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.