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15 Aug

It – So, I have been tagged. I must say that it’s a weird game of tag. The Silk Alley Korean jumped out from behind a corner the other day, and instead of smacking me upside the head and shouting, “You’re it!” she said, “So, I can’t really think of anyone else to tag... how would you like to be tagged?” I hemmed and hawed a bit, but ultimately said something to the effect of, well, I suppose it wouldn’t be too bad... not nearly as bad as, say, being hung upside down in a bucket of cockroaches. Then she smacked me upside the head, shouted “You’re it!” and ran off into cyberspace.

“Let’s hope for your sake and mine that I don’t have to do this again any time soon.”

(Tangent here. I would link directly to her post on the subject, but at the moment I can only visit her site using an online proxy that scrambles the URLs. For those of my readers who are not currently in Korea and have no idea what I am talking about, the reason I am using this proxy is that the Korean government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to block all blogspot and typepad blogs. At least, we’re pretty sure it’s the Korean government, as they’ve done this sort of thing before. I’ll avoid making a political statement on the issue and say simply that this kind of sucks. So, until the block is lifted, you can read her post by heading over to her site and scrolling down to “TMI About Yours Truly” from the 13th of August.

Update (17 Aug): The block on blogspot sites has apparently been lifted (although I still cannot access typepad sites). Again, though I am sorely tempted, I will make no political comment on the matter. The important thing for you, dear reader, is that the above link to the Silk Alley Korean now goes directly to the post in question.)

There are a total of seventeen questions to answer in this little game. I will give each question its own heading to make today’s entry seem longer and more important. Enjoy.

1. Where I was ten years ago

On or about this day ten years ago, I was officially finishing up my studies at university. Most people in the States finish up in May, but certain extracurricular activities I had engaged in during my freshman and sophomore years necessitated an extra summer session of classes. Lest you get the wrong idea, these extracurricular activities did not involve drugs. They did involve just about everything else, though (except for actually studying, of course).

Ten years ago today was also about two weeks before I was to leave for Korea for what I thought would be a six-month stint (or a year at the longest) before continuing on to Japan. I had studied Japanese language, literature, and history in university, and Korea was supposed to be a stepping stone to Japan (kind of like a reverse Toyotomi). You can see how well that worked out.

2. Where I was five years ago

Surprisingly enough, I can tell you exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing at this exact minute (that is 18:13, Korea Standard Time) five years ago. What was about to happen at this point in time five years ago is something that I remember very vividly to this day, but had it not been for this little questionnaire, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought today.

At this very moment five years ago, I was sitting in a conference room in the Sunnyside Campus of the University of South Africa in Pretoria. I was there because I was attending the 16th Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association. I was still studying for my master’s degree and normally wouldn’t have even thought of attending an academic conference in South Africa (which is pretty far away from Korea, or anywhere else, for that matter, except maybe other places in Africa). It just so happened that my professor (this is the same professor whose book I am currently translating) was going to be presenting a paper at this conference, and it just so happened that I was going to be in South Africa at the time, so I decided to tag along.

I was in South Africa, by the way, because I had just finished leading a Korean church group on a trip to Mozambique, where we worked with a Korean missionary there. At first I thought it would be kind of odd for me, a white guy, to be leading an all-Korean group, but once we got to Mozambique we were all white by default (my wife and I had gone on a similar trip the previous year, but then I was just another member of the group and not the leader, so there wasn’t nearly as much pressure). I could easily write ten thousand words or so about my experiences there, so I’ll just stick with where I was exactly five years ago: at the conference.

As I said before, I was sitting in a conference room in the University of South Africa. But it gets better—I can tell you exactly which session I was in. I have the programme for the conference in front of me now, and I can tell you that I was listening to papers on the subject of Intertextuality and Discontinuity. In fact, about thirty minutes from now five years ago, my professor was going to be reading his paper. When it came time for him to give his presentation, he asked me to hand out copies of his paper to the attendants. I thought nothing of it and began to walk around the room handing out the papers.

As I made my rounds, though, I slowly became aware that people were staring at me. I looked up to find that every eye in the room was fixed on me (except for my professor’s—he was looking down at his paper). I caught one man’s eye and saw confusion, and the blood began to rush to my face. I was still thinking like I was back in Korea, and my professor had just asked me to hand out some papers to the class. But I wasn’t in class, I was at an academic conference, and in the eyes of my fellow attendees I was a scholar just like them. They could not understand why I was being an errand boy for this man. Never mind the fact that he’s over twice my age—at that conference, age meant nothing.

That moment probably ranks as one of the most humiliating moments of my life. I quickly handed out the rest of the papers like a casino blackjack dealer and rushed back to my seat. I didn’t recover until about halfway through my professor’s paper, but that didn’t really matter, since I had already read it through a number of times while proofreading it. When he was finished, some of the attendees began asking some rather hostile questions. I quickly realized that they were taking his paper the wrong way and misinterpreting what he was trying to say. I wanted to speak up and set them straight, but I felt that to have done so might have embarrassed my professor, perhaps implying that he couldn’t handle the criticism himself. He was more than capable, of course, but I was cowed by the hierarchy and let myself be silenced, and my humiliation was complete.

I remember another moment during the conference when I was speaking with two other attendees, also older men. We were talking about our time outside the conference, and they mentioned that they didn’t really feel comfortable walking around the streets of Pretoria, as they felt they stuck out too much. I told them that I had no problem, and one of the men said, “Well, you look like a student. You blend right in.” I laughed, but inside I was thinking, “Well, I am a student.” I had been sufficiently humiliated before not to actually say it aloud, though. That incident reconfirmed what I had learned—that the people at the conference treated me as an equal, no matter how much older they were or how much more experience they had. It was culture shock, but the other way around this time.

So, that’s where I was five years ago. I never expected any one of these answers to be so long, but there you have it. Moving on.

3. Where I was one year ago

One year ago today I was actually in Korea. Things were not too much different from today. It was most likely very hot, and even though I don’t really have holidays as a freelance translator, it was still Liberation Day. We had just moved into our current place here in Osan-ri earlier that year, and I was a lot more active with my digital camera last summer than I have been this summer (I still took a lot of pictures this summer... who knows when I’ll post them). Other than that, I really can’t think of anything worth mentioning. Things have gotten into something of a routine this past year or so, but hopefully that will change by the end of this year/beginning of next year when I finish my major translation projects and devote myself to finishing my doctoral coursework.

4. Where I was yesterday

Yesterday was Sunday, so it started off with church. When we got home I did a little translating. I usually try to avoid working on Sunday if it all possible, not so much to keep the Sabbath (because, if we’re going to get technical, the Sabbath is Saturday anyway), but because it’s nice to have at least one day of the week off (which was kind of the idea of the Sabbath in the first place, I think). Unfortunately I was behind on translation this week, so I needed to make up some ground. In the evening I pulled out my Lord of the Rings DVDs and popped in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the movies, but I do enjoy them, and I was reminded once again how good they are.

I know this is cheating, but the day before yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and I mention this only because we went out to Jeongja-dong after dinner and had the best patbingsu I think I have ever had. Standard patbingsu these days is pretty crappy, with fruit cocktail and these little jellies that I just can’t stand (and forget the stuff they serve at Burger King and other fast food joints—it is inedible). This patbingsu we had was perfect: a big heaping mound of shaved ice on top of some misutgaru, with lots of red beans and a lot of different types of fresh fruit (apples, watermelon, oranges, Korean peaches, kiwi, just to name a few). Vanilla ice cream was provided on the side. We dumped the ice cream in and mixed it all up—boy was it good. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t had decent patbingsu in a long time. Anyway, I cheated, but I just wanted to share that with you.

5. Where I was today

Right here, sitting at this desk pretty much all day. I translated my professor’s book in the morning and did some novel translation in the afternoon. I finished up at around half past five, when I checked my email and then decided to start writing this. In about a half hour, I will take a break to watch C.S.I. To demonstrate how tedious my routine is these days, C.S.I. is usually the high point of my Mondays and Tuesdays (although I’ll also probably watch the second disk of Fellowship of the Ring later on, so that’s something to look forward to as well).

6. Where I will be tomorrow

Right here, sitting at this desk pretty much all day. I will probably translate my professor’s book in the morning and then do some novel translation in the afternoon. I’ll finish up somewhere between five and six in the evening, maybe try to post a few photos here at Liminality, and then watch C.S.I. I tell you, the excitement is just oozing out of my pores right now. Dang. After question #2, things have pretty much just gone straight downhill.

7. Five snacks I enjoy

Yay! A question that doesn’t require me to ruminate on how tedious my life is these days! Hmm, I just realized that I could have saved that slobbering about patbingsu for this question. Oh well. I like patbingsu—good patbingsu, that is—as you already know. In fact, I like just about anything with pat (red beans, or “adzuki beans,” as they call them in Japan) in it: patbbang (red bean bread), pathadeu (red bean popsicles)—heck, I even make some mean pat pancakes.

Um, I like a lot of other snacks, too. I like ddeok as well, which is usually translated as “rice cake,” but is nothing like the puffed rice cakes that were popular in the States in the 80s and early 90s (and might still be popular, for all I know). It’s basically mashed glutinous rice that is shaped and flavored with a variety of ingredients. I would have linked to an entry from the great Korean food glossary I used for misutgaru, but they have individual entries for the different types of ddeok and no main entry for just general ddeok. Go figure.

OK, I’m spending way too much time on this question, but no one who knows me will be surprised—I like to eat (I’m sorry, it’s not my fault that I’m skinny). Let’s see, three more snacks I like. Well, I love cheese, just about any kind of cheese except maybe feta. My whole family Stateside loves cheese, and now, thanks to me, my whole family in Korea loves cheese as well. That is quite an accomplishment, since most Koreans’ idea of cheese is processed cheese slices (then again, I guess the same could be said for a lot of Americans, too).

I have a weakness for Chocopies as well, but I try to avoid them if possible—marshmallow, chocolate, and cookies (more or less a cold S’more, now that I think about it) can’t be all that good for you. They are a representative Korean snack, though, and I will admit that there is a box of them sitting on top of the refrigerator right now. Right next to that box is a box of chewy granola bars dipped in yogurt, which I can at least pretend are good for me. There’s that’s five.

8. Five singers (or bands) for whom I know the lyrics to most of their songs

I’ll probably be the first person to say this, but this is one awkwardly worded question (or statement, if you will). If the poor souls I eventually tag end up actually writing anything, I would suggest this instead: “Five singers or bands to whose songs I know most of the lyrics.” Eh, still awkward, but I think it’s an improvement. Grammar Nazi out.

Number one on this list for me is Erasure. I know pretty much every word to every A-side song they’ve ever done (with the exception of their new Nightbird album, which I haven’t bought yet because I was planning on buying it when we visited the States this summer but then we ended up not going after all so I still don’t have it please don’t shoot me Erasure police), and most of the words to their B-sides. Erasure is probably the only band I can claim to know so well. I know the words to most of the Depeche Mode A-sides from almost every album up to Songs of Faith and Devotion. I am also fairly conversant in Pet Shop Boys up to Bilingual. These last two might not seem to fit the trend, but I am very familiar with Chicago up until 21 (Chicago numbers most of their albums rather than naming them)—in fact, during the late 80s/early 90s, my brother and I owned every Chicago album released up to that point on cassette tape. Lastly, I was a big fan of Michael W. Smith, and I owned almost all of his albums up to I’ll Lead You Home on cassette. Unlike the Chicago cassettes, I still have seven of his early albums, and I own The First Decade and This Is Your Time on CD. I can’t remember the last time I listened to the cassette tapes, but I still know all the words.

With the exception of Erasure and the odd album here and there from other groups, I know very little pop music after 1995. I was interested in a number of Korean groups in the latter half of the 90s, such as Seo Taiji and Boys (Seo Taejiwa Aideul), Turbo, D.J Doc, and Ref. I was also into older singers like Lee Seung Hwan, Yoon Jong Shin, and Jang Hae Jin. I still have CDs from all these artists, and I do listen to them on occasion, but to be honest, most of the music I listen to these days is on internet radio—mostly 80s stuff.

9. Five things I would do with $100,000,000

That’s a sufficiently large figure that I’m just going to interpret this question as: what would you do, within reason, if money was not an option?

I guess I would first make sure that my family and my wife’s family were taken care of financially. Then I would buy a boat. A really big boat. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this here before, but a dream of mine is to buy a boat and sail around the world. If this dream ever does come true, it will most likely be a relatively small boat. But if I’ve got that much money lying around, I might as well go big, right? Not too big, of course, but big enough that my wife and I could live comfortably as we sailed around the world.

Once the boat trip was over, we would probably do some overland travel as well. First-class train from Vladivostok to London, for starters. Then I’d buy a Land Rover in Cairo and drive down to Johannesburg. Oh, and I would have some really nice photographic equipment to record my travels, of course.

I guess I should give something back to the world, too. I don’t really have a favorite charity, but I could probably do a bunch of things to better humanity. Like pay people to visit the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses and try to get them to convert to Scientology. Or hire a group of people whose sole job would be to call telemarketers at home at inconvenient times. Actually, I don’t know how much these things would really better humanity, but they sure would be fun.

Well, I guess that’s five, or close to it. I would probably also have to pay the hospital bill for our pastor after he has a heart attack when he discovers our ten million dollar tithe.

10. Five locations I would like to run away to

OK, before we go any further, what’s with all the fives? I know I’m only getting in on the tail end of this thing, so maybe there’s some rhyme and reason to it all, but why does it always have to be five?

Anyway, five locations: New York, the Pacific Northwest coast (of the United States), London, Thailand, the Moon. Shortest answer yet, mainly because it would take way too long to comment on all of these.

11. Five bad habits I have

Well, I tend to talk (and write) too much, but you already knew that. I also tend to procrastinate (but honestly, I think most people do). I can be overly critical, both of myself and others, although I’m not sure this is so much a bad habit as it is a character flaw. When I get depressed, I tend to just dig myself deeper into the hole—like a pig in mud, I wallow in my misery. Oh, and I can be a real drama queen when I put my mind to it, too. Again, not sure if most of these can actually be called bad habits.

12. Five things I like doing

Reading a good book, writing, taking photographs, listening to music, making love to my wife (not necessarily in that order).

Ooh, the answers are getting shorter....

13. Five TV shows I like

OK, this is going to be rough, because I don’t watch all that much TV. You already know that I like C.S.I. I also like to watch the Discovery channel at times, in particular Mythbusters, but it’s really hard to figure when shows are scheduled on the Discovery channel unless you actually sit there and watch it all day, and I just don’t have the time for that (I tried looking up the schedule on line, but good luck deciphering that).

Other than that, I don’t really watch too much television. I avoid Korean dramas like the plague, which kind of cuts down of my options for Korean television. Uchasa, a comedy program, is popular these days, but I only find about half the skits even mildly humorous. The rest is mostly low-brow sight gags or slapstick type stuff. I’m not really into the that school of comedy, so this is more of a program that I don’t like, I guess.

Brain Survivor is a fun Korean show to watch, if only I could cut out all the crap and just leave the quiz part. It’s a quiz show that features celebrities, and I think they spend as much time (if not more) doing PR for the guests. That is, of course, the whole point of the program, at least from the point of view of the celebrities, but the rest of us just want to watch a quiz show.

There used to be a program called Dream Team, but I think they might have cancelled it because too many people were getting hurt (I bet you’re liking it already, am I right?). Basically it involved two teams of people, a celebrity team and a professional or local team, and the two teams competed against each other in a number of activities. Sometimes these activities were as simple as swimming relays, other times they involved massive contraptions that the competitors had to run through to retrieve some object. For a long time I harbored a secret dream of somehow making my way onto the Dream Team. They may still show it, but I don’t think they do. I haven’t seen it lately, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much.

Is that five? Probably not, but you know what? I’m a rebel. I’m going to buck the system, stick it to the man, rage against the machine, etc. Five has had an iron grip on the heart of our society for far too long. It ends here! Fight the power!

14. Five famous people I’d like to meet

Now that is a really good question. I don’t think about meeting famous people too often, so I have no idea who I would like to meet. I’m not really into politics, so that rules out politicians. I’m not too into the entertainment world, so that rules out celebrities. I don’t watch too many sports these days, so no athletes.

I know I should probably name a writer here, but the people that come to mind (Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Louis L’Amour, for example) are dead. I can honestly say that I don’t really have a living author whom I admire, which is a sure sign that I don’t read nearly as much as I should these days.

Wow, that’s pretty bad. I can’t think of a single famous person I would want to meet. Maybe I’m just getting tired. Oh well. I’m bucking the system, right?

15. My biggest joys

Yes! Down with the fives! We are free of their shackles!

OK, I’m running out of steam here, so I’ll try to make this concise: seeing my wife come home at the end of the day, finding out that a photograph I took turned out really great, setting out on a trip, watching the late afternoon sun turn the mountains to the east into gold, driving a beautiful stretch of road on a warm day with the windows rolled down.

Dang. I just realized that I listed five joys. So much for sticking it to the man.

16. My favorite toys

My camera, my computer... I guess that’s about it when it comes to toys.

17. Five people to tag

Hah! I laugh in the face of your silly fives!

OK, so the truth is that I have no friends and can’t even think of five people to tag. I will tag That David Guy over at sewcrates, mainly because he hasn’t written anything in a while and I’m starting to get concerned. I guess I’ll also tag Gord over at eclexys, as he made the mistake of emailing me recently, so I’ve got his name on the tip of my brain. I don’t know if Gord has already done this, but if he hasn’t, maybe he’ll play along. As for That David Guy, well, he’ll play along. He’ll play along or he’ll have a swift kick to the balls waiting for him next summer (hopefully).

Woohoo, I’m finished! I think I really wore myself out on number 2 up there, because I really started to feel the burn around number 10. But I pulled through and—jumpin’ Jehosephat!—wrote over four thousand words in the process. And here I thought this was going to be shorter than my usual entry. So much for that idea. No wonder I’m slightly delirious.

OK, folks, that’s all for today. Let’s hope for your sake and mine that I don’t have to do this again any time soon.

Update (17 Aug): Gord has promptly answered the call. That David Guy is reluctant, but I have threatened him with torture, so he should come around soon.

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