Monday, August 8, 2016

The Train I'm On

Publicity photo from Train to Busan

I've been seeing some previews for a frightening Korean movie about a train that is half full of normal people and half full of man-eating zombies. Thanks to the efficiency of KORAIL™, the zombies and normal people have been seated separately, but halfway through the trip on this TRAIN to BUSAN, the Zombies get an appetite, so they start looking for food service, and they find a car full of regular humans, which gets them all excited.

People are desperately trying to hold the door shut, but then a Zombie-savvy person speaks up that there is no need to hold the door shut because the Zombies are really very stupid and aren't smart enough to open it. All that needs to be done, the expert says, is block the window because, while they're too dumb to open the door, they will, aroused by the sight of food, eventually crash through the glass window. So someone produces newspaper, which they dampen so that it sticks to the window, and that does the trick for a while....

But then, in the second scene excerpted for this trailer, the train derails and is leaning precariously off the track at a 45⁰ angle. The humans are trapped between their train and a train on a neighboring track, but one man finds a way through and shows the other, and everyone gets busy carrying the injured people away from the train. There is a terrible sense of urgency because the zombies in their cars, again trapped inside for failure to understand how to slide the door open, are clamoring at the windows. Then they start breaking through the windows, and that's where the trailer ends. I'm looking forward to seeing this.

Actually I have great faith that the normal people prevail before the movie ends. While we humans are extremely challenged by the strength, claws, fangs, and ferociousness of any animal of sixty pounds (thirty kilos) or greater, we have nevertheless survived in the world because of our intelligence, and I'm sure that intelligence prevails in TRAIN to BUSAN as well.

Two of my "privates"—an unfortunate word choice commonly used in the EFL world to refer to private students—were employed as translators by KORAIL™ as go-betweens between the Korean staff and the French contractors who were building the bullet train in South Korea. (That's an interesting example of how English is the world's lingua franca even when neither party's native language is English.) They were wonderful and brilliant students and overachievers as human beings, and they treated me with all that ingrained Confucian respect—Confucius defined five sacred relationships, and though I was certain—all the way back to when I was in Korea—that the teacher-student relationship is one of those, this turns out not to be the case:

The five relationships of Confucianism are father and son, elder brother and younger brother, husband and wife, older friend and younger friend, and ruler and subject. Confucius saw these relationships as the building blocks of a civilized society. A particular set of behaviors must be maintained in each relationship, which comes from the development of deliberate traditions. Without them, he believed humans would return to anarchy (
My source here doesn't mention teacher-student, so I did some digging to resolve the confusion. Wikipedia mentions "a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others" (Wikipedia), so there is a general implication that seniors command the respect of juniors, as the case would be with teaching, but teacher-student is not one of the five bonds. I'm surprised, actually, because scholarship is generally venerated in Confucian culture.

One of my private students became the first woman chief at a fire station in Korea. Fire stations are owned and operated by the national government, and they set extremely high physical demands for training, and though the program is designed for men, she completed it. She would write me from her training about how physically exhausted she was. The experience must have been something like the movie G.I. Jane. She had to do the regular training for firemen then proceed on to management training. But she made it and soon was in charge of a fire station.

And as for KORAIL™, they're a great way to get around inside the country. When I was there they had upgraded roughly half of the country's track to high-speed rail, and that shortened the trip from Daejeon to Seoul from two hours to one. Now most of the track has been upgraded, and top speed is
305 km/h (190 mph). In fact, I took the trip to Busan: I saw no zombies, but there were a lot of Russian sailors walking around. The aquarium in Busan is magnificent. There is an Australian company that builds magnificent aquaria all over the world, and they include vast tanks for sharks with all their attendant fish following them around and a little plexiglass tunnel at the bottom through which human visitors can pass and look up and marvel at these magnificent creatures.

On television I've felt the vast gaping absence of Game of Thrones, and I'm watching several good shows, but nothing can fill the gap. For a while, whenever I had a short space of time—a lunch break—I watched an episode of Seinfeld. Hulu automatically keeps track of where I am in a show. I didn't watch Seinfeld from Episode 1.1. I started from the "Soup Nazi," which means I got to the end of the series rather quickly. I dozed off during the last episode—no reflection on Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine: I was just exhausted that day—and woke up with a series that Hulu felt would be a good replacement. The show is Casual, which is about a psychiatrist and her adolescent daughter. The back story is that the woman recently separated from her husband, so she is now living with her brother temporarily, but it's one of those temporary solutions that persists season after season. Like the characters on Seinfeld, Casual's characters are appalled at people's mindless grasping for meaning in yoga classes, home schooling cooperatives, and assorted other mandatory trends of Los Angelinos. Valerie (Michaela Watkins), the psychiatrist; Laura (Tara Lynne Barr, who more lately is playing one of the Manson family girls on Aquarius), her intellectually and sexually precocious daughter; and Alex (Tommy Dewey), a likable, simultaneously wise and cynical brother, a co-founder of an online dating service that has rejected him both as a founding partner and as a potential mate for anyone in its database (except for one match that didn't work out) seem to prefer the old-fashioned solution to problems: sex and booze. Alex and Valerie loathe their parents for having had an open cohabitation in which their house was filled every night by drunken naked strangers, yet their own lives are only slightly more conservative than that libertine lifestyle. At Thanksgiving, their mother mercifully absent, they are looking forward to having macaroni and cheese in lieu of the mashed potatoes with which mom overdosed them in their youth, but who should show up "with your favorite dish" but good old mom, who accidentally (on purpose) dumps their macaroni & cheese on the floor. Their father shows up at this dinner as well—he and their mother have reconciled and are going to get married finally—which means the telling of the old stories from when they were kids: not just minor embarrassments, but deeply scarring events are laid bare alongside the turkey carcass as if they were jokes. I begin to see why, despite their hypocrisy, Alex and Valerie's souls are ulcerated with a burning hatred for their parents.

Laura's misdoings lead her to a point of return in her affluent private high school, and, at her request, Alex and Valerie take her to see the local public high school. In the hallway, strewn with trash, a girl sits on the floor beneath her locker, and Laura talks to her to see how the school is:

Laura: Hey. Do you go to school here?

Girl: No. I just like to hang out in this hallway.

Laura: Right, sorry. Um, well, could you tell me about what it's like here? I'm thinking of transferring from Cedar Ridge.

Girl [looking as if Laura had just said, "I'm thinking of moving out of my spacious upscale house and living in a cardboard box out in the desert." But she says only]: Why?

Laura: Sex scandal.

Girl doesn't say anything, but her nod suggests that Laura might have provided the one rational reasoning for changing schools.

Laura: So what's it like here?

Girl: It's all the same. Schools a fucking drag everywhere. I guess the worst part here is watching the teachers wonder every day how their lives went so wrong.

Laura: Okay.

Laura decides against the public school.

Besides Casual, I'm also watching HBO's The Night Of, which alternates between noirish suspense and an apparently innocent man being prosecuted by bored and cynical cogs in the justice machine; and Tyrant, about a Mideast dynasty struggling to hold on to power as the people, sick of the endless abuse, begin to rattle their cages. One of the big discoveries lately was the five-episode BBC limited series Thirteen, about a girl who escapes from her captor after five years in his basement. This was an amazing series, and I couldn't put it down: I watched the first episode on the first night, but on the second night all discipline fell apart, and I watched the remaining four episodes in an unbroken chain.

Well, all right, that's enough for one night. It's nearly 4 a.m. and no doubt the workers will be pounding on my window in four hours because I overslept again. They're coming to repair the raccoon ravages to the insulation on the CACH ducts in the attic. Water condenses and drips onto the dry wall of the ceilings, and one large chunk of ceiling collapsed. I finally got that repaired, but I'm hoping I will get all the insulation fixed before any more ceilings collapse. I've noticed that the raccoons, who used to frequent the feeding tray of the feral cats, have disappeared. I don't think anyone I know took them on, so maybe someone else had. I wouldn't wish a cruel end on any animals, not even the raccoons that ripped the insulation off my attic ducts, but I am glad they're gone.

There's so much more to say. I was gone for a few days because I needed the break. But now I'm back. I'm frustrated with terrorism in the world, and I'm struggling to think the right way about that. If there is a right way. I don't want to sink to their level, but even as I exercise restraint, they kill another hundred people as if to mock me.

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