Monday, August 30, 2010

Bongsan Talchum Class

August 30th, 2010
Karjam and I ran errands in the morning, things are really getting set. In the evening I rushed to the 무형문화전수회관 Intangible Culture Training Center, arriving late for the start of the 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class for the community members. There were no students there that I knew except for the office manager, who is finally starting to learn the art. He seemed really exhausted though. It was tough to try to remember everything on the fly, and of course that only worked out so well for me, but it was fun. The bad thing is that it trashed my knee. Freaking Bongsan Talchum is all leaping up and down, argh. The practice felt great, I had a limited chat with the instructor, 이수자 김은주 Isuja Kim Eunju, who has been my instructor since 2005. I’ll go early on Thursday and chat with them about upcoming shows and what not. So far not much to say about the other students, except there was a too easily distracted little boy there… I hope he calms down and focuses more in future lessons.

After class I hung out in the lobby with a photographer who is usually used by the center who was photographing a beautiful 갓 horsehair hat for the elite. It was the largest one I’d ever seen, both tall and the rim was super wide. The photographer and his assistant estimated it would be close to 10,000,000 won (loosely think 10,000 dollars). I was not allowed to touch it.

Songpa Dari Balpgi Performance

August 29th, 2010

I was fifteen minutes early for the 1:30 meeting time of our 등롱 lantern bearer group, the entire group was told to be there at 2:00. 장규식 Jang Gyushik was there slightly afterwards, with 김밥 kimbap. I had eaten 삼각김밥 samgak kimbap on the walk, so I guess we were both thinking alike. Karjam, on the other hand, was able to go back to the Lotte complex, look around and eat lunch slowly. Eventually the whole 등롱 lantern bearer group arrived and we rehearsed. Everyone in costume, we waited in the practice room, I sat with 이수환 Yi Suhwan on one side of me but within the circle of lantern bearers including 탄종원 Tan Jongwon, 장규식 Jang Gyushik and 서범무 Seo Byeongmu. There are 8 lantern bearers, the other three men I don’t know, the other woman’s name I forget. First they had to use an iphone to determine exactly where I’m from (right down to Snowberry Lane), then they searched for the homes of overseas relatives and what not. Suhwan, on the other hand, was more concerned with discussing traditional culture and social media platforms (he’s a recent Facebook joiner) as a path to disseminate information. That evening he uploaded a bunch of photos of himself performing with reasonably extensive captions about Songpa Sandae Noli. There was a different show first, starting at 3, a drumming and fusion drumming with vaguely traditional dance. I barely watched any, but Karjam saw the whole thing.

When we went out to do Songpa Dari Balpgi the music was so much louder (with amplification) than it had been the day before that it was very hard to hear the directions and counting (turn around after 1, 2, 3, 4…) and eventually I did make a (not too important) mistake. Everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun except for one particularly articulate member, 김명하 Kim Myeongha, who has a perpetual hangdog expression and had injured his wrist in rehearsal the day before. I expected us to go out afterwards, we didn’t, instead people just changed out of their (sweat soaked) performance clothes, putting special costume items (I had a top knot hairdo, a hat and a sort of vest) and props (lantern and lantern rod) into the appropriate containers. While I was changing and what not Karjam started talking to Seo Byeongmu who can speak English, he's a really interesting guy, but he specifically wanted to tell Karjam that his brother observes Tibetan Buddhism and the location of a temple, they also discussed the fact that Byeongmu's nephew is Tiger JK of Drunken Tiger. We also talked with 이병옥 Yi Byeongok, because Yeongsuk insists he should find Karjam performing opportunities. I came home in the evening and wrote up a short bio for Karjam in Korean and wonderful friend 정회정 Jeong Hoijeong edited it.

The next morning Yeongsuk called to ask my bank account number so she can pay me for the performance. I am not sure what I will do about getting paid, I’m thinking I should just give it all back at the end of the year, because it’s too exhausting to argue each rehearsal and performance. Plus I haven’t won any of the arguments so far. It’s not much, though.

A Little More K-Pop

The group F1RST has released their first MV, You Like Me, I Like You. The group is notable in that they have male and female members—no other group except Koyote that’s still recording can claim the same (I could be wrong—but at least among “idol” groups this is true). The song and the video, though, is quite boring.

Less boring visually but pretty irritating is Narsha’s follow-up to her first solo release. This new song, Mamma Mia, is just plain irritating. It still seems like Narsha, of course, futuristic and flashy and what not, but you should go watch the previous video instead.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Songpa Dari Balpgi Rehearsal

August 28th, 2010

Karjam and I took the 새마울 Saemaeul train back to Seoul. The Saemaeul is 5 bucks more each than the bus would be, but the KTX (express) train is even more, and I can’t justify that expense. It was raining heavily again when we disembarked and we took a taxi home where I grabbed a hurried lunch.

I was supposed to be at rehearsal for 송파다리 밟기 Songpa Dari Balpgi (Songpa Bridge Crossing Ceremony) at 2:30, but didn’t get there until 2:45, fortunately I was not the only person from my group that was late. After giving 김영숙 Kim Yeongsuk some grapes I went to the practice room. We all stretched and then did basic beginning exercises for 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli, with 함완식 Hahm Wanshik drumming and 이병옥 Yi Byeongok leading the dancers, then Hahm had the latecomers do a separate set led by a different senior member. When I danced, I stuck close behind the most experienced dancers, but felt very awkward, it’s been so long since I danced. Sitting down while the second group practiced I was told by my neighbor, 서병무 Seo Byeongmu, that I should “let the sleeves be so heavy that you can’t lift the arms all the way” “let it be a last minute tip-over when you conquer the weight of the sleeves, not a continuous smooth motion” (many of the characters in Songpa Sandae Noli are wearing huge loose sleeves) “keep moving from the compression and extension of the knees.” Perhaps it’s fortunate I’m not such a good dancer, because I get to observe even more how things are taught as a result of needing correction. My group danced beginning motions once more, 안병인 Ahn Byeong’in began the rehearsal with more explanation using the white board and diagrams. The students recruited to be part of 송파다리밟기 Songpa Dari Balpgi are according to Yeongsuk (sitting by me during the meeting) almost all majors in Korean percussion (타악) in university, they are attending several different schools, some of which don’t have 타악 to the best of my knowledge—Ewha, Suwon, Chugae and Danguk Universities are represented. My group is the 등롱 group, or lantern bearers. There are 8 of us, 4 pairs. As the entire performance is explained what we do is “go forward for 2 장단 jangdan (rhythmic pattern, so go forward for two entire cycles of, for example, a 12 beat rhythmic pattern), go right for 4 jangdan” and so on. Then we change what we’re doing following directions like this: “자전모리 나오면…” “When the Jajeonmori jangdan starts then…” We practiced all the way through, twice, with a break in the middle during which time my lantern team continued to practice, and afterwards we also practiced more. I hung out in the office with 탄종원 Tan Jongwon and Yeongsuk for awhile afterwards, getting the dates of the upcoming shows and listening to gossip about who was screwing up the rehearsal and probably the performance (not to be repeated here of course), and then we went to a restaurant for dinner.

Grape Farm

August 27th, 2010

진홍 Jinhong has several farmers in his family and his uncle has a farm in 경산 Gyeongsan, very close to where he lives. He mentioned that he wanted to go help on the farm, and Karjam and I thought that’d be good, too. But the first day (the 26th) we went up 갓바위 Gatbawi, part of 팔공산 Palgongsan (mtn) with a very famous Buddha statue of the medicine Buddha from 638 AD. This was out of hope that Georgy would come with us, but she chickened out of the hike in the humidity and went back down when we’d hardly started. The 27th we were agreed we’d go to the farm, but from the start of the day it was super high humidity and Jinhong was hesitant. I asked him to call and see what was going on, and indeed the family was working, so we went to join them. In the morning, honestly, we weren’t that much help. They were at the tail end of harvesting and sorting one patch of grapes, and they sent me into the patch with a big silver pail and a pair of clippers, but the grapes I was taking were clearly inferior. Actually the grapes were fine, but they were of uneven sizes, loosely aligned (not a classic bunch) and there were rotten grapes amongst them to be removed before placing the rest in the pail. It turned out that most of the grapes I picked were boxed up for us to take back to Seoul.

Karjam with Jinhong and his nephews. Jinhong's aunt and uncle (driving the boxes of grapes out of the work shed after everything was done).

After another lunch prepared by Jinhong we returned to a different area, and after some preparation time, spread a net over an entire grape patch. The patch was about ¼ of an acre in size, rectangular, and each line of vines had a roof of clear plastic tarp (so they wouldn’t get so much rot damage from the summer rains). However it was a bit late to be spreading the net as the vines and leaves also extended up on both sides of the covered area, and I was the only person tall enough to work without a rod with a small scoop on the end to push the net over the top of each hump of tarp-roof. The crew was Jinhong’s aunt (a grandmother of 65 or so), Jinhong’s cousin’s wife (a Vietnamese picture bride I met last year, very nice with heavily accented Korean), Jinhong, Karjam and I. As soon as we got the net over the first row (the hardest row to get it over, for sure) it began to rain cats and dogs and then horses and elephants. I have never been wetter in my life, except perhaps when in 8th grade I was rolled around by rough waves in Baja until I was coughing up water. Water was in my ears. Water was in my nose. Water was everywhere. And of course allover me and staying that way, since I was fully dressed. The raindrops were huge and fat and heavy as pebbles. I had to look up to grab the net standing on my tiptoes and pull it down into the gap between the previous covered row and the yet uncovered row, my glasses were running with water to an extent that I could hardly see the white net against the white/grey cloud-cover. We worked this way laughing and screaming in the rain for about an hour until the entire patch was covered. Then we went back to Jinhong’s aunt and uncle’s house for towels (which I used on my clothes as well as exposed arms and face and hair). Slightly dry we drove back to Jinhong and Georgy’s where I promptly but somewhat ironically took a (warm) shower.

Photos: the grape patch we were in in the afternoon before we started work and the rain began.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New K-Pop Releases

I’m going to start with something pretty good, the new FT Island song, 사랑, 사랑, 사랑 Sarang, Sarang, Sarang. It’s got an interesting video, as usual with K-Pop, very high production value, but it’s also artsy, does not rely on excessive displays of sexual moves or female anatomy and has a strange mix of 50s and 60s nostalgia imagery. The song itself could be better, but if it gets repeated airtime it will be the only song with only one English word (Good-bye) that’s out there getting noticed.

The FT Island song is sort of the antithesis to another new release, Sistar’s second single, 가식걸 Gashik Girl. Sistar is classic Korean bubblegum pop, completely irritating and absolutely interchangeable with other groups, such as their predecessor, Chocolate, who has released their first single in quite some time, 어떡해 or as it’s awkwardly named in English, What to do. This video is redeemable only because the male model who appears in the video is hot enough to be worth watching at least once. Below the male model first, then a photo of the girls in Sistar.

Wheesung has had another release 결혼까지 생각했어 (oddly the English title bears no relation and is "Real Slow is Back". He’s an older and more established K-pop star, but in most cases I don’t like his music (okay, it’s true he has a better singing voice but I tend to prefer ‘dance’ within the K-pop genres. He is definitely another recent K-pop male bad-hairdo victim, but overall this is not a bad song.

Finally, I just want to mention this video, even though it came out a couple weeks ago. I was going to mention it before, but didn’t get time to find some other recent releases to talk about at the same time. The video is the much raved about Taeyang’s new song “I’ll Be There.” Taeyang has recently been promoted by Perez Hilton and such, and is getting a lot of international airplay, even hitting number one dance (I think that was the genre) download on itunes. And the guy is just totally yummy. So watch. For the eye-candy. Even though the video itself seems to make no sense at all.

Yeonil Seunim

August 26th 2010
Karjam and I have a friend, a Buddhist nun, 연일 스님 Yeonil Seunim. We met her in Lhasa and she came to Lanzhou and met us and went to Ahwencang with us where she stayed for several days charming everyone. I was later able to meet her in Korea (just a couple months later). However the contact info we had for her no longer worked and we couldn’t find her. I thought I had a physical address in an old notebook, but couldn’t find it if so. At any rate when we were moving back to Korea Karjam insisted that we HAD to find Yeonil Seunim. So I put it on my list of things to do and first I called directly to the 조계종 Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism (which Yeonil belongs to) head office, they directed me to another office. I told them all the info I had and they kept saying “it’s going to be really hard to find her if that’s all you know.” That frustrated the heck out of me. If they meant impossible, they shouldn’t say really hard. Yeonil is her Buddhist name, and I don’t know her legal name, that’s part of the problem because even I know two Yeonil Seunim (one a monk). At any rate they weren’t going to be useful and I’d be a bad Buddhist if I started getting all pissy with them, so I tried to come up with another method to find her. First I tried to Naver (Google) a list of all the temples with nuns, or all of them in 충청 Chungcheong Province (I didn’t even know if it was north or south Chungcheong, I could only remember that her temple was in Chungcheong somewhere). This was rather frustrating. I tried a lot of keyword combinations, 여스님 woman+monk didn’t work at all and kept giving me results showing a famous monk who is called X+여스님, but 비구니 bhikkuni was not super helpful, either. At any rate I determined that there was one temple for sure (a large one and I suspected Yeonil was at a smaller place) that had nuns and I called a random number on the internet and explained the situation to whoever answered (I suspect a nun, but I don’t even know). She didn’t personally know any Yeonil Seunim but she told me to call her back the next day and she’d see if she could locate anyone that met my description (I knew rough age, her proclivity for travel and the fact that she observed the two periods of confinement and practice each year and did a lot of meditation (as opposed to those who study a lot of texts or those who work in administration).

The next day we left for Daegu. More than a year ago I was beset by benign positional vertigo (peaking on the day I threw up twice), now it appears I have it again. After arriving in Daegu I was too busy trying not to spin to remember to call the helpful woman (nun?) again, but my phone rang after 7. “You were supposed to call me back.” “Sorry I’ve been feeling sick.” “Well I found a Yeonil Seunim and it might be the one you’re looking for, want the number?” So I called Yeonil Seunim and just with me meekly saying “안녕하세요. 저는 연일 스님 찾고 있습니다.” “Hello. I’m looking for Yeonil Seunim.” She already knew it was me. We had a really awesome talk, and will meet up soon in Seoul, as the summer seclusionary period has just ended. “I love you both, you know that, right?” She told me.

I went to meet old friends 정호 Jeongho and 수연 Suyeon .
I had dinner with Jeongho.

I had coffee with Suyeon
On the way back to Georgy's house a former student when I taught at Suseong Girls' Middle School approached me, and we had a nice talk on the subway (she rode all the way to Georgy and Jinhong's stop in order to have a good chat).

I took this photo of 보경 Bogyeong, my former student, on Karjam's camera:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thoughts on Introducing Performances

August 25th, 2010
So the other day when I was at the 송파산대놀이Songpa Sandae Noli performance, when the tight-rope guy wasn’t ready at the right time (he’d already performed twice that day, down in Suwon at the folk village there) then 함완식 Hahm Wanshik (Human Treasure) had to buy time (some of which he bought through making me dance as I already said) but he also started to give people a sort of lesson in traditional stuff—he did the things I would have done—he walked over to the musicians and introduced each instrument and had them play a tiny bit. He didn’t start getting into anything heavy or advanced—there was no attempt to discuss the importance of tradition, and he didn’t go back and talk about Songpa Sandae Noli which Professor 이병옥 Yi Byeongok had introduced. I think a problem that’s happening is that everyone gets so little time to perform, never even the amount of time necessary to do a full performance (of course a full performance of Songpa Sandae Noli can be over four hours) so when given a one hour slot, or even a forty minute slot, giving up some time to an extensive introduction is the last thing they want to do. But the audience needs it so that they can really have a handle on how to approach/view something that’s become so foreign to most Koreans they’re not capable of being an educated audience. They have more practice being an educated audience for Western classical music, which denotes that you have education and class, and have a better grasp on the names for those instruments, even though they’re foreign names.

In other news, we’ve come down to Daegu today, and met up with dear friends Georgy and 박진홍Jinhong. We’ll stay here for a couple days reconnecting before heading back to Seoul.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back in Seoul

August 23rd, 2010

Spent much of the morning making notes of upcoming events, performances, etc. Had coffee with Elise. Enrolled Karjam in Ewha Womans [sic] University Korean language program (starts Sept. 10th). Shopped in Namdaemun for more essentials: another saucepan, two forks, two butter knives, one folding low wooden Korean table (for meals), one blanket, and one entire bedding set (Korean style futon, comforter, pillows with traditional coverings in a deep red, gold silk combination with white cotton around some parts of the mattress. I am SO excited about that. And an orange polka dot umbrella.

August 22nd, 2010

August 22nd, 2010
Karjam and I ran out to watch 송파백중놀이 Songpa Baekjung Noli shortly after returning home from 필봉Pilbong. First there was a performance of 풍물pungmul music, then 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli (three scenes only and plagued by sound issues—not working mic, feedback and differential adjustments in the mics). In fact one older man in the audience started yelling at the performers about the mics and what not and I could hear other people grumbling, too. After Songpa performed there was 씨름 Ssireum (traditional wrestling) and 경기민요 Gyeonggi Minyo (folk songs of the Gyeonggi region) and last of all, 줄타기 Jultagi (tight-rope). Karjam enjoyed the singing but we got way more Jeultagi than was needed. In fact the jeultagi guy was late, and so to pass the time they made me come out and be the entertaining foreigner, dancing (in a dress mind you) for the group of Koreans who were probably much less impressed after they found out I had a five year association with the group. The pungmul group was supposed to come back to end the show, but he just decided to take the rest of the time himself, and the audience didn’t complain. Although protesting, I still dragged Karjam to meet all the Songpa people, the 예능보유자 Human Treasure and 회장님 preservation association president, 함완식 Hahm Wanshik practically talked his ear off, insisting that Karjam take him to Tibet (not the only person to do this about one in five of the people who really engage with Karjam say the same thing). I think Karjam did end up feeling really warmly welcomed, though. Yi Suhwan and some of the other guys really tried to talk in English to him, and Kim Yeongsuk was her usual welcoming self.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sangmo Class at Imshil Pilbong Nongak Training Center

August 15th, 2010
After an initial misunderstanding about how to find the meeting place for the buses to the 임실필봉농악전수회관 Imshil Pilbong Pungmul Music Training Center, we met up with 도령 Doryeong (a nickname, her name is really Eunjeong), one of my super cool friends that I was at the training center with last summer. She wasn’t going with us, but she sent me off with cans of tuna fish and dried seaweed to tide me through the days when the food was not going to work for me. So sweet. She was also sending off the students from her team at Ewha Womans University [sic], a group of about seven including (!!!) a guy.

At the training center almost immediately Karjam and I bumped into 양진성 Yang Jinseong, the head of the group, a Human Treasure for this art, and someone I’ve known since 1998 (though I think he only pretends to remember me from back then). He invited Karjam to perform at the training center at a concert on Saturday (this was later changed to Friday). I started to get to know the other students in the 상모 sangmo class, since almost all the people who came alone or in groups of two were part of that class. We had a 뒤풀이 duipuli (after party) in the evening, and by then I had already decided that the leader of our indepent group, 구환 Guhwan, was quite a nice guy. Responsible and sincere. Karjam, still very tired and jetlagged went to sleep only shortly after dinner.

August 16th, 2010
In the morning we had 소고 sogo class outside in the 마당 madang. The instructor was 하중 Hajung the short (and sweet) guy who does 열두발 Yeodubal (a hat with a weighted rope and then a nearly 20 foot long ribbon that you spin in various ways, different from the 상모 sangmo, a hat with a 3 foot rod and then an arm’s width of ribbon on the end of the rod). He was not so sweet when he was instructing, though. When the students (around 80?) didn’t immediately do what he wanted he punished us (twice) by having us squat and then jump up in down (in the squat 1,2,3 turn 90 degrees, 1,2,3 turn and so on… it really kills me horrible knees. He also didn’t allow us to do all four motions of the sogo, we spent the whole time repeating the same ones, the first two. And he was late. For the entire camp the sogo instruction was very spotty, we had 5 different instructors for the 6 different days and only (ironically) the instructor on the last day made it out by 7:15 for a class that we’re supposed to be in place and ready for at 7:00. This is one of the ways that this summer was different from last summer, when we had 최호인 Choi Ho’in teach us sogo everyday.

상모 Sangmo class began with me learning how to assemble my sangmo and then how to put it on my head. 구환 Guhwan helped with that. After I had it firmly fixed on my head I was able to try to turn it around, that didn’t go so well. Almost an hour later our instructor, 구철회 Gu Cheolhoi, showed up. He was late because they have an instructors meeting on Monday mornings. Hmmm… so each week’s class starts off late? I thought we would get the same guy as for sogo class. After his sogo instruction I was glad we didn’t. We sat and introduced ourselves, then began. The class has one other guy who is a beginner like me, and Gu Cheolhoi began by dividing everyone up according to ability. The first day there were 12 of us, but we knew two more would arrive on Tuesday. Each person or two (up to four occasionally) worked on a certain motion-set that could be done with the sangmo. I know the names of two, 왜사위 Waesaui, which is what I am trying to learn, and 나비사 Nabisa (butterfly) which is one circle to each side then forward in the middle, then back. It’s a motion people learn about fifth or sixth, I think. Gu Cheolhoi circled amongst us, he worked with me and the other beginner with his hands, physically correcting us, talked to some, and with the most advanced mostly just showed them the motion. The very most advanced of all is a woman, 노다지, she’s shy of five feet and totally cute and though she seems spunky when spinning her sangmo, she’s very mellow the rest of the time, except for when she gets excited and jumps around like popcorn in a pan.

I went to 뒤풀이 duipuli in the evening—we pooled our money to have food for the sangmo people and Gu Cheolhoi bought us 막걸리 makgeolli. I mostly talked to 동주 Dongju, another student of the sangmo class, and then with 우석 Useok, the other beginner. Some Useok quotes: “I don’t even miss TV this is so fun!” “Drumming while cheering during World Cup 2002 changed my perspective and got me interested in learning to really drum.” “서태지 Seo Taiji used some 태평소 taepyeonso (Korean style oboe), that’s so great, so many Korean songs aren’t really markedly Korean.” I went back to bed far before getting any impact from the 약 medicine (makgeolli).

Karjam took this photo of sogo class in the morning:

August 17th, 2010

We woke up early this morning because my cramps were so severe I could no longer sleep. Karjam is still falling asleep early because of the time difference, so he was ready to wake up anyway. It had rained straight through the night, causing storm damage allover Korea. The campus here was also affected with bricks washed right out of the road in one area, and a stream gone loose from its proper course, now trying to flood the basement of the building we had practiced in the day before. It was still drizzling enough that we assembled in the main hall for our morning 소고 sogo practice, but shortly after entering the close confines of the room crowded with stale-sweat smelling students half asleep and stumbling, I started to feel incredibly nauseous. Right after the instructor (today it was my teacher, 구철회 Gu Cheolhoi) entered the room I couldn’t handle it anymore. I ran outside and dry heaved in the rapidly running ditch, but nothing came out, despite knowing I’d feel better for it. I tried to go back inside but three minutes later I was out the door again. I didn’t try to go back in again. I knew that I needed food in my belly to balance some painkiller that would address my cramps, but had to wait till breakfast.

Breakfast was more of the same, some rice, some kimchi, and some side dishes. This time the breakfast soup was just sprouts in water boiled with garlic, salt and pepper. After eating I rested until time to go to class, when we discovered that due to the flooding we would have to practice in another area, because our room was hard to get to and needed some serious love and care. Since the sun was now out and drying the world rapidly, we adjourned to the roof of the museum. I grabbed my sunglasses and another day of neck and upper back torture began. In the morning I felt okay about my progress but by the afternoon I was very frustrated (because though I’d accomplished a certain degree of fluidity and reliability in my circles, they were far to the side and my knees still weren’t bending enough while my neck and head was moving far too much). I eventually had to turn away from everyone and stare out across the fields to the beautiful mountain in the distance to keep anyone from seeing grimaces and occasional tears of frustration. I even punched the wall until my knuckles didn’t want to take it anymore (they hadn’t done anything wrong).

In the afternoon we had two significant breaks, partially because we had leftover money from the night before and we used it to have the Terminal Market drive us out a bunch of cold bottles of things to drink (I had Pocari Sweat the first time and 2% the second time). I got 구철회 Gu Cheolhoi to talk about his background, and we found out he went to university as a traditional music major and how he first started Pilbong (양진성 Yang Jinseong and two others were guest instructors at the special school he was attending in 남원 Namwon).

In the special education hour we waited to be shown a video, but no one ever came with a projector or video (of a past performance) so… we didn’t. We just sat there until dinner. Karjam came, too, and we worked on his Korean. He’s learning the alphabet and how words are constructed. After dinner Karjam was able to quickly get on the internet and download the Tibetan news. I went back to practice, from 7-8:45 when 노다지 No Daji and I went to take a shower. I think one of the biggest reasons I’m frustrated right now is that I was better than 서우석 Seo Useok, who is also just starting, for the entire first day, but today I was worse, and he kept improving! Anyway, I’m happy for him, because he’s really sweet, but it made me feel better when I wasn’t the least skilled. Actually a latecomer arrived today who is less skilled; another small woman built a bit like Daji. But I have a head start, so I should be better than she is!

After the shower I decided to try beating my cold by sleeping early and skipping 뒤풀이 duipuli. I like everyone here, but it’s not the same as last summer, I’m not actually that close to anyone yet. Partially cause Karjam’s here, of course, and I sit with him and talk with him and don’t sleep and wake up in the same room as everyone else.

August 18th, 2010
This morning I felt just fine and we practiced sogo for almost the entire time period, but without an overall instruction. 김동민 Kim Dongmin came out to teach, but he did it by going from group to group. He left our group alone, though he did check us out for a few minutes. After breakfast I arrived on time for practice but almost no one else did. When 구철회 Gu Cheolhoi arrived about half the people were still missing and it was 9:20. Of course he’s given us no right to expect him to be so close to on time. Since 구환 Guhwan, our group leader wasn’t there on time, Gu Cheolhoi made him buy everyone ice cream from the Terminal Market. We had the ice cream mid-morning. Otherwise it was an entirely frustrating morning for me. My technique does not seem to advance, even though Gu Cheolhoi says I’m getting better. Lunch was the best meal so far, which dampened my excitement that 김월덕 Kim Woldeok, was coming after lunch time and could take us to lunch with her friend who she was driving out to the training center. We went to town with Woldeok and her friend, while they ate Karjam and I walked around the tiny confines of the village, buying a few things and also taking Karjam for 만두 mandu since he’s been getting really tired of the non-stop Korean rice and side-dishes. Not that mandu isn’t Korean, but it’s made with flour (a break from 3 meals of rice per day) and has meat in it, so he enjoyed it. We then went to a tea shop overlooking a nearby lake. Woldeok’s friend is a 제일교포 Korean-Japanese who learned about Korean culture and now teaches at a special school for Korean-Japanese in Japan and also teaches local teachers about Korea so that they can help overcome prejudices. She did her MA at 전북국맆대학교 Jeonbuk National University and during that time she once spent two months at the training center. If we’d stayed at the center in the afternoon I would have participated in games, not training, it’s a Wednesday afternoon way to break up the week.

After dinner I practiced for three more hours, to make up for the short day otherwise. Another member of the Imshil Pilbong team came and coached me a bit, if he’d stayed for longer I think it really would have helped. He just got right in there, grabbed my head in his hands and manipulated my body. I need it done a few more times, I think, with plenty of practice between each time. I also talked to Gu Cheolhoi. He said he hasn’t been correcting me much because I already seem so stressed, but I told him he wasn’t going to be giving me more stress by giving me more intense correction, that I was the queen of my own stress, and that I’d be less stressed if I got the motion down. 김림하 Kim Rimha, one of the guys in our group, a very sweet boy with bushy hair told me it took him two months to learn that first motion. Great, is that supposed to make me feel better? It’s certainly not very encouraging, especially since Useok was doing it already, in two days. But someone told me he actually practiced before. I don’t know if that’s true (I asked again later, he said it wasn’t true, he’s just done this type of music a long time). While we practice in the evenings in the big hall, the 설장구 seoljanggu practice is also going on. Tonight Kim Dongmin came to teach it. He’s amazing. Karjam came to watch and stayed almost an hour and a half, that’s how interesting it is to watch.

Before going to sleep I talked to 제종민 Je Jongmin a little. He’s a high school student who’s here studying like a regular student, which is very unusual, the only time I’ve ever seen such a thing. Actually at the moment he’s mostly doing volunteer work, preparing for the festival (I’ll miss that because of the performance and practice next weekend). He expressed frustration that other students didn’t want to participate in activities like this. He’s been coming here since he was in middle school! He said his parents trust him so there’s no problem with him coming here. He’s going to be a total hottie later, and he’s already so darn mature. Korea needs more like him.

August 19th, 2010

Today was both a high point and a low point. In the morning Gu Cheolhoi told me to start walking while I spun instead of just standing still. It really did help it feel much more natural than it had before, and aside from the fact that it forced me out into the hot sun away from the shade, it was great. Then in the afternoon he had me start drumming on the 소고 sogo while I spun the 상모 sangmo! During the long morning break I brought everyone cold 참외 chamoi melons that Woldeok had brought, peeled and halved, everyone ate half a refreshing melon. In the afternoon around four we went to the stream and ordered cans of beer for everyone except me (I had 막걸리 makgeolli) and ate 새우강 saeugang (shrimp flavored chips) and drank and skipped stones and floated in the water. The water was really pretty clean, too, very nice, but it was not as refreshing as I wish it had been, the heat must be up over 100 (okay, I’m probably exaggerating, my friend said it was 35 in Daegu, known for being very hot, and 37 is 100). Can you imagine spending all day outside (mostly in the shade) with no breeze, doing intense physical exercise in 100 degree heat? For fun? I mean, I’m even paying for this!

The low part of the day came near the end when 김림하 (한? 헌?) Kim Rimha got really frustrated with me and how I was hitting the sogo. I actually have prided myself on my sogo technique for a year, since 최호인 Choi Ho’in told everyone I was the best sogo player in the entire group and since Kim Dongmin had me take a sogo solo last year in our student performance. But when trying to spin my sangmo and drum the sangmo my technique got rather sloppy so then Rimha got sort of in a twist about it. I think he felt I was intentionally disrespecting by doing it wrong or something. Anyway, he drilled me on it in a not very friendly way, though he’s a very sweet and friendly guy. I think he was frustrated, or he’s a really crappy teacher. Every mistake, every time had to be pointed out, instead of saying “work on this I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you” or something. And he was really barky about it. That was the low point. Because I was sort of gritting my teeth to take it, because on the one hand I need to be corrected and I want others to help me, but his manner was so hard to take. At any rate, he was right about how to drum the sogo, and it did help.

윤원로 Yoon Wonno, 동령 Doryeong and handsome what’s his name showed up today to hang out and encourage us, so we got to eat dinner together and have 뒤풀이 duipuli. We didn’t do anything so special at our duipuli, although I was impressed with how much Wonno and Doryeong had brought for the Ewha students (and me and their other friends) to enjoy eating and drinking. They brought sausage, hamburger patties, pork, mushrooms (for frying) all packed in ice, plus a bunch of beer (more expensive than makgeolli) and especially for me, nectarines (my favorite fruit that’s easy to get, hard to get fruits like figs and pomegranates also being huge faves).

August 20th, 2010
Sogo in the morning was nothing special, during our sangmo practice people were mostly preparing for the special final performance on Saturday night. At first Gu Cheolhoi picked Daji to be part of the performance and she was so excited, she immediately sent text messages to all her friends (right there while sitting in the middle of the group) including of course her boyfriend, 지용 Jiyong, who had left either during the night or early that morning, but also to her other 선배 seonbae (‘seniors’ the older members of her drumming group who didn’t come with her and Jiyong). Cheolhoi picked out a special solo for her to do with 동주 Dongju, but then later on it turned out Daji had to leave early, too, so Dongju will solo alone. Dongju has the whole thing memorized, then Daji wrote it down and I took a photo. I’ll try to remember to attach the photo of her notes for which moves to do (and how many times). Cheolhoi picked out several people to do the final performance. Of course not Useok, 하나 (Hana, the other beginner woman) or me. Only five out of the fourteen of us will perform, but of course Daji and Jiyong took themselves out by leaving and one other guy will probably play taepyeongso and so he won’t do sangmo.

After lunch we had our big happy final all-student performance. People who wanted to didn’t drum and just danced around with bottles of water to help all of us who were dancing in 100 degree heat—on a YELLOW surface that was reflecting light back at us! I have a sunburn on my arms and neck, but not in the center of my throat where my ties are from my sangmo! The performance was more than two hours, no shade. Karjam took video of this (and many other things) so hopefully we’ll learn how to edit up a nice video I can link you to see from this entry later on. Everyone was streaming with sweat. I found it very hard to drum the sogo while spinning my hat and dancing around in the heat plus matching to a rhythm created by others. It’s like rubbing your belly and patting your head and tapping your toe and doing all of that to different beats—sangmo around counter-clockwise, drum stick and sogo out to opposite sides (breast height), then in (belly height) then up (over head height- two strikes of the stick) down (upper chest height) then out again while my feet dance forward and back as I bend my knees up and down. Daji collapsed after twenty minutes in the heat and didn’t reappear.

In the evening there was a big performance, with 사물놀이 samulnoli, various dancing and other drumming combos, excerpts from 임실필봉농악 Imshil Pilbong Nongak and Karjam sang two songs (a cappella). His voice was not at its best, but he was well received.

I went to duipuli (again for the sangmo group) where we ate potato pancakes, battered and fried sesame leaves and the others ate meat. Of course everything was washed down by makgeolli. It felt really nice, I talked to 기호 Giho a fair amount of the time, and just enjoyed the group energy.

August 21st 2010
In the morning we had the final sogo class, with the woman who’d taken a sogo dance solo the night before at the concert. The class was actually pretty good, she really worked to teach us and we had the longest class of the entire week. There was stuff that was challenging, too, not just a bunch of what felt like review. If only we hadn’t all been so exhausted. Night after night most of the participants drink until after one or two in the morning, for some there are all-nighters. People are looking haggard from lack of sleep and excessive exercise (especially for the advanced students who have to move as they drum often and most of all for the sangmo students who dance and drum). In addition everyone has been hand-washing their clothes… not necessarily with perfect results. So it’s good that we were outside because everyone is just really ripe. Standing still almost anyone will be running with sweat, at 7:30 in the morning after ten minutes of skipping (fast, two steps with left forward, two steps with the right) while swinging the sogo up and above our heads and down and out, no one had a totally dry shirt.

After a short final sangmo class and conducting my second and third interviews (Gu Cheolhoi and Je Jongmin) we went to watch the competition to become the 상쇠 sangsoi(lead 괭과리 gwaenggwari player). It was so impossibly hot that Kim Dongmin and Gu Cheolhoi had a nice student behind them holding an umbrella/parasol above their heads. The two instructors took turns drumming on the janggu while one student played buk and one jjing with the single sangsoi contestant while other accompanied him or her on sogo (to see how danceable their leading was). Finally three finalists were chosen, and then one of them (the one that both Karjam and I agreed did the best) came out on top. Everyone adjourned to lunch and preparations. In the later afternoon (after more interviews) I went out and joined the scene. Now all the players who were chosen by their groups or in our sangmo case, the instructor, to represent them that evening (and to fulfill the quotient of instruments for a good (but not too huge) performance) were in their full dress clothing with many 잡색 japsaek performers decked out in outrageous outfits. A huge pot of rice and chicken was cooking outside, and one of the practice rooms looked like a 파전 pajeon factory--- everyone had a camp stove, oil, fry pan, and stack of completed green onion pancakes.

The performance continued for over two hours, with 막걸리 makgeolli flowing and people feeding each other pajeon. Of course for me the highlight was when 동주 Dongju took his sangmo solo. He stumbled, landing white-clad knees in the mud as he went through the complicated (and extremely dizzying) series of moves, but that was the only rough spot, the rest of his performance was ideal. After eating and drinking, believe it or not, they went back to performing, but by 11 pm the people not in the performance costumes were just as likely to be sitting down while someone in a t-shirt danced and played janggu. Exhausted I went to sleep around midnight.

August 22nd, Leaving
In the morning we woke up and packed the rest of the way, and I cleaned up the room (more than I had the previous day), then we jumped onto the bus to Seoul. Jongmin, 송하중 Song Hajung and others were there to see us off. Arriving home Karjam noticed that I have a heat rash in my armpits, the back of my neck and behind my knees. It’s so nice to be home where I don’t have to wear much of anything and can shower often… hopefully the rash will go right away. I’ll talk about the afternoon performance of 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli in another entry.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

K-Pop Reviews of Insufficient Depth

There have been several new releases.

My least favorite girl group, Rainbow, has released “A,” a song that fortunately is less annoying than their debut number, but will only garner them attention for the way the attractiveness of the women in the group is manipulated for the male viewers.

Old stand-by Jo Sungmo 조성모 has a new song, the first in a long time, “I Want to Cheat” (on his girlfriend). It’s actually a fairly strong song, but he’s trying too hard, it reminds me of JYP’s release last fall—actually, at least JYP can dance like nobody’s business. This Jo Sungmo track stands out the most for the really awful haircut he’s sporting.

JQT released the song “No Need to Know” which is a fairly good song, I guess cause I like Koyote and the songwriter is the same as for some Koyote hits. The visuals, though, seem like an odd mix between the set of f(x) NU ABO and some posturing and styling of 2NE1. Which is just an odd combo.

Nine Muses released “I Don’t Want No Playboy” which is a group that people want to watch because the entire 9 members are being billed as former super models (ahem, Korea, you’ve never quite understood what supermodels actually means, and it’s not pretty girls who’ve been in a few layouts and on a few catwalks and featured in some advertisement). Actually I find the video sort of artsy, despite the presence of garter belts in 9 tenths of the full length shots of the ladies. And I think I’ll actually listen to this one again, at least a few more times.

My second least favorite girl group, Secret, has released “Madonna,” which is either a tribute or a parody, your guess is as good as mine. I went back and re-listened to Madonna’s song “Secret” and I think it was stupid of Secret’s manager and agency to allow them to bring up comparisons with Madonna, because it just makes Secret look bad.

Songpa Dari Balpgi

August 14th, 2010

Yay! A day with real research at last! Okay, I had a wonderful couple of hours. I hung out with Karjam, introduced him to the landlady, took him to the store where we’ll buy our usual stuff, made him food, then ran off.

While he used the internet and relaxed I went to 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli practice. This group is the group I am actually a member of, and closest to of all the groups I work with. I arrived a good 15 minutes late (uncharacteristic of me, but living in a new place meant a different route, which meant a miscalculation on time, plus I left a little late cause of getting Karjam all set up). It was shocking, because this has never happened before, I walked into the half basement practice room and there were 25 people sitting in a quiet circle while one of the members (one of the 전수교육조교 whose name is escaping me at the minute) wrote on the board. I think things had just started, because I caught on. Songpa Sandae Noli is closely affiliated (share an office, practice space, one part time employee etc.) with the group 송파다리밟기 Songpa Dari Balpgi. In fact the later is pretty small potatoes, it’s only registered as an intangible cultural asset at the city level (Songpa Sandae Noli is national). Anyway, when they have a performance, which only happens a couple times a year, they basically take all our players to do the minor parts and the few star parts that make Songpa Dari Balpgi unique are played by the members of their preservation association. Songpa Dari Balpgi is having a performance on the 29th, and we are all learning how to be part of it. As the one jogyo explained the way the performance would play out, I snuck glances around the room, excited to see all my Songpa friends. Maybe to them I’m not a friend- no one is born in my birth year or near it, for starters, but if they were American, we’d say we were friends. In particular I feel that way about 이수환 Yi Suhwan, one of the most complex personalities in the group and the office manager (also a great performer) 김영숙 Kim Yeongsuk. After the meeting I was shaking hands and bowing and saying “I’ll be here a year” for five minutes straight, then as we filed outside Yi Suhwan cornered me.
“What are you doing on Tuesday?”
“I’ll be in 필봉Pilbong for an intensive class.”
“Do you have to be? There is a performance of 진도 씻김굿 on a small island off 진도, as a big memorial…”

Wow, I was so sorry to tell him I couldn’t go. I’ve never been to that island, I really like that shamanic rite, and I would love to go to something that perhaps won’t be overrun with media and sight-seers. Pilbong will be great, though. I’m sure of it, even without my wonderful 개전연 Gaejeonyeon friends.

Suddenly Yeongsuk was grabbing me,
“Yidal (시이달 is my Korean name, so for friends that’s 이달), you’re going to ~~~ (I didn’t understand it).”
“Just follow 규식Gyushik, he’ll show you what to do.”
This is a problem since in the entire group, Gyushik is the MOST tongue tied around me.He’s a likeable guy, the only regular member who is younger than me other than the son of one of the two 인간문화재 Human Treasures, but either he’s too dumb to notice that others speak Korean with me no problem, or he’s just socially a dork. I think it’s the latter. One time I tried to interview him. It was like two minutes of hemming and hawing and throat-clearing on the file. He had agreed to be interviewed but it was like he had nothing to say or couldn't understand my questions. That was in 2006. I haven't tried to interview him since. Today, though, I tried to just copy him, occasionally asking questions (we were obviously going to be holding something as we danced), “Do we switch the hand we hold it in when we change directions?” Of course Gyushik didn’t understand. If I knew the word instead of “it” the sentence may have been clearer, though. By the second run-through I basically understood. Of course, for the second run-through Gyushik was gone, spending the whole time trying to teach some raw recruits how to carry dancing children on their shoulders (no one will be likely to return after being asked to carry a dancing child for 40 minutes on their shoulders, hence, raw recruits). Fortunately there is one more practice before the performance, because only the hour and a half of movement today was not enough.

Songpa Sandae Noli performs next week, I’ll be there to watch that on Sunday, then the following Saturday rehearsal for Songpa Dari Balpgi, then that performance will be on the 29th.

Photos: The wide angle photo shows where we were practicing today (I was thankful for the cover when it rained heavily, but it's still essentially outside in the heat and high humidity), the vertical photo show Gyushik dancing, the other is just for fun. All taken in the past, of course.

Friday, August 13, 2010


August 13th, 2010
Talking with 경진 Gyeongjin and her friend about my research was really good for me. Since the conversation I have kept thinking about other ways to explain or how to expand upon what I was saying. I explained about how traditions always change through the example of family Christmas—how the family still does many of the same things but some new idea has been integrated, and something only interesting to children is phased out when the kids are grown. Gyeongjin’s family (grown brother and Gyeongjin, and their parents) may now go overseas for the holidays! I mean, you may have a tree for years, but it’s not necessary, you could just use a big poinsettia or other potted plant when the host gets tired of cleaning needles off the floor. My mother has certainly taken to that method.

I went to get Karjam at the airport, I was so worried I’d be late, by the time I bought red roses and hopped on the airport bus (thanks be it came one minute after I got to the stop, even though it’s only about 4xs per hour) it was one hour from when his plane was scheduled to land. It was rush hour and I was really worried, but as it turned out I got to the exit for his flight (A) just 15 minutes after the plane landed. I stood, expectantly, with the roses under my arm and a white Tibetan kata or prayer scarf (used in such situations as when an honored person arrives) draped over my arms. And waited. And waited. Then someone said that a lot of the Seattle flight was exiting through B, so I paced back and forth, worried I’d miss the moment. After an hour (when no one was coming out of either gate from Seattle) I had them page Karjam, then again. No Karjam! I contemplated calling mom (though it was after 1 a.m. and she really doesn’t appreciate middle-of-the-night calls) as I started to really get upset, at last I spotted Karjam (he’d come out B a couple minutes before, not seeing me, he was trying to figure out how to make a pay phone call when all I’d given him for emergency money was 10,000 won). It had simply taken him forever to fill out the English on the immigration and customs slips. He was able to bring both instruments no problem!

Our sweet landlady made Karjam a rice and duck soup! He ate some of it, and a lot of watermelon that Gyeongjin and her friend brought and went to sleep.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


August 12th, 2010

I don’t know why it bugs me, but a list of the best TV shows of all time seems to be forgetting many good shows. Best TV, no particular order: Breaking Bad, Dexter, Dead Like Me, Six Feet Under, True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel, Firefly… good enough of a list for now.

Went to the Yongsan Terminal Electronics Market to buy a voice recorder – got the most expensive one. They kept trying to show me cheap ones, I almost had to fight to be shown good stuff. I got one from a Korean company that has after-sale service, or A/S, in the same building—I’ll know where to take it if there’s a problem. It records in STEREO!!! And has different modes for when in a performance v. interviewing v. a meeting. Oh, and 4 GB of memory without adding a memory card.

Shopped in 남대문 Namdaemun with Sarah, got chopsticks and spoons, bowls and a mosquito net tent which will allow Karjam to happily NOT kill mosquitoes and still sleep (he refuses to kill mosquitoes). Yes, there are lots of mosquitoes. They’re eating me alive.

Had dinner with 회정 Hoijeong/Hoijung, my best Korean girlfriend. She decided (she’s Christian) that God sent me to Korea to kick her ass (into gear so that she accomplishes various goals). Met 경진 Gyeongjin, and one of her friends, we had a very amusing conversation about the voice recorder. It speaks very polite Korean (yes, it speaks) which I pointed out. Then Gyeongjin’s pal started riffing on what it would say if it spoke in less polite Korean. “You a fool? What are you doing? Not that! Just turn it off!” Well, it was funny in Korean. Karjam arrives tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Buying Traditional Music Equipment

August 11th, 2010

At last I have something research related to write about! Unfortunately (picture me kicking myself), no photos. After many firsts (first tea, first cooking, first laundry), I ended up heading to the wonderful street of excellent hanbok 한복 (Korean clothing) and gukak 국악 (traditional music) stores. The first store I went to, I’ve been there several times before, was highly disappointing. The only person there (I’m used to a woman who knows more than I do, if not a lot) was a man who had no idea how to play 장구 janggu. No one in a traditional music store should have no idea how to play janggu. It would be like a music instrument store in the US with a salesperson who could play neither guitar nor piano. I’m not saying he should have been proficient, but it was sort of ridiculous when I asked him why one janggu was 100,000 and the other 150,000. He claims not to know, I ask “is it just the color?” (One was finished with red stain that almost looked like lacquer, the other was just wood with clear finish). Hmmphhh. When I tried to ask him about 상모 sangmo he didn’t even seem to know how to assemble one.

I went down the street (to the store "전통 국악사"). 상호 (Sangho), the nice guy who was my salesperson there told me the different Janggu in front of me were made by three different companies, and came to them at a different price, so they charged differently for each. He then showed me how two were noticeably lighter- better if you’ll dance with the janggu. All three of those were blond wood. I chose one of the lighter ones, in his opinion the best looking one after I narrowed it down to the look the one company was producing. Then (and this is why I wish I’d taken my camera) he put the two heads onto the janggu and strung it while I watched. He broke one head and had to grab another, but it was really fascinating.

This is a video that I found a year or so ago, it’s a different guy in a different shop (Sangho told me each person does it a little different, and this was not the most traditional method because of the materials) but it’s close enough for you to get the idea).

I also bought the sangmo (ribbon hat) I needed and two sogo 소고, one for Karjam and one for me (I have two in LA already, with my janggu, but they don’t do me any good there, and I used every bit of my luggage space). I bought the janggu and one sogo for Karjam to use in the short term, because next week having the janggu gives him the option of taking that class and even if he doesn’t do anything else, he can do the morning sogo dance practice. However, I plan to take janggu lessons for several months to improve my playing, so I’ll use this janggu myself, later. And I bought a pair of shoes for folk performing (미투리) and a 민복 (minbok) a white outfit worn under most other folk traditional performance clothing. I can use the shoes and the minbok for other stuff. Of course I have both already in LA.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


August 10th, 2010
I spent most of the day waiting. I started by waiting for a decent hour at which to go downstairs to my landlady and ask her help with setting up my internet service. That turned out to consist of only calling them and turning the phone over to me. After the call she served me coffee—not the best but definitely appreciated nonetheless. With a typhoon causing torrential rainfall (off and on throughout the day) several deliveries were delayed but eventually I got first the stove, then the gas man came and connected it and turned on my gas. I ran out for lunch, finally, and arrived home at the same time as my refrigerator and washing machine. The men are insane for carrying a refrigerator up stairs that are about 4 inches per riser with irregular steps… but they did it. At 4 the man arrived to set up my internet, I don’t understand exactly why but KT doesn’t have wireless routers, so if I didn’t already have one at home he couldn’t set up wireless, anyway, I have wired internet now. Each worker needed to be given water or Pocari Sweat, I felt bad it warmed up after awhile, but everyone was dripping with sweat when it wasn't rain and sweat. I felt sick all day but still met Tim for a final meal and bought a bunch more stuff at E-mart.

Photo: Actually I took this the day AFTER, but this shows the happy results of the presence of a washing machine... and the hallway outside my door (heading away from the stairwell down)

Real Estate Agents and House Hunting in Seoul

August 9th, 2010

My bag and notebook is littered with the business cards of realtors. This is what I learned from the process of renting (again) in Korea.
1) prepare at least a 10,000 USD deposit. Yes, it’s a lot. Whatever, deal with it, it’s Korea. Most of the Koreans are putting down 100,000 or so on the places they rent, the kind of places that look like you’d want to live in them, this is just the way the system works
2) you’ll have to pay a commission to the realtor- go with a realtor you like. I met a lot of realtors, and I liked most of them. The guy with the second best apartment I looked at, 200 per month cheaper than this one with even more appliances (it even had an oven!) was a total drip. (Eden Realty in 해방촌 for those of you in Korea). I didn’t want to give him a commission and I’m glad I found this (better) place. A lot of the realtors I met though would sound impolite or asinine in English, but they were charming in Korean. Is it better to reward a realtor who works harder to communicate with non-Korean speakers? I don’t know.
3) the places that are authorized to deal with the US military guys rent the same type of place for MUCH more money to the military guys (this usually means a larger commission), and they have little incentive to deal well with us non-military types.
4) I went with Hyatt Hill Realty (half way up the Hyatt Road from Jungang Gyeongridan 02.797.4984). But the place was actually through Jo-eun Realty (on the main drag near Jungang Gyeongridan 02.749.4009). I liked the people at both places, or at least the owner at Jo-eun. I also had a favorable impression of the realtor at Rex Realty (02.790.8833) and the person I liked the absolute most was 배광재 (Bryan Bae) at Haeng’un Realty (02.797.7797) whom I would recommend anyone starting with. The office location is hard to explain, it’s near the 동사무서/파출서, so best to just try to get him to meet you at the Paris Baguette just off the road to the Hyatt.
5) if, like me, you refuse to live in a basement, and you have a serious budget issue, you just need to be firm about what you’re willing to see, from the start, otherwise you’re dragged everywhere up these steep hills, and aren’t even seeing passable places. I ended up saying I needed to see 3rd floor and above. Although some second floor places would have been okay, I just got tired of what I was seeing.
6) be prepared for surprises. I saw one place with at least five different wallpapers—one was leopard print, one was red with a large gold geometric design (even on the ceiling!), one was white with sparkly pastel pink and blue designs and two were the same print but one was black on white, the other white on black (of silhouetted booze bottles and cups for drinking booze). Yes, this means that except for the red room, each room had two different wallpapers. At least. No, there had to have been a third, a neutral one on the ceiling of the main room and the bedroom that wasn’t in red… This is why you might want to carry a camera, just for kicks.
7) you can bargain for “options” this means you get things like in my case a gas range, a refrigerator and a washing machine. Not all landlords will go for it, but some see it as an investment in the right kind of tenant.
8) in other areas of Seoul I’m sure it’s different, but in the foreigner heavy Yongsan’gu region many landlords prefer foreigners to Korean tenants because, dig this, we don’t split town without paying rent!
9) it pays to emphasize the ways in which you are higher status/more responsible seeming. I made a point to tell them I was in my 40s (I’m 40 Korean age if you count my lunar birthday not my Western birthday). Going to a famous university also helped me seem like a good tenant. Saying I was living on my fellowship helped people understand why I couldn’t pay a little more in rent (because I can’t just work a little overtime).
10) if you’ve already seen certain places, describe them as Koreans would. Say which realtors you already went to. Because they often just call each other, and you don’t want to be shown the same place twice (when I was looking in Samgakji (삼각지) three times realtors tried to show me the same exact apartment, the second time I walked part way there, the third time I just described it and said I’d seen it). Sometimes owners list their places with multiple realtors, sometimes they only list with one place. If listed with multiple realtors you can be taken to the same place by two different realtors.
11) if you want a cheap place, and you don't want a hovel, do what Koreans do-- move to an inconvenient out of the way location. At least you'll avoid the sketchy people in this neighborhood!

The highlight of the day—I got a phone with Gyeongjin (경진)’s help. We ate dinner, had coffee, and shopped at E-mart for home essentials until my eyes glazed over. Meeting really good friends and hanging out is just another of the reasons I LOVE Korea.

Photo: My foot after scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees. This also shows the nice flooring I have.

Grace / 영

August 8th, 2010
It’s really sweet of Sarah and 세진 (Sejin) to let me stay with them. They live far outside Seoul in 의정부 (Uijeongbu). The subway ride to almost anywhere I’ve ever needed to go is at least an hour. By moving farther out they got a larger house and cleaner air for their adorable daughter, Grace (조 영). This morning I woke up for the final time (still fighting the time difference, so I was checking the clock from much earlier) at 6. When Grace woke up at 7:10, her sleepy father sat in the living room which Grace inquisitively joined me under the desk, the location necessitated by my desire to plug the ethernet line into my computer and access the internet. Finally achieving Skype success I talked to Karjam for nearly forty minutes, he was happy we’d found an apartment. I took photos of Grace enjoying a tub of water on the balcony on another impossibly hot and humid day, then left to meet Tim, who unfortunately is heading to the US next week to do another MA, this time in Anthropology.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"The Eyrie"

August 7th, 2010
Although the previous day I’d searched realtors in the general 이태원2동/ 중앙경리단 (Itaewon 2 dong/ Jungang Gyeongri dan) neighborhood until offices were closing after seven p.m. I’d only found two acceptable places, one was dirty and probably would come with a ton of stuff the owner wouldn’t want me to throw out (like grimy plastic shelves and a disgusting couch) but was 600,000 per month and did have a refrigerator, washing machine and stove. The problem with that place, besides the initial cleaning when moving in was that the realtor was a total drip, with no sense of humor and a personality that seemed like a drowned rat all moan and groan and woe is me (not a usual personality type in Korea). Since the realtor takes a hefty commission, paid by the home-searcher, I just didn’t want to take that place if I could avoid it. The other acceptable place was a tiny bit small, and up a very steep hill, but freshly remodeled with new wallpaper, flooring, kitchen shelves and so on. It had a breathtaking view of the city (not necessarily the most interesting view, because it mostly overlooked the US military base, but I could see for miles and a nice breeze blew through the apartment. It was also over the budget I’d set, 800,000 per month.

In the morning I first went to 버티고개 (Beotigogae) area and looked, seeing one place that was almost not a hovel. Then I headed on to 삼각지 (Samgakji) determined to find a place somewhere other than 중앙경리단 (Jungang Gyeongridan). Unfortunately eleven realtors in that area were only able to net me two home views, both unacceptably dark, but a total of five realtors tried to show me those same two places at which time I just gave up and decided there must not be anything to see. The realtors have told me this is the wrong time to look- since it’s too hot for sweaty labor now people try to move in the fall, not the summer. In addition, the rates seem to have really risen a lot. I started to worry that the nice place I’d seen on the hill would be taken and headed back in half defeat to Jungang Gyeongridan. I tried to see several more places, but only ended up seeing two more, both unacceptable, and finally met the owner of the hillside place and signed the paperwork, I can move in on Monday after I get the rest of the money from Daegu Bank. I am dubbing the apartment “The Eyrie.”

Photos: All three taken on the same day with the crazy weather we've been having. All from the same window. The one with the frame (which is only warped because of the wide angle) should be your point of reference for the other two.

First Day Searching

August 6th, 2010

In the sweltering afternoon well past three I finally stopped for an Iced Americano. In typical Korean fashion the baristas followed directions explicitly- my drink has two shots, ice and no water until the shots start to melt the cubes- the first sip was of an almost unadulterated shot, still somewhat warm. So much better than when I ordered the previous one at Sea-Tac Airport and despite my directions got a tall cup of coffee flavored water.

Since I left Sarah and 세진의 (Sejin’s) apartment this morning I’ve been to seven realtors all near 약수 (Yaksu) station. After walking around the neighborhood I am even more convinced I want to live there, but only one realtor could show me a place, four rooms only one of which had a window. Of course I passed on that hovel. My deposit is too small, that’s the problem. 5,000 down barely gets your foot in the door for half basements with mold. I sat in one realtor’s office while two realtors made over thirty phone calls, but they only had one place they could show me and since it shared a bathroom with a first floor business I passed on even seeing it.

Then I remembered I was walking around with cash and a cashier’s check equal to my entire budget until January, and tried to deposit in my account at one of Korea’s largest banks. But since I didn’t have my old foreigner ID card (of course, since you have to give it to the immigration officials at the airport if you leave without time on your visa to get back and renew the card with a new visa sponsor (workplace/graduate school etc)) they refused to deal with me. Idiots. It’s the Korean government system of temporary ID cards that’s the issue, and they should know it by now. They offered to open a new account with my passport (I didn’t bother to mention that would expire in another 7 years or so) then rescinded the offer when I disclosed I’d only arrived the previous night, claiming it takes a few days for the number to hit the system. So I had to go to 대구은행 (Daegu Bank) where I’ve had an account since 1996. It took them quite some time, but they exchanged and deposited my cash and put the cashier’s check into the system (it’ll take a few days to clear).