Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Effing cool video of the day

Air Traffic Simulation tracks every civilian air flight in the world with yellow dots. Hypnotic, friends. Hyp-no-tic.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Okonomiyaki. Real effing good food.

Can be found in Hongdae. . . if you ask me really nice, I'll take you there.

There are two places; one, called Noside, doesn't allow pictures, but this one does. They're both amazing. Yeah.

This is with my Japanese friend Saito.

How's that for food porn, Zenkimchi?

Personally, I'd give a slight edge to the Okonomi at Noside, though you'll also probably have to wait in line there... but dang, it's good.

This is what Noside looks like

and here's a video about how to find it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Here is a post I wrote last year for advent.

Back then, almost nobody read my blog; it's a long post, but I'm also more proud of this one than most of the other writing on this blog. Thought I'd draw attention to it, now that I have readers other than my grandma.

It was written for a friend's blog, for advent, and it's a bit more personal than the expat musings and pictures of my awesome weekend. . . but it is what it is, and during the holidays, it seems like a good time for reflection. It's about my search for meaning during one of the most difficult times of my life.

Part one:

Part two:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Backwards Day at Yahoo!

Yahoo published a "Ten Greatest Christmas Songs Ever" list...

that somehow included four of the Christmas songs I hate the most.

The bizarro christmas list had me shaking my head over and over and over: they got the number one song just about bang on... but from there it goes downhill like a Robin "When in doubt, go for the dick joke" Williams comedy routine when he's run out of good material.

If you can guess which four, you win a toaster.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Shoot down that myth.

So, uh, next time somebody tells you Korea is a conservative society, ask them to explain this slideshow.

More here.

Oh sure, the issue isn't as simple and cut-and-dried as that.. read here for The Korean's thoughts on paradoxical sexual mores in Korea, and here for his thoughts on the (at least formerly) deeply closeted homosexual scene in Korea.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

For future reference...

Don't reuse olive jars.

The smell...

dear lord, the smell!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Roboseyo's Bliss-Out of the Day

One of the rare bliss-outs that occurs on the first track of an album. . . but then, listen how the entire first two thirds of the song builds to the climax. Even an opening-track bliss-out needs context. The slow build, the slow burn, makes the desperation of the refrain glorious.

Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) by The Arcade Fire.

This was one of the songs that joyed me up enough to get through January through April 2006, when I was mourning two really big losses at the same time.  I'd come to work early (I had them on the work computer), play them in the staff room before the other teachers showed up to begin the day of preschool.  It was either this one, the end of Beethoven's 9th (which I described earlier), or Thunder Road, by Bruce Springsteen, which is so good I'll forgive every saxophone solo he's recorded in his entire career (saxophone solos and synthesizers are the two things I hate most about '80s music).  Without these to start my day, I have no idea where I'd be right now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advent Post: How I Almost Decided to Hate God, Authenticity, and why One Sufjan Stevens does More Good Than The Entire CCM Industry... Part 2

(and that's just the title!)

OK. They say well begun is half-done, so what does it mean that I’ve started this post five times now?

You can hit play and start reading...but I almost want to encourage you to just listen to the song without any interruptions once, and be moved by it before you hit replay, and THEN start reading. The song deserves it.

Holy Holy Holy, by Sufjan Stevens.

Sufjan Stevens is an artist. He makes music. He writes songs with a delicacy and creativity that stays constantly intriguing. He tells stories that are easy to care about. Whether the events he sings about are true or fiction, I don’t know, but he sings about them honestly. And I would, in a heartbeat, will the entire Christian Contemporary Music industry out of existence, in order for one other artist like him to come into being.

While I have other issues with the Christian Contemporary Music industry that I won’t get into here, one of the fatal flaws in it is, in my opinion, that it exists at all. See, by the sheer existence of a genre, a label, and even separate shops to sell Christian music, a very clear line has been drawn between Music For God and Music For Everything Else.

I have seen this same false binary drawn in the characters and philosophies of a number of religious people I’ve known. They seem to delineate the parts of their life into Things Of God and Things Of The World. Here: I’ll give you some examples: yeah, it’s a bit of a caricature, but what ya gonna do?

How Roboseyo Lived His Life Until 2002:

Things of God
Bible Study
My mind/spirit/soul
My friendship with John (who’s a good Christian)
My friendship with Janice (I’m trying to get her to come to Church with me)
1/3 of my music collection (the CCM stuff and the classical stuff by Bach, because he wrote “to the glory of God” at the end of his compositions)

Things of The World
The R-Rated Movies I own, including three with nudity
My coworker Jeff (who swears, and doesn’t believe in God)
My body (especially the parts that excrete things)
2/3 of my music collection (the devil music)
My job (money is Of This World, but you gotta eat)
The “dirty” pictures on my hard drive, which I periodically delete because I feel guilty, but then find more
My favorite restaurant (I should give that money to the poor, and it’s a fleshly indulgence, and I should fix my mind on higher things, not animal pleasures like food, but it’s just so darn good)

and the thing is, by drawing a circle around Things of God, and keeping them separate, Things of God are slowly painting themselves into a corner, a little niche so specific that it’s no longer relevant to anybody’s life. I wrote a poem once that described it as a leviathan trapped in a well. I mean, come on. Who except Christians listens to Christian Contemporary Music? And why do THEY listen to it? Because it’s comforting and comfortable, (usually) not because it’s making them think about new things or pushing the envelope, either musically or lyrically. Most praise songs are written to be easy for a near-novice to learn how to play on guitar, so that church bands can sing them without throwing the amateur praise leaders for a loop. The lyrics? Don’t get me started.

sidenote: please do not confuse Christian Contemporary Music with Sacred Music.

For a simple explanation:
Christian Contemporary Music, or my personal (un)favorite: "I could repeat this line forever"
Sacred Music:
(Ave Maria, by Shubert)

But the problem is this: the more I think about it, the more I reject this kind of reductionist view of the world. Compartmentalizing things might make them easier to manage, but it’s just not true to life. (and yeah, I know this is a bit of a straw man argument, and I’ve unfairly characterized/simplified the binary here. You don’t have to tell me that. There may even be some CCM artists worth their salt, but I’m just not ready to wade through the rest to find them. Sorry.)

Back to Sufjan Stevens. He sings about God. He drops a reference to bible study into his song, he met the girl after church one day. He also sings about serial killers, ex-presidents, leukemia, Santa Claus, and cities he’s visited, and lakes, and it’s all one. It’s all Sufjan, and the spiritual stuff is in contact with all the other topics he sings about, and when it does come into play, it’s all the more surprising for its appearance, like a flashbulb at midnight, or an unexpected hint of lemongrass in a stirfry, BECAUSE it’s in the mix with everything else, and not segregated, the way Elvis made Gospel Albums, and Rock Albums, and nary the two should mix. This means all Sufjan’s work shimmers with this sensitivity, everything is enhanced by his spirituality, and we end up with this feeling that the guy down the street is sacred, is just as sacred as the altar at the front of the church, even.  And it's not affected, there are no strings attached: he never stops singing and says, "Well, now that I've got your attention, I'd like to tell you a story about a man who lived a long time ago..." with that "I know what's best for you" tone that's so off-putting.

This is what Franny wanted to realize when she tried to Pray Without Ceasing in Franny and Zooey. It’s what Zooey was driving at when he said, “There isn’t anybody out there who isn’t the fat lady” and later, “Don’t you know who that fat lady is?. . . It’s Christ himself.”

And that’s what spirituality is like. Or should be like, I think: if I have to draw a line around what’s spiritual and what isn’t, then the sacred, the holy, well, yeah, it has a pretty space, when I go there, but for the rest, it kind of doesn’t affect my life, does it?

So I haven’t been to church in a year. I’ve been in churches. Some beautiful churches, churches built for God’s Glory, and been moved by the way the architect did his work as an act of worship. But not during a 9 a.m. church service, not with hymns, organs, announcements, a sermon, handshakes with strangers, and a closing song. Not where we orally read bible passages or creeds in call and response.

And saying this will cause a great deal of concern for some of my family back home. They might think I’m falling away from God, but they’d be wrong.

You see, I have met God this year, and spent time with her in a zillion places. In Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry and JD Salinger's books. In the laugh I unintentionally got out of an old lady while goofing off for girlfriendoseyo, in the mountainsides of Gyungsan province on the train to Andong, in the Korean fireworks and the jjim dalk. In the bamboo forest. In a Korean Traditional performance, and in Blue, by Joni Mitchell. In me and my best friend finishing each-other’s sentences, or making the same wise-crack at the same time, while our significant others watch, bemused. In this incredible meal at a two-person restaurant near Dongguk University. In a musical bliss-out, and a lot of caramel macchiatos. In cherry blossoms and fall colors and pigeons scattering as the kid runs out to catch them. In telling stories with a few old Canadian boys over beers. In a coffee shop near Inwang Mountain, in sunlight waking me up through my curtains, in a brilliant witticism from a level one student, in a little girl on the subway who became my friend in five seconds, in smooching with girlfriendoseyo.

I have found the community of God’s people and the exhilaration of minds meeting in truth in conversations with pastors’ wives, atheists, muslims, Christians (with a big c), christians (with a small c) pantheists and buddhists, in the bible, in books of poetry, in the Dalai Lama’s teaching, and in some photography that moved me. In watching a person make the friends she needed to survive in Korea, in seeing my best friend be goofy-in-love with his wife. And you can’t discount that. You can’t discount any of that: if that stuff’s not sacred, then nothing is, and if I’m not allowed to appreciate its sacredness, I don’t want to hear what else you have to say about what is and isn't holy and worthy of my startled wonder. Again, from JD Salinger’s “Seymour, An Introduction,” “Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one piece of holy ground to the next. Is he NEVER wrong?”

This is the world, this is life, and God made all of it, and it is wonderful, and seeing that and appreciating it is an act of worship, and an act of thanks, if ever there was one, and if you tell me it’s not, if you tell me I’m not as close to God as I once was, because I haven’t gone to Church, or if you ask me about my journey not to hear about it, but to evaluate it, and judge whether I'm checking the right boxes and will still get to heaven...

I’ll change the topic, dodge the questions, or say what you want to hear and move on, because frankly, you’re not God, and I don’t need anybody but her to approve my journey before I can be sure that me and the hep-cat upstairs are square.

So when I wanted to pray for Sally, instead of rejecting God altogether, sure, you can call that the Holy Spirit calling... I’ll accept that. And yeah, when people tell their stories in Church, about how God pulled them back to The Fold after they’d wandered far, they invoke the Holy Spirit too, but somehow, the Holy Spirit isn’t leading me to the place everyone expects, when somebody tells a story like that, and I'm not going to retroactively revise the story in order to fit the normal testimony arc.  Starting my spiritual narrative on a half-truth is pretty shaky, if you ask me.  I still don’t know just where I'm going, except that one: God ain't through with me yet, and I'm not through with God, and two: I’m still moving, and listening, and trying to become Who I Really Am (which is another way of saying Who God Created Me To Be, for those of you who prefer blogs to be written in Christianese). Honestly, if the journey keeps going like this, full of learning, growth, change, and spackles of beauty all over the place, I'd even argue that Getting Home is overrated.

So I was tempted to say I’m taking the long way home... and that phrase gives me an excuse to put this lovely, lovely Tom Waits song, which had a lot of meaning for me in 2006, into the post. (Soundtrack: hit play and keep reading: The Long Way Home, by Tom Waits [later covered by Norah Jones. He did it first.])

but I don’t think it’s about getting home anymore: as I said in last year's advent post, when I wrote about recovering from grief:  
Maybe some honest stumbling about in the woods IS an act of worship, and by being OK with that, or even celebrating that, it might even become a celebration of the fact we need never cease our search for meaning, that every part of our life can continue being deepened and enriched, long after we stop feeling sad.
So, you know, I haven’t turned my back on God. I just don’t think that’s how things work. See, saying I’ve switched from Christianity to Buddhism (as I did on April Fools’ Day) doesn’t really wash to me either, because that’s just a label, and my label can’t change the way my mind has been wired for 29 years now, how my character has been put together. It seems to me, switching which book I read for my morning meditation and which building I visit to worship, balanced against the sheer mass and inertia of my 29 years of life and thought and choice-making, is about as fundamental a change as painting my black car red, and saying it’s a new one. I’ll still be the same guy, either way, I’ll still treat strangers the same way, and follow the same steps to solve a problem, and be moved to a place of sacredness, meditation, or elevation by the same things. I don’t even think it’s possible to turn my back on God: she’s been woven into my cloth too intricately, and I wouldn’t want her out anyway. Instead, I think it’s more accurate to say that God has spilled out of The Church Space, and started making every part of my life shine, exalted and transubstantiated entire tracts of what used to be The World, and soaked them with holiness. Jeez, guys, God is way bigger now than she used to be...and quite a bit awesomer, too, to be honest.

This song was also on Sufjan Stevens' Christmas album.  (Seriously, go and buy it.  You can download it for free, but you should buy it, so that you're supporting the artist.)  I'd listened through the album a few times, but then one night I was walking around Gyungbok Palace with girlfriendoseyo, and we were sharing the MP3 player in that cheesy way couples do in Korea, and this song came on, and in the dark and cold, walking with my lady, the gentle beauty of Sufjan Stevens' songs, about all kinds of holiday topics, led us to a point where I was finally ready to be moved by this song again.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

And the a cappella verse moved me to tears that night: somehow the bottom dropped out of this Christmas album, and it went from some very nice Christmas music to a moving experience.  It has stayed in that wonderful place since, and I've been listening to it like an addict.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

I went home after that night, and watched the Youtube video of "Holy Holy Holy" before bed (the same one that started out this post), and again, was moved right to tears, and God was absolutely in the room, saying, "Our story's not finished yet, pal." There's no way I can walk away from that. Absolutely no way. Yeah, the way I worship now looks way different from how it looked five or seven years ago, but more places shine now than then, more of the world is sacred and beautiful now than then, and God is way, way bigger now. Where we go from here, I don't know. Whether I talk about it with a single soul in the universe remains to be seen...though I wouldn't be surprised if God and I saw fit to keep it mum, it being only between us anyway.

To the people who are missing me and thinking of me this Christmas: merry Christmas. I miss you too.

To everybody else who was patient enough to read this whole thing. . . wow. Good on ya. And merry Christmas to you, too.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

The very definition of cognitive dissonance. . .

Went to a really nice Spanish restaurant near COEX with girlfriendoseyo, it looked like this:

Classy. Attractive. Real comfy and nice.

Great decor, wonderful food. . . and these signs on the wall that had words on them. Now the colours of the signs totally fit the atmosphere of the place. . . but the words were something else.

See, sometimes the language just doesn't matter here in Korea, because most people don't understand, or just don't care, so you get things like the signs above, or a song like this one (below) playing in public: back in Canada, someone would complain to the shop manager if a song with bad words came on, but in Korea, people really only listen to the sound, and the voice and words are just another instrument in the mix, so when this song ends in a repeated chant of "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me," everybody bobs their heads because it fits the mood in the record store, rather than people getting upset.

(Rage Against The Machine, Killing in the Name. Uh...language warning?)

It goes without saying that the radio edits of songs like Eminem's "Lose Yourself" (f-bombs and all) are rarely used here.

Eminem, Lose Yourself. Great song. Bad words.


Don't know why, but there's a glitch in blogger that's putting links from my page at the bottom of the entire blogosphere. Don't exactly know why, but I hope it gets fixed soon. If I'm plugging up the "links to this page" section at the bottom of posts on YOUR blog, sorry. Please don't be annoyed: I don't know what's going on either.

Until that time, here's a video of dolphins that's pretty amazing.

(PS: I'm going to China on Saturday!)

Between Advent Posts: The Greatest Inspirational Speech Ever

So Glad it's on Youtube.

One of the greatest moments in action film history, for you to see. Turn the volume up for the full effect.

From Deep Blue Sea.
Still makes me laugh out loud every time.

Go Samuel Jackson!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Post: How I Almost Decided to Hate God, Authenticity, and why One Sufjan Stevens does More Good Than The Entire CCM Industry... Part 1

Lately, the cause of consternation back home has been the condition of Roboseyo's faith. The last things I wrote here about faith were worrisome enough, (April Fools, when I claimed to have converted to Buddhism, and the provocative title, "Why Modern Religion Deserves Richard Dawkins") but the eight month ABSENCE of writing on the subject seems to be even WORSE, and has been the topic of a handful of phone calls and e-mails.

Fair enough. I steered away from Faith topics here, at about the same time as I started commenting on some of the other Korea blogs, and putting my name out in that community -- I decided to try and get involved in those dialogues, and in doing so, adapted my blog for my new, hoped-for audience. I stayed away from the intensely personal subject of faith for the same reason I put on pants before I answer a knock at my door, and close the blinds when I change: impressive as it may be...don't everybody need to see that business, yah?

But last Christmas, for Advent, I contributed a guest post for my dear friend Tamie's blog, and honestly, it's one of the pieces of writing I'm most proud of. It being advent again, it seems like a good time to add another year's worth of reflection.

And this year, I have a story for you, titled, "How I Almost Decided to Hate God" about, um, just that.

As my long-time readers know, in September 2005, my mother lost her year-long battle with stomach cancer. The family was all at her bedside, and singing a church hymn, when she stopped breathing, and in a nutshell, that's the religious heritage I grew up in. After I returned to Korea, following my Mother's death, a certain, lovely young lady was a large part of my reason to return, as well as a big part of what helped me keep my bearings while watching the tumor in my mother's stomach crowd out the space where food should go. Whatever it was we had certainly had not been built to bear the weight of a giant black obelisk of grief, and fell apart, predictably, but startlingly quickly, at the same time as my best friend was preparing to marry her twin sister.

While my best friend's wedding was a little spark of joy, the few weeks leading up to it were pretty damn bleak, and I had a lot of fingers pointed in anger at God during that time. Quietly, she bore my accusations of her hating me, and even my claims that maybe she didn't exist after all, and certainly didn't give a rip about me (among other things, I have learned since then that God and religion and spirituality are not All About Me. More on that some other time.) As with my relationship with the lovely exgirlfriendoseyo, the faith I'd kept until then, too, didn't seem built to bear the weight of that giant black obelisk of grief, which turned out to pretty much be a wrecking ball.

And so that first year passed by. For a few months, I went to the dance clubs every weekend, not to meet girls or hang out, or have fun drinking, but to dance until I was a sweating, exhausted rag doll, to try and vent at least a bit of my grief and anger. My dad came and visited me, and we shared the kinds of silences that only we two could have shared, having been the two living in the house day by day, watching mom turn away more and more of the meals we set before her, blander in taste and smaller in portion as time went by, until she finally rejected food altogether.

The one-year anniversary of mom's death came and went, and a couple of coworkers took me out for beer so I didn't have to spend it alone in my apartment, staring at a wall and reliving the death-rattle (three years later, I can still conjure exactly the sound, and even the smell of that room. Sour milk and unwashed hair.) We didn't find out until shortly later that one of the two was totally batshit insane.

And one of my coworkers introduced me to a friend of hers: a former student whose family she had met and befriended. I'd heard her talking about them a few times, and asked if I could meet them before she left. Fortunately, she complied, and I was lucky enough to meet a really nice family that included two wonderful young ladies, aged ten and seven at the time. The ten year-old was just ridiculously smart: she showed me a story she wrote, and it was about what I'd expect from a very bright fourteen-year-old Canadian girl, not a ten-year-old Korean kid who'd never been out of the country.



circa November 2006

The younger one quickly earned the nickname Giggles, because she was the funniest little thing you've ever met, and the two sisters loved each other fiercely: the younger one, Lisa, had taught herself to speak English nearly as well as her older sister, mostly out of sheer adulation as far as I can tell, and the older one took care of Lisa like a mother bear. Mom was a bit serious, pushing high expectations on her brilliant eldest, and Dad was a pretty quiet background presence all the way through, but Lisa was without a doubt, the joy in that household, and any time I spent time with that family, she made sure there were bubbles and sloshes of laughter spilling all over the place.

One day I got a phone call from the older sister. "Guess where Lisa went."
As usual, I started off silly. "Um, to Thailand? To Italy?"
"Rob. This is serious." And her voice stopped me in my tracks.
"Lisa went to heaven. She was in an accident and she went to heaven."


It feels impossibly narcissistic to talk about how I felt, in the face of a family losing their youngest sister and daughter. Even now, two years after, I can only type about three words at a time before taking a break to think about what it would be like to have something like that happen in my family, and pause, staggered all over again, and in the face of a tragedy like that, I have half a mind to end the post altogether...

but here's the thing.

That June, if you'd asked me point blank, I would have told you I wasn't a Christian (the label I'd had for myself all my life).  I'd have told you I didn't believe in God at all.  I'd have told you it hurt too much to believe in God, because then somebody must have LET all those life-changing, soul-scouring things happen to me, that it hurt less to believe it was total, random shit-happens chance, than to believe something out there had some kind of PLAN that REQUIRED me to go through what I did.

(by the way, I'm fully aware, and you don't have to remind me, that people have gone through much worse than I did: I've met some of them, and they broke my heart...but they can write their own stories on their own blogs)

But that's where I was at that time. It would have been easier to abandon the idea of meaning, than to have to hash through all the shit that happens to people, and try to keep looking for it, to insist that there IS a meaning, when faced with Erin, who lost her two brothers to malaria at age ten, and her parents to a plane crash at age twenty, and if you'd asked me what I thought about God, I would probably have had a few choice words for you. One of them starts with F.

But a funny thing happened when I got that phone call from Sally, and I still can't explain it. See, as soon as I finished talking to Sally (during which I was very intently focused on talking to this wonderful young lady who looked at me like some kind of big brother or kindly uncle, who'd lent me her Animorphs books), my mind went in two directions simultaneously. One part of me said "Well, fuck. That's it. In case I doubted before, God has very conveniently shown me she doesn't give a flying fuck about any of us here earthside, so fuck her too," and registered that this, if there ever had been, was a perfect moment to abandon God, purpose, pattern, and the search for meaning entirely. That door was hanging wide open, and I don't think anybody could have blamed me for stepping through it, and slamming it shut as hard as I goddamn pleased.

But you see...

at the same time, another part, somewhere in the deeper, vaguer parts of my mind, where thoughts come out as shapes and half-formed pictures and gestures instead of in neat words and phrases, this urgent need to pray for Sally and her family pulled me away from that gaping doorway, before I could make a single motion toward the door, before I could even ponder a post-God life, even though I had practically forgotten the language people use when they pray.

To this day, it remains one of the more mysterious moments in my life, and frankly, I'm still trying to make sense of it.

So where does Sufjan Stevens figure in?

Hang in there, and I'll tell you in part two.

The Mechanics of a Musical Bliss-Out: Roboseyo Talks about Music He Loves

It doesn't actually take much to make me love a musician. Just a good bliss-out will do.

Oh. Wait. That's hard.

This song has gone up on my site before... and it probably will again, too. Rock Plaza Central: "Be Joyful"

There are a lot of artists out there, making a lot of different kinds of music, and there is a ton of music I love for different reasons.

Some breaks your heart.

Some is really clever.

Some is really poetic -- read the words, and they'll knock your socks off.

And I love a good songwriter. I love poetry and grace and wit in a song. I love something intriguing, I love a bit of sadness harsh as a hot coal that drops right into your soul. I love a bit of rage from time to time (though I'll admit rage is my weak spot: got less of that than the others), or a spike of unaltered adrenaline, or a world-weary sigh, or a bit of sick technical skill mixed with pure blues soul, or a really gorgeous voice.  I tried to parse Bob Dylan's lyrics with the best of them, and sometimes a rusty, creaky voice can break my heart, too.

But sometimes, what I really need is a good, solid bliss-out.

So what is a bliss-out, Roboseyo?

Well, I'm glad you asked, dear reader.

A musical bliss-out is one of those spots where everything else disappears, where the only thing left is pure joy.  There might be words, there might not be; either way, the words aren't important.  Bliss-outs could, I suppose, be traced all the way back to the earliest ecstatic musical rituals, if I were a scholar (read up on Quawwali singing for a good example of this).  Bliss-outs can appear in any musical genre, occur more frequently live than on studio recordings, and are always, always better if you play it loud.  They're the moments when the band stops following the sheet music, and cuts loose with pure joy, and carries everyone else along with them (if they don't carry the listeners along, it's not a bliss-out; it's a musical circle-jerk).

Most bliss-outs don't occur in a vacuum, and here's the hard thing about them.  See, you could never make a "bliss-out mix tape" or a "bliss-out playlist" because bliss-outs are too powerful, and putting them next to each other would diminish their impact: it would be like eating three courses of extra spicy food in a row: the spice is no longer something special, or think of eating a bag of skittles or ketchup chips, where after the first three, your tongue is so shell-shocked with sweetness or saltiness that you don't even taste the rest of the bag.  After the first bliss-out, the rest of the playlist would lose its impact, in the same way that walking along a mountain ridgeline is not as exciting as reaching that peak for the first time.  In fact, with many good bliss-outs, the setup is an important part of the experience: this is why very few albums can get away with putting a bliss-out on the first track of a CD (though some have).

Think of a roller coaster: you wait for an hour to get on.  That waiting is part of the ride, and I swear, the ninety seconds of thrill is better when you've waited thirty minutes, than when you just walk on the ride during a slow day at the park.  Getting on the ride partially gratifies the anticipation, but then, think of this: no roller coaster ever boards passengers on the top of the hill, because they know that that first, long climb up the first tall hill is essential to the experience, too.  It builds up suspense, heightens the emotional pitch, so that the rest of the ride will be more exciting again, than if you start the ride at the top of the first drop.

In the same way, a truly excellent bliss-out requires a good set-up.  My favourite bliss-outs require an entire album to create them -- one (Silent, by The Field) won't stand up as a bliss-out without all the five songs leading up to it, but WITH them (and loud), hoo boy!

So here's the second bliss-out I'll offer up to you: Festival, from Sigur Ros' newest album.

This song takes almost ten minutes to unfold, and the songs before it help a fella get into the Sigur Ros aesthetic, without which, the first four minutes of this one risk floating off into fruity nation (Sigur Ros -- what a band!  It took me three years to get used to the idea of what sounds like a band inspired by whale sounds, but once I did, they create perfect moments of music with startling regularity, and know exactly how to shape a soundscape.)

But if you skip the first four minutes, it's JUST NOT THE SAME.  It doesn't have the same impact.  Rare is the bliss-out that dares to appear without context, and smack your face with joy out of nowhere.  (OutKast's Hey-Ya counts among that number) but even those ones often appear in context of the rest of an album, and should.  The dynamic shift and contrast, the way the bliss-out is balanced by the rest of the album, gives it shape which enhances its meaning.

Case in point: maybe the most famous musical bliss-out ever: the final movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony, which spends forty entire minutes of decoy bliss-outs (which keep topping themselves), passages of storm and thunder, hints of joy, snatches of peace, just so that when the payoff DOES come, buddy, it'll flatten you, if you play it as loudly as it SHOULD be played.  (Rule of thumb: play it loud enough to clearly hear the low strings introduce the final theme in the 4th movement.  (The part that comes at 11:05 in this clip.)  Then do NOT turn down the volume when it gets louder.  That quiet part is in there to tell you how loudly the rest ought to be played.  [bliss-out begins in earnest at 21:00 -- and you thought it had already begun five minutes ago!])  

This is the stuff that you play, loud, on your headphones, and start smiling for no reason in the street.  It's the stuff that gets you out of bed when you're having a hard time, or gets you feeling like "heck yeah, I CAN finish this project on time."   It's the stuff that stays in your head all day, and makes you happier, instead of annoyed.

I'm tempted to put twelve video-clips up right here, but as I explained earlier, a bliss-out needs, and deserves room to breathe.  See my explanation of why you can't make a bliss-out playlist.

So for the next few weeks, from time to time, I'm going to put a "roboseyo bliss-out" up on the blog.  Play them loud.  For a few, I'll explain how and why they make me feel awesome.  Get on the joy train, readers, and don't skip them by!

Monday, December 15, 2008


Matt, editor of the Expat Living section of the Korea Herald, organized a bit of a get-together for contributors to that section of the Korea Herald, and the photographer David Smeaton (whom I've linked here before) has posted some lovely photos of the event.

Go check them out! (I hope he doesn't mind that I borrowed his picture of me, to post here: it's a keeper.)

the photo above belongs to David Smeaton. not me. don't steal it or make money from it or anything. just look at it and then go visit his site.

It was a good time: one nice thing about getting together with a group like that is the sheer variety of lengths of time, experiences, and perspectives on Korea. Refreshing. If it's your first year, and all your friends are also in their first year in Korea, seriously, it's time to stretch out and find some friends who have been around the block, preferably enough times to want to talk about stuff OTHER than "Korea" (I mean, really, how much can you talk about the Education system in Korea before it's all been said before anyway?)

Good times, brothers and sisters. Good times.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This is the Icecaekki guy.

This has been up on my youtube account for a while, but I wanted to mention the Icekaekki guy. I love his big ol' ballyhoo, he walks up and down insadong in a silly suit shouting, and he's a nice guy. He even posed and hollered for my camera.

Hope you like him, and if you hear him shout in insadong, go buy a melon-flavoured popsicle. Nice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A bit more on Christmas Music, and How it SHOULD be done.

I've already pointed you to my previous rant about Christmas:
If you don't care to hear more ranting, skip the stuff about "Oh Holy Night" and start reading where it says, "Now I want to tell you about Sufjan Stevens".

As you may have gathered, O Holy Night can be a symbol of everything wrong with Christmas music:

It might just be the second prettiest Christmas song (nothing touches Silent Night) but it certainly IS the Star Spangled Banner of Christmas songs: that is, the one that can be mangled the most horribly by a showoff singer. It seems like this song is the subject of an unspoken contest, for which singer can sing it the loudest, accompanied by the largest orchestra (see also: Josh Groban, David Phelps (yuck) Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood Sarah Brightman, Martina McBride, and even Pavarotti).
(ps: this one's so bad it's hilarious, and we can't forget the South Park version.)

However, it is such a jaw-droppingly gorgeous song, that it sometimes even survives those munch-downs (being chewed up and spit out by so many octave-skippers), and stays good -- but I'll swear to you, that it's best when done in a stripped-down, simple way -- take away everything but the essential, and let the melody speak for itself.

For comparison, I'll give you some examples of how the song works, given a few different artists' treatments: here is Tracy Chapman's version, followed by Mariah Carey's version (the most overplayed one in Korea). I have put together these videos to provide a totally objective contrast, so that the photos selected for the slide shows in no way show which of these versions I like better.


By Tracy Chapman

By Mariah Carey

Here's Celine Dion's version -- which actually surprised me by knowing when to quit, and how many backup singers was enough (not her strong point)

Now, I'm not calling Mariah's version the worst (I'd put David Phelps and Sarah Brightman a full three levels of Hell lower than her for their versions), but let's just say 1. we've heard the overdone version already, and 2. it's the most overplayed version in Korea, and 3. this is Christmas, not a contest. Give me something I haven't heard before, that respects the song again.

So, my new favourite (or at least second, after dear Tracy), is Sufjan Stevens, who makes the song sound --gasp! Like a celebration. I've added a slide show of pictures from a few recent parties I've been to, to add to the festive feel.

Now I want to tell you about Sufjan Stevens

See, Sufjan Stevens is this quiet little indie folk-singer/songwriter from the United States, who sings touching, whispery songs about touching, whispery topics, and has won himself quite a loyal following doing so, because he just doesn't sound like anybody else, and he brings something unique to his music.

He sings about things he cares about, or at least sings as if he cares about them, and he always has an interesting story or something.  Well, in the early oughties, Sufjan recorded little do-it-yourself Christmas albums each year for his friends and family, and handed them out, and then his label put them all together into a collection called "Songs For Christmas" which is what Christmas should be.   I first heard this last year, and I wasn't quite ready for all the lovely packed into a double cd, so I listened through it twice and moved on, after picking a song for my Christmas Mix, but on more listens, it grows on me more: this is Christmas Music as it should be, and these are the kinds of artists who SHOULD be making Christmas Music.

He never goes over the top, many of the tracks are short little arrangements with bouncing glockenspiels or strumming banjos that just SOUND like walking in fresh snow or watching flashing Christmas lights.  The music is delicate and pleasant, but never quite cheesy, because there's always something you've never heard before, in each song.  He mixes sacred music with songs about Santa Claus and reindeer (because that's what Christmas is really like) and treats every song with a bit of respect, or a bit of fun, as it needs.  Frankly, if you grew up in the church at all, as I did, the tender beauty with which he delivers the sacred music is really moving.

Here are three of his songs: Hark The Herald Angels Sing, sounding like flashing christmas light, a simple, harmonized version of the beautiful, sacred hymn, "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" and then "Sister Winter," which starts as a warm recollection of his friends, and builds to a blissful celebration of friendship and love on the holidays, an original composition that, because of its joyful spirit, fits right in alongside the classics.

This is how Christmas should sound.  Last night I walked around with Girlfriendoseyo, sharing this music in the MP3 player, and let me just leave it at this: get out and buy this CD set.  Get it

More about Sufjan later.

Happy Holidays, all! 

Happy Baby Jesus day, and happy winter gift-giving shopping festival, too! 

From Tamie

Set aside a bit of time (fifteen minutes), and watch it. It's worth every second. This is the Amelie of short films. I giggled, I cared about the main character, I got involved in the story. I don't know if I've seen a short film so effective.

My friend Tamie is a brilliant blogger, and she writes an amazing blog, and during Advent, this year and last, she's set herself to posting every day of advent, and the things she comes up with are touching, honest, sweet, wise, and inspiring. She's even inspired me to write an advent post (last year and this)... it's bubbling up; give it some time.

And watch the video.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jillaekott and the Difficulty of Translation

Ask A Korean! (with a festive exclamation mark) has written a wonderful post.

The song Jillaekott, by Jang Sa-ik, a wonderful Korean singer, and a wonderful Korean song, which I posted a little while ago, was taken by The Korean! (with a festive exclamation mark), and translated to English.

He gave the song and the singer a bit of extra attention, which it deserves, and he also uses it to demonstrate the difficulty of translating things from one language to the other, and what is always, inevitably, lost in the transition. He goes through, line by line, and describes the various difficulties of translating the different lines and phrases, and the ways that the nearest English approximations don't catch the same nuances...or bring in entirely different nuances that point the meanings in the wrong directions.

Here is the music clip,

here are the official lyrics, in Korean

하얀 꽃 찔레꽃
순박한 꽃 찔레꽃

별처럼 슬픈 찔레꽃
달처럼 서러운 찔레꽃

찔레꽃 향기는
너무 슬퍼요

그래서 울었지
밤새워 울었지

찔레꽃 향기는
너무 슬퍼요

그래서 울었지
목놓아 울었지

아 찔레꽃처럼 울었지
찔레꽃처럼 춤췄지

찔레꽃처럼 날았지
찔레꽃처럼 울었지

찔레꽃처럼 춤췄지
당신은 찔레꽃

찔레꽃처럼 울었지

and here is The Korean's final translation,

Mountain Rose

White flower, Mountain Rose,
Simple flower, Mountain Rose.

Sad like a star, Mountain Rose,
Doleful like the moon, Mountain Rose.

Scent of the Rose is
Too sorrowful.

Therefore, cried.
All night, cried.

Scent of the Rose is
Too sorrowful.

Therefore, cried.
Wailed and cried.

Ah – cried like Mountain Rose
Danced like Mountain Rose

Flew like Mountain Rose
Cried like Mountain Rose

Danced like Mountain Rose
You are Mountain Rose

Cried like Mountain Rose
You did

When I have finished the poem that started brewing when I first listened to this song, I will post it on the blog, too.

And here is my final message to The Korean: thank you so much for doing this! You are hereby invited to my next birthday party, and the one after that, too.

(P.S.: Also covered by The Marmot)

Snow Last Weekend

Here is a picture of Dongdaemun from Saturday night.

Here is a nice picture of the snow we had on Sunday evening.
The sound of snow hitting the frozen leaves of this tree was nice.

So was the snow, just in general: I've set it to music from the "Winter" section of "Korea: The Musical" (oops: I mean, "Vivaldi's Four Seasons"), in what is the most accurate rendering of falling snow into another medium that I have heard.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Got a nice link here...

The Korean Class 101 is a recent addition to my RSS feed, so imagine my surprise when my own image turned up there!

Because of my picture, It's a pretty good post, giving a brief look at the whole unhappy expat thing I covered in the "Why do Expats Complain" series, and also offering a brief survey of some notable Korea Blogs, which serve as a good starting point for knowing who's who.

Thanks, guys.

Expat Community: Time to Pitch in.

It's time to get up, get out, and help one of our own.

Brian has more details, including HOW you can help, in the case of a South African English teacher who was burned in an apartment fire.

Read here

Read here

Here is instructions on how you can help the family with donations. I think you should. I'm gonna.

Join the Facebook group for updates.

or this one, if you read Afrikaans.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Prop 8: The Musical

When Obama was elected, California also put gay marriage to a referendum, and it was banned by the voters.

In response, musical theater composer Marc Shaiman wrote "Prop 8, the Musical" and got a ridonkulous cast to join him to film it.

Keep your eyes open for a whole swack of famous people, including John C. Reilley, Jack Black, Margaret Cho (there's our Korea connection) and Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris.

Wherever you stand on the Gay marriage issue, it's pretty awesome: go watch it.
See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Personally, I think the Christian right is in the wrong here: as I wrote in my essay series, "Why Modern Religion Deserves Richard Dawkins," part Four, when I was writing a prescription for how organized religion can return to true relevance on the world scene:

9: Get on the right side in the LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender/Transsexual) debate. Every other time a group was oppressed, disenfranchised, or in need, Christians were on their side offering compassion, love and support, until this one, and it’s hurting us. As my friend Mel said in an e-mail once, "We're on the wrong side on this one." Doesn't "I cried for hours when I heard about that gay teenager who got beaten to death" sound a little closer to the Godly compassion we're told to have than "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals." (Jerry Falwell) or "[Homosexuals] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers." (Pat Robertson) Who are these guys and what have they done with my faith?

Enough pontification for today.

Watch the clip. It's awesome.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Roboseyo's K-Blogs of the Month: November and December

So bein' busy and all, I didn't quite get around to my K-Blogger of the month award for November. My bad.

To make up for it, today I will give you two K-Bloggers worthy of recognition.

The first one is well-known around the K-blogs, but I'd like to take a moment to say something nice about Korea Beat anyway. See, Korea Beat's blog is simple: the layout is simple, the premise is simple, but Korea Beat does something really valuable, by regularly, consistently translating articles from the Korean media into English. Even takes requests.

The article choices range from goofy to noteworthy, celebrity news, stuff relevant to the expat community, examples of horrible journalism, to weird court cases, the occasional (usually bizarre) picture, and serious stuff, and provide a look at Korea, from the horse's mouth. I'm especially fond of the weekly "Most-Read Naver Stories Of The Week" series, where Korea Beat recaps the articles on Naver, Korea's most popular web portal, which received the most hits this week. There isn't a huge amount of pontification (kind of the opposite of mine, where I'm about never current, but always have lots to say about whatever story I'm late to the game on), but I'd have to say Korea Beat is one of the most reliable Korea Blogs out there. Give it a look, if you haven't already.

So, that's November covered.

Next, I'd like to draw your attention to another newcomer.

One nice thing about doing a K-Blogger of the Month series is the same thing that sucks about living as an expat in Korea:

See, there are so many comings and goings that even if you DO know where it's at for a while, people are constantly going home, showing up, losing interest, and such, so that keeping your bearings on where your friends are at here, and staying on top of K-Blogs is a bit like doing a foxtrot on the deck of a sailboat on choppy seas. My second year in Korea was the hardest for this personally, because all my first-year friendships, which I approached the same way I approached friendships back home (on the assumption they'd be around for a while) moved on to wherever else, faded away, lost touch, you know. For building lasting friendships, this sucks. However, for finding new blogs doing interesting stuff that deserve a look, it's great. It's also a bit of hope for bloggers plugging away in obscurity: other than the very few of us who are here for the long haul, eventually, several, many, maybe most of the blogs that currently get more hits than yours, will repatriate or move on, so all you have to so is stick around, keep making worthwhile stuff, and eventually you'll make it on the list. Sure, you're not gonna pass some of the ones who started ages ago, who have been in Korea, and possibly writing about Korea, since the days when people had to know how to write HTML code to have a blog, but other than them, you'll get there.

That said, a blog I like these days is OK Korea. It's a very new blog, only posting since October, with a really nice look and layout. OK Korea posts a lot of photos, and slice of life video clips, with a very "Hey! Look what I saw!" kind of feel. OK Korea isn't (as far as I know) a professional photographer or anything, but does know where to point the camera to get a look at Korea's fun wrinkles and quirks, without feeling the need to add the kind of "Koreans are weird" commentary that some bloggers throw in there whenever they show something different from How Things Are Back Home.  So once again, go give OK Korea a look; won't take you long to read the posts, because they're not text-heavy, so have some fun and add it to your RSS feed.

Now it's late and I'm sleepy.

Have a good one, all.

By the way: if you want to be a Roboseyo K-Blog of the month, send me an e-mail with your link, and three reasons why I should feature you, in less than a hundred words.  What do you bring to the table?  That failing, I regularly graze at the Korean Blog List and add a few newcomers to my RSS feeds, so get your name on there, and if you catch my eye, you'll be a candidate.  From there: write a good blog.  It's that easy, really.

It's getting to be that time of season.

Here's a cheerful little christmas video for you.

(and here are my real thoughts about what you just watched:)

Snowed this morning in Seoul.

Here are more thoughts about Christmas music, especially ... dum da da dum!

My dream Christmas Playlist!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Photo Dump

More of the cool light show at the Jens Lekman concert.
Ahh hongdae.  How I love you, and not just your one, but your FOUR ho bars.

Odd, vaguely dirty sign of the day.
Obviously they pulled up the sidewalk blocks, and then put them back down in the wrong spots, creating this funny, exploding zebra effect where there used to be parking lines.
Problem with living in the city: when you KNOW there's a gorgeous sunset going on somewhere, but the buildings are just blocking it all up anyway, so the best you get is a gorgeous cloud's edge and some lovely light on the side of a building, and a monster-tease.

This empty house, on the edge of a construction site, probably slated for destruction, and hollowed right out, had a really melancholy feel.  I had to set the lens and exposure time on maximum, and hold the camera perfectly still for eight seconds (harder than it sounds) to get this clear picture: it was actually dark as a mushroom farm out there.  Meanwhile, I had the most melancholy song on my entire MP3 player buzzing in my ears, just to make the whole thing a little sadder again.

My humidifier looked nice in the morning sunlight.

From the Hire a Proofreader, Nimrod! files:

that's all for now.


Jens Lekman Continues to Make Me Happy

Two topics I intentionally shy away from blogging about are music and food, because if I DO start talking about them, I'll cease to talk about anything else.

But, inspired by Jens Lekman's concert on Saturday night, I downloaded a bunch more Jens, and man, he makes me happy.  The torrent included a whole whack of rare stuff and eps, which is fun, because it means I can go through it all, and my new, super-big computer hard drive (350 gigs is more than I can even imagine needing, unless I decide to download the entire AFI top 100 films or something silly like that), along with an 80 gig IPod, means I can load up on stuff, where I used to have to delete things in order to avoid topping out my old laptop.  And it's fun having music on your Ipod that isn't all already familiar to you: there's the potential something will surprise you.

Plus, when walking around town, it helps to have entire albums, or even several entire albums, from an artist, instead of just the one song you like, because the after hearing a single song, you have to go find another album you want to hear, so it's GOOD to have more by your artists, instead of just keeping the best two or three songs.

Now, I don't have a lot of musical training, other than a semester of voice lessons, two semesters of choir in university, and a lot of hours in the shower annoying my brother, I couldn't really tell you which musicians are using the most interesting time signatures or harmonic intervals: I respond to music primarily emotionally, kind of like a more nuanced Beavis and Butthead: "This sucks.  This is cool."

So, while I respond to poetry and lyrical excellence (strangely enough, in the laced rhymes and rhythms of an Eminem song as much as in a poem/song by Leonard Cohen), I couldn't care much less about Steve Vai's technical skill as he shreds on his guitar, unless those 64th and 128th notes have an emotional impact that creates a feeling in me.  

So, all that said, Jens might not be the best singer or musician, and I don't really care...but I know that, walking around at night alone, I have felt EXACTLY the way this song sounds.
(I've set it to some of my favorite roboseyo photography moments).

Enjoy it.

Elvis Costello: Imperial Bedroom
Flaming Lips: At War With the Mystics
Polyphonic Spree: The Beginning Stages Of...
Mugison: Mugiboogie
Camper Van Beethoven: Key Lime Pie
David Byrne: Grown Backwards (especially his duet with Rufus Wainwright, Au Fond du Temple Saint)
are some of the albums/releases that have been bringing me much joy since I revisited them, or gave them another try.

(Yes, David Byrne, from The Talking Heads, founder of "The David Byrne School of Dancing" [where you dance as weirdly as you can] features on that list.  Give it a try.)

Here's david, weird dancing in what might be his most famous song.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More from Korea's Favorite International Journalist

Joo Hee Cho, known for smearing English teachers on ABC News with the kind of junk that's usually reserved for the local media (profile here), is back, with this hard-hitting report on road safety in Korea.

(warning: innocuous puff piece ahead)

Good to know when she isn't bandying about stereotyped retreads (read her article, "English Teachers Bring Drugs to Korea"), Ms. Cho is asking the tough questions about Korea's domestic issues as well.

ht to Rate My Hogwan

I'm trying to think of a way to link the story above to this next one without being rude...but I got nothing.

What a headline, though:

Survey: Korean Men World's Most Selfish In Bed

naw. not gonna say it. too easy.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Where's Kim Jong-Il?

Kim Jong-Il lives! Kim Jong-Il is alive and well! I have photo evidence! I have documentary proof! (My favourite new internet meme.)

OK. Here's the deal.

Kim Jong-Il sightings have been popping up ever since reports about his deteriorating health made headlines in August. This is funny to me, because I actually used to teach him back in my Kindergarten Teaching days.

It's time for a repository.

3 Alley Pub hired a new bartender.

RateMyHogwan reports on a Mr. Kim who opened a new English school near Kangnam.

An official photo.

The latest official batch.

Theme Magazine

Photoshop contest from SomethingAwful


From Worth1000

My personal favorite: the first documented evidence that Kim Jong-Il is a disco demigod!

If you have seen Kim Jong-Il, please fire me an e-mail, or post it in the comments. Dang, that video was great!