Thursday, June 25, 2015

Quick Book Review-- "The Birth of Korean Cool" by Euny Hong

I don't have time to write up a review of this book, and I read it over two months ago (three? time flows so strangely sometimes I have no idea). It was not very good. Don't read it. There, review done.

Honestly I originally intended to write a more in-depth review. I read the book and although Ms. Hong shares some insights, none of them are particularly new or original. When she's at her best she's sharing the sorts of reasonable sounding pronouncements you might find in The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or other publication where competent writers fact check things before they get published. Those authors aren't generally experts, but they are smart and have more than a passing knowledge of Korea. That's about what Ms. Hong is-- a smart person with more than a passing knowledge. She lived in Korea as a teen for a few years (although she was so bad at Korean she couldn't attend a regular Korean school despite trying and went to an upper crust private school taught in English instead). She's been in and out of the country since, but her home is America, and the list of people she managed to interview for the book were undoubtedly interviewed with the assistance of a translator-- she never says so, but since she mis-translates Korean terms on over a dozen occasions throughout the book it is obvious she does not have a solid grasp of the language.

The book is, however, well written. The prose is good, it reads quickly and easily because the level is approximately middle-school English (making it perfect for a general English-reading audience unlike more academic books). Hong mixes in amusing personal anecdotes from her childhood and her research process, showing her struggles with cultural competence (such as arriving at an interview with a Starbucks cup in hand, preventing the standard polite serving of drinks to the guest). She uses abundant interviews, as I mentioned above, many are with people who are not easy to access. Yet her writing and research method seems to be a cherry-picking, skimming the cream from the top of the milk approach that obliterates any depth and does not facilitate deeper understanding, and unfortunately the book reads to me as a Korean-American's attempt to profit from the sudden interest in Korean popular culture, or at best a struggle to understand that sudden interest.

Just some random passages to give you a taste before I end this lazy attempt at a book review:

p. 53: On han: "It's the opposite of karma. Karma can be worked off from life to life. With han, the suffering never lessens; rather, it accumulates and gets passed on. Imagine the story of Job, except when God gives him a new family and new riches, he has to relive his suffering over and over again."

p. 77: "Being Korean in America when I was a child was like being a smoker now. We were pariahs with filthy smelly habits that made our friends not want to come over to play."

p. 97: "Building a pop culture export industry from scratch during a financial crisis seems like bringing a Frisbee instead of food to a desert island." (this from where she assigns credit for the gov't focusing on pop culture to Kim Daejung instead of Kim Youngsam, even though it was Kim Youngsam who started the initiatives after the famous Jurassic Park realization).

p. 134 -- on Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi  "Theirs is probably the best English-language site for comprehensive analyses and reviews of Korean culture."  (seriously? they're wrong as often as they are right and they are annoying as heck!)

Actually, to tell the truth, since this book is short and easy to read, it's not that bad a way to spend a couple hours (I read it on a bus ride to Seoul and then part of the ride back home). But don't take the things Ms. Hong says as absolute truth, she's repeating things that have been published often already and scratching the surface on her new observations.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why I Feel Insane Today

Songpa Sandae Noli had their annual full length performance yesterday. That ate up most of my day, taking photos. Am I happy I was taking photos? No. I wanted to be performing, but was asked to take photos, even though none of the photos I've taken in 10 years as a member of the group ever get used officially in programs or anything like that.

Anyway, they just called me and asked to send the photos tonight.

Because that's what I wanted to do after spending the whole day writing a book chapter. The first draft of the chapter is finally done, and this is really awesome work, I'm excited I'll be able to share it (eventually considering the speed of academic publishing). It's on women's participation in Korean mask dance dramas and will be in an anthology on women's performance in Asian traditions. I've just emailed it off to my excellent friend Jena who will help me edit it to meet the deadline.

Now maybe I can have a minute to work on the conference paper that's to be presented the end of this month in Denmark (yay, my first time to Denmark!!!). That will be the conference paper on K-pop cover dance.

And of course, although my students are doing presentations in tomorrow's class and I already have a PPT prepared to fill in the extra time after they finish and before class is over, I do need to prepare for Tuesday and Wednesday's classes.

In other words, I do not have time to review the 500 some photos [edit, on transferring them off the camera I discovered it was 633 photos] I took yesterday and choose the 30 or so best to edit and send to them.

Yes, I tried to say no. Anyway, I did 21 photos (parade, ceremony, first four scenes) and stopped. It's 10 pm. I have other work to do.

Friday, April 24, 2015

LGBT and Whatever Other Letters, in Korea

This is going to be another blog post where I essentially just jumble together online sources on a topic-- in this case, LGBT in Korea. In fact, I think I am moderately educated on this topic, in that I have read all the academic literature in English (none in Korean, but when I'm reading academic lit in Korean, I'm usually reading things related to my own research-- reading academic writing is not fun in any language, but it's more work in Korean). I have also led a two hour class on this topic three times (and in a couple weeks, four times).

Running the Discussion:
I teach this subject in my 교양과목 class (like a liberal arts elective, the students need so many credits of these in order to graduate). I've taught the class in both English and Korean, and each time I've taught it I've given the students a prompt (something sort of simple like "Do you think gay marriage should be legalized?") they need to write on the prompt before class, in brief, in order to get them thinking and ready for discussion.

I lead class as a combination of history of LGBT in Korea (my brief history lesson is based on the readings mentioned below) including the recent politics and major statements on LGBT in and related to Korea and discussion-- however, I phrase everything in a "we're young and enlightened, I know that none of you really care about other people's personal lives" way and so far it has been very successful-- no hateful language or awkwardness has arisen (the way I frame it would make it awkward to say anything very anti-Gay, although students have felt comfortable to come up with non-hate related arguments for not-exactly allowing marriage on the hetero-model). Usually I would not do this. Usually I lead classes where I let students go as far out on a limb as they are willing to climb, mostly because I'm pretty willing to consider anything they say part of their learning process in how to discuss and part of thinking through ideas-- not worth remembering and dwelling over when I've got to choose between rounding up and rounding down a grade. However I worry that if I gave the leeway someone might say something hateful about LGBT and that, well, I think I'd remember it and it could hurt the way I grade each test, assignment, and so on. So I try to keep this conversation away from what I hope would be a fringe opinion. I do, however, show photos of protesters and explain their ideas-- although since I really have a problem with hateful and bullying actions, I must admit I don't give this viewpoint much time in my class. To make it comfortable for the students, a lot of the discussion is based on LGBT and the like in recent media examples (although there hasn't been anything super recently so there better be a new hit film/show because my students are too young to have watched many of those below), asking them to talk about if they'd seen the shows/movies and if they felt the depictions were realistic, or if it had changed how they think about LGBT people. The list includes:

Shows with character(s)themes related to L/G/B/ and T:
“후회하지 않아”
“헬로 마이 러브”
“인생은 아름다워”
“손년, 손년을 만나다”
"고봉실 아줌마 구하기" (Thanks Judith!)
“Daughters of Club Bilitis”

Movies/shows that might touch the topic, but certainly are more hetero-minded:
"왕의 남자" (The King and the Clown)
"Coffee Prince"
"개인의 취향" (Personal Taste) (has a gay character and a main character who pretends to be gay)
"Bungee Jumping of their Own"
"성균관 스캔들"

The major readings that I have based my preparation for this class on are:
Ahn, Patty Jeehyun. "Harisu: South Korean Cosmetic Media and the Paradox of Transgender Neoliberal Embodiment." Discourse 31, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 248-72.
Bong, Youngshik. "The Gay Rights Movement in Democratizing Korea." Korean Studies 32 (2008): 86-103.
Cho, John (Song Pae). "The Wedding Banquet Revisited: "Contract Marriages" between Korean Gays and Lesbians." Anthropological Quarterly 82, no. 2 (2009): 401-22.
Davies, Gloria, M.E. Davies, and Young-A Cho. "Hallyu Ballyhoo and Harisu: Marketing and Representing the Transgendered in South Korea." In Complicated Currents: Media Flows, Soft Power and East Asia. 1-12. Melbourne: Monash Univerity ePress, 2010.
Gitzen, Timothy. "Bad Mothers and "Abominable Lovers": Goodness and Gayness in Korea." In Mothering in East Asian Communities: Politics and Practices, edited by Patty Duncan and Gina  Wong. 145-57. Bradford, ON: Demeter Press, 2014.
Kim, Hyun-young Kwon, and John (Song Pae) Cho. "The Korean Gay and Lesbian Movement 1993-2008: From "Identity" and "Community" to "Human Rights"." In South Korean Social Movements: From Democracy to Civil Society, edited by Gi-Wook Shin and Paul Chang. 206-23. London: Routledge, 2011.
Seo, Dong-Jin. "Mapping the Vicissitudes of Homosexual Identities in South Korea." Journal of Homosexuality 40, no. 3/4 (2001): 65-79.
Yi, Joseph, and Joe Phillips. "Paths of Integration for Sexual Minorities in Korea." Pacific Affairs 88, no. 1 (March 2015): 123-34.

The media clips that I might use for this class include:
UN Secretary General Ban Gimun stating his support for LGBT
This short film by Andrew Ahn - Dol (I haven't used this yet, but if I had Korean-American students I think I might include this)
Lots of music videos. Personally I love this one: K.Will "Please Don't" -- but I'll also search up any recently LGBT-ish videos
I saw a video by Harisu (part of it) and wish I could find good quality videos of her older stuff
I show this clip of Choi Hanbit (who is also transgender) on Dancing 9
An interview with 홍석천 who I also talk about a fair amount as the first openly out person in Korea.
A clip I found from a TV show on cable called "Coming Out"

Additional information:
Today I found this media article about a performance artist.
A friend shared this photo on Facebook today-- full page anti-gay message in the newspaper.

Sorry, I either publish this now, or it becomes another of those never published blog posts. No, this isn't perfect and doesn't reflect everything, yet, but if you were going to teach a similar class this would get you a long way closer to planning the class.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Field Notes: April 18th at Songpa Sandae Noli Practice

These days I rarely write up real field notes. That's stupid of course. Yes, I'm not writing my dissertation, or revising it at the moment (I have an overdue book chapter for an edited volume to write instead). Of course later I will forget details. So yesterday I actually took some decent field notes and I'm going to actually type them up! Wonders never cease! (Note, that I should be writing the book chapter).

The full length performance for this year is on the 9th of May, so there are only a few days left before the performance to practice. This means that the attendance is higher, and everyone takes things more seriously.

Today in the morning (11?) 함승헌 took his 이수자 test. I recorded an interview with him about it. He said it was more frightening than when he interviewed for anything else ever in his life, he had to talk about how his life aligned with practice of SSN (as a non-full-time performer), and answer a few questions to gauge his knowledge of the art, demonstrate the basic dance motions, and perform (with just 장구 and 피리 and no one across from him) the part of 취발이. He passed. More details are on the MP3 file.

Because Ham Jr. had done his test, a certain number of people had been around for a few hours already by the time I arrived at 1:45 (practice started at 3). Principally 이한복, 강차욱 (those two played the music for the test), 김영숙, 이병옥 and 함완식 who must have been very proud that his son advanced to 이수자 but I couldn't see any hint of that in his face or deportment. Other people also arrived before me, and shortly afterwards. The 심사위원 who had come for the exam had introduced various conversations while talking with 이병옥 and 함완식 and had infected everyone with an attitude of seriousness about how to best prepare for the full length performance. One of the things they said was that the 서울놀이마당's madang is too large, and if we try to take up the whole thing it loses feeling and looks bad-- they advised that the performance happen in the center with people sitting around outside, as has been done before some years. 김영숙  is going to look into the legless chairs with backs and see if we can get some of them for the viewers.

Before practice started I mostly talked with 김영숙 about a variety of things-- I started off by talking to her about the subject of the book chapter-- women in mask dance dramas. The interview was very unscripted and rambling, I basically stayed next to her and the conversation wove in and out of the topic, commenting on people around us, and various criticism that the office manager (a woman of opinions, no joke) had about other people and recent events. I managed to pull out my voice recorder and turn it on, tucked under my arm. The moment she sees the recorder she gets too reticent, and almost won't talk about anything at all -- even without seeing a recorder she often says things to undermine the value in her words (ex. "I'm not a talented dancer"). There was a ton of background environmental noise, including even the noise of at times 3 or 4 instruments in the small space-- and the recorder was under my arm, not held close to her mouth. And, as I said, the conversation ranged widely. The critical things of course I would never use, but the comments about women doing mask dance drama I need, so I'll just send her an email in a few days with the English content referring to the conversation, and a translation, and ask if she wants me to say "an experienced woman who has been a mask dancer more than thirty years" or if it is okay to use her name. Since what she said was already very curated (on that subject) and she knows I'm writing this chapter and have already talked to a lot of other performers about it, she'll probably agree for me to use her name. If I was confident of my memory, I wouldn't have sneakily recorded at all, but I excuse the sneakiness because I'll show her exactly how I want to use her words and get her permission to use her name before I ever do it. I much prefer what I can do with people like 이병옥, just stick the recorder in his hand, and just easily record in a quiet location.  At one point Yeongsuk and I went to the office, but by then she'd basically finished saying anything about her ideas and was asking me questions about my work situation and when I'll know if I am signing a new contract.

After stretching and basic motions (perhaps 30 minutes, combined), 이병옥 and to a lesser extent 함완식 pointed out some issues. One was confusion over 3 different dance motions with similar names and motions (the difference being the 장단 the motion is performed to, and whether you walk in a circle, or do the motion in place). When SSN does basic motions, unlike other mask dance dramas, such as Bongsan Talchum or Goseong Ogwangdae where everyone does the same sequence of events, the sequence and number of each motion before doing the next motions depends on who is leading. 김명하 was leading, in the front left corner facing the mirror and next to the musicians (이한복 (on piri or daegeum), 강차욱 (on janggu or piri), 윤지희 (haegeum) and another woman who is a friend of Jihee's, I think her name is 김희경, also playing haegeum plus 함완식 sometimes playing the janggu), I was in the back right corner, and over the instruments and space, I could only occasionally hear the call of the next motion, and just had to be quick on my toes so that I wouldn't make a mistake. Each motion is repeated on both sides for two, four, or even a dozen times before moving on. Since most members of the group, including 김명하 are older and their physical conditioning is not very good (they're older than me, and don't do hapkido 5 days a week), by the time they finished most people were drenched in sweat, but I felt like we had really barely practiced some of the motions. After discussion about the three similar motions and trying to clarify the names so that everyone wouldn't get confused, the discussion moved onto why SSN is called a --------- dance. I will have to ask someone, because I thought I'd noted the name correctly, but googling the name doesn't return a result. The conversation then went on to discuss if (or not) SSN has distinctively bold use of the wrist in dance motions. The senior members all denied this, although Ham Sr. brought up the fact that one of the original members at the time of certification had had particularly active wrists.

After this interlude practice of scenes commenced. The first scene was 곤장놀이, after the scene ended 이병옥 emphasized that everyone had to use very precise pronunciation in the performance. The eight monks were each told to practice at home to make their performance more "멋있어요" (in this case we can gloss this as meaning impressive). Next they practiced 침놀이 and after the scene ended 함, 이 and other senior members, such as 이수환 criticized the crucial end of the scene, correctly the delivery and actions of the players "죽든지 살든지, 내가 몰라." After this everyone last focus for a good 10 minutes, then came back together to practice the 7th scene (the first one with 노장). I was extremely happy to see them making all the 먹중 coordinate their motions, because the last two times I've seen this scene someone has been off. After the scene was rehearsed there was a discussion of line delivery "as if you have no mic" because this will match the traditional tone better (and, dare I say, the mics DO fail sometimes).

Crappy cell phone photos of rehearsal

Next the 먹중 (most of them) got a rest and they practiced the 샌님/말뚝이 scene. 다미 will perform as the youngest of the 3 양반, which disappointed me. I would really have liked to perform that role. After they practice there is a long discussion. As with most discussions the voice or authority starts with "I remember when [old teacher so and so] used to do this..." "It used to go like this" -- to actually find fault with others without bringing up the past is much less common and only happens if you're super confident about your opinion (like 이병옥). The discussion goes over where the members of the scene should be, and in what orientation to the audience, Ham Sr. accused 탄종원 of over-action, and 다미 is given feedback both pulled aside (by 장규식 who usually does this role) and by the group. There is a group repeat-after-이병옥 of some of the words (no longer used) so that pronunciation and delivery is correct. A lot of this focuses on 사처. If you drag it out it's a place for the dead, not a pigsty.

Then 김명하 runs through part of the scene as the shaman. Last year the shaman was 이영식, and I am not sure why it's changed. 김명하 will perform in the majority of the 12 acts-- my rough count has him delivery more lines and being on the stage more than anyone else.

There is a brief discussion of final bows (yes or no, carrying a mask, wearing a mask, in costume, only for those in the last scene, etc.). Should we do "fan service"? (Here they mean, should we offer a chance to take photos together when we've got our costumes on). This discussion often involves "다른 단체" (other groups...). And finally it is agreed that after the bow (where everyone is in the last costume they wore), there should be a period of group dance with the audience.

Everyone hesitated to leave, but I live so far away, I bowed and left quickly.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jeju Incident / Jeju Massacre

In a few weeks it will be time for me to teach students about the Jeju Massacre. I don't actually know that much about it-- just the basic outline and main events, most of which are contested. It's one of the super super occluded parts in Korean history. Today, however, I saw a news article about a documentary made by Jane Jin Kaisen, and luckily enough, the documentary is available on Vimeo (go watch it at this link). It starts off a little slow and unconventional, but ultimately I understand why Ms. Kaisen chose to do it that way-- and it works.

Strangely this is just one day after I saved a new article that talks about the Peace Park built on Jeju Island. You can access the article (no pay wall, yay!) on the website of Cross Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review (just click here).

Perhaps this difficult period in Korean history will finally be faced and emotionally processed.

More Links:
Japan Focus article by Sonia Ryang on the massacre (2013)
Earlier article in Japan Focus by Tessa Morris-Suzuki on museums and the Korean War (2009)-- doesn't really get into the Jeju issue, but related to the Cross-Currents article, also.
An academic article on the government's process to uncover the history of the massacre (behind a paywall)
This -might- be the same document as behind the paywall above-- the English translation of the government's fact-finding report.
Human Rights Monitor Korea on the Jeju Massacre (2014)
Excerpts from a speech by historian Bruce Cumings on the massacre. Because these are excerpts I am a little worried the original meaning may have changed a bit.
Detailed article in the Jeju Weekly
Blurb about the translated book Dead Silence with fictional stories of the Jeju Massacre
News article about the Korean (low-budget) film Jiseul about the Jeju Massacre (it won an award at Sundance in 2013)
New York Times article from 2001
Newsweek- Ghosts of Jeju from 2000
History Channel
Wikipedia on the Jeju Uprising (remember, the info here can be edited or mis-edited at any time)

I may add to this page at some point in the future. In the meantime, it's a place where I can bring together various things I want to look at again when I prepare to teach this particular subject in a few weeks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I was on TV

So, I was on TV and it even looked pretty good. Here's the video:


I'll work on it. Basically the larger point is "foreigner teaches Korean culture and loves it, maybe more than we do."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Survey on K-pop Cover Dance

Do you or someone you know perform K-pop cover dance? Or even just learn it but not yet perform? I'd love to have you respond to my survey. Here's the link. Thank you for your help^^

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Grading on a Curve

It's been an angsty holiday season.

The big news has been that after the entire semester was over, even four days after the grading input system was supposed to be online, we were informed that the university was going to grade all classes on a curve. The university previously graded classes of 20 students or more on a curve, and the rest were absolute grading. Overtime there has been grade inflation, and the Ministry of Education has decided to link stats on the universities to the apportioning of spots for college freshmen (as fewer kids are born each year, there are too many universities compared to the number of students, and to make the process somewhat fairer, instead of just letting survival of the fittest proceed, the government has decided to reduce the number of admitted students based on the university's performance in key areas.)

I am against curves on principle because I see them as discouraging students who self-evaluate themselves as less competitive for a limited number of As. They also benefit anyone who had more advantages due to previous investment in education--including time overseas, and attending the best cram schools. Curves don't reward the most improvement. They keep the elite on top, and keep the rest down below, enforcing a larger gap between the elite and the rest than in truth exists.

But right now what I think is really bad is changing the rules of the game after the match has been played. My classes are actually extremely rigorous with many grading points, and I can turn those grading points into a curve. However, the class was not designed to make the curve fair: for example in the Korean Folklore class, the one with the videos, I had the following grading points:

  • Attendance (10%)
  • Participation (20%)
  • A paper on Goseong Ogwangdae worth 10% of the grade. The prompt was to compare in class reading (we read it aloud in two groups) of the dialogue and watching the performance to explain what you could learn from the performance that you could not learn from just reading. It was basically a paper to make students realize the importance of getting actual experience. 
  • Two videos (50% combined including the information on the web pages and the Youtube video page to direct anyone to learn more from our other videos and clarifying their sources). 
  • A paper reflecting on their position as modern people and their experiences with tradition-- the prompt was "How is an ancient culture and a modern world reconciled in your own life?" This was also 10% 
The class was very successful. The students who finished all the work on time ALL scored 90 and above. But now I have to give 30% of the students a C or lower, and those who didn't finish the work does not exceed 30%. This means the student with 90% becomes, suddenly, a C student. That is not right. 

Now I could have used a couple quizzes during this class, made one video, and so on, in order to make the spread of grades wider. But when I had already designed the syllabus as above, and my students made such uniformly good videos, what am I supposed to do? The two papers, only worth 20% of their grades, were also quite good. Of course there was variation-- but the variation was not great. 

My other three classes were a little simpler to grade, but there is always someone who is really losing out in this system, like the woman with a 90 who has to get a C+. 

I have attended two meetings on the issue, and spoken publicly in opposition to the policy (and now wonder if I will pass my next review). I also sent a passionate letter to the president. But it seems that nothing is going to change, very discouraging.
Photo from the Second Meeting

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learn from my Students: Part II-- Videos on Food

My students have made these videos about Korean folklore (broadly speaking). Some of the videos are really inspired, most are good. I'm quite proud of their hard work.

I know that some of you like Korean food, so you should check out these videos, all deal with Korean food:

One student did a double whammy on kimchi. The first video just tells about kimchi, while the second one explains how to make winter kimchi for storing (gimjang).

Another student also did two videos on food-- one is about Korean sauces, or jang and the other is about the gamasot, the all-important Korean pot for traditional cooking.

Another did a video on omija tea-- some photos of my own batch that I made this fall are in the video.

Two videos highlight food eaten at holidays-- the rarely observed winter solstice was the time to eat red bean porridge, whereas the still super important lunar new year was when people ate deokguk.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Exciting Weekend /sarcasm

Because I'm impossibly overloaded at the moment I seem to be gravitating to the idea of doing things that do not help eliminate the items on my list. Like writing down everything I have to do.

This is the list:

  • Edit Chapter 3 (the re-translated chapter) in the book I'm editing
  • Write a thematic introduction to the special journal issue on Curating Korean Culture (four papers, one is mine) (to be released by Acta Koreana in DAYS so I better get it together)
  • Review the editor's proof of my article for the journal
  • Translate Jonghui's MA thesis abstract (didn't ask until he sent it at the last minute)
  • Translate Changyeol's MA thesis abstract (asked in advance, sent in advance)
  • Prepare for Korean Media Class 
  • Provide feedback and scores for Media homework #9
  • Prepare for Korean Folklore Class
  • Grade the Korean Folklore class videos
  • Prepare for 90 minutes of Korean Studies II Class (the rest will be student presentations)
  • Prepare for Korean Culture and Society Class
  • Prepare a one hour lecture for a group of journalists from ASEAN nations (if only the lecture was later in the week, I could maybe practice it in the Culture and Society class, my introductory class for non-majors)
  • Continue chipping away at writing my holiday cards
  • Attend a concert/artist's talk on Sunday that may be useful for my research

and a few other things that are less urgent, longer term, or more private
A photo by my friend Song Cheotnunsongi of me presenting at a conference

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Learn from my students

In my Korean Folklore class I wanted the students work to be for something more than a grade-- so they made videos and the videos and their sources have been uploaded to a common webpage and the videos are on YouTube as well. Most of the videos are really well thought out-- the students did tons of work and I'm really proud of their work.

Today I want to highlight the work of one student, Haejin. Haejin is sometimes shy, and definitely quirky, but she has excelled in this class. I am so proud of her work, I could do a happy dance about it. She went to volunteer at the National Folk Festival and did the basic research for a final paper to be submitted in another class and simultaneously worked on these two videos. The fact that she included actual live interviews with performers is the part that makes these videos absolutely stand out.

Here are the links to her two pages (I want you to go visit those pages, instead of viewing the videos here, that's why I'm only supplying links).

Gangneung Gwanno Gamyeon'geuk
Pyeongyang Sword Dance

Next time I'll tell you about other videos.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Discussing Chuseok

Next week I will go to the KBS radio studios to record a special guest interview for a Chuseok special broadcast (thanks to Eugene for introducing me to the KBS radio host). Chuseok (추석) is the Korean harvest festival, sometimes translated into English as the Korean Thanksgiving, partially because it does include coming together with your family for a large meal. But Chuseok is much more than just a meal, leading me to prefer calling it a harvest festival-- to reflect the large number of activities that people would participate in/watch during Chuseok. [Thursday Edit: I was reading a blog by my friend Eugene (yep, same guy mentioned a couple sentences ago) and he expressed his frustration with Koreans constantly labeling Korean things "the Korean this" and "the Korean that." My mind immediately snapped to several instances of this, including when I wrote the above paragraph on Wednesday. I find no problem with someone saying that Chunhyang is the Korean Romeo & Juliet. The story is similarly tragic, and extremely well known. But there are so many cases where, as Eugene said, it's just ridiculous and ends up causing more misunderstanding than understanding.]

I am writing this blog as sort of a way to get my thoughts together before I have to speak eloquently (I hope) on the radio. In addition, this radio discussion will provide me with an example for my students for the Korean Folklore class I am teaching this fall. One of the main aspects of this class will be teaching my students how to explain Korean traditional customs in an engaging way in English. I chose that focus for two reasons (1). my students have varying personal experience and background knowledge of traditional customs. A few of them are from more traditional rural families, and have a much deeper understanding than my urban Christian students. Through focusing on explaining the traditions we manage to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable for lack of knowledge, or frustrated through reviewing too many things they know. (2). Even if you have the background knowledge explaining things in an engaging way is crucial for growing interest/ re-connecting Koreans to their traditions-- and through learning how to make it interesting in English I am confident my students will also be able to turn on friends and family members with their presentations. Just this Monday one of my students was visiting my office and she told me she repeats everything I say (presumably she means the interesting bits) to her mom, who is a teacher, so that her mom will teach it to Korean young people.

I am a virus. ㅋㅋㅋ
I am infecting Koreans around me with my own attitude that not all traditions should be forgotten.

Okay, first of all, did you realize that there is more than one kind of jesa? (제사)

Jesa -Ancestral Rites
Jesa is one of those terms that Western people hear Korean use, usually glossed as 'ancestral worship ceremony,' or 'ancestral veneration' and often they don't feel comfortable asking more. Especially when a Korean tells them they're really tired because they were awake in the middle of the night doing jesa for their grandpa or their mother. It can feel rude to inquire further. Maybe you did, though, because you're curious and you felt comfortable asking that Korean friend. Probably (unfortunately) you wouldn't learn that much-- and you might get confused because of the different types of jesa and the (somewhat) different activities and motivations behind them. You'd hear about preparing special food, offered on an altar, or at a gravesite, clipping some grass, bowing, and probably an excuse about how your friend's uncle (father's oldest brother) or grandfather is the person who really knows all about it, that your friend just follows along as instructed.

The big types of jesa are gije (기제 or 기일제사), charye  (차례), and sije (시제).

With these three the type you need to sensitive about with your friend is gije -- this is the one that is done on the death anniversary for close relatives. So this might be for your friend's grandmother this week, and two month's later your friend's family might be doing it for his dad, or it could be the next week-- it all depends on when someone died. If the death is pretty recent then it is certainly a sad occasion -- getting together with family and memorializing that dear departed family member. Asking who the gije was for, and how long since he/she passed on would help you assess whether your friend might need some extra emotional support.

Charye is the type of jesa that is done at Chuseok. It's jesa for the relatives of 4 generations (count this from the generation of the family head, so if your friend has a living paternal grandfather this is counted from grandfather). Therefore a memorial tablet should be placed on the charye table for each of those relatives, usually in couple sets following the male line (paternal great grandparents, great great grandparents...). Of course, if by chance someone has died of a generation below the family head (paternal grandfather is alive, but father is dead), then father's tablet should be included on the table, too. So charye includes the recently passed, as well. Because charye is for 4 generations it is sometimes called sasanje (사산제)

Charye  is held four times per year according to the Zhuzi Jiali (주자가례 in Korean), the family rituals of Zhu Xi (12th century, Chinese, the thinker whose brand of Neo-Confucianism became most dominant in Korea's Joseon Dynasty). The four times for charye are Chuseok, Seollal, Hansik, and Dano (or sometimes at Dongji (winter solstice), instead of one of the other four, depending on the family).

So charye is actually literally tea (cha) and rye (ceremony). But don't let your mind go to some orientalist representation of a Japanese tea ceremony-- alcohol is offered (and drunk) during Chuseok. It's earthy, it's gritty, it's real, it's Korean. It's not refined and exclusionary at all. To do charye at Chuseok you usually go take care of your grave site the weekend before (or a couple weekends before, because a lot of grave sites are located on little backroads that can get jammed up if everyone goes right at the same time-- or these days some people will just ask a couple family members to do it, and not perform the grave maintenance as an act of humility because humility be damned compared to the horrible inconvenience of visiting a tomb somewhat near the hometown that probably most people in the family don't even live in any more.)  This grave site maintenance (벌초) generally means clipping the grass and uprooting any weeds. So on Chuseok the family goes to the grave and bows with offered food and drink, but the elaborate table with offerings is at home. So the grave site ceremony is called Chuseok seongmyo and the ceremony at home, which usually takes place first on the morning of Chuseok is Chuseok charye.

Foods for the different charye, sije and gije vary by time of year of the ceremony and by region of the country. For Chuseok special foods include songpyeon (송편) -- specifically the type of songpyeon stuffed glutinous rice cakes that you make with pine needles in the steamer. It may be made with the new rice, and theoretically an unmarried woman who made pretty songpyeon was going to find a good husband, while a pregnant woman making pretty cakes would have a beautiful daughter (if you are wondering if in son-obsessed Korea this meant that you didn't want to even engage in making songpyeon at Chuseok if you happened to be pregnant, you'd be sort of right. After the cakes were cooked, if you sampled a cake and it was undercooked, you were having a girl, and if it was cooked completely, you were having a boy). In Jeolla Province they have a traditional offshoot to Chuseok charye  called olbe simni (올베심리)-- the offering of prematurely harvested rice (rice that isn't fully ripe). Other important foods at Chuseok include Taro Soup (토란국), skewered mushrooms (화양적), and skewered egged and breaded veggies and meat (느름적).
This graphic explains a somewhat standard table for charye. The back is to the north wall, notice that the west side and east side are carefully explained on the graphic. At the very back, the four things there are the ancestral tablets with the names of the deceased. The first row has noodles, rice, soup and songpyeon or ddeok. The second row has meat, savory pancakes, tofu, and fish. The third row has a meat soup, tofu soup, and fish soup. The fourth row has a different type of fish, then vegetable side dishes, soy sauce, and even a sweet rice called sikhye. The fifth row has different types of fruits and nuts and snacks. Then there is the table for ritual incense and alcohol. This is usually a lower and much smaller table. Female descendants are on the west side (left) and male on the east side. If someone is officiating and talking through the whole ceremony, pouring drinks, reminding people how many bows to do, etc. they will be at the east corner of the little table. 

Sije, a ceremony that few Korean families still observe, is the jesa that is done for the 5th generation and onwards back into the past. Sije can be held either on Hansik (Cold Food Day-- in April) or during the 10th lunar month (two months after Chuseok). Sije has several other names-- including 시사, 시향, 묘사, 묘전제사, 세일제, and 세일사. This ceremony is held regularly once per year at the tomb site, traditionally, although these days it is more common for people to eschew going to the tombsite. If sije is held on Hansik it is possible for charye and sije to be held four times total, whereas if sije is in the 10th lunar month there would be five ceremonies-- four charye and one sije.

So those are the three main types of jesa, but it gets even more complicated!
Jesa is Confucian culture, so of course we also have a Buddhist version, called daeryejae (다례재), usually held in the temple to honor monks who have passed, and of course the Won Buddhists always insist that they are not the same as the Buddhists, so they have a jesa just a little different than other groups.
The Catholics have long realized the importance of accepting jesa as a way to harmonize with Korean culture, and the Catholics also prepare their jesa a little differently. Naturally, instead of placing the names of deceased family members on the jesa table, the Catholics place a cross at the center back (so that you are not bowing down to dead people, but to the Lord).
The Protestants long prohibited any kind of jesa. To make it possible for some Protestants who are good Koreans and want to honor their ancestors, but don't want to "worship" them because that would be sacrilegious, there is the hybrid ceremony called chudosik (추도식). There is a good article in English on the topic by a guy who seems to have no idea how to spell his own name. Hung Chull Jang. I'd guess that's 장흥철 but...

Chuseok (beyond Jesa)
So Chuseok itself is actually celebrated on August 15th according to the lunar calendar. (The 15th is always full moon, the 1st is the new moon). The name Chuseok means Autumn Evening, and other terms for the holiday include 가재, 가재일, 가위, 한가위, 중추, 중추절, and 중추가절. To tell you the truth I've only ever heard people use (han)gawi, and jungchu before, but the book I am referring to as I write this paragraph listed those other names, too.

At Chuseok people didn't just cook a lot and bow to the deceased ancestors, they also would predict the harvest (rain=poor crop yields, clouds obscuring the moon completely was a bad sign, but a totally clear night was a very bad sign for barley farming.)

People would dress up at Chuseok in Chuseokbim (추석빔)-- special clothes and accessories. (설날 clothes are called 설빔, 단오 clothes are called 단오장). The clothes would be new, or maybe really well laundered. Because this was right before the cold season started, these clothes would be the new set of clothes to wear for the winter, often quilted 마고자 (a jacket) or a 두루마기 (long coat down to the knees). The special clothing for girl children would include the classic top with striped sleeves and a red skirt.

The alcohol associated with Chuseok is gabaeju (가배주)ㅡ if you were getting excited about trying a new type of Korean alcohol you'd  not previously had, sorry. This was just sort of the generic name for the alcohol available at Chuseok, the only thing special about it was that it might be made from the brand new crop of rice.

Ganggang Sullae (강강술래) is one of the key arts performed at this annual festival-- not that it was ever performed everywhere in Korea until more or less the modern era, though. This art is from the south coast of Jeolla Province. It is a circle dance, generally performed by a group of women (only). The dance steps and the accompanying song are not that difficult, what is difficult is constant flow from one type of pattern to another, including some special ones where the ladies form a bridge out of their backs and another walks along the bridge-- all while continuing the song in a classic folk song style where everyone sings a chorus and individuals sing each verse. Traditionally performed outside on the night of Chuseok (under that big moon), it is also performed at Daeboreum in some parts of Korea.

Particularly because it is preserved most actively on Jindo Island and the adjoining mainland, it is often associated with Admiral Yi Sunsin (the turtle boat guy-- the guy in the middle of the street in armor at Gwanghwamun). Some scholars try to link them together, but there is no credible evidence.

Ganggang Sullae is usually divided into three parts by speed of the accompanying drumming. There may be games inserted within the performance such as 개고리타령, 남생아놀아라, 고사리 꺽자, 쥔쥐새끼놀이, 청어엮고 풀기, 기와밟기, 덕석몰이, 꼬리따기, 문지기놀이, 가마등, 수건놓기, and 외따먹기. Each of these games has a connection to some sort of traditional activity, and in a long, full-length performance (usually just once per year), all these parts can be seen but otherwise the entire list will not be performed. Most scholars believe that the entire dance was performed to bring the gods pleasure, but that the deeper religious significance has been forgotten. The art is protected under Korea's Cultural Property Protection Law as Intangible Cultural Property #8.

Chuseok itself is an agrarian festival-- most of the various activities associated with it were connected somehow to the land and agricultural life. One such is geobugi noli (거북이놀이)-- the turtle dance/game. The turtle costumes were made from millet stalks, and usually two people would get inside the turtle's top shell and walk from home to home with a turtle leader and people playing pungmul music. The head of each house was to invite the turtle and troupe inside to play and dance, and the troupe would wish for the long life and prosperity of the family who lived in that house. The household should also feed and provide drinks for the performers. Apparently this tradition is still alive nearby where I lived in Gyeonggi Province, but to the best of my knowledge it's only a re-enactment, now. Also it's worth noting that the turtle, as a long life creature, was associated with these prayers for long life of villagers. A very similar practice elsewhere in Korea was called sonoli (소놀이) with pungmul and two people inside a cow costume. Another activity was a weaving game, called gilssam noli (길쌈놀이). And having sossaum (소싸움) or ox fights was also common. Don't worry the oxes fought each other, they weren't goaded like in the European style. These fights are still going on in places like Cheongdo in Gyeongsangbukdo.

For me what is interesting is two other performances-- that of Bak Cheomji noli (박첨지놀이),  and that of Songpa Sandae Noli (송파산대놀이).

I am going to start my first day of my Korean Folklore class with Bak Cheomji's tale. We'll be reading the story in translation. So this story is actually a puppet play with 9 human characters, a temple, a serpent, a hawk and birds, as well as the funeral flag bearers, carpenters, funeral casket bearers, and the mourners. The puppets in Korea are manipulated from below, generally on a single rod. The play is performed by two groups-- by the Namsadang group (and then it's generally called Ggokdu Gaksi Noleum), and by a group from Seosan. The story is the same, but the Seosan version is registered as regional cultural property for Chungcheonnamdo, instead of as a national one like the multi-act Namsadang (National Treasure #3). The puppet play, like most of the mask dance dramas, is not very complimentary to the upper class yangban, and particularly addresses the 처첩관계 -- the relationship of wife and concubine. In the regional version Buddhism looks pretty good-- fervent prayers to Buddha give the character Sogyeong his sight back-- but in the Namsadang version Buddhism is more heavily criticized.

Of course the characters are quite rude to each other. Here's a passage from the Namsadang version where old Pyo Saengwon is reunited with his old wife (a common scene in mask dance dramas, too). The old man criticizes the appearance of the old woman.

꼭두각시:  Do you know why this has happened? I must tell you. To look for you, I climbed a steep mountain in Gangwon Province where I ate acorn jelly. That is the reason by face has changed to its present appearance.
표생원: What? What are you talking about? You! You harlot! Are you trying to tell me that you have so many pockmarks on your face because you ate acorn jelly? I ate mounds of corn and acorns when I was coming to 산수갑산 from 백두산 in 함경도. But I don't have a single pockmark on my face. My face is as smooth as if it were planed. What an absurd and hollow liar! [pauses] However, if a dragon appears out of a small ditch, we must still call it a dragon. And even if the guardian of a temple is made of straw, we must still call it the guardian of the temple. According to this logic, I must now admonish 돌몰이, my concubine, to greet my wife. [He brings them together]. Well. Wife. Let's stop talking nonsense. We must discuss our future. You have already passed your sixtieth birthday. I am eighty years old and poor. In addition, we don't have a single child. What a great failure! Aren't you sad about this, too?
꼭두각시: I haven't seen you for many years, but this has been the cause of my worries.
            [translation by Oh-Kon Cho in his excellent book Traditional Korean Theatre]

Songpa Sandae Noli was a mask dance drama often performed during Chuseok festivities. But I have written about it repeatedly in the past, so I won't go into it more here. [Some previous posts on Songpa Sandae Noli 1 2 3 although those won't be particularly basic information].

[To write this post, in addition to a large number of things stored in my brain that I accessed, I also used the Encyclopedia of Korean Seasonal Customs, published in 2007 by the National Folk Museum of Korea, and I've been reading a very nice book called 제사와 차례.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Best (non-Korean food) Cafe in Korea

Is the title a little overboard?
Let's see if you could be attracted to Plant after I'm done telling you about the cafe.

1).  Do you like cake? Soft, moist, flavorful, full of wholesome ingredients and not too insanely sweet? Have you had a hard time in Korea finding a cake that tasted the way it looked like it should? What if I tell you that the cake is even vegan? And yet for a non-vegan it is still just as perfect as any non-vegan cake you've ever had? At Plant there are usually at least three cakes available, sometimes even five or six. They change often but some that I see a lot include:
Chocolate & Peanut Butter
Double Chocolate Mousse
Apple and Earl Grey
Caramel Banana
Carrot Spice
Pumpkin Spice with Ginger Cookie frosting (my favorite)
Red Velvet
Lemon Pound

There are also various other baked things that should include at least four of the following on any given day (unless you arrive too close to quitting time):
Coconut Chews
Lemon Drops
Oreo Brownies
I often take a couple muffins or scones home with me to make a more exciting breakfast the next day. Baking was where Mipa (the owner) started her commercial food preparation journey, with a little online store, the "Alien's Day Out Bakeshop."

2). Do you like a cozy cafe with free wifi in a central location? Okay Plant has that, too. It's in Itaewon, and yes, that's a disgusting part of town, but at least it's central. The cafe is equally far from Noksapyeong or Itaewon subway stations-- walk down the main street in Itaewon, take the steps downhill next to the Converse store, pass the Greek place, pass the photo of a big-tits foreigner looking incredibly ugly eating pasta, and then Plant will be on the right behind the glass.

3). Do you like delicious food? Plant's food is light, not heavy, not greasy. The menu changes all the time, but there are usually two to three plates on offer. The food is 100% vegan-- if the description says its got cheese, that's not dairy cheese. Normal entrees are things like sandwiches or wraps with robust flavor. These are paired with soups, hummus, chips, pita, salad... that sort of thing. A normal plate of food is about 12,000 won. I've never had anything that wasn't good (I've had things I'm less of a fan of, like the soba noodle salad, but even then it wasn't anything I could complain about, it just wasn't my favorite). It's always made from quality materials, and the pairings of crunchy and smooth, hearty and fresh always leave my belly feeling really good. The secret to most of Mipa's food is that she does not stint on the special homemade dressings and sauces that elevate her food beyond the level most people can make at home and into taste delight. I still remember with joy the Thanksgiving sandwich, but my favorite item is probably Mipa's smoked tempeh wrap.

4) Don't worry, there's more. Plant also offers a substantial smoothie packed with two of my favorites: cacao nibs and spirulina. There is hot and cold coffee (a tad weak). There is chai and various other drinks too, recently I had the ginger-ade (it was very gingery but much too sweet for my tastes).
Here's the official Plant FB page. There is a map, and opening hours on the page, but I already explained how to find it, and it's closed Sunday and Monday.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shaved Ice (Bing-su)

This is just a super quick post to say you should go get yourself some shaved ice dessert, now!

It's summer time in Korea, this means it's bing-su (빙수) season. These days there are hundreds of different kinds and even entire restaurants dedicated to serving bing-su.

The classic is patbing-su (팥빙수) -- this is made with red beans, fruit (often canned fruit), malt flour (just a sprinkle), gummy candies (traditionally made from glutinous rice), sweetened condensed milk, and sometimes corn flakes or other cereal. The ice is on the bottom, with the toppings arranged over it. I always get them to leave out the sweetened condensed milk, of course, and it's certainly sweet enough without it. The beans are sweet, both naturally and prepared with sugar, so this is very much a dessert.

These days fruit bing-su (과일빙수) of various kinds are very popular. Many of these use milk instead of sweetened condensed milk, and so they are marketed to young ladies who want a healthy and low-calorie treat (no, I don't think milk is healthy, but the dairy marketers of the world have mostly convinced people it is). Either they will come with a selection of fresh fruit (perhaps including some canned or frozen fruit, too), or if you choose a single fruit (mango, blueberry, strawberry, kiwi), you may be resigning yourself to mostly frozen fruit and a syrup of the fruit flavor. Green tea bingsu (녹차빙수) is also quite popular.

Ornate bingsu options can include pieces of candy bars, scoops of ice cream, cookies, and really the sky is the limit. Bingsu in special bingsu restaurants are often made in a size appropriate for a couple to share and come in a large sloping bowl for a price of around 10,000 won (10 dollars). A classic red bean bingsu in the standard size will be around 5,000. It's also possible to find "cup bingsu" that are smaller servings and will cost a little less.

Most bakeries (such as Paris Baguette, Paris Croissant, and Tous les Jours) offer bing-su, as do some independent coffee shops.


These are just photos I found on the internet. If you waited for me to take a nice photo and then get around to resizing it, this blog would never be published. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ten things to do if you live in Korea

Today I read two lists of ten. One was 10 mistakes that newbies (in Korea) make. Another was 10 things the author insists he will never do while in Korea. I can't resist (and while I was washing my dishes I got an idea...)

Here's my 10:

1) Learn Korean. Don't whine that it's hard (it's harder if you succumb to that mindset) in fact getting survival Korean is not hard and learning to phonetically read takes HALF A DAY. How do I know this? Because I did. Because my mom did it. Because I have taught multiple trainings where I teach people to phonetically read Korean, as long as they can refer to a cheat sheet, in 30 minutes. And for the average person it's going to take another few hours to memorize the letters. There are a lot of places you can learn Korean. Some are free. Some are better than others. I recommend paying (you get what you pay for, most of those free courses are a waste of time), but the best paying courses are pretty intense, so if you're already working full time... I understand. What I don't understand is not trying. I taught Korean to myself. I had Korean friends that helped, but the hard work (the hours of memorizing) was mine. And no, my Korean isn't perfect, but yes, it's fluent according to most definitions of fluent.

Also this will keep you from sounding like a doofus when you say even basic things like "thanks" and "Seoul" and "Taekwondo" wrong. (Seriously, I had a guy tell me in the elevator of my building that to him it would always be Taekwondo (said Tie-kwon-do) because that's how it's said in America.)

2) Make a Korean friend. And I mean a real friend. Not some token guy/gal you always see at work. Or an English-vampire who is using you. Or a boyfriend/girlfriend. Or some weird stratified power differential relationship like being you and your really cool student. I mean someone who really gets you, and you get them. And you can pick up the phone after not talking for two years and just flow right back into the conversation. And then don't think of that friend as a ticket to understanding the country. Just think of them as a friend. Don't always run to them for help translating stuff and sorting things out and everything (obviously sometimes asking for help is wise, but they aren't your friend to lubricate your life anymore than you are theirs because they want to practice English). This is when having friendships with people that are conducted in Korean is pretty awesome. They avoided learning English all these years-- but that doesn't mean they aren't super fun to talk to, once you learn Korean.

3) Read real books about Korea (not just bloggers who may know barely more than you do, or even less). Read a good history book (yes, some of them are shite. Or a lot of them, really). Read up on Korean film. Or literature. Or the performing arts. A good book in English is probably released OUTSIDE Korea and not by Hollym (although Hollym has some good ones, too). University presses tend to be good. But still, check some reviews, and check to see if that author is well regarded. Or read some journals on Korean Studies. It can be pretty heavy going to start with journal articles before you have the background, though.  

4) Never ever ever think that a conversation with a Korean passes for "learning" about Korea. You're learning about what that one person thinks/knows/thinks they know but is totally back-ass wrong about. Would you talk to a buddy in the US over a beer and think "well now that I asked him why Americans won't just pass single-payer health care, I understand."? No, you wouldn't. That Korean co-worker of yours might have just made something up to make you go away. The old guy at the pojangmacha might have just been screwing with you. Unless they are an expert on Korea, they may have thought more about your culture and why you act the way you do than the way they act.

Also, as a side-note-- not all experts on Korea are Korean. Experts on Korean history/culture/film/music are the people who spent a long time learning about it and understanding it. And in case you hadn't noticed, some Koreans aren't that interested in learning about Korea (sort of like you may have no opinion what the greatest American novel of the 20th century was).

Excuse me for being so America-centric. It's easy for me to pick on Americans, because I am American.

5) Don't think Koreans do "it" wrong before you try to understand why they do "it" that way. And be open to the idea that later you might think that your own country does it wrong. I've lived in Korea a long time (and China, and Tibet)... but then I moved to the US to do my doctorate. And even if I hadn't been pretty open to the US not having the monopoly on the right way to do things before, going back to the US sure set me straight. The way we screw everything up is embarrassing. The way our country's government can be completely shackled by people who are neck deep in corporate payouts and denying even basic principles of science and economics is mind-boggling. Not to say that Korean politics isn't it's own inadvertent comedy-show at times, but the point is maybe just let Korea be Korea, and wait to pass judgement.

6) Go to the bathhouse already. Or the new-fangled spa style. Whatever. Get over your body shame or whatever it is that's holding you back. Winter day? Everything feeling cold and tight? Yep. That's where to go. Had a really rough week at work? Yep, go to the bathhouse. Please, oh please, don't forget to shower before you get in the pools, though.

7) Discover something. Try something new. Go somewhere that no one recommended that you go. The way that these days every freaking person seems to need to "get hooked up" by someone and follow in that person's footsteps to the best nightclub, the best burrito restaurant, the best beer, the best vacation spot, the best festival is just guaranteed to limit your experiences. I'm not saying I don't recommend that people go to specific places that I personally loved, I do. But I also recommend that you just go there and explore. Not get all set in advance with all the reservations and all the directions to all the sites. Go. Ask someone on the street. Don't ask someone. Wander. Be spontaneous. Stop eating at the same restaurant. Risk just jumping on the next bus even though you don't know where it goes. Slow down. Poke your head in. Ask what "it" is for. Stop playing it safe. You're in a new country. Explore it without using a guidebook. (And of course, learn some freaking Korean already).

8) Take advantage of the vast numbers of organized activities. I don't mean the ones that are organized for foreigners (like trips to the Mud Fest or booze cruises in Busan). I mean the much vaster number of activities that are organized and open to anyone. There are one day classes in flower arranging. I have a friend who is now learning advanced Korean sign-language (yes, she already learned Korean). There are hiking clubs. Soccer clubs. Hagwon classes in Japanese. Photography workshops. Ballroom dance classes. Wine appreciation classes. Opportunities to volunteer in many ways that have nothing to do with teaching English. I used to volunteer at an orphanage. Four times per month I took any kids that wanted on an outing. I took them to the orchestra. I took them to modern dance. I took them to go hiking, eat kimbap on the mountain, and visit a temple. I got two cameras donated and taught them photography (these were the film camera days, and those were SLR cameras). I taught them taekkyon. Those were some good kids.

The point is there are some things you always meant to learn that are being taught somewhere in Korea. Unless you're in a very small town they might be taught right in your neighborhood. No, it's not easy to find classes in Korean traditional music... for you. But not for me. It's out there.

9) Try not filling up your mental space, even your entire social life with other foreigners. Those people are a barrier between you and actually figuring this place out. You're listening to their interpretations because they've been here six months longer than you? Yes, I did that when I first go here, too. Then I realized that my co-worker had already communicated all sorts of half-truths and misunderstandings to me. I needed a mental enema. And I stopped listening to other people pronounce the truth about Korea.

(I know this is a little ironic since that's sort of what this post is doing to you, but I think I'm telling you to learn things for yourself, aren't I?)

10) And finally, if you still want to hang out with other foreigners... get diverse. Living overseas gives you a chance to meet many different foreigners. I had this amazing Pakistani friend who worked for a factory in Korea for years (his old email isn't working, I keep hoping I'll find him again). He was a ton of fun to hang out with. One of the non-Koreans I call most often is from Lebanon, another is German, the co-workers I enjoy socializing with are from Italy and Bulgaria. My husband (who I met in Korea) is from Tibet. If you teach English (or if you're in the military) and surround yourself just by others who teach English or who are in the military you are limiting yourself and your experiences.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cosmopolitan Strivings and Racialization: The Foreign Dancing Body in Korean Popular Music Videos

I'm almost done with the rough draft of this paper-- if it passes review it will be part of a book. If I can figure out how to divide it up into two papers, it will also be part of something else. ㅋㅋㅋ.

The paper analyzes videos released in the past year, with a focus on these:
Cosmpolitan Strivings visible in a search for Authenticity:
Park Jiyoon, Beep

Cosmopolitan Strivings visible in creating an international atmosphere:
TVXQ, Something
Taeyang, Ringa Linga MV
Rain, La Song

Cosmopolitan Strivings in sex/love:
CN Blue, Can't Stop
Jay Park, Metronome

Here is a snippet from the end of the introduction:

           Korean popular music videos have stories to tell about Korean culture. These videos, increasingly created with one ear tuned to the reactions of international audiences, and increasingly employing video directors and choreographers from abroad, "play a crucial role in Korea's increasing dialogue with the outside world" (Epstein 2014: 317). Part of that dialogue is the visual internationalization of the videos. It has become common to catch glimpses or even see featured foreign dancing bodies in Korean popular music videos. The visual internationalization of K-pop follows the less visible, but well known, internationalization of the stars themselves—many of whom now hail from diasporic Korean communities or other parts of Asia (although so far there is only one non-Asian performer).[1] What role do these foreign dancing bodies play in these popular music videos? An expert dancer, often black or Latino, may lend an aura of authenticity to a group of back-up dancers, projecting a message of the star wattage of the Korean performer who is able to hire "the best" back-up dancers from anywhere in the world. Or the presence of non-Koreans partying together with the Korean stars may situate the foreign fan within the K-pop narrative. Other foreign dancing bodies bring exoticized, sexualized spice to what would otherwise be a conventional hetero-normative narrative.
            Any observer of these K-pop videos will notice the foreign dancing bodies. They are highly visible, standing out to the eye, in their obvious non-Koreanness. Are the foreign bodies in the music videos for the foreign eye, or for the Korean eye? How are these foreign dancing bodies received? How has the portrayal of foreign dancing bodies changed as K-pop has grown into a more international phenomenon? In this paper I seek to use dance, or at least appearance in the dance context, to examine the role of the foreign dancing body. After a brief survey of foreign dancing bodies in K-pop's past, and discussion of racialization in the Korean context, I outline, with examples, the ways that I see K-pop videos released between summer 2013 and summer 2014 displaying cosmpolitan strivings through the foreign dancing body. Finally I conclude by returning to wrap up the inter-related topics that arose in the course of the chapter.               

[1] Here I refer to Brady Moore, a member of the group Busker, Busker. However this group is not K-pop, but rather strongly self-identified as an "indie" group. In addition non-Koreans appeared in years past performing with artists who began rehearsing with them while outside Korea, such as Seo Taiji. A K-pop group including a white French woman, The Gloss, debuted in mid 2013, as discussed on the blog Seoul Beats (available at, accessed on 7/9/2014), but the group has not managed to release their own original song or a video that is not a cover, more than a year after their first upload to Youtube—at this point it is likely that their fifteen minutes of, if not fame at least buzz, has already come and gone. To learn more about Brady Moore and read a discussion of foreigners as actual K-pop stars, see Accessed on 4/20/2014.

Some visuals that may be used in the paper: