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 http://seoulbeats.com/2013/06/the-gloss/, 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 http://askakorean.blogspot.kr/2013/06/can-non-asian-foreigner-succeed-in-k.html. Accessed on 4/20/2014.


Some visuals that may be used in the paper:



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Advice for a Trip to Korea (based on more than a dozen years of experience traveling in Korea)

Let's just say that this is your first trip to Korea, and you really really want to make the most of your time here. Knowing that I've spent many years here, you (or one of your friends) might ask me for my advice. So here it is, my grand advice for your trip in Korea.

Packing for Korea:
Plug converters (they are easy to find at the airport BUT the packaging often doesn't know what's the right size for Korea, so if you don't know yourself...). Electricity is 220 volt. It's two giant round prongs that are fairly fat but not as fat as some countries.
Here I've photographed my American plug next to the plug converter I use for my computer. 

Slip on/off shoes (and nice socks, since everyone will see them). If you have to unlace and retie your shoes each time you go to a restaurant or a hotel room... it's going to get old fast.
Tops that reveal no cleavage (and no shoulders unless you plan to layer). Koreans find upper body exposure very racy and yet wear shorts that end after the transition from leg to butt, and skirts that look like belts.
Feminine products unless you prefer pads (pads are available everywhere)




Getting Around in Korea:
One of the best things about Seoul, the entire greater metro area, and the whole country of Korea is AMAZING public transportation. You will experience this as soon as you arrive at the airport. You can take shuttle buses to many specific destinations (around the entire country) or you can take the subway into Seoul. Buy a transportation card immediately. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you buy single trip tickets you can only transfer to other subways, not the bus, and it's annoying to figure out how much money you need on the ticket (the computer system will lead you through, but you need to know the name of the stop, etc.), there is a deposit for single pass tickets, and you have to get it back at the other end, etc. The transportation cards are vended at some subway stations by machines (you can pick the ones that look like credit cards, or the fob style) and at most minimarts. The cards are called T-Money cards (even when it is not made by the T-Money company). They usually cost around 2 dollars (card) and 5 dollars (fob). Then you add money to the card at the machines that are at each subway station. These machines speak multiple languages. Add a good 20,000 Korean won to start with-- the transport is good, and fairly cheap, but when touring around it's not hard to use more than 10,000 in a day. Oh, these cards also work in Seoul taxis!!! and as money in some minimarts!!! Anyway, you buy and then load your card. You "beep" on the way in and out of all buses and subways and it will then give you 30 minutes to transfer (from bus to subway or subway to bus or bus to bus)(if you don't beep as you exit the bus, you'll be charged for going to the end of the line). It does not work if you take the same bus number twice in 30 minutes, but otherwise it is all golden. When you beep on the way off it calculates the length of your travel and deducts additional money beyond the base fare. When you beep on the way off take a look at your total remaining and refill anytime you need.
Green Buses: Only travel within the district of Seoul you are currently in.
Blue Buses: Only travel within Seoul.
Yellow Buses: Are rare and just for tourist things, like going up the mountain in the center of Seoul.
Red Buses: Go to satellite cities and bedroom communities. They cost more, so only use the red buses if you want to go all the way out of Seoul.
             Kids under 7 are free on public transit (but not trains and inter-city buses). Kids under 19 are discounted, and there is a way to get the card to know you're a kid (it announces to the driver that you're a kid so adults can't use a kid's card). If you buy the card at a minimart try to get them to help you get the card coded for the elem school/middle school/high school rate. I have no idea how to do it, I just know you CAN do it. Over 65 is free on public transit if you get a special card to show your age and use on the bus and subway-- I don't know if that is hard to get or not. It may be restricted to Koreans.
             Also entry to most tourist sites are reduced for elderly and children, so pay attention if you have those in your group.

Leaving Seoul: I understand that you probably like the train. Trains are nice, I like them, too. There are even some package deals and specials for foreign tourists in Korea. (Korea Rail) I have many friends who prefer the train, but in Korea I almost always take the intercity bus. This is partially because of where I tend to go (small towns with no trains), but it's also because you need reservations on trains at any popular time of the day/week (I really prefer to take the first bus after I got up, ate, and got to the bus station instead of stressing about a specific departure time), and the prices for the bullet trains (the only trains that beat the bus times) are higher than the buses (and for the bus I can almost always just show up at the terminal and catch the next bus that's leaving). Also most Korean buses are 2 seats on one side of the aisle and 1 on the other. Very big, very comfortable. Yes, you can't just walk down the aisle to the restroom, but they do stop at a rest stop halfway there.
               Seoul has three major bus terminals-- the terminal that's called the Express Bus Terminal/Central City (it's two different buildings, back to back), the south bus terminal (Nambu Terminal) and the East Seoul Terminal (Dong Seoul Terminal). Many destinations are served by more than one terminal, but there is usually one terminal that has more frequent departures. For example if I go to Andong the Dong Seoul Terminal will have buses every 15 minutes or so, but Central City has one an hour. (Express Bus Association info for all the Express buses from Dong Seoul, Express Terminal, and Central City)(Nambu Terminal info in Korean for Nambu Terminal departures).

Must See Locations:
Inside Seoul
Seoul Streets: You cannot come to Korea without wandering the streets in the center of old Seoul. You will find palaces, museums, and modern wonders (like Seoul City Hall). In addition to making an effort to visit specific sites in Seoul, I recommend wandering around. Sit in a coffee shop (everywhere) and watch people. Window shop. Eat street food. Find something that others didn't. Seoul is a very walking friendly city, and the entire old part of the city is pretty flat, too. Getting out of the subway system at a major stop like Jongno 3ga(종로3가) or Jonggak(종각) or City Hall (시청) would put you in the center of this area. There is a law that any large building must have public art, and some of it's really good. There is a "stream" (recirculated water except in the rainy season when it sometimes closes due to flooding) in the center of the city that is very pleasant to walk next to, it's called Cheonggyecheon (청계천). I really recommend a stroll after a meal along the stream. Very near the godawful expensive and ugly blue and red shell at one end of the stream is Kyobo Bookstore -- the best source for non-Korean books/guides/magazines in Seoul (they have another outlet in southern Seoul, but it's smaller). Publishing in Korea is cut-throat and therefore relatively cheap, you can buy coffee table books of Korean temple scenes or landscapes often for 30 USD, and domestically printed books on Korean history and culture may only set you back 20 for a hardcover (considering that Korea is in general not a cheap country, the price of books is pleasantly low).

People Watching  There is soooo much good people-watching in Korea.
             If you want to be shocked and outraged about plastic surgery, go to Apgujeong in the afternoon and sit in a cafe by the window and watch people with bandaged faces come out of clinics. Look at your barista and her supernaturally wide eyes. Look back at the bandaged faces.  Spend the rest of your vacation telling kids with thin eyes, round faces, and low nose bridges that you think they're so beautiful or so handsome in hopes that your words will offset what they learn every time they watch a TV drama or a music video or see any kind of advertisement. Try to get over the judgment, though. Korea is one of only two countries in the world where it's legal to require a photo with a job application.
             In general the old part of Seoul is all easily walkable. I know the temptation to go into the subway and then come out at the right stop is strong, but honestly you often spend more time walking down and finding the platform and riding the train and coming back up than you would have spent just walking from point A to point B in old Seoul (esp. if you need to transfer lines). If you have a smart phone use your map functions, if you're good with directions you don't even need that, most of the time. Just make a note of what MAJOR site is in the direction you're heading and the road signs above the street will tell you that Seoul Station or City Hall or Gwanghwamun is in this direction or in that. You'll discover stuff as you walk.

Palaces: There are several palaces. The one that is the most beautiful is Changdeok Palace. The "Secret Garden" tour is worth the additional entry fee, especially if you go at a nice time of day for photographs, however you must enter that part with a guide, you cannot go on your own schedule. The guides are mostly horrible, with memorized (but not understood) information of a very superficial nature. The reason I mention this is that I would urge you to go with any guide according to your own schedule, even if you can't understand the language they are speaking, because even if you can understand you're unlikely to learn much (or to "learn" the wrong thing). Gyeongbok Palace  is also very nice, although almost all the buildings are recent reconstructions (because the Japanese destroyed the palace to sit their colonial government right in the middle of it in symbolic subjection of the Koreans to Japanese authority). This palace has two advantages-- regular "changing of the guard ceremonies" to watch (I believe they are right on the hour), and inside the grounds is the peerless National Folk Museum of Korea. This museum is really well done, and definitely worth a trip. Go to the museum or palace right after your meal and plan on staying there until you get hungry again... the two should take at least 4 hours to be done properly, without rushing. If you're going to rush one of them, rush the palace. You could basically just walk through it, pausing for photos. The folk museum, on the other hand, is a leading part of the ICOM (International Committee on Museums) and reflects the latest understanding on display of culture/folklore. There are audio guides, docents, and even an acceptable amount of English signage. Deoksu Palace, closest to City Hall, is also very nice and also has changing of the guards, but it's much smaller.

Museums:  Speaking of museums (and I'm not the biggest museum person, although it might seem like it right now), the National Museum of Korea is excellent. It's worth a day, if you're a real museum-goer. And since it's free and a 5 minute direct walk from the subway stop, it's worth it for just a flying visit, too. There are multiple restaurants in it, multiple gift shops (with really excellent gifts, many of which are under 15 dollars, none of them are a rip-off. I'm talking about a place you can REALLY buy cultural gifts without getting ripped off). It's closed on Monday, but open late on Wednesday (go and look around, then have dinner, then look more!). There are lockers to store your stuff for free as you walk around. There are audio guides and docents and really acceptable English signage. I recommend the Buddhist sculpture and Buddhist painting sections-- this is jaw droppingly amazing art. Simply take a subway to Ichon(이촌) and follow the signs (I think it's exit 2). I recently visited the Museum of Contemporary Korean History (the Korean name is actually the Museum of History of the Republic of Korea (South Korea)). This museum doesn't have that much signage in any language, relying more on displays, but there is an acceptable amount of English (but not Japanese/Chinese or other languages of foreign visitors to Korea). It's free, and very close to Gwanghwamun Gate (the gate that takes you into Gyeongbok Palace). Since it's so centrally located, even if you only have an hour, why not? It's nicely temperature controlled, a great place to escape on a steaming/freezing day, and it's fun to see political posters from the 60s and the covers of old comic books, and what not. Also nearby (five minutes stroll eastward from the intersection closest to the famous statue of General Yi Sunshin standing grimly defending the nation) is the Seoul Museum of History. That museum has much less non-Korean signage, but it has some interesting displays, too. A lot of it is focused on Seoul, a city founded in the very end of the fourteenth century, there is a lot of history to display!

Honestly, Korea is very museum-crazy. There are tons (over a hundred museums exist just on university campuses, of the one's I've visited my favorite is the one at Ewha Womans University (not a typo)). There is a kimchi museum. A friend opened an amazing Museum of Shamanism, it's probably the third shamanic museum in Seoul. [See the end of this to find good directions to the museum] There are museums everywhere. Many are quite small. The War Memorial of Korea is pretty big and parts are well made, but fairly grim if you think war is evil. The best reason to go there is to see displays of the Korean War from a totally different perspective than the way it's remembered outside the Republic of Korea. It's a two minute walk from the Samgakji Subway Station (삼각지).

City Hall. Yes, go into City Hall. It's a crazy architectural achievement with a curved glass exterior and walls covered with plants and cool art, and it's open to the public. Since you'll be walking by, why not? Next to City Hall in the winter there is a skating rink that costs only 1,000 won and another 1,000 to rent a pair of (very bad) skates. The rest of the year that same area may have performances, political rallies, or other cool events.

If you're a night-life type of person, you could go to Gangnam (the part of the district of Gangnam near Gangnam Station), to Hongdae (take the subway to Hong-ik University and exit on the side nearest the university), or to Itaewon (the subway stop is called Itaewon). There is night life everywhere in Korea, though. These three districts would be either more "stereotype" of young Korea, more "alternative" young Korea, or more "international" Korea, in the same order as listed above. I don't give a rat's batookus about night life, though, so that's all I have to say on the subject. Live music, though, def. more likely to find small crowded venues with live music in Hongdae than the other two. It is possible you could find a place that doesn't welcome foreigners. Get over yourself and your outrage and go somewhere else. You don't want to support someone who doesn't want your money, anyway. This is not very common, so don't worry.

The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts/ The National Gugak Center: In southern Seoul you can find the Seoul Arts Center (nearest subway stop is the orange line Nambu Terminal Station). There are galleries and operas and various events... and on the same grounds is the National Gugak Center. This center for Korean traditional performance includes four venues, a museum dedicated to Korean music, and a gift shop with traditional music CDs. There are regular concerts that show large varieties of Korean traditional and neo-traditional music on Saturday afternoons that are sort of marketed for foreigners. They're good, unless you're me, in which case you may prefer a more focused program prepared for a Korean audience. They have an outdoor series (it pauses in the coldest and hottest months) that is particularly fun and good for kids (since it's usually exciting folk performances) that is even free. I wish I could link you to a reliable site that showed all the performances on the calendar, but even their Korean calendar is last minute and not always up to date-- the English language one is ... well, it sucks.

Jogyesa and Bongwonsa. These are two Buddhist temples in Seoul, and if you're not leaving Seoul, you should go. The best time to go is 4 a.m. when there won't be other tourists and there is a beautiful morning service. Try going right after you arrive when you have jetlag waking you up super early. Jogyesa is the namesake of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism (roughly 80% of the Buddhists in Korea-- and Buddhists are the majority of the religious population-- 47% of Koreans answered non-religious on the last census, though). Jogyesa is in the center of old Seoul. The buildings are quite old (if refurbished) and the (smaller) Buddha statue in the glass case inside is a marvelous example of Buddhist sculpture. Bongwonsa is much more beautiful, it's on a mountain above Yonsei University, and the head temple of the Taego Order (that's 10% of Buddhists and the only significant order in which monks can marry, although they seldom do). Walk around super slowly and look very carefully at all the old buildings-- some of the premier master painters of Buddhist temple art made/make Bongwonsa their home, it's exquisitely beautiful. Unlike Jogyesa, which I really only recommend at 4 a.m., Bongwonsa is beautiful all day. Remember if you go into any temple building you need socks (if you're wearing sandals, just bring socks in your bag like I do). It is completely acceptable to enter the buildings from side doors (never the central door which is reserved for monks). You are welcome to observe respectfully (no photography inside the building, but you can always take shots outside), or to follow along. Like most religions Buddhism is open to you learning more about their religion something that's much easier when you come in and get close to the action, so as long as you are respectful you'll be welcome.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza recently opened, and although I haven't gone yet, apparently it's worth the trip. The architecture is very innovative (like a space ship is the popular comparison), and inside there are exhibits and displays both free and ticketed (and they seem to change every month, which is nice).

Leeum Gallery is one that folks who like art galleries tend to enjoy. I've been there twice, once at the current location just last year. Honestly, I am the wrong audience. The lack of thorough historically situated information about historical pieces displayed as art removed from their history (except rough date details) just irritates me. The cherry-picking aspect of showing a little ceramic, a little metal, a little Buddhism, etc. may (to some people) seem like a well-curated and not overwhelming introduction to Korea's artistic greatness, but to me it just smacks of "I'm freaking rich and I bought all this stuff, so trust me, it's the best." The one part of this gallery that I enjoyed was the contemporary art exhibits-- and although I'm sure they often change, you might want to see them, too. It's a little hard to find by public transit, but you can do it. Leeum website.

Shopping
If you like traditional markets, the bustling Gwangjang Market at the Jongno5ga (종로5가) subway station is a great place to sit on a plastic stool, eat mungbean pancakes, drink while it's still daylight, and watch an older section of the population rush around doing their errands. It's also a good place to buy some random presents. Traditional markets are falling by the wayside in Korea, and they're harder to find and smaller in Seoul every time I turn around (they're doing okay in rural areas), but the bargains are really great. And doesn't it feel good to support some old grandmother instead of a corporate chain? This is where I go to buy off-the-shelf hanbok (한복) or Korean traditional clothing. Silk children's hanbok are about 80 USD for a girl and 50 USD for a boy at a reasonable degree of quality (lower quality ones are on sale at the airport for 140 for a girl's hanbok). Adults tend to buy tailored hanbok, and when I buy silk hanbok so do I, because I like to choose all my colors and styles, so I'm not sure how much they cost. The market is ALL CASH. Other things you can buy there-- almost everything, but what stands out to my mind as perhaps interesting to buy or look at... bamboo mats, blankets, fabric, and decorative dangles called norigae that traditionally hang off hanbok but can be a relatively low-priced unique gift for friends back home (hang it in a window? on an X-mas tree? wear it as a broach-like decoration on your clothing similar to how it's used with hanbok?).

Speaking of buying traditional things, I know you can find some nice presents in the "traditional shopping street" of Insadong (get off the subway at Anguk Station (안국) and go out exit 6), but those people are being pushed out by corporate interests and rising rents. So if you do go there and do some shopping could you do me a favor and NOT shop in any of the franchises on the street? I don't care if it's the tea-shop Sulloc, Crown Bakery, Starbucks, or one of the mini-marts, just please don't support them pushing out the mom and pop businesses. The new shiny three story shops-- those displaced funky galleries and antique sellers. Please support the people in the older rag-tag looking buildings with a sliver of display space. As I explain below it's really easy to buy Made in China here... if you want Korean made, culturally Korean gifts be ready to spend a little more and be vigilant. Insadong is blocked to vehicle traffic on the weekend, and it has a nice artsy vibe. But it's crawling with international tourists, too, and can start to feel like a real mob scene. Traditional tea shops, restaurants, really everything in this district costs more than elsewhere due to the rents. However it can be hard to know where to find the stuff outside Insadong's concentration.

If you were a Chinese tourist, you'd want to go to the trendy and fashionable shopping district of Myeongdong (명동)(that's the name of the subway stop, too). If you like fashion, clothing, and want to go to an area where young Koreans enjoy shopping, I recommend it. I go there and enjoy shopping at the largest UNIQLO in Korea, this is a Japanese fast-fashion brand, and if you are not fairly slim it's not for you, but... if you are, check it out. This district also is home to Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral and it's a pretty cool building/grounds, worth a visit if you're into seeing old architecture. There is an English service on Sunday (check with them to find out what time is the English one. Many churches have English service, including the Anglican Cathedral across the street from City Hall, next to Deoksu Palace, others have instantaneous translation through headsets, like the Yeouido Full Gospel Church, largest in the world). If you were a well-heeled person you'd go to Apgujeong (앞구정) to go shopping, where the super upscale stores like Chanel are located. Unless you're a sucker for brand names, I'd recommend just using that district for people watching.

Where to Stay?
Korea is getting into creating little guesthouses, airb&b is doing well, and there are big and little hotels. Outside Seoul it's not hard to find a place to stay that's 30,000 for the night (if you have more than two people in there they might start to ask for more money). Inside Seoul and the central areas of other large cities you're going to pay (a lot) more unless you search well (it's not that hard to find places in Seoul for 25,000 a night if you're not that picky, but you need to search and the easiest places to find with an English search may already be booked up... there are a lot of places that don't have good English websites, though). In the winter when it's best to sleep on the heated floors you might want to ask for an "ondol" (온돌) room instead of a room with a "chimdae" (침대) or Western style bed. The good thing about an ondol room (there are very nice floor mattresses to sleep on) is that you can fit a lot of people in one room. If you're traveling on a budget with friends, this is your best option.
Vocabulary:
Guesthouse is just ge-seu-teu-ha-u-seu (게스트 하우스) (that's guesthouse as well as you can write it within the rules of the Korean alphabet). This is what it's called when it's either made for a backpacker market, or several rooms in a house in a urban setting that are being rented out.
Yeo-gwan (여관) is technically a love hotel-- but the slight trashiness can be amusing. Like chairs made for acrobatic sexual positions with a graphic card explaining how to use the chair. Or mirrors on the ceiling.
Mo-tel (equal weight on both syllables, unlike in English)
Ho-tel (again equal weight). Hotels in Korea are not going to be cheap.
Minbak (민박) Minbak are old school guesthouses, Korean style. You mostly find them in the rural areas, where Koreans would want to escape the city and stay in someone's house or out building. I don't think I've ever seen a sign for a minbak in an urban area. They have blankets, and generally have a small kitchen and will loan you a few pans. Korean college students and 20s will go stay in a minbak and cook their own meals to facilitate a really cheap vacation. Back in the day they cost 5 or 10,000 per night. I'm sure they're probably fancier and more expensive these days.
Pen-shyeon (펜션) are pensions... whatever that means, I think it's what Europeans might call a little weekend rental cabin, because that's what they tend to be. Mostly they are entire buildings, often quite nice, with several bedrooms, and they can be the size for a family or the size for a university club or major to go party in (and of course they include cooking facilities so you can make your own food, too). If it's off season they are really cheap, and they're often located at really nice places. Primarily this word is used to describe places in small towns and in the countryside, not in the city.


Outside of Seoul:
The common places for tourists to visit if they leave Seoul are:
Suwon Fortress and Suwon Folk Village Folk Village Website
Jeonju (especially Jeonju's Hanok Village)
Start at this website for some info on touring Jeonju. I also really recommend staying in a hanok (traditional house) if available (reserve in advance).
Gyeongju (Silla Dynasty sites galore). Among the sites to see here there is the Gyeongju National Museum (great Buddhist art), Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, and the tombs of the ancient kings of the Shilla and Unified Shilla Dynasties.
Busan (just because it's the second biggest city and has beaches)
Andong (Confucian culture)

I'm telling you the truth here-- most of these are common places to visit because the tourist guidebooks and the Korean guestimates about what foreigners want to see all push you towards these spots-- not because they are really the most amazing things you ever saw. I'm not saying these are places you shouldn't go-- they're all quite nice, and they are better equipped to handle non-Korean speaking tourists. HOWEVER, they are not my favorite places. The only one I would really say you should do, since you came all the way to Korea, is Gyeongju.
               Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Dynasty, the first dynasty to unify Korea. The city is a virtual "museum without walls" -- this is further enforced by zoning and building regulations that impose things like "traditional" roofs over gas stations. In Gyeongju you can see the beautiful temple Bulguksa, the peerless Buddhist grotto of Seokguram, tombs of the royals, Buddhist statues carved into the rocks on Mt. Namsan (that pains me to write as san=mountain so I just said Mt. Nam Mountain), and various other sites (none as interesting as the ones I just mentioned). There are tourist info booths, public transit to the major sites, and abundant lodging and dining options.

I am going to come back and add details to this in the future, but here are some other places you could go that I personally want to visit again and again:
Tongyeong (south coast)
Yeosu (south coast)
Songgwangsa (temple of the sangha)
Tongdosa (temple of the buddha)
Haeinsa (temple of the dharma)
Jindo (island connected by a causeway on the southwest corner of Korea)
Ulleungdo (island accessible only by ferry that stops if the weather sucks)
Jirisan (mountain in the central south)
And do a Temple Stay! You get to stay in the temple, be part of activities (this is more planned out at some temples than others), eat the food the monks/nuns eat, and so on. You can only share a room with your same gender and you have to wake up early for morning prayers, but you can do it for one, two, or more nights and it's a great (if unusual) way to learn about a culture. The price can vary a lot depending on if they offer a lot of fancy activities (tea ceremonies, temple roof tile rubbing, etc.) or if it focuses more on things like meditation. This link will get you started.

Easy to Find in Korea:
Ibuprofen (pronounced EE-byu-pro-pen) and all kinds of over the counter drugs
New sandals/shoes for small feet (top size is about 8 for women, 10 for men)
Bags
Chintzy tourist gifts (be aware that you're often buying Made in China if the prices seem quite "good" and unless you can tell the difference, that chintzy thing might be culturally Chinese. The Koreans know the difference and sometimes like to buy "ethnic" gifts or artwork, just like you do. No one is trying to fool you into buying Chinese stuff, it's your responsibility to bring home a culturally Korean gift for a friend, if that's what you want).
Cheap places to stay. Of course the cheapest may rent the next room over by the hour, and there may be thin walls, and you may hear a lot of ahem, noise. Unless you are there are the same time as some local festival with a ton of people flowing into the area, it's not necessary to make reservations, unless you're picky. Only one time did K and I have to ask at about 5 places before we found an acceptably priced available room-- but we didn't start looking until after 10 pm and there was a HUGE multi-day festival... so that was really our fault.

Other Cool Things:
The Post Office. They have free internet connected computers, so if you're not using a smart phone and want to duck in and google some directions or something, go to the post office. Also it is cheap to send things home to your country (and there are strong boxes available for sale at the PO). Because the PO is also a bank and also a place to pay public utility bills, they are in every (even small) town. If you're looking for a longer session on the computer the Korean word for internet cafe is "PC-bang" (soft a in bang), look for the English "PC" on a business on the second floor of a building and that's it. They're also now mandatorily non-smoking (awesome).
No tipping (the cost is the cost for your taxi, haircut, dinner, etc.-- workers earn a living wage, too)
They only think their food is spicy, it's milder than Mexican, Thai, Indian spice
Food poisoning is very rare, the street food is particularly safe.


Timothy Holm made this literary travel guide to Korea-- if you're into literary history and Korean lit, this is the guide for you.

I promise I'll go back and add photos to this at some point.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Research Projects

Ever since I got this job (a job that I am absolutely enjoying but being a first year professor with a full teaching load means a lot of class prep, all the time) I haven't had much time to work on my own research. Of course all professors say this, all the time. In fact, even the professors who only teach a couple of classes per semester and have taught the same darn classes several times over the years say this-- we all hope that means they're constantly updating and improving their classes (or it means their energy levels are slipping, or they've been side-tracked by concerns outside academia, or...).

At the moment I'm writing a blog to inspire myself to a more organized approach to my current research projects.

1). Conference Presentation Due in 32 Days (and an edited chapter version due to the reviewers shortly after that):
"Authenticity and Sexuality: The Foreign Dancing Body in Korean Popular Music Videos"
I'm excited about this one, but I'm having a hard time finding any mental energy to work on the background theoretical research for the paper. I want to bring in ideas about 'economics of attention' and racialization. I've ordered a bunch of fun looking books for the library on dance that should include some interesting ideas to incorporate and just need to find time to skim them to find those ideas! Just in case you're super interested, this paper brings attention to bear on K-pop videos released in the last 12 months, theorizing their use of obviously foreign bodies in three primary ways. Here are examples of the three types:

Taeyang's Ringa-Linga (Dance version) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho1y-4mXIL0
TVXQ's Something https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9HBT6sRSZ8
Gary's Shower Later https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgfuaDS-S2c
And here are a few of the visuals I'm using in the paper and presentation (I may change what all I use, but...)






2). Conference Presentation that may or may not be accepted for the fall:
"Yellow Ribbons: Performing Grief in the Wake of the Sewol Tragedy"
This paper doesn't just talk about grief (and anger) but specifically about how people's performance of grief was regulated by social pressures (and even by directives from their employers). It has, as you could predict a special focus on things that deal with actual performance, and the lens for the entire paper is a performance of Jindo Ssitgimgut (a ritual for the dead from the region where the ferry tragedy occurred) performed by performers who are not shamans, but refocused on the Sewol victims and decorated with yellow ribbons.

Here are a few random photos that I've started to collect to use in the paper.





3). I have an abstract submitted to be part of a conference panel this fall that I really expect to be accepted that I currently am considering folding into the paper above. The original paper, "Memory, Heritage, and Authenticity in Staged Shamanic Ritual: The Case of "O-Gu-Gut for Mr. Heo Chang-yeol" was going to be about non-shamans conducting shamanic ceremony as performance (and the larger topic of evolution of Korean traditional performance). I'm still really excited about the larger topic, but may take the specific performance named in the title out of the focal role for the paper.

4). The paper I presented at AAS needs to be revised. I was going to present this again in August, but instead I'm going to chair that panel and not present my paper. However, the AAS and the August panel at Kyujanggak are planning to collectively submit our work for journal publication as a themed issue-- I need to get my article finished as soon as possible to make sure this can happen! We even have a journal that's interested and should hear within a month if we're getting the go ahead from the editorial board.

I am sure I'll change the name, but this project is called:
"Framing Memory in Korea: State Ideologies in the Modern Museum" 
and just for consistency I was going to add some photos, but apparently they aren't roaming this computer.

5. Revising the English for consistency in a book for the National Gugak Center on Yeonhi- Korean Folk Theatre (this is ready for me, but I'm not ready till mid-June for it).

Those are the immediate projects. In addition to those I have several in-progress projects, all of which are losing steam under the class prep and mountain of grading to be done. I've also been asked to be part of some other projects, all of them sound so exciting and fascinating! I've got to stay busy, but it's pretty grand to spend all day, every day, doing what I want to do.




Thursday, May 1, 2014

Life, and Death, Goes On

Since I last blogged I've lost three more people (and I haven't even taken that much of a break from blogging).

My uncle Lee succumbed to his increasingly age-weakened body (a heart operation had left him too weak for more operations), and he fell sick again.

My next-door-neighbor Steve was felled by complications of lung cancer (and no he wasn't a smoker except for smoking salmon very expertly). Steve was my neighbor as long as I could remember. Growing up my first best friend was his daughter Gretchen (regrettably only around during summer vacation).

And I really valued both Lee and Steve, but I didn't cry. I teared up a little thinking of how my aunt and how Steve's wife and children were feeling, but I didn't cry.

Then Karjam's niece, Ahyangtso died. I wrote about her, here. Not that long ago, either. I loved her. She was the one who ate the food that I couldn't manage to refuse, but wasn't going to eat. She was the one who watched out for me and my needs even when Karjam was too distracted to notice. She was the one I was willing to have come and live with us. She was amazing.

She died in a freak accident, and hopefully it was almost instantaneous.

When I realized Karjam wasn't joking, that this had really happened to the girl he called his favorite niece, and to the girl who definitely was my favorite Tibetan niece (I like Drashijhet a lot, too, just for the record), I turned off the stove (I'd started cooking dinner), marched into my closet, closed the door and bawled until a little part of my brain started worrying about my throat and the fact that I had to teach eight hours the next day using that same throat.

Ahyangtso never got to do the things she wanted to do with her life. She was 19. So incredibly unfair.

A photo of Ahyangtso features on this blog entry that I wrote a few months ago.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Teaching Modern Korean History

I love history. Even Mr. Jacobs couldn't cure me of my love of history. That high school teacher of mine may have taught me the lesson that blonds with big tits and few questions are preferred over super eager students like me, but I didn't blame history for my lazy, sexist, and relatively under-educated teacher.

During my MA I had a history teacher, Lew Young Ick, whom I previously wrote about on this blog (here). He actually lectured us like we were high school students and gave us quizzes and the sort of tests where you memorize a (*#%&) load of facts. But I never felt like he was anything but the best professor ever because his knowledge was so encyclopedic it was almost unreal. Due to his teaching style I sometimes felt slightly disregarded (he never treated us like emerging scholars), but I learned a TON and earned his respect, especially by the end of the second class I took with him.

It was his lectures that I was able to rely on in the years between then and now --- I still have typed notes from every class. The understanding I got from Professor Lew has structured my entire understanding of Korean history. And as I now teach Modern Korean History to my own students, I again turn to his lecture notes to form the outline for my own lecture. Then I fill in and flesh out what I am going to say based on reading from authors who are often more middle of the road or towards the left than uber-conservative Dr. Lew. However, in Korean history (ironically) I am something of a conservative. In Korean history being conservative means being able to go beyond a place of "Japan is evil" and "Korea would have become everything it was meant to be, including a liberal democracy independently and just as fast if Japan hadn't occupied Korea" -- this being the position of the liberal historians (also called nationalist historians and that gets confusing being nationalists in other areas of the world are the conservatives, not the liberals). So to be a conservative historian of Korean means that you can blame the US and Japan for the various phenomenally bad things they did (like occupying the country), but you can also more impartially admit that Japan did help modernize Korea, even if it motivated by a Japanese desire to make Korea into a more profitable colony.

The first full class we discussed Korea's new relationships with Japan and the US, and changing relations with China. The second full class was on the enlightenment movement, the failed Gapsin Coup, plus Russia and England. Next week we'll be discussing the Donghak Movement and basically bringing Korea from late 1880s to almost colonization.

It's an exciting time...
The Bobingsa Mission to the USA (note my bad-boy historical boyfriend 서광범 front second from the right)
Here's Seo Gwangbeom again. 


The last two kings, ahem, emperors of Korea


Saturday, March 8, 2014

New Semester, New Department, Counting my Blessings

I am really blessed. I get to teach something I am really passionate about-- Korean Studies-- to a bunch of free, young, interested students. I have 20 students, 17 are women, all 20 are Korean.

So that's 20 blessings right there.

And the department gets 3 assistants-- that's another three blessings. The chair told the students to submit their info if they wanted to be a department assistant (it's work, but it comes with what I believe is a full tuition waiver). One assistant was already determined-- a fourth year student from the chair's department (Serbia-Croatian studies)-- because we needed someone who had enough of an idea of how the campus works and who to turn to for help that we wouldn't be at the mercy of three assistants who were all first year and pretty overwhelmed.

I suggested to the chair that the students should be chosen based on financial need. As it turned out only two students applied (and they all knew about it so I guess only those two feel any need), and they will start next week. The fourth year student, though, is already giving me TONS of reasons to count my blessings. She's smart and takes care of stuff, so that I don't need to worry about it, or waste time on minor things. For example, she took a stack of books where I had marked some images for scanning to the copy center. She'll also get the completed scans, email them to me, and return the books to the office. Now that's the kind of stuff I am so happy to have someone do, so that I can concentrate on creating the PPT that will incorporate the images, and not worry about leaving my office while the copy center is still open.

Another blessing is that my health is still with me. I had a health scare this week and didn't have time to deal with it. I trusted (had no option but to trust) that my body would take care of itself, although I did need some reassurance and scolding from my good friend Georgy. Feel free to encourage me to eat more iron, though, because among other things I think I may be full on anemic at the moment.

I was able to see Lina, who will co-teach the Korean Culture and Society class, in person, for the first time since 2006. I really like her, so that was awesome. Definitely another blessing.

And my amazing friend Kim came to visit Korea with her friend Randy, and they spent the night and had a lovely dinner with me (if I do compliment my own food).

That's at least 26 blessings, without getting into small things like the taste of Hallabong (a native Korean citrus fruit that ROCKS), coffee, or finally having a long conversation with my husband (the phones have been funky lately).




Friday, March 7, 2014

The School Year Has Begun!

There are so many things I've started to write and haven't finished... maybe I will. Don't hold your breath. In the meantime, let me tell you about the start of the school year:

It's Saturday, the first week is done and I'm sitting in my office, listening to Karjam singing (unfortunately not live) and determined to finish a ton of class prep today.

Monday:
Intro to Modern Korean History (for majors)
Tuesday:
(5 weeks only): Intro to Korean Culture and Society (for majors)
(every week): Intro to Korean Studies I (for majors)
(teaching 5 weeks, attending every week): Intro to Korean Music: Pungmul Drumming (for majors)
Wednesday:
Contemporary Korean Culture and Society (for non-majors)
Thursday:
Modern Korean History (for graduate students in Korean Studies or International Studies)

This week was the first week, and usually first week classes are so easy-- you spend time on the syllabus and letting students know the expectations for the course and you try to get to know them and let them learn enough about you to suss out if they really want to take the class. But when it's your department and it's the same students on Monday and all three classes on Tuesday, it's very different... you really have to start teaching right away because you can't do introductory games and conversation for 11 hours! The students are not required to take all the classes--the required class is Intro to Korean Studies I and the rest of the classes are optional-- but of course they need a certain number of credits to graduate. So almost all of them are enrolled in all four classes (two students elected not take the history course and one student isn't taking the music course). They are also enrolled in various other courses that meet distribution requirements.

Next week I won't be teaching Korean Culture and Society, but rather Lyudmila will spend 5 weeks with them teaching them how to look at Korean culture and society through Korean literature. Then I get them, and at the end of the semester Lina (a friend from my MA at Yonsei University who is doing her doctoral dissertation research in Korea right now) will teach them about Korean Social Movements for 5 weeks. For the Korean Music class, however, I will always attend even when I'm not providing lectures on Korean music. On those days (about 9 or 10 of the 16 weeks) my friend Go Seokjin will teach them drumming on the janggu or hourglass drum. The style they will start with this semester is the style from Imshil Pilbong Nongak, also the style played here on campus by the student club. I am hoping to integrate my students with the club and then with attendance at the transmission center in Pilbong. An ideal outcome for me will be to find a way to give students credit for attending a certain number of weeks of classes in Pilbong during their vacations. I still have to figure out how that will work out, though. And my new chair, who I love in every other way, seems to be very nervous about the connection of pungmul drumming with politics and will NOT listen to me when I assert that the kids these days are not interested in politics and just want to play the music. I hope to get him to listen to common sense, soon.

So far I love the personalities and attitude of all my major students.

On Wednesday I taught my non-major class... that was stressful. First of all the classroom that was mine on the schedule was being occupied by another class. What the heck! Finally we started, at least 15 minutes late, in a different classroom, but it was NOT the way I want to make a first impression!!! Then the students included two students who spoke no English, even though the class is listed as being taught in English. These students (who are from China and from Uzbekistan-- it's not Korean students who are totally unprepared to use English) really wanted to take the class, and the students in the class really wanted to meet more foreigners and make foreign friends... this left me in a quandry over what to do. If I told the two foreign students to leave, we'd lose 2 out of 5 enrolled foreigners (only one is German and an obvious foreigner, by the way), but all my class prep was done in English, and I didn't want to redo my syllabus and spend all the extra time to prepare lessons in Korean (did that last semester and it easily was double the prep time, maybe triple).

Thursday was the hardest day. I got a bus at 6:05 and made it to the campus in Seoul by 8, finding the classroom by 8:20 or so. The class started at 9, and there were 12 students there, only one with a 100% Korean name, although several had diasporic Korean names (like Eric Lee). A student (sounded American and looked Jewish) was a bit abrasive and challenging of a couple of the things I said-- he took a hard-lined (Korean) nationalist perspective (which is kind of funny since he's not Korean), and his attitude in class really threw me off. I am hoping (for once) that my first impression made him think he did not want to take the class, because an argumentative ultra-nationalist will be hard to deal with considering that I was trained by the opposite of the nationalist camp and hence will say things a nationalist might not like over and over all semester.

Now I better buckle down and work on prep!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yousef and Omar Enroll in Hapkido

On Monday I finally convinced Mohamed that Omar and Yousef should enroll in Hapkido. We all started back up on Tuesday. At first Mohamed was resistant that it wasn't cheaper (as a discount for two kids-- he thought half off the second kid would be good, but the instructor insisted that he gives 20,000 off for two kids making it  a 10% discount or 180,000 instead of 200,000 for two kids but that includes monthly test fees) but after the last 4 days, I think it should be more expensive. It's not easy teaching young boys who kind of want to goof off, don't understand the language of instruction, have obviously a limited athletic background, and are culturally out of step with Korea.

However, it's also been very fun/cute.

Tuesday:
The boys are in seventh heaven to have padded floor, padded walls, trampoline, balls of various sizes and other kids to run around with. The lack of common language was easily defeated by the enthusiasm of everyone and the sweetness of a couple of the Korean kids (as well as Yousef and Omar being pretty darn sweet!). When class started it was hard for them to follow along at all, and from the first day we had issues with them wanting to just stop, rest, drink water, etc. during class. None of which is okay. You need to get permission to do anything other than continue to follow directions.

Wednesday:
The boys follow along a tiny amount better, and I get to experience news things, like making sure they stand up to bow to the instructor. Yousef declares "tomorrow let's go 50 minutes earlier."

Thursday:
This week has made me closer to the kids in the studio than I ever was before, as they suddenly have a reason to talk to me. They ask about the boys or ask me to translate, all except one middle school boy who adorably speaks broken English to Yousef and Omar and slips them candy. The boys found out they're getting their own 도복 (dobok- martial arts uniform), Yousef declares "I will wear it all day, and then go home, and then wear my PJs, and then wake up and put it on again."

Friday:
The boys get their uniforms, and I message a photo to their dad who responds with "my heroes!" It is obvious that the boys are in the right place, as they rough and tumble with everyone like mad, no hard feelings. However because there is a test on Saturday and only the boys and I are not taking it, again I end up spending most of class teaching them, and not getting to do any of my own practice. I am not the most patient teacher for boys who cannot cartwheel, cannot jump rope, and are generally not able to easily see the difference between their motion and mine. Omar spends the whole time we're practicing falls (rolls) falling wrong, but then posing at the end perfectly and waiting for me to compliment him before he gets back up. On the bright side, both boys are doing well with "get up" "again" "ready" start" etc.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Sangmo Classes at Imshil Pilbong Nongak Transmission Center

Koreans tend to be jugglers. Not in the sense of juggling pins or balls, but in the sense of simultaneously being involved in multiple projects and pursuits. If someone told me that Koreans invented multitasking, I might believe them. The performing art that best demonstrates multitasking is pungmul, a type of traditional drumming performed while dancing. Amongst pungmul performers, this is best exemplified by those who perform while wearing the sangmo. Sangmo is a hat crowned by a whip attached to a ribbon. The ribbon is manipulated while dancing and playing percussion on any of the pungmul instruments, although most commonly it is the sogo a small hand drum that does not significantly contribute to the soundscape. The pungmul soundscape is dominated by the low, regular resonant beat on the large gong, the jing; the high staccato clang of the ggwaenggwari; and the variety of drum beats emanating from the buk (a barrel drum struck on its barrel as well as the hide) and the janggu (an hourglass drum struck on both sides, simultaneously or alone, with two sharply different sticks). The sogo is the preferred instrument of the sangmo because it encourages a more spectacular show—the drum is light enough to be frequently raised to head height or higher, and with one hand swinging the drum, the other the stick, dance motions, punctuated by drum beats, are accentuated. Sangmo specialists are a particular type of pungmul player—alpha personalities tend to gravitate towards the ggwaenggwari, as the leader of the performance will (almost always) be on this instrument, dictating the mood and eliciting the best performance through carefully circulating through the rhythmic patterns. The instrument that sounds good, alone or in groups, and is mostly widely used in all types of Korean performance is the janggu. Hence many of the most musical and most deeply interested in exploring all aspects of Korean performance become janggu players. Those on the buk and the jing are often those most comfortable with a supporting role, although in full-time professional percussion groups every member will be given time in the spotlight. Those who become proficient with the sangmo, however, are stubborn.
               I tried to teach myself back in the late 1990s, but after achieving no progress at all I concluded that the sangmo I had bought must be purely decorative and non-functional. In 2010, in Korea to do research for my dissertation, I decided to try again and ventured to a store I already knew was frequented by musicians (not people looking for an interesting object to hang on their wall). I bought a sangmo and enrolled in an intensive week long class at the Imshil Pilbong Nongak Transmission Center. On the first day a helpful fellow classmate helped me strap the sangmo onto my head, and learning to put the sangmo on was the only progress I made that week (leading me to believe that my previous sangmo had been completely functional).
               The first hurdle to learning sangmo is that a brand new sangmo is stiff and unresponsive compared to how it will become after several months of use. Chaesang jaebi (sangmo performers) also utilize various hacks to improve the sangmo that the manufacturers apparently are unaware of. These include adding some weight to the jinja. The jinja is the key part of the entire sangmo, between the hat and the whip. Some also work to improve the flex and responsiveness of the whip by adding an additional layer of thread, or a coating of wax to the end of the whip closest to the jinja. The single most important part of making the sangmo easier to spin, however, is just rotations of the jinja. These rotations, of course, can occur with the sangmo on the chaesang jaebi but most people also rotate the jinja, off the hat, holding one end in their hand and rotating it (in both directions) whenever they have a free hand. 

During winter vacation I returned to Pilbong for a week, hoping to recover the sangmo ability I'd lost during the 2.5 years of dissertation and job search when I did not practice. Honestly, I thought of it often, but always kept putting it off. It's my personality-- give me a room full of people to practice anything with and I'll do it. Ask me to do it on my own and ... oh well. Back in July 2011 I had been getting pretty good, too! For some reason the week I went to the training center there were no independent learners. Or there was one, and she was in high school. We shared a room, and went to almost every meal together, but we had nothing in common-- or nothing except the fact that a graduate of her high school is one of my favorite people I've ever met at the training center. He's not a close friend, but he's just sweet as sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch) at the wedding dinner I was at last Saturday. I did, however, get to know my fellow sangmo students-- after all, we were enduring the same torture together. 


Yes, sangmo can be torture. 


You know that punishment (popular in Asia) where people put their hands behind their back (or on their ear lobes), squat, and then jump up and down? That was the first day. Our instructor, Yu Seonbo, was determined to prove to everyone that the sangmo spins because of your --downward-- motion when you bend your legs (no, it's not spun by your neck). By making it almost impossible to power on the upstroke, and showing us that the sangmo still spun, if we did it right, he felt he was imparting this important lesson. I felt he took it way too far. The punishment to the leg muscles of that first day (9-12 and then 2-5 followed by individual practice from 7-9) haunted the group for the rest of the week. Fortunately my regular instructor, Yi Jonghui, had told Seonbo that my knees were bad, so I was able to escape the worst of this torture. But what I had to do just to maintain face as a serious learner was enough to keep me for the next four days whimpering and mincing along as the pain in my knees was overpowered by the agony of my calves. At one point it was so bad I FB messaged a fellow student in the next room-- with an adjoining sliding door between the rooms-- to bring me "pas" the mentholated lotion that I knew he had but I felt too pained to stand up and go get it. 


By the end of the week I feel that I returned, more or less, to the proficiency I had in summer 2011, but I don't know if I will ever advance past that point.



Photos and explanation about how to improve the whip and jinja
My Sangmo Progress as of Spring 2011



Friday, January 31, 2014

Teaching Korean to My 10-Year-Old Neighbor

1/24
I have a weak spot for young boys. I just love their gung-ho energy. I really really do. I've mentioned my colleague Mohamed's three sons before. The oldest, Yousef, will be starting school soon (in March), and he'll be plunked right into fourth grade with zero Korean. Sound fun? Right. So now I'm intensively tutoring him in Korean.

After two solid lessons of perhaps an hour each he's most of the way to reading phonetically, and his retention is very high, so he's also speaking a few sentence structures with his limited vocabulary.

Give me milk.
No.
I don't have milk.
Give me water.
Okay.
I want to play.
I want to eat.
I am an Egyptian.

He appealed to me to go to a school supply store. Like an idjit, even though I'm busy, I say "Do you want to go to Seoul tomorrow?"

1/25
Yousef and I went to Seoul today. We watched ice skaters at Lotte World's ice rink, had a donut with my former student Heehyun, had french fries at Lotteria, and spent way more than he had been given to bring with him at the stationery store (and I got several pens, some twine, some wall hangers, a new notebook, etc.).

When we got home I learned that Yousef's access to my house (not even just the trip to Seoul) had caused intense jealousy in the household. Apparently someone has made going to my house sound a lot more fun than just a study session.

1/29
Everyday except Sunday the boys came over-- first on Monday all three came just to spend time in my house. This would have been a lot more welcome if I had not already translated for the family at the clinic and at the cell phone store. I really have a lot to do to get ready for next semester. So when the boys all came over (and made a mess because Achmed eyed by pomegranate with such lust I finally had to give in and give them pomegranate which they managed to get everywhere)(by the way, pomegranates at this time of year in Korea are pretty expensive!) the last thing I expected was that they'd be back an hour later (I never had time to eat dinner) for a Korean lesson, this time with Omar in tow, claiming to be interested in learning, too. Achmed also followed along, promising to be very quiet. They brought popcorn with them. This (unsurprisingly) ended up allover the floor so that I had to clean my floor again.

Tuesday Omar was back, but Wednesday Omar came but did not study, while Yousef and I were able to concentrate again. Yousef is almost reading from memory (except seldom used vowels), and today's conversations were:

Do you want to drink milk?
Yes, I do.
Do you want to drink beer?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat pork?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat watermelon?
Yes, I do.
I don't like pork.
I like cabbage.
Do you have water?
No, I don't.
Do you have beef?
Yes, I do.

He has a vocabulary of about 25 foods and drinks, and I'm working hard with him to memorize everything to do with pork, because his mom vented to me one day about how "Koreans put pork in everything" -- which is not true, and it's always clearly marked, but if you cannot read Korean...

Yousef has also mastered a variety of other useful words and phrases, such as "where are you going?" with "I am going to---" and about 15 options of where he is going (city names, school, the dentist, the hospital, the market, home, etc.). He can say he forgot if I ask him something, but I forgot to review "I don't know." He can say he's hot, he's cold, etc. I really want to take him to go practice. I did take him briefly the other day to practice in the Korean snack shop/cheap restaurant (분식), but his brothers came, so then he didn't practice much and most of the time was spent trying to teach all three to use chopsticks, instead of practicing Korean. Incidentally they were closed-minded about trying anything, although eventually Yousef decided he could eat 라볶이 (big fat rice noodles and ramen noodles cooked in a spicy and somewhat sweet sauce), I had to order 공기밥 (plain rice) and fried eggs (not on the menu) for them! Only Yousef would even try 참치김밥  (tuna kimbap) (햄 배고 without ham), although he couldn't get a whole one to his mouth, so I don't think he ever knew what it should really taste like.

1/31
Yousef has continued to study everyday. He's 10 and doesn't feel the urgency of the approaching school year, because he's in massive denial that the kids (I told them they all learned English since 3rd grade and some even earlier) will be able to speak to him in English and that the teacher will be able to speak. Having him memorize "Where is the toilet?" turned into a big argument (he's very smart and articulate in English) about how everyone had to at least know words like toilet in English. That is not true, of course, and this area we live in doesn't have a bunch of good jobs (aside from here at the university), so the kids in the school are kids of lower class families that have not been pushed in extra after-school classes. They haven't gone to all English pre-schools. Even the professors (the Korean professors) live somewhere like 분당 (Bundang, a popular up-scale Seoul bedroom community 45 minutes by bus from here) or 잠실 (Jamshil area of Seoul, the corner of Seoul closest to here) because they want their kids in better schools than this one. So Yousef's classmates are not going to be kids of the elites with all the advantages that can bring. This is not to say that kids of farmers can't be incredibly smart, this is to say that Korean housewives in 강남 (Gangnam, south of the river in Seoul) spend their entire lives on pushing their kids to excel academically, rather than working. This amount of stress makes Korean kids unhappy, but it means they have high test scores.

I worried that Yousef's dad didn't have a realistic idea about the English in the school, and that he was passing this onto Yousef (Yousef said something that made me think that) but I went to talk to Mohamed who told me a story of another co-worker's son being so traumatized by a teacher yelling at him in Korean (she told him to do something, he didn't understand, she kept telling him, he kept not understanding, she started yelling) that he refused to ever go back to the school. Right in front of me Mohamed told Yousef to stop complaining to me about having to learn so many languages (in his old school he was learning French and German as well as Arabic and English), and that he had to concentrate on Korean right now. Mohamed clearly understands the school environment will be almost all Korean, and he's definitely worried about adjustment, but Yousef is about as handsome as any kid his age can be. His personality is great, and he's very smart. So I think he should be okay, as long as he can follow basic instructions (that's what we drilled last night-- open your book, close your book, sit down, stand up, get ready, start, stop), apologize, say he doesn't understand, ask for help, say he forgot, bow appropriately (we've been working on that), and so on. We'll have one more lesson, then I'm off to do field research for 1.5 weeks.
                                                                                     Achmed, Yousef, and Omar

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Facebook Posts" from my Trip -- Part IV (last part)

1/10
Everyone will feel neglected if we don't go personally to visit them. Now we're visiting Hlabae (sister #2). She and her husband live in a tent, even in the winter. Total massive respect. #family #Tibetansaretough


Even in a tent, you still have an altar

Inside Hlabae's tent

The view from above Hlabae and her two neighbor's tents on the mountain. Bringing the herds together at night makes it easier to keep them safe from wolves and thieves.

1/10
Achi Hlabae gave me a bowl of the most delicious joma, ever. She harvested it herself while watching the yaks. Joma is? A nitrogen fixing rhizome. A root. Nutty/beany at the same time. #bestTibetanfoodever #family

A hail storm added to the whiteness. Where is the turn off onto a -not- road that will get us safely to Damdentso's?


Passing by a nomad winter house (temporary house) guarded (of course) by a Tibetan mastiff

Herding the yaks home with the approaching storm

1/10
Our next stop was Damdentso's house. As the kids showed Karjam and I their year end exam papers it struck me how amazing it must be for a parent who is illiterate, but wanted to study more (like Damdentso), to see her kids becoming literate in written Tibetan, Chinese, and English. #literacy #family


Karjam with Damdentso's oldest and youngest-- the middle child (a boy) has become a monk (at 10 years old)

1/11
We went to the monastery store and got prayer flags, both as gifts for my family and to hang on Ama Dunmajhet's gate and the front of her house. It looks great. #Buddhism





1/12
Enjoying coffee by the yak chip fire. So glad I brought my aeropress. #aeropress #bestcoffeeever

1/13
Frozen morning in Zhyibuk's van from Ahwencang to Maqu turned into a glorious warm shower lasting a ridiculously long time.

1/13
Today was the day of restaurants--big lunch with Tserangtso and her boyfriend in a Chinese restaurant in Maqu and fancy schmancy Tibetan restaurant for dinner with Jabu, his family, and Jangloju in Hezou.


1/14
Ahyangtso went with me to do errands. I don't know what impressed her the most. Certainly the escalator was surprising. She wanted to push the cart at the grocery (I only really needed it for my bags) but then ran into my heels repeatedly. And she ate constantly. Banana, juice, pomelo, ice cream.

1/15
Karjam took me to the train station and waited on the platform until the train started to pull away, at which point he walked next to my window. I cried. Of course. I will miss him so much.

1/15
I laid down to sleep but the four parents and three kids in my compartment were so noisy I couldn't. Saw a very (very very) sad woman and asked her what was going on. I listened to her and held her hands as she cried and smiled and relayed a story that as she stopped sobbing became easier to understand, of a wonderful father who had meant the world to her. #grieving #mourning

1/16
The cost of the airplane ticket is worth it. #loudcellphonegames #screamingchildren #shoutingadults #spitting #secondhandsmoke #eatingchickenfeet #speedoftravel

1/16
My birthday. Fever, come, gone, come, gone, come, gone. Nausea. Headache, come and come and come. But I'm pretty sure I've had worse. #30hoursonthetrain #trainrideformybirthday

1/17
The boat will be less relaxing than I had anticipated--sharing the 4 bed room with a mother, paternal aunt, and daughter, all Joseon-jok (Korean-Chinese). Like a Korean mother the mother doesn't allow the mischevious seven year old to get away with anything, like a Chinese woman she scolds in a loud and high voice.

1/18
Made several interesting friends on the boat--including the warden in charge of foreign prisoners at the largest prison in Korea. Shared a taxi to the subway, and rode the subway with another very interesting guy (and his quiet son).

1/18
Chief difference between being around Koreans and Chinese--public etiquette. On a bus of nearly 30 riders I can hear the driver's music and the road noise, and a soft ripple of conversation, and that's it. If this was China I'd be listening to 15 people's cell phones (playing games, or sending text messages with loud button noises and alerts), all conversations would be shouted, and the driver would probably be smoking. #sogladtobehome #sickofChina #Koreaisthebest