Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shaved Ice (Bing-su)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ten things to do if you live in Korea

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

Here's my 10:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a snippet from the end of the introduction:

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

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

Some visuals that may be used in the paper: