Tag Archive | rambling

The Ghost Hunters

Once more ghost hunting became fashionable. People met online and discussed preferred methods. Mediumship wasn’t so lucky. No one could simply channel spirits any more. Electricity was the stuff of life, especially when coupled with water. Appointments were made. A clandestine meeting in a coffee shop, then a parking lot, finally ending in a neon-decorated motel’s VIP suite with a view that overlooked the all night express bus terminal. They took turns in the bath tub, the soap suds dissolving into the sound of hydraulic brakes. The hairdryer failed to spark in their wet hands. Maybe next time. Paracelsus for morons.

How Not To Follow People On Twitter

Here’s another one to file under Captain Obvious is obvious…

There are people I like, people I admire, people I feel are extremely insightful and worth listening to, but if I follow them on Twitter I know that they would drive me annoyed. How do I know this? Because I have done exactly that. I have followed these people, read their Twitter feeds, and become annoyed by their floodlighting. Of course, I probably have a low personal threshold for what is and isn’t floodlighting. Some folks might not mind things I do. Some folks default to hugs. I default to distant nods and maybe a handshake because anything beyond that is inherently suspicious. Other folks might operate their twitter like a traffic cop, muting people for a bit, listening for a bit. I don’t have the will, patience, or time to do that with the attention required. So what to do?

Answer: Follow other people who follow those people you like, and rely on that first group to filter the latter. And so far it’s worked pretty well. The folks I admire and find insightful remain so without drowning me in their moment to moment tribulations, squeegasms, and would-be stand-up routines.

So thanks everyone. You’re all wonderful. Keep up the good work.

How Soon Until We Start Saying “Culturally Mormon”?

I doubt it will come as any surprise that I have atheistic tendencies. If anything I’m an atheist that believes in mythology, or if I want to be pretentious and pretend I’m an Italian New Wave film director, “I’m an atheist with a nostalgia for religion“.

Mythology’s the stories we surround ourselves with and which shape our perceptions of ourselves and the world we live in. So, yeah, there’s Greek Mythology with Zeus and all that, but there’s also Christian mythology, and national mythology (like the Myth of the Frontier if you’re an American). Religion not only supplies one of these mythologies but builds a scaffolding around it in the form of texts, rites, community, personal practices, or shared references. When I say someone’s Culturally Catholic, Culturally Muslim, Culturally Buddhist, etc. it’s referencing their ability to navigate that mythological framework.

I joke about nuns. My buddy jokes about the Talmud. My other buddy answers his dad’s phone call with “as-salaam alaykum” while we’re sitting in a bar eating pulled pork sandwiches.

Some folks might see all this as hypocritical or cynical, but I find it all healthy and in its way respectful. Where it comes from is a maturing of religion away from one thing and towards another, a cultural identity, and more and more as I encounter ex-Mormons I wonder how long we are away from having people say “Yeah, I’m Culturally Mormon, but I drink coffee and support gay marriage.” Or they’ll sit over a beer swapping “war” stories about their missionary year. From a devout perspective they’ll be outside the fold, but from their own place it’ll be the framework they’ve inherited and can share, and as more and more people leave the fold, find life outside to be pleasant, and stay on good terms with their family and friends inside the fold, I won’t be surprised to see people saying culturally Mormon as a way of acknowledging their experiences.

I give it a decade. By which time we can all wonder about the Cultural Scientologists and puzzle out what their deal is.

Sex and Violence

In most genre books I skip the sex scenes and the fight scenes.

All the fight scenes tell me is you the author have watched The Matrix (or MMA matches or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) enough times to describe it.

All the sex scenes tell me is you have an internet connection.

Having just finished a Western (Valdez is Coming* by Elmore Leonard; I recommend it) I saw it wasn’t these two things but the lead up and repercussions from them that made things interesting. It’s only that people are obvious and put pages of dueling MMA wizard anal elf sex in their books for some reason. If you love it, then hey, that’s great. But for me, it feels like I’m reading the fan fiction for the RPG supplement you wrote in novel form.

* hardeeharhar

The Last Lines From A Book About A Man With Three Testicles

“Out there far away the rest of the world has gone modern. With whole new jumping generations. And holy hell is the only thing we have up to date here. To make the stars bark. When the west’s awake. Over the cliffs and roaring sea. Where the moon hides and weeps at night.

And

The weary

Wind

Bewilders

Me.”

How Not To Teach English

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Sometimes I wonder how effective it is having Native English Teachers (NETs) in Korean classrooms.

Some background for you all: the program that employs me is called EPIK. It’s a government agency overseen by the Department of Education. It was formed in 1995 and places NETs in public schools. Overall I suspect it’s a pretty expensive program to run. We’re paid quite well and receive other benefits like having our rent paid for along with receiving a decent renewal bonus. There are other programs, TALK and Fullbright Fellowships, that place NETs in Korea. I just know a lot less about them. Like most education programs EPIK is influenced by politics.

Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, has decided to focus less on English education and has done away with NET teachers in middle and high schools. This began in Seoul a year or so back, but has now been implemented everywhere. I teach elementary school, and figure I’m safe for a while yet.

Anyway, all this has got me thinking about English education in South Korea, and in particular the NETs role in it all. We’re a phenomenally underutilized resource. But at the same time I have no idea if it would be possible to measure our effectiveness.

First off, throw out whatever image you have of teaching English. Much of what I do is what I call Vocational English. Phrase book stuff. And what my students are tested on is their proficiency using these phrases. Understanding these phrases or being able to use them fluently are less important than being able to parrot the “correct” answers back. If I have a student that approaches an organic fluency or proficiency that’s great, yay for me. But that can’t be my goal. Nuance, organic fluency? If I dwell on those things, my students fail their tests.

Not that they want to pass them.

Other schools may be different, but 90% of my students could care less about learning English.

I teach in the old part of an industrial city in the poorest and most conservative province in South Korea. My students come from working class homes. Some are being raised by a single parent or their grandparents (or in one case I know of by an older sibling).

For a time now Korea has made English a benchmark in society. And what it’s spawned is an industry of parasites and resentment. Parasites in the form of testing agencies and pointless certifications (I have no respect for TOEIC exams). Resentment in what I see every day in my students, which I have to suspect is resentment they pick up from the society around them.

By having me or any other NET there, we’re likely increasing our student’s resistance to learning a foreign language. For one, there’s no payoff for my students. At best it’ll arrive 12 years or so down the line when/if they apply to college. They’re certainly not going to use English outside of school. Okay, maybe when they play video games, but again that’s phrase book “warrior needs food” parroting. Two, they’re bombarded with the general anti-foreigner mindset of their culture. To learn English would get them singled out as disloyal and unKorean.

The kid that’s really into English and dreams all the time about leaving Korea is a similar joke set-up to that kid in Ohio that always talked about going to LA or New York and making it big after high school. So why learn it, if it’ll single you out from your peers? And that’s not something Korean culture wires people to do easily, go against group consensus.

Social mobility? Errr, maybe. But the way the gap is growing between the haves and have-nots here is stunning, and I doubt the haves want to share.

Someone once said to me it was to make sure Korea got the jobs that outsourced to India, instead of those that get outsourced to China. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but Korea has no problem stuffing its own people in horrible factories for others benefit. Sure, the slogan is to make Korea a global player – but it’s an odd vision they have of global, when everything outside the country is depicted as broken, dirty, and/or immoral.

I suspect every Korean born after 1990 likely has English anxiety, all because it’s been forced upon them.

“Here’s another failure for you to dwell on, Sunmin! Only it’s English, and that’s okay, you can make fun of that.”

All I’m doing, I fear, is inoculating my students against English.

Genre Character or Writer?

What’s more important to you?

My wife’s a cartoonist and she’s been creating a comic for the past 6 months. In that time she’s built up something of a fan base.* One thing she’s noticed is that her fans are less fans of her comic as a whole than fans of this or that character.  It got us talking about what makes us like certain books. Whether it’s the genre/series itself, the character, or the writer.

Put another way, when you read a Sherlock Holmes mystery, what’s more important, the mystery or Sherlock Holmes? What about a Philip K. Dick novel?

There’s no right or wrong to this.  I can think of two somewhat similar writers whose books I enjoy, Liz Hand and Kameron Hurley, both of whom write grim, violent stories. But I read Hurley’s Bel Dame series, for the series itself, then the characters, while the writer remains in the background. In the case of Liz Hand’s recent mystery novels I’m reading them more to see how  this particular writer, Liz Hand, uses the mystery genre, yet while being less attracted to her messed-up “detective” character, Cass Neary.

And I don’t think it’s something you can maximize. Like if you blend all three effectively then you will write a blockbuster. But I wonder whether other folks have considered this. What do you think?

Do you read by genre, character, or writer?**

* When a complete stranger draws a picture of a character you’ve created, I’ll say you have developed a fandom.

** And yes, this questions skews towards popular genres. Though maybe not.

2014

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… and we’re back. For now.

I didn’t intend to take January off, I just did. I went back to the USA for much of it. Survived the Polar Vortex. Saw family and friends. Bought books. Read books. Stuffed my luggage full of books and came back to South Korea.

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Point of this post is I have no idea what to do with this blog. At the moment I’m a bit bored/tired of the Internet. Even the people I agree with annoy me. It’s become a tug of war between Scolds on one hand and Blow-Hards on the other. I know that’s a mischaracterization. There’s plenty of good stuff out there written by intelligent and insightful folks.

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I could go the Slow Blog route. That would be great if I dealt in depth with a single topic. But I don’t. Write about games? Meh. I’d rather play them. Writing? Fuck no. That’s like Level 1 for being a Peanut-Headed Blowhard. Books? You can follow me on Goodreads. All my book posts are copied from there. Ex-pat life in South Korea? Kill me, no.

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My problem with the Slow Blog route is that I do think there’s value to regularly posting. Yeah, yeah. Fuck building your platform – it’s simply a good habit getting the junk in your head out of your head.  Unfortunately the default setting for social media is narcissism (from slight to over-whelming), and that’s no fun. Well, maybe if you were a wonderful and fascinating person (or could pretend to be so), but, no. And that leaves me no clue what to do.

Except what I’ve been doing. Only maybe a little better.

Adjusting Downward

Goodreads has a 5-star rating system. I find it pointless to give a book a less than 3-star rating. If you don’t like the book that much, why keep reading it? (Although I did give 1-star in a fit of pique to a SF novel a few years back, likely because acquaintances raved about it.)

If a book gets 3-stars that’s my way of saying it was okay, and I liked it enough to finish it. 4-stars mean I liked it enough to recommend. 5-stars mean it was great, and I hope to reread it some day.

But over Christmas I just finished reading Iain Banks’ A Song of Stone. It was so unenjoyable, but he’s a writer I like so much that I couldn’t drop the book.

So now 2-stars means this book stinks but I finished it out of brand loyalty.