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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Matthew Stephan 2003

Hello All,

I wanted to present you with a more splendid report than this but hotmail went wild and lost half an hour worth of writing. I feel too drained now to retreive the words but I still want to send out encouragement to you other SA4QE'ers. Besides this email mishap, this year's SA4QE has far surpassed last year's. I've already received a response to one of the sheets whereas last year I'm sure they escaped all but the inanimate. Ok, so I sacrificed the grace of anonymity. I tried to keep it as low key as possible but that's a quite difficult in a place like Daegu, South Korea if you want results. Native English speakers are a very small minority here and most Koreans are very limited when it comes to English. Last year I went for symbolic public spots, telephone booths, the Underground, a public fountain, some benches. This year I decided to leave the sheets where more English readers would likely cross them. The first I stealthly tacked to the bulletin board along the entrance stairway at Global Language Institute (my workplace):


After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language?

I recycled this quote from last year's project because it has the most powerful connection with my life in Korea and the lives of my students. Everyday we must face the barrier, sometimes transcending it, other times collapsing into headaches. I find Russ's words consoling and revealing. They comfort those trying to reach each other across foreign languages, that there is a more fundamental difficulty than simply incompatible signs. First there is the impossible-to-translate what lies at the core into human language, then there is the trial of the distorting air, ears and brain. And how often do we really engage instead of simply talking at one another.

The second sheet I tacked to the bulletin board in my classroom before any students arrived. I tried not to draw any attention to it and it went unnoticed until the third class (I teach different students each class) when one student walked over and took it down to read. When he first questioned me I feigned ignorance; however, my awful scrawl gave me away (unlike Dave I don't have the luxury of a typewriter or printer in my home). So I was forced to explain the SA4QE project to my 7 advanced adult students. My classes are usually quite improvised (I like free form but I'm also a little lazy) and though it wasn't my intention, this morning's class turned into a lecture on Hoban. First I spoke a little about the life and works of Russ and informed of the Kraken. Then I read aloud the aforementioned SA4QE sheet.


The black howled in the tunnels, the tracks fled crying before the trains. Whatever lived walking upside-down in the concrete put its paws against the feet of the people standing on the platform, its cold soft paws. One, two, three, four, walking softly in the chill silence upside down with great soft cold paws. Underground said words to itself, names. No one listened. Footsteps covered the words, the names.

This passage has always stopped me cold in my tracks for some reason. Nameless inverted creatures echoing us. The tremendous power that lies in things consensus reality considers lifeless. So I gave a little lecture on Animating the Inanimate and the magic that lies all around us. None of the students could really make sense out of Hoban's words without my commentary. One girl said that if she was a child she would understand it much easier, an apt comment I believe. It wasn't so much the complexity of the words and syntax that foiled the students but the failure of their imagination - a problem amongst most adults esp. in such a regimented country as Korea with their extreme emphasis on rational education and the longest work week in the world. Though a hundred years ago I'm sure many Koreans would have no difficulties grasping the words of Hoban, shamanism still exists in this country but sadly it is quickly fading. Another student commented that I was like a missionary of neo-shamanism. A few of the students wrote down the links for the web addresses.

Thanks to a borrowed discount card I went together with my wife to Outback Steakhouse, yes I know some horrible Ozzie kitsch that only an American would be capable of but the food isn't bad. Besides the lunch deal, Outback's is a good place for 4qating with its western clientele and English speaking staff. The first one I left tucked behind a menu, visible but not too conspicuous:


What does it all mean? said Kleinzeit.

How can there be meaning? said Hospital. Meaning is a limit. There are no limits.

Next I went into the men's washroom and 4qated against the mirror. Luckily it was vacant.


Flash. A to B again. His diapason felt hard and swollen. His scalp was dry and flaky. He put his face in front of the bathroom mirror.

I exist, said the mirror.

What about me? said Kleinzeit.

Not my problem, said the mirror.

This is for those vacant days when you look to objects for reassurance but they betray you with their permanence. Sometimes it seems like the supposedly inanimate have it better than us animate (I believe I'm paraphrasing Hoban from elsewhere in Kleinzeit, something about women being closer to the inanimate).

As we left Outback's I slipped a sheet into a copy of the Korea Herald in the waiting area. The Korea Herald is one of only two English dailies in this nation. It's a little American-centric but at least it includes the Independent on Saturdays.


Eusa sed, Is this a dream? The Littl Man sed, No. Eusa sed, Wuz the uther a dream then? Wen I had a wyf & childer? The Littl Man sed, No Eusa that wuzn no dream nor this ain no dream. Its aul 1 thing nor yu cant wayk up owt uv it. Eusa sed, I can dy owt uv it tho cant I. The Little Man sed, Eusa yu dy owt uv this plays & yul jus fyn me in a nuther plays. Yul fyn me in the wud yul fyn me on the water lyk yu foun me in the stoan. Yu luk enne wayr & Iwl be thayr.

Back out on the congested street, my wife thought 4qating amongst a bunch of movie flyers would be an interesting place for a photo. So we did, shot a few, and left it there for the confusion of movie goers:


Morrows Cruel Mock

This actually sounds like a fitting title for a film. Maybe we could do a Hobanesque tribute on celluloid with yellow tinting.

Next we moved onto the largest bookstore in Daegu with the greatest English selection, which really isn't anything special but what can you expect from a conservative industrial city. I decided a fitting tribute to Russ would be to insert a yellow sheet where his works should have been, between Hermann Hesse and Washington Irving.


Care for a banana? said Kleinzeit.

Thanks, said Death. I don't eat bananas. How's it going?

Can't complain, said Kleinzeit. Couple of pages a day. Tomorrow I'll start busking again.

You're doing all right, said Death. I've a present for you.

What? said Kleinzeit. No tricks, I hope.

No tricks, said Death.

Where is it? said Kleinzeit. I don't see anything.

Tell you later, said Death.

Kleinzeit lit a cigarette, sat smoking by candlelight.

There's something I've wanted to do, he said. I don't know if I can.

What? said Death.

Kleinzeit took a bottle of black ink and a fat Japanese brush out of the plain deal table drawer. He took a piece of yellow paper, dipped the brush in the ink, poised it over the paper.

You can do it, said Death.

Kleinzeit touched the paper with the brush, drew in one smooth sweep a fat black circle, sweet and round.

That's it, said Death. My present.

Thank you, said Kleinzeit. He tacked the yellow paper to the wall near the clock. Let's go for a walk, he said.

I placed my last sheet amongst some other books in a non-symbolic location. This sentence was one that jumped out at me during my first reading many years ago. I recall using it on a collage cover of a mix-tape I made for a stranger.


Day beartht crookit out of crookit nite and sickness in them boath.

Embrace yr. shadows

Matthew Stephan

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