Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Am A Singer 나는 가수다... A Ghastly Spectacle, or Survival in a Cutthroat Industry?

So with the success of "Superstar K" (which I wrote about) and the ridiculous glut of Kpop bands that, as their numbers (and surgeries) increase, are becoming more and more indistinguishable (if you can explain to me how Sistar is different from Dal Shabet, such that you couldn't switch out their music, costumes, and choreography, and have pretty much the same product, I'll be impressed.  Name for me all the members of Sistar, Dal Shabet, AND Rainbow, without searching, and you win a waffle iron). A few are popular enough that I can recognize them one from another, and a few have made some pretty good songs (and especially videos), and even carved out something of a personality...

But while these starlets are dominating the airwaves with dances and images that more mature and adult-oriented singers couldn't compete with if they wanted to...

You've got to wonder... what happened to the singers and vocalists who actually sing their songs, who made a living on having great voices rather than yummy bitty bits and chocolate sixpacks.

And sadly, I have your answer:
"I am a singer" or "나는 가수다"
is a program on MBC which takes some of the most successful singers of the 1990s and early 2000s, and puts them up against each other in an audience voting, elimination-style revolving door showcase, where the singer with the fewest votes each episode is eliminated from the roster of (seven?) singers, and some other former luminary replaces them in the next episode.

I have really mixed feelings about this one, folks.

On the one hand... it's nice to see their faces and hear their voices on TV again, throwbacks to a time when singers in Korea could generally carry a tune, and some even wrote their own music.  Wifeoseyo remembers them well, and it's a small nostalgia kick to see them on TV...

but when these people, who have paid their dues and then some, are in some trashy fan-voting spectacle, just to compete for ratings...

it comes across as tawdry to me.  And when a controversy springs up about not voting off the oldest (and male) singer, after what Wifeoseyo reported was a half-hearted performance... I wonder if the controversy was engineered to kick up ratings and help these artists cover their tabs or something.  And I don't like having to have cynical thoughts like that when some of these singers are onstage.

So I don't begrudge them the paycheck, but I guess it just saddens me that these people, who should be enjoying some kind of living legend status, who should be doing duets with younger artists at music award shows, are instead doing the Korean equivalent of "Dancing With The Stars."

Lee Sora (whom I first heard about from The Korean), contributing. (the AAK link)  I can't imagine what's going through these singers' heads, but I sure wish there were something better for them than this, at the ends of their long careers.

So... some good voices and stuff.  Enjoy it.  If you can.

For the record...
Wifeoseyo disagrees with me that this show is trotting Korea's dignified old legends out for display.  She says, first of all, that the show treats its singers with respect, and secondly, that the singers themselves have shown a great deal of pride in their craft, and lived up to their status, while sometimes expanding their range.  She said the singers are approaching the show as if it's their duty to reintroduce real songcraft in a landscape of manufactured plastic bands with interchangeable members, dances, and so-so singing talents overshadowed by sexydance.

(And The Korean is right in the comments: there's pretty much no chance many of Korea's living legends would put themselves through this elimination challenge: I doubt we'll be seeing demigods 이문세 [song by him, another - MAN he's good - and true proof he's a legend: a cover by Big Bang] or 신중현, who had a tribute guitar made for him by Fender [song by him] or 조용필 [song] on the show.)

Wifeoseyo also said Kim Geon Mo's performance on the latest show was really impressive, that he was nervous (for the first time in a long time I'm sure) after all the controversy about him being on the show, and you can see his hand fidgeting on the microphone: out of character for him, who's usually a very confident singer.

(more on Kim Geon Mo leaving the show from the K-gossip blogs)

Wifeoseyo also says his hand was shaking during this performance... out of character for him.
He certainly sings the lights out, though.  Attaboy, Kim Gun Mo.

Friday, March 25, 2011

One more thing before the weekend...

I have another magic pair I want to see in a movie together:

I want to see William Shatner and David Hasselhoff in a movie together.

Can you imagine this guy

and this guy

in a movie together?

They'd shatter the unintentional comedy scale.

And now, here's another one.

I want to see Stephen Segal and Kristen Stewart in a movie together, because...

A Really Annoying Kind of Awesome

I'm sitting in the lounge of my grad school, trying to finish this week's readings before the weekend, and there are two people speaking in Korean behind me, and my ears keep perking up because of the stuff they're saying in their conversation.

Now be it understood that one thing I've historically loved about living in Korea, is being able to sit in a coffee shop where, because everybody around me's speaking a language I can't follow, it's easy to totally tune out the voices around me.  The conversation around me is like ocean sounds: it's noise, meaningless, and it creates a backdrop where I can usually be pretty productive.

But today, I'm catching enough of the conversation, and understanding enough of the words, that I can't tune it out.

And that's awesome news in terms of my efforts to learn Korean...

but in terms of trying to get that damn reading done, it sucks butt.

But mostly, it's awesome.

Back to my reading now, and have a good weekend, readers.

Here's a song to make you happy:

Big Dipper, by Built to Spill

Old-timey Expats Old-timey complaining

In the midst of copious amounts of reading, I haven't updated the blog in about a week...

so to begin, I'd like to draw your attention to Matt from Popular Gusts, who, during his research, has discovered a fantastic dialogue that appeared in letters to the editor of The Korea Times, way back in 1975, which looks like an iteration of the discussion I had here on Roboseyo, of "Why do Expats Complain So Much" -- my most popular post, and one that still ranks in the top twenty most visited posts each month.  (Whatever that's worth: that and 2200 won will get you a crappy coffee at the chain coffeeshop nearest my Cultural History class.)

To save the time of reading the full, long-winded blogger version, I recommend checking out the economy with which Matt's four letters to the editor cover the topic.

(footnote: it's been great reading up on the topics in my class readings: I'm finding a lot of the ideas about cultural development and identity issues similar to what I've discussed, in my own fragmented diffuse way, on the blog.  And that and 900 won will buy you a tiny can of mountain dew.)

More Matt has posted more old letters to the editor, regarding the back-and-forth on the topic of expats criticizing Korea.  All the classic positions have been voiced at this point.  Very interesting to me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Comfort Women with Words of Encouragement for Japan; Rob with words of encouragement about Korea

Soundtrack: Bobby Kim.
Wifeoseyo LOVES Bobby Kim, and once took me to a concert of his.  I actually like him quite a bit too... this is one of the songs on his latest; not my favorite, but I couldn't find that one on youtube.

Well, others have discussed the idiots claiming Japan deserved this disaster. To sum up... natural disasters aren't personal, and it might happen in your home state next month, and that's enough about that.  By the way: don't judge the URL till you click on it.

However, here's something really cool that I wanted to share: Wifeoseyo first mentioned it - a news story that brought tears to her eyes.

Many of my readers already know who the "Comfort women" are -- during the colonial period, and through World War II, young Korean women (and women from other Asian nations) were brought along with Japanese armies, to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers.  It is alleged that some, maybe all, of them, were kidnapped from their homes.  They were called "comfort women" - which is the gentlest way you can say "sex slave."  More at Wikipedia.  (Warning: don't take the Wikipedia as gospel truth: Wikipedia has become a battleground for competing national narratives in Asian historical controversies... but it should give you the broad strokes well enough.)

The days, a few of Korea's former sex-slaves are still alive, some of them living in a group home in Hyehwa.  Many lived tough lives, as their history as sex slaves left a mark on them that made it hard for their families, or society at large, to accept them, and what had happened to them.

Every Wednesday, these women stage a small demonstration in downtown Seoul, demanding Japan's leaders apologize, take full responsibility for the things done to them when they were young, and pay reparations to them -- a kind of blood money for the shitty lives some of them have lived.

The Comfort Women were out again on Wednesday... but instead of spouting some ass-hattery about Japan deserving what it got, (The head pastor of Yeouido Full Gospel Church, one of the largest Protestant churches the world, made an ass of himself that way), they came out strong in sympathy and support of the innocent people afflicted in this disaster.

This lady's holding a sign that says "Koreans in Japan, and Japanese citizens: All of you be strong!" (image from here)

If anyone had the right to talk shit about Japan, it was these women -- not the nationalist demagogues who like playing historical guilt cards to gain political points -- but rather than come out in bitterness at the things done to them, these women had grace and class.

Talking about Japan, here in Korea, can be tricky, and I'll share two reasons why today:

1. Even as Koreans love Japanese comic books and cartoons and cute toys, there are a few historical grievances, which translate into modern-day controversies and problems involving a few territories and history textbooks.  These topics can be really emotional - I even once wrote a blog post (way back when nobody read me) titled, "Do not talk about Dokdo"

Many of us expats have stories about a student, or a friend, taking a few minutes to tell us how much all Koreans hate all Japanese... and sometimes something really sad pops up, like these "hate Japan" pictures that were drawn by elementary school kids, and posted in a Korean subway station, during a wave of particularly strong Anti-Japanese sentiment... I also once had a student write "When I grow up, I want to be a general like Lee Sunshin and kill Japanese like him."  Editorials like this cast Korea in an ugly, vengeful, ungracious light.

And it can be hard to have an honest discussion about these topics, when there are so many emotions on a hair-trigger.  I've had conversations before where midway in, I figured out that the person I was talking with didn't really want to hear my opinions.  He wanted to hear his opinions about Japan (which were disappointingly, stereotypically negative) coming out of a foreigner's mouth. I don't see the point in getting involved in conversations where my actual thoughts aren't welcome, and the purpose for starting into the topic is not communication but validation.

2. The other reason it's hard to talk about Japan (as an expat, with other expats) is the echo chamber effect.

Lately, I've been looking at a lot of the memes that have been circulating in the K-blogosphere for a while... (most of which were thoughtfully collected by Kushibo here -- in a post that made an impression on me when it was satirized at Dokdo Is Ours)...

and at DIO, the phrase "echo chamber" comes up -- see, I've been noticing lately that a lot of K-blogs go over similar territory.  Nothing wrong with that, especially as many of them are documenting similar experiences (what percentage of the Korea Blog List do you think is comprised of blogs about the first two years of teaching English in Korea? At least a quarter.  Maybe more than half).  Nothing wrong with that at all... but anybody who doesn't think it gets a little self-referential from time to time is fooling themselves, especially when these bloggers start addressing each other, or an expat audience, rather than their folks back home.

And when people are gathering their information from other blogs, and when those blogs are getting their information from older sources, and especially when commenters come in and bring out the same set talking points whenever a particular topic comes up... impressions and ideas tend to crystallize... and as you and I both know, comment boards aren't conducive to nuance.

Mix in a little confirmation bias...

And you get some crystallized stereotypes and ideas about Korea and Koreans that either aren't accurate, or that used to be accurate, but are no longer... or that might still be partly true, but to a much lesser degree, or true of a much smaller proportion of Koreans, than they used to be.

A perfect example of this is the stereotype of the Dokdo finger-chopper -- that happened ONE time, but how often does the finger-chopper, or bee man, or the pheasant chuckers (all of which date back to 2005), come up, when Dokdo is on the blogs?  Pretty much every time, right? What happened outside the Japanese embassy, regarding Dokdo, last month, or the month before? Finger chopping makes a great story, but it doesn't reflect on the current state of a country that changes as quickly as Korea does, to dredge up something that happened in 2005.

All that to say sometimes the echo chamber needs to revisit some of these tropes, and update them, and some people commenting within the echo chamber, when their own information sources are mostly hearsay, and they don't have the language chops to get across the barrier themselves... they'd do well to qualify a bit.

I haven't heard somebody actually try to tell me there are no gays in Korea since 2004.  Why are people still bringing that up?  And there are lots of Koreans who can think creatively, too.

And another big one?  In my own experience, attitudes toward Japan over the last few years have become a lot more thoughtful, balanced, rational, and positive.  I don't doubt public opinion surveys would bear that out.  Koreans still think Dokdo's an important issue, but there's less "let's cut off the heads of pigeons" and more "let's be strategic about this," and I've heard less open, unqualified hostility toward Japan lately than I used to.  Hopefully this means fewer people are teaching their children to hate Japan, too.

And now, Koreans have come out overwhelmingly on the generous, gracious, sympathetic, and supportive side in this earthquake tragedy, and I'm happy, thrilled to see that. (how about this article, and this one, and this one.  Yep. Korea's treating Japan as a friend, folks.)

I'm just one dude, but this gives me hope.  This post is just one snapshot... but it's a heartening one, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, and if you're one of the ones making blanket statements about all Koreans hating Japan... maybe revisit that. Sure, there are some Koreans whose minds remain closed, and always will.  The same can be said of expats.

Prayers for Japan, and everyone connected to those struggling with this unimaginable tragedy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Some of you might be curious or concerned what's going on after the huge earthquake in Japan.

If you're worried about someone, Google People Finder Japan is helping people track down the missing ones they love: if you're worried about someone, you can post a note, and people who have been disconnected from the people they love can leave a note there saying they're OK.

Here in Korea, we're OK.  Japan's mainland blocked us from the tsunami, and even if it didn't, Seoul, where I live, is far, far from the east coast, where such a tsunami would hit.

BBC's coverage has been awesome so far.  Go here for to the second updates on the feed, and video as they have it.

You can also follow, BBC's breaking news twitter feed.

This website includes updates, along with info about shelters.

And if you live in Japan, don't forget to leave a note on your Facebook wall, and send a note to the people closest to you, so that they know you're OK.

This is the video clip that blew my mind: look how fast the water sweeps across the farmland.

And in about an hour, the tsunami reaches Hawaii.

Prayers, if you pray, are in order.  And hope that Hawaii's building codes and engineering hold up as admirably as Japan's have.

When I went to the Maldives with Wifeoseyo for our honeymoon, our tourguide in Male (the capital of the maldives), told us that a handful of islands vanished completely because of the 2007 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  I hope the folks in the South Pacific and Hawaii are OK.

North Korean Kids Playing Instruments

I'm not sure the exact purpose for making and circulating these kinds of videos... but they're quite something to see.

Facebook pal David put this up on his page...

which reminded me of these videos of North Korean kids kicking ass on other instruments.

This kid's a Xylophone prodigy... look at her go...

And this one's of two kids rocking their drumsets... I love the little girl's posture.

This one never went viral like the xylophone playing girl and the drumming kids, but it's impressive as well.

Take THAT, Sungha Jung!

Make of it what you will. there are more videos like this at Rodrigorojo1's youtube account... but be careful, lest you be North Korean Propagandized.  The channel's mostly clips from North Korea's TV station.

by the way...
When North Korea showed video of the four defectors' families, probably in an attempt to blackmail the four people who blew into South Korean waters in a boat, and decided not to return to North Korea... (ABC news link) (which seriously does suck, because North Korea has been known to punish treason to the third generation - that is, if I spray-paint "Kim Jong-il licks donkey balls" on a wall, me, my family, my parents, and my kids will go to a death "reeducation" camp.

Did anybody else think of this:

Friday, March 04, 2011


please be patient as I redesign my blog.

ATEK Officer No Longer

Well, readers, it's time to let everybody know.

Since about May last year, I was a ATEK's National Communications Officer, but I'm no longer an ATEK officer.

You see, this December, I was accepted into a local Graduate School of International Studies, so I'll be a full-time student instead, doing Korean Cultural Studies. The way the rules work now, no longer being an English Teacher disqualifies me from being an ATEK officer as well. I'll continue to be an associate member (anyone can be an associate member), and I'll continue to support ATEK however I can, but I've made way for a lady from Busan named Rachel, who will be taking over as ATEK's press liaison, and the like. Rachel's an excellent lady, and you can reach her at

I'll write some of my personal opinions about what ATEK needs heading into the future in another post, soon, lest this one reach TL/DNR territory.  However, and I don't think I can state this strongly enough...

I remain convinced that ATEK is the group with the best chance of effecting real change, and a real improvement in the lives of English teachers in Korea, and there are just tons of opportunities for you to get involved in ATEK if you're an English teacher:

1. there are sixteen regional areas in ATEK (PMAs) - this means that you can focus on local issues, and local activities. That's really cool.
2. there are twenty different types of officer positions in ATEK, which means that there's an officer position that fits your area of interest, knowledge, and expertise.
3. there are ATEK positions that run the gamut from "as needed" to "I'm really getting into it," as time commitments go.
4. Some of these officer positions are very much still being developed, which means you get a blank slate in some ways, to adapt the role to suit your interests, and the needs of your local organization.

What does ATEK need right now? All across the regional organizations...

1. Volunteer and Social Officers
What is it... Volunteer officers find, and spread the word about opportunities for English teachers to give back to their communities. There are organizations all around Korea that would love some English teachers to donate some time, and you can help connect teachers who want to help, with organizations who'd love to have their help.

Social officers plan events where English teachers can meet and network with other English teachers. Clubs, special interest groups, and the like: sometimes this position includes event planning, and other times, it just means letting ATEK members know about events that are already being planned by others.

What's so great about... These positions help push against the stereotype that English teachers are morally unqualified, or that they don't care about Korea, Koreans, or Korean culture, or that they don't do anything but drink on the weekend.

Volunteer and Social officers are super-important to ATEK, because the best kind of recruiting happens at these events, both for members, and for potential officers to fill out other positions in the local organizations. Do you want to know why Busan PMA is flourishing? Because they plan events, and attract good people to ATEK through these events.

Time commitment: self-determined.
A good officer is... social, good at meeting people and organizing events, a team player, flexible, organized, either good at taking care of details, or delegating them, and hopefully fun.

2. Ethics Officers
What is it: Ethics is a separate part of ATEK: Ethics operates as the conscience of the organization. An Ethics officer's job is to understand the organization, and the principles it's founded on, well, and to help other officers understand the organization through that lens.

The ethics committee may sometimes need to investigate cases of behavior that is of questionable ethics, or to make recommendations for how to carry out a task in the way that is most ethical, and most harmonious with ATEK's bylaws (the organization's constitution).

What's so great about... ethics is the conscience of the association, and a well-functioning ethics committee is absolutely vital to helping ATEK build its credibility and moral authority as a trustworthy organization helping English teachers.

Time commitment: as needed. High during times of crisis, low when everything's running smoothly.
A good officer is: principled and aware of the effects events and actions have on the image of the organization, and the integrity of the organization. A good ethics officer has often studied law, philosophy, or ethics in school, and will need to become familiar with ATEK's bylaws, in order to test ideas and issues, and plan the course of action that is most harmonious with ATEK's bylaws.

3. Membership Officer
What is it: A membership officer takes care of the membership list for ATEK: because they are dealing with people's private information, membership officers must be responsible to handle this sensitive information in ethical ways. Membership officers also help oversee ATEK's elections (until the elections committee is fully functioning) by making sure that those who are voting have proper registration and legitimate voting privileges within the organization. Because they are the only ones with access to members' information, membership officers are also responsible for e-mailing communications to members, and communicating with members.

What's so great about... maintaining accurate membership records and keeping the organization well organized will help ATEK with its NGO application. Accurate and up-to-date records represents the legitimacy and professionalism of the organization.

Time commitment: if the organization is growing, membership officers are busy making sure everyone is properly registered.  Frankly, it can be quite a time commitment, especially during training and learning the ropes, and during periods of growth.

A good officer is: detail-oriented. Good at handling information databases (spreadsheets etc.) Computer-literate and well-organized. Sensitive to ethical concerns about private information. This is a great job for someone who wants to quietly play a vital supporting role, but does not want to be highly public and visible in their role.  Uses a PC (because the membership database spreadsheets run on PC programs for now.)

4. Communications Officer
What is it: Communications is the PR arm of ATEK.  Not only does the communications committee write press releases and keep in touch with the media and ATEK members, the communications committee also helps work on improving content on ATEK's website, and developing a new edition of the English Teacher's Guide to Korea.  Important updates and information packages for English teachers and other education-interested people is all in the Communication Committee's sphere of influence.

What's so great about... you can help get the word out about ATEK.  ATEK has an important message, and a lot to offer English teachers, but teachers don't join if they don't hear about it.  In the course of representing ATEK, you get your name out to newspaper and magazine editors and other media professionals.

Time commitment: medium to substantial, depending on how much time you put into ongoing projects: there are a ton of ongoing projects, so if you have the time, the communications team will have something for you to do.

A good officer is: media and computer literate (both new and old media are good) maybe with training in writing or journalism.  Creative, articulate in writing and well spoken.  Sensitive to public perception issues for ATEK.  Good at compiling information (for the guidebook), and good at expressing the goals and concerns of ATEK's members.

5. PMA Chair
What is it: A PMA stands for "Provincial or Metropolitan Association" - these are ATEK's local chapters.  A PMA chair is like the moderator of a discussion: the PMA chair's job is to understand ATEK's national goals and aims, and to help the PMA's local officers to develop a local identity for ATEK, that works in their own community, while being in harmony with the national association.  PMA chairs recruit officers, and motivate them perform their role the best they can; they represent their PMA's concerns and local issues in the National Council.  It's like ATEK's version of a middle manager, helping the relationship between the local and the national association to be functional and productive.

What's so great about... it can be a flexible position, because of the different ways different officers need support and encouragement, and the different officers a PMA might have, or lack.  While a PMA chair can help delegate and coordinate tasks, so that those vacant officer roles aren't missed, a chair can also devote a lot of energy to recruiting people for those vacant officer positions.

Time commitment: can be high in an active PMA... but seeing an active PMA is really satisfying.

A good officer is... a great team-player, good at working with people and coordinating and motivating people.  Adaptable, willing to flex their vision to fit with the goals of the organization at large, and the interests and talents of the other PMA officers.  A good networker and communicator, able to see the big picture, and a good judge of talent, to identify potential recruits for other local officer positions.

6. Webmaster
What is it: The national webmaster is in charge of ATEK's website and runs the technical side; other members of the webmaster committee answer to the national webmaster, and the webmaster collaborates with the communications committee to help the website best convey the information the communications committee needs to share with the public.  Most of ATEK's officer materials are also digital (training manuals etc.); the webmaster (unless I am mistaken) also makes sure that these digital information resources are operating the way they should: accessible to those who need it, and secure from those who don't need it.

What's so great about... ATEK's website is often the group's first point of contact with press, educators, and English teachers.  Making the website run more smoothly and look nicer, making the information there more accessible, and keeping the back end clean, while helping less computer-literate officers learn how to use the forums and website effectively, is an important part of presenting ATEK to the public.

Time commitment: as with Communications, the tasks here are ongoing, so whatever time you're willing to give, ATEK would be happy to have.  Could be high, if you have a lot of ideas and energy.

A good officer is... highly computer literate, knows about website design.  Familiar with joomla, the program that powers the website.  A creative team player who can help generate ideas on how to best communicate with the public, through ATEK's website.

7. Employment "Labor" Issues Officer
What is it One of the most important roles in ATEK.  The employment issues officer is not a lawyer, but has been trained in educating people about their workplace rights according to Korean law.  This is the officer who helps people understand their contract, understand when their boss is doing something illegal, and develop a strategy to ensure fair treatment under Korean law.  This person is not a lawyer, a representative, or a legal counsel, but this person knows a thing or two about problem solving, including when to call a legal counsel.

What's so great about... you get to help people.  Literally every week, somebody comes to ATEK with an issue about unpaid wages, or severance, or other work and contract issues.  The Employment Issues Officer hears these people out, and helps them deal with their frustrating situation.

Time commitment: high.  Do it because you really love to help people.  It's rewarding as anything, but the training, and dealing with teachers' issues, is a time commitment.

A good officer is... possibly trained in, or knowledgeable about law.  A problem solver who is task-oriented, and loves helping people, and dealing with people.  A good listener and communicator, who has a knack for getting to the heart of a problem.  Organized and good at following through.

These are not the only areas where ATEK is looking for officers, but it's a pretty good start.  This list skews to the practical: there area also officer positions that focus on cultural understanding issues, human rights issues, other emergency needs, as well as professional development.  You can go to to learn more.