Friday, December 31, 2010

Year-end retrospective in music... of sorts.

Here, for your enlightenment, are the 25 songs that have received the most play on itunes, on my desk computer.

to view the whole playlist instead of just starting to listen, go here.

I claim no responsibility for the imagery you might encounter on these videos - for example on the mash-up post, when the only video I could find that used the mash-up song I liked, included a lot of anime panty shots.  Minimize the window while it plays if you must... but the walkmen video's quite cool.

Feel free to judge the entirety of my character on whether you like or dislike one, several, or all of the artists or songs on this list.  I think it gives a pretty fair sample of the variety of music I listen to, though it doesn't include any of the classical I like.  The list biases towards the more mellow stuff that I like when I'm working (desk computer, you know?)  When I'm out and about on my mp3 player or in the car, the stuff I choose tends to be louder, and when I'm really focusing on my work, I tend to play classical music on the mp3 player with speakers instead of having it on my desktop iTunes, so that I can't distract myself by playing around with the music selections.  (White Stripes, and Sleigh Bells in particular this year, make me happy when I'm away from my desk.)

Songs (in order of listens)
Holy Holy Holy - Sufjan Stevens
4 Minute Warning - Radiohead
Lover's Day - TV on the Radio
Buriedfed - Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) - Arcade Fire
Keep Yourself Warm - Frightened Rabbit
Slow With Horns - Dan Deacon
Kids - MGMT
I Want to Live in a Wigwam - Cat Stevens
White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
Tytto Tanssil - Paavoharju
Donde Esta la Playa - Walkmen
In the Flowers - Animal Collective
Portland, Oregon - Loretta Lynn and Jack White
Make Everyone Happy/Mechanical Birds - Modest Mouse
1901 - Phoenix
Convinced of the Hex - Flaming Lips
Festival - Sigur Ros
Dragon's Lair - Sunset Rubdown
Scythian Empire - Andrew Bird (played on the video I made for my wife on our wedding day)
A with Living - Do Make Say Think
Once Again - Girl Talk
On the Radio - Regina Spektor
Everything is Free Now - The Tiny
Rococo Zephyr - Bill Callahan
A Case of You - Joni Mitchell (I cheated and added a 26th, because either Joni or Stan Rogers NEEDED to be on the list)

Not available on youtube: Music in her eyes - by Stan Rogers, a Canadian singer-songwriter who would have been named with Gordon Lightfoot in the Canadian folk pantheon if he hadn't died early in a crash.

So, readers, what does my list say about me, other than that I'm not much into top 40, and that I'm friggin' awesome?

Roboseyo's Year-end Bests:

Here are some notable posts from 2010 at Roboseyo

Happy Roboseyo:
Travel to: Busan.  Inwang Mountain.

Useful Posts

Smart Roboseyo

Other Memorable Tributes, Rants, Miscellany, and Must-Reads
People Go Home: Tribute to Friends Gone Home

And for fun, one of my two favorite music discoveries this year.  I'll probably write more about them later, but I totally have an artist-crush on Janelle Monae right now, and I am smitten as a kitten.

Here's the music; the video (which won't embed) is a another glorious thing entirely, and I highly recommend it.

Happy New Years, readers.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Year-end Parties and...Is K-pop the Greatest Genre for Mash-ups?

New Year's Eve parties: Ten Magazine continues its excellent work of scouting out and posting news of all the action going on in Korea.

Next: I love mashups.  They fit with the way I envision culture working these days, where everything is mixing together and touching each other in unexpected ways, thanks to our confusing, communication society.

Every year DJ Earworm makes a year-end mash-up of the top pop songs from the year.

My personal favorite is this one, built around the etherial hook from that one Coldplay song.  It just really, really works.  And it features a lot of Alicia Keys, and a lot of Pink, two of my favorite voices in current top-40 pop music.

This year, there's another one: it's alright - I prefer Alicia Keys featuring prominently over Katy Perry and Key$ha, though I do like (cheesy as it is) this song: "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars.  I don't know if I'll join the Bruno Mars fan club and buy the t-shirt (I'd rather have this t-shirt), but this is an awesome song to have come on the radio while you're driving (which is how I first encountered it).

And, now that I've run it down a bit, here's the 2010 mash-up.

But readers if you're only watching one mash-up on this post, watch this one.  This is the K-pop 2010 mashup, from mmixes' Youtube channel.

and here's the challenge:

I don't think anyone can find a genre of music that lends itself better to awesome mash-ups than K-pop. If you can think of one, with some example of mash-ups that are as awesome as this, let me know.

And here's why:

The fun of mash-ups is recognition.  See how many songs you recognize from this one track by Girl Talk.  Girl Talk is amazing.  I don't know if Girl Talk can play a single instrument, but he can throw lines and hooks from all kinds of songs together, so that five minutes of listening touches on a billion memories of drives, dances, parties, and awesome people who played you music, and the music also rocks: it fits together, it works, and it's a musical journey that's awesome and nostalgic.

Well, the fun thing in mash-ups is putting hooks together, so that people can recognize those familiar hooks.

K-pop is all. about. hooks.  Critics argue that's all it's about, and argue that if you will (some are), but when you're making a mash-up, that's beside the point, because the hooks alone matter.  So go watch that K-pop mash-up I posted above: it's like listening to the best parts of the entire year of k-pop, and not having to wait through weak verses, lines of songs where "the one who dances" has to sing to get equal stage time, unneeded dance interludes, unneeded "the music stops and we're going to act out a scene that somehow involves ambulance lights" breaks, or the other three minutes of a song that only has one good hook, or any of the other excesses or filler that puts people off K-pop, and enjoy it in its purest, most concentrated state.

Only the best hooks, only the famous dance moves, only the cutest close-ups, and then it's done.

Mash-ups, baby.  yeah!

What's your favorite mash-up?  Put the youtube link in the comments.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

snow pictures from yesterday

It snowed yesterday, so I took these pictures.

It's actually harder taking good snow pictures than it seems, because all the white in the frame seems to wash out the three-dimensional feeling in a picture's composition, if it's not handled carefully.

Anyway, I headed out to Bu-am dong, near Sangmyung University, and took some pictures on the way up a couple of mountainsides, and through a couple of grotty old neighborhoods, the likes of which are slowly, sadly disappearing.

Anyway, I love fresh snow.



And snow on branches.




maybe my second favorite picture from the day... I was actually a little disappointed with the results of my photography, though the snowy trudge was sure fun.

There's a little temple up there.

during the spring, this was a rushing river.  Now kids were down there, having snowball fights in the riverbed.


This is a good example of why snow doesn't photograph well in daylight: the textures of the snow, and the branches on which it hung, got washed out by the diffuse daylight.  If the snow had been sitting on larger shapes, the picture would have some composition, and if it were a moving video camera, you could see the 3D movement of the things behind the branches, to get a sense of the depth.  As it is, there isn't much to see in this picture, though it looked super cool in person.

Maybe at night, if there were a single light source (say, an orange street light) it would have looked cooler.

Pine branches sagging under heavy snow.  Now we're talking!

My favorite picture on the day.  I'm pretty sure that's Bukhansan, though I might be wrong.

I also managed to get the pictures off the confounded wrong-file-formatted video camera and onto my computer, finally.

so those are my snow-tos.  (see what I did there?  I combined snow and photo, because they both have a long "o" sound!)

I also spotted this cool coffee shop name on the way up the hill to Sangmyung University:


The most puzzling thing I saw during my walkabout was definitely this nativity scene, out in front of a neighborhood church:

it's a run of the mill nativity scene, until you look at the proportional sizes of the figurines, and you wonder how a Mary that size had a baby Jesus that size... unless Jesus was capable of fish and loaves type miracles right from day one.

And, finally, because I have nowhere else to put them:

One of the little city beauty elements that one doesn't spot every day, but which I always love to see:

When the sun reaches a certain angle, it'll reflect off the side of one glass-windowed building, onto the side of another building, and cast all kinds of strangely shaped lights and shadow on it.

Stuff you don't see in the countryside, friends.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who Owns a Culture: Summary before Finishing

OK. It was a long, long time ago that I started writing this series, and it's just embarrassing that I haven't finished it yet...

I have excuses, but you probably don't care to hear them anyway.  I got married, too.  However, I'd like to re-summarize what I've said in the previous articles, just to get everybody back to speed, before I go to my final point, which is of particular point during the holiday season.

However, in the comments to my "OK, Hyori Gets It," post, I'm getting comments from some of the same people who participated in that discussion back then, and who, in my opinion, are still off the mark in some respects.

So I'm finishing off this series, and while I do, I'll include another response to some of them.

The summary then:

Butterfinger Pancakes and Crappy Service in Restaurants Serving Western Food

In the comments of this post:

Let's go for a little name and shame.

Which restaurants have YOU been to, that should have known better (we're not talking "Halmoni Kimbap" here: we're talking about places that look, and charge, as if they ought to know their asses from a hole in the ground, in regards to service).  Let me know who the worst offenders are in the comments.

Fact: there are a bazillion restaurants in Seoul.  This means, I operate on a "one strike and you're out" policy.  If a restaurant can't impress me the first time, I won't waste my time going back to give them a second chance: other restaurants deserve a first chance more than that place deserves a second, after underwhelming me before.  The only time I bend on this is when it is enthusiastically advocated by someone whose food taste I trust (right now, that's a list of about four people, and I'm not telling you who they are... but two of them have names that start with J.)

So then...

A few months ago, in a fit of righteous outrage, I tore a strip through the horrible, horrible, insultingly neglectful service I encountered at Passion Five, one of those so-stylish-I-want-to-punch-myself-in-the-face restaurants near Hangangjin station.

Lesson learned: beautiful design is a yellow flag in Korean restaurants.  Of the ten worst service experiences I've had in Korean restaurants, about eight of them were in really nice-looking places.  Not ALL beautifully designed places are crap, but let's just say nice looks is NOT assurance of good food, or good service.

Three seasons later, if you google "passion five Korea" look what comes up: 

Passion Five, you've been google-bombed, and deservedly so!  I've made clear what I want in return for taking down the post (see the end of the post)

Until then, you frankly deserve to be slammed by google, for the atrocious, insulting service you gave me and my group.

And today, Butterfinger Pancakes gets theirs.
I'd heard a LOT about Butterfinger: how the food was just like home... but not crappy "just like home" (a la Denny's Korea) but GOOD "just like home" with waffles and pancakes worth the trip to Kangnam.
My friend Chris, who lives in South Korea, was having a birthday party for the lovely Lady in Red (who is an awesome human being, by the way).  He invited a crew over to Kangnam, and staked a place in line for a big group: about ten.  They said "Oh.  ten?  That'll be about an hour."

No sweat: we went to a Krispy Kreme to pass the time.

An hour later, we came back to Butterfinger.  "Oh. You guys again..." (inner monologue: we were hoping you'd get discouraged by the one hour wait and piss off) "we don't have a place to seat you.  Twenty more minutes."

Twenty minutes go by: now we're standing in the cold.  "Five more minutes.  And you have to sit at different tables." (no problem, guy. Can you just friggin' seat us now?)

Buddy goes upstairs to use bathroom: sees other groups getting seated before us, and no tables cleared for a group.  After an hour and a half.  Ten more minutes, several more inquiries (each time being told, "five more/ten more minutes"), still no movement (that's for those of us waiting for tables; I can't speak for the person who went to the bathroom).

Finally, we gave up and headed for a Burger King.  Wifeoseyo and I had a long to-do list that had included eating with the fine people at The Lady In Red's birthday party, but we couldn't because Butterfinger Kangnam couldn't get their poop in a scoop.

So, dear Butterfinger Pancakes Kangnam: 

Maybe your food is good.  I don't give a damn.  I'm avoiding you, and telling all my friends and readers to avoid you as well.  Hell, I can probably make better pancakes at home, anyway, and now that Costco exists, I no longer have to grovel to the shitty service gods to get my bacon fix.  We agreed to be seated at different tables, and we agreed to wait for an hour, and then waited in the cold for twenty minutes more, and twenty more: we were obliging as hell and got nothing except a chill, frustration, and a hunger headache from you.

There are easy ways to get around pissing off a widely read blogger or five (and a number of the people in that group were bloggers, and I hope every one of them tears Butterfinger a new asshole for treating our crew customers so badly).

1. Have a maximum group size policy for weekends.  Train your staff to be clear about it.
2. Have a maximum table size policy for weekends (ie: if your group's larger than six, we reserve the right to seat you at different tables)  Train your staff to be clear about it.
3. Train your door staff to seat people in the order they come in, and in how to set out tables for large groups.
4. Don't say "five minutes" when it's actually going to be twenty minutes.

There are probably other solutions, too.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I've come across such crappy service in restaurants serving non-Korean food: the Passion Five incident has left such a bad impression that I've almost entirely avoided stylish looking places since then, as well as Fusion Food restaurants, and any place of which somebody tells me "they're famous these days".

Expat Jane's beef with slow, obnoxious service at Smokey's Saloon in Itaewon is well documented: it's surprising how many people I know have complained of the crap service there.

Personally, I had another atrocious experience at Jacoby's: 

Other bloggers have blissed fondly over the lovely burgers there, but my friend (another prominent food blogger), and I decided to finally try Jacoby's out one day.  We were told we'd have to wait an hour, so we gave them our phone number [they had our phone number] and instructions to call us when a table opened up.  We headed out and had a breadstick at a nearby bakery to tide us over.  An hour later, absent a call, we came back, expecting to be seated promptly.  People who had not been in line when we came, and people who had been behind us in line were already seated.  My friend asked where our table was, and they said, "Oh. You have to wait."  

"Why didn't you call us?  But those people got seated ahead of us; they weren't in line when we came by."

"Yes they were."

That's right.  Instead of trying to make peace with an unhappy customer who's hangry and annoyed, they lied to our faces.  We didn't drop the "You know we're famous bloggers" card, because it shouldn't have to come with that...

however, I've lost all interest in Jacoby's burgers.  If their wait staff is lying to customers' faces in order to save face, I'm not interested.  And every time a friend is looking for a burger, I qualify my mention of Jacoby's with "I got really shitty service there."

Maybe it's good I didn't go in and order at Butterfinger, and give them a chance to get my order wrong, because that would have led to a whole other outrage...

But to be fair, here's one good thing about Butterfinger Pancakes: 

It's near a building that looks cool.

But the larger question is,

why do all of these restaurants offer such horrible service to paying customers?

But what it boils down to is this:

If you're serving western food to western people or in the western style, at the usual prices for good western food here (and almost everybody in that Butterfingers' was western, or going there to fulfill their sex and the city brunchy handbag western fantasies, as were most of the Jacoby-ites). give a damn about western service, too!

If you're serving kalguksu at a hole in the wall, be as gruff as you want: I'm there to fill up, you know it, and I know it - I'm not an idiot, and I know different kinds of dining come with different kinds of service expectations... but if your place is high end, or reputed to be high-end (I'm looking at you, Outback), then I come in with some modest expectations about a modicum of decent service.  

If you're not going to train your wait staff to be attentive, put a bell on the damn table.  Maybe burger joints in Canada don't have table bells... but if it means I'll get extra ketchup without spending twenty minutes trying to ESP the waiter over to my table, I'll deal with it.

And if your place is designed real pretty, pay the wait staff an extra 500 or 1000 an hour to retain them longer, and make it worth it to train them in how to not piss off widely read bloggers, and general customers.  That shit doesn't matter to everyone, but it does matter.  Not all of us like shouting "YOGIYO" over the violin quartet playing in the corner.  You're charging 18000 won for a plate of spaghetti.  Don't tell me you can't put a little of that into competent wait staff.

If your place serves food that Westerners crave after eating jiggaes for a month out in the countryside, you know, maybe you've got all those folks over a barrel, and they'll take whatever long wait and crappy service you can pinch out, because they need their pancake-maple fix... but don't expect us to be happy about being treated like cattle, and don't expect to get through it without people who DO give a damn about service, and aren't just ravenous for "real" bacon getting pissed off to high heaven at your arrogance.

[update] I've been asked by a few people to put this list, which I posted in the comments, in the actual post, to increase the chance it'll be read: so here it is.  Here's what I expect when I'm paying more than 15000 won for an entree.  I don't think these are unreasonable, given that I probably also ordered a soup, or a salad, and some drinks.

water refills/another pitcher/whatever either without shouting at someone, or without waiting more than three minutes
knowledgeable about the menu, and/or willing to ask the chef (eg: about allergy-specific ingredients) rather than making something up (this goes back to knowledgeable about the menu)
able to relay special requests to the chef - salad dressing on the side? no problem
brings main dishes out all at the same time (if it's western food); brings out appetizers and soups in timely ways (if it's a course meal)
checks by from time to time to see if everything's ok
if refills are free, comes by to offer refills, or check for empty glasses - even once a meal will satisfy me on this count.
refills my glass with water when it's empty
gets the orders right, and writes things down if necessary
if something I ordered isn't available, they come out and tell me, instead of giving me something else and hoping I don't notice.
is nearby enough, and attentive enough, to spot, and come promptly, if they see someone trying to get their attention
and I know enough Korean that all these issues can be dealt with in Korean: I'm not even asking the wait staff to be conversant in English (that WOULD be arrogant of me) 
and, of course: my expectation of service like that depends also on the price scale of the place. 4500 for a heaping plate of bokkeumbap? I'll happily get my own water and kimchi for that.
12000 for a bibimbap? I'd like someone to come by and pour my water for me, thanks. If I wanted 3500 won bibimbap service, I'd have gone to a 3500 won bibimbap place.

Butterfinger, I offered an olive branch to Passion Five, on what they could do for me to take my rant offline.  I'm not offering that to you, because I didn't even see inside the door of your place, and I'm insulted by the lack of regard for the customers who had been waiting the longest to eat your food.

You'll never see me at your restaurant again.


So where did YOU get crappy service at a restaurant?  Let me know in the comments.  Best story wins.

Couple in Cheonggyecheon

I took these cute pictures of a couple kissing on one of the Cheonggyecheon bridges, while I was out with my buddy taking video of the Christmas lights last week.  It took some color altering to actually see the couple, but I still think they're nice photos.

Finding Christmas in Korea: Part 1: Lights and Candles

The Sunday before Christmas, Wifeoseyo and I went down to the Express Bus Terminal Station, where lines 3, 7, and 9 meet.

Most of the year, in this underground area, there are tons and tons of live plants you can buy, which is great.  However, during Christmas, the underground shopping center that's below the street at the south end of Gosok (Express Bus Terminal) station, near the entrance to Shinsegye Department Store.

Wifeoseyo and I went down there, and we found everything from lovely to tacky (mostly the latter) and a huge variety of things.  We found scented candles that smelled like pine and apple/cinammon.  We found a christmas tree and strings of lights and wreaths and garlands.  We got some christmas tree ornaments and pipe cleaner snowflakes to hang on the walls.  In general, what you find at the bus terminal shopping center is a little less... um... K-mart... than what you find in Namdaemun.

And readers, it wasn't a whole heck of a lot, but it made the house look a little like Christmas.  And that was important to us this year.  And the scented candles even made it smell like Christmas this year, and that was nice, too.

And for your benefit, here are the two places I've found Christmas Decorations in Seoul.  If you know of another one, let me know, and send me a location on google maps, and I'll totally add it.

View Christmas Decorations in Seoul in a larger map

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's not Christmas Without...

Hope all y'all had an awesome Christmas weekend (without any extra days off)...

On Christmas Day, Paul Ajosshi posted this video of a lovely postmodern, post-religious Christmas song:

"I'll be seeing my dad,
my brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
they'll be drinking white wine in the sun"
full (lovely) lyrics: well-written and full of humor, assonance, internal rhyme, and poetry.  Critical of organized religion... but gets right to the heart of why you don't have to be religious to love Christmas.

White Wine in the Sun, by Tim Minchin

And I'll say, writing songs that pretty is the only way I can forgive his teased, mad-scientist/electroshock mullet.I think this song is an eloquent defense of an atheist's Christmas: not everybody subscribes to the various religions that have their eight crazy nights, etc., at the time of the Midwinter Festival (worst name I've heard so far), but this song is a lovely affirmation of the one thing shared by almost all the different holiday season celebrations: getting together with the family.

Now, coming from a religious family, the sacred part of Christmas is important to me: while I think "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" bumper stickers are tacky, and A Charlie Brown Christmas is preachy, it was still important for me to catch the Christmas Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral with Wifeoseyo, to hear their choir sing a bit of Handel's Messiah, and to stand outside, and check out the nativity scene in the bitter cold.  No pictures, because it was literally too cold for my camera to work, but the Nativity outside Myeongdong Cathedral doesn't put the baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning.

Folks, Korea's my home... but the time it feels least like home is during Christmas, when I'm far away from my family, and when Christmas is celebrated very differently.

Now, I recognize, as Bobster stated in the comments last time I bellyached about this, that I don't really have much right to complain, when I'm choosing to be here, and I don't really have a say in how Korea does Christmas... I've written before about the fact nobody owns a culture, and will expand on that soon, in response to a few comments I've had recently: Koreans are in the wrong to complain about Japanese Kimuchi or a Turkish family owning a Korean restaurant in Edmonton that makes more money than the Korean-owned one, but when the shoe's on the other foot, and Korean Christmas is about couples and ice cream cake instead of families and turkey, we are also wrong to get in a snit.

That's because there's the emotional issue of not feeling at home in this kind of christmas, and the logical issue of recognizing that it's not really my place to tell Korea how to celebrate Christmas.  But as homesickness goes, it's OK when the emotional issue doesn't jibe with the logical conclusion, because this is my Christmas, darnit!  So yeah, that's how I feel... and I'm glad people close to me understand and care how I feel, but I wouldn't write a letter to City Hall or the Chosun Ilbo telling all of Korea "You're doin' it wrong!" and if I did, I'd ripely deserve the middle finger and the "Yankee go home" I'd get in reply.

I raised this point because: for Christmas to feel like Christmas to me, I have to be more intentional than I had to back in Canada, because the elements that make me feel Christmassy are not the same elements that are emphasized in Korea's Christmas celebration.  In Canada, people get eggnog foisted upon them so often we're happy it'll be a year before we have to smell it again... but here in Korea, you have to head down to Itaewon to that place selling illegal goods smuggled off the army base just to taste it.  Same for turkey stuffing.  Meanwhile, silly hats and ice cream cakes and "Last Christmas" by Wham! and all its remakes are practically clogging the air and making it hard to walk in a straight line.

So here are the things that make ME feel like Christmas:
1. The sacred Christmas carols (The First Noel, Silent Night, Hark The Herald, O Come Immanuel, Joy to the World, for starters)
2. Handel's Messiah
3. Something religious - church, a carol sing, something.
4. Turkey Dinner.  With STUFFING.
5. (new addition:) Spiced Wine
6. Being around my favorite people, preferably in groups.
7. Phoning the family that's not immediately nearby
8. A Christmas Tree
9. Flashing Christmas lights
10. Presents
11. It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas (cartoon)
12. Candles

And I've been working hard to try and check as many of those boxes as I could during this holiday seasons.  I'm happy to say I did.  No, I didn't have a huge Christmas dinner party like I did last year with my nemesis Dan Gray, but Wifeoseyo was wonderfully supportive this year in seeing to it that we touched on as many of those elements as we could, which was nice, seeing as we have to forge out a Christmas tradition of our own, now that we're married.  It was a fine first Christmas together.

I'll write a few posts this week about the varying degrees of success I had tracking down each of these things.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas, so here's are three bits:

1. Durkee in Busan has a Youtube clip that amused me and my Korean teacher:

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Korea

2. ATEK got mentioned in Time Magazine, folks, in an article about HIV testing for E2 Teachers.

3.  If you really want to make Christmas mean something for somebody, you need to learn about maybe you've heard about microfinance before -- mini-loans for people who need just a little kick to get themselves going.  Kiva is a place where you can choose who you sponsor, you can loan small increments toward the goals people need, and you can take the money that gets paid back once the loans are paid back, and put it back into the microfinance system, and sponsor someone else.

Check it out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Lights: Chunggyecheon, City Hall, Lotte and Shinsegye Dept Stores

I went to Gwanghwamun, City Hall, Lotte Department Store, and Shinsegye Department Store, and took some film of the Christmas lights on display there.

Unfortunately, the new video camera stores photos in a format that is incompatible with iPhoto.  Yep. That's what I said.  Good ol' Mr. Steve Jobs has created some of the best video and photo editing, organizing and storing programs out there, that are easy to use and all... and then picked a few arbitrary video and photo formats that won't work with them.

Yeah, I can buy the decoder program... but I'm pretty choked that I have to, especially when it's a flippin' CANON video camera - we're not talking about some obscure company from Whoknowswherezystan.  Get with the stinking program, Mr. Jobs.

Anyway, without photos, but WITH video (already bought THAT converter)...I give you Christmas lights, 2010.

Korea's Sarah Brightman?

Last Christmas, Wifeoseyo and I stopped at a rest stop on our way to Jeollanamdo, and spotted a pair of fellas who Wifeoseyo identified as 1980s popstars, singing in front of a donation bucket, raising money for goodwill.

Yesterday, while walking by the Chunggyecheon in Downtown Seoul, I wandered around and heard somebody playing a Sarah Brightman CD... and then turned around, and saw that it was a lady singing it, right there in front of me.

So I don't know if this lady's one of Korea's professional popera singers or not, but her voice is lovely, and she sings this song effortlessly, and buddy, after stomping around downtown for hours yesterday to take video about the light shows in downtown Seoul... it was a welcome reprieve from the clanging bells.

Listen.  Enjoy.  It was way better live, as it always is.  And if you recognize the voice, or the be-shadowed face, let me know who it is in the comments.

I was also with my buddy in almost the same place (you can hear my voice at the end of the clip) to spot a traditional Korean marching band playing "jingle bells".  A.We.Some.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Little Drum and Bass Boy

See, the Little Drummer Boy is an annoying song to me, because it's about a drummer and the rhythm section is the most boring in all Christmas music.

So this, linked to me by This Is Me Posting, in the last post, is a real breath of fresh air.

The Youtube Channel is "Songs to Wear Pants To"

The only version I've heard, other than this one, that I've liked, was the version by The Temptations on A Motown Christmas.  The harmonies.  Yeh.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

christmas is coming...

say what you want about the song from... the boat movie... Celine Dion got her christmas music right.

Christmas is the time when homesickness cuts deepest, not just for me, but for a lot of expats -- the only way to get across how big a deal Christmas is to North Americans (can't speak for the rest) is to ask your Korean friends to imagine Seollal, Chuseok, and Childrens' Day, all on one day.

Christmas in Korea is different - way different - than back home.  I talk about that here (from last year, responding to Brian in JND's response to Korea's "Christmas of Dumb Hats")

Most of my opinions haven't changed much since last year...
[Some say] we have to respect the ways other cultures observe holidays, and if Korea wants to create a commercial monstrosity with stupid hats, that's their prerogative, and the other side [says], "it's all well and good to be a cultural relativist, but it's still jarring and maybe sad to see Christmas observed in a way that is so distant from the warm family holiday we remember from our childhood" (or even from the Christmas we see in movies like A Christmas Story, It's A Wonderful Life, and Love Actually... which is huge in Korea, maybe partly because it reinforces that Christmas is a couple holiday to Koreans.
What I'll say is this: I was never a big fan of commercial Christmas anywhere...but the fact that Christmas is not only mostly divorced from the old religious roots (didn't see a single nativity scene in two nights of walking around, haven't heard more than a few sacred carols on the Christmas music playlists in Korean shops), but ALSO divorced from the Christmas we remember from back home -- as far and away the number one family holiday of the year -- is jarring, and it sharpens the twinge of homesickness, or the sting of culture shock, for most of the month of December, for many of us. I always miss my family more at Christmas, and my students and Korean friends don't get that unless I ask how they'd feel spending Chuseok away from home, in a place where nobody knows what shikke or songpyun is..."

Now, given that the entire Christmas symbology is here, but it's used differently, maybe it's not accurate to ask my Korean friends to imagine Chuseok alone in a place where nobody knows what shikke or songpyun are... maybe a more accurage analogy is to imaging having Chuseok alone in a place where shikke is used exclusively as a mixer for rum drinks, and songpyeon is made of popcorn balls, which people throw at the boy or girl they like, in a holiday courtship ritual.

In previous Christmases, I've come across really cynical or dismissive of Christmas in Korea... but the fact is, every year I try hard to have some kind of Christmassy experience.  I seek out friends, and festivals, and do sappy things, and hunt after the foods I eat for Christmas in Canada.  This year, it's been particularly poignant, because 1. Wifeoseyo only gets the weekend off - nothing extra - and 2. it's my first Christmas with wifeoseyo, so I DO have family in Korea... (but Christmas will still always be an afterthought to most of them).

but on Saturday we went down to Goseok Terminal (subway lines 3, 6 and 9, if I remember correctly), where there are scads of Christmas decoration shops, and bought some candles, and shiny things, and hanging things, and a cute little tree.  So the house looks like Christmas now.  At least a little.

And we also got some ingredients, and I made my first Gluhwein today, as I experiment with it this week, to try and offer up something good for some friends this weekend.

Initial result: I'm gonna score it a 5/10.  Hopefully I can get this going before friends come over.

I'll post more of the results from my gluhwein experiments over the course of the week.

Later, readers!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Do You Know who Knows it's Christmas

So I just read about the Band Aid recording of "Do They Know it's Christmas" and watched the video..

it was all recorded in one night, and you're free to your opinion on the song (I'm not wild about it) but...

1. so much feathered hair
2. so many famous singers without stage makeup, in a badly lit studio
3. a fun game of spot the '80s star (looking awful)
4. a fun game of "do you remember who that is?" - exacerbated by the fact many of these singers aren't there intheir usual band costumes, or with their bandmates.

Do They Know it's Christmas?

more of my rantings on Christmas music, with links to the rest of my christmas rantings, here.

and if there were a new "Band Aid" recording, organized by Oprah Winfrey (who else would have the pull to get ANY band involved), who would be in YOUR starting lineup?

Answer in the comments.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roboseyo's Favorite Things About Winter In Korea, and Two Rabbit Trails

It's cold.

Or in the words of the young lady I stood next to at the bus stop, "It's cold. It's cold. It's cold. Oh! It's cold.  It's cold.  It's cold.  It's cold.  It's cold."

Cold is funny in Roboseyoland, though, for a few reasons.  First of all, communication with Wifeoseyo about cold is very entertaining.

An analogy: my grandmother will notice if you drop a single jalapeno into a six person meal's worth of spaghetti sauce.  And imagine her eating something, and saying, "Say, this is really, really spicy!  It's way too spicy for me."

Then, imagine my (imaginary) friend Vijay, who grew up in the spiciest province of India, raised on Mama "Five Days of Afterburn" Sen's five alarm curry.  He takes a spoonful of something, and says, "Yeah, this is a bit hot, I guess."

Well, my grandmother going, "This is way, way, way too hot for me," is a about like Wifeoseyo saying, "Roboseyo," (she actually calls me that), "Dress up really warm!  It's going to be really really cold today!  You better be ready!"

And Vijay going, "It's kinda spicy," is like me going, "Yeah, it's kinda cool today," when Wifeoseyo asks about the weather.

This leads to funny miscommunications, and the development of the 140/70 rule: When she says it's cold, she describes it as being 140% as cold as it actually is.  When I say it's cold, she understands that I'm understating the weather at about 70%.

The funniest thing was this weekend, when the inlaws were in town, mom-in-law-oseyo told me it would be cold... and overrated the cold at exactly the same rate Wifeoseyo does.  

And despite this, Wifeoseyo underdresses for the cold. But this is an opportunity in disguise for me:

Roboseyo's Favorite Thing About Korean Winter #1:

(This message is for the guys:) You see, gentlemen, if you're dating a Korean lady, you should know there's a Korean saying that a fashionable woman is cold in the winter... and this works to your advantage, because chivalry is not dead in Korea.  Just keep an extra pair of gloves in your pockets all winter.  And wear a scarf you don't actually need when you meet her, so that you can pull it off and give it to her.

Wifeoseyo eats it up every time.  It's one of my best tricks.  That and cooking breakfast.

Chivalry. Korea. Not dead. Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I, and Hamlet Cigars.  The stuff you find on Youtube with the right keywords.
But yeah. Chivalry is not dead here.

Roboseyo's Favorite Thing About Winter #2:

Ondol.  Heated floors are glorious.

Roboseyo's Favorite Thing About Winter #3:

Balgan Naebok

(Rabbit Trail 1)
My brother lives in a place so cold that the Wal Mart parking lot has an electric outlet at every parking space so that you can plug in your car's block heater while you're shopping, and it's so cold there, that during the dead of winter, you need to.  

But Canadians aren't actually tougher than others: we don't have special cold-repellent skin like polar bears or tauntauns (see below).  We just know how to dress for the cold.  

Some Koreans also dress for the cold: the long underwear section in Korea is awesome, because it's so egregiously unfashionable: it's called "bbalgan naebok" (빨간내복) or "red under clothes"

But good luck finding someone under 40 wearing it.

In Edmonton, they don't say "A fashionable lady is cold," just "It's freezing out dere, eh?  Bundle up, dumbass."  I grew up in Southern Ontario, with weather like Michigan, or Buffalo, for you United Stonians.

(image: a tauntaun.  That'll cover my nerd quota for the week.)

(Rabbit Trail 2) 

Since you asked, here are my three pieces of advice for managing the cold:

1. Head Feet Hands.  If your head is warm, your feet are warm and dry, and your hands are warm, you'll be OK in the end.  If your head is bare, your jacket can be warm enough to collect pit-stains, and you still won't feel warm.  Meanwhile, cold feet = unhappy Roboseyo.

2. Layers.  If you overdress, and sweat in your winter clothes, it's going to end badly.  Layer, and use zippers, so you can tie things around your waist, unzip things, zip things up, and pile on and undo layers, so that you're never over-chilled, nor over-warm.  Include at least one layer that is wind resistant. Wool is warm, but porous.

Roboseyo's Favorite Thing About Winter in Korea #3:

3. These things.

Neck buffs.  See, sometimes I have to give my scarf to Wifeoseyo.  I'm OK with that.  Because neck buffs are so fantastically multipurpose, I can keep warm whatever part has been exposed.

Plus, they pack away tiny into your pocket, which is a total boon for a dude who likes giving his wife his winter gear.  They're also machine washable, unlike gloves with that thinsulate crap in them.  Layers are WAY better than extra insulation.  And in the summer, they breathe enough to be decent sun protection, too.

Doubleplus, these buffs are the ultimate layering aid.  On top of, or below the scarf, the hat, or whatever else you've got, they trap all kinds of heat, despite being small and thin.  Pull them over your mouth or under your chin.  I always have one or two of these things on me, and I swear by them.

You can find them at most hiking goods stores: I just got one in Namdaemun.  If you look around carefully, you can find quality ones for 18000 to 25000 won, or you can get the cheapie ones for 5000 won, and the cheapos are just as good for layering.  Another good place to find them is biking stores: moped and scooter bikers are exposed to the elements, and wear them.

Roboseyo's Favorite Thing About Winter in Korea #4:

Not Christmas.

More about that later.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ten Magazine is Good People

Ten Magazine is running a huge giveaway where readers can vote on who gets the prizes: 30 million won in publicity and prizes are up for grabs in the big contest, and readers can go here to vote on who they think is most worthy.

Personally, I'm with One Free Korea: I think you should vote for "Justice for North Korea" (facebook page here).

You can also become a fan of 10 Magazine on facebook, here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


So I'm a metal-mouth for a few months.  Got my implements installed last month, and will have these for three or four months, depending on how long that stubborn left incisor takes to drop, and for that cranky bottom row to line up like soldiers.  I had those invisible plasticky ones for a while, and they worked for the bigger stuff, but for the final detail work, I'm going to need wire braces for the last few months to get the details worked out. 

As you can see, other than the, you know, wires, things are looking a lot more even than they used to be:  Right Side:
 Left Side:
I've made a lot of progress already...

On the other hand... eating with braces is a pain in the butt.  I'm sure lots of my readers have experienced this for themselves, but I'm going through it now.

Foods that work with braces:

meat... in small bites
dubu (tofu)-based foods
kimbap (eaten slowly)
noodle dishes in general

Edible, but needs cleaning afterwards:
anything with rice.
that is, most Korean food.

Foods that don't work with braces:
any ddeok and variations thereof
fish with bones
crunchy vegetable matter (kimchi, gakdukki)
artisan breads with tough crusts
fried stuff (especially deep-friend stuff)

On the bright side, I'm losing weight, because instead of eating until I'm full, I've been eating until I'm tired of trying to eat around my braces.

So that's what's up in Roboseyo-ville.

I've got some things I need to take care of, and I got a really kind e-mail from a loyal reader who's been concerned about the drop-off in posting lately (thanks! sincerely, thanks), and I promise, this is not the end of the Roboseyo we know, and once I've taken care of things, I'll be back in full swing.

But in the meantime... got in my application to the Korean Studies program I want to go to, and did a bunch of other stuff that'll come out once I start catching up on my back-blog.

See you again soon, Readers.  Thanks for your loyalty.

All the best:


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Event: Rubber Soul 2010

Rubber Soul (facebook event page here)

December 4 is World AIDS Day.  Starting at 9PM, in Hongdae, at Ting Tings, Club TA, Club FF and DGBD, you can attend parties at all four spots for a 15000 won cover.  All the cover fees go to Hillcrest AIDS center in South Africa.

You can learn more at the Facebook event page linked above, or at the Rubber Soul Blog, here:

You should go!

The bands lined up?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Congrats a Bazillion to Zenkimchi Joe!

So Captain Kimchi himself, my buddy Joe, had a baby... well, his wife had a baby, not long ago.

I wanted to send out a huge congratulations to him: I'm sure he's busy as all-get-out right now, but he's been posting pictures of the new baby girl, Ji-an, on Facebook and his website.

He also has an interesting post about Korean post-partum traditions: a pair of old coworkers of mine had a baby while in Korea, and they reported that the pregnancy and childbirth advice they got from their Korean friends was almost exactly the opposite of the advice they got from their phone calls back home.  Their conclusion was that you should do whatever the heck your body tells you to do, as long as you frequently check in with a doctor you trust.

Anyway, if you've had a baby in Korea, head on over to zenkimchi and add a comment to the post where he lists the western and Korean post-natal traditions.

And congratulations again, Joe.

Watch SBS Running Man Tonight!

I can't say TOO much about it until the show airs... but a few mondays ago I stayed up really late, to film an episode of "SBS Running Man" run by Yoo Jae-seok, Korea's top TV show host.

So at 5:20 today, if you're in Korea, turn on the TV, and watch SBS's "Running man" to see what I'm on about.

I met Nikhun... nice, very very nice, very likeable guy.  Even though the gesture he's making to the camera is the british equivalent to the middle finger, I'm sure it's unintentional...

Some of the other stars...


And the man himself, Korea's top TV host, Yu Jaeseok.

And also K-blog celebrities Simon and Martina.  I kept photo-bombing them when they tried to take video.  Can't wait to see the results.

See you (or at least you'll see me) at 5:20.  Or thereabouts.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

OK. Lee Hyori gets it this time. 이효리

This is a little after the fact, but something had to be said.

Oh come on Hyori. I like Lee Hyori (이효리). What's not to like? She's cute, she's a super-de-duperstar in Korea, she's really fun in her TV appearances.  She's great, right?  Plus, my "fetish bingo" post about her is one of my most popular posts ever (and the one where I most often have to clean up trolls' comments)

She makes awesome videos and super-fun songs like U-Go-Girl, which is one of my favorite K-pop videos, mostly because Hyori actually seems like she's having fun when she dances, while a lot of the popstars out there seem like they're just playing a role, or going through the paces their trainers taught them (especially live: they're just not having fun.  The farther down the alphabet scale (b-list stars, c-list stars) the worse it is).

She's great, right?  Absolutely... except...

she was on CNN.go on November 11.

and here's what she says, according to the subtitles, starting at: 0.25 or so.

Seoul is a city with a long history.  There are two sides.  Many traces of traditional things on one hand...but it is a well-planned city where you can also see many modern designs.  Koreans are racially homogeneous. It's always been about one culture and one ethnicity.  So we have a strong solidarity above anything else.  And there is the emotional attachment that Koreans call "jeong" which relates to the brotherhood of the race.  This "jeong" is what bonds us tightly and makes us think of one another as a single family.

So... she gets a chance to introduce Korea to the world.

And she chooses to introduce the one-blood myth as the thing that will make people decide Korea's awesome?  I mean, really?  "The best thing about us is that YOU can NEVER be a part of our club!  It's nothing you did; you were just born wrong.  Isn't that great!  Come visit Korea tomorrow!"

As a non-ethnic Korean who plans to live the better part of my working life in Korea, I'm really annoyed by this one-blood stuff.  Really annoyed.  Because while there are many ways to define what Korean society is and isn't, it's one of the few that draws a circle in which I will always be an outsider, no matter how well I speak the language, no matter how dutifully I perform the jesa and the other rites, no matter how many little Koreans (correction: half-Koreans) I bring into the world.    It was a useful myth to generate identity during the Japanese occupation, as well as to help Koreans sign onto Park Chung-hee's development plans... but now that non-Koreans living in Korea have topped the one million mark, and in light of the fact there's NO WAY Korea could have been invaded two thousand times (as it's told) without a little bit of invader DNA mixing into the pure Korean gene pool (p.s.: why is it called the "mongol spot" if Korean DNA is pure?  Shouldn't it be called the Korean spot?)...can we please retire the one-blood myth?

(more on the one-blood Minjok Myth from the Metropolitician, who points out that the one-blood method of encouraging national identity was led by Koreans who had been studying European fascism.  And more again about race-based nationalism.)

"We have a strong solidarity above anything else" -- really?  Because if the one blood thing is true, then North Korea's gotta be included in that solidarity, but most accounts of North Korean refugees don't seem to support that ideal solidarity.  And ask ten South Koreans if they would wish for North and South Korea to be reunified tomorrow, and watch all the backpedaling and equivocations you start to hear.  "It'll be expensive.  It was really hard for Germany.  I don't think our cultures are the same anymore.  Maybe if other countries provided a LOT of aid...  Well, on second thought let's not go to Camelot: it is a silly place."

I'm sorry, but I call bullshit on any one-blood solidarity talk as long as 400 000 South Koreans will come out for a U.S. Beef protest, without seeing at least double that coming out for every protest demanding accountability for North Korea, and the fact they are still operating concentration camps to suppress their own people...(or, in Hyori's one-blood view, "our brothers and sisters").  Didn't hear a lot of "let's reach out to our brothers and sisters" rhetoric anywhere after North Korea shelled that island last week. (More of my posts about North Korea)

And then, just in case we hadn't already gotten the message that Koreans are way more specialer than others, so we should visit Korea and hope to become cooler by association (but really, that won't work, because we have the wrong blood, so we can't be part of the club... but I guess we should still visit Korea to gaze longingly at the cool insiders)... she trots out jung.

Has she updated her views on Korea since 1983?  And is this really what she thinks will win the esteem of CNN.GO viewers for Korea?

Now Jung is an interesting idea - my favorite piece on Jung is from The Joshing Gnome, who wrote "What is Jung and how can we kill it" (part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5) in 2008: one of my favorite pieces of K-blogging, and so good I hope he tells me before he ever takes his website offline, so I can copy his series and host it on my page, wherever that is.

Basically, Jung is a feeling of warmth, affection and intimacy between two people.  It can come out of a lot of things -- it's been used as the reason split-up couples get back together (they're just used to being around each other), it can be used to describe the feeling of kinship that rivals eventually develop, and it can also be used to describe that feeling when you feel like you've been old friends with someone, even though you've only just met them, or the affection by which two old friends can pick up exactly where they left off, even though they haven't seen each other in twelve years.  It's the applicable word for the way you can take one group of five people, put them in a room together for an hour, and they're still strangers, and you can take another group of five people, put them in the same room, under the same conditions, and they'll come out friends for life (cf: The Breakfast Club).  Group B has jung.  The Breakfast Club had jung (and not a Korean in the lot of them, was there?)  Group A doesn't.

Now, because there isn't a word that carries exactly all those nuances in English (or in most languages,) I've been told by Koreans that jung is a uniquely Korean feeling.

I disagree: Jung is simply a uniquely Korean word... but here's another word that doesn't exist in English: "schadenfreude" (feeling happy when something bad happens to someone you hate - for example, the way I felt when I saw this video of Brett Favre)

Now, the fact schadenfreude is a German word doesn't mean that only Germans can feel schadenfreude.  Germans aren't the only ones to go "Yeah!  Brett Favre is really annoying!  That clip was awesome!  Maybe this time he'll stay retired!"  In fact, when I first learned the word schadenfreude, the feeling I had wasn't one of confusion and lack of understanding; the feeling I had was recognition: "So there IS a word for that!"

And it was the same with "jeong" - I was glad to learn the word, because it's a great, useful word that describes an aspect of human interactions in a clean, simple way.  It hits the nail on the head better than any English word I know.

I'm sorry, Hyori, but jeong doesn't relate to the brotherhood of the race, or you have to explain why most of my South Korean friends, as well as South Korean media, are trying to distance themselves from North Korea.  It isn't race-based at all, and making it sound like it's tied to Korean blood is ignorant, and wrong.  I KNOW jeong isn't race-based, because I've had classes of Korean students who just didn't get along, who filled hours of my life with awkward pauses and silences (and it wasn't because of their English ability: they were all intermediate) they just didn't have jeong.  They didn't talk together in Korean either, the night we went out for some beers, in a desperate hope that maybe that would get them talking to each other.  If jeong came from being Korean, they should have had it... but they didn't.

(And if Jeong comes from korean blood, will my kids have half-jeong?  Does the country we live in while they grow up influence that?  What about full-blood Korean international adoptees who can't speak Korean? What about ethnic Koreans in China? Do they have jeong? what about kyopos who can or can't speak the language?  What about a missionary kid who grew up in a Korean school and speaks fluently, but has blue eyes?  And when does jeong get passed from the (Korean) parents to the (Korean) kids, and can that only happen while physically in Korea, or while using the Korean language?  Could a non-Korean kid raised in Korea in a Korean family have jeong?)

And this kind of a description of Korean culture -- laced with undertones of racism and exceptionalism -- is badly miscalculated, if this is how you think viewers of CNN.GO will be convinced to like and admire Korean culture.

I like you a lot, Hyori, but you stepped wrong this time.  And I'm calling you out (fourteen days late).  And maybe the Hyori fan club is going to fill my comment board up with hate... but I'll just have to deal with that, because Hyori's view of Korean culture is outdated, and just ignorant, and as one of the people who is marginalized by the myths promoted in it, I WILL stand up and object to it.

I like you a lot, Hyori, and any time you want a private English tutor, just call me: we're the same age, you know.  But I hate what you said, and the way you think about Korean culture (if this is actually how YOU feel about Korean culture) because you're making me an outsider.

And I'm not.