Thursday, June 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why I Feel Insane Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

LGBT and Whatever Other Letters, in Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Field Notes: April 18th at Songpa Sandae Noli Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crappy cell phone photos of rehearsal

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jeju Incident / Jeju Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I was on TV

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


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

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Survey on K-pop Cover Dance

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