Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Peer Reviews and Preparing your Journal Article for Publication

* I do too many peer reviews per year. I have completed peer reviews for 9 different journals and three and a half of those are focused on Korea. I have been asked to review Korea-related submissions for the other journals. This experience is the background for this blog post *

I'm not being the kindest peer reviewer tonight. But seriously, when will people learn to send their articles to the right journal? Last summer I gave a presentation (in Korean) to a group of Korean scholars about publishing in English language journals. Reviewing this paper right now just brings back all the things I talked to them about last summer. Although I am too lazy to go find my presentation notes or something, this is what this review has reminded me of-- because these issues are all too common.

Before you submit an article, think about the things the readers of that journal want to know about. If it's not the primary thing you're writing about, send it somewhere else: Why is it so common to see scholars submitting to journals that publish on Korea who have somehow FAILED to think about their audience at all? Journals in Korean Studies (or whatever other topic) are for people who want to read about Korea-- if you say "wow, I'm researching a Korean thing, I should send it to that journal!" you may be on the right track, but you need to realize that as a Korean Studies journal:
a). Your readership has a certain common area of knowledge, and interests. So don't talk down to them about Korea as if they know nothing, and in fact, be aware that you're entering a 'Korean Studies' conversation, so if you only care about ideas related to something else, which you are applying to a Korean thing, you might be sending the article the wrong place. Although Korean Studies is not a discipline, in the same sense that Sociology has key knowledge and texts, there are things that are overarching within Korean Studies that tie together our conversations. Connect to those or submit elsewhere. 
b). don't bore readers with a bunch of your half-baked rehashing of theoretical jargon without tying it very closely back to Korea. No one is reading your article to see you advance the field of XYZ, they are reading it because it relates to an aspect of Korea they may research or teach about. Advance that other field somewhere that those people will see it. Maybe you had to always justify the 'greater importance' for your professor in graduate school, but I'm not him, and I know enough about Korea to find your awkward mashing of Korean X together with Compelling Theoretical Idea Y to be completely unconvincing, because UNLIKE your professor, I know about Korea. Maybe in grad school you had to prove that you had read and understood dead ancients like Aristotle, but seriously, you don't need to give me three paragraphs reviewing Aristotle, I just don't care that much (this is a real example from an article I reviewed). 

Sorry, but you have to read (or skim) the English language scholarship if you're publishing in English: Seriously, if you're writing in English for a Korean Studies audience, you're writing for the audience MOST LIKELY to have read the English language publications that are already out there. Don't ignore some important key publications (lots aren't important, but you just can't ignore certain scholars, even if you only cite them to disagree with them, because even if they're unknown in Korean, they're important in English language scholarship). If you ignore all the English language scholarship you not only will have a hard time passing the review, but you won't be earning yourself any scholarly friends. When I explain to my students about the importance of citations, one of the things I explain is that it's a form of etiquette. You're not ignoring the hard work of other people, or claiming to have done the hard work that actually started from a significant foundation someone else built. So, unless you're magically able to find an area of scholarship in which not a single worthy English-language publication exists, not even peripherally, you're being rude. You're playing in someone else's sandbox without acknowledging that someone else got there first.

*Remember the reviewers who were assigned your article should be very familiar with literature in the field you're writing in -- they may think you have to cite them, or they will be insulted on behalf of their long term colleague*

Just in case this isn't totally obvious-- I have also rejected scholars who I felt were only relying on English writings and hadn't engaged with the major Korean language publications. I've seen a few of those where it was pretty obvious the author couldn't use enough Korean to make it out of the 분식집 and into the 화장실 in the stairwell leading to the 당구장. But I have read FAR more scholars who are Koreans ignoring the English scholarship, than non-Koreans who ignored the Korean scholarship. (This is probably because of the huge pressure to publish only journal articles in Korea these days).

Try to match your language (translations/glosses/use of Korean terms) to other scholarship and your audience: Why do people make up their own translations and glosses of Korean terms? Seriously, how many translations and glosses do we need for pansori? Describe it in detail, then just use the Korean word, after all, this is a Korean Studies audience you're writing for. If you don't know what the gloss generally is for that term refer to the most quoted English language publications on the topic. If you don't know what those are, see the point above. And if you do that, and think their gloss is wrong, use your gloss and put a footnote in to connect your new gloss to previous glosses so that your readers don't get confused. If I have to review one more paper written by someone who seems unaware that entire books in English have been written on pansori, I'm going to scream. Earlier in 2016 I was reviewing one article on pansori sent to a Korean Studies journal written by someone in a theatre program who cited about two scholars of pansori. It was all theatre studies jargon this and that. And no real understanding of pansori, just trying to perhaps take advantage of a Korean background while attending a theatre program-- because if this author really had the massive misunderstandings about pansori that he or she did (needless to say I did not recommend publication and it hasn't appeared in that journal), then he or she really had no business writing on pansori to begin with. This brings me to the next point...

Don't try to publish on a topic you're not really familiar with: NEWS FLASH: I don't have a free pass to write about American culture because I'm American. You don't have a free pass to write about Korean culture just because you're Korean. You actually have to do research and care about your subject. And just because you're writing in English doesn't mean you can make stuff up. A couple of years ago I was sent an article by a highly regarded dance journal, with two authors writing about salpuri (a Korean dance). The authors (or one of them) may have known something about dance, but certainly not about shamanism, which they decided to adjust and bend to fit their ideas. I recommended that it be rejected (but left pages and pages of detailed comments). Two months later a Korean Studies journal sent me the same abstract and asked me to review, I told them I already had, and though I'd be curious to see if they took my advice on rewriting it, the journal might not want me to review it (they didn't). It has yet to appear in their journal, too-- although perhaps it still will (they take a long time to publish).

*I think a lot of this comes from people who study under scholars who aren't Koreanists. They get in bad habits of applying theories that may or may not fit Korea to Korean things, because their grad school professors don't know any better. Your reviewer will know better than that grad school professor*

Romanization: Also, just because you're Korean or have fluent Korean doesn't mean you can use any Romanization system you want, or rather, no system except your own mind. The journal probably told you which system to use. Use it. If you don't know why consistency in Romanization is important, find out why it is.

Okay, I'll tell you briefly: basically, no one can guess if you're writing 순 or 선 when you write 'sun' if you change back and forth between using /u/ for 우 and for 어, and you also sometimes write /o/ for 어, yet at other times /u/. The key to Romanization is consistency. ANOTHER NEWS FLASH, neither 조son nor 조sun is the name of the last Korean kingdom. It's going to be either Chosŏn or Joseon. Your justifications such as "random bloggers wrote it this way" or "it sounds like this" do not change the reality of Romanization. When someone from Japanese Studies decides to read your article, and then tries to search out more articles that talk about some poorly Romanized term, they won't find anything (or find that much). Why? Because they don't know that poongmool (wacky Romanization), pungmul (or p'ungmul using M-R), and nongak and who knows what else are the same thing.

*Romanization is not supposed to match English pronunciation, it is a system to help people who don't read 한글 to find the same thing again in other print media.*

Match the format: Could you please stop using symbols like < > in your bibliographies? (Also stop using it around titles of songs or books or tables or whatever, and use - not ~ and there are others, but I don't even know where to find them on my computer, they are that unnecessary to English). To make a correct bibliography (and correct citations) is an important part of academic scholarship. You should have learned to perfectly match the format in the article you submit to articles in previous issues of the same journal (there is also probably a submission guidelines page, although those are often less detailed than they could be, so again, refer to the already published articles). Yes, it can be a pain in the rear. The ones I don't like using are British English spelling and the "Harvard" citation system, but I still do it because matching the format is part of the checklist that reviewers are going to go over as they decide if your article should be accepted. And when I review an article sometimes I'll even go directly to the bibliography, because if an author can't get that right, it's usually an indicator of multiple other problems.

*If you want to have a rejected article, get it rejected for the ideas, not because you think you're a special snowflake.*

Finally, EDIT: I'm a native English speaker and I send my publications before I submit them to journals to professional academic editors. If I am willing to pay for that when I was raised in a monolingual English-speaking household, why would any non-native speaker send something to a journal before it's been edited? Yes, there are a few of my friends that don't do this, but most of my friends do. An editor (for a native speaker or not) will introduce more polish, let you know your made-up term is awkward as heck, catch your leap of logic, and hopefully get rid of unnecessary passive voice.
Also, please recognize the difference between an academic editor and just some idjit who is a native speaker. Please, if you want me to appreciate your awesome ideas, exchange with a grad school friend or pay for an academic editor, you don't want your article rejected based on how hard it was to read, do you?

A few general closing points:
-In Korean Studies, Korean names are written in Korean order.
-Repeating over-simplifications of Korea doesn't help anyone.
-Please note that Korean terms should be in italics the first time or every time you use them (this depends on the publication), but not in 'single quotes'
-Please review where in-text citations, quotation marks, and footnote numbers go in the sentence-- this is so frequently wrong.
-Although this site goes down sometimes, this Romanization converter is quite good: http://roman.cs.pusan.ac.kr/input_eng.aspx

Monday, November 28, 2016

Teaching "Korean Popular Music in Context" at University of British Columbia

I've already been in Vancouver for months, but it seems that I cannot find time to catch my breath. My current backlog of things to do includes:

  • Writing half of a chapter for a book on how to talk about Korean performance, sort of an introduction to the specialized and representative terminology (the topics in the chapter have been divided, I'm responsible for half of them). After both of us have written, then I'll have to go back and work with my co-author on editing them into a coherent whole. The book is part of a series with many different countries represented, and the authors were all part of a workshop in Berlin last summer where we hashed out what to write about (and who would write about each topic). 
  • Editing and encouraging the writing of another chapter for the same book. I'm the native English speaker, but the other author is senior and more of a practitioner, so if he doesn't start writing soon I should put my encouraging hat on. As I understand it, I will be using my advanced knowledge of the topic and my English skill to make his writing more academic, more of a match with the volume, and of course, more fluent. 
  • Writing a chapter for a book that will accompany a museum exhibition in Germany. 
  • Reviewing a book (a solicited review for Journal of Western Folklore)
  • Reviewing another book (a solicited review for Ethnomusicology Forum)

  • Preparing my conference paper for Association for Asian Studies in Toronto in March. Yes, I know many people write their paper on the plane but 1) I don't work well that way and 2) I'm on the job market so I need to be schmoozing and shaking hands and attending talks, not locked in my room writing my paper throughout the conference. Also, it's a new project which means it requires more work to get it ready. 

  • Finishing up a journal article on K-pop cover dance that is more than half done (and the research is done-for-now, although it is an evolving field so I will have to write more about it in the future). 
  • Reading and responding to various other people's work (the only way to ask them to look at mine^^). I am really behind on this. 

-and most of all-

  • Finishing my book. The idea was to be done in the summer, then I got this postdoc and decided I'd rather finish it while I was here (the postdoc application did indicate I'd work on it this year), get feedback from people here, and take advantage of a little more time to improve it. But since I got to Vancouver I haven't even opened the files. 

What have I been doing? 1) Teaching my class, and 2) job applications (they take a lot of time as well as mental/emotional energy). Fortunately this year there are quite a few jobs open that are worth applying to. Unfortunately most of those jobs will get more than 300 applicants (and that's only for the jobs in the smaller fields or with more restrictive search criteria, some of them will probably get closer to 1,000).

I just find this photo (from promotions for Troublemaker "Now") disturbing on so many levels that I'm subjecting you to it. Sorry. 

But the good news has been my class. The class is great. Although it is lot of work to teach such a large group (120 was the maximum enrollment and we had many students clamoring to be added to the class, at the start we didn't know how many of the students who enrolled were serious about taking it, or had just "saved themselves a spot," so we gambled and took just about ten extra students to make up for people who were going to drop. At that point we were just over 120, and worried about the work of grading, but even after the midterm we lost a few students so we're now about 110 + auditors). Teaching such a big class does mean preparing lectures (you can't have much discussion when you've got so many voices!), but the lecture topics are fun and the students are really great.

It has been quite a learning curve for me. It's my first time to teach a class with my own TAs. I have two, both really excellent. One is a fourth year undergraduate, and she understands the system here at UBC perfectly, is very responsible and detail-oriented, and navigates the computer system / learning platform (connect) for the class. The other TA is an eighth year graduate student here. She's full of energy, very thoughtful, and quite knowledgeable. I am so thankful that I got TAs who help me and never cause any problems. I think I've done a fairly good job of asking them for help so I'm not overloaded, but not dumping more on them than they should be dealing with. One of them is better about protecting her own time than the other. Preparing lectures for two classes per week has felt like twice as much work as preparing for one a week, which sounds right if you forget that lectures in Korea are three hours long, and this is only one and a half (one hour and twenty since I need to give them time to get to the next class). On many instances I have prepared much more than I can cover in the time period and had problems such as transitioning into speed-lecturing mode (this is NOT helpful, not just because I have many exchange and international students, but because no one can process information as fast as someone else can spit it out). Since I teach the same class next semester I will be able to better divide topics so that the important topics get enough time to talk through them slowly and thoughtfully. I will also have time to refine and revise my lecture notes instead of just throwing tons of information at paper and scanning through it in class, hoping I organized it effectively.
Google results for a search for Korean "flower boys" 

As for topics, at the start of the class I had some orienting lectures (first about Korean music before the modern era, and second a quick swing through of Korean history), various lectures then covered the evolution of music in the modern era (music in the colonial era, music under the dictators and such). These classes were the first 1/3 of the lectures. After that I have been working topically. For example, last week we had a lecture on K-pop Consumption and Fandom (Tuesday) and on Choreography and Fans Engaging with K-pop through Cover Dance (Thursday). Obviously both of those are linked to fan practices-- I did always try to make linked topics appear in back to back classes, to the extent possible. So the class that dealt with Masculinity, Male Image, and Mandatory Military Service was right before the class on Femininity, Plastic Surgery, and the Obsession with Image. Tomorrow I will be talking about Tradition, Korean Image, and K-pop (so how tradition is used within K-pop and how K-pop impacts the way tradition is packaged/promoted). I am really looking forward to this topic, although I'm so exhausted I wish the semester was over already.

Colored light sticks wielded at concerts correspond to the K-pop group you are a fan of

There are always ways to spend more money on K-pop

The class has no attendance, but quizzes without prior notice (so a zero on a quiz is the penalty for not showing up that day-- students can roll the dice to see if they want to show up or not, but we did decide to throw out the lowest two quiz scores). Quizzes are operated on the iclicker system (so the computer grades the quizzes and inputs the grades at the click of a button). Quizzes are 20%, there is a midterm (20%) and final (30%) as well as a video project (done in groups, 30%). In general I have no problem with attendance, because students enrolled in this class because they are interested in the topic-- it will not help them get a job or fulfill requirements for graduation. So they come, they stay awake, they send thoughtful emails and do pretty well on their assignments.

Speaking of doing well on assignments: the video projects varied greatly in quality-- the best groups were really amazing, and most fell into the A range. Here are a few of the best videos:

A Case Study of the Singer CL
New Mediatized Depictions of Rap in Korea
Star Making 101-- or Why is Bae Suzy (MissA) the "Nation's First Love"?
The Role of Cover Dancers in K-pop
Korean Survival Shows and K-pop
Androgyny and K-pop
The Success of "Gangnam Style" in the US (focusing on dance and marketing)
The video that won the popular vote in class is currently private, but it's so good... I'll share it if they make it public again. It also got the second highest grade from the instructors.

These videos lacked something on the academic engagement end, but were well done and are worthy of mention:
The Future of Big Bang
A Close Reading of the Big Bang Video "Bae Bae"

So, that's a short update and links for you to follow. It would be nice if I could write a blog post more than twice a year, though.

Yes, we had a class on cultural appropriation and K-pop

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Riding a Bike from the San Juan Islands to Vancouver, Canada : p.s. BC Hydro Sucks

On August 27th I rode my bike 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Lopez Village to the University of British Columbia Point Grey Campus. Before leaving for this trip I repeatedly search online for routes taken by other cyclists and had little luck. Some cyclists (most seemingly riding from Vancouver to the United States) explained their routes in rough terms, but actual route maps, or the gold standard for serious cyclists— Strava or Ride with GPS downloadable data— was missing. Eventually I had to piece together ideas from various sources and headed out on my trip. Fortunately on the ferry ride I met a woman who was on a bike heading back to a place East of Bellingham, and she gave me some good pointers. My entire ride from the United to the border with Canada is something you can follow with confidence (Strava link to the ride data).

I am already planning how I can ride part of the US route again. I didn't ride that fast because I kept stopping to take photos, and because I was unsure of the route, and I'd like to go back and get all the QOM.

I started from Lopez Village and took the first ferry:

The one part of the trip outside Anacortes and before Edison that you might be confused about is "do I have to ride on the margin of Route 20"? Yes, so far as I know, you do. I rode against traffic on 20, on the far side of the breakdown lane, and it was a little scary but only about two miles (from leaving March Point Road next to the reservation gas station and casino, over the bridge (there is a separate pedestrian/bike lane on the bridge) until you turn onto the road that goes past Padilla Bay to Edison. If you rode on the correct shoulder of 20 you would have to cross 20 to get onto the road to Edison.

View from the Bridge:

Riding on Chuckanut drive without much of a shoulder with a cliff on one side and sharp drop off on the other was also a bit sketchy, but people there are used to cyclists and all the signs tell the drivers to share the road. Although I was worried about Chuckanut before riding it, it's actually only about eight miles that is sketchy.

Much of the US part of the ride looked like this (view towards Chuckanut):

Or this- outside Ferndale:

I stopped at the Community Food Co-op (Co-op Café) in Bellingham for a late breakfast (I had an early one of food I brought with me on the ferry), coffee, and excellent lunch to go that I ate in White Rock (BC) in front of City Hall. At the Co-op they let me take my bike inside and were very welcoming. The food was perfect, too. I would definitely recommend patronizing the Food Co-op if you pass through Bellingham. There are a couple small places (a restaurant, a diner, and a bakery at least) in Edison right next to the road, and at least one of them looked like outside seating next to your bike would be possible—however, none were open on a Saturday morning at the time I went through.

mmmm lunch (with a Bosko rose):

Downtown Edison: 

After Bellingham there are several routes you can take, the route I chose worked very well, but I think you could safely deviate from it and have the same experience. Basically there is a lot of farmland, and some forests, it's mostly but not all flat, the roads usually have a wide shoulder and they are pretty wide. There isn't a whole lot of traffic.

I crossed the border in the NEXUS lane (got my card Friday), but they told me next time to use the special bike/walker lane next to the building.

After the border things got not so perfect. If I do this ride again, I will have to figure out some alternative route, or do what many people seem to do- hop on a bus in B.C. My route worked. You could follow it. Certainly from the time I got on River Road in Richmond until UBC it was ideal (this part I scouted out in advance). However, in Surrey it got pretty dicey and I thought I was going to die under the wheels of an obscenely larger than necessary pick-up truck.

Crossing the bridge from Richmond to Vancouver:

So, what did I do to celebrate this long ride? Ahhh, I was dreaming of the food I was going to cook up and I had already given myself permission to mostly chill out for the rest of the day. BUT as soon as I walked into my apartment it was obvious that the power was off. I called the emergency number and eventually they sent someone, but it turned out that BC Hydro (the power company) had turned it off. Why? Because the previous tenant moved out in July sometime and BC Hydro was feeling unloved that there wasn't a new name on the account and it was already end of August. Of course when I moved in the building supervisor told me that I could wait a couple of weeks to do it, just tell them the date I moved in. With all the hundreds of details to take care of with completing an international move and getting my Canadian paperwork, university paperwork, buying my little truck, finding groceries, etc. I was relieved to have one thing I could put aside for a few days. But by this time it was Saturday at 4:45. I called them, and they were able to take my details to set up the account, but needed my lease agreement which I could not send because no power=no modem=no internet connection. And while I was talking to the woman it went past 5 pm, when the office was closing.

The temperature in my fridge had equalized with the outside temp, so it must have already been off for almost the entire time I was gone. Most of my food (but not all) was still okay, though, since the door had been closed and it had just slowly warmed. I called Kimberly and although she and Toshi were at a party on a beach, at least it was close by. They picked me up on their way home, with changes of clothes and papers for class prep and a bag of the salvageable food. I spent the rest of the weekend at their house (thanks be for good friends!).

Of course I had sent BC Hydro the lease agreement as soon as I arrived there, but it turned out mine didn't have the signature of the property management company on it, and while I was on the bus going home (hoping that I'd open my door and everything would be on again) they left me a message to call them. Finally getting them on the line (an hour and a half later), they explained the problem. Even though I'd given them the phone number and name of the woman at the property mgmt company in charge of my building, they hadn't called her to ask about the lease agreement. So then they did, and she sent it. And BC Hydro said "we're going to turn your power on remotely. We'll try for 90 minutes. If it doesn't work we'll try another 90 minutes. If it still doesn't work, we'll send a technician. That might not be until tomorrow, but in my experience it's always the same day."

The second 90 minutes expired at 3 pm. I still don't have power, and it's the following morning. I charged my computer and phone in the hallway. I don't have internet, so I can't research the things I need to do today like getting my vehicle insured and getting a BC driver's license (where is the DMV? which insurance company should I go to? where is the closest office?). Last night I had a night ride (bike ride) with a group of guys, got home around 9, and asked my lovely Korean neighbors for a light for my candles. A few minutes later a knock on my door announced the arrival of a whole plate of food (some did not have meat) and a giant thermos of hot water, tea bags, and coffee mix sticks. Totally touched, I went to sleep happy.

I had to use flash to take the photo:

I did this same ride again in April, 2017. Although I took a couple wrong turns (no map. I wrote down the directions of where to turn and then lost that paper immediately), this route, particularly inside Canada is much better (but stay on 82nd, until you hit a sort of bike path that leads to Nordel Way). So here's the Strava link so you can follow in my footsteps.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Performances of "Tradition" for Tourists : Jeongdong Theatre's "Youll"

For many years I've wanted to more deeply examine the performances that are marketed to tourists in Korea. A friend of mine, Choi Haeree, invited me to one of them and I decided that this would be the perfect time to write a paper on some of the issues with appropriation and commodification of tradition that I've seen in such shows. My chief issue with performances for tourists is how they adjust tradition to a point where what they are showing lacks many of the beautiful aspects of actual tradition, or worse, just uses a facade of tradition while offering nothing of substance.

Haeree and I watched a show at Haeundae Grand Hotel in Busan called "The Queen's Banquet." There were many issues, but... there were some good points to the show as well. The full price is 30,000 won, but it seems there are a lot of ways to get discounts, if you're in Busan anyway, you might like it. I wouldn't tell someone "never see that" as there are redeeming features (I particularly was happy that I could take photos during the show!). 
For the second show of three that I am watching specifically  for the purposes of writing this paper, I went to Jeongdong Theatre (formerly written Chungdong but I noticed they've changed the spelling to RR Romanization). Again, I was able to get a ticket for free. Thanks be! Because it was one of the worst performances I've ever seen. Seriously, it was horrible. If you said the show in Busan was like an enthusiastic student performance where they missed some of the subtle aesthetics and got too excited and jumped too much, well, this show in Seoul would be the show done by some pretentious art school students who understand nothing, think they understand everything, have no respect for anyone (including the audience) and are bored out of their minds, or fully know they're doing something stupid and their desire to be somewhere else shows. 

So, let me see if I can explain why this show (ticket prices of 30-60,000 won) was so bad. 
First: The show included all the cliches. If a woman is evil, she sexually tempts, exposes too much of her body (hello, in a "traditional" show you've got women with skirts slit straight to their crotch?), or she wears black lipstick. If a woman is good, she's bashful about physical contact, or she flits around on her toes with a white feather/wand. The story was stupid and cliche over all. It could be summarized as: evil kills good king, hero emerges through difficulty, hero and heroine prepare for battle with evil, they defeat evil, they get married. The entire play was mostly non-verbal, except for sung narration. The over-acting to make sure you'd understand the un-narrated bits was... extreme.

Second: There were essentially three traditional elements at play. A) pansori B) pungmul drumming C) hanbok costumes. But the pansori singers are either incompetent, or more likely, the director told them to make it less of a pansori type singing and more of an operatic type singing. The distinctive properties of pansori were almost absent. Songs were used as narration to move the story (in pansori, narration is narration-- it's spoken-- and songs are when the action slows down to real-time speed instead of compressed jumps), and at almost every instance the pansori was accompanied by a cacophony (yes, loud, loud, loud) of recorded music from offstage including synthesizers, and maybe some cymbal, high hat, a little drum, or whatever from the Western drumset drummer who was in the pit to the front and side of the stage. So the actual beauty of pansori (accompanied by a single drummer on a barrel drum, very subtle) was never on display.

The pungmul drummers had -at most- forty-five seconds of stage time without other off-stage or front stage Western drumset man music accompanying them. Even though the drummers were on stage about five times, you never really got a sense of Korean rhythms or the actual sound of just drumming (even though Korean traditional drumming tends to be what foreigners enjoy the most, show after show).  And finally the hanbok were all fancied up and made sexier, so the performers could look slim and beautiful-- not one traditional hanbok was ever on stage, except perhaps some of what the peasants were wearing, but even those were not white minbok, even if they were minbok-esque. 

I am not saying the show has to be traditional, or that it needs to be fully authentic, but if your marketing and promotional literature talks about how you showcase the heritage of pansori and talk up how it's also UNESCO listed, then at least you can actually have some real pansori on stage. There were a lot of foreigners in the audience, and they thought they were seeing tradition-- they wanted to see tradition, that's why they bought the ticket. To show that that horrible show at best leaves the beauty of Korean tradition tarnished in their eyes. They probably go home saying "that didn't seem very different than xxxx from my culture." There was no dance motion from tradition, and the martial arts scenes were at best an orientalist fantasy of all Asian martial arts rolled into one, nothing specific to Korea, in fact, since the hero and heroine use long staffs, which are not much used in Korean martial arts, but are used abundantly in Chinese arts, probably any Chinese viewer would have thought it was stage-Kung Fu, not anything Korean. 

Third: The entire show was a mish-mash of orientalism and self-exotification where the directors and producers were clearly aiming for a non-Korean (Western) eye, without caring one whit about accurate or otherwise presentations of Korean traditions or culture. The entire thing felt icky, like I needed a shower afterwards. And of course it also represented a giant missed opportunity. The show is twice a day, six days a week. It's widely promoted and backed by the government. All those people who could have learned something didn't. For example at the end the heroine is in a slim and body hugging white gown (with hanbok elements), and has a white veil-like hair piece. So you can understand they're getting married. Never mind that in Korea white is the color of death and funerals, and that traditional wedding robes are gorgeous, splendid things that don't use some lame filmy white lace, but rather an even more awesome hair piece like crown with a trailing embroidered silk strip down the back of the head. Of course a one word title on the side (they had English on one side, Japanese and Chinese on the other on screens) could have declared "wedding celebration" just to make it all clear for the audience, if they really thought people needed it.

They were very proud of their hyper-modern visual techniques-- and I admit a couple times they were cool-- but most of the time they were just distracting and more light on the stage and less eyestrain from trying to see through weird layers of projected moving images would have been nicer. 

I am appalled that this is what is being offered to tourists, that every travel agency is recommending this show (one reason is that most shows are one-off and agencies like long runs that are easy to predict), and that in fact Jeongdong Theatre has slipped so much (I enjoyed some of their cheesy tourist stuff in the past, admittedly when I knew less about traditional performance, but it was much more traditional than this). Tourists who come for a once in a lifetime visit to Korea should be shown the best of Korea, not some horrible mix of bad singing, ballet-esque motion, and historionics. 

I just hope that the final show of the three is less odious to sit through. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Leaving Korea

I think my husband has probably been trying to get me to leave Korea since we met-- sixteen years ago. I love my husband (we've been married eleven years), but I fell in love with Korea first. Crazy, beautiful, passionate, sometimes even infuriating, Korea. Korea with its amazing music (traditional and pop), with its bathhouses, traditional markets, hiking trails, and thousands of islands. Korea with its pollution and too hot summers and too cold winters and litter problem. Finally my husband made an ultimatum.

Leave Korea, or we're going to get divorced.
We can't live like this, you in Korea, me somewhere else.

I admit, I understand him. I can't be angry at him about this ultimatum. I'm the woman who got married to a man but wouldn't stop hanging around the one I hadn't married (obviously in this metaphor Korea is "the other man," but you can't marry a country, can you?-- or maybe that's what naturalization is). I don't even really want to work in Korea. I want a lovely tenure track job in an area I like in the US, maybe Canada, maybe Australia, New Zealand, even somewhere in Europe. Somewhere where professor means something about research and quality of teaching, not so much about status and power (I did not enjoy being within Korean academia, although working at a better school with a more open attitude towards non-Korean professors should be much better). I've always wanted most to work in a SLAC (small liberal arts college), but I'd happily take a job in a R1 (research 1, the big schools like UCLA), or in a community college (yes, I would have to teach many classes, but you know what, I like teaching, and there would be less pressure to publish) or really any place that was honorably providing non-profit education for young minds (or old minds, I don't care). However, my preference for working somewhere other than Korea does not change my preference for living in Korea.

In my husband's defense, there is nothing for him to do in Korea. My life is rich and interwoven with friends of ten, fifteen, twenty years. I ride my bike, I do hapkido, I have research to do, papers to write, students to teach. My husband isn't big on the culture, and already knows two languages beyond his native Amdo Tibetan. He learned some Korean-- he can order food, ask for directions and understand some of the answer, phonetically read things-- he has survival Korean. But he's not going to settle down and make a bunch of friends -- he's not actually happy here. He can't get a work visa, and if he did, it would probably be for work that is not at all fun, challenging, or even tolerable. It would be low-paid and he would not get much respect. Koreans aren't even particularly interested in "other Asians" (if he was a traditional performer from elsewhere, he might get more music opportunities).

So, in December last year (2015) I agreed. I'd leave Korea. I'd leave by the start of the fall (2016), and if I didn't have a job to leave to, I'd just be unemployed. I wouldn't stay in Korea, where (since leaving my job at HUFS) I am happy -every day-. Let me say that again, I am happy -every freaking day-. I wake up happy, I go to sleep happy, I eat food happily. I am HAPPY. The only bad thing in my life right now is that my husband isn't here in Korea with me. I might be, barring the absent husband, the happiest I have ever been in my life (full disclosure: I have also had the worst time in my life in Korea). So, I promised I'd leave Korea. I don't mean forever not coming back here. But leaving with the understanding that I'd at most spend summers in Korea. Maybe I'd be able to have a semester here in a few years. The understanding that I'd be visiting Korea, not living here. That I'd come on research trips, do a little fieldwork and then go "home."

Korea is my home, says my heart. Korea has been my home since I first came here, it only took me one year to realize this (I inhaled in 1997 and realized I was home, I still remember that moment that I knew Korea was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.) There are so many things about my happiness in Korea right now that can't leave Korea with me. The biking is phenomenally good-- I ride my bike on well maintained paths that start 1 mile from my house. I am going to the best Hapkido place I've been to in years. He's fabulous, just the instructor I need. I live right on top of one of my research sites and just run into friends on the street (and end up carrying their heavy boxes of crap if we're talking about yesterday when I ran into a neighbor I've known since 2005). My house is small, but cozy. I live next to a nice bathhouse, a giant traditional market, the subway, and lots of buses. My monthly costs are crazy low (I'll go from renting here for 350,000 per month -- think 350 bucks-- to maybe even 2,000 Canadian collars).

I got a job. It's a one year postdoctoral research fellowship + a two semester part-time teaching fellowship at University of British Columbia. I'm packing, my house is a mess. But I can't pack Korea into the boxes. And it's breaking my heart.

Some recent photos by my awesome cyclist friend Leo Rhee that do not reflect the nearly 15 years I've lived here out of the past 20: