Monday, November 30, 2009

"南极洲," a Translation to Come

Hillary, who looked at "Antarctica" today in order to start translating it, just texted to say she didn't want to change my meaning. But I told her that it was her translation, that translating would mean change necessarily. Seems so ridiculous for one to be strict with one's texts.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Dàjiě just told me, "Good morning," the first English I've ever heard her speak.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tiny Tots (About Fifteen Months Out)

The youngest of my students, between the ages of like two and a half and five, were difficult to teach at first. They didn't listen, they got out of their chairs, and they cried a lot. For the past few weeks, though, they've listened well, been attentive, and known almost every answer. The youngest of the youngest—that is, the two-and-a-half-year-old—said this morning, "Do you have a teddy bear?" when another of the students hid it behind her back. This sentence may seem silly to get excited about, but you've gotta understand how few full English sentences are actually wielded in a day and how little this little guy is.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Oh, You Know, the Traditional Chinese Thanksgiving

  • me 'n' Preston on Skype, telling a potential employee about the incredibly hard work we do but not failing also to mention 3:00 dance time and moonwalking lessons in the school's lobby
  • a circle of people holding hands, listening to a prayer, a lot of them probably definitely not Christian—amen!
  • OK, yeah, turkey, etc.
  • a Chinese lesson
  • lesson plans for students ranging from two and a half to
  • a class of adults, a few of whom—men at least my dad's age—Sophia and I have to tell to be quiet, let others talk, and speak English
  • postwork noodles in a place that reminds me I'm white, with two middle-aged men center table chugging beer and yelling at the waitress, who only laughs at them at first but then looks increasingly alarmed
  • coworkers' stories about growing up in China
  • Thursday, November 26, 2009

    No Pressure to Get It Right, But

    "The measure words in Chinese are not only numerous but also very vivid. You must be careful in choosing them while reading and writing Chinese, otherwise you will be a joke."
    —Ding Haosen, A Crash Course in Chinese—Sentence Construction Patterns in Modern Chinese, revised edition, page 7

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Sick Day

    Cold last night beyond current imagination. Fever dream: Self as adjective being described as a word and therefore underlined, Abby. Do you understand? And once I got myself up and dressed and into the living room with the heater—that is, once overhot and nice—Abby did understand, and I was underlined. Muscles aching. The clothes I wore, with a stench.

    Working from home today. The heat's out at work because someone didn't pay the bills, and I couldn't get warm in the three hours I was there, during which I did nothing but read Blake Butler's tweets.

    Any time I'm on the shitter, I read Dinosaur Comics on my iPod.

    Monday, November 23, 2009


    Dàjiě, which translates to "eldest sister," is the cleaning woman's title. Cleaning woman is a misnomer, though, as she does more than clean; she also cooks our meals, looks after the building when nobody's there, and takes care of us. She's one of the loveliest people here.

    Though she can't speak any English, we both try to talk to each other. Sometimes it's only the two of us in the basement, and as I eat, she speaks quickly, pointing at, then grabbing my waist. Later someone will tell me, "Dàjiě says you're too skinny. If you really enjoy her food, you should eat more." I had a coworker tell her I was learning Chinese only so I could speak to her. On Saturday, after she'd prepared eggplant, one of my favorite foods, I told her, "{I love you,}" and she laughed.

    She has a hard time remembering my Western name, so she often refers to me as {the one who calls Hillary "Teacher"}.

    Yesterday she came into the Westerners' office to clean. She stopped and stared at the writing in my notebook. In my busted-ass Chinese, I tried to tell her I was writing poetry. She waved her hand and shook her head. Then she said something in Chinese, her mouth so close to mine that had we been in any other context, I would have thought she wanted to kiss me.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009


    Last weekend I bought the entire series of Six Feet Under—that is, twenty-four discs—for only 144 RMB (21.09 US dollars) in a movie store that looked like an apartment without the furniture.

    Saturday, November 21, 2009


    Nobody's supposed to speak Chinese at work unless they really have to, like to parents or visitors. The only exception is during meals. English is our product, Preston always says. I like the idea of total immersion, and I must say I'm disappointed when anybody, staff or student, disrupts the English-only atmosphere the school is supposed to have. Still, it's weird to hear somebody tell others not to speak their first language. Weirder still: being the one to tell others to speak English (this I do only to students; there's no way I'd do it to the staff). By all reports, D.—fuck it: Dawn—screams if anybody speaks English at home (most of the Chinese staff live in one of two apartments). It's nice, then, to hear Chinese during the daily school-provided lunches and dinners. Nice to teach the staff more English (Dawn always wants to learn slang) and then go to lunch and have my ass kicked in conversation and then have it further kicked by Hillary during my Chinese lesson.

    Last night one coworker was amazed when I understood that she was asking me whether I'd eaten a lot of gimbap (literally "seaweed rice"[the translating software on my computer translates it as "seaweed roll," but nobody I ever hung out with in Korea ever said that]) in Korea. I understood only {this} and {Korea} and figured the rest out from context. We were eating gimbap.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Chinese Doesn't Sound like Chinese Anymore

    A couple weeks ago, I told the Chinese staff to speak only Chinese to me at lunch and dinner so that I could practice my listening. This has led to meals during which I understand almost nothing. This week, however, words are coming out of sounds. A few people have told me what a good job I'm doing, but really, my sentences are still very elementary.

    For example:

    As soon as I got here, D. started calling me {big brother} in Korean, so I took to calling her {little sister} in Chinese as soon as I learned the word for it. Hillary then became my sister when she gave me her family name.

    The other day I told the cleaning woman, "{Hillary is my big sister.}"

    "{No,}" she said, "{she's your teacher.}"

    "{Yes, she is my teacher and big sister. D. is my little sister.}"

    Then, from context, I gathered that the cleaning woman was telling me, "{Well, OK, if D. is your little sister, then so is Hillary. They're both younger than you.}"

    "{I know,}" I said, and then my Chinese ran out, "but Hillary's my teacher, so she won't let me call her my little sister."

    I can only imagine what English must sound like to the children we teach. Some, the very youngest, don't even understand that I don't speak Chinese. They unknowingly help me review the colors as they color: "{Teacher, yellow!}"

    Of course, Korean hasn't sounded like Korean in a long time either.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    I've Already Decided to Stay for Two Years

    "My goal is to get the company to grow fast enough that you and Miles [a coworker from Pennsylvania] stay and help the company expand even more, and then we can all make millions of dollars," Preston, my boss, said tonight. "What that means is, you can never leave. You know that, right?"

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009


    The electricity in the school keeps going out. Too much juice to run everything plus the heaters. Last week we had a couple classes by candlelight, which the parents didn't like at first, of course. They complained and tried to get a free class, but the staff did a good job reassuring everybody that they could handle the problem.

    140-Character Somethings?

    you twit

    for a different audience perhaps

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    After Shopping at Decathlon and IKEA

    Walking through an alley this afternoon, my friends and I saw three or four dogs, one with its head cut off, all skinned, waiting to be cut up for food (perhaps waiting is the wrong verb here). A few blocks later we saw a cat limping, a bone sticking out of its front left leg. And then up in a tower, the proprietor of an apartment serving as a high-quality-bootleg-DVD store assured us that she had previewed all the movies for quality.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Part 1

    One of my friends asked me why I post here every day.

    When I finish reading a book, I often wish there were more to it—not that the text isn't in itself complete or enough, just that I want more. Often I want something to complicate it, to, for some reason, contradict it. Something that can keep being commented on, included, rejected. Optional. I like both plain and extra extra. Can't—no, don't—come to a decision about what is the correct choice.

    Before moving to South Korea, I decided not only to write about my time there but also to involve it in my projects—namely, "Exeunt Omnes" (which is beginning [continuing?] to look like Exeunt Omnes). My favorite month, and perhaps my most productive period, during my time in Korea was February, when writing and still figuring out how to navigate a country where I didn't speak the language felt like the same thing.

    And still do.

    I want to be able to keep adding. I love working on something, even, or perhaps especially, when it feels that I'm doing so only tangentially. Don't want to stop playing. Complicating by navigating.

    This post feels unfinished.

    See also the first little bit of "Apology (?)/Defense (?); Video As Though to Say, 'Shut the Door'; Pedagogy of Deception."

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    I Love Teaching

    Today one of my smartest students—in my favorite class, SBS4—recited the following sentence with great intonation: "'I thought that that that that that student wrote on the blackboard was wrong.'"

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Two Texts

    Zhao Yuanren's "Lion-Eating Poet," an essay composed entirely of the same sound but different tones

    Chapter I of Christian Bök's Eunoia, the chapters of which each uses only one vowel

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    And Yet Nobody's Surprised

    The boss has added dancing to the daily schedule. Today's song was Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," boomed out through the school's sound system. You ever see your teachers dancing in a circle as you walk through the lobby on your way to class?

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Currently Thirty-Two/Zero

    The past couple days have been below freezing, yet rarely have I seen anybody wearing a hat. D., who's sitting next to me as we call my students to check on their pronunciation and comprehension (tonight they're doing pretty well), says that the Chinese think it's more important to keep the feet warm than it is to keep the head warm. Forget especially wearing a green hat: if you're a man, it means your partner's cheating on you; if you're a woman, it means you're cheating on your partner. I was wearing a green hat last weekend, and D. went nuts, especially when I tried to put it on her own head. Meanwhile, I'm bundled up, hat included, which elicits, so far anyway, either laughter or comments on how old I am. It's so cold, though, that the government decided to turn on the heat even though it's not the fifteenth yet.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Our Days Off Are Monday and Tuesday

    Last night was one of the most fun nights I've had since coming to China. After a baby shower, dinner, and drinks at a bar, some of my coworkers, including many who normally don't dance or drink, and I went to a club downtown and commenced to dancing and drinking, not, of course, in that order. At first, practically everybody in the place, each party at its own table, was playing this dice game that required its players to guess how many of each number there were under the cover that hid each player's dice. Good practice at saying one's numbers correctly, but I abstained, preferring instead to watch the giving out of stink eyes to us. Every once in a while, I called out impossible dice outcomes: "{Two hundred four eights! Two fifty-twos!}" Because it was the club's grand opening, the drinks were free: whiskey mixed with green tea, which tasted better than it sounds. Not too long after that, we headed to the (lack of a) dance floor. There was, to no one's surprise, little touching. The describing of Western dancing using two hands pressed together, as though trying to move through each other, came to mind and was deployed only after someone asked for it. Those of the stink eyes became those of the soft eyes and smiles, those dancing with us.

    Today: the Michael Jackson movie with some of the same coworkers, who said they loved it.

    November 10

    Happy birthday, Ben.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    New Work

    in yesterday/today's issue of 50 to 1

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    All Day Staring at Words

    What is language but context? Right? Or is that going too far?

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    One Studies






    Friday, November 6, 2009

    According to Who You're Talking To

    Today, more than two months after moving away from Seoul, I finally learned how to conjugate Korean verbs into all the forms of the indicative present. I'd been especially curious about addressing children because whenever I talked to them, they laughed not only at my pronunciation but also at my formality, yet they couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't, tell me how I was supposed to end my verbs with them.

    They're the Places That You Wanted to Go

    More art like this please.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Coats Inside

    Residents' and businesses' radiators are controlled not by any knob, indoor thermostat, or other adjustable element but by the government, and whether the temperature's cold or not—and it is ("Is that Fahrenheit or Celsius?" "First one, then the other.")—there are still eleven more days until the heat's getting turned on.

    One of My Favorite Things

    is to watch people write.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009


    "Once we dreamt that we were strangers.

    "We wake up to find that we were dear to each other."

    假如 (jiǎrú), "if," begins to convey supposition.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Are Languages Synonyms for Each Other?

    D. sometimes misinterprets my laughter during our Korean lessons as something directed at her, when in fact, I just find the constant code switching hilarious and difficult. I'm never sure whether to use yes, ne, or duì. All three of us agreed to speak only Korean or English, but some concepts require the third language. Sometimes during the English half of the exchange, I switch to a very rudimentary Korean to explain something. J., our teacher/student, often surprises me by explaining the concept back to me in English or to D. in Chinese.

    J. said today that English was hard. She could understand most of what she read, but speaking and writing were hard. She couldn't, she said, keep the tenses straight. She started learning the subjunctive (for example, She wishes it were easy), which she seemed to pick up rather quickly. "I think English is good," she said. In Chinese: "{I study every day.}"

    Often I wish I knew the subjunctive in Korean, but I'm just beginning to pick up the basic tenses. Of course, Chinese doesn't have inflected verbs, so what does the subjunctive stance look like?

    Sunday, November 1, 2009