Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas, all! A little more about Christmas in Korea

A few more thoughts on Christmas in Korea, interspersed with pictures I took downtown on Sunday afternoon and night. Plus a mini-story or two at the end.

A few basic rules of forfeiture, AKA the Having vs. Eating Cake corollaries:

1. If you don't vote, you forfeit your right to complain about the government in power. If you won't even participate in the system, where do you get off complaining about it? I'm not listening. (Hee hee. I'm such a cranky old codger.)

(what's wrong with this picture? absolutely nothing, in Korea. You get used to old ladies mopping around you as you do your business in men's rooms all around South Korea. Took a while, though.)

2. If you wear a low-cut v-neck blouse with a push-up bra, or a short skirt with mid-thigh-high stockings and high heels, you forfeit your right to complain about men staring at you. You know what men are like, and while I'm not excusing our male piggishness, it's a little naive to expect more from us.

3. If you're a country with the 13th largest economy in the world, a world leader in broadband penetration and telecommunication connectivity, and the world's largest microchip exporter, you forfeit the right to say, "don't critique our social issues: we're still a developing country."

Christmas in downtown seoul is shiny. There's an ice rink behind the castle wall.

4. If you don't dress properly for the cold, if you don't zip up your jacket and keep your ears warm and wear some gloves, you forfeit your right to complain that it's cold. You may say "I should have dressed more appropriately for the cold, that was bad planning on my part" and that's all. Or I will take it as tacit permission for me to mock your illogical position.

Yet everywhere I go in Korea, I see girls dressed in spring jackets with short skirts and thick stockings, no hats or gloves, and jackets that aren't even zipped up, stamping their feet and making pitiful puppy-dog faces and complaining "I'm so cold" in Korean: "Chu-aa~".

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, one must take care of basic needs (food, sleep) before one can worry about higher level needs (acceptance by the community, belonging, love, meaning) -- nobody ponders "what ARE my life goals?" when they're hungry; they mostly only ponder, "where can I scratch up some grub?" AFTER you've eaten, you might have time to wonder about the Grand Scheme.

According to Roboseyo's hierarchy of fashion, you only really ought to worry about style once your clothing has adequately protected you from the elements. If you put fashion above function, you won't get ANY sympathy from me when you complain about being cold or wet. Yet there's this disconnect between two, two, and four, here in Korea: as the winter's gotten colder, I'm told that short-shorts and miniskirt sales have actually gone UP! Some of the results are shocking.

I'd say we're looking at somewhere between 35-45% of the fashion-conscious-aged women at the mall on Sunday wearing springwear (at best) in the winter.

I mean, come on! How could that POSSIBLY keep her warm unless she has an emergency thermal blanket tucked into that bag? And it wasn't THAT warm on Sunday -- five celsius in the afternoon, tops.

The receptionists at my school got a kick out of my imitation of Korean girls who leave their jackets unzipped and then complain about being cold. One said, "Robert. Fashion is important." I answered, "Spring, summer, fall, fashion is important. Winter: WARM is important. Fashion is second." They got a good laugh out of it, but I doubt they're convinced.

(Cheonggye stream in downtown seoul puts up christmas lights every year. The poor-quality camera almost makes the light fixtures MORE impressive, because it looks like one big roman candle, instead of structures strung with lights.)

I'm developing a theory that the fashionistas and style-makers are using ridiculous styles like miniskirts in winter basically as a way of flaunting their power over the poor fashion slaves who feel compelled to follow trends. In 2001, every time Avril Lavigne saw some poor teeny-bop fashion victim wearing a tie over a tank-top, she probably secretly high-fived herself and thought, "YEAH! I'm awesome! She's wearing that awful getup because of ME! Poor chump!"

I imagine those contrarian stylemakers like the Wicked Witch of the West, staring at Dorothy's image in the crystal ball, laughing maniacally and cackling, "Shiver, my pretty! Shiver! Mwahahahahahaaaa!" We'll know for sure it's nothing but a power trip of theirs if they make heavy wool sweaters or scarves the stylish thing to wear next July, just as a final "Eff You" to their poor fashion slaves, rubbing in the skirts in winter trend by refusing those poor ladies a single season of clothing comfort. That's my prediction. Put it on the books. See if I'm wrong. I probably will be, but windbags like myself like to speculate. Fills up the hours.

What the heck? I don't know. This inflatable whatonearth was in the window of an art gallery in Insa-dong, the culture/tourist heritage area. Lots of galleries, and this one ALWAYS has something weird in the window.

On the Christmas Music front:

Dire news: it happened. It ACTUALLY happened. I was sitting in an ice cream shop eating a sorbet, and after a shabby Korean cover of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (why why why do they love Mariah so much here?), that asinine song you've heard me complain about here before, came on:

"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. . . "

FOUR TIMES IN A ROW! The George Michael version, then the Bi version (Korean star) then a techno/discopop + children's choir mix, and finally it was the first song (and its chord progression was the foundation) in a medley of, seriously, FOUR of the ten tackiest Christmas songs in existence. I actually stayed in the ice cream shop after I finished my ice cream, in utter disbelief, as one slowing his car down to gawk at the car wreck and see if that's blood or oil, just daring that damn medley to top itself and actually get worse, and each new song in the medley WAS! From "Last Christmas," it went to "Happy Christmas, War Is Over" to "Do They Know It's Christmas" to "Feliz Nevidad" and then I really did have to go, before I felt the urge to injure myself with a plastic ice cream spoon. I'm disappointed to tell you that I was wrong: every Starbucks in Korea DIDN'T spontaneously implode in response to that awful lineup. Good thing, too. The Peppermint Mochas this December are quite nice.

I like blue lights best.

This is cute: the Korean language doesn't have a character for the "V" sound, so the "V" sound is usually substituted with the Korean character bieup, which sounds about halfway between a "B" and a "P". This leads to the cute pun on this brand: Viewty, when pronounced by most Koreans, sounds exactly like the word "Beauty".

As always, the station was attended by some Viewtiful girls in short skirts, but I've ranted enough about the latent (and totally accepted) sexism in Korea for one post (it seems protesting would be immodest I guess -- I asked Girlfriendoseyo about the state of feminism in Korea and she described what English speakers call lip-service).

(But did you know the OECD released statistics stating that Korean women work more hours for less pay than any other country in the OECD, and unlike in the Netherlands, where college educated women have a 20% higher employment rate than women without, Korean college educated women's employment rate is actually 2% LOWER than women without! I'll leave the comment board open for theories as to why that might be.)

Back to light stuff:

Santa and Rudolph's freaky love-child.

Sometimes, the lack of a "V" is a little funnier: one day, my best friend Matt was walking through a riverside park and came upon an outdoor concert of five hundred middle-aged women. When the performer finished a song, they chanted, "ANCHOR!" (which is how Koreans call for an encore) and the singer shouted, "PAPSONG!" (popsong). The singer started singing, and the old ladies sang along. Problem was, because of the V-B/P substitution, as they sang along to the old '80s song, the end result was 500 middle-aged women jumping up and down with their hands in the air, not able to pronounce "I'm your Venus," and hollering "I'm Your Penis" instead.

Lee Hyori is one of the hottest Korean stars these days (has been for a while.) For all the fanboys, here's a new way to get close to her (if you don't mind endorsing soju at the same time).

More lip/smile/teeth related stuff:
Hyori again (from above) -- showing surprisingly few teeth for a photo spread.

Ad for lip gloss.

There are creepy santa statues everywhere. Some are lifesize enough that they startle me as I walk around, making me go, "Bwah! Somebody's standing there! Oh wait. Nevermind."

On Friday, my face froze this way. I guess that'll be it for the rest of my life. Better hold on to the friends I already have.

This is my favourite picture from the city hall pictures. You're not supposed to climb up inside the rainbow seashell monument, but the security personnel were too busy, I guess, stopping people from leaning on bridge railings (see story below). I'm really proud of the composition and the light/dark contrast of this picture: this is about as good a picture as you can get on the cruddy cameraphone I have. This, or the layered coloured leaves picture from my Kyunghee university post.

EVERYBODY had a camera -- it was like nametags at a convention. I was afraid that if I put my cameraphone in my pocket, somebody'd ask me to show it to them or they'd have to escort me off the premises.

Every direction you moved, you were walking through somebody's picture.

At COEX mall, there are 3-D movie posters where you can interact with the movie ad, and take pictures in it, or sit in the chair, or stand behind Hannibal Lecter's mask so that it looks like YOU're the one in restraints. Cool, especially for a shutterbug-mad population like downtown Korea's.

I was gonna play a game of count the cameras, walking around on Sunday night, but I ran out of fingers and toes in five seconds.

My second favourite picture from right at the head of Cheonggye stream.

Mini-story 1: my girlfriend is funny.

We were walking across one of the bridges over Cheonggye stream (pictured above) and we leaned against the bridge. Some dude came up to tell us we couldn't lean on the bridge for safety, but he told us in Korean. Girlfriendoseyo (normally a very sweet not-making-waves type of person) decided she wanted to lean, dammit! So she turned to the Korean safety guy and said to him, "Whaaaat?" EXACTLY the way some Californian tourist might say it. He repeated himself in Korean and (emboldened by being with me, clearly an outsider, and thus able to get away with pretending to be a tourist,) she kept going, "I'm sorry. What's wrong? What is it? Why?" she asked as he stammered, "No lean. Umm. . . sorry. . . no. . . lean. . . safe. . . lean no!" she said, with a perfect, vacant intonation, "Why noOOoooot?" and, completely out of English words, the poor guy made a funny half-smile and said, "Secret".

We howled. . . as soon as we were out of earshot from the guy.

Christmas is more fun if you're with kids. . . or at least in a public place where you get to watch them.
Mini-story 2: my most unexpected smile this Christmas day (I had all the expected ones from spending it with Girlfriendoseyo [we cooked spaghetti together], but this one was the bonus.)

I was walking around with Girlfriendoseyo outside Sookmyung Women's University, and she asked me to carry the bag of stuff she bought from the stationery store. I pretended it was so heavy I couldn't walk in a straight line (it was a very light bag), and got some grins from a group of people walking by. True to Roboseyo form, I hammed it up a bit more once I had a reaction, and so I curled around and started hobbling in a circle, as if I couldn't walk in a straight line at all. The people who'd smiled at me before were gone, walking away with their backs to me, so I thought I was doing it solely for Girlfriendoseyo's benefit, but suddenly I heard this rattle-rasp and wheezy laugh of this wonderful old woman with a raisin-wrinked twenty-five-years-in-the-rice-paddy face, just hooting with laughter at my silliness, swinging her hand to slap the table where she sat, and rollicking side to side with her eyes grinned right shut.

I'm still smiling about that old lady: I love old people. They don't give a flying rat's ass who sees them laugh at the things they like anymore: they're old, they've paid their dues. They don't bother doing a "modest" twitter behind a shielding hand, either. If they think something's funny, they let it rip, and I love that. Old people who don't care anymore, and little kids, who don't care yet are far and away the most fun for people-watching.

Merry Christmas, everyone. I love you all a lot, and I hope your holidays are full of revelations and observations and crammed with tiny details of joy.


melissa said...

I went to Santa Barbara in October 2004 and noted with horror that the 'in style' it thing to wear was scarves, winter boots, mitts, and/or ear muffs. Forty degrees, people. I know it's a novelty to wear hot stuff in Santa Barbara, but come ON.
You can retort that Fashion doesn't have to come second in winter. There are plenty of clothes that are both fashionable AND warm.

Roboseyo said...

I shall take your anecdotal support for my speculation as irrefutable proof that I was right, am right, and will always be right, about any subject on which I pontificate.

Thanks for the support, Mel!

(yeah, there's stuff that combines fashion AND function. . . i've seen it. . . but it's harder to rant about stuff that makes sense.)

melissa said...

xo. and merry christmas.

melissa said...

Thanks for the call tonight...I actually WAS home, I just didn't get to the phone in time. My voicemail allows me to hear the message as its being left but not to be heard as I shout, "ROB! I'm here! Call again!" so I actually was listening to you leave me a message. How weird is that?
I miss you, and am glad you called. Sorry I didn't get the phone on time. :-(
And I've no brainpower to look up your number and call you back.
Anyways, I love you! Thanks for calling! xoxo

tamie, the tamie said...

love you too, rob.