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(In the words of the Faith No More song.)

The last few weeks I’ve been working full time-ish on my RPG system. Up until this week, anyway. Over the past couple of weeks, my laptop had been getting more and more annoying in the mornings. I would put on the previous day’s edition of PM (or The Week in Westminster on Mondays) and then prepare breakfast. Then, when I came back to check e-mails and stuff, the thing had pretty much frozen. The radio programme still played, windows would open and close, but nothing would load. The only solution short of waiting an indefinitely long time seemed to be to switch it off and on again (the age-old solution to most computer problems).

It did it again on Monday, and I got angry and delivered a short, sharp tap to the machine. Not a huge blow, but when I rebooted Windows wouldn’t start. And when I got my installation CD out to repair or reinstall, it didn’t go well, either.

It was a pretty stupid thing for me to do. Not just because of the results or potential results, but because of the lack of results. I was treating my computer like a sensible being (ie, one that is able to sense), one that would modify its behaviour in response to physical chastisement. But then again, the cause was also in large part because of a computer’s inscrutability, the lack of information or clue as to why machine froze like that. It wasn’t too long ago that I reformatted and reinstalled the operating system to stop such lack of performance.

Computers are pretty complicated devices, but it’s easy to take them and their unfailing efficacy for granted. Browsing the internet, running applications is what I have a computer for – why can’t it do what it’s supposed to? Who would drive a car if it crashed as often as a computer?

Another thing that makes me feel vaguely stupid and yet also vaguely proud of the incident is the sense that my computer deserved what it got.

Anyway, it all worked out fairly well in the end. I took my computer to Yongsan, to the large building behind the station but connected to it by a raised tunnel thingy, where the Fujitsu Service Centre is. I’d been there not too long ago to have the DVD-R drive replaced. This time they replaced the 110 GB hard drive with a 300 GB one for ₩110,000 (about £60) – and gave me the old one in a little plastic wallet. I got the memory upgraded from 1 GB to 2, from one of the many computer stalls/shops in the main I’Park mall while I was there.

Then over the next couple of days, I had the pleasure of downloading and installing all the main applications that I use, as well as copying over all of my information – which I’d previously backed up. The most tedious part of this was waiting for the Windows Update updates to update before I could install Vistalizator to change the language of my Korean Vista Home Premium to English. My suite of programs include OpenOffice.org, Google Chrome, Paint.net, Skype and μTorrent. A couple of changes I made to my line-up were exchanging AVG Anti-Virus and Zone Alarm for Comodo Internet Security and installing Synaptics Gesture Suite, which allows Mac-style two-finger scrolling and better-than-Mac-style spiral scrolling.

Things are running pretty smoothly for the time being. We’ll see how long it lasts before the digital red mist descends once more.

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Today I didn’t do as much writing as I would have liked at lunchtime – a measly 127 words (as opposed to over 500 words on Monday and Tuesday). But I have been setting up various accounts with my name on them – Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, this blog. Actually, this blog was set up a while ago, but now I might just get into the habit of using it.

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Skimming Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist today, I found some information on R Scott Bakker’s next book, The White-Luck Warrior, which I eagerly await. Said information was in a post on the author’s own WordPress blog, Three Pound Brain (beloved of zombies everywhere). His post concludes with a list of principles he regards as self-evident, and which resonate strongly with my own opinions. Bakker’s ‘No-Dogma Dogma‘ is:

1) Not all claims are equal.

2) The world is ambiguous because it is supercomplex.

3) Humans are cognitive egoists. We are hardwired to unconsciously game ambiguities to our own advantage – to make scripture out of habit and self-interest.

4) Humans are theoretical morons. We are hardwired for groundless belief in invisible things.

5) The feeling of certainty is a bloody pathological liar.

6) Science is a social cognitive prosthetic, an institution that, when functioning properly, lets us see past our manifold cognitive shortcomings, and produce theoretical knowledge.

7) Contemporary culture, by and large, is bent on concealing the fact of 2, 3, 4, and 5.

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I logged in to Infinite Probability a few minutes ago to add another word to my Lexicon (clochard; see below) and to mention the World Names Profiler (also see below … slightly less below … in fact, above the previous below … I’d continue describing the post’s location, but it’s beneath me). When I accessed my blog’s dashboard, I noticed that the number of posts was up to exactly one thousand. It only took four years.

Anyway, it means that this post is my 1,003rd. Time for a general update.

Habiba’s father is still in hospital, doing a little better. The most recent worry was his having a bout of arrhythmia. He was also denied a place at their first choice rehabilitation centre – he will apparently need too much medical care, and they’re not set up to provide it. That’s a disappointment, of course, but, in a way, it’s also a sign of his progress. He’s now recovered sufficiently that he can be seriously considered for rehabilitation. Habiba’s mum now needs to find another place to apply to; there are a number to choose from in the general area (New York State/New England). He’s also able to communicate now. His first words, I understand, were about his boat.

I’m not doing too badly at work. Over the past few weeks I’ve redesigned the homework I give to the students so that I have less work to do preparing for the higher level classes. For those, I now let the students do the bulk of the vocabulary work – they have to find their own definitions, basically. Strangely, since I’ve been back in Korea, I’ve had very little proofreading to do. Which is nice. I hate it.

I started writing a new short story yesterday. It’s going pretty well so far – I have over a thousand words down, I’m enjoying writing in the narrator’s voice, I have a clear idea of where the story is going. It’s a first person, present tense narrative, neither of which techniques I use very often. It’s also intended to be more philosophical in tone, something else I don’t go in for much. This philosophicality was inspired by my current reading material, Immortality by Milan Kundera, which I’m enjoying.

Lastly, I’ll briefly mention that it’s Habiba’s birthday in just over a week. Last weekend (speak it quietly, take care she’s not around to overhear) I bought her a couple of presents – of the useful and thoughtful variety. This weekend I need to work on the, um, presentation of said presents. We’re going away the following weekend, so there’ll be no time then for such preparation. Not much time, either, for a party.

That’s all from me, for now.

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I kind of got married on Saturday.

But I should emphasise the ‘kind of’ part of that statement. Habiba and I and a couple of friends went to see a half-price performance of Nanta (half-price because of a special ‘brunch’ event that cost half the usual 60,000 if you came in a group including at least one foreigner and one Korean). Nanta is a very successful Korean show, vaguely along the lines of Stomp or the Blue Man Group, which consists of a combination of drumming, dance, comedy and audience participation.

The stage is designed to be a kitchen, and the story line (expressed here in knowingly cute Konglish) involves four cooks – the master chef, the ‘sexy guy’, the ‘female’ (seriously – that’s how the character was described on photos in the lobby) and the owner’s nephew – having to prepare a wedding feast for ‘seex-o’-cla”.

The whole thing was hugely entertaining – the main four actors are very fit, very agile and very funny. There was lots of drumming with improvised drums and sticks – one memorable sequence involved sometimes-synchronised, sometimes-competitive drumming with pairs of big knives on chopping boards. The final set piece had the actors pounding away thunderously on large food drums.

The humour was very Korean – quite broad, lots of mugging, lots of slapstick, lots of caricaturish character interaction, a small dose of bum-related jokes (one character gets a brush handle accidentally shoved up his arse). It sounds annoying, but the actors’ charisma and the positive atmosphere in the theatre made it all work, and work well.

At one point, the characters were tasting a soup they had made, but the cooks couldn’t agree with the owner, so they brought a couple of people down on to the stage – one of those people was me. I was audience participated. I was quickly dressed in a traditional Korean hat and coat-thing. A young woman had been brought down from the other side of the audience and similarly attired. We had to taste a thick, creamy soup. The characters soon got distracted by a fly buzzing loudly around the kitchen. As they tried to deal with it they kept motioning for us to continue tasting the soup.

Then the fly landed on my hat. There was a moment where everyone froze, then crept towards me. They bonked me on the head. Then they hypnotised me. Then we all pronounced judgment on the soup. And the other audience victim and I had to link arms while the ‘Wedding March’ played and rice rained down. And that’s how I got married.

Later in the evening we spent a few hours playing Monopoly (finally – it’s the first time I’ve used my Monopoly set).

The following day was Habiba and my first anniversary. One year since our first real date, going to watch Burn After Reading up in Nowon. We slept in somewhat, then exchanged gifts. She made me a wonderful poster and card set, the former showing the stages of a seed sprouting, becoming a sapling and finally a strong tree; the card compares our love to that process. The poster is very impressive – all the images are cut from paper and the tree is home to a few golden birds.

I gave Habiba a box set of Meerkat Manor, which I’d wrapped up and decorated with a few paper flowers and leaves. We’ve been watching a lot of meerkat antics in the last few days. In the evening on Sunday, I took Habiba to a ‘Korean traditional vegetable restaurant’ called Pulhyangi. It was a very nice place and our meal consisted of lots of tiny dishes served almost constantly. Good food was eaten.

Today, I took my passport to Immigration and applied for an Alien Registration Card, as, just like Quentin Crisp, I’m now a legal alien (only not in New York). I should get it and my passport back on the 12th of April. Not quite all the way there, yet, but I’m close to being totally settled.

The other anniversary of note is this very blog’s fourth birthday. Yes, I started my blog out of sheer boredom four years ago today at my intensely crappy temp job in the Facilities Office of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Page Street in London.

Here’s to many more years of Sean and Habiba – and writing about it.

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Or, in English, Sean’s Korean Diary, which is the name of a new blog I recently set up. I haven’t posted on it much – nor have I worked all that hard on learning Korean, but it’s better than nothing. About a year ago I added a Korean Vocabulary page to this blog, but then deleted it as I hadn’t used it. Well, that lexicon now has a home and a little substance.

My next task, assigned by my language exchange partner, Ji-hyeon, is to write some instructions for something. I am considering writing how to make a cup of tea (what else, really?), but I can see myself relying almost entirely on Google Translate. My next language exchange session is in a couple of weeks – plenty of time to forget everything I learnt last week.

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Androgyny

Reading the new Ansible a few minutes ago I noticed a reference to a website that analyses the gender of the author of a blog, GenderAnalyzer. Of course, I had to give it a go. The website explains:

We created Genderanalyzer out of curiosity and fun. It uses Artificial Intelligence to determine if a homepage is written by a man or woman. Behind the scene, a text classifier hosted over at uClassify.com has been trained on blogs written by men and women. In our lab it seems to works pretty well, we want to see how it performs on the web! We hope you like it!

And the result for Infinite Probability was:

We guess http://www.infiniteprobability.wordpress.com is written by a woman (52%), however it’s quite gender neutral.

I guess I’m happy with that.

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I haven’t posted much about my life recently, and so there suddenly seems to be an awful lot to talk about. I apologise for the length of this post, but I have, hopefully helpfully, divided it into a number of bitesize chunks.

Colin and Sally

The past week or so has been pretty busy. Last Saturday, after roleplaying with Peter, we went to meet Colin – another RPG practitioner – and his girlfriend, Sally. They’d travelled from London to a wedding in Japan, and from there to Busan, and up through Korea to Seoul. We met them the day before they were due to leave.

I introduced Peter as the expert on Korea, and he took us to a restaurant in Insadong. After that he took us to a 24-hour clothes department store-type thing in Dongdaemun, where Colin bought a T-shirt for his sister; the design involved something to do with mushroom bhajis or something. Then we met Mi Young in her car and she ferried us to Apgujeong, south of the river, where we went to Japanese noodle restaurant, primarily for drinks. (As Peter explained, a well lit restaurant is food-oriented, while a dimly lit one is mainly for drinking.)

We dropped Colin and Sally off at Gwanghwamun, where they assured us they could find their way back to their hotel. The traffic immediately thereafter was very bad – there were more protesters in the streets.

Work

The following week was the first of our summer schedule at the hagwon. The classes are a similar mix to the ones I’ve been teaching thus far – only there are more of them, and they start at 9 am – which latter fact is horrible.

The children’s schedules are generally three fifty-minute classes followed by a thirty-minute ‘Free Talking’ class. In the weeks running up to the summer schedule the foreign teachers were asked to write plans for these classes; I don’t teach any of the beginner classes I wrote. Instead, I teach mostly advanced classes and a couple of intermediates. So my first experience of the free talking classes was teaching figurative language to Korean elementary students. Not the most promising of enterprises.

That week I also got my first full paycheck – only it wasn’t quite as full as I’d expected. The total payment was low by 100,000 won and I had some large tax deductions. Later on, I was assured by Sunny, the head teacher, and ‘Kim Shiljangnim’ (who seems to be the go-to guy for any problems – but, of course, he doesn’t speak English), that the low pay total was just a mistake, and the tax deduction represented two months’ worth.

Money

I started the long, arduous, maximally bureaucratic process of sending some money back to my Lloyds TSB account to pay my credit card bill (last month I was awarded a late payment charge because I dawdled over scraping together £10 pounds towards the bill).

I took out ₩600,000, filled out the Application for Remittance form and waited to be served. The clerk (a young woman called So-yeon; she was really quite nice – also quite hairy (in terms of arms and upper lip), but in a nice way) spent half an hour going through the motions, but then discovered that I needed an IBAN – an international banking number – for my account. Thwarted, I returned to work.

Later on, I called Lloyds TSB’s International Banking Centre (having got the number off their website). On the first attempt they were closed. On the second attempt, I failed the security questions. On the third attempt, with some printouts of my account to hand, I acquired the number, which is GB12LOYD followed by my sort code and account number.

Finally, yesterday, I completed the transaction. I managed to get the same teller again. And again, it took quite a long time. We chatted a bit (she spoke some English): she asked me if I worked at an academy; I asked her if she worked in a bank.

Technology

Last weekend, I came to the conclusion that the reason many of my programs couldn’t access the internet was because of a firewall I’d installed and deleted earlier in the year – Comodo Firewall Protection. I’d subsequently discovered the uninstallation facility of Vista, but that didn’t fully uninstall it. So my computer had been thinking that it was still running. I tried tinkering with the system registry, deleting a few likely looking keys – and thus preventing my laptop from accessing the internet at all (and then restoring a back-up of the registry. I followed a guide on Comodo’s forum telling you how to get rid of the registry entries – with similar results, only this time the restoration of the registry failed to restore my computer’s internet connection.

I determined to do a full reinstall of Windows. So, with my newly earned wealth I made a couple of trips to Yongsan I’Park to purchase a) a 300GB 2.5″ external harddrive and b) a copy of Vista Home Premium K.

On Sunday I went to Peter’s, and he and Mi Young helped translate and install Vista. It went pretty well. I haven’t installed all the drivers I downloaded, but I’ve got the display working, which is the main thing – things like the microscopic webcam and the fingerprint reader I can live with out. And, best of all, joy of joys, my internet is now fully functional. Last night I downloaded three episodes of Battlestar Galactica and watched two (I’d already seen them on TV, but I wanted to both catch up a bit and complete my collection).

Peter and Mi Young

At one point during the week, while chatting via meebo.com in a PC room, Peter asked me to make a speech at his wedding dinner that Saturday. He’d already got someone to make a speech, but then discovered he needed three of them. I agreed, somewhat apprehensively.

When it came to the early hours of Saturday morning, I still hadn’t written anything, though I’d done a little research on the internet for the kind of thing I should say. I wrote a page – eventually.

Later on that morning, after another night of scarce sleep, I went into work in my suit (oh, yes – the previous week I’d found a couple of dry cleaners to get my sweat-impregnated suit jacket cleaned. One of them was closed and the other would take a week. So I washed it by hand, gently kneading it in the bathroom sink. The water went brown with three and a half years of dirt. I left it to drip dry on a hanger. It dried reasonably quickly and with only very slight creasing. I also bought an iron from Lotte Mart and ironed it and my trendy white shirt on a towel on the coffee table. As ever, the shirt didn’t iron very well, and ended up looking slightly more creased than it’s supposed to. But I digress) and the Korean teachers – all female – went ‘Ooohh’.

I took a taxi from Eunhaeng Sagori to the venue a place called Han’s Gallery, which took about half an hour and cost about ₩11,000 (by far the most expensive taxi ride I’ve had in Korea). The event was actually being held in the restaurant adjacent to the gallery. I met Peter and Mi Young, the former looking kind of strange in his tuxedo (his usual attire is rather on the scruffy side of casual), the latter looking very nice in a pearlescent cream dress. The guests were made up of their friends and colleagues – no family this time around (future family-inclusive events are predicted).

Peter and Mi Young

While taking some photos in the grounds, I did something incredibly stupid. I stood on a wet boulder to get a better vantage – and my foot went shooting out from under me. I broke my fall with the hand holding my camera and the camera went clattering on the rocks. The total damage was fortunately superficial: I got mud up my sleeve, a couple of grazes on my middle finger, and my camera gained a few scratches too.

The ceremony consisted of a compere talking about Peter and Mi Young, then getting the happy couple and the other speakers to say their bits. All of this was in Korean. When I was invited to speak, I introduced myself thusly:

저는 Sean 입니다. 한국아 잘 못해요. 영어 하겠어요.

Which translates as ‘I am Sean. I don’t speak Korean well. I will speak English.’ That’s about the extent of my Korean ability. (Actually, word-for-word, it translates as ‘I Sean be. Korean well can’t do. English will do.’)

Once all this was done, Peter and Mi Young cut the cake and fed each other a slice. Ahh.

Singing

Later on, as people were eating, Botond and So-young, arrived (Bo had had classes up until 12:25; I’d swapped out of my 11:00 class). We hung around as people left, and we and a few others went for a few drinks at a place in Hyehwa. And after that Bo, So-young, Peter and I (Mi Young wasn’t feeling well, or was tired) went to a singing room (ie, karaoke). And we stayed there singing, with varying levels of proficiency, for a couple of hours.

When I got home, I was already in hangover mode. After trying to sleep for a bit, I got up to be sick and took some aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen for my piercing headache. In the morning I was fine.

And that’s about all I have to say for the time being.

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ABChanges

I’ve added a new page to my beautiful web log: Book Reviews. As you might be able to deduce from the cryptic title, it brings together links to all the book reviews I’ve posted in the last two years.

There are fifty authors represented in the list (more, actually, taking co-authorship into account), from Adichie (as in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of Purple Hibiscus moderate well-knownness) to Vegdahl (as in Sonia Vegdahl of CultureShock Korea obscurity. I had thought Carlos Ruiz Zafón would be at the bottom, but it turns out Ruiz is a surname (meaning ‘son of Ruy’)).

The list reminded very much of something I’d heard on the news many years ago, namely that people whose names begin with letters in the first half of the alphabet are more successful than those with otherwise-initialled monikers. Of those fifty authors, thirty-seven are in the A-M category, including five As, five Bs and five Cs.

Damnit, I think this means Obama isn’t going to be President – although Nick Clegg could become Prime Minister.

(Yeah, right.)

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