Soundtrack time: hit play and start reading.
nina simone - sinnerman. Boy, this song is great. Let it build. Listen to the whole darn thing.
Here's an ad for soju, Korea's national cheap alcohol (think Russians and vodka). Originally, soju was brewed from rice, but during food shortages in the 1910s and 1960s, laws were passed that required rice to be used for eating instead of brewing. The soju recipe changed: instead of brewing something using a process even vaguely traditional, they just took pure alcohol and diluted it with water and chemical sweeteners. The result is something I avoid drinking at nearly all costs, whose taste I liken to a cross between Japanese sake, cheap vodka, cheap tequila, and ass. It's cheap as spit and tastes like butt: it's the very definition of an alcoholic's drink. In fact, in the '90s, some companies tried to bring back traditional soju, prepared according to the pre-Japanese colonization methods, but because it was nine dollars a bottle instead of a buck fifty (and because they were released on the market just before the Asian Economic Crisis, when nobody had any money to spend on pricey alcohols, but had lots of sorrows to drown, as cheaply as possible), Koreans spurned the traditional drink in favour of the cheap-ass alkie sauce.
My nickname for it is "tequila light" because it's a little weaker than tequila, but it acts the same way: a tendency towards an angry drunk, and when you get drunk on it, it kind of ambushes you: you're fine, you're fine, you're fine, then suddenly you're really trashed. Anyway, here's a poster for soju I saw recently.
In an attempt to turn a negative to a positive, chamiseul is actually trading on the face you make when you ingest something disgusting, telling buyers that if your drink forces you to make this face (see below), ladies will reward you with coy smiles (bottom right, above) and showing you their bare shoulders while making wanton come-hither looks (top left, above: you just know she's giving him the guns with her hands just outside the frame).
Usually soju is advertised with pictures of really really hot girls (see below, and here), but if they decide to switch to pictures of men crying. . . well, I won't stare at the posters as much, but I'll giggle more.
It's actually kind of funny that in the west, a female star knows she's "made it" when she gets a contract with Chanel No. 5 or Elizabeth Arden, while in Korea, a female star knows she's arrived if she's asked to pitch for cheap alcohol.
Strolling about the downtown:
There are a bunch of nightclubs in Jongno which hire people called bikkis to try and recruit cute girls (and guys who look like they have cash) to go to their club (as a draw for males). The cuter a girl is, the more insistent the bikkis will be, trying to get her into their club. I've heard the bikki's behaviour defended as being "flattering" to their targets, but to me it looks like bald-faced sexual harassment. Yes. He's grabbed her hand, and is trying to physically pull her into the club. This is a common occurrence. I can't believe they haven't had their asses sued to high heaven for this kind of behaviour, and I'm trying to imagine how many kneed groins and pepper-sprayed eyes those obnoxious bikkis would suffer if they tried to pull this kind of garbage in a city like New York. As you notice above, passersby don't even give this kind stuff a second glance, and sometimes I can take it in stride, but other times, it really rankles.
A minute later two of his friends were helping, and the guy in the white jacket didn't want me to take any more pictures.
And you know, that "many girls just feel flattered" thing is garbage. I don't buy it anymore. "I'm flattered when they slaver over me for my looks" basically means "I've internalized the male gaze and sexist lookism so deeply that it validates me as a human to be fawned over and even harassed for my looks" -- the same way a rich person can go ahead and feel good about himself because he's surrounded by sycophants and yes-men/women, but in reality the respect he receives is a sham, completely contingent on his deep pockets, and has no reflection on his integral quality as a human being whatsoever. "She should be flattered when they try to physically pull her into the club" follows the same logic as "Well if she didn't want to be raped, she shouldn't have dressed that way," but to a lesser degree, and applied in a slightly different direction.
Here in Korea, women spend SO FRIGGIN' MUCH TIME on their looks, they wear mini-skirts in the dead of winter and cake on makeup and consider it a requirement of life. One of my (older male) students told me point blank that he thinks women who don't wear makeup are lazy. Some of them do it because they need to appear professional for their job; fair enough. Male bankers also need to be well-groomed. Some of them do it and they're honest enough to admit that it's mostly because it improves their social or business prospects. Some even get plastic surgery for that reason. (Korea has one of the highest per-capita plastic surgery rates in the world. The double-eyelid surgery is a common high-school graduation gift for girls.)
I'm still not sure what to think, though, of women who dress like a tart and then intone, "Oh, I don't even CARE if men stare at me. I just dress this way because it makes me feel sexy" (or even worse: "I dress this way because it makes me feel pretty. . . I hate that men ogle me just for expressing myself") -- is there a disconnect between self-perception and reality? Is that basically another way of saying, "I've internalized media beauty/femininity standards so deeply that I can't create an image of myself that I like without acting out the fantasy a sexist, objectifying media has foisted on me"? Or is it a little white lie because it'd sound cynical to admit "I put myself on display because I like the attention, or the benefits I receive from letting men stare at my legs"? What are the other options/rationalizations?
I mean, I'm a dude, so I don't really have the right to speak on anyone's behalf, and I ought to stick with asking questions instead of making statements about this business until I know more, but it upsets me sometimes to see women in Korea (and all around the world) tie so much of their self-image onto an impossible standard of beauty, and I don't know if saying, "I do it because I feel more confident" (that might be the number one excuse for women getting plastic surgery here) is a way of sidestepping the need to find a positive self-image based in one's character (because looks are easier, if you've got'em, and make a quicker first impression), or if it's basically an admission that they've internalized the image of beauty programmed into them by advertisers and beauty magazines. I'd prefer to listen before I speak on this topic, so to the women who read this: I'm very interested to hear what you think -- do you dress "sexy" or "pretty" according to some image or standard? Where does that standard come from, and why have you chosen to follow it? What do you think of the "It makes me feel confident/sexy" justification: does that hold water, and if not, where does it come from? Do you feel pressure to dress "prettier" or "sexier," and what do you do about that pressure? What are the other justifications people use for spending an hour in front of the mirror in the morning?
I mean heck, I get better responses from people when I dress nicely and take care of myself too, but I think of the outward appearance basically as something that can either help or hinder someone from getting to know, or wanting to get to know, the person I actually am, and I make sure that the reasons I love myself are not connected to things one would notice better when I'm wearing a bathing suit, or spot on first glance, and disappear when I get old, anyway.
speaking of sexism. . . so does that sign imply that being female is a disability, or am I just being obtuse now?
Some more Soju ads: I think they're selling sex here.
Look at the kittenish way the girl acts in this one -- the objectification of women in soju ads is really blatant, and often leans toward this type of childish persona.
This is Kim Ah-joong, one of Korea's hot young stars. Again, she really plays up the submissive role; this situation and her voice/body language makes me think of a hostess bar, where men pay women to pour drinks for them (and sometimes much, much more); the shaky camera work and the in-and-out of focus shooting makes it seem more like a first-person, slightly drunk point of view, and look at the way she makes eye contact with the camera, goes in for the "love shot" at the end, and calls the camera "oppa" which is the term for older brother common in hostess bars, because (again) it strikes a submissive and slightly childish pose.
Interestingly, that exact "love shot" was in the news recently here in Korea.
In other news. . .
Wires in the sky. Look at that tangle!
The Big Hominid (see my sidebar) "found the following at this nice blog: http://mississippitokorea.blogspot.com/"
22 Reasons Why English Is Hard
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert..
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail
18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
22) He decided to comb the tomb to find the bomb.
Near my house: for the (dwindling number of) people who tell you there are no gays in Korea:
There on the door is the rainbow flag, the symbol for gay pride.
When my boss first walked me to my current apartment, he warned me and my coworker to avoid a certain street near our house, because homosexuals meet there. Neither of us quite knew how to respond to such a warning, so we made it into a running joke.
There was about a kilometer's worth of buses near chunggyechun stream on Friday: there are protests going on, and LMB (Lee Myungbak), Korea's new president, has promised to be tougher on protesters than the previous, socialist president.
Working as a riot control officer must be the most boring job in the world: "Hey. We want six hundred of you to sit in a bus for eight hours today and sweat in full riot gear, just in case something happens.
That's all for today. . . but any females still reading: I really AM interested to hear what you think about the questions I asked above.
(ps: thanks to James Turnbull from The Grand Narrative for the link and the kudos. I've been very interested to read your articles on sexism in Korea, and it's informed what I wrote here.)