Thursday, March 31, 2011

K-Pop Reviews only for Music with a Beat

제 블로그를 방문해 주셔서 고맙습니다. 저는 이 블로그에 일주일에 4번 정도 한국 전통 공연 문화에 대해 쓰고 있습니다. 처음에는  K-pop에 관심이 있으셔서  방문하셨겠지만 나가시기 전에 한국 전통 문화에 관한 것도 한번 봐 주시면 좋겠습니다.

UV released a video featuring JYP called "Itaewon Freedom." Harlem Desire by the London Boys is the inspiration for "Itaewon Freedom," which is hilarious, if only worth one viewing. 

The old/new Crown J video, featuring Young Dro is such a failure (in my opinion) that I wish I could say it was just a joke, too.  The video features a woman who cannot keep her tongue in her mouth. And what's the point of releasing a song in English about how all the panties are dropping and how you "want to fuck her"? The BEST thing about Korean hip-hop/rap is that it's NOT all disgustingly sexualized. Or at least until this song/video came along.

U-KISS released a song that's a bit too soft and sappy for my taste, 0330.  But there are some good dance moves and the rap part of the song isn't that bad, so I'm not entirely ignoring it. Check it out if you want.

DBSK/TVXQ/동방신기 have released a dance version of Before U Go.  Since we're talking about guys who are excellent dancers, give it a look, it's worth it. I have to admit though that I think it's really funny that you can have a dance version for such a slow and (to me) boring song. The video is kind of interestingly sparse, no colors, really.

4 Minute released "Heart to Heart"  The video features a guy from CN Blue. The video has an annoying story intro, but turns into a dance track once the music gets going. Unfortunately the story is horrible. First the girl is annoying, then the guy doesn't want to deal with her, so she does all this horrible stuff to him (mostly practical jokes until she removes a part from his car) which is supposed to make him at the end want to be nice to her again. Uh, not.  A reviewer at allkpop seems to find it about as much of a letdown as I do. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Performances at KOUS

March 30th, 2011
We sent Hengyi Shr and her mother back to Taiwan, or at least to the airport, on a bus departing at 5:50 this morning.

Met Jisoo for more hashing over the meaning of the last bit of the translation, and we took these cell phone photos to show our work scene.

I convinced home-body Karjam to go to a dance performance at KOUS, and when I was in the hallway waiting for the show one of the workers introduced 진옥섭 Jin Okseop to me, I got his card and an agreement to do an interview later. That's awesome. But even in the short conversation he insisted that no one knew more than he did about the topic of my dissertation. Which is a sort of arrogant thing to say. Dude, I already asked to interview you, obviously I think you know enough to be worth an interview and you can talk about it at length during the interview. I was also sort of surprised how short he is. I've only talked to him in person one time before (in October) and I'd forgotten that I am a good 7 inches taller.

The performance was pretty good. We had the "bad" seats, which are still fabulous because KOUS is such a small intimate hall. I took a few photos during the show, too. Karjam's favorite performance was that of the 살풀이 salpuri dancer 이문이Yi Munyi. I also thought Yi was very good, my favorite (unexpectedly) was 고재현Go Jaehyeon who performed 입춤 Ipchum. I was also impressed by 강은영 Gang Eunyeong, the 진도북춤 Jindobukchum dancer who I'd most wanted to see in the evening's line-up. Karjam claimed that the way she danced and the way I dance are very similar. Most of the other performances were good, but I felt that the performance of 승무 seungmu by ChaeSangmok and 한량무 hallyangmu by Choi Taeseon were of a lesser quality- ironically the only two performances by men in the evenings 8 dancer line-up. 

Sogo Chum



Jindo Bukchum

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Touring Seoul and Sangmo Progress

March 29th, 2011
I woke up early and made breakfast while Karjam took Hengyi Shr and her mother for a little hike on Namsan (san means mountain). After breakfast we went first to 창덕궁 Changdeokgung. I was really happy that the timing would work perfectly to also see the Secret Garden (Biwon/비원) but they didn't think it was perfect since the tour would be in Japanese (yes, it's true, I don't listen to tour guides because I have rarely met one who knows beans). At any rate we did walk around Changdeok Palace, which is gorgeous, and I took some photos of them (they brought a camera but it is no longer working and to me the idea of a vacation with no photos is abhorrent).

We were chilly so we went to a traditional tea shop, then bought some presents for Hengyi's mom's friends before heading for lunch at a fancy "modernized temple food" restaurant I'd found favorably reviewed in the newspaper. The food was so-so. In fact, I was a little embarrassed because Hengyi Shr is only allowed to eat once a day (her Buddhist order's rule) and that's lunch and she –really- likes to eat a lot. I gave her part of my lotus rice and her mom gave her almost all of hers and I still felt that she might not have been satisfied.  

After lunch we went to the National Museum of Korea, they toured the whole Buddhist painting and sculpture section and Hengyi Shr looked through Goryeo and Joseon historical sections but her mom was really exhausted. I bought mom a canvas bag with awesome Korean calligraphy at the gift shop. The National Museum of Korea has one of the best (and most reasonably priced) gift shops in the entire world. Then I took them home and rushed to 상모sangmo class.

Class today was 림한호근 and 현석. Nothing out of the ordinary happened although 이종휘 Yi Jonghui's girlfriend, 주리 Juri, was there for the second time in two weeks. Guess they're getting along really well. Here is a video that Jonghui took on his phone. This video is to show me how I'm doing.

Crossed arms: to keep my upper body from rotating when I rotate my head from side to side.
Error: if you look closely you can see that sometimes my speed wavers, I take a spin too fast.
This move is actually not that difficult, but the constant turning from side to side means I had no idea what I looked like while doing it. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jin Okseop Lecture 1

March 28th, 2011
I met up with my friend Hengyi Shr and her mother at 5, brought them home for dinner and then had to run out to a class at KOUS. The class, titled "진옥섭의 춤 이야기/Jin Okseopui Chum Iyagi" which is sort of like "Talking about Dance with Jin Okseop" or "Jin Okseop's Dance Talk/Story" was heavily advertised in the sorts of places where I see things. There was an article in the newspaper, even. The four classes, all on Monday nights, cost 50,000 won which I thought was a fairly reasonable fee. Also, I have already constructed a list of questions to ask Jin about the scheduling of traditional performances at KOUS (he's the artistic director). In my mind the class wouldn't be too large and he'd definitely notice me and I could ask him to do an interview before the class next week, or even the week after that. However when I arrived and signed in I found out that there were 118 registered students!

I went upstairs to get my seat and promptly ran into 안대천 Ahn Daecheon from 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae and 세정 Sejeong, 허창열 Heo Changyeol's girlfriend. A few minutes later Changyeol came in and after that a friend of Daecheon's who is a performer of 진도 씻김굿 Jindo Sshitgimgut (a shamanic ritual). It turned out that right now there is a grad class at K-Arts (I have finally realized that KNUA prefers to be called K-Arts which I guess is about as good of a name as KNUA, anyway) being taught by Jin and instead of attending class they have the option of coming to this lecture series instead. It was nice to be able to sit with friends during the lecture.

The lecture was somewhat of a let-down. I felt like he hadn't properly prepared. He was meandering and not particularly brilliant as he touched on many topics but not the ones that were listed for lecture one on the advertising material. He will undoubtedly get less attendance next week, which is a shame. He had an opportunity to teach something really important (and he even touched on why an educated audience is important for the quality of performance, for the feeling of the performers, etc) but didn't do it. He name dropped a lot about all the interesting people he knows and told little amusing stories about time with them. These people were almost all important performers, of course. But we learned more about their attitude towards coming to Seoul from the countryside to perform than we did about –dance-. He made a lot of jokes, but I didn't come for comedy, I came for a deeper understanding of traditional dance. He spent a while being very essentializing by talking about China and Korea and the West—all with MUCH too broad a brush. And he twice (at least an hour apart) discussed how hard he'd had to work to popularize Korean dance and run around to plead with the media to run stories in the paper etc. in order to actually get an audience. This was part of the general over-arching theme of "I am very important to the dance world in Korea."

Daecheon, who was next to me, looked very drowsy. Sejeong was on the other side and she was writing notes back and forth with Changyeol. They said they'd heard everything he'd said already, and that it was all in his book, as well, which they'd had to read at some point. Many audience members laughed at his jokes, though. The audience was predominantly female and mostly pushing 50 and in upper-class attire. Yep, it was a lecture for self-development of housewives.

By the way, the only joke that was funny was when he was characterizing each type of dance in Korea and he ends with "and modern dance? I feel sorry for them, they don't even have clothes!" The upside (besides seeing Daecheon, Changyeol and Sejeong)? Well, I understood -almost- all the Korean (well over 85% and when I couldn't follow it was because I lacked a couple really important vocab words), slightly making me feel better after my frustrations with that darn translating job.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Great Songpa Sandae Noli Rehearsal

March 26th, 2011
Saturday has traditionally been my day for 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli. When I returned to Korea late last summer everyone still practiced in one group on Saturday, but before long they decided to split up the practice so that the 이수자 isuja would have their own special practice on Friday nights. This was partially out of a sense that what they needed to practice was different than what others needed (the isuja handle the bulk of the performance duties but haven't been doing it as long as the higher ranked people, so they are still rehearsing specifically to improve their performance), and partially because the timing was more convenient for the majority of the isuja. Honestly I was annoyed at first, because I thought it would be poor for my research not to see how the isuja were practicing. But honestly, I've seen them all practice before right when I got here and in past years. There really isn't anything that would have been that different. With them gone, the idea is that the Saturday and Sunday practice could actually work on equipping the jeonsuja (registered students) and other junior members with the skills needed to perform with the troupe. Which I'd like, since I've only been able to perform Songpa Dari Balpgi so far. Recently I was talking to 어원석 Eo Wonseok and he told me that he practiced for more than ten years before he was allowed on stage. Talk about a way to discourage people from continuing to practice! With isuja and jeonsuja on the same day, basically the jeonsuja are expected to learn from watching, without many chances to actually stand up and participate.

In class on Saturday we began with three accompanists (I forget the name of the 피리 piri player, but 함완식 Ham Wanshik our National Human Treasure was there to play janggu and 박주현 Bak Juhyeon came to play 대금 daegeum. Jeonsu gyoyuk jogyo 이수환 Yi Suhwan was there, as well. There were three jeonsuja, Eo, 함승훈 Ham Seunghun and me. For learners we had Ham Wanshik's annoying friend, Yi Suhwan's friend (her second or third practice), plus the two elementary school girls. It was sort of obvious from the moment I got there that Yi would be running class that day, but I'd just been fighting with him on FB over the previous two days (and I felt very disrespected) so I was not particularly happy to see him. I did not greet him warmly or talk to him directly at any point during the practice. However, it was the best practice I've had for Songpa Sandae Noli –ever- in my 7 years with them. Before things started Yi and Ham were discussing why the preparations for the performance would be on Friday not on Saturday, because of course this creates a problem since Eo and Ham Jr. will perform, but they aren't welcome to Friday night practice. So they have to practice acts that need multiple players without the others who will actually perform in the Annual Full Length performance (scheduled for May 15th this year).

First we all did the basic motions with Yi leading, using our voices instead of the 장구 janggu to mark the timing (deong ddak gi deong ddak –eolsu- and repeat). It was a bit odd because most everyone doesn't have the level of physical conditioning to keep up the 입장단 Ip Jangdan, so I was more or less the only person doing it by the end. It was also weird, and I don't know if this is an old habit that has fallen out of practice, but Ham Wanshik kept practicing 불림 bullim scripts instead of doing the jangdan (the timing is the same), and it was really distracting because I've never heard that done before. After about fifteen minutes the three musicians sat down to play and the rest of us went through the basic motions for over 15 minutes in a circle. It was long enough that we worked up a good sweat. Yi told Ham Jr. and Eo they'd have to work on their acts and after a short discussion (where Yi pointed out incredibly obvious things like how your motions should be bigger –spatially- in a big madang than if you're performing on a small stage) we moved onto practicing the acts.

The two then ran through the act (act 5) one time, then Ham Wanshik had the rest of us join in. We did it one more time after which Ham could not resist being all authoritarian so he went to the white board to explain all about the act, but then gets worried he's not quite on and asks me not to write down what he's writing on the board. Which wasn't something I could fully follow anyway, as it had more to do with the historic meaning of 곤장 (act 5 is 곤장놀이) than anything that happens in the play. Ham should really either prepare a lecture or not go to the white board, but I guess I can't tell him that.

Then we switched to act 3 (the one I've been practicing) and this time I was 먹중 갑 Monk 'Gap' instead of 'Eul' which I've done every time so far. I did a pretty good job, actually. I delivered my lines with confidence, anyway. We were all (except Eo) reading from the script the whole time, though. Next we practiced 말뚝이 Malddugi's act, which was the first time I could ever do that one! I got to be 도련 Doryeon, the youngest of the yangban, and that was fun because he's all goofing off and running around and stuff (but no dialogue). Coolness!

Class ended then, a full two hours after we started!

After class, unfortunately, Ham Wanshik's annoying friend decided to confront me in the middle of Lotteria when we were all having a nice bit of fries and soda and various types of burgers. We'd gotten in each other's faces a couple weeks before—honestly I didn't behave like a Korean should and he was being a dick, so we were both at fault. Whatever, worked it out.

March 27th, 2011
Chans Bros on the computer and at home on the computer. I skipped Sunday Songpa Sandae Noli practice because I just wanted to get some sleep instead.

Thoughts on Bad Korean Writing

My Korean is not perfect. I know that. I sometimes say things that come out garbled because of poor word choice or grammar issues. Not ordinary everyday things, of course, but sometimes it happens when I try to express complex ideas. Or it happens just because I have bad habits with my Korean that my friends have been too gentle to point out. When I write in Korean I tend to keep my sentences fairly short, mostly because I'm confident in my ability to craft simple sentences and much less confident that I can make a long sentence error free. I can, however, read a newspaper without difficulty (although if it's on a topic I've never been interested in I might have to look up a couple key words in the dictionary). I can read academic articles and books, although I don't enjoy it, and search out the most important information for closer reading. I think this qualifies me to comment on the quality of Korean academic writing, although maybe you won't agree that I'm qualified. In Korea sometimes people are antagonistic to a non-Korean criticizing anything Korean—and I can understand that.

Today I want to vent a bit about bad Korean writing, specifically bad academic Korean writing. I have been forced to think a lot about this topic over the past few weeks because UCLA's Center for Korean Studies asked me to translate an article for publication in a journal. The article they asked me to translate was, they said, very close to my own research. I read the title and I was sold—it was about cultural policy and mask dance dramas! I was quite busy at the time that I agreed to do the translation, so I didn't start right away. I printed the article and I started reading it, but mostly for the big ideas. It was slow going, and I put it away and didn't take it back out until I'd made it through a couple of deadlines. It was when I tried to translate it into (academic) English that I began to appreciate just how bad this article was. My main arguments with his writing are:

1) He does not introduce concepts or organizations. For example, if you're going to talk about intangible cultural heritage policy in Korea, you should introduce the governmental bodies that oversee it (such as the Cultural Heritage Administration) and the law that governs it (the Cultural Property Protection Law). You can't just say "the governmental body that manages intangible heritage" and "intangible heritage policy" throughout your article. It just doesn't make sense. He will use a very technical term and not explain what it means. Including some theoretical terms he's apparently made up. In English I have to explain, for example, which established definition of transculturation I am referring to by clarifying that it is transculturation as used in Wallis and Malm (1993). Heck, I have to have a working definition of 'traditional' and 'culture' and a lot of other words you use all the time that you might not think of a definition for if you haven't had professors jump on you for using them without knowing just what you mean.

2) He does not use proper structure, simply speaking he does not: introduce an idea, support the idea with facts and reason and arguments, sum up. He doesn't use this on a paragraph by paragraph basis, and he doesn't do it for each section of the paper, either.

3) He doesn't believe in transition from one paragraph to another. You could almost reorder entire sections of his paper, just scramble the paragraphs. Ideas are introduced and one paragraph does not flow into the next, so it doesn't matter which order they come in.

4) He frequently neglects to clarify the subject of the sentence. In Korean writing the subject is not always necessary. If I asked you if you'd eaten, I'd just say "식사했어요?" (meal+did?), I wouldn't need to say "you" or anything else that might indicate who I was talking to (it's obvious if I'm speaking to you, isn't it?). However, in academic writing omission of the subject quickly becomes confusing.

5) Most of his paragraphs are three or four sentences long. Many sentences contain in excess of two lines (in a journal) of text, sometimes more than three, and Korean is denser than English. In others words he would take something the length of number (4) above and write one sentence. All with academic vocabulary.

Because I know someone will read this who doesn't believe me, here's a sample of his writing. Go ahead, I dare you to translate it into English in less than 15 minutes. Heck, take more than 15 minutes for these three sentences. Do you feel confident in your translation? If you do, post it in the comment section, I'd like to see how it matches up with what I'm going to submit. Yes, I know the last sentence isn't too bad.

Was I able to translate this by myself? No. At first, even though the limit of my previous translation work was making subtitles for Korean TV shows, I thought I'd be able to do it. After all, I felt like I understood his major points as I was reading. And it's about (more or less) the same topic I spend all day everyday thinking about. Mostly my friend Jisoo helped me. We sat together with multiple cups of coffee and talked through each sentence. Some sentences required 10 minutes before we had a decent translation! And frequently we just had to spend a few minutes blowing off steam about how bad his writing is. My friends Kyungjin and Hoijung also helped a bit, they both were shocked at how bad the writing was (considering that it had been chosen for publication).

The article I'm translating was already published in a journal. So how could it be so bad that Jisoo (post-MA, about to enter a US Ph.D. program), Kyungjin (post-MA, fluent in a gazillion languages and more than halfway through a JD) and Hoijung (post-MA, about to take her comp exams for her Ph.D. and a professional teacher of Korean) would all confirm that it was horribly written?

Possible Reasons Why Korean Is Written Poorly:

1) Languages need a long time to develop and get firm rules for writing: Korean was not the written language in Korea until the end of the 19th century. Even though the alphabet was invented in 1443 (promulgated in 1446), it was used mainly for communicating with/by the lower elements in society—it was used by women and merchants. –Educated—people (men) still used Chinese characters (although they were writing Korean) which required too much time to learn for any but the upper classes to learn well (everyone else was too busy working). There were publication projects usually sponsored by the government to translate important works into the Korean Alphabet (한글 Han'geul) but very little was produced in the alphabet. So many things were not standardized (for example where to put a space (like is it correct to write 할수있어요 or 할 수 있어요? Do you write 경진의 or 경진 의? Do you write 우리는냉이된장국먹었다 or 우리는 냉이 된장국 먹었다) until pretty recently.

2) Then Korea was taken over by the Japanese and the elite became educated in Japanese writing, not Korean writing (the best universities were in Tokyo, of course). Near the end of the occupation the use of Korean was even prohibited. So, in other words, academic works were rarely produced in the Korean alphabet until after liberation in 1945. How we write English was hardly developed over night. The rules of composition that clarify meaning were obviously different a few hundred years ago, and I'm just going to remind you—Shakespeare had darned inconsistent spelling.

I don’t know about during the past decades but since I've been in Korea it has been unusual for Korean universities to teach composition or academic writing. The assumption is that the students already know Korean. They're still required to take English in university even if they're in a two-year program to become a car mechanic, but they aren't required to work on their Korean writing skills. In fact, most Korean universities rely on tests and grade students primarily based on those. Even if they do have papers, they're more likely to be 'reports' than an exercise in academic writing. And perhaps the professors would rather just tick off presence and the quality of the major arguments than actually work with the students on how to improve how they presented their ideas. So when could the students ever actually be instructed in how to write? It's not in high school, either, where Korean language classes certainly don't require the teacher to correct the writing of his/her classes. (In the past Korean high school classes had 60 students in a class, by the time I came to Korea the lowering birth rate meant low 50s in a class, now it's often more like the mid 30s, however, if you assign writing to five classes of 30 students, you're still reading and correcting 150 papers, and that's a lot to ask).

4) I think one reason why they wouldn't have a concerted effort to teach Korean writing is because if they taught it then the other professors in the university might feel threatened that the students would now feel they were able to criticize the writing, if not the ideas, in their professors' published works.

5) In addition the legacy of an elite education based on Chinese philosophy is that obtuse writing is more academic. If your writing is impossible to understand it must be because you're smarter than the reader. Not because you don't know how to present your idea. I definitely see this in the preference for 75 cent vocabulary words. It would be easier to just use the super obscure vocab when you had a very specific point to make and 'big' didn't convey the size as accurately as 'humongous,' and use the lower score words the rest of the time. But it wouldn't make you look as smart as if every sentence was packed with those big, long, obscure words. Right?

6) Reputable US Journals require blind review, this means a graduate student can get published and a professor can be denied publication based on how well the ideas are presented. Of course in smaller fields it can be hard to get a truly blind review. I sent in an article on Korean performance to a journal recently. If they sent it for review to someone who works specifically on Korean performance, but is already in a tenured position, there are only about two dozen people in the English-speaking world they could have sent it to. And I'm probably at least in email contact with half of them, if not FB friends. Korean language academia is an even smaller pool than English language academia. A truly blind review is almost impossible here, and most Korean journals don't even bother. With Korea's Confucian values pressing on journal editors, age and length of service to Korean academia will be more likely to guarantee publication than anything else, regardless of how good/bad the writing is.

This only leaves me with one question: why was this article chosen for translation into English? Does someone, somewhere, truly think the ideas are that important? I'll admit he's got some good ideas (along with some not so good ones) but if presentation wasn't important, Korea wouldn't be in the middle of a plastic surgery epidemic.

Feel free to comment if you think I missed a major reason of if you think I'm wrong.

Friday, March 25, 2011

From K-Arts to Bongsan Talchum to the Seoul History Museum

March 23rd, 2011
The research activity of the day was to go see the 한국종합예술학교 K-Arts students practice 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae again. Karjam came with me, expressing his desire not to go basically at every moment. We arrived right at 8, and some students were eating dinner still. However they started before too long. 태환 Taehwan announced the performance date—May 7th.

They did basic motions with 희수, 혜미, 재윤, 준영 playing instruments. Then they did act one, Taehwan felt a big heavier in his motions. As he practiced 윤만 was practicing his own stuff, while 혜미 and 정운 were in the back of the room eating dinner.

Next they practiced act three, but they kept stopping and taking things again. 만희, 준영, 정우, everyone basically was on 희수's case for continually screwing it up. He must have a hard time remembering stage blocking. As for 만희 he got very little correction, but when he did he responded that 창열 had said he was doing it right but 대천 had agreed with the critique, so he was trying to find a middle ground.

Act two was next and 정우 looked a lot more masculine. They went through the act with no interruptions, although at one point 민기 just announced that he'd take his line over again (and did so). Afterwards they had a discussion of what went right and what needs to change. 정우 and 민기 get in a discussion about where (on the stage) to do the dialogue. 민기 says "when the teachers perform, 원양반 does a circle like this right in the center." And acts it out.

Act five was next. 준영 had hurt his leg and couldn’t move very well, but it almost worked better (certainly funnier). They took the parts several times esp. the part with the two songs, trying to get the timing all right. During one of his parts 윤만 tells everyone "don't laugh" because he's having a hard time due to difficulty keeping a straight face.

Last of all they practice act 4, and the two "ladies" are played by 정운 and 재윤(not the normal actors) and they totally goof around making it hard for 경진 to concentrate, but it's all in good fun.

At the end of the practice the students completely confirmed my absolutely positive impression of them. They were so awesome. They all came and sat down in front of Karjam and introduced themselves as a group and asked him to introduce himself and then to sing. And then Karjam asked them to sing (they sang a mourning song from 진도 씻김 굿) and then they asked me to give them feedback on the days rehearsal (my general feedback was that they were getting so much better and that now they were more comfortable with the roles they'd be able to fix the little things). Karjam was happy on the way home. He was definitely impressed.

March 24th, 2011
The research activity of the day was to go to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class, but I was a bit late because of the sudden heavy wet snow shower that snarled traffic. In class we had 12 people not including 김은주 Kim Eunju but including 인수 Insu who was there to practice his drumming accompaniment skills (which meant that Eunju was able to move around and teach without drumming). 박용철 Bak Yongcheol had brought another of his troupe people, a huge man, to class. 현석 Hyeonseok was there, too. And I felt guilty I hadn't come earlier, he'd been there waiting since 5:30 without dinner since his family doesn't have the money to spare. I guess I need to feed him every week as well as paying his tuition (to be fair, he doesn't know I do that). We practiced all the way through the monk parts and did lion dance at the end.

March 25th, 2011
On Friday I spent hours with 지수 Jisu again, then rushed home, changed, and went to a meeting of "Pine and Tiger" (a special group for discussion of issues related to tourism/expressing Korean culture to foreigners) which was a bit unsatisfying as Director 엄승용 Eom Seungyong was so late and we just couldn't have the meeting right without him. We did, however, tour the 서울역사박물관 Seoul History Museum. It is devoid of English, but actually has a lot of awesome displays—photos from the late 50s and early 60s, a display of items from daily life, and a great diorama of the city. After touring around we went to dinner, half way through Eom Seungyong finally joined us. The group didn't really jell, although I think I made a great impression on the two Korean members. Karjam and I saw "The King's Speech" in the evening.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We No Speak Americano

제 블로그를 방문해 주셔서 고맙습니다. 저는 이 블로그에 일주일에 4번 정도 한국 전통 공연 문화에 대해 쓰고 있습니다. 처음에는  K-pop에 관심이 있으셔서  방문하셨겠지만 나가시기 전에 한국 전통 문화에 관한 것도 한번 봐 주시면 좋겠습니다.

LPG has released "Angry" a "We No Speak Americano" remake. It's worth checking out. It was a catchy song in its original version, and with a dance-trot twist it's still really fun. Or even more fun. But not as impressive as the Cleary and Harding hand-dancing video version. Regardless, LPG's version went straight into the number 2 spot on my K-Pop Youtube playlist right after Big Bang's "Tonight."

Speaking of Big Bang- check out this detailed article on Big Bang.

And if you want to see an awesome Mash-up, this is Masa's latest. Visit Masa's site to see more awesome work.

Improving my Sangmo Whip

March 22nd, 2011
I woke up pretty early and went to meet 지수 Jisoo near her house. We drank two Americanos each while continuing to work on this translation project. 경진 Gyeongjin also helped me on the project, so great to have real friends.

Went home and looked through my Ministry publications until I had to run to 상모 sangmo class, arriving 7 minutes late. We took apart the whips on our sangmo and put them back together in a more flexible way.
1st: stripped off the brown threading

2nd: bent the whip to break it's spine, more or less, by pulling it across the head of a hammer

3rd: glued ribbon over the bottom 6 inches or so of the whip

4th: took thin white thread and wrapped it around the whip until about 8 inches from the end super super tight (we had to keep the thread tight enough to pluck it and get a string instrument sound as we wound).

5th: coated it with wax (paraffin)

6th: heated the wax and rubbed it in

And to make my sangmo even better(!!!!) 이종휘 Yi Jonghui also added a washer (more weight) to the beads on the whip mount harness.

It took more than two hours, and was just 현석 Hyeonseok, 진수 Jisu and I, but it was so worth it. I put it on at the end and it moved pretty well. The weight was different and I think it's not able to bend equally well in all directions and it definitely needs more wax but it was such a big improvement.

Ministry of Culture and Tourism

March 21st, 2011
I worked on the computer all morning. Wanting some statistical records from the 문화관광부 Ministry of Culture and Tourism but having noticed their building was being reconstructed/renovated or something I gave them a call to find out their new location. They are now (until 2013 when they will move to Sejong City) located near Hyehwa Stn. I also needed SNU Hospital to give me some receipts for my insurance claim, so I decided to kill two birds on the same trip to Hyehwa Stn.

Silly me, I went to the Ministry first. (Silly because I knew I was going to leave with publications and OF COURSE they're heavy). I finally found the building (interesting lobby with fancy lights made from red plastic tubing as you can see in my cell phone photo)

I asked the receptionist "where is the 자료실 information/data room?
She: "Are you going to see someone?"
Me: "No, I'm going to see some information."
I know, I'm such a smartass.

What I really wanted was the 문화예술통계 (statistical records related to culture and the arts) but the new one will –probably—come out this month. However I went home with seven other books (including one hard back that has to weigh a few pounds on its own) and the exact link to download another they didn't have a copy of at the time and a promise that they'll call me when they get the statistics records in.

Here is an example of the kinds of info I can get out of these books:

(tiny analysis: western music performances dwarf tradish (gugak) performances)

I stopped by SNU Hospital then caught the subway. I met a blind guy who had 30 minutes worth of questions he'd been saving for a Korean-speaking foreigner, apparently. Or he had more because he tried to convince me to go back to his place. ("Are you white or black?" "Is this a wedding ring?" (locking fingers with me in a –far- too familiar way) "Do you know ---name of apparently a famous school for the blind—?" "Do you like massage?" "What do you think of Japanese people and the tsunami?").

Arrived at the training center for 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class an hour early (but no one was still in any of the other offices), talked to 김은주 Kim Eunju for a few minutes, then headed to the practice room with 정현 Jeonghyeon and 하연 Hayeon. Before long we were joined by more of the crew. Everyone is getting along so well, they all want to show up early and hang out. 병우 Byeong'u had been out of town for two performances in 포항 Pohang and 경산 Gyeongsan, and he was wearing street clothes (I usually don't see him in street clothes) that would have been hip three years ago. I told him never to wear the pants again. He is very attractive in tradish clothes but looks like a putz in skinny jeans (skinny jeans are still in, but not in –that- style). The group he performs with, 미추극단 Michu Geukdan, is the same group Jeonghyeon used to be in, they do theatre and 풍물 pungmul and I'm not sure what all else. I wanted to visit the website but it's got security malware warning issues. I asked Jeonghyeon how much this next piece he's in (which will occupy him from mid April till October) will pay, and he said 10,000,000 Korean won. I guess it could be worse. It's not exactly a good wage or anything, but I had imagined worse. Yes, in Korea you can just ask someone how much they get paid. And maybe they will sidestep but they might answer, too. 병호 Byeongho showed up early, too, with his first paycheck—he had withdrawn it all so that he could hand it over to his parents in cash (symbolic, he says in the future he'll give only part of it, by bank transfer). He handed it to Jeonghyeon and Hayeon to count. So I guess it was really a day to know how much everyone earns. I didn't pay attention to what he had, though, since the new job is not arts related.

박용철 Bak Yongcheol brought one of his company members 연희 Yeonhee with him to class, and after class (pretty standard, but no 목중 Mokjung solos and we did 사자춤 lion dance instead) he talked to us all about his hopes for his piece on April 29th and our participation in the piece, particularly he wants three of our men to perform three mask dance characters (two of which are women's parts). It can't happen unless 장용일Jang Yongil (2nd ranked) approves, and he'll talk to Jang on Thursday.

I walked to the subway with Jeonghyeon and right before we got there he started telling me his opinion on professionalization in tradish performance and it was REALLY a perspective I hadn't heard before and since he's so sweet he cooperated when I pulled out my voice recorder and had him start again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rainy Songpa Sandae Noli

March 20th, 2011
Even though I was really happy to wake-up with Karjam (heck, I was so conscious of being in bed with him I didn't sleep soundly because I have like 15 distinct memories of pulling myself right up next to him again) by the time I got to 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli practice I was a bit out of sorts. Or maybe it was the fact that I got on the bus on time but still had to transfer to the subway because the Seoul Marathon had closed off the street. I was the first to arrive because the marathon was screwing with everything except subway transport. I stood shivering just out of the rain and practiced the dialogue for Act 3 until finally 김영숙 Kim Yeongsuk showed up and unlocked the door. By that time two of the three college girls had shown up and the other one didn't come today. We went inside but 강차욱 Gang Cha'uk who was slated to teach us didn't show up until 11:15 (and then had to change clothes) since he had been stuck driving in detoured circles. So I was rather thoroughly pissy and Gang Cha'uk picked up on it, as did Kim Yeongsuk but I couldn't get out of that headspace even though Gang Cha'uk is an amazing teacher.

He is an amazing teacher. I took a lot of notes when we had a short break. Had lunch with Gang Cha'uk, Kim Yeongsuk and National Human Treasure Kim Hakseok.

Spent a lot of the rest of the day at Chans Bros working on the computer.

More Superficial K-Pop Reviews

김형준 Kim Hyeongjun from SS501 (a group that is taking a serious if not permanent hiatus) has released a solo mini-album, the first music video from the album is "Girl." It's a dance track, with average music, fairly competent singing and a video that's a bit disappointing (Hyeongjun dances well, but this video spends a lot of time close to his head watching him sing). The song would be better without such singing the word "girl" too many times and the section where he sings L-O-V-E. I understand that Koreans like some English in their pop, but sometimes it really just makes them either sound incredibly unoriginal or it detracts. The odd English (like "Bring, Bring" in Brown Eyed Girls' "Abracadabra" tends to work better musically than many of the English words and phrases that they think will work but in fact have been so overused in English that they pull the song down. A few days later Kim Hyeongjun released a second single, "Oh, Ah." Of course I approached it with anticipation, however the song is merely ordinary. It is the video that sets it apart with it's really unusually eye-catching visuals. I would definitely recommend giving it a watch.

제 블로그를 방문해 주셔서 고맙습니다. 저는 이 블로그에 일주일에 4번 정도 한국 전통 공연 문화에 대해 쓰고 있습니다. 처음에는  K-pop에 관심이 있으셔서  방문하셨겠지만 나가시기 전에 한국 전통 문화에 관한 것도 한번 봐 주시면 좋겠습니다.

동방신기 Dongbangshin'gi (TVXQ) has released a new video, 이것만은 알고 가(Before U Go). I think it's not enormously successful because it's a ballad with a mafia/assassin themed video, which really doesn't go well together. Watch it and see what you think. I'd definitely have preferred another dance track. A few days after I made the above note they released a 16 minute extended video incorporating three tracks from their newest release in a story format. It's actually pretty good-- if you understand the Korean dialogue, at any rate.

Wheesung has released a video with B2ST's Junhyeong, Heart Aching Story or 가슴 시린 이야기. It's just more of Wheesung's admittedly fairly good singing, but it's ballad and I'm not a fan of ballads in any language.

Kim Taewoo has released a video of "Me and My Brothers" with Rain and JYP as the other brothers. It's another ballad. Is there nothing good coming out these days?

Wonbin (not the actor, the guy who used to be in FT Island) has released "C'mon Girl" a light poppy dance track with a somewhat satisfying sound and a video of him looking handsome and metrosexual.

Teen Top's latest, "Angel" is a boring ballad. What a sad follow up to their last release.

Song Jieun's "Going Crazy" is not bad, although the craziest thing might be her bright blue hair. It's true, as this review from allkpop points out, that she has a thin voice, but so do many other K-pop singers.

INY, a brand new group, has released "Shake it, Shake it." The video features ING's three members, with a filming style that is supposed to be from the first person perspective, so you're perpetually at arm's length from the other performers. I found it ineffective and not even particularly clever, partially because the perspective keeps switching without a clear reason (other than letting the camera show all the characters). Oh, and the music isn't that good. You're so busy watching the weird video you barely even hear it. Not catchy enough.

CN Blue has "comeback" (it always cracks me up the way they talk about "comeback" in Korea. Seriously, a comeback is when Guns and Roses releases their first CD in 15 years or what Michael Jackson was preparing to do before he overdosed. A comeback is not when a group that promoted a single six months ago and then took a break to create new material re-emerges on the scene). I also freely admit that I think CN Blue is overhyped. The new song is "Intuition" or 직감, however, is definitely their best work yet. I still think it's silly to call them a band. Yes, they have instruments. But when you listen to the music you do not hear guitar, bass and drums. Seriously. You hear the same sound you get in all K-pop music, not a "rock" sound at all. If only they didn't look like such children. Maybe they'll grow up soon?

ZE:A released "Here I am" which is a sappy poppy love song. The boys look cute, but not half as masculine as they did in some of their releases last year (weird, cause they're older now). I don't find it that good, but I bet it will add to their popularity with tween girls.

Girl's Day released "Twinkle Twinkle" which if you combine the group name and the song name you already know what to expect. It is annoying and worse, I bet it will become too popular for me to avoid. The one thing I can say is these girls can actually make black and yellow stripes look good, that's impressive!

Yi Ashi has come out with a syrupy ballad. The song, 눈물이 마르면 has been praised because it doesn't digitally alter her voice, we're just hearing her. Am I supposed to be impressed? Only in Korea is digital manipulation so common we are amazed when someone doesn't use it up the wall.