Archive for October, 2008

China’s Oil Policy

Last night I read an interesting article about China’s oil policy. China is signing oil deals where they don’t get any return on their investment excpet the oil itself which they pay a locked in amount for. In addition, China provides the money and much of the man-power for the development of the oil field and the countries or their proxies get to reap the benefits and more importantly the profits.

If I was an oil producing nation, why would I sign royalty lease agreement with Exon-Mobile or BP, when I could sign a deal with China that lets my country keep all the profits?

Does Chian benefit from these deals? Certainly, because it assures that their factories will continue to get the resources they need at prices they control. China knows that turning raw materials into products is a value adding process; something which America in its manufacturing heyday also realized. China, of course, makes a substantial amount of its money from manufacturing.

China’s oil policy will create a titanic shift in who will be producing and consuming oil in the near future. The current model under which America and American companies are working can not compete with China’s model. America has worked and is still working under the the neo-colonial pillage model of resource extraction in which America or its proxies pay pennies on the dollar in royalties and lease fees for the resource they are extracting. China is working under, “these resources belong to you and we will we help you get them as long as you assure that the resources all go to us” model. They realize that in the long-run stable resources at stable prices will benefit their entire economy.

America’s model focuses on the short-term and the individual company. To simplify: The American model is about greed; an elite few benefit but most do not. The Chinese model is about retaining power and control over a staggering number of people. The only way the Communist Party in China can assure this is to make sure that their people are gainfully employed and feel that they are getting richer.    

If China’s policy succeeds in locking in resources; especially oil, at stable prices, then China will have a significant advantage over the rest of the world who will be relying on extremely volatile commodity markets. I guess it takes a Communist to see that markets only work in your favor if you can exploit them, If the market isn’t exploitable, then it’s better to avoid them completely and set up some kind of direct supply of the resource or commodity that you need.

 Is there a silver lining in this titanic resource extraction model in which China successfully ties up future resources for itself?

Yes, I believe there is, because it will undoubtedly help to spur innovation; especially in terms of alternative energy. It’ll also force deep cultural changes in the way we think about the future.

Sadly, it didn’t need to be like this if America had been more proactive and long-term in their thinking. Much of our dependence on foreign oil could have been weaned if we had learned our lesson in the mid 70s, but instead we quickly forgot the lesson learned and traded our small fuel efficient vehicles for for large gas-guzzling SUVs. Now when it’s appearent that things need to change it is much harder for us to adapt. It’s harder because as a culture we are short-term thinkers, but this, too, will need to change.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

America’s Diminishing Role

I read an article today that speculated that in the near future a new Economic World Order will be created and America’s place in this new economic order will be significantly diminished.

I think the argument is sound. The current financial crisis originated in the US and the world definitely blames the US. Considdering the kind of money that the US government has been lobbing around and will probably have to continue lobbing around in order to save a host of failing financial institutions, I can’t see the US being in any kind of position to dictate policy to the world about fiscal and financial policy.

Although Alan Grenspan is saying he is not to blame, I can’t help but consider that he was certainly an enabler of the current mess. Sure, he personally didn’t make the decisions that lead to, as he says, “once-in-a-century credit tsunami,”  but he did keep interest rates low which did two things: First it created the need to take greater risks to increase return on investment and second by keeping interests rate historically low for an extended period of time it deflated the actual cost of the risks that the financial institutions were taking.   

Furthermore the free-market policies that he advocated and his work during the Reagan administration to dismantle the Brenton Wood Accords certainly laid the foundation for another aspect of the credit crisis; the fact that American households and the federal government are deficit spending. To read more about America’s deficit Spending try “The $1.4 trillion Question,” “Spendthrift Nation” and “America’s Suez Moment.”  

Although these articles don’t really assign blame to any one individual, they do make clear that their is a systemic problem; a problem that will surely diminish America’s role in world affairs.

If you believe the conspiracy theorists, then it all makes perfect sense. The powers-that-be realized that the American people would eventually turn off their TVs, and wake up to reality; a reality in which high taxes, high inflation, high unemployment and high interest rates are the birth right of every American.

(The high taxes aren’t there because the government was run by tax and spend liberals, but because the government was run by tax-cut-warmongering-spend-like-mad conservatives. Taxes in such a senario eventually have to be raised to cover the interest payments of the deficit which are suddenly higher because the interest rates are higher. Of course when interests go up the availability of jobs tend to go down, because one way businesses and governments expand products and services is through borrowing, but when interests rates go up those investments get postponed. Usually higher-interests rates will squeeze inflation out of the system, but in this scenario which is set during a time of peak oil and never-ending wars, inflation stays high in order to off-set the risk of an oil cost spike.)   

The powers-that-be knew what they were doing, but they needed to run America into the ground. They aslo made themselves richer in the process.  When they were through they knew America would no longer be a great place to do business, but the super-rich don’t care. They can live anywhere. They don’t, after all, really have to work for a living; they only need to manage their capital and exploit the work of others. What was important that America be left with an ineffective position from which to manage the crisis. Thus even if the people vote the enablers out of office the new regime would be in no position to do anything because all the cards had already been played. 

This is the world that Obama will inherit if/when he is elected. Obama will thus become a figure like Nero. He wasn’t the last emperor by any stretch of the imagination, but Rome’s golden age had ended and he ushered in the steady decline to it’s eventual fall. Sure it took another 400 years for that to happen, but Rome steadily decline. I can only hope that America’s fall will be as long and winding, but if the market is any indication then America’s fall may be quicker that that of Rome.

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Andy and the Light Saber

When we told the kids about our Christmas travel plans, Andy asked: “Will I be able to get a light saber in America; a real one?”

This was an unusual question for several reasons. First, the only thing that Andy has been thinking about since August has been about getting a Nintendo DS . He only stopped asking about the Nintendo DS because he is now sufficiently sure that Nana will actually get him one. BoA convinced Andy that Nana always gets you what you ask for; in fact, she is better than Santa Claus. Another reason that this question is unusual is that it reveals something about Andy’s attitude about America. Why should he think a real light saber is more likely to be available in the US rather than in Korea? 

The children of the world (those born from 1995-present) know America from two places: It’s movie and television shows and their own country’s nightly news. One thing that these children have learned is that  American is a violent place. Our movies and televisions shows seem to glorify it and the nightly news  seems to corroborate it. 

I’m not sure if this is the image that I want my children to have of my home country. The older generations such as the parents of these children still talk of America as a place of opportunities, but the new generation doesn’t see America as a place of opportunities. They have never heard of an American dream, but they have witnessed the American nightmare; a nightmare that for Andy seems to include real light sabers.

Andy knows that in Korea guns; real ones, are impossible to get. Korea has a very strict gun control policy even getting a hunting rifle is insanely difficult and expensive. Although murders happen in Korea, they rarely, outside the armed forces, involve firearms. Knives and fists seem to be the weapons of choice for the masses.    Knives and and fists can kill people, but they are less effective than guns; therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the number of murders per capita in Korea is significantly lower than the number of murders in America (although not as low as I would have thought – see link above).

Korea is a violent country. I have witnessed many drunken brawls, violent domestic disputes, and arguments that have turned physical in my ten plus years here. I have also seen the after affects of these fights brought into Emergency Rooms on the few occasions that I myself have had reason to go to the hospital. It is probably wise that the Korean government has made it nearly impossible for an individual to get their hands on a gun. If the law were to change I suspect that there would be a sudden increase in the murder rate.

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Going Home For Christmas!

The family and I are going home for Christmas. We’ve been away too long. Although I managed to sneak back in 2005, Anna and the kids had to stay home. Anna had to stay because we decided that it would be unfair for us to take BoA, but not Andy. The kids were really disappointed; especially Andy who always had to listen to BoA brag of her trips to America.

Since we were unable to complete the adoption process, Andy was in legal limbo. We were his legal guardian, but we were not his parents.  At that time, due to various rules regarding first sons, it was impossible for us to transfer him from Anna’s father’s Hyojeok (Family Census Register) to Anna’s Hyojeok. To read more about this precess, see “Adopted Son.”

Because Andy was not our son, we also ran into problems at the US Embassy. Back in 2005 Korea was listed as one of the countries that was highly involved in human trafficking, and for this reason the US Embassy said they could not issue Andy a travel visa unless we could prove he was our son. They said having guardianship of an individual wasn’t enough of a guarantee. I guess their thinking was that parents are less likely to sell their children into slavery, prostitution or indentured servitude. 

Anna did an excellent job finding the cheapest tickets available. Although it’s still not cheap, it’ll only cost me an arm rather than an arm and a leg. When we first started pricing tickets it looked like it was going to cost us $10,000-$12,000 US. The tickets Anna found will save us 25-30%.

One of the reasons for the steep discount is that the flight will require us to transfer planes twice. We will fly from Seoul to Tokyo and in Tokyo we will transfer to a different plane, then we fly from Tokyo to Detroit and in Detroit we will again transfer to a different plane. Then we will fly from Detroit to Boston. I know that sounds hideous, but in some ways it’s also nice. Since we are traveling with small to medium sized children, it’ll be nice to get them off the plane and running around.

Andy will be especially challenged during our trip. It is nearly physically impossible for him to sit for more than five minutes. How in the world is he going to sit for the 16-18 hours it’ll take us from Tokyo to Detroit?

I’m thinking I should attempt sleep deprivation. Beginning several days before the trip, I will make sure Andy can’t sleep. If I can prevent him for sleeping on the days before our trip; perhaps he will spend his time sleeping on the planes.

One of my greatest fears is that Anna, the flight crew or I will kill him in flight, but he truly is an angelic child when he sleeps. He is typically quiet, good mannered, and respectful of others, although he sometimes still speaks even when he isn’t spoken to. You can’t always understand him; especially when he chooses to mix the two languages that he knows, but it is typically loud, sudden and completely unexpected.     

BoA is an easy traveling companion as long as she has a sketch book, an eraser and colored pencils. Not to ruin the surprise but BoA is planning on using he trip to make the Christmas presents she will be giving this year.

Noah is a good baby and hopefully he will continue being good for most of the trip. I think as long as we bring his monkey, his chick (yup, he got one already), his ball, and a few cloth picture books he should be sufficiently entertained.  

Anna and I will of course have our children to keep us busy; Anna with Noah and me, I’ll be sitting on Andy especially if the sleep deprivation doesn’t work. Maybe I should bring a deck of card and the book of Hoyle. Andy is too bony to make a comfortable seat, so card games may be a better solution. We can attempt to play every card game ever invented. I wonder if the book of Hoyle is available in English in Korea?

Hoyle or no Hoyle, we are going home for Christams!

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Incheon Tower

Friday, 24 October

I had to take the minivan in because someone had stolen the outside rearview mirror which allows us to see our back bumper. (See picture below) The mirror was stolen more than a month ago, but I haven’t had time to replace it. The mirror was stolen at Costco while we were doing grocery shopping for Chuseok. I actually use the mirror quite often, because Koreans frown upon the parking by brail techniques which I typically used in Boston.

<— There’s the sucker. This is not our Carens. I got this off the internet. Our Carens is gray and a bit more beat up since its six years old.

While I was waiting for the mirror to be replaced and Jin-Hyoung’s father to do the tune-up, I was paging through a Korean newspaper. In the newspaper was an article about the Incheon Tower that they are building. My Korean is still not good enough to read newspapers well, but I did look at the cool picture. (See below)


It’s being build in the Sungdo area of Incheon, which has been designaated an special economic zone and an international city. The international school that I hope to get a job at will be located in this area of Incheon. Here’s a link to a CNN article and to wikipedia if you what to learn more about the building.

Friday, October 24th, 2008

House Of Cards Revisited

Thursday, 23 October, 2008

A little over a month ago a wrote about the financial house of cards that our financial institutions had created. As I was writing that original piece I remembered that I had read a prediction about a similar meltdown in the Atlantic Monthly. I wanted to link to the story, but at the time I was unable to find it. I have, however, recently prevailed in my search.

It’s an interesting piece it was written in the summer of 2005, so only two-years into the Second Gulf War. Its premise is how the Bush Administration would bankrupt America which in turn would create the necessary conditions for a return to a depressed and stagnant economy with high inflation, taxes and interest rates. The coda or moral for the piece seems obvious: If you don’t pay now, then you will certainly pay latter.

The piece is written as a fictitious strategy memo to an unnamed third party candidate who is running for the US Presidency in 2016. The memo assures the candidate that he will win, but that it is important to truly understand the problems that exist so that he can be both honest and hopeful with the American people.

Some of the details that lead to the “meltdown” did not happen as the author foresaw, but his timing is almost dead on. He guessed that the meltdown would occur in the early part of 2009. Instead the meltdown occurred in September and continued through October of 2008. He was off by about six months. If you’re interest in checking out the piece it’s called “Countdown to Meltdown” by James Fallows

It took only a year for the house of cards to fall. On the 9th of October, 2007 the Dow reached it’s all-time high closing at 14,164.53. A year later on the 9th of October, 2008 the Dow had fallen 5,585 points, or 39.4 percent. However, our current meltdown continues. Yesterday the Dow closed at  8519, so it’s now down 6645 points or 46.9 percent since the 9th of October, 2007. This is even a worse run on the Dow than the nearly two-year bear market that ended in December 1974 when the Dow lost 45 percent. That oil-shock induced meltdown took two-years yet our current meltdown succeeded in wiping out a similar percentage of wealth in only about eight weeks.  

As I wrote before, I decided that if stock indices could shed excess pounds, that I would attempt to do the same. I am calling this the Crash of 2008 Diet. You simply see how far back in time the Dow goes and you attempt to rollback your weight in keeping with the Dow. For example, yesterday the Dow closed at 8519. The Dow hasn’t been at the 8500 level since the summer of 2003. This mean that I am currently trying to get down to my 2003 weight, and that means I should lose another 5-7kg. 

I done well, I’ve drop about 5 kg and all I’ve really done is stopped my consumption of beer and avoided all late night snacks. However, my weight has been trading in a narrow range the last few weeks, so further reduction will not be possible without exercise. As I mentioned before, I injued my ankle, and it was only last week that Noah and I began taking our 40 minute walks again. This is good, but I really need to return to the gym so I can increase the amount of calories I am burning. I think the stationary bike should be low impact enough for my still tender ankle.

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

In Search of an Absentee Ballot: Freedom, Resposibility & Bad Faith

One of my main missions today is to go to English Village and search the mail for my absentee ballot. Even though I live on the other side of the world and apathy has replaced my former youthful idealism, I still believe it is my duty to vote. Personally, I feel that if you don’t vote, then you shouldn’t complain. Now, I’m sure there are millions of people who disagree. They would insist that it’s their prerogative to complain; however, voting is just such a hassle.

Undoubtedly they can always smugly say, “Well, I didn’t vote for him.” True, only because they didn’t vote at all, and thus abdicated their responsibility. Once the individual abdicates his/her responsibility, he/she is guilty of “bad faith” when subsequently complaining about the policies and actions of an administration that won a political process that the individual didn’t participate in.

“Bad faith” is an existentialist term which Sartre created to describe how individuals consciously try to deceive themselves and others. For Sartre, consciousness is divided into two kinds; basically pre-reflective and reflective.  Because humans can always reflect upon our consciousness, Sartre believes that individuals are always free. Although this freedom can be limited by circumstances, it can never be entirely curtailed even in the most restricted of circumstances; the individual is always aware that he/she must make some kind of decisions and this is why we often anguish over the decisions we make. People, however, often avoid making a decision, even though this too is a decision, and hence you can begin to see the paradoxical nature of ‘bad faith.” People are both aware and unaware of their freedom and their responsibility, but they desperately want to deny it.

Not voting gives the individual who didn’t vote the easy excuse: “This f***ed-up situation isn’t my fault. I didn’t vote for him.” It relieves the individual of the anguish of having to make a decision, but they know that this is false, because choosing not to participate is still participating. In fact it’s even recognized as abstaining in most elective processes.  

I know I received a lot of grief from family and friends in 2000. I told everyone that I cast my ballot for Nader rather than Gore. At the time I simply couldn’t conceive of people actually voting for Bush because the track record of the Republican party which has been so horrid over the last 80-90 years, but I was wrong. I guess that history is bound to repeat itself because people choose to forget it.

Of course, I wish I could change the vote I cast in 2000 and I am sure that there are other Nader, Bush and Buchanan voters who also regret their decision. If Gore could’ve have squeaked by in just one or two other states, things would have been different.

Now, I could have lied and said that I voted for Gore. Lying is rather hard when your mother is the ballot clerk and there was only one vote in the whole town cast for Nader and it was on an absentee ballot, so that makes lying hard. But even if I did lie, lying is not “bad faith.” Lying is a premeditated act of deception which means you are completely aware of what you are doing, and therefore a decision that required your conscious attention was made. Bad faith, however, involves attempting to deceive one’s self into the idea that one isn’t free; isn’t responsible. Conversely lying or making an excuse demonstrates that the person is aware of their culpability, but is trying to hide it.

Even though I am feeling fairly uninspired by this current “corporate-crafted electoral extravaganzas,” as Chomsky puts it, I nevertheless shudder at the though of what McCain could do in four years. Paul Street wrote a piece for Znet which I thought did a good job summarizing all the reasons why McCain is not the right choice (link/archive).

Although I often feel like I am voting for the lesser of two evils, I made the choice in 2000 to vote my conscious and I have never done that again. Sad to think that in our winner take all system that you can’t vote the way you really think, but need to vote strategically to limit the damage that the representative of the people can do to you, your country and the world. Unfortunate as this reality is and as disgruntled as I have become, I, nevertheless, recognize that I am free to choose and it is my responsibility to make some kind of decision.

Well, I just got back from checking the mail and either English Village has lost it (quite possible) or it was sent late (more likely). The last several elections my absentee ballot has arrived the Wednesday, Thursday and Tuesday before the election. Consequently I have spent over one hundred dollars express mailing my ballot to assure that it arrives in time. My guess is that once again I will receive my ballot a few days before the election.  

I suppose the ‘powers-that-be’ fear people like me. We are, after all, unencumbered by the thoughts of the mass media. Living abroad makes it more difficult for them to spoon feed me their banal coverage in which the horse race and the extravaganza are more important the the issues. If I and other’s like me get their ballots late, then it makes it more difficult for us to vote. I am certain they wouldn’t want us casting our informed votes, because the news media in the United States walks the walk that ignorance is bliss.

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

SLA meets the Faithful

I have been teaching courses in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) off and on for the last six years. One of the activities that I give my students is a group presentation on an aspect of SLA.  I typically ask each group to pick one of the following topics to research and report on:

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH)
Error Analysis (EA)
Inter-Language (IL)
Grammatical Morphemes and Natural Order
Universal Grammar (UG)
Krashen’s Monitor Model

Since the SLA courses that I teach are typically professional certificate and/or graduate level courses, I usually get thoughtful, well-organized presentations that do an excellent job of presenting material that I am bored of presenting myself. This year, however, I was caught  off guard during the last leg of the Universal Grammar (UG) presentation.

A group of two women and one man were presenting. The two women had spoken and they had done  a good job simplifying what I consider the most technical of the six topics. I figured the last speaker would quickly summarize the key points of the theory and then highlight the major issues that underlie applying UG to SLA before dismounting.

Boy was I in for a surprise.

I felt a bit like Bugs Bunny when he sticks his head out of his tunnel and says, ‘I knew I should’ve taken that left at Albuquerque,’ because suddenly I found myself in Bible class.  My student was using his four minutes to describe how UG proves the existence of the Tower of Babel and therefore how all the stories in the Bible must be true such as Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden.  

I’m actually not sure where he got his information. I did a quick check of the internet and I couldn’t find much; just a few passing remarks. So, I am a little impressed with his creativity, but that really wasn’t the point of the presentation.

Since this was perhaps a ‘once-in-a-life-time’ experience, I, of course, shared this tale with my colleagues. One of my colleagues inquired, “How are you going to mark that?”

Actually I had no problem marking it at all. I gave the student what we refer to as the grade of death; I gave him a C. This grade is the grade of death because it is just high enough so the student won’t withdraw from the course, but it isn’t high enough to assure that he will receive his certificate. Our program requires that the students maintain a B average. When students get a D or lower they typically withdraw and will take the course again. If students get an F in a particular course, they have unlimited F Xing in Korea, or in other words you can fail as much as you want and have it struck from your transcript. This is probably because many Korean students party away their freshman year of university and receive numerous F grades.  

One C will not destroy his average, but I suspect he may have done this in other classes or he will do this in other classes. If he gathers enough of these “kisses of grading death” he will not qualify for his certificate.

For those of you who feel that my C reeks of subjectiveness. Let me assure you that I graded his presentation according to my rubric which is divided into two parts; performance and content. In the performance part of the rubric there are four categories and in the content part of the rubric there are six categories. He actually got an A in in his performance, but a solid D in his content and the rubric is slightly skewed to make content more important than performance; therefore, he recieved a C.

The assignment requires the students to synthesize the information from various sources and create a well organized presentation. I emphasize that I only want my studetns to synthesize the information from the various sources I provide them. For example, I expect them to use their current textbook, How Languages Are Learned, chapter three form an SLA textbook written by Seville-Troika, selected sections from The Study of Second Language Acquisition  by Rod Ellis, and one selected reading for each topic that I put on reserve in the library. I tell them to only use the internet to clarify what they are learning from the sources I have given them. I always tell my studetns to treat skeptically any information that diviates wildly from what they are learning.   

Although I am uncertain where he got his information, it would seem to fit the description of something that ‘divates wildly from the information in the sources that I provided.’ Just ot be sure, I re-read everything I provide about Universal Grammar and in none of the sources I provide is the Tower of Bable mentioned.  

Later in the afternoon I ran into my student in the bathroom. I asked him, “Are you a Christian?” Based on personal experience in restrooms across Korea, this is not necessarily a rude questions to ask when another man is taking a piss. In response to my questions he gushed enthusiastically from both ends and said, “Oh, yes! I want this TESOL certificate so when I do my missionary work in China, I will be able to teach the Bible in English.”

I cannot predict whether or not he’ll receive his TESOL Certificate, but I am certain that he’ll do missionary work in China. How do I know, you ask. Let’s just say, ‘God’s will has been made manifest,’ and that’s how Second Language Acquistion met the faithful.

Questions to self:

How does this figure into Mognolo’s framework on English and Globalization?
What would Phillipson and Pennycook make of this non-native speaker as missionary of English?
Does this fit into Sartre’s conception of Bad Faith?

Monday, October 20th, 2008

From Papyrus to Bytes

When I began writing these words, I was sitting in Anna’s Chiropractor’s office with Noah.

Noah was sucking on his pacifier, kicking my arms so that my pen would skid across the page, and staring at the ceiling fan as it wended it way through its circular orbit; wop……………wop……………wop.  I was sitting on the couch and I was using an ancient technology (writing), a fairly old technology (paper) and a relatively modern invention (pen) to record these events.

Rather than writing about technology, I should be grading, but journaling/blogging when I should be grading seems like such a satisfactory way to procrastinate.  I suspect that procrastination often goes unrecorded; it’s a hidden vice that many of us sweep under the carpet, but I’m going to do us all a favor, I’m going to pull it kicking and screaming into the light.

There are many ways to procrastinate and everyone has their own methods. Typically I do one of two things. I either read or I write. The former is more common than the latter; especially with such easy access to the internet there are literally more words available at my finger tips than I could read in my entire life. Regardless of how I am procrastinating, however, there is one aspect that they share in common; I don’t always finish what I start.

My blog is a good example. I have more unpublished entries (60) than published entries (40). I start them, but I don’t finish them. I don’t delete them either; I always assume that I’ll get back to them. There are several aborted topics that are actually older than the blog itself. I started them with the idea that once I set up my blog I will need some content, but when I did set up my blog I felt so remove in time from those entries that I decided to write about something else.

Procrastination, for me at least, is a double edged-vice that cuts both ways. Not only does it hinder my ability to get my work done in a timely manner, but also the effort I expend procrastinating is usually also wasted.

Now I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if my computer, bookshelves and notebooks weren’t littered with these incomplete fruits of my procrastination, but they are. Even now as I type these words up, I wonder: Will I actually publish this? Will it make it to my blog? And as I type these questions, another thought strikes me: Weren’t the labs, studios and workbenches of great inventors and artists littered with their aborted efforts?

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that may be so, but I bet procrastination is the father, because invention requires someone seeing the need and it also requires that someone takes the time. Since most people go through life fulfilling assigned tasks, one can therefore argue that the creating of something new is outside the mandate of task they have been assigned and since the person took the time to create something, he/she must been procrastinating when he/she created it.

Hmm, maybe procrastination isn’t a vice. It’s only been those task-masters who have kept the human population busy who are responsible for giving procrastination a bad name, because without it the human race would never have advanced from papyrus to bytes.

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Memories of My 10th Chuseok

Chuseok (??)  —  the Korean Harvest Festival or Thanksgiving  —  fell in early September this year Saturday. It began on Saturday the 13th  of September and finished on Monday the 15th  of September; just ten days after our move in to our new apartment and only two weeks into the new semester at my new university. I wasn’t really ready for it and neither was Anna.


To a certain extent being unprepared for the holiday is common. In fact, it is very Korean. This is a very last minute culture, so our under-preparedness had nothing to do withholiday itself, because this Chuseok was different than any other Chuseok I have ever experienced in Korea and this was my tenth Chuseok.


Now this difference wasn’t becausewe had a new apartment and the space a family needs to live sanely. We’ve had large apartments before, for example, Woo Bang in Seoul when I worked for Daewon. Furthermore this Chuseokwasn’t different because Korea suddenly ran out of traffic jams. Based on the TV news, I can safely say that Chuseok traffic was just as insane (14 hours to travel 250 miles) as ever, although my family and I were fortunate enough not to get stuck in any


This Korea was different because something that Anna had been thinking might happen finally did: Her mother had a terrible fall. Actually Anna’s mother’s had a series of serious falls, the last of which culminated in a cracked skull. 


The Week Before


The first fall in the series actually occurred the weekend before Chuseok. We got a call from one of the nearby businesses asking us to get Anna’s mother because she had had an accident. We, Anna, the baby and I, race down to the corner to get her mother. Anna’s mother had fallen and she had an angry-looking, fist-shaped bump on the right side of her forehead. In the process of falling and briefly knocking herself unconscious, Anna’s mother had also lost control of her bowels and defecated in her clothes.


Anna wanted to take her mother straight to the hospital, but Anna’s mother’s was embarrassed by her current conditions, and insisted that Anna take her h omeand clean her up first. Anna complied, but after she was cleaned up, Anna’s mother refused to go to the hospital saying that she felt much better. Anna and her mother got into a fairly big fight and Anna’s mother walked out of the house, and Anna refused to give her a ride home unless she went to the hospital first.


Unknown to us until later, Anna’s mother suffered all that week from dizziness, and nausea. She also had a couple of more falls, but Anna’s mother was too proud to let her daughter know that perhaps she was right, and that maybe she did need medical care. Instead she went on with her life and didn’t breath a word of her needs to us.

Sometimes this Asian cultural belief regarding the saving of face at all costs is insanely stupid, as we shall see from this cautionary tale.


Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall


I can’t help but think about this nursery rhyme.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again


The fact that Anna’s mother didn’t ask her daughter for help is analogous to the nursery rhyme, because Anna’s mother was walking on along a precipice while suffering from a concussion just like Humpty Dumpty, an egg in my childhood collection of nursery rhymes, who sat on wall. I can recall asking myself even when I was young, “What is that egg thinking? If you’re an egg you’ve goy to be crazy to sit on a wall.”


Growing old and retaining your independence is fine if the individual has the capabilities to live alone and be independent, but Anna’s mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s back in the Spring of 2006. Anna wanted her to go to an assisted care facility at that time, but Anna’s mother refused and Anna felt powerless to countermand that decision. So instead of going into an assisted care facility, we took the $70,000 we had saved and put it down as a deposit for the apartment that Jangmonimlives in, and we wondered if that was a good decision, because for several months we were getting calls from the neighbors saying that Jangmonim was lost or that Jangmonim had forgotten her keys, or that Jangmonimneeded help. With time, however, Jangmonim got better at finding the new apartment and her key was worn a s a necklace so she had each and everytimeshe left her house.


Mothers, Daughters & Confucian Ideals


Obviously another solution would have been to have Jangmonim live withus, but Anna and her mother decided that the two of them could not live together. They tried living together; they did it for two and half years and they were often on each other’s backs.


To be fair, it’s hard to change roles. Anna wanted control of her own house, but her mother was unwilling to give it to her. Furthermore, Anna has years of repressed anger because she feels unappreciated. Her mother had a life altering car accident when was Anna was in middle school, so pretty much since Anna was in sixth grade she has been caring not only for her mother, but also her father and brother. The traffic accident that Anna’s mother had left her partially paralyzed. From the numerous X-rays and CT scans we have seen in the last few weeks I have the image burned into my head; three fused vertebrae that look like they’re held together with chicken wire.


Anna feels that her mother’s accident took her life and many of her dreams from her. Because she was the primary care-giver for her family she didn’t have the same amount of time to study as other children her age and this made school harder for her. Korea is a competitive society and success is measure almost sole in terms of educational and career success, and the two are intimately bound together. So unlike her cousins who went to the best universities in Korea because they had a healthy mother, Anna was only able to get into a second tier university, and although she never says it, I believe this still rankles her.


Therefore, when Anna’s mother live withus, Anna take every opportunity to remind her of her place in the house and that cannot sit well with Jangmonim, because it turns the Confucian ideal of filial piety on its head.


The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Awry


As we have already stated, Anna’s mother lives alone. Anna knew that having her mother live alone was not an ideal situation so she had an emergency call button installed in both bathrooms, because Anna assumed that the bathroom would be the most likely place for her mother to fall. The call button automatically contacts 119, the Korean version of 911, and us.


Anna’s mother’s fall; however, happen on the back veranda and not in the bathroom. The fall also completely knocked her mother out for at least and hour and perhaps more based on the amount of blood at the scene.


Amazingly, after regaining consciousness, Anna’s mother was able to crawl and or stumble to the emergency call button in the master bathroom. As soon as we were notified we rushed to her aid, but when we got to the apartment we realized that the deadbolt had been thrown and could only be released from the inside. The ambulance arrived about three minutes after we did and they called for the fire department; they arrived ten minutes later and brought with them a nice battering ram. Of course, Anna is freaking out the whole time because her mother was no longer conscious and Anna was anticipating the worse. The firemen made short work of the door; easily blowing it off its hinges. We are in; however, since I was holding Noah, and the frenetic energy was upsetting him, I decided to remain on the edges, but even from the fringe I could see that there was a lot of blood.


What Came First; the Head Trauma or the Stroke?


Anna’s mother was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital. Noah and Anna rode with Jangmonim in the ambulance and I followed in the car. The Emergency Room was surprisingly empty for an understaffed holiday. A couple of sick children and a man with a mangle face from some holiday disagreement or fracas.


Jangmonim’s bleeding had been stopped in the ambulance so the doctors immediately sent her to X-ray and then to get a CT scan. Based on what the doctor saw in those images, he decided that his little understaffed, backwater hospital was not the ideal place for her. He made some calls and I soon found myself following another ambulance to a different hospital. This time to Baek Hospital in Ilsan with is head trauma center.


At Baek we learned that the doctors were not sure what happened first; Jangmonim’s broken skull or the stroke. One doctor was leaning towards the head trauma which may havelead to the stroke, another doctor felt based on the location of the stroke that the stroke cause the fall which cracked open her head. In either case, both doctors were cautiously optimistic. They were confident that Jangmonim would survive, but they were uncertain what the quality of her life would be. The stroke seemed to be located in an area that affected motor control and function. The doctors were also concerned at first about the internal bleeding and the blood that was slowly building up on Jangmonim’s brain, but ceased to be a concern a few days later.


Jangmonimspent about ten day in the ICU of the head trauma center and then another for or five days in a regular hospital room. Baekhospital is about 40 minutes from our house, so although it is a manageable commute it nevertheless put a lot of stress on the family; especially BoA and Andy, but more about that later. Although Anna got a paraprofessional to look after her mother when she wasn’t there, Anna felt that she needed to be at the hospital with her mother, so she tried to spend as much time there as possible.


Paraprofessionals, Nurses and Doctors


Korea is obviously a country where litigation against doctors and hospitals has not become as fashionable as in the United States. I was amazed at the responsibilities that the nurses and doctors placed on the paraprofessional. The paraprofessional was hired by Anna through an angency, and her role was to act as a companion and help-mate. She was expected to do such things as getting water, helping Jangmonim use the bed pan, or to help with changing Anna’s mother’s diaper and sheets. It appears that Korean nurses don’t do these sorts of things, and if you have a patient that needs this type of care you are expected to get a paraprofessional assistant. The doctors and nurses, however, typically expected the paraprofessional to assume a much greater role. They placed the administration of  Anna’s mother’s medicine in her hands.


Not surprisingly, Anna’s mother was rather cantankerous and would often refuseto take the medicine from the paraprofessional, becausewho was the paraprofessional to tell her what medicine to take or not to take. Some of the medicine that Anna’s mother would routinely refuse to take was her pain medication; consequently, she was often left groaning in pain. The doctors and nurses blamed the paraprofessional and requested/ordered that Anna replace the current one with a different one. Anna not knowing what to do followed the advice of the doctors and nurses and replaced the first paraprofessional who was a sweet, kind and thoughtful woman with this harsh, uncaring battleaxe that Jangmonim immediately hated. This caused even more groaning and complaining than the lack of pain medication and the doctors and nurses then decided to blame Anna’s mother. 


In my opinion, the duty of supervising whether or not a patient takes their medication rests on the nurses and doctors shoulders and not some paraprofessional. The fact that the doctors and nurses in Korea feel entitled to shift this responsibility onto someone obviously untrained is these matters seems like a recipe for disaster. It seems that it should only be a matter of time before someone dies due to this negligence. Perhaps they already have, but since Korea is only now beginning to catch up to America in recreational and non-recreational lawsuits, doctors, nurses and hospitals are perhaps less aware of their responsibilities vice se vice their patients and the law.


Shifting Demographics and Long-Term Care Facilities


Anna’s mother wanted out, the doctors and nurses wanted her out, so Anna set about finding some long-term care for her mother. Although it is still fairly easy to find assisted care in this country, it is getting much harder to find long-term care. As with many nations there is a demographic shift occurring in Korea. It is an aging population, so there are more elderly people requiring the same kind of long-term care as Anna’s mother. Interestingly; however, is that Confucianism still comes into play when the elderly individual only needs assistance. Koreans will typically take their elderly relatives into their home when they only need assistance, but a some point when that assistance becomes too great, they are then willing to let others care for those individuals.


Anna spent several days calling all the hospitals in a 90 minute radius of where we live. She was just about to giveup hope, when she tried calling the hospital closest to us; only a short fiveminute drivedown the road from us, and to her surprise and her relief a space had just opened up. Anna did everything she needed to do to secure the room. She got the doctor’s approval at Baek for the transfer, all the paper work required for such a transfer had been completed and the new hospital even sent an ambulance to get Jangmonim.


Anna chose to ride with her mother in the ambulance, but she had me go home to be with the kids. The kids were surprised but happy to see me. They didn’t like going to the hospital, but they also didn’t like waiting at home. We order pizza and played a game of Catan while we waited for Annat to return home. About an hour passed and not only did Anna return home, but Jangmonim was with her as well. The ambulance driver helped place Anna’s mother on BoA’s bed and then drove away.


I was surprised to see Jangmonim here, but I patiently waited for Anna to tell her tale. I was immediately forth coming but I slowly began to make sense of what must have happened. Someone with more money, more political clout or closer familial relationship had managed to steal the room out from under us. Several days later the hospital called demanding that Anna pay for the ambulance that took her mother from Baek Hospital to SungmoHospital and then to our house. Anna of course refused to pay.


Repetition of Patterns


Since that day, about two weeks ago now, Jangmonim has been living withus, and Anna has once again assumed complete care of her bed ridden mother. Anna has to feed her, bath her, change her, and administer to countless other needs both real and imagined.


Anna’s mother’s health has improved since she has been with us. She now recognizes each of us, she is more coherent, many of her memories are beginning to return especially things that she had kept hidden from her children, and she has stopped imagining/seeing things that weren’t really there.


To a certain extent Anna has made choices about how and what to administer to her mother without the advice of doctors. For example some of the medicines that the doctors had Anna’s mother one were obviously affecting her negatively. They were causing her to hallucinate and to have paranoid delusions. Anna took her mother off all psychotrophics, but kept her on the anti-stroke medicine and the pain medication. Anna also took her mother off the antibiotic because it was causing her to vomit and she was afraid that if her mother was unable to each she would be too weak and would require another stay in the hospital. Anna therefore began soaking her mother’s skull in a solution of sulfuric mineral salt that smelled like rotten eggs but seemed to help the Jangmonim’s head wound heal and the yellowish liquid that was filling the bandage turned clear. . 


Although Anna’s mother is doing well under Anna’s care, Anna is not, so once again we are in the process of finding a long-tern care facility. Our goal is to find one by the end of November or the first of December. If we don’t find one, Anna will burn out and we will all be bound to stay in Korea rather than travel to the states for Christmas. 


Some Unexpected Consequences


The timing of Anna’s mother’s fall has had some unexpected consequences. For example; we had to cancel or house warming party that we had planned. I was really looking forward to showing off the new place; especially the patio garden. We were going to have a BYOB cookout style pot-luck dinner type affair and invite about half our guests from the expat community and the other half from the Korean community, but as things stand now we won’t be having it.


BoA is also suffering. She is now the middle child and that is a burden that she unexpectedly had to bear. She’s feeling overlooked and Jangmonim’s illness hasn’t helped since it takes even more of Anna’s time. She has gained significant weight since May and when Jangmonimfell ill she also decided to giveup swimming, so her major source of exercise has suddenly disappeared. I’vebeen trying to give her extra attention, but it’s just so hard when life is moving quicker than you are.


Our life’s savings have blown away like leaves on the wind. The causes are various; for example, renting this new apartment required a hefty deposit so we needed to get a $20,000 loan, the implosion of the world financial sector hasn’t helped matters, and Jangmonim’s illness has also managed to soak up money. In less than a month we have watched most of our life’s savings vanish.


Waiting for a Conclusion


There are good days and there are bad days with bed ridden individuals. Today was a bad day. Anna’s mother was refusing to each. Anna had cooked several dishes and her friends had even brought food, but Anna’s mother simply refused to eat any of it. She wanted something that we didn’t have and couldn’t easily get. 


Anna got angry and started “force feeding” her mother.  There was an altercation and Anna’s mother fell out of bed. She was screaming in either pain and/or angry, so Anna called 119 and had her taken to the hospital. As far as the doctors can tell there is no new injuries, but Anna wants her in the hospital for the next few days. She says she needs a break. I don’t blame her it has been really stressful around the house the last few weeks.


This is only a temporary solution, but it a welcome respite.

When BoA saw that her room wasn’t occupied this afternoon when she came home from school, her first questions was: “Can I sleep in my bed tonight?” Anna said, “You can sleep in your bed tonight.” BoA immediately went into her room and began to re-organize everything that had gotten moved around to accommodate her sick grandmother. As she cleaned she sang and hummed; she seemed almost like the old BoA.

We have a respite, but we need a solution. Hopefully some of the places where we are on waiting lists will call.






Friday, October 17th, 2008