Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday packing

I spent Saturday evening at the office, grading student journals* and beginning the sad process of clearing out my work station. I managed to fit most of my mortal possessions into three medium-sized boxes; I got the boxes from a local mom-and-pop store being watched over by a guy with a gut at least twice the size of my own; he and I had bowed to each other in the past whenever I walked by his store, but we'd never talked. Tonight, when I suddenly asked him whether I could have two or three boxes, he responded with a "What for?"-- which caught me off guard. I explained that I was leaving Korea and needed to pack up my office things, after which he rummaged around and gave me three boxes. Here are some pics of Saturday night's efforts.

*Some of my students are convinced the word "journal" refers only to the content of a journal and not to the physical journal itself, which is a bit of a problem whenever I say, "Hand in your journals."


nostalgia: part 2

I want my readers to have some notion of the life I'm leaving behind here in Seoul. To that end, I'll be slapping up pictures from various end-of-term parties and "bazaars" that we ran.

Here are scenes from a bazaar our department held in the winter of 2006, about a half-year into my three-year stint at Smoo:


Thursday, April 10, 2008

on comments and "censorship"

When you walk into my blog, you're walking into my house. If I'm considered responsible for the blog's content (as a homeowner is responsible for the condition of his home), then I am equally responsible for the behavior of my guests—i.e., my commenters. This means, on one hand, that I should try to treat my guests with a modicum of civility, toleration, and decency. It also means, on the other hand, that I should be true to myself: my patience and tolerance are not infinite, and far from allowing people to begin ego-driven pissing contests in the comments section, I will nip all such attempts in the bud. Comments are already monitored; they appear on the blog only with my approval. Comments that are not of a constructive nature simply won't appear; they'll be deleted before they see the light of day.

Notice what I'm not saying: I'm not saying I won't tolerate disagreements. Quite to the contrary, I'm keenly interested in hearing different points of view. But disagreements must first pass the tests of civility, rationality, and relevance, or they won't be aired.

Some oversensitive folks decry such an attitude as censorship, but this comes from a misunderstanding of what censorship actually is. A person who wishes to express an uncivil or otherwise negative opinion about this blog, the blog's author, or the author's personal project is, of course, free to do so, but will have to do so somewhere else. Censorship is the active suppression of free speech; the speaker is hounded; his posters, his signs, his websites and so on are hunted down and eradicated by the censoring party. Censorship is not the same as being responsible for what happens in one's own house.

So if, for whatever reason, you feel the need to say something that isn't particularly constructive, I won't stop you—unless you're doing it inside my foyer. I hope we're clear on that. As long as I'm the one who's responsible for this blog's content, I'll consider all reader comments to fall inside the scope of that responsibility and will handle those comments as I see fit.

I should also note that I prefer comments not to be anonymous. It's easy to hide behind anonymity, and hard to respect people who choose that path. I understand that some people wish to keep their actual identities hidden for various personal and prudential reasons, but even such people can adopt a specific screen name and return to this blog using that screen name consistently. If, for example, someone with the screen name Boogerman69 becomes a recurring character in the comment threads, that's fine with me; Boogerman and his (or her!) style will become familiar to me and to the other commenters.

I do not, of course, respect the use of sock puppets, i.e., the use of several screen names by a single person to make it appear that several different people are commenting. This, too, is an example of cowardice and immaturity.

So yes, I'm draconian about my comments section. Having chosen to maintain such a section, I've also chosen to keep it nicely mown and pleasing to the eye. If this troubles you, then simply surf or comment elsewhere. Or start your own blog.

As I did.

a week before good-bye

I'm not actually leaving Korea until the 27th of this month, but my classes finish next week, with the 18th (Friday) being my final day of teaching. Hard to believe that my time at Smoo (you newbies might not know that that's my nickname for the school where I teach) is almost up-- three very pleasant years.

Smoo has definitely been the best gig I've had since coming back to Korea in 2002. When I was in Seoul from 1994 to 1996, I worked at two different language institutes (and did a stint teaching business English at a large firm in Yeouido), and from 2004 to 2005, I did the same. Let me tell you, the move from such institutes (called hagweon in Korean) to a university like Smoo was like the transition from night to day: while the pay suffered a slight decrease, the stress level went way, way down. I've been lucky, in all my jobs, to have worked with decent (and in many cases excellent) coworkers, and to have taught great students, but the main problem in all my previous jobs boiled down to two things: unreasonable schedule and unreasonable management. In this job, far from working 44 hours a week (as I'd done in my 2004-05 gig), I generally teach only about 20 hours a week-- high for the typical Korean university, but low from my "hagweonic" perspective. I'm also lucky to have bosses who, whatever their quirks, have been humane and understanding to me. This in turn has made me much more willing to go the extra mile for the school, which I've tried to do in different ways: by holding extracurricular French classes, by having one-to-one tutoring sessions (students could sign up for a time slot), by creating ad posters for our program, cooking full meals for our end-of-term parties, and so on. I would never have done these things at any of my previous jobs.

So it's going to be a sad good-bye next week. I look forward to going home for a while and doing this trans-America walk, but I'm also sad to be leaving this life behind. I've got a job where I like-- love-- what I do, where that love and effort are appreciated, and where I feel very much at home. Luckily, I do plan to come back to Korea when the walk is done, so however sad this good-bye will be, it won't be a "good-bye forever."

And now... I've got an 11AM pronunciation class today. Final exam for these students. Next Friday, we're just partying.


into the belly of the beast

I admit that this little problem makes me nervous. I'm beginning to think that I should bring only one carry-on bag with me when I go home. Or no bag at all.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

perhaps a church worth joining

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit writes, "A RELIGIOUS SYMBOL outside a Tennessee courthouse. Will the ACLU complain?"

By the way, if you're into hilarious takes on religion, go to YouTube and type "Betty Butterfield" in the search window.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

the tension mounts

All of South Korea is holding its breath in anticipation of tonight's space launch, which includes a "double first" for Koreans: astronaut Lee Soyeon will not only be the first Korean in space: she'll be the first Korean woman in space. Best of luck to Soyeon, whose amazing adventure has been faithfully chronicled over at Mike Hurt's fine blog (see especially here and here; these links have videos with Soyeon, who is Mike's friend).


trip prep continues

Among the many things I have yet to do before I leave the peninsula is visit the local branch of the Seoul Immigration Office to obtain a bija yeon-jang, a.k.a. a visa extension. My employment contract's ending date is the 24th of this month but my plane ticket is for the 27th, thus requiring a three-day extension.

I'm about to take off and get that now. Vish mee laaaahk.

UPDATE: You obviously didn't wish me luck. It turns out that the local branch of the Immigration Office no longer services residents of my part of town, which means I need to take a cross-town trip to the main branch. Not gonna happen in rush-hour traffic, I fear, so I might save this trip for Friday. There's no rush: in principle, I have all the way until the day before my contract expires to get this taken care of.


Monday, April 7, 2008

from the Maven

This link contains some great travel wisdom, not to mention wonderful quotes from Anaïs Nin and John Muir.

(Thanks, Maven!)


for the HTML-savvy, a question

This Blogger template has one major annoying tendency: the line spacing changes before and after graphics, horizontal lines (done with the "hr" HTML tag), and other such doodads. What changes must I make to my template to make ALL line spacing absolutely consistent?

(To see the problem I'm talking about, scroll down to the "the NEW logo" post and compare the line spacing before and after the graphic.)

UPDATE: Thanks to HK for the quick response! Problem solved. I want to have your baby. Oh, wait-- that's the chick's line...


scratch n' sniff

Magnolias and cherry blossoms in Korea. Unfortunately, the Korean word for "cherry blossom" bears a disturbing phonetic resemblance to the phrase "butt goat" (beot-ggot). Having said that, I feel the need to remind you that this blog's main focus is religion, not bestiality. Despite whatever links might exist between the two concepts, please put said links out of your mind and just enjoy the exposed plant genitals on display at Jelly's fine blog.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

perhaps there's justice after all

This makes me very happy. A recent comment about tolerance got me thinking: tolerance has limits. I can't tolerate the existence of a man like Fred Phelps, or of a church that feeds on his hatred and falsely styles it love.

UPDATE: Somewhat related to the tolerance theme touched on here is this post over at Malcolm's place, which focuses more on the question of Europe, Islam, and tolerance. Malcolm's piece is more germane to the remarks made by Max in his comments to this previous post.


Nathan writes in!

Here's part of what my friend Nathan Bauman wrote me:

Hi Kevin,

I've just emailed our press release to:

-Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun (he's the religion and ethics writer for our daily broadsheet)

-the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (I called to check that they got the press release)

-The Tri-City News (a local thrice-weekly paper)

-The Coquitlam Now (a local thrice-weekly paper)

-The BC Christian News

Better update that website soon! I just hope this press release thing works out. I think I've done a good job on it, but the idea has to catch their eye...

Nathan's been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to help make this walk happen. I'd normally say that I owe him my firstborn child, but because I have no children, I probably owe him a few vital organs instead.

Thanks, Nathan!

If anyone out there has notions of how to get the word out and get religious communities interested in this walk, please write in. We're always looking for ideas.


the NEW logo

Not being satisfied with the previous logo-- an image that increasingly came to remind me of a bunch of dirt clods-- I've opted for the following image, a variant of which will shortly appear above as this blog's new and slightly more interesting-looking banner:

The symbols you see, from left to right:

Jainism: the hand of ahimsa (nonviolence, no-killing)
Islam: the crescent
Shinto: the torii
Hinduism: the holy "Om" (also called "AUM")
Buddhism: the 8-spoked Wheel of the Law
Sikhism: the Khanda
Judaism: the Magen David (Star of David)
Christianity: the cross of Jesus
Baha'i: the 9-pointed star (9 connotes perfection in this tradition)

The above logo satisfies several requirements at once: you see a guy with a backpack walking along, which we automatically associate with treks. You see red, white, and blue, which represents the United States of America. And you see nine symbols of various religions, which should imply, even to the casual observer, that the walker is somehow walking past or through or among these traditions. I think this is a much better logo than the previous one, even though this logo will be harder to render as a black-and-white photocopy.



Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

It's April 6, and my mother and father today celebrate their forty-first year together as a married couple. Dad's retired, and unless I'm mistaken, Mom's supposed to be retiring this year. They deserve the rest; both have worked at hard jobs.

I love you guys! See you soon!

UPDATE: I just got news that Mom might hang on until early next year.