and at the end of the day (which is, believe me, a whole hell of lot of work)—are all, for the most part, still there. Besides them, only the principal and one of the two secretaries have been at LCI longer than I.

* "Teacher."

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The weird part of being in Korea is no longer that I'm in Korea but that there will be a day when I am not. I've decided not to stay past August after all.

My supervisor tells me that there are more adjectives in Korean than in English. They're conjugated like verbs. When she tries to find English equivalents, she says, many of them aren't there.

Yesterday I had parent-teacher conferences, the kind that require a translator. What got me was that my supervisor wasn't translating everything that was said. There were conversations that I wasn't privy to. There were things the mothers (only mothers) weren't being told. Every week we foreign1 teachers have to write comments home to the parents. We've been told to write only positive things. Such a task was easy when I taught Elmo, but with Pluto, it's much more difficult. For example, two Pluto boys stole my iPod out of my coat pocket while I was in the room like a week into class. When I wrote home that week, I couldn't come right out and say that these two boys had stolen from me. I had to use roundabout language.2 As I sat across from each mother, my supervisor between us, I got the feeling that anything negative was being removed from the conversation.

Never mind that I found it totally weird that I was sitting in on a parent-teacher conference in the first place. Of all the things I thought I'd do, teaching kindergarten was not one of them. I remember a time when I first got here and was teaching Elmo and I came to myself in the middle of a sentence: "And the answer is—oh my god, I'm teaching kindergarten." The kids were smart enough to laugh. Weird now to come to and still find myself here. I feel as though I'm already living in my memories.

Today I had a fever and muscle aches. On my break, I slept on the mat in my room. When I went downstairs to grab something quickly before my third-grade class started, a couple people told me I looked horrible. The school asked me to go to the doctor. The first question he asked me was whether I'd been in contact with any foreigners. Sometimes the way swine flu's talked about here, you'd think only foreigners could carry it.3 Turns out I just have some minor bug, the same, most likely, two of my students have. The nurse gave me a shot in the hip, and immediately my fever went away, and I felt a lot better, and I went back and taught.

The other day someone on CNN said that truth is the most important commodity we (sic) have.

* Yeongeo, "English," as in the language.

1 Always "foreign," never "expat," though the Korean word for foreigner, weogukin, doesn't have the negative connotations that its English equivalent does, at least from what I've been told. Then again, can these two words be said to be equivalents if they don't have the same connotations?

2 The mother of one boy wrote back that he didn't know stealing was wrong. The kid's six.

3 The latest issue of Kids Times, the English newspaper the older classes read as part of their homework, says that people who eat kimchi won't catch the swine flu.

Monday, May 25, 2009


According to The New York Times, "North Korea said it had successfully conducted its second nuclear test, raising stakes in the effort to get the nation to give up its nuclear weapons program." More.


According to my supervisor, there are twenty-one reported cases of swine flu in Seoul. Eleven of the people are expats. I was told to stay out of the bars.

Friday, April 17, 2009

May Want to Rethink the English

Outside LCI this morning are buses. "Zerocool tour," their sides read.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I've lost more than five kilograms in the past three weeks and some.1 As I write this, I'm watching Scrubs online. I'm watching Monty Python's Flying Circus. I'm writing this on my MacBook. I'm writing this on my iPod touch.2 I'm writing this as I teach kindergarten, then wander school, then teach third grade. It's Friday or Saturday, depending on where you exist. It's some other day for me.

What gets me most about Korea is how easily it's become home. I keep wondering what it'll be like to understand (almost) every word someone says when I get back home. Al, who's lived in India and Sri Lanka, keeps telling me that it won't be that weird. I've been here almost eight months, and I hardly know any Korean, which is embarrassing—for example, I didn't learn the word for bathroom, 화장실, until January. Still, I get around easily. I can do almost anything I want.3 One of my almost-fluent third-graders says almost every class, "My mothers says when4 we know English, we can go to any country in the world." I don't know how I feel about that statement, which I tell him every time he says that.

I'm working on "Exeunt Omnes," aka the pigeon poems. What will eventually be published—that is, in book format—doesn't seem as exciting to me as the collecting of artifacts the process of making it leaves behind. One such artifact is what you are now reading, I suppose. Yes, I want a sort of B-side to the PPs, but I want it during the fact, not after—published while I'm still working, perhaps even published instead of the work.5 I'm not in love with process as much as I am with engagement.

Although I love the idea of collections, with the individual works working with/off each other, I also love the idea of something on its own, never collected. For a long time, I've wished that artists and record labels would release songs one at a time, whenever they were finished. When I was younger, I hated not hearing from an artist for some time.6 It seems weird that there's still the concept of albums, especially with things like podcasts and the program-store combination iTunes. I feel the same way about books. I was happy to see Ander Monson's "Solipsism" in The Best American Essays 2008. This essay originally appeared/appears on Monson's site. Then it was republished in a journal. Now that it's in a book, I wonder whether anybody calls it a legitimate essay. Legitimate engagement. Or maybe I wouldn't have wondered that a year ago—that is, I wouldn't have even considered legitimacy—except I've encountered people here who, when they find out I write, say, without knowing whether I already do or not, "Oh, maybe you'll have a book one day." I have HTML files, I never say. And while I love books, love the way they feel, the way they smell—can't/don't, in fact, keep myself from rubbing the pages constantly as I read—I love too the online format, not least of all because I'm far from my books in Normal, Illinois.

I've decided to stay at LCI until February, but for some reason, I don't want to tell anybody I work with. To think that I'm not even halfway finished with my stay here, when otherwise I'd have only four months and some left, is a bit strange.

At the end of February, Elmo Class graduated. At the beginning of March, I started teaching Pluto Class, formerly Nemo Class. Before I even got a chance to teach this new class, many people at LCI told me how horrible the students were, but while I was frustrated in the beginning, they're getting a lot better. I was spoiled with Elmo, but perhaps I misremember my frustrations, if any, with those kids.

Meanwhile, Alex has the best-behaved class in the school, Mickey Class. Their behavior and their amazing rate of learning are thanks in large part to Alex's ability to teach. She is consistent, patient, and, best of all, kind.

It's not hard to get a job teaching in Korea. All you have to have is a bachelor's, in any field, and be willing to go through a background check, though things are getting a little more competitive because of the American economy. More Westerners are coming over here. Teaching's not a hard gig, especially at LCI, where my Korean supervisor/partner does all the hard work of making lesson plans and I just show up and talk my talk. You have to watch yourself when you teach. It's very easy to avoid correcting grammar and word choice, especially when all your students use sentences like "Teacher, Andy Ryan push" (Ryan's attempt at saying, "Teacher, Andy pushed me"). And I know we have to get into questions of whose grammar and whose word choice, but because it's my class, I have no choice but to use my version of English.

There are many times when I'm not sure I'd ever understand my language were I outside of it. English here feels out of context, like an unintentional fuse box at the bottom of a swimming pool. I'd like to turn the lights back on, but it's so much work to drain the pool.

Even if a story takes place in the past, we talk and write about it in a present tense.

* The thought that I won't be able to write about South Korea until I leave it has occurred to me, and so maybe I will go on.

1 So goes memoir. Or whatever this is called.


This space. Whether I mean this Web site or South Korea, I don't know.

2 An amazing little device Al got me for Christmas. I can broadcast (I'm not sure that's the right verb) the Internet signal from my computer to my iPod, and this connectivity fascinates me. The first time I really got online was in 1996, when my maternal grandfather, who worked for NASA, helped me send an e-mail to my Kuwaiti cousins. This was in Satellite Beach, Florida. I had a PC with Windows 3.1 back in Mesick, Michigan, and the odds, I figured, of finding an ISP were not very good. Later, in high school, the server would be so busy that it was almost impossible to go anywhere online for more than a minute. "Too many users." In my last year of high school, I learned the password to my girlfriend's family's dial-up connection and used it late at night at my own house. Now it's so easy to get online. Actually, there has been a misunderstanding between the ISP and me, and my connection has been cut off, so I'm currently stealing (I'm not sure that's the right verb) someone else's signal. And now, as in in the course of writing this, the issue's been resolved, so I once again have a reliable connection. (So much for an argument I once read, in a book on film theory and criticism, that stated that art is without time, that art is outside of time.)

3 This statement is hard to verify and may be inaccurate.

4 I notice that many Koreans use when when if would sound, at least to me (we all have our different Englishes), more appropriate. "When we are wise, we can do many things." I attribute this substitution of conjunctions to a deficit in lessons about the subjunctive (at least in the education my students have thus far received). When a question asks them what they would do in a certain situation, they almost invariably respond with what they will do. I'm curious about how the Korean language handles unreal situations.

5 Again, what is the main text?

6 My mother once laughed at this phrasing. "Do they actually contact you?" This was in 1994.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Yesterday I went to church. Besides a few remarks made by the pastor welcoming Alex and me, the entire service was in Korean. I understood maybe two words. That's about as many words as I understood the last time I went to a service in English, though, so.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


My Korean friend Jinny asked, "Are you proud to be an American?" She; Alex; Alex's brother, Christian, who was visiting from China, on a visa run; and I were in a Czech-style beer hall.1 I wonder whether I thought the question strange. Other Americans have asked me the same question many times. Alex and Christian both said that they were proud to be Americans but that they weren't always proud of the things we do.2 I did that turning of my hand that's supposed to mean "kind of," but that's not what I really meant.

What I wanted to say was "I don't know what that question means." I've done no work to become an American other than be born, and let's face it: my mom was the one doing all the work there (thus the passive construction be born). I'm not going to go into all that rhetoric about the people who fought so that I could be an American, maybe because I doubt whether any of them had me in mind. Let's not kid ourselves about motivations. Well, but motivation goes right along with the shouted creed of life, liberty, etc.

"Are you proud to be an American?" There are borders that tell us where we are. Shall I be proud to live inside a set? I will say that I am happy to live in America, happy like I'm happy to live in this apartment in Seoul. Sometimes I think about walking around Normal, Illinois, and how easy it was to, for example, order food. But life is habitual, and you can get used to so much.

The question means nothing to me.

No, that's inaccurate. It should mean nothing. The question becomes another anymore: "Do you like America," with the implication "because if you don't, you can get the fuck on out of it, you anti-American asshole." What a privilege to dislike your country. The question has become so many others, of course, as questions do. I'll leave it up to you to figure out which question you mean when you ask that question.3

* "I don't know," by which I mean— Well, if you're reading this footnote to the title before the main text (if there is a main text, no?), you'll just have to read on, by which I mean you'll have to read the above. Or is it the below, since we're talking about what's to come—that is, not spatially (why not [is this environment not a space]?) but structurally (doesn't structure imply space)? Is this all too much for a footnote? And if you're reading this footnote after the so-called main text, I'm curious as to why you've done so. The asterisk is/was clearly some sort of set of directions. "Set"?

1 Or so it claimed to be (well, it didn't claim to be anything, unless you count decoration as a kind of claim, which, well, maybe it is, now that I think about it). Admittedly, I've never been to a genuine Czech-style beer hall, if such a thing exists and if we can use the word genuine without giggling to ourselves. Who's this "we"?

2 See the last sentence in the footnote immediately above this one.

3 I know it's currently hip to hate America. It shouldn't be, but it shouldn't be hip to be an asshole either, and look at how many assholes there are who are loved. Bukowski comes to mind. What a fucker. I'm glad he's dead and not writing poems anymore. Anyway, I know, or think I know, that were my military-minded uncle Tim (yes, the other Tim Lantz) to read this post, he would say it's all a bunch of intellectualism, as though the word should be referred to as the I-word. Well, look at all these footnotes.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chelsea Reads Better Than the Second-Grade Students

Twenty years after her graduation from kindergarten, there she is, plastered everywhere: Chelsea, 정채빈. Only her name's something else now, something I wouldn't recognize. She's still taking English, mostly so she can appear on late-night American TV shows while on her world tour. When I ask her how she likes it all, she says, "You know I hate English."

"No—well, that's too bad. But I meant, 'How do you like being famous?'"

And she looks hard at the floor, not even close to my eyes at all, and says, "What's not to love?"

I know nothing of American celebrities, much less about Korean ones. Chels says it's not hard to be one. "At least in America. In your country, you have to be different until they recognize you. Then you can go back to being just like everybody else."

"Well, maybe," I say, "but how do you know this? You're just a six-year—"


"OK. Eight. In Korean years, eight. You're just an eight-year-old girl in my kindergarten class, and all of this is made up, is being made up."

"Maybe you mean extrapolated. All of this is extrapolated."

"But that's the rub, Chels. I don't know much about you."

"You know me in a certain context. I think that's all we get."

"You mean there's no one version of a person?"

"Something like that. What makes you think the version of me I present to my parents has any more validity than the Elmo version of me?"


"And do you think I'm really 정채빈 more than I am Chelsea?"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Elmo's Last Day

Goodbye, you wonderful people.

Unfortunately, Vincent and Wendy were absent today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Heart Cooks Brain

Ovens are not standard. LCI doesn't have a stove on which the single cook can prepare lunch for the ninetyish morning students. There's just the two-burner stove (not stovetop—top of what?). I haven't had any Korean dish that requires a stove. Alex and I have a little portable one we keep unplugged on top of the fridge most the time. This tiny stove won't work if it's plugged into an extension cord, yet its cord doesn't reach from any space that's convenient, so using it requires moving stuff around a little. There are also three different kinds of outlets, and the rooms are arranged somewhat to fit the plugs, with a converter converting the voltage between the Korean alarm clock and the North American–style outlet by the bed. Why there's a North American–style outlet, I have no idea.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

You're the Good Things

Bought these guys today. They still don't have names.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Doin' the Cockroach

"Tylenol* 주세요."

Confused look.

Grabbing head.



"One thousand." Laughing. "One thousand eight hundred."

Need to stop thinking nobody speaks English.

Meanwhile, at the apartment, Alex sets up for a surprise party to send coworkers Terry and Patrick off, back to St. John's, Newfoundland, after their upcoming two-month trip through Southeast Asia and Canada. The cockroaches I thought were gone have been especially busy fucking up the already-or-so-we-thought-clean dishes. Rewash. Rehearsals all this past week and next for the kindergarten performance Wednesday, with original—that is, adapted/pirated/ripped off—scripts by the foreigners. Switch of scenery as teachers go and teachers come. New classes. My glasses are still in no shape of being fixed or replaced. This place. This place with—

"Are you finished?"

* 타이레놀.

Friday, February 20, 2009

This Devil's Workday

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I'm finished with work by 6. On Tuesday and Thursday, I'm at work till 7:30, but I have a two-hour break between kindergarten and first grade. Of my three classes, the second-graders have the best English. Actually, I don't know what I mean by that. They have an English that corresponds more closely to the one with which I am familiar, though they usually, in class anyway, don't listen to me when I have suggestions for how their English can correspond more closely to mine. The other two classes actively try, at least in class, to talk the way I do. My schedule may change after next week, when the classes are rearranged. Elmo will be gone for certain because those students are graduating.

I usually have no idea what's going on.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Head South

Six months out today.

I live in Dobong-gu, a community in northern Seoul. You can google that shit. I mean the shit on where everything is. Where I am—I am not here, despite what any Web address may say. Nobody's said anything, mind you. How can a location say anything anyway? Have I written anything about South Korea?

Alex has a student, Chris, who got my name right for the first time today without first being told. He usually just calls me Alex Teacher. Meanwhile, the kid parrots bathroom but will almost cry because he can't tell Alex that he has to go. I myself learned the Korean word for bathroom only a week or so ago. I can count to four. Course, Alex's kid is only four.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jesus Christ Was an Only Child (biimshin)

"Teacher, you old, you die?"

"Yes. Everybody dies when they're older."

The students with the best English comprehension—they're the ones who looked the least concerned.

Then again, I could be misremembering. It could have been the complete opposite.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Out of Gas

Alex just said: "Just write: 'I don't want to write tonight. I want to go to bed and watch a movie with Alex.'"

I don't know what I'm doing in this place anyway.* Was listening to Stephen Fry's latestest podcast (December 22, 2008), on language, and he quoted somebody with something like "'How can I know what I'm going to say until I've heard what I'm saying?'"

"Did I say, 'Watch a movie with Alex'?"

I am correct if right now I type, "I am writing," even if you're reading this. It's also a false statement but not yet. Well, yes, now, as you read, but as I write, it's not. When are we? Where were we before we discovered our kissing heads? As I write, I can write I'm writing. You are not yet reading. You will read, yet you're also reading.

* It doesn't matter whether, by "this place," I intend Seoul or online.

Monday, February 16, 2009


"I am persuaded, never thought of—Love, you see, is not so much a SENTIMENT as a SITUATION, into which a man enters, as my brother Toby would do, into a corps—no matter whether he loves the service or no—being once in it—he acts as if he did; and takes every step to shew himself a man of prowesse."
—Walter Shandy

Walter Shandy's two kinds of love: rational and natural. Does he mean legal and recreational? Not sure I believe in rational or natural. For one, whose rationality, etc., etc.? Natural? The first world, at least, is neither, in this paradigm anyway, natural nor artificial—that is, the distinctions have collapsed, or, if not, they're no longer (that?) important. For much is working definition. Vide Benjamin. Anyway, the distinction, and the fretting over it, isn't pragmatic, at least as far as I define pragmatism—that is, who gives a shit whether something is authentic, because what we have now is something we have to work with. Am I repeating myself? Is it a real image? Well, it is an image. All doctors are photoed. Can we count on anything being authentic anymore? I no longer what to ask that question—that is, I want to ask, "What is it doing?"

"What are you writing about?" Alex asks.


But to go back to Walter—Shandy, not Benjamin—to get back to love as, etc.: I like his idea about love as a situation (obviously, or I wouldn't have written it down), but I think he means thereby to condemn love to the legal realm (and thus classify it to rational?), in which I partly join him. But only so far as to condemn love as a ceremonial imperative, one that dictates, "You must find love, or you'll be miserable." Thereafter, I leave with Yorick. Though Yorick doesn't say so, I know he thinks the older of the Shandy brothers argues too often from first principles.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

비임신 (!/?)

Do we qualify as places? Certainly, we take up space, are inhabited by us. Still, I avoid the spots in my apartment for which I've planned furniture. Pragmatics: somebody's been in this space before me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On the Wrapping Paper of a Valentine from Elmo Wendy

Dear. Tim Teacher today
is valenpday
in march 2, 2009
8 I am will go in go to school
and I love you but I
don't for get you
and have a good day?!
and I don 't want
to miss you I wish
I want to see you
on I am going, when I to school

From Wendy
After another two weeks, Elmo Class will graduate and go on to elementary school. They're a bunch of great kids, and I'm going to miss them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The conservative arguments are always carried out in terms of what poetry essentially is and what practices would violate that essence."
—Cary Nelson

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Today one of my first-grade students fell on his belly and knocked the wind out of himself. Watching him panic was horrible. I didn't have the language to tell him he'd be OK, to tell him to trust me and keep trying to breathe.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Let's not kid ourselves: anybody who writes is a writer. Next thing you know, somebody'll tell you writing is limited to that activity involving a keyboard or paper and a pen.

* Shi, the Korean word for "poem." Incidentally, the letter on the Korean keyboard is where t would be, and is where l would be.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I don't speak a lot of the language.

* Transliteration of the word I wanted to write but can't, because there's no Korean keyboard on the device I'm using to write.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Teacher, me this everything doing?" one of the second-graders asked me this afternoon. I knew he was trying to ask me whether he had to do every part of a very long problem in his (college-level) grammar book, and as I corrected both his word order and word choice, I laughed to myself, as I always do. I don't let any of my classes speak Korean, not even the first-graders, who know less English than my kindergarten kids. I try to teach them that learning a second language involves knowing which language to use when. I say "try" because I'm not sure they fully understand the language I use to tell them when to use the language I use. The language they use is fascinating. It's certainly English, but it's not a language I fully understand all the time. I have nothing to do but laugh when all the other students in the room understand a student who's speaking her second language, one I'm supposed to know but can't decipher. I'm getting better. Each class has its own English, it's own pattern that sometimes includes so-called standard oral or written English (whatever that is). Today one of the second-graders even said "gonna" and laughed when he looked up and saw me smiling. What I wonder is, what does my (I use that possesive pronoun lightly) English sound like to them?

As the title of this post implies, I actually meant to write about poetry tonight. Oh, wait—looks like I did.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Not that I think poetry has no rules. On the contrary. But they are rules you manipulate/make/remix as you go. To quote Ronald Sukenick*: "I personally am enamored of the traditional Canon but not interested in repeating it."

* While I agree with many of the aphorisms in the linked document, there are some I find problematic. I almost dig "I like to set my mind on autopilot. I find it takes me in interesting directions, probably reflecting the structure of my mind." But then I suspect that some folks may take this as a validation of random writing.** Others, like "Writing begins as drawing and ends as music," strike me as sensationalizing of writing.

** I'm not sure how much I buy into so-called random behavior, at least on an individual level. From what I've seen, the motivations are there. I could be wrong, of course.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Included in last week's curriculum, which I have no hand in creating, was a lesson on writing poetry. "Teacher," Barbie said as soon as she saw the word in her Language Arts book, "what's a poem?" I read over the book's definition, some lame-dick emptiness about "painting a picture" with "words that usually rhyme." Then I told the kids not to follow the directions therein.

Friday, February 6, 2009


My second-graders have a hard time with the difference between will and would. They always answer questions about unreal situations with sentences about the future.

"No, no, not will. Would. It's subjunctive."

"Teacher, what's [trying to say 'subjunctive']?"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Don't Do What Jonny Don't Do Does

In English, you answer a negative question—say "You don't want any more of this?"—with the negative, "No," as in "No, I don't want any more of that." In Korean, however, you answer with a positive, "Yes," as in "Yes, you're correct: I don't want any more of that." When I ask my students such questions, I can never tell whether they're following Korean rules or applying the English rules they've learned. Invariably, I have to change the way I ask the question. So much for the short answer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

As Though Any of This Were Owned

A——'s mom came into the school today. We tried speaking to each other, but neither knew enough of the other's language. Finally somebody came by who could speak both, and A——'s mom said something not in my language. "You sound like an alien" was how it was put into mine.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Teacher

This morning my student Alex handed me a note that read, "There is a monster in your mind."

Then Jude told me, "Tim Teacher, don't lose your mind."

Monday, February 2, 2009

쌍문 한양 아파트*

Liked this post, regarding the big-book business, by Blake Butler yesterday/today.

Liked this article, regarding the sentence, by Gary Lutz in last month's Believer.

Cleaned out the shower drain this evening/whatever day it is for you because the cockroaches had multiplied and one tends to believe that the cockroaches dig the hair I've lost since whenever I last cleaned the drain. Never. And, well, somebody else lives here now, and you can't just go around with the having of cockroaches and hair, not to mention the two inches of water that stands, stands, stands after any shower, reminding you of the pipe that burst in your Normal apartment and, to the surprise of Wrist, didn't ruin anything except the two towels some careless worker used to clean up the water. Seoul is not Normal. Not to imply that it is somehow nonnormal, just non-Normal. So no standing water, especially because I can help it. Though the gas doesn't work and hasn't since I moved in despite repeated appeals to the school to get somebody on that. But for the first time in your life, you can afford to go out often, except when you send money home to the States. The exchange rate at this second is 0.7181 US dollars (do you use an s for something that's not even 1?) for every 1,000 won.

Got an e-mail from alice blue on January 16: more excerpts from "Exeunt Omnes," aka the passenger-pigeon poems, will be published in the next issue.

Broke my glasses by dancing too hard with them in my pocket this weekend.

* Learn Korean.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Zieht um

Alex moved into my apartment today.

Monday, January 26, 2009


My first time skiing was last week. I'm not sure how I grew up in Michigan without once skiing. Maybe it was the ever-oncoming track season and the worry of injury. Regardless, I'd never been, so when our friends Skyler and Nara asked Alex, who's skied since she was five, and me, at twenty-seven, whether we wanted to go, I shrugged my shoulders and said OK. We met up with Skyler and Nara at Ssangmun Station. Nara introduced us to JJ, a doctor. "He speaks English, but he hates it." Joking, I suggested we speak in German. "He hates that too." After teaching all week at a hagwon, I could sympathize. Sometimes I'm tired of the language.*

Thinking of pizza and French fries the whole three-hour-and-some ride to the mountain in Yongpyong, I wondered how I'd do. Well, not well. First we started on an intermediate slope. The second fall sent my glasses flying off. "Do you want me to hold them?" Alex asked. "I mean, I might fall and break them." But there was a greater chance that I'd fall and break them than she would, and it turned out that she didn't fall once—no surprise. I fell all day. Alex waited for me, but mostly I'd lose control and go speeding down the slope. I hit the bunny hill a few times and kept myself up, but when we went back to the intermediate slopes, I was on my ass again.

Finally JJ tried explaining which muscles to use and where to put the pressure. His English was difficult to understand, so Nara translated what he couldn't say. No lessons. Just trying to hold myself up while listening to somebody explain to me, in a language I didn't understand, something I'd never done before.* I started to get it, though, and for a while, I could go down fine, but by the time I really started to understand, I'd already fallen on my ass and head all day and was too tired to use the muscles JJ had pointed at. I kept standing back up, though, and when I returned my rented gear, somebody called me a snowman. I was in pain the next day.

Alex had already made reservations to go skiing again on Saturday, and after a hard week of working out, with both of us already pretty sore, I was, I'll admit, nervous about going again. We went to High1* this time. To my surprise, I was a lot better. Besides after being clipped ("You weren't clipped that hard," Alex says), I fell only during the first run. Granted, I went slowly every time, but I had a lot of fun. Alex would motion for me to go ahead of her, and then I'd see her handle her snowboard beautifully past me.

Today's Lunar New Year's Day, so I have today and tomorrow off.

* [To be read now or later—that is, as a footnote or as part of the main text, if there is a main text. (Hi, Mum. I'm fine. Dad, download Skype.)] I'm kidding; I'm never tired of English. By the way, the Korean alphabet is easy to learn, but I could read a whole book in Korean and, with little exception, not understand anything. "In Korean," Will, a coworker, said, "everything's the predicate." I love sounding out a word only to discover that it's a transliteration of an English word. There are so many things with English names—for example, High1, which was transliterated into 하이원. Is 하이원 meaningful Korean (whatever that means) or is it just gibberish to Koreans? Another way to ask that is, why name something in English and then transliterate it into something that could be meaningless Korean? Why name something in English in the first place? Is English so chic?

I'm so used to understanding so little of what anybody says that when I hear English now, it sounds wrong. I hang out with six-year-olds all day, and though we speak only in English, it is an English that is at times hard to decipher. I love when they ask me how to spell a word they're mispronouncing:

"Teacher, how to you spell [undecipherable]?"


As I lost control and sped down the slopes last week, JJ yelled two different things: "아니, 아니!" and "No, no!" (are those two different things [they translate into each other]?). He drew symbols, not even Hangul characters, into the snow, expecting me to be able to decipher his meaning and ski without falling. And how odd to try to remember the Korean for "Please excuse me" as you're increasing in speed, trying at the same time to form a pizza out of your legs.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Feedback Fed Back

"You said you enjoy me," she said.

"That's probably the wrong verb," I said.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I've been dating Alex for the past two months, though I'm not sure either of us knew it in the first few weeks. She's the newest teacher at LCI, hired to teach a new class of four-year-olds.1 For a long time, before our trip to China, I wondered whether I'd ever be able to know her only in this place—that is, in both senses: (1) only while I'm here in Korea and (2) only in this context. Is this version of Alex, I asked myself, the same one one may find in the States, in her case, Nantucket, Massachusetts?

That's not to say that this version of Alex isn't the true version of Alex. What true version? Context recontextualizes her at every step. To say that one context is the correct context is to forget context always becomes recontextualized, which is the same as saying Alex is always recontextualized. Maybe I'm being redundant.

But this is just to say that I enjoy Alex. And, really, all of the other expats I work with—Andrew ("A." above2), Elena, Erin, Lacy, Pat, Terry, and Will—are good people, and I should have been writing about them and Seoul all along.

But one gets distracted. What I really mean is, one gets used to things. Like hardly ever understanding anybody, except at work, and even there the English gets slippery. And you—I mean "one"; I mean "I"—forget what you were going on about online, forget you're supposed to be updating, forgetting not because Korea isn't amazing but because it's become home.

And, no, no pictures. But soon perhaps.

1 Though the kids will, or would if they could say it in English, probably tell you they're six now. Korean age starts at one, not zero. Plus, at the beginning of the year, at least from what I've been able to figure out, everybody turns a year older. Nevertheless, Alex's kids were born in 2004.

2 Well, that is, before, as in when I wrote about him in August. You're probably reading this online (I doubt these posts will ever appear in a book [I'm not sure how they'd work if they did (ideally, I'd like this writing to be more hypertextual than it is [I'm not sure how hypertextual it is, even if it takes place online])]), and so above is actually below, at least as it's represented on your screen. These shortcuts in writing become not only habitual but also more and more inaccurate. Web page? It's only a way of thinking. Maybe.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Tim(e) in Korea China

I've spent the last week in Shanghai with Alex (my girlfriend) and our friend Elena. Now we're in the airport, waiting to go home—that is, to Seoul.