Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The High Tide of Self-Parody in Mongolia!

This one was cleverly disguised under the article heading of an article I've already reprinted (for the sake of mockery). Getting sneaky on me, eh? Well I'll be more careful from now on, Korea Herald! You won't Poland me twice!



[THE HIGH TIDE OF THE KOREAN WAVE(35)] Mongolians fascinated by the Korean Wave

"Hallyu" seems to be on the wane. It is ebbing in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, where the fascination with Korean TV dramas, pop music and films known as the Korean Wave, peaked in the last few years.

However, the Korean Wave is still flourishing in Mongolia. Several Korean TV dramas are broadcast every day at prime time. The number of people learning the Korean language is increasing remarkably, with many Mongolians rushing to Korea in search of the "Korean Dream."

"Jewel in the Palace" has been a big hit. The drama has fascinated Mongolians so much that it has been aired five times here. Other dramas such as "Autumn in My Heart" "Winter Sonata" and "Stairway to Heaven" have also been popular. These dramas have kept Mongolian viewers glued to their screens and have become daily topics of conversation.

Korean pop singers have been also immensely famous in the country. Songs by Rain, Big Bang, Shinhwa, BoA and Jang Na-ra all top the charts and keep young Mongolians hooked.

The high popularity of Korean pop culture in Mongolia has indeed contributed to the surge in Korean language studies in Mongolia, as well as Mongolians traveling to Korea, increasing mutually cooperative relations between the two countries accordingly.

Korea is "Solongos" in Mongolian, which means "Land of Rainbows." Mongolian people describe Korea as "a country of hope," and "a model country" that they should emulate. This desire, together with the affection for Korean culture, is reflected in the number of Mongolians staying in Korea - as many as 34,000, or 1.2 percent of the Mongolian population. Among these people, the number of students is about 1,700, making Korea the biggest destination for Mongolians receiving overseas education.

Mongolians pursue the "Korean Dream" at universities, laboratories, offices, shops or assembly lines in Korea. The annual remittances from Mongolians working in Korea are estimated to total approximately $200 million, which greatly helps low-income families move out of poverty.

Mongolian universities have played a crucial role in promulgating the Korean Wave by opening or expanding Korean language programs. The National University of Mongolia made a start by setting up a Korean language department in 1991 right after diplomatic relations between Korea and Mongolia were forged in 1990. Since then, as many as 22 prestigious universities, including the National University of Science and Technology, have taught Korean politics, history and culture, as well as language, in their Korean studies departments. The total number of students studying Korean in universities is about 2,500 throughout the country.

Schools have jumped on the bandwagon, too. More than 1,000 students learn Korean at 12 elementary and secondary schools. Korean is the second-most popular language of study after English in Mongolia, far ahead of Russian, Chinese or Japanese.

As a result, the number of Mongolians who take the Test of Proficiency in Korean is on the rise. The number doubled to 825 in 2007, compared with the figure in 2005. A total of 3,500 Mongolians have taken the TOPIK since 1999. Additionally, as many as 15,000 Mongolians took the alternative, the Korean Language Proficiency Test, in 2007, which is designed for people who want to work in Korea.

It seems to be a virtuous cycle. The popularity of Korean pop culture increases interest in the Korean language among Mongolians. The desire to learn the language boosts demand for structured and systematic language studies. Understanding of the Korean language and culture spreads the Korean Wave. This virtuous cycle undoubtedly makes an important contribution to strengthening and deepening the relations between the two countries.

The ascendancy of the Korean Wave also attests to the number of visitors to the 2008 Korea Education Fair held in Ulaanbaatar in April 2008. The fair was the center of attention in the country, with more than 6,000 students, parents and educators attending. It was a great success, as 50 percent more people than the previous year filled the auditorium, taking care not to miss any word of advice or information on studying in Korea. The students made themselves knowledgeable about studies and life in Korea through lectures, interviews, one-to-one consultations with experts, and information materials at the fair.

It is expected that the Korean Wave in Mongolia will continue spreading. Any story or scene of Korean dramas or lyrics of famous Korean songs are frequently referred to during casual conversations among young Mongolians. Most young children have stationery with photos, signatures, or caricatures of Korean TV and movie stars or pop singers. The hot pursuit of the Korean language also appears to be continuing.

However, Mongolians are now a little bit fed-up with the monotonous plots and similar storylines of Korean dramas - an ordinary woman falling in love with a man from a rich family, young executive or a high-flier; fortuitous family relations and events, etc.

This common characterization of Korean dramas could be an obstacle to the continuous spread and long-term development of the Korean pop culture wave in Mongolia. It is high time that new types of creative Korean TV dramas and other programs are introduced in Mongolia, so that Mongolians can keep relishing a variety of Korean cultural products.

Furthermore, more strategic support and cooperation in the Mongolian educational sector should be given. The sharp rise in the number of Mongolians learning Korean and studying in Korea is duly attributable to the well-organized assistance and cooperation of Korea's IT technology and know-how in the educational sector, under a memorandum of understanding signed in 2005 between the two countries.

Yet Korean teachers and educational infrastructure and materials are still scarce, compared with the high demand for Korean language education. In particular, students living in the countryside do not have access to Korean language learning at all. Therefore, it is worth having the Korean side conduct a forward-looking assessment for providing full support to establishing an educational broadcasting station in Mongolia, together with sufficient support for Korean language education.

The project to open the educational broadcasting system would certainly benefit children who are left behind in sparsely populated areas across the country. But the effect will go far beyond narrowing the educational divide. It will have a great impact on methods of learning and teaching, the supply of educational software and hardware, and IT technology in education, thereby creating a chain reaction. Mutual benefits and further development in relations between Korea and Mongolia are definitely anticipated.

Korean government scholarships should also be extended to students with great potential. In addition, various training or research courses should be widely open to officials or experts in sectors that Korea can expected to play a leading role in, such as IT technology, telecommunications, finance or banking, along with Korean language training courses. Mongolian beneficiaries of the scholarships will certainly play a crucial role in relations between Korea and Mongolia in the future. They will be valuable human resources not only for Mongolia but also for Korea for further cooperation and development.

A visa-exemption program between the two countries would clearly stimulate frequent visits between the nations, along with cultural exchanges and various activities. The two nations would begin to share values, ideas, thoughts, and their ways of living. In this way, Mongolia can stand at the forefront of reigniting "Hallyu," which is now fading away in the Asian region.

Mongolia is one of the 10 most mineral-resources-rich countries in the world. As the price of raw materials reaches a record high, Mongolians are benefiting, and more people can afford to spend money on overseas trips. Many Mongolians who have wanted to go to Korea for medical services, business, or tourism have been crowded out in the visa- application process.

Frequent contacts, visits in both directions, and constructive business cooperation expected by the visa-waiver program will greatly move relations forward. Therefore, the visa-waiver system should be strategically reconsidered on the basis of its political, economic, cultural and social impacts on the two countries. Mutual benefits from the visa exemption would ultimately outweigh the possible problems caused by illegal immigrants.

The Korean Wave cannot continue forever if people do not find it new, creative, fresh, funny, and fashionable, with an element of sophistication. Mongolia is no exception. Different types of content, a refined structure, and the timely promotion of Korean pop culture will no doubt keep it in high regard, not only in Mongolia, but throughout the world. Mutually beneficial relations cultivated through support and cooperation between Korea and Mongolia, and convenient access to each other will certainly lead to prosperity and wellbeing.

By Park Jin-ho Ambassador to Mongolia

2008.05.07

Why I love little kids. (And teach adults)



PS: these girls are one of the top new bands/collectives in korea. They're called "girls generation"

I think it's just one person, digitally copied. . . but I'm not sure. If there really are nine different people, I don't know what to say, except that it's the first time in about three years I've been able to truly, sincerely say, "They all look the same to me."



Welcome to my world.

I prefer, when I must listen to a really large band, that they be really large because there are so many talented people who each play different instruments and add different textures -- like Broken Social Scene


or the Polyphonic Spree (who take one of Nirvana's angry, bleak old songs, and make into a total bliss-out with trumpets: Lithium as you've never heard it before)



rather than just having a WHOLE LOT of cute girls doing the same super-cute choreography in the background.

I mean, look at them all! It's just nine baby spices, and there isn't even a tomboy! To make it worse, they're all underage, so not only am I confused, but I also feel mildly guilty just for watching their videos.

Scientific Proof That Kimchi Cures Mad Cow Disease

Seriously, it's true. I read it on the internet.

Hallyu! Anybody Home?

[THE HIGH TIDE OF THE KOREAN WAVE(33)] Whetting U.S. appetite for Korean TV dramas

Interview with Tom Larsen, President of YA Entertainment LLC. No byline for Korea Herald interviewer.

The Korea Herald interview questions

The Korea Herald: What is the current market position of Korean TV dramas on the U.S. market? How are they perceived in comparison with mainstream U.S., Chinese and Japanese programming?

Tom Larsen: Like most other TV programming from international markets, Korean TV dramas are generally considered a specialty entertainment niche here in the United States. Having said that, the popularity of Korean TV dramas in the United States has grown dramatically over the past five years. Korean TV dramas are now widely recognized in the United States as a leading entertainment option within the growing Asian entertainment category.

Several major U.S. cities now have a "second-tier" TV station which often broadcasts various Korean TV drama programs during primetime hours. Some of these smaller-scale TV stations have recently started to include English subtitles when they broadcast Korean TV dramas. However, the majority of avid Korean TV drama "fans" usually watch Korean TV dramas on DVD rather than on TV. (These TV stations are relatively few, and their schedules are too unpredictable.) My company, YA Entertainment, has been releasing Korean TV dramas on DVD with English subtitles since 2003. We now have over 60 individual titles in our DVD catalog.


When compared to Chinese and Japanese TV programming, I believe Korean TV dramas are by far the most popular among mainstream Americans. Even in the Chinese-American community, Chinese-language TV stations will air Korean TV dramas dubbed in Mandarin or Cantonese. Korean TV dramas are perceived as higher quality and more entertaining than Chinese TV programming and definitely more accessible than Japanese TV programming.

KH: Which Korean dramas are popular in the United States (in terms of genres, themes, character or title)?

TL: Our best selling titles over the past five years include "Stairway to Heaven," "Daejanggeum" (Jewel in the Palace), "My Lovely Sam-Soon," "Damo," "Palace," "All About Eve," "The Snow Queen," and "My Girl."

As the list above shows, Americans enjoy all types of Korean TV dramas: love stories, comedies, and historical epics. It's all about the storylines, cast (acting), production values, and soundtracks. If those four core elements are done very well, then it doesn't matter if the TV drama is a comedy or a tragic love story. Americans will like it.

My personal all-time favorites include "Sandglass," "Damo," "Glass Slipper," "All About Eve," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Jewel in the Palace," and "Love Letter."

Some of the most popular actors include: Bae Yong-jun, Kim Rae-won, Kwon Sang-woo, Jang Dong-gun, Kim Min-joon, and Lee Byung-hun.

The most popular actresses include: Choi Ji-woo, Lee Da-hae, Ha Ji-won, Lee Young-ae, Son Yejin, Bae Doo-na, Kim Ha-neul and Yoon Eun-hye.

KH: Who is watching Korean dramas in the United States? Why do they choose to watch Korean dramas and how do they respond?

TL: We have conducted multiple surveys over the past five years, surveying thousands of Korean TV drama "fans" in the United States. Interestingly, only 5 percent of survey respondents described themselves as "Korean." Therefore, roughly 95 percent of the people purchasing our Korean TV drama DVDs are not of Korean descent. The majority are Caucasian, Japanese-American, Chinese-American, and Filipino-American. And we are also finding strong growth in the Vietnamese and Latino/Hispanic communities.

As for gender, our surveys show that over 65 percent of Korean TV drama fans are female. However, based upon the dozens of e-mails I receive everyday from fans, the breakdown seems to be more like 50 percent male, 50 percent female.

Americans choose to watch Korean TV dramas for many different reasons. Korean TV dramas have many strengths (some of which I describe below), and each strength attracts certain subsets of viewers. More often than not, the response is positive. People describe Korean TV dramas as "addicting," "powerful and engrossing," and "highly entertaining."

Over the past few years, more and more people have told me that they are increasingly "turned off" by standard American TV programming. These days it seems to be a common practice among American TV show producers to create boring and superficial story concepts and then try to inject them with over-the-top sex, violence, and crime. (I personally define TV programming that includes an overabundance of unnecessary sex, violence, and crime as "garbage content"). More and more Americans are getting tired of meaningless "garbage content" on TV. So they are looking for something new, something with real substance and emotion. Something that engages them, and makes them feel something. More and more Americans are turning to alternative TV programming like Korean TV dramas.

KH: What are the strengths of Korean dramas?

TL: Korean TV dramas have many strengths. Here is a quick list that comes to mind:

-- Korean TV drama series have a set beginning and ending. As you know, they usually last for only 16-24 episodes. It's refreshing to know how many total episodes there are before you even start watching a drama series. And the total number of episodes is very manageable, much like an extended movie. This contributes to the "addictive nature" of Korean TV dramas. (Once you reach the middle episodes, you want to stay up late at night to finish it and see how it ends.). In contrast, many U.S. TV dramas drag on and on over many seasons (even generations!).

With no end in sight, it's difficult to make a commitment to become fully engrossed in many U.S. TV dramas.

-- Korean TV dramas explore common human themes: family, friendship, relationships, loyalty, respect, true love, etc. These themes make up the very thread of humanity. The majority of Korean TV dramas seem to emphasize "family values" and "family relationships." Many of the Korean TV dramas that I have seen include a lot of scenes where the main family in the story is eating together around the dinner table and discussing important family issues. There is a "realness" about Korean TV dramas. A friend told me this the other day: "Korean dramas embrace big emotions, the joy and pain and love and ache and hope that we all feel but rarely express. That kind of melodrama is corny, critics sniff, but the heart of Korean programs lies in their guileless ability to show us the truth of what we all feel." Given these reasons, Korean TV dramas are able to transcend cultural barriers and touch people all over the world.

-- People comment to me all the time about the high production values: Beautiful cinematography, unique locations, amazing costumes, sophisticated camera shots/angles, etc. The final product is very stylish and attractive, with arguably some of the highest TV production values in the world.

-- Korean TV dramas are well-written stories with strong dialogue and excellent acting. The producers, directors, writers, and actors are indeed master storytellers. I can tell that the production crew puts a lot of time and thought into developing each twist, turn, and cliffhanger. Many people have described Korean TV dramas to me as "emotional roller coaster rides." The plots are usually character-driven, with all of the main characters being well defined and all the plotlines ultimately resolved. And for the most part, audiences can easily relate to the characters, situations, and conflicts that arise. And the actors bring so much passion and powerful emotion to their performances.

-- Korean TV dramas usually offer a refreshing portrayal of "love" and "affection" on the TV screen, something with which American TV programming has lost touch. On American TV, "love" is often just sex. But in Korean TV dramas, love takes so many different shapes: genuine sensitivity, service, friendship, honesty, support, restraint, etc. It's more "love from the heart" rather than "love from the senses." Korean writers and producers have truly mastered the "art of affection."

-- The music soundtracks in Korean TV dramas are heartfelt and emotional, true reflections of the stories being told. The music seems to capture all the right emotions for the drama itself, and for specific characters and scenes. The music is indeed central to the whole experience, and it can usually stand on its own. Whereas Americans usually do not purchase and collect the soundtracks of top American TV hits like "Desperate Housewives" or "ER" (where music is used in a more casual way), Korean TV drama fans in the United States do collect the music soundtracks (or OSTs) for Korean TV dramas.

-- Korean TV dramas are a wonderful "window" into the beautiful Korean culture. I hear this scenario all the time: Someone stumbles upon a Korean TV drama and they love it (they get "hooked"). Then they become curious about the Korean culture, and they start reaching out to Korean people in their local communities. They try Korean food, and even learn some Korean words. Some even end up traveling to Korea to tour the sites. Korean TV dramas play an important and indispensable role in introducing Korean culture to many Americans. In short, Korean TV dramas are helping to bridge two cultures.

KH: What are the weaknesses of Korean dramas?

TL: Like any good entertainment genre (or art), different people will enjoy and dislike different things. So it's hard to categorically label something as a "weakness." Having said that, here are a few areas about which I sometimes hear complaints:

-- Some of the various plot developments can be a bit repetitive and overused (love triangles, tragic diseases, memory loss). Of course, some people find this charming, in its own unique way.

-- Although "chance meetings" are part of conventional drama (in any country), it seems that Korean TV dramas utilize chance meetings a little too often. For example, even though there are 10 million people in Seoul, the two main characters in a given drama just happen to run into each other over and over again.

-- Some Korean TV dramas can be a bit too slow in terms of pace. I hear some people complain about middle episodes dragging on without enough important plot developments. Others complain about too many "flashback replays" that slow down the dramatic momentum. (A flashback replay is when something important happens in the story, and then the main characters keep remembering that same important scene over and over again.)

-- Something else that I would personally consider a weakness (or maybe just a "pet peeve"): A good number of Korean TV dramas include some Western actors in minor supporting roles (a typical occurrence is for a Westerner to play some businessperson doing business with a Korean conglomerate). For the most part, not only are these Westerners terrible actors, but it seems they are forced to read an English script that is written by a Korean writer. The end result is that these Western actors sound silly as they speak English as though it is not their native language. The whole piece comes off as very awkward and unnecessarily distracting.

KH: Are there any language/culture problems concerning English subtitle translations?

TL: Oh yes! This topic alone could be the basis for an entire book. It is very difficult to create high quality English subtitles for Korean TV dramas. It takes four separate steps over several months to create English subtitles just for just one drama series. It's not easy to balance between literal translation versus capturing original intent and meanings. Of course the subtitles need to be accurate, but they also need to be as short and concise as possible so that viewers have enough time to read them before they disappear off the screen.

Here are just two quick examples of issues that my subtitle team deals with on a day to day basis:

A very common situation is when a woman calls an older male friend as "oppa." In the dictionary, "oppa" means "a woman's elder bother." In this case, if we translated "oppa" as "big brother," it would really confuse our American viewers (since the two characters are not blood-related). So instead, we just use the character's name and/or leave it out entirely. For example, instead of "Oppa (Big brother), please come here," we would write: "Kyung-Min, please come here" or simply just "Please come here." Incidentally, the word "oppa" is used so often in the dramas that by default it becomes one of the first Korean words that Americans learn.

Another situation is the use of sayings like "Jugeullae?" or "Jugkosipo?" Of course one easy option for us is to translate this literally as "Do you want to die?" However, although an accurate translation, it would sound quite disturbing in English under many circumstances. The "real feeling" behind the phrase does not carry over very well to English. So in many cases, we would translate "Jugeullae?" or "Jugkosipo?" as "Don't make me mad," or "You better be careful," or "You better watch it."

When I first started to produce Korean TV drama DVDs, many people told me: "Mainstream Americans will not accept watching long, foreign TV series with English subtitles. Americans don't like reading subtitles." However, for the most part, that has not been the case. As recent primetime U.S. TV shows like "Lost" and "Heroes" have demonstrated, mainstream America is slowly but surely waking up to the idea of watching programming with English subtitles.

KH: How did you get involved with the business of introducing Korean dramas to the U.S. market?

TL: I spent some time in Korea in the early 1990s, and I fell in love with the culture. When I returned home to the United States, I wanted to share and introduce the Korean culture to my family, friends, and neighbors (at one point, my "big dream" was to become the Ambassador to South Korea). I decided to take a Korean language course. My Korean language professor used a Korean TV drama to teach us the language (the drama was called "Sunrise"). Monday through Thursday we would study the Korean script for a specific episode learning new vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, etc. Then, each Friday, my professor would show us the complete 50-60-minute episode that we had just studied that week. My fellow classmates and I were so captivated by the drama. That's when I realized two things: (1) Korean TV drama programming could be popular in the U.S. market; and (2) using Korean TV dramas was the perfect vehicle for me to share the Korean culture in the United States.

After that realization, I needed to decide the proper distribution platform to use. I knew it would be difficult to set up a TV station or cable channel and try to get coverage all across the United States. So I decided to use the relatively new DVD platform. DVD provided many advantages, one of which was being able to reach just about anyone in any part of the country. And of course people could watch DVDs at their own convenience without commercials or inconvenient TV schedules. And most importantly, DVDs provided an easy way for people to share Korean TV dramas with their friends. I hear this all the time: "My friend loaned me his/her DVD copy of 'Stairway to Heaven,' and now I'm hooked too! What other Korean TV dramas do you recommend?"

I remember my first meeting with a Korean TV drama industry executive back in 2002. I presented to him my plan on how I wanted to acquire the distribution rights to some Korean TV drama programs, create English subtitles, and distribute the programs on DVD to "mainstream America." He was speechless for about 30 seconds. Then he sort of laughed and asked me, "Why?" He asked, "Outside of Korean-Americans, who in the United States would be interested in watching Korean TV shows?" He thought I was absolutely crazy. I will never forget that experience. Fortunately I was able to convince him, and now my company has over 60 Korean TV drama titles in its catalog. We distribute our DVDs all over the United States through major retail stores like Borders, Barnes & Noble, Costco, Amazon.com, etc, as well as thousands of independent retail stores. Here is our full catalog: http://www.yaentertainment.com/catalog.html

Like I said before, the popularity of Korean TV dramas in the United States has grown so much over the past five years. When I first started with this idea, Korean TV dramas were difficult, if not impossible, to find (especially with English subtitles). Now, after only five years, our Korean TV drama DVDs are on the shelves of major retail chain stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. In fact, I have pictures of our DVDs sitting side-by-side on the store shelves next to "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." It's so amazing to think about.

KH: What should Korean production companies and TV networks do to produce better Korean dramas and promote them effectively on the U.S. market?

TL: Over the past 8-12 years, I think the Korean TV production companies have produced some of the best overall TV programs in the world. I'm not sure I can give them any suggestions on how to produce even better TV dramas. However, I can offer one piece of advice: as tempting as it is, I hope producers, directors, and writers do not try to imitate recent Western TV trends. I have a feeling that Korean writers and producers are more and more tempted to incorporate more unnecessary sex, violence, and other "garbage content" into their drama programs. I am sure there are some who want to "push the limits" and be the first producer to try something "daring" in their dramas. But if this were to happen, it would be a huge disappointment for consumers in overseas markets like the United States. The U.S. TV industry already provides the world with enough "garbage content." We don't need any more. I believe adding more "garbage content" to Korean TV dramas would ultimately hinder the spread of the Korean Wave.

To answer the second part of the question...

I think the most effective way to further promote Korean TV dramas in the United States would be to arrange for one of the four major U.S. TV networks and/or one of the top 4-5 cable channels to broadcast a Korean TV drama with English subtitles (it doesn't even need to be in primetime). I know this idea is easier said than done. However, over the past five years my company has seen a lot of success in expanding the home video market. Together with many other pioneers we have expanded the Korean TV drama market considerably. We now have enough solid data, history, evidence, and the right key messages to push for this next important step. If a major U.S. TV outlet were to broadcast a Korean TV drama, it would exponentially increase all the grassroots efforts that have been done over the past five years. The time is right. We can't just wait for a "Winter Sonata moment" to happen here in the United States (like it did in Japan). We need to make it happen. My wonderful team, colleagues, partners, and I are working hard to make it happen. Someday soon a major U.S. TV outlet will broadcast a Korean TV drama series to millions of Americans.

On another note, I know various Korean TV production companies want to create their own "24-hour drama cable channel" in the United States. I think this is a wonderful idea (especially after a major U.S. TV outlet first broadcasts a Korean TV drama). But the problem is that the United States does not have room for 5-6 separate cable channels dedicated to Korean TV dramas. And only one party or source by themselves cannot provide all the wonderful Korean TV drama content. My point is that all the individual parties need to overcome their competitive issues and work together for one common goal. That is the best way to effectively tackle and thrive in a large and complex foreign market like the United States.

Also, to effectively promote Korean TV dramas and the Korean Wave here in the United States, I believe that many major initiatives need to be lead by local Americans. If a Korean person from Seoul comes to the United States and says "Korean TV dramas are wonderful and everyone in the United States should watch them," the effect will not be so great (because of course a Korean person believes in and enjoys Korean TV programming!) But if an American stands up and says that same message, the overall effect would be much greater. More local people would be intrigued, and they would be more likely to investigate why this American person is so passionate about Korean TV dramas. They would be more likely to think, "If this American person really enjoys Korean TV dramas/movies/music, perhaps I would enjoy them too."

KH: What is your view on the outlook of Korean TV dramas in the United States and beyond?

TL: I am naturally very bullish on the outlook of Korean TV dramas in both the United States and beyond. My wonderful team and I have a front-row seat to the daily expansion of the Korean Wave in the United States. Without a doubt, Korean TV dramas are the engine behind the Korean Wave. I am a big believer. And there are many other big believers here in the United States. Korean TV drama writers and producers are brilliant. They just need to hold on to their "magic formula," and continue to innovate without imitating Western TV trends.

KH: Any additional comments regarding Korean dramas in the U.S. market?

TL: I know, of course, that Korean TV dramas are made for Korean audiences. However, I believe that sometime soon, if not already, total Korean TV-drama viewership will be greater outside of Korea. The number of non-Korean viewers will be greater than the number of Korean viewers. This is an amazing point to ponder, and the implications for Korean TV drama producers and writers are enormous.

As Korean TV dramas continue to increase in popularity, it would be wonderful for the U.S. fans to be able to interact more with the actors and actresses. (press conferences, academic symposiums, concerts, conventions, etc).

It's an honor for me to help share the Korean culture here in the United States. Learning about and experiencing Korean culture has blessed and enhanced my life. I know many Americans feel the same way as I do. And now for many Americans, watching a Korean TV drama is their "first taste" of Korea.



2008.04.24

Survey of the Day


The classic dilemma:

Do you chew the chocolate, because chocolate has such a nice feeling when you chew it between your teeth. . .

or

Do you suck on it, to draw out the yumtastic experience of eating chocolate a bit longer, but miss the fun texture of biting into the chocolatey goodness?

Really, for now (though a year down the road, it's debatable), this affects my life more than clinton/obama. . . and everybody can vote on this one, not just Americans.

What say you?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

July 2006: Picasso and the Mud Festival (part of an overlong post)

I've split up this post, so that it's down to readable length. Originally it's from July 2006.

A few weeks ago -- I think the week before I went to the mud festival -- I went to a Picasso exhibit right around the corner from where I saw the soccer game.

Now this, this was fantastic. I know just enough art history, and art creation, to engage with Picasso in a way that I really enjoyed -- I wasn't all distracted saying things like "Well, Picasso's third major lover was very strong-willed, and that affected his lines in his paintings of female models during his blue period" (which is total bollocks -- I just made that up. I have no idea about the relationship between Picasso's biography and his art). But I DO know enough about art to make a few observations about how that man looked at the world, and how he presented his ways of seeing the world on canvas, so that we would start to look at the world in a similar way. THAT was amazing and fascinating. He has these paintings where it looks nothing like a crying woman . . . but it FEELS like a crying woman with every shape, colour, form, and angle. Your emotional reaction to the picture is exactly your emotional reaction to seeing a woman cry. He puts noses and eyes and shoulders in the wrong places, but he does it so that those features catch your eyes -- it's like he's saying, "I put these in the wrong place, or made them disproportionately large, or grotesquely misshapen, so that you'd know that I want you to pay attention to it." And then, once you looked at that misplaced shoulder, or leg, or finger, it would capture, exactly, the gesture of an arm, or an eye, even if it didn't have the "proper" form. A quote up on the wall of one of the display room (HUNDREDS of paintings and sketches and prints were on display) said something like, "I spend my whole life trying to learn to paint like a child." Every week in art class, I watch kids try to put the way they see the world onto paper, and some of them are starting to think in set patterns, but others still just play with shapes and colours as well as their hand-eye coordination allows them. Frankly, I wish I could create pictures as primally, and simply, as Ryan does, but everybody around him (except me) keeps telling him to "make the nose look like a nose. Make the car look like a car."

The other thing I loved about Picasso, truly loved, were the photos of him. He always had this fantastic look in his eye of a man totally participating in his life, eyes that could look carefully at something and love it, and see it, and see things in it, and even express it. He wore his genius lightly -- he didn't wear long black coats and dark hats and smoke cigarettes with long filters, and let the IDEA of who he was interfere with who he actually was -- there are pictures of him painting in his boxers, with a bottle of wine nearby and his belly hanging over his elastic waistband. Every picture made me think of a man who had the chance to do what he loved – create -- his whole life, who spent his whole life looking and trying to learn, and trying to find a purer, simpler way to think and live and then portray the world. I hope that when I'm an old man, I have eyes like that, too.

And in that vein, I will continue paying attention to my world, seeing and looking and trying to understand as much as I can without judging too much. Walking to work and hearing a cicada that must have grown up listening to John Coltrane's avant-garde phase. Smiling at the little boy and girl whose family works the bedding shop on the corner near my house who, if they see me or another caucasian, they'll stand in the middle of the street and just bellow "HELLOOOOOO" until they're right out of sight. And they really bellow, too. I'll continue sitting in coffee shops and shopping mall hallways and watching the people go by, and writing poetry and stories, and reading the same. Take care, everyone. Enjoy the pictures, and love your life, and find peace and joy in the meanings that fill your life, whatever they are.


In other news, I got a new laptop. This is the first bulk e-mail being written on my own computer, in my apartment. In fact, I'm in my pyjamas right now. It's a good little unit (the computer, not the pyjamas). It does everything I need it to do (the computer, not the pyjamas).

Last weekend I went to a mud festival in a village a little west of Seoul. Boy, that was fun! We smeared our bodies in healthy clay, played on a beach and in the sea all afternoon, and acted silly with thousands of other people, all smeared in clay and grinning goofily.

I played in the sea, throwing my body into these monstrous breakers as the tide came in. It was like being six years old again, riding my bike down a steep hill, or touching the tree branches above with my head as I jumped on a trampoline. The sea is awesome, and I hadn't played in big waves in such a long long time. It was really thrilling jumping into this thing SO MUCH bigger than I am, carrying so much power, and then being tossed around like an air mattress. Finally, exhausted and exhilirated, I walked home. . . the wrong way. I got properly lost, discovered an amusement park and then finally found my way home, too. The second day, it rained. I just took off my shirt and let the water fall on me -- better shirtless and wet than cold in a wet t-shirt, I say, and then I walked around and played anyway (as did most of the other people). Then, at the end of the day, just before my group reconvened to eat dinner and leave, I spend forty minutes in a mud sauna.

There was a bath house with special mud-enriched water (have I mentioned yet how healthy this mud was supposed to be? You could buy bars of mud soap!), and I soaked there, and showed a bunch of other western guys (first time sauna-ers) how to do a good salt rub. Then we went home. It was really fun.



Probably the high point of that day (other than singing "If I Only Had A Brain" with the silly Australian who approached me and started a conversation), was when a traditional Korean drumline, dressed up in full regalia, started playing, and immediately a dozen mud-caked westerners started a dancing circle. It was one of those spontaneous, surprising, just wonderful moments.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Why the Internet, as it is now, will never reach its full potential as an agent for social change.

This one got the most votes so far, so I'll start here.

When I heard the news about the Sungnyemun Gate burning down in Seoul, one of the first things I did was go online, to the Korea Times website. After the article write-up, people could post comments.

from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2008/02/123_18668.html, February 11th

Here, uncensored, is what I saw in the comments section. (warning: strong language ahead: if you don't like bad words, look to the right.)

Readers Comments
(interestingly, commenters had their IP addresses listed after their usernames. . . more on that later.)

ultrakorean (80.187.98.1)
02-11-2008 07:45
Even the white american losers have been immigrants

ProudKorean (96.231.154.11)
02-11-2008 07:43
The U.S. is, like 50 times the size of SK, yet it whines about how little room is left to take anymore foreigners or immigrants in, while pressuring SK to let in more and more, including the U.S.' own unemployed or unemployable (white) losers. Go figure.

ultrakorean (80.187.98.1)
02-11-2008 07:40
the (white) foreigners should go home, fast.

ProudKorean (96.231.154.11)
02-11-2008 07:38
When (white) America lets foreigners in, it's to exploit them as cheap labor to subsidize the whites, at every level. When (white) Americans come to Korea as foreigners, it's to suck the blood of Koreans, as the great (white) masters.

ultrakorean (80.187.98.1)
02-11-2008 07:34
All of the wannabe English teachers, keep out. All of you stupid idiots, keep out. All of you Dumb fucks, morons, douchebags and faggots, keep out.


No explanation necessary, I hope.

Everybody loves the internet because everybody has a voice, right? It's, like, you know, the ultimate embodiment of freedom of speech! Anybody can throw in their two bits! We live in the information age! Proudkorean and ultrakorean above especially love it, because they can be as rude as they want, and nobody will know it was them!

Now I've been spending more time on some of the expat in Korea blogs lately, and maybe I'm wrong, but I have a feeling what I'm seeing isn't too abnormal: the amount of negativity, nastiness, pettiness, and just outright rudeness is no longer shocking, but it's really disheartening. People take cheap shots for the sheer fun of doing so, people pose as somebody they aren't, or strike the most offensive posture they can, just to have others respond to their comments (this is called trolling: the commenters above, according to later commenters on that same site, aren't even from Korea -- the IP addresses were from Europe and . . . somewhere else I can't remember. They just posted that racist garbage to bait somebody into reacting. And it worked: later that morning, they were elbow-deep in debate/flame-wars with other netizens. Most of the "debates" went something like this:

Responder: "You're overgeneralizing, and you haven't backed up your assumptions: there are no statistics that prove white English teachers in are more likely than other demographics to be pedophiles."

Ultrakorean: "Go home, you bum-loving, HIV-positive FAG!"

If throwing a wet blanket on my morning jag helps them feel alive, I hope they feel really friggin' validated. As for the people responding to such ignorance, well, you can mud-wrestle a pig, but only one of you's having fun.)

Here is the worst example I ever saw (this is not a typical comment board: this was the one that forced the guy to change his commenting policy -- but it shows how far people will rocket past any line of taste or sensitivity if others react to their poison: it's even less appropriate considering the kick-him-when-he's-down topic of his original post) and its younger brother. Read the comments if you want to lose a little faith in humanity. For the first one, run a search and find where "angrykorean" and "bigchoi" and "troop" start yapping. For the second one, Peter is about the ugliest thing I've ever seen, and probably a "sock" (an id invented by a third user, in order to start a conversation with him/herself, or manipulate a comment thread toward some end).

So basically, the way I see it, there are a few reasons the Internet will never reach its full potential for social change.

1. The first one is the flipside of the democratic nature of the Internet. Anybody can weigh in now, and that's great! The problem is, there is no filter to tell me "This guy never finished high school," "This guy has a masters' degree in this exact topic," and I'm left to fend for myself. The holocaust-denying anti-semite shows up right next to the experienced diplomat on my "Gaza Strip" search results, and even if the analysis does have "John Doe, Ph.D." on the byline, I don't know if that Ph.D. is in math or sociology. Yeah, there's a ton of great stuff out there, but it's like a diamond in a vegetable garden: yeah, the diamond's in there, and there's also some other nutritious stuff, but there's also some dirt, some compost, and a fair (stinky) bit of manure, too.

It almost makes me want to go to a bookstore and buy a book or something!

2. If we go with the "most read" or "most sent" stories, we aren't too much farther ahead, because most clicks on the Internet are from people looking for diversion, not edification or education. If I want to find something credible and insightful, where's the resource that will hook me up with it. . . and who makes the decisions about what goes on their recommended reading list? These days, there are a few things like "digg" and "stumbleupon" where you can give a site thumbs-up or thumbs-down, thus recommending it to other users of the service, but because most people use the Internet for diversion, fifty-thousand netizens CAN be wrong -- I don't WANT to see Jennifer Love Hewitt's beach bikini pictures or a video of some guy getting nailed in the crotch by a water-balloon slingshot. In the end, the cost/benefit ratio for the good stuff I do find, compared to the amount of time I usually spend searching out and verifying it, is pretty poor.

3. Too many voices is the same as no voice. Multiplicity without focus becomes white noise.

4. The lowest, ugliest, nastiest commenters set the parameters for the entire discussion. Repeat: it is the stupidest and worst, not the smartest and best comment, that sets the tone for the entire comment board.

In a place like a peer-reviewed journal, because of editors and experts making informed decisions, nothing but the best stuff rises to the top. It's stimulating and challenging to read that stuff. But imagine if The New Yorker had a feedback page where they regularly printed letters saying things like "Alice Munro's short story in the last issue was GAY. GAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!" or somesuch. It becomes difficult to carry on any kind of discourse at all, and it would damage the New Yorker's credibility to publish such tripe. Here's an irreverent but humorous look at how it would sound to have a group of Internet commenters at a board meeting (bad language warning number 2):



Now, webmasters are starting to get more vigilant, and on some sites, you can report harassing comments, as well as giving thumbs up and thumbs down for good or bad comments. Yahoo answers is one community where you'll be booted if you consistently post asinine or inappropriate comments. What else can be done to get these trolls out of my hair?

Yeah, there's that vaunted freedom of speech . . . but that's not freedom to crap on other people's attempt to have a legitimate discussion, or to simply live a normal life. Freedom of speech, famously, does not protect me when I falsely shout, "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. Some people hide behind anonymity to act out their worst impulses. Here in Korea, you MUST enter your ID Number (like your social insurance number) to become a member of most online communities. This happened after a pop star actually committed suicide in part due to vicious online criticism of her career and character. She's not the only one.

Yeah, the hackers won't like it, and will find ways to get around it, I suppose, but I don't mind Korea's policy of attaching your user id to your actual ID number (at least on comment boards, to begin, and maybe also on user-created-content sites, and as long as it's kept private, with clear, well-defined laws about when that information can and can't be released) -- if it's being used to make sure you're not harassing people online, or posting hate, I don't mind that. I mean, it makes things more problematic if I go online to vent my passive-aggressive hate for the world, or if I'm planning to cheat on my wife or buy illicit substances or materials. . . but why SHOULDN'T people have to answer for what they say? I mean, you're still free to have whatever opinion you want, and to express it, but you might have to answer for it, is all.

Other options: I've heard (though I can't find it on the site map) that if someone's just looking for a flame war (flame is the name for those kinds of poisonous, negative comments), there's a comment board on Dave's ESL Cafe intended solely for those trolls, so they can bother no one but each other -- a kind of rock under which they can crawl and meet more of their own. I kind of like this idea- if you get enough thumbs downs, you get sent to the corner, where you can't comment on respectable message boards until you've thought about what you've done. Even with ID attachment, I've seen an interested group hijack a message board: the Jehovah's Witnesses have been known to get on Yahoo Answers and give thumbs downs to anybody representing anything other than JW's, undermining the whole purpose of an open forum, and grinding their own axes. Other religious groups have done the same.

Anyway, the Internet is an amazing medium for communication without borders, and all kinds of social change could come out of that information flow. As an idea, it's revolutionary and amazing. . . except for the large number of jerks who populate it. It's kind of like if half the population of Sydney, Australia (one of the worlds' prettiest cities) were profligate litterers. There ARE people using the Internet to try and make the world a better place (click here. Go to this site every day. You have no reason not to.) However, until the world wide web begins being seen as an agent for social change and connection, and not as an anonymous dumping ground for my frustration at whatever grinds me down, and until there is a reliable mechanism for making sure that the best-informed, most thoughtful and enlightening additions to the information highway reach the most sets of eyes, rather than simply the ones involving nipple-slips and candid bikini shots, the Internet will not reach that potential.

Here's a site that IS trying to make the internet a better place. Self-described as "the youtube of ideas" here's a site that's trying to start discussions about important topics, getting experts to weigh in, and then allowing the average web-user to respond. Yay bigthink.com.

NOTE: I do recognize that there are times when anonymity is helpful, even necessary: countries where information is controlled need anonymous interfaces for people to get word out about what's happening, for example political blogs in China, or reports during the military crackdown in Burma/Myanmar. Even when the little guy is taking on a powerful organization, as in the group "Anonymous"'s assault on the church of Scientology (which has a history of suppressing exposure of their, um, controversial aspects, with litigation -- search "anonymous vs. scientology" on youtube to learn about an interesting Internet meme. If anonymity is being used to pass on important, or controlled information, I love it. . . but too often, it's being used as a mask behind which I can act like an asshole instead. How do we filter out important anonymity from jerk anonymity?

And there's the dilemma in its essence, I suppose. I wish there were a way that ordinary web users could marginalize the ogres, though, and help nudging that cream, so that it rises to the top.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Posts might come a bit slowly. . .

I'm cleaning up the prose in the sections (the favourite posts) that I've linked on the side, to make them a little more fit for strangers to read. I've been handing out my URL more often lately, so I may as well tidy my room before inviting more guests to come over.

If you're new to the site, welcome! The four or five posts after this one give a better sample of what to expect from this blog.

Amuse yourselves with this Korean baby singing "Hey Jude"


In the meantime. . . by reader vote (vote on the comment board):

do you want my next post to be about. . .

1. why the internet as it is now will not reach its full potential as an agent for social change

2. the silliest thing about Korean culture I've encountered so far

3. the most entertaining internet phenomenon I've encountered in recent times

4. why reading Lord of the Rings comforts me

5. the top five list of "Things I'd Change About Korean Culture If I Had A Magic Wand (that worked)"

6. how the internet is changing the music industry for the better, and the limitations of that change

7. why modern religion deserves Richard Dawkins

8. Korean movies you should track down and see. . .


aren't I just FULL of opinions!


it is one of the mysteries of Korean culture that these things from the west are inordinately popular here:
Hey Jude (hit play)

Cinema Paradiso
Mariah Carey
My Way (Frank Sinatra)
Anne of Green Gables
The Little Prince
That damn Titanic song.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Didn't believe me about the spam?

Though I am sure you all believe my credibility to be unassailable, here, just to prove what I said in the last post, is an example of Korea's love for processed imitation meat.

Here is the box that was handed out to each and every teacher at my school this year at Chusok.

Look inside. Go ahead.

For the record, Chusok was in early October. The fact this box of spam is still hanging around in the western teachers' lounge. . .


without even a single can removed and consumed . . .
gives you an idea of how well the big boxes of spam went over on the English teachers.

"They say it's the thought that counts, so, uh, thanks for remembering, I guess."

But wait. . . what is it for real?


It's not even actual spam. This brand of imitation processed meat is a cheap knockoff of spam -- yes, even imitation meat was too good for us; imitation imitation meat will do fine.

I shouldn't be too bitter, though: we got TWELVE cans each -- I mean, that's like getting, you know, nice socks for father's day.

Doesn't that look lovely? The lettering in yellow reads "pam" -- I wish they'd added "75% as good as real spam!" (though in Korean, 팜 is only HALF as good as real 팜)

(real spam. there's an oxymoron)

Yup. Things are getting pretty lean when you start saying things like "I'd rather have spam."
I asked girlfriendoseyo why people give spam at Korean thanksgiving. She answered, "because it's cheap" -- basically, it's the equivalent of giving your honey cash on Valentine's day -- "Happy Pink Day. I'm too lazy to put any thought into it, so here. Go get yourself something nice." (This gift introduction is best accompanied with a pat on the bum.) It may as well have "I had to give you something" written across the can, instead of "pam".

Spamtastic!

(To their credit, the school did much better on New Year's Day, with a nice little red wine set. Thanks for that, Mr. Kim. Red wine will be much enjoyed. And yes, I realize I am being a bit of a prig for looking a gift horse in the mouth. I'm sure glad we got boxes of spam instead of a hefty package of Saturday morning intensive classes for Chuseok. Thanks for that, boss! I'm glad you're not like the new supervisor at my old school!)

anyway. . .

I should work in advertising!
Need something ironic? Lukewarm? Plan to damn with faint praise, or skewer with sarcasm? Rob-O-Seyo's your man!

Who can resist my golden words, my dazzling slogans? They're better than getting stitches after falling down concrete stairs!

Way better.

Not quite so sad.

I'm a happy cat, because my best friend came back from his travels in Europe, and we get to hang out. He really liked the Sauna I showed him, the one with the best workout room I've seen in a non-jimjilbang sauna.

The underground arcade near my work was decorated with these ribbons up, down, and all around, to commemorate the new year.


I cross this intersection about four times a day. This entire glut of vehicles are just the vehicles that got caught between the end of the left-turn signal and the green-crossing light. (this is the same intersection I ranted about before, where drivers are constantly endangering pedestrians by trying to sneak through). They'd just started moving again when I took the picture, but they were all there, piled up and getting honked at by cars trying to go straight through the intersection. As I overheard Random Seattle Cop once say to Random Guy, "Don't enter the intersection if you can't get out, buddy."
Only in Korea:


Spam is hugely popular here (as it is in a number of other post-war countries). One of the most common holiday gifts is a huge box (wrapped up and presented beautifully) containing eight or ten or even fifteen (whoa! you really went all out!) cans of spam.

Sometimes, it isn't even spam. It's (wrap your head around this) imitation spam. Pam 팜. An imitation of an imitation of meat. It's on restaurant menus, you can get spam soup or spam stew, without a single drop of irony or chintz for spice.



Number 4 is bad luck, so some elevators will say "F" instead of having 4 on the elevator panel. Here, CK tailor's, on the fourth floor, accidentally hinted at something far more than a tailor shop in their office. . . or an attitude toward 양복(western clothes) far meaner than they intend.

Had to take a picture.

There was a random sameul-nori group playing down in Chonggyecheon stream on Sunday. On closer inspection, they were all about in their sixties, having a great old time.





Their skill level (and athleticism) wasn't quite on par with these guys,



but as "random things to stumble across in downtown Seoul" go, it was pretty awesome.

Also on the random things to stumble across in downtown Seoul list,

Not a single harness or strap. Just a dude, and a rope, and a really tall building. Maybe some people looked up and thought he was badass. I looked up and thought he was reckless and maybe stupid. . . especially if he has a family.


Think of the irony in this one: create a space where people can get a rest, and then fill it with a monument (best of all would be if the statue were made as a tribute to the importance of slowing down and getting some rest) -- kind of like asking the librarian, "Hey! HEEEYYYY! Am I quiet enough now?"


My valentines day gift for girlfriendoseyo:
(the picture, not the wallpaper. The wallpaper came with the house.)

I love this city, and all the random little things you'll bump into.

Hope all's well with you, too.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

A last few Sungnyemun / Namdaemun pictures.

Then I'll move on to happier stuff again. I freaked myself out this week with my prescient post -- if that becomes a regular occurrence, I don't know what I'm gonna do, but it's been four in a row now about sad stuff, death destruction and apocalyptic whachamacallit.

I have a bunch of cool/fun/quirky pictures waiting on file to post, but it just seems a little trite to post them with these things -- kind of like those newscasts that give 40 minutes of "People are dying, unhappy, and exploitative. . . but a fireman saved a cat from a tree on Dreyden Street this afternoon, and a camera crew was there to catch the scene. . . "

The problem with reading the newspaper is exactly this: It's not newsworthy to report "54 999 999 Koreans respected their national monuments today" or "299 999 999 Americans' behaviour respected and valued human life, more or less" -- news like that would be quite heartening, but dishonest. As always, the worst elements of human nature are usually also the noisiest (think religious extremists, obnoxious protesters, not to mention the nastiness that gets into the news) and its the news agencies' responsibility to report that nasty. Yeah, I'm human too, so I forget the 199 people who rode the subway with me courteously, or at least neutrally, and I only remember the single jackass who pushed me and nearly stopped me from getting off the train on time, because he was plowing for that empty seat on the bench, and didn't care who he had to offend to get it.

So I need to remember the 99.9%, even as I read in the paper about the 0.1%.

I went down to the destroyed gate again on Friday (the other pictures were from Monday).

They have a slightly more permanent, and higher, barrier around the burnt gate now.

It's still a very crowded scene -- mostly older generations.


In fact, I chatted (across the language barrier) with an older gentleman who came to see the gate all the way from Gwangju in South Jeolla province, about a four and a half hour drive.

They had made a shrine, laid it out in the way of an ancestral shrine, or a memorial for the dead, where people lay down flowers and pay tribute to the dead by laying out flowers and bowing. Flowers were available on site.


They found a picture of the gate from maybe the '50s or '60s. If it were a shrine for a human, that mat would be laid out with food, but gates don't eat anything.

This guy stood sentry, and occasionally played sad tunes on a traditional Korean flute. I don't know the significance of the songs -- there's a high probability they're funereal folk songs or something, but it sure set a tone.




The sign boards are not an ancient tradition. This comes from something a little more recent -- when a popular Chinese movie star committed suicide just before his movie came out in theatres, at the mall, somebody placed a sign board like this next to the cardboard display promoting the movie. People were signing it and putting flowers on the ground in the front of the sign, not unlike this.



Things were more organized than on Monday -- a church group, or maybe a heritage group, had a tent up, and they were serving hot drinks. The shrine had been set up, the barrier around the gate's ruins were better built and more permanent. On the other side of the courtyard, were these guys. (Note the one in traditional Korean clothing -- the tall hat and such.)

The one in the tall hat kept talking through a loudspeaker. Now I'm not exactly sure what they were doing, but I'm pretty sure they weren't religious soapboxers (good thing, too -- I can't think of a less appropriate place to lay down platitudes on a loudspeaker [drowning out the lovely flute dirges, no less] than the site of a tragedy). I'm not sure yet how I feel about these guys, because I don't know what they were here for.

There's the loudspeaker. If anybody reading this knows what the sign says, please tell me -- I'm very curious. If they were calling for better heritage protection, then I don't mind their presence (though their method -- obnoxious loud speaker -- is still in my bad books), but if it was some other cause -- Anti-Free-Trade-Agreement or somesuch axe-grinder, then I shall be officially (and retroactively) upset and offended on behalf of all the mourners at the gate.

In fact, if anyone reading this knows Korean, I'd really appreciate if you put an explanation in the post. -- I've been told it's protesting that the district office (one of the administrations that could be partly held responsible for the accident) is hopelessly useless.

As I said, a lot of older folks were there. The one with the hat and the fantastic mustache was barking, rabble-rousing -- I wonder what he was saying, but he was definitely the coolest-looking of the demagogues out there soapboxing (with the possible exception of the guy by the truck with the microphone and the traditional garb.)




And, right across the street from Namdaemun/Sungnyemun gate, a little irony: at least they won't have to travel far to get the insurance details sorted out after the fire.

(It says Dae Han Fire & Marine Insurance)

If you're really curious to see it, here's a video. I like this one because it's just the actual sound, without newscasters' narration.



The collapse is shocking, and all this aired on live TV.

In fact, in their emotional shock, some Koreans called this the Korean 9/11, which is a little overboard

This site pointed out the it's not the first disaster Koreans have experienced, and this guy states, a bit more emphatically, that the Korean media lost all perspective this time. I wrote this on his comment board after he took Korean papers and pundits to task:


"Sure, the media's overreacting -- but you know, hyperbole is, like, the greatest invention ever in the history of anything ever!!!!!!
. . .
I see the 9/11 parallel insofar as
1. it had the same "I can't believe my eyes" kind of shock value,
2. something fell in a big cloud of smoke and ashes,
3. it was broadcast as it happened on live TV
4. it was COMPLETELY unexpected
5. it hit Korea "where it hurts" the same way the NYC attack hit America where it hurt
6. everybody was sad and stunned the next day.

However, that's where the parallels end -- my shocked emotion watching the gate go down was the same disbelieving feeling I felt when I watched the Twin Towers fall, in the same way that constipation and intestinal cancer are both bowel problems.

When Sungnyemun collapsed, here are things that DIDN'T happen, unlike after 9/11, for Muslims and Americans:

1. older men didn't stay home for fear of street violence and reprisals, and none were threatened or bullied at work
2. no pojang machas [outdoor restaurants, common hangouts for older Korean men -- same demographic as the arsonist] or soju tents were firebombed or vandalized
3. there were no videos of self-hating second generation Korean immigrants celebrating in the streets of LA (the way there was video of street celebrations in certain America-hating countries and districts)
4. Korea will not go to war because of this
5. no anarchist, or hate-founded organization was found responsible for the attack, and found to have intentions to continue with other attacks
6. no televangelist blamed the attack on their country's tolerance of gays
7. 3000+ people didn't freaking die!

Meanwhile, let's go easy on Korea and the media during this sad time. Not everyone's calling it the Korean 9/11, and they don't seem to be reverting to the usual ideological scapegoats and "evildoers", either -- even [outgoing president] Roh Moo-hyun hasn't found a way to make it [new president elect] LMB's fault. . . yet."

[note: the arsonist has now blamed President Roh. These days (the disappointing, leftist) president Roh has been scapegoated and blamed up the wazoo for pretty much every fault you can think of. If the Korean papers really want to smear somebody these days, they say "he was probably a leftist" or "sounds like something a leftist would say".]

There. Last post about the fire. Probably. Next comes fun stuff again.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Northern Illinois University and the prescient blogger.

Whoa. That's weird. After writing in my last post about why people do these kinds of destructive actions, I came into the staff room after a class and my coworker told me about the gunman in Northern Illinois.

I still hold to everything I said in my previous post, but it's sure freaky having a shooting happen the day after writing about it. Maybe I should write about stuff like my sister winning the lottery instead.

I'm reposting this clip from fight club. Just like yesterday, it's still graphically bloody, but the monologue in here (matched with the imagery, for that matter) just about perfectly describes what I imagine would have to be going through the mind of someone when they decide to actually pick up a gun and start destroying things.

"I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother all the French beaches I'd never see. I wanted to breathe smoke."



Somehow, each of these people have convinced themselves that the entire world deserves to be as unhappy as they are. Why or how they reach that state of solipsism is different for each one (and yes, I recognize that depression and mental illness can warp a person's world-view -- but they're not off the hook that easily. Each person has choices to make, too, and some chronically depressed people get help instead of torching national monuments or killing strangers), but their own agenda (sometimes spite, sometimes something more ideological) has become more important, in their minds, than any human life, any treasure, and certainly any law.

Now, I'm gonna throw some JD Salinger at you, because when I struggle with getting down, old Jerome David always picks me up. Thanks for that, Jerry!

You see, I've been struggling with/coming to grips with cynicism lately. I'm spending more time reading the newspaper and following news on English Expat in Korea -type websites, and I've been dismayed by both the cumulative drag of constantly reading about tragedies in the paper, and the amount of cynicism and negativity that sometimes gets packaged along with the news in the comment boards (and some of the writers) in the Korea Expat Blogosphere.

It's hard to stay up to date with the news and such, without getting dragged down by bad news. Add to that the fact I firmly believe that our characters are determined by the things we choose to look at and the way we choose to look at them -- my mom used to say, "Garbage in, garbage out," and the dilemma comes into a little more focus: how do I keep a positive attitude while still being aware of what goes on in the world, and doing my part?

And then, just when I think I'm finding a balanced way to view the world, that is realistic but also positive, that is both honest and edifying, something shitty happens.

(Northern Illinois University. Condolences to all involved. Peace Be Upon You and God, or Richard Dawkins, Be With You all.)
Maybe it's apples and oranges to compare a national monument's destruction with the loss of four lives, but the fact remains that both of those guys chose the best way they could think of to raise a middle finger to the entire world they knew.

In one of my favourite passages of Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield complains about graffiti in his childhood school:
“That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose.”

And that's just the thing about life sometimes, isn't it? All that shit we can't control, that jumps out at us from behind the door, and derails our gravy train.



And you know, in the same way it's easier to watch TV than to read a book, it's easier to get caught in the cycle of negative thought, than to claw back up into the positive stuff. In a text message, I wrote to a friend that "Hate is just a way to postpone grief" -- all that hate, and then the grief, NEEDS to be sorted out, as much for my benefit as for anyone else's, but it's easier to shift blame and resent someone than to look in the mirror, deal with how I feel, grieve, and then (eventually) grow and move on. It's easier to decide I have a right to be miserable, and from there, to decide that the entire phony world deserves to be miserable with me. That negative energy feeds itself like feedback in a microphone, and can get blown all out of proportion, and from there, all bets are off on how I might react.

It takes work to pull out of the whirlpool. But if you can. . . (back to J.D. Salinger, at last)

Holden Caulfield's teacher, Mr. Antolini informs us that,
“Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as some day, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.”

. . . but it takes work to get into the positive cycle, the good reciprocal arrangement, instead of lapsing into the negative reciprocal arrangement, where my bad attitude makes other people miserable around me, and then I soak up that misery and radiate it back out again wherever I go.

So I'm trying not to get too down today. I'm trying to remember all the wonderful things that make my life joyful, and to focus on those things (without blinding myself to reality). Hopefully, I'll get back to the last fifteen pages of Franny and Zooey again (I'd quote it, but you really just need to read the whole book for it to make any sense anyway) "There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady" see? Pretty opaque, huh? -- if you read it, you know.

And maybe, if I stay in the positive cycle, I can even get to my favourite Salinger quote of all: "I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy." (the fat lady is Jesus, don't you know?)

Anyway, it's been a bad week. . . by my lady found me some dairy free chocolate for Valentine's Day that was really really great, and I'm reading Lord of the Rings, which is such a flippin' awesome book, and today was payday, and my best friend is back from traveling in Europe, so things aren't all bad.

Pray for those folks in Illinois, though. And read Franny and Zooey, if you don't get the "fat lady" stuff, and want to.