Korean Update—Dispatches From The Far East

Read on to see what the caption means.

Last night the word “hello” was flung at me as a shrill but masculine insult when I walked into a clod of Korean teenagers who were blocking the sidewalk and told them, in frustrated English, to get out of the way. It might be easier to machete through a rainforest than to navigate these crowded streets on foot.

This morning the children in my classroom were shrieking so loud my ears are still ringing from a charades-like geography game I’ve invented to teach them about countries other than their own, which they do not appear to learn about, ever, during their time in school. The best student corrects me when I speak Konglish (Minus-uh!) to them in order to calm them down.

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening reading the entirety of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, and enjoyed it but thought it repetitive and not quite nearly as good as it could have been, a judgment buttressed by the sort of cop-out ending that has become typical of the artistic works of our era (though maybe it’s impossible to write a good ending nowadays; where is Athena to tell us to wake up from our dreams?). Finished and loved Speak, Memory, which I read a very long time ago but never forgot. Started Richmond Lattimore’s translation of The Odyssey, which I’ve never read. Nearing completion of the first draft of my book. Procrastination increases with free time.

I attended Korean class, always a humbling experience, as I’d gotten used to studying and being good at literature, to which my mind was calibrated for some reason a long time ago; in these classes every piece of thought in English must be taken apart and reconstructed backwards and diagonally with a set of murky, blurry sounds which evade the grasp of my memory like a storm of sparrows. But the more I study, the more I understand; I can only fully comprehend what I myself can actually say; the trucks passing under my window sell mostly eggs and cabbage; I even translated a North Korean propaganda poster (“American bastards killed our father!”).

To keep from getting too fat I do not sit down in the mornings and I sprint up stairways wherever I find them, as it’s become too cold to jog alongside the Nakdong River. My hands freeze if I don’t stuff them in my pockets along with my sleeves grasped in my fingers and pressed against my palms, to protect those few inches of exposed wrist.

It’s pleasant to see my wife and I walking together in the reflections of metal or glass, as I was almost always more or less alone in those reflections before I met her, and it’s even better to hear her laughing when I decide we have to sprint somewhere and pull her along for the ride. I calmed my frustrations this morning by thinking of being with her in Southeast Asia…

Douglas MacArthur (맥아더, Maeg-aw-duh) is a national hero in Korea even though he wanted to use nuclear weapons to win the forgotten war; the students all know his name; I wonder if that great evil might not have prevented the greater one which may conclude the endless conflict that is still being fought here on this peninsula?

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