dal niente

Month: October, 2008


I got some emails from previous students over the past week or so.  Little updates– Jay had an accident with a staircase, broke his foot.  He sent me a picture of his cast.

It made my day.

So, finally got that Seoul Ministry of Education application finished.  I originally sent it to the agency, but they sent it back telling me to make some revisions, which took me the morning.  Pretty glad I’m going through an agency and not direct, otherwise I might not have caught those little mistakes.

Jacked into Halo today.  A bit rusty at first, but within an hour any team I was on was dominating.

My dad picked up a Garmin GPSmap 60CSx while I was away in Korea.  Me? I’ve got the Forerunner 101– much smaller, simpler unit.  I powered up his, which looks like a small walkie talkie, and holy shit.  This thing is intense.

It actually maps out the sky for you and tells you where those staelites are, with individual signal strengths indicated– lots of redundancy, so that this GPS even works farily well INSIDE my house, wheras my wristmounted one barely works next to a window.  I took it apart and it has a MiniSD expansion slot, and upon studying the  manual I can load up maps, topographical data– even Geocache data.

For those of you who don’t know what Geocaching is, just imagine a scavenger hunt– worldwide, using GPS coordinates.  Not that I can’t do that with my wristmounted unit– but with the 60CSx, the function is automatic.  It’s like having auto-maping in a videogame.  It TELLS you where things are.

It’s pretty sophisticated in a  number of other ways too– one of the issues I had with my wristmounted unit was that it couldn’t give you an accurate bearing if you were standing still, due to the nature of GPS tecnology.  I had to be moving in a steady direction before it could get an idea of my orientation.  The 60CSx though has an electronic compas built in though, independ of the GPS orienter– while you’re moving, it uses the GPS to get your bearing, but the moment you stop, the processor automatically hands off the bearing to the electronic compas.

The device is also rugged.  I feel like I could beat someone unconscious with this thing

One Ring?

“We’re all just busy,” explained my friend, Terminator “with living.  I guess that’s what happens.  People just have less free time and some people just stop making the cut.”

And he’s right.

I turned on my wrist mounted Garmin GPS for the first time since I left Korea.  It estimates my distance from my apartment in Anyang at about 6865 miles.  Of course, that assumes straight line, through Earth itself….

Among ESL teachers who are out abroad, we used to have this way of describing things.  If you went through a teacher’s room during Intensives, which happens pretty much across the whole industry (not just our school) when the students are on vacation, you might compare it to being in trenches.  People talk like infantry, from what I gather from watching Band of Brothers.  They’re tired, they try to keep their morale up, they try to stay healthy by eating vitamins and things out of cans just to keep their bodies going.  They do it more because they know it’s good for them  more than they do to it to actually taste anything.

And there are the stories.  They’ll tell you about back home, about how the grass was so green, about how they miss talking to their friends.  How, before “the war” they were auto mechanics or legal assistants or lit students.  They come from all corners, not just geographically, but also spiritually and professionally.  They also come from all sorts of reasons, yet here we all were, in the middle of Korea, awaiting the signal to get back in front.

I think that the psychology of being a teacher is at it’s most interesting when out there, because you really see something like a mythos that builds about this idea of “home.”

Out in SK, the ongoing stereotype of people from Quebec was that they were the outcasts– the rude, impolite ones who were always swearing and wouldn’t give you the time of day.  Something to do with the French influence I guess.  And you know what? Nobody out there was from Quebec except me, at least not in my company.  The strange thing was that I started believing them– so by the time I actually got back to Montreal, I was actually surprised to find that people were not only very polite, but they were also kind and good humored.  (Egad!) I mean, I always knew, I suppose– but while you’re out there, things are different.

When you’re away from home, home ceases to be just a place.  It becomes a vision, perhaps an internal Eden, that happy place– the reality of it though is that our mythology of home is very different from what home really is, and it’s only apparent when we get back.

Of course, a lot of things remain the same.  When I came home, I found that family still ran exactly the same.  My dad still has his bad temper and still gets worked up over things that I think he should just understand are out of his control.  My mom still raises her voice and starts to get in the face of anybody who tries to cross her, no matter how small the issue.  My grandparents still joke around and force people to eat too much, and fling swearwords across the dinner table casually.  Ah, how it hasn’t changed.

When I got home, I just sort of plugged in as if all this time, I was just in sleep mode– despite the fact that my view of the way things in the world worked might have changed, I find myself resuming the way I had, as much as possible, simply because people back here in my house don’t understand the changes.  It’s too much that I dress differently, sometimes have an accent, or feel more comfortable sitting on the floor now.  Little things.  To say that I dont’ care what others think wouldn’t be true– I didn’t come home to stir up shit, I came home because I wanted to be home. Somehow, I didn’t realize until I got here, being home has to do with the sort of mental state you carry with you.  I can only allow this to resume being home  by putting myself in the mindset that I was before I left.

And if I don’t? Frankly, I feel the discomfort or the awkwardness of those around me– and what is home if it’s not comfort?

I’m not really complaining, I’m just finding that this is a very interesting feeling.  This awkwardness that comes from the way that, though things seem the same, this balance or this relationship has somehow changed.

There’s a fresh coat of pain on some rooms.  But a lot of it is the same.

I log onto the computer in my mom’s room for the first time in 13 months– It takes 6 tries before I remember my login password.  I have to update the virus definitions, put in Service Pack 3, do a defrag.  I load up Halo and even that needs updating.  But once all that’s done with– it’s all the same.

Yet these are the superficialities of it.

Meeting up with friends, however, has been a different story.  I find that while people were still in connection with eachother when I left, things have become more scattered.  He doesn’t talk to her.  She doesn’t talk to her.  He doesn’t talk to him.  The list goes on.

I’ve had some great reunions with a handful of my friends so far– but it’s strange that I have to do these things individually now.  What happened to having a dozen people at the same table at Beijing?  Why is it that I have to see everyone separately?

How is it that what I thought was home is so different from how I find it now?

It is unreasonable, of course, for me to think that nothing should change– for better or worse, I just have difficulty believing how easy it is for people to let go of their friends.

Perhaps being isloated in SK helped me understand the importance of ties?

They’ve all closed except 2000

… and somehow, that’s where I found myself on Tuesday.  At Amusement 2000, one of the only remaining arcades in Montreal.

What the hell, I thought.  I was with Chili and after putting some tokens in, we ran through a game of Time Crisis 2.  Fire three per target, don’t reload until you spend your entire clip of 9 bullets– that’s how you get the combo bonus.

Later we moved on to Third Strike and that’s where it got interesting.

The arcades seem, to me, like a sad shadow of the great places they used to be.  Everything about an arcade made it kinda cool to me, back in the day– even the smoke at the Caves made it feel somehow tribal in the way coin-ops allowed people to duel in a virtual world that allowed you to the same things as real life– you could get better, you could learn discipline, you could make friends, you could come to respect and to be respected.


A few people here and there on the DDR machine.  One person on Tekken 5.  One person on Capcom vs SNK2.

Chili and I started playing Third Strike for the ridiculous price of 75cents– at the caves, it was 50 cents to start, and 25 cents to continue.  How the world’s changed, huh?

And then someone showed up– Carlo.  And suddenly, a good portion of the old Third Strike gang was together.

It’s funny how when you get to a controller, despite not really remembering, your body still remembers.  The combos come back to you, and even the way your brain thinks when playing such a game, that all comes back in an instant.  You cancel into super combos, you mix in the overheads with the low attacks, you try to juggle, you try to invite the parry, you predict the throws…. Of course, I’m rusty– but a lot of it did come back, and it was fun.

And suddenly, between the three of us playing, there were people behind us.  There were a handful of spectators watching the matches intently, and there were even some challenges.

It was a far cry from the prestige that a game of Third Strike used to command, but it was still a nice reminiscence.

It was, so far, the one event that made me feel so much that I was truly back in Montreal, albeit sad in that it was just an echo of a glorious memory.

When challengers stopped coming, we didn’t even finish playing the game against the computer.  We just walked off to get a bite to eat.

I think I’m done trying to reconnect with the Montreal and the life I had in Montreal before I left for Korea.

At this point, I need to do something new out here otherwise, I’ll feel like an anachronism.

Release the Hounds!

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Okay, here’s the first draft.

This draft is to be handed in to schoolboards in Korea, making up the “Philosophy of Teaching” portion of my applications.

I need criticism.  Don’t just tell me “that’s great!” or “that’s crap!”

I need technical and stylistic criticism.  Even if I made a spelling mistake somewhere.  My brain is so tired that reading it over isn’t catching on anymore because I’m too familiar with it.  I had very little to work with except the  title.  There are no guidelines, but imagine as you read this that you are someone who is hiring teachers.

I chose a particular voice which is meant to sound confident and gung ho, but let me know if it’s overdone.  Also let me know what you think is lacking.

Any comments would really help!

One of my first
jobs of responsibility was at a hospital that dealt with patients
afflicted with respiratory illnesses. Patients were all unique; from
the highest educational backgrounds, to the lowest; from the most
prestigious jobs and elite classes, to the dirtiest and poorest; from
the happiest and most loved person to the most miserable and loathed.
In the end, however, whether a king or pawn, everyone was put into
the same box at the end of the game. There is a certain inevitably
to life and that is death.

Among the people I
know and knew, the consensus is that as time wears upon the human
mind, questions surface about the reasons for our choices. We wonder
with anxiety about where our paths will take us. We become
increasingly aware of our mortality, of our limitations and our
weaknesses. We wonder about what’s the point of it all, and what
could we have accomplished. We also become acutely aware that we are
only human. Ask a man or woman in a hospital bed who is due
to pass away– and you will feel the weight of mortality in every
word he or she speaks. However, this mortality need not be the
source of regret or angst. While many people regard this realization
of an inevitable ending as a self-prophesizing seal of futility, on
the contrary, this can be reason for a beautiful hope! This is where
the role of a teacher in society fits in. The consolations of a
teacher help us discover paths to lead our lives.

I can make the
cliche comments about candles in darkness all I want. No metaphors
need introduce however that there will always be circumstances out of
our control, which will frame our very way of thinking. This leads
me to the first element of my philosophy of teaching; an eye for
understanding. It is a teacher’s charge is to look at something or
someone (including him or herself) amid half-truths, chaotic
emotions, and unfamiliar situations, and to strive to understand.
This isn’t simply positive thinking. With curiosity, technique and
discipline, we may redefine any problem as an opportunity to grow.
This shift in mindset is the first step in betterment, because it
removes the absolutism of impossibility. Understanding is the first
thing that a teacher should always strive to pursue. Every teacher
needs the ability to navigate and map out the unknown.

The second element
of my philosophy of teaching follows the first. All the knowledge in
the world might be at one’s disposal, but it is worthless without a
sense of inspiration. It has been common during my studies in
martial arts, both while training and in competition, that I feel my
body telling me to give up. It communicates to me, quite
unmistakably through aches and pains, that it would be much easier to
lie down and sleep on the floor than to get up and continue
subjecting myself to what is ultimately punishment. While
invitations to comfort are certainly alluring in life, what we need
to truly live are reasons to persist even in spite of discomfort. As
humans we will rise for causes, whatever we choose, and it is through
the choice of these causes and the disciplined persistence for them
that we give meaning to our existences. This is all in spite of our
mortality. While everyone starts and ends up in the same box, what
becomes more important than the ending is how and for what
we choose to play out everything in between. These things are
our passions, and these things will draw us into dark territory
despite our comfort zones. A teacher who has no passion, no matter
how great his understanding, will be unable to inspire learning in

All this would be
for naught though without something unifying, so I bring you to a
final concept: harmony. At the end of it all, understanding and
passion are not things that can operate in a void mutually exclusive
of the worlds of others– in fact, there is only one world. This is
a lesson I learned while a member of a military concert band. Just
as in one band, though there are many musicians and there are many
sounds, there is finally only one song. Everyone must be in tune,
and everyone must bring their individual eccentricities together for
the common good. While understanding and passion are things that can
be developed solo, we can still argue that, like music, they are
lesser if not shared with people. At the end of any moment, a
picture of love is not one that can be painted through individual
introspection or strength alone, but by the harmony of many. A
teacher requires this sense of harmony– not just with him or
herself, or people of similar demographic– but with students of all
backgrounds, and with the world as a whole. A sense of harmony helps
guide the teacher’s understanding and passions. Any student who in
turn is inspired through the teacher will feel that their education
can help them in the world outside of the classroom.

I will state it
clearly– as a teacher, my function is to teach. The basic
definition of this action is to impart knowledge. The actual
profession is much more: not just to teach respectfulness for others,
but to put forth expectations for the best of everyone; not just
awareness of the world, but willpower to act for virtue; not just a
pursuit of knowledge, but to use wisdom to gain further experience.
And sometimes, being in front of the classroom means having
opportunities to surpass even those standards altogether.

Throughout my
teaching career, which included young children to adults in various
subject fields not limited to ESL, I’ve taken the time to hone my
techniques. I work hard to know not only my material, but to be a
well rounded human being outside of the classroom. This affords me
the maneuverability necessary to keep a classroom interesting by
relating it to the lives of the students.

Profiling of
students is very important– it’s part of that issue of harmony.
Determining what the students are like as individuals will affect how
I demonstrate my passion and understanding. It all depends on the
students. I might use a dry lecture style. I might pepper the
readings with sarcasm and jokes. I might open with a discussion of
recent news events. I might clamp down with the law and drill them
on conduct and discipline. I might use technology or media to
demonstrate. Yet in others situations, I might deem it appropriate
to be playing video games and arm wrestling. I might fly across the
room in a Superman cape improvised with a staff room tablecloth. A
class is conducted depending as much on its learning style as it does
on my teaching preferences.

I say preferences,
because no teacher’s style should be anything if not adaptable. That
means that I need to check my pride at the door. Students enter a
classroom vulnerable because of their ignorance, and it is only
through trust that they will be able learn something unfamiliar. As
a teacher, it is my responsibility to honor this trust by himself
being willing to go above and beyond my own comfort levels. My firm
belief– and if anything, this ultimately summarizes my philosophy of
teaching– is that a person is nothing if not a teacher and student
all at once.

This means, as
teacher, I’m required to understand
that I am not perfect, that I don’t know everything,
and that I makes mistakes. I make mistakes all the time, and I will
continue to do so. There are things I am uncomfortable with. What
is important is that I persist. A teacher who doesn’t make mistakes
or who does not leave themselves vulnerable is completely alienated
from the very students he is trying to teach. This relation is
paramount. Everything that I expect from a student, I expect from
myself. I expect fun-seeking positive attitudes, I expect boundless
energy, I expect passion in a
pursuit of understanding
— at the same time, I expect that the
classroom runs in a harmonious way,
still satisfying the school’s disciplinary and educational

And though my
classrooms typically operate like whirlwinds, this is only feasible
because more than half of my workload as a teacher actually goes into
preparation. I think there is a distinct difference between a
teacher improvising in class because he doesn’t have a plan and is
stalling to simply get through a class, and a teacher who is adapting
to a class because it is a means of making the material interesting
in spite of a diverse attendance. I believe fully that in an ideal
situation, the preparation should be more difficult than being in the
classroom. For me, this entails not only predicting the possible
class questions, but also, generally leading a life in accordance
with my philosophy of teaching. That means, constantly learning.

As a Canadian in
Korea, I’ve made strong efforts to integrate with Korean life instead
of treating it as merely a station of work or a tourist destination.
My studies in Korean help me a great deal in reverse-engineering the
technical and emotional obstacles of acquiring a foreign language,
and it has been invaluable in developing bonds of trust with my
students as well as my coworkers and employers. Anything that I can
learn to my benefit, whether in or out of the class, is something
that translates into me having better chances of connecting with a

The goal of
teaching is to inspire betterment in a student. To inspire, the
teacher needs to do everything to be a role model. I have outlined
my philosophy of teaching, however, in retrospect, it is in fact a
philosophy of learning. The teacher I am is the result of the
student I am, acting by choice to understand, with passion, how to
make the world a more harmonious place. It is with high hopes towards
this ultimate goal that I submit this essay to you, for an
opportunity to give opportunities.

More IM

Zanshin: If I had a house and no major expenses, I would expect to use like 20 000 a year, at most.
Yeah, 20 000 sounds like a good upper limit.
I find it mildly disturbing, by the by, that you decided to write about people and RRSPs on the same day that I started investigating them.
I mean, what the hell.

moi: really
what a coincidence
i must’ve bugged your room
a ministry of sinistry!

Zanshin: Nicely put.

moi: an administration of moral castration!

Zanshin: Okay, listen, we can’t talk about castration.
I’m gonna go ahead and put that on the list of vetoed topics.

moi: There’s a list?
what else is on there?

Zanshin: Well, let me see…


That’s about it so far.

moi: So we can discuss your collection of horse porn

Zanshin: The only people who would have found that collection are people who seek it out!

Et tu?!


moi: I have only heard OF IT

Zanshin: Why does Casio immediately trigger a gag reflex?

moi: the watch brand?

Zanshin: Yeah.

moi: maybe it sounds like the name of a greasy italian porn star

Zanshin: I seem to associate Casio with shitty quality.

moi: or so I’ve heard someone might guess.

Zanshin: I wonder why.

moi: I think I had a casio when I was a kid.

it was a watch that could be worn as part of a wallet-wrist-band.
it was huge.

Zanshin: Yeeeeeeees, that might be part of it.

moi: it afforded me no AC bonuses though it was essentially a wrist brace.

Zanshin: That’s got to be worth at least one or two points of AC.

moi: it was itchy

Zanshin: You know, they never addressed that issue in Iron Man.
Do you think Tony Stark just built in an auto-scratch system underneath the armor?

I really wish Ubisoft would get on the ball and do My Korean Coach.

moi: with repulsor tech, he must get the best damn in-armor massages ever.
“give it to me thai style, armor! rarrr.”
better than my casio anyho

as far as ubisoft and your coach go, that sounds like a wish for mansex


When I was first starting to invest back in the late 90s, one of the first things I learned about was the difference between short term investments and long term investments.  It has a lot to do with not just the expectation that you will make money, but whether or not this will happen in near or far future. And moreover, it has to do with how far ahead you can think, even considering the events that are taking place around you in the present and near future. Since I wasn’t strapped for immediate cash (no debts, and had I ever incurred any, my parents would have killed me) I always put away my money for the long term. Even when I started Racketsports Montreal (RsM) I managed to float the business on my personal networth, without ever paying more than 20$ on interest over the course of 3 years because I accidentally forgot to pay a credit card bill.

It’s the reason why I don’t bother with ING savings accounts despite everyone I know being so amazed that it offers 3.00% (WOW THREE PERCENT OMGZ).  Why?  Because 3% is nothing, it barely counteracts annual inflation. Keeping your money in something that offers peanuts like that is something that gets you in the habit of settling for low returns. Keeping your money in a savings account like that also keeps your money visible and accessible, which is the first problem when it comes to saving anything.

While I’m not a day trader, there are mutual funds that one can invest in for the long term that will weather out most recessions.  There’s one philosophy of investing which is that you just invest the same amount, every month, all the time, sun or shine.  You can try and time the market to some extent, but if you do it too much you risk losing your nerve and your discipline.  As long as you’re not investing in something really, REALLY volatile, you’ll be fine if only you’re patient, because most markets bounce back even if it takes many many years.

Isn’t time on your side? How old are you really?

I was telling my family about my impressions of Hong Kong.  The feeling I got was the duality– either you’d have the elite, composed of the nouveau riche and the established powerbugs who dress from pedicure to manicure in the latest trends; or you’ve got the people from Pig Sty Ally (re: Kung Fu Hustle).

Looking at my grandparents, who still don’t dress well even though they’ve jumped an entire social class, it’s obvious from the anachronistic dress code that my family came from Pig Sty Alley.  Sure there are differences– we don’t wear wife beaters or shorts– but that’s mostly because of regional differences in climate between Montreal and PSA. What I’m saying is that when we were kids, we were poor. Not dirt poor and living on the streets– and I did have a lot of toys because my relatives bent backwards to provide, but we had to scrape our way up to where we are now.

People are always talking about the recent economic crisis– but I think that as many smarter people are pointing out, the economic crisis doesn’t really affect people who know what they’re doing with their money. And by that, I don’t mean people who are investing in the right places– I’m talking first about people who have healthy spending habits as a basis.

While, okay, the crisis does affect everyone, it’s mostly having influence because of the borrowing that’s going on the first place. How is it that so many people I know are putting away so little money? Because people don’t spend within their means. Many people finish the year with their net worth only marginally higher than what it began with.

I hear people all the time saying “right now is not a good time for me to invest”.

And for the most part, that’s bullshit. First of all, for the average Joe (and believe me, there are far more of us that are averager Joes when it comes to investment than we’d like to believe) NOW is always the time to invest– simply because,the first step, like anything in life, is just to get in the habit of doing it. And forget about long or short term investing for a moment– completely ignore all the details. ANY investment (a savings account does NOT count because you can still withdraw from it quite easily), in the sense that anything you can put your money in a locked away position where you cannot spend it, is an excellent decision. As you get smarter about your money you’ll put things in investments that yield more– but to begin with, it’s not a question of Where you but your money but Whether you begin in the first place or not.

Talk about time being a greater factor than quantity of money invested– that’s true. But even before considering the time issue, what one has to start off is the discipline of saving money and spending within one’s own means. Discipline is more important than location, and even quantity.

“I should put more in my RRSPs…” is another one of those things I hear a lot of bullshit about. This brings me to my second point (the first one was that people need discipline). My second point is ignorance, which may or may not be mutually exclusive to the discipline problem. The two might even work in combination. Most people I know are just doing it because it’s what they hear all their coworkers are doing. RRSPs only need to be used when you’re making so much income that it would work as a tax credit– if you’re not in those high brackets, you don’t need RRSPS. The average part time worker will never need RRSPs, and even people fresh out of university with a new job might not need to max them out. Now, this has nothing to do with my earlier point of saving money– but my point is, that investing isn’t really TOO complicated– you should get the basic knowhow about a lot of things first though before putting money in them. Go to your bank– ask them what to do. They’ll try and sell you all sorts of shit that you don’t need of course, but at the very least they can explain most investment jargon to you in an easy way. It doesn’t usually take all that long. You can even go to most online bank sites and get the info there. Use wikipedia for all I care! SOmetimes ignorance is how people invest wrong, sometimes ignorance is why people don’t even begin (because of fear of the unknown). Either way, people need to take the initiative not just to start saving, but the easy stage two, which is to start paying attention to how their money will grow. A little effort makes a lot of difference.

But when it comes to money, I’d say that most people are fucking up just because of lack of discipline and ignorance.

The current financial crisis is perhaps the biggest of fuckups, but it’s not the fault of the American government per se– I like to believe that the power of a democracy lies int he people, and so it follows that the crisis is actually at the hands of the average joe who votes for crisis every time they swipe a credit card while biting their lip. What’s going on today has a lot to do with people who just relied too much on imaginary money that wasn’t really there, because they wanted to get too many things.

I’m not anti-consumer, strictly speaking– I buy a fair amount of things. But what I am is an advocate of common sense. Debt is, simply, stupid. It is the opposite of planning for your future, because it brings the problems of yesterday and preserves them, ferments them, so that they’ll stink that much more later.

Get a grip, save some money!

I hear people all the time say that “you only live once” and that’s also bullshit. I’ve managed to save about 75% of my earnings this year, and that’s even considering my expenses– a scooter, trips to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, drinking, partying, noraebangs, a new laptop, a new wardrobe (including like five new pairs of shoes, six jackets), guitar and taekwondo lessons… and I really, REALLY don’t even earn that much. In fact, I earned more as a government official before I became a teacher in Korea. So how?

Well, of course, one might argue the cost of living in Korea is lower than that of Canada. Regardless, my point is that you have to adjust your lifestyle, consider your perspective, and really, honestly, see what has value. You can find ways to shave some dollars off, and this is where I am anti-consumer– there is no reason to pay big bucks for something that you will not appreciate. Impressing others with your possessions isn’t enough of a reason.

The reason why I say 75% instead of giving you an exact number is because savings are relative to what you earn– you don’t earn the same as I do, it’s a statistical improbability. You earn more or less than I do. Your lifestyles will be significantly different, your spending habits in turn. What needs to follow though are your saving habits.

I don’t really care about the crisis. It’s out of my hands, so I chose not to bitch about it. The only thing I can do is manage my own finances, which is what other people should be doing– they should be taking responsibility for their own money instead of pointing fingers whenever a system crashes. While some people did get majorly screwed, the majority of people shouldn’t be feeling the burn of the crisis if only they were managing their own personal lives better to begin with.

This isn’t just finances I suppose– it has to do with everything about the contemporary North American lifestyle.

Tell Me Your Teaching Philosophy

Nothing. The needle on the sphygmomanometer is dropping steadily and I still don’t hear anything, even though the needle is bouncing a bit.

I try again, for the third time now, adjusting the stethoscope. “Put it over the vein,” says my mom. She’s a nurse; yet until a year ago, it was my job in the family to do this.

My grandmother starts talking again because he’s forgotten that I’m here, the way that she does sometimes.

“Hey, wait a minute, just a little longer,” I say, and she falls silent.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Then….



There we go.

Tonight was the first time that I visit my grandparents since I left over a year ago. Everything just resumes, the same way our dysfunctional Chinese family always ran itself before I left.

Grampa: “Well, of course the streets in Hong Kong are like that. We were owned by the British. The British can’t tell their damned lefts from their damned rights. If your friend was hit by that tram, he should sue the British.”

Gramma: “How will he sue? He didn’t look both ways before crossing, it’s his own damn fault.”

Grampa: “It doesn’t matter if it’s his fucking fault or not! The British made the roads backwards and they expect everything to run smoothly? I say, fuck the British! And fuck double decker busses!”

I’d forgotten how much swearing goes on at my grandparents house, and it reminded me why, as a child, I never really used much Cantonese outside of the home. Firstly because all the swearing confused my understanding of Canto. Secondly, because when I started figuring out what it all meant, I wasn’t certain how much of my own vocabulary was really, really rude– so I could never really speak with confidence, out of fear that I might casually offend people.

Seoul Ministry of Education: Public Sector Teaching Application
Page 8: “Tell us about your teaching philosophy.”

I look at this portion of the application and think about it for a moment.

It’s really the part of the essay where you get to shine. It’s like giving a sendoff for graduates– here, your job is to say something memorable that will stick in their heads. You dig deep into your human experiences– every time you’ve failed, everytime you’ve succeeded, every time you’ve encountered a mystery you couldn’t solve which yet today you still obsess over– and somehow, you try and fit it in there, in a length predetermined, in such a way that it isn’t too long and self-inflating and yet in some way that you really explain enough about what you’re saying that they get what you’re trying to say.

It’s difficult to address this question because I know that my teaching style doesn’t really fit with most schools’ impressions of what a classroom should be run like. What schools wants are things like discipline, participation, and fun. Discipline is a big issue in Korean schools. There’s a strict role for the teacher, just as there is one for the student. Yet when I run my classes, the border between these two lines is very vague– and it’s very difficult to explain this. They want kids to be silent unless they raise their hands– I encourage students to burst out if they have something funny to say, as long as it’s in English. They don’t want me to speak any Korean in class. I do so because it makes the students more comfortable, because I too am struggling with an unfamiliar language. They don’t want me to play games in class. I will challenge my students, through Mario Kart, arm-wrestling, chicken fights, or even a rock-paper-scissors showdown because it makes learning fun.

Over the months my previous Academy has come to recognize that I’m not doing things the way I do because I’m lazy and don’t want to do real teaching– they understand that it’s actually because I want to teach well that I do those things. There is, like in all professions, the guidebook– it’s purpose isn’t to create the best professionals, it’s purpose is to raise the bottom standard and provide standardized product to the clients through a system of accountability. The rules are not to be broken in general because doing so usually means that the standard goes down. I’ve had to earn the trust that even though I didn’t always know how good my final product in mind, I had students in mind.

But that kind of trust took months to earn– I never said to my superiors “Trust me” because there were times where I didn’t trust myself, where I was lost completely not just as a professional but as a human being. Children are the root of humanity, and as such, their emotions, actions and reactions are a lot more base– they’re not yet at a stage of social conditioning where they hold anything back. Being around such terrible forces is dangerous, and it can all go either way. I got lost many times. Made many mistakes.

I’d like to think that in the end I did a good job and that’s why I finished on a good note with the company. But it was always a game of tug-o-war– I’d pull one way, they’d pull the other. The altercations were genuine, even if the process yielded a good result.

Now, the question is, how does one put this into a little essay that is supposed to summarize a teaching philosophy? Whoever is reading this hasn’t worked with me. Therin lies the challenge. Basically, what I’m doing, is saying “Trust me.” You don’t know me, and I know that the idea of teaching my way sounds bad to you, but I’m willing to compromise and I’m sure that in the end we’ll be a better school through our efforts. Trust me.

But I guess this is just another hoop I have to jump through to really get this done.

I had forgotten how much I hate job hunting. I absolutely loathe it. All this fizzaz of getting reference letters, of filling out pages upon pages just to formally and unmistakably state that I have no diseases or criminal background… all of it. It’s so tedious! And yet, these little 10 page applications here or there are what take up so much time because they will be the first and last thing they see before they decide to give you a callback. It is absolutely baffling how an archaic tool like essay writing, something that we use all throughout university but which was never used professionally (for my own gain) at our jobs, would suddenly resurface, only for this type of event.

Essay writing is, in my opinion, a lost art. It just isn’t useful in the real world, because hardly anybody reads anything that anyone writes anymore. (Perhaps with the exception of xanga. However, I don’t think anyone here’s going to give me a job– I wouldn’t mind daring someone to proove me wrong though!) Instant messengers give us the bits of information in a way that simulates conversation– there’s no need for the structure of an essay to assume the questions and arguments of the reader and address them before the end of the writing– instant messengers are instant and that means that if the reader has a question, they can just ask it. The dialogue will steer to fill the gaps.

As a result, the majority of people get in the habit of producing information in a stream of consciousness manner, even if it’s in tandem– the average conversation lacks structure because the informality of modern conversation, be it in person or online, allows for cues from the receiving party about where the conversation should go next. The modern conversation is not one way– one might consider it superior in that sense.

But this whole essay business… I consider reading to be somewhat of an art in itself, as much as writing is– you have to find meaning where there may be none. Some would argue you must try to find the meaning embedded by the author– I’d say, any meaning at all (even meaning that the author doesn’t intend) is good enough. The art lies in the practice of creating meaning.

An application reviewer though is not likely to try and discern your thesis when you write the average job application though. Therin lies the problem.

Which takes this essay in a whole new direction– it’s not just about my teaching philosophy. It’s my one chance to market myself. It’s about making myself stand out so that I am remembered (in a positive way) above other applicants. This has nothing to do with what I think, this has to do with how well I can bullshit in such a way that it doesn’t sound like bullshit, and still be more noticible than the other applicants.

I find myself jaded by this practice.

In Korea, many students spend around 14 hours away from home just for the purpose of schools and after-school tutoring (academies/hagwons). Where did their childhoods go? How is Montreal on the same playing field? Well, somehow, people started realizing that a good education gets you a better job. The more certifications, the more proficiencies, the more knowledge, the more you basically studied, the better off you’d be during the job hunt. But then, the actual number of jobs didn’t increase any more than it normally would have. Trends continued. Then what you had was a surplus of “overqualified” workers for a limited amount of available positions.

The education industry in Quebec is a perfect example– somehow, there’s hundreds of qualified teachers fresh and energetic out of their university programs, with nothing but part-time or substitution jobs, despite their qualifications. My sister is an example of one of them, as are her friends. And one problem is that because people wanted more certifications, the bar was raised for everyone– everyone had to do more schooling, everyone had to spend more time taking more courses.

And for what?

Does more schooling make you a better person? Or does it just make you “race to the bottom” as everyone goes into debt to pay for more and more schooling?

The whole CV process is much the same– it’s a race to the bototm. Everyone’s handing in a CV. If you were the graduate who didn’t take extra courses, whether it was Montreal or Korea, you’d lose out to those who were willing to bend backwards and take the extra time to do those extra courses. If you’re writing a CV up and a letter of intent to a potential employer, similarly: if you’re the one who won’t go out of your way to market yourself properly, you will be out of the game compared to the mean applicant who WILL market themselves properly.

The bar has been raised– and it is one, almost slightly mendacious. You have to play the game. Not because playing the game makes you any better as a person or a professional in reality– but because the glitz of it is what employers are looking at. They’re looking for something noticibly shiny in skyful of stars by their own rights.

Of course, what would I propose? There’s no way around it really. I might not like the system, but I don’t really have any practical way out of it.

So, now, I guess I have to get started on my Philosophy of Teaching. I don’t know about you but when someone asks me to tell me what my philosophy on anything is, there are no easy answers. Philosophy itself isn’t just a study, it is a Way– because Philosophy isn’t just thought, it is action and application. Everything falls into it. Everything is connected. Even the sphygmomanometer.

But maybe I can’t use that in my essay, because it takes up too many characters?

In any case– time to plan the attack.

And If Your Glass Heart Should Break

oh no! (Be Strong)

As the plane banked to the left, the world went
right out of his view.  It was like scrolling, really– a quick whip and it all whized by until there was nothing but the black sky.

He looked to the opposite side of the plane and out the window, he saw the yellow dots peppered about, marking out the streets of Montreal as they circled about for their decent.

It was  a view unlike anything he’d seen in a long time.  It felt like Christmas, all those lights.

When he got to the airport he had to wait a bit for his luggage.  He met up with his sister and his mother who were there at the arrivals gate.  His dad came about with the car when he was summoned on the walkie talkie.  He got in and that was that– it was as if nothing had ever happened, as if he had never left.  Nobody really asked too much about Korea, and he didn’t really ask too much about Montreal– but everyone just started chit chatting, the way they all did.

It was so normal it was almost scary.

The house had a few differences– the television in the living room was gone, there was a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen and some molding had been added into the arches to the dining room.  But within minutes, he was back to normal.  He climbed up the stairs on his feet and hands, the way he’d been doing since he was probably 10 years old.  He went to his bedroom where things were very, very familiar– so familiar that he wondered why he even expected that it would feel any different.

All the while his parents were downstairs jokingly arguing about some stupid thing, like they always did, just like he remembered.

The bedroom was a bit different– there were no sheets, and somebody had cleaned the place up.  Things were different because one of his desks now had a sewing machine, and another one of them was covered in house plants.  Nobody’d been sleeping there for a year– even the closet and the drawers were no longer filled with his clothing.  They were the only signs that anything was different.

He was called down to dinner and it was dinner, like any dinner– it wasn’t dinner like in Korea, but it was the kind of home cooking that he knew meant he was home.

After dinner some of his cousins came in from across the street and they just started talking, laughing like old times.

How easy it was!  How easy it was to just ‘resume’ as if nothing had ever happened!  Korea was just a conversation piece.  Nothing here had really changed except for a few new pieces of gossip here and there.

There are difficult decisions to be made that are coming up– I have to decide whether I will return to Korea or not, for one thing. I have to decide also how long this vacation will last– if I do get a position teaching in a public school in Korea, it will only begin in late february or even early march.  In the meantime, what do I do?  I can’t, and don’t want to, simply live off my savings for that time, yet I’m not certain I want to really take up a part time job.  I’m being difficult, I know.  But I feel that I need to really do something, ANYTHING, otherwise… I dunno.

It’s been a surreal last-24-hours.  Everything is just the way I left it.  It’s kind of creepy.

I knew one thing before I even left Korea– that the comfort of Montreal would start to affect me, and that it would make me want to stay in Montreal.  I feel it now.  The comfort, that is.  Of simply being able to communicate with everyone out here– it’s so easy to have a good laugh with people I know!

Thing is, it’s hard to decide– where is the future?

Back Home

I’m in my bedroom,

in my home in Montreal.

It has been over a year since I was here.

It’s strange how unstrange it feels to really be back home.

Confessions of a Gossip Whore

Yes, I am still in bed. I kinda need to take a piss, but my energy level at the moment is sufficient to turn on the laptop and type– it hasn’t quite reached the level to engage the motors in my legs.

Gossiping is an addiction, or as all addictions are, a gung-fu, that predates me going to Korea a year ago, and being almost exactly half a world away (it’s actually 11 hours away) only made the condition worse since I’ve been cut off from my dealers.

I love gossip. I don’t mean tabloids about celebrities– I mean about my friends, family, and perhaps a few degrees from them as well.

I can’t control it. In most cases though, I’m selfish enough to rationalize that I don’t need to.

Breakups, cheating, dreams, lifestyles, mistakes… everything from “He came out of the closet?!” to “He finally got into dentistry!” to “He picked it up in Thailand, and now he has to live with it because he was such an A-class idiot.” Every now and then, I do also like to just talk with someone about what we both think of someone else.

Not everything I say about someone behind their back is bad. In fact, for the most part, I’m not usually tying to stir up shit about people, I’m honestly just trying to learn more or get another perspective on people I know. I’ll go out of my way to get the latest news, and I think that the people with whom I can gossip are the best of my friends. I enjoy the drama. I like collecting the stories the same way I used to collect Dragonlance books, because it completes a world.

Whenever I meet people, in my head, I make a game out of profiling them. Most people already do it subconsciously, but I usually make efforts, subtle and indirect if not blatant and forward, to build profiles to people. Basically, I want to figure out a person’s thesis– their thesis on life. The more I hear about people, especially about the way they interact with other people and not just me, the more accurate these profiles become. Then, whenever new gossip comes up, I try to predict how the story ends. The longer I know someone (read: the more gossiping we’ve been doing about this person up to date) the more I can predict what the target person will do, as well as my gossiping partner thinks (because, of course– even the person who is gossiping with me is being profiled, and in fact, how they gossip about someone really helps build that profile too).

It’s sort of a detective game. It is fun.

If I’m online and I inteded to sleep 2 hours ago but someone happens to be giving me the freshest dirt, I’ll stay online just to hear it all even if it means I’ll go to work the next day like a zombie. It’s worth it, I think.

A lot of purists will say that gossiping is bad. In Chinese culture, I can agree that there are certain people, especially older people, who we associate with being very annoying people because of their gossiping tendencies. We should make a distinction though– there’s a difference between people who want to hear the latest gossip, and people who just talk and talk and, further, actively make peoples’ lives miserable. I’m talking about the kinds of people who search for gossip only so that they can critisize people with the subconscious goal of putting people down. That’s kinda dispicable.

I think that gossip is sort of like a method of introspection. Suppose I talk to Person A about things I do or don’t like about him– that could be criticism, and that’s mostly for the benefit of Person A. It’s also good for you because you’ll get the chance to see what Person A has to say about things that might be unclear to you.

Gossiping with Person B on the subject of Person A is different though. Usually, this has nothing to do with helping Person A become a better person– but, it can help YOU become a better person, because Person B takes you out of your perspective and actually helps critisize YOUR critique of Person A. Not only that, but by trying to understand Person A exclusive of Person A’s company means that you really have to take the time to understand someone, since nobody will fill in the blanks with 100% certainty, and in order to understand others I think there is the natural prerequisite that you understand yourself.

In general the things that we recognize as strengths or weaknesses in others are things that you are aware of in yourself.

And of course– why wouldn’t you want to talk more about people you know? What really are human interactions if not events to immortalize us in the minds of others?

I think that most people who hate gossip hate it because they have insecurities, or shames. We all have them. To these people, I would say that there’s one thing consistent about gossip, and that’s that it’s all history. Gossip isn’t in real time– it only is the post-game review, with predictions of the next game. Really, it’s the popular opinion, and the only thing that’s really real time is your life. There’s nothing bad about having people say bad things about you– what may be bad are the bad things you’ve done to deserve these comments.

It has a lot to do with taking responsibility. Does anyone, after all, complain about when people say good things about them behind their backs?

The way to deal with gossip about us is not to deal with it at all– it will happen. It’s a sign, like how one might argue that plagarism could be a sign of flattery, that people care enough to perpetuate ideas of you. Be you famous or infamous, at least you exist. And if you’ve done nothing to deserve bad comments, who cares? What one should concern oneself with is not the gossip about oneself– but rather, living one’s life.

All that stuff that happens in the drama that is high school? That’s just because people are too young to “have lives” and so all that’s left to them is to talk and talk.

Wait– that might be a key, mightn’t it? People who don’t have lives are the ones most offended by gossip?

If you build for yourself a strong thesis on what you want to get done, if you extend this thesis to the world by developing the tools and amassing the substance necessary, then if anything, gossip becomes the best way to spend your nights with the best of friends who, likewise, live their lives.

Out here in Calgary with Chuck, it’s the first time that I’ve had a face to face conversation with someone from the oldschool. He was there for Drawson, he was there for MAC, he was there for the Caves and skipping classes to go to dim sum… all that, that was college. And it’s good to catch up. We talk through the nights until I’m literally falling asleep because I’m at the end of my physical ropes (although beating 50 hours of MGS4 in the 72 hours that I’ve been in Calgary might have something to do with my tiredness…) and really, it’s nice to laugh about things.

I’ve made a lot of new friends in the past year, but old friends are old friends. Enough said.

Random conversation (example of gossip):

Jinryu says:
there’s this guy I know
Jinryu says:
totally hates gay people
Chili says:
well, how did that turn out?
Jinryu says:
one day, I went on Gmarket and bought the gayest shirt i could find
Jinryu says:
body tight hot lavendar shirt
Jinryu says:
Jinryu says:
the sleeves expose about 75% of my biceps and triceps
Jinryu says:
and the collar has rainbow stripes
Jinryu says:
I wore this to a meeting we went to and just started touching him on the back and stuff whenever he said something
Jinryu says:
I’d be like “you know, that’s an excellent idea!”
Jinryu says:
and then pat him on the back
Chili says:
(lewd smiley face)
Jinryu says:
and let it linger JUST long enough to be longer than it should
Chili says:
Chili says:
did he turn out to be gay?
Jinryu says:
I dunno
Jinryu says:
he might be in hardcore denial